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Thursday, July 17, 2014 @ 11:08am

Strike zones and football

By: Ron Wolfley
The SEC is implementing a "strike zone" for its players and I love it. According to the rule which will be implemented this season in the SEC, players can only contact a QB above the knee and below the neck when in a "passing posture, regardless of if he's in the pocket or out of the pocket."

I like the way this rule reads and think it will become a great way to teach defenders and train their competitive cognition. It's so simple to understand. Coaches can teach it and a "strike zone" is a great way the train the player to be aggressive and smart at the same time. Strike zone says, here's where you can hit the Q. Now go get him!

But there are some grey caveats.

The defender must be a) unabated to the QB, and b) the QB or offensive player throwing the ball must be in a passing posture.

Well, define unabated. The SEC says unabated means the defender is under his own power and not blocked into the Q. That sounds good in theory but sometimes it becomes very hard to ascertain when officials see it live.

Also, define passing posture? How does that posture look if the QB acts like he's running the ball and throws it late? Or pulls the ball down in the pocket moves around the pocket and then the arm suddenly comes up and you contact below the knee?

Those scenarios represent big, fat, grey areas.

No rule changes that restrict the way a football player can contact another are ever embraced immediately and that truth resonates with me. But the game is changing and instead of throwing up my hands and walking away from the best game the world has ever known, I'd rather accept the reality and re-think the way the game is taught and learned.

And that's why I like this teaching tactic from the SEC. It seems small and insignificant but frames up the new reality in football: be physical but smart.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 @ 9:28am

Doesn't the MLB All-Star Game count?

By: Doug Franz
Obviously, it doesn't count.

The front of the National League starting lineup had MVP Andrew McCutchen, rock star Yasiel Puig, all-world shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, America's first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and the Hulk, Giancarlo Stanton to lead off the game.

In the top of the 8th, with the NL down by two, its vicious lineup was Starlin Castro (batting 69 points below Tulowitzki), Freddie Freeman (batting 13 points less than Goldschmidt), Anthony Rizzo (20 points behind Stanton), Todd Frazier (who is two points above Ramirez so we're moving in the right direction) and then the great Daniel Murphy (the only token Met). Two on, two out and the National League pins its hopes for winning home field advantage in the World Series on the only player to come from a one-bid franchise who is five games under .500 and seven games out in the NL East.

With all due respect to the Murphy family, I thought it mattered?

I'm one of the few traditionalists who does not have a problem with home field advantage being the treasure of an All-Star Game victory. I don't have a problem with fans voting for their favorites and managers trying to get everyone into the game. I hate both happening at the same time.

If it matters, Goldschmidt is the best first baseman on the roster, so he should play nine innings. If you're pulling a double-switch (which managers don't need to do in an American League park), it's understandable to pull a great player for a really good player. However, playing participation baseball is not competition at its best.

It either counts or it doesn't.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @ 8:22am

Eric Bledsoe's waiting game continues

By: Doug Franz
The silence is deafening.

The LeBron James domino fell Friday morning. Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Carmelo Anthony have signed. Various sign-and-trades have been completed. Restricted free agents have signed offers and moved to different teams.

Eric Bledsoe waits.

He doesn't wait for a team to want him. Almost every team in the NBA wants him. He waits for someone to reach his price. No one is interested in paying it.

Either Eric Bledsoe has completely over-valued his production, under-estimated his "injury-deduction" or knows the moment of desperation has not yet arrived. The only way Bledsoe gets his big pay day is if another team wants to show their fans they're trying. The Suns not only have the right to match any offer, no other team can outbid Phoenix. Another franchise knows the Suns will match so the only reason another team signs is to get attention. Bledsoe will be playing 2014-15 for the Suns no matter what.

The only question is what the terms will be.

He's either a Sun because Phoenix matches an offer, Bledsoe signs long-term with the Suns or he accepts his qualifying offer. Even if Bledsoe's agent tries to say signing elsewhere was a way to increase money for his client, it still shows Bledsoe wanted out of Phoenix. If Bledsoe signs an extension, all is wonderful and it's time to talk about Goran Dragic's extension.

From an ego standpoint, accepting the qualifying offer is the only way this thing comes to a conclusion. Bledsoe can't be happy no other team is calling, so that proves he's not worth the big money extension he wants. If he signs long-term to stay in Phoenix, he's signing on the Suns' terms with no leverage. Clearly, other teams aren't willing to commit major dollars to a player with health concerns. Other franchises also have to clear the cap space to sign Bledsoe for the three days he's on their roster before the Suns match anyway.

If Bledsoe believes in his heart he deserves more, the only way is to prove it by taking less now and hit the ground next summer as an unrestricted free agent. Look for Bledsoe to accept the qualifying offer and gamble on himself. The Suns would have a tough situation on their hands with Dragic and Bledsoe entering unrestricted free agency in the same summer.

The best guess has Bledsoe and Dragic starting for this year's Phoenix Suns. The best guess is for Isaiah Thomas and Dragic starting for next year's Suns.

Friday, July 11, 2014 @ 11:01am

LeBron James and learning life's lessons

By: Doug Franz
The Cleveland Cavaliers would have never won a championship with LeBron James.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will win a championship with LeBron James.

Name an athlete who has done what he has done. No athlete in American history has dealt with more hype from an early age. There was talk that he might leave school early for the NBA. HIGH SCHOOL!

A number one overall pick to his hometown team. Very few experience pressure like that. Although he struggled at times, he has learned from every mistake and become a better person. Very few can say that about themselves.

The list of failed athletes due to overrated talent, burned out, drugged up, self-centered is frighteningly longer than the LeBron list. He shouldn't have run off the court avoiding the Celtics. He shouldn't have burned the Cavs with a phone call from "his people" five minutes before his announcement on "The Decision." He shouldn't have tried to revive Jim Gray's career.

Other than Jim Gray, he's admitted every time he's wrong and comes out a better person. We've been able to sit back and watch a 17-year-old boy--under tremendous pressure to make mistakes that hurt his PR but not expose some tragic character flaw-- grow into the definition of a man.

It's not because he's going back to Cleveland that he deserves so much praise. It's his reasons. Remove any feelings you had about LeBron James before reading, and focus on two things: how he feels about leaving and why he said he's coming home.

When you're done reading, remember this...he's 29 years old.

What man can read that and not learn how to be a better man?

Thursday, July 10, 2014 @ 9:53pm

Take the Snake's advice

By: Doug Franz
I met my Pat Tillman Thursday.

On July 3rd of last week, my family and I were only about 20 yards from the back porch of Robert E. Lee's when the sky opened. We were hit by an enormous downpour. Instead of walking in a suspended, painful peace through Arlington National Cemetery, my daughters, wife and I stared only at our water-logged shoes in a slow gallop to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Knowing her place, Mother Nature softened the rain to show respect as we witnessed American perfection during the changing of the guard at the Tomb. We left the scene in silence, too drenched to appreciate the pounding torrent had become drizzle. After reaching a respectful distance, I apologized to my family since I was the vacation organizer. I felt obligated to explain the powerful affect of Arlington in the sunlight versus our experience. My nine-year-old saw things differently.

"It's better this way, Daddy. I imagined this is what the soldiers went through. Death is gloomy."

As I left work Thursday, I was greeted by one of the warmest men on Earth. Jim is the golf-cart security guard at our building. I've always appreciated the way he's so committed to his job. He greets everyone, knows almost everyone and makes you feel great on your way into work.

He asked me if I went back to Ohio for my vacation. I told him it was Washington this year and shared some pieces of my vacation. He let me know where his Marine barracks were located in relationship to downtown.

I've talked to Jim for years and never knew. Now knowing, I told him the story of my daughter's comments while walking through the storm at Arlington. A soft smile of approval came across his face. With love and pain he asked, "Did you take them to the wall?"

I've heard the phrase, "Vietnam War Memorial" so many times. Obviously, I haven't spent enough time with Vietnam Veterans because "the wall" rolled off his tongue with such familiarity, hinting of a formal relationship with pain, death and respect.

"Absolutely, I did. We walked slowly and, although I have no family members on the wall, Jennifer's father fought in Vietnam. I told the girls that 'Papa has friends who died for their country on that wall.'"

A look I had never seen in any human came across Jim's face: remorseful pride.

"I have 16 on that wall."

Two years ago, Jake Plummer was on "Doug & Wolf." Wolf asked him about Pat Tillman. Plummer has a way of talking about Pat with pent-up passion it makes you think he's never talked about him before while you know he talks about him every time he gets a chance. When he was done sharing, I said I was jealous since I never got to meet Pat. I've never forgotten Jake's response.

"You know, I'm going to go Pat on you. Pat would tell you, 'Don't be jealous you haven't met me, go meet your Pat.' Pat would talk to everyone. He made everyone feel the team needed them. I don't mean just his teammates. Everyone he talked to. Go talk to a meter maid. Talk to the checkout person at the grocery. Find out about other people. That's what Pat did. Go find your Pat."

I re-met Jim Thursday, a man I thought I knew. I met my Pat.

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