This is the game. The big test. A chance to finally find out how good of a college football team they are. After a schedule filled with bad to mediocre teams, the first big test is finally here.
This coming Thursday night on national television at Sun Devil Stadium we finally find out how good Oregon is. That's right, the Ducks (6-0, 3-0) have their first big test of the season after taking care of a bunch of patsies when they come to Tempe to take on a good Arizona State team. Is Oregon good enough to win the Pac-12? Are they good enough to play for and win a national championship? The Sun Devils (5-1, 3-0) will be their first big test this season.
Oregon played a non-conference schedule that was -- well, to put it lightly -- garbage. They beat Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech and Fresno State. They took care of business in all three of those games and then played three weak Pac-12 teams in Washington State, Washington and Arizona. Yes, they are unbeaten at 6-0 but they haven't been tested. I expect they will this Thursday against a Sun Devil team that actually plays defense unlike any of Oregon's first six opponents.
The Devils, led by Will Sutton and his 8 ½ sacks, lead the Conference in quarterback takedowns with 26 and are third in the conference with nine interceptions. ASU has held Illinois to 14 points, Utah to 7, Cal to 17 and Colorado to 17. Now Oregon is a much much different team than any of those, as they are an offensive juggernaut under Chip Kelly, but still this defense is by far the best redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota will have faced.
As for Oregon's defense, nothing against Keith Price, Connor Halliday or Matt Scott who are all good quarterbacks, but Taylor Kelly will be the best and most dynamic quarterback they have faced. Kelly leads the Pac-12 and is sixth in the country in passing efficiency with a rating of 176. He leads the conference and is 19th in the country in completion percentage 68%. He has 14 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions and is a threat to run, averaging over five yards per carry on carries in which he is not sacked, gaining 308 yards on the ground.
Kelly has thrown touchdown passes to eight different players and eight different players have at least eight receptions. The Devils average 479 yards per game, so they can move the ball up and down the field as well and will test the Ducks' defense.
So while we all agree that we will find out a lot about how good the Devils are in this game and whether they can play with the big boys or not, this game is not only about ASU being tested.
After watching Washington beat Stanford Thursday night, I am more convinced than ever that Arizona State has a great opportunity to break into the top four in the Pac-12 Conference this season -- maybe even top three. And that would be quite an accomplishment for a team that went 4-5 in conference last season, got shellacked by Boise State 56-24 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and lost several key players including its star quarterback, Brock Osweiler and star wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad.
While winning the conference and heading to the Rose Bowl is still top priority (and by no means am I saying ASU shouldn't shoot for those goals), I would like to think that taking baby steps prevails here. The Sun Devils have a chance to establish themselves as an upper echelon Pac-12 team. If ASU could settle in as a consistent top three team in this conference, they will sell a lot more tickets, play in much better bowl games, spend a lot of time in the national rankings and keep a lot more high school players home.
This year, more than any in recent memory, is wide open for the Devils to accomplish this. Oregon looks like the head of the class, but by no means are they unbeatable. Maybe they would have been had Darron Thomas stayed in school, but they aren't with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota behind center. USC is loaded with skill player talent, but as we have already seen in the loss to Stanford, they are vulnerable and because of the loss of scholarships in past years, they lack depth and have inexperienced backups.
If Oregon and USC are the top two teams in the conference, and Colorado and Washington State are the two bottom feeders, then there are eight teams vying to be in the upper half of the Pac-12.
Arizona State put Utah in the pretender category last week and can do the same to a very average Cal team this week. Even though Arizona State has historically struggled to win in California, they are facing a team that has already lost at home to Nevada, something they hadn't done since 1903.
Washington took down Stanford and has some talent, but the Huskies are very young and couldn't compete against LSU a few weeks ago, losing 41-3. Oregon State has been extremely impressive this season with wins over Wisconsin and UCLA and has done a great job of stopping the run in its first two games. Arizona has a great win (Oklahoma State) and a bad loss (Oregon), so the jury is still out on Rich Rod's first Wildcat team. And UCLA, while notching a statement win over Nebraska, struggled to run the ball and played very little defense against the Beavers.
Todd Graham is getting more out of the Sun Devils than Dennis Erickson ever did. His offense is explosive and his defense, led by Will Sutton, has already punished both Illinois and Utah. The players have completely bought into what Graham is selling and it's the way they have won that has made a statement. They clobbered Illinois 45-14 and destroyed Utah 31-7. Granted, both of those games were at home, and until the Sun Devils prove they can win on the road in a hostile environment they can not be considered a great team.
But a win at Memorial Stadium Saturday could be a springboard to a special season. And at the very least, it would move the Devils from a team mired in mediocrity under Erickson to a team on the rise under Graham.
I think we are all surprised by the Cardinals being 2-0 mainly because they had to play New England on the road. Clearly this team is winning with defense and special teams, but Kevin Kolb is doing what good backup quarterbacks in this league do. And make no mistake -- he came into this season as the backup and he came off the bench in week one and rallied Arizona past Seattle and he started for the injured John Skelton on Sunday and threw a touchdown pass and ran for a touchdown in the win over the Patriots.
I'm sure Kolb still sees himself as a starter in this league and maybe he will be again, but for now he is making a good case for having a role in this league even if it is as a backup. Because let's be honest, good backup quarterbacks are hard to come by. Heck good starters are tough to come by.
I can't see any scenario in which Chris Young comes back to the Diamondbacks after next season because he is due $11 million in 2014, or a $1.5 buyout. There is no way Arizona is paying him that much so maybe just maybe they try to move him this offseason especially with the emergence of Adam Eaton who has an on-base percentage of around .400 in his brief time in the majors.
Moving Young will be difficult because he has one guaranteed year left next season at $8.5 million. It is likely the Diamondbacks would have to include him in a package to move him. I do not see an outfield of Eaton, Jason Kubel and Gerado Parra so maybe if they move Young, Justin Upton stays.
I can't say enough about Shane Doan and his loyalty to this organization and community. He is such a remarkable person and a damn good hockey player. He clearly is not as talented as past Coyote greats like Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk, but he is one of the best leaders in the sport and no one is more respected.
The fact he turned down a contract offer of $30 million from Buffalo means he left $8.8 million on the table to stay here in Phoenix despite not knowing for sure if there will even be hockey here beyond this coming season. Doan is a simple man, money is clearly not everything to him and he is content and happy in Arizona. And besides he did feel the weight of the organization on his shoulder, believing that if he decided to play in Vancouver it could have led to a snowball effect that eventually would lead the Coyotes out of Phoenix.
Doan worried that if he left, Mike Smith would not re-sign, the investors would pull out and then Greg Jamison would bail and the organization would be bound for some unknown city. He didn't want that on him.
I'm sorry they wasted over $20 million dollars on Kevin Kolb and I certainly don't blame them for trying to get a franchise signal caller after the Derek Anderson disaster, but it's time for Kolb to go and I'm not talking about to the bench; I'm talking about the curb.
It's going to be a tough pill to swallow, especially when you consider the Cardinals not only gave up all that cash, but also also surrendered a second-round pick and a player in Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, who was a first-round pick.
But really what option do they have, keep a punch-drunk QB who is playing with no confidence, can't pull the trigger and doesn't seem to have any understanding of the offense?
No, it's time to admit your mistake now and move on. No good can come out of keeping him around when clearly Rich Bartel is better suited to be the backup quarterback.
Bartel is nothing special, but he can make the throws that are there and he does play with confidence. And unlike Kolb, he doesn't bolt the pocket at the first sign of trouble.
Maybe Kolb is better suited for an offense like Philadelphia, which behind scramblers Donovan McNabb and now Michael Vick had success in creating outside the pocket. But that backyard football doesn't work here where you need to read the defenses and make the play.
The Cardinals gave Kolb every opportunity to win this job for two years and he has failed to take advantage of it. I can't imagine there is any confidence in him inside the lockeroom or inside the organization, so why postpone the inevitable?
Kolb is not going to be on this team next year, so why should he be on it now? And if we're true to ourselves and asked which quarterback do you have more confidence in coming off the bench, Kolb or Bartel, I'm not sure Kolb wins that battle.
Time for Major League Baseball to start punishing teams for their players cheating.
I am so tired of this era, so sick of hearing about players cheating. Tired of Ryan Braun, Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera.
I thought this steroid/PED era was over, but I guess I was wrong.
Baseball has one option here because as much as they say they have cleaned up the sport, they haven't. The San Francisco Giants should lose five games in the standings.
In college sports we see universities vacate wins, so why not in baseball? Why should the Giants be in first place after 113 games right now? Why should they be allowed to be in first place after their star player admitted he cheated?
Can't we argue that the only reason the Giants are in first place is because their star player cheated! So why punish the player but not the team?
If we start punishing the teams they will be more apt to keep a closer eye on their players and maybe fight for more drug testing, maybe even conduct their own in-house testing.
Baseball is the big loser here and so is Melky Cabrera, who just blew a huge payday in a free agent year. But the Giants aren't the losers. They got 113 games out of a juiced up Melky Cabrera and they are atop the standings with the Dodgers in the National League West.
Can you imagine how the Dodgers will feel if they lose this division by a game or two? It's time to start punishing the teams as well as the players.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new priority in the off-season -- re-signing Jason Kubel.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Justin Upton and the reality that the Diamondbacks will once again listen to trade offers for him in the offseason and with centerfielder Chris Young likely entering his last year with the organization in 2013, it is imperative that the Diamondbacks lock Kubel up long-term before he hits unrestricted free agency following the 2013 season.
When Arizona signed Kubel to a two-year, $15 million deal in December, it seemed like a luxury that Arizona really didn't need. With Upton, Young and Gerardo Parra, the Diamondbacks outfield was a position of strength and it was young. But D-backs general manager Kevin Towers pulled the trigger on adding Kubel after his failed attempt to land free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and Kubel has been nothing short of spectacular. Despite a rough start to August (3-for-24), he is hitting .279 with 23 home runs and 73 runs batted in. He is on pace to hit 34 home runs and drive in 107 runs -- many of those RBIs a direct result of hitting behind Upton most of the year and taking advantage of the runners he left on base. But unfortunately after next season, he and the club have a mutual option for 2014 that has little to no chance of being picked up by the left fielder.
It's hard to imagine that both Upton and Young's days are numbered in Arizona, but in all likelihood they are. Young is being paid $7 million this season to hit .212 and he is a lifetime .238 hitter. He will make $8.5 million next year which makes him difficult to trade. And while great defensively and a player with some pop (129 career home runs), Arizona is very unlikely to pick up the club option they have on him of $11 million in 2014. You can't pay a .230 hitter $11 million no matter how good he is defensively. And while Young is terrific in the field, it's not like he is Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith. So next season is probably it for Young.
As for Upton, how many times can Arizona discuss trading him before actually pulling the trigger? This season has been miserable for Upton as he is on pace to hit 13 home runs and drive in 66 runs. He has been a non-factor most of the season. While I still believe the 24-year-old can be a good player and contribute to the success of the team, chances are that his name will be bandied about during the winter meetings. And if Towers finds a deal he likes, I can see him getting out from under the remainder of Upton's $51.25 million dollar contract.
Upton is making $6.75 million this season but that number jumps to $9.75 next year, $14.25 in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015. Those last two years are numbers that you pay a great player, not a good player. So if Towers can move him and get something decent back in return, he will.
Which brings us to Kubel. He has been one of, if not the best free agent pick up this season. He has done everything that has been asked of him and more and been a great teammate and clubhouse veteran. He is a proven run producer and is excelling hitting at Chase Field while playing surprisingly good defense in left field. And he is only 30 and very much in his prime.
If Arizona wants to keep him around, they better get working on a new contract this off season. Because if Kubel puts up big numbers again next year he may just price himself out of Arizona. Moving Upton would clear enough money for the organization to pay Kubel fair market value and the Diamondbacks could go forward with a 3-4-5 of Goldschmidt, Kubel and Montero. Not a bad middle of the order.
So while all eyes will be on Arizona adding a shortstop with the likely departure of Stephen Drew and the trade rumors sure to swirl again about Upton, look for the D-backs to start working on a new deal for Kubel to lock him up long-term.
The first day of Cardinals camp Wednesday in Flagstaff brought me
back to the spring of 2003.
It was then that the Arizona Cardinals, coming off a 5-11 season
under coach Dave McGinnis were looking to make a splash in free
agency and defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday was their main
Holliday was the 19th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft for Green
Bay, had 8 sacks as a rookie and was a solid defensive lineman on
the free agent market after finishing his rookie contract.
I remember at the time fans and Cardinals brass being excited
about the visit that Holliday was making, but I also remember there
wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of them actually signing him. I
knew he was using the Cardinals to get more money somewhere
else and that ended up being Kansas City -- where he signed a
five-year, $21.3 million dollar deal with a $4 million signing bonus.
Now, nine years later, Holliday is entering his second season in
Arizona after coming over from Washington in the Tim Hightower
trade. Wednesday on the show, we
joked about how much things
have changed around here. With a new stadium, a front office
willing to spend money and continuity on the coaching front
Arizona is a place free agents want to consider, a destination that is
appealing to players.
"It starts at the top with coach Whiz," said Holliday. "He is a coach
players want to play for and with the addition of Ray Horton -- that
was huge. I wasn't sure that I wanted to pick up and move to the
west coast when the trade went down, but there was a lot of talent
on this team and this time around I wanted to play here."
When I asked Vonnie if there was ever a chance he would have
played here back in 2003 when he visited he looked at me and
simply said "no." When I asked him how bad it was he said "bad,
The Phoenix Suns supplied lots of fireworks Wednesday on
the most appropriate day of the year.
Things moved fast once they agreed to move Steve Nash to
the Lakers, ending an exciting and highly-successful era
Here is a breakdown of what transpired with my thoughts on
• Nash to the Lakers in exchange for two first and two
second round picks
Look, it sucks that Nash now plays for a bitter rival and
will wear purple and gold. But if we are being honest and
taking emotion out of it, this was the best
deal the Suns could have made.
New York was an option but
Steve's preferences were Los Angeles first, Toronto
second. If he would have signed with Toronto, the Suns
would have got nothing. Yes, he would have been gone
the border likely to never be heard from again, but
Phoenix would have lost a valuable player without any
In the NBA you build through the draft, so acquiring picks
is vital to success. I fully understand the Laker
picks should be low in the first round, but nonetheless
having those assets
gives you options. The Suns could package their first and
Lakers' first and move up in the draft. They could package
picks and make a trade or they could keep the picks and
hopefully end up with a good player.
Plus, there is no
guarantee the Lakers will be any good in 2015 when the
Suns get their second first round pick. The second round
picks are almost worthless, but they can allow you to take
a flyer on an overseas player or again use as part of a
Plain and simple, these picks help the rebuilding
process and the Suns needed to start rebuilding and need
to get younger. Suns brass did what was best for the
• Signing Michael Beasley to a three-year, $18 million
Michael Beasley is a high-maintenance risk. I am not a fan
of his at all, but the Suns believe he has matured and
that he is ready to turn the corner in his career. I have
To this point in his career Beasley has been a loser, yes
a loser. He is a low-character guy and a player Minnesota
has tried to trade for the last two years. So think about
that -- Minnesota a young, rebuilding team has no interest
in keeping a 23-year old player who was the second choice
in the draft a few years ago.
There is some potential here in that Beasley is highly-
skilled, something the Suns were sorely lacking. He didn't
cost a lot of
money or a lot of years with a three-year, $18 million
contract, so his salary won't handcuff the organization. I
just wouldn't let him hang out with Kendall Marshall and
have any influence on the rookie first round pick.
If the Suns had Amare, Nash and Hill and they added
Beasley, that's one thing. But they don't, so it's
another thing altogether. I understand the Suns need to
take a chance and maybe Beasley will prove me wrong, but I
fear disaster here.
• Goran Dragic signs a four-year contract
Goran Dragic is back and that is exciting because he
blossomed last year in Houston. He was the best free agent
point guard available after Nash and Deron Williams, so
this is a win-win for Phoenix.
The alternative was the fat and always out-of-shape
clubhouse lawyer Raymond Felton. Dragic is much better
than the 5-11 Felton, and at 6-foot-4, he can play with
Marshall, which is a big plus.
Dragic comes at a respectable price of $34 million over
four years. I love his work ethic and that he continues to
improve year after year. I believe in Marshall and may
have turned the reins over to him this year but the Suns
want to gradually bring him along and Dragic allows that.
Plus, if Marshall proves himself early in his career
Dragic is very tradeable, Felton is not.
The most dangerous time in the NBA season is upon us next
week and fans all across the country especially here in
Phoenix should be afraid. Be very afraid!
Free agency is fool's gold in this league, always has
been, always will be. Outside of Shaq to the Lakers
the current rules were put in place) and LeBron and Chris
Bosh taking their talent to South Beach, it is almost
impossible to build a championship team through free
agency. You can add pieces to a solid core, but more often
than not, teams overpay marginal players and place high
expectations on them only to see them fail.
This year, we'll see a lot more of the same as the free
agent class, outside of Deron Williams, is
garbage. There are a lot of role players looking to be
paid like stars and teams willing to give them that chance
to be a star. Like I said -- fool's gold.
The Suns need not be reminded of the offseason that was
Josh Childress, Hakeem Warrick and a trade for Hedo
Turkoglu. This year it will be wise for the Suns to sit on
their money, sign players to one-year contracts and
maintain cap space while improving their draft position.
The worst thing to do in this league is to try and remain
mediocre. You become not good enough to compete for a
title and not bad enough to get a top-five pick. The Suns
one of many teams in that boat right now.
Take Oklahoma City for instance. They drafted Kevin Durant
when they were still in Seattle, but instead of trying to
win with a veteran roster and maintain mediocrity, they
got rid of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Durant wasn't
ready to be a star at that time; his shot selection was
poor and his defense was atrocious. So they sucked -- and
it got them Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Now they
are the top team in the Western Conference. By being bad
for a few years they put themselves in a position to be
good. It's common sense, really.
But too often, teams are unwilling to suck it up.
to be a bad basketball team and take their lumps.
Unwilling to hit rock bottom. The worst thing you can
do is spend cap space on marginal role players, but it
happens all the time.
Just a few years ago, with $20
million in cap space, the Detroit Pistons spent it all on
Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and they have been
regretting it ever since.
The Chicago Bulls, when they
couldn't sign Tracy McGrady, wasted money on Brad Miller.
When they couldn't get LeBron James or Dwyane Wade they
wasted money on Carlos Boozer and are stuck with his bad
How quickly do you think the Knicks would give
back Amaré Stoudemire if they had a do-over? They'd do it
in a New York second. They got a good half season out of
STAT on a five-year contract. Not that Stoudemire was a
marginal role player. He was a very good player, but not a
superstar and injuries had taken their toll to the point
where the Suns had no interest in guaranteeing anything
more than three years on a deal.
One year the Knicks spent
a fortune on Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and Chris
Childs. End result -- no title.
Good teams are built through the draft and solid trades.
See Duncan, Parker, Ginobili in San Antonio. See Durant,
Westbrook and Harden in OKC. See Kobe, Bynum and Gasol
(trade) in Los Angeles. Even the Celtics won a title
through the draft. They drafted Al Jefferson and Delonte
West and used those picks to net them Ray Allen and Kevin
Garnett. If West and Jefferson had not panned out and
weren't so highly-coveted, they could have never gotten
Seattle and Minnesota to make deals with them. Plus, by
going 24-58 in 2006-07, they had the fifth pick in the
which they used along with West to get them Allen. So
having high draft picks gives you a much better chance of
drafting an impact player or parlaying that pick into a
good player via trade.
The message to the Suns this year is simple: be careful.
There are some decent players in free agency, but none
outside of Williams worth spending big dollars on.
Landry is a good player, big, strong, tough. But he has
knee problems and is best suited to be the sixth man on a
good team; not a starter on a bad team. Chris Kaman is a
mid-range shooting big man who can't play defense and is
as soft as tissue paper. Randy Foye is a nice role player
off the bench. Lou Williams is that typical combo guard
who can score but he doesn't get anyone else involved in
the offense, doesn't make anyone around him better. Even
their own Robin Lopez isn't worth the mid-level exception
and anyone who signs him will end up regretting it -- I
Ramon Sessions disappeared in the playoffs for the Lakers.
Raymond Felton is a disaster waiting to happen. He's
rarely in shape and single-handedly ruined the
Portland Trail Blazers and caused Nate McMillan to get
fired. O.J. Mayo will get $8 million plus per year from
someone, but let's hope it's not Phoenix. He came off the
bench in Memphis for a reason, and is not worth the big
dollars he is seeking.
Even a guy I really like -- Ersan Ilyasova, a 25-year old
power forward who can rebound -- is not
going to be worth the money he will get (likely in the $8
to $10 million range.) Ilyasova needs to be the fifth-best
player on a team. But at $10 million per year, he will be
expected to be the first, second or third-best. He is an
average shooter who can't create his own shot and
struggles defending in the low post. I love him at $5
million a year because he has a knack for rebounding. But
double that salary, and it's double trouble.
The object for the Suns isn't to reward middle-of-the road
players with undeserved contracts. That only leads to
winning enough games to prevent you from getting into
position to draft a franchise-changing player with a top-
The goal is not to be mediocre. So resist the temptation
to sign marginal role players and instead save the cap
space until a gem comes along. Sign players to one-year
deals like they did with Shannon Brown last year. Bite the
bullet for a few years, take your lumps, but in the
process, put yourself in position to draft high in the
lottery -- or trade those high lottery picks for some real
If things are going to change around here, that is the way
it is going to happen. It's not going to happen by
fielding a team of overpaid role players.
The time has come. No more excuses. Justin Upton has to
put this Arizona Diamondbacks team on his back and carry
them. He may be only 24-years-old, but he has played in
the major leagues since 2007, he has over 600 games and
over 2,200 at-bats on his resume. The Arizona Diamondbacks
are struggling to win baseball games and Upton is off to
an awful start through the first six weeks. He is hitting
.235 with three home runs and nine runs batted in. And
frankly that is unacceptable for a player of his caliber.
The first thing Upton needs to do is get in the cage with
Don Baylor and fix all the holes in his swing and stop
giving away at-bats. Right now his inability to hit with
runners in scoring position is killing this team. He has
just two hits in 22 at-bats with runners in scoring
position, which is .091.
Nothing was more evident of his struggles with runners on
base then during Monday night's 9-6 loss to the Cardinals.
In the bottom of the first inning after falling behind 3-
0, Gerrado Parra tripled leading off the inning. Upton
then proceeded to strike out and Parra was eventually left
stranded at third. Upton has to get that run in, somehow,
someway. And he doesn't need a base hit to do it. Too many
times this year Upton has failed to get runs across the
plate in crucial situations.
But the time to end this slump is right now. And although
the lineup has experience, it is Upton who has the ability
to carry it for a week to ten days and get Arizona back on
track. He needs to shorten up his swing and drive the
ball. He needs to get hot because if he gets hot it
changes the entire lineup and the way opposing pitchers
Upton can strike fear into a pitcher. He can hit for
power, as evidenced by his 31 homers last year. When he's
right, his presence makes everyone else in the lineup
Right now Upton is an easy out. There is no fear when he
comes to the plate, no reason to pitch around him. And
that has to change. Because this team ultimately goes as
Upton goes. Other players can get hot at times and have a
good season, but no one player can affect the game
offensively as much as Upton with his combination of power
It's hard not to like what the Cardinals did in the NFL
Michael Floyd was a need and a necessity as the Cardinals
have struggled with finding a #2 receiver ever since they
decided not to pay Anquan Boldin the money he wanted and
shipped him to Baltimore.
Steve Breaston and Early Doucet both failed to produce the
way a second receiver should, and while you may think that
some of that is on the quarterback, all you need to do is
look at Larry Fitzgerald's production to realize that good
receivers find ways to make plays. So getting a solid
physical receiver in Floyd was crucial for the Cardinals
Not having a second-round pick hurt initially, especially
when you saw the run on offensive tackles in that round,
but one tackle expected to go in that round fell to the
Cardinals in the fourth round and that was Bobby Massie of
It's hard not to love this pick, as Massie could start at
right tackle immediately. Massie was highly productive in
a conference that is dominated by pass rushers and
defensive line play -- the SEC. I was actually hoping they
were going to draft him in the third round.
I also like third-round pick Jamell Fleming of
Oklahoma, especially when you figure he went up against
great receivers in the Big 12 and practiced against
wideout Ryan Broyles -- who went to the Detroit Lions in
the second round -- on a regular basis. Some of you may
remember Fleming returing a pick for an interception in
the Fiesta Bowl vs UConn last year. Arizona may have found
the compliment to Patrick Peterson at the other cornerback
spot, or at least someone to push Greg Toler, who missed
all of last season due to injury.
I wasn't in favor of getting a guard early,
especially with all the talk of David DeCastro of Stanford
in the first round because Arizona spent free agent money
on Darryn Colledge and Adam Snyder in the past two years.
But nabbing depth with Senio Kelemente of Washington in
the 5th round was a nice get. Kelemente is versatile like
Snyder because he can play guard and tackle.
I'm not the only one to not know much about 6th round
pick Justin Bethel out of Presbyterian, but all you need
to do is look at the YouTube video of him box
jumping 60 inches and you can tell the kid is a freak
athlete that may be worth developing as a safety. Nothing
wrong with grabbing San Diego State quarterback Ryan
Lindley with their second sixth round pick, as he had a
lot of success in the Mountain West Conference and heck,
someone needs to hold the clipboard. Boise State tackle
Nate Potter in the seventh round just adds more depth and
competition on the offensive line, and we all know that is
just what they needed.
So in a nutshell three offensive lineman were drafted,
as well as a dominant wide receiver, two secondary players
and a quarterback. To win in this league you need to build
through the draft and on paper this looks like a solid
There are five games left in the regular season and I have
no idea whether the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs or
But I do know this: Alvin Gentry deserves a contract
extension regardless of what happens.
I don't usually pine for coaches to get extension. In
fact, for me it's just the opposite, as I tend to be
vocal about calling for coaches to get fired when it's
obvious their time has come. But Gentry, who will be
entering the final year of his contract next season, has
done something special this year and I believe that this
is his best head coaching job of his 11-year career.
This takes nothing away from the fantastic job he did in
2009-10 when he guided the Suns to a 54-win season and
into the Western Conference Finals where they were ousted
by the Lakers. He did a great job that year too,
especially when everyone and their mother thought that the
window had closed on Phoenix.
But this year is different. This is a collection of
misfits no matter what the front office thinks about these
players. Yes, he has the aging war horses in Steve Nash
and Grant Hill. But somehow Gentry has managed to make
chicken soup out of chicken scratch with this roster. I
mean come on -- Sebastian Telfair a solid backup point
guard, seriously? Who would have thunk that? Michael Redd
reborn? Shannon Brown dominating offensively to the point
where he is likely to get a multi-year contract from some
team in this league. Robin Lopez, who the team tried to
give away for a first-round draft pick, any first-round
draft pick, at the trade deadline but found no takers, all
of a sudden playing solid defense and contributing
offensively. How about Josh Childress left for dead on the
end of the bench now coming in and playing shut down
defense in important games.
I means seriously, if this isn't the best job Gentry has
ever done than I don't know what is. This Suns squad is
not supposed to be a playoff team. Heck, they are not even
supposed to be in contention let alone owning the eighth
and final spot which they have now by virtue of their win
over Portland Monday night coupled with Houston's loss to
Denver. Even Nash has said on more than one occasion this
year that this team lacks talent.
And Nash is right. They were supposed to glide to the
draft lottery with a bunch of ping pong balls and a shot
at a top-5 pick. They were supposed to be so far out of it
come the trade deadline that Nash would be suiting up for
some contender while Phoenix stockpiled draft picks and
young talent. Come on we all thought that especially when
Phoenix was a ho-hum 12-19 earlier in the season. You had
visions of Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suiting
up for the Suns. But Gentry found a way to turn this thing
around as the Suns have had a 10-game difference in the
standings since that 12-19 record and now they stand at
32-29 and on the verge of making the playoffs.
No one quit on Gentry when the team was struggling. No one
asked management to fire him. No one complained about the
amount of time they spent in the doghouse and quite a few
of them spent some serious time in there. They just kept
playing hard and overcoming adversity, like beating the
Clippers without Nash or Hill.
Maybe Gentry gets this team to the playoffs, maybe he
doesn't. Either way, he did more with this team than he
probably should have, and for that he deserves to not go
into the final year of his contract as a lame duck coach,
but to be rewarded with an extension.
The Lisa Love firing should come as no surprise to anyone
associated with Arizona State University or anyone who is
a fan of the maroon and gold.
In her seven years as the Athletic Director, Love clearly
failed to bring ASU the athletic success it has so
desperately wanted or the funds it so desperately needed.
When your best sports program is arguably the women's
softball team, you have issues.
And ASU has issues.
Under her watch Love saw Arizona State put on two years
probation for lack of institutional control, extended the
contract of Dirk Koetter only to fire him 11 months later
(costing the university some $2.8 million dollars), hired
Dennis Erickson -- who failed to bring ASU football out of
mediocrity, and apparently hired June Jones to be the new
football coach only to have the negative backlash make ASU
go in another direction. Love's watch also saw the ASU
baseball program hit with seven major violations, and she
extended Herb Sendek's contract this year in the midst of
a miserable season (10-21, 6-12) which saw one player
(Keala King) dismissed from the team and two others
disciplined. After Trent Lockett transfers it will mark
the 11th player to leave the Sun Devils basketball program
with eligibility remaining since 2008.
You have to wonder now whether Sendek, extension or not,
will survive with a new regime in place led by Steve
Patterson, who has a strong basketball background.
All in all Love was a terrible hire by Michael Crow. She
failed to win over the alumni base, failed to win over the
fan base and was generally considered unapproachable.
At the time, it was a questionable move. Letting a star
player go in his prime. But now almost two years removed
from letting Amar'e Stoudemire walk and sign a maximum 5-
year deal worth $100 million dollars with the New York
Knicks, it's safe to say the Phoenix Suns did the right
The Suns' medical staff had warned management and
ownership that Stoudemire's troublesome knees would not
hold up over the length of the contract. They figured that
he might be able to get two or three years out of the
surgically repaired knees, but definitely not five. The
feeling was that the microfracture surgery he had in 2005
would allow him to play at best another seven years before
severely limiting his ability to play the way he was
accustomed to playing.
The Suns, even with that information, attempted to sign
Stoudemire to a five-year contract extension but with the
player assuming some of the risk. The Suns wanted to
guarantee him three years and have the final two years
based on playing time in years three and four. If
Stoudemire would have stayed relatively healthy he could
have cashed in his $100 million in Phoenix. If not, he
would have received roughly $60 million. But the power
forward/center was insistent upon a fully guaranteed
maximum contract even though his knees were uninsurable.
Stoudemire talked to the Heat, but after they brought in
LeBron James and Chris Bosh, he was left with the Knicks
as the one team offering him a contract he couldn't
refuse. New York then completed a sign and trade with
Phoenix in which the Suns got a $16.5 million trade
exception. The Knicks also went after some of the big free
agents like James that year but came away empty. They had
money to burn and needed to make a splash. So they were
the team that brought in Stoudemire regardless of his past
In year one with the Knicks, Stoudemire flourished. He
played well averaging 25.3 points and 8.1 rebounds and
helping New York make the playoffs. In the four-game sweep
at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Stoudemire hurt his
back. In the series, he averaged 14.5 points and 7.8
And now in the midst of the worst season of his career
where he is averaging just 17.6 points and shooting .477,
it is obvious that he is not the same player he once was
having lost the explosion that once made him great,
Stoudemire is hurt again. A bulging disk in his back
threatening to sideline him for the rest of the season.
And with the Knicks having $65 million left on that
contract and no ability to amnesty him because they
already used that option on Chauncey Billups, New York
could be in salary cap hell if Stoudemire can't return to
form. While no one knows for sure, the Suns' medical staff
did believe at the time that Stoudemire's knee injuries
would lead to other significant injuries. So it's quite
possible the various knee injuries are causing the current
The Knicks are one of of the few teams that can afford to
pay the luxury tax, which is why they can make mistakes
like Stoudemire and find a way to deal with it. The Suns
are not. They could not have had three years of dead money
on their roster and weren't willing to take the chance of
having to pay a player for multiple injury prone years
without the benefit of insurance.
Now what Phoenix did after losing Stoudemire can not be
open for debate. They flat out screwed up in signing Hakim
Warrick, Josh Childress and trading for Hedo Turkoglu. The
Suns rebounded from the Turkoglu disaster by pulling off a
good trade that netted Marcin Gortat from Orlando. But
still, they didn't spend their money wisely after losing a
dominant big man who led them to two Western Conference
Finals appearances in his eight years in the desert.
So while neither team has really benefited, at least the
Suns aren't stuck with that massive contract on an injured
player who his a shell of his former self.
If the Arizona Cardinals are truly interested in
Peyton Manning, aren't they admitting that they are not
settled at the quarterback spot?
And if they aren't, why stop at Manning? Look, I
understand fully the attraction to sign a quarterback
who won a Super Bowl, won four MVP awards, has thrown for
399 touchdowns and 54,828 yards and has 141 wins.
I get it.
Nothing not to like about trying to lure Manning here to
But if not Manning, why settle for what you already have?
Clearly, more than half the teams in the league have no
interest in Manning and that's because they believe in the
signal caller they have.
Arizona is not in that boat.
They have major questions at the position. Kevin Kolb
missed seven games due to a concussion and turf toe in his
first year with the Redbirds and, when he did play, he
wasn't very good, throwing eight interceptions and being
sacked 30 times.
Second-year quarterback John Skelton won games, going 6-2
as a starter, but he did throw 14 interceptions to just 11
touchdowns and was sacked 23 times.
Clearly the organization isn't sold on either one of these
So I ask again, why just stop at Manning? Why not consider
trading up for Robert Griffin, signing free agent Matt
Flynn or even considering another quarterback later in the
Look I know the Cardinals have needs, especially on the
offensive line and they don't have a second round pick
thanks to the Kolb trade. But make no mistake about it
-- you don't win in this league without an elite
quarterback and, right now, you have to question whether
Arizona has one.
Most experts will say no.
So if Arizona makes a pitch for Manning and it fails, why
not kick the tires on Flynn, who started the final regular
season game of the season against Detroit and set a Green
Bay franchise record for yards passing (480) and
Or why not give up your first round pick this year and
next plus an extra pick or two to get what many consider
to be a franchise quarterback in Griffin?
Look, Arizona could keep their picks, draft an offensive
lineman and keep Kolb and Skelton.
Will that create any buzz? Will they be a serious
contender? Probably not.
Get a franchise quarterback and everything changes -- just
look at Kurt Warner to see what having a great quarterback
I am all in on going after Manning. Roll the dice, why
not? What do you have to lose?
Nothing but money.
If it works it could be magic, if it doesn't you can
always say you tried and were committed to winning.
Definitely worth a chance.
But if Arizona fails on delivering Manning, they shouldn't
give up on looking for that franchise quarterback. Because
in this league, you don't go anywhere without one.
The Ryan Braun story is top news and rightfully so.
There are many who are happy that Braun won his appeal and
many who aren't. To me the main story has little to do
with the decision by the arbitrator, it has everything to
do with how did we get back to this point. I had hoped we
were done with the steroid era and the suspicions of
cheating in baseball. Gone are Rafael Palmiero, Mark
McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and most
of the others we associate with cheating the game.
You see, what makes baseball so special to me is its
history and tradition. I know football is king now, but
how many of you can name even 10 football players pre-
1970? Not many of you. But in baseball we know all about
Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan
Musial, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio etc…. So to
me the worst part of the steroid era was having precious
records broken by those who cheated the game. Having the
single-season home-run record of Roger Maris, one of the
great records in all of sports, demolished by cheaters
hurt me and many baseball diehards.
So it was great to see Major League Baseball come up with
a comprehensive drug testing policy that was going to keep
the cheaters from cheating. Keep the records from being
shattered by those not playing fair. We can't do anything
about the numbers that Sosa, McGwire, Palmiero and Clemens
put up now. Their doom is in the public perception of them
now - their legacies are tarnished, they are branded as
cheaters. Most of those cheaters will never get into the
Hall of Fame without a ticket. And for that I am grateful.
What is Braun's end result? Why did he test positive? Why
was his testosterone level 5x higher than normal? If there
is an answer to that will he take it to the grave with him
or someday tell us his secret? I thought Pete Rose would
go to his grave with his secret,
but eventually he spilled his guts and let the world know
he was betting on baseball.
No matter what the end result
is for Braun, the perception of him as a cheater will
follow him throughout his career and beyond. And the
belief that we had passed the era of players cheating is
now gone. In some ways we are back to square one, not
trusting the players and not trusting the testing policy.
So, 111 million people watched the Super Bowl. That's not
surprise when you realize the popularity of the National
It has long been debated as to why the
NFL reigns supreme over other sports with many people
believing that fantasy football was the driving force
along with gambling. But I'm not buying that. Sure,
they're a factor, probably big ones, but I truly believe
the reason that the NFL is so much more popular now than
my favorite sport -- baseball -- is because of our
attention span. Yes, our attention span. We as a society
have a hard time following a 162 or 82-game schedule. We
love the NFL because for the most part, it
occupies our time just once per week for about 20 weeks.
We have no issues dedicating 4 or 8 hours on a Sunday to
the sport then not watching another game for another week.
Sure, there are Monday nights and soon to be every
night, but once a week on a day most people have off gets
the job done in the NFL. It doesn't in baseball,
basketball and hockey where following those sports
requires daily attention.
In the day and age of hundreds and hundreds of television
channels, there are far more options now then ever before
on the tube. Televisions are gigantic and come with
surround sound and high defnition capability, making the
viewing experience that much
better. When I was a kid growing up, we had one television
in the house, you had maybe 12 channels to choose from and
if you wanted to change the channel or the volume you had
to get your butt off the couch and go change it by hand.
No remote control. And for the most part you focused on
your local teams, although Cubs games were always on WGN
from what I remember.
Today any sports fan, anywhere, can
watch whatever game they want. But now you also can watch
movies on your own television without leaving the house to
rent them. There are more options for entertainment then
ever before and some of those options outweigh the desire
to watch professional baseball, basketball or hockey. Most
people can name 3-5 televisions shows that are on during
the week. I'm not sure anyone can tell us what is on
Sunday afternoon besides football!
Football moves fast and satisfies our need for violence.
It is played in front of packed houses which make the
viewing experience, both in person and on television,
great. The vast majority of players are from the United
States, all of them speak English and many of them we
watched in college because college football is extremely
popular. We know Tom Brady went to Michigan, Peyton
Manning went to Tennessee, Eli Manning went to Ole Miss,
Aaron Rogers played at Cal, Cam Newton went to Auburn,
Andrew Luck went to Stanford etc... We can relate to these
players better than we can do European basketball players
or basketball players who most spent one year in college,
Latin baseball players and European hockey players.
Look, there is no one answer for why the NFL is so
popular. There are many reasons. But I do believe our
attention span is shorter today then in past generations
for obvious reasons of the technology era -- Facebook,
Twitter, iPhones, iPads, iTunes, text messaging, Pandora,
Skype, Xboxes, hundreds of television shows, etc.
We can concentrate on one game a week a lot better than we
can concentrate on one game every day for six months
It is time for the Phoenix Suns to recognize that Robin
Lopez will never amount to anything more than a below-
average backup center. And once they do that they need to
find a team that is willing to trade for the 7-footer who
was the 15th pick in the 2008 NBA draft out of Stanford.
Lopez is hurting the Phoenix Suns. He is taking playing
time away from players more deserving of it and his
volatile demeanor is a negative in the locker room. His
intentional bumping of an official in a game
against the Toronto Raptors should be the last straw.
There is no place for Lopez's antics on this team and he
is likely to be suspended and fined for his actions
Tuesday night. I understand he is young and has size and
that you hate giving up on a first-round pick. But the
Suns have given up on plenty of first-round picks lately -
see Earl Clark, Alando Tucker, Casey Jacobsen, Zarko
Lopez is averaging 4.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14
minutes per game. His career averages are 5.8 points and
3.3 rebounds. I'm sure they can get that type of
production signing someone out of the D-League.
decided not to sign Lopez to a contract extension by
Wednesday deadline, so he will be a restricted free agent
the end of the season. I had heard rumblings of him
wanting in the neigborhood of $6 million per season on a
The Suns did the right thing because Lopez is a dime a
dozen player, not worthy of a contract of any length of
time for any significant money. Find a taker, trade him
The most important date on the calendar this season for
the Phoenix Suns is March 15th, and it has nothing to do
with a date in L.A. against Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and
the Clippers that night.
No, March 15th is the NBA trade deadline and the biggest
question surrounding the Suns is whether Steve Nash will
be wearing purple and orange that night in Los Angeles or
be on his way to a contender as part of a
The Suns have never seriously considered trading Nash
before, although there were talks in the past mainly with
the Portland Trail Blazers. But nothing ever came of
those discussions because nothing serious was offered in
The Suns are going nowhere fast this season. Their
chances of making the playoffs are slim. The reality is
that they just aren't very good, a team surrounded by
role players making a lot of money but no stars. Nash is
still a premier point guard in the league even at
close to 38-years-old, and there will be a few teams that
have interest in trading for him -- mainly the Los Angeles
Lakers -- but making a deal will be extremely difficult
without taking back an undesirable contract or two.
Let's start with the Lakers. They need a point guard in
the worst way because neither Derek Fisher nor Steve Blake
is very good. Putting Nash with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol
and Andrew Bynum makes the Lakers a threat again in the
West and allows them to possibly hold off the tidal wave
that the Clippers have created with the addition of Chris
Paul. The Lakers do have the Mavericks first-round pick
this year which is attractive, but that is all they have
that Phoenix would want. To make a deal work for teams
above the salary cap the money must come within 25% of
each other. So trading Nash and his $11.6 million salary
means Phoenix must take back at least $9 million in
salary. The Lakers would love to rid themselves of Ron
Artest (Metta World Peace) and the $15 million he is due
over the next two years. Same for Luke Walton and the $6.1
million he is due next season. They do not have an
expiring contract that Phoenix can acquire and the Suns
can not amnesty a player that they trade for so they would
be stuck with those players if they traded for them. So
making a trade with the Lakers seems almost impossible
without absorbing more bad contracts. The first-round pick
is attractive but not at the expense of taking on a player
who can't play any longer and is tied up for two more
years. A first-round pick in the 20's is valued at around
$3 million dollars so taking back $15 million in a
contract to get a pick worth around $3 million is not good
The other team that we can envision wanting Nash is the
Knicks, but chances are New York will just wait until the
end of the season and get him for the mid-level as a free
agent without giving up any players. The one player the
Suns would love to acquire from New York is rookie Iman
Shumpert, who Phoenix desperately tried to get in the
draft by acquiring a second first-round pick. But the
Knicks are unlikely to trade a young, popular player who
is having success and doesn't cost much. And ownership and
management are unlikely to allow Mike D'Antoni to call the
shots on a trade for Nash because there are rumblings he
won't be back next year. The Knicks do not have a first-
round pick in this draft and besides Shumpert, there is
nothing on the roster that Phoenix would want and making
the money work would be near impossible with the Knicks'
salary structure. The Knicks also have Baron Davis close
to playing and feel they can ride out the season with him
rather than trade for Nash now.
Miami has come up as a possible destination in the past
but again, no they don't have a first-round pick and
nothing of value that the Suns would want via trade. There
are a lot of quality point guards in the league so not
many teams would have interest in Nash if he is available.
What those teams have are bad contracts that they would
love to dump on the Suns. Phoenix needs to avoid adding a
bad contract or two at all costs. It is more important for
the Suns to preserve the precious cap space they will have
for future years rather than trade for more below average
role players who make a lot of money. The Suns have enough
of those guys.
So while everyone wants the Suns to trade Nash and get
draft picks and young players, that is easier said than
done. Chances are that March 15th in Los Angeles, Nash
will be suiting up for the Suns and riding out his final
season in Phoenix. And it won't be because the Suns didn't
try to make a deal, it will be because there are no good
deals out there, only bad ones.
It's a good thing that Arizona State Athletic Director Lisa Love didn't give
head football coach Dennis Erickson a contract extension after that big 43-
22 win over USC in the fourth game of the season or after the win over
Utah put ASU in the driver's seat of the Pac-12 South with a 5-1 record.
Because after back-to-back inexcusable losses, Erickson's time in the
desert needs to be over. While the loss to a bad UCLA team was bad
enough, the loss Saturday night in Pullman to Washington State is
incomprehensible, absolutely inexcusable.
It's not just that Washington State is a bad team, it's a bad program. The
Cougars haven't had a winning season since 2003, their head coach -- who is
likely to be fired -- Paul Wulff, has a record of 9-38 in three years. In the past
three years they have averaged 2.7, 2.4 and 2.3 yards per carry so they
can't run. In the past three seasons they have given up an average of 248,
236 and 220 yards on the ground so they can't stop the run.
So when Arizona State couldn't move the ball on the ground against this
team something is really wrong. Even San Diego State, which beat the
Cougars by 18 earlier in the season, put up 500 yards and 227 rushing
How Washington State can have a redshirt freshman who was third-string a
few months ago come off the bench and light ASU up for almost 500 yards
is mind-bogging. Conner Halliday's 494 yards passing with no
interceptions and four TD passes was the most yards ever put up by a
Washington State quarterback in a winning effort. Leave it to the Devils to
let some kid come out of nowhere and make him look like Andrew Luck.
Somehow, ASU allowed 223 yards receiving to Marquess Wilson, 155 to
Isiah Barton and 63 to Jared Karstetter. Needless to say, the Sun Devils
secondary forgot to make the trip to this game as that was absolutely the
most pathetic performance by this defense this season and possibly one of
the worst in the Erickson era.
You can make the argument that Arizona State can still come out on top in
the Pac-12 South and you may be right. But does it really matter now? This
was supposed to be a special season with 17 starters back, a slew of
seniors and seven home games on the schedule. Now with losses to Oregon, to
a very average Illinois team and to bad teams in UCLA and Washington
State, this season is anything but special. Even if they find a way to beat out
UCLA and Utah all they are doing is earning the right to get slaughtered by
Erickson is 64 years old and has one year left on his contract. With one year
left it is almost impossible to recruit so he is either getting a contract extension, getting fired or retiring with a year left on his deal. With a
record at Arizona State of 31-28, it is obvious that the Sun Devils under
Erickson are very mediocre and with new Pac-12 television money coming
in and lots of empty seats at Sun Devils home games, it is time to find a
coach that can do more than be average.
Arizona State as a university has to decide just how bad they want to win in
football. Do they want to make the commitment necessary to be relevant or
are they content just being mediocre? Right now it's hard to believe that
they want to be great. It's hard to believe that they care enough about
Firing Erickson will be a start in telling its fans that they no longer want to
settle for mediocrity.
There is no reason to think that the Arizona Diamondbacks
can't pull off on Friday what has never been done before
since baseball switched to the current playoff format in
1995: winning the NLDS after losing the first two games.
That's right, while it has been accomplished four times in
the American League, no National League team in 19
attempts has come back to win a series after dropping the
first two. So why shouldn't Arizona be the first?
For the Milwaukee Brewers to advance they will have to
beat Cy Young candidate Ian Kennedy a second time in five
days, and that will not be easy. Kennedy was ready to
pitch Wednesday on three days' rest but manager Kirk
Gibson chose Joe Saunders, and although the veteran lefty
only lasted three innings, Gibson's decision paid off. Now
Kennedy goes on full rest against Brewers ace Yovani
Gallardo in a winner takes all matchup. And Kennedy will
have learned from his mistakes in Game 1 and have a better
approach in dealing with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Chris Young Wednesday night after the game talked about
jumping on Gallardo early and that will be the key. Home
field has proven to be huge in this series so far and
Milwaukee did have the best home record in the Major
Leagues at 57-24. But jumping on Gallardo early could take
the Miller Park crowd out of the game, and that would be
huge because home teams feed off the adrenaline they get
from the fans.
What we learned about Milwaukee is that they didn't have
the killer instinct, the ability to step on the D-backs'
throats and put Arizona away. Now Arizona is back in the
series and swinging the bats well with five players
hitting over .350. The one player that may need to get his
game on track for Game 5 is Justin Upton, who is hitting
just .188 and not looking good or comfortable at the
plate. It looks like Upton is expanding the strike zone
and trying to hit home runs. Maybe watching all of his
teammates hit the long ball has him trying to do the same,
but Upton needs to get back to driving the ball because a
big game from him could be the difference in Game 5.
Sometimes you need to cut your losses while you can. Admit your mistake and move on. Such is the case for the Arizona Cardinals and running back Chester Taylor.
It was a mistake from the day they signed him and it will continue to be a mistake as long as they keep him on the roster, and this isn't second guessing after Taylor's awful performance in his first significant action in an Arizona uniform.
His career is over, has been for a few years now he just doesn't know it.
Taylor averaged a pathetic 2.4 yards per carry with Chicago last year. In the last four years Taylor's numbers have fallen as fast as the Red Sox wild card lead in September, from 5.4 in 2007, to 4.0 in 2008, 3.6 in 2009 and 2.4 last year.
Against the Seahawks Taylor had nine carries for 20 yards before getting pulled in the middle of a drive for an undrafted free agent named Alfonso Smith.
This after Taylor had four carries for a total of four yards on a drive that resulted in a field goal.
You can say he has only been in the offense for a week, but he has been in the NFL for 10 years. It's not the system, it's his legs. The Cardinals would have beaten Seattle if they had a better option to replace the injured Beanie Wells.
Now I do understand that the Cardinals were desperate to bring in a running back after trading Tim Hightower and having their second-round draft pick Ryan Williams go down for the season with a patella tendon injury, but did they have to sign a 32-year-old retread who doesn't have any tread left on those tires?
Former Sun Devil Dimitri Nance, who had a good camp in Green Bay, was available and still is. Another option is Steve Slaton, who was released by the Houston Texans Tuesday. Regardless, I would have rather seen the Cardinals go with a younger player because no position in this league wears down as fast as running back.
Now the Cardinals will likely give Taylor another chance, but they don't need to. They know what they have in him.
Just look at the NL West Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. They signed or traded for Melvin Mora, Aaron Heilman, Juan Miranda and Russell Branyan, and when they didn't produce they cut their losses buy cutting the players. No sense holding onto unproductive players to save face. You have to strive to be better.
There has to be a better player available right now than Chester Taylor. It's only been a couple games, but I've seen enough. Cardinals need to give Taylor his pink slip.
You can make the argument that the best defense is a good offense, and in the case of the Arizona Cardinals you would be right.
The Cardinals defense through two games has been statistically one of the worst in the organization's history, having allowed 477 yards and 455 yards in their first two games. Last season the Cardinals ranked 29th in the NFL in yards allowed per game at 373.6 and things aren't getting better, they are getting worse.
The Cardinals can't contain a tight end. Carolina's Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen combined for 7 receptions for 129 yards and Washington's Fred Davis hauled in 6 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. They couldn't stop the pass in either game, as Cam Newton threw for 422 yards and Rex Grossman 291 yards. After allowing 7 receivers to gain over 100 yards receiving last season they opened the season by allowing Steve Smith to go for 178 yards. And after stopping the run versus Carolina they gave up a whopping 172 yards rushing to the Redskins, allowing Tim Hightower to rush for a 4.8 yard per carry average and Roy Helu 7.4 yards per carry.
So clearly the Cardinals look lost on defense. And it doesn't help that Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt continues to love the pass. Granted this is a passing league and the running game has taken a back seat, but just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you have to. The Cardinals followed up a terrific opening week by Beanie Wells, who had 18 carries for 90 yards, by giving him less carries the next week. With their quarterback taking hit after hit against the Redskins Wells had just 14 carries but still managed 93 yards and a very solid 6.6 yard per carry average.
Nothing was more evident of the Cardinals inability to call the right plays then when they got the ball back against the Redskins with 5 minutes left in the game and a 2 point lead and went three and out after two incomplete passes followed a 3-yard run by Wells. Good teams can close out a game running the football, moving the chains and keeping the clock moving. Arizona threw two incomplete passes which stopped the clock and gave the Redskins plenty of time to get the ball back and kick the winning field goal. No matter how much this is a passing league you must be able to close out a game running the football, and Arizona doesn't seem to know how to do that right now or maybe it doesn't want to do that.
Clearly Beanie Wells has been the biggest surprise of the offense thus far. He is running with authority, hitting the holes and producing!. So it is mind boggling to think that Arizona coaches could devise a game plan that had him getting less carries in week two after his solid week one performance. Especially when you consider that the only true way to protect this atrocious defense is to keep it off the field. And you don't do that with drives of 1:28, :38, 4:24, 1:28, :31, 1:33 and :49 seconds.
Arizona made no commitment to run the ball in the first half and very little in the second half and hung this pathetic defense out to dry. Memo to the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff -- Running the ball takes time off the clock and keeps your defense off the field and this defense needs to be kept off the field.
Arizona needs to shorten the game. No matter how much they love the passing game they need to do it to save their defense. Shorten the game by running the ball more, it's the only way. Give Wells the rock 25 times a game and let him do his damage. Have a balanced offense, not one in which you run the ball just 33% of the time. Sure Larry Fitzgerald may catch a few less passes and Kevin Kolb may not throw for 300 yards but it sure beats the alternative -- giving up almost 500 yards per game!
It was nice after an offseason of high-profile scandals and conference realignments to finally get to some Saturday football.
While Miami and Ohio State played shorthanded this week due to suspensions and all of the remaining Big 12 teams played under a cloud of uncertainty, we did find out quite a bit about the season in Week One.
For starters, the newly-formed Pac-12 did not have a good week. Oregon, a favorite to win the national championship, was mauled by LSU. They turned the ball over four times and star running back LaMichael James was held in check gaining just 54 yards on 18 carries. Oregon averaged 47 points a game last season but in its last two games, including last season's national championship game, against SEC teams they have scored a total of 46 points. I don't care what anyone says about how the SEC's speed is the key to its success -- the conference has won the last five BCS National Championships -- the key to the success of that league is the strength of its defensive lines and ability to shut players like James down.
Outside of Oregon's loss, Oregon State had an embarrassing overtime loss at home to Sacramento State of the FCS.
So much for Rick Neuheisel returning prominence to UCLA. The Bruins lost to Houston and Neuheisel, who is beginning his fourth year as the Bruins' head coach. He is 15-23 overall.
Both USC and Washington squeaked out wins. The Trojans, still suffering from the loss of 30 scholarships, needed an interception in the final minute by Torin Harris to hold off Minnesota 19-17.
Washington needed an end zone interception by Desmond Trufant to beat FCS champ Eastern Washington, 30-27.
Colorado began its first season in the Pac-12 by getting doubled up by Hawaii, 34-17.
Outside of the Pac-12, we did see some huge upsets including TCU getting beat by Baylor and Notre Dame losing to South Florida. We now have quarterback controversy in South Bend and we are only one week into the season. Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly, who looked like he popped a few blood vessels when screaming at one of his wide receivers after an interception near the end zone, benched Dayne Crist for Tommy Rees.
Auburn should have lost to Utah State. That was one of the games I watched and I'm still not sure how the Tigers pulled that one out. Utah State had that game won.
The other thing that was of notice to me was just how good the wide receivers are this year. Michael Floyd, caught 12 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns for the Irish. Kendall Wright, made 12 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns for Baylor. Ryan Broyles caught 14 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown for Oklahoma. Justin Blackmon caught eight passes for 144 yards for Oklahoma State. Robert Woods made 17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns for USC.
All in all, it was a good week for some talented wideouts and it was a good week for the fans to put all the off-field incidents behind them and watch some football.
It is now safe to look at the calendar. Yes, it is August, soon to be September, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are thisclose to winning the National League West and heading to the playoffs. But to get there Kirk Gibson is going to have to go against his better judgment and start riding his horses while keeping the ponies in the barn.
Nothing against Sean Burroughs, Collin Cowgill, Henry Blanco and Cody Ransom, but this is the stretch run of a pennant race and the Diamondback regulars can rest all off-season. Right now it is time to ride Willie Bloomquist, Miguel Montero, Ryan Roberts, Chris Young and Justin Upton all the way to the finish line.
How Upton can get a day off in the midst of a pennant race is beyond me. I'm sure the 2001 Diamondback core starters didn't get many days off with five weeks left in the season and neither should this group. If Gibson wants to rest some of his players, do it in blowout games. There will be enough one-sided games where the starters can come out early if need be and get a couple of innings off here and there. And I have no issues with taking Upton out for a late-inning defensive replacement.
Look, Arizona struggled against two of the best teams in baseball in the Phillies and the Braves. They didn't hit and I certainly didn't expect them to. Those teams have excellent pitching and everything the D-backs saw was away, away, away. Nothing over the heart of the plate. But if the D-backs are going to go down swinging they need to do it with their big guns.
Cowgill is batting .152 and has gotten 15 at bats in the last 6 games. Those at bats should have gone to Gerardo Parra, who is hitting .286 and needs to be in the lineup every day. Cody Ransom hit a huge two-run home run to beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers a few weeks ago, but that is his only homer on the season and after going 0-for-4 Monday night vs Washington he is hitting .152 for the season. Bloomquist has been the heart-and-soul for Arizona this year and is hitting a respectable .262. And he doesn't need much rest seeing as he has only played in 76 games and has only 271 at bats. No need to rest him, he's fresh now. Blanco has done a nice job as the backup catcher this year and should play in day games after night games, but that's about it. Montero is one of the better offensive catchers in baseball and he has done a great job recently of throwing out runners. Burroughs got three starts in the six games against Philadelphia and Atlanta and went 2-for-12. Sorry, but I'd rather just have Roberts out there day in and day out at this point.
It's not that Gibby's philosophy of playing everyone didn't work. It has gotten Arizona to this point. But the whole point of resting the starters is to have them fresh for this very moment, for the stretch run so you can run them out there and let them carry this team to the playoffs.
There is a player on this team that needs playing time off the bench, Lyle Overbay. But that is because he is a veteran who understands how to play the game -- see his performance against Roy Halladay in the first game against Philadelphia. Cowgill and Ransom lack the necessary experience.
Arizona has inquired about Edgar Renteria, who cleared waivers in Cincinnati, and are looking for a veteran shortstop to back up Bloomquist. And if they can find one that player will be worthy of playing time based on his veteran status. But to run Cowgill and Ransom out there at this point is like showing up to a gun fight with a water gun. It's not going to work.
No need to panic here as Arizona is still in first place and the Giants are struggling and dealing with several key injuries. But I bet if you asked Upton, Roberts, CY, Bloomquist or Montero if they wanted any days off in these final five weeks you would get the same answer from all of them -- NO. With a little more than a month left in the season and three off days in September it is time to rely on the vets.