NFL players normally aren’t allowed to use their phones on the sidelines, but the league took away that restriction for Sunday’s Pro Bowl as one of their initiatives to try and drum up more interest in that game. And that led to something you don’t usually see during any game; a player involved criticizing the TV broadcast’s color commentator mid-game. In this case, the analyst in question was ESPN’s Matt Hasselbeck, a candidate for the Monday Night Football slot vacated by Jon Gruden. Hasselbeck was given this assignment as at least a partial audition for the MNF gig, but San Francisco 49ers’ fullback Kyle Juszczyk was unimpressed. After Juszczyk (seen at right above with teammate Thomas Davis during a Pro Bowl practice) carried the ball for a first down on a fourth-and-1 in the first quarter, Hasselbeck remarked that giving the ball to the fullback “never happens.” The 49ers’ Twitter account then tweeted the clip and tagged Juszczyk, who responded an hour later (still during the game) by criticizing Hasselbeck’s commentary:
💪🏼 @JuiceCheck44 converts on 4th down to help set up the NFC's opening TD.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 28, 2018
Hasselbeck’s exact commentary was “Well, I should have mentioned that you might give the ball to the fullback, which never happens. These poor guys, all the blocking they do, and they never get the ball.” That didn’t sit well with Juszczyk:
— Kyle Juszczyk (@JuiceCheck44) January 28, 2018
Juszczyk has a point there. Hasselbeck is right in general that fullbacks don’t receive many offensive touches in today’s NFL, but Juszcyzk in particular recorded seven carries for 31 yards and 33 catches (on 42 targets) for 315 yards and a touchdown this season in just 14 games (10 starts). He was particularly a large part of the San Francisco offense after they brought in Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback midseason, tying for second on the team in catches over that stretch. So Hasselbeck’s comment did seem to indicate that he wasn’t fully up to speed on Juszczyk at the least.
While that’s maybe understandable (it’s perhaps more difficult to prepare commentary on each player’s role for the Pro Bowl than for a regular game, as it’s not just watching tape of two teams), the Pro Bowl’s also the wrong time to comment on fullbacks’ lack of touches, as the fullbacks selected for the game are often picked thanks at least partly to their offensive stats, not just their blocking. Plus, when you throw in that the Pro Bowl coaching staffs often try to get everyone involved and do some unconventional things (from post-interception laterals to flea flickers and wide receiver passes), it shouldn’t really be a shock that anyone in particular is getting the ball. But hey, Juszcyck made the play here, made his point, and also put up a great catch later in the contest, so it wasn’t a bad day for him at all. And at least Hasselbeck gave him a few more props on that later catch:
— 49ers Webzone (@49erswebzone) January 28, 2018
As for Hasselbeck, that one moment certainly doesn’t mean all that much for his chances of getting the MNF job. Every commentator offers some less-than-perfect insights, and this one wasn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things; it was perhaps not a bad general observation, but just one that was inappropriate for the particular player and circumstances. But the overall reviews on Hasselbeck were pretty mixed. If he does get the job in the end, though, at least there he won’t have to worry about players calling him out mid-broadcast.