SI.com At The Draft (cont.)
Seattle, 2:25 p.m.
When the NFL draft begins around 1 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian will be on the sidelines at Husky Stadium for his first spring game as a head coach.
While Sarkisian, the former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at USC, tries to turn around the fortunes of a team that went winless last season, a part of him will be thinking about how Jim Mora will be trying to improve a Seahawks team that went 4-12 last season. Sarkisian and Mora chatted Wednesday at a charity event in Seattle and not surprisingly the conversion centered on Mark Sanchez, who Sarkisian coached in college and who Mora might coach in the NFL.
Sanchez has become a trendy pick for the Seahawks with the No. 4 pick, which wouldn't surprise Sarkisian, who thinks his former quarterback is prepared to play in the NFL next season if need be. Sarkisian, who was the quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2004, has been keeping in touch with Sanchez on an almost daily basis, giving him advice on dealing with NFL teams to relaxing with his family in California rather than sweating it out in the green room in New York on draft day.
"We've been talking and he's excited. It's a great time for him," said Sarkisian. "It can get stressful so I keep reminding him to do something fun and relax. What he's doing (on draft day) isn't going to change the way people think at that moment so go relax and be with your family during that moment."
As much as Sarkisian would love to have Sanchez join him in Seattle ("That would be fun. I'd show him around") the sense along Seahawks Way is that the Seahawks are leaning towards drafting a player that will make an instant impact on the team with Michael Crabtree and Aaron Curry being on top of their wish list. As much as they like Sanchez, the Seahawks believe Matt Hasselbeck is still a Pro Bowl quarterback when he's healthy and they would rather select a player that can help him rather than learn from him.
Ann Arbor, Mich., 2:10 p.m.
The informative folks at The Nielsen Company released an interesting stat yesterday: Viewership for the NFL Draft has increased 62 percent since 2002. Those are astounding numbers for an annual sports program, and it's why the two-day Goodellapalooza has become one of the most important days on ESPN's calendar. Last year ESPN averaged just over 5 million viewers for its draft coverage -- the NFL Network drew 496,000 viewers, approximately 146,000 more viewers than 2007 -- so you'll understand why both entities cover the event with an army only slightly smaller than Napoleon's.
The choice between the two networks depends on where you live (given the NFL Network is in less homes) and what analysts you trust. ESPN's gurus include the omnipresent Mel Kiper Jr. and Kiper-in-training Todd McShay. The NFL Network trumpets the less flashy but equally obsessive Mike Mayock. Both networks have hired recently-fired coaches (ESPN's Herman Edwards and NFLN Jon Gruden) and offer egocentric former Cowboys (Keyshawn Johnson and Deion Sanders) on the set. The NFL Network will highlight its exclusive war room access while ESPN is promoting the McBoard, where McShay channels CNN's John King by using a perceptive pixel touch screen to react to picks and to identify the best available players. One move sure to attract the sports blogosphere: Erin Andrews will do green-room and post-pick interviews -- a move ESPN's communication department boldly highlighted in the second paragraph of a 1,359-word press release on its Draft coverage. Some things will look similar on both networks: Count on hosts Chris Berman (ESPN) and Rich Eisen (NFLN) to lob softballs for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the annual interview.
ESPN senior coordinating producer Jay Rothman likes to refer to the draft as "our ultimate reality television." That's a fair description. While my colleagues are deployed at team headquarters throughout the country and the big show at Radio City, I'll be in bucolic Ann Arbor (current temperature: 80.1 degrees) to chronicle all the highs and lows of the media circus. ESPN and NFLN, you are officially on the clock. -- Richard Deitsch
New York City, 1:57 p.m.
This is my second year here in New York City experiencing the draft and already I can see an even greater level of fan involvement and interest from last year to this year, let alone five to 10 years ago. The NFL does a fantastic job marketing the event and pro football's popularity has never been higher but there are really two things about this weekend that stand out and make it a holiday of sorts for millions of fans: hope and personal involvement.
The hope is pretty simple and it is akin to a politician selling change. It is late April and that means every fan out there can believe that this is finally their team's year. Sadly, a lot of that hope will be dashed by early October. But for now they can dream big and people are finally talking about franchises like the Lions and the Rams because this is their center stage and their time to shine.
The personal involvement component is a little bit deeper. Most fans aren't 6-5 and 320 pounds. They don't run a 4.4 forty. As such, they realize they don't have what it takes to play in the NFL. But their fantasy team kicked butt last year and they could easily do a better job picking players than their favorite team's front office, right?
Detroit, 1:46 p.m.
I'm spending my draft weekend here in Winnersville, USA, home of the newly re-branded Detroit Lions (You know what they say: Get the font and the logo just right, and the victories are sure to follow). They're forecasting strong thunderstorms blowing through this area Saturday afternoon and evening, and I assume those are the long hoped for winds of change that Lions fans have been keeping an eye out for since, oh, 2001 or so.
With Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford already secured and in line for enough guaranteed money to make an AIG executive blush, the Lions new braintrust of coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew can get down to the business of concentrating on the remaking of the rest of Detroit's roster. There's obviously plenty of work to be done besides the quarterback position.
The Lions own the 20th pick of the first round, and then the first pick of the second round, 33rd overall. They absolutely have to come away with two starters with those selections, and then probably two more Sunday morning, when they get the 65th and 82nd overall picks, both of which are third-rounders. The plan is that those five players will set the course for the "new'' Lions, the team that will begin chipping away at the colossal failure Detroit has become this decade.
Lions fans seem quite wary of everything about the team's fresh start, and can you blame them? After 0-16, and the never-ending debacle that was the Matt Millen era -- does anybody but me think it's not a good sign that the new GM and the old GM share the same initials? -- football fans in Detroit are the Wile E. Coyote of the NFL world. Always ready for the rock slide to bury them at any moment.
But hey, I was once a beat writer for a Tampa Bay team that was in the midst of an NFL record 12-year streak of double-digit loss seasons, and even the Bucs eventually turned it around and wound up winning a Super Bowl. So all things are possible, and even the worst franchises can be remade into a winner. I'm not saying it's going to happen this year, or even next, just that despite recent evidence to the contrary, the Lions are not eternally damned to reside at the very bottom of the NFL food chain.
Here's hoping the return of Motown's team starts in earnest today, with Stafford and two other stars to be named later donning Honolulu blue. Ten years is a long time to wander in the NFL desert, and when it comes to the draft in particular, the Lions are long past due for some winning moves.
New York City, 1:40 p.m.
With apologies to Nick Bakay...
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