Thursday, April 15, 2021

Browns sign Jadeveon Clowney

   Andrew Berry finally got his man after two off-seasons of trying as the Cleveland Browns signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year contract worth eight million dollars for 2021.

Clowney may make an extra two million dollars, should he hit certain unannounced incentives during the 2021 season.

The top overall pick in 2014 by Houston. Clowney was traded to Seattle during the 2019 season and then signed with Tennessee before last season.

Clowney played in only eight games for the Titans, due to injury, and did not record a sack, but is entering a situation in Cleveland that is similar to his situation in Houston where he lined up opposite a dominant pass rusher (J.J. Watt to Myles Garrett) that was being double-teamed on every play.

Clowney thrived as the secondary rushing threat, finished with nine sacks twice, and made the Pro Bowl from 2016-18 with the Texans.

Clowney was drafted as and still holds a reputation as an elite pass rusher, but at 28 years of age Clowney has never finished with more than nine and a half sacks in a season.

What Clowney does bring besides the reputation is the ability to rush the passer into getting rid of the ball quicker or an unofficial "hurry".

Causing "hurries" can often be just as important as a sack as a desperate passer throws the ball to get the ball out and oftentimes results in an errant pass that can be incomplete or even better-intercepted.

Clowney is also underrated against the run and he may be more of a sure thing as a run defender than a pass rusher at this stage of his career.

In fact, if it wasn't for the concerns in keeping Clowney healthy, he could be a three-down end and not hurt you at all

The signing of Clowney also may change how the Browns use their first-round pick as it was possible that Cleveland would have been looking for defensive end help.

Now, I think the Browns are more likely to look for a cornerback unless someone falls to 26 that is unforeseen,

While Jadeveon Clowney has the big name and comes at a reasonable price (even if Clowney hits every incentive, he'll make less than the Browns paid Olivier Vernon last season), it could have one other consequence- the possible loss of Sheldon Richardson.

Richardson is scheduled to make over thirteen million this season and the signing of Clowney may force the Browns to either restructure Richardson's contract or possibly even release him.

Frankly, considering Richardson's level of play for the Browns and given the choice between an injury-plagued defensive end and a durable defensive tackle, I might choose Richardson.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cleaning out the inbox: Passings

   The tributes never stop as the chain of life rolls along without some notable people who recently left us.

Goodbye to Bob "Slick" Leonard at the age of 88.

Slick Leonard might be the "Mr. Basketball" for the hoops-crazy state of Indiana as he was part of the sport there for almost seventy years.

Leonard was a two-time All-American for Indiana and hit the game-winning free throw to give the Hoosiers the 1952 National Championship before a seven-year playing career with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers.

Leonard then took over as head coach of the Indiana Pacers in the ABA, early in the league's second season (1968-69). kept that job for the remainder of the league's life and for the franchise's first four seasons in the NBA after the league's merger with the ABA.

Leonard coached the Pacers to the best record in the ABA's history, won three ABA titles (1969-70, 71-72, and 72-73),  and lost in two other finals on his way to the basketball hall of fame.

Leonard rejoined the Pacers in 1985 and until recent health issues were the long-time color commentator for Pacers broadcasts.

Goodbye to Ken Reitz at the age of 69.

Reitz played for four teams but spent most of his career with the St.Louis Cardinals, who thought so highly of his defensive prowess that after they traded him to the Giants before the 1976 season, traded for him to return him to St.Louis before the 1977 season.

Nicknamed the Zamboni for his abilities on artificial turf, Reitz had the misfortune to be the best National League defensive third baseman during the career of Mike Schmidt.

Reitz did manage to win one Gold Glove for the Cardinals in 1975, but in a league without Schmidt Reitz would have likely won a few others.

Goodbye to Gerald Irons at the age of 73.

A hard-nosed linebacker that split his career between the Oakland Raiders (six seasons) and Cleveland Browns (four seasons) from 1970-79, Irons was the Raiders third-round pick in the 1970 draft from Maryland-Eastern Shore and was unlucky in his career as Oakland traded him to Cleveland in the off-season before the Raiders 1976 Super Bowl championship team and would retire the season before the Kardiac Kids in 1980 for the Browns.

Irons played in the days before official tackle numbers but did intercept 13 passes in his ten-year career.

Irons's son Grant would play for the Raiders, and his son Jarrett was a two-time All-Big Ten performer for Michigan.

Goodbye to Mike Sensibaugh at the age of 72.

Sensibaugh was an All-American for Ohio State in 1970 and played for the Buckeyes 1968 National Championship team.

Sensibaugh's 22 interceptions over his three seasons in Columbus remains the program's all-time record holder for interceptions in a career.

Sensibaugh punted for Ohio State as well before being chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs in the eighth round of the 1971 draft.

Sensibaugh played for five seasons in Kansas City before traveling across Missouri to finish his career with three seasons with the St.Louis Cardinals, finishing his NFL career with 27 career interceptions.

Sensibaugh's eight interceptions in 1972 as a Chief led the AFC and trailed only Philadelphia's Bill Bradley's nine in all of pro football.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Devils trade Kulikov at deadline

  Tom Fitzgerald didn't stop after his previous trades before the deadline as the New Jersey Devils made one final trade on deadline as the team traded veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to the Edmonton Oilers.

New Jersey will receive Edmonton's fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft, but should the Oilers win their first-round playoff series, the Devils pick will be upgraded to a third-rounder in the same draft.

The 30-year-old Kulikov had signed with New Jersey for 1.1 million on a one-year deal before the season and played well in his stint in Newark as a solid, defense-first blueliner that didn't score a goal in his thirty-eight games and finished with two assists.

Kulikov isn't a playmaker type, but I thought his solid season and a cheap contract would attract a team that could slot him in as the type of defenseman that can play on your second or third pairing.

I thought that Kulikov's play might fetch as high as a second-rounder, but trade-deadline seasons can vary and as All About the Jersey stated, it's all about what someone is willing to pay and we are in a time where Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac brought a larger return than Taylor Hall did for Buffalo, so you take what you can get.

I mentioned yesterday that the Devils had placed Sami Vatanen on waivers and perhaps his assist in last night's loss to Pittsburgh gave the Dallas Stars some hope with the veteran, as Dallas claimed Vatanen off waivers and will have the veteran for their next game.

Vatanen finishes his second tour as a Devil with two goals and four assists in thirty games.  

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Devils acquire Siegenthaler, waive Gusev

   I'm not sure what I'm watching tonight with the New Jersey Devils hosting Pittsburgh and the Cleveland Cavaliers in New Orleans to face the Pelicans and both games starting at the same time.

And even so, it is Masters Sunday, so the Masters could play a part in what I decide to watch, but the Devils have made another trade as they traded the third-round draft pick that they obtained from Arizona in the Taylor Hall trade last season to Washington for defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler.

The trade seems to fit both teams' needs for the upcoming expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken.

Washington had too many defensemen of quality and couldn't protect them all, while New Jersey needed a defenseman worth keeping along with Damon Severson with Ty Smith's lack of experience keeping the team from being forced to use a spot on him.

Adding Siegenthaler allows New Jersey to expose either Will Butcher or P.K. Subban to the Kraken and hope that Seattle selects either the out of favor Butcher or the overpaid Subban to loosen even more salary for a team that is in good shape already as far as cap space.

As for Jonas Siegenthaler, he has been scratched in 30 of Washington's most recent 31 games, but as mentioned, Washington is very deep on their defensive roster.

Siegenthaler didn't score a point in the seven games that he did play this season and in the 2019-20 season, Siegenthaler scored two goals with seven assists in 64 games for Washington.

Siegenthaler is reported to be a good skater and a defense-first blueliner that could develop into a solid second-pairing defenseman.

The 2015 second-round pick hails from Switzerland and is a former national teammate of Nico Hischier on the Swiss junior world team, so there is some familiarity there.

Siegenthaler is only 23 and will be a restricted free agent after the season, but New Jersey didn't trade for him to allow him to walk away...

Meanwhile, I missed this note from earlier in the week as the Devils waived/terminated winger Nikita Gusev and allowed him to search for a new team, which Gusev found in the Florida Panthers.

Gusev arrived in New Jersey with a large amount of fanfare after dominating the KHL and the Devils traded a second-round pick to Las Vegas to gain his rights with the team signing him shortly thereafter.

At times in 2019-20, Gusev looked like a player capable of spectacular things and finished with 13 goals and 31 assists in 66 games, but never seemed to connect with Lindy Ruff and his style of play and was only active for twenty games this season, finishing with two goals and three assists.

In the end, a player with Gusev's defensive deficiencies had better be able to finish around the net and he simply didn't do that enough to be worth his playing time.

Gusev may succeed in Florida, as it seemed to me to be more of a fit within the Lindy Ruff system than a lack of talent or even hustle.

New Jersey also waived Sami Vatanen today after making their trade with Washington.

Vatanen was re-signed by the Devils as a free agent, but arrived late due to Covid-19 passport problems and played in only 29 games, scoring two goals with three assists.

Boxing Challenge: Ennis erases Lipinets, Smith shades Vlasov

 The Saturday boxing evening shifted to ESPN and Showtime and while the results ended in wins for the expected "Chalk", but in only one case did the winner walk out of the ring with the kudos that were expected as well.

Let's start with the three-fight Showtime card from Uncasville, Connecticut, and their main event with the highly touted Jaron "Boots" Ennis taking his next step forward against former IBF junior welterweight champion Sergey Lipinets.

Much as in last week's fight between Jamel Herring and Carl Frampton, the size difference between these two was glaring and Ennis dominated the once-beaten Lipinets in every round, including a 10-8 round after a fourth-round knockdown.

With Ennis leading 50-44 going to the sixth, there wouldn't be a seventh as Ennis finished with a right hook followed by a left hand to send Lipinets crashing to the floor with the fight ended without a count.

Al Bernstein made a great point on the telecast when he stated that Ennis is unusual for a fighter that can switch easily from lefty to righthander in that he can do so without losing power in either hand.

Ennis is bad news already for anyone in the division, not named Spence or Crawford, and his talents might be just as even against them although he could need a little seasoning against a fighter better than Lipinets against a Shawn Porter or Keith Thurman before a fight with the champions.

Ennis may not receive that title shot for a while as he is the definition of high risk-low reward for Spence, Crawford, or newly crowned WBA champion Yordenis Ugas and may have to be the mandatory challenger, but unless one of the inept "Four Donkeys" of boxing decides to radically elevate Ennis after his win over Lipinets, Ennis may have to fight an eliminator or not.

Ennis is currently ranked 7th by the WBO, 9th in the IBF (although this could be his biggest leap as Lipinets was rated 3rd there), 12th by the WBC, and unranked by the putrid WBA, who finds a way to rate fighters such as Gabriel Maestre, Alberto Palmetta, Abel Ramos, Cody Crowley, and Conor Benn without Ennis.

Truly awful...

The undercard pitting two of those WBA welterweights rated ahead of Ennis in an eliminator between Eimantas Stanionis and Thomas Dulorme.

Dulorme is a solid, but not quite top ten 147 pounder and he was thought to give the undefeated Stanionis his toughest fight as a pro and he did so in a close unanimous decision victory,

Stanionis won the final four rounds on my card to win 115-113 over Dulorme, who likely earned himself another paycheck against an undefeated prospect/contender with a strong effort.

I don't think Stanionis has a prayer against Jaron Ennis, but he looks like an eventual top ten welterweight.

The opener was expected to be a dull battle and instead was a terrific fight as Jerwin Ancajas retained his IBF junior bantamweight championship with a unanimous decision over Jonathan Rodriguez.

Lots of action in this one and Ancajas scoring an eighth-round knockdown that won him the fight on my card 114-113, although it seemed that many were unhappy with the official scores that saw Ancajas win by wider margins of three, five, and seven points.

If you really stretch things, you may see Ancajas by three points but the five and seven are ridiculous cards.

Ancajas kept his title for the ninth time and I'd like to see him in a unification fight against WBO champion Kazuto Ioka, which would create a natural opponent for the survivor of the triangle between Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and a great attempt for the unknown Rodriguez, who I would like to see again in a big fight.

Over on ESPN, heavily favored Joe Smith rallied to win the final two rounds and slide by Maxim Vlasov by a majority decision in Tulsa Oklahoma to grab the vacant WBO light heavyweight title.

The scorecards were even at 114-114 and the two cards for Smith were 115-113 and 115-112.

The latter score didn't cost Vlasov the fight, but Smith hit Vlasov in the back of the head in the eleventh round and the fight was shortly delayed so Vlasov could recover, but the 115-112 judge still scored the round 10-8 stating that he thought it was a knockdown.

That's great and all, but your ruling isn't suppose to overrule the referee's decision- Be grateful that point didn't cost Vlasov all that much.

Vlasov used an awkward volume punching style that puzzled Smith for most of the fight and I thought Vlasov did enough to pull the upset 115-113 on my scorecard.

But per usual, the underdog on the road rarely gets the close call and Vlasov certainly didn't help his cause by giving Smith the final two rounds which were enough to give Smith the win.

Smith will likely unify his newly won title with those of WBC and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev in what should be a great fight between two straight ahead bombers with the best punching power in the division.

In the boxing challenge, I outscored Ramon Malpica seven-five on the weekend (including the previously written Conor Benn win) with the win by Jerwin Ancajas allowing for the two-point difference.

I lead the boxing challenge 45-41.

Boxing Challenge: Benn stops Vargas in one, but Bridges hangs the star

  The boxing challenge opened Saturday afternoon with British welterweight prospect Conor Benn facing his toughest opponent in veteran trialhorse Samuel Vargas.

Vargas has never been a top welterweight and failed against the top fighters that he has faced such as Errol Spence, Amir Khan and in his latest fight, Vergil Ortiz, but he was still the toughest test that Benn had faced,

Still, the less I say about this one the better as a few combinations knocked Vargas into the ropes (which could have been ruled a knockdown), a few punches landed before a strong uppercut and the referee ended the fight after less than a minute and a half.

It's an impressive win for Benn, the son of former super middleweight champion Nigel Benn, but the early stoppage does take a bit of the shine off the win.

Ramon Malpica and I each earned one point in the boxing challenge for the Benn victory, but the bigger story for me was the undercard and a women's division fight that not only had interesting buildup, but backed it up in the ring.

I haven't been interested in women's boxing.

Not because I dislike women's sports really, I just haven't had a reason to care.

The fighters haven't had personalities that grabbed you in a way that wanted to make you root for them or for them to be defeated, and the biggest problem has been the lack of explosive punchers that give fans such excitement.

The best in the sport haven't done either- as the top two pound for pound fighters have stopped few opponents (Katie Taylor 6 of 17 and Claressa Shields 2 of 11) and other than Amanda Serrano ( 29 of 40), none of the other top fighters have many stoppage wins either.

The personality issue has been an issue that is just as difficult to tackle as other than an occasional Shields twitter rant, the sport has been more Bob Backlund than Hulk Hogan in promotion and it has shown in interest.

And then two fighters grabbed my attention and made me want to watch.

DAZN places about every possible event to an upcoming card of theirs on their service and they began dropping a few videos on a fight between England's Shannon Courtenay and late replacement Ebanie Bridges of Australia.

Many of the media, far more knowledgable than I on female boxing, criticized Bridges qualifications (5-0, but against very limited competition) for a title fight (the vacant WBA bantamweight title) and dismissed her as a pretty face that was doomed for failure against the better-known Courtenay.

Since I had never heard of Bridges, it was easy to push another fight to not watch on a day scheduled to be boxing loaded aside.

However, then the press conference and the DAZN faceoff (think of how HBO used to put two fighters together across a table and let them go) really made me interested in the pairing.

Bridges was charming, yet with a wink that showed she's in on the gag of boxing promotion and with the ability to not take herself seriously, the 34 year old math teacher had the looks and mouth to sell a fight, but what would happen in the ring?

After all, it's one thing to hook someone into watching, it's another to keep them there with the skills in the ring, so I wasn't really sure what to expect from Bridges (or Courtenay for that matter) and whether this would be a real fight or something similar to the Mia St.John sideshows years ago.

And when the bell rang?

We got a great fight, the best fight of the day, and while Jaron Ennis's knockout of Sergey Lipinets (Post later today) was the performance of the day, it was Ebanie Bridges that stole this Saturday for me.

Bridges moved, threw punches that were meant to hurt rather than only score points, never stopped chugging forward, and survived a ninth round that would have finished many fighters (male or female) and battled through a swollen shut left eye that I've seen more heralded fighters with far stronger resumes surrender through a lesser eye injury through ten rounds.

I scored the fight 5-5 and a draw, so Courtenay winning a close decision wouldn't have been a robbery had the judges scored it 6-4 as one judge did.

But in typical boxing fashion, the other two judges had ridiculous 8-2 scorecards and showed again that a fighter on the road better dominate or they aren't getting the nod.

In the end, this fight wasn't about one of a thousand title belts or even another questionable scorecard that boxing never seems to deal with.

After all, bad scorecards are howled about for the evening or even the week, and then we move onto the next week and the next awful judging exhibition.

Peel back the easy superficial take with Ebanie Bridges and look deeper than the looks and image, she has the heart that champions possess- watch rounds nine and ten with her left eye that reminded me of the famous photo of Carmen Basilio's eye after his second fight with Sugar Ray Robinson, and tell me that she doesn't have it.

Shannon Courtenay may have won the fight and title, but champions come and go with the wind.

True fighters and their efforts of the heart last far longer in the heart and minds of boxing fans and historians and Ebanie Bridges showed that she belongs in the company of the most courageous.

I'll be watching her again. She's made a fan.

And that's something that I wouldn't have thought I'd type at this time yesterday. 

Back later with a look at the Smith-Vlasov and Ennis-Lipinets fights from Saturday night.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Boxing Challenge

    The boxing challenge will be on three networks with the most important two events dueling with the wonderful counter-programming that make following boxing so "wonderful".

ESPN leads us off with the filling of the long-vacant WBO light heavyweight title with Joe Smith facing Maxim Vlasov for the title vacated shortly after Canelo Alvarez gave it up after defeating Sergey Kovalev in December 2019!

Various cancellations, delays, and the WBO insisting on a four-man tournament have resulted in a championship without a champion for well over a year.

Smith knocked former champion Elieder Alvarez through the ropes and out in nine rounds to enter the finals and with a then-surprising win over Jesse Hart before that, Smith was one of the few to have a good 2021.

Vlasov dropped down to light heavyweight after a loss to Krysztof Glowacki and has won three straight and when his semi-final opponent had health issues, was sent straight to the finals against Smith.

Vlasov has split two fights with former contender Issac Chilemba but has lost both of his other notable fights losing almost every round to Gilberto Ramirez and to Glowacki.

The winner (expected to be Smith) will likely unify their newly won title with the WBC and IBF titles held by Artur Beterbiev later this year.

Showtime's evening version features three fights with the best of the three looming as the stepping-out party for super welterweight prospect Jaron "Boots" Ennis.

Ennis faces former IBF junior welterweight champion Sergey Lipinets, who is best remembered for his losing effort against Mikey Garcia and his stoppage over Lamont Peterson, but struggled to a draw last time out against little-known Custino Clayton.

Lipinets is the best opponent that Ennis has faced, but I have a feeling that he is going to be tailor-made for Ennis to look spectacular against.

It is very possible that the best fight to be made in the welterweight division may not be Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford- it could be Jaron Ennis vs Vergil Ortiz.

Another welterweight fight is the co-feature as undefeated Eimantas Stanionis faces gatekeeper Thomas Dulorme.

Stanionis looked strong in his last fight against Janer Gonzalez in December, but Dulorme is a step up in competition from his previous victims.

Dulorme is a gatekeeper that loses to the top fighters (Terence Crawford, Yordenis Ugas, and Jamal James), but was good enough to draw with Jessie Vargas and if you aren't top ten level, Dulorme can beat you.

I wouldn't be surprised a bit to see the winner of this against the winner of Ennis-Lipinets.

The opener is the return of IBF junior bantamweight champion Jerwin Ancajas in a delayed mandatory defense against Jonathan Rodriguez.

Ancajas was the odd man out in the 115-pound division when he was with Top Rank and he may be in the same situation with PBC, but perhaps a unification fight against WBO champion Kazuto Ioka could be in the works with a victory over Rodriguez, who may be yet another of a recent parade of bad IBF mandatory challengers.

In the afternoon, DAZN offers undefeated welterweight Conor Benn against trialhorse Samuel Vargas from London.

Benn, the son of former super middleweight champion Nigel Benn, won his last fight with an easy unanimous decision win over Sebastian Formella and Vargas has lost to former champions Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, and Errol Spence with a loss in his last fight to Vergil Ortiz, so a win over Vargas would likely move Benn to bigger things in the division.

Considering Ortiz took seven rounds to stop Vargas, an impressive win could move Benn to the verge of the top ten in the division.

In the Boxing Challenge, I lead Ramon Malpica 38-36.

Vacant WBO Light Heavyweight Title. 12 Rds
Joe Smith vs Maxim Vlasov
R.L: Smith KO 9
TRS: Smith KO 6

Welterweights 12 Rds
Jaron Ennis vs Sergey Lipinets
Both: Ennis Unanimous Decision

Welterweights.12 Rds
Eimantas Stanionis vs Thomas Dulorme
Both: Stanionis Unanimous Decision

IBF Junior Bantamweight Title.12 Rds
Jerwin Ancajas vs Jonathan Rodriguez
R.L.: Rodriguez Split Decision
TRS: Ancajas Unanimous Decision

Welterweights. 10 Rds
Conor Benn vs Samuel Vargas
Both: Benn Unanimous Decision