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Saturday, May 16, 2009

League Lowdown

May 16, 2009:

I'm checking in with the latest NFL stories and updates. There has been a lot of league news and team happenings in the past week that will shape the upcoming season. We have everything from salary cap news to possible former quarterback returns to cover. So, without further adieu, here is your league lowdown.

Salary Cap Increase for 2008
NFL teams will not feel the effects of the national recession during the 2008 season; at least not in their salary caps. The cap has been increased by $12 million for the 2009 season, giving teams a total of $128 million to spend on their rosters. This is the largest increase in three years. Much of this is due to a decrease in team spending on players last year. That figure was below 59.5% of the total league revenue.

However, things still remain up in the air for the 2010 season. Owners opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement last year and if another CBA isn't agreed upon, the NFL will go without a salary cap next season.

Michael Vick Preparing For Football

Mike Vick has decided to work with a trainer on football related workouts upon his release from prison on May 20th. Vick was convicted of felony dog fighting charges and was sent to prison in the fall of 2007. He still has two months left in his prison term, which he will serve out in home confinement. Still technically a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Vick has eyes on getting back into the NFL. As of now, he is indefinitely suspended from the league and is at the mercy of commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell has expressed his views on Vick's return. "Before I make my decision, it will be up to Michael to demonstrate the genuineness of his remorse and how he plans to be a positive influence" the commissioner has said. There is no indication that Vick will make it back to the NFL for the upcoming season. The Falcons want to trade him, but have received no interest from any NFL teams in obtaining Vick thus far.

Favre...... Again.

This story just doesn't want to go away. After reiterating his desire to retire in a phone conversation with Minnesota head coach Brad Childress, former Packer QB Brett Favre is getting his throwing arm checked out; just in case. It has been reported that Favre is seeking the opinion of world renown orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews regarding his throwing arm.

By most accounts, Favre wants to avoid surgery if at all possible. The arm is still giving him trouble though, so Favre and Andrews are implementing an exercise regimen that would allow the arm to naturally heal, sans surgery. Viking team officials are keeping things close to the vest, but do not deny their continued interest in obtaining Favre for their roster. As we the fan (and, of course the media) speculate about Favre's heart and head in making a decision to return to the sport of football, it would appear that the final decision will be made by his arm.

Ocho-cinco On Jersey-O

In the ridiculousness that is Chad Johnson, the league has decided that he can actually wear the name Ocho Cinco on his jersey next season. Johnson legally changed his name to the Spanish number moniker last August. However, when he changed it, he wrote it down as Ochocinco, not the two word phrase he previously (and shamelessly) promoted. So the league is obliging the man formerly known as Chad Johnson. However, his jersey will read "Ochocinco" just as he wrote on his name change form in Florida.

Bruce Smith Charged With DUI

The NFL's all-time sack leader Bruce Smith was charged with driving under the influence on Friday in Virgina Beach. Smith was stopped for speeding and refused a breath test. Smith has been charged for DUI twice before, although he has never been convicted. No news of a hearing date for the hall of famer at this time.

That's the lowdown on the league for the week. You are up to date on most of the league news and happenings. My next post will be on Tuesday for your weekly top ten.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Top Ten Scariest Players In NFL History

This week's top ten Tuesday will focus on the scariest guys to ever take the field. These are the guys who give quarterbacks nightmares. Most of these guys are pass rushing monsters; players who rack up sacks and tackles with an unforeseen fury. You don't want to meet these players in a dark alley. You don't ever want to get on their bad side. If you ever make them angry, its time to relocate. These are my top ten scariest players in NFL History:

10) Larry Allen, Offensive Lineman (Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers)

Larry Allen is a sight to behold. At 6'3" and 325 lbs., the veteran offensive lineman could intimidate by simply standing up. The highly competitive guard and tackle was known for protecting his quarterback. Anyone wanting a sack was going to have to go through Larry Allen, and that was nearly impossible.

The man has bench pressed 700 lbs. (assisted) and dead lifted over 900 lbs. (unwitnessed). With 11 pro bowls to his credit and a Super Bowl ring, Allen was good at his job. In a league where getting to the quarterback is highly rewarded, Larry Allen made the notion highly unlikely. The Dallas Cowboys had their greatest success when Allen was on the front line, and he carried his reputation to the 49ers in the last two seasons of his career.

9) Larry Csonka, Fullback/Runningback (Miami Dolphins, New York Giants)

Csonka is synonymous with tough. At 6'3" and 235 lbs., he was big for a full back and even bigger for a running back. But, he loved to run with the ball. You might say it was the game itself that made Larry scary. He started off his professional career with concussions. He also cracked an ear drum and broke his nose about 10 times on the field. But, none of that stopped him from running with the ball. Even with his nose permanently deformed and often with blood pouring out of it, Csonka was a guy who would stay in the game; blood and all.

Csonka was probably the scariest running back in the NFL in the 1970's. He actually received a personal foul once for unnecessary roughness while running with the football. Tackling this fullback was nearly impossible, as he would just drag defenders behind him. The man could dish it out, but he could also take it. During the Dolphins perfect season in 1972, Csonka took a vicious blow from a linebacker and had to crawl off the field. He would later shake off the hit and return to the game to help the Dolphins maintain perfection.

8) John Randle, Defensive Tackle (Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks)

John Randle was scary on purpose. As a Minnesota Viking, Randle was known to take the field with face paint across his eyes like a mask. He would taunt and scream on the defensive line, causing quarterbacks to be distracted and yes, very scared. The man would outright heckle opposing players throughout the game. One player in particular felt Randle's fury. John Randle made his dislike for quarterback Brett Favre public knowledge and Favre would eventually became the defensive tackle's favorite victim.

John Randle went so far as to shoot a commercial in which he chased a chicken wearing a Favre jersey. He was shown barbecuing that chicken at the end of the commercial. Besides his theatrical antics, Randle was always a dominating defensive force in the game. He ended his career with 556 tackles and 137.5 sacks. With 7 pro bowls to his credit, John Randle left a legacy of excellence, as well as fear.

7) Jack Lambert, Linebacker (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Jack Lambert was known as "Count Dracula in Cleats". If that's not scary enough, he was also a linebacker in one of the greatest defenses of all time. Known for his intensity and his ability to intimidate opposing teams, Lambert was a force to be reckoned with. Missing 4 front teeth from an old high school injury, Lambert was known to remove his partial dentures during football games. Wearing his Steelers helmet and displaying "fang" like teeth, earned him the Dracula moniker.

The 1976 "Steel Curtain" defense dominated all defensive NFL statistics. After struggling to a 1-4 start that year, Jack Lambert knew that they were going to have to win the next 9 games to make the playoffs and he physically threatened any teammate who did not give full effort. They went on to win all of those games; allowing only 2 touchdowns and boasting 5 shutouts. It would appear that even his own teammates were afraid of the Dracula in Cleats.

6) Ray Lewis, Linebacker (Baltimore Ravens)

Ray Lewis. You either love him or hate him. If you're a quarterback, you probably loathe the guy. If you're a pure lover of the sport of football.... you adore him. Ray Lewis is pure football, through and through. The unstoppable linebacker out of the University of Miami is known for his relentless pursuit of the QB; or anyone with the ball for that matter. Lewis is the guy you want on your team and the guy you fear the most if he isn't.

With his intimidating pre-game dance and his pension for trash talk, Ray Lewis knows how to put on a show. Opposing teams feared him for the humiliation he would bring almost as much as the hits he would deliver. He has been to 10 pro bowls, has won a Super Bowl and was even Super Bowl MVP. His infamous 2000 Ravens will forever be compared and discussed as one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL.

5) Mike Singletary, Linebacker (Chicago Bears)

Also in the discussion for one of the greatest defenses ever, is the 1985 Chicago Bears. Mike Singletary will always be known as "The Heart of the Defense". That may sound warm and fuzzy, but he was also known as "Samurai Mike". No one matched the intensity of Mike Singletary. Arguably, the best linebacker to play the game, Singletary would eat quarterbacks for lunch. And maybe go back for seconds.

In that magical 1985 season for the Bears, Singletary recorded 109 solo tackles and 3 sacks. He was easily the NFL defensive player of the year. The Bears went on to win the Super Bowl and Samurai Mike had two fumble recoveries in that game. He went on to have 10 Pro Bowl appearances and has been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Now the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, Coach Sing (as he is now called) continues to bring his intensity to a new generation of linebackers.

4) "Mean" Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Also a part of that Steel Curtain defense was "Mean" Joe Greene. He had the nickname for a reason. The man could not stand to lose and he would take his anger out on the football field. Needless to say, soon after Joe Green was drafted by the Steelers, they began to win. He won 4 Super Bowls with the Steelers and was defensive player of the year twice. He was intense and could lay the big hit. But, he was also quick and moved through the line with ease.

In the 1970's, quarterbacks shuttered at the thought of Joe Greene. But it was Greene's belief that he was neither the strongest or the fastest player on the field. He truly believed that he had a stronger desire to win than anyone else in the game. Teams needed to double and even triple team Green in order to contain him and he still found a way to get to the QB. With 78.5 sacks to his pro football credit and a bust in the NFL Hall of Fame, one could say that it pays to be mean.

3) Ronnie Lott, Strong Safety, Safety, Cornerback (49ers, Raiders, Jets, Chiefs)

Ronnie Lott was one of the best in the business. And that business was laying hits on offensive players in the NFL. Business was good. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Lott won his starting job in his very first training camp. That first year he brought down 7 interceptions; 3 of which were for touchdowns. He was only the second rookie in history to accomplish that feat. He also managed to win a Super Bowl in his first year in the NFL.

During the 1985 season, Ronnie Lott injured his pinkie finger on the helmet of an opposing player. Legend has it that he had the finger amputated during a game. The truth is, Lott had the tip amputated at the end of the season. What is true, is that Ronnie Lott did it to keep it from hampering his game. Ronnie's love for the sport was almost as scary as his hits. No one on the field wanted to win more than Lott and it showed in his stats. After 10 Pro Bowls and 730 interception yards, Ronnie Lott retired. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

2) Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker (New York Giants)

The great L.T. was one of the most feared men to ever grace a uniform. As the leader of the Giants defense known as the "Big Blue Wrecking Crew", Taylor put terror in the hearts of offensive players around the league. As a rookie, his reputation started in training camp and spread throughout the NFL. Before he even played a regular season down, L.T. was known as a hard hitting monster and he was to be feared.

One of his biggest and most damaging hits came in the 1985 season on Monday Night Football. Taylor laid a sack on Redskins QB Joe Theisman that resulted in a compound fracture on Theisman's leg. Taylor scared himself with that hit. He was the one to yell for paramedics on the field that night and has never watched the tape of the hit that ended Theisman's career. He continued his defensive dominance and went on to win 2 Super Bowls. He amassed 132 sacks in his NFL career with an astonishing 1088 tackles.

1) Dick Butkus, Linebacker (Chicago Bears)

In 1970, Dick Butkus appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The tag line was: "The Most Feared Man In The Game." Basically, if you were a quarterback and Dick Butkus was on the field, you knew with 100% certainty that you were going to end up on your back. Then, you would pray that afterward, you would be able to get up. Butkus wouldn't just tackle you. He would slam you to the ground with emphasis to make sure that you knew you were tackled.

Butkus once stated that during warm-ups he would "manufacture things to make me mad. If I saw someone on the other team laughing, I would pretend he was laughing at me...". Fierce and tough were the words Butkus would use to describe his childhood views on what he thought a football player should be. Those are words used to describe him to this day.

Butkus even has an award named after him. Created in 1985, the Dick Butkus award is given every year to the top linebackers in college football. In 2008, the award also expanded to the high school and pro football levels in an effort to discourage steroid use.

Although these players are deemed scary, they helped make the game what it is today. Guys like "Mean" Joe Green and "Samurai" Mike brought intensity, fierce competition and heart to the game of football. These are the guys I grew up admiring and yes, fearing. I would fear for the offensive players that had to face them on the field. But, mostly I would fear that I would miss even a glimmer of brilliance that each of them displayed in the games on Sunday.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What To Expect From The 2009 Detroit Lions

One of the hardest things for an NFL team to accomplish in a season is to go from worst to first; that is to turn a dismal season around and go from last in the division to the divisional winner and earn a playoff berth. It was accomplished by the 2008 Miami Dolphins who narrowly escaped infamy in 2007 by winning just one game, but then somehow turned things around the following year and won the AFC South. The 2008 Detroit Lions did not escape infamy; they became the only team in league history to lose 16 regular season games in a row and end the season winless. The Lions have made some major changes, from the front office to the field in an effort to turn the organization around. But can they realistically win their division and make a playoff run?

It all starts in the division in question; the NFC North. It is made up of 4 NFL teams: the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit. The last time the Lions won the division was in 1993. Back then it was called the NFC Central and included the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Out of the 4 current NFC North teams, Detroit has the fewest divisional titles and no Super Bowl wins or appearances.

I cannot think of any team that would have a tougher time going from worst to first than Detroit. But for argument's sake, lets discuss their chances. They started off the rebuilding by firing GM Matt Millen and head coach Rod Marinelli. Martin Mayhew replaced Millen and Jim Schwartz, the former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, was hired as head coach. The Lions received the #1 pick in the 2009 draft and used it to acquire QB Matthew Stafford, out of Georgia. Other notable picks from the draft include TE Brandon Pettigrew from Oklahoma State and Louis Delmas from Western Michigan University.

The Lions also are trying to ignite a tired and weary fan base in Detroit. In addition to the heart break of a 0-16 season, the city of Detroit and the entire state of Michigan has been in economic peril for the past few years. With the auto industry suffering a downward spiral, many citizens are struggling to recover from financial difficulties and football tickets are not in their agenda. The Lions had 4 blackout games last season due to low attendance at Ford Field. A new campaign to get fans fired up again is underway. New uniforms and the heavy promotion of the new head coach and their #1 draft pick Stafford is hitting the airwaves. But, Stafford's hefty rookie contract (almost $42 million guaranteed) is getting major backlash from fans who have continued to suffer in Michigan's long economic recession.

In order for the Lions to have any chance at winning the division, they would have to win some games vs. their divisional competition. Last season's divisional winner was the Minnesota Vikings with a 10-6 record. The Vikings have the best running back in football in Adrian Peterson. Their defense, led by Jared Allen, was ranked 13th last season. By most accounts, the Vikings look like the team to beat in the NFC North. However, the Chicago Bears added QB Jay Cutler in the famous trade made with the Broncos. Cutler adds a component to the Bears that most feel was needed for them to make another Super Bowl run. The Green Bay Packers are always a tough opponent for any team they play and Detroit has always struggled to beat them.

The Lions must also find a way to win on the road. Detroit has become notorious for having long road win droughts. They went 3 straight seasons without a road win (2001-2003). The 24 game streak was the longest in NFL history. Of course with their winless season last year, Detroit again failed to win one on the road.

With a lackluster fan base, a new front office, and a new coaching staff, Detroit's chances of going from worst to first are very slim. However, both the Lions and the state of Michigan have the characteristics to turn things around; toughness and resilience. It may take a few seasons and a few more key position changes, but the Lions will find a way to bounce back and make a return appearance to the playoffs. Just don't look for that to happen next season.