Thursday, May 31, 2007


Whatever else happens during the rest of the NBA playoffs, I will look back fondly on the San Antonio Spurs 109-84 shellacking of the Utah Jazz last night. It isn't that I'm a big Spurs fan, it's that like many of you, I've come to think of Carlos Boozer as Art Modell's bastard son, and so I've enjoyed Utah's playoff run almost as much as I enjoyed watching the Ravens win the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, all's well that ends well, because after being the big story for most of the playoffs, Boozer managed only nine points last night with the season on the line. That alone would've been enough to make it a nice evening, but what made it perfect was his decision to follow up his mediocre performance by blasting his teammates.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

CAVS get a much needed break

The CAVS gutted it out last night and won 91-87 over the Pistons. LeBron had a very solid game popping in 25 points and forcing Detroit to focus a lot of attention on him wherever he was on the floor, but the real difference was last year's second-round pick, Daniel Gibson. In 35 minutes, he had 2 steals, dropped in 21 points, including a three-pointer, and was perfect from the foul line---a dozen times. As he did in game 3, Gibson hit a few jumpers early in the game, which forced Detroit to guard him around the perimeter. The result was that the paint was a little less congested, which allowed LeBron and Drew Gooden to work there. That's a big part of the reason that Gooden added 19 points to the cause.

The one big negative about the game was that Detroit really beat up the CAVS on the boards. In each of the two games at the Q, Detroit has beaten the CAVS on the offensive boards. That's going to be a disaster if it happens in Detroit. I don't see how the CAVS win any games on the Piston's home court if they don't out rebound them.

The series is now tied 2-2 and will resume in Detroit on Thursday. It's a big game. Actually, it's bigger than that. OK. I'll use a cliche': It's a " must win" game for Cleveland. I don't like the odds of a game 7 against the Pistons in the Palace.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Travis's Triple

Sheldon Ocker of The Akron Beacon-Journal is pretty impressed with the idea that Travis Hafner hit a run scoring triple to help seal the Tribe's 7-4 win over the Tigers yesterday. In fact, Ocker was so wowed by Pronk's hit that he felt a science lesson was in order: "Forecasting the weather on the moon is easier than figuring out when (if) Hafner might deliver a triple, and there is no weather on the moon."

Um...thanks, Sheldon. I'm guessing The Beacon-Journal's sports editor called in sick last night. Anyway, a Travis Hafner triple isn't quite the once in a millenium event that you might think it is after reading Sheldon Ocker's column. He's not ever going to remind anyone of Ichiro on the base path, but Travis has hit nine career triples. Hafner had back-to-back three triple seasons in 2003 and 2004, and has failed to pick up a three base hit in only one major league season (2005).

Checking out Travis's stats peaked my interest, so I did a little digging into the stat book. Not surprisingly, almost all of basball's career triples leaders played during the dead ball era. Hall of Famer Sam Crawford is baseball's all-time leader with 312 triples, followed closely by his Tiger teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, who had 297 three baggers. The only active player to crack the all-time top 100 in triples is Steve Finley, who has 124.

The NL and all-time single season triples record belongs to Chief Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wilson hit an amazing 36 triples in 1912, including a stretch during which he tripled in five consecutive games. The Baseball Almanac has a detailed profile of Wilson's record breaking season here. Sam Crawford shares the AL single season triples record with Shoeless Joe Jackson. Crawford hit 26 triples with the Tigers in 1914, while Jackson hit the same number right here in Cleveland during the 1912 campaign.

Here's everything else you wanted to know about triples but were afraid to ask.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Remember Them

Monday is Memorial Day. I'm going to spare you a soliloquy about the sacrifice that those who have given their lives in service to our country have made. I've seen a lot of cringe inducing Memorial Day tributes over the years from people like me who never got closer to combat than watching Saving Private Ryan, and I see no need to add to that list.

But I do see a need to remember, so that's what I'm going to do -- and because we're about sports here, the people I'm going to single out for remembrance are all Cleveland area athletes.

You may have heard of some of these people, because as you'll see in a minute, Cleveland has several grim distinctions when it comes to professional athletes in wartime service. But there are other names that aren't going to be familiar to you, no matter how big a sports trivia buff you are. These guys didn't play their games in front of 80,000 people and don't have professional sports leagues or college teams building memorials in their honor. Still, the families of every last one of them mentioned their achievements as high school athletes in their obituaries, as have the families of many other soldiers whose obituaries we've all read over the last six years. People who were once athletes want you to be remember that they were athletes, and so that's exactly what I will do.

Eddie Grant was a third baseman who broke into baseball with the Cleveland Indians in 1905. He subsequently played for the Phillies, Reds and Giants, and his career ended in 1913. He was a 35 year-old lawyer when the United States entered World War I, but he nevertheless enlisted. In October 1918, he was killed in the Argonne Forest during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Grant was the only major leaguer killed in battle during the First World War.

Elmer Gedeon was born in Cleveland in 1917. He played football, baseball and track at The University of Michigan and made his major league baseball debut with the Washington Senators in 1939. Gedeon joined the Army Air Corps in the summer before Pearl Harbor. On April 20, 1944, the B-26 Marauder that he was piloting was shot down over France, and he was killed. He was one of only two major league players to die in World War II.

Don Steinbrunner played tackle for the Cleveland Browns in 1953. He left the Browns after his rookie year to fulfill an ROTC commitment. He decided to make the military a career, and in addition to his combat service, was an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy for five years. He was killed on July 20, 1967, when his plane was shot down over Kontun, Vietnam. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and The Purple Heart. He was one of only two professional football players to be killed in Vietnam.

Joseph Tomci played football at Stow-Munroe Falls High School, which he graduated from in 2003. He joined the United States Marine Corps after graduation, and had almost completed his second tour in Iraq when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi on August 2, 2006.

Justin Walsh was a 2001 grad of Cuyahoga Falls High School, where he played football and wrestled. His high school football coach said of him, "you don't remember all of your players, but he was one of those players that you always remember." He was a member of the United States Marine Corps, and he died on October 11, 2006, from injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was defusing another roadside bomb in Al-Anbar province.

Daniel Scherry played wide receiver and defensive back for Rocky River High School. He graduated from Rocky River in 2005 and joined the Marines after he graduated from the Fire Training Academy at Tri-C. He was killed in Al-Anbar province on April 16, 2007.

Norman Lane Tollett played three sports and co-captained the football team at Elyria Catholic High School. He joined the Army in 2005 and became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He was killed in a suicide bombing in Diyala province on April 23, 2007.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them


I don't want to hear about bad calls. The Cavaliers scored a total of 26 points in the second half last night, and that's why they lost. In fact, the Cavs haven't scored more than 35 points in the second half in any of the past four games.

We all knew that the Cavs weren't a great basketball team. What's unfortunate is that while the Pistons have spent the first two games showing the nation that they aren't anything special either, the Cavs are still halfway to losing a series that Detroit is giving them every opportunity to win.

Go ahead and argue about whether or not LeBron should have passed the ball in Game 1, and whine about the refs and their non-calls last night all you want. Personally, I think the buck stops with Mike Brown, who for some reason can't figure out how to get his team to show up after halftime.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Picking Up Where He Left Off

Well, it's nice to see that a new day has dawned for Braylon Edwards and the Cleveland Browns. Just last week, you'll recall, Braylon pledged $1 million to fund scholarships for Cleveland students and promised us the biggest personality makeover since Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Yesterday, we found out that while there's a lot to like about the off the field version of Braylon 2.0, there are still a few bugs that need to be worked out when it comes to realizing his vast potential as a football player. That's because, as everyone with a television, radio, computer or newspaper subscription knows by now, Braylon missed yesterday's voluntary practice session.

This isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, because as The Great Enabler himself, Romeo Crennel, noted in his remarks to the media, this week's camp is "voluntary." On the other hand, nothing The Great Enabler can say is going to alter the impression that Edwards' failure to show up after publicly proclaiming himself to be a changed man means that he hasn't addressed his fundamental problem--a significant lack of maturity.

Unless it turns out that there was some major personal event in his life that made missing yesterday's practice unavoidable, Edwards exercised some pretty piss poor judgment in failing to show up yesterday. The Browns are counting on this guy to be a key component in their offense, but he can't make time for a workout when the team has a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive scheme, and a brand new rookie QB who they'd like to see get some reps with the first team? That's just inexcusable.

Braylon Edwards deserves a lot of credit for the financial support he's provided to needy students in the Cleveland schools, but he's still got some ground to cover when it comes to understanding what being a professional football player is all about. For the Browns' sake, let's hope he figures out that part of the equation fast.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Cavs Slip Past My Defenses

I don't mind admitting that I didn't think the Cavs would pull that game out last night. When the Nets went on their third quarter run, I figured that a humiliating collapse would probably be the legacy of the 2007 Cavs. I pictured the scenario in my mind--blowing a 22 point lead on the road, then returning to Cleveland to lose Game 7 in front of the home town crowd.

If you claim that, at some point during the third quarter, you didn't think the exact same thing was going to happen, then you're either a liar or you haven't been following Cleveland sports for very long. Those of us who've been watching for a while have seen so many big games slip away for improbable--sometimes almost inconceivable--reasons that we've built in some mental defenses to cushion the blow.

One of the biggest of those defenses is to try to identify the exact moment in whatever playoff run you're watching when the Cleveland team is going to "Jump the Shark." Last year, it was the end of Game 6 against the Pistons, when the Cavs came agonizingly close to tipping in the rebound of LeBron's intentionally missed free throw to send the game into overtime. It was all downhill from there.

I thought that I had the moment pegged last night--when LeBron picked up his fourth foul and the cameras panned to the satanic Mikki Moore and his evil grin. After all, that was the start of the run that would finish the Cavs. Hell, I even had our series souvenir picked out. I'm talking about Jason Kidd's bounce pass to Moore. I figured that spectacular pass would become something like The Shot; an unendurable moment that it would be Cleveland fans' destiny to endure endlessly as it was replayed over and over and over again for years.

But it didn't turn out that way. Instead, the Nets got stone cold, and Donyell Marshall and Daniel Gibson got hot. Then LeBron's game, which had been missing in action for two quarters, returned just as suddenly as it departed. Almost before we knew it, a collapse of epic proportions turned into a rout. Incredibly, the Nets fans who were shaking the rafters with 10 minutes left in the game were leaving their seats with three minutes left in the game.

As a result, the Cavs now play for a Conference Championship for the first time since 1992, and only the second time in their history. Hey, things didn't turn out like I thought they would, and like they almost always do. That doesn't mean I'm going to let my playoff disappointment defenses down just yet, but it's sure nice to know they weren't needed last night.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oh Vishnu, Let Me Come Back as Grady Sizemore

I've been reading up on Hinduism lately. It's a fascinating religion in many ways, but after witnessing Grady Sizemore's 3 for 4 performance and two stolen bases last night, I'm particularly interested in the Hindu doctrine of Samsara, which holds out the possibility of moving to a higher plane of existence in my next life if I don't mess this one up too badly.

I'm going to try to be good in this life, because I definitely want to upgrade to Grady Sizemore in the next one. Aside from an inability to hit left handers, it's hard to figure out what this guy doesn't have going for him. Last season, all he did was become the first major league player in 75 years to have 50 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season. While his average is down a bit from the .290 he posted last season as a result of a 4 for 24 slump, Sizemore appears to snapped out of that slump by going 7 for 9 in his last two games, and his OBP is still over .400. He also leads the American League in stolen bases, and hasn't been caught stealing in 14 attempts.

What's even more remarkable about Sizemore's torrid performance this week is that it comes on the heels of his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. As Tribe fans know, appearing on the cover hasn't always been a particularly good omen for Indians' players.

Then, there are the intangibles. Of course, I refer to the fact that women dig Grady. This may not be a big deal to many of you, but to those of us who bear a striking resemblance to Uncle Fester with an underactive thyroid, Grady's popularity with the ladies is something to shoot for in the next life. Of course, women like Brady Quinn too, but if it's all the same to you, I think I'll still try to come back as Sizemore. Why? Well, let's just say I have my reasons.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why I Don't Quit My Day Job

Remember how excited Vinny and I were about Walter Thomas? Thomas, you'll recall, was the 6'4", 375 lbs. junior college nose tackle who was agile enough to turn back flips and was anointed "the draft's biggest sleeper" by The New York Times.

I was so smitten by the big man that I told Vinny that the Browns might have to use a fourth round pick on him. Wrong. Thomas went undrafted, but that wasn't enough to deter me. Nope, I couldn't understand why the Browns wouldn't go after him as a free agent. Finally, the Saints signed him--a shrewd move by a team on the rise, I thought.

Well, it turns out that my own diamond in the rough lasted exactly 12 minutes in an NFL camp. The Saints released Thomas after discovering that he was so out of shape that he had to be assisted from the field shortly after his first mini-camp practice began.

Oops. My bad.

I guess this explains why Phil Savage won't return my calls.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Swept Away

Whew. That was rough. The Tribe was riding high until they went to Californ..., uh Anahe..., I mean Los Angel..., shit, southern California and got their heads knocked in by the Angels.
Over three games, they were outscored 19-4 and suffered a shutout in the second game.

What's it mean? Simple. They didn't hit too well, and the starting pitching, other than Paul Byrd who started the first game, stunk.

Baseball's a game of averages. The Tribe had been spanking everyone, and that kind of winning wasn't likely to continue. So, this isn't a cause for typical Cleveland world is ending anxiety. Just let it go and be ready for the A's.

"They say you are a snuff queen. Honey I don't think that's true. So, why don't we get drunk and screw ."

~~~Jimmy Buffett

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hunter S. Thompson at the Derby

For some reason, Vinny's post about O.J. Simpson's Derby week run-in with a Louisville restaurateur reminded me of something else that I couldn't put my finger on for a couple of days. Then, last night, I remembered-- Hunter S. Thompson ran into his own problems at a Louisville restaurant during Derby week, and he recounted them in his famous Scanlon's Monthly article, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved":

"Look, Ralph," I said. "Let's not kid ourselves. That was a very horrible drawing you gave him. It was the face of a monster. It got on his nerves very badly." I shrugged. "Why in hell do you think we left the restaurant so fast?"

"I thought it was because of the Mace," he said.

"What Mace?" He grinned.

"When you shot it at the headwaiter, don't you remember?"

"Hell, that was nothing," I said. "I missed him...and we were leaving, anyway."

"But it got all over us," he said. "The room was full of that damn gas. Your brother was sneezing was and his wife was crying. My eyes hurt for two hours. I couldn't see to draw when we got back to the motel."

"That's right," I said. "The stuff got on her leg, didn't it?"

"She was angry," he said.

"Yeah...well, okay...Let's just figure we f__ed up about equally on that one," I said. "But from now on let's try to be careful when we're around people I know. You won't sketch them and I won't Mace them. We'll just try to relax and get drunk."

"Right," he said. "We'll go native."

This article remains one of my all-time favorites. According to lore, a booze and drug addled Thompson was up against a deadline and hadn't written his article, so he gathered up various scraps of paper containing notes that he scratched out over the course of Kentucky Derby weekend, and mailed them to his editor. The result is a Gonzo classic, and you can read the whole thing right here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Run, OJ, Run.

That's what the Bills fans would drunkenly scream at the Bills offense in the '70's. Ask the Rhino. He was there.

Apparently, it's what at least one restauranteur said directly to OJ lately. Jeff Ruby, who's made a boatload of dough from his restaurants in Cincinnati, threw The Juice out of his Louisville restaurant the night before the Kentucky Derby. Ruby was fed up with the unrepentant bastard's antics and threw him out. Afterward, the patrons applauded Ruby.

Now, so do I.

Nice job Jeff. I wouldn't want that butcher in my place either.

First Round Linemen

Jesse Lamovsky has a really interesting article this morning on The Cleveland Fan website analyzing the performance of tackles selected as one of the first five picks of the NFL draft. Lamovsky looks at every tackle taken with one of those picks over the past 40 years. The conclusion: the Robert Gallerys and Tony Mandarichs of the world notwithstanding, tackles selected that early generally live up to their expectations.

I think a lot of people believe that you can win by signing free agent linemen and drafting offensive line projects in the later rounds. For the most part, that's the approach that the Browns have taken in recent years. Teams can definitely find value in those late round projects, but when it comes to offensive linemen, the best of the best have generally been first round selections.

The various NFL All-Decade teams provide the best evidence for that statement. If you look at the 1990s All-Decade team, you'll find that all four of the tackles on it were first round picks, as were two of the four guards on the team. Only one lineman, center Mark Stepnoski,was drafted beyond the second round. The same sort of thing is true for the 1980s All-Decade team. Six of the lineman on that team were first round selections, while only three were taken after the second round. Interestingly, even the 1970s All-Decade team had four first round offensive line selections on it, despite the fact that scouting college prospects wasn't anywhere near as sophisticated a process as it is today.

It's easy to fall in love with superstar running backs and quarterbacks, but if you want to win, get yourself some linemen first.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee looked great tonight and performed a rare feat---he pitched a complete game victory. He had a no-no going through five innings and ended up giving up only three hits. It was just what he needed after a long stint on the DL and an okay first start. I watched, and he looked good throughout. The Angels were just fooled all night.

Victor Martinez provided all the firepower the Tribe would need he banged a homer and drove in two. He's really been smokin' the ball with every at bat.

The final was, the good guys 5, the Angels 1.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

By the Numbers

"A team that shoots 52% overall and 57% from three point range is going to beat a team that shoots less than 45% overall and 26% from beyond the arc every time, right?"

I've got a feeling that those are the kind of conversations the New Jersey Nets are having in their locker room right about now. Boy, did the Nets ever blow a golden opportunity tonight, just like they did on Sunday. About the only way the Nets could possibly have lost tonight's game is by doing what they did--grabbing a grand total of three offensive rebounds. The Cavs dominated the offensive glass in Game 1, where they outrebounded the Nets 20 to 9, but that's nothing compared to what happened tonight. Let's face it, grabbing 19 offensive boards to only three for your opponent in a playoff game is just ridiculous.

Read the box score and weep, if you're a Nets fan. Thank your lucky stars if you root for the Cavs.

Tribe Wins!

Yesterday at work, I was able to sneak a few minutes to watch the Tribe play. Happily, I turned on the TV minutes before Travis Hafner hit a grand slam. There's something great about a Hafner homer: the slice of his bat through the zone from the left side ; the frozen moment when Pronk looks up to watch the ball's trajectory; and the small half smile, almost of relief, on the big donkey's face when he lowers his head to start chugging around the bases.

The Tribe pounded the hapless Orioles 10-1. Hafner's grand slam didn't win the game; it just looked damn good leaving the yard.

Fausto Carmona pitched extremely well for the win. He didn't strike out many---only two, but Oriole after Oriole pounded the ball into the dirt. The infield did its job and made the plays. Pitching coaches track groundball outs. The reason is that it's unlikely that a true groundball pitcher will give up many homers. It's too hard for a batter to get enough loft on the ball to carry it out. Carmona got 14 groundball outs. That's impressive, but it doesn't mean that it's time to trade a starting pitcher. As I drove home, I heard callers suggest, that with the emergence of Carmona, now would be a good time to trade CC. That's nuts.

You don't have to look further than the hated Yankees to see why the Indians shouldn't trade CC. The Yankees have the best everyday hitters in the game, but they're losing game after game due to their decimated rotation. Worse, they just agreed to pay Roger Clemens $28 Million to pitch for them. He won't make the whole 28 since it will be pro-rated for the actual time he spends on the big league roster, but he'll still pocket around 20 mil for 10 wins, at the best. That's nice work for Clemens, but it shows utter desperation by the pinstripers.

Tonight, the Tribe plays a late one against the Angels. Cliff Lee will make his second start after being on the DL.


I've been spending a lot of time over the past few years watching lacrosse, and while I still don't understand everything that's going on, I do like what I see. My sons both play lacrosse. (That's my oldest in the gold helmet in the photos on the left and below.) I kind of wish they played this game when I was a kid, because it looks like a lot of fun.

From a player's perspective, lacrosse has several things going for it. First, it's one of the few contact sports where they also give you a weapon--and believe me, the players swing their sticks like they're billy clubs. Second, it's a game that takes years to master, but also one whose fundamentals can be picked up pretty quickly if you're a decent athlete. Finally--and let's not underrate this factor-- the equipment costs a fortune and most teams make you buy most of it yourself, so it satisfies kids' and teenagers' fetish for expensive brand name crap.

The other thing that's kind of fun about lacrosse is that it's the one kids sport I've seen where the parents pretty much leave the refs alone. The rules are so bewildering that people are too puzzled to whine about a referee's call. People run on and off the field for no apparent reason. Whistles are blown for various and sundry obscure infractions known only to the coaches and the officials (in many instances, the players are as clueless about what they did wrong as their parents are). Sometimes kids get thrown into the penalty box for 30 seconds, and sometimes for a minute. Damned if I know why. All of this is made even more bizarre by some strangely familiar aspects of the game. For example, the referees run around dressed up like football officials and even throw yellow flags when they call penalties.

Lacrosse was invented by the Iroquois. Until recent years, the game was dominated by two types of players: rich white kids from elite, east coast prep schools, and native american kids from reservations. In other words, lacrosse's attraction used to be mostly limited to America's wealthiest people, and its poorest. I say "mostly" because lacrosse has always had broad regional appeal along the East Coast. That's why lacrosse's greatest player is neither a rich white kid, nor a poor native american. In fact, it's just possible that you may have even heard of him, because his name was Jim Brown.

As phenomenal a football player as Jim Brown was, he may actually have been better at lacrosse. Lacrosse was his favorite sport, and he was so dominant that he single-handedly changed the rules of the game. Before Brown, players weren't required to keep their sticks in motion while they carried the ball. Brown would apparently grab the ball, tuck it into his chest, and barrel toward the goal, daring the defenders to knock the ball free. I can't imagine trying to stop him when he got going, and apparently, neither could the game's rulemakers. Anyway, Brown was a two-time All American at Syracuse, and is a member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Jim Brown's not the only sports legend in whose career lacrosse featured prominently. According to Wayne Gretzky's father, his son's experience playing lacrosse may have been a key factor in his success as a hockey player.

Perhaps befitting it's upper class pedigree, college lacrosse has been dominated by upper crust institutions whose names don't typically show up in national sports rankings. For example, Johns Hopkins has won eight national championships in lacrosse, and this year, Cornell is ranked number 1 in the nation. Native American teams also remain a force to be reckoned with, and the Iroquois Nationals are even recognized as a distinct national team in international lacrosse competitions.

Lacrosse has exploded in popularity across the country in recent years, and Ohio is no exception. There are even indoor and outdoor pro leagues. But I think there's a limit to lacrosse's upside. First of all, this is a game that seems to be following hockey's model, with players being required to foot the bill for a lot of their own equipment. That's a problem, because like I said before, this stuff costs a fortune. More importantly, however, lacrosse doesn't play well on TV. If you think it's hard to follow a hockey puck, just wait until you try to follow a little white lacrosse ball.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Hole in the Donut

The "Hey, Tony!" feature in this morning's Plain Dealer contains Tony Grossi's speculation on what the Cleveland Browns offensive line will look like next season. Like most people, Grossi projects that the left side will be anchored by Joe Thomas at left tackle and Eric Steinbach at left guard. Hank Fraley's likely to remain the incumbent at center, and if Ryan Tucker returns to the right tackle slot, as most people assume he will, that leaves the right guard position as the proverbial hole in the donut.

Grossi contends that the leading candidates for this position are recent free agent acquisition Seth McKinney and current Brown Isaac Sowells. I guess if Grossi's mentioning Sowells, who spent most of last season on the inactive list, then you can probably throw Fred Matua and Rob Smith into the mix as well.

The Browns drafted Sowells in the 4th round out of Indiana last year, but he only saw action in the final game of the season against the Texans. Smith played his college ball at Tennessee and was signed as an undrafted free agent last year. Like Sowells, he didn't see any action until the Texans game, but apparently made an impression on the coaching staff. The Browns listed him as an "emerging player" in an article on the offensive line that appeared on the team's website last January. Matua was an All-American at USC who probably made a big mistake in deciding to come out a year early. He was drafted by the Lions with their 7th round pick last year, and was released before the season started. He caught on with the Titans' practice squad and was signed by the Browns in October.

The combined NFL experience of Sowells, Smith and Matua consists of a grand total of two games. Assuming that Shaffer isn't in the mix, that makes Seth McKinney a pretty prohibitive favorite to fill the right guard position. Even though he's spent most of his NFL career at center, he's an established player who, if healthy, would likely be a fairly big improvement over Cosey Coleman. The big question mark is McKinney's health. He's coming off not only back surgery, which sidelined him for the entire 2006 season, but leg surgery following an injury that landed him on injured reserve for the last three games of the 2005 season.

What about Kevin Shaffer? According to his agent, it sounds like Shaffer would rather be traded then switch positions. That smells like something that an agent jockeying for a trade would say, but in any event, my guess is that Shaffer's unlikely to go anywhere soon. Why? Because the Browns desperately need him.

It's nice to have a high profile draft pick like Joe Thomas and a big name free agent like Eric Steinbach, but the biggest problem the Browns have had on the O-line over the last eight seasons hasn't been a lack of big name players, it's been a lack of depth. This year, the Browns actually have a shot at having some depth on the line. It's nice to have some young prospects like Matua, Smith and Sowells, but I feel a lot better about this team if some experienced guys like Shaffer and Kelly Butler waiting in the wings when the injury bug inevitably bites.

If history is any guide, it's unlikely that Shaffer's going to be spending significant time on the bench this season, even assuming that he doesn't start at one of the tackle positions. But if he is asked to start out the season on the bench, Shaffer also should remember--because we sure as hell haven't forgotten--that the Browns paid him ridiculously good money to get the rights to him for seven seasons. Kevin, if your feelings are bruised by the Joe Thomas pick, fill an ice pack with some of millions that Randy Lerner parted with for you and put it on your forehead. I bet you'll feel better real soon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

That's More Like It

The Browns now have stories about their undrafted free agent signings (including some highlight videos) on their website. Check them out here and here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Browns Free Agents

If you're looking for information on the Browns free agent signings, check out The Orange and Brown Report, which has done a great job of tracking them down. Here's a link to their free agent list.

The Browns refusal to announce any of these signings on their own site is puzzling. The Orange and Brown Report says that's because the team doesn't announce any free agent signings until after they've passed the club's physical. Hey guys, it's the information age. You've got thousands of obsessive compulsive Browns fans like Vinny and me with Internet access, and home town papers who are only too happy to announce that their local kid has a shot at the big time. The Browns policy means that they are literally the only people not talking about the free agents they've signed.

Other teams have been a little more forthcoming. For example, while they don't have any information up about this year's free agents yet, in years past, the Steelers have been pretty prompt about letting fans know who they've signed in the days following the draft.

This isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is a missed opportunity to reach out to fans at a time when their off-season interest in the team is at its peak. It would also probably draw a little traffic to what is a pretty lame team website. Not that the Browns apparently care about drawing traffic to their site -- I mean, they haven't even bothered to update the site's history section to include regular season results for the last two seasons.

Anyway, only a few of the names on the free agent list are likely to end up making the team or the practice squad, but there's one free agent that everybody in Northeast Ohio is going to be pulling for, and that's Rick Drushal, an offensive lineman from The College of Wooster. Yeah, you read that right--Wooster. Drushal's a three time Division III All-American who, based on his comments in this article, is about as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Z is Playing Out of His Mind

Remember last season's playoff run, when we all wanted to throttle Zydrunas Ilgauskus? Z was missing in action at critical points during the Cavs first round series against the Wizards in 2006. Things didn't improve much during the second round, where Z was consistently inconsistent. He blocked six shots in Cleveland's game five victory against Detroit, but was underwhelming on both ends of the court in several other games, including game seven, where he contributed a whopping eight points and three rebounds.

What a difference a year makes. Ilgauskas started off the Wizards series strong and got better in each game. Z's best offensive performance in last year's series came in game four, when he scored 15 points. His lowest output against the Wizards this time around topped that mark. It's the same story when it comes to rebounding. Z had eight rebounds only once against the Wizards in last year's series. This time around, he never grabbed fewer than 8 rebounds, and capped the series off with last night's spectacular 19 rebound performance.

Of course, Z's not the only Cav who has stepped up during this series. Everybody saw the Drew Gooden show in game two, and Larry Hughes got the Cavs rolling with his 27 point performance in game one. Still, I don't think that there's anything as encouraging in the playoffs as watching your big man get on a roll, and any way you look at it, Zydrunas is on a roll.