Friday, June 28, 2013

Slow Down, Sport

After a certain age, every one of us remembers the days of our youth. We look back on those days now and realize just how good we had it- well, most of I assume. We all remember being young and uttering the phrase "I can't wait until I grow up", and now that we look back we wonder why we were in such a hurry. Well, that rush to grow up isn't solely a desire of children. Soon-to-be-professional athlete Johnny Football is no longer a child but he is all too eager to grow up. The young QB Johnny Manziel, from Texas A&M, has tweeted in the past weeks his desire to leave college life behind and join the ranks of the pros. This is largely in part because of the media (and campus) circus that follows him around now that he's hit the big-time. Perhaps he has forgotten that the reason for all this fuss is largely his own doing because he makes a spectacle of himself. In my opinion, Manziel should rethink his stance on the NFL because, at the moment, his pro prospects just aren't that good, for several key reasons.

The first reason being that there are significant questions about his arm strength. The offense that Manziel anchors for the Aggies isn't one predicated on driving the ball deep down the field. Kevin Sumlin's offense relies much more on quick drops and firing the ball out to a back or receiver running a short to intermediate route. While arm strength and accuracy down field are certainly things that can be worked on at the pro level  with coaching and a proper training and exercise regimen (see: Aaron Rodgers), it's a skill that the NFL scouts are going to want to see from Manziel before anyone thinks about spending a high draft choice on the kid.

The next reason is, oddly enough, a by-product of one of Manziel's biggest strengths, his athleticism. The combination of Manziel being such a talented athlete and Sumlin's offense has lead to Manziel not being great at going through his read progressions. He has a tendency to look to his primary target, and if he isn't open, instead of finding the second or third option, making something happen with his legs. This is a fine and effective strategy for a college quarterback, but it's going to get him hurt at the next level. The linebackers are much bigger and much faster than those he faces, even in the vaunted SEC. If Manziel wants to survive in the NFL, much less become a star in it, he's going to need to learn how to effectively run an offense from the pocket, only running when he has run out of options. Not as the second option.

The third reason is he doesn't seem to have any sort of pocket awareness. Far too often he is seen breaking the pocket and making something happen with his legs, even when there was a clear pocket from which to throw and minimal pressure around him. Part of this is the style of offense that Manziel plays in, but I think that it's more his personal mentality at this point. He knows that he's a better athlete than most of the guys on the field, and he relies heavily upon that instead of trusting his ability to beat the defense with his arm. To me, that shows that he doesn't trust in his abilities as a pocket passer. While non-traditional quarterbacks are seeing a rise in popularity due to the Michael Vick's and RG3's of the world, the fact remains that only "pocket-passers" have had ultimate success in the NFL. Running around making plays with your legs is nice, but it's the quarterbacks who can stand in the pocket and make the big throws who win Super Bowls.

The final, and most unfortunate, reason that Manziel's prospects for the pro's don't look that good to me is his size. While being listed at A&M as being 6'1" 210 lbs, anyone who looks at the game tape and pays attention to Johnny Football can see that he is not what he's listed at. I think he's more like 5'10" 185 lbs. That kind of size would make him a success at the slot-receiver position, but the fact remains that no quarterback under 6' has ever had a large amount of success. It's entirely possible that guys like Russell Wilson (and maybe even Manziel himself) will go on to buck that trend and pave the way for the smaller quarterbacks to be given a serious look by NFL scouts, but we just aren't there yet. Wilson is only going into his second year, and his team didn't reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it. Until a short quarterback goes on to win a Super Bowl or two, they're never going to be looked at as a serious option for long-term success.

If Manziel can work on all of these (except for the height, there's nothing that can be done about that), then he may yet have a chance at being a high draft choice, but as of right now he still has a long way to go. He's only a sophomore, he has a lot left to learn, and the time to do it if he allows himself that opportunity. If there's one piece of advice that I could give to him, it would be this: "Slow down, sport. Enjoy the time you have here. You only get this opportunity once in your life, and it's only going to get harder from here. Stop making a spectacle of yourself, sit back, and enjoy what you have. You'll look back in a few years and wish you had."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Update: What a Week It's Been

This isn't going to be one of my traditional posts, but I felt like an update to the Aaron Hernandez situation was warranted and thought it might get lost if I posted it in the comments section. Word has come down today that Hernandez has been arrested and charged with First-degree Murder. He was also charged with five other counts on weapons charges stemming from the incident. Hernandez was arrested and taken into custody this morning around 9:30 a.m. and was arraigned at around 2 p.m. Eastern time. Hernandez has since been released by the New England Patriots, just a year after signing a five year $40 million extension with the team.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What a Week It's Been

It has been a full week since we first heard the shocking (or not-so-shocking, depending upon just how cynical you have become) news out of Boston. The implication that one of the New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez, was somehow involved in the murder of semi-professional footballer Odin Lloyd. While no murder charges have been filed at this point, authorities and the media have made it pretty clear that Hernandez is a critical individual in the investigation. Here is what we know about the case, in chronological order.

Monday: The body of Lloyd was found by a jogger in an industrial park one mile from Hernandez' home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The body was found not far from a rental car in Hernandez' name that was found at the scene, with one of the side mirrors missing. The side mirror has yet to be discovered, though it is unclear what, if any, bearing that has on the rest of the investigation.

Tuesday: Authorities executed the first of what would be many search warrants on Hernandez' home. This is also the first day that Hernandez alleged involvement in the case was reported in the media (at least on or, the two sites that I use primarily for my non-local news)

Wednesday: Authorities returned to Hernandez' home to execute another search warrant on at least two vehicles rented in Hernandez' name. There were also reports in the media that claimed Hernandez had destroyed his security system and cellphone prior to the execution of the search warrant on the prior day.

Thursday: Hernandez' home is searched yet again, this time due to the aforementioned destruction of the surveillance system and cellphone. Reports also surfaced of a separate lawsuit. filed on the 13th by a man in Florida claiming that Hernandez shot him in the arm and face following an argument outside of a club in Miami.

Friday: Several media sources claim that authorities have filed a warrant for Hernandez' arrest on Obstruction of Justice charges, stemming from the destruction of his security systems and phone. These reports have since been denied by Hernandez' agent, and as of today, no arrest has been made in the case.

Saturday: Police return yet again to Hernandez' home for another search. It is unclear what the basis for this search was, though reports are that authorities left with approximately a dozen bags of evidence and at one point called in a locksmith who was on site for about an hour and a half before leaving. No reports that I have seen have said why the locksmith was called or what he may have unlocked for the police to discover.

We also know that Odin was dating the sister of Hernandez' girlfriend, who is also the mother of his child. While it may have no bearing on the case, if there had been a fight between Odin and his girlfriend, the authorities could use that to try and pin a motive onto his murder, though that is just speculation on my part. A video tape from the night of the murder shows Odin leaving a club with Hernandez and two other men. This establishes Hernandez as one of the last people to see Odin alive. We have also heard reports stating that several of Hernandez' neighbors have told authorities that they heard what they believed to be multiple rounds of gunfire coming from Hernandez' home on the night of the murder.

While all of this "evidence" is circumstantial at best, it is my opinion that there is more than enough of it to establish a connection between Odin and Hernandez, and to establish that Hernandez, even if he wasn't the one to pull the trigger, was somehow involved in the death of Odin. His actions following the night of Odin's murder do not, in my opinion, reflect that of an innocent man. I do, however, firmly believe in innocent until proven guilty, so I will have to wait to pass further judgment until the legal system has fully run it's course. If things work out well for Hernandez and he is not charged with anything more than obstruction (which I think it inevitable after he tampered with evidence), expect commissioner Roger Goodell to hand down at least a four game suspension to Hernandez for conduct detrimental to the league. If Hernandez does go on trial for murder, I expect we may have seen the last of Hernandez in the NFL, whether he's found guilty or not.

Friday, June 21, 2013

NFL Preview: Buffalo Bills

It has been three weeks since I made a post in my series of NFL season previews. I had a vacation to Vegas, an illness, and some other pressing sports news stories that I just had to write. But the series is back today, this time with my most hated team in the division, the Buffalo Bills. It would be easy for me to hate the Patriots, as they have had the most success recently, and most Dolphins fans that I know hate the Jets most of all, but I have always had a soft-spot for hating the Bills. I guess it probably stems from growing up in the early 90's and having my earliest football experiences be watching them go to four straight Super Bowls. Well, that's my quick little story, here's a look at the 2013 Buffalo Bills.

Key Losses: The most important player departing the Bills this year is their former starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills have been looking for a quarterback of good quality ever since Jim Kelly retired and they thought they had found it in Fitzpatrick. He had a big year in 2010 and was subsequently resigned to a lucrative deal. But after two years of poor decision making (accounting for 49 turnovers in those two seasons), the realization that he doesn't have a strong arm, and the financial burden of the aforementioned contract, the organization decided to part ways with their starting quarterback. Now the Bills are left with a hole at the most important position on the field, and are hoping that they have found the answer in one of their two biggest off-season acquisitions.

Key Additions: After the release of Fitzpatrick, the Bills were left with a giant hole at the position. They made two key decisions in an attempt to fill this hole. The first was the trade that they made with the Arizona Cardinals to acquire Kevin Kolb. Kolb was a strong-armed quarterback coming out of Houston University drafted by Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. He had all the promise in the world and looked like he was going to become a star in this league. But, for whatever reason, Kolb has never been able to put it together. He has all the physical tools necessary to play the position, but he never seems sure of himself when he takes the field. He looks like a lost puppy out there, and that is why his is now on his third team in his seven year career. If Kolb can't figure it out, and quickly, look for him to be supplanted as the starter by the Bills first round draft choice this season, E.J. Manuel. Possibly the surprise of the draft this season, no one had Manuel rated as a first round quarterback, but the Bills must have seen something in his career at Florida State that they felt confident in. Manuel is a great athlete and has a cannon for an arm, but has also shown some poor decision making in his collegiate career. His completion percentage never topped 70 percent while playing for the Seminoles, which is a pretty standard mark for a good quarterback in college. He also only topped the 3,000 yard mark once in his career. If he becomes the starter and performs well, the Bills front office will look like they knew what they were doing, but I don't seem him doing any better than his FSU predecessor Christian Ponder, who was also taken much higher than anyone expected and hasn't lived up to the position.

What it means: The Bills do have a pretty good amount of talent surrounding whomever is going to be the starting quarterback. Stevie Johnson has blossomed into a very nice number one receiver. They also have two of the more talented running backs in the league in Fred Jackson (who, as someone who is a Dolphins fan and attended Cornell College, may be my most hated player in the league) and C.J. Spiller. With Fred Jackson handling most of the carries, and Spiller spelling him and lining up all over the field, utilizing his blazing speed and good catching ability, the Bills do have a good number of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. With that being said, however, it's hard for me to see Buffalo ending the season any better than in the 6-10 to 7-9 range. This will be good enough for third in the AFC East, but not where the Bills would like to be. I think they'll be a playoff team in the not-too-distant future, but that future has not come yet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eight Minutes

If you went to work for eight minutes and then clocked out, your boss wouldn't pay you for a full days' work. If you went to class for eight minutes and then left, your teachers wouldn't say you completed a full semester. If you spent eight minutes on the golf course, you wouldn't say you completed a full round. So why does the NCAA get to say that eight minutes counts as a full season?

This is the question that Old Dominion's Donte Hill has surely been asking himself for days. Hill's request for a fifth year was denied by the NCAA rules committee, due to the eight minutes that Hill played in a closed scrimmage back in 2010 while still a member of the Clemson Tigers. Shortly after the scrimmage, Hill made the decision to transfer from Clemson to Old Dominion, and sat out the remainder of the 2010 season, in accordance with the NCAA's rules for transferring athletes (which I also think is a sham rule, but that's not what this article is about). Hill, along with the ODU coaching staff assumed that everything was fine and that he was following the rules. No one imagined that his participation in the aforementioned scrimmage would be an issue. It wasn't participation in a game, after all, it was just a closed scrimmage. What possible effect could that have?

Well, according to the rules committee, any participation during a season counts as a full season. Hill's participation in that scrimmage meant that he played in the 2010 season, giving him one less season of eligibility than he thought he had. Was it the responsibility of the coaching staff to look into the NCAA's complex and outdated rule book to make sure that everything was kosher? Yeah, probably. It was probably Hill's responsibility to double check on things too. That being said, in no other walk of life does eight minutes constitute full participation, why on Earth is collegiate athletics any different? What gives the NCAA the right to end a player's season (and in this case, career) over eight minutes in something that had quite literally zero effect on the regular or post-season?

In my eyes, this is but one in a long line of instances of the NCAA overstepping it's bounds and making terrible decisions that have long-term detrimental effects on the lives of young adults. This past college football season, the NCAA rules committee handed down what were the stiffest penalties I have ever seen (I was not yet alive for the decision to hand down the "death penalty" to the SMU program) to the Penn State University football program in the wake of the heinous acts committed by Jerry Sandusky and in some respects allowed to by Joe Paterno. While any sane individual can acknowledge that the university itself needed to be punished for the acts of it's employees, I feel that the case was entirely a legal matter. It had no bearing on anything athletic and was not an issues that the NCAA needed to get involved with. Their decision to cut scholarships, ban from post-season play, and heavily fine the football program has had serious negative consequences on countless lives that had absolutely zero to do with the situation. Now, the NCAA has made another decision that has altered the life, if only temporarily, of yet another young adult. All over a measly eight minutes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tweet Responsibly

"I hope you and your mother get AIDS and die"

I am a self-proclaimed football fanatic. I have never denied the fact that the NFL is one of my biggest passions. I have been to NFL games, I have had subscriptions to NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL Game Rewind, and this season will be my 15th year playing fantasy football. I live for the NFL, and I will be the first to admit that, at times, my passion has gotten the best of me. Many times I have let the successes or failures of "my" teams get the better of me. Whether it be the Miami Dolphins or one of my many fantasy football teams over the years, when things go wrong I'm a wreck. I have shouted many an obscenity at the television, and even thrown things in my utter disgust. I am by no means alone either. But when does showing your displeasure at a team or individual's performance cross the line? When does it go from being a passionate fan to something reprehensible?

I don't know about you, but I think that first sentence more than qualifies as "reprehensible". That quote is but one of the many vulgar tweets that San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has received since coming into the league as the heir apparent to the legendary LaDanian Tomlinson. On a somewhat regular basis, Mathews has to weed through abhorrent, vile, derogatory comments just to use a social media website, something that most of us have never had to, and hopefully will never have to face. What exactly, you may ask, is Mathews crime? Has he been accused of murder? Has he repeatedly been in violation of the league's drug policy? Just what has Mathews done to deserve being on the receiving end of such venom from his so-called "fans"?

He hasn't been quite as good as the guy before him. He hasn't led the Chargers to the playoffs. He hasn't been an MVP or even a Pro-Bowler. Mathews has been a serviceable running back for the Chargers, averaging 4.4 yards per carry over his career with one 1,000 yard season and 14 career touchdowns in his three seasons as a Charger. As the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft, it's fair to expect more production from Mathews. One season over the 1,000 yard mark isn't befitting of a top-15 draft pick. Mathews has had many injuries in his three years, never playing a full 16-game season. He has also had numerous turnover issues, totaling 11 fumbles, six of them lost, in his career. But does his lack of production warrant such hateful commentary?

The answer should be fairly obvious. It's a resounding NO. It's not often that I'm ashamed to call myself an NFL fan, but it's stories like these that make me say just that. Let's forget for a minute that the NFL is a team sport and no one player can be solely blamed for a team's poor performance. Let's also forget that over the same amount of time the Chargers starting quarterback, Philip Rivers, has accounted for 72 turnovers, a number that is 12 times the amount that Mathews has been accountable for. In the grand scheme of things, these numbers are irrelevant. At the end of the day, these men are playing a GAME. They are putting their bodies and future well-being on the line for our entertainment. What gives us the right to wish a deadly disease upon one of them? A disease that has so devastated many communities and ruined countless lives over the decades since it's discovery.

If you are a fan of the NFL, or even just a decent human being, I beg of you...please have a bit of forethought when using social media to talk about your teams and their players. Just because a player has millions of followers does not give you the right to say any disgusting thing you can think of to or about them. Whether you think it or not, they do see it. They are human beings just like us with the same emotions and vulnerabilities. Treat them like it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Third Team is the Charm?

Tim Tebow is getting yet another chance to continue his career in the NFL. After rampant speculation about where Tebow would end up, whether it would be then Arena league, the Canadian Football League (CFL), or if another NFL team would take a chance on the much maligned QB. Well, we finally have our answer. Tebow was picked up earlier this week by the New England Patriots. While I was, and still am, of the opinion that Tebow will never amount to anything in this league as a quarterback and is not deserving of another chance in the NFL, if there was a perfect spot for him to end up, it's New England. The Patriots are the ideal fit (if there is such a thing for Tebow) because they have one of the best coaching staffs in the entire league, there will be no pressure from fans or inside the organization to start Tebow, and because Tom Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league to learn behind.

As a Dolphins fan, it hurts me deeply to say it, but I think it is obvious to anyone who pays attention that New England has one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL. Take one look at the successes their offense has had over the last decade with the paltry support staff that Brady has had around him. Aside from Wes Welker and one exceptional season from Randy Moss, the Patriots have have had absolutely no one of note in their wide receiver corps, yet every season Tom Brady is among the league leaders in both passing yardage and touchdowns. This can be directly contributed, in my opinion, to the skill of the New England coaching staff. They seem to have an incredible ability to get the absolute most out of every player on their team, regardless of how much talent they have. This is perfect for Tebow because he has a long way to come if he wants to be a quarterback in this league. His mechanics are flawed and he has a tendency to make terrible decisions. These are things that the coaching staff will be keenly aware of and if anyone can fix these issues, it's them.

Tebow and the Patriots organization should face no pressure to start him. Brady, at the ripe old age (by NFL standards) of 35, is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Even if Brady has a bad game, there will be no clamoring for Tebow to come in and take his place, something that has plagued Tebow in both Denver and New York. This doesn't even take into account that Tebow won't be the back up. Behind Brady is Ryan Mallet and Mike Kafka, both of which should be ahead of Tebow on the quarterback depth chart. I will be surprised if Tebow is even listed as a quarterback going into the season. He's most likely going to be asked to move to tight end, a position that seems like it would fit better with his particular skill set. He will most likely still be a quarterback in practice and in the film rooms, but he should not be one on the field.

Being one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Brady is also one the best quarterbacks to sit and learn behind. Few quarterbacks in this league have the knowledge base that Brady does. He knows exactly where everyone is going to be at all times, both his guys and everyone on the defensive side of the ball. He understands every single coverage that you can throw at him, every single blitz package imaginable. He has seen it all and knows exactly what he needs to do to beat it. Sitting behind that kind of talent should have immeasurable effect on Tebow. Look at Aaron Rodgers, who sat behind Brett Favre and learned the position for four years. Favre is undoubtedly one of the top five QB's in the history of the NFL, and even though he had no desire to be an active participant in Rodger's grooming, the effect that learning behind him had on Rodgers is obvious. If Tebow is willing to let Brady have a similar effect on him, his dreams of being a quarterback in this league may yet come true.

Monday, June 3, 2013

NFL Preview: New England Patriots

In my previous edition of my NFL previews segment, I kicked it off with a preview of my favorite team, the Miami Dolphins. With that in mind, I figured I should stay inside the division and preview all of the teams that I hate. Today's edition will start that process. First up, the New England Patriots. The Patriots have been the standard bearer in the AFC East for the better part of the last two decades, going to and winning multiple Super Bowls since 2000. Their stranglehold on the division may be weakening this season though, and here's why:

Key Losses: The biggest loss that New England suffered in free agency was the departure of their stand out wide receiver, and Tom Brady's favorite target, Wes Welker. Welker is now a part of the Denver Broncos organization and he leaves a huge hole in the New England offense in his absence. Welker had more than 110 receptions every year in New England except for the 2010 season (where he caught a still-respectable 86 balls). That production puts him at the very top of the wide receiver class in that span of time (since 2007). He has also had more than 1,100 yards every year (again except for 2010) in the same amount of time. He has been the best receiver in football and there's no way that you can replace a guy that has meant that much to your franchise. The Patriot way is to not pay their players (except for the "Golden Boy" Tom Brady) and let them either deal with it or move on when their contract is up. In the past it has worked out for them, but this time I think they've made a poor decision. It gets even more suspect when you consider who they got to replace him.

Key Additions: Danny Amendola. If that's not a name you're familiar with, don't feel bad. He's not a name that the causal fan would know. He's toiled away in relative obscurity so far in his career, coming over from the hapless St. Louis Rams. Amendola is a good young wide receiver, don't get me wrong, but he is not comparable to Welker in terms of production. Amendola's best year came in, coincidentally, Welker's worst year, 2010. That year, Amendola had 85 receptions for 689. In his best season, Amendola's production does not equal that of Welker's worst. To add insult to injury (literally), in his four seasons in the NFL, Amendola has played 16 games only once, in the aforementioned 2010 season. He missed five games last season with a broken collar bone. He missed two games in his rookie year, and missed the entire season save for one game in the 2011 season. To say that Amendola is injury prone would be an understatement. To rely on a guy that has issues staying on the field to replace the most productive wide receiver in football is a gamble that I think is going to backfire on the New England Patriots in a big way.

What it means: The loss of Welker and the subsequent replacing with an inferior player should mean a significant decrease in offensive production for the Patriots. I don't think I'm willing to go so far as to say that they will miss the playoffs this season, but I do think that they are in serious jeopardy of losing the AFC East crown to the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have made a significant improvement in their talent whereas the Patriots have only lost talent and replaced it with less than they lost. I foresee a Wild Card this season for the Patriots. But, if the last few seasons have taught us anything, a Wild Card may mean that the Patriots are even more dangerous than had they won the division outright.