New York Giants: Xavier McKinney high on Alabama teammates as prospects

New York Giants, Devonta Smith

There’s a connection between the New York Giants to Alabama through head coach Joe Judge and multiple players, and it might grow further with this coming draft. That’s because there’s a number of players from the national champion Crimson Tide that might end up as Giants.

That includes a pair of receivers as well as another player in the secondary that could join ex-Alabama and current Giants safety Xavier McKinney once again.

The big name being thrown around in connection with the Giants is Devonta Smith. The wide receiver won the Heisman this season and, while he left the field injured, had three touchdowns in the National Championship. Smith has been mocked to the Giants before, but it’s debatable whether he’ll fall enough for the Giants to take him at number eleven.

Another name at receiver to memorize is Jaylen Waddle. The receiver is another member of the Alabama offense and while he missed time with injury and only played in 6 games for his junior season, he still registered 591 yards and 4 touchdowns. This class of receivers has been called a deep one. If the Giants don’t get Smith, it’s possible they end up with a player like Waddle.

As a former college teammate of both, McKinney is confident about their prospects in the league.

What did McKinney have to say?

“They’re talented as everybody can see. Those are guys that work hard. They do what they need to do for the team to be able to help the team win. That’s what I like a lot about those two guys just being out there playing with them. When we played those harder games, they always showed up to play,” McKinney said of the two Alabama receivers headed to the draft. “Like I said, they’re talented guys and I can’t wait to see how things go on the next level for them.”

The Giants have a need at the position after Sterling Shepard hasn’t been enough as their sole number one receiver and Darius Slayton hasn’t stepped up to the plate either. In fact, Slayton somewhat regressed since his first year.

He did have slightly more yards, but only 3 touchdowns compared to 8. He was targeted more but the ball didn’t get to him more than it did last season, with only two more receptions compared to 2019. And with Slayton having more of a role in the offense and starting more games compared to 2019, those stats don’t look good on him.

Few believed at first that Devonta Smith will be available at the time the Giants pick. However, his injury in the national championship may change that. If other teams are more wary, the Giants might be able to fill their need for less than Smith’s true value.

A player in the secondary for the Giants

Another player from Alabama that might be on the radar for the Giants is Patrick Surtain. Surtain is on the defensive side of the ball rather than the offense, specifically playing the cornerback position. Like many players to come out of Alabama, he has a reputation for discipline and holds the accomplishment of not allowing more than 60 yards in coverage in a single game last season.

The Giants have one high level cornerback in James Bradberry, but the secondary would receive a big boost from having another one playing on the other side of him. That player could be Surtain, who is predicted to be one of the first corners off the board.

“That’s another one of those guys where he comes to work every day, he prepares how he should and he’s another talented corner,” McKinney said about his former teammate in the secondary. “It’s a guy that I love to play with when we were at ‘Bama. I thought he did a lot of things well. He’s a really talented corner. He’s one of the best technicianists that I’ve gotten to actually witness at corner. That’s my guy.”

Of course, some Giants fans might be nervous about drafting a cornerback in the first round given the team’s track record. The Giants will have some regrets at the position from taking Eli Apple and DeAndre Baker in the first round and having both those players off the team within a relatively short time span. In the case of Baker, he was only on the team for one year before the Giants moved on from him.

But with this prospect coming out of Alabama, a team known for it Patriots-like system and discipline, it seems less likely the Giants will find such problems with Surtain. After all, we’ve seen the products of that system work out for the Giants so far. When McKinney, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Joe Judge can all trace roots back to there, it must be doing something right.

Who runs New York? Nets land Harden then beat Knicks

The Brooklyn Nets continued to collect stars and wins while the New York Knicks kept on piling up losses.

The Nets scored a double victory on Wednesday — acquiring James Harden in a blockbuster four-team trade, then survived a late scare from the Knicks, 116-109, for their second straight win.

Even with the Nets showing up with just nine players, they still dominated the game until the final three minutes.

Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and DeAndre Jordan keyed the Nets’ breakaway in the second quarter. They outscored the Knicks, 35-20, in that pivotal quarter and held a 16-point halftime lead.

The Nets were cruising to a runaway victory, 113-93, when Steve Nash pulled out Durant, Harris, and Jordan with 3:23 left in the game.

That’s when the Knicks made the game more entertaining. A late fightback forced Nash to insert Durant and Harris back after the Knicks came within five, 114-109, in the final 17 seconds.

It was a run too late for the Knicks, who absorbed their fourth straight loss after a surprising 5-3 start.

Durant led the Nets with 26 points and six assists in just 30 minutes. Harris and Bruce Brown, who continued to make an impact off the bench, added 15 apiece. Jordan, who is now firmly entrenched in the starting unit after Jarrett Allen’s departure, came within a rebound shy of a double-double. The veteran big man finished with nine points, 12 boards, and two blocks.

RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley finally put an end to their shooting slump. But it was still not enough to overpower the Nets’ firepower.

Barrett had 20 points, including 14 in the third quarter, while Quickley added 19. They shot an identical 7-of-15 from the field.

Julius Randle bounced back from his worst outing with 30 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

For most of the game, the Nets dominated the Knicks — a reflection of the great divide.

At 31, Durant lives in the moment and is chasing the Nets’ first championship. Barrett and Quickley, both in their early 20s, represent the future of the Knicks.

The Nets mortgaged their future for the present with the Harden trade. They have cashed in all their future picks for a chance to compete for titles.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Knicks have zero stars but so much cap space and draft capital. At best, they might compete for the play-in or, worst, end up in the lottery again.

The two New York teams are operating on different timelines. On this night, it showed.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants offensive tackle Andrew Thomas has ankle surgery

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas

The New York Giants spent the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. Thomas had an up-and-down rookie season but flashed his potential as a solid starter in the NFL along the way. In particular, Thomas had a strong finish to the season, stringing together a few impressive performances down the final stretch.

There might now be some explanation as to why Thomas’s play was inconsistent during his rookie season. Apparently, Andrew had been dealing with a left ankle injury this season. He managed through the pain and finished the season. But now he has finally taken care of this injury, underoing surgery on his left ankle today.

This injury could further explain why Andrew Thomas’s footwork and technique seemed to get inconsistent and poor at times during the regular season. This injury indicates that there might have been more going on than just “rookie growing pains.”

Andrew Thomas informed the public of his ankle surgery through an instagram post today. The post by Thomas features an image of his ankle post-surgery and states that “everything went well” with the surgery.

According to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post Sports, Andrew Thomas is expected to be fully healed by March. Andrew will absolutely be prepared and ready to go for the 2021 regualr season, barring anything unforeseen. Andrew’s ankle injury must have been minor, but still bothersome enough to require surgery. Now, with this injury cleaned up, Thomas can recover and look forward to a healthier sophomore season in 2021.

Brooklyn goes all-in, net Harden in blockbuster 4-team trade

The Brooklyn Nets are going all-in!

The Nets pushed all their chips on the table to acquire Houston Rocket’s disgrunted superstar James Harden, forming a super team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn gave up its young core led by Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, multiple first-round picks, and pick swaps in the blockbuster deal.

The trade expanded to include the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

The Rockets then shipped LeVert to the Pacers for Victor Oladipo. Allen and Prince were re-routed to the Cavaliers.

The final trade scenario looked like this, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania:

Nets acquired:

  • James Harden

Rockets acquired:

  • Victor Oladipo (via Pacers)
  • Dante Exum (via Cavaliers)
  • Rodions Kurucs (via Nets)
  • Nets’ unprotected first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026)
  • pick swaps with Nets (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027)
  • Cavaliers’ 2022 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks)
  • future second-round pick (via Pacers)

Pacers acquired:

  • Caris LeVert (via Nets)
  • future second-round pick (via Rockets)

Cavaliers acquired:

  • Jarett Allen (via Nets)
  • Taurean Prince (via Nets)

‘It can’t be fixed’

The trade which Harden pushed so hard since the offseason escalated quickly after his zoom interview last night.

“We’re not even close, honestly, to, obviously, the defending champions (Lakers) and all the other elite teams out there,” Harden said. “I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.

“Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It’s clear. I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. It’s crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed. Thanks.”

The Rockets eventually caved in to his trade demand.

Reunion in Brooklyn

Harden is now reunited with Durant, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.

The Nets got much-needed firepower after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending injury. An uneven start forced the Nets to mortgage their future for the present. It didn’t help that Irving also went on leave due to personal reasons.

The trade, though, left the Nets’ bench gutted.

They have three more spots to fill. Look out for Jamal Crawford’s name to be linked to the Nets anew. Crawford played for the Nets in the Orlando bubble.

Moving on

The Rockets, meanwhile, can now move forward from the drama that engulfed the team up to this point.

Oladipo will team up with John Wall at the backcourt.

The Rockets endured a volatile offseason with Harden instigating a ‘holdout’ in the training camp. That caused him to miss the beginning of training camp and their first two preseason games. He was subsequently fined for violating the league’s health protocols.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers got an emerging young center in Allen. He will serve as their center of the future with Andre Drummond set to hit free agency.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Yankees: Corey Kluber impresses in showcase

New York Yankees, Corey Kluber

The New York Yankees are reportedly not looking to make any major investments on the team roster, as they are trying not to surpass a specific payroll number. That’s why pitchers like Corey Kluber, who is rehabbing from injuries, become logical targets for them.

Kluber’s market value is somewhat depressed, as he only threw one inning with the Texas Rangers in 2020 due to a Grade 2 teres major muscle strain in his throwing shoulder. He also was limited to 35 2/3 frames in 2019 because of a fractured arm and oblique issue.

Those injury issues forced him to work a lot during the offseason to get in shape for a showcase to MLB teams, which took place on Wednesday. According to Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic, there were “upwards of 25 teams” at the free agent showcase in Florida. The New York Yankees were one of them.

Luckily for Kluber, he showed enough for MLB teams to consider making offers in the near future. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that “scouts came away impressed” after watching Kluber throw around 30 pitches from a mound while sitting 88-90 mph with his fastball.

Kluber makes too much sense for the Yankees

During his best days, Kluber’s four-seam fastball averaged around 92 mph, so he isn’t too far off from his best version, at least velocity-wise. He still has work to do if he wants to be an effective starter in 2021, but he is on the right path after two years of very bad luck with injuries.

For the Yankees, a pitcher like Kluber makes too much sense given their current financial situation. Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote that “when it comes to Kluber, no team will have a better understanding of his physical condition than the Yankees. The mound session today was at Cressey Sports Performance. The rehab is being done by Eric Cressey, who also is the NYY’s director of health and performance.”

Only time will tell if the Yankees will make a move. They will have competition, though.

New York Islanders: Transactions from January 13th

Andrew Ladd, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders are just a day away from their season opener against the New York Rangers. As training camp closes out, the NHL requires all 31 teams to hand in an official roster. Now, obviously, things are subject to change, not everything is set in stone just yet. There were definitely some shocking moves made within the past 24 hours in the Islanders organization. Which move was the most shocking, and which move didn’t mean anything?

Waiver Wire

As I’ve stated before, Josh Ho-Sang and Mason Jobst were both placed on waivers on Sunday. Both of them actually cleared and will report to Bridgeport. Andrew Ladd was also placed on waivers and went unclaimed. Leo Komarov and Dmytro Timashov were waived, but it’s a paper transaction. What I mean by this is that they are still on the team, but due to cap restraints, they had to be waived. Don’t be worried, Isles fans, Timashov has a contract. Finally, Bode Wilde and Samuel Bolduc were sent to Bridgeport.

Taxi Squad

The taxi squad is a new addition to the NHL due to COVID-19. The Islanders placed Kieffer Bellows, Austin Cznarik, Otto Koivula, and Jakub Skarek on the squad. Again, the Bellows move is a paper transaction, will most definitely be on the third line tomorrow night. Corey Schneider is not under contract yet, so he cannot be on the squad. Look for him to sign within the next 3 days. I also believe that Sebastian Aho will join this squad and maybe Oliver Wahlstrom.

Extra Notes

The Islanders placed Michael Dal Colle on injury reserve. At this time, Lou Lamoriello has not commented on Dal Colle’s situation. Lamoriello has stated that he is perfectly fine with Johnston and Martin on the ice every night. He sees no redundancy. Trotz stated that Wahlstrom and Bellows playing together is a possibility and may happen later this season. Finally, Thomas Hickey will be the 7th defender.

New York Giants stars help inspire first DB Combine prep, but the man behind it all is Brian Walker

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers, Darnay Holmes, DBacks Academy

When the New York Giants began the 2020 season, their defense was supposed to be their weakest link. By season’s end, it was their strongest, thanks to fantastic play across the board and stellar coaching. Strong safety Jabrill Peppers is one player who saw his game take a jump to the next level, having his most productive season yet. He finished with a career-high 57 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. However, the catalyst behind Peppers’ fantastic year is his off-season work-ethic and his time spent with Brian Walker, the founder of DBacks Academy.

Walker also trains 4th round pick from 2020, Darnay Holmes, who saw incredible growth as the season progressed before suffering a knee injury. Earlier on in the season, Holmes faced off against first-round wide receiver Ceedee Lamb, holding him to just 43 yards. The mentality to succeed and work hard during your time off is what lead Holmes, as a fourth-rounder, to succeed. Walker played a key part in preparing the two young defensive backs for the Giants for the 2020 season, and it paid off in dividends.

Brian is leading the charge to a revolutionized way of training DBs and preparing them for the next level. 

“Helping the next generation get to the goal as quickly as possible. Whether it’s safety to linebacker, or safety to linebacker, or hybrid.”

“Every DB is not the same height, every DB is not the same speed. Just like we have SAT tutors, quarterback coaches, this is something for me, during my playing days, I wish there was a coach who could break it down and see the game different. The game is getting faster and faster.”

Brian has trained with players from the East to the West Coast, understanding the different styles and athletic abilities. This has helped form a specific teaching style that adapts to his athletes, no matter the age or background. His experience playing against some notable names has also contributed to his vast knowledge of the game.

“As a DB, one thing about California, everyone is fast, and because I had a wide receiver foundation and I had the Don Brown tree, I ended up leaving JUCO and going to Washington State. I was able to go against Deshaun Jackson and Reggie Bush, and a lot of these guys are staples.”

Q: You have to be anticipating change and keeping up with the times, so how do you foresee things changing for kids looking to prepare for the NFL in 2-3 years?

“I was blessed to play at the higher levels for a few years, but I did play Arena Football, and because it’s so small, it’s so quick. Now that the game of NFL, the guys are bigger, stronger faster, the guys are getting to the QB so much quicker. What I’m telling guys now, is that the game is built like Arena Football. The corners are bigger and the safeties are smaller and can cover. The slots are a lot quicker, the tight ends are more receiver(ish).”

“The biggest thing, eliminating the extra steps, making sure you’re not too high. Football is a game of angles. The proper angles get you in the right situation. The game is about technique because everyone is bigger, stronger faster.”

Walker is a fundamentalist, refining his players’ techniques and noticing the details to improve their game. He understands one major accelerant in development — fixing the minor issues leads to ‘major’ growth.

Being an athlete is only one step of the process, being a stellar student is half the battle.

Q: How important is being a good student as part of your teachings?

“I have a track background, we filmed everything to make every step is correct. With DBs, sometimes we can give the verbiage, but it might not resonate the right way. Using film, we can slow it down and break it down the right way. It’s just repetition, like a golf swing, the more you swing, the better you get.”

With technology becoming such an influential part of the way athletes train and build out their style, Walker is always ahead of the curve, using advancements to help his students.

Q: How do you use technology to your advantage? 

“I can actually teach more, I can pull up information in the blink of an eye. The little details, the micro and you can get it to the macro by using technology.”

Q: What Pro Athletes do you currently work with?

“Currently, we work with Darnay Holmes, Jabrill Peppers, Juwann Winfree, a handful of college guys, Jordan Fuller. Rashan Gary, some offensive linemen.”

“A lot of my guys are from the ground-up, 8th grade in the making. I’ve built relationships with these players, and I do tell people, I know the process of getting people from highschool to college, to pro. I know all three phases.”

What make the professionals different, what is their mentality?

“The mindset with all of them, they continue to want to learn. Growth mindset is really important for athletes.”

The purpose of DBs Academy isn’t to be a one-stop training session for professionals, it’s meant to develop relationships that grow over time, leading to exponential growth. Think of it as investing in the stock market — the longer you wait, the more money you will gain over time (given you’re invested in the right areas). With Brian, he views himself as the stock, and the more you trust and put effort back into him, the better you will be in the future.

Q: Defensive back-specific Combine:

“With the NFL Combine, there’s always a lot of DBs, and they get drafted, but unfortunately, they get drafted and then they’re out of camp within 2-3 months. That’s disheartening, because these are young men who spend most of their life trying to get drafted and they’re not there.”

“What’s the primary issue, what’s the root, the source?”

“I can be that eye, what makes the combine I do so special, never done before, extremely detailed on what we’re doing for the NFL, but also for a longer career. If I can make a free agent or 7th rounder first-day pick, that shows the development is there. How do you make them work as efficient and successful as they want to be? That’s what this Combine is meant to extract.”

The most innovative aspect of Walker’s system is the DB-specific Combine, giving young athletes a chance to showcase their abilities to scouts in a specific setting. The NFL Combine focuses so much on athleticism, it can often-time overlook the factor of potential. Brian respects and appreciates all of the hard work athletes put into their game, and with the high number of defensive backs trying to make it, any competitive advantage counts.

This DB Combine provides just that — a better way to get yourself in front of those that matter and refine your skills for what team-officials really need to see.

Follow DBacks Academy on Twitter!

 

 

UFC currently working on Nate Diaz’s return to lightweight

One of the most popular fighters in the UFC appears to be heading back to his natural weight class. Dana White revealed this morning to The Mac Life that the promotion is working on the return of Nate Diaz (20-12).

White said that the UFC was working on a Nate Diaz fight as we speak. He also said that the fight would take place at lightweight which is the natural weight class for Nate Diaz. Diaz hasn’t fought at 155 since 2015 when he defeated Michael Johnson.

When Diaz fought Conor McGregor and Anthony Pettis, those fights were at welterweight despite all being natural lightweights. White also said that the fight would get Diaz right back into the title picture should he win in his return to lightweight.

We didn’t see Nate Diaz in a UFC octagon in 2020. Late in the year, the promotion looked to be moving towards booking the rematch between him and Jorge Masvidal. However, the UFC has decided to shift gears towards Masvidal – Colby Covington.

That left Nate Diaz without a dance partner. There really didn’t appear to be a clear matchup for Diaz at welterweight or lightweight. However, using White’s clues about his return to 155, let’s try to figure it out.

The UFC’s plan for Diaz

A fight that makes total sense for all parties involved is Nate Diaz – Tony Ferguson (25-5). That would be the biggest fight in my opinion that the UFC could make, however, Dana White said that the fight for Diaz is not Ferguson.

It’s hard to imagine that the promotion would book him against either Justin Gaethje (22-3) or Charles Oliveira (30-8, 1 NC). The plan currently is for those two to fight assuming the promotion can get the fight done.

The next available contender would be Rafael Dos Anjos (30-13). This fight would actually be a rematch from several years ago when RDA completely dominated Nate Diaz over the course of three rounds.

I find it pretty hard to believe that this would be the potential fight that White is hyping up. At this point, the most logical option appears to be Paul Felder (17-6). Considering the spot in the top ten, that would be the only opponent I can think of for Diaz.

White said that the win for Diaz would get him right back in the mix. Felder makes the most sense unless the UFC believes that the RDA rematch is the fight to make. Time will tell what will happen with Nate Diaz.

New York Mets hire former MLB hurler as rookie league pitching coordinator

New York Mets

The New York Mets keep bringing well-prepared people to take over critical positions in the organizations. Even when they aren’t signing or trading for players, they manage to find ways to improve the club.

In another attempt to fortify its research, development, and analytics department, the New York Mets hired former major league pitcher Carter Capps as a rookie league pitching coordinator, according to Jacob Resnick of MetsMerized.com.

Capps was, most recently, a private trainer and pitching analyst at Driveline, a data-driven training facility in Kent, Washington, that has been responsible for resurrecting lots of careers in major league baseball.

The pitcher himself tweeted the news.

Bringing Capps into the fold is another sign that the Mets want to prioritize player development. Facilitating rookie ball pitchers with all the tech tools and resources they may need to get the best out of their pitching talent is now an organizational priority.

The Mets are embracing analytics more than ever

Capps was actually a very good reliever in MLB. In 2015, he had a 1.16 ERA in 31 frames with the Marlins. But he had an unorthodox delivery, and the league enforced some rule changes that made really affected Capps. That, and thoracic outlet syndrome condemned his major league future. He retired with a career 4.21 ERA (3.20 FIP) in 147.2 innings.

On a recent Driveline podcast episode, the now Mets employee said:

“I have to know that [the athletes] can handle that amount of information. What I do [with long-term clients] is slowly start conditioning them so that by the time they leave [Driveline] I’m expecting them to know all the nuances. But with these shorter-stay guys I know they’re already going to be overwhelmed when I do the biomechanics report.

“If a guy has great vertical break, good approach angle — ‘Hey, maybe think about throwing your fastball up in the zone a little more often,’ help that curveball tunnel a bit better so you don’t just have to get strikes on your 0-2 curveball in the dirt. A simple suggestion like that. I’m not going to tell him about vertical approach angle and pitch tunneling and stuff like that, it’s just ‘Hey, this would play better in this scenario, based off these two factors.’

“Then depending on his correspondence — ‘OK, that clearly hit home, he clearly understood that’ —we can go into level two pitch design-type stuff. Same thing with understanding biomechanics. It’s strictly based on what the athlete is giving back to me feedback-wise.”

Basically, Capps will help the Mets by embracing data and tech resources as tools to help pitchers, and helping young hurlers digest and understand this information to use it to improve their performance.

UFC booking Ciry Gane – Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Ciryl Gane UFC

The UFC is in the process of finalizing a big heavyweight matchup. First reported by La Sueur, the promotion is booking a heavyweight clash between undefeated prospect, Ciryl Gane (7-0), and Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-1).

The fight will take place at the UFC‘s Fight Night on March 13th. Just this morning, we learned that the headliner of that card will be the highly anticipated matchup between Khamzat Chimaev and Leon Edwards.

Adding this heavyweight battle just shows that the UFC is stacking the deck again for another fight night. Entering this contest, both of these top contenders rank inside the UFC’s top seven at heavyweight.

They also both share a common last opponent. They both knocked out Junior Dos Santos in the second half of 2020 in their last performance. Prior to that win over JDS, Rozenstruik had suffered his first career loss at the hands of Francis Ngannou.

Rozenstruik met Ngannou at UFC 249. The winner of the fight was poised to be the top contender in the heavyweight division. Bibi Boy called out Ngannou and paid for it. Ngannou put Rozenstruik to sleep in 20 seconds.

However, Rozenstruik has had some real bright spots in the UFC outside of that loss. Of course, there is the victory over JDS, but he also owns knockouts over Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, and Allen Crowder.

The UFC’s Top Heavyweight Prospect

Arguably the most intriguing heavyweight in the UFC entering 2021 is Ciryl Gane. Once a top training partner of Francis Ngannou, Gane has really started to blossom as a top heavyweight for the promotion.

Fighting JDS at UFC 256 was the first big test for Gane. He passed that test with flying colors. Gane certainly looks the part of a top heavyweight contender. If he’s able to get by Bigi Boy, he might only be a win away from a title shot.

The heavyweight division is in a fascinating spot. Jon Jones is preparing for his heavyweight debut while Ngannou is getting ready to fight Stipe Miocic for the title. Whoever wins between Gane and Rozenstruik will be squarely in the title picture after March 13th.