Rabalais: Running game advances will be critical to offensive health

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints fullback Erik Lorig works in drills during training camp Monday morning in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The Saints hope that Lorig, whether through carries or blocking, can help improve their running game.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle — when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” — Christopher McDougall WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Up and down a flinty hillside path at his team’s training camp facility Monday, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton ran in what looked like a haphazard relay with several members of his coaching staff. Up the hill near the team’s headquarters,… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Veteran Saints cornerback Champ Bailey glad to join ’em, hopes to beat ’em

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints cornerback Champ Bailey, top, forces fullback Erik Lorig to fumble during Saints training camp Sunday in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The pads came on and the intensity level came up Sunday on day three of New Orleans Saints training camp. With them came a predictable level of chippiness, pushing, shoving and banging if not outright tackling, which is still high on the list of forbidden activities this early in practice. Players can partake in skeet shooting and falconry when not focusing on football here at The Greenbrier… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Important season lies ahead for Ingram

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints running back Mark Ingram looks back while cradling the ball as he breaks into the open on a run Saturday.

Welcome to the story of Mark Ingram and the Very Big Year. Sure, 2009 was a big one for the Saints running back. He wasn’t with New Orleans then, but he spearheaded a backfield that included current Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson as he went on to become Alabama’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner and lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship. But in Ingram’s life as professional,… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Jimmy Graham glad contract squabble with Saints over

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints tight end Jimmy Graham makes a catch during the first day of practice of training camp Friday in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Jimmy Graham stood in the bright West Virginia sunshine Friday and uttered five words, five little words that could have saved all those on the New Orleans Saints’ planet and in its orbit a lot of trouble if he’d said them five months ago: “I’m an all-pro tight end,” Graham said. Really? That’s it? Months of speculation and testimony and litigation over whether Graham was a tight end or… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Greenbrier owner moves heaven and earth to land Saints

The Greenbrier's owner Jim Justice, left and winner of the 2014 Greenbrier Classic Angel Cabrera with The Greenbrier Classic Springhouse Trophy  at the conclusion of the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Sunday, July 6, 2014.  (AP Photo/Chris Tilley) ORG XMIT: WVCT103

When Sean Payton speaks, everything else usually stops. That wasn’t the case for a CSX freight train Thursday, as it rumbled through The Greenbrier resort property less than a football field from where the New Orleans Saints coach was holding court on the first day of training camp. “Is that a train?” Payton asked, the tracks just out of his view. “Not that we’d… Continue reading →

Rabalais: The ring’s the thing for Southern, which will aim for another

Photo provided by Arthur Williams -- From left, SWAC coaches Heishma Northern of Prairie View, Dawson Odums of Southern, Darrell Asberry of Texas Southern and Monte Coleman of Arkansas-Pine Bluff share a laugh during the 2014 SWAC football media dayu Friday, July 18, 2014.

The Southern Jaguars don’t need a target on the back of their powder blues for opponents to aim at. Just triangulate on the ring. Southern’s rings from last season’s SWAC championship rank pretty high on the bling meter. They’re so massive that you had to think Jaguars football players Brian McCain and Arthur Miley, who accompanied coach Dawson Odums to SWAC media day here Friday, got in the… Continue reading →

Alabama’s Landon Collins looks back on decision to leave Louisiana

Associated Press photo by BUTCH DILLAlabama defensive back Landon Collins looks to the sideline for a play-call during an Oct. 5 game against Georgia State.

HOOVER, Ala. — Landon Collins was asked to rate the recruiting pressure he felt coming out of Dutchtown High School on a scale of one to 10. “I would give it a one to 1,000,” he said, the wisp of a wry smile creasing his face. The younger Collins who pulled on an Alabama cap and gloves on national television at the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game was never prepared for the backlash his… Continue reading →

Rabalais: These Tigers should relish the underdog role

Associated Press photo by Butch Dill -- LSU coach Les Miles speaks Wednesday to media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days in Hoover, Ala.

Here’s a little fact that you probably already knew, but this just confirms it: We “media experts” aren’t so expert a lot of the time. The Southeastern Conference will release the media’s preseason all-conference team and predicted order of finish Thursday from the writers and broadcasters attending SEC media days. Since the SEC went to 12 teams and inaugurated its championship game in 1992, the… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina not all talk

Associated Press photo by Butch DillSouth Carolina football oach Steve Spurrier speaks to media at the Southeastern Conference media days on Tuesday in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — It’s talking season for college football, and no one gives better quote than Stephen Orr Spurrier. The man who once asked if the Florida State Seminoles called themselves the ’Noles, why couldn’t he call them the Semis; who cracked you couldn’t spell “Citrus Bowl” without the “UT” for Tennessee; and who brashly describes the football tradition at his current employer South Carolina as “mediocre,” won the day Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media… Continue reading →

Graham, Saints deal a win for both

Advocate staff photo by John McCusker -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) lets out his customary yell after the national anthem as the New Orleans Saints took on the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, November 10, 2013.

When a harsh phrase like “grievance hearing” enters the conversation, it’s not easy for both sides to get past the hard feelings and tough talk to work a deal. That the New Orleans Saints and Jimmy Graham — who is now and forevermore a tight end, amen — were able to strike an accord on a new four-year contract is really a remarkable achievement. Consider the initial wide monetary gulf between them and the hot debate… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Will Muschamp must make Florida look like Florida again

Florida Coach Will Muschamp speaks to media at SEC media days on Monday, July 14, 2014, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

There is a website out there called CoachesHotSeat.com, and Florida head coach and former LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp finds himself atop their list. The numero uno college football head honcho whose chair is muy caliente. It wasn’t just that Florida went 4-8 last season, the Gators’ fewest wins since going 0-10-1 in 1979. That would seem to be enough to warrant trigger-happy Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to… Continue reading →

Rabalais: It’s time for King SEC to take on its next challenger

The Coaches' Trophy before the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game between Auburn and Florida State on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Thirteen seconds. Three points. One play. That’s all that separated the Southeastern Conference from sweeping the last eight BCS titles ever contested. One late, great Florida State drive snatched the crystal football away from Auburn and the SEC’s greedy hands in a 34-31 thriller at the Rose Bowl. Let the record show the Seminoles looked more like an SEC team than Jimmy Graham looks like a wide receiver, an ACC team in name… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Putting a bow on LSU’s sports year

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU running back Jeremy Hill runs for a touchdown against Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey, left, and defensive back John Lowdermilk last season in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. Hill brought plenty of distractions to the TIgers, but also will be difficult to replace on the field.

How should we remember LSU’s 2013-14 athletic year? There were great highs and bitter lows, but looking back there is a definite “Meh” factor to the whole year. There are at least two sides to every story, and that was true for just about every achievement or disappointment LSU athletics and athletes had this past year. Here’s a positive: LSU was the only school in the Southeastern Conference to win 10 games in football, 20 games… Continue reading →

Rabalais: For Janzen Jackson, football dreams turn into an L.A. nightmare

In a photo taken Aug. 13, 2011, Tennessee defender Janzen Jackson gives teammates a pep talk prior to an a college football scrimmage in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Brimer)

They found Frank Herrera’s body lying beneath a blanket in the back seat of his car parked along a gritty south Los Angeles street. The murder weapon, an electrical cord from a lamp, was still wrapped around his neck. Police figured the body had been there at least three days before it was reportedly found by Herrera’s girlfriend. Her son, Janzen Jackson, has been and could be in jail a lot longer than that. Herrera was… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Pelicans bank on proven big man, not potential

Associated Press photo by JONATHAN BACHMANNew Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis will miss Saturday's game against the San Antonio Spurs, but his left ankle injury is not considered seriouis the team reported.

If you wanted the New Orleans Pelicans to make a play for LeBron James, you’re disappointed. And unrealistic. It looks like the Houston Rockets will angle for the world’s current No. 1 player, though. That has to be part of the reason Houston shipped center Omer Asik to New Orleans in a pre-draft deal Wednesday in exchange for the Pelicans’ 2015 first-round draft pick. Good luck, Rockets, ever getting to touch the hem of King James’… Continue reading →

Rabalais: La’El Collins not regretting returning to LSU

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- LSU Tigers offensive tackle La'el Collins speaks on his decision to stay with the Tigers for his senior year during an announcement on Tuesday at LSU in Baton Rouge.

Had he chosen differently, La’El Collins would be in some NFL city somewhere having just completed his first round of OTAs and mandatory minicamp. But instead he was at All Star Lanes in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night, cutting up with his teammates and seeing whether he or LSU coach Les Miles in the lane to his right could knock down the most pins. There’s no doubt Collins left a substantial pile of cash on the… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Hendrick Motorsports’ success satisfying for Lance McGrew

Photo by Geoff Burke/NASCAR via Getty ImagesChase Elliott talks with crew chief Lance McGrew on pit road before the Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in September.

NASCAR rarely takes a week off once the season begins in February. That’s especially true for Hendrick Motorsports. Stock car racing’s most dominant team is having an unusually impressive 2014 even by its gold-plated standards. Three Hendricks drivers — Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and the ever-popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. — stand 1-2-3 atop NASCAR’s Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday’s first road race of the season in Sonoma, California (2 p.m., TNT). Gordon, Johnson… Continue reading →

Rabalais: The ballpark is killing the CWS

Associated Press photo by Ted KirkTexas' C.J Hinojosa, right, celebrates with catcher Tres Barrera after Hinojosa hit a solo home run in the seventh inning against UC Irvine in a College World Series elimination game  Wednesday in Omaha, Neb.

Virginia’s Brandon Waddell fell behind TCU first baseman Kevin Cron 3-0, so on a 3-1 count, he had little choice but to try to groove a fastball past him. Naturally, Cron wasn’t fooled. The strapping right-hander turned on Waddell’s wishful pitch, his muscular arms fully extended, and nailed the ball right on the barrel of his bat, yanking it toward left-center field at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. It looked like a home run. It sounded like… Continue reading →

Rabalais: On Jimmy Graham, golf and one-hitters

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Notes on a scorecard from Pinehurst No. 2, but they keep rolling off the edges (if you watched the U.S. Open, you get what I’m talking about) … -- An NFL arbitrator Tuesday will begin the process of asking if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck whether it’s really a wide receiver. Jimmy Graham was drafted, sent to the Pro Bowl and has even listed himself on his Twitter page as… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Ex-LSU golfer Smylie Kaufman gets taste U.S. Open

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Smylie Kaufman hits a tee shot on the sixth hole at University Club as a member of the LSU men's golf team in 2011.

It wasn’t exactly how former LSU golfer Smylie Kaufman scripted it, but he’s starting his professional career on one of the game’s biggest stages. Kaufman tees off at 7:46 a.m. CDT Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Open at famed Pinehurst No. 2, his younger brother Luckie carrying his bag. Luck is something they’ll probably both need. Luck will be an even bigger factor than ever at this year’s U.S. Open. Course architects Ben Crenshaw,… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Season’s end is emotional for Ragin’ Cajuns

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- UL- Lafayette's Nick Thurman, left, and Carson Baranik stand in the dugout in disbelief after their 10-4 loss against Ole Miss on Monday in the Lafayette super regional.

Few gatherings are filled with more intense and diverse emotions as the post-championship news conference. There is the one set of players and their coach, flush with victory and thrilled about whatever it is they’ve just accomplished or where they’re headed to next. The other group has its feelings laid bare for recorders and cameras to capture. Just hours earlier they were totally bulletproof-confident they were going to win, or else they wouldn’t be worthy of… Continue reading →

Rebels buck their identity as flops by crunching Cajuns

LAFAYETTE — Pack up the fuzzy fake beards. Put away the previously molten hot bats. Take your diamond dreams and store them back in the jewelry box, Ragin’ Cajuns fans. There is no joy in Mudbugville, my friends. Louisiana-Lafayette is out of the NCAA tournament. The Cajuns had a trip to the College World Series in their grasp after a 9-5 victory over Ole Miss in Game 1 of the Lafayette super regional Saturday.… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Don't blink with Cajuns, Rebels on the brink

Mississippi pitcher Aaron Greenwood (44) is hugged by teammates after winning an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game against Louisiana Lafayette in Lafayette, La.,Sunday, June 8, 2014. Mississippi won 5-2. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

LAFAYETTE — All even. A win for the Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday night, 9-5. An equalizer for the Rebels on Sunday night, 5-2. A ghastly error in center field for each. And so now Louisiana-Lafayette and Ole Miss have pushed each other to the brink. One game, winner take all. Someone will make a trip of a lifetime to the College World Series. Someone else will have an… Continue reading →

Rabalais: After a rollicking night, the Ragin’ Cajuns are this close

Advocate photo by LEE CELANO -- UL-Lafayette's Jace Conrad celebrates a three-run homer by teammate Tyler Girouard against Ole Miss in the third inning of Saturday's Game 1 in the Lafayette super regional at M.L. 'Tigue' Moore Field.

LAFAYETTE — This close. That’s where Louisiana-Lafayette is after Saturday night’s Game 1 of its super regional against Ole Miss. It’s 941 miles from M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, home of the Ragin’ Cajuns, to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, home of the College World Series. Saturday’s 9-5 victory put the Cajuns halfway there, figuratively somewhere just north of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Put another way, the Cajuns have the proverbial runner in… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Ragin’ Cajuns’ year has been ‘magical’ — and there’s more left

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Ragin' Cajuns practice Friday at Moore Field before the super regional with Ole Miss.

This is, by far, the best athletic year Louisiana-Lafayette has ever had. It’s been so good, it’s hard to even think of what year would take second place. Care to guess how many schools in 2013-14 have won a bowl game, earned a berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and hosted super regionals in softball and baseball? As one would say in French, une universite. UL-Lafayette. The one… Continue reading →

Rabalais: Even for LSU, home dominance doesn’t last forever

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU players meet in the outfield after the Tigers' season-ending 12-2 loss to Houston on Monday at Alex Box Stadium.

Before his team faced Stanford in the championship game of the 2000 College World Series, then-LSU coach Skip Bertman reflected on how his Tigers had never lost in such a situation. “The law of averages says we’re going to lose one day. But,” he added, holding up a wizened index finger, “it doesn’t mean we have to lose tomorrow.” The Tigers didn’t lose that day to Stanford, winning the last of their five national titles under… Continue reading →

Even for Tigers, dominance at home doesn’t last forever

Before his team faced Stanford in the championship game of the 2000 College World Series, then LSU coach Skip Bertman reflected on how his team had never lost in such a situation. “The law of averages says we’re going to lose one day,” Bertman said. “But,” he added, holding up a wizened index finger, “it doesn’t mean we have to lose tomorrow.” The Tigers didn’t lose that day to Stanford, winning the last of their… Continue reading →

Atmosphere, controversy, comebacks — this had it all

The LSU Tigers used to play Geauxrilla Ball. Sunday night in the NCAA Baton Rouge regional final, they played Gonzo Ball. The game started in twilight and ended in The Twilight Zone, with some moments straight out of the Bizarro World. Outside Alex Box Stadium, the mood was festive beforehand. Music played. The delightful smell of some deep-fried goodness wafted in from the parking lots. Inside the ballpark, the mood went from festive… Continue reading →

Rabalais: With Aaron Nola in ace mode, Tigers avoid troublesome test

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU's Aaron Nola pitches against Houston on Saturday, May 31, 2014, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium. Nola gave up one run on four hits. He walked one and struck out seven.

Perhaps never did it look like the LSU Tigers need to tread so carefully on their home turf in an NCAA regional. They started Friday with Southeastern Louisiana. There was scarcely a Lions player on their roster who was alive the last time SLU was in the NCAA tournament in 1994, but that didn’t stop them from staring the nationally seeded Tigers squarely in the eye. The Lions didn’t follow a typical No. 4 seed’s script,… Continue reading →