Monday Night Lights: Ambrozejczyk on American Sport

delivers the perfect early Christmas present with the sixth installment of his American Sports Blog

The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton. Image:  Chris Pusateri Photography via Flickr Creative Commons

The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton. Image: Chris Pusateri Photography via Flickr Creative Commons

David Ambrozejczyk’s American Sports Column: Volume 6

Newton’s Law

Cam Newton, as expected, won a landslide victory in the Heisman Trophy, the prestigious award given to the best College Footballer of the year in an emotional ceremony in New York City.

It has been an excellent week for Newton, bagging the Heisman after scooping both the Davey O’Brien (Best QB) and Maxwell (Best Player in the Nation) awards early last week. Newton, who has lead Auburn to the National Championship game, has enjoyed one of the greatest college seasons in living memory, becoming the first Quarterback in the SEC to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards, but continuing allegations his father tried to sell his son on a pay-for-play deal still linger over his season – he was left off the writers’ All-American List this week because of it in favour of Boise State’s Kellen Moore.

Whether or not Newton has to give his Heisman trophy back, much like New Orleans Saints Running Back Reggie Bush had to do for a similar incident, is an argument for a few years’ time. In the meantime, Newton has the chance to cement his place in history as Auburn face-off with Oregon on January 10th in Phoenix for the National Championship

All I want for Christmas is….

A multi-year, $100 million deal. If you are an MLB free agent that is.

With the Winter Meetings in the books and Jayson Werth becoming the newest member of the $100 million dollar plus club, he was swiftly joined by Troy Tulowitski and Carl Crawford, both of whom signed bumper deals in mid-week.

The Boston Red Sox gave Crawford a $142 million, seven year deal to take him take him out of one of the smallest Major League markets (Tampa Bay) into one of the biggest while Tulowitski re-signed with the Colorado Rockies until 2020 for $139 million.

Despite the crazy numbers (especially in the case of Jayson Werth) being given out to free agents, it looks as though the well-known saying rings true, as the best is being saved till last.

Ever since being hit out of the park in the final game of the World Series, the whole league has been holding their breath as Cliff Lee decides where he is going to play his ball next year. For Lee, it could be his fourth club in three years as the New York Yankees are trying to tie him down after missing out in 2009, reportedly offering him a seven year deal; the sticking point for New York is that Lee might be wary of moving his family yet again as he is reportedly settled in Texas, giving the Rangers a leg-up whatever the Yankees offer. Whatever Lee decides, Rangers GM Chuck Greenberg is set for some sleepless nights as he hopes to hang on to his star pitcher.

New England continue to impress

The New England Patriots booked their place in the post-season after humiliating the Chicago Bears 36-7 at Soldier Field in a week which asserted their place as the team to beat in the NFL.

Billed as one of the toughest weeks of the season for the Patriots, they emerged triumphant, silencing mouthy divisional upstarts the New York Jets 45-3 before putting up 33 first half points for no reply in Chicago to send shockwaves through the league.

Tom Brady, on course for another stellar year (29Ttds to 4INTS so far) is League MVP in waiting. While Brady might not have had the same sort of impact as Michael Vick in Philadelphia, think about this. Vick has DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to throw to and LeSean McCoy to take the hand offs – all have big contracts, all were high draft picks. Philadelphia couldn’t get it done and lost 26-31 in Chicago a matter of weeks ago.

It speaks volumes about an organisation, the epitome of no player being bigger than the team and how good Brady is when they Pats are content to stick with a no name offense. Brady has made the likes of Deion Branch (who had a career day in the win over Chicago), rookie Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead, a player the New York Jets deemed surplus to requirements at the start of the year, stars who have all played considerable parts in the league’s highest scoring offense.

What is even more impressive is the Patriots draft policy, where they seemingly always trade down, but still get a perfect player. The most recent crop of Pats draftees are making a lot of noise; Devin McCourty, a first round pick out of Rutgers is third in the NFL with six interceptions and Hernandez, the 113th player selected, has over 500 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps the most impressive pick up is Linebacker Brandon Spikes, high on talent but with significant character issues, who many thought was a reach in the second round. He has so far amassed 61 tackles and an interception as a rookie.

All this has happened while they traded what many considered to be their only legitimate star in Randy Moss and shipped Richard Seymour, an elite pass rusher, to Oakland for a first rounder when he wouldn’t play ball on a new contract. New England now has a staggering six picks in the first three rounds for the 2011 NFL Draft and you would be a brave person to bet against Bill Belichick loading up with yet more talent. Whisper it, but the Pats might be building another dynasty.

Feature: Should Carolina stick with Jimmy Clausen for 2011?

YES

I think at this point of the year, barring something incredible, we can all agree that the Panthers will be picking number #1 this year, putting them in the box seat for Andrew Luck, but to take the Stanford man would be the wrong thing to do. We forget so easily that seven-and-a-half months ago, Carolina invested their top pick (albeit a second-rounder) in QB Jimmy Clausen. To give up on a guy after just one year is crazy – not every rookie can be Joe Flacco or Matt Stafford, especially considering the dearth of talent around him this year. Left tackle Jeff Otah? Injured reserve. Star back DeAngelo Williams? Out for the year. Matt Moore, who was supposed to start throughout 2010 to give Clausen a year on the sidelines to learn? Injured Reserve. Wide receiver Steve Smith? Played hurt, and then stopped trying once soon-to-be-fired coach John Fox made it clear he didn’t care anymore. Clausen has been left with unheralded backups (Running Back Mike Goodson) and little-known, rookie receivers (David Gettis, Brandon LaFell) to try and make things happen, all the while trying to stay upright behind a dire offensive line.

Clausen never stood a chance, and if the Panthers pick Andrew Luck, neither will he. The best thing Carolina can do is try to give Clausen some help. New interior linemen, a receiving weapon like A.J. Green, a tight end who is better than Dante Rosario – any of these would be an upgrade.

But if Carolina thinks Luck is the answer, the question can only be “Which QB’s career should we ruin this year?”

NO

Carolina have been dreadful this year, but injuries or not, the play of their Quarterbacks has been worse; Jimmy Clausen isn’t immune from that criticism. For a player that played in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame and could have stepped in from day one, albeit adjusting to the NFL on the job, his production has been unacceptable (one touchdown all year). I agree that there are factors outside of his control at Carolina, namely his inept and soon to be fired coach in John Fox, but the Quarterback is the most important position in Football. If your quarterback cannot lead the team- if he can’t get the job done – then you need to find someone who can.

Many questioned whether Clausen had the intangibles to be a successful NFL player and his slide down the draft might have proved them right as teams were concerned about his character; now, in my opinion at least, it is clearly apparent.

With a new regime likely to be coming in, who will have no ties with Clausen, he could well be on his way out of Carolina for the same price he came in on, a second round pick. Carolina has never truly been the right fit for Clausen from the moment he was drafted – at least if he is traded away and replaced, most likely by Andrew Luck, he will still have the chance to learn behind a veteran for a year, refine his trade and will hopefully become a successful NFL player.

NFL DRAFT 2011 – Player Watch

Ryan Mallett – Quarterback – Arkansas

2011 is shaping up to be an exceptionally deep year for Quarterbacks with three nailed on first rounders, four if Cam Newton declares, so somebody is going to slip down the first round as teams reach for him.

Ryan Mallett looks like that guy and whoever gets him might be getting an absolute steal.

Mallett, who transferred from Michigan to Arkansas after his Freshman year, has the physical tools you need to be a prototypical pocket passer in the NFL: an ability to easily sell the play fake, a massive 6ft7, 238 pound frame and an absolute cannon of an arm, but if anyone remembers JaMarcus Russell, you will know that these things alone do not make for an NFL ready Quarterback.

Mallett does need a lot of work on the finer points in his game – he isn’t very accurate at this point and tends to make bad decisions when faced with a stiff pass rush causing him to get a case of happy feet in the pocket. NFL coaches will also need to straighten out his footwork and mechanics as he has an awkward release which he won’t be able to get away with at the in NFL, but these things are details that almost all players have coming into the league – heck, even Peyton Manning had things to sort out in his first season.

If coaches can get these things fixed and, I think more importantly, that Mallett sits and learns for a year because he is still so raw, whoever drafts him will have an exceptionally good player at the Quarterback position. I don’t think that Mallett will go inside the top ten, as some mock drafts have been putting him, but he might get close depending on if someone makes a big leap up the first round to try and grab either Andrew Luck or Cam Newton.

On this week’s standings (week commencing 13th December), Arizona would be reaching for him a #7 considering they have both Max Hall and John Skelton on the roster, while I also think San Francisco at #10 are content with Alex or Troy Smith starting. Minnesota will be looking for a QB after Brett Favre retires for the umpteenth time, but I think they would be better trading for a veteran as they are equipped to win games right away with the talent on offense without the need to handle the growing pains of a rookie QB.

Mallett would be a nice fit for Seattle, where he would have chance to learn under Matt Hasselback before taking over the starting job further down the line, but they might be inclined to take local native Jake Locker instead. If he gets by the Seahawks, Kansas City will not pass on him as they can’t rely on Matt Cassel to be their franchise quarterback, simply because he doesn’t stretch the field enough. The Chiefs are assembling an explosive offense with Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster – Mallett will simply sit till Cassel is no longer a viable option, a la Aaron Rodgers with Brett Favre, before being the leader.

Special thanks go to Nathan Hughes (Tuesday Mid-Afternoon Fullback) for contributing the ‘Yes ’section of this week’s feature.

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