Welcome to the UnSuper Bowl edition of The Strike Zone, where we won’t be mentioning the actual Super Bowl, or the Harbaugh brothers, Ray Lewis or Deer Antler Spray.
Remember the movie Ground Hog Day, where Bill Murray was forced to live the same day over and over again? Well, on my Ground Hog Day, – or more accurately, a night – I went through something hope to never go through again. It’s been just over seven months now since I suffered a heart attack. I’m feeling better than ever, due to lifestyle changes that you’re forced to make that are dramatic and ongoing (for one thing, I can’t eat anything that tastes good anymore.) One thing I dragged my feet on: It took me this long to finally set up a sleep test that my doctors requested, to see if Sleep Apnea could have been a factor and could be something I need to monitor in the future. So I had the test set up to take place on this Ground Hog day (night). Let’s just say I’ve had trips to the dentist that were more enjoyable than trying to sleep with four dozen probes attached to various part of my body plus an oxygen mask and air tube blowing air up my nose. No SportsCenter before falling asleep. You just lay there like you’re someone’s science experiment. Rolling over? A major chore. Going to the restroom? Forgetaboutit. Like I said, a night I never want to repeat. Ever. For the record, there was no evidence that I have Sleep Apnea, thankfully.
Along these same lines, best wishes to former Rocky Mountain News Sports Columnist Bob Kravitz, who is recovering from a mild heart attack of his own. I’m guessing a sleep test could be in his future, too. Poor man.
Strike One: With my test set up to begin Saturday night, I had to hustle home from the Fort, where I watched CSU take down Wyoming for their 26th straight win in Moby. The night before, former Ram star Jason Smith was at the Pepsi Center with the New Orleans Hornets to face the Nuggets. Smith – now in his fifth season in the NBA – sparked a bit of a Twitter debate: Who’s the best CSU product to play in the NBA? When you’re talking CU, it’s easy: Chauncey Billups
(with honorable mention to two-time NBA champ Scott Wedman) of course. Wyoming people can point to former Cowboy shot blocking star Theo Ratliff who played 16 years in the NBA as the pride of the Pokes. With CSU, it’s not nearly as clear cut. Few Ram alums have made a mark in the league. Back in the ‘60’s, CSU alum Lonnie Wright was the first true “dual sport” athlete, when he played for the Denver Broncos AND Denver Rockets at the same time (take that, Bo Jackson…) and Floyd Kerr was a great player for JJ Williams. But neither had a standout pro hoops career. Same for Eddie Hughes in the late 70’s. More recently, Pat Durham, Cedric Goodwyn, and Milt Palacio in the late 1990’s each went on to do well for themselves at the pro level, Palacio being the best of that group.
After taking an informal poll before the CSU – Wyo game, two things became clear: CSU doesn’t boast anyone close to Billups, and there’s no true consensus as to who the best former Ram hoopster is. (There was even a mention for Dale Schleuter, who played for the Phoenix Suns for two seasons, 1976-77.) In the end, the discussion came full circle. If Smith, who was a first round draft pick in 2007 and has been a steady NBA player for three teams ever since, can stay healthy and have a few more productive seasons like he’s having now, he will be most everyone’s choice as the former Ram with the best NBA career.
Strike Two: Now that the season is over, we can actually do an accurate post-mortem on the Denver Broncos season, and analyze exactly what this team needs to add to become “Super.” It will start with the NFL Draft on April 25th and then free agency.
Another big play receiver for Peyton Manning would be nice. Another durable running back, too. One RB who’s not getting much love just yet (I think that will change after the NFL Combine) but the Broncos should take a long mid round look at Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead. If you can get past the stigma attached to white running backs, you’ll see this guy is a stud – a do everything kind of back that could be a perfect complement to Ronnie Hillman. Even during a season where he missed a lot of time with a knee issue (he’s 100% now) Burkhead ripped up Ohio State (118 yards, 8.9 yards per carry) and Georgia (149 yards, 5.8 per carry) while averaging 6.9 yards per carry for the season. Check out his Burkhead highlight reel. He’d be a great mid round pick.
What’s the Broncos most pressing need? I still say, as I did back in September, that the middle of the defense is the team’s biggest weakness. Defensive tackle AND middle linebacker…not necessarily in that order. Will Manti Te’o’s recent “drama” drop him in the draft order? I tend to think not, not after he shows up at the NFL Combine and sets things straight on and off the field. Dude’s a great player – the next Junior Seau in my book. So Denver probably won’t get a shot at him, but if he’s there, you MUST draft him.
I could not believe my ears when I heard former Bronco Alfred Williams say recently on his talk show that the Broncos were “linebacker heavy” and didn’t need help at the position. Really Al? That’s like me saying the Colorado Rockies are “starting pitcher heavy” because they already have eight guys competing for five spots. The Broncos don’t have a single “three-down” linebacker on the roster. They DESPERATELY need a force in the middle of that defense who can “set the tone,” as they say. Te’o would be a perfect fit here for years to come. He’d be a fantastic draft pick.
Not that any number of defensive tackles wouldn’t be welcome additions as well…
Strike Three: Speaking of Rockies starting pitchers, we’re mere days away from the start of the best time of the year, Spring Training. Everyone is excited this time of the year – except Alex Rodriquez of course. (Wouldn’t be much fun to be A-Rod right now.) But for everyone else, including the eight hopefuls that will via for a spot in the five man starting rotation, hope springs eternal.
The Rockies are banking not on any newcomers, but on the renewed health of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicascio. What’s truly needed is major mechanical improvements from Nicascio, Drew Pomeranz, Christian Freidrich and the other young prospects. Each has had issues staying healthy and throwing strikes. That can all be traced back to shoddy mechanics.
Mechanical improvements will lead to a consistent delivery. A consistent delivery will allow a pitcher to take the pressure off his arm and allow his body to do the brunt of the work. That helps prevent injury. A consistent delivery also allows for a consistent release point and that equals better command and control. Pretty basic stuff here, actually.
Picture a golfer with an erratic swing. No amount of strategy or club selection can help you execute the proper shots if your swing is not consistent. So it is with these young pitchers and their pitching motions. A smooth, consistent delivery will allow them to throw strikes and stay healthy. Only then can you truly evaluate their talent level and determine if they can win at the big league level. Of course, all of this should have been done in the minor leagues before these guys were ever called up, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t. That’s still the organization’s major failing – teaching these young guys HOW to pitch at the lowest levels.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to catch up on my sleep…