Monday, September 29, 2014

Brewers Complete Flameout; Changes Could Come

Amazing end to the baseball season, and I'm not talking about former UW-Stevens Point pitcher Jordan Zimmerman throwing a no-hitter for Washington.

No, I'm talking about the Brewers going from 15 games over .500 on Aug. 26 to a 9-22 finish and a third-place ribbon in the National League Central.

150 days in first place, and not even a Wild Card to show for it.

Ouch.

The Brewers had two meltdowns during the season. The big difference is they found a way to stop the first one. Milwaukee lost six in a row -- all at home -- before the All-Star break, but the Brewers beat St. Louis on the last day before the break, held on to first place in the Central, and actually built on their lead in the first month after the break.

It all went to pot quickly.

Nine straight losses knocked the Crew out of first, and they never regained that spot after losing it.

Just an awful finish.

So everyone has to be fired, right? Well, not so fast.

I'm meh on Ron Roenicke. The skipper has his flaws in terms of game management (I think he's too "by the book" at times, including an overuse of sacrifice bunts and an over-reliance on the bullpen). I don't mind his lineup decisions, for the most part, and I think he did a good job entrusting his veterans while also levying some sort of expectations on them.

(If y'all remember, Ned Yost gave his veterans too much rope and loved that ol' managerial book himself, and Ken Macha was too busy sleeping in the dugout to do much of anything.)

I'm not fully convinced Roenicke will stay, but I'm fully convinced that whatever the hell happened here isn't only the fault of the manager.

That said, he might go, and if he doesn't, heads will roll elsewhere. Owner Mark Attanasio isn't happy, and if the check-signer isn't happy, well you know ...
"You can pick the adjectives -- frustrated, disappointed, catatonic," Attanasio said. "Very disappointed. In fact, I'm disappointed in the team, disappointed in the guys. They're better than this and they didn't show it. ... It started with not hitting.

"We have to identify what went wrong, we have to have a good explanation for how we're fixing it, and if we're not making any changes, we'd better have a damn good reason for why."
Reading between the (very pointed) lines, changes are coming. I have no doubt of that.

I just don't know what those changes will be. Ryan Braun is under contract for the next 500 years. The team has Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza locked up for a few years, and they're likely not tradeable. Gallardo is not an ace -- in fact, none of them are -- but they are solid if not better than that. Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta should finish up the rotation for 2015. The bullpen needs a small amount of work, but it's hard to blame what went down on pitching. Seven of the last 22 losses came in games where the Brewers allowed three or fewer runs.

That's offense. Not enough guys hitting.

Perhaps the Brewers benefit from another year of experience for guys like Scooter Gennett and Khris Davis, but they blew a career year from Jonathan Lucroy because Braun never hit at the level he's paid to hit at, and because the first baseman position was an offensive pit for the team from the start. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay might be nice guys and they're not defensive butchers, but they can't hit.

The Brewers need to solve these offensive issues, shore up the bullpen a bit, and hope that Braun's scheduled thumb surgery gets him back to his All-Star numbers of the past.

If those things don't happen, it doesn't matter what Attanasio does with Roenicke or any of the coaches.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NCHC Preseason Poll and All-Conference Teams Announced

The ramp-up to hockey season continues. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference convened Media Day events in Minneapolis Thursday.

(Y'all don't care, but sorry I couldn't make it, as it's my 15th wedding anniversary, and I'd like to make it to 16 and beyond.)

(And yes, I feel old sometimes.)

Anyway, the league announced the results of its annual preseason polls. Media were asked to pick the order of finish (eight-way tie for first was not an option) and an all-league team. My votes were already published on the blog here.
After finishing second in the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, North Dakota has been tabbed as the favorite to win the NCHC regular-season title in 2014-15 by media, as the conference released the NCHC Preseason Poll Thursday in advance of its Media Day.

North Dakota totaled 181 points from the 25 media members who voted in the poll, including receiving 12 first-place votes, the most of any team. Three different teams received at least one first-place vote with Miami coming in second in the preseason poll with 167 points and nine first-place votes. St. Cloud State, the defending Penrose Cup champions, was selected to finish third, receiving 151 points in the poll, including four first-place votes.

Coming in fourth in the NCHC Preseason Poll was Denver, who finished 2013-14 strong by capturing the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship. The Pioneers collected 117 points, while Minnesota Duluth was right behind in fifth with 112 points. Omaha placed sixth in the poll, compiling 73 points, while Western Michigan was just behind in seventh with 67 points. Rounding out the preseason poll was Colorado College, which finished seventh a season ago and received 32 points from the media.

North Dakota returns 20 letterwinners from a 2013-14 squad that finished 25-14-3 overall, including placing second in the NCHC at 15-9-0 after losing out on the regular-season title to SCSU on the final night of the season. UND advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four a season ago and is primed for another strong run, boasting a roster with 14 NHL draft picks, including junior goaltender Zane McIntyre, who was a unanimous NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team selection.

Miami, who was the NCHC preseason favorite a season ago, struggled in the NCHC’s inaugural season, finishing eighth with a record of 15-20-3 overall and 6-17-1-1 in conference play. But the RedHawks showed promise late in the season, making a run to the Frozen Faceoff championship game before falling to Denver. Miami brings back 19 letterwinners from that team, including NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team selections senior forward Austin Czarnik and junior forward Riley Barber, who finished first and second respectively in the overall NCHC scoring race in 2013-14.

St. Cloud State, the lone other team to receive first-place votes, won the inaugural regular-season title with a record of 15-6-3-0 and finished 22-11-5 overall while reaching the NCAA West Regional Final. The Huskies bring back 21 letterwinners from that team, led by junior forward Jonny Brodzinski, who was selected to the NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team.

NCHC Preseason Poll
1.       North Dakota – 181 points (12 first-place votes)
2.       Miami – 167  (9)
3.       St. Cloud State – 151 (4)
4.       Denver – 117 (0)
5.       Minnesota Duluth – 112 (0)
6.       Omaha – 73 (0)
7.       Western Michigan  - 67 (0)
8.       Colorado College – 32 (0)
Here's the release on the preseason all-NCHC team.
Five NCHC teams are represented on the six-man NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team, led by two from Miami in senior forward Austin Czarnik and junior forward Riley Barber. The lone unanimous selection on the team is North Dakota junior goaltender Zane McIntyre, who was listed on all 25 ballots. Rounding out the group of forwards is St. Cloud State junior forward Jonny Brodzinski, while the defensive pair of Denver senior Joey LaLeggia and Colorado College sophomore Jaccob Slavin complete the team.

Czarnik, who received 23 votes, was a NCHC First-Team All-Conference selection last year after leading the NCHC with both 34 assists and 47 points in 37 games a season ago. Brodzinski, who compiled 19 votes, was named NCHC Honorable Mention in 2013-14 while finishing fourth in the conference with 41 points, including 21 goals. Barber (12 votes) was a NCHC Second-Team All-Conference pick last season while finishing second in the overall scoring race behind his teammate Czarnik with 44 points, including 19 goals.

Anchoring the blue line is LaLeggia (19 votes), who is the lone other returning First-Team All-NCHC selection along with Czarnik. LaLeggia, the reigning NCHC Defenseman of the Year, tied for the NCHC lead among defensemen in 2013-14 with 25 points and had a NCHC-best 12 goals among blueliners on the season. Slavin (13 votes), who was the inaugural NCHC Rookie of the Year, shared the defenseman scoring lead with LaLeggia by also tallying 25 points, including 20 assists – tops among NCHC defensemen.

Completing the Preseason All-NCHC Team is McIntyre, who garnered NCHC Honorable Mention as a sophomore. McIntyre compiled a conference-best 1.99 goals-against average a season ago, while posting a .926 save percentage and went 20-10-3 between the pipes with the 20 wins tying for the league lead.

The NCHC Preseason Poll will be released Thursday in advance of Media Day.

The NCHC’s second season begins with four exhibition games Saturday, Oct. 4 while regular-season play begins Friday, Oct. 10 with seven of the eight teams in action. Conference play opens the following Friday, Oct. 17 as Omaha travels to Western Michigan and North Dakota heads to Colorado College. Watch over 100 games live throughout the season on NCHC.tv.

NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team
F - Austin Czarnik, Miami, Sr. – 23 votes
F – Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State, Jr. – 19 votes
F – Riley Barber, Miami, Jr. – 12 votes
D – Joey LaLeggia, Denver, Sr. – 19 votes
D – Jaccob Slavin, Colorado College, So. – 13 votes
G – Zane McIntyre, North Dakota, Jr. – 25 votes (unanimous)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Great, Now the Packers Stink, Too

Too cheap to buy Sunday Ticket, and too lazy to walk to the nearby (Packer fan-friendly) watering hole, I followed Sunday's Packers-Lions game on the radio and the good ol' internet.

Even that felt like a gigantic waste of time.

No one's seriously considering jumping on another bandwagon here, but there are all sorts of problems with a Packers team that -- while I knew was flawed -- should not be 1-2 for a third straight season.

Not with a schedule that included the putrid Jets and banged-up Lions. This should have been a gimme for Aaron Rodgers and this high-octane offense.

Instead, the Lions' defense outscored the Packers, 9-7.

Green Bay sacked Matthew Stafford twice, strip-sacked him once (hi, Julius Peppers!), and picked him off twice. The Packers were plus-two in take/give.

And lost by 12.

Rodgers just isn't sharp. Now, let's lay this out there. Rodgers not being sharp is still better than 60 percent of the quarterbacks in the NFL.

But he isn't Aaron Rodgers.

The fourth down throw to Jordy Nelson is a good example. Nelson catches a touchdown if it's well-thrown. Instead, he had no chance and the Packers never got the ball back.

Why didn't they get the ball back? Because the defense was gassed. It was too bad, really, because they played their asses off. But Detroit held the ball for over 38 minutes, and the defense couldn't get the two more stops it needed to get because Rodgers was incompetent on this day.

In July, head coach Mike McCarthy spoke of his desire to see the Packers run 75 offensive plays per game.

So far, his cries for pace have fallen way short. Through three games, Green Bay is averaging 59 offensive plays per game, with a high of 68 against the Jets in Week 2. The offense was on the field for 51 plays in Sunday's game, which is only two dozen short of McCarthy's desired number.

To put it all in perspective, the Packers need to average around 80 plays per game over the last 13 games in order to reach a season average of 75 per game.

I'll bet against that.

To make matters worse, McCarthy has appeared dull and unimaginative with his play-calling. Not really any screen passes to the running backs, which seem to be a solid elixir to a pass rush like Detroit's. No formation or route creativity. Remember when they used Randall Cobb as a running back? Where did that go?

(If they're afraid of him getting hurt, it's all the more reason to let him go elsewhere as a free agent.)

And if the quarterback doesn't sharpen up, this could be a rough season for the Packers. I'm not sounding the alarms, but that was a totally winnable game Sunday, and yet Green Bay somehow never led it. Worse, Green Bay never seriously threatened to lead it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NCHC Preseason Prognostications

Welcome to the annual post where I feebly try to predict the order of finish in a college hockey conference, based almost solely on the reputations of the programs involved and the returnees on each team.

Before we begin, let's look at last year's results. Here's what I predicted:

1. Miami
2. North Dakota
3. Western Michigan
4. UMD
5. Denver
6. St. Cloud State
7. Colorado College
8. Nebraska Omaha

Here's how they finished:

1. St. Cloud State
2. North Dakota
3. Nebraska Omaha
4. UMD
4 (tie). Western Michigan
6. Denver
7. Colorado College
8. Miami

Three teams in the correct position, based on tournament seeds (UND, UMD, CC). One other team (Denver) within one spot of correct. But I was so glaringly wrong on St. Cloud State, Miami, and Omaha that I probably should just hand in my credential and let Chris Dilks write this post.

Let's see how I'll be off my rocker this year. After all, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result." And I'm nothing if not insane.

8. Colorado College Tigers

There is some intrigue on this team. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin is in a position to play 30-plus minutes at least some nights, and I really like some of the guys up front, most notably Alex Roos, who could take a huge step this season.

But depth is a question for first-year coach Mike Haviland, and so is goaltending. Josh Thorimbert was inconsistent at best on a bad team last year, and he's gone, leaving the job (in all likelihood) for Tyler Marble, who sat out injured last year.

Haviland takes over for longtime coach Scott Owens, and how the highly-respected veteran NHL coach fits in college hockey will be a storyline this season. And since I'm picking them last, the Tigers will probably win the league or something.

7. Western Michigan Broncos

This is where it starts getting really difficult, and I'm probably going to end up looking like an idiot. There's a lot to like about this Broncos team, most notably big forwards Josh Pitt and Colton Hargrove, along with smooth defenseman Kenney Morrison. However, Andy Murray loses Chase Balisy and Shane Berschbach up front, and their speed, skill, and leadership will be difficult to replace. Murray deployed both players in all situations last year, and they were effective.

Kyle Novak needs to take a big step at forward, and Morrison will be counted on for a lot of minutes with trusted veterans Dennis Brown and Jordan Oesterle both gone.

Lukas Hafner and Frank Slubowski compete for time in goal, where WMU should continue to be rock-solid. I'm just not sure Murray can find enough goals to get this team in the top four.

6. Denver Pioneers

There might not be a more important player in the league than DU defenseman Joey LaLeggia. He moves the puck, he protects his own zone, and he's a huge key to everything the Pioneers want to do in 2014-15. His presence is of added significance with the loss of David Makowski on the blue line. Yeah, Jim Montgomery can also send sophomore Will Butcher over the boards, but LaLeggia is the straw that stirs this drink.

The Pioneers have talent up front with guys like Ty Loney and Quentin Shore, but it's in goal where the big question mark lies. Who takes over for the departed Sam Brittain? That player will have huge shoes to fill come October.

5. Nebraska Omaha Mavericks

Yes, UNO loses Josh Archibald, Ryan Walters, and Brock Montpetit. Yeah, Nick Seeler is a late-summer departure Dean Blais can't recruit a replacement for. No, the goaltending situation doesn't really look like it's that much better.

Just look at those freshmen. Luc Snuggerud joins from Eden Prairie and will play a lot on the blue line. Blais added Duluth's Jake Randolph and Grand Rapids Mr. Hockey winner Avery Peterson up front, along with Tyler Vesel. Lots of high-end skill there, and no reason this team can't score goals.

Don't forget: Jake Guentzel and Dominic Zombo are both back, too. If Ryan Massa can grab the starting job and hold on to it, UNO is one of the most interesting teams in the nation.

4. UMD Bulldogs

No one wants to put all the pressure on a freshman, but UMD's fortunes this year will almost certainly be tied to freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo. The former Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL) star is the likely starter at a position UMD has seen two years of struggles at. After five straight years of team save percentage of .900 or higher (as high as .920), the Bulldogs have slipped to .896 each of the last two winters. Last year, UMD would have allowed 15 fewer goals if that team save percentage would have matched the Bulldogs' opponents (.911). Considering UMD scored and allowed 104 goals last year, cutting 15 from the goals allowed total would have made a huge difference.

Can Kaskisuo do that? We don't know. But UMD should score more, as almost every key offensive contributor returns sans Caleb Herbert, who left early to sign with Washington. Joe Basaraba has gone pro after an 18-point senior season.

3. North Dakota

Yes, UND loses the criminally underrated Rocco Grimaldi, who left early to turn pro. Yes, North Dakota no longer has Dillon Simpson, one of the top defensemen in the country.

It doesn't matter.

Defensemen Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue return. Forwards Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks are back, and so is goalie Zane McIntyre (formerly Gothberg), a 20-game winner if you're a Neanderthal and think "wins" matter when it comes to judging the quality of a goalie.

Oh, and the recruiting class includes stud forwards Nick Schmaltz and Austin Poganski.

North Dakota's going to be good. Probably really good.

2. St. Cloud State Huskies

After winning the league last season, Bob Motzko's Huskies will be a favorite again in 2014-15. They should be, too. SCSU needs to replace goalie Ryan Faragher, but the Huskies return forwards like Jonny Brodzinski and Kalle Kossila, along with star defenseman Andrew Prochno, who is one of the best in the country at his position.

Charlie Lindgren is favored to get the bulk of the work in goal. He made a handful of appearances last year and acquitted himself very well.

(The freshman class includes former Duluth Marshall Hilltopper Judd Peterson, by the way.)

SCSU has depth, snarl, and a lot of skill. This team will be a force again this season.

1. Miami Redhawks

Yeah, that whole "definition of insanity" bit. I know.

Rico Blasi's crew had a Murphy's Law type of season. Between injuries and surprisingly leaky goaltending, just about everything that could go wrong did for MU last year.

Don't bank on it happening again. Miami's run to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game is just the start for this program. Nearly everyone is back, led by the dynamic Austin Czarnik and thumping forward Blake Coleman. The same suspects are back in goal, so MU is relying on improvement from Jay Williams and Ryan McKay. But if Miami stays healthy, Blasi has a much deeper and better-skilled team than last year.

I know "worst to first" seems like a stretch in such a strong league, but the Redhawks are going to be a contender this winter.

Preseason All-NCHC Team
Forwards
Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Tony Cameranesi, UMD
Jake Guentzel, Nebraska Omaha
Defensemen
Joey LaLeggia, Denver
Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State
Goalie
Zane McIntyre, North Dakota

All-Rookie Team
Forwards
Karson Kuhlman, UMD
Avery Peterson, Nebraska Omaha
Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota
Defensemen
Louie Belpedio, Miami
Luc Snuggerud, Nebraska Omaha
Goalie
Kasimir Kaskisuo, UMD

Preseason Player of the Year: Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Preseason Rookie of the Year: Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vikings Reverse Course Again, Ban Adrian Peterson

Here is the Vikings' statement on Adrian Peterson, released early Wednesday morning (around 12:45, to be more precise):
This has been an ongoing and deliberate process since last Friday’s news. In conversations with the NFL over the last two days, the Vikings advised the League of the team’s decision to revisit the situation regarding Adrian Peterson. In response, the League informed the team of the option to place Adrian on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, which will require that Adrian remain away from all team activities while allowing him to take care of his personal situation until the legal proceedings are resolved. After giving the situation additional thought, we have decided this is the appropriate course of action for the organization and for Adrian.

We are always focused on trying to make the right decision as an organization. We embrace our role - and the responsibilities that go with it – as a leader in the community, as a business partner and as an organization that can build bridges with our fans and positively impact this great region. We appreciate and value the input we have received from our fans, our partners and the community.

While we were trying to make a balanced decision yesterday, after further reflection we have concluded that this resolution is best for the Vikings and for Adrian. We want to be clear: we have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right. At the same time we want to express our support for Adrian and acknowledge his seven-plus years of outstanding commitment to this organization and this community. Adrian emphasized his desire to avoid further distraction to his teammates and coaches while focusing on his current situation; this resolution accomplishes these objectives as well.

We will support Adrian during this legal and personal process, but we firmly believe and realize this is the right decision. We hope that all of our fans can respect the process that we have gone through to reach this final decision. – Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf
Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts.
  • I can't believe it took this long.
  • The local business impact isn't huge on the Vikings bottom line (most NFL money comes from national revenue sharing), but the situation wasn't going to get better, and everyone in the organization had to know that. It was smart of the team to do the right thing, and better late than never, but did I mention I can't believe it took this long?
  • If I were Adrian Peterson, I'd be instructing my legal representation to craft a plea deal as soon as possible. Suddenly, there's very real motivation for Peterson to get this resolved as soon as possible. Yes, the NFL will probably suspend Peterson once the case is resolved, but he can't concern himself with that. If he allows this case to go to trial, he will have missed 15 games as a result of the Friday indictment. If there is a conviction, there's no guarantee the NFL will just allow him to be reinstated with time served. If he cuts a deal next week as he should, he doesn't miss more than half the 2014 season, and it should be less than that. He'd then be eligible to play for his new team since the Vikings will obviously cut him after the season at the onset of the 2015 season.
  • Or maybe Adrian sees that writing on the wall and wants to take a break so he's fresh for 2015 with the Cowboys. Or whoever. Who knows?
  • Oh, and I can't believe it took this long. How did the Wilfs get so rich? They clearly aren't very smart, at least when it comes to public relations.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

UMD Depth Chart 2014-15

I know. I usually post this in July.

1) I was incredibly busy with real work. 2) I don't have a clue how this is going to turn out.

But I owe it a shot. So here goes.

As usual, these lines and all are nothing more than my opinion. I'll throw in some comments after each position group, as always.

FORWARDS
Kyle Osterberg - Tony Cameranesi - Justin Crandall
Austin Farley - Cal Decowski - Karson Kuhlman
Alex Iafallo - Dominic Toninato - Adam Krause
Charlie Sampair - Jared Thomas - Brett Boehm
Blake Young - Austyn Young - Sammy Spurrell

I opted to keep Cameranesi and Toninato with the linemates they finished last season with, but there are arguments for switching a few guys. Krause is probably the extra pivot, a guy who can play in the middle if there's an injury or someone isn't effective. Thomas is a guy who could move to the wing to make room for Krause if the coaches want to start with more experience down the middle.

Farley could re-crack the top line if he can get back to the production we saw in his freshman year. I know Cameranesi's numbers tailed off, too, but if you watched this team, you'd know he was a very effective player who didn't seem to have any luck around the net. It's not like he wasn't in the right places or doing the right things. If he's healthy, he could conceivably double his point total from last year (21).

Decowski continues, I believe, his steady ascent from "part-time guy" as a freshman. I thought he had a very good season last year, getting a shot to fill in on the second line (Caleb Herbert's line) when Farley was out injured. He's a very smart player who is still developing his offensive skills. There's absolutely more to come from him.

While I concede that the Toninato line is more than a typical "shut down third line," they're really good in that role. There's more this group can do offensively, too. If Krause moves to center, Boehm could be a fit to help in that area. Iafallo is going to be a beast at this level. Probably could argue he already is.

Kuhlman and Boehm should put pressure on the veterans for "top six" roles. As a whole, this forward group is as deep as it's been in some time. You have at least nine or ten guys who could easily argue for top six minutes, including the two aforementioned freshmen.

(There are a lot of interesting combinations, including Sampair - Decowski - Crandall and Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman. I'd also like to see Iafallo with Cameranesi at some point, maybe with a guy like Kuhlman on the right side. Whatever combos we see in the exhibition and against the Gophers at the Ice Breaker could completely change by the time we see the Gophers again in November, even if everyone stays healthy and the team is playing well. Scott Sandelin likes the term "work in progress" early in the season, and it'll be just that as the coaches try to find what clicks the best.)

DEFENSEMEN
Carson Soucy - Andy Welinski
Derik Johnson - Willie Raskob
Willie Corrin - Brendan Kotyk
Nick McCormack - Dan Molenaar

Again, I decided to keep the top pair together from a year ago. It just makes sense. I thought they developed a good chemistry, and I like how their styles mesh on the ice. As Soucy becomes more confident and more responsible, it should help Welinski's offensive contributions.

Kotyk is the wild card. He isn't what you picture from a Division III transfer. Eligible to practice last year, he stepped right onto the ice and showed he belonged at this level from the start. A giant at six-foot-six, Kotyk is a good skater for how big he is, and let's face it: This isn't the biggest defensive corps in college hockey. That size could be a huge asset with this group.

Raskob should make a bigger impact offensively this season, and the coaches know Johnson will block any shot he can get to and defend any teammate at any time. Molenaar finished last season healthy and I thought he played well, especially considering how much time he had missed over the last couple years. He's smart as heck with the puck and will challenge for playing time.

GOALIES
Kasimir Kaskisuo - Matt McNeely - Alex Fons

I don't know how this will play out, but I believe Kaskisuo -- who was one of the better goalies in all of junior hockey last season -- will start the opener against the Gophers. That doesn't lock him in for the season by any means, but I don't think he was brought in so he could warm the bench while someone else plays. McNeely has every physical tool in the bag, and though he obviously had his struggles last year, he will be a huge factor if he puts everything together. Fons has played in three games -- starting one -- in two years at UMD. He isn't likely to play much, but his experience and attitude make him a great asset in this group.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Packers Offer More Questions Than Answers

Well, that was three hours of my life that I'll never get back.

Could have spent quality time with the family. Instead, settled in front of the TV to watch the Packers do, well, that.

I'm left with more questions than answers out of a 36-16 loss to Seattle. Surely, many Packer fans are, too. The difference? I'll actually ask them.

You had six months to prepare for this, and the game plan was to cut the field in half offensively?

I'm not saying Aaron Rodgers should have thrown at Richard Sherman all night. That's preposterous, but so is not even looking at him most of the time. Rodgers is one of the best. No single defensive player should be allowed to have such an impact on the game by simply stepping on the field. Rodgers and head coach/principal play caller Mike McCarthy allowed the Seahawks to turn this into a ten-man game. Didn't even throw up an attempt to make it 11-on-11.

Surely, no team will look at this and think the Packers had a good idea.

McCarthy said this week he had some unscouted looks he was excited to see. What/Where were they?

Seattle looked a step ahead of the Packers in all facets of the game. If McCarthy rolled out any of these unscouted looks, the Seahawks were on to it.

McCarthy also wanted to run 75 plays per game. Only came up 18 short Thursday. Why such a slow pace?

Don't fret. Rodgers said the pace was slowed because Seattle has a great defense. So apparently the Packers only want to play with pace when they play a bad defense.

When will the Packers employ an offensive line that actually blocks people?

It's been a few years now, and this team is still soft up front on both sides of the ball (more on that in a bit). Watch replays of run plays from Thursday night. When Seattle ran the ball, the Seahawks' line moved the point of attack back at least a yard almost every time. When Green Bay ran the ball, the point of attack was usually in the backfield before the running back of choice had a chance to do anything with the football. Eddie Lacy earned each of the 34 yards he ran for, because he had little help up front.

Why is it okay for Rodgers to dress down the only lineman who was playing well when he wasn't playing well himself?

Rodgers wasn't sharp. Left a few plays on the field and led an offense that played scared all night until the game was in hand for the opponent. So when he had to burn the team's final timeout of the first half because rookie center Corey Linsley didn't snap the ball when he wanted, he yelled at the kid.

Keep in mind that Linsley was about the only member of the offensive line who was pulling his weight, and he was doing so as a rookie pressed into starting duty by -- you guessed it -- an injury.

When a Packers beat writer -- Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin -- indicated he didn't like the look of Rodgers doing that, people yelled at him. Of course they did. Rodgers is untouchable, what with that impressive 0-6 record against San Francisco and Seattle since the start of the 2012 season and a 7-11 record as an underdog.

Clean your own house, QB1, and quit making yourself look like an ass on the field. It's unbecoming of you.

Will this team ever out-physical a quality opponent again?

I'm starting to wonder about this regime. Ted Thompson has done some great things, but as recently as last January, he bristled at the mere suggestion his team was soft.

Unfortunately, given a myriad of chances to show it isn't soft Thursday, the Packers failed to do so every time. I drank the Kool-Aid on this offensive line, hyped as one of the best McCarthy has seen here. But it's the same crew with the same problems. They get pushed around by good teams, and all that does is set the table for overall failure.

The 1978 Buffalo Bills allowed 3,228 yards rushing. That's the single-season record. Works out to just over 201 yards per game. Seattle hit for 207 Thursday, and the Packers haven't tried to tackle Adrian Peterson yet. The run defense showed zero improvement off last year, when it was miserable.

Not a good start at all.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bruce Irvin 'Going to Pray' for Corey Linsley

In case you're wondering, Packers fans, they do have the internet in Seattle.

And the Super Bowl champion Seahawks use the internet. They read things, and they can comprehend what they read.

How do I know? Because they're fully aware the Packers plan to start a rookie center Thursday night in the NFL season opener at CenturyLink Field.
"I'm going to pray for him," (linebacker Bruce) Irvin said Tuesday of Linsley, a fifth-round draft pick out of Ohio State. "It's going to be a long night, man. We've got to just take advantage of it."

... "All the weaknesses that (Linsley) shows us, we've got to expose it," Irvin said. "Hopefully, 'Bane (nose tackle Brandon Mebane) going to do what I know he's going to do to him. So, we've just got to be ready."
Prayers? How nice of Irvin.

Listen: I'm sure some will look at this as bulletin-board material. But it's only bulletin-board material if the Packers win. For that to happen, it'll take more than Linsley having a great game.

For now, it's the champ saying what the champ wants to say. Winning has its privileges. Seattle won it all last year, and now its players have free reign to do the Diamond Dallas Page self high-five bit.

Of course, in the NFL, success can be quite fleeting, even for teams that appear to be built for long-term winning. I just don't see Seattle being one of those teams that goes away.

(And if they do, it won't be quietly. The Seahawks don't do anything quietly.)

I have no issue with Irvin's comments, even if they were a bit eyeroll-inducing. The Packers -- and only the Packers -- can shut him and his teammates up. Just don't bet on that happening. 


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Red Zone Radio Network Launches

My apologies for not being around much this summer. This project has been a great learning experience for me, along with being quite time-consuming. It has taken me away from blogging time, though it thankfully hasn't affected family time. No offense, but they're more important. :)

Check out our company's press release, and if you're in one of these areas, we invite you to check out Red Zone Sports Radio.

I'll be around soon with UMD hockey-related content. Our 100 day season countdown is underway on Twitter (follow me @bruceciskie if you aren't already), with a UMD hockey fact every day until the Oct. 9 lid-lifter against Minnesota.
Red Rock Radio Corporation is proud to launch the Red Zone Sports Radio Network.
Starting Monday, August 4, 2014, Red Zone will be comprised of six radio stations within the Red Rock Radio Corporation group, and will blanket northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Red Zone is designed to deliver comprehensive sports coverage to all six stations.

Red Zone’s properties include existing sports stations KQDS-AM 1490 (“The Fan”), based in Duluth, as well as KRBT-AM 1340 (“The Fan”), which is run out of Eveleth, MN. They will continue to air programming from The Fan Radio Network, which is run out of KFXN-FM 100.3 in the Twin Cities.
Joining the network for its initial launch on August 4th are KKIN-AM 930 (Aitkin, MN), WCMP-AM 1350 (Pine City, MN), WHSM-AM 910 (Hayward, WI), and WXCE-AM 1260 (Amery, WI). These four stations will primarily air programming from NBC Sports Radio.

Shawn Skramstad, President of Red Rock Radio, says, “We have been looking for ways to use the power of the group and the various assets of our stations to help build something together that individually would be difficult. The Red Zone Sports Radio Network is a good example of this new strategy.”

“Red Zone represents a new brand for sports programming in the region,” Red Zone Sports Director Bruce Ciskie said. “These stations will continue to cover local sports in their markets while giving listeners comprehensive coverage of the sports news and issues that interest them.”

Ciskie will provide daily sports updates on network stations. Red Zone will include comprehensive local sports coverage, outdoor programming, and bring listeners the latest weather information.

Red Zone Sports Radio Network can be found on the internet at http://www.radioredzone.com.

For more information on this announcement, contact Karina Bite, Promotions Manager, Red Rock Radio Corporation: 218-728-9500.

Red Rock Radio Corporation operates 25 radio stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ray Rice Punishment Misses the Mark

I could sit here and list off all the NFL suspensions over the years that help make this punishment look completely non-sensical.

After all, Terrelle Pryor got five games for getting some free tattoos. While in college.

You don't need to know anything more than that.

I could just post Keith Olbermann's epic takedown of the NFL from Thursday night. But I only need to mention a few words. The last ones.

While noting that NFL Network's Chris Rose -- a rock-solid broadcaster, to be fair -- had the audacity to talk about Rice's suspension while coining the term "the iron fist of the NFL," Olbermann had this to say:

"Right now, the iron fist of the NFL has just been used ... against Ray Rice's wife ... and against every woman in America."

Many people love NFL football. Hell, I watch every weekend. There are countless web sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, and other media dedicated to covering the NFL and living the NFL. The league has made a lot of people -- and not just those directly participating as owners, players, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, or whatever else -- a ton of money.

The NFL's success is largely related to its marketing. They're always trying to grow the league, instead of being content with what they already have. In this world, you're either growing or dying. There is no third direction.

(That's from "Tommy Boy," and it's still completely valid some 20 years later.)

That marketing has stretched to females. The NFL has smartly recognized that women around the world have become huge football fans. They might not be fans for any reason besides the fact their significant other is a huge fan, and they've turned football Sundays into a huge part of their relationship, but they're fans.

(Don't misread that. There's a slew of females out there who are football fans without any coercion from the opposite sex. No matter how they've become fans, they matter to the NFL, as they should.)

That means you can coax them into spending their money on the league, and many of them do just that.

Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't treat all women well.

Look what they just did to Janay Palmer-Rice.

The Ray Rice suspension should bother you as a human being. It isn't a tacit endorsement of the behavior caught in that video, where Ray Rice callously drags his unconscious (then) fiancee out of an Atlantic City elevator. He's not dragging her out of the elevator because he's concerned and wants to get her medical attention. He's not dragging her out of the elevator in a panic because he thinks something is wrong. Instead, his actions appear calm and, yes, callous.

Janay Palmer didn't pass out. Ray Rice knocked her out. And he got a two-game suspension for it.

And then Ravens coach John Harbaugh had the utter nerve Thursday to talk about how kids can learn from Rice's actions and the subsequent punishment.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just part of the process. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence. I think that’s good for kids to understand it works that way. That’s how it works, that’s how it should be.”
Ray Rice might be the nicest guy on Earth. But that should not -- hell, can not -- matter when levying a punishment for something as severe as this.

And I don't want my 12-year-old son learning from any part of what has happened here. This is where the NFL's past punishments become more than just a valid argument. They become downright scary.

I'm not pro-marijuana, but I'd much rather my son smoked marijuana during the NFL offseason than knocked another human being -- worse yet, his significant other -- out cold before dragging that person's lifeless body out of an elevator with no regard for safety or well-being. And the NFL has just sent the message that it would rather you did the opposite.

Justin Blackmon -- who unquestionably needs help before he could ever even consider a comeback -- might never play football again. Ray Rice will be back on the field in Week 3.

It's the wrong message, and it's one I'd like to think the NFL is smart enough to get right. It's failed in this case.

It failed not just women around the world, but it failed its players, even Ray Rice.