Monday, September 27, 2010

Vick’s ride from coddled superstar to team leader

Michael Vick is proving to be a good decision for the Philadelphia Eagles.  With Vick’s pro bowl performances over the last two weeks, fans are jumping on the Eagles’ bandwagon, fantasy league owners are regretting not drafting him and sports pundits are noting that Vick is not only back, but also better.  I am thinking about Michael Vick’s journey from public housing in Newport News, VA passing the campus of Virginia Tech; through the 2001 NFL Draft where he was the first overall pick, traveling to the Atlanta Falcons, speeding with million dollar endorsements and a lavish lifestyle, then crashing and landing in United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth, a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. 

After two years away from the NFL, Vick began his second tour of professional football in 2009 with the Philadelphia Eagles.  The key he was handed was not to a shiny new starting quarterback position.  It was just to a roster spot – a modest opportunity to get him from point A to point B.  A year later, Vick has displayed that he is very appreciative for his “hooptie.”  He put everything that he had into it and shined it up, so when Andy Reid called him to be the starting quarterback, he was ready.  He showed that he is still an elite quarterback, displayed a passing skill set that many did not know existed and drove his team to victory.  What makes Vick so much better than he was before?


Vick was blessed and cursed with exceptional speed.  Like many talented young athletes, he was spoiled.  His community praised him and teachers let him slide.  People gravitated to him because of an ability that came natural to him.  Football was not work for him, it was a fun game that he had been playing since he was 3.  No one told him anything differently and did not demand more for him.  This proved to be to his detriment.  While he was great, we now see that he still had not reached his potential.  How much better could he have been if his parents, teachers, advisors, mentors and attorneys had demanded more from him?

Admittedly, Vick did not give his all when he was in Atlanta.  He would arrive at practice late and leave early.  He did not condition or read his playbook.  Why?  He was Michael Vick and he had excelled without doing any of those things.  In the post game press conference, after the Eagles beat Jacksonville 28-3 yesterday, Vick was asked about his passing game being better than it was before.  In answering, he explained that in Atlanta the offense was about his running game.  Passing was not expected of him.

Vick’s journey is not only a warning for young athletes.  It is a lesson for parents and adults in authority over children.  How many other Michael Vicks are growing up being pampered because of their athletic abilities?  Instead of being challenged to do better, they are coddled and complacent.  Adults have to be leaders and set high expectations.  Children will meet them.

The Eagles organization made their expectations crystal clear.  Vick was to compete, earn a spot on the roster and not be an embarrassment to the team.  As his mentor, Tony Dungy, was straightforward about his expectations of Vick respecting his profession and being a responsible citizen.  Vick is meeting the expectations and setting higher ones.   

Quick notes from the NFL in Week 3

-       The Cowboys and the Vikings got their first win of the season.  The Vikings victory was not impressive.  Favre is still throwing interceptions, but they played the Detroit Lions who have only won 3 games since December 2007.  Luckily, Adrian Peterson rushed for 160 yard.   
-       Kansas City beat San Francisco 31 - 10 and remains undefeated.  However 2 of their first 3 opponents have not won a game.
-       Atlanta gave the defending champs, New Orleans Saints their first loss of the season in overtime.  The final score was 27 – 24.
-       Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers are still winless.
-       Chicago Bears play Green Bay Packers at home tonight on MNF.  The winner will be the division leader in the NFC North.  Both teams are undefeated, but I don’t feel like Chicago had any real competition in the first two weeks and they barely beat Detroit.  I think Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and defensive back Charles Woodson will be too much for Chicago.

Around college campuses
-       Alabama capitalized on Ryan Mallets interceptions in the fourth quarter and survived an upset.  Alabama  24 – Arkansas 20
-       The leaders in the Big Ten pounded on non-conference opponents.  Things will start to get tough this weekend when conference action begins.
-       Boise State eventually pulled out a win over Oregon State 37 -24.
-       Texas is completely embarrassed by its loss to UCLA.  The Bruins killed them 34 -12.
-       Notre Dame loss its third consecutive game.
-       This week get ready for these conference battles: Alabama #1 against Florida #7 at home in the SEC and Wisconsin #9 at Michigan State #21 in the Big Ten. (USA Today Poll)

Heels & Helmets

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vick is Back!

Week 2 in the NFL gives teams a second chance to impress fans.  Win, and fans believe they were just rusty last week.  Lose, and fans begin questioning when they are going to win.  Before I move into the highlights of the second week, I have to go back to Week 1 and Calvin Johnson’s touchdown. 

Last week, I shared the rule on a player going to the ground with a catch and noted that according to this rule, Johnson’s touchdown was incomplete.  After a reader blasted me for not being the critical thinker he has come to know through my blog, I had to revisit the play and the rule.  I will not say how many times I looked at the replay, but let’s just say if I were given a dollar for each time I reviewed it, we would all be getting Louboutins, heading to Nice and cruising the Mediterranean, ON ME!   

Anyway, after reviewing the play, the catch was a touchdown.  Again, the rule is:
If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

I want to point out this part of the rule, If he loses control of the ball.” Calvin Johnson never lost control of the ball.  He caught the ball with two hands and moved it to one hand, but he still had control of the ball.  (Think of it as a one-hand catch.)  The ball was not rolling around in his hand.  He had a tight grip on the ball and maintained control when his body hit the ground.  As a result, it was a touchdown.

Now on to NFL Week 2.  Some teams had a better second day at school.  Others you can expect are going to start using the old “the dog ate my homework” excuse.  

Becoming a star pupil  - Michael Vick, started as a NFL Quarterback for the first time since December 2006 when he was an Atlanta Falcon.  (He missed the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons because he was incarcerated for his involvement with dog fighting.)  Building on a solid performance last week of over 65% passing completions and 103 rushing yards against Green Bay, the former pro bowler displayed that he has shaken off the dust.  With 284 passing yards, 37 rushing yards, deep passes and quick moves to avoid the defense, he led the Eagles to their first victory of the season in a win over the Detroit Lions.  While Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid says that there is not a controversy over the quarterback position, I expect that Eagles fan will start one if Kevin Kolb struggles next week.  A little secret: the Eagles offensive linemen are quietly hoping for Vick to start as well.  For 11 years they have protected a quarterback who is mobile.  They are not accustomed to holding off the defense for a quarterback to take an entire class period to throw the ball.  Vick fits Philadelphia’s O-line perfectly.

Not meeting expectations – The Cowboys and the Vikings were predicted by many to compete for the Super Bowl.  Now both teams are still hoping to get their first win.  The problem for the Vikings is that Brett Favre was not in training camp and they are in need of wide receivers.  The Cowboys on the other hand, have all of the pieces, but they are not prepared.  Both of their losses were due to tons of mistakes.  Since 1990, only 22 teams that started off 0 – 2 made it to the playoffs.  The New York Giants won the Super Bowl in 2008 after beginning the season 0-2, so there is hope for these teams.  I think Minnesota will see their first win at home against the Lions next week.  Things are looking gloom for the Cowboys.  They play an undefeated Houston team on the road next week and are off the following week.  I see the Cowboys not getting their first win until October.

Sibling rivalry – “Manning Bowl II” was no contest, AT ALL.  Big brother, Peyton, showed little brother, Eli, how to lead an offense and dominate.  Unfortunately, for the younger Manning, his big bro was totally focused on avenging a disappointing loss to Houston that opened the season.  The Giants could not do anything to stop the Colts offense.  It was truly over when the Giants were still scoreless in the 3rd quarter and the Colts kept Peyton in to continue beating up on his kid brother’s team.  The Colts win it easily, 38 – 14 and Peyton remains undefeated against his brother.

Name off of the chalkboard - The Jets stopped talking and just did their work.  The offense was… an offense.  The line blocked, Mark Sanchez threw the ball, Dustin Keller and Braylon Edwards caught the ball and LaDainian Tomlinson ran the ball.  See how productive a unit can be when everyone just does there job?  Their defense limited Tom Brady to just 2 touchdowns.  One of those was an awesome catch by Randy Moss, but it was not enough.  Jets win it 28 – 14 at home.

On the college gridiron, another team from the state of Michigan entered the top 25 after beating Notre Dame.  Michigan State is now 3-0 and #25 and #23 on the AP and USA Today Polls respectively.  In the USA Today Poll, they are right behind Michigan #22.  This adds more fuel to the intra-state and conference rivalry.  Their meeting on October 9 at the Big House, well BIGGER House, will be a battle!   This week’s game to watch is Alabama #1 against Arkansas #12.  This will be a test for both teams.  Arkansas looked great in a victory on the road against Georgia, but their defense will have to slow down Heisman winner, Mark Ingram.  Alabama has dominated in their first three games, but this will be their first game on the road against a ranked opponent.

MNF – Tonight the reigning Super Bowl Champs, New Orleans Saints, will play the San Francisco 49ers.  Last week the 49ers gave up 31 points to the Seattle Seahawks.  Surely their defense will not be able to hold off Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush.  Who Dat Nation will see their team remain undefeated.

Heels & Helmets

Monday, September 13, 2010

The NFL opened its doors, school is in session

The NFL is in full swing!  NFL Kickoff weekend is like the first day of school.  New coaches, new players, new stadiums lead fans to get new TVs, grills, NFL game packages and of course gear.  This is all necessary to start the school year.  Ask any kid; you can’t go back to school without new supplies and new gear!

The two things that always made me anxious about the first day of school were the unknown and a new beginning.  I did not know what to expect from my new teacher.  Older students may have told me about the teacher, but I had not experienced his or her class myself.   Week 1 in the NFL is the same way.  It is the only week that teams prepare for without regular season game tapes of their opponents.  Sure they read about training camp and watch some preseason games, but teams will not truly know what the other teams are made of until the first game of the regular season.

So how was the first day of school?  Let’s take a look.

Welcome Back Carroll - Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks Head Coach, enthusiastically returned to a NFL sideline after coaching the University of Southern California Trojans for 9 seasons.  He was welcomed back with smiles and the smiles got bigger after Seattle trampled on the 49ers 31 – 6.

Unfair Detention – The Detroit Lions loss to the Chicago Bears 19 – 14 at home.  Many blame this on Calvin Johnson’s “touchdown” being ruled incomplete.  For the record, according to NFL Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 it was incomplete.  The rule states:
Going to the ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

The rule may need to be changed, but as Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz said, “He didn’t finish with the football.”  I really respect Coach Schwartz not blaming this loss on one call or one play.  Four quarters of football were played and the loss does not simply rest on a play that happened in the last 31 seconds of the game.  Going forward, the problem for the Lions is that their starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, suffered a shoulder injury and may be out 4 – 6 weeks.  Just when I had them winning 4 games this year. 

Needed more summer school – The Redskins beat rival, Dallas Cowboys at home 13 – 7, but it was not because they did anything great.  Redskins quarterback, Donovan McNabb, showed hints that he can still compete at an elite level with nice completions to Santana Moss and one run of 17 yards.  However, the offensive line did not protect well and the defense was lackluster.  On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys offense just couldn’t connect and the defense seemed confused.  Both teams need some work.  It was a disappointing matchup that was supposed to be a battle between archenemies.

Bullies not so scary after all – With thousands of microphones around to catch every word that Cincinnati wide receivers, Ochocinco and T.O. say; I was expecting the dynamic duo to be a threat and… catch a lot more balls.  Despite both receivers reaching milestones, Ochocinco surpassed 10,000 passing yards and T.O. topped 15,000, the offense did not live up to the hype.

Teachers Pet – Over the weekend, Tom Brady, became the highest paid player in the NFL.  The $72 million contract makes the two-time Super Bowl MVP a Patriot for four more years.  New England Head Coach Bill Belichick summed up his feelings on the contract extension by saying, “There’s no other quarterback I’d rather have.”  Yesterday, Brady displayed why.  He had 258 yards, completed over 71% of his passes, did not throw an interception and led the Patriots to a 38 - 24 win over Cincinnati.

After school – Tonight Monday Night Football (MNF) starts the regular season with a double header.  The Baltimore Ravens head to the New Meadowlands Stadium to face the New York Jets at 7 p.m. EST and the Kansas City Chiefs will open its doors to the San Diego Chargers at 10:15 p.m. EST.  My thoughts?  The Jets and Ravens both have strong defenses and new additions to their offense, but I’m giving the edge to the Jets.  As for Kansas and San Diego, there is no competition.  Even without LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers will win in Arrowhead Stadium.

College men - The ACC had a bad weekend because their four ranked teams (Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and last season’s conference champ, Georgia Tech) lost to nonconference opponents.  Miami is the only school that remains in the ranking at #17.  The Big 10 is shining.  Penn State #22 loss to Alabama, but the conferences other three ranked teams (Ohio State #2, Iowa #9 and Wisconsin #12) all pulled out victories.  Michigan entered the top 25 at #20 (AP) and #22 (USA Today) after beating Notre Dame. 

Heels & Helmets

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

College, NFL, fantasy leagues – Are you ready for football?

College football started, the NFL kicks off its season tomorrow and fantasy leagues have completed their drafts.  With so much going on, I decided to take a quick look at all three and give you some info to prepare for this weekend.

College Football
The first weekend of college football was really exciting!  The University of Michigan opened its new stadium to a sold-out crowd by demolishing Connecticut.   Quarterback, Denard Robinson, set a school record rushing for 197 yards at that position.  (I told you that the third year would be a charm.)  Boise State traveled to the nation’s capital and legitimized its #3 ranking by defeating Virginia Tech (#13) at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.  Boise gets to rest this weekend.  Michigan will go on the road to play non-conference rival Notre Dame led by new coach Brian Kelly.  Both teams are trying to climb its way into the top 25.  The Fighting Irish opened its season with a win over Purdue.  But, I do not think that their defense will be able to handle the speed of Robinson. 

The game to follow will be Ohio State (#2) and Miami (#12) at the “Horseshoe” in Columbus.  Miami lost the 2003 National Championship Game (Fiesta Bowl) to Ohio State in which a controversial call was made against Miami for pass interference.  The Hurricanes will be playing for all of the former players who were on the 2002 team.  They seem good enough to beat the Buckeyes.  I know that football is a team sport, but this is going to come down to the performance of one guy – Ohio State quarterback, Terrelle Pryor.  He is good enough to contend for the Heisman, but he also makes decisions that make him look like he should be on the bench.  I have been told that your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.  If TP is the Buckeyes’ greatest strength they will send Miami back to South Beach with an “L.”  If he is the team’s greatest weakness, there will be a serious hurricane in Northern Ohio.

Who Dat going to New Orleans?
It’s NFL Kickoff in the Big Easy!  Drew Brees and the Saints start the road to defend their Super Bowl Title at home against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings tomorrow.  Both teams have their quarterbacks intact, but Favre’s ankle is still questionable.  The last time the teams played was earlier this year in the NFC Championship game.  In that game, Favre took a tough hit that injured his left ankle and threw an interception that ended the game.  Favre did not come back at 41 after major surgery on his ankle to lose.  I see him willing his way to victory and avenging his performance in last season’s NFC Championship game.  OK, I need him to do well because he is my fantasy QB.  Which brings me to…

Fantasy Football
You drafted your players and selected your defense.  Don’t worry if you did not get everyone that you wanted.  You can trade and draft new players throughout the season.  If you are new to fantasy football these three easy things will help you be successful with your team:
1. Keep up with your players’ schedules and do not have them on your roster when they have a “Bye” week.

2. Check in on injury reports and make sure that you are starting players who are still healthy and able to play.

3. Have patience and don’t trade immediately.  A player may start off slow and end up with a great season.  Try benching a player before you trade.

Now turn in your rosters and kick butt!  Just don’t mess up your heels.

Heels & Helmets

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The NFL’s best wide receivers are in Texas, Not Ohio

Yesterday we looked at running backs to draft on a fantasy team.  Today, we will explore wide receivers.  Remember, this is not about the team’s record, but the performance of the player.  Look at the player’s ability and the potential he has to get a lot of time and passes thrown his way.

Silent assassinCalvin Johnson (Detroit Lions) is a phenomenal athlete.  His height and speed make it difficult for cornerbacks and safeties to cover him.  You may not have heard of him, but you should get familiar with him.  You will not see him talk smack on headline news or on the sideline, but he gets the job done.  If he were on a better team, he certainly would be a pro bowler and household name.  The Lions do not have a strong running game, so you can expect that they will pass a lot.  Johnson can score major points for your team.

Old faithfulsRandy Moss (New England Patriots) and Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts) are veteran wide receivers on good teams.  Randy is definitely more talented than Reggie, but they both put up over 1,200 receiving yards last season.  They have good chemistry with their quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning respectively.  Enough said.

Good, but questionableLarry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) is a great receiver.  After two consecutive years of over 1,400 receiving yards, he only had 1,092 yards last season.  He sprained his knee a couple of weeks ago and it has not been confirmed whether he will be able to play at the start of the regular season. 

Nasty Nati BoysChad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are both in Cincinnati now giving Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer two strong options.  Ochocinco is still the #1 receiver in Cincinnati.  With Antonio Bryant out of the way (he was released over the weekend), there is no question that T.O. is going to get a lot of time.  T.O. did not get a job until training camp, so I think that he will want to show the other 31 teams that he is still good and can make any team better.

Lone Star SuperstarsMiles Austin (Dallas Cowboys) and Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) are the top receivers on their teams.  Miles had a very impressive season last year and looks to build on that this year.  Andre is the highest paid receiver in the NFL.   In the past two seasons he has accumulated close to 1,600 receiving yards.  This is the reason that the Texans ensured that he was going to stay in Houston.  You should consider applying the same reasoning to your team.

OK, it’s going down on Monday.  Heels & Helmets Fantasy Football League Draft on September 6 online at noon!  Who will you pick?

Heels & Helmets