Gregorian Chants

May 9, 2014

Friday Five, NFL draft version: Trust in Chiefs, Dee Ford the piano man, Michael Sam

*The estimable Sam Mellinger was spot-on in his column today when he said "what you think of (the Chiefs’ pick of Auburn linebacker Dee Ford) is basically a combination of how much you trust the Chiefs’ leadership and how deeply you bought into all the draft hype around other players."

Gregorian Chants

Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City

*The estimable Sam Mellinger was spot-on in his column today

when he said "what you think of (the Chiefs pick of Auburn linebacker Dee Ford) is basically a combination of how much you trust the Chiefs leadership and how deeply you bought into all the draft hype around other players."

Deflating as it might have been for those anticipating a more rousing pick at a position of more obvious need say, USC receiver Marqise Lee -- I dont believe you can read this choice in a vacuum.

Though the Chiefs have greater immediate needs than depth and flexibility among pass rushers, though they made the playoffs last season, lets not forget they still are in the early stages of foundational rebuilding after going 2-14 in 2012.

They have long-term stability to consider, including how their money will be used to do that, right there along with crucial faster fixes.

So Im going to assume the move fits in a broader scheme, even if I dont have a blueprint of the master plan, because, well, I do trust the judgment of general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid after the way they began to resuscitate the franchise a year ago.

*Well learn a lot more about Ford soon, starting with his 4 p.m. news conference today. But in reading up about him this morning I found it interesting to learn that piano "became a way of life" for him as he grew up in Odenville, Ala.

He spoke about that some at a news conference in the days leading up to Auburns national title game victory over Florida State.

The night before, he had been seen playing in the hotel lobby.

"Somebody was recording it, and I didnt even know it ," he said, according to an ASAP Sports transcript, later adding, "I would get lost, like, while Im playing, and I will forget where I am. Just like off in space or something."

To Ford, playing piano is harmonious with playing football. He sees mental parallels in how he approaches each and believes the two forces balance him.

Ford grew up in a musical family, but he says he still is refining his playing just as hes still growing as a football player.

"I learned everything by ear," he said. "So if I hear it, I can play it. I do a lot of improv, too. So whatever comes to my mind, I sometimes I just play that."

Hes been known to sing, too, he said then. But

"I try not to do that too much," he said. "Takes away from my aggressiveness."

*While Im sure Dorsey and Reid had great conviction about choosing Ford, I bet their brains were churning minutes before choosing him because Texas As Johnny Manziel still had been on the board one pick away.

Purely speculation, but I think they would have found Manziel irresistible if Cleveland hadnt snatched him.

*One of the most intriguing remaining subplots of the draft is whether Missouris Michael Sam will get drafted, how the story is played either way by various media and how Sam and his camp handle it.

As the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, Sam is part of a group that over the last 10 years was valued thusly:

2013: Jarvis Jones of Georgia, No. 17 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers

2012: Morris Claiborne of LSU, No. 6 overall by the Dallas Cowboys

2011: Patrick Peterson of LSU, No. 5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals

2010: Rolando McClain of Alabama, No. 8 overall by the Oakland Raiders

2009: Eric Berry of Tennessee, No. 5 overall by the Chiefs

2008: Glenn Dorsey of LSU, No. 5 overall by the Chiefs

2007: Patrick Willis of Mississippi, No. 7 overall by the San Francisco 49ers

2006: DeMeco Ryans of Alabama, No. 33 overall by the Houston Texans

2005: David Pollack of Georgia, No. 17 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals

2004: Chad Lavalais of LSU, No. 142 overall by the Atlanta Falcons

But Sam is at best likely to be in the fifth-round range, a la Lavalais. And he may not be drafted at all.

So some will reflexively say that his stock sunk entirely because of his announcement in February that he is gay, an announcement that makes him potentially the first publicly known gay NFL active player.

And its surely likely that development, and perceived "distractions" that would come with it, made ripples in NFL war rooms.

It will be said, too, that its an indictment of the culture of the NFL if hes not drafted. Maybe there would be some truth to that.

But those notions also would largely be indiscernible from this:

At about 6 feet 2, 260 pounds with pedestrian speed, Sam is the epitome of a tweener as an NFL prospect.

In the most simplistic terms, hes seen as not big enough to be a defensive end, as he was in college, and not fast enough to be a linebacker.

Its also thought that hes one-dimensional, much more a mere pass rusher than a well-rounded defender, and he hardly impressed at the NFL Combine.

Now, skeptics of the NFL will say that his apparent appeal sure began to fade just after his announcement and on into the Combine. Cynics about Sams strategists might suggest that the timing of his announcement was intended to confuse the issue.

At any rate, there are any number of reasons Sam might not get drafted. And enough are legitimate to make it almost impossible to determine if homophobia is one of them without some kind of specific evidence.

That said, consider it a fiasco of bigotry if he cant get a chance as a free agent.

*Lets assume for arguments sake that Sam gets drafted, even if its as a remarkably relevant "Mr. Irrelevant," the last of 256 picks.

That will make for an instant and important test of how Sams handlers and Sam now will handle their own part of asking that Sam be treated like everyone else:

Will he finally act like everyone else, for instance, and participate in interviews immediately and regularly?

Or will he continue to be kept almost inaccessible as he has been, in fact, for most of the last year save for the NFL Combine and handpicked national outlets when he made his announcement?

During that time, its been explained mostly by others speaking for the silent Sam that he hasnt wanted to be a distraction.

But every time they treat him as an exception, they make him more of one.

If the goal really is to make it so that hes just another player, and it should be, then its time to demystify him, too.

That might mean some phases of heavy media interaction and scrutiny at first, but then on wed go into another step closer to normalizing something that needs to be normalized and shouldnt really matter so much in 2014.


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