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Media hero-worship shifts to Nick Saban and Alabama

Now that the media has fed on the Penn State scandal for the past year after building up Joe Paterno as a saint on the sidelines for the past 40 years, some are naturally moving on to other subjects to deify.

With Alabama coming off of two National Championships in the past three years, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Nick Saban is the next coach to get glowing coverage from many in the media. Rachel Bachman and Ben Cohen have just written a profile of Saban in the Wall Street Journal where they take great pains to explain Saban’s greatness. Here’s an example of some of the gushing “analysis.”

The stunning volume of victories and championships and NFL draft picks has Alabama redefining college-football success as we know it. How, exactly, does the Tide do it?

Really? Redefining success? This sort of dominance over several years hasn’t been seen before in college football? Didn’t Alabama lose a game last season?

The writers go on to explain Saban meticulous attention to detail in the recruiting process, and I guess there’s some insightful reporting into Saban’s methods. But is there anything really new here? Saban is at one of the top football factories in the country and he’s grabbing the best recruits. It’s no different than what other successful coaches have done, and probably less impressive than what Urban Meyer achieved several years earlier at a school that doesn’t have Alabama’s tradition.

More notable, however, is that they also don’t dig into some of the less noble tactics used by Saban and others in the SEC like oversigning which is mentioned in passing near the end of the article after they’ve nestled Saban comfortably on his pedestal.

Here’s another nugget from the article.

“He’s incredibly honest in the recruiting process,” said former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, the starter on the 2009 national-title team who now plays for the New York Jets. “He tells kids, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in and redshirt. Look, you’re going to do this. You’re going to do that.’ He tells them exactly what he thinks. I think a lot of people respect that because so much of the recruiting process is an unknown.”

Wow. Saban sounds great. I guess it’s nice to hear this from Saban’s starting quarterback, but wouldn’t we learn a little more about what really goes on in college recruiting and at Alabama in particular by talking to some of the kids who lost their scholarship after one year because they weren’t quite as “special” as Saban thought when he recruited them? Of course we would, but that wouldn’t fit the happy storyline being promoted here. This isn’t about reporting; it’s PR fluff.

If the writers or the Wall Street Journal wanted to do some reporting, they might have considered looking into the random nature of NCAA enforcement and sanctions, and how many schools are learning to dodge the NCAA by just refusing to self-report problems. That’s why a tattoos for memorabilia scandal brings down a coach at Ohio State, while an alleged suits for memorabilia scheme reported in detail by SPORTSbyBROOKS gets ignored by the national media, Alabama and the NCAA. If a story doesn’t make it to ESPN or SI, it just didn’t happen. Right? Perhaps if publications like the Wall Street Journal would do some real investigating relating to this topic, they might have a real story about Alabama, or on the other hand they could say with confidence that Alabama student-athletes were avoiding the pitfalls encountered by players at Ohio State and North Carolina.

Some might argue that this was a simple football story, and there’s no need to bring in the ugly side of college football every time we discuss a top program. I get that, and it’s a fair point. Sometimes we all just want to enjoy the games. But when we get a profile exalting the recruiting “genius” of millionaire coaches like Saban, it’s journalistic malpractice to settle for token mentions of issues like oversigning and ignore well-documented allegations of misconduct.

Rick Reilly recently wrote a column where he admitted to “engaging in hagiography” as one of the many journalists who turned Joe Paterno into a saint. Of course Reilly had no idea of how that image would ultimately be destroyed, but he regretted focusing only on the positive spin surrounding Paterno’s success. A professor had called him and warned him that Paterno wasn’t a saint as everyone assumed, so there was a real story there had Reilly decided to actually do his job. Just like there’s a real story around all of today’s best coaches as well. Some are better than others, and many of them try to run clean programs. But it’s hard to take profiles like this one about Saban at face value if the issues bubbling under the surface are ignored.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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NFL Quick-Hits: Ten Observations from Week 3 of Preseason

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will share his quick-hit observations from the week that was in football. This week he focuses on topics that emerged from Week 3 of preseason.

1. The gap has widened in the AFC North.
The Steelers have had issues with their offensive line for years but they created hope this offseason by drafting Stanford OG David DeCastro and Ohio State OT Mike Adams. But Adams proved in Pittsburgh’s first preseason game that he isn’t ready to start and DeCastro dislocated his right kneecap, tore his MCL, and suffered damage to his patellar tendon in Saturday night’s game against the Bills. ESPN’s Adam Schefter hasn’t ruled out the possibility that DeCastro could play this year, but it doesn’t look good for the Steelers’ first-round pick. Finding a suitable replacement for running back Rashard Mendenhall continues to be an issue and Mike Wallace remains a holdout. Meanwhile, the Ravens’ offensive line, which was a question mark heading into training camp, has started to gel. Joe Flacco also looks comfortable running Baltimore’s no-huddle offense and receiver Torrey Smith is on the verge of a breakout season. The Steelers are going to complete – that’s just what they do. But the gap between them and the Ravens has widened the past three weeks.

2. Bradford is quietly becoming one of the more polarizing players in the NFL.
His defenders point to the fact that he’s now learning his third offense in three years, has never played behind a sturdy offensive line and doesn’t have a bona fide No. 1 to throw to. His critics say that he needs to be less skittish in the pocket, needs to do a better job of going through his reads and needs to throw more downfield. He is Sam Bradford. Which side is correct? As of right now both sides are. In the Rams’ second preseason game last Saturday, Bradford stood tall in the pocket, went through his progressions and delivered the ball downfield when given an opportunity. But on Saturday night in Dallas he reverted back to the quarterback that his critics have grown tired of. At this point it’s not fair to call Bradford a bust when his offensive line continues to get him killed in the pocket. But at some point he needs to raise the level of his play. It’s not fair to compare him to Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, two quarterbacks with three Super Bowl rings between them. But Rodgers and Roethlisberger have both delivered behind suspect offensive lines. It’s true that both QBs have had better weapons around them but the point is that Bradford needs to elevate his teammates. He succeeded as a rookie because Pat Shurmur built an offense that focused on short to intermediate routes that allowed Bradford to get the ball out of his hand quickly. Last season Josh McDaniels nearly got Bradford killed because he continued to call five and seven-step drops even though his receivers couldn’t get open and his offensive line couldn’t protect. This season the focus is back on Steven Jackson and the ground attack, as well as the short passing game. So can Bradford make significant strides in his development or will he give his detractors more fuel? The jury is still out.

3. Luck continues to impress.
Back in April the media fawned over how the Colts drafted two tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen for No. 1 pick Andrew Luck. “Tight end is a young quarterback’s friend,” is what everyone said, which is true. But what’s interesting is that Luck hasn’t even used his tight ends in preseason. Fleener does have four catches for 38 yards but both he and Allen were shut out on Saturday against the Redskins. Even in the face of poor pass protection and having to learn the nuances of the pro game Luck hasn’t been afraid to throw to his receivers. (Donnie Avery finished with six receptions for 38 yards after being targeted seven times on Saturday while Reggie Wayne caught six of his seven targets for 41 yards.) The Colts don’t have enough pieces to be a threat this season but thanks to Luck they will be more competitive. He continues to stand tall in the pocket, step into all of his throws, and display accuracy and touch on his passes. Expectations should be tempered but the Colts have to be thrilled with what they’ve seen thus far.

4. Concerns continue to grow in Chicago.
The problem with the Tampa 2 defense is that if the front four can’t generate pressure then there’s a lot of holes that opposing quarterbacks can exploit. Fortunately for the Bears they’ve had a player in Brian Urlacher who has manned the all-important MIKE linebacker position for the past decade and they’ve been able to drum up consistent pressure under Smith. But Urlacher’s health will likely be a concern all season and the team just placed free safety Brandon Hardin on injured reserve with a neck injury. With Chris Conte (shoulder) questionable for Week 1, Chicago could have a growing issue in the middle of their defense. It’s imperative that pass rusher Julius Peppers not regress because if he does, opposing quarterbacks will have a field day picking on Nick Roach (Urlacher’s backup) and the safeties.

5. The Lions are seemingly walking a thin line when it comes to health.
Detroit fans should be excited about the possibility that the Lions will make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the mid-90s. But their players continue to drop like flies this offseason. Matthew Stafford (hand), Kevin Smith (ankle), Chris Houston (ankle) and Bill Bentley (shoulder) were all injured in the team’s third preseason game on Saturday. Louis Delmas, Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best were already dealing with injuries or have just recovered from injuries that occurred before last night’s game. Thus, it’s fair to ask whether or not the Lions will be able to stay healthy enough all season in order to compete with the Packers and Bears in the division. Remember, Detroit would have likely missed the playoffs last season had Jay Cutler and Matt Forte not been injured down the stretch. Thanks to Stafford, Calvin Johnson and that outstanding vertical passing game, the Lions remain a threat in the NFC. But this wasn’t a team that steamrolled into the playoffs last year. Questions remain on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in the secondary, and the offense is without a reliable running game at the moment. Outside of the 2010 Green Bay Packers (who were the sixth seed that year, don’t forget), teams that are usually riddled with injuries early in the year don’t have what it takes to make a deep run. It’ll be interesting to see if Detroit can get guys healthy and avoid future scares.

6. Can the Titans establish an identity?
The Texans are the class of the AFC South and they might even be the class of the entire conference, with apologies to the Patriots and Ravens. But the Titans have enough talent to make things interesting in the division if Jake Locker can improve on his accuracy. I like that Tennessee has installed Run ‘N Shoot elements in the offense and thanks to Locker’s arm strength, this team will strike for big plays throughout the year. Chris Johnson should also have a bounce back campaign if the offensive line can do a better job run-blocking and the defense is decent despite the losses of Cortland Finnegan and James Jones. But who are the Titans? Locker has a couple of nice weapons in Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright, but Britt is always in trouble or hurt and Wright is still a rookie. So are they a run-first team? The defense doesn’t have a huge weakness but it also doesn’t have a reliable strength either. What is the identity on defense? I could see Tennessee winning eight or nine games this season but at some point they’re going to need to figure out who they are under Munchak or they’ll remain the definition of blasé and questions will pop up throughout the year.

7. The Cardinals should kick the tires on Hasselbeck.
Since John Skelton couldn’t create any separation between himself and Kevin Kolb in the team’s fourth preseason game, it looks like Kolb is going to win Arizona’s starting quarterback job based on his inflated salary. It’s fair to point out that the Cardinals’ offensive line has been a disaster for the past three weeks and that has played into Kolb’s shaky preseason performance. But let’s not make excuses for him: He’s been brutal. Not that Tennessee has any interest in trading its most valuable backup, but if I’m Arizona I’m at least picking up the phone and seeing what the Titans would want for Matt Hasselbeck. No quarterback is going to succeed behind that offensive line but at least Hasselbeck is a savvy veteran that can get the ball out of his hands quickly and be a ball distributor. That’s all the Cardinals really need because they have enough specialty players. I’m sure Hasselbeck will remain in Tennessee but if the Cardinals are interested in a veteran QB (and why wouldn’t they be?), then the former Seahawk would be an interesting fit.

8. The rich have gotten richer.
Three weeks ago it looked like Cedric Benson wasn’t going to play in 2012 because nobody wanted anything to do with him. But then James Starks struggled in camp and preseason, and Alex Green was slow to recover from ACL surgery. Thus, Benson winds up in Green Bay…and he looks good. Against the Bengals on Thursday night, the guy ran like he was angry at the ground. He was quick, he was spry, he was incredibly motivated. He doesn’t need to be Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew in that Green Bay offense. The Cedric Benson that rushed for 1,000 yards last year will do. Because of the Packers’ up-tempo, no-huddle offense, Benson will face plenty of soft defensive fronts so as long as he’s consistent from week to week, he’s going to make a larger impact for Green Bay than people think.

9. The Bucs are still a year away.
Thanks in large part to Josh Freeman and an opportunistic defense, Tampa Bay surprised in 2010. Even though Freeman and Co. fell off a cliff last season, optimism began to grow for the Bucs when they hired former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano to replace Raheem Morris. (The front office finally opened their checkbook this offseason too, signing Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks.) But the defensive front seven remains a weakness and Freeman doesn’t look comfortable in Mike Sullivan’s offense yet. Through three preseason games he’s completed just 52.9-percent of his passes and has relied mostly on checkdowns. There’s no question the Bucs will be more competitive this year than last, because they’ll rely on Schiano’s power run game to eat up the clock and keep games close. But losing OG Davin Joseph to a season-ending injury doesn’t help and the Saints and Falcons simply have more overall depth and talent in the division.

10. The Davis trade is good for both sides.
Earlier this week Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted that a trade was coming and as it turns out, he was telling the truth. Indy acquired cornerback Vontae Davis from the Dolphins in exchange for a second-round and conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2013. Chuck Pagano brought Baltimore’s defense to Indianapolis when he was hired by the Colts earlier this year. And for his defense to ultimately succeed, Pagano knew he had to acquire a corner that could play press-man. Last week the Colts traded for Josh Gordy of the Rams, but Indy still lacked a defensive back that can be physical at the line of scrimmage and compete on an island. Davis can be that player, although he’s far from justifying his first-round talent. On the other side, the Dolphins weakened their secondary but Davis had already lost his starting job to Richard Marshall and wasn’t a fit in Kevin Coyle’s system. Considering they’re not going to compete this season, the Dolphins got good value in exchange for a player that they no longer viewed as a starter.

After Calvin Johnson Who Is #2 Fantasy Wide Receiver?

After last season’s 96 rec, 1,681 yard, 16 TD performance, “Megatron” is easily the #1 ranked WR in fantasy football- but who do you draft #2?

Brandon Marshall- Even with five different QB’s during two years in MIA, Marshall averaged 83 rec, 1,100 yards and 5 TD a season. In 07-08 w/Cutler in DEN, averaged 103 rec, 1,295 and 6 TD. How bad have the Bears WR been historically? Check this link and Marshall is easily the best one EVER.

Jordy Nelson- Since the 2010 playoffs, no WR has been more productive than Nelson. After a 15 TD 2011, some owners are scared he can’t match that production. But with Aaron Rodgers t QB, why can’t he?

Larry Fitzgerald- Fitz is arguably the best WR in the NFL- but in fantasy he isn’t thanks to another year of his career foreseeably wasted (or at least compromised) by substandard QB play in the desert.

Wes Welker- There are sexier WR out there, but over the last 5 years no one as consistent. 110 rec, 1,221 yards, 6 TD per season over the last five.

After “Megatron” is gone, who do you take next? I’m going Marshall.

Lance Armstrong stripped of his Tour de France titles

Another hero bites the dust.

With Lance Armstrong, however, everything is much more complicated, because he is so much more than just a great athlete. His devotion to the fight against cancer makes him an iconic figure, and many of his fans will continue to support him. Nike and other brand sponsors are sticking by him.

Armstrong was known for being a fighter, but he gave up here as he was facing ten former teammates who were prepared to testify against him. He release a statement attacking the USADA, and he may have some points about the “vendetta” against him. But in the end, his unwillingness to face his accusers speaks volumes.

New mistress allegations for Chad Johnson

Chad Johnson craves attention, but his “look at me” lifestyle is starting to bite him in the behind. When you live your life on social media and reality TV, you really can’t complain when the media devours every aspect of your personal life, good and bad.

Chad Johnson is learning this the hard way, as he’s seen his marriage and career disintegrate on national television following his arrest, and now more information is coming out.

Not surprisingly, RadarOnline.com is reporting about other women allegedly in Chad’s life. According to Radar, Chad had a mistress in Atlanta that was basically his sugar baby. You can see a photo of Amber Priddy above, check out this Amber Priddy slideshow and see more of this exotic model courtesy of Black Men Magazine. According to this report, Chad was covering her rent and flying her in to Miami right under the nose of his new wife, Evelyn Lozada.

We aren’t here to judge, and Chad wasn’t doing anything that most athletes get away with, and you can see that Amber has some serious curves. But when you’re living your personal life in the spotlight, don’t be surprised when everything you’re doing gets exposed.

On the other hand, you have to feel for the guy. Chad was working hard to revive his career with the Miami Dolphins after sitting on the bench in New England for the past year. All of us could see him battling on “Hard Knocks.” Depending on your perspective, he could be annoying or hilarious, but he comes across as a good guy. But he put himself in a bad situation, apparently made a serious mistake, and now his entire life is getting even more scrutinized.

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