5 football questions for this week

Law studies are a pain in that they hardly allow me to pour countless words into writing about the game, which is annoying at the start of the NCAA, NFL and CIS seasons. However, I do wish to take the time to answer the five questions I’ve been getting the most from friends and fellow members of the Quebec football community. So here goes.

1. What happened to Concordia against UofM?

Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. There was a play when Carabins defensive lineman David Ménard penetrated (again) through the Concordia offensive line and batted down a Reid Quest pass. The way the play happened, however, gave the impression Ménard had punched Quest in the face. That play strikes me as symbolic of the spanking the Stingers took from their Montreal rivals, a beatdown about which the word “embarrassing” comes quickly into the mind. 

It didn’t take long for one to realize “les Bleus” were superior. The porous ConU pass protection forced them to resort to half-slide protection, which requires the running backs to help slow down backside pursuit, but UofM front seven consistently beat the Stingers offensive line on the frontside and pounded QB Reid Quest anyway. Concordia does have skilled offensive players, including future pro slotback Kris Bastien, but because Quest wore the UofM defensive front between 1 and 4 PM, they didn’t really get to show their skills. 

As for Concordia’s defence, it has a lot to offer, but it cannot be expected to hold opponents off the board (especially not UofM and its excellent running back Rotrand Sené) if it spends the entire day on the field. Coordinator Luc Pelland is a terrific defensive mind, and he had great success running his 3-4 defence while at Vanier College, not to mention that it seemingly makes sense considering that Concordia is short on defensive linemen and heavy on linebackers. The thing is, though, I’m unconvinced star linebacker Max Caron thrives in it. Caron (I can say this having played in front him myself) seems at his best with a full defensive line keeping blockers off him so he can roam freely. The prospect of Caron and fellow star Travis Bent playing together, along with experienced veteran Alexandre Lemire and freaky athlete Mikael Charland, is enticing, but again, Caron doesn’t make the same impact when he has to fight through traffic. This is a kid who shone very brightly as a rookie when this columnist was finishing his CIS career, and was unplayable during his second season, as he went on to win the President’s trophy as the country’s best defensive player. The secondary is talented but young, with both characteristics showing at different points in the game. The Stingers also showed a worrisome propensity to lose the edge on outside running plays, particularly when faced with UofM’s beloved wing back on the right side of the formation. 

That being said, it’s one game. Yeah, yeah, I know it was a real beatdown, but allow me to make two final points. First, should the opposition fail to put as much pressure on the passer as UofM did (Laval might, the rest of the league likely won’t), this Concordia team will score points. Quest is talented, so are the receivers, and I really liked the vision and moves I saw from rookie running back Jamall Hamilton-Hyman. Second, and perhaps more importantly, has anyone looked at the Stingers’ schedule this year? They play McGill and Bishop’s twice and get St-Francis-Xavier at home, all completely winnable games, despite the Stingers’ obvious pass protection issues and striking youth in the secondary. They could lose all games against francophone teams and still finish the season with five wins. And you know what five wins gets you, at the bare minimum, in this conference? Third place.

2. What do you make of Johnny Manziel’s conduct? 

This kid is really starting to worry me. That his personality is already far better suited to the pro lifestyle than to that of college is so self-evident, it’s long been past debating.

Moreover, I frankly couldn’t care less about him taunting the NCAA during A&M’s first game against Rice. The NCAA is an organization so unbearably piss-poor in just about every conceivable way (including the hypocritical rule that led to its scrutiny of Manziel) that it deserves little more than to be treated with ridicule, mockery and contempt. 

That being said, it’s all of Manziel’s other off-season antics that have me worried. The whole time, I kept saying to myself “Il faut que jeunesse se passe”, or, for those whose French is not quite up there, that kids must be allowed to be kids and that when the season started, Manziel would come back focused and ready for an encore. But his unforgivable demeanour when dealing with his head coach Kevin Sumlin, after all the “while drunk” incidents he gave us during the offseason is giving me serious pause. Is this kid’s judgement so poor that he doesn’t realize whatever he suffered during the offseason, he did to himself (save for the NCAA investigation). And is he so hard-headed and arrogant that he can’t even keep a low profile on the field until he reminds everyone he can play football? 

That Manziel will declare for the 2014 NFL Draft is, barring a serious injury, as foregone a conclusion as foregone conclusions get. But if I’m an NFL personnel guy, I’m getting very worried about the kind of character I’d be getting in Manziel. 

3. Is the read option in the NFL to stay? 

People who have Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin on their fantasy teams better pray it is. Remember when Mike Tomlin said it was a flavour of the month thing? If he’s right, the outlook for the season just got very different for a handful of teams, worst of all for the Redskins. 

That being said, I think Tomlin’s wrong and that Niners and Skins fans can breathe easy. Unless you’re going to allow defences to play with 12 men, the coaches who designed read option plays last year did it so cleverly (with lead blockers escorting the quarterback) and the receivers and tight ends in the NFL are such dynamic athletes that I can’t see what tactic defensive coordinators could dial up consistently to stop the read option AND not leave themselves super vulnerable to 1-on-1 matchups with dynamite receivers down the field. Would you care to match your safety or Sam linebacker 1-on-1 against Vernon Davis? Didn’t think so. 

I think the read option is here to stay. Probably not as a full-scale system, but as an offensive package. Ready to eat your words, coach Tomlin? 

4. How’d you like Jameis Winston’s debut at quarterback for Florida State?

Very much indeed. Winston stood out in a fairly easy 41-13 win against Pitt by completing 24 of his 26 passing attempts. But that wasn’t what made me happiest about the kid’s debut on Monday.

First, FSU finally has a QB with enough sense to look for tight end Nick O’Leary. O’Leary would be a unanimous selection as the most un-stylish player in College Football, but he also happens to be really good. Winston found him three times in the end zone. How’s that for a start for the big tight end?

Winston, and this makes me smile from ear to ear, was also so incredibly poised it was almost disconcerting. After FSU had seemingly become a breeding ground for happy-footed quarterbacks, from Chris Rix to Drew Weatherford, and even Christian Ponder at times, it’s refreshing to see a young QB keep his cool when a bit of pressure is headed his way. 

Winston maneuvered effortlessly around the pocket, making veteran throws on the run with the kind of accuracy you’d expect from a fifth-year senior. Obviously, it would be ludicrous to expect this kind of performance every single week from him; after all, freshmen, talented though they may be, are often inconsistent. But one thing is clear. FSU has its most talented QB since Bobby Bowden’s glory years. Whether he’ll become the best remains to be seen. But I like what I see so far. 

5. Name one team you expect to surprise and to disappoint this year in the NFL.

My surprise team is the Tennessee Titans. With some clever offseason additions, the Titans are a functional performance from Jake Locker away from becoming a really good team. I loooooooooove the Chance Warmack pick in the 2013 first round, which, along with the signing of Andy Levitre, gives them a really good offensive line. Both their receivers, if they can stay healthy (looking at you, Kenny Britt) are first round talents. Delanie Walker, while not as physically gifted as departed starter Jared Cook, might give them more production at the tight end position. And we haven’t even mentioned Chris Johnson, who figures to benefit from improved offensive line play. 

They are solid defensively, especially if Kamerion Wimbley can give them any kind of pass rush. I like those linebackers a lot and the defensive backs are talented as well. Moreover, the schedule is fairly merciful. They do get an unpleasant first half of October with a long trip to Seattle followed by a visit from the all-powerful 49ers. However, the rest of the non-division schedule includes the Chargers, Jets, and Chiefs at home as well as an opening-day visit to a diminished Steelers team. If Locker is so much as decent, they have a real shot at a Wild Card berth as the AFC South is weak with the Texans winning by default, the Jags still in reconstruction and the Colts poised to crash back down to earth. Which conveniently leads me to…

My “incoming disappointment” team is the Colts. They do have Andrew Luck, who figures to be a Top 5 quarterback for years to come. However, I hated their offseason moves. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated their moves. First of all, they have a much tougher schedule this year. Secondly, they’re still not good enough to overtake the Texans. Thirdly, both the Jags and the Titans will be tougher confrontations this year.

And last but certainly not least: when was the last time you saw a team succeed after deciding to pay middle-of-the-road starters like stars and fringe players like starters? Needing to protect Andrew Luck, the Colts decided to pay decent-at-best tackle Gosder Cherilus a fairly monstrous contract to keep opposing speed rushers off Luck. Not against elite opposition he won’t. 

But the truly shocking part was the contracts they gave to the newest most expensive journeymen defensive starters in the league. They added some beef to their defensive line by giving a whopping 4-year, $22-million contract to Ricky “never-lived-up-to-the-years-and-years-of-hype” Jean-François, who hasn’t been more than a bit part player since high school. 

And then Jim Irsay outdid himself… the boy turned around and gave Eric Walden $16 million. Eric Walden, 16 million dollars. 16 million dollars to Eric Walden. For those who don’t know, Walden is (a) the man meant to replace departed Dwight Freeney (an idea which in and of itself is cause for hilarity) and (b) essentially known as the revolving door around which Colin Kaepernick ran circles while Walden was playing for the Packers in last year’s playoffs. 

Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne isn’t getting younger. They don’t have a really scary threat opposite him (though I love their young tight ends, Fleener and Allen). Their running back squad consists of disappointing first round picks and journeymen. Their offensive line is nothing to write home about. They still lack a dominant nose tackle for their 3-4 and the secondary is still rather unconvincing. At least, they still have Adam Vinatieri, right? 

So here I am having spent much more time on this than I should have. See you soon, football fans. I’ll try my best to keep the territory busy. 

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2 thoughts on “5 football questions for this week

  1. I was extremely surprised by the very poor OL play from ConU. Not only were they physically beaten, technically they appeared to be very poor and unable to handle simple stunts and pass rush moves.

    They need to show much improvement quickly if your Alma Mater wants to have any success this year

    • Agreed, but this has been true for several years now, going back to when you and I were still playing. I’m hopeful in that UofM probably has the best D-Line in the country and so I don’t think other opponents will dominate like the Carabins did. And like I said, if there’s any protection whatsoever, ConU’s skill positions people can hurt you.

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