Sports Outside the Beltway

80 Man Roster Hurts NFL Camps

SI’s Don Banks breaks down the ripple effects of the NFL enforcing its 80 man roster this offseason. Previously, teams were able to carry a handful of extra guys because they got exemptions for guys who played in the now-defunct NFL Europa.

So what, right? Those guys probably weren’t going to make the team anyway, right?

One prime example of the difficult internal roster decisions that are now unfolding revolves around the issue of how many specialists teams can afford to bring to camp. Before this year, standard operating procedure was to bring two kickers, two punters and two long-snappers to camp. That’s a luxury not likely to continue at the 80-man limit. Rather than necessarily searching for the best available talent at those positions, teams are prizing versatility above all else. If you’re a punter who can also kick off, or a kicker who can handle some punting duties at least in the preseason, your chances to receive an invite to an NFL camp have risen significantly.

Which means the emphasis has shifted from “the best guy” to the most versatile.

Gary Zauner, a former Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals special teams coach, is now a Phoenix-based special teams consultant who trains kickers, punters and snappers and helps them find roster spots within professional football. Several NFL teams have contacted him this spring seeking candidates for double duty in camp, rather than the top-rated prospect at any one particular position. “They’re no longer taking the best guy, they’re taking the guy who is the most convenient for them given the 80-man limit,” Zauner said. “To me, it’s just a case where the NFL didn’t look at this decision long enough. Everybody’s trying to maximize the combination guy rather than the true specialists. Teams are saying get me a kicker who can punt, or a punter who can field goal kick and kick off. But the guys they’re bringing in aren’t as quality as they can be. Almost no one is bringing in two of everything this year. You need two kickers, two punters and two snappers to get through camp and get guys some rest. It’s going to be a problem unless it’s addressed.”

Wah wah. Kickers aren’t really football players anyway, right? This doesn’t just affect kickers.

“It’s going to affect older players,” the AFC general manager said. “Because older players that need to have rest and need to be managed through the preseason are going to have to practice more. Coaches are going to say, ‘I don’t want to sign this guy. He can only do one-a-days in camp, or he’ll need a day off twice a week. I won’t be able to practice.’ Older, veteran teams are going to be impacted.”

Get ready for a fresh round of debate on the necessity of a four-game preseason schedule as well, league sources say, because with starters needing to play more in those August exhibition games due to the reduction in the number of camp bodies, there will be more injuries suffered by regulars. And that will get everyone focused on the camp-roster issue.

So, we’re likely to see more injuries as a result of this? That’s not good. But there’s more. Some teams will actually have fewer than 80 players to utilize.

In addition, a team that went deep into the playoffs last season, and perhaps suffered some injuries doing it, may be at an even more severe disadvantage under the 80-man camp roster limit. Consider the Patriots at the start of camp in 2007, coming off their run to the previous AFC title game. New England had defensive end Richard Seymour and receiver Chad Jackson starting camp on the preseason physically unable to perform list, and safety Rodney Harrison was suspended by the league late in the preseason for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. All three players counted against the team’s 80-man camp roster, shrinking the Patriots’ pool of available players even further.

“Players who had offseason surgery and start camp on PUP, not being able to practice really hurt you now,” said the AFC general manager. “That becomes a big problem with fewer roster spots available. I know we’re going with one kicker and one long-snapper in camp this year, and we’ve always had two of each in the past. Maybe you go with one fewer quarterback, one less arm in camp. That means your starter is throwing more. That’s one thing that everybody loved about NFL Europa, the quarterback exemption you got from it. But having one less arm in camp, one less quarterback to develop, that’s a big thing. This thing goes in a lot of different directions.”

So, if everybody sees what a big problem this is, it’s easy enough to up the roster size, right? Not so fast. There’s the Ralph Wilson Factor.

The impetus behind the owners’ move to freeze rosters at 80 is the cost savings they realize from having fewer players in camp, especially given that teams were reportedly losing roughly $1 million per year on NFL Europa. More importantly, with team owners trying to build the case that their profit margins are surprisingly thin given the nation’s economic downturn, and that the players received too much of the financial pie in the 2006 CBA settlement, they’re in no mood to send the signal that another half-dozen camp roster spots per team is negotiable.


“We hear it’s a bargaining chip in the next round of CBA negotiations,” said one league executive. “The 80-man camp roster is going to be a two or three-year problem that will have to be dealt with by everyone, because the owners can’t just give the union jobs and not get anything in return for it. Getting camp rosters back where they were before will be part of any new CBA deal that eventually gets done.”

Football people within the NFL rightly believe it’s a pretty short-sighted approach by league owners, because the downside costs of limiting camp rosters to 80 could far outweigh the meager savings of slicing six bodies from a team’s preseason contingent. During the preseason, rookies only make about $1,000 per week, so the cost of carrying six more collegiate free agents is minimal compared to the risk of having to pay off multiple players with injury settlements brought on by short-handed teams not being able to patiently wait while a player recovers from a preseason injury.

Oh, and those six extra guys who had no real shot at making the team, anyway? It’s not really true.

Teams that are known for giving undrafted players a legitimate shot to make their roster will also feel the impact of having fewer roster spots in camp. The Colts are perhaps foremost on that list, and both head coach Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian have been outspoken in their opposition to the 80-man roster limit. “I think we had six guys (from our) Super Bowl (team in 2006) who were collegiate free agents and played prominent roles,” said Dungy last month, himself a former undrafted free agent who made the Pittsburgh Steelers roster as a rookie in 1977. “Gary Brackett, Josh Thomas, Jeff Saturday, Dominic Rhodes, Ben Utecht, and Aaron Moorehead. This is what we try to sell, that if you come to us, we’ll give you a chance to show what you can do. But this means we’ll miss out on some of the guys who could have helped us.”

So, to recap: Some guys who are better than the guys currently on each team’s roster won’t make the team. Some veterans will be injured and not playing for the team. Practices will be watered down, making the teams less sharp. All to save some billionaires a few thousand bucks and some leverage with the union.


UCF Baseball Coach fired because of his alleged harassment of equipment mgr.

Jay Bergman was an institution at UCF where he had been baseball coach for 28 years. From the Orlando Sentinel-

The University of Central Florida fired baseball coach Jay Bergman because he was accused of sexually harassing a team equipment manager, a university source has confirmed.

Bergman used a bat to simulate raping equipment manager Chris Rhyce in early March, said the university source and two other sources with knowledge of the allegation. The university source asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for UCF.

The three sources said Rhyce told the university in a written complaint that he was held down on the field, fully clothed, by a baseball staff member before a March 7 game while the players watched. Bergman was said to have grabbed a bat and shoved it toward Rhyce’s buttocks.

Bergman coached for almost 26 years at UCF.

File this under embarrassing ways to taint or destroy a long career. The UCF Baseball field is named for Bergman.

I’m inclined to believe the allegations. Bergman was suspended for one game in 2006 for inappropriate behavior towards one of his players. The lawyer for Bergman is denying what happened (of course), and the school is clamming up. (of course) Go to the link and read the Orlando Sentinel article to form your own opinion.


Tim Tebow’s Spring snip break

The University of Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner sure does interesting things when away from school.

During spring break, Tebow added a new facet to his fame. In an impoverished village outside General Santos City in the Philippines, Tebow helped circumcise impoverished children.

On the Friday of a weeklong trip to the orphanage his father’s ministry runs in Southeast Asia, Tebow assisted with the care of locals who had walked miles to the temporary clinic that the ministry helped organize. More than 250 people underwent medical and dental procedures, some of them from “Dr. Tebow,” who has no formal surgical training.

“The first time, it was nerve-racking,” he said. “Hands were shaking a little bit. I mean, I’m cutting somebody. You can’t do those kinds of things in the United States. But those people really needed the surgeries. We needed to help them.”

Tebow didn’t plan on operating that day in the Philippines — his job was to preach to the hundreds of people before they had teeth pulled or cysts removed. But as the day rolled on, he grew curious about the three Filipino doctors and his friend, UF graduate and aspiring doctor Richard “R.B.” Moleno, in the bus-sized vehicle that served as a mobile hospital.

Tebow started as a helper and gofer, holding tools and running errands for the medics. By afternoon, he was asking questions and looking for more active ways to help. And by the end of an exhausting day, he was wearing gloves and a mask, wielding surgical scissors, finishing off stitches with a snip.

The patients were too young to ask Tebow his medical background. What would the parents say if they knew about his other sideline, pardon the pun? Free medical care is free medical care I guess.


Anthony Kim wins Wachovia; Youngest PGA Tour winner in 6 years

Kim is 22 years old, American, and been playing the PGA Tour since 2007. From AP-

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Knee surgery prevented Tiger Woods from attempting to defend his Wachovia Championship title. Anthony Kim didn’t disappoint fans at Quail Hollow Club looking for Tiger-like brilliance.

In a near flawless performance Sunday, the 22-year-old Kim became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in six years. Following monster drives with flagstick-hitting approach shots and steady putting, Kim shot a 3-under 69 to cruise to five-shot win over Ben Curtis.

The former NCAA freshman of the year at Oklahoma won’t turn 23 until next month. But he dominated a star-studded field by finishing with a 16-under 272 total, three shots better than the previous tournament record held by Woods.

“I’m a little bit numb right now, but that walk up 18 was the best feeling of my entire life,” Kim said. “I’ll never forget that feeling. I had chills going up and down my spine. I want to recreate that as many times as possible now, so I’m really going to work hard.”

Kim earned $1,134,000 and became the youngest winner since Sergio Garcia won his third PGA Tour title in the 2002 Mercedes Championship.

Kim brought memories of Garcia, but for a different reason, when he strolled to the first tee Sunday with a four-shot lead and no PGA Tour wins. Garcia blew a six-shot lead at Quail Hollow in 2005 and lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh.

Anthony made it look easy yesterday, he was never seriously challenged. With his win, Anthony becomes one of the VERY small group of Americans under age 30 with a PGA Tour title to their credit.

Kim had a solid enough rookie season in 2007, finishing 60th on the money list. It will have to be seen if he can make this year’s Ryder Cup team. He was 24th in points before the Wachovia Championship.

Note- Can the golf media give winners credit this weekend. It’s absurd to report the name of the golfer who won a tournament in a news story only after you first mention a player who wasn’t even in the field. AP’s golf and auto racing reporters last weekend must be using the same style book.


Chicago Bears RB Cedric Benson arrested

Another NFL off season, another NFL player in trouble with the law.

AUSTIN, Texas – Chicago Bears running back Cedric Benson was charged with failing a sobriety test while operating a 30-foot boat, then resisting arrest before being hit with pepper spray and dragged ashore by officers.

Benson faces charges of boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest after the incident Saturday night on Lake Travis, Travis County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Roger Wade said Sunday.

Benson was released from jail early Sunday on a $14,500 bond. The charges are class B misdemeanors, each punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. A call to Benson’s agent was not immediately returned.

Benson was operating the boat with 15 passengers aboard when he was stopped by a Lower Colorado River Authority officer for a random safety inspection. He failed a field sobriety test on the officer’s boat and was uncooperative when the officer tried to take him ashore, the authority said.

Players getting arrested for DUI or being intoxicated are regular occurences. The only reason Benson stands out, is because he did it while boating. Leave it to NFL players to find many different ways to get in trouble with the law.


Clint Bowyer ‘steals’ NASCAR race at Richmond

There was a wild finish at last night’s race.

RICHMOND, Va. – Richard Childress always tells his drivers that luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Clint Bowyer proved the boss right on Saturday night.

Bowyer was a surprise winner at Richmond International Raceway, stealing a win that first seemed destined for Denny Hamlin, then Dale Earnhardt Jr. Neither made it to Victory Lane, though, because of a wild ending that saw three drivers denied the trip Bowyer made to Victory Lane.


Hamlin, the hometown favorite, ran away with the race and led a record 381 of the 400 laps in search of his first Cup victory at Richmond. Nobody came close to challenging him until a leaking right front tire allowed Earnhardt and Kyle Busch to catch him.

The two drivers split Hamlin as they moved past him, with Earnhardt emerging as the leader with 18 laps to go. Hamlin’s tire finally failed with eight to go, and NASCAR accused him of intentionally bringing out the caution that regrouped the field and gave Busch a chance to race Earnhardt for the win.

The two staged a strong battle for the lead when the race resumed, but contact between the two cars in turn three sent Earnhardt into the wall.


Bowyer used the opportunity to slide past both Earnhardt and Busch and into the front for the first time all night. Bowyer then held off Busch on a final restart to score his first Cup victory of the season, second of his career.

Here’s the video of what happened between Earnhardt and Busch last night.

I watch next to no auto racing these day. Back in the 70′s before I went in the military, I followed NASCAR quite a bit. These days my auto racing is pretty much confined to the Indy 500.

Clint Bowyer won last night’s race, he didn’t steal it. Hamlin’s car quit on him, fine. Busch and Earnhardt tangled with each other putting the kibosh with both these driver’s chances. Bowyer crossed the finish line first, he’s the winner. Memo to AP- Drop the ‘steal shit’

For did Al Unser steal his 4th Indy 500 in 1987, when Mario Andretti who was running away with the race for 180 laps, had his day end due to electrical failure?

Did Richard Petty steal the 1979 Daytona 500 after Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison collided on the final lap? That was the race with the famous fight afterwards that also involved Donnie’s brother Bobby.

I don’t remember anyone saying those races were stolen. The difference between A. Unser and Richard Petty versus Bowyer is that they were stars and Bowyer isn’t. So Bowyer gets slighted in his moment of triumph by it being said he stole the race. What a bunch of bull crap.

The only reason I’m writing this, is the ‘Morgan Pressel had the US Open stolen from her’ meme that is still floated by the golf media. Remember the 2005 US Open and Birdie Kim’s bunker shot that won the tournament? The way you here it today is that Morgan had it stolen from her. Let me point out a few salient facts.

1- Pressel finished 2 shots behind Kim.
2- Pressel finished tied for 2nd with fellow amateur Brittany Lang.

So even if Birdie hadn’t holed out, and made bogey or worse on 18 like almost the entire field did that day, Morgan still would have had to go 18 holes in a playoff with at least Lang, and possibly Kim also. In other words Morgan still hadn’t won the tournament by any stretch of the imagination.

Yesterday’s broadcast of the LPGA tournament in Oklahoma, mentioned Lang’s 2nd place finish in 2005. For a change it was nice to hear the media remember someone tied Morgan that day.

Note- The golf media has another meme going about the 2005 US Open also. That Lorena Ochoa lost it. Lorena hit 2 balls in the water at 18 on Sunday, finishing with a quadruple bogey 8 and 7 over par for the tournament. If Lorena scored what most of the field did on Sunday at 18, bogey she would have finished 4 over. Now if Kim had finished bogey too like the media wishes, how can they say both Ochoa lost the 05 Open and Pressel had it stolen from her? The two memes are contradictory.

Bowyer was opportunistic, Kim may have been lucky the hole got in the way of her ball. When it is all said and done, they are the champs. No member of the media can take that away from them.


Minnesota Vikings place DE Kenechi Udeze on reserve list

In case you don’t remember, Udeze was recently diagnosed with leukemia. From AP-

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings want Kenechi Udeze to focus on his fight against leukemia and not worry about his financial situation.

The defensive end was placed on the reserve-non-football-illness list Friday, coach Brad Childress announced. That makes him ineligible to participate in the 2008 season, but guarantees him his $807,500 salary for the year. Udeze revealed two weeks ago that the cancer was in remission, and that his older brother has matching bone marrow for a pending transplant.

“He can focus on getting well. He’s done a great job with that so far. He’s been positive. He’s been upbeat,” said Childress, who praised owner Zygi Wilf for the decision.

Since the cause of Udeze’s illness is not football related, the Vikings were under no obilgation to pay his salary for 2008.

Udeze signed a five-year contract as a first-round draft pick out of Southern California in 2004 and will be a free agent next March. Once the season is over, Childress said the Vikings will revisit Udeze’s status.

A very nice humanitarian gesture by the Vikings ownership and management. As a fellow cancer survivor, I wish Udeze good luck in his battle against leukemia. My half sister Patty is also a leukemia survivor.


Triumph and tragedy at the Kentucky Derby

The most exciting two minutes in all of sports was raced today.

Big Brown backed up his trainer’s boasts with an explosive finishing kick and won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday — a day marred by the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles.

The unbeaten Big Brown took charge when the 20-horse field turned for home. Under the urging of jockey Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown cruised to a 4 3/4-length victory to become the seventh unbeaten Derby winner with his fourth consecutive win. The last one was Barbaro in 2006

Big Brown made it look easy today with a convincing victory. Now it has to be seen if the horse can win the Triple Crown. There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Here’s the video of the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

After the race was over, one horse had to be put down.

The cheers for the winner’s decisive victory were cut short when Eight Belles, the runner-up, was euthanized on the track minutes after the race when she collapsed with two broken front ankles.

What a terrible thing to happen on horse racing’s biggest day of the year. Eight Belles collapsed on the back stretch after the race was over. What happened today brings back memories of Ruffian and her tragic end.

Some may say Eight Belles was raced too hard, but these are fragile animals as Barbaro reminded us just recently.


Move over Michelle Wie Part III

The 2007 AJGA Player of the Year is among the leaders after the first round of the Semgroup Championship. From the Tulsa World-

BROKEN ARROW—Vicky Hurst, a 17-year-old high school senior from Melbourne, Fla., got a sponsor’s exemption into the SemGroup Championship and isn’t squandering the opportunity.

After nine first-round holes, Hurst was 3-under par and had a two-shot lead on the field. She settled for even par, but her score — posted despite sinister wind gusts — was still good enough to lead you to believe the kid was born on a golf course,

Which Vicki almost was. Back to that later.

Vicki is at present playing her rookie year on the Duramed Futures Tour. At present, Vicki is #1 on that tour’s money list. If you think Vicki has played the LPGA pros a great many times before the Semgroup, think again. Vicki, who has had a very impressive amateur record, is only playing in a LPGA event for the second time on a sponsor’s exemption. How many sponsor’s exemptions has Michelle Wie gotten since 2002? Like 30?

Hurst is just one part of the wave of Korean-American girls who will soon be influencing US Ladies Professional golf. Vicki’s Mom Koko, who caddies for her daughter but not this week, was born in South Korea. I think we’ll be hearing alot of more of Vicki, Kimberly Kim, Jenny Shin, and others in the years ahead.

The rest of the Tulsa World article is below the fold.


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