I believe that the NBA made the right decision in handing Donald Sterling a lifetime ban from NBA activities. I hear a lot of people say, “but what about free speech?” Free speech gives you the right to say what you want, but the NBA has the right to ban Sterling based on his comments. I hear some argue, “Isn’t this an overreaction over some comments made in private?” Perhaps I would be willing to entertain this if it not for the fact that Sterling’s main transgression isn’t this one tape; it is his now very public body of work. There are a multitude of stories about Sterling’s prejudiced and racist beliefs. ESPN has a great recap, you can read it here.
In my opinion, the most offensive part of this story isn’t Donald Sterling’s racist beliefs but rather that he chose to put said beliefs into action. Donald Sterling has time and time again “allegedly” engaged in acts of housing discrimination. In 2003 the nonprofit Housing Rights Center and a group of tenants filed a federal lawsuit against sterling accusing him of “numerous discriminatory statements and housing practices,” according to court documents.
Sterling actively tried to stop African-American and Hispanic tenants from living in some of his apartment buildings. In one of the most offensive accusations, Sterling’s company is said to have refused to accept rent payments from African-American and Latino tenants before attempting to evict them for “failure to pay rent.” Sterling denied the allegations and in 2005 he settled for an undisclosed amount that included at least five million dollars in attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs.
In 2006, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit that accused Sterling’s rental company of refusing to lease Beverly Hills apartments to African-Americans, refusing to rent to non-Koreans in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, and turning away families with children from its’ properties. Sterling once again never admits to any liability, yet he still paid nearly three million dollars in order to settle. A lawyer for the Sterling Family Trust, Robert Platt, claims, “My clients vehemently and unequivocally deny that anyone was discriminated against. Nevertheless, the insurance companies for the trust decided to settle the case because the cost of continued litigation far exceeded the cost of settlement." I don’t buy it.
Let's assume that Sterling truly is innocent of these alleged discriminatory acts. Many believe that it’s not fair to punish someone based off comments that they thought were private. I am not here to argue whether or not it is fair or right yet just to point out that the reality of the situation is you just can’t do that nowadays. When I was in college, there were times where I felt restricted from doing things that other students could enjoy. I used to think that it wasn’t fair that a college athlete couldn’t get in trouble without it being all over the news. When I raised these concerns, I was told that fair or not, that’s just the way it is, and I had to be smarter. Well, I would argue that this applies to Donald Sterling in this situation. In today’s social media/internet age if you get caught saying messed up things you are going to suffer the consequences. Sterling should have surrounded himself with people that he knew he could trust. No excuses, Donald Sterling should have been smarter.
For today’s blog, I wanted to take a look at the best non-primetime games for each of the first 10 weeks of the upcoming season. In general, the primetime games are the best each week; however, that is not to say that there aren’t a ton of great noon and three-o-clock matchups to be had. I only chose to do 10 weeks because by the time we get to that point, the entire landscape of the NFL power rankings will have shifted.
So here's my pick for the best games each week outside of primetime!
Week 1- New Orleans @ Atlanta 12:00
What even needs to be said about this one? If you are a fan of either franchise, you know how heated this rivalry is. The oldest southern NFL rivalry will once again meet in the opening week of the season as the Falcons try to avenge last season’s week 1 loss to the Saints.
Week 2- Miami @ Buffalo 12:00
This matchup is intriguing to me because I see a ton of parallels between these two sides. In my eyes both of these teams possess young, talented rosters and always seem right on the edge of being good yet never quite get over the hump. This early season matchup could set the tone for the rest of the year if one of them is finally going to take their game to the next level.
Week 3- Washington @ Philadelphia 12:00
Eagles vs Redskins is always a treat, but with the Desean Jackson move from Philly to Washington, this is one matchup in which I fully expect the entire country to be glued to their TV screens. I for one cannot wait to see D-Jax torch Kelly and co. Sorry, Steve Geller.
Week 4- Green Bay @ Chicago 12:00
Bears vs Packers. Cheeseheads vs Sausage Hounds. A-Rodg vs Kid Cutty. This one writes itself. Just a great matchup between two of the historic NFL franchises.
Week 5- Kansas City @ San Francisco 3:25
Not gonna lie… this week was a little light on games in my opinion. This game features a couple of good teams that don’t normally meet battling it out, and I feel that I should be more excited about Alex Smith returning to San Fran, but I just can’t get pumped without forcing it… what do you think?
Week 6- Washington @ Arizona 3:25
I have a thing for the Cardinals defense. I am probably biased, but I love watching them play, probably because their defense is filled with former LSU guys. Pat P, Tyrann Mathieu, Kevin Minter, and Curtis Taylor are all holdin' it down out there for the Tigers. RGIII and DJax vs Pat and Tyrann??? Yes Please.
Week 7- Cincinnati @ Indianapolis 12:00
Two defending division title winners squaring off in one of the best stadiums in the league. On one hand you have Andrew Luck fighting to be considered among the best quarterbacks in the league and on the other you have Andy Dalton fighting for his job. Can the Red Rocket finally solidify himself as the Bengals QB moving forward?
Week 8- Seattle @ Carolina 12:00
Do you like waking up early? If you’re the Seattle Seahawks let’s hope you do because this kickoff will be kicking off at 10 AM according to their biological clocks. This should be a matchup of a couple of great defenses, however I will be interested how Carolina intends to move the ball with their receiving corps against the Legion. In truth, the Panthers receivers aren’t really that much of a downgrade compared to last years.
Week 9- Denver @ New England 3:25
I don’t know about you but I am a fan of watching two of the greatest of all-time go head to head. While there is no doubt that we will grow weary of the media coverage leading up to this game, another Brady vs Manning Matchup is just too nice to pass up. Especially when you factor in the Aqib Talib move and matchup vs Darrelle Revis.
Week 10- San Francisco @ New Orleans 12:00
A lot of Saints fans are upset to be travelling back to Chicago next season, well I imagine 49ers fans are none too pleased to be heading back to New Orleans. One of the crazier games of last season, the Saints managed to fight back and steal a win from the Niners. San Fran definitely feels the need for revenge and will have this one circled. The nice part for Saints fans is that the Black & Gold will have 10 full days to prepare after they play Carolina on a Thursday.
This is the first of a 3-part NFL draft series previewing the top two prospects at each position along the offensive line.
Today, we’ll look at the position most near and dear to my heart... center. While center may not be the most physically demanding spot on the line, it is without a doubt the most cerebral. An NFL center must get to the line call out the defensive alignment, identify the “Mike,” and make calls to the rest of the O-line about what their blocking scheme will be. For example, the center runs up to the ball, “four down…four down…over over…Mike 55…Mike 55…B block…B block.” This all must happen within a couple seconds so everyone else can get set and the QB can get his read of the defense. These are just your base calls. In addition, the center still must adjust for anything the defense changes pre-snap, or the QB could change the play entirely.
Having a talented center is essential to your O-line’s success as a group. You can have great individual players, but the center is what changes five fingers into a fist. Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns just signed a 5-year $42 million contract, so it would appear the NFL recognizes the importance of the center position. With that said, let us take a look at who from the 2014 NFL draft class has a chance to be the next Alex Mack.
Centers are generally the smallest people on the line as evidenced by the consensus number one C prospect in this year’s draft, former Colorado State standout Weston Richburg. Richburg is just 6’3 298 lbs. It may seem crazy to play in the NFL while not even weighing 300 lbs, but center is a leverage and technique heavy position. If you have great footwork and excel in body weight manipulation, you can be successful against guys that have 20 or 30+ pounds on you. Richburg excels in both of these fields. He is quick off the line and operates well in space, which is key for screens, sweeps, etc... Weston Richburg is an excellent pass blocker, who proved his ability to shut down the bull rush against top level competition during this year’s Senior Bowl. This was a key factor in raising his draft stock, because interior penetration is the quickest way to make a defensive end’s sack numbers go up. If the QB can’t step up in the pocket…game over.
Perhaps most importantly Richburg is also extremely durable. He started an incredible 49 games in college! Not saying he wasn’t ever hurt during that time, but Weston Richburg was always available and fought through it. NFL teams love this. One of the knocks on Richburg is that he didn’t play top level competition all the time at Colorado State. However, he combated some of these doubts with good performances against Alabama and by playing well in Mobile at this year’s Senior Bowl. Richburg isn’t a dominating run blocker, but he can get the job done. One other thing teams would be interested in is Richburg’s ability to play offensive Guard. While not necessarily essential, it definitely will be taken into account when deciding whether or not to draft him. At the end of the day Weston Richburg is an excellent technician who seems to have the strength, quickness, and durability to excel on the NFL level.
The other Center I believe worthy of note is USC underclassmen Marcus Martin. Much like Richburg Martin is only 6’3, however, he has a bit more weight, tipping the scales at a robust 320 lbs. Martin only played 3 years of college, but his frame is excellently suited for the NFL. Scouts love his ability to get to the second level (which is key for centers), and Martin is just flat out a naturally athletic. You always hear about how ideally you want a guy to bend at the waist and not at the knees, well, Martin is that guy. He also possesses great natural flexibility, which can help to increase speed, prevent injuries, and fast-track a player to becoming a better pass blocker.
One of my favorite aspects about Martin--he plays mean. Nothing makes me more fired up than a guy who is willing to block to the whistle and then some. The extra shoves, pushes, and punches are an excellent way to get inside the head of your opponent and establish dominance both physically and mentally. Another attribute in Martin’s favor--he has proven he can play guard as well as center. In fact, it is a credit to his ability that Marcus Martin is ranked so highly on the center list, as he has only one full year starting with a hand on his butt. During his time at USC, Martin started 20 games at guard and 13 games at center. This is great to have on your resume when going to the next level. The more you can do, the better chance you have at a successful NFL career. One negative about Martin’s game, because he plays so low, Marcus sometimes has a tendency to get over extended when punching defenders, which makes him vulnerable to swim moves and push pull moves. However, he is an incredibly young athlete and won’t even be 21 years old until November, so I have no doubt these problems can be corrected.
I look forward to watching both of these guys playing on the next level. As someone who tried to make it at the center position in the NFL and knows what it takes, I enjoy watching players who truly excel. I think both Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg have the potential to be long term veterans in the league. That said, I don’t see either one getting drafted first round, but probably early to mid-second.
If you’re interested in center play and want to watch one of the best gladiators on the offensive line, I recommend watching the guy I mentioned earlier, Alex Mack, when the Browns are on TV. He is incredible.
This past Sunday, I engaged a group of new found friends in a couple rounds of the "Game Of Thrones" board game. Wow! What a game... I don't know when the last time I had so much fun getting so stressed out. The GoT board game is an excellent representation of both the books and HBO television show, as it encourages laughing and high fiving with one hand while stabbing your "ally" in the back with the other. Sunday marked my third time playing the game, yet it was the first time I started to experience some of the subtlety and genius of the game design.
Let's get this out of the way first... "Game of Thrones," produced by Fantasy Flight Games, is not an easy game. This is not like "Ticket to Ride" or "Monopoly," where you can learn to play in 5-10 minutes. This is a game that will take a bit of a commitment the first couple times you play, and may feel like somewhat of a slog at first.
The reason I didn't enjoy this game the first two times I played was that I didn't entirely know what I was doing, and yet, it had a whole group of people constantly asking me questions. Also, some of the personalities in the group were not conducive to a good gaming environment. Anybody who will complain about the game being "too complicated" or gets bored or just brings a negative outlook in general SHOULD NOT BE INVITED! I cannot stress enough how much the attitude of the group will effect your level of enjoyment. When you have a positive group that is into it (maybe even a little role playing) this game is amazing!
Although you want everybody to have a good attitude, be warned; during the course of a game, saltiness will occur. The game takes place between 3-6 players as each person assumes control of one of the major houses and dukes it out for control of the Iron Throne. The Baratheins, Greyjoys, Starks, Martells, Tyrells, and of course the Lannisters are all there. The game board is a beautifully drawn map of Westeros filled with locations and landmarks that fans of the book and show alike will appreciate.
The aesthetics of the game are wonderful. All art is a joy to look at and gives you a further appreciation of the universe George RR Martin has created. The game ends after 10 rounds, or if one of the houses can capture 7 castles at once. There is no second place. In the words of the great Ricky Bobby, if you are not first you are quite literally last. The fact that there is only room at the top for one leads to all sort of back room deals and maneuvering as players try to work together, while also positioning themselves for ultimate victory. Friendships will be tested.
I think when I realized just how much fun I had when I lost the second game in a row, and instead of being frustrated, we were excitedly recapping the crucial moves and decisions that had tipped the game either way.
If you are a fan of the show, or just a fan of games, I cannot recommend "Game Of Thrones" enough. The high production quality and clever game mechanics give it a ton of depth and replay-ability and is well worth the price of admission. I myself cannot wait for next Sunday when once again, we shall gather to battle it out for control of the Iron Throne.
Cersei Lannister put it best when she said, "When you play the game of thrones you either win, or you die."
This is how I felt at yesterday’s pro day. It seems like every year, LSU’s Pro Day just gets bigger and bigger, and this year might have been the biggest. Chip Kelly, Mike Tomlin, the Ryan brothers, and Sean Payton were all in attendance, among many other general managers and scouts from every team in the League.
Zach Mettenberger just 13 weeks off his ACL surgery proved the knee is of no concern! All scouts and coaches seemed very pleased with Mettenberger's performance. He threw more than 100 passes and proved his arm is strong.
LSU Coach Les Miles talked about QB Zach Mettenberger's day.
"I think is a guy who can play at really high level in the NFL. I think he will climb into an elevated position. I think he is improving," Miles said. "I think they will see that his leg is in the high 90 percentile. He's back. I think he will throw extremely well today. He will play in the NFL a long time. I will be surprised if he is not a very high draft pick."
Miles said WR/RS Odell Beckham Jr. is also looking at a bright future.
"I have seen nothing but great interest in Odell Beckham. I think Odell is going to be drafted early. You hate to predict a draft position, but if he isn't gone in the first day I will be surprised," according to Miles. "I think if you look at the draft eligible guys, they are all getting increased favorable views not only off the field but what appears to be strength and speed and measurable."
Jarvis Landry ran faster in back to back times than he did in the combine. That was exactly what he had to do.
While the majority of the coaches and scouts were there to check out the Zach Mettenbergers and Odell Beckhams of the world, LSU Pro Day has become a great opportunity for lesser known players to show off their skills to coaches who they would otherwise never get a chance to perform in front of. I myself am a beneficiary of this, as I would have never gotten a chance to try to play for the Rams if one of their scouts hadn’t run our O-line drills.
Kadron Boone had an excellent day as he was able to post back-to-back blazing forty times when he posted a 4.44 and a 4.49. He also showed great explosiveness with a 33-inch vertical jump.
Another former LSU receiver had an even bigger day when James Wright ran back-to-back 4.43 forties and jumped an incredible 38.5 inches.
Tahj Jones also had himself a hell of a day, running two 4.5 forties.
These three players didn’t get invited to the combine, and yet here they were, working out in front of all 32 teams, including some of the most powerful men in football. There are multiple teams that may not have even have had these guys on their radar, and yet, now they rate them as high-priority free agent picks or maybe even Draft picks.
One of my favorite parts about Pro Day is that inadvertently, it is still teammates helping teammates and having each other’s backs. The big names bring in the big fish, and as a byproduct help out their brother’s careers.
With Saints Center Brian de la Puente signing with the Bears a couple days ago, it would appear that for the fourth time in the Sean Payton era the Saints are preparing to break in a new snapper. The lead dog for this spot is Tim Lelito, who made the team last season as an undrafted rookie free agent and backed up both guards and the center as the team’s interior swing man.
Lelito started two games last year in place of an injured Jahri Evans and while he struggled at times, he got better the more live reps he took part in. However, today I would like to talk about Lelito’s mental toughness, which after last season cannot be questioned.
Tim Lelito played his college ball at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan. Go ahead… try and name another Division II school. Remember, this is the level below Nicholls St, Northwestern St, and McNeese. The jump in the level of competition that Lelito faced during OTAs and camp is hard to fathom. You maybe would face one legitimate NFL guy during your time at Grand Valley St, and then all of a sudden you’re battling it out against the likes of Akiem Hicks and Broderick Bunkley on a day to day basis? That is absurd. Lelito showed an impressive ability to raise his level of play in order to win one of those coveted 53 man roster spots. As challenging as making the team was, Lelito had no way of knowing even greater obstacles awaited down the road.
It's week 4, and Jahri Evans has just informed Lelito that he will be the starter against the Arizona Cardinals. This switch brought Evans' 122 consecutive game start streak to a halt, and thrust Lelito out of the pan and into the fire. If you thought making the team was hard, imagine knowing that your first NFL start will find you filling in for a four-time Pro Bowl guard going against a 3-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Darnell Dockett. I find it hard to imagine what his mindset must have been like before kickoff.
The biggest crowd he played in front of at GVS was maybe a few thousand people, and yet, Lelito found himself about to take the field as a starter with Drew Brees in front of 70,000 people while battling against a 3-time Pro Bowl NFL veteran. Needless to say, the stakes were much higher than anything he experienced in college. To make matters worse, Lelito tweaked a muscle in his leg on the second play of the game, but he didn’t let it slow him down. Tim ended up playing 79 total plays that day, including special teams and while he gave up three sacks.
All things considered, I came away pretty impressed. He showed true toughness and grit by not getting discouraged when things went poorly. The Saints went on to soundly beat the Cardinals 31-7. This first start could have made an impressive story in and of itself, yet once again, Lelito’s road was only going to get more challenging in his second start.
It’s the Saturday night before the Saints play the 49ers in the 'Dome in an all-important battle between two of the NFC’s best. That's when Lelito was hit with personal tragedy as he was informed that his grandmother had passed away. Lelito was closer to his Grandma than most; in fact, his grandmother actually adopted him and raised him as her own. For most people, this would be enough to go to the coaches and explain that you need some time off. However, Tim Lelito is not most people. He didn’t tell anyone and went out and played the next day, fulfilling his special teams and short yardage duties as the Saints won 23-20.
However, during the win, Jahri Evans got injured, which meant that Lelito was informed on Monday that he was expected to start just three days later on a Thursday night battle with division rival Atlanta. This is where I believe Lelito’s ability to control his mind comes to the forefront. Lelito participated in the team walkthrough Tuesday before flying Tuesday night back to Michigan for the funeral Wednesday morning. After the funeral, Lelito flew to Atlanta to meet up with the team arriving around 9 PM Wednesday night. He spent the next 24 hours cramming for the game and making sure he had all the last second adjustments understood and ready to put into action. So here is Tim Lelito preparing for just his second start in the NFL that has huge implications on the Saints divisional chances and will take place in the extremely hostile environment that is Falcon country.
Once again, there is no way that Lelito had ever played a game in such a hostile environment with so much crowd noise, and he had just suffered a tragic personal loss, yet despite all of this Lelito somehow managed to block out all the extraciricular problems focus on the task at hand. Tim played well (only giving up one sack) and more importantly the Saints got a big win 17-13.
I don’t know about you, but if I had lost someone that close to me the week of a game I don’t expect I would have been able to step up and perform like Lelito did. He may or may not be the answer for the Saints center vacancy, and you can question his technique, performance, etcetera once the preseason starts; however, one thing I will never question with Tim Lelito is his mental toughness. He’s got that in spades.
In the first part of my blog about LSU spring ball, I focused on the practices and the environment in which they are held. This time I’ll focus on the spring game itself and what it means to players and coaches.
If you grew up an LSU fan, as many of us did, you know many a young fan dreams about playing in Tiger Stadium. For some this Spring Game will be their first experience actually getting to play in Death Valley. Before I competed in my first Spring, I remember taking the field as a true freshman in the Fall of ‘07 and being awed by the incredible nature of the stadium. The energy emitted from the stands is something that players can directly tap into and use to their advantage. This said, I still had no nervousness entering the games freshman year. I was redshirted and knew I wasn’t going to play, and at times I felt like a fan with the best seat in the house. (In fact, a couple of buddies and I actually sneaked sunflower seeds onto the field in our gloves).
Now compare that to my first LSU Spring Game…my first chance to actually take the field in a game-like situation. I was more nervous about that scrimmage than just about any football activity I had competed in up to that point. Although the atmosphere doesn’t rival a normal game, there were still thousands of Purple & Gold fans in the stands. Replays were still being shown on the big screen exposing who made plays and who got beat. Perhaps most importantly your family and friends are all there and you desperately want to show them how much you’ve improved in your redshirt time.
One of my favorite memories to this day is being on the purple team (the backup team basically) in Spring ’08. We were supposed to get dominated by the white team. Regardless, we were fired up. We took over on our own 15 yard line, and I remember a young Jarrett Lee and me running out to the huddle preparing to take our first snaps in Death Valley. 12 plays later Jarret had thrown a touchdown to the corner of the end zone to take an early lead. You would have thought we’d won something! Although we ended up losing somewhere along the lines of 42-7, I will never forget that initial drive. The feeling of success, when we scored, was unmatched in my experiences up to that point and was a huge confidence booster. I felt it showed that, yes, I can play on this level and I can play well. A year of redshirting can make a player question his worth and whether or not he belongs. An experience like this helps reassure a young player he made the right decision.
I tell this story for two reasons. First, I wanted to slap myself with some nostalgia. Second, I want you to see the game behind the game that will take place Saturday. Although the defense and offense will not run complicated plays (in fact the spring game play chart on both sides is pretty bare) there is still a ton at stake. Young men are trying to establish themselves as future LSU stars and prove to both the fans and coaches that they not only can handle the pressures of Tiger Stadium, but they can thrive in such an environment.
Mett let me know he feels great after his ACL injury and he is hungry to prove to NFL coaches they would be making a mistake to pass him up. We also talk about what separates Mett from other QBs in the draft and what it feels like to be on the verge of playing for an NFL team. Click below to hear the whole interview!
If you wandered outside sometime in the last couple days, you know New Orleans is enjoying pristine weather. Spring finally peeled back the covers of winter and offers us a brief respite from the cold, before the summer heat comes barging in and burns us all to the ground.
This spring feeling brings me back to my time at LSU; specifically the month long spring ball I competed in four times during my career. Spring ball is a bit odd. No one is quite sure how to rank the importance of the practices and the individual battles taking place. While it may be true that no one wins a job during spring, there can be no denying significant advantages and leads are won or lost. It is for this reason, if no other, that spring ball is a critical component to a player’s career and success at LSU. I would like to try to give you a quick look into some of my experiences during spring ball at LSU.
Spring always started with an air of general anxiety. Players were excited to show what they could bring to the table in the upcoming season. We hadn’t put on the pads in a few months, but it didn’t mean we were idle. Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Moffit spent the months between the end of the season and the beginning of spring tuning and honing our bodies into well-oiled machines. Some (like me, more often than not) would require some general maintenance after the season closed, but it never slowed us down for long…thanks to the team’s stellar training staff.
After the maintenance, we started tuning up in a series of workouts that culminated in the 4th quarter program. The program was tough on the body and tougher on the mind. The result of 4th Quarter was a team full of young men at their physical peak eager to prove themselves…eager to prove they deserved a shot to play in Tiger Stadium. Before you knew it, the battles for position dominance were underway.
One of the unique parts about spring ball is the abundance of time for reflection between every practice. During the season you practice every day and prepare for a new team every week. This leads to a feeling of hurtling, constantly trying to stay on top of what new information will help you glean the game deciding advantage that particular week. Spring, however, is pure repetition and reflection. Practices are only once every two days and it’s always the same plays against the same defensive squad.
Every time you enter your position meeting room the depth chart is updated as is the seating chart (ie. starters up front, then 2nd string, etc…). This immediate feedback leads to a greater sense of job insecurity generally found during the more stable season. This insecurity is genius, because it forces you to figure out how to best learn from your mistakes. You must learn how to confront, digest, and then move on from those mistakes. If you dwell too long on a bad practice or a bad play, that could be the anchor that eventually drags you down.
The other great part about immediate feedback is you can see immediate gains. If you move from 3rd to 2nd string, or 2nd to 1st, you’re encouraged because you can very plainly see you are doing something right.
The harder part comes when you fall back. This happened to me multiple times throughout my career and it never got any easier. I do, however, believe having to fight back after dropping helped me gain greater control over my mind. Anytime I was trying to grind my way up the depth chart I operated on a one-track mind. I zeroed in on controlling what was within my power to do so. My effort level, mental assignments, attitude…these were all things that I could directly manipulate and I used that to my advantage. By blocking out all the white noise, I was able to focus on the task at hand and improve.
The four weeks spent in this atmosphere eventually culminates with an inter-squad scrimmage set in the football cathedral known as Tiger Stadium.
My Thursday blog will be part two of spring and will focus on the spring game itself.