The last big analyst to bust onto the NFL broadcast scene was Tony Romo. It was back in ’17 when CBS Sports’ head Sean McManus took one of the greatest chances in network football history. He bet on an inexperienced broadcaster, shuffled his number one analyst to the studio and put the retiring Cowboys’ QB on play-by-play’s center stage. McManus hit the jackpot.
When Fox’ Week #7 schedule surfaced, Carolina tight end Greg Olsen was listed among its analysts. He had gotten approval to work Sunday’s Arizona-Giants game with play-by-player Kenny Albert. It wouldn’t be Olsen’s first performance on television. In 2017, the former University of Miami star joined Fox’ #2 team, Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis in a three man booth. He has also done some studio work in the past.
But this would be his debut as a solo analyst. So I turned on the set and took notes.
Having watched the telecast, I can assure you that Olsen is already better than Fox’ Mark Schlereth, Ronde Barber and brother Tiki. While he isn’t as experienced as Daryl Johnston, he is already capable of sharing more insight than the former Cowboy. And with Johnston headed for an executive position in the XFL, Fox will have an opening.
There’s another critical element, potentially muting such a development, at least for now. Olsen is still an NFLer and will be with the Panthers next week in San Francisco for their matchup with the undefeated 49ers.
There’s no question that Greg was knowledgeable, comfortable, instructional and made great teaching points. As the game progressed, he was also more invested emotionally. The one thing he did not do which Romo of course does is predict plays. Then again Romo comes at things from an ex-quarterback’s lens. So that’s asking much of Olsen at this point.
Still, this fellow from Patterson, New Jersey definitely has a bright future on television. It would be a good find for Eric Shanks and company should Fox sign him once he retires.
Meanwhile, Arizona State writing intern Brian Seitz, asked to be assigned to watch the game and appraise the announcers. It was of particular interest to him to see how the duo would break down the top two quarterbacks in the draft, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray and the Giants’ Daniel Jones. In fact, Brian identified a number of key talking points that he hoped Olsen and perhaps Albert would address. We’ll get to Brian’s healthy comments in a moment.
For what it’s worth, let’s start with my observations which along with $2.75 will get me on the New York subway.
Notes from Halby’s yellow pad
- At the beginning of the broadcast, Olsen might have been a bit tight and tight-end centric. In fact, Kenny kidded him about his references to his playing position. Greg followed with a half-laugh that might have loosened him up. Still, Olsen might have talked a wee bit too much at the start, perhaps out of nervousness.
- Kenny was what you’d expect of him– smooth, prepared and telling stories, many numerical.
- Olsen drew and depicted Xs and Os clearly, simply and illuminatingly. Sometimes though, he talked a bit too fast, likely because he had to economize his words between plays. That will come to him.
- At times, I would say to myself, ‘Slow down fellow. The game has to breathe.’ Look at it this way. If you were sitting in the stands watching a game, you might appreciate some analysis from an expert; but not after every play. I kept saying he’ll moderate his act once he does color regularly.
- Olsen didn’t repeat what Albert said rather complemented him. That’s one measure by which to assess a commentator’s depth of knowledge. Repeating the obvious is a no-no.
- In the second half, as the game progressed, Olsen had a bit more of an edge and he was frank. Viewers generally prefer it when analysts are at least somewhat unsparing.
- Olsen didn’t use highfalutin nomenclature that goes over many viewers’ heads, except a couple times. For instance, he referenced RPO, wrongly assuming that everyone knows what the acronym represents. I can assure you that millions at home couldn’t differentiate RPO (Run-Pass Option) from RPM (a car’s revolution per minute). It was incumbent upon Kenny, time permitting, to curiously suggest, “Greg, explain an RPO.” Another time, Olsen talked about a basic stick play. Again, don’t take anything for granted. Many have no idea what a stick play is. Be the Hubie Brown of the NFL. Break things down please into the elementary .
- Kenny didn’t engage Greg much in the first half perhaps to allow him to settle in and make him feel comfortable. In the second half, he started to, and the duo developed a good rapport.
- Greg pointed out an Arizona mistake, one that forced the Cardinals to punt from near their goal post. Olsen explained why and how it happened. On cue, the Cardinals’ punt was blocked and the Giants converted it into a touchdown.
- On the same play, there was a question about ‘the step out, step back in rule’ and Greg explained it succinctly.
- He does at times spew his remarks a bit too fast. Think of it this way. Fans are having a beer. Let them digest and absorb what you’re saying. Slow down. The great ones, Cosell and Madden spoke slowly.
- In time, Greg will appreciate the importance of covering less ground, doing so with more enunciated vocal strokes per comment. Less is more. He attempted the impossible, commenting on almost every development on the field. Covering less, teaches more. Most brains on Sundays have a limited capacity.
- (Side note: Sideline reporter Lindsay Czarniak should be more forceful when she speaks. At one point, it looked to me like she was soaking wet from the rain and wanted to go home.)
- Talking of the rain, Kenny asked Greg about whether rain helps the defense or offense and he broke it down, grass versus synthetic turf. But he did so, so fast, I can’t remember what he actually said. And that’s not good. From what I remember at the time, he had to economize his comments because the next play was about to snap. I think what he said is that grass helps the defense more because ball carriers can hobble on wet grass .
- Rain, rain, go away. Kenny set him up nicely in the second half as the rain pelted Met Life Stadium. He asked Olsen about the use of gloves and hand gear during rain. Greg pointed out that some players took their gloves off. He said he doesn’t like to wear sticky gloves.
- After repeated sacks, Greg criticized the Giants’ front line, for not anticipating oncoming rushers and more. He did so in a gentlemanly way but was firm.
- Olsen’s voice doesn’t project as well as Romo’s, at least not yet. Tony speaks right into the mic and comes across with a full throat. Romo’s voice fills a room. The Fox audio people should raise the volume on Greg’s mic. He will in time learn to speak from the diaphragm, inflect effectively, moderate his speed, clip his words and deliver his phrases crisply.
- Kenny smartly got him to talk about Dave Gettleman, the former Carolina GM whom Olsen obviously knows. Gettleman now runs the Giants. Greg explained that Dave builds from the line of scrimmage out to skill players and strongly suggested that Gettleman’s approach is spot-on.
- Late in the game, Greg took a clear shot at Coach Pat Shurmur, saying that he wasn’t aggressive enough on a 3d and 20 play when the Giants desperately needed to score .
- And when Murray stepped out of bounds late in the game, not staying inbounds to let the clock run, Greg emoted: “Oh my God, what’s he doing?” Nice!
- Dick Stockton had two analysts on his team Sunday. Ronde Barber and Mark Schlereth. The two alone are somewhat weak. Together and under Dick’s guidance, they weren’t bad.
- Al McCoy, the amazing 86 year old Voice of the Phoenix Suns, was watching the Olsen game in Arizona and posted, “Greg Olsen did one of the best jobs of any NFL analyst I have heard this year…..got in.. got out…and had great comments…Was a pleasure to follow he and Kenny Albert.”
Notes on Greg Olsen from Arizona State’s Brian Seitz:
I had a list of subjects I hoped the voices, particularly Olsen, would address, pertaining to the top quarterbacks in the draft, Arizona’s #1, Kyler Murray and the Giants’ #6, Daniel Jones.
Arm strength and accuracy
- Olsen addressed this issue, covering Daniel Jones not Kyler Murray. Game telecasts dictate what’s pertinent so this is to be expected. Olsen underscored Jones’ accuracy when he lobbed a beautiful ball to tight end Rhett Ellison. Olsen described how Jones was able to lob the ball over the corner and in front of the safety Budda Baker to place it perfectly on the receiver’s hands. Other instances where Daniel’s accuracy was talked about, was on two passes that were dropped by the receiver. Olsen noted how Jones put the ball where it needed to be, but it was the receiver who failed.
Mobility and athleticism
- Olsen pointed out how Murray moves inside the pocket, not necessarily to scramble, but to buy time for a receiver to get open. He talked about how Murray knows when to run, if and when a defense rushes only a few players. He finds the open gap and takes off. An example of this was on a 3rd down and long early in the game when the Giants rushed 4. Murray ended up scrambling and getting a few yards, putting the Cardinals in an easier position to kick a field goal. The point though was also made that Murray sometimes relies on his athleticism too much, trying to make big plays out of nothing. This resulted in a couple of sacks, when he should have just thrown the ball away. Greg Olsen noted that Daniel Jones is an ‘underrated athlete,’ very good at moving in the pocket to keep plays alive and that he’s able to scramble when needed.
- Olsen nimbly identified situations where Murray showcased both superb and poor football IQ. For instance, when the Cardinals had a so-called free-play because of a Giants penalty, Murray took advantage of it by trying to engineer a big play, throwing the ball downfield. Olsen also recognized that Murray didn’t force big passes when stacked against the odds. He would rather smartly take what the defense gave him. An illustration of poor IQ as explained by Olsen was when Murray scrambled instead of throwing the ball away, resulting in a sack. It thus made the execution of a good punt by the Cardinals, all the more difficult. Andd on the very next play the Giants blocked that punt for a touchdown. Murray also opted to run out of bounds with a little over two minutes left in the game, which stopped the clock and gave the Giants extra time to try and come back.
- Olsen also broke down Jones’ good and poor IQ. He told viewers that when he himself played Arizona, his team used a multitude of hard counts to get the Cardinals offside. Jones was smart enough to do the same. The ex-Duke QB also read the defense’s pre-play and anticipated its coverage. It allowed him to get the ball out to the hot-route quickly. But Olsen also shared Jones’ lack of good IQ during a few plays early in the game where he forced the ball downfield instead of checking down (his list of receivers). This includes Jones’ interception. Olsen did a great job talking about these plays and how it will take a young quarterback a few years in the league to learn concepts like this.
- Jones is 6’5″ and Murray is 5’9″. Neither announcer referenced the size contrasts. During last week’s post game show on Fox, former quarterback, Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw remarked on Murray’s size and how he believed it would hinder his ability to play the position.
- Murray’s ball control was fantastic. He didn’t have a single turnover. Jones on the other hand turned it over three times. Olsen discussed the two fumbles by the Jints’ QB. After the first fumble, Greg strongly suggested that Jones get rid of the ball sooner. Instead Jones held onto it too long. It resulted in the first strip-sack. The second-strip sack was more of a good play by Arizona, bringing a corner blitz that Jones didn’t see coming. Olsen mentioned how this was more a credit to Arizona than a criticism of Jones. Nevertheless, Jones still has to hold onto the ball.
Greg Olsen has a definite future in broadcasting. He reminds me of Tony Romo. He calls games with an elevated insight into the minds of players and coaches.