ESPN’s ‘MNF’ Crew Talks 2016 – ’17 NFL Season With The Media

NFL on ESPN Logo

The 2016 – 2017 NFL season is only a couple of weeks away and closing quickly.  In anticipation of the season’s kickoff on ESPN, the network’s new broadcast team of Jon Gruden, Sean McDonough, and Lisa Salters joined MNF producer Jay Rothman for a conference call with members of the media this week.

The group discussed its expectations for the upcoming season both on and off the field in during its time with the press.  Among the many topics covered in the call were Kirk Cousins’ improvement during the off-season, expectations for the Titans and their young QB, teams to watch in general, and much more.  The full transcript from Tuesday’s conference call is available below.  Audiences that want to listen to the conversation can do so in full here.

Rothman: Good morning, everybody. Our team is very fired up to start this NFL season, and obviously it’s a new Monday Night Football for us. As everyone knows, we lost Mike Tirico, our longtime colleague, brother and tremendous talent, and we all wish Mike the best in his future with NBC. At the same time, we gained another longtime colleague, a longtime brother and a tremendous talent in Sean McDonough. We’re very excited to have Sean with us. As many of you know, and those of you who don’t know, Sean is a pro. He’s a great voice, a great call, smart, quick, a great sense of humor, probably even more of a – one who busts chops more so than Coach Gruden himself.

We’re all aware of Sean’s history, how far back his association with the NFL goes through his great dad, Will, his brother who works for the Arizona Cardinals. He has a huge passion for the NFL and for Monday Night Football and great respect for Monday Night Football, and we are very fired up to have Sean with us.

Jon, as you all know, has established himself as a premier analyst in sports television. And just as he was as a Super Bowl-winning head coach, the things that got him that Super Bowl trophy are what makes him great at this job. He’s smart, creative, a great innovator. His work ethic is second to none, just as it was as an NFL coach. He brings the same work ethic to Monday Night Football and coaches all of us up. As you all know, too, he can bust chops with the best of them and loves to laugh.

Lisa, who is on the sidelines with us again, a consummate pro, a journalist, great sensibility, and does a great job keeping us all in check.

We’re very excited about our new team. The camaraderie is there. We’ve gotten to spend some great time together in the off-season and in the preseason. And as we all know, too, chemistry takes time, and where Mike and Jon got after seven years together in the booth, you know, hopefully it will not take that long with Sean and Jon, but we expect great things for the two of them, and, more importantly, a great listen for fans. And I take great comfort with our respect and fondness for each other that we’ve had in the last several months and obviously take great comfort in the continuity we have in the truck. I am fortunate to partner with my director, Chip Dean. This will be our 26th season together, and we’re just as excited as ever to get going.

Our schedule brings us some great games, some we’re very excited about. Excited to be kicking off in Washington. Excited in our Week 3 game to celebrate the game we had 10 years ago with the re-opening of the Superdome in New Orleans. And probably on a personal note for me, I’m very excited about our game in Mexico City. I’ve taken a couple of trips there over the summer to see the facility, meet the people. It’s going to be a very, very special evening in Mexico City. It will be a great spectacle. World Cup meets the NFL. It will be a very unique scene and a unique weekend for us to showcase that game. So we’re excited and fired up to get going.

McDonough: I am very humbled and honored to be joining this iconic sports television franchise. It’s been repeated to me many times that I’m just the fifth play-by-play person in the history of Monday Night Football, and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around that particularly when the four who have done this before are Keith Jackson, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, and Mike Tirico, all of whom are Hall of Fame broadcasters or will be.

I can only echo what Jay said about our group. We’ve had a great opportunity to spend time together in the off-season and in the preseason. I’ve known Jay and Chip for a long time, probably almost 30 years, and I’m well aware of their work. I’ve known Jon a little bit and Lisa and admired them mostly from afar. But I would echo what Jay said. Having spent a lot of time with them this summer, it’s going to be even more fun than I thought. And I knew from talking to Mike that it was going to be a tremendous amount of fun. They’re both great people, fun to be around, great teammates, working incredibly hard at their job. I’m excited to get going. It seems like it’s been taking forever for September 12 to get here, at least for me, but it’s right around the corner now, and I’m more than fired up about it.

Gruden: Good morning, everyone. Just very excited about the upcoming season and the team that we have. Looking forward to working with Sean. I think he’s not only a great guy, but he’s got a great voice. I can imitate that voice. I’ve been working on that carefully in the backyard. But looking forward to the season. I love football and look forward to seeing you guys in all of our travels.

Salters: Hey, everybody. This will be my fifth year on the sidelines for Monday Night Football, and I couldn’t be more comfortable with the great crew that I’m honored to work with and with the teams and the game itself. So I’m really looking forward to just even taking it to another level up with my work and just trying to get better. Jon continues to be a great teacher. Jay and Chip continue to be great leaders. And like Sean said, even though we’ve never worked together before, his reputation certainly speaks for itself. He’s been a great play-by-play man, so I’m looking forward to that aspect of the season as well. So, you know, I know it’s probably hard to understand, but it just keeps getting better at Monday Night Football, and I’m looking forward to the season.

  1. Jon, you spent some time with Kirk Cousins this off-season. I’m curious what differences you saw from him and what are your expectations for him this season and why.
    Gruden:
    He’s experienced now. He went through one full season as a starter. I think he took the bull by the horns in the off-season. He took the reins of this offense and really established himself as a leader on this football team. He’s got more input, more hands-on experience, a better understanding of what he likes. I think his communication with Jay Gruden, Sean McVay and the offensive staff is going to get better. And if they continue to improve around him, I think he’ll be a quarterback that continues to stay on the rise.
  1. Jon, at this time last year, I think you were optimistic about the Dolphins, as were a lot of people. Do you still feel that optimism, or might it be another 6-10 type team?

Gruden: Yeah, I wasn’t good last year in the Dolphin prognostication charts. I’m going to play it by what I see this year. They’ve got a lot of new faces not only in the coaching staff but their offensive and defensive systems. But a lot of new personnel they’re counting on heavily. I’m most concerned about the Dolphins secondary. I want to see how they play at the corner position and how Mario Williams and Ndamukong Suh play in that Miami heat. Can they get a fourth quarter pass rush, can the corners hold up for 16 weeks, and can Tannehill do it consistently in a new offense? I hate to give you one more, but I haven’t seen enough from the offensive line this summer. I was expecting more. I want to see that group pick it up as well.

  1. Jon, I know you spent some time with Dak Prescott. How did you have him rated before the draft, and what should the Cowboys expect from him as the season moves on?

Gruden: Well, we spent a lot of time with Dak before the Senior Bowl, and obviously we did a quarterback camp show with him on ESPN. He was the one real dual-threat in this year’s draft. And what I loved about Prescott is he got progressively better throughout his career at Mississippi State. He improved as a passer dramatically from year two to three, three to four. I really like the fact that he finished. He’s not one of these guys that came out two years early. He finished. He won at Mississippi State, which is really unprecedented. That’s a tough league to win in, let alone at Mississippi State. He had some Donovan McNabb-like qualities. I coached McNabb in the Senior Bowl when he was coming out of Syracuse. Similar size. Similar option football background. And I think you’re seeing a little Donovan McNabb, dual-threat, physical stature-type traits throughout the preseason. I’m not shocked that he’s played this well. I am stunned, however, that he looks like the opening day starter for the Dallas Cowboys.

  1. Do you think he’ll have problems with NFL defenses early?

Gruden: Well, the thing that he does to NFL defenses, as you know, after watching Cam Newton and some of these dual-threat quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor is you’re just not allowed to do the things you want to do against these running quarterbacks. Trust me. The playbook is going to change in Dallas. You’re going to see quarterback-driven runs. You’re going to see option football whether you like it or not. And that regulates what a defense can do. One thing the Cowboys are certainly going to do is they’re going to run the ball right down your throat, and they’re going to command an eight-man front, which is going to give Prescott some of these one-on-one isolations to guys like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten who have already seen in the preseason. Prescott can be really hard to defend because of his dual-threat abilities and what he does to defenses. He makes you play assignment football.

  1. Jay, have you made a decision as to the broadcast team for the second half of the Monday Night Football doubleheader? And if you have, why the decision to assign whoever you’ve assigned?

Rothman: Chris Berman, Steve Young, and Lindsay Czarniak are going to be doing the game. Lindsay has done the sideline reporting for the last couple of years and has done a great job, a huge NFL fan, and she’ll do a great job. Chris and Steve have a great working relationship together. Obviously the game is in San Francisco. Steve and Chris are longtime friends, longtime colleagues, longtime pros. Steve will do a great job. Chris will do a great job. Chris has been, as you know, the face and voice of our NFL since we’ve had it. Really enjoys the heck out of doing the game, and those guys will do a fine job.

  1. If Kaepernick sits through the Anthem in the 49ers-Rams game, will you guys cover that in the broadcast, and if so, how?

Rothman: Yeah, we absolutely would. The timing is such that, first of all, Kaepernick has to make the 53-man team, and that’s two weeks away, so we don’t know that yet. But the timing is such that because it’s a doubleheader game, we do not cover the Anthem. We will not cover the Anthem live in the second game regardless. However, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t record it and report it. And I think our job, especially with the whole Kaepernick deal, it’s our job to document and report the game. And those who are working on the game, if Kaepernick is on the team and chooses to sit again, I’m sure they’ll get perspective from Kaepernick, they’ll get perspective from Chip Kelly, they’ll get perspective from others and report. So that’s how we’ll handle that in San Francisco.

Salters: I think Jay said it perfectly. Our job is to document and report what happens. Lindsay will be the reporter for that game, and I’m sure she’s going to spend a bit of time talking to Colin before the game, should he make the team, about his position. She will get his reaction about why, about the criticism he’s gotten, the support he’s gotten, and she will present a report based on that and based on what actually happens during the National Anthem. He may stand during the National Anthem, and that would be huge as well, because it will be going against what he said he was going to do. So, like Jay said, our job is to document and report what happens, and I think they’ll do a great job.

  1. Jon, how has Mike Tomlin grown as a head coach since you’ve had him on your staff in Tampa? And the second part of that question, he’s already at 92 wins. Can you talk about the continuity in coaching? Is he a guy that could possibly win more than 150 games in this league?

Gruden: Well, he’s a really good coach, obviously. He gets players to respond. He’s been able to adapt to change. I look at their defense. I don’t see the formidable nose tackle like we’ve seen for decades there with most recently Casey Hampton, I don’t see the shutdown corner in Ike Taylor. Polamalu, their double safety, is not there. They changed their defense. They do an incredible amount of overload zone blitzing. I’ve even seen them go to some of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer over-front 4-3 principles that I remember seeing him run here.

And offensively, let’s be honest, the rubber meets the road in Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger and the skill that they have. They’re going to win games regardless, as long as No. 7 stays healthy and they surround him with the arsenal that they have. You could say Roethlisberger is as good as anybody playing. I personally think Le’Veon Bell is the best back in all of football. And I’ve got Antonio Bryant number one on my team also. So they are loaded, and they can outscore you. And if their defense continues to be creative and find ways to get stops, they’re going to be in the playoffs again, and that’s a credit to Mike, certainly, and their entire organization.

 

  1. I know you’re familiar with the Texans’ rather checkered history at quarterback. I was curious what you think Osweiler will do to set himself apart from that unfortunate group.

Gruden: Well, let’s hope for the best. It’s a lot of pressure on a young quarterback to sign a big contract and become a full-fledged starter without a big body of work. This really hasn’t been done many times where a man changes teams, signs a lucrative contract to become the franchise quarterback with only a half a dozen starts to his name. So, first of all, he’s got to apply pressure and not feel pressure, and he’s got to stay focused on what Bill O’Brien wants him to do and I think just utilize, first of all, his great defense. Don’t turn the ball over. I think they gave up less than 10 points a game the last half of the season. So you have the beneficiary of a great defense. You’re going to have a creative attack with Bill O’Brien, and they’ve added some weapons. I like what I see from Fuller in the preseason. I think Braxton Miller is going to be a huge wildcard, and DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best receivers in football, just like Antonio Brown. So he’s in a great situation. Just don’t feel the pressure, apply the pressure. Take care of the football, and use your supporting cast in this offensive system.

  1. Jon, what have you seen out of Trevor Siemian, and do you think he can even make the Broncos’ offense better given their struggles last season?
    Gruden:
    It’s another quarterback that for the most part is obscure. You can look at the preseason all you want, but preseason football is not a real good gauge for how a first-time starter is going to get treated in the NFL. The thing I like about Trevor is he’s been with Kubiak for over a year now. He’s had a chance to sit in the meetings. He’s had a chance to watch Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler play. And they do have some really good players, particularly at the skill positions. I just think if they can take care of the ball and be productive in the red zone, they’re going to be a hard team to deal with because of this defense. They weren’t an explosive, consistent offense last year, and they won the Super Bowl. So if Trevor can play solid football, take care of the ball and use his support, I think Denver can win some ugly games early while this kid continues to progress and show the world what he’s all about.
  1. How do you think Doug Pederson has handled the quarterback situation so far in Philadelphia? And what makes you think this year will be any different for Sam Bradford?

Gruden: Well, first of all, I like what Bradford’s doing in the preseason. He was on fire the other night against Indianapolis. I think the system, the West Coast system, will suit him. I also think the incorporation of some of the college zone reads, not that they’re going to use Sam as a runner, but the spread offensive system that Pederson ran when he was in Kansas City is going to help the offense in general. I don’t know where Philadelphia’s going with their quarterbacks, honestly. Chase Daniels looks like a backup quarterback to me. I think he’s going to be ready if called upon. The game I saw against Tampa, Carson Wentz got peppered way too many times. Hopefully he gets well. He’s missing a lot of time to develop. So I don’t know. If you have a choice this year, I think Doug Pederson has his eggs in one basket, if you ask me, and it’s all on Sam Bradford.

  1. There’s seven teams that have an opening week starter that they didn’t have a year ago. Does that seem like an unusually high number? The second part is, is it surprising none of those teams are the ones that picked a quarterback in the past draft?

Gruden: Yeah, that’s surprising for sure. But, look, there are so many different head coaches every year and different coordinators, you might as well have new quarterbacks. It’s an incredible league right now the way that it churns out new talent at quarterback, offensive coordinator and head coach. You don’t get very long to establish yourself. So some of these new starters, they have to do what Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor did a year ago. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, I thought they did an excellent job coming in as first-year players. I love what Fitzpatrick did with the Jets. So you can look at what happened a year ago and say it’s probably not impossible to expect these several guys to come in and play well.

  1. Sean, a couple decades ago you had the chance to do baseball for CBS, a major spotlight. Did you ever think you’d get another opportunity to have a shot at a major package like Monday Night Football?
    McDonough:
    Well, I had hoped so. It was a long time ago that I did the World Series. As you know, Pete, it was ’92 and ’93. I was very happy to be doing what I was doing. I had a chance to do a lot of great college football and basketball games, major golf championships around the world. But I did feel like I was one wrung sort of below where I had been when I was doing the World Series. With the passage of time, you look at the landscape. I loved being at ESPN. I wanted to stay at ESPN. But we had Brent Musburger for a long time as our number one college football play-by-play man. There was no reason to change that. When he moved to the SEC Network, they promoted Chris Fowler. To be totally candid, that was one I was hoping I might get when it opened. But I certainly understand the reasons why anybody would hire Chris. He’s one of the most talented guys in our business and exceptionally important to ESPN.

    So when that one went by, I was in my, I guess, early 50s. You do start to wonder. But as much as you’d like one more shot at sort of the top wrung, I chose to feel blessed for what I had, because what I had was awesome, and mostly because of the people that I was working with. When you’re around Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, and our producer was Bo Garrett for all those years, and you’re around Chris Spielman and Todd McShay and people like that, to me, as my life went along, I got less ambitious, I guess, and more grateful that I got to work all the time with people that I really loved and care about and who are great at what they do. And that’s the wonderful thing about this for me. Not just that it is a step up in terms of the prominence of the role, but, again, I know that I’m working with great people. Jay has been a friend, as I said, for about 30 years, and Chip Dean as well. And I know Jon and Lisa are going to become great friends. I think we already have, quite frankly.

    So I wasn’t sure. I’m 54 years old, so the clock was sort of ticking. But I’m grateful they’ve given me this opportunity, and certainly well aware of the standard that’s been set by the people who have filled this role before me. And I’m going to do everything I can to uphold the high standard that viewers of Monday Night Football have become accustomed to for 46 years.

  1. Cam Newton had a season last year where — an incredible season, MVP, really excitable. Then he kind of bottomed out for the Super Bowl. He didn’t dive for a loose ball. He was pretty sullen after the game. I’m curious what you think and how he’ll bounce back from that and what you think you’ll see from him this year. And what do you think of the whole concept of the Las Vegas Raiders?
    Gruden:
    Well, I’m confident that Cam will bounce back. He’s proven he has thick skin. He’s not been criticized just once, but he is a dynamic talent, certainly, almost impossible to defend. You don’t know how to defend Carolina’s offense. You have no idea what plays they can run with this quarterback that can do the things he can do. I’m sure he’s going to use it as motivation. That’s the way I look at it.

    But in regards to the Raiders, the Raiders, the Las Vegas Raiders, I don’t know, man. That’s hard for me to imagine. The Oakland Raiders has a real place in my heart. I’d hate to see them leave. I love where they are. I love the tradition of the Raiders, and I’m getting teared up right now thinking about them moving. But I certainly understand their situation and I hope it all works out for them. If Las Vegas was to acquire the rights to the Oakland Raiders, that would certainly, I think, be interesting.

  1. Coach, have you seen a trend with Wentz and Goff this year probably sitting, whereas last year Winston and Mariota were able to play the old-school sitting versus some of the guys the last couple of years being able to get out and play as young quarterbacks?

Gruden: I think every situation is different. These quarterbacks that come into the league are so different than they were five, six, seven years ago. It’s incredible. As far as Goff goes, he’s never been in a huddle. Never called a play. Wasn’t asked to do a lot with his snap count. Look, there’s an incredible amount of information that he has to learn and distribute and execute. And it might take him some time. He’s only a true junior. This is just a puppy. Wentz, he’s been derailed already by injury. Unfortunately, at the quarterback position, that often costs you dearly when it’s time to lace them up. So I think both these guys could certainly use some time to watch, to see the league closely and learn. And I know there is going to be pressure, serious pressure from both fan bases to play these guys, given what these teams gave up. It will be fun to watch and monitor that.

  1. Discuss DeMarco Murray and the Titans’ effectiveness potentially as kind of a power running team?

Gruden: This is the one team I spent a lot of time in the preseason studying because it’s fun to watch a team go back to the way it was. There’s a song I like to listen to called “The Way We Were.” That’s what I feel like I see when I watch the Titans play. I’m seeing old-school gap schemes. Russ Grimm, the offensive line coach. They look like the old Washington Redskins under Joe Gibbs. You see shifts. You see all kinds of different tower, counter gap schemes, and you see big backs that get downhill. I like Murray. I’ve always liked Murray a lot. I think he can run it. He can catch it. He’s outstanding picking up blitzes, and he gets better as the game unfolds. He can finish you. And Henry is uncommonly huge. He’s one of the biggest backs I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t look like a tailback. He looks like a power forward to me. They’ve got a one-two combination that can really punish you. I’m interested in Tennessee. I think it stimulated the football team. I think their defense is playing better because they practice against this every day. And the wildcard will be Marcus Mariota. He can really play, and his running and passing with this running game could get interesting.

 

  1. Jay, last year you guys added the pylon cams and some high frame rate, 1080p and 4K gear. How did these additions really enhance your coverage, and are there any new production elements for this season?
    Rothman:
    We’re standing pat in terms of cameras and recording devices. The 4K has helped a ton especially on goal line and goal line situations. The pylon cams helped in critical situations. Especially there was one catch we had in Miami with Odell Beckham that really determined the call of a no-catch, actually a catch, a touchdown. So that helped us tremendously. The one little wrinkle we’re adding this year is virtual technology through our sky cam. And I just went through a session this morning of all of the renderings we’re going to have for that, and that’s pretty exciting. But other than that, we’re standing pat.
  1. Sean, I was wondering if there’s any adjustment you have to make working with Jon than maybe some of your other assignments in the past, that sort of thing?
    McDonough:
    That’s an interesting question. It is the first time I’ve worked with someone that’s offered that he does do a good imitation with me. He does. He’s not Frank Caliendo yet, but it’s pretty good. So I just think Jon, as Jay said at the beginning, has established himself as one of the premier analysts in not just football but sports. And I think the thing I want to do, and Jon and I talked about it after the one preseason game we had a chance to do, was to make it conversational and make it fun. He’s got the football part buttoned up as much if not more than anybody I’ve ever seen. And I’ve never seen anybody with the work ethic that he has. I think just try to kind of bring Monday Night Football back to what it was in its beginnings, which was a lot of fun. I know he and Mike had a lot of fun. I’d just like to keep that going because Jon has a great personality and sense of humor. I think you see that when you watch him both on the games and on the QB camps.
  1. Jon, I know you touched on the Titans. I was going to see if you can elaborate on Marcus Mariota. I know you’ve got expectations for year two, and how far is he from maybe the upper tier and quarterbacks in the league?

Gruden: Well, I really liked him coming out. I think – you probably haven’t had a chance to cover him, you realize he’s very special. He’s a special young man. His work ethic, his compassion for his teammates and all that stuff. The intangibles are off the charts. And I think his experience that he got last year understanding protections, understanding NFL defenses, personnel match-ups, what is the best play against that coverage, what are the plays I have to get out of and how do I eliminate the hits. He’s the one player that can’t play with a sore right shoulder. So I think he learned a lot of those things the hard way. And if you know Marcus, you know the 2-14 doesn’t sit well with him. This is a kid that’s really never lost. I’d be shocked if they don’t make dramatic improvements in Tennessee.

  1. And what is a dramatic improvement in Tennessee do you think?
    Gruden:
    Well, they’ve got to get an identity on offense. I think this running game is going to help them because it’s going to get some time of possession. It’s going to hopefully give Tennessee 33, 32.5 minutes clock, take pressure off of their defense. And I think the physical identity of a Titan running game will set up the play-action passes, the bootlegs and the explosive plays that you need to have as a good offense. And hopefully Dick LeBeau in year two, they’ve added some pieces that can apply pressure and get some critical third-down stops when they need them. Those are the big things. They need to improve on defense, certainly. They’ve blitzed a lot under Coach Horton, fired a Dick LeBeau getting there. They’ve got to show improvement on defense. They’ve got to prove that they can run the ball like they have in the preseason, and they’ll have to make some shot plays in their play action and their bootlegs.
  1. I wanted to ask you what you believe Derek Carr will do in his third year in the league and where the expectations lie for his team going forward?

Gruden: I think everything you see about the Raiders, this is the year for them to take a giant step forward. There’s quarterback transition in Denver. The Broncos have lost some key players. Kansas City has had some injuries. I think the slate is pretty clean right now in the AFC West. It’s about time that Oakland, I think, backs it up. They’ve got some good players in place. Coach Del Rio’s done a nice job, obviously. And, look, Derek Carr’s got some weapons. You have to love Cooper, you have to like Crabtree. I think Wilford is coming on. But most importantly they’ve solidified the offensive line. They bring in Hudson. They bring in the big guard from the Ravens. They’ve got Donald Penn, the old guy from Tampa. This is a salty group that can run the rock with Murray and Khalil Mack, one of the best closers in the fourth quarter. And I even see Janikowski still kicking. Hell, I drafted Janikowski. You can tell I get excited talking about the Raiders. This ought to be a good year for them.

McDonough: I would add to that, if I could. This time of year we get asked a lot about predictions for the season, and Oakland has definitely been a trendy pick to be a team that will take a big step forward. And I really think that they will. They played Arizona in the beginning of the preseason. My brother is the vice president of player personnel for the Cardinals. And I talked to Terry after the game, and he just echoed what people have been saying: Oakland has a lot of talent. And he thinks they’re going to have a terrific year. So I would expect that they will, given what Jon just said.

Gruden: I will say this too, we are really excited to have the Raiders on Monday Night Football. It will be the first Monday Night Football game ever outside American soil. We’re going to go to Mexico City. I’ll be doing my McDonough imitations out there. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
McDonough: Can you do it in Spanish?

Gruden: Yes, I can.

  1. Jon, you just talked about Derek Carr a little bit. In 2014 you said he had the best talent in the draft, and last year he made the Pro Bowl. Which quarterback from this year’s draft do you think could follow a similar path? And for all of you guys, which young quarterback are you looking forward to seeing this year?
    Gruden:
    Well, Carr, he broke all of my cameras when we had our Gruden’s QB Camp. We had a bullseye and a little camera in the bullseye. He hit the bullseye three times in a row. We couldn’t film any more of the shoot. I don’t think there is anybody in this draft that throws a ball like Carr. He’s one of those guys that comes down the pike every so often. It’s time for him, I think, to take his next step. But in this year’s draft, we already talked about the first two guys. It appears that Wentz and Goff are going to sit down and watch. Connor Cook is in a tough situation, sitting behind Derek Carr in Oakland. Prescott is the one guy that has a chance to really flourish because he has the opportunity, number one, and the supporting cast, number two. The Cowboys are loaded up front on offense. You would love to have that group to play quarterback behind from Tyron Smith to Doug Free, Frederick. This is an outstanding offensive team, and they can run the ball and they have the weapons outside. So I would say Prescott this year would be the guy to keep an eye on.

    McDonough:I think the guy I’m most curious to see what happens with him as the season progresses is Jared Goff. We were just in Los Angeles for our preseason game a couple weeks ago and spent some time with him. Obviously they didn’t make a huge trade to have him sit on the bench for a long period of time. I think it’s a foregone conclusion at some point he’ll be the number one quarterback. It’s a tremendous amount on him. The Rams moved back to Los Angeles after two decades-plus being away, and there is great anticipation there, as we saw when we were there with almost 90,000 people at the exhibition game for their return. And I think it’s a lot on a young man who, as Jon mentioned when we were doing the game, still has a lot to learn in terms of the differences between professional football and college football. So how he progresses and when he gets the opportunity I think will be very interesting to watch. I think it’s very important to a lot of people, because Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are getting to the point in their tenure of doing a nice job building it back up and making the team competitive. But now they have to contend, not just be competitive. And I think that’s a tough thing, perhaps, to do, if you have to throw a guy in there who has never played in an NFL game before in your most important position.

  1. Jon, I know you’ve covered your brother Jay’s games before, but now your son is also on staff here with the Redskins. I’d think you’d have to be like a robot not to speak about your brother and your son. So I’m curious how you approach these games as an analyst.

Gruden: Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve done this. He was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals on Monday night and obviously the head coach of the Redskins the last couple of years. My son is an intern. He wants to be a coach, so he’s hanging out there learning the ropes like I did years ago. But blood is thick in our family just like it is across America. You want your brother, you want your family to be at their best and have good things happen to them. But at the same time, I’ve got to be professional and broadcast a football game. And I look forward to this one. It should be an outstanding match-up. I know the crowd will be excited. It’s a really cool venue to see the Redskins play on Monday night at home.

  1. Year two for your brother went so dramatically better than the first year did. I wonder if you’ve seen changes in him as a head coach or football mind or just as a guy the last couple of years.
    Gruden:
    Well, we spend quite a bit of time together. I think the team he inherited honestly had some holes in it. They had some issues in personnel and whatever. They obviously had to fight through the quarterback situation a year ago. I admire him tremendously for being able to assemble a staff. That’s the number one thing a head coach has to do. He’s got to get a good staff. And you can’t get it your first year. You just don’t snap your fingers and get everybody out of their contract and bring them with you. But it says a lot about Jay. He had the foresight to hire Sean McVay, who I think is going to be excellent. He was able to get Bill Callahan from the Dallas Cowboys, Perry Fewell from the New York Giants, Matt Cavanaugh, Joe Barry. He’s brought in some really good coaches, and he’s implemented his system that works for Andy Dalton. As a rookie, he went to the Playoffs. I don’t know many quarterback coaches or offensive guys that see a rookie go to the Playoffs as a starter, second-round pick. And then first year Cousins plays wire to wire, he goes to the Playoffs and breaks numerous team records. Look, I can sing my brother praises all day long. I’m proud of him and have high expectations for him. If he doesn’t win a lot of times, I’ll be on his case.
  1. Sean, MNF obviously has another game on the schedule that involves a sibling with your brother out in Arizona on October 17th.

McDonough: Yeah, I know how much Jon loves his brothers, and I feel the same way. I have two of them involved in professional sports at a high level. Terry’s the vice president of player personnel for the Arizona Cardinals, and my youngest brother, Ryan, is the general manager of the Phoenix Suns. When I watch their games, you live and die with every play. But I would echo what Jon said. We both care more in terms of when we’re doing our job about the integrity of the broadcast and that you’re cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of people rooting for the other team. No viewer wants to feel like the broadcasters are pulling against their team.

So I have had this experience a little on the air with Syracuse University. I’ve done so many basketball games that involve Syracuse over the years. I went there, very proud of to have gone there. Loved the school, loved the people there. And there are times when you do the game that you can almost feel yourself getting upset about a call that you think is bad that went against them, and you just can’t let that come out. Because you owe it to the viewers to be straight down the middle. I would just echo what Jon said. I love my brothers and want nothing but good things to happen to them. When I got this job, they were happier for me than I was. My brother Terry, I’ve told this story before, got very choked up and sent me a picture of him from the Arizona Cardinals draft room with tears in his eyes. So we’re very close. And I want them to do well. But when we step into the booth in October when they’re in Arizona playing the Jets, I will remind myself frequently that it’s very important that no matter what I’m feeling inside there is no hint of bias as we call the game.

Q. Coach, what advice would you give to someone in Garoppolo’s shoes, making his first start and replacing Tom Brady for four games?
Gruden:
 Don’t be Tom Brady, just be Jimmy Garoppolo. And knowing Garoppolo after being around him coming out of Eastern Illinois, I think he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s been well trained. He’s been with Josh McDaniels and Belichick for a while, and he knows this offense. But just be true to yourself. Go out there and put your spin on the offensive scheme. Don’t try to make decisions or try to make the throws that Brady made. Just be honest with what you like, what you don’t like. What you feel good about, what you don’t feel good about, and find a way to win a football game. Take it one snap at a time and just go out and play your best. Trust your preparation. Go showcase it.

McDonough: He has tough shoes to fill. The first game is really hard. He has impossible shoes to fill in Tom Brady who, in my opinion, probably is the greatest quarterback of all time. But I think the game at Arizona will be very tough. And they have three home games. He strikes me, though, Jimmy does, as a pretty mature, poised guy. He’s going to benefit from not only having Tom Brady to lean on as he gets ready, but a Hall of Fame coach on the sidelines during the game. But I think it’s an important start to the season for them. How they fare in those four games without Tom will play a big part in the way their season goes. That’s a considerable chunk of the season, obviously.

Jon, Sean and Lisa,  please offer your thoughts on teams you’re looking out for, not only in the Monday Night schedule, but also just with the season overall, who you expect to do well and stories you’re watching closely?

Gruden: I think the great thing about our schedule is we have a lot of unknowns in the NFL right now. I think the league is set up, honestly, for everybody to be somewhat equal. There is a lot of mystery. I’m anxious to see Green Bay. I think they’re my team in the NFC. I think in the AFC we talked a little bit about the Oakland Raiders. I’d like to see the Raiders realize their potential. But I think there are a lot of teams that have reason for optimism and reason for concern. I think the schedule will be interesting. We’ve got some great games. Baltimore at New England on December 12. I’m really anxious for the Green Bay-Philly game on November 28th. And most importantly the Texans at the Raiders in Mexico City. That one fires me up.

McDonough: I think I would go back to what Jay Rothman said at the beginning of the conference call. I think the schedule is terrific. The first thing that I did when I got the job after celebrating was look at the schedule and think, wow, week to week you look forward to doing any of those games. Like Jon and Lisa and Jay, I’m really looking forward to going to Mexico. We did a game where Jon Sutcliffe from ESPN Deportes joined us, and he lives in Mexico City. He echoed what Jay said already about the tremendous anticipation for that when we’re there. And that’s going to be special. You’re looking forward to going to Minnesota. They’re a team a lot of people have been talking about. They’re going to be in a new stadium. I think they’re a team that could do a lot this season. And Jon mentioned it just now, for me, having a chance to do a game in Foxborough will be special having grown up going now to the old stadium in Foxborough many, many times with my dad, to have a chance to broadcast Monday Night Football from that spot will be really emotional thinking about my dad in particular.

Salters: I can’t wait to do them all. Football is back. I’m ready. Let’s go.

More information on ESPN’s MNF coverage for the NFL’s 2016 – 2017 season is available online now along with all of the latest NFL headlines at http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/page/MNFHQ/monday-night-football-hq-nfl.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

NBA TV To Carry Exclusive Coverage Of The 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony

Courtesy:  Turner Sports

Courtesy: Turner Sports

Next Friday the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will holds its annual enshrinement ceremony and NBA TV will have exclusive coverage of the ceremony.

Broadcast of the event begins Sept. 9 at 7:30pm ET live from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.  The 2016 class of inductees includes: four-time NBA Champion and current TNT NBA analyst Shaquille O’Neal, 1997 NBA Rookie of the year and 2001 NBA MVP Allen Iverson, and eight-time NBA All-Star Yao Ming.

Broadcast of the event will be preceded by the 2016 Hall of Fame Red Carpet Show at 6:30pm ET.  Matt Winer will host the program.  He will be joined by Steve Smith and Rick Kamla.

The full 2016 list of players to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is noted below.

The full 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class:

  • Allen Iverson: Eleven-time NBA All-Star and 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year
  • Tom Izzo: Head Coach of the Michigan State University Spartans men’s basketball team and 2000 NCAA Division I National Champion
  • Yao Ming: Eight-time NBA All-Star with the Houston Rockets
  • Shaquille O’Neal: Four-time NBA Champion (three-time Finals MVP), 15-time NBA All-Star and 2000 NBA MVP
  • Jerry Reinsdorf: Owner of the six-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls
  • Sheryl Swoopes: WNBA’s first-ever signed player and three-time WNBA MVP
  • Zelmo Beaty (posthumous): Two-time NBA All-Star and three-time ABA All-Star, who averaged a double-double in scoring and rebounding over his career
  • Darrel Garretson (posthumous): 27-year NBA official, organizer and leader of the National Association of Basketball Referees
  • John McClendon (posthumous): First coach to win three consecutive national championships (Tennessee State, 1957-59) and first African-American coach to coach in a professional league (ABL)
  • Cumberland Posey (posthumous): 2006 inductee of the Baseball Hall of Fame and winner of four consecutive Colored Basketball World Championships between 1900-1920

 

Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients:

  • David Aldridge: Journalist with over 20 years covering the NBA, most recently as an NBA on TNT insider, NBA TV contributor and NBA.com senior writer
  • Jay Bilas: NBA analyst with ESPN since 1995

More information on NBA TV’s programming is available online now along with all of the latest NBA headlines at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.nba.com/nbatv

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nbatv

Twitter: http://twitter.com/NBATV

 

 

 

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Cubs, Astros Scheduled For Sept. 11 Edition Of ESPN’s ‘SNB’

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN will feature a cross-conference matchup for its September 11th edition of Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell.

The Cubs and Astros will go under the lights on September 11th on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell in a game with major playoff implications for at least one team.  The Cubs (NL Central) currently sit alone atop the MLB rankings in both conferences at 84 – 47 while Houston (AL West) is 70 – 62, and sits seventh in the National League Standings. That means that Houston right now is struggling to remain in the hunt for the post season.  So every single win and loss is big for the Astros.

Every win and loss is just as important for the Cubs as for the Astros, but for a different reason.  In the case of Chicago, the team wants to keep its lead over its closest competition, the Texas Rangers.  Texas, Houston’s cross-state (and divisional) rival, currently leads the American League with a record of 79 – 54.  The Rangers also sit atop the American League West and are second overall in the MLB standings right now.  They aren’t too far behind the Cubs.  So every win and every loss for the Cubs is just as important for Chicago as for Houston as it works to remain atop the league standings.

No lineups or pitchers have been announced at this time for either team for the game, which will round out the teams’ three-game weekend series.

Dan Shulman will have the call for the game.  He will be joined in the booth by analysts Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza.  The game will be simulcast on TV, on the radio, and online via ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes Radio and WatchESPN.

Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown presented by Chevrolet will precede broadcast of the game beginning at 7pm ET with Karl Ravech at the helm.  He will be joined at the desk by analyst Dallas Braden and ESPN MLB Insider Time Kurkjian.

More information on ESPN’s Sept. 11th edition of Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell is available online now along with all of the latest MLB headlines at:

 

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/mlb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ESPNBaseballTonight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBTN

 

 

 

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Tessitore, Blackledge Talk 2016 College Football Season In Media Conference Call

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN Sunday College Football Broadcast Team: L – R: Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe, Joe Tessitore. Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN’s Joe Tessitore and analyst Todd Blackledge sat down with members of the media this week to talk about the 2016 college football season and all things college football.  The pair talked with the media about their thoughts on the season’s major Heisman candidates, coaches’ QB choices, and what they think are some of the season’s most anticipated matchups.  The in-depth conversation is noted in full below.  Tessitore and Blackledge will join fellow reporter Holly Rowe this  Sunday, September 4th as Texas and Notre Dame face off live on ABC.  Coverage of the game is expected to begin at 7:30pm ET.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining today’s call, and welcome to the start of the college football season. As mentioned, today we have Joe Tessitore and Todd Blackledge and John Moline, who will be working together this season. Holly Rowe will join them throughout the season as their reporter. Joe and Todd will be in Austin on Sunday night for Notre Dame and Texas on ABC. As a heads up, we will have a transcript of today’s call so we will be sending that out this afternoon. We’ll get things started by tossing it over to Todd who will give some opening thoughts on the season. Joe will do the same and then we’ll get right into questions. Todd, why don’t you take it away.

TODD BLACKLEDGE: All right, well, it’s good to be with everybody here this morning, and obviously looking forward to the start of another great college football season. I think the thing that I’m most excited about, and I think everybody at ESPN is, just the magnitude of the opening weekend, the games that are making up the opening weekend spanning over a couple days is it pretty impressive and worth getting excited about, and I just can’t think of any better way to kick off college football than to have this type of a presentation right out of the gate.

I think the College Football Playoffs and the excitement around that and the importance of strength of schedule has had an impact, and certainly this first weekend of games, we’re going to find out a lot about teams.

I think it’s great as a team to play a high-caliber opponent early. I think it motivates you and it adds energy and juice to your preseason practice and your training camp, and a loss in a game this early against a high-quality opponent does not remove you from the championship picture. So I think it’s a win-win for everybody, particularly the fans, and for Joe and Holly and I, we’re thrilled to be in Austin on Sunday to call the Notre Dame-Texas game. A lot of intrigue around that game and probably as much as any one particular spot at the quarterback position on both sides of the field.

You know, we’re probably going to see four guys in the game. I don’t know how much we’ll see of each guy or what the rotations are going to be, but I think both head coaches have talked about playing two guys, and in the case of Texas, I wouldn’t be shocked if we don’t see a third guy in there in a wildcat type situation in special situations.

First games there’s a lot of intrigue, a lot of mystery, a lot of wondering how guys are going to respond on a big stage, and we’re excited and thrilled to be there to cover it.

THE MODERATOR: Joe, why don’t you give your thoughts on the opening of the season.

JOE TESSITORE: Good morning, everybody. This is Joe Tessitore. Thanks for your time. I think Todd brings up a great point in talking about the opening weekend and the influence of the College Football Playoff now that we’re a couple years in and realizing what it’s done scheduling-wise. I think everybody realizes it’s the best opening weekend the sport’s ever had. But when I look through, and Derek, you asked for season overall thoughts here, I look at the schedule even beyond opening weekend, and I feel like everywhere you turn, you see these potential College Football Playoff eliminators or games that will help us decide some things. I think the season is filled with them, it’s just that we have this overflow in week one that makes it so exciting, but whether it’s Bama-LSU, Clemson-Florida State, Michigan-Ohio State, I feel like we have that everywhere you turn.

I also think the sport is really blessed and it continues to be this way, and we know some of the ways college basketball is panned, but the returning established stars, when you have Fournette, McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield and Dalvin Cook, I was just doing a Heisman special the other day, and I started putting this list together and everywhere you look, you have these established stars and these known qualities, and I think that’s good for the sport and really good for the fans.

I can’t get away from what Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh have been up to this off-season, and the fact that we have these two huge names in coaching with all the other big names, but with Saban, does the legacy and the dynasty grow even bigger would be one of the big headlines I’m looking forward to this season, does Harbaugh deliver on the hype.

As for the hype for our game, on a personal note, I’m absolutely honored and thrilled to work with Todd and Holly, and I think I speak for Todd in saying that with what Holly has been through this year and this off-season and the fight and the courage and what she’s shown, and I know her battle has been a little public, to see Holly on Sunday night in primetime on ABC, a game like this, Todd, I know we’re all going to be just so thrilled to have that group together, and she’s the absolute best in the business, as is Todd, at what he does. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team now.

I think the Notre Dame-Texas game personally, more could be revealed in this game than perhaps any other opening weekend game out there because I think Notre Dame, of course, top-10 team but very much perceived as a team with enough new talent to reload in spots where they need it and a team capable of putting it all together for a run to the playoff, but yet there’s still a lot that has to be decided.

Todd talked about the quarterback battle. I want to see who emerges at wide receiver and fills some of that void at tight end, who steps up on the defensive line where they do have some players that are back again and others need to step up.

And for Texas, you feel this buzz this off-season as this is the point of the breakthrough and the true freshman quarterback, but yet Swoopes is still there and the big dominating tandem in the backfield. But there are still the issues from last year that you want to see resolved, the run defense. Yeah, they’re a year older. Yeah, there’s a new offense, an exciting young new offensive coordinator, but is it too big of a leap to go from where they were to now what’s expected, and I think very early on on Sunday, we may start to get some of those answers, and if we do in a positive direction, this is going to be a thriller on Sunday night.

I’m very excited, and with that, Derek, I guess we can open it up for some questions.

Q. Question for Todd: Coach Strong is still not really releasing who he’s going to start as a quarterback in the game on Sunday, and Coach Kelly said he’s going to play both guys. What’s kind of the strategy behind do you think coaches trying to keep some of that stuff mum until the last possible second?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, you know, I mean, I guess if you can do that, what you can do in college football a little differently than you can in the NFL, (inaudible) preparation. Now, the positives of Notre Dame is they’ve had all off-season. It’s not like it’s (inaudible) week where they’ve only had four or five days to do preparation work for two quarterbacks or two different styles of quarterbacks. So they’ve had extra time. I think just as (inaudible) quarterback is going to be is I would imagine Notre Dame’s defensive staff led by Brian VanGorder has probably spend as much time studying and dissecting film from a year ago to get familiar with the offensive plan and system that they might see from Sterlin Gilbert’s offense in the ballgame. More so than which guy is taking the snaps, I think they’ll spend more time being concerned about the style of offense and maybe the tempo of the offense that they’re going to face.

Q. Todd or Joe, when is the last time that you actually saw a two-quarterback system be effective and actually work, keeping both guys happy?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I mean, I think you have to look at what Ohio State was able to do. I mean, last year was not great (inaudible).

THE MODERATOR: Todd, your phone is breaking up a little bit here. Why don’t we go to Joe.

JOE TESSITORE: It’s funny, Todd and I got on a conference call last week, and one of the things we started discussing was Brian Kelly’s success at Cincinnati, and we really started focusing in on that, where Coach was very comfortable in having two talented guys and guys that in the circumstances created that, but still, they did have success at times when they were using a two-quarterback system. It can be done. The reason why it’s being done may not be the same, but obviously they’re blessed with the talent that’s there.

But I don’t know, I think one of the great curiosities of this game and opening weekend is to see how this will play out. But there have been spots of success, and Brian is a coach who has been one of those guys in recent years of college football who’s actually done it.

THE MODERATOR: Todd, let’s try to go back to you and see if we can hear you a little bit better.

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, I mean, I’m not — as a former quarterback, obviously I’m not a huge fan of playing two quarterbacks. But by the same token, I’m not necessarily all in with the idea that if you — the adage if you have two quarterbacks then you really have no quarterbacks, because again, in today’s world of college football, I think you have to have at least two guys ready to take first-team reps and ready to play at a high level because of the effectiveness of quarterback run game in offenses today.

You know, the offenses that are really prolific, you either have an NFL-type quarterback who can make every throw, or you have an element of quarterback run, and when you do that, you put the guy at risk. So again, I live in Ohio, and watching what Ohio State did on their way to a National Championship, you know, they ended up going through three quarterbacks because of injury, but the key was that each one of them was ready to step up and play at a high level when their number was called.

So early in the season you start out by saying, okay, look, we’re going to play two guys. But eventually I think they’ll work into one guy as a starter, but you want to make sure that other guy is not only happy but ready to play at a high level when his number is called, because you are one play away from being a starting quarterback if you’re a backup.

Q. I kind of want to go along those same lines but take it a step further with the SEC specifically. It seems like the conference kind of has a rep of we’ve got talent coming out of the ears at every position, developing players except for quarterback. Is that kind of a fair analogy, and if you think it’s true, why do you think it’s true?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I don’t know if it’s a fair analogy or not. Certainly maybe other positions have developed quicker or they’ve put more guys in the league that are playing at a high level, but I think quarterback play is kind of cyclical. I think there are times when it may be down in a league like the SEC, but there’s other times when it’s pretty good. I just think that that league, one of the things that’s different is the defenses are very good in that league, and the type of defensive talent that you face week in and week out is a little bit different for a quarterback than playing in some other leagues across the country.

I think that has something to do with it, but I just think overall it’s cyclical. I don’t think they do a bad job of developing quarterbacks. I just think it might be a little bit more difficult to play week in and week out at that position, as well.

JOE TESSITORE: I think Todd is right when he points to the defense as being part of the explanation. I also think that every conference takes on a certain offensive identity as to what’s the norm, and we know what that’s been in the Big 12 in recent years, and you’ve seen certain coaches who were holding out on that now give way and conform. Gary Patterson finding great success with what he did at changing offensive coordinators in recent years, Texas now going down that same road. Some of those same things aren’t asked of quarterbacks in the SEC. It’s not the same conforming culture of offenses in the SEC.

Yes, for some quarterbacks you’ll see those stats, be it with what you see out of Chad Kelly or perhaps even Trevor Knight at Texas A&M this year, knowing what they are going to ask of him in that offense, but with others managing the game, playing two back play action with the emphasis on power run, you’re not going to see some of the same stuff. But undoubtedly what Todd said with the level of defense and the front sevens that they’re facing every week, it’s a different beast.

Q. Todd, if you don’t mind momentarily skipping ahead to week two, Pitt-Penn State, first time in 16 years, renewal of a rivalry, two things: Number one, do you think this game should be played every year? Number two, can you share some of your memories from whether this likely or definitely may be the best Penn State (inaudible) in the history of the series in 1981?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, in answering your first question, I wish they would play every year. I know logistically they may not be feasible, but to me one of the greatest things about college football and the thing that sets it apart from the NFL is rivalries. When I was at Penn State, the Pitt-Penn State game was as good a rivalry game as there was in college football, and it had its own niche, that Friday after Thanksgiving, the battle of route 322, a lot of the in-state competition, even though I was an Ohio guy, I found out pretty quickly how important that game was.

Also, when I was at Penn State at that time in the early ’80s, the talent on both of those teams, the NFL caliber talent was unbelievable. It was a great rivalry to be a part of. I wish that they played every year.

The memories I have of the ’81 game, and I’ve done a few interviews about it already this year, this summer, I have very distinct and fond memories of that game. It was a bizarre game. They were ranked No. 1. We came in with two losses, but we were a really, really good football team, and we were ranked No. 1 earlier in the year and got beat by Miami and then lost again to Alabama. But we knew we were capable of playing with Pitt even though they had a great team. And yet it didn’t look like that early on. We were down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, and I think I’m correct in saying we had minus one yard of total offense in the first quarter and just showed no signs of being able to stay on the field.

And Pitt was driving again early in the second quarter, and we got an interception on a beautiful play by our safety Mark Robinson down by the goal line, and that just kind of stopped the avalanche for a minute, and we were able to tie it up before halftime 14-14 and then it was a completely different game in the second half.

Our defense forced turnovers and our offense came up with big plays in the passing game, and we ended up scoring 48 unanswered points to win 48-14.

It was a crazy game, a great game for Penn State. Yeah, I have great memories of that because we also — we didn’t have to go back to school right away because it was Thanksgiving break, and I remember going with my family and Kurt Warner and some other guys to Klein’s Restaurant downtown Pittsburgh, and just an incredible weekend capped off by that game.

Q. Rightfully Clemson and Florida State get most of the media attention that comes out of the ACC but I’d like to get North Carolina’s week one matchup with Georgia and the effect that that game will have on the Tar Heels’ season.

JOE TESSITORE: I broadcast last year’s opener for North Carolina, which I think we look back and shake our head at now, but this is actually a team that I like a lot, and I think obviously with what they’re facing week one, that would be a signature win non-conference-wise that could really propel them to something special. But I just look at their offense, and there is so much talent on that side of the ball, and I think Trubisky could be even better for them than what we’ve seen in recent years. I think Hood is one of the most underrated running backs in the country, and Hollins on the outside is a big-bodied receiver. Switzer is as dangerous in the slot in the return game as anybody is in the country. Any time he touches the ball, he could really go. They’ve got returning guys on the offensive line, so they’re going to be very consistent and dangerous offensively.

Defensively, need to step up. Need to keep developing. Didn’t see much defense last year, but you’ve got to hope that year two under Chizik, guys having more experience, they’re just better. But I think North Carolina is sneaky good and very capable week one against the Dawgs, especially if the Dawgs are finding their identity offensively a little bit, depending on what we see at quarterback.

I think nobody should be fooled thinking that Georgia is lacking talent. That roster and that recruiting has never turned itself off.

But I actually think, and we were talking about this, as good as this opening week is, if you were to tell me what games do you feel like are undoubtedly final-possession games, that’s very high on the list. I think that’s going to be a highly competitive game that is played to the wire on Saturday.

Todd and I having a Sunday game, God, I feel like this is a great luxury for us. On Saturday we get to watch football and enjoy this thing. That’s definitely the game I’m going to be locked in on Saturday afternoon. I’m looking forward to it.

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, I would just echo that I think that that’s a great opportunity game for North Carolina. They finished with a lot of confidence. They had a really solid season last year, and they’re going against a team that a lot of people are going to go in and well, think, Georgia is more talent, SEC, blah blah blah, but Georgia has a lot of answers — they have a lot of questions to figure out on both sides of the ball. If anybody has been around Alabama at Nick Saban’s defense and Kirby Smart’s defense, it’s not a simple system, and it doesn’t happen right away, and so it’s — I think it’s going to take them a little bit of time to get real comfortable in some of the things he wants done defensively. They’ve got questions an offense, and as Joe mentioned, a lot of talent, but I see North Carolina going into that game as a very confident football team and looking at that game as a chance to really kick this season off in a positive way.

Q. You guys were talking a little bit about big name quarterbacks. Obviously with the Auburn-Clemson matchup, Deshaun Watson is a player that everybody is going to be watching. What are you looking to see out of players whose names are already in the Heisman conversation?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, my biggest thing, when I think of a guy coming off the kind of year that Watson had last year, and he was fun to watch. I had him in the semifinal game and he was spectacular, he was great in the final. You know, the biggest thing is, okay, how does he take the next step in his development, and really the thing that’s really impressive about him beyond his skill set is his poise. His poise for a young player was pretty impressive, very unshakeable. And so the biggest thing now is, okay, how does he progress, how does he take the next step in decision making, in how quickly he sees and recognizes things on the field, taking a little bit more command of things.

And the only thing I would worry about with a guy like that is that he doesn’t try to do too much, that he doesn’t try to get outside of himself and do too much and try to make every play, but that doesn’t really fit his personality. I wouldn’t expect that to be a problem for him. But can he get better? Yeah, he can get better, and that’s pretty scary for people that are going to play him.

I just like everything about him. I like his skill. I like his athleticism, and I really like his poise and his demeanor playing that position.

JOE TESSITORE: Was your question specifically Watson in terms of expectations with the Heisman hype, or did you want me to go beyond Watson?

Q. Watson, but also beyond Watson.

JOE TESSITORE: Todd is going to give you a far better breakdown on the field and he just did and what to look for from him personally, but just as somebody who tracks the Heisman voting through the years and Heisman campaigns through the years, the thing with Deshaun is he comes into the season in a very unique position because we always have the candidates who in advance of the season come in with a certain level of status, where if they do what’s expected of them, if their teams and the individual have similar seasons to what they just had, undoubtedly they’ll be in the front row in New York.

This year it’s Watson with two running backs. It’s Watson, Fournette and McCaffrey who carry that status going into the season. Deliver on what you’re supposed to do and what you’ve already done, and you’ll be in the front row in New York.

What we’ve been noticing when we track the Heisman in recent years is with the internet voting and everybody voting online after the championship games, he who moves last moves best. You don’t want to be out in front of the Heisman race early. You want to make your move in November and surge. His biggest Heisman defining moment will come on October 29th at Florida State against another Heisman candidate just a notch below him in terms of perception in tears, against Dalvin Cook. And then in the month of November, up until he plays in the ACC Championship game, Deshaun is going to have a lot of games where he’s expected to win easily, to put up stats, but nothing that’s going to grab everybody’s attention. It’s Syracuse and Pitt and Wake Forest and South Carolina. So come the week after that, it’s Leonard Fournette and the question of can he finally get over the Alabama mountaintop on November 5th in a game that’s very similar in my eyes to the Florida State-Clemson game in sort of a de facto in-conference playoff eliminator.

So I think Deshaun is going to be just fine, but October 29th will define whether he’s in that lead seat heading into November of the Heisman race, but then Leonard Fournette is going to have an opportunity, as he did a year ago but then was overtaken by Derrick Henry, to then take the next step back and surge ahead.

But he’s in phenomenal shape, and he’s a young man that I had the chance to broadcast last year, and I can remember broadcasting the Orange Bowl a few years ago with Clemson and Ohio State, and the coaching staff, because he was an early enrollee, being able to talk about him, and sitting there telling all of us, oh, no, the best guy is coming in in a week. Well, we get the best guy in about a week and a half, and boy, he’s delivered on every bit of that. I’m just excited to see him play.

It’s another game Saturday night we’ll be dialing up late when we’re down there prepping this Texas-Notre Dame game that comes out of the chute at Auburn. But I look through the person of how the Heisman can be won, and that’s the way I see it for Deshaun.

Q. I want to go back to the Notre Dame-Texas game. What stands out to you about both Kizer and Zaire, and secondly, we’ve talked a lot about the offensive side of the ball, but defensively, who are a couple guys on both teams that you’re looking at to kind of keep your eye on for the game?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I’ll talk about the quarterbacks a little bit. I went out and watched Notre Dame practice last week, and they’re both impressive guys. I think that — I don’t think Brian Kelly is trying to play any games by saying, you know, what he said about the quarterbacks and playing two guys. Both guys are competitors, and they want to be the guy, but they’re two of Brian’s best playmakers. And not only best playmakers but most experienced playmakers. He’s got a lot of youth at wide receiver, and so those two guys have proven that they can play winning football for Notre Dame.

The idea of playing one and keeping the other one on the bench for 60 minutes, that’s not the best thing for that team. They’re both talented. It’s unique to me that one is right-handed and one is left-handed. If I had to distinguish between the two, I think Zaire is going to impact a game and affect a game more with his feet, and Kizer is going to affect a game and impact a game maybe more with his recognition of what the defense is, staying in the pocket, seeing over the rush and making throws down the field. Not that he’s not a good runner or a capable runner because he proved that, but I think he’s more comfortable staying in there and seeing the field and beating you that way.

They’re both very talented. They’re both bright. They both have proven themselves, and the question is now how do they break up the playing time between them on Sunday night, and at what point in the game do they decide or will they decide, hey, one of them gives us the best chance of going ahead and winning this football game. That will be the real interesting thing to see how they manage.

JOE TESSITORE: Defensively, I’m looking forward to getting your thoughts on the guys I’m going to mention when we go to practice down in Austin later this week, but I know Jefferson is going to get a lot of attention for Texas, but just even this weekend in doing some of my prep, I look at the five defensive backs that can be on the field for Texas, and I see size and athleticism, and I think Devante Davis is a guy as a corner with his size and his range and his physicality who NFL scouts are going to be drooling over in the coming years, but I look at Hall and Haines and all that talent in the defensive backfield, but then I ask myself, is the front seven, and really the guys up front, are they going to be capable of stopping the run against Notre Dame and putting the defensive backfield in position to have a big impact on this game, or is Notre Dame going to have their way in running the ball against Texas.

If I’m a Texas fan, whether it’s Poona Ford or somebody, Nelson or Boyette, I need to hear one of their names a lot on Sunday night. I need somebody there to just be flat-out better than they were. I know what that defensive backfield is going to give me with Texas, but I’m not quite sure what the big guys up front are going to deliver.

And then for Notre Dame, obviously there’s talent to replace both with the situation off the field at safety but also at linebacker with the talent that departed. But I think having Jones 94 and Rochell 90 up front, those could be some special players for them this year.

But the question marks for me would be defensively, the defensive line for Texas, and are they capable and can they step up in a spot like this.

Q. On the candidates for Heisman, are there any dark horse candidates you guys would consider? I know Fournette, McCaffrey, Watson, a lot of those guys are getting a lot of the main attention. Are there any dark horse candidates for Heisman that you guys might suggest?


TODD BLACKLEDGE: I’m going to let Joe talk about this, because I’ve told Joe before and I tell people, I personally — I don’t like talking about the Heisman until we get to the month of November. Just like I don’t like talking about who’s the top five or two whatever until we get to the month of October. But obviously I know that’s part of it, and people want to hear about it, and Joe specializes in it, so I’m going to let him throw out some names for you.

JOE TESSITORE: To Todd’s point, Todd obviously has more college football in his pinky than all of us combined on this call and years and years of seeing it, and he knows very well that you don’t win the Heisman in September or October, you only win it in November, and all you can do in September is really get into the starting gate of the Heisman, to then have the race be won.

But if you’re looking for names out there of guys that could potentially at least get into the starting gate that aren’t the obvious choices, and I would consider the obvious choices in the guys who are going to have those post positions already set for them to be Watson, Fournette, McCaffrey, and then J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield and Chad Kelly and Dalvin Cook and potentially Josh Rosen and Nick Chubb, depending on what happens opening weekend with both playing two very difficult non-conference games, UCLA and Georgia.

The longshot guys I would throw in there are the fact that the Baylor quarterback is going to be the Baylor quarterback, and there’s a certain status that comes along with that. So Seth Russell is back healthy. Luke Falk at Washington State should put up ridiculous stats. Royce Freeman at Oregon is one of these guys that’s grossly underrated and outstanding and talented. Barkley at Penn State is going to put up great stats at running back and out of the backfield and potentially could get a good upset win. If Tennessee is an SEC Championship contender, Josh Dobbs is going to get consideration depending on what they look like offensively. The two intriguing ones, quarterbacks for me, would be Greg Ward at Houston and Lamar Jackson at Louisville, the reason being is they’re both dynamic dual-threat guys who have the opportunity in Houston to have signature non-conference wins right out of the gate against Oklahoma, and for Louisville, the chance to either upset Florida State or Clemson and have really gaudy stats.

There’s always going to be a Alabama playmaker. There’s been a recent voting trend in the Heisman of a default vote of best player on best team. Somebody from Alabama, whether it’s the quarterback, the featured running back, Calvin Ridley or even a defensive star will get consideration to at least get votes to get to New York.

And then real, real extreme longshots, I would tell you Trubisky at North Carolina; Brad Kaaya if Miami has a good year and makes it to the ACC title game. Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech may be the most purely talented stat gatherer in the country; JuJu Smith-Schuster at USC, but they would have to find team success; Mike Weber at Ohio State now getting the ball and taking the reins from Zeke Elliott if they have great team success. And the outlier candidate that could make it to New York would be a guy like Jabrill Peppers at Michigan if they are national title contenders and he’s the showcase of what they do defensively.

But that would be the list that I put together preseason for some of our ESPN work that we’ve already done for the Heisman.

Rangers, Mariners Open Three-Game Series Monday Night On ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN launches another week of MLB action Monday night with an AL West showdown between the Mariners and Rangers.

Monday night’s edition of Monday Night Baseball presented by USAA will see the Rangers hosting the Seattle Mariners in the opening game of a three-game series between the American League West opponents.  Hisashi Iwakuma (14 – 9) is slated to get the start for the Mariners while  Yu Darvish (4 – 3) will get the start for the Rangers.  Iwakuma’s last time on the mound was Aug. 24 against the Yankees.  He took the loss in the game, pitching six innings and allowing three runs on six hits over that time.  He also allowed 3 earned runs, two walks and one home run during his time on the mound, earning just 3 Ks along the way.

Yu Darvish’s last time on the mound was Aug. 24 against Cincinnati. The Rangers got the win in the game, 6 – 5.  He had his share of struggles in his six innings on the mound.  All five of the Reds’ runs in the game came against Darvish over just four hits.  He also allowed five walks and three earned runs while picking up five Ks.  By comparison, Reds pitcher Tim Adleman didn’t fare much better, allowing five runs and five hits, four earned runs, and three home runs while picking up just one K.  That pushed Adleman’s ERA to 3.68 so far on the season.

This week’s three-game home stand against the Mariners bodes well for the Rangers.  That is because Texas, who is 6 – 4 in its last 10 games, has shined at home this season going 41 – 21 at home so far while Seattle has had a harder go of it.  The Mariners are 4- 6 in their last 10 games and are currently in the midst of a two-game skid.  Seattle is 32 – 34 on the road so far versus its slightly better 36 – 28 home record so far.

Coverage of Monday night’s series opener between the Rangers and Mariners begins at 8pm ET.  Dave Flemming will have the call for the full national telecast.  He will be joined in the booth by analysts Eduardo Perez and Dallas Braden for additional commentary.  The broadcast will be preceded by Baseball Tonight at 7pm ET.

More information on Monday night’s game is available online now along with all of the latest MLB headlines at:

 

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/mlb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ESPNBaseballTonight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBTN

 

 

 

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Royals, Red Sox Face Off In Series’ Rubber Match Tonight On ESPN’s ‘SNB’ Broadcast

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN rounds out another week of MLB coverage tonight with an American League matchup between the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox.

The conference foes face off tonight on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell in the rubber match between the teams in their three-game weekend series.  The Royals took the series’ first game 6 – 3 and the Red Sox took game two 8 – 3.  Yordano Ventura is expected to get the start for the Royals while Eduardo Rodriguez will take the mound for the Red Sox.

Ventura (9 – 9) has had a week off, last taking the mound on Aug. 23. He was credited with the win in the game against Miami.  He was nearly perfect in his six innings on the mound, too allowing no runs, earned runs, or home runs on just six hits. He allowed just one walk and had six Ks.

Rodriguez (2 – 5) pitched four innings for the Red Sox in the team’s win over the Orioles on Aug.16. He also performed quite well in his short time on the mound, allowing no runs, hits, earned runs, or home runs. He allowed only two walks and had seven Ks in the game.

There is no clear favorite for tonight’s series closer between the Royals and Red Sox. Boston is 39 – 28 at home so far this season while the Royals are 27 – 41 on the road so far this season.  However, Boston is 5 – 5 in its last 10 games versus Kansas City’s 8 – 2 record in its last 10 games.  It has performed far better at home with a record of 40 – 21 so far.  All things considered, tonight’s game can go either way.

Dan Shulman will have the call for tonight’s game on ESPN.  He will be joined in the booth by analysts Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza for additional commentary.  Reporter Buster Olney will be on hand for all of the latest in-game news and interviews. Anyone that won’t be near a TV for tonight’s game can still hear it on their local ESPN Radio affiliate beginning at 7pm ET.  Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton will have the call for the broadcast.

Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown presented by Chevrolet will precede tonight’s broadcast beginning at 7pm ET.  Adnan Virk will anchor the broadcast.  He will be joined at the desk by analysts Eduardo Perez and Dallas Braden, and ESPN MLB Insider Tim Kukrjian.

More information on tonight’s game is available online now along with all of the latest MLB headlines at:

 

 

 

Website: http://epsn.go.com/mlb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ESPNBaseballTonight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBTN

 

 

 

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Cubs, Dodgers Close Out Weekend Series Tomorrow On TBS

Courtesy: Turner Sports

Courtesy: Turner Sports

The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers close out their three-game weekend series Sunday afternoon and TBS will have full coverage of the game.

The National League opponents will close out their series live on TBS Sunday afternoon on the network’s weekly Sunday MLB on TBS broadcast.  Broadcast of the NL matchup will begin at 4pm ET. John Lester is expected to get the start for the Cubs while Brock Stewart is slated to take the mound for the Dodgers.  Lester’s last time on the mound was Aug. 22 against the Padres. Lester was credited with the win in the game. He allowed only on run on five hits, two walks, and no home runs. Stewart’s last time on the mound was Aug. 14 against the Pirates. He put forth a valiant effort in the game, allowing only one run on two hits and four walks over three innings.

Brian Anderson will have the call for Sunday’s game.  He will be joined in the booth by MLB Hall of Famer and TBS analyst Cal Ripken, Jr. for additional commentary

Next Sunday’s edition of TBS’ Sunday MLB on TBS will feature the Cubs again. This time the Cubs will face off against the San Francisco Giants.  Brian Anderson will have the call for that game.  He will be joined in the booth by Ron Darling for additional commentary.  Coverage of the game is scheduled to begin at 2pm ET.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.