Les' Blog

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An Outside Job

Apr 14, 2014 -- 10:25am
Despite the glitch in the weather over the weekend
 
Spring is in the air, temperatures are rising, it's a great time to go out and play.  I don't care if you're a kid or an adult---go out and play.  But I've noticed something around my neighborhood.  The baseball diamonds, the basketball courts, the playgrounds---most of 'em are empty.  Where are all the kids?  I know we're still procreating---so where in the world are all the kids?  
 
Unfortunately, I know where they are.  They're inside.  They're playing video games and watching movies and lying on their beds listening to their IPods and sitting on the couch texting friends.  
 
When I was a kid, my parents had to yell my name 10 times to come inside.  It was late, the street lights were coming on, dinner was getting cold, it was time to put away the bat and ball.  Nowadays, parents have to yell at their kids 10 times to get out of the house!  Put down that phone or that tablet.  Go outside!  Get some exercise!  
 
Seems the only time kids are playing ball now is when the parents have signed them up for organized leagues.  The kids don't initiate these games themselves.  They don't knock on the next door neighbor's door and say, "can Johnny come out and play?"  Now, I understand some of this is a safety issue.  Parents are paranoid about their kids wandering about the neighborhood unsupervised.  But a lot of it IS technology.  It's the kids' infatuation with everything technological AND parents using all these devices as babysitters.  After all, if Johnny or Joanna are sitting on the couch, quietly watching or texting or listening to their tech thingie, heck, mom and dad don't have to do any parenting work.  Nothin' to worry about here! 
   
No, nothing to worry about except your kid's obesity or undeveloped social skills.  
 
So, if you're a kid OR a parent watching this, stop!   Step away from the computer.  Go outside.  Go do something.  Anything!  Shoot some baskets,  hit a tennis ball against the wall, throw yourself some popups, run through the sprinkler.  You and the kids might be reminded, "hey, this is a whole lot more fun than staring at a screen."  You'll thank me later.  And so will your family physician.  

Grinding Out Another Rockies Season

Mar 27, 2014 -- 8:56am
Just got back from watching the Rockies at spring training.  What a glorious three days.  Sunshine, perfect temps, shorts and t-shirts, green grass, the smell of hot dogs and, of course, baseball.  Nothing like going to Arizona, watching some spring ball and getting away from the grind.  
 
But I didn't get away from the grind.  In fact, "grind" seemed to be the operative word down in AZ.  
 
"We have a team full of grinders."
"We're gritty."  
"If we face a team that's not ready to play, we'll grind out a win."  
"That Dickerson kid isn't a great centerfielder, but he's a grinder."  
"LeMahieu might not be a great offensive player, but he'll grind."  
"We need the starting pitchers to grind it out for six innings each outing."  
 
Okay, I get it.  Your guys are great at grinding it out in a gritty manner.  
 
But what about talent?  Tell me about talent.  Because at the pro level---I don't care if it's baseball, football, basketball or hockey---you better have talent if you want to win.  
 
If you tell me you have talent in left field (Cargo) or at shortstop (Tulo) or in right field (Cuddyer), if you tell me the third baseman (Arenado) is a vacuum over there or your catcher (Rosario) has great pop in his bat, I'm buying.  I'm with ya on all that.  If you tell me you're going to have a really good defensive team, I'm buying that, too.  
 
But please stop trying to sell me on this collection of backup outfielders (Dickerson, Blackmon, Barnes, Stubbs), or how your new first baseman is going to rebound from five straight years of lagging production, or how your catcher is improving defensively or how much you love your below average second baseman.  And I'm BEGGING you to stop telling me how confident you are in this starting rotation.  Really.  Please stop it.  It's a rotation that was weak to begin with and now won't have its #1 starter (Chacin) for the first month of the season.  
 
Can the Rockies be competitive this year in a pretty strong NL West?  Sure, if a lot of things---a LOT of things---go right.  They might even be able to grind out a .500 season.  (There's that word again!) 
 

But you know what's really a grind?  Listening to the Rockies front office tell us, year after year, how they're going to compete with a smaller payroll, an inability to develop enough of their own players and with lesser pitching talent than just about every other team in the National League.  By perennially continuing to shovel that you-know-what at us, they might convince themselves and they might convince those fans who wear purple colored glasses.  But they ain't foolin' me or any of the other sports fans around here who know a good ballclub from, well, the Rockies.  

A Real Catch

Mar 17, 2014 -- 1:35pm
I'm a big fan of Eric Decker's.  I like his game.  Good Size.  Pretty good speed.  Made a lot of big catches for the Broncos over the last few years.  Good guy off the field, too.  In four short years, he became an integral part of the community.  Hell, I was even fond of his wife, Jesse.  Nice, funny, talented lady.  That said, on Sunday, the Broncos upgraded at the wide receiver position.  
 
In fact, after Emmanuel Sanders held his introductory news conference at Dove Valley, a high-ranking Broncos executive took me aside and said very plainly, "he's better than Decker.  And it'll be apparent quickly."  
 
Sure, it would be easy to compare the two players' stats and ask that exec, "what the hell are you talking about?  The numbers aren't even close."  No, they aren't.  But you have to dig a little deeper to understand why Decker's numbers look so much better.  First and foremost, you have to take into account the offenses that Decker and Sanders played in, respectively.  For Decker and the Broncos, it was a fast paced "O" with a "pass first" mentality. The Steelers, traditionally, were more of a grind-it-out team that quite often lined up in two-receiver sets.  
Dig a little deeper and the numbers reflect that.  Last season, Peyton Manning threw the ball 75 more times than Ben Roethlisberger and completed 75 more passes.  Manning targeted Decker 137 times last season.  Big Ben threw to Sanders just 112 times.  That's a big difference---25 times over the course of the year.  Decker saw the ball come his way almost two more times per game.  Plus, in Manning, he had a much more efficient quarterback throwing him the ball.  Big Ben is good, but he ain't Peyton.  
 
Put Sanders in this Broncos offense and watch those numbers increase---in, very possibly, a huge manner.  Here's why:  
 
1) Sanders is quicker and Sanders is faster.  Yes, as I said at the top of this story, Decker has pretty good speed.  We saw him get behind the secondary quite often.  But look at tape of Sanders.  It's like he has a jet pack strapped to his back.  Quick, quick, quick.  He doesn't just slip past a defensive back periodically.  He explodes by 'em like a Ferrari passing a Volkswagen on the autobahn.  
 
2) Question…what seemed to be one of Decker's biggest problems this year, especially in the Super Bowl?  Despite his size, he couldn't get separation from the more physical, quicker Seattle Seahawks defenders---not at the line of scrimmage and not in the open field.  Basically, that inability rendered him non-existent on Super Bowl Sunday. Well, Sanders, because of that quickness, gets exceptional separation.  
 
3) Sanders is as good, if not better, than Decker after the catch.  Again, the speed and quickness are exceptional as he's running the pattern AND after he has the ball in his hands.  Simply, he makes guys miss (and John Elway mentioned this ability on Sunday).  
 
4) Decker is very good when he lines up wide and he does an admirable job when he lines up in the slot.  Well, Sanders stands out when lining up at either position.  If something were to happen to Wes Welker---and let's face it, Wes does have that ugly concussion history---Sanders is a helluva slot receiver.  In fact, his first three years in Pittsburgh, that's where they lined him up, primarily.  
 
There is one other thing Sanders gives this team that Decker did not.  Great kick returning ability.  As things stand right now, Sanders will be at the top of the depth chart as the team's kickoff AND punt returner.  That's NOT ideal.  You don't want such a valuable commodity---your #2 receiver---sacrificing his body on special teams every game.  But right now, that's the way things stand.  Decker, of course, could return a punt or two, but he was put back there mainly to secure the football and, every once in a while, he was tripped up by a phantom tackler.  
 
So, for all those reasons, Emmanuel Sanders is an upgrade over Eric Decker.  Of course, now Sanders has to prove he can perform to Decker's standards.  He'll get the chance.  A Broncos executive all but promised me that.  

Elway Goes Deep--Again

Mar 14, 2014 -- 11:07am
For the third year in a row, the Denver Broncos are making, by far, the biggest splash in the free agency pool.  Actually, it's not just a splash.  It's a good old-fashioned, leap off the high-dive, knees tucked under, scream like a crazy man, get everybody wet cannonball.  
 
Since being put in charge of the Broncos football operation, John Elway has attacked free agency the way he used to attack opposing defenses---in "bombs away" fashion.  
He did it again this off-season by signing three big name defenders to big money contracts.  You wanted more physical, more aggressive guys on the defensive side of the ball?  You wanted playmakers?  Well, Elway went out and got some in Demarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and T.J. Ward.  Many are calling it "the haul of the off-season."  No other team has come close to making such roster-changing, culture changing, impactive moves.  
 
But should we really be surprised?  Hasn't Elway shown us in four short years that he really is The Duke, that he's still the gunslinger he was as a player, that he still has that throw-the-bomb mentality?  
I mean, take a look at many of the free agent signings he's made since taking over as V.P. of Football Operations.  
 
In 2011, he signed Willis McGahee.  All McGahee did was run for 1,199 yards and help the Broncos become the best rushing teaming the league. 
In 2012, he signed the biggest free agent name in the history of the league---Peyton Manning.  He also added Mike Adams, Keith Brooking, Joel Dreesen, Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme Andrew Caldwell and Dan Koppen.  All of those players contributed to a team that went 13-3 and earned the #1 seed in the AFC. 
In 2013, Elway signed a free agent class for the ages:  Lou Vasquez, Wes Welker, Shaun Phillips, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Terence Knighton.  And mid-season, he picked up a starting middle linebacker in Paris Lenon.  Of course, this team made it to the Super Bowl. 
 
And now, there's the class of 2014.  No, we don't know if Ware, Talib and Ward will perform up to the standards of the previous Elway free agent classes.  But right now, these signings look pretty damn good on paper.  
 
Elway and the Broncos seem to have this free agent thing down pat.  Now, with a little help in the draft and some good health going forward, another super off-season very well could lead to a super end of the season. 

From Out of Left Field

Feb 24, 2014 -- 9:56am
The Rockies made an announcement this past weekend.  Carlos Gonzalez will not be moved to centerfield.  He's staying in left.  A round of applause for the Rox, please!  Good move.  Smart move.  Frankly, moving Cargo to center never should have been considered. 
 
Look, don't get me wrong.  Cargo would be magnificent out there.  In fact, anywhere he plays in the outfield, he's magnificent.  I'd go so far as to say, if he's in left, he's the best leftfielder in the game.  If he's in center, he's the best centerfielder in the game.  And if he's in right, well, you get it.  He's just fantastic defensively.  Covers a lot of ground, can make the spectacular leaping or diving catch, and has a great arm.  
 
But putting him in CF would have Worn.Him.Out.  And if there's one guy you don't wanna wear out, it's Carlos Gonzalez.  He's too important to this lineup, to this team.  
 
That Coors outfield is a killer---especially for center fielders.  There's a lot of space out there.  I mean, you need a shuttle service to get from left to right.  And with the 35-year old and not-so-swift Michael Cuddyer in right field, Cargo would've had to cover even more ground.  On top of that, we've seen Cargo play centerfield.  He plays it with abandon, which can lead to injury.  And we know how bad the Rockies can be without Cargo (and Tulo) in this lineup.  
 
So, good decision, Rockies!  Keep Cargo in left and chances are better that you'll keep him healthy.  (You're probably keeping him happy, too.  Reading all the Cargo quotes, it sounds like he wanted to stay in left.)  
 
Now, the question is, who plays centerfield?  If I'm manager Walt Weiss, I'm hoping off-season acquisition Drew Stubbs is the answer.  He's pretty good with the glove.  The hope is, he finds a way to hit righties better and improves his on-base percentage.  The Rockies will take a look at Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson in CF, but if either of them is in your starting lineup every day, sorry, it weakens the lineup.  
 
You know, the team DID have the answer in center.  It was Dexter Fowler.  But the Rockies didn't wanna pay him and, this offseason, shipped him off to Houston.  Remind me again, what did they get for him?  Oh, right.  (FYI, execs all over baseball are still scratching their heads over that move.  Most teams wouldn't trade away a moderately priced, speedy young center fielder who can hit leadoff.  Then again, the Rockies aren't like most teams.)  
 
But this move---keeping Cargo in left?  A nice one.  And the right one. 

Living on the (L)edge

Feb 05, 2014 -- 9:57am

Soon after the super beatdown at Super Bowl XLVIII, I started receiving numerous Facebook, Twitter and text messages from Broncos fans. And they all said pretty much the same thing: "Les, please talk me off the ledge. I'm so depressed (or humiliated/frustrated/embarrassed, etc)."

Okay, I'll talk you down. But first, I have a few simple questions for you. I would appreciate a simple "yes" or "no" answer… 

  • Are you related to Peyton Manning?
  • Are you related to any other player or coach or member of the Dove Valley support staff, i.e. video production, secretarial pool, grounds crew, etc.?
  • Are you best friends with anybody in the question above?
  • Do you make your living buying or selling Broncos merchandise or memorabilia? 
  • Did your dog or cat or pet iguana die as a result of the Super Bowl loss? 
  • Did a relative die as a result of the Super Bowl loss? 
  • Did you lose your job as a result of the loss?
  • So, you still have your job?
  • Did somebody remove all the food from your refrigerator or steal your Costco card as a result of the loss?
  • So, you'll be able to continue eating?
  • Do you still have your wallet?
  • Did you sign over your bank account to anybody as a result of this game? 

And now, before you answer the next question, please look out the window. Is sun out today? If not today, has the sun been out any day since Super Bowl Sunday? (In case you don't remember, yes, Monday was a sunny day.)

Is the earth continuing to rotate?

Okay, you know where I'm going with this. You still have a pulse (or you wouldn't be reading this), you still have food on the table, you still have money in the bank (though still not much) and your spouse still sleeps in the bed next to you, right? Then come off the ledge!

I realize many people identify with the local football team and take great pride in said football team. But to identify with a team to the point where you're depressed, suicidal, or violent because they lost a game? Maybe you're a little too invested emotionally. It's entertainment, folks. Did this team NOT provide great fun, thrills and laughter over the last six months? I'll answer that one for you: Yes, they did!

Don't let four bad hours make you forget about the joy you experienced since training camp opened last July.

There's a saying in baseball: "There's always a game tomorrow." Well, there's always a next season in football. Oh, and Peyton Manning will be back next season. So will Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas and Montee Ball and maybe Eric Decker and maybe Knowshon Moreno and most of what was a very good offensive line.

Plus, Ryan Clady is back. The defense --- a really good run defense --- gets back its pass rusher supreme, Von Miller, and a really good cornerback in Chris Harris. Pot Roast is back, too. Do changes need to be made? Sure. This team needs to get younger and faster and more physical. Do you have faith that John Elway recognizes all this, as well, and can get it done? I do. 

So, come in off that ledge. It's a football game and a football team and a football season. That's all it is. Entertainment. A game. A game that doesn't force you to make any lifestyle changes because of one win or one loss, no matter how many Roman numerals follow it. It ain't life and death and your job and your loved ones. And if you insist on being invested so emotionally, well, you can't win it every year. Nobody does. But there is a next year. There always is.

Super (Bowl) Stars

Jan 29, 2014 -- 10:09am

I knew Super Bowl week would be ratcheted up some in New York City, but it's even exceeded my expectations. Normally, the Super Bowl site is a convergence of the football and entertainment worlds. Here in the Big Apple, it's football, entertainment, politics and a little baseball thrown in. (The only reason there's no NBA or NHL presence is because they're in season. Otherwise, I have no doubt, LeBron and Gretzky would here.)

The first night, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Standing in the lobby of the media hotel was the Reverend Jesse Jackson. CJ and I sidled up to him --- he's a hero of CJ's --- and we had a 15 minute conversation. He was Jesse Jackson through and through. He wanted to talk football. He wanted to break down the game. But he did it in quintessential Jesse Jackson style:

"The constitution of the team revolves around the distribution of the ball. The Super Bowl mission is full of tradition."

CJ and I kept throwing glances at each other, not believing what we were hearing or who we were standing with. I spent a lot of time just biting my lip, hoping not to smile too much or break out laughing.

The lobby and Radio Row are full of stars. Howie Long, Kurt Warner, Eli Manning, Jim Brown, Hall of Fame candidate Derrick Brooks, James Brown (the TV anchor, not the singer), Joe Buck, comedian/actor Rob Riggle. Later in the week, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary are coming by to promote their upcoming movie. Baseball star Darryl Strawberry joined us Tuesday on the show. Also, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will stop by our table and talk a little football and politics.

At one point, Booger McFarland walked by and all I could think of was, "I wonder what it's like to go through life with that name. And what would he name his kids? Phlegming? If he has any Indian blood, I guess he could go with "Running Nose." 

Many of the stars are pushing a product. For instance, Shannon Sharpe has promoted KFC and sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein pushes a line of chocolate. Kicker Garo Yepremian of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins brought me ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery. That's just how it works here. Everybody's whoring out something.

One of our loyal listeners sent me a Facebook message and said, "You're a bigger name-dropper than ESPN's Michael Wilbon." My response? Nope. Not name dropping. Just covering the lead-up to the Super Bowl." That's what this week is about --- parties, celebrities, interviews, selling product. But we always end up talking some football with these people and with each other. After all, that's why CJ and I are here, right? Right?

 

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