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Seeking feedback on ambitious NFL Draft piece

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by edemire, Apr 21, 2012.

  1. edemire

    edemire New Member

    I'm new with this feedback stuff, but appreciate anything ya'll throw at me.
    Here's the backdrop: the following piece is for a central Arkansas weekly with a general audience. I want to accomplish multiple goals thru the article - 1) provide glimpse of the kind of money involved pro football and how that motivates an NFL Draft prospect 2) give a general introduction to how a prospect prepares for the draft in the spring after his senior season 3) primarily accomplish that through the story of a specific player 4) provide a detailed look at at that player's training.

    I worry I've got too many moving parts, and that there may be a lack of focus which loses the reader:

    LITTLE ROCK - It doesn’t take long for Broderick Green and his trainer Dennis Davis to get into it before a recent Friday morning workout. The straining and sweat will come later, but there are other struggles unfolding as the friends walk onto the field of War Memorial Stadium. One is as ancient as the eons: a young man’s desire to make a name for himself doing something he loves. Another struggle stems from a debate nearly as old: Who’s better - Kobe or LeBron?
    Green takes NBA superstar LeBron James any day. He likes James’ unprecedented combination of size, strength and athleticism. Davis, a few decades older than Green, prefers the older Kobe Bryant. He believes Bryant’s a proven winner, and James isn’t. “LeBron needs to go to Oz and see the wizard. He needs a heart,” Davis says.
    “Kobe is just a ballhog and a shooter,” Green later says. “It’s not the Lakers. It’s the Kobe-ers.” He adds that when he lived in Los Angeles he often declined invites to Lakers games because of Bryant’s presence. “He’s so cocky. I hate his demeanor.”
    “So you’re not cocky at all?,” Davis asks the 22-year-old.
    “No! I’m not cocky. I’m humble. I’m confident. I might talk a little stuff, but it’s all part of the game.”
    The game of football has long been central in the lives of Green and his former Razorback teammates. It’s been a platform from which they have become known and beloved by an entire state, and a tool by which they have gotten college degrees. But school can’t last forever, and for some recently graduated Razorbacks that means their game becomes mostly business. The stakes are clear for would-be NFL rookies like Green as the league’s draft kicks off this Thursday: at least $390,000 for one of 53 spots on a roster, and a signing bonus for sixth and seventh round picks of at least $45,000. Those who must settle for less prestigious destinations like the Canadian Football League or the United Football League - and don’t play quarterback - typically earn around $45,000 a year, says Green’s agent Dan Yost.
    For years, Green teamed with guys like Joe Adams, Greg Childs, Tramain Thomas and Jerry Franklin for the same goal - an Arkansas win. Since these players’ last college game, the Jan. 6 Cotton Bowl, they are still working toward the same goal. But securing a place in the NFL is very much a solo endeavor. At essence, its three-day, seven-round draft represents 253 chances for America’s most popular sports league to announce in front of everyone: “We want you - not your college, not your teammates, just you.”
    Broderick Green has worked years for this moment, so there’s no slowing down now. If anything, he’s speeding up.

    Green has a couple paths to the NFL. If drafted, the 6-2, 235-pound fullback will likely be taken on the draft’s third day. Otherwise, he’ll be a high-priority free agent who will receive calls from several NFL teams scrambling to make their camps more competitive. The latter route initially means less money - no signing bonus - but could lead to a better long-term fit. Green and Yost have researched the needs of different NFL teams so “when we get calls we’re prepared, we know exactly where the best fit would be for him,” Yost says. “So that he’s not just window dressing. He’s just not in [training] camp to replace another player. He’s got a legitimate opportunity to make a team.” Through last week, the Indianapolis Colts had shown the most interest in Green, he added.
    Yost isn’t Green’s only source for navigating the business side of football. There’s pro football player Ramon Broadway, a former Arkansas teammate who introduced Green to Yost. And Damian Williams, the Tennessee Titan wide receiver who was Green’s teammate at the University of Southern California. Earlier this spring, Green spent six weeks training at a fitness performance center in Nashville, Tenn. and often hung out with Williams, who lives in the area.
    But perhaps Green’s most trusted source is his older brother Greg Wesley, an eight-year NBA veteran. They grew up in England, Ark., about 28 miles southeast of Little Rock. Wesley starred in football at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and in the spring of 2000 looked for someone to prepare him for that year’s NFL Draft. He found Dennis Davis, who had trained Corliss Williamson among other elite athletes. They rested only on Sundays. “We had three weeks of hell,” says Davis, recalling the demanding drills he put Wesley through. “It was three weeks of unadulterated hell.”
    Davis made an impression on the young Green, who would soon move to Little Rock. They kept in touch as Green attended Joe T. Robinson High School, Pulaski Academy and USC before transferring to Arkansas in 2009.
    Green was an important role player in Bobby Petrino’s high-powered offense. He racked up 19 touchdowns, most in short-yardage situations, but also unleashed the longest touchdown run in Arkansas history - a 99-yarder against Eastern Michigan in 2009. At such times Green flashed an ability to run outside that entices pro scouts. Still, Yost says, his main value to NFL teams is as a bruising fullback. “If he going to make it in the NFL, he can’t be a stranger to contact. He’s got to be forceful up the middle. That’s his role. I know he likes to be considered a running back, because at USC and growing up he was a running back and he likes to run in space. He’s just got to focus on that [fullback] role and just do his job.”
    As Green focuses on his role, he continues trying to take his mind off the memory of spring 2011, when he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee that was supposed to sideline him for an entire season. Instead, he says he was running three and half months after surgery. Five and half months later, he was playing again. A couple of months ago, Green still favored his left leg while running, but that kink has been essentially ironed out, Davis says.
    Since the Cotton Bowl, Green’s draft preparation has unfolded in four chapters. First, he played under Houston Nutt at the Casino del Sol College All-Star game in Tucson, Arizona. Then, he trained six days a week at the D1 Nashville sports training facility to prepare for Arkansas’ March 6 Pro Day. The event, in Fayetteville, provided scouts a chance to see Razorback prospects in person while running them through a series of physical and mental tests.
    Since then, Green has lived with his family in Little Rock. He hangs with friends, visits his grandmother in England and works out twice daily, six times a week. Nights are for cardio and core work. Mornings, which start with 15 egg whites and orange juice, end at War Memorial Stadium with his stout-chested trainer by his side.
    Each week, Dennis Davis amps up the workout’s intensity with the goals of increasing Green’s flexibility and explosiveness. Following are excerpts from a workout three weeks before the draft: :

    9:09 a.m. - Green warms up by jogging four laps

    9:18 a.m. - 25 leg lifts while walking

    9:22 a.m. - Skips, bringing knees high with each bounce

    9:27 a.m. - Gets on the ground and Initiates a series of stretches targeting his hip flexors, core and ankles. At one point, he assumes a position called “scorpion.” It doesn’t look fun. “Almost everything we do is to address the hips,” Davis says. “Two weeks ago his hips were extremely tight.”

    9:42 a.m. - From an upright position, starts taking long, low steps backward. With each backward lunge, Green lifts arms to sky.

    9:45 a.m - Four 20 yard sprints

    9:51 a.m. - Straps on an orange belt connected to a nylon rope. Davis grabs the rope and makes Green run 20 yards while focusing on his knee lift and drive.

    9:58 - Drinks water, not Gatorade, to lose weight. He’ll replenish lost electrolytes by snacking on kiwis, bananas and blueberries.

    10:02 - A nearly 10-feet nylon rope ladder is laid flat on the ground. Green hops in and out of its 17 squares, trying to keep his size-14 feet from touching the edges. He fails a couple times, and Davis urges him on: “If Corliss can keep his feet inside there, I know you can too.” In mid-hop, Green replies, “What did Corliss wear, size 12’s?” Davis says “Corliss wore size 18’s.”

    10:09 - Jumping at a faster pace with both feet in and out of the squares, Green tries to move as quickly and lightly as possible. He gets into a groove, bellowing “Quiet as a mouse, baby! Whoo!” as he enters the endzone.

    10:11 Sprints 40 yards four times. Focuses mostly on keeping good form through an initial burst, Green runs the last 25 yards at about 65%. Davis believes improving Green’s mechanics and core strength will help knock off significant time from the 4.73 40-yard dash he recorded at Arkansas’ Pro Day. “I know he can run a 4.6. The question is can we get him to a 4.5.”

    10:20 Starts cool down stretches

    10:28 Workout finished. Stands up, smiles and shakes hands with Davis, saying “Another day, another dollar.”
  2. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    You're overthinking. That's the first thing I have to say. There's a lot of really good stuff here, but it's overthought and overwrought. This piece could be great. It just needs a thorough edit, which no weekly and very few newspapers in general can afford features these days. I don't, frankly, have the time to do it here. But I'll try to give you some tips.

    The first thing: Stop trying to do so much. You list four goals, but accomplishing goal No. 4 would go a long way toward accomplishing the first three and help you narrow your focus greatly. Everyone has some idea of the money involved in the NFL. That doesn't need to be so high up. It jars the narrative. And you don't need to mention all these other players, at least not by name. Consider putting them in a sidebar. Hone in on the player you've got this great access and these great anecdotes for, and you'll produce a tighter, better story that is easier to follow.

    The time-stamped finish to the story provided some interesting color. But it wasn't worthwhile as a time-stamped finish. It broke the train of the narrative. It would have been better to pull out two or three pieces of color from that, "Quiet as a mouse, baby!" and drinking water to lose weight and "scorpion," and using those to spruce up the narrative that focuses on Green above. You could also break this whole thing out into a chart of sorts. Right now, it reads like unedited notes from your pad.

    Your piece proceeds methodically. You need to mix it up. Find a narrative path, perhaps those morning workouts, and use it to tell the whole story. Use it to tell the story of how he's trying to lose weight to show the speed that allowed him to break Arkansas' longest run. Use it to tell the story of how he eats 15 egg whites every morning to fuel up to become a battering-ram fullback. Use it to tell the story of how he met the trainer. All part of a fluid narrative about his workouts. You need a thought out narrative arch to keep the story moving. As is, it seems like you're checking items off a list.

    As far as the writing, here's an example of what I mean:

    The Bryant-James debate is a familiar one. It crossed into the mainstream long enough ago that spelling it out the way you do is pointless. It slows the narrative. I think you chose a great start to the story, but it unfurled painfully slowly. I think that open-ended question, "So you're not cocky at all?" leads perfectly into nut graf of a kid trying to reach the NFL. You don't need his answer, which is a bunch of cliche. It's meaningless. Economy of words is crucial, especially at the beginning of a long piece.

    You could also use a copy editor, which I hope you had before this went to print. Greg Wesley didn't play in the NBA. There were a few other smaller errors.

    I'd love to see more of your work. Perhaps a more straightforward story. Post any time, and I'll try to respond.
  3. ringer

    ringer Member

    I'm impressed that "Versatile" made it to the end. I stopped reading after the first paragraph. A series of poor word choices forced me to re-read sentences and doubt statements in the lead. If a writer can't be clear, the other missions are irrelevant.

    "Get into it" - If you mean argue, then say argue
    "Struggles unfolding?" A debate is a "struggle?"
    "Ancient as the eons" - huh? what?
    "Debate nearly as old" - really? LeBron vs Kobe has been debated for centuries? I don't think so.

    The takeaway is: please be precise with your words.
  4. edemire

    edemire New Member

    I very much appreciate this feedback, Versatile. Part my overwriting problem was that I had a minimum amount pages to fill, so yes, there was some of dreaded checking off of the list.

    Fortunately, there was plenty copy editing and Greg Wesley was returned to his rightful place in the NFL.

    I like your specific suggestion of tightening the lead. The only possible hiccup is that the conversation actually occurred at different points in time - before and after the workout. Remedying that, though, may just be as easy as injecting a "said later in the morning" at the right place.

    I'll certainly work on fleshing out a single, narrative arc - and letting the extraneous stuff fall by the wayside - in future feature pieces. I've got quite an opportunity at my weekly, which is willing to pay for such pieces. I want to make sure I improve.

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