Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Knee Jerks: Who'll Replace Bobby Layne? And Can't We Just Let 23-Year-Olds Be 23-Year-Olds? (Among other topics!)

Happy Thursday! Sorry to spoil it for you with another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." This is where I engage the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience, in a weekly sports gabfest that tends to get very wordy and insufferable if you don't have patience for us!

This week, Al and I riff on the Lions' never-ending search for Bobby Layne's replacement; our early bird examples of why you should be optimistic about the Tigers; A-Roid; Michael Phelps's indiscretion; and, of course, the usual suspects: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

So without further ado......


Eno: It's Thursday, and it's time to do that Jerk kind of thing! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al". I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. How are you on this fine February afternoon, Al?

Big Al: I'm no longer exiled in girlfriend-land, as I'm back home. Home with a DVR, digital cable, uber-fast cable Internet and all the sports channels on my TV. (I kid, I kid. She's a total keeper). So I can overdose on all things sports again. What's on your mind this week, Eno? Come on, let 'er rip!

Eno: Welcome back from exile! Clearly, she never reads TKJ, or else you'd be in the pooch parlor! OK, this week: I wrote at OOB that this talk of Georgia QB Matthew Stafford having attended Bobby Layne's Dallas HS is a bunch of rubbish. Whether Stafford succeeds will be because of coaching, blocking, and a running game, no?

Big Al: Actually, she does read TKJ, and TWFE for that matter. But luckily for me, my lovely GF has a great sense of humor...I hope. But I digress. As for Stafford, of course he'd need legitimate NFL players and coaches surrounding him – something the Lions have lacked for this entire decade. But you also forgot he needs to have the ball in his hands, and a defense to get him the pigskin. The offense, though not great, would be much better with a QB who could actually make the occasional play and not turn the ball over every other series. But overall, the offense isn't horrible. The defense, on the other hand, is beyond horrible. No matter if the Lions take Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, or sign Mike Vick or Paul Crewe out of prison. The defense should be the focus of the draft and free agency. Yes, the Lions need a QB, but they need defense even more.

Eno: Ahh, so do I detect that you hope the Lions DON'T draft Stafford?

Big Al: No; if the Lions decide he's the best player on the board, then they should take him. But I'd have no problem with their drafting the defensive side of the ball for the majority of their picks. The defense was HISTORICALLY bad in 2008. The Schwartz can take Stafford first overall, or nab Sanchez at no. 20. But they have to concentrate on fixing the defense. Your young stud QB can't do a thing standing on the sidelines, watching the D get pushed all over the field.

Eno: True that. And no QB has thrown TD passes lying flat on his back, so you need to block for him, too. What do you make of the Lions bringing back Daunte Culpepper? My feeling is that before you write him off, I'd like to see him have a training camp and pre-season first. Thoughts?

Big Al: Well, Culpepper will be reunited with [offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan, who was the Vikings' offensive coordinator during [Culpepper’s] best seasons. And Culpepper will have a full off season and training camp to get into a semblance of shape. When the Lions signed him, Culpepper weighed as much as his offensive linemen. But, you can't deny that Culpepper was God awful in 2008. But so was Jon Kitna, and the Lions had to sign a veteran QB, no matter what. Considering that the free agent QB class, to put it bluntly, blows, I think I understand why he Lions kept [Culpepper]. But I’m lukewarm to it.

Eno: The Lions need so much help, as you said, that I guess you almost can't go wrong, no matter who you pick. I think the key will be what they do with the 20th pick, not the No. 1. That 20th overall had better be an impact player, too. And, of course, the Lions MUST find some gems in the lower rounds. That's been their Achilles. I'm not feeling warm and fuzzy, though, because the scouting department wasn't purged. Your take on James Harris's addition to the front office?

Big Al: Really, the Lions should get three impact players, as they have the first pick of the second round. Having three of the top 33 picks means the Lions should nab three immediate starters in the '09 draft. But you are correct; where the Lions really hurt themselves during the Matt Millen Era was their inability to find any diamonds in the rough during the lower rounds. Good teams find contributing players in the second day of the draft. The Lions had trouble finding contributors in the draft, period. As for Harris? He has a solid track record, but like any NFL executive, he had his share of hits and misses. Just look at his free agent signings from last off season. Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence were given BIG money on Harris's recommendation. They were both recently cut by the Carolina Panthers, as they were huge disappointments. Still, Harris has had some success building a team in the style Mayhew and Schwartz want: physical, tough, and run first.

Eno: I'm eager and frightened, at the same time, to see how the Lions' front office org chart works out. It doesn't appear to be terribly orthodox, but we'll see. One thing's for certain: if the Lions draft Stafford, the kid can forget about wearing his college No. 7 with the Lions. That number was Dutch Clark's, and it's retired!

Big Al: I'm with you there, Eno, my man. God forbid the Lions do what they did when they traded for an over-the-hill Pat Swilling in 1993, giving him Joe Schmidt's retired number 56. There are some things that you just don't do.

Eno: Well, the Tigers let Gary Sheffield wear no. 3, Alan Trammell's old number. Which makes for a nice segue. Spring training just opened. Your early bird "feel good" sign? Mine is the health of Sheffield. Sheff is fine and dandy, and that could be huge for the Tigers.

Big Al: Mine is the news of Joel Zumaya throwing well. That would be more huge (more huge? My syntax sucks today!), as the Tigers will go only as far as their pitching will take them. We are also seeing the first of the silly power rankings. Fox Sports had the Tigers 25th overall. I know the Tigers had an off year in '08, but 25th? They aren't that bad, are they?

Eno: I just read that, and [the Detroit News’] Lynn Henning's take, which I agree with. Lynn has the Tigers 10-12 overall. I think that's about right. No, the Tigers aren't 25th-bad. Not even close. But that's OK. Let them be, as Jim Leyland said the other day, "under the radar." Frankly, I love the low expectations nationally. Anyone with any baseball IQ, though, should see that the Tigers could absolutely win the AL Central, which is just about the craziest division to predict, year-after-year, as any in baseball. I agree about Zumaya; that would be, as you said, "more huge." Or huger – whichever you prefer! Bottom line: everyone is optimistic on February 19th. But after what happened to the Tigers last season, I think they're all eager to wash away 2008 ASAP.

Big Al: Personally, I had to plunge a rusty spoon into my cerebral cortex in vain hope of purging the Tigers' 2008 season from my memory. That also explains my grammar and misspellings during today's chat. Me fail English? That's unpossible! Last year the Tigers had everything go wrong that could go wrong. They are due to get a few breaks in '09, but will it be enough to contend? I'm seeing 88 wins getting tossed around the Detroit blogosphere, and it sounds about right to me. The Tigers will be better in '09. How much better is yet to be determined. The bottom half of the rotation, the bottom 1/3 of the batting order and the bullpen still have me concerned.

Eno: I think the Tigers have a big year in them for '09. I think 88 wins is low. This could be the year that others in the AL pay for what they did to the Tigers last season. I think 90+ wins is likely, but Leyland MUST end this nonsense of his teams collapsing in August. His streak in that department is three years in a row and counting. Second half slips aren't cute anymore – not that they ever were!

Big Al: Leyland had as bad of a season as his team last year. The constant position changes still have my head it does Carlos Guillen. I agree the Tigers have to play well down the stretch, something that has been the Tigers’, and Leyland's, Achille's Heel. I do think Leyland will have a better year, if only to earn a contract extension. He didn't deserve to get an extension after last season's performance. As for his being a lame duck? Deal with it.

Eno: Don't get me started on "lame duck". Sheesh! OK, I've been dominating this conversation like Shaq in the paint against Lilliputians. What's on your Al-kind-of-mind today?

Big Al: What's on my mind? Grinds my gears? Let's start with the Alex Rodriguez steroid circus. First off, he slanders the Sports Illustrated reporter who broke the story, Selena Roberts, making up allegations that proved to be untrue. Then during his televised presser he had the gall to claim his "cousin" led him astray? Does he honestly believe baseball fans are so moronically gullible? I was never an A-Rod fan, as he always came off as insincere. Now I despise him. What's your take on A-Fraud?

Eno: The only Yankee I have any use for is Derek Jeter. That's pretty much all I'll say. Oh, and this: A-Rod, sadly, simply becomes just one more player whose numbers you now have to look at cross-eyed. Can you imagine the asterisk that the late Commissioner Ford Frick would place on the numbers of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire et al? The size of a small planet!

Big Al: How about Kenesaw Mountain Landis? He would have used the band hammer to get them out of the game...and that would have just been the START of their misery. Now there was a baseball commissioner with POWER. He was judge, jury and executioner. Kenesaw Mountain Landis makes Bud Selig look like the owners’ lackey. Well, Bud-lite is nothing more than the owners' lackey, and he’s getting paid $18 million a season? FOR WHAT EXACTLY?

Eno: That's a very good question. An $18 million question, actually. Sure makes one long for the days of even Bowie Kuhn, whose tendency to step in "for the best interests of the game" may have seemed annoying, but at least he DID something! OK, enough about ‘roids, already. What else ya got?

Big Al: Ah, yes. Bowie Kuhn. The man who kept the Tigers from obtaining Vida Blue...for the “good of the game”. What else is churning through my damaged cerebral cortex? I forgot to touch on the Michael Phelps chronic/weed/pot/doobage non-controversy last week. On Tuesday, it was announced that Phelps was not going to be charged by a South Carolina sheriff for being caught with a a PHOTO. What a crock. Phelps is a 23-year-old kid; let him be one.

Eno: Wow, talk about laissez-faire! The truth is, he's not just ANY 23-year-old kid, as much as you'd like to argue otherwise. Like it or not, he DOES have a higher standard for which he must strive. That said, as always, things got overblown. He made a mistake and admitted it, with a refreshing sense of "I'm to blame, no one else." I like that Phelps didn't try to blame outside forces. Now, if he screws up AGAIN, doing something similar (don't forget his earlier DUI), then it's OK to vilify him.

Big Al: Thing is, doesn't the sheriff have better things to do than investigate pot smoking at a fraternity party? He may just as well bust anyone who's ever attended a frat party in the state of South Carolina. Christ, when I think back to the boneheaded things I did in my late teens and early-twenties, I just shake my head. Personally, I feel for Phelps. He's never really had a chance to be a kid. First he spends his entire life in the pool, then he becomes a corporate spokesman and role model. Phelps is human, and he's going to make mistakes. The endless demands for apologies and mea culpas is over the top. IT'S JUST WEED. He who has never taken a mind-altering substance, of any kind, cast the first stone. Sometimes I really think this nation has a stick up its uptight ass.

Eno: I was another who must have had a Guardian Angel looking over me while I stumbled around the EMU campus from 1981-85. I feel ya. But again, standards are higher, fair or not, agreed to or not. Hey, wanna play some WordAss, speaking of tight asses?

Big Al: Do we gotta? I want to continue to rip on uptight, morally corrupt, Puritanical Americans! No? OK, if you insist. Let's play WORDASS!


Eno: First, some sad news. Your take on the sudden death, from a heart attack, of former MSU/NFL linebacker Brad Van Pelt.

Big Al: A sad day for Sparties everywhere. Van Pelt was one of the best athletes to ever come out of the state of Michigan. A dominant safety with the Spartans, and an All-Pro linebacker with the Giants. Makes you wonder about the risks athletes take to play in the NFL. Far too many NFL alums die young, in their 50s and 60s. My condolences go out to the Van Pelt family, and Spartans everywhere.

Eno: Indeed. OK, next: the aforementioned Gary Sheffield.

Big Al: Sheff? Hide his glove! If the Tigers get 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI, they'll be happy. They'll be just as happy to clear his salary off the books.

Eno: The Tigers will FINALLY have a player hit his 500th HR while wearing the Old English D, which is kinda cool. OK, next: Chris Osgood.

Big Al: Floundering. He's played a little better recently, but Ozzie's still not playing at the level the Red Wings need.

Eno: Two more: first, Jason Hanson and his brand spanking new four-year deal.

Big Al: Retire his jersey! When the best kicker in Lions' history actually retires, of course. If Hanson played for another franchise, he'd be mentioned with the all-time kicking greats.

Eno: Only two kickers since 1980: Hanson and Eddie Murray. That's amazing. OK, finally – the NBA trade deadline. By the time this appears on the Net, will the Pistons have made a trade?

Big Al: *flips a coin* No. I think Joe Dumars stands pat, even if it means the Pistons fall into the lottery, which is looking more possible by the day. Are you ready for some ass whip...I mean wordass?

Eno: Hit me! (well, not LITERALLY)

Big Al: Let's start with the Lion whom it's rumored has been asked to move to guard this week (according to Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press), Jeff Backus.

Eno: In other words, they want to try to hide him, right? Just as amazing as the kicking situation is the fact that Backus has started every game (I think) since 2001 and hasn't sniffed a Pro Bowl.

Big Al: If true, it seems the Lions will be taking an OT early in the draft. Next, let's go with the Texas Tech (now possibly former) head coach whose strong-armed negotiating tactics may have negotiated himself right out of a coaching job (turning down a $2 million-plus per season deal), Mike Leach.

Eno: Leach is no different than anyone else trying to ensure he gets the most out of his services. Trouble is, it gets murkier when you're talking about the leader of young men. I think coaches should be able to market themselves, too, but it's a fine line between that and audaciousness. How's THAT for a $20 word?

Big Al: Triple word score for Eno! Next, something that scares all fans due to the possibility of injury, MLB's World Baseball Classic.

Eno: Meh. It doesn't excite me – not one bit. No interest. Does that make me a bad person?

Big Al: No, as I think the majority of American baseball fans feel exactly as you do. I don’t want to see Justin Verlander pitch for Team USA. He's too important to the Tigers' chances. One more. Will the Pistons make a trade before the deadline?

Eno: Ah, giving me a taste of my own WordAss, huh? Joe D, as you said, stands pat. This season is shot. OK, last chance to rant before we do Jerk of the Week. Anything still in your hopper?

Big Al: The NBA had its All-Star festivities last weekend. As you all know, I was in exile at the GF's, so I was unable to see any of the weekend's activities. And you know what? I don't feel like I missed a damn thing. I heard H-O-R-S-E was a total flop. The dunk contest is soooo played out. The game itself is a snoozer. Did you bother to catch any of the NBA's big weekend?

Eno: NO!! God, that stuff bores me to tears. I'm getting to the point where I hold all "all-star games" in disdain, save the MLB version. And even that – the HR Derby is getting old. They need to freshen things up, but I'm not sure how. I think a 3-on-3 would be kinda cool re: the NBA. I don't know. All-Star games....another "meh."

Big Al: Meh. Couldn't have said it better myself. All-Star games have run their course. There's no need in an era where we can see teams play every night of the week. And the fuss over Kevin Durant's 46 points in the rookie/sophomore game? It was in an EXHIBITION game where defense is considered a four-letter word. Get a grip, folks.


Eno: Exactly. OK, who's your JOTW?

Big Al: My JOTW is South Carolina sheriff Leon Lott, who felt the need to waste taxpayer money on attempting to arrest and prosecute Michael Phelps and many others who were in attendance at the fraternity party where pot was smoked. All that effort for what was essentially a misdemeanor offense? I'll take "Attention Whores" for $100, Alex.

Eno: Wow. I think your HIS JOTW!! Mine isn't terribly creative or surprising: Alex Rodriguez. Sorry. I know it's not a thrilling choice, but he can't NOT be a JOTW between the two of us!

Big Al: Indeed. A-Roid deserves it too. I'm not one to defend the MSM, but his attacking Selena Roberts with outright lies was the move of a Jerk of the Century, let alone of the week. I hope she sues. Any final thoughts, Eno?

Eno: Umm, only that isn't it great to see those photos of the Tigers in their creamy white unis down in Lakeland? I've been going to and to check out the daily photo galleries. Can't get enough of it!

Big Al: Mmmm, creamy whites.... I'm suddenly hungry for cream of potato soup! Seriously, I LOVE the Tigers' home unis. One of the best in all of sports. I think it's that time, Eno!

Eno: It is. Have a great week, my friend!

Big Al: Same Jerk time, same Jerk channel, same Jerks! Later, Eno-sabi!

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