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Article:The Mystery of Intangibles

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Feb. 7, 2008

We hear the term "intangibles" thrown around by television analysts, pro scouts and beat reporters for NFL teams, all the time.  The intangibles of a player are the qualities he possesses that can't be detected on paper or film.  Sometimes the word encompasses how smart or savvy a player is when put under extreme circumstances.  Other times, it can mean that a player has escape ability from defenders, or that he has a sense of field awareness.

In short, the term is used when sports people can't describe in any other way, the non-physical attributes they observe in a player.  It's like gravity; we all know it exists we just have a hard time explaining how it works.   How valuable are intangibles?  Look at the Palmer brothers.

Carson Palmer is 6'5, 230 pounds. He has a rocket arm and is moderately quick for a quarterback (even if he doesn't show it very often).  Jordan Palmer, Carson's brother, is also 6'5, 230 lbs. with a rocket arm and decent foot speed.  The two are from the same biological gene pool, raised in the same household and look eerily similar.

So why wasn't Jordan a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round draft pick and a projected starter in the NFL, like Carson was?

Ask a scout, and he'll blame it on those grey-area intangibles.

Admittedly, I haven't seen Jordan play much.  I watched a little of his college bowl game.  He moves like Carson, throws like him too.  If I were an owner or GM of an NFL team, I would expect him to develop much like Carson has.  But Jordan was drafted in the sixth round and was released by Washington after not seeing any regular season action.

What gives?

First off, Carson went to USC and started four years there.  Jordan played at UTEP and I didn't know he existed until his senior year.  Carson, during his college days, was tutored under now NFL coordinator Norm Chow.  I don't have a clue as to who coached Jordan at UTEP.  We all know coaches can mean everything in the development of an athlete and bigger programs, like Southern Cal, typically employ successful coaches. Yet we've seen many players from small colleges be drafted in high rounds and develop into successes.

There is another mystical attribute in football players, generically called 'football smarts".  From what I've gathered, a person can achieve a second-grade level of education yet have the instincts and wherewithal on the field of a 12-year veteran.  It isn't a gauge of intelligence, but think of it more as a level of natural instinct.  A linebacker may be slower and undersized than the typical prototype, but he makes into the league because he throws his body into blockers and ball-carriers with reckless abandon.

I don't know what Jordan Palmer scored on his SAT's.  I don't know what he graduated in or his GPA.  Honestly, I don't care.  I care more about his ability to learn a playbook than I do about his college thesis.  I want to see him demonstrate leadership qualities in the huddle more than I want to see him volunteer to help schools or the elderly.  I'm more interested in his intangibles on the field, than about anything off of it.

Remember James Brooks?  The man made it through four years of college at Auburn, and at least a decade of a pro football career without the being able to read.  But the man knew how to block a pass-rusher.  He could find open running lanes and plan out his jukes before he even caught the screen pass.  And that's all we needed from the man.  Brooks' intangibles allowed him to enjoy much success on the gridiron, but his illiteracy had the opposite affect off of it.

I assume Jordan Palmer can read.  He's probably a pretty smart guy.  But without the necessary intangibles he ends up watching his nearly twin brother become a future hall of famer while he remains impressive only as a future trivia question.

Size, speed and strength matter.  But if a player doesn't have that "it", that special instinct that lingers outside of our three dimensions,  he's just another big, strong guy.

Mojokong - All I have are intangibles.

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