Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whisper To a Scream

For as much as we rag on sports columnists on this blog (and for good reason), we do understand that one of the ideas behind writing a sports column is to sometimes be controversial. Columnists can express their opinions--in fact, they should express their opinions--and as long as they are fair, they can take a controversial position or stance.

Or, you can take a passive-aggressive approach, as per one Bobby Kravitz.

Whispers starting about Harrison

Is Marvin Harrison done? Or at least reaching the point where he can see the finish line from his front porch?

Huh?? Can someone explain that metaphor to me, please? I'm serious. I guess it means, "he's so close to being finished, he sees the end of his career before he even leaves his house."

Okay, you come up with one better.

Before the season began, I opined that Harrison, one of the most fiercely prideful athletes ever to play this game, would have an epic comeback season, returning after injuries to both knees and reaching the Pro Bowl. And I still think it's way too early to write the epitaph on a Hall of Fame receiving career.

You're exactly right; it is too early. End the article.

But the whispers are starting. And the longer Harrison goes without having that Marvin-like breakout game, the louder the whispers will become, ultimately turning into howls.

"The whispers are starting." Who is whispering? Coaches? Players? Ghosts of receivers past? A group singing "Rock Steady?" If you don't say who is "whispering," then it's not really a story, now is it? Sometimes--and I'm not saying little Bobby Kravitz is doing this here--columnists will use the idea of "whispers" to get their own opinion across without saying it's their own opinion.

Frankly, I'm not worried about whispers. Alert me when the whispers become murmurs. Or guffaws, but that's different.

"I don't know how to say this, but it was almost sad to watch Marvin (against the Minnesota Vikings)," said former running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, speaking Wednesday on WFNI-1070 AM. "It's sad to watch him. It's like he's a shadow of himself. During the game, I've seen Peyton (Manning) throw that comeback to Marvin a hundred times, but this time, Marvin didn't have that explosiveness coming back to the ball and it got knocked down. And after that (play), he was never a factor in the game."

Oh, so they weren't whispers--that opinion was stated by an ESPN football analyst on your radio show. Why didn't you say so earlier instead of using all of this "whispering" nonsense?

In the season opener against the Chicago Bears, Harrison had a relatively productive night, catching eight passes for 76 yards, but he lost a fumble that the Bears returned for a touchdown.

In the victory over Minnesota, he had just one catch for 16 yards, although that one reception was an important one in the red zone.

Doesn't this completely debunk the idea that Marvin is "done"? At least, doesn't it debunk the idea that anything definitive can be taken from the first two games of the season? Against the Bears, Marvin averaged 8.5 YPC (yards per catch), Reggie Wayne averaged 7.6 YPC on his 10 catches. Yes, Marvin had the fumble, and that could be a problem if that trend continues, but that was a pretty productive night.

Only having one catch in the Vikings game is a concern. But I think it's not a stretch to say that Marvin wasn't much of a factor because a) he was covered by a good defender and b) Manning had something like 1.2 seconds to throw for the first two-thirds of the game.

If Harrison was 26 and completely healthy, one or two sub-standard games wouldn't raise an eyebrow. We'd focus instead on how it took six quarters for Manning to shake the rust. Or how the Indianapolis Colts' young offensive line doesn't give Manning time to go downfield. Or how Harrison was defended by two of the league's best corners, Chicago's Charles Tillman and Minnesota's Antoine Winfield.

Those seem like good things to focus on to me. Manning was/is rusty. The offensive linemen are playing like they're wearing clown shoes right now. And the CB matchup for Marvin was tough in each of the first two games. So, Bobby, why aren't you focusing on these things? After all, this is your article.

Perhaps the first line of the above paragraph should begin, "If I knew even a little bit about football and wasn't trying to make a story out of a non-story..."

But he's 36, ancient by wide receiver standards. He had left knee problems most of last year. He had his right knee cleaned out during the summer.

And last year he was 35, and until he got hurt he was just fine. I know that age will catch up with him eventually, but if there's anyone on the team that doesn't look his age physically, it's Marvin.
However, coming back from the knee surgeries is a legitimate point.

Still, it's been two games--or one-eighth of the NFL season. Small sample size?

So there are whispers, people suggesting Harrison's decline has begun.

In this week's SI.com column, longtime NFL guru Paul Zimmerman wrote, "(Harrison) has come back from his knee problems as an old warrior who can't shake the coverage anymore."

Again: two games. Against good defensive backs. With a bad offensive line and a rusty Manning.

Sidebar: "Rusty Manning" sounds like a TV weatherman's name.

And there's this from Hoge, whose whispers are a bit louder than the others.

This "whispers" analogy is falling apart, if it was ever together in the first place. Do you mean that Hoge speaks louder than the others when he's on TV, or that he writes louder for his espn.com column (presumably in ALL CAPS)? Or do you mean that he is more adamant in his criticism? If it's the latter, perhaps you should say that.

"I'm not ready to say he's done, but he sure looked done in that (Minnesota) game. When Dallas Clark comes back, it's going to be hard to keep him (Clark) off the field."

Not really. Clark and Harrison play different positions. You see, Clark is a tight end. Harrison is a wide receiver. Those are two entirely different positions, altogether.

(All: "Those are two entirely different positions.") Thanks for playing!

If Hoge had said that when Clark comes back it will be difficult to keep Anthony Gonzalez out of the lineup, that would be a more valid point. And although Clark is not the typical tight end because of how the Colts use him (split wide, slot, etc.), he seldom--if ever-- is in the game in place of Harrison. Does Hoge watch the Colts on a regular basis?

"He's just not a factor. He's not as good off the ball. Not as good with his routes. It's just kind of sad to see . . . Maybe he's still working back off the injuries, and that's what I kind of hope, but I've been watching tape of him since I retired. I'm used to seeing certain things and what I saw was a guy who is a half-second slower in everything he does. He's not the same route runner, not the same intensity."

NBC's Cris Collinsworth said roughly the same thing during Sunday's studio show. "One of the problems this Colts offense has had thus far is that Marvin Harrison is no longer the deep threat he once was," Collinsworth said.

To be honest, Marvin hasn't really been a deep threat for the past 2 or 3 years. Yes, he can go downfield, but Marvin has become more of a possession receiver. That doesn't mean he's done, however.

So there are questions: Is he done, or close to being done? Or is everybody jumping the gun and failing to look at the bigger picture? Where is Marvin -- really -- in terms of his health?

To nobody's surprise, Harrison declined to comment for this column.

But Dungy did.

So Dungy declined to comment, too? Common-sense editing, anyone?

"What I've seen, it looks to me like he's running and practicing, doing everything the way he did before," the coach said. "So I've stopped worrying about him at this point."

This could just be a coach who doesn't want to admit his Hall of Fame receiver is on the decline. Or, he could really think that.

At this point, I'm not among those who are ready to count him out.

I should hope the hell not. Again: two games. Small sample size!

But there are ominous signs. The national analysts aren't making things up after watching the tape. They see what we all see, a legendary receiver who doesn't quite look right.

Do you really see that? Or do you say that you see that because three national analysts say they see it?

This article is classic Kravitz in that he takes an old story and recycles it. Hoge and Zimmerman made their comments on Wednesday; Collinsworth made his statement Sunday night. What is Kravitz adding to this? All he's doing is compiling the comments. I understand why the article was held until Friday morning's paper: it needed to be in the special Colts section. But theoretically, Kravitz could have done this column early in the week, since he "saw" Marvin's struggles on Sunday, too (and he still could have cited Collinsworth). The problem is, Kravitz didn't want to blow this article early in the week because he would have had to come up with yet another Colts article for Friday--it would have been too difficult to do something original.

Think about it. Anyone who watched Sunday Night Football probably saw Collinsworth's comments already. So, again, what is Kravitz adding? All he says in this article is "wait and see," which is a good observation, but it's also the obvious one. Instead, Kravitz takes another person's idea (in this case, other people's idea) and adds nothing.

It's the passive-aggressive guide to doing a sports column. Kravitz mentioned at the beginning of the article that he predicted that Marvin would have a "comeback year." But now, after two games, Kravitz isn't so sure, but he doesn't want to say so directly. So he uses these other opinions to show that there is doubt about Marvin. But he never admits that he shares those doubts, and he never says he stands by his previous prediction, either. He completely avoids giving his own opinion, instead spending 15+ paragraphs giving other people's opinions without adding any analysis. This despite the fact that it's his job to give his opinion--which should be a well-argued, thought out opinion that's both fair and insightful. That's exactly what is missing from this article.

Which makes it no different from his other articles.

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