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Archive for February, 2012

Playing football isn’t for everyone. Whether you’re talking about 7-year olds or 37-year olds it takes a certain mentality to be a football player and it definitely isn’t for the feint of heart. For this reason I think there is one character “flaw” you’ll hear about players eligible for the NFL Draft which may be more of a positive than a negative when evaluating a young man strictly as a football player.

The flaw I’m talking about is anger management or aggression. First, to get this out of the way, I don’t condone violence and understand that it is a serious issue, however, if a football player has this trait there are likely ways to channel that aggression and anger in a positive way on the football field – especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Let’s just look at a handful of examples in recent history of how this has translated into success on the football field.

Ever hear of a guy named Ray Lewis? He’s has a decent little NFL career…13 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro selections and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. When he finally hangs up his cleats he may be viewed as the best middle linebacker of all-time. He’s known for his intense play, big hits and trash-talking during games. It’s been a long time, but football fans may remember a run-in Lewis has with the law back in 2000 when he was involved in a fight outside of a bar in Atlanta which left two people dead. Lewis was only convicted of obstruction of justice in the incident, and didn’t have a hand in the death of the people, but was involved in the altercation. Before that incident, while in college at the University of Miami, he was twice accused of hitting women even though charges were never brought against him. This aggressive side may have caused him to slip in the draft finally being selected at #26 overall.

A much more recent example of this took place in last year’s draft. The Cleveland Browns’ top two picks in last season’s draft, DT Phil Taylor from Baylor and DE Jabaal Sheard from Pittsburgh, both had run-ins with violence in their past. Taylor started his college career at Penn State but was kicked off the team after his involvement in a fight at the student union as well as an similar incident at a pool party while in school. Sheard was involved in a major fight in Pittsburgh while in college where he ended up throwing a man through a glass door while resisting arrest from a police officer. What both of these young men did aren’t positive things you want to be known for, but they are lapses in judgement that thousands of teenagers and college-aged kids make every year. The big question then becomes, will the kid learn something from the incident so that it doesn’t happen in the future? So far with Taylor and Sheard, they appear to have put those issues in the rear-view mirror and are focusing that aggression on opposing quarterbacks and running backs in the NFL. Both Taylor and Sheard had above average seasons as rookies (on a bad team) and showed many flashes of brilliance throughout the season.

In looking at this year’s draft here is one player who has been pegged with the same character concerns – Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict. A guy I love listening to and who has an unparalleled history of evaluating college players, Gil Brandt, has this to say about Burfict, “…was the most highly recruited player ever to land at ASU. However, his anger management issues often overshadowed his outstanding ability.” I haven’t gotten to see much or hear anything from Burfict yet prior to the draft but he’s one guy I’d keep my eye on if I’m a team looking for a LB. I’d much rather have LB’s on my team with a mean streak as opposed to finess guys!

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In an effort to shed some light on what goes on during a cold, wintry, Ohio day in February leading up to a Lake County Captains baseball season I’ll share my experiences from one day this past week.

I begin my day around 8:15 and, much like anyone else in the business world, the day begins by checking voice mails and e-mails. After deleting a pre-recorded voice mail message left at 9:30 PM the night before, I turn my attention to my computer and delete spam messages promising me huge fortunes from my friends overseas in exchange for my social security and credit card numbers. There are a couple legitimate e-mails, but they can wait for the time being. Then, I check my legal pad of to-do items and get to work.

First item on my list today – come up with weekly sales incentive for our ticketing staff. Depending on the week these range from making “X” number of phone calls, to renewing a certain number of season ticket accounts to planning theme events during the season. Since it’s closer to the beginning of the season and we’re spending a lot of time with season ticket holders I decide to tie our goal for the week into selling parking passes. We control a lot around our ballpark which has about 250 spots. Some of these are for staff and players, but the others are sold on a game-by-game basis. So I decide the goal for the week is for each ticket sales member of the staff to sell parking passes to at least three of their 2012 Season Ticket Holders who did NOT have parking the previous season. If they reach the goal they each get a $25 bonus.

Next up is finalizing the finishing touches on the advertising and vending agreement with our hard-serve ice cream supplier, Velvet Ice Cream. This partnership includes our “Ice Cream Batter of the Game” promotion where we give out free ice cream to one row of fans if a pre-selected player on our team gets a hit, signage in and around one of our concession stands, and one “Velvet Ice Cream Night” during the season where fans will get free ice cream samples and prizes from Velvet. Once it’s completed it’s e-mailed to my marketing contact and the waiting game to receive the signed copy of the agreement begins.

I have a meeting scheduled for 10 AM which is pushed back until 11 AM because my contact is running late. In the meantime I respond to e-mails and make some phone calls to companies who are renewal accounts or are on my list of new advertising prospects for 2012.

At 11:15 my contact from one of our food vendors arrives and I meet with him and our Director of Concessions to discuss their marketing plans for the season as well as discuss what products we’ll be ordering from this company during the season. We also talk about hosting our second annual Clambake at the Ballpark with this company which we did for the first time in 2011 and had nearly 100 people attend in our first year.

Next up – Lunch. Today it’s Schlotsky’s Deli – a sponsor in case you were wondering.

On to my next item…measuring the distance around the ballpark, inside and out, to come up with waypoints for a Walking Tour around Classic Park. This is a promotion I am working on with Lake Health, our official Healthcare Provider, to encourage our fans to get out of their seats and walk around the ballpark once or twice while they are at the game. Lake Health is promoting many various wellness initiatives in the area and this was one I suggested to them as part of their partnership with the Captains.

Following this I finalize an agreement with a local sign vendor, L&M Specialties, to produce and install some of our ballpark signage this season. Sign, scan and e-mail agreement back to my contact at L&M.

Jake Schrum, our Manager of Promotions and the Captains’ one-person “Art Department”, comes into my office to get my opinion on some logos which we use to brand our weekly promotions at the ballpark. Today’s question…which one of four logos for our Thursday Date Night promotion looks the best? We discuss, get one other person’s opinion, one minor change is suggested, and it’s on to the next to-do item.

After talking with Jake I have a little down time to get through returning e-mails and voice mail messages.

Finally, I have an intern interview scheduled for 4:15 PM so I get out his resume and cover letter to re-read them prior to him arriving. The student comes a few minutes early so I conduct the interview and give him a nickel tour of the ballpark before he heads back to school.

At the end of every day I go back to my legal pad of to-do items and re-write it with the old and completed items omitted, tasks that I haven’t gotten to yet moved to the top, and new items added in order of importance.

At about 5:15 I leave the office and it’s off to my much more important job of being a husband and a dad to an almost 8-year old daughter and 5-year old son.

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There is nothing perfect about Northeast Ohio’s beloved Cleveland Browns, but here is my “In a perfect world” scenario related to free agency for Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and the boys for this off-season. I’ll follow this up with a “Perfect World” article about the Browns’ draft plans later this week or early next week.

First, I think they’ve taken a step in the right direction by hiring an experienced offensive coordinator in Brad Childress. He didn’t handle being a head coach very well, but if he can focus on the offense and playcalling I think that’s one positive so far.

The first item of business for the Brownies is looking at their own crop of potential free agents. At first glance there are only a few names that stick out as “must sign” kind of players. First on that list is MLB D’Qwell Jackson who may be one of the more underrated LB’s in the game. The Browns signed him to a one-year deal this season after missing two straight years so let’s hope he remembers that and gives the team a bit of a hometown discount for their loyalty. Next up, Peyton Hillis. After dominating in 2010 he fell off the wagon and was injured for most of 2011. He’s not a perfect fit in a true West Coast offense (ex: Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Ricky Watters, Roger Craig) but when he’s on I think he’s a top 10 RB in the league. I think they Browns will try to bring him back at a reasonable number. For some comparison, look at the deal the Giants gave Ahmad Bradshaw last year (click here to see) and if Hillis would take a similar deal I think the Browns are in good shape. Two down and a couple to go. Kicker Phil Dawson played on a one-year “Franchise Tag” deal last year but that’s not happening this year. He’s 37 years old, but is a solid and reliable kicker. If he’s willing to sign for around $2-$2.5 million per year for two years I think the team pulls the trigger. If not, unfortunately it’s time to let him go and maybe find a young kicker late in the draft or free agency. Finally, the other guys who may warrant consideration are CB Dmitri Patterson and S/CB Mike Adams. If it were me, I’d show Adams the door and see if we can bring back Patterson as he played the Nickel corner very well and is a solid backup on the outside.

Now on to bigger and more exciting topics…unrestricted free agency. The Browns aren’t known to make splashes in free agency, partially because the team didn’t want to waste money when they knew they weren’t going to win and partially because it’s hard to get players to come play in NE Ohio without overpaying them. With a projected $30 million or more in cap space there’s no excuse for not trying this year. For me, priority #1 has to be WR. This is a good year to be in the market for a WR as there are several really good ones who’ll potentially be on the market. They include, Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, and Darrin Chiaverini. (The true Browns fans will get that joke). As a GM I’d go after DeSean Jackson or Wes Welker first as both are good short route runners and yards-after-the-catch guys who are necessary in the West Coast offense. Jackson can stretch the field too whereas Welker is somewhat limited there. Then, I’d look at either Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe who both are big, tall receivers but also have some diva qualities about them too. I think both of these guys are going to get overpaid which leads to the next player on my wish list…Stevie Johnson. His arrow is pointing up but he may be looking for big money too. He’s young, has good hands, and would instantly be the #1 WR in Cleveland from day one. In the end I don’t know if we get any of these guys, but I’d be hoping for either DeSean Jackson and/or Stevie Johnson and I’d be happy.

The other three areas the Browns would love to address in free agency are Right Defensive End, Linebacker, and Right Tackle.  Unfortunately the tackle market is thin this off-season with Jared Gaither and Demetrius Bell headlining the list. Plus, how have our last few free agent RT’s worked out…Kevin Shaffer, John St. Clair and Tony Pashos. Yikes. Let’s leave this one to the draft which then leads us to finding a DE to play opposite of Jabaal Sheard. Sheard was a beast from about week four through the end of the season last year. With someone who has a pulse on the other side of the line from him he’ll be even better. Two big names would be Mario Williams ($$$) from the Texans and Robert Mathis from the Colts. The Browns have the money to sign Williams, but would he come to Cleveland? Probably not, but fans can dream. Mathis is intriguing but it really depends how much money he’ll be looking for. Another guy who’d be a great fit would be John Abraham from the Falcons but his downside is that he’s no spring chicken so he’d be a two-year player probably. In the end, the Browns probably strike out here and look to fill this hole in the draft too. Finally, the Browns starting LB’s last season weren’t terrible with Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong and D’Qwell Jackson but they had no depth. Fujita started looking old last year and is probably a fourth LB at this point in his career. Possible upgrades include Leroy Hill from the Seahawks or even Ahmad Brooks from the 49ers. Hill averages around 90 tackles and three or four sacks per season and would be a great fit. Brooks is more of a third down specialist but would help improve the Browns’ pass rush.

In summary, if someone the football gods can be good to Cleveland one time and the Browns can come away from free agency with D’Qwell Jackson, Peyton Hillis, DeSean Jackson or Stevie Johnson and Leroy Hill they’d already be a drastically better team on paper heading into 2012. What does that get them? Not much, just ask the Redskins, but it would give fans something to look forward to come September.

Finally, in a bit of self-promotion, if you don’t know about my other website please feel free to check it out at www.neilstein.com. I focus 95% of that website to the NFL Draft and items pertaining to the Browns and their plans for the NFL Draft. It’s a work in progress, but right now you can check out my article on what the Browns should do with their two, first-round draft picks this year. My plan is to trade up…not with the #4 pick but with the #22 pick. Click here to read more

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In a couple short weeks NFL fans will have forgotten about the Super Bowl, pundits will have stopped the Eli vs. Peyton Manning comparisons (here’s my take on that subject in case you missed it a few weeks ago) and everyone will turn their focus to the NFL Draft. The event that gets the most attention, and is the most overrated in my opinion, is the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. It’s overrated because it’s more about track and field and weightlifting than football. It does have a place in the scouting process, but it can be improved.

NFL teams scout college players throughout the college football season and throughout the Bowl Season as well. Once all of the bowl games are over there are two “All-Star Games” for college seniors, the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. If you aren’t familiar with the Senior Bowl (draft eligible juniors are not able to participate) the interesting fact about it is that NFL scouts and player personnel folks focus on the week of practice leading up to the game and many don’t even stick around to watch the game itself. The reason for this is because the practices feature many one-on-one drills  and practices take place in pads, not shorts and helmets. In one-on-one drills you can get a feel for these players when they compete against some of the best competition in the country. You can see how an offensive tackles moves against a quick defensive end. You can watch a center or guard and see how they hold up against a bull-rushing 315 pound defensive tackle. Wide receivers and defensive backs compete and you can see who has a knack for getting open or breaking on a ball. Linebackers have a chance to read and react to plays and make tackles on running backs running to the boundary. At the combine you don’t get any of this.

With that as a backdrop, here is what I’d propose for the NFL Combine. Over the first couple days players can still be measured and tested in all of the same drills such as 40-yard dash, short shuttle, etc. One change to those tests would be that all players are required to wear a helmet and shoulder pads for all of the speed and agility tests. They can be tested without the helmets and pads too to compare them to previous players, but over time this would become the standard. Then when those are over come up with several “football” drills for each position where players compete against a player(s) on the opposite side of the ball. These wouldn’t be full-pad practices but helmets and shoulder pads would be required. There would be no tackling to reduce the potential for injuries which is always a concern throughout the draft process. Much like the Senior Bowl, this would give scouts a much more accurate way to evaluate players than seeing them run around in spandex. Additionally, the combine is open to everyone eligible for the draft so both juniors and seniors could compete in the event.

Is this a perfect solution, probably not yet, but I’d guess scouts would come away with a much more accurate evaluation of players under this scenario than the current setup. When you tune in to the NFL Network to watch the combine this year, keep these ideas in the back of your mind and tell me if you agree.

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