It’s a two-man race over the final six weeks of the season for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
The honor is going to go to either Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso or New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson. They’re not only the two best defensive rookies, they’re also the two best on offense or defense.
Alonso has two advantages on Richardson. He plays a position that allows him to rack up more statistics. He’s also on the field more.
Alonso has played all 787 snaps for the Bills’ defense this season. Richardson has played 80 percent of the snaps for the Jets, which is a lot for a defensive lineman. Alonso ranks second in the NFL in tackles with 112. He also has two sacks, four interceptions, four passes defended and a forced fumble.
The 294-pound Richardson has helped the Jets’ defense rank No. 1 against the run. He has 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
The next best rookie defender is Carolina defensive tackle Star Lotuleilei, a run-stuffer averaging 60 percent of the plays.
None of the top 10 picks in the draft is a factor in the Rookie of the Year races. The top offensive rookies so far are Cincinnati back Giovani Bernard and Green Bay back Eddie Lacy. Bernard has 809 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Lacy has 806 and five TDs.
Shane Conlan is the only Bill ever to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, which has been awarded since 1967. He took it in 1987. The NFL has an overall Rookie of the Year award, too, sponsored by Pepsi. But that’s decided by an Internet vote of fans.
Tasker and HOF
Steve Tasker failed to make the list of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week. Tasker made that list as recently as last year. There are a good number of voters who would like to hear his case discussed among the final 15.
The problem is special teamers are at a great disadvantage in the Hall of Fame voting because they have to beat out the best positional players in the process. Tasker played about 18 to 20 plays a game during most of his career as a special teamer. Punting great Ray Guy averaged five punts a game over his 14-year career. It’s hard to vote for a man who played great for 18 plays a game, or five plays a game, ahead of somebody who played great for 60 or 65 plays a game.
That’s why only one special-teams player (Kansas City’s Jan Stenerud) has been elected in 51 years of voting.
Take last year’s list of finalists. If Tasker or Guy had been in the final 15, could anyone vote for either of them ahead of Bills receiving great Andre Reed, who made the final 10 but not the final five? Could anyone vote for either of them ahead of defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who got elected? Sapp played 198 games, made 96.5 sacks and was voted to all-decade teams for the 1990s and 2000s.
It’s not impossible for Tasker to get into the final 15, but he’s a long shot. And if he gets there, it’s going to be very tough for him to beat out 10 other guys (to reach the final five) who played 65 plays a game at an elite level.
There is one alternative. Guy has been nominated this year as a senior candidate, someone whose career ended 25 or more years ago. As one of the two senior nominees, Guy is not in competition with the 15 modern-era finalists for a spot in the Hall. The vote is either up or down on each of the two senior candidates. (Claude Humphrey is the other senior nominee.)
That means this is Guy’s best, and probably last, chance to get inducted. He was a finalist seven other times. Hopefully, Guy will get in this time. The senior route might someday wind up being a path for Tasker to get considered.
Top 12 fight songs
The Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn on Saturday will be the highlight of college football’s Rivalry Weekend. With that in mind, here are the 12 best fight songs in college football:
1. Michigan, “The Victors.” 2. Navy, “Anchors Aweigh.” 3. UCLA, “Sons of Westwood.” 4. Southern California, “Fight On.” 5. Notre Dame, “Notre Dame Victory March.”
6. Texas, “Texas Fight.” 7. Oklahoma, “Boomer Sooner.” 8. Army, “Brave Old Army Team.” 9. Wisconsin, “On Wisconsin.” 10. Ohio State, “Buckeye Battle Cry.” 11. Florida, “Orange and Blue.” 12. Penn State, “Fight on State.”
Note: UCLA ripped off the University of California’s fight song in the 1960s. Cal adopted the song way back in 1913. UCLA stole it and tweaked it. UCLA’s version is better.
Two players to watch in the Iron Bowl on Saturday are offensive tackles Greg Robinson of Auburn (No. 73) and Cyrs Kouandjo of Alabama (No. 71).
Look for offensive tackle to be a position the Bills strongly consider in the first round of the 2014 draft. Right tackle Erik Pears will be entering the final year of his deal.
Robinson and Kouandjo both are first-round talents. Another tackle to watch in Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game is Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (No. 77). He’s 6-foot-8 and a first-rounder, too.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, No. 45, Denver: The Broncos took a chance on the 27-year-old former No. 1 pick as a one-year rental, paying him $5 million for this season. Rodgers-Cromartie was taken 16th overall by Arizona in 2008 and made the Pro Bowl in 2009. He was viewed as immensely talented but not driven to be great. The Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia for QB Kevin Kolb in 2011. He spent two disappointing seasons with the Eagles, starting only 11 games. He has proved to be the best player in the Broncos’ secondary this season, and it’s a good thing. Champ Bailey, who had been Denver’s top cover man since 2004, has played just six quarters all year due to a foot injury. Bailey started practicing again last week. The Broncos need Rodgers-Cromartie to be a rock. Their safeties – Rahim Moore, Duke Ihenacho, David Bruton and Mike Adams – are weak. Denver signed Michael Huff in a desperation move this past week.
• Luke Tasker, the St. Francis product and son of Steve Tasker, caught two passes for 21 yards for Hamilton in the Ti-Cats’ victory over Toronto last week in the CFL’s Eastern Conference final. Tasker is No. 17 for Hamilton, which plays Saskatchewan at 6 p.m. today in the 101st Grey Cup. University at Buffalo product Drew Willy is the backup QB for the Roughriders. The game is on the NBC Sports Network.
• All of Jacksonville’s nine losses have been by double digits. The 2008 Detroit Lions, who went 0-16, had 10 double-digit losses.
• Jets safety Ed Reed was uncomplimentary to the Texans coaching staff, which released him last week. Reed said the Texans were outcoached in their loss to Arizona and that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was the reason Reed was released.
• If both Denver and Kansas City win today, it will be the first time in 65 years (since 1948) that two teams in the same division won 10 of their first 11 games.
• At the start of last week, Bill Belichick showed his Patriots team a video of the final two plays of the Detroit-Cleveland game in 2009. With 8 seconds left, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford threw a 40-yard desperation pass into the end zone. It was intercepted, but a Lions receiver was held on the play. Pass interference was called and the Lions scored from the 1 to win on the next play. It was very similar to the play on which the Pats lost Monday night in Carolina. No foul was called despite the fact Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski was held. Belichick, we think, was acknowledging to his team that it was robbed against the Panthers and that it was time to move on and focus on Denver.
• The Fritz Pollard Alliance on Friday put out an appeal to NFL players to stop using the “N” word. “A number of game-day officials have brought to our attention the disturbing trend of racial epithets, including the ‘N’ word, being commonly used on the field during games,” said the alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity in the NFL. It’s a good idea, and it’s a start. But until the music industry, which has a far bigger influence on society, stops using the “N” word, it’s not going to make much difference.