Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Florida State Player to Watch: Christian Jones

Florida State football is back. As Coach Jimbo Fisher begins his second year at the helm, the Seminoles return 18 starters, possess the nation's top incoming class and have high hopes for new quarterback EJ Manuel. Needless to say the Noles are already in the BCS Championship discussion.

Manuel must control the offense and have a standout year in order for the Seminoles to dominate. On the other side of the ball is a player who is poised to have a breakout year and be the difference maker Florida State needs, linebacker Christian Jones.

At 6'4", 236 (look for his playing weight to eventually be 240) many describe him as a physical freak. As the "Sam" (strong side) linebacker, his size, strength and athletic ability will come in handy going up against opposing tight ends.

A Florida State legacy, his dad and brother both played football for the Seminoles, Jones has elite natural pass rushing abilities and above average coverage skills at this stage in his career that will only get better with experience. That is what linebacker coach Greg Hudson and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops are counting on.

Last season, playing sporadically behind senior Mister Alexander, Jones racked up 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.

A likely starter in 2011, Coach Fisher has high expectations for Jones. "Somebody blessed him in the body with ability. He has a lot of size, potential, range, instincts and toughness. He's a big body that can play in space. That's rare. I think he has the potential to be a very good player."

According to Tomahawk Nation, Jones looked good in coverage in Florida State's annual Gold and Garnet spring game. That's good news for Seminole fans, as Jones defensive play will be crucial for a successful season.

Even teammate Nigel Bradham is excited to see how Jones will fare this upcoming year. "I'm really interested in seeing how Christian is going to do. I know he's going to do well."

At the end of the regular season Coach Fisher and the Seminoles hope to be in BCS contention. Christian Jones may very well be a catalyst that helps propel them into the national spotlight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 Preview: Miami Dolphins Defense

These days all eyes are on the Miami Dolphins offense, but it is the defense that teams should be on the lookout for.

Second year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan gives Miami fans reason to smile. With a year under their belt the chemistry between players and coach should be even stronger. Plus the players have had a year to learn Nolan's scheme and should be more productive executing it.

The Dolphins finished the 2010 NFL season ranked 6th in overall yards allowed and tenth in sacks. Not too shabby, especially considering how young this defense is. Twelve players who figure to play a prominent role in 2011 are in the early part or prime of their career. Basically Nolan has young talent at his disposal.

The solid anchor of the defense is the line. Coach Sparano echoed that sentiment stating, "That group was the only one on my football team I knew what I was getting every game."

The return of 2010 first round pick Jared Odrick, who sat out last season due to injury, adds depth to an already strong defensive line. Randy Starks earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2010 and some believe nose tackle (and franchise tag player) Paul Soliai should have been in Hawaii as well. Add the ever improving Kendall Langford to the mix and it is obvious the defensive line is among the teams greatest strengths.

It is hard to talk about team strengths without mentioning the linebacking corp. These guys were impressive last season and should build on that this year.

The front office made a smart move bringing Karlos Dansby into the fold. Not only is he a great player, but his leadership skills are important for this young defense. Look for Dansby to make more noise this season.

In just his second year in the NFL, Cameron Wake emerged as one of the leagues premier linebackers. The Pro Bowler ranked 3rd in sacks recording 14.

Rounding out the linebacking corp are Koa Misi and team defensive leader Channing Crowder.

Wreaking havoc in the secondary are play maker Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. With teams shying away from Davis' side look for them to take shots at Smith. After dropping several potential interceptions last year Smith must have better hands this season. If he does many believe he will have a breakout year.

And don't forget about Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell. He has great instincts and is a solid tackler.

The defense will benefit from a stronger offense. If Miami can put points on the board it should free up the defense to play more aggressively. Playing from behind makes it hard on a defense to really play loose.

Creating turnovers will be defensive focus. Last year the defense struggled in this area, this year they want to turn up the pressure. If they can capitalize on turnovers in 2011, Miami may just compete in the loaded AFC East.

For now most fans and media are focused on the offense. Who will be the quarterback? What will Miami's backfield look like? But it very well may be the defense that gives the team a chance to contend this season.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Dolphins and Ricky Williams May Need to Create Perfect Harmony

"I'd love nothing more than to finish my career winning a Super Bowl with the Dolphins, but that's gonna take some cooperation from others." This tweet is courtesy of Miami running back Ricky Williams, the same player that in January said it was time to move on from the Dolphins. What a difference five months and the lockout can make.

Williams has changed his tune several times over the last five months. In January he said it was time to move on. In March he basically said he would have fun wherever he played, whether it be in Miami or elsewhere. In April he said if the Dolphins want him to stay and make a fair offer it would be hard to turn down. Cut to the above tweet in June. The question is what should Miami do?

It's no secret the Dolphins want fresh legs in the running back corp, but they may need a veteran to teach these young guys, such as recently drafted Daniel Thomas, the ropes. Veteran leadership is important because the longer the lockout goes on, the less time for the newbies to become acclimated to playing in the NFL or for free agents to become comfortable playing for a new organization.

Miami may have a different offensive playbook under new coordinator Brian Daboll, but don't think for a second that Williams doesn't have something to offer. Last year he rushed for 673 yards (averaging 4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Not bad for a 33 year old.

What Miami may want to consider is the veteran experience Williams brings, a sentiment he stressed when talking to WQAM-560. "I have things to offer that a rookie can't offer. I think I bring positivity. I think I bring leadership. I've proven I can play at a high level consistently."

Whether or not the Dolphins head office agrees, we'll have to wait and see. Afterall Williams had some pretty harsh words for teammates and coaching staff back in January when he was sure he would never put on a Dolphins uniform again.

It may be in the end the Dolphins admit the importance of locker room leadership and sign Williams for one year, but Williams may have to compromise on the financial terms

With no player contact allowed it's hard to tell which way the brass is leaning. Pat Kirwan of brings out an important point, "With 29 backs taken in the recent draft it doesn't leave many teams looking to spend big bucks in that position... there really aren't many willing to pay much in free agency for a veteran, especially if the next contract brings the back past his 30th birthday."

Williams himself said they haven't shown much interest in resigning him, but just as he changed his tune, so may the Dolphins.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Meet Gabbert's New Best Friends

It has been said that a tight end can be a quarterback's best friend. Why is that? A tight end may not be as dynamic as a wide receiver or running back, yet are usually the one the quarterback dumps the ball to when in trouble.

According to Rams General Manager Billy Devaney, "The tight end is a real nice safety valve for the quarterback to have. If you've got to spit the ball out fast it's a comfort knowing you've got a sure handed tight end as a receiver even if he's not running down the middle of the field. If you have someone like that who knows how to read blitzes and knows how to get open, that becomes a quarterbacks best friend."

Luckily for Blaine Gabbert, if he gets the nod to start, the Jacksonville Jaguars have an strong, experienced tight end corp. General Manager Gene Smith believes they are a winning group. "Winning at tight end in a very real sense is about versatility, depth, improvement and experience."

One of the Jaguars most durable and reliable leaders is Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis. Known as one of the NFL's better blocking tight ends, he emerged as a receiver last season racking up 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is a force to be reckoned with, a reality not lost on Gabbert.

In an interview following the draft Gabbert had this to say about Lewis, "He's a great player, having a big athletic tight end like that helps you out. We had a great tight end in Missouri as well and having a guy like that can get a mismatch on a linebacker and stretch the middle of the field puts stress on the defense. Anytime you have a guy like that, like Marcedes. that's definitely a comfort for the quarterback."

Smith also had high praise for No. 2 tight end Zach Miller. "Miller has the potential to continue to develop and in a more pass oriented offense could put up numbers on the scale of some of the NFL's better receiving tight ends."

That bold statement potentially puts Miller in the company of exceptional pass-catching tight ends such as Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and the man known every year in my fantasy league as Capt. Witten (of course I'm talking about the Cowboy's Jason Witten).

Rounding out the tight end trio is blocking tight end Zach Potter. As defenses continue to run creative blitzing schemes having solid tight ends handling the pressure is important. Smith is confident the tight end position is one of his teams most reliable areas.

In Jacksonville there will be a close watch on the competition between David Garrard and Gabbert. Regardless of who wins, there is a strong tight end corp ready for either quarterback to rely on.

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Raiders Passing Camp at CES: Behind the Scenes Account

Buford High School is used to the spotlight. The Wolves have won four straight Georgia state titles and seven of the last nine, but this week a different caliber of star stepped onto the field. The Oakland Raiders arrived in town.

Because contact with coaches is not allowed, NFL team workouts are up to the players. Around the league some players are practicing routes while others are running seven on seven drills. Raiders veteran Richard Seymour had another idea in mind.

It just so happens that Seymour lives around the corner from one of the nation's top sports performance training facilities, Competitive Edge Sports. A few weeks ago Seymour reached out to founder Chip Smith and set up a four day structured mini camp. He then reached out to his teammates and invited them to attend.

I asked Seymour if it was true he paid for the whole camp. "Nah, it's just a rumor," he replied, but we both knew he was just being modest.

The Raiders arrived bright and early for day one field training. Seymour showed up first, followed by the offensive linemen. One by one the players such as Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley filed in ready to begin the day. Not everyone showed up on time but when all was said and done over 30 players participated in the workouts.

Upon arrival the players noticed lots of equipment: resistance cords, Stinchcomb harnesses, snatchback cords, shackles, etc... As an observer even I was wary of all the contraptions.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement as teammates greeted each other. After Chip introduced himself, Seymour said a few words and then it was time to get to work.

CES trainer Tripp Smith led the team through ballistic warm-ups and quick foot ladders. The guys were winded but there was no time to waste as they quickly broke into groups for position specific training.

Next up a team favorite, seven on seven. Quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Kyle Boller took turns directing the offense. It was obvious Campbell, constantly with playbook in hand, is truly embracing his leadership role.

Ready for a reprieve from the hotlanta heat the team headed back to CES for lunch and lifting. The weight room was a madhouse with guys everywhere, music blasting, the sound of weights and bars clanging along with the screams of encouragement to just do one more rep.

Day two started with more field drills, consisting of release harnesses, reaction coach, the dreaded Mama Bird drill and "Chip-O-Meters." Inventor Chip Smith designed this piece of equipment to give the athlete overspeed in flexion of the foot and resistance in extension of the foot. Basically cords are attached to both a harness on your body and straps on your feet.

About this time a bus pulled up with players who train at a facility based in Orlando. These guys were in town with a colleague of Smith's, Tom Shaw. This group consisted of former Viking and free agent Javon Walker, Steelers unrestricted free agent Ike Taylor, Patriots BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cardinals D'Anthony Batiste, Titans Myron Rolle, Jaguars Greg Jones and Chargers free agent Travis Johnson.

The Raiders and Shaw's guys played a little seven on seven. Oakland ran plays from their playbook while Shaw's team was not as scripted. It seemed everyone enjoyed catching up and appreciated a little healthy competition.

As the players left the field, the Atlanta Falcons, who also use Buford's field, arrived. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones greeted Raider players. With all this NFL star power on the field you would think we were at the Pro Bowl!

Back at CES headquarters players were treated to lunch, consulted with nutrition expert Marie Spano and some took advantage of the top notch CES rehab and prehab medical team.

Next on the agenda was the infamous CES pool workout. Now if you are thinking that pool day is an easy day than you are mistaken. These guys were attached to resistance cords as they tried to swim and used resistance bands in the water for upper body work. Let me tell you this workout is no joke. Pool day may be a rest for your joints, but that is the only thing that gets a rest on this day!!

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left a satisfied customer stating "the pool workout was a different kind of workout, but it was good."

Punt returner/wide receiver Nick Miller told me he didn't know what to expect. "I've done pool workouts before, but normally it's swimming laps. We got here and I saw the bands and that kinda threw me for a loop, I didn't know what to expect. It was a lot of hard work and just when we thought we were done we had to go do more, do the bands and the shoulders. It kicked my butt and it was good work."

Campbell tweeted "the pool workout with resistance bands was one of the best workouts I've done because it's working every muscle in the body at once."

CES director of sports performance lifting Robby Stewart complimented the guys, "as a group they worked hard and did a great job for their first time through the CES pool workout."

Seymour's goals for the week included: building team camraderie, reminding everyone to take care of themselves physically so they are ready to go when the lockout ends and hopefully picking up a few tips from the CES staff along the way.

As an observer I would say the Raiders time at CES not only fulfilled but exceeded expectations.

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2011 West Virginia Football Preview

What do you do when your program is ranked 78th in the nation in offense? You go out and get the nation's hottest offensive genius. That is exactly what West Virginia did by snatching up former Oklahoma State offensive assistant, Dana Holgorsen.

Offensive coordinator Holgorsen and his newly hired staff will implement a new scheme. Improving the Mountaineers offense, which ranked 5th among the Big East in scoring last year, is a priority.

Leading the way for the Mountaineers is junior quarterback Geno Smith. He should shine in Holgorsen's new offense as it is suited to showcase his strengths. Helping Smith in the high octane offense will be receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Brad Starks.

While West Virginia new offense focuses on the air attack, they must replace running back Noel Devine. In Holgorsen's system running the ball efficiently is far more important than total production. In other words the threat of the running game opens up the passing game. Look for Shawne Alston and freshman Andrew Buie to make some noise in the backfield.

With the defense returning just four starters, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has his work cut out for him. Last years squad was ranked among the top five defenses in the nation.

The Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense scheme works best with a veteran squad. Casteel will rely heavily on Bruce Irvin and Jullian Miller, both returning up front, cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Terence Garvin who was last year's team leading tackler.

Rebuilding the defense will give newcomers the opportunity to start right away. Keep an eye out for linebacker Josh Francis. He is fast and will be used along side Irvin in blitz situations.

Another player who will most likely work his way into the starting lineup is defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. The 6'3, 310 pound junior college transfer may fill the void left by departing All-Big East player Chris Neild. The Mountaineers are counting on Rowell making an impact.

Coach Bill Stewart and West Virginia fans have several reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season. They are excited about implementing Holgorsen's explosive offense, the defensive staff is among the nation's best and should be able to mold a new crop of defensive stars, plus the Mountaineers have a favorable schedule this year (five of their first six games are at home and a total of seven including the Pitt game will be in Morgantown).

West Virginia may be revamping and rebuilding this season, but don't expect this to be a down year by any means. On the contrary they may just have what it takes to ascend to the top of Big East. Regardless this team should be fun to watch!

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet

49ers Colin Kaepernick has Luck on His Side

Andrew Luck staying in school was the best thing that could have happened to Colin Kaepernick, but not for the reasons you might think.

Without offseason OTAs, minicamps or workouts the rookies are feeling the lockout effects. Not to mention with the lockout lifted for only the first day of the draft, those chosen on the second and third day missed receiving the most important information of their young career, the playbook.

No need to worry 49ers fans, your new rookie quarterback is in better shape than some other rookies around the league. Kaepernick is in the best position he could possibly be in considering communication is not allowed with the San Francisco organization.

Here is the scenario.

Jim Harbaugh left Stanford to coach the 49ers. Andrew Luck, Stanford's starting quarterback for the last three years, happens to be 15 minutes away from the 49ers headquarters. Unable to receive a playbook Kaepernick has the next best thing in Luck, a living breathing playbook. Nobody knows the ins and outs of Harbaugh's offense better than Luck.

According to his agency XAM Sports, training between the two is not happening right now, but it would not surprise anyone if it happens in the future. Kaepernick believes Luck is a great resource. "Especially if the lockout stays on I'm going to try and pick his brain as much as I can and try to get a jump start into this offense and pick up as much as I can."

Luck and Kaepernick became friends last summer at the Manning Pass Academy and have stayed in touch. Who would have guessed these players would possibly spend this offseason working out together. Heading into your rookie season with a lockout in place is daunting, but fortunately Colin Kaepernick has Luck on his side.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meet Eagles First Round Pick Danny Watkins

Drafting an offensive lineman in the first round may not be the flashy pick, but let's be honest it's the pick that allows other positions to shine. This is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles were banking on when drafting Baylor offensive guard Danny Watkins.

Canadian native Watkins grew up playing hockey, but his size (6'3, 310) made it difficult to pursue a career in the NHL. Watkins attended Butte Junior College in Chico, CA with the intention of earning a degree in fire sciences and returning home to be a firefighter. A friend encouraged Watkins to try out for the junior college football team and it's been a whirlwind for Danny ever since.

After two years at Butte, he landed at Baylor University, making an immediate impact. This was no small fete considering he stepped in to fill the shoes of the 2009 2nd overall pick, Jason Smith. Watkins started all 25 games of his career, and in his senior season recorded 134 tackles plus earned first team All-Big 12 honors. Not bad for a guy who only had two years of previous football experience!

Coach Andy Reid is hoping Watkins will add muscle to an offensive line that's in need of some help. His versatility is appealing (at some point he's played all positions on the line), he's a quick learner with a good work ethic and while some may be cautious about his age, his maturity is something the Eagles are counting on.

Michael Vick's ability to scramble outside of the pocket masked some weaknesses of the Eagles interior, but even still the line allowed 50 sacks last year, the most in Reid's 12 years as head coach. Face it, even as dynamic of a player as Vick is, he can't keep that pace up year after year.

Obviously a top priority for the Eagles is beefing up their line so players like Vick, Jackson and McCoy can shine even brighter. Reid is extremely pleased he got his guy, "He's a heck of a player in the run and pass game. I can't tell you how happy we are to have him in our program."

Watkins story isn't typical of a first round pick, but he's a first round pick nonetheless. In my opinion any guy planning to run into burning building for a living should be able to handle the pressures of being an NFL lineman. Now living up to the expectation of Philly fans, that's a whole different story!!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Which team will Kaepernick call home?

We knew quarterbacks would fly off the NFL Draft board, the unknown was the order in which they would go. Even with four quarterbacks taken in the first round, big names including Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick still remain.

Keep an eye on Kaepernick. The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins have early picks in the second round and have all expressed interest in drafting a quarterback. The Bills aren't sure if Ryan Fitzpatrick is their long term answer, the Bengals situation with Carson Palmer is a mess and apparently it's all but over for McNabb in Washington so it would be make sense for any one of these teams to draft a passer.

Kaepernick grew up in Turlock, California, which is about 100 miles from the Bay Area. Fittingly the two Bay Area teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, are both in need of a quarterback. The Raiders have especially shown interest in the hometown boy. It would come as no surprise if they traded up for an earlier second round pick in order to secure Kaepernick.

Jason La Canfora of reported that the Dolphins seriously considered Kaepernick with their 15th pick before ultimately choosing offensive lineman Mike Pouncey. Currently they don't have a second round pick, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to move up if the right deal comes along.

All eyes will be watching to see where Dalton goes and Mallett for that matter, but don't count Kaepernick out. I expect him to be gone in the second round. He's a smart, fast, extremely focused, driven competitor and natural born leader. Trainer Chip Smith believes he could be the face of a franchise. The only question remains, which franchise will that be?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dolphins Draft Needs

Miami Dolphins 2011 Draft picks: No. 15 (1st), No. 79 (3rd), No.111 (4th), No. 146 (5th), No. 179 (6th), No. 216 (7th), No. 217 (7th), No. 234 (7th)

Team Needs: QB, RB, OL, TE, WR, S

It's no secret the Dolphins have needs on offense, the question is which need to address first, quarterback, running back or offensive lineman? Is trading down to acquire more draft picks the best strategy? Decisions, decisions.

Until drafting Dan Marino in 1983, Miami hadn't used a first round pick on a passer since Bob Griese in 1967. Both players were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not a bad track record. Do the Dolphins see a future Hall of Famer in this year's crop?

In the 12 seasons since Marino's retirement the Dolphins have been through 15 starters. The most recent, Chad Henne, doesn't seem to be the answer some had hoped for. Should Miami wait to acquire a veteran quarterback or is there a player in the draft who could be the face of the franchise?

With the era of running back tandem Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown coming to an end, don't be surprised if the 15th pick is used on a fresh set of legs. Many analysts think Mark Ingram may be the stud in the backfield that the Dolphins need. Also on their radar is Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams, who could be a draft steal.

Miami wants a stronger rushing attack so they need to beef up the offensive line, specifically guard and center. Is Mike Pouncey, twin brother of Steelers Maurkice Pouncey, worthy of the 15th overall pick? He could help anchor the line along with Jake Long and Richie Incognito.

At the moment Miami still has monster receiver Brandon Marshall plus Devone Bess has proven to be a good choice in the slot, but they need another threat opposite Marshall. Could Titus Young or Leonard Hankerson be that threat? In the later rounds look for them to possibly pick up a tight end.

The Dolphins addressed their defensive needs in last year's draft and it paid off. The team finished sixth in overall yards allowed and tenth in sacks. Hopefully this year's draft will transform the offense the way last year's transformed the defense. With Bill Parcells gone, draft day duties belong to General Manager Jeff Ireland and new director of player personnel, Brian Gaine. Wonder what their strategy will be?

Players I like for the Dolphins

Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
Titus Young, WR, Boise State
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech

Follow me on Twitter @Courtney_Sweet

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Future Looks Bright for Florida State

53,818 fans filled Doak Campbell Stadium to watch Florida State take on... themselves! The Seminole faithful gathered to watch the annual Garnet and Gold game, the culmination of spring practice. Garnet barely edged out Gold 19-17.

Florida State enters the 2011 season with high expectations and rightfully so. Following a 10 win season which included winning the ACC's Atlantic Division and the Chick-fil-A Bowl (where they beat Head Ball Coach and South Carolina), Coach Jimbo Fisher went out and scored the nation's number one recruiting class, plus his team returns 18 starters. Sounds like a recipe for success.

Leading the charge is new starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Fortunately Manuel was able to complete the full spring practice session, something he hasn't done before. In the spring game he was 17 for 36 with 204 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Fisher said he learned more watching Manuel bounce back from mistakes than if his quarterback would have had a perfect game. This could be a breakout year for the the Virginia Beach native.

Manuel's targets include returning receivers Rodney Smith, Taiwan Easterling, Bert Reed and Willie Haulstead. One thing the Seminoles need is a big play receiver. Hoping to fill that void is Kelvin Benjamin. The 6'6" 210 pound freshman out of Glades Central (FL) has explosive speed and may be the deep threat Florida State is looking for.

Another freshman hoping to have an immediate impact is Nick O'Leary, the nation's top tight end prospect. O'Leary, grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, has strong hands, plus his on field versatility is attractive. Look for him to challenge for the starting position.

When it comes to the rushing attack the Seminoles have plenty of weapons in their arsenal. Returning upperclassmen include running backs Chris Thompson, Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones, who together combined for nearly 2,000 yards last season, along with productive fullback Lonnie Pryor. Freshman James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman add to an already deep running back corp.

The defense had a solid 2010 season and will continue to build on that foundation. Greg Reid, who picked up right where he left off last season snagging a pick six in the spring game, along with 2010 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Xavier Rhodes, team sack leader Brandon Jenkins and leading tackler Nigel Bradham will spearhead the defense.

The defensive line added depth and should be fun to watch. One player to keep an eye on is junior college transfer and phenomenal athlete Tank Carradine. Look for him to compete for the starting defensive end position opposite Brandon Jenkins.

Coach Fisher has assembled all the pieces necessary to compete for the BCS National Championship. He returns 18 starters (though replacing four year starting center Ryan McMahon will be key), added top notch depth and has invigorated new life into Florida State football. Now it is up to his players to make it happen on the field.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: One on One with Colin Kaepernick

"All the things Cam Newton does, Colin Kaepernick does better." This bold statement is straight from the mouth of Competitive Edge Sports (CES) founder Chip Smith, the man who's had the distinct privilege of training both players.

Smith's declaration piqued my interest. I wanted to know more about Colin Kaepernick. Born in Wisconsin and raised in California, football became a passion at a young age. Like most quarterbacks his father was his childhood coach. Over the years he's blossomed into a remarkable player. He's the only Division 1 quarterback to have passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,00 yards in a collegiate career. Plus he's the only quarterback to have passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

His stats are impressive, but this player is more than numbers. Smith says he's a driven, focused competitor. Throughout training he was the first one in and the last one out. His last rep was as good as his first and he wanted to do everything all the other guys did. He's analytical, extremely smart, a man of character and a leader. Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Kaepernick and truly believe this quarterback is a diamond in the rough.

CS- In regards to football who were your influences growing up?

CK- Besides my father, my high school coach Brandon Harris, I think he had a big influence on me. He was very smart in how he game planned for teams. We didn't have the most talented players but we'd have a good scheme, which taught me the mental side of the game is as important, if not more important than the physical side.

It should be noted that Kaepernick excelled in football, basketball and baseball in high school. He received several scholarship offers to play Division 1 baseball but turned them all down in favor of taking his only Division 1 football scholarship offer from the University of Nevada.

CS- What is it about football that made you turn down all other scholarships and take the one football scholarship offer?

KC- For me football's always been my passion, it's been my love. Growing up I watched Brett Favre every weekend and he played the game like he was a kid out there, playing with so much excitement and passion for the game. Plus spending time with teammates you build a camaraderie and going toe to toe with another team, there's nothing like it.

CS- What did it mean to you to be the quarterback of a Division 1 school (The University of Nevada)?

KC- The first thing that comes to mind for me is responsibility. There's a lot of responsibility of being the quarterback of a team as well as being the leader of the team. Especially in Reno where there's no professional team, we are the show in town. You have to carry yourself a certain way so everyone respects the program, respects what you're doing and they don't look down upon you.

CS- What was your relationship like with Coach Ault while at Nevada?

CK- I had a growing relationship with our coach. My first few years he was really tough on me because he was trying to make me better and make sure I was ready for every game. As I progressed during my junior and senior season we had more of a partnership type relationship where he would run things past me and it got to the point where he basically said, "You're the coach on the field, you're comfortable with what you're doing just go out there and play football."

CS- Sometimes coaches are hardest on the players they see the most potential in.

KC- Definitely and I think the reason he pushed me so hard was to get the best out of me.

CS- I can't talk to you without mentioning Boise St. This past season, on senior night, they rolled into Reno amidst BCS National Championship hype. You said your team felt overlooked, disrespected. At the half you're down 17. As the leader what did you tell your team in the locker room?

KC- I told them we can come back from this, we're moving the ball we just need to cut out the little mistakes. I told the offensive line to keep grinding, our skill players were gonna make plays for us. In the second half our offensive line started responding like they've never responded before and started blowing Boise off the ball. They were the real reason we were able to get back in that game.

CS- What was going through your mind when they lined up to kick a field goal at the end of regulation?

KC- A lot of us on the sideline were just praying for another shot because we knew if we went into overtime there was no way we were going to lose that game.

CS- What did it mean to you to walk off the field that night with the win?

KC- It's something I can't even describe. There were so many emotions, all the blood, sweat and tears to get to that point, not only for me but for my whole team and to see all our hard work pay off, it was a real special moment.

CS- What has life been like for you post college?

KC- It's definitely different. It's all football all day. While I trained at CES we worked out from 9-5 everyday. From there I went to the Senior Bowl, the combine and back to Reno to get ready for Pro Day. After Pro Day private workouts began for teams and now I'm into visits, flying around the country meeting personnel from different teams. It's a surreal experience, you're meeting people you've watched on Sunday. It's something you dream about growing up but you never really know if you'll be able to make it to that point, but now that I'm to that point it almost seems like this can't be happening.

CS- There are many guys who dream of playing in the NFL, but only a select few make it, it must be an amazing feeling knowing your name will be called in a couple of weeks.

KC- It's a special moment to see all your hard work pay off and get you where you need to be. It's something I won't be able to describe when my name is called but I'm excited for it.

CS- Among the quarterbacks at the combine you ran the second fastest 40, had the strongest arm (throwing the football 59 mph) and scored a 37 (third highest) on the Wonderlic . You're draft stock is definitely rising. Do you think you're peaking at the right time?

KC- I think I'm peaking at the right time and have been able to open the eyes of NFL teams to show them what I'm capable of.

When asked which teams he's worked out for, he said he wasn't allowed to disclose that information. Although he did say he's worked out for 13 teams and has more visits set up.

CS- At CES you trained along side Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech. How did that level of competition elevate your game?

KC- Training with Tyrod was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. He's a very explosive player but I didn't want him to be more explosive than me so I wanted to keep training. We had a very competitive time doing all the drills together and I think it's turning out well for both of us.

CS- Running the Pistol offense at Nevada how comfortable are you under center?

KC- Being under center is something I'm very comfortable with. I was under center my whole career until I got to Nevada and even while I was at Nevada we took snaps under center every day at practice. It wasn't something new to me or that I wasn't used to.

When I got to the Senior Bowl everyone was surprised I could take a snap under center, which wasn't a big deal. For me it was almost easier to take a snap under center and drop back because you don't have to worry about looking to catch the ball before you read the defense. You can keep your eyes on the defense the whole time, so I see that (being under center) as easier.

I've always said either you can play or you can't, it doesn't matter what offense you're in. You're going to perform game day or you're not.

CS- If I'm an owner, general manager, coach why should I draft you? What are your strengths and how will you be an asset to my team?

KC- You'll get a player who's not going to be unprepared for anything. My preparation is what makes me successful on the field.

Another thing that separates me is my leadership and hard work, especially at the next level you have to show everybody that you're there to work hard, you want to win games and you're not there to just be on the team. You're playing side by side with all pro's and veterans, you have to show them you're there to be successful, you're not there to play games or to mess up one of their years.

You're also going to draft a player who's not going to have any off the field issues. I'm not going to put the organization or team in a bad position.

CS- Where will you be on draft day?

KC- I'll be back home in Turlock, CA with my family. It's an exciting time for me and my family.

CS- Speaking of the draft, this year's draft is unique due to the lockout. Obviously you don't have anything to compare it to, but with all the uncertainty surrounding the NFL what's it like being a part of this particular draft?

KC- I wouldn't say the process is any different. It's just gonna be different once you get drafted because you're not going to be able to get with your team or get a playbook to start working. It depends when this is all resolved but it does change how much preparation you get going into your first season.

CS- With all the hype who or what keeps you grounded?

KC- My faith, which is my foundation and my family. When I go back home I'm not anyone special I'm just another member of the family.

CS- What drives you?

KC- Going through this process, I think the biggest thing is everyone that doubted me and told me I wasn't capable of things. I told my dad I wasn't going to let someone tell me what I'm capable of. If I think I'm able to do something and I put my mind to it, then I'm able to do it and prove all those people wrong.

CS- Well, I think you're doing just that!

On April 28 the 2011 NFL draft begins. There are many questions surrounding this draft, but this I know, whoever drafts Colin Kaepernick is getting an exciting quarterback and a class act. Smith believes he could be the face of a franchise, not bad for a guy who was offered only one football scholarship.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Will the Ravens Draft an Inside Linebacker?

Ray Lewis is a beast. The 12 time Pro Bowler is the face of the Baltimore Ravens (sorry Flacco, but it's true). It's hard to imagine the Ravens without Lewis, but inevitably at some point that will happen. Although that day isn't today, the Ravens know they will eventually need to prepare for life post-Lewis and in the 2011 draft there are a few linebackers that could potentially help with the transition.

Illinois' Martez Wilson impressed at the combine posting the fastest 40-yard dash time of all linebackers. As a freshman he played outside linebacker and then moved to middle linebacker his junior year. As a senior he lead the team in tackles and was voted All-Big 10. Speed and versatility make him an appealing prospect.

North Carolina's Quan Sturdivant has great speed and is particularly productive against the run. He, like Wilson, is also able to play outside linebacker. Although there were off the field issues involving a marijuana possession charge, on the field he was considered a strong leader.

Another name to keep an eye on is Michigan State's Greg Jones. Like Lewis, Jones is a little shorter than most linebackers, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in heart. He's a tackling monster with great instincts who thrives in blitzing situations. A three time first team all Big-10 selection, Jones exhibits extremely strong leadership skills.

The Ravens have shown interest in Oregon's Casey Matthews. Of course everyone mentions his football rich bloodlines, which run deep, but Matthews has made a name for himself as a play maker. He has great instincts, as demonstrated in the BCS National Championship game by his Cam Newton forced fumble. He led the Ducks last season with 79 tackles, three interceptions and three recovered fumbles. Although he was injured at the combine, Matthews productive career at Oregon speaks for itself.

It remains to be seen if the Ravens will take any of these players come draft day. Ray Lewis isn't leaving the game just yet, but he did recently suggest he couldn't see himself playing football past the age of 37. His 36th birthday is just a month away, which gives Baltimore a year or so to start grooming his successor.

The Ravens will never be able to replace what Ray Lewis has meant to the franchise and the community. He's not only important statistically, but also serves as the fiercely outspoken, emotional leader of the Ravens. Although no one will ever take the place of Lewis, someone will need to step in to fill the position of inside linebacker and make an impact of their own. Who knows, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the coaching staff may just envision one of these players in that position. Guess we'll find out their strategy the last weekend in April.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is Ryan Mallett the Answer to Miami's Quarterback Question?

In the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft the Miami Dolphins may decide to take a big, strong armed, former Michigan drop back quarterback.

Wait, don't the Dolphins already have a big, strong armed, former Michigan drop back quarterback on their roster? Ryan Mallett is best known as an Arkansas Razorback, but don't forget he began his collegiate career as Chad Henne's backup in Michigan.

With the draft just around the corner, speculation as to what will unfold has everyone predicting who will go where. Due to Miami's uncertainty at quarterback, drafting one in the first round might be the way to go and Mallett may be the man for the job.

National Football Post, Draft Huddle and East Coast Sports News all have Mallet going to the Dolphins in the first round. The appeal is in his ability to make big throws down field, to stretch a defense vertically plus he excels in play action situations. Also his experience in a pro style offense should make for an easier transition.

Mallett has many upsides which may make him hard to pass up, but there are a few red flags to consider. The consensus among many is that he's a little slow, doesn't have the greatest footwork, struggles with decision making and his leadership abilities have been called into question.

Of course every quarterback in the draft has pros and cons, but the question here is should the Dolphins use their first round pick on Mallett? Is he a franchise quarterback? Should Miami address other needs by drafting a running back, offensive lineman or wide receiver and try to eventually score a veteran quarterback through free agency or trade? Former Miami legend Dan Marino is pulling for Carson Palmer to suit up in aqua and orange, not likely given the standoff in Cincinnati, but stranger things have happened.

It's interesting that some analysts have Mallett going to Miami, simply for the fact that they already have a Mallett type quarterback in Chad Henne. Mallett racked up great college numbers, but does he have the intangibles? If the Dolphins decide to trade down and get back the second round pick they gave up for Brandon Marshall and Mallett is still there, who knows, we may witness a Henne-Mallett reunion in South Florida.

The Fins definitely have questions when it comes to the quarterback position, but is Ryan Mallett is the best answer?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Miami Dolphins: What to do with First Round Pick?

With the 15th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft the Miami Dolphins select...

The NFL Draft is quickly approaching and every analyst, journalist and blogger is trying to predict who will go where. While most draft analysts have the Dolphins taking Mark Ingram in the first round, recently another name surfaced, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith. Miami has a good track record with Terrapins, Randy Starks and Nolan Caroll to name a couple, but would it be in Miami's best interest to use the 15th pick on Smith?

The era of running back tandem Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown is coming to a close, so it's time to rejuvenate the running game. Because of this reality many analyst believe the Dolphins will take running back Mark Ingram with the 15th pick. He may be the most complete back in the draft.

Quarterback Chad Henne hasn't lived up to expectations and last season's Henne-Marshall connection was lackluster. Should Miami take a quarterback with their first pick or should they go after a veteran and use a later round pick to secure a quarterback?

Another area of need is the offensive line. The Dolphins made a great move when they drafted left tackle Jake Long and they recently resigned center/guard Richie Incognito. If the Dolphins want a more effective running game though they'll need a stronger line. Do they address the offensive line in the first round?

Miami already has monster wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess has proven to be a good choice in the slot, but the Dolphins need another receiving threat opposite Marshall. This may be the reason Smith's name has been thrown around, but there may be better options at receiver such as Leonard Hankerson or Titus Young. In fact Hankerson had a higher average per catch and more touchdowns than Smith and they both ran a 4.43 40 time.

With all the areas of opportunity the Dolphins have, what will their first move be? Does the front office believe Smith is the best option with the 15th pick? It seems highly unlikely, but I guess we'll have to wait until April 28 to find out.

Florida State Football: High Expectations for the 2011 Seminoles

On the football field replacing a three year starter is a daunting task and if that starter happens to be your quarterback, well that can be difficult. Now if you're Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher that task becomes a little easier with EJ Manuel leading the team.

For the last three years the Seminoles were mainly Christian Ponder's team, but Manuel was always ready when his number was called. It's not often the backup quarterback is the most valuable player in a bowl game, an honor bestowed on Manuel in the 2009 Gator Bowl, plus he led the team to victory over South Carolina in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Manuel, a Virginia Beach, VA native, is 4-2 as a starter. Last season he completed 70 percent of his passes, racked up 861 yards, including four touchdowns and four interceptions. That experience will come in handy as Florida State enters this season with high expectations. They scored the nation's number one recruiting class plus return 18 starters. Needless to say Coach Fisher has the makings of a dominate football team.

The 6-foot-5, 230 pound Manuel began spring practice this week, a huge accomplishment considering he's never completed the full session of spring practice. A healthy Manuel helps with team chemistry and allows the coaching staff more time to really work with him.

Fisher is already impressed with Manuel, saying "He's driven... holds himself to a higher standard, that's why I love him and his teammates respect him. He's got presence. He gives you a feeling that when he gets the ball everything is going to be OK."

The Seminoles will rely on that presence come fall, especially when they face Oklahoma on September 17 in Tallahassee and then turn around to face Clemson in Death Valley. Later in the season they face rivals Miami and Florida.

Luckily Manuel will have help from his supporting cast, including running back Chris Thompson and cornerback Greg Reid, last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl offensive and defensive MVP's, along with last year's ACC defensive rookie of the year Xavier Rhodes and team sack leader defensive end Brandon Jenkins.

Throughout 2010 we watched Coach Fisher step out of Bobby Bowden's shadow and begin laying a new foundation. In the upcoming season he will undoubtedly expect more from his players. He's assembled a National Championship caliber team and has made it clear if the ball is in Manuel's hands he believes everything will be OK. I'm sure the Seminoles fans are counting on that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NFL Los Angeles: Where to Build It So They Will Come

By Courtney Sweet

Los Angeles County, CA, population 9.9 million, home to the NBA Lakers and Clippers, NHL Kings, MLB Dodgers and Angels and NFL... well nobody. That's right, the nation's second largest media market has two basketball teams, two baseball teams, a hockey team (two if you count the Anaheim Ducks) but not a pro football team in the mix.

Until 1995 Los Angeles was home to not one, but two football teams, the Rams and Raiders. Due to lackluster facilities and alleged citywide apathy, both teams relocated elsewhere. Since then the closest thing the city's had to a pro team were the Pete Carroll lead USC Trojans in their prime.

The 16 year football drought boils down mainly to finances, without public funding available, a new stadium must be privately financed. There are two groups willing to put up their own money and they're fighting for the right to bring football back to Los Angeles.

Spearheading the Majestic Realty Company bid is CEO Ed Roski Jr. This plan calls for an $800 million stadium on 600 acres, in the City of Industry (now referred to as Grand Crossing) approximately 25 miles outside of Los Angeles.

This stadium requires less steel which keeps cost lower, would be the league's first LEED-certified green stadium, provides plenty of space for football related activities such as tailgating, plus Majestic already has an approved Environmental Impact Report and approval from Legislature that blocks all other lawsuits. This stadium also meets all FIFA requirements to host a World Cup.

The other proposal is headed by Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group or AEG. They are proposing a $1.2 billion stadium with a retractable roof in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The venue would be part of a renovated Los Angeles Convention Center hoping to attract other events such as Final Fours, concerts, and conventions. AEG is responsible for building the sports and entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles which includes Staples Center and L.A. Live.

Recently AEG made headlines announcing a naming rights deal with Farmers Insurance. It's estimated that the 30 year deal is worth $700 million dollars. AEG also boasts celebrity endorsement, including Los Angeles' own Magic Johnson.

Regardless of which group is granted a franchise, there are a few obstacles in the way. First there's this little thing called the CBA which has to be resolved. Second, there's the question of a team, will Los Angeles be rewarded a new team or will an existing team relocate?

In attempting to bring football back to Los Angeles here are a few questions to ponder:

Enduring a football famine for 16 years, NFL fans in Los Angeles already have loyalties to other teams, so will the city get behind a new team? If the downtown stadium is chosen, how do traffic and a lack of tailgating factor into the total fan experience? Plus in an already congested downtown how would it work logistically with the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and NFL all in season?

As evidenced by Dallas, New York and New England, stadiums built outside urban areas can be successful, but if Roski's plan is chosen, will the fans follow? Will surrounding business around Grand Crossing survive in the off-season?

AEG secured $700 million in naming rights, but Majestic has alluded that they will be the first stadium to secure billion-dollar naming rights, will they pull it off?

Unless a new franchise is awarded, a current team would need to relocate, possibly the Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers or San Diego Chargers. Are any of these teams willing to make the transition?

Will the NFL miss the leverage that Los Angeles brings? Lets face it, whenever existing stadiums start to wear down, the imposing threat of a move out West most certainly prompts a stadium face lift or a new stadium all together. I'm sure the NFL head office would dismiss this idea, but I'd be willing to bet this argument holds merit.

So, the battle wages on to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles and until it happens Los Angeles residents will continue spending Sundays cheering on their beloved Lakers in their Sunday whites. `

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NFL Draft: At Radio City the Show Must Go On

In this time of NFL uncertainty one thing is certain, neither side can afford to make a bad public relations move. On Monday, the players may have made one. It was reported that the NFLPA* has asked potential draft picks to boycott the draft.

In a SportsNation poll of 75,000, 72 percent believe it was a bad move. At the moment, looks like the players have a slight edge with fans, but more moves like this and who knows which way public opinion will sway.

It seems hypocritical asking the prospects to boycott when the NFLPA* was willing to cut their pay (it should be noted that I fully support a rookie salary cap, but that's easy for me to support since I'm not the rookie who's salary is being capped). That being said, it's understandable that these draft prospects may not want to take the advice of the NFLPA* concerning the draft. Remember technically there isn't a union and even if there was, incoming rookies aren't members until they're drafted.

Why was this a bad move? Fans don't want to be used as leverage. We just want football and the draft is part of that. With all that's going on, let the draft picks have their moment. Let their families have their moment. Let the fans from the college they played for have their moment. Let the fans of their future team have their moment.

Walking across that stage is the culmination of years filled with blood, sweat and tears. It's a graduation ceremony that few ever get to experience, even fewer if the NFLPA* gets their way. At the moment player executive George Atallah is doing damage control proposing an alternate ceremony possibly hosted by current players and DeMaurice Smith. That's like skipping your graduation ceremony and instead going to your fraternity house to receive your diploma from your fraternity brothers. It doesn't hold the same meaning.

Lets pray for a momentary truce, one that will allow for a draft with players in attendance. Current players can sit at home and revel in how challenging a draft without a CBA in place will be for the NFL anyway. Should be interesting having a straight draft without as many trade options.

I understand why the NFLPA* is looking for alternatives. There's a lot at stake, and I do support their right to fight for what they believe in. I also can see the point brought up by sports agent Drew Rosenhaus who tweeted, "The NFL Draft is an extremely popular event, but the players being drafted are locked out too."

Just a thought from the fans though, you'll have your day in court, but when it comes to the court of public opinion, boycotting the draft might not be the best strategy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

College football violations: Is the Price of Winning Costing the Game?

Bruce Pearl, Reggie Bush, Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor, all names involved with NCAA scandals. College athletic violations infiltrate the news on a regular basis. The most recent involving the man who made the sweater vest cool again, Ohio State head football Coach Jim Tressel. Tressel is the latest in a long line of violators, whether it be coaches or student-athletes.

Allegedly Tressel had knowledge of player violations and didn't disclose the information (in his news conference he didn't admit to any specifics). Then there's the issue of allowing the players in question to participate in this year's Sugar Bowl. Some felt the player's suspension should include the bowl game. Pryor and the others participated anyway and the Buckeyes finally recorded their first bowl win over an SEC opponent.

So here's the question, is it too hard to do the right thing? Contrary to popular belief it is not impossible. Take for instance BYU basketball player Brandon Davies, a young man who wasn't violating NCAA rules, but his own school honor code. It appears he turned himself in, with his school THIS close to a potential #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

He didn't wait for the news to break on Facebook, Twitter, or other media outlets, and we never saw him shirking responsibility. Instead he sat on the bench, supported the team and cut down the nets while in street clothes. Whether you agree with the BYU honor code or not, you have to admit that the school is not hypocritical, they practice what they preach regardless of the accolades on the line.

Even the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant chose integrity over potential victory when he benched superstar Joe Namath for the final two games of 1963. It wasn't a popular decision at the time, but Namath broke the rules.

Bryant showed more interest in teaching this young man character than in winning. He said, "I believe if you have rules, you abide by them. You can't make exceptions,"(Barra, 2005). Later, after admitting he deserved the consequences handed to him, Namath praised Bryant in saying he was "not only the smartest coach I ever knew, but the man who taught me the meaning of integrity."

Today's coaches and players would be wise to take a page out of Bryant's playbook.

Barra, A. (2005). The last coach: A life of Paul "Bear" Bryant. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Forget about the billions of dollars, what are we gonna do on Sundays?

I've been reading about the ramifications of an NFL lockout, billions of dollars lost, draft day complications, no off season workouts, loss of time for new coaching staffs, etc... This got me thinking, while these topics are important, the real issue is, if there isn’t football what are we gonna do on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays?!!

Now I know some women would be grateful to have a football free fall so their guy can complete his honey do list, but this gal is definitely NOT one of those women. Without football my Sundays would not be complete. I mean the thought of not getting to see the Peyton Manning-Dallas Clark reunion, or another defensive clash between the Steelers and Ravens, literally sends shivers down my spine. I look forward to watching the Super Bowl Champion Packers and Aaron Rodgers belt celebration, I want too see if the NFC West can send a team with a winning record into the playoffs, and of course we all want to see if Rex Ryan is indeed Nostradamus and correct in predicting a Jets Super Bowl victory (my opinion, he isn't but we'll have to wait and see).

Don't get me started on the idea of life without fantasy football. I lost in the semifinals last year by less than 1 point so I'm definitely motivated to win it all this year. That won't be possible if there's a lockout.

I don't believe we're gonna get to that point, but in case the owners and players need reminding please think about us, the fans, and what you're asking us to live without. There will be no appearance of Ed Hochuli's biceps, or sighting of Belichick's Patriots hoodie, we won't get to see if Matty Ice is still calm under pressure after last year's playoff loss, or if Marshawn Lynch goes into beast mode again!

Life without the NFL could make us nostalgic for the days of the Farve retirement saga or the debate over legal and illegal hits. In this time of uncertainty there are two things I know come fall:
1. The answer to the question, Are you ready for some football? will be a resounding yes
2. Even if there isn’t football we can all be comforted in knowing Rex Ryan will predict a Jets victory anyway!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Trade Secret

Many sports fans will remember February 21 as the day Carmelo Anthony became a member of the New York Knicks. Of course it was a great trade for the Knicks, but as exciting as the Melo deal was, the acquisition of Chauncey Billups may be the key in the blockbuster trade. Even Lebron James was quoted as saying that he "found it comical that some may have considered Billups to be an ancillary part of the Knicks-Nuggets deal." Maybe the Heat have a Big 3, but now the Knicks have a Big 3 of their own in Anthony, Stoudemire, and Billups.

Amid much consternation, Denver's hometown boy was sent to New York. It was reported that not Melo, but the inclusion of Billups, was the holdup in the trade, mainly because Denver didn't want to give him up, but in the end they did. The Nuggets loss is New York's gain. With an NBA championship ring on his finger, a Finals MVP trophy on his shelf, and having participated in 6 straight Eastern Conference Finals, premier point guard Billups brings a great deal of experience with him.

Billups, who handled the situation with his usual quiet class, IS causing a stir on the basketball court!! In his debut he recorded 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and just 2 turnovers in a 114-108 victory over the Bucks.

"Mr. Big Shot" came through once again against the Miami Heat, taking over the game with big 3's and steals. Billups scored 16 points, including a 3 pointer with 1 minute left followed by a steal, which sealed a victory for the Knicks. New York's tenacious defensive attack forced 20 turnovers and held the Heat to 86 points, well below their season average of 102. Regarded as one of the best defenders in the league, Chauncey is already helping the Knicks up their defensive game.

Also promising for Knick fans is the fact that the point guard is a crucial piece in Coach Mike D'Antoni's offense (ever heard of a little point guard named Steve Nash)!! D'Antoni will trust veteran Billups as his floor general, but seeing that he's a 39% career shooter from behind the arc, D'Antoni may also call on him to shoot. It's also important to note that Billups played for Team USA this past summer, and guess who was an assistant coach? None other that Mike D'Antoni!!

Just how crucial Billups is/will be still remains to be fully seen. With all the rumors of a possible CP3 signing in the future who knows, but for now let's face it, Billups knows how to win and he brings that swagger to the Knicks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SDSU-There's a first time for everything

Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas, and Billy White, these names don't necessarily have the same impact as say, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. Of course everyone recognizes the names of Michigan's famous and infamous Fab Five, but at the moment Leonard, Gay, Thomas and White are names that Coach Steve Fisher is focused on.

Fisher ascended into the national spotlight during Michigan's 1989 NCAA title run and of course he's responsible for assembling the Fab Five, those 5 talented, boisterous freshman who provided some of college basketball's most exciting moments. Who can forget Webber's infamous timeout called with 11 seconds left in the title game against UNC, when in fact the Wolverines had no timeouts left?!!

Amidst scandal, Fisher was fired by Michigan in 1997. Shortly thereafter he took an asst. coaching job with the Sacramento Kings, but it wasn't long before the college basketball world came knocking and an opportunity with San Diego State arose. In 1999 Coach Fisher took over an Aztec team that had suffered a losing record in 13 of the previous 14 seasons. Although it didn't look promising, Fisher methodically began turning the program around. It took patience on his part and on the part of the school, but boy has it paid off. Since the 2005-2006 season the Aztecs possess a continuous run of 20+ win seasons.

For the first time in history, San Diego State men's basketball team entered the preseason rankings at #25 and they've worked their way up to #4. That's not this year's only first either, the team set a school record winning 27 games in a season. The Aztecs biggest challenge comes this Saturday in a rematch against leading player of the year candidate Jimmer Fredette and #7 BYU. The Cougars, lead by Fredette's 43 points, won the last contest handing SDSU their only loss of the season. So for those who live in San Diego, this Saturday morning don't fear, it's not an earthquake, it's just Viejas Arena rockin!! The winner of this game will most likely boast a higher seed in the tourney.

Coach Fisher and the Aztecs will be looking for another first this season, their school's first ever win in the NCAA tourney, currently they're 0-6 all time. In only a few weeks we'll see if the Aztecs have what it takes to make a run in the tournament, and if they do we can be sure that Coach Fisher will be guiding their every step as they enter the Big Dance.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Coach Lavin: A Storm's A-Bruin

It's 1996, just 19 months after the Bruins won the NCAA tourney , Steve Lavin, 32, becomes the 11th men's basketball head coach in UCLA history. Over the next 7 years Lavin's Bruins compiled a record of 145-78, went to 5 "Sweet 16's" in 6 years, appeared in 6 consecutive NCAA tourneys, racked up 6 consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins, and the Bruins scored the #1 recruiting class in 1998 and 2001.

At most any other school these numbers would be impressive, but we're talking about UCLA, home to the Wizard of Westwood, 10 national titles in 12 seasons, and a list of accomplishments too long to mention, so as you can see the bar had been set pretty high. Lavin's record as a recruiter was stellar, bringing in players such as Trevor Ariza, Baron Davis, and Matt Barnes. On paper his accomplishments looked good, but he wasn't able to reach the level many expected him to. He'd been haunted by the perception that he lacked a coaching style or that while he was a brilliant recruiter he wasn't up to par in the X's and O's department. He was young and inexperienced as a head coach, which eventually caught up with him.

Cut to 2003, Coach Lavin was relieved of his duties at UCLA and shortly after began his broadcast career at ESPN. Lavin spent his time providing color commentary with partner Brent Musberger, using this arena as a training ground, learning as much as he could about the game.

Now it's 2010, St. John's University hires a west coast guy to revitalize it's program and revitalize it he has. Now don't get me wrong, the Red Storm haven't completely turned around overnight, but they are headed in the right direction. St. John's is 17-9 overall, 9-5 in the Big East and they have caused quite a stir by winning 5 games against teams ranked 15th or higher. There's no more dangerous team in the country than the Red Storm playing at Madison Square Garden.

So what is it about Coach Lavin now? There seems to be a swagger and a confidence to him that hadn't quite blossomed at UCLA. I believe that obviously the maturity that comes with age and experience has something to do with his recent success plus the timing and fit with St. John's is right. But I think it's more than that. I truly believe that Lavin's time at ESPN has had a profound effect on him as a coach. I think spending time really analyzing the game inside and out, plus watching other coaching styles has strengthened his coaching skill set. He made the wise decision to hire mentor and former Purdue head coach Gene Keady as his executive assistant. Sure he's still a great recruiter, according to ESPN St. John's has the 2nd ranked incoming recruiting class, but his growth as a coach is impressive.

Coach Lavin has orchestrated the resurgence of Red Storm basketball. His return to coaching is infused with a passion and vigor that's reflected in the way his team plays and in the way the fans have responded. He believes too that his time as an analyst gives him a perspective on coaching that he didn't have before. He was quoted as saying upon taking the St. John's job, "The last 7 years as a broadcaster allowed me to travel the country as a barnstormer with my partner, observing and studying different styles, different coaches, aspects of game preparation, the game itself sitting courtside, breaking down tape, the scouting reports. This was an extended sabbatical that allowed me to stay close to the game, a little more distant to see things with more clarity and when you come back to the game you bring all that with you to enhance your ability to coach and run a successful program."

Only time will tell if Coach Lavin's time as a student will translate into his becoming a great teacher, but if superlatives were handed out today he would definitely receive the award for Most Improved and be in the running for Most Likely to Succeed!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tobacco Road

Once again it's rivalry week and in my opinion there's no better rivalry than the Battle of Tobacco Road. While Wake Forest and NC State both reside along Tobacco Road, it is the rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tarheels that's unlike any other. I mean where else could you find students camped out for months in the tent city known as Krzyzewskiville!! Tobacco road could be called The Great Blue Divide and the question is which blue do you bleed?

8 miles on US Highway 15-501 is all that separates these bitter rivals. Proximity explains some of the rivalry, but it's not just about the two schools being so close together, it's that 2 of the nation's premier basketball programs happen to be just miles apart . UNC a public school, plays in the Dean Smith Center, capacity 21, 750 while private school Duke plays in Cameron Indoor Stadium (referred to by Coach K as the 6th man) which holds an intimate 9, 314. Between these two teams there are 9 national titles (UNC 5, Duke 4), 33 Final Four appearances (UNC first all time with 18, Duke 3rd all time with 15). Plus they've combined for 46 ACC Reg. season championships and 35 ACC tourney championships. In fact in the last 126 meetings at least one of these teams has been ranked in the top 25.

Tonight should provide all the entertainment that usually accompanies this rivalry game as Carolina looks to avenge last season's 32 point whipping by the Blue Devils. After a disappointing last season, the Tarheels finally re-entered the top 25 just this week and are desperate to prove they are back.

Stepping in after the departure of Larry Drew II, UNC's Kendall Marshall has played brilliantly. He promptly went out and set a UNC freshman record with 16 assists. Marshall will go up against former high school rival, Duke's Tyler Thornton. Since the loss of Kyrie Irving, Coach K has been searching for the right combo and he seems to have found it with Thornton starting at the point, allowing Nolan Smith to move to his more natural shooting guard position. Also making his Cameron debut is freshman, and preseason All-American, Harrison Barnes. Barnes, who publicly turned down a scholarship offer from Duke, will most definitely receive jeers from the Cameron Crazies. Over the last 3 games the super freshman has averaged just under 23 ppg. Look for Duke to pressure the Heels back court as they are turnover prone.

Another key to this game will be who controls the boards. Will it be Duke's Plumlee bros and Ryan Kelly or Carolina's tall and long front line. Also keep an eye on Kyle Singler, will Coach Williams and the Heels find a matchup for him?

Through the years this rivalry has provided some of college basketball's most memorable moments, like Jeff Capel's running 37 ft rainbow at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, or Tyler Hansbrough's broken nose, courtesy of Duke's Gerald Henderson. Twice a year one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports takes center stage and I'm sure that tonight will deliver another stellar performance.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Statistics don't lie

It's been a busy week if you're a football fan. With national signing day on Wednesday and the Super Bowl this Sunday many of us are on football overload and LOVING it!! And although it's a new year and a clean slate for all teams, one thing seems to remain the same, the SEC reigns supreme as the conference king of college football. Now this argument doesn't make me very popular among my friends. Hey I may live on the west coast, but this girl will always be a southeastern girl at heart. Plus statistics don't lie.

I started doing research to prove my point and there's plenty out there. In the last 5 years ESPN, Rivals, and Scout have never ranked less than 6 total SEC teams in the top 25 of National signing day classes. In 2009 all 3 media outlets had 10 of the 12 SEC schools recruiting classes ranked in the top 25. This year all 3 outlets have 9 schools ranked.

It's obvious that hitting the recruiting trail pays off. The SEC has won 5 straight BCS championships (no college conference has ever won more than 3 straight college football national championships). Also interesting to note is that 4 different schools have won these five titles (Florida won in '06 and '08). The SEC has won 6 of the last 8 titles and 7 total since the BCS began 12 years ago. As a conference its teams are 7-0 in championship games.

Even in this weekends Super Bowl the SEC reigns supreme with 19 players on the active rosters of the Packers and the Steelers. It would've been 20 if Maurkice Pouncey hadn't been ruled out due to injury.

So why the dominance?...because the SEC schools across the board, do the best job of recruiting those rare athletes that have both great size and blazing speed. Any coach knows this is a winning combination. Now there are a few schools nationally like a Texas or Southern Cal who do this consistently, but no CONFERENCE even comes close to the SEC from top to bottom in recruiting big, fast athletes.

Now for all you Big 10 fans out there, Ohio State is a great program but a step slow for the SEC (see Florida and LSU 2006-2007 title games). Now I know the Buckeyes finally snapped their SEC losing streak in this year's Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, but they're still 1-9 all time in bowl games vs. SEC. And for all you PAC-10 fans Oregon had the speed this year but was outweighed 40 pounds PER lineman on the O and D lines... and was worn down.

So I repeat my premise, statistics don't lie. After accumulating another dominate recruiting class, the SEC is college football royalty and all other conferences are gonna have to try very hard to dethrone the king.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Beginning

Since this is the beginning, I'm gonna start from the beginning, of my love for sports that is.

A giant influence (no pun intended) is my dad. Growing up with a dad who is 6'8" and who played and coached basketball definitely influenced my view of sports. One of the many things that I appreciate about my dad is that he loves to analyze a game and he most definitely passed that trait on to me. For those who watch any game with me, I realize this can be annoying. In fact while most people look forward to Super Bowl parties so they can catch up with each other and watch the commercials, I am the opposite. My favorite Super Bowl was the year when I watched most of the game with just my dad. We tried to out analyze the analyst and each other!!

In the world of broadcasting where entertainment can be king, finding an announcer who really focuses on game strategy is something that was always important come gameday. We loved listening to Billy Packer call college basketball and Madden call football. Gruden and Aikman are a couple of today's favorites. My dad, brother and I are known to call back and forth during games and exchange our opinions. It's a family affair!!

Another influence has to be my grandmother. Debbie is a sports fanatic. She passed her love of the Miami Dolphins and the Duke Blue Devils down to more than one of her grandkids (this one included)!! It wasn't unusual discuss with her Marino's passes to Duper and Clayton or Coach K, Hill, Hurley and Laettner. She was on the sideline of every football game that my uncle played. It's a running joke in our family that for every yard my uncle rushed for in high school and college that Debbie ran every yard with him!! Debbie, thank you for showing me that sports isn't only a guys club:)

As time goes on I'll delve deeper into different sports greats that I have the utmost respect for and my opinions on different topics, but for today I thought a more personal approach was best. Our passions start somewhere, which for me happened to be right at home.