Archive for May, 2011

Hard Luck for HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’

Monday, May 30th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — The show is hugely popular and has received critical acclaim. The show helped boost the Jets into the upper echelon of discussions for NFL supremacy — whether we liked it or not. The show also turned Rex Ryan  from a loud-mouth, flamboyant head coach into … well, a loud-mouth, flamboyant head coach that America fell head-over-heels in a love-hate relationship.

With all the publicity it brought to the Jets — albeit both positive and negative — why is it no teams want to follow-up the Jets for the 2011 installment of HBO’s thrilling documentary “Hard Knocks”? On Sunday NFL Network reported that the Minnesota Vikings were the latest team to turn down the invite of HBO to their training camp (that is, if there is a training camp).

Vikings owner, Zygi Wilf, confirmed that the team was approached by HBO and declined the offer. “We have other issues — the stadium and football — and we need to focus on those,” Wilf said.

The Vikings join the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to decline the “Hard Knocks” spotlight. But with all the attention that came the Jets way last season, why would these young, upcoming teams not like that attention? The Jets have paved the road for team’s with a “fake it ’til you make it” mantra of forcing a Super Bowl attitude without the ring, and “Hard Knocks” was a big part of implementing that winning swagger. Granted Ryan always has a finger on the pulse of his team, perhaps more so than the rest of the coaches in the NFL.

Darrelle Revis's contract holdout was just one of the many storylines the Jets had to offer in their documentary series for HBO "Hard Knocks". ( Photo.)

But it appears that those five teams that turned down “Hard Knocks” didn’t see the pros outweighing the cons. What cons you ask? Constant scrutiny and distractions along with a concentration that can be counter-productive and detrimental to the team’s goals. Remember Darrelle Revis and the now infamous Roscoe’s Diner?

But maybe “Hard Knocks” isn’t for everyone. Imagine Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on prime time every Thursday night? It’d be interesting, like C-SPAN is interesting. I know the Jets have denied any chances of a second run on “Hard Knocks”, but I think they should reconsider their stance. The series won three Emmy’s, made a star out of Ryan and did exactly what the Jets wanted out of the show: put an X on their backs and piss off the rest of the league.

The Jets love the spotlight and wouldn’t have it any other way, so why not continue that mindset heading into the 2011 season? They are without question one of the most compelling teams in football. And whether you like them or not, the Jets are always an entertaining team to watch. But should they decide to forgo a sophomore season with the documentary here are my top three teams I’d like to see:

  1. New Orleans Saints — Drew Brees has been one of the figureheads in the NFLPA’s ongoing battle with the NFL’s owners, recently likening them to sharks who smell blood in the water. Add in a controversial Reggie Bush – who has gotten himself in some hot water for his off-color comments regarding the NFL Draft and lockout on his Twitter account. Those guys need cameras in front of them more often. Add in a great draft (Mark Ingram, Cameron Jordan, Wilson Martez) to a team who already has Super Bowl aspirations and the temptation of Bourbon Street and I’m already setting my DVR.
  2. Green Bay Packers — The reigning Super Bowl Champs, is there really anything else I have to say? It’d be great to see how a reigning champ gets back in to the swing of things and see how much hunger they have to repeat. I’d love to get an inside look at how Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps always seem to be on the same page.
  3. San Francisco 49ers — This team would be my number one choice if Mike Singletary was still the head coach. The guy just might be as quotable as Ryan. But with a new, sexy coach in Jim Harbaugh –  who believes in former number one overall pick Alex Smith as his quarterback — I’d like to see how he handles the pressures of delivering in a weak division under the bright spotlights of HBO.

If the Pen is Mightier than the Sword, where does Twitter fall?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — In an era where fans are closer to the game more than ever — literally and figuratively — is it time for us, the fans, to take a step back? We have been introduced to field box seats, insider access, sideline reporters, player’s mic’d up mid-game, documentaries filming the ‘hard knock’ life of an NFL player. Yet everything pales in comparison to the connections and bonds fans can create with athletes on the social-networking site Twitter.

On the surface, the idea is pure genius: a social median that allows the fan to interact not with a publicist or player representative, but the actual athlete. And with a simple click of a button we’re allowed into the athlete’s world, knowing exactly what’s happening in their lives — as the Twitter timeline requests users to share.

In recent weeks athletes, NFL athletes in particular (who conveniently have too much time on their hands with the lockout hitting 62 straight days and counting), have found themselves at the center of controversy not for their actions, but for their thoughts.

Reggie Bush, of the New Orleans Saints, took heat for his off-the-cusp thoughts on the lockout from fans and sports pundits around the country. Later clarified as a joke (in what could be considered a back-handed apology), Bush appeared to alienate his 1.6 million followers who want to see football played this year.

“Everybody complaining about the lockout! Shoot I’m making the most of it! Vacation, rest, relaxing, appearances here and there! I’m good! … Right about now we would be slaving in 100 degree heat, practicing twice a day, while putting our bodies at risk for nothing.”
Upon hearing the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed and the knee-jerk celebratory reaction by many Americans, Rashard Mendenhall, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, tweeted these controversial comments on the issue:
“What kind of person celebrates death? … It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side … I believe in God. I believe we’re ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.”
He also questioned the overall acceptance of bin Laden being the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks saying “we’ll never know what really happened”. After being nationally criticized for said comments, Mendenhall didn’t retract his statements only furthered explained them in an open letter to the media on his blog.

Jets fans loved Santonio Holmes on the field. But off of it? Many took offense when he lashed out to his fans on his Twitter account. ( Photo).

Even the Jets star wideout, Santonio Holmes, has seen the negative backlash for posting his thoughts for the Twitter world to see. But there’s a greater issue at hand than just our players not living up to the country’s unreasonably high standards of their professional athlete. Should this even be an issue to begin?

Their work world is two cliches that have been mashed together: They are grown men playing a kid’s game, yet the NFL is a business. These guys play a game, yet are surrounded by professional workers whose job is to inform the country about all their happenings. If players thought they were suffocated by cameras and boom mics before, now they have to worry about the social media hounds who scour Twitter coal mines to find that rare diamond in the rough.
The thoughts that are expressed by NFL players, or any athlete for that matter, are not that far-fetched from what I might say to my friends or on Twitter (Insert shameless plug here: follow me @Wesley_Sykes) on any given night. The only difference is that these guys have a spotlight the size of an Ozone depletion hole on them. Aside from being paid millions to play the kid’s game, athletes are people too; people with ideas, thoughts and feelings about issues outside of the gridiron.
And who are we to deny them the right to exercise the First Amendment? Certainly, athletes are considered role models and are held to a higher standard because of that and deservedly so. But where do we draw the line in the sand for what is considered to be social media banter and over-the-line commentary (see @OfficialBraylon, @OchoCinco)? Does the NFL silence their players and fine them for their actions? Or continue to refer to the anonymous Twitter hacker who seems to constantly get into the accounts of star athletes of all sport stages?
No matter the case Twitter is not going anywhere anytime soon, nor is it going to change. Despite the outrage people display about the carelessness of some athlete’s tweets, ordinary Joes connecting with the pros is and will continue to be one of the main draws to the country’s most popular social median.
While Twitter will not be changing, perhaps we should take a step back from our respected timelines and realize that the connection that this median offers is far greater than any “Hard Knocks” documentary or the latest segment of  “Mic’d Up”. Twitter offers a direct, unfiltered pipeline into the mind of athlete’s and we, as fans, shouldn’t be outraged by one’s thoughts. After all, haven’t we all thought or said something that doesn’t completely represent who we are as people?
To conclude this piece, I propose a question to the Twitter world: #WhySoSerious?

Rex Ryan fuels Jets-Giants Rivalry

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — The Jets-Giants rivalry; it’s certainly a debatable topic. Sharing a home and a city, the two teams rarely play each other — once every four years to be exact. Of course they do play annually on the third pre-season game of the season, often considered to be the most physical of the pre-season.

That aside there is a constant battle for bragging rights, back page exposure, and one-upping amongst fans. But rarely did the players and coaches seem to get involved in the rivalry because, as they would tell you, it really wasn’t a one. The Giants weren’t just the Giants, they were the New York Football Giants; winners of three Super Bowls, the David that knocked off the undefeated Goliath in Super Bowl XLII, home of Hall-of-Famers Bill Parcells, Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms. The Jets, on the other hand, had only Broadway Joe Namath’s infamous Super Bowl III guarantee and a slew of disappointing seasons to hang on their heads.

Rex Ryan has added fuel to the fire for the Jets-Giants Rivalry with his strong words about the two New York teams. ( Photo).

That is, of course, until Rex Ryan brought his boisterous attitude to New York and changed a culture and team into a bunch of hard-nosed, braggadocios — dare I say — winners. For years the Giants owned the back page of all the New York newspapers and garnered all the national media attention, then back-to-back AFC Championship games happened. Then a loud-mouth coach from a football family who can do more than just talk the talk happened. Then a young, good-looking quarterback with moxy happened. Then a team that had no real identity became known for an intimidating, gritty defense with a player who has his own island happened.

And all of a sudden — almost over night — everyone wanted a piece of the New York Football Jets. HBO’s documentary “Hard Knocks” saw the appeal of this team and asked to have America get an in-depth look at the inner workings of this newly changed team. And as everyone began talking about the Jets no one seemed to care about the Giants — who have done little since their magical Super Bowl run in 2007. Now, it wasn’t just Miamians and New Englanders who hated the Jets, it was New Yorkers too.

Upon the season premiere of the Jets on “Hard Knocks” Vice President of Communications for the Giants, Pat Hanlon, was one of those New Yorkers who didn’t like the taste of the Jets being forced down America’s throat. “Whoopee…what team is being featured this year,” he questioned in a response on his Twitter account. (Even his Twitter wallpaper is a subtle shot at the Jets, as it shows a picture of his shirt that says “Talk is Cheap”.)

But it didn’t stop with “Hard Knocks”. Ryan has released a biography recently entitled “Play Like You Mean It”. It’s not exactly a tell-all book, but Ryan does divulge on the topics of problematic players, the New England Patriots, his foot fetish, and of course the New York Giants.

“When people ask me what it’s like to share New York with the Giants, my response is always, I am not sharing it with them — they’re sharing it with me,” Ryan says, adding, “I know it’s going to piss off every Giants fan to hear this, but here you go: We are the better team. We are the big brother. [The Jets are] going to remain the better team for the next 10 years. Whether you like it or not, those are the facts and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Upon receiving negative feedback from the Giants for his off-the-cusp remarks, Ryan didn’t back off those statements. “The facts are we’ve played better than the Giants the past two years, and those are the only two years I’ve been here,” Ryan said. “My big thing is, I think I can whip Pat. I’m worried about him throwing a BlackBerry at me.”

The Jets and Giants will have the opportunity to put the talk to an end when the two teams play, for real, on December 24th — where the Jets will be the featured home team at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

Official Draft Report Card

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Admittedly, this year was the first time I put my undivided attention towards the NFL Draft. In recent years, I’d follow the draft and then research the players that my team drafted after the fact. Or I’d just rely on the whispers and thoughts that Mel Kiper Jr. kept in his Hall-of-Fame hair (I don’t suggest that for anybody, FYI).

But after a lot of research and time logged behind the computer screen I felt ready to dive head first into the draft for the Jets Insider. My work even paid off, as I was asked to participate in a mock draft, where myself and fellow Jets GMs correctly selected Muhammad Wilkerson with their 30th overall selection. We even received an A- for our grade. Please, hold the applause. Now I know grading a team’s draft just a day after the whole process has ended is a slightly unreasonable task, but right now I think I can accomplish anything. So here goes nothing.

1st Round (30th overall): Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple: A

  • In an era where there’s a premium on taking value over necessity, the Jets were able to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone by taking Wilkerson. The Jets, who often struggled in disrupting the backfield last season, get a 5-technique player who can compete for a starting role from day one.  Picture how Bill Belichick used Vince Wilfork on the line for the Patriots last year: Wilkerson can be switched from the edge to inside and even has the size to play the nose if needed — creating mismatches wherever he’s placed. But expect him to play opposite 33-year-old Shaun Ellis in the Jets 3-4 defensive scheme.


3rd Round (94th overall): Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton: A-

  •  Again with that whole killing two birds with one stone thing. At 6-5 346 pounds Ellis just might have the size to replace the gaping hole Kris Jenkins is leaving behind in the middle of the defense. Ellis has first-round talent, but slipped due to off-the-field troubles. According to Newsday’s Rod Boone via Hampton coach Dominic Rose, the issue was over a girl. I mean, who hasn’t made a bad decision or two because of a girl –  this guy just happens to be nearly 400 pounds, so it’s magnified. On the field, however, Ellis has the rare ability to get to the quarterback at the nose tackle position. But much like Jenkins, Ellis must keep his weight down if he wants to make an impact in the league. The potential is there.

4th Round (126th overall: Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville: C

  • Powell, who will join LaDanian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight in the crowded Jets backfield, will be fighting for the third-string job with McKnight who showed little signs of life last year. I’m not crazy about this pick where his lateral speed is lacking (which gives the Jets three RB with a similar weakness), but is a better pass protector than McKnight and has good vision and instincts. Fun Facts: the Jets have drafted 13 players under Rex Ryan and four have been running backs (Greene, McKnight, Conner and now Powell). Kerry Rhodes, Leon Washington, Dwight Lowery  and Brad Smith were all drafted in the fourth round — Mike Tannenbaum knows how to get value in that round.

With Brad Smith's departure likely this year, TCU WR/KR Jeremy Kerley could step into his shoes.

5th Round (153rd overall): Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU: B

  •  Lacking size, Kerley makes up for that with accurate route running and his versatility as a return man on special teams. And getting him for a cheap fifth round price more than likely spells the end of Brad Smith in a Jets uniform — likely leaving more capital to sign Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes.

7th Round (208th overall): Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama: C

  • Like the Patriots, who are set at quarterback but took Ryan Mallet in the third round, the Jets selected McElroy as an investment. The guy may not even make the team this year but given his intelligence, his natural leadership capabilities and his winning history why not take a chance on him? Also, Tannenbaum aligns himself to the same school of thought as Ted Thompson, the former Green Bay Packers director of player personnel who drafted Matt Hasselback and Aaron Brooks during the prime of Brett Favre’s career only to trade them and get a good return on his investment.

7th Round (227th overall): Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: C+

  • If nothing else he will be a great security blanket for his longtime friend, Mark Sanchez. But this guy reminds me of Jet great Wayne Cherbet. The guy is gritty, unheralded and has the potential to be a solid possession receiver. All he did in his time at Colorado was become one of 10 NCAA players historically to catch a ball in every game in his collegiate career.

Overall Grade: B+

  • They addressed their immediate needs in the front seven with their first two selections and did so quite well. They also found the apparent replacement for Brad Smith in Kerley. The Powell pick, which may very well pan out, is what’s really questionable to me. Tannenbaum didn’t address the defensive backfield or offensive line, both areas where the tread is wearing thing. But Wilkerson and Ellis have the potential to make an immediate impact on a defense that was already among the best in the league.