November 14, 2011
As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, one of the unique things I get to do is provide input on the organization’s All-American Team. I thought I’d share my ballot for the defensive side of the ball as well as some brief insight on the selections. Part II next week will take a look at my ballot for the offensive side.
Whitney Mercilus (Illinois): Mercilus leads the nation in sacks with 12 ½ and should be a candidate for several defensive Player of the Year awards. After a 6-0 start, Illinois has lost their past four games, though, and that could derail his chances a bit. Still, he’s a no-brainer for a spot on my first team.
Vinny Curry (Marshall): Curry comes in second in sacks with 10 ½ and with 12 last year, has quietly put together two good seasons for the Thundering Herd.
Jamie Blatnick (Oklahoma State): Blatnick leads the defense for the No. 2 ranked Cowboys and is a big reason they could play for a National Championship. He has seven sacks and an interception on the season and will be playing on Sundays.
Andre Branch (Clemson): The Tigers have come out of nowhere and are ranked in the top ten, largely due to the efforts of Branch. His 58 tackles rank near the top for defensive ends and a huge four-sack effort against Virginia Tech was one of the better defensive performances this season.
Luke Kuechly (Boston College): Kuechly not only leads the nation in tackles with 168, but is on pace to break the NCAA’s single season record. He is looking like the best linebacker in the country right now and one of the top defensive players in the nation.
Zach Brown (North Carolina): Brown is one of those indispensable players who might not get a lot of credit, but he’s always around the ball. On the season for the Tarheels, he’s got 71 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He’s not a leader in any major category, but does a lot of different things. Simply put, he makes plays.
Sammy Brown (Houston): Brown has missed two games and is still in second in sacks for linebackers this season with 9 ½. He’s recorded at least one in every game he’s suited up for this season except the opener against UCLA and is unquestionably the leader of the undefeated Cougars’ defense.
David Amerson (North Carolina State): Amerson’s ten interceptions lead the FBS and he’s a serious threat to return it to the house with three returns greater than 25 yards. He returned one for a touchdown in a big road win at Virginia this season.
Nigel Malone (Kansas State): Malone is second in the nation in interceptions and is leading the way for the surprising 8-2 Wildcats. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and Malone picked him off in a game this season. Twice.
Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma): Jefferson is a do-it-all type of defensive back for the Sooners. He had a three-interception game earlier this season against Ball State and also has three sacks and a forced fumble this year. As a sophomore, he’s only going to get better, too.
Tyrann Mathieu (LSU): Don’t be fooled by Mathieu’s relatively unspectacular stats. Quarterbacks fear him like the plague, meaning he doesn’t get a lot of chances for picks. He’s a staple on No. 1 ranked LSU’s defense and had interceptions in big wins against West Virginia and Florida this season. Mathieu has also forced three fumbles this season – two in the season opening win against highly-ranked Oregon.
October 17, 2011
Sure, NFL trades aren’t all that frequent. While we as fans pay strict attention to the MLB, NBA, and NHL trade deadlines, the NFL cutoff date generally comes and goes without much fanfare. Seriously, before this week, did you have any idea that the trade deadline is Tuesday? If you did, the chances are good that you’re probably an agent, a GM, or a player.
That said, there are some moves that should happen – moves that could make teams better in the short or long run. Here are five players that should be moved in exchange for a draft pick.
5. WR Eddie Royal – Denver Broncos to Carolina Panthers: Eddie Royal’s name is one of the most widely heard when the trade deadline comes up. Royal had an extremely productive rookie year in 2008 catching 91 passes for just under 1,000 yards, but since then, has dropped off a bit – particularly with the emergence of other receivers over the years such as Brandon Lloyd and the departed Jabar Gaffney. At 25, though, Royal still should have plenty of productivity left and would make a nice target for rookie Cam Newton in Carolina who could use another wideout.
4. CB Asante Samuel – Philadelphia Eagles to St. Louis Rams: The Rams’ secondary is in need of a major boost. Arguably their top three cornerbacks, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy, and Bradley Fletcher, are injured and the team needs to shore up that position. Sure, the Rams aren’t likely to contend this year, but Samuel is only 30 and is still capable of being a contributor for several more seasons. The Eagles’ defense has struggled this season, but mediocre linebacker play has been a big factor in that. And with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie, the team can afford to move one of their cornerbacks. Trading Samuel to a team such as the New York Giants might make more sense, but I couldn’t see the Eagles allowing him to go to a division rival.
3. RB Joseph Addai – Indianapolis Colts to Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Addai’s had injury issues the past few years, but when healthy, he’s more than capable of being an adequate running back. Tampa Bay may not win the NFC South, but they could have a shot at a Wild Card. Leading rusher LeGarrette Blount is injured, but more than that, the Bucs could use some help in the backfield. Addai is injured himself, so he may not be immediately available himself. But a second back would provide some insurance for the team should one of them go down later in the season. Indianapolis has young running backs Delone Carter and Donald Brown on the roster and can afford to part with Addai at this point as he’s been solid, but unspectacular.
2. WR Brandon Lloyd – Denver Broncos to San Francisco 49ers: Raise your hand if you expected the 49ers to not only get off to a good start this season, but look like one of the league’s better teams at 5-1. Even San Francisco fans were probably hard pressed to expect the team’s hot start. But now that the 49ers appear to be for real, it’s time they add another receiver to the mix. Enter Brandon Lloyd, who had more than 1,400 receiving yards last season with the Broncos. Lloyd is also familiar with the area having played with San Francisco in his first three seasons. He’s a veteran and can provide immediate help to rejuvenated quarterback Alex Smith. Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn have been serviceable at wide receiver, but adding a steady veteran to the team in Lloyd would go a long way to helping the team not only reach the playoffs, but make some noise once they get there.
1. QB Carson Palmer – Cincinnati Bengals to Seattle Seahawks: The Carson Palmer/Cincinnati saga hasn’t gone as expected for Palmer, who probably believed he would eventually have his trade request fulfilled. Six games into the season and Palmer is still sitting out while rookie Andy Dalton has taken the reins for the Bengals’ offense. Seriously, though, this is helping no one. Palmer would be better served by being able to play elsewhere and Cincinnati could get something in return for him. A move to Seattle might be ideal for Palmer who could help the Seahawks contend in the mediocre NFC West. He would also be reunited with former USC coach Pete Carroll and is an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson.
April 11, 2011
The NHL 2010-11 regular season is winding down, and it’s time to take a look at some of the leading candidates to take home the league’s Most Valuable Player award – the Hart Trophy.
Last year’s honoree, Henrik Sedin, is a candidate to become a repeat winner. With a second consecutive trophy, Sedin would join an exclusive club consisting of only 11 players including greats such as Wayne Gretzky, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe. Sure, he doesn’t score much (Sedin has a modest 19 goals this year and has never scored 30 during any season in his career), but he sets up other scoring plays as few others can and has more than 150 assists over the past two years.
Sedin’s stiffest challenge for the award could ironically come from twin brother and Vancouver Canucks teammate, Daniel Sedin. Despite a spectacular 2009-10 season in which he tallied 85 points in only 63 games, Daniel didn’t figure into the Hart Trophy voting. A foot injury that cost him several weeks of playing time last season wiped out any chance he had of gathering any votes for the award in 2010. But fully healthy this year, Daniel has put up the best numbers of his career. He led the league in scoring and set career highs in goals and assists. The Sedin brothers may be competing with each other, though, since they’re on the same team and could end up splitting some votes as voters try to decide just who is Vancouver’s MVP.
Another pair of teammates are also right there for a chance at the Hart. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightningare another duo putting up a lot of points this season. St. Louis has been the model of consistency over his career, scoring at least 25 goals over the past eight seasons. As one of the top three scorers in the league, he’s sure to get at least some consideration for the trophy. Unfortunately for him, teammate Steven Stamkos is having quite a year himself, scoring 40 goals and also putting up nearly 100 points. St. Louis and Stamkos may have a similar problem as the Sedins in that they may cost each other some votes.
While the Canucks and Lightning made the playoffs comfortably, another candidate comes from a team that had to fight its way in, clinching a spot late in the season. Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks should garner quite a bit of consideration for leading his team to the playoffs. The Ducks finished near the bottom of the conference, but an argument could be made that they’re not a postseason team without the 50-goal scorer. He’s always been a reliable goal scorer, but this season went from good to great, finishing with close to 100 points. That could be the difference in him winning the award for the first time in his career.
One player a bit under the radar for the first time in a while is the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin may be the league’s most talented player, and, even though his point totals are the lowest of his career, he still led Washington to the top of the Eastern Conference. That alone should be enough to keep him in contention for some votes.
And even though the award typically goes to an offensive talent, goalies and defensemen do occasionally win the trophy. A few goalies to keep an eye on are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Thomas is the better goalie statistically, leading the league in goals against average and save percentage. The Bruins also won the Division title and he was obviously a big reason for that. Luongo, however, plays for the NHL’s top team, the only team to win 50 games. His nearly 40 wins led the league this season. And a dark horse candidate to steal a few votes may be the Penguins’ Marc Andre Fleury. The Pens have played much of the season without their two best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Fleury’s goaltending is the sole reason they are still standing. Pittsburgh has not only finished as a playoff team, but they were near the top of the entire conference. Take away a team’s two best players, and many teams would not win as much as the Penguins have this season.
April 5, 2011
Being an NBA fan can be a fun and exciting experience, especially if your favorite team has a chance to make a run at a title. Recent draft picks, player acquisitions, or a new coaching regime can turn a team around in the blink of an eye. But sometimes these triumphed moves don’t pay dividends as expected, and the season becomes a long, drawn out exhibition. It doesn’t mean you have to suffer, though! There’s still value to be gained from a lost season if you follow these guidelines.
Take Advantage Early
One of the benefits of professional sports is the new slate every team gets at the outset of each season. No matter the previous season’s outcome, a new season brings optimism that this could be the year. What if all the offseason moves come together like a puzzle and bring the city a title? That rejuvenating feeling, though, is often temporary. Chances are your team’s hopes and dreams of a championship will not come true – but all is not lost!
Take advantage of the new season before it sours. Attend a few games early on. Catch the games on TV while they’re still competitive. Buy merchandise while it doesn’t feel like a waste of money. Support the team while it’s more pleasurable than grueling. Because we all know those waning months of a season going nowhere can be torture to a fan, as well as to the players and organization. Look at the Cleveland Cavaliers this year: after LeBron James’ departure, experts predicted this season to be abysmal for the Cavs. Those experts were right, but the team had their moment in the sun with a surprising 4-4 record in the first eight games of the season. Enjoy the early blast off before the season is forced down to Earth.
Rebuilding Doesn’t Mean Quitting
When the season does begin to take a turn for the worse, instead jumping ship, try to accept it. The rebuilding phase is an inevitable part of a professional sports organization (unless you’re the Lakers or Celtics, that is). Instead of grading the team on wins and losses, assess the development of the individual players. Pretend you’re part of the front office. Analyze the potential of the current players and make decisions on who should be part of the future, and who should be shipped out. The group assembled may not be great at the moment, but there are pieces on every team that could become superstars or major role players with the right surroundings.
Have you ever spoken to someone who remembers seeing Michael Jordan play as a rookie? And how cool it sounds? And how jealous it makes you (and by you, I mean me)? While there will probably never be another Jordan, a superstar in the making may be developing right in front of your eyes. Don’t miss the opportunity to see players like John Wall, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love mature into their full potential. And if there isn’t a future superstar on the current squad, there could be another Luc Longley, Steve Kerr, or Robert Horry in the making.
Promotions and Giveaways
It’s natural for a fan to lose interest once the losses pile up. The opening game sellout can turn into a comparatively vacant area if the team doesn’t start performing quickly. At the end of the day, however, the NBA is a business. The unsold seats represent lost revenue for a league struggling financially as it is, so they create various promotions and giveaways to re-entice fans.
Check to see what your local team has to offer and put together an outing. This year alone, the Washington Wizards have done ticket giveaways, family fun packs, pregame theme parties inside sections of the Verizon Center, and pregame bar-hops around the arena, to name only a few promotions. And similar promotions exist all around the league. Even if the game doesn’t go as pleased, the surrounding events make it for a solid group outing.
When Stars Comes to Town…
Although your favorite team may be wasting away like rotten vegetables, that doesn’t mean there isn’t good basketball to be seen. Every team in the NBA plays each other at least twice a season. When the schedule comes out, make a note of when the top teams and players are coming to town. Get tickets early or wait for a deal later in the season. Snag some last minute promotional giveaways.
The Wizards have been in rebuilding mode for a few years now, and it hasn’t been the most fun for the fan base, but I’ve been able to see Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, and Derrick Rose in person without breaking the bank. I’ll admit those three games weren’t exactly competitive, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
There’s Always Next Year
The misery will only last so long. It sounds cliché, but there’s always next year (or the year after that for those teams in serious disarray). Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a lowly 23-59 – another lost season for the franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics. But last season, they surprised the NBA by making the Western Conference playoffs and pushing the Los Angeles Lakers, in between their two back to back titles at the time, to the 6th game of the first round – a series widely accepted to be a cakewalk for the best team in the league. The Thunder had a solid young core, not unlike many others around the NBA. Next year your team could make a similar jump.
Plus, the way the NBA is currently arranged, the more losses a team accrues, the higher the odds they’ll earn a top draft pick. A deep playoff run is favorable, but the consolation prize of a potential star isn’t bad.
Transform your anger and frustration from seasons past into excitement for your new draft pick, offseason acquisitions, or coach. Because this could be the year that your “what if?” comes true in the form of a championship – a truly just reward for the years of misery.