Thursday, August 17, 2006


In my short tackle football career, I remember offensive line coaches spouting that center is the most important position on the football field. In my 5-foot-8, 210-pound frame, I was lining up at tackle, but I still thought it was patronizing to the kid hiking the ball. Most important? Really? More important than anyone who is actually allowed to score? I didn't really buy it. But if my old coaches were on to something, the Cleveland Browns are having far worse luck this pre-season than they have had in any other.

First, LeCharles Bentley racks up his knee on the first day of training camp. Bentley, an OSU alum who has had a fine career in the NFL to this point, was one of the Browns best off-season acquisitions. He won't play a single down this year.

If that weren't enough, Bob Hallen, a Cleveland native and the best replacement the Browns could think of for Bentley, suddenly retired from chronic back injuries.

Looking at a third option for center, the Browns inked Alonzo Ephriam. All Alonzo has done is earn himself a four-game suspension from the league for violating the substance abuse policy.

What you've noticed from these links (providing you actually clicked on them) is that centers have no stats. None. Games played doesn't count. You don't hear anyone agonizing over who they're going to take as their fantasy center.

What a center does for a team cannot be quantified, so evaluating centers must be done somewhat subjectively. One must consider if he can snap the ball accurately 99 times out of 100, if he can run block, if he can pass block, and most importantly, if he is intelligent. The quarterback and the center are really the braintrust of the offense because everything begins with them. A center with no clue what is going on--even if he snaps the ball correctly--is likely to miss his blocking assignment and get plowed over by a 320-pound nose tackle.

Of course, when they mess up, centers draw attention. In a very similar yet slightly more-glorified roles, centers and long snappers are birds of the feather.

When young quarterback Charlie Frye steps under center in the first regular season game, it would be nice to know that he's getting the ball from an experienced, veteran center. These two players will need to develop a rapport. After all, they get to know each other "better" than any two others on the offense...if you know what I mean.

What this really means is Browns fans should expect a few fumbled snaps in the first few games of the season. At least they have the remaining pre-season games to try to work out the kinks.

Maybe the big plays from a healthy Braylon and a healthy K2 will make up for the miscues? Sure, if Frye can actually get the ball to drop back and make the pass.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Those of you who know me know that I have strongly considered a career in law, as an attorney or as judge, and as a result, I did an internship with the Federal District Court last summer in Columbus. I worked in Pretrial Services, a department that investigates whether recently arrested people should be released or incarcerated in the days, weeks, or months leading up to their trials (or many times, plea bargains).

I learned two important things about the criminal justice system: 1.) Much of the law and the fates of people who have broken it rests in the subjective hands of judges, and 2.) Some people just cannot stop breaking the law. For whatever reason, they cannot stay out of trouble, and seemingly no one can rehabilitate them; they simply need to sit in jail.

Maurice Clarett is one of those people.

I really thought we all had heard the last of Clarett when he robbed two people outside of the Opium Lounge on New Year's Eve. I thought, "Well, he's really screwed up this time. He'll be behind bars for a long time, and his career is over."

Had he come before a federal judge and had my department investigated him, we probably would have recommended that he be detained pending the outcome of his case. The Franklin County judge in his case, however, allowed Clarett to post bail, so she released him until the time of his trial. Like a tailback squirming through the zero hole of the line of scrimmage, Clarett has used this opportunity to break more laws.

Yesterday, Clarett was arrested on the east side of Columbus for having guns in his car and for making a u-turn. In what could be a sign of gang activity, Clarett was driving around wearing a bulletproof vest, which made police tasers ineffective against him. They had to mace him to subdue him.

Finally, FINALLY, Clarett is going to be off the streets.

At the time of the robbery, I considered Clarett's demise as the saddest personal debauchle among athletes I had ever seen. In a way, I sympathized with him because I sensed he had little control over his actions.

But now, I don't view Maurice Clarett the amazing athelete who is now a tragic, fallen hero (and I use the word "hero" in the literary, Aristotlean way.) I also don't view him as the moronic schmuck like most do. I view him as a criminal.

He's robbed someone. He drives like a maniac. He carries guns illegally. It appears he has no regard for the safety of others.

I hate to judge others because everyone makes mistakes. But most good, stable people learn from their mistakes. Clarett does not.

Maurice Clarett used to be a danger to defenses. Now, he is flat out a danger to the community. Lock him up.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006


New Indians "closer" Fausto Carmona has, in my opinion, been the Indians best pitching prospect for the past couple of years.

Even with his third consecutive ninth-inning loss last night, I'm still not ready to recant on that statement. I do, however, think it only stengthens my assertion that Carmona is meant to be a starter, not a reliever.

Yes, Carmona thrived for much of the year as an eighth-inning set-up man, kind of in the same mold as Julian Tavarez (well, for 1995, at least.) He struggled as a starter in his few outings. But moving Carmona to the closer's role upon trading Bob Wickman was a move he just wasn't ready for. That much is poignantly evident.

Though the fickle fury among Cleveland fans is calling for young Fausto's head on a platter, or at least for his demotion to Buffalo, I must remind everyone that wins and losses this year mean less than the experience guys like Carmona are getting.

Last night, Carmona dominated Willy Mo Pena and Coco Crisp for the first two outs of the ninth. His "stuff," which features a devastating slider, was there. For two hitters, his command was there. For once, he appeared as though he wasn't trying to throw the ball through a brick wall. So if his mechanics were flawless for two hitters, and all he needed was to retire the light-hitting Doug Mirabelli, what on Earth could have caused his implosion?

Just like Yogi said, 90% of baseball is half-mental.

Carmona was staring his first big-league save in the eye, and he flat out crumbled under the pressure. When he took Mirabelli to a full count, the raccous Fenway crowd got into his head, nested, and festered there. He plunked him, then Gonzalez, and we all knew what was going to happen next.

I thought Wedge might pull him, but I'm glad he didn't. Mota probably would have let the inherited runners score anyway.

I'm not trying to make excuses for him or have pity on him. After all, Wedge and Shapiro don't care how many times he screws it up, they're going to keep sending him out there until he gets it right, which eventually he will.

But very few pitchers have the Bob Wickman- (yes, he had it) or the Mariano Rivera-like psyche; they can't get geared up just to work one inning when the game is on the line. Too much pressure.

The thought of a full start--6, 7, or 8 innings--probably terrifies Carmona much less than a ninth-inning gauntlet.

My proposition: move Carmona into the role as a long reliever/spot starter. This way, you're guaranteed to go light on innings for Sabathia, Lee, Westbrook, Byrd, and Sowers the rest of the way out. For the rest of the year, use Mota, Cabrera, or even Jason Davis as the closer. If Carmona continues to struggle with his mental control as a starter, then obviously they'll need to send him back to Buffalo.

I don't think that will happen, though. Most scouts said in Spring Training that Carmona was ready for the majors, and I agree. Looking at him on the mound reminds me of a young Pedro Martinez, in delivery and style if not yet in domination.

With the success of Sowers and the continued progress of Adam Miller, the Indians know they have two guys who can develop into stud pitchers. Regardless of what has happened in the past week, I think they have a third in Carmona.

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