RIP Chris Henry. One of the more talented players the Bengals have ever had, but also an incredibly troubled person with a million demons in his personal life. What a shame. He will be missed.
Some other football thoughts:
9) I am completely dumbfounded by this Jake Locker decision. Who is advising these guys?? Why come back?? Most of the NFL draft experts have him as a top 10 pick and either the 1st or 2nd quarterback taken next year. Between the Rams, Browns, Chiefs (yep, just pull the plug on the Matt Cassel era now), Skins, Raiders (Chaz Frye is starting over Jamarcus Russell this week...my goodness!), Seahawks, Broncos (they have the Bears' pick in the top 10), Bills, and 49ers, you have teams all over the top 15 of next year's draft looking for quarterbacks. By my count, that is nine teams in the top 15 of the draft who are going to have to make a move at some point to try to get a franchise quarterback. There are only two legitimate first round type QBs in this 2010 draft, and one of them (Bradford) is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery!! Teams would literally be falling all over themselves to take Locker in the top 10 in this draft.
I don't see what he has to gain from coming back to Washington. Another year with Steve Sarkisian?? Come on. It's the NFL. The NFL qb coaches are going to break you down and build you up anyway, so another year with Sarkisian only delays the inevitable. You aren't going to learn how to play in the NFL by throwing passes against Washington State's defense.
It would be one thing if Locker was a true junior and was coming back for his 4th year at UW. But he's already been there 4 years. He's basically pulling a Leinart by coming back. I've actually read some stuff from NFL scouts where they view coming back one extra year as a NEGATIVE thing from a football perspective because it's a sign that you aren't hungry to be an NFL football player. It sounds dumb on the surface, but I sort of get it to some degree. Look at Leinart. The guy all but admitted he was coming back for a 5th year in 2005 because he enjoyed the college lifestyle and all that. Shouldn't that have been a warning sign about his potential NFL career?? These NFL GMs and scouts want guys who are DESPERATE to get to the league and to start working on their games and developing into good NFL players. If a guy wants to come back and eat pizza in the dorm with the fellas, some scouts view that as a mark against you.
I also don't care what his completion percentage is. I watched Locker in that ND game, and his receivers dropped about 8 passes. I don't know if that happened all year, but I'd be willing to guess his completion percentage would be a lot higher with better receivers. Locker is physically ready to get to the league and learn how to be an NFL quarterback. Is he ready to start now?? No, but give him a year to study defenses, and get him ready to go in 2011. With his body and athletic ability, I think he's the next Mark Brunell (which is meant to be a compliment if you remember Brunell's Jacksonville days).
Two final things to consider on the Locker thing:
1) The obvious concern for coming back is injury (see Bradford comma Sam), but the even more dangerous concern is that scouts get another year to pick him apart and fall in love with someone else. Right now, he's a super athletic, rocket-armed bulldozer getting Steve Young comparisons. By this time next year, if he doesn't get substantially better, he'll be the 5-7 QB of the Washington Huskies with a bad completion percentage and questions about whether he can fit into an NFL offense.
You gotta strike when the iron is hot. Scouts fell in love with Locker this year. Next year, they'll be looking at him with a more critical eye. We've seen this a million times. Even if Bradford had been healthy this year, I bet scouts would have spent the whole year picking apart his flaws and talking themselves out of Sam Bradford.
Mark this prediction down right now: Ryan Mallett will blow by Jake Locker next year as the QB dream boy for NFL scouts, and I'll bet 1-2 other guys emerge as well into the mix. Scouts love the next "new thing," and Locker will be old news by this time next year.
2) The second thing is this NFL collective bargaining agreement. We talked about this earlier in the year with Jimmy Clausen. Do these guys understand the ramifications of a rookie salary cap in place for 2011??
The 6 year, $40-50 million contract that he would have signed this year could suddenly be a 3 years, $5 million deal in 2011 if these caps go into place. Maybe he makes it all back over the course of his career, but that's a substantial pay cut by waiting.
I like Jake Locker a lot. I don't know if he'll be a great NFL quarterback, but I was impressed with his physical skills in the ND-UW game. He's got the arm, and I thought he threw it accurately in some pretty tough weather conditions. He's not your classic drop back guy, but we've seen guys like Roethlisberger thrive with Locker's skillset.
Going to be very interesting to watch Locker in 2010 at UW.
8) Nothing perks my ears like scheduling discussions, so I was encouraged to see Brian Kelly commenting twice on scheduling within his first week on the job.
"When you look at the teams that carry the same mission [as Notre Dame], Texas does that obviously," he said. "Those kinds of schools really are attractive to me.
"[Athletic director] Jack Swarbrick and I will sit down and look at our schedule as we move forward. I want to be around the best, because we're asked to be the best. And that's the kind of schedule I want."
"Absolutely, I would love to play the University of Cincinnati," Kelly told the Enquirer. "I think it would be a great game. We're going to look at the schedule. We'll definitely look at the possibility and see if we can pull it off."
Where do I sign up?? Kelly is talking the talk here, but we've heard this type of talk before from newcomers on the ND scene. Remember when Jack Swarbrick showed up talking about playing Texas and Miami when he first got to ND?? Now he doesn't even return their phone calls. Awesome.
From what I've seen out of Kelly, I don't think he's blowing smoke on that. Kelly knows that the only way ND is going to get some respect nationally is to play challenging schedules. He has scheduled some very tough nonconference games in his time at Cincinnati: NC State, Oregon State, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio State, Virginia Tech.
If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Kelly doesn't seem like the type of guy who wants to beat up a slate of MAC teams. I hope Kelly continues to pound on this idea and demands that we try to play the best schedule possible every year.
Wonder what John Heisler thought about those comments. He either shuddered or he laughed. "Oh that Brian Kelly, so NAIVE! Wait till I show him my plans for the 2018 schedule. 12 home games!!" He probably can't wait to get Kelly into his office to issue some "talking points" on scheduling. Should be interesting to see if Kelly continues to pound on that issue or if he softens his stance and starts talking about "monitoring the landscape" and "revenue sources" and "internet crazies" in future interviews.
By the way, what does it say about ND these days that Kelly has been here for a week and already understands what ND should be about better than the guys who have run the school for 20 years?? The John Heisler era!! The gift that keeps on giving.
7) Speaking of the 2011 football schedule, let's take a peek at what we have now. Remember, Swarbrick mentioned earlier this fall after the TCU snafu that he was going to be very proactive on the 2011 schedule and hoped to have it finalized by the end of this calendar year:
S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S17 MICHIGAN STATE
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O01 SOUTH FLORIDA
O15 Army (neutral site)
O22 SOUTHERN CAL
N26 @ Stanford
Two games to be determined
Looks like September and October are filled with two November games waiting to be scheduled. By my count, we already have the following road games scheduled:
The Army game is probably going to be in Orlando, and we already have 5 home games on the slate.
Presumably the last two games to be scheduled will be at home. Now, if you go back to that leaked memo from a couple years ago about the possible future schedules, ND's original intent was to schedule a "BUY GAME" on October 8 and another "BUY GAME" on November 12.
I'd have no problem with the buy game on October 8. We'd have gone through a pretty grueling 5 game stretch to start the season, and it would be nice to catch our breath for a couple weeks with somebody like Nevada and then Army before the USC game.
But scheduling yet another "BUY GAME" in the middle of the stretch run in November would be another sign that we have no intention to upgrade the football schedules and that any talk of adding a marquee opponent is just a bunch of fluff. We should not end our season with Navy, "BUY GAME," Connecticut, Stanford. This schedule is begging for a big marquee November home game. Somebody like Tennessee. Get the Vols on the schedule and we'll return the favor at their place in 2014 (after the Oklahoma series runs out in 2013...ummm, if that gets played). Tennessee could be pretty darn good in 2011, and I'd love to get a big win over them to make a statement in November.
Going to be verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry interesting to see what Swarbrick does. Mark this down right now. If Kelly turns out to be the home run hire that we're all expecting, I think he could have a very good team in 2011. If we play that cupcake stretch down the season, that will cost this team if we're in the national championship race.
Gotta fix the schedules. We have the coach now. We are working on the training table and offseason issues. Now, fix the schedule, and put this program back on the map with the marquee games that we need to prove that ND football is back.
6) When did Mike Holmgren get this genius label for building NFL franchises?? I must have missed the memo on that. Yes, he won the Super Bowl in Green Bay, but he had Ron Wolf as his GM. And when he was in Seattle, he got FIRED as the GM!! They were basically a .500 team in his first four years as head coach/GM in Seattle, so he got the GM role stripped out from under him. He ended up going to the Super Bowl and coaching some decent teams, but he was just the coach.
Everyone seems to want him in this Bill Parcells "VP of Football Operations" role. I don't get it. Mike Holmgren is a good coach, but not a good GM. I could understand bringing him in as a coach with another guy as your personnel man, but I don't see him as this Bill Parcells personnel genius at all. He did it one other time in Seattle and failed at it.
Then again, I could care less what the Browns do now that Brady Quinn has flamed out. They can go 4-12 every year for all I care, so go ahead and bring in Mike Holmgren and let him run the show. Enjoy more mediocrity.
5) I was admittedly more intrigued by some of the other names being floated around for the Cincinnati job (Al Golden, Skip Holtz, Kevin Sumlin, etc), but I think Cincy made a good hire with Butch Jones. I was really impressed with his press conference. Reminds me of Brian Kelly in a lot of ways. High energy, and real big on player development. He also worked at the knee of Rich Rodriguez in his days at West Virginia, and seems to run the same exact offense as Brian Kelly did. I think he's the perfect fit for what Cincy is looking for.
CMU had a nice squad this year and actually beat Michigan State on the road early in the year. If you're a Michigan State fan, how much does it bum you out that you hired Mark Dantonio when there were two promising coaches available right up the road at Central Michigan in Brian Kelly and Butch Jones??
I don't know what's going on up at Central Michigan, but that program has suddenly become the new Cradle of Coaches. The Chips have turned into the premier program in the MAC. Somewhere Miami(Ohio) fans are sobbing into their Brooks Brothers shirts. Sad times these days in Oxford.
I'm also glad to see Cincy accepting that they are a steppingstone program and going out and hiring the best young coach they could find. The biggest mistake UC could have made would have been to hire one of the Kelly assistants or some other retread just because he might have stuck around longer. I would rather get 3-5 great years out of a guy like Kelly or Butch Jones (if he works out) and risk the possibility of him leaving than hiring some guy like Phil Fulmer and getting 8 mediocre years out of him. Same with a UC assistant. These "interim turned head coach" hires never work out.
Cincy understands what they are. They can be a very good Big East program going forward, and hopefully Butch Jones takes them back to the BCS someday. If he does that and leaves for Michigan in five years, so be it.
4) Lots of speculation on Manti Te'o's future lately with some talk about him possibly making a decision on a mission by the end of the week. From Eric Hansen's Twitter:
Manti could take a 2-year mission, a 1-year mission or no mission at all. Brian did add that Manti is very happy at Notre Dame.
This is about all I can ask for. Sounds like he will be back at Notre Dame no matter what he decides to do.
I think Te'o will be back at ND next fall. I've been following this guy's every word since the day he became interested in ND, and I got the impression when he signed with ND that the mission was not his top priority. The BYU coach sort of hinted at that, and it seems like his camp is aware of the effect that a mission would have on his possible NFL prospects.
3) I absolutely loved that "The U" documentary on ESPN after the Heisman ceremony. One of the best sports films I've watched.
College football badly needs Miami to become great again. Same with FSU. How long has it been since either of those teams was really good?? Since the 2002 OSU-Miami game??
It was amazing how dominant Miami was in their heyday. They may never get back to that level again, but they made college football more interesting when they were great. I would rather watch a 9-3 Miami team in a BCS bowl than a 12-0 TCU or Boise team any day of the week.
If I had to pick 4 programs that college football really needs to be great again (and by great, I mean truly dominant and compelling), I'd pick these four:
1) Notre Dame
4) Florida State
Nebraska would be another one, but I don't think Nebraska is ever getting back to what they once were. There is no excuse for Miami and Florida State to be this mediocre with all the talent in the state of Florida. They should be competing for national championships almost every year.
I've never been an FSU fan, but I actually hope Jimbo Fisher does well down there in Tallahassee. Randy Shannon is doing a nice job so far in building the Miami program, but the jury is still out on how high he can take them.
I'm tired of these Big 12 teams every year in the title game. It was actually sort of funny to see these Big 12 teams getting wiped out by Miami year after year in the documentary. Don't nothin ever change!! Bring back The U on the national scene, and college football will be better for it.
Mark your calendars now: September 11, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Miami(FL) at Ohio State. WOW. Should be two top 10 teams squaring off there.
2) I wrote at length on this Big Ten expansion topic over the summer, but wanted to chime in again since it sounds like the Big Ten is really serious about adding a 12th team within the next couple years. Ever since this story came out, the Midwest has been buzzing on this topic. It's been the #1 story in Columbus the last few days with all sorts of people weighing in on who they'd like to see in the Big Ten.
The more I've thought about this issue, the more I think there are only a handful of schools that would be worthwhile for the Big Ten. If the Big Ten is going to add a 12th team, it's going to have to be worth it from a financial perspective. They'd be splitting the television pie to one extra team, so they better get it right and make a big splash. If you grab Pitt and their football program goes into the tank, suddenly you have Pitt eating up a share of the Big Ten financial pie and not bringing anything to the table.
I know the Big Ten wants a 12th team as soon as possible to be able to play a championship game, but I just don't think it makes any sense to rush into a relationship with someone like Cincy or Louisville or Syracuse or Rutgers just for the sake of expansion. Not one of those teams has the clout to give the Big Ten an extra chip at the bargaining table for television revenues, and they don't really do much for the football side to add prestige to the league.
I'm not even sure Missouri is worth it for the Big Ten. I've read that they'd be interested, but does Missouri add a big punch to the league for football or basketball?? Ehh. It's like you just added another Wisconsin/Iowa/Illinois type program. Good fit, but not splashy.
The Big Ten has taken such a credibility hit in recent years that I almost think they need to hit a home run if they go for expansion. I'd be talking to three schools: Nebraska, Texas, and Notre Dame. If you can't get any of those three, you just hold out until the landscape changes.
Nebraska gives you the rabid football fans and great tradition. I'm picturing an Ohio State-Nebraska Big Ten championship game in the Lucas Oil Dome or Soldier Field and getting excited about it. That would be phenomenal. I think the Big Ten could pull be an attractive fit for Nebraska. The money and academic reputation in the Big 10 are going to be enticing for anyone.
Texas and ND are probably pipe dreams, but I'd make those two turn you down before moving on. And if you got even the slightest hint that either of them would be interested but not for 5+ years, then I'd wait.
You never know. I've heard rumblings that Texas is not that crazy about their relationship with the Big 12. You can't beat their combination of academics, grad programs, and athletics.
As for ND, I'll save those thoughts for another post, but put it this way. ND adds publicity, financial power, and national appeal to the Big Ten overnight. And we're sitting right smack in the heart of Big Ten country. We are their Bob Stoops candidate. I would prefer to see ND as an independent, but I think we will listen to the Big Ten if they make an offer that we can't turn down.
Should be interesting. I would not be shocked if the Big Ten made a push to land more than one team. If they could somehow convince Texas, ND, and Nebraska to join the Big Ten, it would suddenly be the most prestigious conference in America.
1) Time for an NFL power poll to close this post. This is the most NFL I've watched in several years, so I'm counting down my top 10 teams in the NFL based on what I've seen. Not necessarily where they stand right now, but how I'd rank them in terms of being a contender for the Super Bowl.
1) New Orleans -- Saints just seem like the total package this year. Throw in the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and they are in great shape to get to the Super Bowl.
I'm excited about the NFC Playoffs this year. The possibility of a Philly-Minnesota NFC Divisional game with the winner going to New Orleans to play the Saints is tantalizing. This is the first year in a long long time where I really feel like the NFC is stronger from top to bottom than the AFC.
2) San Diego -- Maybe this is absurd to put them at #2, but if I had to make a pick right now on who I would take out of the AFC to go to the Super Bowl, I'm going with San Diego. The Chargers are the hottest team in the NFL. Look at who they have beaten on this 8 game run:
@ New York
They couldn't go to Indy and win there?? Child please. They've already beaten Indy twice in the playoffs in the last few years.
I'm just really impressed with the Chargers, and thought they looked outstanding against the Cowboys. Aggressive defense, good offensive line, great skill guys. They run it with LaDanian, stretch the field with Vincent Jackson, and then just pound it underneath with Antonio Gates. I am amazed at how often they throw long. You don't really see NFL teams taking that many chances way down the field out of fear of a turnover, but the Chargers seem to throw the bomb once a drive. And it works. They had the Cowboys completely rattled, and it opened up all kinds of room for Gates to maneuver.
Rivers is a great player. Maybe he's not Manning, but he's perfect for that offense. He throws the ball down the field as well as anyone in the league.
The Chargers don't have any real weaknesses, and they have the difference makers (Rivers, LT, Gates, Merriman) that you need in the playoffs. Gates is tremendous. He runs and catches the ball like a receiver.
Looking forward to watching the Chargers this weekend against the Bengals.
3) Indianapolis -- The Colts sort of remind me of the Cleveland Cavaliers with Lebron. One of those teams that is built more for the regular season than the playoffs. Manning basically refuses to let them lose in the regular season, so they always end up putting up gaudy win totals in the regular season. How many times in the last decade have we seen the Colts in this position where they are sitting at 13-0, 12-1 and resting starters the last couple weeks?? It seems like it happens almost every year.
The Cavs are the same way. Lebron is so dominant that he can carry the Cavs to 60+ wins in the regular season, but once they got to the playoffs last year, they ran into teams that had more difference makers. The Magic were trotting out 3 legitimate difference makers (Lewis, Turkoglu, and Howard), and the Cavs had no answer other than Lebron. Lebron could put up 45, and they'd still lose by 10. In the regular season, the Cavs can pile up the wins against the mediocre teams because of Lebron. But against the elite teams, they struggle.
The Colts are the same way. Manning is the best player in the NFL. Hands down. He's the QB of the decade, maybe all time. But the rest of that team is just ok. One great receiver, good line, ok backs, pretty good defense. Not a lot of difference makers on their defense or offensive line. Who are people afraid of on the Colts besides Manning?? Austin Collie?? Cmon. When they won the Super Bowl, the Colts had guys like Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney in his heyday and Addai was a beast in those playoffs. They had more difference makers. Now, it's just Manning lugging around this crew on his shoulders.
The playoffs in any sport is all about your difference makers. All these teams are good once you get to the playoffs, and everyone is "up" for all those games. With everyone bringing their "A" games, the team with the most unguardable/unhittable/uncoverable/unblockable guys is probably going to win the championship. In baseball, it's about your starting pitching and a couple big boppers. In basketball, it's having a stud lead guard like Kobe and a stud low post guy like Pau Gasol. In football, it's about your quarterback but also those unblockable defensive ends/OLBs and a dominant safety and receivers who can't be covered and maybe a left tackle who snuffs out everything. I'm not sure if the Colts have those pieces.
The Colts are really good, but the Chargers have a deeper and more dangerous roster.
4) Minnesota -- Had a chance to watch Minnesota up close and personal last week against the Bengals. Talk about difference makers. The Vikes are swimming with those types of guys.
Gamebreaker rb (AP)
pass rushing machine (Jared Allen)
two stud DTs (The Williams)
playmaking WRs (Harvin and Rice and even Berrian)
The Bengals couldn't handle it. Too much talent. Adrian Peterson--my god. He makes it look so easy. The Vikings are loaded with studs.
I like everything about the Vikes but one thing: Brett Favre. Don't get me wrong, Favre is a capable quarterback, but he just can't help himself at times. He threw a horrific interception in the first half just from being greedy and thinking he was still 25 years old. Every time Favre does his big Tim Tebow windup to get ready to fire down the field, it makes me cringe.
The even more concerning thing is that the Vikings seem to be built around Brett Favre. I don't understand it. You've got Adrian Peterson who should be touching it 30 times a game, but he's more of a complementary piece for them than their main hog. Their playcalling seems to be designed around Favre making plays and getting the ball down the field.
Does Childress not see this or is he so mesmerized by Favre that he doesn't want to see it?? I've watched the Vikings one time this year, and I could see by the end of the first half that it was a mistake to build around Favre. Favre is too old to be carrying an NFL.offense. Any talk about him being an MVP candidate is laughable. He's not even one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league.
With all their weapons, Favre should be a background guy who hands it off to Peterson and makes quick throws to get the ball into the hands of Harvin and Rice. Turning him loose is a recipe for a playoff meltdown.
5) Philadelphia -- INTRIGUING!! If you're a Vikings fan, wouldn't you be terrified of playing the Eagles in the 2nd round with all their weapons?? Man, they are explosive.
Every time I see Desean Jackson make a play, I wonder what might have been with him on the Bengals. We passed him up for Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina. Ugh.
The Eagles are such a good organization with an extremely underrated head coach. They have completely rebuilt their roster in the last couple drafts.
6) Arizona -- Arizona might be the flakiest team in the league, but would anyone want to play them in the playoffs?? If Warner catches fire again, they can beat anyone. They've already destroyed Minnesota this year, so you know that they are capable of making another run this year.
Plus, as strange as this sounds, Zona has this big game aura about them now after last year's Super Bowl run. Who would have guessed it?? Zona! All they needed was that alpha dog QB and a solid coach. With Warner around, they are legitimate contenders.
7) Green Bay -- Surging. Defense is really coming on with Dom Capers in his second year as defensive coordinator. Packers could easily make some noise in the NFC. I'd love to see a Green Bay-Arizona first round matchup. Aaron Rodgers could go from fantasy stud to NFL superstar if they win a couple games in January.
8) New England -- Purely putting them here on pedigree. The Pats have not played well this year, but you KNOW the Colts don't want any part of New England in the second round. Heck, New England should have won the regular season game in Indy.
If the Pats draw Denver in the first round, Indy fans should be throwing on Broncos jerseys that weekend.
9) Cincinnati -- Maybe I'm just hitting the panic button since I watch them every week, but I think the Bengals peaked a few weeks ago and seem to be limping toward the playoffs. The Bengals are a good club this year, but they don't have that extra gear to be a true contender. They got exposed last week in Minnesota.
--passing game -- The passing game has not been the same since Chris Henry went down, and I don't know what's going on with Carson Palmer. Palmer is either hurt or he's just not an elite quarterback anymore. It seemed like he was really hitting his stride earlier in the year, but he has played poorly of late. Sailing passes, poor decisions, hesitant. The Bengals threw for 90 yards last week. That's not going to get it done. You gotta be able to move the ball through the air to score in the NFL.
--lack of playmakers -- Lavernaeus Coles has been a monster bust (could have seen that coming), and Andre Caldwell is not an NFL #3 WR. There were probably 5-6 times against the Vikes where Palmer had time to throw and no one was open. That can't happen. Palmer needs someone to throw to besides Chad Johnson.
Chad is having a great year and has been a warrior, but he's not the big play guy that he once was. And he's getting no help. Everyone is triple covering Chad because there's no one else who can get open.
Biggest offseason issue to address this year is finding another playmaker in the passing game (especially with Chris Henry out of the picture). I'd be looking at a guy like Jermaine Gresham at tight end to give Carson an underneath target, or I'd be scouting the SEC for the next Percy Harvin/Desean Jackson duel threat multi purpose guy. Or both. The Bengals need guys who are tough to cover in the passing game. I know they are a run-oriented team now (which I support), but they cannot afford to go into 2010 with Coles and Caldwell as their #2 and #3 receiving targets.
--coaching -- Ugh. Penalties, unimaginative playcalling, horrible game management. Marvin does some things very well, but he still has some tendencies that would make me very leery of betting on him in the playoffs. Teams have adjusted to the Bengals and Marvin has not responded well. Should be interesting to see if he can get them back on track.
The Bengals would have to play a perfect game to beat someone like San Diego or Indy, and I don't think they have that in them.
10) Tennessee -- This one is a complete flier, but what the heck. I'm not really crazy about anyone else in the playoff picture (Dallas, BMore, Denver, etc). If there's one team out there in wildcard land that could go nuts in the playoffs, I think it would be Tennessee. Sign me up for Chris Johnson and VY in the playoffs right now. Don't think they'll make it, but I'd love to see it. Chris Johnson is the most electrifying player in the NFL in ten years.
If the Titans snuck in and got the 6 seed, I honestly think they should be favored against the Bengals in round one. Something like Tennessee -1.5.