Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thoughts on the USC Trojans 2009 Football Team

On Saturday I took in the Trojans mock game where the first team defeated the scout team 36-0. Here's what I think of the USC football team one week away from the regular season:

Matt Barkley, playing for the first time since being named the USC starting QB, showed why he's considered such a premium talent and also why folks question whether he's ready to take the reins. First, the positives. Barkley has a superb arm that can make all the throws. His fastball isn't as strong as his predecessor Mark Sanchez's but it's plenty good enough. And after a rough first snap where he fell down handing off the ball Matt looked confident in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.

Now for the bad news. His decision making was mediocre and the accuracy just wasn't there. During the first half Barkley threw several passes at the feet of his receivers, including one that would have been a touchdown. He also refused to throw away the ball on broken plays and tried repeatedly to thread the ball in between defenders. When he had to carry the Mater Dei offense during his senior year Matt earned a reputation as a gunslinger who took unnecessary chances and racked up interceptions. Barkley didn't do anything to dispel those notions this afternoon, which is worrisome for a Trojan squad that heads into Columbus in a couple weeks.

Meanwhile Aaron Corp, the three-year sophomore who lost the starting role to Barkley, was definitely the best QB on the field today. He took over for Barkley shortly into the third quarter and was efficient, completing 5 of 7 passes. Corp's skill and savvy also translated into several nice runs on his part, which is something the traditional pocket passer Barkley can't do. Corp wore a heavy brace on his injured leg but didn't show any signs of pain or slowdown. Frankly, a lot of people think he should be leading this team.

Mitch Mustain, the third-string QB for USC, has been sick recently and did not play in the mock game. Fourth stringer Garrett Green looked overwhelmed by the Trojan defense. He led the scout team for the whole game and got shut out. He was often forced to pass on long downs, which provided amble opportunity for the fantastic secondary to swarm all across the field.

It didn't help Green that WR for the Trojans is a position with a lot of quantity but not so much quality. Brice Butler, Brandon Carswell, Travon Patterson failed to seize their opportunities, though true freshman De'Von Flournoy looked promising. USC only has one legitimate threat at the position. It used to have double that but Ronald Johnson suffered a broken collarbone during the mock game and will be out two months. That's a huge blow to the team considering RoJo's replacement in the starting lineup is David Ausberry, who did not play well. David really needs to step up. He has ideal size and can physically dominant defenders. His route running is also above average. But all of that means nothing if he doesn't figure out how to consistently hang onto the ball.

Meanwhile, the other productive receiver on the team was in silky smooth All-American form. Every time Damien Williams touched the ball (including one punt return) there was the possibility of electricity. Fantastic speed and agility. What a thrill to watch him in person.

The running game was rather pedestrian. Joe McKnight, the presumed starter, had a couple promising runs up the middle early on. If he can be more physical and hang onto the ball that makes him one of the best backs in the nation. Those are huge if's. Stafon Johnson ran in a pair of touchdowns from short yardage. C.J. Gable barely played. The most impressive player in the backfield was the one who's been the least appreciated during the past several years of the Trojan RB carousel. Everyone knew Allen Bradford could be a short-yard bruiser but on Saturday he flashed outstanding speed to the outside. I was really impressed by him and hopes he gets the rock quite a bit during his last year at SC. Neither Marc Tyler nor Curtis McNeal were impressive for the scout team. Then agan, they were going up against a tenacious defense.

Taylor Mays was outstanding in the few series he was in. His backup, the always tenacious Drew McAllister, picked off a pass as did backup cornerback T.J. Bryant. Because starting CB Shareece Wright was out safety Josh Pinkard filled in and played well. He's been at SC for nearly forever and is experienced playing in the secondary.

The defensive lines only got decent pressure on the QBs but did superb jobs of limiting the run games. Highly-touted JUCO transfer Hebron Fangupo sacked Corp twice in the span of a few years. DE Nick Perry and DT Jurrell Casey had their names called constantly throughout the game.

USC replaces three senior linebackers with Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan. None of them possess the pizazz of Rey Maualuga or Brian Cushing but they should be solid playmakers.

I was really looking forward to special teams since USC finally, finally hired a coach to fix an erratic and underachieving portion of the program. Sad to say it still needs work. The kicking game was okay. I was expecting big things from JUCO kicker Jake Harfman but he was erratic and botched handling a low punt snap. The other two kickers did nothing special. One even missed an extra point attempt.

The Trojans did their typical horrible job on punt coverage and blocking. On one punt in particular both defenders failed to even block the gunners streaking down the field. This forced McNeal to take a fair catch instead of run forward into a big opening.

Overall I think the USC Trojans have a good shot at reaching yet another BCS bowl. But there's a real chance they might not even win the PAC-10 yet alone the national title. So it seems likely for the first time since 2005 the Trojans will not be heading to the Rose Bowl.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How About You Not Fuck Women Who Aren't Your Wife?

Slick Rick Pitino rants against the media for its coverage of the Karen Sypher affair. Some choice quotes from the Louisville head coach include:
"Everything that's been printed, everything that's been reported, everything that's been breaking in the news on the day Ted Kennedy died is 100 percent a lie, a lie,"
First of all, way to throw a dead senator into the fray. Classy. Secondly, everything is a lie? Now there certainly is a lot of gray in this whole sordid incident but certain pieces of information are irrefutable. You did have sex with the woman in a restaurant and your equipment manager did eventually marry said woman. Maybe she got an abortion and tried to extort Pitino, maybe not. But blasting your opinions against your lawyer's advice probably isn't a good idea.
"We need to get on with the important things in life like the economy and really some crucial things in life like basketball. It has not hurt recruiting one bit. We will still bring in Top 10 players."
Well then. At least the zone defense lives on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Quick Thoughts on the 2009 Raiders

Not that I'm an integral member of Raider Nation or anything but I do follow this topsy-turvy team. Here's a few kernels on the Silver and Black as the preseason lurches to the finish line:

* Overall the quarterback situation is in good shape. JaMarcus Russell looks to be progressing nicely from last season's strong finish. He still gets frustrated easily after a play goes awry but otherwise I've been impressed with his decision making and accuracy. Still more potential than production at this point but #2 is definitely trending up. Behind him we all know what the ageless Jeff Garcia brings. His physical tools are nothing special but the guy has played well and won games for a decade. And behind him Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski battle for the third spot. There's more than a few teams with worse depth charts at the most important position.

* That being said the passing game will struggle. Top receiver Chaz Schilens is out for a month with an injury. He was a tremendous value as a seventh-rounder in 2008 but Chaz has got a way to go before he's a legit #1 WR. No one can assume Javon Walker will be productive. Darius Heyward-Bey looks lost on routes. At least TE Zach Miller is great. Also fourth-round pick Louis Murphy looks promising.

* Oakland might have the best CB combo in the league. Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson are superb man-to-man defenders. Their physical play will help mask the decent safeties and ho-hum linebacking corps. Raiders could definitely use an OLB upgrade alongside Thomas Howard.

* Run defense is horrible. While the DLine gets good penetration against the QB it's horrific against closing gaps. In a division with LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Larry Johnson an Knowshon Moreno that spells trouble. I have a feeling this will be another season where the Oakland defense has decent numbers against the pass but gives up 150+ running yards per game.

* I fully expect Darren McFadden to be the starting running back -- and deservedly so. While Run-DMC has never had that elite breakaway speed it's his blend of power and swiftness that enables him to rack up the yards. Every now and them I want him in some Wild Hog formations and split wide as well. He's a dynamic talent who needs the ball. Michael Bush as the big back will form a great compliment to Darren. Barring injury (and that's far from guaranteed considering McFadden's toe and Bush missing his senior year at Louisville with a broken leg) I don't expect Justin Fargas to see significant playing time.

* Shane Lechler is one of the greatest punters in NFL history.

All things considered this is an average team with limited upside. That's not even getting into the off-the-field problems with ownership and coaches beating up each other.

There's a lot of big questions that still need to be answered. Can JaMarcus take the next step? Will a patchwork offensive line give him time to thrive? Can McFadden stay healthy? Will Michael Huff finally seize a safety spot? One bright spot is that many of the players are still young and can improve. I think the Raiders are in the range for 4-8 wins. Right now I'd pegged them for five.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don Ohlmeyer Has Decent Debut as ESPN Ombudsman

Today the new ESPN Ombudsman made his debut. Don Ohlmeyer, a longtime television executive, takes over the reins for former NY Times sports editor Le Anne Schreiber. Many sports fans (including myself) feel Ms. Schreiber did a great job during her tenure so expectations were high for Ohlmeyer coming in. And considering the Worldwide Leader's recent coverage (or lack thereof) of two major sports stories the ombudsman had the opportunity to have an immediate impact.

Of course, the stories in questions regarded a pair of off-the-field incidents: Ben Roethlisberger's sexual assault civil lawsuit and the Erin Andrews peephole video (and subsequent fallout). ESPN failed to adequately address these stories (or in the case of Andrews, not at all) and many fans wanted answers.

I've read the ombudsman's first effort several times... and I think he did an okay job. First and foremost Ohlmeyer disclosures his connections to sports and ESPN, most notably the fact his son currently works for the company. It was necessary for him to reveal these potential conflicts. Going forward I assume they won't affect his ability to critique ESPN.

Speaking of critiquing ESPN the ombudsman believes the network should have been more forthright in its coverage and explanation of Big Ben's lawsuit. I don't want to get into specifics (really you should read the entire column) but Ohlmeyer states ESPN has an obligation to actively report the news -- and when it doesn't report certain stories that are readily available elsewhere the audience must be informed the reasons why.

ESPN's reasoning not to initially report the Roethlisberger story is characterized by the network's senior VP and director of news Vince Doria. He states ESPN has a policy where civil suits involving sexual misconduct are not reported unless there is a legal, behavioral or on-the-field connection. As an example he mentions the Ron Mexico incident:

But wait, in fact ESPN ran an AP report about the civil lawsuit.

Why was Vick's sexual misconduct worthy of a story but not Big Ben's?

As for the perception that ESPN tried to protect Big Ben's image (and in turn its valuable contracts with the NFL) I thought Ohlmeyer and Doria both did fine in question and response. Doria rightly points out that ESPN has done a number of TV and online pieces that criticize players, procedures and the league itself. Now, if only ESPN can stop fawning over Brett Favre...

As for the Erin Andrews story... nothing. Not a single word. Granted, this is Ohlmeyer's initial column and he already had his plate full with the Roethlisberger ordeal. Maybe he will write up a piece after she returns to sidelines in September for college football. I am hopeful that Ohlmeyer, who according to his page will provide "independent examination and analysis of ESPN's media outlet," will discuss what happened to Ms. Andrews and its implications with the network and sports media at large.

I wouldn't be surprised if nothing is ever written about the peephole incident on considering the severity of the crime to one of its employees. Can the WWL issue one of its "DO NOT REPORT" memos to someone who's job is to objectively analyze the company?

Sports fans should expect nothing less than excellence from a company with the clout and resources like ESPN. Likewise they need to demand those in charge of keeping the company in check to deliver on their promise. Don Ohlmeyer is off to a decent start but there's plenty of plotlines that haven't been discussed or have yet to be discovered.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Adrian Beltre Suffers Second-Worst Testicle-Related Injury in Mariner History

Yesterday's tense 14-inning, 1-0 win for the Seattle Mariners might have been the last game for Adrian Beltre in a M's uniform. And if it was then it was an awful way to go.

Geoff Baker at The Seattle Times writes Beltre injured his man sack while fielding a grounder last night. The free agent to be, who does not wear a protective cup, suffered tearing (!!!) and internal bleeding (!!!) in his nether region. Adrian will need anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months to recover. Take all the time you need.

Regardless of however long it takes Beltre to get back on the field at least he'll return in full form. Back in 1997 Mariners relief pitcher Josias Manzanillo was struck in the boing-oing-oing by a Manny Ramirez line drive. Josias, who also did not wear a cup, eventually needed surgery to have ONE OF HIS TESTICLES REMOVED.

Moral of the story? Put something hard over your junk while playing with balls.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Erik Bedard, Glass Cannon

Erik Bedard is likely sidelined for the rest of 2009. He moronically tried to pitch through pain over the last month, which predictably worsened his shoulder. Since the ill-fated trade in early 2008 that brought Bedard to the Seattle Mariners he's been a major disappointment. His numbers through almost two seasons:

30 games, 164 IP, 135 hits, 162 K

Pretty good statistics at first glance. But a closer look reveals that Bedard has been slightly above average at best. While possessing outstanding stuff (including a devastating curve) Erik tries to be precise with every pitch, which leads to nibbling (71 walks) and racking up his pitch count. Take a look at this season's game log. In eight of his 15 starts Bedard has thrown more than a hundred pitches yet he's never gone deeper than 7 innings.

When healthy Bedard is a good #3 or below-average #2 starter. But because he was made and assembled in Canada Erik is only available to pitch half the time.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

New Twitter Guidelines for ESPN Will Have Sports Fans Looking Elsewhere

I joined the Twitter craze a couple weeks ago. I like it because it's a convenient forum to post links and quick thoughts that wouldn't work in blog form. Also Twitter actively creates and encourages dialogue with millions around the world. That's kinda cool too.

A lot of people think Twitter is useful. A lot of people think it's stupid. Some don't know what it is. ESPN evidently wants no part of it. The sports network has severely cut off and censored its employees from social networking. Mike Florio at has the entire ESPN memo.

It's a lot of information so let's break down some of the key points and how they relate to Twitter content:
· Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head
Obviously SportsNation will keep doing its thing on Twitter. The Sports Guy will probably get clearance to talk as well, but someone like Marc Stein who reports NBA rumors, observations and trends will probably be muzzled to a certain extent.
· ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content
What I'm guessing this means is tweets from ESPN employees will eventually become a hub for two things: personal thoughts and ESPN links. No more sports opinions, sports rumors and sports tangents from folks like Linda Cohn and a lot more of "NBA Preview Roundtable at" Taking what Ric Bucher said and going a lot further I expect ESPN to add very little substantial sports talk on Twitter.
· If opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms
Damage control. Expected but warranted.
· The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content
Emphasis mine. That first part seems like a directive more fitting for an organization like Ingsoc.
· If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in your column, don't tweet it
Say goodbye to rumors. Also sayonara to ESPN being the first to break any sports stories. Every major transaction during the recent MLB trade deadline was first mentioned on Twitter by local and national sportswriters. Traditional ESPN reporting was already behind the curve before today's directive. Take for instance the Brett Favre sage over the past two years. Despite ESPN's obsession with the indecisive #4 the WWL has whiffed on both big offseason stories. Last year it was Jay Glazer being the first to report Favre being traded to Jets. Last month it was the Minnesota Star Tribune, which scooped the news that Favre was staying retired.
· Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.
The new guidelines certainly have some merits. It holds ESPN personalities to high standards and expects them to avoid some of the slippery and unethical qualities of such an immediate medium like Twitter. That being said, ultimately this guideline makes everyone a loser. ESPN employees, now with a lot less to say about the things they know most about, end up being less interesting and informative. With all the possibilities and personalities on Twitter expect sports fans to turn elsewhere and tune out the WWL.