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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Marshal Yanda is No. 1 on the Ravens' 2015 player rankings


July 29, 2015

By Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer

ESPN.com polled 21 Baltimore media members for their top 20 players on the 2015 Baltimore Ravens roster. The countdown will run through the end of the month, just before the start of training camp.

Let's continue to wind down the countdown ...

No. 1: Marshal Yanda

Position: Guard

Total points: 400. First-place votes: 12.

Highest ranking: No. 1. Lowest ranking: No. 6.

2015 salary-cap figure ranking: Third ($8.45 million)

2014 ranking: No. 2

Biggest question: Will Yanda become a Raven for life?


Marshal Yanda was the No. 2-ranked offensive player in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Ric Tapia/Icon SMI

Storyline: Yanda is becoming one of the top players in Ravens history and is playing as well as he's ever played at the age of 30. Coaches praise his technique and teammates respect his toughness. The only uncertainty with Yanda is where he'll play next season. He's entering the final year of his contract, and the Ravens are targeting him for an extension. Yanda has built a reputation on being a steady pass-protector and a mauling run-blocker. He had the seventh-best pass-blocking grade of all guards in 2014, allowing one sack, five hits and 10 quarterback hurries. Where he excels is pushing defenders off the line in the ground game. According to PFF, Yanda's first 14 weeks in 2014 included some of the finest run-blocking performances ever seen by the analytical website.

Where Yanda should be ranked: There will be some scoffing about a guard being ranked No. 1 over a quarterback. But the rankings are based on talent, not importance to the team. Yanda was the most dominant player on the Ravens last season, and it wasn't even close. Grantland recently named Yanda the best offensive lineman in the NFL, and he's the best Ravens lineman since Jonathan Ogden.

File this away: Yanda was named the fifth-best player in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and the No. 2 offensive player behind only Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

What the Ravens are saying about Yanda: "I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good linemen, [but] this is as good as I’ve ever been around. He’s an amazing player. His attention to detail, his commitment to the football team and what he does is as good as I’ve ever been around.” -- former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Here is the panel of voters: Morgan Adsit (WBFF-TV), Clifton Brown(Comcast SportsNet Baltimore), Jerry Coleman (105.7 The Fan), Bruce Cunnningham (WBFF-TV), Steve Davis (105.7 The Fan), John Eisenberg(Baltimore Ravens website), Pete Gilbert (WBAL-TV), David Ginsburg(Associated Press), Brent Harris (Comcast SportsNet Baltimore), Brett Hollander (WBAL Radio), Qadry Ismail (WBAL Radio), Luke Jones (WNST Radio), Rob Long (105.7 The Fan), Jon Meoli (Baltimore Sun), Keith Mills(WBAL Radio), Joe Platania (the Press Box), Gerry Sandusky (WBAL-TV), Mark Viviano (WJZ-TV), Aaron Wilson (Baltimore Sun), Jeff Zrebiec (Baltimore Sun) and Jamison Hensley (ESPN.com).

Recapping the 2015 Ravens' top 20 player rankings:
No. 2: Joe Flacco
No. 3: Jimmy Smith
No. 4: C.J. Mosley
No. 5: Terrell Suggs
No. 6: Elvis Dumervil
No. 7: Steve Smith
No. 8: Justin Tucker
No. 9: Justin Forsett
No. 10: Kelechi Osemele
No. 11: Daryl Smith
No. 12: Brandon Williams
No. 13: Lardarius Webb
No. 14: Rick Wagner
No. 15: Timmy Jernigan
No. 16: Courtney Uphsaw
No. 17: Eugene Monroe
No. 18: Sam Koch
No. 19: Dennis Pitta
No. 20: Breshad Perriman

Friday, July 24, 2015

The 10 Best Offensive Linemen of the Past Year





JULY 23, 2015

From Robert Mays' "Trench Fanfare: The 10 Best Offensive Linemen of the Past Year"

I’m not sure when I’ll stop thinking that this is the year the big guys finally get some respect. Barnwell is spending his time shredding the NFL Top 100 this week, so I figured as an addendum to that, I’d devote some attention to the players who get the least amount of it on that silly list.

From an outside perspective, offensive lineman may be the toughest position to judge. So much of what players do and why they do it is based on rules and principles we can’t know unless we’re at practice all week. With some guys, though, it’s just visceral: It’s obvious how good they are, and we can see it without any knowledge of the specific scheme they’re in.

In making the list below, I kept a few things in mind. First, it’s based on only last season. That’s why you won’t see guys like Trent Williams (whose play dipped as he dealt with knee problems all year) or Alex Mack (the best center in football through six weeks before breaking his leg). Also, despite my affinity for guards, this list is dominated by left tackles, and I don’t think that’s an accident. When it comes to offensive line play, those guys still set the bar, and as the league has gotten even more pass-happy, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Here’s my crack at the top 10:

1. Marshal Yanda (RG, Ravens)

I’d be willing to argue that aside from J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers, no one in the league had a more comfortable margin as the best player at his position than Yanda. Last season was Yanda’s fourth trip to the Pro Bowl, and in 2014 he was a wrecking crew.


This is probably my favorite play any offensive lineman made all season. It’s also the one Justin Forsett cites in Yanda’s section of the Top 100, where the guard ranks an embarrassing 79th. It’s insane. I don’t even know how to process it. Off the snap, Yanda gives a little shove to the defensive end that lined up outside teammate Ricky Wagner before the snap. After that, he bumps the nose tackle with his left hip, ensuring that center Jeremy Zuttah gets him turned and out of the play. He does all of that before finally getting up to the inside linebacker and springing Forsett for a 23-yard gain. The right guard makes the entire play happen.

It didn’t always happen to that extent, but watching Yanda in the run game last season was something to behold. In some ways, you can’t even call it a clinic because so much of it wouldn’t translate to another person. There are so many hip checks and tiny leverage ploys that are singular products of one man’s ingenuity. The one part of Yanda’s game that is transferable is the way he just never stops. His eyes are constantly downfield, and his feet are always moving in the direction of the play. He really is the perfect zone-blocking guard. Not to mention that when the Ravens needed a new right tackle after Wagner’s injury, Yanda took over without any problems. It’s pretty simple. Right now, no offensive lineman is dominating the line of scrimmage like he is.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Best of the Belichick Era: Number 6 -- Mike Vrabel





By Tom Curran

July 22, 2015

I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.). Enjoy. Today we reach . . . .

NUMBER 6: MIKE VRABEL
Years With Patriots: 2001-2008
Games: 125
Playoff Games: 17
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2001, 2003, 2004), All-Pro (First-team 2007), Pro Bowl (2007)

There were Patriots players faster than Mike Vrabel. There were stronger Patriots and quicker Patriots. Some had softer hands or superior hand-eye coordination. A few could probably jump higher.

But no Patriot in the almost 20 years I’ve covered the team was as far above average in each of those physical categories than Mike Vrabel.
I’ll get to the mental aspect of Vrabel’s game in a bit, but first I want to make sure that his physical ability doesn’t get short shrift.

He was like a decathlete, able to cross disciplines and excel in all of them. One of the simple pleasures of covering a game when Vrabel was a Patriot was seeing him on the field warming up before a game. He must have spent 20 minutes running routes and catching passes downfield. He didn’t just look like a tight end -- a position he moonlighted at -- but he looked like a very good tight end. And when he threw the ball back to whoever he was working with, it looked (based on arm strength) like he could draw a paycheck at that position, too.

The Patriots signed Vrabel in 2001 as a free agent. He spent the first four years of his career in Pittsburgh but couldn’t crack the Steelers’ 3-4 as an outside linebacker. The Steelers would come to rue letting him go.

The Patriots didn’t know what they had in Vrabel at first. By the end of his first year in Foxboro -- when Vrabel wasn’t charged with a single mental mistake the entire season -- they did. He would up playing in all but three regular-season games in eight seasons with the Patriots. He played outside linebacker, defensive end, inside linebacker and tight end. That he wasn’t a Pro Bowler can’t be held against him. Check out 2003, for instance. He played 13 games, had 52 tackles, 9 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, four pass break-ups and four forced fumbles. He had three more sacks in the playoffs and a late touchdown against the Panthers in the Super Bowl. In addition, his strip-sack of Jake Delhomme late in the first half led to a Patriots touchdown in that Super Bowl, the same way his pressure of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl 36 forced the pick-six thrown to Ty Law.

Both Vrabel’s parents were high school principals and he started out at Ohio State as a pre-med major. He was smart as hell. He was also confident as hell and a persuasive, abrasive, compelling leader. No Patriot -- not even Tom Brady -- assumed the same peer-like status Vrabel did with Bill Belichick. Part of that was Vrabel’s comedic timing that, when Belichick was grinding too hard, Vrabel could puncture. Most of the anecdotes are “you had to be there” ones, but here's an example:

When particularly disgusted by something, Belichick would often begin ripping by saying, “In my (insert length of NFL tenure here) years in the NFL, I never . . . ” During one practice, the Patriots were working on field goals. Somehow, an Adam Vinatieri attempt struck and stuck in the facemask of a defensive lineman. The split-second lull as everyone was processing what they were looking at was broken by Vrabel, who parodied Belichick’s disgusted voice and hollered, “In my 37 years in the NFL . . . ”

Belichick traded Vrabel to the Chiefs in 2009. That was one of a slew of departures that created a leadership void and really closed the book on the first nine seasons of the Patriots' run of excellence. When he was traded, Belichick said in a statement, "When Mike arrived in 2001, we knew we were adding a solid outside linebacker. But where Mike took it from there exceeded our highest hopes. Mike Vrabel epitomizes everything a coach could seek in a professional football player: toughness, intelligence, play-making, leadership, versatility and consistency at the highest level.

"Of all the players I have coached in my career, there is nobody I enjoyed working with more than Mike. In the same way people recognize guys like Troy Brown, we appreciate and thank Mike Vrabel. He is one of the very special Patriots champions."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

TOP 100 OHIO STATE PLAYERS: NO. 68, Joe Staysniak



by Remy
July 1, 2015

There are 68 days that separate us from Ohio State's march to Blacksburg. To help pass the time until the Buckeyes put the Sandman to sleep I will countdown Ohio State's top 100 players according to the rubric* listed at the bottom of this article.


Staysniak earned five academic awards during his playing days.

NO. 68 JOE STAYSNIAK, OL (1986-89)
Born: 1966 (Elyria, Ohio)
High School: Midview (Grafton, Ohio)

OHIO STATE CAREER
• The Buckeyes were 28-17-1 with Staysniak on the team.
• Won the Big Ten in 1986.
• Defeated Texas A&M 28-12 in the 1987 Cotton Bowl.
HONORS
• 1989 Captain.
• 1989 All-Big Ten.
• 1989 Academic All-American.
• Academic All-Big Ten in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989.

NFL Draft
Round 7 to the San Diego Chargers with the 185th pick of the 1990 draft.

• MISCELLANEOUS
• Played in the NFL from 1991-96.
• Works at 107.5 The Fan in Indianapolis.
• Joe Stayniak's Ohio State story can be read in here: Game of My Life: Ohio State: Memorable Stories of Buckeye Football


Joe on the radio.

His bio per radio-indiana.com:

No on-air personality on WIBC or The Fan moves products for advertisers likes Big Joe! He’s got that sensibility that Hoosiers just relate to.

Joe Staysniak is the go-to sports contributor of WIBC’s The Afternoon News weekday mornings from 4:00pm-7:00pm. Big Joe is also co-host of the Grady & Big Joe Show along with Michael Grady on 1070 The Fan. The Grady and Big Joe Show dives deep into sports both locally and on a national level– as well as takes your calls.

Joe’s roots are in college and professional football. A proud Buckeye, Joe played for Ohio State from 1986-1989. In his 6-year pro career he played in 2 Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills. A crucial offensive lineman, he also played for the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts.

Joe became known in the Indianapolis community during his 4 seasons with the Colts. In 1996 he joined the WIBC sports department and has been building a following since the day he sat down behind the microphone.

TOP 100 OHIO STATE PLAYERS: NO. 56, Jeff Uhlenhake



Member Blog Post by Remy
July 13, 2015

There are 56 days that separate us from Ohio State's march to Blacksburg. To help pass the time until the Buckeyes put the Sandman to sleep I will countdown Ohio State's top 100 players according to the rubric* listed at the bottom of this article.


1988 was a big year for Jeff Uhlenhake.

NO. 56 JEFF UHLENHAKE, C (1985-88)

Born: 1966 (Indianapolis)

High School: Newark Catholic

OHIO STATE CAREER
• The Buckeyes went 29-16-2 with Uhlenhake on the team.
• 1986 won the Big Ten Title.
• Defeated BYU 10-7 in the 1985 Citrus Bowl.
• Defeated Texas A&M 28-12 in the 1987 Cotton Bowl.

HONORS
• 1988 Captain.
• 1988 Team MVP.
• 1988 All-American.
• 1986 All-Big Ten.
• 2008 Inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame.

NFL DRAFT
Round 5 to the Miami Dolphins with the 121st pick of the 1989 draft.

MISCELLANEOUS
• Uhlenhake is currently working with Ohio State's strength and conditioning program.
• Played in the NFL from 1989-1998. Played for the Dolphins, Saints and Redskins.


Uhlenhake helps Mickey Marotti transform Ohio State's players into physical freaks.

Uhlenhake's Ohio State career and current job with Buckeyes per ohiostatebuckeyes.com:

Jeff Uhlenhake is in his seventh season as an Ohio State football strength and conditioning assistant. The former Ohio State All-American and 10-year NFL veteran works with the Buckeyes in all phases of their training and physical development.

A four-year starter at offensive guard and then center for the Buckeyes, Uhlenhake was a two-time All-Big Ten honoree and earned first-team All-America honors as a senior in 1988, when he served as a captain and was voted the team's most valuable player. Uhlenhake was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and played 10 years in the NFL, including five seasons with Miami (1989-93), two with New Orleans (1994-95) and three with Washington (1996-98).

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