Some Quick Hits On UCLA, Leinart and Scioscia
Am I the only one who didn’t think UCLA was that bad in its 2010 opener?
Considering quarterback Kevin Prince hadn’t practiced in weeks because of a sore back, the offensive and defensive lines are still works in progress and they were playing in one of the more difficult venues in the country, the Bruins were not only competitive, they could have taken the lead in the fourth quarter if not for a questionable fumble call on Prince.
Granted, they have to be better against the run, or it could be a very long season. But Daniel Thomas, who rummaged through them for 234 yards, is one of the better tailbacks in the country and a legitimate NFL first round prospect.
Amid all the mistakes and knocks, Akeem Ayers looks like a dominant pass rusher, Rahim Moore is one of the better safeties in the country, freshman Ricky Marvray looks like a potential big-play receiver and fellow frosh Malcolm Jones is a power running back who deserves more carries.
The worst thing UCLA has going against it is the schedule, with Stanford, Houston and Texas coming up in the next three weeks. It could be close to impossible to come away 2-2 from the first four games, but even at 1-3, the Bruins could be a much better, more polished bunch heading into October’s Pac-10 schedule.
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If you had been following the Matt Leinart saga closely, you weren’t surprised when the Arizona Cardinals released him the other day.
This is something that had been slowly building, starting way back when the quarterback had his infamous hot tub frolics, then facilitated last week when Leinart made the mistake of venting to the media about the way Coach Ken Whisenhunt was treating him.
You don’t do that in the NFL and last very long, especially with a coach who wasn’t there when you were drafted. Apparently, this wasn’t the only thing Leinart did wrong in Arizona.
Sports Illustrated reported this week that Larry Fitzgerald, the best player on the team and the face of the franchise, had invited the quarterback to join him at a wide receivers’ camp in Minnesota, to work on pass routes etc. this summer. Leinart declined, saying he wanted to stay in L.A. to be close to his son.
Big mistake. When you have a chance to make the team’s best player your ally, you have to take it. Maybe you don’t go all summer, but you at least go for a few weeks, perhaps even bringing your son along, and get the necessary work in.
As an admitted Leinart admirer — after all, the guy did go 37-2, win two national titles, the Heisman Trophy and capture MVP honors in two BCS bowl games (and almost a third) at USC — even I was stunned to watch Leinart in his final game with Arizona. After being criticized for not passing downfield enough, he came out and continued to just throw short, check-off passes. He looked like a quarterback who had lost all confidence in himself, as if he were afraid what might happen if he tried to throw deep.
Leinart was always someone who was somewhat fragile mentally. Both in high school and with the Trojans, he didn’t start playing well until he was named the clear-cut starter. Once he was, though, his performance took off. Would that have happened eventually in Arizona? We’ll never know.
The feeling is he’ll get at least one more NFL chance. But he has to choose his next destination carefully. It has to be a team with a specific future need at quarterback. But maybe more important, it has to be for a coach who truly believes in him.
In the end, the Cardinals’ Whisenhunt never did. And more than anything else, those who know Leinart best suspect that was the biggest reason for his downfall in Arizona.
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You watch the Angels’ Mike Scioscia in the dugout these days, and you want to pass him a couple of antacid tablets, or something. He looks like someone with a perpetual stomach ache, and you can’t blame him.
But you read his comments to the media, and they are all carefully framed. He refuses to knock any of his players publicly, and he deserves credit for that. But you know he has to hate what he has been forced to observe on a daily basis (Sunday’s semi-breakout notwithstanding).
What does he actually think? What would his comments be if he could really let loose? Well, allow me to use a little journalistic license here and offer the following imaginary commentary from the manager:
“Man, I can’t believe this is just the first week of September. Is this blankety-blank season ever going to end?
“People keep asking me what’s wrong with the team? Are they kidding? I mean, have they watched our guys try to hit? It’s like they’ve all forgotten how to swing a bat. It’s pitiful. Our starting pitching has been fine, but Jered Weaver and the guys are so frustrated they don’t know what to do. I can’t blame them. If I were Weaver, I’d have put my fist through the dugout wall a long time ago.
“In the spring, I honestly thought this could be the best team since I’ve been here. How was I supposed to know Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter would start showing their age, Hideki Matsui would go months looking like a free-agent bust, Brandon Wood would go in the dumper and never get out, Juan Rivera would play like he’s in a trance and Erick Aybar would treat leading off as if it were some kind of disease?
“What were the odds that Kendry Morales would break his leg celebrating a grand slam? Come on, nobody’s ever done that before. Once Morales went down, the rest of the lineup went down with him. Everybody was asked to fill roles they weren’t equipped to fill. The result was disastrous.
“The pitching hasn’t always been a picnic, either. Scott Kazmir? Please, don’t even ask. The set up guys in the bullpen have been erratic, Scot Shields hasn’t looked like the same player and Brian Fuentes waited half the season before he started looking like the closer.
“As for our bench, well, all I can say is, what bench? Name me one left-handed pinch-hitter I could have used in a clutch situation? Exactly.
“Look, I know Tony Reagins, our GM, is trying to help. But whom does he come up with in our biggest trade of the season? Alberto bleeping Callaspo, that’s who. Uh, that’s not exactly what we needed to pump up our anemic offense.
“Look, just between you and me, Oct. 3 can’t get here fast enough.”
Just to be clear, I want to reiterate those were imaginary quotes. Anyone who has been around Scioscia knows he’d never be that candid or critical. I’m sure he also probably wouldn’t agree with some of those comments (i.e., you suspect he had to sign off on the Callaspo deal), but you get the idea. The pain etched on his face these days is a dead giveaway.
This has been one long season for the Angels’ manager.
— STEVE BISHEFF