Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review for The Martian by Andy Weir

You can find this book on Amazon HERE

  • Paperback: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (October 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553418025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553418026
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6,239 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • "Remember Man Plus, Frederik Pohl’s award-winning 1976 novel about a cyborg astronaut who’s sent, alone, to Mars? Imagine, instead, that the astronaut was just a regular guy, part of a team sent to the red planet, and that, through a series of tragic events, he’s left behind, stranded and facing certain death. That’s the premise of this gripping and (given its subject matter) startlingly plausible novel. The story is told mostly through the log entries of astronaut Mark Watney, chronicling his efforts to survive: making the prefab habitat livable and finding a way to grow food, make water, and get himself off the planet. Interspersed among the log entries are sections told from the point of view of the NASA specialists, back on Earth, who discover that Watney is not dead (as everyone assumed) and scramble together a rescue plan. There are some inevitable similarities between the book and the 1964 movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but where the movie was a broad sci-fi adventure, the novel is a tightly constructed and completely believable story of a man’s ingenuity and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Riveting". --David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

I honestly can't recall who recommended this book to me. I am sure it was someone that works with me here at NASA. Whoever it was, was browsing my book selection in my office and noted that I had several works from Ben Bova, such as "Mars" and "Return to Mars." They gave me the idea to look up this book. 

I did some research, and the NUMBER ONE THING to know is...don't buy "The Review Summary." It is NOT the book you are looking for. 

One of the top ideas I have for a future literary work involves a Robinson Crusoe-type adventure to another planet. I'd be a liar if my idea wasn't almost EXACTLY what Weir has laid down in print. He starts with a creative NASA mechanical engineer with a crude sense of humor and a powerful will to survive. Sound familiar? Yep. Just like me. 

Though Weir isn't involved in space travel, he has a pretty solid command of how things work, and it is demonstrated in the knowledge of the technology and solutions that would be used in future NASA missions to other planets. 

This book had a very good pace with little to no down time. Watney was constantly being challenged in order to survive. What I really liked about this book was how each challenge was laid out so that the reader understood both the problem and the solution. That brings me to the drawback of this work. Watney's life is a day-after-day struggle, where he is presented with catastrophe. While his survival is well explained and detailed, reality is that an astronaut will never survive such a series of events. Even some of the solutions are sketchy, at best. In particular, the rendering of hydrazine for it's water content is borderline lunacy. Additionally, the final solution to save Watney was far-fetched. However, it was very entertaining. 

From a reader's perspective, I did not like the random 3rd person narrative point of view that cropped up whenever Watney was about to experience something catastrophic, such as having an airlock explode. Though using Watney as the sole narrator would have been difficult, it would have been more seamless. Additionally, the cutaways to his coworkers could have been eliminated. However, I do understated that this book was very short and much of this was used to thicken work, though I don't think it added any value. While Watney came off as a corny individual, it went overboard at parts. Some of the one-liners and expletives were over the top and unneeded. 

Overall, the book was very entertaining and painted a very real picture of what survival in the most hostel of environments would be like. For the most part, it was realistic. The problems and solutions were well explained and done so in an entertaining way. The book was far from perfect, but was a very good read. I give it 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Deer Hunting 12/22/14

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After wrapping up what little I had to do yesterday (oh, and writing an article about Auburn's Offense in 2015), I called my dad to discuss an afternoon hunt. In particular, the rain had moved in around lunch time, and while it wasn't a downpour, I was interested in hearing his thoughts on the deer's movement.  

He said that he had hunted that morning and had failed to see anything. I saw that as an opportunity. Now, I know it is flawed logic, but part of me thought "well, they have to move SOMETIME." Additionally, we looked at the weather for the remainder of the week, and it didn't look good. So, if I was going to get out, I better do it today. 

After additional thought, dad said "you know, if the rain DOES stop, the bucks will be out to check their scrapes." I couldn't predict the rain, but I figured it would worth a shot. 

First, I had to ship some books I sold of my Amazon account. You know what you want to avoid on December 22nd? The post office. And, you especially want to avoid it right after lunch. The line was out the door and into the rain. Apparently everyone needs to ship things for Christmas. Go figure. After spending two weeks wondering where my GoPro was, I finally found it the other day, but I left it at home. I thought about turning around to picking it up, but the amount of time I spent at the post office put me in a bind. 

So, I managed to get out of there without losing my mind and I headed to the hunting club. The rain slacked up. This was a GOOD thing. 

I was in the shooting house and ready to watch a hundred of them come bounding into the field. An hour past and I hadn't seen anything. Not surprising, really. The deer really like this field right at dusk. So, I busted out Hugh Howey's "Wool." I had around 50 pages or so left. If I wasn't going to see anything, I was going to kick back and relax. I finished it around 4PM. Good book. Review coming soon. 

Now I was beginning to get frustrated. I hadn't seen anything. Nothing. Usually there is at least a doe or two that walks THROUGH the green field. So, I decided to do something DRASTIC. Well, at least for me. First, some back-story. 

The other day, dad and I went to lunch. While I was there, I decided to visit Dick's Sporting Goods, since I had all this free cash they sent me in the mail. Like, I had a free $10 card and a $5 off $25 or something. Well, I needed some .22 for squirrel hunting. I am picky when it comes to .22 and I wanted some CCI ammo. Of course they didn't have it. But, they did have a sale on Strike King 6XDs. I picked up a few of them, especially since they had a few of the silent models that are so hard to find locally. 

While I was there, I went to look in the hunting section. I needed a few items such as doe pee , items that I don't usually carry. Turns out, they had almost all of their hunting stuff on clearance. In particular, a Buckmaster grunt call. I've used my dad's grunt call before, but it isn't part of my arsenal. I usually employ a much simpler hunting style. that is...I show up. I don't use scents or calls. And, if my phone battery makes it all the way until dusk, I was paying more attention than normal. But, I will admit that my uncle and dad have pointed at the obvious: that's why I don't have a monster buck on my wall. Ironically, the young cashier failed to take the coupons...just my luck.

So, I got the grunt call out. Tooted on it a few times and waited 15 minutes. Gave it another grunt. 

I found myself watching the corner that the deer frequent. I would sweep the remainder of the field every few minutes to make sure I wasn't missing anything. 

It's a good thing I did. From the southwest corner of the field, a deer was charging at me at near full speed. It was obvious it was a buck, but was it a legal shooter? 

He was running right at me and I hesitated to jerk the rifle up for fear that he would see me. But he was moving so fast that I didn't have much of a choice. 

I got the rifle up, put the scope on him and hope that he would give me enough time to evaluate his side and give me a shot. With him coming right at me, it was easy to see that his antlers were outside of his ears. So, he was legal, but he wasn't giving me any chance to get a shot. If I let him get right up to me, I might not ever get a shot. The sun was disappearing behind the wood line behind him. 

So, I did what all good hunters would do. When he got under 100 yards from me, I yelled at him.


He stopped in his tracks.I thumbed the safety off. Then he made the fatal mistake. He turned broadside just before he took off in a dead sprint. He made about 3 gallops before I pulled the trigger. He took off at full speed to my right, but he had buckled first and his gait was slightly off. I was sure that I hit him, but the question was: did his first few steps pull the shot back too far to his rear? He made it 75 yards before he ever checked up. I was starting to worry because he wasn't laboring. He just looked to have felt comfortable with how far he had run. But, he made a misstep. Then another. Then fell. 

Turns out, I compensated for his run very well. Maybe even a touch too much. I pulled the shot about 3 inches up and 2 inches forward than I would like. But, judging by how much trouble I've had with this cheap scope I replaced... I can report that I have fixed all the issues. This is now about 5 shots in a row that have been simply dead-on. How did I fix it? Well, I employed my post:  Firearms: Understanding the Performance of Your Rifle Through Trials and Tribulations

One of the things I love about the outdoors, whether it's hunting or fishing, is that any day can become great in an instant. The only way to ensure that you don't have a great day is to not try. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Deer Hunting 12/20/14

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First thing I noticed at 5am in the morning as my uncle, dad and  I waited to kick off the day was....
"Holy cow, I've owned this Yukon for 4 years and 100,000 TO THE DAY!"

Yep. As I exclaimed this, they looked at me funny. The old Yukon keeps rocking along. It's the first time that I have bought a car, put new tires on it, and driven it so long that it needs new tires again. And, believe it or not, I plan on doing JUST THAT. I am planning to pay it off in February so I can buy a new A house. For my wife.

So I headed to the venerable shooting house in Zone 4, where I have found a lot of success in the past. It was chilly that morning and I don't take the cold like I used to. Fortunately, my uncle and dad build some baller shooting houses that are well insulated. And, someone just happened to leave a Mr. Heater. So, I fired that bad boy up! 

As the darkness faded to grey, I noticed that there were already deer in the field. 6 of them, to be exact. I put the scope on them and was contemplating taking another doe. After all, I had already eaten all the tenderloin from the deer I shot 2 weeks ago, which you can read about here. And, you can also read about my ridiculously good Bacon Wrapped Tenderloin while you are at it. Seriously. Do yourself a favor. 

But, I started thinking. If these deer were already out, maybe the deer would plan on moving today. They haven't been doing that, lately. And, if the rut has started, these 6 deer would make a great attraction for local bucks. So I waited. 

Sure enough, I spotted a loan deer from the south west corner of the field. I put the scope up, and it was a spike. We can't shoot spikes. He made his way to the does and they disappeared together. Rats. 

It was quiet for a few minutes. 

From the same southwest corner came a loan deer. It was small, so I didn't bother putting the scope on it. Strangely enough, it was on a good clip, crossing from one side of the field to the other at a rapid rate. I wondered if it had been on the treeline and had seen me move. It didn't look spooked. I chalked it up to being a crisp morning and it needed a run. 

It didn't take long for me to figure out why it was running. I spotted a large deer very close to the ingress point of the former. Even at this range, I could tell it was a buck. I put the scope on it. It was walking perpendicular to me, so I was able to gauge the height of the rack, but not the width, which is the critical measurement. Eventually I had to whistle at it. When it turned, I could see that it wasn't outside of the ears. So, not a shooter. He disappeared the same way the doe had. 

Apparently he caught up to the doe, and she didn't appreciate it. As quick a trot as she had going into the far wood line, she bounded back out and into the field with me. This time, she was chased by another spike, much to my dismay. 

Minutes later, two large deer appeared from the woodline in front of me, about 150 yards away. Again, the bodies were so large that I knew they were bucks. I scoped them out, but one was a 4 pointer and the other a 6 pointer, neither shootable. Ironically enough, a shot sounded from the distance, which spooked both of them, causing them to run away. 

After seeing that many bucks, I figured my luck wasn't THAT good and that seeing a shooter wasn't going to happen. So, I made the decision to shoot the next doe I saw. Naturally, that never happened. 

From dawn until 8am, the deer were really moving. In that time, I had 4 does, 5 fauns, 4 spikes, a 4 point and 2 6-pointers that made appearances, but not a shooter among them. But, truth be told, that's the most bucks I've ever seen in one day....which made it a great day regardless of whether or not I shot one. 

Where Does Auburn Look to Replace Offensive Production in 2015

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By now you know that Sammie has declared for the NFL. Am I surprised? No. Did I think he should stay? Well, you can read my article about why I thought he and Duke should return for 2015. With Sammie's departure, all eyes look to #1. To me, he is a more NFL ready player than Sammie and many project him as a 1st rounder. 

Let's assume for a minute that Duke does declare for the NFL. By a quick estimation, losing the seniors in addition to these two would be devastating to the future of the 2015 Auburn Tiger team. That's over 6,700 yards and 46 TDs from a total of 8600 and 51 TDs. That's a 78% loss. 
***Writer's Note: Duke WILL return for the 2015 season as per 247sports on 12/29***

The last time we saw such a departure of talent on the Plains was the 2011 draft. Auburn lost Cam Newton, Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery, Mario Fannin and many parts of it's terrific offensive line. That added up to roughly 75% of the Tiger's offensive production. 

The key difference lies in  the 4 offensive line starters the 2010 team lost,  more  than the future 2015 squad will have lost.  However the key cog, Dismukes, that the 2014 line will lose weighs much heavier . In the last 3 years, we have seen the talent and execution split between Dismukes and his backups. All in all, the losses between these two squads is an even push, though I do recognize that you can't easily dismiss what Dismukes meant to this team. After all, he is the only player that touches the ball 100% of the time.  Last year, I write that he would be more important to the Tigers than Tre Mason.  The difference relies on the returning talent.

The 2010 squad returned or replaced a fair amount of talent. Guys like Greg Robinson, Dyer, Lutz, McCalebb, and Emory Blake would eventually make their way into the NFL (minus Dyer), so the talent was there. Yet, the Tiger's were a one pony show with a predictable running game between Dyer and McCalebb. The Tigers passed for nearly 1,000 yards less in 2011 (the two starting QBs combined) than Cam threw for in 2010. And, to be fair, much of that yardage was against inferior competition. Down the stretch, the Tigers were simply terrible in all offensive facets. 

While I expect Malzahn to have a good offense next year, without the 2014 playmakers, what can we expect?

Offensive Line
It all starts up front, so lets talk about the big uglies. Auburn losses one of the best, if not THE best center in the country in Reese Dismukes. Replacing him will be no easy task and Auburn will look to its returning starters to shuffle. As I mentioned, Auburn has struggled mightily at center when anyone other than Dismukes has played. Additionally, Chad Slade will be lost to graduation. However, the Tigers are stacked on the line. After all, Braden Smith comes off his freshman season as one of the most praised linemen in the group, though he didn't make a start at an interior line position. Auburn also returns All SEC Freshman from 2013 Alex Kozan, who missed the entire 2014 season. Miller, Young, Leff, and Coleman return. Austin Golson, an amazingly talented transfer from Ole Miss, will likely replace one of the aforementioned part time starters. Of those names, at least 3 are potential NFL prospects. This group wasn't as good as the 2013 road graters, but they were good enough to win. With another years experience, this group may be the best in the SEC in 2015. But, as I have said many times, none of this matters if the center can't make the right calls and make good snaps. That is a prime concern for this unit heading forward. 

Running Backs
Auburn's running back corp appears to be one of the deepest in the country, if you want to add up those mythical stars. Few teams in the country have a single 5 star running back on their roster. Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson are both 5-Star guys. Peyton Barber and Kamyrn Pettway are both 3-Stars, though each have had accolades heaped on them by the coaching staff. Additionally, Auburn may boast a future 5-star recruit in Kerryon Johnson in 2015, if they can fend off all of the pressure to flip him. though I expect him to play WR. Realistically, Alabama is the only school in the country that can boast at having such a deep and talented running back committee. 

Though most of us celebrate National Signing Day as some form of championship, games aren't won on high school talent ratings. We can only go with what we have seen. What have we seen?

We saw Barber for exactly one play in the A-Day game in a terrific 14 yard run that ended with a fumble and an injury. He made sporadic appearances in the 2014 season, but was a non-factor.

We saw Roc Thomas sporadically throughout the year. He ran his way to 214 yards on a 5.0 average, which was the lowest of anyone on the Tiger squad that had more than 10 carries. We also saw him catch 6 passes for 27 yards, none more important than the first play of the Iron Bowl, which he muffed and failed to cover. He also returned kicks, but the Auburn return game was notably quiet in 2014 after being a legitimate threat at all times in 2013.  Perhaps I am being unfair to him. Most of the time, he looked great as he ran behind the Auburn line. However, he was pulled after some very good series throughout the year, which left many of us scratching our heads, none more notable than the 1 series he played against Mississippi State. 

To me, Jovon Robinson is the best chance Auburn to continue the pipeline of Auburn backs. I have said it many times. Stars are great, but playing against high school kids is one thing. Playing in college is another level. And playing against SEC-caliber teams is on a different planet. When considering expectations, I will take a successful JUCO transfer all day, any day. There are many factors that play into becoming a successful college player, and they aren't all talent. Give me a kid that has proven over 1 or 2 years that he can 1)make the grades, 2)stay out of trouble(cue the Jason Smith comments) and 3)produce against equal competition.  Robinson has done all of these things and is practicing RIGHT NOW. The twice-committed Auburn player is a 5-star guy who is 6 foot and 225 pounds. He ran for almost 2400 yards and 34 TDs on 272 carries. Do the math. 

It is hard for me to really think that Auburn can continue to pump out NFL back after NFL back. But, over time, Auburn has proven that it CAN and WILL do just that. I can think of only 1 back (Brad Lester) in the last 20 years that hasn't been an NFL-caliber back. It's hard to argue with those kind of numbers, especially with how well Malzahn has proven to do with recruiting and use of these players. Only time will tell if Robinson is as good as Mason and CAP. But, I firmly believe that Thomas is an upgrade at the speed back or backup position than Malzahn has featured in past years. In this regard, I believe the Auburn RB core is on par or slightly above previous squads, especially considered the POTENTIAL of Barber/Johnson. There is a very real chance that Robinson/Thomas could be the best back duo at Auburn since Cadillac and Brown. That comparison has been thrown around a lot since those boys left the Plains in 2004. We have said similar things about Tate/McCalebb, Dyer/McCalebb, Mason/Grant, etc. And while all these combos were dangerous, this one is unique. Brown/Williams were do-it-all backs. They didn't have unique things each could do that the other could not. Both of these guys could play 3 downs, and both did. I expect Robinson to be a mostly 3-down back with Thomas spelling him on 3rd and longs, though I do think Thomas can ALSO play all 3 downs. The duo reminds me of the typical RB combo that Alabama features, specifically the Henry/Yeldon combo. While I detest most everything about the Tide, they get it right when it comes to RB recruiting and implementation.

While many Auburn fans fret about having a guy like Thomas as a 3rd down back, who contributed immediately in 2014, I ask that you read the next paragraph. Auburn will have a terrific line and limited ability at the wideout and tight end position. The Auburn running back core will revert back to 2013 form, with touches aplenty for these guys.

Assuming Duke leaves, Auburn loses the entirety of its receiver production.  Yes, I do know that several guys that have caught passes over the last few years will return, but these guys have not produced much. Of the 21 TD catches in 2014, only 4 return. In addition to Sammie, Duke, and Bray, Auburn also loses Grant, Uzomah and Fulse.

Many Auburn fans will note that Louis, the instrument of the Prayer in Jordan-Hare returns, but despite all the talk to the contrary, he remained the exact same player we have seen in his previous 3 years. Drop prone. He does remain a threat to run the ball, as he has blistering speed. Sometimes I wonder if the offense wouldn't be best served by using him in the backfield exclusively.

Melvin Ray and Marcus Davis have caught almost every ball thrown to them. They both have shown the ability to catch in traffic, which is something that only Duke showed in 2014. While Coates is one of the best deep threats in the country and he has amazing measurables, he is unable or unwilling to catch the ball coming across the field. There were times during the season (TAMU and UGA) where the offense desperately needed a 1st down and the opposing defenses locked down the outside and forced Marshall to throw inside. With his borderline consistency throwing in lanes and the receivers inability to catch in traffic, defenses were able to make the Tigers very predictable. Without the deep threat in 2014, the Tigers must be able to throw across the middle. Johnson is extremely accurate and Ray/Davis have shown great flashes in this area.

But do the Tigers have the ability to stretch the field? I haven't seen anyone on the roster that is capable of doing it. Stanton Truitt has won a lot of praise from coaches. He has a 40 time of 4.3, giving him the ability to blow past guys, but at 5'10" he may not have the physicality to do what Coates has been able to do at the point of attack. He may have the ability to replace Bray as a chain mover. With is speed and moves, getting him as many quick touches will be the key. Tony Stevens may be the key to stretching the field. Though he was limited in 2013 and 2014, coaches were willing to burn his redshirt to get him on the field. At 6'3" with good speed, he has a chance to be the deep threat and redzone target.

One of the most interesting, and telling, moves in the offseason has been the move for Johnathan Wallace to receiver. Obviously much of that has to do with the two guys in front and the one guy behind him on the depth chart. But, there are other positions that he could play, or he could transfer to another school to play QB. Instead, his move could offer us a glimpse into a potential reality. Auburn is bare with receiver production and Auburn has to shore up the depth chart with guys who have game experience. Recall the 2010 team again. Kodi Burns didn't get moved to receiver because he was awesome at the position. He was moved there because Adams/Zachery were the only proven play makes aside from a sophomore, Blake.

Auburn has theoretically recruited well at the receiver position, but unlike the running back position, the production tells the story. For whatever reason, Malzahn limited these guys in the last 2 years. In addition, while the recruiting says these guys are great, you will not replace 2 potential first rounders AND your top two tight ends without a dropoff.I go back to what I said before. Recruiting sites are great, but they hardly tell the whole story. When it comes to stars, there are as many busts as booms, which Auburn has had PLENTY of at the WR position.  I DO think that 2016 will be a magical passing year, 2015 will be struggle, but not because of the QB (which we will discuss shortly) but because of the newness of the receiver core, the recruiting whiffs, and simple inexperience in games. With the lack of depth at this position and a potential SEC-best offensive line, expect a 2013 like season featuring 50-60 running plays a game.

There is no more important position on the field than the quarterback position. Though the Ohio State program has proven that it might have the deepest quarterback pool in the country, many regarded Auburn as having the best backup. I won't take much time to discuss it, because unlike the other positions mentioned above, Auburn has showcased Jeremy Johnson on multiple occasions in his first two seasons at Auburn. Johnson has simply been better in every category than Marshall, though one can't knock Marshall too much because he has proven to be one, if not the best, clutch QB in Auburn history. A pure passer, Johnson posted a 201 passer rating, completing 28 of his 37 passes for 3 TDs and no INTs in 2014, backing up a 195 rating where he was 29/41 and 6/2 as a true freshman in 2014. He was simply perfect against Arkansas, who may be the most improved team on 2014.

Most fans need no introduction to the 6'5" passer. Most fans would agree that Marshall was exciting and clutch, all would agree that the ceiling for Auburn with Johnson is a lot higher. Though he isn't the outside runner that Marshall was, he has many benefits that Marshall did not. Standing almost half a foot higher with a ridiculous release point, Johnson will not be affected by defenders in passing lanes, which was the cause of the losses at Mississippi State and against TAMU. Though Marshall improved drastically in his throwing and decisions, his INTs rose in 2014, thanks to at least 3 batted balls that were picked. Auburn may very well stand at 10-2 right now, had Marshall stood a little taller.

Auburn's success in the last decade has been on the shoulders of JUCO transfers. Auburn has failed to be able to recruit a player from HS and turn him into a winner. Since 2009 Auburn has won the vast majority of its games by Todd/Newton/Marshall. Only Brandon Cox can boast being a winning recruit. Auburn has featured Burns/Trotter/Moseley/Frazier as players who were whiffs at the QB position. JUCO transfers are 42-14 while recruits are 15-18. Coincidentally, Johnson is responsible for 3 of those 15 wins. Yikes. Just think about that for a minute.

You can see why Auburn is so excited about Johnson and it isn't all about his ability. Auburn has been heavily criticized for using "mercs" to win. Auburn faithful are ready to win with a player that doesn't have baggage, real or imaginary. The upside to Johnson is limitless and it wouldn't be foolish to name him as a Heisman darkhorse for 2015. However, his lack of receivers around him will hamper those abilities. Of the teams replacing QBs in the SEC, Auburn can boast of being the most comfortable. They already have a guy who has started games and looked flawless.

Auburn will bring back one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, if it can replace Dismukes. The running back position is in as good of shape as it has been in previous years, which is just par for the course for a team who has put more backs in the NFL than any other. Though Auburn has tremendous talent at the QB position, I feel like 2015 will be a throwback to 2013. That would be a 50 running play per game, road grating offense. Additionally, the rebuilding of the defense will be enhanced by taking loads of time off the clock in each offensive possession. But, don't be surprised if Johnson still posts a 15-17 TD year with a completion percentage bordering on 75%. Cam wasn't a great intermediate route passer, but he had the ability to set up play action passes due to the thumping ground game. As a result, he posted a ridiculous passing percentage (66%) on 30 TD passes, which were almost entirely deep passes. The question on if Auburn can produce at receiver will be the largest concern moving forward, as it hasn't shown any growth in the last 2 years outside of Coates/Williams. I wouldn't be surprised if the Outback Bowl isn't a featured game for new wideouts. Don't be surprised if neither Coates or Williams sees the field. In all, I expect this unit to be on par with 2013 in terms of running back production, though it is enhanced with Johnson at the helm. 2015 might not be as good as 2013, but it will provide a year of growth for a magical 2016 campaign.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bacon Wrapped and Peppercorn Dusted Venison Tenderloin Medalians Recipe

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So I bagged a large dog...err...small deer last week, which you can read about here. The only thing that makes the ridicule worth it is the tenderness of a young doe. So, when I picked it up from the processor the other day, I left the tenderloin in the fridge to cook. 

During the process of preparing and eating, I took a few (bad) pictures and posted them on my FaceBook Page. People were interested in how I cooked it. And, yes, it was amazingly delicious. So, I thought I would share. 

  • I started with the entire deer's worth of uncut tenderloin. 
  • Remove it from the package and let it drain in a colander. 
  • Then wash the meat under cold water and pat dry.
  • Place meat in a flat bottom container and pour marinade (you can use any brand you like. I frequently use my own) over the meat, then turn the meat over once every 15 minutes for an hour to make sure that it absorbs it evenly. 
  • Remove from the container and place in the colander to allow it to drain excess marinade. 
  • Lay the meat on a cutting board and cut against the grain (perpendicular to the length) into 4 ounce slices. This is about the size of a large lemon. Keep in mind that the tenderloin tapers at the ends, so some pieces will be longer and thinner than others. 
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Using a single piece of bacon, wrap each cutlet and tie in a simple knot. Direction of the tie doesn't matter as long as you can tie. You may have to stretch the bacon, which I commonly must do. 
  • Place the cutlets on a broiler pan.
  • Melt half a stick of butter (or a quarter stick with a tablespoon of margarine) and stir in a teaspoon of minced garlic and fresh cut rosemary. Powdered garlic and dried rosemary doe not work nearly as well. 
  • Baste the cutlets and bacon on all sides with the butter mix.
  • Place in oven and cook from 20-30 minutes. I gauge the readiness of the meat based upon the bacon. When the bacon FIRST APPEARS EDIBLE, pull the broiler pan from the oven.
  • Liberally sprinkle fresh cracked black pepper and large grain sea/kosher salt
  • Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes. 
  • Enjoy. 
Commonly, people avoid venison for it's "gamey" taste and the frequently tough portions. Many don't mind it, but it is a turn off the most who try it for the first time, which is a shame. Not only does this recipe remove that gamey taste, but it has the consistency of  veal. My mom and sister enjoyed this dinner with use last night. Both have been venison eaters for their entire lives and neither had any idea that they were eating venison. We served this meat with sliced and baked potatoes in olive oil, french bread and a fresh salad with red onions, roma tomatoes, goat cheese, and vinaigrette. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best5Zach Bowl Mania $10 Buy-In league

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Are you interested in an ESPN Bowl Mania league that matters? Join my $10 buy-in league. The rules are very easy. You pick the winners of each of the 39 different bowl games. Then, you rank them from 1 to 34 based upon how confident you are on the winner. That is, 1 would be a game you are most confident in and  34 the least confident. We will pay out 1 place for every 5 entries. The scale depends on the number of places awarded, but the last paying place will get their entry money back. 

How do you sign up? Paypal This Email Address. Then email me and let me know you sent payment and what your user name will be. I will then send you the password to enter the league, which you can find here:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why Sammie and Duke Should Return for 2015

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Let me preface this by saying....


I mean, who wouldn't want to see them come back?  

I guess that's the problem with being a fan of a team. Though we want to see our guys succeed in life, we want to win more. And, if having a certain player gives you a better chance at winning, then you want him on the field...even if it means millions to him. We are selfish, by nature.

While both of these guys are going to get to the NFL in some capacity, it is important for them to really consider what one year really means. It's a complicated pros/cons deal. But it seems that many players make complete blunders of this. They are blinded by money, many times. Now, I am sure that all the coaches are trying their very best to do what's right by the player, but I am really having a hard time with justifying their bolt to the NFL this year.

Consider this:  In 2014, a record number of underclassmen declared for the NFL. 107 kids from the college ranks thought that their draft stock wasn't going to rise with the addition of a last year. Of those 107, 45 went undrafted. Now, going undrafted isn't a bad thing. In a lot of cases, being able to hit the free agent market is a better path. Being drafted makes you subject to the pay scale. And, those late draft positions don't pay well. Yet, most of those 45 still didn't make an NFL roster. 

Let's consider what that means for a second. The average football fan doesn't pay attention to the hierarchy of the NFL draft. The money is in the first 2 rounds. Clowney, the overall #1, signed for 5 Mil a year for 4 years and a 14 Mil signing bonus. Bridgewater, the last pick of the 1st round, made roughly 1.5 Mil a year with a 3.3 Mil signing bonus. After that, well, it isn't as rosy as you would think. As I mentioned, by the time the 3rd day of the draft roles around, most players DON'T want to hear their name called, because free agent pay is much better in some cases. And, you have the freedom to play where you want. 

Let's compare the 1st and last picks for the Texans. Clowney makes the aforementioned 5 Mil a year. Lonnie Ballentine, the Texan's 7th rounder comes out for under $700,000 a year.That's a HUGE drop-off.

Consider the receiver position in the 2014 draft. This group of receivers was deemed to be particular deep and talented, featuring 5 first round picks. Sammy Watkins was the first receiver taken as the 4th overall, followed by Mike Evans at 7, Odell Beckam at 12, Brandon Cooks at 20, and Kelvin Benjamin at 28th. 

Where will this year's class stack up against last years? Would Sammie and Duke stack up against these players? 

First, let's think about a similar situation that we might be familiar with. In 2010, Darvin Adams emerged as one, if not the best, deep threat in the country. The fear of the Newton/Dyer express frequently set up some big plays through the air, benefiting Adams. Adams had 963 yards and 7 TDs on 52 catches.  That's a 18.5 yard average. He also benefited from being on some big time stages. Adams declared early from the draft and went undrafted, though he did get scooped up by the Panthers for a bit (no doubt in thanks to his good buddy, Cam) before being cut. He never made an NFL roster. Who did make it? Randall Cobb, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Torrey Smith, just to name a few. How was he compared to these guys? Cobb is a dynamic play maker who does everything well. Green and Jones can and will catch the ball across the middle, both are as physical specimens as you will find, and they are unbeatable in the vertical passing game. Torrey Smith is somewhere in between these guys and has become a legend in Baltimore. Adams had flash and speed. He did some amazing things, but all of these guys were polished, NFL receivers. Jones and Green in particular absolutely DOMINATED in the SEC against the nation's best defenses. Did Adams do that? Could he? No. Was he polished as a route runner? Did he physically dominate defenders? Laughably, no. 

Sound familiar? 

Sammie Coates is widely know for his deep threat ability, having been near the top in both of the last 2 years. He averages almost 24 yards a catch on his 30 touches for 717 yards and 4 TDs. His physical attributes are off the charts in almost every category. But, is he a first rounder? 

I have read a lot of reports where the NFL experts have gauged him anywhere between a very late 1st rounder to a mid round guy. I respectfully disagree with their evaluation. Receivers in the NFL have to be complete packages. Sure, some turn out to be one thing or the other, but when they come into the league, they have to be able to do it all. To me, Sammie struggles with the very essence of being an NFL receiver. Can you consistently run a good route to beat an NFL corner? Can you catch the ball in traffic? Coates has been unable to do either of these. His average per catch is ballooned because he struggled in the short and intermediate passing game, to put it politely. Even against SEC corners, he was unable to shake them with good route running, leading to knockdowns. And, in many cases, he had outright drops. In several key matchups in 2014, he had multiple drops in single games. Against Texas A&M, in particular, he had at least 2 critical drops. In the NFL, if you have multiple drops in a game, they find someone to replace you. Eli Manning struggled mightily in the first half of 2014, namely because of the inconsistency of some of his veteran players. It led to an increased role for Beckam Jr, who has become the leading receiver for the giants. Why? He runs polished routes and he catches the underneath passes, in traffic ON TOP of his ability to make great plays in the vertical passing game. 

And, let's be real. When it comes to vertical passing attacks, there are some guys that are almost solely that. Is Sammie a beater deep threat than Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin, two guys he has shared the field with? No. 

Additionally, Sammie was hurt for much of the 2014 campaign. Instead of getting healthy, it was obvious that he pushed the limits, and it showed. He was a shell of himself in his first 3 games back. Only against the Tide in the Iron Bowl did he look like the receiver we know him to be. If there is one thing that scares NFL scouts, it's injuries. Andre Williams lead the college ranks in rushing while at Boston College. He was absolutely unstoppable and was a Heisman finalist. But, he sustained a knee injury late in the season. He was drafted in the 4th round as the 10th running back taken after seeming to be a late first rounder or early second rounder like Bishop Sankey. 

Duke Williams entered Auburn under the auspices that he was a 1-and-done player. I didn't disagree with that before the year or during it. He possess all of the skills that NFL scouts drool after. He is big. He has ability. He catches everything. In a world where we let recruiting sites sell us championships, he is one of the very few that I have seen be 100% as-advertised.  I was sold on him at A-Day and remained so throughout the remainder of the 2014 season. The only tough game he had was against Bama where he couldn't secure some tough throws in the endzone. But, he looks every bit the 1st-Round pick that he will eventually be. But I don't think he will get that this year. Why? Production. The Auburn passing attack never materialized as expected in 2014. Other than Marshall's stellar Iron Bowl, he didn't light up the scoreboards. Sadly, he never met the goals outlined by the coaches entering the season. Instead, the Tigers remained a run first team and Marshall was fairly unstoppable when he needed to be. It's a sad fact that Duke Williams draft stock was hurt by nothing he did. The inability for him to have a 1,000 yard season, as many predicted, sets him behind many other receivers will similar skillsets. Amari Cooper, Justin Hardy, Rashaad Green and Nelson Agholor all posted at least 500 more yards and double (aside from Green) TDs. Duke isn't in the Top 50 of any statistics in receiving. On that list of 50, I can point to several other players who aren't quite the player Duke is, but would be higher picks (on my board) because of their production AND health. I see Jalen Strong from Arizona State, Josh Harper from Fresno and Leonte Carroo from Rutgers. 

Though he wasn't quite as limited as Sammie in his injury, Duke did miss significant time with his injuries. Against Alabama, he wasn't anything more than a checkdown or back of the endzone target. In the latter, his health kept him from making plays that I felt he would have made a month before. 

On the subject of injuries, one can't deny that the prospect of becoming injured during a return campaign is a nightmare. Just look at Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina. In his junior year he broke his leg. He went from a first round lock to a 4th rounder, and he was lucky to get that. So, it is imperative for these players to weigh the risk and reward in regards to injury. But, it doesn't always work in the negative. With Coates and Duke nagging injuries, a year to become healthy could pay drastic dividends in proving that they are 100% instead of an injury liability. In addition, the coaching staff have made them a fiscal priority by getting multi-million dollar insurance plans in the event that they drop in draft status as seniors. 

It is a fair argument that many underclassmen pay attention to returning teammates when making their decisions. I have to at least assume that Darvin Adams looked to who would be his new QB and who would be blocking for that QB and realize that the chances of improving his stock may depend on them.  In his case, he lost a Heisman winner and all interior linemen. I know many players do just this. A running back considers his returning line. A receiver considers the returning QB. All consider coaching changes. In this case, Auburn does lose a Rimington winner in Dismukes, a player that I felt was NFL-bound from the minute he set foot on campus. Auburn losses the unstoppable runner in Marshall and the SEC first teamer, Cameron Artis-Payne. All Auburn fans know what I am about to say: Auburn has perhaps the most NFL-ready arm in it's history waiting to start in 2015 in Jeremy Johnson. Though Auburn has plenty of on-paper talent at running back, it is short of experienced players. The graduation of the Bray, who became the chain-mover in 2014, leaves 34 catches(4 more than Coates, I might add) to be filled. What's that mean? A pass-happy attack is on the horizon for Auburn. 

As they are now to my untrained eye, Duke would be a 3rd round pick and I don't think Coates would be drafted. I do admit that I sometimes struggle with how players continue to be drafted on measurables alone, which Sammie would absolutely dominate. In the end, both of these guys need to prove that they are healthy and can stay healthy. Let's not kid ourselves, the needle can make anyone healthy for the combine. It may get you drafted, but it won't get you on a roster. Both players need to show more production in order to establish their elite abilities by coming back for 2015. They have the best arm that Auburn has had that I can remember coming under center and a game plan that will certainly favor them. Amari Cooper WILL be a 1st rounder and neither of these guys would be. Why? is it because Cooper has ability they don't have? No. It's because Lane Kiffin made him the focus of his offense. At zero point in either of these two players Auburn careers have they become the focus of their offense. That will undoubtedly change in 2015. 

Technically speaking, Coates in particular needs another year to work on his skills. He struggled catching anything that wasn't a deep ball and that will not work in the NFL, at least not for a player that isn't 6'5" or bigger (a la Benjamin and Evans). Duke needs more time working on his run blocking, as he was flagged on many occasions for holding.  You may have noticed that in run situations like 3rd and short, Duke was almost always out in favor of Ray or Davis, the preferred run blockers. 

Lastly, though this year's receiver draft class won't be as deep as the 2014 draft class, it will certainly still be very good. There are at least 5 players on on the big board that have the skillsets, size, and production that will keep Coates and Williams out of the first 2 rounds. What does that mean in terms on dollars? Sammy Watkins pulled down 20 Mil over 4 years amd almost 13 Mil in bonus. Donte Moncrief was the first receiver in the 3rd round and secured almost 3 Mil over 4 years. That's 17 MILLION dollars difference. To me, neither player can hurt their stock by returning. Duke has the lowest upside, as I think that he has proven himself aside from production, which is really want scouts want. They want the most data points possible. Sammie Coates has an amazing upside but it comes at a price of returning to work on this game. Both are hurt and that certainly could hurt this year's stock. Returning next can forgive that. The only downside to returning, other than NOT having millions THIS year is a potential injury. However, the estimated plan is around 10 million for each, just assuming they drop a few rounds.So, come out this year and get stuck making middle of the road pay, possibly at a place you don't want...or give it one more year and lock up a 20 Million dollar contract by being taken in the first round?

Do I want them to come back from selfishness? Absolutely. Losing the seniors in addition to these two would be devastating to the future of the 2015 Auburn Tiger team. That's over 6,700 yards and 46 TDs from a total of 8600 and 51 TDs. That's a 78% loss. While I expect Malzahn to have a good offense next year, without these guys, it won't be possible to be as great. 

However, I want them to achieve their dreams, which means playing ball in the NFL. However, it is almost a certainty that 80% of what they hear tells them to declare early. The pressures of friends and family, on top of being an instant millionaire, are heavier beyond anything I can imagine. But, these guys need to listen the voices of those who know. I don't claim to be one of those, but it seems to me that both would benefit from returning in 2015. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deer Hunting 12/9/14

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You may recall in my post from last weekend that I BELIEVED I had a monster buck poached out from under me. Well, after my adventure in killing a large dog..err...small doe on Monday, I went to eat dinner with my grandparents. On the way up the driveway, I spotted the big buck. WHEW! So, he didn't get popped by some poacher after all. 

I talked with my granddad and we decided to go after this monster. We were pretty sure we had him cased pretty well. He likes to eat in the bean fields until right at dark, then he likes to chase the does up the mountain. So, granddad was to hunt one food plot and I would hunt another about 100 yards away. If he came in off the field, he would walk past one of us.

My dad and uncle built this new baller shooting house and I headed to it. It would beat the mess out of my sore booty experience from the metal stand the day before. And, it would keep me warm in these monsoon level winds that we experienced. I don't have a lot of experience with judging deer movement based on conditions. I am just now to the point of getting to hunt when I want, not when I can. I have to thank my wife....SOMEONE POINT THIS OUT TO HER!....for letting me hunt and fish so often.

Sometimes I wonder if she has some ulterior motive...but I digress.

As I parked at my mom's and walked down towards the house, I couldn't help but notice how torn up the roads were. In particular were several rubs and scrapes that seemed to be very fresh. Obviously there was a rutting buck. Well, I already knew that...considering that every time I saw the monster, he was in the company of several does. I stopped to take a pic of the scrape. 

Meanwhile. I used some cotton balls and bottled doe pee to make a little trap for this guy, leading to the T in the road right in front of my shooting house. 

I figured that the howling wind could at least do SOME work for me by getting the scent into the air. 

As I waited, I was surprised to see that the squirrels were out and active, despite the swaying trees. I managed to snap a pic of one who wasn't too sure to make of that round and moving object in the window of the house. 
I admit that I can watch them play for hours. So much so that I nearly missed the doe crossing the road just yards from him. I guess I rely on hearing too much. The wind prevented me from hearing her walk up and, just by happenstance, I saw her. 

I apologize for the quality, but the wind was stiff and it was cold. I kept the windows closed. Maybe that's why I didn't hear her.....

As she stepped to my right and into the woods, I caught some movement. All I could see was a leg, definitely a deer, but in the thick brush. I could see it make steps, and then it was gone. Exactly the type of behavior to expect from a wizened buck. So. I waited. And waited. I kept my eyes locked on where I thought he would be. 

In the corner of my mind, I heard the steps and logged their position, but paid no attention. That was until they sheer amount of noise caused me to finally look 180 degrees the other way. Just in the nick of time I watched 5 or 6 deer including a few fauns exit the woods into the food plot. Perfect. With that many does in the field, surely it will draw out a buck. 

Add fuel to the fire as 2 more does came from behind me and walked to the field. 10 deer or so. Surely he will come. 

I waited. And waited. And then it was dark. 

Oh well. It's always fun to actually see deer. I know a lot of people that don't get to. Heck, as a child hunting in Jackson county, we wouldn't see but a few deer a year. Possibly because it was a hunting club that killed them all. Or possibly because I was a 5 year old kid stomping around with his grandfather.