Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ruthlessly Editing Tyler Dunne, Part II

This morning, Tyler had a long, detailed feature story about receiver Myles White. Last year, he wrote a similar story about Eddie Lacy and Hurricane Katrina. Whether Dunne picked these assignments or they were handed to him by an editor, there's no shortage of pathos in his football coverage. Based purely on the subject matter, these are tight, compelling stories. 

I just can't get over Dunne's awful writing. Maybe I should be looking at the proverbial trees less and the forest more, but I can't, so here's Part 2. (#1 can be found here.) For brevity's sake, I'll highlight the flaws in-text as much as possible. The most common ones tend to be unnecessarily stacking words for emphasis ("Hands clasped, Myles White never flinches, stutters, second-guesses, laments"), hyperbole ("maddening asylum of stress") and things that just sound idiotic ("White pretzel-knots a cornerback"). Here we go. 

Green Bay — A sliver of the tattoo is visible, the word "ashes" piquing your interest. So Myles White lifts his sleeve to reveal the art in its entirety.
There's a phoenix inked across his right armwith [sic] the words, "Up From the Ashes."
(Teachable moment time. What is the phoenix doing? What does it look like? Describe it, beyond the bare fact that it's a phoenix. It's characteristic of Tyler that he doesn't help you see the things he's writing about: you see the gaudy image he chooses to produce. Also, whose interest is it piquing? The reader's? Dunne's?)
In Greek mythology, the phoenix burns, turns to ashes, is reborn and flies higher, stronger than before.
"This is my pain tattoo after I got in trouble," White says.
From Michigan State to Northwest Mississippi Community College to Louisiana Tech, White landed here, on the Green Bay Packers' deep wide receiver corps. White hopes he's reborn, rising. He's one of hundreds of NFL players on the "bubble," a maddening asylum of stress. There are nearly 2,900 players in the NFL during training camp. After this weekend's roster cuts, only 1,696 will remain.
The month of August decides their fate.
(A bit melodramatic... okay, really melodramatic, but this isn't that bad. Numbers are good.)
So this month, where each practice is a mini job interview and stress runs high at Ray Nitschke Field, the Journal Sentinel tracked Myles White's fight for a roster spot.
The day after Green Bay's first preseason game, Aug. 10, at Tennessee, White pulls his black Camaro into the Chipotle Mexican Grill parking lot off Oneida St. Windows tinted. Hip-hop pumping the bass. Unlike his peers on the edge, White is illuminating. He emerges with a megawatt grin immune to the high stakes ahead.
(We've talked about this, Tyler. When in doubt--and you should be in doubt far more often than you are--use the simpler, clearer language to convey what you want to say. Study Lori Nickel, who does this far better than you do. This isn't all that bad of a paragraph; for once, your technique of using short, punchy sentence fragments works for you, with "Windows tinted" and "hip-hop pumping the bass". But the "illuminating" and "megawatt grin" just doesn't flow for me. I'll admit that's borderline.)
In line, he orders a burrito, asks for vegetables, for it all to be double-wrapped — "Picky!" the woman across the glass jokes — and then takes a seat against a back wall. Customers come and go. Nobody acknowledges White, the 6-foot ½-inch, 192-pound wide receiver in his second Packers camp. He blends in.
He refuses to sweat this summer out, chooses not to stress during the most important month of his football life.
(Do you need both "refuses to sweat this summer out" and "chooses not to stress"?)
"It's in God's hands and Ted Thompson's hands," White says. "Whatever they decide to do is what they decide to do."
Yes, God and Thompson are synonymous this time of year in Green Bay.
About 20 minutes into the conversation, Randall Cobb appears. On the phone, clutching his Chipotle bag, Cobb gives White a quick dap and exits. This is the player entering a contract year, one season away from a set-for-life, multimillion-dollar deal. This is the player Myles White aspires to be, the one he tries to emulate.
(I was kind of disappointed by this. Your last sentence implies that there's some connection between the two deeper than 'White wants job security that Cobb has', but Cobb's never mentioned again in the article.)
"All the time," White says. "All the time."
First, he must make the team. And that is a process.

1:30 p.m., Aug. 10

Chipotle, Oneida St.

The Zen never wavers. Hands clasped, Myles White never flinches, stutters, second-guesses, laments.
(Ughaaaargh. First of all, do you really need all four of these? Secondly, isn't "The Zen never wavers" a fifth one, except that it's deliberately incomprehensible? Thirdly, would it kill you to use "or" instead of a comma once in awhile?)
Never mind that Riverside Place in downtown Green Bay is booting him out of his apartment on Aug. 31. They want to sell his unit as a condo. Never mind that final cuts are Aug. 30. Never mind that his son, here with him in Green Bay, turns 2 years old on Sept 1.
(Why wouldn't he mind?! These seem like consequential things!!)
Very soon his life will take a very new direction. He'll either have a future in Green Bay or be dusted off to Austin Straubel International Airport.
The day after Green Bay's preseason opener, White insists he's in a place of peace. He will not live on edge. Not here, not now. Eating lunch after a morning workout, White is "chill" personified. He lives in the eye of the camp storm. Through a monsoon in Nashville, Tenn., during the first preseason game. through all the camp chaos, he promises to remain calm.
(Tyler. Buddy. Stop using 'insists'. It drives me crazy. It's one of your smaller stylistic flubs, yet one of the most aggravating--you approach it like you're trying to prove him wrong! Look at your previous paragraph. 'Oh, he has all these reasons to be worried, but he insists he's fine!' Nobody just says anything in your world, they have to insist on it. Again, it assigns intention where none existed. Also, I've highlighted in red the places where you say the same thing, 'White is staying calm', five separate times. Which, if we're keeping count, means you've said THE SAME THING, TEN DIFFERENT WAYS, WITHIN FOUR GRAFS. JESUS GOD, MAN.) 
Everything in his past, he explains, has culminated in this phoenix rising.
Start with the weekend of Nov. 21-22, 2009, in East Lansing, Mich. A college fraternity jumped one of his teammates at a party, the players sought retaliation and, as White says, "things escalated." A brawl ensued, the players overwhelming the frat members. That same weekend, White was charged with public urination in an alley outside a bar.
Michigan State promptly suspended White indefinitely. The school his father ran track for, the school he loved as a kid in Livonia, Mich., did not want him.
(I want to know more here--what did White do in the fight? This could be hard to find out, or you could ask White.)
"I felt lost," he says. "I didn't know what I was going to do."
He picked up the pieces at a junior college, clawed his way back to Division I at Louisiana Tech, had a son and latched on as an undrafted rookie in Green Bay last summer. Cut, White made the practice squad, was called up midseason and caught nine passes for 66 yards.
(This is ambiguous. When did he have his son? At Louisiana Tech or in Green Bay? Tell me how it's possible to tell from that sentence.)
Now, it's about making the 53 outright — nothing less. With his life, his son's life dependent on every practice, White will not stress.
(Firstly: Remember that about the 53. We'll come back to that. Secondly... "his son's life dependent on every practice"?! I mean, there's hyperbole, and then there's hyperbole! Is his son going to die if he doesn't make the team?! That's what "life dependent on" means, right?! Did they change the rules while I was away?)
A year ago, he was a mess. One dropped pass, one mistake would ruin his day, his night, linger on and on. "Haunts you," he says. Awake at night in his St. Norbert College dorm room, one thought ran on repeat in White's mind — "Man, I'm about to be cut."
(This paragraph. Just... this paragraph.)
He calls it a healing process, and it's something every bubble boy fights.
("Bubble boy?")
"After practice, you're pissed off," White says. "You're, 'Damn man, I had a bad day.' You're sulking. Then, there's another stage where you're like, 'All right. I'm ready to go tomorrow. I'm going to make sure I clean it up tomorrow.' Then, you're so anxious for the next day, you're like, 'Man, I can't get through today because I'm more worried about tomorrow!'"
In Year 2, White is avoiding this trap. So far, he can do no wrong. He knows the offense; he survived the Aaron Rodgers death stares. He transformed his body, gaining 12 pounds. Taking the advice of Edgar Bennett, his position coach, White ate all off-season. His goal was to carry a snack at all times, to never feel a pit of hunger in his stomach.
(I get the feeling that there's something interesting here buried beneath the dross, but I can't see it. "Taking the advice of Bennett... White ate all off-season." Besides the hyperbole of "a pit of hunger", is this different from the normal offseason where he doesn't eat and lives on air?)
Sure, White always possessed top-end speed — from challenging family members to $20 races as a kid to clocking in at 4.42 seconds in the 40 at a chilly pro day — but cornerbacks suffocated him at the line of scrimmage. Contact was his kryptonite. Camp is now two weeks old and White is clearly a reborn receiver.
(Hyperbole and a Half would be proud. Also, nice job sticking to your phoenix theme with "reborn".)
Jared Abbrederis tore his ACL. Chris Harper rides manic highs and lows. Jeff Janis is having trouble breathing, let alone practicing, through shingles. The chiseled Kevin Dorsey is shaping up as White's No. 1 competition. One moment, White pretzel-knots a cornerback off a receiver screen. The next, Dorsey rips away a touchdown in the end zone.
(It'd be nice to know from whom Dorsey "rips away a touchdown", because without that information, that's just an awkward sentence.)
Yet, White isn't keeping Dorsey in his peripheral vision. He's only worried about his own game, his 0-to-60 acceleration that's a gear above everyone else.
(This isn't a bad thing for some people, but I just hate the "0-to-60 acceleration". The man isn't a car, and you don't need to reach for a cliché to describe his physical talent--use your words!)
Smiling, stirring his drink, White says he's the fastest wide receiver on the roster.
"Yeah, I mean, me and Janis," White says. "Everybody has their input, says what they want to say, but me personally I feel like I'm the fastest."
Janis is a total unknown. But the kid from Tawas City, Mich., population 1,795, he's told, is fast.
(Reread that second sentence to me out loud and tell me if it flows. How about... 'But he's told the kid from tiny Tawas City, Michigan, is fast.')
"He's fast, he's fast," White says. "He's from Michigan. So I always give him a hard time that, 'If you were fast, I would have known about you.'...He's wayyy up there."
As Aug. 30 creeps closer, White must prove he can now win the contested catch, the 50/50 ball. One free play at Tennessee could've been White's shot, but Matt Flynn's long ball fell short.
"I'm dying for it to come," he says.
Playing wide receiver is funny. Want to take over a game? Want to get your Kobe Bryant on? You can't, you wait. This reality used to drive White mad. In high school, he'd be in the ear of his twin brother, the quarterback, shouting, "Throw me the damn ball!"
(This could be condensed to "You can't stand out if the QB doesn't look your way", or something similar.)
Now, he doesn't clap his hands, yelp mid-route, badger the quarterbacks. White realizes more opportunities will come. Camp is a marathon. There will come a moment, a day, a play, he says, when he must "put my name in the hat."
(Let's say things, speak, construct verbiage three times in the same sentence, word-string, meaning flow just for the fun of it. You'll see how annoying it gets really, seriously, quickly fast.)
So far, so smooth.
"I control what I can control," White says. "If I do that well, it will all take care of itself."

2 p.m., Aug. 14

Packers locker room

Myles White must understand each cornerback. Each one has his own style, flair, combative instinct. And White counterpunches accordingly. First, the most annoying draw in a one-on-one setting.
"I know he's going to be patient," starts White, sitting in his locker. "He's going to clutch and grab."
Walking by, Jordy Nelson eavesdrops.
Yes, Jarrett Bush.
"It's worked for him!" White speaks up. "That's why he's a 10-year-plus guy."
Sam Shields? "Fast. Just fast, man. You know when you have a vertical route, he's going to be right there with you every step of the way."
Tramon Williams? "Quick and smart. Knows football like the back of his hand. Knows how you stem and how you position your body."
Williams also is down to rumble. We've reached the point of camp where the Packers are sick of each other. Sick of the extra shove downfield. Sick of the jawing from the sideline — Jamari Lattimore running his mouth, Bush antagonizing.
(That actually works decently well, the "sick of" things, at least until you stop describing things. What does Lattimore say? How does Bush antagonize people? Put me there! Describe the scene! Show me, don't tell me! In an ordinary newspaper article, it's understandable to some extent if you don't have space to describe a scene, but a) good reporters can and b) this isn't an ordinary article. You have at least a thousand words to make your point. Use some of them to show the reader what's happening.)
Of the seven scrums, White's is the best. In 7 on 7, he clings to Williams downfield. Williams' temper boils and the two begin striking each other in the sternum.
White calls it big brother/little brother banter. His girlfriend and Williams' wife have known each other for years; their kids play together. But for this brief moment — Williams' arm lodged up into [under] White's chin; Rodgers later referring to White as "Myles Mayweather" — they're not friends.
(This is a good, powerful paragraph. That's showing! The arm under the chin--that's great!)
It's easy to rip through the first weeks of camp like White did.
Now, it gets difficult. That shove of Williams carried extra vinegar after a drop White had on fourth down the drill prior. White cursed and stared at his hands in bewilderment. Elsewhere, Janis is emerging. Fast. The circus, diving receptions are stringing together in highlight-reel fashion.
(You're so... breathless. I always come back to that word when trying to describe you, Tyler. There's no time to think in your writing. Sometimes it kind of works, like this paragraph. It makes sense in the larger structure of your story. You're taking a snapshot in a longer story, so the quick, punchy sentences kind of make sense. But then you have a sentence like the highlighted one. It's like you use words as bludgeons, not descriptors. Not to mention that the receptions are stringing themselves together, because they are sentient somehow. Would it kill you to replace "the" with "his"?)
In an interview room at Lambeau Field, Edgar Bennett takes a step back to demonstrate what went wrong on White's drop. Hand placement? Check. Thumbs together? Check. Above the waist? Check. White, he says, forgot to look the ball all the way in. A WR 101 cardinal sin.
(How could anyone possibly... that's two clichés in five words, and the whole thing is only there for emphasis. It doesn't say anything new.)
"It's all about looking the ball all the way into the tuck," Bennett says.
Rodgers is the stickler about mental errors, for wide receivers needing to know precisely where to be and when. Bennett is the stickler about physical errors, for ball security. These are the two people White must impress most.
The coach did see how White responded. He loves "Myles Mayweather."
"No. 1, Myles is extremely tough," Bennett says. "One of the toughest guys to come into that room, no doubt about it. Love his attitude. And he was fundamentally sound. He kept his hands inside. He accelerated his feet on contact. And he finished. That's football."
White's confidence is sky high. His temperament, loose. His speed, still ankle-breaking evident. He shakes off the drop, saying "I don't dwell on it. I move on." But a subplot has emerged.
He wears No. 83.
(Ankle-breakingly? At least have the right conjugation for your hyperbole. Don't you have an editor for this kind of thing? Also, are you being intentionally confusing with your last two sentences? You haven't actually told us what Myles White's number is, or Janis's. For all I know as the reader, White wears No. 83 and this makes no sense. You so often refer to the prevailing narratives in the Journal Sentinel in your articles, forgetting that not everyone is going to read every article and know who or what you're talking about. It's unforgivably sloppy.)

6:30 p.m., Aug. 16

Edward Jones Dome

After the game, helmet in hand, there's no one to greet at midfield. Myles White wanders through the mass embrace of veterans alone, in slow motion, uncertainty plastered across his face.
He skips into a slight jog through the tunnel, through a dying "Go Pack Go" chat, inside the visitor's locker room and — for the first time all summer — you see concern. Today, White is ripped out of that eye in the storm, right into the Jeff Janis cyclone.
Lights and cameras engulf the seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State as he breaks down the 34-yard touchdown that might've sealed his roster spot. Wheels like these don't sneak onto a practice squad.
Across the room, White sits in his locker for 10 ... 11 ... 12 cold minutes. He stares at nothing.
Speed? To White's left, Davante Adams is gushing over Janis. They call him "V12," Adams explains. Janis, not White, is the one with the Lamborghini-powered nickname.
(This is really powerful stuff. It really puts the reader there. It makes you feel White's shock, like you're on Hard Knocks or something. It also highlights the dark side of the narrative: everyone, including you, Tyler, was fawning over Janis in the week after the St. Louis game. It's pretty powerful seeing the converse of that: when someone wins, everyone else loses. All the highlighted hyperbole is still there, but it sometimes helps you make a point or be more colorful. It's using it all the time that's the problem. Also, you meant 'chant', not 'chat', I'm guessing.)
White finally saunters to the showers, returns and breaks down the plays that got away. This was nearly hisday [sic]. Moments after St. Louis' Cody Davis broke up an in-and-out pass intended for White, he exacted sweet revenge. On third and goal from the 4, White burned Davis to the corner and adjusted beautifully for the touchdown.
Arms outstretched, swagger turned on, he fell flat on his back to celebrate his first NFL touchdown.
One flag for unsportsmanlike. One flag for illegal hands to the face on Corey Linsley. No touchdown.
A ticky-tack flag on a rookie center who had nothing to do with the play costs White. He's not sure if this play will resonate upstairs.
"I don't know," White says. "I try not to think about it. I think I left some plays out there I should have made. I had an in on the first ball that was thrown to me and even though he was draped on me, if I want to be the player I know I can be, I have to make that catch. You can't rely on the refs."
More than the touchdown, that third-and-8 drop in the first half is on his mind. That was the challenge he wanted. White ran an in route on Lamarcus Joyner and the Florida State rookie was all over him. Arm bar. A clutch. A knockdown.
White knew this was the moment of truth Edgar Bennett was waiting for, the contested catch. In his Michael Johnson Performance hoodie and fluorescent green shorts, White slips socks into sandals. He stands up and leans an arm against his locker.
(Great description. Seriously.)
The Janis Show is now must-see TV.
"He's a fast guy," White says of Janis. "He hit the corner, and he's fast. Decisive. Proud of him."
Five? Six? Who knows how many wide receivers the Packers keep. All White knows is [that] the competition is ramping up.
"To each his own," he says. "However you handle it, handle it. You have to make a play. The bar has been set."
He takes a deep breath, smiles and reflects on a play he can build on. With 57 seconds left at this hollow, lifeless, ghost town of Edward Jones Dome, White did race downfield to tackle the punt returner for a 5-yard loss...before promptly all-out sprinting off the field in elation.
No one called him "V12" after that play, no one gushed. On the sideline, teammates chuckled, hardly acknowledging White.
(You're doing so well, don't screw it up now)
But it's something. White recalibrates to his state of chill, fully aware that Janis officially raised the bar.
"And it's always going to be raised," he says. "That's where good teams keep taking a step up and forcing players to rise to the occasion."

5 p.m., Aug. 21

Packers Heritage Trail, downtown Green Bay

"Hut ... Go! ... Hut ... Go!"
These are the only two words Mychael repeats for a half-hour. These, and a high-pitched "Daddy!" At the Packers Heritage Trail off Washington St., the 23-month-old repeatedly drops into a 3-point stance and sprints into his dad's bear hug of a tackle.
Between bronze statues of Paul Hornung and Johnny "Blood" McNally, the little guy in the frizzy brown 'fro and short-sleeve denim shirt is easily the cutest thing this side of the Fox River. Climbing, crawling, dinging his head on the one of the statues, he squeals and cries and laughs all while fixating his eyes on his dad.
(This could maybe be two sentences, "fixating" could be "fixing", but you're on a roll, Tyler.)
The fact that Mychael is completely reliant on him, on this summer, could cause insomnia, 24-hour stress.
"I try very, very hard not to think about that," White says.
Instead, all summer, he says Mychael has liberated his mind. Frees him from games like St. Louis. Last summer, his son was 1,100 miles away. His girlfriend, Shavonda, flew up for the Family Night practice. Other than that, White was alone with his thoughts and that, he admits, can be a dangerous place.
(Watch out for sentence fragments.)
He needed Mychael; Mychael needed him.
Mychael has no clue that Dad could be cut in eight days, no idea their lives could change with one phone call.
"That's the beauty of it," White says. "He doesn't. So he doesn't treat it as such. He knows I go to work, I go play football and I come back. And I do the same thing over and over every day.
"Don't get me wrong. This is very important to me. But the most important thing to me is being a dad, being a supportive father to him. That's No. 1."
White has known Shavonda for 3½ years. They've stayed close. Oh yes, White was nervous when she first had the child. He was only 22 years old. He specifically remembers one day, one month into Mychael's life, when nerves consumed him.
(Ohhhhhh. Tyler, you were doing so well!! What does "They've stayed close" mean? Are they together or not? Why the "Oh yes"? What the heck happened on that day when "nerves consumed him" (like cannibal worms)? You don't say! Tell us! Gah. Everything about this paragraph is shit.)
Right then, Mychael became his life. He decided to attack fatherhood "head on."
Right here is the No. 1 reason Myles White is so relaxed this summer. All summer, he squeezed in father-son time between leaving the office and reporting to the dorms. Now, out of the dorms, they have even more time to play on the mini basketball hoop and throw the Nerf football around. Mychael usually puts on Dad's 2013 game helmet and pretends to be a player.
(Minor thing, but this doesn't have to be awkward. Even "now that he's out of the dorms" would make this flow better.)
And even with Mom around, White changes diapers. The key to a successful diaper change?
"You've got to get him to sit still, sit still."
White looks over to his son. He's now waddling at warp speed.
"He doesn't stop moving," he says, smiling. "He doesn't stop."
A year ago, Shavonda fielded the nightly phone calls from Myles. This summer, she sees the difference.
"Yes. Yes," she repeats. "He definitely has a much, much different mind-set than last year. When it came down to crunch time last year — the last two weeks of this time last year...."
Her voice fades, disappears. Stressful?
"Yes, yes."
White's confidence rebooted this week. Inside the Don Hutson Center, his post-corner cut froze Casey Hayward like one of these statues. And on back-to-back days, Janis steamed Rodgers by running the wrong route — to which White told Janis on the sideline, "You have to relax. Just focus."
The scene hints White still has an edge. In experience, in playing up in Rodgers' demanding stratosphere.
Says White, "I feel like I'm at the point where I understand what he wants on a certain route, or where he wants to go with the ball."
Holding his son, he walks down Washington St., toward his apartment complex. They'll grab dinner and then White is off to the Radisson team hotel. The Packers play the Oakland Raiders tomorrow, another opportunity.
Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and second-rounder Davante Adams are all locks. After St. Louis, the green-as-grass, yet gazelle-fast Janis is a front-runner at No. 5.
Do the Packers keep six receivers? That number could be the single force that cracks White's cool. Mention "five or six," and the girlfriend's eyes dart toward White.
(She has a name, right? Shavonda?)
"I don't know what they're going to do," White says, briefly opening his vault of uncertainty, "if they keep five or six. Whatever they decide to do, hopefully I'm in the mix. That's what it comes down to.
"If I'm not, I just have to pick up the pieces from there."
Hand in hand, they all walk away. Time is ticking.

11:45 a.m., Aug. 25

Ray Nitschke Field

Today, Myles White's last stand begins. Today, is a practice from hell.
(This is a little thing, but cut that stupid comma! By now I'm almost as mad at your editors as I am at you.)
In the red zone, blanketed by Jarrett Bush, White drops a pass. On a deep cross, with a step on likely-cut Ryan White, he extends one arm and drops another. As the dark "Say I Won't" by LeCrae blares during a TV timeout, White stands motionless. Helmet under his arm, that look from St. Louis returns. That look of doubt.
(Oh my God. Again with the melodrama.)
Next up, on the scout team, White all-out dives for a deep ball...and it grazes off his finger tips. Mud now covering his jersey, he can't even cut out of his break the next play. He slips, falls, a future now obviously in doubt.
(Fingertips is one word. "All-out dives" is awkward. Your last sentence just sucks.)
Slumped inside his locker afterward, White is visibly dejected, emotional.
He snaps his blue-and-white socks with force repeatedly, slips them on, and pulls a white long-sleeve Louisiana Tech shirt over his head. Today is essentially the Packers' final training camp practice before the final exhibition game.
His theme of 2014 — relax finally is damaged.
(Is finally damaged?)
"I let things get to me," White admits, "that I shouldn't have let get to me....I let things pile up that shouldn't have piled up."
White did cradle two touchdowns in the corner of the end zone, even if one was bobbled. He clings to no silver linings this day.
(Melodrama. Melodrama.)
"I shouldn't have let it get to that point," he says, blankly.
No, this wasn't the same wide receiver embarrassing cornerbacks the first three weeks. Right up to now, White had done such a masterful job of blocking everything out. Teammates see it. Tight end Jake Stoneburner, also a second-year pro on the bubble, heard White's "control what you control" drumbeat himself.
Yet the two took polar-opposite approaches all summer.
Whereas White finishes practice and removes himself from the game by playing with his son, Stoneburner calls his dad and analyzes practice. He prefers the stress, living on edge.
"For me," Stoneburner says, "the stress brings out the competitive 'I've got to get this done. Or else.' It keeps it more cutthroat for me."
Now, down the stretch run, Stoneburner is hot. Responding. Prod White about the life ramifications of a sink-or-swim summer and he reiterates the power of letting go. Not Stoneburner. He calls it "fighting the unknown." And, frankly, he says, it "sucks."
(As a runner, "down the stretch" and "stretch run" are two different phrases. Putting them together doesn't add emphasis, it makes it baffling.)
"You're like, 'Am I going to go through all this for nothing? And end up back at Columbus, Ohio?'" Stoneburner says. "That's pretty stressful. I won't lie, especially these last 10 days. Just because you know it's getting close.
"Who knows what's going to happen? Yeah, it's your life. It can turn in a second."
White has thought about life after football. One minute in the spring he was racing Johnathan Franklin (the only player to ever beat him), the next Franklin retired with a neck injury. Whenever this dream fades, he'll teach and coach.
(One, awkward sentence. Two, will White or Franklin "teach and coach"? Or both? You said "Franklin retired", then left the "he" in the next sentence ambiguous.)
Interlocking his fingers in thought, his voice picks up, as if realizing the dream's not dead yet.
"It was one of them days where everything is just not going your way," White says. "You have to fight through it. Go back to the fundamentals. That was the type of day it was. Hopefully, I didn't hurt myself too bad.
"I'm kind of going back into that zone. It's out of my control."
Asked once and for all why should the Green Bay Packers keep Myles White, he points to the film. Hopefully, White says, the "tape shows it."
It didn't today. In 20 minutes, White will review the practice tape with Bennett. He knows the scolding that awaits. And later in the day, after that meeting — in the same room Bennett broke down White's mid-camp drop — the coach is told that White was torn up over his practice.
(I'm not a big fan of removing the reporter from the story, especially in a story this long, but that's a legitimate stylistic choice.)
The mild-mannered Bennett is curt.
"He should be," the coach says.
"When we're fundamentally sound, we make plays. When we're not fundamentally sound, there's a drop-off. We can't play, we don't operate at that level. That's unacceptable. It just can't happen."
Technically, yes, the Packers could now keep White on the practice squad. But that's not what he worked for, that's not what was on his mind those grueling training days in Dallas.
(We come back to it at last. YES. JESUS CHRIST. THIS HAS BEEN THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE ENTIRE STORY. All that "keeping five or six" stuff, the all-or-nothing tone of the entire piece, it's not actually true!! Why isn't this way up at the top of the story? It's not all or nothing! He can stick on the practice squad! If he gets cut, it really isn't the end of the world! It is unbelievable that you waited this long to mention this REALLY IMPORTANT THING!!) 

(EDIT: Also, I had a nagging suspicion that was confirmed when I reread this. What the hell "grueling training days in Dallas" were those? This is the first time 'Dallas' has appeared. You mentioned that Shavonda and Mychael were "1,100 miles away", but didn't say where that was. And there was no prior mention of White's offseason work. All I can think of is that the Dallas sentence made sense in an earlier draft of the piece, when there was a part about Dallas elsewhere in the article, but that got cut and you forgot about this part (or your editor did). Again, this is maddeningly sloppy. How a professional writer can screw as many things up as you do and still have a job is beyond me. I'm done with this article. You are awful at writing.)

Two years ago, Jarrett Boykin finished off Tori Gurley (since cut by his eighth team) and Diondre Borel (now out of the NFL) with a breakout fourth exhibition game. "Wow," White cuts in, unaware. Last year, Jeremy Ross earned a spot in the fourth game. He still has hope in the form of Thursday night, a chance to convince Green Bay to keep six, to keep him.
No, White has never experienced a month like this.
In basketball, the Myles White equivalent could play in Europe, could latch onto an NBA Developmental team. In hockey, in baseball, there are minor-league options. In football, you make it or you don't.
Thursday's exhibition finale is White's final job interview.
And then Saturday morning, he'll turn on his cellphone and wait. The Packers will either call and ask him to turn in his playbook. Or not. Silence is a beautiful thing on cutdown day.
White dries his face off with a towel. Leans forward.
This is it — the phoenix's final chance to rise.
"You try to throw your name in the hat and whatever happens, know you did your best. You did your best. You let it all out. Maybe it wasn't good enough.
" very, very cut and dry."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ruthlessly Editing Tyler Dunne, Part I

I hate Tyler Dunne, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on the Green Bay Packers beat. I've never met him, I know nothing about him as a person, but based purely on his articles and columns, I hate him. He's a bad writer, he rabble-rouses with things that aren't real issues in order to get clicks, and he rarely provides any insight that wasn't cribbed from one of his Journal Sentinel colleagues.

But those are just empty charges. To illustrate how he's so terrible at his job, and how he could be better at it, I've taken a column of his from Packer Plus Magazine and gone through it pretty much paragraph-by-paragraph, writing corrections as if I were an editor speaking to Tyler. Normal font is Tyler's article, italics are mine. The article can be found here (in case you think I'm exaggerating some of his errors). It was published on August 19, 2014, in Packer Plus.

Pass rushers flew off the board, one by one, the night of April 26, 2012.

This is minor, but Tyler tends to have a lot of nagging flubs. The only way anyone gets drafted is “one by one”. 'Pass rushers flew off the board on the night of April 26, 2012' is perfect.

Bruce Irvin at 15. Quinton Coples at 16. Melvin Ingram at 18. Shea McClellin at 19. Chandler Jones at 21. Whitney Mercilus at 26. You can almost picture a bead of sweat dripping down the temple of stoic Ted Thompson with each selection. A pull of the collar, a chug of the ice water.

(Tyler loves poetic imagery as much as he loves agitating. Who knows if Thompson was actually sweating or drinking ice water or pulling his collar. That doesn’t matter. Tyler’s idea of journalism isn’t painting the picture for a reader, but painting a picture for the reader.)

And at No. 28 overall, the Green Bay Packers general manager settled on USC's Nick Perry.

He didn't draft Perry to be good. He drafted him to be great.

Three years later, Perry remains more placeholder than playmaker. Injuries are to blame.... to an extent. In two exhibition games, the 6-foot-3, 265-pounder hasn't merely blended in. Penciled in as the No. 4 outside linebacker, not much at all has separated Perry from the likes of Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.

(You could strike “at all” here, maybe put in a little bit more about how injuries have wrecked his first two professional seasons after six and seven games respectively, but overall, this is solid. The “more placeholder than playmaker” line is a nice touch.)

Is his roster spot in peril? Maybe not. But the Packers must be asking themselves behind closed doors if there's still hope for their handpicked savior opposite Clay Matthews.

(No, no, no, no. This is rank conjecture, Tyler! This is rabble-rousing! You know damn well that nobody cuts a first-round pick after two injury-riddled seasons, especially now that we’re in the new CBA and it costs nothing to keep him. His base salary this year is a million dollars. That's pocket change. Why don't you mention that in this article? Oh, right, because it undermines your argument.)

Last week, both defensive coordinator Dom Capers and linebackers coach Winston Moss acknowledged the linebacker — who missed the entire off-season recovering from injuries — has played catch-up but were optimistic overall.

(The “acknowledged” is a small thing, but it rankles me. It introduces implications that don’t need to be there—like someone was banging on Moss and Capers’s door, trying to get them to confess. The perfectly adequate “said” is the journalistic standard, and it doesn’t assign intention.)

"In working with Nick over the spring in the classroom, working with him on the field, I think he has all it takes to be a really great player," said Moss. "So time will only tell. That's what I'm looking forward to."

Capers calls Perry a "strong guy" that can take on tight ends and "walk them back because he's got that strength."

Three days later, he wasn't quite that threat.

Outside linebacker may be the position that has coaches burning the midnight oil later this month. But Moss and Capers were sure to give Perry an extensive look at St. Louis. Chances are, they weren't impressed by Perry's 18 uneventful snaps. He provided minimal, blasé pass rush, was OK vs. the run and, all in all, failed to excite at a position that screams excitement.

(I quibble with “minimal, blasé”—Tyler loves stacking words for emphasis where one would do—but otherwise, aside from the “midnight oil” cliché, this is okay.)

Take it play by play.

Perry entered the game with 5:56 to go in the second quarter. All four of his drives, he operated on his favorite right side and worked predominantly against journeyman Mike Person, of Montana State, who has played one game in four seasons.

(“Operated on his favorite right side” is unnecessarily ambiguous, isn’t it? Couldn’t this sentence read something like “Perry spent all four of his drives at right outside linebacker, his preferred position, against journeyman tackle Mike Person”?)

On Series No. 1, Perry tackled Benny Cunningham, falling forward for four yards. Four plays later, on Mike Pennel's 9-yard sack, Perry tried to speed wide on Person and was swept away.

(On the one hand, it’s great that Tyler’s examining the plays; on the other, the lack of detail is maddening. How did he tackle Cunningham? Did he get off a block? Also, the sentence reads that Perry (the subject) fell forward for four yards, not Cunningham. Just say “Cunningham, who fell forward”.)

Coaches say Perry sets the edge, that he'll force action inside. Yet the next possession, Perry crashed down vs. the run and was taken out by the fullback, allowing Cunningham to skip by for nine yards. The ensuing second and 1 was Perry's best play of the night. He bench-pressed Person, veered the tackle inside, and tackled Cunningham for a loss of one — still this was created, first and foremost, by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix filling and forcing Cunningham to bounce.

(This one is just stupid. ‘Coach says this, but Perry did that.’ Well, perhaps Perry had a different assignment on that play? You know how players have different assignments at different times, Tyler? Also, “Skip by” should be “skip outside”. Also, besides the awkward sentence structure, you mention Clinton-Dix’s penetration like it somehow detracts from Perry’s good performance on that play. Yes. Cunningham had to move because C-D was there. That’s what happens in football. Players help other players make plays. Rarely does anyone do it by themselves.)

(Edit: Also, you fail to mention that Perry is getting pressure around the LT. With 1:19 remaining in the second quarter, he fakes inside, swats down Person's hands and whips around him to the outside; if Shaun Hill holds the ball another second, that's a sack-fumble.)

On Series No. 3, into the third quarter, Perry rushed right and tried to spin inside, instead slow-motion spinning right back into Person's waiting hands. The next play, he walked Person back for a solid bull rush and Shaun Hill got the ball out. The next, he again crashed down vs. the run and missed the back. And on third and 12, Perry tried taking Person inside, was blocked, spun and blocked again.

(Don’t say “right”. Whose right? Say “outside” or “inside”. This is what I mean by maddening detail—how did he miss the back? Did he get chipped? Have a shot at him and whiff? You’re paid to describe things adequately, Tyler. Do so.)

Series No. 4, Perry's final series, wasn't pretty.

When No. 3 quarterback Garrett Gilbert entered the game — not quite the Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan the Packers envisioned Perry tracking down — it didn't get any rosier for Perry.

(Tyler, I know you love stacking things for emphasis, but you only need one of these two sentences! Also, the Manning/Brees/Ryan thing adds nothing to the piece.)

On first and 10 from the Rams 41, the sixth-round pick from Southern Methodist carried out the run fake right and Perry (unblocked) crashed down hard. Gilbert pulled the ball, rolled left and easily hit Stedman Bailey for 14 yards.

(THIS IS GOOD. THANK YOU. Although, after saying “Series No. 4 wasn’t pretty”, you then mention only one play on the series—what about the others? This almost reads like “Series No. 4 wasn’t pretty” was left in by accident.)

(Edit: Oh, look at this, later in the series: here's Perry... setting the edge and forcing a run inside. Again, Tyler tells "a" story, not "the" story.)

After missing the entire spring, maybe Perry needs time to recharge.

He was not downright awful. This wasn't a Sean Hooey-like, dust-off-your-résumé performance. It was a plain, mediocre, invisible game from a player the Packers didn't draft to be plain, mediocre and invisible.

(Remove “downright” and the hackneyed Sean Hooey sentence, which appears only to be there for emphasis. Otherwise, this is fine, albeit making much of a meaningless preseason performance.)

Hope comes in the form of jarring memories. Moss brings up two plays specifically — 2012 at Indianapolis, 2013 at Baltimore. On the first, Perry demolished Andrew Luck for a Rated-R, sack-fumble that drew an iffy flag. On the second, Perry wasted Eugene Monroe for a sack-fumble.

(There are easier ways to say “violent” than “Rated-R”, Tyler. For example, “violent”. You so often reach for the absurd or overblown cliché, phrase or metaphor when one or two simple words would get your point across so much better! Also, not that I’m counting, but who the hell is Luck? Does he play a different position than Monroe? At the least, you could go “QB Andrew Luck” or “OT Eugene Monroe”. I may be reading a football supplemental, but I might not know these things—be good to your readers.)

Both plays were exactly what the Packers pictured in projecting this hot-and-cold defensive end at outside linebacker.

On paper, he offers a different element.

"He can bring a powerful body to dominate the point of attack vs. the run," Moss said. "He can give you powerful pass rush that's different from the speed, explosiveness, agility of Clay Matthews, the skill, experience and athleticism and talent of Julius Peppers, explosion of Mike Neal. The quickness and get-off of Mike Neal. All those guys feature different skill sets. He will be able to bring a power.

"Those type of very tight-line, in-line powerful moves that can overwhelm an offensive tackle, I think he excels at."

"Nick Perry is a great pass rusher," said his teammate, Palmer. "He's real explosive, real powerful. I can see that just in his bull rushing. I've seen times when he'll just collapse tackles. As far as what's going on with him, I'm not 100% sure. But I know that when he's at his best, he's one of the best we've got."

(This is good. Let other people talk.)

The 4.5 speed. The 38½-inch vertical. The 35 reps. All at 265 pounds.

(Tyler, you have an annoying habit of assuming we already know what you’re talking about. Would “35 bench-presses” really disrupt the flow of this graf in a way that “reps” doesn’t? Reps on what, the stationary bike? Tell us things.)

Even as Perry himself was hesitant about playing linebacker back at the NFL scouting combine, the possibilities were endless. Not many pass rushers are built like this. So far, it hasn't translated to the field.

The Packers could theoretically shop Perry. Thompson did prove he's not afraid to admit a mistake. Jerel Worthy was taken only 23 picks after Perry and was shipped off to the Patriots. With so much depth at the position — hello, Jayrone Elliott — it wouldn't be a shock.

(Are you seriously saying that the Packers might cut or trade a first-round pick, with less than one full season of experience at the new position he had to learn in the pros, because some nobody unrestricted free agent rookie linebacker had a great (PRESEASON) game against an awful tackle? I just want to be clear here. Is that seriously what you’re saying????

Look, even if what you're implying wasn't completely crazy, the Packers just had a season where they lost their No. 1 and No. 2 OLBs to injury, and their No. 3 guy had nagging injuries all season. They started an undrafted rookie in the wild-card round against Colin Kaepernick. Do you seriously think they’ll cut Perry because… because… because he’s only shown flashes after two injury-riddled years? Seriously? Say it with me: DEPTH IS GOOD. TEAMS NEED DEPTH.)

Moss probably put it best. "Time will only tell." As an injury-prone first-rounder, Perry has been afforded more time, patience. The Packers will want to capitalize on those athletic, physical traits.

Expect another round of 15-20 snaps against Oakland on Friday.

Eyes will be on No. 53.

(Oh my God. First of all: Nobody gives up on a first-round pick while he’s still on his rookie contract and has no character issues. Find me a first-round pick in the last decade or two who’s been cut before the end of his rookie contract based solely on performance. Even Bobby Carpenter got four seasons. So did Justin Harrell. Worthy was traded because the Packers were deep enough that they were going to cut him at the end of camp anyway. They’re not legitimately deep enough at OLB to discard Perry, especially with Matthews and Neal (both injury-prone) and Peppers, an unknown quantity, in front of him. Second of all: “Time, patience”. “Athletic, physical”. Pick one. Third of all: “Eyes will be on No. 53” somehow manages to be bad in two different ways. It’s banal and uninformative because yes, duh, people will be watching him. It’s irrelevant because it’s the third preseason game and Perry is not fighting for a roster spot with Andy Mulumba and Jayrone Elliott. Tyler, I don’t have much evidence to support my hypothesis, but you can do better than this.)