Sunday, August 19, 2007

Gotta Say It Was A Good Day

It's been a fine weekend, and Saturday, in particular, was an excellent day. Not for me personally, since I spent my morning impersonating Will Farrell's character in Old School-- "we're going to the Home Depot, maybe a little Bed Bath & Beyond"-- but for fans of Wisconsin and Packer football.

First, and perhaps most importantly, John Clay finally enrolled at UW and became a full on member of the football team. Clay's status had been in serious doubt. The Journal-Sentinel reported in early July that he would be academically ineligible, but apparently he did well in a few summer school classes and was able to raise his GPA just enough. Well done, John! Now don't even get close to academic ineligibility ever again.

There's some commentary needed about the Journal-Sentinel's rush to judgment on this matter. I'm not sure who their sources were for that story, but they were apparently right on the initial facts-- that purely based on his normal high school record, Clay wasn't going to be eligible. But you would have hoped that they could have looked into whether it was possible to do anything to salvage his eligibility. That sort of thing -- players just making the academic cut at the last minute-- happens all the time. (For an interesting description of the process, read The Blind Side, about all-SEC tackle Michael Oher's efforts to become eligible.) I guess UW doesn't have a history of enrolling players who are right on the edge of eligibility, like, oh I don't know, every school in the SEC. So maybe it didn't cross their minds to check if Clay had any additional way to get eligible. That's a serious failure on their part.

In retrospect, what's most surprising about the article is how definitive it was, claiming that Clay "won't be allowed to play this season" and that UW fans eager to see Clay would "have to wait until the 2008 season." As we know now, that was just plain wrong, and even at the time, it dramatically overstated the facts. A careful journalist would have qualified things, stating, for example, "it appears Clay won't be eligible" or "based on his current academic record, Clay will be ineligible." And you'd have thought that dealing with an eighteen year-old high school kid would make you especially cautious. The story must have been tremendously embarrassing for Clay and his family. I wonder why Jeff Potrykus, a writer I respect and enjoy reading, felt compelled to state the facts that strongly, and as time revealed, that incorrectly. It would be interesting to hear him explain himself. I think it would be great if the Journal-Sentinel encouraged him to do so. If Potrykus has any more internet chats this fall, I'm definitely going to ask him about it.

Anyhow, away from journalistic ethics and back to football. To some eyes, Clay is the best high school running back the state of Wisconsin has ever produced, ahead of guys like Calhoun, Michael Bennett, Aaron Stecker and Brent Moss. No one knows what he'll become at UW, but it's great that he's finally here, and both he and fans of UW get to avoid the depressing consequences of his potential ineligibility. At the least, he'll bolster the team's depth at running back, which had looked frighteningly thin at the start of training camp. Now there's PJ, "Rance" Smith (subject to his legal problems), Zach Brown, Quincy Landingham (a highly rated two-way recruit who enrolled early and played safety during spring practice), and Clay. In addition to congratulating John on getting here, the coaching staff also talked about how he looked in shape and how they were trying to get him up to speed quickly. My favorite comment came from running backs coach John Settle. According to the State Journal, Settle compared Clay trying to catch up after missing two weeks of practice "to a first-round draft pick who arrives in camp late after a holdout." I hope that statement is indicative of Clay's talent and potential.

Other good news on Saturday included the Packers' absolute pounding of the Sea-Ospreys. Cullen Jenkins again looked ferociously quick at the line, getting a sack and a tackle for loss in the quarter or so he played. Blackmon busted a huge kickoff return, and definitively established himself as the leader for the returner positions. The first string offense played ok, typically cleaving decent holes for Jackson-- four yard gains were there pretty regularly. I'm getting a little worried about Driver (he had at least one drop), again Jennings was invisible, and Brett didn't seem that accurate, but at least they moved the ball.

On defense though, the team was absolutely dominant. Most of Seattle's "first string" yardage came on a broken play where Nick Collins had former Viqueen Nate Burleson wrapped up, and Barnett ran over and tackled Collins off of Burleson, who then ran for another 40 yards. But the D made up for it-- Atari "Sega" Bigby had two sacks on safety blitzes, and the team returned two Seneca Wallace fumbles for touchdowns. Jarrett Bush, who looks like a good bet to be make the team, had two interceptions, and should have had a third.

But I have to dampen the enthusiasm a little. Neither Hasselbeck nor left tackle Walter Jones played. Jones is probably Seattle's most talented player, although he's getting old. Hasselbeck is a far better QB than Wallace. And the team's right tackle sat out as well. So Jenkins, Kampman and KGB were lining up on second string tackles and chasing down a second string quarterback. With that happening, you'd expect the Packers to win the first quarter, and you'd expect the D to be getting to the quarterback quite often. So don't get too excited. But anyhow, they looked good. The only significant injury was back up end Michael Montgomery, and he should only be out a couple of weeks. Besides Rodger's fumbles, and the back-up linebacker play, Packer fans should feel good about the team today.

So in sum, it's been a good weekend-- excellent news on both the UW football and Packer fronts. I'm now off to see Superbad, which I'm hoping will be a dirtier and funnier version of Can't Hardly Wait. Then, I'm going to try to convince the woman to make eggplant parmigiana. The hits just keep on coming.

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