Yesterday I had the honor of being able to interview John Brenkus, creator and host of ESPN’s Emmy-Award winning show, Sport Science. For those unfamiliar with the show, Sport Science uses cutting-edge technology to uncover the biggest sporting myths, showcase an athlete’s raw abilities, and analyze incredible plays from professional sports. Brenkus was kind enough to let me interview him about the Patriots and a contest called the Gillette Precision Play of the Week. This contest through Facebook allows fans to watch a video highlighting a particular NFL play from the past week, and see a scientific breakdown of the precision involved. Fans then get to answer questions about the play, and those with the correct answer are entered to win weekly prizes, and ultimately the grand prize of a VIP trip to Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey!
I remember watching your segment featuring Nate Solder when the Patriots drafted him in which he stopped a swinging punching bag dead in its tracks.
“Yea he was one of the better O-linemen we’ve ever tested. We felt really comfortable saying he’s going to have a really long NFL career. I don’t know if you’ve ever met that guy in person…and I’ve had the chance to work with some gigantic guys…but that is one big dude.”
Besides Solder, who have you tested that you would say stands out from the rest in your mind?
“In terms of being able to just interact with somebody…we did a campaign called “The Greatest Athlete of All Time” and we determined that Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete of all time, so it was a very big deal for me to be able to sit down with Bo and pick his brain on how he was able to do the things that he did. Growing up, I grew up watching Bo Jackson, so that was definitely a big thrill. For modern day athletes, we’ve had over 700 different Sport Science segments so we got the opportunity to work with quite a few of the world’s greatest athletes, and when you get to work with guys like Adrian Peterson, and, you know I’ll put Colin Kaepernick into discussion where we determined that Colin Kaepernick was the best quarterback in the draft. According to the draft everybody thought we were crazy…but basically the results on Sport Science said “this guy Kaepernick is gonna tear it up in the league.” (video of Kaepernick segment)
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Rob Gronkowski like when’s he coming back and is he still going to be effective? Do you think he’ll still be as effective even after all of these surgeries?
“Obviously I don’t have any inside information into it but, you know, your suspicion is going to tell you that there’s only so much tread on the tire and every layer of tread you strip away would make that tire more susceptible to a flat. Certainly, statistically speaking, coming back from injuries at a high level with many surgeries and as many injuries as early in your career doesn’t bode well but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the anomaly. I mean Adrian Peterson came back fresh as a daisy…but I have a feeling that Peterson is going to be the exception to that proves the rule that RGIII is illustrating.”
When Gronkowski is healthy, he’s obviously a huge mismatch for defenses. Can you speak a little more to that?
“Yea, he’s got that combination of size, speed and strength, and he really is just the next level of the evolution of that position. Tony Gonzalez is a former basketball player as well…and set it in motion of that type of tight end. Then you’ve got guys like Vernon Davis, and you’ve got Graham in New Orleans, and now you have so many that that position has changed…when you get a guy that’s that big in any kind of open space he’s tough to bring down because the size of the players goes down dramatically within a matter of yards once you just get by that line…that you’re by the linebackers out in the secondary it’s almost not even fair that a safety is trying to bring down a guy the size of Gronkowski.”
I don’t know if you got a chance to take a look at the undrafted rookie TE Zach Sudfeld, but in preseason it looked like he may become one of Brady’s favorite targets due to his mismatch similar to Gronkowski.
“Yea, I did, I mean obviously the Patriots do a great job of creating mismatches and that’s really what they’re all about…a quick-quick hitting offense, finding the weak link…so yea I think that tight end position is one that they are going to need to value that for years to come because it’s proven to be so effective…”
Can you speak to anything about the rookie receivers? Perhaps anything you’ve noticed about Dobson or Thompkins?
“What I would say is…Belichick has proven himself to be able to win with all different types of players…so my feeling is everyone is going to figure out the best way to use the individual skill-sets at each position.”
I can’t talk about the Patriots without mentioning Tom Brady. What do you think sets him apart from other quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers?
“There are a couple things; one…if you had to define one thing…is his ability to stay calm under pressure. We like to analagize the best athletes in their sport being a little bit like someone in the Special Forces…there are a lot of really athletic, really good soldiers, but there are very few who can stay as calm as someone in the Special Forces when chaos is going on around them. That really is the secret, because if you look at certain measurables that Tom Brady has…obviously we know he’s not the quickest quarterback, he doesn’t have the quickest release but his release is quick, but he’s accurate with that ball and he makes great decisions. But being accurate and making great decisions doesn’t mean much if you can’t do it under pressure, and that’s really what he’s bringing to the table…that he can stay calm under pressure, make the decision, and deliver it consistently and accurately.”
Can you tell me a little about the Gillette Precision Play of the Week?
“Sure… the Gillette Precision Play of the Week, whatever week I’m going to pick the play that illustrates precision the most, the idea behind it being that while there is a lot of precision involved in football, there’s also a lot of precision involved in getting a great shave. I’m taking care of the sport aspect…allowing the audience to learn a little bit more about the precision that was executed on a particular play. Fans can win tickets to their hometown team or other awesome prizes.”
Thanks again to John Brenkus for taking the time out of his day to talk with me and to Ryan Whitchurch for setting up the interview! Be sure to check out the Gillette Precision Play of the Week contest and to check out Sport Science on ESPN!