With all three California teams making the NHL playoffs this season, and two of them—the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks—in the midst of a Western Conference semifinal showdown, senior writer Austin Murphy takes a look at the Golden State’s thriving hockey landscape in this week’s
Murphy finds that much of hockey’s popularity in California is due in part to the Sharks, Kings and Ducks being committed to developing young talent right in their backyard. The Sharks, playing in their ninth straight postseason, including trips to two of the last three conference finals, oversee a score of traveling club teams for boys and girls, ages eight to 18.
“By growing the game at a grass roots level, the Sharks are also minting fans for life,” says Murphy. “Since the NHL planted the team in San Jose 22 years ago, this high-tech hub has morphed into a kind of Hockeytown 2.0.” (PAGE 46)
The Sharks play in front of sellout crowds at the “Shark Tank”, which Murphy says has turned out “to be one of the loudest, most inhospitable pits in the league.” (PAGE 48) Their older fans love to play hockey too, as Murphy finds that San Jose is home to the largest adult hockey league in the country with 5,000 skaters and 165 teams.
The Kings and Ducks also have invested in youth hockey. The 2010 draft had a total of four California kids selected—all of them products of what is now the Los Angeles Jr. Kings Hockey Club. Anaheim has poured $12 million into its youth program since 2007, the same year they won a Stanley Cup.
The state’s franchises each “has invested heavily in the sport,” says Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “When you watch national championship games—bantams, pewees, midgets—the teams from California, especially Southern California, are always at the top of the heap.” (PAGE 46)
Though the Sharks struggled on the ice its first few years in the NHL, they did well at the gate and with merchandise sales thanks to the business community. “With all the corporate support they had coming in, you knew hockey was going to be a home run in that city” says Jack Ferreira, the former Sharks and Ducks general manager who is now special assistant to Kings G.M. Dean Lombardi, who also was G.M. for the Sharks from 1996-2003. (PAGE 48)
“From the NHL down to the squirts, the hockey boom in California is massive and irreversible,” writes Murphy. “Players and coaches who come to the Golden State tend to stick around. They can check out any time they like, but they never leave.” (PAGE 49)
As the 2013 NFL draft draws closer, it is no surprise that the quarterback class that follows the awe-striking 2012 draft is lacking in its talent and hype. In this week’s issue, SI senior writer Austin Murphy takes a deeper look at draft prospect and former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and his road to Radio City Music Hall on April 25th.
Smith, who in three seasons as the Mountaineer’s starter threw for 11,662 yards and 98 touchdowns, is among the motley crew of underwhelming quarterbacks heading into this year’s draft. Amongst Smith’s greatest challenges going into the draft is disproving the relatively brutal scouting report he received in Pro Football Weekly from Nolan Nawrocki last week. The report stated that Smith had “average field vision and coverage recognition” and forced throws. The report chided him for taking “unnecessary sacks” and not feeling pressure well. “Not an elusive scrambler. Shaky lowerbody mechanics” (PAGE 52), claims that are backed up by the Mountaineers less than stellar finish of the 2012 season.
Despite the vicious knocks to Smith’s playing style, the most controversial of assertions was that of Smith’s commitment and character. Nawrocki believes that Smith will be unable to command respect from his teammates and is not a student of the game. There are those who completely refute such claims, however.
“Geno’s the hardest practicing QB & most gifted student of the game I’ve coached,”(PAGE 53) tweeted Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorson after the report was released.
“I remember leaving the offices at 1 a.m. after the Baylor game”—Smith had completed 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in a 70–63 win—“and Geno was still there, sitting in a dark room, watching video,” recalls Alex Hammond, West Virginia’s director of football operations. (PAGE 53)
But while everybody else is debating Smith’s future, he is making no excuses and focusing only on improvement.
“It’s not like I’m sitting here blind,” says Smith. “I know the areas I need to improve, and I know how to improve them.” (PAGE 53)
Man boobs or mobility? Thunder thighs or the fastest 40 at the combine? These are the questions for so many wide-body prospects in the rapidly evolving game of football, where every extra pound is a double-edged sword. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, staff writer Austin Murphy examines the difference between being fit and being fat and how that matters for today’s game—one that looks for different type of linemen who can work in complex offenses such as the read option and the spread.
LeCharles Bentley, former Pro Bowl lineman with the Saints fears obesity is becoming an epidemic in the NFL. He believes that there are plenty of players who have eaten their way well past that mile marker. “A lot of the bodies you see in the league are soft. You don’t have to look like a receiver to play offensive line. But it’s critical to have correct body composition. You’re not playing to your full athletic potential when you’re that fat,” says Bentley (PAGE 52).
NFL executives now worry about what will happen to big guys once they get paid. “Throw guaranteed money at a guy, and the next thing you know he’s drinking smoothies with pineapple and whole milk,” says Murphy (PAGE 53).
Yet, many offensive line coaches can see the beauty in a big belly jiggling over tree-trunk legs. “Your power comes from your hips and your ass, that’s where your biggest muscles are…That’s your power pack. Some guys got a gut sticking out over top of that, but they can still use the power pack. They can get the job done for 16 weeks,” says Joe Pendry, an O-line coach for 45 years in the NFL (PAGE 52).
Howard Mudd who played seven seasons in the NFL, then coached offensive linemen for another 38 looks for balance and recovery when scouting an offensive lineman.“I wanted to see what happens when he starts to block a guy, but the guy gets away from him, and he almost falls down, and yet he’s able to right himself and complete the play. It might not even look that good, but I’ll say, Wow. That guy recovered,” says Mudd (PAGE 54).
This year, Georgia DT John Jenkins, as well as other big linemen lost a few pounds for the combine and their pro day to score better in combine drills. Most plan to gain the weight back. However, Murphy finds that today’s players have much more knowledge and resources when it comes to diet and nutrition.
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock agrees. He says, “Offensive linemen this year look much different than they did 10 or even five years ago…they look leaner, not as sloppy as in the past years…for a lot of these prospects, for the first time in their lives people are hammering on them about nutrition.” (PAGE 53)
Murphy is still left to wonder—just how big is too big?
In four of the last five Super Bowls, the game has been determined by a turbulent, exciting final drive. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Austin Murphy (@si_austinmurphy) takes us through the history of the two-minute drills that make NFL games, especially Super Bowls, so memorable. From Unitas to Montana to Manning (Eli, that is), Murphy breaks down some of the most iconic drives. The piece also dives into the drill’s evolution, such as communication between quarterback and coach via headset, the growth of hurry-up offenses and the intense preparation of all the possible late game scenarios coaches stress to get ready for games.
“There’s so much more emphasis on [hurry-up offenses]. Especially in OTAS and training camp,” says new Cardinals coach and former Colts interim coach Bruce Arians (PAGE 34), who helped rookie quarterback Andrew Luck become a two-minute maestro this season.
Murphy also poses the question of which Super Bowl quarterback has the better chance to lead a winning two-minute drill in this year’s game. Will it be Joe Flacco, who already has 10 fourth-quarter comebacks to his name, or the elusive Colin Kaepernick, who showed at Nevada that he has the potential to be a “future maestro of the 2MD”?
“Flacco’s guys know he can do it. They’re going to have a confidence that the 49ers can’t have because they haven’t done it,” says Randy Cross (PAGE 32), the former 49ers center who was a part of in the winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII.
Harbaugh Brothers, Frank Gore, Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco Featured on Special Four-Cover Series of This Week’s Sports IllustratedPosted: January 22, 2013
Brothers Jim and John Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore; Ravens linebacker and emotional leader Ray Lewis, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco are featured on a special 4-cover series of the Jan. 28, 2013 Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday.
The first three covers feature the headlines: “There Will Be Blood”, “There Will be Gore”, and “There Will be a Valiant Last Stand”. They lead up to the final cover, which predicts “There Will Be a Parade in Baltimore”. This is the 3rd time that both Lewis and Flacco have appeared on the cover and the 2nd time Gore has appeared on the cover.
This week’s Sports Illustrated includes12 pages of Super Bowl XLVII coverage, featuring “10 Things We Thing we Think”. Highlights include:
Senior writer Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) says that you must expect the unexpected from the unpredictable 49ers offense, as they have proven they can beat you in multiple ways (PAGE 40). However, King still picks the Ravens to defeat the 49ers, 27-23. King says: “I’ve doubted Flacco one too many times this winter, and I won’t make that mistake a third time (PAGE 49).”
Ray Lewis and the reinvigorated Ravens defense will contest the 49ers explosive offensive attack writes senior writer Austin Murphy (@si_austinmurphy). Murphy says: “Galvanized by hardships earlier in the season and rallying around spiritual leader Lewis, they are headed to the Big Easy brimming with the confidence that comes from confounding the doubters three weeks in a row (PAGE 42).”
They may share the same last name, but Jim and John Harbaugh have taken different journeys and approaches en route to leading their teams to the Super Bowl. Senior writer Michael Rosenberg (@Rosenberg_Mike) writes that while most Super Bowl storylines tend to overwhelm the game itself, this story—the HarBowl—is a worthy one will certainly live up to the hype. Rosenberg writes: “Two brothers, who were born 15 months apart and spent much of their childhoods sharing a room, will be coaching against one another on the biggest stage in American sports (PAGE 47).”
Download a high res image of the covers here