Monday, July 30, 2018

Respect Gruden














Geoff Burke-USA Today Sports


By Wally
(@UrbanSportScene)

On January 9, 2014 the Washington Redskins hired head coach Jay Gruden to a five-year $20 million contract.  Gruden was known in NFL circles as a highly respective offensive mind.  The season prior to coming to the Redskins, under Gruden, the Cincinnati Bengals were 6th in the league in scoring and 10th in total offensive yardage.  

Gruden did well as the offensive coordinator of the Bengals and helped with the maturation process of quarterback Andy Dalton.  With Gruden as Dalton’s offensive coordinator for three seasons (2011-2013), Dalton averaged about 3,787 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions per season.   After the 2013 season, Gruden decided to take his talents D.C.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, before Gruden, was a quarterback who didn’t seem mentally stable and destine to be a backup.  Cousins in 2013, was 0-3 as a starter—52.3 completion percentage, four touchdowns and seven interceptions.  Under Gruden’s offense from 2015-2017, Cousins became one of the more prolific passers in the National Football League. Through that three-year span Cousins’ averaged 4,392 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  On March 15, 2018, Cousins’ play in Gruden’s offense landed him an unprecedent three-year $84 million fully guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Cousins deserves credit for his hard work but some of that should go to Gruden.  Gruden’s play-design to create great passing options make quarterbacks giddy with joy.  Even Redskins backup quarterback Colt McCoy flourished in Gruden’s offense.  The 2010 third round pick out of the University of Texas looked like a bust while playing for the Cleveland Browns.  McCoy had the image of a career backup quarterback— 6-15 as a starter and threw for 21 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a 74.8 quarterback rating.  In the 2014 season, the narrative on McCoy changed drastically with the Redskins and Gruden. After benching quarterback Robert Griffin III and Cousins, McCoy in five games threw for 1,057 passing yards, had a 71.1 completion percentage and a QB rating of 96.4.  McCoy played so well in the 2014 season, that numerous fans wanted him to become the starter for the following season.  Gruden’s offense helped make McCoy relevant again. 

Gruden deserves more credit for his quarterback friendly system.  Former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay left the team after the 2016 season to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.  Some felt that the Redskins kept the wrong coach between Gruden and McVay.  McVay has described Gruden as a mentor. McVay led the Rams to the highest scoring offense in the NFL.  It’s fair to say that Gruden helped him along his journey to be known as one of the young rising coaches in the NFL.  McVay told Kevin Sheehan and Chris Cooley on ESPN 980 (now called the Team 980) that he considered “Jay Gruden as a mentor” and “a big reason why [he’s] fortunate to be in this role.” Gruden is no legendary coach like former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, however there is still room for him to grow.

Yahoo Sports developed a coaches’ power ranking. Gruden ranked 27th out of 32 head coaches in the NFL.  Their reason is that in “four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, and one franchise quarterback run out of town.” Those are all good points; however everything should be put in context. If it wasn’t for Gruden, it’s fair to say that Cousins wouldn’t be considered a franchise quarterback.  Last year with the roster dismantled with injuries, Gruden helped get the team to a 7-9 record.  Pundits can nitpick but that alone was an incredible task.  He lost players such as left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive lineman Johnathan Allen, and running back Chris Thompson—just to name a few.  If this was New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, would he be praised for having a 7-9 record under those circumstances?  Maybe.  Gruden is no Belichick.  He hasn’t won a Super Bowl or even won over nine games in his NFL head coaching career.  Although Gruden doesn’t have Belichick’s credentials, he does have an efficient system like Belichick.

The Redskins will be entering the 2018 with optimism.  They have a new quarterback in Alex Smith and there are doubts that Smith will put up gaudy numbers in D.C.  Smith came off of a career season last year under head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs—67.5 completion percentage, 4042 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.  Why would there be any doubts about the Gruden and Smith collaboration?  By looking at Smith and Gruden’s resume, there is no reason why these two shouldn’t make beautiful music together. Skeptics of Gruden may not think that he’s a great head coach but at least he deserves respect as an offensive savant. If the pundits are questioning Smith, then they are disrespecting what Gruden brings to the table.  Gruden has the 2018 season to prove the naysayers wrong.

Check out the Urban Sports Scene podcast show every Tuesday at 8:00 pm ET.  To listen in live visit here:  View podcast post here: www.waleo.podbean.com


Monday, July 23, 2018

A Super Fit in DC














Howard in DC
Photo: Susan Walsh (AP Photo)

By Wally
(@UrbanSportScene)

During head coach Scott Brooks tenure in D.C., the Washington Wizards haven’t had an athletic rim protector.  In 2016, Ian Mahinmi was signed for that very purpose, but he hasn’t been an intimidator. In the offseason, the Wizards went to a more proven route and signed eight-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to a two-year $11 million contract. The dude formerly known as “Superman” has a lot of doubters because of his locker room reputation, but as a player Howard could be exactly what the Wizards need to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals.

Many experts will focus on Howard being a locker room disruption, but on the court, you cannot deny the tools he brings to the table.  Last year, with the Charlotte Hornets, Howard averaged about 17 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game.  That was on a team where Kemba Walker was the featured ball player.  In comparison, last season, former Wizards center Marcin Gortat averaged about eight points per game but most importantly he only averaged seven rebounds and a block shot per game.  Putting scoring aside, Howard brings an intimidating force on the boards and a rim protector.  This is something that the Wizards did not have last year with Gortat as the starting center.  

Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said, “Dwight has been known throughout his career as one of the league’s best defenders, rebounders and finishers around the rim.”  He added that “[Howard’s] inside presence and athleticism will give [the Wizards] a much different look and will open up opportunities for the [Wizards] on both ends of the floor.”

Over the past two season, under coach Brooks, the Wizards have been a middle of pack defensive team.  Last season, the Wizard ranked 15th in defensive ratings.  With perennial All-Star point guard John Wall running the break, the Wizards thrive when they can get stops and be in transition. Howard should help the Wizards start their fast break offense with block shots and defensive rebounding.  At the end of the day, defense still wins championships.  The reigning NBA champions Golden State Warriors aren’t just an offensive powerhouse, they’re also a great defensive team.  As a former three-time defensive player of year, Howard should provide more of a defensive focus for his teammates.  Regardless if he has lost a step, he is still defensively educated enough to help this team become better defensively overall.  Howard doesn’t have to lead verbally but his defensive and rebounding ability can help lead the charge towards being real contender in the Eastern conference.

Howard will improve the Wizards help side defense with his ability to protect the rim.  His teammates will be able to jump passing lanes and become more aggressive when guarding the opponent man up. The addition of Howard also should make Wall a better defender.  Wall can now press his man up, knowing that if he gets beat he has the big fella there to black shots and cover his back.  Even on high screens and switches, Howard is more equipped to guard a ball handler on the switch compared to the prior starting center.  Defense is Howard’s calling card, but he still has a lot in the tank offensively.

Howard hasn’t played with a pass first point guard like Wall, since playing with Steve Nash and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012.  Like Steve Nash, Wall has made it a living in making players around him better such as Gortat.  After averaging 11.1 points per game in the 2012-13 season with the Phoenix Suns, Gortat put up 13.2 points per game with the Wizards and Wall in the following season.  Howard comes into a situation where Wall thrives on setting up his bigs for easy baskets.  Gortat feasted on high screen rolls with Wall for layups and dunks.  Howard will also have that role, but he will add the lob dunk threat.  He flourished in that similar role with point guard Jameer Nelson while playing with the Orlando Magic— where Howard was known as the best center in the game. No one is expecting for Howard to be the Superman here in D.C., but fans should expect a player that will open up the court offensively for his teammates.  Guard Bradley Beal and forward Otto Porter will get more open threes because of Howard screening and diving to the basket.  The screens that he will be able to set for Porter and Beal will create more open jumpers and drives off the dribble.  Brooks can become very creative offensively with Howard in the lineup, screening for several players.  Missed shots is another form of offense with Howard on the boards as well.

Last season, Howard ranked 8th in offensive rebounding.  His skillset, as an offensive rebounder, will provide the Wizards with more opportunities to score.  Howard will not be asked to average 25 points per game, however he will be asked to be an offensive live body for the Wizards.  Wall believes in Howard. In an interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller, Wall said “even though he’s older, he’s still an athletic big.  He still has respect in this league.”  For Wall and the Wizards, hopefully Howard is just what the Wizards need to save the day.

Check out the Urban Sports Scene podcast show every Tuesday at 8:00 pm ET.  To listen in live visit here:  View podcast post here: www.waleo.podbean.com