New York Giants: Andrew Thomas explains first season challenges

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas

The New York Giants went out on a limb last offseason when they drafted Andrew Thomas with a top five pick; not the riskiest option in the world, but not the one with the highest ceiling either. The pick was said to be playing it safe, and opinion went back and forth on the player early on in the season.

First, there was talk that Thomas might be a bust. Another Ereck Flowers. And then some arguments that his struggles might be a matter of coaching. His own former coach even came out and basically said that he was being coached wrong. The Giants made a mid season coaching change at the O-line coach spot and the verdict on Thomas has improved since the season began.

But the rookie still has further to go in his second season. He’ll have the advantage of entering with more experience this year, and based on what he’s said, some important lessons too.

“That’s the biggest thing I think, going from college to the NFL is just how much you have to study your craft and your techniques,” Thomas said on Tuesday when addressing the media. “Those rushers, they study you, know your stance, they know your hand-placement, all those things, and if you make one small mistake it can tumble into a snowball effect and be a bad game for you. That’s been the biggest thing I’ve learned so far.”

He said that he aimed to keep his head down during his rookie season and ignore the media. It’s an understandable position, considering the greatly varying takes on Thomas this year.

Comparisons to other players

The big comparison this year has been to Mekhi Becton, who was selected lower than Thomas but had a more consistent season while playing with the Giants’ crosstown rival. Thomas said that he’s not focusing on other players like Becton – or Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills, the other highly drafted tackles from his class.

“For me, I look at it as running my own race. I want all those guys to be successful, but for me I want to be the best player I can be, the best player I can be for the Giants, for my teammates and that’s what I’m working to be,” Thomas said, adding that focusing on others would take away from his own efforts.

Thomas played in all 16 games for the Giants this season and was involved in 96% of their offensive snaps during those games. His rookie season was good enough to build on, but there will almost certainly be more scrutiny going into his second year.

After all, Daniel Jones was hit far more times this season than what should be acceptable. If the Giants want to turn it around and make the playoffs next year, solving that problem and improving the O-line’s performance will be one of their chief challenges.

New York Giants sign defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to contract extension

New York Giants, Patrick Graham

The New York Giants have signed standout defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to a contract extension, per multiple sources. Patrick Graham will not pursue any head coaching opportunities in 2021. The New York Jets requested to interview Graham for their vacant head coaching position yesterday.

Patrick Graham earned this contract extension after a phenomenal first season with the Giants. Graham was signed to be New York’s defensive coordinator last offseason after spending the 2019 season as the defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.

The Giants defense allowed only 22.3 points per game this season (ninth-best in NFL). This is a huge improvement from the 28.2 points per game that New York allowed in 2019 (third-worst). Graham’s defense also allowed only 349 yards per game and forced a solid 22 turnovers on the year.

Under the toolage of Patrick Graham, the Giants saw multiple players celebrate career-years. Leonard Williams posted a career-high 11.5 sacks. Blake Martinez was phenomenal, totaling 151 combined tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles. James Bradberry made his first career Pro Bowl and played at an All-Pro level in 2020. Additionally, the Giants’ main safety duo, Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers were crucial to the Giants’ success. Peppers also had a career-year while Ryan played above expectations in his first season as a safety.

The Giants also saw tremendous growth from their young defenders. Rookie Darnay Holmes was a solid starter at slot cornerback. New York had a revolving door at the second cornerback position but saw each player grow and develop until turning into capable starters at the position.

Details on the length and money of the contract have not yet been revealed. But this is a big move for the New York Giants. Signing Patrick Graham to an extension ensures the Giants continuity and the chance to build something special on the defensive side of the ball for years to come. Graham was one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL this season and has been rewarded as such.

New York Mets announce their 2021 coaching staff

New York Mets, Luis Rojas

The New York Mets are wasting no time in putting together the best possible team on the field to compete for a playoff spot in 2021. As it turns out, they are also fielding a very competitive group when it comes to coaches.

The New York Mets announced their full 2021 MLB coaching staff under manager Luis Rojas, who was confirmed as the skipper a few weeks ago by team president Sandy Alderson and owner Steve Cohen.

Dave Jauss will be the bench coach, as it was recently announced, and former Mets player Tony Tarasco will serve as the first base coach with additional outfield and baserunning duties, per a note from the team.

Among those returning from last season will be pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, hitting coach Chili Davis, assistant pitching coach Jeremy Accardo, bullpen coach Ricky Bones, third base coach Gary DiSarcina and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater.

Same Mets, new roles

Brian Schneider will be working in 2021 as the major league field coordinator/catching coach, after spending the shortened 2020 season as the Mets’ quality control coach.

The Mets will have another assistant pitching coach in Ricky Meinhold, who will join the major league staff while retaining his position as the minor league pitching coordinator. Meinhold joined the Mets in 2020 as the minor league pitching coordinator after a five-year career as a professional scout (2014–2019) and a pitching development analyst (2017–2019) with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The New York Mets will be fighting for a postseason spot, and making some noise once there. Last season was a disappointment, with a 26-34 record and a last-place finish in the National League East division.

This will be the first season with Steve Cohen as the majority owner, after he acquired the team from the Wilpons. Alderson is returning as the team president after spending eight years as the general manager in the 2010s.

New York Yankees: Is the Yankee’s clean appearance policy legal?

New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole

With the New York Yankees possibly adding a few new players this year, it a good time to look at the Yankee’s clean appearance policy. The New York Yankees’ appearance policy is illegal, plain, and simple.  Under the New York statute, S4037 states that New York employers can not consider facial hair in their employment policies.  Before we get into the legalities, let’s get acquainted with the history of the Yankee policy.

Going back in history, persons in sports did not wear facial hair in any sport.  Once the 1970s came into view, facial hair became more prevalent.  Today it is quite common, even with some teams saying they will have beards until they reach a certain number of wins or other goals.  Some baseball players have beards so long they wave in the wind.  Some pitchers have hair so long that it slaps them in the face when they throw the ball.  Some fans are okay with this, and some not so much.

George M. Steinbrenner always wanted to own a sports team, as he was very involved in sports.  He was an accomplished hurdler on his varsity track and field team and was a halfback on the Culver Military Academy football team. At Ohio State, he was an assistant football coach. During his shipping career, he, with creditors, purchased the Cleveland Pipers basketball team.  When the league failed, so did Steinbrenner. In 1971 he and a group of financiers agreed to buy the Cleveland Indians baseball team.  The agreement fell apart in the eleventh hour.  Shortly after that, he saw another opportunity, this time to buy the New York Yankees.

CBS had purchased the Yankees earlier, and in their time of owning the team, they failed to build a winning team and let the famous Yankee Stadium become derelict.  Tired of losing money, CBS let it be known that the team was on the market.  Steinbrenner saw this as a dream as he had been a Yankee fan from childhood.  Steinbrenner acted quickly and contacted the CBS President, letting him know he was interested and had the money; the deal was struck rapidly. George M. Steinbrenner became the managing general partner of the Yankees before the 1973 season.

To put it mildly, Steinbrenner, the “boss,” was a militaristic take-charge individual.  On opening day, April 11, 1973, Steinbrenner was in the stands to view his new team.  They lined up on the foul line, and the boss immediately noticed some players had unruly long hair.  He noted the players by number as he had yet to learn their names and recorded them down on the back of an envelope.  After the game, he gave the list to manager Ralph Houk.  Houk asked, what’s this? George answered, these are the players that need hair cuts.  Thus the Yankee appearance policy was born.

The policy evolved to not allowing players to have facial hair except for mustaches or religious reasons. It also stated that hair length could not reach below the collar.  Sideburns were not mentioned in the policy.  George did this because he believed it was not professional and felt it didn’t represent the Yankees as he wanted.  Over the years, the policy has become a tradition and has been embraced by the entire Steinbrenner family, who holds to the policy up to today.

This is not to say that there have not been run-ins with certain players over the years.  I can think of several, but here are a few.  Lou Pinella showed up for the opening day and had long hair.  He was called into the office, where George told him he had to cut his hair.  Lou argued that Jesus had long hair; why couldn’t he.  According to which story you chose to believe, George responded that Geoge took him to a pond or across the street to a gym that had a pool and told Lou if he would walk across that water, he could have long hair.

Other notable events include Goose Gossage that seldom got along with George.  He grew his mustache so long he could twist it into a fu man chu to irritate George. A notable player that became a Yankee was Johnny Damon, who, while with the rival Boston Red Sox, had sideburns and beard so long he looked like a Gorilla.  He shaved it all off when becoming a Yankee, and his love life improved immediately.

Most recently, in the 2019 offseason, the New York Yankees acquired Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole.  Cole was not only noted as one of the best pitchers in baseball, but he also had a well-trimmed beard but very, very long bushy hair.  He was happy to earn $324 million from the Yankees and conform to the clean appearance policy; he showed up for his introductory news conference cleanly shaved and hair just at the acceptable length.  But what if he had refused?  Would the Yankees never have hired him, or would he show up with long hair and a lawsuit? The New York Yankees have always gotten around the discrimination issue because of the exception for the policy’s religious reasons statement.   This is the official policy:

“All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and “mutton chops” are not specifically banned.”

New York law S4037 requires an employer to accept facial hair except where that facial hair is a hazard or interferes with the job. The Yankees’ policy is the exact opposite. Under S4037, the default allows facial hair; under the Yankees’ policy, the default is prohibiting it. Under S4037, the employer must establish that facial hair interferes with the job; under the Yankees policy, the employee must establish a religious reason. In other words, the Yankees’ policy is fundamentally at odds with S4037 and fundamentally illegal.

To this writer, it would seem it is only a matter of time that some present or future players will challenge the Yankee policy. Most will respect the Yankee tradition of being clean-cut.  The Yankees should be prepared to lose the fight, which will most likely not take place in the courts but with MLB.  MLB and the players association agree on all team policies.  An arbitrator would be assigned, and there would be fewer hairs falling on barber’s floors.

Last season I conducted a poll on whether Yankee fans appreciated Geoge’s clean-cut policy.  It drew many comments, many citing that the policy sets the Yankees apart from other teams.  It promoted a culture of professionalism, Yankee structure, and pride.  The poll results showed that 60% of respondents favored the clean-cut look, the other 40% was split evenly between, they didn’t care one way or the other, and they disliked the policy.  Those that opposed the policy cited that it took the freedom away to be different and set themselves apart from other players.

If you think about that statement, it’s just what the New York Yankee organization does not want.  Just like they don’t have player names on the uniforms.  Culture is everything about the team and not the individual player.  The Yankee way is team first, the player second, which was fully embraced by Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and now Yankee star Aaron Judge. This writer would like to see the policy upheld, but doubts over time that it will be.

UFC books Andrei Arlovski – Tom Aspinall

Andrei Arlovski

The UFC took to their official European Instagram page this afternoon to announce a heavyweight clash. The promotion has booked a heavyweight fight between former heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski (30-19, 2 NC), and Tom Aspinall (9-2).

The fight will take place on February 20th. Another heavyweight battle headlines that card and that being the clash between Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes. This is a big test for Tom Aspinall.

Aspinall made his UFC debut back in July on Fight Island. So far, Aspinall has looked sensational in his first two bouts in the UFC. He’s knocked out Jake Collier and Alan Baudot in just over two minutes combined.

The heavyweight contender from Manchester looks like he can be a force inside the octagon. Currently, he’s riding a five-fight winning streak and he’s finished all five of his opponents. Not just that, but he’s finished all five in under two minutes.

UFC Heavyweight Battle

This is definitely going to be a big test in the young UFC career of Aspinall. Just when you think Andrei Arlovski is out the door, he comes right back with an impressive performance.

At the end of 2019, the former UFC heavyweight champion was knocked out in 29 seconds by Jairzinho Rozenstruik. After that loss, you wondered what was left in the tank for Arlovski.

Arlovski was getting ready to turn 41 years old and he was jus 1-4, 1 NC in his previous five fights in the UFC. However, he turned things around in 2020 to show everyone that he’s not done just yet.

First Arlovski was able to defeat Philipe Lins by unanimous decision in May. Then the UFC gave him Tanner Boser who most figured would beat the former champion. Instead, Arlovski was able to pickup another unanimous decision win.

With his back up against the wall, Arlovski was able to pull out two big wins in 2020. Now he’s going to be tasked with taking on one of the hottest prospects in the UFC’s heavyweight division. It should be a good one on February 20th.

New York Islanders: Matt Martin Signs New Contract

New York Islanders, Matt Martin

Longtime New York Islanders enforcer Matt Martin has just signed a new deal to stay with the team. The deal is worth $1.5 million dollars over 4 years. A long deal, but this will certainly keep Martin in town for the rest of his career. This deal is beautiful if you truly know what the 4th line brings to this team. There are several implications for the team’s plan going into the future with this contract. So, what does Matt Martin’s new contract mean for the Islanders?

Ross Johnston’s Future

Ross Johnston was signed to a four-year deal worth $1 million dollars a year recently. Martin has also been re-signed for four years, so what does this mean for Ross Johnston? I believe this is basically the end for him on the Islanders. I will forever standby the fact that Martin is a better Hockey player than Johnston. When you need someone to apply pressure and maybe score, you put in Martin. When you need an enforcer who can just beat people up, you put in Johnston.

This is the NHL, not the UFC. Playing good Hockey is way more important than beating up the other team and taking penalties.

Other Players’ Contracts

Thomas Kuhnhackl, Andy Greene, Corey Schnieder, and Mat Barzal all still need new contracts. Corey Schneider will probably sign the 1 year, $700k deal that he was reported to sign in October.

Andy Greene will most likely also sign for an amount around that. I would say a deal around 1 year worth $850k.

Mat Barzal will take almost all of the remaining cap space left with about $800k left for Kuhnhackl. Johnny Boychuk must officially retire first for all this to work, I don’t know what’s the holdup though. And Dmytro Timashov’s new deal is still waiting to be announced. Don’t worry Isles fans, they will resign Barzal soon.

Could Masvidal – Covington be the first UFC event in the US with fans?

One of the more anticipated UFC matchups of 2021 is the proposed welterweight contest between Jorge Masvidal (35-14) and Colby Covington (16-2). The two former best friends are now bitter enemies.

The UFC has been trying to make this fight for the last couple of months. However, getting the fight booked is a lot easier said than done. Last week, Covington told Submission Radio that Masvidal was the reason for the fight being delayed. 

There has been no word from the Masvidal camp on the delay. All we know is that the UFC has been working on the fight and Dana White said just last week that it was the fight to make in that division.

Jorge Masvidal did take to Twitter with an interesting statement a few days ago. He tweeted to the American Airlines Arena asking for them to allow an event with a full crowd in attendance. Masvidal pointed to the state of Florida being opened up as his reasoning.

This tweet did get me thinking of the possibility. Florida was the first state to welcome in the UFC when the pandemic shut things down. UFC 249 and the first couple of events took place in Jacksonville with the state allowing the promotion to host the events.

Florida is also one of the states that is pushing to get things back to normal. It would be fitting to see Florida be the first state to welcome back a full UFC crowd. And there wouldn’t be a better fight to make it happen.

Hurdles for the UFC

Having the first UFC event back with fans in Miami with Masvidal and Covington headlining would be a dream for the promotion. The fight would do extremely well and they could sell it as, “Who is the king of Miami?”

However, there are many hurdles. Dana White has said that he will not have crowds back until he’s allowed to have a fully packed venue. We’ve seen boxing matches so far and other sporting events have limited attendance.

White is not a fan of that. For the UFC, he either wants it to be completely sold out or no one there at all. My guess is that Florida would be willing to do it, but it would require a lot more than just the state signing off.

The arena, other fighters, and other personnel would have to sign off on the UFC hosting that kind of event. With all of the hurdles, I’m not sure it’s likely to happen. At least not anytime soon.

However, I do believe that this would be the perfect fight and the perfect location for the UFC to welcome back a full crowd to US events. Time will tell if it could become a reality, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

New York Yankees: Luis Gil’s slider was the talk of the alternate training site

The New York Yankees refuse to spend on starting pitching in the offseason, at least so far. They are in wait-and-see mode, as they remain patient to see how the market unfolds. They won’t spend a ton of money, even though they lost James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ to free agency.

Maybe, just maybe, they are showing some faith in their farm system. Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt could contribute in 2021, especially the former. Luis Medina is dominating the Puerto Rican league, too. But there is one name that isn’t getting nearly enough attention: Luis Gil.

The Yankees know that Gil, a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher, isn’t particularly close to the majors. He only has 13 innings of experience in Class A-Advanced, and he hasn’t pitched in the upper minors. But he gained valuable experience at the 2020 alternate training site.

Brendan Kuty interviewed the New York Yankees’ director of pitching Sam Briend in an article published in Baseball America. Gil was the primary theme of the conversation, as Briend was impressed with his slider. It is a sharp 87-mph pitch with a devastating sweep.

The Yankees have a talented, hard-working pitcher

The slider development came after months of hard work.

“We really started seeing some changes right there at the end,” Briend said. “I wish it had gone longer than it did.” Gil is considered the Yankees’ fourth-best prospect.

“He’s just incredibly impressive to begin with,” Briend said.

In addition to the breaking ball, Gil sports a high-90s fastball and a developing changeup. Between Low-A and High-A ball in 2019, he struck out 123 hitters over 96 innings.

“Luis was awesome in terms of his work ethic and the way he bought into a handful of new and unique training programs,” Briend said. “The offspeed changes and command were our big focuses for him at the alt site.”

If we have some semblance of normalcy in 2021, Gil should start at High-A, and if he impresses, he is primed for a Double-A debut later in the summer and, perhaps, a call-up to the New York Yankees’ active roster in 2022.

New York Giants: DC Patrick Graham was requested to interview with the New York Jets

New York Giants, Patrick Graham

The New York Giants’ defense was extremely impressive all season long. The person behind this defensive performance with non-other than Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. After an impressive season with the Giants, he is now getting some looks to become a head coach. The first team to request an interview was another New York team, the New York Jets.

Black Monday in the NFL had three head coaches fired yesterday. One of them was the New York Jets head coach Adam Gase. It took less than 24 hours for the Jets to request the Giants stud defensive coordinator for a head coaching job.

The 41-year-old, Graham joined Giants head coach Joe Judge’s staff last offseason after he was lured away from the Miami Dolphins with the “assistant head coach” title. This is not Graham’s first time coaching with the New York Giants. He coached for the Giants in 2016-2017 as the defensive line coach.

Graham also spent time in various roles with a few other teams before landing his role with the New York Giants. The Miami Dolphins, Green Bad Packers, and the New England Patriots. Graham does not have any current connections with the New York Jets.

Graham is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent defensive coaches in the league. The New York Giants star safety Logan Ryan calls him the “the Black Picasso” because of the way he can draw up plays from his defense. Graham takes what Ryan calls him a compliment, as he should.

The New York Jets are not the only head coaching job open this offseason, this will not be Graham’s only requested interview for a head coaching job this offseason.

Dmytro Timashov might be the wild card in the mix for the Islanders

New York Islanders, Dmytro Timashov

The Islanders took to the ice for their first training camp session yesterday and one of the players who will be in the fight for one of the open forward spots at camp got off to a good start.

Dmytro Timashov, whose rights Isles acquired a month ago from the Detroit Red Wings, stood out.

An unsigned RFA — although it seems he will be given a contract soon — Timashov is projected to be in the group looking to claim the third-line winger role left behind by Derick Brassard, who signed with Arizona last week after not being offered a new deal. He also has a solid chance of being on the taxi squad for the Isles as a result of the expanded rosters for the shortened season and COVID-19 protocols.

“He did a real good job. He’s a real solid player,” head coach Barry Trotz said to the media.

Timashov starting off strong could be an indication of why g.m. Lou Lamoriello dealt for him. Lamoriello actually drafted the 24-year-old when he was still running the Maple Leafs. So there’s a familiarity there.

“What stands out about him, he’s got a really good skill level,” Trotz added.

That word skill, the Islanders don’t have much of it aside from Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey and J.G. Pageau. So any injection of it will be welcome especially for where Timashov would most likely slot in the lineup. But he’s also an unknown to this point.

Timashov’s been seen mostly in AHL the past few years but did push his way on to the Leafs roster this past season where he played in 39 games and recorded nine points before being claimed on waivers by Detroit.

That’s what makes him a bit of a wild card for the Islanders at this particular moment.

“He’s not physically a tall player but he’s a physically strong player. I think he has a really good upside and a guy that can play multiple positions. He fit in really well today,” said Trotz.

Timashov has another nine days until the Islanders open the season against the Rangers at MSG. But in that time though, he could be the one who separates himself from the rest of the pack and wins a regular role.

As an under-the-radar signing, it would be quite the surprise to see Timashov get the spot over the favorites — Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows — but he’s got just as good a chance as anyone.

Everyone was well aware going into camp that the battle for the third-line wing was going to be one of bigger storylines to unfold. Timashov’s presence adds another element of unpredictability.

A true wild card, one maybe the Isles will benefit from.

If you’re an Isles fan, you’ve already fallen in love with Barry Trotz always telling it like it is. But when he basically says he sees his team as Stanley Cup contenders, it’s hard to not take him for his word.

Sure everyone knows the flaws facing the organization — does a sniper or two ring a bell? — but this group has now evolved with each passing season since Trotz arrived. And to be honest, this group has proven over the past two years they can play and defeat the best the NHL has to offer.

So, how about embracing it?

Hard to blame fans for fawning over the sight of Ilya Sorokin yesterday that was all over social media. Waiting over five years to bare witness to the so-called “goalie of the future” can do that.

He’ll be one of the top storylines over the next week, and when he finally speaks it should be interesting hear what he has to say.

Jakub Skarek posted his look for what he’ll be sporting throughout Isles camp. Very sharp.