Performance is evaluated in a variety of areas as teams work to learn all they can about a player. That means measuring athletic ability, intelligence and maturity.
A guy can ace his 40-yard dash time and bench press, but still leave room for doubt if he has bad interviews with teams or media. Yes, even media performances are critiqued on some level as part of the process.
This year a popular line of questioning for Arkansas players like Knile Davis, Alvin Bailey, Chris Gragg, Tyler Wilson and Cobi Hamilton will involve just what the heck happened during the 2012 abomination season.
It’s not a stretch to think that has come up with team representatives. We’ve heard the topic broached in local radio interviews. When the Razorbacks host their pro day on March 15, you can bet media will press for answers about what went on inside the locker room and if any players quit on the season, a claim made by former coaches.
Look, I get it’s a question that has to be asked. NFL teams need to know what they’re investing in when they draft a player. Local fans are curious why a preseason Top 5 team struggled so bad. Not that an answer will make fans feel better, but sometimes an answer — even one you don’t want to hear — can bring closure to a situation.
So it stands to reason Arkansas players — Gragg and Davis in particular — will be asked repeatedly if they dogged it for all or part of their final season.
And what if they did?
Honestly, I have a hard time getting worked up about it. Let me attempt to explain why.
It is a coaching staff’s responsibility to inspire a team and get the best out of individual players. Coaches are in charge of setting the tone and demanding maximum effort.
From the press box and stands it became abundantly clear where the season was headed — what kind of leadership the coaches were providing — after the first three weeks. Jacksonville State was a performance we could write off as first-week jitters, but following that up with arguably two of the worst losses in school history (34-31 to Louisiana-Monroe in overtime and 52-0 to Alabama at home) certainly didn’t inspire my confidence in this staff.
If I could discern, from the outside looking in, what a colossal breakdown in leadership was taking place, imagine what the guys inside the locker room saw. They were privy to things none of us were. They know just how unprepared the staff was for putting the players in position to win and helping maximize their talents.
So if players assessed the situation and determined the best play for their future was to protect their health and career prospects beyond 2012? So be it.
BUT… BUT… THEY’RE QUITTERS. THAT SHOWS A LACK OF CHARACTER!!! IF THEY DID IT TO THIS TEAM THEY’LL DO IT AGAIN!!! RIGHT? RIGHT?
If you’re wondering what I mean by “Meh…” just consider it the written equivalent of a dismissive shoulder shrug. Then toss in an eye roll for good measure.
Both Gragg and Davis are no strangers to battling back from significant injuries. They spent a tremendous amount of time rehabbing and training to get back on the field from previous injuries and help the Razorbacks to a level the program hasn’t seen in decades. We know from past evidence they’re hard workers and care about the concept of sacrificing self for the team.
Think about it this way: John L. Smith was getting $850,000 in 2012 regardless of how many games the Razorbacks won or who played. Coordinators Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes were getting their $475,000 and Arkansas was generating $25 or $30 million in revenue no matter what. Money was coming in for all parties regardless of whether Davis or Gragg or anybody else on the team suffered a career-ending injury.
So suppose a couple of players with NFL careers ahead of them used some common sense to assess the situation. Suppose they determined that the season was a lost cause and abandoned the idea that a college team and people making millions on their hard work should come before themselves, their families and their careers.
Seems like a smart, mature decision to me.