Thursday, May 21, 2015

Which Chicago Bulls Big Man Needs To Go?

Yet again, the Chicago Bulls have raised my hopes, only to fall well short of getting an NBA Championship. Even without Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers sent the Bulls home (it was in Chicago, so short drive at least) well short of the ultimate goal. I'm a pretty reasonable sports fan, but there is something about the Bulls that always raises my hopes well beyond their accomplishments. I look at this roster, and it sure looks like it could be potent enough to succeed, but clearly something wasn't right with this team, and things need to change.

It looks like Tom Thibodeau is likely out the door, which I have mixed feelings about. He's an excellent defensive coach, but with the weapons the Bulls have on offense, it sure seems like they could be a more potent team on that side of the ball. The trap he fell into was sticking with certain big guys while ignoring their most efficient lineups. But with Gasol, Noah, Gibson, and Mirotic, the Bulls simply don't have enough minutes to fully take advantage of those players' skill-sets. So it's time to look at the roster and figure out which guy has to go to best give the Bulls a chance to take a step forward.

4. Nikola Mirotic
Yeah, this guy ain't going anywhere. He's by far the youngest guy on the front line, and he's also closest to the ideal of what a power forward should look like now that most teams have realized threes are worth more than twos. His defense is atrocious, but he's athletic enough to at least become adequate there. He's pretty cheap for the next couple years, so I really can't see any reason to get rid of this guy.

3. Taj Gibson
This is the most commonly talked about guy who needs to be traded away, but I think his versatility is needed for the Bulls. He's the perfect third big man, as he can defend centers, while also being able to step out on stretch-fours and even providing reasonable defense on wings since he does a pretty solid job when matched up against LeBron. It's a decent contract for what he provides, and it's about to look pretty good when the cap goes up. I know this is everyone's knee-jerk answer to who should be traded, but I do not see him being the best option.

2. Joakim Noah
Is Joakim Noah done? That is the question Bulls fans have to be asking themselves. Now, obviously he's not going to retire, but is he only going downhill from his performance this past year, or can he bounce back to his 2013-2014 season form when he was Defensive Player of the Year and an incredibly valuable playmaker. It seems like knee injuries are things that often take a year to fully recover from, so I'm betting on the latter. If he can get close to that form, pairing him up with Mirotic in the starting lineup makes the Bulls an incredibly dangerous team.

1. Pau Gasol
And that leaves Pau. I really like Pau and find it hard to argue that any big man was nearly as valuable as he was this season. But I'm not sure how well he would fit in if the Bulls are going to take the next steps to a championship. He is not a good pairing with Mirotic, and I think Mirotic needs to be the starter. He had an incredible season, his contract is a great deal, so he should be able to fetch something pretty dang good in return. It hurts, because Pau seems like one of the best dudes in the NBA (and he's really good at basketball), but it makes sense for the Bulls to get rid of one of their big guys (and no, Cameron Bairstow does not count), so that makes Gasol is the odd man Paut.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What USA Wrestling Could Learn From WWE NXT

If you really want to irritate/anger freestyle wrestling fans, tell them it needs to be more like professional wrestling. Now let me just state up front that I am not advocating for predetermined feuds and finishes. Still, something needs to be done in order to drum up interest for freestyle wrestling in the United States, and WWE's NXT promotion actually set up a solid blueprint that USA Wrestling should follow.

This was what popped in my head as I was watching the US Open from last weekend. I kept thinking about it, because the event, held in Las Vegas, was maybe 20% full for the finals matches. And they did the same thing with the World Cup a few months ago with it in Los Angeles. There were more people rooting for Iran than were rooting for USA in the finals. That isn't pathetic; that's embarrassing.

Now I understand what the committee was thinking. Put great wrestling events all around the country to cultivate a nationwide following to support the sport. That's a great long-term goal, but wrestling isn't ready for that sort of leap; they need to take baby steps first.

This is where NXT really comes in. NXT basically runs as an independent wrestling promotion. It started off, slowly gained popularity near Orlando, FL. They did all of their taped events at one venue and then traveled throughout Florida for house shows. They kept putting on wildly entertaining shows in front of a packed house that was thoroughly invested, and honestly, it just looked like a great time to go see a show live. Now it is a phenomenon that can occasionally travel anywhere in the country and sell out wherever they go.

That is what USA Wrestling needs to do. Let's face it. The Midwest and Pennsylvania are the only areas that have a passionate fan base, and honestly, those are the only places that should have USA wrestling events (There is also Beat the Streets in Times Square, but that's a special attraction. Italy probably doesn't care about wrestling, but if they put matches in the Colosseum, people would come to see the spectacle). But just look at this Finals match between Brent Metcalf and Jordan Oliver. This would be sad for an early round match, but it's just sad considering that these are two of the top 20 wrestlers in the world at their weight, fighting for their shot to be the top dog in the United States.

And when you see elite wrestlers in front of mostly empty arenas, does that look like fun? No, it doesn't, and it doesn't help progress the sport in this country.

USA Wrestling is in a weird spot, as they have all of the best wrestlers in the country, but this country still cares more about college wrestling. Even if USA Wrestling holds their events in the hotbeds of wrestling, they still probably aren't selling out big-time arenas. But if they put it in a consistent spot, it will grow in popularity, because they already have a fantastic product. Get it on a real TV channel, even if it's not live, and just expose people to the product.

But patience is the key. It will take some time, but focusing on one area, and achieving success there is the first step. USA Wrestling isn't ready to branch out. Stick to the core audience, and slowly spread out. In April, the Olympic Trials are in Iowa City, a perfect spot for them. 2020 might need to be there too, but by 2024 you can go out to Philly, and by 2028, maybe you hit New York, and then 2032 can be in Vegas or LA. USA Wrestling doesn't like taking cues from the fake version of the sport, but it could learn a lot about building up their brand by looking at NXT.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Breakdown: The Undrafted Free Agents

The Chicago Bears draft was a mixed bag. Although I would have liked to see them wait on wide receiver, I can understand them being excited about the potential of Kevin White. Eddie Goldman has a high ceiling as a nose tackle, but his inconsistent play is the reason he wasn't a first rounder. Hroniss Grasu is an athletic center that could start immediately. Jeremy Langford runs fast, but I don't see upside or need in the pick, so it was probably my least favorite. Adrian Amos is versatile, but tackling is not in the list of things he can do. Finally, Tayo Fabuluje is super big, surprisingly athletic, but he has a history of being out of shape which is worrisome, but it's a sixth round pick, so it's a nice bet on upside.

After the draft, the Bears signed a number of players, and although usually there wouldn't be enough there for me to break it down, the Bears made maybe my favorite undrafted free agent signing of any team, so I wanted to quickly highlight three of the players that have a shot at making this year's roster.

Shane Carden - QB - East Carolina
I'm not going to beat around the bush. This is my guy. After looking at the incoming crop of quarterbacks, I ranked Carden fourth behind the big two and Brett Hundley. The big knock on Carden is a lack of arm strength, but he was a good decision maker and knew how to read the field. Obviously, a certain level of arm strength is needed, but Carden's mechanics led to his legs being a non-factor in his delivery. If Adam Gase is the right coach to help him generate strength from his legs in his throws, the Bears could have the biggest steal in franchise history. You can check out my in-depth look at Carden here.

Levi Norwood - WR - Baylor
Norwood would have probably been drafted had he been able to flip his 2013 and 2014 seasons. Everything went right for him in 2013 as injuries opened up a spot in the slot where he excelled for the Baylor Bears. In 2014, he was at the opposite end of that injury spectrum where he got injured early and passed up on the depth chart by high upside younger players. The key to somebody like Norwood is his ability to play on special teams, as he will definitely start as the fifth or sixth receiver on the roster. If he can be valuable there, he will be given the time to mature into a threat in the slot.

Jacoby Glenn - CB - Central Florida
Glenn is a young guy who just made plays last year for UCF. In fact, he made so many plays that he was the AAC's co-defensive player of the year and a second team All-American. Coming out as a redshirt sophomore, he is still only 21 years-old, which means he fits into two of my favorite categories. Being young means there is greater room for improvement, and I will always like guys who have a nose for the ball, and his seven interceptions definitely prove that. So why did he fall? Mostly 40 time. It's not size, as he's 6'0" tall, but he did only run a 4.64, and honestly, he wasn't very good in any of the drills. Still, a guy who made plays in college is definitely somebody I want to bring into training camp.

The Bears obviously signed a lot more guys than just this, but I wanted to highlight some of the names I was more familiar with to show their potential to stick with the Bears despite not being drafted. The Bears are not a deep (or talented, for that matter) team, so there will be opportunities. It's up to these guys to go out and earn them.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Breakdown: Tayo Fabuluje

With the Bears final pick, they selected Tayo Fabuluje, a giant offensive tackle out of TCU and BYU, and back to TCU again. He is massive, and that's good, but he has struggled with his massivity (no way that's a real word). But the Bears definitely could use some help on the offensive line, so I watched his game against Oklahoma to see how he might be able to impact the Bears.

So, yeah, on tape, the first thing that jumps out is this guy is huge. Excellent massivity. It seemed like sometimes pass rushers wouldn't give a real rush, because it was just going to take too long to get around him. I feel like he used his size better in pass protection than he did in run blocking. He was able to set and use his power on pass rushers, but often didn't do a good job of getting good angles and pushing guys in the right direction on run plays. His weakness as a pass rusher is that he got comfortable setting up to the outside, so any move towards the inside often left him reaching for the defender.

Despite his size, he was actually fairly light on his feet. He looked like a good athlete. Overall, I was more impressed than I expected to be for a sixth round pick. With his size and mobility, I would have thought that he was a more highly touted prospect.

Despite those raw skills, there are still issues. The first is his love of football, as his weight has been an option, and he has transferred repeatedly between TCU and BYU. Still, there are factors outside of football that may have influenced those decisions, and I'm not one to hold a huge grudge against people in their early 20s for making decisions that may not make sense in the long run.

On the field, his size can become an issue with his endurance. Towards the end of drives, he seemed to lack explosiveness and just seemed worn down in the second half of the game where he was much heavier on his feet and that led to him occasionally getting thrown around despite his significant size advantage.

Overall, I like the thinking in this pick. It's definitely a risk as this is a guy who may get cut before training camp is over. Still, it comes with some excellent upside, as he has excellent size and nice mobility for a man his size. These are the types of picks teams should be going for late in the draft. Welcome aboard, Tayo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Breakdown: Adrian Amos

With their pick in the fifth round, the Chicago Bears took Adrian Amos, a safety out of Penn State. I was fairly bitter at this point, so I mentioned that Amos had been an honorable mention for All B1G the last three years, which basically just means that he played in a lot of games and showed a baseline competence. Not the sexiest accomplishment out there. But I'd be lying if I said I had ever focused on Amos's game, so I decided to watch his games against Ohio State and Indiana and see what I could figure out about the Bears new defensive back.

Watching his game against Indiana, I was initially taken aback by how little balance he seemed to have on contact. He got put on skates when blocked, and he seemed to trip over his own feet when trying to make a tackle when the quarterback broke free.

And if you are expecting a big, hard-hitting safety, you are sure to be disappointed by Amos. He not only does not provide any sort of big hits, he seems to actively avoid contact. He's no thumper, and even being a humper would be a huge step up in the way that he finds ways to get blocked as opposed to making open-field tackles.

The most appealing trait that Amos has is his versatility. It is tough to judge a safety in his coverages, but he seemed to be in the right area at the right times. Where he really impressed was when he came up to the line of scrimmage and played press-man coverage successfully against larger receiving targets.

Overall, I'm not sure if that versatility makes up for the fact that he doesn't shine in any one area and is a below average tackler. Having a safety that can come down and cover a slower wide receiver is great, but having a safety who doesn't tackle well means that you just have a replacement level corner. Coverage is something that is very difficult to judge from the sideline camera, so maybe the Bears were able to see something I wasn't, but from what I saw on film, I don't see anything more than depth at the safety position. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Breakdown: Jeremy Langford

Through the Bears first three picks, I thought the Bears were having an okay draft. I wasn't particularly excited, but I understood the logic behind the picks, as they were more necessary than they were sexy. In the fourth round, I started to swear off the Bears. They drafted running back, Jeremy Langford, out of Michigan State. This tweet summed up my feelings pretty well:
The Bears had made me angry yet again. But I needed to calm down and see what the Bears actually got in Langford. I knew that although I watched a lot of B1G football, I may have underrated him since Michigan State did not play Iowa this year, so I didn't get a comprehensive look at him. Now it is time to right this wrong and watch his games against Purdue and Baylor to see if Langford is secretly B1G Todd Gurley (Spoiler alert: He's not).

The good news is he appears to be a patient runner who knows how to follow his blocks. He doesn't just run as hard as he can into a pile when a little patience might allow something bigger to open up. I will say that the patience isn't always a good thing, as he sometimes gets caught just tiptoeing around and is an easy tackle instead of attacking. He can wait to a fault, where he has to learn in the NFL, he is going to have lane one or a cutback lane; lane three is closed for repair.

Because of this dancing around in the backfield, he often doesn't generate much power in his runs, so he often gets driven backwards when tackled instead of falling forward for extra yards.

Another positive is that he has impressive speed when he gets into the open field. This run against Purdue is a good example of that.
He gets the outside, easily breaks the tackle from the defensive back, and then puts on the burners as he goes down the sideline. This makes sense as his 40 time was one of the best in this draft class. Unfortunately, his ability to cut and accelerate is pretty unimpressive as he was very poor in the shuttle and 3-cone drill. I think those latter drills are far more important for running backs where quickness is more important than speed.

I mean, if he plays Purdue every game, he should have an incredibly successful career. Is that possible? It's not? Oh. Well, then things may be slightly more difficult. I don't see a lead back in Langford, but I do think he could be a solid backup. Langford just simply doesn't impress me. On talent alone, it is not a good pick. Considering it was the fourth round, in this loaded draft of running backs, with David Cobb still available, when the Bears were fine at running back but have nothing but holes on defense, this was a very bad pick. I just don't get it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Breakdown: Hroniss Grasu

In the third round, the Bears looked to bolster their offensive line by getting a center. That center was Oregon's Hroniss Grasu. Just like in the second round, this was definitely a need pick, as the Bears parted ways with the aging Roberto Garza, so they needed somebody to snap the ball, or otherwise they would always get called for delay of game. Hopefully Grasu provides more than that, and to find out, I took a look at his game against Florida State to see what he brings to the table.

I would say that he moves very well for a center. He appears light on his feet when he is pulling and is pretty fluid in all of his movements. This helps when he is doing a combo block as he is able to help his teammate with a block before moving to the next level to take out a linebacker.

Strength looked like an issue as when Oregon was at the goal line against Florida State, he got stood up and driven backwards by Eddie Goldman (Good news is he will only be practicing against Goldman from here on). Also, he isn't a guy who was ever pancaking guys, even linebackers, but he stayed solid and maintained his block.

Admittedly, using sideline view to judge a center is not ideal. There's just a lot going on, they are rarely responsible for one-on-one assignments, and they can get blurred in the middle of the line. The All-22 is way more ideal, but using what is available, Grasu looks like an above average athlete who may only have average strength. He got pushed around at the goal line by Goldman, but most centers do struggle with the power of 350 pound nose tackles, so it's hard to ding the guy for that. He's a third round center; he's not going to excite you, but he has the ingredients to be solid. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Breakdown: Eddie Goldman

With the seventh pick in the second round, the Bears selected Eddie Goldman, a nose tackle out of Florida State. Since the Bears are transitioning to a 3-4 defense, nose tackle was one of their biggest needs, so on a strictly need basis, this pick makes a ton of sense. Still, reviews were mixed for Eddie Goldman, so I wanted to take a closer look and figure out exactly what the Bears got with this second round pick. Thanks to Draft Breakdown, I was able to watch his games against Florida and Louisville.

I had the following two thoughts after his Florida game:

1. The thing that most worries me about Goldman is that he is SLOW off the ball. Like everybody is moving, and then a beat later, he gets out of his stance. Offensive linemen were on him before he even had a chance to get any momentum going, and it was baffling to see. The ball is usually snapped right under his damn nose, and he was just hanging out in his three point stance, hoping a coach would bring him ice cream (no coach ever did in the games I watched).

2. When he finally got moving, he almost went to just stand straight up instead of plowing forward, so linemen got underneath him. For a nose tackle, I saw a single center or single guard take care of blocking him alone WAY too many times. The number one job of a nose tackle is occupying blockers to help others make plays. If he is getting handled by a single dude, he is really fighting an uphill battle to becoming a valuable asset. He's not going to make a ton of plays, but he has to be good enough to put his teammates in position to make plays.

I seriously thought he may be the worst player in the draft from what I saw in that game. It was shockingly bad. Then I watched his game against Louisville, and he was a completely different player.

He may have still been a hair slow coming off the ball, but it was nothing like the Florida game, and he was still able to get good leverage and power through offensive linemen. He got stood up and blocked easily in the Florida game, but he brought that ass in this game and just powered through Louisville's o-line.

And there was no lollygagging for him. He got after it. This play shows that hustle.

That's not just impressive hustle for a nose tackle, that'd be impressive hustle for a linebacker. He can't quite catch the running back, but he had a little help from his friends.

Watch what he does to the Louisville right guard on this play.
That is simply not fair. Unfair, some might say.

There was a little technique on that last play. You want to just see brute strength from him? Yeah, I can do that.
That center is absolutely helpless there. That's the kind of potential that Goldman brings to the Bears.

After taking everything in, I would say that his ceiling may be even higher than Danny Shelton's. When this guy goes, he GOES, and he looks like an unstoppable force. It's a ton of fun to watch. But this guy could also be released before his rookie contract ends if he is not motivated and shows more of that Florida-Goldman. If the Bears think they can keep him motivated, it should turn into a great pick. A nose tackle's job is take up space, but if Goldman isn't motivated, he'll only be a waste of it.