ESPN, meanwhile, has more "name" guys on their NFL coverage team, including the likes of Tom Jackson, Joe Theismann, Mike Golic, Michael Irvin, Steve Young, and even Sean Salisbury. And they're trying to up their NFL coverage a notch or two, almost obviously in response to the increased presence of competing outlets on the NFL scene.
(NFL=ratings. It's just a reality at this point.)
Anyway, as a result of this, we're getting more "pre-training camp" NFL stuff from ESPN than ever before. The latest project they've taken up is something called "The Ultimate NFL Depth Chart". The basic idea behind it is that three of ESPN's NFL talkers, Salisbury, Mark Schlereth, and Mike Golic, get together and rank the 32 NFL teams based on their depth and talent at various positions.
It's completely pointless. Why? Because these guys are too much into hyping those who they feel need to be hyped. For example, I'm supposed to believe that the Green Bay Packers have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.
The Green Bay Packers allowed 167.5 yards per game passing in 2005. That would happen to rank them NUMBER ONE IN THE LEAGUE. Oh, and they signed Charles Woodson over the offseason. And they drafted A.J. Hawk. Now, I know that the Packers need to force more turnovers, and they need to
Meanwhile, the same crew rated the New England Patriots as the tenth-best pass defense, even though the facts (sorry, I hate to use the word "statistics" anymore, because people have forgotten what that word means) state that New England was the SECOND-WORST IN THE LEAGUE in pass defense a year ago.
Now, my standards aren't too high when it comes to anything that Sean Salisbury is involved in. He sucked as a football player, and he's even worse as an analyst. ESPN needs to have a full-time fact-checker following Sean, and they don't. This is a shining example. Put Schlereth in the mix (another guy who likes to run his yapper before he knows the facts), and you're asking for disaster. But ESPN has to be capable of more than this. It's mindless listing and stupid hype, but it could still be a fun concept if they got some people involved who actually had a clue what they were talking about.
(During ESPN's usually exemplary coverage of the NFL Draft, Schlereth actually said that A.J. Hawk isn't much of a pass rusher. A.J. Hawk had 9.5 sacks last season, two more than Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley, who was described by analysts as a "great pass-rushing prospect".)
And to show this isn't all about the Packers, my favorite part of the various segments done so far was when they ranked the pass-catchers. When the panelists ranked Indianapolis number one (as they should), anchor Trey Wingo repeatedly asked them about the loss of Edgerrin James. Now, James was a part of the Colts' passing game, no question. But HE'S A RUNNING BACK, and it's not like the Colts lost LaDainian Tomlinson (additionally, the panelists discussed Ray Lewis' impact on the Ravens at length when rating their pass defense, though Lewis' obvious strengths at this point are against the run). They still have great receivers and a great tight end in Dallas Clark.
Also of note, the Seahawks pass defense was rated in the top ten after a rather mediocre performance in 2005 and the loss of a starting safety in free agency. The Bears pass defense, last seen getting abused by
Hockey free-agent frenzy to begin. July 1 starts free agency in the NHL, where the salary cap has been upped to $44 million (minimum of $28 million). The league saw great improvement in the style and level of play this past season, as the fans really took to the numerous rule changes that were designed to open up play. This year's free agent frenzy should be a good one. Teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, Atlanta, Florida, Minnesota, Columbus, and others will be looking to bolster their lineups around young stars (and also, in many cases, increase the payroll enough to reach the minimum). Teams like Detroit, Dallas, Colorado, and Philadelphia will try to use their "big-market muscle" to get better for longer playoff runs.
We've already seen a few big trades. The Wild shockingly acquired a good veteran player, picking up Pavol Demitra from the Kings during the draft. The Vancouver Canucks got a real goaltender, dealing Todd Bertuzzi to Florida for Roberto Luongo. And we're going to see at least one more big trade, as Edmonton ice-time king Chris Pronger has asked out of Edmonton for "personal reasons".
And, finally...Sad note out of the Big Ten, where Northwestern football coach Randy Walker died of an apparent heart attack last night in Chicago. Walker, 52, led Northwestern to four six-win seasons and three bowl games, truly high points for this oft-downtrodden program. Walker was a great ambassador for Big Ten football, and he will be missed. Our condolences to Walker's family, as well as the Northwestern football family on their great loss.