Archive for April, 2011

Will the Falcons draft a pass rusher? Lots of folks think so

Justin Houston of UGA lines up as a defensive end. Hmmm. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Justin Houston of UGA lines up as a defensive end. Hmmm. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Lots of places claim to be Draft Central. Today we come to you from Mock Draft Central, the place where everyone guesses as to what NFL teams will do. My longstanding guess has been that the Falcons will draft a pass rusher of some sort, be he a defensive end (more likely) or an outside linebacker (less likely). I’m encouraged that a majority of draft-watchers agree with me.

Of 12 mock drafts surveyed from the Big Six online sites — ESPN, SI.com, CBSsports, Sporting News, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com — eight foresee the Falcons taking a defensive end in Round 1. (Although NFL.com, for reasons unclear, lists Cameron Heyward of Ohio State as a defensive tackle. But he seems a DE to me and to most everybody else.)

Five of those eight mocks have the Falcons taking Adrian Clayborn of Iowa, which is about as close to a consensus as you’re apt to get when a team picks 27th. Of the three mocks that …

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Game plan for the Falcons: A lockout that lasts into October

These two are scheduled to meet again Oct. 9. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

These two worthies are scheduled to meet again Oct. 9. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If I’m the Falcons, here’s what I’m hoping: That the lockout ends Oct. 10.

According to the NFL’s just-announced schedule, they’re set to open in Chicago against a team that played for the NFC title. Then they come home to play Philadelphia, which won its division. Then they leave for Tampa Bay, which won 10 games. Then they fly to Seattle to play another division-winner. Then they come back to meet the Super Bowl champions, who came here and won by 27 points not long ago.

Six NFC teams made the playoffs last season. If the NFL opens on time, the Falcons — one of the six — will play four of the others in the first five weeks. Three of those games will be staged on the road, two of them in prime time. That’s not exactly easing into the fray.

The Falcons are scheduled to face Green Bay on Oct. 9. The rest of the way is manageable. Only three of the final 11 games will be against 2010 playoff …

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Remembering Jesse Outlar, a giant of Atlanta sportswriting

Long before ESPN, there was a sportswriters' roundtable. (AJC file photo)

Long before there was ESPN, Atlanta had its own sportswriters' roundtable. (AJC file photo)

Loran Smith told the story: Jesse Outlar had been shot while being robbed outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium after a Falcons game in 1973, and the police wanted him to identify the gunman. He viewed the lineup and chose the wrong guy, prompting Smith to say, “Having read your picks on football games, I’m not surprised you couldn’t pick out the man who shot you.”

This made us laugh, even as we were standing by a grave in Peachtree City last week. And in that one tiny anecdote lay a road map to a life of 87 years: That Jesse Outlar was a writer whom folks made it a point to read; that he once took a bullet on assignment for this newspaper, where he worked for 41 years, and that he was a man who could take a bit of teasing. (Indeed, he incorporated Smith’s line and used it in his speeches.)

Jesse Outlar died at his Peachtree City home on April 10, the Sunday of the Masters. A couple of …

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A guess: All the NCAA sniffing won’t cost Auburn its BCS title

Gene Chizik at Talladega: Is this a violation? (Birmingham News photo)

Gene Chizik at Talladega: Is the NCAA OK with this? (Photo courtesy of the Birmingham News)

SEC commissioner Mike Slive told a meeting of sports editors Monday he has received no word from the NCAA that it has closed its investigation of Cam Newton. This news — or non-news, depending on your slant — comes only days after Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reported that Auburn admits the NCAA is investigating the (since-discontinued) Tiger Prowl.

A bit of background: The Tiger Prowl was initiated when Gene Chizik arrived in 2009 and involved Auburn coaches touring Alabama — and showing up at some of its high schools — in white stretch limousines. The NCAA has since passed legislation limiting the number of coaches who could visit a high school on the same day.

Another bit of background: The Tiger Prowl isn’t to be confused with Big Cat Weekend, an event staged at Toomer’s Corner involving fans and recruits that, in its 2009 manifestation, wound up being the source of five …

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Riddle of the UGA locker-room theft solved by … Facebook?

"We're looking for players who can steal the ball. Oops, wrong word." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"You recruits: I'd better not see this picture posted on Facebook." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As reported by esteemed colleague Chip Towers, three arrests have been made in the theft of iPhones and iPods from Georgia’s locker room. One of those arrested is a football recruits for the year 2012

A gentle suggestion: Were I Georgia, I would no longer recruit that player.

This isn’t to prejudge guilt or innocence as defined by our legal system. Due process will take care of that. But Towers quotes UGA police chief Jimmy Williamson as saying of his investigation: “Facebook is always a big help.”

(And this works … how? Jimmy Williamson sends a suspect a “friend” request?)

If I’m Mark Richt, my new list of  guidelines for pursuing football talent would read thusly:

Rule No. 1: Do not recruit anyone who might have gotten arrested due to something posted on Facebook.

Rules No. 2-10: See Rule No. 1.

By Mark Bradley

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UGA’s defense: From ‘average’ in 2010 to awesome in 2011?

Connor Norman (right) breaks up a pass on G-Day. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Denial D: Connor Norman (right) breaks up a pass on G-Day. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Athens – Under Willie Martinez, the default mechanism was to insist Georgia’s defense was actually better than it looked. Todd Grantham’s way is reality-based.

Asked after Saturday’s G-Day scrimmage to grade his defense’s performance in 2010, Grantham said: “I would say average. If you go back and look, we were fourth [among SEC teams] in total yards [yielded], and we did improve our turnover ratio.”

Then: “We didn’t play as well as we wanted.”

This from a coordinator who’d overseen a clear upgrade. In 2009, the final season under Martinez, Georgia was 38th nationally in total defense, 63rd in scoring defense and 73rd in pass-efficiency defense. In Year 1 under Grantham, the Bulldogs were 23rd, 36th and 48th in those categories. And Georgia as a team went from 118th nationally in turnover margin to 19th.

So why wasn’t Grantham happier? Because Georgia didn’t win. Defensive improvements …

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On display at G-Day: A pack of hungrier holdover Bulldogs

Branden Smith isn't about to cede his position without a fight. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Branden Smith isn't about to cede his position without a fight. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Athens – Technically, most of the members of Georgia’s Dream Team didn’t partake in G-Day. But this isn’t to say the incoming freshmen didn’t have an effect on the intra-squad doings at Sanford Stadium.

Case study: Kwame Geathers was the best defender on the field. (He made four tackles, two for losses, and induced a fumble.) It’s believed that Geathers, a sophomore defensive tackle, will play behind John Jenkins, a JUCO transfer, this fall. That belief isn’t shared by Geathers.

“I’m ready for him to come in,” Geathers said. “It motivates me.”

Mark Richt didn’t just oversee the compilation of a stellar recruiting class; the coach is using the imminent arrival of his Dream Team as a goad for those who already were Bulldogs. “One thing we’ve done this spring is establish competition,” Richt said. “There’s been a winner and a loser in everything we’ve done.”

Then: “These guys know …

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Live from G-Day: Red and Black in a huge collision of hues!

An action shot of the Alumni Game, which I must admit I didn't follow. (Photo by M. Bradley)

An action shot of the Alumni Game, which I must admit I didn't follow. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Athens — For the record, this is my third consecutive G-Day game. To be honest, I recall very little about the scrimmages of 2009 and 2010. I remember Joe Cox hitting A.J. Green on a flea-flicker on the first snap two years ago, and I remember Zach Mettenberger outplaying Aaron Murray and Logan Gray last spring. But that’s about it.

My point being: Not only do spring games not count, they barely register. You aren’t facing Boise State or even Louisiana-Lafayette on this given Saturday; you’re staring at yourself. Anybody who gets really excited — or really discouraged, and here I’m thinking of Georgia Tech’s wretched display in April 2008, Paul Johnson’s first spring — over an intrasquad tilt needs to lie down and think cool thoughts. (Apologies to the late great Satchel Paige.)

Today at Sanford Stadium there’s no quarterback derby to handicap, and the guy who figures to start at …

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Sometimes I scare myself: The Braves ALMOST get no-hit

Freddie F. thwarts Josh J. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Freddie F. thwarts Josh J. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I play along with the notion that I’m the world’s biggest jinx because it’s kind of fun and it does no harm. But sometimes something happens to make me wonder:

Am I the world’s biggest jinx?

One of those somethings happened, or almost happened, Wednesday night. I was trying to program my daughter’s new flat-screen HDTV — this is a shout-out to those who’ve lampooned the state of the Bradley televisions — and I flipped past the Braves’ game. I noticed they had no hits. Whenever I flipped back, I noticed they still had no hits and didn’t appear capable of mustering one. And what had I written just the other day?

Hey, they haven’t been no-hit yet!

I dithered for an inning or so before finally deciding: If Josh Johnson does complete the feat, I should probably be there to write about it. (And maybe to take a cut of his kudos, having obviously aided and abetted in my capacity as Mr. Jinx.) So I got in the car.

I drove out of …

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A tepid Bonds verdict reveals an outbreak of Steroids Fatigue

Is that another subpoena Barry Bonds espies? Surely not. (AP photo)

Does Barry Bonds espy another subpoena? Surely not. (AP photo)

We just witnessed a jury of Barry Bonds’ peers throw up its collective hands and say, “With all the real crooks in the world, you expect us to hammer a guy who lied about cheating in some dumb sport?” We just were handed the clearest possible message that baseball’s Steroids Era will die not with a big hit of a verdict but with a shrug of indifference.

Message: Move on,  please.

I’m not sure if the jury in San Francisco got it right legally, but in the grand scheme this verdict was Solomonic. We all know Bonds took steroids and then lied about taking them, but you know what? He wasn’t the lone ranger. And the attempt to make Bonds the poster prisoner for misdeeds so widespread as to be the rule of baseball and not the exception had become an embarrassing bit of overkill.

Oddly enough, it was overkill that brought Barry Lamar Bonds to this place. He was already a Hall of Fame hitter, but he saw Mark McGwire and …

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