Saturday, August 31, 2013

22 Packers Get Cut

Its been a long morning of cuts and releases. The Packers have until 5:00PM CT to get roster to 53. Here is what has been confirmed so far:

QB Vince Young
CB Loyce Means
FB Jonathan Amosa
S David Fulton
S Chaz Powell
OL Garth Gerhart
WR Charles Johnson (signed to practice squad)
WR Tyrone Walker
OLB Donte Savage
OG/C Patrick Lewis (claimed by Cleveland Browns)
WR Myles White (signed to practice squad)
TE DJ Williams (claimed by Jacksonville Jaguars)
OT Andrew Datko
OT Kevin Hughes
TE Jake Stoneburner (signed to practice squad)
RB Alex Green (claimed by New York Jets)
TE Matthew Mulligan
CB James Nixon (signed to practice squad)
OLB Dezman Moses (claimed by Kansas City Chiefs)
CB Brandon Smith
LB Terrell Manning (claimed by San Diego Chargers)
DT Jordan Miller

Note: A few of these names will clear waivers and will be placed on the Practice Squad.

Not too many surprises to be honest. Vince Young had a horrible camp with the Packers and showed no improvement. I expect the Packers to go out and trade for a back up quarterback (someone like David Carr, Colt McCoy, or Matt Flynn) or sign someone who was cut today (Greg McElvoy, Mark Sanchez, Jimmy Clausen), or possibly a decent free agent (Scott Tolzien). Note: STAY AWAY FROM TEBOW.

Update: QB Scott Tolzien was signed to the practice squad.

Running back Alex Green was a little bit of a surprise. Starks and Green are both so injury prone no one really knows their full potential. However, with a gun to my head I'd pick Green over Starks. But, with this release I'd venture to say Joe McKnight had a very good workout with the Packers and expect him to be signed now Green has been cut.

Lineback Dezman Moses will be surprising to some. He had 4 sacks last year and didn't have too good of a camp. Toe injury is to blame, but that's how things are sometimes. It's great news for Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba, who now seem to have secured spots on the 53 man roster.

As for the tight ends, I expect Jake Stoneburner to be on our practice squad if he clears waivers. As for DJ Williams, I expect him to be claimed, possibly to the Dolphins. Mulligan, who at one point looked to be a fantastic free agent signing, got injured and plans fell through for him to be the number one blocking tight end.

Stay tuned for the last 3 releases, which are all expected to be big(ger) names.

LB Terrell Manning, and DT Jordan Miller, and CB Brandon Smith were the last to get cut. No surprise there. Terrell Manning was bad last year and didn't show much this preseason. 
Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Grood, The Bland, and The Fugly - An NFL Preview (AFC edition)

The 2013 NFL season is a scant two weeks away, and I have yet to dispense my likely inaccurate opinions of the teams that reside within. Thus, it is time for me to dispense said opinions, whether the internet needs (or wants) them. I considered a power rankings of sorts (which I might do during the season), while also considering doing an in-depth preview. But those things are boring and lame-o. Or more accurately, everyone else does them and does them better. So I've come up with something new, a three-tiered system of ranking teams I like to call The Grood, The Bland, and the Fugly.

Your humble author
While the name of this article may look (to some) like the incoherent results of Rocky Dennis slamming his face on a keyboard, I think it makes perfect sense. I've organized the 32 NFL teams in three separate categories; Grood (a combination of great and good), Bland (mediocre, uninteresting, or not quite good enough), and Fugly (unwatchable tire fire). The categorization of the teams is based solely on my opinion, and I will have no shame in running away from that opinion when a team I think is good starts 0-7 and fires everyone. I'm also grading these teams in a vacuum; I think the Cowboys are good, but I could easily see them finishing fourth in the NFC East because all the teams in that division might be good. 

Also I have a weakness for red-headed quarterbacks, because I am a ginger as well. So that might come up later. Anyway, let's take a look at the AFC.

The Fugly

Jacksonville Jaguars
In 2012 the Jags had the distinction of finishing tied with the Chiefs for the worst record in football at 2-14. Sadly, unlike the Chiefs, they lost out on the first overall pick in the draft, still suck, and even worse, no one knows who plays on their team. I'm serious. I could walk up to any random NFL fan and ask them what team Paul Posluszny or Justin Blackmon play for and the response would be "I don't know, one of Florida?" I actually had to look up who their first-round pick was (Luke Joeckel), because I was under the impression that players drafted by them just cease to exist. 

As for their 2014 fortunes, I expect them to be bad again. Surprisingly, I don't hate Blaine Gabbert, and I think he might turn out to not be the worst quarterback in football. I like Maurice-Jones Drew and Cecil Shorts. Tyson Alualu is a good player. They could easily double their win total, but my calculator app says that they would still only win four games. Also, their owner has a mustache. 

Oakland Raiders
I want so many things for the Raiders. I want Sebastian Janikowski to attempt and make an 80-yard game-winning field goal. I want to see Matt Flynn succeed. I want Darren McFadden to recapture his 2010 glory while simultaneously avoiding crutches. I want to see the corpse of Al Davis propped up on the sidelines again. I want to see a crazy Raiders fan run onto the field and attempt to stab Phillip Rivers (I said ATTEMPT). I want to see those great uniforms in a Super Bowl again. 

But I won't get what I want, because the Raiders are bad and God doesn't like them. 

San Diego Chargers
Speaking of Phillip Rivers and stabbing, we get to watch him throw to no one in particular with that weird javelin-style toss for yet another season. Rivers has been bad for two seasons now, but I suspect that has less to do with Rivers and more to do with the Chargers' front office trying to assemble the worst team possible. I think people assume the Chargers will be good every year because they have the best uniforms ever and seem to play a lot of night games. But this team is awful. I'm convinced that Rivers will hit free agency someday perceived as damaged goods and then have a late career renaissance with another team solely because of the titanic difference in talent. I dare you to look at San Diego's roster and try to find a good skill-position player. Their roster is chock full of scrubs that I wouldn't have taken late in my Madden franchise drafts five years ago.

Tennessee Titans
I came so very close to putting the Titans into the Bland category, because I have this weird feeling they'll be kinda okay. I have no real reason as to why I feel that way. In fact, they were completely awful in every facet of the game.
They were blown out a lot last year, didn't do much in the way of addressing their defense, and Jake Locker is their quarterback. On the plus side, they play in a fairly mediocre division and have some nice pieces on offense. So they could easily steal a couple extra wins and somehow finish with a 7-9 or 8-8 record, all while fooling people into thinking they aren't that bad. But they're bad. Just not Jets bad. 

New York Jets

The Bland

Buffalo Bills
I find this team incredibly interesting, which belies the category they're in. I don't think they'll be good, at least not yet. But I think they're spunky, and they should have some really exciting moments. They're probably a team whose games I'll keep switching to on Sunday Ticket. They have great backfield depth (CJ SPILLER), an athletic young quarterback (EJ MANUEL), a great defensive line (NAMES OF DUDES), good special teams (TOUCHDOWNZ), and an excellent safety in Jarius Byrd (PAID). They also don't have much overall depth, play in the same division as the New England Patriots, and also happen to be the Bills (despite their best intentions). As such, their 2013 ceiling is probably limited. But the future is bright, I think.

Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are a quality organization with a storied history and a sexual predator at quarterback. They are one of those teams that seem to be good every year, but it turns out that last year they weren't very good. I don't think they'll be good this year either. The defense is thin and aging, the offensive line is an issue (again), the running game is nondescript, and Ben Roethlisberger has few weapons to throw to. Throw in the fact that they're in a tough division and it adds up to an unappealing season. Big Ben is still good enough to steer them towards vague playoff contention, but even if he can stay healthy all year I don't buy the Steelers as much more that a .500 team. Yawn.

Miami Dolphins 
I want the Dolphins to be good, but I don't think they're quite there. Most of this is tied to the fact that Mike Wallace is on the team, and I hate Mike Wallace. Not personally, I just hate him as a player and as an effigy of my failures as a fantasy football player. I do like Ryan Tannehill quite a bit and I like what they got going defensively, but unless Lamar Miller and Brian Hartline start voraciously ripping apart opposing defenses, I can't imagine them overtaking the Patriots in the AFC East. Like the Steelers, I can see them hanging around on the periphery of the playoff race, but I think the hype is a year too early. Also, NEW UNIFORMS.
Indianapolis Colts
The 2012 edition of the Bad Team That Won A Lot of Games, the Colts decided to follow up their surprising playoff run by signing a bunch of awful players to stupid contracts. Mediocre offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus hits the market? SIGN HIM UP. Can't sign your punter? FRANCHISE TAG. Erik Walden puts up one of the single most embarrassing playoff performances for a defensive player ever? FOUR YEAR DEAL. Need stability at running back? AHMAD BRADSHAW. Despite GM Ryan Grigson's best efforts, the Colts will still be decent because Andrew Luck is awesome. In fact, they might still finish with an excellent record because that offense should be really good and the schedule looks easy. But that defense is going to be awful, and I don't think they'll be so lucky (pun unavoidable) in close games again. 

Cleveland Browns
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden
I think the Browns will be kinda good this season, and I have nothing to base this opinion on. The defense should be solid, and the offense consists of some nice parts, but they're in a tough-ish division and they're still a football team that plays in Cleveland. I like Brandon Weeden, mostly because he's a redhead but also because he has a rocket arm and was the NFL's first 43-year old rookie (citation needed). He had a bad rookie season but now has a competent offensive coordinator in Norv Turner. Trent Richardson is good, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron have plenty of potential, Joe Haden and Phil Taylor are Pro-Bowl-level defenders that you've probably never heard of. Their overall depth and lack of experience will keep them from competing for the division, but I could see a sneaky 8-8 finish.

Baltimore Ravens
They won the Super Bowl and everything, and that's cool, but the truth is the Ravens aren't all that great of a football team. Don't take that the wrong way; they are a quality organization with an excellent coaching staff that played exceptionally well in the playoffs. They earned their Super Bowl victory. But over the larger sample of the regular season they were middle-of-the-pack offensively and defensively and didn't improve much in the offseason (if at all). For an annual playoff contender, they don't really have a whole lot of elite players (Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, Marshal Yanda), but on the other hand they don't really have that many bad players. Cillian Murphy Joe Flacco is a decent (and now overpaid) quarterback who vacillates between good and bad games with no real rhyme or reason, but is probably good enough to keep the offense from completely tanking in the wake of the Anquan Boldin (trade) and Dennis Pitta (injury) losses. The defense will probably be ordinary again. They could finish 7-9 or 12-4 and it wouldn't surprise me.

The Grood

Kansas City Chiefs
As much as I like their improvements, I don't want to buy into all the hype that's surrounding the Chiefs. I get the feeling that they are the team everyone expects to improve and yet doesn't improve. But someone in the AFC has to be good, and Kansas City certainly has the talent. The problem is a lot of the talent was their last year and the team sucked. Of course they get enormous improvement at quarterback (Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn to Alex Smith) and an even bigger improvement at head coach (Romeo Crennel to Andy Reid), and their division is awful outside of the Broncos. If the defense plays to their talent level, they could accidentally get a #4 seed. Good work, rest of AFC.

New England Patriots

Few teams have had as bad an offseason as the Pats, and yet they could still easily go 12-4 and lock up their division around Thanksgiving. You can thank the decreased power level of the AFC for that, but the Pats themselves deserve a lot of credit for how they build their team. Not many teams could lose two elite pass-catchers and see a third get injured and still be competitive, but the Patriots have been through this kind of thing before. Even with a bunch of rookies and short white guys running around and trying to catch passes, the offense should still be excellent with a deep backfield, solid offensive line, and Tom Brady throwing the ball. The defense and special teams aren't great but generally make enough plays to keep them from embarrassing themselves.

Houston Texans
The Texans remind me of a couple recent (sort of) Super Bowl winners, the 2000 Ravens and the 2002 Buccaneers. Passable offense, smothering defense. Matt Schaub is probably a better quarterback than either Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, Andre Johnson is certainly better than any receiver that played on either the Ravens or Bucs, and the Texans' special teams aren't as good as the Ravens' was, but there seems to be a similar formula at play here. It hasn't translated all that well in the playoffs for the Texans, but if the AFC scuffles as I expect it to, this is as good a chance as any for Houston. Other than that lazy analysis, I have nothing else to add about this team. All that I ask is that they play someone other than the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

Denver Broncos
Blah blah blah, Peyton Manning, a zillion receivers and running backs, Von Miller's suspension, rabble rabble rabble. The defense might be a little ugly but whatever. They're winning double-digit games.

Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton
I've been to Cincinnati once. I was a kid and my dad took us there on a business trip. I remember almost nothing about the trip itself (we drove all the way from Minnesota to Ohio) or what we did in Cincinnati (a zoo?), save one thing; the chili. Cincinnati is famous for their absolutely awful chili. It's sweet (but not in a good way) and a little watery, and they dump it on top of spaghetti noodles or innocent, unsuspecting hot dogs. They put cheese on it, which is an unfortunate waste of cheese. Sometimes there were crackers. We ate it multiple times at multiple restaurants, and every time it was disgusting. It has a bizarre secondary flavor that I cannot describe and I haven't experienced it in anything else. For some reason my mom tried making it a few times and it's probably why I was a rebellious teenager.

I don't eat much chili since it gives me heartburn, but I don't mind it if it's homemade or really good. Cincinnati Chili is not good. Cincinnati Chili is awful. Don't ever eat it.

Tune in next week for the NFC preview.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jerry Eldred (@jheldred) 

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013 Wisconsin Badgers Football Preview

It’s been eight long months since the last week Badger football game week. Thankfully the wait is over. Through the season I’ll be previewing/reviewing Badger games. To start things off, a full season preview is in order (and also because UMass is a 45 point underdog and doesn't warrant a full blown preview). The three time defending Big Ten Champions have plenty of talent to contend, but with a new coaching staff and a few question marks on both sides of the ball there is a lot left to learn about the 2013 Badger squad.

Offense Preview

Let’s start with what we know. The Badgers will run the football. A lot. They will also be extremely
White and Gordon look to continue running through defenses
successful at it. Led by James White and Melvin Gordon the Badgers have the best running back tandem in the conference and one of the top in the country, a quick review of the Big Ten Title game of last year will squash doubts of that. The offensive line will be slightly revamped needing to replace stalwarts Travis Frederick and Ricky Wagner, but at Wisconsin you don’t rebuild the offensive line, you reload. Another strength of this squad is at TE. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig declared there are 4 starting caliber tight ends on the roster in Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak, Brock DeCicco and Sam Arneson. I expect all will be used in various formations and game situations. With all that talent, the tight ends will be counted on heavily in the passing game to take some pressure off of wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. No one should expect the offense to suddenly transform into the aerial assault of the Greatest Show on Turf. But an offense like the one in 2010 led by ultra-efficient Scott Tolzien when the Badgers averaged 200 yards passing and rushing per game is very possible.
And now for that which remains to be seen. The biggest unknown entering fall camp was who would emerge as the starting QB. Head coach Gary Andersen has been adamant the official starter will be known on the first offensive snap against UMass. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips have separated from Tanner McEvoy for now and were listed as co-starters on the depth chart released Monday. Whoever takes the first snap this Saturday, I expect both will see action and the first two games will effectively be used an extension of the fall camp competition. Wide receiver is another position where someone has to develop opposite Abbrederis. The receiving corps is mostly intact from last year with the addition of freshman Rob Wheelright and redshirt freshman Alex Ericson. Both Wheelright and Ericson have worked into the rotation along with Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe. As noted previously, the depth at tight end might limit the opportunities in multiple receiver formations unless someone provides a more consistent option. Also keep an eye on Tanner McEvoy. Surpassed in the QB battle, McEvoy athletic ability is intriguing enough to warrant considering as a receiver in the red zone or other situational packages.

StarsRB - James White, RB - Melvin Gordon,  WR - Jared Abbrederis, TE - Jacob Pedersen

Players to Watch: RB - Corey Clement, WR - Alex Ericson, WR - Rob Wheelright

*Obligatory mention that although no offensive lineman were noted here, they are all stars and their efforts are not forgotten.

Defensive Preview

New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda loves to pressure opposing teams. In previous stops at Utah State and Hawaii he has lead defenses ranked near the top of NCAA in sacks and sack percentage. The switch in philosophy from 4-3 to 3-4 fits the Badgers personnel nicely. The defensive line anchored by Beau Allen will need to eat up space and blockers for the stable of outside pass rushers. Starting with Chris Borland, the Badgers have several linebackers capable of rushing the passer. But more importantly, Aranda’s defensive philosophy will allow for more aggressive, attacking defense. Expect a lot more plays like this one from Chris Borland last year against Nebraska.(actually you probably won’t see many like that – it was ridiculous). The front seven is deep, experienced and will be the strength of defense. 

In order for the blitz to be effective though, the secondary will need to adjust to more press man coverage and overall physical play. This could be a tall task for a group that will replace three of four starters from last season. The inexperience in the secondary could be partially negated simply through lack of opponent passing proficiency. Below are the 2013 Badger opponents and their offensive ranks in rushing and passing yards last year. Only Indiana ranked in the top 35 in the country in passing yards per game. The Badgers do not have a NFL passing caliber QB on the docket this year (sorry OSU fans Braxton Miller is not feared due to his arm). As inexperienced as the secondary may be entering the season, they may not be tested very often, especially if the blitz happy Aranda can terrorize quarterbacks as expected.

: LB - Chris Borland, DL - Beau Allen, S - Dez Southward, LB - Chris Borland (worth two mentions)

Players to Watch: CB - Sojourn Shelton, CB - Peniel Jean, LB - Brendan Kelly, LB - Vince Biegel

Coaching Staff Preview

Gary Andersen has done an outstanding job so far in taking over the program. From blasting music
Gary Andersen with classic visor look
throughout practice to introducing the ‘big brother’ program matching upperclassmen with first year players, seemingly every decision has been a hit with players and fans. For me one of the biggest things was involving Tanner McEvoy at wide receiver after he fell behind in the quarterback race. Finding a spot on the field for the most talented players is something most coaches preach in theory but rarely practice. Andersen quickly won over players through his genuine demeanor, often calling players out of the blue to check in on their lives. At practice Andersen sometimes participates in drills(he was a center when he played) and organizes impromptu dance offs
"That stuff is fun for the kids," Andersen said. "I think it brings energy and excitement. You get out there for recruiting, if I am a player, I want to have fun playing football." Obviously his ultimate test will be results on the field during fall Saturdays, but signs point to continued football success for the Badgers under Andersen.

Season Preview and Predictions

2013 Schedule
8/31 UMass 
9/7 Tennessee Tech 
9/14 at Arizona State 
9/21 Purdue 
9/28 at Ohio State 

10/12 Northwestern 
10/19 at Illinois 
10/26 OPEN DATE 

11/2 at Iowa 
11/9 BYU 
11/16 Indiana 
11/23 at Minnesota 
11/30 Penn State

Gary Andersen and staff arrive in Madison amid unusual circumstances for the program. On one hand, the Badgers have been to three straight Rose Bowls, return 15 starters but are considered a distance second to Ohio State in the Leaders Division  Additionally, the 2013 schedule sets up nicely without a super challenging non-conference slate while avoiding Michigan, Michigan St. and Nebraska within the conference. Expectations are high in Madison and anything less than a 9-3 record will be and should be considered a disappointment. The season effectively boils down to the September 28 showdown against Ohio State in Columbus. If the Badgers can win that game they will be in the driver’s seat for the division and will end up in another BCS bowl game. However I see the Badgers bowing out to the Buckeyes and dropping one other unexpected game on the road, most likely at Iowa where they have traditionally struggled. Badgers also cannot overlook Arizona State. Opening with UMass and Tennessee Tech will not be much of a challenge, playing in Tempe at night will be the first test of the season. The verdict for this team is 10-2 and another New Year’s Day Bowl game.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson (@olewr7)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Friday, August 23, 2013

5 Things to Look for in Tonight's Packers Game

It’s almost time for the regular season baby!  This will be the last time you should see Aaron Rodgers in the pre-season.  So here are a few things to look for in the game tonight!

1. How about a first team offense touchdown?

The first team offense has yet to score a touchdown.  Don’t get me wrong, they have been moving the ball well.  I love the early use of Finley (however he is losing sleeper status in fantasy, which I had him pegged for) and Lacy is looking great so far.  Also, with Cobb and Nelson sitting out, it is somewhat understandable why the first team hasn’t hit pay dirt just yet.  Tonight is the night my friends!  I am hoping that the first team offense plays the whole first half, and I am looking for a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.  Put it on the board! 

2. The kicking competition

Oh, Mason.  I thought you had it.  I really thought you had, but you were just playing with me, weren’t you.  After the St. Louis game, Mason Crosby had just about been penciled in as the starting kicker.  Then Mason missed 3 straight kicks in practice from very makeable distances.  This is where we stand, Crosby has the leg, but apparently no longer possesses the mental make up to kick in the NFL.  Tavecchio seems to be much more accurate, but if he is the kicker, the Packers are sacrificing some distance on kicks.  Honestly, I hope Crosby gets it together, however when you are hoping for something in professional sports, that is never a good sign.  I would not be surprised if the Packers 2013 kicker is not yet on the roster.

3. The progression of David Bakhtiari

This is probably something we are going to have to watch the entire season.  Bakhtiari has had highs and lows in the first two preseason games.  It will be interesting to see how he fairs against the tough Seattle defense.  This is a big test for the rookie.  As long as Rodgers is getting rid of the ball relatively quickly, he should be just fine.  I am still not comfortable with the 4th round pick as the starting LT, but with each game that passes and Rodgers is still upright, my confidence grows.

4. Cornerback competition

The beauty of this competition is the Green Bay Packers have five quality cornerbacks!  Tramon Williams really needs to earn his starting spot, especially with Sam Shields, Davon House and Micah Hyde playing so well.  Let’s not forget about last year’s star, Casey Hayward.  He is coming off a severe hamstring injury and is listed as the #4 cornerback right now.  That number does not even include Williams!  Hayward has to earn his playing time back, which I am very confident he will do.  Tonight, I am looking for some good CB play to see if anyone will separate themselves from the rest of the group. 

5. Repeat performance from Eddie Lacy

Lacy’s first real action has Packers fans buzzing.  However, DuJuan Harris is still listed as the started.  Against St. Louis, Lacy looked great with eight rushes for 40 yards and one reception for 11 yards.  He made great cuts behind some sub standard blocking and even used the spin move he made famous at Alabama.  I want to see all of this and more again.  The better Lacy plays, the more effective the offense will continue to be.  The threat of the play action being real??  That should have defensive coordinators shaking in the headsets.  Lacy is the key.  As long as he continues to play well, the Packers offense is going to be just fine.

Enjoy tonight’s game, have a few cocktails and try to remember this is still the preseason!  Let’s score some touchdowns, avoid injuries and get a little payback for the Fail Mary.  Go Pack Go!

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Stephen Perhach (@Stevie2Westside)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @SMahon2Go, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dissecting Ryan Braun's Statement

As an independent sports writer, it is very crucial to have your ducks in a row when it comes to what you report. It's also important to trust the words that come out of someone's mouth before you use them as facts. I've learned that the hard way a few times. So, when put into a position like many fans were in February 2012, we either had to believe the star of the Milwaukee Brewers after winning his appeal or we had to totally throw the arbitrator's decision out the window and not believe our face of the franchise and reigning MVP winner. You see? The only acceptable option at the time was to believe Braun. Because if we didn't, many would question things like dedication to the team, city, etc. Now, I know I can believe what I want regardless of popular decision, but as a writer it puts us in a tricky situation.

Well, we all should have taken the latter.

We stuck our necks out for Ryan Braun for a year and a half and it all turned out to be a lie. Ryan Braun's press conference was as phony as a three dollar bill.

Before I jump into depicting this statement apart, let me shed light on a few things.

  • Even if Ryan Braun's statement was a live press conference, he would still be accused of orchestrating it. Either way, he's in a bad situation. Media would destroy him either way.
  • This statement from him is about 950 words long, but it doesn't say much. There are a few key points I will touch on.

Ryan Braun's statement:
Now that the initial MLB investigation is over, I want to apologize for my actions and provide a more specific account of what I did and why I deserved to be suspended.  I have no one to blame but myself. I know that over the last year and a half I made some serious mistakes, both in the information I failed to share during my arbitration hearing and the comments I made to the press afterwards. 
I have disappointed the people closest to me – the ones who fought for me because they truly believed me all along. I kept the truth from everyone.  For a long time, I was in denial and convinced myself that I had not done anything wrong. 
It is important that people understand that I did not share details of what happened with anyone until recently. My family, my teammates, the Brewers organization, my friends, agents, and advisors had no knowledge of these facts, and no one should be blamed but me. Those who put their necks out for me have been embarrassed by my behavior. I don’t have the words to express how sorry I am for that.

I'll make my first remarks here. It's truly striking that Braun didn't tell anyone the truth from the get-go. Which raises the question: Who did he talk to when consulting about what PEDs to take and how much? Anthony Bosch is somebody. So he knew. But then again if you tell one person, sooner or later everyone will know. The only way to protect his lie is to not tell a soul. And obviously, Bosch wasn't going to spill the beans. Moving on.

Here is what happened.  During the latter part of the 2011 season, I was dealing with a nagging injury and I turned to products for a short period of time that I shouldn’t have used. The products were a cream and a lozenge which I was told could help expedite my rehabilitation.  It was a huge mistake for which I am deeply ashamed and I compounded the situation by not admitting my mistakes immediately.

Here's something interesting. As many suspected, he claims he took the PEDs to help nurse his calf injury during the 2011 season. What Braun doesn't mention is previous points of use, most specifically the alleged use at the University of Miami as well as turning up on documents from Biogenesis from March and April of 2012. Ryan Braun would be foolish to not tell the full truth after everything that has happened. He'd be even more foolish to lie about anything in this statement. I really can't give an educated opinion on either because I didn't see what Braun did at Miami and I can't confirm or deny Braun actually used Bosch as a consultant during his arbitration process. But, as the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Hoping he isn't holding anything back that will turn up later.

I deeply regret many of the things I said at the press conference after the arbitrator’s decision in February 2012. At that time, I still didn’t want to believe that I had used a banned substance. I think a combination of feeling self righteous and having a lot of unjustified anger led me to react the way I did. I felt wronged and attacked, but looking back now, I was the one who was wrong.  I am beyond embarrassed that I said what I thought I needed to say to defend my clouded vision of reality.  I am just starting the process of trying to understand why I responded the way I did, which I continue to regret. There is no excuse for any of this. 

For too long during this process, I convinced myself that I had not done anything wrong. After my interview with MLB in late June of this year, I came to the realization that it was time to come to grips with the truth. I was never presented with baseball’s evidence against me, but I didn’t need to be, because I knew what I had done.  I realized the magnitude of my poor decisions and finally focused on dealing with the realities of-and the punishment for-my actions.

This is by far the strangest part of his statement. I find it very hard to believe that he just magically realized what he had done was wrong and decided to accept the suspension without MLB presenting evidence to him. I don't see any other way other than MLB sitting Braun down, giving him a power point presentation on everything they had against him, Braun coming to the realization there was no way out, and knew he had to accept the suspension.

I requested a second meeting with Baseball to acknowledge my violation of the drug policy and to engage in discussions about appropriate punishment for my actions. By coming forward when I did and waiving my right to appeal any sanctions that were going to be imposed, I knew I was making the correct decision and taking the first step in the right direction. It was important to me to begin my suspension immediately to minimize the burden on everyone I had so negatively affected- my teammates, the entire Brewers organization, the fans and all of MLB. There has been plenty of rumor and speculation about my situation, and I am aware that my admission may result in additional attacks and accusations from others. 

It's unfortunate it took Braun this long to "know he was making the correct decision". Also, little jab at media with "plenty of rumor and speculation" comment? Maybe.

I love the great game of baseball and I am very sorry for any damage done to the game. I have privately expressed my apologies to Commissioner Selig and Rob Manfred of MLB and to Michael Weiner and his staff at the Players’ Association. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received from them. I sincerely apologize to everybody involved in the arbitration process, including the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr. I feel terrible that I put my teammates in a position where they were asked some very difficult and uncomfortable questions. One of my primary goals is to make amends with them.

I'm not sure how much "support" Braun has from Selig, but whatever. And, even though Braun took PEDs and his test was positive, Dino still didn't do his job right. It doesn't matter how much more wrong Ryan Braun was lying, Laurenzi still didn't follow protocol when handling the specimen.

I understand it’s a blessing and a tremendous honor to play this game at the Major League level. I also understand the intensity of the disappointment from teammates, fans, and other players.  When it comes to both my actions and my words, I made some very serious mistakes and I can only ask for the forgiveness of everyone I let down.  I will never make the same errors again and  I intend to share the lessons I learned with others so they don’t repeat my mistakes. Moving forward, I want to be part of the solution and no longer part of the problem.

If this is truly how he feels, then I do believe he is taking a step in the right direction. I suggested this in an article last week as one of the things he could do to start making amends.

I support baseball’s Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program and the importance of cleaning up the game.  What I did goes against everything I have always valued- achieving through hard work and dedication, and being honest both on and off the field.  I also understand that I will now have to work very, very hard to begin to earn back people’s trust and support. I am dedicated to making amends and to earning back the trust of my teammates, the fans, the entire Brewers’ organization, my sponsors, advisors and from MLB. I am hopeful that I can earn back the trust from those who I have disappointed and those who are willing to give me the opportunity.  I am deeply sorry for my actions, and I apologize to everyone who has been adversely affected by them.

Overall I think he said everything that he needed to say. I know a lot of people are disappointed that he didn't say everything they wanted him to say. I believe him. Like I said before, he'd be insane to lie again. And, if he truly only took performance enhancing drugs in the 2011 season to help heal an injury and for no other reason, then what's to say he's no different than Andy Pettitte, Everth Cabrera and Nelson Cruz? Pettitte denied it just like Braun, but then admitted it when he couldn't lie anymore.

This isn't the one and only time Braun will talk about this in the future I'm sure. We will all find out more as time goes on. But, there wasn't anything that Braun could have said in his statement that would have garnered him one-hundred percent forgiveness. Not even remotely close.

His decisions were extremely poor. But, if what he claims is true, he was basically trying his hardest to win the Brewers a World Series. Although it was selfish, he essentially did it to help the team. Sometimes you can care too much and it can get the best of you.

It did for Ryan Braun.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @SMahon2Go, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Predicting the Brewers 2014 Pitching Staff

Since I can no longer bear to think about the sad state of affairs that the Brewers are in this season, looking ahead to 2014 sounded like a better option. I feel a little bit better about the Brewers pitching options for next season than I did before the 2013 season started, but the pitching in the farm system is still weak (especially compared to some of the farm systems that the rest of the teams in our division have). Here is how I think the pitching staff will look like to start the 2014 MLB season.

Starting rotation

Kyle Lohse – Lohse has easily been the Brewers best and most consistent starting pitcher this season. He has a 9-8 record with a 3.22 ERA in 159.1 innings pitched. He has walked 32 batters while striking out 105, and has a WHIP of 1.15. He has been worth his salary this season, but hasn’t been enough to push the Brewers into playoff contention like Brewers personnel thought he would be able to do when signing Lohse in March. It’s possible that the Brewers could trade him at or before the 2014 trade deadline if he is able to keep performing like he has this year. But, as it stands right now, he’s probably going to be the club’s 2014 opening day starter.

Yovani Gallardo – Gallardo struggled early this season, then strung together a couple of good starts, and then went back to struggling before landing on the disabled list with a hamstring injury while pitching against the Cubs (he must hate Wrigley Field). If the Brewers are going to have any chance at competing in the near future, they are going to need Gallardo to pitch like he did in 2011 and 2012. Like Lohse, there is a possibility that the Brewers could end up trading Gallardo, but I think a Yovani trade is far less likely than a Lohse trade. But who knows, the Brewers have surprised me before.

Wily Peralta – I’m going to be completely honest here; I have absolutely no idea what to expect out of Peralta next year. He’s been such a hit or miss pitcher this season that I am never quite sure what to think about him. It seems like he either has the ability to lose it early in a game and not be able to recover, or he stays out there for 8 innings and is virtually unhittable; there’s not much in-between with him. For the most part, he’s been great the second half of the season, having thrown 2 complete games for the Brewers this year (although one was against the Mariners, so does that really count?). Hopefully we can see some more consistency out of him next season, and he’ll be able to pitch well right away instead of waiting until the summer months to get on a roll.

Marco Estrada – I don’t think Estrada will last in the starting rotation much past mid-May or early-June, simply because I think we’ll see the Brewers give Jimmy Nelson or perhaps Ariel Pena a shot at the rotation (or maybe even Thornburg. Maybe). I like Estrada a lot more as a long reliever, but the Brewers seem to want to keep him in the starting rotation (he WAS our 2-starter going into spring training this season), so it will be interesting to see what happens with him next year.

Johnny Hellweg – I predict that the Brewers will give Hellweg a shot over the other young starting pitchers that they have mainly because he already has some major league experience. It probably depends on who gets called up this September and how they are able to perform, but I still think Hellweg is the frontrunner. He did struggle in his short time in the majors this year, and that’s putting it nicely. However, some of his struggles can be attributed to his defense forgetting what it means to field a ball or throw it to first base. This season in Triple-A Nashville, he’s been doing very well, he just needs to be able to get his walks under control. He has the ability to throw in the upper 90s and at the very least could probably do well out of the bullpen, so he’s a good option for the Brewers to have.


Tyler Thornburg – Thornburg thrived in the bullpen the first time he came up this season, but was almost equally as effective as a starter. However, now that the Brewers have elected to keep Tom Gorzelanny in the starting rotation, it almost seems like they are giving up on him as a starter and think that he might be more useful in the bullpen. He may get a few more chances to start in September, but I get the feeling that the Brewers have already decided his fate (in the bullpen).

Jim Henderson – Aside from the few appearances right after he came back from a hamstring injury, he’s been completely lights out. Barring an injury or a total and complete colossal collapse (like the Cubs in the month of October), I think he already has the 2014 closer’s role locked up.

Brandon Kintzler – Kintzler has been the most consistent Brewers reliever this season, and has been the best option to bring in during the late innings in close ballgames. He’s a solid 8th inning option, but has shown that he can be used at just about any time in any situation and get the job done.

Rob Wooten – Wooten made his major league debut on July 27th against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. He pitched a scoreless inning, and has outstanding numbers during his short time in the major leagues. So far, he has a 1-0 record with a 0.69 ERA, surrendering only eight hits and one run in 14 innings pitched. He has 9 strikeouts and has issued just 2 walks, giving him a WHIP of 0.77. It’s a small sample size, but if he can continue to pitch well, there’s no doubt that he will be back next year.

Tom Gorzelanny – Unless the Brewers decide to sign a left handed reliever this off-season (hopefully they don’t waste the money), Gorzelanny is probably going to be the only left handed pitcher that the Brewers will have next season. Chris Narveson is really the only other lefty option that they have, but he has been struggling in Nashville as of late, and I don’t think he’s going to end up making the ballclub next year – at least not right away. I don’t think the Brewers would go with a bullpen comprised of all right handed pitchers, so Gorzelanny is a good fit for the pen. He’s done a decent job while starting this season (except against the Cardinals, but that seems to be a trend amongst all of the Brewers players), but ultimately he’s probably more useful out of the bullpen.

Burke Badenhop
– Badenhop’s 2013 season started out kind of rough, but he’s been much better since the month of May. He can be used in multiple situations throughout a game, and Roenicke often brings Badenhop into a game when the team could use a double play. 2014 is his last year for arbitration eligibility, and the Brewers could probably get him back at a reasonable price for the season.

John Axford – I really think that it’s in the club’s best interests to just part ways with Axford, but I don’t think they are going to do it. He still has arbitration years through the 2016 season, so they will probably bring him back hoping that he can once again “figure it out.” If he does pitch well, they can always trade him if they aren’t contending. He’s making $5MM this season, so that’s probably about what he could get in arbitration again this off-season.

All of these roster spots are pure guesses on my part, and obviously a lot of things could happen during the rest of this season and the off-season that can factor into who the Brewers decide to put on their roster. I can only hope that they don’t go out and throw another 3 year contract at another veteran starting pitcher (we don’t want you, Bronson Arroyo) because they think they’re “one player away” from making a playoff run again. Also, please, please, please don’t bring back Mike Gonzalez. I’m begging you.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Kristin Zenz (@10iskristin)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @SMahon2Go, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ryan Braun to Speak Monday

Tuesday August 20th: Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki have both come out and confirmed that they had never either received calls from Ryan Braun nor have they heard him suggest that Dino Laurenzi Jr. is anti-Semite or a biased Cubs fan.

In other words, ESPN jumps the gun yet again. And, Jeff Passan and his "four sources" are still a morons.

If you want a really good inside look at what a defamation case is, read this article over on the Ron Roenicke Stole My Baseball blog. 

Monday August 19th: According to sources of Buster Olney and others, Ryan Braun called veteran players (Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, and Troy Tulowitzki) privately at that time of his appeal for their support. Braun told other players that in the preparation for his appeal, information had surfaced about the collector of his urine sample, Dino Laurenzi Jr., that he was a Cubs fan. He tried to imply that Dino might work against him, who played for a division rival of the Chicago Cubs.

Ryan Braun, who is Jewish, also told these select players that he had been told the collector was an anti-Semite.

The sources indicate that when Ryan made his pleas for support to the players, he did so in anticipation of the probability that he would lose his appeal and be suspended. Instead, Braun became the first player to win an appeal.

Braun is set to speak soon, even as early as today.

Friday August 16th: Bob Nightengale of USA Today is reporting, along with ESPN, that Ryan Braun will speak publicly on Monday for the first time since being given his 65-game suspension. He will admit to PED use and why he did it, admit to his lies in 2011, admit guilt, and will apologize to Bud Selig, the sample collector Dino Laurenzi Jr., the Milwaukee Brewers organization, the players, and to the thousands of fans like you and I.

I've stayed rather quiet about all of this Braun stuff since the suspension was handed out. I'm not sure why, but I think it has to do with the fact that my level of disappointment was so high that I honestly couldn't even put my thoughts into word on the keyboard. But, with the light seemingly at the end of the tunnel with Ryan Braun being set to speak, I think it's time to finally write about. 

If there is one shining light in all of this, it's that Braun is taking a different path than Alex Rodriguez, who continues to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole.

Now granted, if he wouldn't have taken the PEDs in the first place, he wouldn't be in this predicament. But that's neither here nor there. The deed is done There's nothing he can do now but ask for forgiveness.

But, how believable will he be? What should we believe? What will we believe? I know a lot of people, in their own right, won't believe anything he says and will have the "too little, too late" reaction. And that's fine and expected. But here's how I think Braun should handle himself to get himself on the right track again. Braun has a long road ahead of him as he will be playing baseball for a very long time after this is all over.

First of all, as odd as this may sound, he needs to make the truth sound even more believable than the lies he told in Spring Training 2011. He needs to get into detail. He needs to touch on the who, what, where, when, and why. It needs to be the full truth as well. Pre-2011 use, if there was. He needs to address the Ralph Sasson lawsuit. He needs to address every single thing that is surrounding him in this situation.

He then needs to apologize. I'm not going to go over the list of everyone he needs to say sorry to. We all know who it is. He's going to be sincere about these apologies. But it will need to be because he did wrong and not because he got caught. He's already started to call teammates and coaches (Jonathan Lucroy and Ron Roenicke) as well as major league officials to personally apologize. Most importantly, he needs to directly apologize to Doug Melvin, Mark Attanasio, his parents, his teammates and the fans. For me personally, I could care less about who else he apologizes to after that. Aaron Rodgers isn't important. That's a personal issue that can be addressed elsewhere. I'm sure he'll apologize to Bud Selig and Dino Laurenzi Jr., which I understand.

After the apologies are handed out, Braun could really take a step in the right direction by doing something that I don't think many expect to happen. I think it would be wise from Braun to close everything after the apologies and say "What can I do to fix this?". If that means public speaking regarding drugs, attending charity events, etc., so be it. Returning the MVP award from 2011, do it. Whatever it takes. He's got to start somewhere. But, just like his apology, his actions have to be sincere and not because he was caught. If he truly wants to go in the other direction than Alex Rodriguez, this is what he needs to do.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @SMahon2Go, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.

Impact Freshmen for the Wisconsin Badgers

For any new coaching staff taking over a college program, one of the biggest challenges is securing commitments for their first recruiting class. Gary Andersen had the benefit of inheriting the start of an already quality class and did a phenomenal job of keeping most of those players on board during the transition to new coaches and new schemes.  The Badgers also have return players with starting experience at all but five positions. For a program like Wisconsin that recruits and develops players having a strong returning core is crucial. It means the opportunity for freshman playing time is hard to come by. The following are the five (ok six) players that have the best chance of getting on the field and contributing this year.

5 – Alec James (Brookfield East) – OLB and Chikwe Obasih (Brookfield Central ) - DE

It is fitting these players tied for the fifth spot. They are similar in size (James is 6’4” 230 pounds, Obasih 6’3” 240 pounds) and both played high school football in Brookfield . James and Obasih will fit in nicely with new defensive coordinators Dave Aranda 3-4 scheme. Last year at Utah State, Aranda’s defense was 11th in the country in sack percentage and 6th in sacks per game. Clearly Aranda loves to pressure opposing quarterbacks and to do that he needs pass rushers. Although the defensive line is deep with upper classman, none of them have experience in the new scheme which levels the playing field for the incoming freshman. James and Obasih will need to show they can get after the quarterback and playing time will come in sub packages as Aranda finds the right blend of aggressive pass rushers.

4 – Leon Jacobs (Golden Valley High School – Santa Clarita, CA) – OLB

Jacobs is part of Andersen and staff’s new recruiting formula targeting players out west which has traditionally not been an area Wisconsin has focused. Jacobs is a raw football prospect and flew under the radar by national recruiting publications mostly because he has only been playing organized football for two years. He spent most of high school playing basketball and winning a slam dunk competition (2010 National Prep Classic) as a sophomore. DC Aranda has already noted Jacobs flash plays during the first week of practice and along with Alec James is working interchangeably at both outside linebacker spots. His versatility in picking up both LB spots along with his athleticism means Jacobs will see the field sooner rather than later.

3 – Rob Wheelwright (Walnut Ridge High School – Columbus, OH) – WR

The Badgers spent all of last season looking for a compliment in the passing game to Jared Abbrederis. Unfortunately no one has been able to consistently provide that threat. Enter Rob Wheelwright. At 6’2” 198 pounds, Wheelwright has the size and physical capability to play right away. His brother Ernie played wide receiver for Minnesota  and his grandfather was a running back for the New Orleans Saints. With the size and genetics to be a big time player for the Badgers, Rob has to show  consistency in his route running. He has been impressing teammates during summer workouts getting mentions by James White and Tanner McEvoy as someone who stood out. Granted, the coaching staff is unlikely to rely heavily on Wheelwright this season, but he should find himself on the field in multiple receiver sets.

2 – Sojourn Shelton (Plantation High School – Fort Lauderdale, FL) – CB

Shelton enrolled early at Madison and was able to participate in spring practices. Shelton took full advantage of the opportunity in a defensive backfield looking to replace two starters from last season and was one of the more impressive corners on the field during the spring game. He has great footwork and anticipation for a young player and jumped a couple of routes getting his hands on two or three balls. Though he is slight at 5’9” 172 pounds, he also showed a willingness to come up and tackle and did not shy away from contact. Time will tell whether Shelton can withstand the physicality of the Big Ten but he has already added ten pounds since arriving in January. Shelton also brings some “South Florida Swagger” which has produced a lot of quality defensive backs throughout the years. Shelton figures to see action this year as the third corner in the nickel package during passing situations.

1 – Corey Clement (Glassboro High School – Glassboro, NJ) – RB

Clement has taken full advantage of the reshuffling of the running back depth chart. Junior Jeff Lewis was switched to defensive back and sophomore Vonte Jackson suffered another torn ACL and just like that Clement was all alone as the #3 RB. Andersen initially toyed with getting lead blocker Derek Watt some reps carrying the ball, but Clement has been so impressive during the first week of practice the idea was quickly scrapped. James White is an elusive runner, Melvin Gordon is explosive speed and Corey Clement is a sledgehammer. For a freshman, the first full pad college practice can be a challenge adjusting to the physicality. But nearly every practice report so far includes a bit about Clement running someone over or making another big play. While he make have fallen into the third running back spot due to other circumstances, Clement has shown he belongs. If he continues to perform at this level, he will force offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to find ways to involve him in the game plan on Saturdays. The Badger tradition of excellent running backs marches on – seriously check out this stiff arm by Clement.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson (@olewr7)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @SMahon2Go, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @TABrown23, and @10iskristin.