Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hey, where did Charlie Justice's locker room go?


Walk in Kenan Stadium now and you’re in for a shock. The old Spanish style field house in the East end zone is gone, replaced by bulldozers, temporary trailers and a lot of greasy mud. It’s part of Carolina’s New Kenan project to build luxury suites and an academic building where the old fieldhouse stood.

The place is sure to look even swanker once the project is completed, but it’s still sad to see the old-style building go. Kenan, unlike many modern football stadiums, still retains a historic look and feel, and that aura will be different once the new facility is ready.

ACC has five teams in preseason coaches poll

Five ACC teams were selected to the preseason USA Today football coaches poll which was announced Friday. This marked the first time since 2004 that the ACC had five teams picked among the preseason poll’s Top 20, the league announced in a news release. The ACC led all conferences with five schools selected in the Top 20, while the SEC had the most total Top 25 picks with six.

Virginia Tech led the way for ACC schools, being tabbed for 6th place on the inaugural 2010 coaches poll, followed by Miami (13th), Georgia Tech (17th), North Carolina (18th) and Florida State (20th). Additionally, Clemson (31st) and Boston College were among schools receiving votes in the poll.

The last time the ACC had five schools in the Top 20 of the preseason coaches poll was in 2004 when Miami (5th), Florida State (6th), Clemson (16th), Virginia (19th) and Maryland (20th) were chosen.

The ACC had five teams selected to the pre-season USA Today coaches Top 25 in 2005, but only three of the teams—Virginia Tech (7th), Miami (8th) and Florida State (12th)--were among the Top 20, with Boston College ranked 22nd and Virginia 23rd.

In all, ACC teams will play 10 schools in 2010 ranked in the pre-season Top 25 including No. 1 Alabama (Duke, Sept. 18), No. 2 Ohio State (Miami, Sept. 11), No. 3 Florida (Florida State (Nov. 27), No. 5 Boise State (Virginia Tech, Sept. 6), No. 8 Oklahoma (Florida State, Sept. 11), No. 15 Pittsburgh (Miami, Sept. 23), No. 16 LSU (North Carolina, Sept. 4), No. 21 Georgia (Georgia Tech, Nov. 27), No. 23 Auburn (Clemson, Sept. 18), and No. 24 West Virginia (Maryland, Sept. 18).

The Conference will also play no fewer than 19 games against teams which were ranked or received votes in the pre-season USA Today coaches poll.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Renner impressive at UNC, will push for starting job at QB

Bryn Renner, UNC quarterback
Just watch North Carolina’s quarterbacks for a moment in practice, and you can tell Bryn Renner has a polish to his game that’s hard to define. It’s the way he rolls out of the pocket, the way he throws, the light touch he puts on the ball when he hits a back on a flare route. When you watch the UNC quarterbacks, you automatically think, “That Renner kid will start.”

T.J. Yates, by comparison, appears almost jerky compared to Renner’s fluid style. Carolina’s first practice was Friday afternoon in the heat, and there was plenty that jumped out from a day of watching the Heels.

Running back Ryan Houston looks leaner quicker and Carl Gaskins has a chance to shine at left tackle. And A.J. Blue is running after last season’s devastating knee injury. But the biggest impact on this team could come from Renner, and don’t be surprised in the least if he grabs the starting job for the opener against LSU.

In fact, one reporter who has been around UNC for years is confident Renner will start – and could emerge as one of the better quarterbacks the Heels have ever had.

Now, Carolina has never been blessed with great quarterbacks, so it’s not like BYU or Southern Cal, but this much is clear – having an efficient performer at quarterback would make a world of difference for UNC.

Renner entered Carolina a lean 185 pounds and is now 217. He said he is still mastering the playbook and still working on throwing back to his left. He’s smart enough to say, when it comes to whether he’ll start, “I’ll leave that up to the coaches.”

But the fact that this is even an option says plenty about this talent. He completed 15 of 21 throws for 184 yards in the spring game, and when you watch him you can tell he looks like a polished quarterback. He was a SuperPrep All-America and ranked the No. 6 quarterback in the country by ESPN.com out of West Springfield (Va.) High.

Like others on the Carolina offense, he has heard and read how that unit is the weak link of this Tar Heel team.

“As an offense, we’re thinking, ‘We’ll prove you wrong,’” he said.

Updates coming today from Chapel Hill

Check back Friday afternoon for updates from Chapel Hill as UNC holds its first football practice. The Tar Heels are on the field at 1:30 p.m. and will speak to the media at 3:30 p.m.

Marvin Austin and Greg Little will practice, and of course a great deal of the media questions will be about the NCAA investigation even though Carolina has said only athletics director Dick Baddour will talk on the subject.

More coming this afternoon ...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Breaking down Cody Zeller's choice of colleges

Cody Zeller, a rising Indiana high school senior and brother of UNC's Tyler Zeller, has narrowed his choices for college to Butler, Indiana and North Carolina.

Zeller, announcing the finalists Thursday, says it will come down to the coaches, his comfort with teammates, the quality of the business school and the facilities.

All three coaches are excellent: Indiana's Tom Crean, which has turned that program around; Butler's Brad Stevens, one of the best young coaches; and Roy Williams, who is one of the winningest coaches of all time. Edge? Probably UNC. Williams has the most stature, experience and the highest ranking on various online polls.

As for teammates, it depends on if he means talent or guys who he can relate to and enjoy being around. If he's talking about talent, then the edge goes to UNC again. The Heels have the most talent of the three. But if he means comfort as far as being able to relate, Butler would have a slight edge over Indiana. Butler has nine players from his home state of Indiana and eight of them are white like Zeller. Indiana has five players from the state of Indiana and four of them are white. Except for whatever walk-ons make the Tar Heels roster, there is only one white player and only one from Indiana on the Heels squad and that's his brother Tyler. With Butler having enough talent to make the final two last year, I'd give the edge to Butler.

While mentioning Indiana having a good business school, it's actually Carolina's Kenan Flagler business school that ranks highest of the three by Businessweek magazine. UNC comes in 14th while Indiana is 19th. Butler's business school in not ranked in the top 50. The ranking and educational reputation of UNC should give the edge here to Carolina.

As for basketball facilities, the bigger schools of UNC and Indiana would have the edge here. Since Indiana is picked more often in the top five for atmosphere in the arena itself, I'd give a slight edge to Indiana here.

Unless he really wants to stay in the state of Indiana, the overall edge would have to go to Carolina. Tyler Zeller would be playing his senior year during his brother's freshman year. A final decision is expected in November. By the way, the oldest brother Luke Zeller played at Notre Dame.

ACC honors Crotty, Engen ... and 2 sports writers

The ACC’s two top awards are actually named for sports writers, with the Anthony J. McKevlin Award going to the top male athlete and the Mary Garber Award going to the top female.

And this year, Duke lacrosse player Ned Crotty deserved the McKevlin, in an honor that continues Duke’s fast-forward thrust past the negative issues of the past. The Blue Devils broke through and won the national championship this year behind classy coach John Danowski, and Crotty won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s top lacrosse player. Crotty had 23 goals and 63 assists in Duke’s 16-4 season.

Winning the Garber Award was North Carolina’s Whitney Engen, the soccer national player of the year who led the Tar Heels to the NCAA title. She won the Honda Award as the nation’s top player and paced a Carolina defense that led the Heels to a 23-3-1 record.

Every year, voting for the award is intense, but Crotty and Engen are deserving winners – two national players of the year who led their programs to national titles.

And as for McKevlin? He was a former News & Observer sports editor; Garber was one of the pioneers in sports writing as a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal.

UNC needs its defense to close out games

North Carolina opens practice Friday afternoon in Chapel Hill, and while the immediate questions will be about the status of the NCAA investigation, the long-term issues for the Tar Heels will be whether its remarkable talent on defense will can close out games in 2010.

UNC won eight games last season for the second straight year as the turnaround under Butch Davis continued. The season could have been remarkable, but Carolina couldn’t hold fourth-quarter leads against Florida State, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. And the UNC defense couldn’t get off the field in critical situations against Georgia Tech and Virginia, contributing to both of those losses.

Tech had an eight-minute drive for a score in the fourth quarter that seemed to last as long as the Korean War and the Jackets won, 24-7.

It was easy to assume Carolina simply struggled against Tech’s unique offense, but the fourth-quarter failings would continue. The next week, Virginia drove for a touchdown with 3:33 left and won, 16-3.

Three painful fourth-quarter failures would follow. Florida State rallied from 18 points down on a Thursday night ESPN game and won, 30-27. N.C. State’s Russell Wilson nailed Owen Spencer for a 38-yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter of Tom O’Brien’s annual victory over the Heels. And Pittsburgh kicked a field goal with 52 seconds left to win the Meineke Car Care Bowl, 19-17.

UNC’s offense should be better this season, and that’s a factor. The receivers will be more experienced and Carolina probably won’t have to patch the line together the way it did in 2009. Regardless of your view of T.J. Yates, he had a tough hand to play last season. Shaun Draughn, Ryan Houston and Greg Little are all more experienced. It’s not a great offense but it should provide the defense more help.

Still, great defenses close out games. Carolina has NFL talent combined with high aspirations – to achieve those will require some stout efforts by its defenders when games are on the line.

Super Bowl may be coming to a city near you

How would you like to be able to drive to the Super Bowl? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed to indicate Wednesday, during a visit to Redskins Park, that Washington's FedEx Field could be a host of an upcoming Super Bowl.

But it could be a while. Goodell says the NFL will wait to see how the Super Bowl goes in New York City first but he expects the 2014 Super Bowl in New York (New Jersey actually) to be a success. Both stadiums are open air and are in cities that are cold that time of year.

Unlike most coaches (apparently) in the NFL, Goodell says he likes the idea of playing football in the elements. I do too. A great team should be able to play in all sorts of weather, not just a climate-controlled dome. Plus, it makes for a more interesting game.

“The fans here are terrific, and I have no doubt that it would be successful,” Goodell said. “We took a big step this year in awarding the Super Bowl to New York.”

Redskins owner Dan Synder, evidently a budding meteorologist, is pushing to host the Super Bowl and says that the weather will be fine in New York for the Super Bowl. "I think people will be surprised by the weather," he said. "It's not going to be a problem."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sequoyah golf course is worth a look

Taylor Zarzour, on his Sports Drive radio show Tuesday, asked his listeners to give their favorite golf course in North Carolina. And one listener called in and said, “Sequoyah.”

Sequoyah? I’d never heard of it. But all you have to do is go to the website, sequoyahnational.com, and you’re like, “Ah, I get it.” Sequoyah is located near Cherokee, in the Smoky Mountains, and mountain golf courses are just great.

Sequoyah, 45 minutes west of Asheville, is a Robert Trent Jones II course that measure 6,600 yards and is a par 72. Summer rates aren’t exactly cheap - $85 per round Monday through Thursday and $110 Friday through Sunday.

My favorite is a mountain course, Linville Ridge. And while I’m not much of a golfer, one look at Sequoyah makes me want to go grab the clubs.

Zarzour’s list of favorites, by the way, is 1, Grandfather Golf and Country Club; 2, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte; 3, Pine Needles Golf and Lodge in Southern Pines; 4, Pinehurst #4 at Pinehurst Resort; and 5, Raleigh Country Club.

Nicks struggling with injuries with New York Giants

This isn’t good. Receiver Hakeem Nicks is missing practice time with the New York Giants because of a hyper-extended right knee, The New York Times reports.

Nicks, the former North Carolina star, injured his knee in practice Tuesday, and the Giants are waiting for the results of an MRI. He was already recovering from a toe injury, The Times reported.

Nicks had 47 catches for 790 yards and 6 touchdowns last season as a Giants rookie.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Favre: Still waffling after all these years

During a previous chapter in my life, today would have been busier than anyone could imagine.

From 1997-2001, I worked for The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., as the New Orleans Saints/NFL beat writer. The Saints were my main responsibility. But Brett Favre was responsibility 1a since The Sun Herald was Brett's hometown paper and had covered him since high school.

Back to today. The Saints are in training camp, coming off their first Super Bowl win. Favre is pondering retirement. Get the picture?

I offer no first-person insights to No. 4 today, but I can offer some perspective. The AP reported today that Favre had informed the Vikings that he wasn't returning. Other news outlets, Fox, ESPN and others, have reported that Favre sent text messages to friends saying his body isn't ready for him to play this season.

My former colleague and still friend, Al Jones, has known Favre for decades. Al still writes for The Sun Herald and posted this story to their website today that Favre's family says no decision has been made one way or the other.

I lean toward that being true.

State should experiment with Wilson at other positions

Russell Wilson is turning from baseball to football as fall drills start at N.C. State, but the Wolfpack should consider using him at a position other than quarterback at least in some situations.

Wilson is a brilliant college quarterback, and led the ACC in touchdown throws last year with 31. But he’s just not likely to make the NFL as a quarterback at 5 feet 11.

It’s true, as Wilson pointed out to reporters Monday, that Drew Brees is a top NFL quarterback and stands only 6 feet. But Brees was a pocket passer at Purdue and overcame any questions about his height once he arrived in the NFL.

Wilson is an efficient passer and has a great arm, but he still does much of his damage when moving out of the pocket. He won’t do that in the NFL, with 235-pound linebackers just as quick as him flying into the pocket. Or if he does it, he won’t do it long. You can't dodge NFL defenses for 16 games.

What’s surprising about Wilson, when you stand next to him, is how strong he is across the shoulders and arms. He has the strength and explosive ability to convert to cornerback, where his size would be a natural fit in the NFL. And he might be able to make the transition to receiver as well.

NC State's Ted Brown one of 12 ACC legends to be honored

ACC NEWS RELEASE - Led by the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time career rushing leader in NC State’s Ted Brown, Georgia Tech’s only three-time first-team All-America in Randy Rhino, and one of only five players in ACC history to have been named ACC Player of the Year twice in Clemson’s Steve Fuller, the ACC Tuesday announced its Class of 2010 Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game Legends.

The Legends will be honored at this year’s Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game weekend. They will be honored at the ACC Night of Legends event on Friday, Dec. 3, will also be recognized during ceremonies at Bank of America Stadium for the 6th Annual Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship, which has a 7:45 p.m. kickoff on Dec. 4 and will be nationally televised by ESPN.

Joining the three mentioned above as 2010 ACC Legends this year are Boston College’s Tony Thurman, one of the leading pass interceptors in college football history; Maryland’s Darryl Hill, a standout wide receiver who was the first African-American football player in the Atlantic Coast Conference; and a trio of some of the best defensive linemen to ever play college football in Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware, the 1996 ACC Defensive Player of the Year; Miami defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, an eight-time NFL Pro Bowl performer; and Virginia Tech defensive end Cornell Brown, who was named National Defensive Player of the Year in 1995 by The Football News.

Completing this year’s Legends Class is a quartet of running backs any coach would love to have on their team in Duke’s Jay Wilkinson, the 1963 ACC Player of the Year; North Carolina’s Ethan Horton, chosen by the Associated Press as the ACC’s 1984 Player of the Year; Virginia’s Barry Word, the 1985 ACC Player of the Year; and Wake Forest’s Larry Hopkins, who led the Deacons to the 1970 ACC Football Championship and then led the ACC in rushing in 1971.

Former minor leaguer wins the Bachelorette but there's an age scandal

You heard it here first - and it's been verified by Durham-based Baseball America's archives - Roberto Martinez, the winner of the Bachelorette "competition," apparently is 29 years old and not 26 as promoted on the show and as listed in all the stories you see.

Martinez, the suave Latin lover, was picked by bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky, 25 (we think), on last night's finale of ABC's Bachelorette TV show. Martinez is moving from his adopted hometown of Charleston, SC to San Diego to live with Fedotowsky.

Roberto Martinez is not the younger Roberto Martinez who played for the San Francisco Giants a couple of years ago. While both Robertos are Dominicans, this Roberto Martinez was born May 2, 1981 in Bonao, Dominican Republic. Both were pitchers but this older Roberto Martinez is a right-hander and didn't get closer to the majors than the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats of the Class A South Atlantic League.

Martinez, who played in the Dominican Summer League for the Devil Rays organization in 2000 before being cut, was drafted twice - once by the Rockies in 2001 and then by the Twins in 2002 - but the later-round pick chose to continue playing for the University of Tampa (Fla.) He eventually wound up in the Expos organization but after pitching in 17 games for Savannah in 2003 and posting a very high ERA at 8.03, his baseball career ended.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Duke looks to run (and pass plenty)

Duke's football fortunes rose and fell last year on the arm of quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. The senior helped the Blue Devils rank No. 9 nationally as they averaged 305 yards per game.

But the Devils were dogged by an ineffective ground game. They ranked at the other end of the national rankings -- No. 120 -- by averaging just 63.5 rushing yards per game.

This season, with Lewis gone, coach David Cutcliffe and the Devils aim for more balance to their offense.

Cutcliffe and senior center Bryan Morgan both say last year's offense was so one-dimensional because they were playing to Lewis' strengths. But if Duke is to match or exceed last year's 5-win total, Duke will need Renfree to be a highly productive passer while getting strong contributions from running backs Jay Hollingsworth and Desmond Scott.

What we don't know is if Duke's offensive line can handle that much run blocking. Pass-blocking is a different skill because, if a quarterback has a quick release, he doesn't need his linemen to hold their blocks very long.

Run-blockers must pile-drive the defenders to clear holes that allow the running backs to get into the secondary for big gains.

This is an important season for Duke since they enter the start of practice with a lot of momentum. Cutcliffe's decision to say no to Tennessee was a boost to the Devils fortunes. Strong play from their offensive line, in both run and pass blocking, would be an even bigger boost.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Do gangstas and other criminals particularly like Duke, Carolina and State?

In watching America's Most Wanted last night, I noticed that one accused criminal was pictured wearing an N.C. State Wolfpack sweatshirt and another was pictured wearing a Duke hat. What's up with that? Do criminals like ACC teams or something?

The one wearing the Duke hat was a gang leader from South Carolina who was captured recently at a public library in Greensboro on charges of robbery, kidnapping and assault with intent to kill. Turns out that Duke apparel is used by the "Folks" gang whose colors are Black and Blue. For them, "DUKE" stands for "Disciples Utilizing Knowledge Everyday."

Here's the rub - and proof that gang members don't get it - Tar Heels apparel is also used by the "Folks" gang. Could you imagine a modern-day "West Side Story" with Duke and Carolina gangstas fighting on the same side?

N.C. State isn't listed on gang knowledge Web sites as being represented so the criminal wearing the Wolfpack sweatshirt might have been a run-of-the-mill criminal. Or maybe he was a member of the "Spanish Vice Lords" who wear red clothing.