Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Avery Hospitalized

Lots of various things being thrown around about the Sean Avery this morning, but the most recent development I have seen is that it's a lacerated spleen. That's what the Rangers are saying, at least. The New York Daily News was saying cardiac arrest earlier this morning, but I think this is one of those "let's sit and wait" scenarios given that the story is updating on ESPN every twenty minutes. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that Avery is done for the playoffs.

Best wishes to Mr. Avery - I now feel pretty bad about wishing so many awful things happening to you. Let's hope it isn't anything too serious.

Oh, and if you want to talk about "bad timing", the front story on ESPN is about Mike D'Antoni and Avery Johnson being canned as NBA coaches. The one link is entitled "Adios Avery?"

*winces*

Might wanna change that one, folks.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Claiming Victory Over Kiper; Quick Draft Recap

He never stood a chance.

By a margin of 48-37, the Stache out-projected Mel Kiper. If only I could have his perfectly coiffed hair.

In actuality, you could say my first round projection was the best on the Internet. My score of 48 would have placed me squarely at the top of the standings all by myself. So much for the so-called "experts."

Quick draft recap:

1) Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois

Shocked over the pick at first, because I never envisioned the thought of him being available. He'll lengthen Parker's career, and be an outstanding compliment to him. Down the road, he'll be a feature back.

2) Limas Sweed, WR, Texas

I had wanted Quentin Groves, who Jacksonville traded one spot ahead of us to take, but Sweed is a damn nice consolation price. The tall receiver Ben has clamored for, he'll be the #3 or #4 guy this season, and eventually will team up with Holmes as the one-two punch when Ward calls it quits. An offense consisting of Ben, Parker, Mendenhall, Holmes, Ward, Sweed, and Miller. Talk about explosive. The sheer number of weapons alone will hopefully cause defenses to think twice about blitzing, which as a byproduct should help out the pass protection.

3) Bruce Davis, DE/OLB, UCLA

Will provide depth at 3-4 OLB. With any hope, he can turn into another one of those successful 3-4 OLB projects, ala Joey Porter

4) Tony Hills, OT, Texas

Oft-injured, but if he can stay healthy he seems to have the tools to become a decent left tackle.

5) Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon

Potential Heisman candidate before his injury. If he's not completely healthy by the start of the season, I could envision a scenario where he is placed on IR in his first season, allowing him time to recover physically while assimilating the offense. By Year 3, hopefully he'll be the #2 QB.

The other two picks, Humpal and Mundy, seem like they could be solid special teamers. That's fine by me. We've seen the trouble on special teams. Anything else they could provide would be gravy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Your New Pittsburgh Steeler: Rashard Mendenhall

Well, nobody can say that we reached.

The Steelers stayed true to their word, and took the BPA. Mendenhall was never even on my radar. If they went RB, I expected Jonathan Stewart.

I don't know what to think about this pick. On the one hand, Mendenhall is a supreme talent that had no business being on the board at #23. On the other hand, there are still some glaring issues on the O-line and D-line.

Parker and Mendenhall is a sick tandem, though.

Can the Stache Out-Project Mel Kiper (Judgment Day Edition)

First, there was “I Want To Fight Tom Brady” vs. Tom Brady.

Today, there will be Dave Wannstache vs. Mel Kiper. I am going to try and out-project Mr. First Round Projection himself.

If you don’t remember, a couple of months ago I said I was going to wage a competition between myself and Kiper and see whether I can out-project him. Let’s be clear, here. I have no access to the inside information that Kiper has. Furthermore, the man has been doing these mock drafts since the Stone Age, so he has more expertise than I do. But, I fancy myself as more than a casual NFL fan, so I think I can hold my own.

Here are the rules. We’ll be using The Huddle Report’s scoring system. One point for each player correctly placed in the first round, and an additional two points for players matched to the correct team.

The tough part about doing a projection is that you know trades are going to mess everything up. Once a trade happens, it creates a domino effect, and your mock draft goes to hell. Initially, I was thinking about doing a projection with a few trades mixed in, but since Kiper’s does not, I decided to do mine straight up in order to play on an even playing field. Without further ado, let’s go to the table:



Feel free to leave predictions or comments about the draft in this post. Enjoy it, cause it's the one slice of football you get until training camp in July.

Friday, April 25, 2008

So Who Will the Steelers Take?

The speculation is almost over. For the last few months, the Steelers have evaluated and interviewed hundreds and hundreds of prospects, and sometime Saturday evening, barring a trade, they will exercise their 23rd selection and add another member to the organization.

So who will it be? Well, that’s what we’re going to try and figure out.

First, we need to start with a pool of candidates. I’ve mentioned numerous times already that for the most part, our first round selection has almost always been someone who has come into Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. By my count, they have visited with ten such players who merit first round consideration. They are (in no particular order):

RB Jonathan Stewart (Oregon)
WR James Hardy (Indiana)
WR Malcolm Kelly (Oklahoma)
OT Jeff Otah (Pittsburgh)
OT Gosder Cherilus (Boston College)
OT/OG Branden Albert (Virginia)
DE/OLB Quentin Groves (Auburn)
ILB Jerod Mayo (Tennessee)
CB Aqib Talib (Kansas)
CB Mike Jenkins (South Florida)

Right off the bat, I think we can eliminate a few guys from consideration:

- At one point, Albert seemed like the logical pick. That was before his stock skyrocketed. Now, he’s a sure-fire top 15 pick, with a chance at cracking the top-10. I don’t think he even comes close to us.

- Otah would look good in the black and gold as well, but too many teams ahead of us need offensive tackles, so I’m of the opinion that he does not make it to us as well.

- Mayo is another interesting prospect who’s stock has risen, but I can’t see the Steelers taking another inside linebacker in the first round. If we’re going to go linebacker, it better be for an outside guy who can rush the passer.

- Previously, I would have thought that the Steelers would give serious consideration to Talib, but reports came out that he tested positive for marijuana numerous times while in college. With the recent legal problems of Wilson, Harrison, and Davenport, I don’t think they would consider touching him in the first round.

- Jenkins is a guy I like a lot, but like Albert, doesn’t make it to #23 in my mind.

This leaves us with five guys: Stewart, Hardy, Kelly, Cherilus, and Groves. Stewart has an outside chance of reaching us. He has dropped a bit because of injury concerns, but seems to have recovered and now seems like a top-20 pick again. But, if Albert and Otah are gone and Stewart makes it to our pick, I’m convinced the Steelers would take him. He’s too talented. As it is, though, I don’t think we sniff him. Kelly was once thought to be a top-15 pick, but a slow 40-time and injury concerns have dropped him to the 2nd round. Hardy seems like an early 2nd rounder to me as well, so I don’t think we take him, although it wouldn’t shock me if we did.

Now, two guys remain: Cherilus and Groves. Before Starks signed his transition tender, I was leaning towards Cherilus. But with the recent talk of signing Starks to a long-term deal, I don’t see the need for Cherilus because he’s strictly a right tackle and is not a candidate to move to the left side. In addition, he’s a very similar player to Starks, further bolstering my belief that he isn’t necessarily needed. I also don't see that much difference between Cherilus and guys you could get in the 2nd or 3rd round.

That leaves us with DE/OLB Quentin Groves from Auburn, and he’s my pick. The Steelers have shown considerable interest in him, going so far as to have Colbert and Tomlin attend his pro day. We are already pretty much set at outside linebacker, but Harrison isn’t that young (30 years old) and I’m confident Tomlin and Lebeau would find a way to use Groves skill set. Plus, you can never have enough pass rushers, as the Giants exhibited in the Super Bowl. They were in a similar situation a couple years ago, with Strahan and Umenyiora as their bookends, but they went ahead and took Boston College DE Mathias Kiwanuka in the 1st round anyways, and by the looks of it that seems to have worked out. In my mind, Albert, Otah, Stewart, and Jenkins will all be off the board, leaving Groves as the next best option.

All of this is predicated on the fact that we stand pat at #23. If we trade down, which has been heavily rumored, all bets are off. Personally, I would love to trade down and stockpile some picks, because I think there would still be a decent chance the Steelers could land Groves if that’s the guy they are targeting. Watch for a potential trade down with the Dolphins, Falcons, or Chiefs, who all could be looking to trade back up into the 1st round for a quarterback. As a summary, here’s how I think the Steelers draft board would look, based on the ten guys mentioned above.

1) Albert
2) Otah
3) Stewart
4) Jenkins
5) Groves
6) Cherilus
7) Hardy
8) Kelly
9) Talib
10) Mayo

We’ll find out what happens on Saturday. Look for another post sometime Saturday before the draft begins at 3 PM, where we’ll see if I can out-project Mel Kiper.

Also, check out Mike Batista's post over at Steelahs.com for some more draft insight. He's got some good stuff, and he mentions a few names I did not in my post because they never visited the Steelers. For the record, I agree with him on possibly choosing Chris Williams if he falls to the Steelers, but I view Cason as more of a round 2 guy. That's what makes the draft great, though. It's an inexact science.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pens vs. Rangers: Oh. My. God.


With the Flyers victory tonight in Washington, the Eastern Conference semis are set: Flyers vs. Canadiens, Penguins vs. Rangers. How did the Capitals take the loss?

"It's tough to beat the officials as well as the Flyers." - Tom Poti

Classy. Better luck next year.

Which leaves us with an uber-intriguing matchup with the New York Rangers. The storylines are suffocating, and there are plenty of parallels to the '92 second round matchup with the Rangers. There is (sadly) perhaps no more talked about player right now than Sean Avery, who's antics will surely come in to play this series. If you know your "Against the Odds", then you know that the '92 series was all about justice (scroll down to #6). The Pens had to keep their cool and allow the Rangers to take stupid penalties. Will Ruutu, Laraque et al retaliate to Avery? Which team will get more "dumb penalties"? I hate when a series comes down to questions like this, but it certainly does seem that way right now.

The Pens went 3-5 against the Rangers this year (3-3-2 if you are into that sort of thing), which might not matter at all, although it isn't terribly encouraging. Besides, there are plenty of other things to be worried about. Lundqvist is a Vezina Finalist, much has been written about Drury's "clutchness", and Brendan Shannan and Martin Straka always seem to score big goals.

But the biggest storyline by far concerns the gentleman in blue at the top of this post. It seems completely unfathomable that the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing in a playoff series AGAINST Jaromir Jagr. Some might scoff at that statement. But take a look back at what Jagr did in Pittsburgh and you'll realize that it is astonishing (sidenote: if you were a reader when I used to write those articles, then God bless you for sticking with us for so long). After witnessing him in person last year, it is undeniable that he has lost a few strides. But he still has that shark-like, dare I say Mario-like ability to float around and be in the right spot at the right time.

Sam says this is the series where we see what we really got in Hal Gill. Frequent reader J Staal says we go as far as Fleury takes us. Both may be true. All I know is that even though we're nearing in on a decade since the Jagr trade, playing against him in the playoffs will be a new type of weirdness that could only happen in the NHL playoffs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why This Draft is So Important to the Steelers

Nathaniel Adibi. Ricardo Colclough. Alonzo Jackson. Just some of the guys the Steelers have drafted after the 1st round that came into Pittsburgh and became colossal busts. They are part of the reason why this week’s draft is so important to the future of your Pittsburgh Steelers.

When I look at the roster, I see a mess along the offensive line. I see a starting defensive line that when the season begins will consist of a 30 year-old, a 31 year-old, and a 32 year-old. I see a starting inside linebacker who’s 33 (Farrior) with no successor in sight. I see a starting cornerback who will also be 33 when the season begins (Townsend), with a nickel guy who’s had two seasons to unseat the veteran and has yet to do so (McFadden). I see an aging wide receiver (Ward) that probably has two seasons left in him. Beyond that, I see serious depth issues along the offensive and defensive lines, and also at outside linebacker. This is an aging roster that needs an infusion of youth and talent, and this is where the draft comes into play.

For any team in the NFL, the core of their roster is built between rounds 2-7. Failing in these rounds causes serious depth issues, and this is exactly what has happened to the Steelers in recent drafts. For the most part, the Steelers have knocked it out of the ballpark in the 1st round. They’ve pretty much failed miserably thereafter, although last year’s draft seems like it could be different (Woodley, Spaeth, Sepulveda, and Gay look like they could be contributors for quite some time). Let’s take a look at the Steelers drafts between 2003-2006. We won’t look at 2007 because it’s too early to form an opinion on those guys.

2003:

1) Troy Polamalu, S, USC
2) Alonzo Jackson, LB, Florida St.
4) Ike Taylor, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette
5) Brian St. Pierre, QB, Boston College
7) J.T. Wall, FB, Georgia

Great 1st and 4th round picks, but the trade up to get Polamalu cost several valuable draft choices. Total misses on Jackson, St. Pierre, and Wall.

2004:

1) Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (OH)
2) Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum
3) Max Starks, OT, Florida
5) Nathaniel Adibi, LB, Virginia Tech
6) Bo Lacy, OT, Arkansas
6) Matt Kranchick, TE, Penn St.
6) Drew Caylor, C, Stanford
7) Eric Taylor, DE, Memphis

This draft will long be remembered for getting The Franchise, but beyond that it was absolutely abysmal. Colclough busted, and making matters worse was the fact that we actually traded up for him and sacrificed an additional pick. I still hold out some hope for Starks (who signed his transition tender this past weekend, by the way), but overall he’s been under whelming. And all of the other guys were absolute scrubs, and I believe not one of them is on an NFL roster today.

2005:

1) Heath Miller, TE, Virginia
2) Bryant McFadden, CB, Florida St.
3) Trai Essex, OT, Northwestern
4) Fred Gibson, WR, Georgia
5) Rian Wallace, LB, Temple
6) Chris Kemoeatu, OG, Utah
7) Shaun Nua, DE, BYU
7) Noah Herron, RB, Northwestern

Another great pick in the 1st round but little thereafter. I had higher hopes for McFadden, and am still hopeful he can be an important cog on the defense. For a third round pick you are hoping for more than a mediocre backup swing offensive lineman, which is what Essex is. Gibson and Wallace stunk, as did Nua and Herron. Kemoeatu in the 6th round was decent.

2006:

1) Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio St.
3) Anthony Smith, S, Syracuse
3) Willie Reid, WR, Florida St.
4) Willie Colon, OG, Hofstra
4) Orien Harris, DT, Miami (Fla.)
5) Omar Jacobs, QB, Bowling Green
5) Charles Davis, TE, Colorado
6) Marvin Phillip, C, California
7) Cedric Humes, RB, Virginia Tech

Not much needs to be said about Holmes. He’s a stud. Smith is still developing, but the coaching staff did sour on him some last season. Reid was drafted primarily for his special teams ability, which he magically lost upon arriving in Pittsburgh. Colon was pretty bad at right tackle, but I think he would do much better at left or right guard. None of the last five picks are even on the roster. That’s right. This draft was only two years ago, and yet five of our six picks on the second day are not on the roster today. Not acceptable.


It’s up to Colbert and Tomlin to improve between rounds 2-7. As I mentioned, last year’s draft looks like it could be a good one if Timmons ultimately fulfills his potential. But the failures in the previous ones are the reason why the Steelers are where they’re at today. It’s an aging roster that could cause the team to go downhill quickly if they don’t start drafting better after the first round. This is a draft that they need to hit big on, and they have to do it with only six picks since they traded away their 7th rounder for Allen Rossum. I think they need to get at least three eventual starters, and two decent depth guys. Obviously, we won’t know if that’s the case for at least a couple of years, but if in that time the 2008 draft looks similar to the ones in 2003-2006, well, we could be in trouble.

As a side note, I will be putting up a post on Friday detailing who I think the Steelers will ultimately pick in the 1st round. Most years I have a pretty good idea where they’re going, but this year, I could envision them going pretty much anywhere except quarterback and tight end. And on Saturday, sometime before the draft begins at 3 PM, I will post my final first round projection (along with Mel Kiper’s), and we’ll see if I can truly take down the man himself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Insert Broom Comment Here

Everyone knows the Pens play tonight. Everyone knows how the series has been going. The only thing I'm really looking hard at tonight is to see if the Penguins have those "gun-fighter eyes", to see if they can really kick a team while it is down. There is no worse feeling in sports than slowly letting a team back into a game/series. The city of Pittsburgh will sleep better than it has in a while if the Pens win tonight. A loss? The Mellon better be rockin' this weekend.

Since there is really no other analysis to add to the ridiculously lop-sided series, let's take a look at Ron Cook's bizarre article today. The abstract would read something like this: Sid and Malkin are good...very good...so good they are rivals...but no one will say that...in fact you are a fool if you do...but I will...sort of...they are very good...CHAMPIONS!?!?!

Ok maybe that is a bit harsh, but it is a bizarre article. It's never a good idea to say "If you didn't know better, you might think..." in the first paragraph, and then write a whole article about thinking that exact thing. Ron Cook just has me confused here.

Also, is it me, or is Ryan Whitney's comment in the second paragraph completely sarcastic and Ron Cook takes it totally out of context? Talbot, Crosby, and Therrien all dismiss the rivalry idea. Did Cook write an article based off one sarcastic comment?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Steelers Schedule Released

Well, here it is. Start planning those road trips, because the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers schedule has been released. The Steelers own the toughest schedule in the NFL, with their opponents sporting a .598 winning percentage based on 2007 records. Here's the schedule:




A few things:

1) It's an absoutely brutal schedule. Right now. But things change, so we don't really know how tough this schedule really is. If your favorite team had the Bears, Saints, or Ravens on the schedule last season, you may have penciled that in as a loss. As fate would have it, all those teams pretty much stunk in 2007. So while it may look imposing now, I have a feeling it won't look as daunting, say, in October.

2) Let's remember that the rest of the teams in the AFC North play the exact same opponents as we do, with the exception of New England and San Diego. So our rivals in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cleveland have it tough as well.

3) Check out Week 10 through Week 15. As it looks now, that's as tough a stretch as you'll find on any team's schedule. Indy, San Diego, and divisional-rival Cincy at home, followed by a road game against New England, and then home and away versus the Cowboys and another division foe in the Ravens, respectively. Not good times, but again, you never know what these teams will look like in November and December

4) What good is the release of the schedule without a prediction? Take these with a grain of salt, because again, who knows how good these teams will be (Do I sound like a broken record?). With the schedule set up the way it is, a 9-7 record could win the AFC North. Here are my game-by-game predictions. Feel free to leave yours in the comments:

Week 1- vs. Hou (W), Week 2- @ Cle (W), Week 3- @ Phi (L), Week 4- vs. Bal (W), Week 5- @ Jac (L), Week 6- BYE, Week 7- @ Cin (W), Week 8- vs. NYG (W), Week 9- @ Was (W), Week 10- vs. Ind (L), Week 11- vs. SD (W), Week 12- vs. Cin (W), Week 13- @ NE (L), Week 14 vs. Dal (W), Week 15- @ Bal (L), Week 16- @ Ten (W), Week 17- vs. Cle (L)

Final W/L record: 10-6, AFC North Champions

Monday, April 14, 2008

Believe It

You could talk about many things after tonight's installment of "Wow, The Senators Totally Aren't Any Good this Year". Hossa finally got on the board. Gonchar played quite well, I thought. Sam wants Sydor to start over Ryan Whitney.

But the most intriguing plot line by far is the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. No one should even try to act like they saw this coming. When Ty Conklin was bringing his "amazing puck handling ability!" and "savvy veteran presence!" to the team, the collective light bulb went off in Pittsburghers' heads: here it comes, another mind-boggling run by an also-ran backup goalie. The PensBlog made t-shirts and held a trial over it. I think I invoked comparisons to Christ on several occasions in online print.

And then just as if it were nothing more than a change in the weather, Fleury comes back and here we are in the midst of a first round performance that has to make the Penguins the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Not only was there the shutout in Game 1, but tonight one could argue that he single-handedly diffused the enthusiastic onslaught put forth by the Senators in their home building. This had all the makings of a Pens-come-out-flat game. You saw it in Boston last night with the Habs. When a team is down 2-0, there is a type of desperation present for them that can't possibly be matched by the favorite.

Unless you have an equalizer, which was what Fleury was tonight. You'll hear a lot of "if you told me in October..." jargon spouted off my radio talkheads over the next few days, but the truth is this: if you want to win championships, you need role players ready and willing to fill holes and you need star players to carry the load in crunch time. Such has been the case with the Pens' goaltending to this point.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Draft Prospect Profile: Quentin Groves

With the NFL Draft now almost here, the Steelers are beginning to bring in prospective draft choices to their South Side facilities. If you look back at past first round Steelers draft choices, almost all of them (Simmons, Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Miller, Timmons) visited with the team prior to the draft. The lesson here is that the Steelers first round pick will almost assuredly be someone who comes into Pittsburgh for a visit. With that said, over the next few weeks I will be providing brief profiles of those players who will most likely be picked in the first round and come into Pittsburgh for a visit. Chances are, one of these players profiled will be the team's first round selection in April. Today, it's Auburn defensive end/outside linebacker Quentin Groves, who according to the Post-Gazette has already visited with the Steelers.

Player: Quentin Groves, DE/OLB, Auburn

Height/Weight: 6'3'', 250 lbs.

Overview (courtesy of NFL.com): An athlete blessed with incredible quickness coming off the edge, dislocated toes did what no other offensive lineman could do in 2007 - stop Quentin Groves. Those who witnessed his performance in the South Florida game last year realize that this is a player that needs to be unleashed on the football field to get maximum production from his tremendous athletic ability. Drawing comparisons to Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, Groves will probably shift to outside linebacker in the professional ranks. He received a crash course at that position late in his senior campaign and even earned a start at left outside linebacker in the Tennessee Tech game. With his tall, muscular physique, excellent speed, outstanding change of direction agility and superb body control as a pass rusher, NFL quarterbacks will soon have to contend with one of the most disruptive backfield penetrators in the 2008 NFL Draft. Groves is an affable sort, frequently smiling and cracking jokes.

But the Auburn defensive end does have one group of guys he just doesn't care for: quarterbacks. "I just really don't have a liking for them," Groves said. "You can't hit them in practice. You have to stay off them. They don't do too much running. "I don't like quarterbacks, period. I don't know why." Luckily for him, his primary job for the Tigers the past four seasons has been to harass and hit opposing quarterbacks. And that's something he has done well enough to earn All-American and All-Southeastern Conference honors as he went on to tie Auburn's 22-year-old career record of 26 sacks held by Gerald Robinson.

Groves enrolled at Auburn in 2003, seeing brief action in the season opener vs. Southern California and vs. Western Kentucky before he was redshirted. He finished that year with three tackles (2 assists). The following season, Groves earned Freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News, Rivals.com and the Football Writers Association. Despite sharing left defensive end duties with Doug Langenfeld and Stanley McClover, Groves led the team with 7.5 sacks and 10 stops for losses as a reserve left defensive end. He posted 23 tackles (19 solos) in 13 games, adding four quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. What made those figures even more impressive was the fact that he was nursing a right high ankle sprain that he suffered in fall camp. His performance earned him team Most Improved Defensive Lineman honors.

In 2005, Groves started three of 12 games at right defensive end, picking up third-team All-Southeastern Conference accolades. He registered 21 tackles (8 solos), ranking third on the team with six sacks and fourth with eight stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also caused a fumble, deflected a pass and returned a kickoff 13 yards. The 2006 off-season was one that Groves would just as soon forget. He was placed on probation after he was in a car accident with no auto insurance and a suspended license. He was also arrested after police responded to a domestic dispute call. Back on the football field, he started all 13 games at right defensive end, picking up All-American third-team and All-SEC first-team honors. As a junior, Groves led the Tigers with 9.5 sacks and ranked second on the squad with 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He totaled 35 tackles (24 solos) with seven quarterback pressures and also caused three fumbles.

Groves, who is married and has already graduated, opted to return for his senior season after being projected as a likely middle-round pick in the NFL Draft. The chance to move up in the draft and land a big contract had plenty to do with the decision. There were other motivations, too. "It was a money thing, and I wanted to win a championship with my teammates," Groves said. "I felt like if I came back here, we had a good chance to go to Atlanta and compete for an SEC title." Named to Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Hendricks Award preseason watch lists, Groves was having a banner 2007 campaign until he suffered dislocated toes on his right foot in the season's fifth game vs. Florida. The injury cost him two games of action and when he returned, he was used mostly in a reserve role before starting at left outside linebacker vs. Tennessee Tech after playing left defensive end in the Tigers' first five contests. He also closed out his career by starting vs. Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at left end. In 11 games in 2007, Groves registered 38 tackles (23 solos). He had three sacks, seven stops for losses and led the Southeastern Conference with a career-high 23 quarterback pressures. He also caused a pair of fumbles, including one that a teammate returned for a touchdown. In 51 games at Auburn, Groves started 23 contests (16 at right end, six at left end and one at left outside linebacker). He registered 120 tackles (75 solos), tied the school career-record with 26 sacks for minus-169 yards and had 36 stops for losses of 194 yards. He was credited with 38 quarterback pressures, caused eight fumbles and deflected one pass.

Wannstache: The NFL is a copycat league. So when teams saw the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII with a relentless pass rush, you can bet that organization’s around the league are going to try and stock their defense with skilled pass rushers, much like the Giants did with guys like Umenyiora, Strahan, Kiwanuka, and Tuck. The Steelers are no different, which is why they brought in Groves for a visit and will likely give him strong consideration with their first round pick. Their starting OLB’s for next year are set, with Harrison and Woodley. Behind them, though, there is little depth. Add in the fact that you can never have enough pass rushers, and the interest in Groves is probably warranted.

At 6’3, 250 lbs, Groves best fit is probably as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He could probably contribute as a 4-3 defensive end, but all reports seem to indicate that he would be a better fit standing up. However, that versatility is probably very appealing to Tomlin and company, who could be looking to implement more of a 3-4/4-3 hybrid style of defense. Groves had a very good junior season, notching 9.5 sacks. He struggled in his senior year, though, in large part due to the fact that he was playing with dislocated toes. Near the beginning of the offseason, he was considered as a 2nd round pick. Then, the combine came, where Groves tore it up. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57, faster than some running backs and receivers, and put up 30 reps on the bench press. For comparison purposes, DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys ran the 40 in 4.56 and had 27 reps on the bench press, while Shawne Merriman of the Chargers ran the 40 in 4.66 and had 25 reps. After his performance, Groves vaulted himself solidly into the late 1st round picture. So how would he fit with the Steelers should they take him? In his first year, he’d probably be a situational pass rusher who could spell Harrison and Woodley. He would provide great depth, because right now, if either of the starting OLB’s go down, the next man up would be Arnold Harrison. Not exactly the ideal scenario, which is why the Steelers have visited with a number of mid-round OLB prospects as well. In the long run, after Farrior’s time with the club is done, the team could conceivably shift Harrison over to Farrior’s position, and insert Groves into the vacant ROLB spot. A starting linebacking corps of Groves-Harrison-Timmons-Woodley would be downright nasty, and could harken back to the days of Lloyd-Brown-Kirkland-Greene.

At this point, Groves has a better than average chance of being available at pick #23. Washington at pick #21 could be another landing spot for him, but assuming they pass, it’s up to the Steelers to decide whether they want to spend another premium pick on a linebacker after spending their first two in the 2007 draft at the same position.

Video Profile:



End of Post

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Gary Roberts Game

GARY! GARY! GARY!

I don't even know where to start. I'm still in disbelief. That was quite possibly one of the most sublime sporting events I've ever witnessed. Ottawa acted like little brats, and we OWNED them. MAF put in one of the quietest shutouts you'll ever see. Malkin proved that he is quite possibly the most gifted player in the world - you just CANT knock him off the puck. The Sens took runs at Crosby, and not only did he stick up for himself admirably, but EVERY PLAYER ON THE ICE rushed over and started beating the crap out of a Senator.

And then...there is Gary Roberts.

The guys over at ThePensBlog surrounded the man with a mystified aura, and tonight he showed the world why he deserves it. Where does one even begin? His goal to start the game was ethereal. His spin move late to get free was soul-changing. And his glare at the end of the game - his REFUSAL to let the refs take him from the ice - will go down in Pittsburgh sports lore forever. He simply would not leave the ice. He wanted blood. He wanted a fight. He wanted to show the Ottawa Senators that hockey is not played in the papers or the month of October. Hockey is played in April on an ice occupied by scary men like Gary Roberts. And if you can't take the heat, get the fuck out of the kitchen.

It is almost impossible to tell whether or not the Pens are unreal or the Senators blow. Most likely a little bit of both. Ottawa will probably come back stronger in the next few games if they have any dignity whatsoever. But regardless of what happens in this series, these playoffs, or the rest of my time spent on earth as a Penguins fans, I will always remember the Gary Roberts Game. I will always remember the chants of GARY! echoing througout Mellon Arena, pounding into the ears of a Senators team that was witnessing the toughness it would take to win a Cup in the form of a 40-plus year old man walking down the Penguins runway.

Life is good.

For Those Who Can't Get The Game on TV...

http://channelsurfing.net/watch-versus.html
Sweet Jesus.

Gary Roberts.

Guide to the Playoff Beard



Rick returns to write on a less controversial topic that most people can get behind: the art of the playoff beard. If you have any rules to add, throw them in the comments.

Penguin fans, the time has come. As Pat ably reminded us below, its time to forget about the dark years and get out your 1992 Stanley Cup t-shirt, put up that old Mario Lemieux poster, think of Ronny Francis and Kevin Stevens and all the magic that occurred in the Igloo, and dream of what it would have been like if you and Phil Bourque did take Lord Stanley on the river and party all summer.

If you’re a Penguins fan, you’ll do anything to get back to that point. I’m here to tell you how you can help. First, you can cheer loudly and obnoxiously at the games, root against Philadelphia for the entire length of time they are in the playoffs (which will be 6 games, BTW), and show your Pens spirit every day either by taking your Pens coffee cup to work or leaving a Crosby screensaver on your computer.

You should then trust that Ray Shero has already done a fantastic amount of work in setting up this Pens team to get further in the playoffs than last year's team. He has acquired Petr Sykora, Hal Gill, Darryl Sydor, and Pascal Dupuis. Each and every one of these players will greatly help our playoff run. Why? Because these dudes can grow sick beards.

Hal Gill sports an eternal five o’clock shadow, even at noon. Pascal Dupuis is so freaking hairy that he has a team trainer shave him before each period during the regular season. Petr isn’t much of a beard guy, but can grow a thick goatee. Sydor? Look at the pic at the top taken after he won the cup with the Lightning: that beard and hair was responsible for 2 game winning goals and 2 assists in the Cup run. Had Brad Richards not been superhuman, Darryl Sydor’s beard would’ve won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Last years’ team was young - it takes age to grow beards and to win cups. The Pens are another year older and a few players hairier, but they could still use your help. If you want to take the ultimate step to help your team, its time to grow the playoff beard.

THE TEN RULES TO GROWING A PLAYOFF BEARD

1. You don’t have to commit to the beard, just do something else that is a ritual. Maybe you set your alarm clock to 9:18 (Dupuis : Hossa) everyday. I don’t care what, just do something.

2. Once you commit, you commit. No shaving because it gets hot in June or your parents want you to for graduation or work or anything like that. Once you’re in, you’re in. Don’t mess things up for the Pens now. I am sure that some asshole shaved his beard allowing David Volek to score his overtime goal because he had a job interview or something much less important than a Stanley cup the next day. Don’t do that to Pittsburgh. DON’T BE THAT GUY.

3. If you can’t grow a beard and still try, or can only grow something that makes you resemble a Russian porn star, be aware that you may only be bringing the beard karma down. We're striving for quality over quantity here.

4. If you can’t grow a beard, but one of your good friends can, you are required to try and get him to do it. He must be tough enough to put up with a beard even when it gets hot and also a Pens fan. Jean Sebastian Giguere of the Mighty Ducks hated his beard, but because teammates told him he could grow a “nasty one”, he “did it for the team.” It is your job to relay this spirit to your friends.

5. If you do grow a beard, you have to let your hair grow too. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. That’s the rule.

6. After a loss, and only after a loss, you are allowed to trim the beard. TRIM DOES NOT MEAN SHAVE! If you are confused about this concept, ask your girlfriend. If you are single, you can also ask the girlfriend of a Senators fan after you get done slamming her behind his back.

7. After a win, you do nothing to the beard. Nothing. Even if the next playoff series is a week away. DON’T TOUCH IT.

8. The last one was a lie. You should thank it and ask it to continue giving you luck and wisdom through a playoff run. (If you grow a playoff beard, you will become smarter. Or you will appear smarter, one of the two.)

9. If you know someone who grows a beard for another team and that team is eliminated, you must make sure that he A.) shaves the beard and does not just try to hop on another team’s bandwagon and B.) hears comments like “babyface” or “hairless rat” for the remainder of the playoffs and not only in person but random postcards in the mail work too (just be careful to watch your paper trail). I suggest the latter, because according to a New York paper “hairless rat” was the words a prostitute used to describe a certain part of Sean Avery.

10. If you have a friend or girlfriend who doesn’t like the beard, tell them to fuck off. Penguins have BY FAR the hottest fan base around. If you lose one girl because of your commitment to a sports team, you will in turn pick up three much hotter girls because of that same commitment.

By following these 10 simple rules, we can help the younger baby-faced Pens. Good luck with your journey. I’d write more, but hey, I gotta go shave…

Be sure to check out Pat's article below, and Seth's article at EN which rates players' chances of growing the best beard this postseason.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It's Time


My close friends that read the site keep asking: "How in the hell haven't you written anything about the Pens playoff run starting tomorrow?! You manage to write 5,000 words on decade old Penguins videos during the summer, and yet you can't comment on the beginning of what we all live for? YOU CAN'T WRITE AN ARTICLE ABOUT PLAYOFF HOCKEY?!?!"
Well, we're on the eve of the 2008 NHL Playoffs, and I still don't know what to say. I don't know what to say because playoff hockey makes me sick to my stomach. I literally feel ill during many Penguins playoff games, both when they are losing and winning. I scream at the refs for every call they make against the Pens (which I never do in any sport; I consider myself a rational sports viewer that understands the calls go each way). I unconsciously leap into standing position on every rebound. The end of each period feels like finishing a marathon. If you asked me for my name and phone number during the third period of a game, I either a) wouldn't know or b) would punch you in the face on reflex.

Last year against the Sens, these moments existed, but by Game 5 there was little excitement. Ottawa moved the puck better, they were more experienced, they controled their blue line, and they won. This year is obviously a different story, and I don't think I need to explain why. Malkin has more at stake. Hossa has a reputation to remake. Crosby has a story to pen. And Roberts...well, his story will always be one primarily concerned with blood spilling.
For all of you who have waited through the years of Sivek, Koltsov, and crew, this is your time. It's your time to completely immerse yourselves in the soul-satisfying euphoria that is a Cup-contending hockey team making a run. It's your time to remember everything good, bad, and great that the Penguins have brought you...

May 25th, 1991.

June 1st, 1992.

David Volek.

Petr Nedved.

Keith Primeau.

"The number two overall pick goes to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, which means..."

Get a good night's sleep everybody. Because by tomorrow night, your stomach will feel a little tighter. Your hands might be a little sweaty. The world will be a different place. And you'll realize that there is no better feeling that seeing the puck drop in Mellon Arena for some playoff hockey.

Ask The Scout: Dave Littlefield


Every so often, Cubs' scout Dave Littlefield will answer a question from one lucky Cubs' fan. Here is today's question:

Jacob (Bradenton, FL): Can you tell us a little bit about your new job with the Cubs? Is your main job to scout or are you helping out in other areas of the baseball operations department as well?

Littlefield: Hi, Jacob. As you know, I’m acting as a scout and advisor to Cubs GM Jim Hendry. He has me doing all sorts of things, whether it’s getting him coffee from 7-Eleven or going to the nearest Dunkin Donuts to get him a dozen. Of course, I also do a little scouting on the side, and I was actually at PNC Park yesterday to scout the Pirates a bit. They have a few new players that Hendry wanted me to look at, and let me tell you something, that kid, Evan Meek, impressed the hell out of me. Yeah, he can’t pitch the ball over the plate, and yeah, the fans were booing the shit out of him (I don’t care what the fans think, anyways. They don’t know anything), but that kid is a competitor. When I’m looking at pitchers, the one thing I always want to see is competitiveness and moxie. This kid has it in spades. The defining moment in yesterday’s game was when Pirates manager John Russell came to take Meek out of the ballgame, and Meek would have none of it. He told Russell to fuck off. That was unbelievable! A fellow Cubs front office exec that was sitting with me said that it was just a simple mound visit, and that there was no way Russell could be taking Meek out because the Pirates had no available pitchers left. I told him he was full of shit, because I know what my two eyes saw, and my two eyes saw a guy in Meek who has that competitiveness and cockiness to succeed in this league. Plus, the guy has a 27.00 ERA. Once again, for you baseball novices, that’s one run every 27 innings! I e-mailed Hendry (I should have his job, by the way) and told him to call Neal Huntington and offer Aramis Ramirez for Meek right now. Ramirez stinks. I have no idea how I was able to acquire a package that included Brant Brown in exchange for him. Talk about pure larceny. Yes, that’s right, the same Brant Brown who once hit a home run OVER the old Tiger Stadium roof. Ramirez never did that. Anyways, I haven’t heard back from Hendry yet concerning the Ramirez-Meek trade. I don’t know what’s taking so long.

End of Post

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Jumping the Gun

These are the past four articles written by Mr. Bob Smizik, Curmudgeon:

Pirates: Same Old Story
It's April, and LaRoche Remains Hitless Wonder
Duke's first start sends mixed signals
Best Nady option for Pirates may not involve trade

Ignoring the pessimistic tone emanating from the most recent two stories, how does one even write these stories and feel remotely confident in anything they are saying with the season so young. The Nady article was written after the first game. And now, apparently, one's performance in April can be judged by the month's first 4 days.

At the end of the most recent article Bob says, "the Pirates have the look of a team headed for another 90-loss season." To put that statement in perspective, that would be like predicting the demise of the Steelers after the first half of their first game, or the Penguins at the half way point of their third game.

We're 3-3. To me, that looks right on pace.

UPDATE from Pat: Geez, when you put four Smizik articles together, life just doesn't seem fun. What a cranky old man. Thought I'd pass along this Dave Zirin article about Clemente just to remind us that the narrative of the Pittsburgh Pirates is not one entirely of gloom.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Guaranteed

So after the Hurricanes shit the bed last night, it has become guaranteed that the Penguins will either face the Flyers, the Senators, or the Bruins.

Who would you rather see the Pens play?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Draft Prospect Profile: Aqib Talib

With the NFL Draft now just about a month away, the Steelers are beginning to bring in prospective draft choices to their South Side facilities. If you look back at past first round Steelers draft choices, almost all of them (Simmons, Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Miller, Timmons) visited with the team prior to the draft. The lesson here is that the Steelers first round pick will almost assuredly be someone who comes into Pittsburgh for a visit. With that said, over the next few weeks I will be providing brief profiles of those players who will most likely be picked in the first round and come into Pittsburgh for a visit. Chances are, one of these players profiled will be the team's first round selection in April. Today, it's Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib, who according to the Post-Gazette has already visited with the Steelers.

Player: Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas

Height/Weight: 6'2'', 205 lbs.

Overview (courtesy of NFL.com):

It was no surprise Talib left school early for the pros. Few collegiate corners have his mix of size, athleticism and explosiveness. The All-American made 13 interceptions and broke up 43 other passes during his three years at Lawrence. He even played a bit of receiver the past two, and opponents clearly game-planned for him. There's no reason to think his new team won't try him as a punt and/or kickoff returner, even though he only attempted a handful in college. At least until he proves too valuable a cover man to leave on special teams.

Wannstache: On the surface, it may not seem like the Steelers have a need at cornerback. Ike Taylor is entrenched as one of the starters, with Deshea Townsend and Bryant McFadden likely to battle again for the other spot. William Gay rounds out a solid group. Consider this, though. Townsend will be 33 years old when the season begins, McFadden will be a free agent after the ’08 season, and Gay’s future is probably as a nickel back. This explains why the Steelers are looking at cornerbacks such as Talib with their first round pick.

Talib is blessed with great height for a cornerback. You don’t see many NFL cornerbacks who are 6’1’’ or 6’2’’. The question mark regarding Talib is top-end speed. He’s not the fastest player, and he’s probably more suited for a team that runs more zone than man-to-man. His ideal landing spot would be a team like Tampa Bay, where they run a pure “Tampa 2” scheme, but he’d fit well with the Steelers also because they’re more of a zone coverage team as well. One thing the Steelers ask their cornerbacks to do is support the run, and Talib has shown that he’s willing to do that. As mentioned, he doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s a guy with great playmaking ability and superior instincts that allowed him to notch 13 interceptions during his three seasons with the Jayhawks. However, those instincts can also pose a problem at times, because he does like to gamble and that can sometimes leave him out of position. Some people say that he needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage. But that can always be taught if needed and it wouldn’t be a problem with the 10-yard cushions we always see our defensive backs giving. For a defense that was among the worst at generating interceptions, adding a legit playmaker like Talib at cornerback wouldn’t be a bad option.

Now, Talib isn’t necessarily my first choice at pick #23, but it’s looking more and more like no worthy offensive lineman will be available when our turn to pick comes. There’s a chance Talib gets picked a few spots before us, possibly to Houston at #18 or Tampa Bay at #20. Ultimately, I feel like he’s going to be available, and he very well could be the best player left on the board. If that’s the case, and if all the worthy first round offensive lineman are taken, don’t be surprised to see Talib wearing the black and gold next fall.

Here's a video profile of Talib:



End of Post

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An Early Morning Kick to the Groin From Bucci

If you you are a hockey fan and you don't read John Buccigross on ESPN.com, then you probably should start. Especially if you are a Pens fan, considering that his mailbags almost always have atleast one Pens-related question included. And the latest installment includes multiple ones, ranging from questions about Malkin, the Hossa Trade, Dupuis, and Staal.

But before I give the link...

...I'm warning you...

...skip the third paragraph...

...Aprils Fools was yesterday, my warning today is real...

...do not start your morning off like I did, just skip to the mailbag...

Skip the third paragraph.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Steelers Release James Harrison

The Steelers are expected to release Pro Bowl linebacker and team MVP James Harrison today. It’s not official yet, but multiple Pittsburgh media outlets have confirmed that Harrison will be released by the end of the day.

It’s an absolute shocker. Look, I know the whole “double standard” dilemma the Rooney’s were facing regarding the Cedrick Wilson and James Harrison incidents put them in a tough spot. Dan Rooney did himself no favors when he later tried to jusify the release of Wilson but not Harrison. It’s quite likely they finally gave in and caved to the immense outside pressure to remedy the situation and maintain the “Steeler way” by releasing Harrison.

In my opinion, Harrison’s release wasn’t necessary. Look, the fact of the matter is that the Steelers are just like any other company or corporation. Some employees are valued more than others. So when these types of things happen, management will either turn a blind eye or take swift action—depending on the value of the employee in question. It doesn’t really need to be said, but in this case, a Pro Bowl outside linebacker who was named team MVP is much more valuable than a #4 wide receiver who contributes little. Those are the facts, and it’s why I never had a problem with the Steelers initial decision to keep Harrison on the roster.

The move leaves a huge hole at ROLB. LaMarr Woodley is slated to start at LOLB, but there really aren’t any other starting-caliber outside linebackers on this team. The free agent pool is bone dry; it’s now April, you can’t expect to find a starting outside linebacker sitting around without a team. More likely, it will have to be addressed in the draft.

All in all, I’m sick to my stomach. The 3-4 zone blitz defense relies heavily on the outside linebackers, and the Steelers just released the best one they had. Why? Because they had to save face with the media and preserve the “Steeler way.” The “Steeler way”, might I add, is a crock of shit. These are football players, not altar boys. Every single team in the NFL has players who have legal problems. I’m going to be absolutely sick when I see Harrison going to another Pro Bowl as a member of the Patriots or Ravens or whatever team picks him up, while the Steelers struggle to once again pressure the quarterback.

(Editor’s note: This post may or may not be another one of those lame April Fool’s Day jokes… okay, it is.)

End of Post

Collapse....Almost

John Bazemore/Associated Press


As Xavier Nady hit an 8th inning homerun right around the same time as the Penguins fell in overtime, I thought this would be one of the few nights that the Pirates might actually pick me up after a Penguins' loss.

McLouth followed in the same inning with a 3-run shot, that should have put it away, and Doumit and Bautista teamed up for an insurance run in the 9th.

In the bottom of the 9th, Marte, one of really only 3 or 4 sure guys in the 'pen, comes in and promptly walks two men. In comes Matt Capps, a guy who had 6 walks all of last year, and he walks two men to drive in a run for the Braves. Then Chipper comes to the plate and hits a two run single. 9-7. At this point I wasn't sure whether to hate Capps, Jeff Andrews for staring into the wall instead of going to calm down an obviously unsettled Capps, or the admittedly loyal fans of the Braves who seemed to be channeling the spirit of '92.

When McLouth made a routine play look a bit difficult to put away Texiera, the feeling of impending doom was palpable. When McCann put the fly ball into shallow left-center you could hear the fear in Greg Brown's shrieking voice. And sure enough, Bay and McLouth stand there and just watch it drop. If Jim Tracy was still the manager, fundamental mistakes like lack of communication would be non-existant, if you ask me.

I immediately got a text from Wannstache: "Same old fucking Buccos." And honestly, I felt the same thing. The same old jokes started to come into my mind, and the thought of those sentiments being echoed throughout the internets made me queasy. No doubt they would deserve the bashing they got, and there was probably not a worse way to start off the new regime than allowing 5 runs in one inning off of one hit.

Then, while waiting for the inevitable, the Pirates changed their traditional script. Xavier Nady unleashed a three run bomb in the same place he deposited one four innings before. Of course, Osoria had to make it interesting by allowing a solo shot and a double, but somehow the Pirates pulled it out after an epic collapse. In a lot of ways, its an improvement.

Notes:

-I agree with keeping Capps in. He's your man and you have to show that confidence in him. But the guy doesn't play around, if he's missing the plate then its unintentional. Why you wouldn't send Jeff Andrews to say something after the 2nd walk is beyond me.

-I dind't agree with keeping Osoria, a righty, in to face two lefties in the bottom of the 12th after giving up the solo shot to Francoeur. Especially, I thought, with the left handed Dumatrait in the bullpen. Then, I checked out Dumatrait's splits and saw hes not really any more effective against lefties, and has been starting for most of his career. I get the fact that Dumatrait could not be as easily optioned to the minors, but any other excuse to why Burnett was sent down (relief experience comes to mind in this instance) is bull. Doesn't mean I don't agree with it, but honesty would be appreciated.

-Great start for McLouth, LaRoche, and Nady. Rough start for Jason Bay, who's only redeeming part of the night was drawing a walk that allowed Nady to hit the homerun in the 12th.

-Yates was solid. While an unheralded move, Yates could conceivably get us an extra 2-4 wins this year.

-Bob Smizik actually had a rather decent article about Doumit starting in place of Paulino.

161 more thrillers to go!

Who knows what to think after this. To be certain, a win is a win.

And five runs on one hit in the ninth is five runs on one hit in the ninth.

And a miscommunication in the outfield is a...

Ok. Deep breath. Gonna be a long season.

More to come. Like, a summers worth.