Tag Archives: Jaelen Strong

The NFL Combines Gym Class and Job Interviews

The NFL isn’t struggling for popularity or market-share with today’s sports fan. They own the sports calendar five months out of the year, and it’s probably more when you factor in how much time is spent on the draft in April and May or uncountable number of Fantasy Drafts that take place in August. The process of the actual draft is a year-round thing, and I believe that the College Football calendar is a part of the process. However, the NFL doesn’t need to own the end of February.

They just don’t. There’s enough going on, with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in Florida and Arizona and it’s time to pay attention to College Basketball, if you’re making any educated choices on your bracket. You could focus on the NHL, NBA, tennis, golf, and even the NFL is making news outside of Indianapolis this week, but we’re televising a glorified gym class on the NFL Network. I think the combine is a necessary evil, not so much for the blue-chippers, but for the lesser-knowns and middle-of-the-road prospects to back up what NFL scouting departments already know about them from film. For the viewing public and observing media, it’s too much and it gives us too much to misinterpret.

Part of me wishes more of these things took place behind the scenes, but people, especially those craving something, will latch on to anything and everything. Slap an NFL shield on a bake sale or a game of chess; they’ll watch it if it’s on the NFL Network and/or ESPN. Keep this behind closed doors. In fact, don’t even let us know the results. It gives us less to be wrong or outraged about on draft day. We like the NFL, but we’re too far behind the scenes with this exercise every winter. I don’t need this any more than I needed to see John Wayne taking his physical and ASVAB before kicking ass as a Marine in his movies.

What would be missing, if we were forced to return to a time without the gym class heroes? Maybe I wouldn’t know that the USC offensive weapons didn’t spend a lot of time throwing up 225 on the bench or that a Wisconsin running back doesn’t have his sea-legs under him in February. Maybe I wouldn’t know Kevin White is a freaky fast runner or that Jaelen Strong can elevate his 6’2″ frame 42 inches above the earth vertically. Maybe I don’t think Shane Ray has the right work ethic if he won’t run in Indy. Maybe I’m not supposed to know any of this.

I’ve said it in the past. No one gets discovered at these things, even if a previously unknown aspect about a prospect is revealed. Based on everything I’ve heard about the interviews, it’s what happens at the table, when a 22 year-old goes face-to-face with the Sean Paytons and Jim Caldwells of the world, that the job interview starts. Brandin Cooks told Rich Eisen last week that the Browns asked him to thing of all the ways he could use a paper clip in one minutes. It’s a bizarre question, sure, and it might even be a throw-away question, but we’ll never know the logic behind it. That’s what makes the people that make these decision smart, while the rest of us are dumb. Our local media can’t tell us what’s said behind closed doors, only who’s walking into the rooms.

Why do we bother familiarizing ourselves with this part of the interview process, while remain in the dark on the juiciest part. Maybe we won’t always be blind to what’s said in there. HBO’s Hard Knocks is basically being force-fed as a part of the league’s marketing, so we might not be far from getting interview audio via NFL Films, even if it’s something that gets put in the vault for a year or two, as to avoid being too detrimental for public consumption. Me, I think it’s all detrimental for public consumption. Kicking down that fourth wall reveals things we don’t want to know. It’s more about things we don’t want to care about.

Caring about how a person performs in drills, while wearing shorts, it’s not my bag. I don’t understand what it is, beyond satiating some NFL off-season craving, that makes so many people tune in and analyze these things. If I watch a left tackle handle [INSERT COLLEGE LEAGUE HERE]-caliber pass rushers for a season or two on tape, my opinion isn’t going to change if he doesn’t run fast or throw up iron like it’s an olympic event. I get so little out of it that I tend to skip it, but a round of applause is due the people who make this a real-live event with sponsors and wall-to-coverage.

I just don’t need to watch these world-class athletes in a regimented gym class, seeing them play the game was, is, and always will be enough for me.

Momentum Teams Heading into the Off-Season

The championship game is somehow already two weeks behind us after capping another exciting bowl season. Now if only the off-season would go this fast. Whether it actually carries over to the next fall or not, big bowl wins seem to give teams momentum. They also seem to help boost a team’s pre-season ranking (even if that shouldn’t be the case) which is probably more important. We’ve already seen a few “too early” Top 25s rolled out since the championship game and combining that with the bowl results you can get a feel for some of the teams which have finished the year strong. Here are some teams I believe have the most momentum heading into the off-season.

Ohio State
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s hard to not feel good about yourself when your school is coming off a national championship. And not just a national championship, one in which you dropped the unbeatable SEC, silenced doubters, and put a conference back on the map along the way. If that wasn’t enough, the Buckeyes return a litany of important players from their championship squad. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot joins a Heisman contending quarterback (take your pick of Braxton Miller, JT Barrett, and Cardale Jones) to lead an offense that won’t be slowed often in 2015.

The Horned Frogs represent the other school which will likely be in the Top 2 of many pre-season ballots. Though the team that got in the playoff at four ended up winning the championship, the Horned Frogs still have solid backing as a team that deserved a shot this year. They stamped that backing with a demolition of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. Now you have a 12-1 team with a chip on its shoulder, coming off a bowl win that returns a potential Heisman contender in Trevone Boykin at quarterback. Sounds like a recipe for a pre-season title contender even before you throw in the fact that Boykin will have nine other returning starters with him on offense.

USC has been struggling to get back to its college football front runner days that have escaped them since Pete Carroll left for the NFL. A few years here and there they have gotten some pre-season buzz as potentially being “back”. 2015 looks to be one of those years as well. The Trojans finished the year 9-4 after winning a shootout over Nebraska in their bowl game and return QB Cody Kessler who closed the year with 39 TDs and only 5 INTs all while completing just under 70% of his passes. 3 of their 4 losses were by six points or less and they’ll be battling in a Pac-12 conference that has no clear-cut favorite going into 2015.

Arizona State
The Sun Devils are another Pac-12 team that could take advantage of Oregon taking a step back with Marcus Mariota’s departure. Arizona State went 10-3 and returns most of its starters from a defense that nobody, save for UCLA, had fun facing. They do have to replace potential first round pick at WR Jaelen Strong, but versatile playmaker DJ Foster returns and QB Mike Bercovici played well in Taylor Kelly’s absence so there may not even be a downgrade under center.

A few others to watch:

Dominated Oklahoma in their bowl game and DeShaun Watson could lead one of the nation’s most electrifying offenses if he’s back healthy from a torn ACL by fall camp.

Coming off back to back SEC East crowns and returns four offensive lineman, RB Russell Hansbrough, and QB Maty Mauk.

The Razorbacks may not have arrived just yet, but QB Brandon Allen was improved and the Hogs return two 1,000 yard rushers after finishing the year strong.

Bowl Time for The Sun Devils

It’s quickly approaching. Sun Devil fans are eagerly anticipating their beloved team in action one more time in 2014. What do the Sun Devils need to do to win the Sun Bowl? Execute. I know it’s that is a pretty obvious answer, but the Devils really have not executed that well at the end of this season.

Even though it’s probably not going to happen, the Sun Devils need to switch up the quarterback for this game. They need to start Mike Bercovici instead of Taylor Kelly. For me, Bercovici is much better passer and leader of the offense. Bercovici and his complete quarterback skills, in terms of footwork, stronger arm, and his intensity as a leader is a much more positive influence on the offense. I think the offense just moves better with Bercovici calling the signals behind center.

The other area that the Devils have to get better at is on defense. They have allowed close to 28 points a game and when you allow that many points a game, that puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score every time out. They are playing a Duke team that averages 32 points a game and that is something that the defensive coaches at ASU have been trying to figure out how to stop. The defense has been progressively better since they were destroyed by UCLA back in September at Sun Devil Stadium. The defense has been playing with greater “attitude” during 2014. They had to replace nine starters from the 2013 squad and that was a major concern coming into this year, but has turned into a positive for the Devils. Let’s hope that the defense for the Sun Devils has a positive outcome against Duke.

DJ Foster. He needs to get going in this game. Period. He is a very good runner in space and is a great target as a receiver because of his speed. Foster is a player that is thinking of leaving early for the NFL and for him to be taken somewhat early in the draft he needs to have a special game against Duke. He rushed for 1,002 yards and caught 59 passes for 646 yards, but if you look at his rushing stats, more than half of his yards came in the first three games. Since then Foster has been held in check on the ground. He’s been missed used in my humble opinion. He’s a guy that needs to be used in the slot and in space and not trying to punch him in between the tackles where he can’t utilize his amazing speed. Fly sweeps, slants, regular sweeps are what you need to use DJ Foster properly. Anything that puts him in space will be a positive for Arizona State. I am hoping this happens and that Foster realizes he needs to stay for his final year in Tempe.

Jaelen Strong is the man for the Devils. He’s everything you want in a receiver. He’s big, strong, athletic, and has tremendous hands. He’s gained a lot more notoriety nationally since he rescued the Devils against USC with the “Jael-Mary” pass that won the game for the Devils. He’s going to be doubled team for sure, so the Coach Norvell is going to have to figure out a way to get him the ball. They may have to spread the ball around at first to soften up the defense and keep the double team off of him and then hit him with some post or fly routes down the field. However, he’s big and physical and may be able to create some spacing on his own because I have a feeling that Duke will try and jam him at the point of attack, so he doesn’t get downfield with the timing routes that ASU likes to use in their offense. The other receivers for the Sun Devils need to step up their game to help Strong get his in this game.

The match up that will intrigue me the most is the Sun Devil defense against the Blue Devil offense. ASU has more weapons on offense than Duke has, so I think the Sun Devils will be able to score, but can their defense make enough stops? I believe that they can, but it will still be the thing I will be looking at during this game.

When the final gun goes off, I think Arizona State will be the winner in a very entertaining game for fans. ASU wins this game by about 10 points and heads into the 2015 season on a high note with two 10 win seasons behind them and can work on getting a Pac-12 South division title and possibly more. Fear the Fork Duke.image

Top 10 Non-Playoff Bowl Games

As a college football fan, conference championship weekend is both the best and the worst weekend of the year. It usually has a handful of the best games you’ll see all year and this year that included playoff implications. On the other hand, it signals the end of regular college football action for nine months. But at least we have bowl season as a send-off, a two week flurry of action where you can find multiple games to watch almost every single day. We know the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will be huge and exciting because they are the playoff games and you have the best teams involved. What other games are there to look forward to during bowl season? I rank the Top 10 non-playoff bowl games to watch.

1. Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor
This game is almost up to par with the two playoff games that will be played later on New Year’s Day. Two teams that had playoff aspirations coming into the year and had good seasons but fell just short. Both teams have NFL talent on each side of the ball. Each squad has a potent offense that can beat you through the air or on the ground. Baylor’s defense certainly wasn’t a huge strength this year and Michigan State’s defense got rolled in its two games against top competition (Oregon and Ohio State) so I expect a shootout.

2. Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU
Ole Miss spent time at number one this year and even though they faltered in the last month, ended the year on a high note by ending rival Mississippi State’s playoff chances and finishing in the Top 10. TCU thought it had a playoff spot locked up right up until the selection show. They have an exciting offense led by Trevone Boykin to go with a stout defense and will be out to prove they should have been one of the playoff committee’s selections.

3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson
This game loses some luster because of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson being out but there’s still plenty to look forward to. It will be a defensive battle with two of the best defenses in the country. Oklahoma’s defense didn’t always play up to its potential this year, but I have a feeling it will look more like the unit most thought we’d see this year going up against Cole Stoudt. It will also be interesting to see if Trevor Knight can have the kind of bowl game he had last year against Alabama.

4. Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona
Boise State is no stranger to the Fiesta Bowl and comes in on an eight game win streak. Arizona comes in having been trounced in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon after flirting with an outside chance at a playoff spot for parts of the year. The extra practice time should do wonders for Wildcat freshman QB Anu Solomon and will be opposed on the other side by one of the best running backs in the country, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi.

5. Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
This Orange Bowl will be hard-pressed to live up to last year’s shootout between Clemson and Ohio State but it still pits a Mississippi State team which was in the playoff hunt the whole year against a Georgia Tech team that was an onside kick away from potentially knocking off Florida State. Dak Prescott was a Heisman contender the first half of the year and should find success against the Yellow Jacket defense. On the flip side, can Georgia Tech mix in enough passes to take advantage of the Bulldogs’ pass defense which was one of the worst in the nation?

6. Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois
This game has two of the best offenses many people don’t know about. Marshall was 5th in the country at 45 points per game and has a balanced attack which averaged over 200 yards on the ground and in the air each game. At 12-1, their loss against Western Kentucky two weeks ago prevented them from a potential Fiesta Bowl appearance. Northern Illinois comes in as the 11-2 MAC champion and led by their run game, 15th best in the country, should be able to put up points against a Marshall defense that gave up 67 of them in their lone loss.

7. Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Duke
This could be a shootout between two teams who both average over 30 points per game on the year but have also had their share of games getting lit up on defense. Both teams will be looking to cap off the year by getting to double digit wins and will feature two extremely talented wide receivers in Jaelen Strong and Jamison Crowder.

8. Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State
Coach Jim McElwain’s departure to Florida puts a bit of a damper on Colorado State’s 10-2 year, but I’m sure the players will be out to prove they can win without him there. Colorado State is led by their offense which finished just outside the Top 10 nationally in yards per game and will try to defeat a Utah team that finished 8-4 after a 6-1 start.

9. Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M
If this list is any indication, it appears I have a thing for high-scoring affairs. West Virginia and Texas A&M could be another one. Neither team could crack the Top 70 in scoring defense this year and we’ll get to see two different types of offense. Texas A&M’s spread air attack and West Virginia’s spread option should both have success in this game. Potential first round WR Kevin White of the Mountaineers and the young Aggie receivers who could be future high draft picks could all run wild.

10. Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Arkansas
This might be the most hyped game ever between teams 6-6 teams. Arkansas comes in riding high after scoring their first two conference wins in forever in shutouts against LSU and Ole Miss and then barely losing on the road to SEC East champ Missouri. Then there’s Texas, who won three straight Big 12 games before ending the year by losing to playoff-caliber TCU. Both teams showed improvement throughout the year and will look to continue that momentum into the off-season with a bowl victory.

Pick Six: Who survives on Saturday?

These are the types of weekends we look forward to when the season starts. A huge weekend looms for college football on a Saturday that gives us six matchups between ranked teams. With only four weeks left until championship Saturday, any team that suffers its second loss now can probably wave its playoff chances goodbye. Baylor/Oklahoma kicks off the ranked slate at 11:00 am CST and the Oregon/Utah tilt will likely finish after midnight, giving fans roughly 13 straight hours of playoff atmosphere football. What could be better? So I take a stab at telling you who wins the key matchups this weekend, and by that I mean what teams’ fortunes I single-handedly change for the worse by picking them.

Baylor at Oklahoma

Baylor comes into this game a little disrespected, not even being ranked in the Top 10 even though they have a win over a Top 10 team and only one loss. It’s almost like they aren’t getting credit for beating TCU, because that’s a much better win than other one-loss teams have that are ranked ahead of them. On the flip side, it isn’t like Oklahoma won’t be motivated. Though they are likely out of the playoff race, they can avenge last season’s loss to Baylor and effectively end a team’s chances who has become a bigger opponent than Texas. Baylor is a more complete team than people realize. It will be a close contest, but Oklahoma’s 108th ranked pass defense will help Bryce Petty lead the Bears to their first ever victory in Norman. Baylor takes it 44-38.

Notre Dame at Arizona State

It’s pretty amazing that Notre Dame is even where they are at this point. If the Heisman was an MVP award Everett Golson might be the leader because the Fighting Irish don’t have much else. Arizona State on the other hand has playmakers at RB and WR and a defense that has only given up 12 ppg in their last three contests. The Sun Devils know they have to be impressive since people still have the image of them getting housed at home in the back of their mind. Even though Utah was a good win last week, they also know this week is their real chance to impress people until a potential conference championship game. Notre Dame has been barely hanging on the last few weeks but with no answers for Jaelen Strong and DJ Foster, this week their playoff chances go up in smoke. Arizona State wins 27-17.

Kansas State at TCU

I can’t tell if this Kansas State team is overrated or underrated. Sure they are ranked seventh in the playoff rankings, but they still seem to be flying under the radar compared to other Top 10 teams. On the other hand, they are an Oklahoma 19 yard field goal away from possibly being nowhere near the conversation. This will only be the Wildcats’ third road game of the year, and they head to Fort Worth with an offense that doesn’t pass or run the ball that great. That’ll be a problem facing a TCU team that is 2nd in the nation in scoring. TCU has dominated in 4 of 5 home games, the lone other game being their upset win against Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs struggled on offense last week, but I think they expose Kansas State on Saturday, winning 41-30.

Ohio State at Michigan State

The Big 10 has had this game circled since summer, their only chance to really prove themselves to the nation and more importantly the playoff committee. Unfortunately it might not matter. Both teams’ playoff chances are low, but they still each have a chance to go 12-1 and make one of those other major bowls. If you’ve read any of my previous work this year, you know how I feel about the Spartans. I think they are vastly underrated even where they are ranked. But Ohio State has been really good for the most part since that loss to Virginia Tech. The competition certainly hasn’t been the greatest, but the Buckeyes have been rolling through that competition like the Ohio State teams we expect. JT Barrett has 23 touchdowns and the Buckeyes have been pounding teams on the ground. But this will be Barrett’s first big game of the year and doing so in East Lansing isn’t the ideal place for that to happen. Short of one quarter against Nebraska, the Spartans have been dominant at home and that defense, along with Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford, will be too much for Ohio State. Michigan State, 31-28.

Alabama at LSU

Both teams have regained some momentum in the last few weeks, but this game still lacks the luster it has had the last five years. It isn’t often that there are multiple SEC teams ranked higher than Bama and LSU going into this contest, let alone just SEC West teams. It’s still a big game, but it will probably be the least exciting of the ranked matchups on Saturday. It will be a typical, low-scoring affair, especially with LSU’s defense appearing to have righted the ship in recent weeks. They will contain the Tide’s offense to an extent, but nothing can overcome their lack of offense. You simply can’t run the ball on Alabama, especially not with a straight ahead power attack that LSU uses. And it’s not like LSU’s 101st ranked passing attack will be able to take advantage of the Alabama secondary. If you’re looking for a classic defensive struggle on Saturday, this is the game to watch. If you want excitement, run away. Alabama wins 24-9.

Oregon at Utah

Utah’s dark horse chances ended last week with a close loss to Arizona State, but they’re still 6-2 and good enough that Oregon can’t show up flat. Oregon has been rolling the last month and that should continue. Utah is one-dimensional on offense. With a passing game that ranked 111th in the country you’d think they’d excel at rushing, but they are only 42nd in that area. Not exactly the type of offense you want heading into a matchup with the Ducks. The Utes only hope is to pound it on the ground, keeping Oregon’s offense off the field and have a raucous home crowd affect that Ducks offense when they are on the field. In the end, Oregon will be too much for Utah. The Utes have only scored 30 points once in conference play and the Ducks have put up at least 42 in each of their last four. Oregon’s playoff hopes have been restored and they know that this game and a Pac-12 championship game are the only things that stand in their way. Ducks win 45-23.

Across the Middle: Jaelen Strong

All football coaches want that prototypical receiver that is tall, strong body, soft hands, not afraid to go into traffic and make a catch, and has that mental toughness to get open when things break down on a particular play.
Guess what football fans, the Sun Devils have that receiver in Jaelen Strong. This young man had a breakout season in 2013 and is garnering all sorts of buzz in the college football community. He’s put on a lot of muscle as well and that muscle will come in handy as he will get all of the attention from opposing defenses in the 2014 season.
Lets take a look at why the attention is coming his way. After a stellar stint at Pierce College he committed to ASU on Christmas in 2012. Once he committed to the Sun Devils he became someone that the coaches viewed as being a special kind of player, and he has not done anything to change that view by the coaching staff or the fans. He had seven games of over 100 yards catching and ended the year with 75 receptions for a total of 1,122 receiving yards. Five of those seven games of over 100 yards occurred in the first six games of the season. Out of his 75 receptions, 47 of those receptions resulted in a first down which tells me that Taylor Kelly was looking for him when the team needed that first down or when things on a particular play broke down. It also tells me that that Strong is a competitor and wants to succeed because he wants the ball thrown his way when things dicey and close in a game. He wants Taylor Kelly looking for him to keep the drive going. Against some of the best competition, Jaelen rose to the occasion. Case in point, against Stanford in September he had 168 yards receiving against a very stout defense. His 168 yards were 5th best for a single game in the Pac-12 conference last season. When the Devils took on Notre Dame he had 138 yards on only 8 receptions. That is over 17 yards per catch. As we can see, Jaelen has put stats on the board that will cause defensive coordinators some long, sleepless evenings.
He will certainly be looking to improve on those statistics and I believe he certainly can based on the type of offense that the Devils run. It will be tough though because he will get the best corner on the opposing team manned up on him with a safety over the top to help out in many circumstances, but with the resolve that this young showed last season he will work to get better at getting off the ball, avoiding the “jam” by the cornerback, and finding the soft spot in a zone defense to make that first down catch or touchdown catch.
imageJaelen Strong is that unique combination of size, strength, and speed that will benefit him for the 2014 and on the next level of football. If Strong stays healthy he will best his record performance from 2013 with ease and be a strong early round pick in the NFL. Go do your thing Jaelen and bring those Sun Devil fans to their feet game after game!
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