Archive for July, 2012

Make or Break Year for 2010 Draft Class

July 19, 2012

It’s a universal constant in the NFL that by the third year in the league a player begins to define how effective they can be. For the 2010 Buffalo Bills draft class this upcoming season is vitally important. Keep in mind this was Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey’s first draft with the organization. Taking a look back a few years ago the Bills selected C.J. Spiller with the 9th overall pick, Torrell Troup in the second round, followed by Alex Carrington, Marcus Easley, Ed Wang, Arthur Moats, Danny Batten, Levi Brown and Kyle Calloway. With the exception of Spiller, Wang, and Calloway the majority of the draft class came from smaller schools lacking in reputation for having strong football programs. Wang, Brown and Calloway are no longer with the team and the majority of those remaining have yet to have much of an impact at the pro level.

Spiller: Spiller burst onto the scene in his rookie season, winning the starting running back job over both Marshawn Lynch and Freddy Jackson, only to be unseated after the first week of the season. Spiller struggled mightily to make much of an impact for the remainder of the year and was relegated mostly to return duties. In his sophomore campaign he was a non-factor for the first 11 weeks of the season, with exception of a solid performance in week two against the Raiders. Looking like another in a long line of first round busts, Spiller finally got his opportunity to shine after Jackson went down with a season-ending injury in week 11 against the Dolphins. In Jackson’s stead, Spiller exploded onto the scene, finishing the last six games rushing for 446 yards along with 205 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. Spiller still has plenty to prove to justify his status as a top ten pick but if the final half of the 2011 season is any indicator, 2012 looks like it could be a breakout year for the former Clemson star.

Troup: The remainder of the draft class has done little or nothing in their two years in the league thus far. Troup may be the most disappointing of the class. In 21 career games he’s amassed 31 total tackles, no sacks and has had trouble staying on the field with multiple injuries impeding his progress. Troup was expected to be the centerpiece around the Bills’ 3-4 front, developing into the team’s nose tackle of the future. With the emergence of Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams locked in as a starter next to him, Troup will be counted on as a rotational player in the middle when the Bills switch to a 4-3 front this season. He will be facing some stiff competition in camp however with Spencer Johnson, Dwan Edwards, fellow 2010 pick Carrington and 2011 upstart Kellen Heard all expected to battle it out for playing time. It’s not incomprehensible to think that unless Troup has an exceptional training camp and preseason he may get cut before the season starts.

Carrington: Carrington was drafted as a 3-4 defensive end out of football powerhouse Arkansas State (I’m being sarcastic if you can’t tell). In two years in the league thus far Carrington has totaled just two sacks and 24 tackles. He has shown a propensity to block kicks on special teams but for all intents and purposes he’s had little impact on the defensive side of the ball. Carrington has shown flashes of being able to put pressure on opposing QBs at times but with a loaded defensive end corps that includes Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, and Shawne Merriman, his best chance of making the team will likely be at defensive tackle. At 6-5, 301 he has a build similar to that of Chris Canty who’s made a solid career of being a pass rushing defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. Like Troup, 2012 will be a make or break year for Carrington and with a loaded defensive line depth chart, he’ll need to impress in training camp and the preseason to stay on the roster.

Easley: With the exception of Spiller, Easley is the most intriguing member of the class. Going into camp in his rookie season he was an early favorite to be a big part of the offense. A knee injury in camp cost him his rookie campaign however. Going into last season he was the odds on favorite to take over the number two receiver job opposite of Stevie Johnson after Lee Evans was traded to Baltimore. In fact, it looked like he had the job locked down after a couple impressive preseason performances but never played a game in 2011 because of a defective heart condition. Once a player with such promise is now in a vitally important year to prove he can produce at this level and he’s never even played in a regular season NFL game. Heading into this offseason the Bills were very interested in former New Orleans receiver Robert Meachem to hold down the number two receiver position but he fled town without a contract to be a number one in San Diego. When the free agent market dried up the Bills opted to select T.J. Graham with their third selection but he’ll be used more as a slot receiver/deep threat instead of a number two. Most experts speculate that the starting spot opposite of Johnson is Easley’s to lose With an impressive camp Easley should be locked in opposite of Johnson when the Bills travel to New York on September 9.

Batten and Moats: Batten and Moats have had vastly different results thus far in the NFL. Both coming from small schools (South Dakota State and James Madison respectively) the pair was expected to be developmental outside linebackers who chipped in on special teams. Batten lost his rookie season to injury, while Moats showed flashes of brilliance. Moats showed a propensity for getting after the quarterback and the defining moment of his career thus far saw him hammer Brett Favre, causing an interception and effectively ending Favre’s record consecutive start streak. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks and was a constant presence in opposing backfields for the majority of the season. Moats took a step back last season mostly because he was rarely utilized but again finished with 2.5 sacks including one sack in each of the last two games of the season.

Batten made some plays on special teams last season but his inconsistent play decreased his playing time as the season wore on. Both Moats and Batten will face the stiffest competition of their young careers in camp this year. With Kirk Morrison, Kelvin Sheppard and Nick Barnett locked in as the starters at linebacker, Moats and Batten will be forced to compete for backup roles and special team spots. The Bills added Nigel Bradham in the fourth round and Tank Carder in the fifth of this year’s draft and both are essentially a lock to make this year’s roster. Add in last year’s fifth round draft pick Chris White, who was a solid special teams performer, and there’s no guarantee that there will be room for both Moats and Batten. Moats certainly has a better shot with his past pass rushing success but the Bills are only likely to keep six or seven linebackers and with a loaded depth chart he’ll need to separate himself from the competition.

Some Justice for the Bills Young Talent

July 18, 2012

ESPN released an article on Monday ranking each organization by their quality of talent age 25 and younger. No surprise here, the Bills ranked 29th in the entire league while the New England Patriots were at the top of the list. The article was written by Danny Tuccitto and Rivers McCown from Football Outsiders and while I’m a pretty big fan of the site’s statistical analysis most of the time, they tend to deep throat the Patriots as much as ESPN.

My issue isn’t with their ranking of the Patriots however, because I do agree that the combo of Gronk and Hernandez (both 23) make them a tough team to compete with in terms of young talent. My problem comes solely from the Bills 29th ranking. In the article the scribes praise Marcell Dareus as an “enormous addition as a rookie, notching 5.5 sacks despite playing some 3-4 nose tackle last season.” However they neglect to expand on C.J. Spiller’s 2011 contributions, Stephon Gilmore being selected to reinforce the secondary and completely ignore Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Jairus Byrd, and Kelvin Sheppard. Let’s do the youth on this roster some justice.

Dareus: Dareus led the team with 5.5 sacks in his rookie season and did it with very little help around him. Kyle Williams was banged up for most of the season and placed on the IR after only playing in five games. With “Meatball” returning and the additions of Mark Anderson and Super Mario Williams, Dareus should wreak havoc on opposing offenses this season and be a stalwart in the middle of the defense for years to come. Coming out of college he drew some comparisons to Warren Sapp and with the talent that’s been placed around him now, that evaluation could come to fruition sooner rather than later.

Byrd: For all intents and purposes with the exception of maybe Dareus, Byrd was the Bills’ best defensive player in 2011. He may not have equaled his takeaway production from his 9 INT rookie campaign but he became an absolute force in the secondary. He answered any questions about a perceived lack of tackling ability by lighting up opposing receivers and tight ends and delivering some of the most punishing hits of the season. He set a career high with 98 tackles, added 3 force fumbles, 3 interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Byrd developed into an all-around safety last season and signing him to a long-term extension will be priority one for the Bills front office this year.

Johnson: After seeing minimal snaps in his first two seasons in the league, the former seventh round pick exploded onto the scene in 2010 setting career marks in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,073) and touchdowns (10). He followed that up with a solid 2011 campaign and became the only player in team history to record back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons. He’s become one of the best route runners in the NFL and is the ironclad number one receiver on the roster. Johnson has become one of the most polarizing figures in the league with his excessive touchdown celebrations, outgoing personality and highly entertaining (to most) twitter posts. The Bills took a huge step forward in the offseason by resigning Stevie J to a five-year, $36.25 million contract, locking him in as the team’s go-to receiver for the foreseeable future.

Spiller: Tuccitto and McCown downplayed Spiller’s abilities by saying that he’ll be blocked at running back by a returning Freddy Jackson. While they’re correct that his reps will likely be decreased from what he was seeing at the end of last season, Spiller proved that he has what it takes to be a premiere playmaker in this league. When Jackson went down after the first Miami game last season, Spiller stole the show. He finished the season with 561 rushing yards at a 5.2 clip per rush, 269 receiving yards and 6 total touchdowns. More importantly, Spiller looked like the dynamic back running and catching the ball out of the backfield that made him a top ten pick. He was terrifying for opposing defenses when he got in space and showed that the 2012 Bills backfield will be one of the league’s elite. While his carries will likely be decreased, Gailey will certainly have a plan in place to utilize both of his elite running backs in the upcoming season.

Nelson: The 2010 UDFA out of Florida isn’t going to burn anyone with his limited speed. In fact he sometimes has trouble creating separation due to his lack of elite athleticism. However, there are few players on the offensive side of the ball that are more essential to the team’s success than Nelson. He’s one of the surest-handed receivers on the team and is a constant threat on third downs. No one will forget his 10 catch 83 yard performance against the Raiders last season when he hauled in the game winning grab on fourth down with seconds remaining. Nelson will man the slot this season and his role is likely to be expanded, especially in the red zone. 2012 could be a breakout season for the third year player.

Sheppard: The 2011 third-rounder didn’t make a lot of big plays in his rookie season but his presence was definitely felt. After mostly watching from the sidelines the first four weeks of the year, Sheppard stepped in, in a big way against the Eagles in week four. In the second quarter with the Bills up by a touchdown, Sheppard came up the middle on a delayed blitz and hammered Michael Vick, forcing him to throw the pass under distress. The ball was picked off by Nick Barnett and returned 31 yards for a touchdown. Sheppard didn’t record a sack, interception or forced fumble all season but he was a presence in the box when he finally got some playing time. He finished the season with 70 tackles, including a 14 tackle performance against the Chargers in week 14. Sheppard has already been dubbed the starter in the middle of the Bills new 4-3 alignment and should be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

The Rookies: Cordy Glenn and Stephon Gilmore are expected to be major contributors in their rookie seasons. Gilmore has already been named the starter at one corner position and has the talent to be a lockdown corner from day one. If OTAs and minicamps are any indication then Glenn will also start at left tackle from day one. The Bills allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL last season and that was with a rag-tag crew holding down the fort at left tackle and right guard. Glenn is an immediate upgrade over second year tackle Chris Hairston and although there are questions as to whether he’s a legitimate NFL left tackle, has the talent to be an elite offensive lineman.

Don’t discount third round pick T.J. Graham or fourth rounder Nigel Bradham either. Graham will likely be brought in on spread formations, which the Bills show about 70% of the time, to stretch the field deep. He has elite speed, solid hands and can blow the cover off of most secondaries. While Kirk Morrison will likely start on the weak side at the beginning of the season, don’t be surprised if Bradham unseats him by the end of the season. He may not be a household name just yet but he has the athleticism, coverage ability and raw power to be a force on the outside.

2012 British Open Preview: Tiger’s Year?

July 18, 2012

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We’ve come to the 3rd Major of the 2012 PGA Tour season, the halfway point if you will.  This year’s Open Championship promises to be full of high caliber play, problems with deep bunkers, wind, rain, and whatever else northwest England has to offer.  This year’s championship will be played at The Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s Golf Club in Northwest England.  As with every Open Championship, this course promises to play tougher than the pro’s expected.  Which is why it’ll take everything these professionals have in their bags to pull out a win.  Various shot shapes, accuracy off the tee, and stellar putting to hoist the coveted Claret Jug.

 

Royal Lytham is 205 pot bunkers strewn across a links layout.  Ball placement will be key off the tees this week in order to shoot a good score.  With the winds whipping in from the ocean and dunes, missing the various, yet well placed, bunkers will be the challenge with this course.  Like many other Open Championships played in England and Scotland, the winds are unpredictable and can change in an instant.  Usually the players expect winds to be in the 20-30MPH range and swirling during the course of their rounds, so that’s where keeping the ball low, and electing to either ride the wind or fight the wind will be essential to scoring well.  The greens are large and have extreme slopes and breaks when it comes to putting, and generally if a player tries to go right at a pin, the ball will skip past the hole, off the green and leave a tough pitch shot to save par.  Now, with that said, this week has presented different problems for the players.  There has been little wind, down-pouring rain, and thick rough instead of wispy blades of grass that usually accompany a British Open.  According to various players, this course is set up more like a U.S. Open Championship rather than a British Open.  So, the scoring should be interesting if a player finds himself in the thick rough.   

 

The last time this tournament was played at Royal Lytham & St, Anne’s in 2001, David Duval claimed victory and since then has not been the golfer he once promised to be.  That said, our old friend Tiger Woods hasn’t won a British Open since 2006, and seems poised to once again raise the Claret Jug in victory.  He is much more confident in his swing; he’s playing better golf all around, and says that the British Open is his favorite major.  Tiger also has history at this particular course.  He was low amateur in 1996 before he turned pro, and won that by shooting a Friday round of 66 back then.  Now, he’s a different player now then he was back then, but golfers tend to have great memories of courses they enjoy.  When he won at Turnberry in 2006, he only hit his driver once in four rounds of play, generally using an iron off the tee to keep the ball in play and avoid bunkers.  This course sets up similarly to Turnberry, so I expect Tiger to use more irons and three woods off the tee, shaping the ball to avoid bunkers and rough patches.  He’s my pick to win this week, although don’t count out the Englishmen in the field.  Lee Westwood, who is still looking for his first major, Justin Rose, and the current number 1 in the world, Luke Donald.  Rose has played unbelievably consistent over the past weeks and looks like he will quietly make a run for the Claret Jug.  Luke Donald however has faltered in recent majors, and seems a little out of sorts when it comes to being in big spots in big tournaments. 

 

All will be settled on Sunday afternoon when the winner takes the coveted Claret Jug and places it over his head capturing the 2012 British Open.  Side note, England is 5 hours ahead and the first tee times on Thursday will be at 4:30AM on ESPN.  I will be up watching from beginning to end…and that’s what makes me crazy. 

 

The Buffalo Bills and the Rule of Three

July 17, 2012

My colleague Russ Andolina made a spot-on observation regarding the Buffalo Bills organization yesterday. “They’re obligated to match any good move with at least three corresponding horrible ones.” If you look at the team’s offseason prior to July 1st you might’ve contradicted that by pointing out the $100 million contract given to Mario Williams along with the additions of Mark Anderson, Vince Young and the team resigning Stevie Johnson and Fred Jackson. The Bills’ front office has indeed had an extremely successful offseason by adding talent and building a contender in the process but don’t let them off the hook so easily.

In recent weeks the Bills have announced multiple “business policy decisions” that have delineated this organization since its inception. A few months ago team CEO Russ Brandon announced the five year extension of the Toronto Buffalo Series which will continue to see the Bills play one regular season home game across the border in that pathetic excuse for a sports arena called the Rogers Centre (there are few things that piss me off as much as the way Canadians spell center by the way). Brandon was a key component in the original deal penned in 2007 and reiterated in May this year that “…the continuation of the games in Toronto is a crucial step in our ongoing efforts to regionalize our franchise” and “the regionalization process remains vital to keeping our franchise in Western New York.” Brandon’s one of the best in the business in marketing his product and admittedly has done a great job with the “regionalization” of the franchise. The pundits out there will acknowledge that having a strong presence in Southern Ontario and the surrounding Western New York region is vital in being profitable for the small market organization. However, for all intents and purposes the Buffalo Toronto Series has thus far seen minimal success in terms of ticket sales and introducing a fan base to the greater Toronto-metro area. The only thing you see more than open seats at the Rogers Centre are “fans” wearing NFL merchandise of every NFL team besides the Bills. While the franchise certainly came out on top of the original agreement with the $70 million-plus guaranteed up front, the new proposed deal is likely to be a significant decrease in up-front money and depend more heavily on revenue generated on a game-by-game basis.

Even with the revenue generated from the Toronto Series Ralph Wilson and the Bills’ front office has no shame in asking for a massive handout from Western New York taxpayers. With a little more than one year left on their current lease with the city of Orchard Park (expires 7/31/2013) Wilson is asking for taxpayers to fund the majority of an estimated $200-220 million in modernizations and repairs to Ralph Wilson Stadium. When Jerry Jones built his palace in Arlington he funded the majority of the $1 Billion-plus construction himself. While it’s understandable that Wilson may not be willing to fund the entire $200 million-plus construction, he seems unwilling to allocate a substantial amount of the costs from his considerable wealth to fund the project. Here’s an idea Ralph, sell the naming rights to your stadium to help alleviate some of the tax burden on your loyal customers. When Jim Irsay built his modernized stadium in Indy he didn’t stick his name on it to try to build on his legacy. No, he sold the rights to Lucas Oil to the tune of $122 million over 20 years, offering significant tax subsidy relief to his loyal followers.

If asking for the massive tax subsidy to pay for the renovations wasn’t bad enough, Wilson and the rest of the front office gave their loyal followers another swift shot to the marbles by announcing they wouldn’t be adopting the league’s new policy on a relaxed blackout rule. The new rule stipulated that any NFL team could adopt the new policy of only being required to sell 85% of non-premium tickets in order for home games to be televised locally but opted to keep the former policy of selling out the entire stadium in order for local residents not in attendance to watch the action. Brandon explained that “as a small-market franchise, we need people in the building. That drives all of our additional business platforms…” Representative Brian Higgins called the move “somewhat short-sighted” on the Bills part and how televising non-sold-out home games wouldn’t just be “something good for their extremely loyal fans” but would also “position themselves for greater future success by making the product accessible to a larger segment of the population.” Higgins also hits on the most important fact that the real money in the NFL today comes from television revenue and effectively marketing your product to a mass audience. As a former and again soon-to-be season ticket holder you may say that this decision doesn’t affect me as much because I’ll be at all the games. I tend to think of the bigger picture however and look to friends and family members who can’t go to the games, either due to age or disability, but are still just as loyal to this organization as any season ticket holder.

The time has come to call for accountability for this organization. While it’s been a better offseason than most in recent memory the revelations of the last few weeks have cast a shadow on a promising year. The continuation of the Toronto Series, the rejection of the new proposed blackout rule and Wilson’s inability to open up his wallet to alleviate the tax burden on his local supporters has added to the organization’s reputation of poor business practices and outright ignorance for the community at large. Before you agree to open up your wallets to renovate Wilson’s namesake consider the facts and force the Bills to be accountable for their actions.

54th Porter Cup: Amateur Golf Tournament Preview

July 17, 2012
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2010 Champ David Chung celebrates victory

There is nothing better to get people excited for the British Open, then the amateur golf tournament known as the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, NY.  This tournament is one of the better amateur tournaments in the country and has played host to many current and past PGA Tour Champions.  This year is the 54th annual edition of this amateur tournament and promises to have great play from Thursday until Sunday.

The Porter Cup is known for having hosting some of the world’s best amateur golfers throughout the years.  Some names include the likes of Phil Mickelson, who won in 1991, Tiger Woods, who has a hole in one plaque at the 13th hole, as well as David Duval, Davis Love III and many others who are now permanent fixtures on the PGA Tour.   This tournament usually hosts a top heavy load of Canadian players and local favorites.  This year is no different as out of the 8 players who qualified through the qualifier, 5 are from neighboring Ontario, CA, the other three hail from Buffalo and Rochester.

Now, me being from Grand Island, NY, there were 3 local guys who I played golf with in high school who unfortunately didn’t make the cut.  The last one was John Edwards who in 2008 managed to qualify for the Porter Cup, and was a media staple for the first two days of the tournament.  Unfortunately, that was a rain shortened event in which a cut was implemented for the first time ever, and John missed the cut to play on the weekend.  There are some local favorites this week that will be looked at intently to have a possibility to capture the Cup this year.  One is Chris Covelli.  In the qualifier, which is one 9-hole round played at NFCC, managed to shoot a 69 and finish second behind Daniel Kim from Toronto, Ontario, CA.  Covelli is a 2005 Nichols graduate who has tried to take his golf career to the next level after high school, but lost struggled with his play and lost the passion for the game.  Now, with this qualification, he has a renewed drive to compete and after this year’s Porter Cup, he plans on attempting to qualify for the U.S. Amateur tournament, and possibly going on to the Web.Com Tour with dreams of making it to the PGA.  If he can keep his competitive spirit, he’ll be one of the contenders for sure this week.

Another local favorite is Brian Jurkiewicz, from Hamburg, NY.  He shot at 70 in the qualifier to finish in 6th place.  With great course knowledge and a caddy who is the assistant green’s keeper, you’d think he would have an edge at this year’s tournament.  Jurkiewicz played his High School golf at Canisius High School, and currently attends Saint Bonaventure.  He’s had plenty of amateur and junior amateur exposure at a young age, so tournament play is nothing new to him and he should be a contender.

This is a free event to watch as a spectator, and is located in Lewiston, NY at Niagara Falls Country Club starting July 18th and ending July 21st.  As a side note, you can bring your own adult beverages to the course.


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