Friday, August 29, 2008

Roy Jones Jr. Looking For Redemption Or Cash?

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

The players on the U.S. Olympic Basketball aren’t the only athletes looking to redeem themselves in 2008.
When Roy Jones Jr. fights the undefeated Ring Light-Heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe in November, he will be trying to recapture the magic that once was his career.
After three-straight losses (two by knockout) at the hands of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, the public’s perception of Jones as unbeatable was shaken. Even with three-straight rebound wins over Prince Badi Ajamu, Anthony Hanshaw, and Felix Trinidad, HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant still isn’t impressed.
“He’s the same fighter as when he lost to Tarver….the only thing that’s changed is the quality of his opposition,” Merchant said. “He had a nice fight with Trinidad but I don’t consider Trinidad to be much anymore so I think he’s been able to use his name to keep his career going like many veteran fighters.”
Despite the name recognition that the Florida native brings to any fight, he’ll be entering Madison Square Garden as an underdog for only the third time in his career. In bouts where the critics voted against Jones, he’s currently 2-1 with the sole loss being a unanimous decision in the rematch against Tarver.
Though Jones hasn’t been counted out many times in his career, the 5-foot-11 fighter actually basks in people doubting him.
“That’s my favorite spot being the underdog because you truly get a chance to perform,” said Jones. “Whenever I’m chosen to win people say that it’s expected but when you’re the underdog, at that moment you can really show the people something.”
The last time Jones won as an underdog, he became the first middleweight titleholder to win the heavyweight championship in 106 years, with a victory over John Ruiz. In retrospect, Jones believes that the dynamic achievement speaks volumes about his ability and that of Bob Fitzsimmons more than a century ago.
“I’m the only man alive that could accomplish such a feat,” said Jones. “I paid the price for it [with the Tarver loss] but that’s what I have to do- to do what nobody else has done.”
According to Merchant, Jones defeating the Welshman would put him back at the top but that it’s not Jones top priority.
“I don’t think the idea is relevant because the winner of the Jones-Calzaghe fight will claim their number one but so will whoever wins the Tarver-[Chad] Dawson fight and they’ll have legitimate claims,” said Merchant.
Winning the bout won’t be an easy task for the 39-year-old Jones who will have to deal with a very intelligent, busy puncher in Calzaghe. Jones says that securing the important victory over his British opponent will prove an important point to those who said he should retire after the violent nature of his recent losses.
“It shows that it isn’t over until God says it’s over and that’s all I want to prove,” said Jones.
The outspoken former Olympic silver medalist doesn’t have too many points left to prove in his career. When he defeated Ruiz, Jones was at the top of his game in the eyes of many.
At the time he was 48-1 with quality victories over the likes of James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, and Virgil Hill. During his spare time he even found time to appear with Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix Reloaded.”
Had he defeated Tarver and Johnson, Jones admits that he wouldn’t even be stepping foot at MSG.
“I doubt if I still would’ve been fighting,” Jones said. “God must not have been done talking through me yet and wanted me to come back and re-prove myself.”
In Jones’ quest to regain respect, a victory over Calzaghe will open up the opportunity to one-up Fitzsimmons in his eyes. After Fitzsimmons original run as the heavyweight champion, he moved down two weight classes to defeat George Gardner in 1903 and won the light-heavyweight championship.
Since the super middleweight division wasn’t developed until the 1980s, Jones has every intention of adding another title to his mantle. Calzaghe is the current Ring Super Middleweight champion but a bout against the Welshman at 168 might not occur because he wants to retire after the fight.
The persistent Jones shrugs off the notion and would be anxious to win a belt at super middleweight regardless of the titleholder. He also doesn’t rule out another fight for the heavyweight title.
“I really want to regain the super middleweight title because I would take it a step further than Bob Fitzsimmons did because there wasn’t that division then,” Jones said. “However, if I don’t get a shot at the super middleweight title than I’ll fight [Wladimir] Klitschko at heavyweight and call it a day. That’s the beauty of Roy Jones…he can fight anywhere.”
Jones even added sending out another legendary fighter on a good note.
“I tried to get Oscar De La Hoya to say that he’d fight me on December 6th after I fought Calzaghe November 8th and he wouldn’t take it,” said Jones confidently.
Merchant, on the other hand, feels that Jones wanting to fight an upper echelon fighter like Klitschko isn’t realistic on his part.
“He moved up and beat a guy [Ruiz] that I regarded as a mediocre heavyweight and that’s good for him,” Merchant said. “If he throws out names like Klitschko than to me he’s just talking about making money.”
Since veteran fighters like Calzaghe and Jones are looking for financial gain at the latter stages of their careers, Merchant points to the winner of the Hopkins- Kelly Pavlik as next in line.
Both fights could bring enormous fanfare with Jones owning a victory over the 43-year-old Philly native and Pavlik having a considerable amount of buzz.
The only thing for sure in Jones’ mind is that Hopkins would have no true intentions of wanting a rematch against him.
“I love Bernard Hopkins to death but he has not wanted to get into a rematch with me,” Jones said. “Bernard Hopkins only wanted a rematch when he nobody else wanted to fight him. He hasn’t wanted to fight me since he got back into the limelight and got a big name for himself. He can fight anybody but if he fights me it’ll be his very, very last fight and I know that.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Steve Slaton Feature (Previously Written Article)

Slaton Preparing For Instant Impact As A Rookie

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Sports Correspondent

Even though most NFL rookie running backs start off at the bottom, this football player isn’t slated to stay there.
Houston Texans third-string running back Steve Slaton is behind veterans Ahman Green and Chris Brown on the depth chart, but injuries could propel him to the top. Last season Green and Brown started a combined six games and only rushed for 722 yards.
The rookie running back doesn’t rule out the chance to receive playing time and believes staying ready is always the best policy.
“There’s always a possibility for anything,” Slaton said. “You always have to prepare yourself for those types of situations and I’ll be ready if that were to happen.”
In his short time in the NFL, Slaton has put his ego aside by allowing Green and Brown to take him under their wing. Green, heading into his 11th season, has rushed for over 1,000 yards six times and spent seven seasons playing alongside Brett Favre.
Making the transition from West Virginia University to the NFL, Slaton admits, isn’t an instant gratification process.
“I’ve learned from them how to practice [in training camp] going full-speed all the time and taking every rep as a mental rep,” said Slaton. “You’re not given a lot of reps being a younger guy so you have to take advantage of the chances you get and try to turn them into minutes.”
Another obstacle that Slaton will have in the NFL is proving to coaches that he’s not too small to receive playing time. At 5-foot-9, 201-pounds, the former Conwell-Egan star isn’t the ideal size for most starting running backs. Compared to the 6-foot, 218-pound Green and 6-foot-3, 220-pound Brown, Slaton isn’t the biggest player around. The backup shrugs the notion of his size aside and believes that his talent overshadows the issue.
“I know I can play but I have to prove to other people that I can,” said Slaton. “There’s plenty of guys in the league that are my size and have become starters that carry the load so I believe I can do it too.”
Adjusting to the zone-blocking scheme that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has implemented will be a stark contrast to the spread offense Slaton flourished under at West Virginia. ESPN football expert Merrill Hoge is a critic of the smaller back and believes that Slaton has a lot to prove.
Being a former running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears himself during his eight-year NFL career, Hoge thinks adjusting to smaller running lanes is no easy task.
“Based off of [Green and Brown’s] history with injury the past two years, there’s a strong chance that he’ll have an opportunity,” said Hoge. “Can he be the main ball-carrier, I’m not sure, and I think that’ll be a lot to ask out of him. I watched some of those bowl games at West Virginia and he had massive holes to run through.”
Hoge added that it would be better for Slaton’s development if he learns from Green and Brown from the sideline this season.
“If the Texans can bring [Slaton] along slowly than it will be a much better situation for him, Hoge said. “If he’s asked to carry the load on all three downs I think he’ll struggle.”
Slaton is no stranger to learning from the sideline. Originally recruited by West Virginia as a defensive back, he started his true freshman year off as a fourth-string halfback. After rushing for 139 yards and scoring a touchdown in his first start against Rutgers, head coach Rich Rodriguez couldn’t keep him out of the lineup.
Paired with mobile quarterback Pat White, the duo formed one of the better rushing attacks in college football. Slaton’s 17 rushing touchdowns his freshman season (2005) was the third most in school history. After defeating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, Slaton’s 204 rushing yards propelled him to the Sugar Bowl MVP Award.
He felt that staying positive throughout the season allowed him to stay ready and be prepared for him eventual success.
“There’s always going to be negative and positive things that people say about you but as long as you keep the right attitude, that’s the best thing you can have,” Slaton said.
Slaton took the momentum his freshman year and posted a career-best 1,744 rushing yards, 7.0 rushing yards per carry, and 360 receiving yards his sophomore season. He also combined with White for 2,963 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns. His 2,104 all-purpose yards in 2006 set a West Virginia record.
Entering his junior season, Slaton came in with considerable buzz after being ranked No. 2 by ESPN on its Heisman Trophy Watch. In the eyes of many football experts, Slaton failed to live up to expectations after recording career lows in yards and yards- per-carry.
Slaton says that his decrease in numbers was more a product of better defense than diminished skills.
“Playing in the Big East Conference defenses are getting better and [coaches] have time to gameplan,” said Slaton. “From the two previous years, teams had time to watch film and watch how other teams watched me so they had a better chance.”
Rather than redeem himself as a senior, Slaton decided to enter the 2008 NFL Draft. Slaton said that the move was fulfilling a lifetime dream from when he was he was a young boy.
He made the best of his opportunity by amazing pro scouts at the NFL Combine with his dynamic receiving ability and athleticism. Slaton was able to post a 35’’ vertical jump and a 4.45 40-yard dash time that helped reestablish his stock among pro teams.
Even though his draft status was the highest his sophomore season, when his draft status was the highest, Slaton said that his junior year was important to his development. With other college players like Adrian Peterson that looked attractive to NFL teams as underclassmen, Slaton felt that the league changing its policy should depend on the particular player.
“It depends on how that player feels,” said Slaton. “I talked to my family and felt I was ready but they have to be able to make that decision for themselves.”
Originally pegged as a low first-round to early second-round pick, Slaton slipped to the Texans as a third-round pick. In a draft that was filled with talent at the running back position, Slaton was the 10th halfback selected behind the likes of Darius McFadden, Felix Jones, and Ray Rice.
Compared to McFadden and Rice, Hoge sees a distinct difference in the type of NFL running backs they’ll project into as opposed to Slaton. Hoge says that certain aspects of Slaton’s character weren’t tested enough with the Mountaineers that are keys to success as an NFL running back.
“In the NFL running backs have to have a physical nature about themselves and be willing to put their nose in there for three yards when there’s nothing there,” said Hoge. “If you’re not used to that then there’s going to be a tough learning curve as Reggie Bush is experiencing that right now. If [Slaton] gets a chance to play he’ll have to improve on the things he didn’t have to do in college.”