With Ron Jaworski re-assigned to the studio, Jon Gruden will be the sole color analyst on “Monday Night Football” for the first time this season. And we can only hope the quality of his work will be comparable to his performance on the NFL Draft.
Gruden, far more likely to praise than criticize as a game analyst, was far more even-handed as an ESPN draft commentator, delivering blunt, cogent assessments of players’ strengths and weaknesses.
Instead of merely raving about Dallas-bound elite CB Morris Claiborne, Gruden noted “he missed some tackles he needs to be held accountable for. He needs to do a better job using his long arms as a weapon.” He called DE Bruce Irvin (Seattle) “a one-trick pony.” He said DT Kendall Reyes (San Diego) “needs to win in more one-on-one pass-rush situations.”
He suggested Coby Fleener — who went 34th to the Colts — should not be a mid-first-rounder because, “If you take a tight end that early, you have to get a double-threat. Can you take a tight end that early who doesn’t block?”
Gruden’s charisma and playfulness were also on display. He expressed concern that Packers pick Jerel Worthy came off the field on passing downs: “If I had taken Warren Sapp off the field in passing situations, he would have killed me.”
Excluding mega-prepared draftniks Mike Mayock (NFL Network) and Mel Kiper (ESPN), Gruden was the best of the “non-draftniks” on either network’s set.
• At the league’s request, ESPN and NFL Network agreed not to show players receiving phone calls indicating they had just been selected, at least not before the picks were announced. But some teams released their picks on Twitter before they were announced.
• Fan-friendly move by ESPN to go commercial-free for a 45-minute stretch early in Round One. But we preferred NFL Network’s approach of analyzing third-round picks as soon as they happened; ESPN, by that point, prioritized interviews and analyzed only some of the picks, and often 10 minutes or so after they were made.
• NFL Network said Warren Sapp will be back on the air in May, but refused to say whether his contract will be renewed this summer. NFL Network executive Mark Quenzel said initially that Sapp will not be fired for his erroneous March report that Jeremy Shockey was the “snitch” who tipped off the league about the Saints’ bounty program. But Quenzel has never said that Sapp definitely will return. The Boston Globe reported he likely won’t be retained.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Sapp was “inaccurate” about Shockey and added, “I would say to NFL Network, you better be sure of your information before you report it.” Quenzel said Sapp, who recently filed for bankruptcy, “has been reminded he’s an analyst, not a reporter for NFL Network.” A Showtime executive was non-committal about Sapp’s status on “Inside the NFL.”
Shockey said to Yahoo! Sports, “Is the league going to come down on our own people when someone does something so wrong and outrageous? There should be a standard for punishment like getting suspended or fined or losing your job.”
• Jaworski took the high road about his removal from MNF and signed a five-year extension to be a part of ESPN’s Sunday and Monday studio shows, where his incisive analysis will be an asset. ESPN said it simply felt more comfortable with a two-man booth on Monday nights.
Barry Jackson covers sports media for Pro Football Weekly and the Miami Herald.