First of all, this whole DeAngelo situation is really unfortunate. I was as surprised as anyone that DeAngelo did not even attempt to play against Tennessee last Saturday in Neyland Stadium, I really was. I fully expected him to play and to play reasonably well against a tough Tennessee rush defense. Obviously, that did not happen.
Did DeAngelo wimp out?
To a degree, I think so. It is very hard for me to say with any certainty how injured DeAngelo truly was, as I cannot feel his specific pain. None of us can say for sure. However, I know that Tiger quarterback Maurice Avery played at what he termed 75%. He has an ankle injury that, while different from DeAngelo's, is also very painful. I know that LSU runningback Joseph Addai has an ankle injury, but went out there for 2 carries to test it out against a tough Alabama defense last Saturday. He couldn't play, but at least he tried.
DeAngelo ruled himself out.
At this point, it needs to be pointed out that this is in no way a personal attack against DeAngelo in any way. He is a friendly, outgoing young man who has been a pleasure to cover over the last few years. He does extensive charity work, represents the school and the city very well, and is a fine example for kids to idolize. He is unquestionably the best player to ever wear the blue and gray of the University of Memphis.
He just isn't the toughest.
Had DeAngelo simply gone out there for one play, received a handoff, and been unable to get any yardage due to the ankle injury, no one would have said a word. No one would have criticized him; in fact, he likely would be getting a lot of praise for his toughness and devotion to the team. That is obviously not what happened.
DeAngelo told Tommy West that he couldn't start, but that he would come off the bench. What does that mean? I would be shocked if Tommy West had heard a comment like that before from one of his starters. This isn't basketball or even baseball, where a bench role is more defined. In football, you either can play, or you can't. By saying he wanted to come off the bench, he was more or less saying that he didn't think he could play.
Even if you take it at face value that he did want to come off the bench, why didn't he bug Tommy West about it over and over until West inserted him into the game? Why didn't he badger the coaching staff at halftime about wanting to help turn the momentum back in favor of the Tigers? If he could have played, knowing what a competitor he usually is, I think he would have done that.
DeAngelo says Tommy had something to do with holding him out; Tommy says he doesn't hold players out. I don't know necessarily who's right or wrong. I do agree that Tommy's comments after the game, while appropriate and honest, helped to blow this story up into the firestorm it has ended up being over the last few days. (Tommy's comments can be found here, by the way.) I will not criticize him for those comments because I appreciate the honesty -- in the media, we have a tendency to rip people for giving us stock, generic answers, yet we rip someone for being too honest when they don't. If Tommy was being honest and fair (and certainly candid), and I think he was, I'll leave Tommy's comments alone.
I simply wish DeAngelo had tried to play. Maybe he was thinking about his per-game stats, which would have been adversely affected by just playing one or two snaps. Maybe he was concerned that UT would injure him further. Maybe he's hidden how hurt he really is. I don't know. I just wish he had tried it. This discussion would be over if he had.
The best player in Memphis history just isn't the toughest. That's OK.
On the Grizzlies
This schedule pretty much sucks. Tonight, they begin another three-game road trip after having just gotten back from one. Essentially, this has been a seven-game road trip, because coming back for one game, then heading out for three more basically turns your home court into part of a road trip.
Watching the Grizzlies take on the Lakers on Monday night a few things came to mind, and I'll tackle the non-basketball issues first.
1. The game atmosphere at the Forum needs to get better. I'd love to see a few new wrinkles thrown in to the regular rotation of Dance-cam, Smooch-cam, t-shirt cannon, t-shirt slingshot, Grizz skit, and so on. It's played out. It's staid. The music is the same, the skits are the same, Grizz does the same stuff as last year -- the only real difference is that the dance team has gotten better. You might have noticed Eddie Jones during the Cleveland game exhorting the crowd to cheer and scream, because the Grizz fans just aren't all that loud yet. Very rarely do the fans try to get behind the team and act crazy. Hopefully they'll start, because the games are much more fun when people do.
2. You knew they'd bring out the big guns for the halftime show of the Lakers game, and they did...UNICYCLE BOWL LADY (UBL) was in the house. In case you haven't seen UBL do her thing, it's bizarre and compelling. She gets on this big-ass unicycle, balances bowls on her leg, and kicks them up to land on her head as she unicycles! How does one acquire such a talent? Is it genetic? Do you just know you've got it? UBL is gifted beyond belief. However, she did something I've never before seen her do on Monday night.
She dropped a bowl.
Jaws dropped. Babies cried. Mothers wept. People shielded their eyes in shock and horror. I've never seen that happen before. I wiped away a solitary tear as I saw it. It was just wrong.
Updated Halftime Show Rankings (as of 11/14):
1. Balagan (11/2; Heat)
2. Unicycle Bowl Lady (11/14; Lakers)
3. Bucket Boys/Beale Street Flippers (11/5; Cavs)
NR Kids playing basketball (11/8; Sonics)
3. Mike Miller's gone from looking awfully feminine with his Nancy headband to looking like a kid in a bad Olan Mills family photo with his new feathered haircut. Just shave it off.
Now, on the court...
1. The front line has to exert more consistent effort on the boards. Has to. Lorenzen has not been getting in done on a night-in, night-out basis on the boards; Zaza Pachulia outworked him and everyone else on Saturday night as the Hawks almost beat the Grizzlies. Pau's not been consistent in that area, either, lest you think my Pau fandom has blinded me from that truth. There's a reason Lawrence Roberts has been playing much more than Hakim Warrick -- he fills a position of need with effort and desire. The team needs that more than a 'tweener 3/4.
2. I don't know how long Eddie Jones can keep it up, but long may he try. He's been absolutely immense for this team through the first eight ballgames, and his versatility, defensive prowess, and shooting have been critically important. Shane Battier deserves a mention here as well; he's been playing well in the starting 3 role, and has been rebounding and scoring more than the norm. He seems much more comfortable offensively, and has actually been aggressive in taking shots. Those two, along with Dahntay Jones, really helped to shut Kobe Bryant down Monday night. Kobe was a non-factor for large stretches of the game thanks to being denied the ball and being forced to take tough shots.
2a. Apart from Kobe and Lamar Odom, the Lakers pretty much blow. Sasha Vujacic, Kwame Bust, er, Brown, Devin Green, Laron Profit -- these are all names that played good minutes on Monday. With that type of talent, Kobe better take 30 shots a night, and Odom should take 20. The Lakers will struggle to get to the 8th seed in the West.
3. Despite some problems and some issues, the Grizzlies are 5-3 to start the season. That's not bad. It could easily be 6-2 had they closed out Boston the way they should have. It the Grizzlies can be at or above .500 after 16 games of the season, knowing how difficult the schedule has been, I'll be very encouraged about their chances to win 45-50 games and make it to the playoffs.
On Tiger Basketball
This team is crazy talented. Crazy. The athleticism they display is stupid. They've got to gel and mature, but this could be the most talented Tiger team ever. Ever. I don't say that lightly. Kareem Cooper has the potential to be utterly dominant on the inside; Shawne Williams has NBA written all over him; Darius Washington is bigger and better than last year; and, hell, I haven't even mentioned the preseason Conference USA Player of the Year Rodney Carney yet (he came off the bench last night).
Their length, strength, depth, and speed is going to be hard for anyone to handle. They can move 8-10 guys in and out all the time, making them fresher than any of their opponents could hope to be. They will not lose more than one conference game. Defensively, they put on a clinic last night, and it was their first regular season game! They held Wisconsin-Milwaukee to just 12 field goals, and 22% shooting. Those are insane numbers. They forced 19 turnovers, grabbed 11 steals, and were everywhere Milwaukee wanted to be. They were a bit too aggressive in committing fouls, but, apart from that, it's hard to find fault.
Actually, now that I think about it, it would be nice to have a commentator know the actual names of the players (hint: it's Chris Douglas-Roberts, not Roberts-Douglas), but that might be asking too much.
Indulge me for a moment. If you don't want to read about it, just skip down to the next topic. It will be over soon.
OK, still with me? Let's go...as you know, I love the sport of soccer, and yet I can't get into MLS action at all. I feel bad about it, because I want to support the sport at home, but I don't feel connected to the league at all. It will take time for the passions and traditions of club soccer that exist elsewhere to transfer here. I hope they will. Congratulations, though, to Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy for winning the MLS Cup.
I am cautiously optimistic about Newcastle United's fortunes as the season is progressing. I still do not rate Graeme Souness highly at all, but I can't help but admit that he has sorted out some of the locker room troubles and the squad as a whole is more talented and stable than it was a year ago. He deserves credit for that.
Michael Owen proved on Saturday when he scored two late goals to give England a 3-2 win over Argentina that he is a world-class goalscorer. He has shown that for Newcastle since his arrival, and he has continued to impress internationally. I don't quite understand why Scott Parker can't get a sniff of the England team, as I think his introduction would really be beneficial to Sven-Goran Eriksson's side. They need a holding midfielder badly to allow Lampard, Gerrard, and Beckham to have the freedom to go forward. Ledley King is not that man--he is a center back, end of discussion. Steven Gerrard is not that man, either. Scott Parker needs to be included in the World Cup squad if England are serious about their midfield.
As for Newcastle's season, they currently sit 10th in the Barclay's Premiership table, just three points behind Manchester United for fourth place. On Saturday, the season resumes with the most difficult fixture of the season: at Chelsea. Chelsea are the runaway leaders at the moment, and have all the talent in the world to go along with a stellar manager. Chelsea's likely lineup (4-5-1) would be:
Chelsea have such immense talent that players like Eidur Gudjohnsson, Shawn Wright-Phillips, and Wayne Bridge can be left on the bench comfortably. They play a very technical, very fast-paced style that is incredible to watch when they're on. This spearhead, "Christmas tree" formation is hard to attack because of the sheer numbers they can put forth in midfield. When you dominate the midfield, you dominate the play.
Newcastle (4-4-2) will likely look like this:
The big question mark is Albert Luque. Luque's been out since August with a tear of the thigh muscle -- he's almost back to full fitness, but although Souness wants to start him badly, he may not be able to start. I still think he will start. Souness may opt to go for a defensive 4-5-1 look, with N'Zogbia replacing Luque on the left, and Luque moving into a advanced midfield area behind Owen (or, I suppose, Ameobi, but I can't imagine dropping Owen for this matchup). Shearer may start over Ameobi, depending on how the rehab of his hyetal hernia surgery went. Young defender Steven Taylor is our for 8-10 weeks with a shoulder injury he picked up in training for the England Under 21's matchup against France. That's disappointing as he had been playing exceptional soccer of late; easily Newcastle's best, most composed defender this season.
I would love to say I expect a Newcastle victory. I don't. I would love to say I expect a Newcastle draw. I don't. I hope they'll give a good performance, and I hope that Luque and Shearer will be back to full fitness so they can play at Stamford Bridge against the champions.
Chelsea 3 (Drogba, Lampard 2)
Newcastle 1 (Owen)
On other stuff
--I hate the Cowboys. Monday night pretty much sealed that. I was all excited that the Cowboys were going to lose to the terrible Eagles, and yet...McNabb turned into Neil O'Donnell, Roy Williams turned into Larry Brown, and I got pissed off.
--This new MLB steroid policy is phenomenal. 50 games for a first violation, 100 for a second, and a lifetime* ban for your third.
*lifetime ban inexplicably can be reversed later in life
The biggest news to me is that they are actually going to start testing for amphetamines, something that we have talked about on the Morning Rush extensively as a bigger problem than 'roids. I would not be surprised at all if amphetamine testing leads to a lot of players struggling with their games...these guys need something to keep them going over a 162-game season, and for some, it's "greenies". This policy may drastically alter Major League Baseball -- watch and see.
--From my new agent Drew Rosenhaus: "PETER IS BEING HONEST AND SINCERE WITH THIS BLOG! THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME, IT'S ABOUT PETER! PETER IS BEING TREATED UNFAIRLY BY SOME OF YOU WHO READ THIS BLOG! THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME! NEXT QUESTION!"
Sorry about that.
My Larry King-style closing thoughts:
--If you're not watching Family Guy, something is wrong with you.
--If you made me choose between gouging my eyes out with a fork and watching that stupid Tim McGraw segment on MNF's halftime show, I'd tell you to hand over the silverware.
--Sergei Fedorov is now a Columbus Blue Jacket. When you think hockey, you think Columbus. I don't, but you do.
--I think it's funny that no one wants to sign Latrell Sprewell.
--Dwight Howard is going to be a freak.
--The Raptors might be the worst NBA team I've seen in a long time.
--While I respect the meterological acumen of the News Channel 3 weather team, I think having Tim Simpson, Austen Onek, Jim Jaggers, and Todd Demers is too much talent on one team. I hear there's friction. It's like this year's Miami Heat squad. All the talent and all the NEXRAD Doppler COBRA VORTEX Million-Watt UltraHyperRadar Systems in the world can't help chemistry. There's only one Prompter, fellas. Which one's J-Will? Highlight below for answer.
--This weekend is the Colts vs. the Bengals -- I'll pick the winner based on hip-hop/rap/funk-based team song: Go Colts (Shawn til' Dawn feat. Big Hit Buda) vs. Bigg Cats (Bootsy Collins). Wow. Could go either way.