Sunday, April 28, 2013

Time will tell if Bills finally got the QB position straightenned out with EJ Manuel

Some of the so-called draft gurus – including ESPN’s Todd McShay – have dumped a foot or two of lake effect snow on the Bills draft parade. McShay, along with Sports Illustrated, which awarded Buffalo a grade of D-plus, acknowledge that the Bills first-round pick EJ Manuel has great size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds), athleticism and a powerful arm. But they also believe the quarterback from Florida State is deeply flawed. McShay used the term “slow eyes,” meaning EJ is not quick enough in diagnosing where he should go with the football, which can be fatal in the high-speed decision-making world of pro football where the difference between a completion and an interception can be a split-second.

                So be it.

                One of the things I’ve learned from 28 seasons of covering the NFL is that it’s often foolhardy to rush to judgment on draft picks. It usually does take a few years to assess them (unless, of course, it’s an obvious miss like Aaron Maybin, the Penn State linebacker who thought sack time meant sleeping on the job, or an obvious hit like Jim Kelly, who had me convinced on the first long bomb he delivered during his very first Bills practice that he was Canton-bound.)

                I think the selection of Manuel was a bold move by new head coach Doug Marrone and the Bills, who successfully put up a smokescreen that had us believing he might go with Ryan Nassib, the record-setting QB he had coached for four seasons at Syracuse.

                My first impression of Manuel is that he has the charisma and confidence you like to see in such a leadership position. Of course, none of this will matter unless he delivers the ball on-time to the right receiver and finds the end zone often on game day.

                Some of the negative reaction to the Bills selection clearly has to do with the team’s putrid draft record for more than a decade. No secret, really, why they’ve missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons. They’ve done a terrible job assessing talent. Simple as that.

                History has not been kind to the Bills when it has come to selecting quarterbacks. In 53 years, they’ve gotten it right just a few times – the drafting of Kelly in 1983 and Joe Ferguson in 1973; the claiming of Jack Kemp off waivers in 1962, and the free agent signing of Doug Flutie in 1998. Manuel probably has a better chance of being the next J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Matt Kofler or Gary Marangi than he does of being the next Jimbo or Fergy.

                I guess you could look at the odds two ways. Either history is about to repeat itself or the Bills finally have gotten it right.
                Again, I don’t bother giving a grade to draft picks because it doesn’t mean a thing at this point. I will say this, though, I liked the fact the Bills addressed some pressing needs – quarterback and wide receiver. And I do like the fact they went for speedy, versatile players.
                I think Nassib wound up in a good place when he was selected by the New York Giants. He’ll be learning from one of the best quarterbacks in the game, in Eli Manning, and there won’t be any pressure to play right away, unless the durable Manning gets hurts. The reality, though, is that Manning is just 32 and figures to have many more years as the Giants main man. Which means Nassib’s best chance probably will come down the road with another team. This is hardly unprecedented. Kevin Kolb, Matt Flynn and Matt Cassel all wound up getting their shots with teams other than the ones that drafted them.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A sweet gesture by Neil Diamond and my take on the Bills draft

                Before shooting the breeze about the upcoming NFL draft, I just wanted to say how cool that was that Neil Diamond showed up at Fenway Park yesterday to sing the Red Sox anthem – “Sweet Caroline.” What makes the story even sweeter is that this wasn’t pre-arranged. About an hour before the game, Diamond arrived at Boston’s baseball cathedral and called the Sox front office to ask if he could sing his song live during the seventh-inning stretch.

                Other than David Ortiz’s F-bomb in his opening remarks - Big Papi can be forgiven for getting caught up in the emotions of the moment – it was a marvelous way for a wounded city to start the healing process after the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent spell-binding manhunt.

                I experienced first-hand the galvanizing power of sports in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11 when my son and I attended the World Series game at Yankee Stadium in which President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch. Baseball provided respites from the tragedy of the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers and murdered 3,000 people. It helped bring people together.

                The same was true yesterday at Fenway. And Diamond’s trip to one of baseball’s most hallowed diamonds made the day even more memorable.
                Here’s my take on the Bills in the upcoming draft: If you believe, as General Manager Buddy Nix says he does, that there are two or three potential franchise quarterbacks in this draft, then you better not wait; you better take the one you’re most in love with right away.

                A lot of people believe that guy is Ryan Nassib because of his familiarity with Bills head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, whom he played for at Syracuse. Some see this as similar to the Miami Dolphins taken Ryan Tannehill higher than projected last year because the Fish had just hired his former college coach, Mike Sherman, as offensive coordinator.

                Some of the mock drafts also have the Bills taking Matt Barkley of USC or Geno Smith of West Virginia. I’m not enamored with either of those quarterbacks. I’m really hesitant to take a QB from Southern Cal, given the track record of Trojan alumni Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, etc. What I saw of Barkley was a guy who benefitted greatly from having athletic receivers. Smith seems to be a popular choice because of the recent success of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson – guys who can run the read option with great efficiency. But I think, given RGIII’s serious injury, the read option is going to be a short-lived fad deemed too dangerous to a quarterback’s health.

                There’s also talk about using the eighth overall selection on an offensive lineman to replace free-agent departure Andy Levitre. Alabama’s Chance Warmack and UNC’s Johnathan Cooper are possibilities. It’s definitely a need, as is linebacker, where Georgia’s Alec Ogletree has been mentioned.

                But if they do that they run the risk of losing out on their QB, which they desperately need.

                Again, if they’ve identified one they love, they best not wait.   

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opining on the Yankees Disabled List roster, the Buffalo Bills new QB and Syracuse hoops

                The lineup Joe Girardi was forced to field in yesterday’s season opener qualifies as a true April Fool’s Day joke. And here’s something even more foolish: The money the Yankees are spending on their All-Star Disabled List roster is $91 million. That’s higher than the payroll of 16 big-league teams. Toss in the $8.5 mil New York is paying current Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett and that’s close to $100 million for players not currently in the Bronx Bombers lineup.
                Some Bills fans are miffed about the signing of journeyman Kevin Kolb, but I think it’s a smart move, given the circumstances. He’s two years younger than Ryan Fitzpatrick and has a much stronger arm. Buffalo was interested in retaining Fitz, but he refused to restructure his contract and he wanted guarantees that he would remain the starter, so the Bills had no choice but to jettison him. This is not to say that Kolb is the answer by any means. He became shell-shocked behind the Arizona Cardinals porous offensive line, and there are concerns that the pounding may have turned him into a jittery, check-down QB. But I think he might be OK behind the Bills line, which is still better than the Cardinals front wall despite the loss of Andy Levitre. The bottom line is that Kolb is merely a place-holder quarterback. The Bills will still draft a QB later this month. It just might not be in the first round. And that rookie QB will be given a legitimate shot at the No. 1 job this summer.
                Jim Boeheim’s fierce loyalty extends beyond his players and staff and into the basketball coaching profession, where he has helped numerous peers land jobs – including the coach he’ll face in Saturday’s Final Four. Boeheim picked up the phone and advocated strongly on behalf of John Beilein to get both the Canisius and West Virginia head coaching jobs. The legendary SU coach’s recommendations obviously carried some weight because Beilein wound up coaching at both places before heading to Ann Arbor. Boeheim became familiar with Beilein’s work at LeMoyne College, a Division II program located just a few miles from the Carrier Dome.
                Whereas Boeheim has spent 50 years at his alma mater as a player, assistant and head basketball coach, Beilein has led a nomadic basketball existence, making stops at Newfane (N.Y.) High School, Erie Community College, Nazareth College, LeMoyne, Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan. He’s won 672 games along the way and after 1,075 games, he’s finally made it to the Division I Final Four.
                Beilein is a Lockport, N.Y. native and remains a huge Bills fan and is good friends with longtime Bills play-by-play announcer John Murphy.
                Not that it has any bearing whatsoever on Saturday’s game, but Boeheim is 9-0 vs. Beilein.
                You can check out more of my musings on Syracuse in the Final Four at WROC TV-8's website - I'll also be talking about the Cuse on their 5 o'clock newscast this Friday and following Saturday night's game.