Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Draft 2007 – Round 1 #20 – New York Giants – CB Aaron Ross

The New York Giants have taken Texas cornerback Aaron Ross, widely projected to go to the Dallas Cowboys at the 22 spot, number 20 overall in the 2007 NFL Draft.

What the Experts Say: Profile:

Player Evaluation: One of the better athletes at the cornerback position in this draft, Ross is just hitting his stride as a football player and offers great upside. May need time to develop his skills but has starting potential.

STRENGTHS: Closing Speed, Size

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Burst Out Of Breaks, Coverage Awareness

Aaron Ross Photo Biography: All-Conference selection as a senior after becoming a full-time starter, posting 80/6/19. Primarily a reserve cornerback and return specialist before last season. Junior totals were 62/9/3, when he averaged 14.7 yards on 34 punt returns.

Pos: Athletic corner who showed tremendous progress last season. Quick-footed in reverse, is fluid flipping his hips and easily runs downfield with opponents. Displays an excellent break to the throw, out-jumps opponents defending passes and makes a lot of athletic plays. Effective in zone, displaying a sense of timing, and does a fine job handling man coverage responsibilities. Impacts the game returning punts.

Neg: Tends to play soft coverage and gives up a lot of underneath receptions. Shows hesitation to his game and has trouble staying with receivers out of their breaks.


Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters have both lost a step and are now liabilities when left on an island, so taking a corner makes sense and the Giants got an excellent one in Ross. He possesses a very good blend of size, speed, instincts and ball skills. If he develops as expected, he’ll emerge as a playmaking starter in the NFL. Don’t overlook the impact he should make on special teams because the Giants made Chad Morton a cap casualty and need help in that area. It’s also worth noting that Central Michigan OT Joe Staley also would have been an excellent selection.


NFL Draft 2007 – Round 1 #19 – Tennessee Titans – S Michael Griffin

The Tennessee Titans have gone with a University of Texas player for the second year in a row, taking safety Michael Griffin. Last year, of course, they took quarterback Vince Young. The Titans are hoping this pick works out half as well.

None of the ESPN talking heads seem surprised but Griffin is a big reach according to the print guys, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper.

What the Experts Say: Profile:

Player Evaluation: A rangy centerfielder with a complete game, Griffin offers starting potential at safety and could be a dominant special-teams player.

STRENGTHS: Change of Direction, Coverage Awareness, Toughness


Michael Griffin Photo Texas Uni Biography: Two-year starter and All-Conference selection as a senior after totaling 126/4/10. Blocked four kicks as a junior and accumulated 124 tackles.

Pos: Explosive safety who is an intimidating force in centerfield. Diagnoses the action, fires up the field in run defense and aggressively lays his shoulders into ball handlers. Displays outstanding sideline-to-sideline range and gets to the flanks to help cornerbacks. Shows a burst of speed and ability to recover. Wraps up tackling and punishes opponents. Terrific special-teams player.

Neg: Has tackles broken. Occasionally shows some hesitation to his game. At times is too quick moving up the field.


This is isn’t as bad as Miami taking Ginn, but drafting Griffin was still bad for the Titans. Most teams are looking to add one or two starters through the draft unless it’s a quarterback, and then there’s Tennessee. The Titans need a corner that can step into the starting slot opposite free-agent singing Nick Harper, a receiver that can make an immediate impact and a running back that can share the load with LenDale White. Taking a safety here rather than a receiver like Robert Meachem or Dwayne Bowe makes it a lot more difficult to fill those holes. That’s not to say Griffin isn’t going to be a player in this league. Though he gets caught out of position at times and he needs to get a little bigger, he will smack the ball carrier in the mouth and has above-average cover skills, so he should push for immediate playing time.


Major Applewhite Wunderkind Coach

Ian Rapoport has a longish feature on why Major Applewhite, hired by Nick Saban to fill a yet-undefined offensive role on his staff, is considered the Next Big Thing in college coaching.

“He’s a very analytical young man,” said Greg Davis, the Longhorns’ offensive coordinator who coached Applewhite. “And he tries to break things down to not only simple terms, but also common sense terms. I think the quarterbacks will fall in love with him, and he’ll do a great job.”


While Saban’s staff includes some noteworthy names, the hiring of Applewhite is perhaps the most intriguing. Not just because he grew up a hard-core fan of the Crimson Tide. Not just because, as Rice University’s offensive coordinator last season, his spread offense helped the Owls to their first bowl game since 1961. Not just because his often heroic collegiate career captured the interest of a nation. It’s because of what Applewhite, with his sharp understanding of the game, can do for the Crimson Tide.

“He thinks of plays off the top of his head like no man I’ve ever been around,” said Rice sophomore receiver Jarett Dillard, a Biletnikoff Award finalist. “He’s a mastermind.”

In leading Rice to its most prolific offensive season in its history, the thinking man’s style of Applewhite was contagious. “I was able to learn so much about the game, offensive philosophy, what a defense is doing, why things are the way they are,” recalled Rice quarterback Chase Clement. “He elevated my mental game more than anything.”


Despite splitting time with NFL-bound Chris Simms, Applewhite had a 22-8 record as a starter at Texas, finishing as the school’s all-time leader in several categories, including passing yards (8,353) and touchdown passes (60). It had storybook moments, including his comeback win over Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.

Applewhite worked at Texas for two years as a graduate assistant, at Syracuse for one year as quarterback coach, then in one year as Rice’s offensive coordinator. But it was his playing career that gave him instant credibility. “Most of us saw the way he played on the field, and we kind of allowed him to take the leadership role,” Clement said. “We all believed in him.”


Colleagues say he has no set scheme. He does not try to force a system onto his players. Quite the opposite. And he constantly reacts based on what the defense gives him. “He’s going to adjust whatever he has to adjust to get the ball to guys to make plays,” Dillard said. “At Rice, we were a one-back, quick-tempo, coming-at-you-fast kind of thing. If the defense runs this, we’re giving you that. If you want to play 10 yards off the ball, we’ll run a hitch all day. We’re taking whatever you give us.”

The bad thing about having The Next Big Thing on your coaching staff is that you’ll almost certainly lose him. My guess is Saban will be with the Tide for years to come, since he’s learned he doesn’t want to be in the NFL and it’s hard to imagine that there’s a better college job out there for him. Still, it’ll be nice to have the phenom teaching Alabama quarterbacks and calling the plays while it lasts.


College Coaching vs. NFL Coaching

Rick Gosselin, the Dallas Morning News’ Hall of Fame sportswriter, explains why it’s so much better to be a coach in a big-time college program than in the NFL:

I think Nick Saban suffered from Steve Spurrier Syndrome. Winning in the NFL isn’t as easy as a great college coach may think, so it’s back to campus life where you can coast at 9-2 in an off year. For that reason, Pete Carroll and Charlie Weis should never leave the college game. They have better jobs right now at Southern Cal and Notre Dame, respectively, than what they can find in the NFL.

Michigan, Ohio State and Texas are also better head-coaching positions than any you’d find in the NFL. The Cowboys are about as marquee a franchise as there is in the NFL – and they’ve run through four coaches since winning their last Super Bowl in 1995. And a fifth coach could be on the way. Green Bay? Four since their last Super Bowl in 1996. New York Giants? Four since their last Super Bowl in 1990. Washington? Six since winning their last Super Bowl in 1991. Oakland? The Raiders are soon to be on their fourth coach since appearing in their last Super Bowl in 2002.

Stability wins in coaching. You can find it in college. You rarely find it in the NFL.

Indeed. The Raiders’ stat is the scariest: They went to the Super Bowl in five years ago. That coach was fired the very next year. Then his successor got fired. Then his. Then his. That’s just staggering.


Saban Continues Building Staff: Fisher Out, Applewhite In?

Nick Saban is working the phones to put together his staff, which will likely not include LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.

Thomas Murphy of the Mobile Press-Register reports that “Saban has so far hired Kevin Steele, likely as defensive coordinator, Lance Thompson and Kirby Smart, who will probably handle defensive backs” as well as “Todd Alles, a former program assistant for Ohio State, to be the director of football operations, one source said. Randy Ross, a 17-year veteran on the UA staff, had previously held the post, though a school is not limited to one coach in such an off-the-field position.”

Offensive coordinator is, of course, the most pressing need and there appear to be multiple irons in the fire. “Saban has approached his former assistant at LSU, Jimbo Fisher, as well as Rice offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, Southern California offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and possibly others to gauge their interest in joining his first Crimson Tide staff.” Applewhite is especially intriguing, as he “is seen as one of the brightest young offensive minds in the game. The former Texas quarterback and Baton Rouge, La., native, helped lead Rice to its first bowl berth in 45 years this season.”

There is a growing consensus that Fisher won’t take the job. He’s hemmed and hawed around long enough that Florida State has withdrawn its offer. Ian Rapoport reports that the biggest obstacle is the desire by both Alabama and FSU to sign him to a contract with a buyout clause, whereas he wants to keep his options open in case the NFL carousel creates an opening at Georgia Tech, in addition to the already-open Louisville job.

Paul Gattis mentions some other candidates for staff openings: “Steve Marshall, who most recently coached the offensive line with the NFL’s Houston Texans. And Mississippi State assistant Shane Beamer, son of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, has interviewed with Saban.”


Colt McCoy Ties Record for Freshman TD Passes

Via McCoy ties freshman record; Texas takes Alamo

Colt McCoy was supposed be a placeholder for Texas at quarterback this season. Now, he’s a record holder.

The redshirt freshman who replaced Vince Young turned in another gritty performance with two touchdown passes to rally the No. 18 Longhorns to a 26-24 victory Saturday over Iowa in the Alamo Bowl.


McCoy finished 26-for-40 for 308 yards. His 29 touchdown passes this season tied the NCAA freshman record set by Nevada’s David Neill in 1998.

Indeed, McCoy has been a very pleasant surprise this year. His impact is underscored by the fact that Texas’ two loses this season came in games where McCoy was hurt and was unable to play the entire games in question.

[Cross-posted PoliBlog: Deportes]


Ohio State Student Drives into Crowd after Big Win

An Ohio State student drove his car into three people during a post-game riot after the Buckeyes beat the Texas Longhorns in a big football game over the weekend.

An Ohio State University student accused of driving his car into three people, injuring them slightly, was among several people arrested during a raucous celebration of the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes’ win over No. 2 Texas. There were about 40 fires reported, with couches and mattresses set ablaze, in student neighborhoods Saturday night, said Columbus police Sgt. David Howson, whose department arrested about 17 people, five of them on arson charges. A trash bin also was set on fire, burning two nearby cars, he said.

Battalion Fire Chief Kevin O’Connor said he was treated for bumps and bruises after he and two others were struck by a car that came through a temporary command post set up in the driveway of a student union building. The two others, Ohio State assistant vice president for student affairs Barbara Rich and her husband, were treated early Sunday at Ohio State University Medical Center for minor injuries.

The driver of the car, George Karadimas, 22, a student at the school, has been charged with vehicular assault, said Ohio State Assistant Chief Rick Amweg. He declined to comment on whether alcohol was involved. Karadimas was being held in a Franklin County jail and is scheduled to appear in court Monday morning for an arraignment, said sheriff’s deputy Travis Carter.

Oddly, “Karadimas” doesn’t sound Muslim to me. Perhaps he converted?

Seriously, I’m as big a sports fan as the next guy. But I’ve never done anything more violent than cursing at the television in reaction to a victory or loss involving my team.



NFL Draft 2006 – Round 1 #7 – Oakland Raiders – DB Michael Huff

The Raiders are on the clock. Leinart would, again, be a huge gift. He is consistently compared to Kenny Stabler, the Raiders’ 1970s great. The pre-draft buzz, though, is that they wanted Young and were not so keen on Leinart.

The mock drafts have them taking Texas safety/corner Michael Huff. My guess is that’s what they do. Were I in their spot, though, I’d be calling Leinart’s number. Not only is quarterback more important than safety, but Leinart is a better player. And, by the way, he played in Southern Cal.

The pick: Huff.

Goose is now 7 for 7.


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