Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 1: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice will take the starter's role from the departed PJ Daniels. Last year, Choice ran 117 times for 543 yards. It appears that Choice was the go-to guy in the red zone last year, as he had 6 rushing touchdowns to Daniels' 3. Backing up Choice is Rashaun Grant, who also handles return duties. Grant carried 10 times for 44 yards during an injury-plagued 2006. Discounting sacks, quarterback Reggie Ball ran 94 times for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns. Based on last year's tendencies, look for the starter Choice to get around 20 carries on Saturday, with Grant and Ball each carrying the ball 10 times or so. Fullback and high school prank caller favorite Mike Cox did not carry the ball once last season, but don't rule it out this year. All in all, this is a very balanced offense.
Notre Dame's defense has struggled with mobile quarterbacks over the past few years. A pessimist would say that this year should be no different, with two new linebackers in the starting eleven. Still, this year's starting trio at linebacker is smaller and more athletic, so that could compensate for any inexperience. Maurice Crum, Jr., the lone returning starter among the backers, was not known for his run stopping ability in 2005, recording only 3.5 tackles for loss. Then again, his post at Apache linebacker was not intended to stop the run. This year, with Crum at playing middle linebacker, we shall see if things will change. In the end, the Irish may have to rely on run-stopping end Victor Abiamiri and a veteran defensive line to contain the Yellow Jacket Ground game. That will be no small task, however, as the GT offensive line returns four starters.

ND Rush Offense vs. Georgia Tech Rush Defense

Notre Dame returns 1000-yard rusher Darius Walker at halfback. Walker may not have been able to "break the big one" last year, but he was able to put up a very consistent performance. In 2005, Darius ran for 1196 yards and 9 touchdowns on 253 carries. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, spells Walker. Travis Thomas will be starting at linebacker. Because Thomas is still learning to play linebacker, it appears that Charlie Weis does not want to overload him with running back responsibilities as well. Weis mentioned that there are "certain situations" for which Thomas is prepared. Only time will tell which "certain situations" those are. With Thomas' time at halfback limitied, and with freshman James Aldridge nursing an injury, fellow freshman Munir Prince has been listed on the 2-deep for this game. Many fans of recent Irish history hope that Prince's choice of jersey #25 is a sign that he will channel a past #25 - a guy more recently seen on ESPN's College Gameday. Fullback Asaph Schwapp, while known primarily as a blocker, did average two carries per game, totaling 27 runs for 67 yards. Disregarding sacks, quarterback Brady Quinn ran 49 times for 225 yards. Drawing on 2005 numbers, look for 20 carries from Walker, a few well-timed scrambles from Brady Quinn, and perhaps five to seven rushes from other sources.
Georgia Tech's gave up 103.9 yards on the ground in 2005 - a rather impressive number, especially considering some of the number of good backs on ACC powerhouses. But, as I'm sure you've figured out by now, sacks count against NCAA rushing statistics, and GT was very successful in the sack game last year. The Yellow Jackets zone blitzing system accounted for 257 yards lost to sacks. Taking that negative yardage out brings the rusing total given up to 125 yards per game. Maybe that blitz shouldn't be ignored, though. Just because you're not the quarterback doesn't mean Tech can't stop you in the backfield. GT had 92 tackles for a loss last season, meaning that they moved the offense backwards once every 8 or 9 plays from scrimmage. The two guys that got into the backfield the most last year (a combined 25.5 times) are linebackers KaMichael Hall and Phillip Wheeler. Both are back for this year, as are defensive linemen Adamm Oliver and Joe Anoai. These four combined for 195 tackles last season.
Everyone who has played EA Sports' NCAA Football knows that you beat the blitz by running screens and draws (sweetheart). So, be prepared for even more Darius Walker than you're used to.

Georgia Tech Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Like his Irish counterpart, Reggie Ball is about to begin his fourth year as the Georgia Tech starting quarterback. Ball's numbers will also remind many Irish fans of a pre-2005 Quinn: a completion percentage that's always at or around 50%, and a nearly equal number of touchdowns and interceptions. An average day in 2005 for Reggie Ball consisted of completing 16 or 17 of 34 pass attempts for close to 200 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Ball's favorite target was and still is All-American Calvin Johnson. Johnson caught 54 passes for 888 yards and 6 touchdowns last year, respectable numbers but no doubt hampered by double teams and offensive scheme. Johnson's average day consisted of 5 catches for 74 yards, numbers that belie a rollercoaster of big games (10 catches, 130 yds) followed by frustrating ones (2 catches, 14 yards). On the other side of the field will be James Johnson, who replaces the departed Damarius Bilbo. Bilbo took advantage of the attention paid to Calvin Johnson to the tune of 40 catches and 591 yards. James Johnson hopes to repeat that performance. If he does, he'll average 3-4 catches and 49 yards a game. Running backs PJ Daniels and Tashard Choice combined for 35 catches and 250 yards last season, while fullback Mike Cox added 13 catches for 72 yards. So, look for about 4 connections out of the backfield this weekend. One final stat of note is that Reggie Ball had not one but two receptions last year. One was courtesy receiver Damarius Bilbo, while the other likely came from a tipped self-pass. Still, if I were Tech, I would try to use Ball's talents as best I could, even if it took some tomfoolery involving backup QB Taylor Bennett.
Notre Dame returns all for starters in a secondary notoriously burned in the Fiesta Bowl last January. On the season, the team gave up 264.6 yards in the air, a decent number considering the competition. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter may take a page from Kent Baer's playbook against Larry Fitzgerald and go into bracket coverage on Calvin Johnson, forcing Tech to beat the Irish with their other weapons. Or, he may not. Reggie Ball's scrambling ability may help Georgia Tech's passing game more than anything. Safeties Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe love to stuff the run. With the inexperience at linebacker, they may be tempted to forget two years of coaching and creep up to help contain Ball or Choice. If so, corners Ambrose Wooden and Mike Richardson could spend a majority of their evenings chasing the receivers Johnson down the sidelines. On top of that, a defensive line that was and still is criticized for lacking a dominant pass rush is facing an offensive line that only surrendered 10 sacks last season. Georgia Tech's offense may not be elite, but they certainly have the opportunity to look like one if the Notre Dame defense is caught napping.

ND Rush Offense vs. Georgia Tech Pass Defense

If you walk by a magazine rack in Indiana or Chicago, you'll see the same guy in the blue #10 jersey on the cover of all the college football preview magazines (assuming they aren't sold out already). That guy is Brady Quinn, who went from mediocre to mythical in one season. Quinn's average day consisted of completing 24 of 38 passes for 327 yards and 2 or 3 touchdowns. On a bad day, he'd throw one interception, but that was it. Quinn's leading receiver and longtime favorite target, Jeff Samardzija is back from a season where he averaged 6 catches, 104 yards, and a touchdown every game. Maurice Stovall, Quinn's second leading receiver last year, is gone, but Rhema McKnight returns from injury to take his place. If defenses ignore tapes from 2004 and choose to ignore Rhema to concentrate on Samardzija, McKnight should easily duplicate Stovall's 69 catch/1149 yard/11 touchdown performance of a year ago. McKnight's elusiveness complements Samardzija's height and strength, but McKnight is tall in his own right at 6'2. (On the same token, Samardzija is by no means an uncoordinated possession receiver.) Notre Dame will have to compensate for the loss of senior receiver Matt Shelton and tight end Anthony Fasano, who combined for 75 catches and 905 yards last year. Hoping to fill the void are receivers David Grimes and Chase Anastasio and tight ends John Carlson and Marcus Freeman. Those for combined for only 9 catches last year, 7 coming from Carlson. But Grimes is now a sophomore and his stock is on the rise. Anastasio is a senior who paid his dues on special teams, and Freeman had some success catching the ball under Ty Willingham. Darius Walker was a key threat out of the backfield in 2005, averaging close to 4 catches and 30 yards receiving per game. The talented Rashon Powers-Neal had 9 catches in 5 games; it remains to be seen whether Asaph Schwapp, Travis Thomas, or perhaps Munir Prince can pick up where RPN left off.
As has been established, Georgia Tech loves to blitz, and they are very successful with the blitz. The Jackets recorded 36 sacks in 2005, with most coming from the front seven. The pressure also forced 21 interceptions, including 4 by linebacker Philip Wheeler. But the secondary is very young this year, and so thin that #4 receiver Pat Clark was moved to corner. Will that cause Tech to blitz less or blitz more? Certainly a zone blitz puts far less pressure on the secondary than a regular blitz, which leaves everyone not blitzing in man coverage without a safety blanket. How will Charlie Weis choose to attack the Tech defense? If the line does have trouble handling the blitz, it virtually guarantees that Walker will be the only tailback you see, as he is the best at blitz pickup. But that eliminates him as a receiving threat for the most part. Will Weis keep extra tight ends in for protection, then? Or will he go 4- or 5-wide, forcing GT to make a tough decision. If Tech replaces linebackers with more inexperienced defensive backs, things are more favorable for a run, plus the pass may still work against the young DBs. Leave the linebackers in, and you either have the outside guys beating you on short passes, or Grimes burning a linebacker up the seam. Yet another thing to look for on Saturday night.

Special Teams

Georgia Tech returns kicker Travis Bell, which may or may not be a good thing. Bell made only 11 of 21 field goal attempts last year, including 4 of 11 from 40+. Still, Notre Dame fans have nothing to laugh at. Carl Gioia converted only one field goal last year, from 29 yards. He was infamously passed over later in the Stanford game for an injured DJ Fitzpatrick. Gioia may only be keeping the position warm until freshman Ryan Burkhart can prove he's ready.
Tech will have a new punter this year, Durant Brooks, who may also qualify as a Reggie Cleveland All Star. The Irish will also have a new punter in Geoffrey Price, who came in with much hype but never showed any consistency on the practice field. Word has it that some time with Colts punter and ND grad Hunter Smith has pushed Price in the right direction.
As mentioned above, Rashaun Grant is Tech's main return guy. Last year he averaged 22.6 yards per return on 11 total runbacks. Receiver Chris Dunlap will be back deep beside Grant. Dunlap gained a total of 58 yards on 3 returns last year. They will face ND kickoff specialist Bobby Renkes, who performed in that spot in 2004, but had no kicks in 2005. The Irish as a team surrendered an average 21.2 yards per return in 2005.
David Grimes returns as Notre Dame's top kick returner. Last year Grimes averaged 22.5 yards on 15 total returns. He will be joined by freshman early enrolee George West, who is also listed as the #5 receiver on the depth chart. Mohamed Yahiaoui (who is rumored to particpate with Jeff Samardzija in a vowel-consonant exchange after the game) will once again handle GT's kickoffs. Last year he averaged 59.9 yards per kick with 12 touchbacks. Coupled with Tech's 23.7 opponent return average means foes more often than not started around the 29 yard line.
Cornerback Pat Clark is the Yellow Jacket punt returner once again. Last year he averaged a pedestrian 6.4 yards per return on 30 total tries. That number matches exactly with the 6.4 yards ND's punt coverage team gave up last season.
Safety Tom Zbikowski is still Notre Dame's punt returner. After last year's performance, how could you replace him? Zbikowski fielded 27 punts and took two back for scores. His overall average was 14.0 yards per. Georgia Tech's punt coverage team gave up 8.8 yards per punt return in 2005, a rather average performance.

Look for a big game from Walker, McKnight, Grimes, the O-Line, Abiamiri, Trevor Laws, and Wooden.

ND 31, Georgia Tech 21: One of each from Walker, a short TD by Carlson set up by a long play by Grimes, one each from McKnight and Samardzija, and a chip shot by Gioia beat two legit TDs and one late, meaningless score from the Jackets.

Georgia Tech Blogs

Georgia Tech Sports Blog
Golden Tornado
Ramblin' On
Ramblin' Racket
AJC TechBlog
What's the Good Word?
Wreck Ramblin
YellowBlazer's World
Fanblogs Georgia Tech

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This is the day and you are the team.

by Dave Schmitt, Special to KankaNation

For the first time since 1996 (Lou's last year and a very strong team), I can confidently say these words. Charlie has coached up a team this year that will easily be our best team since 1993, and has a legimitate shot at the title. Of course, one cannot just assume a championship, as many flukey things can happen along the way and it takes a great deal of luck to run the table.

But this year's squad has plenty of things working in their favor:
  • best QB in the country and other playmakers on offense - can dig out of any hole with an avalanche of points
  • very senior-heavy - they've been through hell at the early part of their careers, and are battle-tested like no ND team in a long time (they just seem like a special team: the stud senior QB, the crazy long-haired WR, the hard-hitting All-American safety, etc)
  • Michigan at home
  • Charlie Weis: coach as a positive weapon
  • much more experience and confidence in the secondary
There are some obvious problems:
  • kicking issues (could cost us a close game)
  • total inexperience at linebacker
  • who knows if the pass defense issues have been solved enough?
  • tough early schedule, USC at year's end when their inexperienced team will be very tough
I can see ND dropping a game somewhere along the way. But looking at the schedule, no one game sticks out as a loss. We will be favored in every game, save maybe USC depending on how our seasons have gone. Michigan will be a war- they'll be much better this year and out for revenge.

What does everyone think?

Editor's Note: This post was blatanly ripped from our message board. Please feel free to post your thoughts in the original thread.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Odds and Ends

  • Much was made of Maurice Stovall's 15-pound weight loss last year. I was watching the Buccaneers preseason game last night, and the announcer offhandedly mentioned that Stovall now weighs 229. To each coach their own weight training methods, I suppose. But there may be more to the weight issue - with ten other wide receivers on the Tampa Bay roster, there have been rumors of Stovall moving to tight end. Considering most Tampa Bay coaches and reporters are quick to praise his size and run blocking ability, a move may not be out of the question. We will have to wait and see.

  • After being waived by Buffalo, Courtney Watson was picked up by Houston. It's a good time to be a Notre Dame-loving NFL fan in Texas. Watson joins Tony Weaver and Glenn Earl (both potential starters) in Houston, while Anthony Fasano and Rocky Boiman joined Julius Jones in Dallas.

  • I stopped by Browns training camp the other day, and got to say hi to Darrell Campbell. It's bumfuzzling to stand at a distance and see that Darrell almost looks small compared to his fellow linemen. But, after practice, Darrell came over to the bleachers to sign autographs, one of the few players to do so by choice. He joked and signed autographs and took pictures until a camp worker "forced" him to leave. Darrell's biceps have entered Grant Irons territory - they're as big as my head (and I have a big head). It will be an uphill battle for Darrell to make the team, even though he's proven that he can play both defensive tackle and end, but we here at Kanka's Sports Page are pulling for him (and not just so we can join his posse).

  • For someone who's met professional athletes "before they were stars," it's odd to see some fans' idol worshiping ways. People who may not have even known who Darrell was were acting like meetin him was a life-altering event. My favorite moment was when he was joking around and apologized for how sweaty he was. A few (grown) women told him that they didn't mind (they didn't, they were just happy to be getting an autograph from a "celebrity"), and started rubbing their hands on his arm for a "souvenir." I'm not making that up.

  • Clarifying my stance on big-time sponsors (Nike, I'm looking at you) of Little League teams, high schools, and the like. It all comes down to the intent. Don't just sponsor select good teams as a way to promote your brand. Brand promotion should be an afterthought, or not a thought at all. If you're going to sponsor one team, do the right thing and sponsor an entire league, conference, or town - simply because you want to give young kids of all backgrounds the chance to play an organized sport.

  • As I'm sure most of you have seen by now, the depth chart for the Georgia Tech game has been posted. Feel free to go back to my football previews and make fun of my horrible depth chart predicting skills.

  • Book review/recommendation: I just finished reading Baseball Between the Numbers by the Baseball Prospectus guys. If you're a traditionalist looking to understand the stathead movement, this is the way to go. Whereas Moneyball author Michael Lewis has an agenda against the "scout" side of things (or so accused by the epilogue of the BP book), most contributors to "Between the Numbers" realize that both numbers and traditional means are needed to put together a successful ballclub. There are quite a few numbers and formulae in this book, as well as charts and graphs, so it may not be for everyone. But if you're looking for a great introduction into the world of VORP and WXRL, this is an informative and interesting read. The format is inventive as well - 27 "out" chapters are divived into nine "inning" metachapters, each with a chapter title that poses a question. From "What's the Matter with RBI?" to "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's S*** Work in the Playoffs?" this is a great read.

  • It's almost time for September callups, the time when Major League teams can expand their active rosters beyond the usual limit of 25. Who will the Indians call up? Manager Eric Wedge once commented that "everyone we want to look at is already here." In a way, that's true. Prospects Andrew Brown, Tom Mastny, Edward Mujica, Brian Sikorski, Ryan Garko, Joe Inglett, and Andy Marte are already on the parent club. For lack of a better option, Mastny has moved into the closer role and currently leads the team with three. Garko was first called up when Casey Blake was put on the disabled list, and he's hit very well while getting most of the first base playing time. Inglett, besides playing several other positions, has been sharing the second base playing time with new acquisition Hector Luna. Marte, the third baseman of the future, has found that the future came a little sooner than expected. Mired in a slump at AAA when he was called up, Marte is finally starting to find his swing.

  • So, who's next for the Tribe? After a failed experiment at closer, Fausto Carmona has been sent down to AAA to become a starter again, like he was when the season began. He has been assured of a September callup. Jeremy Sowers is nearing his innings limit, so Carmona will likely take Sowers' place in the rotation when Sowers is shut down. Kevin Kouzmanoff has hit a combined .380 between AA and AAA this year; despite being another third baseman, he deserves some time on the Indians roster. Top pitching prospect Adam Miller has been throwing well, but you don't want to overuse him. I wouldn't be surprised if he was called up just to "soak in the atmosphere," but never play so as to save his arm. The AA Akron Aeros have had a good season, and some thing standouts Brian Slocum, Tony Sipp, Ryan Goleski, and Ryan Mulhern may be on the callup list.

  • As for Irish alumni, Chris Michalak has already been called up and placed in the Reds starting rotation. IN three starts, he's 1-2 with an ERA of 4.76. Outfielder Brian Stavisky was in the A's big league camp in spring training. He started the year at AAA Sacramento as a backup, where he hit .239 in 33 games. Sent down to AA Midland, he has flourished, as he did last year at that level. Still, the demotion may be a good indication that he shouldn't book plane tickets to Oakland. Danny Tamayo was in Kansas City's big league camp. He was considered a top prospect, and has been at AAA Omaha for several years now. Still, it looks like his star may be starting to fade. Last year, he made 27 starts and posted a 9-8 record. This year he has made seven appearances, but only three starts. He is currently on the 15-day DL. Like Stavisky, I don't think he will see the big league roster come September.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Know Thy Enemy

I plan on posting each team's "Know Thy Enemy Links" on the Monday or Tuesday before that week's game - so good luck getting any work done this fall. If I have left you off this list, screwed up your link, or grossly misinterpreted your blog title, please send an email to, or stop by our message board.

Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Sports Blog
Golden Tornado
Ramblin' On
Ramblin' Racket (Formerly "In Dodd We Trust")
AJC TechBlog
What's the Good Word?
Wreck Ramblin
YellowBlazer's World
Fanblogs Georgia Tech

Penn State

Back in Happy Valley
Black Shoe Diaries
Bleed Blue 'n White
50-Yard Lion
Fight On State
Lion in the Desert
The Nittany Line
Nittany Lines
The Nittany Notebook
The Nittany Turkey
Penn State Fan Letter
PSU Football Fanatics
There Is No Name On My Jersey
2 the Lion Football
Fanblogs Penn State


The Berry Zone
Big House Football
Blah Me to Death
The Blog that Yost Built
Blue Cats and Red Sox
Champions of the West
Dangerous Logic
The Diag
Football Outsiders
iBlog for Cookies
Keeping Up With Rash
The M Zone
Maize n Brew
Michigan Against the World
Michigan Football Saturdays
Michigan Sports Center
Mr. Wolverine
Motown Sports Revival
Off Tackle
Rob in Madtown
Ronald Bellamy's Underachieving All-Stars
Schembechler Hall
SportsLog Michigan
Stadium and Main
Straight Bangin'
Sweaty Men Endeavors
Westsider Rider
Winged Helmets
Fanblogs Michigan

Michigan State

Bleeding Green
The Enlightened Spartan
Grinz on Green
Spartan Bob
Spartan Tailgate
Fanblogs MSU


It Came from Black Background
Potshots with Pete
Unrestricted View
Fanblogs Purdue


Fanblogs Stanford


Bruins Nation
Dump Dorrell
Inside UCLA
Insomniac's Lounge
LA Seitz of Chicago
Talking Bruins
What's Bruin
Fanblogs UCLA


Pitch Right
Fanblogs Navy

North Carolina

Carolina March
Greensboro News-Record Sports Extra
Heels Blog
Heels, Sox, & Steelers
Tar Heel Times
Fanblogs North Carolina

Air Force

Fanblogs Air Force


Fanblogs Army


According to USC Trojan
Attak Kat
Boi from Troy
Brandon Hancock
A Choad's Guide to USC Football
Conquest Chronicles
Crazy Trojan Musings
Daily Trojan
DC Trojan
Fight on Forever
Inside USC
Irish Trojan
It's a Definite Maybe
Lex Icon
SC Football
Scott Wolf Inside USC
Student Body Right
Talking Trojans
Tommy Trojan's Blog
Tribute to Troy
USC Football Tailgate
USC Herd
USC Trojan Football
Fanblogs USC

Notre Dame

The Backer
The Blue-Gray Sky
Catholic Packer Fan
Chris Wilson's Blog O' (Irish) Fun
Classic Ground
Clashmore Mike
The College Game
Daily Contentions
Domer Law Blog
The Extra Point
The Fieldhouse
Fire Mark May
The Galvin Opinion
Haiku Notre Dame
Her Loyal Sons
Here Come the Irish
The House Rock Built
The Irish Brogue
Irish Eyes Power Hour
Irish Insights
Irish Law
Irish Round Table
Irish Stew
Kelly Green
Luck O' The Redbirds
Majorly English
Marchand Chronicles
Mark May be Wrong
Musings of a Domer
NDNation Blog
Notre Dame Weekly
Pieces of Flair
The Primary Main Objective
Rakes of Mallow
The Rock Report
Rockne Road
Running at the Mouth
A Season of Saturdays
Sports Syndicate
SportsBlogz Notre Dame
Tough Guy
Unrestricted View
We is Notre Dame
Fanblogs Notre Dame

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Notre Dame Football Preview
Part III

Defensive Line

Spotlight: Victor Abiamiri

Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma
Also Returning: Justin Brown, Casey Cullen, Chris Frome, Neil Kennedy, Pat Kunz, Derek Landri, Trevor Laws, Dwight Stephenson, Jr., Ronald Talley
Lost: Brian Beidatsch, Patrick McInerney (graduation), Dan Chervanick (position change), Nate Schiccatano (transfer), Brandon Nicholas (not on roster)
Gained: Travis Leitko, (not on roster for 2005), Derrell Hand (DNP as freshman), Paddy Mullen, John Ryan, Kallen Wade (freshmen)

I was tempted to put the beast Trevor Laws in the spotlight, but in reality all eyes will be (and should be) on Victor Abimiri. Abiamiri's career his mirrored Justin Tuck's in a way: massive hype coming in, followed by numbers that are decent but don't fully live up to that hype. Abiamiri's eight sacks last year are impressive, unless you discount the fact that four came against a banged-up Stanford line. Still, I'm sure many an Irish fan is hoping that Abiamiri continues to mirror Tuck, as Tuck's final season made him a first day NFL draft pick.
Notre Dame is returning nine of eleven starters on defense, including all four defensive linemen. This in stark contrast to the past few years for the line, especially last year when Derek Landri was the only returning starter. Landri, considered undersized for a defensive tackle, has nonetheless been a solid presence on the interior for the past two years. Next to him once again will be Trevor Laws, an exciting player who worked his way into the starting lineup last year. Regular readers will know I've been high on Laws for quite some time now. Across from Abiamiri once again will be Chris From, returning from a season-ending injury (or a "seizing ending" injury, if you're Kirk Herbstreit).
Not only is the defensive line returning three starters, but there are also three backups with significant past playing time. Ronald Talley, already one of the first players off the bench, stepped up in Frome's absence. In doing so, he opened a few eyes, and sold a few tshirts. ("Play Like Ronald Talley Today" read the yellow shirts bearing his visage.) Justin Brown also got a small share of playing time thanks to the wear and tear life in the trenches put on the starters. Pat Kunz also saw some playing time last year, and that should increase this year. Finally, Travis Leitko, projected to be a starter last year, is back after a whirlwind year.
The experienced line will be solid against the line, but experts have been bemoaning the lack of a pass rush since Justin Tuck left. Who will put pressure on the quarterback? Will it be Talley? (Can it be Talley?) Or will it be one of the freshman? Or can Dwight Stevenson finally step up after a trouble career and finally make his mark on the field?


Spotlight: Maurice Crum, Jr.

Also Returning: Nick Borseti, Joe Brockington, Steve Quinn, Scott Smith, Mitchell Thomas
Lost: Joseph Borland, Brandon Hoyte, Corey Mays, Anthony Salvador (graduation), Casey Cullen (position change), Nate Schiccatano (transfer), Abdel Banda (left team for medical reasons)
Gained: Travis Thomas (semi-position change), Anthony Vernaglia (position change), Kyle Charters (walk on?), Kevin Washington (DNP as freshman), Morrice Richardson, Toryan Smith (freshmen)

As mentioned above, the defense only lost two of its nine starters, but those two were its best linebackers in Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mayes. The only returner is Maurice Crum. Crum moves from his low-profile spot at Apache linebacker to middle linebacker, a position often considered to be the leader of the defense. Crum faces enormous pressure this year, both to perform in his new and more challenging position, and to provide an air of leadership to the newcomers who will be flanking him.
Senior Mitchell Thomas and junior Anthony Vernaglia are even in the competition for strongside linebacker, and there have been indications that their playing time at the position will be even as well. Mitchell Thomas is a senior who is finally getting his due, as he has primarily been a special teamer to this point. Vernaglia came in as a highly-lauded athlete, but has yet to find his niche in the Irish defense. He is now settled in at linebacker, and this season will be his chance to prove the recruiting pundit right.
Little is known (by me, at least) about the third linebacker spot, other than the fact that it's no longer called the Apache. Charlie Weis, citing the axiom that the best 22 players should be on the field whenever possible, will give running back Travis Thomas some time at weakside linebacker. Thomas was a good strong safety in high school and was praised by Weis for his work on special teams. But I would be surprised if Travis gets much more than 50% of the snaps at linebacker. Joe Brockington appears to be the man who will get the other 50%. Brockington, who may still be recovering from a spring injury, was used as the fourth linebacker on goal line situations last year. Another name mentioned is sophomore Steve Quinn.
One person who will unfortunately not be battling for a linebacker spot is Abdel Banda. After battling injuries from the beginning of his freshman year, Banda has esentially retired from football for medical reasons.


Spotlight: Chinedum Ndukwe

GTacklesINTFum Rec
Also Returning: David Bruton, Ray Herring, Tom Zbikowski
Lost: Anthony Vernaglia (position change), Freddie Parish IV (transfer)
Gained: Your guess is as good as mine, if not better.
(Note: lumped everyone under the "Defensive Back" label this year, so I apologize if I did any incorrect guessing when it comes to safeties Except for the guys I'm sure of, everyone is listed under Cornerback.)

Ooh, I hate putting up a picture like that, but that is exactly why Ndukwe is the spotlight player. Let's try again.

Courtesy AP/Keith Srakocic

There we go. Last year, Chinedum Ndukwe came into the season preparing to play the Apache linebacker spot. Appropriately, he bulked up to a linebacker weight, 230 lbs. Unfortunately, when he was moved to safety, his extra weight caused him to run line a linebacker. Last year, Mo Stovall was told by Coach Weis to lose 15-20 pounds to increase his speed and stamina. This year Ndukwe was put on the Weis Diet and is down to 210 lbs. That should hopefully get him closer to the 4.5 40 speed he clocked as a freshman wide receiver.
But, despite what the national media will tell you, the problem of Notre Dame's secondary wasn't speed. Tom Zbikowski is down in the 4.5 40 range as well. The problem was positioning and discipline. If you wanted to explain to an 8-year-old how to play safety, you would tell them to make sure no one from the other team gets past them. Too often last year, Zbikowski and Ndukwe failed on that simple task. Perhaps you can blame it on two agressive personalities that want to mix it up with the opponents' running game. Perhaps you can blame it on inexperience and previous bad coaching. Or perhaps you can just blame it on a new defensive scheme. Wherever the blame is placed, Notre Dame fans can only hope that the Irish secondary has beat the big play bug.
Backing up Zbikowski and Ndukwe, respectively, are Ray Herring and David Bruton. Herring mainly played in garbage time last year, but Bruton made a mark on special teams. (Bruton made such a mark, in fact, that Darius Walker's family bought #27 jerseys to support him.) Both have received nothing but praise from the Irish faithful for their performance in practice and limitied game experience.


Spotlight: Ambrose Wooden

Also Returning: Leo Ferrine, Wade Iams, Tim Kenney, Terrail Lambert, Mike Richardson, William David Williams
Lost: Matt Mitchell, Alvin Reynolds, Bret Shapot, Rich Whitney III (graduation), Junior Jabbie (position change), LaBrose Hedgemon II (transfer)
Gained: Mike Anello (walkon), Kyle McCarthy (DNP as freshman), Sergio Brown, Jashaad Gaines, Leonard Gordon, Raeshon McNeil, Darrin Walls (freshmen)

Again with the negative pictures. Wooden is in the spotlight because he needs to do less of that, and more of this:

Again, with Wooden at least, the issue isn't speed. Unfortunately, Wooden's speed was often best displayed when he hustled to stop a broken-away ballcarrier right before the end zone. Last year, Ambrose Wooden was third on the team in tackles, behind only experienced linebackers Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mayes. All of last year, I tried to determine if Wooden's high tackle totals were a good thing or a bad thing. That's open to interpretation, but most people would probably lean towards "bad." Wooden did a good job of staying near his man last year, but his plan of attack was to let the receiver catch the ball, then move in to make the sure tackle. With another year of experience under his belt, and another year with the same coaching staff, hopefully a more aggressive - yet still disciplined - Ambrose Wooden will emerge.
Mike Richardson will once again play across from Wooden. Richardson earns the Most Improved award on the defense. After a 2004 where he was only seen on opposing receivers' posters, Richardson developed into a decent corner. Leo Ferrine surprised some by earning the nickel corner role, and he presumably will continue that duty this year. That is, of course, unless classmate Terrail Lambert emerges to displace him. Behind Ferrine and Lambert are a talented group of freshmen, highlighted by Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls. To some, the freshmen corners are the saviors of the Irish defensive backfield unit.
(Useless trivia of the day: sophomore walkon Mike Anello comes to the gridiron from the ND ultimate frisbee team.)


Spotlight: Carl Gioia

Also Returning: Bobby Renkes
Lost: DJ Fitzpatrick (graduation), Craig Cardillo (position change)
Gained: Ryan Burkhart

Carl Gioia wins the spotlight by default - he was the only kick of which I could find a picture. For the past two years, Gioia started the season as the kickoff specialist, only to lose the job essentially for not kicking deep enough. He did attempt and convert one field goal against Stanford last year. However, he was infamously passed over in favor of an injured DJ Fitzpatrick later in that game. Bobby Renkes also saw some time at kickoff specialist two years ago, but he didn't last long either. The placekicking job may just go to freshman Ryan Burkhart, if he can prove he's consistent.


Spotlight: Geoffrey Price
GNoAvgIn 20
Also Returning: None
Lost: Fitzpatrick
Gained: Eric Maust (freshman)

Speaking of consistency, there's the story of Geoffrey Price. Price came in as a highly touted recruit, but inconsistency on the practice field forced both Nick Setta and DJ Fitzpatrick into double duty. If he still hasn't found his groove, double walkon Eric Maust will try his leg. Yes, I said double walkon - Maust also made the baseball team as a right-handed pitcher. How about that.

2006 Schedule

9-02-05 at Georgia Tech
9-09-05 PENN STATE
9-16-05 MICHIGAN
9-23-05 at Michigan State
9-30-05 PURDUE
10-07-05 STANFORD
10-21-05 UCLA
10-28-05 at Navy
11-11-05 at Air Force
11-18-05 ARMY
11-25-05 at Southern California

Predicted Wins Legend (final record in parentheses)
Even ND haters say we will win these games (8-4)
Things still look good for a pessimistic ND fan (10-2
Those with Davieham flashbacks are probably expecting at least one trip-up (11-1)
True fans go into every game thinking their team has a shot to win (12-0)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Notre Dame Football Preview
Part II

Rounding out the offense...

Wide Receiver

Spotlight: Rhema McKnight

Also Returning: Chase Anastasio, Brandon Erickson, David Grimes, Nick Possley, Jeff Samardzija
Lost: Brandon Harris, Michael O'Hara, Matt Shelton, Rob Woods (graduation), DJ Hord (knee - out for season)
Gained: Darrin Bragg, Craig Cardillo (position changes), David Costanzo, Kris Patterson, Jake Richardville (walk ons?), Barry Gallup, Jr., Richard Jackson, Robby Parris, George West

Pop quiz: Who were the starting receivers for Notre Dame's opener at Pittsburgh last year? That's a bit of a trick question, as Jeff Samardzija, supposedly the #3 receiver at the time, was the lone wideout in a three tight end set. This year Samardzija is unquestionably the #1 receiver (assuming Charlie Weis' team-oriented offense even uses that terminology), but he will need help. A lazy opposing defensive coordinator may be content in simply double teaming Samardzija in key situations. If that is the case, it will be Rhema McKnight's time to shine. McKnight led the Irish in receptions in both 2003 and 2004, and he showed the ability to get open on third down. Now, if he can get first downs by catching the ball three yards short of the marker and scrambling, imagine what he can do on routes that actually take him past the first down line.
Last year, Brady Quinn had two 6'5" receivers, which allowed him to occasionally forgo precision and simply toss the ball above a defensive back. This year, Quinn will be presented with a combination of styles. In addition to the 6'5" Samardzija, the 6'2" McKnight (no shrimp in his own right) has the ability to make people miss. The #3 spot appears to be going to the speedy David Grimes, who got token playing time with the offense last year.
After Grimes comes a big question mark. The man who would be #4 receiver this year - DJ Hord - is out for the season with a knee injury. Chase Anastasio has playing time experience, but it's almost exclusively on special teams. Converted quarterback Darrin Bragg could be an interesting option. Of course, Coach Weis could also choose to plug any member of his talented quartet of freshmen receivers, much like he did with Grimes last season.
(In case you're curious, the first play against Pitt was a playaction rollout pass intended for Samardzija that turned into a seven yard scramble by Quinn. Looking back at the play, I'm wondering if Weis called that play to get Quinn started off on a confident note. The playaction and rollout are designed to give the quarterback time. Dragging a receiver in front of the quarterback is about the easiest pass to make, and the play was designed for Samardzija, who played like Quinn's favorite receiver/security blanket over the previous two seasons.)

Tight End

Spotlight: John Carlson

Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma
Also Returning: Marcus Freeman, Mike Talerico
Lost: Anthony Fasano, Tim Grizman (graduation), Joey Hiben (left team to focus on academics at ND)
Gained: Michael Planalp (walkon?), Kevin Brooks, Konrad Reuland, Will Yeatman (freshmen)

It will be interesting to see how Charlie Weis deals with the loss of Anthony Fasano. Will we see more multi-receiver sets? Perhaps, but after McKnight and Samardzija, the receivers are less experienced that John Carlson and Marcus Freeman. With neither a receiving star, will Weis use both at the same time to spread out the defense? Or will he use a two back pro set, keeping one running back in for blitz pickup while the other goes out as a checkdown option? Knowing Coach Weis, the correct answer may just be "all of the above, and then some."
The spotlight at tight end may fall on both Carlson and Freeman this year - I just couldn't find a picture of Freeman on short notice. Carlson is said to be faster than Fasano, meaning Carlson could turn into more of a downfield threat. In the right situations, running Carlson deep leaves the short middle wide open. That leads to a wide variety of options, including short passes to a McKnight, Grimes, or Walker that would allow them to play in the open field. Freeman is said to be a great blocker. But, he had his share of catches in the Ty Willingham era, so his ability as an offensive threat should not be ignored.
After Carlson and Freeman, Notre Dame will have to rely on at least one of two talented freshmen in Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman. There is a possibility that sophomore walkon Mike Talerico could be used for blocking if the formation deems it, but I don't see him pulling down any catches this year.

Offensive Line

Spotlight: Bob Morton

Also Returning: Paul Duncan, Ryan Harris, Brian Mattes, Dan Santucci, John Sullivan, Michael Turkovich
John Sullivan, Bob Morton, Dan Santucci, Brian Mattes
Lost: James Bent, James Bonelli, David Fitzgerald, Dan Hickey, JJ Jansen, Mark LeVoir, Scott Raridon, Dan Stevenson (graduation), Chauncey Incarnato (transfer to Indiana)
Gained: Dan Chervanik (position change), Jeff Tisak (DNP as freshman), Matt Carufel, Eric Olsen, Chris Stewart, Bartley Webb, Dan Wenger, Sam Young (freshmen)

Bob Morton may not be the type of person to carry a chip on his shoulder, but few can blame him if he does. After being a regular starter two years ago, Morton was reduced to a platoon player last year. This year he rejoins the starting lineup as right guard.
Over the last few years, I've hit on the fact that the offensive line seems to progress as a group: five guys start together as freshmen and sophomores, slowly get better as they gain experience, then graduate as a unit. Finally it seems that that trend is starting to break. Notre Dame
The Notre Dame offensive line has followed a familiar cycle over the past few years: A new line would come in, grow and gain experience, then graduate as a unit. Then, five new, inexperienced guys would have to step into the starting lineup and suffer the same growing pains before growing together into a cohesive, experienced unit. Hopefully, that trend is coming to an end. The Irish only lost two starters on the line, Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir, and one will be replaced by the experienced Morton. That leaves only the right tackle spot, which may go to veteran backup Brian Mattes.
But did I speak too soon? The five projected starters are all seniors and fifth years, so did my offensive line pattern just skip a year? That may be the case, but Irish fans don't seem to be too worried. Charlie Weis stocked his reserves with no less than six offensive linemen among this year's incoming freshman. Some may even see playing time this year. That, and the fact that all six come in highly praised, may help counteract the "young inexperienced" years set to come in 2007 and 2008.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Notre Dame Football Preview
Part I


Spotlight: Brady Quinn

Also Returning: none
Lost: David Wolke (transfer), Darrin Bragg (position change)
Gained: Dan Gorski, Evan Sharpley (DNP as freshmen), Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones (freshmen)

Again the biggest question at quarterback is the backup. David Wolke fled to McNeese State (McNeese isn't a state) in favor of playing time. That leaves Quinn as the only QB on the Irish roster with any college minutes. Evan Sharpley appears to be the backup, filling a role played by his great uncle Jim Ninowski on the Cleveland Browns 1964 championship team. Sharpley is very athletic and put up good numbers in high school.

Running Back

Spotlight: Darius Walker

Also Returning: John Lyons, Travis Thomas
Lost: Justin Hoskins (transfer), Jeff Jenkins (graduation)
Gained: James Aldrige, Dex Cure, Munir Prince (freshmen), Junior Jabbie (position change)

In recent years, there never seems to be a shortage of criticism for Notre Dame backs. Prior to his year in exile, Julius Jones was being made "fat and slow" by the strength and conditioning staff, and he had bad hands. The next year, Ryan Grant put up 1000 yards, but he too had band hands, and arguably wasn't as physical a runner as Rashon Powers-Neal. Then Jones came back, and despite great success everyone said he wasn't being used enough. Last year, Darius Walker put up 1500 yards from scrimmage, but there were those who complained about his lack of long runs.
Well, there may have been a reason for Walker's inability to "break the big one." Walker played most of the middle part of the season with a wrap on his thigh. Without it, you may see a little more explosiveness from the junior.
The backup situation is worth keeping an eye on. Travis Thomas was a good change of pace to Walker, earning 63 carries and 5 touchdowns last year. But his reps at tailback may be reduced depending on his performance at linebacker. After Thomas, both James Aldrige and Munir Prince are very talented freshmen. At least one, if both, may see a decent amount of playing time this season. Of course, until they learn blitz pickups, neither will see the field. The X factor at halfback is Junior Jabbie, a junior who only saw one game in two years as a defensive back. His position change didn't make much sense when it happened. But now with the loss of Justin Hoskins and, as mentioned above, Thomas' time at linebacker, this may be Jabbie's best opportunity to contribute.


Spotlight: Asaph Schwapp
Also Returning: Matt Augustyn, Ashley McConnell
Lost: Rashon Powers-Neal (graduation)
Gained: Luke Schmidt (freshman)

When looking back at 2005, to put it bluntly, Asaph Schwapp will be remembered for not being Rashon Powers-Neal. First, Schwapp had a goal line fumble with the Irish already trailing MSU 31-17. Then there was the now infamous drive-killing pass from Brady Quinn during the USC game. Schwapp ran out into the flat then stopped, only to watch the pass sail over his head. I still see that as lack of familiarity between the two players more than anything. With a few more games together, Quinn and Schwapp will make that play in their sleep.
Schwapp could see more touches this year, but his offensive prowess may be a moot point. Joining the rotation this year is freshman Luke Schmidt, who is already listed at a powerful 6'3, 230. Schmidt has received quite a bit of praise for his running ability. He can line up in front of Walker to draw away some attention, or he could line up behind Schwapp in short yardage situations.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Faux Pas

An unnamed SI on Campus staffer just sent me an email asking that I post a link to their new Notre Dame fan gallery. The problem? The link he gave was to the USC gallery, not the ND gallery. (The other problems? The picture of the USC fans on the front page of SI on Campus redirects to the Georgia page, while the text link to the USC page is broken and eventually redirects to the NY Times multimedia page.)

Didn't I see you girls at Howl at the Moon last Saturday?

I am going to be generous to the SI staffer and allow him to make up for his mistakes if he does the following:
  1. Add a link to Kanka's Sports Page to the SI on Campus blog list. (Now that they've finally figured out that this is an ND blog - sometimes.
  2. Allow my dad to trade in his Sports Illustrated with the Ohio State cover for one with the Notre Dame cover. (Since I know that Dad will make a comment about this as soon as he returns from taking my sister to St. Mary's and picks up this week's magazine.)

Wait, I already posted the links, so there goes my bargaining chip. I'm really no good at this whole "negotation" thing.

Notre Dame Football season preview coming soon, I promise - even if it has to come out in bits and pieces.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Williamsport Thoughts

As a baseball fan, I enjoy watching the Little League World Series. It still amazes me to watch dozens of 11- and 12-year-olds that look like they've stepped right out of a Tom Emanski video. These players all have better fundamentals than me, and probably better than a few of Major Leaguers.
But that's not what I think of when I remember my youth baseball days. Little League was about everyone playing and getting a free pop after the game. If you won, maybe you shook up your pop and sprayed it on a teammate, or took a "victory slide" into third base (neither of which was well liked by everyone's mothers). Heck, I don't think my tee ball team won a single game, but we didn't care.
That's not exactly the Little League you see on TV. Cities put together All Star teams, recruiting players based on loose residency guidelines. The kids you see on TV wear Nike uniforms and Under Armour wristbands. Well, it's nice to see Nike supporting youth baseball, as it is to see anyone supporting youth baseball. And I will admit that as a young baseball player, I did want to wear all the cool clothes, shoes, and accessories. But youth baseball is as much about the RBI program as it is about Nike-sponsored All Star teams. It's as much about a run-down field hoping to win the Diamonds in the Rough competition (or just find a few generous local volunteers) as it is about the Chrystler Fieldhouse. (OK, that's a high school basketball gym, but you get my point.)
When I sat down to write this article, I was going to mention how proud I was that my local youth baseball organization wasn't a part of the national Little League Baseball baseball. But then I found their website. The front page promotes fall ball as a means to experiment with switch hitting, to pick up a splitter or circle change pitch, to be noticed by scouts, and to work on a specialized baseball strength training program - "not a program designed by some football coach designed to build hulking, knuckle dragging linebackers." So much for letting kids enjoy a well-rounded childhood.
The official Little League Baseball has a rule requiring every player bat at least once and play three consecutive outs in every game. I'm a huge fan of letting everyone play. If Jimmy AllStar is as great as his parents think, he'll get his fair share of playing time in high school and college. But this may be Johnny Uncoordinated's only chance in organized baseball, so why not let him play. Of course, making this mandatory can make things difficult for coaches, all of which (hopefully) are volunteers. It's easy to get caught up in the game and forget the quiet kid at the end of the bench. Of course, if you designate a special "assistant coach" to keep track of substitutions, even if that's all he or she does, life becomes much easier.
The substitution rule actually came to play in this year's New England semifinal. Home team Vermont was leading New Hampshire with two outs in the top of the final inning - the sixth. Realizing that one player hadn't hit yet, the Vermont manager told his players to start throwing the game. The pitcher started throwing wild pitches, the catcher threw into center field on steals, and the infielders completely missed first base on ground balls. Seeing this, and realize what was going on, the umpire called both managers over and warned them not to make a mockery of the game. The Vermont manager instructed his players to continue, and he and his pitcher were thrown out of the game. The New Hampshire manager somehow decided that the best way to win the game was to have his team attempt to throw it themselves, so the game would end in the top of the 6th without the final Vermont player batting, and an official protest could be filed. So, his hitters swung at every wild pitch, striking out. The game ended, New Hampshire filed its protest, and it was upheld.
The Boston Herald took the New Hampshire side, stating it was all the guy could do to win. The smaller Lynn, MA Daily Item chimed in in favor of Vermont. Was either manager right? As I said, I'm in favor of letting everyone play. But there were other ways for Vermont to let New Hampshire tie the score. Intentional walks arguably would have been a little more legitimate. The New Hampshire manager was just as wrong for making his team throw the game. In doing so, he chose to win on a technicality instead of letting things be decided on the field. When I was in little league, we were once down 11 runs going into the last inning. We scored 12 in the top of the 6th, but were nearing our time limit. The bottom of the 6th would have to start before a certain time for our 12-run half inning to even count. A few heads-up kids on our team yelled at our batter to stike out on purpose to get out on the inning. But fortunately our coach refused. We lost, but we lost with class. New Hampshire, meanwhile, beat Connecticut 3-0 in the regional championship to advance to Williamsport.
What's my point? (Is there a point?) Enjoy the Little League World Series, but remember that that there's much more to youth baseball than what you see on TV. And remember it is, or at least it should be, about a bunch of young kids having some good old fashioned fun.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Now Hiring

A few broadcasters found themselves without jobs recently, and here I would like to formally extend to them an invitation to join the Kanka's Sports Page team.

  • Michael Reghi, Cavaliers TV play-by-play announcer. I was shocked when I came back from vacation to find this out. Reghi had been working with both the Baltimore Orioles and the Cavs until he decided to resign from the Orioles to spend more time in Cleveland. He had gained notoriety over the past year for his excitable and unique slam dunk calls, using phrases such as "Flight 23" (for LeBron James) and "coming out of the attic."
    Reghi was one of my three favorite Cleveland broadcasters, along with Joe Tait and Tom Hamilton. Tait has been a fixture for all Cleveland sports for 30+ years. I know him mostly as the Cavaliers radio announcer. His unique basketball terminology is often immitated throughout the area. For instance, the half-court line is the timeline or center stripe, and the free throw line is the "charity stripe," surrounded by "the circle." And, of course, when you cross the timeline, you enter the forecourt. Tait is also known for his slam dunk call, "Wham with the right hand!" Hamilton has been the voice of the Indians for many years, and it's hard for me not to love the Voice of Summer that I grew up with.
    Reghi got excited when things were going well, but was never afraid to point out when things weren't going well, especially when players weren't giving their best effort. I had always thought that that made him a little "homer"-ish, but allegedly he was fired for being too objective. He will be replaced by Fred McLeod, who had been doing Pistons broadcasts, but is originally from the Cleveland area. McLeod is said to be an extreme homer, and I'm almost afraid to find out what that means. He will be watched with a sharp eye (or listened too with a sharp ear) by many this season. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made this decision, and much has been made of Gilbert's ties to the Detroit area. We'll have to see how this new exiteable, super-homer approach to Cavaliers broadcasts works out.
    Fortunately for Reghi, or perhaps for Reghi fans, he just signed a contract extension with Fox Sports Ohio, and still does basketball broadcasts for the MAC. So, he should still be seen in the Cleveland area from time to time.

  • Harold Reynolds was fired from ESPN for repeated sexual harrassment. I don't mean in any way to make light of this situation. ESPN supposedly has a history of rampant sexual harrassment. If that is the case, they no doubt are not too lenient about it these days. But as a middle infielder and a player, I enjoyed the "love of the game" and positive vibe Harold brought to Baseball Tonight. He also was a good fit for the Little League World Series. He didn't have any deep analysis, but he was able to explain the fundamentals well - perfect for any young Little Leaguers watching at home.

  • Finally, it doesn't look like Al Leiter's doing anything right now. When he sat in on playoff broadcasts, Leiter brought great insight into what it was like to be a pitcher. As a player who never pitcher, I found him to be very informative.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Transaction Wire:
MLB Trade Deadline Extravaganza

Mets trade Jorge Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez. The Mets needed to solidify the back end of their rotation. Getting rid of a reliever who has gotten progressively worse over the past few years didn't hurt.

Cubs Trade Jerry Hairston to the Rangers for Phil Nevin. At the time, the Cubs needed a replacement for the injured Derek Lee. Having no shortage of second basemen, Hairston was expendable. Adding Hairston made sense for Texas at that point in the season. Untested rookie second baseman Ian Kinsler was injured. This was also before Gary Matthews fully broke out, and when Brad Wilkerson was struggling to make contact, so Hairston could also have been another solution in center field.

Mets trade Kaz Matsui to the Rockies for Eli Marrero. Matsui was a bust in New York, as evidenced by the fact that the Rockies sent him directly to AAA. Marrero can play catcher, first, and the outfield. With Todd Helton's resurgence, and with young players proving themselves at the other positions, Marrero was no longer needed in Colorado. So, he became another right-handed option off of the Mets bench, and a veteran presence in the outfield.

Devil Rays trade Joey Gathright and AAA 2B Fernando Cortez to Kansas City for AAA LHP JP Howell. Gathright may be the fastest player in all of baseball. However, without developing his other tools, he's little more than a flashy gimmick. Now that Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay has a surplus of outfielders in the majors and at AAA. Of course, at 24 he still has time to develop (or not) in Kansas City.

Dodgers trade Dioner Navarro, Jae Seo, and AA OF Justin Ruggiano to Tampa Bay for Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall. Navarro was supposed to be the centerpiece of the deal that sent Randy Johnson from Arizona to the Yankees, and also of the deal that sent Shawn Green from LA to Arizona. But, Russell Martin Wally Pipp-ed him in LA, so he's on the move again. In return, they get a veteran catcher in Hall who can back up the young Martin while the Dodgers play for the NL West pennant. The Dodgers also got a decent veteran in Hendrickson in exchange for a prospect at JAE SEO! JAE SEO! JAE SEO!

Indians trade Eduardo Perez to the Mariners for AAA SS Asdrubal Cabrera. Indians also trade Ben Broussard to the Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo. Perez and Broussard were Cleveland's first base platoon going into this season, and the plan was working very well. However, it was widely assumed that Perez would be the first player to be traded if the Indians weren't competing. Broussard was also heavily rumored to be traded, as he was in the midst of a decent season offensively. (Of course, Broussard's long swing makes him an incredibly streaky hitter, and his defense was lacking this year.) So, interestingly enough, both halves of Cleveland's 1B platoon go to the same team in separate deals. Also, the Mariners already have a first baseman in Richie Sexson. Of course, Perez can also play the outfield, and Sexson and Broussard both played some left field early in their career when Jim Thome was entrenched at first for the Tribe. Any of the three can also DH, especially now that the Mariners are short on outfielders and Raul Ibanez has moved back to left. The last time Seattle sent a young shortstop to Cleveland, it was a guy named Omar Vizquel. Some are hoping Choo will be a poor man's Ichiro. He's already shown a quick swing and two clutch home runs.

Cardinals trade AA OF Terry Evans to the Angels for Jeff Weaver. Weaver was never the same once he left Detroit for the Yankees. Some say it was because he lost his carefree, cutloose edge. With the breakout of his younger brother Jered, Jeff was no longer needed by the Angels. He's now the 5th starter for the Cardinals, replacing another reclaimation project in Sidney Ponson.

Mariners trade Eddie Guardado to Seattle for AA RHP Travis Chick. The Reds have been doing anything and everything to improve their bullpen this year. JJ Putz is having a great season as Seattle's closer, so "Everyday Eddie" was no longer needed.

Devil Rays trade Aubrey Huff to Houston for AA RHP Mitch Talbot and SS Ben Zobrist. Huff had basically been on the trading block for a few years, ever since his production saw a slight decline. He gives Houston a variety of options in the lineup as a 1B/3B/OF. Morgan Ensberg has been struggling through injuries this season. Playing Huff at first, Lance Berkman can move back to the outfield. Or, Berkman can play first with Huff in the outfield. Huff also provides some lefty pop to complement right-handed Preston Wilson and the switch-hitting Berkman.

Reds trade Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns, and Ryan Wagner to Washington for Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, AAA INF Brendan Harris, and A RHP Daryl Thompson. This deal had many scratching their heads, but again Cincinnati was willing to do anything and everything to improve their bullpen. If you look hard enough, there are those who will defend this trade. The Reds began the season with three lumbering, all-or-nothing power hitting outfielders in Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Adam Dunn. Perhaps one is enough, and after all they did keep the best one in Dunn. Without Kearns (and Lopez), Ryan Freel has a better chance to play on a regular basis. Also, thanks to Brandon Phillips' breakout, and the presence of a promising minor league middle infielder, perhaps the Reds thought they could afford to give up the 2005 All Star Lopez.

Mets trade Jeff Keppinger to Kansas City for Ruben Gotay. With the Mets pushing for the playoffs, they traded for a player with Major League experience to backup Jose Valentin at second. The veteran Valentin is having a good year so far, but there's no guarantee it will last. Gotay gives the Mets insurance at second, in case Anderson Hernandez isn't quite ready for the bright lights of October. Keppinger, an infielder, didn't look very impressive when I saw him in person. With Hernandez, David Wright, and Jose Reyes presumably set as the Mets infield of the future, there was no room for Keppinger in New York.

Indians trade Bob Wickman to Atlanta for LoA C Maximiliano Ramirez. The Braves had been looking for a closer for years, and they finally found one. This trade either means Indians GM Mark Shapiro is a genius or, as a teammate of mine put it, "on crack." Cleveland was offered several players at higher levels of development for Wickman. In the end, though, Shapiro determined that what the organization needed most was a very young catcher. It's a roll of the dice, and if Ramirez lives up to his potential it may open the door to an exciting new Gammonsesque philosophy on trades. Either way, this is basically a two month rental of Wickman by the Braves, as his contract expires at the end of the season. Ramirez is a solid hitter and is said to be a decent catcher with an arm that's at least better than Victor Martinez'. There are grumblings that Ramirez may need to be moved to another position, but as of right now those are just rumors.

Blue Jays trade Shea Hillenbrand and Vinny Chulk to San Francisco for Jeremy Accardo. Hillenbrand was no longer welcome in Toronto. He's always put up good traditional numbers - average, HR, RBI - but he's been criticized for a low on base percentage. Obviously he may not have been everyone's best friend in the clubhouses he's visited along the way. This deal is interesting because he appears to be a throw-in in a deal for two young relief pitchers. He also didn't garner much value back when Boston traded him to the Diamonbacks for BK Kim. Do GMs value OBP that much more than the traditional hitting categories? Maybe I should ask that question again after I read this book.

Cubs trade Scott Williamson to San Diego for LoA P Joel Santo and Fabian Jimenez. San Diego is trying to compete, and teams that are trying to compete love veteran relief pitchers. Pretty simple, really.

White Sox trade AA RHP BJ LaMura to the Dodgers for Sandy Alomar. Call Dodgers GM Ned Colletti about Kenny Lofton! Find Albert Belle's Lawyer! The White Sox are trying the "win win players from the 1995 Indians" approach again!

Royals trade
1. Mike MacDougal to the White Sox for AA LHP Tyler Lumsden and LoA RHP Daniel Cortes. 2. Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista to Colorado for 1B Ryan Shealy and AAA RHP Scott Dohmann
3. Elmer Dessens to the Dodgers for Odalis Perez and HiA RHP Blake Johnson and Julio Pimentel.
MacDougal is a young fireballer who moved from starter to closer and seemed destined to be a star. When he got injured an lost his confidence, Affeldt was moved from the rotation and tried as a closer. Neither fared too well. Bautista probably would have been tried at closer if he had stayed around long enough, and Dessens definitely would have been tried at closer. But now they're all gone. The White Sox have been looking for right handed relief pitching all season, and apparently are trying anyone with the slightest experience. Affeldt and Bautista get the fun of playing in Colorado now. I'm not too familiar with either's stuff, but hopefully they're fastball pitchers, as breaking stuff doesn't work too well in the thin air. If they are junkballers, their careers are basically over. Shealy was trapped behind Todd Helton at first in the Colorado organization. Now it will be interesting to see how Shealy and AAA 1B and Australian star Justin Huber are used, especially if Mike Sweeney and Doug Mientkiewicz plan on sticking around.

Royals also trade
1. Tony Graffanino to Milwaukee for Jorge de la Rosa.
2. Matt Stairs to Texas for AAA RHP Joselo Diaz.
Corey Koskie is injured, so the Brewers needed someone other than Jeff Cirillo to play third base. Graffanino is a veteran presence who can play all four infield positions, which is very helpful on a team where the first baseman, second baseman, and shortstop combined have only a handful of Major League experience. (Especially when sed second baseman and shortstop are on the DL, as they are right now.) If the Brewers want to get back in the playoff race, Graffanino will help.
Stairs gives the Rangers some lefty pop off the bench (or as the starting DH), and can spell Mark Teixeira at first or either of the corner outfielders.

Rangers trade Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, and LoA LHP Julian Cordero to Milwaukee for Carlos Lee and AA OF Nelson Cruz. This is a great move for Milwaukee's bullpen, as they now have former closers Cordero and Danny Kolb setting up Derrick Turnbow. Mench is a very suitable replacement for Lee, considering what else they're gaining. Texas now has a very formidable lineup with Gary Matthews, Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Teixeira, Lee, and Stairs.

Dodgers trade Danys Baez and Willy Aybar to Atlanta for Wilson Betemit. A good trade all around, I'd say. The Braves give up a young 3B/utility infielder who's ready for the big time and in exchange get a young 3B/utility infielder who's a year or two away from being ready, plus an established reliever.

Brewers trade LoA RHP Wilfrido Laureano to Philadelphia for David Bell. So, apparently Graffanino wasn't enough. It looks like Bell will be Koskie's official replacement, with Graffanino surely filling in if and when Bell struggles.

Phillies trade Bobby Abreu and Corey Lidle to the Yankees for LoA SS CJ Henry, AAA LHP Matt Smith, and rookie ball C Jesus Sanchez and RHP Carlos Monasterios. If I were commissioner, I would ban salary dumps like this, especially if they involve the Yankees. Henry is supposedly very good, and was a top pick in last year's draft, surprisingly. Normally these deals involve Yankees "prospects" who will never see AAA, much less The Show. I don't know how some GMs and owners can sleep at night after these deals.

Indians trade Ronnie Belliard to St. Louis for Hector Luna. The Cards started the season with a platoon of Junior Spivey and Miles. Spivey was sent packing when he didn't produce. Miles was a starter in Colorado, and put up OK numbers for the Cards. But they couldn't pass up on an established second baseman. Rumblings of Belliard leaving for a bigger contract had haunted the Indians ever since he was signed, so essentially he'd been on the block since day one. Luna and fellow utilityman Joe Inglett look to battle for the starting second base position in Cleveland next year. Interestingly enough, Luna was an Indians prospect twice taken in the Rule V draft (for players with a certain level of experience not on the 40-man roster). In 2002's draft, he was taken by the Devil Rays, but returned when Tampa Bay decided not to keep him on their Major League roster (a stipulation of Rule V). A year later, the Cards took Luna. I think the Tribe will hold onto him this time.

Pirates trade Sean Casey to Detroit for AA RHP Brian Rogers. Obviously Jim Leyland knew something that most of us didn't know. Despite a record hot start to the season, Chris Shelton was never moved from the #6 spot in the lineup. It turns out that Shelton's May was an aberration, as his numbers since have been less than spectacular. On deadline day, Shelton was Carlos Pena'd to AAA in favor of Sean Casey.

Twins trade Kyle Lohse to the Reds for LoA P Zach Ward. Another trade that was seemingly years in the making. Lohse had been bumped from the Twins rotation thanks to the likes of Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Francisco Liriano, and the dreaded "never lived up to expectations label." Now he's found a new home at the end of Cinncinatti's rotation, and for a rather low cost.

Mets trade Xavier Nady to Pittsburgh for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernadez. Everyone "knew" that the Mets would be trading an outfielder this July. However, most thought that it would be super-prospect Lastings Milledge, supposedly due to an arrogance issue. Instead, it was Nady, who was finally starting to live up to expectations. The ageless Hernandez, who spent last season with the Mets, returns to fill the hole created by Duaner Sanchez's injury. Perez becomes yet another piece that can be plugged into the back end of the Mets rotation. Meanwhile, it appears that Nady will see some playing time at first for Pittsburgh, replacing the recently departed Sean Casey.

Cubs trade Todd Walker to San Diego for rookie league RHP Jose Ceda. Seemingly underappreciated in Chicago, Walker should see increased playing time in San Diego now that the Vinny Castilla experiment is over. The Padres now have three moveable parts in Walker, Mark Bellhorn, and Geoff Blum who can start at third or spell Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Barfield at first and second. Walker, Bellhorn, and Blum also bring ever-important playoff experience to what is otherwise a very young infield.

Pirates trade Craig Wilson to the Yankees for Shawn Chacon. Something tells me that the Yankees heard so much about how they were going to trade for Craig Wilson, that at the last minute they decided to pick him up to see what he is all about. Wilson will actually serve a useful purpose for the Yanks. Playing him at first allows Jason Giambi to DH. Playing him at third gives New York fans someone else to boo at the hot corner. Playing him in the outfield keeps Bernie Williams on the bench, although something tells me Joe Torre will still allow for plenty of quality Bernie Time. Chacon pitched fairly well as both a starter and a closer in Colorado prior to joining the Yankees, so he's a good pickup for the Bucs.

Pirates trade Kip Wells to the Rangers for AAA RHP Jesse Chavez. And you can now check off "Pirates trade away their one decent starting pitcher" on of your Trade Deadline Bingo sheet.

Cubs trade Greg Maddux to the Dodgers for Cesar Izturis. Izturis is a former Gold Glove winning shortstop who had no place to play with both Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent on the Dodgers. He's good enough to bat at the top of the lineup for an average team, so benching him would have been a waste. It appears that he'll take over as Chicago's shortstop with young prospect Ronny Cedeno moving to second for the time being. I haven't seen much of Cedeno, but any time you can keep a Gold Glover at short, it's a good move. As for Maddux, I'll let you make up your own sentence involving the words/phrases "veteran," "pennant race," and "shore up the rotation."

Devil Rays trade Julio Lugo to the Dodgers for AAA UT Joel Guzman and HiA OF Sergio Pedroza. Lugo was rumored to be on the block thanks to a career resurgence offensively and defensively in Tampa Bay. He takes over Izturis' spot as the backup middle infielder whose talent is practically being wasted away. Of course, considering Furcal and Kent's respective histories of injury problems, maybe Lugo will see decent playing time after all.

Over the waiver wire, the Red Sox acquire Javy Lopez from Baltimore for a PTBNL. Earlier, the Red Sox acquired AAA LHP Javier Lopez from the White sox for David Riske. Being the elder Javier Lopez, do you think Catcher Javy should make Pitcher Javier grow a goatee, and then convince everyone to start calling Pitcher Javier "Evil Javy Lopez?

Baltimore Ravens acquire Gerome Sapp from the Colts. Evidently the Ravens, who drafted Sapp, were sorry to see him go the first time. Sapp will continue to be a special teams standout for the Ravens, and take over for Ed Reed after Reed's kneecaps have an unfortunate meeting with my softball bat. What? Who said that?

Paul Manieri leaves Notre Dame to become the head baseball coach at LSU. Manieri played for one season for LSU, and the position he is taking is considered one of the dream jobs in all of college baseball. He will be replace by Dave Schrage, formerly of Evansville, who he led to the regional finals this past year. In the interest of brevity (ha), I'll let Manieri's bio and Schrage's bio do the rest of the talking.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The New "Super Joe"

The Indians called up Joe Inglett (right) to The Show recently. The 28-year-old rookie is hitting over .300 in the Majors and will battle Hector Luna for the starting second base position in 2007. (For more information on Luna, see my Transaction Wire Extravaganza, hopefully coming in the next few days.) I don't know if Inglett will be able to keep up this performance over a full season, but I have my fingers crossed.

How could I not love this 5-10, 180 lb, high sock and single digit wearer who's the best sacrifice bunter on the team and a speedy hustler who is primarily a second baseman but can play a total of six positions? Sure, I'll call the Gammonsesque mancrush now.