In this week’s matchup of Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Mike Herold, challenges staff writer Chrissy Onorato, sports assistant Peter Fiorilla and correspondent Alec Zucker to answer questions about what to change about the NFL draft combine, how to make soccer more exciting, and which new faces in baseball everyone should be looking out for.
1. The NFL draft combine finished up this week. Which player’s performance helped his draft stock the most? Who hurt theirs the most?
CO: I would have to say that defensive back Dee Milliner looked very strong and inspiring. He postponed ligament surgery to be able to compete in the combine, jeopardizing his injury even more. He told reporters that his chance of getting drafted was more important and that he had to show his drive this way. He posted a terrific 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a quick 4.32 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. Milliner is definitely one to be watched in the coming years. One player who I think hurt himself during the combine was LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. He was definitely quick in the 40-yard dash, posting a time of 4.51 seconds. However, he was only able to bench press 225 pounds four times. I watched an analysis and he was compared to an Arizona State kicker who was able to bench press 225 pounds 13 times. It has been stated Mathieu is not a hard worker and may just not be ready for the NFL.
PF: All-American Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, despite practicing through a shoulder injury, proved he possesses the speed necessary to be a solid NFL prospect with his performance at the combine. We knew he was a large and fearsome corner, but there were doubts about his ability to close down attackers with speed displayed at the pro level. Running a 4.37 at the combine eliminated those doubts, virtually guaranteeing Milliner will be picked between the No. 5 and No. 10 spots, when he might have been a late first-rounder otherwise. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m having a tough time deciding whether Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore or Utah’s Star Lotulelei hurt their stock more with the combine. Both were projected top-10 picks who I suspect will fall into the end of the first round, but I think Moore’s performance — an ugly 4.95 time in the 40-yard dash and only 12 bench reps — might have been worse than Lotulelei’s unfortunate no-show due to a heart condition.
AZ: NFL fans were largely focused on Linebacker Manti Te`o and how the kid would respond after being publicly humiliated. Fortunately for Te’o and the NFL, there are many other college players that have the potential to steal the spotlight this upcoming season. DT Sharrif Floyd from Florida, already considered a first round pick before the combine, is now a likely Top-10 selection after displaying a powerful combination of strength and speed. Floyd’s ability to change direction and explode on an opposing player will be a defensive asset for any NFL team. Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg also improved his draft prospects at the combine. After a stellar 2011 season, Gragg failed to meet his high expectations for this past season and scouts were pessimistic on his draft prospects. However, following a tremendous showing of athleticism, quickness and precision, Gragg has a chance to challenge Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski for the top tight end spot. While NFL analysts say this draft class is weak compared to last year’s, I believe talent is available in this class.
Chrissy gets 3 points for pointing out that Mathieu just might not be a hard enough worker for the NFL. Peter gets 2 points for discussing the problems that can come from doing poorly at the combine and from not attending at all. Alec gets 1 point for talking about the overall talent in the draft class.
2. Soccer is boring. That’s the view of most Americans, anyway. What can the MLS do to entice more American sports fans?
CO: I think that is just because it really is never advertised. The only time I ever watched soccer is around the Fourth of July when the World Cup takes place, but that is the European circuit and not even the American one. For our country, I think the teams definitely need to put their names out there more. You very rarely see soccer commercials when you are watching television, while you may see two or three commercials about a baseball team during one show. I also think the players need to make themselves known more to the fans. For example, many baseball players come out before a game and sign autographs for fans sitting lower in the stadium. Soccer players should go out to events and get their names out there. They should at least try to make themselves most well known.
PF: The two sentences in the question are not really related. Most Americans like soccer, whether it is shown by playing at the youth level or taking in World Cup action every four years. The problem for the MLS — and I do not believe there is much of a problem at all, as the league has been on a consistent upward trajectory since it was nine teams smaller in 2004 — is that MLS struggles to attract many existing soccer fans. If anyone has any legitimate ideas to crack that nut, then take it to MLS headquarters and make as much money as you can, because there are a lot of wealthy investors in the league who would be more than willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on such a solution (most of them have already spent small fortunes on soccer-specific stadiums in the past 15 years). Really, there is nothing to do besides stay the course and continue attracting higher-profile players, increasing the salary cap and adding more teams in more major markets, which it looks to do with the New York Cosmos in the foreseeable future. There are no easy answers, like bringing in cheap gimmicks or “Americanizing” the game, which failed miserably in the late ’90s. MLS just has to let its product speak for itself and hope the hoards of soccer fans that avoid it will eventually embrace the constant improvement of the league.
AZ: Don’t get me wrong, soccer is a fun sport to play, though it will never get the same levels of interest and attention that the other major sports receive in the United States. One reason for soccer’s unpopularity is the lack of exposure it acquires from ESPN and other sports media. The chances of turning on ESPN and seeing a soccer game are slim at best. Furthermore, there are no real superstars in soccer that average Americans can recognize or relate to. Soccer is also a non-contact sport, and us Americans seem to love the fighting in hockey, tackling in football, and tough defense in basketball. For soccer to augment its interest among American sports fans, it must invest in a public relations campaign that buys media time, advertises the game effectively, and conducts research on why Americans dislike the game. It’s difficult for even soccer experts to explain why people find soccer boring, so deciphering why this is true through polling is essential before modifying the game play. No matter what the sport does, it’s fighting a losing battle because the other major sports have more resources, interest and credibility at their disposal to compete for popularity.
Chrissy gets 3 points for discussing an actual solution and mentioning that the players and teams need to communicate with the fans more. Peter gets 2 points for remarking that the league needs to let its product speak for itself. Alec gets 1 point for discussing soccer’s lack of media attention.
3. Spring Training is in full swing. Which player on a new team or coming back from injury are you most excited to see?
CO: With Spring Training finally back, this baseball season is looking like it is shaping up to be very different from last year. The player who I am most excited to see back for a full season is the Phillies’ second baseman, Chase Utley. Utley has missed Spring Training since 2009 due to injuries from previous seasons and has had multiple problems with his back, knee and hand. In a recent interview with Utley, he told reporters that he wanted to try something different this offseason. He said he usually took many weeks off from training and enjoyed the off-season but this past year, he took one week off and then traveled to San Diego where he went through intense training and conditioning in the hopes of finally remaining healthy for an entire season. Utley has been an important part of the Phillies ever since his MLB debut in 2003. With a career average of .292, he always comes up clutch when the Phils are in a tight spot. I’m definitely looking forward to and hoping he remains healthy for the entire 2013 season.
PF: I am excited to see new Yankees first basemen Kevin Youkilis, the great hitter who once said he will “always be a Red Sox,” ply his trade in New York. Youkilis is old, but he was only out of Boston because of an absurd drama with absurd manager Terry Francona, and might have a lot to offer at 33 in return for his $12 million contract. During his 80 games with the White Sox last year, Youkilis hit 15 home runs and added 45 RBI, and he was an All-Star as recently as 2011. He has always been an above-average fielder, too. But what is equally exciting is the possibility Youkilis will bring with him the other, less-desirable parts of his game, like going just .236 at the plate — long gone are the days when Youkilis can be a .300 hitter — on a Yankees team whose batting average was pretty miserable in last year’s postseason. And as a former Red Sox favorite, there will be drama with Youkilis, whether it is instigated by the fans or media. He really is the perfect symbol for the Yankees this year: an above-average but old mercenary who is not inspiring anybody, which is why I will closely watch his performance this year for some measure of guaranteed entertainment.
AZ: With the Red Sox rebuilding and the Yankees licking their wounds after an embarrassing ALCS, the Toronto Blue Jays are favored to win the AL East in 2013. New acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and R.A. Dickey may help this team reach the World Series. The player I am most interested in seeing perform for this team is outfielder Melky Cabrera. In 2012, the Melk Man got off to a hot start and, by August, was leading the MLB in hits with a .346 average, while also driving in 60 runs and hitting 11 home runs. However, on Aug. 15, Cabrera tested positive for high levels of testosterone, suggesting illegal usage of PEDs. Cabrera was suspended for 50 games and San Francisco went on to win the World Series without their star outfielder. Toronto took a risk when they signed Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal, because nobody can predict how Cabrera will play on a new team in a completely different city, and after missing the final months of last season.
Alec gets 3 points for pointing out that the Blue Jays have many new players to look out for. Peter gets 2 points for talking about the switch Youkilis made from the Red Sox to the Yankees. Chrissy gets 1 point for discussing Utley’s health issues over the past few seasons.
Chrissy wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5.