Archive for March, 2013

By:Bryan Luis, Contribution by Nolan Blakeley

At Da Don’s Verdict, I like to be able to not just mention about football. I follow every sport and I have a lot of different sports takes. With that being said we have quite a magnificent streak going on in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.

We know the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 with a young group that took years to build with the likes of Seabrook, Kane, Toews, and then the opportune time for Anti Niemi to step up big in the playoffs that year.

I watched their game vs. Colorado on Wednesday night and I was thinking of how hard to win consistently in the NHL. They were at 21-0-3 before their first defeat in the rematch they had Friday Night with the Avalanche (COL 6- CHI 2). It’s just at the halfway point into the lockout shortened season and Chicago has a huge lead above everybody in the NHL for the President’s Trophy.

What We Learned from Tonight’s Blackhawks-Avalanche Game

1.) Matt Duchene is the NHL’s next Big Star

4 points tonight with a 1 goal and 3 assists for the young star including a beautiful pass to Paul Stastny for PP Goal. His impact in the two games was the reason they won; he jumped off the screen for me beat icing calls by outhustling Duncan Keith on multiple occasions. The center ice was the dominant force for the Avalanche offensively, his three assists were due his grit and toughness, similar to what I see in Boston with David Krejci, not making any comparisons but Duchene was the First Star. He isn’t quite on the level of Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg quite yet but I know the organization thinks he can be. This guy is on the way to being a MEGA-STAR.

2.) The Blackhawks are Vulnerable When They’ve Played Physical Teams.

The impact that D Eric Johnson had tonight coming back from injury and Ryan O’Reilly ending his holdout really rubbed off on the young Avalanche team. We also saw this against Detroit and some of their closest games this season. They usually set the tempo and the pace, Seabrook and Keith usually can win the game if they’re in control by scoring first. They did that tonight but they got out-hustled. I didn’t hear much of Hossa in this game, and other than Kane and Toews no one really played well.

3.) The Avalanche scored four goals on 9 shots in the 2nd Period!

4/9 on shots I’m not joking logging this game was just weird. Even more weird was that Chicago outshot Colorado. Their Penalty Kill really let them down (2-4 PP), but overall that second period was everything that they weren’t this season. I already mentioned Duchene, but John Mitchell and once again Ryan O’Reilly both scored in the period the benefit of PA Parenteau’s veteran presence. They worked hard for them by taking advantages of their chances.

4.) The Blackhawks Offense Thrives Off of the Cycle and Utilizing the Point; Take those Away and They Have No Structure in the Offensive Zone.

Self-Explanatory, this is the analysis I got from my friend Nolan Blakeley on the game, I will mention later on what impact their defensemen have at the point offensively, Keith got beat in the footraces and Seabrook had little physical presence. They had chances but not many quality chances. Toews and company WILL NOT let this happen again. Hjalmarsson was a -1 tonight very unlike him, usually always in the right spot. Seabrook has ability to score at the point but couldn’t find a lane and Kane couldn’t cash in either at the wing.

After the 6-2 and fans cheering their defeat its to reflect on the 30 game streak overall. Let’s look more in depth and what was accomplished in there last thirty games.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Background Information of Their Streak

To start the season many included myself probably viewed the Chicago Blackhawks as one of the best teams in the NHL, along with the New York Rangers, and defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. But nobody could legitimately predict a 21-0-3 start to a season where they (or anyone else) hadnt had a training camp.

They’ve beaten some really good teams this season including the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Kings (5-2) in the season opener, two wins vs. the St. Louis Blues, Red Wings, and the Vancouver Canucks (2011 Western Conference Champs).

The NHL has plenty of young stars as you saw one of them tonight, Duchene and the Blackhawks will face with two other potential stars in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the up and coming Edmonton Oilers so they could very well be on another streak now that we’ve seen Hossa as a no-show tonight and the shoulder injury to Patrick Sharp.

By the Numbers: Offense

  1. The Chicago Blackhawks are ranked #4 in team -scoring, the NHL averaging (3.12 Goals Per Game) Patrick Kane leads the team in points with 27, also leads the team in goals and assists (12G,15G).
  2. Look at their top-end talent. Yeah they have Patrick Kane but they also have C Jonathan Toews, RW Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp (injured), and youngsters Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad who have contributed.
  3. Only 8 teams in the NHL average over 3 goals a game (Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Carolina, Toronto, Montreal, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay). But their Power Play is 13th in the NHL (17.8%). Remember that the last two Stanley Cup Champions (LA Kings and Boston Bruins) had awful Power Play offense, but 13th isn’t bad it’s top half in the league. 4th in S/G (Shots per Game) at 30.8.

By the Numbers: Defense/Goaltending

  1. Head Coach Joel Quenneville and his team had major questions about Goaltending heading into the season after losing to the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs last season. But Corey Crawford is playing like a more than worthy candidate for the Vezna trophy. But don’t discount the impact of backup G Ray Emery who hasn’t been defeated in any fashion this season (10-0-0). So Goaltending has been the Key, and you saw tonight with Crawford off his game that the offense can’t always pick him up like Crawford and Emery were able to pick up the offense at times during the streak.
  2. To further prove that the Blackhawks defense and goaltending have been beyond amazing, they’re at a league-best scoring defense (1.8 GA/Game). They also have the #2 Penalty Kill in the NHL (87.1%) after tonight’s game Colorado went (2-4 PP). Although tonight vs. the Avalanche they let up 6 goals, I would imagine that this is a rarity, plus Duchene as I stated earlier hurt them.
  3. They have great talent on defense, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Niklas Hjalmarsson who each have played every game this season (24 games). Hjalmarsson has been sound this season, the Swede has a (+/-) 9, but when it comes to Chicago defensively you notice the physicality of Brent Seabrook and how seldom he spends time in the Penalty Box. Duncan Keith has 11 assists this season, pretty good option for them offensively.

Beyond the Numbers: Team Numbers

The Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL, that’s solidified. What I noticed while looking their schedule and their streak was how close a lot of these games were. Let’s look beyond the numbers.

(OT W-L Record)- (7-3)

One Goal Games- (13-3)

Most Games without a Loss in regulation is 35 games by the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers at 35 games the Blackhawks ended at 30 games (dating back to last season).

Let’s put this in perspective, 16 games out their 24 (2/3 of their games) have been decided by one goal or less. In 10 OT games they’re winning 70% of them.

Daniel Carrillo’s GW Goal vs. the Avalanche, Patrick Kane’s SO goal vs. the Red Wings further shows the resiliency that Chicago has. You don’t need Barry Melrose or Pierre McGuire to tell you how this will impact the way it affects them in the postseason, many teams have been great in the regular season then one injury or a series of bad games just leaves a ripple effect that they never recover from.

The Final Verdict: How Far Can They Go

Every year has a signature story in each sport, heck we seen it in the MLB with Buster Posey’s comeback from injury to lead the San Francisco Giants to a second World Series title in four years, and watching Ray Lewis end his career with a second ring.

The NHL’s lead story at the halfway point of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks are the story. Even Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade had no hesitation in saying how impressing the Blackhawks streak was.

They’ve answered most of the questions that got them booted in the 1st round of the playoffs vs. Phoenix. Corey Crawford is my midseason pick for the Vezna Trophy (Best Goaltender in the NHL), but I also feel this team will have to stay healthy we all know about Marian Hossa and his history of getting injured, heck Patrick Sharp will miss three weeks, this team is great top to bottom but they can’t afford to lose Hossa and Sharp up front. On defense they’ve been the best and with Brent Seabrook’s highlight hits and extremely low PIM I expect him to continue to impress.

This team will no doubt be in the #1 seed in the Western Conference barring a collapse unseen in the NHL before. The other twenty-nine teams in the NHL will be chasing them; I don’t think there are many teams who could beat them in a seven game series. I feel the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angles Kings, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins are the only teams who can keep them from the cup.

With the streak’s end the Edmonton Oilers have to chance to start a different streak for the Blackhawks but as I’ve tweeted before I like Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Ales Hemsky, very similar to the Avs. Blackhawk fans don’t need to worry you’re still the favorites for the Cup for now.

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For the Defense I will mainly focus on the Big-Name guys except Teo (overblown).

For DL and LB I will profile Dion Jordan, Margus Hunt, Alex Okafor, Arthur Brown of KSU, and The LSU duo of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

My rankings for the D-Line is as follows, remember this is based on film i’m not Mike Mayock and have inside sources. This is based on solely talent.

At Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackles/Defensive Ends

Top DT Star Lotelelei of Utah hopes to wow scouts after scare with his heart held him out of the combine

1. Star Lotulelei-University of Utah

2. Dion Jordan-University of Oregon

3. Alex Okafor-University of Texas

4. Sharrif Floyd-University of Florida

5. Margus Hunt-Southern Methodist Univerity

The Defensive Line Group in this year’s Draft is very deep and I have some names not usually mentioned in high regard. Star Lotulelei dominated the PAC-12 in his time at Utah regarded by many as the best defensive lineman in this draft. The heart condition held him out of the combine but if his health checks out, he’s still the best in this group.

I will have more on Oregon’s Dion Jordan but like most of the Oregon team he’s explosive and he’s a pass rusher. I see him being drafted in the top 10 like many others. Ignore the fact Oregon had an awful defense, he and Kiko Alonso were stars for that defense and they were enough to win a Fiesta Bowl.

Alex Okafor is a guy that sounds like a 1st round pick, he’s well coached and was paired with Jackson Jeffcoat at DE. As the season went on you saw more of him. Texas is a team that improved in his time once they got the running game in order.

Sharrif Floyd was a big time recruit in 2010, but I don’t see the hype of why he should go in the top three, but he’s a definite first round pick. I dont agree when people say this draft sucks, (its cause there are no QBs). NFL Scouts go on potential and I see why but when I think Floridas defense I think of S Matt Elam and LB Jelani Jenkins  before I think of Floyd. But he does stop the run but I’m sure if he can give you a rush in a 3-4 end position, I feel he’s a 4-3 DT .

English: Margus Hunt at SMU Football Spring Pr...

English: Margus Hunt at SMU Football Spring Practice 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margus Hunt is being dubbed another JJ Watt. Wait what?? Ok I’m not on that bandwagon although I’m a fan. Remember Watt is a big guy well Hunt is 6’7 290lbs, (Pepper’s  Size), but he plays more like how Grant Winstrom and Bertrand Berry were. I know those are old names but they were guys who flourished in the run game. They were great athletes like Hunt who ran a 4.62 40. He did win a gold medal in track while still at Estonia.

When you watch the Draft also look out for some sleepers in this deep DLine Class Obviously look out DE Bjoern Werner of FSU and DE Ezekial Ansah of BYU, both are raw but I don’t see them being better than Hunt. Also watch for Brandon Jenkins the 2011 All-American from Florida State and William Gholston of Michigan State, both of those guys entered the 2012 season with High Expectations but an injury for Jenkins and inconsistency for Gholston cost them in the Hype Machine factor.

BY:BRYAN “DA DON” LUIS

CONTRIBUTION OF CONNOR FLASKA

I won’t be the only one to say that the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes Football Team had a magical season. After all they went 12-0, won a regular season Big Ten title and reminded people that despite being restricted from a bowl game because of the NCAA violations against them. It was almost a spitting image of 2002 for most in Columbus. Urban Meyer got the fans to believe, showing the same enthusiasm that they have for their Buckeyes.

Coach Urban Meyer’s motto “It takes a little something special to be a great player.” His RT Reid Fragel is that kind of player. The senior put his heart and soul into Buckeye Nation whether it was on 1st and 10 at the 20 in the first quarter or 4th and 1 on 39 with the game on the line. If you watch the Buckeyes like I do (religiously), you’ll notice that. Another thing you’ll notice is how they run the ball almost always to the right side.

Fragel converted from TE to RT before his senior yr. for the better of the team

Fragel was a 4 star recruit as a TE out of Gross Point South, Michigan in the 2009 recruiting class that includes Jordan Hall, John Simon, Corey Brown, Carlos Hyde, CJ Barnett, and Zach Boren. He made a few plays as a TE, a pass reception on a TE Screen in the 2011 Sugar Bowl was his longest gain. He scored a TD against Iowa in 2010.

Everytime I talk Ohio St. Football with my friend from Gross Pointe, Michigan, Connor Flaska, Fragel’s name and progress gets brought up every time. Before last year I knew of Fragel for his play in the Sugar Bowl and as a valuable TE who was great in the redzone. But ever since then I focused on his performance and noticed his athleticism throughout his career.

His football career took a different path before his senior season. Under new coach Urban Meyer, Fragel made the move to offensive line and quickly embraced the role.  “I feel like our team needs some help at tackle,” said Fragel in an interview with Ozone.net. Not only did he embrace the role he flourished, he was selected as Honorable Mention for the All-Big Ten team, in his first year playing the position.

To his favor his Dad played football at Michigan St. and Northern Michigan, and his grandfather was a great basketball coach in Ohio. So to say being an athlete was in his blood is what I would say. But his sheer size is an advantage for him; he stands at 6’7” and around 300 lbs.

Before the NFL Combine in late February not many teams had him on their boards, but he impressed teams at the Combine. His Combine numbers were as follows: Broad Jump 113, vertical jump 30, 40 is 5.14, 33 reps on 225, 7.62 cone drill, and 4.68 20 yard shuffle. His combine results were solid numbers considering many had Fragel mocked in the 5th round. I think lineman in the Big Ten have had great success in the NFL more than other conferences for years (Reiff, Thomas, Olivea, Pace, Mangold, Wisinewski, Backus, Long, Diehl, Pashos, Hardwick, Light, Steinbach, Hutchinson etc.) It’s quite a pedigree to be involved with.

His strengths as a player are more so in his raw ability than technique. He is super-strong; he benched 33 reps (225lbs), one of the strongest among tackles in the combine. His other strength would be his attitude, if you heard his interviews and read his quotes, you would want him to be on your team, eventually be a pro-bowler, he also played in a system with Urban Meyer that has the O-Line perform cross blocks and pulls due to the spread option and all the counters and play action off of that. He has the athleticism and the power to play in ANY system. The versatility he had in playing TE for three years should serve him well.

His weaknesses would start with his lack of experience at OL. Some of the guys in this draft like Luke Joekel, Brennan Williams, Eric Fisher, and DJ Fluker among others who may go higher than Fragel have started at Tackle for three years and have more film on them. I also feel teams will make the excuse that he isn’t a great pass blocker. As I see in the games against Wisconsin and Michigan, I don’t see where he struggles. Maybe teams don’t feel he can be on an island but that’ll come with experience and hard work.

Overall I mock him as mid-3rd round grade but in a deep O-Line class I feel he could be the steal, if his negative is EXPIERIENCE, then I’m sure he’ll learn well with NFL coaching and commitment.

My best team fits for Reid Fragel would be the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins.

I start with the Detroit Lions because it’s so obvious that they need to protect QB Matthew Stafford, he’s injury prone to say the least. I feel they’ll go CB in the first round if Philadelphia passes on Dee Milliner of Alabama this means that they’ll have to select a OL (particularly T) since Gosder Cherilus wasn’t the kind of OL talent that Boston College usually produces, and with lifer T Jeff Backus nearing retirement they need a guy opposite of second year LT Riley Reiff (Iowa). Now they have a young nucleus on the line and if Backus plays another year then Fragel could fill in for spot duty in the worst case scenario.

I compare Fragel to Nate Solder (above)

The New England Patriots may not have a 4th, 5th or 6th round pick but remember I have him as a 3rd round grade, so at the end of the end round he’ll be a great selection. The Pats O-Line Coach is Dante Scarnecchia in the eyes of many people around the NFL; he’s the best O-Line coach in pro football that alone is a fit. Remember Sebastian Volmer and Nate Solder they were drafted as raw run blockers and they both became quite good pass blockers. Now Fragel may be asked to fill the spot that Volmer will leave if Marcus Cannon isn’t already the solution. But Cannon may play guard if they need Dan Connolly at the C spot. Then Fragel falls right inton place at RT.

The Philadelphia Eagles are in a situation where anybody they add along the Offensive or Defensive Line isn’t a bad thing, lucky for them those are the strengths of this draft, If Luke Joekel falls to #4 in a freak circumstance then there is a 100% chance they take him at #4, but they need both tackles. Jason Peters and Demetress Bell were failures, they had to release Bell a month ago, and Peters may never be the same. Now it’s for Chip Kelly to build an athletic line, both Joekel and Fragel played for scrambling QB’s great fit. Now watch Michael Vick actually be able to rollout in the pocket either direction.

The Washington Redskins have drafted well in the Shanahan Era, they got RGIII at #2 last yr. and he was a freak of nature, RB Alfred Morris in the 5th round only proved Shanahan can find RBs (let it be known already), and another Pro-Bowl talent he doesn’t get credit for is T Trent Williams on the left side (although he had an issue lately). The reason for drafting Maurice Hurt a 7th round pick in 2011 may not be a long term solution as of now, but Shanahan likes depth on the O-Line or they move Hurt to G since he is 6’3” 330lbs. This would give Fragel the RT spot, the Redskins haven’t had a consistent starter at RT since Jon Jansen, in the Joe Gibbs Era (second gen).

I hope Fragel can continue to show all football fans what Buckeye Nation is about as a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes. As an objective football fan I hope for him that the Combine was a momentum boost. Many compare him to Eric Winston of the Kansas City Chiefs; I compare him to Nate Solder in a sense that he is as raw as Solder was when he left Colorado.

Come draft time I feel he and his family will enjoy every moment and for all those at Grosse Pointe, Michigan to salute the hometown kid. If he ends up in Detroit, I hope Jeff Backus can be a mentor for him; the Big Ten has got to stick together when everyone is all head over heels for the SEC talent in last couple of drafts. But no matter where I’m sure they’ll back him I know I’ll be watching out for him.

Normally people overlook the impact of what a good offensive line can have. I wasn’t alive for the era of “The Hogs” or to the Oakland Raiders with Gene UpshawJim Otto, and Art Shell but in recent years I have seen the impact of guys like Jonathan Ogden who is getting inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer after be selected 3rd overall by the newly relocated Baltimore Ravens (Formally the Cleveland Browns). Orlando Pace who was selected #1 in the 1997 NFL Draft by the St.Louis Rams really became the rock on the blind side that no one has ever seen, At Ohio State they even counted how many pancakes he would get in a game, that’s impact.

Luke Joekel, the best OLineman in the 2013 NFL Draft

The Offensive Lineman in this 2013 NFL Draft have taken the attention with great combine  numbers, and great film. We may have four OL going in the Top 10, the favorite to go #1 is  Texas A&M OT Luke Joekel.

Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher is the 2nd ranked T who could go between 4th-7th overall to this point. Alabama G Chance Warmack maybe a top 10 and not many guards do, remember Mike Iupati of the San Francisco 49ers was selected 17th in 2010 NFL Draft.

You got a high-riser in OT Lane Johnson from Oklahoma, a former JUCO transfer who turned some heads at the combine for his athleticism and quick feet. He has climbed into the Top 12 in the Draft according to some who saw him at the combine.

That’s just the start of the conversation for the OL Draft Class of 2013, there are some other tackles to like in this draft.

In the late 1st round area, your team could T/G DJ Fluker from Alabama who was apart of the BEST Offensive Line in the NCAA, he’s a bit on the bigger side but he can slide into guard, many don’t think he’s an ideal LT but can play the right side well.

Brennan Williams UNC from Easton, Massachusetts

North Carolina T Brennan Williams originally from Easton, MA, is a guy to keep an eye on as well, maybe another potential RT but remember UNC played a pro style and a spread style in the last three years, i see versatility. He blocked for RB Giovani Bernard so that’s a reflection on the whole O-Line not just him but I know Mass Athletes will be pulling for him to succeed on the NFL Level. His issue is staying healthy according to many scouts. I’d imagine the Patriots taking him to replace FA Sebastian Volmer.

The last tackle on my radar is Ohio State RT Reid Fragel, his strength is well his strength (no pun intended), his run-blocking is an area the former TE dominated at times after the move to RT. There will be more in the near future from me on Reid Fragel but the Detroit native is in a position where NFL teams love. The fact he converted from Tight End to Offensive Tackle and some compare him to Eric Winston from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Onto the Offensive Guards and Centers. I’ve already mentioned G Chance Warmack from Alabama so I’ll refrain, but the G/C class has some other big names.

G Larry Warford from the University of Kentucky

The biggest name is Warmack’s but  his Alabama teammate C Barrett Jones he’s a do-it-all Offensive Lineman, the most decorated lineman at Alabama since the Legendary John Hannah. “Roll Tide to that” would be a response you’ll often hear for sure. He won the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Trophy in his time at Alabama, that’s sheer domination.

Terron Armstead OT/G from Arkansas Pine-Bluff had an impressive 4.71 forty yard dash at the NFL Combine but his breakthrough was the East/West Shrine Game. He jumped from a 6th-7th round pick to a top 50 prospect, similar to Vlad Ducasse two yrs. ago from UMass but the difference between them is athleticism.

Larry Warford of Kentucky is a big boy at 6’3″ 333lbs but at the guard position he holds his ground. Kentucky maybe a bottom feeder in the SEC, but they weren’t a cakewalk. ANY DLine Men who squared off 1 on 1 against didn’t go by him, that’s impressive. Most likely he’ll go in the second round, but he could jump if teams don’t overdraft the un-deserving QBs.

Keep in mind when watching the Draft 2013 that you’re going to see a lot of “fat guys” so for those who like QB’s and skill players which I don’t, I’m a defensive fooball fan, then this isn’t going to be your favorite draft, but the comeback of blue-collar football maybe what is best for the NFL with the birth of the read-option in the NFL. There will be more info on the Draft just stay posted on Da Don’s Verdict.

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