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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kampman earns NFC award



December 27, 2006

DEFENSE: DE AARON KAMPMAN, GREEN BAY PACKERS
Playing in front of a national audience on Thursday night, Kampman helped the Packers stay alive in the NFC playoff hunt as Green Bay defeated the Minnesota Vikings 9-7. Kampman had a team-best seven tackles, tied his career-high with 3.0 sacks and added a game-high four quarterback hurries. The Packers defense held Minnesota to three first downs and 104 total net yards, including just 27 net passing yards. The five-year veteran had 2.0 sacks in the first half, both on third-down plays that forced the Vikings to punt. Kampman's third sack came on Minnesota's final drive of the game with 1:28 remaining and the Packers holding on to a two-point lead. For the year, Kampman ties for the NFL lead with a career-best 15½ sacks, the third-highest single-season total in franchise history.

In his fifth year from Iowa, this is Kampman's second career Player of the Week Award and second this season (Week 8). Kampman joins Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White (1998) as the only Packers to win defensive honors twice in the same season.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Driver, Kampman say aloha to Pro Bowl



December 20, 2006

By JASON WILDE

GREEN BAY — Given where they came from, it’s apropos that defensive end Aaron Kampman and wide receiver Donald Driver will be traveling to Hawaii together. After all, the Green Bay Packers’ two Pro Bowl selections followed similar paths to their berths in the NFL’s all-star game Feb. 10.

Neither Driver, a seventh-round pick from Alcorn State in 1999, nor Kampman, a fifth-round pick from Iowa in 2002, was invited to the NFL scouting combine before the draft. Both used remarkable work ethics to go from being second-day selections as rookies to starters not long after. And each of them responded to receiving his biggest financial payday this offseason by being even more productive.

“I guess it says that hard work does pay off,” Kampman said.


Both players were voted in for the first time, although Driver will be making his second appearance, having gone in 2002 as an alternate. Cornerback Al Harris, linebacker Nick Barnett and quarterback Brett Favre were the Packers’ only alternates.

Driver, who enters Thursday night’s game against Minnesota at Lambeau Field tied for third in the NFC with 80 catches and leading the NFC in receiving yards with 1,173, said the selection validates his status as one of the league’s premier wideouts after he was passed over in favor of then-teammate Javon Walker in 2004, when Driver caught 84 passes for 1,208 yards and nine touchdowns, and he wasn’t even an alternate last year, when he set career highs in receptions (86) and yards (1,221).

“The last two years I felt like I should have gone,” said Driver, who joins fellow backup Anquan Boldin of Arizona and starters Torry Holt of St. Louis and Steve Smith of Carolina as the wide receivers on the NFC squad. “I think (in terms of) national attention, I haven’t earned it yet. I still have a ways to go. And I think that’s why I play with a grudge on my shoulder.”

What’s most impressive is Driver, who signed a four-year, $17 million extension in May, and Kampman, who signed a four-year, $21 million deal in March, elevated their games after getting paid. Driver is on pace for 91 catches for 1,340 yards this year, while Kampman’s NFC-leading 12½ sacks have already shattered his previous best of 6½, set last year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pro Bowl votes overlook some deserving candidates



December 19, 2006

Don Banks

Mike Vrabel, New England, linebacker -- For my money, Vrabel is the glue that holds the Patriots defense together, and perennially one of the most underrated playmakers in the league. He is one of the few linebackers who can handle both the inside and outside position, as he has proven once again in taking over for the injured Junior Seau at inside linebacker.

Vrabel has three interceptions, 3½ sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, but that doesn't measuring his full value to the Patriots, who rely on him to handle so many responsibilities in their 3-4 scheme. Watch Vrabel compared to the more celebrated Tedy Bruschi at this point in their careers, and it's easy to see who's the more consistent performer.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Tide Moves Forward with Coaching Search



December 9, 2006

Christopher Walsh


TUSCALOOSA | While no one would have blamed Mal Moore had he decided to get an early start on the weekend after Rich Rodriguez turned down an offer to become the next football coach at the University of Alabama, the athletics director was back working in his office Friday afternoon.

Moore was expected to consult with headhunter Chuck Neinas and reconnect with potential candidates to measure interest.

As for where the search may go from here, only Moore knows for sure, and other than issuing a release Friday, reiterating that there’s no set timetable for filling the position, he maintained his silence.

However, all options are now open to consideration, even though some of the external circumstances have changed.

For example, the closer the search gets to the end of the NFL season (Dec. 31), the higher the likelihood a serious candidate could emerge from the pros.

One person Alabama has looked into is Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who had previous stints in Houston (2002-04) and Indianapolis (1999-01). He was also Nick Saban’s assistant head coach (1998) and defensive line coach (1996-98) at Michigan State, and spent six years as an assistant at his alma mater, Virginia Tech.

Otherwise, expect many of the same names that have been circulating over the past 12 days, including Cal’s Jeff Tedford and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who said no to Miami last week, to resurface in the rumor mills.

While Alabama was wooing South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban of the Miami Dolphins and Rodriguez, other schools were doing everything they could to make sure their coaches wouldn’t be lured away.

For example, Navy coach Paul Johnson, who was a candidate this week to take over at North Carolina State before the school settled on Boston College coach Tom O’Brien, is reportedly close to getting a sizable raise that would bump his incentive-laden salary to nearly $1.8 million.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Johnson’s six-year contract, which includes an annual, incentive-based rollover clause that will kick in Jan. 1, currently is worth about $1.3 million per year.

“Contract tenure and competitive compensation for Paul and his staff are never taken for granted," Navy athletics director Chet Gladchuk said in a statement. “It is readdressed every year to be certain we are appropriately expressing our appreciation for a job well done. A rollover of his contract continues to be an annual event and with it comes a number of commitments and conditions that provide Paul and his family the opportunity to remain at the Academy for the rest of his career and I have no reason to believe that will not be the case."

“With all the Internet and media rumors, I felt like it was important to formally address my continued commitment to the Naval Academy," Johnson said. “Despite media reports to the contrary, I never talked to officials at any school and I want to reiterate that my family and I are very happy at the Naval Academy and we are looking forward to continued success here at Navy."

Jim Grobe of Wake Forest is in the fourth year of a 10-year contract that nets him approximately $1 million a season. Athletics director Ron Wellman has said the school was “discussing" ways to enhance Grobe’s contract, and the coach has denied being a candidate anywhere else.

“I’m perfectly happy at Wake Forest," he said last week. “I think some people like having their names floated all over the place. I’ve been around long enough that it has no appeal for me. I couldn’t be happier. I’m not only happy with this football team and the staff and our families are happy, but I’m happy with where we’re headed."

The two biggest wild cards in the search are, of course, Neinas and the agents of various coaches.

Although one of the main reasons for hiring a consultant is to avoid what happened Friday -- being publicly turned down by a coach -- earlier this week Neinas helped both Miami and North Carolina State wrap up their coaching searches, and he was given an award for his contributions to the National College Football Awards Association.

As for the agents, Alabama’s first two targets, Spurrier and Saban, are represented by Jimmy Sexton of Athletic Resource Management in Memphis, who also has Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville, Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer and Arkansas’ Houston Nutt as clients, along with former Miami coach Larry Coker, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech and Bill Parcells of the Dallas Cowboys.

Another prominent agent for coaches is Neil Cornrich of NC Sports, based in Cleveland, Ohio, who incidentally represents the new coaches at Miami and North Carolina State – Randy Shannon and Tom O’Brien.

Two of Cornrich’s top prospects are Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.

Last year, Bielema signed a five-year, $4 million contract that pays $750,000 a season. It has no out clause, but Bielema would have to pay $1 million to terminate the contract before Jan. 31, and $500,000 the following year.

Grantham and Pelini were top candidates for the recent Michigan State opening, and Pelini’s name is being mentioned with Arizona State.

Houston Texans assistant coach Mike Sherman is interested in both Alabama and Boston College.

According to a source close to Bob Stoops, he’s not looking to leave Oklahoma. Stoops makes more than $3 million a year and will receive a $3 million bonus if he remains the Sooners’ coach through the 2008 season.

However, the same source indicated his brother Mike, who helped turn Arizona around faster than expected, might have an interest.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

USA Today: Boston College's O'Brien close to deal with North Carolina State



Updated 12/7/2006 6:06 PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State didn't need to go far to find a new football coach. In fact, the school didn't even have to leave its own division in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

N.C. State is set to hire Boston College's Tom O'Brien and is working out final details of a contract, a university official said Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a contract has not been approved by the school's board of trustees, whose personnel committee has scheduled a teleconference for Friday.

Once a deal is complete and O'Brien changes addresses, it will add spice to a division rivalry that began when Boston College became the ACC's 12th member before the 2005 season. This year, N.C. State beat Boston College when first-time starter Daniel Evans threw the winning touchdown pass with 8.5 seconds left in a 17-15 victory.

O'Brien's move to Raleigh would mark only the second time in league history that a football coach left one ACC school to lead another in the next season, the league said. The other time came when Jim Tatum moved from Maryland to North Carolina in 1956.

The SEC went through such an unusual move when football coach Tommy Tuberville left Mississippi to take over at Auburn after the 1998 season.

"I think (the fans) were upset because whatever school you're a fan of, you think that's the greatest one in the world and cannot imagine anyone leaving to go to another school," Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone said. "And so when they do, it's kind of like getting a divorce — and them taking the children."

The Southeastern, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences don't have policies in place regarding the movement of coaches from one school in the conference to another, the leagues said Thursday. A spokesman from the Big East Conference said there have been no in-league football coaching moves in its history.

In the Big Ten, Purdue women's basketball coach Sharon Versyp moved from the same job at Indiana after one season. Conference spokesman Scott Chipman noted that there had been rumors that Steve Alford would leave Iowa to return to his alma mater at Indiana, but the switch never occurred.

But Boone said some schools, including Ole Miss, include contract provisions that make a coach's buyout higher if they leave for a conference competitor.

"The reason for that is the recruiting angle that can be leveraged against you," Boone said.

Whether N.C. State is dealing with such a provision is unknown. Wolfpack athletics director Lee Fowler did not returns calls to his office Thursday, while Neil Cornrich — O'Brien's attorney of more than a decade — declined to comment on the reports when reached at his office Thursday in Beachwood, Ohio.

Boston College officials did not return multiple calls seeking comment, although a spokesman issued a statement Thursday acknowledging the reports.

"As you are no doubt aware, reports surfaced out of North Carolina yesterday afternoon and evening that N.C. State had (or would) offer Tom O'Brien its vacant head football coaching position," spokesman Chris Cameron said in an e-mail.

"If and when N.C. State makes an announcement involving coach O'Brien, Boston College will respond accordingly. Meanwhile, Boston College has no comment on the situation."

Several broadcasters and websites, citing unidentified sources, reported Wednesday night that N.C. State had hired O'Brien to replace the fired Chuck Amato. San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers — a four-year starter who left N.C. State as the school's career passing leader — told the North County (Calif.) Times on Wednesday that O'Brien was the choice.

O'Brien led the Eagles to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the Meineke Bowl against Navy later this month. He dismissed rumors linking him to other coaching openings in a statement this week and told the Boston Globe, when reached at home Wednesday night, that he had received no official offer.

"Any announcement has to come out of North Carolina," he said.

N.C. State fired Amato — a former Wolfpack linebacker — the day after his team closed the season with seven straight losses to finish 3-9. Amato was 49-37 and led the Wolfpack to five bowl games in seven seasons, but he went 25-31 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and never finished higher than fourth.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

USA Today Discusses Performance Bonuses, Cornrich Comments



Ka-ching! Coaches rack up rewards this week

November 29, 2006
By Michael McCarthy and Jodi Upton, USA TODAY


College football coaches will be playing a game within their final regular-season games this weekend: the pursuit of millions of dollars of performance bonuses built into their employment contracts.

Nearly every coach receives an array of incentives for leading his team to a bowl game, winning a conference championship or landing a berth in one of the five big-money Bowl Championship Series games in January, according to USA TODAY's analysis of their deals.

Agent Neil Cornrich of NC Sports says: "Head coaches are the CEOs of their companies. Bonuses allow coaches to share in the added value they create with superior performance."

Coaches coach to win games, says Boise State's Chris Petersen, whose team has completed a 12-0 regular season and almost surely will be included in the BCS when its matchups are announced Sunday. Bonuses, he adds, are gravy. "It's not like you're going to coach any harder," he says. "I guess it's just the American way."

Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich — whose coach, Bobby Petrino, has the Big East Conference title, a BCS bid and about $400,000 at stake — says he proposed the various bonuses to Petrino.

That's a lot of money riding on one game, Jurich says, "but if everything falls right on Saturday, we stand to make a lot more than that. (Petrino) should share in the rewards."

If all falls right for Ohio State and Jim Tressel, already in the national title game, the school is to begin renegotiating his contract, now worth a little more than $2 million annually.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Neil Cornrich Cited as No.1 Rep



November 26, 2006

Football agent Neil Cornrich, who runs NC Sports in Beachwood, should be smiling broadly these days: A recent, exhaustive study by on coaching salaries in college football revealed that Cornrich is the No. 1 rep in getting top dollars for head coaches. Two Cornrich clients, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa, rank first and second, respectively, in total salary among head coaches. And several of Cornrich's college coaches have extremely lucrative bonus packages.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Reviled or loved, agents get results



November 17, 2006

By Michael McCarthy and Steve Wieberg, USA TODAY

Knowledge is power in any negotiation. Just ask sports agents Jimmy Sexton and Neil Cornrich.

Separately, they represent many of the best-known and best-paid coaches in college football — and a fair number of NFL coaches and players as well.

Taken together, they represent at least a dozen of the 42 coaches earning more than $1 million this year in USA TODAY's study of Division I-A football coaches' compensation. They could represent more since Cornrich declines to release his full client list.

Their knowledge of who's making how much from what university, or NFL team, has helped drive up coaching salaries over the last decade, according to athletics directors and Sexton himself.

Cornrich's Cleveland-based NC Sports represents an array of coaches, including Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Minnesota's Glen Mason, Kansas' Mark Mangino, Virginia's Al Groh, Boston College's Tom O'Brien, Arizona's Mike Stoops, South Florida's Jim Leavitt and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema.

Sexton's Athletic Resource Management in Memphis represents four top coaches in the Southeastern Conference — Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and Arkansas' Houston Nutt — as well as Larry Coker of Miami (Fla.), Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech, Nick Saban of the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys' Bill Parcells.

The agents' NFL connections are important. Pro salaries help set the bar for coaching salaries. Many coaches shuttle back and forth in search of the best deal.

Relations between agents and athletics directors are so poisonous, some ADs refuse to negotiate with them, says Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors' Association.

"Some of them say they won't negotiate with terrorists," he says. "What happens in many cases is ... if I'm an agent and I'm talking to you, the AD, I'll tell you the compensation levels of my other clients in an effort to drive up the compensation for the coach you and I are talking about.

"The problem is the numbers they cite for the other coaches are grossly inflated."

Among the athletics directors telling USA TODAY they refuse to deal directly with agents are Arkansas' Frank Broyles, defending national champion Texas' DeLoss Dodds and Texas A&M's Bill Byrne.

"I don't want to deal with people in that profession," says Broyles, Arkansas's football coach from 1958-1976.

"If everything were equal, I'd certainly not go with the coach with an agent," Dodds says.

Sexton takes the terrorist remark as a compliment: "We are responsible for driving up prices. What else are we supposed to do? Drive them down?" Cornrich, an attorney, gives a more lawyerly answer: "Clearly, knowing the market leads to a fair result for both sides."

Sexton and Cornrich say the tough talk from athletics directors is more posturing, or wishful thinking, than reality.

Yes, there's some old-school ADs who won't talk to agents, Sexton says. What they're not saying is they pass off what they see as distasteful work to their assistants, university general counsels or even high-powered alumni on the board of trustees.

"I've never had a case where someone at the school didn't deal with me," Sexton says.

As for agents allegedly inflating salaries, they can't do it, Sexton says. "With all the open-records laws out there, these guys have access to the information. If I say a coach is making $2 million, they can go check it out themselves."

If people want to judge him, Sexton says they should look at his results. When longtime Virginia Tech coach Beamer hired Sexton in 2005, the agent immediately decided his new client was "underpaid." The result? With Sexton's help, Beamer negotiated a new seven-year contract in October that boosted his pay 42.9% from $1.4 million to $2 million a year. The deal runs through the 2012 season, with an option for three more years.

Beamer's contract also includes, according to the announcement by Virginia Tech, pay raises for his assistant coaches, an annual performance-based raise program and an improved bonus structure for postseason appearances.

"When we walked into the school, they knew we had the credibility to talk about what other coaches made," Sexton says. Beamer could not be reached for comment.

Agents take a 3%-5% cut from their clients, according to Sexton. Still, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says he doesn't know "very many" peers who fly solo. When the showdown comes at contract time, and the showdown always comes, the coach can play good cop to the agent's bad cop.

"You need somebody between you if you're going to do any negotiating or ask for anything else," Tuberville says. "If you go in and start dealing with numbers and all those things, you might create friction. So I just stay out of it."

Iowa's Ferentz, a Cornrich client, is in the midst of 13-month period in which he will earn at least $4.6 million through contract amendments made in May. Ferentz notes his fellow coaches are more familiar with X's and O's on the chalkboard than contracts, performance incentives and buyout clauses.

"I think Abraham Lincoln said something to the effect of 'Anybody who represents himself in a legal issue has a fool for a client,' " Ferentz says. "All I know is football. I know coaching a little bit. But I have zero knowledge when it comes to the business aspect of things."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stoops, Ferentz Top Two Highest Paid Coaches



Posted 11/16/2006 1:01 AM ET
By Jodi Upton and Steve Wieberg, USA TODAY



Iowa's Kirk Ferentz will pocket a guaranteed $4.6 million in an atypical 13-month period ending next June, including $1.8 million in one-time payments. With the incentive bonuses he still can earn, he could push his take to more than $4.7 million. That's the most among the 107 coaches for whom USA TODAY could obtain a contract or other official document showing compensation.

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is the only coach in that group who has cleared the $3 million-a-year bar in guaranteed pay, although Ferentz likely will join him in 2007.

Aaron Kampman: All-Pro Dad



Huddle up, All Pro Dads

November 16, 2006

They don't always give awards to All-Pro fathers, which shouldn't diminish the role they play in a child's life — something Green Bay Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders can attest to.

Both plan to share their family experiences and beliefs at the second annual Packers' All Pro Father & Kids Experience Dec. 16. The event runs from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at Lambeau Field and the Don Hutson Center.

Registration begins Wednesday and is $10 per father, which includes admission for dad and up to four kids.

The gathering includes a presentation by Kampman, Sanders and All Pro Dad president Mark Merrill on the importance of setting a good example for children. Kids can play supervised interactive games in the Don Hutson Center while fathers discuss "10 Ways to be an All Pro Dad."

All Pro Dad is a fatherhood program of Family First, a national nonprofit organization based in Tampa, Fla.

Donte Whitner Validates Marv Levy's Pick



Posted Nov 16th 2006 7:14AM
By Michael David Smith

With half of their first pro season under their belts, we'll examine the best and the worst players at each position in the NFL's 2006 rookie class.

First pick: Michael Huff, Raiders (Texas) -- Oakland chose Huff with the seventh overall pick, and he's played quite well, starting every game on a Raiders defense that is fairly good but gets no attention because the offense is so horrible. On the one hand, you've got to think a lot of Raiders fans wish they had taken Matt Leinart instead. On the other hand, do you really want to put Leinart behind that atrocious offensive line?

Best pick: Donte Whitner, Bills (Ohio State) -- Yes, this is the pick everyone ridiculed when Marv Levy made it in April. You can still make the case that Levy could have traded down a few spots from the No. 9 selection and still taken Whitner, but it's hard to argue with the results, and Whitner is a front-runner for the defensive rookie of the year award.



Worst pick: Jason Allen, Dolphins (Tennessee) -- The 16th overall pick, Allen seems fully recovered from the injury that cut short his senior season at Tennessee, but he can't crack the starting lineup on a disappointing Miami defense.

Best sleeper: Danieal Manning, Bears (Abiline Christian) -- Going from Shotwell Stadium to Soldier Field would seem to be a big adjustment, but Manning, a second-round pick, has made it seamlessly, making a big impact on the best defense in the league.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Zastudil Outstanding



November 14, 2006

Punter Dave Zastudil has been a bright spot for the Browns all season and was uncommonly good against the Falcons. He had a career-high 10 punts for 462 yards, with punts of 50, 52, 52, and 53 yards. In the first quarter, he punted one 52 yards and it took a sharp right turn out of bounds at the Atlanta 5.

"With Dave, consistency is a good word you can use to describe what he has added to this team," Crennel said. "He's done a good job in the plus-50 punting area and giving us good field position. He has a strong leg and can hang the ball and punt with distance."

Monday, November 13, 2006

PFW: Kampman Team MVP



2006 Midseason Team Reports

November 13, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Packers' Kampman gives quarterbacks a hands-on experience



The Vikings hit the jackpot by signing former Packers Darren Sharper and Ryan Longwell, but the one they couldn't reel in is now the NFL's sack leader.

November 8, 2006
By Mark Craig

GREEN BAY, WIS. - Life isn't getting any easier for Vikings right tackle Marcus Johnson.

After struggling against some of the NFL's elite left defensive ends during the first half of the season, Johnson opens the second half Sunday at the Metrodome against Green Bay's Aaron Kampman, the league's sack leader (9.5) and possibly its hottest defensive player now that San Diego's Shawne Merriman is serving his drug suspension.

"We won't do the whole game plan around that matchup, but it is key because of the impact that Aaron has made this season," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "His sacks have been huge for us."

Kampman has had at least a half-sack in each of the past five games, two short of Tony Bennett's team record set in 1992, and the longest by a Packer since 2000.

"Marcus will have his hands full," Vikings coach Brad Childress said, "but a lot of people have their hands full with that guy."

Just ask New Orleans, which gave up three sacks to Kampman in Week 2. It was his second three-sack effort in nine games, matching his career high set against the Vikings at Lambeau Field last Nov. 21.

"I think they were all pretty much outside rushes, one-on-one," said Kampman, referring to that Vikings game. "They started [Mike] Rosenthal and I think I had two. Then they brought in Johnson and I had one."

Johnson has started every game at right tackle this season. While Kampman was sacking Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times back in Week 2, Johnson was being beaten for three sacks by Carolina's Julius Peppers.

"We'll see what happens," Kampman said of the matchup. "Marcus is a guy who has some talent and ability but, yeah, at times this year, like anyone, he has had his problems."

A fifth-round pick of the Packers in 2002, Kampman was a nondescript player for the most part when the Vikings signed him to a restricted free agent offer sheet following the 2004 season. He was coming off a 4½-sack season, and teams weren't exactly bullrushing him with pens and offer sheets.

"I put my signature on the offer sheet, so, yeah, I thought there was a chance I'd end up as a Minnesota Viking," Kampman said. "I also thought the Packers would match, but you never know. I'm glad I'm still here."

The Packers aren't shy about letting star players flee to Minnesota (see: Darren Sharper and Ryan Longwell). But they refused to lose a budding young defensive linemen.

Kampman came back in 2005 with a then-career-high 6 ½ sacks, prompting the Packers to sign him before he even had a chance to test unrestricted free agency this past offseason. So now he's the Vikings' problem twice a year through 2009.

"Kampman has always been an Energizer bunny-type of guy," Childress said. "He's constant motion. High, high motor. Just [when] you think you've got him where you want him, he's going somewhere else."

A Packer never has led the league in sacks for a full season since they became an official statistic in 1982. Even the late Hall of Famer Reggie White's best total as a Packer (16 in 1998) wasn't quite enough.

Eight seasons later, at the same left end spot that White played so brilliantly, another Packer is making life miserable for quarterbacks and right tackles who try to defend them.

"You want to see all of your guys do well, but Aaron really deserves this," McCarthy said. "He works his butt off. Studies film. He's a wonderful human being. A great family man. And he's a heck of a player."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sleeper All-Pro: Aaron Kampman



Dr. Z's Sleeper All-Pros

November 7, 2006


Aaron Kampman | DE, Packers

Sleeper All-Pro: Donte Whitner



Dr. Z's Sleeper All-Pros

November 7, 2006


Donte Whitner | S, Bills

Sanders Inspires Defense



Safety's return from knee injury makes big impact

November 7, 2006
By Phil Richards and Mike Chappell

Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders had two full practices in six weeks to get ready for his return to the Indianapolis Colts lineup Sunday night in Foxborough, Mass. One wonders what he might do when he's fully prepared.

Sanders contributed a team-high 11 tackles, intercepted a Tom Brady pass at the Indianapolis 3-yard line and energized the much-criticized defense as the Colts beat the New England Patriots 27-20.

"We know what we can do," said Sanders, who had missed the previous five games while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. "It's just when we get opportunities, we have to make them. We got a lot of opportunities and we made them."

The Colts had a season-high five takeaways, four of them interceptions.

Sanders' impact was most evident during a head-on third-quarter collision with Patriots running back Laurence Maroney. It was the biggest hit of the game.

Maroney is 5-11, 220 pounds, and as he pounded toward right guard, Sanders streaked in from the Colts' right side and launched. Maroney dropped like a rock for a 2-yard loss.

Colts coach Tony Dungy was dubious when he sent Sanders out to test the knee during pre-game work with assistant coaches Alan Williams and Leslie Frazier and director of rehabilitation Aaron Barill.

Sanders had practiced only once all week, and at 6:48 p.m., Dungy still had no word. The coach had to turn in his list of eight inactive players at 6:50 and he expected Sanders to be on it, but Sanders wanted to play, insisted he could play. The decision was made. Sanders played the entire game.

As Sanders headed for the locker room after the game, team president Bill Polian sought him out, put his arm around him and gave him a big hug. The Colts were glad to have their difference-making safety back.

"The defense is really designed with him in mind," Dungy said. "We have a lot of defenses where he's the free hitter and that free hitter has to make the tackles, and when he's making them, they're 3- and 4-yard gains instead of 6- and 7-yard gains. That changes the whole complexion of the defense, but more than anything, I think, is the energy he brings us and the confidence.

"He lifts everybody's play."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kampman hitting his stride



November 2, 2006

By JASON WILDE

With 8 1/2 sacks through seven games -- tied for the NFL lead with suspended San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman -- Aaron Kampman goes into the Green Bay Packers' final nine games with a target number in mind for his season-ending total.

But as the Packers' defensive end stood at his locker Wednesday afternoon, he wasn't sharing that statistical goal with anyone. There's only one person he's shared that number with.

"My wife," he said.

But while Linde Kampman keeps that number a secret, the secret's out about her husband, who could wind up in his first Pro Bowl if he keeps up his pace. He enters Sunday's game at Buffalo on track for 19 1/2 sacks on the year, which would tie Tim Harris' official team record set in 1989. Ezra Johnson had 20 1/2 sacks in 1978, four years before the NFL officially began recognizing the sack stat.

"I think he's an outstanding player," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "He's clearly talented. I don't know what kind of a practice player he is, but my guess is he is a very hard practicer, a guy who prepares extremely well because he plays so hard on Sundays. And, he has a lot of energy. Coupled with the skills that he has, it makes for a great football player."

Kampman should have a chance to increase his numbers on Sunday against the Bills, who rejiggered their offensive line during the bye week. By moving Jason Peters from right to left tackle and Mike Gandy from left tackle to left guard, they'll start rookie seventh-round pick Terrance Pennington at right tackle, opposite Kampman.

It's the second straight week the Packers have faced a revamped offensive line. Kampman earned NFC defensive player of the week honors by posting two sacks, eight tackles and three quarterback pressures in last Sunday's 31-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

Asked if he'll have to give Pennington plenty of help in his first NFL start, Jauron said he will.

"Terrence is getting his baptism in this game as a starter in the National Football League," Jauron said. "We'll leave him alone at times, but we'd like to give him as much help as we possibly can."

He'll need it. Kampman has elevated his game since signing a four-year, $21million deal in March that included an astonishing $12million in guaranteed bonus money.

"He has a big heart, plays with a lot of energy," said coach Mike McCarthy, who said he and his coaches have talked about moving Kampman around on the line but thus far haven't done so. "It's great to see guys like Aaron Kampman have success."

And why is he having that success? In part, it's because he hasn't changed his approach. Even with Pennington's inexperience, Kampman won't take anything for granted. On Wednesday, he was searching for film of Pennington to watch to prepare for him.

"I think you always respect your opponent but you never fear him," Kampman said. "He hasn't played yet, so I don't know what to expect. I'm actually going to try to find some film from the preseason. I know his height and his weight -- and that's about it."

Speaking of weight, that could be the other part of Kampman's success. Listed at 278 pounds by the team, Kampman admitted that he played in the "low 270s" last year and is in the "260s" this year. With the weight loss, Kampman has remained stout against the run (a defensive-line best 38 tackles) but has shown better quickness getting to the quarterback.

"It's a planned thing," Kampman said of playing at a lighter weight. "The way we play our defense and the way we go about stuff, it's a good thing."

Still, while his name appears atop the sack listings, there seems to be little attention being paid to Kampman. But that could change, especially if he hits his and Linde's secret sack number.

"I've always kind of flown under the radar," Kampman said, referring to his fifth-round draft status and that he wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine coming out of Iowa in 2002. "But we're only halfway through, and it'd be really great if that can continue all the way through (the season). Right now, it's kind of like a racehorse -- you keep the blinders on a little bit, keep your eyes focused on what's ahead of you and not let the other stuff distract you."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Browns haven't punted on one local signing



November 1, 2006
By: Jeff Schudel

The homecoming party that was anticipated when the Browns signed LeCharles Bentley, Bob Hallen and Joe Jurevicius in free agency hasn't really been the blast it should have been.

Bentley is out for the year with a torn patellar tendon, Hallen unexpectedly retired and Jurevicius has become an afterthought in the offense with 10 receptions after catching 55 passes and 10 touchdowns with Seattle last year.

But there was one other hometown connection made in free agency last winter, and that one could not be working better.

Dave Zastudil, quarterback, kicker and punter at Bay Village High School a decade ago, is booming the ball as the Browns punter.
He punted five times Sunday against the Jets and averaged nearly 50 yards - 48.4 to be exact - a punt.

"He's been pretty consistent and has a level of confidence," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "He gives us a chance when he kicks the ball 50 yards or more to make some plays. We don't always make the plays there, but he gives us an opportunity."

"Consistency" is the key word in Crennel's appraisal. That consistency landed Zastudil at Ohio University, where he led the Mid-American Conference in punting for four straight years.

The Baltimore Ravens thought enough of Zastudil to draft him in the fourth round in 2002. Zastudil's best season in Baltimore was 2005 when he averaged 43.5 yards a punt. That is slightly less than the 44.8 he is averaging with the Browns.

Just as with Bentley, Hallen and Jurevicius, the fact Zastudil grew up so close to Cleveland was more a bonus than a reason to sign him. If he did not punt as well as he did, the Browns would not have given him a $10 million deal for four years.

Zastudil is thrilled to be punting for his hometown team. But the truth of the matter is that once the game begins, his job here is the same as it was in Baltimore.

"It's great, but once you get into the season, you have a job to do," he said. "You make friends on the team and start respecting your teammates. You want to win for those guys, too. You want that team to come together and win.

"But it is pretty cool kicking for your hometown team. The fans are behind us and that's great. I just go into the game with the same mentality that I do in any high school, college or NFL game. It doesn't matter where I'm playing, but the fact I can do that and help Cleveland have a winning team is pretty cool."

Late in the game against the Jets Sunday, the Browns were backed up on their own 12, which meant Zastudil had to punt from around the 4. He boomed a 52-yarder that Tim Dwight returned 17 yards. The Jets were still 47 yards from the goal line and did not score.

"We know Dave is one of the best punters in the league," quarterback Charlie Frye said. "He can change the field position with one kick."

And here's the best part. Zastudil, without being boastful, said he can be better. He is currently ranked 10th in punting average and, more importantly, sixth in net average at 39.3.

"I feel like I'm hitting the ball solidly," he said. "There were a couple punts I wish I had hit differently. I feel like I'm doing OK, but I'm never satisfied. I still think I can get better. I'm working on a couple things in practice."

Zastudil is also the holder for Phil Dawson on field goals and extra points. That makes him the answer to a trivia question. In Baltimore he held for Matt Stover, the Browns' place kicker from 1991 until the team was moved to Baltimore in 1996.

Kampman wins NFC award



November 1, 2006

DEFENSE: DE AARON KAMPMAN, GREEN BAY PACKERS

Playing in front of the home fans at Lambeau Field, Kampman posted eight tackles, two sacks and three quarterback pressures in the Packers' 31-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The former Iowa standout, who recorded the third multiple-sack game of his career, was part of a defensive unit that allowed a season-low 218 total net yards and just 3.4 yards per play. The Packers allowed only 86 total rushing yards and 132 net yards passing. Kampman, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL Draft (No. 156 overall), sacked Arizona rookie quarterback Matt Leinart twice for a loss of 11 yards and his total of three quarterback pressures was the most by a Packer on the day. Kampman's eight tackles tied rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk for the team lead. This season, Kampman has a career-best 8½ sacks, which leads the NFC and ties for the most in the NFL.

In his fifth year from Iowa, this is Kampman's first career Player of the Week Award.

Buffalo's Best: Donte Whitner

RealFootball365.com
all football… all year


Buffalo's best and worst at the halfway point

By Connor J. Byrne on November 1, 2006

Defense:

MOP - Donte Whitner:

On a defense that's been among the worst in the NFL this season, Whitner, a rookie, has been the greatest bright spot. The strong safety, who was Buffalo's first-round pick last April, looks like he can legitimately be an All-Pro-caliber player for a long time in the pros.

On the surface, Whitner's statistics aren't overly impressive (45 tackles, one interception, two passes defensed), but the 21-year-old has proven to already be one of the biggest leaders on the defense, and he's terrific in both tackling and coverage. If the Bills' defense ever rebounds into an elite unit, expect the former Ohio State Buckeye to be its centerpiece.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Packers' Tauscher tough on the blocks



By Lori Nickel

October 31, 2006

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Offensive line coaches Joe Philbin and James Campen said Mark Tauscher couldn't stop grinning in the fourth quarter against Arizona. Tauscher was unstoppable in the back-side blocking as Green Bay's offensive line helped both Ahman Green and Vernand Morency on to 100-yard games in the victory against the Cardinals.

Tauscher, the seven-year veteran right tackle, has endured a coaching change, a system change and the loss of close friends and teammates on the line in the last year and a half. But it isn't his nature to back down from this latest challenge of zone blocking with rookies all around him - not after a childhood that taught him teamwork and competition at the same time.

Tauscher believes his competitive nature has always been his strength. ``And I would not have that without my two brothers and pretty much everybody we grew up with,'' he said.

That's because Tauscher brothers Craig, Mark and Pat made winning the goal in everything they did.

Growing up on a farm in Milladore in central Wisconsin, they kicked field goals between two silos, marching back five yards until someone missed and a winner was declared. They played Wiffle ball, matching hits to the road that was the home run line.

Their father, Dennis, turned a hayfield into a baseball diamond and the neighboring Schmitt family had several of their nine kids over to play (the outs didn't count for the youngest kids). First base was a corner of the barn and Dennis offered $100 to anyone who could hit a ball to the pond.

The Tauschers played marbles and kickball at St. Mary elementary school in Auburndale and rode bikes on the ice. They played games in the shed for hours.

``We played everything and we played for everything,'' said Mark Tauscher. ``At that point in time, it meant something. You'd never want one of your brothers to one-up you at any time. It got pretty heated.''

But it wasn't all boyhood fun and games.

In the 1970s and '80s, Dennis and Dianne owned `Tauscher's D and D Dairy Farm,' nearly 800 acres with 160 dairy cattle and up to 500 head of livestock. Milk was the main source of income.

``On a dairy farm, you never get a day off,'' Dennis said. ``As a matter of fact you never get a half a day off because you milk cows in the morning and at night.''

Once the Tauscher boys turned 8 years old or so, they started helping their parents and oldest sister Christine with farm chores. The easier days still meant 3 1/2 hours of chores.

``The kids had to be on the school bus at 7:30 in the morning, and if we wanted help out of them they had to be down by 4:30,'' said Dennis.

When younger, Craig and Mark fed calves with bottles and swept floors. As they got older Dennis trusted them to handle bales of hay, run the bunk feeder or the barn cleaners, and eventually, milk the cows. On Sundays when the Packers played, the family squeezed the morning and evening chores around the game.

``Like all kids, they tried to get out of what they could,'' said Dennis. ``I would be cleaning stock yards or something, and they would happen to disappear on me, thinking if they get far enough away I won't take the time to find them. But they were good workers, every one of them.''

In a small town, their lives revolved around school and chores. Sports were their social lives.

``I don't think Mark ever exerted himself with his farm chores like he did with football,'' said Craig with a laugh. ``None of us really cared for the farming part too much. I don't think there was ever a risk of us going in to farming, just because the hours and always being tied down.''

After hip-replacement surgery, Dennis sold the farm in 1992 when Mark was 13. Dennis ``hobby'' farms now on about 20 acres and writes sports stories on a part-time basis for the Marshfield News-Herald.

By high school, Mark may have been built more like a lineman but he was well known in his community as an elite baseball and basketball player.

``He was always a really great athlete,'' said Pat. ``He wasn't just a one-sport wonder.''

That added to the brotherly competition.

``It's always tough when your little brother passes you,'' said Craig. ``For a while it was a tough time; there was definitely some jealousy from me to him. But I would say maybe by my senior year of high school, when I knew he was better than me, I accepted that, and it became me hoping that he does well.''

Tauscher walked on at Wisconsin in 1996 but by his senior year was starting. For the Badgers, he blocked for Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett.

He was just a seventh-round draft choice by the Packers but was starting at right tackle as a rookie in 2000.

The competitive drive that blossomed with his brothers and fueled Tauscher's early success also helped him rehabilitate from a knee injury in the 2002 season, when he and left tackle Chad Clifton were both on injured reserve.

``There were certainly days that you just didn't feel like coming in and Mark would say, `Let's do it, we've got a big goal that we're working toward,' '' said Clifton.

Now at 315 pounds, Mark is athletic enough to play the Packers' aggressive scheme on a line that has improved weekly.

The Tauscher brothers remain tight. Craig, 32, works in the lab of the blood bank at Mayo Clinic and lives in Rochester, Minn. Mark, 29, lives in Green Bay year-round. Pat, 25, is training to be a funeral home director in the Madison area.

They get together every Easter at Craig's, where they have a ping pong tournament with seedings for the players (Mark's best finish is runner-up). Last year they toured Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards together for a baseball fix.

The year before that, they took a summer trip to Iceland, where they played soccer with the locals and golfed at 2 a.m. because there was still daylight.

``We wanted to keep playing because we were losing,'' said Craig. ``The other team didn't forfeit or anything, they finally just said `OK, you don't lose,' so we could quit.''

Even now, the brothers are so competitive that they can't help but critique each other's hands in Sheepshead.

``You'd swear they don't get along, but they are thicker than thieves,'' said Dennis Tauscher. ``I am probably happiest about that than anything. You see so many families that are split apart, the way the world is spread out these days. These guys are always going to be there for each other. They like each other.

``I always tell my wife, if I didn't do anything else right, I instilled family values, and they have that.''

Friday, October 27, 2006

Whitner Emerging as a Leader



October 30, 2006

BUFFALO BILLS

Rookie SS Donte Whitner has been all that the Bills had hoped he would be after selecting him eighth overall in last April's draft. He is starting alongside fellow rookie Ko Simpson and has proven to be a quick study, already beginning to emerge as a leader on the Bills' defense.

Whitner an Excellent Pick

RealFootball365.com
all football… all year

Bye week analysis of the Bills' draft (Day One)
By Connor J. Byrne on October 27, 2006 12:12 AM

Through their first seven regular-season games of 2006, the Buffalo Bills ' record is a horrendous 2-5, and the team is sitting in second-last place in the mediocre AFC East. Naturally, that's nowhere near where Buffalo wanted to be on its bye week, especially considering the team was impressive through its first four games.

One of the staples of the Bills' season thus far has been their youth. General manager Marv Levy and the remainder of his staff caught a great deal of grief from various media members and fans for their selections in April's NFL draft. Although it's still quite early in the rookies' careers, now's a good time to examine just how the Bills' youngsters have been faring this year.

This is the first of a two-part series analyzing the successes and failures of the Bills' first-year players. Today's edition will focus on Buffalo's Day One picks.

First round (eighth overall) - Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State. Projected by many as the most baffling pick of Round One, Whitner has, perhaps, been Buffalo's best defensive player this year. He was expected to be a reserve behind Matt Bowen for much of the season, but the veteran has been inactive all year thanks to injury. That's been a blessing for the Bills, though, because Whitner's been able to develop even more expeditiously than they'd originally hoped.

The 21-year-old Whitner, who was the league's Defensive Rookie of the Month in September, has racked up 45 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed so far. To think, he's only going to continue getting better. Early verdict: An excellent pick by the Bills, even if it meant not taking quarterback Matt Leinart. Whitner will be a top-notch DB for a long time.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Zastudil Receives Game Ball



http://www.clevelandbrowns.com/

NFL: Game balls - Browns vs. Broncos

October 23, 2006

ClevelandBrowns.com staff writers hand out their games balls for Sunday's Browns-Broncos game.

Steve King picks ... Browns punter Dave Zastudil - Although the Browns haven't been able to take advantage of it much to this point, his punting has provided them with good field position. The Bay Village, Ohio has been everything the Browns hoped he would be - and more - when they signed him in free agency in the offseason.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Krenzel Doing Radio Work



October 9, 2006

Former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, the QB on OSU's 2002 national title team, is doing Buckeyes pre- and post-game radio work for a Columbus station while recovering from an arm injury that's sidelined him for the NFL season. Krenzel has played for Chicago and Cincinnati and hopes to land somewhere as a free agent this off-season. "The radio work gives me a chance to keep looking at game films and keep thinking like a quarterback," Krenzel said.

The New York Times Discusses Florida Athletic Director's Strategy, Cornrich Comments



October 9, 2006

With a Decisive Dismissal, Florida Remakes Itself

By PETE THAMEL

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Oct. 8 — Two years ago this month, the Florida football program was in crisis mode after a loss at Mississippi State.

Things had become so bad that in less than three seasons under Ron Zook the Gators had lost six home games, more than in Steve Spurrier’s 12-year tenure.

So the athletic director, Jeremy Foley, fixed his own mistake by firing Zook the Monday after the Mississippi State debacle. The move, considered unusual and controversial at the time because it was so early in the season, looks ingenious two years later.

Now, under Urban Meyer, Florida is 6-0 for the first time since 1996 and is ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 2001. In two years, the Gators have gone from a complete mess to the elite team in this football-rich state, rocketing past Miami and Florida State, both unranked for the first time in 24 years.

One of the legacies of this swift and stunning Florida revival may be a blueprint of how to fire and hire a head coach.

“I don’t want to advocate firing coaches, but if someone is headed down that road, I think it does help,” Foley said of a dismissal early in the season. “You need to do your due diligence, especially in a high-profile program where the scrutiny is going to be very, very high. I don’t think I’ll have to, but I would not hesitate to do it again.”

And with this season crossing its halfway point on Saturday, there is the potential for a slew of high-profile jobs to open. Last season, only four jobs changed hands among the 65 in the six major conferences. Only one of those, Colorado, came from a university firing its coach.

In this short-fuse world of college athletics, where instant results are not quick enough, that low job turnover led to predictions last off-season of an avalanche of job openings.

Most of the speculation will revolve around Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Larry Coker at Miami. Both programs are mired in relative mediocrity.

It is unlikely both of those jobs will open. But if one does, those universities will probably be competing with several others for the top available coaches. Topping the list of jobs likely to be open are North Carolina, Michigan State and Arizona State. None of those jobs are the caliber of Miami and F.S.U., but they offer good tradition, salaries in excess of a million dollars a year and good facilities.

“I think what Foley did was astute and showed clearly there was a strategy,” said Neil Cornrich, a lawyer and agent who represents numerous college coaches, including Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. “I think that’s the trend. The smart athletic directors will follow Foley.”

What the early firing of Zook did was give Foley five weeks to thoroughly research Meyer, who was coaching at Utah, and other candidates. While Foley did not contact Meyer until after Utah’s regular season ended in late November, he did talk to Meyer’s former bosses and players and his friends. Foley said he ended up with a notebook full of material he would not have gotten had he waited to fire Zook.

“How do I make calls about Urban Meyer when I still have a coach?” Foley said.

The week that Florida hired Meyer, three other programs — Illinois, Washington and Notre Dame — were trying to do the same. Representatives from Washington and Notre Dame ended up in his living room.

But Foley had an advantage when his turn came to try to lure Meyer to Gainesville. Through his research, Foley knew exactly what Meyer wanted.

Instead of dropping off clunky piles of books with generic information about the University of Florida, Foley gave him an itemized book with sections on everything he knew Meyer cared about.

“It was very succinct, very clear,” Meyer said. “It was about how the athletic department worked, the academic structure and where my kids would go to school and where we’d live.”

Foley knew from his research how important family was to Meyer. So Foley had Florida’s basketball coach, Billy Donovan, call Meyer and Donovan’s wife, Christine, call Meyer’s wife, Shelley. They talked about schools, neighborhoods and living environment.

If those interactions and early research had not happened, Foley is not sure things would have worked out the way they did.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think he’d be here,” Foley said of Meyer. “Urban is a thorough guy who doesn’t leave many stones unturned. One reason among many he’s here now and not in South Bend is because we did our research and established a relationship as soon as the season was over.”

Meyer has long loathed the way coaching searches are handled, saying they can be a distraction to a team and often force a coach to make a momentous decision with little time to research. Meyer did not even have a chance to visit Gainesville before taking the Florida job.

“You’re making career decisions and decisions that affect a bunch of young people and universities and you basically have 24 hours to do it,” he said.

With the college coaching landscape appearing ripe for an overhaul this off-season, it will be interesting to see who strikes first.

“The timing allowed us to do our job and allowed us to be where we are today,” Foley said.

And No. 2 in the country two years later shows that a quick hook can yield big results.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Eat Crow 'Draftniks': Whitner Honored



Posted Sep 29th 2006 6:58AM by Gene Battaglia

Remember when the Bills were blasted in April, for their high selection of safety Donte Whitner at #8 overall? No one, and I mean no one, liked the pick. Either you hated the pick, or you hedged (myself included), saying "he could pan out...but why not trade down?"

I would like my crow with some Tabasco sauce, please.

Whitner was honored yesterday as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month. He has started the last two games, had an interception in the loss at New England, and his break-up of a two-point conversation attempt by Miami closed the deal for the Bills.

Overall, he's seventh on the team in tackles. Not a bad start.

Now, would the Bills please acknowledge he's starter? As of Friday morning, the depth chart, as seen here http://www.buffalobills.com/depth_chart/index.html lists Whitner as third string. Matt Bowen is still listed as the starter. Whitner is the real starter, and looks to be a contributor for years to come.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Whitner Named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month



by Chris Brown, Lead Journalist

Last Updated: 9/28/2006 3:40 PM ET

It's probably safe to say that Mel Kiper and the other NFL draft gurus aren't second guessing the Buffalo Bills selection of Donte Whitner with the eighth overall pick last spring anymore.

Whitner was named the NFL Rookie of the Month for his play in September.

"It's a great honor to get," said Whitner. "But I'd rather be 3-0 right now. I'm going to go out there and give it my all next month also and the rest of the season and see what happens."

If there's one satisfying aspect about the award, he believes it answers all the criticism Buffalo received for taking Whitner with their top pick last April.

"(The Bills) picked me and I'm glad they picked me," Whitner said. "But I still want to go out there and prove people wrong and prove the Bills right."

The Ohio State product got off to a good start in Week One as he recorded an interception in his first NFL game at New England off of Tom Brady. Unfortunately his return for a touchdown was called back on penalty. The scoring play would've given Buffalo the lead and likely the win in Week One. He also had eight tackles in the tightly fought contest.

"I've felt good out there," said Whitner. "It's really no different from college to the NFL. Everybody makes a big deal about being a rookie. But if you're poised and you know what you're doing out there, being a rookie really means nothing."

"Donte is a smart football player," said defensive captain London Fletcher. "For the most part he's doing an excellent job and the coaches are doing an excellent job of getting him prepared."

In Week Two Whitner made his first NFL start at Miami and was part of a dominant defensive effort as he contributed seven tackles and broke up a Miami two-point conversion attempt in the end zone. The Bills defense held Miami scoreless until less than two minutes remained in the game.

Whitner posted his second straight start last week and was credited with three tackles in the effort. He stands seventh on the team in tackles and is tied for the team lead for interceptions.

"He's talented," said head coach Dick Jauron. "He's fast. He likes to play the game and he'll hit you. Those are all things that translate well to our sport. He's got good size. He's learning how to play, but one of the reasons we did like him is because he likes football. He likes to talk about football, look at it, study it and he likes to play. He's just learning and he's going to get better every week. I believe that."

The Bills have had just two NFL Rookies of the Month prior to Whitner's honor this week. Linebacker Gabe Northern won the award back in November of the 1996 season, and Sam Cowart won it in October of 1998.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lowdermilk Becomes Highest Paid



THE BLIND SIDE

Evolution of the Left Tackle

By Michael Lewis

Excerpted from September 25, 2006 issue


…The new market officially opened on Feb. 1, 1993, the day after the Super Bowl. The real shock was the dollar value the new market assigned to offensive linemen. Just a few years earlier the Bengals had told Munoz that no offensive linemen was worth half a million dollars a year. Now the Denver Broncos quickly signed a couple of free agent linemen, Brian Habib and Don Maggs, for three times that amount. A few days later Vikings center Kirk Lowdermilk moved to the Indianapolis Colts for $2 million a year, then groped for the adjective to describe his feelings. “Stunned is not the word,” he said. “There is no word in the English language to describe it…”

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Draft Doubters Motivate Whitner

By John Wawrow

Associated Press

September 21, 2006

ORCHARD PARK— Donte Whitner hasn’t forgotten how the NFL draft gurus — and that includes you, Mel Kiper — criticized the Buffalo Bills for selecting the strong safety too early last spring.

“You just kind of store that,” Whitner said, referring specifically to Kiper, ESPN’s longtime draft analyst. “You want to prove those guys wrong.”

Two games and two starts into his first NFL season, Whitner has not looked out of place in a young defensive unit that had seven sacks and keyed Buffalo’s 16-6 win at Miami last weekend. Rushed into a starting role after veteran Matt Bowen was hurt in training camp, Whitner has 14 tackles and one interception heading into Buffalo’s home-opener against the New York Jets on Sunday.

“He’s talented. He’s fast. He likes to play the game, and he’ll hit you,” coach Dick Jauron said. “Those are all things that translate to our sport.”

While Jauron cautioned that Whitner is still learning, what’s impressive is how quickly the youngest player on the team’s roster — he turned 21 in July — has picked up the Bills defensive scheme in a relatively short period of time.

“Coming from Ohio State and playing in a lot of big games has really prepared me for this level,” he said. “I don’t really get rattled.”

Whitner speaks with a matter-of-fact, look-you-dead-in-the-eye confidence that most rookies lack. What he’s not is overconfident, rarely drawing attention to himself on or off the field.

“With Donte, he’s a very mature player. He’s young, but he’s mature,” veteran linebacker London Fletcher said.

Added defensive coordinator Perry Fewell: “The thing about Donte is, once he gets it, he’s got it.”

Whitner credited two of his former coaches for playing key roles in his development. First there was Ted Ginn Sr. in high school, followed by Mel Tucker, the former Ohio State assistant, who’s now the Cleveland Browns defensive backs coach.

Referring to Tucker, Whitner said: “He used to call down from the (coach’s) box and tell me, ‘Go out there and make plays because you’re the best player on this field.’ He always believed in me before anybody else did.”

Now it’s making believers out of everyone else who projected Whitner of being a mid-range first-round pick.

Count Ralph Wilson among the impressed. Following the Miami game, the Bills owner approached Whitner at his locker to inform the player the team made the right decision in taking him in the draft.

“He said, ‘You showed them today,”’ Whitner said. “I’m not saying I’m better than anyone or anything. But for those guys to say I was a reach, I want to go out and prove myself. And at the end of the season we’ll compare and we’ll see.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fox Takes Kearse's Roster Spot



Marc Narducci

Posted on Wed, Sep. 20, 2006

The Eagles soon will find out if Jevon Kearse is irreplaceable.

The defensive end, who suffered a season-ending left knee injury in Sunday's 30-24 overtime loss to the New York Giants, was placed on the injured-reserve list yesterday.

To fill Kearse's roster spot, the Eagles promoted cornerback Dustin Fox from the practice squad.

The addition of a cornerback to replace Kearse was expected, because the Eagles are deep along the defensive line. There had been speculation that they would sign cornerback Donald Strickland, who played three games with them last season and was released on the final cut this year.

Instead, the Eagles promoted Fox, who was a third-round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 2005 but spent the year on injured reserve with a broken arm.

After the Vikings released him at the end of the preseason, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Fox was signed to the Eagles' practice squad on Sept. 4.

"I think I can contribute some immediate depth," Fox said in a statement released by the Eagles. "Obviously, we are kind of hurting at corner right now. Guys have been getting nicked up a little bit. So that's the main goal."

According to Fox's agent, Neil Cornrich, there was serious interest in Fox after the Vikings released him.

"Almost half the teams in the league inquired about him," Cornrich said yesterday in a phone interview.

Cornrich said that Fox picked the Eagles after receiving a persuasive pitch from Howie Roseman, the vice president of football administration.

"Howie articulated to us very well why he felt the Eagles were the right situation for Dustin," Cornrich said.

Fox, who had 217 career tackles and seven interceptions at Ohio State, has good bloodlines. His uncle, Tim Fox, was a star defensive back at Ohio State and a former first-round draft choice of the New England Patriots who played 11 NFL seasons. His brother Derek played football for Penn State and for the Indianapolis Colts.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Kampman Defensive Player of the Week



September 18, 2006

Defensive Player of the Week

Aaron Kampman, DE, Green Bay. Sometimes great days get lost when teams get beat up on defense. But this one shouldn't. Kampman terrorized Drew Brees of the Saints, sacking him three times, and he added two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. I could have given this award to the Buffalo defense, or to Trent Cole of the Eagles (before he had the stupid kicking penalty late in the Eagles' disastrous loss), or to Ed Reed of the Ravens, or to the Chargers for stifling the Titans, or to about six guys on the Bears. But Kampman was a monster in defeat.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Where's the Colts' Clark?



September 13, 2006

by Reggie Hayes

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dallas Clark's unofficial audition for the NFL's version of "Where's Waldo?" looks like it's off to a great start.

Whenever the Indianapolis Colts' offense lines up, Clark will be in the picture. The trick is to find him.

He's listed as a tight end, and that's a good place to start. But he sometimes lines up in the slot, sometimes at wide receiver and, in a relative new twist, as a blocking halfback.

"I'll do whatever; just don't ask me to be the quarterback," Clark said. "He's got a hard job."

While the world was contemplating the brotherly battle of Manning vs. Manning during the Colts' season opening win Sunday over the New York Giants, Clark was jumping from here to there and back again. He even ended up in one of his favorite spots -- the end zone -- on the receiving end of a Peyton Manning strike.

"I just try to be accountable and dependable and let them know they can count on me," Clark said. "When my number's called, I try to do something with it. If I get more pass calls, whatever, it's no different really. You just have to go out and execute."

Many of the questions from reporters on Wednesday at the Colts complex concerned the running game. The Colts' first game without Edgerrin James produced low to moderate numbers, with Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai combining for 55 yards and a 2.4 yards per carry average. Addai showed some promising outside speed and Rhodes dived in for a touchdown, a short-yardage score that sometimes tripped up the Colts in the past. Most observers couldn't get past the absence of Edge.

But the Colts' offense showed glimpses of some new formations and the use of different players in different places -- including tackle Darrell Reid lining up as a fullback and tackling Charlie Johnson going out for a pass -- as it strives to remain fresh and unpredictable.

The most versatile player is Clark, who caught three passes for 39 yards in the win, including Manning's only touchdown pass. On that play, Clark lined up at tight end on the right side, and then displayed a great sense of position and focus. Manning rolled out right and fired. Clark leaped high on the right side of the end zone, catching the pass and touching both feet down in the end zone before landing and falling backwards.

"It was good," Clark said. "Anything to help out."

Clark's aw-shucks demeanor wins him plenty of friends in the locker room. As you might guess by his appreciation of Manning's role ("He's got a hard job"), Clark knows he's not a superstar on the level of Manning, receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne or defensive end Dwight Freeney. But, if Clark performs well, he'll be invaluable to an offense that might need a few unexpected plays while waiting for the running game to develop.

It's instructive to note that when Manning was discussing the play-action pass and how it works, the three receivers he mentioned were Harrison, Wayne and Clark. It's a good sign for a tight end when a quarterback categorizes him as one of his primary targets.

Colts coach Tony Dungy said he's pleased with the development of all three of his regular tight ends: Clark, Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher. Clark is in his fourth season with the Colts.

"Dallas is really developing as an all-around player and a point-of-attack blocker as well,' Dungy said. "But, he's the guy that we play out in the slot the most."

Clark's size and demeanor make him perfect for passes into linebacker territory. He's 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, solid and fearless. He fills a role out of the slot that was the former main domain of Brandon Stokley, who has been out with an ankle injury. Even last year, with Stokley healthy, Clark sometimes was the choice for the slot.

His new responsibilities as an occasional blocking back make him a potential threat to catch passes out of the backfield, too.

"We have some different looks and we can give some certain looks we like," Clark said. "That keeps them guessing which way we're running the ball and who's running the ball. We're doing a lot of new things and it's a good dynamic for the offense and for the running game."

Clark enjoys the new plays and positions in his repertoire, but says his potentially increased role isn't the result of any physical transformation.

"I still have the same five gears," he said.

That's five gears for at least four positions.

Where's Dallas? Everywhere and anywhere. The Colts just hope he continues to turn up in the end zone.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Strong Performance by Kampman



Red-Zone Defense, Running Game Provide Building Blocks

by Mike Spofford, Packers.com

posted 09/11/2006

Head Coach Mike McCarthy wasn't about to sugarcoat his team's 26-0 loss to the Chicago Bears, but there were two legitimate positives that the Packers can build from as the 2006 season continues.

One was the team's red-zone defense, which kept the Bears out of the end zone in four trips inside the Green Bay 20-yard line.

After hitting on the long touchdown pass to open the game, the Bears' offense did not get into the end zone again. In four red-zone possessions, the Packers got an interception by linebacker Nick Barnett and forced three field goals. A fourth field goal came from just outside the red zone, and Chicago's only other touchdown came on special teams with the fourth-quarter punt return.

"Once we got through the first quarter, the defense played some good, sound football," McCarthy said in his Monday news conference. "I think they converted their first three third downs, and after that they were 1 for 11. I think that speaks volumes about the way they played."

Perhaps the strongest defensive performance was turned in by end Aaron Kampman, who recorded seven tackles (four solo), including a sack and four hits on the quarterback.

It was Kampman's pressure that led to Rex Grossman's bad throw that was picked off by Barnett, and his sack forced the Bears to settle for their first field goal early in the second quarter.

"I thought he played well, played very well," McCarthy said. "He was very active in the run game, (he) pressured.

"He brings his lunch box to work every day. He's a true pro."


The other building block was the modest success of the running game, and particularly the play of Ahman Green. Coming back from a torn quadriceps tendon that cut his 2005 season short, Green rushed for 110 yards on 20 carries, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the first time since Nov. 14, 2004, against Minnesota.

Granted, 48 of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the game was somewhat out of reach. But after limited work in the preseason, the fact that Green was able to handle the workload for a full game and still appear strong in the fourth quarter was an important sign for the offense.

"He said he felt good," McCarthy said. "There's a fine line there. You want to push him as far as he can go because he is a play-maker. He's one of our key play-makers, and we do want to run the football.

"The only negative I had with the running game is we only ran it 20 times. If you want to have a big day you need to get up into the 30s. If that's 20-25 for him and 10 for the other guys, that's great."

With the ground game as a whole, the Packers seemed to execute the new zone-blocking scheme better than they had during the preseason, though it still needs to be more crisp, particularly in short-yardage situations.

"We had good looks," McCarthy said. "We felt (with) the game plan we had good angles."

That said, McCarthy pointed out the pass protection was erratic, and the breakdowns in other areas were scrutinized in film study with each of the different units. The focus is on learning from the mistakes rather than dwelling on them.

"Our direction and the leadership Coach McCarthy is giving us and trickling down to us as veterans is, hey, let's not overreact, let's not under-react as well," Kampman said. "But realize there's a lot out in front of us. Let's clean up what we can clean up."

Davis Dons Label of Hero



Crucial stop sparks rally

By Albert Breer/ MetroWest Daily News

Monday, September 11, 2006

FOXBORO - Don Davis knew what might happen, that he had to be ready for play action or a quick-hitting pass.

He also knew - on fourth-and-1 fromthe Patriots’ 7-yard line in the third quarter of yesterday’s 19-17 win - what probably would.

“Sometimes there’s a trick pass,” said Davis. “But you know what? It’s their bigs against our bigs.”

And no one came up bigger than Davis. With the Bills leading 17-7 and threatening to put the game out of reach, the reserve linebacker filled the guard-tackle gap, stymied Willis McGahee a half-yard short of the marker and got the Pats the game-turning shot they needed.

The offense responded with a 12-play, 93-yard drive to cut the deficit to 17-14 and the rest is in the books - a win that probably wouldn’t have been if not for the big stop.

“A fourth down stop is like a turnover,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “Those plays don’t go down as turnovers, but they really are. It is no different if you intercepted a pass or recovered a fumble.”

Because of the spot it came in, this one may have been even bigger than that.

Had Buffalo gotten the yard it needed, it would have had three shots to cover 6 yards and push the edge to 24-7. Even a chip-shot field goal would have made it 20-7.

“We wanted to make a statement,” Davis said. “And we hadn’t, we started out not playing like we’d have liked to. But that was a critical point in the game and if you can make those plays at critical points, you’re able to give your offense and your team a chance to win.”

Davis, predictably, was bashful in taking credit.

The way he explains it, McGahee was running a simple lead play off left tackle. The kind of play that calls for inside-the-box players to man-up.

And because the linemen did, Davis’ path to the 234-pound tailback was without interruption.

“It’s just a simple handoff, giving it to McGahee, they got the big fullback (Daimon) Shelton coming in and it’s just power football,” Davis said. “You got Vince Wilfork and all those guys up front, (Richard) Seymour, Jarvis Green. They held them up and my job was just to go in and make the tackle.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mike Wahle Team Captain



Foxhole: Comments from Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox following the team's practice.

Panthers.com

September 7, 2006

On team captains: On offense, we've got Jake Delhomme and Mike Wahle. On defense, we have Mike Minter and Dan Morgan. Then on special teams Karl Hankton. Those were voted by the team.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mangino's contract a sweet deal



Posted on Wed, Sep. 06, 2006

Bob Lutz, Eagle Sports Columnist

I think Mark Mangino has done a good job in his four-plus years as football coach at Kansas.

But he hasn't done the kind of great job that his unbelievable contract extension -- which includes a raise from $650,000 annually to $1.5 million -- indicates.

The Jayhawks are 20-29 under Mangino. And while it's true he didn't inherit much from the previous coach, Terry Allen, since when does 20-29 earn that kind of raise?

I understand KU's desire for stability with the football program. And I think there's a chance Mangino will get it done over the long haul.

But what happened to rewarding performance?

The perks in Mangino's contract include two top-of-the-line automobiles and memberships to two country clubs.

I want his agent.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pop quiz for NFL addicted



September 04, 2006

By Doug Robinson
Deseret Morning News

Are you ready for the opening of the 2006 NFL season, now just four days away? Take this handy quiz to find out (warning: some of the answers might seem subjective, but that's only because they're my opinion).

Who are the best pure football players in the NFL? (a) Brian Urlacher; (b) Larry Johnson; (c) Mike Vrabel; (d) Dwight Freeney; (e) Marvin Harrison. Answer: All of the above.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ready, Willing and Vrabel



Outside linebacker, inside linebacker, even tight end -- no matter what the Patriots need, he's ready and willing

By Jackie MacMullan, Globe Staff September 3, 2006

FOXBOROUGH -- He forgets sometimes.

Happened just last week. Mike Vrabel broke from the huddle and positioned himself at inside linebacker, but when Tom Brady dropped back to pass, Vrabel instinctively reverted to the coverage responsibilities of the outside linebacker position, where he has established his reputation as an agitator and intimidator.

"I was in the wrong coverage," Vrabel confessed. "I had to stop for a second and look at myself. Then I said, 'Oh well,' and moved on."

He has been Patriots coach Bill Belichick's Everyman for five seasons now, willing and able to handle special teams assignments, rotating linebacker positions, and some occasional trickery at tight end. He is no decoy during his intermittent offensive forays, but a bona fide receiver specializing in touchdowns (8 receptions, 8 scores ). He is everything Belichick loves in a football player: smart, fearless, strong, well-conditioned, and versatile.

Yet sometimes you wonder whether his versatility betrays him. No one was happier than Vrabel in 2003 when he was flying in from the outside, recording a career- and team-high 9.5 sacks. They were the most sacks recorded by a Patriot in the Belichick era, and the most in team history since Willie McGinest recorded 9.5 in 1996. Vrabel's quickness and ability to read offenses made him a natural for the position.

But last season, when Ted Johnson abruptly retired, Roman Phifer did not return, and Tedy Bruschi began his long road back from a stroke, Vrabel began preparing for the inevitable. He played the final 11 games of the regular season and playoffs at inside linebacker, and wound up leading the team in tackles with 114.

This season, Vrabel was supposed to return to his customary outside position, but with Bruschi recovering from a broken wrist, Vrabel has found himself on the inside again.

"I'm having fun, because it's different," Vrabel said. "It's a challenge. I look at it as a compliment the coaching staff believes they can move me inside and not have our defense fall off. But it could change."

When Bruschi returns, Vrabel will likely replace Tully Banta-Cain as a starting outside linebacker (along with Rosevelt Colvin), leaving Bruschi and newly signed veteran Junior Seau to handle the primary inside chores.
Simple enough? It isn't. Juggling various responsibilities for a complicated defensive scheme is harder than Vrabel makes it seem.

"It gets overlooked, what he's doing for us," said safety Rodney Harrison. "He has 10 sacks one year, and no Pro Bowl consideration. Then we ask him to come inside because we have injuries. He goes back outside, but then he's got to come back in again, and he never lets it affect his psyche.

"It would be easy to get discouraged. Another guy would be saying, 'If I'm inside, there's no way I'm getting 9 or 10 sacks. I had 10 sacks in '03, so this is going to make me look like I'm losing it. This is bad for my career.'

"Do you think for a second Mike Vrabel is going to say anything like that? Not a chance. He's thinking, 'I'm inside. Cool. Let's do some damage in here.' "

Making an impression

It's easy to identify Vrabel now as one of the cornerstones of the Patriots defense, a veteran with the experience and credentials to be a locker room leader. It's almost as easy to forget that he came to New England in 2001 as a relatively anonymous special teams player from the Steelers, a free agent on the fringe.

"He took the scenic route to the NFL," observed Seau. "He wasn't some first-round pick that was catered to. He was one of those fourth-and-1 guys whose career was always in the balance, who had to worry about being cut, about finding a way onto the field, about getting noticed.

"Guys like that don't take anything for granted, even after they've made it. But I'll tell you this much: After watching Mike up close these past few weeks, you wonder how this guy ever slipped through the cracks."

Vrabel can recall walking into the Patriots locker room the first day and encountering the towering presence of McGinest, who challenged anyone and everyone to outwork him in the weight room. Nor has he forgotten how badly he wanted to fit in -- at any position.

"I felt like I was trying to do too much when I first got here," he said.

"Kind of an eager beaver. It was really my first chance at playing, and I didn't want to lose out. Tedy told me, 'Just be you. Be smart. Be consistent. You don't have to impress anybody.' "

He did anyway, because he was such a quick study. Vrabel, who wants to be a coach someday, caught the attention of the veterans by mastering schemes, asking questions, even suggesting changes to the game plan.

"He's the smartest football player I've ever been on the field with," Harrison declared. "Like one of the coaches."

Because of that, teammates maintain, Vrabel is able to take certain liberties with the staff, including Belichick himself.

"The guy should have been a comedian," offered defensive end Jarvis Green. "We'll be sitting in meetings, and he'll come out with something that the rest of us might be thinking but would never say out loud.

"The other day, the coaches were laying out all the stuff they wanted us to do, and all of a sudden Mike is yelling, `What do you think we are? Your whipping boys?' I mean, I was thinking that, but saying it? I'll leave that to Mike."

He has become adept at knowing when to ease the tension with a wisecrack, or spice up the drudgery with a dig.

"I don't mind joking with Bill, and he doesn't mind telling me to shut the [expletive] up," Vrabel explained. "I do it because it breaks up the monotony, whether it's with Bill or someone else."

A leading man

With McGinest gone this year and Harrison missing most of last season, it was only logical that Vrabel would step up and assume some veteran leadership responsibilities. Richard Seymour, Bruschi, Harrison, and Vrabel are the defensive core the younger players look to for advice. According to Green, Vrabel entertains a steady stream of questions from rookies and young prospects throughout the preseason.

"They choose him," Green said, "because he treats them the way he'd like to be treated himself."

"I don't know how I got here [to a position of leadership]," Vrabel said with a shrug. ``I don't look at myself like that."

He has grown accustomed to a roster in flux, and that means adding new faces and subtracting old friends.

"Larry [Izzo] and I were saying the other day we're the only ones from the 2001 free agent class who are left," Vrabel said. "We're always changing here. The young guys have so many questions, but I tell them, 'Hey, it took me time to learn myself.'

"We all have our ways. The way Junior does things might be completely different than Tedy or myself. And right now, our roles haven't even really been defined."

This is nothing new for a linebacker who will go inside or outside, will score a touchdown or prevent one. Asked about Vrabel, Belichick smiled, then said, "I think Mike falls into that exceptionally versatile category."

The coach, not known for hyperbole, then rattled off Vrabel's strengths: smart, instinctive, runs well, good size, strong, powerful.


"The guy does a lot of things and he doesn't take long to get assignments down," Belichick continued. "He's able to do the techniques that need to be done for the position -- and he'll be happy to tell you that, too."

That is true. Mike Vrabel is proud to be the Everyman.

Sure beats the fringe free agent taking the scenic route.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Smith leads Shock into finals



By Mel Greenberg

August 29, 2006

Katie Smith has said that she would not mind going into dentistry after her women's basketball career is over.

Drilling teeth may be in her future, but these days Smith is drilling shots for the Detroit Shock, a key reason that coach Bill Laimbeer's squad has advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time since winning the title in 2003.

The Shock will open the best-of-five Finals against the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs on Wednesday night at 7:30 (ESPN2) at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Sacramento dispatched the Los Angeles Sparks in a two-game sweep in the Western Conference finals. Detroit eliminated the Connecticut Sun, the team with the best overall record, by dominating Sunday's decisive third game, 79-55, for the Eastern Conference crown.

"You look at position by position, and Detroit seems to have such an advantage," said Hall of Famer Ann Meyers, who will provide commentary for some of the games on ESPN Radio. "But Sacramento plays with such heart."

Smith and Sacramento center Yolanda Griffith will be on opposing sides in a pro women's basketball championship for the first time since the two played in the former American Basketball League.

In 1998, Smith's Columbus Quest beat Griffith's Long Beach StingRays in the ABL finals.

A five-time WNBA all-star, Smith is the all-time leading scorer in women's professional basketball in the United States with 5,558 points, including 1,431 in the ABL.

By reaching the WNBA Finals, Smith, 32, joins the recently retired Dawn Staley of the Houston Comets in a unique category.

Smith and Staley, who also coaches Temple, are the only two to compete in an ABL championship series and a WNBA title series, win Olympic gold medals, and play in an NCAA title game.

Smith won't be done after the WNBA series. She'll catch up with the USA Basketball senior national women's team that will compete early next month in the FIBA world championship in Brazil.

Both the Monarchs and the Shock had questions coming into the season. Detroit center Ruth Riley, the former Notre Dame star and MVP of the 2003 Finals, had sought a trade before agreeing to return to the Shock.

Laimbeer moved Smith to point guard, where she proved helpful in running the squad as well as being deadly on the perimeter.

Former Connecticut star Swin Cash, who scored 16 points to match Smith in Sunday's win, finally recovered from a knee injury suffered late in the 2004 season.

Sacramento suffered several injuries and had to deal with the loss of defender Chelsea Newton, a top rookie out of Rutgers a year ago who was taken by the Chicago Sky in the expansion draft.

Erin Buescher of the Monarchs was named the WNBA's most improved player.

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