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Los Angeles Lakers Pre-Game Report by Jeff Little

October 26, 2010 1 comment

It’s the season opener for the 2010-2011 Los Angeles Lakers; but before the journey to repeat commences the squad will receive their championship rings for last seasons exploits. This past off-season was the quietest off-season ever for a two-time defending champion in any sport.

The Lakers have no problem with being under the radar with all the pressure being on a certain team that plays in the east. While the majority of the NBA was enamored with a super team being assembled with the three biggest names in free agency landing on the east coast.

The spotlight, scrutiny and high expectations will hover over the Heat all-season and like it or not the move ushered in a new era in the NBA. The super team that Miami is chasing is already assembled and in place on the west coast. However, the purple reign is far from over, but it has improved. The purple and gold didn’t rest on their laurels and stand pat. The two-time defending champion Lakers retooled and are now two deep at every position.

The Additions of veterans Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff and impressive rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter provide a needed mixture of versatility, experience and youth. The Lakers bench was a weakness last year and now should add better outside shooting as well as produce 35+ points per game.

The additions have also extended the careers of Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher as well as provide the Lakers with the ability to match up with anyone. Facing the Rockets; the Lakers have to prepare to play two different teams; one with Yao Ming and one without.

It has been widely publicized that Yao will be limited to 24 minutes per game. Yao is a huge presence in the post and will get the majority of his touches in the half-court offense the Lakers have to minimize his impact on this game.

Los Angeles needs to control the tempo and not allow the Rockets to get out and run. It is a must that all five Lakers get back on defense to eliminate transition baskets. Los Angeles will have to do a good job defending the screen and roll as well as rotating out to their three-point shooters. Los Angeles needs to control the boards and play defense without fouling.

It is imperative that the Lakers take care of the ball, limit their turnovers. The Lakers can out-work the Rockets with a combination of excellent ball and player movement.  When the Lakers do a good job of sharing the ball; effectively moving it from the strong to the weak side and moving the defense in the process, they’re tough to beat. The Lakers need to trust their offense and get into a rhythm early. Los Angeles will run their offense through Pau Gasol in the post and he needs to accept the challenge and be much more aggressive.

 

Prediction: Lakers 102 – Rockets 94

Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST

Television

  • Los Angeles: TNT
  • Houston: TNT

Radio

  • Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (Spero Dedes & Mychal Thompson)
  • Houston: 1140 AM KHTK (Gary Gerould)

Injuries

Lakers:

  • Andrew Bynum (Knee) Out
  • Luke Walton (Hamstring) Out
  • Theo Ratliff (Knee) Listed as Day-to-Day

Rockets

  • C Yao Ming (Foot) Listed as Day-to-Day
  • PG Kyle Lowry (Back Spasms) Listed as Day-to-Day

 

Jeff Little is the mid-day host of the Locker Room on the Sports Journey Network.  Based out of Los Angeles, he is also a writer for Laker Nation.

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Oakland Raiders’ Offensive Success Starts Up Front by Jeff Little

Training camp has begun for the Oakland Raiders. The silver and black are working hard preparing for a successful 2010 season. The Raiders had one of the best offseasons in recent memory. The offseason has provided the team with much-needed momentum. Two of the bigger acquisitions for Oakland were offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and quarterback Jason Campbell.

These are just two of the many additions brought in to upgrade the offense that ranked 31st in the league and scored 17 touchdowns. The NFL is a passing league and the Raiders ranked 29th out of 32 teams; only the Jets and Browns had fewer completed passes.

The Raiders ranked 21st in the league rushing in 2009, posting seven rushing touchdowns and allowing 49 sacks.

A significant amount of the blame for the above-mentioned rankings needs to be placed on JR’s doorstep. JaMarcus was a man who never got it. He seemed to be more taken with “purple drank” than he was at improving as a football player. The Raider offense will improve with a renewed commitment to the running game and an improved passing game with Jason Campbell at the helm.

Offensive improvement always starts up front with the offensive line.

A successful offensive line needs to be based upon having talented athletes and providing them with solid coaching. Tom Cable is a solid offensive line coach. There are coaches who teach the scheme and coaches who teach technique. Cable learned from Alex Gibbs, who taught both.

For those who do not know, Alex Gibbs is seen as the godfather of the zone blocking scheme when he coached the Raiders offensive line in 1988-1989. Wherever he goes, that team is successful offensively. Oakland’s road to redemption starts behind the five guys entrusted to move the crowd.

The Raiders have completed the walk-through version of training camp that head coach Tom Cable calls “learning intensive” sessions. The Raiders are focusing on fundamentals. The zone blocking scheme is widely used and highly successful. The zone blocking scheme creates a called “hole” to run in.

Zone blocking in the running game usually relies on technique, as well as smaller, more athletic lineman sacrificing size for mobility and runners committed to the one-cut-and-go system. The majority of the running plays, due to the movement of the linemen, always have the appearance of a stretch play to the weak or strong side of the formation.

The center, guard, tackle, tight end, and fullback work in unison to combination block an area with an emphasis on double-teaming a few defensive linemen, first or second level threats at the point of attack. The double-team block will provide movement at the line of scrimmage as well as cut back lane for the runner. Getting movement is the key.

Typically people think of the levels as first level—defensive line, second level—linebackers, and third level—secondary, as you will see in your game day program. The reality is that things are a little different on the field.

Facing a 3-4 defensive front, for example, causes a lot of confusion for offensive linemen. A blitz or pressure can come from several different players. It is all about threat level the linemen need to be able to read the defense and never leave a first level threat unblocked. A defensive lineman, linebacker, or defensive back could be a first level threat.

The Raiders will face 10 opponents that utilize a 3-4 defensive front as their base defense. Oakland will put the pads on August 2. The competition to be one of the starting five or depth begins. The guys who will receive snaps on the first-team are as follows:

LT Mario Henderson, LG Robert Gallery, C Samson Satele, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Langston Walker.

Depth: (T-G) Khalif Barnes, (T) Erik Pears, (C) Chris Morris, (G) Brandon Rodd

New Additions: (G-T) Bruce Campbell, (T) Jared Veldheer, (G) Daniel Loper, (G) Allen Smith, (T) Elliot Vallejo, (G) Alex Parsons

The Raiders best lineman, Robert Gallery, returns healthy after only playing in six games last year due to a series of injuries. In Gallery’s absence came Henderson, who had a decent start faded down the stretch.

Cooper Carlisle’s performance has dropped off over the last two years and competition at right guard is required. Langston Walker returns as the surprise starter at right tackle. Cornell Green has left the building. He will be “false-starting” in Buffalo in 2010. Samson Satele was slow to adjust to the zone blocking scheme, but came on late.

The smartest thing is that there will be competition at every position. The battle for playing time on the offensive line will provide some of the best positional battles of training camp. The best possible scenario for this group in five parts:

1) No serious injuries or games missed, with substantial success and growth as a unit.

2) Robert Gallery not missing a game.

3) Rookies Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell rapidly getting up to speed, making an immediate impact, and challenging for playing time at left tackle and right guard.

4) Langston Walker showing improvement as a run blocker while continuing to be solid as a pass blocker.

5) A few unexpected lineman playing well and challenging for playing time such as Daniel Loper, Allen Smith, or Elliott Vallejo.

The starter went down you’re the Next man up by Jeff Little

Joe Mays

NFL franchises are officially back to work, their training camps in full swing. Adversity in the form of injuries has also affected teams as it has every year; several key players have gone down with significant injuries.

When it comes to injuries in the NFL it is identical to riding a motorcycle it is a known fact that if you ride one you will go down at some point in time hopefully you can recover from any injuries. Coincidentally when it comes to injuries in the NFL it isn’t a matter of if it happens it is a matter of when.

Let’s be honest injuries suck but they’re part of the game and a setback that has to be overcome. It is also an opportunity for the back up player to step up and prove he can be the guy. Here are a couple of guys who have made it happen. Can Joe Mays be the guy in Philadelphia? Can Corey Irvin, Nick Hayden or Marlon Favorite step up in Carolina? One thing is for certain both clubs and us fans we’ll all find out right away.

  1. Kurt Warner stepped in for Trent Green in 1999
  2. Tom Brady stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001
  3. Kerry Collins stepped in for Rich Gannon in 2003
  4. James Harrison stepped in for Clark Haggans in 2005

If the entire organization (Owner, Front Office, Scouting Department & Coaching Staff) is one the same page and has properly built their team they’ll be prepared for this scenario. This is accomplished by drafting well with a 3-5 year vision in mind and clearly defined attainable goals.

In theory a teams 1st & 2nd round draft picks should be integral pieces to the puzzle that have the potential to be longtime fixtures for a franchise. A team should be drafting potential starters or players that can develop into starters in every round. However a team is actually built in rounds 3 – 7. Let’s not forget selecting un-drafted free agents to develop.

It has been said more than once that the best laid plans can and will go awry. Injuries have negatively affected the outcome of the season of several teams. It brings to mind the John Madden Football curse. I know to some people this might sound just a tad out of context but follow me if you will and it will make sense.

It must be stated that this isn’t a knock on John Madden Football. I absolutely love the game and have been playing it for years. Going back over the last ten years Injuries, having a significant impact on a team and being on the cover of the game have been synonymous. 1999 was also the first year that NFL players were featured on the cover of the game.

  • 1999 Garrison Hearst – He had an outstanding regular season, finishing third in rushing yards. However, he suffered a broken ankle in the Divisional Playoff game against the Falcons. The severe break caused Hearst to miss two full NFL seasons. The team went 8-8 3rd place in the division.
  • 2000 Barry Sanders – He is pictured over Madden’s left shoulder on the cover. Sanders abruptly retired in July before the start of the start of the 99’ season. The team went 8-8 3rd place in the division.
  • 2001 Eddie George – George’s curse came in 01’ in the form of him failing to break 1,000 yards rushing and the Titans going 7-9 and missing the playoffs.
  • 2002 Dante Culpepper – Culpepper missed 4 games due to injury, threw for 1,300 less yards & 19 less TD passes than in 2000. The Vikings went 5-11 their worst record since 1984.
  • 2003 Marshall Faulk – Faulk played in the same number of games but ran for 430 yards less and had 4 less TD’s than in 2001. His worst since 1996. The Rams scored only 16 more points then their 1996 team that had Tony Banks at QB and Lawrence Phillips at RB. The team went 7-9 3rd place in the division.
  • 2004 Michael Vick – Vick missed the first 11 games of the season with a broken leg. Vick’s QB rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt were all down from 2002. (* This is clearly a statistic that Vince Young wasn’t aware of by stating in an interview in the Sept. issue of Esquire Magazine when he stated that playing QB was all about your legs) The team went 5-11 4th place in the division.
  • 2005 Ray Lewis – Lewis for the most part avoided the curse. His numbers were slightly down from the previous year, he missed one game. However, he didn’t record an interception in 2004, the first time in his career.
  • 2006 Donovan McNabb – After week 9, McNabb suffered a hernia and was lost for the season. McNabb threw for more interceptions; his yards per attempt and completion percentage were down from 2004. The Eagles finished 6-10, in last place and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
  • 2007 Shaun Alexander – Alexander missed 6 regular season games with a broken foot. He finished the season with 896 yards and 7 TD’s; his lowest numbers since his rookie season. He had a 3.6 yards per carry average; His career average was 4.4 yards per carry) The team went 10-6, went to the playoffs, lost in the Divisional Round to the Packers.
  • 2008 Vince Young – Vince Young threw for 2,546 yards, 9 TD’s and 17 Interceptions. He did complete 62% of his passes and Tennessee went 10-6 losing to the Chargers in the playoffs.
  • 2009 Bret Favre – Favre passed for 3,472 yards, 22 TD’s & 22 Interceptions. Favre & the Jets experienced a hot start but faded late after Favre injured his throwing arm and the season collapsed. Brett threw 6 less TD’s & 7 more INT’s then in 2007. The Jets finished 9-7 after an 8-3 start and missed the playoffs losing to the Dolphins with their former QB at the helm.

The NFL is the epitome of the next man up. Overcoming adversity and moving on is the name of the game. A highly important factor in answering the obvious question; can the team trust the back up and rally around him?

Those questions will have to be answered immediately in Philadelphia, Carolina and Atlanta.