Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Can the USC Trojans football team return to respectability in 2013?

At this time last year, after an impressive finish to the 2011 season (10-2 record), possessing Robert Woods and Marquise Lee two of the best Wide Receivers in the country Heisman Trophy aspirations for QB Matt Barkley, the USC Trojans viewed as a loaded team on the rise with enough talent to put an end to the SEC's streak of six BCS National Championships. The Trojans started the season as the Pre-Season number one team according to the Associated Press. USC suffered some key injuries, their lack of depth exposed and a team with high expectations and a lot of promise plummeted losing five of their last six games finishing the disappointing 2012 campaign at 7-6. USC became the second ever Pre-Season number one to finish the season unranked since the 1964 Ole Miss team and first to lose six games. Several teams played faster than the Trojans and ran far more plays, USC ranked 83rd in the nation in total number of plays ran. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has stated that Head Coach Lane Kiffin is not on the hot seat although several people would argue that, present company included. Kiffin is the most scrutinized coach in the country. Kiffin and USC need to have a bounce back season. The difference between good and bad teams is concentrating on the little things. Lane Kiffin made changes on the coaching staff; Clay Helton is the Offensive Coordinator, former Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane's Dad, stepped down to avoid the awkward feeling of being fired by his son. The elder Kiffin, now the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator, replaced by Clancy Pendergast who was the Defensive Coordinator at the University of California for the last three years. Pendergast has seen a lot of spread offenses and his defenses have consistently disrupted the scheme and shut down the run. These are two of the areas that seemed to befuddle Monte Kiffin. For Lane Kiffin to stay on as the Head Coach and for the USC Football program to return to respectability several things need to happen: 1) USC needs to post a 6-3 or 7-2 conference record and win eight or more games. 2) Kiffin must choose a quarterback - Max Wittek completed 36 of the 69 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns in two starts in 2012. Wittek will get his hands on the keys first in 2013. The team has to get efficient QB play from him while developing depth behind him. 3) Take care of the ball - The Trojan passing game was one of their strengths, ranking in the top 10 or top 30 in all major categories, but committed way too many turnovers. In their six losses the Trojans lost 19 turnovers. USC ranked in the top ten nationally in interceptions and lost fumbles. Turnovers have a huge impact on games and as USC found out on a season. 4) Control the line of scrimmage - The prevailing thought by many was the USC could not defend the spread offenses. Defensively USC was able to limit the big running plays, but still struggled mightily against the run versus teams that knew how to attack their defense, allowing 7.1 yards per carry to Oregon, 5.5 to Stanford and 5.3 to Notre Dame. 5) Commit to the Running game – Wow, feels strange saying that the school formerly known as Tailback U needs to run the ball. The Trojans averaged 5.5 yards per carry, 150 yards per game, but ran for only 1,958 yards on the season which ranked 72nd in the nation. In the seven wins USC ran for 1,311 yards. The Trojans offensive line returns four of their top five players and has a total of 85 starts. The Trojans need to get back to being physical enough on both sides of the ball to handle whatever challenge before them. 6) Convert on 3rd down – The turnovers contributed mightily to the team not converting more on third down, but the real culprits were their inconsistent running game and not being able to control the line of scrimmage. The result was the USC Trojans ranking 110th in the nation at converting on third down. The Trojans have 15 returning starters, better depth at most positions than in 2012 and a new aggressive defensive scheme. USC will have lower expectations in 2013; they avoid Oregon and host both Stanford and UCLA. Bottom Line: If Lane Kiffin and company can correct their above mentioned mistakes USC could become one of the surprise teams of 2013 post a 10-3 record and receive an At-Large bid to play in the Fiesta Bowl against the number one team in the Big 12. If the above issues are not resolved; USC could post another 7-6 record and the program will be searching for another Head Coach.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lane Kiffin –One hurdle cleared four more to overcome

Lane Kiffin’s return to USC was not a well-received move in 2010. There were literally two factions of people; those that felt the Kiffin received too much too soon and was not worthy of leading the USC Football program and those that felt that it was great to bring a former Trojan back into the fold.

The above-mentioned factions quickly turned into people in two categories fans or detractors. Kiffin won eight games in year one, but lost to Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame. NCAA sanctions, Injuries and youth are all factors, but the fact remains that BCS football is a results based business. Kiffin is in a win now situation.

The Notre Dame game was a ‘move-the-needle’ game for Lane Kiffin. Imagine a meter if you will, USC fans and alumni moving the needle in said meter one-way or the other. The interesting question before the Notre Dame game was if USC fans and Alumni felt that Lane Kiffin was the right person for the job now and for the future of the program.

Many people responded 'no' to the above-mentioned question. USC has a tough Pac 12 conference schedule to deal with every year. However, the fact remains that as a Trojan, you attend USC to beat Notre Dame and UCLA.

Several of Kiffin’s detractors felt that Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly was the better coach in the match up. More detractors felt that Notre Dame with a more senior-laden team would beat USC because of their experience. Many will judge Lane Kiffin’s success or failure against the success of his predecessor Pete Carroll. The same guy that several of Lane Kiffin’s detractors thought was the wrong choice at thttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifhe time.

USC won 30 – 17 on the road as a 9.5 point underdog in South Bend in front of national audience, a signature win for Lane Kiffin. Head Coach Lane Kiffin and staff had USC poised and ready to beat the Irish. QB Matt Barkley WR's Robert Woods and Marquise Lee were solid in the passing attack. Woods has produced an amazing 72 catches for 902 yards and 8 TD's on the season. Surprisingly, the running back tandem of Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal produced 175 yards and balance for the offense. Kiffin was able to get WR/RB George Farmer the number one recruit in the nation innvolved to show his potential.


In the 83rd edition and first night game of a rivalry that dates back to 1926 it was USC that turned out the lights. USC is 6-1 on the season; more importantly, Kiffin’s record is 14-6. Several big games remain on the 2011 schedule, but the fact of the matter is that Lane Kiffin is the right person for the job.

The next challenge on the schedule for the Trojans the #6 ranked 7-0 Stanford Cardinal at the Coliseum as a 7.5-point underdog. The headline match up, Andrew Luck vs. Matt Barkley, the better team and QB will win this game. The Cardinal is one of the most dominant teams in college football. Stanford has the second best offense in the country, scoring-wise. The Cardinal uses a trio of versatile Tight Ends on offense capable of making plays in the passing game and as in-line blockers, but controls the clock and the game with their dominant running game. The Trojans have won one of their last four games against Stanford after going 5-0 from 2002-2006.

The hits keep coming, after the nationally televised match up against Stanford; the Trojans face some huge challenges. Against the Washington Huskies at the Coliseum on November 12 (thanks to two field goals former USC offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian is 2-0 against his former team). On the road in front of 54,000 at Autzen Stadium against the Oregon Ducks on November 19 (Oregon has outscored USC 100-52 in the last two years) and closing the season against the UCLA Bruins at the Coliseum. Lane Kiffin and the young USC Trojans still have a lot to prove and continue to work at the task at hand taking it one game at a time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011 NFL Mock Draft: How the Oakland Raiders Will Move the Crowd

When NFL business begins for the 2011 season, the Oakland Raiders have holes to fill. The Raiders could lose Nnamdi Asomugha, Robert Gallery, Michael Huff, Langston Walker and Khalif Barnes to free agency.

There is still a slight possibility that Asomugha could return upon the start of league business. The offensive line needs improvement. The Raiders are without a first round pick, but are still able to add two of the top-100 players to their roster.

Round 2: Cornerback Ras-I-Dowling-6’1” 199 pounds

Dowling was a team captain that has displayed great character, an experienced corner rarely caught out of position, even against double-moves mainly because of top instincts and vision. At his pro day, Dowling answered questions about his health and pure speed. Dowling is a tall, athletic, confident corner that boasts fluidity, quick feet, body control, excellent tackling ability and ball skills.

The choice should be between QB Colin Kaepernick, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Davon House, WR Titus Young, S Rahim Moore, C Stefan Wisniewski, Guard Ben Ijalana, OT James Carpenter and TE Kyle Rudolph. Five of the nine might not fall to the 48th pick.

My reasoning for the selection is simple, acquire a player that can provide the most immediate impact at a need position. I would have no problem with Oakland selecting QB Colin Kaepernick. However, since 2005, 47-percent of the cornerbacks on NFL two-deep rosters are first and second round selections.

Round 3: Guard Marcus Cannon-6’5” 358 pounds

Cannon is massive, with broad shoulders, long arms and top-15 type talent. It could be an expensive cab ride for defenders to get around him at right tackle. Strong anchor, almost never bull-rushed, has quick feet and is nimble for his size. Cannon has elite size, strength and enough athleticism to drive defenders back and dominate in the running game.

Cannon has great balance, and carries his weight well. The best attribute about Cannon is that he is never on the ground.

The choice should be between NT Kendrick Ellis, OG Clint Boling, OT James Brewer, C Brandon Fusco, OLB Dontay Moch, CB Curtis Marsh, OT Orlando Franklin and WR Edmund Gates. My reasoning for selecting Cannon was his versatility (ability to play Guard or Tackle) and immediate impact on the offensive line.

Round 4: Guard John Moffitt-6’4” 314 pounds

Moffitt is an elite run blocker in terms of his mobility and hand placement. This former Badger started 42 out of a possible 45 games at three positions. Moffitt’s phone-booth quickness, mobility and footwork show the makings of a longtime NFL starter.
Moffitt has the ability to be stout at the point of attack, reach linebackers, safeties on the second level and eliminate them. The former Badger anchors well against even against the strongest nose tackles when man-up in pass protection.

The choice should be between ILB Kelvin Sheppard, NT Kendrick Ellis, WR Jeremy Kerley, WR Vincent Brown, WR Greg Little, S DeAndre McDaniel, S Quinton Carter, CB Kendric Burney and.

Moffitt is the choice, due to his value, versatility and immediate impact on the offensive line. Moffitt could be a Pro Bowl steal as a mid-round pick. If Moffitt were off the board, I would consider Kelvin Sheppard, but select Kendrick Ellis.

Round 5: Free Safety Deunta Williams-6’1” 215 pounds

Williams has good size, length and instincts for the free safety position. Suffering a broken leg in his teams bowl game this year will cause him to drop on some draft boards allowing the Raiders to acquire a steal if he checks out medically. As a former top-ranked wide receiver recruit he understands offensive concepts. Williams is a solid tackler. Williams’ benefited from a dominant pass rush early in his career. This former Tar Heel’s size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect.

The choice should be between FS Jerrard Tarrant, S Eric Hagg, S Tyler Sash and OLB Ross Homan. If Williams were off the board, I would select NT Kendrick Ellis.

Round 6: Quarterback Ricki Stanzi-6’4” 221 pounds

Stanzi is a pro-style passer with a good frame for the position. This former Hawkeye is smart with outstanding size and toughness. He stands tall in the pocket and has a compact, over-the-top delivery. Stanzi has fluid footwork in 3-, 5-, 7-step drops.

This three-year starter in the Big 10 has adequate arm strength, but it able to put some zip on short and intermediate throws when he steps into it. The former senior from Iowa will have to do a better job of reading defenses and making better decisions before starting. Stanzi possesses the requisite leadership traits and toughness to develop into a solid NFL starter.

The choice should be between DT Ian Williams, FB Henry Hynoski, G/RT Mike Person and QB Pat Devlin

Round 7: Wide Receiver Lester Jean -6’3” 211 pounds

Jean has prototypical size and speed for the position. Will go over the middle make the catch and take the hit. Jean uses his body to shield defenders on slants and in-routes. Jean tracks throws over either shoulder or over his head. Jean worked hard to improve his game and FAU’s offensive MVP earned a trip to the East-West Shrine game and the Scouting Combine.

The choice should be between TE Andre Smith, Guard Bryant Browning, and C Ryan Bartholomew

Round 7: Outside Linebacker Jabara Williams-6’1” 230 pounds

Williams was the Conference Defensive Player of the year had three straight 100-tackle seasons. Williams is very fluid, athletic with good speed, acceleration and instincts. Williams is quick to diagnose plays and solid in coverage.

The choice should be between DT David Carter, SS Shiloh Keo, C J.C. Brignone, and RB Allen Bradford.

The list of un-drafted free agents the Raiders could acquire to fill other roster needs. WR Kris Adams, TE Andre Smith – Virginia Tech, TE Evan Frosch – TCU and TE Richard Gordon – Miami. CB Korey Lindsey – Southern Illinois, OG Bryant Browning – Ohio State, LT Willie Smith – UCF and OLB Bruce Miller – UCF. FS Tejay Johnson – TCU, FS Mark LeGree – Appalachian State and WR Ricardo Lockette – Fort Valley State.

This mock draft addresses the major holes on the Raiders at the Cornerback, Guard, Tackle, Safety and Quarterback. The un-drafted free agents provide competition at other need positions.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How the Lockout will affect the 2011 NFL Draft

The labor dispute has changed several things. The dispute has added the term ‘courtroom football’ to the football vernacular and added April 6, 2011 as an important date on the NFL’s off-season calendar. The labor dispute should come as no surprise and a lockout in 2011 was imminent prior to the start of the 2010 season.

‘Brady v. NFL’ has started, all we know at this point is that U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson wants the case to remain in her court and has urged both sides to return the bargaining table.

However, it will be weeks before we all hear Nelson’s ruling. Two things are for certain—the draft will start and finish before said ruling and that the process could easily drag on for a while.

In the NFL there are normally three ways to improve your football team 1) veteran free agency 2) the Draft 3) signing un-drafted free agents. The lockout has effectively cut those options down to two.

The league granted a record 56 underclassmen special eligibility for the 2011 draft, exceeding last years record-tying 53. This has added depth to a draft class that does not have a true no.1 talent. That ship sailed the moment Stanford QB Andrew Luck made the decision to remain a Cardinal.

The lockout presents an interesting conundrum. The lockout has caused teams to view members of a weak quarterback class in a different light. Seven of the teams with a top-10 pick in the 2011 draft have a big need at quarterback.

The question is what team is going to reach for a QB?

There are six teams with new head coaches. A new head coach has to find his guy at the QB position. The two are, in a sense, married to each other—although the coach and general manager need to be on the same page as well. Some teams have to replace veterans with drafted players.

When you remove the option of adding a veteran quarterback via trade before the draft, the task of a QB needy team is simple, you must land one in the draft. A team could 'trade up' using draft picks. The fact of the matter is, due to the lockout, it is imperative that every team focus more on NEED in every round.

A team with a top-ten selection in the draft has a difficult task ahead of them. This is the drafts most expensive neighborhood. There are only five positions a team should draft with a top-ten pick; 1) A franchise Quarterback 2) A franchise Left Tackle 3) An elite Pass Rusher 4) A Shutdown Cornerback 5) A top-five Running Back.

We have seen teams swing and miss at the top of the first round year in and year out. It is impossible to think that this year will be different. A mistake with a high selection and it could set the franchise back for years.

Imagine, if in 2005, then head coach Mike Nolan and the 49ers brass pulled the trigger on local kid QB Aaron Rodgers instead of QB Alex Smith. The 49ers are just one of at least 13 other teams that had a need at QB in 2005. Mike Nolan is no longer a head coach and Alex Smith will be playing in a different city when league business begins.

In 2006, the Tennessee Titans were in need of a quarterback. Everyone in the organization wanted to draft Matt Leinart except for owner Bud Adams. Adams is from Houston, Texas and he wanted Vince Young.

At that time, Norm Chow was the Titans offensive coordinator. Chow was the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California from 2001-2004. If the Titans pulled the trigger on the USC quarterback, Leinart would have hit the ground running playing in the same offense in college and as a professional.

After 16+ seasons, Jeff Fisher is no longer coaching the Titans. As soon as league business begins, Vince Young will no longer be a Titan. How ironic is it that Leinart is a back up QB in Houston?

If Vince Young can clean up his act and display more maturity, he will have to continue to develop in another city.

Friday, April 8, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Rush Linebackers

These college players were the guys’ once known as ‘tweeners’. These NFL prospects primarily played Defensive End in college, but did not have to size to play the position in the NFL. These prospects possess the athleticism to play the Outside Linebacker position and make an impact as a pass rusher.

To play Defensive End in the NFL the optimum size is 6’ 5” 285 lbs. 3 - 4 scheme calls for run-stopping power ends with more size than speed, quickness, and short area explosion.

The players that do not possess the above-mentioned size are in for a position change at the next level.

The optimum size for a Rush Linebacker in a 3-4 is 6’ 3” 255 lbs. The Rush Linebackers are a team’s primary pass rushers, but they must be big enough to hold up at the line of scrimmage. Outside linebackers must have the strength to shed blocks, the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline and the athletic ability to play in zone or man coverage. A Rush Linebacker has to be able to come off the ball low to the ground and bend.

The 3-4 or “30” front, popular in the NFL, has started sprouting around the college landscape. Former NFL coaches leading college football programs have been good for the league. NFL teams employing the 3-4 had difficulty projecting college defensive ends to the Rush Linebacker position because few colleges ran the scheme.

In general, pro-style college programs have produced the most NFL-ready prospects. Defensively schools like Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, USC, and Miami come to mind. This is where the SEC has shined.

The NFL scouting community took notice when Nick Saban took over at the University of Alabama. The more coaches like Saban teach the scheme and develop talent the better job evaluators can do projecting college players to the NFL.

Almost every year, these are the guys that grab lots of headlines going into the draft and have phenomenal showing at the NFL combine and on their schools pro day.

Fifteen teams in the NFL employ the 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, six of the 10 Super Bowl winners ran a 3-4 scheme as their base defense. The most desirable traits NFL teams seek in OLB prospects…

Instincts: The ability to find the ball, read play-action and mis-direction, and quickly recognize whether to play the run or drop into coverage.

Range: Outside linebackers operate in space and must be able to get depth in their drops and cover backs-sometimes even receivers-in the slot. They must have enough speed, range to flow to the ball, and chase down backs from sideline to sideline.

Athletic Ability: A rush linebacker has to be a more accomplished pass rusher. A rush linebacker has to come off the ball low to the ground and bend. Ideally, he has to have rare athletic ability.

Hall of famer Lawrence Taylor made this position famous, but today’s prototypes are James Harrison, Clay Matthews Jr., Lamar Woodley, Terrell Suggs, Shawn Phillips, DeMarcus Ware and Brian Orapko.

In this draft, here are the top Rush Linebackers who are rare, physical specimens who have demonstrated the ability to cause havoc:

1) Von Miller - OLB Texas A&M 6’ 2” 240 lbs.
2) Robert Quinn – North Carolina OLB/DE 6’ 5” 270 lbs.
3) Akeem Ayers – OLB UCLA 6’ 3” 255 lbs.
4) Aldon Smith – Missouri OLB/DE 6’ 5” 255 lbs.
5) Justin Houston – OLB Georgia 6’ 3” 258 lbs.
6) Ryan Kerrigan – Purdue 6’ 4” 263 lbs.
7) Jabaal Sheard – Pittsburgh 6’ 3” 255 lbs.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Will be a match up of Dick LeBeau vs. Dom Capers

The moment that the conference championship games were set, there was a chance that that at least one team that ran a 3-4 defense as their base defense would once again compete for a championship. The first championship game between teams that used, the 3-4 as their base defense, was Super Bowl XV when the Oakland Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in 1980.

Fifteen teams in the league use the 3-4 as their base defense. The Houston Texans will raise that number to 16 in 2011. There are rumors that the Oakland Raiders will increase the league total to 17. The Bears and Vikings are the only teams in the league to never use the 3-4 as their base defense.

Bud Wilkinson is widely recognized as the father of the 3-4 defensive front. Wilkinson devised the scheme at the University of Oklahoma in the 1940s. However, Chuck Fairbanks is the person credited with importing the scheme to the NFL. Fairbanks’ schemes greatly influenced winning teams long after he retired such as the N.Y Giants, New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers have used the 3-4 as their base defense since 1982, ironically one year after Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene and defensive end L.C. Greenwood retired. Pittsburgh, among others, have also used 2-4-5 & 1-5-5 alignments both variants of the 3-4 scheme.

Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau was the defensive backfield coach while Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator from 1992-1994 before leaving to become the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Once Dom Capers departed for the Panthers Dick LeBeau, became the defensive coordinator.

These two old friends will be the featured bout of the evening. Defense wins championships and it is what will decide Super Bowl 45. Super Bowl 45 will be a closer game than people realize. The fact that the coordinators know each other and the scheme both teams will run Super Bowl 45 could easily come to what defense executes better.

The Packers defense has been awesome since switching to the 3-4. The Steelers happen to be the best 3-4 defense in the league. Pittsburgh has instinctive playmakers at every level of their defense. The Packers have several playmakers on their defense as well.

Both offenses can move the football and a led by outstanding quarterbacks. The Steelers are fundamentally sound, excellent tacklers, will not be fooled and simply do an excellent job of figuring out what an offense is trying to do to them and stopping them.

The championship will have a noticeable Steeler feel to it. Former Steeler players Kevin Greene and Darren Perry are position coaches for the Packers. The Steelers and Packers possess the two best defenses in the league.

The scheme is the same for both teams. You can say that both teams are working off the same script. The Steelers and Packers rank first and second in points and sacks, second and fifth in total yards.

The Steelers are first in the league in run defense; which means that Pittsburgh shouldn’t have any problem shutting down the Green Bay running game making the Packers one dimensional.

However, that one dimension the Green Bay passing game is one of the leagues best. An excellent way to attack a 3-4 defense is to place the four linebackers in coverage as oppose to having them playing downhill and rushing the quarterback. The Packers can put four talented receivers on the field and spread the defense out.

These two teams had a 73-point shootout in 2009 won by the Steelers. This game will not be a shootout. The team that executes better on defense, is balanced on offense and wins the turnover battle will win this game.

As a football fan, I am saddened that this will be the last game of the season. Before you settle in to watch the spectacle that is Super Bowl 45 at a sports bar, Super Bowl party at a friend’s home or at your home don’t forget to thank Eugene Polley & Robert Adler.

These guys invented the remote control and made it possible to comfortably raise the volume on your TV from your favorite chair. The remote has become a close friend most guys are accused of having a death-grip on. While controlling your remote control this Sunday prepare to enjoy a low scoring defensive battle to end the year.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Will 2011 be the year that Tim Brown gets a call from the Hall

The NFL released the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2011 on January 10 2011. The 44-member selection committee will meet on February 5, 2011 in North Texas. Tim Brown must receive a minimum positive vote of 80 percent.

Tim Brown won the Heisman trophy and Walter Camp award in 1987. Brown was the first wide receiver to win the Heisman. The Notre Dame Graduate drafted sixth overall by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988. Brown was the first wide receiver off the board.

The multi talented wide receiver/returner came into the league and made an immediate impact. Brown led the league in kickoff returns, return yards, average yards per return in addition to making 43 catches for 725 yards and scoring five touchdowns.

The Dallas, Texas native was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. Brown played in 255 games finished his career with 1,094 receptions, 14, 934 receiving yards and 100 touchdowns.

It is a known fact that Tim Brown was one of the best wide receivers in College Football and NFL history. Brown was a member of the NFL 1990's All-Decade team. Brown posted an NFL record 75 receptions in 10 straight seasons. There are currently three members of the 12-round 1988 draft in the Hall of Fame; Tim Brown is attempting to take his rightful place as the fourth.

Although denied in year one Brown became eligible for enshrinement in 2010. Understandable when you consider the traffic jam of accomplished receiver candidates awaiting entry such as Jerry Rice, Andre Reed and Chris Carter.

The College Football Hall of Fame inducted “Touchdown Timmy” in 2010. This is the second year of eligibility for Tim Brown, the man known simply as, Mr. Raider. Brown spent 15 of his 16 years in the NFL proudly wearing silver and black in Los Angeles and Oakland.