• In case you missed them…

I HAVE MOVED


Ladies and gentlemen:

 

I have moved my website – please check it out at  www.breakthehuddle.com.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask via email, Facebook or Twitter.

Otherwise…

See you at the new website!

 

-BTH

Packers Training Camp: Week Five Quick Hits


Covering the week of practice and the all-important third preseason game.

@BreakTheHuddle

Cedric Benson looked good, albeit in limited action, against his former team.

Bob McGinn (@BobMcGinn)

-Mike McCarthy keeps saying Cedric Benson looks like a natural in the Packers’ backfield. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. In last Thursday’s preseason win over the Bengals, Benson twice read the back side and slipped past the pursuit for extra yardage. He looks like a real halfback – something noone’s said about a Packer in quite awhile.

-Since Jermichael Finley missed the third preseason game (due to the birth of his second child), the coaching staff faces a tough choice: play him in the finale versus the Chiefs (he needs the reps) or sit him and risk going into the season with a rusty starting tight end.

-The best player on the field in the Packer-Bengal game? Possibly Dezman Moses. His intensity, speed and strength really stick out on game film. He’s got the team made.

*BTH Note: By now, if you’ve read these training camp dispatches, you know about the Dezman Moses phenomena. He’s an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, where he played two seasons following his transfer from the University of Iowa. A second-team All-Conference USA selection his senior year, he accumulated 9.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2011-12.

Listen: I know it sounds foolish, but literally every Packer writer rants and raves about the guy – and from what I’ve seen in the preseason, it’s for a good reason. He seems to be where the ball is at all times, and has found his way to the backfield on numerous occassions. He’s one reason to be (at least) cautiously optimistic about an improvement for the Packers on defense in 2012.

 

Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod)

– Linebacker Vic So’oto, who has stuck on the roster despite injury and inconsistency issues, is having a decent camp (despite battling injuries, again) and has been especially impressive in the weight room.

-The secondary is very unsettled, but for the time being, Anthony Levine may be the Packers’ starting safety.

-Former Packers’ great Jerry Kramer was snubbed, again, from recieving a Hall of Fame nomination from the Senior Committee.

-The Bengals’ first two offensive series garnered them five total yards. Dalton finished the night 5-for-17 for 40 yards. Suffice it to say, the defense looked good.

-Expect a decision Monday or Tuesday on Desmond Bishop regarding whether or not he ends up on the Injured Reserve.

-The Packers made five cuts Friday, two of whom were notable: Herb Taylor, who saw time with the starters at left tackle this preseason, and former Saint Anthony Hargrove, who was suspended for the first eight games of the season anyway. The team’s roster now sits at 85.

-Wes believes tight end Tom Crabtree, who is believed to be on the roster bubble, is more than likely to make the team. He’s an exceptional blocker, reliable, and has shown improved hands during camp.

*BTH Note: The Packer tight end situation is fascinating. Finley’s the clear starter, but he’s missed a bunch of time this preseason. D.J. Williams, a mid-round pick a year ago, draws rave reviews for his athleticism and hands and will surely make the team. Then, things get interesting.

Andrew Quarless (another former mid-round pick who’s been around a little while) has been hurt almost all of training camp and is a possibility to get cut. Ryan Taylor is a young, unheralded player known prrimarily for his blocking, but is a favorite of the coaching staff (and Aaron Rodgers). Tom Crabtree is an older, wiser, more consistent (though undoubtedly more expensive) version of Ryan Taylor.

How many tight ends will the team keep, exactly? With the offensive line and secondary injuries, there’s not a ton of roster flexibility. At this point, Quarless seems like he could be a victim of cutdown day, ditto for one of either Crabtree or Taylor. My money’s on Taylor.

 

Tom Silverstein (@tomsilverstein)

-Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson has shown a lot of growth from his rookie season and fits well in the Packers’ substitution packages. A solid guy to have on the defensive line rotation.

-Robert Francois has made the most of his time in camp. The linebacker has a chance to see the field in dime sets this season and has been a terrific special teams performer.

Hargrove

-Anthony Hargrove was just not a good fit in Green Bay. Due to his impending 8 game suspension, he got few practice reps and even fewer game reps. Teammates really loved having him around, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone take a flier on him, especially mid-season. (Note – his 8 game suspension will be served the first 8 games of the 2012 season regardless of whether or not he’s on an NFL roster.)

-According to Mike McCarthy, rookie first round pick Nick Perry was good against the Chargers, took a step back against the Browns and came on strong against the Bengals.

*BTH Note: It’s hard to expect too much from rookies, but Perry’s importance to the Packer defense cannot be understated. If he can be a pass-rusher opposing offenses have to respect, Clay Matthews might face a few one-on-one matchups as opposed to constant double and triple teams.

 

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky)

-Dezman Moses was inserted onto the punt coverage team. He’s also on kick coverage and seems entrenched as the backup to Clay Matthews at OLB.

-Benson has been shadowing McCarthy and Rodgers since he signed with the Packers, even joining them in quarterback meetings in an attempt to absorb as much as he can about the offense.

-Marshall Newhouse had a rough night against Cincinnati, allowing pressure and getting flagged for holding and a false start.

-Defensive back Davon House will play the season with a harness on his injured shoulder and says he won’t need surgery unless it pops out again.

-All the juggling in the secondary is a cause for concern, as the team has clearly not settled nickel corner and safety spots, among others. Jarret Bush and Anthony Levine saw primary time at those respective positions against the Bengals.

*BTH Note: While no one has grabbed a hold of the open starting spots in the secondary, there shouldn’t be as much concern as you may think. Tramon Williams has been an aggressive tackler this preseason and appears to finally be healthy, something he wasn’t (at all) in 2011-12. Sure, Sam Shields’ inconsistency is maddening, but the rookies (Casey Hayward, especially) provide talented if inexperienced options should the need arise.

At least Charlie Peprah is gone. Apparently, the Bears are giving him a look. Good luck with that.

Until next time…

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Joe Haden and Trent Richardson Go to Prom


A short, sappy article (with a cynical punch line at the end).

@BreakTheHuddle

Browns’ cornerback Joe Haden.

When it comes to how professional athletes “really” are, I am as jaded as anyone. But I saw two stories recently that make me feel pretty confident I can say the following sentence:

Joe Haden and Trent Richardson are really nice guys.

For those of you who don’t know of Joe Haden, he’s a defensive back for the Cleveland Browns. Drafted 7th overall out of Florida in the 2010 NFL Draft, he is entering the third year of a 5 year, $50 million contract.

On Friday, May 11th, he took an 18 year old high school senior to her prom. Joyce Grendel is a member of Haden’s fan club (according to this Yahoo story[i]) and an avid follower of his on Twitter. Her original date backed out a couple of days before, so she asked him via a tweet to be her replacement date. To her surprise, he answered, picked her up in a white Lamborghini and accompanied her to the prom.

Joe Haden is 23 years old, makes $10 million annually and is a star in the National Football League. For most athletes, spending a Friday night in the offseason making a fan’s dream come true would not be high on the priority list. (I would be no exception – were I in Haden’s shoes, and made that kind of money, I would probably spend every off-day doing something that involved jet skis, paintball guns and kegs of Lazy Monk Malzer blend… all at the same time.)

Haden was following in new teammate Trent Richardson’s lead. The rookie running back (selected fourth overall this year) took Hueytown High School senior Courtney Alvis to her high school prom in his home state of Alabama. She was previously diagnosed with leukemia and is currently undergoing chemotherapy (Read more about the story here[ii]). Richardson was put into contact with Alvis through her uncle, who had some connection to the star running back.

I am a bitter, cynical person 95% of the time, but bear with me while I overflow with positivity for one more paragraph. Both Richardson and Haden could have easily ignored the requests, and no one would have blamed them one bit. They went anyway. They were motivated purely by having a connection with a fan, and wanting to make someone’s day. Despite having to go to a prom (as awful as that is) and (almost certainly) being beset with photo requests, autograph seekers and hours of uncomfortable attention, they went anyway. They’ll almost certainly get crap from their friends and peers about going to a prom, and they went anyway.

It probably says something about my nature that I can barely muster 500 words about something as nice as these stories. I am cautious about proclaiming athletes or entertainers to be “good people” because I don’t know any of them personally, and really, our cultural form of hero worship has gone off the rails.. But what Richardson and Haden did doesn’t need much analysis. They each saw an opportunity to make a fan’s day, and they went out of their way to do so. Kudos to them. I wish more athletes did the same – though I understand why any athlete would feel a bit guarded and would want to distance themselves  a bit. Not everyone can be a Haden or a Richardson.

Not even Tim Tebow. This poor Iowa girl had to take a life-size cardboard cutout of the Jets’ fullback backup quarterback to her senior prom[iii]. Apparently, she attempted to contact the team, his agent and even Tebow himself, only to get no response.

Don’t worry, honey. The cardboard version was probably a better conversationalist anyway.

Would you like a pudgy. broke blogger to take YOU to a prom? E-mail me at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, send me a tweet @BreakTheHuddle or hit me up on Facebook.

Editor’s note: There’s no way I’m actually doing that. None.

Twins Progress Report


Checking in with the local nine with the first month in the books.

@BreakTheHuddle

Josh Willingham has been doing a lot of high-fiving in the dugout this season.

We are one month into the baseball season, and the little things that Twins fans had been holding onto for hope both took a turn for the worse on April’s final day. Joe Mauer, who played every inning of the Twins’ first 21 games of the season, finally missed a game with a knee bruise. He’s expected to be able to DH this evening, so there’s no reason to sound the alarm.

The news concerning Justin Morneau is a different story. He was lifted after two plate appearances last night in Anaheim, citing discomfort in his surgically repaired wrist. The Twins flew Morneau back to Minnesota today to meet with the doctor who performed the surgery to have it checked out. Although Morneau nearly single-handedly earned the Twins a four game split versus the Yankees with his hot bat a couple of weeks ago, he can’t seem to shake the bad luck with his injuries. Clearly, the team didn’t feel like rest was an option, and chose to send him home – a potentially ominous sign.

Thirdly, Twins fans enjoyed the first month of the season without the offensive cesspool known as Drew Butera getting Major League at-bats. But the announcement came today that the Twins were calling up the Legacy Kid to take Morneau’s place on the roster and shore up the catching position.

(Everyone, take a moment to sigh, deeply, and lament this wretched day.)

It’s time to take a close look at what’s gone on in the first month of the Twins season, with a lot of facts, statistics, and witty commentary to put it in perspective. I’ve broken the team into three parts – offense, defense, and pitching – and assigned them grades on how they performed in April.

The Basics:

Twins record: 6-16, 6 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central lead, 1 game behind San Diego for worst record in baseball. The Twins played some of baseball’s very best in the first month of the season; the Angels, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers are all expected to be in the thick of things in September. Baltimore (a team in the Twins’ stratospehere) swept them, and split versus Kansas City. The lone series victory came against the Angels (2-1, April 9-12).

April Highlights: The Twins’ stirring comeback from 6 runs down on April 12th to beat the Angels 10-9… Justin Morneau going 3-for-4 with two home runs in a 6-5 victory over the Yankees on April 18th… The first inning of Francisco Liriano’s season (a 1-2-3 bottom of the 1st against the Orioles, featuring three strikeouts)…

April Lowlights: All of Francisco Liriano’s other innings… Josh Willingham committing two errors in left field in the same game… An 11-2 shellacking at the hands of the Red Sox on April 24th.

Grades:

Offense: C

Category

Rank

Runs

Tied – 19th

Batting Average

6th

On Base %

10th

Slugging %

15th

Extra Base Hits

16th

Everything points towards mediocrity, as far as the offense is concerned. For every good statistic, there seems to be a bad one to counteract it. For instance, the Twins have struck out the 4th fewest times in baseball… and have hit into the 2nd most double plays. The batting average has been good, but they are tied for 24th in home runs, meaning that (other than Willingham) no one is driving the ball.

It's been good to see Span healthy again.

Morneau has had stretches where he looked like the Morneau of old – and the team needs him to get healthy. Span has rebounded nicely from his rocky 2011, finishing the opening month with a .330/.378/.418 batting line. Mauer has just one home run, but is batting .325 and drawing walks at a high rate. Willingham has been carrying the offense, finishing the month with a .347/.447/.681 line with 7 doubles and 5 home runs. Even Alexi Casilla (batting .300) has shown a little bit of life with the bat.

Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmalee had underwhelming Aprils, and should pick it up a tick as the weather warms up. Danny Valencia continues to prove he doesn’t have the discipline (read also: brain) to be a professional hitter. He has one – ONE – walk in 77 plate appearances against 18 strikeouts. He looks like a patient guy when compared to reserve outfielder Clete Thomas, who has zero walks and 13 strikeouts in 23 plate appearances.

A big key to the offense’s continued success will be the health of Morneau (.230/.315/.439) and Mauer… because if Mauer isn’t catching, you-know-who probably is…

Defense: C

Watching a Twins shortstop make sound, fundamental plays has been a breath of fresh air.

I give GM Terry Ryan a lot of credit for addressing the main defensive concern the team had a year ago; newcomer Jamey Carroll is a professional shortstop who makes all the routine plays and takes charge in the infield. After the Tsuyoshi Nishioka Experiment, no Twins fan should ever take that for granted again.

The rest of the defense is a comical mix of superb (Casilla at second, Denard Span in center), average (Valencia at third, the right field conglomerate of Plouffe and Doumit) and terrible (Parmalee at first, Josh Willingham in left field. The Twins are right in the middle of the pack in terms of errors made (14th) and Fielding Percentage (16th). FanGraphs’ UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) advanced defensive metrics system has the Twins at 14th of the 30 teams.

If Morneau is down for an extended period of time, look for Ben Revere to play left field and Josh Willingham to DH, which ought to improve the defense significantly. An outfield of Revere, Span and Plouffe will be among the most athletic in recent Twins’ memory. While the arms aren’t good, not many balls would fall between the three… and when you’ve got a pitching staff like the Twins do, that’s a necessity.

Speaking of which…

Pitching: F

I’m not just a sourpuss throwing around harsh grades. If the Twins’ first month of pitching doesn’t earn them an ‘F’, I’m not sure how an ‘F’ could be earned by a pitching staff. Here are their rankings through the first month of the season:

Category

Rank

ERA

30th

Strikeouts

30th

Batting Avg Against

30th

On Base % Against

26th

Slugging % Against

30th

OPS Against

30th

Runs Allowed

30th

Quality Starts

30th

Bases on Balls

4th fewest

Collectively, the rotation is 3-12 with a 6.75 ERA, has pitched the 4th fewest innings of any starting staff in baseball and allows opponents to hit .316 against them. Opponents’ OPS versus the Twins’ starters is .903. As a point of reference, last season, Albert Pujols’ OPS was .906. To put it in layman’s terms: the Twins’ starting rotation turns their average opponent into 2011 Albert Pujols.

Gardy has gotten a lot more plump in the last couple of years. His starting pitchers have tried to help him get exercise by making him walk to the mound a lot.

Here are how each of the starters have fared so far:

Pavano: 5 starts, 1-2, 4.91 ERA

Marquis: 3 starts, 2-0, 6.23 ERA

Blackburn: 4 starts, 0-4, 6.64 ERA

Swarzak: 3 starts, 0-3, 6.75 ERA

Hendriks: 3 starts, 0-1, 6.89 ERA

Liriano: 4 starts, 0-3, 11.02 ERA

The average start by a Twins’ pitcher lasts 5 and 1/3 innings, 2nd to last in the game; only the Kansas City Royals are worse in that department.

The bullpen hasn’t actually been that bad; they’ve been asked to throw a lot of innings (72 and 1/3, 6th most in baseball) but have still managed to post a respectable (if mediocre) 3.84 ERA, which ranks them 18th. They are also 13th in Batting Average Against, 12th in OPS against and have walked the 4th fewest batters of any bullpen in baseball.

Sure, Matt Capps inspires zero faith as the closer and Glen Perkins has had a bad month. But Alex Burnett, Jeff Gray and Jared Burton have all been good thus far, Matt Maloney’s numbers are skewed by one awful outing against the Yankees and Brian Duensing is more than capable of improvement.

Coming Up:

After the Twins wrap up with the Angels, they go to Seattle for a weekend series before beginning a 9 game home stand on May 7th. They go on the road for 8 (2 in Detroit, 3 in Milwaukee and 3 in Chicago) before returning home to close the month against the Tigers and Athletics.

Keep in Mind:

The Twins probably (probably) won’t be 12-32 at the end of May. Look for the club to improve their record this month as they ease into some easier competition. The health of Morneau will be important, but not as vital as the turnaround of the starting staff, which desperately needs to begin carrying its weight, lest pitching coach Rick Anderson find himself on the chopping block.

 

E-mail me at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, like me on Facebook by clicking on the picture at the top left of the page, or tweet me @BreakTheHuddle. Happy May Day, everybody!