The Secrets In St. Louis
With four weeks until the draft, not much is known about how things will unfold in the first round. The Rams, who own picks No. 2 and No. 13, might hold the key to unlocking the drama. What will GM Les Snead and company do on May 8?
Peter King is tending to personal matters after the death of his older brother Kenny in England. Peter and his family greatly appreciate the outpouring of support they have received. Greg Bedard is pinch-hitting for Peter on Monday Morning Quarterback duties this week.
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Thursday will mark the four-week mark from the draft, which is being hailed in league circles as one of the deepest in years. If there’s any team that holds the keys to the major drama that could unfold in the first round, it’s the St. Louis Rams. With the second and 13th overall pick, coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead know the options are limitless, including numerous trade scenarios.
Yes, Snead and the Rams already have opened for business on the trade market.
“We have had some conversations with multiple teams,” Snead said on Sunday night. “They’re more flirtatious calls than anything. We have numbers 2 and 13, but Houston has number one. Nobody can really seriously chat with us until they are happy with at least two players. I think what might happen as we get closer to the draft, maybe it comes to fruition what Houston is going to do, maybe it doesn’t, you have more serious talks probably the week of the draft going, ‘Hey, if our player is there at 2, this is what we’re going to offer.’ I think it will get more serious.”
Snead certainly knows how this works. In his first draft in 2012, the Rams traded the second overall pick to Washington in the Robert Griffin III trade. St. Louis, which was coming off a 2-14 season, received first-round picks in ’12, ’13 and ’14 and a second-round pick in ’12 in exchange for the second selection.
Things will likely be different this time around because of the quality of the draft, the apparent lack of surefire quarterbacks and where the Rams are in Year 3 of the Fisher-Snead regime.
In ’12, Andrew Luck was the no-doubt first overall pick. Only two other quarterbacks, Griffin and Ryan Tannehill (eighth to Miami), went in the top 20. Will any of the quarterbacks in this year’s class (Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles) be viewed as such must-haves that a team will move up swiftly to take one? Debatable.
Snead thinks that in this particular draft, you don’t need to be a thrower of the ball to get people interested, not with top positional talents like pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, receiver Sammy Watkins and tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews available.
“I actually think there’s more than one player that people would want to move up for. I just don’t know what they’d want to give to move up,” Snead said. “At the top maybe there’s four or five players who were one step or one notch ahead of the very good, and sometimes a team might say we need to get that guy. You don’t know the value of what people would be willing to give. The fact that there could be multiple teams eyeing one of those guys could drive up the price a little bit.”
The Rams themselves have an interesting dilemma. After two consecutive 7-9 seasons, including last season when Bradford missed the final nine games (ACL), the Rams are knocking on the playoff door. A trade down from either draft spot might keep the team stocked in the draft for years to come, but how will that play if the Rams don’t post a winning season in Year 3 of Fisher and Snead?
“I think the way to get it right is you make the right decision for the organization, and I like to say you make the best decision long term because the short term is by definition short—it won’t last as long,” Snead said. “But because this draft is really good, it’s a good chance for us to take some shots with picks in this draft to improve the team. Not only tomorrow and opening day, but also four and five years down the road.”
The Rams have rebuilt their roster, which won 15 games in the five seasons before Fisher and Snead arrived, to the point where no player save Watkins might play right away at his targeted position. St. Louis has a star end in Robert Quinn, and a very good one in Chris Long, which would put Clowney or Mack in a reserve role, at least initially. The Rams have Jake Long, Joe Barksdale and Rodger Safford as capable offensive tackles, meaning Robinson or Matthews would likely play elsewhere along the line as rookies.
Snead doesn’t mind. He points to when the Ravens took future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden fourth overall and played him at left guard for a year before Tony Jones was traded.
“They made a long-term decision and they made it work short term,” Snead said of those Ravens. “At the end of the day, that may have been something that helped Jonathan because you get to go in and get your feet at maybe a less vulnerable position. And in going from tackle to guard, you have to think quicker sometimes so that can make moving to tackle a smoother transition.
“I’ve said this and sometimes people have taken it out of context and they think we have arrived. What I’ve said is we’re pretty much returning everybody at each position who started for us last year. And the only [potential opening] is one of the guard positions. That gives us a chance to say we don’t have to pick someone just to start. So now we can weigh our options moving back [or] staying, taking really, really good football players. A lot of these guys can help anybody, and the more we have the better.”
With the draft a little more than four weeks away, teams will soon begin their final deliberations. Snead said the scouting and the coaching staffs will meet in three of the next four weeks to “fine tune” the draft board. Then the trade talks will become more serious. With the cards they’re holding at the top of the draft, the Rams figure to be very popular. But when the time comes, they’re going to have to make a difficult decision about the present and future in this crucial draft.
“I don’t think I ever look at it as, ‘This is it,’” Snead said. “When we first got here there was a goal to build, develop and coach the football team to win consistently for the long term, but we wanted to do it as rapidly as possible. So as we sit here, as you measure things, we’ve probably moved the needle. Before we got here they had 15 wins in five years, and we’ve had 14 in two. But, trust me, 14 wins in two years—7-9, third and fourth in the division—is not the goal. Never has been and won’t be. We want to start winning back-to-back or multiple games in a row more consistently. There’s no question this draft, where we are, can help us do that. This is a nice draft to have those picks.”
Will Costner have more success as Cleveland’s GM than Mike Lombardi?
Peter King filed this before taking a few personal days, after interviewing Kevin Costner about the new NFL-centric movie “Draft Day,’’ which opens Friday.
“Draft Day,” the movie starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner, will get lots of attention this week because of the mania that surrounds the NFL draft. But don’t ask Costner, who plays fictional Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., how much he studied draft rooms or what happens during the three-day draft every spring at Radio City Music Hall. He didn’t attend last year’s draft, when some of the scenes were shot in New York, and he didn’t grill a bunch of GMs and front-office types to find out how exactly trades are made, though short-term real-life Browns GM Mike Lombardi was a resource. (If you’ve seen the trailer for “Draft Day,” you know Costner the Cleveland GM will be involved in a trade. Oh yes, there will most definitely be a trade.)
The movie is not solely focused on the machinations of the draft, and whether the woebegone Browns—in fiction now, as well as fact—can turn it around. This flick, Costner says, is as much as much about his relationship with his salary-cap manager, Garner, as it is about making the deal of the century … the same as it was in his very famous theatrical flings with Susan Sarandon and Amy Madigan in past movies.
“ ‘Bull Durham’ wasn’t a movie about minor-league baseball,” Costner said the other day. “It was a movie about a girl and a guy. Same thing with ‘Field of Dreams.’ That was a love story. That’s what makes the great movies. ‘Field of Dreams’ wouldn’t have had a chance if it was all about baseball.”
“You want to make a great movie? Don’t put too much sports into it.”
Well then, maybe this isn’t the exact column for the Kevin Costner “Draft Day” preview, is it? I haven’t seen the movie yet, but in the trailer and the promotional material, there’s obviously a good bit of time spent in the Costner-Garner dynamic. And there’s some about a troubled general manager who knows his job is on the line and needs a very good draft day to ensure his future.
“I think what we did well is tell a human story as well as a football story,” Costner said. “Sonny’s day starts bad and keeps going bad. He hears about himself on TV—bad. He gets in the car and hears about himself on the radio—bad. There is no grand plan. It’s Sonny trying to get himself out of this hole. And then he makes a move, and things start to go well, and he senses an opportunity. Then he started running to daylight. It’s real. It’s not pre-planned. The smartest people, the best people at their jobs, don’t pre-plan everything. Things happen, they react, and if they’re really good at their jobs, they figure out a way to succeed.”
I’ve always thought what makes the good general managers—well, aside from picking a quarterback and surrounding him with players who can help him win—is exactly that. A year ago Seattle GM John Schneider didn’t know that the pass-rusher market would bottom out and he’d fall into Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett for 40 cents on the cap dollar. But Schneider saw two good players, saw he could bolster a just-okay pass-rush with two undervalued guys, and Bennett (with a dominant divisional playoff game against New Orleans) and Avril (who schooled Denver right tackle Orlando Franklin in the Super Bowl) were vital cogs in the Super Bowl run for the Seahawks. The good ones have a plan, and deviate when there’s a better plan.
Costner’s a big football fan too. Of the current quarterbacks, he loves Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, and of the future ones, he’ll take Johnny Manziel. “I don’t give a crap what anyone says about the negatives with him,” Costner said. “He’ll play, and we’ll see. There’s a lot of drama in him. The guy’s a winner.” Costner misses football in L.A., where he lives, but he says a new franchise has to be about the site and the quality of team. “If they put it in a dumb place it won’t succeed,’’ he said. “It’s got to be convenient for people out here. And you want the guy who owns it to be someone who is in love with football, not just a businessmen.”
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Why it’s necessary to understand the complexity of compensatory picks
When the NFL releases the list of compensatory draft picks each year during the league meetings, the eyes of most fans glaze over. The picks, distributed between the third and seventh rounds, are given to teams that lost free agents the previous season. The NFL keeps secret from the public the formula for how teams acquire compensatory picks, making it almost seem like luck when they are granted.
But there’s nothing lucky or insignificant about acquiring compensatory picks. They are an important part of the team-building process. (Here are the ones recently awarded for the 2014 draft.)
Basically, compensatory picks are awarded to teams that lose more players in free agency than they signed, with a premium put on salaries paid, playing time that season and postseason honors. There’s a loophole that the smart teams try to hit on: Players who are “street” free agents because they were released by their teams (as opposed to those who are free because of expired contracts) don’t count in the formula.
The Ravens, with 41 awarded since the system was installed in 1994, are the king of compensatory picks, and it’s very much by design.
“All of those players we signed last year were free agents and weren’t UFAs,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “They were cap causalities of other teams, which allowed us to be able to maintain our compensatory picks for the guys we lost. So there is a rhyme and reason in how we acquire players—to continue to maintain our ability to stay strong going forward. And we will do the same [this year].”
The following three teams typically keep a strong eye on the compensatory process, and it shows in what they’ve done in free agency this year:
Lost: WR James Jones, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, OT Marshall Newhouse, DE C.J. Wilson
Signed UFA: None
Signed street FA: DE Julius Peppers, DT Letroy Guion
Lost: CB Corey Graham, S James Ihedigbo, DT Arthur Jones, OT Michael Oher
Signed UFA: SS Darian Stewart
Signed street FA: TE Owen Daniels, RB Justin Forsett, WR Steve Smith
Lost: CB Aqib Talib, LB Brandon Spikes, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Dane Fletcher
Signed UFA: CB Brandon Browner, WR Brandon LaFell
Signed street FA: CB Darrelle Revis, S Patrick Chung
The compensatory pick process started to ensure a level playing field for all teams as they ventured into the unknown with unrestricted free agency. That time has well passed. Even though the system seems to favor the better teams—of the 13 teams to be awarded compensatory picks this year, only three (Rams, Jets and Cowboys) have failed to reach the playoffs the past three seasons—there has been no talk, from the teams or the NFLPA, of eliminating or greatly modifying the system.
“Sometimes there’s things that come up that are sort of unique situations we might tweak here and there, but the basic formula has stayed the same,” said Peter Ruocco, the NFL’s senior vice president for labor relations. “At the time, [NFLPA executive director Gene] Upshaw wanted to make sure there weren’t any first- or second-round picks in the comp pick formula. He wanted it to start in the third round and wanted to make sure you couldn’t trade comp picks, because he didn’t want people bundling them into a higher pick, which we were fine with when we put it together.”
Ruocco said while the formula isn’t made public, it is provided to all the clubs.
“It’s based on player salary, their play time and whether they get honors or not,” Ruocco said. “But it’s heavily weighted in what the salary is [because that] determines the value of the player at the time he signs. So that’s the value of the player you lost in the marketplace.”
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Five questions with Dave Gardi
Gardi, who was recently appointed to the NFL’s new role of senior vice president of football operations, had served as the league’s vice president of labor relations and football administration. In his new role, Gardi is expected to be very visible in the league’s football operations department as Troy Vincent’s right-hand man. Gardi played football at Brown with new Texans coach Bill O’Brien. His father, Joe, was a longtime Jets assistant and Hofstra head coach before his death in 2010.
Q: What exactly do you do in football ops?
A: It’s sort of being the eyes and ears of the league office and making sure that the operation of the game is going as planned. We have policies and rules in place for, for example, playing music [in the stadium] while a visiting team is on offense. We have stuff like that that we monitor at the game site, but the command center is a place where you get phone calls as the games are going on. You never know what you’re going to get on any given Sunday, as far as what issue may pop up.
Q: You probably had your choice of jobs, both with the NFL and elsewhere. Why did decide on a “boots on the ground” role?
A: I’m going to be 44 in April. It’s not just that this game put food on our table for my entire life; it’s been a passion coming from a football family. As much as I can, I’ve wanted to enhance and protect this game. I’m in a good position to have that impact, and that’s important to me. The NFL and the game of football is the only thing I’d want to do and work.
Q: Have you done a test run of the new enhanced replay system, or will that come later?
A: It’s a continuing conversation, but I will say this, I’m not going to say it was a test run, but I think last season we were trying to figure out how it would work, testing it, monitoring it to see what would happen. So [vice president of officiating] Dean [Blandino] and those guys, who work in the officiating command center, got a feel for what a season would be like if they had to do that. And obviously Dean’s going to be a big part of that, and Al Riveron, who is Dean’s right-hand man, will be involved. As far as other people who may be in there, that’s a conversation we’re continuing to have. I will not be the on the phone consulting a replay official or referees.
Q: What was Bill O’Brien like as a teammate at Brown?
A: He was a great teammate. Loyal guy. Good person, a leader. Energetic, high-energy guy. Every one of our teammates, if you asked them about Billy O’Brien, they just have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I know a ton of guys showed up for his first game at Penn State. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of where he’s gotten to, and I know he’s going to do a great job.
Q: Did he have hair back then?
A: A little bit more, maybe.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“Because of some of the stories emanating out of Philadelphia and NJ.com since your release, right before your release was sent, they’re saying, ‘DeSean Jackson is a gang member.’ Is that true?”
—ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith to the former Eagles receiver.
Uh, nobody of any substance ever said that (more on that on Page 4).
“Why would you… we lost two starters there, is that right? What does ‘appear’ mean? Does it mean you dreamed about it and it’s just there? … I like that. It appears. So that’s how we form public opinion because something ‘appears’ that way so we make it that way and then everybody believes it that way.”
—Alabama coach Nick Saban, in his first press conference after spring break, answering a question about how his defensive line appears to have quality depth.
Don’t ever change, Nick. We need you on that wall.
“We’ll take that as an insult, won’t we, Owen? We’ll take that as an insult, absolutely.”
—Ravens coach John Harbaugh, when asked if the Ravens were still looking for a more blocking-minded player while introducing former Texans tight end Owen Daniels.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Today marks the first time the seven new head coaches can be in front of their new teams. Teams with new coaches get a two-week jump on the other teams during phase one of the offseason program, which was collectively bargained under the new CBA. Players are limited to weight training and on-field strength and conditioning. Coaches can conduct meetings and classroom instruction, but can’t be on the field or in the weight room with players.
Here’s a list of the first-year coaches, and the number of days since they were officially named coach:
Lovie Smith, Buccaneers (96 days)
Bill O’Brien, Texans (95 days)
Jay Gruden, Washington (89 days)
Ken Whisenhunt, Titans (85 days)
Jim Caldwell, Lions (84 days)
Mike Zimmer, Vikings (83 days)
Mike Pettine, Browns (75 days)
Seems a little ridiculous that coaches, especially those trying to change a culture or install new playbooks with new coordinators, can’t meet with their team or even talk football before the offseason program begins.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has a new offensive coordinator in Gary Kubiak, who can distribute but not discuss his new playbook with the players. Harbaugh vented about the situation at the league meetings.
“We don’t see these guys until April 21,” Harbaugh said. “They’re in the building working out. We can’t have a conversation with them other than ‘Hi, how are you doing?’
“This is not the NCAA. This is not recruiting. These are our guys. We want what’s best for our players. That’s what’s good for the league. That’s what good for these young men. And that’s what they want. Young guys want a chance to compete in the National Football League for a job. They want to go see their position coach. They want to learn football. It’s their craft. And we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t do it?’ Why? Because of the collective bargaining agreement that makes no sense? Because somebody wanted to get their little win here versus their little win over there? Get together and do what’s best for these players.”
Rams general manager Les Snead told me Sunday that he was in total agreement with Harbaugh.
“In what other profession do the best at what they do take 15 weeks off?” Snead said. “You think Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett or people trying to find the cure for cancer take 15 straight weeks off? I’m not saying you bring these players in and grind them into meat, because at the end of the day that’s not helping you either. Especially with the younger guys, the ones that just finished their rookie seasons, they don’t get a chance to progress, not saying physically because a lot of these guys are training, but mentally. I think it hurts them, stunts their growth and I think it can be changed without on-field football work even being involved. I’ve seen those European soccer teams [Rams owner Stan Kroenke is the largest shareholder of Arsenal in the Premier League], and they probably spend more time than anybody training, but they do a nice job of making sure their guys are fresh and healthy.”
FACTOID OF THE WEEK THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Sean Taylor, the late Washington safety who was murdered in 2007, would have turned just 31 on April 1. It’s amazing to think that he’d still be in his prime. With free safeties in such great demand now thanks to the rise in spread offenses, it sort of boggles the mind to think of what Taylor would be worth on the open market now. Some might not remember, but Taylor, at 6-2 and 212 pounds with speed and instincts, was ascending to be the equal of Ed Reed, Taylor’s predecessor at the University of Miami.
“Sean Taylor was THE greatest player I ever personally scouted, watched grow up within an organization, and became good friends with,” tweeted former NFL scout and player Louis Riddick, now an ESPN analyst. “Happy birthday Sean.”
MR. STARWOOD PREFERRED MEMBER TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK
I trained it down to my alma mater, Rutgers, for a sports journalism talk a week ago. On the way back to Penn Station via NJ Transit, an older gentleman started cutting his fingernails just before the final stop. Seriously. And there were people seated around him. I decided to get off the train on the other end of the car because, in my mind, the odds of getting shrapnel off my noggin were viable. Who actually thinks, “You know what, my nails are pretty long and now, on public transportation, would be the perfect time to cut ’em?” Reminds me of the time when I was waiting for a plane in Kansas City and the man seated across the way took off his shoes and started doing his bills, like he was in his living room. Can we all just agree that we’re visitors in public spaces, with a common goal to leave as soon as possible without incident?
TWEETS OF THE WEEK
“You get drug tested once a year. Stop smoking in March!” #nflpatips
— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) April 4, 2014
—former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, having a little fun after receiving more mundane texted tips from the union.
Pete Carroll getting a contract extension Friday, per @RapSheet. To Jim Harbaugh, Pete says, “What’s your deal?”
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) April 4, 2014
—Vic Tafur, Raiders beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, in reference to the infamous incident after Stanford’s 2009 upset over USC when Carroll said those same words to Harbaugh.
LPGA pros have noticed the last 3 women on Golf Digest covers haven’t been professional golfers: Paulina Gretzky, Kate Upton, Holly Sonders.
— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) April 3, 2014
—Randall Mell, the veteran golf writer who was in Rancho Mirage, Calif., to cover the LPGA’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, at the same time the news of Gretzky’s cover dropped.
Lorena Ochoa was the last female pro on the cover, in 2008. She retired in 2010. I’ll admit that I’m biased—my wife is a former professional playing as an amateur now—but that fact is a slap in the face to LPGA players from the game’s magazine of record.
TEN THINGS I THINK I THINK
1. I think Chris Johnson, who was released from the Titans, still has a lot of good football left. I’d never spend big money on a running back, but I think Johnson gets a bad rap. Sure, there’s ample film evidence that he danced too much in the hole the past couple of years. And, yes, I was a bit surprised when Johnson told me in August he didn’t think he tried to do too much in 2012. But statistics show his number of negative rushes the past three seasons is right in line with the other top backs. According to STATS, these are the running back with the highest stuffed percentage since 2011: LeSean McCoy (13.3), Adrian Peterson (12.8), Johnson (12.5).
2. I think it’s ridiculous how some in the media overreact to stories reported by others, with the DeSean Jackson story being a prime example. To insinuate the Eagles smeared Jackson on the way out the door is just lazy. The story came out, he got released, there must be some connection. Why? From my experience as a beat writer, when you learn that a team is parting ways with a talented player like Jackson, you better be trying to find out why. When I was at the Boston Globe, I reported that the Patriots were likely going to release receiver Brandon Lloyd after a season in which he caught 74 passes because his erratic behavior had grown tiresome. Lloyd was later released and hasn’t played in the league again. By the Jackson rationale, the Patriots must leaked that information to me, right? I wish. My information didn’t come from the team. Jackson is not exactly a model player. He has a high salary. And he had curious connections to gang members. Those are not smear tactics; they’re called facts.
3. I think credit should go to writers Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez for fleshing out the Jackson situation. I will say that NJ.com invited some of the trouble by using the headline, “DeSean Jackson’s gang connections troubling to Eagles” and overdramatizing those connections. Was that part of the story? Yes. Was it a fact? Yes. Was it the main reason why Jackson was released? Heck no. Even the story said that. Jackson was released because he’s been a problem to the team internally, for a variety of reasons, for years. Former coach Andy Reid dealt with it; new coach Chip Kelly, after one season, decided he wasn’t going to do that. It’s his prerogative. People around the league knew about Jackson’s loose connections with gang members back home for years. It was new information to the public, but not anyone around the league.
4. I think everything truly important in the Jackson story was revealed when we heard crickets from his former teammates. To date, only LeSean McCoy has said anything—“He’ll definitely be missed,” to FoxSports.com—and that was fairly tepid support. If the Eagles had done Jackson wrong, you better believe his teammates would have been leaking like sieves to reporters. Yet, there has been nothing. The gang conversation is just bright colors and loud noises to distract from the bottom line.
5. I think Jackson has made out very well financially. He collected $17.5 million from the Eagles and reportedly will receive $16 million guaranteed from Washington. That’s $33.5 million total. Even the gang stuff being made public will probably do him some good by showing Jackson that he needs to check himself a bit.
6. I think we in the media don’t devote enough time to the good deeds that those around the league perform for their communities. I’ll try to do my part by giving a shoutout to Seahawks free agent fullback Michael Robinson. He has purchased 10 machines from Fresh Healthy Vending and will be installing them in schools, community centers and businesses around his hometown of Richmond, Va. The best part is this will funnel back into his Excel 2 Excellence Foundation, which helps needy children live healthy lifestyles through education and knowledge. Robinson is hoping to expand this to other parts of the country.
7. I think someone is probably not too happy about the contract extensions given to the two Super Bowl coaches, Pete Carroll and John Fox, this week. That someone is 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who is left kind of standing off to the side without an extension. As someone who covers the league, I’m supposed to care about these developments, but I don’t. Good, successful coaches receive extensions in due time. When they aren’t doing a good job, they get fired regardless of how many years they have remaining on their contract because NFL owners make so much money. So, yawn.
8. I think it’s nice that the Jaguars hosted Browns center Alex Mack on a free-agent visit, but it’s hard to see how they could craft a contract Cleveland wouldn’t match on the transition tag. The Browns have about $31 million in cap space, and that includes Mack’s $10 million tag. The Jaguars are at $26 million.
9. I think it was a great tribute to Ralph Wilson, the late Bills owner, that thousands streamed into a celebration and remembrance of his life inside the team’s field house Saturday. Wilson’s wife, Mary, lingered near the end of the display that honored his life and thanked fans for coming.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a) Never been a fan of some of the methods of Kentucky coach John Calipari, from leaving two schools on probation in his wake to his embrace of one-and-done players, but the guy can coach the roundball. Since my time in Green Bay, I’ve watched the Wisconsin basketball program somewhat closely and was often bored by its lack of offensive prowess. That was the best team I’ve seen under Bo Ryan by far—what a well-rounded and well-coached team—and Kentucky still outlasted them. Terrific game.
b) Has any team won four straight tight, tension-filled games (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin) like Kentucky has? Let’s make it five tonight against UConn and the spectacular Shabazz Napier. And Aaron Harrison … wow.
c) Badgers guard Traevon Jackson has nothing to hang his head about. He was so impressive running the show and has a tremendous feel for the game. Just a gamer. I’m sure his father, former Ohio State and NBA star Jim Jackson, was beaming.
d) Proud of the Fenway faithful for giving Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun the booing he deserved at Friday’s home opener. My reaction is indifference if a guy tests positive for PEDs in any sport, as long as he owns up to it and vows to do better. Braun deserves the initial rotten treatment for trying to “Lance Armstrong” test collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. The two have made amends since Braun came clean, but that doesn’t excuse how he conducted himself just to save his own skin.
e) The Red Sox are hosting a “Student Toga Night” for Tuesday’s game against the Rangers. What could go wrong? The team said it wants to continue to develop the younger generation of fans. Why don’t they just put a Ferris wheel in the bullpen and get it over with already? I don’t know, maybe I’m officially old now, but I thought Fenway was just fine when most of the entertainment consisted of organ music. The charm of Fenway was, to me, that it was always about the actual game being played. More of that is stripped away every year.
f) Good to see the NFL community, including rival Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, show support for Jenn Aparicio, the wife of well-known Baltimore radio host Nestor Aparicio, in her battle with leukemia. Colts coach Chuck Pagano helped the couple coin #JennStrong in connection with her battle. Ryan Mink at BaltimoreRavens.com has a good story on it.
g) Coffeenerdness: As long as it has caffeine in it (and, yes, a healthy amount of milk and Splenda), I’m pretty much good with home brewing. If I’m feeling crazy, I go with a Turbo shot at Dunky’s. If that gets me shunned by The Skip, I’ll deal with it.
h) Beernerdness: The debut of Yuengling in New England was much heralded last month, but it was just okay for me; not enough depth of flavor, a bit watery. Prefer Coney Island and Brooklyn Lagers, or Leinenkugel Amber among similar beers. If you happen across it, definitely go for a Berkshire Brewing Company Steel Rail. A terrific pale ale. And I’m not just saying that because it’s crafted in South Deerfield, Mass., my first hometown.
i) In my past three jobs, I’ve now written in the spaces created by Cliff Christl (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), Will McDonough (Boston Globe) and Peter King (The MMQB). I’m a fortunate son. Thanks for reading. Any questions, comments or suggestions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ADIEU HAIKU
Sorry, I don’t haiku.