Friday, January 28, 2011

Top 25 Players: #15-#14

Today’s additions bring out the question of how to appraise the odd evolutions in traditional positions in C-USA? For example, C-USA offensive linemen have long ago separated from the SEC/NFL prototype. If the League generates surplus distribution quarterbacks and smaller speedy guys, it has never squared the circle on how to generate productive linemen en masse.

Thus, the League exists to de-emphasize the offensive line. The spread offenses are predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and getting defenders out of the box so you can run the football against fewer defenders. The motivation for these adjustments is partly an inability to find people who can block: pass protect, win the battles in the tackle box in the running game.

So, when a quality offensive lineman does surface, he is often hobbled because although he can block his assignments, others cannot. So the low demand offensive approach continues unabated. C-USA exists to hide offensive linemen- it is hard to shine.

But first- another category of player hard to rate- the fullback. As a skill player, they do generate some numbers, but they aren’t the primary offensive skill assets. Much like the tight end, they make a mark blocking and doing a little of everything: catch a pass here, get a tough yard there...

15. Jerald Sowell, FB (1993-1996)

So, speaking of tough, Jerald Sowell is another player who dates back to the regional independent days- back when Tulane ran a pro-style offense with actual blockers. Okay, they ran it badly. Some guy named Craig Randall was the quarterback. We all pretended Jamaican Dartez was pretty okay.

But Jerald Sowell was the real deal- the best fullback of an era that had some real good ones at Tulane. He succeeded the quality Chance Miller- and a few years later was followed by the challenging Tony Converse.

Buddy Teevens believed in using the fullback. Coupled with the fact the tailback position was a black hole sucking in all sorts of terrible in that era, Jerald Sowell put up good numbers as an ancillary option: ninth all-time in carries, eleventh in rushing yards, caught thirty balls one year. And he was real good from day one- led the team in rushing three times in his career, including as a freshman.

In addition, he put his numbers up against real teams, in an era where a 100-yard rushing day was an accomplishment. He has 100-yard rushing days versus LSU, Alabama and Southern Mississippi- and holds the school record for longest play from scrimmage (98-yard run versus the Crimson Tide).

Plus, he was an outstanding fullback- crushing blocker, possession receiver, an NFL prospect from the first day he lined up. I can’t think of any other Tulane player who was a legitimite NFL prospect for all four years he played. He played ten NFL seasons- mostly with the Jets.

14. Troy Kropog, OT (2005-2008)

Like a lot of Tulane fans, I tuned into the nationally televised 2007 Tulane-LSU tilt. Most fans spent the game heartened by a spirited showing. I spent the game wondering just who in hell was playing left tackle for Tulane, poking the Chi O every time Kropog blew up another LSU lineman.

Troy Kropog became a top NFL prospect that day. It was a remarkable journey of the most improved player, from day one to finish, that I can recall.

We’d seen the Kropog-type a zillion times in C-USA. Well undersized, but he was pretty athletic (a 250-pound kid can play well in the trenches in high school)- he was still a true stab in the dark, groping for some serviceable upside, a depth player. There was some vague tight end talk (he was slight on that enormous frame)- and then he disappeared wherever I-A teams “grow” folks for a red-shirt year, then two years of spot duty. But the utter paucity of offensive lineman in C-USA means real prospects usually are on the field quickly- not a two-plus year journey. He was just a “guy”.

Well, Kropog exploded. He gained sixty pounds, kept the height and athleticism. Turned out he was wicked strong with that extra bulk. And he became the NFL’s holy grail- an athletic, left tackle and top fifty prospect.

He dominated C-USA opposition- first team all C-USA in 2008. He was criminally left off in 2007, named honorable mention, largely due to reputation- but there were absolutely not six League tackles better than him. He would have been a multiple year starter at USC for crying out loud.

He was the best pass protector ever at Tulane, could get the edge and physically dominated the pass rushers he routinely caught. That same athleticism made him a real weapon on the stretch and draw running plays Tulane liked to run with Forte and Anderson. He could get to the point of attack anywhere- in fact, he created the point of attack because he could run to any spot to do damage. Forget second level, he made blocks on hapless safeties.

He dropped out of the top fifty close to the draft: shoulder injury questions, a rich tackle draft, some thought he projected better as an OG (which will take you out of the first two rounds in a hurry). He went fourth round to the Titans. But he is a real NFL player. He played this year as the Titan’s third OT- and figures to get every chance to crack the regular rotation this year with the new regime (and there is still some thought to move him to guard to just get him on the field). If you had to pick a Tulane guy who will be in the League in 2018, Kropog is it.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top 25 Players: #17-#16

After the last edition of pure C-USA goodness, we drift back and find some old school defense players. The first is from the old school “major regional independent” era. The second is an old school player dropped into the one place where old school is still demanded in C-USA- the island that is middle ‘backer.

17. Mike Riley, DB (1987, 1989-1990)

Mike Riley is sadly kind of a forgotten Tulane player- edging out of the collective consciousness. He played on some hard-to-remember, pedestrian Greg Davis teams. He was touted as the heir to the great Pro-Bowler Eric Thomas (2nd round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in ‘87)- which made a victim of expectations.

But he was really good, the best player of the Greg Davis era, a true shutdown DB at a time when Tulane still played a major national schedule littered with NFL caliber skill players. Coupled with Mitchell Pierce, Riley allowed the Wave to put a real college football defensive backfield out there. Major college football completed the shift to more pro-style offenses (1984-ish is when Switzer abandoned the wishbone at Oklahoma for Aikman and Dupree)- and the top pass coverage asset sky-rocketed in value.

Riley was a brilliant athlete, fast as lightning. He is still on the list of Tulane track and field records for long jump and 100-yard dash. Still, it is hard to quantify defensive back play statistically- great corners and safeties aren’t thrown at which hurts their totals. There was no all C-USA team to make. And he only played three years- which hurts his totals as well.

But perhaps the highest judge of talent, for the NFL, he was a very solid pro-prospect: sixth round by the Jets, which would be fifth round today in the absence of all the supplemental picks and expansion teams, and a regional selection of the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers. He did not impress as a pro- which contributes to his anonymity.

But don't let that fool you, Riley was one of the nation's elite athletic DBs for two years.

16. Anthony Cannon, LB (2002-2005)

Who did not love Anthony Cannon?

From the day he stepped on the field at Tulane he was an unreal high motor guy: attack, stick, down. I’ve gone on and on here for eight years about the evolution of football in C-USA. But the middle linebacker- alone in the middle of the field as his friends get stretched all around him- is still the same as Chuck Bednarik at Penn in the 40s. He must get to the running back, or the receivers in the near slot and flats, and tackle him again and again.

And Cannon was a brilliant tackler. Take the best lateral moving linebacker I have seen at Tulane, add in high IQ (Cannon was always all-academic everything) and determined technique, and you have routine superior play.

It was the routine that was remarkable. Much like Roydell Williams below, he never was “great”, but man, was he always really good. Again, linebackers are measured first and foremost on stopping power- and Cannon made “stopping people” routine: four straight 100-tackle seasons, led the team in tackles three times- including as a freshman. There is only one person on this list (still to come) who has more total career tackles, and only three individuals in Tulane history have more. He also was a routine producer of the negative plays, loss of down and distance, needed to stop the monster C-USA offenses of that era: 29 career tackles for losses (only Brett Timmons has more for a LB) and led the team in sacks in 2004.

An obvious C-USA force, the accolades rolled in. He made three all C-USA teams (1st team in 2005, all frosh in 2002), a freshman all-American and C-USA defensive freshman of the year.

Cannon struggled to keep his weight above 220 and pro teams were scared away by his size. But his obvious athleticism and work ethic got him a shot as a special teams player and spot asset on a team that was endlessly looking for character guys to change the culture. A seventh round pick, he brought that motor to Detroit, made the team, and carved out a nice three year career.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Top 25 Players: #19-#18

Back to the list this morning, and four real fan favorites are coming up starting today.

Following on the theme of Tulane’s regional independent era, the terrible death of that era gave Tulane the Tommy Bowden regime. Bowden circumvented Southern Mississippi’s power game as C-USA dominant style with the offensive circus we have today. He took C-USA’s surplus resources: smaller, yet still speedy skill players and distribution quarterbacks. He exploited C-USA’s great weakness: lack of DBs. And the League became a manic exercise in scoring the ball- overwhelming the defensive secondary with quality receiving options and very heady quarterback play. The rein of Shaun King and Dave Ragone was at hand.

This list is very insightful (pan down a bit)- the first all-decade team for C-USA (1995-2004). Note the defense- not a single defense back! Further, and not to pick on Israel Route- but the guy was an all C-USA corner. He wasn’t bad exactly- particularly in the context of C-USA. But he is living proof that there has simply not been a whole lot of viable defensive backs in this league for fifteen years.

Today’s two additions were explosive part and parcel of that trend.

19. Lynaris Elpheage, CB (2000-2002)

Along with Lester Ricard and Tony Converse, Elpheage was the great hope of Tulane athletics. A guy who, at first glance, screamed top 100 NFL pick- but due to a deficiency sort of blazed out.

Elpheage was a brilliant, blazing talent- absolutely tailored to the C-USA experiment (first team all C-USA 2002). It was hard for defenses to make routine stops versus the go-go offenses. Without a negative play from scrimmage, it was very hard to stop King and Ragone for three downs. So thye League's defenses became big defensive play seeking engines: interceptions, sacks, tackles for losses. Players who could create these things, generate the fear of these things, and score on defense, became the vogue defensive asset.

And that was Lynaris Elpheage. He generated big plays. He was capable of flipping a game at any time. He generated fear.

I think he is still the only player in NCAA history to score touchdowns off a rush (first play of his career), kickoff return, a punt return, a fumble return, and an interception return. He was a marvel with the ball in his hands- particularly in the broken field of any sort of return. His MVP of the Hawai'i Bowl was driven by a huge third quarter return.

He also was a ball hawk: interceptions (14 career, second all time for Tulane), passes defended (49-Tulane career record), tackles (a “very good for a corner” 68 tackles in 2002, 59 in 2001), fumbles (two forced in 2002- again, great for a cornerback).

Yet, I used to have enormous arguments with the denizens of back in 2002 when I would write that Elpheage would not be drafted. Elpheage brought all this great exciting stuff to the table- but he had one problem. He couldn’t really cover people.

Which, of course, is a real problem at the next level. He was small (listed at 5’ 9”), could be bullied, couldn’t play press coverages or any sort of physical play really (oddly though, he was a good tackler). All those passes defended were emblematic of a problem; teams were absolutely not afraid to throw at him- particularly slants and possession style routes. He couldn’t even project to a nickel corner in the NFL. Normally lacking raw speed, nickel guys absolutely have to cover slot receivers running possession routes. Lacking situational DB skills, there wasn’t enough to even get him a job on special teams.

But he was wild fun at Tulane

18. Roydell Williams, WR (2000-2004)

Roydell Williams is the triumph of the C-USA offense that Bowden bequeathed. You want cartoon numbers, we got cartoon numbers here. And some might be a little shocked to not find him higher (ed. note: but a lot of real good players to go).

Hard to imagine anyone better designed to prosper in the early 2000s C-USA than Roydell Williams. Tall and lanky, brilliant route runner, high IQ player, great hands. His two pro weaknesses – a hair slow and “functional” strength- were not issues facing slow, undersized C-USA corners and safeties.

Add in some luck- matched up with big number quarterbacks Ramsey, Losman and Ricard- and the numbers get scary.

He had no weaknesses as a college wide receiver. None. First, he was a big play machine (three 70+ yard catches). Second, he was an outstanding possession and red zone target: 35 career TD receptions. Those 35 TDs are the most in both Tulane and C-USA history. Think about the great WRs in this offense friendly League- quite an accomplishment. Third, Williams brought a staggering consistency: third all-time receptions, second all-time reception yardage, twelve 100-yard receiving games.

The end result? All C-USA all four years he played: 1st team in 2003, 2004, 2nd team 2001, and all-frosh in 2000.

Ultimately, this is a hard call on Roydell. He is sort of a Phil Neikro sort of evaluation. He was great because of multiple good years, rather than any specific greatness? Plus, his numbers are goosed by the League and the quarterbacks throwing to him. My evaluation is that is he was a really good player in a great situation, rather than vice versa.

This is somewhat borne out by his checkered pro-career. A fourth round pick of Titans in 2005, he is still in the League with Washington after a hiatus (broke a finger and waived in 2009). But his pro career is a question of, again, a hair slow and functional strength- stuff he could “hide” at Tulane.

But Williams maximized the heck out of his talents at Tulane, just like Elpheage.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Top 25 Players: #21-#20

In the last installment, the value of contributions via special teams was introduced, and Frank Helps You Think It All Out returns to that debate today in spades.

My friend AK, the hearty troubadour of the Fairgrounds, used to be a student of the top jockeys at the track. The horse was the thing- the athlete in question. But horse races are won by necks and noses, so the ride was important. So while the jockey did not make the horse essentially competitive, he was necessary on the margins.

Kicking is like that. Ultimately, unlike your offensive line or linebackers, the punter is not real reflective on whether you have a good or bad football team. But it is important at the margins, on the edges. It is no accident that a real good run of good play for Tulane circa 1997-2002 was dominated also by a golden age of punting (Casey Roussel, Seth Marler and Chris Beckman) and good place-kicking (Brad Palazzo, Seth Marler).

Lastly, I write articles entitled Punt That Football! I’m the guy with a pained expression at the Linc when the home fans yell “go for it”. I believe in kicking as a weapon- take points when presented, win the field position game- so kickers have a place on this list.

But first:

21. Ruffin Hamilton, LB (1990-93)

If this list were underrated Tulane players, Hamilton would be at the very top. How many of us even remember this high football IQ, play-making linebacker?

Not many? Buried on many bad teams, unprotected by defensive linemen who could clean up blockers so he could make consistent contributions (Keith Cook had not blossomed yet), perhaps overshadowed by the charismatic Mike Staid, perhaps disappearing at times on his own merit, Hamilton toiled in some obscurity.

I missed much of his career, stationed in Germany for part of it. But the few games I saw, man, he could really play. He could cover, sack the quarterback (led the team in 1993), generate turnovers. The NFL was beginning to systematically look for playmakers on defense as the Bears 46-style of defense matured and defensive backs were “penalized” via the rule book more and more.

It was becoming harder to stop the pro offenses by just making three good plays, three good tackles. Defenses needed to make some plays to get stops: a sack, turnover, tackle an RB in the backfield, blow something up via individual effort. Linebackers who could do more than tackle, who could make “the big plays”, were coming increasingly into vogue. And Hamilton was an ideal candidate- big play rather than routine numbers- and he was invited to the Blue-Gray game, where he impressed.

He had an odd pro career, drafted sixth round by Green Bay, played a year sporadically, then three with Falcons, played in a Super Bowl. Perhaps a testament to his raw ability and IQ, there was a two year gap between his stints with the Packers and Falcons. The “good roster guy”- a guy who would make plays on special teams and hold his own in spot playing time- was defined by Ruffin Hamilton.

20. Seth Marler, K (1999-2002)

So yes, while it is hard to rank kickers, Marler has the hardware, right?

One of two outright All-Americans who played for Tulane since 1974. That is not all C-USA, that is All-American. He is Tulane's all-time scoring leader. Marler made the all-decade C-USA team and three times all C-USA (once first team, and once as a punter!). He is in the Tulane Hall of Fame.

It seems enough.

This was a big scoring era for Tulane, a team simply loaded with talent at quarterback, fully executing the cartoon number offense required in those heady days of C-USA play. Marler was a big part and big weapon.

He had the amazing year in 2001: 15-for-16 FGs, 7-for-7 from 40+ yards. He won the Lou Groza award and again, was named an All-American.

Plus, playing for those big offenses, he simply had to make a lot of kicks- a career 66 FGs made. Outstanding.

He had a big leg (four career makes from 50+ yards), but he was a little streaky. 66-for-91 career- so take away a streaky 2001 campaign and his numbers are still quality, but not amazing. The quality Brad Palazzo would be a similar comparison. He would routinely make 4-of-5, or eight in a row, then a miss a couple. But Marler has that 2001 season forever- which other Tulane kickers and punters cannot point too.

He got a good look in the NFL at Jacksonville- but that streakiness caught up with him. Just got into funks and missed very make-able kicks again and again and again. Look at his 30-39 and 40-49 numbers. Kicked in the Arena League-don’t know much about that.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Top 25 Players: #23-#22

As a “two space after the period” blog, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is annoyed by this Slate article that basically calls me a yo-yo. Thus, you will all be punished with a lecture. Before going further onto the list of the 25 greatest Tulane players of the past 25-ish years, a little context is in order.

Many Tulane fans bemoan the Green Wave’s 1966 departure from the SEC, coupled with the voluntary de-emphasization of athletics, as the beginning of the great talent erosion. The argument goes “the Green Wave had been losing regularly within that League- and quitting only expedited the decline.”

Fine- as far as it goes. But I think carving Tulane talent acquisition in to two tiers, SEC and post-SEC, is too facile.

To wit, some of the Bennie Ellender, Larry Smith, Vince Gibson and Mack Brown teams surely had enough talent to play near .500 (or maybe better once or twice) in the SEC. As a collective, those teams were surely better than the mess Tulane was in the early 60s. Tulane was definitely better for a decade or so post-departure than they had been playing in the SEC. Tulane would have won two, three SEC games (the League schedule was six games in those days) a lot more readily in the '70s and early '80 than the tail end of their 1960's SEC participation.

Tulane was playing a major “independent” schedule through Teevens- and still recruited players against the likes of other major independents, lesser SEC squads, etc. And frankly, it wasn’t a major disaster- and again a tick up from the last days of SEC football around here. Heck, Teevens first schedule included three top eleven teams (Alabama, Boston College, Florida State) and assorted other national programs (LSU, Navy, Mississippi, etc.).

The Tommy Bowden miracle was in part fueled by that. Teevens left the remnants of a national major independent recruiting class (Baton Rouge native Michael Jordan choose Tulane over Boston College, etc.) as well as the radical downgraded C-USA schedule. That downgrade- from second tier major sectional independent to a busted C-USA participant was a huge demarcation in talent acquisition- as big as the departure from the SEC.

Another demarcation was post-Katrina. Tulane used to get solid offensive players at least: Moore, Losman, Robertson, Ramsey, J. Williams- notsomuch afterwards.

This brings us to the next two members of our list- who came to Tulane as major recruits, and not C-USA style FBS candidates:

23. Michael Jordan, CB (1995-1998)

Michael Jordan was a huge component of the stalwart Tulane defenses under Tommy Bowden- a guy who would have been a very good player at a top ten national program. The Wave had a good defensive line that stopped the run and brought pressure. Then, Michael Jordan provided them with a true lockdown first corner- a guy with real pro coverage skills. That was his best attribute- a ball hawking coverage asset, second all-time passes defended at Tulane. And of course, he had that huge 79-yard interception return for a touchdown that jump-started a pretty languid Tulane team in the 1998 Liberty Bowl.

Oddly, the undefeated 1998 team featured only three first team all C-USA selections, and only one on defense. That one was Jordan, a testament to his raw impact on that defense. He took one half of the field away, and the other guys policed the rest.

22. Michael Pierce, RB (1987-1989)

If this list was “Favorite Tulane Player”, Michael Pierce would be at the top of my list. Full disclosure: I had a decent acquaintance with Michael- an exact contemporary of mine at Tulane. He was a generous person.

But I liked Michael for this list because he was a "real" football player- he had no weakness and did everything well. A true all-purpose player, rather than a straight tailback, his rushing totals suffered because he was asked to do everything.

In 1988, Pierce broke Tommy Mason’s single season all-purpose yardage mark- and Mason was an all-American, first round NFL and AFL draft pick, and an eleven year NFL pro. He also left Tulane as the all-time all-purpose yardage producer, taking over from another all-American: Marc Zeno. He is still third all-time on the current all-purpose list- a real testament since he played prior to the cartoon number C-USA era.

To that end, Pierce was a great receiver- the best pass catching RB in the 25 years I’ve followed the team (three career 100-yard receiving games). He was equally the best kick returner too (although I will listen to arguments vis-à-vis Jeff Liggon): two career returns for TD.

Again, his rushing totals suffered because he was asked to do so much else, losing carries- and that keeps him from being higher on this list. Ultimately a great running back has to be a great rusher first and foremost. But Pierce was the best all-around Tulane offensive player of this era I'm covering.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top 25 Players: #25-#24- Eliminate The Hazy

Putting together last summer’s Tulane retrospective, I was reminded of the really intriguing variety of players that have passed through here. Tulane has not produced many NFL players that enjoyed sustained success- so a lot of our better players get hazy through time.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it over the last few months- and starting today I am presenting a list of my 25 best Tulane football players over my 25 years following Tulane (1987-present).

The criteria here is “best” player- and not an MVP. Thus, no intangibles, no leaders of men stuff allowed. An MVP list would be slanted toward winning teams and offense: quarterbacks, skill players in general. My list is a career award- valuing a good career over single game or season achievements. I disregarded pro careers entirely. These are Tulane’s great college players- and not good players with secondary pro careers.

I’ll start at the bottom- and work my way toward the top:

25. Brian Williams, LB (1994-1997)

In the past 25 years, Tulane has played two elite college linebackers: Richard Harvey and Anthony Cannon. Brain Williams was a step below those guys- and his legend really was hurt by laboring under the Teevens regime, then barely missing the miraculous 1998 campaign.

But he had the number one skill required by a linebacker, he could tackle. Only two players have more total tackles in this 25 year span, led the team in tackles in 1996 and 1997. There are some defensive players who had better single season (say, Dennis O’Sullivan in 1998). But coupled with Derrick Singleton and Brett Timmons, the linebackers were the best part of the Teevens regime.

24. Kenan Blackmon, DE (1999-2002)

It is difficult to separate Kenan Blackmon from his pal in backfield terror Floyd Dorsey. The relative early success Scelfo enjoyed was fueled by strong offenses and this good defensive line. And Giff Smith owes his coaching career to that tandem.

Kenan was sort of undersized- did he even weigh 250lbs?- but very, very tall and extremely quick, almost lanky. The Green Wave had good defensive linemen all over the place in those days- and no one prospered more by the inability of offensive linemen to cheat or to fixate. He is Tulane’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss.

He was never exactly unblockable- but he could both get around or through OTs. He just had the frame that allowed him to keep them "guessing"- speed rush, great guy for stunts, strong enough to grab onto quarterbacks and hold on. 39 career starts.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Final BlogPoll

Note, like the major national polls, I have two C-USA teams and zero Big East teams. Satisifying.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Even if it ended my freezing at Ice Station Lurie, Vick’s next-to-last play interception was a tough way to go out. Still, it is always a question of expectations. I never was sold that the Eagles were very good. My pre-season prediction of nine wins, wild card still feels right- as the end win total and expectations were goosed by the Eagles abandoning the rebuilding aspect of the season for a total “win now with Vick” approach, plus a weak NFC East. Someone had to win it.

In all fairness, the Packers dominated. The Eagles could not do much on offense or defense. It really wasn’t even to their credit that they hung around to the end. Long time readers of this blog know exactly why the Eagles had a chance to steal it in the end.

Green Bay simply ran the ball too much. Intoxicated by Stark’s 23 carry, 123 yard performance, they committed to a run pass mix of 27 pass-32 rushes. The Eagles were in no mood to force Green Bay to forestall that sort of "success" by cheating the run- allowing the Packers to rush the football, cheating the big pass play instead. The Packers consistently took the ball out of the hands of the second best QB in the NFC. In the previous seven games, Aaron Rodgers had completed 71% of his passes, 19 TDs versus 2 INTs, a 122.0 passer rating- and Green Bay was content to pound Starks? against this Eagles' lousy defensive secondary?

That was just dumb. And, as always happens, Green Bay played great on offense, completely executed their game plan at a high level, and scored a mere 21 points. Frankly, in the NFL, if you play great on offense, you need to score more than 21- because a passing offense, even playing sort of incoherently, can threaten that number. As the Eagles, in fact did.

Vick kept chucking- because a pro offense with good skill players generates consistent field position flipping plays sort of accident, simple occurrence, in the passing game. Add in zero turnovers until the last pass, denying Green Bay any free points, and you have a script for an opportunity to steal a game you deserved to lose by two scores.

There are two major areas of disconnect between the Eagles and the elite. First, there is a real talent deficiency on defense. It is hard to point to any single player that took the field Sunday evening and say said player is better than average. I suppose Trent Cole and Asante Samuel would be the closest. One could fairly say that had above average seasons- but both clearly slowed down in the second half. On the actual game Sunday, that very day, not one Eagles player would clearly rate “above average”.

The Eagles' decade or so of quality professionalism has been driven by a good understanding of managing the salary cap, associated roster manipulation and the passing nature of the league- plus good, not great, drafting. But the current lack of defensive talent is driven by totaling blowing the last two drafts.

The Eagles last two drafts are here and here. Note in 2010 the Eagles took FIVE defensive players in the first four rounds- not one started Sunday. I raged about them at the time- and I stand by it now. Not one guy in the last two drafts was on the field as a plus NFL defensive player. And it is hard to be good if you miss that much. 7th rounder Lamar Chaney might be the only guy who even started- as an emergency fill in for MLB Stewart Bradley.

The second disconnect is the lack of consistent quarterback production. Vick’s production continued to spiral down again Sunday- second straight sub-80 quarterback rating. Teams have figured Vick out- and you can’t devote as many snaps as the Eagles do to the passing game, and be rewarded with 20 completions, three sacks and a bad pick. It simply isn’t enough. Goose that completion total to 28, and the Eagles win Sunday despite all their other woes.

Mind you, it isn’t all Vick’s fault. Vick is not a miracle worker. As a merely okay passer susceptible to pressure, he isn’t the kind of quarterback who papers over faults, but rather a mediocre quarterback who needs the real trappings of real offense to paper over his flaws: a good line, good receiving options, a running game. One positive about this play-off failure is that my great in-season fear is negated: no one is talking about yoking the Eagles to a long term deal with Vick any longer.

Later in the week I’ll post the fix-it column. But as a quick aside for Philadelphia fans, today is the 35th anniversary of one of the great days in Philadelphia sports- the crushing of the Red Army. As a sign of this blog’s longevity, my posting of the 30th anniversary is recorded here.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Prediction Thursday

I had been on a roll picking the Eagles ATS in the spread until missing the last two tilts (here and here)- dropping the blog career NFL play-off mark to 10-5.

Thus, I was not surprised to being surprised at the line for Sunday: Eagles -3 over Green Bay. I was expecting something more of pick’em- but again, I’ve been off the beam a bit lately. Green Bay has one of the top defenses in football right now. The Eagles’ defense is an injury riddled wreck- rapidly declining week-to-week. Rodgers is a clear pick over Vick- casting doubt on the value of the Eagles’ usual talisman against general sputtering. And yet, the Eagles are a muted fave?

The biggest intangibles wagering on pro football are coaching, home field, short week and warm weather/dome team coming outside. Three seem to land the Eagles way. They are at home in a building that generates good noise and emotion. Green Bay had to play an emotional game for their life last Sunday, while the Eagles cruised with deep reserves. People mock Reid’s NFC Championship game record- but the reason he is there a lot to lose is that the Eagles seemingly always make the play-offs and then win their initial post-season game. Vegas believes in Reid is this sort of spot.

Still, I’m doubtful. I think we can all agree the Eagles’ defense is in for a real, real stern test Sunday. The secondary is a real mess: safeties are either hurt or terrible; DB reinforcements (a limping Asante Samuel) do not inspire confidence. Injuries have corroded the depth and the unit just looks worn. I have really been down on the Eagles past two drafts- and it is really coming home to roost now. Name a single guy on defense, actually playing, taken sixth round or better in the past two drafts. Answer: none. Two entire drafts- and that is why there is a talent and depth problem over there.

Worse, then Aaron Rodgers is introduced, a guy absolutely designed to torment this group.

And Michael Vick has been declining, banged up, too. His turnovers are through the roof. Teams are blitzing and he can’t generate consistent accurate throws from the pocket. Vick this year, even playing well, struggles to generate “routine” offense against even decent defenses: Colts, Giants, Bears, Vikings. The Eagles grew fat this year, leavening said struggling routine offense, with giant strikes to Jackson, Celek, Maclin. But teams now get the ball out of Vick’s hands via extreme pressure, there is no time for giant downfield plays, and the Eagles just can’t sustain offense right now. Perhaps worse, Vick is hinting at excuses: I’m only 75%? Trouble.

This game seems straightforward to me. Rodgers throws for 300 yards, generates 28-35 points. Vick can’t possible throw for 300 yards; the Eagles struggle to add to their two routine scores via big plays. Throw in a pair of Vick turnovers… and this game has 31-17 Packers written all over it.

I love the Pack -3 over the Eagles here. But, such is the weakness of my convictions, based on my recent record, I’ll be chilling in Section 204 loving prepping snowballs.

Special bonus picks! My preseason Super Bowl pick was Falcons over Ravens. I’m inclined to stick with it. Falcons are very good in their building, and I think the Raven defense is much better than the Pats.

Seattle +10.5 over New Orleans: Gut pick really. A .500 outfit really ought to be able to hang with a good team at home. Just a whole lot of points to give a road team in the NFL.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Beginning Of The End

As Frank Helps You Think It All Out moves from the final months, and now heads into the final weeks, I’d like to submit some thoughts for product going forward.

The trappings surrounding an athletic program are material: cheerleaders, student news coverage, marching band, etc. And obviously, due to my lengthy commitment, I think a readable blog falls into that category. There should be a Tulane contributor on lists such as this and this. It helps make the program “real”.

I write Frank Helps You Think It All Out. I am pretty sure that I know the weaknesses of my contribution. It isn’t journalism- I don’t break news and do game reports. I know little of recruiting. Sports outside of the main revenue producers get slighted. And it isn’t democratic. I choose the topics- and go off topic to things of personal interest on a whim. Go Eagles! Hockey and NASCAR.

I have no desire to lead another Tulane communication sequel for eight years. But I’d like to help to get one off the ground: keep the program coverage going, plug holes in this current offering.

My going forward proposal centers on some sort of blog-style communication medium. Tulane has a chat board(s), newspaper, a pay for news site and an athletic department website. It doesn’t need more chat or journalism. But there is room for opinion and thought- particularly if it is civil, learned and impassioned. And that describes our group here.

Frankly, while many blogs have started during this blog’s tenure, they’ve lacked quality or staying power (ed. note: Anonymous Sportaholic was a good quality exception).

Going forward, I set-up an e-mail address (tulaneblog ‘at’ yahoo) and invite those willing to participate to sign up. I plan to be, again, democratic. And, in addition to the existing general invitation to the users here, I plan to invite some folks I enjoy reading on other sites. And you too, Anonymous- I see you lurking on news comments.

There will be ground rules- but for content, contribution rate and editorial, not policing ideas per se. I want the focus to be on Tulane sports and not administration. I am willing to experiment- try stuff on recruiting and women’s sports. And I have an idea of what “sells” in this format.

If there is interest, my plan is to have some conference calls and such to set a simple editorial policy, select contributors and a platform. I will serve as editor the first year with an eye toward taking an emeritus position soon after. If there isn’t, we’ll fold gracefully. But even just a couple of folks, each writing once a week, means we could generate a quality medium.

With an eye toward launching just before football season, I would hope to build a platform that would be a real interest driver in Tulane sports. As our credibility and know-how grows, we could set up partnerships with other Tulane interest drivers, offer ourselves as a resource to radio and C-USA, do game events, figure out what a podcast is, etc. There is just more power, more creativity, more people devoting time and brainpower.

Anyway, those are the big thoughts. Please share thoughts in the comments- but also take time to sign up via e-mail.

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