The Panic Room
While NFC West powerhouse teams San Francisco Forty Niners and Seattle Seahawks have made bold moves to boost their roster for the upcoming season, the Saint Louis Rams find themselves relying heavily on young raw talent, which made Day 1 of the 2013 NFL Draft crucial for the rising team. In a Sports Illustrated exclusive in this week’s magazine, Senior Writer Peter King gives a behind the scenes look at how the Rams managed the franchises most important day of the year with a little gambling and a lucky golden coin.
Included in this draft day timeline is:
- The Rams desperate deal making that ensured their acquisition of the No. 8 pick in the draft and the subsequent drafting of West Virginia receiver-returner Tevon Austin, “a durable lightning bug and the most dangerous player on the board,” (PAGE 50) writes King.
- The dramatic decision making process that led to the Rams trading their No. 22 overall pick in the first round for the No. 30 pick, a move that potentially put securing their favorite prospect, Alec Ogletree, in jeopardy. Ogletree’s agent Pat Dye warned, “you better not get cute or you’ll lose him.” (PAGE 51) The Rams got him at No. 30 still.
- A breakdown of the sweat-educing stressful environment that was the climax of a nine month scouting process, an environment that “felt like Wall Street,” (PAGE 54) said Les Snead, the Rams General Manager.
Disappointed with the quality of quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft? Don’t think there’s enough star power amongst this year’s crop? In this week’s SI and on SI.com, Paul Pabst, producer of the Dan Patrick Show, ranks the Hollywood QB’s you wish could be seen at Radio City Music Hall this Thursday night. Here are the top five:
- Reno Hightower, Kurt Russel in The Best of Times
- Flash Gordon, Sam J. Jones in Flash Gordon
- Paul Crewe, Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard (1974)
- David Greene, Brendan Frasser in School Ties
- Johnny Utah, Keanu Reeves in Point Break
See Pabst’s entire list of elite Hollywood QB’s here. Also, watch Pabst and Andrew Perloff, from SI and the DP Show, debate the most elite quarterbacks in the world of film here. Lastly, JJ Watt of the Houston Texans describes the cinematic QB he would most like to sack here.
For nearly five decades, the Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 3 selection in next week’s draft, were one of the top organizations in the NFL under the leadership of Al Davis, the iconic owner who died at age 82 in October 2011. From 1963 until 2002, the Raiders won three Super Bowls and had a .625 winning percentage. Since 2002 however, the Raiders have lost at least 11 games in an NFL-record seven straight seasons. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Jim Trotter examines how the team’s new brain trust is transforming the culture of a franchise that lost its way during Davis’s final decade.
Trotter spent a year behind the scenes with Raiders owner Mark Davis, who took over after his father Al’s death, and Reggie McKenzie, who was hired by the new owner as G.M. prior to the 2012 season. Trotter writes that since Al Davis’ death in 2011, “the Raiders have undergone a three part healing process: the hiring of McKenzie; the firing of Davis’s last major hire, promising head coach Hue Jackson; and the commitment of new owner Mark Davis to break with his father’s ways and seek a long-term fix rather than a short-term solution.” (PAGE 63)
McKenzie, who was a Raiders linebacker in the mid ‘80’s and spent 12 years in the Green Bay Packers front office, most recently as the director of football operations, faced quite a challenge—he inherited a losing team that was a league-high $31 million over the salary cap. Trotter found that much of the G.M.’s energy the past 15 months has been dedicated to upgrading the scouting and personnel departments, which were not up to speed with the modern NFL. He even had to hire a full-time groundskeeper for the team’s training facility, since one was never previously employed. McKenzie says:
“My mind-set coming in was, I’m gonna have to be highly organized and firm in my beliefs. Because when you’ve got a building that’s used to certain way for so long—I knew change wouldn’t be easy. I had to have a plan and a way to implement my plan.” (PAGE 63)
Before last season, McKenzie fired Jackson and hired 39 year-old Dennis Allen, the former Broncos defensive coordinator, as head coach. McKenzie also released many high priced veterans. The 2012 Raiders suffered through another losing season, but the plan is a patient rebuild. Trotter notes: “As of last weekend 38 of the 53 players on the pre-McKenzie roster had been released, traded or allowed to leave as free agents.” (PAGE 68)
This offseason, McKenzie released veterans Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Rolando McClain, Michael Huff and Darrius Heyward-Bey. He also traded quarterback Carson Palmer to Arizona and sent two middle-round picks to Seattle for QB Matt Flynn. The plan is to be at least $50 million under the cap by 2014 and Mark Davis tells Trotter that he will be patient. The owner says:
“Reggie’s my guy. He did inherit a mess, and he’s still cleaning. I can be patient with him. I’m giving him the whole shot.” (PAGE 68)
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)
After independently training two consecutive No. 1 NFL draft picks, assisting Johnny Manziel in procuring the starting quarterback position at Texas A&M and working with Ben Roethlisberger through his four-game suspension in 2010, George Whitfield is gaining a reputation as a “quarterback whisperer” in the football world. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Andy Staples explores how this college hopping, former arena football playing quarterback coach has grown into the Jedi master to quarterback elite. Whitfield stresses that preparing QB’s for real game situations is the key to success on any level.
“There’s a notion with regard to training or practice that it’s always pristine. The conditions are always perfect,” says Whitfield. “O-lines aren’t some Great Wall of China at any level. Set [QBs} up for what they’re really going to walk into. You can’t set them up for the streets of New York when they’re really going to Guatemala.” (PAGE 53)
Whitfield’s small time operation in San Diego, California attracts big names from all over, and the list of aspiring students continues to grow. His teachings can cater to any QBs needs and the success rate of his trainees knows no bounds. With 2013 draft hopefuls such as Landry Jones and Johnny McEntee under Whitfield’s wing, who will be his next top student? Whatever a quarterback needs to survive in today’s game, Pep Hamilton (the newly appointed Colts’ offensive coordinator) says, Whitfield can find a way to teach it. “He’s a Jedi,” (PAGE 55).
Is a Ghanaian soccer player who dreamed of NBA glory about to conquer the NFL draft?
He grew up playing soccer in his home country of Ghana and successfully walked on to the BYU track team, but Ezekiel (Ziggy) Ansah’s future in professional sports could lie in being a first-round pick in the next NFL draft, writes Jeff Benedict. He was recruited to BYU by a sophomore serving his Mormon mission in Ghana in 2007, who played pickup basketball with Ansah and thought the Ghanaian’s 6′ 6″ 250-pound frame would lend itself to football. Ansah walked on to the Cougars’ team in 2010, and over the final nine games of the 2012 season, was third on his team in tackles (48), second in sacks (4.5) and first in tackles for loss (13).
While he’s not a star in the sport he grew up dreaming about – basketball – Ansah is drawing serious interests from NFL scouts, who are flocking to BYU to check him out. Says one scout: “The combination of his height, weight and speed is probably unmatched. Plus, he’s so strong. He’s got that Jason Pierre-Paul type of physical upside” (page 46).