Friday, January 29, 2010

Adam Kennedy Make Sense For Tigers

The Tigers have to do something with their lineup. Not only is unbalanced, but there are injury concerns. The expectation Brandon Inge will be 100 percent ready for the start of the season may not be a reality. Scott Sizemore is questionable, too.
Of the available free agents, Adam Kennedy makes the most sense. He did play a lot of third base last season. He is a consistent hitter, who doesn't give away at bats. Hank Blalock hardly played third base last season and just hasn't developed into that good of a player since showing considerable promise early in his career. The Tigers don't have spare third basemen. They can use Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn at second.

Random Thoughts

To me, the biggest gamble of the NFL Draft will be Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. He played in a spread in college, is tall and gangly and not overly athletic, and he missed most of last season with an injury.

- The Lions obviously need to upgrade at running back. Best free agent is Chester Taylor. Should be good backs in third round and beyond. No back in this draft is worth one of their first two picks.

- Can't wait for signing day next week to hear how great Michigan did again. Just wonder why that euphoria on signing day doesn't transfer to on the field.

My column in Friday's Oakland Press on Olympians Meryl Davis and Charlie White


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Two Potential Draft Picks For The Lions

There are two players in particular, who have stood out as potential draft picks for the Lions, during Senior Bowl practices.
One is Cam Thomas, a 325-pound defensive tackle from North Carolina. He was projected as a third-round pick, but could move up to second. Moves well for his size and is very strong. Has been punking offensive linemen in the drills. Fits an obvious need.
Another is Kyle Wilson, a cornerback from Boise State. Wilson has always been projected as a Top 5 corner in this draft, but will he fall from the first round? He is a fiesty player, very athletic and a good returnman. There are some questions about his height. He is perfect for the Lions.
Also, Dan LeFevour, the QB from Central Michigan, has been very good in the practice sessions. Doesn't seem to be having problems with the 3- and 5-step drops after running the spread at CMU. And he has had very good zip on his long out routes to the sidelines.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time For Ozzie To Step Forward

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is in a precarious situation.
On one hand, he needs to give Jimmy Howard a breather. Howard was the hot hand. Babcock rode him for a long time., but he's cooled off.
The Red Wings have developed this propensity for blowing late leads lately - and Howard has been the goalie in most of those games.
Not sure how much of it has been Howard's fault. But it is true that a goalie's main job is to make sure somehow, some way, he makes late saves that matter in such games.
The rub comes with Chris Osgood. He has not played well at all this season. In fact, Howard has carried the team and is the primary reason the Red Wings are still in position for a good shot at a playoff berth.
But now Babcock doesn't have much choice but to turn to Osgood for more playing time in the near future, if for no other reason than to let Howard settle down. Can Ozzie play well right now? The Red Wings need him badly.

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press on the Michigan-Michigan State game


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Outrage Over MSU Logo Misplaced

Reaction to two things in regard to the current state of Michigan State's athletic program are perplexing to me.
One is the outrage about the Spartans' changed logo. Honestly, it doesn't look that much different than the old one. Certainly, I don't think athletic director Mark Hollis should have his feet held to the fire about it. Nor should it be necessary for basketball coach Tom Izzo to defend him about it.
Now, as for the Nov. 22 altercation at the dorm involving MSU football players...
That is a far more important issue. And so is how Hollis is dealing with it. He did let MSU coach Mark Dantonio bring the suspended football players back to the football facility after missing only the Alamo Bowl.
It's far too soon. Doesn't seem like anything was learned from the mistake of letting Glenn Winston back onto the football team so soon after he was released from jail last summer.
And this situation is far from complete. Two more MSU players - defensive tackle Oren Wilson and wide receiver Myles White - were charged Tuesday.
Michigan State needs to grab institutional control of its athletic program. That is Hollis' responsibility. It's far more important than new logos.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press on why tonight's MSU-UM basketball game is sooooo much more for Michigan


Monday, January 25, 2010

On Ernie, Austin Jackson, Bray, Tay, The Great Wall And Howard

Today is Ernie Harwell’s 92nd birthday. When he revealed he had cancer in September, one of the things he said is he didn’t know if he’d make it to Opening Day.
Saw he is starting write his column again. Now that’s a good sign.

Austin Jackson, who will presumably replace Curtis Granderson in center field for the Tigers, had just 36 extra base hits in 505 at bats at Triple-A last season. Not much power there. It is a concern.

Braylon Edwards is one of the most-gifted pass receivers I have ever seen. He should be an All Pro instead of an enigma.

I think Kentucky’s John Wall is a very, very good player. But do I think he is another Magic or Kobe or LeBron. No.

The bottom line about the Pistons right now is they have been a better team without Tayshaun Prince than with him. They should try to move him. It would benefit the team and benefit the player.

Don’t know why, because all the evidence is the contrary, but I still think Chris Osgood will be the Red Wings’ primary goalie come playoff time. Assuming they get there...


Friday, January 22, 2010

McGwire Only Gave Half Of A Confession

A convicted dealer of steroids explaining to ESPN exactly what he provided for Mark McGwire is probably more of the truth than the tearful half-confession McGwire made recently. Who believes he didn't do it to enhance his performance? Who doesn't believe it greatly benefitted his production as a hitter? Who doesn't believe steroid use wasn't as much a part of Mark McGwire's career as batting practice during an extended period of his career?
Not the majority of people who have taken a close look at this.

Random Thoughts

- Jimmy Howard may have let up two late goals to Minnesota last night, but his performance in the shootout more than made up for it. It's looking more and more like he is the Red Wings playoff goalie - assuming they get there. And I believe they will get there. But even if Howard starts the playoffs, it doesn't mean he will end them. It's difficult to imagine Chris Osgood not coming into play.

- Gerald McCoy is a very, very good player. If the Lions get him with the second overall pick in the draft, they will be doing well. It's the second round that will provide the more interesting choice.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Miguel Cabrera...

Miguel Cabrera’s statement he hasn’t consumed alcohol since that fateful night-turned-early-morning in Birmingham is about as welcome as it gets for the Tigers.
It has been their biggest underlying issue - and not just since the incident, but before the issue was known publicly.
Cabrera is an incredible talent, but it doesn’t mean much if it is blurred by this issue.
His statistics look great, but it’s difficult to find moments when the Tigers really needed him last season that Cabrera was there with key hits. Same in 2008. He did comeback after a slow start - but it was after the Tigers had fallen from legitimate contention. He has not been the run producer he is capable of being given his gifts as a hitter. Many of his statistics have been hallow. A myth of Sabermetrics.
And that’s before you get to the issue in regard to having your best player be your best leader - which obviously wasn’t the case under these circumstances.
It’s not that Cabrera doesn’t work at it. He does. It’s not that he is this sinister character nobody likes. Sometimes, he acts immature in the clubhouse, but that’s been more like acting his age. But he is older now, been around for awhile and seemingly confronted the major problem that was holding him back from rivaling Albert Pujols as the best hitter in baseball.
It’s a day-by-day challenge. But if Cabrera holds to this, he is capable of carrying the Tigers.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three Biggest "X Factors" For The Tigers In 2010

Three biggest "X" factors for the Tigers in 2010:
1. Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen - The Tigers’ player payroll is still relatively big, and it’s because of these three players. Their contracts for this season are worth roughly $48 million combined. Ordonez’s lack of power production last season was alarming. Guillen has been injured a lot and doesn’t have an obvious position. Cabrera has off-the-field issues which have come to light, and has been prone to long dry spells when it comes to producing clutch hits. It’s not like these three haven’t produced in the past, but are Ordonez and Guillen still capable, and can Cabrera get his act together? If the Tigers get more bang for their bucks from these three than they did last season, scoring won’t be nearly as big an issue as it seems.
2. Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore - This is the great unknown. Neither has played an inning in the major leagues, yet they are replacing Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco in the Tigers’ lineup. They should be ready. It’s not like they need more minor league time. But expecting them to play at remotely the same level as Granderson and Polanco as rookies is unrealistic and could be the Tigers’ downfall.
3. Alex Avila - He slowed down after a hot start in the major leagues, but it is evident Avila has left-handed power. And it is the Tigers’ greatest need. Manager Jim Leyland will have to weigh the balance of Avila’s left-handed power with the defensive prowess of Gerald Laird at catcher. But if Avila were to hit 15 home runs this season in part-time role, it would be an enormous boost.


Monday, January 18, 2010

UConn Victory Proof Beilein Is Upgrade From Amaker

I’ve heard it bantered about that there hasn’t been much of an upgrade at coach from Tommy Amaker to John Beilein at Michigan.
That Beilein’s best players were recruited by Amaker, and that, in really, Michigan basketball is business as usual.
And while I do question the timing of Beilein’s recent contract extension, I must say it is unfair to say he isn’t an upgrade from Amaker. The NCAA tournament appearance last season - and victory in the opening round - spoke loudly.
So did Sunday when the Wolverines beat Connecticut.
The Wolverines are still playing from behind, but it was a big victory to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Last season, the Wolverines were similarly prepared while upsetting Duke and UCLA. And when they had to win a game in the Big Ten Tournament, they did so as well. Those victories provided the key to unlock their tournament bid.
Beilein knows how to get his team prepared for a big game. It was his modus operandi at West Virginia as well. Not sure Amaker did.
Although Amaker has done well at Harvard. His team is 12-3 this season, including wins over William and Mary (which is very good, having won at Wake Forest) and Boston College for the second straight season.

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press on Tigers confusing off season:

My column in Monday's Oakland Press on the dynamics of the NFC Championship Game


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Best Part About Signing Valverde: The Tigers Are A Better Team

In many different ways, signing closer Jose Valverde didn't make sense for the Tigers.
It didn't improve their lineup, which is feeble and lacking punch from the left side of the plate.
He is relatively expensive - $7 million each of the next two seasons.
But he is an upgrade from Fernando Rodney, who likely would have had trouble repeating his success last season.
It takes the Tigers' bullpen and moves everyone down a slot, making it stronger overall. It may allow the Tigers to use Phil Coke as a starter. The Tigers should have a very good pitching staff, but they did last year as well. They need to score runs. And trading Curtis Granderson and letting Placido Polanco get away hurt them badly in that regard.


So Rich Rodriguez Doesn't Want To Go To Tennessee. Now That's Funny

Funniest moment so far this week: Rich Rodriguez's agent coming out and saying Rodriguez has no interest in the Tennessee job vacated by Lane Kiffin.
A lot of Michigan fans would be more than happy to hand Rodriguez a first-class plane ticket to Knoxville.

- I don't understand Michigan State football Mark Dantonio's need to re-instate the players suspended for their part in the incident last month with members of a fraternity. There was a lesson Dantono should have learned from bringing running back Glenn Winston back right after he got out of jail. Evidently, he didn't. I'm not saying he should never bring these players back, but it is way too soon, especially since five of the players are still facing criminal charges.

- I know Jose Valverde isn't going to get the $10 million per season contract he was seeking, but I can't imagine the Tigers are willing to pay enough to sign him. Seems like the Tigers are his destination of last resort. He would be a significant upgrade from Fernando Rodney and give the Tigers a very good pitching staff. But it would be the same old tale about struggling to score runs - unless they can somehow add a left-handed bat. Seems unlikely at this stage.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mark McGwire Needs A Reality Check

Not trying to be insensitive, but I did feel Mark McGwire’s crocodile tears during his interview with Bob Costas were misplaced.
Frankly, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for McGwire. His troubles were completely and totally self-made. And he made a lot of money hitting home runs while using performance enhancing substances. He made it out as if he were being persecuted the last five years, and that it’s made his life such a struggle.
I feel sympathy for people with families to support who can’t find employment.
I feel sympathy for somebody who is ill, or somebody who is coping with the illness or the loss of a loved one.
I feel sorry for those who don’t have the basic necessities of life.
I feel sympathy for those who have been victims of violence.
I could go on and on about those I feel sympathy for.
Mark McGwire? He isn’t one of them.
He is a millionaire several times over who, despite the baggage of the PED issues, lives a very good and charmed life.
The man’s been blessed, not cursed.

Random Thoughts

- No truth to the rumor there will be a parade down M-24 by The Palace now that the Pistons have finally won a game.

- Boy, Chris Osgood looks out of sync. His performance was disconcerting Tuesday.

- Peyton Manning hardly got any votes for the AP Offensive Player of the Year? How can that be. The guy worked miracles this season under the circumstances and is clearly the best player in the league - regardless of position.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thoughts On Mark McGwire's Mea Culpa

Seeing Mark McGwire’s mea culpa with Bob Costas, I must confess to mixed emotions. On one hand, I do think it is good he has admitted to his use of steroids and Human Growth Hormone, and sincerely apologized for it. On the other, I’m not accepting of his reasons for using the performance enhancing substances. Nor do I buy his notion they were more about mind over matter. It’s clear McGwire’s career almost ended because of injury. Then, a much bulked up McGwire, had five of the greatest seasons in baseball history. It was like magic. That doesn’t happen without performance enhancing substances.
While they can’t make a bad hitter a good one, it’s clear performance enhancing substances do help injured players get healthy, and make top hitters fly off the charts in terms of power.
We saw it with McGwire and Barry Bonds - and many other hitters during the so-called steroids era.
I haven’t voted for McGwire for the Hall of Fame to this point. I am not sure what kind of bearing his admission will have on my voting in the future. It won’t hurt the possibility I will vote for him, but I’m not sure it will help, either. I don’t have to make that decision for nearly another year. Best to see how it plays out before making any definitive decisions.

Random Thoughts

- Has to be just a matter of time until Richard Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince - or perhaps both - are traded.

- Charles Woodson has been a wonder for the Packers, not only this season, but since he signed with Green Bay at a time when his career appeared to be on the downside. Good for him for receiving the AP Defensive Player of the Year award. It is deserved based on his regular season. But did he ever get scorched on wild card weekend by Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. The timing of the announcement wasn’t necessarily the best in that regard.


Monday, January 11, 2010

On NFL Playoffs, Beilein's Contract, U-of-D And Lions' Special Teams

A couple things about the NFL playoffs:

- We have seen the end of the New England Patriots as we knew them. Their defense got old and is not nearly the same. Randy Moss is starting to show some of his age. There is no way that knee injury last season didn't take a lot out of Tom Brady. Not the same player. Think the Cowboys of the late 1990s. The Patriots about to go into the same stage. That's an average football team right now.

- I was dead wrong about the Eagles. Thought they would beat the Cowboys. Thought they'd represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. In retrospect, how could I have been so stupid not to consider they can't run the ball a lick.

- Kurt Warner is a better player now than he was at his very best with the Rams. Amazing. He made the Packers' defense, which is actually pretty good, feeble.

- How much further along would the Lions be if they had taken David Harris in the second round of the 2007 draft ahead of Drew Stanton, and Ray Rice in the second round of the 2008 draft ahead of Jordon Dizon?

Random Thoughts

- The timing of Michigan basketball coach John Beilein's contract extension is curious. Why not wait to see if he can deliver an NCAA tournament berth this year? Why not see what he brings to the table when Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims - players he didn't recruit - aren't there. Hmmmm. Wonder if David Brandon, who will replace Bill Martin as athletic director, approved the deal?

- Detroit totally got jobbed in its overtime loss to Butler Sunday. Should have been a no-call and a signature victory for a rapidly improving program under Ray McCallum. Brutal call. Awful.

- I don't have any issue with Stan Kwan being let go as Lions' special teams coach. He was a holdover from an 0-16 staff, and not brought in by head coach Jim Schwartz. The Lions' special teams' play was not good this season. But it is also understood the Lions' lack of depth hindered Kwan greatly. And it wasn't like the Lions' offense and defense were any better than their special teams.

My column in Monday's Oakland Press from the Michigan-Northwestern game


Friday, January 08, 2010

Jimmy Howard: Better Than Good Enough

Jimmy Howard just keeps playing better and better. There is no way the Red Wings, based on the flow of the game, should have beaten the Kings Thursday night. Brilliant performance by Howard. Question is, can the Red Wings maintain a high level of play if Chris Osgood is worked back into the rotation? The Red Wings have so little margin for error right now.

Random Thoughts

- What could have been...In retrospect, Michigan State should have done everything possible to retain Nick Saban as head football coach. He has, after all, won two national titles since leaving MSU. So he was pain in the neck. The man wins - and wins big. And with Tom Izzo, the Spartans would have had arguably had the best football and basketball coaches in the nation.

- Haven’t the Lions seen enough of Drew Stanton and Daunte Culpepper? Please.

- Two things Izzo isn’t hearing these days:
Why he can’t win the Big Ten?
How come he can’t beat Bo Ryan?


Thursday, January 07, 2010

On The Hall Of Fame Voting And Dan LeFevour In The NFL

On Hall of Fame voting...
I found it kind of odd the reaction to the Hall of Fame voting this year. Roberto Alomar didn't make it on the first ballot, and although I did vote for him, I didn't necessarily think it was a bad thing he didn't get in on the first ballot. To me Alomar is a Hall of Fame player, but not necessarily worthy of being a "first ballot" Hall of Famer, a status that only roughly 40 or so players in baseball history carry.
Jack Morris' vote total rose to over 52 percent. Look for a groundswell in the future that could put Morris on the cusp of the Hall of Fame. He does belong in by any standard.
The only player on this year's ballot I didn't vote for this year and probably will next year is Barry Larkin. Very similar modus operandi to Alan Trammell. It just strange how there isn't nearly the same outrage for the snubbing of Tram as there is for Larkin.

On Dan LeFevour...
Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour was terrific in the Chippewas' bowl victory over Troy Wednesday. He has, in fact, been a tremendous player his entire career at CMU. I do wonder how that will translate to the NFL. He does seem to have arm strength, although it wouldn't be better than the mid-range among NFL quarterbacks. His mobility is excellent. How will he react, however, to taking most of his snaps under center? Can he take a snap, do a five- or seven-step drop, go through the progression of his reads and hit the right receiver at the right time? It's a whole different set of circumstances from what LeFevour has done in college. My best guess is LeFevour isn't taken early in the draft for that reason. But it doesn't necessarily mean he won't be a steal some team.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Getting Ozzie Ready For The Playoffs Might Not Be That Easy

The Red Wings don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to breaking Chris Osgood back into the lineup.
That's the difference from last season when the Red Wings were comfortably into the playoffs and could afford to give Osgood time to get his feet back underneath himself. Not this year. Every game counts. If Jimmy Howard gives the Red Wings a better chance to win, they must play him - period.

Random Thoughts

- Great victory by the United States over Canada in the World Junior Championships. That was a back and forth overtime thriller of the highest order. Now we'll see if it will be precursor for the Olympics. Canada will clearly be the favorite. The Canadians depth is incredible.

- The Tigers might be selling Joel Zumaya as their closer. I am not buying. Now Ryan Perry - that's a different story.

- Any local whining about Houston's Brian Cushing being named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year is unfounded. He is a way better player at this point than Lions' safety Louis Delmas. No knock intended on Delmas, but Cushing is the best defensive rookie I have seen in a long time. It didn't get that much attention because the Texans tend to fly under the radar.

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press about why this state should really, really hate Jim Tressel


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

On New Michigan AD And Jeff Backus...

On David Brandon...
University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman referred to David Brandon as "the ideal candidate" for athletic director. And there is little to dispute that.
Brandon does seem to be the perfect blend of Michigan’s tradition (he was a backup quarterback on the U-M football team when Bo Schembechler was the coach) with the new and very real world of intercollegiate athletics (he has vast business experience and been on the U-M Board of Regents).
Michigan does need to renew its ties to Bo. What you see on the football field just doesn’t look right - and the results speak for themselves.
Brandon did support the stadium expansion, which is beautiful. Also, it would be wise if the university continues to upgrade its basketball facilities.
The big question is where Brandon lies on the Rich Rodriguez issue. Undoubtedly, he will throw his support Rodriguez’s way publicly, but Rodriguez isn’t his horse in this race. He is that of Bill Martin’s - the outgoing AD.
Can’t imagine a former player of Bo’s would have a lot of patience, in the role of AD, with what is transpiring on the field in Ann Arbor lately.

On Jeff Backus...
I understood where Lions coach Jim Schwartz was coming from Monday with his praiseworthy comments about much-maligned left offensive tackle Jeff Backus. I do feel Backus has unfairly been presented as a scapegoat for the Lions’ woes down through the years, while handling a difficult situation as the consummate pro. Have said and written so many times.
But Schwartz took it too far when he used the word "outstanding" and inferred that Backus is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. It’s true - he is probably better than half the starting left tackles in the NFL these days. It’s also true that half of the starting left tackles are probably better than Backus.
That’s not an outstanding player. That is not a Pro Bowl-caliber player. That’s a player who is less of a weakness than most of his teammates on a 2-14 team.


Monday, January 04, 2010

A CoupleThings About The Lions...

Not only is Daunte Culpepper done in this town, but so is Drew Stanton. There is no way the Lions go into next season with him as their No.2 quarterback. By coming out publicly and saying he didn't want to be No. 3, Stanton now will certainly be cut. At least he made the decision easy for the Lions. That means the Lions sign a veteran quarterback to backup Matthew Stafford. It also means they will likely take a QB in the late rounds of the draft.

- Louis Delmas is pretty good, but he is not the second coming of Ronnie Lott. He only looks so good because the Lions have little else around him.

- If Reggie Bush is cut loose by the Saints in an uncapped season, the Lions should pounce on him. They need playmakers.

- Potential running back for the Lions next season: LenDale White. He is a big, physical back who wants out in Tennessee.

- I don't know what Zack Follett's 40-yard dash time is, but he does have functional football speed. It was impressive the way he closed on Devin Hester to make an open field tackle on a kickoff return Sunday. You have to hit with late-round draft picks like that sometimes to be a contending team. The Lions just might have hit with that kid. He played well when given a chance.

My column in Monday's Oakland Press about the Lions