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Chris Orr: Developing a Culture

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It starts with the right kind of players

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Michigan at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear GM Joe Douglas use a good portion of his season ending press conference to talk about building the right culture into the roster of the Jets. I truly believe that it is the only way to achieve success that lasts in the NFL. It is easier said than done, but it can be done if you bring in the right people into your organization.

The key thing to remember is that the head coach can nurture that culture, but he cannot create it. That has to come from the players. It takes leadership along with an attitude to keep 53 men on the same page, a united locker room.

Also key is that the drumbeat of that culture doesn’t have to come only from the best players on the team. It can come from anyone, even the 53rd guy on the roster as long as he has leadership qualities and the right message.

At least one (if not two) of those culture creating guys should be found on your special teams unit. The reason for this is that offensive and defensive teams meet in different rooms. One side is the round peg while the other is square. Neither is better or worse, just different. They are polar opposites.

The special teams unit comes from both rooms. Yet they share a common skill set. They conjure up images of selfless combatants whose only goal is to give their team an advantage. Although they may originate in an offensive or defensive room, their task as special teamers is selfless. Thus they are thoroughly respected on a football team.

During the NFL Draft a wise GM realizes he is not just drafting to fill two rooms (offensive and defensive) but three. The GM must include special teams. More than 25% of the game is played by special teams. If you ignore that area, you are wasting a vital resource.

You can’t just put all the backups on special teams and hope for the best. You must use the best special team players, just like you do on offense and defense. Your best special teams units are a mix of players. Some are key starters.

Many games in the NFL, especially when two good teams play, are one score games. The smallest advantage can swing the game from one side to another. Isn’t it prudent to have an advantage with your special teams? Most of the good teams have great special teams because they plan on it. The Ravens and the Patriots always put a premium on special teams. Those teams have been good for a long time.

With that said, I would like to bring you a few players during the next few months who I believe to have superior leadership abilities. These are also players who can express themselves well enough to get amessage to the entire team. It’s no good to have the right attitude or an inspiring message if you can’t get that message across to others. These players could have a 1st round grade or grade as a UDFA. It doesn’t matter as long as they can make the team and use their leadership to create a winning culture.

The first player I would like to show you is Chris Orr ILB Wisconsin.

Chris Orr is a special type of player whose value far exceeds his Daft status. He is not a 1st round pick or a 2nd round pick for that matter. He is more of a late round selection guy, but he might be a steal in the late 4th early 5th round by a savvy GM.

It’s not like he lacks great stats. He has those in spades,. It’s not like he played for some small school. He played in the Big Ten. But his physical abilities don’t match up with the needed properties of an NFL player. It’s not that he lacks value. In fact I would say he is a very valuable player on any team he plays. He is just not an every down player as we have come to know them. That is why he Jets could pick a team leader in the later rounds and get a steal.

Let me show you the story of Chris Orr and you tell me what you think.

Orr is an inside linebacker from the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin was ranked 5th in the entire Division I college football rankings in total defense, and Orr was one of their leaders.

Orr is more valuable than the sum of his parts. He is a leader with strong values whose family has NFL bloodlines.

To Chris family is everything. His father (Terry) played at the University of Texas from 1980 - 84 then played 9 years in the NFL (winning two Super Bowls) as a TE for Washington. His father only stopped playing after he broke 4 bones in his back. He has 3 older brothers who all played in college. Zack played as a starter for the Baltimore Ravens as an inside linebacker.

Chris came into Wisconsin football and made himself known right away. He was not a overly talkative sort, just a natural leader and a football player. His defensive coordinator is a familiar name to Jets fans, Jim Leonard, an undersized free safety who played during the Rex Ryan regime.

Leonard told a story about Chris, “The first thing that impressed me about Chris was his leadership as such a young player. I vividly remember a training camp practice when he was just a sophomore at the time. It was one of those days guys just going through the motions and after practice he calls the whole team up and gives a big speech about passion and what this place is all about. I kind of looked around and saw the respect he had from the people in that group; I have never been around a young guy who commanded that level of respect...Chris studies the game as much as anybody on the team, he has done that his entire career. give a lot of credit for the way he approaches the mental aspect of the game; it leads to this more and more confidence that spills over into the rest of the team.”

Before every game Chris was selected to give the pregame speech.

“I want them to feel the passion in my voice and that everything I say is real. I want them to feel all of that. I want the to play with their heart, like their hair is on fire; they can look at me and know i’m going to be playing like that,” he said

That sophomore year (2016) Chris went to make a tackle on the first play of the first game of the game against LSU. He didn’t see the fullback who laid a lick on him as he made the tackle. Chris felt a sharp pain in his knee. He had torn his ACL on the first play of the season and was out for the remainder of 2016.

Chris and his brothers are all incredibly close. The whole family is. So when Chris went down, his brother Zach (an ILB with the Ravens) dedicated his season to his brother. Zach (a former UDFA) had an amazing season. He was voted to the All-Pro team in 2016. A season that made him an All Pro also ended his career. He was forced to retire at age 24.

“I have a condition that I was born with,” Zach Orr said, making his formal retirement announcement during a press conference. “I’m forced to walk away from the game of football.”

Zach Orr said a CAT scan revealed a rare congenital abnormality and that the top of his spinal column had never fully developed. Orr was never aware of his issue until he suffered a shoulder injury against the Steelers on Christmas that led to further testing.

Devastated by the news of his brother’s retirement, Chris vowed to carry on in his honor. He changed his jersey number from #50 to #54, his brother’s old number, in his honor. Yet coming back from an ACL injury is not easy, and Chris played in only 17 games the next two seasons. 2019 was a different story though.

This was an interesting blitz as the Badgers looped both their inside linebackers around the left side. It works well as Orr (#54) comes in untouched for the sack.

Orr is not that big (6’ 0” 225 lbs), but he has some quickness with decent speed to make plays. He is the type of player who needs to play in space to be most effective as he can get swallowed up by big offensive linemen.

That first play worked so well that the defensive coordinator Jim Leonard tried the same thing only to the opposite side with similar results.

This goes down as a strip sack that is recovered by the offense. Wisconsin in this game was getting torched by big plays which was one reason that Leonard called so many blitzes.

Here is a play that is a near miss of a sack, but still it shows a skill set that is transferable to the NFL. This is where Orr is at his best in space, just as he would be on a coverage team.

Orr does a nice job of not giving the offense a inkling of his intentions to blitz. He waits until the snap to move. Too often a linebacker will start to lean forward or take a few baby steps towards the hole. Orr is able to hold his water then explode through the hole with power. He knocks the pulling guard on his backside but is unable to get the QB to the ground as he unloads the ball to the sideline.

The QB can’t get away as the Badgers blitz both inside linebackers. Jim Leonard rotates his defensive end back to cover the middle which makes the QB hold the ball just long enough for Orr to find a crease to fit through.

This time both ILBs this time get antsy which alerts the QB to the impending blitz. He has seen enough of it. Yet it is that DE who steps back into the passing lane that halts the throw. By the time the WR clears it is too late, and Orr has a QB for lunch.

Like I said earlier, Orr is a playmaker if he can stay clean from blocks. He just doesn’t have the size to ward off the behemoths that inhabit the offensive lines of the NFL.

If he uses good technique Orr is a sure tackler. This is a 4th and one play with the Badgers up by only a single score.

On this play the left DE is crashing down the end which means Orr has to cover the edge. Orr plays this very well as he doesn’t jump into the hole. He stays outside and reads the play. As the runner commits to his path Orr gets into great position and stones the runner who has all the momentum. It yields not an extra inch. Remember, this was 4th down so it is for now a game saving play by Orr.

Here he is against Michigan State who always has strong, big RBs. Le’Veon Bell was a Michigan State running back, but he was bigger in college. Bell was 237 lbs until he lost weight to become faster and quicker.

As it is #24 Elijah Collins is a 6’ 0” 217 lb RB who Orr stops cold on the play. Again Orr stays patient, allows the RB to commit to a path, gets into good tackling position, and shows a strong base to stop a big back with momentum on the play. Now you could argue Orr should step up farther into the hole to limit the back’s options and make a play behind the line of scrimmage. It is still a strong play.

This next play is a delayed blitz which takes some finesse to execute correctly. You need to wait until all the blockers commit the their blocks. At that time you must find the most direct path to the QB. Hopefully you come out behind the mass of players in the scrum with speed then appear out of nowhere to the QB and make the sack.

This is a better look at the same play with the coaches tape. Orr takes the best path which is the one directly in front of the QB. By taking that path it makes the QB commit to an escape route and decreases his ability to throw the ball.

If the QB wants to throw to either side he has limited time to do so with a ILB bearing down on him. He would also he would expose his ribs and shoulder if he makes a throw. The QB will usually decide the best course of action is to take a sack rather than try an ill-advised pass.

On this last GIF against Nebraska Orr just scrapes down the line untouched keeping the play in front of him until the RB commits to his path. Orr makes the play.

It took a while for Chris Orr to come back from his injury, but he had a great senior year with 78 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5 passes defended and 12 sacks. Even though he had the 12 sacks he is not your typical pass rush specialist.

He did play in coverage on occasion with good results. We will need to see his 40 time to see whether he can be a 3rd down specialist in the NFL. At 6’0” and 225 lbs he is too small to play as a normal ILB position. He too often gets held up on blocks negating his effectiveness.

That said, he has value as a team leader who will at least be a demon on special teams. He flows well in space and makes solid tackles when he uses proper form. If his speed is back he has a spot as a 3rd down specialist who can cover or rush the passer on occasion.

Character matters in the NFL, much more than anyone outside the league knows. From team leaders who keep the team going in difficult times to veterans who help rookies grow into valuable members of the team.

It matters.

In the NFL difficult times are going to come to every team. In some cases how the team deals with those difficulties is what makes or breaks a season. When you watch Playoff football there is the inevitable talk about how the team stuck together during hard times, and how those players willed this team to a successful season.

D. K. Metcalf, a rookie who had 160 yards receiving in his first playoff game was asked how he did that, and all he could talk about was the team leaders who helped him become the player he is. How they taught him how to study and watch film. They set an example, and he just followed it.

Team leaders care about the team first and always. That is why former Super Bowl winning teams will see players come back, just to stand on the sideline. Ed Reed, Marshall Faulk, and Emmitt Smith have been seen occasionally back with their old team to give a speech. They still care about their team even though they hung up their cleats years ago. They are still leaders.

Chris Orr is the type of player you want on your team. I don’t know if he will ever be more than a special teams guy. I won’t have a better idea until I see some of his workouts, but I feel he could be a valuable member of the team regardless. He probably won’t cost more than a mid round pick.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?