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Chad Pennington moves to the booth

Miami Dolphins' Quarterback Chad Pennington si...

Chad Pennington. Image via Wikipedia

For the last two weeks, the day job had me at Wayfarer Camp, so I wasn’t able to keep up with NFL news. One of the items I missed was the fact that Chad Pennington is leaving the field – at least for a year – to move to the announcing booth with Fox. Below are some thoughts on the move; you can see how Pennington’s addition compares to other announcing moves in this updated post.

Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on what was Fox’s No. 5 team last year. It’s actually a pretty plum gig for Pennington – he leaps over recent retirees Trent Green, John Lynch, and Kurt Warner on Fox’s depth chart, falling below only Brian Billick and Jim Mora among recent additions. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. It’s unclear at this point whether Tim Ryan, Rosen’s former partner, will return to Fox. With Charles Davis moving to college games, Ryan could join the three-man booth with analyst Jim Mora. But Fox would be wise to keep Ryan, who isn’t a high profile name but who has consistently provided great analysis in his nine years with the network.

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NFL announcing move: Gus Johnson moves to Fox

gus-johnson

Over the weekend, we posted the opening paragraphs of our comparison of new and moved announcers for the NFL 2011 season. This week, another couple of announcers moved, as Gus Johnson left CBS for Fox, where he will be teamed with Charles Davis on Fox’s growing college football coverage. Below are some thoughts on the move; the comparison will connect it to other announcing moves.

Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, mainly at the end of the year. That leaves Dick Stockton and 2010 rookie Jim Mora without Davis, which should be OK, and could mean that a solid team like Thom Brenneman/Brian Billick or Sam Rosen/Tim Ryan moves up the ranks. Meanwhile, on CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.

(One extraneous thought that I tweeted: Attention @nbaontnt – Gus Johnson is available for next year’s playoffs. And Dick Stockton even older for next year’s playoffs. Just sayin’)

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FR: New and moved announcers for 2011

Each year, we compare the national TV announcers that enter the NFL business or find new gigs. We will do this using our Football Relativty scale, with 10 being the moves we like best, and 1 being the move that matters least. We’ll add to this comparison as more moves are announced.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via blog.49ers.com

10 – Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football – Once again, the NFL Network revamped its announcing duo, but this time the network got it right. Mayock is NFLN’s franchise player as a draft analyst, and he proved his game analyst chops last year doing Notre Dame games on NBC. Mayock then went on to do one NFL game, the playoff game between the Saints and Seahawks, and his serious approach and insight into game strategy and trends was enlightening. He’ll be a massive improvement over ex-NFLN analysts Joe Theismann, who tends to be a blowhard and falls victim to a disturbing inattention to detail, and Matt Millen, a good analyst who tended to be brought down by Theismann’s act. Mayock works with Brad Nessler, a play-by-play vet who has done mostly college football for ESPN (among other sports) but has had a couple of NFL cameos on the opening-week Monday night doubleheaders. Nessler has a more authoritative voice than former play-by-play man Bob Papa, who merited staying over but won’t get the chance. Still, the Nessler/Mayock pairing feels like a big-time booth, which is something the NFLN has never hit on because of massive weak spots like Theismann or, before him, Bryant Gumbel.

9 – Kurt Warner, NFL Network – Warner, who called a few lower-level games for Fox last season, is moving to NFL Network full time to be a part of GameDay Morning each Sunday, as well as the network’s pre- and post-game for Thursday night games. That job fits Warner better than game analyst, because it will allow him to speak to macro issues and express his thoughtfulness. Plus, Warner adds a new dimension to a pre-game show that doesn’t have a quarterback on it right now. Warner should become a long-time fixture on NFLN, and he gives the network a fourth Hall of Fame caliber player with Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin (both already in) and Warren Sapp. It looks to be a great fit.

9 (con’t) – Bill Parcells, ESPN – Parcells has bounced between the NFL and broadcasting for nearly two decades now, and he’s proven that he’s an excellent analyst. Now he joins ESPN and jumps onto the Sunday NFL Countdown show. He’ll immediately become a key contributor, because his keen eye for talent and presentation makes him more valuable than fellow ex-coach Mike Ditka. Parcells will also get a draft confidential special and a Super Bowl confidential special, and he’s proven that such shows can be the equivalent of Jon Gruden’s QB camp in terms of insight. Parcells is a TV star, and he’ll be a huge asset to ESPN’s pregame show lineup.

8 – Marv Albert, CBS – Albert is best known for being the voice of the NBA for NBC, TNT, and also the Knicks and Nets, but he has a long legacy of calling NFL games. For nearly two decades, Albert was an NBC play-by-play announcer, spending most of them in the high-profile No. 2 position for the network. But his high-profile personal issues cost him that job in 1997. Albert returned to calling NFL games for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football and playoff radio broadcasts in 2002, and he has called 10 Super Bowls for that network. Now Albert returns to the NFL with CBS, whom he first worked for after the network teamed with TNT to broadcast the NCAA tournament this spring. Albert has a big-time and distinctive voice, and his long history calling games will immediately add depth to the CBS bench. The question is whether Albert will slip into the CBS lineup in Gus Johnson’s former No. 5 spot, or whether he’ll jump a younger voice like Kevin Harlan or Ian Eagle. Given how old CBS’s game-calling crews are as a whole, moving Albert up too high would be a mistake. CBS needs to develop and feature younger voices like Eagle and Spero Dedes more prominently. But if Albert  stays in a mid-tier role, he’s certainly as good as a replacement for Johnson as was available.

7 – none

6 – Chad Pennington, Fox – Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on Fox’s seventh team. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. Rosen’s old teammate, Tim Ryan, is now with Chris Myers on the No. 5 team as Fox shuffles its lineup.

6 (con’t) – Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, Fox – Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, filling in on eight-game weeks for Fox. On CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.

5 – Jerry Rice, ESPN – ESPn hired Rice, perhaps the greatest player ever, to serve as an analyst for NFL Live, SportsCenter, and the Thursday night Audibles show. It’s an interesting move. Rice is one of the best players ever, but can he translate his expertise into succinct analysis? Many have tried and failed. Still, it’s worth the gamble for ESPN to add someone with Rice’s pedigree. If he works out, it’s a coup; if he doesn’t, he’s still Jerry Rice, which counts for something for the viewer. And since ESPN is easing him in, Rice will have the best opportunity to succeed.

4 – Hugh Douglas, ESPN – Since his retirement in 2004, the former pass-rush specialist has been an engaging and sometimes controversial commentator in the Philadelphia market. Now he moves to the national scene, joining ESPN as a studio analyst who’ll be used on SportsCenter, NFL Live, First Take, ESPN News, and other platforms. It’s not ESPN’s glamour job, but Douglas should get plenty of air time in the role. He’ll definitely make an impression, and his willingness to call out players and coaches will make him memorable. Don’t be surprised if Douglas earns a promotion at ESPN before too long.

4 – Josina Anderson, ESPN – Anderson made a splash as a reporter for the Fox affiliate in Denver, consistently breaking national stories from a local beat. That’s not easy to do, and it led her to a correspondent role on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Now she moves to ESPN, where she’ll be an NFL reporter with chops. This is a deserved call-up to the national scene.

3 – Eric Mangini, ESPN – Mangini also joins the World Wide Leader as a studio analyst. He worked for ESPN during last year’s playoff run, bringing insight to the Jets/Patriots matchup since he is a Bill Belichick disciple and a former Jets head coach. We’re always all for hiring recently fired coaches, because they see the league in ways few others can. The question is whether Mangini can take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that fans understand and enjoy. Mangini won’t have the big personality of other former coaches turned broadcasters like Herman Edwards or Brian Billick, but like a Jim Mora, he should be able to make some keen insights. It’s a nice addition for ESPN.

3 (con’t) – Damien Woody, ESPN – Woody, who retired this offseason, also latches on with ESPN as an NFL studio analyst. The fact that Woody played all across the offensive line will add to his credibility, and being in the league up through last year helps as well. But Woody must establish his personality pretty quickly so that he’s not lost in the forest of ESPN’s uber-deep analyst roster (which did trim Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn).

3 (con’t) – Heath Evans, NFL Network – Evans retired during training camp and landed with NFL Network. He has experience playing for both the Saints and Patriots, which means he should bring good insight to two of this year’s contenders. He also has an outspoken personality that should help him make a mark. While he wasn’t a big name as a player, Evans has a nice future in television.

2 – Rodney Harrison, NFL Network – Harrison isn’t leaving his high-profile studio job at NBC; he’s merely adding midweek responsibilities with NFL Network. From our perspective, that’s a great thing – we always want to see more of Harrison.

1 – Michelle Tafoya, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – Tafoya has long been a fixture as a sideline reporter, most recently with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Now she moves to Sunday nights to work with the crew that she did MNF with back in 2004-05. Tafoya is a professional, and she adds good information on the sidelines without devolving into the prepackaged stories that so many other sideliners do. As MNF lessened the duties of its sideline reporters, it makes sense for Tafoya to find a more prominent role. It’s unclear at this point whether Tafoya is joining or replacing current SNF sideliner Andrea Kramer.

1 (con’t) – Alex Flanagan, NFL Network – Flanagan replaces Tafoya as the sideline reporter on NFL Network’s Thursday night games. Flanagan has proven to be a terrific sideliner doing NBC Notre Dame games, as well an NBC playoff game last year, and she’s also a NFL Network host. That makes her a perfect fit for an enhanced role.

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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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