Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cincinnati petitions for Hazelton's eligibility

The Cincinnati Bearcats have petitioned the NCAA for 2009 eligibility of wide receiver Vidal Hazelton. Under the current NCAA rules, the Southern California transfer must sit out a season before becoming part of the active roster in 2010. The basis for the petition is Hazelton's need to move closer to his grandfather, who resides in Georgia and is diagnosed with cancer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Practice Schedule

If anyone is interested in attending any of the spring practice sessions, here are the dates and times:

March 28, Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
March 31, Tuesday, 4 p.m.
April 2, Thursday, 4 p.m.
April 3, Friday, 4 p.m.
April 5, Sunday, TBA
April 7, Tuesday, 4 p.m.
April 9, Thursday, 4 p.m.
April 11, Saturday, Coliseum (CLOSED to the public)
April 14, Tuesday, 4 p.m.
April 16, Thursday, 4 p.m.
April 17, Friday, 4 p.m.
April 18, Saturday, TBA
April 21, Tuesday, 4 p.m.
April 23, Thursday, 4 p.m.
April 25, Saturday, Trojan Huddle at the Coliseum (Time TBA)

*courtesy of Scott Wolf, Inside USC

Monday, March 16, 2009

NFL Draft: Measure the burst with the 40-yard finish

The 40-yard dash has become the highlight of every pre-draft workout. From the NFL scout combine to individual pro-days, Americans have developed a fascination for watching prospects stripped of pads, and often lighter than their playing weight, run full speed in a straight line. And regardless of what some critics may believe, this measurement of speed, depending on position, does have an impact on draft status.

Too often, there’s the argument that 40-times don’t factor in the equation for draft positioning, and they’ll support their stance with names of speedy draft busts and slower prospects that rose to stardom. But honestly, for ever story of failure, you’ll find several others of success. They argue that recorded times in a straight line don’t matter in accordance to where a player is selected, but they do. You can fill out your personal mock and choose not to give a certain player a first round projection, by ignoring recorded speeds, but it will stray from the league’s current selection pattern. 40-times may or may not be the proper method for evaluating future talent, but in terms of draft positioning, history proves there is a significant impact.

Today’s NFL rebuilds with speed, so I tire of references to old school slugs and stardom. Those stories hold as much weight as the passing games of those periods. In today’s game, the fastest guy on the track isn’t necessarily the first off the board, but it’s foolish to believe speed can’t catapult a player to a more prosperous draft position. Do 4.3 players go in the 4th and 5th rounds? Of course they do. But let that same player run a 4.5 or higher, depending on his position, and watch him fall to the seventh or become an undrafted free agent.

The difference between Chris Johnson being selected in the first and second rounds of last year’s draft was his 4.24 at the scout combine. Also, with the more popular receivers from the more popular schools projected as first round prospects, none left the board in the opening round, and Houston’s Donnie Avery, and his 4.2 speed, became the first off the board in the second. Before Avery and Johnson ran that straight line, they were projected lower than several others at their position. And likewise, Oklahoma’s Malcolm Kelly was a top receiving prospect, until he appeared sluggish on the track.

For some positions, it’s ridiculous to even time the the 40-yard dash. Recording the speed of a kicking prospect is irrelevant, unless you’re purposely drafting with the expectations of a poor kicking game, which leaves him running down returners on a path to the end zone or defenders that block and scoop kicks. And what about 300 pound linemen or the speed of linebackers, does it matter? Not so much, as far as the end result, but there is more than one measurement on that 40-yard track.

The NFL Network brings the combine into our living rooms, and we watch athletes run a track to a succession of beeps. The final beep is the number announced, giving us the official 40-time. But for some positions, it’s the first beep that is most important, as it measures the explosion. For Example, at the combine, USC’s Clay Matthews made a push for first round selection. Along with his great performance in drills, he also ran well on the track. Though his official time was 4.62, it’s less significant than his time in the first 10 yards.

Matthews clocked 1.49 at the first beep. In comparison, Percy Harvin recorded 1.47, and Darius Heyward-Bey, who dazzled the combine with a 4.3 finish, clocked 1.44 for the first 10 yards. For teams looking for an outside pass rusher, position drills display the footwork and strength, but it’s the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash that gives them a sense of the explosion. It’s that measure of burst that added to Matthews’ physical dimensions to make him a legitimate first round prospect.

Are 40-times overrated? Possibly. But they are without a doubt a proven element in prospect alignment, and enough of a factor to push players to shed weight and hire trainers for the single event.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The 2009 USC Rose Bowl ring

The USC football program continues to challenge Balfour to brainstorm new creations for the Rose Bowl Ring. I recently got a look at the latest edition for the 7-time defending Pac 10 champions (from USCripsit), and I must say it’s pretty sweet. This is version No. 4 for the Men of Troy, in the past 6 seasons, with each having a slight change in design. One obvious alteration is the single digit increase in the number of consecutive conference championships. The other change, Penn State now marks the most recent Rose Bowl victim.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Another spring without Joe Mcknight

Still recovering from the dislocation of 4 toes, Joe McKnight will not be available for spring practice. He suffered the injury during the January 1st Rose Bowl. McKnight missed the 2008 spring practices with academic issues, before rejoining the team in the Summer. Considered to be one of the most dynamic running backs in college football, injuries have often played their part in keeping him off the field.

Monday, March 2, 2009

It’s now or never for Mitch Mustain

Watching Matt Cassel’s rise from the depths of obscurity is an amazing story in itself. But for one particular observer, there’s a personal connection and offering of hope. That person is USC quarterback Mitch Mustain, who oddly enough finds himself walking a similar path, though the upcoming spring and summer months may offer a shortcut.

Cassel never started a game as a Trojan, and neither has Mustain. Cassel sat behind two Heisman Trophy winners and future NFL first round draft picks. Mustain spent his first eligible year at USC sitting behind Mark Sanchez, a one year starter with first round aspirations. As a junior, Cassel approached a window of opportunity and failed to crawl through. Now in his junior campaign, Mitch Mustain walks towards that same window, hoping to not meet the same fate.

Carson Palmer’s 2003 departure left an open competition for quarterbacks remaining. The early favorite was clearly Matt Cassel, having secured the No. 2 role a year prior. He competed and eventually lost the spring battle to the younger Matt Leinart, which resulted in his spending the final two years of eligibility as a substitute.

Mitch Mustain enters spring practice of 2009, and it’s now or never for one of the most decorated high school quarterbacks of the 2006 recruiting class. Like Cassel in 2003, losing this year’s battle is to lose all hope of ever starting as a Trojan. Only twice since 1998 has USC made a quarterback switch to remove a starter, and never under Pete Carroll’s watch. The holder of the reins has guided the chariot until his collegiate work was done. Carson Palmer replaced Mike Van Raaphorst in the 9th game of the ’98 season, to become only the second true freshman quarterback ever to start a game for USC. A broken collar bone benched Palmer in ’99. Outside of the switch in his freshman year, and the injury as a sophomore, the quarterback to win the initial competition has always maintained the starting role.

Mustain flip-flopped as the No. 2 and 3 through the course of last season, never threatening Mark Sanchez for the first team spot. With Sanchez gone, he now battles the more versatile sophomore Aaron Corp and the highly touted true freshman Matt Barkley. It may be one last gasp, a final shot to prove his worth. Failure places him on the alternate route, which is shadowed, much longer, and contains the footprints of Matt Cassel.