Monday, April 30, 2007

Kreskin, I am not

I'm just going to stop trying to predict what professional football teams will do past the first 40 picks or so. It is clear that I am no good at predicting how college talent will translate to NFL talent. Or rather, I am not good at predicting how NFL teams will predict how college talent will translate to NFL talent.

I'm thinking of several players here:

Jessie Daniels, SS, LSU
Rory Johnson, LB, Ole Miss
Earl Everette, LB, Florida
Brandon Siler, LB, Florida

At LSU, Laron Landry and Jessie Daniels made up arguably the best safety duo in the country. Landry was a 4 year starter; Daniels was a 3 year starter. One publication said of them at the start of the season, "They're NFL safeties spending time in college." Landry was drafted #6 overall. Daniels wasn't drafted. Most expected he'd be a late round pick.

There was a similar story at Ole Miss. Patrick Willis and Rory Johnson made up arguably the best linebacker duo in the SEC. Together they made just about every tackle. Willis was drafted #11 overall. Rory Johnson was not drafted at all, despite the fact that I have seen mock drafts that had him going in the second round.

Earl Everett and Brandon Siler made up arguably the second best linebacker duo in the SEC last year, and together they led Florida's defensive front seven to the national title. Siler was one of the last picks of the draft, and Everett remained undrafted. I had seen mock drafts with both players going in the first day.

In the SEC, Florida led the way with nine players drafted, but three were picked in the final round, including Deshawn Wynn, who many predicted would be drafted around the 4th round. Dallas Baker was also a last-round pick, and I always thought he was just about as good of a wide receiver as Bowe, Meachem, and Sidney Rice, who went in the first and second rounds.

As for the Saints, most of the people they drafted after Meachem were guys I'd never heard of, with the exception of cousin Antonio from Ohio State in the 4th round. This was also the Saints most notable pick outside of the first round. I would never have predicted the Saints would draft a running back, let alone trade up to draft a running back.

I have to wonder what this signals about Deuce McAllister. Does this mean they've decided they have too much money tied up in running backs and will let McAllister walk after this year, and are preparing for it by grooming Antonio? If so, that runs the risk of angering McAllister, and we'd have a star player sulking for a season.

The Saints drafted a lot of small school type players. We got two MAC players on the first day and two Division II players on the second day. I have no problem with this strategy at all, though a lot of others do not like it. Yes, there are questions about the level of competition these guys have faced, but frankly everyone has to step up several levels from college to pro, and there are lots of guys in the NFL from smaller schools.

It comes down to one simple question, and that question cannot be answered not. Are these guys good NFL players? If so, it does not matter where they went to college, and it matters little who you passed up to get them.

The Saints probably want to pick up another linebacker, a defensive tackle, a tight end, and a quarterback on the free agent market. May I suggest Earl Everett or Rory Johnson as linebackers? Tyler Palko, Jared Zabranski, or Chris Leak as quarterbacks? I have no suggestions for DTs or TEs.

Oh, and finally, congratulations to cousin Chase for getting drafted by the Cleveland Browns. He can relive the old times by chasing Brady Quinn around at practice.

Update: we did indeed sign Palko.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Stats and Tools and JaMarcus Russell

With Pittman getting ready to take a rest, I think I should get more involved with this blog again. I just got out of law school finals, so I’ve got some free time again. And I’m no longer bitter about perhaps the worst NCAA basketball tourney ever played. They can’t all be winners, I guess. I also like to talk baseball, and things are getting intersting for the Tigers squad. But that's for another day.

I don’t really watch the Draft. I like player personnel decision and am actually quite interested in the actions of front offices, but actually sitting down and watching the Draft? That’s just excrutiating. Aside from a morbid fascination with Mel Kiper’s hair, I just can’t bring myself to watch it. Except for the first 15 minutes this year, because I wanted to see JaMarcus Russell go #1.

Most of the commentary made me happy. They talked about how great he was, his record as a starter (25-4), and his extraordinary physical tools (as if he’s ever going to be asked to throw a 60 yard pass from his knees). Ron Jaworksi, who I believe is the best NFL analyst on TV, called Russell the only franchise QB in this draft. High praise indeed. So I want to be clear, I’m not talking about some sort of ESPN conspiracy to badmouth LSU. That doesn’t exist except in the heads of some fans who equate any criticism with “bashing”. With that caveat in mind, I hate how there is this false debate between Quinn and Russell as a continuation of the stats vs. scouts argument.

I’m a stats guy. I think a player’s 40-time and his bench press are certainly relevant pieces of information, but take a backseat to the basic question: can he play football? Which means I like guys who have a record of performance. While it is possible for a successful college player to bomb in the pros, it is extremely unlikely for a player to fail in college and then succeed in the pros. The first thing I look at when evaluating a player in the Draft is simple: what has this guy done?

And the general storyline is that Quinn put up the big numbers in college, and Russell has the “tools” with mediocre numbers. Quinn is the, for lack of a better term, the “Moneybal” player and Russell is the tools goof. That general storyline is flat-out wrong. Russell’s numbers are unbelievably good.

232-342, 67.8%, 3129 yds, 28 TD/8 INT, 167.0 Rating, 9.15 yds/att
289-467, 61.9%, 3426 yds, 37 TD/7 INT, 146.7 Rating, 7.34 yds/att

That’s Russell vs. Quinn. Both players put up huge numbers, and I won’t even getting into an adjustment for playing in the SEC versus Notre Dame’s schedule. It took Quinn 125 more passes to throw for just 297 more yards. Russell completed a staggering 67.8% of his passes, which is so ridiculously high I can’t understand why people aren’t more impressed by it. And its not like he’s a dink and dunk passer. Every time Russell drops back to throw, he’s worth 9.15 yards to Quinn’s 7.34. Russell is worth almost two more yards a play. That’s a chasm.

Columnist love to point to the TD/INT ratio, but the key number is not the TD’s but the INT’s. Are we really supposed to reward Quinn because the Irish had an absolutely anemic running game and had to pass if there were ever going to score? TD’s are a usage stat, like saves or RBIs. It’s the INT’s we should focus on, and it’s a dead heat between the two. Russell doesn’t just have the tools, he has better numbers than Quinn as well.

Which leads to the next layer of the argument against Russell, that he is a one-year wonder. Like his previous season was poor or something. His 2005 numbers?

188-311, 60.5%, 2443 yds, 15 TD/9 INT, 136.6 Rating, 7.86 yds/att

Same completion percentage as Quinn, and a similar QB Rating and yards attempt. OK, Quinn has the TD advantage and the INT advantage, but it’s not like Rusell’s numbers were terrible. They compare quite favorable to Quinn’s 2006 numbers. And the way people are trying to spin 9 interceptions in 13 games as a really bad thing is just silly. Russell has never thrown a lot of interceptions. He has always put up lots of yards coupled with great rate stats. On top of that, he has a gaudy winning percentage and an almost unbelievable record of coming through in the clutch. He had eight fourth quarter comebacks in his career, and would have had nine had Iowa not scored on a hail mary.

There is no performance vs. measurables debate with Russell and Quinn. Russell has better numbers and he has better tools. He even has better intangibles and soft leadership skills. The debate between Russell and Quinn has always been completely phony.

Now, Russell and Calvin Johnson…

Light bloggin - quick hits

Some quick hits on the draft:
  • Congratulations to Craig Davis, who I think will be a very solid player, and who I think fits perfectly into the situation in San Diego.
  • I'm not at all surprised or disappointed that the Saints went with a receiver. For all the talk of needing defense, I don't think people realize that Devery Henderson is entering the season as the Saints' #2 wide receiver. Ouch. Finding a productive wide receiver was probably the single biggest immediate need the Saints had remaining after signing a solid CB and a solid LB during free agency. Robert Meachem underachieved for much of his career at Tennessee, but broke out in a big way in 2006 with 71 catches for over 1,200 yards. I like the pick.
  • If you want a receiver who probably was picked too late, how about Steve Smith from USC? He was a 3-year starter who caught 20 touchdown passes and had almost 3000 yards receiving in his career, despite being 2nd banana to Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett his entire career. He went in the middle of the second round.
  • How did Georgia's Charles Johnson slip so far? Every time I saw Georgia play, Johnson was the best player on the field. He was a monster at rushing the passer. I hate to see a Division rival get better, but I have to think that Carolina got a steal by getting him in the middle of the third round.
  • The Saints appear to be going heavy on the small schools, drafting a corner out of Kent State and a guard out of Akron. With a receiver in the fold, it was not necessary to get immediate contributors with these picks, so we could afford to take a chance.
  • The Saints' biggest needs are now probably depth at defensive tackle and depth at linebacker. We have two picks in the 4th round, and we can get players at both of those positions. With my big-school, SEC bias (born out of ignorance of other systems), I'm hoping Brandon Siler is around when the Saints pick again. I'm very surprised he's still there, as I thought he would be picked in the second. Earl Everette, also of Florida, is still there as well.
  • I don't have a problem if the Saints pick Marcus Thomas, the troubled defensive tackle from Florida. Yes, he's a major head case, but he's a first round talent at a position of need who could be available when we pick in the 5th round. We'd have to pick a second DT though, just in case he decides he'd rather go on a crack bender than show up to practice.
  • Whatever happened to Quentin Culberson from Mississippi State? That dude was good, but he isn't even in's list of Mississippi State's prospects. I checked, and he was senior last year. I don't get it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Light blogging

There will be light blogging for the near future. There are several reasons:
  • I have taken my small, young family to Louisiana to go on the "Baby Tour", bringing our child to friends and relatives who have not yet seen her.
  • Not a lot is going on at the moment LSU-wise, except for the NFL Draft. Everyone is pretty much done with their Spring practices. We're entering kind of a dead period for football news.
Really, about the only thing I have to do right now, LSU-wise is watch the Draft, which I will do at least for a bit. I'm here at my parents' house in Gonzales, and we're all big Saints fans.

As an LSU fan, you can watch and marvel as 3 LSU players will likely be drafted in the first round, including likely #1 overall pick Jamarcus Russell. Laron Landry will be drafted in the top 10, and Dwayne Bowe will be drafted in the mid-to-late first round. At least another three will likely be drafted later in the draft.

Look for Craig Davis to be taken in the second round, perhaps late in the 1st round, but that's unlikely. Jessie Daniels, Chase Pittman (no relation), Justin Vincent, Daniel Francis, Peter Dyakowski, and Brian Johnson also could be drafted. This draft will see anywhere from 5 to 10 LSU players drafted, though 10 is very unlikely.

The part of me that is a combination LSU-fan and Saints fan would really like for the Saints to be in position to draft Dwayne Bowe, but it's unlikely that he will fall all the way to the Saints' pick at #27. Craig Davis will likely be available then, but that's really too high to pick him, and he probably won't be available when the Saints pick in the second round.

I don't know if the Saints are even looking at those guys, but I would love to see one of those guys in a Saints uniform.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tuberville sucks?

No he doesn't. A lot of people here seem to think so, but I think by any objective measure you have to say that Tommy Tuberville is probably as good of a coach as there is in the SEC.

Let's look at the last five years of SEC football. Auburn's record is 50-14 in that time. LSU is 52-13 over the same span. Alabama's record over that same span is 36-27. Of course, Bama was ravaged by sanctions during most of that time.

Auburn won the SEC West twice in that time, and had an undefeated season: the only SEC team to do so in that span.

Alright, so Auburn has had the best or second best SEC West program over the last 5 years. Why does that mean that Tuberville is such a good coach? My answer to that is simple. If recruiting is the life-blood of a football program, Auburn has been anemic compared to LSU. Here is Auburn's recruiting breakdown over the same span of time (according to Rivals):

2003 (after 2002 season): 1 five-star, 6 four-stars, 17 three-stars, and 3 two-stars, average: 3.19

2004: 0 five-stars, 4 four-stars, 10 three-stars,13 two-stars, average: 2.67

2005: 1 five-star, 7 four-stars, 10 three-stars, 3 two-stars, average: 3.29

2006: 1 five-star, 14 four-stars, 7 three-stars, 3 two-stars, average: 3.52

2007: 0 five-stars, 13 four-stars, 15 three-stars, 2 two-stars, average: 3.37

Over the same time period, LSU has done significantly better in terms of getting the top level recruits into the organization. We have recruited 9 five-star players, 67 four-stars, 41 three-stars, and only 1 two-star. Our overall average is 3.71 stars per recruit. Our overall average rating of our recruits over a 5 year period is better than Auburn average in any one year. And yet, Auburn's record is very close to ours over that same period, and they are 3-2 against us head-to-head in that time period.

If you accept the notion that star-ratings are based on overall athleticism, then Tuberville, using less athletic players, has done almost as well as LSU.

Wait, but doesn't that just mean that Tuberville is a bad recruiter compared to LSU's recruiters?

No, it doesn't. Recruiting doesn't happen in a vacuum. Recruiting is not a level playing field. LSU has recruiting advantages based as much on geography as anything else. Advantages Auburn doesn't share.

LSU: only major football program in the state.
Auburn: shares the state with one of the most storied programs in the country, a school which is beloved by the overwhelming majority of the state.
LSU: rabidly supported by most of its home state.
Auburn: rabidly despised by a significant percentage of its home state.
LSU: one hour drive from New Orleans.
Auburn: one hour drive from... Montgomery.

All of these translate to recruiting disadvantages, which are then manifested in less effective recruiting. Auburn has to compete for every in-state prospect with a more beloved and more storied program. Auburn probably has to convince a number of born-and-raised Bama fans to not just bypass Bama, but to go to Bama's biggest rival every single year. That's gotta be tough. If you gave Tuberville the geographic advantages that are present at LSU, what would happen? I don't know and neither does anyone else.

I don't really like Tuberville very much. I don't like how he allowed his players to smoke cigars on the field at Tiger Stadium after their last win there. I don't like his smug attitude. I do, however, think he's a great coach. He's probably the best coach in the SEC.

And now the guy I think is the best coach in the SEC West is going against the guy who built LSU into the powerhouse it is. I think Tuberville is overall a better coach than Saban, but Saban has a recruiting advantage over Auburn (though LSU has a recruiting advantage over both). It'll be fun to watch.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Whimsical Wednesday

Back in 1996, I started graduate school at the University of Delaware. I was 22 years old, and it was right after college. I didn't like it very much. I didn't like the work, and I didn't like living in Newark, Delaware.

I spent most of the time I was supposed to be studying doing other things like watching hockey (an obsession that has kind of ended), watching football (still going strong), watching cartoons (guilty again), and buying/listening to alternative rock music.

It was in this time that I really got into bands like The Pixies, Catherine Wheel, Throwing Muses, and Liz Phair. I started buying up every Matthew Sweet album I could find. Even the imports and demo collections. Was I slightly obsessed? Maybe. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. My career as a research scientist didn't last long, but my love of alternative rock remains.

Last night, I was puttering around the computer while the baby napped, and I found some Liz Phair songs on YouTube. Every so often, I have to be reminded of just how good early Liz Phair is. It's really really good. It's honest, frank, explicit without being exploitative, and kind of rockin'. Yes, it has the female-singer-songwriter-with-an-acoustic-guitar vibe going, but it's the VERY BEST of that particular overworked genre, and she is pretty much the one who brought that form into prominence again.

Her later stuff isn't very good, as she decided to start channeling her inner Avril Lavigne, which really doesn't work for someone in her late 30s. The early stuff is wonderful though, and her first album "Exile in Guyville" routinely makes lists of "Greatest Albums of All-Time". Quite rightly.

Here's a grainy clip of her playing a live show back in 1995, two years after her first album came out. The lyrics have many four-letter words, so kids shouldn't play it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

College Football News Preview - Part III

This is perhaps the last part of this series, as I will now talk about CFN's preview of our defense.

Needless to say, they are highly complimentary of our abilities on defense.

They say of our defensive line, "Outlook: Utter destruction." They say of our linebackers, "All three starters return to an active group that dominated throughout last season." About our defensive backs, they say, " The corner spots are not just set, they're manned by two lockdown seniors who could end up forming the nation's best tandem."

Their criticisms? Mainly a lack of big plays a year ago, and there is a certain implication that they didn't always play up to their abilities. I think that's accurate. Our defense dominated some bad teams last year, but didn't always do well against average to good teams.

Against Alabama, we gave up 291 yards passing. Against Tennessee, the backup quarterback was 11 for 24 with 183 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Against Ole Miss, one of the worst rushing teams in the conference, we almost gave up a 100 yard rusher. Against Arkansas, McFadden and Jones combined for over 300 yards rushing.

The talent is there, but this year I'm looking for the kind of intensity that I didn't see game in and game out last year. This year, I want to see teams like Ole Miss and Alabama locked out of the game early, rather than stay in it all the way through like they did last year.

If we want to win the National Championship next year, or even the SEC Championship, we are going to have to be consistently dominant on defense like we were in 2003. That means we need to avoid giving up big games to teams like Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Alabama. It also means we're going to have to dominate lesser teams and end those games early.

Do I have any quibbles about their preview of our defense? Well, I've already talked about how I think they're overrating Chevis Jackson. I also think they're incorrect in saying that Ricky Jean-Francois is a backup. He's going to be starting at Right End if he's on the team.

Those are small complaints though. This was pretty darn good.

Monday, April 23, 2007

College Football News Preview - Part II

Today we cover CFN's preview of our offense.

CFN says the "Strength of our offense" is our "speed, starting offensive line, running options". I'll agree with two of those three. We definitely have speed to burn and a ton of running options.

I'm not sure our starting offensive line is such a great strength however. Here's the starting five at the end of spring, left to right: Ciron Black, Herman Johnson, Brett Helms, Lyle Hitt, Carnell Stewart. I have no problem with the first three of those. They'll make a terrific center-left side of the line. It could be even better if Will Arnold can return healthy to the Right Guard spot, moving Johnson back to left guard.

I am not so comfortable with the right side of that line. Hitt is a converted tight end who found himself deep down the depth chart there. Stewart is a converted defensive tackle, once again finding himself deep on the depth chart. He has played little in his career and is now a 5th year senior.

Frankly, Saban recruited this position terribly. He got some decent players, but he really neglected this position, and as a result we're currently starting two players who began their careers at other positions, and we have very little experienced depth.

It is however a position where a freshman can come in and play right away, because the depth isn't very good. Miles has recruited eight offensive linemen in the last two years, one of whom was recently kicked off the team, but the remaining seven will all be freshmen or redshirt freshmen. It is, however, a position where you rarely want to rely on a true freshman to contribute immediately.

Continuing, CFN says our weaknesses are "backup offensive linemen, proven number two receiver". I think that's exactly right. We have VERY few experienced backup offensive linemen. It's telling that the CFN depth chart lists two of the primary backups at the OL position to be walkons. I'm not sure this is accurate, but it illustrates the problem. Plus, we recently lost two backup offensive linemen to dismissal.

We are very vulnerable to injuries on the offensive line. If we get a little bad luck at that position, we could end having a real patch-work offensive line this year.

As for the receivers, I'm still not sold on Lafell. I'm just not.

We have recruited the wide receiver position lights out since Miles got here, and that talent will soon make an impact. It's just hard to know if those guys are ready to step into key productive roles now. Guys like Chris and Jared Mitchell, Terrance Tolliver, John Williams, and others are one day going to make an excellent corp of receivers. I'm just not sure that this year is going to be that year, as those guys are still pretty young. Frankly, we haven't had a lot of really productive young receivers over the last several years.

The talent is there at receiver. We're just going to have to see if it translates to production this soon.

I'd throw QB in there as a potential weakness as well. I have nothing against Matt Flynn, but any time you're starting a QB who has never been a regular starter, you have to expect problems. Add to that the questionable receiver corp, and you have a potential problem with your passing game.

If we avoid injuries on the offensive line, and if Matt Flynn and the receivers are able to connect, our offensive could end up VERY VERY good. National Championship contender good.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

College Football News Preview - Part I

This article will be fodder for my posts for some time to come. It is the College Football News preview of the 2007 LSU Fightin' Tigers. This post is going to be about the segment called "Ten Best Tiger Players".

CFN says that our ten best players, in order, are:
  1. Glenn Dorsey, DT
  2. [Tyson] Jackson, DE
  3. Chevis Jackson, CB
  4. Ali Highsmith, LB
  5. Ciron Black, OT
  6. Early Doucet, WR
  7. Keiland Williams, RB
  8. Matt Flynn, QB
  9. Will Arnold, OG
  10. Brandon Lafell, WR
I won't be overly critical about this. CFN is a national organization that will be doing previews of probably every high-profile team in the country. I can't expect them to be as informed as a dedicated fan like myself. I think they area wrong about certain things, so let's get started.

I think they are far too kind to Chevis Jackson. They rank him as the 3rd best player on the team. Elsewhere in their preview, when discussing the secondary, they state, "The star of the show is Chevis Jackson, a great hitter who came up with 46 tackles last year to go along with 14 broken up passes and two interceptions. Unlike Zenon, Jackson has NFL written all over him, but first, he might earn a few All-America honors with the speed, size, and technique to be a lock-down defender on anyone's number one.

I just don't see it. I like Chevis Jackson and think he is a legitimate good player. I just don't see this All-American ability that CFN sees. I haven't noticed any quarterbacks avoiding Jackson's side of the field. I haven't seen him make spectacular plays on the ball. I've just seen a pretty good cornerback. Anyway, I think he's rated way too high.

Next, I think Early Doucet is highly underrated. I think he's second to Glenn Dorsey on this list. He was second on the team in receptions and touchdown receptions last year. He has an amazing vertical jump, and when JR gave him jump balls last year, Doucet was unstoppable. He's the kind of receiver that a QB can go to when he ABSOLUTELY NEEDS A COMPLETION. See JR throwing him the ball on a crucial 4th down against Tennessee on a play designed to go to him all along (not the touchdown pass, but the other 4th down pass on that drive). Plus, he's good in the red zone, where a lot of receivers' games falter.

I think Early is a sure-fire 1st round pick in next year's NFL draft, and if Flynn becomes the QB we think he can become, Doucet is a potential All-American candidate.

My next observation is that it excludes Darry Beckwith, who is probably the 3rd best returning Tiger defender. I think Beckwith was clearly our best linebacker last year, and I would slot him ahead of Highsmith, who I thought had a rather quiet year last year. Both are very athletic and both have All-SEC potential though.

I question the Matt Flynn rating. It just seems a little strange to me to rate someone who has never been a regular starter as one of the 10 best players on the team, especially when he took only about 50-70 snaps last year. But, I know that an offense pretty much goes where its QB has the ability to take it. However, I think there are several players who have proven more, andn proven to be very good. See Jacob Hester, Brett Helms, Herman Johnson, Richard Dickson, Rickey Jean-Francois, Jonathan Zenon, Craig Steltz, Colt David, and Charles Alexander.

Special teams are routinely under-appreciated on these lists. Hardly anyone ever claims that a punter is one of the best players on the team, though a punter can easily make the difference between a win and a loss. As an illustration, I sincerely believe that punting made the difference in the game against Auburn last year. (Other things did too, but that's neither here nor there). Kody Bliss averaged an eye-popping 48 yards per punt in that game while Chris Jackson averaged a respectable 42. However, we also got more than one illegal formation penalty on the punts, and when the teams traded punts, we routinely lost several yards of field position. In a tight game, Kody Bliss was probably Auburn's best player that day.

I think Trindon's going to be a great special teams player who can change a game with a return. Just witness the game against Arkansas last year, which we might not have won without Trindon's kickoff return for a touchdown.

Finally, I would like to know what exactly Brandon Lafell has proven. The man made 5 catches last year. Granted, two of them went for over 50 yards, but still. The guy was our infrequently-used fourth receiver, and his anticipated position (second WR) is one of the big question marks on the offense.

Here's my list of our ten best players:
  1. Glenn Dorsey, DT: OK, they got this one right.
  2. Early Doucet, WR
  3. Tyson Jackson, DE
  4. Darry Beckwith, LB
  5. Keiland Williams, RB
  6. Ciron Black, LT
  7. Ali Highsmith, LB
  8. Will Arnold, OG (if healthy)
  9. Ricky Jean-Francois, DE/DT (if his academics allow him to remain on the team)
  10. Trindon Holliday: doesn't get the ball a lot, but is a threat to take it to the house every time.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

More on the Dismissed Three

I think the dismissal of three LSU players deserves a few more words.

Let me just start by saying that while I may end up sounding very harsh with regard to these three people, I do not think that all people who commit crimes, even violent crimes, are bad people incapable of being redeemed. I'm an attorney who sometimes represents criminal defendants. If I believed that all my clients are bad people, I doubt I could do the job. I do believe, however, that people have to respond to bad acts.

Most people are generally in agreement that Thomas and Giddens needed to go for what they supposedly did. To recap, they supposedly broke into someone's apartment and stole some stuff. Giddens then supposedly used a stolen credit card to buy some more stuff.

People are divided on whether Kyle Anderson deserved to be dismissed. To recap, Anderson allegedly laid in wait outside of a bar and attacked someone, causing permanent injuries and a trip to the hospital.

People ask, "You think the same would've been done if it was Flynn or Doucet that got in trouble?" I don't know if the same would have been done if it was Flynn or Doucet, but I challenge the conventional wisdom that the same should be done in that situation.

Let me use an analogy. Let's say two people work at a medium sized place. Employee X is vital to the operation of Employer. He is conscientious. He is at the top of his game. Replacing him would be a great hardship. Employee Y is a peon. He's not exactly worthless, but he is not a vital cog in Employer's operation, and is fairly easily replaced. Employee X and Employee Y both get caught, say, using their company computers to access pornographic web sites.

Should Employee X and Employee Y be treated the same? Not necessarily. Employee Y, being really low on the totem pole, will probably be summarily fired. Employee X, by virtue of his past and expected future contributions to the bottom line, may be let off with a warning, or maybe even tolerated.

Early Doucet is Employee X. Kyle Anderson is Employee Y. Early Doucet is going to be heavily relied upon by the Tigers next year. Kyle Anderson was not likely to ever be a starter. Why should it almost go without saying that they should be treated the same by their bosses? If you're more valuable, you get treated better. Welcome to life.

In sports, no one is bigger than the team, but that doesn't mean that everyone is the same size.

Am I suggesting that Doucet, Flynn, Glen Dorsey, Ali Highsmith, Keiland Williams, Tyson Jackson, Ciron Black, and Darry Beckwith should be allowed to get away with whatever they want to do? Absolutely not.

I'm saying that when a player gets into trouble like these three young men did, every coach is faced with a decision that has several competing interests:
  • Punish him lightly, thereby achieving a short term benefit of having the player available when needed, or
  • Punish him severely, thereby protecting the long term interest the team has in preserving its good reputation, or
  • Do whatever may be best for the player himself.
The third one gets a little complicated, and is best analyzed on a case by case basis. Incidentally, I think this is the factor that motivated Mike Shula to be so lenient on Juwan Simpson upon his convictions for possession of marijuana and possession of an unlicensed firearm. I didn't have any problem with it, for what it's worth, but it may well have cost Shula his job because it damaged Bama's reputation.

Focusing on the first two, you have an obvious trade-off. Either go light and help your team win immediately but potentially develop a reputation for coddling wrongdoers, or be tough and protect your long term reputation while putting the immediate future at risk.

Obviously, the better the player, the bigger the risk in immediately suspending/dismissing him. If a player is not important, there is no obvious reason not to be severe. Corporate America figured this out a long time ago, and no one thinks anything of it when a peon gets fired for something a valuable employee could have gotten away with. Why should it be OK for some people to acknowledge the trade off, but for some reason be illegitimate for a football coach to acknowledge that there's a trade off.

The point is though that thinking purely selfishly, Les Miles had no reason not to lay the hammer on Kyle Anderson. A backup lineman doesn't do much to help Les win games, and Anderson had embarrassed the program. Kyle Anderson isn't going to make anyone say that Les Miles doesn't run a tight ship. Maybe Early Doucet would, but Kyle Anderson won't.

There's also another issue. One that can be tough to quantify as well. Suspending or dismissing players can hurt the morale of the team. For those of you who don't know, Trindon Holliday didn't approve of the dismissals. I don't begrudge Trindon his opinions. These guys were, after all, his friends. I think he'll eventually get over it though, and if not, well, Miles will figure out something.

Friday, April 20, 2007

3 outs, End of the Inning

I commented some time ago that we would not comment on arrests of two LSU football players until more information was known. Now it appears that more information became known. Les Miles kicked Troy Giddens and Zhamal Thomas off the football team, apparently forever.

If you believe the scuttlebutt, Giddens and Thomas broke into a apartment when no one was home, took some items including a credit card, and then tried to use the credit card. Malicious. Premeditated. Purely for selfish gain.

Yeah, I think they had to go.

Kyle Anderson also felt the wrath. He was kicked off the team the same day, ostensibly over a bar fight in Tigerland. (As an aside, I don't think I have ever been to a bar in Tigerland. Too many fights.) Bar fight? Football player? It shocks the conscience.

Well, hold on there just a second. Once again, if you believe the scuttlebutt, there's more to the story. According to sources, Anderson got kicked out of the bar after an altercation, then waited outside for the guy and attacked him in the parking lot, knocking out 4 teeth and putting him in the hospital. Malicious. Premeditated. Violent. Permanent injury. A very serious penalty was warranted.

If you also believe the other rumors that Anderson has been a bit of a problem child since he arrived on campus, then complete dismissal was probably warranted.

I think it's all for the best for LSU. We do not want to get a reputation for lawlessness or thuggish behavior, like what has plagued Miami and Florida State over the years. Part of the problem with those programs is that their coaches were willing to be lenient with bad-acting athletes. Anyone remember Free Shoes University? That reputation has dogged both programs for over a decade. Les took pretty harsh action to avoid that bad result, and I personally have no problem with it.

What does it mean to the team? None of them were expected to be key players this year, but it hurts depth.

Giddens was a redshirt freshman safety running with the second team. He was probably our 4th safety behind Steltz, Curtis Taylor, and Danny McCray. We have three very good true freshmen safeties coming in this year, and it probably just means one or more of those will have to have significant time.

Zhamal Thomas was a redshirt freshman offensive tackle running with the second team as well. He was backing up Carnell Stewart, and could maybe have won the starting job. We are rather thin at offensive tackle, and it probably means that a true freshman will have to come in and get up to speed quickly to get into the two-deep.

Kyle Anderson was a tight end, kind of far down the depth chart, but he got playing time last year primarily as a blocker. Between Keith Zinger, Richard Dickson, Mit Cole, and the three tight ends we recruited this year, we'll be fine there.

It also means we're closer to having a full complement of 25 scholarships to give out next year.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Evaluating a running back

I wrote about running backs earlier this week in a column in which I argued, through statistics, that LSU's running game as a whole was one of the most effective in the SEC. I got thinking though, how can I statistically evaluate a single running back in a way similar to the way I evaluated quarterbacks, attempting to mesh the entirety of their production into one reasonably meaningful statistic?

I could do it exactly the same way as I did it for quarterbacks, using a formula like this

Runner rating = (yards rushing + 20*touchdowns - 30*fumbles lost)/rushing attempts + (yards receiving + 20*touchdowns -30*fumbles lost)/passes thrown to

I think that result will turn out OK, but I find it unsatisfying for several reasons. First, I'm not sure I can find a statistic on the number of times a ball was thrown to a back. I'd be stuck with pass catches, but that would miss the effect of any dropped passes.

Second, I just don't think it breaks down the information enough. It treats all rushing yards as the same, except for the ones that get you into the end zone. I think a run on 1st and 10 is much different from a run on 3rd and 2. On 3rd and 2, you're just trying to move the chains. On 1st and 10, you're really trying to break a big gain or set up a good down and distance for the rest of the set of downs. It comes down to, on 3rd and 2, a three yard gain is a big success. On 1st and 10, a three yard gain is a let down.

I want to know more than just yards-per-carry. I want to know if the guy broke off a lot of big runs, changing field position. I want to know if he was an effective short-yardage runner too. These statistics just don't do it.

So I think you'd have to break it up by downs, or at least count runs for a 1st down differently, and you'd want to have some way of tracking longer runs. Then again, I wanted to do that for quarterbacks, but again those statistics just aren't kept. I wouldn't want to short-change an excellent short-yardage specialist just because he doesn't have a lot of runs of more than a few yards.

And let's not even begin to discuss how it ignores blocking, which is no small thing. A guy who can't block probably can't be on the field in an obvious passing situation, and his presence on the field may be a tell that it's a running play.

I think the only way to account for the impact of blocking is to drop the yards receiving and use a measurement along the lines of a yards per pass attempt with the player in the game - yards per pass attempt without the player in the game. Good luck compiling that.

Maybe in the end we should not try to develop a single statistic for a running back. Maybe yards per carry, yards per reception, touchdowns, and fumbles should be examined individually. Blocking? Well, just try to forget that there's no good way to statistically measure a blocker.

Looking at our running backs, what stands out? Well, Keiland's 5.7 yard-per carry average is excellent, but Charles Scott's 6.0 yards per carry is eye-popping. I think it's important to realize though that Keiland Williams did it against the core of the SEC schedule, while Scott did it against a weaker early schedule. Hester averaged 4.7 yards per carry, which is very respectable. Justin Vincent and Alley Broussard got plenty of chances, carrying the ball over 130 times between them, but pulled up the rear getting only 3.7 and 3.8 yards per carry respectively. All of our top 4 rushers got between 4 and 6 touchdowns, so they were all basically equally productive on the scoreboard.

Jacob Hester's 35 catches for 7.7 yards per catch and three touchdowns was excellent, and while Justin Vincent didn't catch a lot, he averaged 12.2 yards per catch. Keiland Williams and Charles Scott were basically non-factors in the passing game, catching only 7 balls between them, with no touchdowns.

I think for this coming year, one of the things to watch for is how much Scott gets into the game. It seemed that as the season progressed, the coaches turned to Keiland Williams at the expense of Charles Scott. Early in the season, Scott got the carries, but then as Keiland got in the game, Scott left it. Will he get back in?

Also, look to see if Scott and Williams are used a little more in the passing game. Last year, Hester and Vincent were the passing down backs. Vincent is gone, but Hester remains, and he is very good at that role.

Also, how does Richard Murphy play into this. Will he step into the Justin Vincent role (but hopefully more effective)?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

No Whimsical Wednesday This Week

Because I have missed several days of blogging lately due to baby and family issues, I'm canceling Whimsical Wednesday for this week, and will resume it next week. Whimsical Wednesday is a gimmick for stretching out a certain amount of content over a long period of time in which little sports news will emerge. Another way of stretching out the content is simply not to post, which I have unfortunately done a bit of lately.

Today's content will revolve around a column by Birmingham News sports columnist Kevin Scarbinsky.

Sorry, Nick Saban. Too bad, Tommy Tuberville. Keep it under your hat, Les Miles. You're all playing for second place in the SEC.


Tim Tebow has started, and Urban Meyer has spoken.

The entire article reads like a love letter to Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow, in which Mr. Scarbinsky basically says the Tim Tebow is really really good; he's perfect for Meyer's system; and therefore the rest of the conference is playing for second place.

Your first response may be to think this is utterly moronic, and you'd be right. Your second response may be to write him an angry email telling him how moronic he is for saying it. You would mention, among other things:
  • Florida is replacing, I think, 10 of its starters on defense
  • Tebow plays a style that gives rise to a significant risk of injury, and his backup will be a true freshman
  • Tebow has not yet been asked to play a whole game, let alone a full season.
  • Games are played on the field in the fall rather than in Spring.
But before you write that email, let me inform you a few secrets. First, Kevin Scarbinsky knows that his column was moronic. Sometimes, a sports columnist writes something simply to get a rise out of people and get a reaction. The best way to do that is to write something inflammatory. If you're going to write something inflammatory though, you shouldn't write something so inflammatory that it will get you fired. The solution? Write something that doesn't attack anyone personally, but will get your readership fired up, negatively or positively.

This column fits the bill. It rankles both major groups of readership. Auburn fans don't want to hear that the SEC Championship is already decided. Bama fans don't want to hear how good The One That Got Away Is. Tebow was down to Florida and Alabama before choosing Florida, and many Bama fans remember this.

Second, Scarbinsky wants you to send him that angry email. Scarbinsky knows this is the kind of column that will get posted on message boards throughout the Southeast. Suddenly a minor, relatively unknown local beat writer will get some widespread attention for a few days. His editors will see him getting a reaction and lots of emails, and will approve.

In the media, any reaction is good reaction. They'd prefer you love the writer, but if they can't get love, hate will do. What they really don't want is indifference.

As deliberately-inflammatory-and-only-half-believed attention-grabbing articles go, I think this one is pretty clumsy. It is so obviously designed to get a rise out of people that for me it simply fails. It's too transparent. I can almost see him thinking, "Oh boy, I'm going to get some emails over this one," and engineering his article to get the maximum number. To be really effective, you have to be a little more subtle.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Beyond football

Of course by now you've heard about the shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech. This is bound to create reactions in people, but one of the things I find the most repugnant is how when a tragedy like this occurs, the first thing many people worry about is how it will affect sports.

The Virginia Tech incident is not a sports story. Sports stories rarely include the violent deaths of more than 30 young people. If your reaction to deaths of over 30 young people is something to the effect of, "You have to start wondering if any varsity athletes were killed or wounded in this crazy event at Virginia Tech," then I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself.

For today, we'll just leave it at that. Our condolences go out to the families and friends of those directly affected.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rushing game

Last year, LSU's leading rusher on the season was Jacob Hester with 440 yards on 94 attempts. Not so good, right? Yes and no.

Hester's effort was only good for 16th best in the SEC. In fact, every single SEC team had at least one running back go for more than 440 yards, and Florida beat 440 yards with their backup quarterback. Arkansas, Auburn, South Carolina, and Vandy each had two rushers go for more than 440 yards.

Most teams, however, pretty much went with one or two guys in the rushing game. LSU had five running backs go for more than 200 yards. While we didn't have any one guy getting a lot of yards, we had a large number of effective rushers. Looking at our cumulative statistics, we rushed for 2155 yards on 450 attempts, for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Here's how everyone else did:

Arkansas 3199 yards, 539 attempts, 5.9 yard average
Florida 2240 yards, 476 attempts, 4.7 yard average
LSU 2155 yards, 450 attempts, 4.8 yard average
Auburn 1927 yards, 470 attempts, 4.1 yard average
S. Carolina 1876 yards, 414 attempts, 4.5 yard average
Vandy 1795 yards, 385 yards, 4.7 yard average
Georgia 1656 yards, 426 attempts, 3.9 yard average
Alabama 1600 yards, 455 attempts, 3.5 yard average
Ole Miss 1504 yards, 422 attempts, 3.6 yard average
Tennessee 1404 yards, 382 attempts, 3.7 yard average
Kentucky 1282 yards, 411 attempts, 3.1 yard average
Miss. St. 1142 yards, 394 attempts, 2.9 yard average

Some observations:
  • Clearly Arkansas was on another planet rushing-wise last year. They got more rushing yards than Jamarcus Russell had passing yards, and Jamarcus was awesome.
  • Obviously, after giving props to the best rushing attack in college football last year up in Arkansas, LSU's rushing attack was more than just respectable. It was 2nd in yards, and 1st in rushing average in the SEC after Arkansas.
  • If Florida hadn't gotten an extra game (with the concomitant extra chance to add to cumulative stats) due to making it to the SEC Championship Game, LSU would have finished ahead of Florida in rushing yards.
  • Like I said before, Kentucky would have been awesome on offense if they could run the ball. This was a bowl team, and they had less than 1300 yards rushing last year.
  • Ole Miss was a below-average rushing team last year despite having a the 3rd leading rusher in the SEC (BenJarvis Green-Ellis).
That last point is especially telling. Ole Miss had the 3rd leading rusher in the SEC, but had only the 9th most team rushing yards and the 10th best rushing average. Combine that with the fact that Brent Schaeffer was the poorest-performing starting QB in the conference last year, and you have a really bad offensive team in Oxford.

But not as bad as Mississippi State's.

There's a lot more to say about rushing the ball, but it will have to wait.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The media pushes back - Part II

Yesterday we discussed some of the ways in which Saban treats the media, and what this can mean. This topic is really deserving of a lot of depth of coverage, so I'm continuing it today.

Every media observer should be mindful of one general rule of the media: journalists love access. They love having powerful people invite them to functions, answer the phone when they call, and possibly even have the powerful people call them. They want to be part-of-the-gang among the powerful people they cover. A journalist who can only write about what other people write and what he sees on the games on TV isn't a journalist. He's me. And I don't make a dime writing this blog.

This is true in all sections of the newspaper; not just the Sports Section. The guy who reviews the movies would fall all over himself to be invited out to Spielberg's house. The guy who covers politics would love to get an exclusive interview with the President. The guy who covers local politics would love to get a behind-the-scenes view of what happens in Bob Riley's office.

Some members of the media are now complaining about Nick Saban that he doesn't give them the access that they previously enjoyed. He doesn't answer his questions. He doesn't let them watch practice. He doesn't let them interview certain players and coaches. It will only get worse for the media. Ask the Miami media.

The mistake these members of the media have made is to think that the people who buy their papers actually give a damn if their lives are less enjoyable. They've forgotten one of the other general rules about the media: the customers, even though they pay for the content, really don't like the media and will generally side with the powerful figure over the journalist in most professional disputes. This, also is true in most sections of the paper (though perhaps not among the reporters who cover Hollywood, who the public likes even less, despite also giving Hollywood tons of money).

Complaining about your lack of access just makes you look like a whiner. It's fighting a war on bad terrain. It's asking the public to dislike Saban because he dislikes the journalists. It won't happen. The public feels no sympathy for you

While the public doesn't feel sympathy for the media, the media definitely has the ear of the public and the ability to engineer public perception if they do it with more finesse. Criticize how Saban does his job, not how he helps you do your job. Like I said yesterday, if Saban offends you, "Put it in your back pocket." Remember the slight, and bide your time. Soon enough, Saban will do something that people won't like (lose a game he was expected to win, for example). Then you bring out the claws.

You have the ear of the public. Your voices are among the loudest out there when it comes to discussing whether a coach's job should be saved, or whether or not he should go. Put his slight in your back pocket, and remember it when it comes down to writing that column about whether you "give him one more year" or "throw him to the wolves."

Friday, April 13, 2007

The media pushes back

It was inevitable, but it seems like the media is finally starting to push back a little on Nick Saban's unusual policies on media access. CNNSI's Stewart Mandel published a long, mostly positive column discussing Nick Saban. One small part of it discussed how Saban scheduled an interview with Mandel, who flew out to Tuscaloosa, only to have it abruptly canceled at the last minute. He has since published a follow-up column, in which he reveals that Saban called him days after the original column and apologized.

Mandel is not the first media type to publicly bristle at how Saban is treating them. Honestly, he has long been famous for being churlish with the media (and his underlings, and his assistants, and his bosses, and his players, and his neighbors). At least one writer, perhaps one gloating over his own level of access, has commented that this behavior by the media is more childish whining than it is legitimate criticism, and ultimately doesn't hurt Saban, and probably actually helps him.

Helps him? Well, think about it this way. If the team is, oh, average this year, and a certain Bama beat writer criticizes Saban's performance, that beat writer's opinion is more likely to be ignored if that writer has a history of also criticizing Saban's treatment of him. People can say, "Don't listen to that guy. He just hates Saban." Perhaps they'll even be right.

My hint to media types: if you don't like how Saban's treating you, stick it in your back pocket and remember it when it comes time to either defend him or throw him to the wolves.

And that time will come. Saban is not a miracle worker, which seems to be what many fans are expecting. He had a lot of success at LSU, and has only had one actual losing season in his long career, but his overall numbers are not that great. Even his record at LSU was hardly eye-popping before 2003.

In his first year, LSU was 8-4 including an embarrassing loss to UAB. If not for a couple of dramatic overtime wins, it would have been a very mediocre season.

In his second year, LSU had a terrific 10-3 season, ending in a top 10 finish and an SEC championship and Sugar Bowl victory, but even that season was on the brink of failure, as LSU was 4-3 heading into Tuscaloosa that year before record-setting performances by Rohan Davey and Josh Reed saved that season. Incidentally, Rohan Davey's career illustrates one of Saban's greatest weaknesses as a coach: he doesn't always play the best player. Davey only started one year, but set an LSU single-season record in most passing categories that year, and was a first-day draft pick. The previous year, he sat behind Josh Booty, who had long since lost the confidence of the team. This wasn't the only example.

In his third year, LSU regressed to an 8-5 season and a loss in the Cotton Bowl (a game we had no business being in, by the way). We needed the Bluegrass Miracle to get even that good of a record, and Saban's vaunted defensive genius managed to give up two late touchdowns to Arkansas to lose that game 21-20. To be fair, we started that season 6-1, and then an injury to our starting QB caught up to us. The backup was only 3-4.

So before the 2003 National Championship season, Saban's Tigers were 26-12. Not bad. Not great. That was quite good enough at LSU to avoid most criticism, but I don't think anyone was calling Saban a genius at that point. Not until the 2003 season. If Alabama's next three seasons show an average record of 8-4, will everyone be satisfied? No. Will he be vulnerable to media criticism? Yes. Will that media criticism sting? Yes. If the media is willing to come to his defense, would that help? Yes. Does his deliberate rankling of the media help him avoid that criticism? No, but the media's current complaints, not about his coaching, but about his treatment of him may insulate him from the effects of that criticism a little.

I'll write more on this topic later. But for now, I have to go to work.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Whimsical Wednesday.. uh, Thursday

OK, so I made the mistake of adding my small bit to the media echo chamber revolving around on-Day Imus-may. I apologize for that.

The big news of the day yesterday was that two LSU football players (OT Zhamal Thomas and DB Troy Giddens) were arrested on burglary and identity theft charges. I won't comment on it further until more of the story comes out. I don't like when people jump to conclusions based on almost no information.

As penance for the Imus thing, here is a number of live performances by truly great bands in the primes of their careers:

REM - Driver 8 from 1985

The Pixies - Where is My Mind from 1988

Violent Femmes - Blister in the Sun from 1983

Pavement - Silence Kid from 1994

Matthew Sweet - Sick of Myself from 1995

As a special bonus, here is the original animated video for Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend", his first (and to date biggest) hit song.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thin skin

Whimsical Wednesday will have to wait until tomorrow. I want to talk about something a little more serious. A couple of things have happened recently with radio personalities getting into some trouble due to the content of their shows. The situations are a little different from each other, but they bear some similarities that I think are telling.

The most public of the two is the extremely insensitive thing that Don Imus said about the Rutgers women's basketball team. For those of you living in caves with internet access, he called them (and I'm not sure the context, if it matters) "nappy-headed hoes". He has apologized numerous times in public, saying that what he did was "idiotic".

The other one is a little less public, and I only know about it because I happened to be listening to the Paul Finebaum show the day after it happened. One anonymous caller to his show, an Auburn fan, commented on the Nick Saban hiring by saying that (and I paraphrase), "Bama would have been better off hiring [Gene Stallings's severely mentally disabled son] as coach." Finebaum never expressed any approval of this statement, and in fact his only mistake was that he didn't cut him off immediately and get him off the show. Instead, he engaged the guy in conversation for a brief time, and let him continue his tirade.

Now the similarities in incidents are probably not as big as the differences. For one, in the Imus situation, the celebrity was the one making the offensive statement. In Finebaum's case, it was a caller, and Finebaum probably had no way of knowing he would say it before it happened. For another, Imus has apologized profusely and, I believe, sincerely.

However, what I find really interesting is the responses to these incidents. Like I mentioned before, I only know about the Finebaum incident because I was listening to it the day after it happened. That right, the day after. They were still talking about it, and callers repeatedly expressed their outrage and sadness that this particular comment was made. Finebaum never got defensive about it, acknowledged his own mistake in the incident, and basically agreed with all callers that the statement was reprehensible.

The Imus case has of course been relatively big news nationally. He has gone on an apology tour, and now the Rutgers team he has offended have expressed their own shock and sadness over the incident (in agreeing to meet with him).

It just seems to me that in both of these incidents, there are reasons not to consider it such a big deal. In the Finebaum case, it was only a caller. We can dismiss a caller as "just some idiot we don't need to listen to." Alabama prides itself on not being "politically correct", and I'm sure Gene Stallings is a very thick-skinned man. He was an SEC head football coach for crying out loud. I'm sure he doesn't think twice about what some random asshole says about his son. The outpouring of shock and sadness from this rather rough-tongued community came as a big surprise to me. This is not to defend the random asshole, who clearly stepped well past the decency-line. I just think it should have been immediately dismissed and forgotten as not particularly important in the grand scheme of things.

In the Imus case, while it isn't "just some idiot", Imus has in fact apologized. And it's not a half-way insincere "I'm sorry you got offended" apology. It's an unambiguous "I totally screwed up" apology. Over and over again. Maybe I just believe in second chances more than most. I think his mea culpa is sufficient to return him to his previous standing, whatever you may believe that to be. After all, this isn't Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter saying outrageous things and then standing behind them. Imus has actually disavowed his outrageous statement, and that disavowal has in my opinion completely eclipsed the wrongdoing.

I welcome dissenting opinions. After all, being a pasty white guy, maybe I'm just being undersensitive to the whole "nappy headed hoes" thing. Maybe, because I don't have a mentally disabled close relative, I don't know how it feels for someone to be slurred like that. I'm willing to be convinced, I guess.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Recruiting 101, Part 5 - Forty Schmorty

I'll dispense with the question/answer format of the previous installations. When talking about recruits, especially skill position players, defensive backs, and linebackers, people get enamored with a kid's reported time in the 40 yard dash. People get excited about a wide receiver who can run the 40 in 4.4 seconds or shorter. People go "ho-hum" when a kid runs it in 4.5 seconds or longer.

I can see why this is so. It's an easy way for people who are amateurs at evaluating talent to measure the level of athletic ability of a player. I am certainly one of those amateurs, and I have been guilty of going all googly-eyed over a sub-4.4. Now, however, I think the measurement is utterly meaningless in evaluating a recruit. Let's look at some reasons why:

1. They're self-reported

Who tells Rivals or Scout what a recruit ran in the 40? Usually, either the recruit or his coach. Do these people have any incentive whatsoever to be truthful about a mediocre run? Absolutely not. At best, you can expect that if a recruit runs 10 times and gets 4.6, 4.6, 4.7, 4.6, 4.5, 4.45, 4.6, 4.5, 4.7, and 4. 5, you can expect that the player will report that he ran a 4.4. Message boards across the land will then cheer him.

2. 40-times are dependent upon running conditions

This is something that the NFL has figured out. A player's 40 time is highly dependent on weather and track conditions at the time it is run. A guy on a high-tech polymer track will run much faster than a guy on a dirt track. A guy will run much faster with the wind at his back than with it still or at his front. A guy will run a little faster in warm weather than in cold.

This means that 40 times are not absolute measures of speed, but are only good when compared relative to people who ran under the exact same conditions. So, did that running back in Tennessee run his 40 yard dash under the same conditions as that cornerback in Michigan? Doubt it.

3. They're greatly inflated (deflated) in recent years

Jerry Rice's reported 40 time in his draft year was 4.6 seconds. Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver in history. He holds almost every receiving record the NFL records. He was plenty fast. He couldn't be covered. If you believe his 40 time, he was slow.

I think what has happened is that high school coaches and players have started "teaching to the test". They know that people love to see a 4.4 40-time, so they will work to give it to them. You can engineer 40 time by working on technique and the strengths of particular muscles. Does changing your track technique help make you a better football player? I sincerely doubt it. Does working on particular muscles help make you a better football player? Maybe, but they aren't working on those muscles to help with football. They're working on those muscles to help with track. Any benefit to football is incidental.

4. They're measured without pads

This is a common complaint about it, often made by knuckleheads who just want to defend a particular recruit who reported a poor 40 time. Unfortunately, it's also a correct criticism. All 40 times are measured without football pads. Some people, for reasons I do not understand, lose more speed with pads on than others will lose.

5. Straight-line speed over 40 yards is not particularly important in football

Don't get me wrongly here. I'm not saying slow people are just as good as fast people in football. Clearly not. However, rarely will a guy be called upon to run 40 yards in a straight line in football. It'll happen occasionally, but not that often. Much more often, a player will be required to make quick cuts, power through a block/tackle, run in a straight line for a shorter distance, etc. Straight line speed over half the football just isn't all that important. Maybe we should be measuring times in the 10 yard dash instead. That will be important for a running back trying to outrun linebackers, a cornerback closing on a receiver, a quarterback escaping a rush, a defensive lineman trying to run down a scrambling QB, and many other things. 40 yards? Eh, not so much.

We're talking about explosion. The ability to go from 0-to-100 in an instant. Fortunately, there is another measurement of explosionthat is frequently reported, and we'll get into that in a bit.

6. Players bodies change a lot once they get to college.

Almost every recruit has to make significant changes to his body upon getting to college. Some have to lose a little fat. Almost all have to add strength. This means adding muscle. This means adding weight. This means changing the way you run. Think about it like this. Let's say you take a car that runs really fast. Then you put a more powerful engine in it, but also add weight. Will it be faster or slower? I don't know, and neither will you until you make the change and test it.

So, in short, the problems with the 40 times are thus. People lie about them. Even if people didn't lie about them, they would only be accurate measures if measured under identical conditions. They're engineered by coaches and players who are more interested in improving the score rather than improving in football. They measure straight-line speed under non-game conditions. Straight line speed over that distance is not especially important. And last but not least, every recruit's 40 time will change in unpredictable ways before they actually set foot on the field in a game.

What's the solution?

My favorite measurable is actually the vertical jump rather than the 40 time. Again, rarely will a player actually be required to jump very high from a standing position in a football game, but I think it measures explosive leg strength which is a much more valuable quality than straight-line speed. Every player on the field needs explosive strength. Every one of them. The running back needs to power through a hole. Every defensive player needs to explode on a ball carrier to make a tackle. Offensive linemen need to explode off a snap and push defensive linemen around. Defensive linemen need to stop the offensive linemen from doing that. Wide receivers need to explode past defensive backs.

Also, because the vertical jump is not as sexy of a statistic as the 40 time, players and coaches are less likely to falsely report measurements or engineer better results.

So, take that for what it's worth. Don't get excited over a sub-4.4 because it's probably not totally honest and may not actually measure anything worthwhile anyway. By the same token, don't worry about it when a receiver or a running back has a 4.6 40-time. No biggee. Give me a 36 inch vertical any day.

This is why I like Sam McGuffie and Julio Jones as prospects. Look for McGuffie's highlight films on YouTube. Impressive stuff. Jones just might be the #1 prospect in the country for 2008. We have an uphill battle to get him.

Monday, April 9, 2007

New Commitments

I'm sorry for no updates this weekend. I was gone all weekend and did not have much online access. By now, the news that brothers Brandon and Jhyryn Taylor have committed to join the 2008 recruiting class is old news. Brandon is projected to be a defensive back or a running back, and Jhyryn (I'm taking suggestions on the pronunciation here) is projected to be a wide receiver or defensive back.

The most interesting part of this story is that these two guys have a brother on the team now: projected starting safety Curtis Taylor. If the two younger Taylors both make it to campus, and assuming Curtis blow up and turn pro, we will have three brothers on scholarship at one time for LSU. If this has ever happened before, I don't know about it. This will put the Taylor brothers on the short list of great LSU football families.

Now that I think about it, there aren't a whole lot of really great families of LSU players. There are the Steltzes, the Hilliard cousins, the Davis/Williams cousins (Dominick and John). That's all I can really remember right now. No sets of three.

Even more interestingly, the Taylors have another brother who is a sophomore in high school right now. It remains to be seen if he will be recruited by LSU, but I'm guessing he's a pretty good athlete too.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Donovan Stays

It appears that Billy Donovan read my post the other day and decided that getting roads and arenas named for him in Gainesville was better than trying to bring back the past in Lexington. Good for him. Bad for LSU. Having Donovan in Gainesville keeps Florida strong, while having Billy Gillespie in Lexington will undoubtedly lead to at least something of a resurgence in Kentucky. It is still Kentucky, after all.

By the way, let's compare Florida's 2004 basketball recruiting class to Kentucky's 2004 recruiting class. Florida had: Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green. Kentucky had Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley, Randolph Morris, and Rajon Rondo. Kentucky's was, at the time, considered MUCH BETTER than Florida's. Of those four Kentucky signees, 3 of them were five-star. Of the four Florida signees, none of them were five-stars.

The results tell a different story. Florida's four formed the core of two national championship teams before leaving en masse after their junior years. Kentucky's four haven't made it past the Sweet 16. Rondo left after a two-year career that saw him become a chemistry-killing malcontent. Morris tried to leave after a disappointing freshman season, but went undrafted and returned to Lexington with his tail between his legs. He emerged this year as a rather good pivot, and then left again, without really taking Kentucky anywhere. Bradley has developed into a serviceable, but hardly exceptional, turnover-prone point guard without much of a shooting touch. Crawford actually briefly quit the team and then returned and has emerged as a pretty good slashing swingman, but nothing special.

That 2004 class was supposed to be one of the best in the country that year, and was supposed to form the core of the next run of dominant Kentucky teams. It didn't work out that way, and that probably cost Tubby Smith his job.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Mitch Mustain's mother is a shrieking harpy... right?

One of the first things you learn when you become a lawyer, if you haven't already learned it in law school (or earlier), is that there are always two sides to a story, and often more. Sometimes, when you only hear one side of it, or only know parts of the story, one side appears to be almost monstrous in its wrong-headedness.

Then you hear the rest of the story.

If you haven't heard the story, the basic narrative goes like this. Mitch Mustain was a 5-star quarterback out of Springdale High School in Arkansas. He was one of the very highest rated recruits of the 2006 class. He was also a local boy for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, he wasn't a lock for Arkansas. to make matters even more complicated, he had a couple high school receiver teammates who were also D-1 calibre recruits, all of whom Arkansas wanted to sign. As a gimmick to help get them signed, they hired the kids' high school coach to be offensive coordinator. He was known for his wide open passing style as a high profile high school coach.

Mustain and the rest signed with Arkansas. Their freshman year was last year. Mustain started about half the season, splitting time with Casey Dick. The team had its most successful season in quite some time based on the strength of its awesome rushing attack behind Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden and Felix Jones (possibly the 2nd best running back in the conference behind McFadden). Mustain? Wasn't very effective. But he did win ever game he started (an overrated statistic for a QB, in my opinion).

At the end of the regular season, Mitch Mustain's mother and the other Springdale parents held a meeting with the Arkansas athletic director to complain about the team's style of play, claiming they didn't pass enough. This meeting eventually got out into the public knowledge, drawing intense criticism from all corners. Parents shouldn't be controlling how a D-1, BCS school runs its teams, should it? Mustain and his mother became a laughing stock. He eventually left the team, along with at least one of the other Springdale players. The high school coach, Gus Malzahn, also left after one year to go to Tulsa.

Like I said earlier, that's one side of the story, with incomplete information. Read the link above to the rest of the story. I don't know if his account is true or not, but I know that things are almost never how they initially seem.

You almost can't just quote from the article posted above. You have to read it as a whole. Upon doing so, you get the following story:

Houston Nutt hired Gus Malzahn strictly as a gimmick to sign the Springdale players, lying to them all along about his intentions with respect to the offense. He deliberately set up Malzahn to fail by running his offense against USC, one of the best teams in the country, and declaring it a failure immediately. He then stripped Malzahn of most responsibility for the offense and reconverted the team back to a strict pro-style running team. To make matters worse, he burned Mustain's redshirt in order to stem the tide of criticism against HIMSELF. Mustain wanted to redshirt all along to get five years in the system. Nutt then proceeded to sabotage Mustain's development by refusing to allow Mustain to run passing drills in practice, despite the fact that Mustain was the starting QB. This lack of respect even extended to the equipment manager, who refused to provide Mustain with well-fitting shoes, leading to blisters and back problems. Mustain's relationship with Nutt deteriorated steadily over the course of the season, as did the relationship between Malzahn and the rest of the team.

In the end, Malzahn was coordinator in name only. Mustain was wanted only for his name, while his talent was resented and his skill undeveloped. Then came the meeting with the AD, which was to discuss many topics, including the disrespect shown to the players and the lies told to them. The whole thing was supposed to be confidential, but this confidentiality wasn't kept, and information was released, selectively, to make the Springdale parents look as bad as possible. After all, how can they complain about not passing enough when McFadden and Jones were so good?

Anyway, give it a read. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It's that time of year again

I want to like baseball. I really do. I actually like baseball quite a bit. My only problem is that I don't have a rooting interest. If I had a real rooting interest, I could do things like keep up with the hot stove league, pay attention in June, and even know who's leading divisions at any given time. I've been trying to pick a permanent team for years. Here are my criteria:
  • It can't be the Yankees, the Braves, or the Rangers,
  • It has to be well-run. It doesn't have to be competitive every year, but there must be some hope of being competitive on a regular basis,
  • It must not be a recent expansion team,
  • It must not be doomed to constantly lose its best players to free agency,
  • It must not constantly buy up the best free agents from poorer teams.
I usually root at least a little for the O's, mainly because Poseur's enthusiasm for them is infectious. Sadly, though, they fail the second test, being among the most poorly run teams in the league.

I think this year I will root for the Brewers. They're expected to be reasonably competitive, and they have a player on their team that I watched when I used to work in Dixie Youth baseball. Ben Sheets was in that league at that time, and incidentally, he wasn't one of the best players in that league. He was a late bloomer who just got better and better after the other people his age peaked in high school.

Anyway, this being Whimsical Wednesday, here's a YouTube of penguins chasing a butterfly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

No title

Congratulations to Scott, for winning the pool. I didn't keep up with how many points he scored, but I know he won.

I should have picked Roy "The Doctor" Hibbert. It would have at least kept it close. Or maybe Greg "Social Security" Oden.

Congratulations also to Billy Donovan, who is about to be richer than even me.

Monday, April 2, 2007

That's What I Get for Making a Prediction

I do not like when an analyst substitutes a prediction for analysis of an upcoming game, or using a prediction as a starting point for analysis. No one knows what will happen, and as a viewer I don't particularly need your pick of who will win the game. I'll know who wins the game soon enough. By watching it.

Then I went and predicted that the Lady Tigers would go and win it all. To punish me for my hubris, the gods not only had the Lady Tigers beaten, but beaten so soundly that they actually would have still lost had Rutgers not scored a single second-half point.

Still, it was a remarkable run for the team, winning a number of games against good teams, all in the face of incredible adversity. Congratulations to the team. Congratulations to Bob Starkey, who if he wishes to remain an assistant somewhere as has been reported, he can write his own ticket.

As for the men's tournament, I honestly no longer care. This has been the least entertaining tournament in my lifetime. Easily the most interesting story of the tournament has been the saga of Billy Donovan (maybe) taking the job at the University of Kentucky after (maybe) winning back to back national championships.

If I may weigh in with my two cents, I don't think Donovan should take the job, for the same reasons I didn't think Saban should leave LSU. He's created a great program from almost nothing in Florida. He has the recruiting train rolling, and that will keep him competitive for the foreseeable future. If he sticks around at Florida, they'll be naming buildings and streets after him ten years from now. Yes, he'll be replacing probably his entire starting five, but the last time he did that he won the national championship (twice?).

If he goes to Kentucky, he will be taking over at team that isn't particularly talented. He'll be inheriting a fan base that will expect to win the conference and the conference tournament every year and will expect to be competitive for the national championship more often than not.

I'd take the roads and buildings.

Of course, Ashley Judd will be there. But I'm sure Gainesville has its share of pretty girls too.