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Friday, February 26, 2010

Todd Boeckman named one of Ohio's Top Athletes of the Decade



Ohio’s Top 50 Athletes of the Decade: No. 22 Todd Boeckman

By Eric Frantz

February 25, 2010

Today we continue the countdown of JJHuddle’s “Top 50 Ohio High School Athletes of the Decade” for 1999-2009. Every Monday through Friday from now until March 26, a new athlete will be released.

Today’s entry led his team to the state final in three sports…

22. Todd Boeckman, St. Henry, Football, Basketball and Baseball, 1999-2003: Some might be surprised at Boeckman’s rank here, but his resume speaks for itself. Boeckman earned 11 varsity letters at St. Henry and led the Redskins to a state final in every sport (and two state titles). As a freshman QB he guided St. Henry to a runner-up finish in D-V. That same school year the Redskins – with Boeckman as sixth man – were runner-up in boys basketball in D-IV. That spring the Redskins won the D-IV state baseball title. St. Henry also won the D-IV state baseball title in Boeckman’s senior year.

Individually, Boeckman’s name appears among the leaders in multiple state records and sports.

In football Boeckman ranks No. 15 in career passing yards (7,021 yards, 1999-2002) and No. 18 in career passing TDs (64, 1999-2002).

In baseball Boeckman is tied for No. 2 in Ohio history for most RBIs in a season (66 in 2003). Since his performance no one else has hit more than 56. He’s also tied for No. 3 for HRs in a season (18 in 2003), tied for No. 3 with HRs in five straight games (2003), tied for No. 4 in HRs for a career (40 from 2000-2003) and No. 12 for most RBIs in a career (140 (00-03). On the mound Boeckman is tied for No. 8 in most consecutive wins (19, 2001-03).

The 2003 St. Henry team (Boeckman’s senior year) ranks No. 3 all-time in Ohio for hits in a season (389).

In basketball Boeckman ended his career No. 9 on St. Henry’s career scoring list with over 1,000 points. He led the Redskins in scoring and rebounding his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

Boeckman earned All-Ohio honors (a total of seven times) in all three sports.

Could Stephen Neal Be the Man To Tame UFC Beast Brock Lesnar?






By Robert Gardner

February 25th, 2010

Even though the UFC heavyweight division is rapidly evolving into the most exciting and interesting division in the sport today, I still have a hard time picturing any of the current contenders being able to rip the title from Brock Lesnar’s massive meat mitts.

It’s not that this current crop of contenders lack the skill or the drive; I just don’t see any of them having the tools to compete with Lesnar’s combination of freakish athletic ability and elite wrestling pedigree.

However, recently one name has emerged that I feel could be just the man for the job—Stephen Neal.

That’s right, current NFL free agent guard and three-time Super Bowl champion Stephen Neal.

Neal’s agent, Neil Cornrich, has stated that the former New England Patriot guard has been contemplating a return to amateur wrestling or perhaps even trying his hand at MMA.

“He’s excited to continue in the NFL and perhaps after that take a chance at the UFC,” Cornrich told CSNNE.com’s Tom E. Curran.

Now before you scoff at the idea of Neal entering MMA, remember that he is a former four-time All-American and two-time Division I National Champion wrestler from Cal State Bakersfield. The wrestling accolades don’t stop there, either; following his collegiate career, Neal went on to win the US Freestyle Championship, the Pan-American games title, and the World Championships.

It was not until after narrowly missing an opportunity to compete at the 2000 Sydney Olympics that Neal transitioned into the NFL—unlike Lesnar, Neal flourished with his transition.

Why do I think Neal could find success within the confines of MMA?

First, his wrestling pedigree is undeniable. Neal not only has a better amateur resume than Lesnar, but he also defeated the current UFC heavyweight champion to win his second national title.

Second, Neal has the athleticism and physical gifts to rival that of anyone currently competing in MMA.

Playing in the NFL is no small feat, and when you take into consideration that Neal was able to do so without ever playing a down of football in college, it’s just incredible. That achievement alone not only speaks to Neal’s athletic ability but also his work ethic.


The final reason Neal would find success in MMA is tied directly to the position that he played in the NFL, offensive guard.

Guards, for those who are unfamiliar with football, play in the trenches—an extremely physical and violent world. The goal of a guard is dominate and impose your will of the man lined up across from you, just like in the Octagon.

I have little doubt that if Neal were to make his way to MMA, he would become a force to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dallas Clark Earns Highest Tight End Salary Cap Number



Cash consideration: To tag or not to tag

Source: NFLPA

February 23, 2010

Even with the likelihood of a free agency market operating in an uncapped year for the first time since the salary cap was instituted in 1994, NFL teams still have the option of restricting key players with franchise or transition tags that would allow the team to match free agent offers or receive draft picks as compensation. If a player is designated a franchise player, he is guaranteed a 2010 salary that is the average of the salary cap figure for the top five players at his position last season or 120% of his 2009 salary — whichever is greater. A transition tag would garner a tender that is the average of the top 10 salaries of a player's position. A rundown of the 2010 franchise and transition tender amounts:

Tight end

Highest 2009 salary cap number: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis ($6.773M)

Franchise number: $5.908M

Transition number: $5.248M

Jermail Porter Honored by Dapper Dan Club





Courtesy: Kent State Athletic Communications

February 22, 2010


AKRON, Ohio - Kent State Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy and former heavyweight wrestler Jermail Porter were among the 13 honorees at the Dapper Dan Club of Akron banquet on Sunday, Feb. 14 at The Tangier.

Kennedy was given the William Falor Award For Career Achievement, while Porter, was one of 10 athletes presented with an achievement award.

Under Kennedy's leadership, Kent State teams have won 87 Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championships. Individually, Golden Flashes student-athletes have claimed 251 individual MAC titles while earning 84 All-America honors and 29 Academic All-America citations. In 2008-09 the Golden Flashes captured their fourth MAC men's (Reese) all-sports trophy. On the women's side KSU finished second in the Jacoby all-sports trophy standings - their 12th consecutive top three finish.

An Akron native, Porter finished sixth at the 2009 NCAA Wrestling Championships, becoming Kent State's first All-American in 23 seasons. As a senior he was named Mid-American Conference Wrestler of the Year after winning tournament titles at the MAC Championships, the Southern Scuffle and the Body Bar Invitational. Porter's 119 career victories are the fourth most in school history.

Also honored with an achievement award was former Kent State cross country runner Jeff Howard. A four-year letterwinner (1989-1992) at KSU, Howard has coached Woodridge High School to four consecutive state championships in boys cross country. He is in his 12th year of coaching track & field and cross country at Woodridge.

Formed in 1959, The Dapper Dan Club of Akron holds annual banquets to recognize outstanding sports achievement, while raising money for local youth charities.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stephen Neal is the number one rated free agent guard





By Chris J. Nelson

February 20, 2010

This article immediately follows my free agent offensive tackles piece, which needless to say was a pretty pathetic list in terms of talent.

Unlike offensive tackle, however, interior linemen are much easier to find because they don't require quite the same blend of size, strength, and athleticism.

That being the case, the guard market will typically feature more overall talent than the tackle market, and things are no different in 2010.

These are my top five free agent guards in 2010:

Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)

1. Stephen Neal, New England Patriots

Neal has flown under the radar for much of his career in New England playing alongside some great talents and bigger names, but he's held his own as a former college wrestler and undrafted free agent.

At 33, Neal won't be a long-term starter, but he still plays at a high level and can certainly be an upgrade for a lot of teams inside.

2. Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

A 10-year NFL veteran, Williams has started every game except three since the beginning of the 2004 season and is still highly productive.

Part of a surprisingly effective Bengals offensive line in 2009, Williams has plenty of experience and great bulk for the position, making him one of the best short-term starters on the market at age 33.

3. Chester Pitts, Houston Texans

One of the original Texans, Pitts started the first 114 games of his career until a knee injury ended his season two games into 2009.

Pitts hasn't always been consistent and has been part of some pretty bad offensive lines during Houston's early years, but he has lots of experience at guard and tackle and is still fairly young at 30.

4. Rex Hadnot, Cleveland Browns

A knee injury disrupted most of his 2009 season, but Hadnot has been an above-average interior lineman for most of his career since being drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2004.

A versatile lineman who can start at both guard spots and center, Hadnot is still just 28 and could be a potential inexpensive find on the free agent market.

5. Tony Pashos, San Francisco 49ers

Pashos has actually seen starting time at tackle in recent years, but he's over-matched at the position and really doesn't have any business starting outside.

He does make for a strong backup lineman, however, with experience at guard and tackle and the ability to be a serviceable fill-in on the inside.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

From the Hart: Guyton better than Mayo?


By Andy Hart

February 18, 2010

Not sure if people saw this or not, but agent Neil Cornrich recently quoted a internet site called Pro Football Focus in his discussion of client Stephen Neal. Cornrich, who is a long-standing and relatively high-level agent, relayed that the site rated Neal as the second-best guard in football for 2009.

Thanks to a link on our buddy Albert Breer’s Boston.com blog, I clicked on over to Pro Football Focus to see what the site was all about. I’ll be honest I’d never heard of it before. I’m also very skeptical about such stats-only rating sites that seem to miss aspects of the game that can’t be expressed in a number. Sort of like the time one such site tried to tell me that Bo Jackson wasn’t any good because, among other things, he’d never had a 1,000-yard season. That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read.

But since a well-respected agent like Cornrich noted the site, I figured that gives it some level of credibility. Unless, of course, he’s just using it as a way to simply pump up his player in free agency. That’s a possibility as well.

Anyway, not sure if they know what they’re talking about, the positional player rankings at Pro Football Focus are very interesting regarding the Patriots. I urge you to check them out for yourself, but I’ll discuss some of them here.

As Cornrich alluded to in his comments regarding the fact that Neal is supposedly backing off his previous talk of retirement, the New England right guard is ranked right behind New Orleans’ Jahri Evans as the No. 2 overall guard. By comparison, Logan Mankins ranks sixth.

Maybe the most eye-opening ranking concerning the Patriots is at inside linebacker. (Again, that’s if you put as much stock in this site as Cornrich apparently does.) Pro Football Focus ranked New England defensive captain and leading tackler Jerod Mayo as the 39th best player at the position – four spots behind teammate and former undrafted free agent Gary Guyton, who came in at No. 35. And it’s not like the list is totally crazy, as San Francisco’s Patrick Willis led inside linebackers, followed by Baltimore’s Ray Lewis.

Another shocker comes at quarterback where Pro Football Focus ranks Tom Brady at No. 10, right behind Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Jacksonville’s David Garrard. San Diego’s Philip Rivers took the top spot, with Indy’s Peyton Manning coming in at No. 6. On the other end of the spectrum Jets rookie Mark Sanchez ranked 38th, barely beating Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.

Elsewhere on offense, Wes Welker is the Patriots highest-rated receiver at No. 4. That’ a slot ahead of Houston’s Andre Johnson and trailing, in order, San Diego’s Vincent Jackson (No. 1 WR), Minnesota’s Sydney Rice and Indy’s Reggie Wayne. Randy Moss comes in at a seemingly pedestrian 21st, just head of Chicago’s Devin Aromashodu and Carolina’s Muhsin Muhammad.

And can you guess which Patriots offensive lineman rated the highest, taking home the No. 5 overall slot at tackle? That would be second-round rookie Sebastian Vollmer. Wow! Veteran tackle teammates Nick Kaczur and Matt Light ranked 28th and 33rd, respectively. Has Light really gone from an All-Pro in 2007 to the third-best tackle on his team in 2009?

Finally we highlight the safety spot. Patriots Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather got some more love for his 2009 season, coming in 6th in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Baltimore’s Ed Reed and Jets safety Kerry Rhodes took the first two slots on the list. From the Hart favorite James Sanders ranked a respectable 26th among all league safeties, despite losing his job for most the season to Brandon McGowan, who ranked 57th overall.

Other interesting rankings for Patriots included Tully Banta-Cain (6th at 3-4 outside linebacker), Vince Wilfork (6th, defensive tackle/nose tackle), Leigh Bodden (14th at cornerback), Shawn Springs (32nd at cornerback), Ty Warren (9th at 3-4 end), Jarvis Green (22nd at 3-4 end), Dan Koppen (18th at center), Chris Baker (11th at tight end), Benjamin Watson (35th at tight end), Kevin Faulk (22nd at running back), Laurence Maroney (52nd at running back) and Stephen Gostkowski (3rd at kicker).

What do you think of this site and its rankings? Mayo may have struggled in his second season, but is Guyton really a better inside linebacker? Which of the rankings did you find most shocking? Which is most accurate? Let us know with a comment below!

"Amazing" Stephen Neal ready for 2010




Neal has been with the Patriots since 2001.

By Christopher Price

February 17, 2010

Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal apparently isn’t ready to call it a career after all.

Neal’s agent Neil Cornrich told ESPN Wednesday that his client not only intends to play in 2010, he expects a “vibrant free-agent market for his services.”

“He’s going to be playing,” Cornrich told ESPN.

The news comes as a bit of a surprise, especially in the wake of his comments after the playoff loss to the Ravens where the 33-year-old guard spoke openly about the possibility of retirement.

“I’m not sure,” Neal said after the game when asked about whether or not he’ll be back in 2010. “I’m not sure how my body is going to feel. I’m not sure if I’ll keep playing, keep getting in these car accidents each week. I don’t know. We’ll have to find out — talk to the family, see what options are available.”

Considered one of the toughest players in the New England locker room — he has reportedly played through a myriad of injuries over the course of his career — the former collegiate wrestling champion joined the Patriots in 2001. After not playing football in college, he eventually won a spot with the Patriots. He worked his way up from the practice squad and earned three Super Bowl rings in the process. In his career, Neal has played in 78 games, starting 73, and earning the respect of Bill Belichick and his teammates.

“It is a wonderful story about a guy that with hard work, dedication, overcoming the setbacks of the injuries and the lack of playing experience, has turned into, really, a good football player,” Belichick said of Neal’s football journey.

“You have to be amazed at him,” center Dan Koppen said of Neal. “When you look at him on the field, especially when you see his wrestling tapes, you know what kind of athlete he is. And he shows it out there on the field. He’s more athletic than any other lineman that we have out there right now, bar none. I have no problem saying that. He just loves to work. He gets in there and he studies and he just wants to do better every day. When you have a guy like that with that athleticism, it’s hard to hold him down.”

Marshal Yanda makes Pro Football Focus' All Second Year Team





PFF All 2nd Year Team

They say you can judge a draft class after 3 years of play in the NFL so with that in our heads we've looked at the performances of the 2007 class. Lets see which players 2009 performances caught our attention ...

Mario Manningham makes Pro Football Focus' All First Year Team



PFF All 1st Year Team

A year after some impressive (and some disappointing) rookie seasons from the 2008 Draft Class, PFF breaks down how these 1st year players have done in their second year

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Miami Dolphins' Brian Hartline Praised for Speed, Smarts, and Making the Big Plays




By Omar Kelly

February 11th, 2010

No offense to any of the Miami Dolphins’ other receivers, but 2009 provided plenty of evidence that Brian Hartline is the wide out with the most upside.

This entry is not meant to speak badly about Ted Ginn Jr., or disrespect the hard work Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo have done to make themselves respectable NFL players.

It’s also not meant to shame fellow rookie Patrick Turner for not developing as quickly as Hartline.

This blog entry is meant to point out that this rookie out of Ohio State stood out from the pack, which is a good sign for a team in need of an upgrade at the position.

Hartline, who contributed 506 receiving yards off 31 catches, produced most of the passing game’s biggest plays last season. He led the team in yards per reception (16.3), and also scored most of the passing game’s touchdowns in the red zone (four).

Last season Hartline proved he can make tough catches (only two drops), possesses enough speed to open up the deep passing game, and his coaches swear he’s the smartest player in that unit.

All those attributes likely means Hartline has the potential to do more. The potential to become a solid starter, helping the Dolphins’ anemic passing game grow while he continues to blossom.

I predict he’ll be a starter in 2010, and I’m curious to see what’s the upside?

During this unfiltered Hartline talks about the valuable experience he gained, and how it’ll benefit him next season. He said he felt he was “walking in the dark” his rookie season, but that’s no longer the case.

But what kind of improvements can we expect?

“My focus in the offseason is bigger and stronger,” said Hartline, who was selected in the fourth round. “I want to add that dynamic to my game. Being able to push guys around and not always having to run around guys all the time.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kampman one of top five unrestricted free agents







From Peter King's "Ten Things I Think I Think"

February 15, 2010

6. I think these are the five unrestricted free agents who could get the most play when the market opens for business March 5:

a. Linebacker Karlos Dansby, Arizona. Just 28 and with ranginess and the ability to play the run well, he's the best all-around linebacker out there.

b. Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco. The Niners will have to franchise him to keep him out of the paws of a 3-4 team needing a noseman.

c. Wide receiver Kevin Walter, Houston. With so many teams needing a veteran receiver (Baltimore especially), Walter will have choices.

d. Defensive end/OLB Aaron Kampman, Green Bay. A misfit in Green Bay ... could be happy elsewhere. A proven pass-rusher. Could the Pats bite?

e. Cornerback Leigh Bodden, New England. Saved his career with a respectable '09 season, and the corner market is absolutely bare.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saints' Payton calls Dallas Clark Colts' "best player"





From Gregg Rosenthal's "Payton to Porter before pick: Watch the shot"

February 12, 2010

NFL.com has all the wired sound from the game broken up by quarter, and it's fantastic stuff. (It's also on NFL Network's Sound FX.)

Here are some other highlights.

* Payton to Mike Bell after he slips near the goal line. "What kind of shoes you got on?!" (Bell shows him.) "That f--king figures. Put on the cleats!"

* Scott Fujita walked up to Peyton Manning before the Colts' final drive of the first half: "Why don't you throw us a few?"

* Smith on Dallas Clark: "I'm jamming him and he's still catching the f--king ball."

* Payton to linebacker coach Joe Vitt: "Dallas Clark has about 149 yards now. Let's not let their best player beat us. That's a sin."


* Fujita to Lance Moore after his two-point conversion play was overturned: "Good job buddy. You went from an a-hole to hero in about 30 seconds."

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Colts TE Dallas Clark sets two postseason records





By Evan Silva

February 7, 2010

The Saints went 13-3 via a formula of high-octane, pass-heavy offense and creating turnovers in critical situations.

They won Super Bowl XLIV in the same fashion.

After a slow start, quarterback Drew Brees was near perfect. He completed 32-of-39 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions and was named M.V.P. of the game.

Pierre Thomas and Jeremy Shockey scored New Orleans' offensive touchdowns. Cornerback Tracy Porter had the game-clinching pick six.

There was some silver lining for Colts tight end Dallas Clark. He is now the postseason record holder for catches (64) and yards (847) by a tight end.

The Colts did not score a single point after their first possession of the third quarter. Peyton Manning had 333 passing yards and completed 31-of-45 throws, but threw the interception and consistently struggled in the red zone.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Colts TE Tom Santi impresses Peyton Manning



Nashville's Tom Santi misses out on a Super chance

Colts tight end won't play against the Saints because of injury


By Jim Wyatt

February 4, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tom Santi grew up a Titans fan. He was in the stadium for the Music City Miracle, celebrating the big playoff victory with family and friends.

Then the Colts drafted him, and everything changed.

Santi, a tight end from Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy and the University of Virginia, is dealing with all kinds of emotions this week.

He’s here with the Colts as they prepare for Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints, taking part in all the festivities and preparations.

But he won’t play on Sunday. His second NFL season was cut short because of a back injury. Still, he has a chance to win a Super Bowl ring.

“That would be pretty cool,’’ Santi said. “But I have to admit it’s kind of a weird feeling for me. It is kind of rough, really. Obviously I am elated that our team has done as well and we got here. This whole experience has been great. But it is tough to know you’re not going to be able to play. It’s just bad timing.’’

Santi, regarded as a solid blocker, continued to make strides as a pass-catcher this season before he was placed on injured reserve. He had eight catches for 107 yards, including a six-catch, 80-yard game against the Ravens.

Now he wants to prove that he can stay healthy. Santi had 10 catches in 2008 before a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has seen enough of Santi to be impressed, however.

“He’s had some injury issues, but I think he has a lot of potential,’’ Manning said. “He is a big, strong tight end who can run. He’s made a lot of plays for us.

“Tom is a good combination of some Dallas Clark skills with the ability to be a point-of-attack blocking tight end. Hopefully he can get healthy this offseason and could be a contributor for us next year.’’


Santi’s parents Mike and Betty Ann will make the trip to Sun Life Stadium along with his sisters Lauren and Annie. The family still has a home in Green Hills, and Santi said he plans to spend plenty of time in Nashville this offseason.

He just hopes to get back to the Super Bowl — and to be able to play in it.

“I feel like I have definitely learned a lot from last two years,’’ he said. “I have been brought along watching Peyton and the older guys, watched Dallas and the way he works on his craft. It has definitely helped.

“My biggest thing is definitely trying to get rid of the injury bug and find a way to get healthy.’’

Hall of Fame nominee Kennedy "wouldn't be where he is today" without Randy Shannon



Former Miami Hurricanes lineman Cortez Kennedy up for induction into Hall of Fame

By Jorge Milian

February 5, 2010

By the end of his junior season at Miami, the only Hall of Fame that Cortez Kennedy seemed destined to make was for eating.

At one point, Kennedy's weight had hit 370 pounds.

"We called him, 'Three-play Tez,' " said UM coach Randy Shannon. "He was done after three plays."

With Shannon's help, Kennedy dropped the weight and turned into one of the best football players UM has produced.

One of 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kennedy will learn today if he will be inducted. Rickey Jackson, a Pahokee native and former New Orleans linebacker, and Boca Raton resident Cris Carter are among the group of finalists that also includes Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.

"You look at the names, just to be on the ballot is amazing," said Kennedy, an eight-time Pro Bowler who played 11 seasons for the Seahawks and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. "I'm excited."

Whether Kennedy will be selected for induction this year is up to the Hall of Fame's 44-person voting committee. That Kennedy is even under consideration surely didn't seem possible when he showed up at UM as a junior-college transfer in 1988. He played just two seasons for UM and was so out of shape his first year that he saw only limited action.

"When he was fresh, nobody could block him," said Shannon. "But he couldn't keep it up. Cortez was a big guy who liked to eat."

The summer before Kennedy's senior season, Shannon moved in with the defensive tackle. For a month, Shannon ate every meal with Kennedy, often selecting what they consumed. At night, Shannon would sleep by the refrigerator to keep Kennedy from snacking.

"If he left the house, I would go with him," said Shannon, a UM linebacker from 1985-88. "I didn't let him out of my sight, unless he was with his girlfriend."


Shannon also put Kennedy on a running program. Five days a week, Kennedy draped himself in a plastic garbage bag and ran up and down hills for an hour at a park.

By the start of his senior season, Kennedy was down to 295 pounds.

"I thought it was insane, but look where it got me," Kennedy said. "I tell everybody now, if it weren't for Randy Shannon I wouldn't be where I am today."

Friday, February 05, 2010

Clark's reception to change paying off for Colts





Dallas Clark's football career started as a linebacker in high school but he moved to tight end after walking on at the University of Iowa. These days, Clark is one of the leading receivers on the Indianapolis Colts' high-powered offense.


By Nate Davis, USA TODAY

February 4, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE — Dallas Clark earned first-team all-pro honors this season, heralding him as the best tight end in the NFL.

He's surpassed many of the marks of Baltimore legend and Hall of Famer John Mackey in the Indianapolis Colts record book. And the New Orleans Saints defenders are quite aware they'll have to contend with him Sunday.

Yet it's almost certain that Clark would not be enjoying his current success if he'd listened to his heart instead of his coaches.

"I walked on at Iowa as a linebacker, and I just had it in my mind that I was going to try to be as good a linebacker as I could be," Clark says. "Then Coach (Kirk) Ferentz saw something in me and he wanted to try me at tight end. After about a year, I decided to try it."

After finally relenting, Clark transitioned so effectively that he won the Mackey Award as the country's top tight end as a junior in 2002 and became a first-round pick of the Colts the next spring.

So what was it that necessitated the fateful switch?

"He was very athletic. ... He worked hard, seemed to be very eager to please you," Ferentz says. "(But) when we went on the field, the things we saw (off the field), quite frankly, didn't translate into production as a defensive player.

"Sometimes, the abilities players have don't always translate when they are in the wrong position, and, clearly, we had him in the wrong spot."

But now Clark makes a living putting NFL defenses in tough spots. His value was on full display during the Colts' 2006 Super Bowl run, when he essentially replaced injured slot receiver Brandon Stokley. At 6-3, 252 pounds, Clark overpowered defensive backs, but he was much too quick and athletic for linebackers.

"He just loves playing," Ferentz says. "(Colts president) Bill Polian put it best when he said Dallas enjoys getting his ankles taped. That's the kind of guy he is."


Clark has played better than ever the past two seasons.

He had a big season in 2008, catching 77 passes for 848 yards, eclipsing the best years of Mackey, who helped revolutionize the position in the 1960s.

"Just hearing about what he's done," Clark says, "it's a true honor to be passing some of his records.

"I really don't believe it myself sometimes. That guy has done so much for this position and the NFL, and he's given so much. He's what this game is about."

But Clark raised the bar in 2009, earning all-pro and Pro Bowl recognition for the first time with 1,106 receiving yards on 100 catches, only the second tight end (Tony Gonzalez) to hit the century mark.

"He's a sick tight end," says Colts center Jeff Saturday, adding Clark's awards were long overdue. "He's as good as there is in the business, and he has been the past few years.

"He changes defenses by just being on the field."


But Clark's best may be yet to come. "I'm still learning a lot," he says. "I don't think I've reached my top ability."

Green Bay's Mark Tauscher connects with students



Mark Tauscher answers questions from Our Lady of Peace Catholic School students Friday morning. (Laura Schmitt/Marshfield News-Herald)

Auburndale native stresses importance of education

By Liz Welter

January 30, 2010

At 6 feet 3 inches and 316 pounds, Green Bay Packer Mark Tauscher, an Auburndale native, is an imposing presence. But this strapping, powerful football player has the heart of a teddy bear with an uncanny ability to connect with children.

It was a dream come true for the third through fifth grade students at Our Lady of Peace Catholic School in Marshfield Friday morning when Tauscher walked through the gym doors of the school to talk with the children.

With teaching experience and a master's degree in education, Tauscher was as much at home chatting with the children about the importance of reading as he is blocking defensive linemen.


"Twenty-one years ago, I was sitting right where you are now and I was having a hard time with reading," said Tauscher, who explained while he was in first grade, he was in a group of three children who had a difficult time learning to read.

It was an unsettling experience because he wanted to be in the same reading group as his friends. So Tauscher went to his mother and she helped him devise a plan to improve his reading.

"At your age if I hadn't come up like I did I honestly wouldn't be an NFL player. Without an education you can't get into the NFL.

"I can't emphasize enough how important the schooling end is to athletics."

His foundation with Associated Bank, Tauscher's Reading Initiative for Every Child to Achieve, has raised more than $110,000 to benefit literacy and education in Wisconsin.

The awed students slowly warmed to asking Tauscher questions. Within minutes, hands were waving for his attention and Tauscher patiently answered questions for 30 minutes, which varied from his favorite color to Super Bowl predictions.

"What was your favorite book?" asked Wyatt Bauer, 11, of Marshfield.

"Charlotte's Web. Did you read it?" Tauscher said.

Heads bobbed and more hands shot into the air.

"What's your happiest memory?" asked Taylor Tolppi, 9, of Hewitt.

"I just got married so that's the best answer," he said.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The new breed: Tight end Dallas Clark a big part of Colts' super passing attack



Colts' Clark part of new breed at tight end

By STEVEN WINE

February 3, 2010

The first question for Dallas Clark at Super Bowl media day came from a 4-foot Weekly Reader reporter: What do you like most about being a tight end?

"Good question," Clark said.

In Clark's case, there's a lot to like.

He's part of a new breed at the position, stretching defenses by catching passes downfield like a wide receiver for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Clark became NFL's highest-paid tight end when he signed a six-year contract in 2008, and he made the Pro Bowl for the first time this season, when he had a career-high 100 catches.

He'll try for his second Super Bowl ring Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

"The thing about being a tight end, you can line up in a lot of different positions and do a lot of different things," Clark said. "I can be in the backfield. I can be out wide and try to act like a receiver sometimes, and be in with the big guys and try to block big defensive ends. I just love the versatility of the position."

Fifteen years ago, there might not have been a place in the NFL for the 250-pound Clark, who's at a size disadvantage when he blocks ends or linebackers.

But Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City and Antonio Gates of San Diego made the tight end a more popular target for quarterbacks, and Clark has accelerated the trend.

"They aren't just blocking tight ends or single-route runners _ guys who just go to the chains, turn around and catch the pass," Saints safety Darren Sharper said. "These are guys who can spread out and match up against cornerbacks and create mismatches against linebackers and make plays all over the field.

"When Dallas Clark came into the league, you knew he was going to be that type of tight end, because he's so athletic.
And he's playing with Peyton Manning, who knows how to get him the ball, so it's tough to stop."

Manning and Clark have become the highest-scoring QB-TE tandem in the NFL, with 41 touchdowns since Clark entered the league in 2003 as a first-round pick from Iowa. That's only four TDs behind the NFL record for a quarterback-tight end combo set by Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates with New England in the 1990s.

Clark's productivity as a receiver has steadily climbed the past four years from 30 catches to 58 to 77 to 100 this season. He joined Gonzalez as the only tight ends to reach triple figures.

Clark had 1,106 receiving yards in 2009, a tight-end record for a franchise that produced a Pro Football Hall of Famer in John Mackey. But Mackey played mostly in the 1960s, a different era for NFL offenses.

"Gates and Gonzalez really opened up the gates," Clark said. "The position has gone in a direction where, with a guy like me who probably can't block every play, it gives the offense a different option and defenses a different thing to try to defend."

While the Colts' high-powered offense is sophisticated, offensive coordinator Tom Moore makes Clark's role sound simple.

"Dallas is a great athlete," Moore said, "so get him the football."

The Colts did that well the last time they played at Miami in September. Clark made an 80-yard touchdown catch on the first play and finished with 183 receiving yards, the fourth-highest total for a tight end since the 1970 NFL merger. In November, he tied the team record for receptions with 14 against Houston.


It's not that Clark can't block. He wins praise for improving that part of his game, and said he tries to use good technique to make up for his size disadvantage.

"He has made a number of big plays for us in the passing game, and oftentimes people would think that's the only thing he does," coach Jim Caldwell said. "But the fact is he's a very capable blocker."

That was his primary role in the AFC championship game. After the blitz-happy New York Jets sacked Manning twice early, Clark began helping with pass protection.

"I ended up blocking a lot of the game," Clark said. "Things change as the game continues and we figure out how teams try to defend us."

Clark hopes there's no repeat _ he'd rather catch passes. And the Saints are bracing to deal with him.

"Do you put a linebacker on him? A defensive back? A safety?" coach Sean Payton said. "You've got to decide how you handle him. He brings so much to the table."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dan Marino: Ted Ginn Jr.'s speed is a valuable commodity



Dan Marino says the great speed Ted Ginn has should be enough to keep the receiver on the field more. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

by Brian Biggane

February 2, 2010

The speed of wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. makes him a commodity the Dolphins will be hard-pressed to do without, Hall of Famer Dan Marino said Tuesday.

Speaking after the CBS press conference touting the network’s Super Bowl coverage this Sunday, Marino answered “it’s hard for me to say” when asked if the Dolphins should address the wide receiver position this offseason.

“If you draft, you look at where your picks are and try to get the best people available. But sometimes you’ve gotta go for a position because you need it. They need playmakers. They do. And defensively you’re always looking for pass-rushers too.”

Specifically asked his thoughts on Ginn, Marino said, “You’ve gotta have him in the game just because of his sheer speed and his ability to get down the field. Even if he’s a decoy sometimes, (opposing teams) have gotta cover him. He’s a legit guy to get down the field. Anytime you’ve got that kind of speed you’ve gotta have him in the game.”

Marino was reminded that many fans have been calling for the Dolphins to either trade or release Ginn after his statistics dropped off significantly in 2009. After catching 56 passes for 790 yards and two touchdowns in 2008, Ginn caught just 38 passes for 454 yards and one TD this past year.

“He’s worked hard, obviously,” he said. “When you’re a No. 1 pick, the fans expect a lot out of you, and maybe he doesn’t have the numbers you would think you would need out of a No. 1 pick, ninth overall. But if he’s on your team, he’s a guy who needs to play for you, just because of pure speed.”

Dolphins' Hartline leads kids in NFL Play 60 fitness program





February 2, 2010

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline visited Sunset Elementary in Coral Gables to participate in NFL PLAY 60, the league's youth health and fitness campaign. Fifth graders at Sunset Elementary took part in the NFL PLAY 60 Challenge - a Super Bowl program that taught students the importance of getting 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Cleveland Browns running back/kick returner Josh Cribbs was also in attendance.

The Play 60 Challenge, developed in conjunction with the American Heart Association, is the primary in-school curriculum for NFL PLAY 60. Over 14,000 South Florida 4th and 5th graders participated in the Challenge in the months leading up to Super Bowl Week.

Ferentz's coaching "makes all the difference" at Iowa




Woelk: Good coaching more important than rankings

By Neill Woelk

February 3, 2010

It`s here!

Thank goodness. The most overrated day in sports. The day that 18-year-old football players all over the nation sign letters of intent -- and otherwise normal, responsible adults become blithering idiots as they celebrate (or berate) their schools` recruiting classes.

No doubt, recruiting has become a business unto itself. In this economy, I`m all for any kind of business that provides a few jobs, and there are certainly jobs to be had in the recruiting industry.

When I first had the misfortune of being forced to pay attention to college recruiting (I still haven`t forgiven former sports editor Dan Creedon), there were a couple of "experts" out there who printed a couple of magazines a year rating high school recruits.

Today, that has expanded exponentially. There are Web sites with analysts, gurus and insiders. ESPN has joined the fray. Pony up a few bucks a month, and you too can receive continuous updates from your favorite expert concerning the whims and musings of 18-year-olds everywhere. Find out who has verbally committed, who has de-committed and whether you should be committed for worrying about it.

There is even a vocabulary particular to recruiting (seriously, if I hear an 18-year-old kid has given a "soft verbal," I`m making sure he`s not getting anywhere close to my niece. But that`s just me).

And, there are the rankings. Grown men and women who are usually level-headed in most circumstances lose all touch with reality when it comes to recruiting rankings.

If your favorite team has atop-10 class, it`s reason to celebrate. Drop into the 30s (or 40s or 50s), and it`s reason to seek tall buildings with ledges.

There are those who swear by the rankings, those who swear at the rankings and those who believe the rankings can be used as one small piece of the puzzle when evaluating the overall health of a program.

Put me in the last group.

Revelation time: Great programs recruit great players. The cycle is self-perpetuating.

But the rankings are by no means a guarantee of anything.

Case in point: Michigan`s last four recruiting classes have been ranked Nos. 2, 9, 10 and 6. Yet four years of the best players in the nation last year produced a 5-7 record for the maize and blue.

Then there`s Cincinnati, which last year finished 12-1 and ranked eighth in the nation. Somehow, the Bearcats managed this despite not having a single class in the last four years ranked better than 51st (with two of those classes ranked Nos. 70 and 80).

Yes, I know. Texas has a top-ranked class -- and Texas will be good next year and the year after and the year after that. Ditto for Southern Cal, Alabama and Florida.

But I don`t need to look at recruiting rankings to know that Texas will be a top-10 program just about every year in the forseeable future. I don`t need a guru to tell me that Alabama is likely to be pretty doggone good for the next half-dozen years.

Don`t get me wrong. I know recruiting is important. I was around when Bill McCartney was signing classes that had names like Hagan, Bieniemy, Flannigan, Williams and McGhee. I remember when Mac signed a running back out of Southern California who played 8-man football in high school -- and Mac predicted great things for the kid. (Rashaan Salaam did turn out to be a pretty good player.)

But I`ve also seen plenty of kids with no hype attached to their name turn into very good players.

The key?

It`s simple. As my good friend Joe tells me -- at least once a week -- "Coaching makes the difference."


Pair great recruiting classes with a bad coach and you won`t have a good team.

Pair average recruiting classes with a great coach and you`ll have a good team.

Pair great classes with a great coach -- and you have Alabama.

Which is why I`ll be neither excited nor disappointed today when Dan Hawkins announces his latest Colorado recruiting class.

Rather, I`ll wait until spring ball and fall camp to see what Hawkins is doing with the players he`s recruited.

Stars and rankings? I honestly don`t know how much stock to put in them. Kirk Ferentz`s last three recruiting classes at Iowa were ranked Nos. 37, 40, 44, yet the Hawkeyes finished No. 7 in the nation last year. Who could have predicted that?

But this much I do know for dead certain: "Coaching makes all the difference."


It`s time for Hawkins to make that difference.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Brown was a 'natural'




By Adam Kilgore

January 29, 2010

For the first two years of his career, former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson played alongside Corwin Brown, then a Patriots safety and, as of today, now a Patriots assistant coach. In a telephone conversation, Johnson recalled what he remembered about Brown as a teammate.

“Corwin, he was very much a leader on the special teams,” said Johnson, now an analyst for NESN. "He was kind of a Larry Izzo of special teams. He was the special teams captain. Very bright. Very intense. He took a lot of pride in that role that he was put in. Of course, he played safety as well. What I remember about him is, just another coach on the field in special teams. As a rookie, I remember him getting after me quite a bit. He had high expectations for the special teams units."

Brown's special teams prowess may have helped him land his first job in coaching -- Virginia coach Al Groh hired him as his special teams coach in 2001. While Johnson watched Brown prepare and practice, Johnson assumed Brown would make a future coach.

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely," Johnson said. "There’s just guys that you can just tell have the natural, high football acumen. He was always asking questions. Players help each other out – he coached the guys he was playing with. It doesn’t surprise me that’s the profession he chose.”

Monday, February 01, 2010

Pelini leads 'Huskers to championship game, bowl victory




January 29, 2010

From Tim Griffin's Mailbag: "Pelini is my post-bowl Big 12 Coach of Year"

Steve Russell of Loveland, Colo., writes: Tim, quick question for you. If you were picking a conference coach of the year including the bowl games, who would you select?

Tim Griffin: After the regular season and conference championship game, I picked Mack Brown because of his 13-0 record. But including the bowl results, I would lean to Bo Pelini, with Brown closely followed by Paul Rhoads of Iowa State.

I think Pelini was able to get a lot out of a team that struggled offensively for much of the season. The Cornhuskers had one of the most imposing defenses in recent Big 12 history with Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Prince Amukamara, Larry Asante, Phillip Dillard and Co. They had a 10-4 record, but the Cornhuskers were very close to a couple of more wins. With a fortunate break or two, the Cornhuskers could have ended up winning the Iowa State and Virginia Tech games during the regular season and the Big 12 championship game. They came legitimately close to a 13-1 record this season. Pelini deserves much of the credit for getting them into the championship game and for their victory over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

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