Monday, March 18, 2013 @ 8:01pm
By: Ron Wolfley
I am fascinated with the West Region in this year's NCAA Tournament. Although I believe it could be the easiest march for the eventual winner, that also makes it the most dangerous. Preconceived notions and assumptions will be the death knell for coaches in this tournament.
One of the most difficult things for a coach to do is to focus his players and get them to respect opponents that might not have the pedigree of other teams, especially the top seeds in a region. Coaches sit up nights vomiting in a corner, hoping their kids understand the importance of taking your opponent seriously.
And this is why I love Gonzaga in this tournament. This team is talented and can score the basketball. But what I love about them has nothing to do with stats, scoring, defense or conference championships.
The tangible is non-essential and the intangible may be the key that unlocks the power and potential of Mark Few's team. The Bulldogs have something to prove.
Gonzaga is the number one seed in the West Region and there are some analysts that don't like it and look at the Bulldogs with skepticism. All acknowledge their talent but few (no pun intended) acknowledge the conference they play in. The West Coast Conference is defined by its relative obscurity.
The knock against Gonzaga is the WCC, but they have one of the best big men in the country in Kelly Olynyk and an experienced backcourt. Olynyk is averaging big numbers but numbers often vanish come tournament time and desperation prevails.
Mark Few's kids are talented and understand they have something to prove. And that combination is the stuff of kings in this tournament. And that's why I like them to win the whole thing.
Friday, March 15, 2013 @ 2:00pm
By: Ron Wolfley
I still remember the e-mail I got from a guy that said Kevin Kolb would not be the guy the Cardinals were looking for because he couldn't stay healthy. He talked about the problems Kolb had in Philadelphia and I ignored him.
In this case, I owe that gentleman a formal mea culpa: you were right and I was wrong for dismissing Kolb's legacy of injuries and staying healthy.
Injuries are part of the game. They are going to happen and I know you can't build teams when the sky is always falling. Many times you have to step out of your comfort zone, take chances and hope a player will buck the injury tag -- especially if the sample size you're working with is small.
And this was the case in Arizona. Kolb showed flashes of being the guy the Cardinals thought he was going to be and got hurt. Kolb showed he was resilient after losing the job to John Skelton and played well last season…and got hurt.
Coaches want players that are dependable and accountable. Part of being dependable is being available. The other part of being dependable is playing consistently when you are available. It doesn't always mean you play great; it doesn't always mean you win. It only means you are relatively consistent when you compete.
In the end, Kevin Kolb was neither. And that's why Kolb is looking for work today.
Thursday, March 14, 2013 @ 7:43pm
By: Ron Wolfley
I am all for protecting players, but the competition committee is considering making a rule change in the National Football League that I cannot bare.
6. Player safety: Initiating contact with the crown of the helmet is a foul if the runner or tackler delivers a forceable blow against his opponent when both players are outside the tackle box.
If a running back can't lower his pads and deliver a forceable blow and run over a defender in the open field, are you really playing the game of football? Likewise, if a defender can't tackle a runner in the open field the same way, meet force with force, are you really playing football?
No. This is a thing that cannot be.
A running back needs to be able to choose the third rail of rushing the football, the rail that takes him right through a tackler. This is the baseline of running the football in the open field, the move in which all moves come off of. It's impossible to lower your pad level and NOT lead with your helmet.
A defender also needs to defend himself in the best possible way and not being able to lower his pads -- without worrying about the location of their helmet on a ballcarrier -- is all but impossible. Now, there is a possibility that the interpretation of the rule will be altered or not be enforced on the field. But unless I'm reading this wrong, it will never happen.
The last few years the NFL has toyed with eliminating kickoffs, a drastic measure that would alter the game forever. There has been no talk of eliminating the kickoff this year and I hope this potential rule change, rule change #6, will suffer the same fate.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 @ 10:43pm
By: Ron Wolfley
Free agency has not been the panacea everybody thought it was going to be when it was introduced in its full-blown form. The NFL is replete with examples of teams and players that have proven free agency, when misused, is a non-sequitur, a logical fallacy.
The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles will forever stand as Exhibit A in the free agent façade of the NFL. Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young and others came together to form the "Dream Team" in Philly. Many people, including myself, believed this would be the team that shattered the free agent ceiling and would possibly change the way free agency was viewed in the league. Now it stands as a monolithic testament for all time of how failed and flawed free agency really is.
But it's not just teams and ownership that have continued to flop in buying their ways to championships (i.e. Dallas/Jerry Jones and Washington/Daniel Snyder). Players have struggled to play well after being paid like franchise players when the team they previously played for did not recognize them as an integral piece to their master plan.
Although there are many examples of so many others that have fallen flat in free agency, Nnamdi Asomugha and Albert Haynesworth will forever stand in the modern era as the pillars of overpaid and why free agency is a non-sequitur. Both were at the paragon of their positions, recognized and acclaimed for their greatness league-wide; both were in the prime of their careers and were capable of changing games on a regular basis. Yet, both were major disappointments.
The problem is simple: football loves the wretched. Football loves the downtrodden, the forlorn, the hungry. Marquee free agents that get signed to huge contracts are not downtrodden, are not forlorn, are not hungry; they are not wretched. Free agency and production becomes a theoretical oxymoron because general managers had to pay the player more than what they're truly worth to sign them in the first place. And never forget the human element: it's extremely difficult to play the brutal game of football in all its bloody glory to the fullest extent when you have $20-40 million dollars already in the bank.
Even flow is needed when applying your general manager hand to free agents and those that do not heed the cautionary tales that exist will not be general managers much longer. Free agency needs to be used wisely.
GMs would do well to secure the free agent rights of a player that needs to prove something or is a solid starter that will "not get you beat" as coaches say. More importantly, these free agents come at a manageable cap number and you don't have to think of cutting them two years into their contract because you overpaid for their services in the first place and their production does not match their pay.
Use free agency to find players that won't get you beat instead of signing guys you think are going to be Pro Bowlers because that thought process has blown up in many a general manager's face.
A soldier's/grunt's mentality is what's needed, not generals.
General managers should be looking for players in free agency that are tough, dependable, physical, students of the game, and don't come with a marquee on their helmet or drive a Brinks truck to work every day.
Find guys that might be getting a little long in the tooth but can still play; pay those guys and draft guys that will take their place when the day of departure comes. Find the guys that are getting released by other teams because they have a younger, cheaper version of the player behind them.
Sign soldiers, not generals.
Monday, March 11, 2013 @ 7:31pm
By: Ron Wolfley
Anquan Boldin is back in the NFC West and this is not good news for the Seahawks, Rams or Cardinals.
Seattle made a splash by acquiring Percy Harvin, but I don't think it makes them king of the pool. Harvin only played in nine games last season and, according to the Vikings, he's a bit of a head case. Harvin is explosive and can score from anywhere on the field and improves the Seahawks' schematics and tactics, but Boldin accentuates the 49ers strength even more.
The 49ers are a team built on power, a team created from the fires of physicality and toughness. Boldin makes the 49ers the toughest, most physical team in the National Football League -- even at wide receiver.
Boldin is the quintessential competitor, fierce in all he does between the white lines. He catches the ball in traffic as well as any receiver in the game, runs the ball after the catch with tenacity not found in receivers and will be a real force beneath Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
In addition, Anquan is one of the best-blocking wide receivers in the game, a perfect fit for a run-first team like San Francisco. Frank Gore will appreciate the effort 'The Quan' puts into getting a block downfield; Colin Kaepernick will love the strength of Boldin as he pulls the ball out of the back's belly on read-option and gets the edge, not to mention the wide receiver screens and play-action bang-eights Kaepernick will throw to Anquan.
Boldin won't be the first option for San Francisco which will make him even more effective in big games like the postseason. Kaepernick, Crabtree, Davis and Frank Gore will carry the load as defensive coordinators desperately try to stop their talents, saving Boldin's star for when it counts the most.
He may not put up huge numbers in 2013, but he will make huge plays for San Francisco -- plays that help teams win big games.
Just ask Joe Flacco.
Friday, March 8, 2013 @ 12:04pm
By: Ron Wolfley
Adrian Wilson was a gatekeeper for the Arizona Cardinals, a man revered among his peers. He was a physical specimen, one of a kind, who played the game with a chip on his shoulder, desperately trying to win the respect of players, fans and coaches across the league.
This man's career will be defined by his willingness and aptitude of playing in the box while still making plays in the secondary. His 5 Pro Bowls stand as testament to how productive he was as a player. He was a vicious tackler, and his 25.5 sacks and 27 interceptions make him one of six people in the history of the league to have 25 sacks and 25 interceptions. One of six human beings…
The Cardinals are saying goodbye to an era. Kurt Warner is gone, Anquan Boldin is gone, Ken Whisenhunt is gone and now Adrian Wilson is gone. The stuff of Super Bowls has become a motivating memory and a point of pride within the organization, but they recognize they're a long way from Super Bowl XLIII.
This was a move the Cardinals had to make, unfortunately. Steve Keim is putting his stamp on this team and has already saved over $10 million on the salary cap. The team needs to be rebuilt around its youth, a core group is being reestablished, and all good things must come to an end.
Adrian wasn't surprised by this and he won't be surprised when the Cardinals lift his 24 jersey into the rafters above the Red Sea at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Well done, Gasman…well done, indeed.
Thursday, March 7, 2013 @ 9:39pm
By: Ron Wolfley
The Miami Heat are showing what it means to be great. They have won 16 games in a row and are continuing to serve notice to the rest of the league that they will not give up their title easily.
The Heat are a great team because the individuals they have on the floor are great. Greatness accepts responsibility and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co. take personal responsibility for their performance. Great players live up to their potential because they are responsible for how they compete, perform and play.
And greatness is determined over time. To be great, one must be successful over a period of time, a dispensation that includes a large sample size and repeatability. Since last season, the Miami Heat have displayed their greatness by winning the Eastern Conference championship and becoming World Champions. This year they have put together some impressive performances and have been the favorite to repeat. Their current win streak bears witness to their collective consistency.
Finally, the Heat's greatness is the best example I've seen in overcoming self. And they have a lot of self. Even if you have incredible talent, overcoming that talent means never believing you don't have to play hard, perform well and take every opponent seriously. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade set the tone for the rest of the team and that tone has made the Heat deaf to criticism or critique. They are focused, quiet and dismissive of their current streak.
The Miami Heat continue to demonstrate why they are a great basketball team and favorite to win another NBA title. They are a team that takes personal responsibility for how they play over a long period of time and don't really care who gets the credit.
This is bad news for would-be champions of the NBA.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 @ 10:11am
By: Ron Wolfley
The differences between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are vast and varied; they are also well-documented. Kobe is a fighter, Dwight doesn't like confrontation. Kobe plays with passion, Dwight plays with puppy dogs. Kobe loves to compete, Dwight avoids conflict.
If anyone needs further convincing of this dichotomous divide, note Exhibit Z: Serge Ibaka hit Blake Griffin of the Clippers in the unspeakables the other night and the Lakers, preparing to play the Thunder, were asked about the incident.
Kobe thought of retaliation, Dwight did not.
"I probably would have smacked [Ibaka] in the mouth," Bryant said after the Los Angeles Lakers practiced. "I would have dealt with the pain after."
Dwight Howard laughed it off. "I mean, you got to wear a cup," he joked.
I don't know Dwight Howard. He seems to be a decent man and I like his jocund, jovial self away from the court. But I will never appreciate an athlete that competes within the context of a Saturday Night Live skit.
There's nothing funny about driving a metaphorical spear in the ground while lowering a dead-level stare at your opponent beneath a furrowed brow and screaming, "You shall not pass!" There's nothing funny about physically confronting, competing and consuming the will of your enemy when they're trying to do the same thing to you and your teammates.
It's black and Dwight: the belly burns with righteous indignation...or it does not.
Monday, March 4, 2013 @ 6:38pm
By: Ron Wolfley
So much of coaching great players involves managing their personalities. Coaches need to determine what kind of animal they're dealing with before they know how to domesticate them. Some guys need a kick in the pants, some a pat on the butt, and some merely need to be left alone.
I think Miami's Eric Spoelstra has figured out how to coach LeBron James now that he has become King James.
"His motor is limitless. I don't want to take that for granted. I don't just want to assume that he can play 40-plus minutes, but he had to do it on both ends," Spoelstra said. "Couldn't get him out in the fourth quarter and if I would have tried, he probably would have strangled me."
Spoelstra is displaying how he has changed in regard to coaching the best player on the planet.
"He was strong and was at his strongest after 40 minutes of basketball," he said.
This kind of speech eluded Spoelstra last year but has now become a ritual for the Miami Heat coach.
King James has taken over the person of LeBron but Spoelstra still knows the person of LeBron James is the soul of his alter ego. And LeBron James feeds off positive reinforcement, especially when he takes one for the team by regularly playing 40-plus minutes.
And who among us doesn't love and respect a human being that has unspeakable talent but is willing to be martyred for his team?
We get this and so does Spoelstra.
Saturday, March 2, 2013 @ 12:54pm
By: Ron Wolfley
Mike Allen (@Mjallen728) made a suggestion via Twitter that hit me in the face like Harry Carson's (Google it, My Young Crunks) bucket head on an iso: The Cardinals should move Sam Acho from OLB to Mike backer.
I like the idea knowing Mike backer is an area Big Red needs to address. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent and 35 years of age. Lenon is one of my favorite Cardinals: tough, fierce and smart. But the Cards need to get younger at the position and they may not try to re-sign Lenon.
Playing Mike in the National Football League is 60 minutes of bull-in-the-ring. It is a brutal position and many Mike backers wake the next morning looking like the surface of the moon. Defensively, Mike is the nerve center of the line of scrimmage. Many times, he is responsible for aligning the front and making sure people are in their proper gaps. He needs to be capable of taking on blocks, holding up at the point of attack, getting off blocks and making tackles. He needs to run from sideline to sideline and be one of the best tacklers on the team. In short, playing Mike requires a player to be smart, tough, athletic and physical.
Sam Acho is a 6-3, 250-pound linebacker that runs the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds. He might be the smartest player on the team and has the acumen to shine at Mike.
But a Mike backer also needs to hold up in space.
And this is where my enthusiasm wanes in regard to moving a productive player like Acho to Mike. I don't know if Sam would hold up well in the open field. Mike backers need to be capable of covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends down the seam; they need the foot speed to cover option routes, the technique to jam and run with big guys and the experience to decipher route combinations.
Sam Acho would be learning all of this at the highest level. Then again, you could always move him back to the outside…
Yeah, I officially like the idea again: Move Sam Acho to Mike.