Chad Pennington has the basics down as a part-time rookie game analyst on Fox: He can dissect replays and explain why a play worked or didn't. He can intelligently discuss strategy. He doesn't interrupt his play-by-play man.
But to rise up a network depth chart, he needs more color, more opinions and less predictability in his analysis. He needs to become less reliant on the crutch of saying "nice play" or "nice decision.''
Share anecdotes, Chad. Tell us which players are overrated and underrated. If you don't like a play that was called, tell us, as Fox's Troy Aikman and Jim Mora would. Or, better yet, tell us what play you would have run instead. Show us the personality you displayed during chats with reporters throughout your career.
Sam Rosen could extract more out of Pennington if he asked him more pointed questions.
Fox, looking for new talent, has tried a bunch of former players the past few years, with John Lynch the best of the group. Lynch delivered sharp insight into the shortcomings of Eagles WR DeSean Jackson on the day he was suspended for missing a team meeting. Lynch, who studied tape of the Eagles' previous game, said Jackson was "loafing down the field" on the first play, throwing his hands up when Michael Vick didn't throw him the ball and seemed to be trying to avoid contact.
Among quarterbacks who played in the past decade, Pennington should study CBS' Rich Gannon, who offers valid criticism when appropriate and backs it up with facts. Gannon also spots nuances: "You can tell from Colt McCoy's footwork that he doesn't trust his receivers. His eyes go back to the tight ends and running backs."
Fox, which improved its depth last year by adding Mora, was smart to give partial packages to Pennington this year and Kurt Warner last year. But Warner, who's loquacious, proved to be a better fit in the studio, where he's working full-time now on NFL Network.
AROUND THE DIAL
Prediction segments are generally a waste of time, and the NFL Network incarnation is especially ponderous, because all five analysts are given a chance to make a pick, which usually involves merely shouting the name of a skill position player (any 12-year-old could do that) and the winning team. But the network that comes closest to doing these segments well is CBS, where the analysis is usually more thoughtful and thorough and goes beyond just picking a winner.
• For all of the creative features and sharp reporting on ESPN's three-hour pre-game show, too much time is spent debating contrived topics that aren't worth discussing. One segment was spent on this: "Is it good or bad for the Packers to remain perfect?" Mike Ditka offered this "expert" analysis: "I don't recommend losing to anybody." You don't say?
• ESPN's Trent Dilfer exudes self-assuredness and authoritativeness, but also is smart enough to know that some viewers who don't like him will point to his mediocre playing career. That's why Dilfer is clever to be so self-deprecating. "Being patient as a dynamic player is hard," Dilfer said of the Eagles' Jackson, among others. "Not that I would know."