Friday, October 11, 2013

Gil Brandt for the Hall of Fame

Well, that was depressing... On the one hand, I'm glad that when Peter King invited his readers to submit their 250-word essays on why their candidate should be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two people saw fit to write essays about the great Gil Brandt.

The MMQB published the best essays here, and one of the Brandt essays made the cut. Sadly, and shamefully, it wasn't mine.

Yup, I took the time to submit an essay. Brandt may never make it to the Hall -- as an inductee, at least -- but he deserves to be recognized for his tremendous achievements and contributions. Not only to the Dallas Cowboys but to the National Football League as a whole.

So anyway, nothing against Henry Martinez of Ennis, Texas (I'm glad he and I share our affinity for Gil), but I'm just a little bummed MMQB didn't run my essay.

So, of course, I'm happy to share it with you here...

The case for Gil Brandt



Die-hard Dallas Cowboys fans know and appreciate Gil Brandt for his role as the architect of what became known as America’s Team. But Brandt did more than just scout and draft the likes of Roger Staubach and Bob Hayes and Randy White. As a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame under the “Contributor” category, Brandt fits that description better than anyone.

Owners and GMs “contribute” to the game in fairly specific ways, but Brandt blazed a path that did not exist before he joined the Cowboys in 1960. The scouting methods and strategies that he implemented have become commonplace throughout the NFL.

Whether it was paying closer attention to the small schools and historically black colleges, recognizing that track stars and basketball players might succeed playing football, projecting the ability of a player to switch positions, or being the first NFL organization to incorporate the use of computers into its scouting process, Brandt was ahead of his time.

Brandt was an important part of the triumvirate, along with Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, that made the Cowboys what they were. Landry and Schramm are both in the Hall. Brandt’s relevancy cannot be denied. Even after his days with the Cowboys, the NFL has employed him to identify the college prospects they invite to New York for the draft every year.

Can the history of the NFL be written without Gil Brandt? Probably, but it would be very different, in many ways.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This week's ultimate fantasy sleeper


How's this for a ballsy pick in daily fantasy football: Seahawks backup RB Robert Turbin gets the start!

Why not? In my weekly "Value Picks" article for DFSEdge.com, I undertake the following exercise: Build a roster each week that includes the most expensive QB, RB, WR and TE ... and then try to fill in the rest of my roster with underpriced guys so I'm still under the salary cap.

Of course, that means my lineup includes Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and either Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning every single week. I can live with that.

Depending on the daily site being used, there are different combinations of rosters. I prefer sites like FantasyAces.com, since they have spots for two quarterbacks. So after you splurge on the highest-priced guy, you can still find a nice value pick to select.

Anyway, after doing pretty well last week by picking Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (who had 10 carries for 3 yards the previous week), I decided to really push the envelope in Week 3 -- taking a chance that Seattle will give backup RB Robert Turbin a good chunk of action this week against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here's the line of thinking: Marshawn Lynch was a true beast last week, carrying the ball 28 times against the physical 49ers defense in a divisional grudge match on national TV. Next week, the Seahawks travel to Houston for a marquee matchup -- Super Bowl preview? -- against the Texans.

So a home game against the worst team in the NFL is a perfect opportunity to give Lynch a breather and let Turbin -- who had six carries for 30 yards himself last week -- have a chance to shine.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Sure, it's a little risky, but I love the potential here.

For all my value picks this week, check out my DFSEdge.com article.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Countdown to Kaepernick injury

Peter King had a note in MMQB a few weeks ago about how Colin Kaepernick was working with a speed trainer during the offseason. This was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of NFL defenses. More likely, defensive coordinators are saying to themselves, “Bring it on.”

Speed wasn’t exactly a weakness for Kaepernick, already one of the fastest quarterbacks in the NFL. He took over the starting gig for the San Francisco 49ers midway through the 2012 season and led them to the Super Bowl by making big plays with both his arm and his feet. He earned a place among the league’s exciting new breed of QB, alongside Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, running the read option and pistol, and whatever else you want to call it.

Problem is, Kaepernick's time would have been better spent studying opposing defenses or working out with his receivers. I’m not saying he didn’t do that, but it should have been a much greater focus than speed training.

Because unless Kaepernick runs out of bounds or scores a touchdown every time he ventures out of the pocket, he will certainly get hit more than the average NFL quarterback. And he WILL get injured this season.

For all of Robert Griffin III’s exciting play as a rookie last season, he didn’t make it all the way through. Close, but not close enough. Kaepernick made it, but he didn’t become the starter in San Francisco until Week 11.

In his seven regular-season starts last year, Kaepernick averaged six rushing attempts per game and overall for the season he finished with 31.9 rushing yards per game. That was good for fourth among quarterbacks. Two of the three QBs who rushed for more yards per game – RGIII and Michael Vick – missed some playing time due to injury. The third was Cam Newton, who’s got 15 pounds on Kaepernick.

Maybe Kaepernick would have been better served building muscle mass during the offseason as opposed to working on his speed.

It will certainly be interesting to see how offenses evolve this season after last year’s success with the read option and pistol. No doubt, defensive coordinators have been working hard throughout the offseason to devise a plan to stop the spread of the passing attacks that have moved rapidly from the college landscape to the pros.

The one thing they know they can do: When the QB is out of the pocket, hit him. New rules that protect ball carriers will not prevent running quarterbacks from being hit hard by linebackers who smell blood.

Will the extra speed make a difference for Kaepernick? At times, absolutely. There will be occasions when his added speed and quickness helps him buy more time – in or out of the pocket – to find an open receiver and make a big play. There will be times when he is forced to scramble and that extra burst helps him elude a defender and make a big run.

Kaepernick is certainly a rising star in the league. And he is a strong passer. The concern isn’t his skill set – it’s his mind set. Great quarterbacks – all great players, for that matter – constantly strive to get better.

Kaepernick is already good but there’s always room for improvement. Alas, speed was not an area he needed to improve upon.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Deacon Jones was a force of nature on and off the field

Deacon Jones passed away Monday night. The NFL has lost a legendary player and a legendary character.

I remember the first time I spoke to Deacon Jones. As a fanatical fan of “The Odd Couple” – every sportswriter’s favorite TV show – I was compelled to tell Jones how much I enjoyed the episode in which he played himself and helped Oscar and Felix film a TV commercial.

“Goddammit!” Jones shouted through the phone. “I’m in the goddam Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the only thing people want to talk about is 'The Odd Couple' and 'The Brady Bunch!'”

Of course, that’s not entirely true. The reason I was talking to him in the first place was for a story about the Hall of Fame. Plus, I really didn't care about his turn on "The Brady Bunch."

The irony of Jones’ stellar appearance on “The Odd Couple” is that he was portrayed as a stoic figure, a man of very few words. And as everyone who knew Deacon Jones could attest, the Hall of Fame defensive end was anything but stoic.

After Jones takes control of the Multiblade commercial that Felix is directing in the show, Felix congratulates him on his performance by exclaiming, “That’s speakin’, Deacon!”

When it came to “speakin’,” Jones was an all-star. In fact, the only thing he was better at doing was terrorizing NFL quarterbacks as a member of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome." In addition to coining the term “sack,” he remains the unofficial career leader in that category – a stat that was not kept when he played. The bottom line: Few defensive players could disrupt an opposing offense like Deacon Jones.

What made Jones so great? He certainly had the skill and the physical ability. I once got to see Deacon personally demonstrate his patented head slap – a move so devastating it became illegal in today’s NFL.

But probably what made Jones a dominant force on the football field, more than physical talent and technique, was what made him such a dominant force in life: his passion. Listening to Jones speak, it was easy to understand what drove him in everything he did.

It’s that passion that made him a fixture in Canton, Ohio, when Hall of Famers gathered every summer to welcome a new class of enshrinees. Along with the late Ray Nitschke – another fiery defensive stalwart whose character led him to be a hit in TV and movie cameos – Jones was among the most vocal Hall of Famers. Nitschke and Jones were the driving forces of the Friday luncheon during Enshrinement Weekend, where they would hammer home to the new HOF class what it meant to be part of the Hall.

According to Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, it was Jones who first talked to his fellow members about how being a part of the Hall of Fame meant you were now a member of the only team from which you can never be cut – even when you die.

Indeed, Deacon Jones will be missed… but he can rest in peace knowing that he will always be a member of the greatest football team of all-time.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Curious Case of Rams WR Chris Givens


St. Louis Rams wide receiver Chris Givens turned in one heck of a bizarre statistical anomaly last season.

While doing some research for a stat-based feature in the 2013 Lindy’s Fantasy Football preview magazine, I came across the record-tying stretch that Givens enjoyed during his rookie season in the NFL. The record is impressive enough. Upon further review, however, it’s remarkable because of what he did the rest of the season.

After being drafted in the fourth round last year out of Wake Forest, Givens began his rookie season quietly, catching two passes for nine yards in his first three games. Then, in Week 4, he caught a 52-yard pass in the Rams’ upset win over the Seahawks.

That long haul was the first of a five-week run in which he caught a pass of at least 50 yards in each game. The five straight games with a 50-yard catch tied a record that had been set by one-time Olympics sprinter Willie Gault with the Bears.

Here’s the anomaly: If a receiver has one catch for 50 yards or more, you’d think that’s a good foundation to produce a 100-yard game. And yet, Givens did not have a single 100-yard game in this stretch. The most yards he had in any of those five games was 85, in a Week 6 loss at Miami. Givens had a 65-yard catch in that game, but only had two other receptions for a total of 20 yards.

Over that five-game stretch, Givens caught 11 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns. While five of those catches accounted for 274 yards, the other six receptions produced a paltry 50 yards.

Adding to the question over whether Givens is a budding big-play star or a flash in the pan: After that wacky five-game stretch, he fell off the map.

Givens had amassed 324 yards in that five-game run. After the bye week, he missed the next game with a toe injury, then started the last seven games of the season. But he only had 29 catches for 365 yards in those seven contests.

From Weeks 4-8, Givens averaged 29.5 yards per catch.

From Weeks 11-17, he averaged 12.6 yards per catch.

So which Chris Givens will we see in 2013?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Richard Sherman is an expert on ADHD (not)



It’s one thing to take a professional athlete’s quotes out of context. That’s unfortunate. It’s another thing to take what a professional athlete says about, oh, science, and assume without question said athlete knows what he’s talking about.

We are alluding to the curious case of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman – and it’s curious for many reasons.

It started last season when Sherman was suspended for allegedly taking Adderall – a drug used for ADD and ADHD patients that is banned by the NFL without a doctor’s prescription. Sherman’s suspension was overturned upon appeal. Sherman adamantly denies ever taking Adderall. And since he obviously doesn’t know why NFL players might use Adderall as a “performance enhancer,” I tend to believe him.

Sherman appeared on NFL Network’s “NFL AM” Thursday morning to explain that a Vancouver newspaper had taken his quotes out of context when he said “half the league” takes Adderall.

That’s fine. We get that he was exaggerating. Problem is, he went on to explain to “NFL AM” that the reason players take Adderall is because it helps them get ultra-focused, thus enhancing their performance. This is wrong on two levels.

For starters, people with ADD and ADHD do not take Adderall to get ultra-focused. For these patients, Adderall is not a “performance enhancer,” but rather a performance enabler. I know this because my 12-year-old son has a severe case of ADHD. He takes a different drug, but it’s in the same family as Adderall. It helps him stay focused enough to get by. It doesn’t give him an advantage over his peers. It merely gives him a chance.

But here’s the real issue: Adderall has a different effect on people who don’t have ADD or ADHD. Adderall is a stimulant. Instead of asking Richard Sherman about it, maybe ask a doctor… like the psychologist who’s been treating my son for years:

“When people without ADD or ADHD take these meds, they act as a stimulant, like speed.”

Speed. Yeah, that’s always been a popular performance-enhancing drug for professional athletes, right? That would make it easier to understand why many players might want to find a way to have Adderall prescribed.

There’s no simple medical test for ADD and ADHD, so it’s conceivable an athlete can talk his way into an Adderall prescription. The resulting perception is not that it’s a growing epidemic; the perception is that many ADD and ADHD patients don’t really need medicine but use it to get an edge. That’s a terribly unfair depiction for someone like my son, who would not be able to keep up in middle school without the drug, let alone play organized sports at any serious level.

But go ahead, sports media, let the athletes have their say and take what is said as gospel. That’s good for business.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rutgers' most famous alum chimes in





What would the school’s most famous alum say about the current Rutgers scandal?

“Oh, Rutgers, you’ve done it again!”

Okay, well that’s a reference to Rutgers’ most famous fictional alum – Mr. Magoo.

You remember, Magoo, right? One of the early stars of animation. One of Magoo’s traits was that he was blind as a bat, even with those giant spectacles. Had he been shown the videotape of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice physically and verbally abusing his players, Magoo probably would have reacted the same way school president Robert Barchi did – ignorantly.

Another black eye for college athletics. More importantly, though, any big news about Rutgers is an opportunity for me to fondly recall my experience with the Rutgers/Mr. Magoo connection:

Back in the summer of 1985, I was an intern at SPORT Magazine (like Magoo, a classic that’s no longer around). Working in the research department, I was enlisted to help writer David Whitford with a story he was doing on the seemingly perennial woes of Rutgers athletics. Whitford wanted to reference Magoo, who was often pictured in the cartoons sitting alone in the bleachers, waving a pennant and chanting “Rah, rah, rah for Rutgers!”

My mission: Find out why Mr. Magoo was a Rutgers fan.

Funny thing is, this was long before the internet made such research easier – yet the information I got cannot be found in a cursory web search today.

I started making calls to anyone associated with United Pictures of America, the company that produced and distributed Magoo. It was going nowhere. Then, out of the blue, I found myself talking to a man named Millard Kaufman – the creator of Mr. Magoo. Paydirt!

Why is Mr. Magoo a Rutgers’ fan? I asked. “Because he’s an alum, of course,” was the reply. Which led to my next question: Why did he go to Rutgers?

Kaufman explained that it made sense that a lovable loser like Magoo would be from New Jersey, and he would surely stay close to home for college.

“And,” Kaufman explained matter-of-factly, “Magoo wasn’t smart enough to go to Princeton.”