Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NFL Owners Approve New Rule Changes



Owners of all 32 NFL franchises flocked to Chicago, IL for the league's annual spring meeting this week. Although there were rule changes made during meetings that took place in March, these meetings were to finalize solutions that were left unruled/ pending from the previous meetings in Phoenix earlier this year.

The league has done (for the most part) a satisfactory job at evaluating the game every year and making tweaks for the overall good of the game, at least more-so than the MLB, NHL and NBA's efforts.

So what rule changes were approved in the windy city?

Everything you need to know:






Rule: Overtime cut from 15 to 10 minutes

The Good: With increasing television timeouts and a constant stoppage on the game clock, NFL games can feel like they're dragging from Sunday to Sunday. Although minor, the rule change will potentially shorten games (even if by 5 minutes), and will force interesting decisions to be made in OT considering the shortened time.

The Bad: In all reality, the five minute change wont really change much. Player safety was cited as one of the main causes of this change, but in a game that is already long over the 60 minute mark, how can we say with a straight face this is a real  benefit for players? Additionally, say a team takes 8 minutes and chews up the clock to only kick a field goal. If the league is aiming for "fairness" in competition, what's fair about getting the ball back with two minutes in overtime?

Final Verdict: This rule change will only effect the minority of football games, so it's impact will likely reach minor levels. However, if we're looking to improve overtime/player safety, there are much better ways to approach these issues.





Rule: The league is now loosening restrictions on player celebrations

The Good: The NFL, which has stood for the No Fun League as of late, took a greater step towards the entertainment aspect of the game by now allowing players to do pretty much anything, as long as it is not taunting nor vulgar. This will allow the characters of the league to come out and be true to themselves, while also increasing the fun and entertainment value for the fans. No weaponry or sexually provocative movements allowed.

The Bad: There's not really much that can be put into this section. This is mostly for the old-heads of football who favored Barry Sanders because he simply handed the ball to the referee. The only true bad that could come out of this rule is a player taking it to extremes, but we have yet to see this egregiousness in the league's history.

Final Verdict: This can only be seen as a Win/Win for everybody involved. We might not get back to the days of Joe Horn pulling out his cellphone or Terrell Owens with his sharpie, but the NFL saw a drop in ratings last season and needed to make changes. This is one that will bring people back to football.





Rule: Cutting roster sizes has moved to one day, will go from 90 man to 53 man. 

The Good: Unless you follow the league intensely or keep up on Hard Knocks, this change won't mean very much to the common fan. This rule will now force teams to make cuts at the end of the preseason all at once, which is a major victory for players on the lower end of the totem pole trying to make rosters. This will allow these players more opportunities to show the coaches what they're able to do.

The Bad: This part is mostly on the coaching staff. Already a stressful facet of the preseason, this forces the staff to cut 37 players at one time as opposed to two separate days. Obviously, 37 talented players to cut is no easy decision. This will force some quick decisions and may prove to have roster consequences later in the season.

Final Verdict: Roster trimming used to go from a 90 man roster, to a 75 man roster, down to the standard 53. The new rule, which only grants one day to go from 90 to 53, is essentially for players trying to make rosters. Teams are typically trying to simply avoid injuries by the last week of the preseason, and by enforcing the new rule, will get a last chance to see these players in live action before making decisions.




Rule: Two players will now be allowed to be taken off injured reserve

The Good: Unfortunately, injuries will forever be a part of sports. Should a player suffer a major injury, their season was officially finished once they hit the injured reserve. In recent years, the league allowed one player to return from this designated list, and recently as last year eliminated the need to claim what player up front would be designated for return. Now, two players will be allowed to return from the Injured Reserve.

This again is a win for everybody. The players who are hurt now still have the possibility of returning to play, coaches are able to hold roster spots while they're gone and still welcome injured players back, and fans can have the possibility of watching the best players return.

The Bad: Again, not much to complain about on this side. The only possible downside is having a player rush back too early from injury and possibly risk further damage.

The Verdict: This new change can have big ripples later in the season, where a playoff team can gain an important piece to their puzzle. A true shame is watching great players end a season due to injury, and now with this addition, the possibilities of watching a comeback now takes a step closer to happening.



Other important notes from Tuesday:


  • Tampa Bay will now be the site for Super Bowl 55, which was originally supposed to be in Los Angeles. Rain in the LA area deterred construction and pushed the date back for the new stadium to be ready. Tampa, which was originally the runner up to Los Angeles, has 90 days (August 25th) to solidify requirements. 
  • A proposal to allow coaches who are currently in the playoffs to work out agreements for other teams has currently been tabled. This means that coaches who are still currently with their team during a playoff run must wait until they are eliminated to negotiate. 


To receive updates on the NFL and all other sports, follow Donnie Druin on Twitter @DonnieDruin

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft



It's the equivalent to a second Christmas for football fans: The NFL Draft. For years now the NFL has ditched it's old platform of all seven rounds in one day, and has successfully turned what used to be an event for players, into one for fans and media as well.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Reaping What You Sow: The Colin Kaepernick Story







It seems like yesterday Colin Kaepernick was the best thing since sliced bread. The rocket armed, inked up, bicep kissing dual threat quarterback was torching defenses left and right and was one throw away from adding "Super Bowl Champion" to his resume.

Life comes at you fast.

Fast forward five years, and 2017 is a vastly different animal than 2012. Shortly after their Super Bowl run, the 49ers organization collapsed similar to a house of cards in what might have been one of the worst off-seasons in modern sports history. San Francisco, along with Colin, watched more than 16 players either retire or flee to free agency following Jim Harbaugh's departure to the collegiate level, among other coaches leaving the 49ers as well. Nothing has been the same for Kaepernick, Not his coaching staff, not his play, not even his diet.

So following another disappointing campaign in 2016, Colin opted out of his newly structured deal, and decided it was best if they started seeing other people.

Here's where the tin-foil hats start to emerge from the cornfields.

In-case you somehow forgot, 2016 kicked off the year of Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protests. Kaepernick received much backlash for his kneeling during the star-spangled banner, and many athletes followed suit in support. Many fans turned to booing, boycotting, and even humoring the message Colin was trying to peacefully portray.

It was a truly odd moment for us as a society, to poke athletes and wish upon a star for them to use their platform to speak their minds and stand up (or kneel in this case) for what they thought was right. We as people thirst for this so bad- but only if it's our views they're projecting. 

Colin Kaepernick officially opted out on March 3rd, and less than a month into the process, still remains jobless. The question we all pondered was where he would be starting, not when he would be offered a job. More-so, the question being asked is why? Why doesn't Colin have a job yet? 

Grab those hats I was telling you about, kids.

An overwhelming majority of social media and news outlets cling to the narrative that Colin is being treated unfairly in his job hunt, maintaining the idea that his protests and outspoken beliefs are ultimately costing him another chance to play the game that he loves. And as much as I would love to play along with the story-line, I simply cannot.

It's simply not true.

Now before the social justice warriors burn this article down and follow suit on my social media sites, we need to acknowledge the fact that I like Colin. He seems like a caring person who actually took a stand for his beliefs, while also following through with his word about donations (when's the last time your favorite athlete put 60 tons of food and water on a plane to aid in helping end famine?). Whether you agree with his political beliefs or not, the way he is carrying himself and holding true is something to be respected.



However, Colin Kaepernick is NOT a good quarterback. Not since Harbaugh dashed for Michigan. His arm strength is phenomenal, yet when a football isn't on target, the velocity of a ball doesn't matter as much as it should. Colin has happy feet, tends to ditch the play and takeoff with the football, struggles to progress through reads and even struggles identifying defenses. We're talking about a man who was benched for Blaine Gabbert, multiple times.

And you expect him to find a job where exactly?

If Jay Cutler, who is somewhat a better quarterback than Colin, is struggling to find a new home as a starting quarterback, one can only fathom how hard-pressed Kaepernick is to find a new gig.  It was recently brought to light by many outlets that Kaepernick was asking for $9-10 million a year, and a chance at a starting position. That's an awful lot to expect given his downward play the past three seasons. Colin's not exactly doing himself any favors in this process.

As much as there is to blame on Colin pinning his hopes of a news start on an outdated version of himself, the market also takes it's fair share of blame.

Put yourself in the shoes of an NFL GM who's seeking an NFL quarterback for the future. In this example, we'll use the Cleveland Browns. With the amount of draft picks acquired, it's clear the path to rebuilding your franchise is through a youth movement. Who's ceiling is higher? A quarterback about to hit 30 this year who's been torched by opposing defenses on a routine basis, or an up and coming college kid you can groom as your own into your system and culture? Teams such as Cleveland are looking to build long term, and Kaepernick simply doesn't fit the visions of the future.

But what about teams built to win now? Surely they would take a look at Colin given his situation. And that may be true, had he been willing to accept a discounted salary and willing to be a number two man in case they needed him to be. However, with Dallas dangling a hot and ready Tony Romo to teams such as Denver and Houston and names such as Kirk Cousins and Jay Cutler who are more capable of leading a team at this time, Colin is stuck in a market that doesn't believe in his ability to win now, or win for the future.

The eye opening part of this whole scenario is Kaepernick left on his own terms. After all, he was the one who opted out of his deal with San Francisco. As a 49er, Colin was at least guaranteed to be on the roster and compete to win. Even more astonishing? Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, not only supported Colin, but highly praised him for his efforts. It's not clear exactly why Colin left the surest bet to continue playing football to see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side. Either Colin thought he was worth much more, or he needs a new group of friends around him.

Yet many of those around me continue to hold true to their hearts that Kaepernick is indeed a victim. A victim of a 2017 America where you can't speak your mind against the establishment without becoming an outcast and sacrificing everything. It's difficult to find a true comparison to Kaep's unique situation, however many are quick and continuous to draw comparisons to former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow (don't get me started), a man who is also notoriously misconceived for being ran out of the NFL for being outspoken about his beliefs. Fun fact: If Tim was as talented as everybody believed him to be, he'd still be playing.

What it boils down to, is a question many coaches, scouts and front office personnel have to ask themselves every year when evaluating players: Can this guy play at a high enough level to win us football games?





It's not about kneeling in front of dozens of cameras to get your message across. It's not about locker room interviews getting political. This league and professional sports in general have, and always will be commanded by talent over everything. If a guy is talented enough, those issues are tabloid material at best. Should Kaepernick have begun this in the greater stages of his career (which raises another valid point, where was he years ago with all of this?) Colin would receive much less negative reflex from those around him. Why? Because when you are talented enough to effect football games, the guy in the press box who signs your checks is much more willing to ride with you. 

But here's to the sincerest of hopes that Colin revitalizes his career. The narrative of the 2017 NFL would be much juicer with Kaepernick on his revenge tour, and to wish harm on anybody's career path goes against moral duties of our society. Colin has done a lot of good off the field, and unfortunately his play on the field doesn't quite match up to the standard.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee on that faithful night, spurring one of the most controversial and recycled news story driven seasons we've seen yet, he chose to exercise his freedom, something he is entitled and welcomed to do, For freedom is what this country was built upon. Just don't be upset when teams decide to do the same.

You reap what you sow, Colin.





Donnie Druin is an award-winning writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin 
for updates/news/takes on all the sports you love, or just to tell him to stand up off the couch while the national anthem plays on TV.


















Friday, March 10, 2017

NFL Free Agency Tracker: Day Three




Welcome to your guide for the crazy whirlwind of tweets, calls, information and deals known as NFL Free Agency! Any signing, potential signing, rumor or other transaction that happens during the free agency period will be available here.



Total Dollar Amount Spent Through Day 2 of Free Agency: 
$1,512,282,500.00





Top Ten Teams According to Cap Space Available (via Spotrac)
  1.  San Francisco- $88.9 million 
  2. Cleveland- $83.8 million
  3. Jacksonville- $70.4 million
  4. Tennessee- $54.8 million
  5. Indianapolis- $43.4 million
  6. Chicago- $43 million
  7. Oakland - $40.8 million
  8. Tampa Bay - $34.3 million
  9. Green Bay - $33.5 million
  10. Arizona- $32.6 million 

*Figures are valid through 3/10/17





On this page you will find all the free agent signings listed by position, and are done in order of highest contract total.


Quarterbacks:

Mike Glennon- Chicago Bears- 3 years/45 million, ($19 million guaranteed)
Kirk Cousins- Washington Redskins- 1 year, $23.94 million franchise tag
Brian Hoyer- San Francisco 49ers- 2 years, $12 million ($10 million guaranteed)
Matt Schaub- Atlanta Falcons- 2 years, $9 million
Landry Jones- Pittsburgh Steelers- 2 years, $4.4 million ($600,000 guaranteed) 
Matt Barkley - San Francisco 49ers- Terms TBA


Fullbacks/Running Backs: 

Kyle Juszczyk- San Francisco 49ers- 4 years, $21 million ($10.5 million guaranteed)
Patrick DiMarco- Buffalo Bills- 4 years, $8.5 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Jacquizz Rodgers- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 2 years, $3.3 million
Mike Tolbert- Buffalo Bills- 1 year, $1 million
C.J. Spiller- Kansas City Chiefs- 1 year, $980,000 
Danny Woodhead- Baltimore Ravens- 3 years, monetary details TBA


Wide Receivers: 

Pierre Garcon- San Francisco 49ers- 5 year, $47.5 million ($17 million guaranteed)
Robert Woods- Los Angeles Rams- 5 year, $39 million, ($15 million guaranteed)
DeSean Jackson- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 3 year, $35 million, ($20 million guaranteed)
Kenny Britt- Cleveland Browns- 4 year, $32.5 million, ($17 million guaranteed)
Kenny Stills- Miami Dolphins- 4 year, $32 million, ($20 million guaranteed)
Terrence Williams- Dallas Cowboys- 4 year, $17 million
Torrey Smith- Philadelphia Eagles- 3 year, $15 million
Alshon Jeffery- Philadelphia Eagles- 1 year, $14 million
Brandon Marshall- New York Giants- 2 year, $11 million ($5 million guaranteed)
Marquise Goodwin- San Francisco 49ers- 2 year, $8 million
Terrelle Pryor- Washington Redskins- 1 year, $6 million
Aldrick Robinson- San Francisco 49ers- $6 million
Charles Johnson- Carolina Panthers- 1 year, $2.2 million
Russell Shepard- Carolina Panthers - 3 years, Terms TBA


Tight Ends:

Martellus Bennett - Green Bay Packers - 3 year, $18.5 million Dion Sims- Chicago Bears- 3 years, $18 million ($10 million guaranteed) 
Rhett Ellison- 4 years, $18 million ($8 million guaranteed)
Levine Toilolo- Atlanta Falcons- 3 years, $12 million ($3 million guaranteed)
Darren Fells- Detroit Lions- 1 year, $1.5 million


Offensive Line:

Kevin Zeitler- Guard- Cleveland Browns- 5 years, $60 million ($31.5 million guaranteed)
Matt Kalil- Tackle- Carolina Panthers- 5 years, $55 million ($25 million guaranteed)
Russell Okung- Tackle- Los Angeles Chargers- 4 years, $53 million ($25 million guaranteed)
Andrew Whitworth- Tackle- Los Angeles Rams- 3 years, $36 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Ronald Leary- Guard- Denver Broncos- 4 years, $35 million ($20 million guaranteed) 
Larry Warford- Guard - New Orleans Saints- 4 years, $34 million ($17 million guaranteed)
Mike Remmers- Tackle - Minnesota Vikings- 5 year, $30 million
Menelik Watson- Tackle - Denver Broncos - 3 year, $18.3 million
J.C. Tretter- Center- Cleveland Browns- 3 years, $16.75 million ($10 million guaranteed) 
Benjamin Ijalana- Tackle- New York Jets- 2 years, $11 million
Stefen Wisniewski- Center - Philadelphia Eagles- 3 year, $9 million
Luke Joeckel- Tackle- Seattle Seahawks- 1 year, $8 million
Chance Warmack- Guard- Philadelphia Eagles- 1 year, $1.51 million
Marshall Newhouse- Tackle- Oakland Raiders- 2 years, Terms TBA
Eric Winston- Tackle- Cincinnati Bengals- 1 year, Terms TBA
Kelvin Beachum - Tackle- New York Jets- Terms TBA



Defensive Line: 

Calais Campbell - DE- Jacksonville Jaguars - 4 years, $60 million ($30 million guaranteed) 
Brandon Williams - DT- Baltimore Ravens - 5 years, $54 million ($27.5 million guaranteed)
Nick Fairly - DT- New Orleans - 4 years, $30 million
Jabaal Sheard- DE - Indianapolis Colts- 3 year, $25.5 million
Stacy McGee - DT- Washington Redskins - 5 years, $25 million ($9 million guaranteed) 
Terrell McClain - DT- Washington Redskins - 4 years, $21 million ($11 million guaranteed) 
Lawrence Guy - DT - New England Patriots- 4 years, $20 million Earl Mitchell - DT- San Francisco 49ers - 4 years, $16 million ($6.5 million guaranteed)
Chris Baker - DE- Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 3 years, $15.75 million ($9 million guaranteed)
John Simon - DE - Indianapolis Colts - 3 years, $13.5 million
Akeem Spence - DT- Detroit Lions - 3 years, $10.5 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)
Jack Crawford - DE- Atlanta Falcons - 3 years, $10.3 million 
Cornelius Washington - DE- Detroit Lions - 2 years, $6 million
Sylvester Williams- DT - Tennessee Titans - 3 years, Terms TBA
Stephen Paea- DT- Dallas Cowboys- Terms TBA



Linebackers:


Chandler Jones- Arizona Cardinals- 5 years, $82.5 million ($53 million guaranteed) Malcolm Smith - San Francisco 49ers - 5 years, $26.5 million ($11.5 million guaranteed)
A.J. Klein - New Orleans Saints - 4 years, $24 million ($9.4 million guaranteed) 
Lawrence Timmons - Miami Dolphins - 2 year, $12 million 
Lorenzo Alexander- Buffalo Bills - 2 year, $9 million
Josh Martin - New York Jets - 2 years, $4.3 million
Barkevious Mingo - Indianapolis Colts - 1 year, $2.5 million
Laroy Reynolds - Atlanta Falcons - 1 year, $1.3 million
Lerentee McCray - Jacksonville Jaguars - 1 year, $1 million

Juilius Peppers - Carolina Panthers - 1 year, Details TBA




Defensive Backs: 

A.J. Bouye - Jacksonville Jaguars - 5 years, $67.5 million ($26 million guaranteed) 
Tony Jefferson - Baltimore Ravens - 4 years, $36 million ($14 million guaranteed)
Logan Ryan - Tennessee Titans - 3 years, $30 million
Micah Hyde - Buffalo Bills - 5 years, $30 million ($14 million guaranteed) 
Captain Munnerlyn - Carolina Panthers - 4 years, $21 million
Quintin Demps - Chicago Bears - 3 years, $13.5 million 
D.J. Swearinger - Washington Redskins - 3 years, $13.5 million
Nolan Carroll - Dallas Cowboys - 3 years, $10 million
D.J. Hayden - Detroit Lions - 1 year, $5.25 million
Chris Conte - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2 years, $5 million ($2.5 million guaranteed) 
Brynden Trawick - Tennessee Titans - 2 years, $4.75 million ($3 million guaranteed) 
Nate Allen- Miami Dolphins - 1 year, $3.4 million
Antoine Bethea - Arizona Cardinals - 3 years, Terms TBA
Mike Adams- Carolina Panthers- 2 years, Terms TBA
JJ Wilcox- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 2 years, Terms TBA



Special Teams: 

Jeff Locke - P - Indianapolis Colts - 2 years, $3.45 million ($1.25 million guaranteed) 
Phil Dawson- K - Arizona Cardinals - DETAILS TBA
Robbie Gould- K - San Francisco 49ers - DETAILS TBA
Steven Hauschka- K - Buffalo Bills - DETAILS TBA
Connor Barth- K - Chicago Bears - 1 year, Terms TBA
Chandler Catanzaro - K - New York Jets - Terms TBA






Other Notable Transactions


  • Houston Texans trade QB Brock Osweiler and 2018 Second Round Pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2017 4th round pick. 
  • Los Angeles Rams trade DE William Hayes and a seventh round pick to Miami in exchange for the Dolphins' sixth round pick.
  • Dolphins officially acquire Julius Thomas from the Jaguars while sending their 2017 seventh round pick to Jacksonville.
  • Miami also trades Tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville for a 2018 seventh round pick.
  • Redskins fire GM Scot McCloughan after two seasons, citing alcohol abuse as one of the main reasons for the departure.
  • Running Back Kenneth Dixon was officially suspended first four games of 2017 season for violation of PED policy.

  • The Indianapolis Colts have agreed to trade tight end Dwayne Allen to the New England Patriots. The Colts will also send a sixth-round pick to New England in exchange for a Patriots fourth-round pick.
  • The New England Patriots trade their 2017 1st/3rd round picks to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for WR Brandin Cooks and a 2017 4th rounder.
  • Carolina Panthers trade DE Kony Ealy and a 2017 3rd round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for 2017 second round pick.


    • RT Doug Free of the Dallas Cowboys informs team that he will be retiring, leaving a hole at the tackle position for the reigning division champs. 

    Rumor Central

    • Many believe the riddance of Brock Osweiler signifies a landing spot for current Cowboys QB Tony Romo, who is now rumored to be traded after initial reports suggested he would be released. 
    • UPDATE: Reports say Denver and Houston, both favorites to land Romo, will stay put and hold off on trade negotiations with Dallas in order to force the Cowboys hand.

    • Sticking on the Osweiler train, the Cleveland Browns absorbed Brock's contract and feel confident they're in better position to land Patriots QB Jimmy Garappolo. The feeling is strong in Cleveland that Osweiler wont be on the roster come draft day. 
    UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Jimmy Garappolo is virtually a lock to be a New England Patriot for the long haul, citing he is untouchable to the Patriots organization and will not be saught after in trade deals.
    • It's been a known fact that Kirk Cousins isn't the biggest fan of the Washington Redskins. In the recent days talks between the 49ers and Redskins about potentially shipping Kirk to be reunited with new HC Kyle Shanahan. Cousins supposedly asked Washington for a trade, but told it wasn't likely to happen. 
    UPDATE: Kirk Cousins signed a franchise tender on Friday morning, making him eligible to be traded, per multiple sources.
    • Early Friday morning, Jimmy Garappolo's instagram account posted a "goodbye" post that gave away the impression he was traded. NFL Insider Ian Rapoport confirmed this to be a hoax. 





    For immediate updates throughout free agency, follow Donnie Druin on Twitter @DonnieDruin 

    Wednesday, January 25, 2017

    How To Make The Pro Bowl Great Again


    For the first time since September 8th, there will not be a competitive football game played all week. Which only means one thing: It's Pro Bowl Week!


    It's that time of year where all the best players in the league those who accept invites meet up in Honolulu, Miami, Glendale, Orlando for the annual flag football  NFL All-Star game!

    The Pro Bowl has received a lot of criticism as of late by fans, sports columnists and even players, noting that the game practically has no meaning to it. To put the overall feeling of the game in perspective, 37 players have declined invites to the Pro Bowl this season.

    So why is this All-Star game lacking significance, in all area's of interest?

    It all starts with the product on the field. The idea sounds great at first: Let's collect the best players from each conference and pin them against each other. The idea is pretty similar to a bored night playing Madden. This would be a great idea, except for the following:

    1. The players don't play hard, and that's understandable. It's a meaningless exhibition game and more of a vacation for these guys. Why risk a serious tear or bone fracture on a game that has less value than the Senior Bowl in college?

    2. Because of #1, fans don't want to watch. Why would one watch what is essentially a glorified flag football game with half-ass effort? I'm willing to bet a majority of fans have already seen their favorite team give that type of effort at some point during the season. It's hard to sell a bad product, even if the Rams and 49ers can do it.  The last time people really enjoyed the Pro Bowl, Sean Taylor absolutely drilled a punter near the sideline.


    As non-purposeful as this game looks, there is still hope to save the game.

    Luckily for the 20 people that read this, absolutely nobody asked me for my opinion on how to spice things up.

    Whether you're #MakeTheProBowlGreatAgain or #NotMyProBowl, the following are ideas to rejuvenate the NFL All-Star Game:


    Host it After the Super Bowl 
    This is one of the most common knocks on the game. Previously being played a week after the Super Bowl, this gave players playing in the Super Bowl the chance to participate in the game, which could possibly encourage other players to participate in the game as well.


    Get Fans More Involved 
    This could be accomplished a number of ways. One idea would be to let the fans draft teams, either through social media polling (The NBA All-Star voting shows how "amazing" fans are at deciding All-Stars) or through a live draft of fans selected either randomly or a contest. If that doesn't butter your biscuit, giving the opportunity for a fan/fans to call plays during one series during the game would also be a fun way to get more interaction and interest.


    Have Back-ups Play Instead
    Now we're starting to dig deep up our sleeve as far as ideas go. Although back-up players doesn't sound extra enticing at first, just remember that 37 players declined their invitation this year, so we might be a lot closer than we think. These back-ups wouldn't necessarily be practice squad players (how cool would it be to be discovered in the All-Star game?) but some first string players and many second string players would have the opportunity to play. To entice these players to give a little effort, the prize for a win: A half-million dollar paycheck. Better quality of play= Better quality television.


    Have the Pro Bowl Count For Something
    Similar to what the MLB All-Star game used to incorporate, the NFL could have their own game have a little extra meaning for the following season. One idea that could work is having the winning conference have home-field advantage in the season opener the following year. Either have the Super Bowl be an automatic re-match for week one, or have inter-conference play for all of the first week. It may not be much to fight over in February, but home field advantage is always a luxury.




    Make Players Play Foreign Positions
    Aiding more towards the "Hold my beer" side of the scale, it's an odd yet fascinating idea that would be a lot more interesting than what the game already gives us. How awesome would it be to see Dontari Poe at quarterback throwing to Pat McAfee while Tom Brady covers him at corner? Great football? Probably not. Entertaining? You bet.


    Have Mascots And/Or Referee's Play
    There's not too much to this concept. I'm sure the fans would love to see something like this happen. Make a bad hit on a defenseless receiver call? Did you rule Dez didn't catch it? Strap that helmet on extra tight, Mr. Zebra. Prepare to be on SportsCenter. And how about those cocky mascots? Running all over those kids during halftime? Red Bird better make sure he has peripheral vision.




    Donnie Druin is an award-winning writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin for updates, opinions and everything else in the world of sports... Or to revoke his invite from the Pro Bowl. 

    Antonio Brown Shouldn't Be Scapegoat In Pittsburgh, Deserves New Contract




    After a season of twerking, custom cleats, and Facebook live videos, one would think that Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown would've preferred to lay low following a loss in the AFC Championship.

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

    National Championship Preview: Alabama vs Clemson



    Who: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Clemson Tigers
    What: College Football Playoff National Championship Game
    When: Monday, January 9th, 2017 at 8:00 PM Eastern Time
    Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida
    Line: Alabama (6.5)



    Since the addition of the College Football Playoff, the postseason in NCAA football has become increasingly more, for lack of a better term, chaotic. 2016 was the third year of the new playoff system, and will feature the first ever rematch for a championship since championship games became established in 1992. 





    The Road To The National Championship

    The 2016 season was seemingly harsh to everybody but Alabama. The Tide's road to Monday night, besides a narrow escape of a 48-43 victory against #19 Ole Miss on the road, has come in the fashion of ease and comfort. How impressive has Alabama been? Their last eight games of the season featured six top 20 ranked opponents. The lowest margin of victory? A 10-0 win at LSU. Alabama found a curious draw against Washington in their playoff game, and found themselves much closer to the Huskies than originally thought before pulling away late. Regardless, Alabama reigned supreme in a 24-7 win and now find themselves one win away from stockpiling yet another national championship trophy. 

    Clemson wasn't as fortunate as their counterparts were this season, as the Tigers often endured rocky times after touching Howard's rock. Notching wins against then ranked #3 Louisville and #12 Florida State added strength to their playoff argument, yet struggles against Troy, NC State and even dropping a game to Pitt at home gave little light to hopes of another shot at Alabama. However, the loss to the Panthers ended up being a blessing in disguise. Since that faithful day, the Tigers turned a complete 180 degrees on their season, and all of the built up anger and emotion was on display as the Tigers boat-raced #3 Ohio State last Saturday, 31-0. Clemson's team have come a long way since losing to Pittsburgh, as the Tigers look to address (and defeat) the elephant in the room. 

    How does each team stack up in all three phases of the game? Look no further, everything- and everybody, you need to know for Monday night:






    Offense






    Alabama:

    Running the show for the Crimson Tide is freshman Jalen Hurts, a duel-threat quarterback that has arguably been Nick Saban's best signal caller since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. Hurts' stat-line doesn't exactly jump off the page (22 TD's, 9 INT's, 64.2 QBR) yet Hurts' ability to extend the play and use his mobility gives Alabama a dimension long needed at the quarterback position. 

    Bursting onto the national spotlight and likely will receive a lot of attention from Clemson's defense is halfback Bo Scarborough. Bo stands at 6'2" and 228 pounds, and indeed does run with the same power, speed and determination as another Bo who once upon a time played college ball in the same state. Scarborough, coming off a Peach Bowl MVP performance (9.5 yards per carry, 180 yards and 2 touchdowns), will share touches with fellow running back Damien Harris. 

    Alabama's aerial attack isn't groundbreaking nor showstopping (62nd among FBS schools in passing offense) but could benefit from all attention being focused on the run game. OJ Howard at the tight end position presents matchup nightmares for defenses, while wide receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart are more than capable of making big plays for the Tide, both over 700 yards each and 15 touchdowns on the season combined. Cam Robinson anchors another stellar Crimson Tide offensive line, one of the most reliable in the country.It is to note, however, that the Tide's offensive line has given up 24 sacks on the year, ranking 44th in the nation in pass protection. 

    Alabama's bread and butter is a physical, punishing brand of running football that sets the pass up perfectly when clicking on all cylinders. 





    Clemson: 

    Deshaun Watson is the gun-slinger for a Tigers offense that is one of the best in the country. Watson, who is a back-to-back Davey O'Brien award winner, is one of the nation's most dangerous players when he has the ball. Watson stands tall at 6'3" but moves with agility and play-making ability at a premium to the quarterback position. 

    Watson is dangerous both through his arm and his feet, but more lethal when throwing the ball to wide receiver  Mike Williams. Williams, arguably the best wide-out in the nation and future first round pick, is a big play kid who has the tools to not only go up and grab the ball, but the skills to make big plays after the catch as well. As lethal as Watson presents himself on the ground, halfback Wayne Gallman is often overlooked carrying the ball out of the backfield. 

    Although Wayne isn't the featured player of the offense, he's scored in all but two games the entire season. With special playmakers across the board for the Tigers, Clemson only needs an above-average offensive line in order to facilitate points. Keeping players like Watson upright and healthy is what the Tigers have managed to do up to this point, with no need to bully teams like Alabama does. The Tigers offense runs through Deshaun Watson in both passing and running the football. 


    The Bottom Line

    Both offenses thrive off the play of their dual threat quarterbacks. While both Watson and Hurts are dangerous, both are known to be careless with the ball on more then one occasion. Watson has the higher upside and is more polished than Jalen Hurts, while also having more big-play threats around him. If this game turns to a shootout, I'll take my chances with the Tigers' offense. 

    Advantage: Clemson






    Defense




    Alabama:

    Welcome to the Alabama portion of the program. The Tide's defense has been arguably Saban's most dominant squad during his coaching tenure. How good is this defense? They have scored 11 touchdowns purely on their side of the ball, while only giving up 15 the entire season. 

    Alabama's defense has limited nine of their opponents to ten points or less, while giving up an average of about twelve points per game. Conclusion? They're not too shabby. The oil to their defensive engine is the front seven. The Tide traditionally play a 4-3 defense, allowing their rush to come purely from their edge rushing defensive ends while also holding ground in the middle. Jonathan Allen, star defensive end for the Tide, took home honors such as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Bednarik and Nagurski awards as best defensive player, while also being voted a unanimous All-American. 

    Seven out of eleven players on this defense are graded in the top 25 nationally at their positions on Pro Football Focus. Alabama's secondary is nearly as good as the front seven as well, allowing the second-lowest QBR in the country. You can't run, you can't pass, you may not even be able to hide. 

    The best comparison for this defense is 11 food deprived wolves stumbling upon a wounded animal.




    Clemson:

    Although not at the holy level many are putting Alabama's defense on, the Tigers have quite the defense on their side of town as well, just ask Ohio State (O-H-I-31-0). Indeed the Tigers' defense has stepped up their play as of late, becoming one of the more aggressive and efficient squad's in the country (rank 7th in scoring defense, 8th in total defense). 

    What we all thought was a top-notch OSU offense quickly turned into a laughing stock, mostly thanks in-part to the orange and white brick wall. Carlos Watkins plays at defensive tackle for Clemson and consistently wreaks havoc upfront, totaling 10.5 sacks and 44 total tackles this season alone. The Tigers also feature an extremely fast and poised group of linebackers. 

    Players such as Kendall Joseph and Dorian O'Daniel at the linebacker spot excel at play recognition, and could potentially pose problems for Alabama's backfield. Alabama's defense is in a class of it's own, yet Clemson hoists a defense that is worthy of bragging for as well. 

    Bottom Line

    Both of these teams have defenses that are good enough to win a ball game. The only question with the defense of Alabama is if they are able to contain Deshaun Watson, as they have yet to see a quarterback than can do what he does since the last time these two teams met. I also do think Clemson has a better chance of limiting Alabama's opportunities, as opposed to vice-versa. That being said, the Crimson Tide have too many play-makers on that side of the ball for an offense to truly exploit them. 

    Simply put: Clemson's defense is good, Alabama's is one for the record books.

    Defensive Advantage: Alabama



    Special Teams



    Alabama

    Adam Griffith is the Tide's kicker, coming into the match-up 20-27 on the year. Griffith can be reliable, yet that may be too friendly of a term. A 74.1% of conversion isn't exactly what you want out of your kicker, especially going 3-for-7 on field goals from 40 yards and further. Griffith ranks outside the top 40 kickers out of all FBS schools. JK Scott, punter for Alabama, is third in the nation on average yards per punt (47.4), providing the Tide with a vital advantage in the game of field position. Bama's touchback percentage when kicking off sits right at 50% as well. 






    Clemson: 

    Greg Huegel is Clemson's place kicker, and to Griffith's credit, Huegel isn't much more to brag about. Actually, Huegel has a lower kicking percentage than Griffith (73.7%). Andy Teasdall, punter for the Tigers, also sits behind his Alabama counterpart in yards per attempt, kicking on average 38 yards. Kickoffs for Clemson also haven't been friendly, only reaching the end zone on kicks for 38% of the time. 





    Bottom Line

    Special Teams is so vastly overlooked in the game of football. You really only pay attention to it when you need it. In reality, special teams has just as much importance as any other facet of the game. Collectively, both teams surely have room for improvement in all areas, yet JK Scott is enough of a difference maker for field position to be key. If this game is as close as advertised, the better special teams unit typically pulls through, and in this case Alabama holds the slight edge. 

    Special Teams Advantage: Alabama





    How Clemson Can Win

    Despite what a 24-7 scoreboard will show, Washington hung with Alabama right until the very end, and more importantly proved that the Tide weren't invincible. If Clemson wants to win, their first priority rests within stopping the rushing attack of Alabama. Successfully doing so will not only mean the damage of Bo Scarborough is limited, but also puts the game in the hands of a freshman quarterback. Surely Jalen Hurts' weapons are more than capable of making splash plays, but a well paced run game for Alabama would essentially send title hopes down the drain for Clemson. 

    Offensively, spreading the ball and utilizing the entire field is just about the only way to move the football against this defense. Sure, run up the middle here and there just to keep the defense honest. However with Alabama allowing a mere 62 yards rushing per game, there's no sense in forcing a run game that is unlikely to unfold against this front seven. The Tigers are fortunate to have two elite playmakers in Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams on their offense. Let Williams stretch the defense deep downfield and get creative with giving Watson space, and Clemson really like their chances. 



    How Alabama Can Win 

    Changing offensive coordinators a week before a national championship is almost unheard of, yet the Crimson Tide's offense took the "New Year, New Me" attitude to heart, changing coordinators as Steve Sarkisian takes over duties earlier than expected. If we're being honest, Lane Kiffin leaving might just be a blessing in disguise, as many have questioned his game plan/play-calling. The Tide's biggest key to victory will be simplifying things for Jalen Hurts. This translates to relying on his running backs to shoulder some of the load, while also keeping his reads/progressions simple and short. Hurts has the ability to hurt the defense with either his arm or legs, adding another dimension to an already stellar offense. Should Jalen play a mistake free game while being able to get the ball to his best playmakers, Alabama could have a real shot at repeating as national champions. 

    Defensively,  the Tide simply need to continue to do what they've achieved all year: Control the line of scrimmage. Alabama has the best front seven in all of the nation, while also being the most physical. With a player as gifted as Deshaun Watson, the first step in stopping him is controlling the line of scrimmage, thus not allowing plays to develop and having the defense dictate the flow of the game, rather than the Tiger's offense. 


    Revenge, Or Repeat?

    We were treated to a very special championship game last season. As dominating as Alabama was, Clemson came without four points of bringing home their first championship trophy since 1981. The second act of Alabama vs Clemson gives promise to be one of the best matchups we have seen in recent memory. This game pits one of the best motivators in the country in Dabo Swinney against Nick Saban, a man who is one win away from all but cementing his holy status among the sport. 

    The David vs Goliath narrative for this matchup is non-existent, and doesn't carry much value. The Tigers are just as good of a football team as the Crimson Tide are, and their play will show. Clemson has the better offense, Alabama has the better defense. This game will likely come down to its final minutes, with one team making a defensive stand. 

    To see Clemson win this football game should not be a shock to those that follow the sport. Yet through time and time again, the old saying of "Defense wins championships" ring true through every year. Nick Saban has only lost twice in games where he had multiple weeks to prepare, and with a legendary defense, it's hard to pick against the Crimson Tide. I'm trusting the better defense, and the preparation/adjustments of Coach Saban.

    I believe the Tide roll to victory in the ousting minutes of the contest. 

    Alabama 24, Clemson 20


    Donnie Druin is an award winning writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin for everything sports, or to question his credibility since his team can't hold a  14 point lead with seven minutes left in the Rose Bowl