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Deke Bellavia's Blog Page

Co-Host of WWL's "SportsTalk with Bobby Hebert & Deke  Bellavia," Weekdays 4-8PM

Email:  bigchief@wwl.com

Deke: Mainieri and Tigers back on track

Just two weeks ago LSU's baseball team was coming off a week of action in which they did not win a single game. Since then the Tigers won seven of their last eight games.

"We did not play our best, but we did what we needed to do to win the series. Anytime you can win a series in this league you feel good about yourselves," said LSU Coach Paul Mainieri.

The Tigers highest ranking is 7th in the USA Today coaches poll. LSU beat Lamar last week 5-0 followed by back to back wins over Arkansas defeating the Hogs 5-3 and 5-4. But the Hogs were able to win the series finale 10-4 over LSU. The Tigers have owned the Hogs in league play winning nine of the last ten series.

"Our players understand how hard it is to sweep an opponent in league play. We had a chance up 2-0, but we got off to a bad start in the last game. Things did not work out for us in that game because we got off to such a bad start."

The Tigers have four big games on the schedule this week beginning with the annual Wally Pontiff Classic at Zephyr Field Tuesday night against the USM Golden Eagles.

"Wally Pontiff Jr. was an outstanding young man who played at LSU. We keep his memory alive with this classic every year. Wally was a great person on and off the field."

LSU then heads to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels are currently in second place in the SEC Western Division with a 9-5 conference mark. Game one of the three game series is Thursday night…pre-game 6pm; 1st pitch 6:30 here on WWL - Tiger Radio.

FULL AUDIO: Bobby and Deke talk to LSU baseball Coach Paul Mainieri
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Deke: LSU QB Harris looks like a star in the making

Some of his passes were overthrown; others too short and he was only 11-of-28 in pass attempts, BUT after watching freshman QB Brandon Harris at the LSU spring football game, I came away impressed.

Certainly you have to realize Harris was in a controlled scrimmage and the team he faced was his own. However, the young man just got on campus in January…and a handful of months ago he was on the football field competing against high school talent.

I'd say inconsistent, erratic, rushed, nervous and confused are some descriptions of Harris' performance Saturday. On the flip side, what should get Tiger fans really optimistic about the future—Brandon Harris' ability to extend plays with his feet, his running style and the strength of his arm.

Now I'm certainly not saying it's a far gone conclusion that young Brandon Harris is going to be the starting QB for the Tigers, when they open the season in August against Wisconsin.

I am saying Harris has shown in a short amount of time that he has the potential to be a very good player. Who knows, maybe even a great player. 270 yards and four touchdowns are nice numbers in your first college football outing.

Coach Les Miles assessment is pretty much the same. "I think that things that you do in a game certainly are things you must recognize. He made some really big plays and nice passes, but he also made some mistakes. It was certainly reviewed very positively by us. We're a ways away, but there needs to be improvement in both spots. I really think he made four to five major errors in the scrimmage, but he improved through the adversity. If we can eliminate the mistakes and play to the advantages, that's what he's looking to do," said Coach Miles.

Coach Miles told me last week he liked the progress both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris made during spring drills. And with the instruction of a coach like Tigers Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU could be in better shape at the QB spot than originally thought.
Sure, there will be growing pains. There will be times when we all scratch our heads and say…WHY did Brandon do that? I also think that over the course of the next few seasons we will all scratch our heads and say HOW did Harris do that?

After seeing the young man play twice at Parkway High School, I thought quarterback Brandon Harris could come in and compete for playing time. But caution is much better served when creating expectations for players, who excel at the high school level. It oftentimes is not a predictor about performance on the college level.

With the nation's #1 player coming on campus very soon (RB Leonard Fournette); the nation's top rated Wide Receiver (Malachi Dupre) and record setting play of WR Trey Quinn, LSU could have the best young set of offensive weapons in the nation.

Experience seems to be all these young men need. And when they get those reps, that should net positive results for the LSU Tigers. It's only one game…a spring game at that, but I think Brandon Harris is a star quarterback in the making.

Big Chief's other notes:

Several things stood out in the Tigers L-Club Spring Game. The play of rising DE Danielle Hunter was impressive. Hunter recorded two sacks along with several pressures. Hunter gained attention last season with his quickness on the edge as a solid pass rusher and looks poised to have a breakout season.

LB Ronnie Feist was a tackling machine recording 14 tackles--all in the first half. The former West St. John Rams star has been out of site/out of mind his first two seasons in Baton Rouge. Could this be the year he stands out? He's got a lot of momentum going into the off season for sure!

Fellow linebackers Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander both had pick sixes for the Tigers D. And, WR Travin Dural could very well be the top veteran player at the position. With Dupre and Quinn coming this summer, Dural needed a nice showing before the nation's top freshmen come on campus. Five grabs, 130 yards and two TD's is a nice start.

Another true freshman stood out--Ed Paris. One of the nation's top high school defensive backs will play CB for the Tigers. Paris looked good in the Tigers secondary. He made a real nice play on the ball breaking up a pass early in the game. Paris should be another young impact player for LSU this season.
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Deke: Ahead of LSU spring game, Les Miles "likes where we are"

The LSU Tigers will conclude spring football practice this weekend as they hold their annual L-Club spring game, and Coach Miles joined me on "Sports Talk" Wednesday to talk about their preparations.

"I think we've been able to get in some quality work. We have a lot of work to do. But I like where we are," he said. Miles enters his 10th season as head coach of the Bayou Bengals this fall.

READ MORE: T-Bob: The importance of LSU spring ball, part one

Miles said he's pleased with the progression of his QB's, Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. "They are both competing at a high level. Anthony has done a good job of throwing the football. And Brandon Harris is a talented player. We are excited about their play."

The Tigers' spring game is this Saturday at 1pm. Our pre-game coverage (with myself and T-Bob Hebert) begins at 10am. Listen to my entire interview between with Les Miles by clicking below.

FULL AUDIO: Deke talks to LSU head coach Les Miles about spring game

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Deke: LSU's Mainieri says "We'll be ok"

In his days of coaching the game, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has not often had weeks in which his team did not win a single game. "Wasn't much fun, I can tell you that. Let's hope we don't experience that again." Mainieri was talking about the Tigers 0-4 week in which LSU lost to Tulane 3-2, and then got swept on the road by the Florida Gators. LSU is now 20-8 overall on the season and 3-5-1 in SEC play.

READ MORE: Tigers swept in Florida, 11-7

Coach told me that one reason why his team is losing is due to lack of offensive production. "When your best hitter is not hitting well, you will struggle," Mainieri said, referring to Alex Bregman. Bregman, one of the nation's best players, is just 3-of-35 at the plate in SEC Games this season for the Tigers.

Mainieri said in no way is he laying the blame on Bregman or any one player. "We've had a couple bad days of pitching too. But let's give some credit to the teams we played last week: Tulane was able to get a big win against us and Florida is one of the most talented teams in the country."

The Tigers fell from the #4 spot in the Baseball America Top 25 to #18 in this week's poll. The Tigers have four more games this week. Wednesday, LSU plays host to McNeese State followed by a three game SEC Series against #9 Mississippi State.

"We have another tough week this week against McNeese and Mississippi State. I can tell you we are going to regroup and get ready for four games. We are glad to be home this week."

FULL AUDIO: Deke talks to coach Paul Mainieri about Florida sweep, previews this week
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Deke: New Saints FB Erik Lorig greets us with a "Who Dat?"

To Saints fans, there is no better way to start off than by saying “Who Dat!”  Well, new Saints fullback Erik Lorig sounded off with a big “Who Dat” as he spoke with me and Bobby for the first time on Wednesday’s Sports Talk.
“I’m very excited to be a member of the New Orleans Saints.  I am really looking forward to being a part of this franchise,” Lorig said. He signed a four-year deal with the Saints earlier this week after spending his first four seasons with Tampa Bay.
FULL AUDIO: Bobby & Deke talk to new Saints fullback Erik Lorig 

The former Stanford Cardinal told us that he’s not surprised that he is still in the NFL.  “Yes, I thought I would last this long,” said the seventh round pick (253rd overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Lorig told me and Bobby how he was able to make the transition from defense to offense.  Lorig played on defense in college and was moved to fullback when he joined Tampa Bay.  Erik said that two of his nicknames include "E-Low" and the "Hebrew Hammer."
For more, watch me and Bobby talk about Lorig’s impact with the Saints in our video below. 

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Deke: Upgrading Safety could push Saints over the top!

How many times have we heard it said that "offense wins games, but defense wins Championships?"  I'd say we've heard it a lot!  When you look at the NFL, it could not be more evident than it is now.  And when you dig deeper into NFC numbers, it's easy to see that if you don't have a legit defense, then your chances of getting to the Super Bowl are not good.

Sean Payton has clearly established himself as one of the best offensive minds in the game.  We all have come to expect that the Saints offense will consistently rank among the league's best.

With that said, Coach Payton full well knows that having a solid defense gives his team a much better shot a winning another title.  At the end of the 2013 NFL Regular Season, the top five defenses were all in the playoffs.

Defense is even tougher in the NFC; four of the top five defensive teams in the NFL are from the National Football Conference.  New Orleans had an incredible turnaround, going from 32nd to 4th in just one season. If the Saints are going to get back to the Super Bowl, they will need to play even better on defense in 2014.  

In the NFC Divisional Round, the Seahawks #1 defense faced a Saints team that had the league's 4th best defensive unit.  And in the other conference semi-final game, the league's 2nd best defensive unit in Carolina squared off against the 49ers, who had the 5th best D in the NFL.

That brings me to the point of the Safety position.  The Saints obviously felt like that was a position of need that had to be upgraded, as New Orleans addressed the position on the first day of free agency by signing Jairus Byrd.  

The Seahawks and Saints had two of the best four overall defensive units in the NFL  year ago, and both ranked #1 and #2 in pass defense as well.  Seattle allowed on average 172 yards passing per game, while the Saints allowed 194.1.

By signing Byrd, New Orleans has upgraded a spot that saw a lot of improvement a year ago.  Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd give New Orleans a physical presence in the secondary that is needed.

Let's be real, the Seahawks were a great defensive team in 2013, and at times they were down right nasty!  And I mean nasty in a complementary way! 

In his rookie Season, Vaccaro established himself as a high energy guy that likes contact. And now with the addition of Byrd, the Saints bring a player that is a ball hawking defender that excels in taking the ball away from opponents.  Just last week, Herman Edwards, former Jets and Chiefs coach turned NFL Analyst for ESPN, predicted that Byrd would lead the NFL in interceptions in 2014!

Rob Ryan raised the bar, and now with the addition of Jairus Byrd playing alongside Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints will be expected to have one of the best defensive secondaries.

When you look back at what happened in 2012, what improvements were made in 2013, and what moves have already been made in the early stages of free agency... it's amazing! 

The Saints defense, which was once a major concern for people when breaking down the Black and Gold, has become a key strength in less than a year's time.  Will the Saints have another top four defensive unit this season? Only time will tell, but I know that before one ball has been snapped, one play has run, or one whistle has been blown, the Saints defense has gotten better.

And folks, it has been a long time since that was the case!  
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Deke: Of all the Saints that are gone, #43 hurts the most!

Let me say first that I put my personal feelings into this feature, along with my regular job duties.  Sure, there is a business side of sports that many of us understand, but it still feels like a body blow when certain moves are made.

I am in no way, shape, or form griping about the Saints' trading the most versatile player in Black and Gold history.  Instead I’m telling you why I think the loss of Darren Sproles hurts more than any other moves that have been made thus far.

In business, you like to get something in return for what you have traded.  Well, I’m not sure what the Saints will get with their fifth round pick from the Eagles for trading #43, but it’s going to be hard to get that Sproles-type production back.

READ MORE: Kristian: Bobby and Hokie weigh in on Sproles trade 

In three short years, the fastest, most feared, and best game changer that perhaps this Saints franchise has ever seen piled up numbers at an alarming rate.  And even in 2013, a year that was not considered a productive year for Sproles, #43 still hauled in 71 receptions and racked up over 1100 all-purpose yards.

You can see that the numbers that Darren put up will be very difficult to duplicate.  But the kind of guy that Darren is... that's even harder to say goodbye to.  The soft spoken, mostly quiet Sproles was not much of a talker. Sure, he met with the media from time to time.  But there really was no reason to talk to Sproles.  All of his actions spoke much greater than words.  He seemed like a great teammate, and to me, he was a guy that could make a play when it needed to be made!

None of us will ever forget the season Sproles had in 2011 when he set an NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards.  I mean, think about that season!  In early September, Darren piled up 275 yards against the Packers, giving the Who Dat Nation a small taste of things to come.

Less than a month later, Sproles piled up 193 yards in the win over Houston, and followed that with a 190 yard all-purpose effort in October when he surpassed the 1000-yard mark - just two months into the season. Perhaps best of all was the day after Christmas in 2011, when #43 gashed those Dirty Birds for a whopping 236 all-purpose yards.  

For three years, opposing teams had to know where he was at all times, and the only time those teams could breathe easier? Well, that only happened when Darren was not on the field!

Yes, "Mighty Sproles" was mighty indeed.  Fans fell in love with Darren from day one, and the more he played, the more they loved him.

READ MORE: Kristian: Value for Sproles is what the Saints got

Who Dat Nation, football is a business and I understand that.  But being a business does not take the sting away, it does not take the hurt away from saying goodbye to #43.  

Darren Sproles gave the Saints 10.5 yards on average every time he touched the football; that means that every time for every touch, he gained a first down.  His three year totals in Black and Gold saw him rush for 1,067 yards on 188 carries for 5.7 yards per rush, Darren hauled in 232 grabs for 1981 yards averaging 8.5 yards per catch, he returned 70 kicks for 1,807 yards with an average of 26 yards per kick return, and Darren finished up his Saints stint with 36 punt returns for 671 yards, with an 18.6 yards per punt return average.  He scored 22 TD’s and touched the ball 526 times for 5,526 yards.

So on the day the Saints traded Darren Sproles to the Eagles, I just thought it was fitting to take a little look back on what Darren did while he was here.  And all Darren did was his job.  Darren did a damn good job! Hell, he was great!  

So Darren, thank you for giving us your all while you were here in the Big Easy.  You were great on the field, and you were great off the field, being very active in the New Orleans community.

The Saints have let go some of the most loyal and successful veterans in club history over the course of the last few weeks.  But in my own opinion, the loss of the guy I call "Mighty Sproles" hurts the worst... the worst by a country mile.
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Deke: Les Miles and Tigers "off to a great start"

The LSU Tigers are coming off a solid 10-3 season and are currently going through spring practice.  Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down and visit with LSU football coach Les Miles to get his take on how things are going so far. 

“So far things have been going well,” Miles said.  “We are starting to get some things in that we really want to focus on this spring.”  The Tigers will practice several times during the month of March, with spring training officially coming to an end on Saturday, April 5th when the Tigers hold their annual L-Club Purple and White Spring Game.  The game is set for 1:00pm in Death Valley.

FULL AUDIO: Deke talks with LSU football coach Les Miles

Coach Miles also talked about how excited he is about this year’s LSU Coaches Clinic, which is usually held the weekend before the Spring Game.  And this year, LSU has brought in an incredible line-up of football greats.

“I think this is the best group we’ve had.  To have people like Ray Lewis, Roby Ryan, Bobby April, George Whitfield, along with our coaches, and some of the best high school coaches in the country... it only makes our clinic that much better.  I myself am looking forward to hearing these guys speak."

The annual LSU Coaches Clinic is set for March 27-28 and is open to high school and college coaches.   And more information on how to attend the LSU Coaches Clinic can be obtained by going to LSUcamp.com.  Along with the great Ray Lewis, successful longtime coaches George Whitfield, Rob Ryan, Bobby April, LSU Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and Defensive Coordinator John Chief Chavis will all speak at the clinic. 

With so many key players going pro and/or graduating, the Tigers have a lot of holes to fill this spring.  Coach Miles says continuing to improve and work on filling those holes is something they work on each day.

“We recognize that we lost a lot of great players that stood out, on and off the field of play.  I think this spring is going to be a good one for us.  And I think that the work we put in the next few weeks will help us become a better team in the fall.”

(Photo credit LSU Athletics)
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Deke: Byrd addresses media for first time as a Saint

The former Buffalo Bills star quickly wasted no time inking with a new team.  Reports surfaced yesterday evening before 5:00pm that Byrd would visit the Saints, and just a shade after 8:00pm, a deal was done to give Jairus Byrd a new six-year contract with the Black and Gold. 

Talking with myself, Kristian Garic and the rest of the media, Byrd was asked why he selected the Saints as his new team. “It’s the winning coaches. What Coach Payton has done, and what Drew Brees have done here, any time you have that explosive offense. It always helps when you are a guy on defense and a team is able to get leads on people, (and) jump out to early leads... that bodes well for a guy like me who wants to get turnovers and create turnovers because it makes another team one-dimensional. That is a really big factor and what allowed me to weigh all of my options and think about the best situation for myself.”

FULL AUDIO: Deke & Kristian talk to brand-new Saints safety Jairus Byrd

Jairus Byrd was a member of a Bills defense that also made a huge turnaround last season.  In 2012, Buffalo had one of the worst defensive units in the NFL.  But last season, the Bills climbed all the way from #22 to the #13 spot in total defense.  

Now Byrd comes to a Saints defense that made one of the biggest turnarounds in league history going from #32 to #4 in just one year.  Byrd said he’s in tune with Coach Rob Ryan’s aggressive style.  “Just from the defensive side, I see it is really aggressive. They do a lot of different things. I don’t want to say too much because I haven’t really had a chance to get in detail with Coach Ryan and everybody about the ins and outs of the defense. I don’t really know. I just had conversations. That’s really all I can really say is just from watching it that it seems aggressive and attacking.”

Byrd said his health is very good and he’s all in when it comes to the Who Dat Nation.  “That was big. Playing here last year, I saw how the atmosphere was. It was electric. They were really behind their team. The Dome was rocking when I was here, and they feed off that."

Byrd brings a ball-hawking mentality to the Saints defense that needed some help in that department.  If there is one area the Saints could get better at it, it's taking the ball away.

“Yes, that’s what I pride myself on being able to do... to create turnovers, whether it’s interceptions, forced fumbles, whatever it might be. That’s something I’m looking forward to coming in here and doing, just doing what I normally do, and that’s what I do.”
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Deke: Spring cleaning for the Bayou Bengals

Okay, the 2014 college football season got off to a big bang for the LSU Tigers.  Coming off a good 10-3 season and landing the nation’s #2 recruiting class has folks in Tiger country more than optimistic.  At the end of last week, the Tigers took to the field for the first of several practices leading up to their annual Spring game that goes down on April 5th in Death Valley.  There is no need to mention any names here.  

If I did, I would only be referencing past performances and hearsay.  Because as we all know, not much information (other than “oh he looks good in individual drills out there”) can be gathered during spring football practice.

READ MORE: LSU opens Spring Practice

We will all get a better look and a better feel on April 5th during the L-Club Purple and White Game.  I’ve compiled a short list of things that I think LSU will have to work on in order to get to elite status.

1. Who’s gonna throw it, and who's gonna catch it?  After a record setting year passing the football and with two wide receivers with 1,000+ yards, the Tigers offensive staff has their work cut out for them this off season.  LSU says goodbye to a veteran QB that was a solid pocket passer, and more importantly, the Tigers lose the best WR duo in the nation.  Not only did Odell and Jarvis catch the ball well, both players ran exception routes, both are very good blocking WR’s and both were solid contributors on Tigers special teams.  Replacing these two with just a WR is not going to happen.  Landry and Beckham Jr. could very well go down as two of the most complete players in LSU history.  Think about it!  Rob Bolden could become a quick go-to guy this spring, and former Neville star John Diarse has a serious skill set.  

LSU has a legit QB derby battle on their hands.  Tiger fans should feel more comfortable about the man in charge of grooming these young signal callers.  Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron will have whoever he decides to go with ready for the first game of the season.  What the QB’s look like in spring is one thing; what the starter looks like opening day is another.  You get my drift, don’t you?  So whether it's Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings or someone else, LSU’s starting QB will not be asked to do everything by himself.  

2.  Find some D-Linemen!  The last couple of seasons, the LSU interior defensive 'ine has not been up to par.  I mean, if you’re considered the best of the best coming out of high school, a lot is expected from you on the college level. Far too many times last season, LSU could not get any heat on opposing QB’s, and that left a young secondary in bad shape.  The best of the best DB’s have a good pass rush.  The Tigers have to upgrade the interior D-line if they are going to be among the best in the SEC.  Do I even have to remind you about the last quarter and a half of the Alabama game last November?  I thought not!

3.  Who will run with Leonard?  He’s the best player in the land and hailed as one of the greatest prep stars ever in the history of high school football.  But all of those accolades mean nothing now.  Leonard Fournette is expected to perform at an extraordinary level at LSU.  With one of the best RB’s in the SEC going pro in Jeremy Hill, Mr. High School Football could quickly become Mr. College Football.  Am I putting too much pressure on Fournette?  I think not.  When you look at the QB situation at LSU, the time it will take to develop some go-to WR’s and the returning O-Linemen the Tigers have coming back, I think it is very fair to say that Leonard Fournette could have a breakout year. Who will be the next guy in line to help shoulder the load for the LSU rushing attack?  If the Kenny Hillard of 2011 returns and the Terrance Magee of last year is back, LSU could have one hell of a backfield.  
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