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Marquette’s Acker Rejoins Team; Brings Leadership and Experience

Point guard Maurice Acker has re-joined the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball team after leaving two months ago to focus on his studies.  Acker, a senior, was on track to graduate in the fall but will need to take a couple more classes in the spring to graduate on time.  Because of this, he re-joins the rebuilding Golden Eagles the week before classes start.

Last season, Acker averaged 2.8 points and 1.8 assists and played a key role in the Golden Eagles’ season after starting point guard Dominic James went down with a broken foot.  The 5-foot-7 junior took over starting responsibilities and averaged 5.3 points in those starts, including 12 against Villanova in the Big East Tournament.

The main question for the Golden Eagles this season is how they will rebound after the losses of James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews.  The three seniors led Marquette to 94 wins during their time and were the face of Marquette basketball all four years of their careers.

Their leadership and example were a staple of what made them such great players and people, and while they are somewhat irreplaceable, Acker will ease the pain somewhat.

Before Acker joined the team, Lazar Hayward and David Cubillan were the only seniors on the Marquette roster.  Reports say that Hayward has taken his senior role head-on and is becoming the leader of the team on and off the court, but the return of Acker gives the extremely young backcourt something to lean on.

Despite his lack of height, Maurice Acker will be big off the bench for the Marquette defense.

Despite his lack of height, Maurice Acker will be big off the bench for the Marquette defense.

Cubillan, known as a vocal player on the floor, has never been considered a leader on the team, but rather a follower who does whatever is asked of him.  In Acker, freshman Junior Cadougan, sophomore Darius Johnson-Odom, and junior Dwight Buycks will have someone to look up to and follow on the court.

Acker has been with head coach Buzz Williams for two years now and has played under for him for one.  He understands the system and will be able to teach the inexperienced incoming players.  Remember, Acker played behind Dominic James for two years and was with him for three, so he should have some good advice to pass on to the youngsters.

On the court, Acker will provide excellent depth to a team that has played with a short bench the last couple of years.  Cadougan is expected to man the starting point guard role and Buycks can been a pleasant surprise in summer camps thus far, so Acker is more than likely going to come off the bench.

Still, he has played that role well in the past and is a great defensive plug to put in late in the game.  Some question whether or not he is durable enough or if he fits the role of a “Big East player”, but no one is asking him to play 25-30 minutes per game.

Johnson-Odom should see just as many minutes as Acker, and Cubillan seems to finding his 2007 form this summer.  That does not leave many minutes for the former Ball State transfer, but there will this season where he will be expected to come in and make a defensive stop.

Not only does his experience help the incoming class off the court and in practice, but Acker is one of just four Golden Eagles with true Big East experience (Hayward, Jimmy Butler, and Cubillan being the others).  The seven newcomers joining the team have never stepped court in a Division I basketball game, so Acker’s experience will be important in the beginning of the year.

From there, he can tutor Cadougan and mold him into the future starting point guard and provide depth on the bench.  He isn’t Dominic James, but is also better than most give him credit for.  Especially for what his role will be this year, having Acker back is a good thing for Marquette basketball.

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August 30, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , | Leave a comment

Packers Review: What We Looked For and What We Saw

Yesterday, the Packers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 44-37 to win their third straight preseason game.  It was another impressive outing that saw the first team outscore Arizona 38-10, Aaron Rodgers pass for three touchdowns, and Charles Woodson forced three fumbles.  Heading into the game, there were five things to look for from the Packers.  After the fact of the matter, let’s see how they fared in Glendale.

1. What impact will Nick Barnett have if he takes the field for the first time this season?

Unfortunately, Barnett was not healthy enough to take the field and missed the game Friday.  He projects to play next week against Tennessee and hopes to get some real-time action in before the regular season starts.  He joined Clay Matthews III on the sidelines, but one bright spot was the sight of Jeremy Thompson.

He played very well, staying low and using strength to get around the edge on pass plays.  He saw limited action during the game and did not record a tackle, but it was a start for the Wake Forest product in his transition to the 3-4 outside linebacker.

Barnett still has a starting spot on the team when he returns, but Desmond Bishop continued his stellar preseason with nine tackles.

2. Playing with the first team offense, can Tyrell Sutton continue to produce like he did against the Browns and Bills?

Sutton came into the game against the Cardinals with nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.  He had played extremely well in his first two preseason games and saw reps with the first team offense.  On the night, he had three rushes for 14 yards and returned three kicks for an average of 26.3 yards.

While Ryan Grant isn’t about to lose his starting job, Sutton continued to play well.  He doesn’t project as much more than a back-up running back, but he seems to be doing that job very well.  The kick returns were an added bonus, although he probably will not return kicks in the regular season.

3. How will the Packers’ secondary fare against the Cardinals’ passing attack?

Heading into the game, the story of the defense was how many interceptions they could get off Kurt Warner and the Cardinals passing attack, but Charles Woodson had different plans.  The 12-year veteran had two sacks, forced three fumbles, and was pressuring the quarterback all night.

The second team defense struggled mightily as Matt Leinart passed for 360 yards and three touchdowns, but overall it was a positive night for the secondary.  Nick Collins played a solid game while Atari Bigby continued to show flashes of his 2007 year.

Tramon Williams was overmatched by Larry Fitzgerald and looked a little lost in the zone scheme, but overall had a nice night for himself.  Anthony Smith, the ex-Steeler, had another interception on the night and is making a strong case for a starting spot if he continues to play well.

4. With the offensive line starters set in stone, how will they look together?

It was exciting to see the newly dubbed offensive line play together for the first time, and they did not disappoint.  Rodgers had plenty of time in the pocket, the Packers rushed for 123 yards, and the Cardinals had just two sacks on the night.

Chad Clifton seems rejuvenated and the run blocking on the right side of the line was very good.  It was one of the Packers’ weak spots in last year’s team, but if they can continue to impress with their new and improved (and younger) line, it will be huge for the team.

5. Can tight end Jermichael Finley continue his excellent play?

Simply put, yes he can.  Finley was absolutely unstoppable all night, hauling in four catches for 28 yards and two touchdowns.  He was a matchup problem for the Cardinals and is becoming very hard to defend.  His speed was seen on his first touchdown reception, and he blocks above average for the kind of player he is.

No one expected a ton out of Finley this season as he is still a project for the most part, but it looks like he is progressing much more than most people thought he would.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Five Things To Watch When the Packers Face the Cardinals

The Packers will look to win their third consecutive preseason game when they take on the Arizona Cardinals tomorrow night in Tempe, Ariz.

In their first preseason game, the Packers pitched a shutout against the Cleveland Browns in a dominating defensive performance, and Aaron Rodgers threw a 52-yard touchdown to Donald Driver. The next week, the Packers took down the Buffalo Bills, 31-21 at Lambeau Field, in another impressive performance.

It has been an outstanding start for a team looking to turn a new leaf after a disappointing six-win season. The defense has been fast, the offense has been crisp, and the second- and third-team players have done excellent as well.

As well as the team played in their first two games, their first real test as a whole will come when the Packers come to Arizona to take on Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. Without further ado, here are five things to look for as the Packers enter their third preseason game.

1. What impact will Nick Barnett have if he takes the field for the first time this season?

The Packers’ best linebacker is expected to make his first appearance of the season against the Cardinals, and he can’t come soon enough.  Desmond Bishop is having one of the best preseasons of anyone on the team and is making a case to start this season, but if Barnett is back and healthy then he will be on the field.

After missing all of training camp and the first two preseason games recovering from ACL surgery, Barnett will get his first taste of the new 3-4 defense being instilled this season.  With the way the defense has looked thus far, the addition of Barnett can only make it stronger.

Clay Matthews III and Jeremy Thompson are out for Friday’s game, but if Barnett is able to play then it will be a step in the right direction.

2. Playing with the first team offense, can Tyrell Sutton continue to produce like he did against the Browns and Bills?

Mike McCarthy has said that undrafted rookie Tyrell Sutton will get reps with the first team offense on Friday, in hopes of continuing his path towards making the team this season.

Against the Browns, Sutton carried the ball 16 times for 91 yards and went for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Bills.  He has looked quick and powerful in the team’s first two games, and will look to continue that success on Friday.

The test will be much bigger as Sutton will no longer be going up against second and third team defenses, but will instead go up against a solid Cardinals run defense.

It is still a good sign that Sutton will get reps with the first team offense, who seems to have the upper hand on the third string running back spot over Deshawn Wynn and Craig Lumpkin.  Tomorrow will tell a lot about how good Sutton actually is, but management must have seen something to give him this shot.

3. How will the Packers’ secondary fare against the Cardinals’ passing attack?

In the first two preseason games, the Browns and Bills combined for 405 yards passing, one touchdown, and six interceptions.  It was an impressive showing by the Packers’ pass defense, and while no one is going to mistake Trent Edwards and Brady Quinn for Tom Brady, stats are stats.

Charles Woodson will have his hands full tomorrow with Larry Fitzgerald.

Charles Woodson will have his hands full tomorrow with Larry Fitzgerald.

However, the first big test will come when Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald take the field against Charles Woodson and co.  Anquan Boldin is not expected to play Friday due to a tweaked hamstring, but the offense is still high-powered even without him.

Steve Breaston and Early Doucet give the Cardinals one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the league and will give the Packers a big test, and Tim Hightower and Chris Wells are solid out of the backfield as well.

Al Harris, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins will have their hands full, but if the first two weeks were any indication, they should be just fine.

4. With the offensive line starters set in stone, how will they look together?

After the Bills game, head coach Mike McCarthy awarded Allen Barbre, Josh Sitton, and Jason Spitz spots on the line along with Daryn Colledge and Chad Clifton.

Barbre beat out Breno Giacomini in the position battle after a dominating performance against Buffalo.  Giacomini’s whiff on a Bills defensive end that led to quarterback Matt Lynn’s injury did not help his cause either.

Spitz beat out last year’s center Scott Wells and opened up a spot for Sitton at right guard.  None of the moves made by McCarthy did not come as much of a surprise, but hopefully the chemistry will pick up as the same five guys get more and more reps with each other.

5. Can tight end Jermichael Finley continue his excellent play?

Finley was one of the five breakout players of the year for the Packers, and in the first two preseason games he has not disappointed.  He has been an absolute matchup problem for teams with his size and speed and has caught five passes for 64 yards.

His speed makes him too quick for most linebackers, while his size makes him too big for most safeties.  If he can be another legitimate weapon for Aaron Rodgers, the offense adds another dimension that it has not had for quite some time.

Donald Lee has done a nice job blocking in the first two games, and Finley will be an excellent compliment that will allow the Packers to use and pass out of two-tight end sets.

August 27, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | Leave a comment

Packers’ Rodgers Ready to Make the Jump to Stardom

Heading into the 2008 season, Aaron Rodgers was arguably under more scrutiny than any player in the history of the National Football League.  A former first-round pick, Rodgers had not accomplished much more than two season-ending injuries during his four years in the league.  Many fans believed that legend Brett Favre had been kicked out of town by management, and now all eyes were on Rodgers to see if he could follow in the footsteps of the team’s biggest legend.

The bullseye on Rodgers’ chest only expanded when he was rewarded with a huge contract extension in the middle of the season.  Now the former Cal quarterback was not only the team’s quarterback, but the future as well.  That season, Rodgers responded with a 4000-yard, 28-touchdown performance that brought a few more followers into his corner.  Despite the six-win season, Rodgers showed the poise of a veteran quarterback and commanded the offense better than most expected.

Entering 2009, Rodgers has been the man from day one and is taking over a Packers team that is on the rise in the NFC North.  Two weeks into the preseason, Rodgers is looking like a player ready to go from “good” to “great”.  Mike McCarthy’s West Coast Offense has done wonders for Rodgers, who ranked in the top ten in passing accuracy last season.

Also, the supporting cast that Rodgers is working with this season is one of the fastest and deepest in the league.  Rodgers and number one wide receiver Greg Jennings are forming an excellent chemistry that could become one of the best combos over the next few seasons.  Veteran Donald Driver has been the beneficiary on Rodgers’ accurate arm and still runs the slant prettier than most.  James Jones and Jordy Nelson are both up-and-coming youngsters that will mesh with Rodgers as time goes on.

A new weapon for Rodgers to use this season is tight end Jermichael Finley, who is expected to move into a starter’s role, or at the very least see the majority of the snaps at the tight end position.  All these receiving weapons, combined with an improved run game and offensive line, make Rodgers a prime candidate to move into elite status.

Aaron Rodgers is ready to become one of the league's best passers.

Aaron Rodgers is ready to become one of the league's best passers.

In his first preseason game, Rodgers went five for 10 for 102 yards and a touchdown.  He looked patient and under control and found Driver for a 52-yard score in the first quarter.  Against Buffalo last week, he was almost perfect, going eight for nine for 98 yards and two beautiful touchdown passes to Driver and Jennings.  His only incompletion was a drop by Driver on Rodgers’ eighth attempt.  He has looked crisp, under control, and confident in every throw he makes.

More so than the success that he has seen in the first two preseason games, Rodgers is going to succeed because he has put in the time.  He has been the typical story of grooming a quarterback for a few years instead of throwing him into live fire right away.  He was able to both stay healthy throughout the whole year and play with minor injuries, showing his true competitiveness.

This year it is Aaron Rodgers’ team.  Last year, a lot of the locker room was torn on whether or not Rodgers was the right decision over Favre.  The 17-year-veteran was coming off a year in which he led the team to the NFC Championship Game, and Rodgers was in the direct middle of it all.

While many could see why Favre going to Minnesota and playing the Packers and Rodgers twice a season could be a distraction to the Green Bay signal caller, most of the pressure is on Favre, if anything.  Rodgers knows that he has succeeded in the league while Favre has struggled over the last few years.  It will be important to see who comes out on top in those games, but no one is comparing Favre’s stats to Rodgers’ anymore.

As the 2009 season begins, Rodgers is the team leader and has the respect of everyone in Green Bay.  The fans know that he can perform at a high level and was definitely the better option than Favre.  His teammates know that he is going to fight for them at all times and put the team is a spot to win every week, and management knows he has the tools to become one of the best in the game.  Everything is in place for Rodgers to progress as his career goes on, and it is looking like this will be the year that he makes that jump.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Pujols, Howard History Says Brewers’ Fielder Has a Shot to Win MVP

The year was 2006 and Ryan Howard had just been awarded the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  His unbelievable breakout season made him a household name for baseball fans and he has been tearing up the league ever since.

He also watched the playoffs from his couch.

The season in which Howard crushed an astonishing 58 home runs and drove in 142 runners, the Phillies won 85 games but missed out on baseball’s second season.  They finished in second place in the National League East by 12 games and missed the Wildcard by just three games.  Despite all this, Howard still finished first in the MVP voting and took home the award.

Finishing in second place, and not too happy about it, was Albert Pujols.  The Cardinals won just 83 games during the regular season, but it was enough to bring home the National League Central Division Championship.  The Cardinals would go on to win the World Series that year, but Pujols was left without the other piece of hardware he felt he deserved.

Last season, Pujols won the National League MVP despite his team finishing in fourth place in the division with a record of 86-76.  Pujols hit .357 on the year with 37 home runs and 116 RBI’s, while Ryan Howard finished as the runner-up with 48 home runs and 146 RBI’s.  Howard’s Phillies would win 92 games during the regular season and end up winning the World Series.

Prince Fielder's outstanding and powerful year has gone somewhat unnoticed.

Prince Fielder's outstanding and powerful year has gone somewhat unnoticed.

Fast forward to this year and there seems to be another question as to who will take home the MVP trophy this season.  Without question, Albert Pujols is the front-runner for the award as he has smashed 39 home runs already and has drawn 91 walks compared to just 50 strike outs.  His .318 batting average and .441 on-base percentage are excellent and many of his numbers match his outstanding 2006 season.

Trailing him in most hitting categories but closing fast, is Prince Fielder.  With his home run in last night’s contest, he now has six long balls in his last eight contests.  In that span, Fielder is 10-31 with nine RBI’s.

It seems to be perfect timing for Fielder, who is poised to make a run at the MVP if he can finish August strong and make it through a tough September.  The Brewers are fading fast in the standings, and if it weren’t for Fielder it would be going even faster.

However, if the Brewers can get back within shouting distance of the Cardinals for the Central Division and enter relevancy (say, five or six games back), then Fielder talks might begin to heat up.  Looking back to 2006 this far into the season, Fielder is having a better season this year than Howard was then in all categories but homers (42 compared to 33) and slugging percentage.

Pujols has posted very similar numbers up to this point in the season as he did in 2006, and if Fielder continues this tear he could give the Cardinals first baseman a run for his money.  Right now, no one can stop Fielder and he is doing all he can to help get the Brewers back to where they need to be.

Pujols has Matt Holliday waiting in the on-deck circle when he bats, meaning teams are now being forced to pitch to him instead of pitching around him.  For Fielder, a mix of Casey McGehee, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart has been the answer in the five spot, meaning teams are more reluctant to give Fielder good pitches to hit.

While it will be no easy task to pass Pujols in the MVP standings, the Milwaukee slugger’s recent surge at the plate has made it a competition.  Combine that with Pujols’ average second half (.280, seven home runs), and Fielder could make some noise in the race if the Brewers can string together a few wins.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | Leave a comment

Five New Things To Look For When Packers Play Bills

A lot has changed since the Packers shut out the Cleveland Browns last week in Lambeau Field.  Brett Favre is now a Viking, the Packers have new personnel on their roster, and players have jumped up the depth chart.  Last week, there were five things to look for in the game against the Browns, so here are five more things to look for as the Packers play their second pre-season game.

1. How will first-rounder B.J. Raji look in his first live NFL-game action?

Two days before the Packers were set to play the Browns, ninth overall pick B.J. Raji ended his holdout and agreed to a contract with the Packers worth $28.5 million over the next five years.  He reported to camp but did not play against the Browns,  and will now see his first action on Saturday against the Bills.

With Ryan Pickett taking the majority of reps at defensive tackle, it is thought that Raji will man the right defensive end spot for the Packers.  He began camp working with the second team but has seen reps with the first team and will get plenty of work during the game.

Raji spoke to reporters on the sidelines during the Browns game and said he had been working out daily to stay in shape, and with a week of training camp under his belt now he should be good to go.  The Packers defensive line was outstanding last week but will face a much bigger test when they go up against a solid Bills’ running game.

2. Will Brady Poppinga step up or will another outside linebacker kick him out of a spot?

Despite the shutout last week, one of the low lights was Poppinga’s performance against the Browns.  He looked out of place and slow on many plays and was outperformed by some second teamers.  With Jeremy Thompson and Clay Matthews III both ruled out and seventh rounder Brad Jones questionable, this game will be vital for Poppinga.

Cyril Obiozor showed a lot of promise flying around the field last week and will make another push towards making the team when he hits the field tomorrow.  While he is a little light, weighing under 250 pounds, he is athletic and very strong and attacks very quickly.

Poppinga will once again see reps with the first team because of injuries, but he will be on a very short leash the rest of the way if he does not perform.

3. Will Matt Flynn continue his success as the second string quarterback and will Brian Brohm show ANY improvement?

Once thought of as a potential number one pick, Brian Brohm has shown nothing during his time in Green Bay to believe he will amount to anything in the NFL.  He throws behind runners, never seems to have control of the offense, and has happy feet even with time in the pocket.

While he is working with the third team on offense, the mechanics do not seem to be there either.  As bad as it sounds, he did show improvement from last season and will hopefully do so tomorrow night.  He threw two interceptions against the Browns but hopefully will be more poised in the future.

On the other hand, Matt Flynn has been excellent and given head coach Mike McCarthy more confidence if anything were to happen to Aaron Rodgers.  Drafted in the seventh round in 2008, Flynn was not expected to make the roster but actually jumped Brohm on the depth chart.

Last week, Flynn completed five of six passes and had a few completions taken away due to penalties.

4. Speaking of penalties, will the Packers ever cut down on the penalties that killed them last year?

Last season, the Packers ranked second in the number of penalties called on them with 110, second to just the Dallas Cowboys.  They did, however, rank first in penalty yards with 984.  While the Packers’ press man-t0-man coverage was somewhat the reason for these penalties, it is something they must change if they are going to succeed this year.  Moving to a mostly zone coverage in the new 3-4 defense should help.

Against the Browns last week, the Packers were penalized nine different times for 52 yards.  Mike McCarthy made it a point to mention the penalty problem in his halftime interview, and it was clear he was not pleased.  Even more so in the preseason, a surplus of penalties shows a lack of discipline for young players.  While it will be expected for the first team to not draw yellow flags, it will be just as important for the younger players to do the same.

5. Can the defense continue its aggressive style of play and be successful?

For a team that lacked fire and passion in their defense last year, it was a ton of fun to watch the Packers’ defense flying around the football field making plays.  Blitzes came from every direction, quarterbacks looked flustered, and the defense forced four turnovers.

While the Buffalo Bills are not going to make anyone forget about the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have a better offense than the Browns.  While Terrell Owens will not play, Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, and Roscoe Parrish form a great offense that has scored 45 points in two pre-season games thus far.

While a shutout is not expected, Al Harris and Charles Woodson are expected to join Raji in their first pre-season action of the season.  It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dom Capers opens the playbook up even more to let the Packers roam free.

August 21, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Why I Still Love Brett Favre

Mar. 6, 2008: The day that I thought changed my life.

Yes, you’d only know it if you were a Green Bay Packers fan, but Brett Favre has meant that much to me and every other Cheesehead. I’d go out on a limb and say no other player has meant more to an NFL franchise than Favre has. As I watched his press conference on NFL Network, I found myself choked up and literally fighting back tears as the gunslinger from Mississippi announced his retirement.

He spoke of how he felt he had given as much as he could give to the Green Bay Packers and that there was nothing more to give. Seeing him play my whole life, I knew first-hand the joy he gave me and rest of the Packers faithful.

This was THE best quarterback to ever play the game hanging his cleats up for good. Hanging up his smile. Hanging up his touchdowns. Everything was gone and it was time for me to move on with the Green Bay Packers without Brett Favre, something I had never known.

For the next two or so months, I dealt with the mystery that was life without No. 4 and decided that newly installed quarterback Aaron Rodgers could get the job done. With a pin-point accurate arm and the credentials that almost made him the first overall pick in 2005, everything was in place.

Then one day, while watching Sportscenter, breaking news came out that Brett Favre had the itch to play football once again and was considering coming back for another year.

YES! My hero was back to take the Packers to the promised land and realized that the ol’ gunslinger still had something left in that cannon of his. Not so fast.

As more and more reports came to light, it was discovered that general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy had already told Aaron Rodgers he was the quarterback of the future and that, somehow, the Green Bay Packers had moved on from Brett Favre.

What? So you are telling me that you are showing the door to the greatest thing that has ever happened to your franchise and almost led you to the Super Bowl last season? That’s right. The Packers, my pride and joy, did the unthinkable and told Brett Favre “no”.

They told him he could come in and back up Rodgers for the season but could not compete for the starting job whatsoever. Someone once said that if a team has two candidates for starting quarterback, they really have none. In what was more of a bluff than anything, the Packers gave Favre that option which he decided to take.

Favre never took the bait and did not show up to training camp, but did send his official reinstatement to the NFL which was granted a few days later. After a lengthy talk with McCarthy in Green Bay, it was decided that Favre coming to training camp was not going to help anyone’s party.

One that will never be forgotten, not even Photoshop could ruin this image for Packers fans.

One that will never be forgotten, not even Photoshop could ruin this image for Packers fans.

A few days after that, my hero was holding up a New York Jets jersey and smiling, ready for a new start with a new team. How could the Packers do this to my favorite player to ever step on the field to play the greatest game on earth?

I was mad at the Packers for what seemed like the first time since the Ray Rhodes hiring, and knew it would take time to get over.

Nine wins and seven losses later, Favre had again hung the cleats up as he announced his retirement from the New York Jets.

To make a long story short, there were rumors about him wanting to come to Minnesota early in the offseason and it seemed as though a different official from the Vikings was taking a plane to Mississippi every weekend.

Favre asked for his release from the Jets, had surgery on his shoulder, and began working out at the same high school he did the previous offseason. When push came to shove and the Vikings’ head coach Brad Childress put a deadline on Favre, he decided he did not have enough in the tank to come back. Favre was retired once again.

Three weeks after that, the saga took another unbelievable turn as it was rumored Favre was set to sign a contract with the Vikings out of nowhere. The same quarterback, who three weeks ago said he was done for good, was coming back for another season.

Man oh man, was it ever fun to look at message boards and forums that day! I learned who Benedict Arnold was, saw a picture of Judas wearing a Favre jersey, and heard Favre called a lot of different names that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy.

But as I read on and on about how mad everyone was at Favre, Ted Thompson, and the Packers organization, it hit me that this was no one’s fault.

Back in May of 2008, two months after Favre has his initial retirement press conference, Favre supposedly went to the Packers and told him that he once again had the itch to play football.

The Packers told Favre that they would love to have him back and were ready to welcome him in with open arms. A few days later, No. 4 told the Packers the feeling had passed and he would stay retired.

Somewhere in between that conversation and the day I saw the Sportscenter Breaking News, the Packers decided that Aaron Rodgers was their man.

While he had not accomplished much other than two season-ending injuries in his career, the Packers felt he was good enough to become the franchise quarterback everyone had hoped he would be.

When Favre came calling once again, the Packers welcomed him in, but this time with a clause thrown in. Sure, the Packers knew Favre would not come in as a back-up, but at least they made the offer.

They didn’t kick Favre out, make him retire, or tell him he was no good. They eventually gave him wishes of starting at quarterback by trading him to the Jets and everyone went their way.

It was no longer fair for the Packers to have to keep waiting on Favre going back and forth, and at some point they had to have something in place for training camp. Making Rodgers their go-to guy gave him full confidence and gave the Packers a definite starter at the most important position on the field.

It has always been my thinking that no player or person is ever bigger than the franchise itself. Yes, I believe Favre has meant more to the Packers than any other human being alive, but as close as he is to God in Green Bay, he still is not.

The Packers were here before Favre and have survived after him, and that was something he was going to have to deal with.

A lot has been made about the real reason for Favre coming back. Some believe he genuinely wants to return to try to add another Super Bowl ring to his storied resume, while others believe he is coming back to spite Ted Thompson and the Packers.

Whatever you believe the reason to be, Favre is not at fault for this either. He isn’t Judas and he isn’t Benedict Arnold. There are no daggers in the Green Bay Packers’ back with Favre’s fingerprints on it.

As much as it hurts and as physically sick as it makes my stomach, Favre is not at fault in the situation and I support his playing for the Vikings.

Last week I wrote an article explaining why Michael Vick deserves a second chance in the NFL, despite his past mistakes and the negative feelings that people would show towards him. If we are going to let a convicted felon back in the league, then there’s no reason Favre can’t play again.

Yes, it’s annoying and we wish that he would just make up his mind on whether or not to play, but who cares if he is indecisive? The NFL is better with Brett Favre and there is no disputing that. The first time Favre felt that now-notorious “itch”, he wanted to come back and play for the Packers.

The Packers made it clear that Favre could not come back and start for the Packers but told him there were other options for him. He exercised that option and played for a team that wanted him in the New York Jets and went on his way.

Yes, he reportedly did not respond to any of Aaron Rodgers’ calls and might have slipped in a few knocks on Ted Thompson in some interviews, but anything he did was going to be blown out of proportion based on the situation.

Now let’s talk about the whole situation with the Vikings. When rumors popped up about him wanting to play again, I had no problem with it. The “here we go again” sigh came into play and I knew that ESPN would be drooling all over the place to get information on one more Favre return, but alas he decided to stay retired.

Then he decided that he wanted to play once more. The team that was willing to take him and he also wanted to play for happened to be the Minnesota Vikings. He is good friends with Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Simply put, a guy wanted to play football and one team wanted him.

If you want to believe that Favre is doing this to get back at the Packers, go ahead and believe that. Be mad at Favre and do not cheer for him when he enters Lambeau Field on Nov. 4. Forget the great memories that he left us for 17 years and the Super Bowl he brought us.

As for me, I wish Brett Favre the best. I do not wish the Minnesota Vikings anything good and hope that the Packers embarrass both Favre and the Vikings both times they meet this season. But it’s still Favre and he is still the same guy that I tried to replicate hundreds of times in my backyard as a youngster.

Let him play if he wants to play, regardless of when he makes that decision.

Let him play if he wants to play, regardless of when he makes that decision.

If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at the Vikings. The Minnesota faithful won’t want to hear this, but they handled the situation terribly and came out looking pretty bad.

Childress told Favre that there was a strict deadline for him and there would be no going back on his situation. Three weeks later, all credibility Childress had was out the window.

It’s quite obvious that Favre did not want to attend any part of training camp and was going to wait until it was over to make his return, but the fact that Childress lied to his players, the fans, and everyone else makes him look pretty bad.

Last season, it was much easier to cheer for Favre’s team and Favre himself. The Jets had no affiliation with the Packers, and the better the Jets did during the year, the better the draft pick in return would be for Green Bay. This time around, any move Favre makes will directly affect the Packers.

That being said, I am a Packers fan before I am a Brett Favre fan. I trusted that Thompson and McCarthy had it right when they decided on Rodgers, and a year later they look right. Argue what Favre has or doesn’t have left in the tank to play for the Vikings, but the Packers are better off with Rodgers.

I hope he enjoys playing football and shows it in his emotions because, regardless of helmet color or uniform, nothing makes me happier. He is still my hero and favorite player to ever play the game and I am happy to see him back.

Whether he misses the playoffs or gets the Vikings their first Super Bowl, nothing will replace what he did for the Packers and their fans. We thank you Brett, and wish you the best of luck in the future.

August 20, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , | 11 Comments

Closing Time: Who Will the Chicago Cubs’ Closer Be Next Season?

Even I, a die-hard Brewers fan, have to admit that I had a hard time watching Kevin Gregg’s last performance on Monday against the Padres. Sitting with three Cubs fans and watching Gregg give up the game-tying and game-winning runs was just too much to bear, so I decided to look ahead and give the North Siders some hope for next year.

Gregg is set to become a free agent, and the only way I can see the Cubs re-signing him is if he stays in the closer role and the Cubs make the playoffs. Even then, it will be a long shot. He hasn’t been liked by the fans for quite some time, and many, myself included, believe he should never have been the closer.

With Gregg blowing three saves in his last five tries, manager Lou Piniella decided enough was enough and converted Carlos Marmol to closer. Citing experience as the main reason, Marmol will go back to the closer’s role that he briefly saw last season, when he made the All-Star Game.

Piniella said he was also considering left-hander John Grabow and right-hander Angel Guzman for the spot but went with Marmol instead. Grabow is an important lefty out of the bullpen, and Guzman has been a solid middle-innings man.

Carlos Marmol will take over ninth inning duties in Chicago for now.

Carlos Marmol will take over ninth inning duties in Chicago for now.

Even with the move of Marmol to the closer position, it’s more of a shakeup than a permanent change. With 52 walks and a major league-leading 11 hit batters, Marmol is hardly a long-term solution. He has been wild this season and is more of a setup man than anything else. He leads the National League in holds with 27.

One thing that Marmol will bring to the table is his ability to strike batters out and avoid the home run ball. Gregg led all relievers in the majors with12 home runs allowed, while Marmol has given up just one long ball.

It’s easy to look at the schedule and believe that the Cubs are all but out of the wild card race and are quickly losing time to gain ground on the Cardinals, who stand six games ahead of the Cubs entering today’s action.

There are viable options that the Cubs will certainly take a look at to make their bullpen, ranked 17th in the majors in ERA, better next season.

The cream of the crop in free agency will be closer Jose Valverde, currently of the Houston Astros. He has just 16 saves on the season, but a lack of opportunities and injuries scattered through this year led to his weak numbers. His ERA of 2.50 is solid, and he has walked just 13 batters all year.

Sure, he's a little crazy.  But Jose Valverde would be a great fit in Chicago.

Sure, he's a little crazy. But Jose Valverde would be a great fit in Chicago.

Trevor Hoffman will be a free agent next season, but one has to wonder whether he will hang up “Hells Bells” rather than play for a third team in three consecutive years. He did take a job in Milwaukee this year, so location clearly was not an issue. With 26 saves and a 1.80 ERA, a rejuvenated Hoffman could do wonders in Wrigley Field.

The Tigers will be expected to make an offer for Fernando Rodney this offseason, but the Cubs could snatch him up if they decide to get in a bidding war with Detroit.

The Atlanta Braves have two pitchers, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, who are set to become free agents next season, and both have closed games for the Braves this season. The two have formed a solid one-two punch in late inning games, but would both be plausible options for the Cubs in the ninth next year.

The Cubbies also have a few young arms in the farm system that could be potential closers in the future. Andrew Cashner and Dae-Eun Rhee are the top two prospects, and while both project as starters in the future, Cashner has the goods to be able to close. Jeff Samardzija has flopped as a starter, but with time and seasoning he could be a ninth inning option in Chicago if need be.

Jim Hendry will be on a shorter leash this offseason after his free agent acquisitions and contract extensions floundered this year.

This could mean the Cubs will have to promote from within for the closer’s role instead of going out and breaking the bank, but if they want to, the potential is there. It is a strong free agent class for relief pitchers, and some good arms will be on the market.

If the Cubs really believe Marmol can get the job done moving forward, it would be a huge relief to fans everywhere.

However, history says that too many walks does not get the job done. Looking at the top six leaders in saves this season, none of them has more than 16 walks on the season.

Marmol is a good change for the Cubs, who desperately need one, but cannot be seen as the long-term solution to the problem. With the season quickly fading, the Cubs needed to do something and went with the best option available.

However, next year will be a different story.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB | , , | 3 Comments

Brett Favre to the Vikings: Good PR Move and That’s It

Well the day finally arrived, folks.  I never once mentioned Brett Favre to the Vikings in any of my articles and never took a stance on the issue because, to be honest, I never wanted to imagine that it might come true.

Another article will come later that breaks down my personal feelings on Favre wearing purple, but for now, we’ve got a free agent signing to break down.

Today it was announced that, pending a physical, Favre will join the Minnesota Vikings and presumably take over the starting quarterback responsibilities.  With Tavaris Jackson still fighting the injury bug and Sage Rosenfels being, well, Sage Rosenfels, it’s easy to believe that Favre will be an improvement over the two.

Favre will turn 40 right before the start of Week Five and will be entering his 19th year in the National Football League.  It has been a storied career for Favre, who has won three MVPs, a Super Bowl, and holds all major passing records including completions, passing yards, and touchdowns.

As good as his career has been, he has made just about as many headlines in the last two offseasons than he did the last 16 combined.  Coming in and out of retirement became almost a game for people, and no one knew what to believe.

He played with people’s emotions, couldn’t decide what to do, retired, un-retired, retired again, “got the itch” again, said no, and is now on a plane to Minnesota.

For the Vikings, the addition of Favre is one of the biggest PR moves in football history. The move is literally the equivalent of Derek Jeter to the Red Sox or Coach K taking a job with the Tar Heels.  For a struggling franchise who has never won the Super Bowl (in four attempts) and doesn’t have the biggest fan base, Favre will be like a Godsend.

Last season, the Vikings ranked 25th in all of football in attendance, and have not had a competent quarterback since Randall Cunninghman or Daunte Culpepper in his glory days. Fans will come in flocks to see their once-hated rival don the Vikings helmet, will buy jerseys in heaps, and will get to experience what it is like to cheer for Brett Favre.

Favre looks like the last piece to a Vikings team that can run the ball on offense and stop the run of defense.  Last season, Jackson and Gus Frerotte faded towards the end of the year and could not do anything in the playoffs, as the Vikings were taken down by the Eagles in the first round.

But in breaking it all down, will the 40-year-old gunslinger really be able to take the Vikings to the promised land?

Haha, yeah ok...

Haha, yeah ok...

Last season with the Jets, much drama was made about Favre’s ailing bicep and shoulder, and was dubbed the reason Favre struggled at the end of the year.  He just did not look like the same quarterback and visibly struggled.

New York would end the season 1-4 after knocking off the Patriots and the then-undefeated Titans to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs.  Head coach Eric Mangini was promptly fired and Favre announced his ”retirement”.

Last year with the Jets, Favre finished the last five games with two touchdowns and nine interceptions.  Four of those games were in cold weather, with a game in Miami being the only warm weather contest.

Say what you will about last year’s end of the season failures, but this isn’t the first time Favre has fluttered at the end of the year.

In 2007, Favre finished the year (the last five games) with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.  Just two of the games were in cold weather conditions, but Favre also played terribly against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game, completing just 19 of 36 passes and being intercepted twice.

In 2006, Favre threw four touchdowns and eight interceptions over the course of the last five games.  Four of those games came in cold weather atmospheres, and while the Packers won four of their last five games, they did so in spite of Favre’s lackluster performances.

In 2005, Favre met cold conditions in his last five games and threw just one touchdown compared to ten interceptions in that span.

More so than just an injury to Favre last season, it has become apparent that the wear and tear he takes during a 16-game season gets to him by season’s end.  Remember, Favre starts and plays in every single game, which is something 95 percent of quarterbacks do not do.

That means 16 games of hits, throws, scrambles, and sacks that do the body no good at all.  Throw in Favre’s age of 39 (and soon to be 40) and you have a recipe for disaster for the Ironman.

Favre played his cards right this season by waiting until training camp was over to finally join the Vikings, but Favre didn’t really take a beating before the regular season in previous years anyway.

Playing in the NFC North will surely make things easier on Favre as he begins his season with the Vikings.  They play Cleveland, Detroit, and San Francisco in the first three weeks, which will surely make it easy for Favre to get the rust off.

A week four match-up in Minnesota against the Packers will be his first test, and there will be much more than just a regular season game riding on it.

The Vikings have a fairly easy schedule this season, playing the AFC North and NFC West, and the season has clearly become Super Bowl or bust.  Whether or not Favre can lead them to an NFC Championship will not be apparent until later in the year, but a quick start will be important to keep the fans excited and buying into the Favre signing.

The way I look at it is if Favre was any other quarterback coming off a season in which he led the league in interceptions, would he warrant a $10 million contract?

Add the fact that he is 39 years old and coming off shoulder surgery and you have a huge question mark.

The Jets had nothing but bad things to say about their season with Favre after he retired.  He rarely interacted with the players, had his own locker room, played the blame game, and accomplished very little on the field.

While Favre has a great relationship with head coach Brad Childress, nothing says that he will interact with the Vikings any better.  Add in Favre’s late arrival and that chemistry will need to come even faster if he is going to succeed.

For a guy who last month said he would not come back because he was not in good enough shape physically, Favre must have been drinking a lot of Gatorade or something, because the Vikings expect him to play 16 games plus the playoffs.

If he has 11 good games and flounders in the last five like he has the last four years, the Vikings will accomplish nothing.

For Brad Childress, the move will either make or break his future with the Vikings.  He has all but given up on Jackson, and the fourth round draft choice he gave up for Rosenfels is now being spent on a backup.

Smart thinking says he should have called up Eric Mangini and talked this move out before he actually did it.

It’s all but set in stone that Favre will join the Vikings, and is expected to start in their preseason game on Friday against the Chiefs.  It starts a journey that will last the next 19 weeks and, hopefully for the Vikings, beyond.

The track record on Favre says that he is all but finished as a superstar quarterback, but he is an upgrade over either of the two quarterbacks in Minnesota that were battling it out for the starting spot.  While an upgrade, Favre also has the capability of ruining things in a hurry.

Only time will tell.

Welcome back, Brett.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , | Leave a comment

Marquette Gets 2010 Commitment From Jamail Jones

Just two days after receiving news that freshman Youssoupha Mbao was declared eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse, Buzz Williams and the Marquette Golden Eagles received more good news when Jamail Jones informed the team of his oral commitment to play at Marquette next season.

Jamail Jones is the most recent commitment to Buzz Williams' 2010 class.

Jamail Jones is the most recent commitment to Buzz Williams' 2010 class.

Jones, a 6′6″ small forward from Georgia, was being recruited by Virginia, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Clemson, and Xavier among others. He is the third recruit for Marquette’s 2010 class, joining Aaron Bowen and Montarle Clark on the list.

As is usually the case with Buzz Williams recruits, Jones’ versatility is something that makes him such a special player. With great athleticism, he can defend both guard positions as well as his natural small forward spot. With room to add muscle and a frame similar to Wesley Matthews, Jones has the potential to guard even the power forward position.

Offensively, Jones’ best attribute is his long range shooting. While he will need to work to create his shot as his game progresses, his spot-up shooting is excellent and he can hit from anywhere on the court.

Jamail Jones is the most recent commitment to Buzz Williams’ 2010 class.
His dribble-drive penetration is above average and he does a nice job finding teammates when a second defender commits. He has great leaping ability and hang time that allows him to be successful going to the hoop.

He has good speed and runs the fast break well, making him an ideal fit in Buzz Williams’ offense. He seems like a hard worker and someone that is willing to go out and compete every day and every game, making the comparisons to Matthews even more spot on.

He will play at Montaverde Academy in Montaverde, Fla. this season to play against better competition to prepare him for the grueling Big East.

Ranked anywhere from 61st to 67th overall on 2010 rankings, Jones is a four star recruit and an excellent commitment for Marquette.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | 1 Comment

Alcides Escobar Fitting In Just Fine In the Bigs

For the last three years, Alcides Escobar has waited in the shadows of minor league ball as he waited for his chance to shine on the big stage.  In AAA Nashville this season, he hit for a .298 average while stealing 42 bases and scoring 76 runs in 109 games for the Sounds.

When J.J. Hardy was designated for assignment on Wednesday of this week, Escobar was given his chance to sign with a call-up from the Brewers.  Hardy struggled throughout the majoirty of the year and could not break out a slump that saw him hit just .229 with 11 home runs.

Escobar did not make it to Miller Park in time for the start of the Brewers’ contest against the San Diego Padres Wednesday night, but once he got there he made his presence felt.

With his team down by one in the bottom half of the ninth inning, Escobar pinch-ran for Prince Fielder after the first baseman shot a single into right field.

With the Crew down to their last out, Escobar got a great jump off Heath Bell and swiped second base.  Mike Cameron would foul out to end the game, but it was great to see Escobar get acclimated to the game so quickly.

In his first career start, Escobar and the Brewers got off to a quick start offensively and ended up hitting five home runs on the afternoon in a 12-9 victory.

Escobar had just one hit in four at-bats, but scorched the ball to left field on one occasion and made the Padres hustle on a routine ground out.  His one hit was an infield hit and was a sneak preview of the speed Escobar will bring to the top of the Brewers lineup for years to come.

In his second start, the Brewers’ offense continued to stay hot as they crushed ace Wandy Rodriguez for eight runs in the first inning of an 11-2 victory at Miller Park.

Escobar reached base twice on the night with a walk and a single and showed more patience at the plate.

Tonight, Escobar stayed on the breaking ball extremely well that resulted in two hits.  He also went from first to third on a single from Felipe Lopez in the second inning.  Running on the play and never slowing down, Escobar did not even draw a throw from Carlos Lee.

He scored twice on the night, and the little plays that Escobar has produced has made things exciting in Milwaukee again.  Many have said he will be a future gold glover, and he has made good on all seven chances he has had in the field.

Alcides Escobar has finally arrived and is showing why he is destined to be a star.

Alcides Escobar has finally arrived and is showing why he is destined to be a star.

While it will take a small miracle to get the Brewers to the playoffs this season, the whole atmosphere at Miller Park has seemed different over the last three games.

Not surprisingly, Escobar has started all three games.

Destined for the lead off spot, Escobar has hit in the nine hole during his first three starts on the team.  There, he has reached base in five of 12 plate appearances, good for a .417 OBP.  He has done everything right in this small sampling of game time.

While I wouldn’t have called Escobar a bust had he performed poorly in his first three games (and pinch running performance), I won’t dub him ready for Cooperstown just yet.  However, it is nice to see the top prospect in the organization play well in his first starts.

Last season, he was a September call-up and had two hits in four at-bats for the Brewers.  He seems much more relaxed and patient this season, as seen by his stats.

When looking at Escobar, he looks like a ballplayer that knows what he is doing out there.  He has been highly touted his whole career and is now making good on all those scouting reports.

The real question is what general manager Doug Melvin will do with former shortstop J.J. Hardy next season.  He will not be a free agent until 2011 because of his demotion this season, and many believe Melvin will look to trade him this off season.

One has to wonder how far Hardy’s stock has fallen with his poor season, but with Escobar taking over, getting something is better than nothing.  If Escobar can keep hitting like he has and continues his perfect glove in the field, there’s no reason to believe the Brewers will have to worry about who is starting at shortstop for at least the next five years.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , | 1 Comment

Let Michael Vick Prove All You Wrong, and Me Right

I’ll be the first to say I usually do not stand in players’ corners if they are not on my favorite teams.  Outside of the Packers, Brewers, Marquette Warriors, Bucks, and Florida Gators football team (thanks, Tim Tebow), everyone else is just fair game and can act as they please.

However, I’m starting to really feel bad for newly acquired Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick.  Signed two days ago, Vick will join a powerful offense that includes Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Desean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin.

Offseason moves have made the Eagles front-runners for the NFC Title in some people’s eyes, while others wonder if their defense can stand strong for 16 games.

Slice or dice the Eagles any way you want, they become better with Vick on their squad.  Whether they plan to use him as a quarterback or as a special back in the Wildcat offense, he adds a dimension to the team that will make defensive coordinators spend a little more time in the tape room than usual.

But the real story lies in the protest and outrage that is going on over Vick’s reinstatement and signing to the Eagles.

Everyone knew that signing Vick would come with a lot of baggage and upset people who believe Vick should not be allowed to play in the NFL.  Those people believe what he has done can never be forgiven, and that the dogs he electrocuted, drowned, and murdered will forever and should haunt his past.

Why?

In April of 2007, an investigation of Vick’s unlawful dogfighting ring was implemented and the former overall number one pick was charged in the federal courts four months later.  A 23 month sentence was the penalty, and Vick served his due time over the next two years.

Over the course of the last three years, Vick filed for bankruptcy and has lost millions of dollars from endorsements, lawsuits, and the two years of pay he lost while in prison.  He was never a perfect citizen, even before the dog scandal, and admittedly has made a lot of mistakes in the past.

While not everyone has served time in a federal prison, we are all guilty of making mistakes in life.  One thing that makes our country such a great place is the ability to obtain a second chance and make the most of it.

For 23 months, Vick served the penalty the legal system felt was just for his actions.  Say what you will about him getting off easy or that he just accepted a plea bargain to get out as early as he could, the fact of the matter is that he did his time.

During this time, Vick claims that he learned a lot about himself and what he did.  Is was a humbling experience for him to be in such a negative spotlight, to be away from his fiance, mother, and children while in jail, and to be away from the game of football during his prime years.

Some believe that while Vick might have paid his legal dues, he is not serious about his apology and that he is just sorry he got caught.

Vick has said all the right things.  Can he now back it up?

Vick has said all the right things. Can he now back it up?

Kids who get caught by the police stealing candy from a department store are sorry they got caught.  They apologize to the police, store clerk, and everyone else before going on their merry way.  Lesson learned?  No.

For Vick, his apology pre-prison would have fallen under the “B.S.” category.  However, after 23 months of embarrassment, humility, and sitting in a prison cell all day and night, I am going to give Vick the benefit of the doubt and say he knows and FEELS that what he did was wrong.

Everything he has said in the media about understanding why fans are not going to forgive him, thanking the Eagles for the opportunity to come back, and saying that everything happens for a reason is making him look like he is serious about coming back.

Also, Vick has come back in perfect shape and is ready to perform at a high level for the Eagles.  Over the last two months since he has been out of jail, he has maintained his weight and speed and feels in good enough shape to play right away.

In regards to the NFL, Vick isn’t going back to play time where he will mess around in Philadelphia.  This is a job for Vick and, for a guy who has filed for bankruptcy, an important one at that.  People who believe Vick should not be allowed to play football are saying that all criminals should just be locked up forever.

What if Vick took a job as a Best Buy employee?  Should we burn him at the stake just because of what he did in the past?  Just because he has played football before doesn’t mean that not letting him play is going to take away his fun.  In actuality, Vick will probably work harder at football than most of us will at our jobs.

Andy Reid is taking a huge risk on giving Michael Vick a second chance, but remember that his own sons have been in and out of legal trouble and are no strangers to second chances.

What Vick did was terrible, disgusting, inhumane, and sickening.  There’s no denying that what he did will make people angry for a long time and that he has to live with the consequences of his actions.

The truth is, Vick’s image will probably never be restored in full.  Vick could win a Super Bowl, take the Wildcat by storm, and run all over Lincoln Financial Field, but he will still be known as the guy that killed all those dogs.  Isn’t that bad enough?

He has already contacted the Humane Society to talk to young kids making sure they do not go down the same path he has.  He just finished his first practice with the Eagles and looked good.

He still has a ton to prove to PETA, the Philadelphia Eagles, the fans, and most importantly himself.  He has done all the right things to prepare on the field, and has said all the right things to get himself ready off the field.  Let’s all give him a chance to do so.

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Football, NFL | , | Leave a comment

Five Things to Look for As Packers Open Pre-Season

The Green Bay Packers will officially open their 2009 season when they take on the Cleveland Browns tonight at Lambeau Field.  There have been many headlines this offseason as the team looks to build on their six-win season from last year.

After two weeks of training camp, here’s five things to watch for when the Packers hit the field at seven o’clock tonight.

1. What kind of defensive schemes will the Packers throw at the Browns?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last two or so months, you know the Packers are moving to a 3-4 scheme on defense this season.  Led by Dom Capers, the defense will be extremely active and coming from all angles.

In camp, the Packers have used very confusing blitz packages that feature players coming from all sides and at all times.  Anything from safety blitzes to corner blitzes to all out blitzes, the Packers are looking to get as far away from their last year’s vanilla defense as possible.

This also means going with different sets in different situations.  The defense has been seen in sets with two down lineman and five linebackers and sometimes have gone back to the traditional 4-3.

It will also be interesting to see if Capers shows all his cards during the first pre-season game.  Jeremy Thompson, Nick Barnett, Justin Harrell, Clay Matthews III, and B.J. Raji are all expected to sit out the team’s preseason game, so the “first team” defense will not be completely full strength.

First impressions are everything, so it will be important for Capers and the defense to get off on the right foot against Eric Mangini and the Browns.

2. Will the kicking game be any better than what reports from camp have said?

One big issue the Packers had last year that was not addressed in the offseason was the punting situation.  Derrick Frost was about as bad of a punter as I have ever seen and Jeremy Kampinos was just average.

This season, Kampinos has squared off against Durant Brooks in hopes that one will come out on top as the Packers punter for week one.  Early returns have said neither have done outstanding, and real game situations will tell a lot about who is the front-runner at this point.

As for Mason Crosby, he had a couple awful days in practice that were well documented in the media.  Since then, Crosby has been pretty much perfect in practice and kicking 50+ yard field goals with ease.

With no competition against him, we’ll see if Crosby has improved on what he did last year with a stronger, more accurate leg.

3. Will Aaron Kampman transition to the 3-4 defense or look lost at his new position?

Much has been made over Kampman’s move to outside rush linebacker in the new defense, and whether or not he is upset about the switch is stil up in the air.

What is certain is that we will get a good look at new his position tomorrow, and it should be evident whether or not the move was the right one.

On one hand, he could come out firing from the two point stance, pressuring the quarterback, making plays, and most importantly doing well in coverage.

Or, he will look slow and lack the fire that has made him one of the hardest working defensive players in the league.

The front seven for the Packers is pretty much set in stone (once B.J. Raji gets a hold of the defense in practice), but the success of it will hinge on Kampman’s ability to get to the quarterback while still being able to cover in different formations.

4. Which of the three back-up running backs/wide receivers will emerge with a big game?

Starting with the running backs, Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson will see limited time tonight, with Jackson getting a few more reps.  What will be even more interesting will be which back takes the lead in the race for the third and final spot on the roster.

Deshawn Wynn has looked fantastic in practice but has struggled to stay healthy, Craigg Lumpkin has also shown great speed and Tyrell Sutton has been a brusier over the last two weeks.

All three backs bring a little something different to the table, so it will be important to see whose game translates the best to what the Packers are looking for.

While the four wide receiver positions have all but been set in stone, the fifth spot is still very much up for grabs.  Receivers Jake Allen and Brett Swain are both challenging Ruvell Martin for the last spot on the roster, and might even make the Packers think twice about keeping six WR’s.

Allen has formed good chemistry with the quarterbacks and has shown he is not afraid to go up and get the ball, as seen in practice.  Swain entered training camp in excellent condition and early reports say he is ready to prove his game is worthy of a spot on the 53 man roster.

5. Who will become the front-runner for the right tackle position?

Both Breno Giacomini and Allen Barbe have been fighting for the starting right tackle position, and while Barbre is listed as the number one tackle, nothing is set in stone.

Both have seen time with the first team on different occasions and both have done fairly well (in comparison with the underachieving offensive line).

Tomorrow night, both tackles should see significant time on the field and one will come out with the early lead heading into the next three games and on.

Barbre’s quickness and size combine to be exactly what teams look for in their right tackle in the zone blocking scheme, while Giacomini’s frame is a little larger.

Regardless of who wins the battle, the whole offensive line must continue to play better or it will not matter who lines up at right tackle.

August 14, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | 1 Comment

Brewers Clean House: Hardy, Hall Out, Escobar, Bourgeious In

After another embarassing loss to the San Diego Padres, this time in the form of a 13-6 loss in Miller Park, general manager Doug Melvin made a couple of drastic moves in hopes of turning things around.

Pitching coach Bill Castro was fired and replaced with AAA Nashville pitching coach Chris Bosio while the struggling J.J. Hardy was optioned to AAA Nashville and replaced by stud shortstop Alcides Escobar.

For Castro, it was the end of an 18-year run with the Brewers that saw him as the bullpen coach for the first 17 seasons with the club. Unfortunately for Castro, he bit the bullet for a pitching staff that ranks second to last in the National League in ERA, OPS, WHIP, and the number of quality starts.

Things were not made easy for Castro as the Brewers went into the season with an average staff at best and have recently been riddled with injuries to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan. When players like Carlos Villanueva, Mike Burns, and Seth McClung are making starts for your team, it never makes it easy on the pitching staff.

Melvin is hoping that the move can be a wake up call to the pitching staff that their play has been horrendous this year and that is has hardly gone unnoticed.

Castro’s replacement, Bosio, will have his hands full but also has some experience with the position at the big league level. In 2003, he was the pitching coach of Lou Piniella’s Tampa Bay Rays squad. In 2001, he served as the pitching coach for Triple-A Tacoma (Seattle) and in 2008 was the pitching coach with Double-A Chattanooga (Cincinnati).

It remains to be seen whether he is the long term solution as the pitching coach, but the other move that the Brewers made could very well be long-term.

For as long as he has been on the scene, Alcides Escobar has produced and flashed an outstanding glove. This season in Nashville, he was hitting .298 with with four home runs and 34 RBI’s in 109 games for the Sounds. He also has 42 stolen bases, six triples, and is getting on base at a .353 clip.

Alcides Escobar will finally get his chance to show the Brewers what he can do at shortstop.

Alcides Escobar will finally get his chance to show the Brewers what he can do at shortstop.

As good as his offensive numbers have been this season, Escobar is known more for his glove at shortstop. A potential Gold Glove candidate in the future, Escobar may have just unseated J.J. Hardy for good.

Hardy, who will turn 29 in a week, struggled mightily all season with a .229 batting average and just 11 home runs. He was enjoying his best season in the field, but it wasn’t enough to overlook the struggles at the plate. He was still able to be optioned to AAA, and with the third base situation still a mystery for next year, Hardy’s days at Miller Park might not be over.

The last of the Brewers’ three moves today involved sending Bill Hall down to AAA Nashville and calling up 27-year-old outfielder Jason Bourgeios.

Hall has struggled mightily ever since being awarded a huge salary extension following his 2006 campaign, hitting just .201 in 214 at-bats this season. He homered in last night’s game but it was apparent the Brewers just did not have a spot for him. Having moved from center field to third base and then back to stints in right field, it was time to move on.

Bourgeios has done very well in Nashville this season, posting a .316 batting average with two homers, 41 RBI’s, and a .354 OBP. Known more for his speed, Bourgeios should see some spot starts in right field over the course of the season.

The moves for the Brewers will completely shake the clubhouse and hopefully be a wake up call to the whole team. Hardy was a fan favorite to many and well liked in the clubhouse, while Castro had the longest tenure with the Brewers of anyone in the organization.

More than anything, these moves are a step towards 2010 when the Brewers feel they can start over and try to compete once again. Going back to my article from yesterday, Bourgeios has the potential to start in center field in 2010 if he makes a good showing the rest of the season.

Hall has probably seen his last days in Milwaukee, which is tough to deal with when you consider the money he is set to make for the Brewers this season and next. But a new leaf needed to be turned over, and whenever your top prospect enters the organizaton it definitely says something. Welcome to the Alcides Escobar era, everyone.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , | Leave a comment

Center Field, Catcher Will Be Hot Topics for Milwaukee Brewers in 2010

I haven’t completely thrown in the towel on the Milwaukee Brewers 2009 season, but it would be put nicely to say things are not looking up.  At 55-56, the Brewers are 6.5 games out of both the National League Central and Wildcard and would have to leapfrog multiple teams to accomplish either feat.

No, it seems as though the season is all but over, and anything accomplished from here on out will be an extra bonus.  Looking forward to 2010, the Brewers will have a lot of flexibility due to expiring contracts and the development of farm system players.

Mike Cameron’s $10 million salary will be off the books in 2010, as well as Trevor Hoffman’s $6 million and Jason Kendall’s $5 million.  This $21 million will surely help the Brewers come closer to locking up two cogs to their future in Prince Fielder and Yovani Gallardo, but it will also let them look at replacements for next season as well.

It’s hard to see the Brewers being in a situation to bring back Mike Cameron next season, leaving a void in center field.  Some believe Rickie Weeks might make the transition to the middle outfield spot, but I believe his true position is at second base, despite his less than stellar defense there.

Jody Gerut has turned out to be nothing more than a below-average bat on the bench despite his good defensive play and Frank Catalanotto can not play every day in right field if Corey Hart was to make the move to center.

Tony Gwynn Jr. is looking good right about now, but the fact of the matter remains the Brewers must look elsewhere to fill the need.  Prospect Lorenzo Cain has struggled over the last two years in AA Huntsville and is probably another good season away from being called up to take over the reigns.

Blessed with tons of speed and a cannon for an arm, the Brewers could sign a veteran to a one-year contract if they feel Cain will be ready for 2010.  One option that the Brewers should look to is veteran center fielder Randy Winn, currently of the San Francisco Giants.

In 2006, Winn was given a three year extension that paid him $23 million over the course of the contract.  With his contract expiring after this year, the Giants might be looking to go in a different direction depending on how they fare this season.

Eugenio Velez and Nate Schierholtz are the future of the Giants’ outfield and, at 25 and 27, are relatively young compared to Winn (35).  While the Giants’ farm system does not boast many outfield prospects, the Giants have invested big-time money in Aaron Rowand over the next three years and Fred Lewis will come very cheap over the next three years.

Winn has played 15 games in center field this year, but as said before Corey Hart is probably capable of making the transition to center if needed.  He is a switch hitter that can bat anywhere in the Brewers lineup and would provide speed to a team ranked at the bottom of the league in stolen bases.  Even at 35, Winn has stolen ten bases this season and has been caught just once.

He has seen a drop in his numbers this season, but a new team and an easier ballpark to hit in could do a lot for Winn, who I believe has a lot left in the tank.  He would be cheaper than Mike Cameron and would give more offense to a team that has struggled to rally around Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder this season.

If the Brewers are looking for a longer-term solution and do not want to bank on Cain being the go-to guy any time soon, two names to look for are Rocco Baldelli and Marlon Byrd.

Baldelli, 27, has never caught a break in his major league career but has a ton of potential if he can stay healthy.  Medical testing in the spring before the 2008 season showed that Baldelli had a disease that gave him muscle fatigue even after the smallest workouts.

Knee injuries and hamstring pulls have hurt Baldelli over the course of his six year career, but most of his issues seem to be behind him now.  In the star-studded outfield in Boston, Baldelli has appeared in just 44 games, starting 27 of them.  He is batting .261 on the year with five home runs and 17 RBI’s, and would come very cheap to the Brewers next year.

In Milwaukee, he could start in center field and see consistent playing time that would surely make his numbers increase.  He would also come at a very cheap price and could have many games played-incentives in his contract.

The case for Byrd would be a more expensive option but would also give the Brewers a powerful threat in the outfield and a great glove in center field.

For the Rangers this season, Byrd is batting .285 with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in.  He also has 34 doubles, which ranks fifth in the American League.  At just 31, Byrd still has some good years left in him and if given the right offer, might part with Texas.

The Rangers are pretty much set in center and right field with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, and David Murphy is capable of playing left field but projects as a designated hitter.  However, the future of Chris Davis might lie in the same position.  The Rangers still have two very solid young prospects in Engel Beltre and Julio Borbon, who are both far from the majors but are interesting prospects.

Obviously Mike Cameron is still an option next year, but the Brewers will not pay him even close to the $10 million he is receiving this year.  His best years are clearly behind him and it looks like all of his good years are behind him as well.

The farthest position from Cameron on the baseball field, catcher, is another position that the Brewers will need to address next year.  Jason Kendall has done an outstanding job calling games for Brewers pitchers and the intangibles he has brought to the team were second to none, but his time in Milwaukee is done.

He will be a free agent next year and, at 35 years old for a catcher, he isn’t likely to see too many offers from teams.  Unlike the outfield situation, the Brewers have a few options to fix the void behind the plate from within the organization.

Mike Rivera is the front-runner for the position next year if the Brewers stay within, and would make a fine starter.  He has seen his workload increase this season, already passing his games played total (24) from last year (21).  As hard as it is for a player to make starts off the bench once every five or six games, it’s twice as hard at the catcher position.

If Rivera is given a full year behind the plate, he will see his offensive numbers increase as well as his decent play behind the plate.  He isn’t going to make anyone forget about Yadier Molina, but he is a huge upgrade from Kendall.

Waiting in the shadows of Nashville is current Sounds catcher Angel Salome.  Standing at just 5’7″, the 23-year-old power hitter is the best prospect the Brewers have behind the plate and could make a case for starting in 2010.  He is still very raw in all aspects of the game, especially behind the plate, and there are question marks over whether he can handle a pitching staff for a whole year.

Jonathon Lucroy is still a couple of years away, but he could battle Salome for the future backstop position.  He has shown more talent than expected and is more disciplined as a catcher.

If the Brewers feel their two prospects are not ready and do not think Rivera can handle the responsibilities all year, there are a few options for the Brewers in free agency.

Bengie Molina is the biggest name in free agency, but looking at what he has done with the Giants pitching staff and bullpen leads me to believe he will cash in on a huge payday from San Francisco.

Other options include Rod Barajas, Jason LaRue, Jose Molina, and Greg Zaun.  Those four options would come cheap, but the reality of it is that they are all suited better as back-ups.  It is not easy to come by a good catcher in the Majors these days, which is why the Brewers will be hoping Salome will be ready to go on Opening Day in 2010.

The Brewers will probably have to part ways with the two veterans in Kendall and Cameron but can make the team both cheaper and better by important signings this offseason. My pipedream would be for Salome to come out of the gates firing and bringing in Byrd to play center field and bat sixth.

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , | Leave a comment