It’s July again, and about the only thing keeping your average sports fan in these parts from following the Canadian Football League is maybe keeping tabs on the Houston Astros or waiting around for Nick Saban to spout off about something else that’s on his mind.
With all due respect to the World Cup, NASCAR or the Corn Hole Championships, there’s not much on the front burner of sports — especially for us down South.
Don’t fret. The New Orleans Saints will open training camp July 25, while LSU and McNeese will get back to preseason work by the first week of August. So help is on the way. But until then, you can catch up on those pesky Honey Dos around the house. And when time allows, you can ponder these nagging issues and questions I came up with while driving back and forth to Houston recently.
(By the way, can the stretch of Interstate 10 between Beaumont and the Louisiana border get any worse? Its white-knuckle, keep-both-hands-on-the-wheel, full-Def-Con-1-alert, life-flashing-before-your-eyes type of driving.)
Let’s start with the quarterback questions close to home.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron had Tiger fans popping headache pills when he didn’t feel secure and certain enough about the quarterback competition in his team to name a starter after the spring game. Heir apparent Myles Brennan didn’t have the most consistent of spring drills, and was not much better in the spring intra-squad scrimmage. Justin McMillian upped his game and stock with his play in the spring game, while Lowell Narcisse showed potential, but is young and raw.
With no starting quarterback named, LSU became the hot spot for any transferring FBS quarterback looking for a new home and prime time snaps.
As if Coach O had pulled a rabbit out of his hat, in came Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow, who chose LSU over Cincinnati and a few other suitors.
The former Mr. Football in Ohio, and top Buckeyes reserve behind J.T. Barrett (now on the Saints roster as a free agent signing), Burrow is now the big off-season talk regarding the question of whether he can come in off the street and win the Tigers’ starting quarterback job.
He is bigger, stronger and more experienced than anything LSU has at the position right now. My bet is an Ohio State back-up is better than the three guys in purple and gold right now.
If Burrow, the son of a veteran football coach dad, can absorb the playbook quickly, he will be under the center when the Tigers open against Miami.
At McNeese, head coach Lance Guidry likes competition at every position, and that includes quarterback.
Despite having James Tabary back for his third and senior year, Guidry said the position is open and the best man standing or throwing by the end of August camp will start the season Sept. 1 at Northern Colorado.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Orgeron (yes, son of Ed Orgeron) made great strides, and at times looked sharper than Tabary, during spring practice. Despite putting on some weight, Orgeron is still slight of frame — 6 feet, 1 inch, 175 pound-ish — and has little experience.
I expect Guidry to keep an open mind when hot-shot Florida recruit Cam Smith reports with the rest of the incoming freshmen in August. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 190-pound Smith is a dual threat quarterback from a state-championship-winning school in Delray Beach. He was coached by former NFL All Pro defensive back Patrick Surtain and has considerable skills.
Tabary, coming off a bit of a down second season in 2017, will have to up the ante and come out clicking from day one of camp. And I believe he will. Tabary is a very focused and driven athlete who has aspirations as a quarterback at the next level in the pros.
The New Orleans native recently completed a stint as a participant and instructor at the renowned Manning Passing Academy held at Nicholls State. Watching, learning and soaking up anything his boyhood idol Peyton Manning tossed out will only boost Tabary’s confidence. The combination of his game experience, football IQ, leadership, work ethic and strong arm will separate Tabary from the upstarts, and he will be the best man still throwing.
Let’s turn our attention to the NFC South, where it has been anything but quiet and tranquil of late.
The Saints have no quarterback controversy, of course. The 39-year-old Drew Brees is coming off another spectacular season in which the Saints were one botched defensive play away from advancing to the NFC Championship game. Brees is healthy and motivated; I am expecting another playoff caliber year in 2018.
The Who Datters are wondering just who will be the top running back over the first four games.
Veteran running back Marc Ingram got caught in the cross hairs of PED drug testing and was suspended for the first four games. That’s a major issue, because Ingram is coming off his best rushing and scoring season, and was clearly the thunder to Alvin Kamara’s lightning out of the backfield.
Sean Payton has said he doesn’t intend to increase Kamara’s rushing attempts, which averaged no more than 15 a game, to make up for Ingram’s absence. The plan is running back by committee, using a dash of Kamara, Trey Edmunds, Daniel Lasco or maybe 5-foot, 6-inch rookie back Boston Scott — a late-round draft pick from La. Tech.
The Tampa Bay Bucs have a more pressing situation now that starting quarterback Jameis Winston once again showed his immaturity and an inability to keep his hands to himself. Even though no formal charges were filed, the NFL believed an Uber driver who alleged that Winston groped her from the back seat while she taxied Winston around in March of 2016 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Winston’s past troubles while at Florida State include a rape allegation (which was ultimately settled out of court by the university for a reported $1 million), stealing from a grocery store and mocking the rape charges while dancing and yelling atop a table on campus.
Winston cooperated with the NFL investigation; didn’t appeal — which probably led to his light three-game suspension from the league. Winston, a former No. 1 draft pick and the first ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, pretty much admitted to the sexual assault in his apology to the Uber driver, his teammates and the Bucs organization. The question now is whether Tampa Bay will invest long term in Winston as the face of their franchise or simply deem him too immature; too inconsistent both on and off the field; and just not worth the bad PR, the headaches and deviant behavior.
I say cut bait as soon as they can and find another quarterback.
In today’s NFL, the quarterback is the top marketing asset, the face of the team, and in most cases, the leader in the locker room. Teams should require that man to be the utmost in character and maturity; to represent the franchise with dignity and class; and to lead by example.
And speaking of leading by example, the NFL can’t seem to get out of their own way when it comes to dealing with punishments for sexual assault or domestic abuse.
Winston admits his guilt, plays along with the league probe and agrees to accept the suspension and not fight it through appeals or the courts, unlike Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. In return, the NFL didn’t slam Winston with the maximum six-game suspension, but instead cut it in half to a mere three games.
And the NFL didn’t expect anyone to notice and call them out on it?
Staying with the NFL South, Falcons star receiver Julio Jones made news when he removed all reference of his team from his social media pages. Jones didn’t show up for voluntary OTA drills and has been generally distant with the team.
Up north in New England, there’s speculation that 41-year-old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might consider retirement after this season if he wins another Super Bowl. The basis of this retirement talk seems to stem from strained relations with prickly head coach Bill Belichick.
I say if those two keep winning and contending for a Super Bowl, Brady and Belichick will figure out a way to put up with each other.
It seems the NBA has answered most of its free agent questions, including the biggest and most far-reaching one — that being LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland and sign a four-year $153-million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In a Twitter post, James said thanks for the four years and northeast Ohio will always be home.
After that gut-wrenching game one loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals, when Cavs teammate J.R. Smith had a brain fart and dribbled a possible win away, I knew then LeBron was leaving Cleveland.
The other much-monitored free agent moves had Paul George staying in OKC for $137 million. Chris Paul, who happens to be James’ best bud, re-signed with Houston for a reported $160 million.
The last sneaker to fall belongs to the much-hyped Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio, and would prefer to play for his hometown Lakers. L.A. team president Magic Johnson would indeed work some major magic if he is able to maneuver his salary cap and personnel and acquire Leonard to pair up with King James.
That might be enough of a dynamic duo to give the Warriors a playoff run in the West. This NBA off-season in particular has been just as interesting as the regular season, with LeBron’s career decision, subplots, Twitter talk and drama.
How on earth will the Arkansas Razorback baseball players and coaches get through the summer and off-season after coming so close but failing to win their first-ever College World Series title? The Hogs were one strike away. One out away. One caught foul ball away from beating Oregon State for the NCAA baseball championship.
Instead, a pop-up foul fell between three Arkansas players who had it surrounded. Seconds later, the Beavers got a two-out RBI single to tie the game. The next batter jacked a two-out, two-run homerun to give OSU a 5-3 series-tying win.
The comeback Beavers, who fought off elimination time and again in Omaha, defeated the sunken Hogs 5-0 the next night in the championship-clinching game.
It was the damnedest thing I’ve seen in the CWS since Warren Morris’ epic walk-off homerun for LSU in 1996.
Tiger football fans are worried about who LSU’s next star running back will be and whether Orgeron can survive a murderous schedule and squeeze out enough wins to hold on to his job.
The answer won’t come until early December. But the schedule could be the toughest in FBS football. Miami in the opener, at Auburn, at Florida, Georgia at home along with Alabama, and on the road at Arkansas and Texas A&M.
The golf world still revolves around the every move and swing of Tiger Woods. The 42-year-old with the rebuilt back appears to have regained his putting stroke with a new mallet short stick. The nagging question as the tour makes its way toward the British Open and PGA Championship is: can Tiger win again? Or better yet, can he win a 15th major this year?
I’ve always said if he gets healthy, the mind and mood will fall in line and he will win more tournament titles, and I believe he may have multiple majors to win.
New McNeese basketball coach Heath Schroyer delivered on his promise to revamp the roster with new signees. He has his players out and about participating in community events and summer camps.
The long-awaited opening of the new basketball arena complex is months away, and Schroyer is doing his part with building and keeping the buzz around the program during the off-season.
Pretty soon, McNeese will see whether these efforts and the positive vibe will translate into a rush in season ticket sales, which are desperately needed.
And finally, it won’t be long before area high school football teams will open fall camps and three high-profile regional teams will have new head coaches. Washington Marion, LaGrange and St. Louis will begin new eras with first-year head coaches.
And at Barbe, attention will most assuredly be on the familiar football name of Favre that will be added to the Bucs roster. Freshman quarterback Jaxson Favre, the nephew of Super Bowl champion and NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre, will begin preseason practice.
No doubt, legions of Barbe fans will speculate and keep tabs to see whether young Favre can compete for the quarterback position as a first-year player.
I’m sure there are a few other questions I’ve left dangling on the sports landscape. But these should keep your mind busy as we finish off those summer projects, survive family trips to the beach or just count down these long hot summer days to a kick-off near you.
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 nightly, Monday through Sunday evenings, at 9 pm; broadcast on Suddenlink channel 4.