Game Time: Mike Leach, Texans and Grounded Clubs -- Weekend Thoughts

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The Whalers can take it out of you
​I'm two hours removed from a 5:00 a.m. flight this morning from Boston to Houston, so if this post is even remotely coherent we all have Rich Connelly and his ninja proofreading skills to thank. Because when you go up to Hartford for Whaler Fest 2010, there's no half steppin', people.

Yes, this weekend I took my talents to Hartford for a reunion/Fan Festival with the old Hartford Whalers. The event was stupendous -- part comic con for hockey geeks, part celebration of my youth, and part grass roots effort to bring an NHL team back to Hartford. I'm going to devote my space here tomorrow for a rundown from the weekend, largely because I think Houstonians, specifically Oilers fans, can identify with a city losing a team that is woven into its fabric -- the Whalers leaving Hartford for North Carolina in 1997 is a lot more like the Oilers leaving for Nashville than you'd think. Trust me, you won't have to be a hockey fan at all to enjoy tomorrow's post.

So as I ready myself to crank out a few thousand words tonight about my buddy John Perugini picking fights with former NHL All-Star Brendan Shanahan (like, for real...he did that...twice), a few thoughts on happenings from the last couple days...

TEXANS GAME
I've seen most of the Texans game against the Cardinals this weekend, and I'm cautious to get too wrapped up in analyzing four quarters of football in which about ten percent of the playing time involved the players who will be carrying the mail this year. I'll leave the "x's and o's" of specific plays here and there to my buddy Lance Zierlein who has a nice breakdown of the game from Saturday on his blog today.

A few items that come to mind for me coming out of Saturday...

Neil Rackers:
In a training camp that is actually short on dramatic position battles, the one that has most people riveted at practices and because of Kris Brown's late-game troubles last season is the kicker battle. My opinion all along (and I don't think I'm alone) is that Neil Rackers would have to be significantly better than Brown to win the job; if it's anywhere near a coin flipper, Brown's not going anywhere. So with that in mind, if I'm Rackers, I'm a little pissed off the game ended on a John David Booty sack on Saturday with a 50-yard field goal in play to send the game to overtime.

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The unique jazz stylings of Mike Leach, available on CBS
​I understand wanting to get out of a preseason game without any more injuries (more on that in a second), but as critical as the kicking game has been the last couple years (Hell, you can argue it cost the Texans a playoff spot last year), why not give the challenger a chance to show something. Put it this way -- if you don't give him a chance there, then is he really getting a chance at all?

Ben Tate:Do I hate seeing Ben Tate go down with an injury in a meaningless preseason game? Of course. You feel for a kid who was, frankly, struggling a little bit to begin with. Now instead of improving at things like blitz pickup and getting comfortable with the Texans' scheme, his rookie year will be focused on healing and rehab for his injured ankle.

Now all of that said, the national media (because Tate was a second-round pick) will make a much bigger deal out of the injury than it actually is, especially with Steve Slaton clearly not over his ball-security issues. But whereas the national media has not caught up with how good Arian Foster has looked, they've clearly overshot on how integral Ben Tate was thus far.

Remove the second-round-pick label and what you've had so far is a rookie back who has given off a serious "bad body language" vibe and been singled out by his coach for needing to mature a little bit. In other words, Tate hadn't been showing much to indicate that he was going to be a major factor yet anyway. It does increase the importance of Steve Slaton shaking off whatever is going on between his ears because his rookie year in 2008 feels like it was performed by an actor playing Steve Slaton at this point.

Texans Fans: It's 2010 and it's the internet, a time and place where being perpetually miserable seemingly and ironically is what makes everyone happy (quite the conundrum). So having not been able to watch the Texans game live Saturday night, I was naturally following people's comments about the game on Twitter on my iPhone -- comments from Texans insiders, bloggers, and fans.

The insiders and bloggers were treating the game with the appropriate amount of urgency (read: next to none). The fans were a different story. When the Texans gave up 19 points in the fourth quarter and John David Booty was sacked to end the game, there were a TON of people legitimately angry ("same old Texans" seemed to be the consensus). Never mind that a lot of these folks are the same ones lamenting paying for preseason tickets because the games are "meaningless." So which is it? Are they meaningless, and if they are then why get worked up over them?

Bottom line -- if any of the players in the game at "winning time" Saturday night are playing at "winning time" come September, then the 2010 season is probably not unfolding the way we want it to anyway.

Saints-Texans Practices: PLEASE make a note, I will be in New Orleans Wednesday through Saturday covering the Texans practice sessions and preseason game with the Saints. I'll have full reports here from the practices Wednesday and Thursday (the two days the teams practice together), so be on the lookout.

MIKE LEACH
Honestly, the Texans could have lost Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Brian Cushing for the first four games of the season and you'd have a hard time scrubbing the smile from my face. The dream has become reality -- Mike Leach is going into television! It was announced this morning that Leach has signed on as a game analyst for CBS College Sports.

While we have no idea what to expect until he actually puts a headset on and a microphone in his hands, the forecast on Leach has got to be pretty promising, right? Worst case, his floor is a younger, more bizarre version of Lou Holtz. Best case, Leach becomes the next in the line of "terminated coaches becoming tour de force analyst" after Jeff Van Gundy and Jon Gruden. I'm giddy.

That said, I completely agree with my guy Chris Level at RedRaiderSports.com (who has spent as much time around Leach as anyone in the media the last several years) when he surmises that Leach would be far better utilized as a studio analyst. As a game analyst, we get Leach's thoughts largely about the two teams on the field at the game he's working (UCF and N.C. State is his first game, for the record.); in the studio, we would get Leach's opinions about broader issues, more teams, and pirates.

Seriously, plunking Mike Leach down into the Brando-Tillman mix as the third man wouldn't be entertaining? I'd watch every week, if for no other reason than to see Brando's reaction when Leach compares the spread offense to the kama sutra.

Kudos to CBS for signing Leach, but thumbs down on his assignment. Putting him on game analyst duty instead of the studio is like the Texans drafting Brian Cushing and then asking him to drop 30 pounds to move to safety (a weight loss which actually may or may not be easier than we thought it was six months ago).
GOLF
Sorry, golf, it's gonna take more than this "grounded club" controversy to rope me in if Tiger's not in the mix. Next

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 PM weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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