On Michael Sam: Good for him. He’s not the first college football player to come out (Conner Mertens, a kicker at tiny Willamette University in Oregon, took that honor), but coming out before this spring’s NFL draft took courage. It’s not just about the big-ticket items, such as Westboro Baptist protesting. Every move he makes will be defined by his sexual orientation. Expect ESPN to dwell agonizingly this spring on whether his orientation will/has affected his draft status, up or down. If he’s cut, or doesn’t play, there will be a faction screaming he was robbed because he’s gay. If he starts, others will claim the same thing. If he has a bad game, expect the homophobes to come out in force on Twitter. Whether he knew it at the time, he must know by now that by coming out, he’s made himself a lightning rod. I hope he’s ready for it.
On Michael Sam #2: F#@! Westboro Baptist.
On the Olympics: I don’t normally follow the Winter Games; my wife keeps me posted on the important stuff. But the U.S. – China curling match caught my eye the other day, and I sat there for half an hour, rooting for the U.S. It didn’t matter that I know absolutely nothing about curling. Go ‘Merica! One thought – not to show any disrespect for the fine art of curling, but outside of Canada – and maybe even in Canada – are there really young girls who dream of growing up to become curling champions? Is there a Canadian version of Bela Karoly, a former curling coach with a curling school in downtown Bejing? And if so, do parents homeschool their children so they can drive them three hours to train at the curling school eight hours a day, in hopes of having their children selected as part of the country’s curling squad? Just wondering.
On Johnny Manziel: The Houston Texans should not use the first pick in the draft on this guy. Sure, he will fill up the stadium. And the fans will riot if the hometown hero goes somewhere else and succeeds. But he is at best a high-risk, low-reward player at this point. He makes plays with his feet, and is electric on the run, but passing from the pocket is still the name of the game in the NFL. And Manziel can’t do it, not consistently. His form is bad, and he is too quick to flee the pocket, even when there are open receivers. His maturity is questionable at best. I get it, he’s a hard worker, his teammates love him, and he’s got all these great intangibles. I’m waiting for someone to shout out ‘all he does is win.’ Yeah, that worked out great for Tebow, didn’t it?
On Michael Sam #3: Since he came out, the internet has overflowed with former players and coaches claiming they knew they had gay teammates. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said he played with gay teammates at Alabama. “When I was at Alabama there were a couple of guys, as a player, that we felt like that was their sexual orientation,” Swinney said. Note that the gay players never came out, he just kind of knew who they were. He’s not the only one to jump up after the fact and say ‘Look at me, I’m cool, too!” I guess in the long run, it’s a good thing. It’s helping remove stigma, keeping the issue in the limelight and making it easier for the next guy to come out. I just can’t get over the disingenuousness of it all; I expect Sweeny to keep this clipping in his wallet, to pull out at the right times on the recruiting trail.
Last, but not least, on the Buffalo Bills: Some people say that with three months to go until the NFL draft, it’s too early to speculate on draft choices. They’re wrong; it’s never too early. Draft boards may still be fluid, but at this point I forsee four good possibilities for my favorite team to look at with the #9 overall pick.
#1 – Jake Matthews, Right Tackle, Texas A&M: There’s no doubt that the Bills are desperate to upgrade their offensive line. The left side is set with young tackle Cordy Glenn, but the right side is a mess. Matthews, son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, was a four-year starter at A&M. He started three years on the right side before moving to the left his senior year. At 6’5, 305, he is strong, physical run blocker who displays technique and tenacity. He is projected in most mocks as a top-ten pick, although an early run on quarterbacks could push him down to the Bills. Various from a top-five selection to slipping past the Bills to the early teens. He could step in and start at right tackle from day one opening up running room for CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson, and give QB Eli Manuel some breathing room.
#2 – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo: Forget the hometown connection; Mack would be an incredible upgrade to the Bills’ defense. The Bills’ defense is on the rise, but were still weak in run defense. The team gave up 123 yards per game, ranking them 23rd in the NFL. Run blocking is Mack’s strength. The 6’3, 248-pound linebacker, who runs a 4.64 40, would be an instant upgrade to the Bills’ linebacking unit. The holder of the Jack Lambert trophy, and NCAA record holder for most tackles for loss and forced fumbles, Mack has fans and coaches drooling over the thought of him lining up next to Kiko Alonzo. Mack is an athletic freak, instinctive and an explosive hitter with a relentless motor. He also has the skills to drop back into coverage, making him a plug-and-play three-down linebacker.
#3 – Mike Lee, WR, Texas A&M: The Bills’ passing game has been underwhelming. They could use another receiver – despite his impressive physical tools and promise, Steve Johnson has never been able to put together a consistently dominating season, Lee, a 6’5, 225-pound monster who runs a 4.58, has the size and strength to win matchups against most corners, and is an excellent downfield blocker. He has deceptive downfield strength, sticky hands.
#4 – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: The Bills haven’t gotten enough production out of the tight end position; it’s been a consistent weak link. Tight End Scott Chandler is a pending free agent, and there’s no obvious replacement on the current roster. At 6’4″ and 245 pounds, he’s the perfect size for the position, and he’s an athletic freak of nature. He is already an accomplished receiver, and his blocking is good and getting better. Tight ends are becoming more important than ever in the NFL game; many teams are finding success with two-TE formations. There’s really no downside to Ebron.