Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Rules Changes 2008

The owner’s meetings have resulted in various minor tweaks to the rules but the two most controversial, requiring players with long hair to keep it tucked under their helmets and allowing wild-card teams with superior records to have home field advantage over a division winner, were not passed.

Competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, was not surprised about the lack of support for reseeding, in which a wild-card team with a better record than a division winner would play at home in the first playoff round. “This idea we wanted to push this year to get the discussion going,” McKay said. “There were not a lot of hands up, so we withdrew the proposal for now. There is the historical idea that a division champion should have a home game.”

That was exactly why Patriots owner Robert Kraft opposed reseeding. “I do believe if you win a division, it’s good for your fans to know you will have a home game,” Kraft said. “To win a division, there is a reward and we wanted to keep that.”

There also remains concern about late-season games becoming meaningless when teams already have secured their playoff positions. Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated discussions of reseeding are not dead. “The focus I said to the competition committee is what are the alternatives we have to make sure every game is as competitive as possible,” Goodell said. “I think the debate was good.”

While I can see wanting teams to play hard in the closing weeks, giving wild card teams superior seeding just flies in the face of tradition. If you’re going to do that, why not just eliminate divisions — and conferences — altogether and simply pick the teams with the twelve best records?

Among the proposals that were passed:

• A recommendation to eliminate force-out decisions on pass completions near the sidelines. Now, officials will only have to decide whether a receiver landed in bounds or not. The intended result is more consistency.

• The “Phil Dawson field goal rule.”. Now, certain field goals can be reviewed by instant replay, including kicks that bounce off the uprights. Under the previous system, no field goals could be replayed.

• Deferring the opening coin toss. This is similar to the college rule. Previously, the winner of the coin toss could only choose to receive or kick off.

• A direct snap from center that goes backward will now be treated as a fumble. Previously, it was ruled a false start.

• Eliminating the 5-yard face mask penalty. Now, only the serious face mask will be called (and will be assessed as a 15-yard penalty). The major foul will involve twisting or grabbing the face mask.

Those all make sense. The 5-yard face mask is just too much of a judgment call and we wind up with too many ticky-tack calls on it. Frankly, I’d like to eliminate most of the incidental contact and “illegal motion” type penalties, which slow down the game and take it away from the players.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

2008 Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft

Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft 2008 The Super Bowl is still more than a week away and the coaches from the other 30 teams are just barely getting involved in talent evaluation, so mock draft speculation is way premature. Especially since free agency hasn’t opened yet and what happens there will greatly impact the draft. Still, it’s a lot of fun.

While I’ll be tracking overall 2008 NFL mock drafts on a serious basis in a couple of months, I think it’ll be more enjoyable at this juncture to focus my energy on guesses about what the Dallas Cowboys might do.

The consensus, which I share, is that the team’s main needs are to get younger at wide receiver (both Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn are in their 30s and the latter may be done), better at cornerback (you need three studs in the modern NFL and the Cowboys have only one-and-a-half in Terance Newman and Anthony Henry), and deeper at running back (Julius Jones will almost certainly go in free agency and Marion Barber can’t shoulder the burden on his own). And another offensive lineman or two certainly couldn’t hurt.

By all accounts, this draft is rich in talent at running back and offensive line and decent at wide receiver and corner, so the ‘Boys should do well if the Old Jerry Jones continues to stay away and we don’t reach for Quincy Carter-type players. The Cowboys currently own the 22nd (via last year’s trade with Cleveland) and 28th picks (their own) but Jones is known for wheeling and dealing, so they could pick anywhere.

Most of the mocks I’ve seen have Dallas taking either a WR or CB with the first pick and a RB with the second. While I’d argue RB is a 2nd or 3rd round need — since we’re talking MBIII’s backup here unless he gets away in free agency — the draft is apparently so rich in RB talent that “best available athlete” trumps need.

My picks:

    22. Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma: A great athlete and a scouting department that focuses especial attention on the Big 12 makes this a natural fit.

    28. Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas: Jerry Jones won’t be able to resist a fellow Razorback here.

Others’ picks in the extended entry.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

2008 NFL Mock Draft

The playoffs aren’t even over yet but fans of 28 of 32 teams are already looking ahead to next year.

I read a lot about football and listen to Sirius’ NFL Radio on my daily commute but I’m not a professional scout. I can, however, see what the pros are saying and look for trends. It’s silly at this early stage to go beyond the 1st round, so I won’t; most of those who are linked below do, though, so you can click through if you’re interested.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

2008 NFL Mock Draft: NFC East

Mel Kiper takes a look ahead to the needs of the NFC East for the upcoming draft.

Wide receiver is the No. 1 need of the Dallas Cowboys. Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens aren’t getting any younger and Patrick Crayton is not a No. 1 receiver. Their second need is at cornerback because the Cowboys had trouble matching up in coverage late in the season. Terence Newman is a very good cornerback, but Anthony Henry has been up and down and Jacques Reeves has struggled. Another need is an offensive lineman with some versatility since Flozell Adams is a free agent. Dallas drafted tackle James Marten last year, but Jerry Jones could address that position again. Running back is another area where depth would help. Julius Jones is a free agent and the Cowboys like having that backfield tandem. Marion Barber dishes out a lot of hits, but he also takes his fair share.

Certainly, as a Cowboys fan, that’s pretty much my take as well. Obviously, what happens in free agency — including decisions on our own free agents — will factor in heavily. If Dallas can sign a Marcus Trufant or make a deal for a top free agent wideout, then obviously the draft needs change. My druthers, though, would be to draft the best available athletes, focusing on wide receiver and defensive back. I’d also love to grab a good quarterback prospect on Day 2 to groom as the eventual backup.

The Cowboys have two number one picks. Sadly, their gamble of trading last year’s #22 overall to Cleveland in hopes of getting a top five pick this year didn’t pay off; Cleveland picks 22nd this year. (Dallas did get an additional #2 last year and traded back up to the 1st to get Anthony Spencer, whom they’d have taken with the 22nd pick, so they still come out ahead. But still.) My druthers would be to either take the best player on the board twice or trade one of them down to get more picks. Knowing Jerry Jones, though, he’ll likely try to package them and make a splash.

The New York Giants‘ primary need is at outside linebacker. Mathias Kiwanuka — who missed six games with a broken leg — is transitioning from defensive end in college to outside linebacker. Kawika Mitchell could leave in free agency and Reggie Torbor is average. At safety, Gibril Wilson is a free agent and they don’t have a standout at the position. In a league where more teams have tight ends who can stretch the field, teams need that cornerstone safety. Offensive line help on the left side is an area they could address in terms of depth, although it isn’t a huge need. Cornerback Aaron Ross was a very good pick last year and he’s done a very good job, but he’s just one player. Sam Madison is 33 and Corey Webster has been up and down.

The Philadelphia Eagles need to look at taking a cornerback fairly early in draft. Lito Sheppard has been banged up and Sheldon Brown is a solid No. 2 corner, but with more teams putting three and four wide receivers on the field, depth at that position is necessary. Defensive end Trent Cole is good, but he could use some help on the opposite side. The Eagles like to draft defensive and offensive linemen early, so look for them to do both. At wide receiver, the Eagles have two No. 2 wide receivers (Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown) but they don’t have a true No. 1. Offensive tackle Tra Thomas is 33 years old and you have to wonder how much confidence the Eagles have in Winston Justice. Brian Dawkins is a great player, but he’s getting up there in age (34), so they could draft a safety to develop for the future. L.J. Smith has had injury issues and is a free agent, so the tight end position could be addressed, although last year’s fifth-round pick, Brent Celek, has shown some ability.

The Washington Redskins could first use an effective pass-rusher and a No. 1 wide receiver — Brandon Lloyd has been a bust. They like Anthony Mix, who played with QB Jason Campbell at Auburn, but he’s a developmental receiver. In addition to a pass-rusher, Washington could also use a defensive tackle who can collapse the pocket and get penetration. The cornerback position could be an area of need, especially if former first-round pick Carlos Rogers starts the season on the physically unable to perform list. Also look for them to pick up a versatile offensive lineman, someone who could play either center or guard. Safety isn’t a pressing need, but an area they could address. LaRon Landry played free safety but Washington would like to move him back to strong safety, and Reed Doughty held his own late in the season at strong safety.

I know the other teams much less well than the Cowboys but that sounds right. The NFC East is, in my opinion, once again the deepest division in football.


11 Dallas Cowboys Make Pro Bowl

A record 11 Dallas Cowboys were selected to the Pro Bowl.

11 Dallas Cowboys Make Pro Bowl With the Cowboys aiming for a potential Super Bowl appearance, it’s only fitting the club has the most Pro Bowl players since the 1990s dynasty.

Through a list compiled by the players, Cowboys will send a franchise-record tying 11 players to Hawaii, including seven starters – offensive linemen Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode; tight end Jason Witten; wide receiver Terrell Owens; outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware; and kicker Nick Folk, the first Cowboys rookie since 1990 to make the NFC squad.

Other selections include quarterback Tony Romo, running back Marion Barber, safety Ken Hamlin and cornerback Terence Newman.

Safety Roy Williams did not make the NFC squad, snapping his four-year streak of Pro Bowl selections.

That’s simply phenomenal. It’s especially amusing that Barber, ostensibly the backup running back, made the roster while under-performing starter Julius Jones did not.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

12 Former Braves Named in Mitchell Report

A dozen former Atlanta Braves were among those named in yesterday’s Mitchell Report documenting the abuse of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

Former Braves All-Star outfielders David Justice and Gary Sheffield and pitchers Denny Neagle and John Rocker were among 12 ex-Braves players linked to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs in the Mitchell Report released Thursday.


Among former Braves named, three (Sheffield and pitchers Paul Byrd and Darren Holmes) were cited for incidents during their time with the Braves. Other ex-Braves named: pitchers Kent Mercker and Mike Stanton, catcher Todd Pratt, and infielders Matt Franco, Ken Caminiti and Wally Joyner.

Sheffield, Byrd and Rocker were cited for allegations from previous investigations, rather than new information.

Justice, a Brave from 1989 to 1996, was said to have purchased human growth hormone in 2000 from a former Mets clubhouse attendant, Kirk Radomski. The report said former Yankees strength coach Brian McNamee recalled Justice asking him about human growth hormone in 2000 or 2001, while McNamee and Justice were both with the Yankees. According to McNamee, Justice admitted he obtained HGH from Radomski. Justice, recently inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame, could not be reached for comment.

Radomski and McNamee were the sources for most of the new information in the report. Some players expressed concern over the report’s heavy reliance on statements from those individuals.

“Unless you have hard truth, you’re just taking the word of a clubhouse guy,” said Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta’s player representative. “If you have anything with substance, we want to know. We want to rid that [drugs] out of the game, but I think you have to have some evidence. You just can’t take someone’s word for it.”

I think that’s right.

The news coverage also is doing a poor job distinguishing between steroid use to build big muscles and the use of HGH to aid recovery from injury under a doctor’s care.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

ESPN Football Coverage Sucks

About a year ago, I explained why Monday Night Football on ESPN Sucks. After watching the network’s college football coverage the last two weeks, though, I think we can strike the “Monday Night” from that: They suck all the time now.

The last two Saturday nights, the Alabama Crimson Tide has been on ESPN. Since I don’t live in Alabama any more, that used to be a good thing, since it meant I got to see the games. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true anymore, since ESPN is apparently now run by the people who bring us the Olympics and decided long ago that people aren’t actually interested in the sporting events being covered but, rather, other stuff.

Last week, Alabama played Arkansas in a roller coaster game. Alabama went up by three touchdowns, let Arkansas back into the game, went up by three touchdowns again, and then collapsed to give Arkansas a big lead. Alabama fought back, though, to a thrilling victory with just 8 seconds left on the clock.

A pretty exciting game, right?

Apparently, though, ESPN didn’t think people tuned in late on a Saturday night to watch a college football game would find that stimulating enough. So, they brought in some gal from the women’s soccer team, which were in the middle of a big tournament overseas. And they yapped with her, via telephone no less, for several minutes right during the most critical part of the first half game action. No play-by-play of the game. Often, no cameras on the game, either, since fans would obviously rather see close-ups of the idiot game announcers and a picture of the head of the woman’s soccer player who wasn’t even in the damn booth.

And it got better.

We got to hear about Todd Blackledge’s adventures eating barbecue in Tuscaloosa. With actual footage of him looking at the menu and ordering food. While the game was on!!!

And, to top it off, they brought the annoying woman soccer player back in the second half to interrupt yet more game action.

Last night, Alabama and Georgia played in another close, exciting game that went into overtime.

Again, however, the cameras were on the announcers almost as much as on the game action. Again, we got treated to watching Blackledge eating grilled meat, this time at the pre-game tailgating parties. And some old announcer guy who’s so frail he can’t actually travel one state over to watch a football game was on the telephone for like half an hour yapping about his career while we were missing live football action.

The producers are also too inept to manage game breaks and commercials. Several times, we missed kickoffs, major plays, and other game action because they switched over to show ads or update us on other games and didn’t get back in time. And, each time, they pretended that it hadn’t happened, blithely carrying on as if we hadn’t missed anything.

I’ve been watching football on television for more than thirty years now. I’ve watched local games sponsored by local insurance companies that were better. I’ve literally never seen coverage as bad as what ESPN has put on the last two weeks. It’s absolutely frustrating.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

Rick Ankiel Used HGH

Rick Ankiel has been the feel-good story of the summer. Now, it looks like he’s just another cheater.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel, who punctuated a storybook comeback from pitching travails by homering twice with 7 RBIs Thursday, joined the list of athletes linked to a Florida-based steroids investigation.

The New York Daily News reported Friday that Ankiel received a 12-month supply of human growth hormone in 2004 from a Florida pharmacy that was part of a national illegal prescription drug-distribution operation, citing records its reporters saw. That Orlando outfit, Signature Pharmacy, has been implicated in a steroids investigation run by Albany County (N.Y.) District Attorney P. David Soares, which has resulted in 22 indictments and several Florida clinic raids.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney on Friday that Major League Baseball has formally requested a meeting with Ankiel.

Hours after the report was made public, Sports Illustrated reported on its Web site that steroids were shipped to the address of Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus in 2003 and 2004.
“We will certainly look into this with both players,” MLB spokesman Rich Levin said Friday.

Ankiel’s HGH prescriptions, including Saizen and Genotropin, were signed by Florida physician William Gogan, who provided them through a Palm Beach Gardens clinic called The Health and Rejuvenation Center, or THARC, the Daily News reported. The drugs were shipped to the 28-year-old Ankiel at the clinic’s address, the paper said. The pitcher-turned-outfielder lives close by in Jupiter.

Another great sports story ruined.

UPDATE (Sept. 7):
Ankiel admits using HGH but says it was legit:

Rick Ankiel says any drugs he received in 2004 were prescribed by a licensed physician to help him recover from reconstructive elbow surgery.

Ankiel, whose comeback is one of the great stories of this season, initially acknowledged human growth hormone was among those medications during a brief session with reporters Friday, then refused to list his various prescriptions.

“I’m not going to go into the list of what my doctors have prescribed for me,” the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder said when asked specifically whether he had taken HGH as part of his recovery. “I’ve been through a lot emotionally and physically. There are doctor and patient privileges, and I hope you guys respect those privileges.”

The privilege merely means the doctor has to respect the patient’s confidentiality, not that the patient has the right to keep it a secret. Given the sensitivity of performance enhancing drugs, one would think Ankiel would have come clean with MLB officials from the beginning and gotten their input into how this would fit in with League policies. I have no problem with leagues granting waivers for legitimate medical use of these drugs; indeed, they probably should do so. But this sort of thing needs to be out in the open and carefully monitored.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

Alaskan Adventure

This is not the typical sports story for all you fantasy loving baseball and football junkies. This is a little bit of a personal story of a recent trip my wife and I ventured on to the great Last Frontier, the 49th State, Alaska. 22 hours of light in the summer, about 600,000 folks in a state the size of almost 1/3 of the “lower 48″, as the Alaskans like to say, and wildlife like you couldn’t imagine, even in an Animal Planet special.

If you ever get the opportunity, please go and just take in the serenity of the place and realize why Teddy Roosevelt and former Secretary of State to Abraham Lincoln William Seward just fell in love with this place. Better to be a part of the USA, than a bridge to Siberia. At any rate, the sports angle.

If you love to fish, they have the best salmon, trout and halibut fishing in the world. Great guides, clean waters, a multitude of fish and just you and the streams they spawn on. If hiking or sightseeing is your bag, Denali National Forest with Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America, almost 4 miles high from it’s base, gives some breathtaking views. Always covered with snow, even in July.

Local sports are interesting in the great north as well. High School football season starts first week of August, ends in October because it gets too darn cold and dark. Summer baseball leagues are huge in Alaska, many major leaguers and wannabees play there, much like the Cape Cod leagues. Another big sport is the dogsled races or Iditarod, which takes place in January and goes over 2,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome. Not for the feint of heart. And of course, there is the Great Alaskan Shootout that takes place prior to the NCAA basketball season, with teams from the “lower 48″, taking on Alaskan colleges.

All in all, a pretty terrific place, they have ESPN on everywhere, love the Seattle teams and even have a daily newspaper that reports on all scores from around the country. 4 hour difference in time between the east and the north. So again, if you have the druthers, take a trip that you won’t regret and you’ll get your sports fix too!


Is Michael Vick’s Career Over?

Michael Vick is going to plead guilty to dog fighting charges and faces a minimum of 14 months in prison plus a likely additional suspension from the NFL. What are the odds that his NFL career is over?

I take a look at that question at OTB. Feel free to weigh in on it yourselves in the comments there or below.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.