Jadeveon Clowney: The Number 1 pick, surely?

The NFL combine this weekend in Indianapolis has seen some fairly unremarkable events.  Kids get their height and weight checked – Teddy Bridgewater has put on weight since his last game for Louisville incidentally – and their hands measured as though the precise measurement of someone is going to make a difference to the teams ready to spend millions of dollars on these young men.  Let me speculate here now that if Johnny Manziel was 6′ exactly or 6’2″ it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference to the teams that are ready to use their first round pick on him.  They saw what he can do all season long.  He has big hands?  Okay…so?  Again, they saw it.

The bench press test is another interesting one.  A bench press is something that guys do not do during a football game.  One extended push against a moving target is not replicable in a gym with a barbell.  South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was an absolute beast the season before last before enduring a slightly tougher season just past, managed 21 reps of 225lbs.  Miami punter Pat O’Donnell (who has put up impressive numbers during the combine) managed 23 reps.  So what?  Can Pat O’Donnell do this?

No, he can’t.

Clowney then put on a show in the 40 yard dash.  Again, this is an odd test of speed and one that isn’t always that reliable as an assessment of how a guy will cope in the NFL.  Except Clowney posted 4.47 seconds for his 40 yard dash.  Johnny Manziel ran 4.68.

To me, this seals the deal.  Manziel was spectacular in college, but too often relied on spectacular plays by his wide receivers to get him out of situations that he frequently got himself into.  Watch any Manziel highlight film and you’ll see him scampering around before launching a bomb that is thrown into coverage only for someone like Mike Evans to make the play.  The Texans do need a new quarterback – Matt Schaub is no longer even serviceable – but I suspect they will either take one in the second round and then sign a free agent with experience to fill in for the upcoming season, or else just bide their time and look to take someone like Brett Hundley from UCLA in 2015.

Clowney has personal issues, for sure.  Coach Spurrier said that Clowney had issues with his work ethic.  He has been caught speeding twice since the end of the season.  Bill O’Brien will want to be sure that Clowney, suspected of coasting through his final collegiate season (and let’s not forget that teams prepared for Clowney this past season, double teaming him or matching him up with their best offensive linemen), has the ability to amp up his effort for the big show.

If the Texans do take Clowney, they will be pairing him up with fellow-irresistable force JJ Watt on their defensive line.  Watt is a high-character guy and the perfect veteran (three years in, of course) to show Clowney the ropes.  The Texans will likely lose receiver Andre Johnson before they are in shape to make a run at the Superbowl, but Clowney gives them the defensive platform to contend very soon.  If they take him.

Ray Rice and the behavior of pro-athletes

Few will be oblivious to what happened involving Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice this week.

In case you are: http://www.tmz.com/2014/02/19/ray-rice-unconscious-fiancee-atlantic-city-video-arrest/

He was allegedly involved in something called a “mutual assault” with his fiancee.  This involved her being mutually knocked out and him mutually dragging her out of an elevator in Atlantic City like you might a dead body or a Christmas tree in January.  There no sound on the video, recorded by a phone from CCTV footage from inside the casino where the incident took place, but Rice’s indifference speaks volumes.  There’s no panicking whatsoever, as any reasonable person might in the event that they had been involved in a passionate argument with their fiancee (i.e. the person you plan to marry) and accidentally caused them a serious physical injury.

Reports have since emerged that there is footage of Rice upper-cutting his fiancee, knocking her out.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh commented that he expected Rice to remain with the team.  One would hope that will only be the case until this new footage emerges.

Just over a year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers waived running back Chris Rainey after he was arrested on battery charges.  Rainey allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.  Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert commented at the time: “Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing…under the circumstances and due to his conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

An NFL.com article reported the incident as:

Both Rainey and the female victim then fell to the ground. The victim was able to run away, but Rainey chased after her because his cellphone was in a bag the victim was carrying. Rainey grabbed the bag again and they both fell to the ground again. Neither party suffered visible injuries from the encounter. Multiple witnesses confirmed the incident.

The charges against Rainey were dropped and he signed with the Indianapolis Colts in November.

As bad as it reads, the incident Rainey was involved in doesn’t sound as bad as what Ray Rice allegedly did, does it?  I don’t want this to be a “holier-than-thou” post, but the fact that Ray Rice is still a Baltimore Raven at the time of writing speaks volumes as to the attitude of that franchise to the conduct of its players.  True, Rice was an elite running back a year ago and despite an indifferent 2013 season is still vastly superior to Chris Rainey, who was more or less the Steelers fourth choice back when he was cut.  The Ravens have also committed a serious amount of money to Rice – their best case scenario when cutting him is to only lose $5.5 million.

Some reports have attempted to excuse Rice by noting that he and his fiancee left the police station together.  Gee, I wonder why a woman was go back to a man who violently assaulted her and just happens to be one of the most famous and highest earning people in the entire country?

Some Ravens fans will undoubtedly cite allegations made against Ben Roethlisberger to counter any Steelers judgement of their organization’s actions in the Rice case.  Okay, show me the charges?  Show me the video?  Show me the evidence?  The evidence, as we have available to us against Rice, is damning.

The key issue here is that the Rice incident is part of a much deeper problem within the NFL.  Their players just can’t behave themselves.  There is a database of NFL arrests.

Since the turn of the year, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson was arrested for DWI and drug possession.  Tampa running back Michael Hill was involved in a bar fight.  Cleveland receiver Davonne Bess was arrested for assaulting a law enforcement officer at Fort Lauderdale airport (although in his defense, Fort Lauderdale airport is a nightmare) and San Francisco lineman Daniel Kilgore was charged with public intoxication.  The database has almost 700 entries.

The NFL season may have ended, but the NFL has hardly been out of the news since.  The Wells report told us about locker room culture within the NFL and despite the protestations of former and current players, left little doubt that the sort of bullying that Jonathan Martin was subjected to was far from unique to Miami.

The NFL has the opportunity with the combine this weekend to refocus the attention of the world on the actual sport of football, but a huge, Ray Rice shaped cloud looms over the entire league.  If Rice is shown to have violently struck his fiancee, harsh action must be taken, and not just in the name of saving the Ravens a few dollars.

Ryan Clark: shut up and shut up now

For those who caught ESPN’s drearily monotonous and yet feisty sports debate show “First Take” yesterday (Thursday February 6th), the contribution of Steelers Safety Ryan Clark will have been the most memorable section of a show that has become highly formulaic.

Thanks to the recent Superbowl being contested by two teams which are based in states where marijuana is now legalized, the issue of whether or not NFL players should be allowed to smoke marijuana (i.e. not banned for testing positive for it) has arisen as a very valid debate.  Nate Jackson, in his fascinating and tragically overlooked memoir “Slow Getting Up” raised the issue a couple of years ago, but of course now weed is for everyone, not just for medicinal purposes.  At least in some parts of the country.

Clark said:

I know guys on my team who smoke…And it’s not a situation where you think, ‘Oh, these are guys trying to be cool.’ These are guys who want to do it recreationally.

A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, ‘If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.’ Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it.

His comments echoed those of Antonio Cromartie, who earlier spoke on the NFL’s ineffective drug testing policies.

Now Clark and Cromartie, just as Jackson before them, are completely justified in their opinions.  Marijuana should be allowed in the NFL, if only for medicinal purposes.  It’s ridiculous that it isn’t, particularly given that you can be prescribed it.  These guys put their bodies through a lot.  Clark reported that his wife often is awoken at night by the pained noises he makes in his sleep after a game.  And he plays in a position where it is easier for guys to take care of themselves – comparatively speaking.  Of course, he is also 34 years old and just finished his twelfth season and completed his 827th NFL tackle.  We also shouldn’t forget what happened to him (not to mention what nearly happened to him) in Denver in 2007.  So he has put his body through a lot.  He claims not to smoke marijuana but has yet to explain what his pain control practices are.

Clark appeared on the Colin Cowherd show this morning (hosted by Ian O’Connor) and was asked how many of his team-mates smoked marijuana.  He fumbled round an answer, stating that he thought that 1/3 of the league smoked weed.

And therein lies the problem.

Ryan Clark is still an employee of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He enters unrestricted free agency this off season, but for the time being, he still appears on ESPN as “Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark.”  And he needs to shut up about the off-field pursuits of his teammates.

Ryan Clark will undoubtedly be one of the better analysts when he eventually signs a contract with ESPN.  He has been very clever in planning his post-NFL career.  His comments are insightful and considered.  Contrast with the utter disaster that was Ray Lewis’s signing – Lewis rarely offering anything more than garbled nonsense and modified pre-game rhetoric to shows he appeared on.  Great player, a guy you hated on the opposition, but one who you now hate on your TV because he offers nothing.  He can learn, of course.  Clark, on the other hand, is ready now.

In 2006, the Steelers committed $7 million to Clark.  In 2010, it was $14 million. That is a lot of money to pay someone to have them turn around as soon as the final season of their contract is up and start telling the world about how players on the team are consuming drugs that would see them fail an NFL drug test.  If the NFL, still reluctant to embrace marijuana’s new status, were to arrive at the homes of Steelers players to test them for marijuana tomorrow, would Clark pay their fines?  Serve their suspensions?

As soon as it is “former Steeler” Ryan Clark, I look forward to his insights into the past few years in Pittsburgh.  Until then, Ryan, please, shut up.