Lance Zierlein: Here's how Senior Bowl week looks from an insider's perspective

Lance Zierlein: Here's how Senior Bowl week looks from an insider's perspective
The Senior Bowl is a cool place for football minds to congregate.

Every year scouts, coaches, media members, agents, marketing reps and draft prospects gather in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl for what amounts to a week of All-Star practice where evaluators develop opinions about these players based on how they play in a series of one-on-one battles and team scrimmages. Does the actual game matter? Kinda, but I feel like it matters more to the locals than to any of the NFL teams who usually leave town after Thursday’s final practice.

But what is it like behind the scenes? What does Lance Zierlein do? Thanks for asking, guys. Every year I do my radio show from a “radio row” that features me and a local Alabama show. The topics on that show are... uh.... a little different than what is usually on my show. For example, if you need to know what's going on with Alabama's recruiting you will find out. If you need hypothetical discussions of Nick Saban as President of our country, that's your spot. This year, after my Tuesday show, I was lucky enough to tear tendons in my foot and take a trip to the hospital but whatevs.  I’ve already told that story on The Bench.

What makes the Senior Bowl week so cool is how loose it is. It's an important piece in the puzzle that is player evaluations, but there is also a social component where NFL people relax a little. At any point you can see guys like Dan Marino talking to John Elway on the sideline during a practice. After practice you might see GMs like Chris Ballard, Reggie McKenzie, Brian Gaine or John Dorsey having dinner with their scouts and personnel people at Wintzell’s Oyster House at a table right across from you. And there is a good chance you will see coaches and personnel people you recognize who are unemployed who look at the Senior Bowl week as a job fair and opportunity to interview with a team. Last year, I saw Wes Welker chatting it up with Bill O'Brien in the entryway of the hotel. Little did I know that Welker was actually in Mobile interviewing for a job as receivers coach.

And when it’s time to get loose? The go-to spot.... for as long as I can remember.... has been Veet’s conveniently located across the street from the primary hotel. Now if you think Veet’s is some sort of kick-ass club or hot night spot where the cool kids of Mobile gather, you would be wrong. No, it’s a straight up dude factory just like the entire Senior Bowl week. There is nothing nice about the place. Clearly remodeling or updating is not on their itinerary. They know you will come in and drink their beer or their vodka tonics regardless of if their toilet works. They know you will eat their fried mushrooms or instant pizza regardless of if they ever mop the floor to freshen up the smell. It's a dive bar where EVERYONE either goes or has gone.

Have too much to drink, fall asleep, wake up early for the show, eat lunch, watch back-to-back practices, have a great dinner with football friends at Dumbwaiter and then do it all over again the next day.

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Have the Astros turned the corner? Photo by Jack Gorman/Getty Images.

One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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