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On Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James had a controversial touchdown catch overturned. He caught the ball, turned to lunge for the goal line, and made it across. The ball hit the ground, though, and moved as he reached out. That small movement was enough to have it ruled incomplete, even though he’d plucked it out of the air and then only lost it because he was trying to score.
It was similar to Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson’s apparent touchdown catch in 2010, against the Chicago Bears. Johnson leapt up to make the grab with just seconds remaining, caught the ball, landed, turned, fell so that his knee hit, and then reached out with the ball to brace himself on the ground. When he did so, the ball popped out. Johnson didn’t even try to grab it as the announcers went crazy; everyone watching that play thought it was a game-winning touchdown.
Then the refs blew the whistle, reviewed it, and said it didn’t count because he hadn’t controlled the ball all the way through the ground.
After watching James suffer the same fate, former Indianapolis Colts coach and Super Bowl champion Tony Dungy didn’t hold back.
“In trying to make the catch-no catch rule black and white for the officials after Calvin Johnson’s play in 2010 the NFL has made a mistake,” Dungy wrote. “Balls that EVERYONE thinks are catches are actually incomplete.”
For what it’s worth, the NFL appears to be enforcing the rule properly. Dungy’s argument is just that the rule is wrong. Anyone who sees those plays thinks they’re obviously catches for touchdowns. The rule defines them as heartbreaking incomplete passes. He thinks they should revise the rule, especially since games are literally being decided based on these replay overturns.
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Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn and the rest of the millionaire coaches club must pay plenty of attention to recruiting right now, but it’s not all focused on high school prospects.
There’s also the notion of current players deciding whether to jump early to the NFL.
The top candidate, of course, is Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
Auburn’s workhorse back emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate, despite missing two early games with hamstring injury, and ran for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged an SEC-best 120 yards rushing per game, but is now battling rib and shoulder injuries sustained in the Iron Bowl.
Johnson’s decision on whether to stay in college or head early to the NFL has major implications for Auburn’s football program. Running back Kamryn Pettway, who missed all of 2017 with an injury, seems destined to turn pro.
So, if Johnson and Pettway head to the NFL, would that decimate Auburn’s running game? Would the Tigers be required to turn to true freshman Asa Martin? Should Malzahn lobby Johnson to stay for another college season or head to the NFL, knowing the short shelf life for NFL running backs?
As practices began this week for Alabama and Auburn and both teams preparing for bowl games on Jan. 1, the questions surrounding Johnson and other standout underclassmen will intensify.
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to file declaration papers with the league, so players have less than a month to make a final decision.