Best Team Chemistry in the NFL
In football, winning and losing happen on the field in the most technical sense. But there's more that goes into success in the NFL and any other sports league than simply what happens when the jerseys are on.
Just ask the San Antonio Spurs, who recently wiped the floor with the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. The Spurs set the standard for how a winning franchise operates, from top to bottom. They made basketball look like art the way every player knew that his teammates would be in the right spot every time. Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford have gotten the team's stars taking pay cuts willingly, with the rest of the squad buying into the team's philosophy.
With such a physical and complex game like football, chemistry is everything. The quarterback has to trust his receivers to hit their spots every time they run a route, while expecting the linemen to hold their blocks. Cornerbacks and safeties have to communicate coverage adjustments on the fly, relying on one another to stay on assignment. The list goes on.
Shaping a 53-man roster into a cohesive unit takes time and careful strategy by the coach and team leaders. It begins early in the offseason and continues through the draft, voluntary workouts, OTAs and training camp. Here are five teams proving to their fans that they are working toward building that winning mentality.
Head coach Marc Trestman has put an emphasis on strong off-field relationships among the Chicago Bears players.
That's why he used one of the team's 10 OTA days on a bowling outing back in June. It appears to have had a positive effect on the players, some of whom Tweeted about the event.
Building a team is not always about X's and O's... good time at the bowling alley with the fellas.— Ryan Mundy (@RMundy29) June 10, 2014
Trestman's outlook has already begun to take hold in the locker room after just one season in charge. Eleven Bears, old and new, took a trip to Brandon Marshall's house in Miami a few weeks after the Super Bowl back in March. Among them were old veterans—Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Roberto Garza—newer vets such as Jermon Bushrod and Ryan Mundy and younger guys like Kyle Long.
Marshall treated his teammates to an Everglades tour, paintballing and a pottery class, per CSN Chicago's Chris Boden.
The Bears take their locker room culture so seriously that Trestman and Cutler visited an ethicist in New York, according to Chicago Tribune's David Haugh. Given the already loaded offense and a newly formed defense, the talent is there. Now Trestman wants to create a winning environment.
It's not that the Oakland Raiders are historically known for having the most peaceful, cohesive locker room. They haven't made the playoffs since 2002. But the Raiders are definitely working toward the "most improved" award in that category.
Per Jim Trotter of ESPN, head coach Dennis Allen has focused a lot of energy this summer on turning the losing culture around and unifying his personnel:
Allen arranged for players and coaches to attend a Golden State Warriors game, new quarterback Matt Schaub organized a dinner for the offense, and the offensive linemen attended a baseball game together.
After nine years with the New York Giants, the Raiders brought in defensive end Justin Tuck to provide leadership as well as big plays.
At the end of every day in training camp, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has a different player address the group about whatever is on his mind.
Becoming familiar with one another is extremely important to Tarver's unit in particular. He will employ seven new starters, most of them established veterans with the potential to turn heads. But Tarver also wants guys like Charles Woodson, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley to usher in the newer generation of Raiders by "buddying up" a veteran with a newcomer.
Allen sent a strong message to his locker room by loudly backing Matt Schaub as his starting quarterback.
"Matt Schaub's our starting quarterback… I like the way our offense is being run right now." - Dennis Allen #Raiders— Raiders Beat (@RaidersBeat) August 2, 2014
He has a very specific vision of how the team needs to function. Per Trotter's story:
The stronger the bond, the easier it is to see and work toward that vision of being a tough, physical football team that plays smart and understands situations in the game.
I want this team to understand that we've got the ability to make a lot of noise in this league. I firmly believe that. But that's not going to happen just because we say we want it to happen. It will only happen because we put legs on that dream.
Coming off back-to-back 4-12 seasons and facing stadium issues, a little camaraderie could go a long way for the Silver and Black.
Muck like Oakland, Buffalo is a team teetering on the playoffs precipice. The Bills also hold the longest active postseason drought.
Second-year head coach Doug Marrone is employing some familiar tactics to instill a different attitude in upstate New York. Per ESPN's Mike Rodak, he ended OTAs with a surprise trip to an Airsoft gun and paintball range for some light-hearted but competitive fun.
While head coach at Syracuse University, Marrone took his team on a similar outing.
Coach Marrone ready to battle in his second paintball game of the morning. pic.twitter.com/qblRpOUa— WAER Sports (@WAERSports) August 17, 2012
This time, he himself took a paintball to the chin.
Doug Marrone said he got shot in the chin during Wednesday's paint ball team building. The culprit: Kiko Alonso. The legend grows. #Bills— Jonah Javad (@JonahJavad) June 12, 2014
But paintball can only take a team so far. Marrone has now had a second opportunity to handpick his personnel, focusing on strong, winning personalities. Gone is the team's highest-maintenance player in Stevie Johnson, moving EJ Manuel one step closer to being the leading voice.
The players appear to be responding. According to BillsMafia.com's Robyn Mundy, a high turnout of veterans suggests they seem to be buying into his approach.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have a rare chemistry found in only a few NFL locker rooms.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick share a storied 12 years of quarterback-coach relationship (13 if you count the season Brady missed). Only Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning's 10 years come close to matching.
Even when the Patriots lose their best players around Brady to injury (and jail) on a yearly basis, he and Belichick always keep them in playoff contention. New England has won at least 10 games every year since 2003.
When the receiving corps lost Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez all in the same season, the dynamic duo responded by winning its fifth consecutive AFC East title with a 12-4 record and Julian Edelman as the leading pass-catcher.
It seems the Patriots succeed no matter whom they sign year in and year out.
It goes without saying that the Seattle Seahawks are one of the most in-sync teams in the NFL.
Few defensive units are as connected from front to back as the Seahawks. Beginning with the Legion of Boom, the players look out for one another.
Richard Sherman wants rest of Legion of Boom on Madden cover, and here's an idea as to how he could make it happen http://t.co/mv3U3Vg8fU— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 10, 2014
It's how Malcolm Smith ended up winning the Super Bowl MVP and why Marshawn Lynch's holdout ended with little fanfare.
Though outsiders looking in criticize players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas for enlarged egos, the Seahawks locker room really is one big ego. And as long as they are all on the same page, it seems to work.