The 2010 NFL Training Camp Position Battle Debate… Who’s Running The Show In KC?

July 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

Does anyone remember when the Kansas City Chiefs were actually exciting? Believe it or not, there was a time – and not that long ago – when Chiefs’ players were making highlight reel plays nearly every Sunday. If it wasn’t Priest Holmes running wild and setting scoring records, it was Dante Hall acting like the human video game returning every ball kicked his way for a score. Unfortunately for Chiefs fans, those glory days are quickly becoming a distant memory. But for the first time in a long time the Chiefs may have a couple of sparkplugs in the backfield that might actually be worth watching. The position battle between Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones gives football fans a reason to watch Kansas City games again, aside from checking to see how many turnovers the Chiefs coughed up to your fantasy football defense.

Last season, after the Chiefs parted ways with Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles came on strong in a big way. Out from underneath the shadow of Johnson, Charles proved to be a more than capable starter. Over the course of the last eight games of the season, Charles In Charge ran for more than 950 yards and seven scores. That puts him with the elite company of Mr. 2,000 Yards – Chris Johnson. Project Charles’ numbers out over the course of an entire season and he starts to look even more like CJ. In 2010 Jamaal Charles will finally have the opportunity to shine by leading the Chiefs backfield. Well, sort of.

Charles may be the clear favorite to secure the starting gig, but Thomas Jones is no joke. Last season with the Jets Jones racked up 1,402 yards on a massive 331 carries. That’s not too shabby for a 30 something running back, but what is probably more impressive are the 14 touchdowns Jones punched in for Gang Green. For any doubters who think that Jones was putting up inflated walk year numbers last season, just look at his 2008 stat line. That season Jones put up even better numbers with more than 1,500 all purpose yards and 15 scores. Clearly, 2009 was no fluke. But, can he duplicate that performance running behind KC’s offensive line? Perhaps not, but he would be a solid starter for many teams and is a proven threat to pound in the ball from the red zone.

Given the talent and proven nature of Thomas Jones, he is likely to cut into Charles’ carries. The possibility exists that Jones could even wrestle the starting job away outright should Charles falter out of the gate. Second year head coach Todd Haley has attempted to downplay this scenario as less than a position battle, but there can be little doubt that both backs will being working hard to showcase their skills throughout training camp and the pre-season. They will both jump at the chance to make their cases for playing time. That makes this position battle one to watch during the pre-season and throughout the regular season as well.

Despite their obvious benefits each back has drawbacks as well. Thomas Jones will be 32-years old at the start of the season, and brings a lot of mileage on those veteran legs. Over the past three seasons he has accumulated 931 rushes, and all the wear and tear that goes with that. As Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star points out, Charles is a much younger back at just 23-years old, even though he has been criticized for not having the size to be an “every-down back.” Together, however, the team has the complete package.

The good news for Kansas City is that there is a formidable one-two punch in the backfield.’s John Clayton compared the duo to the powerful Carolina Panthers tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. At the very least each back serves as an insurance policy for the other. Should one rusher go down due to an injury, the other has proven capable of shouldering a team load of carries on his own. But should they both remain healthy the Chiefs will have a ground attack that will be hard for defensive coordinators to stop, and that is exactly what new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is counting on. Weis is aware that he has two starters in his backfield, and he will use them accordingly to keep the ground game progressing to keep opposing defenses honest about the passing game.

Normally Kansas City wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar, but the talent of these two backs has caught my attention and figures to intrigue over the next month or two. There might even be a Pro Bowl performance between the two of them. It will all depend on how Haley and Weis use their stud running backs.

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The 2010 NFL QB Insurance Debate… Clausen’s Reliable In A Pickle

July 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

The Carolina Panthers enter the upcoming season with one of the most unproven quarterback units in the NFL. With the departure of longtime signal caller Jake Delhomme, a 25-year old Matt Moore ascended the top of the depth chart and will more than likely begin the season as starter. Still wet behind the ears, Moore must transition from young gun to veteran while he breaks in a receiving corps undergoing changes as well. While rookie receivers Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards figure to breathe new life into the seemingly stagnant Carolina passing game, they could also pose hurdles for a young quarterback struggling to come into his own. So, despite being armed to the tooth with stellar weapons on offense – such as the one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, plus perennial standout Steve Smith – the Panthers could struggle without an experienced leader under center. But have no fear Panther fans, because the Cardiac Cats have an ace-in-the-hole with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen serves as the best insurance quarterback in the NFL for a number of reasons. He’s confident, motivated, and supremely talented. That is a killer combination of attributes for a young quarterback to possess. The Panthers obviously believe in him, too. In fact, Carolina general manager Marty Hurney even tried to trade up in the draft to acquire him even earlier. He is in a great spot in Charlotte. His skill set and the team’s needs seem to be a match made in heaven. Clausen is without a doubt the future of Carolina, but in the meantime he is a terrific backup plan for Matt Moore.

Since Clausen is the future of the team he is obviously more than just a flashy stopgap. For starters, the Panthers appear to be committing to his long term development by allowing him to grow before immediately taking the reins. John Fox and the gang are easing him into the position and are not rushing him into the starting gig prematurely.

Matt Moore led the Panthers to four victories in the last five games in 2009. His emergence as the projected starter for this season allows Clausen to focus on his own development rather than a position battle. It buys the rookie precious time during a crucial stage in his maturation. Currently, the former Notre Dame star sits third on the depth chart behind Moore and former practice squad quarterback Hunter Cantwell. This placement should minimize some of the external pressures that Clausen might feel from the organization to shoulder the team immediately. But, Clausen being the competitor that he is means that he is bound to put plenty of pressure on himself to contribute an succeed right away.

In all likelihood Clausen will surpass Cantwell for the primary backup gig by the end of the pre-season. The team is currently allowing him to progress outside of the spotlight. So far it appears to be paying off. He is already showing signs of maturity and poise. Critics have often labeled his confidence as cockiness, but recently he has avoided the headlines and focused on developing his skills and simply fitting in with teammates.

Of equal, or perhaps even greater, importance to Clausen’s value are the talents and experiences he brings to the position. On a team where experience is in short supply – only eight total NFL starts among all QBs (all of those belong to Moore) – Clausen’s playing time at Notre Dame serves as a valuable substitute. While he may never have played an actual down in the NFL, he did pass through former head coach Charlie Weis’ pro style offense. That should help improve the rookie’s learning curve and make him an even more valuable backup. Mix that with the fact that Panthers’ offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson was a former assistant to Weis, and the kid’s future starts to look even brighter. Clausen said of the transition, “Being in the system with coach Weis, and with coach Davidson coaching with him in New England, it’s the same terms and everything. It definitely helps me a lot.”

I am sure it did not seem like it on draft day, but Clausen could not have found a better home than Carolina.

Of course all the praise remains completely preliminary until he actually plays a down of real NFL football. But, the writing for success is on the wall. That type of upside makes for a stellar backup plan and insurance for an unproven quarterback such as Matt Moore.

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The Notre Dame Job Envy Debate – Is South Bend the Place to Be in College Football?

December 16, 2009

Read the arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

Flash back 20 years ago to 1989. Michael Jordan had not yet won an NBA title. The Oakland A’s were a dominant baseball team. The San Francisco 49ers were a dominant football team… and Notre Dame was “THE” program in college football. The Fighting Irish were coming off of a national championship in 1988 and nearly repeated the feat in 1989 under master motivator and South Bend legend Lou Holtz. The program was the king of the college football castle.

Now flash forward to the present day.

Michael Jordan won six NBA titles, the last of which was earned 11 years ago. Oakland and San Francisco hardly resemble championship caliber organizations… and the Irish… well… the success on the field has been limited lately.

The Fighting Irish have won 10 games in a season twice since 1993, in 2002 (10-3) and 2006 (10-3). Until last season’s victory against Hawai’i in, you guessed it, the Hawai’i Bowl, the Fighting (well, apparently not enough fighting…) Irish had lost nine consecutive bowl games dating back to 1993. The last three head coaches – Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis – have gone a combined 91-68 in the past 13 seasons. Combine that with Holtz’s 87-20 in his last nine seasons and it is quite obvious that the program has slipped, that it is not exactly “playing like a champion.” Notre Dame fans are hoping Brian Kelly is the man to right the ship.

However, Notre Dame football is still a draw. The fact that The Sports Debates is even having this debate today proves that Notre Dame football is still very much relevant in today’s college football landscape. How many other schools can boast an exclusive television contract? How many other schools have the tradition Notre Dame holds close? It’s hard to argue against the attention that Notre Dame gets in football.

That leads to today’s debate topic – Is Notre Dame still the best job in college football?

Bleacher Fan will argue that head football coach at Notre Dame is no longer the best job in college football, while Babe Ruthless will argue that it still remains the best job!

The winner of this debate gets the honor of leading the Fighting Irish band in the playing of the Notre Dame fight song! Ha!

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The Notre Dame Job Envy Debate – Notre Dame is Simply The Best

December 16, 2009

Read the debate intro and the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

At one time or another, most red-blooded American males have daydreamed about being a head football coach. Each week millions live vicariously through their most beloved play callers. But what do those lucky enough to actually be coaches dream about? I bet they dream of coaching for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is by far the best coaching gig around. But, coaching at Notre Dame is not for everyone. If a coach is looking for a warm paradise to call home, then Indiana may not be at the top of the list. If a coach is looking for a soft schedule littered with pushovers, then I suggest continuing the search. And if a coach is hoping for a small market free from media intrusions, then Notre Dame is certainly not the right school. But if a coach seeks a challenging schedule, a team with an enormous national fan base, and a rich legacy steeped in the tradition of winning, then there is no place better than Notre Dame.

The perks of coaching for Notre Dame are phenomenal. Notre Dame literally sets its own schedule. The Irish are one of a few schools that compete at an elite level of college football without having to play in an NCAA-affiliated conference. Despite lacking a conference affiliation the Irish are still BCS bowl eligible. Heck, they have their own “Notre Dame rule” where they are guaranteed a BCS bowl if they simply finish in the top eight of the BCS.

On top of all of the football perks, Notre Dame is one of the premier schools of scholar-athletes. In an era of prima donna players that create media circuses (e.g. Exhibit A: LeGarrette Blount), Notre Dame has attempted to establish a bastion for the academically focused student-athlete – a seemingly dying breed. The Irish also benefit from a national appeal to Roman Catholics, Americans of Irish Descent, and fans of great football. Take me, for example. I grew up a world apart from Indiana, but being the grandson of someone named Patrick Francis O’Reilly, was their any doubt I was going to pull for the Irish? I don’t think so. Notre Dame’s immense following draws crowds wherever the team plays, opening doors for invitations across the U.S., thus, creating another perk by making the Irish even more profitable.

Notre Dame football boasts an impressive list of accomplishments. The Irish lay claim to seven Heisman Trophy winners and 48 players and coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. The Irish also have an impressive list of All-Americans and national championships to boot. Sure, other schools (like the University of Southern California, the University of Michigan, and The Ohio State University) have accomplishments and accolades to brag about as well. What sets the Notre Dame apart is its unrivaled history.

Tradition defines a team, and today the words “Notre Dame” are synonymous with football history. The ghosts of the Gold and Navy are interwoven into football’s past. Legends like Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen are not only Fighting Irish heroes but icons of football history. Do I even have to evoke the name of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger? (Once all the “Rudy!” chants have stopped I will continue.)

Notre Dame is even credited with the popularization of the forward pass, forever changing the way the game is played.

It is tradition that ultimately separates the Notre Dame coaching job from all other high profile college football head coaching jobs.

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The Replacing Charlie Weis Debate – It’s Kelly… Others Needs Not Apply

November 23, 2009

Read the arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer about which coaches they believe will replace Charlie Weis as the head coach at Notre Dame.

Don’t look now, Brian Kelly, but you are being followed. No matter where you go, which program you build, which team you coach, or which players you recruit, it seems like success follows you. If Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is smart, he will invite you – and your fortuitous shadow – to South Bend.

There are many reasons why Brian Kelly makes sense as a head coach for Notre Dame. Irish? Check. Catholic? Check. While neither of those traits are considered mandatory at Notre Dame (Ara Parseghian was Presbyterian), they sure make a decision easy for Swarbrick and company.

More than any conceivable ancillary trait, Kelly has a career full of success. It’s hard to think of a better indicator of future success than past success.

Brian Kelly joined the staff of little known Division II school Grand Valley State in 1987 as a graduate assistant. In two short years he moved his way up to defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. Two short years after that Kelly became the team’s head coach. In 13 seasons as head coach Kelly led the team to five conference titles and six playoff appearances, won two national championships and two coach of the year awards in Division II. In the final three seasons as head coach Kelly’s team only lost two games. Two. Games. Total.

After leaving Grand Valley (a school in Michigan), Kelly took the reins of Central Michigan University. When Kelly arrived the team averages just three wins per season for the previous four seasons. Kelly’s stint as head coach began with a four win season, then a six win season. During the offseason after the six win season Kelly recruited a quarterback named Dan LeFevour. LeFevour quickly won over his teammates as a freshman passing for well over 2,600 yards and throwing five touchdowns. LeFevour ended the 2006 season ranked fourteenth in the country in total offense, and is currently one of the top NFL quarterback prospects to enter the forthcoming 2010 NFL draft.

Kelly is currently at another Midwestern school, Cincinnati. In his first full season with the school in 2007 Kelly secured a ten win season with a bowl victory. The next season Kelly coached the Bearcats to a Big East championship and a BCS appearance in the Orange Bowl, a loss to the strong ACC champion Virginia Tech.

Kelly can coach. Kelly can also recruit quite well, especially in the Midwest. He also has some familiarity with Notre Dame. When Charlie Weis first recruited Demetrius Jones to Notre Dame it was believed that Jones would be the next great Irish quarterback. However, Jones and the head coach did not get along very well (hard to imagine it was all Jones’ fault…). Jones began the 2007 season as the starting quarterback in a loss to Georgia Tech, and so Weis replaced him. Jones demurred, but rather than fight Weis he walked in to Brian Kelly’s office and announced he wanted to play for the Bearcats. Kelly listened to the frustration Jones encountered in South Bend and gave Jones a safe place to land. Kelly convinced Jones to switch from a quarterback to a linebacker (it is tough to image Weis convincing Jones of the same thing). Jones is now an outside linebacker and working his way up the draft board.

Kelly has proven he can coach X’s and O’s and relate to players. Combine those rare traits with the Irish Catholic traits and Notre Dame and Swarbrick are staring at a no brainer decision.

The one mark – potentially – against Kelly is that he has not coached at a school with very strict academic requirements like Notre Dame. This is no small consideration, either. It is possible that coaches that do well relating to and coaching up student athletes that struggle academically will not do as well at Notre Dame given that most football player at Notre Dame are already scholastically strong. However, Kelly has displayed a history of recruiting and coaching smart players, especially at quarterback.

Is Brian Kelly, a coach that has never won a BCS game, ready for the prime time spotlight and unending scrutiny of coaching at Notre Dame? Perhaps not… but is any coach ready? Is it possible to properly prepare for a job like Notre Dame? No. The only preparation a coach can make is to build a successful career. Kelly has done that. More, he has run three successful programs, one for many, many years. As risky coaching hires go, Kelly is low risk. If Urban Meyer fails to win a championship in three seasons at Notre Dame it will be reported that he has lost his touch. If Bob Stoops fails it will be because he lost his touch years ago and Oklahoma fans will be breathing a sigh of relief. Kelly has nothing but upside and potential. Oh, and that success, too.

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The Replacing Charlie Weis Debate – Anything Weis Can Do I Can Do Better!

November 23, 2009

Read the arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer about which head coach in college football is the best selection to replace current Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis.

How do you replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame? Easily!

Notre Dame is a school steeped in tradition. Driven by values exceeding the “just win, baby” mentality of many organizations in sports, Notre Dame football prides itself on a Catholic foundation, a commitment to excellence both on AND off the field, strong character, and a deep respect for the program’s history and legacy developed over 120 years by legends such as Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, and Lou Holtz. Should Notre Dame decide to part ways with Weis at the close of the 2009 season (which is absolutely what athletic director Jack Swarbrick SHOULD do), the formula for replacing him is not a complex one – fall back upon those values so prized by the university, and look for the candidate who best exemplifies them.

Luckily for Swarbrick, that very candidate exists… and he lives only 100 miles away! Pat Fitzgerald, current head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats, is the perfect candidate to be the next head coach of the Fighting Irish.

Like Notre Dame, Northwestern is a university that holds its student-athletes to a higher academic standard than most schools within the Division I FBS ranks, as demonstrated by the fact that Northwestern and Notre Dame are two of only SIX schools within the Division I FBS to post a graduation rate of more than 90 percent for its football players. This standard, which is generally viewed as a hindrance to the football program because it limits the pool of eligible recruits, has traditionally prevented Northwestern from seeing any sustainable success on the college football field. Being a part of the Big Ten Conference and facing annual opponents such as Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan (okay, maybe not recently, but you get the idea) becomes an exponentially more difficult challenge when facing stricter recruiting guidelines than the competition.

Notre Dame, through the reputation and history of its football program, has been able to overcome some of the barriers that strict recruiting guidelines may create (it does not hurt to have an exclusive contract with NBC, either). Notre Dame still manages to draw some of the top talent in the nation, but Weis – to this point – has failed to successfully develop his players to the standard that many have come to expect from the Fighting Irish over the decades.

In contrast, Pat Fitzgerald has lacked the recruiting power of Notre Dame, but has still built a successful on-field product. Although Northwestern has not developed into a national contender while under his leadership, Fitzgerald has brought a level of consistent and sustained success to the Northwestern program that has never before been seen in Evanston, Illinois. Prior to Fitzgerald’s appointment as head coach of the Wildcats, Northwestern had only been invited to six bowl games in the entire history of the university. Since becoming the youngest head coach in Division I FBS history following the tragic death of the Wildcats previous head coach Randy Walker in 2006, Fitzgerald has already earned an invitation to one bowl game (the 2008 Alamo Bowl) and is poised for a second invitation in his short four-year tenure, finishing 2009 with a bowl-eligible record of 8-4, including two wins over top-25 opponents (Iowa and Wisconsin).

Fitzgerald, a college football Hall-of-Famer who was a standout player for Northwestern himself in the mid-1990s, has a strong, personal understanding of the traits that can make a player successful both in the classroom and on the field. He has demonstrated an ability to recruit talent and coach it successfully under the increasingly stringent guidelines of his university. He knows what it takes to turn unique talent into wins on the football field (something Charlie Weis has not been able to do). Just imagine what a charismatic, intelligent, and proven leader like Fitzgerald can do with the marketing and recruiting power of Notre Dame at his disposal!

Fitzgerald has managed to produce greater results (relatively speaking) than Charlie Weis, a fact which Fitzgerald himself will readily point out! He possesses all of the qualities prized by Notre Dame, and has proven that he can successfully build a program without sacrificing the standards of the organization he represents. If Notre Dame finds themselves in the hunt for a new head coach at the end of the 2009 season, it should look no further than Pat Fitzgerald. Plus, he’s Irish-Catholic… it’s the perfect match!

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The Replacing Charlie Weis Debate – The Irish Need Meyer To Play Like A Champion

November 23, 2009

Read the arguments by Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan for which coach should replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

If there was still any doubt, I think it was settled Saturday when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame fell victim to Connecticut at home. It is one thing to lose to USC or Pittsburgh. It is quite another to lose to the likes to Navy and Connecticut. Even Charlie Weis has even admitted that he would have a hard time arguing against his firing if that is what athletic director Jack Swarbrick decides to do. Assuming Notre Dame makes a change at the top of the football program it will have a big pool of coaches to choose from. Who knows if the coaches would be interested? Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan have their own opinions about who Notre Dame should chase, but to me it is obvious that the Golden Domers should go after Florida Gator coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer is a proven winner and he is the big name that Notre Dame fans want. He even has Notre Dame ties ,as he was an assistant in South Bend from 1996-2000. He is a devout Roman Catholic. And let’s not forget that last December Meyer still said that Notre Dame was his “dream job.” His words, not mine!

Meyer is in the midst of chasing his third national title in Gainesville. He currently has his 2009 Florida Gators at 11-0, and he has a date with Alabama in two weeks in the SEC championship for a berth in the BCS championship game in Pasadena. His record at Florida is 55-9 overall, including 32-8 in SEC play. His overall record as a head coach is 94-17, which includes his previous stops at Bowling Green and Utah.

Does Meyer feel he has accomplished all he can at Florida? When he first came to Florida back in 2005 he was coming off an undefeated season at Utah that produced a number one draft pick in quarterback Alex Smith. His critics were saying that his version of the spread offense would never work in the SEC, especially with a throwing quarterback like Chris Leak. I think he has answered those critics, don’t you?

Some people do not like Notre Dame. In fact, a lot of people do not like Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are like the Yankees and Cowboys. You either love them or hate them. There is no middle ground. Notre Dame has its own broadcasting contract with a major network in NBC. Despite recent struggles, Notre Dame is still – in the minds of many – a national power. People in California know about Notre Dame just as much as people in Indiana do. You have the ability to recruit the best players in the country if you are the head football coach at Notre Dame.

Do I think Meyer would leave Florida to go to Notre Dame? No, I do not think he will. But the powers that be within Notre Dame athletics need to at least put in a call to Meyer. The Notre Dame fans are craving a team that will actually “play like a champion.” Meyer is the guy to get them to that level.

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