Pro Bowl Selections are in and so is the Controversy

Pro Bowl selections were announced on Tuesday (December 19th) and once again it was one of the most controversial events of the NFL calendar.  With the balloting over the debating can begin as players, coaches, and fans have reason to celebrate or question picks.  The game will be played in Honolulu on Feb. 10, a week after the Super Bowl, so there will be plenty of time for everyone to chime in on who was snubbed or deserving. Remember the selection process like baseball’s All Star Game is affected by the fans (1/3 of the vote) voting based on popularity.  Reputation sometimes sways voters to pick players that may not “deserve” to go (ex. Cowboys Safety Roy Williams).  A recap of the selections shows once again that the teams with the best records (12-2, AFC – Chargers: 9 and NFC – Bears: 7) have the most players selected as a starter or reserve.  The San Diego “Super” Chargers’ contingent includes record-setting running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers, who was thought to be a green prospect earlier in the year after sitting behind Drew Brees for two seasons. The Chargers decision to start Rivers has paid dividends for themselves and the Saints, who signed NFC Pro Bowl starter Brees as a free agent this past summer. The Chargers did have their own controversy as LB Shawne Merriman was selected despite missing four games for flunking a steroid test.

The Bears special teamers led the way as they had three of the four special teams positions sewn up with kicker Robbie Gould, specialist Brendan Ayanbadejo and rookie return man Devin Hester making the trip over to Hawaii.  Hester who set an NFL record with six returns for touchdowns was one of 12 first time selections on the NFC team along with this years biggest surprise player Dallas QB Tony Romo.   Romo’s selection completed a season long journey from Drew Bledsloe’s backup at the beginning of the season to Pro Bowl reserve.  Romo, who has led the Cowboys to 6 wins in 8 starts, took advantage of a lack of quality NFC QB’s (Injuries – McNabb and Ineffectiveness – Delhomme, E. Manning, etc). The NFC team will also include the Barber twins (Tiki of the NY Giants and Ronde of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) for the 3rd straight time.  With their selection they now join the Sharpe brothers (Shannon and Sterling) in making the Pro Bowl for three straight seasons (1993-95).

Another deserving first timer is Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne (3rd in NFL with 1129 yards receiving). Wayne will be joined in the AFC receiving core by Chad Johnson (Bengals), Andre Johnson (Texans), and teammate Marvin Harrison. Another notable selection is QB Peyton Manning, who will be making his 8th Pro Bowl and we know he will be holding court at the hotel pool joking with other players and enjoying himself.  Manning will be joined at the QB position by the previously mentioned Rivers, Romo, Brees, Marc Bulger, and “comeback kid” Carson Palmer

One of the best stories of the selection process was the selection of 49ers running back Frank Gore.  Gore as a rookie in 2005 was a reserve behind the underachieving Kevan Barlow.  The Niners seeing something in Gore dealt Barlow to the Jets before the season.  Gore responded running for 1,491 yards with a 5.5 yards per carry average and helping the 49ers stay in the NFC West race until the end.  The Pro Bowl selection is the icing on the cake for a player that has overcome two reconstructive knee surgeries in college at Miami.  The 5-9, 215-pounder is now looking to break Garrison Hearst’s club record set in 1998 (1,571 yards).  Guard Will Shields of the Kansas City Chiefs will go for the 12th time, tying a mark held by former Minnesota Viking Randall McDaniel.

The process does have the problem of “snubs” and I have listed some players that will not be making the trip to Hawaii in February.  The biggest problem areas always seem to be at RB (Fred Taylor) and WR (Terrell Owens), because there are so many deserving candidates.  These guys shouldn’t be sad because injuries, playoff worn down players, alternates, coaches picks, etc will factor in non-selected players being able to take in the NFL’s All Star game/vacation week.

Offense
RB: Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Sorry Andy Reid but this was not a slam dunk with the voters.  Westbrook has the numbers (1,092 yards w/ 5.1 ypr, caught 74 passes for 664 yards 11 combined touchdowns), but I guess carrying the team while McNabb has been out is not enough.

WR: Terrell Owens, Cowboys – Stop spitting and acting up in the media and maybe voters will remember your NFL leading 11 receiving touchdowns.

OT: Marcus McNeil, San Diego – My number two rated offensive tackle in last year’s draft.  McNeil has swung over from his college right tackle position to anchor the line from left tackle position after Roman Oben went down.  LT got many of his yards behind him and Rivers know McNeil will keep him clean.

FB: Ovie Mughelli, Ravens –  Is an unknown outside of Baltimore, but Ovie is a good blocker and worker.

WR: Roy Williams, Lions – Who else has stepped on offense for the terrible Lions.  Williams  has 1127 yards through 14 games, which is more receiving yards than every NFC receiver other than Green Bay’s Donald Driver.

Defense 
DE: Trevor Pryce, Ravens – Went to a new team, but was an established an established Pro Bowl player in the past for the Broncos.  Had 12 sacks for the AFC’s best defense, but was bypassed.

DT: Warren Sapp, Raiders – Started slow, but has been a rock in the middle for Oakland’s underrated defense.  Has eight sacks too.

LB: DeMeco Ryans, Texans – The Texan’s tackling machine with over 130 tackles (leads rookies) and 3.5 sacks.  Being the best player on a team that selected another higher profile defender should have earned him the trip.

LB: Bart Scott, Ravens – Scott and Thomas are now the best playmaking OLB duo in the NFL in the 1985 Bears Wilson/Marshall mold.  Scott seems to be everywhere racking up nine sacks, eight pass defenses, and the hardest

CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders – Another victim of the Raiders overall bad play and record.  Asomugha deserved a trip with the NFL’s 2nd most picks (7 INT’s)

S: Kevin Kaesviharn, Bengals – Come on he was on BPR 50, so he has to get our props.  Besides he led all safeties with six interceptions and is a ferocious hitter.
 
Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • After watching the Packers beating the Vikings 9 to 7 on Thursday, I though all of the final game and retirement talk for Brett Favre was premature.  My gut tells me that Favre will be back and that we will not have another off-season of flip-flopping again.
  • Hall and Owens to put ‘spitting’ feud behind them – After Terrell Owens spit in DeAngelo Hall’s face in Saturday night’s game, Hall insisted he’d have nothing to do with the Dallas receiver.  Owens was fined $35,000 by the NFL, but kept trying to contact Hall.  It took ex-Falcons’ star cornerback Deion Sanders to finally convinced Hall to take a three-way telephone call from Owens and accept his apology.  Afterward Hall “said” the feud was over.
  • Johnson respects Champ Bailey – Calling Bailey the ‘best in the game’, Johnson refused to utter one word of smack against Denver’s Champ Bailey (8 INT’s, the league co-leader). “He is the best man to ever wear a uniform, period. I mean, besides Deion (Sanders)” Johnson said.  However we all know that once the game starts Johnson will be squawking at Bailey.

Vince Young Should be the Rookie of the Year

We all know who is going to win the NFL MVP, it is going to be LT in case you didn’t know (Sorry Drew).  But who is the NFL’s top rookie?  Usually the 1st player taken has a good chance of winning the award, but Mario Williams is not even the best defensive rookie on the Texans.  For the record, Tennessee QB Vince Young is my rookie of the year for 2006, because he has had the most impact of any rookie this year.  He has taken over as the unquestioned leader of the Titans in a short period of time, not missing a beat after winning the National Championship for Texas in 2005.  He has poise, leadership, and charisma have led to victories including upsets over Philadelphia, New York (Giants), and Indianapolis. His overtime touchdown scamper of 39 yards led the Titans to another thrilling win (Titans 26, Houston 20).  The play and the win were a cruel reminder to Texans fans of what they were missing by their team’s decision not to use the top overall pick of the draft on Young.  He has put up several sound performances since taking over for the ineffective Kerry Collins and has provided a spark to a Titans team that many picked to finish last. Young has shown consistently good game management and his throwing skills are just as dangerous as his explosive running outside the pocket. By the way where are all those so-called “experts”, who said Young’s throwing motion and wonderlic score (meaningless) would cause him to falter as a pro.  I even heard some talk show hosts and message board participants say Young should be converted to a WR.  Well where are they now (laughs on them).  Norm Chow and Jeff Fisher made the move to bring in Young and now they will have a Rookie of the Year candidate to validate their selection of him with the 3rd overall pick.
His numbers (6-4 as a starter with 1704 yards passing w/ 10 TD’s and 459 yards rushing w/ 5 TD’s) through 13 games are respectable and Young’s leadership gives the Titans much hope for the future.

The other R.O.Y contenders include:

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars) Has a NFL best 6.1 yards per rush average and produced a rookie-best and team-high 12 touchdowns.  Jones-Drew who was our guest on BPR 34 is a small, but physical and explosive player.  He has shown that he is more than a kick returner by running the ball hard out of the backfield.

KR/DB Devin Hester (Chicago Bears) Can a special teams only guy win the award?  If it is to happen, Hester is the man for award with his NFL record six returns for scores this year. I call Hester “Deion Sanders Jr”, because he has the raw explosive speed and elusiveness in the return game that his mentor had early in his career.  If he has an inch, he is going to the house.  He has saved the Bears several times from poor offensive performances.  Hester should make the pro bowl with his great yards per return numbers (35.1 on Kickoffs and 14.4 on Punts).

WR Marques Colston (New Orleans Saints) A 7th Round pick, Colston is the steal of the draft.  The Saints liked his size (6-4, 231), but they had no idea that he was going to be the compliment that they needed opposite Joe Horn. Colston almost won the award early through the first 10 games with 54 catches for 869, looking like a threat to Bill Groman’s rookie record of 1,473 receiving yards set in 1960. He has come back down due to a sprained ankle against Cincinnati, which caused him to miss a couple games. He should get some votes though with 59 Catches for 917 receiving yards and 7 TD’s.

LB DeMeco Ryans (Houston Texans) The 2nd round pick has shown that he is the anchor of the Texans defense above 1st Rounder Williams.  Ryans is a tackling machine with 127 tackles (104 solo) and 3.5 sacks. Ryans is a relentless ball pursuer, who battles to the end of games.  He is a lock for the defensive rookie of the year and has an outside chance of making the Pro Bowl. He leads the NFL with 127 tackles (104 solo) and has 3.5 sacks, which is only one behind Mario Williams.

Best of the Rest:
Laurence Maroney, RB, Patriots
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints
A.J. Hawk, LB, Packers
Kamerion Wembley, DE, Browns
Michael Huff, DB, Raiders
Lloyd’s Leftovers

o No RB Duty for Vick – Michael Vick rightfully balked at the notion of him playing RB and Matt Schaub taking over at quarterback due to rb injuries.  Vick is a good runner, but he is not built to be RB taking too many hits.  My advice is for the Falcons to design specific option type plays with Vick first. Remember how “Slash” crashed and burned after people viewed him not as a quarterback.

o Decision time for Cowher – Bill Cowher admitted for this week that he must make a decision soon after the season whether to continue to coach the Steelers or retire to his new home in Raleigh, N.C.

o Doctors were wrong – News has come out that the Miami Dolphins medical staff misevaluated Daunte Culpepper’s knee and Drew Brees’ shoulder during their free agent visits.  On the advice of the Medical Staff they passed on Brees and chose Culpepper, who abandoned his rehabilitation and later needed further surgery after rushing back.  Conversely Brees didn’t need to sit as long as they thought and has been a Pro Bowl type player for the Saints leading them to the playoffs.

o Eight is enough – Fed-up Lewis embarrassed by Bengals’ rash of arrests is going to take action.  The Bengals can’t stay out of trouble and their head coach is tired of apologizing for them. The latest trouble involves CB Deltha O’Neal being benched for a game after he became the eighth Bengals player arrested this year (DUI). They better take care of these constant problems, because the NFL is not the NBA in terms of leniency and Commissioner Roger Goodell already has the problem children Bengals on his list of things to clean-up.

Troy Smith is the run away winner of the 2006 Heisman Trophy

NEW YORK, NY. — The 72nd Heisman Trophy was handed out Saturday night at the Nokia Theater in Times Square.  As expected Senior QB Troy Smith of Ohio State was the landslide winner of the award, appearing on 99% of the ballots.  Smith coolly waited for his name to be announced and took his place as the first Buckeye quarterback and the school’s sixth overall winner to take home the award.  Arkansas running back Darren McFadden (878) finished second, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (782) was surprisingly third and West Virginia running back Steve Slaton (214) was fourth.
 
In a year in which he has made throwing touchdown passes and leading his team into the national championship game look very easy, it is only fitting that the Cleveland native should take home the award. Smith received 801 votes and 86.7percent of the first-place votes, which broke last year’s record of 84.9 percent for Reggie Bush.  Smith also came close to the long standing first place votes (855) and margin between first and second (1,750 points) records of O.J. Simpson from 1968.

Smith spoke eloquently about his journey from the mean streets of Cleveland to Ohio State and then the Heisman Trophy.  Normally unfazed by pressure, Smith admitted to being charged for the award when he said “Normally, I’m pretty cool in pressure situations, but my heart is pounding so fast now” as he first went to the podium.  He thanked his Mother, Sister, and Mentor/Father figure Ted Ginn Sr, who helped nurture Smith from a foster home upbringing.  Smith said that he wanted to use the award to show others from the Glenville area of Cleveland that good things can come from the area and that you can make it out and achieve.  Smith said that he would embrace the responsibility of the award and that the expectations would similar to ones he has faced as Ohio State University’s quarterback and leader.

Though there is no signature play for Smith like Bush’s jump back playstation moves from last year, he has a highlight reel of championship level quarterback play (25-2 as a starter). His pre-bowl numbers are impressive (67 percent completions, 2,507 yards, 30 touchdowns, five interceptions), but it is his ability to play in big pressure games and his veteran leadership that impress me most.  A self described “knucklehead” early in his Ohio State career, Smith has grown from adversity including long talks with Head Coach Jim Tressel about his attitude and being suspended for 2005 Alamo Bowl for dealings with a booster.  He now gives the credit first to his teammates including this year’s heisman and prides himself on being the Buckeyes leader each week when the pressure is on. His big game pedigree includes the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, where Smith outclassed this year’s heisman 3rd place finisher Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn (MVP honors w/ 342 yards, 2TD’s passing), the September 9th win at then-No. 2 Texas, and 3 straight victories over bitter rival Michigan.  In the 2006 Game of the Year pitting #1 vs. #2, Smith never flinched taking apart the vaunted Wolverines’ defense for 316 yards and four TD’s proving that he is an All-time Big Ten great at the quarterback position. 

Some will question if Smith would have won the heisman in such a lopsided fashion if high profile potential candidates RB’s Adrian Peterson and Michael Bush did not go down with season-ending injuries, but history has shown quarterbacks that have led a #1 ranked team into the national championship game have an above average of taking home the award (ex. 1993 – Charlie Ward, 2004 – Leinart).  Now that Smith has finished the banquet circuit (won Davey O’Brien Award on Thursday), he can now prepare to lead top-ranked Ohio State (12-0) into the BCS Championship game to play SEC Champion Florida in Glendale, Arizona on January 8, 2007.  Smith hopes to join Charlie Ward (1993), Danny Wuerffel (1996), Chris Weinke (1999), and Matt Leinart (2004) as quarterbacks, who won the Heisman and National Championship in the same season.

Bring Back the Option: NFL Offenses Should Change to Utilize Running QB’s Like Vick by Lloyd Vance

Michael Vick will most likely become the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards either this week or next week.  He is only 40 yards from breaking Chicago’s Bobby Douglas qb single season rushing record of 968 yards from 1972 and he also is 71 yards from becoming the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. These type of numbers have not been approached since “Superback” Randall Cunningham rushed for 942 yards in 1990 for the Eagles.  With Vick’s incredible ability and numbers, I ask the question “Can a run oriented option offense work in the NFL?”  We all know that the NFL is a “passing league first”, but with an exceptional athletes like Vick and converted college option quarterbacks like Antwaan Randle El and Joshua Cribbs on NFL rosters, teams need to find ways to incorporate the option.  The option was last scene in the NFL during the 1987 strike when Bill Walsh called on Mark Blount to execute his option offense for the 49ers in replacement games.

Jim Mora Sr., who recently left his job as a commentator for Fox Sports called Vick a “coach-killer”.  But I say he is an “Ankle Breaker”.  With his 4.2 speed and moves, Vick is a defensive coordinators nightmare once he gets out of the pocket.  He has the rare ability to be the most dangerous runner on the field regardless of position.  Everyone wants Vick to be an accomplished passer, but that is not his game.  After leading the Falcons to two big wins over the Steelers and Bengals by passing for 38-of-58 passing for 523 yards and seven touchdowns in those games, Vick seemed to regress in the next few weeks.  I point to Falcon defensive injuries, several dropped passes by his WR’s, and not playing to Vick’s strengths as the source of his frustration.  His running ability and not his passing is the Falcons biggest weapon as shown in the Saints game where he ran for 166 yards just 7 off his NFL record for a quarterback, while only throwing for only 86 yards.

The option is viewed by NFL snobs as a gimmicky dinosaur college offense that exposes your quarterback to too much punishment and they believe it should go by the way side with Barry Switzer’s wishbone offense.  However I believe speed on the offense side of the ball kills and Vick has the speed, toughness, and decision making to make the option work.   He has not been hurt running the ball.  His only major injury a broken leg in 2003 came when he was in the pocket.  Option offenses have many advantages over defenses.  Most importantly there is not enough time for NFL teams to practice and prepare for teams running option football.  Teams that run the option will an advantage every week.   We have seen option packages in the NFL for Brian Mitchell, Kordell Stewart, and Woodrow Dantzler work with modest success.  Imagine if an entire game plan was made up around the option.  The system can work as it has in college for Rice and the service academies.  Recently West Virginia, Texas, and Penn State all went to a spread option in 2005 allowing athletic quarterbacks Michael Robinson, Pat White, and Vince Young to make quick decisions and put pressure on defenses.  Their running ability led to success on the field with all three winning BCS games including Young leading Texas to the National Championship in the Rose Bowl (200 yards rushing with 3 TD’s).

I am not saying bring on Dee Dowis, Darian Hagan, and Jamelle Holieway as every down NFL quarterbacks, but Offensive Coordinators should get inventive and find ways to incorporate the option into their playbook.  If Knapp and the Falcons want to win they should wise up and work toward Vick’s strengths running the ball.