In order to understand Randy Gregory’s somewhat unusual biomechanical makeup, it’s helpful to first inspect an often-used but little-described football term: ‘burst’. What is burst? If you’ve watched football, you’ve seen it– that extra bit of explosion, where the running back suddenly erupts through the line, or when a WR running down the sidelines sprints all-out to make it to the end zone. But what is it? What is the underlying mechanism that allows a person to suddenly maximize their physical output– to red-line their engine?
Biomechanical borrowing has been discussed previously on this site, as a way for adjacent areas to contribute their action to increase the suddenness or power of a movement. But what has never been discussed previously are the spinal areas below the lumbar– the sacral and the coccygeal areas. If the cervical spinal muscles control the head and neck, the thoracic spinal muscles control the chest/ shoulders/ arms/ back, and the lumbar spinal muscles control the lower back/ abdomen/ legs, where do these other spinal areas fit in?
In general, the sacral area controls various internal functions, particularly the excretory system– the kidneys, lower intestine etc. As a result, sacral areas connect to all other areas of the body– waste must be removed from the entire body, not just from the lower abdomen. Meaning that while the sacral areas are seated in the lower back/ lower abdomen, they are networked throughout the whole system.
‘Burst’ is when the body borrows against these sacral areas/ networks to supplement an action. It’s the difference between running and sprinting, flexing or straining. That last extra effort, that unsustainable red-lining of the engine. Straining is you borrowing internally against your sacral connected network. This is (partly) why people often throw out their lower back when they strain themselves, even if the strain doesn’t involve lifting– like when someone throws out their back stretching to reach a book off the top shelf.
This concept is not unfamiliar to Eastern medicine and techniques. In Chinese medicine, the sacral areas are an important energy center– the source of ‘Jing’. Likewise, the Root/ Sacral Chakras are thought to be one’s seat of power, the source of one’s life-force. The idea of these areas as supplying a certain kind of vital/ extra energy has long been a part of these Eastern schools of thought.
It is also understood by these philosophies that this type of energy diminishes with age, that Jing depletes particularly after age 30 or so. Just like how in the football world, we understand that burst starts to noticeably diminish after the age of 25, falling precipitously once one reaches one’s 30s.
So how does this relate to Randy Gregory? Gregory is a player with powerful/ well-developed posterior areas (oriented laterally), but coupled with noticeably underdeveloped/ stunted anterior areas– specifically his upper chest/ shoulders and his medial anterior lumbar areas (insides of the fronts of his legs). Anterior areas are generally the more quick-firing muscles, and so for pass rushers needing to shoot off the line, some degree of anterior efficiency is needed. Gregory’s lack of this efficiency is made up for near-constant ‘burst’, or borrowing from sacral areas to supplement his anterior areas.
This combination of burst with powerful/ well-developed posterior areas makes Randy Gregory a force of nature when he is fresh and able to burst fully. Rather than winning with subtlety and technique, Gregory overwhelms and overpowers his opposition with relentless ‘Jing’ and strength. He throws his arms around with incredible raw strength, he runs forward with incredible power; he can physically dominate when he is fresh and healthy. However, his type of borrowing is inherently unsustainable– nobody can sprint for miles, or strain for hours. So while Gregory can be very effective for short stretches, or if the defense is able to consistently get off the field quickly, his reliance on an unsustainable mechanic leaves his endurance somewhat lacking, while his underdeveloped anterior areas pose consistent injury risks. Like anyone so reliant on youthful energy, when it is spent, he is diminished.
Gregory is therefore best utilized as a part-time turbo-boost. Someone who can come in and provide some impact playmaking, but in short stretches and with a mind towards his tendency to wear down and potentially become injured. A raw sports car that comes out of the garage for exciting drives, but shouldn’t be used for grinding commutes. Over time, Gregory’s burst will diminish (like any player as they approach their 30s) but with far greater significance for a player so reliant on this type of energy to play effectively. Think of a running back like Marion Barber– a force of nature in his prime, but a very quick drop off in effectiveness once his burst started to diminish.
For a team like Denver, which is likely now entering a championship window, Gregory can offer some meaningful playmaking– both in run defense and as a rusher– as long as he is utilized correctly (not as an every down player), and kept healthy. And a deep roster of edges/ pass rushers behind him is a necessity. Thankfully Denver seems to have taken these factors into consideration when building significant depth at OLB.
However, long term expectations should be kept in check. Gregory will be turning 30 this upcoming season, and it’s possible, perhaps probable, that a steep decline in effectiveness is lurking around the corner. Once Gregory starts to enter his 30s, his reliance on sacral area borrowing may significantly limit his effectiveness– once his burst starts to fail, he will be unable to win his matchups with the same combination of raw effort/ strength. Hopefully Gregory can contribute meaningfully in the short term, while managing and maximizing a shrinking pool of ‘burst’ over the longer term.
**this article was originally written/ scheduled to be posted weeks ago. However, it was pulled at the last minute after a closer review of game tape showed significantly more efficient/ involved posterior areas than the original profile suggested. After rebuilding Gregory’s profile, it appears that this article perhaps overstates the degree to which Gregory’s effectiveness is based on sacral areas borrowing. His lateral posterior are indeed remarkably efficient/ explosive and contribute hugely to his forward drive, power, and speed. Gregory may age better than this article seems to suggest.
However, even after rebuilding Gregory’s profile, it is clear that his anterior quickness (and thereby play positioning) is still largely based on burst/ sacral area borrowing. As a result, even though the profile upon which this article is based is flawed, the conclusions are likely not terribly far off base. The decision was therefore made to run this article as originally written, but with this disclaimer that the original profile was flawed– that Gregory’s posterior areas are highly efficient and very relevant to his past success. But that Gregory’s reliance on sacral area borrowing may still prove to be unsustainable both in games and over the long term.