A Most Interesting Year (of sports)

On January 14, 2003, Marvin Lewis was hired as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. At that time, the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball team was led by Bob Huggins who would be replaced by Mick Cronin, a few years after, but the Bearcats basketball team enjoyed some years of coaching stability. Both of these teams, coupled with the Reds, embark their 2019 campaigns with new leaders at the helm making this year one of the most interesting in the city’s sports history.

David Bell has led the Reds almost halfway through the 2019 with mostly positive results. Sure, they are not above the vaunted .500-mark, but that would be lofty to expect given the team’s consistent failures over the last five years. He has implemented ideas scorned by his predecessors and had to galvanize a tumultuous roster, in the process. Say what you will about their apparent cohesion, right now, but the Reds have a number of expiring contracts (roughly $65 million is coming off the books, this coming offseason), big personalities (like Yasiel Puig), and players who could have been hurt by the team’s rumored movements from this past offseason (Tucker Barnhart). None of that has boiled over, though, and Bell deserves a lot of credit for that.

So I wonder, how the new coaches for the Bengals and Bearcats basketball teams will fair?

Zac Taylor has been handed multiple tests before even heading up his first training camp. His first round pick and, given the Bengals’ continued abstinence from spending in free agency, best acquisition of the offseason, Jonah Williams, was confirmed out for the season. Williams requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum underscored the lack of aggression in improving a roster that won six games last year. 

Their biggest weaknesses were at linebacker and offensive line and their solutions were to draft help. One of the aspects of that help will have to wait until 2020 to make an impact and the other, with all due respect to Germaine Pratt’s perceived talent at linebacker, was a third round draft pick. 

Due to the lack of roster turnover, the Bengals’ brass made it clear that coaching was to blame for the team’s demise. So, Taylor will be evaluated from the get-go as change will come schematically, if it comes at all.

A very different situation led to the hiring of John Brannen. The Bearcats fizzled out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, yet again, last season, but they weren’t exactly bad. In fact, many had high hopes for what 2019 could become with returning players and an experienced coach, in Mick Cronin. Then UCLA came calling for Cronin and everything changed. He went west, his players and recruits scattered, and Brannen was left with what appeared to be a skeleton crew. 

Then Jarron Cumberland announced he’d be returning for his senior season and things changed. Suddenly, because Cumberland is returning, transfers perked up at the idea of going to Cincinnati. Brannen has since gotten Cumberland’s cousin Jaevin, an experienced point guard named Chris McNeal, and a top-50/four-star recruit in Zach Harvey.

Even with the roster turnover, all eyes will be on Brannen and how he coaches this team. Many fans were vexed by Cronin’s style throughout his tenure. Reports say Brannen is completely opposite, focusing more on offense than defense. He has said they will be a faster team, aiming at increasing the amount of possessions they have in a game. Words are far different than actions, of course, but there is quite a bit of buzz around what will be going on inside New Fifth-Third in it’s second season.

Predictions, bad guesses, and premonitions aside, there is a lot of intrigue at what will be. Both the Bengals and Bearcats have enjoyed lots of continuity in coaching, over the past 16 years, but there is a lot of anticipation for this coming season which will offer lots of newness in the Queen City. Just ask Reds fans as they are still interested in where there team is, halfway into the baseball season. Pretty much every Reds fan could not have said that last year.

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Bengals Optimism Postponed

During this time in which I’ve neglected this space, I joined a gym. Figuring it was time to try and offset *some* of the ballpark food, Skyline Chili, and Taco Bell that I regularly consume, my wife dragged me to (no free ads) gym. We sat down with a trainer, came up with these things called “goals”, and found out its going to take awhile to attain said “goals.” Not going to lie to you, that period of time that is said to take awhile is taking awhile.

Which got me thinking about my favorite football team and their offseason. The Cincinnati Bengals began this offseason with the promise of new horizons. They didn’t necessarily promise better horizons, but after having spent my entire football-comprehending life with the same Bengals head coach, new sounded awesome. Here’s the rub, with the promise of new horizons comes the promise that positive horizons may take awhile.

Much like pacing in place on a treadmill or moving parts of weighted machines, the various decisions and machinations of the Bengals during this offseason have been a bit laborious.

They’ve all but signed a contract extension with Andy Dalton, when it comes to committing to who is the definition of an average QB. They passed on multiple chances to acquire the franchise’s future QB and instead settling for a kid (Ryan Finley) who figures to be the next AJ McCarron. They used the free agent period to bring back everyone from last year’s team who managed to lose more games than they won and even when they brought in a new face, it was a guy who’s name sounds almost fake (John Miller). Their biggest acquisition to fill their most underachieving position (linebacker) was a third round pick (Germaine Pratt). All the while pushing the hashtag “New Dey” and promising things will be different.

Now, believe me, they had to do this. Paul Brown Stadium was barren, fans had moved past the upset phase into apathy, and the franchise’s most popular player (AJ Green) even seemed disenchanted. But how much did they really change? Again, the bulk of this evaluation will take awhile, because we have to see what it’s like during game day.

They’re profiling as a run-heavy, control the clock, keep our defense off the field-type team, but that has been the offseason mantra before. I’m inclined to believe it may be closer to this with a new coaching staff, so we’ll see, but they aren’t preaching any new offseason sermon, here. A historically bad defense added new talent whose grades were no better than third round draft choices, and all are rookies. All of that leads back to what the scheme will be like which, again, will take awhile to understand.

So, with a promise of new comes, instead of positive vibes and feeling of excitement, a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty as to the direction of the team. As it sits on paper, this team is going to have to be REALLY good on offense to make up for its defense. With an offensive-minded coach, who knows? Maybe that happens. However, Zac Taylor has never held the clipboard for an entire season and with the well-publicized selectiveness of who his defensive coordinator would be, he’s also put a lot of pressure on himself before his horse is even at the starting gate. So as for my optimism about the Bengals, much like my current feeling towards the gym, it’s going to take awhile.

The Patriots Deserve Respect

There aren’t many people who will agree with me, but I am not bored with the Patriots appearing in yet another Super Bowl. If they win or lose, I will enjoy the game and I will enjoy watching one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports.

Many people include them in their most hated teams. I’ve heard more than a few people (obviously around Cincinnati) tell me “My favorite teams are the Bengals, and whoever is playing the Steelers and Patriots.” I understand the Steelers, and I agree, but I do not agree with the Patriots take. Hear me out.

Do you like good football? Do you enjoy good play calling, hardworking players, and talented players? Did you watch the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and root for the other guys? Few did. The feeling of aversion to success is something that needs to die, in America. We think because someone wins a lot that there is something wrong with that person.

What is wrong with Julian Edelman? Dude was a QB in college, picked in the 7th round, asked to change to a receiver, and now has the second-most receptions in postseason history (Jerry Rice, who will never be beaten, has the most.) What is wrong with Rex Burkhead? He was the number three back in Cincinnati, asked to step up due to injury, he does, and the Bengals let him walk in free agency for his efforts. Sexy Rexy then becomes a Patriot and scores two TDs in the AFC Championship win over the Chiefs. What is wrong with Rob Gronkowski? Ok, so you don’t like to party, sure, but dude is the obvious number one target of Tom Brady, and still, no one consistently stops him while he consistently gets his. Also, he’s a cool dude I’d love to meet some day.

So you say the Patriots cheat. They tape practices or they deflate footballs. Let me ask you something about that, can you prove it? Or better yet, can you disprove that? No. You will never come up with enough evidence, one way or another, to definitively answer that. So is that a logical reason to dislike a team, no! You call on this idea as a reason you hate the Patriots because you already hated the Patriots. They win, your team didn’t, so you don’t much like them. Some hack reporter found some sort of circumstantial story that you now take and run with as a reason to dislike them. You hated them in the beginning, so you had no reason to question the validity of the off-hand claim.

They just play good football. Brady is the best quarterback who ever played. He’s won more, regardless of Sunday’s outcome, and he’s done it with less. Outside of Randy Moss, which receiver has he thrown to who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame? Yet he still shreds opposing defenses when he needs to the most, the playoffs.

No one will ever replicate what Bill Belichick and Brady are doing, right now.

The AFC East is the AFC Least, you say. So how do they constantly outplay and outcoach tougher competition, year-in and year-out? They aren’t ready for tougher teams because they play in a weak division, right? So how does that work?

Football is good. Good football is awesome. The Patriots play good football. The Patriots are awesome. Promise you, I am not a Patriots fan, I am a Patriots respecter. There’s a difference and you don’t have to be a fan to respect good football.

Monday Musings

It’s Monday morning (at time of writing) and my mind is in a bit of an entanglement.

Firstly, AJ Green is hurt. The report says “some games” which is about as vague as the chances I give the Bengals of beating the Saints, without him. Apparently, he hurt it in the last game before the bye, whenever he got up grabbing at his toe. Some reports say that, after the game, AJ mentioned stubbing it and he’ll be fine. Then he was seen at PBS in a walking boot. Now they’re saying multiple games will be missed. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots and see that Tyler Boyd will be Andy Dalton’s number one target for the Saints game, the Ravens game, and maybe beyond that. In a league where the slimmest of margins separate wildcard teams from teams who finish 7-9, losing AJ really blurs that line for Cincinnati.

The Reds are being linked to a number of different free agents, and it’s got me excited. Sure, I looked at season tickets and realized peons like me aren’t meant to afford that regality (plus, different ticket apps make it cheaper and easier to go to the games I want, anyway) and the Opening Day tickets available on websites start at $150, right now, as the “market” preys on overenthusiastic instant-gratification junkies. That being said, I’m all in on Redsfest coming at the end of November and will probably type up a few words on it, too. I’d love to meet Dallas Keuchel, or Patrick Corbin, or even Nathan Eovaldi, but we’ll see. The powers that be for the oldest professional base-ball franchise have said they’ll break the bank. But whether it’s a bigger crack in the piggy bank or a full blown shattered oinker, remains to be seen.

I plan on writing more about this next thought, so I’ll be brief, but college basketball is back, baby, and this fool just got cable. Hope my wife is ready to hear lots squeaking sneakers and swishing nets!

UC football is back ranked in the Top-25 with a pair of games against good Florida football teams (USF and UCF). That being said, they get the lesser of two Florida’s at home, this Saturday, in a game I think they have a much better shot at winning than I did in August. Then comes the monster that is UCF. 21-straight wins (maybe 22 by next week) will face off against the Luke Fickell reclamation project. Coach Fick has built the Cats into bonafide football players in just a year and a half, and may be the next name to be plucked from Clifton to a big time job. Nobody, including me, saw the success he’s had this year as possible, and yet here we are. We could be talking about a 10-win Bearcats football side, come December, and that is magnificent.

I’m still on about Bohemian Rhapsody. What a film. Been listening to Queen all weekend.

Also, playing Red Dead 2 any chance I get. It’s so simple and yet so fantastic. Much like many a good Western flick. One of the latest “missions,” or maybe stories is a better term for them, that I completed was one where your character gets drunk, but has to keep his other drunk friend out of trouble, and then run from Johnny-Law. Rockstar just knows how to make an entertaining video game.

Right, well, back to Monday, I suppose.

The Other Mock Draft

T-minus less than 24 hours to liftoff! For Infinity War, that is. Oh, yeah, and the NFL Draft. I guess that’s happening, too. Both have been highly anticipated. On one hand, Marvel has been building up to Infinity War for pretty much a decade; while on the other hand the football players about to be picked on to professional teams have been working to this point for at least twice that. We’re taking a look at the kids about to get paid to play football, tonight.I’m getting ready to start a podcast with my pal, Pat, and we decided on a friendly wager. Each of us will give our predictions on what players will be selected with the first ten picks of the draft, as well as who we think the Bengals will pick. The winner gets his lunch paid for on a day TDB…or is it TBD…went Michael Scott there for a sec. So the points go down like this: one point for a correct pick and two points for the correct Bengals pick. We don’t have to pick trades correctly, so if, for example, Pat says the Browns will pick Saquon Barkley with their fourth pick, but then the Browns trade the pick and the new team, let’s say the Saints, come in and pick Barkley, then Pat still gets a point. Figuring out how teams value players is hard enough, predicting if they will trade a pick is next to impossible…That being said, Pat felt frisky and went for it! See his picks below:1. Browns- QB Sam Darnold (USC)2. Giants- DE Bradley Chubb (N.C. State)3. Jets- QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)4. Browns- RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)5. Broncos- QB Josh Allen (Wyoming) (via trade)6. Colts- QB Josh Rosen (UCLA) (via trade)7. Buccaneers- OG Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)8. Bears- CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)9. 49’ers- LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)10. Raiders- S Derwin James (Florida State)21. Bengals- G/C James Daniels (Iowa) Makes too much sense to not happen unless he is picked up priorSee there? Pat is going for the jugular. Calling someone trading into the fifth spot to take Josh Allen and another team trading into the sixth spot to take Rosen! Rumor has it the Bills are really trying hard to trade up from their 12th spot in the first round, and if Josh Allen is available, that’s probably true. I’d be interested to see if the Colts do trade their pick. Given Pat’s mock, with Quenton Nelson available, it’d be interesting to see if they pass on him for more picks, overall. Funny thing is, Pat and I differ on almost every pick, except two. Check out mine:1.       Josh Allen – QB (Browns)

2.       Quentin Nelson – OL (Giants)

3.       Sam Darnold – QB (Jets)

4.       Bradley Chubb – DE (Browns)

5.       Baker Mayfield – QB (Broncos)

6.       Saquon Barkley – RB (Colts)

7.       Derwin James – S (Bucs)

8.       Denzel Ward – CB (Bears)

9.       Roquan Smith – LB (Niners)

10.   Vita Vea – DT (Raiders)

 

21. Frank Ragnow – C (Bengals)

Both of us having Ward go eighth and Smith go ninth. Was not expecting that. I did not mention trades in my mock, because Pat is a little more ballsy on that front, but to reiterate, as long as the player goes in the spot that is picked, the point is awarded.

Ive got the benefit of being the author, here, so I can talk about my picks. Firstly, there’s nothing fancy here. I’ve done some reading and watched some TV on the subject of the draft, and I have a grasp on who’s good and what teams need, then I mix in a little gut feeling and wa-la! These will probably be wrong anyway.

We both agree on what the Bengals are thinking, we just differ on the name. I’ll be dead honest, I think Ragnow because I want a Ragnow jersey. That way, ever time I wear it, I will imagine Ragnar from the show “Vikings.” Real expert analysis there, I know.

At any rate, enjoy your Thursday. Whether it be Infinity War day or Day One of the NFL Draft day, make it a good one. As for me, I’ll be at the theater to see the Avengers take on Thanos!