A long free kicks this week, talking about the NFL for the first time in a long time, about the dunk contest for the first time ever, and about the St. Louis Cardinals for what I feel like will be one of many times this season.  At least I am not having to talk about the continuing saga of Brian Roberts’ health, which, neck, back, knee or whatever, has to concern Orioles fans.  All assumptions of a stronger season are called into question without Roberts’ presence in the leadoff spot, where Baltimore has no replacement in the lineup.  With Cesar Izturis likely the primary backup at second, you certainly won’t get production from there.  While Roberts spends some time in the trainer’s room, let’s line up for the kick…

So… Does this Mean Tebow Isn’t the Chosen One?

New Denver Broncos Coach John Fox has already named Kyle Orton is starting quarterback for 2011* despite the promise shown by the still-raw Tim Tebow in limited action last season.  Look, I won’t argue that Orton is likely the better quarterback, but he is hardly the type of player that you declare in February to be your undisputed starter.  That sort of assurance is designed for entrenched quarterbacks who have proven themselves to be among the best in the league or is the face of your franchise.  Orton is neither of these.  Fox is probably trying to make sure that Orton doesn’t become a malcontent or want out of Denver and leave him with Tim Tebow or Bust, but there are easier ways of assuaging his worries.  Any declaration by Fox before there has been a minicamp, training camp, or even after he has had more than a month to look at film is disingenuous at best.  Fox could have pulled Orton aside and told him he has the edge and not had to make a grand statement.

Kyle Orton put up some good numbers last season in a pass-first offense, but that is inflated by big games against bad competition and duds against talented squads.  In his last start he threw three interceptions against Arizona with no touchdowns (not to imply Arizona was talented), and struggled against Kansas City (though he destroyed them in their first matchup), Oakland, New York (Jets), and San Diego.  Hardly the stuff of legend.  With Bronco’s President John Elway appearing to favor Tebow, John Fox may have wanted to make a statement.  The timing- and rationale- is way off.

*assuming there is a 2011 season


The One and Only Time I Will Break Down a Dunk Contest

Had there not been a car there, most players would still have gotten up that high to make the dunk that Blake Griffin made to win the dunk contest.  His finishing move was all pageantry and little substance, catching an alley oop from the now-Cleveland-bound Baron Davis and throwing it down the way a half-dozen players do every week.  There was nothing spectacular, save for the presence of the car itself- which it should be noted only had to be jumped over the hood, not the roof.  It wasn’t nearly the feat accomplished by Serge Ibaka in leaping from the free throw line (behind the line, unlike his predecessors), nor did it match the creativity of JaVale McGee’s 2 and 3 ball dunks.  It’s true that Griffin didn’t need to take 4 or 5 attempts, but he also had one of the most straightforward dunks of all.

I was disappointed when Griffin made it to the finals because I knew that fans would throw their votes to Griffin regardless of what McGee did because of his superstardom, the same way they voted Yao Ming into the All-Star game after playing all of 8 games (unimpressively, I might add) and being lost for another season, or the same way they omitted Kevin Love because of the market he played in.  Blake Griffin is an incredible player, a physical force of nature that we haven’t seen enter the league since LeBron James.  But for the Dunk Contest, his car stunt was all glitz, glamour, and little substance.   

House of “Cards” Starting to Crumble

The Cardinals entered this year’s spring training with an uncertain roster, virtually unchanged (and not at all upgraded) from last year’s unit that lost the NL Central to the upstart Reds.  In their absence, the Cubs bulked up (again), the Astros began their rebuilding project in earnest, and the Brewers struck gold in trading for Zach Greinke.  In short, the Cardinals were in a tough spot to begin with.  Then of course the Albert Pujols drama started in earnest, with the Cards failing to reach an agreement with the best player in baseball who wants to be paid accordingly (fancy that). 

As if that wasn’t enough to relegate this talented team and legendary franchise to the good-but-not-playoffs teams, St. Louis will now have to try to regain their crown without Adam Wainwright, their co-ace alongside Chris Carpenter.  Not only is Wainwright coming off four straight dominant seasons and finished second in Cy Young voting last year, but it is important to note the last time the Cards did without one of their aces.  In 2008 St. Louis lost Chris Carpenter for almost the entire season, accruing an 86-74 record and finishing 11.5 games behind division champ Chicago.  That year Wainwright himself was limited to just 20 starts.  He will undergo Tommy John surgery and leave the Cardinals with an uncertain rotation, counting on the likes of Ian Snell to rescue the group behind Carpenter.  This is shaking out to be a rather disappointing year in what could wind up as the end of an era in St. Louis.