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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ozzie Newsome keeps Ravens rolling with draft gems





By Robert Klemko

January 29, 2013

THE WIZARDY OF OZZIE

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has developed a reputation as a draft wiz, but he has also shown a keen ability to pick up talent overlooked on other rosters. Here are a few of his best pickups:

MARSHAL YANDA: Yanda, a guard, went from a third-round selection out of Iowa in 2007 to a five-year, $32 million extension and Pro Bowl nods in 2011 and 2012.

DANNELL ELLERBE: The linebacker was culled from the ranks of the undrafted in 2009. He was collected a career-high 89 tackles and 4 ½ sacks this season as Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain sat with injuries. Lewis’ possible successor is a free agent this offseason.

COREY GRAHAM: The cornerback was relegated to special teams after the Chicago Bears drafted him in the fifth round in 2007. Graham showed flashes in spot duty last season with Chicago, but his defining career moment would come in the divisional round of this season’s playoffs with two interceptions off the Denver Bronco’s Peyton Manning.

CARY WILLIAMS: One of two Ravens to start all 16 games in 2012, Williams became the team’s No. 1 corner when Lardarius Webb tore a knee ligament. The Washburn University product signed on with the Ravens in 2009 after two quiet seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

Friday, January 18, 2013

NFL coach donates funding for construction of north side field house



Gilad Doron, Campus Affairs Reporter
January 18, 2013

Although it was nearing completion, Case Western Reserve University’s fundraiser for the construction of the Wyant Field House acquired a substantial boost from a noteworthy name.

Last month, Super Bowl-winning, National Football League head coach Bill Belichick donated an undisclosed amount of money to help build the field house, which is set to be located on the north side of campus. The donation will be directed towards the development of the “Steve Belichick Varsity Weight Room” in honor of the coach’s late father.

“Coach Belichick’s generous gift allows us to take another significant step forward toward completing the funding model for the Wyant Field House,” said CWRU’s Director of Athletics David Diles, “While we have some additional work to do in completing the funding, this represents great additional progress.”

The Belichick family has an intimate connection to CWRU. Steve Belichick was a standout fullback for the Western Reserve University football team from 1938-1940. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business from the university, he went on to play for the Detroit Lions in the National Football League, but came back to earn a master’s degree in physical education. Afterwards, he had long coaching career that included 33 years as an assistant coach at the Naval Academy. He is said to have named his son after former Western Reserve head coach, Bill Edwards.

“Western Reserve University, was important to the elder Belichick, in respect to education, football, and coaching,” said Greg Pillar; “I felt it would be appropriate to offer Coach Belichick the opportunity to honor his father, Steve, on campus as part of the Fieldhouse project.” Pillar is the executive director of major gifts and the assistant athletic director for development.

Getting in contact with Bill Belichick, however, was not easy. CWRU has a number of graduates and alumni involved in sports agency who helped Pillar contact Belichick’s agent, Neil Cornrich.

“Neil was very supportive of the initiative and provided the initial contact of Coach Belichick, as well as ongoing communication over a number of months until we were able to finalize the agreement,” said Pillar.


With the donation, CWRU is on the final stretch to completing its fundraising campaign for the Wyant Field House. It will be placed between the football stadium and Nobby’s Ballpark, which will complete the North Campus residential Village and Athletic Complex. The new building will feature a state-of-the-art strength training and conditioning space, a fitness center, and a large varsity club house for student study sessions, meetings, and alumni gatherings.

“Respectful that the funding model needs to be completed and final institutional and construction approvals secured, we are hopeful for a ground breaking in 2013 and anticipate that the project will take approximately one year to complete,” said Diles.

With this donation, CWRU will soon have a superior athletic facility with a familiar football name.

Rob Ninkovich is the new Mike Vrabel




By Christopher L. Gasper
GLOBE COLUMNIST
JANUARY 18, 2013

FOXBOROUGH — Stop me if you’ve heard this before: There is a bearded No. 50 on the Patriots’ defense who has an uncanny knack for being in the right spot at the right time, and represents all that’s right with the gridiron gestalt spouted by the folks in Fort Foxborough.

It’s hard to believe, but the current No. 50, Rob Ninkovich, has never met his hirsute forerunner, Mike Vrabel.

“No, never met him, never talked to him, maybe one day,” said Ninkovich. “I’m sure he’ll probably give me some crap for taking his number.”

Yes, he will. For eight seasons, Vrabel, now a defensive line coach at his alma mater, Ohio State, was one of the pillars of the Patriot Way. His instinctiveness on the field was matched only by his caustic wit off it. No one was safe from Vrabel’s verbal jabs, Tom Brady, media members, not even Patriots coach Bill Belichick. If he hadn’t been an NFL linebacker, Vrabel would have killed as a stand-up comic.

Vrabel’s game was no laughing matter, though. He was the perfect Patriot, versatile, reliable, accountable.
You can say the same for the more mild-mannered Ninkovich, who led the Patriots in sacks this season with eight and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (five) and fumble recoveries (four).

The self-effacing defensive end isn’t Vrabel, who won three rings with the Patriots. But Ninkovich is doing a valid Vrabel imitation in helping the Patriots reach Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens. His interception last Sunday against the Texans was a Vrabel-esque display of instinct, execution, and athleticism.



(Mike Vrabel, right, with Tedy Bruschi, won three Super Bowls with the Patriots.)

One of the great travesties of the Patriots’ run last decade was that Vrabel only went to one Pro Bowl, in 2007, when he had 12½ sacks, still the most of any Patriots player in the Belichick era.

The 28-year-old Ninkovich isn’t in Vrabel’s class yet, but he is what every eventual championship team needs. He is a Glue Guy.

A Glue Guy is not a captain, but he is a leader. He is not a Pro Bowler, but he is a playmaker. He is not a household name, but the opposing team is certainly familiar with him.

You’re going to hear a lot this week in the lead-up to the AFC title tilt at Gillette Stadium about Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, and Devin McCourty for the Patriots, and Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed for the Ravens.

But it’s guys like Ninkovich who often make the difference in a game like Sunday’s.
They’re guys who are underappreciated, but not undervalued, at least not by their coaches and teammates. You won’t see them on ESPN “SportsCenter” commercials, but you will see them showing up on the game tape week in and week out.

“He makes plays. [Rob] always seems to be in the right place at the right time,” said linebacker and defensive captain Jerod Mayo.

Comparisons are inevitable in sports. They’re part of what makes it fun. They’re the guy wire that connects yesteryear with today. Players usually don’t welcome or enjoy them.

Ninkovich is no different. He understands that Vrabel’s name is a hallowed one in the halls of Gillette Stadium.

“I mean, his whole career, the performance that he has had his whole career kind of speaks for itself,” said Ninkovich. “So just to even have the comparison, it’s an honor. But different football players. I think he was like 4 inches taller than me, his arms were way longer, so he has the advantage there.”

Ninkovich will spend much of his day lined up across from Ravens right tackle Michael Oher, whose rags-to-riches story was idealized for mass consumption in the book and subsequent movie “The Blind Side.”

Ninkovich has a football fairy tale of his own, though. He entered the league as a fifth-round pick out of Purdue in 2006 and was cut four times before he landed with the Patriots in the summer of 2009.

His last team, the Saints, had decided that Ninkovich’s football calling wasn’t as a defensive end, but as a long-shot long-snapper.

That’s right. The Patriots’ leading sacker is a former long-snapper. This stuff only happens for the Hoodie.

Ninkovich became a semi-regular for the Patriots in 2010. In the last two seasons, he has started every game the Patriots have played, all 36 of them, including the postseason.

The similarities between Ninkovich and Vrabel, who was traded to the Chiefs along with Matt Cassel in 2009, invite a Patriot parallel.

They wear the same number, have the same scant use of a razor, and both went to Big Ten schools.

Ninkovich even played some tight end in college, catching two touchdown passes. Vrabel, of course, moonlighted at tight end for the Patriots and all 12 of his career receptions went for touchdowns, including a pair of Super Bowl scores.

Mayo, who was a rookie in Vrabel’s final year with the Patriots, 2008, didn’t want to get into a Ninkovich-Vrabel comparison. But he said that Ninkovich is the type of guy that you want to play with.

“Blue-collar type of guy, he’s the kind of guy who works hard. He’s the kind of guy who gets his hands dirty,” said Mayo. “You always want those kind of guys as a football player. He is the model of consistency. He is always doing the right thing, and you can’t ask for anything more.”

Matthew Slater, who also played with “Mr. Vrabel,” said Ninkovich has a clear advantage in one spot. “Rob’s beard is a little thicker.”

No, Ninkovich is not Vrabel. But the Patriots are in the AFC title game and a No. 50 on the New England defense is making clutch plays and sacrificing himself for the team.

There’s something comforting about that.

Catching Up With former Ravens safety Kim Herring





Former Ravens safety Kim Herring in 1998 (January 17, 2013)

By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

January 17, 2013

There's a whiff of the past in the Ravens' current playoff run. So said Kim Herring, strong safety on the Super Bowl XXXV championship team.

Then as now, the Ravens rallied around linebacker Ray Lewis — but for different reasons. During the 2000 season, when Lewis was assailed publicly for his role in a double homicide, teammates embraced an us-versus-them mantra that fueled their title drive.

Today, said Herring, the Ravens are playing inspired football because of Lewis' pending retirement.

"I knew, when Ray made that proclamation [before the playoffs], that they would rally around him," Herring said. "You can't explain the effect he has on you, as an athlete. The things he told us in a speech before the Super Bowl were like they came from a movie. I thought, 'Man, I oughta write this stuff down.'

"The way Ray talks makes you want to run through a brick wall for this dude, even if you don't know why."

Herring, the Ravens' second-round draft pick in 1997, played four years in Baltimore and made the last one his best. He had 66 tackles and three interceptions in 2000, including a pick in the Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants. A sure tackler, he was a mainstay on special teams as well.

"Coming from Penn State, I didn't miss many tackles," he said. "In college, if you had a bad game, [coach] Joe Paterno made you tackle the scout team's offensive linemen. He'd have them run full speed at us defensive backs. You either did it right or broke your neck."

On the heels of the Ravens' championship, Herring — a free agent — signed with St. Louis and returned to the Super Bowl in 2001, where the Rams lost to the New England Patriots. Hence, his disdain for Baltimore's opponent on Sunday.

"Give it to the Ravens, 27-24," he said of the AFC championship game. "If their kicker [Justin Tucker] can go to Denver and kick a long, winning field goal in one-degree weather, he should be able to do it at New England."

Herring retired in 2005. The father of three, he lives in Orlando, Fla. where he runs an investment firm and, with his wife, Marissa, a fitness center for adults and high school athletes. In six years, "Garage Mama Fitness" has grown, literally, from a corner of the Herrings' three-car garage to a 7,000-square foot facility in nearby Winter Garden.

At 37, he's still a trim 195 pounds. Last week, Herring joined a men's soccer league where guys his age play three-on-three on a full-sized field. One of his teammates is Johnny Damon, two-time baseball All-Star.

"We run around, willy nilly, for two 20-minute halves," said Herring, whose team won its opener, 7-4.

He is also a youth leader at his church, Orlando World Outreach, whose pastor, Tim Johnson, is a former NFL lineman who played for the 1992 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.

"I really enjoy what I'm doing," he said of both the church work and fitness training of youngsters. "I feel like I'm helping them find an easier way to do things. Month by month, I see kids getting better physically, mentally and spiritually. And they're appreciative."

Herring said he would watch the Ravens play Sunday night, save for another commitment.

"My youth group is having a sleep-in at the church, and I have to be there," he said. "But there will be a lot of boys there, so I might be able to get a couple of televisions brought in — for the kids, of course.

"Yeah, I might be able to finagle that one out."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Marshal Yanda to the rescue for the Baltimore Ravens




Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda walks off the field

By Barry Federovitch

January 13, 2013

Knowshon Moreno was knocked out with a knee injury. Von Miller had the wind knocked out of him. Future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey got beaten badly on two touchdown passes.

No, it wasn’t the prettiest of efforts for the Denver Broncos last night in the AFC semifinals against the Baltimore Ravens, even in a game in which Peyton Manning provided plenty of highlights and Trindon Holliday was turning in the greatest effort by a returnman in postseason history.

But what eventually did in the Broncos 38-35 102 seconds into the second overtime at Sports Authority Field last night? Not just a clutch kick by Justin Tucker, but one of the best blocks you’ll ever see, by Pro Bowl lineman Marshal Yanda.

The situation? The Ravens had just intercepted Manning late in the first overtime but were bogged down on a third-and-3, still out of field-goal range. Ray Rice, who rushed for 126 yards, one more than the entire Denver team, was going to be short of the first down, allowing Manning one more chance to win in sudden death. But Yanda wouldn’t allow that to happen.

He came from behind, pushed the pile forward and Rice got the first down that put Denver, a team with an 11-game winning streak, on the verge of extinction.
Three plays later, Tucker tucked a kick just inside the right upright and Manning was denied another chance at a second Super Bowl.

For a team that rallied from behind four times, including Joe Flacco’s incredible 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, it was the appropriate ending.

Terrell Suggs, the player no one thought would play this season, registered 10 tackles and two sacks. Ray Lewis, the future Hall of Famer on the verge of retirement, registered 17 tackles. And Torrey Smith, the oft-criticized receiver, burned Bailey in the air and with his speed.

But the unsung hero was Yanda, who at a time of game when players don’t expect to be playing, showed that he wanted to play one more week and maybe beyond.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cleveland Browns' Phil Dawson earns All-Pro honors





By Tom Reed, The Plain Dealer

January 12, 2013

BEREA, Ohio: The post-season honors continue for Browns kicker Phil Dawson and left tackle Joe Thomas.

Each was named to the Associated Press All-Pro Team on Saturday. Dawson and Thomas earned second-team mention.

Dawson makes his first All-Pro squad after getting his first Pro-Bowl nod -- not a bad way to head into free agency. He converted 29-of-31 field goals. Most Browns fans will want to see new owner Jimmy Haslam invest money into their 37-year-old kicker. The Browns have the second-most projected salary-cap space in the NFL ($48.9 million), according to ESPN.

Thomas made his fifth All-Pro side. He is a three-time, first-team member and narrowly missed top squad again by two votes from the 50-member media panel. He is a six-time Pro Bowler.

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and Houston defensive end J.J. Watt were unanimous selections. NFL.com released the squads this morning with a voter breakdown by position.

Tackle Riley Reiff voted Mel Farr Rookie of the Year






By ttwentyman

January 13, 2013

The Lions selected tackle Riley Reiff with the No. 23 pick in last year’s draft and were immediately impressed by his versatility.

Impressed enough, in fact, they created a special jumbo package for him this season to get him on the field when he didn’t supplanted Jeff Backus or Gosder Cherilus as a starting tackle. Reiff did play 329 snaps as a rookie and made one start when Backus was injured on Thanksgiving, holding his own in that contest.

Reiff’s time on the field this season confirmed what the Lions thought of him on draft day – that he has a long future on their offensive line. His teammates must think the same thing, too, voting Reiff the Mel Farr Rookie of the Year.

“Our coach did a great job of finding a way to get him involved in it and getting him on the field,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Reiff after the season. “He showed he belonged when he was out there, so we’re excited about what he brings to the table. I suspect he’ll be a good player for us for a long time.

“He can play four spots (both tackle and guard spots). They could evolve over time, but I see him at tackle right now.”

The Mel Farr Award is presented to the team’s outstanding rookie performer. This award is given in honor of the Lions’ Mel Farr who enjoyed one of the finest rookie campaigns in team history. In that 1967 season, Farr led Detroit in both rushing (860 yards on 206 carries) and receiving (39 catches for 317 yards) and tied for the club lead in scoring with six touchdowns. As a result, he was named the Lions’ Offensive MVP and was honored as the NFL Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Marshal Yanda named to Pro Football Weekly's 2012 All-NFL team





By Dan Arkush, Executive editor

January 9, 2013

For the record, the 2012 Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL team could be unrivaled in terms of big-time, star-studded record breakers.

Start with Lions WR Calvin Johnson, who broke Jerry Rice’s single-season league record for receiving yards with room to spare (1,964 — 116 more yards than Rice registered for the Niners in 1995).

Completing the core of a team overflowing with megawatt star power are Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who finished the season just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105 for the Rams in 1984); Broncos QB Peyton Manning, who it seems sets a new league passing record every time he cocks his arm; and the trio of Texans DE J.J. Watt and OLBs Aldon Smith (Niners) and Von Miller (Broncos), each of whom made a serious run at Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (221⁄2 for the Giants in 2001).

On a squad almost evenly split between 14 AFC selections and 13 NFC selections, one other characteristic sticks out: It’s a team also overflowing with winning players, as evidenced by the fact 21 of the 27 selections participated in this year’s playoffs.

Broken down by team, the 49ers set the pace with four selections, followed closely by the Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks and Vikings, each with three representatives. The Texans, Ravens and Bears each added two players to the mix, with five other teams providing one selection each — the Lions, Dolphins, Bengals, Chargers and Bills.

Broken down by draft round, there are 14 first-round picks, three second-round picks, two third-round picks, two fourth-round picks, two fifth-round picks, three sixth-round picks and one undrafted free agent (Dolphins DE Cameron Ware).

Peterson, Johnson and Watt were unanimous selections.

There are five players on the team who were not voted to the Pro Bowl — Vikings C John Sullivan, Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, Chargers S Eric Weddle, Niners P Andy Lee and Bills PR Leodis McKelvin, who was aced out because the Pro Bowl acknowledges only one kick returner from each conference.

OFFENSE
QB Peyton Manning / Broncos Tightening his lock on a first-ballot ticket to Canton, the 36-year-old Manning was brilliant in his first season in Denver. Directing his team to at least 12 wins for the eighth time in his last nine seasons with the Colts and Broncos, he tied for the league lead with 10 100-plus passer ratings, tied for second in completion percentage (68.6) and became only the second player in league history (Steve Young, 1998) to throw for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in four consecutive games.

RB Adrian Peterson / Vikings Defying modern medicine with his remarkable comeback from both a torn ACL and MCL suffered on Christmas Eve in Washington last season, PFW/PFWA’s league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year kept getting tougher to stop as the season wore on. Widely considered the NFL’s best pure runner in years, Peterson was a man on a mission in pursuit of a 2,000-yard season and Eric Dickerson’s treasured rushing mark. With Peterson setting a goal of 2,500 rushing yards for 2013, it would be a big mistake to rule out that possibility.

RB Marshawn Lynch / Seahawks Finishing third in the league with a career-high 1,590 yards on a career-high 315 carries, Lynch tied Peterson for the league lead in 100-yard games (10) and has reached the century mark in 17 of his last 26 games (including playoffs). Possessing a beastly talent for picking up extra yards after contact, Lynch became increasingly dangerous operating alongside rookie QB Russell Wilson in the read-option offense the Seahawks so successfully unveiled down the stretch.

WR Calvin Johnson / Lions Before he’s done playing, the odds are great the man they call “Megatron” could shatter every receiving record imaginable. In addition to breaking Jerry Rice’s record for most receiving yards in a season, Johnson set records for consecutive 100-yard receiving games (eight) and consecutive games with 10-plus receptions (four) and tied Hall of Fame WR Michael Irvin’s single-season record for most 100-yard games (11).

WR Brandon Marshall / Bears First-year GM Phil Emery hit the jackpot, as Marshall, obtained in a trade with Miami last March, provided a lion’s share of the Bears’ offense as Jay Cutler’s primary receiving weapon. Marshall tied for second in the league in catches (118) behind Johnson while scoring six more TDs (11), and he increased his value by making a concerted effort to be on his best behavior — both on and off the field.

TE Rob Gronkowski / Patriots They don’t make receiving tight ends any better than Gronkowski, whose red-zone chemistry with Patriots QB Tom Brady is a key element in the league’s most productive offense. With 11 TDs in his third season — despite missing five games with a broken forearm — Gronkowski became the first tight end in league history to register 10-plus TD catches in three consecutive seasons.

C John Sullivan / Vikings Peterson’s amazing season was far from a one-man effort, with the greatly underrated Sullivan throwing key blocks on many of Peterson’s big runs, the majority of which were right up the middle and to the right side. Playing next to a converted tackle (OLG Charlie Johnson) and a first-year starter who played his college ball at Division II Slippery Rock (ORG Brandon Fusco), Sullivan was the Vikes’ glue up front.

OG Mike Iupati / 49ers A starter in every game since being drafted with the 17th pick in the 2010 draft, this mellow Samoan is a much different breed of cat on the field, displaying a natural nasty streak that makes his physically imposing stature even more menacing on arguably the league’s best run-blocking O-line.

OG Marshal Yanda / Ravens Skilled and versatile, Yanda allowed zero sacks, according to STATS LLC. He also was a very effective run blocker — the Ravens averaged 4.83 yards running off right guard in the regular season, the eighth-best average in the NFL.

OT Duane Brown / Texans Equally good as a pass protector and run blocker, the extremely athletic Brown excels at getting to the second level for a Texans offense that ranked seventh in the league and produced a 1,000-yard rusher for the third consecutive season. In his five pro seasons, Brown has been penalized for holding only twice.

OT Ryan Clady / Broncos Clady had his best season statistically, and he did it in his contract year. Selected to his third career Pro Bowl, he allowed the fewest sacks (one) among tackles who started every game for their team this season. Like Iupati, Clady has yet to miss a game in his pro career.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

ESPN selects Marshal Yanda 11th overall in 2007 NFL re-draft







Re-drafting the 2007 NFL draft

JaMarcus Russell at the top? No, let's make it Megatron this time around

January 9, 2013

By Mel Kiper Jr.

If you want to define this draft by anything, try length! The first round was six-plus hours. As for the picks, it gets some obvious historical demerits because of the quarterbacks -- or total lack thereof. It's almost a comically bad QB class. The leading passer, through sixseasons? Try Trent Edwards. So as you start seeing non-stars among the first-rounders, blame the QBs. As we-draft, however, you have to consider the parameters:

1. This order doesn't just reflect what players have done, but what they still have left.
2. I'm not concerned at all with need, or an attempt to re-write history. It's about performance.
3. Positional value still matters. So a good tackle could edge a star guard, for instance.

Why six years? Well, it started when we did 2005 two years ago, in looking at Aaron Rodgers' rise. Last year, we did 2006. The order follows the actual order.

It should be noted that 2007 No. 4 overall pick Gaines Adams would almost certainly have a place here. He passed away in 2010.

________________________________________


1. Oakland Raiders
Record: 2-14

Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech
It's really the last two years where Megatron has become something of an all-world star. But he rises this high because after six years he appears to just be reaching his peak, and he was always a brilliant physical specimen. He could ostensibly reach 1,000 catches and 14,000 yards in his career if he stays healthy.
Previous draft spot: No. 2
'07 pick: JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU

2. Detroit Lions
Record: 3-13

Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
He now has 8,849 yards, is coming off a brilliant 2,097-yard season, has a 5.0-yard per carry average for his career and doesn't seem bound by Earthly limitations of the human body. Peterson only drops based on positional value and future expectations of health compared to Megatron, but I never expect to be disappointed. Awesome player.
Previous draft spot: No. 7
'07 pick: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech

3. Cleveland Browns
Record: 4-12

Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh
Mike Tannenbaum got fired, and Eric Mangini is no longer around, but the Jets made one of the great trade-up moves of all time in moving to No. 14 overall to draft Revis, who came out of Pitt after his junior year. When healthy, the best pure cover corner in football.
Previous draft spot: No. 14
'07 pick: Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Record: 4-12

Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss
He has over 150 more tackles than any other player in the draft class, has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the league and is the heart and soul of arguably the best defense (and easily the best group of linebackers) in the NFL. Great pick by the Niners at No. 11.
Previous draft spot: No. 11
'07 pick: Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson

5. Arizona Cardinals
Record: 5-11

Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin
Could be higher, really. The most consistent left tackle in the NFL since he's been drafted, only he and Willis have been to a Pro Bowl in every season among players in this draft class. In six years, Thomas has started 96 out of a possible 96 games.
Previous draft spot: No. 3
'07 pick: Levi Brown, T, Penn State

6. Washington Redskins
Record: 5-12

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal
He has totally reinvigorated his career in Seattle, and could easily crack 10,000 yards for his career if he can maintain some health. Lynch has run for 2,794 yards over the past two seasons, and has been voted to three Pro Bowl teams. A very good RB career, and a great awakening after it appeared to go sour in Buffalo.
Previous draft spot: No. 12
'07 pick: LaRon Landry, S, LSU

7. Minnesota Vikings
Record: 6-10

Joe Staley, OT, Central Michigan
I'm not sure many fans outside of San Francisco know much about Staley, but he's one of the best offensive linemen in the league, and he does it at a premium position. The Pro Bowl left tackle is a significant part of what the 49ers accomplish on offense.
Previous draft spot: No. 28
'07 pick: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma

8. Atlanta Falcons
Record: 7-9

Anthony Spencer, DE, Purdue
A vastly underrated player across from DeMarcus Ware, Spencer doesn't pile up sack totals. But not only can he rush the passer in his own right (32.5 career sacks), he's arguably the best 3-4 OLB run defender in the NFL. Not a huge name, but he could be in free agency this year.
Previous draft spot: No. 26
'07 pick: Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas

9. Miami Dolphins
Record: 6-10

Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida St.
He would be higher based on his current level of play, but remember that Timmons didn't start until his third year in the league, as he worked his way up the Pittsburgh depth chart and earned the respect of Dick LeBeau. Maybe a little high based on accomplishments, but he's one of the NFL's best interior linebackers now.
Previous draft spot: No. 15
'07 pick: Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State

10. Houston Texans
Record: 6-10

LaMarr Woodley, DE, Michigan
He leads every defender from this draft class in sacks with 52.0, and he became an integral part of the Pittsburgh defense early in his career. Woodley came in with the reputation of a pass-rusher, but he also plays with leverage and succeeds against the run.
Previous draft spot: No. 46
'07 pick: Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville

11. San Francisco 49ers
Record: 7-9

Marshal Yanda, T, Iowa
Drafted as a tackle, it took some time, but when Yanda was moved inside to guard he found his role and has been voted to two straight Pro Bowls. Another player who rises here because he should have a lot of good football left, perhaps as one of the best players at his position.
Previous draft spot: No. 86
'07 pick: Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss


12. Buffalo Bills
Record: 7-9

Charles Johnson, DE, Georgia
He's no star, but since he was made a starter, Johnson has 33.0 sacks over the past three seasons, and seems to have really figured it out. He was seventh in the NFL in sacks in 2010, and sixth in 2012. Not bad considering where he was taken.
Previous draft spot: No. 83
'07 pick: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal

13. St. Louis Rams
Record: 8-8

Dwayne Bowe, WR, LSU
Megatron has 488 catches, and Bowe isn't exactly light years behind in this class at 415. Not bad when you consider how up and down the QB situation has been in Kansas City. There's a pretty good chance Bowe will be choosing where he wants to play in 2013, and it's not hard to imagine his career actually spikes late.
Previous draft spot: No. 23
'07 pick: Adam Carriker, DT, Nebraska

14. New York Jets
Record: 10-6

Ben Grubbs, G, Auburn
Well, he's not Revis, but Grubbs has been a starter since he arrived in the league, and has a Pro Bowl to show for his steady play over the years. He was actually drafted as a true guard, and has stuck there.
Previous draft spot: No. 29
'07 pick: Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh

15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 8-8

Leon Hall, CB, Michigan
It's not Revis who leads this class in interceptions -- it's Hall. He has 22 since entering the league. He has started 81 of a possible 96 games since he arrived from Michigan, and is a leading player in maybe the deepest secondary in the league at the corner position.
Previous draft spot: No. 18
'07 pick: Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida State

16. Green Bay Packers
Record: 8-8

Eric Weddle, S, Utah
Maybe he should be higher. Weddle isn't a headhunter, and doesn't appear in the highlights all that often, but I'm not sure there's a steadier safety in the NFL. He's easily one of the top few cover safeties in the league, but he also adds a ton in the run game. Complete player.
Previous draft spot: No. 37
'07 pick: Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee

17. Denver Broncos
Record: 9-7

Michael Griffin, S, Texas
He has started 89 of a possible 96 games, has been to a Pro Bowl and played well early in his career. He struggled in 2012, and could be challenged for his job, but he has ability and has carved out a decent career.
Previous draft spot: No. 19
'07 pick: Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida

18. Cincinnati Bengals
Record: 8-8

Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina
After six full seasons in the NFL, Rice is still only 26 years old and keeps a reasonably high spot on this list because, if healthy, he has a shot to put together a number of good seasons in the coming years. He had a big year in 2008, and finally healthy this season, he rebounded with 50 catches for 748 yards. It was the first time in six seasons he started all 16 games.
Previous draft spot: No. 44
'07 pick: Leon Hall, CB, Michigan

19. Tennessee Titans
Record: 9-7

James Jones, WR, San Jose St.
His career sounds a lot better when you consider that within this draft class, he trails only Johnson and Bowe in receiving yards. Jones has never had an alpha role in the Green Bay offense, surrounded by so many other good pass-catchers, but has been remarkably efficient when he gets the chance. Could be Pro Bowl for years to come.
Previous draft spot: No. 78
'07 pick: Michael Griffin, S, Texas

20. New York Giants
Record: 10-6

Ryan Kalil, C, USC
Nothing sexy about a center at No. 20 overall, but this is what a first-round center looks like. When healthy, you can pretty much pencil Kalil onto the Pro Bowl roster, which is where he landed from 2009 to 2011.
Previous draft spot: No. 59
'07 pick: Aaron Ross, CB, Texas

21. Jacksonville Jaguars
Record: 8-8

Jon Beason, LB, Miami
He only falls because he has been lost to injury for the bulk of the past two seasons. It's a shame, because when Beason is healthy, he's a total stud, playing at the level of a guy like Willis and in the discussion as one of the best linebackers in the league, period. His first four years, he started all 64 possible games.
Previous draft spot: No. 25
'07 pick: Reggie Nelson, S, Florida

22. Cleveland Browns
Record: 4-12

Dashon Goldson, DB, Washington
He came into the league as a corner, but Goldson had the size and the hitter's mentality of a safety, and that's where he is today. He has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, and the big question now is whether the Niners can keep him.
Previous draft spot: No. 126
'07 pick: Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame

23. Kansas City Chiefs
Record: 9-7

Jermon Bushrod, G, Towson St.
A project pick out of Towson, down the road from me, Bushrod didn't see much of the field for two years. But he cracks the list where he does because he has played at a Pro Bowl level and has been on the blind side of Drew Brees for four years now. He has made all 48 starts over the past three seasons.
Previous draft spot: No. 125
'07 pick: Dwayne Bowe, WR, LSU

24. New England Patriots
Record: 12-4

Reggie Nelson, DB, Florida
He has 78 starts in his six seasons, and has quietly become one of the top 10 safeties in the league. Nelson can make plays in the passing game, and does a decent job in run support. Not a star by any means, but a good player who can start for any team.
Previous draft spot: No. 21
'07 pick: Brandon Meriweather, S, Miami

25. Carolina Panthers
Record: 8-8

Greg Olsen, TE, Miami
Among players from this class, only Johnson and Bowe have more total receptions. Olsen has averaged just over 50 through six seasons, not bad at all given the situations he has been in, a solution for new QBs in new systems in both Chicago and Carolina.
Previous draft spot: No. 31
'07 pick: Jon Beason, LB, Miami

26. Dallas Cowboys
Record: 9-7

Brian Robison, DE, Texas
Really? Well, the case for Robison is it's possible he's in the midst of some of his best football, with more to come. He has 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons and has been a big part of a strong front on the Vikings' defense. It's only his second full season as a starter, so he may have some miles left on the odometer.
Previous draft spot: No. 102
'07 pick: Anthony Spencer, DE, Purdue

27. New Orleans Saints
Record: 10-6

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Marshall
From this draft, only Peterson and Lynch have more rushing yards than Bradshaw, who has 4,232 yards through his first six seasons. That's a major success story for a player that nearly fell out of the draft completely.
Previous draft spot: No. 250
'07 pick: Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee

28. San Francisco 49ers
Record: 7-9

Brent Celek, TE, Cincinnati
With 280 catches for his career, he's second to Olsen in the class among tight ends, and could end up on top, because he has proved himself to be a reliable pass-catcher and a guy who knows how to find and create space as a route runner. The Eagles got a steal down the board.
Previous draft spot: No. 162
'07 pick: Joe Staley, T, Central Michigan

29. Baltimore Ravens
Record: 13-3

Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn St.
He's actually second in the draft class in total tackles, with 469 in his career. He falls down the board only because of positional value, and because he has merely been solid, never rising to the level of impact player. He had a good 2012, with 139 total tackles.
Previous draft spot: No. 34
'07 pick: Ben Grubbs, G, Auburn

30. San Diego Chargers
Record: 14-2

LaRon Landry, S, LSU
Particularly in terms of his coverage ability, Landry just isn't where he was as a player when he came into the league, but at that time he had a stretch as one of the top safeties in football, and earned a Pro Bowl appearance for those efforts. Injuries have slowed him since he started 47 of his first 48 possible games.
Previous draft spot: No. 6
'07 pick: Buster Davis, WR, LSU

31. Chicago Bears
Record: 13-3

Brandon Mebane, DT, Cal
Not a star, but he played a key role for Seattle this season as a defensive tackle, and is a good one on a rotation basis. Mebane has started 85 games over six seasons.
Previous draft spot: No. 85
'07 pick: Greg Olsen, TE, Miami

32. Indianapolis Colts
Record: 12-4

Zach Miller, TE, Arizona St.
Not an explosive tight end in the mold of some of the younger stars who have defined the position, but Miller has been reliable and carved out a solid career. He has averaged just under 50 catches per season since he was drafted, and avoids injuries.
Previous draft spot: No. 38
'07 pick: Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Ohio State

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Marshal Yanda named to Sports Illustrated's 2013 All-Pro team







January 8, 2013

My All-Pro team's here

Offense
WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit; Brandon Marshall, Chicago.
LT: Duane Brown, Houston
LG: Mike Iupati, San Francisco
C: John Sullivan, Minnesota
RG: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
RT: Anthony Davis, San Francisco
TE: Jason Witten, Dallas
QB: Peyton Manning, Denver
RB: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
FB: Michael Robinson, Seattle.

Defense
DE: J.J. Watt, Houston; Cam Wake, Miami
DT: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati; Vince Wilfork, New England
OLB: Von Miller, Denver; Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco
MLB/ILB: Daryl Washington, Arizona; Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh
CB: Richard Sherman, Seattle; Charles Tillman, Chicago
FS: Dashon Goldson, San Francisco
SS: T.J. Ward, Cleveland

Special Teams
K: Blair Walsh, Minn
P: Thomas Morstead, N.O.
KR: Jacoby Jones, Balt.
PR: Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo

Dawson named to All-Fundamentals Team




Browns kicker Phil Dawson has been named to USA Football's All-Fundamentals Team.

January 7, 2013

USA Football has selected Cleveland Browns kicker PHIL DAWSON as its kicker on the 2012 USA Football All-Fundamentals Team, which honors 26 NFL players -- 11 offense, 11 defense and four special teams -- who exhibit exemplary football techniques for youth players to emulate.

The fourth annual USA Football All-Fundamentals Team recognizes NFL players who employ proper technique, which fosters better on-field performance and inherent safety benefits.

Dawson is a kicker who combines accuracy with the ability to connect from long distance. With a solid plant foot and strong posture, he drives power through his hips to strike the ball correctly and retain precision even in the worst weather conditions.

Each player chosen for the All-Fundamentals Team will receive a $1,500 equipment grant from USA Football to donate to the youth or high school football program of his choice. USA Football, the sport’s national governing body in the United States, is the official youth football development partner of the Browns, the NFL and each of the league’s other 31 teams.

A fan vote will determine All-Fundamentals Team captains at www.facebook.com/usafootball. Fans may vote for one captain on offense, defense and special teams. USA Football will award each of the three captains a $3,000 equipment grant to donate and an All-Fundamentals Team helmet trophy. Voting is open through Jan. 21.

Employing core football fundamentals advances a youth player’s performance and safety, particularly in the areas of blocking and tackling. USA Football has educated more than 100,000 youth football coaches in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., through its online courses and single-day coaching clinics. Approximately 3 million American children age 6-14 play organized tackle football, placing it among the country’s most popular youth sports.

The USA Football All-Fundamentals Team was assembled with guidance from a five-person selection committee:
• TOM CARTER, NFLPA player advocate and former NFL defensive back
• CHARLES DAVIS, USA Football spokesperson, football analyst for NFL Network and FOX Sports
• HERM EDWARDS, ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL head coach
• MERRIL HOGE, USA Football board member, ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL running back
• CARL PETERSON, USA Football chairman, former NFL team executive and assistant coach

More on past USA Football All-Fundamentals Team players’ techniques is available at www.usafootball.com/all-fundamentals-team.



About USA Football: USA Football recommends national standards for America’s youth football community. As the sport's national governing body in the United States, USA Football hosts dozens of football training events annually offering education for coaches, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners. The independent non-profit is the official youth football development partner of the NFL and its 32 teams as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference. USA Football manages U.S. national teams within the sport for international competition and awards $1 million annually in equipment grants to youth and high school football programs based on merit and need. USA Football is chaired by former NFL team executive Carl Peterson.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Football journey: Nate Ebner




Ebner, a relatively unknown sixth-round pick for the Pats, finished the regular season second on the team with 17 special-teams tackles (14 solo).

January, 5, 2013
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the Patriots selected Ohio State safety Nate Ebner in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, it had many scurrying for information. Ebner wasn't a highly touted prospect, had hardly played defense at Ohio State, and didn't take part in the NFL combine.

His career highlights were more rugby-related (he was a world-class player) than football-related.

But as is usually the case, the Patriots had a plan and a specific fit in mind. If things went according to plan with Ebner, he'd be a core special teams player and a developing prospect at safety.

That's how it turned out, as Ebner finished second on the team with 17 special teams tackles (14 solo) during the 2012 regular season.
Only special teams captain Matthew Slater had more (20).

The 24-year-old Ebner, who hails from Dublin, Ohio, shared his unique "football journey" with ESPNBoston.com this week.

When he first started playing football: "I played from 6- and 7-year-old through middle school. Those were my running back days. But then I didn't play at all in high school [Hilliard Davidson]."

Why he first started playing football: "My dad [Jeff] and his influence on sports. Also, all my best friends were playing."

Why he stopped playing football after middle school: "I was raised in Cincinnati in my young years until sixth grade. I went to my last year of middle school in Columbus so that changed. My body type, I was a late bloomer. I didn't grow a lot and wasn't really into the football as much. I wasn't as big. Also, I wanted to play running back and they wanted me to play quarterback and safety. Between that, and also playing rugby with my dad, I enjoyed that more."

Why he eventually came back to football: "I wanted to play football my senior year of high school. I debated it. But I also had a Junior World Cup [for rugby] that I had already committed to in the spring. I talked with my dad about it and I went to meetings with the coaches, but it didn't end up happening. I was concerned about possibly getting hurt for the World Cup, which was my main priority at the time. I wasn't sure about playing football in college, I just wanted to play with my friends, and I also didn't feel good about going out there and taking someone's spot that had been there for four years. They won the state championship that year, so it wasn't like they needed me or anything. Then going into college, I couldn't play on any traveling professional rugby teams because I was committed to college. I was playing at the club collegiate level, and I struggled with that as far as the competition level. It wasn't against the best guys in the world. You were playing college club teams. That was hard for me, how serious I was taking it. So it was a mixture of those two things -- not playing when I kind of wanted to my senior year [of high school] and then just not getting the same competition level I had been used at the World Cup level."

How he approached Ohio State football about walking on to the team: "I got in contact with the guy I needed to get in contact with, and asked when the walk-on process was, and what does it entail? I started to train for that type of stuff, and the rest is history. ... The end of my second year of college, I walked on in the winter. My first season was going into my third year of college [Ebner was at Ohio State for 5 years, playing 3 seasons]."

Best football memories at Ohio State, where he was voted by teammates as the Buckeyes' most inspirational player: "I'd say it was running the [American] flag out in the September 11th game last year. I think at the time, I didn't realize how big of an honor it was. Looking back on it, especially after it happened, and just hearing the crowd ... they always cheer when we come out, but to hear them cheer the American flag on September 11th, it was awesome. And for me to lead the team out and have 110,000 screaming their heads off, I'd say that was my favorite. Obviously everything playing football, there are memories I can look back at and a lot of good things, but that one sticks out. Getting a sack was cool too, but the [flag] was better."

Being selected in the sixth round (197th overall) by the Patriots: "I don't even know where to begin on that one. Every kind of emotion you can imagine -- from extremely excited, to what an opportunity, to feeling that hard work was paying off. There was satisfaction for me, because of what I always felt quietly in my own mind about what I could do. Now it was being seen by other people, an NFL team thinking enough of me to draft me. It was cool for me with all the negative stuff; it's why I don't listen to that stuff."

Describing life as a Patriot: "It's awesome. It's the life. It's a great organization, great people, great attitudes. Everything you could want in any type of work environment -- to be part of a team that is so driven to win, where success is the only option. It's cool to be a part of something that holds itself to such a high standard."

Role models in his life: "My [late] dad was my only role model. Looking back on it, you had your favorite players, but they were just players. But a role model, and the way you carry yourself and how you go about your work -- what hard work really means -- and to be a man ... every aspect of life. To me, my dad was that role model, 100 percent. There wasn't anyone else I wanted to be like than him."

Favorite teams growing up: "Obviously, I was an Ohio State fan. I didn't really have a favorite NFL team. When I started to become a fan of sports like that, I was playing rugby at the time."

Favorite players growing up: "I didn't really have any, but I liked Ronnie Lott. That was before I was playing safety. I liked John Lynch too."

On highs and lows of his rookie NFL season: "I can't even say that right now because we still have a lot left. I'm still excited. I don't really try to look at it like that -- highs and lows -- and just try to stay even-keeled while getting better. When I see growth in myself as a player, and being able to help the team, those are the types of highs for me."

What he loves about football: "I love tackling, but the thing I really love about football is the explosiveness and speed of every play. You stop after every play. In rugby, it's a very fluid game and you have to have endurance. In football, you have time to rest and it's just so explosive. There are real explosive players out here."

Summing up his football journey to this point: "I guess I've always been driven to push myself and not be afraid of anything -- if it's something I wanted to do, I put my heart into it 100 percent and give it my best effort. You have to believe you can't fail, and have that confidence in yourself and from the close people around me, and not worrying about anything else. It's just working as hard as you can if it's something you truly want. That's been my journey."

Christian Ballard sacks Aaron Rodgers




Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sacked by Vikings defensive end Christian Ballard in the fourth quarter in Green Bay on Saturday. / Wm. Glasheen/Post-Crescent Media

Thursday, January 03, 2013

ESPN votes Dave Zastudil one of top two punters in NFL





By Mike Sando

January 3, 2013

Just wanted to pass along a quick note from Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information: The San Francisco 49ers' Andy Lee recently edged the Arizona Cardinals' Dave Zastudil for the NFL's 2012 punter of the year in voting by ESPN writers, researchers and data analysts.

I listed Lee first and Zastudil second on my ballot. Seattle's Jon Ryan finished fifth. New Orleans' Thomas Morstead was third. Kansas City's Dustin Colquitt was fourth.

Punters are a bit like home-field advantages. They're not going to make a bad team win games, but they can put a good team over the top in close ones.

Here's what Simon had to say about the punters and the voting process:

"Lee edged out Zastudil in an extremely close vote. Lee edged out Morstead for the NFL’s net average crown (43.2 yards). Lee finished with 36 punts inside the 20 and four touchbacks. His 9-to-1 ratio of inside-the-20 punts to touchbacks ranked tied for fourth-best in NFL. His 36 punts inside the 20 ranked third. Lee had the second-highest percentage of punts inside the 20 (53.7 percent). He was also a two-time winner of "Punter of the Week" honors this season.




"Zastudil led the NFL in punts with 112, 21 more than the player who finished second. He set NFL single-season records for total punt yardage and number of punts inside the 20. Zastudil also fared well by the advanced metrics kept by ESPN's analytics team. His average punt added 1.4 percent to the Cardinals' chances of winning, which was an NFL best, as was his average expected points added per punt (0.33).

"Lee received seven of a possible 15 first-place votes and was named on 15 of the 20 ballots. Five points were awarded for a first-place vote. Three points were given for a second-place vote. Zastudil received five first-place votes and five second-place votes. Lee won our points voting by four points (44-40). Morstead finished with 17 points, Colquitt 14, and Ryan 5."

Congrats to all the nominees. Punters don't get a ton of attention. We've got some good ones here in the NFC West.

Ebner making most of his opportunity with Patriots




Selected by New England in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, Nate Ebner said it’s been “a great opportunity” to play for the Patriots, who are headed to the NFL playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons. A former rugby player, Ebner has been playing football full time only since fall 2009.

By JARROD ULREY

January 2, 2013

With future college players Bo Delande, Connor Dietz and J.B. Strahler leading the way, the Hilliard Davidson High School football team captured its first state championship in 2006 when it beat Mentor 36-35 in double overtime in the Division I final.

What no one at that time could have predicted is a Davidson senior not affiliated with the football program would go on to play at Ohio State and in the National Football League.

Nate Ebner, a 2007 Davidson graduate, was selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft with the 197th pick. He did not play football in high school because of his commitment to rugby.

“I had the (Junior) World Cup coming up (in rugby) and didn’t want to risk injury,” he said. “(The Davidson football team) won the state championship that year. ... It was bittersweet not to be able to play my senior year, but I ended up going to the Junior World Cup, so I don’t really regret it.”

“Coach (Brian) White tried to get him (to come) out (for the football team), but he was going to miss a good amount of time playing rugby overseas,” said Delande, a 2007 graduate who went on to play for Ohio State, while Dietz played at Air Force and Strahler at Ohio University. “It’s been great to see him make that transition from rugby to the football field.”

Ebner, who earned a football scholarship at Ohio State as a senior, made the Patriots’ roster this season as a special teams player and backup safety. He had 12 total tackles through 15 games for New England, which won the AFC East to secure a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season and ninth time in 10 seasons.

“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can,” Ebner said. “I’m kind of taking it week to week and not dwelling on anything that’s happened. I’ve been playing special teams throughout the season and, because of some injuries, have been able to step in and play some safety.

“Obviously, it’s a great opportunity to be a part of an organization like this. I’m excited to have a chance to play for the Patriots.”

Learning the nuances of football has been an ongoing process for the 6-foot, 210-pound Ebner, who turned 24 on Dec. 14 but has been playing the sport full time only since fall 2009.

He began playing rugby at age 12 and earned a spot on the U19 U.S. Junior National team in 2007 and on the U20 team in 2008. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in the International Rugby Board Junior World Cup both years.

Ebner’s interest in rugby stemmed from his father. Jeff Ebner played for the Des Moines (Iowa) Rugby Club in the 1970s before moving to Ohio and helped coach his son at the youth level as well as with the Tri-Village Rugby Club, which is comprised primarily of high school players from Grandview, Hilliard and Upper Arlington.

Jeff Ebner was killed Nov. 14, 2008, at his auto-salvage business in Springfield in an attempted robbery. According to his obituary, he once played rugby for the United States in the Maccabiah Games.

Willie Anderson pleaded guilty to the homicide in July 2010 and is serving a sentence of 15 years to life.

“(Nate) is just like his dad,” said Tom Fetters, a 2006 Davidson graduate who has been friends with the younger Ebner since 2004 and is the coach of Tri-Village. “(Jeff) was a great coach who would teach the fundamentals and would keep us in shape. He would say, ‘In everything you do in life and rugby, whatever you do, you’ve got to finish strong.’ ”

Delande, who was a backup running back and special teams player for Ohio State and spent time as Ebner’s college roommate, said it was tough watching Ebner endure the loss of his father.

“I can’t even imagine myself in that situation,” Delande said. “He put all of that into a good direction and it got him to where he is today.”

After competing in rugby at the international level as a teenager, Ebner joined the Ohio State football team as a walk-on in 2009 and had seven tackles that season while playing special teams.

Late that season, Ebner and several of his teammates wore rubber bracelets inscribed with the words of Ebner’s father, “Finish Strong.” The Buckeyes won their final six games, including a 26-17 victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

In June 2010, Ebner played for Ohio State’s club rugby team in the USA Sevens Rugby Collegiate Championship Invitational at Crew Stadium.

He continued to play football the next two seasons. As a senior in 2011, he saw action on defense for just three snaps, but his play on special teams and the scout team earned him a scholarship.

Also as a senior, he was voted most inspirational player by his teammates and received the Bo Rein Award. He finished that season with 11 tackles and one sack.

The Columbus Olympic Rugby Conference, which was formed for high school sevens teams in central Ohio in 2011, presented the Nate Ebner Player of the Year Award last spring to 2012 Upper Arlington graduate Jaime Barlow.

“We used to call him ‘Skeletor’ because he was (6 feet tall) and about 150 pounds when he was younger, but he filled out pretty well,” Fetters said. “He was like lightning when he touched the ball. His work ethic was like no other, just beyond anybody I’ve ever met. Whether he was running 20 sprints or doing 50 reps, he worked as hard from the beginning to the end.”

With NFL coaches and scouts watching, Ebner ran 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 4.04 in the shuttle and 6.59 in a three-cone drill during Ohio State’s pro day last March, less than two months before the NFL draft.


That quickness impressed New England enough to overlook his lack of football experience. His best game statistically this season came Oct. 28, when he had four solo tackles in a 45-7 win over St. Louis. He is listed on the Patriots’ roster as a third-string safety.

“I don’t think there are any kids playing college football who don’t dream of playing in the NFL,” Ebner said. “Obviously, the whole experience of being at Ohio State was huge. Certain parts of (pro football) are harder.

Everything is more detailed.”

“To be honest, I was surprised he didn’t get drafted earlier,” Fetters said. “Anything he puts his mind to, he gives 130 percent. I said to some of my buddies when he got drafted that he seems like a (New England coach Bill) Belichick guy.”

Delande has enjoyed watching his former college teammate play in the NFL.

“It’s cool to see one of your buddies at that level,” Delande said. “He’s just a naturally gifted athlete and, along with his work ethic, it’s put him where he’s at right now.”

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