RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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TFD: Vikings a top-5 NFL team in terms of 25-and-under talent, ESPN says

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated January 26th at 5:05pm 289849521

fridgewaterLooking for some offseason Vikings hope after another losing season? Well, ESPN.com just ranked the 32 NFL teams in order of which have the most talented players who are 25-and-under. The Vikings, who have had seven first-round picks the past three years, fared quite well — No. 4 behind only the Colts, Patriots and Rams. The Packers were No. 9, the Lions were No. 20 and the Bears were second-to-last at No. 31. Per the ranking of the Vikings, five players were singled out — including QB Teddy Bridgewater and LB Anthony Barr, who are both 22.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB: The Vikings’ new franchise quarterback also happens to be the youngest player on the team. Bridgewater struggled early as a rookie, but the game looked like it slowed down for him as the season went on, and he already has a great understanding of how to distribute the ball. His lack of overwhelming arm strength and his slight frame worry me with regard to his long-term projection.

Anthony Barr, OLB: A running back-turned-edge rusher at UCLA, Barr now is expanding his role even further at the NFL level by playing off the line of scrimmage and dropping into coverage — in addition to getting after opposing quarterbacks. He closes on the football really well. Just wait until he really gets comfortable at the position.

The Cavaliers are winning again, but Kevin Love still isn't his old self

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated January 26th at 3:02pm 289832521

lovePredictably, right as the latest flurry of “What’s wrong with the Cavaliers” stories started hitting a couple weeks ago (this was either the second or third round of them, depending on how you were counting), Cleveland started getting its act together. LeBron James returned from injury, he started getting more help, and Cleveland ripped off a six-game winning streak that is ongoing after Sunday’s win against OKC.

The Cavs are now 25-20 — not anywhere near what people thought they would be, but still they’re trending upward. That said, Kevin Love … well, he’s still working to find his game. He actually had his best game during the winning streak against OKC, getting 19 points and 13 rebounds while hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers despite having a dizzy spell early in the game. That kind of output used to be routine for Love; in the previous five games of the winning streak, though, Love:

*Missed one game with back spasms.

*Shot a combined 17 for 47 (36.2 percent) and was just 3 for 17 from three-point range while scoring an average of 15.3 ppg.

*Had a game against Charlotte in which he played 30 minutes but grabbed just three rebounds.

Long story short: Love is still trying to find his way in Cleveland, and the time for him to do it is shrinking with every game.

Monday (Deflategate hurt Tom Brady's feelings) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated January 26th at 10:26am 289796031

deflatriotsWeek 1 of “Deflategate” had the Patriots playing defense. Now that we’re less than a week away from the Super Bowl, it’s clear their strategy has shifted. They’re ready to play offense with this story of underinflated footballs.

Quarterback Tom Brady set the tone on his radio program Monday morning with a classic move: turning himself into the victim. He’s going to be the bigger person and move past this evil NFL investigation because that’s what bigger people do.

“I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me and my feelings got hurt,” Brady said on WEEI.

Like another famous football player who was in a far more serious situation, Brady vows to get to the bottom of this. But now is not the time, he said. It’s time to focus on the Super Bowl.

I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do,” Brady said. “But this isn’t the time for that, and honestly I’m not interested in trying to find out right now because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

We can’t say we blame Brady for this strategy of shifting the narrative and claiming to be the victim. You see this all the time from high-profile folks accused of wrongdoings, regardless of whether they turn out to be guilty, innocent or somewhere in between.

If you can go beyond merely planting the seed of doubt that you did something wrong and actually have people believe that the real wrong is being perpetrated on you … why wouldn’t you at least give it a shot?

The NFL, in particular, is in a vulnerable position with fans after the way this season played out. “Typical NFL hogwash” is how one ESPN commenter describes all of this. Build up your credibility by being the victim and tearing down your accuser. Whether the Patriots are ultimately guilty or not, someone is advising Brady and co. very well.

TFD: Deep look at Johnny Manziel's rookie year reflects a lot of problems

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated January 23rd at 5:14pm 289632761

manzielEight months ago, we wrote about how we wished the Vikings had drafted Johnny Manziel instead of Teddy Bridgewater. Years from now, we might insist this was just some sort of reverse psychology in order to spare us embarrassment.

For now, though, we will continue to come clean and provide more evidence of Manziel’s troubled rookie year (which stands in contrast to Bridgewater’s uneven but certainly promising rookie year).

ESPN went deep on the Browns and their QB. Here is a taste:

The former Heisman Trophy winner had been passed over 21 times, prompting a text from Manziel to then-Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains that he wanted to “wreck this league” in Cleveland. The words were actually more R-rated, but the implication was clear.

Twitter erupted at the selection. A Cleveland radio host cheered and screamed openly on air. Manziel gave his “money” sign as he walked onstage to greet Roger Goodell.

By season’s end, cheering had turned to frustration and anger as Manziel struggled mightily in almost six quarters as a starter, then was fined for being AWOL the final Saturday of the season. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan resigned with two years left on his contract. Loggains was fired. The Browns openly discussed Manziel’s viability as the franchise’s quarterback at a wide-ranging postseason staff meeting about the roster. And at least a couple of Manziel’s teammates were joking his text should have read “wreck this team.”

The takeaway from the peel-back-the-curtain look at Manziel’s rookie year is that there is, of course, still time for Manziel to get things right — but his actions have to start matching his words.

Wild at the break: Parise, Suter and the impact of grieving

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated January 23rd at 2:49pm 289608481

pariseA couple of weeks ago, John Munson reached out to me on Twitter with this sentiment:

Yo why doesn’t someone analyze the impact of grief in The Wild’s undoing. There is a story there beyond memorializing JP methinks.

I go a ways back with John — 15 years now — to a time when one of us was a young writer covering general assignment sports for the Star Tribune and the other of us was the bass player for a little band called Semisonic. We were both part of a strange and wonderful pickup basketball game that ran every Tuesday and Thursday, comprised primarily of local journalists and local musicians. (Don’t let that description fool you; the quality of the ball was strong, and the games were always the right mix of intense and fun). The two of us chatted sports often during the breaks and down times of those games, and John’s sports opinions have maintained value through the years. He’s a sports fan who tends to think of things from a different — more human? — perspective than a lot of us.

I’ve thought about his tweet pretty much every day since he sent it, trying to get a better handle on it. Munson was referring to both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, two of the Wild’s best players, who have both lost their hockey-playing fathers in the past six months. Bob Suter — whom Ryan described not just his dad but his best friend – died a month before the season started of a heart attack at age 57. J.P. Parise died earlier this month after a battle with lung cancer at age 73.

Media members and fans have spent ample time dissecting the Wild’s coaching, the Wild’s goaltending, the Wild’s physical health — whether it’s on-ice injuries or the bizarre but impactful battle with the mumps. But true grieving? The loss of fathers? That’s much heavier, harder to quantify stuff. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it or ask about it even though the questions are hard.

So when I caught up with Parise on Thursday at a promotional event, I told him about Munson’s tweet and listened to him speak earnestly, again, about how tough things have been.

“It’s been really hard. I can’t speak for Ryan, obviously. I can only see what he went through,” Parise said. “But for me personally, it’s been really hard the last couple of months just seeing everything, and the way everything happened. It’s been awful. A lot of times at the rink, my mind wasn’t there.”

This is where we can all be reminded that athletes are humans. They are not a set of statistics to write in ink or a set of expectations to be mandated. Fans want answers and hate excuses, but life events are not excuses in the way that breaking a stick or having a puck take a funny hop are excuses. Life is a thing we are all living.

We are all fragile. We have all dealt with difficult things in our personal lives, and most of us have been asked to continue working or going about our day-to-day lives while also processing those difficult things. Most of us probably would agree that’s very tough. It’s not the kind of thing you’d be able to label and say it impacted you X percent at your job, but you know it did.

This is not even to say that the performance of Parise or Suter has declined this year. Parise leads the team with 19 goals; Suter, despite a recent hit to his plus-minus rating, is the team’s lone All-Star. Sometimes personal tragedy can be channeled into great performances, as sports history has shown us many times.

“That’s kind of the cool thing about hockey,” Ryan Suter said in September, when he talked about his father’s death for the first time. “You get to get out on the ice and you don’t really have to think about anything. You can just go out and be in your own little world.”

But sometimes life creeps back in, and we should all remember that. Getting back to Munson’s original tweet, the impact of grief on the Wild’s season … the only conclusive thing I would ever say about it is that it caused pain. Parise’s loss is the freshest, and he’s still working through it.

“It was hard to separate myself from what was going on. Mentally, I just wasn’t there and it was hard to play,” Parise said. “But it’s getting better, and hopefully it will continue to.”

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