Thursday, January 31, 2013

Colonials fall to Terriers, frustration growing


I’m going to be honest, it took me a while to cool off from this one. I'm still mad about tonight's loss and you should be too. 

Robert Morris has been a team that’s prided itself on scrappy wins with a tenacious defense. This year there has clearly been no evidence of that.
 
Tonight’s ten point loss at St. Francis Brooklyn has prompted this knee-jerk reaction of an article, which will all be forgotten with an upset win Saturday at Long Island. However, there are some glaring concerns that the Terriers exposed yet again.

Robert Morris lost to St. Francis Brooklyn 71-61, in a game that was probably closer than what the score reflects. Velton Jones, clearly the most important player on this squad, went down with a re-aggravated shoulder injury a mere two minutes into the game. Lucky Jones played, but you’d have to believe he wasn’t one hundred percent. SFC (BKN) also defeated RMU last year, so maybe they’ve simply got RMU’s number. Maybe RMU wasn’t completely focused, with a huge game against Long Island looming Saturday, I simply don’t know.

All of the above suggestions are just simply excuses though. This team is too talented and experienced to be playing this inconsistently. St. Francis is by no means an offensive juggernaut, ranking sixth in the NEC in points per game, but I thought Robert Morris looked pretty soft in the frontcourt. Hawkins is a young kid still learning the system, but Mike McFadden with no rebounds? That’s inexcusable. He did a pretty poor job against Jalen Cannon too, who went for 16 points and eight rebounds. Russell Johnson more than made up for it on the boards (he had 15 rebounds) but had questionable shot selection on a 4-12 shooting night, including a forced three point attempt that was way off and pretty much sealed the game.

Coron Williams flat-out needs to step up, whose inconsistency mirrors that of the team in a lot of ways. We know Williams can ball; he’s had multiple games with point totals in the upper twenties and was named in the CBSsports.com top 40 shooting guards in the preseason. Tonight however, Williams had five points in a game where Velton Jones went down early. That just can’t happen. As a matter of fact, Williams is only averaging five points per game his last five games. I think part of the reason we’re seeing his lack of points is he’s in more of a ball handling role, but you’d be foolish to say he’s not in a slump that he needs to break.  

There’s a bigger problem here, too. This team has yet to get dirty, D up, and grind out a win. This isn’t something I’m conjuring out of mid-air (although it’s not too hard to see); the Colonials are 0-8 in games they’re trailing at halftime in. You can blame tonight’s loss all you want on #2 not being out there, because it certainly changed the game, but more than once RMU cut the lead to four or five late and couldn’t get over the hump. That’s a time you have to bear down on defense and get a stop, but time and time again we’ve seen they can’t and couldn’t again tonight.

I thought the Lijah Thompson injury was going to hurt RMU, but not as bad as it is now. With Vaughn Morgan gone and Keith Armstrong still not completely back from off-season surgery, the frontcourt is thin but also struggles to defend the rim. Where’s the pride?

My fear is this team doesn’t have that “it” factor. I’m not sure if anything has been done for me to think otherwise. Per the commentators in the last game, RMU ranks eight in the NEC in points allowed per game. There are times when this team locks down, and times where the guys look lost and rotations look slow. With a mere nine games remaining, shouldn’t a team with this much talent be more consistent?

I’m probably overreacting to a tough road loss without the team’s best player, but someone has to say this, right? This is supposed to be “the Golden Era” of Robert Morris basketball, it’s time to start defending like it.

--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella

Game Day: RMU at St. Francis Brooklyn

Tonight, the Robert Morris Colonials (14-7, 6-1) begins a tough six game stretch at St. Francis Brooklyn (8-11, 4-4). The Terriers are coming off a two point loss last Saturday at Central Connecticut State and are losers of three of their last four. Tip off is at 7:00 and the game can be caught on NECFrontRow.com or locally on the radio at 730 AM WPIT. Andrew Chiappazzi of ColonialsCorner.com has some interesting insight on the defensive-minded Terriers, as Robert Morris looks to extend their six game win streak: 

St. Francis-Brooklyn is one of just two teams allowing less than a point per possession in the NEC. The Terriers also lead the league in scoring defense in NEC games, as well as 3-point field goal percentage defense. 
"They just don't give you anything easy. They make you work for everything, even ball reversals and coming off screens," Toole said. "They're physical, they disrupt your timing, and they have a really good combination of guys that can pressure on the perimeter and then bigs that can defend the paint. They do a nice job of switching defenses from zone to man to disrupt your timing." 
Offensively, the Terriers are balanced. Five players average eight points per game or more, highlighted by sophomore forward Jalen Cannon's 16.4 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Defense is the name of the game for St. Francis-NY, but they haven't been able to get that going consistently the last four games. Just a week ago, St. Francis held LIU to only 21 first half points. The result? LIU hanging a 57 spot in the second half en route to a ten point victory. St. Francis is 4-4 in conference, but when you look at their schedule, they're lacking that quality win that they can hang their hat on. At this point, their best win is probably a blowout win at Wagner. 

You would hope RMU is one hundred percent focused at the task at hand, but lets face it: everyone has Saturday's showdown at LIU circled on the calender. This could easily be a trap game, especially if Lucky Jones is a no-go, which I would expect. I would expect to see more three-guard sets on the court than usual, specifically a Velton Jones-Coron Williams-Karvel Anderson trio. Neither of the three guys are people I would classify as other-worldly defenders, but can definitely hold their own on defense and would create spacing problems for the Terriers defense. 

As Andrew noted, slowing down sophomore forward Jalen Cannon is going to be a task (along with Akeem Johnson). I'm interested to see how the defense handles a balanced scoring attack; you have to respect all of the guys out on the court. Doubling Canon on the low post could lead to open looks for a guy like Ben Mockford. I would like to see the boys come out and bring a stout defensive effort tonight even without Lucky Jones. 

My prediction? How about some more momentum heading into Saturday's 3:00 game at LIU (which can be seen on ESPNU)... RMU: 75 St. Francis Brooklyn: 65. 

--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mid-week links

Need to get caught up on some reading? Here are some suggestions from local to national news...


  • Our own Lee Kunkel takes a look at RMU by the numbers (ColonialsCorner)
  • A good look at NEC defensive trends from RMU and the rest of the NEC by Andrew Chiappazzi (ColonialsCorner)
  • Manti Te'o released voicemails from his fake girlfriend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (Deadspin) who now says he was in love with him (abcnews)
  • What should the Celtics do with Rondo out for the year? (Grantland)
  • 3 changes Dan Bylsma must make for the Penguins to contend (The Bleacher Report)
  • Ray Lewis Can't hide his past, according to Bill Plaschke (LA Times)
  • Some fun prop bets regarding the Super Bowl (CBS Sports)
  • Surprise! PED's still exsist in baseball! (ESPN)


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Off-Season Diagnosis: San Diego Chargers


The San Diego Chargers fired a coach after a 14-2 season just six years ago.

Think about that last sentence and think about where San Diego is now.

The Chargers have always seemed to have a talented team. This year seemed like it was no different. As a person who picked San Diego to snatch one of the two wild card spots before the season started, things looked good. The Chargers, traditionally a slow-starting team, came out guns a’ blazing to a 3-1 record, with the wins coming against the top NFL prizefighters in Oakland, Tennessee, and Kansas City.

Things went downhill from there.

San Diego lost close, critical games in the latter part of the season at Denver (by seven) in week eleven, to Baltimore (in overtime) week twelve, and to Cincinnati (by seven) week 13. Winning three out of their last four couldn’t save the Chargers en route to a 7-9 season. I wouldn’t fault Chargers fans for going all Ron Burgandy on the franchise, but at least owner Alex Spanos understands there’s a problem and has been progressive in fixing it.

In my opinion, Spanos has led the best off-season front office and coaching search, landing former Colts vice president of football operations Tom Telesco as general manager, former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy head coach, and former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator. All of those guys are winners and I think the McCoy-Whisenhunt combo could lead to San Diego being the most dynamic offense in football. Whisenhunt was flat-out awesome as OC of the Steelers and led Arizona to a super bowl. He can do wonders when someone who resembles a quarterback is under center. McCoy was OC of Denver when Kyle Orton was looking like a pro bowler and has overseen Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning led-offenses.

I can’t say this enough: Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt were meant for each other. They’re the Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson of football. Both are awesome at adapting to their circumstances (See McCoy with Tebow, Tim) and base their offensive identity off the pieces they have and the team they’re playing. With some simple offensive upgrades (we’ll get to that in a minute), we could see some fireworks.

San Diego is picking eleventh in the upcoming draft. Ideally, they would grab an offensive lineman to help keep quarterback Phillip Rivers upright. Rivers was sacked an astounding 49 times last season. In comparison, Tom Brady was sacked 25 times. You need a great offensive line in this league to win. The chargers offensive line isn’t good in pass protection and is even worse in rushing offense, ranking 27th total with a paltry 92 yards per game. Part of that has to do with the talent at running back, but we’ve seen running backs who aren’t very talented yet still put together good seasons (Vick Ballard anyone?).

San Diego needs to keep Philip Rivers upright. 
It’s well known San Diego really likes Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher. Fisher has dominated at the senior bowl practices and is drawing a lot of comparisons to former Chippewa tackle Joe Staley. Fisher has a big frame, nimble feet, and is one of the most athletic lineman in the draft. The Chargers also wouldn’t be upset with nabbing Alabama guard Chance Warmack, who is a slight notch ahead of David DeCastro (taken 24th by Pittsburgh last year) in my opinion. Here’s the problem: I’m not sure both of those players will be available. If I’m San Diego, I’m hoping Geno Smith is not taken before Arizona at seven because he would be hard to pass up. Don’t be surprised if Warmack is off the board at nine to New York too. In the case that Fisher is taken at seven and Warmack at nine, cornerback Dee Milliner would be a nice fit as would defensive end Ezekiel Ansah out BYU. Cornerback definitely needs to be addressed early in the draft or in free agency. 

San Diego is going to have lots of room to play with in cap space (I’ve heard estimates in the $40-50 million range). Both starting guards are free agents and they should make an effort to sign right guard Louis Vasquez who recorded a +12.7 season according to ProFootballFocus.com. Tyrone Green is also a free agent, but you can let him walk and fill his shoes by drafting Warmack or signing a stop-gap like Matt Slauson for about $1.5 million a year. Don’t be surprised if Bills guard Andy Levitre is also on the Chargers radar.

Time for the Chargers to get serious about finding a replacement for Antonio Gates. Gates hasn’t played a full season since 2009 and is 32. Even if Gates was still putting up 65-80 catches a season, we’re seeing more and more teams with two really good tight ends creating match up problems. The Chargers second tight end? Future hall of famer Career backup Randy McMichael, who put up a stunning nine receptions for 51 yards. Go after Dennis Pitta or Dustin Keller, who has been generally misused as a Jet.

Things get interesting at wide receiver. Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem were huge underachievers in San Diego and a lot of people would like to see them gone. I’m definitely no genius when it comes to understanding the salary cap and all the terms that go with it, but it sounds as if cutting both of those guys would only result in a hit of $2.25 million. If that’s really the case, then I’d just be done with both of them and focus on working out a deal with Danario Alexander after this season, who should get a first round tender. The duo of Malcom Floyd (who’s a beast) and Alexander is better than a majority of NFL teams. I’m not a big Ryan Mathews guy at the running back position and apparently San Diego isn’t either. Mathew lost reps to Jackie Battle and could not stay healthy… again. I’m in favor of doing whatever it takes to get bruiser Eddie Lacy in the draft, but if that can’t happen I would like the signing of Jonathon Dwyer or Rashard Mendenhall in free agency.

When you're talking about the best safties in the league,
make sure you mention Eric Weddle. 
I’m not going to get too specific on the Chargers defense because overall it’s pretty good. The pass defense needs some work, but they have a solid cornerstone to build off of with Eric Weddle, who might be the best safety in the league. I would try and re-sign Corey Lynch and Chris Carr but would be done with Quinton Jammer, who was porous this year. The pass defense will improve if Melvin Ingram develops into a top-tier pass rusher like he’s projected too. Last year’s first round pick had only one sack and 41 tackles in his rookie campaign. Shaun Phillips did his part with 9.5 sacks on the right side, but outside of him and defensive end Corey Liuget, that was it. Takeo Spikes is the leader of the defense but he’s also in his 15th year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Diego take a flyer on Michael Mauti in the third round (who will be there because of injury concerns) and try and develop him into a starter.

Chargers fans would be happy if they saw less of this in 2013.
Lets be clear though: none of this matters if Philip Rivers doesn’t stop turning the ball over. The last two seasons Rivers has had 64 interceptions and fumbles. Sixty-freaking-four. Your in Mark Sanchez territory with numbers like that. Look at thisinterception in a game at Tampa (fast forward to the 2:55 mark). If you’re ever having a bad day, just put this on a loop. Always know you never did that. You can’t win games when a) you quarterback is a terrible decision maker, b) your quarterback is a terrible decision maker who gets sacked nearly 50 times a year, and c) (not related) your special teams are terrible.

The talent is still there. Rivers has a 64% completion percentage and threw for over 3,600 yards. To me, it's no coincidence that when Rivers lost Darren Sproles his turnovers went up. Every quarterback needs a safety valve, whether it's a running back or possession receiver. Brady had Kevin Faulk and now has Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead. Flacco has Ray Rice. Ben Roethlisberger has Heath Miller, Matt Ryan has Tony Gonzalez, Rodgers has James Jones (among others), etc. Who is Rivers guy? Ryan Mathews? Yikes. I think Rivers has plenty left in the tank. His game in Pittsburgh was vintage Phillip Rivers: on the road, dropping dimes all over the place, talking smack, etc. San Diego needs more of that. That’s the guy who’s won playoff games and that’s a guy who can win you a super bowl. 

--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella





a super bowl. Don’t forget that. 

Game Day: RMU vs The Mount

The Robert Morris Colonials are at home today against Mt. Saint Mary's. RMU is riding a five game win streak after an 0-2 start to conference play. The five game win streak is tied for a season high. The Mount is coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Wagner in a game they really should have had. It's been an interesting season for the Mountaineers, who has undergone coaching turnover and a new philosophy that has come with it. Andrew Chiappazzi from ColonialsCorner.com has more on that:

The Mount's changed even more. Milan Brown is long gone, now at Holy Cross. The two-year experiment under Robert Burke failed miserably, leading for the Mount to follow a similar path to RMU and go young with former Virginia Commonwealth assistant Jamion Christian.

Christian has introduced an up-tempo style nicknamed "Havoc", and while the Mount has shown flashes of adapting to the style, it's been a process. It's also led to drastically different numbers. In 2008-2009, Mount St. Mary's allowed 63.2 points per game in the NEC and just 0.95 points per possession. Offensively, the Mount wasn't special, averaging a respectable 1.07 points per possession and 71.6 points per game, third in the league. 
Under Christian, though, both sides have struggled. The offense is at 67.4 points per game, a two basket difference that's exacerbated by a more prolific scoring league. That number puts the Mount eighth in NEC play, and their 1.02 points per possession puts Christian's club sixth in the league. Defensively, the Mount gives up 70.4 points per game and 1.06 points per possession, tied for seventh.
 Havoc. That's all you need to know about this Mount team. They're hopes are to wear out a team as the game goes on and get easy baskets off dumb turnovers. As Andrew notes, the difference in offense and defense from last year to this hasn't been much of anything. We've seen a few times this year that RMU has had trouble breaking the press, but with a few days to prepare that shouldnt be a problem. Bryant fell to LIU today so a win could put RMU at a tie atop the standings. My prediction? RMU 71 MSMU 58

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gameday: RMU at St. Francis (PA)

Robert Morris will be on the road at St. Francis (PA) tonight. You can catch the game on NECfrontrow.com starting at seven as the Colonials look to keep pace with the top of the NEC and win their fifth straight game. Andrew Chiappazzi of ColonialsCorner.com has some interesting tidbits on regaining the team regaining it's focus after a tough start to conference play.
But it hasn't been just a physical adjustment for RMU in practice. Toole instituted what he calls day-to-day contracts, a device designed to narrow his team's focus to taking care of tasks that day and not worry about anything else. 
"They're all in my head. I'm GM, director of player personnel, team president. Not owner. I'm in charge of all the personnel decisions," Toole said with a smile on his face. "Those contracts are in my head and during the course of practice I figure out if we want to renegotiate and renew those things or do we want to just terminate." 
Termination, at least in the metaphor, means being banished from team drills for a practice. Players still go through drills on the side and individual workouts, but for at least one session, they're not part of the rotation. The coaching staff is on the same arrangement, as the Colonials push to not only be physically prepared for each game and weekend series, but mentally prepared as well.
I love it. Toole voiced his concern even before the season started about his team playing consistently, and it has shown with numerous win streaks and losing streaks and losses to teams that shouldn't have happened. Toole sent the hammer down after Central Connecticut State by suspending Lucky Jones for a game, which sent a message to the team that everyone needs to step it up, and it has paid off with four straight wins. 

One thing we need to realize is this isn't your traditional Toole-led Colonial squad. They're an average defensive team and have proven that all year. However, this team can score. Karvel Anderson is as good of a shooter in the NEC as you can find, as is Coron Williams. Everyone knows what Velton Jones is about; he can score nearly at will and has shown how great a facilitator he can be. In the frontcourt, Russell Johnson is really starting to turn it on and Lucky Jones is averaging 17 points per game in the recent win streak. Heck, even true freshman Stephen Hawkins is beginning to look more and more comfortable out there and is going to be a force in years to come. 

In no way am I implying Robert Morris can give up 80 points and expect to win like Bryant or Long Island might be able to, but more than once this year we've seen this team just get scorching hot from the field. I confidently believe RMU can put up 70-80 points a game. When have you ever been able to say that?

St. Francis is 1-16 but can't be taken lightly. They've lost five conference games (two in overtime) by an average of nine points, with that number being skewed with a 20 point loss to Bryant. Their only win came against Central Connecticut State. Shutting down Umar Shannon and Earl Brown is a must.

Prediction: RMU 76
Bryant 61

--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mid-week Links

Robert Morris' Myers-Pate is getting his groove back. (ColonialsCorner.com)
Our own Lee Kunkel asks if anyone can catch Bryant. (ColonialsCorner.com)
40 games in, Dwight Howard now plans to "bring it". (espn.com)
What's the deeper issue in LA? (Grantland.com)
The family of Junior Seau is suing the NFL (cbssports.com)
The NCAA botched another investigation (cbssports.com)
Joe Flacco was one of the rare cases of a quarterback living up to draft hype. (Thebiglead.com)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who's Getting the Votes?


Two weeks ago, for the first time since 1996, the writers did not vote a single eligible player into the baseball hall of fame. Contributor Kenny Celelli voices his concern over the voting process and who he thinks should get in the hall. 
Craig Biggio should have been a first-ballot hall-of-famer, writes
Kenny Celelli. 

About two weeks ago it was announced that there would be no new additions to the MLB Hall of Fame. This was the deepest class ever to date! With names like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza, how does one of them not get in? Writers! The writers vote and they took things into their own hands deciding that because we are now getting into the clouded area of who may or may not have taken steroids they can not accurately decide who should be allowed in. To me Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, and Jeff Bagwell are the three who most deserved to get in. None of them have ever been connected or even linked to steroids. Biggio led all players receiving 68.7% of the vote, when players need 75% to get in. Early reactions to the announcement were a mixture of positive and negative, and I can understand that. I understand that yes there are people on the ballot who have been found to have used steroids and yes they are cheaters, however when players such as Biggio, Bagwell, and Piazza who have never been implicated and there is no evidence of them ever using steroids are being punished, there is a problem. That problem is the writers who feel the need to take things into their own hands. The worst of all are the ones who chose to turn in a blank ballot.

I know there were a few writers who did turn in a blank ballot but there is only one whose name I know and that is ESPN writer Howard Bryant. Now it is both a privilege and a responsibility to be able to vote for the Hall of Fame so the fact that some writers chose to neglect that responsibility disgusts me. I would be honored if I got to choose the men who deserved to go into the Hall of Fame. Part of the reaction to this has been people demanding that a change be made to the voting process. I don’t know if a complete overhaul is needed but I would propose two slight changes: first, all the writers who are eligible to vote must have covered baseball on a fulltime basis within the last five years. The second change would be every eligible voter would have to turn in a used ballot, meaning they would be required to vote for a minimum of five players. Currently there are voters who have not covered baseball or any sport for that matter in years, why should they have the opportunity to vote still? Also, the writers currently can vote for a maximum of ten players per ballot and I certainly can understand not voting for the maximum but when it is your responsibility to vote you need to vote for someone.

If I had the honor of voting for the Hall of Fame there was a full ten players who would have had my vote:
Craig Biggio – 3000 hits, durable player who was hit by pitch most times in a career. Often hear Dustin Pedroia get called scrappy, Biggio was the original scrappy
           
Jack Morris – Numbers do not suggest he was a HOF’er but his importance to the Tigers during the 80s cannot be underestimated. Threw 10+ complete games in a season 11 times with two more seasons of 9 complete games

Jeff Bagwell – On base over 40% for his career, possibly the single most important player in Astros history
           

Roger Clemens* and Barry Bonds* – Will have asterisks next to their names in my book because of their steroid abuse but there is no denying the numbers they put up before the steroids were HOF worthy.
           
Lee Smith – The original great closer, held record until Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera came along.
           
Fred McGriff – The Crime Dog fell seven homeruns short of 500 but never someone who is going to be considered a legend but he was a leader on several playoff teams
           
Edgar Martinez – I don’t care that he was just a “DH” because the man was a machine. 7 all-star appearances, 5 silver sluggers, more walks then strikeouts and his 1995 season was ridiculous, 52 doubles, .356 average, and .479 on base %. Got on baseball in almost half of his at bats, and he was above 45% the next two seasons as well.
The writers not voting in Mike Piazza was the biggest shock
of all, says Kenny Celelli. 
           
Larry Walker – Was at one time the most feared hitter in baseball, had all five tools and it showed. 1 MVP, 7 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers, and a career line of .313/.400/.565. Injuries derailed his career at the end otherwise he would have been a “lock” for the HOF
           
Mike Piazza – The guy I was most surprised did not get in. Never implicated or accused of steroid abuse but still put up good numbers even though those around him were using. The numbers do not look spectacular but when you consider how important he was to the teams he played on he definitely is HOF worthy and should eventually get in.

That is my list of my votes, not necessarily who I think will eventually become a HOF’er. Next year’s class of players is even more stacked with names such as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez and even more guys coming to the forefront for the first time. As each year passes the list will get rich and richer with great talents but also more and more of the steroid abusers will begin to appear. Here’s hoping that the writers make the right choices.

--Kenny Celelli
--@KCswiss1132 





Monday, January 21, 2013

Is Robert Morris Figuring it out?

Everyone knows what the expectations were for the Robert Morris squad, so after two surprising home conference losses to Bryant and CCSU, fans may have began to at least scratch their heads on what exactly was going on.

Saturday's 88-75 win over Quinnipiac gave the Colonials four wins in a row and has them tied for second in the NEC standings.Colonialscorner.com's Andrew Chiappazzi has some notes on the recent win streak and had a lot to say about Russell Johnson.

Mired in a season-long slump, Johnson has erupted the last four games. Johnson is averaging 12.5 points per game, six rebounds per game, 3.25 assists per game, and 2.5 steals per game. It's about as strong of an all-around performance as one can find on the Colonials.  
So what got into Johnson?
"I don't know if something got into him. It just seems like he's back to normal," Toole said. "Maybe something got out of Russell." 
Johnson didn't offer much of an explanation. He said he's remained confident in his abilities, but rather than focus on mistakes, he's taken an optimistic approach to his play on the court. 
"Not worrying about the negative things or making mistakes," he said. "I just try to block that out and keep playing positive."
Johnson had a career high 22 points (leaving him four away from 1,000) last Saturday against Quinnipiac thanks to his 12-13 effort from the stripe. He seems to be finding his own right now, and for a team that doesn't get to the stripe a whole lot, no one has gotten to the line more than him. Russ is a senior on the team and with Velton Jones banged up he needs to take a big leadership role on the court. Johnson has a unique game; he's big but you have to respect his three ball and his quick first step to the rim. I'm glad he's starting to find his niche. 

Along with Johnson, I'm encouraged with how back-up point guard Anthony Myers-Pate is beginning to play. I talked with Anthony early in the season and the first thing he told me was how he needs his shot to fall, which it is doing more of recently. I like how Myers-Pate is being more aggressive getting to the tin and not settling for long jump shots. While it stunk that Velton Jones was in foul trouble against Arkansas and has been banged up throughout the year, Myers-Pate has seen some big minutes and that can only help the team down the road.

Feel free to leave some comments with your thoughts. 

--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella





Sunday, January 20, 2013

Off season Diagnosis: Miami Dolphins

The 28-0 shellacking that the New England Patriots put on the Miami Dolphins the last Sunday of the NFL season was a reminder that Miami has a lot of work to do if they plan on catching Bill Belichick’s squad any time soon. The Pats cruised into the two seed in the AFC, winning anther AFC East title and once again positioning them for another super bowl run (Joe Flacco had other ideas). NFL organizations dream of what NE has; a great coach, elite QB, and good foundation year in and year out. While it may seem that Miami is light years away from this dream scenario, they truly are not. This off season will decide whether the Dolphins can position themselves for future success for years to come.

The Dolphins have five draft picks in the first three rounds, tons of salary cap space to play with, and a good young core to build upon.

Will Ryan Tannehill point Miami
in the right direction?
Let’s quickly start with that core. It all starts under center with Ryan Tannehill. The rookie wasn't spectacular in his first year, but did show signs that he will be a very good QB in this league for years to come. Miami fans need to remember this guy was a WR a few years ago, and is still learning the position. Tannehill wasn't even supposed to get any playing time this year, and simply learn. Playing him, in my opinion was the right call. It makes Miami a dangerous team going forward. The line is in good hands with young pieces such as Mike Pouncey and Jonathan Martin. Reshad Jones showed a lot at the safety position, and Cameron Wake was once again one of the best pass rushers in the league. Running Back Lamar Miller showed a ton of promise, but needs to learn more to become an every down back.

Miami should let Miller become their
number one back.
Ultimately, Jeff Ireland will either earn his money this off season  or solidify why so many Miami fans have been calling for his job for years now. The Dolphins have a ton of cap room and picks to work with, and even more big time decisions to make. Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, Jake Long, Chris Clemons, Anthony Fasano, Nate Garner, Tony McDaniel, Matt Moore, Sean Smith, and Randy Starks are all free agents. Only Moore was not a starter, and a lot of teams would view the veteran QB as a potential starter in 2013. As good as this group is, they never made a playoff run or contended for a division championship. Although it will be tough to swallow, Miami should let Bush, Hartline, Long, and Sean Smith go via free agency. While Bush has been amazing for Miami, he will demand a good amount of money on the open market. I am all for the Dolphins bringing Bush back for a bargain, but they can live without him. Miller was once a projected first round pick. He is young, fast, and cheap. Miami can compliment him with Daniel Thomas, another high draft pick, and get by. Hartline is tricky, because he is young and coming off his best season (over 1000 yards rec) of his career but is clearly not a number one WR. Miami should be able to grab a good young number two wideout in the draft, and focus on getting a big name, clear cut number one (Wallace/Jennings) via free agency. If this scenario plays out, there won’t be enough money to go around for Hartline. Jake Long could be the easiest to retain. He has been hurt over the past few years, and that will hurt his value. With that said he is a proven top tier left tackle and a lot of teams would love to have his services. Miami would be okay taking a young lineman in the draft, sliding Jonathon Martin to LT, and resigning Nate Garner to play guard. The Phins should bring back Starks, Fasano, Clemons (unless they can get Ed Reed), and McDaniel. These are all solid players that won’t break the bank. I love Matt Moore as a solid backup QB, but he will look for a starting job, and teams like the Jets will offer him that possibility. Miami should look to the draft to find their next back up QB. As we have seen with Matt Flynn, Kirk Cousins, and others, it’s not a bad idea to have a good young backup who can be valuable when your starter goes down. Miami shouldn't use anything more than at 6th round pick though. Then there is Sean Smith. He has all the tools to become one of the best shut down corners in the NFL, but has yet to put it together on the field. The secondary was Miami’s biggest weakness on defense last year, and will be in the spot light this season. The Dolphins will try to get Smith at a good price, but he may cost too much. Miami should not break the bank for Smith, and if they can’t resign him, they could look at the franchise tag. I believe Smith has not done enough to warrant $10.6 million a year, and that’s what it will cost Miami if they choose to use the tag. The Dolphins should let Smith walk, and look at Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), or Dee Milliner (Alabama), three of the best cornerback prospects in this year’s draft. Miami selects 12th overall, and all three could be as good as Smith, but cost less.

Wallace and his speed would be a welcome addition
to the Miami wide receiving core.
If Miami elects this plan they would have a good amount of money to spend on wide outs, o-line help, and other areas of the team. As we have seen this season, the league is all about offense. If Miami wants Ryan Tannehill to develop they must upgrade his weapons drastically. Miami’s top target should be Mike Wallace. He is a number one wide receiver, and posses elite vertical speed. Tannehill was one of the league’s most accurate passers on throws of 20 yards or more. Wallace would bring a whole new dimension to the Dolphins aerial attack. Greg Jennings would also be a nice fit in Miami. He knows Coach Philbin from their days in Green Bay. Both will be Miami’s top targets. If Miami doesn't take a corner at 12, they surely will look to grab a young wide receiver to compliment a Wallace or a Jennings. Keenan Allen (California) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) are the most likely options. If Miami feels that the options at WR do not warrant the 12th overall pick, it won't hurt adding a pass rusher. Dion Jordan out of Oregon would be a great fit across from Cam Wake. The Dolphins should also look to add a slot later in the draft. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey (both from WVU) would be great fits.

This off season is the biggest that Miami has had in a long time. Last year the franchise found their head coach and quarterback of the future, but if they drop the ball this year, it will go a long way in crushing the Tannehill/Philbin era. Jeff Ireland will make or break his career over the next few months. Miami doesn't need to go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl next year, but they must lay a solid foundation and get more from their young QB. As we have seen with teams like San Francisco and Washington, it doesn't take long to make that jump back to relevancy; it just takes some good decisions. Ball is in your court Mr. Ireland, let’s see what you got. 

--Lee Kunkel
--@Kunkel5

Monday, January 14, 2013

Off season Diagnosis: Philadelphia Eagles


A certain co-host of mine likes to often point out the fact that I made very bold predictions about Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo that came crashing to the ground week 17 while conveniently forgetting he picked the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl this year. All kidding aside, the Eagles were a popular pick to at the very least win the NFC East and possibly represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. After 2011’s off-season splurge that resulted in cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a hefty new contract for Michael Vick (we’ll get into that soon), and a load of expectations that led to this bomb by back-up quarterback Vince Young, a super bowl-or-bust attitude surrounded the Philadelphia.
It didn’t take long to realize the “dream team” reference was one of the worst things that happened in the 2011-2012 season. The expectations were too much and the Eagles got off to an atrocious start, only to finish equally as hot and narrowly miss the playoffs at 8-8. This team has the talent, but injuries and inconsistent play led to a terrible 4-12 season this past fall. Let’s dig deeper into the problems and find some solutions.
The Eagles defense is loaded with talent at some fronts and thin at others. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was playing with a very reasonable contract but had a terrible year, posting a -7.1 season ranking him fifth worst for all potential free agent cornerbacks according to ProFootballFocus.com. Nnamdi Asomugha signed a five year, $60 million dollar contract and has not lived up to the hype at all. Neither Rodgers-Cromartie or Asomugha have been described as worlds-class tacklers, but their tackling is poor in every way and Asomugha can't cover anybody anymore. 
Players had a hard time adjusting to Juan Castillo's defense.
Scheme was a big issue in Philly, where former coach Andy Reid hired then-offensive line coach Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator. Castillo continued running a wide-9 scheme, which has defensive ends lining up a foot outside the offensive tackles outside shoulder to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. Wide-9 puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers and safeties and asks for a lot of zone coverage and turnovers… basically all of the Eagles weaknesses in one scheme (especially after trading Asante Samuel. Knowing what I do now about the wide-9 scheme, I’m almost speechless the Eagles traded the best ball-hawking corner in the NFL). It was a disaster. Despite ranking ninth and 15th in passing and total defense respectively, the Eagles ranked 29th in points allowed per game. How does a team that’s giving up 343 yards per game also give up 28 points per game? Giving up the big play. No one seemed comfortable in the wide-9 scheme to say the least, and although the Eagles struggled to produce turnovers after Castillo was fired week six, the coverage in the secondary definitely improved.
The Eagles offense is a hot mess. You’ve got the star names in Deseasn Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Lesean McCoy, and Michael Vick. Brent Celek is a really good tight end and Jason Avant, Damaris Thomas, and Riley Cooper are nice role players. Bryce Brown filled in nicely for an injured Lesean McCoy, but desperately needs to work on his ball security before he finds himself jobless. It doesn’t matter who you are (unless it’s Tiki Barber), fumblers don’t last in this league.
Is it the Nick Foles era in Philadelphia?
Having good position players is definitely a plus, but the two most important positions on the field were frazzled all season. Quarterback Michael Vick only played in ten games due to rib and head injuries. Nick Foles was a third round pick in last year’s draft and has the size and arm to be an NFL quarterback, but his field vision and decision making are both questionable. In the seven games he appeared (six starts), Foles was average, which isn’t a bad thing for a guy supposed to be a project. Foles threw for six touchdowns, five interceptions, and boasted a 60 percent completion percentage. Releasing Vick would free up an extra $12.7 million in cap space according to the Huffington Post and seems like the right choice at this time. Vick is a dynamic playmaker with a huge arm and wide receiver-like speed but too often seems to fail to read defenses and has injury concerns. The Vick era was interesting and fun (My personal favorite is the 88 yard dime to DeSean Jackson to start the Monday Night Football game in Washington) but I would say the Bills and Jets are his two most likely destinations. Releasing Vick would also free up money to extend Jeremy Maclin, who is a free agent after this season and deserves more than the three million/season he’s making now.
The offensive line was bad too, but I’m really optimistic of their future. Most of the bad play was a result of numerous injuries, forcing back-ups to play and starters to play out of position. Guard Evan Mathis finally lived up- to his first round hype, playing his first full season in his career. Mathis was listed on the all NFC East Pro Football Focus team. King Dunlap played a solid left tackle this season, recording a +7.1 rating in 838 snaps according to PFF. Dunlap is a free agent, and with Jason Peters coming back after missing the season with a torn Achilles, you can let Dunlap walk. Todd Herremans will also be back. Herremans can play guard and tackle, and I would start him at right tackle and let former first round pick Danny Watkins take over for Jake Scott at right guard, who is also a free agent. Now, a Peters-Mathis-Dallas Reynolds-Watkins-Herremans offensive line is something that can produce. The key is health, which you can never predict.
There seem to be only a select few people who don’t feel drafting Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel is a must (I’m one of them), but when you look at the board, where else would you go? At four, drafting a quarterback just seems like a waste and drafting a safety, cornerback, or linebacker would be a reach. Drafting Joeckel would likely move Herremans back to right guard and at the very least would be insurance for Peters. Joeckel, in my opinion, is every bit as good as Matt Kalil. Ideally, Philadelphia would trade back to the middle of the first round (Miami at 12, St. Louis at 16?) where they could gain more picks and get better value by taking a linebacker like Manti Te’o, Kevin Minter, or Alec Ogletree to play alongside DeMeco Ryans.
They also have the third pick in the second round and I would look safety there, maybe someone like Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson. Despite missing time, both Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were in the top twelve in missed tackles this season. See a theme here? The Eagles defense has to strengthen up the middle.
The Eagles made a mistake keeping Dominique Rodgers-
Cromartie and trading Asante Samels to the Falcons.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent. DRC was playing for a very reasonable three million per year in his time in Philly and will probably look for something closer to five million on the open market. I’m not against Philadelphia bringing him back, but I think I would turn my efforts more towards someone like Chris Houston or Sheldon Brown, who will probably have the same asking price and had better seasons.
Finally, the Eagles are looking for a new coach. To me, you can’t go wrong with an offensive or defensive minded coach. It’s important to develop Nick Foles but it’s almost equally important to develop a young defensive line and get as much out of the secondary as possible. I really like the idea of Ken Wisenhunt and even Brian Kelly, but my personal favorites are Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Both are brilliant defensive minds who know how to shape out a roster and are no-nonsense, no excuses type guys. Nabbing Bradley from Seattle would be a great start to a rebuilding process.
Quite frankly, I’m not optimistic of a Nick Foles-led future. I think Foles’ ceiling is no higher than that of Josh Freeman or Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’d give Foles this season to prove me and other doubters wrong and if he doesn’t you have to invest in a guy you know can lead you to that ever-elusive super bowl. The talent is there, but like we’re seeing in the playoffs, if you don’t have that big-play quarterback, it doesn’t matter. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are great talents, but they can only do so much. Vince Young claimed the Eagles were the dream team, and Mike Vick said this team has the pieces to be adynasty...
We're still waiting. 
--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Offseason Diagnosis: St. Louis Rams

I really feel for Rams fans. They traded the second overall pick to Washington last year and the Redskins went on the draft rookie sensation Robert Griffin III. The Rams got a boatload of picks in return, but the Redskins got the star quarterback. On top of that, Washington is paying RGIII only $1.3 million next year, while the Rams are stuck paying their young QB $9 million next season (Bradford was taken first overall in the last draft without a rookie wage scale). If you have read any of the other previews, you may take notice to one missing ingredient that every one of these teams that have missed the playoffs have in common; inconsistent quarterback play. Sam Bradford will be entering his fourth season, and it's time to earn some of that money. The Rams also have a few other holes on this roster, and have a bevvy of draft picks to work with, along with some very intriguing decisions in free agency.

The Rams need to bring back Amendola,
the teams leading WR.
The first thing on the Rams checklist this offseason will be resigning unrestricted free agent Danny Amendola. This was a breakout season for Amendola, as he tallied 63 receptions for 666 yards and 3 TD's in only 11 games due to a broken collar bone. Amendola reminds many scouts of a young Wes Welker. He has elite quickness, is a top tier route runner, and you will struggle to find a receiver with better hands. Brandon Gibson, the teams number two wide receiver, is also a pending free agent. The Rams have a lot of young receivers, such as Brian Quick, Chris Givens, and Austin Pettis but none have proven they can become every down starters, so it would be smart to retain Gibson or add another veteran wide out before the draft. The Rams have dedicated a lot of high to mid level picks to that position, and should use the draft to strengthen other areas of the team. The line could potentially lose two starters as Barry Richardson (RT) and Rob Turner (C/G) will both be on the open market. One potential problem that St. Louis faces is a lack of cap space. They committed long term to Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, who both deserve it, but these contracts have left St. Louis with some tough decisions. The Rams could look to move veteran running back Steven Jackson. Jackson has never played in the playoffs, and only has one year left on his contract. They also could look to restructure his contract. The Rams will not be too active in free agency, and their lone priority should be the receiving core. All in all, if St. Louis is going to improve their roster, they will have to do it via the draft.

Jenkins was a nice addition via the draft, the Rams
will need more like him this year.
Last season first year head coach Jeff Fisher got a good amount of production from his first draft class. Michael Brockers was solid on the defensive line and while second round pick Brian Quick (WR) was a flop in his first season, Janoris Jenkins was an absolute steal. Jenkins had four picks, three returned for a touchdown, and he also took a fumble to the house. He gave up a few big plays, but improved his coverage skills drastically over the second half of the season. In this years draft, the Rams will once again have a great opportunity to drastically improve their roster. They own two picks in the first round, 16 and the Redskins pick, 22nd and you can almost bet one of them will be used on an offensive lineman. As noted above, there are a few key members of the line hitting free agency, and on top of that, this group wasn't near elite this past season. Some names to remember for Rams fans, Jake Matthews (OT) out of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher (OT) out of Central Michigan, Chance Warmack (OG) out of Alabama, Taylor Lewan (OT) out of Michigan, and if the Rams look to move up, they could grab Luke Joeckel (OT) out of A&M but that would require jumping into the top five. As you can see there are plenty of options available on the offensive line.

The Rams will likely use the 16th pick to grab a O-lineman, and could double up with the 22nd but I believe they will look safety. Robert Lester out of Alabama and Eric Reid out of LSU are maybe the best options. Matt Elam out of Florida and Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas are other options. In this years draft, don't be stunned if Fisher and company take a QB in the later rounds. The team will likely lose Kellen Clemens so they will need a backup. As we saw with Washington this season, having a good backup is something every team should look for. Who knows, maybe the Rams will find their future starter. EJ Manuel out of Florida State is an intriguing prospect who can be had around the 4th round.

Bradford will decide how far the Rams will go in 2013.
The Rams have had some unfortunate luck with injuries, trades, and guys simply not developing. Every NFL team deals with such obstacles, but the Rams have had more than their fair share. The great teams create their own luck. I am expecting a big year from Sam Bradford in 2013. He has a nice young core around him, and through the draft he should have a serviceable line in front of him. The defense could be one of the NFL's best next season. There is a ton of talent on that side of the ball. With that said, the 49ers and Seahawks will be loaded for years to come. If the Rams want to be players in the NFC West, they must become a better team in all aspects, but most importantly under center.

---Lee Kunkel
---@Kunkel5

Is it the Blue Jays Time?


When Alex Anthopoulos (or AA, as I will refer to him as) became the general manager of the Blue Jays I was scared, as a Yankees fan I was scared. Anthopoulos was a young kid with bright ideas and a plan coming in to run a franchise capable of becoming great. Now three years later AA has the Jays in position to challenge for a playoff spot and potentially give the AL East five teams capable of making the playoffs.
 
NL Cy Yong winner R.A. Dickey figures to be the ace on a loaded
Blue Jays squad.
The Blue Jays without question have won the offseason by adding six players who will either crack the opening day lineup or starting rotation including the man who was leading the majors in hitting before a PED suspension, Melky Cabrera, a former steals champion who still can wreak havoc on the base paths, Jose Reyes, and a former utility man who if given regular playing time can steal 40 plus bases a year with a good average and decent walk rate. R.A. Dickey won the National League Cy Young last year with the Mets and now will be the ace of the Jays staff, Josh Johnson was once a Cy Young candidate and if he can remain healthy he can still be a force. Then there is Mark Buehrle who started nine opening day games for the Chicago White Sox. The Blue Jays look to have a lineup that one through nine is very tough, not without holes, but tough nonetheless. When you consider that all these pieces were added to a team that already boasts Jose Bautista who is one of the most feared power hitters in the game currently, and Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie both of whom are coming off good seasons, the Jays could be set to make a run.
 
Last season the Jays finished 73-89 while dealing with major injuries, and some serious ineffectiveness by the bullpen. Adding Reyes, Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, and Cabrera should certainly lead to more wins. Last season R.A. Dickey produced a WAR* of 4.6, now while it is not out of the question to see Dickey repeat this performance we must account for him moving to a tougher league and tougher division. Jose Reyes has seen injuries take a toll on his body in recent years and while he is no longer an elite shortstop he is still a major upgrade over Yunel Escobar. Melky Cabrera is only one season removed from being one of the worst players in Major League Baseball and he will have to prove his great season was not just a result of PEDs. Mark Buehrle is a good but not great pitcher who will have games where he takes his lumps and gets shelled, but also brings a lot of experience to the table. Josh Johnson only pitched to an 8-14 record last season and while the numbers back up that record, the potential is always there for him to bounce back to the Cy Young caliber pitcher he was.
 
The Jays need JP Arencibia to have a big season. 
While all these additions are great there are still questions surrounding other players on this team. Can Ricky Romero bounce back? Can Brett Lawrie, JP Arencibia, and Brandon Morrow stay healthy? Can Adam Lind be an effective player at this level or will his 2009 season of a 3.7 WAR be an outlier? Players like Romero and Arencibia are also not without their flaws. Arencibia strikes out at an alarming rate; we are talking strikeouts in 29% of his at bats last season with only a 4.8% walk rate. Ricky Romero’s numbers for the second straight season have declined and last season he completely lost command of the strike zone, seeing his walk rate go up above 5BB/9 innings, more than a two walk per nine increase, and seeing his strike out rate drop by almost a full strikeout. He has lost the ability to strand men on base and his ground ball percentage is trending downward as well while he is giving up more fly balls. Any player can turn their career around at any point, and no roster stays the same through the whole season. Things change, players get hurt or are ineffective and sometimes you pick up that gem off the scrap heap that helps put you over the top. These questions surrounding the Jays roster will be answered soon enough.
 
The Jays have not been to the post season since winning the World Series in 1993 their second in a row and third straight playoff appearance. That could all change this season with a few teams expected to have down years in the AL East. My beloved Yankees are getting too old and just do not seem to have the offense there to compete this season. The Red Sox are coming off an awful season where there was dissent in the clubhouse surrounding now former manager Bobby Valentine. The Rays who have been baseballs darlings the past few years may have passed on this season for the future when they traded James Shields leaving them with only David Price to lead the staff. Then there are the Orioles who are coming off of a dream season where almost everything seemed to go right making the playoffs before losing to the Yankees in the ALDS. They can’t expect everything to fall into place for a second straight season, but then again sports are always unpredictable. The AL East is wide open this season and the Blue Jays certainly are poised to be there in the thick of the playoff race not only this season but for seasons after. 
 
No team is without questions and no player is without risks. Sports are unpredictable and baseball is no exception, any player can go from being awful one season to making adjustments and becoming a force the next season (see Jose Bautista). The Blue Jays have some pieces in place to make a run, and despite what they gave up in trades they still boast a pretty strong farm system. Alex Anthopoulos has done a great job so far with the Blue Jays in just a few years, he promised to bring this team to the playoffs and this season he may just fulfill that promise.

--Kenny Celelli, contributor
--@KCswiss1132

Off-Season Diagnosis: New York Jets


Believe it or not, the Jets did not go 0-16 this year.
Obviously, the Jets didn’t light the world on fire either. With bold and brashness (specifically from the mouth of your head coach) comes high expectations, and when 6-10 happens, you get…. The Jets. There isn’t a quick fix with the Jets, the flaws are numerous and the cap situation is bad. But like we’ve seen time and time again: it all gets better with improved quarterback play.
Jets fans have seen this look from Mark Sanchez
over the years.
Four critical plays come to my mind with this Jets season: a Mark Sanchez interception on the final drive against Houston, a Stephen Hill drop in New England, which left crucial points on the board late, a Mark Sanchez fumble in overtime in that same game, ending the game, and a Nick Mangold bad snap/Mark Sanchez fumble that ended the game (and season) in Tennessee.
I’m not saying the Jets win those games if those plays are avoided (especially Tennessee) or the Jets make the playoffs if those plays happen (the QB play was too bad), but you could argue 6-10 goes to 9-7 just like that. Unfortunately, those plays did happen.
Change comes from the top, and that change is in progress with the general manager position. Mike Tannenbaum did some good things for New York, his last two first round draft picks Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples seem like home runs, but bad contracts, signings, and trades have put the Jets in a bad situation. His firing was step one in a recovery process.
If New York does indeed land San Francisco’s Tom Gamble, it would be a huge win. Gamble has been key in building what may be the deepest roster in the NFL, striking gold with mid-to-late round draft picks at an abnormally high rate. If Gamble wants the job, snatch him. Do not hire Scott Cohen, a Mike Tannenbaum disciple. Go fresh.
It’s ridiculous that owner Woody Johnson would force a general manager with a head coach, but that’s exactly what he’s done. If a new GM wants his own guy, he should, but I guess that’s not the thinking of Johnson. Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind, but his loyalty and offensive handicapping is holding the Jets back. I’m not against Ryan staying, but there have to be major improvements for year five of the Rex Ryan project. The Jets will also look into a new offensive coordinator. Hue Jackson and Norv Turner should all be at the top of the list. I’d also be thrilled if Broncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu was listed as a candidate. Magazu has had success in Carolina and Denver in that position and has been tutored under some great offensive minds.
Time to cut bait with Tim Tebow. The Jets would save $1.05 million dollars if cut and I think it’d be in the right move unless Jacksonville wants to work out a deal. Personally, I’d sign Matt Moore and go with him to start the season. Moore is an unrestricted free agent and I would be surprised if he went for more than $3.5 million on the open market. Moore will come cheaper than Alex Smith and Mike Vick is… Mike Vick. He can be a dynamic playmaker but too often fails on basic reads, is a fumbling machine (sound familiar?), and gets injured too much. I guess when you phrase it like that he’s perfect for the Jets though.  
Shonn Greene hasn't shown enough to
remain the Jets starting running back. 
The Jets should let Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, and Matt Slauson walk in free agency. Greene was outplayed by Bilal Powell (among others) all season, Slauson was already splitting time with Vlad Ducasse (yes, rotating guards in the NFL), and Keller is nothing but an average tight end. Delanie Walker, Dennis Pitta, and Anthony Fasano could all be cheaper options at tight end and put up similar production. The Jets could give Powell the full-time starting role with Chris Ivory, Justin Forsett, or Isaac Redman playing second fiddle and giving out no more than $1 million/year. Brandon Moore graded out at +21.3 according to ProFootballFocus.com and played for a very reasonable $2.75 million this season. The Jets would be wise to bring back Moore on something similar to a 3 year/$11 million dollar deal. Starting right tackle Austin Howard is also a free agent, and I think taking a tackle in the second round, like Oregon’s Kyle Long, would be beneficial short term and long term.
The Jets defense ranked eighth in total defense despite having a slow linebacking core and losing Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie played at an all-pro level and the Jets would be wise to see what Cromartie’s stock is around the league. Trading Cromartie for a second round pick with Revis returning wouldn’t be a bad move, as long as this team is taking on most, if not all, of Cromartie’s remaining $21.5 million dollars. To get under the cap, cutting Calvin Pace and Bart Scott must happen. Pace is pretty much useless at this point, and Scott has his moments but is two steps too slow to be a starting linebacker.
David Harris woefully underperformed this year and could use a new battering mate beside him. The Ravens Dannell Ellerbe is intriguing, but the Ravens will likely dish out more than what the Jets, or anyone, would want to pay. There are a few guys who had down years and thus might come cheaper like Manny Lawson, Lorenzo Alexander, and Keith Rivers. Obviously, there aren’t too many good ILB’s out there and second year backer Demario Davis might get the nod to start. Davis has the athleticism but struggled to get comfortable when given the opportunity this year.
The Jets will also be looking for two new outside linebackers. This should be addressed with the ninth overall pick, specifically Oregon’s Dion Jordan, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, or LSU’s Barkevious Mingo. My personal favorite is Jordan, who has unreal length and athleticism (he was a wide receiver and tight end before switching to defensive end). You can’t go wrong with any of these guys, however, and one of them will likely be on the board. I’d also address the other outside linebacker position by signing Paul Kruger. Kruger doesn’t get the credit he deserves from the national media, racking up 14.5 sacks the past two seasons. If the Jets don’t have the cap room for Kruger (I predict he looks for around ten million/year), Connor Barwin and Wallace Gilberry could be options.
Antonio Cromartie's stock has never been higher-- so
the Jets should explore their trade optons. 
I’ve already discussed The Revis-Cromartie situation, but it should be noted that if Kyle “finger wag” Wilson is starting as a number two corner, something went wrong. Wilson’s ability to locate the ball in the air is as bad as I’ve ever seen an NFL corner. Heck, I’ll take back Drew Coleman before I have to constantly see Wilson get beat deep again. Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell were big upgrades at safety but are both free agents. The Jets likely won’t be able to retain Landry, but Bell should be affordable (two million/year) and the Jets could look to sign someone to the likes of Kenny Phillips or expand the role of Antonio Allen, who has shown promise and versatility.
But in what has become a trend in No Huddle’s off-season diagnosis, it comes down to the quarterback play. If Norv Turner does come in, maybe he can help correct Mark Sanchez, but probably not. Sanchez has very, very poor footwork and is so mentally fractured that it may be beyond fixable. Let Sanchez, Moore, and McElroy compete this training camp and have the best man win, which will be Matt Moore. A healthy Santonio Holmes, a (hopefully) improved Stephen Hill, and a dynamic Jeremy Kerley leave the Jets with an overall solid wide receiving core.
Finally, re-sign Braylon Edwards and Mike Devito if not for the simple fact that they actually like being Jets. How many people can you say that about? Tannenbaum severely overvalued the formula of “talent>chemistry” the past few years. Losing guys like Jerricho Cotchery, Tony Richardson, and Damien Woody have been bigger losses than almost anything.
I like Sanchez, but that doesn’t mean I think he is a good quarterback. I desperately want him to succeed but I don’t think he will. Two years ago the New York Jets were on the verge of a super bowl, yet somehow the window closed before it really ever opened. Only the Jets.
--Chris Cappella
--@C_Cappella

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Off-season Diagnosis: Jacksonville Jaguars


There’s a lot of negative surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguar’s latest 2-14 season-- two wins in four months will do that to you-- so we’re going to start off with some positives that came out of 2012:
1.       The Jaguars ranked 22nd in pass defense. That’s not too bad… right?
2.       They almost beat the Texans, who won a playoff game AND we had some fun Chad Henne moments that neither you nor I will ever forget.

3.       The Jaguars own the second pick in the NFL draft… there’s always April!

The Jaguars stink. You know it, I know it, we all know it. The quarterback situation is terrible. We could be looking at a Blaine Gabbert v Chad Henne camp showdown this coming August. Their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, played in six games and still led the team in rushing with an outstanding 414 yards.  Did I mention he might not really want to play there? Fixing the Jaguars isn’t going to be a one year reclamation project, heck, even the great savior Timothy Richard Tebow can’t save them. You won’t get a lot of Tebow nonsense here*, instead, here are some practical ways to make Jacksonville better.

Change needs to come from the top down and that starts with former Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel David Caldwell, who is now the new general manager. Not that long ago, Atlanta was in the same position Jacksonville is-- plain bad. Five years later, Atlanta is the one-seed in the NFC playoffs. The guy clearly knows what he’s doing, GREAT start to the off-season.
Can Greg Roman (left) fix the Jaguars?
Next, you have to let Caldwell pick his guy as coach. The future of current coach Mike Mularkey is understandably bleak, and it sounds like current San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman might get his shot as head coach. I’m hardly qualified to say what coordinators will and won’t be good head coaches-- it’s nearly impossible to say-- but Roman has used all of his tools effectively in San Fran and has more pieces on the offensive side of the football in Jacksonville than one would think.
I really do like Jacksonville’s young receiving core. Justin Blackmon was flat out dominant at times but needs to show that more consistently. The Jags may have found a nice catch with Cecil Shorts, who had  55 receptions for 979 yards (a ridiculous 17.8 yards per catch) and 7 touchdowns. Mercedes Lewis is a serviceable tight end and the combination of Jordan Shipley and Laurent Robinson in the slot could be worse. It’s hard to get a true idea of what the running game is like without Maurice Jones-Drew, but I’m not sure how effective he would have been (in MJD terms) with the pathetic group of guys up front the Jaguars called their offensive line.

The Jaguars should do the right thing and let Blaine
Gabbert develop, not bring in Tim Tebow.
Much like what I said with Tampa Bay, it still all comes down to the quarterback play. If you want to work on improving your football team, forget Tim Tebow, that’s a waste of money. You took Blaine Gabbert tenth overall two freaking years ago, and while I didn’t agree with the pick, see what you have in him. By all accounts, Gabbert had a really strong offseason last year and year three is an important year for struggling quarterbacks. Not everyone is Cam Newton or Russell Wilson, sometimes it takes quarterbacks years to develop. If not, Henne will be back for one more year and played surprisingly well in some games this year (354 yards in an overtime loss at Houston!). If Roman does come in and wants to run a Colin Kaepernick-like attack, keep an eye out for Tarvaris Jackson who should come for about three million per year.
The good pretty much ends right around there. The defense was pitiful: it failed to get to the quarterback with a league low 20 sacks, couldn’t stop the run, and opposing quarterbacks generally threw at will on them. Jacksonville would most likely rank at the bottom part of the league in pass defense if teams weren’t running out the clock all second half.

Damontre Moore could provide a huge boost to a
lacking Jaguars pass rush.
Jacksonville figures to have a solid $22.3 million dollars in cap space, but if I’m Caldwell, I focus more on the draft and let that number grow. Take either Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, or Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner with the second pick.  All-of-the-sudden, a Jason Babin-Damontre Moore combo becomes scary. In the second round go offensive tackle, someone like Tennessee’s Dallas Thomas or North Carolina’s Brennann Williams, both of which would be your opening day right tackle. Alabama’s Barrett Jones is also an interesting name. Jones is solid but probably a little overhyped at this point. He can play both center and guard, and I think Jones’ stock is going to fall into the late second round.
Free agent wise, Rashean Mathis posted a -3.6 this season according to ProFootballFocus.com. Let him walk and look at someone cost-effective like Kennan Lewis or Darius Butler, both of which would be upgrades. You could bring back Drew Coleman for probably half the price you did this year after injuries, and I think that would be a wise move. Dwight Lowery and Dawan Landry aren’t a bad safety combination and provide some excitement for the future in the secondary. On offense, let guard Eben Britton walk and bring in someone, anyone, else. Guys like St. Louis’ Robert Turner and Oakland’s Cooper Carlisle would be immediate upgrades, and that’s saying something.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, the quarterback situation is bad and the draft class is worse. Just a year earlier, Jacksonville would be looking at Robert Griffin III and a bright future. Now? I think Los Angeles seems sunny enough.  

*This is all I’ll say about Tebow: If Jacksonville wants him, call up New York and offer a 7th round pick and offer to pay the $1.03 million of deferred money to Denver and that’s it. Either make the Jets cut him or keep him and the circus he brings. Could Tebow help the team? Maybe… but don’t overspend to do it. Fans will come with winning, and winning comes with football savvy moves.
-Chris Cappella