Stroman Pitches Well Again in Mets 4-2 Loss Against Marlins

New York Yankees, New York Mets, Marcus Stroman

The New York Mets were back on television on Friday after only a couple thousand fans watched Jacob deGrom‘s dominance on Thursday. While not as dominant, Marcus Stroman put together a strong start against the Miami Marlins. Stroman became the first Mets starter to pitch into the fourth innings this spring in the 4-2 loss.

Stroman needed 58 pitches to get through 3.1 innings. He allowed a run in the first inning on a Jesus Aguilar single but settled in after that. Stroman recorded four strikeouts and lowered his spring training ERA to 3.24. Dellin Betances also pitched a scoreless inning with his fastball in the 89-93 mph range. The jury is still out on if Betances will sit at that speed all season, but he will need the best control of his career if he does.

Trevor May and Tommy Hunter struggled in their outings. May allowed three straight singles to load the bases, but a double play helped him escape with only one run allowed. Hunter’s inning was littered with hard contact. Monte Harrison broke the 2-2- tie with his RBI double, and Joe Dunand blooped a single to make it 4-2.

It is hard to find a hotter hitter than Brandon Nimmo this spring. His second double of the spring kept his average at a tremendous .444. Pete Alonso also remained hot with a line-drive RBI double to right-center field. Brandon Drury drove in the first Mets run with an RBI single in the fourth.

Jordan Yamamoto (0-1, 0.00) takes the mound against the Washington Nationals on Saturday. The first pitch is at 6:05 p.m. ET from West Palm Beach.

New York Yankees make first round of roster cuts

New York Yankees, Adam Warren

This afternoon, the New York Yankees announced their first round of Spring Training roster cuts.

The team assigned a handful of players to minor league affiliates but didn’t send them to minor league camp. One of the Yankees’ top outfield prospects, Estevan Florial, was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Florial spent a lot of time there over the past few seasons and came into camp without any real chance to make the team.

Additionally, the Yankees optioned RHP Luis Gil to Double-A Somerset. Guil is the Yankees No. 4 prospect and will get his first taste of Double-A action this season.

The Yankees also optioned RHPs Luis Medina and Alexander Vizcaino to Single-A Tampa along with infielder Oswald Peraza. All three players are top-20 prospects within the New York Yankees organization. The team also optioned RHP Yoendrys Gomez to Single-A Tampa.

In addition to the Yankees optioning several players to the minor leagues, the team assigned a slew of players to minor league camp. The full list of players sent to minor league camp is as follows:

  • INF Armando Alvarez
  • OF Trey Amburgey
  • OF Michael Beltre
  • C Josh Breaux
  • C Kellin Deglan
  • INF Ezequiel Duran
  • INF Chris Gittens
  • LHP Trevor Lane
  • C Max McDowell
  • OF Thomas Malone
  • RHP Glenn Otto
  • INF Hoy Park
  • C Anthony Siegler
  • RHP Adam Warren
  • C Austin Wells

Most of these moves aren’t particularly surprising, but one does stand out a bit: Adam Warren. In three Spring Training appearances, Warren gave up just one hit and struck out two. He is, however, recovering from Tommy John surgery, so that could be a factor in his demotion.

New York Yankees Recap: Yankees beat the Tigers 4-2, but it wasn’t pretty

New York Yankees, Rob Brantly

The New York Yankees took a short bus ride northeast to Lakeland, Florida, to play the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. The game was played under partly cloudy skies but with a nice 80-degree game-time temperature. The Yankee starter was Jameson Taillon in his second start of the season. He faced Julio Teheran of the Tigers. The Yankees again used their “B” lineup, which uncharacteristically had more lefties than righties. The Yankees won the game 4-2. It was a tedious game to watch as the Yankee pitching was subpar, to say the least.

Teheran faced Brett Gardner leading off for the Yankees. Gardner was in my “Spotlight” article for having the Yankee’s highest OPS (on-base percentage + slugging). In his first at-bat today, he gound out. Gary Sanchez struck out, and Jay Bruce singled to left. Clint Frazier finished off the half by striking out. Taillon first faced Robbie Grossman, and he walked. Candelario flew out, Castro ground into a force-out, and Cabrera flew out for the last out of the inning. No score.

At the second, Darren Dietrich moved to first after being hit by a pitch. Kyle Higashioka singled, moving Dietrich to second. Mike Tauchman singled, loading the bases with Yankees with no outs. Thairo Estrada grounded into a forceout, Dietrich caught at home plate.  Tyler Wade had a sac fly out, allowing Higgy to score, Brett, singled, and Tauchman scored. Gary Sanchez ground out to end the half, but the Yankees got on the board. Taillon, in his second inning of work he got Goodrum to strikeout. Ramos doubled, Paredes flew out, Reyes walked, and Jones struck out. Yankees 2 Tigers 0.

Jay Bruce led off for the Yankees at the top of the third by walking. Clint Frazier grounded into a double play, two outs. Dietrich struck out to end the half. Taillon out for the third walked Grossman. Candelario singled, two on no outs. Castro struck out, Cabrera reached on a Jay Bruce throwing error loading the bases. Goodrum struck out. The Yankees took Taillon out of the game, replacing him with Addison Russ, who got Ramos to ground out and allow the Yankees to get out of the inning, giving up no runs.  Yankees 2 Tigers 0.

At the top of the fourth, Higgy faced Jose Urena and ground out. Tauchman lined out, and Estrada flew for a quick inning for Urena. Nick Goody was out for the Yankees in the bottom of the frame. Paredes ground out, Reyes flew out, and Jones ground out for an easy inning for Goody. Yankees 2 Tigers 0.

Tyler Wade led off the fifth, striking out swinging. Brett Gardner ground out, and Gary Sanchez ground out, giving Urena his second 1-2-3 inning. Albert Abreu replaced Goody in the bottom. Grossman flew out, Candelario doubled, Nunez pinch-running. Castro singled driving in a Nunez. Goodrum ended the inning, but the Tigers got on the board. Yankees 2 Tigers 1.

Urena on the mound again. Jay Bruce ground out, Frazier flew out, and Dietrich flew out, giving Urena his third 1-2-3 inning in a row in quite a pitching display. Kyle Barraclough on the mound for the New York Yankees. Ramos flew out, Paredes walked, Greene walked, Baddoo walks, as Barraclough walked the bases full. Haase struck out, and Nunez ground out, allowing Barraclough to get out of an incredible jam. Yankees 2 Tigers 1.

Derek Holland started the seventh. Higashioka struck out swinging, Tauchman struck out swinging, Estrada closed out the half. Nestor Cortes Jr. took on the pitching in the bottom of the frame. Castro flew out, Cameron struck out, and Torkelson was called out on strikes. Yankees 2 Tigers 1.

Hoy Jun Park led off for the Yankees; he struck out, getting 3 balls then 3 strikes in a row. Amburgey walked, Rob Brantly homered in two runs for the Yankees. Gittens walked, Michael Beltre hit into a double play, but the Yankees tacked on 2 more runs. Tyler Lyons handled the bottom of the eighth. Rogers singled, Clemens struck out, Greene ground out, and Baddoo ground out to end the inning. Yankees 4 Tigers 1.

Ezequiel Duran singled in the ninth. Austin Wells grounded out but Duran moved to second. Thomas Milone struck out swinging, and Armando Alvarez followed with a strikeout. With last licks on the line, the Tigers took to the bottom of the ninth with Brooks Kriske on the mound, trying to close it out for the New York Yankees. Haase walked as Kriske was all over the place. Then he hit Nunez with a pitch. Two on no outs. Castro doubled driving in Haase. Cameron struck out, two outs. Torkelson flew out to end the game Yankees 4 Tigers 2.

The Yankee starter Jameson Taillon from the start did not have good control of his pitches; he had as many balls as strikes. However, he got out of the game without giving up a run. He only gave up two hits, but he walked three batters. Albert Abreu had his second poor outing. He has now given up six runs in 2.2 innings on the mound. His ERA is now 27.00. Barraclough walked the bases full. All in all, the Yankee’s pitching was not up to par. The photo accompanying the article is Rob Brantly who homered and drove in two runs for the Yankees.

The standout in the game was the Tiger pitcher Jose Urena who had three 1-2-3 innings in a row.

 

 

 

UFC Vegas 21 Preview: Manel Kape – Matheus Nicolau

Tomorrow night at UFC Vegas 21, we are going to see an entertaining scrap in the flyweight division. Former RIZIN champion, Manel Kape (15-5), gets a quick turnaround as he takes on the returning Matheus Nicolau (15-2-1).

Kape made his UFC debut just over a month ago against Alexandre Pantoja. There was a lot of hype surrounding Kape and people considered him to be a threat in the division. However, the first fight failed to live up to the hype.

Kape seemed extremely gun shy in the matchup against Pantoja. Now, I will say that Pantoja is one of the more dangerous fighters at 125. He has incredible power and he’s very good on the ground. For those reasons, Kape was extremely cautious which led to a lack of activity.

As a result, Kape lost his UFC debut. That loss snapped his three-fight win streak that brought him to the promotion. He stayed in Vegas after the loss and stayed ready for an opportunity and he got one.

Matheus Nicolau’s original opponent fell out and Kape stepped in for the challenge. Nicolau will be making his return to the UFC tomorrow night. In his first run, Nicolau went 3-1, then he was cut by the promotion.

He was cut during the same wave as Brandon Moreno when many thought the flyweight division was toast. Nicolau got two wins outside of the octagon and now the UFC has brought him back into the fold. He’s looking to make it three-straight wins tomorrow night.

UFC Vegas 21 Prediction

At UFC Vegas 21, I’m expecting more action from Manel Kape than we saw in his debut. Matheus Nicolau is not going to be the fighter who is going to be shooting for takedowns. But, his power is something to be cautious about.

I’m expecting this to be a war on the feet tomorrow night. Kape has incredible boxing and he’s very fast when he does throw his hands. He also possesses good kicks, however, he usually favors striking with his hands.

Nicolau also has very good striking. He also possesses incredible power with his hands and his kicks. One thing I like from Nicolau is his calf kicks which I think could play a huge factor if Kape is too heavy on that front foot tomorrow.

For my UFC Vegas 21 prediction, I’m going to lean towards Manel Kape to get it done. This fight is going to be incredibly entertaining, however, I like the speed of Kape and his striking defense. I also like that he’s been active and is fresh while this is Nicolau’s first fight since August of 2019.

Prediction: Manel Kape by Unanimous Decision

UFC Vegas 21 Preview: Angela Hill – Ashley Yoder

Tomorrow night at UFC Vegas 21 we will get to see a rematch in the women’s strawweight division. Top contender, Angela Hill (12-9) will try to make it two for two as she battles “The Spider Monkey” Ashley Yoder (8-6) for the second time.

Ashley Yoder has had a very up and down career so far in the UFC. The promotion signed her back in 2016 after she started her career at 5-1. However, she would go on to lose her first three fights in the octagon.

With her back against the cage, Yoder rattled off two consecutive wins before dropping two straight. In November, she snapped her latest losing streak with a win over Miranda Granger. This is a massive fight for Yoder who can secure her spot if she’s able to win tomorrow night.

That said, it’s not going to be easy. In June of 2019, Angela Hill lost a decision to Yan Xiaonan. After that fight, Hill really turned the corner in her UFC career. She won three straight fights, two by stoppage before taking on former title challenger, Claudia Gadelha.

Hill lost an extremely close split decision to Gadelha. Then, the UFC gave her a main event slot against Michelle Waterson and the two put on an absolute show. Again, Hill lost a razor close split decision. Had those decisions gone her way, Hill would be in the conversation for a shot at the UFC title.

UFC Vegas 21 Prediction

Originally, these two were supposed to fight a couple of weeks ago. However, Yoder had someone test positive for COVID in her camp and the rematch had to be moved back a couple of weeks to UFC Vegas 21.

Yoder is the massive betting underdog heading into tomorrow. For Ashley Yoder to win, she has to use her wrestling and try to make this fight dirty. She needs to try and force Hill against the cage and control her with her grappling.

We’ve seen Hill struggle with fighters who have a big strength advantage. However, I’m not sure Yoder has the strength and skill to keep Hill down or against the fence. At range, this fight is all Angela Hill.

While Ashley Yoder doesn’t have bad standup, I strongly favor Hill in the striking. You could make the argument that she’s one of the better strikers in the division. At the end of the day, Yoder is going to put up a tough fight, but Angela Hill is getting her hand raised at UFC Vegas 21.

NASCAR: Ryan Blaney on acting and improving as series hit Phoenix

Ryan Blaney’s acting up in more ways than one on the NASCAR circuit, earning first top-five of 2021 and guest-starring on The Crew.

As the world reaches its first full year under the ongoing pandemic, many have taken the time to reflect on where they’ve been and how they’ve grown as welcome normalcy begins to inch its way back into society.

The sensation is coming full circle for the NASCAR Cup Series, which will return to Phoenix Raceway on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox). Recently refurbished, Phoenix hosted the last NASCAR event with the traditional trappings and fanfare normally seen on race weekend, including fully open grandstands. The ensuing event at Atlanta was postponed five days after Joey Logano took home the checkered flag in the desert.

That week was slated to be a forgettable one for Ryan Blaney. He was likely eager to get past Phoenix, as his No. 12 Team Penske Ford came home 37th after it was involved in a wreck with Denny Hamlin on lap 59 of 312. But he remembers being at Chase Elliott’s house in Georgia and that he and his close friend were on their way to the track before they received the shutdown notice.

“We were reading things of NBA shutting down and things like that, so we didn’t really know what was gonna happen, so we were about to head out the door and they said it got canceled,” Blaney recalled during media availability this week. He extended sympathy to what was happening to his fellow teams and competitors but lamented the loss of livelihoods beyond the track.

“It was a difficult thing for everybody on the teams and things like that, but in the bigger picture, it was very difficult for people around the world, any job,” he said. “It changes everyone’s lives, so it definitely doesn’t feel like a year. Hopefully, we’re making progress on this thing of getting the world healthy again, but it’s changed the way that our sport has operated.”

The two-month stoppage came at a strange time for Blaney and Team Penske. Prior to the 2020 season, the team played a de facto game of musical chair with the team’s crew chiefs. Blaney was assigned the services of Todd Gordon, a Camden, NY native and 2018 Cup Series champion alongside fellow Penske rep Joey Logano.

The pairing struggled in the early going after a runner-up finish at the Daytona 500, capped off by the wreck at Phoenix. But once NASCAR returned in mid-May at Darlington, Blaney rattled off top-four finishes in six of the next seven races, a stretch capped off in a photo-finish victory at Talladega.

A brutal first-round of the playoffs stifled the No. 12’s momentum, though his teammates Logano and Brad Keselowski were in contention for the championship at the return trip to Phoenix for the season finale last fall. But Blaney was pleased with what the team has been able to accomplish over the past year.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do, the whole team,” Blaney said. “(When) everything shut down, I thought we did the best we could of still communicating and unload with no practice and trying to make the most of it, so it’s just nice to build off of last year, coming back with the same people on your team I think really helps figuring out what you need to do to be better.”

Blaney had to rediscover his 2020 resilience when the ongoing season got off to a painful start at Daytona. Late contact with Elliott cost him a chance for the win at the Busch Clash exhibition before he was caught up in an early “Big One” in the main event. Another wreck with Aric Almirola ended his chances at the third race at Homestead, putting him in a 24th-place hole in the standings. With different winners emerging in each of the first few races thus far, Blaney sat in a somewhat-precarious 24th-place spot.

But the No. 12 crew got things together at Las Vegas, rounding out the top five behind winner Kyle Larson. It was the first time this season that he ran in the top five after the tough start to the year. He currently holds the 15th and penultimate playoff seed in the Cup Series playoff standings, three points ahead of first man out Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

“We’ve struggled getting going this year, but just unfortunate things happened.  It was nice just to have a solid run.  I didn’t think we had a car that could contend for the win,” Blaney said. “We all thought at Homestead our mile-and-a-half cars weren’t great and we put a lot of work in before Vegas changing some stuff up and it showed, so I apply that to both packages and definitely do that here this weekend for Phoenix going forward.”

Blaney will start eighth for Sunday’s race at Phoenix, the Instacart 500. Prior to last season’s wreck, he posted consecutive third-place finishes in the desert and recovered to sixth in the 2020 season finale, second-best amongst the non-championship contenders.

But the track on everyone’s mind in the near future is undoubtedly the newly muddied Bristol Motor Speedway, which will host the Cup Series’ first-ever dirt race on March 28. While Blaney hasn’t taken to iRacing like many of his compatriots, he might have a resource few other drivers own: secondhand experience through his father.

Blaney’s father Dave, who ran nearly 500 races at the Cup level, is an accomplished dirt racer in his own right, earning the 1995 World of Outlaws championship. The younger Blaney believes that the biggest factor in this unchartered endeavor will be the unpredictability of stock cars racing on dirt.

“It’s nice we have practice and it’s nice to have a dad that I can maybe talk to about what he thinks,” Blaney said. “His sprint cars are way different than what we’re gonna be driving, but just as far as looking at the dirt track, if it’s slicking off, if there’s a little bit of moisture everywhere, that’s just kind of heads-up.”

“You can expect all you want to, but until you get there and you see what the track is like and how much water they’ve put down on it, if it’s rubbering up, if it’s really slick, that’s just game time stuff.  That’s what makes those dirt guys so great at what they do is they have to notice that every single lap and it changes every lap and they have great ability to really switch up what they’re doing.”

Like many innovators during the health crisis, it would appear that Blaney picked up a new skill during the lockdown period. Blaney guest-starred in a pair of episodes of The Crew, a Netflix comedy series starring Kevin James.

Surprisingly, however, it’s not the only screen credit to Blaney’s name. He appeared on episodes of NBC’s episodic adaption of the action film Taken and the Magnum P.I. reboot on CBS. He also held voiceover roles in Cars 3 and the animated Spider-Man series on Disney XD.

Blaney would be open to more acting roles, having gained a deeper appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work of on-screen.

“I really enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes on movie or TV sets,” It’s actually really fascinating if you’ve never seen behind-the-scenes sets of how many men and women are involved in production and preparation that are never on screen. Everybody from the writers to the director to the light person.

“There’s a lot of people that are involved with that that never get any recognition that aren’t on the TV, and it’s kind of the same with racing.  There are a lot of people in these race shops that are never at the track, things like that, but they do a lot of work, whether it’s building chassis or putting body on the car, engineer work.  I kind of compare it to that.”

But he made one thing abundantly clear: he’ll walk off the set if showbiz interferes with his racing career.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

UFC booking Tony Ferguson – Beneil Dariush

Tony Ferguson, UFC

The UFC is in the process of finalizing a big time matchup in the lightweight division. MMA Junkie was the first to report today that the promotion is close to finalizing a matchup between Tony Ferguson (25-5) and Beneil Dariush (20-4-1).

The proposed matchup will take place at UFC 262 on May 15th. For Beneil Dariush, this is the fight that he’s been wanting. Dariush just got into the top ten of the UFC‘s lightweight rankings and he’s been vocal about fighting a big name.

For the last few years, Dariush has been fighting some of the tougher lightweights that are just outside of the top ten. He’s currently on a six-fight win streak that includes wins over Diego Ferreira, Drakkar Klose, and Drew Dober.

Originally, Dariush was supposed to fight Charles Oliveira late in 2020. However, the UFC pivoted and Oliveira ended up fighting and defeating Tony Ferguson. Left without a big name, Dariush took a tough rematch against Diego Ferreira.

Dariush has been incredibly impressive over the last few years. From his grappling to his toughness, he’s proven that he’s not an easy out in the UFC‘s lightweight division. He has title aspirations, and this is a huge fight that can get him closer to his goal.

Can Ferguson bounce back at UFC 262?

For years, Tony Ferguson was considered the boogey man of the UFC’s lightweight division. He won 12 fights in a row on his way to becoming the interim lightweight champion. However, he never earned the distinction of undisputed champion.

Unfortunately for Ferguson, every time he was supposed to fight for the undisputed belt, the fight fell through. Most recently at UFC 249. Ferguson was supposed to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, COVID-19 prevented Khabib from traveling so Ferguson fought Justin Gaethje for the interim title.

Ferguson lost for the first time since 2012. After that, El Cucuy went on to lose to Oliveira at UFC 256. Now, Ferguson appears at a crossroads. If he wins this fight, it gets him right back on track. However, if he loses at UFC 262, we might be nearing the end of his great run inside the octagon.

New York Yankees: The latest update on Luke Voit’s knee

New York Yankees, Luke Voit

The New York Yankees want their players to get to the season in top shape, and that means slowly ramping up baseball activities, fielding drills, baserunning situations, at-bats, and more. However, they expect ballplayers to understand that these warmup games should be taken with caution and, if possible, avoid hard slides and unnecessary tags, like Luke Voit in Thursday’s win against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Yankees’ hulking first baseman has been dealing with some knee issues this week. They started on Tuesday and kept him out of Wednesday’s lineup. He returned yesterday, but was involved in a scary play that could have had a much worse outcome.

The Yankees’ first baseman gave everyone a scare

Voit, who acted as the New York Yankees’ designated hitter after his knee issues in the last couple of days, was thrown out at third base trying to advance on a Clint Frazier’s fly out to left field, which was completely unnecessary in an exhibition game. He appeared somewhat shaken and was seen talking to the trainer in the dugout.

Thankfully, he appears to have dodged a bullet, just like the Yankees.

“Obviously not a very smart tag up from second,” Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone said after a 6-1 win in Clearwater, Fla, per NJ Advance Media. “I think he really just wanted to test it and felt like he was feeling good. He actually came off the field saying, ‘I felt really good.’ Hopefully we’ll have a better decision come regular season on that one. But he came out of it fine.”

Voit was the Yankees (and MLB’s) leader in home runs last season and will try to repeat that kind of power display, but he will need to be healthy if he wants to be on the field, and unnecessary slides won’t help him.

UFC Vegas 21 Preview: Misha Cirkunov – Ryan Spann

In the co-main event at UFC Vegas 21, we will see a battle of top fifteen light heavyweights. Eleventh ranked Misha Cirkunov (15-5) will be taking on thirteenth ranked Ryan Spann (18-6) in the co-main event.

For Cirkunov, this will be his first fight in the octagon since September of 2019. These two were originally supposed to fight back in December, however, an injury to Cirkunov forced the fight back to UFC Vegas 21.

Since making his debut with the promotion back in 2015, Cirkunov has gone 6-3 inside the octagon and not a single fight has gone the distance. When he loses, we’ve seen him get finished via strikes in the first round.

However, when he wins, you see him show off his incredible grappling and submissions. Cirkunov is incredibly strong and has shown that inside the octagon. In his last UFC fight, he took out the talented Jimmy Crute in the first round by a Peruvian Necktie.

Standing across from Cirkunov at UFC Vegas 21 will be Ryan Spann. Spann is looking to bounce back after he suffered his first loss in the UFC. The first time we saw Ryan Spann around the octagon was on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017.

That night, Spann was knocked out by Karl Roberson. After that, he won three straight to earn another shot on the Contender Series. He won that fight and won his first four in the UFC before getting stopped by Johnny Walker last September.

UFC Vegas 21 Prediction

When looking at the co-main event at UFC Vegas 21, I can’t help but think that this is a bad matchup for Ryan Spann. Spann has decent striking with decent power, but he does his best work on the mat.

However, his cardio is usually an issue and we have seen him struggle with guys who are better at grappling. I believe he’s going to be at a grappling disadvantage with Misha Cirkunov.

I’m expecting a lot of pressure early on from Cirkunov. I don’t expect Spann to have the power to keep Cirkunov off of him. I’m expecting this fight to be along the fence early in the first round.

From there, I see Cirkunov tiring out Spann before using his judo to get him down. Over the course of the fight, I just see the grappling and the strength of Cirkunov being too much for Spann. I think Spann can have moments of success, but I think his cardio ultimately fails him and Cirkunov gets the submission win at UFC Vegas 21.

Prediction: Misha Cirkunov by Submission (Rear-Naked Choke) – Round 2

ESM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: NC State DL prospect Alim McNeill speaks ahead of NFL Draft

As the NFL offseason heats up we inch closer to free agency and closer to the exciting NFL Draft. This year’s defensive line draft class might not be the strongest, but that’s not to say there are no talented, hidden gems lying in 2021’s class. One defensive line prospect that has been shooting up draft boards recently is NC State’s Alim McNeill.

Alim McNeill is a huge, 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive lineman with shockingly impressive athleticism. Empire Sports Media was fortunate enough to speak with Alim McNeill on our podcast, Fireside Giants, hosted by myself, Anthony Rivardo, and my co-host, Alex Wilson. The link to watch the interview can be found here.

Q: Tell us about your music. I got some insight into what you’re producing. It sounds super professional. You told us before the podcast that you have your software and you’re mixing in yourself, doing it on your own. You’re finding time to become an elite football player and learning how to be a musician, which is amazing to do two things like that at a high level. So just give us some insight into how you’re doing that; the process, and how you’re finding time to do both.

Yeah, so, fist and foremost, football is obviously first, that’s the main priority. Music, that’s something I do whenever I have time to do it. And it’s just like, instead of playing video games, I play video games but not as much, I find myself doing music more than anything now. So I use that kind of as an escape, I guess you could say. It’s just like a fun hobby I picked up on at a young age. My dad was a DJ when he was around my age. Then he had us and he would make beats and stuff around the house. I used to just watch him do it. He had an old software back then, it was called Reason and I don’t think they use that no more. But that’s where I picked that up from and ever since then I just went with it. I started making songs around my freshman year and they weren’t very good, they weren’t produced very good. And then as time went it sounded more professional and that’s when I started uploading my music to Apple Music, Spotify, SoundCloud and what not. But, yeah, it’s just something that I do when I have time to do it and when I’m feeling an idea or I’m feeling creative. I’ll just go jot down lyrics or whatever I’m feeling at the time I’ll jot down. So it kinda takes a couple days maybe a week or two to write a song depending on what type of mood or what type of song I want it to be. But yeah, it’s just something I do whenever I have time. It’s a really fun hobby though.

Q: Do you see that as a long-term thing? Like after football do you want to be in music and kind of building stuff down the road?

Yeah, after football is done with I see myself doing something with music, whether that’s opening a studio or producing or something like that. But as of right now it’s just like a fun hobby. Football is the priority right now, I’m just so locked in with that. I dropped my EP and I haven’t made a song since because I’ve just been locked in. But yeah, I see myself doing something with music.

Q: Music plays such a big part in a lot of people’s lives. How do you use music to fuel yourself in football?

Yeah, because it’s my song, I lsiten to my music before games, as well as other songs too and what not, but I listen to my music because my message is in the song so I’m really just re-listening to what I’m trying to do. My music is more like telling stories. And a lot of my songs are talking about what I’m going to do in my life, how I’m going to do that, why I’m in the position I am now. And it just gives me reminders and before the game gets me hyped up and ready to go and just amped up really. Music plays a big part of my life, it gets my day going. When I hope in the car the first thing I do is turn on some music. That determines my day. So that’s why I really started making songs with meaningful messages and what not. Songs that were hype and stuff like that because I wanted to have songs for different moods. It plays a big role in my life, definitely.

Q: What do you think is your biggest driving force when it comes to football and what makes you want to be great at the NFL level? What is that motivation or that chip on your shoulder?

Really myself. My motivation is me, as crazy as that sounds. Because I know what I want and I know how I want to live and how I want to be seen and perceived. And that’s up to me. I wake up every morning knowing that if I want to go get this or if I want to have this, I have to go do it. So it’s really me, I’m my motivation. So I know I have to get up. I’m grateful to be alive when I get up. I get to go workout today and stuff like that so my motivation is me.

Q: You played at about 340 pounds I believe at NC State?

Yeah, for my last season.

Q: Right, so are you expecting to continue playing at 340 or what is your designated playing weight when you get to the league?

So I’m 319 right now. But I was 340 or 339, that range, because I was solely playing the 0. I wasn’t doing much moving around. I was having to hold gaps, hold the A-Gap with doubles and triple teams. And so that’s why I added a little bit of weight to myself during the offseason. I’ve never had sloppy weight, none of it was sloppy, it was all muscle-bound. My goal playing weight is probably what I’m at now, probably like 319 or 320. Really no higher than 325, just cause the league is a little bit different, I’ll be doing a lot more moving than in college because I won’t be solely in the 0.

Q: You mentioned 0-tech, what alignment do you project you will play in the NFL? Where do you want to play? Where on the defensive line are you the most comfortable?

I’m comfortable in all the positions on the D-Line, whether it’s the 0, 1, 2i, 3, 4i, whatever it is, I’m really comfortable playing either one. I project myself playing in shade or in the 3-tech, just because of my athleticism, being able to get off the ball, move, pass-rush, and play the run and hold gaps. I see myself as either a 1 or a 3-tech.

Q: So let’s talk about that athleticism. I’ve seen a video of you hitting 18 miles per hour on a treadmill which was just insane. I know that you have a history of playing running back in high school and even linebacker, so how does that play into your defensive tackle position in college?

Yeah, 100%, because of my ability to use my feet. I’ve always worked on my feet my whole life. And I’ve had pretty quick feet throughout my tenure of playing football so it helps me tremendously. When I’m getting off the ball and I’m about to hit a pass-rush move, it’s almost like playing receiver. That’s kind of how I see it with the way you use your feet. Like Aaron Donald for example, he gets off the ball and he’s shake and bake, he’s hitting moves. That’s just like what a receiver does to get by his DB. So I say the use of me playing linebacker and running back has helped my feet tremendously and has translated over to playing D-Line.

Q: You just mentioned Aaron Donald. Is that a player that you like to model your game after or are there other players that you draw inspiration from?

Yeah I like to model my game after Fletcher Cox. That’s really who I like watching, I try to do everything he does and actually Dexter [Lawrence] too and BJ [Hill]. I watch a lot of their film, a ton of their film. But Aaron Donald, I watch him a lot for finesse moves. He’s great in the run, of course, but I like watching his finesse moves. But Flether Cox is who I try to emulate everything after.

Q: You just mentioned Dexter Lawrence and BJ Hill, that was another question that I had for you, whether you watch film on them and you answered that. But in terms of those four guys the Giants have up front, Dexter, Leonard, Dalvin, and BJ, who do you model your game after the most there? Do you have a playing style that you think is more similar to one player than another?

I’d say my playing style is, well I don’t know, I’d really say BJ and Dexter’s playing styles really aren’t that far apart and I feel like my playing style is a little bit different. I feel like I can use more finesse. They finesse but it’s not really like shake and bake off the line type finesse. They have really great hands and really great feet, but I like to hit almost like crossover moves on guards and stuff like that. So I’d say they’re about the same and I try to emulate both of them, like I said. And they’re both really great players to watch and to learn from.

Q: When you talk about those finesse moves, is that really where you lean more towards in your pass-rushing? Do you like to be more finesse than power?

It depends on the down and distance. If we get them in like a long third down, long second down, they’re passing the ball and he’s in gun, oh yeah, I’m definitely hitting finesse moves. 100%. Like if we got a little third and five or third and six or shorter, I’m hitting power. Speed to power for sure. Long-arm to snatch, long-arm to club arm over, just bull-snatch or regular bull-rush.

Q: And do you have a go-to pass-rush move on any given down?

I really don’t. I guess on a speed down or speed rush I’ll hit like a club-arm over. it’s Aaron Donald’s move pretty much. It’s the one he hits all the time, I like hitting that. And the pull-snatch. Those are my two ‘go-to’s’ for power and speed. But it’s really just dependent on the set and who I’m going against.

Q: Right, and when we talk about speed. I mentioned that treadmill video, and of course, you have a big Pro Day coming up on March 30th. I expect you’re going to run the forty-yard dash. What do you expect to run in the forty?

I expect to run at least a 4.86s to 4.83s range. I want to hit the 4.79s range so that’s what I’m working for right now. But between like the 4.83-4.86 range is what I expect to hit.

Q: You talk like you’re an edge rusher, with all these pass-rush moves and stuff. You played nose tackle last year and we saw some of the film. You burst through the line so efficiently in those A-gaps. But I love how, against the run specifically, you’re always looking over the offensive lineman’s shoulder, just monitoring what’s happening in the backfield. Do you think, as a nose tackle, what part of the game is mental for you? Are you studying film regularly, I imagine you are. How important is that mental aspect to being a great defensive lineman at the next level?

To me, if you don’t have that part, unless you’re an absolte freak on the field, it’s kind of hard to be a good d-lineman. Because you have to think as a d-lineman. People think in the trenches it’s not much thinking, you just block or you’re just getting off of blocks. No, there’s a ton of thinking that goes on down there. Whether you’re reading the block or reading the tendencies of the guard, you’re looking at the calls he’s making. Is he making a slide right or a slide left? Then they got the backfield set is he 0, 1, or 2? Is he off-set, is he behind the quarterback? Stuff like that, so there’s a lot of thinking that goes on at D-Line. My ability to use my mind like that, I take pride in and I work on that stuff a lot. But thinking, the mental aspect of the game is almost an entire game, really. You have to have the mental part before the play even starts to do your job correctly when the play begins. So the mental aspect is huge.

Q: Do you think that that is influenced by your history playing linebacker in high school?

I definitely think that and it’s a history of the coaches I’ve had too. I’ve been blessed to have really great coaches throughout my tenure playing football. But it definitely came from playing linebacker and stuff because that’s what I did at linebacker. Reading the pulling guards, looking at the receiver’s sets and backfield sets. I carried that on with me when I came to college to play d-line.

Q: The Giants have Patrick Graham, their defensive coordinator, who revitalized that defense last year. He loves to have ‘multiple’ players. Like I said before, you talk like an edge rusher and you’re able to play 0-tech and the 3, that’s what really intrigues me. Are you OK with making the transition to another position at the next level and really rotating around to find your fit?

Yeah, 100%, wherever they need me at, I’ll go play. No questions asked. I feel like I’m able to play along the d-line. That’s what I think in my head. So wherever they need me to play at, whether that’s the 0, the shade, the 2i, 4i, 5, wherever they need me I’m going to play.

Q: For anybody listening to this or watching this that doesn’t know Alim McNeill as a player, if you had to give them one game to go watch, do you have a specific game in mind that you would recommend?

All of them, to be honest. That’s not to be like, big headed, I didn’t want it to come across that way. But I feel like if you watch all of my games, you’ll see what type of player I am. And I really mean that, I didn’t want to come across like big-headed.

Q: But if there’s one standout performance that you had? Maybe the one with the pick-six? That was a pretty impressive play.

Like one specifically, yeah, that was a good game, but I’d choose Virginia Tech or Miami. Those two games for me were like really good games. Virginia Tech and Miami. But the pick-six was cool. That was a good game, but it was almost like a boring game, so I’d say Virginia Tech or Miami.

Q: Sometimes it’s the hidden production. It’s the soaking up of double teams and the things that don’t really show up on the stat sheet that allows your teammates to do better. How important do you think that is? Kind of being in the background, having an influential role and just soaking up double teams, even if the other guys are getting the number?

Yeah it might sound crazy but that’s what I liked about what my role was last year. It wasn’t too much recognition. You get the recognition from your peers or your coaches though, because they know what you’re doing, even though fans and stuff might not know. Obviously when the scouts are watching they know. But that’s what I like about my job. I perfected my craft to the best of my ability and when I did my job it allowed my guys, the linebackers and whoever was blitzing, the ends, to make plays when I was doing my job the right way. And that’s what I really like about it because I’m a team-oriented guy. So if I’m doing my job the right way, he’s doing his job beside me the right way, he’s doing it the right way, we’re winning ball games and playing cohesive defense, that’s what I really like about it. I don’t really care about all the accolades and that stuff. If I just do my job the right way and I know I’m doing it the right way, my coaches are pleased with what I’m doing, that’s all I really care about.

Q: What do you think your biggest weakness is right now, something you need to improve at the next level?

Not to be cliché, but everything. That’s what I tell myself. I work on everything, get 1% better at everything everyday. Things I’ve been working on: more of an array of pass-rush moves, just adding different moves to myself. My range of motion, just increasing flexibility and what not. Cognition work, sharpening my mind. Strength, obviously. Speed, quickness. Just everything really. I just work on everything everyday. Everytime I go workout, like today, I worked on everything. I got my workout in, did strength training, did speed training right after, I’m gonna watch film later, so I’m trying to get better at everything.

Q: Is there anything specific you do for cognition or flexibility training? I know some people do yoga and cognition-based activities. Anything specific or special that you do?

So as far as flexibility and stuff, I’m not exactly doing yoga, I’m kind of just stretching. I take a band to give me a little bit of a harder stretch. And as far as cognition, we were, when I was in LA doing my training for what would have been the Combine, we used to use an iPad app. It was a reaction time thing. But as far as cognition here, I’m just watching film. And the way I do it, I’ll just have the play in front of me and it will be paused and I’ll just try to guess what block I’m getting based off the backfield sets and based off what the strengths and stuff is so it’s a little bit different but it’s what helps me.

Q: In terms of that training process, preparing for the NFL Draft, how has that been for you? I know things are kind of crazy with COVID-19 going on, so how exactly has that affected your training process, and what exactly have you been doing to prepare?

It didn’t really affect me, I got my eight weeks in. I was out in Los Angeles, which is kind of close. But it did not affect my process for training. It was actually really good, I went out there, my first day out there I was 340 or 341, and I left at 319 and I lost 8% body fat. So it was really good. The eight weeks was really good for me. I started eating a lot better, sleeping a lot better, and now I’m back in Raleigh. I’ve been here for about a week and a couple days. I’m just loving everything about it. I’m still maintaining my training and stuff right now to stay ready for the Pro Day, March 30th. So I don’t really wanna drop my weight anymore, kind of want to stay where I’m at. I think this is a good weight for me. So the training went great, it was a great eight weeks for me.

Q: I have one more question, a fun question. Let’s say you’re in the NFL and your team’s offense is on the field, at the goal line, and it’s third and one, and they need to pound it in. Coach looks around and says, “Where’s Alim?” He pulls you aside and calls a play, “Dream.” Are you ready to go back to your running back routes and pound it in from the one-yard line like you’re William The Fridge Perry?

Yeah! One hundred percent! If they needed me to pound it in from the fifty-yard line, Imma do that! So yeah, one hundred percent, I’ll go in there and get it right. Imma scorer! Everytime I touch the ball I’m scoring, so yeah, I’m definitely doing that.

Q: When do we expect to hear some more music from you?

I don’t know, I think I might record something this weekend. If I finish it I’ll send it to you guys.

Q: Yeah best of luck with everything, I’m really excited to see you make that jump and maybe even hopefully come to the Giants.

Thank you, I appreciate everything and I would love to be a Giant. That would be a huge honor.