Wednesday, June 22, 2016
June 22, 2016
Baltimore (WJZ) — Careers in the NFL are notoriously short and championship windows are even shorter. That’s why being enshrined in the Hall of Fame stands tall as the greatest honor in all of sports. Many wish to claim that honor, but very few are given the opportunity.
Here’s a look at a few of the current Baltimore Ravens that have a chance to be in the Hall of Fame:
1. STEVE SMITH WR – Steve Smith has made a name for himself as one of the toughest wide receivers in the history of the NFL. He plays with such a massive chip on his shoulder, that something as formidable as age can’t keep him down. So far in his career, he’s amassed 961 receptions for 13,932 yards and 76 touchdowns. 1000 catches and 15,000 yards are attainable for Smith before he calls it quits. If he can reach that milestone, his enshrinement to the Hall of Fame will simply be a matter of time.
2. MARSHAL YANDA RG – Ravens fans have always known that Marshal Yanda is a beast on the football field. The rest of the league has started to take notice with his rank at #37 in the NFL’s Top 100 List. His presence has helped solidify the line since his arrival in 2007. He’s versatile enough to switch to tackle if the need arises, but his play at guard has been nothing but exceptional. If he continues at this pace, he could be a lock for Canton.
3. JOE FLACCO QB – The Super Bowl XLVII MVP has already reached the top of the mountain in one aspect of his career. It’s that success that has him on this list of likely Hall of Fame entrants. Flacco has been rather inconsistent in his career since joining the league in 2008, which has made it tough to rate him as an “elite” quarterback, as we have seen in some spirited debates as of late. Regardless, string in a few years of exceptional play along with another Super Bowl title and you’re looking at a bonafide Hall of Famer.
4. JUSTIN TUCKER K – It’s pretty tough to make the Hall of Fame as a kicker. In fact, there have only been four kickers selected to be in the HOF since the halls were open in 1963. Jan Stenerud was the last to be enshrined in 1991 and is widely regarded as the only pure placekicker to make it. This means a Hall of Fame kicker hasn’t played in the NFL since 1985. Adam Vinateri has the stats to make it to Canton one day. Justin Tucker could be right in his footsteps if he continues to play the way he has. Tucker has been nothing short of spectacular since becoming a Raven in 2012. As it stands now, Tucker is the second most accurate NFL Kicker in NFL history. If he can string together another decade of excellence, Mr. Tucker could be wearing a gold jacket in no time.
5. BRANDON WILLIAMS DT – Expecting to see someone else? There may be bigger names on the Ravens roster with loftier accolades, but none possess the skills and potential of Brandon Williams. He’s been nothing short of spectacular since entering the league in 2013. His stout play at the line of scrimmage has been stellar and his ability to rush the passer has been vastly underrated. The sky is the limit for Williams. If he can reach his full potential and maintain that high level consistently, the Ravens defensive lineman will be in the conversation for a bronze statue when his career ends.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Katie Smith led the WNBA in scoring in 2001, when she averaged 23.1 points a game
June 21, 2016
Logan native and Ohio State product Katie Smith was one of 11 former players named to the WNBA’s 20 “greatest and most influential players,” a list generated as part of the women’s basketball league’s 20th anniversary season.
The 5-foot-11 Smith, a shooting guard, played 14 years in the WNBA after a two-year stint with the Columbus Quest of the American Basketball League in which she led the Quest to championships in each of the league’s two seasons.
Smith joined the Minnesota Lynx in 1999 and played seven seasons with the team, three times leading the WNBA in minutes played and leading the league in scoring in 2001, when she averaged 23.1 points per game.
Smith was traded to Detroit in 2005 and helped the Shock to two league titles, in 2006 and 2008. She also played for the Washington Mystics (2010), Seattle Storm (2011-12) and New York Liberty (2013) and finished her career as the leading scorer in women’s professional basketball history.
Now an assistant coach with New York, Smith played at Ohio State from 1992-96 and also won three Olympic gold medals for the United States, in 2000, 2004 and 2008. She was a seven-time all-star in the WNBA.
Also included on the WNBA’s 20-year anniversary team were current stars Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen.
The former players named to the team with Smith were Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Deanna Nolan, Ticha Penicheiro, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Teresa Weatherspoon.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Linebackers coach sticking around despite overtures from other teams
By Aaron Wilson
June 11, 2016
Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel turned down an offer from Chip Kelly in the offseason to become the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator.
Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff
The rope was burning up football players' callused hands as an old-fashioned tug of war unfolded at dawn during a spirited conditioning drill at Ohio State five years ago.
The fierce competition between the Buckeyes' offense and defense set off a battle of wills between two of the rising coaching stars in the industry.
As the offense won the drill with a mighty final pull, it was met by a celebration and some words from future University of Houston coach Tom Herman. That reaction triggered a brief confrontation between the Buckeyes' offensive coordinator and then-Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, an imposing former New England Patriots Pro Bowl outside linebacker.
Neither man would back down. And the 6-4, 261-pound Vrabel towered over Herman, a much smaller former Cal Lutheran wide receiver.
"Mike's an intense dude, that's for sure," Herman said. "We had only been coaching together for not even a month and we're in a mat drill, a tug of war at 6 a.m., and Mike was talking smack. Long story short, I find myself nose to nose with Mike Vrabel trying to pick a fight with him.
"Needless to say, it was not a very wise decision on my part. He definitely spared me with his mercy and allowed people to hold us back before he got the better of me. He could have killed me and he didn't. I'm forever grateful."
Years after the clash with Herman, Vrabel smiled this week while recalling the altercation with one of his best friends in the profession.
"There were some choice words Tom and I shared with each other," Vrabel said. "It was early morning conditioning - new staff, new team.
Everybody was on edge, and the offense beat the defense and Tom might have gotten in one of the player's faces that lost, and I quickly got over and might have pushed him away. But Tom and I are great friends, and he's done a great job in Houston. We're happy he's here."
The Texans have a similar feeling about the continued presence of Vrabel on their coaching staff.
One of the most pivotal moves of the Texans' offseason by general manager Rick Smith and coach Bill O'Brien was collaborating with owner Bob McNair to convince Vrabel to stay with the AFC South champions.
Vrabel declined an offer from Chip Kelly to become the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator after interviewing for the job, landing a hefty raise from the Texans for resisting the overture.
There will undoubtedly be other future opportunities for the 40-year-old to run a defense. Vrabel is learning behind 68-year-old coordinator Romeo Crennel, one of the most experienced and highest-compensated defensive coordinators in the game. There are scenarios in which Vrabel eventually could succeed Crennel down the road or emerge as a future NFL head coach.
"The sky's the limit for Mike, he's a natural," Herman said. "We're watching the career of a head coach in the NFL unfold right before our eyes. When that happens and when the right time is, nobody knows. If I was a betting man, I would surely bet he will be a head coach in that league before too long."
Herman is admittedly not impartial when it comes to Vrabel, but what he's saying carries legitimacy and is being echoed in NFL circles.
Vrabel is regarded as a tough, passionate coach who relates well to his players. The former Patriots standout has a demanding style but also communicates well.
"Vrabel has that 'it' factor you can't teach," an NFL executive told the Chronicle on condition of anonymity. "You can see that what he was like as a player - a tough, smart, determined guy - translates very well to what he does now as a coach. He's a huge part of what the Texans are doing on defense. I can tell you that he's on a short list with a bunch of teams as a defensive coordinator candidate.
"He's such a good leader that I could also see him skipping a step and being a head coach without going the coordinator route. You can see why the Texans stepped up to keep him."
Vrabel was instrumental in the development of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus last season. Mercilus recorded a career-high 12 sacks in the regular season and notched three more in an AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Under Vrabel's direction, middle linebacker Brian Cushing had his most productive season in years and led the team in tackles. Rookie inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney became an effective starter. And outside linebackers John Simon and oft-injured former top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney combined for 91/2 sacks.
Although the 49ers made Vrabel their first choice and offered him the job, he felt his top option was staying in place with the Texans.
"Being a young coach in this profession and in this league, it's always great to have people want to interview you for opportunities," Vrabel said. "In the end, what's best for us and me is being here."
Vrabel earned three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots.
The hard-nosed Akron, Ohio, native recorded 704 career tackles, 57 sacks, 11 interceptions and forced 17 fumbles. He doubled as a red-zone target for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a tight end, catching 10 touchdowns on 10 career receptions.
Now, Vrabel is imparting his knowledge and passion from his 14 years playing in the league as he enters his third season coaching for the Texans and his sixth year coaching since retiring following the 2010 season with the Chiefs.
"I think you're always learning and trying to study the game and trying to understand schemes and concepts," Vrabel said. "The biggest thing in coaching is being able to reach your players. The schemes can be great. The concepts can be great, but until you make that connection with your players and get them to believe they're getting better and they can see they're getting better and you're giving them ownership of the room and having conversations and dialogues.
"That's been the biggest thing for me as a coach is trying to make a connection with the players. Once you can set the hook, you got their attention."
Collaborating with Mercilus last season, Vrabel helped the fellow Akron native hone his techniques and become a more impactful contributor as a bookend pass rusher opposite Pro Bowl end J.J. Watt. It allowed the defense to become more dangerous and versatile.
"Oh yeah, our relationship has grown," Mercilus said. "Him being here, it's grown tremendously. He wants nothing but the best for us, and that's exactly that. He loves it when the players go out there and just perform well."
Beyond the strategy aspect of football, though, what resonates about Vrabel is his hard-nosed approach to the game. He has a leadership style and a tough-love style that gets players to buy in and play hard for him.
"He's an unbelievably passionate guy, not just for the game but for his player," Herman said. "He's one of the truly genuine guys in our profession that really cares for his players. That shined through in how hard they played for him. His knowledge of the game is off the charts having played as long as he has and studied the game. He's one of the great ones for sure.
"The coaching part for him was easy. For lack of a better term, he's been a coach on the field for most of his career."
A former consensus All-American at Ohio State who was named to the Buckeyes' All-Century team, Vrabel tends to have an encouraging approach to coaching. He's also quick to remind his players about how poorly the defense played in blowout road losses to the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins during a 2-5 start last season before finishing third in total defense and first in third-down defense.
"We've talked about that in the linebacker room about we don't want to rely on the reputation of a team that was third in defense," Vrabel said. "That doesn't mean anything. What we need to do is remember how we played on the road in Atlanta and on the road in Miami and try to fix those things and not let them happen again. We can't rely on our reputation as defensive football players."
When Vrabel was playing for the Patriots, he embodied what coach Bill Belichick was seeking in players in terms of not taking anything for granted and possessing an ability to adapt to any situation.
Those qualities are serving the Texans in a similar manner in his role as an assistant coach whose importance has increased each year since being hired by O'Brien. Vrabel wants to keep growing as a coach.
"I think that's just kind of in your nature," Vrabel said. "That's what you believe in. Either you have it or you don't.
"There are days where you don't feel great and you have to work as a player and a coach and compete and grind and make your players better. You have to earn your position in this league every day."
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
June 6, 2016
By Andy Hart
Video: Stephen Neal vs. Brock Lesnar 1999 NCAA Wrestling Championships
Brock Lesnar is either intentionally going overboard (likely) to hype his return to UFC or is a recent graduate of the Donald Trump school of exaggeration.
Make no mistake about it, Lesnar is an impressive physical specimen and athlete.
But Monday on SportsCenter while hyping his return to the octagon, Lesnar said, “I’m the modern-day Bo Jackson, people.”
Lesnar was of course comparing his athletic versatility and accomplishments – he was a legit NCAA champion wrestler, a WWE heavyweight champion “wrestler” and former UFC heavyweight champion in the world of mixed martial arts – to the transcendent career of Jackson, the former NFL running back and MLB all-star outfielder.
Clearly, that comparison is a joke. Jackson is universally considered one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the planet, his career cut short due to hip-replacement surgery needed following an injury suffered on a tackle while playing for the Los Angeles Raiders. Jackson won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn. He turned freakish speed and power into a MLB All Star Game MVP as a member of the Kansas City Royals. That same combination of skills made him one of the most feared running backs to ever play in the NFL, even through just a short, part-time career.
In fact, not only does Lesnar’s athletic career fall short in comparison to a legend like Jackson, he hasn’t even accomplished as much as a far-less-heralded athlete that he knows quite well in former Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal.
Interestingly, it was Lesnar whom Neal beat for the 1999 NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling championship. It was Neal’s second-straight title, helping him earn the prestigious Dan Hodge Award, known as the Heisman Trophy of college wrestling.
Neal then signed with the Patriots in 2001 despite not having played football since high school in San Diego. After training camp he spent time on the Eagles practice squad before signing with New England’s active roster that December. He was inactive for all six games that year, including Super Bowl XXXVI. By 2002 Neal was in line for a starting job at guard, unfortunately he suffered a shoulder injury on a heady play in his first career start against the Packers as he tried to recover a New England fumble. The injury would sideline him for the rest of 2002 as well as 2003.
After that, Neal would go on to start 81 of 86 games played for the Patriots before his retirement after the 2010 season. He collected his second Super Bowl ring, this time in his first year as a starter in 2004, in the XXXIX victory over the Eagles.
Bill Belichick often jokes that Neal didn’t know how to put his pads on or how to find the practice field when he arrived in New England. After first seeing some time as a defensive lineman, he became an athletically gifted guard and core leader of the Patriots offensive line. It’s hard to imagine just how good of a football player Neal could have been with some college experience and were it not for the injuries he battled throughout his career.
While Neal was finding NFL success, Lesnar wasn’t so lucky. The big man tried out for the Vikings in 2004 as a defensive lineman but did not make the team.
And though he’s a mega-star in WWE and UFC due to his size and athleticism, his MMA record is a mere 5-3.
Lesnar is all about glitz, glamour and hype; Neal is legitimately one of the greatest all-around athletes to have passed through the Patriots dynasty in Foxborough. Oh, and he just happened to be one of the nicest men to make his way through New England as well.
No, Brock Lesnar, you are not the modern-day Bo Jackson. You’re not even the modern-day Stephen Neal, the guy who beat you for an NCAA title and put forth an NFL career that you could only dream of.
But good luck with your return to MMA and hyping up your July 9 UFC 200 fight with Mark Hunt. You’re off to a good start.