Szwaja's Sports Blog

Monday, September 14, 2009

There's a scene I'm sure you've seen in more movies and TV shows than you can count. The main character in the scene finds himself in a strange place where things are obviously different than anything he's ever experienced. Other characters in the scene stare with confused eyes. Then, inevitably, someone will say to him, "You're not from around here, are you?"

In this scene, that question is warranted because the main character is engaging in some type of activity that is so strange that it makes it blatantly foreign to his current surroundings. Maybe he's hitting on the town bully's girlfriend or maybe he's driving his Maserati through a shady part of town. The function of said scene is to undoubtably convey to the viewer that the main character has some kind of trouble coming his way.

On Sunday night, the scene was Bears/Packers, opening night, Lambeau Field. Jay Cutler served as the main character, and by the time he made his way to the press room for his first post-game comments as a Chicago Bear, the first question asked probably should have been, "You're not from around here, are you?"

Welcome, Mr. Cutler, to Chicago, where you'll find your top four receivers:

-A guy who was drafted as a cornerback (Devin Hester)
-A guy who didn't catch one pass as a rookie (Earl Bennett)
-A guy who had his best seasons in the Arena League (Rashied Davis)
-A rookie who was drafted in the fifth round out of Abilene Christian (Johnny Knox)

Hell, why stop there? Why not break down the other two receivers on the roster?

-A guy who shouldn't have even made the team but did so only because Jerry Angelo decided he was worth a third round pick in the 2009 draft (Juaquin Iglesias)
-A guy who finds himself on his fifth team in his fourth season and was originally a seventh round pick of the Miami Dolphins (Devin Aromashodu)

If you can find a more putrid group of receivers on a team since the AFL/NFL merger, enlighten me. I haven't done the research, but I can't imagine a worse group.

But that's what we've come to expect out of Jerry Angelo, who once took a receiver in the second round who had, count them, 19 catches in his college career. His name was Mark Bradley, and he'll soon be selling insurance in Norman, Oklahoma.

I digress.

Cutler was terrible in his first game as a Bear on Sunday, but only because he hasn't learned how to play in a lackluster offense surrounded by inexperienced, overrated, overwhelmed teammates.

Let me help you out, Jay. Here are some basic rules:

1. When you role out of the pocket, which had just collapsed, because your aging, mediocre offensive line just got worked, you have three options:
1. Throw the ball in the second row of the stands, which Bears quarterbacks of the past had perfected long before you came along.
2. Run for 3-5 yards and slide to safety.
3. Dump the ball to the up-back, far short of the first down marker.

2. On the aforementioned role-outs, do not attempt to throw the ball down field, because your receivers have no idea what to do when the play breaks down. The speed of the game is too much for them to handle, and their improvisation skills have developed about as quickly as their route-running skills have developed (which is not good).

3. You're better off dumping the ball off to Matt Forte four yards down field than rolling out and actually trying to make something big happen. This was Kyle Orton's go-to play in this offense, and you can almost guarantee yourself an at least manageable third down rather than the third and longs that will inevitably present themselves if you decide not to go with this option. And don't forget that Forte has some skills, so he will make these four yard dumps into 12-15 yard gains periodically.

Follow those simple rules, and you'll find that your defense will keep you in most of your games, and you'll actually end up 8-8 or 9-7 and threatening for a playoff spot. But when you pull that stuff you tried on Sunday night, you'll find that the talent around you hasn't been a part a refined offense like you had under Mike Shanahan in Denver.

Cutler will learn to dumb-down his game because he has no other option, not until someone, and it won't be Angelo because he's just not a capable offensive evaluator, revamps the offense and puts some able-bodied talent around him. Instead of fat, aging offensive linemen with chronic injury problems, Cutler will need quick, athletic guys capable of executing the complex zone blocking schemes that dominate today's NFL. And where that someone finds receivers worthy of playing along side Cutler's skill set nobody knows, but it must happen if Bears fans want to see Cutler's full potential on display.

The bottom line is that Cutler needs to keep it simple to be successful, even if it means sacrificing a little bit of the bravado he showcased as a Bronco. Can the Bears win the NFC North that way? Not a chance, bravado is what wins championships, but it might just give the receivers time to actually develop their skills in the mean time. Cutler's only 26. It's not like his window is closing. History will tell us it's just opening.

Angelo's window, on the other hand, is getting smaller and smaller, and without a first round pick in 2010, improving this offense next year will be a challenge.

As Bears fans, we're the characters in the movies who "are from around here." We've become totally accustomed to boring normalcy, and despite a new main character, we're left with no choice but to sit back and expect more of the same.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last week the NCAA announced it was vacating the 38 wins the Memphis basketball team gathered in their 2008 Final Four season because one of their players had presumably cheated on his ACT test by having someone else take it to qualify for college. That player was presumably star point guard Derrick Rose. Hard evidence of this incident had only hit newspapers, Web sites and airwaves only a couple months before this decision was handed down.

Meanwhile, 2000 miles away, life is good on the University of Southern California campus, despite a flurry of wrongdoing in their athletic department. We'll examine that later, but before I go on, let me get something out of the way. I'm not siding with Memphis or any of the other schools I'll mention here. What they got was probably what they deserved, which is so far from the truth at USC it's reached a level of hilarious hypocrisy.

"The hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. " -Hannah Arendt, politcal theorist

I did a google search for quotes on hypocrisy, and I liked that one the best, despite the fact that I had not heard of Arendt prior to the google search. It sums up the actions of the NCAA, almost perfectly.

See, the NCAA promises to maintain this "integrity" of amateur sports, keeping its athletes free of major benefits outside the realm of education. Yet, they repeatedly turn their heads on the big boys like USC and Ohio State and drop the proverbial hammer on the little guys.

Just two weeks ago the NCAA came down hard on South East Missouri State, mainly because one of their basketball coaches had been driving one of the players to and from a house where said player's girlfriend was living with their child about 170 miles from the campus. There was also a minor incident reported to the NCAA by SEMS where someone associated with the program had paid off a student's institutional fee balance of $239. You can read about it here.

In April of 2007 the NCAA placed Louisiana Lafayette basketball on two years probation for using a player who had been using 15 hours of credits that were not eligible to count against his GPA. Their football program also went on probation because two of their summer workouts went "beyond NCAA limits." You can read about it here.

In the case of Memphis, the NCAA wasted no time handing down their ruling. It was almost as if they couldn't wait to flex their muscles on a "big school." Why? Because they weren't worried about losing the almighty dollar if they brought sanctions on Memphis, most likely because Memphis basketball isn't going to make them any big money in the near future. Memphis basketball, with the departure of John Calipari, isn't going back to the Final Four any time soon. You can read about the Memphis situation here.

Enjoy those articles for all they're worth, but what you should really take the time to read if you're as peeved as I am about the constant little-guy nitpicking of the NCAA, is Don Yaeger's "Tarnished Heisman...," which details the ludicrous benefits Reggie Bush received from prospective agents during his Heisman season at USC in 2005. You can order your copy here. Yager's main argument is that Bush should have his Heisman Trophy revoked based on the following quote, which appears on the Heisman Trophy ballot:

"In order that there will be no misunderstanding
regarding the eligibility of a candidate,
the recipient of the award must be a bona fide
student of an accredited university.
The recipient must be in compliance with the
bylaws defining an NCAA student."

The main NCAA law in question in Bush's case is the "lack of institutional control" that continues to take place at USC. While the book details no illegal benefits presented by the university directly to Bush, it goes into great detail about the benefits Bush received from potential pro agents. These benefits included hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a Beverly Hills mansion for his parents and VIP tickets to Hollywood's hottest parties. Yaeger correctly points out that if anyone in the USC athletic department knew of any of these benefits and did nothing to stop any of it, they committed a serious NCAA offense.

The evidence of this is clear as day, when Yaeger details an evening when Bush attended one of the aforementioned Hollywood parties in a stretch limo with USC running backs coach Todd McNair. Neither Bush, nor McNair paid a cent for the VIP tickets, limo or anything else that night. How does a poor college kid from small town Louisiana like Bush afford that kind of evening? Easy, a business-hungry agent with dollar signs in his pupils pays for it all. Never did McNair report any suspicions from that evening to the USC compliance department. And when Pete Carroll received anonymous emails detailing Bush's parents' upscale living situation, he simply ignored them. That's lack of institutional control, plain and simple.

The basketball team is just as guilty. You can read about the benefits star player OJ Mayo received, directly from the coaches, here.

Four years later, what have we heard from the NCAA concerning USC?


And we'll never hear anything. Carroll will continue to lead the biggest program in college football wearing that big ole' smile of his, because both him, you and I know that they won't dare touch USC. Why? Two reasons....

1) It looks bad to bring down your biggest asset. Case in point, look what baseball and Barry Bonds have gone through over the last few years.

2) USC injects money into college football, and even though the NCAA has no say over the bowl games, the NCAA would hate to jeopardize the monetary gain the PAC 10 gets from those bowl games.

The precedent is there. Seven years ago, when Ohio State was on top of the NCAA football mountain, Maurice Clarett was stealing stereo equipment, being paid by boosters, cheating in class and getting irregular benefits in the classroom. Yet Ohio State never even received a slap on the wrist from the NCAA, despite claims from former Ohio State players, as high profile as Robert Smith, that that stuff happened when they were in school there. Read about it here.

So, the NCAA will continue to punish small, insignificant schools for things like uniting parents so they can spend some time together with their only child, but they'll look the other way when bigtime schools continually allow their student-athletes to tiptoe the fine line between amateur and pro athlete status, which is what they continually promise to police.

Even our politicians seem to miss the point. The House recently requested a hearing to discuss the possibility of a NCAA football playoff. Seriously, read about it here. One guy even compares it to Communism. That's another problem for another time, but it's hardly the biggest issue in college football.

As long as the NCAA continues its hypocritical ways, the big schools like Ohio State and USC will continue to get off easy, and thus begins the slippery slope. Where will end? Only time will tell, but if recent incidents are any indication, not any time soon.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In May, White Sox fans were treated to a brutal 36-hour waiting period as Jake Peavy decided whether to waive a no trade clause that would have finalized a deal between the White Sox and the Padres. We heard all the excuses. He wanted to stay in the National League. He wanted to stay close to his family on the West Coast. He didn't want to pitch at US Cellular Launching Pa... ahh, sorry, Field. It all led to one decision: Peavy was staying in San Diego.

Kenny Williams, White Sox GM, became an ESPN whipping boy. The PTI guys said Williams made a fool out of himself and his baseball team. Karl Ravich asked the Baseball Tonight crew if Williams should be embarrassed. Even if the answer to that question was "Yes" at the time, Williams is the one man in baseball who doesn't care what people say about him. As one anonymous MLB exec told Fox Sports analyst Ken Rosenthal Friday, Williams has the "biggest balls in baseball."

Back in May, after Peavy declined the trade, if you had prudent knowledge of the way Williams does business, you knew he would get his way in the end. The second the Padres agreed to the deal in May, Peavy was headed to the Sox. It just became a matter of when it would actually happen. (We learned on Friday that Williams has been trying to make this happen since the 2008 trade deadline.) He's the best GM in Chicago. He's far from the new skool GMs, who are taking over baseball. He could care less about sabremetrics. He wants to win, nothing else. Brad Pitt is slotted to portray Billy Beane in an upcoming movie about how Beane "revolutionized" the GM position in baseball. Who cares? When they start gathering props for the film, "replica World Series trophy" won't be on the list.

Could Williams have paid less for Jarrod Washburn? No doubt. Adam Russell and Dexter Carter alone probably could have gotten him Wasburn, but Williams thinks big. Washburn will help the Tigers immensely in their pursuit of the playoffs, but he will inevitably end up with the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Angels this off season when he becomes a free agent. Think the Tigers are going to have the money to resign him at season's end? There were whispers this spring they were trying to unload Miguel Cabrera because they're worried about his price tag in the one American city that's been hit hardest by the declining economy.

Meanwhile, on Chicago's South Side, Williams has built the best starting rotation in the AL Central for the foreseeable future: Buehrle, Peavy, Danks, Floyd. (Note: Peavy is signed through 2012.) Doesn't matter who ends up as number five. Who can compete with that in the American League, let alone the AL Central? Nobody can, one through four. It's exactly what you want in a rotation. Crafty, slow-throwing lefty? Buehrle, check. Power righty with five great pitches? Peavy, check. Lefty with ideal fastball/change-up/curve combo? Danks, check. Best right-handed curveball in the American League, combined with 94-mph heat? Floyd, check. It's almost too good to be true on paper.

And some will tell you it might be. They'll say that Peavy's injury might prevent him from ever being the Cy Young pitcher he once was. All I can say to that is that it's hard to imagine an ankle injury ending a 28-year-old pitcher's career as we once knew it.

They'll say Peavy simply won't be the same away from Petco Park, especially in hitter-friendly US Cellular Field. Peavy's career road ERA is 3.84, hardly as bad as the experts make it sound when they caution optimistic White Sox fans about his struggles away from Petco. Over his last two seasons, Peavy has averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. I understand he faces one less quality batter per nine innings in the National League, but if he's striking out three innings worth of outs, how much should we worry about the stadium where he's pitching?

And there's one thing I've heard nobody mention in their analysis of Peavy's future US Cellular Field endeavors. He'll get more run support. His team goes to bat at US Cellular too. You've got to like the idea of a healthy Carlos Quentin and rising star Gordon Beckham as the emerging one-two punch. And you'll still have veterans like Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye as an above-average supporting cast. And with guys like Alexei Ramirez, AJ Pierzynski and young, hard-hitting Tyler Flowers waiting in the wings, this shouldn't be a team that struggles to score runs, like, say, the Padres of recent years.

Are there holes? Always. Who will be the lead-off man? College World Series MVP Jared Mitchell looks like the stud-in-waiting to fill that spot, but when will he be ready? Probably not until 2011. Williams usually finds a way, even if it's by dumb luck (see the Scott Podsednik aberration of 2009). Who will be the DH after Jim Thome departs this fall? Flowers seems to be the choice, but White Sox fans should be ready at the bit when free agency opens this winter and Williams has some money to play with for the first time in recent years - Thome's $16-million-plus salary comes off the books at season's end.

What about the guys Williams mortgaged for the future? All I can say is, what about them? Some had deemed left-handed-pitcher Aaron Poreda as an untouchable pitching prospect. Poreda was all hype. White Sox fans consistently heard about his 97-mph fastball, and that was about it. Turns out it was more like 93 or 94, which is still good but much closer to normal, not to mention Poreda still doesn't have a Major League number two pitch. One trick ponies never make it to the center ring.

Clayton Richard may very well end up being the biggest loss in this trade, but Williams was done dealing with the inconsistency. He wants to win now. No time to wait around for Richard to figure it out. Let him do it in the National League.

Adam Russell got rocked every time the White Sox called him up and placed him in the bullpen. Enough said.

And I know very little about Dexter Carter, except for the fact that he played A-ball for nearly two seasons and never once got promoted to AA. Take that for what it's worth.

The bottom line is that Kenny Williams knows pitching wins championships, and, barring major injury, he's got a starting rotation that will be the envy of every other GM come next spring. And who knows? The bonus in the deal might be the little extra boost the White Sox need this season. The handful of starts Williams hopes Peavy can offer him this season might just end up being the extra one or two games the White Sox need to win their division. And all you need to go far in the postseason is a hot pitching staff.

I'm not saying this deal guarantees the White Sox a trip back to the World Series some time in the next four seasons, but it puts them in a much better position to do so, and that's all White Sox fans can ask for.

Call me greedy, whatever you'd like, but now that Jake Peavy is finally a member of the Chicago White Sox, I can't help but think about what Williams is planning next.

If Friday was any indication, I can't wait to find out...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A weird thing happened today that I'll never forget. My boss brought in his new MacBook Pro laptop, set it up in his office and gave me a few tasks to work on for the second half of my work day. As I began my work, I glanced across the room and saw the TV sitting there, and because its the only room in the office that's rarely occupied by patients, it sat there powered off, as if it was begging me to reach for the remote and bring it to life. I looked at my watch: 1:07 pm.

Thursday. Getaway day, which means the White Sox were playing a rare day game on Chicago's South Side. "Why not?" I thought to myself, so I reached for the remote, tuned the Polaroid 26-inch screen to channel 37, otherwise known as Comcast Sports Net. As the White Sox/Rays game began, and I continued on my day's work, a few thoughts crossed my mind as I pondered what this game might mean for my beloved White Sox...

-A win today coupled with a Tigers' loss would mean a virtual tie for first with Detroit's Tigers for first place in the American League Central entering a four-game series with the Tigers this weekend.

-Ozzie seemed to be playing some of his backups. Okay, I could understand that for a couple reasons. 1) Double-header tomorrow with the Tigers. Rest some of your regulars up for a big day tomorrow. 2) Mark Buehrle, the ace in the hole, was on the mound, so Ozzie's probably expecting a good performance from his pitcher. They probably don't need a ton of runs to win this game.

-But the White Sox get on the board early with a Josh Fields Grand Slam in the second inning. So much for not needing a ton of runs, but little did I, or anyone else, know that one was all the White Sox and their "perfect" pitcher Buehrle would need.

Buehrle was spot on all day, fooling one of the best offenses in the American League with pitches that moved more than Shakira's hips. Batter after batter made their way out of the batter's box back to the dugout shaking his head in disbelief at the fact that nobody seemed to figure out a pitcher whose fastball rarely clocks in more than 91 mph.

Next thing I know, Buehrle's nine outs away from pitching the 18th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. "Impossible," is my only thought. I would later hear a stat that would nearly back up my thought. That stat: More than 180,000 games have been played in MLB history, which means there have been about 360,000 chances for a starting pitcher to toss a perfect game. Before July 23, 2009, that had only happened 17 times in those 360,000 chances.

Eight innings down. It was really starting to look like this might be happening, but Gabe Kapler, in a moment filled with uber sports fan letdown, cracked the third pitch he saw to lead off the ninth inning deep to left-center, and the hopes of baseball fans everywhere were dashed ... or so it seemed. Dwayne Wise, a lifetime AAA journeyman, who had the spring of all springs just to make this team, was inserted into the lineup by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen as a defensive sub prior to the top of the ninth in center field.

Wise, who always plays a shallow center because he uses his God-given speed to track down balls that travel over his head, was playing shallower than normal on this day just to make sure no ball off a Rays batter's bat got down between him and the infielders. Because of his positioning, it appeared there was no way he would get to Kapler's blast, partly because it appeared to have eyes for the outfield seats. Kapler had just hit a home run to break up Buehrle's quest at perfection.

Someday, somewhere, someone will hit a solo home run in the ninth inning to break up a perfect game, but as Viggo Mortensen famously said in The Return of the King, "It is not this day!" Wise ran a Ussain Bolt-like 40-yard dash to the wall in pursuit of Kapler's blast, lept up, glove extended high above the fence, and corralled the ball in his glove to rob Kapler of the home run. That, however, in this instance was not dramatic enough.

The force created by Wise's crash into the wall as he made the catch in the webbing of his glove jostled the ball out of that webbing and into thin air. But Wise was quick to improvise, using his free hand to palm the ball as he crashed to the warning track dirt. When the play was finally over and Wise had finally caught the ball, he raised it in the air like a child who had practiced that play up against the picket fence in his backyard thousands of times but never thought he'd actually get the chance to make it in an actual MLB stadium, let alone to keep a perfect game in tact. In a word it was ... well, pick any one of these....


If it had been a scene in a baseball movie, you would have laughed and said, "Ha, like that would really happen?" But happen it did, far away from Hollywood on Chicago's South Side, in a stadium that traditionally plays second-fiddle to baseball's shrine to the north. But today, for one day, this was Chicago's team. America's team, for there couldn't have been any baseball fans in America who weren't rooting for the White Sox ace to finish the job, aside from a few asinine fans on Chicago's north side and the few dozen Rays fans in central Florida. A Cub-fan colleague of mine walked into the office, looked at me and said, "I can't believe I'm cheering for the Sox to actually win a game, but I have to."

Buehrle struck out the inning's second batter and got the third one in traditional Buehrle fashion - on a two-hop groundout to the shortstop. A perfect way to end a perfect game.

Perhaps this selfish of me, but I realized later in the day, right before I started crafting this blog, that one of the best things about Buehrle's perfect game was that for one day, the White Sox not only ruled Chicago, but they ruled baseball. It didn't matter that the Cubs had an off day. They could have beaten the Cardinals 20-2, and it still would have been seventh page news in this city. On any other day, the Red Sox trading Julio Lugo to the Cardinals for Chris Duncan would have been the lead story on Baseball Tonight, simply because they're the Red Sox. Following that story closely would have been CC Sabathia's early-inning struggles against the A's at Yankee Stadium, simply because they're the Yankees. But not today. Today, people cared about the White Sox, and call me selfish all you'd like, but it felt damn good.

I'll leave you with some of the truly awesome stats and tidbits related to Mark Buehrle's perfect game on July 23, 2009 against the Tampa Bay Rays:

-Hawk Harrelson said Wise's catch was the greatest play he'd ever seen considering the situation. I would have to agree.

-Buehrle became the only pitcher in MLB history to face the minimum 27 batters in two no-hitters. (Although his 2007 no-hitter against the Rangers was not a perfect game, he picked Sammy Sosa off first base after walking him in the sixth inning of that game. No other Ranger reached base in that game, which meant Buehrle faced the minimum 27 batters.)

-The majority of the Rays stayed out on the field applauding Buehrle's performance after the game. These players and coaches tipped their hats to Buehrle as he exited the field.

-The Rays' at-bats averaged 54 seconds, from first pitch of the sequence until the batter was called out, which is a little more than half the average amount of time at-bats usually take in the big leagues.

-The Rays ranked third in the American League in runs scored entering the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rays were the most prolific offensive team to ever have a perfect game thrown against them.

-Buehrle's post-game press conference was cut short because President Obama had just called to congratulate him.

-It was the first time Ramon Ortiz had ever caught Buehrle.

-In a pregame discussion with regular catcher AJ Pierzynski, Buehrle mentioned it was the first time he'd ever thrown to Ortiz. Pierzynski told him to go throw a no-hitter. Buerhle replied that he had already done that. Pierzynski replied by saying, "Then throw a perfect game."

-It was the first time White Sox color analyst Steve Stone, who has been playing in and calling MLB games almost nonstop since 1971, had ever been in a major league ballpark to witness a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game.

-Umpire Eric Cooper was behind the plate for Buehrle's perfect game. He was also behind the plate for Buehrle's no-hitter in 2007.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Well, here I am again. Every year about this time I realize how much I miss spilling my passionate sports guts out into this blog, and every year for the last couple years I manage to completely neglect it ... until NFL draft weekend of course. I've had several people tell me they've been waiting for me to post my annual Bears draft prognastication, so it must be fairly entertaining. All I can say about that is I'm glad there are other people out there who like the draft almost as much as I do.

Before I get into the juicy predictions let me remind you that my annual excitement for this event has been tempered this year by the big Jay Cutler trade, which leaves the Bears without a first round pick. In addition to that the NFL is starting the first round at 3 pm Central this year, which by my calculations means the Bears won't make their first pick (No. 49) until about 11:20 pm on Saturday. That's no joke.

Okay, here we go....

-2nd Round, No. 49 Overall-

Never has there been so much talk about a Bears 2nd Round draft pick, mostly because of the lack of a first round pick, but one thing is clear: Jerry Angelo and the Bears need help at the receiver position. They've done nothing in free agency to help their lack of receiving depth and skill, while they've done so at every other position of need. See Glen Earl and Josh Bullocks at Safety and Orlando Pace and Frank Omiyale on the offensive line. They still need help at safety (their safeties are bad), even after switching physical corner Zachary Bowman to safety in the off season, but Angelo has found starting safeties in this league in the later rounds: see Chris Harris and Kevin Payne. Besides, I'm excited to see how Bowman's size, ball-hawking abilities and speed will transfer over to the safety position. No need for a safety this high, especially when receiver is such a position of need.

Angelo hasn't been subtle in waxing praise on Georgia receiver Mohammed Massaquoi. The thought of another receiver named Mohamed in a Bears uniform makes me cringe, but Muhsin Massaquoi is not, mostly because he'll have something to prove after not being chosen in the first round. Two reasons Massaquoi won't be a first round pick: 1) He's had problems with drops and 2) The draft is receiver deep this year. Massaquoi, a four-year starter with good size (6'2", 215 lbs), simply would be a first round pick in most drafts, but there are just too many first round talents at the position this year. The Bears worked out Massaquoi on more than one occasion, and Angelo seems to love the guy, so you have to think he's the pick here.

Two things to consider: 1) What if he's gone? 2) What if Percy Harvin is there? Harvin didn't help his cause by appearing on the NFL Combine failed drug test list by testing positive for marijuana. All things considered, Harvin will probably fall out of the top 15, but will he fall all the way to 49? Probably not, but if he does, Angelo can't pass on a play-maker like Harvin at that position in the draft, even if he's similar to Devin Hester as a player.

If Massaquoi's gone, Brian Robiskie (WR) out of Ohio State will most likely be there, and Angelo would probably look his way, considering there were early reports before the Cutler trade went down that Angelo was looking to move up in the draft to get him. Robiskie isn't a flashy athlete, but he catches everything, has good size, has a great attitude and has a father who's a receivers coach in Atlanta. He's one of those guys who doesn't look the part but will get it done, a la guys like Marques Colston and, let me go a little old school on you, Ricky Proehl.

Other possibilities:

Should they chose to go with a safety, look to Sherrod Martin of Troy. He's a first round athlete but doesn't posses first round size (5'9'' 193 lbs). Picture a slightly smaller Bob Sanders. But, again, Angelo loves the guy, can't stop talking about how much he loves the guy. Makes sense considering his adoration of small school DBs (Harris, Payne, Charles Tillman, Danieal Manning, Corey Graham).

The ultimate dark horse here is Oklahoma guard Phil Loadholt. The Bears have worked him out extensively, and they could use one more guard on the roster to back up Roberto Garza and his veteran legs. And he won't last past the second round, especially to the Bears at No. 99. Which brings me to my crazy theory this year (I always have one):

It's not like Angelo to be so candid about his potential draft picks, so why has he not held back in his praise of Massaquoi and Martin? Here's something to ponder: He's trading out of No. 49. Angelo values draft picks like Tony Romo values blondes. I know he wants more action, and maybe he knows something we don't. Maybe there are other teams salivating at the mouth for these guys. The Cowboys (No. 51), for instance, have showed as much interest in Massaquoi as the Bears have. If Angelo has a good chance to pick up more picks later by moving from 49 to 51, he'll strongly consider it. Then he can take Loadholt and take the receiver with the extra pick he gets later. Or he can go for one of the other second round receivers: Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias or North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, who's been sliding since he put on about 20 lbs. since the end of the college season. Keep an eye on safeties Rashad Johnson (Alabama), Michael Hamlin (Clemson) and Brandon Underwood (Cincinnati).

All that said .... whew .... I'm going Massaquoi here.

-3rd Round, 99th Overall-

I'll be a little less detailed from here on out. Sorry I got so carried away. I just love thinking about the scenarios.

Angelo needs help at defensive end, and perhaps the most interesting mid-round prospect in this draft is Lawrence Sidbury out of Richmond. At 6'3'' 270 lbs. he might be a little undersized, but he's a dominating player, even if it came against mediocre competition. He's one of those guys who might be a higher pick if he went to, say, Texas. Speaking of Texas, Brian Orakpo, who might be the first DE taken, is 6'3" 263 lbs., so how much undersized is Sidbury? But can Angelo justify spending another pick on an undersized DE after the Dan Bauzin experiment? In this case, probably because Sidbury would be good value here.

The Bears did not work out Sidbury privately, or at least I couldn't find any evidence of it in my research. Actually, the only three DEs I found that they did work out privately are late round to undrafted projected prospects. You only get 30 private workouts on your turf, so a lot of the workouts are late round guys they haven't gotten a good look at because these guys weren't at the college all star games or didn't have pro days, so it's really not that odd.

Because the draft is not deep at the safety position, Hamlin might still be available, and that would entice Angelo.

If Angelo doesn't go receiver in the second round, he has to take one eventually, and he likes third round receivers. Lawrence Murphy of Florida was overshadowed by Harvin but has NFL size and hands, not to mention track speed. Can you say 4.32 40 time? Don't forget Angelo loves Florida guys. Why is Murphy a third round guy? Again, depth in the draft this year. Any other year and he's a second round player. (Maybe a first round guy if he doesn't share the field with Harvin in college.) Perhaps Angelo targets Murphy if he gets an extra third round pick somewhere, or maybe he's there at 99 and Angelo pounces.

As for the pick, I'll go out on a limb and say Lawrence Sidbury. Wale Ogunleye isn't getting younger, and the Bears simply need more out of the position. Sidbury can be that guy to give them more.

-Round 4, 119 Overall-

What a weird choice for the Bears. I've scoured the draft rankings. There isn't a strong side linebacker, which the Bears have a need for, that fits here when looking at the rankings. The only guy I see who could really fit here is a safety (they really need help there people). I like David Bruton out of Notre Dame. He's got better than average size for a safety at 6'2'' 210. He's fast with 4.4 speed. Everything I've read about the guy says he'll be an immediate contributer on special teams, where the Bears did struggle last year. That's what you look for in the mid-rounds. He's my pick.

-Round 5, 140 Overall-

This is the pick the Bears received from Denver in the Cutler trade. Why not give Cutler another potential weapon here? With the Garrett Wolfe project just about expired, I think the Bears look to, yes, running back here. I've only found evidence of the Bears showing strong interest in one running back in this year's draft, James Davis out of Clemson. Davis was projected to be a second round pick in last year's draft had he come out after his junior year, but he returned for his senior season and struggled with a shoulder injury. Not your typical change of pace back because he can be a bit of a bruiser, but the Bears need another guy who can carry the load when Forte needs a spell. Get these numbers from Davis, a four year contributer in college: just under 4,000 yards rushing, 47 touchdowns . You're not going to find those numbers in the fifth round out of an SEC running back that often. Davis told numerous media outlets that he "kept on hearing from the Bears." Hmmm....He's my choice here.

-5th Round, 154 Overall-

Let's go with the guard here. I've found numerous reports that Angelo and the Bears are high on Rich Ohrnberger from Penn State. Sounds like he would fit right about here.

-6th Round, 190 Overall-

In an NFL that seems to be drifting away from traditional, stout, stand-up strong-side linebackers, mostly because of the 3-4 defense, guys like Deandre Levy from Wisconsin are somewhat lost in the shuffle. The Bears, however, play a more traditional front seven defense, so Levy makes sense. He did work out privately for the Bears recently. He's the pick.

-7th Round, 246 Overall-

Al Afalava, a strong safety out of Oregon State, worked out for the Bears and seems to be a Lovie Smith type of safety. He's big, strong and good in the box but gets lost sometimes in coverage. In the Tampa 2 defense, your safeties don't have to be great in coverage, they just have to be disciplined enough to know their zones well and stay there when they're needed. Again, he can turn into a nice special teams player. He's my pick.

-7th Round, 251 Overall-

I'm going strictly off the Bears' number one need in receiver and who they worked out at the position who might be available here. That leads me to one guy: Jason Chery out of Louisana-Lafayette. Chery runs his 40s in the low 4.3s and, suprisingly for a speedster, is known for his great hands. Again, here's another guy you wonder would be a higher pick if he played at a bigger program. I'm going with Chery as my pick here.

One thing to note, the Bears did work out QB Todd Boeckman, so don't be surprised if he joins the team as an undrafted free agent either Sunday night or Monday morning. He's got NFL size and mobility, but does he have the arm? I don't think so, but hopefully the Bears have the quarterback position locked up for a while.

Well, now that I bored you to death, I hope it was at least informative. The third round begins Sunday morning at 9 am. The fast pace of rounds 3-7 makes day two pretty fun. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Sometimes it takes only one word to describe the big picture. In this case, the big picture happens to be what it takes to be a successful professional athlete. I don't know what it's like to be a professional athlete, but I'd imagine it would be tough to make millions and stay motivated, especially when you find yourself locked into a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. In the end, it's the million dollar contracts that keep these guys motivated. I'd imagine if you sign that big contract, your motivated to get to the next big contract. It's all about the Benjamins, right?

Ultimately, motivation is what makes the NFL our best professional league here in this country. The lack of guaranteed contracts keeps NFL players motivated to take care of their bodies, continually sharpen their skills and stay out of trouble. Sure, the league has had its issues with players staying out of trouble, but what guys like Pacman Jones and Mike Vick don't seem to understand is that if they stay out of trouble, they'll make a lot more money. Ninety-five percent of the guys in the league stay out of trouble, because they're the smart ones. They're the ones who realize good behavior can lead to a life of luxury.

Which brings me to my favorite NFL team, the Chicago Bears and their enigmatic running back Cedric Benson. Call me crazy, but I think Benson might finally be starting to get it. It's just a theory, but since Benson's been in the league, motivation hasn't been on his mind. He got the big contract and the security that comes with being a young player with a big "up side."

When the Bears drafted Benson, for whatever reason, it started the Thomas Jones exodus. Why Jones and Benson couldn't have coexisted in the backfield was beyond me, but that's another issue for another time. So basically Angelo's message to Benson was this: "Hey, Ced, no worries, the job's yours."

And last season, Benson was handed the job, more importantly with nobody really challenging him for his job behind him. Adrian Peterson is special teams specialist who can run the ball here and there. And Garrett Wolfe? Was that some kind of third round pick joke? Angelo's message here: "No pressure, Ced. Go out there and do your thing."

And Benson looked like a player who didn't have to push himself to keep his job. The job was his, and he knew there was no one there behind him to take it from him, so he skated through the season and earned his multi-million dollar paycheck.

Then the 2008 NFL Draft happened.

In the second round, the Bears handed in their card with Matt Forte's name on it. The Bears didn't draft Forte to be on the special teams unit. And they didn't draft him with hopes he would be a good third down, change of pace back. They drafted him to push Benson.

Bears fans and the media alike immediately crowned Forte the starter of the near future, like by the end of the preseason near future. And they almost seemed surprised when Lovie Smith insisted Benson was his starter. But this is the best position for both Forte and Benson. The situation keeps Forte motivated to become the starter ... and eventually get that big contract, while it motivates Benson to keep his job ... and eventually get that second big contract.

Then the boating incident happened.

For the record, I'm taking Benson's side on this one. I'm buying Benson's side of the story, which means I believe Benson did very little, if anything, wrong. But, in the end, the incident opened Benson's eyes to what could happen if he really did screw up. Fans and media alike jumped on Benson, and many were ready to clean out his locker for him. Overreaction? Yes. A potential look into the future? For sure. If Benson takes anything away from the incident, he should realize one mistake can send him back to Midland, Texas where one day he'll be forced to sell his 27-foot boat to make ends meet.

In short, these two happenings have shown Benson his NFL career can end almost as quickly as it started. And it seems to have worked ... for now.

Benson showed up at voluntary workouts earlier this month 10 pounds lighter and boasting of a new, nutritional diet. He looked to have a spring in his step that football fans haven't seen since he graced the Longhorn helmet. And he said all the right things about the possibility of Forte pushing him as the starting running back.

"I would hope I'd have to do something to keep [my job]," Benson said. "Nobody wants to be given anything."

Later he told a group of reporters standing beside the practice field he hoped they had their cameras on him so everyone could see his seemingly new found speed, agility and quickness. The comment drew a laugh, but like an addict admitting he has a problem, Benson basically admitted he has been a soft, slow, slouch of an NFL running back. Maybe that's reading to much into it, but maybe not.

It seems like Benson has finally motivated himself to become a good NFL running back, because he knows if he fails to do so, all it will take is one word to describe his big picture.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Okay, so it's that weekend again, and I can't believe I haven't posted here in a year. Not since I went to bed last April like an anxious six-year-old on Christmas Eve have a posted a blog on here. Surprisingly, I've had requests to get this thing back rolling, so here I go.

I figured there was no better weekend than NFL Draft weekend (note the reference to the six-year-old above) to start back on the blog. Modesty aside, I've done pretty well with my draft predictions for my hometown Bears. I won't go down the laundry list of predicitons again, just scroll down and read if you wish. Before I get going though, I have to brag a little. The Bears did chose Greg Olsen last year, and I still contend they would have traded out of that spot had Olsen not been there. He was THE pick, the only guy they wanted at 31 last year. If you watched last year, you'll remember Olsen was in his green room hugging his family in a Bears hat before the Bears were even on the clock.

This year, the Bears will have four of the first 1o0 picks, so they should get four good players in this year's draft. They have 11 picks total, and I'll take a stab at predictions for all 11 picks. Here we go....

-14th pick in the first round, 14th overall-

If Jerry Angelo goes anywhere else but offensive tackle here, it might be the begining of the end for the Bears hot and cold General Manager. So, I've searched the Net for video on the three guys who may or may not be there at 14. The possibility all three might be there has increased over the last few days because Jonathan Stewart, RB from Oregon, and CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie from Tennessee St, have seemed to move into the top 10. Here are my thoughts...

Ryan Clady, LT Boise State

I know most teams have Clady as the third ranked OLineman behind Jake Long and Branden Albert, but I see Clady destined for a move inside to guard. Watch his film, and it's a all Clady beating up on little, undersized linemen. We'll see what happens when guys like Jarred Allen, KGB, etc. line up across from Clady. If it's a tackle the Bears want, then I'm not sure it's Clady they want.

Jeff Otah, LT Pitt

I'm confused. Like I said, I searched for all the video I could find on Otah, and there really isn't much out there. That scares me. Seriously, go watch the Scout video,-Stewart-move-up . There's more of him celebrating in the endzone than knocking DEs off their blocks.

Chris Williams, LT Vandy

This, my friends, is the pick for the Bears if he's there. I've read nuggets that suggest the Broncos really love Williams at #12, which is understandable if you watch the film at the link above. This is a guy who held his own in a power conference, the SEC. And you have to love that Vandy education. I've never met Williams, but you're not going to get a headcase here. He won't come to the stadium not knowing the plays (see Cade McNown). He won't cry on Saturday because so many people doubted him (see Cedric Benson). He won't go through agents like they're rolls of toilet paper and wear a jersey number that alludes to the number of lashes Jesus received before he was cruicified (see Curtis Enis). He won't complain about not getting enough attention even though he can't play a lick of football (see David Terrell). If Angelo gets this guy, he'll finally get that elusive first round offensive stud.

First round wild cards:

Rashard Mendenhall, RB Illinois. The homegrown talent will be tempting, but you can't have a running game without a offensive line.

Devin Thomas, WR Michigan State.

Malcom Kelly, WR, Oklahoma.

The Bears have held workouts with these guys this week, but this is Angelo's backup plan. He's generating interest incase the guy he wants at 14 isn't there. In that case, Angelo will pull the same old Jerry Angelo trick and move down and pick up an extra third or second round pick. If that guy, whoever he is (maybe Williams?), isn't there, look for Jerry Jones to call and dangle one or both of his first rounders.

-13th in the Second Round, 44 overall-

Kelly has been falling fast since his pro day workout, so he might actually be there at 44. I'm thinking the Bears want Joe Flacco to fall to them at 44, and that might happen, especially if the Ravens take Matt Ryan or find a way to get Chad Henne before that. Angelo isn't stupid, he knows his team needs more options at quarterback, and he knows he can't wait around to find a good one. And anyone who thinks Andre Woodson, the Kentucky QB, is a good option in the third or fourth round, consider this: 24 teams showed up to watch him work out at his pro day. The Bears weren't one of them. If they want to find a RB to beef up their depth at the position, Ray Rice is a hard-nosed guy who doesn't go down on first contact. 44 might be a little high for him, though. I'm intrigued by James Hardy, the 6'5'' WR from Indiana with 4.5 speed. Put him in the lineup with Brandon Llyod, Marty Booker and Olsen and that's four big targets for whoever the QB might be. Throw in Devin Hester as your speed burner, and that actually doesn't look too bad. Hardy is my pick here. There will be plenty of RB options later.

-7th pick in the third round, 70th overall-

Mark my words. Angelo will pick a Defensive Tackle with one of these first four picks, and I think one of the third round picks will be where Angelo makes his signature move. That said, we'll talk about the DT when pick 90 comes up. At this pick, back to offense for Angelo. If Jamaal Charles, the RB from Texas is still there, he's the pick. Angelo knows he needs more skill in the backfield and Charles has that skill, especially as a receiver out of the backfield. I don't think he'll be there, so I'm going to go with Matt Forte, RB from Tulane. Angelo and the rest of the Bears' personnel evaluators had a private workout with Forte in Batton Rouge a couple weeks ago, and the reports were they liked his combination of size and speed. And with that pick the Bears fill their three biggest needs on offense, aside from the QB. The only worry about this pick is that the strength of Forte's workouts might have moved him up into the second round.

-27th in the third round, 90 overall-

This is the DT pick. Red Bryant from Texas A&M. Lovie Smith needs to admit to himself the Bears need a guy who can stay at home and stuff the run. That's Bryant for you. He's a little bigger and a little slower than the Lovie Smith DT prototype, but Bryant is a run stopper, which the Bears really need. Bryant got into it during Senior Bowl practice with Chris Williams. Wouldn't that be something? Having them line up at rookie camp next weekend across from one another? Nastiness isn't a bad thing. That Bears line needed a little last season.

Other third round possibilities:

Chilo Rachal OG, Jacksonville - Probably the best available guard in the third round
John Greco OT, Toledo - Tackle who went up against small competition, which hurt his stock
Kirk Barton OT, Ohio State - A project. Slow footwork. But a big body.
DaJuan Morgan S, NC State - A true run-stopping safety, which the Bears need. Ball skills need work.
Quinton Demps, S, UTEP - Hard hitting safety with ball hawk skills, versatile: can play CB too
Tom Zibikowski S, Notre Dame - The Bears worked him out privately. Strong. Big. Not a Cover 2 corner though
NOTE: Despite what us Bears fans might think, they NEED help at safety. They are calling this the worst safety draft since the merger, so there are few to be had.

-11th pick in the fourth round, 110 overall-

This is where it gets a little more shady. Hopefully by this point the Bears will have addressed all their needs. For this reason, it's tougher to predict. I'll give it a shot anyway. Nobody's reading, I know, but this is fun.

If they don't get Falcco in the second round, this might be where Angelo snatches his quarterback. The guy that might be there at 110 is San Diego State QB Kevin O'Connell. He's got the kind of frame you look for in a quarterback: 6'4" 225 pounds. And he runs a 4.6, which is damn good. Usually, I'm not huge on 40 times, but it's nice to know O'Connell won't just pack it in and give up in the pocket. He's got that speed and quickness in his back pocket if he needs it. The only thing about drafting a QB in the middle rounds is that teams usually like to use a luxury pick they've obtained via a trade. Otherwise, these picks are way too valuable. Take O'Connell and he probably does nothing for you next year. Other guys can be more valuable. Even though Peanut Tillman and Nate Vasher are engrained as the starting corners, and 07 seventh round pick Trumane McBride showed he belongs on an NFL field, I think Angelo will take a corner somewhere along the way. He loves small school corners with huge upsides. The guy who fits the bill here? Kent State corner Jack Williams, who hoped his 40 time at the combine would help him move up everyone's board, but he didn't perform well. Still, he's got good ball skills despite his lack of size. Two bigger corners with better NFL bodies from BCS schools will be there in the fourth round for the taking. Patrick Lee of Auburn, who had a terrible week at the Senior Bowl, which probably dropped him out of the third round. Central Florida corner Trae Williams would be a 2nd or 3rd round guy if he was only an inch taller. He's a ball hawk who proved his coverage skills at the East West shrine game. Small but stout, he could be a special teams guy as well. Then there are the LBs, who Angelo also loves and has a knack for picking. Keep an eye on Jonathan Goff, LB from Vandy. He impressed the hell out of the scouts at the combine, finishing in the top five of the important LB categories: the 40 and the bench press. Goff is my prediction. If he's there, it's too much talent for Angelo to pass up. Goff is a Lovie Smith linebacker: quick, strong, pensive. Sure, the linebacker depth is okay with Jamar Williams and Michael Okwo returning from injury. But I think Angelo make Goff his most recent mid round linebacker pick. Plus, a guy like Goff would look good on a somewhat dessimated special teams unit that will be without Pro Bowler Brenden Ayanbadeyjo next year, who has moved onto Baltimore. If it's not Goff, it's O'Connell.

-8th in the Fifth round, 192 Overall-

I'm telling you people, Jerry Angelo loves small school defensive backs, and Corey Lynch from Appalachian State fits the bill here. Lynch, who was snubbed with no invite to the combine (he ran the short shuttle faster at his pro day than any other safety at the combine), is the NCAA all time leader in pass breakups. That alone should tell you he's ready for the Cover 2. He's got the size to play in the NFL and has an average 40 time of 4.52. And he's got a knack for causing fumbles, which Lovie Smith drools over. Again, this is a guy who could be groomed as a special teamer then eventually work his way into the rotation. Lynch is my pick here, but I'll give you some other possibilities. Thomas Brown, RB from Georgia. Breno Giacomini, T from Louisville. Drew Radovich is the other real possibility here for me. He played guard on touted USC offensive line but nevery really received the props he deserved for his solid play. The Bears need help on that line, and Radovich can probably become a starter at some point. That said, I still think the Bears safety situation is overlooked. They need more talented safeties, and Lynch is the kind of wild card pick that makes sense here, because like I said, worst case, he's a special teams contributor.

-9th in the Sixth Round, 175th Overall-

The predictions get even tougher here because the draft turns more into a roll of the dice situation more than anything. These are guys who teams like but may or may not make rosters. Good teams will find guys who make that final roster here. And Angelo has been pretty good at that, aside from the JD Runnels pick in the 06 sixth round. What the hell was that? Keenan Burton, WR from Kentucky has good value here. He almost came out after a stellar JR season, but decided to return. Nagging knee and ankle injuries during his SR season will move him to the later rounds. But, again, the Bears didn't see him at his pro day because he worked out the same day as his QB, the aforementioned Andre Woodson. That QB could be out there in the sixth round. Colt Brennan, the Hawaii gunslinger will most likely go in the sixth round, as should Erik Ainge from Tennessee. Brennan will be an interception machine in the NFL. And Ainge, who has a great NFL QB frame, his biggest concerns should be presence in and NFL pocket and keeping himself healthy. A broken pinkey limited him as a senior, and he's already had his knee scoped once. Ainge might be worth the gamble in the sixth round. Cory Boyd, the RB from S. Carolina with size and speed would be a steal here, but I say he's gone. In the end, when all else fails, bank on Angelo going on the defensive line. That's why I'm taking a shot in the dark at Lionel Dotson, DT from Arizona. The undersized, quick, strong, defensive tackle would probably be a middle round guy if he played for ... say USC or Oregon. Plus, he fits the quick, strong Lovie Smith DT bill.

-The Bears have four picks in the seventh round: 222, 243, 247 and 248-

I can't analyze these picks that much, mostly because odds are these guys will be practice squad guys, but you never know, which is why with one of these picks, if the Bears still haven't taken a QB up to this point, Dennis Dixon, the flashy QB from Oregon makes you wonder, "Why not?" Sure, the ACL rehab is a concern, but who cares when it's one of your three seventh round picks, right? Dixon has size, agility and experience. And if he doesn't tear his ACL, he's probably a late-third, early-fourth round pick. Taking a chance is what it's all about in the seventh round, and why not take one in Kregg Lumpkin, RB from Georgia. Again, here's a guy who is supposed to have a huge season, is a truck of a 'back, yet is bugged by injuries all season. Call me a homer, but you have to take another chance on linebacker J Leman of Illinois. I guarantee this guy will be a special teams contributor somewhere in this league. And who knows what he can do as a linebacker? Ankle surgery basically ruined his NFL Draft showcase season. He'll work his ass off no matter what his role may be, which is what you want with a 7th round guy. I did say earlier I think Angelo will take a corner. That guy might be Marcus Walker from Oklahoma. The Bears seem to love the Oklahoma guys, and Walker falls this far because of his poor hands, but he's physical. Again, another special teams option perhaps. Pierre Garcon, a D III guy with blazing speed is a guy nobody really knows anything about, so there's another gamble that might have its rewards. Call me crazy, but seventh round picks are guys who you take chances on. These should be guys you take who you know will work hard but you may not know what they'll give you physically. That said, I'll go with Lumpkin, Leman, Walker and Garcon as my seventh round predictions. Enjoy, everyone. And if you've made it this far into this blog, I appreciate your time and love of the NFL Draft. Now get busy doing nothing watching it all unfold.