Archive for December, 2009

The Hawks are great; has anyone in Atlanta noticed?

Josh with a jam. Note unfilled pews. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Note the empty pews. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Memphis Grizzlies have some good players: Rudy Gay, Mike Conley Jr., Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Hasheem Thabeet and the wayfaring O.J. Mayo. But this is what Grizzlies’ coach Lionel Hollins told reporters after his not-untalented squad got squashed by the Hawks on Wednesday:

“The Hawks are a very good team … They’re athletic, they cause matchup problems and they do a good job diversifying what they do on the court.”

Then this: “We could never be like Atlanta. They have unique talent and individuals with versatility. We don’t have that kind of versatility. We’re trying to get to where they are, record-wise and maturity.”

These feeble fingers have typed some ringing endorsements of these Hawks, but the above is the highest compliment I’ve yet seen/read/written. (And it comes from a man who was the lead guard on Dr. Jack Ramsey’s clinical 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers.) The Atlanta NBA entry holds the third-best record in a …

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A stealth UGA candidate: Manny Diaz of Middle Tennessee

If you’re looking for the next Brian VanGorder — and by this we mean the Brian VanGorder who arrived in Athens from Central Michigan and was greeted by disgruntled Georgia fans saying, “Who’s this guy?” — you might look toward the charming city of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Through the wonders of the Internet, diligent Dawg backers have already discovered Manny Diaz, who’s the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, and some on AJC.com message boards have gone so far as to proclaim him their first choice.

Understand: He would not be my first choice, or even my third. I would recommend a SEC program to hire someone with a working knowledge of the SEC (like Kirby Smart of Alabama or Ellis Johnson of South Carolina). Failing that, I would look to someone currently working at a BCS conference (such as Everett Withers of North Carolina). But this is the same Mark Richt who did hire Brian VanGorder (and, er, Willie Martinez) from the Chippewas back in 2001, so who knows what he’s apt to …

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Plan B (or C) for UGA: Everett Withers of North Carolina

Since we’re all just throwing out names during this silly season — and I’ve already thrown Ellis Johnson’s figurative hat in the proverbial ring — I thought I’d hurl another. If Mark Richt can’t lure Kirby Smart from Alabama or the aforementioned Johnson from South Carolina, here’s who I’d try next:

Everett Withers of North Carolina.

He’s the defensive coordinator under Butch Davis, who’s a defensive man himself, and the Tar Heels were decent this season only because their defense propped them up. (Kind of the opposite of Georgia Tech.) Under Withers, Carolina ranked sixth nationally in total defense, ninth in rushing defense and 13th in both passing and scoring defense. As we say in Kentucky, that’s pretty durn good.

The reason I didn’t put Withers’ name in nomination earlier was that I was thinking the new Georgia coordinator should have a working knowledge of the SEC. But Bud Foster, who was approached by Richt before re-upping at Virginia Tech, hasn’t been in the SEC, and …

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Are the Falcons (two arrests now) falling apart? I say no

Eric Weems apologized to the Falcons on Wednesday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Eric Weems apologized to the Falcons on Wednesday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

At such an ugly moment, piling on comes easy. A team is losing. A team sees a defensive lineman and then a wide receiver arrested — actually, it was the other way around, but the Eric Weems arrest came to light only today — on charges involving automotive travel and drugs (in the lineman’s case) and alcohol  (in the receiver’s).  At such an ugly moment it’s easy to characterize an organization as in tatters and its high-mindedness as a facade.

I resist that temptation.

I believe the Atlanta Falcons are doing it the right way. Maybe they’re doing it with one or two of the wrong men, but even the strongest organization has weaker links. I believe Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith when they say they’re looking to win not in the worst way but in the best. Maybe that makes me Pollyanna. But I’d rather be that than a raging cynic who sees every professional team as a seeker of the path of …

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Tech’s new mission: Find a defense to complement its offense

A sight seldom seen: Tech tackles C.J. Spiller. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

A sight seldom seen: Tech tackles C.J. Spiller. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

You could hand Paul Johnson the New Christy Minstrels and in a month he’d have them rushing for 300 yards. So long as he’s at Georgia Tech, the offense will be fine. As for the defense …

Tech is bound for the Orange Bowl with a defense ranked 54th nationally in yards allowed. By way of comparison, Georgia ranked 30th in total defense and just fired three of its four coaches. Tech won games by scores of 30-27 (twice), 41-30, 49-44, 56-31,  and 39-34. It was a wild and successful ride — can’t argue with a conference title — but how long can a program subsist on offense alone?

Johnson said this week he would “take a look” at his defense after the Orange Bowl, but clearly he’s not going to change any coaches. (If he were, he would have already.) And in his press briefing this week he told reporters: “[The defense is] part of the team and they won 11 games, so that’s good. They got a stop in the [ACC] …

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Chattin’ live! Babineaux, coordinators, Woodson, Wren!

It’s live chat time, and we’ll keep going until 1 p.m. You’re free to ask anything and everything, but I thought I’d start the festivities with a few topic suggestions, some of which came from you. (Thanks!)

• Would Georgia be better served hiring a Big Name defensive coordinator or looking for a guy from a smaller school whose profile is substantially lower? Brian VanGorder came from Central Michigan, did he not? (Then again, so did Willie Martinez.)

• The Hawks are 17-6. Mike Woodson is a lame duck, at least at the moment. Should that be remedied soon, or would Rick Sund be better off waiting until May/June to work a new deal? (But what if Woodson becomes a hot commodity after leading the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals — don’t laugh — and leaves to take another job?)

• Can the Falcons win these final three games? Can they win another game? And if they end up 8-8 or worse, is the season a refutation of the Dimitroff/Smith Method? (I say no, but maybe that’s just …

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Fair warning: Come 11 a.m. today, we’ll be chatting live!

We’re going to try something a little different this morning. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today (Wednesday the 16th of December), we’re going to have ourselves a live chat.

Regular patrons are doubtless saying, “What’s so different about that? You do one of those  every time you cover a game.” And that’s true. But those cyber-conversations tend to be game-related: If I cover a Falcons game, we talk about the Falcons. (And much of the chatting is me saying/typing: “Third-and-four. Big play here.”)

(A personal aside: My brother Brian has never let me forget how many times I said, “Big play here” during the epic Steelers victory over the Bengals in the snow at Riverfront Stadium in November 1976. We were Steelers fans in the enemy camp. Our team won 7-3.  Dwight White recovered a Boobie Clark fumble and Franco scored. Mike Kruczek was our QB. And my girlfriend — now my wife — and I got stuck in Covington, Ky., because the passenger-side window fell out of my Mustang in the blizzard en …

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Bradley’s Buzz: McShay rates Tech’s Morgan No. 3 overall

Two Augusts ago I was watching Georgia Tech practice and commenting on the impressive nature of the defensive line. Michael Johnson, Vance Walker, Darryl Richard …

A man who works for Tech said to me: “Derrick Morgan is the best of the bunch.”

I started watching Morgan closely from that moment on. (I am, as we know, a moron, but I can be coached up.) And by the middle of the 2008 season I agreed: Derrick Morgan stood out the most along a D-line that would see its other three members drafted by NFL teams.

Which brings us to 2009, when Morgan was named ACC defensive player of the year, and almost to 2010, when Todd McShay of ESPN.com’s Insiders foresees the same Mr. Morgan going No. 3 overall in the NFL draft. (Link requires registration.)

Not third among defensive linemen, mind you. Third among everybody.

The top five: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska; Eric Berry, S, Tennessee; Morgan; Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma, and Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State. That’s four defenders up top, …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Heyward, Hanson among best of new decade

There’s no science so inexact as the projection of baseball talent. We know this because Brad Komminsk was not, alas, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. (He made it on the second try — ha, ha.) We know this because the young man Sports Illustrated proclaimed “The Natural” in 2005 was deemed substandard, though not by SI, in 2009.

Still, it’s worth noting that Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has posted his list of the top 20 players for the next decade on ESPN.com’s Insiders (link requires registration), and one of the 20 hasn’t yet had a big-league at-bat. Yes, at No. 13, it’s Jason Heyward, the Braves’ right-fielder-in-waiting. Writes Goldstein:

“The top position player prospect in the game, Heyward has a chance at opening 2010 in the big leagues, and even if that doesn’t work out, he’ll be in Atlanta well before he can legally drink to celebrate his accomplishment. A potential ‘face of the franchise’-level talent, Heyward hits for average, hits for power, draws walks and …

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This Bud’s not for UGA, but it’s still a promising sign

There was a reason I didn’t include Bud Foster on my silly little list of defensive-coordinating candidates a while back: I didn’t think he’d leave Virginia Tech for Georgia. And I, for one of the few times in my silly little life, have been proved right.

I figure Bud Foster’s next job is head coach of the Hokies. Frank Beamer is 63 and can’t go on forever. (Then again, weren’t we saying as much about Joe Paterno back in the 1860’s?) I figure a man as accomplished as Foster didn’t need the glitz of the SEC to prove himself. And apparently Foster sees it the same way, seeing as how he just re-upped to stay at VPI. (We oldsters recall when the school in Blacksburg was known as the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.)

But say this for Mark Richt: If you’re going to hire a new DC, Bud Foster’s a mighty good place to start. You never know: He might say yes and your problems are solved. And even if he says no, you’ve sent up a flare that you’re serious about upgrading. It also says …

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