NFL Notebook: Beyond draft, nothing is guaranteed


NFL Notebook: Beyond draft, nothing is guaranteed

Sunday, February 13, 2011
Posted: 6:43 p.m.

By Ray Didinger
There is only one certainty on the NFL horizon: we know the annual draft will be held as scheduled April 28-30.

Even if the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, even if the owners go through with their threat to lockout the players and the NFL plunges into another labor bloodbath, the draft will be held.

It may not be the same because without a CBA, teams will not be able to make trades, which is a big part of draft weekend and teams wont be able to sign the players they draft (at least not for awhile) so it will be different. But it will still take place.

The draftniks will fill the balcony. The TV networks will be there. Commissioner Roger Goodell will walk to the microphone, index card in hand, and announce: With the first pick

So lets try to project what will happen

Carolina will have the first overall selection and it sounds like new head coach Ron Rivera will use that pick to begin rebuilding his defense. Rivera was the defensive coordinator in San Diego and he believes good defense is the key to winning in the NFL.

Were going to be an aggressive, physical football team, Rivera told Pro Football Weekly. I want it to be a physical, no-nonsense, get-the-job-done identity.

Last year, the Panthers lost defensive end Julius Peppers to Chicago via free agency so it would make sense for them to invest the No. 1 pick in a stud lineman. There are a lot of good ones in this draft.

The Panthers have some depth at end with Charles Johnson (11.5 sacks in 2010), Everette Brown and Greg Hardy. The greater need is at defensive tackle which means Rivera may be looking at either Nick Fairley (Auburn) or Marcell Dareus (Alabama) with the first pick.

This is a defense-heavy draft. On my board, defensive players outnumber offensive players at the top. Ends DaQuan Bowers (Clemson), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) and Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) all look like top 15 picks. The same can be said for linebacker Von Miller (Texas A&M) and cornerbacks Patrick Peterson (LSU), Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) and Aaron Williams (Texas).

The Panthers would have been faced with an interesting decision if Andrew Luck had chosen to enter the draft. Luck is the best quarterback prospect to come along in years. Id say the best since Peyton Manning in terms of pro potential. Some scouts say he is the best since John Elway. Either way, he is in that once-in-a-generation class.

So if Luck had entered the draft, what would the Panthers have done? Last year, they invested a second round pick in Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame hoping he would be the quarterback of the future. But Clausen was 1-9 as a starter with the worst quarterback rating in the league (58.4). Of course, the whole team was disaster so how much was the fault of a rookie quarterback? Thats a fair question.

But would the Panthers have given up on Clausen after one year and taken Luck with the first pick? Or would they have passed on Luck and drafted for defense, hoping Clausen could be salvaged with better coaching and a better supporting cast?

A case could have been made either way, but now with Luck staying at Stanford, there is no debate. Look for Rivera -- who was the Eagles linebacker coach from 1999 through 2003 -- to start stocking up on defensive talent.

Speaking of defense

People are still buzzing over Andy Reids decision to make Juan Castillo his defensive coordinator. Most felt it was a curious move. It is asking a lot for a coach to move from offense to defense and at the same time step up from position coach to coordinator.

But if you look around the NFL, you will see defensive coordinators are hard to find. The position has one of the highest turnover rates in the league.

Fourteen defensive coordinator posts have changed hands just since the end of the 2010 season. John Clayton of noted that other than Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh, no defensive coordinator has been calling plays for his current franchise longer than three seasons.

Thats what happens when offenses are scoring touchdowns and piling up yards at a record pace (which they are) and when the league continues to change the rules to favor offense at the expense of defense. These are tough times to be a defensive coordinator and it just keeps getting tougher.

About those talks

Remember Commissioner Goodells statement at the Super Bowl that the only way to settle the CBA was to get the two sides together, lock them in a room and negotiate? It sounded good, right? So what happened?

The owners and players met Wednesday, but the meeting broke up when the players made their proposal. The meeting scheduled for Thursday was canceled because it was deemed pointless. The two sides, it was reported, are too far apart. No further talks are scheduled.

Hey, guys, the CBA expires at 12:01 a.m. on March 4.

There does not seem to be any sense of urgency on either side and there is an enormous amount of work to be done, so there is no reason to believe they will meet next months deadline.

The start of the 2011 regular season is still months away so the fans arent worried yet. But as more time passes and the rhetoric heats up, this will get worse before it gets better.

Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow, authors of The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies, will host a movie night Wednesday, February 16, at 6:30 P.M. at Boscovs Auditorium in the Granite Run Mall. There will be a Q&A discussion followed by a screening of the classic film Hoosiers. Admission is free but space is limited so tickets are required. Call Trish at 484-433-7767 or E-mail Ray Didinger at

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Big test for Jerad Eickhoff


Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Big test for Jerad Eickhoff

Phillies (26-22) at Cubs (32-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

After Friday’s 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs, Jerad Eickhoff and the Phillies look to rebound against Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs’ potent offense.

1. Slowing down the Cubs
How can the Phillies slow down one of the deepest offenses in the game?

Well, they may not be able to — not many teams have.

As the Phillies learned Friday, when the Cubs hit it out of the park, they are almost unbeatable. As a team, the Cubs have hit 52 home runs in 45 games this season and are 22-5 when they hit a home run. That’s only 16 games without a homer and the Cubs are 7-9 in those games.

For the Phillies to have a chance in this series, the pitching staff must limit the long balls. 

2. Big test for Eickhoff
And it is Eickhoff’s job to do just that Saturday afternoon — to contain the Cubs.

Eickhoff’s inconsistencies have been well documented and Saturday is his biggest test yet. In his last five starts, Eickhoff has gone at least six innings and has allowed three runs or fewer in four of those starts, including a seven shutout innings his last time out against the Atlanta Braves.

Eickhoff and the Phillies would be thrilled with a start like that Saturday. 

3. Something’s gotta give
Lefties have had the better of the right-handed Eickhoff this season, hitting .302 against him with an OPS of .844, .200 points higher than his numbers against righties.

Most of the Cubs’ power bats are right-handed, with the exception of Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward. Lucky for Eickhoff, right? Not so fast.

Of the Cubs’ 52 home runs this season, 41 have come against right-handed pitchers. Something’s got to give.

4. What 5th starter?
The Phillies draw the Cubs’ fifth starter, Kyle Hendricks, Saturday. However, Hendricks might just be the best back-end pitcher in baseball this year.

Boasting a 3.30 ERA, Hendricks holds opponents to just a .218 batting average and is equally effective against both righties and lefties. Hendricks doesn’t have blazing speed on his pitches — his fastball routinely tops out at 89 mph — but what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for in pinpoint precision. The Phillies will have their work cut out for them.

5. This and that
• Hendricks tossed 6⅔ innings in his only career start against the Phillies, giving up three runs on four hits — three of which were doubles. 

• Eickhoff has one career start against Chicago, a no-decision. Eickhoff went seven strong innings, giving up just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts. 

• The Phillies have 144 RBIs on the season — the Cubs had 129 in April alone. 

• Chicago has two of the top three hitters in the league in on-base percentage in Ben Zobrist (.453) and Dexter Fowler (.436). The two sandwich Odubel Herrera, who has a .440 OBP.

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games


MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance


NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance


TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.