Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

Twitter Tuesday: Chiefs roster, Royals angst, Sporting goals, K-State panic, Tommy Morrison’s denial, concussions, and Johnny Manziel

09/03/2013 11:31 AM

09/03/2013 1:40 PM

The Chiefs continued to churn the bottom of their roster right up until the last moment allowed to churn the bottom of a roster, claiming seven players off waivers from other teams, and my first reaction is Whoa, that’s a bad sign when 13 percent of your roster is guys other teams dumped and you’re adding after training camp. Then my second reaction is Well, yeah. Going 2-14 is a bad sign, too. The Chiefs, as you might’ve expected, did not see any of the players they cut claimed by other teams. And, to be fair, they had first dibs on every player cut by other teams so their number was higher than it otherwise would’ve been. The Chiefs have 30 new players from last year, which is a good thing but also not rare for a new leadership taking over a craptastic team — as Vahe notes here, Scott Pioli turned over 32 roster spots after taking over in 2009. Whatever. I’m just glad there’s a game in five days, and we can get from the hey-whattya-think-that-thing-in-training-camp-means mode to looking at real, actual, games. Chiefs are a 3 ½ point favorite in Jacksonville. This week’s reading recommendation is Eric Adelson on "the Adrian Peterson Effect." The eating recommendation is the buffalo tots at the Foundry because awesome. Let’s get to it. As always, thanks for your help and for reading. Twitter Tuesday changes lives. That’s a damn fact. I don’t know if these should count, but I believe the following: - Dontari Poe and Justin Houston are going to have HUGE years. - Donald Stephenson is going to be important, somewhere on that offensive line, at some point during the season. - The important roster move that I think has been generally overlooked — though your boy Vahe wrote about him here — is Chase Daniel as the backup quarterback. We can criticize the last front office for a lot of things, but one of the biggest mistakes (and least defensible) was the refusal to sign a decent backup quarterback in a time where quarterbacks are critical and rarely start all 16 games. To that end, I really, really like Alex Smith. I think he’s going to be good, better than most, and I believe he’s one of the biggest reasons to be optimistic a year after 2-14. But he’s also only played two full seasons out seven in his career (eight, if you count 2008, when he missed the entire season with a shoulder injury). In those other five years, he’s started seven (though that was his rookie year, no injury), seven, 10, 10 and nine games. Chase Daniel’s three-year, $10 million contract raised some eyes around the league — you could almost hear Pioli calling it "generous" — but it’ll be money very well spent if Smith gets hurt and Daniel provides the kind of solid backup play the Chiefs haven’t had since, what, Rich Gannon? Charles’ career high (rushing and receiving) is eight touchdowns, and that was back in 2009. His touchdowns usually need to be longer runs, because for whatever reason, coaches have tended to pull him closer to the goal line. Preseason is preseason, but that’s been different so far. So, I don’t know, but I do believe enough in Charles to set an over-under at seven touchdowns for him. As for Bowe, I mean, if he’s not catching touchdowns then who is? The Chiefs have been losing tight ends like bad habits, and Donnie Avery (three touchdowns last year) is the No. 2 receiver. Bowe is hard to figure though, obviously. He led the league in touchdowns three years ago, and has since caught a total of eight in two seasons. But Smith will be, by far, the best quarterback Bowe has played with in seven pro seasons. Over-under is 8 ½, which is probably optimistic, but whatever. With Smith, I guess it depends on what you consider a career year. He’s not going 13-3 like he did two years ago in San Francisco, and he’s probably not completing 70.2 percent of his passes like he did last year. But, depending on how healthy he is, he should set career marks in yards (3,144 in 2011) and touchdowns (18 in 2009), which is probably what you care about in fantasy football, right? Guys. I haven’t been fired, publicly reprimanded, or even had a nasty letter put in my personnel file. I’m not just ahead of schedule. I’m WAY ahead of schedule. And, yes. I know what this ahead-of-schedule thing is referring to. And, no. Of course Dayton shouldn’t have said that. I’m telling you. This PR 101 thing we do sometimes around here might be more useful than I think. These are debates — and columns — for another day, but think about this. The Royals are tracking for their best record since 1994. The most important personnel move of the general manager’s career has one more season in Kansas City, with a (still) young offense that should improve. Does that sound like the kind of franchise that cleans out its leadership? I actually think they have a very good chance next year. And if they don’t make it, then the previous question is one we’ll address very thoroughly. A lot of you mocked me when Lorenzo Cain got hurt and I said he was the team MVP. I give you plenty of reasons to mock me, but that’s not one of them. There are a lot of factors, but when Cain got hurt the Royals had won 13 of their last 15, in no small part because they had the league’s best defense with Cain in center field (or right, depending on the matchup). Since he’s been out, the Royals are 12-13 and have all but fallen out of the playoff picture. Again, there are a lot of factors, but Cain’s absence is a major one. You can still make a case for him as the team MVP (he’s tied for the team lead in Baseball-Reference WAR, and not too far off the pace with FanGraphs’ number). It’s no longer a case that I would make, but it’s worth keeping in mind. My pick, at the moment, would be James Shields. There was a lot expected of him after The Trade, and he’s been everything the Royals expected. He’ll almost certainly go over 200 innings in his next start, and in the last 15 years here is the complete list of Royals pitchers who’ve thrown that many innings and been as effective as Shields this year (using adjusted ERA): Zack Greinke, 2009. There is also a case to be made for (in order) Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Sal Perez, Greg Holland, and Ervin Santana. As you probably heard, Tommy Morrison — who became famous in Kansas City, and won the heavyweight championship of the world by beating George Foreman in 1993 — died over the weekend. His later years were consumed with a fight of his reality against everyone else’s. It was sad and fascinating, and endless cycle of HIV denialist material challenging the mainstream medical community. There were delusions of grandeur, paranoia, a few arrests for drug possession, and above all conviction in what he believed. There is no telling what pushed Tommy away from reality. There is no telling whether it was just one thing. I spent some time with Tommy and his wife Trisha for this story that ran a few years ago. We met at a Kansas City hotel, and again in Wichita, many phone calls and emails and text messages in between. I found Tommy to be kind, even sweet. He always seemed aware that what he was saying didn’t make sense to others, but it did to him, and that’s what mattered. In the end, I suspect (and I can’t stress enough that that’s all this is; just one man’s suspicion) it was a combination of the diagnosis, hits to the head, and drugs — in that order. I think something changed with him after that diagnosis. After the initial shock wore off, he simply refused to believe it. And once he made that decision, there was no turning back. He (and, eventually, Trisha) spent so much time in the HIV denialist world that it became their reality. They believed it in their bones, in no small part because for them it beat the alternative. Tommy wanted so badly to be believed, and in a weird way, the fact that Trisha believed him so completely made me happy. At least he had someone. She was devoted to him. They were a team. If you can filter out the mess, we should all be so lucky to find a partnership like that. I guess we have been pretty heavy on the concussions lately. If you have time for only one, I hope it’s this one from Sunday. There is a tendency to hear about the NFL settling what became known as The Concussion Lawsuit and think the issue is over. But it’s not, and in ways that should matter on a community level, it’s only beginning. In the NFL, they are an elite group of paid professionals with superior medical care. In college and below, these are amateurs, kids, neighbors, friends. Thousands and thousands of them. I don’t know that there is a solution because, and people always get mad at me when I say this, we are all part of the problem. Maybe that’s not fair. I don’t know you. But if you are like me, and love football at least in part for the action and hits and controlled violence, then we are part of the problem. Money talks, and football won’t be as profitable if the violence is removed. Technology can help create safer helmets or pads, but will that progress be outpaced by players becoming bigger and stronger and faster? Honestly, I don’t think there is a solution beyond all of us coming to an understanding that our football addiction has some very raw consequences. The Smokeshow and I have talked about this, and we don’t want to our future and hypothetical son(s) to be told they can’t do something. But we’re not going to encourage it. If the kid is drawn to football, passionate about it, then as parents we’ll support that. There is a lot to love and to be gained from football. But there are a million other activities and sports to love, too. And those are the ones we’ll encourage. Depends how you mean the question. If it’s self-esteem, excitement, memories then it’s hard to imagine anything impacting this city like a Chiefs Super Bowl win. But if you’re talking economics, jobs, that kind of thing then 41 home games a year in a downtown arena across the street from a bar and restaurant district that needs the traffic is hard to beat. AEG is on the case, right? I think that’s probably about right. There is a lot more going on, of course. Like, the way you view the NCAA and its archaic rules has a lot to do with how you see Manziel. But I do think demographics are a big part of this. I’m generally hard to offend when it comes to taunting and celebrations, so I don’t have a problem with what Manziel did against Rice — as long as he wears it. If this is the way he wants to play it, then more power to him. Fake-sign a football after every touchdown, make a YouTube video counting cash, whatever. I’ll be entertained, and support his right to do it. The thing that would turn me, though, is if he continues to be like this and then complains about the backlash. Yeah, I’ve got Mizzou winning three (Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi) with a chance at four (Vanderbilt). But this is a good time to remind you to enter The Totally Official DKTM 2013 College Football Over-Under Challenge. Do the Chiefs challenge, too. Oof. Six is fair. Back in 2003, K-State lost at home to Marshall, then its first two conference games and ended up winning the Big 12 championship. Then the next year, they lost to Fresno State — blow’d out, really — and ended up going 4-7. There’s still a lot to like about K-State. I thought Jake Waters was impressive. Very athletic, if raw. Looked uncomfortable at times in the pocket, but he should get better there. The biggest problem was the offensive line, and the defense’s inability to get off the field. So I’m not ready to jump off K-State yet. Bill Snyder has too good a track record. The Wildcats seem to always struggle in their first game, then improve steadily as the season goes on. But that preseason pick of sixth in the conference doesn’t look so ridiculous. Well, they’re playing South Dakota as 23 ½ point favorites, so they better win. There’s a lot to like about Jake Heaps, but I’m not the only one a little sour on Charlie Weis’ ability to get incoming transfer quarterbacks to live up to the hype after the Dayne Crist mistake, am I? Like the Chiefs and Royals, KU football has earned every bit of skepticism thrown its way, and Weis and those inside the program seem to understand this. I’m on the prove-my-skepticism-wrong plan with Weis and KU so, well, I remember KU losing to Rice at home last year so I’m not expecting the Jayhawks to win on the road this year. Especially after Rice put up 31 against A&M last weekend. I did, but for those who missed them, here’s Benny Feilhaber from 30 yards out and Zusi’s finish after three on-the-money passes by teammates I’m on Team Zusi here, and not just because he did The Occasional Interview here. Feilhaber’s goal was terrific, but I prefer the teamwork, and the progression that you can follow with goals like Zusi’s. Not really, right? I mean, we can play PR man and spin this, talk about other players getting an opportunity, or increased payroll flexibility but I don’t think Sporting was up against the cap and it’s never a good thing to lose one of your best players as you’re pursuing a championship. So, yeah. You’re right. Sucks this year for Sporting. But it doesn’t change the expectations. There is no question that it was more fun and intense when all the locals were in the same conference. Nebraska’s problems became Missouri’s opportunities, and each see-saw impacted K-State’s chances in some way. That was cool, and can’t be replaced. But a few counterpoints. One: I don’t think the overall interest in college football is any less. Nebraska fans still LOVE the Huskers, Mizzou fans still LOVE the Tigers^, there just isn’t as much interaction. ^ Most of the time, anyway. Two: There is something kind of cool about getting to know different conferences in a way we never did before. Maybe this is just a sports columnist thing, and not something you care about. The Smokeshow went to Michigan State, so I’ve always kept a bit of an eye on the Big 10, but Nebraska being there means learning that conference in a different way. And the SEC is the SEC, so anybody who loves college football watches those games. But not like now, not when you’re trying to figure out where Missouri fits in, where they can get their wins, where they might be able to pull off an upset or two. So I guess here’s where I land: there are some positives from the realignment I’m enjoying, but if I could hit a button and make it like it was, I’d be hitting that button. Yes. There are a lot of people who become obsessed with TV shows, talk about them constantly, and judge you if you don’t like them. I’m not that guy, but I do have a few shows I can’t miss, and this is one of them. Honestly, it’s one of the best, most interesting, most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. But if you’re not into it, that’s cool too. I’m not that good at these things, because the league I’m in is super nerdy — it’s a keeper league, with a salary cap and a rookie draft where, depending on a few different things, you might have a player his whole career. So we don’t really go through that mid-round sleeper thing. That being said, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman will put up numbers if they’re the Patriots’ starting receivers. Jermichael Finley is another guy. Brandon Marshall will be a disappointment. There are others, but those are the three that come immediately to mind because I tried desperately to trade for Amendola, traded away Finley in a move I regret, and traded away Marshall in a move I still like. And team name just make sure it’s something that will make people laugh. It is for KU basketball fans. I grew up in Lawrence, and you can guess how many times I’ve heard the "Football season ends on Oct. 15" line. And that’s how Twitter is done for a pro athlete.

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