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FR: New and moved NFL announcers for ’09

There’s been quite a bit of turnover on the NFL announcing scheme for the 2009 season. Among the changes:

*Fox is adding John Lynch (No. 6 team), Trent Green (No. 7 team), and Charles Davis (No. 3 team) as full-time game analysts, replacing Brian Baldinger, Tony Boselli, and J.C. Pearson
*NBC is adding Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison to Football Night in America, replacing Jerome Bettis and Cris Collinsworth
*Collinsworth moves to NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth to replace John Madden
*ESPN’s Monday Night Football replaced Tony Kornheiser with Jon Gruden
*NFL Network replaces Collinsworth for its late-season games with Matt Millen
*Info man Adam Schefter moves from NFL Network to ESPN
*Former Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi, ex-Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks, and former WR Drew Bennett join ESPN as studio analysts
*Former Rams head coach Mike Martz, Hall of Fame WR Michael Irvin, and info man Jason La Canfora join NFL Network

So how do these new voices (in new roles) compare to each other? Sounds like a relativity comparison to me. 10 is the guy whom we think will be best in his new role; 1 is for the guy who we anticipate struggling the most.

10 – Cris Collinsworth, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – We’ve already written about how Collinsworth is the best game analyst around. Now he’ll get to strut his stuff not on NFL Network’s limited platform but on the marquee stage of Sunday Night Football. He’s more than ready and more than able to become the league’s most authoritative announcing voice.

9 – Charles Davis, Fox – Davis was a no-name before Fox started using him as the color announcer for the BCS national championship game a few years ago, but he’s incredibly good. With Fox soon losing the BCS, it makes sense for them to move Davis onto their NFL roster. He’s going to be on the No. 3 team, which is a huge complement to his ability. The only strange thing is that Davis never made it in the NFL, and so he’ll be commenting on something outside of his experience. But he’s so polished that it won’t end up mattering in the end.

8 – Rodney Harrison, NBC’s Football Night in America – Harrison is a straight shooter who isn’t afraid to step on anyone’s toes (and actually might enjoy doing so). He’ll bring an edge to a show that was bland last year with the always-jovial Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber, who has TV teeth but the charisma of a carp. (OK, that’s mean. Sorry.) Harrison and Tony Dungy will be an interesting counterbalance as analysts.

7 – Adam Schefter, ESPN – A long time ago, Schefter was the Broncos’ correspondent for PFW, and I spoke to him weekly. (Random fact: He’s the reason I know what gefilte fish is. As Terrell Davis put it in a column Schefter wrote for PFW, it’s the hot dogs of fish. Just try to forget that.) Schefter definitely knows his stuff and has great sources. The only question is whether he’ll get lost in the shuffle among ESPN’s other info men Chris Mortensen, John Clayton, Ed Werder, and whoever else comes across the crawl.

6 – none

5 – Jon Gruden, ESPN’s Monday Night Football – My initial thoughts about Gruden’s hiring were positive, but the question of what Gruden’s style is going to be still lingers in my head. If he’s honest and direct, he’ll be great. But if he’s out to avoid making enemies so that he can land his next coaching job, he’ll end up being disappointing. For some reason, I’m getting a hunch that the latter may be true. I guess we’ll see.

4 – Tony Dungy, NBC’s Football Night in America – Dungy is respected, and he definitely knows his stuff. I only wonder if he has enough energy to jump off the TV screen. Maybe Dungy’s likability will translate, and if it does NBC will really have something with him and Harrison. But if Dungy comes across as bland, then it won’t really work.

4 (con’t) –  Trent Green, Fox – Green has shown a lot of promise as an announcer in his offseason studio appearances, but you never know how that will translate into game announcing. I’m a little afraid that Green will end up like Rich Gannon, who had similar promise right after retirement but hasn’t really been spectacular as an announcer. For now, we’ll give Green the benefit of the doubt and take a listen, but to excel he’ll have to translate his knowledge of the game and likability into the short bursts he’ll speak between plays. The fact that Green can ease in on Fox’s No. 7 team helps; if he’s good, he should be able to move up some. But Fox has new depth with Davis and Brian Billick emerging the last two years as supersolid No. 3 and No. 4 guys.

4 (con’t) – Michael Irvin, NFL Network postgame – Irvin was a bust as an ESPN analyst because his aggressive bluster was too often baseless or just silly. But he’s improved over the past few years on his radio show in Dallas, and he may be ready once again for a studio shot on NFL Network’s postgame coverage. Perhaps the discipline of having to defend himself to sports-radio callers will make Irvin defend his points better and turn his bluster into opinions that are still strong but more defendable. If so, he can be a big plus for the league-owned outlet.

3 – Matt Millen, NFL Network – Millen, who will also be a college football game analyst and studio analyst for ESPN, was once the best Xs and Os analyst on television. When I covered the Panthers, I would make sure to tape games Millen was doing so that I could hear his analysis of the team. He was that good. But the question is whether viewers will be able to forget his stinkbomb of a tenure as Detroit’s GM and take him seriously. That will definitely be a barrier in year one, but hopefully Millen’s broadcasting prowess will repair the perception he has at large.

3 (con’t) – Tedy Bruschi, ESPN studio shows – Bruschi, who played in four Super Bowls and won three as a linebacker in New England over 13 years, is staying in the region by landing at ESPN as a studio analyst for its various midweek shows. Bruschi will bring a current knowledge of the league and an inside knowledge of its most inscrutable team, the Patriots, which are both assets. But for Bruschi to thrive, he’s going to have show the personality of recent ESPN hire Marcellus Wiley or the no-holds-barred criticism of ESPN’s Trent Dilfer and Steve Young. If he’s just another talking head, he won’t stand out on a massive roster of analysts, and that’s a recipe for a short tenure.

3 (con’t) – Derrick Brooks, ESPN – Brooks still wants to play, but until he finds a fit on the field he’s landed at ESPN. Brooks will start out on ESPN2’s First Take, filling a role that Jamal Anderson, Kordell Stewart, Lomas Brown, and Ray Buchanan have had in the past. Brooks is smart, and his recent playing experience will lead to good insights and stories, but he’ll have to turn his likability into humor and chatter if he’s going to succeed in the morning-showish First Take model. Brooks probably will work better in the NFL Live/SportsCenter type of shows eventually, but you get the sense that ESPN wanted to add him where it could when he was available.

2 – John Lynch, Fox – This ranking isn’t really a slam against Lynch – it’s more of an indication of how strong the other new announcers are, as well as the prominent roles they have. Lynch will be on Fox’s No. 6 team, so he has a chance to do some games and make a name for himself. I didn’t hear Lynch in his cameos last year, so for now I can only hope that he has some upside.

2 (con’t) – Jason La Canfora, NFL Network studio shows – La Canfora, a former Washington Post reporter, takes Adam Schefter’s old spot as the NFL Network’s insider. He has big shoes to fill, because Schefter is aggressive and connected, and there’s no way that La Canfora can jump into the role immediately at the same level as Schefter.

2 (con’t) – Drew Bennett, ESPN studio shows – Bennett, who had success as a wideout in Tennessee before flaming out as a high-dollar free agent in St. Louis, retired after a one-day stop in Baltimore in training camp this year. He doesn’t have the star power or the Q rating that ESPN’s other studio additions, Tedy Bruschi and Derrick Brooks, have, and so Bennett will have to do more to make an impact on the airwaves. It’s possible – just ask Tim Hasselbeck – but it’s an uphill climb in the most crowded analyst environment in the media.

1 – Mike Martz, NFL Network’s Total Access – Martz established a reputation as an offensive guru from his time with the Rams before less successful tenures as a coordinator in Detroit and San Francisco. He now leaves the coaching ranks and joins NFL Network’s studio show on Thursday and Friday nights. Martz certainly knows his stuff, but I question two things about him as a broadcaster. First, can he present his knowledge in a palatable form? And second, will his prickly personality make him seem like a know-it-all? Maybe he’ll be a revelation, but I just can’t see him as an identifiable breakout broadcaster.

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FR: NFL game announcers

With apologies to the great Dr. Z, who for years did a far better version of this, I thought I’d put the NFL announcers on the relativity scale. 10 is the best, 1 is the worst.

I also omitted several teams that I just didn’t hear this year, because I didn’t use Dr. Z’s 4-VCR system. Those teams included: Solomon Wilcots/Ian Eagle; Steve Tasker/Gus Johnson; John Lynch/Chris Rose; any of the NFL network teams.

10- Cris Collinsworth/Al Michaels or Tom Hammond, NBC – He is the gold standard of announcers today. Interesting in the studio or in his occasional on-game appearances. What separates him is that he’s not afraid to criticize players, which isn’t always the case with other announcers. He’ll be a worthy successor to John Madden when Madden steps down.

9-  Brian Billick/Thom Brennaman, Fox – (Billick also worked with Brian Baldinger and Dick Stockton in a 3-man booth at times.) Back when I was at PFW, Billick was the gold standard of assistant coach interviews, because he knew what he was talking about and he was interesting as he talked. Nothing has changed in 10 years. This guy is great in the booth. He explains things thoroughly but in an approachable manner. Plus, he has at least a little bit of an edge. I wish he had been in the booth with Troy Aikman for Fox’s playoff games, because he would have added an extra something that Fox hasn’t had since Collinsworth was in that booth.

8 –  John Madden, Al Michaels, NBC – I’ve been down on Madden in recent years, but I thought he took a step back up this season. He still sees things on first glance that most analysts don’t see until the replay. And his excitement at the end of the Super Bowl showed that he still loves the game. Madden still veers into being a caricature of himself at times, but when he’s on the game he’s still one of the best.

7-Troy Aikman/Joe Buck, Fox – While many on the internet are anti-Buck, I’m in the pro camp. He gets a little preachy at times, and he can be too storyline driven, but he’s very willing to be combative in the booth, and his smarmy sense of humor works for me. He has big game chops, too. Aikman would be best in a 3-man booth, because his personality still comes off kind of bland at times. But Aikman makes decent points and has credibility. The bottom line is that I’d rather a big game be on Fox than CBS, which means these guys are on a level above the Simms/Nantz crew.

6- Brian Baldinger/Dick Stockton, Fox (sometimes with Brian Billick) – Baldinger is a solid broadcaster who seems to see just a bit more than the typical announcer, and because of that he’s overcome an obscure profile as a player to move up to Fox’s No. 3 team. This team knows how to handle a good game, even though Stockton isn’t as precise as I would prefer. When Billick joined this team, it took things to a whole other level. Were Fox to take my advice, they’d put Baldinger and Billick with Kenny Albert on its No. 2 team and move the Moose and Goose combination down to No. 3.

5- Phil Simms/Jim Nantz, CBS – I don’t know why, but this team just doesn’t do it for me. Simms seems to be kind of a master of the obvious at times, and Nantz tries to figure things out, out loud and then comes off like he thinks he’s a genius when he does. They had great games to broadcast this year, but this team just didn’t convey the emotional feel of the big game with their words or tones. It’s time for CBS to do better with its No. 1 team.

5 (con’t) Ron Jaworski/Tony Kornheiser/Mike Tirico, ESPN – I want to like this team; I really do. But this team doesn’t reach the like level for me. Maybe it’s the over-saturation of Jaworski, who’s on PTI weekly, on ESPN radio multiple times weekly, and more. I know Jaws does as much prep as any analyst, but he comes across as condescending at times. Plus, given his amount of research, he spends a lot of time stating the obvious. I admire Jaworski’s work, but I don’t like it. Kornheiser doesn’t add much to the team. I like the idea of having someone on a team to bring humor and ask questions about what’s going on, but the niche just isn’t defined enough for Kornheiser to truly be an asset to this group. I think this trio can work, but for it to do so, Kornhesier’s role must be clearer from the outset, and Jaws must hold back a little during the week so he has his best stuff on Mondays.

5 (con’t) – Tim Ryan/Sam Rosen. I’ve always thought Rosen was one of the underrated NFL play-by-play guys, and Ryan is serviceable. This team doesn’t get the prime games, but it does a decent job with the games it has.  Teams like this are why Fox has a lot more announcing depth than CBS does.

4 – Daryl Johnston/Tony Siragusa/Kenny Albert, Fox – I really want this team to work, because I like the innovative approach of having one analyst in the booth and one on the field. But this Moose and Goose combination isn’t clicking on all cylinders. Unfortunately, Siragusa (who is on the sidelines) too often tries to simply be funny instead of bringing insights. Johnston, like his ex-teammate Aikman, tends toward the bland side at times as well. I believe a similar-shaped team with a different former lineman (such as Mark Schlereth or Mike Golic) on the field and someone like Billick in the booth would work. But the concept just isn’t working that well as it stands here. Fox does get credit for putting Albert here on its No. 2 team instead of Stockton.

4 (con’t) -Randy Cross/Dan Fouts/Dick Enberg, CBS – This was a weird team to listen to. I don’t think Cross brings much beyond ordinary to a game, and Fouts is occasionally OK but rarely better than that. The problem was that they sound a lot alike, and so it was hard to distinguish who was talking when. It was just a strange combo that didn’t meld.  A nice try by CBS to do something different (which I’m all for), but ultimately it didn’t really work.

4 (con’t) – Tony Boselli/Ron Pitts, Fox – This is another decent but not great Fox team that doesn’t add a ton but doesn’t take anything away from a game either. Pitts is a former player who was better as an analyst than he is on play-by-play. That’s the only reason this team falls below the Ryan/Rosen duo.

4 (con’t) – Steve Beuerlein/Bill Macatee, CBS – I wanted to give a shoutout to Beuerlein, whom I covered when he was with the Panthers. For falling where he does on CBS’s food chain, Beuerlein does a nice job. In fact, I would propose that he and Rich Gannon should probably switch spots in the CBS hierarchy. Beuerlein also does college games for CBS well.

3 – J.C. Pearson/Matt Vasgersian, Fox – I like Vasgersian, but Pearson isn’t quite at the level as Tim Ryan or some of the other Fox announcers.  I do like the fact that Fox has given some guys who didn’t have major NFL profiles a chance, but Pearson is the one person on the roster who could pretty easily be replaced. Still, he’s better than some of the options CBS has given a mic to.

2- Rich Gannon/Kevin Harlan, CBS – This ranking pains me because I’m a Kevin Harlan fan (I wish he or Gus Johnson did the Final 4 instead of Jim Nantz), but Rich Gannon just doesn’t add a lot to a broadcast to me. He makes simple, obvious points but not much more. Gannon was thought of as a potential broadcasting star when he entered the game a couple of years back, but it seems that star has dimmed, and he’s destined to be little more than a mid-level game announcer. That’s frankly about right given his performance.

1- Dan Dierdorf/Greg Gumbel, CBS – Dierdorf is still a broadcasting star, but it’s been many years since he was on Monday Night Football, and he’s lost his fastball. He loves making grand pronouncements about the simplest things, and all that pontificating gets old fast. It’s hard to make it through a 3-hour game listening to Dierdorf anymore. If he wants to stay in the game, he needs to move down the ladder instead of taking up space as CBS’ No. 2 color guy.

To conclude, a few overarching thoughts: CBS needs to do better with its roster of announcers. It’s No.1  team just isn’t special, and its No. 2 and 3 teams have guys (Dierdorf, Cross) who to be honest have passed their prime. Plus, the No. 4 team depends on Gannon, who hasn’t delivered on his potential. Fox’s No. 2 team is lacking, but its top team is basically working, and it found a superstar in Billick this year. Also, Fox’s 3-4-5 teams all bring something to the table, and if John Lynch delivers next year, they will have tremendous depth. Sunday Night Football is getting it right, while Monday Night Football needs some work. And the NFL network should be thanking its lucky stars that Collinsworth likes working so much, because he adds instant credibility to those broadcasts.

Let me know what you think by leaving  a comment. And do you want to see a studio analyst relativity piece? That’ll have to come by popular demand…

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Filed under Football Relativity, NFL announcers