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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Jim Harbaugh’s contract with Michigan escalates coaches’ salaries scale, college football arms race



By Adam Kilgore

December 30, 2014

Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan will introduce the richest college football coach in history, a title Jim Harbaugh will not hold for long. The exorbitant salaries universities pay football coaches have resulted in an arms race without end, at a cost to the structure of the sport that remains to be seen.

Michigan reportedly offered Harbaugh $48 million over six years, which would make him the highest-paid coach in college football history. Other reports have since refuted the precise figures. Either way, Harbaugh’s megabucks deal will continue the escalation of coaches’ salaries, a cycle with no stopping in sight that, depending on your point of view, is either a reflection of wanton spending in college sports or the logical byproduct of a rational market.

“It’s simple, really,” said agent Neil Cornrich, who represents Bob Stoops, Kirk Ferentz and other high-profile coaches. “As long as the revenues from college football continue to grow, all the numbers will follow.”

It’s true – big-time programs like Michigan can pay coaches inflated salaries because the money is there, and they choose to pay the salaries because they want to keep the money there.

The entirety of deposed Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s salary and buyout – $14.4 million over his four-year tenure – came from Michigan athletic department coffers and not taxpayers, State Budget Office spokesman Kurt Weiss said. The public university is expected pay Harbaugh solely through revenue and donations the athletic department generated, with no money from the state included.

“Our records show [Michigan’s athletic department] would likely have enough money,” Weiss said.

The Wolverines can sustain their own excesses. So what’s the issue? While Michigan’s athletic department may be able to afford it, many of the schools it competes with cannot. Only 20 Football Bowl Subdivision athletic departments finished in the black in 2013, according to an NCAA study released in April. Meanwhile, according to USA Today’s database, the average FBS coach’s salary has doubled since 2006.

As coaching salaries rise, those schools that operate at a lower economic threshold than Michigan will face a choice: Step aside or dip into state funds or money otherwise earmarked for academics. The gulf between the haves and have-nots will widen, with many of the haves using taxpayer dollars. And then some of have-nots will choose to give up rather than try to keep up, spent into oblivion.

“It’s really the 24 programs with the largest athletics budgets that are really the ones driving the spending increase,” said Amy Perko, the executive director of the Knight Commission. “Schools at the lower tier of spending, those programs rely on student fees for a significant portion of their athletics budget. They are facing decision day fairly soon on how much they can increase student fees” to pay a football coach’s salary.

The growing chasm will only deepen if and when players receive compensation. The Knight Commission’s data shows that coaching salary makes up one third of athletic department spending, Perko said. The costs would only increase if football players received pay, too.

“The more that costs go up, whether it is with coaching salaries or players compensation, it will lead to some schools thinking hard about the value of a football program,” said Michael McCann, the director of the University of New Hampshire’s Sports and Law Institute. “We could see some schools reconsider the value of a football program. That said, every time there are rumors of a football program being cut, there are widespread complaints from alums. That will always be a check to some extent on movement to cut programs.”

That ripple effect is one reason why critics view escalating coaches’ salaries as a striking problem: When Power School U decides it will pay a coach $8 million per season, it may trickle down to how much an average student at Lower Tier Tech pays for tuition. But the appeal of a football program can be so strong that alumni donations threaten to fall if the smaller school makes noise about dropping the sport.

But larger schools have both the incentive and the means to offer higher and higher salaries. Remember: The money is there. New television rights fees have enriched power-conference schools like never before. As long as the NCAA prohibits players from seeing any of the massive profits, no one figure is more responsible for raking in revenue than the head coach.

“Am I surprised they [the salaries] are going up? Not when revenues are going up,” Cornrich said. “If revenues go down, the salaries will go down. These are businesses that are operated by universities, but they’re very dependent on the unique job skills of certain coaches. There are tons of people who want to do it. There are very few who can do it. You need one of those tremendously prolific people – people like Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz – who enhances a school’s brand and creates so much value.”

It would be easy to counter that any coach could keep a tradition-rich program like Michigan profitable, and that more athletic revenue should be spent on academic pursuits. But if Hoke’s rocky tenure didn’t lead to indifference, Michigan wouldn’t have felt compelled to find a new coach. This fall, a campus convenience store ran a promotion that handed out two tickets to Michigan’s home game against Minnesota with the purchase of two Cokes.

The dizzying salaries coaches receive are only natural byproducts. This summer, Vanderbilt law professors Randall S. Thomas and R. Lawrence Van Horn performed a study of college football coaches’ salaries, comparing their ability to add value to an organization to that of CEOs. They disregarded any social stigma pertaining to skyrocketing pay for a coach at an institution devoted to higher education. The professors discovered the market had rewarded them properly.

“We find no evidence that the structure of college football coach contracts is misaligned, or that they are overpaid,” Thomas and Van Horn wrote.

College coaches, though, operate in a specialized sphere. “College sports is not a typical business,” Perko said. “College sports is connected to a university. The majority of the universities in FBS are state run. All these programs benefit from the tax status provided to them because of their connection to the universities.”

Still, salaries will continue to rise before they go back down. Many critics have proposed a cap on coaches’ salaries, but that idea would be struck down through a lawsuit, McCann said. As Harbaugh’s salary shows, colleges will continue to use all the financial might they can muster to lure a coach able to produce wins and revenue.

Coaches cannot be begrudged for negotiating contracts that are fair under the system in place. If the NCAA is not going to let the players share in the profits, then head coaches are next in as the ones who produce the revenue.

But the salary figures the system produces provides yet more evidence of the absurdity of linking a massively profitable sports enterprise to an institution of higher education. The money is there and it’s being made by the football team, and it’s not like any schools are going to be diverting that money to the anthropology department anytime soon.

“It would be bold for someone to do it,” said McCann, the professor, breaking into a laugh. “It would also be really risky.”

Monday, December 29, 2014

Booms And Busts of Last Year’s Draft





December 27, 2014

By Zachary Hicks

Every year there are players that are either undervalued or overvalued. It's a General Manager's job to look at the risk along with the reward when drafting a player. This list is my opinion on early boom and bust players from the 2014 draft. (note this is a very early assessment and players do develop at different times in their career)

BOOMS:

1. Khalil Mack OLB Raiders- Stats don't tell the whole story for how well Mack has played this year. He provides constant pressure and his biggest contribution is stopping the run. He's been basically the lone bright spot on a shaky Raiders defense thus far and they should look to build around him in the upcoming draft.

2. Chris Borland MLB 49ers - It may have been a small sample size, but Chris Borland has been stellar in his first pro season. Only starting in eight games this year, Borland has racked up over 100 tackles including a game against the Giants where he had 13 tackles and two interceptions. Chris Borland is a name to watch next year to see how he fits in with All Pros Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.

3. Odell Beckham Jr. WR Giants- How could someone make a list of productive rookies without mentioning Beckham? This guy has been flat out amazing. He runs very crisp routes, is strong off the line of scrimmage, and has outstanding hands (yes we've all seen the catch on Monday Night Football). He has the tools to be a top ten maybe even a top five receiver in all of football next year.

Honorable Mentions: CJ Mosley ILB Ravens, Aaron Donald NT Rams, Derek Carr QB Raiders, Mike Evans WR Buccaneers, Zack Martin OL Cowboys, and EJ Gaines CB Rams


Busts:

1. Blake Bortles QB Jaguars- Its always early when it comes to Quarterbacks, but Bortles has looked sub-par at best. He has had glimpses where you see his number three overall pick potential but he's been terribly inconsistent. Blame it on the Jaguars in general or not, Blake Bortles doesn't look like the answer for this team.

2. Jadeveon Clowney DE/OLB Texans- Being the number one overall pick always brings pressure to perform immediately and Clowney simply hasn't been on the field. He's been injured most of the year and has had surgery on his knee already. Injuries along with people doubting his effort make Clowney look like an early bust candidate. He has all the ability in the world and if he can just get on and stay on the field, he may be one of the best pass rushers in the league.

3. Justin Gilbert CB Browns- Justin Gilbert's rookie year has been shaky at best. He's been far from the answer the Browns thought he was going to be when the drafted him. They thought they were getting a playmaker opposite of All Pro Joe Haden instead they got a young corner who gets burned way too often. Gilbert has plenty of skill but until he puts some effort in, he'll just be another forgotten top ten pick.

Dishonorable Mentions: Johnny Manziel QB Browns, Eric Ebron TE Lions, and Darqueze Dennard CB Bengals

Williamson sets Titans' rookie mark for tackles





From Wire and Staff reports' "NFL notes: Cobb scores 2 TDs in Packers' win; Williamson sets Titans' rookie mark for tackles"

December 28, 2014

With four tackles on Sunday, former University of Kentucky standout Avery Williamson raised his season total to 105, moving past Alterraun Verner for the Tennessee Titans' rookie tackle record. Verner had 103 in 2010.

Williamson was pleased with how his season went, though disappointed that the team struggled to a 2-14 record that earned them the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.

"I have a good feeling about this season," he said. "It wasn't perfect, but as a rookie, I feel like I did pretty good. I made some huge strides, so it gives me some confidence going into the next season, and I can build off that and keep on improving."

Williamson, who said he'll spend part of the offseason at UK taking a class and working out with coaches, said he'll do all he can to retain his starting position.

"I've really got to work hard this offseason and get in the playbook," he said. (To) know the ins and outs of it, and get bigger, stronger, faster. The whole nine yards. I've got to come back an even a better player next year."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Marshal Yanda named to the Grantland All-Pro Team





From Bill Barnwell's "The Grantland All-Pro Team"

December 23, 2014

Guard

Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers

Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens

Sitton is a reasonable candidate to be considered the most underrated player in all of football. The 2008 fourth-rounder has made only one Pro Bowl and doesn’t ever get discussed as one of Ted Thompson’s best draft picks, but Sitton consistently stands out as the best player on the league’s sixth-best run-blocking offensive line. STATS has him down for just three penalties and zero sacks this season.

Yanda teams with Kelechi Osemele to form what might be the best tandem of guards in football right now. Baltimore has totally turned its running game around this season, as a team that averaged just 3.1 yards per carry during a dismal campaign last year is now up to 4.5 yards per rush, the seventh-best rate in football. Baltimore basically punted at right tackle this offseason and gave the job to 2013 fifth-rounder Ricky Wagner, but Yanda has been good enough at guard to solidify that side and make Wagner’s job all that much easier.

Second Team: David DeCastro, Steelers; Zack Martin, Cowboys

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seeing the value in Steelers TE Matt Spaeth





By KiwiSteelerFan

December 11, 2014

It's a thankless job, being the second tight end on a dynamic offense like the Steelers. Antonio Brown needs to get the ball, so there's 60 percent of the team's targets. Le'Veon Bell needs to run the ball, so there's even fewer passes to go around. Add in Heath Miller, a player with his own fan-stamped yell for each catch he gets.

There really just isn't anything left for Steelers TE Matt Spaeth. But he's making it work anyway.

Here are the offensive snap count percentages for each game played so far.



Heading into Week 15, there's a pattern developing. Check out Matt Spaeth's snap-count percentages this season. When he's in, he's there to block both on passing and running plays, and he has been a major factor in the improved play of the Steelers' offense. His snap-count is almost directly proportional to how well the offense goes.

Going through and looking at our best and worst offensive performances of the year, this makes for an interesting read. Some of the best performances the Steelers' offense has had this season were against Carolina, Indianapolis and Baltimore, as well as that that monster rushing effort from Bell against the Titans and last weekend's destruction of the Bengals. Some of the worst performances were at Baltimore in Week 2, at Cleveland, the Jets and the Saints games.

Although against the Saints we actually ended up producing quite a lot of yardage, most of it came when the game was already over. The Buccaneers game was another low-light.

In all of our best offensive performances, Spaeth's snaps are well over 30 percent and often nudging on 50 percent. In the worst offensive performances, he's well under 30 percent, bottoming out at 5 percent in probably our worst performance of the year, the embarrassment in Baltimore.

Does Spaeth being in there blocking in both the running and passing games boost us more than any other single player? There's probably good reason to wonder about it. As maligned as Spaeth was during his first stint as a Steeler, it's clear that he is, at least now, an excellent blocker for both the run and pass games. He's helping open big holes for Bell but, perhaps more importantly, he's helping keep Ben vertical and unharrassed. And when he does, even though we're a receiver short, it doesn't matter because the Steelers have three guys who can get open on anyone given time.

More Spaeth please.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Markus Kuhn becomes first German to score touchdown in NFL




Markus Kuhn has become the first German to score a touchdown in the US-based American football league, the NFL. The 28-year-old was playing for the New York Giants against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.


Markus Kuhn has gone into the history books, after becoming the first German to ever score a touchdown in the world's toughest American football league, the NFL.

The defensive end from Mannheim, Germany, was playing for the New York Giants in their 36-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans when, in the 14th minute of play, he scooped up the ball after a fumble by Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Kuhn then ran 26 yards to the endzone to take the score to 16-0 in favor of the Giants.


Kuhn was escorted into the endzone by teammates, Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore, who then congratulated their team-mate with slaps on the back and on the helmet.

The German, who is normally just involved in defensive plays for his team, could barely believe his luck.

'No way this is happening'

Kuhn tweeted after the game that he had "always dreamed" of scoring for the Giants.



Speaking to the New York Post about the reaction from his teammates after his touchdown, Kuhn said: "They were like, 'They've even let the German score now.'"

Kuhn admitted that, as he scored the touchdown, he thought to himself, "there's no way this is happening."

Kuhn's touchdown was even more remarkable as it was the first TD from a fumble for the struggling Giants in 35 games. The result helped his team to their first victory in eight games.

The 28-year-old is one of four Germans playing in the NFL this season. Other representatives from Germany include Björn Werner (Indianapolis Colts), Sebastian Vollmer (New England Patriots), and Kasim Edebali (New Orleans Saints). Despite the recent closure of the NFL Europe competition, the NFL remains popular amongst sports fans in Germany.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The NFL Three-Quarters Award Winners





DECEMBER 5, 2014

by BILL BARNWELL

We’ve made it three-quarters of the way through the NFL season, so that means one thing: It’s time to catch up on the various award races.
Everyquarter, I run through the regular-season trophies to get a gauge on how perceptions are changing as the season goes along. The league moves so quickly that it’s actually pretty incredible to see players enter a race and then disappear over the course of mere weeks. Philip Rivers went from being an MVP candidate to downright mediocre and then flipped that script in Sunday’s win over Baltimore alone.

Please keep in mind that these aren’t my picks for who should win each award, but instead who I think is most likely to win. These are also based on a combination of each player’s current output and what’s likely to happen over the remainder of the season; if I had thought Haloti Ngata deserved to be defensive player of the year for his performance through the first 13 weeks of the season, the news of his suspension for Adderallwould immediately ix-nay his candidacy.

Let’s start with an award where one teammate’s late surge might very well usurp another’s …

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Week 4: Kyle Fuller, Bears
Week 9: Anthony Barr, Vikings
Week 13: Chris Borland, 49ers

Last time, I jokingly wrote Borland’s name before crossing it out. No joke this time. Borland’s profile has exploded over the past four weeks, to the point where he’s now the highest-profile defensive rookie seeing regular playing time. Seahawks fans were actually trying to troll me on Twitter on Thanksgiving by pointing out that Marshawn Lynch had run over Borland, not noting that Borland had made probably a half-dozen solo tackles on Lynch up to that point, let alone that we’re talking about the most powerful running back in football versus the fourth inside linebacker on the 49ers depth chart. It’s a sign of how far Borland has come.

It’s also a sign that there really isn’t a clear-cut choice to compete with Borland. Barr had only one sack during this past quarter and he left Sunday’s win over the Panthers with a lingering knee injury that will likely keep him out for at least one week. C.J. Mosley has immediately settled in and taken over as a fine inside linebacker for the Ravens, and he’s actually a better player than Borland, but Borland’s story is better, and that matters to the electorate that votes on these awards.

Aaron Donald is an absolute freak and deserves the J.J. Watt–lite comparisons he got before the draft, but his rookie-leading sack total is at just six. He is Borland’s biggest competition for the award, and it should come down to how these two play over the final month.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Chris Borland named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month




San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Chris Borland has had a monster season since moving into the starting lineup in October. He added to his honors with NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November.

By David Fucillo

December 4, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers have had an inconsistent season, but amidst the turmoil, Chris Borland has emerged as a serious presence. The 49ers rookie earned a significant honor today, as the NFL named him Defensive Rookie of the Month for November. This followed back-to-back Rookie of the Week awards in Weeks 10 and 11. It is worth noting the weekly awards are voted on by fans, while the monthly award is not. Borland joins Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis as the only 49ers linebackers to win the award.

Borland's November was kind of ridiculous. According to the NFL, he is the only player in the past 20 years to accrue 70+ tackles and 2+ interceptions in a calendar month. He led the NFL with 70 tackles in November, although every source seems to end up with different tackle total. However you look at it, he has been a force.

Borland moved into the starting lineup in the second half of the 49ers December 13 win over the St. Louis Rams. He had a strong second half, but then struggled the following week against the Denver Broncos. After the bye, he put together a ridiculous three week stretch against the Rams, Saints and Giants. The last two weeks he has come back to earth a bit. His numbers are down a bit, including his grading at Pro Football Focus. However, among linebackers with at least 25 percent of snaps, he is tops in run stopping percentage. His pass coverage is going to need continued development, but he has gotten his NFL career off to a strong start.

Now the question is, does he have enough time to potentially claim Defensive Rookie of the Year? The 49ers have some big games in December, and some strong performances could be enough to notch the honor. It won't be easy, but the opportunity is potentially there with a strong finish.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Marshal Yanda is quietly becoming one of the Ravens' all-time greats




Marshal Yanda grades out as the best guard in all of football.

By Childs Walker The Baltimore Sun

November 27, 2014

Try this idea on for size: Marshal Yanda is one of the greatest players in Ravens history.

An offensive guard? Really? Yeah, really.

Let's start the case with Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak on the stand. Kubiak has coached and played with his share of excellent offensive linemen. Already, he'd put Yanda near the top of the list.

"Yes, I've told John [Harbaugh] that," Kubiak says. "He's as good as any I've ever been around, and I've been around some great ones. I'm so impressed with the technician that he is, how hard he plays, how tough he is, the things he plays through. He's a consistent body of work."


All right, how about the view of a pretty smart rookie looking for NFL role models?

"He's the type of guy where, when I'm watching film, I watch what he does on every single play," Ravens guard John Urschel says. "That's how good he is. … Listen, if I end up being like Marshal Yanda in four or five years, I'll be more than happy with my career. That guy's the real deal."

You want outside views? Yanda's peers voted him the league's 55th best player in the NFL Network's annual preseason poll. He was the second-ranked offensive lineman and one of only two guards to make the list at all.

The analysts at Pro Football Focus grade every play of every game, and by their reckoning, Yanda has been a top-10 player at his position — guard or tackle — in five of the six seasons he's started more than half his team's games.
Last year, playing with a shoulder still weakened from rotator cuff surgery, he graded as the NFL's 15th-best guard.

"He's definitely one of the best linemen in the league," says Steve Palazzolo, a senior analyst for Pro Football Focus. "He can play the power game and maul people but then you see some of the reach blocks he makes, and he moves awfully quickly over a short space."

The entire Ravens line suffered through a disappointing 2013. But now that Yanda, 30, is healthy again, he's playing arguably the best football of his career in his eighth season. Pro Football Focus says the gap between him and the next best guard, the Cleveland Browns' Joel Bitonio, is greater than the gap between Bitonio and the 10th best player at the position. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden gushed over the holes Yanda and Kelechi Osemele opened for Justin Forsett in the Ravens' Monday night victory in New Orleans.

'Always finishing to the whistle'

OK, enough with the accolades. What says Yanda to the notion he's an all-time great Raven, behind only former teammate Jonathan Ogden among all the franchise's offensive linemen?

It's Friday afternoon before the New Orleans trip and he's still flushed and sweaty from practice. He starts with a self-deprecating snort. He's trying to humor the question but with the Saints looming in three days, he can't go there.

"It's tough, because I'm a team guy, and I don't worry about that stuff," Yanda says. "If I'm worried about that stuff, then I'm not worried about what's most important, which is blocking New Orleans. If you get in that mindset, you're going to take steps backward. You can go from the top to the bottom in a half. Not a game, not a year. In a half."

And there you have it, an athlete who's great in part because he never stops to think about how great he is. Yes, it's easy to fall into cliché when discussing Yanda, the unbreakable Iowa farm boy who achieves beyond his physical gifts and hates talking about himself as anything more than a classic football grunt.

You read stories about him from over the years and toughness is the common theme. The most widely repeated episode is the $600 bet he won as a rookie when he took two jolts from a stun gun wielded by disbelieving Ravens veterans. "Easiest money I ever made," he said at the time, noting he'd taken worse shocks brushing against the electrified cattle fences on his family's dairy farm.

Others marvel at the way he played through the Ravens' 2013 Super Bowl run with that torn rotator cuff, which required surgery five days after the last snap of the season. "Who does that?" asks Kirk Ferentz, Yanda's college coach at Iowa and also a former Ravens line coach.

But these stories circulate often enough and they become almost cute, which doesn't fit Yanda's self-conception. He's not interested in being a folk hero. He's simply devoted to pushing through whatever he must to be a great offensive lineman week after week, year after year. Consistent is his favorite word.

Look at his His Pro Football Focus game grades and they're almost numbing — positive scores for weeks on end. Positive for both run and pass blocking. Positive whether he was playing at guard or right tackle, a position he manned earlier in his career.

It speaks to a man whose mind remains locked on football every day during the season. No leaving the game at the office for Yanda. He believes such paranoia is warranted for a job that can subject him to public mockery if he screws up two plays out of 60.

Every practice, he does his best not to loaf, lest he set a poor example for younger teammates. Every night, he plays with his children, 4-year-old Graham and 2-year-old Elizabeth, then settles in to watch film. Every play, he looks for another opponent to hit until the referee's whistle blows the action dead.

Want to know why Yanda is so often in the middle of on-field shoving and yapping? "I think guys get into it with him, because he's always finishing to the whistle," says Ravens center Gino Gradkowski. "He might get under guys' skins always doing that."

'He'll be out there'

Pain is part of the routine, something to be accepted as the price for doing what Yanda loves. "You have to understand it's not if you're going to get hurt, it's when," he says matter of factly.

Yanda had never been injured in high school or college. "I thought I was just different," he says, mocking his youthful outlook. But then he blew out his knee five games into his second pro season.

Since then, some part of him has hurt pretty much all the time.

"But you'll never know, never hear about [it]," says rookie tackle James Hurst. "If there's any way that guy can be out there, he'll be out there."

Guard is actually the perfect position for Yanda's stoic personality. He can do his job better than anyone in the world, receive handsome pay ($32 million over five years) and universal respect from his peers and still face less public attention than your average back-up quarterback.
He wasn't always this picture of professionalism. Growing up in Anamosa, a town of 5,500 in Eastern Iowa, Yanda let his grades slip to the point he had to attend junior college instead of pursuing a four-year scholarship. With that jolt of reality and numerous kicks in the rear from his strict mother, Ruth Byrd, he shaped up and set his sights on the Big Ten.

Ferentz remembers Yanda hanging around Iowa's facilities "like a dog who won't leave your porch."

The coach didn't like using roster spots on junior college players, whom he regarded as poor risks. And he half-regretted giving Yanda a shot when he saw how stiff the kid looked in summer workouts. "He wasn't very impressive," Ferentz recalls. "And that's being kind."

This would become a theme for Yanda, who's the opposite of a workout warrior. At the NFL scouting combine, he'd impress virtually no one with a 40-yard dash time of 5.15 seconds and 23 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press.

Even now, Yanda hardly stands out in an NFL locker room. He neither towers over his teammates, as Ogden did, nor ripples with muscle like Terrell Suggs, who dresses a few lockers down. He's just another beefy guy with ruddy features.

But once Yanda donned his pads, Ferentz watched him transform into a different animal, one who'd hit anything that moved and hard.

"During his senior year, I told all the pro guys, 'Look, your coaches are going to hate him when they see him running around in shorts, but once they see him play actual football, they'll come back and thank you for drafting him,'" Ferentz says.

'He always finds a way'

The Ravens saw exactly what Ferentz promised, picking Yanda in the third round in 2007 despite having already drafted another guard, Ben Grubbs, in the first round.

As a rookie, Yanda got his one chance to play with Ogden, a future Hall of Famer whom he'd heard all about from Ferentz. He observed Ogden's intelligence in team meetings and the great tackle's competitive meanness on Sunday. But study as he might, Yanda would never be 6-foot-9 with dancer's feet and arms as long as javelins.

"I couldn't do anything he could do," Yanda says with an awed laugh.

It was an important lesson. He had to know his own strengths — diligence and a thirst for contact — and play to them.

"He's definitely a scrapper, a guy who will get it done no matter how he has to do it," Gradkowski says. "I think he would pride himself on that. It doesn't always look pretty, but he always finds a way to get it done."

Now Yanda's the guy studied by younger players. He's made three Pro Bowls with a fourth seemingly inevitable this year. And he's a quiet cornerstone of one of the league's most consistent winners.

"I knew he was a good player when I came here," Kubiak says. "But man, is he impressive — not only as a player, too, but as a person, how he goes about getting ready to play."

Yanda has some notions about his post-playing career. He and his wife of three years, Shannon, are expecting their third child in February. They plan to retire to their native Iowa, probably to a farm. Yanda says he'll shed some of his 305-pound playing weight to reduce strain on his joints.

But those visions seem as far away as the post-career awards — Ravens Ring of Honor, even the Hall of Fame ballot — he doesn't care to discuss.

There's a game coming Sunday, and Yanda has to get ready.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chris Borland: What a pick!!!




Chris Borland is averaging 12.8 tackles per game since taking over as a starting inside linebacker five weeks ago.

From Peter King's "Odell of a Catch"

November 24, 2014


TEN THINGS I THINK I THINK

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 12:

San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland, for the fourth straight week, leading his team in tackles. What a pick by GM Trent Baalke.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rookie linebacker Avery Williamson playing well, looking like 5th-round steal for Titans




Tennessee linebacker and ex-Cat Avery Williamson, center, celebrated after sacking Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger for an 8-yard loss Monday night.

By Teresa Walker

November 20, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans linebacker Avery Williamson had a big game against a quarterback he's been watching for years, sacking Ben Roethlisberger not once, but twice.

Now the rookie is working to make sure ego doesn't take his attention off the job at hand.

"I'm happy with the way I've been playing," Williamson said. "Some plays I left on the field, but it's never going to be a perfect game. Just got to continue forward and progress each week. I'm definitely excited about my future, and I feel like it's going to keep getting better."

So do the Titans with Williamson looking to be a steal as a fifth-round draft pick out of Kentucky. His success has been a bit overshadowed with three other rookies starting on offense.

The linebacker from Milan, Tennessee, grew up a fan of the Titans, and he has played in every game this season. Williamson now has started the last six games, and he already ranks third on the team with 70 tackles. He easily is in position to top Alterraun Verner's 103 tackles in 2010 for most tackles by a rookie since 1999.

Williamson also is tied for second with three sacks, and he has six quarterback pressures along with seven tackles for loss.

"He's getting better and better every week," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I think his recognition of what he's seen on the other side of the ball, he's got a lot confidence in how he's playing. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes, which is unusual for a young player like that. He's grown up quickly. It's been a great asset to have him, especially after Zach got hurt earlier this year."

The Titans lost Zach Brown a few plays into the season and tried to replace him with Zaviar Gooden. Despite not starting until the fifth game, Williamson currently is tied for third among NFL rookies in sacks and is second recovering two fumbles.

Speed and hard work are Williamson's biggest strengths. Film study is one of the habits that helped the 6-foot-1, 236-pound linebacker as a team captain at Kentucky last season. Whisenhunt said the Titans really liked Williamson's maturity after four years in college and were impressed with him during pre-draft interviews.

"Obviously, he loves football," Whisenhunt said. "I don't think you can ever anticipate that he would progress the way he did. You hope so, but it's been a real pleasant surprise."

The Titans now trust the rookie enough that Williamson wears the helmet with the communication device hearing from coaches to get his defensive teammates lined up each play.

But the Titans visit Philadelphia (7-3) on Sunday, and the Eagles' high-paced offense means defenses have to line up much more quickly than usual. So the Titans plan to help the rookie out by signaling in schemes from the sideline.

"We're not putting it all on him," Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "We'll make a couple adjustments how we call the game so everybody will be responsible, not just him."

That's fine with Williamson who just wants to help the team he grew up rooting for win. Taking time to savor everything he's doing will just have to wait until the offseason when he's back in Milan.

"There's a lot of people really supporting me back home," Williamson said.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chris Borland Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week






November 19, 2014

By Taylor Price

The rookie linebacker is the first San Francisco 49ers rookie to win the weekly honor since defensive end Andre Carter won the award in 2011.

Chris Borland took home the Week 11 prize for his 12-tackle, two-interception outing against the New York Giants.

Borland, the 77th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, was named Pepsi Rookie of the Week last week. He's now taken home another honor in just his fourth NFL start. Perhaps even more impressive, Borland, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at Wisconsin, is tied for San Francisco's team lead with 77 tackles, according to the count of the team's coaching staff.

Borland picked off Eli Manning for his first career interception on Sunday. Twelve tackles later, Borland added a game-sealing interception after fellow rookie Dontae Johnson tipped Manning's fourth-and-goal pass into the air towards the rookie linebacker.

Borland's been the talk of the 49ers in recent weeks. Teammates have praised his work ethic and overall contributions since he's filled in for perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis.

Wednesday's award is an indication that the rookie is becoming a national conversation, too.

You can also help Borland win a second straight NFC Rookie of the Week award by voting HERE.

Time marches on, but 49ers’ Phil Dawson just keeps kicking





By Eric Branch

November 18, 2014

San Francisco 49ers' kicker Phil Dawson signals first down after the Kansas City Chiefs' were called for too many men on the field on a fourth down during Niners' 22-17 win during NFL game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday, October 5, 2014.

After 13 productive years in the NFL, David Akers’ second season with the 49ers in 2012 was a disaster: The six-time Pro Bowler missed an NFL-high 13 field-goal attempts and was released in the offseason.

Fortunately for the 49ers, recent history isn’t repeating itself.

After 15 productive years in the NFL, Phil Dawson’s second season with the 49ers in 2014 has been, well, much like the others preceding it: The 10th-most accurate kicker in NFL history (84.4 percent) has made 82.6 percent of his kicks (19 of 23) this season.

At 39, Akers is out of the NFL.

At 39, Dawson is the second-oldest player in the league, behind the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri (41), and is showing signs he could join the Really Old Kickers Club. Morten Andersen (47), Gary Anderson (45), John Carney (45) and Eddie Murray (44) are among those who’ve kicked well into their 40s.

How long does Dawson, who is signed through 2015, envision playing?

“I don’t want to stay around if I’m just another guy,” he said.

That’s not currently an issue for a kicker who, less than three months from his 40th birthday, appears to be pulling away from Father Time.

Consider, for example, that Dawson has made a higher percentage of his kicks (87.3) since turning 36 than he did in his first 12 seasons (83.3). In addition, his right leg apparently has acquired bionic qualities: He has made 22 of 27 of field-goal tries from 50-plus yards since 2011, after opening his career 10 for-19 from that distance.

Asked to account for such long-range excellence at an advanced age, Dawson discusses opportunity. That is, he wasn’t given many chances earlier in his career because he didn’t have a big-leg reputation. In addition, long attempts weren’t advisable late in the season in wintry and wind-swept Cleveland, where he spent his first 14 seasons.

“That helps feed the unproven, maybe-not-the-strongest-leg reputation,” Dawson said. “As I’ve gotten older, and started proving myself, coaches have had a little more confidence, and I’ve had more and more opportunities. For whatever reason, the last couple of years, they’ve just come in bunches. I’ve kicked well over the last couple of years.”

The 49ers would agree. In his debut with the Niners in 2013, he set franchise records for consecutive field goals made (27) and longest postseason kick (49 yards), while ranking second all-time in points (140). This season has been more of the same for Dawson, who has the highest career field-goal percentage among kickers with at least 300 field goals made.

He was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 5-for-5 performance in a win over Kansas City, and two of his four misses have come from 51 and 55 yards. Another miss, a 45-yard attempt, wasn’t his fault: Some of the linemen failed to block because they didn’t realize a fake field goal had been called off.

Dawson says he welcomes pressure situations, and his work with the 49ers suggests he’s the ice-water-in-his-veins type. He’s 4-for-4 on game-winning attempts with less than one minute left in regulation or in overtime.

His last game-winner, a 35-yarder in a 27-24 overtime win over the Saints on Nov. 9, was the latest evidence that the NFL’s second-oldest man hasn’t lost his nerve.

“If you look even back to high school, I’ve had a knack for making those kinds of kicks,” Dawson said. “I look forward to those. I don’t fear them. It doesn’t mean I’m not stressed out. It doesn’t mean I’m not nervous. But that’s kind of the point at the end of the day, right? All the hard work, all the time and here’s your opportunity to help your team win the game.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chris Borland emerging as star for San Francisco 49ers





November 18, 2014

By Chris Wesseling

Chris Borland is going to force the San Francisco 49ers into a difficult personnel decision next year.

The third-round rookie has racked up 47 tackles over the past three games. In Sunday's victory over the Giants, he became the first 49ers linebacker since Ken Norton Jr. in 1995 to record two interceptions in the same game.

Despite starting just four games, Borland is second only to Luke Kuechly in Pro Football Focus' inside linebacker ratings for the season. He is even beginning to draw consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.


"He's like a thief in the night," coach Jim Harbaugh beamed Monday, "coming to steal your football."

Perhaps the most telling sign of Borland's value is that Vic Fangio's defense hasn't missed a beat with five-time first-team All-Pro Patrick Willis out of the lineup.

The 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year set the conference record for career forced fumbles. He was a demon at the line of scrimmage during his Wisconsin career, but slid in the 2014 NFL Draftdue to size (5-foot-11) and straight-line speed (4.83 40-yard dash) concerns.

What jumps off the screen on Game Rewind is that Borland boasts impeccable instincts, above-average power and better than expected closing speed, resulting in the best run-stop percentage in the league.

"He's just dripping with instincts," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah explained Monday on NFL NOW's Scout's Eye. "We like to say in scouting, 'You really want a linebacker to shoot his gun and make a decision.' ... And he does that."

If Borland has a weakness, it might eventually surface in man coverage. As Jeremiah points out, though, he has been impressive as a zone defender.

With Willis out for the season, Borland is locked into the starting lineup through 2014. His 2015 role will hinge on All-Pro NaVorro Bowman's form in returning from reconstructive knee surgery the rest of the way.

The bottom line is the total Borland package is too good to keep off the field.

How the 49ers deal with that realization will be one of the many interesting stories to track out of the Bay Area during the offseason.

Monday, November 17, 2014

49ers Rookie Chris Borland Emerging as a Force at LB for Dominant SF Defense





Rookie linebacker Chris Borland is a bona fide playmaker for the 49ers defense.

By Peter Panacy, Featured Columnist

November 16, 2014

Rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland continues to show why he belongs in a starting role for what has been a beleaguered, yet effective, San Francisco 49ers defense.

San Francisco's third-round pick has demonstrated this ability three weeks in a row—a much-needed aspect considering the 49ers will be without perennial Pro Bowler Patrick Willis as the latter recovers from a toe injury suffered in Week 6.

Willis' injury has subsequently opened up the door for Borland.

His first full contest came against the Denver Broncos in Week 7—a game in which San Francisco had little chance to shut down Peyton Manning and Denver's offense. But in Weeks 9 through 11, Borland has become not just a standout rookie but a stalwart in the 49ers defense.

Who would have expected this out of a 6'0", 248-pound third-round pick?

The loss of Willis could have spelled disaster for a 49ers defense that has already dealt with elongated absences of starters like linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith and cornerback Tramaine Brock.

But prior to Week 11, the defense has actually been able to hold its own—a primary reason why the 49ers now sit at 6-4. Let's look at some of the defensive statistics, courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com:



Borland has been a major factor in those statistics in the last three weeks.

In Week 9, Borland amassed a team-leading 15 tackles and three assists in a 13-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams. A week later, Borland backed up his numbers with another 11 tackles and six assists against the New Orleans Saints.

The rookie also jumped on an overtime fumble by Drew Brees that helped set up the game-winning field goal for San Francisco.

It was after Week 10 when Willis was placed on injured reserve. With that news, Borland's role grew exponentially, as he is now expected to be a critical playmaker in San Francisco's stalwart defense.


"I know he has many people in his family and has other people that are big fans of his," head coach Jim Harbaugh said via Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News, "but I'm tied for at least his No. 1 fan."

These back-to-back performances earned Borland two Rookie of the Week Awards, per 49ers.com. The rookie stands as the defending award recipient after last week. It's plausible that he could receive it again after Week 11.



Prior to the 49ers' game against the Giants, no other player had as many tackles since Week 7, per NFL statistics (h/t Brown).

Borland backed up that accolade with a 13-tackle performance against New York on Sunday—two of which were for a loss.

While the tackles are impressive, the biggest element of Borland's game was felt when the inside linebacker was able to pick off quarterback Eli Manning twice.




The second interception proved to be the most decisive. The Giants were in the 49ers' red zone late in the fourth quarter. A touchdown would have given New York a one-point lead.

Borland's two interceptions were at key moments in San Francisco's 16-10 victory over New York.

Tom Canavan of The Associated Press (h/t MSN.com) described what happened next: "Three fade patterns to Beckham, Rueben Randle and Donnell fell incomplete. Manning tried to force a pass to Preston Parker on fourth down, but Dontae Johnson tipped the ball and Borland came up with his second pick."

With his second interception of the game, Borland now has done something that neither Willis nor Bowman have ever accomplished—two picks in a single game, per Taylor Price of 49ers.com.

"The guy's playing out [of] his mind," noted 35-year-old veteran defensive end Justin Smith, via Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

Borland is playing a high level of football. There isn't much doubting that.

But the 49ers will hope that the rookie will continue performing at such a high level. He is emerging not just as a stopgap option in the middle of the defense but rather as an integral playmaker that bolsters an already formidable 49ers defense.

With San Francisco looking to make a late playoff push, Borland will have to continue to be in the right place at the right time.

He has lived up to this need, and there is little reason to suspect anything different moving forward.

Rex Burkhead makes significant contributions during Bengals 27-10 win over Saints




Backup running back Rex Burkhead only played six snaps on offense, but touched the football five times. He gained 37 yards from scrimmage and three first downs.

By Josh Kirkendall

November 17, 2014

If you're a fan of Rex Burkhead you're probably saying to yourself... finally. But, even if you're not an immediate fan of the player (or just indifferent), you're likely a Bengals fan who appreciates a good make-it-happen storyline.

Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead played six offensive snaps during Sunday's 27-10 win over the New Orleans Saints. And of those six snaps, Burkhead touched the ball five times for 37 yards from scrimmage (two carries, one yard... three receptions for 36 yards receiving). Essentially it was a career-day for the former sixth-rounder out of Nebraska, following up a 12-yard rushing effort last week against the Cleveland Browns.

Burkhead was particularly effective in the passing game Sunday, converting a first on all three receptions.

The first occurred after the defense's goalline stand. OK, while defensive players are selfishly (we're kidding) celebrating their game-changing accomplishment, the offense was tasked with a first down from their own two-yard line. After Burkhead picked up a one-yard gain on the ground, the Bengals had second and nine from their own three with 9:47 remaining in the second.

Dalton faked the handoff to Burkhead, and then flipped the football out to his running back... who clearly had the advantage over linebacker David Hawthorne.

First down.

Burkhead would show back up with 9:49 remaining in the third quarter. The Bengals had first down from midfield. Burkhead was flanking Dalton's right in formation while Ryan Hewitt went into motion, lining up wide left (and carrying linebacker David Hawthorne with him). Burkhead angled out to the 47-yard line, and cut upfield. Outside linebacker, Parys Haralson was covering.

Dalton threw the football in front of Burkhead, who made a beautiful diving catch -- largely because he was losing his balance after a nice move against Haralson. The 10-yard gain picked up a first down.

Despite bailing Cincinnati out from their own goalline and making an awesome reception, Burkhead made his most significant contribution a few plays later.

With 8:08 remaining in the third quarter, the Bengals had third and 11 from the Saints 41-yard line.

After taking the shotgun snap, Dalton is flushed out of the pocket. Scrambling on an improvised bootleg to the right, Dalton found Rex Burkhead crossing along the 35-yard line. Needing six yards to convert the third down, Burkhead snagged the football and outpaced linebacker Curtis Lofton several yards after the first down was made.

Not only did he get open for Dalton (nice throw on the run, by the way), Burkhead converted a third-and-11 situation with a 15-yard reception. This is important because the Bengals would eventually score a touchdown on this possession, taking a 20-3 lead with more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Fantastic afternoon for Burkhead.

Chris Borland has come up huge



From Peter King's "The Perfect Patriot"

November 17, 2014



With star linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman sidelined, rookie Chris Borland has come up huge.(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Seven things you need to know about this weekend.

Chris Borland has 47 tackles over the last three games. Speaking of rookies, Borland also had two interceptions of Eli Manning. The 77th pick in the May draft is wedging his way into the Defensive Rookie of the Year sweepstakes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yanda named NFL's best





Former Anamosa standout Marshal Yanda continues to earn high marks from peers and media, recently being named the NFL’s top-rated offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. (Courtesy Baltimore Ravens)

November 13, 2014

By Daryl Schepanski

BALTIMORE, MD — If there’s one thing former Anamosa superstar Marshal Yanda hates, it’s talking about himself.

When learning the national media was interested in speaking with him following the recent report he had been named the top offensive lineman in the NFL in the most recent rankings by Pro Football Focus, Yanda was appreciative, but cautious.

“If they had questions about the team or how we’re doing as a group on the offensive end, those I could answer,” said Yanda, who is leading the Ravens through yet another solid season with a 6-4 overall record through 10 games.

“This stuff where the media wants me to be talk about me or some sort of award I’ve won, well, that’s just not my style.”

Yanda, who was in Anamosa this past summer during a ceremony having his jersey retired, as well as the high school weight room named in his honor, is enjoying another stellar season anchoring the Ravens offensive line.

“My job is to help this team win football games,” he said. “I’ll talk about the team until I’m blue in the face. We’ve had our ups and downs this season, but we’re battling through and are in position to get back to the playoffs.”

Yanda earned a 16.9 rating from the Pro Football Focus panel, blowing away the rest of the NFL field as no other offensive lineman had a score above 13.8.

The former Raider and Iowa Hawkeye has also allowed just one sack this season.

“That’s my job, protecting Joe (Flacco),” he said. “I take that stuff personal. I work hard so I will never get beat on a play.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Winners: Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers




Chris Borland had a key overtime fumble recovery for the 49ers.

From Nate Davis's "NFL Week 10 winners and losers"

November 10, 2014

Week 10 winners

Aaron Rodgers: He could have easily set the league's single-game record for TD passes (which would be eight) if the Packers had decided to truly embarrass the Bears. Instead, coach Mike McCarthy showed mercy to Chicago and pulled Rodgers and his six TD strikes, which all came before halftime, midway through the third quarter.

Marshawn Lynch: If the Seahawks are going to release him into the free agent market during the offseason — Lynch is under contract through 2015 but has already expressed displeasure with his deal and is reportedly at odds with team management — the star running back continues to show he remains an attractive commodity after churning out 140 rushing yards and a career-high four TDs in Sunday's win over the Giants.

Cardinals cornerbacks: With Arizona clinging to a 17-14 fourth-quarter lead and injured QB Carson Palmer in the locker room, star corners Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie took over. On three consecutive Rams possessions, Peterson picked off two passes — he took the second 30 yards for a TD — before Cromartie scooped up an Austin Davis fumble and returned it 14 yards for another score. Arizona's 8-1 record remains the NFL's best.

Gambling Cowboys: QB Tony Romo rewarded Dallas' risk to take him across the Atlantic, restoring balance to the offense with three TD passes despite his balky back, in a 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in London. Romo also managed to avoid further injury despite remaining on the field and taking some punishment late in the game even though the Cowboys were up 31-7 in the fourth quarter.

Chris Borland: San Francisco's rookie inside linebacker had a huge game for a unit missing injured all-pros Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Borland piled up a game-best 17 tackles against the Saints and, most importantly, recovered QB Drew Brees' overtime fumble to set up the game-winning (and perhaps season-saving) field goal for the 49ers.

Browns: From the comfort of their couches — Cleveland beat the Bengals on Thursday — they moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC North after the Steelers lost. The Browns, who are 6-3 for the first time in 20 years, could be primed to solidify their standing, too, as they host the Texans and newly named starting QB Ryan Mallett in Week 11 followed by a date with the struggling Falcons.

Second-half Falcons: They broke a five-game losing streak, thanks largely to a strong finish, when they outscored the Buccaneers 14-7 after intermission. In the previous five games, Atlanta had been blitzed 85-38 after halftime.

Matthew Stafford: On a day when Lions WR Calvin Johnson played for the first time in a month, the Detroit quarterback did a nice job spreading the ball around rather than maintaining radar lock on Megatron. Johnson and Golden Tate each exceeded 100 receiving yards and were both targeted at least 13 times by Stafford, whose best throw — a sidearmed, 11-yard, game-winning TD — was reserved for RB Theo Riddick in the corner of the end zone with 29 seconds to go.

Michael Vick: He became the first quarterback to rush for more than 6,000 yards in a career. More importantly, his efficient, turnover-free play helped New York snap an eight-game losing streak, the worst of coach Rex Ryan's career.

Carson Palmer's timing: The Cardinals quarterback secured his future in the desert after signing a three-year, $50 million contract extension Friday.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chris Borland thriving





By Eric Branch

November 9, 2014

NEW ORLEANS — There is a silver lining to the toe injury that sidelined All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis for his third straight game Sunday: His absence has made it abundantly clear that the 49ers got a third-round steal when they selected Chris Borland in May.

Subbing for Willis, Borland collected 17 tackles — two for losses — and recovered a fumble in a 27-24 overtime win against the Saints. After outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees, Borland pounced on the loose ball. Phil Dawson delivered the game-winning field goal one play later.

In his past two games, Borland has 35 tackles. His 18 tackles in a 13-10 loss to the Rams on Nov. 2 were the most in the NFL this season.


Borland, 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, slipped to the third round after a decorated career at Wisconsin because of his size and so-so speed.

“Regardless of the 40s, and the height and the weight, you can’t take anything away from a football player,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “And that’s what he is. When he’s on that football field, he makes plays and gets to the ball.”

Chris Borland named Defensive Player of the Week by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King





From Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback"

November 10, 2014


The Niners save their season, and need to play more like Chris Borland. “Just a little dumb luck,” said linebacker Chris Borland, after he recovered a fumble in overtime and Phil Dawson followed with a game-winning field goal in New Orleans. There’s some truth to what Borland says, but to see how he attacked the loose ball, swan-diving in from five feet away, no regard for his own health, is a good lesson for the seasoned pros on the Niners who might not be playing the same sense of desperation. “I didn’t give it a lot of thought,” Borland said. “I just reacted. That’s the game right there, that ball on the ground.” San Francisco now faces a clear path to the playoffs, with games against the Giants, Washington and Seattle (Thanksgiving Night) in the next 18 days. Pass-rusher Aldon Smith returns from his suspension Sunday in New Jersey, and his fresh legs are needed.

...


Defensive Players of the Week

I lied when I promised I’d only give a max of two awards in any category. I cannot whittle down the defensive men from Week 10.

Jaiquawn Jarrett, safety, New York Jets. The first of the anonymous Defensive Players of the Week, Jarrett came to the Jets in 2013, originally drafted by the Eagles in 2011 out of Temple. And Sunday, he had the best game of his short career—and one of the best games by any defensive player in the league this year. Ten tackles, a sack of Ben Roethlisberger, two interceptions of Roethlisberger, and a forced fumble. Jarrett was huge in a game where the Jets needed a great defensive day.

Ron Parker, cornerback, Kansas City. Two very big reasons I’m giving this to the unknown cornerback from tiny Newberry (S.C.) College. Buffalo was driving to take a 17-3 lead on the first series of the third quarter, and Parker forced a Bryce Brown fumble that bounced out of the end zone for a touchback. Huge play. Also, on the last Buffalo series of the day, the Bills trailing 17-13, Kyle Orton got the Bills to the Chiefs’ 15-yard line, with 2:47 to play. Plenty of time. Momentum in Buffalo’s favor. On first, third and fourth downs, Parker was the man in coverage who prevented a completion. He had a team-high eight tackles, but those four plays were the biggest of his day.

Chris Borland, linebacker, San Francisco. Well, he did recover the Ahmad Brooks strip of Drew Brees in overtime at the Saints’ 17, and the Niners kicked the winning field goal on the next play. But that was just the cherry on the sundae. Borland had 17 tackles in the 27-24 win over the Saints, on the heels of his 18-tackle day against St. Louis last week. Not bad for a rookie. Not bad for Niners GM Trent Baalke, who used the 77th pick in the draft on him last May and is getting one of the bargain rookies of the season.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Matt Spaeth tops PFF grades for Steelers in win over Ravens





By Neal Coolong

November 3, 2014

It wasn't the prettiest game on earth, particularly from an offensive standpoint.

The Steelers ran away from the Baltimore Ravens starting in the second quarter, fueled by a pass rush that appears to be more of a reality than a mirage. Leading that pass rush was veteran James Harrison, who was given a 4.8 grade from NFL plays evaluation web site Pro Football Focus in Pittsburgh's 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.

Harrison had two sacks in the game and made life miserable for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Cameron Heyward was also frequently in the backfield, earning a 4.1 grade as the second-highest Steelers player graded in the game.

Cornerback Antwon Blake received a 2.3 to round out the top scorers on defense.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds scored a -4.7, the only defensive player in the red for the Steelers.

Offensively, despite scoring 43 points, PFF didn't view the Steelers' performance as particularly outstanding. Tight end Matt Spaeth had a heads-up release on a botched extra point in the first half that netted the two-point conversion on a throw from punter Brad Wing, as well as a nice catch on a late touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger. It earned him a 2.2 grade, the highest among the offensive players.

Ben Roethlisberger scored a 2.1, joining Spaeth as the only two Steelers players to earn a positive grade higher than 2.0.

The Steelers offensive line, Ramon Foster in particular (-4.8), had a rough outing only one week after performing quite well against the Colts. But it's understandable, given the talent level of their opponents. Tight end Heath Miller had a -2.1, the second-lowest offensive score.

Pittsburgh moved to 6-3 on the season, and the mark of a good team is winning ugly. Generally, we agree with these scores (Foster was the lone member of the Losers list in our Winners and Losers column, and Harrison and Blake were on the Winners list. Honorable mention would have gone to Spaeth and Heyward). PFF does an initial grading, then revisits it later when all the film becomes available. We wouldn't expect these grades to drop or rise much, though.

Catching up with Dallas Clark



Former Iowa, NFL tight end greets fans before Saturday’s game


Former Iowa and retired NFL tight end Dallas Clark signs autographs and takes pictures with fans before Saturday’s Iowa football game against Northwestern. (The Gazette)

By Scott Dochterman

NOVEMBER 1, 2014

IOWA CITY — Dallas Clark was bombarded for autographs for nearly 90 minutes Saturday morning, and the former NFL tight end loved every minute of it.

Clark, who retired this summer after 11 years, took pictures and signed everything from jerseys to towels with a smile on his face. The 35-year-old currently resides in Indianapolis but plans to relocate to his home area in north central Iowa.

“We’re going to get back to Iowa,” Clark said. “We’re going to make this home. (Indianapolis is) a great town with a lot of great friends. It’s still ... Iowa’s home. There’s nothing like that.”

Clark was a first-team All-American at Iowa in 2002 and won the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end. Indianapolis drafted him in the first round of the 2003 draft, and he caught 505 passes for 5,665 yards and 53 touchdowns in his career. He played nine seasons in Indianapolis, one year for Tampa Bay and finished his career last year in Baltimore. He played in two Super Bowls and won one.

Clark said he’s enjoying retirement but it was an adjustment.

“It wasn’t until week one where the games started that it just seemed real ..., ‘Well, all right, I’m watching these guys play,’” he said. “At some point it’s always going to be like that, so as much as you prepare, it still is weird. But you look back and realize it’s a great run and I played with a great people and a lot of great coaches and great organizations. No complaints at all.”

Clark left Iowa early to come out for the NFL draft but returned to school to earn his degree in early 2007. It just happened to coincide with the Colts’ Super Bowl championship that season.

“Horrible timing there,” Clark said with a laugh. “When I came out early, I kind of made a promise to myself that no matter what happens, I’d come back and get my degree. It just so happened that it was the same year we won the Super Bowl. It was even more weird being on campus at that time. It was good, especially for my kids growing up that I have it. It was important.”

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