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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Texans LBs respond well to player-turned-coach Vrabel





By Simone Eli
July 29, 2014


It's said that those who know the game best, used to play it.

That's definitely the case for new Texans linebacker coach Mike Vrabel - a former Patriot, now trying to amp up the Texans defense.


The ex-Pats defender knew he would make the transition from professional player to professional coach when his playing days were over.

"As soon as they fired me from the NFL, as soon as I couldn't play football anymore," Vrabel said. “I've been lucky and blessed enough to play for a lot of great coaches going all the way back to high school, so I try to just take what I've learned from them and blend it into our style.”

Texans players have found themselves trying to keep up with Vrabel’s enthusiasm.

"I feel like he's running out here, he's beating us to the drills each and every day, each and every drill - so we're out here just trying to keep up with him really, he brings the excitement we're just trying to lean on that and take what we can from him and preform when they call our name," said Texans linebacker Justin Tuggle.

Vrabel has also made a huge impression on No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

"I think I have one of the best coaches in the game and this business, listening to him and talking to him. So I'm going to listen to him more than anybody," Clowney said.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A rookie shall teach them? Wilhoite hails Borland’s smarts





July 25, 2014

By Eric Branch

Michael Wilhoite has found his young competition doubles an excellent teacher.

Today, Wilhoite, 28, a three-year NFL veteran, said he’s often sought out third-round pick Chris Borland, 23, for advice this season. Input from a rookie? Borland, Wilhoite said, isn’t your typical kid.

“He has a lot of knowledge of the game,” Wilhoite said. “You can tell that he’s taken a lot of snaps at the linebacker spot, so he reads things very fast.


“I’ll even ask questions of why he did this, or why he did that. Just out of curiosity because he puts himself in very good position to make plays, whereas I might not have thought of it, or I might not have seen something.”

Borland’s instincts have been hailed by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and help explain how he had a decorated college career despite average size (5-11, 248), speed (4.83-second 40-yard dash) and alligator arms (29 ¼ inches). He was a first-team All-American and Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year at Wisconsin, where he had the second-most forced fumbles (15) in FBS history.

“You can tell he’s bred to play the linebacker position,” Wilhoite said. “He understands what he’s seeing. A lot of times as a linebacker you’ll see things, but you can’t quite correlate it to you to what you should be doing at your job. And he’s very good with that. He sees it, he understands it, he knows how to find the ball.”


Borland and Wilhoite are vying to replace All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee) for a significant part of the regular season. Given his experience, Wilhoite, who played well in his first two career starts last year, is the front-runner. The competition also includes Nick Moody, a 2013 sixth-round pick, and undrafted rookie Shayne Skov.

Today, Fangio suggested Bowman’s role could be shared by a tandem, noting how outside linebackers Dan Skuta (base downs) and Corey Lemonier (nickel) split up Aldon Smith’s duties for five games in 2013.

Whatever the case, Wilhoite said the replacement(s) must strive to reach Bowman’s level.

“You have to embrace the challenge, you have to embrace the competition, you have to embrace the fact that we’re not replacing Joe Shmoe,” he said. “We’re replacing the best. So you have to the best. You can’t be Joe Shmoe, or just another guy. Good will get you beat. To me, that’s the beauty of it.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mark Stoops understands how important Avery Williamson is





July 18, 2014

By LARRY VAUGHT

HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky’s biggest question on defense is replacing middle linebacker Avery Williamson, the team’s leading tackler the last two season who is now with the Tennessee Titans.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, a former defensive coordinator, certainly knows how important finding a replacement is.


“Me being a defensive guy my whole life, I think it’s always important as a defensive coach to be good through the middle. We know that you’ve got to be good everywhere,” he said during the SEC Media Days here Thursday. “You’ve got to have very talented guys everywhere, but from a leadership point of view, the guy in the middle of your defense, it’s real important.

“Maybe Bud (Dupree) can be our leader.We’re doing a lot of good things with Bud, getting very creative. Bud’s versatile, so we’re using him in a lot of different positions. He is a guy that can take command of the defense until somebody comes along in the middle that is a playmaker.”

Stoops also wants to see Kentucky dramatically improve on last year’s total of just three interceptions.

“Everybody fails to mention that we had more fumbles than anybody. Do we need to improve? Of course. We need to intercept some more balls. But you never know what might happen. Maybe we won’t get any fumbles and get more interceptions,” Stoops said.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More than six years later, Dallas Clark’s deal apparently gets topped





By Mike Florio

July 15, 2014

When a player signs a new contract, we often hear that he has become the highest-paid player in NFL history at his position. And that’s actually the way it should go in a thriving sports league like the NFL. Each next deal for the best player in the league at that position should be the best deal ever given to a player that plays that position.

And when a player becomes the highest paid player at a given position, we assume that the prior record didn’t stand for all that long. When it comes to tight ends, Jimmy Graham’s new high-water mark comes more than six years after the last one was set.

Per a source with knowledge of the deal, former Colts tight end Dallas Clark signed in February 2008 a contract that paid out $27.555 million over three years. No one has beaten that since then. And it’s possible that Graham’s new deal won’t pay out that much over three years, based on the actual structure.

Clark also received $20 million guaranteed. While a million less than Graham’s reported guaranteed, Clark’s $20 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

Clark’s deal came at a time when he had been slapped with the franchise tag; it wasn’t an open market deal.
Graham could have pushed the bar a lot higher if he’d held firm for a shot at the open market. With one or two more seasons, he would have gotten there — and the new high-water mark would have been a lot higher than the various others tight ends who have been paid in the past.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Dean Pees: 2015 Head Coaching Candidate?





BY BRETT FOOTE

July 8, 2014

The road to coaching success in the NFL typically goes through coordinator positions, and we have countless examples of successful defensive and offensive coaches who have made the leap over the years. It is a natural progression in terms of climbing the ladder, and it is the most popular choice for teams looking to fill head coaching vacancies. This history makes it a fair question to ask – could Dean Pees be the next hot head coaching candidate?

To date, the current Ravens defensive coordinator hasn’t really drawn any interest for head coaching vacancies, even after winning the Super Bowl his first year as a coordinator with the team. To be fair, 2012′s defense featured vocal leaders Ed Reed and Ray Lewis as well, so teams may have overlooked Pees’ influence.

Pees certainly has the history and football pedigree to be a head coach. He spent 15 years as a coordinator at the collegiate level, and was the head coach at Kent State for six seasons. He even coached John Harbaugh at Miami (OH). Pees went on to spend six years with the Patriots, where served as the linebackers coach for two seasons and the defensive coordinator for four seasons.

During his tenure with the Patriots, Pees’ defense was the only one in the NFL to finish in the top ten in scoring in four straight seasons. The team allowed fewer than 20 points per game in every season Pees was there, the best of any stretch in Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach. It’s quite likely that Belichick, a defensive mind, overshadowed Pees in his time in New England as well.

Pees has had a successful run with the Ravens in his three seasons as well. In 2010 and 2011, the team allowed the third fewest points in the NFL with Pees as the linebackers coach. In 2012 he was promoted to defensive coordinator following Chuck Pagano’s promotion to head coach of the Colts.

Even in a disastrous 2013 that mixed injuries and ineffectiveness with offensive deficiencies, the defense managed to rank 3rd in the NFL in third down defense and finished a respectable 12th in both points and yards allowed. Keep in mind this was also the season after Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed departed in free agency. Talk about some major changes.

If anything, last season proved that Pees is a good coach on his own. It would have been tough for any defense to post respectable numbers given the circumstances that 2013 brought, but Pees held the ship together even when things were at their worst. And that is one of the key elements that separates the great coaches from the mediocre ones.

But will Pees get a realistic shot at a head coaching job? He has few things working against him, other than being overshadowed most of his career. One is his age. 64 certainly isn’t out of the question in the head coaching ranks, but it does give teams pause when they are looking to build a successful team over the long haul. Tom Coughlin is 67, but he has been a head coach for eighteen years.

Pees is certainly in the right place if he wants to become a head coach, however. An incredible thirteen Ravens assistants have been or are currently head coaches in the NFL, four of which were defensive coordinators That’s an astounding number. Not to mention Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano, and Marvin Lewis have been pretty successful in head coaching roles so far.

The question is, does Pees want to be a head coach? In a 2012 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Pees pretty much shot down the notion, explaining that he enjoys focusing on football and not all the extracurricular activities that a head coach has to deal with.

“They can have that gig all they want. You become a head coach, you become everything but a coach. Especially in college, you’re there speaking to alumni, you’re doing all this stuff, you never coach. And, that’s not why I got into this profession. I watch head coaches even in this league — there’s just so many other hats that you have to wear. I don’t want to wear those hats. I want to wear this one right out here on the practice field, call defenses and play ball and have fun with the players.”

Things can quickly change when a great job becomes available, of course. One thing you learn over the years is to never say never. A great defensive season in 2014 is bound to make the phone ring for Pees, and head coaching offers will at least be batted around. Whether or not the right offer comes along that compels him to be the next Ravens assistant turned head coach, well that remains to be seen.

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