CHICAGO – You hear a lot about football players and coaches watching film. Late nights in front of a projection screen fueled by energy drinks. Offseasons where a rising star really commits himself to film study for the first time in his career. Tablets and iPads downloaded with all of a team’s games from last season so a player can watch film on the go.
But what does it really mean to watch film at the Power Five level? Unless you’ve played collegiately or know someone who has, chances are you have some questions about what goes into film study.
When and where do players watch film? Who do they watch it with?
Do they watch their own team’s tape or their upcoming opponent’s?
What are players and coaches looking for when they press play?
We polled numerous players at the Big Ten Media Days about what goes into watching film, especially at their individual positions, and transcribed their answers below.
When do you watch film?
Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska: “Usually when I go to bed, I turn on my iPad, you know, kind of review some of the stuff we have lined out… but really, I try to squeeze it in whenever I can, especially right now while I have time. It’s important to get in as much as I can.”
Reggie Corbin, RB, Illinois: “I go in late at night, nine, 10 o’clock, and the only person there is Lovie Smith working out in the weight room. He’s an elliptical guy, he does the treadmill sometimes but it’s rare.”
Alex Palczewski, OT, Illinois: “The biggest thing that we do is whenever we play a game Saturday, always come in Sunday as an O-line, watch that game, figure out what we did wrong, what we did right, and then we don’t watch that film at all. We just figure out what we did and then it’s on to the next week.”
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota: “I watch film any given day. If I’m sitting at the house and I feel like somebody else is getting better than me, I’m just going to get up and go right to the complex.”
Tino Ellis, DB, Maryland: “I’ll just go home in my free time, probably late at night, probably around 10, nine, after I finish my homework and stuff, and I’ll start on my iPad and then start going through some of my old film. That’s when I really start going through my old stuff, even from freshman year, just to see how far I came and confidence to say, ‘Hey, you were like this and now you’re like this.'”
Where do you watch film and who do you watch it with?
Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska: “I like to watch it kind of by myself and I really just dive in. Other times it might be with receivers and we’re breaking down their stuff. It just depends.”
Reggie Corbin, RB, Illinois: “All summer I’m working out in the afternoon so everyone’s around the stadium. I try to watch film by myself. But I’m just in there with the big screen in the team room, watching myself, going over whatever I want to learn that day and scouting whoever I want to scout.”
Alex Palczewski, OT, Illinois: “It’s almost always the O-line because that’s the one thing that I love about the O-line that’s different from everyone else. Everyone else is mostly individuals and with O-line, it’s all five dudes. If one person messes up, the entire play is dead so it’s just working together, just overall having four other dudes there, look at you and see if there’s some small thing that you can do to help.
“So usually, I always like to go in the facility, just leave all distractions in my locker. Just notebook and paper and just watching. It’s just watching, just learning whatever you can. Whether there’s a certain little tick that someone does that gives away or just seeing how the entire defense plays, and also seeing how you play. Like if there’s something that gives away what you’re doing, just getting better overall.”
Carter Coughlin, DL, Minnesota: “You know, it varies in terms of who I’m watching with but we’re actually not allowed to watch film outside the facility. I think moreso Coach Fleck just wants us around the facility because then I have a question, I can call Coach Rossi, Coach Panagos, instead of them trying to talk to me about it over the phone, they walk in, draw it up for me. They go through other plays.”
“I think it also encourages you to invite other guys to do it. If I’m at home, I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, you guys can come over’ or whatever. If I’m at the facility, it’s, ‘Hey, I’m meeting at the facility,’ blah, blah, blah. So I think that that’s a key piece of it as well.”
Tino Ellis, DB, Maryland: “The process for me is usually during the daytime I’ll be already at our team house and I’ll watch film with some of the guys and we’ll just break down film from last year and some opponents’ film for this year coming up.”
Antoine Brooks Jr., DB, Maryland: “I go home, you know I got another safety, his name is Antwaine Richardson, we call him ‘aka Weezy,’ so me and him, we live in the same apartment building so when we get in there, we got our TV and our iPad, we got this HDMI cord that’s on the hook up to the iPad. We hook it up, put it on the TV and me and him talk through the whole thing.
“‘What offense is that? What can we do better to make this play not happen again?’ Or like, what you could have done better, even when that play was even good cause it’s always something you can do better than what you already did. That pick in the Texas game, I could’ve stood on the ground, I could’ve done some other stuff. I could’ve been there if I just watched a little more film. In that situation, you don’t ever really see that situation happen because that was a last-minute situation, so you gotta just pick up little things. With the quarterback, what snap count they use? Do they use the clap? Do they use the snap? Do they use the cadence? Does their center call it? You don’t know (unless you watch film).”
What do you notice on film that the average fan wouldn’t?
Reggie Corbin, RB, Illinois: “Trying to figure out tendencies, man. What’s the alignment? What’s the coverage? Just trying to figure it out.
“It’s all about the safeties, man. If the safety is probably about six yards wider than what they usually are, the corner’s going to blitz. That’s how you know. It’s always to the boundary. You can’t blitz a corner from the field. If you do, that’s rare and I haven’t seen it. If it just looks weird, usually he’s on the numbers or something like that, he’s coming down a little bit further, you know that corner’s going to blitz from the boundaries. Little things like that and you know, some teams play man coverage behind it, some teams play cover-3 behind it. You gotta know what’s going to happen.”
Alex Palczewski, OT, Illinois: “It’s completely different, just from watching film, we’re always watching from the end zone. It’s weird from the fan perspective but once you get in there, it’s kind of like a weird club, like once offensive linemen, defensive linemen get together, it’s like, ‘Ohhhh. You can see this. His second step is fantastic.’ It’s stuff that people would never think of but it’s awesome.
“It’s basically like, a big thing is pass sets. It’s like, ‘Wow, that pass set is super smooth. It just flows. It’s just like some weird stuff, like if someone has a great punch, great, tight punch, always has his hands inside or gets his helmet underneath his chin, it’s weird stuff because (for a wide receiver) it’s like, ‘Oh, he made a one-handed catch.’ (For a lineman, it’s like) he got his hands inside and it’s like, ‘That was pretty nice.'”
Carter Coughlin, DL, Minnesota: “I think there’s a couple different tendencies with how the offensive lineman is in his stance prior to the snap that tells you if it’s going to be a run or a pass. It depends on who the offensive lineman is actually. That’s why you have to watch film every single week and look for that kind of stuff. So some guys move their feet back further, some guys open their outside foot more, some guys put their hands in different places, all that kind of stuff.”
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota: “When I watch film, I watch film on tendencies and stuff like that. Right now, I’m watching it on schemes, on how they might say, ‘OK, there’s three running backs that went for 1,000 yards, what are we going to do to stop them? OK, I’m going to put nine people in the box,’ I’m going to put film on that and then just watch that type of film and try to be in the other coach’s head and try to get ahead of the game.
“You can tell when someone’s blitzing. I like to look at what people do when they blitz. Are they a speed type of guy? Are they trying to spin out of it? Are they trying to do a swim move or something? Those type of tendencies. What they do when they get picked up because some people, they say, ‘OK, I’m going to blitz. OK, dang. He picked me up. What do I do next?’ Those type of tendencies I look for on film.”
Tino Ellis, DB, Maryland: “One thing I would notice is the tendencies of receivers. Even when they break the huddle, let’s say, and how they sprint. That’s saying like, ‘Oh, I’m about to get the ball.’ Or when they touch their gloves [Ellis rubs his hands together] or they strap it up a certain type of way, they’re preparing their self mentally, ‘Oh, I gotta make a play,’ compared to a receiver that’s going to just run block. He’s going to come out trotting and stuff so I find small things, I look at my opponent. If you’re trying to find out what’s his weakness. Is he tired? Does he have his hands on his hips? That’s one thing, body language. That’s what I look at.”
Antoine Brooks Jr., DB, Maryland: “When you’re in that coverage, when we’re talking about alignment and assignment, I got to make sure I’m aligned right so when I’m aligned right, I align off of number two. Number two is slot receiver and if he’s a little outside, ‘Oh, he coming inside.’ Or it’s a run play. It’s a lot of things that come in my head like I watch how a receiver steps. Like they stepping inside, they stepping different, do they step outside when they’re doing a seven-cut or an out route. It’s real hard. (Teammate) Antwaine Richardson, he’s real good. He helps me. He used to play corner, now he plays safety, so he helps me a lot getting into film. What do the receivers do? When he gets the ball, what are his hands doing? Stuff like that.”
How many times will you watch the same play?
Reggie Corbin, RB, Illinois: “A lot of rewinding, watching the same thing over and over so that when I get out there, it’s like second nature. Maybe like 10 times, man, trying to compare it to other plays and then trying to go through it again probably a week later, trying to see if you know exactly what you see and what you remember.”
What types of plays do you watch?
Tino Ellis, DB, Maryland: “One thing I do when I watch my film is that I don’t just watch the highlights or the big plays. You know, one thing you have to be, you have to have self-criticism. That’s one thing I’m big on is having self-criticism, so I’ll watch a play that I made a mistake on, I play that I missed, a play that I gave up so I can learn from the mistake and capitalize from it and make sure it don’t happen again.”
Do you watch more film of your play or your opponent’s?
Carter Coughlin, DL, Minnesota: “I would say it’s 50/50, I mean you have to watch how you did in the week prior, take notes on that, say, ‘I’m going to fix it,’ and then you move on to, ‘Let’s see what this opponent (does),’ and then how is that stuff going to transfer over to my opponent’s tape.”
Tino Ellis, DB, Maryland: “I’d say I watch more of their stuff because it’s what’s coming up, I really don’t like to dwell on the past too much. There’s stuff that I do watch from my past, it’s stuff I made mistakes on so I can just learn from it. I really don’t watch none of my highlights, stuff like that.”