Rolando McClain says he will retire at the ripe old age of 23. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft has been arrested three times in the last 11 months. His life is in turmoil and the peace that passes all understanding eludes him.
Every man is responsible for the decisions that he makes in his life. Every man must pay the toll of consequences for the choices he makes. But this one really bothers me. I'm tired of seeing young men throw their life away. And it's happening more and more.
The question is, why? It's a question without an easy answer, impossible to quantify and critique. But theories abound.
Our society teaches young men the real measure of a man can be found in athletic prowess, sexual conquest and financial gain. And if you don't believe it, watch television. And make no mistake, TV is the matrix of pop culture, the tip of the pop culture spear.
It certainly doesn't espouse values and virtues, does it?
How many boys dream about being a fireman, police officer, scientist or teacher? And how many boys grow up dreaming about being a professional football, baseball or basketball player?
As C.S. Lewis said, ""We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We remove the organ and demand the function. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful."
And it's only going to get worse unless we start talking to our boys about faith, honor, courage, sacrifice, honesty and love.
I had the opportunity to watch the Cards Rookie Camp over the weekend. The Cards are transitioning from one system to another and my first glimpse of Bruce Arians' offense filled me with cautious optimism.
Coach Arians likes to throw the ball but he knows in order to throw it better you have to run it better. Play action is going to be a big part of what the Cardinals are going to do and if you want to be effective with play-action you better be able to run the ball effectively.
The tackle zone was prevalent during the practice that I saw and it remains the best form of play-action in the game. Linebackers have to honor the deep mesh-point on the tackle zone action which allows receivers to get down field, behind linebackers, and gives quarterbacks better windows to throw in. But your protection better be solid, including the back making the fake.
Coach Arians told me his favorite drill to run in practice is back-on-backer blitz pickup. This drill is brutal and inherently unfair to the running back. Edge rushers line up on the LOS (line of scrimmage) and rush the back on the snap, 1-on-1, with no pocket or help to either side. As B.A. told me, "You learn a lot about a guy in that drill."
And this is why the Cardinals brought in Rashard Mendenhall and drafted Stepfan Taylor. These two men will be relied on heavily to hold up in protection in order to use play-action the way Arians wants. They are every down backs that can run the ball and that element of the game should be much improved.
Coach Arians believes that it's not how often you run it but how effectively you run it. B.A. knows his offense must be capable of running the ball well in the red zone, on short-yardage and goal line and during the four-minute drill, when you're trying to close out a game when you have the lead.
This is one of the reasons why Big Red drafted two guards in the top four rounds. The Cardinals play in the NFC West and know they need to become more physical on the LOS in order to run the ball effectively enough to use play-action to the degree Arians would like.
Execution is the elixir of life for any scheme conceived and good players execute schemes but if what I saw on Saturday is any indication of what the Cards offense will look like this season, play-action might be the biggest component of that new scheme.
I wanted to see the Cardinals go get Karlos Dansby weeks ago because of his unique skill set and need for depth at inside linebacker. With the trouble surrounding Daryl Washington, it makes even more sense for Big Red.
And the Dirty Bird came to town.
Los Dirty is a proven player and multifaceted. He excels in space and has incredible ball skills. He's a playmaker capable of producing sacks, stripping balls, picking passes off and being around the ball.
Dansby can play, and has played, both inside backer positions in a 3-4 defense. In a gross simplification, the Mike backer plays inside-strong side and needs to hold up at the point of attack. The Bill backer plays inside weak side and needs to be capable of covering a ton of ground and playing well in space. And can do both.
Finally, the Dirty Bird is a leader, on the field and off. Even though it seems like Dansby has been around forever, he's still only 31 years old. He's experienced, capable and has a history with this franchise.
The only question I have is this: how much does he want? Every man has his price and so does every franchise.
One thing is for certain: the trouble with Daryl Washington isn't bringing down Dansby's asking price.
I can't believe I'm about to write these words: let the geeks decide the four teams that should be included in the college football playoffs.
College football cannot allow their super committee, the football people that will pick the four teams to compete in the College Football Playoff, to be the only voice around the big rectangle behind closed doors. There are people around that big rectangle and those people have biases and preconceived thoughts and opinions based on their past experiences and loyalties that will cloud the process and make the public cynical. After all, they're only human.
But there is a new entity, a new breed of football disciple that has no loyalty to uniforms, logos or conferences, that is growing in strength and credibility that should be heavily involved in the process of The College Football Playoff: football analytics.
Most of us call it math. Yes, there are people behind the math that have biases and preconceived thoughts and opinions based on their past experiences and loyalties that will cloud the process and make the public cynical, but their greatest love and natural affinity has nothing to do with conferences and everything to do with calculus.
The Ph.D.s who love analytics and love the game of football have a loyalty to data and being right about what that data says. Most of these geeks (and I use that term affectionately) could care less about how many teams the SEC gets into the four-team playoff and more about why the SEC got two teams into the playoff…or not. The process is their precious, not the players and the uniforms they wear.
Football has lagged behind other sports when it comes to advanced statistics over the last two decades, but there are new forces at work and football analytics are starting to permeate the rigid doors and sturdy walls of NFL front offices.
Although the Geeks of the Gridiron have been around since the days of Tex Schramm, when he employed a computer programmer from India to analyze the qualities that made a person a good football player, few teams in the NFL had embraced analytics. Five years ago, having a Geek Squad meant fixing the e-mail and hard drive of the general manager. That is not the case today. Now, every team in the league has some form of an analytics department in their front office. More importantly, this new Geek Squad is growing and taking on more responsibility.
It's always been a battle between the old guard and the new. Football people -- guys that have played the game at the highest level or coached in Super Bowls, Hall of Famers with unrivaled pigskin pedigrees -- have scoffed at the thought of geeks changing the game they love or influencing it in any way. Their reasoning was, and is, simple: you cannot understand the game of football sitting in an office behind a computer, quantifying the passion, emotion and mayhem through the prism of numbers.
And they're right...with one, big, fat asterisk.
Even though football people are valid in their skepticism, they need to understand the asterisk does not preclude football analytics from being important and having a place of import in the universe of the Blood Sport -- no matter how hard they kick against the pricks.
Being able to tell coaches what the percentages of success are when running a 6-man slide protection on fourth and three from your opponent's 42 with a rookie center may not stir the passions of conviction with such a small sample size; but as years go by and advanced statistics continues to map and amass data of that particular situation, "kicking against the pricks" will turn into kicking a field goal.
Advanced statistics cannot be the answer alone. There needs to be a blending of football analytics and football people. And this is where I think college football should be trailblazers.
Why not have Gridiron Geeks, guys with Ph.D.s that love and understand the game, come up with criteria that football people have already agreed upon with said geeks and then use football analytics to select the teams to compete in college football's playoffs?
And the entire process should be transparent. The Four-Pack should be released to the public three times a year. The last reveal would be final.
And I'm not talking about using the computers of the BCS to pick the top four teams in the country. I'm talking about a combination of advanced statistics that the geeks determine as centric to the success of a college football team. The advanced algorithms used to create the Four-Pack would most likely exceed the grasp of most of the committee. But the committee would be able to create the formula that would be used to begin with in order to advise the geeks where they should start crunching those algorithms.
What the criteria will be presents the most opportunity for debate. And this is where football people would need to rely heavily on the Gridiron Geeks and vice versa. This is where the rubber meets the road.
But as long as the criteria was determined and agreed upon before it's employed, fans, coaches, players, athletic directors, presidents, chancellors, super committee members and football people in general would have to accept the results...of geeks.
I was actually encouraged by the Diamondbacks' 15-12 record in the month of April, despite the fact they blew more saves than any other team in baseball.
With all the injuries this team has sustained (Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist, Adam Eaton, a red hot Didi Gregorious and more), the fact that Martin Prado and Miguel Montero are getting off to slow starts (and you know they're going to hit), and that their bullpen has blown a major league leading 9-saves and they're only a game out in the division is astounding.
And the best stat of all is 6-3. That's the record Arizona has posted in the games where they blew a save. That's so impressive to me and shows the toughness of this team.
Blowing saves is like having a football team lineup and run the ball down your throat or getting beat on the boards in basketball or losing the battles in the corners in hockey: it's demoralizing.
The strength of this team is their bullpen, especially the back end of that bullpen. To see the strength of your team take the ball and not do what is expected of them doubles down on morale. Yet the Diamondbacks continue to grind the tools of their trade, with their heads down, on the stone cold belief that life is not a box of chocolates.
These guys aren't frontrunners and there isn't a better internal attribute a team could have in any league -- college or professional -- than not being front runners.
The D-backs have not played their best baseball, have some key guys missing from their lineup and are right in the thick of it, showing great resiliency and resolve in the process.
And because of this fact, I won't bet against this bunch.
The Arizona Cardinals drafted nine players in the 2013 NFL draft and many analysts are talking about how Jonathan Cooper might be a perennial Pro Bowl guard. They also like Kevin Minter in the second round, and Tyrann Mathieu has been a topic of discussion nationally. Herman Edwards was raving about the Cardinals drafting Stepfan Taylor and Ryan Swope and Andre Ellington were touted as steals in the 6th round.
But nobody's talking about Earl Watford, the second guard drafted by Arizona in the fourth round out of James Madison. Nobody but the Cardinals, that is.
The Cards believe Earl Watford will be a future starter and the future might be sooner than one might think, including Watford. Big Earl is a natural athlete with excellent feet. He's as strong as anybody on the field, has twitchy-quick explosion off the ball, and is as tough as they come. The guy has a mean streak and that is uncommon for many offensive lineman.
I think Watford might be the hidden gem of this draft. He probably needs a year to make the transition from a relatively small school to the best our species can offer but don't be surprised if you see Big Earl sooner than later.
Allow me to preface what follows: rookies have got to play and rookies have got to prove their worth. I don't give rookies the benefit of the doubt, regardless of where they're drafted. Prove it, rook.
Having offered this premise, the 2013 NFL Draft for the Arizona Cardinals in terms of value of pick, areas of need addressed and draft management looks to be superb.
General managers in the National Football League are hunters. They pour over scouting reports, watch more film than movie critics and research more backgrounds than most private investigators.
They hunt for young men that will fit their team and the locker room they have assembled. They are hunters of men that know how to bludgeon opponents and bloody their knuckles.
And if that's the case, Cardinals GM Steve Keim might be Orion. The rookie GM absolutely tracked, killed and bagged the 2013 NFL Draft.
Coming into this draft the Cardinals had needs at OL, OLB, S, MLB and RB, but Keim is a huge value guy. He won't pick a player that doesn't fit on the Keim-o-Meter. If the pick is a reach, he'll typically vomit on it and hit the eject button. And this was the case during this draft.
"Value" is the word of this draft class.
Keim got his offensive lineman, Jonathan Cooper, and analysts expected either Cooper or Chance Warmack would go in the top 10. Although guards do not impact games to the degree tackles typically do, which is why so few are drafted in the first round, rare guards are exceptions and Cooper is an exception, a guy that could easily become a perennial Pro Bowl player.
Getting Kevin Minter at 45 was a steal. Minter was the best tackler in this draft and the best plugger, holding up at the POA better than either Manti Te'o or Alec Ogletree. Minter needs to get better in space but in the brutal NFC West, he's a better fit. You better be a street fighter if you're going to play in this division and that's what the Mike-backer from LSU is. If Kevin Minter was drafted late in the first round nobody would have batted an eye. Value.
I love the pick of Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger is a huge risk but this kid is a playmaker. He has the best instincts I have seen since Troy Polamalu. This often gets him into trouble because he will roll the dice, but getting him in the third round was right where a high risk, high reward player should be drafted.
Patrick Peterson is one of the model human beings in the Cardinals' locker room and Peterson will mentor his friend. This is the biggest reason why I like this pick. Peterson is the difference maker for Keim and the reason why nobody took a chance on Mathieu before #69.
The Honey Badger will play safety and that's where I think his career will sink or swim. He not only will address a need at safety (more on this as the week unfolds) but his unique skill set will be used in the box and out.
But day three is where Keim got nasty (in a good way).
According to the NFL's own scouting service, Texas' defensive end/OLB Alex Okafor was the highest graded player taken in the fourth round. They also got another guard in the fourth round, Earl Watford, from James Madison.
Keim also drafted the fifth highest rated player in the fifth round, RB Stepfan Taylor. Taylor is an every-down back, capable of carrying the load, catching the ball out of the backfield and, most importantly, holding up in protection.
And then Keim had the unmitigated temerity to draft the highest rated player of the sixth round, WR Ryan Swope out of Texas A&M. Swope is a bigger, faster version of Wes Welker. I'm not saying he is going to be Welker but his future in the league will be in the slot, running a lot of short, underneath routes that move chains.
And RB Andre Ellington from Clemson was icing on Keim's draft day cake. Ellington will make this team and be active on Week 1 of the season. Getting a player you can say that about in the sixth round is ridiculous value.
NFL analysts are raving about Keim, and he deserves the credit he's receiving. But don't forget about his right-hand man, Jason Licht. Licht will be running his own football team one day, having vast experience with Keim and two stints with somebody named Belichick. Licht will have his day, but this past weekend belongs to Keim.
Steve Keim is going to be a rockstar in this league, and the 2013 draft will be his first hit single.
The Arizona Cardinals didn't get a tackle, but they got the next best thing for their scheme: Jonathan Cooper. Getting the guard from North Carolina leads me to believe the Cardinals are going to run a zone-blocking scheme, exclusively.
Chance Warmack had been rated the top player at his position in the draft for months -- a sure-fire, can't-miss guard from Alabama that quite possibly could end up in the Hall of Fame. But over the last two weeks, Cooper climbed draft boards and by the time the Cards made their pick, surpassed Warmack as the guard of choice for many NFL teams, including Big Red.
Where Warmack has more "gut in his butt" than Cooper and is better suited for a power-blocking scheme, Cooper is more athletic and is the perfect guard for a team that is going to run more zone-blocking schemes.
Without getting too technical, power-schemes involve creating angles of impact to punch holes in defensive fronts. In a power-scheme, offensive lineman block down (inside) the line of scrimmage and uncovered lineman pull around those down blocks. In a gross simplification, power is the preferred attribute of choice for offensive lineman.
In a true zone scheme, lineman are not pulled. They have aiming points and work in tandem to get a hat-on-a-hat playside, while many times building a wall backside. In a zone scheme, quickness and athleticism are the coveted tools of the trade.
Jonathan Cooper was built to be in the zone scheme. He is freakishly athletic -- maybe the most athletic guard to come out of the draft in the last decade. He will have few problems getting his head around and outside of a defensive tackle shaded on his outside shoulder (hooking a 3 technique) or getting to the second level on "ace-blocks" and "deuce-blocks" or cutting off the back-side and building a wall. He is the perfect animal for this type of scheme.
The intangibles make Cooper a no-brainer. He's smart. Cooper made the Dean's List three consecutive years at North Carolina and graduated with a degree in communications. He started for four years and comes from a strong family background, with parents that encouraged him to stay at North Carolina and get his degree. This kid doesn't have many minuses.
Rashard Mendenhall is a true zone scheme running back. He has excellent vision and quick feet that are always underneath his frame, ready to make any cut when that crease presents itself. Many times that crease is backside and he is an excellent cut-back runner. He's strong in the hole and runs with good pad level and has the speed to bounce it outside and get the edge.
The combination of Jonathan Cooper and Rashard Mendenhall make me believe Bruce Arians offense is going to be built on three primary running plays: the classic stretch-play, the tackle-zone (think Denver) and the inside-zone.
Something tells me the Cardinals are not going to finish in the bottom half of the league in rushing again.
The New York Jets traded Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 13th overall pick in the draft and a conditional selection next year.
This seems to be a sweet deal for all parties involved, sans the NFLPA.
The Jets got rid of a problem that could have turned into a nightmare that would have dwarfed the Tim Tebow Circus of a year ago. They also received fair market value by receiving the 13th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and a conditional draft pick in 2014 that could either be a third or fourth round pick.
The Jets now have the ninth and 13th picks Thursday night. Look for the Jets to package those two picks and move up in order to get an edge rusher like Dion Jordan of Oregon. I think the more likely scenario would be that they stay right where they are, pick LSU's Barkevious Mingo at nine (if possible) and take either guard, Chance Warmack of Alabama or North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, with the 13th pick (if possible).
The Jets have a lot of needs and getting two impact players in the first round as opposed to one seems to be the more prudent thing to do when you're rebuilding a football team. Although I believe Jets GM John Idzik may have backed himself into a corner and probably learned a lesson during the Revis situation, he has seemingly pulled this one from the flickering flames of futility.
The Buccaneers get the best cornerback in the NFL without any guaranteed money. Granted, Revis is rehabbing a serious knee injury, but if he can stay healthy and play at the level the Bucs expect him to without having ANY guaranteed money involved, this was a no-brainer.
Revis is a shutdown corner that thrives in any coverage. Assuming his knee is sound, he will be a much needed improvement to the Bucs' woeful secondary and match up nicely against the high-powered, pass-happy division of the NFC South. Lining Revis up over Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston and even TE Jimmy Graham will be premium, can't miss matchups this fall.
And Bucs GM Mark Dominik must feel good knowing Revis has already passed a physical and seems to be recovering nicely from his torn ACL. Even though Dominik gave up a lot to get a shutdown corner, if Revis is healthy, he's certainly better than any corner they would have picked in this year's draft, including Alabama's Dee Milliner.
And Dominik doesn't have to stay up nights, worrying about Revis' health knowing the Bucs aren't married to him for the next six years. There is no guaranteed money involved. Dominik still gave up a #1 to get Revis, but at least it won't break the bank or destroy the salary cap. And, it should be noted, Revis will have to prove it every year. This should be considerable motivation for a guy that needs to show he's the same player he was before his surgery.
The only loser here may be the NFLPA. When a player of Revis' stature signs a six-year contract that includes no guaranteed money, it could set a precedent the player's association may not want to see become mainstream.
Ninety-six million dollars is a ton of cash, making Revis the highest paid defensive-back in NFL history; but Revis only gets it if he plays. And not only plays, but plays well. If he doesn't play well, he won't see the end of the contract.
The trade for Darelle Revis is fascinating in that it seems to be a no-brainer for the Jets, Bucs and the Revis Clan.
But the NFLPA can't be thrilled with what it could mean in the future.
One of the best listeners the Doug & Wolf Show has e-mailed me a few questions leading up to the draft. Brother Murph knows his stuff and always brings passion to the table.
Why is it considered a 'reach' taking an offensive guard in the top-10 picks of the 1st round, particularly if the player is as talented as Chance Warmack seems to be (and NO, I DON'T want the Cards to pick him if one of the top three left tackles are still available...and I think the Cards should try to move up somehow, even to #2 or #3 to ensure they get one).
Drafting a guard in the top 10 is like drafting a running back in the top 10. Guards and running backs are closely tied to running the football and running the football in the NFL is currently not en vogue. The emphasis is on throwing the ball and when you throw the ball, you better have tackles that can hold up on the edges.
The premium is on tackles and so shall it be. In many pass protections used, one of the tackles will be turned loose and placed on an island with no help, while guards often times receive help inside or have the presence of help to either side between the tackle and center. Slide and Base protection (most of the time) are examples of these types of protections.
I know teams that refuse to draft college guards. There are many general managers in the league that draft tackles and convert them to guards because on average, they have better feet, better frames and are largely better athletes. That's why their college teams put them out there in the first place -- to hold up against the speedier, more athletic edge rushers.
So, knowing tackles have a premium placed on them for the reasons mentioned above, how does that manifest itself at the tactical level?
If you take a guard high in the draft and receive All-Pro play from that guard, you're set, right? You've improved your offensive line!
Great, your interior pass pro is awesome -- that high-dollar, highly-touted guard of yours is holding up well and your QB is sacked because a tackle broke down on the edge. You're running the ball well -- your guard is an excellent run-blocker -- but, like all teams, you get yourself into a 3rd & Obvious pass situation. Again, the guard is protecting his gap, holding up well, keeping his eye on his responsibility on the second-level, and your Q is sacked because your tackle got beat on a spin move.
In the end, the reason why guards don't get drafted in the top 10 unless they're the Walter Payton of their position is because they don't IMPACT a game -- positively or negatively -- to the degree that a tackle does.
Just as running backs have been marginalized and their value reduced in today's NFL, so have offensive guards. It doesn't mean they don't have value -- they do. It only means they don't have as much value as tackles.