APRIL IS “LIT” WITH AWESOME ATLANTA SPORTS TOPICS

FILE – In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Alex Anthopoulos speaks to reporters following a news conference introducing him as the new general manager of the Atlanta Braves baseball team in Atlanta. Anthopoulos says he hasn’t ruled out signing a free agent but says he doesn’t want to block prospects in the team’s rebuilding process by adding a long-term contract. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Our Braves have opened what should be a very intriguing season, as Alex Anthopoulos begins to mold a team that can start winning and contending again. Star outfield prospect, Ronald Acuna will be turned loose in Atlanta soon. Seeing him develop should be fun. Stay tuned, because this is about to get interesting. Alex has some big holes to fill (3B, Catcher, Pitchers) and plenty of prospects to trade. Soon he will have some big money to spend too. The ‘tea leaves’ say Anthopoulos is about to be “wheeling & dealing.” By now, we are all tired of the losing.

The Falcons are totally focused on the NFL Draft, which goes down later this month. Hopefully, Q, T & P will be trying to improve the LOS (line of scrimmage, D-Line & O-Line). The top need: D-Tackle. Sure hope Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne will be available at the Falcons #26 spot. The other top need: O-Line. With the 2nd round pick, the Falcons could get some help with Auburn’s Braden Smith or Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown. Best I can tell, we’ve accumulated a wealth of talent on the perimeter, but we are getting pushed around up front a lot of the time. Invest in some impact linemen, please! We need to win the battle up front! We’ve got enough ‘space-tacklers.’

Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs will be showing off a lot of new talent in Georgia’s G-Day Game this month. I’m excited to see how the new mix on the O-Line looks, with Andrew Thomas sliding over to left tackle and all this young talent to plug in on the interior (Salyer, Hill, Netori Johnson). As always, I’m interested in seeing the WR group too. Who can replace Javon Wims, at that X-WR spot? Is it Riley Ridley? Anxious to see if the young pups are ready to ball at receiver: Trey Blount, Kearis Jackson, Jeremiah Holloman, Matt Landers & Tyler Simmons. Over on defense, the linebacker spots are the big story. The Bulldogs will be counting on a lot of young dudes to step up in the Front 7: Walter Grant, Robert Beal, Brenton Cox, Monty Rice, Nate McBride, Channing Tindall & Jaden Hunter are all getting looks this spring. Adam Anderson joins the competition later this summer. This group is deep and talented. So, who earns playing time? This will be very interesting.

Even the Hawks are interesting right now, because of the competition for one of the Top 3 draft picks. Man, Ayton, Bagley or Trae Young would look great in an Atlanta Hawks uniform next season! Stay tuned, because this could be huge!

For more on these topics, join The Buck & Kincade Show, weekdays on The Fan, from 12-3! Thanks for listening to our show!
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NEW BULLDOGS TEAM STARTS SPRING FOOTBALL

That was a memorable ride the Bulldogs took us on last season, but it’s time to turn the page. The new ‘Dogs start spring football in a few days, so get ready to get to know an almost entirely new cast. Coach Smart and his coaching staff have a new look too.

The coffee shop buzz entering spring practice has been about Justin Fields entering the competition and Coach James Coley’s elevated status on offense. Fields starts his UGA career as the #2 quarterback, which is awesome for him. Coach Coley turned down a promotion to be Jimbo Fisher’s OC at Texas A&M, so Kirby needed to sweeten his deal.

Georgia’s offense is going to need to step up early this season, with the ‘Dogs defense breaking in a lot of new players, especially at linebacker. Developing a few of the young players is going to be important at this position.

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Who will replace inside linebacker Roquan Smith? Let me answer that one: No one is going to replace that beast! So, a lot of young talent will be getting a good look this spring: Walter Grant, Monty Rice, Jaden Hunter and Nate McBride will be joined by early enrollee freshmen, Brenton Cox and Channing Tindall. Need to get these guys ‘coached up’ and find out whom might be ready to help this coming season.

On offense, the offensive line will be taking a close look at a lot of young players too. Freshman Jamaree Salyer and redshirt freshman Isaiah Wilson are both looking to make some noise this spring. Andrew Thomas flips over to the left tackle spot and his development will be closely followed. Netori Johnson & Trey Hill are two more young guys to keep an eye on.

Sam Pittman has stockpiled some huge talent on the O-Line and this group has a chance to develop into the strength of the team. Normally, when a team loses its left tackle to the NFL there is reason for concern. However, Andrew Thomas should transition nicely. As a freshman last season at right tackle, he showed off impressive technique and a competitive spirit that should assist him in the transition to the other side.

It’s not difficult to imagine early enrollee freshman Jamaree Salyer getting into the mix quickly at guard. Physically, he is blessed (6’4 ½” & 350 pounds) with a big body. This Bulldog offensive line could end up averaging 6’5” and 340-plus, in the next 12 months.

The trouble spot on offense could be X-receiver. Javon Wims are awesome last season and the ‘Dogs will have some issues replacing him.

Oklahoma cornerback Parnell Motley (11) closes in as Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley (9) drops a high pass during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Doug Benc)

Riley Ridley might be the guy that steps up. He sure delivered a strong performance in the National Title Game. Otherwise, it’ll have to be one of the young pups. Riley Ridley appears ready to take over the X-WR spot. Jeremiah Holloman has a chance to break out! I want to see more of redshirt freshman Trey Blount. Maybe one of these two freshmen come in and flash some serious skill (Matt Landers or Tommy Bush).

This should be a very interesting spring for Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs. Stay tuned in to the Buck & Kincade Show for more, weekdays from 12-3.

-Buck Belue
Co-Host “Buck and Kincade”
TWITTER:
@buckbelue8 

Braves – Anthopoulos Brings Much-Needed Leadership

For the Braves organization, this must be incredibly refreshing. It’s a restart, three years into a rebuild. Alex Anthopoulos brings much-needed new leadership and hopefully, this will kick-start a move back to the top in the National League. After all, that’s what the fans out in Braves Country are counting on! All this losing has been no fun at all.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

The hope for a brighter day rides on some of the Braves top-rated prospects breaking through successfully. And thankfully, it’s not all pitching. Anthopoulos has played it cool with making moves, until he has a chance to evaluate what he’s got.

All the talk entering the 2018 season is about outfield prospect Ronald Acuna, who is MLB’s top-rated minor league player. But Acuna is far from the only talented prospect who is ready to make some noise in Atlanta.

Heading into this season, the Braves feature the best left-handed pitching prospect situation in baseball. Sean Newcomb busted onto the MLB scene last year, with 19 starts. Now, three other southpaws get a shot to break through. Luiz Gohara and Max Fried got a taste of the big leagues at the end of last season and showed flashes. Kolby Allard is poised for a shot in 2018 too. Anthopoulos is keeping a close eye on these four guys.

Gohara seems to constantly get the C.C. Sabbathia comparison. Luiz has got some flame coming off his fastball, features a plus-slider and has developed a legit change-up. He’s got a shot to be a top of the rotation guy. Max Fried showed off a plus-curve ball during his late season call-up last year. Kolby Allard’s off-speed stuff is impressive (plus-breaking ball & a plus change up) and displays good command with this fastball (locates it inside & out).

So, Newcomb, Gohara, Fried and Allard are competing for spots in the Braves rotation. Not all of them will settle in Atlanta. Anthopoulos will most likely trade a couple of them, once he determines who he wants to keep.

It’s also awesome to see a couple of positional prospects entering important seasons with the Braves, playing a couple of key spots.

Third baseman Austin Riley hit 20 homers last season in the minors and he also improved defensively. He’s got a plus-arm and his overall skills at 3rd base have the look of a major leaguer. The Braves have had a huge void at the hot

Atlanta Braves Austin Riley. (Mike Janes/AP)

corner, since Chipper Jones retired. Maybe Austin Riley is the man to end the drought. Entering this season, he’s been rated as the #6 MLB 3B prospect. Keep an eye on this guy!

Also, catcher Alex Jackson took a big jump last season. The Braves decided to move him back behind the plate, once they got him in a deal with the Mariners. His defense has since improved. He has a plus-hitter, plus-power reputation at the plate. So, there is a lot to like here.

The Braves would be thrilled if both these guys were able to push their way to Atlanta, with impressive minor league seasons this year. This is the best-case scenario, obviously. It would be huge to add a couple big bats to the line-up in 2019, at these critically important positions!

Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves need a few of these prospects to take off in 2018. Can’t hardly wait to see how this develops. It should be very interesting.

-Buck Belue
Co-Host of 680 The Fan’s “Buck and Kincade”
Twitter: @buckbelue8

CAN TOM BRADY & PATRIOTS WIN ANOTHER SUPER BOWL?

Super Bowl 52 has some intriguing match-ups that will help decide the Patriots-Eagles Showdown! Belichick and Brady have obviously been tough to beat and I do believe they are set to bring another championship to Boston.

The only two times we’ve seen Tom Brady go down in the Super Bowl is when the Giants D-Line did some major damage. That’s what the Eagles D-Line has to do. Hit Brady. Sack Brady. Do it early and often. Disrupt his rhythm and make him uncomfortable. Anything short of that will not be good enough.

If Brady gets decent protection, he’s going to carve the Eagles up like a talented surgeon. Tom is really 4-1 against Jim Schwartz defenses. Schwartz believes in a 4-man rush, where he can cover with seven. The problem: even when his 4-man rush doesn’t get QB pressure, he’s reluctant to bring extra pass rushers. He’s got a rep for not deviating from that…

Look for big Gronk to play and get the ball thrown his way! Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins is an outstanding player, in fact he’s a baller too! Expect to see these two studs matched up some. This is one of the games top match-ups.

Another critical is inside, where former Bulldog David Andrews and former Jacket Shaq Mason will be trying to neutralize Eagles monster Fletcher Cox. If the two local guys can control Cox that would be huge for the Patriots!

Outside, Brady has access to Cooks, Hogan and Amendola, who will be working short-to-intermediate against the Eagles CB’s Ronald Darby & Jalen Mills. That’s a match-up that appears to favor the Patriots. Brady sees the entire field, gets rid of the ball quickly and is so deadly accurate. It’s tough to stop.

When the Eagles have the ball, I’m anxious to see how Coach Belichick plays the R-P-O’s! Foles will mesh with the RB, looking downfield at an opportunity of throwing it, typically on an inside breaking route. Nick Foles has been lights-out against both the Falcons and the Vikings defense running this concept. The Eagles R-P-O (Run-Pass-Option) has created much-needed confidence for Foles. And yes, I’m expecting Belichick’s Patriots defense to defend this play much better than Atlanta and Minnesota.

The Patriots defense is so good at forcing an offense to execute long-drives to score. Can Foles do that? Go on 12-14 play drives to score TD’s? Remember, the Patriots do a great job in Red-Zone defense! Eagles better be getting 7’s, instead of 3’s.

I’m expecting to see the Patriots win, 24-16.

For more, please join The Buck & Kincade Show weekdays on The Fan, from 12-3.

CAN FALCONS RETURN TO THE SUPER BOWL QUICKLY?

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, right, will be tasked with addressing the offensive and defensive line shortcomings. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Our Atlanta Falcons have the look of a team that can get us back to the Super Bowl in the next 3 years! That’s the window of opportunity (Matt & Julio aren’t getting any younger).

Right now, the focus should be on the INTERIOR OFFENSIVE & DEFENSIVE LINE! That’s the weakness of this team and both the Eagles and Vikings took advantage of it against the Falcons this season. That’s got to change, if we really want to win some of these big battles.

The O-Guard spot got us beat this season. I know it’s not a sexy topic, but we’ve got to upgrade at the offensive guard spot. Also, it didn’t look to me like Big Poe was the answer at D-Tackle, so it’s time to search for a better answer to pair with Grady Jarrett.

Another weakness that’s holding the team back is at TIGHT-END. Is there any chance Alge Crumpler can make a comeback? Hooper is a finesse, pass-receiving option. Toilolo is a blocker. The Falcons need a dual-threat option. Otherwise, the defense gets tipped off to the play call. It seems every team has a difference-maker at tight-end but the Falcons.

As far as the coaching staff goes, Sarkisian & Q need to improve on game day. The offense was dysfunctional most of the season. Big play scores disappeared. Red Zone effectiveness went away. They even had issues deciding on where to put Sark; on the sidelines or up in the press box. Hopefully, new hire Greg Knapp can be helpful to Sarkisian.

There is no doubt that Q is in power, up at base camp. So, Q needs to get this right, if we are going back to the summit. It would also help if he could improve his in-game coaching too. More on The Buck & Kincade Show, weekdays from 12-3 on The Fan.

BULLDOGS FACE BIG, BAD ALABAMA IN TITLE GAME

Georgia tailback Sony Michel (1) celebrates his first quarter touchdown past Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Doug Benc)

Kirby Smart’s Bulldog team is one win away from delivering this starving Georgia fan base a national championship! However, it won’t come easy. The College Football bully stands in the way and Alabama is coming off a domination of Clemson, in the other national semi-final game.

The ‘Dogs need to rest up and recharge the batteries, before this big battle takes place. The epic 2-OT Rose Bowl victory over Oklahoma had to have been exhausting, both emotionally and physically.

This will be a tougher match-up for Georgia. Alabama is physical, although they have been thinned out by injury on defense. Let’s take a quick look at match-ups on both sides of the ball.

The Tide defense plays the run tough! Can Chubb, Michel & Swift find some cracks and space to run it effectively? This is obviously a huge factor in the showdown! Alabama is #2 in CF in run defense, only allowing 2.8 yards per carry. Georgia ended up #5 in CF in rushing, averaging 6.0 yards per carry & 267 yards per game. This is the rub. Sam Pittman’s UGA O-Line will face a D-Line that played its best game against Clemson. The Tide D-Line, featuring Hand, Payne & Davis were dominant. The good news is Bama’s linebacker group is thin. Coach Jim Chaney’s game-plan will no doubt try to attack this Bama LB group.

On the flip side, Georgia’s defense will be facing a Tide offense that wants to pound the opponent with a power run game and hit the big play off play-action down the field. The Bulldogs quality depth on the D-Line will be a factor, as it was in Pasadena. Tyler Clark, Jonathan Ledbetter and D’Andre Walker need to step up again, along with Trent Thompson, Julian Rochester, David Marshall & John Adkins.

Tide QB Jalen Hurts does a nice job of recognizing when to use his legs too. He can take off and run with it. Roquan Smith will be focused on that too. Hurts doesn’t turn the ball over either. He’s only committed 3 turnovers all season. Wouldn’t expect that to change now.

Mecole Hardman could be a big weapon in the return game. He’s been close to taking one to the house and this would be a great time to do it! In fact, the ‘Dogs need him to bust one.

Tune in to The Buck & Kincade Show this week, 12-3 on The Fan, as we break down this huge game!

BEAT THE SOONERS & GET A SHOT AT THE “NATTY!”

Beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and play for a National Championship! This College Football Playoff thing is even more fun than I’d imagined! It just doesn’t get any better than this…

So, beat Mr. Heisman Baker Mayfield isn’t going to be easy, right? I get that. He’s a dangerous young man, scrambling around and throwing it. But do I need to remind you that the Georgia defense plans on “Hunkering Down” in Pasadena? Folks, this is going to be good! I can almost see Roquan Smith chasing him down right now.

Seriously, this Bulldog defense is capable of slowing the Sooners offense down. The Georgia Front-7 does a good job containing and protecting the edge. Plus, look for a lot of umbrella zone coverage too. Mayfield has absolutely carved up teams daring to play man coverage. Don’t expect Georgia to try that approach. Turn the Front-7 loose and play zone behind it.

On the other side of the ball, the Oklahoma defense has issues tackling well. That’s not a good formula, when you are facing Chubb, Michel & Swift. Ben Cleveland’s physical play has really given this O-Line a boost late in the season. He and Gaillard got some major push against Auburn’s impressive D-Line, in the SEC Title Game. There is no reason to believe the Bulldogs won’t be able to run it in the Rose Bowl against the Sooners defense. And running it effectively would limit Baker Mayfield’s scoring opportunities!

This appears to be a good match-up for Georgia. I heard Pollack saying the Sooners would hang 30-plus on every team in College Football this season. I’m not so sure of that, after looking at this game closely.

A potential match-up with either Clemson or Alabama looms. Man, that’s HUGE! Especially with the National Championship Game being in Atlanta at MBS!

DAWGS get a REMATCH in the SEC Championship Game!

So, we get a REMATCH in the SEC Championship Game. Also, let’s give a special thanks to Coach Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers, for giving us a break from the Alabama domination storyline.

What could be different in the Georgia-Auburn match-up, after having just played 3 weeks ago? That’s the question I keep getting, right now.

Not that I’m predicting a Georgia victory here, but there are 3 changes, since the Tigers 40-17 blowout victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium?

  • This match-up will be played in MBS, which is a neutral site. And that’s way better than playing in the other team’s backyard! This benefits Georgia.
  • Auburn’s D-Line dominated the first match-up. The Georgia O-Line got whipped. There were times 6 could not block 4. The ‘Dogs running game got shut down. Enter Ben Cleveland. Coach Pittman gave Cleveland a shot ahead of Solomon Kindley and this has provided a physical boost.
  • Obviously, the Tigers Offense will not be the same without a healthy Kerryon Johnson. His stiff arm against Alabama resulted in a shoulder injury. How bad is it? We will know soon.

Take a closer look at Auburn’s big victory over the Bulldogs a few weeks ago. Try and look past the line of scrimmage domination by Auburn for a moment. Georgia was in this game until it fell apart quickly in the 3rd quarter. The Mecole Hardman punt return fumble created a momentum swing that resulted in separation. Maybe this time will be different. And we won’t have to wait long to find out. More on The Buck & KIncade Show all week!

– Buck Belue
Co-Host of “Buck and Kincade”
Twitter: @buckbelue8

This Weekend’s “Rivalry Games” Will Be Intense!

It’s time to add another chapter to “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” And the Egg Bowl. Don’t forget about the Apple Cup. Or the Iron Bowl! Here we go, again. These “Rivalry Games” are intense!

The Bulldogs-Jackets football tradition goes way back to 1893 and it’s been turned up the last 3 years, as Georgia Tech has won twice. Obviously, Kirby Smart enters this one 0-1 against the Jackets and he is anxious to put this one in the win column. Bet he’s tired of hearing about losing last year.

The last time Georgia Tech beat Georgia at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta was 1999. Bet the Jackets are sick and tired of losing to the ‘Dogs at home. That’s embarrassing.

This year’s match-up features two quarterbacks who are enjoying breakout seasons; TaQuon Marshall and Jake Fromm have been nothing short of impressive, as first year starters.

Marshall is operating Paul Johnson’s option attack to a level similar to former Jackets QB Justin Thomas, so there has been little if no drop-off. TaQuon has been a dangerous runner and also is hitting the big-play in the passing game, taking shots downfield. I’ve been impressed.

Fromm has also delivered in his first season! Jake enters this game ranked #10 in QBR nationally. For a freshman, that is nothing short of amazing. He’s managing the offense beautifully (getting team out of a bad play & into a better play). He’s been accurate with the ball and most of the time outstanding maneuvering in the pocket. Fromm’s performance is a big reason why Georgia is in the CF Playoff mix.

It appears to me the big key to this GA-GT Showdown is this: Can the Jackets defense handle the Bulldogs running attack, which features Nick Chubb & Sony Michel, without committing extra players from the safety spot to help defend the run. Georgia Tech’s defensive line appears to be one that the Georgia O-Line can handle…and that’s bad news for Tech.

BRAVES HEAD IN NEW DIRECTION

New Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos talks with members of the media at the annual MLB baseball general managers’ meetings, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Braves new Executive VP and General Manger Alex Anthopoulos made a positive first impression this week, when introduced as the new man in charge. I was in the “Go Get Dayton Moore” camp, but this certainly looks like the next best thing. I’m encouraged and hopeful.

He sounded excited to be here and humbled by the opportunity. Braves Country must have been impressed! I know I was. After the press conference at SunTrust Park, Alex walked over to 680 The Fan studios and worked the room beautifully. He handled the interview on “Chuck & Chernoff” easily too. Looks like we’ve got a people person in charge now!

As he takes over, the organization is loaded with young prospects and it’s also positioned nicely with the increased operating revenue stream coming out of SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta. These two things got his attention quickly, during the interview process. Plus, it seems Stan Kasten spoke glowingly about the Braves organization, which had to assist Anthopoulos in going all in with the job chase.

Anthopoulos was beaming when he spoke of the minor league system. It’s loaded with good young talent and many of them are knocking at the door. This is a GM’s dream scenario. It gives them the ability to make some moves.

The Braves payroll level will also allow Alex Anthopoulus to shop some too! Reportedly there is some $30-40M to spend. Shopping big with someone else’s money has always been fun for MLB GM’s. Hopefully, he can lure in some help.

As I mentioned up top, I’m encouraged and hopeful that Alex Anthopoulus can help lift us out of mediocrity. Hart has been pushed into the Senior Advisor category. Coppy is gone. Terry McGuirk has apologized to the fan base. MLB will hand down penalties soon. Can brighter days be ahead? Let’s hope so. I’m tired of losing, like the old Braves.