Kyle Busch has shocked a lot of people in the past few weeks. Not because of success but because of lack thereof. Busch is coming off a championship season and is experiencing a bit of a slump.
Although Busch is a savvy vet, who is believed to be capable of taking any machine to the front of the pack, Busch has admittedly though, had trouble transitioning to the new normal in racing. He’s been quoted as saying things have been challenging for the 18 team to make adjustments without practice. He also said it’s been difficult for him and crew chief Adam Stevens to get on the same page with the car with short times to adjust. So, with the setup of this weekend, he could break his winless streak tomorrow.
Saturday Was Practice for Busch
Saturday offered an opportunity for Busch after falling behind the pack. When it seemed like Busch didn’t have a chance to win, it seemed more like he was running practice laps to qualify for Sunday. Despite that, he still finished 5th and had speed all day. Just like he’s had speed all season. By running laps on Saturday, he enters Sunday with the same car and a chance to make modifications overnight if need be. He talked about the similarities in a media release quoted on Yahoo Sports as Busch stated,
“‘The first race, there’s only going to be the Truck Series rubber, it’s only 60 laps, so there’s just going to be a little rubber down. Then, we’re going to put a lot of rubber down with our race. Then you’ll have the Xfinity race the next day, and then you’ll have our (second) race. Over the course of all those miles, I think the main similarities between the two days is going to be just that – they’re a day apart rather than a month apart. There’s a difference between the Pocono racetrack when it’s a month apart, but when it’s day one to day two, there are going to be big differences in day one to day two, so you have to take a lot of different things into account.’”
The quick transition is something better suited for a veteran. Busch and the team gained some experience on the track and can gain experience from the races before him. If Busch and Stevens can modify the car to play off the success they had today, the 18 team could be en route for a big day.
Can the New York Jets find gold in CFL standout Anthony Cioffi?
Anthony Cioffi was just your typical Jersey boy. Except he’s a freak athlete. Oh, and he was a 2012 state champion in the 100-meter dash, excelled at football, and earned honors there. Ultimately, he ended up at Rutgers and, you guessed it — excelled there with 122 tackles, eight interceptions, and 2.5 sacks in 122 games. Surprisingly, he went undrafted and signed with the Raiders following the 2017 draft. Cioffi didn’t make the team out of training camp and ended up in the CFL. While there, he made a name for himself.
Cioffi Controlled the CFL
In 33 games, Cioffi had 97 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 3 FFs, and 2 INTs. Cioffi was a hybrid defensive back and was used all over the field. His impressive speed allowed him to be used just about anywhere on the field.
Cioffi built a reputation as one of the best defensive players in Canada. He succeeded in a hybrid role, as a linebacker, he had great sideline to sideline ability. As a safety, he was dominant in coverage and tackling. Cioffi projects as a safety with Gang Green mainly because he’s undersized to be a linebacker at the pro level.
Cioffi’s Fit With the Jets
Cioffi could play a few roles for the Jets. The Jets could use more special teams depth, and his speed would make him an immediate asset. As a gunner, he could use his speed to make the tackles which he’s also good at. As a safety, he could make the roster because of his upside. With the Jets’ current safety issues in regards to Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye needing a new deal soon, if a trade occurs or a surprise move, Cioffi could gain some playing time.
The more reps Cioffi gains, the more he could shine. Looking at his playstyle, Cioffi could be an attractive scheme fit under Gregg Williams’s defense. However, his fit within special teams will likely be his best selling point to make the roster.
Let me take you back to 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Seattle Seahawks for the Lombardi Trophy. The MVP recipient in that win, the epitome of what it meant to be a Steeler, and the legendary receiver Hines Ward, was a key piece in that Super Bowl run and the victory.
He was clutch and displayed leadership on and off the field. Now, Hines Ward is on a different sideline. At 44, Hines Ward has traded his Yellow and Black for Green and White, and as he enters his second season coaching, the Super Bowl champion has already been labeled a rising star.
Hines Ward’s Impact
Hines Ward was brought in as an offensive assistant, but his role was more than that. Ward worked with many of the receivers on the team but was also named a key player in the development of Robby Anderson’s route tree this past season. When the Jets beat the Steelers in Week 16, the Jets’ celebration centered around Hines Ward.
The team rallied around Hines and his impact was apparent at that moment. As Joe Douglas has preached building, “One of the best cultures in sports,” Hines Ward is a culture changer. Coming from a winning organization, Ward is the guy these players can look to for advice on how to get to a championship-caliber level. Changing a culture from losing to winning isn’t easy, but having guys like Ward around can make the transition much more feasible.
Hines Ward is Gaining Notoriety
As I just hit on, Ward can play a part in being a culture changer, he’s a leader and an educated offensive mind. This offseason, despite limited experience coaching, he was reportedly considered for several WR Coach opportunities.
Ultimately, Hines Ward has remained with the Jets, but if execs have taken note of what he did in year one, his reputation as a coach will only begin to preside his reputation on the field. Ward will only continue to grow into his role and excel. With more opportunities likely in his future, don’t be surprised to see the former NFL super-star receive a promotion within the organization or elsewhere in the next year or so. The Jets should take note of his talent and groom him. Who knows, the former talent on the field could end up being even better off it.
NASCAR returned in style on Sunday, as Kevin Harvick became the 14th driver in Cup Series history to earn 50 wins.
Live, team-oriented sports returned in style on Sunday, as the NASCAR Cup Series circuit staged the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Kevin Harvick was the first victor, leading 159 of 293 laps en route to his first victory of the 2020 season/
Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, also earned the 50th victory of his career. He join an illustrious list of 13 other drivers to earn that tally on NASCAR’s premier circuit.
“When you look at a win like this today, this is an organizational win because you have to have your car dialed in when you get here in order to win a race like this,” Harvick said in a Zoom video conference call after the race. “Our guys have just done a great job of putting all the pieces together. Today we were able to capitalize on that and win a race.”
The win, despite the historic weight attached to it, came with a sense of hollowness for Harvick, the first winner in the unusual times for NASCAR.
Sunday’s event was, in racing terms, run under caution in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The stands were empty and media invitations were kept to a minimum. Practice and qualifying were canceled, so drivers were embarking on an endeavor at a locale known as “The Track Too Tough to Tame” with literally no on-track preparation. Harvick’s victory lane celebration was perhaps best labeled by his posing with the race trophy under the protection of a facemask and no one else around, contrasting the normally raucous, confetti-spewing antics that ensue after a win.
“Usually you get out of the car and the crowd is screaming and yelling, react. Today out of the car it was like, well, I don’t really know what to do here,” Harvick said with a smile. “I got in my car, drove to Victory Lane. There were two photographers there, no team guys. I was able to kind of get my team guys a nice little elbow bump there as I left Victory Lane, tell them great job. Those guys didn’t get a chance to take a picture with their car. Just a lot of sacrifices that go into it.”
“But in the end, in the big picture of things, being able to do what we did today, and that’s race, is what everybody wants to do.”
But the veteran of nearly two Cup Series decades was proud to put on a show at a time the country needed it the most.
“There’s a lot of people that put a lot of effort into this,” he remarked. “I’m glad it went the way that it went. I hope people that watched for the first time liked what they saw. This is a unique racetrack here at Darlington. In the end, it’s just having that opportunity to present yourself to new people. Hopefully, you can make a lot of new fans as you go forward.”
Harvick has been by far the most consistent driver during the interrupted NASCAR season. He is the only driver to appear in the top ten in each of the five races run thus far and leads the points standings over Alex Bowman, whose No. 88 Chevrolet appeared in Sunday’s runner-up slot.
It was Bowman who gave Harvick his biggest challenge of the afternoon. The Hendrick Motorsports star and winner of this spring’s race at Fontana lined up next to Harvick on what became the final restart after a caution for Ryan’s Newman’s spin on lap 254. Harvick’s No. 4 team won the ensuing race off of pit road before its driver held off a furious challenge from Bowman and Kurt Busch. The Busch Light-branded Ford then drove off to Harvick’s first Darlington victory since August 2014.
“I feel like watching it back, I could have been really aggressive and cut the corner into one a little bit and maybe cleared him. I was already pretty aggressive with that,” Bowman said in another Zoom call. “Maybe I could have acted like I was going to clear myself and got him to lift. If he doesn’t lift, we both crash. In three and four I got loose under him. He did a good job of getting on my door, taking some side force away.”
“That’s tough. You’re racing one of the best in the business at one of the most technical, hard racetracks we go to. Just to have the opportunity to race him hard and clean like that was a lot of fun.”
NASCAR will remain at Darlington as they continue a quest to run all 36 races on their docket. The lower-tier Xfinity Series win run on Tuesday night (8:00 p.m. ET, FS1) before the Cup Series returns to action on Wednesday with the Toyota 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1). The 500-kilometer race will run for 228 laps around the 1.5-mile track.
The first lap of action provided instant fireworks, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 47 Chevrolet spun and hit the wall before completing his opening circuit. It brought out the first of ten Sunday caution flags. Stenhouse wound up finishing dead-last in 40th.
Included in the yellow flags was a competition pause shortly after the 30th lap. The field was frozen, allowing the teams to get extended adjustments on pit road while neither gaining or losing position.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson nearly won the first stage of the race, but a crash right before its finale at lap 90 ended his day early. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet hit the way when he ran out room trying to put Chris Buescher’s No. 17 Ford a lap down. The 38th-place finisher announced earlier this month that the series’ pause would not change his plans to retire from full-time racing at the end of this season.
After Johnson’s wreck, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron took home the first stage. Byron’s day would likewise take a turn for the worse shortly after, as his No. 24 Chevrolet cut a tire and wrecked on lap 111. He would bring the car home in the 35th spot, 14 laps down.
The day wasn’t a total loss for Hendrick’s squad. Bowman finished in the runner-up spot while Chase Elliott finished fourth. Bowman recently signed a deal that would keep him with Hendrick through the 2021 season. He has driven the No. 88 Chevrolet full-time since 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas took up three spots in the top ten. Defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin rounded out the first five while Martin Truex Jr. finished right behind him. Erik Jones pulled off the trifecta at eighth.
Rookies had a banner day at Darlington, with Tyler Reddick (7th) and John Hunter Nemechek (9th) pulling off top ten finishes. Nemechek’s posting in the No. 38 Ford was the first top ten finish for the underfunded Front Row Motorsports at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since August 2017.
Veteran returns were a common theme as the series itself made a comeback. Matt Kenseth finished 10th in his first race in the No. 42 Chevrolet since replacing the disgraced Kyle Larson. Meanwhile, Newman recovered from his spin to finish 15th. It was his first race in the No. 6 Ford after being involved in a scary wreck at the end of February’s season-opening Daytona 500.
With qualifying canceled, the starting lineup for Wednesday’s event was set by inverting the top 20 finishers. Thus, 20th-place man Ryan Preece will lead the field to the green, while Ty Dillon (19th) lines up next to him. The positions outside the first 20 will be set by their Sunday finishing positions (i.e. 21st-place finisher Bubba Wallace will start 21st on Wednesday).
Over the coming weeks, I plan to breakdown the little known additions to the New York Jets, the UDFAs. The Jets added a couple of new players with varying levels of potential and talent at a few positions of need. The Jets have had UDFAs turn into key contributors in previous years like Robby Anderson, Damon Harrison, and even the legend, Wayne Cherbert. The first UDFA breakdown is Lawerence Cager, WR, Georgia.
Lawerence Cager is a very unique player with his build. Similar to Quincy Enunwa, Cager is a speed threat with the body of a tight end. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and can be a good fit in quick throw and bubble screen packages that Adam Gase likes to run. Cager has got a lot of heart, if you look at his track record, Cager has been a leader and willed his way onto the field despite injuries in the past. Lawerence Cager has the physical and mental makeup to be a contributor at the next level. With good coaching, his talent could be harnessed into a formidable outside option or a depth receiver.
Although I mentioned the dynamic aspect of Cager’s game, he also lacks a developed route tree. He’s got very good hands and he’s a crisp route runner, but at times he relies on his natural abilities to make up for lack of advancement in turns of his route tree. Natural ability may work in college, but at the next level, it won’t be as easy. Cager needs to develop more in that aspect. Cager also has a talented outside threat opposite him in George Pickens. That drew a lot of guys towards Pickens and freed Cager up more. This gave Cager more capability to succeed against lower-level corners. That’s a minor note that could be something to watch though. Lastly, injuries may have been something Cager could overcome at times, but he still missed the end of last season with a serious ankle injury. It may not be that much of an issue on the surface, but deeper damage could’ve hurt the dynamic aspect of his game and slowed him down a bit. That will remain to be seen.
Lawerence Cager was a worthwhile flyer in a free agency. There are definitely good reasons for Cager to not get drafted. The concerns in his game and injuries are justified. Ultimately, Cager is not going to be counted on to contribute right away. If Cager wins a spot on the roster, Hines Ward will likely be a key guy to watch in his development. If Ward sees potential in Cager or any other young receivers, his eye will be trusted. Cager could be a Quincy Enunwa prototype at best, but at worst this was just a camp body.
On Saturday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that sports could return to New York without fans.
“If you can do it without a crowd, great,” said the longtime governor. He also said that in terms of the Yankees and Mets playing: “when you look at the risk-reward, there’s a lot of reward with minimal risk.”
Horse racing will be allowed soon, and Watkins Glen International Raceway in rural Upstate NY can be used for NASCAR and other events. Watkins Glen is tentatively scheduled to host NASCAR the weekend of August 13-16.
This announcement is big news for New York sports. It could allow the Yankees and Mets to play at their home ballparks if a season happens. Also, it could allow for the in-state NBA and NHL teams to reopen practice facilities to prepare for a resumption of their season.
Cuomo mentioned that sports returning to the state would be a great way to restart the economy. New York was hit the hardest by the coronavirus and is deep into an economic hole. This could also allow for youth sports to return.
Although downstate New York remains shut-down, parts of Upstate began to reopen on Friday. Regions have to meet all criteria set by the state in-order to transition into phase one. Except for Watkins Glen, all of the pro sports teams and venues (except Buffalo teams) are downstate and in regions yet to officially “open.” But from what we’ve heard, pro sports may be an exception to the shutdown.
It’s great to hear that sports will be allowed in New York again, even though it will be without fans.
Throughout this offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas has been very active in signing players to prove it deals to attempt to fill critical needs. He’s also been very aggressive in trying to fill one of the Jets’ biggest voids. Last season the Jets’ cornerback group was one of the worst in football. With minimal depth and no proven entities, the Jets had to upgrade the position this the offseason.
They released Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts, two bad signings from the old regime, and added Pierre Desir on a one year deal. They also brought back Brian Poole on a one year deal as well. The Jets still have Bless Austin, Nate Hairston, and Arthur Maulet, but they looked to upgrade the position in the draft.
The Jets then came out of the draft with two more new corners—Bryce Hall from Virginia and 23-year-old former second-rounder from the Colts, Quincy Wilson. Although there were reports before the draft of the Jets’ interest in CB Logan Ryan, it seemed as though the team was comfortable with their corners. Well, apparently they were not. The New York Jets have reportedly signed Logan Ryan to a one year deal per Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News.
Who is Logan Ryan?
As we’ve covered extensively here at ESM, Logan Ryan is a reliable veteran coming off a very successful season. Ryan is a hometown kid who attended Rutgers University. After a solid career there, Ryan was drafted in the 3rd Round of 2013 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. When Ryan debuted, he immediately carved himself a role with the Pats. Ryan was an excellent corner with them until he left in 2016.
He then joined the Titans, where he’s been coached by Mike Vrabel. He comes from a very good coaching tree, and he’s got a championship pedigree with two rings under his belt. Ryan is also 29 years old; he’s still got a few years of good football left. After remaining unsigned for the first two months or so of free agency, he now goes to a team in need of a reliable lead corner.
How Will Ryan Fit?
Logan Ryan is coming off a season where he had 113 tackles, 4 INTs, and 4 TFLs. In one of the best years of his career, he also picked off his former teammate, Tom Brady, in what was ultimately the last play of Brady’s time in New England. Now the former Patriot is coming home to the Jets.
Ryan will be tasked with leading a young cornerback group while also trying to perform well to earn himself a long term deal. What better coach to have with that pressure then one of the best defensive coordinators in the game, Gregg Williams. The opportunity to play under Gregg has been a critical reason that players like Brian Poole and Jordan Jenkins took such cheap deals to return to the Jets and is likely a reason Logan Ryan is coming to Gang Green. Williams gets the best out of his players, and he will try to do that with a veteran player who’s had a lot of success.
Even if this move bombs, the Jets have loads of young talent in the secondary that need mentorship. Bryce Hall and Bless Austin could both benefit from learning behind an experienced player, and even Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir could pick up a thing or two from Ryan. Overall, the Jets have solidified their secondary for the upcoming season and formulated serious competition for the starting roles.
If there is anything you can pull from this offseason, it’s that Joe Douglas likes two things, leadership and establishing competition. By adding a talented player like Logan Ryan, he did just that.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and White House coronavirus taskforce member, expressed caution in a return to sports recently in an interview. He’s been a crucial figure in the COVID-19 situation over the last 60 days and says some sports may not be able to return until 2021.
“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,” said Fauci in an interview with the New York Times. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then, unfortunately, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.'”
In previous interviews, the 79-year-old has said that he thinks sports can come back with several precautions. One of those sports he has said is baseball, stating he’s a big Washington Nationals fan.
Right now, NASCAR has a set return date in May, and the PGA has set dates to play in June. The MLB is working on a plan to begin the regular season in home stadiums by the end of June. The NBA and NHL are working on scenarios to play the remainder of their regular season and playoffs, while the NFL is working on possible scheduling alternatives. The WNBA has postponed the start of its season.
“I would love to be able to have all sports back,” said Fauci. “But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet.”
Each day, the situation is improving, and more states are beginning to ease stay-at-home restrictions. Sports would obviously be great to have back and a good distraction, as long as all participating bodies are as safe as possible.
The New York Jets have a busy day ahead of them as the NFL Draft concludes. What can fans expect on day three?
New York fans wanted sports back. Between the New York Liberty’s plethora of picks in last weekend’s WNBA Draft and the New York Jets’ most recent moves, teams are giving their fans plenty to talk about.
After a trade with the New England Patriots, the Jets have six picks over the final four rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. They own their allotted spots with the 120th, 158th, and 191st picks, while they gained the 125th and 129th from the Patriots. Kansas City also sent over the 211th in exchange for Darron Lee last spring.
What can fans expect with these final picks? ESM investigates…
A Special Day
The Jets began to address their special teams issues this week. Incumbent kicker Sam Ficken re-signed with the team on Thursday, setting up a competition with Brett Maher. On Friday, the Jets used the pick gained in the Leonard Williams deal to draft California safety Ashtyn Davis, who spent two years as the Golden Bears kickoff returner (finishing second in the Pac-12 in yardage in both seasons).
While it’s probably not an ideal contest (Ficken and Maher ranked 30th and 32nd in conversion rate last season), it’s difficult to imagine the Jets adding a third kicker. So that probably rules out Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, a mainstay in the final picks of ESM experts’ mock drafts. But the extra draft capital affords the Jets a chance to further bolster the unit.
With no progress on the Lac Edwards situation, the Jets could open another competition at punter. Ian Berryman, whose NFL experience consists of a Pittsburgh summer stint, is the current option, which could lead the Jets to take a look at Braden Mann of Texas A&M. Mann earned unanimous All-American honors and set the NCAA record for best average (51.0) en route to Ray Guy Award honors. It seems like a small problem at first glance, but, until the Jets can consistently score, a reliable punter will be a must-have accessory.
Davis can help the return game, but the Jets should keep an eye on Virginia’s Joe Reed as the afternoon wears on. Reed not only became a return game legend in the ACC (his 3,042 yards are second all-time), but he can also help the offense as a slot receiver (14 touchdown catches over the last two seasons).
The Jets’ foreseeable future at the running back spot begins and ends with Le’Veon Bell…especially when you consider what they’re paying him. But Bell will need a spell option as the Jets press on. Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery are still free agents, and modern Bell understudies include Trenton Cannon and Kenneth Dixon. With the offensive line possibly on its way to rejuvenation, it could be a good time to be a Jets running back.
A name to keep an eye on is Patrick Taylor from Memphis. An injury cost him a portion of his senior season, but he was a consistent short-yardage and red zone prescience. Other steals behind the quarterback could include FCS stud James Robinson from Illinois State and Javon Leake of Maryland, who can also insert himself into the return game picture as well.
New Faces at Familiar Places
Over the first two days of the draft, the Jets have shored up several need positions. Some say the Jets have been the robbers of the 2020 draft, beneficiaries of the respective falls of Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims, allowing them to upgrade their blocking and receiving. Could day three continue that trend?
While there’s no denying the Jets have improved, at least on paper, but the extra draft capital could allow them to revisit positions already addressed. They definitely need a cornerback (Virgina’s Bryce Hall and Notre Dame’s Troy Pride will probably be on the board when they make their trio of selections in the 120s), but their wheeling and dealing at the virtual draft table has allowed them to be repetitive.
Another small school wonder to look out for Division III interior blocker Ben Bartch. Their interior depth is desperate need of replenishment, after all, and the Jets have yet to make a selection in the department. The ridiculously deep receiver class also continues to make itself known. Donovan Peoples-Jones may be worth a look, as would Liberty’s Antonio Golden-Gandy.
The last week or so has seen more optimism about the COVID-19 situation improving. Most states are slowly beginning to lift some restrictions, meaning that sports are nearing a return.
Right now, only NASCAR and the PGA Tour have set return dates. NASCAR will run at Darlington Speedway in South Carolina on the weekend of May 17th, and the PGA will be returning throughout June with different tours returning on different dates. The earliest is the PGA Tour Champions, playing June 5th-7th in Madison, Wisconsin, for the American Family Insurance Championship. Both events will be televised.
The NHL is working on a league restart in July, and the NBA is either looking to do the same or cancel the rest of the season outright. NBA players don’t want future seasons to be pushed back, hence the reason why an outright cancelation is possible. The MLB is working on proposals on how the season will be played all together. The NBA and the NHL are nearing the postseason, so the logistics aren’t as crazy as what the MLB’s might be.
The WNBA just recently postponed the start of their season, but there’s still optimism that they will play this year. As of right now, the NFL is scheduled to start as planned. The WWE will soon restart operations in Florida.
But, fans have been able to get their recent sports fix. The WNBA draft was last week, the Michael Jordan documentary aired its first two parts last Sunday, and the NFL is currently in the middle of their annual draft.
Sports can be held in each state with the clearance of governors. Golf is currently allowed in most states, and South Carolina has cleared a NASCAR return. Those events are a go assuming no new outbreak.
This is encouraging news, and I think that everyone will be happy to see new sports on TV soon.