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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mike Vrabel Does Good



May 22, 2007
By Ryan Wilson

It's easy to hate the Patriots. They have won three Super Bowls in six years, have arguably the league's dreamiest quarterback, the smartest coach, and the best front office, and just wrapped up an off-season that already has every media bobblehead anointing them XLII Super Bowl champions.



But as a fan, I'm able to separate the game from the players -- at least during the summer, when there is no chance New England will beat the crap out of my team on their way to another postseason appearance. Plus, with all the ridiculously inane headlines NFL players have been making lately, this seems like a nice respite from killer dogs, money-raining strip clubs, and moonlighting pimps:

Marshall athletic director Bob Marcum ... was touched when he saw Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel at the annual football camp sponsored by Troy Brown and former Patriot Mike Bartrum this past weekend in Huntington, W.Va. Marcum saw Vrabel pushing a camper in a wheelchair from drill to drill. "He stayed with him most of the time, looking out for him," Marcum said. "I just thought it was a tremendous thing and you could see the happiness in the young boy's face. It was a great thrill for him."

This paragraph was buried in Mike Reiss's Patriots notebook in today's Boston Globe. Obviously, this is a much more important story than New England re-signing 38-year-old Junior Seau, or Vinny Testaverde Larking it around the locker room as he contemplates his next move in between games of Mahjong. But it's not salacious enough to be newsworthy, I guess.

Maybe if the kids got lap dances as part of their tuition the story would've garnered more attention, but that kinda defeats the purpose. Whatever, good for Vrabel. If I'm the NFL, I might want to make a bigger deal of this to distract fans from all the other silliness.

Monday, May 21, 2007

TSN: Kampman top defensive end



May 21, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mike Elgin impresses at minicamp



MAN BEHIND THE MUSCLE
Quincy native Chris Doyle a builder of men

By ERIC McHUGH
May 18, 2007

Mike Elgin may not be the world’s strongest man, but he sure seemed to be the strongest of the three New England Patriots offensive linemen at last weekend’s rookie minicamp.

While fifth-round tackle Clint Oldenburg of Colorado State and sixth-round tackle Corey Hilliard of Oklahoma State labored through their drills under the all-knowing eye of line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Elgin, a seventh-round guard/center from Iowa, looked right at home.

That’s a tribute not only to Elgin’s impressive work ethic - further evidence: he carried a 3.9 grade-point average as a mechanical engineering major - but also to the countless hours of instruction he received from strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle in the Hawkeyes’ weight room.

"You’ll get a kick out of this," Doyle said. "In Iowa, we have these little summer, weekend festivals. They have one called Beef Days, and they actually have a hay bale-(throwing) contest. Each year, all the big guys go to this hay bale contest and they kind of razz each other and it gets kind of competitive to see who can throw a 60-pound bale of hay to height."

Noted Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz with a chuckle: "They probably didn’t do that one in Foxboro, I’m guessing."

Anyway, Doyle said Elgin won last summer’s event with a toss of 15 feet straight up.

"Some people call it ‘functional strong’ or ‘country strong,’" Doyle said. "This guy grew up on a farm doing chores."

Doyle didn’t. He grew up in Quincy. A star offensive lineman for Boston College High School and the now-defunct Boston University program, he started on the football coaching track before turning his lifelong love of squats, bench-presses and the like into a second career. Since 1999 he’s been helping Ferentz, a former Bill Belichick assistant in Cleveland, mold raw, corn-fed Midwestern kids into Big Ten pile drivers.

Helping fulfill pro ambitions

Over the past five seasons, 20 Hawkeyes have been drafted into the NFL. Five of those, including Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark, came to Iowa as walk-ons - a stat that BU strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle says demonstrates just how proficient Doyle is at his craft.

"In terms of really developing players and getting guys to become the best that they can be," said Boyle, who took Doyle under his wing at BU 20 years ago, "he’s widely regarded as one of the best guys in college."

Agreed Ferentz: "I can’t imagine there are a lot of strength and conditioning coaches who do a better job than Chris."

Ferentz said Doyle, 38, is "in the forefront" of Iowa’s recruiting pitches and is the backbone of Iowa’s player development. Ferentz acknowledges that the Hawkeyes won’t win many recruiting wars with the big dogs like Florida, USC, Texas, Ohio State and Michigan. So the key to Iowa’s survival is making sure that its lower-profile recruits - such as Elgin, who was the last player Iowa took in his recruiting class - maximize their potential.

"All that starts with the work that Chris and his staff do," Ferentz said. "That’s where it all begins."

Doyle’s program at Iowa is built around what he calls "speed power."

"If you look at football," he said, "there is a time limitation. It doesn’t matter how strong you are; it’s how fast you can apply that force. Our training is geared toward developing a player’s ability to apply force rapidly. The harder you push against the ground, the higher you jump and the faster you run. We’re going to focus on developing ground-based power, our ability to push against the ground explosively.

"In every movement that we do - squats, bench-presses, clean, snatch - we actually time bar speed. We’re more concerned with power output than we are with absolute strength development - how many plates you can put on a bar. It’s how fast you can move that bar with those plates on it that really, truly matters."

Elgin moved one particular 45-pound plate very well at the rookie minicamp. In a grueling drill near the end of Sunday’s one-hour workout, the three offensive linemen held the plate at chest level and punched out and back with it while shuffling from side to side to mimic pass protection. Oldenburg and Hilliard got sloppy at times. They would shoot the plate out just fine but then would dip it down as they brought it back to their body. Elgin went straight out and straight back, and his footwork looked much more natural as well.

"We do similar drills," Doyle said. "To the casual observer, when they see that drill they say, ‘Oh, they’re developing the ability to punch.’ But what you’re really evaluating is the athlete’s ability to maintain torso stability and to stay in a good blocking position. That’s more critical than the punch itself. That’s an area where you’ll see Mike’s core strength, through his torso and his legs, is pretty good."

A familiar look

Doyle grew up a Patriots fan and idolized Hall of Fame guard John Hannah, who, coincidentally, was a surprise visitor at Saturday’s practice. Not surprisingly, he spent the whole time with his gaze fixed on Elgin, Oldenburg and Hilliard. Doyle, who had Hannah speak to his offensive linemen when he was the position coach at Holy Cross in the mid-1990s, said what he admired most about Hannah was "how much pride he took in being good at what he did."

Doyle sees Elgin taking a similar approach, both on the field and in the classroom. While it won’t be as easy as chucking a hale bay into an Iowa summer sky, Doyle thinks Elgin can carve out a place for himself in the pros, even though 246 players were picked ahead of him in this year’s draft.

"The end result is what matters - do you block people and do you block people consistently well over a period of time?" Doyle said. "Mike is a three-year starter in the Big 10, both at center and guard. He’s a brilliant guy. And no one will outwork him. ... I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anybody that he looked decent (at minicamp)."

Katie Smith: Vital Part of Champion Shock



Not so Shock-ing: Detroit's swagger is still there

By Oscar Dixon
May 17, 2007

Bill Laimbeer and his defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock seemingly go out of their way to rub their success in everyone's face.

Whether cocky or just confident, Laimbeer doesn't lose any sleep over it.

"We have an attitude about us, there is no question about that," Laimbeer says proudly. "And it started when I came in. I tell my players that I am a championship coach. All I care about is playing for the championship. I'm not doing this just for a job. And I expect them to act accordingly.

"If people call us arrogant, well, I don't really care."

With good reason. The Shock have gone from 9-23 in 2002 to shooting for their third title in five years.

They will receive their 2006 championship rings before hosting Sacramento in the season opener Saturday in a rematch of last year's Finals (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

"Detroit is clearly a team with talent, probably the most talented top six" in the league, ESPN analyst Doris Burke says.

"But beyond that, it's this collective mentality that they like to perform when the lights are on. It takes a great mental toughness and ability to be able to focus at the most critical times. During the regular season they can be bored because of their talent."

Pat Coyle, coach of the retooled New York Liberty, says people should forget about the Shock's image and focus on the team's four "legitimate All-Stars."

"They can hurt you outside, inside," Coyle says. "They've been playing together now for a couple of years, and when you have a backcourt of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith, you're going to beat a lot of teams.

"Do they take on (Laimbeer's) personality? I think they do, and they have a right to. They've gotten it done two of the last four years."

Laimbeer, one of the NBA "Bad Boys" with the Pistons, was known as a physical player on defense as Detroit won back-to-back titles in 1989 and '90.

If the Shock repeat this season, it would be the most dominant run since the Houston Comets won the first four WNBA titles, from 1997-2000. But it is harder for a franchise to sustain that excellence today with more competition, free agency and salary caps.

"When the Comets won four straight, the league was in its infancy stage, and they had four of probably the top-10 players in the world on the same team," Laimbeer says. "Not to diminish what they accomplished … but the league today is much more competitive.

"We're in that window of opportunity where we're going to compete for the championship for probably the next three, four, five years, depending on what other pieces I might be able to add."

Players fit Laimbeer mold

Regardless of the pieces, the roster will reflect Laimbeer's philosophy.

Smith, the first professional women's player to score 5,000 points and who has averaged 16.4 points in eight WNBA seasons, was acquired in a 2005 midseason trade with Minnesota. At 5-11, 175 pounds, the six-time All-Star is one of the most physical guards in the league and known to play hard.

"Bill doesn't shy away from 'edgy.' We all have a little edginess to us in a way," Smith says. "As competitors, edgy is good. You have to be coachable, but you have to have that fight in you. And every player on this team has that fight in them."

Laimbeer seeks that trait in players.


"I build my team around players who are more athletic than skilled," he says. Power forward Cheryl Ford "wasn't very polished. She is becoming that now. Deanna Nolan was always an underachiever for her athletic talent. She is becoming a great player right now. (Small forward) Swin Cash was always in the shadow of Sue Bird.

"I'm not afraid to go out and get athletes who are very strong-willed and mold them into" teammates.

Smith, an Olympic gold medalist, says Laimbeer's approach has created a locker room unlike any she has been in.

"Pretty much anything goes, and that's across the board, coaches and players," she says of the verbal exchanges behind closed doors. "It's all about winning. We're getting paid to win basketball games, not to just play basketball games."


It's not winning games that bothers others, it's how they win: with the intent to dominate.

"We try to blow people out," says Nolan, a 5-11 guard who averages 12.1 points and has used her 33-inch vertical leap to try to dunk during games. "Just to set that standard and let everybody know who we are and what we do."

What they do is run, with Nolan, Smith and Cash, who averages 13.3 points. The Shock also pound the boards, led by Ford, who averaged a league-leading 11.3 rebounds last season.

"We want to be the best team, we want to be the most physical, and we want to dominate on the floor," Cash says. "And if you dominate on the floor, then everything else takes care of itself."

Smith knows what it's like to be an opponent after seven years with the Lynx.

"You always knew you were in for a battle," she says. "They were going to knock your head off if they had to and just keep coming after you, especially on the boards, where they were going to keep pounding you and pounding you.

"It was like they had a chip on their shoulder in the sense that everybody hates them. And now being on the other side, it's true. Not a lot of people like us."


Rival Sun ready for rematch

Former Los Angeles Lakers star Michael Cooper, who has returned to coach the Los Angeles Sparks after a two-year stint in the NBA and Developmental League, played against Laimbeer in the NBA and coached against him in the WNBA.

"There's no comparison," Cooper says. "Those ladies look a lot better than Bill. Former players kind of coach the way they played and were coached. Detroit, I don't think, crosses the line. They play very good, hard basketball. They've got some players that are similar to Bill and (assistant coach and former Pistons Bad Boy) Rick Mahorn, (including) Cheryl Ford. They just go out and play tough. They're a very physical team."

One of Detroit's fiercest rivals are the Connecticut Sun and coach Mike Thibault, who shares a mutual respect on the court with Laimbeer and the Shock but not much else. The Sun are looking forward to another conference final showdown.

"They've made changes, we've made changes," Thibault says, referring to his trade of forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin and the Shock moving center Ruth Riley. "When you are in our situation, or Indiana's or Washington, the team that wins is the one you measure yourself against. I can't make every single decision I make based on Detroit.

"Ultimately, you try to build a team that is good enough at the end of the season. You don't back up the truck and make wholesale changes, but you certainly have to know that you have to be more physically ready to match some of the things they do."

Asked if the Shock are the best team, Laimbeer says yes.

"Not only did we win the championship last year, but we're better," he says.

"We're better individually, we're better collectively. … We're better talent-wise, and we have better chemistry."

Let the games begin.

Shannon Johnson, Key Addition



Laimbeer adds to Shock sparingly

By Oscar Dixon
May 17, 2007

Bill Laimbeer didn't select anyone in the dispersal draft in January after the WNBA's Charlotte Sting folded. He didn't feel anyone from the last-place team in the Eastern Conference could help his Detroit Shock.

Before the April 4 draft he openly said no one could have an impact with the defending champions and making the roster as a rookie would be difficult.

Laimbeer did take North Carolina point guard Ivory Latta, projected as a top-five pick, when she slipped to the Shock's No. 11 pick. She made the team, but with his backcourt of Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan, Laimbeer says she "probably won't play."

Laimbeer did make two offseason moves, trading 6-5 Ruth Riley in a deal to San Antonio for 6-8, 240-pound Katie Feenstra.

He also signed free agent Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson, a four-time All-Star who played in San Antonio last year. The 5-7 guard has averaged 11.8 points in her eight-year WNBA career.

"Look at what I have," Laimbeer barks when asked about his draft positions. Deanna "Nolan is coming into her own right now. (Cheryl) Ford is still growing as a basketball player but is also coming into her own. We've elevated (center) Kara Braxton, who has the ability to be a phenomenal basketball player.

"We got insurance in Feenstra. And one of the biggest keys who is going to work out really well is Pee Wee. We're going to use her just like we did with Vinnie Johnson (when Laimbeer played for the NBA's Detroit Pistons), coming off the bench to score."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Seeking Next Stephen Neal, Jets Bring in Wrestlers



May 15, 2007
By Michael David Smith

Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal never played college football. Wrestling was his sport of choice in college, and he won two national championships and a Dan Hodge Award, which is considered the Heisman Trophy of wrestling.



Despite his lack of football experience, the Patriots thought he was an impressive enough athlete that they offered him a contract in 2001, and by 2004 he was starting at guard on the best team in the league.

Jets coach Eric Mangini was an assistant in New England, and the development of Neal must have stuck in his brain because the Jets invited two college wrestlers with no football experience to their minicamp.

Among the 51 rookies attending Jets' minicamp are Cole Konrad and Tommy Rowlands, the two top ranked heavyweight wrestlers in college. Both wrestlers are also considered gold medal contenders for the 2008 Olympics.

Konrad and Rowlands were invited to camp by Mangini, a wrestler in high school, despite the fact that neither has played organized football since 9th grade. And neither was expecting a call to minicamp.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Looking for the Next Stephen Neal



Still Invitation Only, but Jets Widen Door for Camp
By KAREN CROUSE

May 13, 2007

Jets Coach Eric Mangini has a soft spot for these rock-hard wrestlers, and not only because he dabbled in the sport in high school. He watched Steve Neal, a world-class wrestler, become a productive guard for the New England Patriots. Mangini also was among the first to encourage Ben Graham, the Jets’ punter, to make the switch from Australian Rules Football to the N.F.L.

Mangini is a big believer that all successful athletes share certain traits that transcend their sports-specific skill sets. In all, 51 players, including the four players in this year’s draft class, are participating in the three-day camp.

“Whether it be wrestlers, basketball players, track athletes, Australian Rules football players, whoever it is,” Mangini said, “if they have a good work ethic, intelligence, the things that we look for, then it’s our job to teach them and their job to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Don Davis Will Pump You Up



May 9, 2007
By Ryan Wilson

The Belichick coaching tree just sprouted another bud: the Patriots hired former player Don Davis, 34, as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. What does the New England assistant strength and conditioning coach do? Glad you asked:

Davis brings an interesting approach to the job. Just as the 49ers did during their glory days, he's been boxing with players such as Tom Brady and Matt Cassel to improve their hand speed, holding small pads like trainer Teddy Atlas.

For some reason, I have this visual of Brady and Cassel sporting Bike shorts, tube socks, and bare chests ... and pillow fighting. All while giggling uncontrollably.

Seriously, Davis must be a pretty smart guy -- Belichick doesn't seem like someone who suffers fools well -- and he's got to really love football. His playing career just ended, and instead of doing whatever it is most football players do in the years following their retirement (opening restaurants, appearing on "Dancing with the Stars," developing a drug habit), he jumped right into coaching.

Davis joins strong staff



By John Tomase

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

FOXBORO - Former special teams standout Don Davis, who retired at age 34 following a knee injury last year, has been added to the Patriots staff as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Davis has spent the spring working with Mike Woicik and Co. as the Pats run through their offseason conditioning program. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs praised the entire staff for keeping him strong and in shape while he recovers from offseason wrist surgery.

Davis brings an interesting approach to the job. Just as the 49ers did during their glory days, he’s been boxing with players such as Tom Brady and Matt Cassel to improve their hand speed, holding small pads like trainer Teddy Atlas.

Davis knows what the Patriots expect out of their conditioning program. He was honored with multiple offseason workout awards during his career.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The right time to take Spaeth



By Teresa Varley
May 4, 2007

During the Steelers pre-draft press conference director of football operations Kevin Colbert said there were two positions that you could be certain the team would not go to in the first round – quarterback and tight end.

But he didn't say anything about ruling either position out completely.

So that's why when they were on the clock in the third round the Steelers could not pass on a tight end who was on the board and selected Matt Spaeth, who played college ball at Minnesota.

"I think that was the time that we wanted one," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of selecting Spaeth in the third round. "And this was a guy that we had targeted and really liked. We were ecstatic that he fell to us."

Spaeth, 6-7, 270 pounds, is someone who intrigued the Steelers so much before the draft that they brought him in as one of their allowed visits in the weeks prior to the draft. They liked what they saw of him before that, and even more after his visit.

"He is big, tall and fast," said Arians. "He can block; he is an outstanding, prototypical tight end. He can help stretch the field and he can also handle the point of attack
."

Texans wanted Ginn



Len Pasquarelli
May 4, 2007

One slot can mean a significant financial difference in the first round. And from a perception standpoint, it apparently can mean a lot, too. The Miami Dolphins, and in particular first-year coach Cam Cameron, caught incredible grief from their fans and the media when they chose Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Miami fans, of course, wanted the team to stop the free fall of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn at that point. But had the Dolphins not taken Ginn, who is still recovering from the mid-foot sprain he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl after being mobbed by teammates when he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, Houston would have grabbed him with the No. 10 slot. And the guess is that long-suffering Texans fans, tired of seeing the team field a bunch of stiffs at the wide receiver spot opposite Pro Bowl pass catcher Andre Johnson, would have had a much kinder reaction.

Ginn was the guy the Texans wanted, and one look at the wide receiver depth chart after Johnson shows why. As was the case for the departed David Carr, there aren't a lot of inviting targets for new starting quarterback Matt Schaub. Arguably the most surprising choice in the top 10 of the 2006 draft was another former Ohio State player: safety Donte Whitner, who was chosen by Buffalo with the eighth overall pick and had a marvelous rookie year for the Bills. The Dolphins can only hope their Buckeyes' surprise in the top 10 this year turns out as well.

TSN Grades the 2007 NFL Draft



A+

Miami Dolphins. The first three picks--WR Ted Ginn Jr., QB John Beck and C Samson Satele--should all become starters quickly. The smart, mature Beck could be ready by opening day. RB Lorenzo Booker will help immediately as a third-down back.

Yanda already a ‘hit’ with Ravens



Matt Palmer
May 7, 2007

Marshal Yanda, right, was drafted 86th overall by the Ravens with the hope he can be the team’s tackle of the future. Yanda earned second-team All-Big Ten honors at the University of Iowa last year.

Marshal Yanda is the reason youtube.com exists. When the Ravens selected the University of Iowa guard/tackle with the 86th overall pick in the NFL Draft April 28, fans of his new team — the Baltimore Ravens — went scrambling for any bit of information on the 6-feet-4, 310-pound lineman.

What they invariably found was known as “the hit,” a video showing Yanda leveling a mind-rattling block on Iowa State defensive end Rashawn Parker on a reverse run back by Iowa in a game last September.

Running to the right side of the field, Parker was caught unawares, his head snapped back and he fell to the ground and lay facedown for two minutes.

With that one play and with the video’s rewind factor the nasty Yanda endeared himself to Raven nation.

“We love his demeanor; he makes a good offensive lineman,” Eric DeCosta, the team’s director of college scouting, said after the team picked Yanda. “He could play guard or tackle, and he plays a physical style and looks to finish. Tony Pashos had that same quality and we lost him [to free agency in the offseason] and that’s something that’s attractive to your offensive line - to get that type of personality up front.”

The Ravens got their first chance to see the farm boy from Anamosa, Iowa at this past weekend’s rookie minicamp at the team’s Owings Mills facility. He was still answering questions about the hit on Parker months later.

“That’s the game of football,” Yanda said. “The fun is that physical-ness to the game, and I love being physical and playing football physical. I’m excited to do that, but… now it’s learning the system and learning the ropes.”

With just two offensive linemen present at minicamp, the team barely got to a chance to fully appreciate what Yanda could do.

Ravens head coach Brian Billick said it was “impossible” to draw conclusions on players at the light workouts.

Yanda, who because of academic issues in high school, attended and played for North Iowa Community College for the first two years of college. He was an All-Region selection and an honorable mention All-America as a sophomore, playing both left guard and right tackle.

When he moved on to Iowa, he gained the reputation of being a diverse lineman and earned second team All-Big Ten honors last year. With future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden possibly retiring after next season, the team hopes Yanda and third-year right player Adam Terry could be the tackles of the future.

“We felt like, with the number of picks that we had on the second day, that moving back into the third round to get Yanda provided us with a guy that can now start to develop as a tackle, but can also play the offensive guard position,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Yanda said he is eager to show people there is more to him than youtube glory.

“I’m really excited to be here, get working and contribute to the team,” Yanda said.

NC Sports clients perform well on Wonderlic



The Wonder-Lic of it all
By Michael Bradley
March 23, 2007

Neil Cornrich, president of NC Sports in Cleveland, which represents many NFL players and several collegiate coaches, boasts a strong track record in the Wonderlic.

“Fortunately, the Wonderlic Test hasn’t been an issue for us,” he says. “Our clients have performed very well on the test.”


That’s something he can use when recruiting prospects. And teams are aware that agents like Cornrich are making sure their people are ready for all aspects of draft preparation. Of course, inexperienced agents won’t always be as vigilant. They may administer some practice tests, but they won’t take the extra step, in the event of a low score, to find out the problem.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ted Ginn Jr.: Smart pick for Dolphins



April 30, 2007

"This (drafting Ted Ginn Jr. over Brady Quinn at No. 9 overall) will prove to be the smartest decision that the Dolphins have ever made."
- bryght

NC Sports clients rocket up draft boards



Ginn Continues Buckeye Draft Day Trend

Greg Powers
April 28, 2007

Ted Ginn proves that his decision to turn pro a year early was well worth it when he was selected number nine overall. Last year Donte Whitner exploded up the draft day board, and some people were stunned when he was selected so early by the Buffalo Bills, and this year the trend continued when Ted Ginn Jr. was selected ahead of Brady Quinn at pick nine.

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