Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Jamie Meder's safety against Green Bay marked the first time he had ever scored in a football game. (John Kuntz, cleveland.com)
By Dan Labbe
August 31, 2016
BEREA, Ohio -- Jamie Meder had plenty of people watching him when he scored for the first time in his football career. The points came against Green Bay in the Browns first preseason game a few weeks ago when he tackled running back James Starks in the endzone for a safety.
There was Joe Taylor, his coach during his early years at Valley Forge High School in Parma Heights just outside of Cleveland. He couldn't help but laugh.
"He gets up, does the flex," Taylor said. "It was just fun. I'm just excited for him."
There was Chris Medaglia, too. He coached Meder during his junior and senior seasons and is now the athletic director at Forge.
"For a kid from Parma Heights, went to Valley Forge, my hometown, where I work now, where I grew up, it's more of a civic pride thing than anything," he said.
Then, of course, there was the entire Ashland University football team. Their head coach, Lee Owens, made sure to cut meetings short that day so they could watch the Browns' preseason opener and their favorite Ashland alum.
"I guess a couple of the houses and dorms just erupted when he scored the safety," Owens said. "Guys are going nuts."
"It was awesome. First time I've ever scored in a football game," Meder said. "It took like 16 years of playing to get that so I'm fine with it."
Meder is as understated as an NFL player can be. He's almost uncomfortable talking about himself. When you talk to the people that have been around him, though, the men who coached him and helped guide him on his path to the NFL, you quickly find that he is both competitive and genuine, fierce and fiercely loyal.
"If this town can rally behind a player, it's him," Medaglia said. "He signifies and embodies everything this town was built on."
Meder's football roots run back to the Tri-City Youth Football League, the program that combines the communities of Parma, Parma Heights and Seven Hills. That's where he started playing and it's where he sometimes returns, hosting a youth camp for the program last summer.
Taylor knew Meder from an early age, mostly through Meder's dad, Don, a longtime coach who came over to Valley Forge to coach Jamie's older brother and then Jamie.
"(Jamie) used to come around and condition with us before he was even in high school," Taylor said. "His dad would bring him up and he would run laps or he'd do the sprints the other kids were doing."
When he got to high school, he started where everyone else did at Valley Forge: freshman football. Taylor laughs now about keeping him on the freshman team. He says he did it to account for the age difference between Meder and older varsity players and to keep the incoming freshman group together.
It didn't stop Meder from hitting the ground running after that first season at Forge.
"When he was a sophomore, he was clearly ready to play varsity football," Taylor said. "He played both sides of the ball for us."
'THE BADDEST 18-YEAR-OLD ALIVE'
Jamie Meder at age 25 looks like a football player. He's every bit of 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds. He sports a beard that would make Santa Claus jealous.
Meder looked like a football player at 18, too. Taylor said that he reminded him of Don, that he was built like his father with a big barrel of a body.
"He's got that incredible strength," Taylor said. "He's got that frame. ... Just strong and aggressive."
"He built himself in the weight room," Taylor said.
There's a clip from one of Meder's game tapes from high school where he breaks into the backfield and brings down the running back. As the play unfolds, you can hear in the background someone exclaim, "Look at him!"
The film, provided to cleveland.com by Medaglia, is the opposite of high definition, but you don't need it to find No. 52 in white. He's either bursting through the line to disrupt a play or, on offense, bowling people over from his center position.
Meder laughs when it's brought up to him.
"Every play was just like, who can I just knock on the ground," he said.
"You talk to him personally, he's a really nice kid," Taylor said, "but you get him on the field, he's a nasty kid that wants to hit you."
Medaglia doesn't mince words when it comes to describing how tough he thought Meder was.
"When he was 18 years old, there wasn't another kid in the country that could kick his butt," he said. "He was the baddest 18-year-old alive."
Meder backed up Medaglia's words on the football field, of course. But he also proved it in a less traditional place for a high school athlete: the boxing ring. He won the Cleveland Gold Gloves district championship in 2009 as a senior.
"When he beat (one of his opponents)," Medaglia said, "he knocked the kid's mouthpiece out of his mouth in the ring."
Taylor recalled the mouthguard story, too.
"It just talks about his power," he said. "His sheer power is ridiculous."
There's video of the match on YouTube. You can't see the mouthguard flying, but it's an unmistakable moment when they stop the fight to fetch it and give it back to Meder's opponent.
Meder, for his part, was unimpressed by his own accomplishments.
"I was alright," he said. "There weren't too many guys that were there for me, but I wasn't bad at it."
The sport Meder really believes helped him most was wrestling. He was state runner up in 2009 in the heavyweight division.
"I've always believed wrestling has made me a better football player than football has," Meder said. "Practices were always just way more grueling in wrestling. ... Just the balancing, the handfighting, all the pummeling, I feel has always made me better because inside when you're pass rushing, all it is is just hand-on-hand combat."
"He learned to use his feet and balance a little bit," Medaglia said. "It let him use his hands and his feet and apply leverage. He applies leverage as good as anybody you're going to find."
Those skills translated to Meder dominating for the Patriots on both sides of the ball.
"He played everywhere (on defense)," Medaglia said. "Defensive tackle, defensive end, strong side, weak side, people would run away from him because they didn't want to go anywhere near him."
Owens said Meder's skill on the defensive line can be attributed to what he learned from boxing and wrestling.
"His ability to punch with leverage and to swat the offensive line's hands off him, he's really, really good at that," Owens said. "He's got a heck of a punch. Strong, powerful, quick and accurate. ... Those big linemen are going to grab you and you've got to find a way to separate and swat and get free and he really does that well. He's got great hands, great feet."
On the other side of the ball, he was so good at center that Medaglia built an entire inside running game around him.
"I put him at center to showcase his skills," Medaglia said. "I kept telling all the recruiters, watch this kid snap the ball and step. Watch his hands."
Owens, in fact, originally signed him at Ashland thinking he might be a center.
"I was an offensive line coach by trade and those are the kind of guys you want at center," Owens said. "Big, strong guys, tough guys and he has great feet. He'd be a heck of a center"
Owens ultimately couldn't pass on putting Meder on the defensive line and Meder was fine with it.
"I never really wanted to play offense when I got to college," he said. "I was done with it after high school and thank God they let me follow that dream."
Regardless of where he was playing, though, just how did Meder, an elite athlete in high school in multiple sports -- the combination of size, speed and power that any college coach would want -- end up at Division II Ashland?
'MAKING THE GRADES'
The answer is that he didn't go straight to Ashland. He had to spend a semester at Cuyahoga Community College out of high school just to get eligible to go to Ashland.
"I put my dreams on hold because I was a little lazy in high school, going to classes and stuff," Meder said.
"He had to earn his way to get to Ashland University," Medaglia said. "It's not like he walked out of high school and just went there. He had to go to school and get prepared to go to Ashland."
Spending that fall semester at Tri-C and waiting to enroll at Ashland in the spring of 2010 was a difficult one for Meder, spent pondering the possibility of letting down his father.
"I felt so bad disappointing him that I wasn't going to play football in college," he said, "and it was a rough few months until I got to Ashland."
Once he got to Ashland, the real work started. Meder said Ashland's coaching staff had an academic plan for him and it involved "study tables, study tables and why not a little more study tables?"
Alongside knowing a possible career in the NFL was hanging in the balance, Meder found real life staring him in the face.
"If I get kicked out (of college), you better go find a job," he said. "... If I get kicked out of there, I better find somewhere to live. I don't think I can go home."
He graduated from Ashland with a degree in criminal justice.
"He did everything we asked him to do in the classroom the whole time he was there and he got his degree and graduated before he came out," Owens said. "He did everything right. He's done everything right since he was with us."
Out of Ashland, he caught on with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2014. After the Ravens cut him that August, he caught on with the Browns practice squad, was elevated to the active roster at the end of the 2014 season and appeared in all 16 games for the Browns last season.
After everything he had to work through to get here, Meder's not about to take it for granted.
"Oh yeah," Meder said. "Growing up, it's always like, man, it would be awesome to play for my favorite team. It's awesome that I got here."
'HE'S STILL JAMIE'
It's no surprise that Meder wants to play close to home. If anything is clear in talking to those who know him, where he came from is important.
That was evident to Owens last fall when he noticed that one of his potential recruits wasn't attending a recruiting day at the college with his parents. He was there with Meder.
"I've got all these recruits in the audience and instead of this young man having his mother and father with him, he's got Jamie Meder with him," Owens said.
The young man was Jarret Sullivan. He wasn't like Meder -- a blue chip prospect that had fallen through the cracks. He was just a kid from Valley Forge that Meder knew had a shot to get into college.
Sullivan ended up at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, but the day left a lasting impression on Owens.
"He made a point to pick him up and get him down for recruiting day," Owens said. "...This was just a young man looking for a place to play ball."
"I want anybody from my high school to go there and do well," Meder said. "It's awesome to see that."
Owens called Meder a "loyal Eagle" and said, "He's the kind of alum you want. He's the kind of teammate you want. He's the kind of friend you want."
"He's still Jamie to (our players)," Owens said. "He's not an NFL player. He's still their buddy who comes down to see them on occasion. It's a neat thing. It's a cool thing."
"He's just trying to give back," Taylor said. "I think he really looks at the opportunity he's got and he really is unselfish."
Perhaps nothing speaks to his loyalty and character more than when he spent the spring he was preparing for the NFL Draft caring for his longtime girlfriend, Lyndsey Koehler, who was diagnosed with cancer.
"He had practices and trainings and all that starting in the morning," Koehler told FOX 8 news in a 2012 story, "and he would be home every night -- drive to school every day -- to come take care of me."
Meder, again, drew inspiration from his father, who cared for Meder's mother when she was diagnosed with cancer while Jamie was in fifth grade.
"Don put (Jamie's mother) on a pedestal," Jamie Vanek, one of Meder's coaches at Valley Forge, told cleveland.com last year. "He made sure he was there for his family ... and served as a great mentor for Jamie."
Meder says Lyndsey, a special education teacher in North Ridgeville, is 100 percent healthy now. The two just purchased their first home together.
Oh, and he's playing the game he always loved near the town that raised him.
"Life's good," he said, in that understated way only Jamie Meder can.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Credit: Nancy Lane | Trey Flowers
By Adam Kurkjian
August 29, 2016
FOXBORO — It sounded more like how a young player describes playing with a veteran, not the other way around.
But there was defensive end Chris Long, heading into his ninth year in the league, raving about second-year defensive lineman Trey Flowers and his general approach with the Patriots.
“Trey is a young guy, but he’s a really smart football player,” Long said. “He can do a lot of different things, and his versatility serves him well. He’s a hard worker. As far as being a pro, I think he understands how to be a pro early. It serves him well, and it’s really been fun to watch him work and go about his business as a professional.”
The way Long speaks of Flowers’ professionalism speaks volumes, especially since the veteran’s locker is right next to one of the most respected players on the team, Rob Ninkovich. In other words, Long knows what he’s talking about when it comes to that sort of thing.
Told of Long’s compliment, Flowers gave a humble response.
“I mean, I guess you could say that, but I’m only two years into it,” Flowers said. “I’ve still got a lot to learn as far as being a pro and taking care of things. When you’ve got guys around that have been in the game so long, you kind of observe and look how they handle their business and … emulate them and take some game from them.”
And while Flowers is right about how he still has a lot to learn, on the field this preseason, it’s clear he’s picked up quite a bit.
Regardless of where he has lined up, at both defensive end and tackle, he’s found ways to make plays. From a pure production standpoint, he’s been as consistently impressive as any lineman on a unit that has been one of the strengths of the team.
Take, for example, the preseason opener against the Saints. Although it was not against New Orleans’ first-team offensive line, Flowers lined up on the outside shoulder of the left guard, easily beat him with a swim move, sacked Luke McCown, forced a fumble then scooped the ball and rumbled 17 yards for a touchdown.
By the Bears game the next week, he was getting reps with the starters at both end and tackle and continued to make an impact. Not only has his quickness been too much for opposing guards to handle, but his bull rush against tackles has been disruptive. He’s shown an array of moves to disengage from blocks and worked well in tandem with players like Anthony Johnson to create pressure on stunts, as evidenced in a sack Friday night in the 19-17 win against the Panthers.
Playing for a coach like Bill Belichick who values versatility, it’s one thing to be able hold down multiple roles. It’s another, as Flowers has shown this preseason, to do them well.
“That’s something you’ve got to do in this defense,” said Flowers, who also moved around along the line in his time at Arkansas. “At one position, you’ve got to be very good at that position, but the more you can do, the more valuable you are. So just being able to transition, inside, outside, I think I can hang my hat on that.”
And the Pats will need to hang their hat on players like Flowers maintaining this type of play once the regular season starts. With defensive end Jabaal Sheard sidelined with a sprained MCL and Ninkovich out with a torn triceps muscle, the depth along the edge has been tested so far.
But with the emergence of players like Flowers and Long, who has also been strong this preseason, the drop-off has been virtually unnoticeable.
That aspect, staying healthy, is not lost on Flowers, especially with the regular season starting in less than two weeks. A year ago, the fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft showed flashes of his talent in the preseason, but a shoulder injury kept him off the field for most of his rookie year, and he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 1.
At this point, though, that doesn’t seem to be an issue, and in Flowers’ eyes, his development has taken a step forward because of it.
“Just staying on the field, you get more experience,” Flowers said. “As far as playing run blocks, playing different styles of offensive linemen and as far as how they block in pass protection (has helped). Just getting that feel of week in, week out, you’re going to have a switch up of different types of schemes as far as the different offense. Just being able to transition from one week to another is definitely something I’ve taken advantage of.”
Friday, August 26, 2016
Marshal Yanda named the best Raven of the past decade by Pro Football Focus.
By Michael Kaskey-Blomain
August 25, 2016
The Baltimore Ravens have had a lot of talented players pass through the organization over the past decade, and of all of them, G Marshal Yanda is the best, according to Pro Football Focus.
PFF recently picked the best player on each NFL team over the past decade, and Yanda was their selection for the Ravens.
Here's what Pro Football Focus had to say about Yanda as the best recent Raven:
"Right now, Marshal Yanda is the best guard in football, and he could well have been one of the best right tackles in the game had the Ravens kept him there, rather than moving him inside. He made the PFF All-Decade team, and including the postseason, has played 9,188 snaps for the Ravens since entering the league in 2007. Terrell Suggs was the other obvious candidate, but Yanda’s peak has been higher."
Yanda was selected by Baltimore in the third round (86th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. He has been named to four All-Pro teams and five consecutive Pro Bowls since 2011. The Iowa product was also a member of Baltimore's Super Bowl XLVIII Super Bowl-champion team.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
The Patriots signed defensive tackle Markus Kuhn to a one-year contract in April. The Associated Press
By Rich Garven
August 23, 2016
FOXBORO — The Patriots’ signing of defensive tackle Markus Kuhn to a one-year deal for nominal money in early April was viewed as a minor move. It’s potentially shaping up as one that could pay off handsomely.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Kuhn has impressed from the start of training camp and, although he’s listed with the backups on the depth chart, has spent plenty of time paired with surefire starter Malcom Brown and the rest of the first-string defense this summer.
Not that he’s putting much stock in those quality reps.
“Honestly, that’s nothing I really think about when the coach says, ‘Markus, you’re up or you’re down,’ ” Kuhn recently said. “We’re in camp right now and we’re all rotating, we’re moving around a lot. So I don’t think that’s something to read too much into.”
Kuhn wasn’t in on any tackles in the Patriots’ preseason-opening win over the New Orleans Saints, but he did play quite a few snaps. He got the start, made one tackle and once again saw a healthy dose of action in a win over the Chicago Bears last week at Gillette Stadium.
The fifth-year pro has taken a pragmatic approach to his preseason performances.
“There are always things you can improve on; that’s what the preseason is for,” Kuhn said. “Some things you do on tape that you like or maybe you don’t like so much. So that’s what you try to do, correct those mistakes and maybe be better the next game.”
He’ll have that opportunity beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the Patriots face the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
Kuhn, 30, was born and raised in Mannheim, Germany, a city of about 300,000 located in the southern part of the country near the French border. He started playing American football when he was 15 and ultimately landed a scholarship to North Carolina State after visiting the school in person and successfully drawing the attention of the coaching staff.
Although he only started one season for the Wolfpack, the New York Giants selected Kuhn in the seventh round with the 239th overall pick in 2012. The draft ended 14 picks later.
Kuhn was a longshot to make the Giants as a rookie, but he went on to spend four seasons in New York. He appeared in 39 games, making 10 starts and recording 48 tackles.
In 2014, Kuhn recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in a win over the Tennessee Titans in early December. That made him the first German-born player to score a touchdown in NFL history.
While Kuhn is proud to have carved out a spot for himself in New York, his focus now is doing the same in New England.
“The Giants were the team that drafted me, I was there for four years,” said Kuhn, who is fluent in English. “But I’m with a new team; there are new things I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to be open to the way they play here and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
Among other things, the Patriots have worked Kuhn as a nose tackle in a three-man front. That’s something he wasn’t asked to do with the Giants.
“Here what we play, sometimes I line up over the center,” Kuhn said. “These are the little things that I’m getting used to and I’m playing differently. But we rotate a lot and I’m just getting thrown in there and working with pretty much everybody.”
The expectation is the Patriots will keep four defensive tackles when they make the final round of cuts Sept. 3.
Brown, veteran Alan Branch and rookie Vincent Valentine, a third-round pick, appear to be assured of spots. That leaves Kuhn, the rising Anthony Johnson and the fading Terrance Knighton, who also signed a one-year deal in the offseason, as the leading contenders for the final spot.
It remains to be seen who’ll emerge from that tight competition, but the Patriots have liked what they’ve seen thus far from Kuhn.
“(He’s a) really good kid, smart, works hard, in good condition, seems to be able to go without any problems at all in terms of his stamina or conditioning,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s in good shape. Technique-wise, there are some things he needs to continue to work on but he is (working on them). He works hard. I’m glad we have him.”
And it just may be the minor move the Patriots made in signing Kuhn in April could have a major impact come September.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
By Paul Dehner Jr.
August 22, 2016
WEST CARROLLTON — Few positions in the NFL take more pounding than running backs. Across the league last year, teams were forced into second, third and fourth strings. The running back by committee is more the norm than exception.
Yet, in Cincinnati, for the last two seasons Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have been stalwarts. One of the two started each of the last 34 games in the backfield.
Behind those two, waiting patiently has been Rex Burkhead. Now entering his fourth season and final year of his rookie contract out of Nebraska, he has fewer carries than any running back in his 2013 draft class still in the league. His 13 carries rank 21st out of 21.
At that position, you’d expect frustration, depression, malcontent, maybe even lobbying for a trade.
Not here. Not Rex. For the consummate good guy with a permanent smile, reality is the exact opposite, actually.
“Of all the running backs on our team, he might be the least maintenance guy we have,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “He comes, does his job, everybody cheers him on because he finishes so well and he’s always running fast to the ball. People follow him even though he’s buried a little bit farther down on the depth chart.”
Burkhead produced new reasons to cheer him on Thursday in Detroit. Given his most significant playing time at the position since beating out Dan Herron as a rookie, he broke into the open field often with seven touches for 73 yards.
In fact, he racked up more yards against the Lions than in either of the last two preseasons.
Burkhead rushed four times for 42 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards. He returned a kickoff for the first time since his freshman year at Nebraska and made a tackle on special teams. Marvin Lewis referred to Burkhead’s play as “great” after the game, and it offered a reminder of the depth available should injury strike Bernard and/or Hill.
“The line did a tremendous job, even AJ (McCarron) checking the ball down to me,” Burkhead said. “It was fun. I think I was able to show multiple things doing the kick return as well. Getting a tackle on special teams too. A good opportunity for me and I enjoyed it.”
The other 31 teams should enjoy it as well. Burkhead is good enough to play in this league, but had the unfortunate position on this roster.
But with the Detroit film on the record and two more weeks where he’ll get even more chances, this could end up his final audition for the 2017 season as a running back. Whether in Cincinnati or possibly another city where more opportunity is available. Thinking about that is only natural, but Burkhead tries to keep it to a minimum.
“You do a little bit, but at the same time I want to focus on this year,” he said. “That’s my main focus to get this team in a position where we can win the Super Bowl. Whatever role on the team I can help out the team I want to do. Whatever happens after the season happens.”
What’s happening now is the latest creativity to find ways to involve him. Last year, he spent a good portion of the season learning receiver.
He is back to the running back room now, but spent time running the Wildcat formation as well - now inserting into the kick-return rotation.
He’s as versatile as any offensive player.
“When you get buried behind a couple guys like Jeremy and Gio we have to find different avenues to get him involved and get him the ball,” Caskey said. “It’s a good problem to have because he is so talented it gives you another weapon. With the running back situation it’s hard to say we are going to take one of those two guys off the field. But he’s fully capable if he ever gets a chance which he proved the other night in Detroit.”
Burkhead hopes the momentum carries over to the next two games even with the understanding that he’ll then revert back to playing the role of offensive afterthought. Just don’t expect any complaining or even anything but a wide smile and focus on his role.
“Just try to stay positive and stay patient even though it’s Year Four,” Burkhead. “That’s all you can do. Any time when you get an opportunity just try to make the most of it.”
Monday, August 22, 2016
August 20, 2016
HEAD COACH RON RIVERA
On the three drives by the first team offense: “They gave us two (good drives). The unfortunate part is we had an opportunity again to put a few more points on the board but we didn’t. Credit Tennessee for what they did defensively, but we had opportunities so that’s disappointing. You look at us on defense, same thing. We had an opportunity to stop them on their touchdown drive, the first one, but we gave up a big third down. We can’t allow that and those things we have to go back and correct. For the most part, pleased. Some guys stepped up and really played well and some guys are going to have to learn to take the challenges better and I think push themselves into better positions.”
On Daryl Worley playing tighter coverage: “I’d like to see him, obviously based on what the call is, to play the techniques a little bit better. He had an opportunity to make a couple of plays and he didn’t. One time we felt he could have been tighter in his coverage and another time he was off and we should have had a guy underneath him. Again, it’s one of those learning curves that he will go through as a rookie.”
On what the defense needs to do better: “I think the biggest thing is, and that was the one series where they had the third down, we can’t allow a conversion especially when we are in a good position to stop them. I want to credit them because they did some good things. But again we did not take advantage of third down situations. At the end of the day that is going to get you.”
On Bene Benwikere getting close to his 100 percent form: “We are starting to see that. He’s doing a nice job. He is working very hard in practice, he is beginning to communicate well and as he continues to get stronger and stronger with more and more confidence we will see him very active around the football. Reading the quarterback’s eyes, understanding where the route is coming to and beating guys to the ball, that’s a veteran move. That’s what he did, what we saw coming out of college and we have seen him do that for us the last couple of years.”
On the big shot Kevin Norwood took and how he came right back from it: “That’s toughness and that’s what you’re looking for. You need a young guy that’s looking for an opportunity. When you go out and make plays like that, that’s great and then you take a big shot and come back to make a big play. That’s a big thing for us. It was good to see, especially with Kevin.”
On Ted Ginn, Jr. ’s speed and an improvement from last year: “I think the big thing that you’re starting to see again is the integration of all our guys. Again, I’m anxious to see how many guys caught balls, especially how many caught balls from Cam (Newton). How many different guys and let’s not forget we didn’t have Greg Olsen out there today either. We feel pretty good about what we did. I’d like to see us run the ball better. We didn’t run as effective as I’d like to. Again, that’s something we need to go back and continue to work on.”
On concerns about injuries during today’s game to the back-up safeties, especiallyTrenton Robinson and Travell Dixon : “Yeah there is a little bit. Until he gets the MRI or another exam, we really don’t know anything until tomorrow. But yeah there is a little concern because it knocked him out of the game. I haven’t heard (about Dixon). They took him in after a big collision and I’m not quite sure what his status is.”
On feeling good about the effort today: “I do. Honestly, I’m anxious to see the tape. As I said, I think there’s some things that we missed, some things we could have capitalized on and we didn’t. As I said, I don’t want to take anything away from Tennessee. I think they’re an up-and-coming football team and they’ve got some good football players.”
On Jeremy Cash ’s game: “Jeremy Cash is really starting to come into his own as a rookie. I mean, he’s got a ways to go but he’s one of those guys that seems to be around the ball, very active around the football. That’s what we’re looking for. Guys that will be around the ball and be active. He did a nice job and so did some of our young defensive linemen. I think we have some young guys we have to take some long looks at in the next couple weeks and start making decisions.”
On the back-up offensive line’s performance today versus last week: “Yes, very pleased with that second bunch. Even when the third group got their opportunity, they did some nice things and again, you know, I think our coaches are doing a real nice job with those young guys and I think they are taking coaching very well. It’s been a good thing to see as far as their development. As I said though, the next couple weeks are going to be big for everybody.”
QB CAM NEWTON
On the showing by the first-team offense: "We started pretty fast, and that's what you want to do – start fast and finish fast, too. We've still got to work on that finishing part. There were a couple of throws I wish I had back, but that's just the nature of the game. I do know that as a team, it feels great to find ways to win football games. That's all we're trying to do."
On wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. at age 31: "He's probably one of the fastest guys in the NFL – that's not a reach. Of course they'll point out his age, but when Ted came to Carolina, this is probably the only team that has used him at the receiver position the way he was supposed to be used. So much of his career, he's been labeled a return specialist. In the return game, you probably have one or two opportunities to prove yourself, so that leaves a lot of tread on the tires for him in year nine or 10. And he has a background in track and is one of the best guys as far as taking care of his body."
On big targets Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess : "We've got something only God can give us – size, speed and strength. ... The wide receiver position has changed to a degree – you look around the league and see Odell (Beckham), Antonio Brown, those quick little shifty guys. But having a Benji, having Fun(chess), having guys that are 6-5, 6-6 and are able to move and able to jump as well, and you know the average DB is probably 5-9, 5-10, that size and girth is an edge for you."
On whether Panthers can again be NFL's top offense: "It's too soon to say that, but that's our expectation and something we'll strive to do. But really you just have to worry about each and every day, and our coaches do an unbelievable job of that. … For us, given the talent we have on the offensive side, it's about every maximizing their role. We don't want to look back and say we didn't maximize our opportunity with all these talents."
WR TED GINN, JR.
On when he knew his first half reception would be a touchdown: “After I made the guy miss, I knew I only had one safety to beat. He took a bad angle and the rest was history.”
On if it felt good for the offense to have a quick strike early in the game: “You always want to start your offensive possession with a quick start. We kind of did that last week, we just didn’t finish. This week we came out with the same mentality and we finished. The next two series were a little tough, but that is how the game goes. You have to be able to make the plays when they are there.”
On taking the next step from this week to next week: “We just have to go out and keep playing fast and keep playing hard. You try to win the ballgame in the first two quarters, so that is very important to us. If we get up, with the kind of (defense) that we have, it will be easier for them down the line. The only thing we can do is come out and keep playing fast.”
WR DEVIN FUNCHESS
On Ginn’s speed: “He gets to the second and third gear so quick. It’s like, ‘Wow, how do you do that?’ Ted has been doing it for a long, long time. It’s an honor to be able to witness it and see all the speed.”
On the offense: “We didn’t have Greg (Olsen) or Ed (Dickson) out there today. We are just trying to get Scott (Simonson), Marcus (Lucas), Beau (Sandland) and (Braxton) Deaver ready and prepared. That was great that they got to be out there today. They got all the reps. We are going to have fun and do our jobs. Can’t wait to get everybody back and get everything settled.”
From Josh Alper's "Sunday Morning one-liners"
August 21, 2016
Said Bills LB Kroy Biermann, “I understandthe big parts of the defense and I’ll get the little ones as we go along.”
RB Isaiah Pead has been more than a camp body for the Dolphins.
The Packers’ investment in their secondary is paying off.
Vikings WR Adam Thielen has proven to be more than meets the eye.
Catching up with the Falcons’ cornerback competition.
Said Panthers WR Devin Funchess of Ted Ginn, “He gets to the second and third gear so quick. It’s like, ‘Wow, how do you do that?’ Ted has been doing it for a long, long time. It’s an honor to be able to witness it and see all the speed.”
Turnovers have been a problem for the Saints in the preseason.
Rookie CB Vernon Hargeaves had a pair of interceptions for the Buccaneers on Saturday.
Coach Bruce Arians wants more from the Cardinals offense.
Rams WR Brian Quick hasn’t made a strong case for a roster spot.
This should be a big week in the 49ers quarterback competition.
The Seahawks have brought back FB Will Tukuafu.
From wire reports
August 22, 2016
Cam Newton threw for 162 yards and led scoring drives on two of his four series Saturday and the Carolina Panthers defeated the host Tennessee Titans, 26-16, in a preseason game.
Newton went 8-of-12 before leaving midway through the second quarter. He opened the game by leading a 93-yard drive that included a 61-yard completion to Ted Ginn Jr. of Glenville High School and Ohio State.
Ginn caught Newton's pass about 10 yards downfield. Antwon Blake missed a tackle as soon as the catch was made, then the 31-yearold Ginn outraced the other Titans to the end zone.
''He's probably one of the fastest guys in the NFL,'' Newton said. ''That's not a reach. He is. Of course they will [mention] his age, but this is what I say. .... I feel as if when Ted comes to Carolina, this is only team that probably used him in the receiver position the way he wants to and is supposed to.
''I think so much of his career he's been labeled a return specialist, and in the return game, you may have one or maybe two opportunities to prove yourself, so that leaves a lot of tread on the tires for him.''
Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead (33) runs against the Detroit Lions in the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Detroit, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
From Jay Morrison's "5 things we learned in Cincinnati Bengals win over Detroit Lions"
August 19, 2016
DETROIT — Rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s diving catch on the opening drive and his first professional touchdown just before halftime highlighted a 30-14 victory for the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night in Detroit.
The win also featured plenty other positive performances, along with a couple of negative ones.
Here are five things we learned as the Bengals evened their record at 1-1 in the preseason:
After not playing in the opener against Minnesota, running back Rex Burkhead was a big factor against the Lions. Burkhead had a game-high 42 rushing yards on just four carries while sharing the team high with three catches for 31 yards.
Five of Burkhead’s seven touches produced first downs, four of which were on the 12-play, 67-yard drive that led to Boyd’s touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half.
Friday, August 19, 2016
AJ Derby caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Bears. AP Photo/Charles Krupa
By Mike Reiss
August 18, 2016
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots beat the Chicago Bears 23-22 Thursday night in both teams' second preseason game. On first glance, without film review, here's who was up and who was down:
RB LeGarrette Blount: Playing 16 snaps, he finished with 11 carries for 69 yards (6.3-yard average) and one touchdown as he ran with a purpose on a night the Patriots made a concerted effort to run with a lead fullback and/or extra blocking tight end. If he was being challenged by Tyler Gaffney for the top role, Blount showed Thursday that he is going to be hard to beat.
TE AJ Derby: The 2015 sixth-round draft choice out of Arkansas totaled six catches for 71 yards and one touchdown as he put on a decisive charge in the competition for the No. 3 role behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The touchdown, a 16-yard grab in the end zone from Jimmy Garoppolo, capped the Patriots' most impressive drive of the night, at the end of the second quarter. Derby's 26-yard catch up the left sideline from Jacoby Brissett in the third quarter also was impressive.
Garoppolo: In a confidence-building performance, he took a step forward from the preseason opener, finishing 16-of-21 for 181 yards and one touchdown, with no interceptions. He wasn't sacked, a result of improved pass protection but also of his ability to shuffle his feet in the pocket to extend the play while going through his progressions. His best work came at the end of the second quarter in the two-minute offense, leading a seven-play, 57-yard touchdown drive.
RB Brandon Bolden: He fumbled at the Bears' 3-yard line early in the second quarter for the team's only turnover. Bolden needed to switch the football to his outside hand, and cornerback Tracy Porter jarred it free and recovered.
CB Justin Coleman: Starting in place of Logan Ryan (who is not yet cleared for full contact), he was in coverage on two early catches by Alshon Jeffery (29 yards, 12 yards) and then picked up a defensive-holding penalty on the next drive that negated a third-down stop.
First-unit defense: Instead of picking a specific player, this was a group effort. When a Bears offense that didn't score in its preseason opener against Denver runs 21 plays in the first quarter to open up an 11-0 lead, that's not the type of start the unit it looking for. Two highlights for the defense were the play of under-the-radar second-year defensive tackle Anthony Johnson and top draft choice Cyrus Jones' second-quarter interception.
A.J. Derby continues to shine in backup tight end competition
A.J. Derby was outstanding against the Chicago Bears.
By Mark Daniels
August 19, 2016
FOXBORO – A.J. Derby’s flashed solid hands this summer and made a nice grab in last week’s game against New Orleans, but on Thursday night he took it to a different level.
The 2014 sixth-round pick led the Patriots with six receptions, 71 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.
“I’m just trying to get better every day, so I’ve got to watch the film and see how I did,” Derby said.
Derby didn’t get a chance to showcase his abilities last summer as he got placed on the injured reserve early in camp on Aug. 5. But the former quarterback turned tight end in college has a legitimate chance to make the Patriots 53-man roster as the team’s third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.
That was evident when Jimmy Garoppolo kept feeding him during the 2-minute drill to end the first half and then in the third quarter when he made a highlight-reel 26-yard catch from Jacoby Brissett along the sideline.
Derby, who already sounds like a Patriot, gave all the credit for his big catch to his quarterback.
“Jacoby made a good check on the line,” Derby said. “He made a really good throw and the offensive line did a really good job giving him time to get the throw off.”
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
By JAMES GREGA JR.
August 16, 2016
As the countdown to Ohio State's season opener against Bowling Green gets closer, the Buckeye Sports staff is continuing its Best Buckeye Ever series. We stand just 19 days from kickoff, so it is time to reveal our pick for the Best Buckeye Ever to don that number.
We are just 19 days until kickoff in Ohio Stadium and the countdown to kickoff continues with our Best Buckeye Ever series. At No. 19, we had a tough time deciding between two very impressive Ohio State careers but ultimately we decided on one.
First, we will discuss our runner-up, Ahmed Plummer. Plummer graced the Ohio State secondary from 1996-99 and played a big part in the Buckeyes resurgence in the mid to late 1990's.
In his four years, Plummer amassed 14 interceptions, which ranks sixth in Ohio State history. Perhaps his best statistical season came in 1998, when he broke up 17 passes which at the time was most in school history in a single season. That number would later be tied by Bradley Roby in 2012. Plummer also ranks second in school history in career pass break ups with 34, just two behind Roby's 36.
Plummer was a three year starter with his senior campaign raking in the honors. He was a first team all-Big Ten selection, team MVP and a team captain of the 1999 Buckeyes before being selected in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers where he spent six seasons, collecting 12 career interceptions.
While Plummer certainly is deserving of the honor of Best Buckeye Ever to wear the No. 19, we are going with the multidimensional Tom Tupa who both punted and played quarterback for the Buckeyes from 1984-87.
Tupa is perhaps the greatest punter in Ohio State history, recording the top two punting seasons in terms of average in school history. His average yards per punt of 47.1 yards in 1984 still ranks as the best season in school history while his senior campaign ranks second, when he averaged 47.0.
Tupa's talent didn't just stop at punting however, as he won the starting quarterback job in 1987 as a senior in what would be Earle Bruce's final season. He threw for 1,786 yards and 12 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and saved arguably his best performance for last. Against Michigan in Bruce's final game, Tupa completed 18-of-26 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns to zero interceptions.
He would go on to have a very productive NFL career, mostly as a punter. Tupa was drafted in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Phoenix Cardinals, where he spent four of his 16 seasons in the league. While he would be named to a Pro Bowl in 1999 as a punter, Tupa also spent a portion of his professional career as a backup quarterback as well. He finished his NFL career with 3,430 passing yards and 12 touchdown passes to 25 interceptions as a quarterback.
As a punter, Tupa would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2002-03 season before playing his final season in 2005 with the Washington Redskins.
Do you agree with our pick here at No. 19? Make sure to weigh in on our premium message boards. The full list of No. 19's at OSU can be found below.
Alexinas, Edward ..................... 1940
Andrews, William .................1981-82
Archer, Stewart “Mickey”.... 1975-76
Barre, B.J............................ 2000-01
Bender, Edward A. ................... 1968
Bliss, Keith H. ...................... 1937-38
Boone, Le Andre..................... 2002
Canestraro, Joe ........................1987
Conley, Gareon ....................2013-14
Glover-Williams, Eric................ 2015
Graham, Taylor..................... 2010-11
Harden, Derek ...................2004-06
Hill, Steve ................................. 1983
Howell, Carroll ....................1952-54
Karcher, James N................1934-35
Kilgore, David S. .................1958-59
Klein, Robert J.....................1960-62
Knisley, Heath .......................... 1995
Maloney, Robert....................... 1938
Lord, James ............................. 1956
Orosz, Thomas.................... 1977-80
Purdy, David D......................1972-74
Ratliff, Eli................................... 2012
Russell, Matt............................ 2002
Starks, Eric............................... 1993
Tupa, Thomas...................... 1984-87
Underwood, Brandon ........2004-06
Washington, Taurian ................2007
Rex Burkhead came to the Bengals as a running back out of Nebraska, but receiver may be where he makes his biggest impact in 2016.
By Jason Marcum
August 15, 2016
It's rare you see an NFL player make a position switch in the NFL and go on to last in the league playing in a new role.
Running back may be his position, but wide receiver is where Rex Burkhead has slowly worked to find a role in the Bengals offense. A former sixth-round pick out of Nebraska via the 2013 NFL Draft, Burkhead was the second back Cincinnati drafted that year after the team grabbed North Carolina's Giovani Bernard in the second round.
Like Bernard, Burkhead is a versatile runner who does damage between and outside the tackles, as well as the passing game. But with the Bengals being set in the backfield with Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Burkhead would appear in just 10 games over his first two seasons, most of which coming as a special teams guy.
Burkhead finished 2014 with just seven grabs for 79 yards and nine rushes for 27 yards and one score. After the season, the Bengals decided to work Burkhead more at wide receiver during OTAs and training camp practices, even with the likes of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu getting the bulk of the snaps in 2015.
Burkhead went on to get more playing time at receiver last season. Though he caught just 10 passes on 15 targets for 94 yards and one score, he made several impressive grabs that showed just how good a pass-catcher he was becoming.
With Bernard and Jeremy Hill ahead of him at running back, he’s simply not going to get chances there. So though Burkhead is still listed as a running back, receiver is where his chance to make a big impact will come in 2016.
Weight: 210 lbs
Hometown: Plano, TX
Experience: 4th-Year Player
Burkhead's move to playing receiver may have been a well-calculated decision by the Bengals with how this offseason played out. With both Sanu and Jones leaving, Burkhead could jump from being way down on the pecking order to suddenly being the fourth or fifth option in this passing game.
Had Burkhead been listed as a receiver in 2015, he would have been the fourth receiver while catching more passes than Brandon Tate (2), Mario Alford (1) and Greg Little (0) combined. There's no question Burkhead's stock is on the rise entering the 2016 season.
Between Burkhead's work on special teams and now as a pass-catcher, he's a great fit for this team and should be in Cincinnati for several more years. He's a lock to make the roster this year with no real competition for the third and fourth running back spots on the roster, not to mention very little experience at receiver in this offense behind Green.
The only real question is do the Bengals find a way to extend Burkhead this year or next offseason when he becomes a free agent in March 2017, but that's a discussion for another day.
Defensive lineman Jamie Meder celebrates his tackle of Green Bay running back James Starks for a safety.
By Mary Kay Cabot
August 16, 2016
Parma Heights native Jamie Meder is getting a chance to start for his hometown team at right end, and he's hoping it ends right.
A second-year pro out of Ashland, Meder took all the first-team reps in practice Monday at right end ahead of Xavier Cooper, the starter since the beginning of camp.
Meder earned the starting opportunity by jumping out on film in the Green Bay game, where he combined with Tank Carder on a safety in the first quarter. Overall, he had four tackles and a quarterback hit in 31 snaps.
''Oh yeah, he deserves it,'' said coach Hue Jackson. ''Jamie played extremely well last week. He's very valuable to us. I don't know if it was just because of that. As you guys see, we put a lot of people in a lot of different positions to give them opportunities, and he's very deserving. I will say that.''
Meder (6-3, 308) displayed tenacity. ''He's tough,'' said Jackson. ''He's really tough. He's strong. He knocks people back and he pursues the football the way you have to pursue the football.''
The first-team line Monday consisted of seventh-year Nick Hayden at left end, Danny Shelton in the middle and Meder on the right. ''We're going to play our best players,'' Jackson said. ''If a guy has a skill and he can help our football team, whether it's at nose guard or defensive end, then we're going to give him a chance. I don't think it's to get bigger. We're just going to put our best guys out there. If that's the combination that works, then that's who we'll put out there.''
Monday, August 15, 2016
Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff | Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel turned down an offer from Chip Kelly in the offseason to become the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator.
By Aaron Wilson
August 13, 2016
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly won a lot of recruiting battles during his tenure at Oregon as one of the most successful college football coaches in the nation.
However, Kelly was unable to talk Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel into accepting an offer to become his defensive coordinator with the 49ers.
Vrabel declined the job and remained with the Texans, receiving a raise and additional responsibilities in the process.
Regarded as a rising star in the coaching ranks with a bright future ahead of him, the former New England Patriots All-Pro linebacker is back for his third season with the Texans.
"Big fan of Mike," Kelly said during the Texans' joint practice Friday with the 49ers next to Levi's Stadium. "Obviously, had an unbelievable career in New England and then I got to know Mike a little bit when he was at Ohio State and then talking to OB [Texans coach Bill O'Brien] about what he's like to coach with. Just have all the respect in the world for him. I think he's one of the really top assistant coaches in the league right now."
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. The 49ers later interviewed Texans secondary coach John Butler, who also remained with the defending AFC South champions.
"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 concentrating on helping his players get better.
That includes Texans linebacker John Simon, a former Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year who played for Vrabel with the Buckeyes.
"To have a coach like Mike Vrabel and being able to pick his brain and know he's been in your shoes before, that's something we appreciate in that room," Simon said. "I can't get rid of him. I'm really happy he came back. I speak for everybody when I say we're excited. He brings so much to our defense that we didn't want to lose throughout our year, and I think it's going to show on Sundays."
BY JAMES GREGA JR.
August 13, 2016
As the countdown to Ohio State's season opener against Bowling Green gets closer, the Buckeye Sports staff is continuing its Best Buckeye Ever series. We stand just 21 days from kickoff, so it is time to reveal our pick for the Best Buckeye Ever to don that number.
There are just three weeks to kickoff in Ohio Stadium against Bowling Green, and we at Buckeye Sports are set to unveil our pick for the Best Buckeye Ever to wear the No. 21.
While the No. 21 hasn't appeared on a Heisman winner, it has been worn by some pretty solid former Buckeyes. To start, we will name our second runner up on the list, former Ohio State defensive back Zack Dumas.
Dumas was a three year starter in the Ohio State secondary from 1987-89 and while he never really put up big stats, his hitting ability is what he was best known for, specifically this hit in his final game as a Buckeye against Auburn. During his senior season, Dumas collected 75 total tackles, ranking second on the team behind only Derek Isaman.
Our runner up at No. 21 in Ohio State history is punter B.J. Sander. While he was the Buckeyes punter for just one full season, he made the most of it, collecting OSU's only Ray Guy Award, given annually to the best punter in the country. Sander was a first team all-Big Ten selection in 2003 and his stellar senior season led to him being selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Sander didn't last long in the NFL however, as he was released by the Packers before the 2006 season.
Our pick as the Best Buckeye Ever to wear No. 21 at Ohio State goes to former safety Nate Salley. Like Dumas, Salley was a three year starter in the Buckeye secondary from 2003-05 and a captain as a senior.
A national champion as a freshman, Salley was one of many Buckeyes that never lost a bowl game. During his time in Columbus, Ohio State won three Fiesta Bowls and the 2004 Alamo Bowl. Salley's best statistical season came in 2003, when he recorded 77 total tackles and five pass breakups as a true sophomore and first year starter. During his final campaign at Ohio State, Salley earned first team all-Big Ten honors and was drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers where he spent three seasons.
The full list of No. 21's at Ohio State can be seen below. Agree with our list? Make sure to weigh in on our premium message boards.
Benis, Michael K. .....................1960
Burton, Arthur F...................1967-69
Carlin, Earl V........................1939-40
Cook, Donald ........................... 1936
Delaney, Kevin ......................... 1985
Dumas, Zach .......................1986-89
Forte, Trevon............................ 2015
Gentry, Tyson .......................... 2004
Johnson, Kenneth E..................1961
Johnson, Ricky.............. 1977-78, 80
Jones, Tim................................ 1985
Kern, Carl ............................ 1972-73
McDaniel, Devlin...................... 2013
Moore, C.J................................ 1999
Perini, Pete E....................... 1947-48
Peterson, William J. ................. 1952
Plank, Ernest V. .........................1943
Richardson, Kevin ...............1982-84
Russell, Anderson ........2006-08-09
Salley, Nate ..................2002-04-05
Sander, B.J. .........................1999-03
Sanders, Charlie ...........1995, 97-98
Thomas, Earl .......................1934-35
Whinnery, Glenn....................... 1933
Wood, Jamie ................... 2010-11-12
By Josh Edwards
August 14, 2016
The preseason is a matter of finding individual bright spots when it comes to building a roster. Nose tackle Jamie Meder continued his solid play from last season according to Pro Football Focus. Meder was the standout performer from Friday night's 17-11 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
"That the Browns’ standout performer was nose tackle Jamie Meder is both a credit to Meder, looking to build upon the role he earned with strong play last summer, and a slight disappointment that none of the Browns rookie class really excited in their preseason debuts."
Meder currently sits second on the depth chart behind Danny Shelton.
Some have not been too high on the play of quarterback Robert Griffin III. Pro Football Focus described it as 'solid.' The quarterback completed 4-of-8 passes for 67 yards and an interception during his limited game play.
"For new quarterback Robert Griffin III, an interception over the middle of the field blotted his copybook, but a deep ball down the right sideline to Terrelle Pryor on his only completion more than 10 yards down the field offers some hope of good things to come this season."
It would be unwise to form a strong opinion one way or another on any player after just one game in the NFL preseason.
Riley Reiff (right) has moved to the right side of the offensive line and is taking on a bigger leadership role with the Lions. Duane Burleson/AP Photo
By Michael Rothstein
August 13, 2016
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Riley Reiff spoke to the media Saturday for the first time since the end of last season, and a lot has happened since then.
He entered the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. And on the field, he shifted from left tackle, where he has played the past three seasons, to right tackle after Detroit drafted Taylor Decker in the first round.
Through it all, Reiff remained silent. He didn’t complain. He didn’t say much of anything at all. And even now, in his first public comments since the switch, he wasn’t elaborating much.
“As a group, we’re trying to get guys in position,” Reiff said. “Trying to work hard every day, clean up mental errors. It’s all about the group. Just trying to put out a better season than we did last year.”
Reiff and the rest of the Lions offensive line was a part of the reason for Detroit’s 1-7 start and 7-9 finish. Their position coach last season, Jeremiah Washburn, was fired at midseason and replaced by Ron Prince, who held on to the job entering 2016.
And while the offensive line is still struggling, Reiff has stood out. He’s taken well to right tackle. He seems comfortable there and has been sometimes dominant in practices. He also looked good during the team’s joint work with Pittsburgh last week.
It isn’t the easiest transition to make -- essentially, the footwork changes making everything opposite of what he had done the past three seasons. But he’s handled it fairly easily thus far, to the point Lions coach Jim Caldwell called his performance in training camp “excellent” on Saturday.
And with a group that is incredibly young, other than reserve Geoff Schwartz, Reiff is now the anchor of the line, a role he inherited last season after the Lions declined to re-sign Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims, who both eventually retired.
“He was kind of the heir apparent to that position,” Caldwell said. “From the respect of his teammates and the people around him, I think they kind of sensed that he was going to be the guy to certainly take on that role, and he has. He’s done a nice job.”
That’s a point of pride to Reiff. Decker, the player who was drafted to replace him on the left side, has consistently said Reiff has been a good influence for him and has helped him with whatever he’s needed.
That isn’t surprising because Reiff has been more focused on trying to win games instead of his own personal accolades. It’s why he didn’t make a fuss publicly when he was moved from left tackle to right tackle -- although that wouldn’t be his style, anyway.
Reiff had teammates who helped him when he was a rookie, so he wants to pay it forward because “that’s what friends do for friends.”
“I don’t know how much of a voice I have, but if a younger guy asks for my opinion, I try to rely back on my previous experience and what I’ve been through,” Reiff said. “And if I can give him a good answer that can help him out, yeah, I take a lot of pride in helping people succeed.”
Riley Reiff has broken his silence about being asked to move from left to right tackle in a contract year. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)
By Kyle Meinke
August 13, 2016
ALLEN PARK -- Riley Reiff had played one position his entire pro career. Then the Detroit Lions asked him to learn a new one just as he was entering a contract year.
A position that typically pays less money.
It's a move that could cost him millions.
But he's not thinking of it that way.
"As a group, we're just trying to get guys in position," Reiff said in his first comments since making the position change to right tackle in OTAs. "We're trying to work hard every day, clean up mental errors. It's all about the group, really. We're just trying to have a better season than last year."
The Lions selected Ohio State's Taylor Decker in the first round of the draft to be their left tackle, and immediately moved Reiff, a fifth-year veteran, to the right side.
Was Reiff's pride hurt by the selection, or by being asked to change positions because of a rookie -- and doing so right when his contract was coming up?
"I'm not here to get into that," he said. "I'm here to help the team win games, and you guys know who I am. I'm just trying to make the group a better group, and play hard, and get better, and put a year together we can all be proud of."
Reiff never wavered from that message in his 10 minute chat with reporters. He's tired of losing, and he's tired of the offensive line being a punch line, and he's willing to do anything to help the greater good of the team.
Those are cliches that are thrown around a lot in sports, but by all accounts, they really do apply with Reiff. He's attacked his re-assignment with everything he has this offseason, including putting in extra work in the film room and weight room to prepare for the transition.
And all that work has paid off with what appears to be the best training camp of his career.
Reiff has won the vast majority of his one-on-one matchups -- a drill that is supposed to favor the defensive lineman -- and he was a rock in Detroit's 30-17 exhibition win Friday night against Pittsburgh.
For a unit facing so many question marks heading into the season, his maturation is highly valuable.
"(He's done) extremely well," coach Jim Caldwell said. "Very consistent, outstanding in terms of his leadership. I can't say enough good things about him -- he's really been excellent."
Reiff, though, deflected all questions about his own personal growth in camp, preferring to again shift the spotlight back to the offensive line as a whole, which is trying to bounce back from two tough seasons.
"We're judged as a group," he said. "I keep saying this, and I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but we're trying to improve and do the techniques we're taught. We're trying to help the team win games."
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Panthers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was initially recruited to run track at Ohio State. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
By David Newton
August 9, 2016
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Ted Ginn Jr. of the United States are stride for stride as they approach the finish line in the finals of 200-meter dash at the 2016 Olympics from Rio. This is going to be close, folks.
And the gold medal goes to ...
Don't think that Ginn, who is entering his 10th season in the NFL and third with the Carolina Panthers, doesn't imagine that scenario.
During his senior year in high school, Ginn was a member of a squad that defeated a 4x100-meter relay team anchored by Bolt -- who is now the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Ginn once beat Jason Richardson, who won the silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles during the 2012 Olympics in London.
A national champion in the 110-meter hurdles as a high school junior, Ginn initially was recruited to run track at Ohio State with the thought that he could qualify for the 2008 Olympics. He was clocked at 10.2 seconds in the 100 meters as a college freshman.
So yes, Ginn, 31, can't help but wonder if he could have been competing for a spot on the podium in Rio. He even showed up for a Tuesday interview wearing a navy blue track shirt with an American flag on the right sleeve.
"My Nike deal would be great," Ginn said with a laugh when asked if he could have competed. "Just watching it on TV right now, I kind of get goosebumps on certain races ... like the 4x400, the 400, 200, 110. That gives me goosebumps, because a lot of them guys are No. 1 guys we raced in high school."
Ginn gave up track to pursue a career in football at Ohio State. After his junior season, he was such a hot commodity that the Miami Dolphins selected him with the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft.
Ginn's explosive speed, however, was negated by a tendency to drop passes. The Dolphins gave up on him after the 2009 season. After three mediocre years in San Francisco, so did the 49ers.
Ginn's best seasons have been in Carolina, under the tutelage of receivers coach Ricky Proehl. In 2013, Ginn caught five touchdown passes -- his career high at the time -- which earned him a big contract with the Arizona Cardinals. After a failed season in the desert, Ginn returned to Carolina to score a career-best 10 touchdowns during the Panthers' magical 2015 season.
"Getting with that guy and him reaching down inside of me and bringing out the things I was good at," Ginn said, describing his work with Proehl. "Without him ... I don't think all of us in that room can be who we are -- especially me."
Six months after playing in Super Bowl 50, Ginn can watch the Olympics without regrets that he gave up something special.
"Just to see them guys [I used to compete against] still going in their field and me still going in my field helps me out a lot," Ginn said.
Despite difficulties along the way, Ginn has outlasted superstar NFL players from his draft class. No. 2 pick Calvin Johnson and No. 12 pick Marshawn Lynch retired this past offseason.
Ginn is proud of his longevity. But more than anything, he is proud to finally be earning the respect he once had in track.
"That's the biggest thing out of the whole deal, being able to stand there and a guy look at your face and say, 'Oh, man! We've got Ted out here!'" Ginn said.
That doesn't mean Ginn doesn't sometimes fantasize about the time he beat Bolt, who is 16 months younger, in the 4x100 relays.
"He was the anchor, and I was the second leg," Ginn said. "I opened up and gave us that lead that he couldn't get back. So, you know, man, I've done run against the best of the best.
"I'm proud of my track career. If I wasn't going on the route I am as far as football, then I'd have some regrets about track, but I don't."
Ginn is still fast. He'll tell you he's the fastest member of the Panthers, although Damiere Byrd and Philly Brown might argue otherwise.
"And I will be next year, too," Ginn said.
Ginn know he's not fast enough to compete in the Rio Olympics, at least in his current football shape.
"If I trained two or three months on the hurdles, I could run them," he said with a smile. "But as far as training in the 110, 200 and 400, I'm kind of out of the picture right now."
By Doug Kyed
August 10, 2016
FOXBORO, Mass. — Young New England Patriots pass rushers have a few extra weeks to prove they deserve a roster spot and a role after Rob Ninkovich’s triceps injury.
Trey Flowers, a 2015 fourth-round pick who played just one game last season before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, has been standing out in practice at the right time.
During full-contact team drills, Flowers is getting into the backfield more than any other Patriots pass rusher. He primarily rushes from the edge, but he’s added interior pressure to his arsenal.
“He didn’t play a lot inside in college,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said last week. “I think there was one game against LSU when he was in there, but for the most part he was on the edge, so that’s an adjustment that he’s making. He’s definitely getting better at it. He has quickness and, again, the play-strength, and I would say the mentality to play in there.
“It’s just going to come down to experience and getting comfortable. It’s a little bit different. You’re not working against as long of a guy usually at guard, and maybe not as athletic a guy as the ones that play tackle, but there is less space. … So, it’s a little bit different but he’s making progress on it.”
The Patriots likely will use three or four edge defenders on the line of scrimmage on third down this season since they don’t have an interior pass rushing specialist, like Dominique Easley, on their roster anymore.
Flowers also could be used on early downs because of his strong run defense.
“That was a strength of his at Arkansas, and for not a tall guy, he has long arms, he has some length as a player even though his stature is not exceptionally long, but he has long arms and he plays the run well,” Belichick said. “He’s a tough kid. All of those guys — Rob, Jabaal (Sheard), Chris (Long), Shea (McClellin), Geneo (Grissom), Rufus (Johnson) — they’re all pretty stout out there, got good playing strength, good length. So, that end position in the running game, so far, I’d say that hasn’t been the major problem for us.”
Flowers hasn’t been able to fully show his ability in the running game or passing game in training camp because defenders can’t tackle or sack the quarterback. So, Flowers is itching to get on the field in the Patriots’ preseason opener Thursday against the New Orleans Saints.
“It’s real life. Some of those sacks that you think that you probably had when you pulled up or something, you can actually go in and be engaged and take that extra two more steps to judge a game, judge your real quickness to the ball,” Flowers said. “It’s definitely important.”
By Chris Burke
July 13, 2016
Offensive tackle is a premium position in the NFL—just check out any free-agent binge lest you need a reminder. Center has enjoyed an increase in love of late, too, as more and more offenses look to push the tempo and more and more defenses try to counter by attacking the A-gaps.
Lost in the shuffle a bit is the guard position, despite the fact that NFL guards on the whole are only getting better as a group. Spread offenses have impacted the guard spot, just as they have everywhere else, by upping the demand for mobile blockers. There are still an ample number of “phone booth” guards—borderline immovable objects who are at their best working one-on-one within narrow spaces. But on the whole, that model is dwindling in favor of guards who can get to the edge or cover expanding space in a zone scheme. Thanks to an infusion of talent from the last several drafts, the level of guard performance across the league is about as high as it’s been in some time. Here are the best of the best:
No. 1: Marshal Yanda, Ravens
The 31-year-old is one of the best offensive linemen in football, period. Up until Brandon Brooks signed a five-year, $40 million deal with Philadelphia in March, Yanda was the league’s highest-paid right guard. He’s been named an All-Pro for two years running and a Pro Bowler five straight times, and has missed just two games since 2009. Last season, Yanda allowed one half-sack—one—in more than 740 snaps in pass protection. Refs flagged him for exactly one holding call in each of the past two seasons, and both penalties were declined. Several players on this list are proficient in both run and pass blocking, but Yanda is absolutely dominant at both.
Monday, August 08, 2016
By Doug Kyed
August 8, 2016
FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick wasn’t lying when he said the Patriots have their deepest group of tight ends since the head coach came to New England in 2000.
Rob Gronkowski continues to dominate training camp, despite some issues with drops, and Martellus Bennett has shown smooth route running and soft hands this summer. Bennett caught three passes during 11-on-11s Monday.
A.J. Derby, selected in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft but placed on injured reserve early last August, has stood out in three straight practices now. He caught two passes, including a contested grab over safety Patrick Chung on Monday.
Derby could have an uphill battle to crack the 53-man roster over veteran Clay Harbor, who returned to practice Monday, but he has impressive size and athleticism at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds. The former college quarterback ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash at his pro day last March with a 6.99-second 3-cone.
Here’s what else stood out at training camp Monday:
— Quarterback Tom Brady went 13 of 20 during 11-on-11s. He spread the ball around, hitting Chris Harper and James White three times, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski twice and Brandon Bolden, Chris Hogan and Derby once apiece.
— Linebacker Jamie Collins broke up a pass from Brady. Gronkowski and White each had drops.
— Backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo went 14 of 21 with an interception.
— Bennett caught three passes from Garoppolo, Edelman, Gronkowski and Hogan caught two and Derby, Harper, Bolden and Harbor caught one.
— Edelman looked as fast as ever beating cornerback Justin Coleman on an end zone fade from Brady during 11-on-11s. Edelman celebrated with a Gronk-esque spike.
— Rookie linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill intercepted Garoppolo. Rookie cornerback Jonathan Jones recorded a pass breakup.
— Third-string QB Jacoby Brissett didn’t attempt a pass in 11-on-11s. He has just two pass attempts in the last three practices.
— Hogan, Edelman, Harper, DeAndre Carter and cornerbacks Cyrus Jones and V’Angelo Bentley got reps catching punts.
— The starting offensive line consisted of Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon.
— The Patriots look to be experimenting with rotating their defensive line according to the offense’s personnel grouping. Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Markus Kuhn, Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton all are getting first-team reps.
— Branch suffered what looked to be a lower left leg injury and didn’t finish practice. He stayed on the field, however.
— Running back Tyler Gaffney is getting a lot of carries with the first team. He’s never made it this far into camp without suffering a season-ending injury. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the preseason.
— Center Bryan Stork returned to practice but didn’t work in team drills. The Patriots are experimenting heavily with Ted Karras and Josh Kline at center.