Archive for July, 2010

A hot camp opens, with a hotter Falcons’ season to follow

A pithy Smitty says: "This way to the Super Bowl!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A pithy Smitty says: "This way to the Super Bowl!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

FLOWERY BRANCH — On a hot day in July, Mike Smith made reference to January. That was the new beginning, the coach said, the day his Falcons beat Tampa Bay to finish 9-7. Not that Smitty was celebrating the 9-7.

“We got the result we wanted to get us over the hump with the consecutive winning seasons,” he said Friday, “but I have to tell you I was very, very disappointed in the final result of the season. Internally our goals were much, much higher.”

In Tampa, Smith told his players: “This is the first game of 2010. We need to start 2010 in the right fashion.”

And they did. And the Falcons have scarcely put a foot wrong since. They signed Dunta Robinson. They drafted Sean Weatherspoon. They re-signed Brian Williams. And now here they were, after the first practice of Training Camp 2010, hot but happy.

“The fact that it’s 100 degrees doesn’t matter,” said Tony Gonzalez, the tight end.

See, this …

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Live from Falcons’ camp: Early morning at the Branch

Because few things say "NFL football" like an inflatable. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Because few things say "big-time NFL football" like an inflatable. (Photo by Mark Bradley)

Flowery Branch – Here with the Dawn Patrol at Falcons HQ, where the first session of Training Camp 2010 has just commenced. I’d love to tell you this is going to be one of our live chats, but it isn’t. Falcons decree: Can’t have a laptop on the field.

So here’s what I’ll do: I’ll run out, watch a bit and check back. Hope that’s OK with y’all.

9:10 a.m. update: A key development has been unearthed. Mike Smith is sporting a shorter, sleeker haircut. Moving from one field to the other, he stopped to shake hands, and I noted this tonsorial alteration. (Even though Smitty was sporting his pith helmet, his new ‘do was noticeable.)

“A training-camp haircut?” I asked.

“A training-camp haircut,” Smith said, laughing.

“Kind the opposite of a playoff beard,” I said.

“Playoff beards are a lot more fun than training-camp haircuts,” he said, and then he was off.

9:30 a.m. update: Getting a bit more …

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Troy Glaus: The unlikely linchpin of an unlikely Braves team

Troy Glaus hit this two-run double June 17, but not many since. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Troy Glaus hit this two-run double in June, but not many since. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Troy Glaus was awful in April, and so was his team. Troy Glaus was terrific in May, and the Braves were likewise. He was OK in June, and the Braves made do. He has been bad again in July, and that’s a troubling sign.

Glaus in April: Nine RBIs, two home runs and a batting average of .194.

Glaus in May: Twenty-eight RBIs, six home runs and a batting average of .330.

Glaus in June: Nineteen RBIs, six home runs and a batting average of .237.

Glaus in July: Five RBIs, no home runs and a batting average of .200.

He was the reason the Braves sprang from fifth place to first in the space of two May weeks. Bobby Cox redid his batting order to get the four men with the best on-base percentage batting first through fourth, and Glaus brought them home. Just when we’d decided he was the worst acquisition of Frank Wren’s tenure, Glaus went out and became the National League’s player of the …

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Tech’s Joshua Nesbitt: The most valuable collegiate player?

Four Hokies on him, and Joshua Nesbitt's still not down. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

It takes at least four Hokies to handle Joshua Nesbitt. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Ankle surgery having precluded his participation in spring practice, Joshua Nesbitt had the chance to study Georgia Tech from the sideline. And what he saw, he said, was a team just as talented as last season’s ACC champs. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, a big ol’ fib.

Because the Jackets with Nesbitt on the sideline aren’t one-tenth as impressive as Tech is when he’s on the field. He’s not quite the best player in college football, but no one means more to a program than this quarterback does to his.

Paul Johnson’s stylized option-based spread starts with Nesbitt, and often it ends there. He has to make every read, every pitch, every throw. He also has to take 30 hits a game, and therein lies the issue. With backup Jaybo Shaw having transferred to Georgia Southern, Tech can’t afford to lose Nesbitt for a single snap. But even a man as conspicuously robust as this — he appears …

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Is it time for Braves’ fans to panic? Nah, I say bravely

Melky Cabrera's not giving up. Who's with Melky? (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Melky Cabrera's not giving up. Who's with Melky? (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The lead’s down to 3 1/2 games, and Nate McLouth had nothing to do with the most recent failure. The Braves were set to oppose Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday and wound up getting shut out by Miguel Batista and some Nat relievers. And now you’re asking: Is it time to panic?

And I’m saying: Nah.

Esteemed colleague Tim Tucker said something profound 20 years ago. (Tim says something profound pretty much every day, but this pearl of wisdom is particularly germane.) Quoth Tim: “When you think about it, it’s never time to panic.”

And that’s true. All panic brings is hyperventilation, and who needs that? Panic is what drove the Braves to trade for Len Barker in 1983 — they were desperate to see and raise the Dodgers’ acquisition of Rick Honeycutt — and we know how that worked out. The Braves wound up missing the playoffs and, owing to loss of Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby, hurt their team for years.

Here’s …

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ESPN has the Falcons 8th-best in the NFL, which sounds low

Here we have an impartial panel who think the Falcons will be just dandy. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One of these two is thinking the Falcons could go 16-0. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Falcons open camp Friday. As noted earlier, more than a few people are high on this team’s chances. We add to this growing list the folks who compile ESPN’s power rankings, the latest edition of which has the Falcons …

Ranked No. 8 in the 32-team NFL.

Given that the same ESPN had the Falcons 15th at the end of the 2009 regular season and 10th in the post-draft ranking, we’re witnessing a rising tide. But ESPN’s survey still doesn’t quite reflect the feeling I have for this team.

I think these Falcons will wind up being better than the eighth-best team in a 32-team league. I think they’ll be in the top five. (To be fair, John Clayton — one of ESPN’s four panelists — has the Falcons ranked fifth.) I think they’ll go 12-4, win the NFC South and play Dallas for the conference championship.

For the record, here are ESPN’s top seven teams: Indianapolis, New Orleans, Minnesota, Dallas, …

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Tech to finish third in the ACC Coastal? Sounds about right

Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett will play on Sundays now. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett play on Sundays now. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

I may be crazy — folks, there’s your opening — but on one issue I’m not alone in my nuttiness. Earlier this summer I picked Georgia Tech to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division. On Monday the conference media assembled in Greensboro picked Tech to finish …

Third in the ACC Coastal Division.

Like me, the ACC voters have Virginia Tech and Florida State winning the league’s divisions. Unlike me, the ACC voters had Miami finishing second in the Coastal, with North Carolina fourth. I had it the other way around. (Although Carolina now has agent issues, which is no small consideration.)

My rationale, such as it is, on the Jackets: They’ll be good, just not quite as good, and the Coastal will be better. (I see the Coastal as the roughest division in college football. This includes the SEC East and the SEC West.) Georgia Tech must visit North Carolina and Virginia Tech this fall, and those are …

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Mark Richt on UGA in 2010: ‘We want our fans to be proud’

The Georgia coach as a big-screen TV star: Mark Richt at the Galleria. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The Georgia coach as a big-screen TV star: Mark Richt at the Galleria. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Should Georgia go 1-11 this fall, Mark Richt wouldn’t just be in trouble — he’d be gone. But that’s thing: Georgia isn’t going to go 1-11, and at this moment Richt is in fine fettle, job-wise and otherwise. And it is, truth to tell, harder to imagine the Bulldogs headed to Shreveport again anytime soon than it is to foresee them winning the SEC East.

And that’s all Richt needs to do to coach Georgia another 10 years: Win big again.

The notion was driven home at the annual convocation of the Bulldog Club of Greater Atlanta on Monday night. The masses didn’t brave a thunderstorm to file into the Cobb Galleria with teeth gritted. No citizen of Bulldog Nation wants Richt to fail. He is liked and respected by his constituency, same as it ever was.

The only problem Georgia fans have with Richt is that he hasn’t won a championship since 2005, and even that differentiates him from his …

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NCAA probe of UGA could be much ado about not very much

The e-mail Georgia received from the NCAA regarding the organization’s intent to investigate didn’t say much — here’s the story from esteemed colleague Tim Tucker — but its brevity should give the Bulldogs a dollop of solace. The impending probe isn’t widespread: It involves only one player and, from the e-mail’s wording, it does not appear the UGA player is the central figure.

From the e-mail: The NCAA wants to interview one player “to determine [h]is knowledge of or involvement in, directly or indirectly, any violations of NCAA legislation.”

Key words: “Knowledge of, or involvement in.”

And also: “Directly or indirectly.”

This could be little more than the NCAA wanting to interview — just picking a name — A.J. Green to ask if he was invited to the agent-funded soiree  in Miami that has college football  in a dither.

Stipulations: Green has said he didn’t attend — indeed, he said he hasn’t been in Miami in his life — he has not been identified as the Bulldog  in question. …

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The most hated man in sports is the raging brat Lane Kiffin

People hated Al Davis when his Raiders were winning. People hated Red Auerbach because his Celtics hoisted banners on an annual basis. People hated George Steinbrenner because he spent big and bought seven World Series rings for his money.

The common thread: People hate winners.

Which only goes to show how remarkable it is that Lane Kiffin, with a career record of 12-21 as a head coach, is the most despised man in American sports. A (partial) list of loathers:

• The aforementioned Davis, himself once the most hated man in sports.

• Raider Nation, a fan base that models itself after a biker gang.

• Urban Meyer, one of the two best coaches in college football.

• Recruiting analysts, who saw Kiffin’s ballyhooed Big Orange class of 2009 fall apart before it could get on the field.

• NCAA investigators, who are sick of hearing the words “secondary violation.”

• Mike Slive, the most powerful man in college football.

• Tennessee fans, who were left brokenhearted by this …

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