Saturday, July 24, 2010

Off Goes the Training Wheels

Here at NextGen Sports, it is not our primary job to report on just the NFL. We leave the the world of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees to the ESPN family of networks, among other broadcasting giants. So, we decided to blend College Football and the NFL in our Training Camp Preview.

This week, we’ll focus on the NFC North, starting from the worst team and ending with the division champions. Today, we’ll have the Lions, followed by the Bears, Packers and finally, the Vikings.

Player Watch-
One of the main attractions of training camp is that the players from fans' favorite college teams try to play their way into the big-time. As they attempt to play their way towards NFL stardom, we look at who could be on the rise under coach Jim Schwartz.
Suh disrupting a Chase Daniel pass.
Ndamukong Suh – An obvious choice. Detroit received a gift at second overall, after Sam Bradford went to the Rams. Last season at Nebraska, Suh’s play was off the charts. Honestly,dominance does not even apply because the 6 foot 4 inch 307 pound defensive tackle eclipsed the word completely. He will start alongside veteran Corey Williams, anchoring a much improved defense. Of course, Suh (right) has to be a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.
Jahvid Best – The speedster was Detroit’s second first round selection, and he should replace injured starter from last season, Kevin Smith. The former California Golden Bear star running back possesses breakaway speed and above average elusiveness. Best looks to start the entire 2010 season, complementing emerging quarterback Matthew Stafford, but be wary of Best’s injury-filled past. Around the league, NFL executives wonder if he can stay healthy for 16 games.

Marquee Matchups
Outside linebacker – Ernie Sims was traded to Philadelphia, and the Lions need a viable option opposite Julian Peterson. The likely candidate for the job is Zack Follett, the second year linebacker from California. Last season, he impressed coaches with his tenacious play, moving from the practice squad to an important part of the special teams unit. If Follett falters, expect Jordon Dizon, one of the longest tenured Lions, to start.
Cornerback – The Lions front office revamped a unit that was picked apart often last season. Detroit traded for Chris Houston, a three year starter in Atlanta, and they signed former Rams starting cornerback Jonathan Wade via free agency. Jim Schwartz likes Houston’s ability to play man coverage, but he thought Wade was the best cornerback in offseason workouts. Look for third round pick Amari Spievey to possibly steal a starting cornerback spot from Houston or Wade, come mid-season. The Iowa product is too talented to be left on the bench, except for passing situations only. Veteran Dre’ Bly was signed in the offseason, as well. He has clearly lost a step, but Bly’s ball skills are unmatched. He should an excellent fourth cornerback.
Strong Safety ­–Obviously, Louis Delmas will anchor the secondary at free safety, but the Lions lack a strong safety to bolster the run defense along with cover tight ends. Last year’s starter Ko Simpson is not an option. He suffered a knee injury early in November of 2009, and ensuing microfracture surgery will severely limit him early on. Therefore, Detroit looks to one of two veterans safeties, Jonathan Hefney or C.C. Brown. Neither exhibits the ability to excel in all the responsibilities of the position, but unless the Lions acquire another safety, Hefney or Brown will have to start the season.

Individual Spotlight
Campbell looks to make his way onto the Lions roster, in 2010
Caleb Campbell ­– Initially selected in the 7th round last season, Campell was not allowed to sign his three year contract with the Lions. The Army product was forced into service duty, which was part of a military rule, and he was not allowed to play professional football in 2009. Yet, the rule was later suspended, allowing Campbell to become an unrestricted free agent before the 2010 season. The Lions immediately signed the young linebacker to a one year deal.

Although he won’t play on defense this upcoming year, Campbell looks to mirror the path of Zack Follett. I expect Campbell to contribute on the practice squad and later on the scout team for Detroit. The following season, however, should be more interesting. Granted, Campbell impresses coaches coupled with the Lions shaky linebacking core, he could really contribute down the road. Remember, Julian Peterson is nearing the end of his NFL career, after over a decade of professional football. It would be quite a spectacle to see Campbell as his replacement.

-Daniel Radov

Friday, July 23, 2010

NFL Time, At Last

A huge part of sports is coaching, and because we cover the future of sports here at, it’s only fitting that we let you know about the future of coaching. Over the next few weeks, we’ll chronicle the best young coaches in the “Big 6” U.S. sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball).

We discussed Brad Stevens a few weeks ago as the best young coach in college basketball, this week we'll shift drastically to the biggest and most popular league in America, the NFL. To qualify, coaches must have less than 5 years of head coaching experience and must be under 50 years old. Without further ado, the best young coach in the NFL is...... 

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens: 47 Years old
As the NFL’s coaching atmosphere continues to experience an influx of young talent, John Harbaugh (left) is a perfect example of a young coach doing a fine job with his team. Hired as the Ravens’ head coach after being the Eagles’ special teams coordinator and later defensive backs coach, Harbaugh had a fair share of doubt coming his way from Ravens fans, most of them citing a lack of leadership experience. After having Brian Billick lead the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2001 and turning them into a yearly contender, the naysayers wanted a bigger-name coach at the helm, and expected Harbaugh to have a short, uneventful stint with the Ravens.

In his first year taking over a team that had an extremely talented defense with an offense, of course, that was a bottom-dweller in the NFL, Harbaugh led the team to an 11-5 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. While this type of success isn’t completely atypical for rookie coaches, Harbaugh became the first coach in the NFL’s history to win 2 playoff games with a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco). Throughout the season, he won over fans with his charisma during press conferences, and the brother of former Ravens QB Jim Harbaugh impressed his players with his blue-collar attitude towards preparation for Sundays. He instituted intense, two-a-day practices during training camp and, while Billick would let his stars mostly have their own way, Harbaugh treated each player equally, neglecting to offer any special privileges. Needless to say, the team started to jell from both offense and defense.

After a 9-7 season in 2009 that could have easily been 11-5 or 12-4 if not for a couple of stupid penalties or missed field goals, the Ravens came out in the Wild Card round, and they stomped all over the New England Patriots 33-14. Tom Brady netted a career-low passer rating of 49.1, unable to bring his back following a 24-0 hole. Baltimore lost the subsequent week to Indianapolis.

Ultimately, Harbaugh has established himself as one of the NFL’s best coaches. With three playoff wins in just two seasons, he is poised to continue that success with a 2010 Ravens squad that has added several weapons on both sides of the ball. Just remember, one Super Bowl win, and Harbaugh will forever surpass mentor Andy Reid. The current Eagles' coach is just 1-4 in NFC Championship Games along with 0-1 on Super Bowl Sunday, in which the sole appearance was a 20-17 loss to the mighty Patriots.

-Edgar Walker

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Run, Reggie, Run

Bush (above) pictured with the Heisman Trophy in 2005.
Well, it's official. The 2005 Heisman Trophy no longer belongs to one of the most electrifying players in college football history, Reggie Bush. The NCAA and Heisman Trust made quite clear to the national media, USC, and Bush himself, that he hopped a clearly marked boundary in the world of prep and collegiate athletes: accepting extra benefits from agents and "handlers".

An eight month official NCAA investigation concluded this past week, with the final statement that Bush's award for being the best player in the country will be nullified in the record books. Though he will be able to keep his own trophy, USC will give back their's and also remove all mementos and images pertaining to Bush on campus. Over his tenure in Southern California, Bush and his family allegedly accepted up to $100,000 dollars worth of limousine rides, high price vacations, and paid rent from handlers; all under the table and all violations as well. These efforts were in attempt to woo the San Diego product to sign with their agencies before he left for the NFL. Once Bush took the money, he gave up his status as an amateur, and became a paid professional.

In the end, though, Reggie has "outrun" the NCAA, just as he did to hapless defenders back in college. He and his family still did not have to pay a cent for most expenses throughout his collegiate career, and now he is making millions in the NFL. The folks who will really take the hit from the situation's fallout are the USC athletic program, and all others across the country who might have, at one time or another, paid an athlete. USC had to vacate all wins from their 2004 and 2005 (Years Bush was playing), including their 04 BCS Championship. All of a sudden now, the issue with professional agents from the NFL in the college football landscape has been thrust to the forefront of the sports world. It seems like every day we hear of a new player or school under official investigation for rule infractions, almost always concerning agents and handlers.

This past Monday, former Florida standout offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey was accused that he accepted around $100,000 from an agent before the Gators' appearance in the Sugar Bowl. Though Pouncey ferverently denied ever being in contact with an agent, photo evidence from a nightclub proved otherwise. Maurkice and his brother Mike, another Florida lineman and NFL talent, were shot hanging with an agent's alleged "runner" (a person who gets close to an athlete while in high school/college and tries to coax them to their employer's company through gifts and other expendables). Florida is now in danger of losing their Sugar Bowl victory from last year. Does that sound familiar USC? It is illegal if a college athlete performs in a sporting event after being paid or given extravagant gifts from an agent. Whether or not the school knows this happened, it must suffer the consequences the ineligible athlete created.

Continuing the recent string of NCAA probes, a group of players was questioned about their attendance of a lavish South Beach party earlier in the summer hosted by a NFL player agent. North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little both were in attendance, as well as South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders and Alabama defensive end Marcel Dareus. The NCAA was eager to know about who paid for the players' transportation to Miami, as well as who picked up the check for their hotel and food. Unless something unprecedented happens, we could see all four of these players begin next year suspended.

Agents and runners in the college game are an infection. Plain and simple. Alabama coach Nick Saban put it best when questioned about the situation his own player, Dareus, is in, saying how these handlers bring about an "entrapment of young people at a very difficult time in their lives." It will be almost impossible for the NCAA by themselves to stop agents in the college ranks. As long as there is money, and players willing to take it, this corruption will continue. If the NFL got involved with controlling their own envoys more rigorously we might not hear as many stories related to illegal player benefits anymore. Former NFL executive Joe Mendes is a counselor employed by SEC schools who works with players and their families on how to avoid falling into trouble with agents and runners. Even if more programs like Mendes's were held throughout the country, you couldn't ensure that players will make the right decision. Its tough to do that when money is offered to you after you've seen so little for so long.

-John Stoller

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Rising European Golf Power?

Golf and South Africa are synonymous. The now iconic phrase, "You drive for show and putt for dough" was coined by countryman, Bobby Locke. In fact, he was the original face of South African golf, winning four British Open Championships and popularizing the sport in a once football obsessed country. Fast forward half a century, Gary Player has risen to legendary status among the golfing world. Of course, he was the first man to approach the gentlemen's sport of golf with a physical mindset. Player emphasized the necessity of working out on a constant basis to overcome his 5 foot 7 inch frame, Plus, Ernie Els is a three-time Major Champion, Louis Oosthuizen just demolished the field at St. Andrews' last week, and Tim Clark won the Players' Championship. Moreover, South Africa boasts the 2008 Masters winner Trevor Immelman, the talented, yet streaky Rory Sabbitini and a rising star in Charl Schwartzel.

In short, Locke led South Africa into a golf craze by building courses. He knew that the beauty alone would entice people around the country, specifically the affluent population, to seriously play golf. Not to mention, Locke was cool. South Africans looked up to him as a sign that an everyday citizen could thrive on the world stage.

Oddly enough, Germany has been mired in a national campaign against golf for decades. The country, as a whole, not only has viewed the sport as elitist, but also as innately insulting to one's masculinity. Dylan Bawden, an English teaching professional, now works at a golf club in Hamburg, Germany, and he recounts one student who was afraid to tell his friends about his love of golf.

I guess such a mentality makes a bit of sense in Germany. The country carries a blue-collar label, and all citizens are committed to work. Golf is viewed as leisure. Certainly, you don't need to be in peak physical condition, and the sport lacks face-to-face competition. Soccer, on the other hand, plays to the competitive nature of the German people, and, coupled with the fact that the country is so successful, it is incredibly popular.
There is hope for golf in Germany, however. It comes in the form of a 25 year old, and his name is Martin Kaymer (left). Nearly 6 feet tall, the Dusseldorf native practically drips with golf savvy. Kaymer won his first professional tournament at only age 19. Nevertheless, he had not cemented his status as a major champion contender until this year. Yes, he had finished in the top 10 at the PGA Championship in 2009, but Kaymer, to that point, had not truly battled against the world's toughest courses in the most grueling of conditions.

Clearly, all question have been answered surrounding the German star,  as Kaymer enters Whistling Straits for the last major championship of 2010. Battling with winds up to 40 miles per hour, he finished tied for 7th at the British Open. He showed that his tied for 8th finish at Pebble Beach was no fluke. Moreover, Kaymer exhibited the ability to drive ball well, regardless of the circumstances. How he fares off the tee this August will determine his success. Don't forget, the Whistling Straits is designed after the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland. Kaymer, therefore, will surely be familiar with nuances of the course.

If Kaymer were to capture the PGA championship, Germany could emerge as a home to professional golfers overnight. The country is filled with unrefined talent, and, in the spirit of the 2010 World Cup, one moment might change everything.

-Daniel Radov