26Apr

livin’ on a prayer

Day one of the NFL draft is in the books and if you’re a Redskins fan you’ve had no choice but to scratch your head at least once during the day. Let me start by saying I’m thrilled the team was able to trade out of the first round and improve their selections, thanks to a deal with Atlanta. Some of the names we’d heard the ‘Skins liked were there when it was time to make a decision about the 21st pick, but they resisted the urge to reach on a player who likely would have still been available later on. I was genuinely pleased with how things played out — trading away the pick and then still landing Devin Thomas, the wide out from Michigan State who they had rated as the best receiver in the draft.

Vinny Cerrato, the man calling the shots for the Redskins on draft day, said if they weren’t ablt to make a move they would have drafted Thomas at 21. Luckily, they made the move and still got him with the third pick in the second round, while also helping themselves out by improving later pick (they got the 34th, 48th and 103rd pick overall for the 21st, 84th and 154th selections in the draft). This is an impulse team that likes to make the big splash whenever possible, so seeing them rewarded for playing it safe and trading back gives one hope that they learn to be a little more like the guys calling the shots in New England, Pittsburgh and the rest of the elite front offices.

But just when you think you’ve got them figured out, these Redskins go and do something that completely baffles you. A team in dire need of help on both the offensive and defensive lines decides to use the newly-acquired second rounder on a tight end named Fred Davis from USC. I’m fairly sure if we were ranking the biggest areas of need on the current Washington Redskins football team that tight end would not rank in the top five, maybe not in the top 10. Chris Cooley is a premiere player at the position, Todd Yoder does a fine job backing him up and occasionally blocker and Tyler Ecker is a young guy who the ‘Skins drafted a year ago for depth at the position. With Calais Campbell, the defensive end from Miami (a.k.a. – The “U”) sitting there waiting for the Redskins to ask him for this dance, I thought the team would continue to impress us all today. Instead, we got Fred.

If that’s not enough, then the ‘Skins went one step further and drafted another receiver, Malcolm Kelly (you know, the guy I compared to Rod Gardner in an earlier post). I fully understand that the Redskins flew down to Oklahoma for a private workout with the kid this past Thursday and they legitimately considered drafted him with the 21st pick, meaning that he looked very appealing to them 30 picks later, but this is simply overkill. Unless they’re planning on putting 100 lbs. of weight on Fred and Mr. Kelly and teaching them to play on the offensive line, I cannot be on board with these picks. You’ve got Santana Moss, Antwan Randle El, James Thrash and Anthony Mix at wide out already, as well as Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley and Mike Sellers also around to get the ball to. When exactly are Thomas, Davis and Kelly (they sound like a law firm, don’t they?) going to touch the football? Sure, you’re trying to surround Jason Campbell with as much talent as possible, but that should also include help on the O-line.

Heading into day two the team has a third, fourth, sixth and two seventh rounders to get some depth on the offensive and defensive line, safety, cornerback and a back-up quarterback. Considering it’s virtually impossible for nine rookies to make the 2008 squad, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this team will still have some holes to fill once the draft is done. That’s means you either cross your fingers and pray like hell that a veteran or two gets cut in June or you go into the season praying injuries don’t cripple you at vital positions. Either way, that’s cause for an awful lot of faith with the big guy upstairs.

One final note – For what it’s worth, Cerrato told the media out at Redskins Park that drafting 17 receivers today basically means that they’ve given up on trying to acquire Chad Johnson, Anquan Boldin or Roy Williams in a trade.

26Apr

easy on the eyes

There is no offseason for my buddies from Skinscast, who went above and beyond the call of duty to bring you, the general public, photos from the 2008 Washington Redskins cheerleader auditions. I’m not sure why you’re still reading this when you should be clicking this link and getting your first look at the 2008 First Ladies of Football.

The photo on the right is actually one I took last season, but for some reason I figured that you guys wouldn’t mind seeing Anabel Dela Cerna one more time. If you like her, then you’ll probably enjoy this link to her photos from last year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Can you tell NFL draft day puts me in a good mood?

(photo by Brian Murphy)

25Apr

feeling a draft

(photo by Brian Murphy)


I take my Redskins very seriously. At times I’m like an overprotective parent, hoping to shield my little mess of a kid away from all the harm and negativity in the world — even if it means, at times, trying to protect it from itself.

Let me say for the record, I don’t have a problem with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. I have never once thought that his heart wasn’t in the right place. He’s loved the ‘Skins, just like I have, since day one. If for no other reason, I’ll always be cool with The Danny for that. But damn if the man doesn’t just make for public enemy number one with the media, who by the way are the people the cover his team on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it’s the perceived arrogance or the limited media availability or it’s just the fact that he’s mega-rich young guy who bought himself a silver spoon and one of the most successful sports franchises around. Whatever the reason, the folks charged with covering him and his team just plain don’t like him, and he gets no free passes from them. Especially this time of year.

It’s fitting that I bring up The Danny the day before the draft, because his name is always floating around out there during the offseason. How many NFL owners have a personal airplane? Couldn’t say. But we do know The Danny has Redskins One fueled up and ready to go on the first day of free agency or if there’s a personal workout that needs attended in the days leading up to the draft, as was the case this week when he watched a handful of kids go through one final session before finalizing the Redskins’ draft board.

There are a few names out there that are being repeated often enough to make ‘Skins fans take notice. The first name mentioned was Virginia offensive lineman Branden Albert, but at this point everyone’s fairly convinced he’ll be gone at least 10 spots before the Redskins are on the clock. With Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas seemingly unable to stay healthy for more than two games in a row, and the rest of the starters all over 30, it would seem wise for the Redskins to use their first rounder adding some youth to the line. But nothing’s that easy with the Washington Redskins, is it?

Another name we hear as a possible addition to the maroon and black (sorry Mr. Zorn, it’s too funny not to reference every once in a while) is Phillip Merling, a defensive lineman from Clemson. He’s one of the aforementioned player who worked out for The Danny and friends 48 hours before the draft. He’s also the gentleman who has dropped on some draft boards because of health issues, specifically a sports hernia. I read on the Redskins Insider blog that some scouts consider him a kind of Phillip Daniels 2.0, of sorts. While I like Daniels — he’s solid on and off the field and has the wingspan of a Buick — he’s never been someone the opposition has to gameplan for. And when we hear about the sports hernia, the locals can’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling. A sports hernia is no fun, and it doesn’t just magically go away one day. It’s the same injury that caused Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb to end his 2005 season prematurely. Call me a pessimist, but I get a sneaking suspicion that if the Redskins draft Merling the best-case scenario is he turns out like linebacker Rocky McIntosh, a talented young player who had health issues when the ‘Skins drafted him in the second round of the 2006 draft and continues to have trouble staying on the field because of various injuries. At least they can work together rehabbing from whatever ails them. (In the immortal words of Tenacious D — “That’s fucking teamwork!”)

The other name floating out there is Oklahoma wide out Malcolm Kelly, who I would rather not see holding up a Redskins jersey at any point this weekend. He’s the guy who ran a terribly slow 40-yard dash and then blamed everyone else. Then he set up a “do over” on a faster track on campus and still ran a disappointing 4.63. He’s a player who, like Merling, finds himself sliding down the draft board, only his reason is called “character issues,” which is NFL code for “the guy’s an asshole.” He’s a big target, who isn’t very fast and has questionable character. Where have we heard that story before? Oh, that’s right — the ‘Skins drafted a guy by the name of Rod “Stone Hands” Gardner back in 2001, who is the poster child for that description. If ever a team should be afraid to walk down the aisle with a player like that, it’s the Redskins.

That’s why I’m openly praying for a trade — either dropping out of the first round to pick up additional selections, or to acquire a proven wide receiver like Anquan Boldin, Roy Williams or Chad Johnson. Sure, Johnson is carrying on like a jackass in Cincy, but he’s a Drew Rosenhaus guy, and we all know that The Super Agent is in The Danny’s “Fave Five.” As soon as he gets to D.C., he’ll be smiling and sitting courtside with Clinton Portis at Wizards games or in the front row with Jason Campbell at Capitals games.

At the end of the day, the Redskins need help on the offensive line, defensive line, at receiver and at safety. They would also like to draft a third-string quarterback now that New Orleans has decided to take on a charity case by the name of Mark Brunell, leaving Washington with only Campbell and Todd “The Tasty Drink” Collins behind center.

I traded emails with a few of the professionals who earn a living covering this team, and none of them can say with any amount of certainty what the Redskins will do at around 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening when it’s time to make the 21st pick in the draft. Names like LaRon Landry, Sean Taylor and Jason Campbell might lead fans to think that’s the Redskins will have no problems bringing in another cornerstone with their first rounder, but guys like Patrick Ramsey and Rod Gardner have also been first rounders over the last decade. My advice? Crack open a frosty and refreshing beverage, cross your fingers and pray like hell the front office brings home the goods, one way or the other.

In the words of Terrell Owens (when he’s not appearing on porn websites) get your popcorn ready.

25Apr

damn the man update


A few loyal readers contacted me to point out that the link to ConcretePond’s Ovechkin t-shirt was down, so I emailed George to give him a head’s up, hoping he’d fix it so people could continue to pick up this wonderfully creative tee. Sadly, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Here’s what George had to say:

“The NHL sent me a friendly letter requesting that I not sell them anymore and there won’t be any trouble. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.”

So if you were lucky enough to order one before “The Suits” stepped in and ruined a good thing, congrats. If not, sorry about your lucky. It just seems stupid to me that the NHL would get involved in something as minor as this – especially since they’ve been dying for attention the last few years. Let’s give the t-shirt the proper send off, the only way we know how.

Goodbye.

ps — This article is one of the more enjoyable pieces written about the Caps all year long. Man crushes for everyone!

24Apr

the history of civilization?

Growing up, I was a huge fan of the WWF. The theater involved with Hulk Hogan calling on his Hulkamaniacs to “say their prayers and eat their vitamins” so he could have the strength to defeat Andre the Giant was more than enough to have me tune in each Saturday morning.

I also grew up an avid boxing fan and often was able to talk my parents into letting me have a friend spend the night when one of Mike Tyson’s fights were going to be shown on HBO. From their standpoint it was simple – ‘Iron Mike’ was going to knock out his tomato can of an opponent in the first round and then they’d send my buddy and I to bed for the night. I bring this up because anyone whose ever heard the name Don King knows the ingredients for a entertaining weigh-in – lots of trash talking, some pushing and shoving and then the promise of a top-notch main event.

I bring up both of these examples because this entry is dedicated to the Washington Wizards, who are currently facing a “standing eight count” against the Cleveland LeBrons. You may remember Wiz guard DeShawn Stevenson calling King James “overrated,” and Gilbert Arenas following that up with a blog entry basically begging for a first-round bout with Cleveland because he was sure they were beatable. Well, in the immortal words of my mom, “Be careful what you ask for because you just may get it.” The Wizards hung around in game one until their biggest Achillies’ heel exposed itself once again.

For three years I’ve argued with other locals who follow this team that they’re never going to venture deep into the playoffs unless radical changes are made to the composition of this team. There are simply too many guys who settle for jump shots instead of driving into the paint and getting the tough baskets or forcing the opposition into foul trouble.
That may work for stretches during the regular season, but when everything intensifies during the postseason, jump shooters have a way of going cold and missing the big shots with the game on the line. That’s why ESPN always shows when a shooter drains a 20 footer in the second half — because they just don’t go in that often in the playoffs.

Antawn Jamison is a wonderful complementary player, but he’s not the type of go-to player who is willing to bang around down low and muscle his way to the basket when the season is on the line. Gilbert Arenas is fearless, when healthy, but this player wearing #0 is not that same player. Injuries have limited Agent Zero to 15 points and three assists a game so far in the playoffs, which is fine if you’re Derek Fisher. Not so much for Arenas, who fancies himself a superstar. Ditto with Caron Butler’s production, who is bringing home 13 points and five boards a night. Brendan Haywood is willing to get down and dirty — shoving King James into the third row of seats behind the basket when James had the audacity to try to drive the basket while Haywood was on the court (he hasn’t been this willing to get physical since the last time he and teammate Etan Thomas read poetry together). But Haywood can only do so much. Anyone expecting more than 10 points and 10 rebounds from Brendan is in for a letdown.

So this leads us to a fairly simple question — if the Wizards are built for regular season success, at best, and are suffering from the same rash of injuries that have hampered them for the last two years, why are they talking trash to the best young player in the game? Um … anyone?

“I think the Washington Wizards have got to be the dumbest team in the history of civilization,” said Charles Barkley, who never shies away from a chance to state the obvious. “I think for them to rile up LeBron, who is the second best player in the NBA, I think that’s just stupid.”

The bottom line is, unless the Wiz can stop talking the talk and start walking the walk, they’ll be golfing the golf by next weekend. They’re entertaining and a fun team to watch, and when the shots are falling, they can run with anyone. But during the playoffs, I just don’t think their jump-shooting mentality, especially against a motivated Cleveland LeBrons squad, is good enough to carry them past the first round. If this series goes six games, I’d be stunned. Hopefully I’m wrong, but history (and not to mention Cleveland’s eight straight playoff wins against the Wiz) seem to agree.

23Apr

capping off the caps

As some of you know, I’ve played on a beer league hockey team called The 5 Holes for seven years now. Well, our summer season started Tuesday night at 9:45 p.m., which was exactly when Game 7 of the Caps-Flyers series went to overtime. Half of the guys on the team are Caps fans and we have a few Flyers fans too, so it was tough heading out and playing — especially since I’d been to the first three home games in D.C. We ended up winning 7-2, which was great until we found out how the Caps-Flyers game ended.

Speaking of The 5 Holes, we’ve always gone to the same company — Concrete Pond — to order our jerseys. Well, the main guy over there, George, designed quite possibly the greatest Capitals inspired t-shirt in the history of the franchise – which can be seen on their website. George is such a great guy, he hooked my wife and I each up with a shirt prior to game one and I wore it to each of the home games. Additionally, I sent the link to Dan Steinberg, of Washington Post fame, and he dug it enough to give it some love on his blog. Now the things are selling like hot cakes, or something of equally-impressive selling quality, so go order one and tell them murf sent you.

Finally, back to the Caps. The day before the regular season finale I headed over to Kettler to watch the Caps optional practice. Their media relations guy, Nate Ewell, is a good guy and told me if I ever wanted to come out and shoot photos of practice to let him know and he’d hook me up. Well, he did. I spent the practice session in the penalty box (fitting, I know) and got some great shots. Due to popular demand, I added a handful of my shots from that day to my Flickr page, which can be found here.

23Apr

going 5 hole: the caps

Five thoughts on the day after the Washington Capitals dream ride came to an end:

1. Alexander Ovechkin, who turns 23 this September, is already the best player that the District of Columbia has had during my 31 years on this planet. We’re not just talking hockey – we’re talking across the board. Opponents have yet to figure out a weakness in his game – he hits, he passes and lord knows he can score goals.

Remember the old Russian stereotype? You know, that all Russian athletes are essentially emotionless robots like Ivan Drago from the Rocky movies. Yeah, well, he shoots that right out the window. He celebrates every moment with unabashed enthusiasm and simultaneously endears himself to the ever-growing Captials fanbase.

2. Cristobal Huet just earned himself a fat new contract and the Caps should be the team to give it to him. Let’s take a minute to point out that Montreal gave up on the guy – traded him to the Caps for a second-round pick they acquired from the Ducks for center Brian Sutherby. (Sidenote: In 45 games this year with Anaheim, Sutherby registered zero goals, one assist and 57 penalty minutes. If it weren’t for the penalty minutes you wouldn’t even know he touched the ice). Huet went 11-2 down the stretch and posted a goals against average of 1.63 and a save percentage of .936 with two shutouts. In the playoffs his numbers weren’t as good, but neither was the defense in front of him for the first three games of the series.

Contrary to popular opinion in Montreal (and really, do we want to listen to anyone who riots after the top-seeded team in the conference advances out of the first round?) Huet is a goaltender you can build a team around. Sadly, that means it’s the end of the line for Olaf Kolzig, who has been the face of the franchise since he arrived in ’89. I would hope he decides to retire to focus on the Athletes Against Autism program he cares about so deeply, but I wouldn’t hold it against him if the Caps didn’t resign him and Olie went elsewhere to close out his career. He’s earned the right to do whatever he sees fit.

3. While I’d like to see Sergei Federov return, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s 38 years old and very well may retire. But, if he wants to play another season or two he’s not a lock to remain in town. Let’s not forget that the Caps already have a similar pass-first forward named Michael Nylander on the roster, and will definitely need to find room in their top three lines for him and captain Chris Clark. That probably spells the end for the former Mr. Anna Kournikova, who helped Alex and Alex more than we’ll ever know.

4. The Capitals, in my honest opinion, need two more legit defenseman to take that next step. I’ve heard from a few different places that Brian Pothier may be done (concussion), but even if he were healthy he’s not the answer. Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina were nothing short of a liability every time they stepped out on the ice during the playoffs. Jurcina may be 6’4″ and 233 lbs., but he cannot clear the puck out of his zone to save his life. How he sneaks onto the playing surface during a penalty kill is beyond me. I’m not kidding when I say that if I were Bruce Boudreau, I would have hog-tied him to the bench any time my squad was a man down. If he even looked at the ice I’d instruct Donnie Brashear to “ka-bong” him. Signing two veteran blue liners or one vet and bringing in a talented youngster like Calgary Hitman defenseman Karl Alzner would keep a goalie like Huet from having to stand on his head three times a game. While it’s highly exciting to watch, it would probably extend the lives of Boudreau, George McPhee and Ted Leonsis by about a decade.

5. Otherwise, the Caps look an awful lot like the 2006-7 Pittsburgh Penguins. They didn’t make it past the first round in the first dance, but the building blocks are definitely in place. Nicklas Backstrom certainly didn’t play like a rookie during the Flyers series, and except for the occasional ill-advised penalty, Alexander Semin was probably the best Capital not named Huet over the last two weeks. Mike Green is channeling his inner Paul Coffey, while Brooks Laich (who people forget came to town when fan favorite Peter Bondra was traded away) has proven more than just eye candy for the ladies — gladly filling the thankless role of “guy who repeatedly get crosschecked for an entire shift while he screens the opposition’s goalie.” If Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann or any of the other young guns can make modest improvements during the offseason than this team really doesn’t need much more to become one of the league’s elite. While other teams in the local market might not be able to make the same claim, the Washington Capitals can feel confident that they’re ready to “unleash the fury” on the opposition for the forseeable future.

(photo by Brian Murphy)

HomerMcFanboy background image