The Front Five:
Well football season is around the corner and I have been to several OTA practices, watching the Chiefs try to come together for the 2013 season. Some observations on my time out at the Arrowhead Practice Facility.
1. It’s a night and day improvement at the quarterback position. Granted, I know that these guys are in shorts and the defense doesn’t rush or give pressure but Alex Smith looks the part. Smith isn’t known for the strongest arm in the world but compared to Matt Cassel the ball seems to be smoking coming out of his hand. Crisp passes, accuracy would be problem that Cassel would have throughout these types of practices, and Smith doesn’t have that problem. Smith also is so much more mobile and has thrown on the run with accuracy and ease.
2. This should be a fun defense to watch. The secondary gets the most work in 7 on 7 drills and have been all over the place. Intercepted balls, tipped passes and flat-out speed has been their M.O. so far. Sean Smith has upgraded that second CB spot and Husain Abdullah paired with Eric Berry has been fun to watch. No doubt in my mind that Sean Smith and Alex Smith have upgraded those two positions more than any other free agent signings this past year.
3. The end is near for Ricky Stanzi as a Chief. Tyler Bray, in my opinion, has been much better than Stanzi when competing against each other. Training Camp should be very interesting when it comes down to the decision on who makes the third spot at QB. Talking with other reporters at practice it’s across the board agreement on Tyler Bray and how good he looks for a raw talent. Bray, will flourish at some point in his career because of Andy Reid and certainly looks to have the tools to do so.
4.Eric Fisher has looked pretty good but I’m still concerned about his weight. The kid is big, mean and tough but he’s also on the thin side. I will be curious to see what Fisher will weigh when the season starts. In practice he as been with the first team the whole time and is holding his own. There are times he gets beat of the edge but recovers to still protect the QB. I still think there will be a learning curve but as the off-season and pre-season games progress we will see huge improvements once he gets the speed of the game down.
5. Dwayne Bowe and then who else? I’m not going to lie; the receiver spot scares the hell out of me. Bowe is Bowe, but will Baldwin be the guy that he was drafted to be? What does Donnie Avery have left? How will the fullbacks and running backs be utilized in the passing game? All important questions as we move ahead. I think this offense will be fun to watch because there are so many options including a deep tight end spot that has been integral in the OTA’s.
I have seen and heard from many fans that they are very luke warm on the 2013 Chiefs draft, the first under Andy Reid and John Dorsey. I, however, am pleased because they filled gaps that needed an upgrade. If all the hype around Eric Fisher is true then the Chiefs have just drafted a player that should be solid Pro-Bowl LT for the foreseeable future. If you couple the pick with a possible scenario where Branden Albert does not get traded and is in Kansas City for the next year then you have a heck of Offensive Line to protect the investment of Alex Smith. I think Albert should be forced to play where this regime wants him. If he is solid at LT and proves that his back isn’t an issue, then do the deal. If not let him walk and Fisher has a taste of NFL competition with a year under his belt.
The RB spot was another concern of mine as well and I’m sure that problem has been solved. On this mornings Border Patrol we discussed the role of Jamaal Charles in the Andy Reid offense and what is behind him in Cyrus Gray and now Niles Davis. Gray has yet to be healthy enough to play meaningful minutes and Davis hasn’t had a good season since 2010. Now, if Davis can put it together and correct the fumbling issues and somehow Gray can stay healthy and show the game he had in college that could be a heck of a 1-2-3 rotation at RB. If you look at the added FB draftee, Braeden Wilson out of K-State, I think the Chiefs are in the best position they have been in regards to the backfield in two years I would love to see them pick up one more veteran to have a true completion at the two and three spots.
I like the depth at ILB with Nico Johnson from Alabama. That second level now has gotten tougher and quicker, because of the signing of Akeem Jordan in the off-season as well. Chiefs now are looking at a the LB spot in a year that Derrick Johnson went to the Pro-Bowl and Tamba Hali looks t get back to form. There are still holes there but those LBs should be able to get to the QB more behind DeVito.
The other guys I think are projects and take a wait and see approach. I fully expect Kush and Capatano to be on a severe learning curve given the level of competition in college. Does that mean practice squad, I don’t know, but those guys have tremendous upside that Dorsey and Reid can mold as they wish. UDFA also have storylines as Tyler Bray will be pushing for the third spot. Bray, at one point was a late first round to second round pick many thought going into this year. A rough year at Tennessee and a bad showing at the Combine dropped him out of the draft. A great project QB for the new regime, as he will be with Alex Smith and an above average back up in Chase Daniel.
As the Big 12 race is coming down the stretch I decided to highlight the plays and players of the year in my first annual “Swartsie” Awards:
Moment of the Year:
Without a doubt Rodney McGruder against Baylor in Waco. What a perfect highlight of the coaching prowess of Scott Drew. I can’t tell which was worst the baseball pass the length of the court that gives K-State the ball under their own basket or the horrible defense played on McGruder as he hits the game winner. One thing I do know is that MaGruder has ice water in his veins and that shot was one that Wildcat fans will remember for a long time.
Upset of the Year:
Another easy one, TCU upsetting Kansas in Ft.Worth. Kansas fans will tell you that it was the Jayhawks’ rough night shooting the ball that played the biggest part in the loss, other will say TCU played defense and made shots when it mattered. This is what I do know. TCU is a bad team and Kansas should have never been within 15 points in that loss. Credit TCU for giving one that KU haters will point to for a long time.
Newcomer of the Year:
Ben MacLemore has done things at Kansas this year that few have done while in a Jayhawk uniform. Setting records at KU with their history will make you take notice of a player and no doubt MacLemore stands out. I know that he sometimes fades on the offensive end but when he has his confidence going he is unstoppable and for a player who is getting his first taste of big time college basketball. The only shame is going to be not seeing mature into an even better player while playing the college game. You can’t fault a kid for leaving when he can take care of his family and fulfill a dream. I think MacLemore is only going to get better and can’t wait to see how he does in the NBA next year.
Game of the Year:
Kansas at Oklahoma State has to be the lock for game of the year in the Big 12. Two team slugging it out in two Overtimes and going balls out the whole way through. The best part of that game in my opinion was the offense we saw out of the stars of the Big 12 Conference. Either team deserved the win and in the end what a huge win for Kansas. Not only did it help them in the conference race but I think that is when the confidence started to grow going into the successful stretch to end the season.
Coach of the Year:
Up until Oklahoma State laid an egg at Iowa State I was going with Travis Ford but now have switched and am leaning to Bruce Weber. My sticking point with Weber is that he is having success with a team that was going to have success with the previous coach. These aren’t his players but he did something that Frank Martin couldn’t and that is consistency on the offensive end. I think in the coming years it will be interesting to see what the quality of player Weber gets to Manhattan, one thing that was questioned when he was at Illinois.
Player of the Year:
People will debate Marcus Smart, Rodney McGruder, Jeff Withey or Ben MacLemore. Here’s what I do know, Jeff Withey single handedly changes games and his scoring has picked up to end the conference season and because of that he gets my Big 12 POY. Even when Withey isn’t have a hot night scoring he does something else to meaningfully impact the game with blocks or rebounds.
Swartsie All Big 12:
-Missouri is a head scratcher to me as we are in the home stretch of the 2013 season. I can’t wrap my head around the ups and downs of the program in games where they should be clear cut winners. I never thought they would miss Mike Dixon as much as they do on the offensive end. Can you imagine how much better this team would be with a scorer like that and able to get Ross and Bell to chip in? I do think the Tigers lose tonight to Florida. The Gators are so tough and would give anyone in the top 5 fits let alone a Missouri team that can struggle to keep up on the offensive end sometime, couple that with a stout defense and it may big a long night for Tiger fans.
-We talked this morning on the Border Patrol about our Big 12 Coach of the year. At this point I think it has to be between Travis Ford and Bill Self. I give the edge to Ford because of the way he has gotten all those players to buy in and play hard night in and night out. People (Nate Bukaty) say “Look at the NBA talent on that roster, they have to win”. I say, look who has gotten that talent to Stillwater and let’s remember there are coaches who have talent (Scott Drew) and can’t capitalize and win the Big 12. What a huge game for Kansas and Oklahoma State tomorrow night in Stillwater.
-K-State fans should be excited about what Shane Southwell can be next year. This kid can be all Big 12 easily in his senior campaign. The strides he has taken on the offensive end are leaps and bounds and a credit to Bruce Weber’s new offense. The Wildcats will be a different looking team next year but I think Weber understands that sleeping on recruiting is not the recipie for success in Manhattan. I was surprised to know that he was already at a recruiting destination after the West Virginia win this morning. I think he learned from his time at Illinois how important it really is and I think should have the Wildcat fans very happy in seeing their coach working so hard.
-What personality will Kansas have in this year’s NCAA Tournament? Have they got the killer instinct back that we have seen against Texas and K-State or is that the benefit of playing at home? I think all Jayhawk fans want to see KU go down to Stillwater and gut out a tough win where they come back from adversity to get a victory. I’ll predict this, the winner of tomorrow night’s game wins the Big 12 regular season. I hope Kansas can get their guard play to tighten up the mistakes heading into March when guards have to win you games. Elijah Johnson has struggled but I think is waiting to turn it on when it matters and Nadir Tharpe has seen he could lead this team when they need him. The question now is can both of Kansas’ guards do it when the pressure of March is on their shoulders?
With the Big 12 Conference season well in swing I thought I would give some mid-season thoughts of what I’ve seen in what has been an interesting Big 12 slate so far.
-Ho Hum Kansas dominates…again!
-Yes we get more Mizzou and K-State fans mad at us for talking about Kansas basketball as much as we do. Here’s the deal, they’re good and I mean really good. Kansas has once again made it to the Top 3 in most people’s minds as a National Championship contender. Can we say that about K-State or Mizzou, absolutely not. Not only do I think Kansas is set up for a long run in the NCAA Tournament but I think they will go undefeated in league play. Why? The conference is so down and Kansas never quits. When they had their back against the wall in both Iowa State and Kansas State games they found away to move past and win, something great teams do. Yes Ben McLemore needs to shoot more and they need better play out of the point guard spot but I never count Bill Self out when it comes to pushing the right buttons, something I think he’s doing now.
-Kansas State has surprised
-I’d be lying if I didn’t say that K-State has surprised me with how well they are playing. Watching them in the Non-Con was brutal; bad games, which had them at times struggling on the offensive end. I think Bruce Weber has gotten these guys to buy in. I was interested to see how Weber would tame all the different personalities on that team and he has done so masterfully. It helps that you probably have the conference player of the year on your team (Rodney McGruder) but other players, like Shane Southwell have emerged and that is something I credit to Weber. Now let’s see how he does when he gets his own players in Manhattan. The Wildcats are #2 in the conference with a bullet!
-Other Conference thoughts
-TCU is absolutely terrible. The trade-off in football makes the Big 12 look terrible in basketball season. There are some bad teams in the Major conferences but I’m hard pressed to find one as bad as TCU…West Virgnia is a huge disappointment. I thought the Mountaineers would bring toughness and swagger to the Big 12 but that clearly isn’t happening…Texas Tech is gaining by respect under coach Chris Walker. That team could easily fold up shop and blame a bad season on Bill Gillespie and his issues. Credit Walker for getting that team to buy in and get a good win over Iowa State…Speaking of the Cyclones, do you guys want to try and finish in the Top 3 or not? ISU is such a hard team to figure out when it comes to games they should win. Will they get a big win over K-State on Saturday to right their season?...Finally, how is Texas so bad? I never understand why Texas isn’t in the Top 10 in the country or at least ranked. Will this disaster of a season finally be the tipping point in regards to Ric Barnes retaining his job?
College Basketball Season is officially upon us and we are starting to get early returns on the local teams.
- First up the Kansas Jayhawks who won the CBE Hall of Fame Classic at Sprint Center. KU plays two games including one against one of the worst teams in College Hoops in Washington State and St Louis, a team that is going through some major emotional challenges after losing their coach Rick Majerus to heart complications. I think observers took away a couple things from both victories. One, Kansas can still go out and blow out teams they are supposed to and can do it by using a high-octane offense. I wanted to see the veterans step up in a game and take over and that is exactly what Withey and Relaford did in the win over the Billikens. You can re-use the same script year in and year out as it seems Bill Self’s team take a bit of time to find their footing, identify their flaws and then find the best way to win games. The offense that was lacking against Michigan State and Chattanooga seems to have been corrected and Kansas has they multi-faceted scoring attack. They have had in years past. Secondly, Kansas is successful when they have multiple guys who can step up and get you twenty points in a given night. Relaford, Withey, McLemore..etc…can step up and force a defense to pick their poison. The Jayhawks will lose games this year, maybe more than they have in the past, but will tested when NCAA Tourney time comes around. They’ll have guys who have confidence to take over a game if they have the hot hand in situations where maybe the go-to guys are having off nights. I think Self is starting to see an exciting team coming together and taking shape, the question now is “Where is the ceiling?”
-I’m going to lump K-State and Missouri into the same category … Incomplete. We don’t know much about both teams given the inferior competition and both teams will be tested in the next week. I’m starting to think that K-State will be battling to finish in the Top three of the Big 12….This conference will come down to three teams Kansas, Oklahoma State and the Wildcats. K-State, has the point guard and the size down low, they can defend and they have the experience of playing tough games, something that is so valuable in a tough league like the Big 12.
-Missouri will face three tough days against teams that will be in the NCAA Tourney. Will the new size for the Tigers prove to be the deciding factor against other teams that can’t match their quick guards and now a bigger frontcourt? Will Mike Dixon Jr finally play? A lot of question surrounding the Tigers going into That Battle for Atlantis, many that will be answered over the next three days. Missouri fans will for sure be looking for signs that the Tigers will be in the hunt for the SEC title in their first year in the league.