Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poseur: Finally, To Baseball

This was supposed to be an obituary.

The season was over. LSU was in 11th place in the SEC, and they were playing the 7th ranked team in the country. They sat five games under .500 in SEC play, and another series loss seemed quite likely, which would put LSU six games under with three series left to play. The season was about to be, for all intents and purposes, over.

And then a funny thing happened. LSU swept South Carolina. LSU had to come from behind in every single one of those games. But the game which may have saved the season was Saturday’s epic comeback. Down 7-0 in the 6th inning, LSU rallied to tie the game 9-9 and force extra innings. Seemingly exhausted from the effort, they fell behind again in the 11th inning, only to have South Carolina’s three errors in the bottom half of the inning key another comeback and a 12-11 win.

It was an astounding win, and one LSU followed up on Sunday with a win in a seemingly interminable game broken up by two one-hour rain delays. No one can accuse LSU of not playing on the level, as they could have… actually should have… called it a game when the rains came and LSU was up by 2 in the 8th.

And now the situation, while not exactly rosy, is almost favorable. LSU sits in 9th place in the SEC, one-half game out of the SEC tourney. But the teams are tightly packed. Vandy is in 3rd with an 11-9 record. Arkansas is in 10th at 9-11. At 9-11-1, LSU is at the bottom of the pack, but when only two games separate 3rd from 10th, it’s not that big of a deal. What matters now is that there are only three series left, and LSU has probably the most favorable schedule of any team left in the running. LSU goes on the road to play 11-10 Kentucky this weekend, returns home to play last-place Mississippi State, and then closes out on the road against 11th place Auburn. That’s a pretty soft landing to what had looked like to be another downer of a year.

Hell, I was even ready to bury them. And now, their postseason odds look pretty good. All because they fell behind 7-0.

What Do You Need To Be Successful

Commenter Jimherehi had a good observation yesterday in the comment to the post on what the NFL Draft means to LSU. He observes:
I find it strange that LSU is the National Champion and had only 1 player drafted in the first two rounds. Not that I think the ones drafted should have been drafted higher, just that it is strange that only one was drafted in the first two rounds. I guess it means that our winning the championship was a total team effort.
I think this deserves some discussion. What does it mean to have 3rd, 4th, and 7th rounders on your team, as opposed to 1st and 2nd rounders? In the 2007 draft, we had four 1st round draft picks selected off of LSU, and one selected in the 7th round. I had acquaintances who criticized LSU for having "so much talent" and not winning the conference or the national championship., suggesting that if we couldn't win it with that load of talent, we wouldn't have another shot at it.

We turned around and had just as good of a season the next year if not better, and got a little bit of luck on our side to give us a chance to win the national championship. Then, when the draft rolled around, only one of our players got anywhere near 1st round treatment.

My explanation for this is that, to my observation, as far as its impact on the college football field goes, there isn't a whole lot of difference between having a future mid-first-round selection on your team and having a future 4th round selection on your team. And further, there isn't a whole lot of difference between having a 5th round selection on your team and having one of the better undrafted free agents.

While I think there is a correlation between "first rounders" and past college success, I would bet that the stronger correlation is between "total draftees" and past college success. Take as an example the last two national champions. In the 2007 draft, after winning the national championship Florida had 9 players selected, and one of the guys passed over was their 4-year-starter at quarterback who could very easily have been drafted. In the 2008 draft, after willing the national championship LSU had 7 players selected, and another who very well could have been.

That's talent and skill spread around the field. Plus, it's senior talent and skill. Those two things are, I think, the keys to having success. Having a veteran team that is also talented at most positions is a very reliable indication of success, much moreso than having a few very good players.

As another example, take a look at that 2006 Arkansas team that almost won the conference. Following that season, they had 4 players drafted, including 3 in the first 2 rounds. Following their next season, they had 6 players drafted, including one of the top 5 and another late 1st rounder. Many people considered that to be a gimmicky team, led by a couple of great players, but the NFL draft shows they had talent all over the field that year, and hence, they had success.

I am sure someone will point out that USC had 10 players drafted, and did not win the national championship. True, but I think some people define success too narrowly. USC has won its conference for something like 5 or 6 consecutive years. That's a string of consistent success that marks a very talented team, and they were surely one play away from going to the national championship game over LSU. One wonders if, having lost that much talent, maybe they finally will start showing a little more vulnerability, but I digress.

My conclusion in looking at it is that having high end talent is great, but having good talent spread around is even better. Of course, having high end talent and good talent spread around is the best of all, but let's not be greedy. The good news is, I think we still have good talent spread around, and we will have it for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Draft: What It Means for LSU

It was a great weekend for LSU, despite some minor disappointments along the way. LSU had one of the headliners of the draft and had a total of 7 players drafted. Yes, Ali Highsmith was passed over, and we are all disappointed about that. Also, Early Doucet was probably a little disappointed in his draft position, but he is in the league and will get a halfway decent contract, though he will have to wait until his second contract to get the big money.

While Highsmith and Doucet may be a little disappointed, Jacob Hester and Keith Zinger must be thrilled. Hester was drafted in the early parts of the 3rd round, about a round or two earlier than he likely expected to be picked. Plus, he went to San Diego, a winning franchise and a good situation for him being behind an All-Pro. He will be asked to be a backup and a situational player, along with a special teamer, a perfect role for him and one where he will likely excel. Keith Zinger was drafted in the 7th round by the Falcons, and while some say that being undrafted may be better than being one of the last picks, he has to feel good that a team really wanted him. He's primarily a blocking tight end, and while those are not sexy picks, there is always room on every NFL team for a tight end who can block well. He can catch a bit too.

As an aside, I watched the draft coverage on NFL Network, and every time a tight end was drafted, Mayock said something to the effect of, "Good receiver but will not block anyone." What is the deal with tight ends who don't block? If you don't block at all, you're not a tight end. You're a really tightly lined-up slot receiver with exceptional size and slowness. The whole purpose of the tight end position is to be both a blocking threat and a catching threat. If you can only catch, you should be a wide receiver. If you can only block, you should be an offensive lineman. I'm not saying all should do both equally, but if you can ONLY do one remotely competently, tight end is not the position for you.

Matt Flynn was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, and I honestly think that he may have been better off not getting drafted. The Packers have an heir apparent starting quarterback in Aaron Rogers, and they drafted Brian Brohm in the second round. You have to believe the Packers are going to carry a quarterback with some experience on the roster in case Rogers struggles. I can't imagine they're going to keep two rookies, so Flynn is probably battling Brohm for the 3rd quarterback spot, and he's doing it from a pretty weak position.

As a simple coincidence, it appears that many former Tigers except for Flynn and Hester are going to teams that had very disappointing seasons. Dorsey is going to KC. Chevis and Zinger are going to the Falcons. They were among the very worst teams in the league. Doucet is going to Arizona, and while they have 2 very good wide receivers, one of them may be heading out, and the team missed the playoffs last year. Steltz is going to the Bears, who also missed the playoffs last year. This suggests there may be some roster issues on those teams that those players can exploit. This could be good for them.

But the primary message for LSU is that this draft shows the Tigers to be a consistent feeder to the NFL. For the recruits, LSU is now one of those schools where if you come in and have success, the NFL will pay very close attention. Last year, we showed that we can put top-flight talent into the top round, but this year we had even more players drafted overall than in 2007 (7 vs. 5), and it was distributed around the draft.

The bad news is, of course, that it means we have a lot of raw talent and skill to replace in the starting lineup. You just don't replace a top 5 pick and hope not to miss a beat. Matt Flynn didn't just step right into Jamarcus Russell's role, and Ricky Jean-Francois probably won't be able to completely compensate for the loss of Glenn Dorsey (though I think he will do very very well). We will need, as always, younger players to step up to fill in gaps in the lineup, and we will need veterans to keep improving their games.

Overall, despite losing a lot of talent to the NFL, I think we are in good position to continue to be strong. Not many teams have the ability to replace a top 5 pick with a guy who may be a top 10 pick the following year. Not many teams have the ability to replace a guy like Doucet with a Terrance Toliver while also having a Demetrius Byrd and a Brandon Lafell continuing to develop. Not many teams can lose a Jacob Hester and still have players like Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy, and Charles Scott to pick up the load. Not many national championship teams return 4 of their 5 starting offensive linemen.

I have to stop before I become too much of a homer. It is just way too long from now until football season.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Draft: Some People Really Should Be Issued Computers Without a Keyboard

It is absolutely mindboggling to read the opinions of the masses when it comes to the NFL Draft. People have such incredibly strong opinions about what is essentially a crap shoot for the people involved.

Let's break down the categories of obnoxious draft watchers:

1. The Homer: He likes his favorite college football team, and all the players on his favorite college football team, all of whom are among the best players available at their positions and are clearly better than other similar players from different schools. Admittedly, I'm the first to say that guys like Early Doucet and Ali Highsmith are gamers who will make whoever drafts them at this point pretty happy, but at least I acknowledge the possibility that this attitude is a result of personal affection for them as a result of their having gone to LSU.

2. The "I've Never Heard of Him and Therefore He Must Be Terrible" Guy: If the player did not play on national television at least 3 times last season and was not incessantly profiled as a "fast riser" in pre-Draft coverage, he is clearly a nobody and deserving of absolutely no attention or goodwill whatsoever. Why pick a player from Indiana when there are all those good Texas players available?

3. The "Blind to All Outside of the SEC" Guy: OK, I acknowledge that I love the SEC, but the idea that USC players are overrated because they play "weak competition" is hogwash. Believe it or not, the bulk of the NFL comes from schools outside of the SEC, including, outrageously, many of the league's best players. Sedrick Ellis is not overrated just because he went to USC. He may end up proving to have been overrated, but you can't say that just because he went to USC.

4. The Groupie. To the groupie, failing to make a splashy pick is like sleeping with the bass player. You do it if it's the only way you get to hang out with the band, but it's a big disappointment, because you really wanted at least the drummer, if not the singer. How many wide receivers does your team have? 7 or 8? It doesn't matter. Get another one. Wide receivers are cool.

One observation is that the cost of moving up in the draft seems to have declined. In years past, it would have taken a 2nd round pick for the Saints to move up 3 spots to take Sedrick Ellis. This year, we only had to move down 2 1/2 rounds from our early 3rd round pick to the back half of the 5th round. It seems that the teams have realized that the draft value chart is hooey.

As for the Saints, I think in order to analyze their first day, you have to assume they were targeting defensive tackle and cornerback with their first two picks. In the first round, if they had not moved up to take Ellis, they would have had their pick of the corners in the draft. Let's assume they would have taken Leodis McKelvin, the guy who was ultimately the first corner picked. As it so happens, McKelvin shares with Tracy Porter the skill set of being fast and being a return-man, so there are parallels there.

In the second round, defensive tackle Trevor Laws was available, though to be fair, the Saints could not have confidently guessed Laws would still be on the board when the #40 pick came up. He could have gone higher. He was ultimately drafted at #47.

My point is, the Saints did well if the combination of Ellis and Tracy Porter is better in a couple of years than the combination of McKelvin and Laws. If McKelvin and Laws is the better combination, we will regret the trade.

Later in the draft, we executed another couple of trades to enable us to pick up the second defensive tackle we wanted, a project of an offensive lineman, a placekicker who specializes in kickoffs, and we traded back into the 7th round to be sure to pick up wide receiver Adrian Arrington.

I liked what Mike Mayock had to say about DeMario Pressley, the defensive tackle the Saints drafted out of NC State. He said Pressley had a questionable motor and took a lot of plays off. However, he said that often with these 300+ pound guys who are asked to play 60-65 plays per game in college and have questionable motors, if you put them in a rotation and ask them to play 25 plays per game, their motor is just fine. In other words, it's a problem of stamina rather than desire. The cure is to limit their playing time.

I have no problem with the Saints picking a kicker in the 6th round. The kid reportedly has a powerful leg. It appears the Saints might be planning to carry two kickers, a field goal guy and a kickoff guy. This would be the kickoff guy. Kickoffs are at least as important as field goals, because most NFL kickers are about equal to each other in field goals, but there is wide variation in kickoff proficiency.

One of the more curious picks, I think, was the Arrington selection in the 7th round. We had traded our 7th rounder to move up two picks to get Pressley. Apparently, we thought the Bengals were going to take him, so they did what they had to do to go get him. I have no problem with that. However, we got a 7th rounder back by trading a 6th rounder next year. Arrington may have ended up being a free agent, and I guess the Saints wanted this kid so badly that they wanted to be sure to get him and not let other teams have a chance to sign him.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Most Underrated Player in the Draft

Whoever drafts Marcus Monk will end up being very happy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Poseur: I Hate the Draft

I’ve been meaning to post for awhile about the baseball team, and I swear I will get to it. I’ve been busy with the big move to Dallas and I’m swamped at the new job. The long and short of it is this: the offense is still bad but it’s no longer historically awful. The team is inconsistent, as one would expect with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. And, finally, sweeps are killer. LSU has had two series in which they didn’t win a game, and that can’t happen if you want to make the postseason. But more on that later. I want to follow up on Richard’s thoughts on the draft and add my two cents.

I hate the draft. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Actually, I love prospects and I’m a big dork about GM moves. But the cottage industry surrounding the draft has gone from kind of cool to absolutely obnoxious. All of these mock drafts? Worthless. The draft grades on Monday? Even more worthless. Two to three months of hype over 40 times, body types, and “triangle stats”? It’s just creepy.

Everyone is expert. But the draft is like recruiting, it’s all a numbers game. Most first round picks do pan out, though few will become true franchise players. Middle round players will typically be roster filler, but a few guys will be better and a few worse than expected. Know how you can tell? You can’t. Because if you could, I guarantee an NFL front office can.

That said, I do have some general draft guidelines which I think I’ve picked up over the year. It’s more my general guideline, and I freely admit I could be wrong. Here’s my draft rules:

ONE. Draft linemen. I love linemen. Good teams are built from the inside out, and given the state of quarterbacks in the NFL, you’re almost better off letting someone else develop a guy for few years and then poaching him (SEE Favre, Brett; Anderson, Derek; Brees, Drew). Also, linemen have a low bust ratio. Even the “busts” have turned out to be serviceable players.

TWO. Everyone is an injury risk. I’m going to disagree with Richard on Glen Dorsey. Any team that passes on Dorsey because of his injury is stupid. Over fifty percent of NFL players will miss a game due to injury in any given season. Which means every single player is an injury risk.

THREE. Top picks are overrated. I agree with Richard that the draft trading chart should be ignored. And those top five picks can absolutely sink a team. Seriously, check out the top five picks from the last five drafts:

2007: Jamarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Gaines Adams, Levi Brown
2006: Mario Williams, Reggie Bush, Vince Young, D’Brickshaw Ferguson, AJ Hawk
2005: Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams
2004: Eli Manning, Robert Gallery, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor
2003: Carson Palmer, Charles Rogers, Andre Johnson, Dewayne Robertson, Terrence Newman

How many of those guys are absolutely dominant players? Heck, how many are Pro Bowlers? Of those 25 players, they have a grand total of 13 Pro Bowl appearances between them from 9 players, and no one has made more than 2. And remember, these guys get huge salaries.

FOUR. Take the best player available. If you are plugging a hole, grab a free agent. If you’re building a foundation, unless you have a guy who is the top three at his position signed to a good contract for the next few years, you should just take the best player. Because going back to Point Two: everyone is an injury risk. You might need a running back sooner than you think.

FIVE. Always be guided be one simple premise: can this guy play football? Often teams outthink themselves and get caught up in a guy’s “triangle stats” or whatever and forget to just see how the guy plays. While plenty of college stars can’t make the transition to the NFL, GM’s should be advised that if the guy wasn’t good in college, he probably won’t be good in the pros. Guess what? Everyone in the draft is athletic. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or has such a narrow view of athleticism as to render their opinion worthless. Peyton Manning’s “measurable” stink. He’s also a great quarterback. Your goal isn’t to win a relay of 40 yard dashes, it’s to win football games. Get guys who can play.
Finally, don’t watch the draft. Go outside. Just read about it later. Because let’s face it, 24 hours of watching Chris Berman is too much for any rational person to take.

Uncle Rico Has Something To Say

For liveblogging of the NFL Draft, check out Uncle Rico's Time Machine. I did not know that two of my more frequent commenters, Gerry Dorsey and Joshua, ran a joint blog. It's about sports in general, I guess.

Anyway, they contribute a lot to this site, and they're doing NFL draft coverage that I won't be doing. So check them out. They're fans of different teams, which is an interesting move. I'm sure game week is very exciting.

What's Coming?

First, let me just say that I appreciate the comments that I get. I know I am really bad about failing to actually respond to comments. Unfortunately, job and family considerations often prevent me from being able to get interactive with those people who are kindly enough to give me feedback. I assure you I read the comments and I appreciate the input, compliments, additions, and even the insults that people provide.

On to the show...

With Spring Football over and the summer camps still a ways away, there will be little news of value coming out regarding football. Really the only sports going on right now that interest me at all are baseball and hockey, and I just don't know that much about baseball, and you don't care one bit about hockey.

One thing I'm going to do is not post on weekends for a while. I don't get a lot of readership on weekends, and the posts end up getting pushed down the page before anyone sees them. Plus, it will allow me to stretch limited material a little further without diluting it content-wise. I have vowed never to post just for the sake of posting, and I won't start now. If I'm not feeling the inspiration to write anything, I just won't write. Now, when inspiration comes on the weekend, I'll post it during the week.

If there's something that happens on a weekend that I think needs to be written about, I will write about at that time, and of course when the season starts back up we will be heavily involved in weekend posting, but in the offseason, with so little going on, we'll chill out a bit on the weekends. Maybe do some light gardening.

Last year, around this time, we started doing our profiles of the members of the 2007 recruiting class at LSU. It was a big hit, and was a lot of fun to write up. Actually, we didn't start it until early June, but that's OK. We'll do it again this year, and since I don't have a boss here, I can start it whenever I like.

We're going to be a little more formal this time. I'm going to put players into one of three categories. Players will be either Headliners, or Solid Players, or Projects.

Headliners are guys the class is built around, and who I think the coaches expect the team to be built around in the future. These are players who have a really good chance of playing right away. Of course, I could very easily be wrong about them, but it's a projection. Last year, I would have labeled Chad Jones, Terrance Tolliver, Phelon Jones, Joe Barksdale, and Stefoin Francois as headliners. And maybe one or two others. Chad Jones, Tolliver, and Barksdale played right away, but Phelon Jones and Francois redshirted and are still trying to work their way up the depth chart.

Solid players are just that. They're solid. They're going to come in, and probably not play a whole lot immediately, but if they develop as expected they will be getting onto the two-deep depth chart in a year or two and will comprise the team leaders in their junior and senior years. That is, of course, if they develop. They sometimes don't. I would expect this to be the biggest category of players.

Projects are a group of people who likely are going to have to sit a while before they emerge as players, if they ever do. I don't want it to sound like a pejorative term, but the fact remains that not everyone in a recruiting class is a future star. Some are future depth players, or end up surprising you. I probably would have labeled Jonathan Zenon as a project when he was recruited, and he ended up a two-year starter. Last year, I probably would have labeled Jarvis Jones as a project, and he played backup left tackle as a true freshman. I would definitely have been wrong on that one.

As was pointed out when I labeled Robby Green as a "class filler", these guys sometimes end up being very good. Heck, sometimes walk-ons end up as All-Americans. Sometimes guys who the big schools wouldn't touch end up being Pro Bowl in the NFL. "Project" does not mean "Future Failure". It just means the guy probably has a long way to go before he's ready to help the team on the field.

So, that's what you have to look forward to. I look forward to writing them. I hope no one takes any offense. I don't know when I'll start, but I'll get to them soon.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Draft Week - The Saints, Part II

Yesterday, I kind of went through a primer on what I think the Saints are looking for. Now, I don't consider myself an expert on college football as a whole or on evaluating talent for college, and I am even less so an expert on the NFL. That said, I have opinions and a blog, so I'm writing about them.

The Saints hold the #10 overall pick and hold picks in every round except the 4th. The needs here are defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, and center (having lost Jeff Faine). There is no center who will be worth the #10 pick, so forget about that. At defensive tackle, Glenn Dorsey will not be available, Sedrick Ellis may be available, but likely won't, and the next defensive tackles are not considered worthy of such high selection. At linebacker, Keith Rivers may be there, and if he isn't there likely aren't any really good selections there.

At cornerback, however, there will likely be a wealth of talent available at #10. Leodis McKelvin, Michael Jenkins, Aqib Talib, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie all are more likely than not going to be available, and if the Saints want one, they will probably have their pick of the 4.

But that brings up another possibility. If the Saints like all four of those guys about the same, there's no sense in using such a high pick (and the concomitant dollars it requires) on a corner when they can trade down about 10 spots and likely still have 2 of the 4 guys still available. Who knows, they may even end up with the same guy at, say, #19 that they would have taken at #10, while picking up additional draft picks in the process.

Another possibility that has been discussed is to try to move up the draft to take Glenn Dorsey. They'd have to move up to at least #4, and even that might not be good enough.

Let me just say that I hate that idea, for several reasons:
  1. Top 5 picks cost a fortune in money and cap space. Having another top 5 pick on the team will tie up gobs of money on just two players: Reggie Bush and Glenn Dorsey.
  2. It will cost us at least our 2nd round pick and likely more. The "value chart" for draft picks is a bunch of hooey, and religious adherence to it has caused GMs to do crazy things, and it especially overvalues the first few picks in the draft. The value chart is what caused the Haslett-led Saints to trade two first round draft choices to move up a handful of spots to draft Jonathan Sullivan, who was a total bust (and incidentally is probably the #1 reason we need to draft a defensive tackle now).
  3. I'm not a big fan of drafting local legends. Sure, there can be a temporary boost in ticket sales and/or merchandising, but what happens if you need to bench, trade, or cut the local legend? Or what if he holds out? Or if he criticizes you in the media? Public. Relations. Nightmare.
  4. As much as I love Dorsey, his durability is a legitimate concern. To give up multiple draft picks and a lot of money/cap-space to get a guy with a fairly high likelihood of getting injured is just asking for trouble.
If the local legend is truly the best player on the board when you pick, go for it. If you have to pay a premium to get him, either in a too-high draft pick or in a trade, you're better off going in another direction.

I prefer to wait until the 10th pick, and if Sedrick Ellis is available, I take him. If he is not, I probably look to trade down. There are a few other potentially good defensive tackles who will be available in the late-first or early second, like Patrick Sims from Auburn, Kentwan Balmer from North Carolina, or Trevor Laws from Notre Dame. If the right deal is in place (like Dallas's two picks for our one), we can move down and pick up a corner, a tackle, and a linebacker with early picks and maximize our value. One of Talib, McKelvin, or Rogers-Cromartie is likely to be available at #22, and Balmer or Laws will be available at #28, or perhaps Jarod Mayo will be available. Or Curtis Lofton. There are lots of possibilities, all of them pretty good.

Crazy Idea of the Day: You want a crazy trade idea? One that has no chance in hell of actually happening? Here's what I do. I dangle Reggie Bush as trade bait. I'd offer him straight up to any team who comes on the board with Darren McFadden still available. I think McFadden is that good (and Bush that limited, for that matter). McFadden can do everything Bush can do (catch the ball, run outside the tackles, take it to the house in open space) but is a more complete running back, who could team with Deuce McAllister to extend both of their careers. I think McFadden is going to be the better pro, and (gasp!) would actually cost less money than Bush. What's more, I think there are teams that would go for it. I think the Raiders would go for it. I think the Falcons might go for it. The Raiders are fans of every crazy idea that some jacklegs suggests, and the Falcons can use help pretty everywhere, plus they need a draw. Plus, I really don't like Reggie Bush all that much.

I have no idea how such a cockamamie* plan would impact the salary cap, which has to be considered in any big deal you even think about. That's why I doubt it would ever happen. Plus, you know, it's kind of crazy.

Note: Would you believe me if I told you I managed to type out "cockamamie" on the first try without offending my browser's built-in spell-checker?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Draft Week - The Saints

Yesterday, we talked about how  I follow the NFL draft as a fan of both the Tigers and the Saints. Yesterday, we talked about the Tigers. Today, let's talk about the Saints. Clearly, the Saints had a very disappointing season last year. A lot of prognosticators predicted us to contend for a spot in the Super Bowl. We ended up with a losing season. We have been "rewarded" for that with the #10 overall pick.

To the extent I was able to watch the Saints last year, not being in their regular TV market, it appears that our complete lack of playmakers on defense was exposed once again. I know a lot of people will say that losing Deuce early in the season hurt a lot, but the team did very poorly even with Deuce in the lineup.

Heading into the offseason, a lot of people were thinking we would almost certainly be looking at linebacker or cornerback in the draft. The Saints, however, significantly upgraded those positions during free agency period, by picking up linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan and cornerback Randal Gay (former LSU product, by the way). Vilma and Morgan have been stars in the league, but have suffered season-shortening injuries recently. If even one of those guys returns to prior form (and neither is old really, just unhealthy lately), the linebacker position is substantially shored up. Randal Gay is still a young player and has been a solid zone corner in his career despite not being a regular starter at LSU and not being drafted.

The conventional wisdom is that the Saints needed to address linebacker, corner, and defensive tackle. They have already made some changes at linebacker and corner, but may not be done at either of those places. We still need to address the defensive tackle spot as well.

The problem is that it is difficult to project who among the top prospects at those positions will be available at the #10 spot. Among the top players at linebacker, corner, and defensive tackle, only Glenn Dorsey appears to be certain to be gone by the time the Saints draft. USC products Sedrick Ellis (DT) and Keith Rivers (LB) may be gone, or may not. Mocks have them all over the board. Backup plans Kentwan Balmer (DT, North Carolina) and Jarod Mayo (linebacker, Tennessee) appear to be reaches for #10.

At cornerback, commentators disagree over who the #1 corner on the board is. Is it workout warrior and small-school fast-riser Dominique Rogers-Cromartie? He has freakish measurables and may be the most athletic cornerback not just of this year but of the last several years, but he played at Tennessee State. Not Tennessee. Tennessee State. Can anyone identify their mascot without looking it up?

Is it Aqib Talib, another terrific athlete. He played at Kansas and has certain Deion Sanders-like qualities, in that he gets interceptions and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's generally considered a little unpolished and inconsistent and seems to have a fairly high bust-potential. But he could also end up being the best corner out of this draft.

Is it Michael Jenkins from South Florida? Leodis McKelvin from Troy? Both are small-school guys like Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, though they are much more known commodities than is Rogers-Cromartie.

Heck, they could surprise us all and take one of the several good offensive tackles on the board. After all, when most people thought they were going defense last year, they drafted wide receiver Robert Meachem. I was actually in the minority who really liked that pick. I think the idea of using the draft to "accentuate the positive" is often a good idea, as opposed to using it to "eliminate the negative". The idea is that if the strength of your team is moving the ball on offense, use the draft to help you do that even better rather than using it to help you stop other teams a little better.

Of course, it's impossible to characterize Robert Meachem's first year as anything more positive than "extremely disappointing", as he did not actually play at all. Meachem got off to a slow start in his college career as well, and ended his career as one of the most productive receivers in the country. Plus, receivers sometimes develop slowly anyway, and Meachem was trying to break into a really productive, veteran unit.

If Meachem can develop in the pros like he did in college, I still think we will look at the Meachem pick as a positive. He is more than capable of being a #2 receiver in the NFL, complementing Marques Colston.

Tomorrow, I will go over what I would do if I was the Saints and was willing to do bizarre things for the sake of maximizing my haul.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Draft Week - The Tigers

Here at GeauxTuscaloosa, we will do a little NFL Draft coverage, both from my perspective as a fan of LSU Football and as a fan of New Orleans Saints football.

Obviously, for LSU, the headliner is going to be Glenn Dorsey, who appears to be destined to be one of the first four players picked, and may be a target for teams trying to move up in the draft.

This is one of those years (much like last year, I suppose) where the top draft picks will be chosen more on need than on clear distinctions of talent. Last year, Jamarcus Russell was the #1 pick because the team holding the #1 wanted a quarterback and was enamored with him. This year, Dorsey could definitely be the #1 pick except that it looks like the Dolphins are looking at other positions, having flirted with OT Jake Long, QB Matt Ryan, and DE's Chris Long and Vernon Gholston in the media. Dorsey could easily be the #1 pick if the team holding the pick was looking for a DT for the 4-3 system. The Dolphins just appear to be looking elsewhere, but the Raiders and the Falcons at #4 and #3 look to be possibilities for Dorsey, and he almost certainly wouldn't fall below the Raiders at #4.

Of course, LSU will not be done once Dorsey is picked, but it does look like the initial post-season evaluations of other Tigers overestimated the value of players like Early Doucet and Ali Highsmith. January mock drafts had both of these players solidly in the first round, but they did not have great workouts and have slid down the draft board. Doucet is probably a late-second or early-third round pick as a slot receiver, and Highsmith will probably be picked somewhere in the middle rounds. Highsmith and Doucet are both gamers, and both very productive, and I think will play above their draft levels, but their workouts did not help them.

Jacob Hester may be the highest rated "fullback" in the draft, and I think he's the sort of guy who will never get a huge contract but will probably be in the NFL for a decade playing special teams, being a 3rd down back and/or blocking for someone else. I don't know what kind of draft value players like that have, but I expect him to get the call.

Chevis Jackson was a guy who a lot of people thought would be a first day pick, but a disappointing 40 time has put Chevis into the category of "zone corner", and those guys are a commodity in the NFL. Unfortunately being a "commodity" is not a particularly good thing. It means one zone corner is pretty much interchangeable with another, and few of them make a lot of money by NFL standards. He'll be drafted, probably in the middle rounds, but pure zone corners don't get drafted in the first round.

Craig Steltz is another guy who will probably hang around the league a long time, playing special teams and hopefully starting for someone at strong safety. I think he's a really safe pick in the middle rounds because, like Doucet and Hester, he's a gamer who knows how to play and knows how to produce. There's a spot for all of those guys in the NFL for a while.

Matt Flynn hopes to get drafted in the last two rounds. If he does, he will be in the NFL for a year or two while he tries to develop and improve enough to prove he can be a solid backup. I think he has the tools to do it and his workouts helped his cause. A regular feature in ESPN The Magazine follows Flynn, Andre Woodson, and JD Booty and evaluates the change in their respective draft stocks. Flynn has consistently rated as a draft-worthy quarterback, and I hope the NFL agrees. There are no guarantees though.

Other draft-eligible players are probably going to be looking for free agent contracts. Jonathan Zenon is a "speed" corner who just didn't show the speed in workouts. Given his lack of physicality as a corner, his mediocre speed probably puts him out of the draft. He will get a chance to make it as a free agent, but that's a pretty long road. Will Arnold certainly has draft-worthy talent, but his propensity for getting injured means no one will spend a draft pick on him either.

One interesting possibility is that some team will take a chance on former LSU running back Alley Broussard. Alley looked like a total stud and a sure-fire NFL prospect until his knee injury before the 2005 season. After that, he struggled with his conditioning and his confidence en route to also struggling with his production. He eventually transferred out of LSU and to a lower division, but is eligible for the NFL draft and worked out with LSU players for the scouts. He's clearly got the talent if his knee is 100%, but you wonder about his drive and his conditioning. I'm interested to see if he gets a sniff.

A former Tiger I actually really like as an NFL prospect who likely will not get drafted is OT Carnell Stewart. Yes, Stewart committed a lot of dumb penalties, and was sometimes abused in pass protection, but he was very inexperienced at the position. He was also a monster in run-blocking and very athletic for an offensive lineman. He's a guy who, I think, if he could get on a practice squad and develop for a year getting more coaching, he could turn into a real player.

Note: Several articles can be written about how LSU players have not tested as fast as expected. It appears that LSU just was not as fast of a team as a lot of people thought it was entering and playing last season. Our cornerbacks ran 4.6 40-times, and our best linebacker ran 4.8 and slower. Steltz ran solidly, but hardly spectacularly, and Doucet timed out pretty slow for a wide receiver. Though all of these guys were very good college football players, it is clear that the LSU football team just did not have the wealth of talent that people thought. We had a lot of very good, solid players, but we were not a team full of NFL first rounders like a lot of people thought. This helps explain the fact that we played a lot of zone coverage and did not blitz as much as people wanted. The coaches, shockingly, understood that we just weren't all that fast of a team, particularly on defense, and adjusted accordingly. Amazing how that happens.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Evaluating Linebackers

I think I can put my finger on one reason I have trouble evaluating linebackers from film. The films on linebackers always concentrate on the guy lining up the running back and making the big hit. It makes for an impressive showcase for a linebacker to show him playing aggressively and making a hit and tackle. The problem is, the films don't really show how linebackers have to play.

The typical linebacker film has the linebacker playing in the middle of the field with the ball going to the running back. The linebacker waits for an opening and then shows a burst of speed to get to the back, standing him up and bringing him down with a thud. Nice.

What does a linebacker in college have to do? Rarely does he get the opportunity to lay a guy out like you see on the films. His first job is just to pursue the ball carrier and get him to the ground. Big hit usually not necessary. The films do an OK job of showing pursuit-and-tackling. Or at least, they usually do. Usually you can see how a linebacker pursues and whether or not he's a sure tackler when he gets where he's going.

After that is where the films fail. They almost never show the linebacker performing his second task, which is to drop back into pass coverage and defend the running back, tight end, or over-the-middle receiver. You just never see it, and it's such a big part of a linebacker's game in college, especially if the linebacker wants to play every down. If you see it, it's because he managed to get an interception, or a big hit after allowing the catch. Interceptions are nice, but I'd rather see five plays of a linebacker sticking like glue to a running back and not giving the QB the option to throw at him.

Evaluating a linebacker without seeing his coverage skills is like evaluating a baseball pitcher without seeing his curveball. How could you even begin? How much confidence could you have in whatever conclusion you drew?

The third most important part of a linebacker's game is to be able to shed blocks and still make a play. Film rarely shows a linebacker actually being blocked, I suppose it's because those kinds of plays aren't very spectacular. You can't usually get a big hit when you're just trying to get a lineman off of you so you can get any kind of hit. You almost never see this.

To continue the analogy, now you're evaluating your pitcher without seeing a curve or his 3rd pitch.*

There are other aspects of being a linebacker, such as being a situational blitzer. The films often show a linebacker blitzing and mauling the quarterback, so that's all good, but this is done primarily on pure athletic ability. So much of the linebacker game is mental, but the films focus on showing the athlete. This is what makes it so hard to differentiate the films of one very good athlete from the films of the three or four other very good athletes you're watching.

The good news is that the coaches know a lot more than we simple observers know. They see these guys play actual games rather than select plays, and can see everything these guys can do. They can make better evaluations than we can.

It looks like LSU will be picking up a commitment from a linebacker out of Florida today. His film is like all the others, but we have on pretty good authority that he is the top rated out-of-state linebacker left on LSU's board, so we'll be very happy to have him.

*Analogy does not apply to knuckleball pitchers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Saban Roughs Up the Media Again

If it makes it to this blog, I guess it's not news. I didn't know about Nick Saban's weird rant about scholarship numbers until I got into my car to go to work yesterday. The radio was abuzz about it.

In case you haven't heard, at his post-Spring press conference, Nick Saban was asked how he was going to make the scholarship numbers work out, considering he has too many people on scholarship now to add 25 more in the Fall and still be at the 85 limit. His response started with the statement that they have a plan, but it didn't end there.

He got really worked up about the question and was clearly bothered by it. He then said, "The media doesn't need to know and the fans don't need to know. The fans don't want to know." The exchange continued uncomfortably thereafter, with Saban clearly again bothered by a journalist's intrusiveness. The journalist in question was not some rookie or a national media plant. It was Birmingham beat writer Ian Rapaport, who is very Bama-friendly but appears to have gotten under Nick Saban's skin more than once.

Two things about this incident struck me. First, it's not that Saban refuses to answer the question that is really troubling. It's the way he refuses to answer it. It's his tone and his body language, which denotes an air of hostility. Les Miles refuses to answer certain questions to. The man has never honestly answered a question about a player injury except when the injury has ended the player's season. He refused for several months to ever say when Ryan Perrilloux would rejoin the team last season, and then quietly reinstated him at the start of Fall Practice. His manner of refusing to divulge information does not come off quite as disrespectfully as Saban's refusals to answer questions.

Saban is by most accounts a pretty smooth recruiter, which is why it is so surprising that he is so stiff and uncomfortable in front of media. And this was friendly media. I have always heard that when he wants to be charming, he can charm anyone and any crowd, but he gets downright surly with the media, which is where most people see him.

I also think he's wrong about the fans not caring what his plan for dealing with scholarship numbers is. After all, if a major beat writer asked the question, it's probably because the beat writer believes his readers are interested in the answer. Now, many of them, if faced with the response "I have a plan that I won't talk about", would probably be satisfied at least for the time-being, knowing they would eventually find out one way or another. But they care. They're not indifferent to the answers to questions like, "Who are going to be the players on the roster when we play a game?" And that's what the question really is.

Let me just say that I think it's an absolute right of a college football coach not to divulge sensitive information about his team and his players. That's a different thing from saying it's a good idea to hold back certain information, but if a college coach wants to keep information about his program out of the media, I don't think the media is right to claim they need the information for any reason.

This brings me to my second thought about this. Not only does this incident illustrate one of the key differences between Nick Saban and Les Miles, it also illustrates a difference between the LSU fan base and the Alabama fan base. The difference is that I think the Alabama fan base takes a more proprietary view towards their team than does the LSU fan base. By this I mean that the Bama fans feel more ownership of their team than we do of ours. I think there are good effects of this and bad effects of this.

Among the good effects are that the fans continue to come out in droves even when the team is not being successful. The fans continue to identify with the team, buy merchandise, follow the team, travel for road games, and generally care even when the team is losing. If not for this effect, I really don't think Bama draws 92,000 for a Spring Game last year, and I don't think Bama draws in the recruiting class they got in 2008. LSU fan activity dropped off considerably during the Hallman years and the latter Dinardo years, and the team reached a doldrums (particularly in the Hallman years) that led to a lot of fan apathy.

The bad effects are that the fans demand information and accountability. They feel they have a right to know what is going on with the program, and if they don't like it, they want things changed. They can also turn on a coach in a heartbeat. See Shula, Mike. Saban, though he is a good coach, is also a control freak. He is not comfortable with the idea of anyone else but him thinking they have a right to control the team or demand changes. He doesn't even let his assistants talk about the team publicly for fear he will lose message discipline. (Because, as we've seen, Saban is the master of media manipulation and discipline). Presidential candidates aren't this obsessive about controlling message discipline.

These factors are some of the reasons I was skeptical back in 2006 that Saban was a good match for Bama. At LSU, he was allowed to control the message without running into a lot of opposition. He was allowed to be surly with reporters without anyone really caring that much. He was allowed to disregard invitations for public appearances. Here, I don't think he will be able to do those things without taking a little damage. Now, the media and the fans will tolerate it if they win, but only if they win a lot. If 2009 rolls around and Bama is still looking average, the fans could get pretty surly themselves.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Book on Perrilloux

I've talked before about how I think people overstate the case against Ryan Perrilloux.  Yes, he gets in a lot of trouble here, but it's always penny-ante stuff.  He's never been arrested, never been charged with a crime of violence, never been implicated in drugs, never been implicated in theft, and never actually let his grades slip so much as to be academically ineligible.  

I know at least one of my commenters says that's because a lot of other stuff he's done has been covered up, but that falls under the rubric of "unverifiable" and I don't know if we should put any credence in it.  The young man certainly draws a lot of attention, whatever he does.  You sometimes read threads on a message board that says things like, "I saw Ryan in class today.  He looked normal."

I recently read a fairly balanced article about the LSU program and in particular Ryan Perrilloux, by CNNSI writer Stewart Mandel.  He quotes Miles saying something I've said before here.  He said that critics in the media, and on the message boards I suppose, "don't know what goes on in our program."  He defended his handling of the Perrilloux situation, "The suspension itself was a tremendous punishment."

I often think to myself, why does this young man, who still has never done any truly unforgivable thing, draw so much ire from people?  I mean, the kid has never killed kittens or stuck a gun in someone's face (though some commenters may wonder if he has and we just don't know about it).  Yet, of all the discipline issues in the college football world, including another troubled young QB like Stephen Garcia at South Carolina, Perrilloux gets the most attention, and it's for things like skipping classes or trying to use a fake idea to get into a casino at 20 years old.  Why is he hounded?  Why is his every move watched by the college football media and fans to wait for his next failure?  

Why do people expect that failure to come?  Yes, in the last year, he has had a hard time staying out of trouble, but his previous two years at LSU was uneventful as far as we know.  Granted, in those years he was a 3rd string quarterback and not expected to play, but we never heard anything about any legal problems or suspensions for skipping class.  If he can stay out of trouble for his first two years, why not his last two?

And why is Ryan "LSU's Britney Spears", and analogy I like, by the way, because Britney (like Ryan) is expected to fail and constantly watched for signs of failure.

I think the answer is two-fold.  Ryan Perrilloux is disrespected as much as he is for two reasons, both of them being his own fault.  The first reason is his statement upon committing that he was hoping to win the start his first year and maybe win 4 Heismans.  That really set him off on the wrong foot with LSU fans and with the team, and set the tone for his whole career thus far at LSU.

The second reason is his implication in the counterfeiting operation.  He was never charged, mind you, and was never accused of being any kind of a ring leader.  We don't really know much of anything about it, but I think the most reasonable sounding explanation that I have heard is that some of his friends/family/associates were heavily involved and Ryan may have received some benefits from it and/or known about it.  Counterfeiting is a serious crime, but being on the periphery of it is not particularly serious in and of itself.  What made this so important for Ryan was just how strange it is.  You just don't hear about football players being implicated in this sort of thing, at least not until after their careers have been over for decades.

Without those two things, we have a high-level athlete who tried to gain entry into a casino illegally, got into an altercation with a bar bouncer, and skipped some classes and meetings.  Hardly stuff to write home about or even worry about if you ask me.  

This is not to suggest that those things didn't happen or that they aren't legitimately things that should be added to the Perrilloux equation.  I just think that those are the things that set Ryan Perrilloux apart from other young athletes who have gotten into a few scrapes of minor trouble, nothing to justify the scrutiny he has received.  I doubt anyone will ever actually forget those things, but if he can manage to get the other things turned around and stay turned around, he will be a special quarterback we can hopefully remember very fondly when his playing career here at LSU is over.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Deepest Conference in the NCAA?

I was listening to talk radio again yesterday, and I heard some actual substantive football talk for the first time in a while.  Tony Curry, who does not offend me generally, said that the SEC this year is the deepest conference in America, and the deepest it has been in a long time.

Really?  Well, Tony Curry is entitled to his opinion, and I'm not going to criticize his intelligence for it, but I think he's incorrect here.  In fact, I think the SEC is going to be significantly down from last year, when we had 10 teams end the season bowl-eligible.  I doubt we even flirt with that again.

Next year I think the SEC will have a decided underclass again, which is the usual state of affairs.  What made last year so special was that South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Arkansas all put together pretty good teams that could beat anyone on any given day.  I expect that only Mississippi State will be able to do it again next year among that list.

South Carolina, Vandy, Kentucky, and Arkansas all lose a lot of good players and don't have the depth or recruiting to replace them.  In particular, let's look at Kentucky and Arkansas.  Kentucky loses its quarterback, 4 of its top 5 receivers, its top running back, and its best defensive player.  And those are just the guys I can identify immediately.  Kentucky's depth chart was not littered with 4- and 5-star players.  They are not going to be able to replace guys like Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme, Raphael Little, and Wesley Woodyard.  Kentucky should take a step down.

Arkansas is even more obviously going to trend down.  They lose their only really dangerous skill position players.  Guys like Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, and Marcus Monk made this team dangerous.  Even with Marcus Monk mostly out of the equation last season, they still lose their top 4 receivers.  They have some young players who show promise, but you just don't lose that much productivity, plus install a new offense and a new defense, and expect not to lose a little bit.

Those two teams are clear candidates to take a step down, but Vandy and USC also lose productive players.  Vandy will have an offensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and its best wide receiver in its history is going to the NFL as well.  USC no longer has anyone named Brinkley on the team, and its solid running back tandem is now a solo job.  They return dangerous wideout Kenny McKinley, but have never managed to find a consistent quarterback to throw to him.  South Carolina had a really good 2007 recruiting class, but they're probably a year away from making any real noise.

That's 4 teams out of 12 that I think are not going to be as good as they were last year, and I can only identify one team that I think will make a significant step up.  Ole Miss was a young team last year with a lot of talent at wide receiver, defensive line, and linebacker.  Their QB play should be much improved, and if they can find a running back to replace BenJarvis Green-Ellis (5-star recruit Enrique Davis is a good place to start looking).  Their young wide receivers made some serious plays last year, and if they get consistent quarterback play out of Jevan Snead they can have a very good offense.  I think Ole Miss is a bowl team, but they're really the only team to appear on the verge of stepping up.

We all know that Florida and Georgia look like they're going to be really good.  LSU looks like it will be just as good if our quarterback situation resolves in the way I hope it will.  Tennessee and Auburn both look solid, though perhaps less so than in years past.  Bama, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss look like they are likely to be bowl teams, but that's really about it.  I think the SEC will be good next year, but not as good as last year.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring Comes To A Close

One thing you have to realize is that in the State of Alabama, spring football is a much bigger deal than it is in Louisiana.  Always has been.  It came as a big surprise to me when I moved to Tuscaloosa 5 1/2 years ago just how big the Spring Game was.  The Spring Game actually created traffic problems similar to what a real game would cause, but on a smaller scale.  

That provided the foundation that the Saban-hysteria acted upon to create the Spring Game frenzy that happened last year.  Now, it appears that Bama has changed spring football for the foreseeable future around the SEC.  Where Spring Games previously, if they were even held, were strictly for devotees who bordered on being hobbyists, it is now being used as an offseason pep rally, designed to create an sustain interest in whatever program is holding it.  

This weekend saw Bama's Spring Game draw about 78,000 people into the stands.  It wasn't quite a full house, and a far cry from the state of affairs last year when they had to turn 30,000 people away, but it was still significantly above their own high standards.  What happened in the game?  Who cares?  All I know is that one of the two intrasquad teams won.  Which one?  I have no idea.  It's hard to figure out why it would matter.

Also, Florida had its Spring Game, which doubled as 3-ring circus, complete with interactive games where regular students could compete with players for the chance to win a scholarship.  The College GameDay guys were on hand to do whatever it is you call what they do.  

I'm still trying to work out what it means.  Does it have any impact on LSU that we do not generate the same level of excitement for spring football as some other programs?  It's hard to know.  I feel pretty comfortable saying that Bama's spring fever last year gave them a pretty good shot in the arm for recruiting.  It helped, at least in the short term, but it remains to be seen if there sill be any lingering long term benefit beyond the long term benefit of having a really good recruiting class.

It doesn't seem to be hurting us in recruiting this year, as we are going like gangbusters.  Maybe it hurt last year, as we lost out on a lot of big recruits who ultimately had us in 2nd place. 

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Minter Commitment

Early this past Saturday, on the day of the Spring Game, Kevin Minter of Suwanee, Georgia committed to play football at LSU.  Minter is listed at 6'0" 230#, with a 4.6 40 yard dash.  His videos show him playing everything from defensive tackle to linebacker.  He projects to be a middle linebacker at the next level.  It appears from reports that he will have no difficulty qualifying academically.

He seems like a good kid, one who will be a good addition to the team both in terms of athletic ability and character.  If you trust his 4.6 second 40 time, he is plenty fast enough to be a hard-hitting middle linebacker, and he looks plenty strong.  He is outside of the Rivals250, but he is being recruited by USC which tells me he's probably a low 4-star at worst.

His videos, I think, test the limits of my ability to evaluate talent, which is something I've said before that I am not that great at.  Sometimes I can look at a video and really tell that a kid is something special.  I think a baboon could watch Russell Shepard and know he is a fantastic prospect at one position or another.  It's a little harder with a player like Minter, and I think it's beyond my abilities.

I have watched the videos of Minter and fellow targets Jon Bostic, Chris Williams, Frankie Telfort, Willie Ferrell, and others and I cannot really tell much of a difference between those players.  They all hit hard, shed blocks, and outrun running backs with ease at the high school level.  It's hard to differentiate.  Honestly, the most impressive linebacker video I have seen of any of our publicized recruiting targets is that of West Monroe linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who also has one of the best names in all of football.  None of them look as good as Andalusia linebacker Nico Johnson's videos, but I don't think we have a legitimate shot at getting him.

I am really interested in knowing what coaches look for in a linebacker's videos, because I sure don't see anything to differentiate those guys.  Surely there must be something, but it is beyond my abilities to see.  Whatever they saw, they saw enough in Minter that they didn't want to wait to accept a commitment from him.  They wasted no time in getting to him.

The fact that they accepted a commitment from Minter at this early stage says to me that Minter is one of the two best out-of-state linebackers that the coaches believe they have a realistic chance of signing.  That says a lot about Minter, especially considering how much luck we're having pursuing out of state recruits this year.  With all those people interested, they really wanted Minter, perhaps above all others.

We'll probably take two more linebackers, perhaps three more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Coach - Trent Johnson

LSU appears to have hired Stanford's Trent Johnson as its new basketball coach.  At first blush, this hire does not have a "wow" factor to it.  I don't know much about Trent Johnson, and he wasn't really a guy talked up on the media circuit in the 2 months since John Brady was fired.  However, Les Miles didn't have a wow-factor in his hiring either, and he has turned out great.

When this announcement was made, it introduced more questions than answers.  Why is he leaving Stanford for LSU, a move most would consider a downgrade?  What does he bring to the table?  Is he a recruiter?  Is he a motivator?  Is he an X's and O's guy?  

Some of these questions began to be answered by reading former Stanford great Mark Madsen's blog.  Of course, I try to read Madsen's blog every day, if only to find out if he's going to be in any dance-offs soon.  

Madsen says of Trent Johnson:

"This man deserves the very best because he is a first class individual and one of the best basketball minds in the business."

"Trent Johnson is one of the best communicators in the basketball world."

"He's secured multiple Sweet 16 performaces, a huge recruiting pipeline into Los Angeles, Oakland and throughout the East Coast, as well as one of the best X's and O's coaches in the nation."

That's enough for me for now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Request Admin

I would like to report this thread.  He's spamming the board.  Boil him in oil.  I think he does it a fair bit.  I wonder why he hasn't been banned.

Anthony Randolph To Try The NBA

Yesterday, in a press conference, Anthony Randolph announced he was going to test the NBA draft waters, while leaving himself the option to return if things do not go well.

Projections seem to have him as a lottery pick, which has me perplexed.  Randolph is a very good player, certainly, but I don't see "lottery" in him, because I don't see any star potential there (at the NBA level).  I also don't see a player who elevates the play of those around him.  

Yes, he has the prototypical NBA body style with his good height and lean physique, but he certainly has to gain strength before he hopes to make any kind of an impact in the NBA, where the post game is even more physical than in college.  I don't follow the NBA much, but it is very hard to imagine Randolph going against the likes of Kevin Garnett, Shaq, or Tim Duncan and having any success at all.

It just boggles the mind that LSU could have a lottery pick on its roster and still have a losing season.  He was a good player on a bad team, but he wasn't exactly dominant.  The explanation is that Randolph isn't really a lottery pick.  They say he'll be drafted on potential, but that seems a little odd to me considering Randolph has at least a 1-year apprenticeship ahead of him and probably a 2-year apprenticeship, and then will be eligible for free agency after his third year.  And in what way is his potential higher than, say, Joe Alexander's or Eric Gordon's?

I wonder if those projections are going to start declining before the summer.  Overseas players are starting to really compete with American college players for draft slots, and one can expect 1/4 to 1/2 of all the early draft positions to be taken up by foreign players.  Plus, Randolph will have attended a bunch of camps and workouts by that time, and he will have been put through the paces.

Randolph, as I've said before, should return to LSU.  I know that it's hard to pass up money, but life is about more than money.  LSU is in all likelihood the last basketball team in which Anthony Randolph will be one of the best players.  His future, despite what some projections say, is likely as an NBA role player, watching someone like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, or Steve Nash keep the ball in his hands most of the game while Randolph (if he's on the court) is trying to stay out of his way.  

That's not a knock on Randolph.  It's just a commentary on how the NBA game is played now.  He'll have a lot more fun and win a lot more glory for himself if he stays at LSU a little while longer and leads us to a nice run somewhere.  I know his wallet says leave, but I feel pretty confident in saying that 10 years from now, he will probably wish he had stayed.

What does this mean for LSU?  Well, assuming Randolph actually goes to the NBA, it means that this was truly a wasted year.  We spent a lost season developing Randolph and setting up a future run with him as a primary weapon, and then he leaves.  If he leaves for the NBA, we would have been better off never having him in the first place.  His legacy at LSU will be zero.  He will have come in and played reasonably well on a bad team and will have left before he accomplished anything.

If Randolph wants to come back, great.  I'd love to have him back.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jason Wins

In a result surprising to no one, Jason wins the tourney game.  The final standings are as follows:
  1. Jason - 714 points
  2. Me - 700 points
  3. Daniel - 648 points
  4. Poseur - 646 points
  5. Rollie - 619 points
  6. Jroberts - 540 points
  7. Scott - 390 points
In another result surprising very few people, Memphis lost because they didn't hit free throws.

Alright, that's not really fair.  Over the course of the game, they hit 12 of 19 free throws, which is a 63% rate.  That's not terrible.  Not great, but not terrible.  They just missed a bunch down the stretch, and it was one of their best free throw shooters missing them.

For a random thought of the morning, I have two observations about televised sports that I think are interrelated:
  1. Television executives reportedly complain about how long sporting events last, and how they go on beyond their scheduled times, and
  2. Television stations air seemingly interminable pre-game segments, even for routine events, getting longer as the games get more important.
I truly believe that thanks to the internet and 24 hour sports channels, there isn't a whole lot of need for the networks to catch me up on the news before they start their broadcast of the games.  Yet, they spend a lot of time telling me things that I already know, and that anyone could easily find out if they are really interested, delaying the starts of games and having them run long.

Last night, the broadcast started at 8:00 and the game didn't begin until after 8:30.  This problem is not limited to basketball.  This weekend I watched the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Yankees (yay!) on Fox in an early season match that is ultimately almost irrelevant to the final results of the season.  The pre-game lasted over 20 minutes.

When I watched World Cup games in 2006, I was at first very put-off by the fact that when a game was set to start at 1:00pm, they went to the arena at precisely 1:00pm and the game was set for kickoff.  It was jarring not to have any pregame, but then I got used to it, and ever since I have wondered why soccer is the only sport that does it this way.  

If there is anything that needs to be said to set up the drama of the game, it can usually be said between the action of most major sporting events.  Surely baseball is such a slow-moving sport that you could have an entire slow moving, tear jerking SportsCenteresque human interest story about the survivor of some rare disease between pitches.  

As pregame activities expand, networks bristle at the fact that televised sports take up greater than their allotted time.  Networks like ESPN, ABC, and CBS have lobbied for (and gotten) changes in the rules to shorten college football games, all while clogging up the television set at the top of their broadcasts with extraneous material that delays the start of the game.  If CBS want to shorten their broadcasts, then they should start their 2:30pm football game precisely at 2:30.  If they want to have pre-game, then have a specially set 30 minute pregame show.  I assure you, after the initial jolt, fans will get used to it.  They will even come to like it.

OK, so that random thought actually took up most of this post.  Sue me.

Monday, April 7, 2008

WBB Falls

Well, that was a sad ending to an exciting if not particularly well-played game.  

In case you missed it, LSU held a 1-point lead with 7.1 seconds to play with Tennessee taking out the ball underneath its own basket.  Out of a timeout, we put on a full-court man-to-man press, but Candace Parker beat the defender to the sideline and then outran her down the wing before hitting an open player under the basket.  Amazingly, this player missed the gimme (a lot of that happened in this game), but there was actually time to get an offensive rebound and a put-back to put Tennessee ahead with 0.7 seconds left.

It was a very poor defensive play in a game characterized by very little offense all around.  In 6.4 seconds, against a full-court press out of a timeout, the defense let Tennessee advance the ball with the dribble all the way down the court and get off not one but two point-blank shots.  It was somewhat reminiscent of Tyus Edny for UCLA, but Edny wasn't going up against a defense that was able to set itself up out of a timeout.  And Edny wasn't allowed to get off two shots.

Really it never should have even gotten to this point.  The team played very good defense overall throughout the game, and got good shots on offense, but simply did not hit them.  Sylvia Fowles had an impressive line with 24 points and 20 rebounds, but she was only 10 of 24 from the field and missed a lot of shots she'd normally hit with her eyes closed.  She could easily have had 35 points if she'd only hit her layups and foul shots.  

The team as a whole shot 35% from the field, and it wasn't because Tennessee played great defense.  They just missed the shots.  The team was 1 of 9 from 3-point range despite a lot of open looks from the better shooters on the team, and was 7 of 19 from the foul line.  We simply failed to take advantage of the fact that Tennessee's best player, Candace Parker, was rendered mostly ineffective due to injury.  Parker was 6 of 27 from the field.  Despite a few nice baskets, she really was not the dangerous player you expected her to be.  She had no jump shot whatsoever because of her bad shoulder, and was a liability on defense.

We outplayed them, but we lost because we left a lot of points on the table.  We earned points by getting good shots off of good ball movement and good skills, but couldn't get the ball in the basket.

Looking at it objectively, this particular window of opportunity for LSU to compete in the SEC and on the national stage has clearly passed.  The team loses its 5 starters and loses its 3 top scoring threats off of a team that was very top heavy in scoring anyway.  Only Alison Hightower returns as a significant scoring threat for next year's team.  

Coach Van Chancellor reportedly has a really strong recruiting class coming in.  That is certainly good news under the circumstances.  It looks like we will have to take a step back for a little while, as a young team gains experience, before emerging again as a real player on the national stage.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring Game - Women's Basketball - New Commitment

There is just too much to talk about today.  There's no way to get to all of it.  We have the aftermath of the Spring Game.  We have the LSU Lady Tigers (I hate that name.  They're just the Tigers, dammit!) heading to the Final Four for tonight's matchup against Tennessee.  We have the commitment of middle linebacker Kevin Minter.  We had a baseball double-header against Bama yesterday, which was split.

We just won't get to all of them.  I'll talk about Minter more extensively later this week, but for now I'll just say Minter is our first linebacker commitment.  He's another kid out of Georgia to go along with Drayton Calhoun.  He is by all accounts on track to qualify, and he looks pretty good.  More on this later.

The Spring Game

The Spring Game was the Richard Murphy - Demetrius Byrd show.  Murphy had an eye-popping 145 yards rushing plus a 53 yard touchdown catch.  If the Spring Game is any indication, the redshirt sophomore may well be our feature back this Fall, passing the likes of Keiland Williams and Charles Scott on the depth chart.  This is pretty amazing because Keiland and Charles are both pretty darn good.  If Murphy is significantly better than them, then our running game will be outstanding next year.

It is rare, in my limited knowledge, for a single player to shine so much in spring.  Usually, players get shuffled in and out so much that it is hard for one person to really stand out.  Murphy took advantage of Keiland getting benched for a fumble, however, and he ran with it.  Literally.

The quarterbacks received mixed reviews.  Neither played flawlessly, but most people are saying that both of them looked like they belonged.  I don't think there is any doubt, however, that Ryan Perrilloux is the best quarterback on the team by a mile at this point.  Andrew Hatch had a pretty nice stat line, going 13 for 17 with 187 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception.  Lee had a more modest day at 7 for 13 with 67 yards and 2 touchdowns, but didn't throw an interception.

They had some long pass plays.  There was Murphy's 53 yard touchdown catch-and-run, and Byrd's 57 yard touchdown catch plus his 60 yard catch.  He had over 130 yards on 4 catches, which averages out to "awesome".

If we have these kinds of big plays on a regular basis during the season, look out for us having a real shot to win the SEC and maybe even get to another BCS National Championship Game. The media is focusing on Florida and Georgia during this offseason, and they both appear to be very good teams, I see no reason to think they are any better than we are.  I like the position of being overlooked, however.

On to Women's Basketball

The LSU women's basketball team tries to change its Final Four fortunes around tonight at 8:00 Central.  We have, as most people know, been to five straight Final Fours.  In our first four, we failed to win a game.  Tonight, with 5 seniors starting, we hope that the experience will pay off for us.  

We draw a team that is very familiar to us.  This team has played the Tennessee Volunteers probably 10 times in their careers.  They know the roster.  They know the players.  They know the strategies.  There will be no surprises.  Of course, that is also true of the Tennessee players, who know our players just as well.  

This year, LSU is 1-1 against Tennessee, having beaten in the regular season before losing to them in the conference tournament.  If you are looking for and advantage, Tennessee's best player Candace Parker suffered a dislocated shoulder in the Elite Eight.  She returned to the game, and will be playing tonight, but it remains to be seen if there are any lingering effects.  I don't think Tennessee can beat LSU if Parker cannot be effective.

I'm looking forward to watching it.  If we lose tonight, a great group of seniors finishes out its careers on a down note, but in any event they should be remembered for their accomplishments rather than their inability to win it all.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring Game Begins

LSU hired Duke athletic director Joe Alleva as its new athletic director yesterday.  I have really nothing intelligent to say about this hiring, but I thought I'd put it out there.

The football Spring Game is today.  We all remember that 92,000 showed up to Tuscaloosa last year for the Spring Game.  That is a record for Spring Game attendance that will probably stand for decades, as it greatly surpassed any previous Spring Game.  

What I did not know when I moved to Tuscaloosa 5 1/2 years ago, and what most people who don't have connections to the state of Alabama probably do not realize, is that Spring Football has always been a much bigger deal here than elsewhere.  When I moved here, traffic was genuinely snarled on A-Day game day.  I was genuinely surprised.

One day, I told my wife that I was not accustomed to Spring Football being so much bigger of a deal here as it is in Baton Rouge.  She asked me, "How many people do you normally get at a Spring Game."  I told her that we don't always even have a Spring Game.  She was confused and surprised.  I remember last year we had one, but the year before we did not.  I estimated that when we have one, we typically get about 5,000 people there, and it isn't promoted all that heavily.  I think they normally get about 3x that many people here, perhaps 4x as many.  Last year was an aberration brought on by Saban Fever.  I expect this year it will be more like 40,000 as Saban Fever has died down a little, but the ante has been raised on Spring Football.

I truly question the value of a Spring Game as far as evaluating the players or getting a taste of the strategies to be employed throughout the season.  Coaches carefully screen what information gets out during the early part of Spring drills.  Why would they let fans (and opposing coaches) know what's going on at the end?

This year, LSU is treating its game as another Junior Day.  Reportedly 50 or so high school junior prospects LSU is recruiting or watching are going to be in attendance at the game.  Expect a couple of commitments, as several guys LSU really wants appear to be close to pulling the trigger.  

I am particularly interested in what could transpire on the linebacker front.  We clearly need to recruit some linebackers this year, and a whole bunch of good linebackers are on the radar now.  So many, in fact, that there's no way we could take them all.  Some obviously have to be higher on the ladder than others, but all of the guys LSU is looking at (Minter, Bostic, Williams, Ferrell, etc.) have their boosters out there saying we need to be focusing on their guy.  And that's just the out-of-state guys.  

It's something to keep an eye on.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Spring Practice Over

Spring practice at LSU is officially over, with a special celebratory "Spring Game" on Saturday, open to the general public.

As everyone knows, Spring Games have taken on new meaning in the wake of the excitement brought on by a certain someone who arrived in Tuscaloosa a little over a year ago.  More on that perhaps tomorrow, but I want to talk about the actual players right now.

The big battles of the Spring were at quarterback, right tackle, safety, and cornerback.  Everyone knows the quarterback situation and why the battle between Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch was so important.  To hear talk, it appears that Lee has put a little distance between himself and Hatch.  Lee simply has a stronger and more accurate arm, and can make the throws better than Hatch.  Lee just has to learn game management and how to make the right decisions and he can be a very good quarterback.  He's got the physical tools, and reportedly has a very good work ethic.  He just has to put it all together.  Let's hope what he has won is the backup quarterback position.

Jordan Jefferson will arrive in the fall to challenge, but I really believe the staff would much prefer to redshirt Jefferson, though he may have to play if Perrilloux has further problems.  I think it's unrealistic, however, to believe a true freshman has a real chance to beat out a veteran at a position with such a long learning curve as quarterback. There is just too much to learn, and too many ways that the practice time that Lee has gotten will help him. Jefferson will be in the mix later in his career, but won't play this year unless there is attrition of quarterbacks or the veterans are ineffective.

At right tackle, we have to replace departed senior Carnell Stewart.  True sophomores Joseph Barksdale and Jarvis Jones engaged in a good battle for the position throughout Spring, but it appears that Barksdale leaves Spring with the upper hand.  Both Barksdale and Jones earned substantial playing time as true freshman reserves last year, and both figure to be on track to crack the starting lineup before long one way or another, but for now it appears Barksdale will be our 2008 starting right tackle barring injury. This is somewhat as expected, as Barksdale came in much more heralded (though at defensive tackle rather than offensive line) than Jarvis Jones, who frankly has been a big surprise since joining the team.

Cornerback is obviously a position where there is much wringing of hands and furrowing of brow.  We lost two seniors to graduation, and we had no one behind them get any substantial playing time.  The battle in the Spring was between four young players: Junior Chris Hawkins, Sophomore Jai Eugene, and redshirt freshmen Ron Brooks and John Williams.  Hawkins and Eugene ran with the 1's all Spring, and there were reports either Brooks or Williams may switch to offense at some point.  Eugene of course was a very highly prized recruit in Les Miles' first full recruiting class.  That class honestly has been somewhat disappointing, but if the members of that class are ever going to make a move to the top of the depth charts, now is the time.  I do not have any feeling on how these corners will look in the Fall when the games start, but for right now it looks like Eugene and Hawkins are our starting cornerbacks.

The arrival of Patrick Johnson in the Fall could shake that up.  He's a very highly regarded 5-star recruit out of Florida that many people think can win the job outright.  He has been described as the most physically gifted cornerback to come out of high school in several years, and the best cornerback prospect LSU has ever had.

Last but not least, at strong safety we have to replace All-American Craig Steltz.  The competition is between last year's backup Harry Coleman, who played so well in the BCSNCG when Steltz had to leave with an injury, and sophomore Chad Jones, who looks like an eventual All-American type but seems like more of a free safety than a strong safety.  Chad Jones skipped out on participating in baseball in order to concentrate on this competition.  These two guys split time at the 1's, and it appears the battle for the starting safety spot is not even close to being decided yet.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I Sure Am Glad I'm Not a Real Journalist

If I was, I might be forced to do something unthinkable, like issue some kind of apology or something for yesterday's post. In case you missed the news, the manager of the Kona Grill, where the Perrilloux incident reportedly took place, has denied any incident ever happened. This means, of course that we may never find out what, if anything, happened this weekend that has kept Ryan Perrilloux out of practice this week.

Of course, rumors abound yet again.

Among the more common rumors we've heard is that the Kona manager was bought off, meaning the incident happened precisely as reported, but is being covered up. You can believe this if you want, but I don't see a whole lot of purpose in executing a cover-up like this, so I don't think it happened.

The other rumor is the Ryan simply did not complete his required workouts in time to get to practice. A complementary rumor is that this may be a result of Ryan's baby being born during this time, perhaps prematurely.

The third rumor is that the Perrilloux suspension and the Shomari Clemons incident are linked. In case you did not hear, reserve freshman linebacker Shomari Clemons was issued a misdemeanor citation and summons to Court to answer to misdemeanor charges of shoving a police officer. He was not arrested (perhaps only through luck). We can expect a substantial suspension of Clemons.

Alright, we all know that Les Miles has never been particularly forthcoming about issues like this. We'll probably never get a definitive statement on what exactly happened this weekend with regard to Perrilloux that has kept him out of practice. But there are some things we know.

We know that Ryan still has never been arrested. He has never been accused of assault or other crime of violence, drug activity, theft of property or any other common crime football players get accused of. He has always maintained academic eligibility. The kid seems to be a magnet for troublesome behavior, but has never done anything truly outrageous that we know of.

I see no reason not to keep him around.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Prodigal Son Prodigizes Again

Did you see how I just made up a word there? Prodigizes. I feel like the President.

Yesterday, word came down that Ryan Perrilloux would miss all of Spring Practice. WJBO reported it was due to an incident at a restaurant, and someone on another message board said that the incident was an argument between Ryan and the waitress.

The word "argument" can mean many things, from a simple exchange of words to an embarrassing screaming match. The poster did not elaborate. For the moment, let's assume that what happened was a moderate argument, by which I mean there were some raised voices and bad feelings but without any threats of violence or excessive scene-making. It may turn out down the road that this assumption does not hold, but we can deal with that when the time comes.

Assuming this to be true, I think it's a bad move to have suspended him further. I agree with the commentators who have said that an argument with a waiter is not a big enough deal to warrant this kind of action, but I want to go a step further.

First, a little background. As many of you know, I am an attorney. One category of people I often work with are parents who have had their children taken away from them by the state. Each case is unique, but there are some generalities that hold pretty often. People in this category often have poor conflict resolution skills (which is code for saying that they have short tempers or cry a lot more than you'd think). They also often have difficulty setting medium- and long-range goals for themselves and meeting those goals. Often, it's because they never have done it before.

Anyway, as an attorney, one of my jobs is to do my best to help them correct some of these problems. You can imagine that one obstacle I run into is that they are trying to do this immediately after the very emotional setback of losing their children to the State. For people whose coping skills are behind the curve anyway, this is a problem.

The next obstacle, and the one I see parallels to here, is that they often make a lot of progress for a while, and do very well, but have some minor setback some time before they are able to get their children back. This minor setback, which may be something on the order of having to move from one house to another due to a landlord problem, which ordinarily you might think would set them back only a little bit, discourages them and they lose hope. Then everything falls apart.

I am afraid this may happen with Ryan Perrilloux. By all accounts, he was making a lot of progress in the eyes of the coaches, even going so far as to be reinstated to the team. Now, due to some minor setback, he has been publicly embarrassed again and has suffered a setback in his effort to rejoin the team fully, all over something that would be no big deal if it was you or me. If Ryan is anything like my clients (and I suspect he is), this is a very dangerous time in his life. This is the time when he could be thinking, "I don't have what it takes to do this," or, "They expect more from me than from anyone else." This is the time when he may lose hope that this can work out, and stop trying.

All over an argument with a waiter at a restaurant. If I was Les Miles, and there wasn't more to it than this, I would have just let this one go and let him rejoin the team. Anyone at any time can get into an argument with a waiter at a restaurant. He may not have been in the right (But who knows? Maybe he was.), but it just doesn't seem serious enough to me to warrant the risk that this could really turn out bad.

I assure you this is not a topic I relish talking about. This is a difficult spot for LSU to be in, and I do not like seeing a young man with such physical gifts potentially not be able to use them to his fullest because he has trouble getting along with people and following rules. This story, however, will go a long way to setting the narrative for the LSU football program not only for this season, but into the future as well.