Playing golf in the mountains is….different.

I was fortunate enough to play golf at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac, New York a few weeks ago while on vacation. As a Florida boy who has only played out of the state once prior, hills and grass other than Bermuda is a weird, weird thing.

The first thing that was different hit me well before teeing off – it was while I was looking for a tee time. The first group can go off as early as 5:40am. Here in Florida, during the summer, we are lucky to get off by 7am and if we do we are either chasing the mowers around the course or we are playing on an unmowed track.

Fortunately, we had an 8:07 tee time so none of that was an issue, and neither was the heat. The temperature when I teed off with my wife’s cousin, John, was a beautiful low-humidity, 75ish degree morning.

When I stepped on the first tee I saw something that I’ve only seen once, on my only other time playing out of the state – mountains.

 

IMG_4037

The view from the tee box at the first hole at Putnam County, properly named “Nature’s Beauty”

 

We have some courses in the middle of the state around Dade City and Brooksville that have elevation changes, but nothing has a mountain in the background. We also do not have the benefit of “getting the roll” that often which I was fortunate enough to do on this downhill, dogleg left.

The next thing that really opened my eyes was the beauty of the greens. They are bent grass, which is completely different than Bermuda. The best comparison is to say to roll a golf ball in your driveway on concrete and then roll it on your granite countertop. Bent is the granite, Bermuda is the concrete. It was surreal to actually play the break in the green and not play the bounce.

The elevation was not just on the first tee. The course routinely went slightly up and down the mountainside, usually on the side hill (yet somehow there was never a lie where the ball was ridiculously below your feet). It wasn’t until we made the turn and hit the 11th hole, named “Down and Away” where we were fully shooting down the side of the mountain.

 

IMG_4039

The view from the 11th hole, “Down and Away”

It is a simple, dead-straight, 397 yard par four but the challenge lies between the ears. The smart play is to hit a long iron or hybrid and use the 70+ foot elevation to your benefit. Unfortunately, the smart play isn’t always in order when you’re standing at the top of a mountain shooting down to a reachable par-4 with a backstop behind the green to keep the ball from rolling into the pond behind the green.

When looking at the names of the holes on the scorecard, one name stood out. It stood out because of it’s simplicity – Hole 16 – “Star.” It looked simple enough –  par-3, 152 yards from the blue tees. What is challenging about that?

As I found out the name refers to where the pin is located. You have to aim for the stars to hit the green, because the pin is perched some 60+ feet above the tee box.

 

IMG_4042

The flag is somewhere up on top of that hill.

Again – I’m in Florida. We do not need 9ft flag sticks like Putnam County generously offered on multiple holes. 152 on flat ground is an easy 8-iron. When the pin is six stories up…?

At the end of the round, I was happy. It was a beautiful course that I was glad that I was able to play. The condition of the course was perfect, the layout was challenging and if I was to rank “fun” it would have been a 5 out of 5 rating. It wasn’t an easy course that you could pound into submission, but it did not wear you out because of all of the thinking that you had to put into it. If you wanted to smash driver – go for it. If you wanted to lay up – that was an option too. The bunkers were a little thicker than what I’m used to but that was to be expected – I wasn’t in Florida playing in sugar sand. The rough was much different because although thick, the ball didn’t settle to the bottom like it does here in Florida. I am really grateful that I was able to play Putnam County and I look forward to playing some of the other courses in the Mahopac area in the years to come.

 

IMG_4038

An old Barn near the tee box at the par-5, 5th hole named “Barn Shot”

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

USF Football is good. So what happens now?

Last year the Bulls finished 11-2, including a Birmingham Bowl victory against South Carolina. Things were trending upwards, and then…change.

Head Coach Willie Taggart departed for rainier pastures leaving for Oregon and all of the money that the Ducks have to offer. This included the majority of the coaching staff, which on offense helped the Bulls develop into the most potent offense in school history and one of the most efficient and dangerous offenses in the country.

The Bulls also lost two key cogs in that offensive machine in RB Marlon Mack, who left early for the NFL Draft and senior WR Rodney Adams.

Here’s a few points to ponder as we roll through the summer and into fall camp:

-Taggart is gone, but did USF actually upgrade with the hiring of Charlie Strong? Taggart went from #McNeeseState to ranked in four years, but did this team peak? I tend to think so. Truth be told – I wasn’t a fan of Taggart. The fact that it took 26 1/2 games to realize that you have a team of athletes, so let them run, told me all I needed to know about Taggart. He was always the smartest guy in the room, always knew the best way and was completely inflexible in every way (just ask all of the high school coaches in the Bay Area….). Taggart was hellbent on his offense – that I-form, line’em up, boring football. When he let athletes make plays, they made plays. Shocker.

Let’s not forget that USF didn’t pluck Charlie Strong from Texas – Texas fired Charlie Strong. Strong was never a good fit at Texas so it isn’t completely shocking that he failed there. What will he bring to USF? First – he is an ace recruiter. He proved that at the University of Florida while serving as the defensive coordinator and then at Louisville, where he pulled Florida talent into Kentucky on the regular. If he can somehow wrangle up the talent in the Bay Area and keep them home, that’d be a success in itself because it’s NEVER HAPPENED. If he can pull the mid to high range talent from around the state on to Fowler Avenue, successes all around.

Prior to Texas, Strong was known for defense. USF dearly needs that identity. To put it kindly, USF’s defense last year was a joke. Fortunately, there is talent – Strong’s abilities will definitely be put to the test trying to mold this group into something consistent. And better.

Can the offense be as offensive as it was last year? Outside of Mack and Adams, all of the skill positions return. QB Quinton Flowers is a dark horse Heisman candidate. His ability to run sets his skill set apart from the majority of QB’s in the nation. Last season Flowers completed over 62% of his passes for over 2800 yards and throwing for 24 touchdowns. He added another 1500+ yards on the ground and averaged just under 8 yards per carry and scoring 18 more touchdowns. If he can remain healthy and continue to put up those video game numbers….wow.

There are some reasons to think that his success might taper off in 2017. The biggest, most glaring issue is that when Taggart left, so did the Gulf Coast Offense. Coach Strong brought in Sterlin Gilbert, who served as his offensive coordinator for two years at Texas. They did run a similar, spread, hurry up offense, but similar isn’t the same. I’m sure that the new staff is working hard to keep things as similar as possible, but change is hard. 

The Bulls also lost all-everything RB Marlon Mack. From his first collegiate game, where he rushed for 275 yards, everyone knew how special he was. Fortunately, the Bulls bring back D’Ernest Johnson, Johnson might not have the running ability or vision of Mack, but he might be a more rounded back. His receiving ability is that of a wide receiver, which makes him a massive threat out of the backfield. Outside of Flowers, Johnson might be the most important player on offense.

It’s odd that an 11-2 season you have no idea what will happen, but here we are. There are so many question marks, but there are just as many (if not more) exclamation points with the Bulls. Change usually isn’t a good thing, but with this team it might be exactly what they needed to get back to the national stage of a decade ago.

Buccaneers Mini-Camp Update

Football in June is fantastic.

Optimism about football in June is a new, but exciting feeling. 

Confidence in the upcoming season in June is what Bucs fans have these days. And that – feels real good.

After an offseason where the Bucs addressed needs in multiple ways, adding veteran WR DeSean Jackson through free agency and rookies OJ Howard (Alabama) and Chris Godwin (Penn State) through the draft, the #WeaponsForWinston campaign seems to be in full swing.

Last year the Buccaneers struggled with any playmaking ability on the offensive side of the ball. There was no viable deep threat and after Austin Seferian-Jenkins (released) and Vincent Jackson (injured) were out of the equation, defenses focused on Mike Evans.

Cameron Brate emerged as a threat in the red zone, tying for a league-high 8 touchdowns as a tight end, but the Bucs could not stretch the field. With the addition of Jackson and Godwin, both who run sub-4.4, Tampa hopes to have rectified the situation.

As a novice writer, it’s definitely difficult to see who stood out today either positively or negatively but here are a few things that I saw:

-Charles Sims lined up as a WR in goal line situations. Definitely the right fit – bubble screens, swing passes – that is where Sims stood out two years ago. Last year, when Doug Martin went down with an injury and Sims took over the #1 role – he stunk. It’s not his forte. He’s the change of pace back, not the bellcow. 

-JR Sweezy is healthy, for now. He was lined up as a starting guard, with Ali Marpet sliding over to center. The Bucs seem to be looking for the versatile lineman these days – Marpet and Evan Smith can play center and guard. Kevin Pamphile and Caleb Benenoch can both play guard or tackle. Although Joe Hawley was brought back, I’m not sure where he will fit in as only a center, and an undersized center at that.

-The defense is in year two of the Mike Smith era, and that can only be good. After the bye last year, the defense improved drastically. With the additions of JJ Wilcox (Dallas) and second round pick Justin Evans (TAMU) the back end looks to be reinforced. The Bucs are returning Brent Grimes, 2016 first round pick Vernon Hargreaves at the CB position and transitioned former 4th round pick Ryan Smith the defense hopes to remain solid. Last year, communication seemed to be the biggest issue. Once that was resolved in the second half of last year, the Buccaneers were one of the better teams in the league. Outside of DT Chris Baker (Washington) the Bucs did not make any splash moves on the defensive line which shows you the confidence they have in tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, and ends Robert Ayers and Noah Spence. 

-The Bucs are building a bonafide indoor facility. It took 40+ years but it’s finally happening. I believe this is another example of the Glazier’s commitment to winning and being one of the marquis franchises in the league. Hell, most college programs have an indoor facility – and in Florida where it is 100 degrees with 100% humidity or raining, this has been a must. 

-The amount of weapons on offense is borderline ridiculous. If Coach Dirk Koetter chooses to go 5 wide – pick your poison. Evans and DeSean Jackson on the outside, Adam Humphries, Brate, Howard attacking the middle and/or the seams. If the offensive line can stay healthy and keep the defense honest, this could be a special year.

I know it is only June, but the optimism of the past few years had turned into confidence – on both sides of the rope. 

Football. Is. Back.

Hide ya kids. Hide ya wives. Football is back.

The Bucs started training camp this week on the new schedule – they practice in the mornings instead of the evenings. This seems rather insignificant but in reality it is common sense – It’s July. It’s Florida. It’s hot in July in Florida. It also rains in the afternoons in July in Florida.

Why the previous regime chose to practice in the heat of the day (while avoiding torrential thunderstorms) nobody will ever know.

Nobody will also ever know how you can be unprepared for the first game of the season, against a rookie QB and get the doors blown off at home…But back to this year.

Through the first four days came has been pretty uneventful. Not many injuries. Not many highlights.

Its been what camp should be – learning and preparing.

Its kind of hard to predict what the Bucs will do this year.

They have more talent than they have had since maybe the Super Bowl year.

There is a #1 quarterback. There is a talented offensive line (with some actual depth!!). They have a solid one-two punch at the RB position. There are a pair of playmakers at WR. The tight end position is 5 deep. They have more defensive ends (and real end rushers?!?) and cornerbacks than can fit on a field. The LB position is as solid as you will find in the league.

It feels like this is the year, but is it? Can it be?

I doubt it.

Maybe because I’m like a scorned puppy that’s been kicked one too many times.

Dont get me wrong – I’m optimistic. I just think there are still some pieces of the puzzle that need to be addressed.

I think a 4th DT would have been a welcome addition as well as a veteran WR. I don’t know if Kenny Bell, Adam Humphries or DD Dye are the answer.

The schedule is BRUTAL. The Bucs open at Atlanta and then travel to Arizona.

0-2 is a real possibility, and then what?

The Rams, Broncos, Raiders, 49ers, and dreaded Panthers are up next.

3-5 is a definite possibility for the first half of the season.

Who knows though. The optimism is definitely palpable at camp. It felt different that it had in past years.

It felt…well…professional.

I can’t say for sure or not if this is THE year, but it certainly feels like this could be the start of something good. Really good.image

Five Position Battles Heading Into The Summer

Tampa+Bay+Buccaneers+v+Minnesota+Vikings+zujWtIh8sGLl

Kenny Bell hopes to stay healthy and make a splash with the Buccaneers this season.

 

Heading into the summer, the Buccaneers have a good problem. There are actual position battles that need to be won before the season starts.

Why is this a good thing? Because the Bucs might actually have some depth, something that they have not had in years.

Here are five position battles to look forward to as the summer moves on:

3rd Wide Receiver

Potential Starters: Louis Murphy, Adam Humphries, Kenny Bell, Donteea Dye Louis Murphy looks to be the choice but coming off of a torn ACL nobody knows if we will have the same ability as he did prior to the injury. Through the first 6 games of 2015, Murphy only had 10 catches but was averaging 19.8 YPC so he was showing the ability to make big catches.

Adam Humphries was a nice surprise for the Bucs as an undrafted free agent. He ended the season with 27 catches for 260 yards and one touchdown in 13 games. He was solid on underneath routes but didn’t have the ideal speed to create separation downfield.

Donteea Dye had the speed to get the separation last year, but had a hard time hanging on to the ball. Dye ended with 10 receptions for 144 yards and one touchdown. On December 17th, a Thursday night national televised play Dye started to celebrate a 44 yard reception – but the play was still live. As a result the ball was fumbled and that pretty much sums up Donteea Dye. He just can’t finish.

Center Potential Starters: Joe Hawley, Evan Smith Evan Smith was signed as a free agent by the Bucs to a 4-year, $14.25 million dollar contract before the 2014 season from the Green Bay Packers, and has been another free agent bust by the Bucs front office. When Smith went down with injury at the beginning of the 2015 season, the Bucs signed Joe Hawley off the street and Hawley helped paved the way for Doug Martin to be the #2 rusher in the NFL. Even after returning from injury Smith couldn’t surpass Hawley on the depth chart. It will be interesting to see whether or not Smith will be able to get back to the form that earned him a contract with $7+ million guaranteed dollars.

Right Tackle Potential Starters: Demar Dotson, Godser Cherilus Demar Dotson has been entrenched as the starting RT for the Bucs since beating out Jeremy Trueblood early in 2012. Dotson suffered a knee injury in training camp last year which led to the Bucs signing Cherilus as a replacement. Even after Dotson was cleared to play, he could not take over the starting position until the final game of the 2015 season. Dotson and Cherilus are both entering the final year of their respective contracts, and the Bucs will only resign one (if any) after this season. Cherilus might have the leg up because of playing in the offense for almost an entire season, but Dotson was thought to be the best Bucs offensive lineman over the past few seasons so it should be interesting to see who gets the starting nod.

Giants

7/27/14 – New York Giants’ Robert Ayers Jr. at training camp. Photo by Bill Kostroun.

Defensive End Potential Starters: Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, George Johnson, William Gholston, Jaquies Smith The Bucs have had a complete lack of pass rush from the defensive ends over the past decade. The last Bucs defensive lineman with double digit sacks was Simeon Rice, wayyyyy back in 2005. The Bucs signed Robert Ayers away from the Giants after picking up 9.5 sacks in only 12 games in 2015 and also spent their second round pick on Noah Spence, the highly touted defensive end from Eastern Kentucky via Ohio State in hopes of boosting the pass rush. The Bucs will also hope that Jaqueis Smith rounds back into form from the 2014 season where he had 6.5 sacks in only 8 games.

Defensive Back

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft

Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) is selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the number eleven overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This should be one of the more interesting battles over the summer and heading into the offseason because the Bucs have a lot of money and high draft picks invested in this position. The Bucs spent millions on Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson, but then drafted Vernon Hargreaves 11th overall out of Florida in the draft. The Bucs gave a hefty contract to Alterraun Verner two years ago, and he has not lived up to that deal. The Bucs also invested a 2nd round pick in Jonathan Banks and he has also been somewhat disappointing. Banks was a solid performer before the Lovie Smith era began and then he could barely make his way onto the field. Verner was one of the top CB’s in the league while with the Titans, but again under Lovie, he did not flourish. Jude Adjei-Barimah was one of the players who did play well under Lovie Smith, but is he a system corner? Who will be the starters? Do you throw the rookie in there? Do you start him off slow and play him at the nickel and/or the slot? He was primarily on the outside at Florida, but showed that he wasn’t afraid of contact. Where do Robinson, the free agent addition and Adjei-Barimah fit in? Chris Landry, the former NFL scout and current analyst once said “every NFL team needs four cornerback” and it finally seems like the Bucs have at least that, if not more.

Rays Up – If You Want A New Team

If I told you that Rays opponents were hitting .231, would you be shocked that they are 15-17?

That’s because those “new hitting approach Rays” are hitting a rather awful .224 as a team.

Woof.

Who woulda ever thunk that the home run slugging Rays would be so awful on offense.

As a team, they’ve hit 46 home runs, which is 8 more than their opponents.

As a team, they have scored 113 runs, which is 9 less than their opponents.

More home runs, less runs scored. Riddle me that, Rays fans.

0910370001436310672_usatodaysportsimages_jpg

Chris Archer has not lived up to the Ace billing in 2016

It isn’t that they aren’t getting timely base hits – they aren’t getting hits at all. A few weekends ago the Rays had 15 hits, 8 of which were home run.

I am not baseball expert, but I don’t think that pennants are hung on solo shots.

The other problems is that the pitching has been less than awesome. The Ace, Chris Archer is 2-4 with a 4.57 ERA. Matt Moore, who was thought to be a quality #2 starter is 1-3 with a 4.83 ERA.

The pitcher with the most wins? Erasmo Ramirez. A relief pitcher. He tops the charts with 6 wins.

More than ever before, this team is lacking an identity. Back in the ol’ days when the Rays were going to the World Series (and were actually a fun team to watch) they were a bunch of young bucks – Evan Longoria, David Price, Carl Crawford, BJ Upton, etc. looking to prove the baseball world wrong. There were a few quality vets – Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd that were  sprinkled in that could come up with those clutch at-bats or get out of a jam when on the mound.

Now? Logan Morrison to the rescue!

It might be time to dump a few of these pitching gems that can come into the clubhouse and give it some identity and teach these younger players how to win. Teach players like Steve Geltz how to get out of a jam. Show a batter like Corey Dickerson how to break an 0-20 slump.

That is what this team is lacking. They are lacking in direction. The are lacking in leadership. And quality at-bats. And the ability to get out of a jam.

dickerson1280_zi0ebntr_pkdxrd1m

Corey Dickerson, Acquired from the Rockies in the offseason has been one of the few bright spots for the Rays

 

Does that mean the team needs to be blown up an re-done? Maybe. There are some quality pieces – An aging Longoria, A home run/ strikeout machine in Stephen Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson seems to be a solid ball player, unlike Desmond Jennings and his never-ending potential that can’t be tapped.

A team with no identity and no direction needs something.

But where do you start?

A Kicker In The Second Round.

I must have said this 1000 times to myself over the past few weeks.

Why would the Bucs, who need lots of talent, draft a kicker in the second round?

How can a team who hasn’t been good, MOVE UP TO PICK A KICKER in the second freaking round?!?!?

Let’s think about where the Bucs need help – Secondary. Defensive Line. Linebackers. Wide Receiver. Offensive Line.

Here are just a few of the prospects that went AFTER the Bucs drafted:

  • Carl Nassib
  • Maliek Collins
  • Bronson Kaufusi
  • Jonathan Bullard
  • Shilique Callhoun
  • Javon Hargrave
roberto-aguayo-tampa-bay-buccaneers

Fierce Mouthpiece, Brah.

 

 

And those are just the defensive linemen that were gone by the time the Bucs traded up to pick a kicker in the second round.

Was Roberto Aguayo was arguably the best kicker in the history of college football, but being the best in college assures you zero in terms of being great in the NFL.

Ty Detmer threw for over 5100 yards and 48 touchdowns the year he won the Heisman at BYU.

Bust.

Remember Mike Rozier, the University of Nebraska running back?  He rushed for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns and beat out Steve Young in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Bust.

Reggie Bush. Bust. Matt Leinart. Bust. Archie Griffin was two Heisman’s at The Ohio State University. And he was still a bust.

Success at the collegiate level does not equate to success at the professional level.

The Bucs need help now. Braxton Miller is someone who can stretch the field and is an electric playmaker. That is what the Bucs need. Not a kicker. Miller would be a better 3rd option that an aging Louis Murphy, who is coming off of an ACL tear. Will Vincent Jackson be healthy all season? Will he be back next season? Mike Evans had a production season but had a case of the dropsies that befuddled him all season.

Yet, here we are drafting a kicker in the second round.

The Bucs once drafted a kicker in the third round – little Martin Gramatica. We all loved “Automatica,” but let us not forget that he only lasted five and a half years.

This is a team that cannot risk a second round pick only lasting five and a half years.

Who knows if, or how many of the players drafted after Aguayo will turn out to be contributors, or even starters but the Bucs needed more than just a kicker. This team isn’t just “a kicker away” from being good.

Bad pick, Bucs. Bad pick.