Monday, November 13, 2017

Winners and losers from Patriots' throttling win over Broncos

By Henry McKenna
November 13, 2017

Here are the winners and losers from the New England Patriots’ win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night in Week 10.


Rex Burkhead, RB:
Not only did he score a receiving touchdown, but he also blocked a punt. That’s versatility you rarely see from a running back.
He had 10 rushes for 36 yards and three receptions for 27 yards along with that touchdown catch.

Patriots at Broncos Snap Count Report: Rex Burkhead has taken over as the top running back

By Evan Lazar
November 13, 2017

Below are the Patriots' final snap counts on offense and defense in their win over the Broncos.


The game ball goes to running back Rex Burkhead in this one.

Burkhead delivered an all-around performance making key contributions on both offense and defense,
but the surprise scratch of fellow running back Mike Gillislee created the opportunity for Burkhead in the Patriots' backfield. Burkhead played a season-high 36 snaps and has seen an uptick in playing time since returning from injury in Week 7.

However, Burkhead wasn't the only player in the Patriots' backfield to see more playing time against the Broncos.

The Patriots opted to go heavy on Sunday night with fullback James Develin tallying a season-high 45 snaps. Develin's usage continues to rise as the Patriots have morphed the offense into a power-run unit over the last few weeks.

In terms of pass catchers, there are two performances of note from a playing time perspective on offense.

First, in his return to New England tight end Martellus Bennett logged 7 snaps. Bennett caught three passes for 38 yards in his return, including a 27-yard reception in the first half.

Second, with Chris Hogan inactive due to injury, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett played a season-high 49 snaps. Dorsett had just two catches for 16 yards in those 49 snaps but was one of just three Pats wide receivers to see the field along with Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola.

Finally, the Patriots did indeed empty the bench a bit on offense on their final possession of the game. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, fourth tackle Cameron Fleming, running back Brandon Bolden, and center Ted Karras all saw time in the blowout win.

Vikings' first-half MVP? Look no further than tackle Riley Reiff

Keep this on the down-low: Riley Reiff has not allowed a sack this season

By Mark Craig
NOVEMBER 11, 2017

My pick for Vikings MVP through eight games?

Riley Reiff.

I went to the sturdy left tackle on Wednesday to give him this bit of life-changing news. He looked at me, sort of smiled and proclaimed, “Sorry, I only talk after games.”

Thursday, the big fella of few words responded through a team official, saying, “The thing that’s great about this team is nobody cares about individual awards. We’re only halfway through the season. We haven’t done anything yet.”

He may be quiet off the field, but Reiff’s play on the field is, to me, the keystone at the very foundation — offensive line — upon which this team sits heading into Sunday’s Week 10 game at Washington.

“You easily could make an argument for Riley being the MVP,” backup guard Jeremiah Sirles said.

And what better week to do so?

The 2016 Vikings also spent Week 10 at Washington. By that time, they were down to Jake Long as their third starting left tackle, and Sam Bradford had the pile of sacks to prove it.

Three plays from the end of that game, Long tore his Achilles’ tendon. Sirles rushed onto the field as the team’s fourth left tackle in nine games.

It was fourth-and-17 from the Washington 28. Eleven seconds remained. The Vikings trailed 26-20.

“It was not a good situation,” Sirles said. “One play, one sack. It still haunts my dreams.”

The Vikings fell to 5-4 after starting 5-0. By the end of their 3-8 free fall, five people had lined up at left tackle in what became a swinging gate to Bradford’s blind side.

“Left tackle is a different animal,” Sirles said. “That’s why it’s so cool to see how well Riley is playing.”

Reiff has started every game, played all but one quarter, allowing zero sacks. He’s the leader of a rebuilt line that has allowed the passing game to rank 14th with backup quarterback Case Keenum playing all but six quarters, and the running game to stay in the top 10 without Dalvin Cook.

Yes, this remains a defensively oriented team with superstars on that side of the ball. But we found out late last year that its dominance fades dramatically without a functional offense to keep it fresh.

With the Vikings sitting atop the NFC North at 6-2, people spent the bye week bickering about who is most deserving of midseason MVP.

Never mind that it’s a team game. It’s sports in 2017 and we must argue while gouging each other’s eyes out!

Right, Latavius Murray?

“Well,” he said, “I think everyone in a sense has contributed to where we’re at.”

Too logical. Too calm. You’d make a terrible fan.

I’ve seen several names thrown about. All deserving. Shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes. Sacks leader Everson Griffen. Re-energized Anthony Barr. Tackling machine Eric Kendricks. Do-everything Harrison Smith. Adam Thielen because he’s surprisingly good and someone on offense has to be mentioned, right?

But there are five names I haven’t seen anywhere. They play offensive line. Four of them — Reiff, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger and Mike Remmers — have started every game for a team that burned through 12 linemen last season.

“That’s par for the course,” Sirles said. “But we don’t need the recognition. We see what we’re doing.”

Heading to Washington a year ago, the Vikings were averaging 2.7 yards per carry. This year, the average is 4.0. Last year, they had thrown 276 passes and been sacked 21 times. This year, they’ve thrown 277 passes and been sacked 10 times.

Asked if that kind of protection allows him to let more pass plays develop, Keenum laughed and said, “Yeah, I mean when you’re getting the crap knocked out of you, you tend to try and get the ball out sooner.”

Four of the five linemen who started last year’s game at Washington aren’t even on the roster this year. And the most criticized of those four, tackle T.J. Clemmings, now plays for Washington. Or tries to.

As Washington’s third-stringer, he started his second game last Sunday. He gave up three sacks.

Three more reasons to make Reiff the midseason MVP.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Patriots DE Trey Flowers disrupts while blooming

By Rich Garven
November 8, 2017

FOXBORO — Defensive end Trey Flowers capped the Patriots’ bye week with a four-day getaway to his family home in Alabama, during which time he rested, relaxed and recharged from a taxing first half of the season.

It was a welcome and much-needed break mentally and physically for Flowers, who has performed at a Pro Bowl-worthy level when he has been out there — which is pretty much always — after his breakout campaign a year ago.

“It’s a long season,” Flowers said during a break in preparations for Sunday night’s tilt with the Broncos in Denver. “It’s a tough game, the NFL. So you’re going to have some bumps and bruises along the way. To get an extra week under your belt and get refreshed and things like that is very important.”

Flowers’ ascension from unremarkable rookie to indispensable defensive disrupter has been incredibly impressive.

Drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round (101st overall) in 2015, Flowers played four snaps in his lone appearance as a rookie. He finished the year on injured reserve with shoulder and knee woes.

However, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Flowers made his presence felt last season, appearing in all 19 games and trending upward from September to February in terms of activity and impact.

He earned 29.8 percent of the defensive snaps in the first half of the season, 40.6 percent in the second half and 86.6 percent in the postseason. Along the way, he recorded a team-high seven sacks over the final nine games of the regular season and added 2½ sacks in Super Bowl LI.

“His understanding of what we do, I think it’s along the natural progression,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “There’s not that many guys that just come in ... play all the snaps immediately. So he’s a guy that falls into that category.

“Someone that’s worked really hard to try to earn himself some time on the field and has shown the consistency to be out there as much as we can get him out there and put him in those positions. I would definitely say his work ethic and the way that he approaches the game is great.”

It’s been more — make that much more — of the same in his third season.

Flowers played 91.1 percent of the snaps in the first eight games, helping the Patriots to six wins. He’s collected 36 tackles, 3½ sacks, an additional 9½ quarterback hits, a pass defensed, and, whew, a forced fumble.

All that while never taking a play off. Flowers has a better motor than a McLaren F1 and puts out more energy than National Grid.

“I just go out there with the mentality to make a play, do the best I can,” Flowers said. “If I’m out there I just see it as an opportunity for me to make a play. As far as staying out there, being out there a lot of snaps, that’s all due to preparation throughout the week, doing a little extra cardio, extra things that allow you to stay in shape to continue with a high motor even throughout the long games.”

While Flowers regularly stuffs the stat sheet, he also frequently influences plays that others end up finishing.

Think back to linebacker Kyle Van Noy tackling receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 5-yard loss on fourth and goal early in the fourth quarter of a win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7. Afterward, Van Noy credited his free path into the backfield to a block Flowers made at the line of scrimmage.

It’s all about taking what Flowers hears from his coaches and sees on film over the course of a week and translating it to the field during a span of three hours on Sunday, Monday or Thursday.

“Say I’m in there and hear different communication within the O-linemen, I can just call something to kind of put our defense in the right position to make plays or the right position to be productive on that play,” Flowers said.

“So I think it goes into just being in the league, definitely having the IQ and paying attention to how the offense or the offensive line wants to block us.”

Rested and relaxed, Flowers is ready for the second half of a season that has seen him to play a lot and make a lot of plays while becoming arguably the Patriots’ most important defender.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

"One of the best football coaches at any level"

By Peter King
November 6, 2017

Ten Things I Think I Think:

4. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 9:
o. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is one of the best football coaches at any level, and I don’t just say that because of the 55-24 wipeout of Ohio State.

Parents who have high school prospects should want to send their kids to play for Ferentz, and not just for the winning. He wins, he loses, he develops people.

Best Defensive Player Award: Trey Flowers

The Blitzies: Handing out the Patriots’ awards from the first half

By Jeff Howe

November 6, 2017

Unlike, say, the Oscars, Grammys and NFL Honors, the Blitzies mean something. The Herald’s sixth annual midseason awards have gained universal respect, and it’s not just another award show that puffs out its chest and tells everyone to love it.

Look, don’t take it from us. One recipient the other night was overheard saying, “This is the greatest night of my life, and I have three kids and a wife.”

So if you couldn’t get tickets into the sold-out event or you missed the live coverage on TV, here’s a recap of the 2017 Blitzies.

The G.O.A.T. Blitzie

For the best first half

Quarterback Tom Brady won this award for the sixth consecutive time, to the point where the committee had to change the name last year. The 40-year-old has been so good that the Patriots traded both of his backups, and he’ll be in the MVP conversation in December for the eighth consecutive season. Brady leads the NFL in completions (206), attempts (309) and yards (2,541), and he has 16 touchdowns to two interceptions. The one-man wolf pack is on pace for the second 5,000-yard season of his career.

The Bob Saget Award

For the most offensive player (non-Tom Brady section)

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is being challenged unlike any season of his career without Julian Edelman to take the pressure off him over the middle, but Gronk is second on the Patriots with 34 catches and 509 yards, and he is tied for the lead with five touchdowns. Defenses are doubling him with more aggressiveness and physicality, and Gronk isn’t getting much relief because backup Dwayne Allen has been a non-factor. Gronk’s teammates are benefitting from his presence, and if he plays the final eight games at this level, he could be a first-team All-Pro and earn that full $10.75 million salary.

The Kevin Garnett Award

For the best defensive player

Defensive lineman Trey Flowers encounters a steady stream of double teams, but he is still consistently the Patriots’ best pass rusher even though the sacks are down. He is tied for the team lead with 3.5 quarterback takedowns, though he doesn’t have one since Week 5, and he also has a team-best 11 quarterback hits, nine pressures and two batted passes. But wait, there’s more: Flowers has a forced fumble, two run stuffs and a drawn holding penalty.

The Andy Bernard Award

For the most improved character

Running back James White was a healthy scratch in 16-of-19 games as a rookie, and he is on his way to another record-setting season. White broke out last year, so the “most improved” label might be more of a lifetime achievement award than anything specific to this season. But really, it comes down to this: White was a complementary piece last year, and he is now a certified weapon. White leads the Patriots with 43 catches to go along with 365 yards and a touchdown, and he could be the first running back in the Tom Brady era to lead the Patriots in receptions. Tony Collins caught 77 passes in 1986 to set the franchise record for catches in a season by a running back, and that could fall soon.

The Mosi’s Mooses Award

For being an ace special teamer who blossomed elsewhere

The Patriots acquired cornerback Johnson Bademosi from the Lions prior to Week 1 to fill Matthew Slater’s role while the special teams captain was recovering from a torn hamstring. The five-year veteran had three starts on his resume and wasn’t used on defense this season until Week 6, when he leapfrogged Jonathan Jones and filled in for a concussed Stephon Gilmore. Bademosi’s physicality was well-established, but he really impressed his teammates with his defensive intellect. Quarterbacks throwing in his direction were 9-of-12 for 104 yards, and he added a third-down pass breakup. The Patriots were probably concerned about their depth at corner with Gilmore and Eric Rowe (torn groin) out, but Bademosi added confidence in case he is needed again.

The Michael Scott Award

For the best boss

Running backs coach Ivan Fears has been instrumental in White’s development and had to keep Dion Lewis’ confidence intact early in the season when the offense looked elsewhere. The Patriots also had big plans in store for Rex Burkhead before his Week 2 rib injury. All the while, Mike Gillislee still leads the Pats with 98 carries, 344 yards and four touchdowns. The Patriots rank 15th in rushing, and White, Lewis and Burkhead have combined for 65 catches, 551 yards and two touchdowns.

The ‘Who Else but Gronk’ Award

For the Gronkiest Gronk moment

When the defense was struggling, who did they call for help? Gronk, obviously. Rob Gronkowski soared with the seagulls to break up Deshaun Watson’s Hail Mary in the end zone to close out a wild victory against the Texans.

The Dodgeball Award

“Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.”

Bill Belichick’s decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo was shocking, and no one will know for quite some time if it was the right call. In the short term, Tom Brady will need to stay healthy despite already being banged up and barreling toward a career-high 42 sacks. In the long term, if Brady does indeed continue to play at a high level — or just close to it — for another five years, it really won’t matter what Garoppolo turns into with the 49ers. It won’t look like such a great move if Brady goes down this season and Brian Hoyer can’t keep the playoff seeding intact, or if Brady only plays for another couple years and Garoppolo turns into a star. But again, there’s no way to forecast any of that right now and Garoppolo wasn’t going to sign an extension to be a backup, regardless of the money involved.

Runaway Bus Award

For the most speed

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is the fastest weapon at Tom Brady’s disposal since Randy Moss, and the speedster has paid dividends with 33 catches for a team-high 563 yards and three touchdowns, including the nifty game-winner against the Texans. Cooks has a chance to set a career high in receiving yards, and his 17.1 yards per catch is on pace for the best mark of his career and leads the NFL among players with at least 30 catches. To think, he should be even better in the coming months.

The Henry Rowengartner Award

For the Rookie of the Year

Defensive end Deatrich Wise has been a godsend for a defensive edge that lost Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement, Derek Rivers to a torn ACL, Shea McClellin to an injury and Kony Ealy to misguided expectations. Wise is third on the Pats with three sacks, plus second to Flowers with 10 quarterback hits and seven pressures. He also has a run stuff, batted pass and drawn penalty. Something to monitor, though: Wise’s playing time skyrocketed the past three weeks and his production dipped, so it’s vital to keep him as fresh as possible.

The Big Turkey Award

For the unit that needs to improve by Thanksgiving

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said he, his line and Bill Belichick aren’t happy with the group’s performance this season, which should be obvious considering the beating Tom Brady has taken. It’s even more shocking because they’ve got the same group as the successful unit from 2016. Nate Solder, who is clearly dealing with some personal challenges, allowed four sacks in the first three games but hasn’t surrendered one since then. Marcus Cannon got rolled up during the first series of the season and has allowed 6.5 sacks, which is already more than all of last year. Solder has been playing better, and maybe Cannon will benefit from some extra rest. If the tackles turn it around, it’ll make life easier for everyone.

The Buddy the Elf Award

For the guys who need to be at their best by Christmas

Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have been inconsistent. The Patriots have gotten by without them at their best, but the bottom line is they need to get there in time for the playoffs to solidify an improved defense. Gilmore had his best performance while apparently playing through a concussion against the Buccaneers, so he was trending in the right direction before his three-game absence. Butler has allowed five touchdowns this season, one more than he yielded in 19 games in 2016, and the last three games have been a microcosm of his season. He has been largely brilliant, but he has given up a touchdown in each outing — no one would blame him for the Julio Jones catch. Butler just has to shake off that one bad play per game.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Patriots' D at midpoint: Trey Flowers' value to unit has never been higher

The Patriots will need Trey Flowers to be productive and stay healthy in the second half. AP Photo/Steven Senne

By Mike Reiss
November 3, 2017

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When looking at the New England Patriots’ defense at the midpoint of the season, and using playing-time statistics as a prism to do so, one thought jumps to the forefront: Where would the Patriots be without defensive end Trey Flowers?

The 2015 fourth-round draft choice has led the way at arguably the thinnest position on the roster,
and his continued health will be critical for the team in the second half of the season.

Patriots followers could always count on the edge being set with Mike Vrabel and Rob Ninkovich, but that hasn’t been a guarantee this year. It’s why the potential return of the retired Ninkovich has been speculated in media circles, especially after third-round draft choice Derek Rivers tore his ACL in the preseason, linebacker/end Dont’a Hightower tore his pectoral muscle Oct. 22, and trade acquisition Kony Ealy didn’t pan out.

The Patriots’ dangerously thin personnel at end leads off the midpoint snap-count analysis for the D:


Trey Flowers: 91.1

Deatrich Wise Jr.: 51.4
Cassius Marsh: 50.1

Wise has been Patriots’ most productive rookie, with his primary competition coming from undrafted defensive tackle Adam Butler. His work against veteran tackle Russell Okung in Sunday’s win over the Chargers highlighted how his long arms and developing pass-rush repertoire can give even experienced blockers some problems. He looks like a keeper. Meanwhile, Marsh’s best fit appears to be as a nickel rusher. When asked to hold the edge on early downs, there have been some struggles.

Lawrence Guy: 55.4
Malcom Brown: 52.7
Adam Butler: 39.5
Alan Branch: 28.7

Brown, the 2015 first-round pick, has notably improved from last season while Branch was a healthy scratch in Tampa Bay on Oct. 5 but has rebounded to contribute in what is essentially a three-man rotation with Guy and Brown. Butler is learning on the job and appears to have a promising future.

Kyle Van Noy: 95.8
Dont’a Hightower: 44.8
Elandon Roberts: 41.8
David Harris: 8.9
Marquis Flowers: 6.0
Harvey Langi: 1.1
Trevor Reilly: 0.6

Van Noy’s emergence as a signal-caller and every-down player wasn’t projected coming into the season, but Hightower’s injuries (knee, then pectoral) played a part in it unfolding that way. Van Noy’s versatility to sometimes line up at the end of the line of scrimmage puts him in position to fill some of what Hightower did on D. Roberts is a disruptive run-blitzer and hard-hitter, while Harris is finally starting to see the field more; after playing just seven snaps in the first six games, he was on for 19 and 21 each of the last weeks.

Malcolm Butler: 96.2
Stephon Gilmore: 61.8
Johnson Bademosi: 34.8
Jonathan Jones: 32.7
Eric Rowe: 17.0

The play of Gilmore and Rowe early in the season wasn’t up to projected expectations, which led to some rocky moments. With Rowe missing the past four games (groin) and Gilmore the past three (concussion), it has helped build more depth and Bademosi has stepped in and played well, while Jones has twice been lauded by Bill Belichick for his knack for finishing plays. For those who say availability is as important as ability, what’s not to love about Butler? These are his playing-time stats each of the past three years: 98.8, 96.7 and 96.2. The latter number would be even higher if he wasn’t used as the No. 3 option against the Saints on Sept. 17.

Devin McCourty: 99.8
Patrick Chung: 83.0
Duron Harmon: 81.9
Jordan Richards: 24.0
Rob Gronkowski: 0.2

It’s hard to imagine there is another team in the NFL with three safeties who have all topped 80-percent playing time, which reflects what Belichick sometimes says: The Patriots run their big nickel (3 safety package) as much as any team in the NFL. Chung’s versatility to cover tight ends and receivers in the slot is an impressive aspect of his skill set. That’s not a typo: Gronkowski lands in this category after playing one snap, defending a late Hail Mary attempt from Deshaun Watson.

For Jack Hoffman and Rex Burkhead, inspiration is mutual

November 2, 2017
By Angelique Fiske

It was an unlikely friendship from the start, but then again, many of the best are.

A 6-year-old boy and his favorite University of Nebraska running back spent a day together in the fall of 2011 -- eating lunch, touring the football facilities and racing on the field. As a kid growing up in Nebraska, Jack Hoffman looked up to Rex Burkhead as his role model on the football field, but just months after his family gave him his first Burkhead jersey, Rex would come to mean so much more.

When he was just five-years-old, doctors found a brain tumor and were unable to remove the entire tumor safely. So before Jack's second brain surgery in Boston, his family took a chance.

They reached out to the University of Nebraska to see if Jack could meet Rex, and that afternoon together cemented a friendship that neither could have predicted.

Six years later, Rex runs as an NFL player, still wearing the red bracelet Jack gave him the first time they met that reads, "Team Jack Pray." Jack and the Hoffman family still play a huge role in Rex's life and vice versa, as Rex sits on the board of directors of the Team Jack Foundation, and last Sunday when the Patriots took on the Los Angeles Chargers, the Hoffman family was there to cheer him on.

Jack had another MRI scheduled in Boston, and his dad Andy said they planned it so they could be at Gillette Stadium, their first time at a football game in Foxboro. As the skies opened up before the game, the Hoffmans stood on the sideline, putting on ponchos and taking in the moment.

“It’s really just an amazing experience to be able to tie all of this together. Rex has been a very special part of our journey as a family. He’s been with us starting with some of the darkest days of our lives,” Andy said.

Back in 2011, just days before Jack’s second surgery, Rex and the Huskers were trailing to Ohio State late in the game. With Jack as his motivation, Rex pushed himself, scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to help Nebraska comeback with a win.

And while the Patriots didn’t need a comeback on Sunday, Rex had one of the best games of his NFL career, catching all seven passes thrown his way for 68 receiving yards. He career highs in both of those categories, and all with Jack and his family cheering from the stands.

For Rex, the friendship he has forged with Jack and his family has been an inspiration.

“It means everything. For me, it’s an encouraging and inspiring thing just to see how Jack is battling,” Rex said the following day. “He knows what he is going through, but he continues to fight and stay positive and enjoy his life. That’s special and a huge inspiration for me if I have anything going on in my life to look at it a lot differently.”

The connection goes far beyond the football field. As a board member for the Team Jack Foundation, Rex has used his platform to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer, hosting fundraisers and even using the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative to shine a light on it.

“I can’t even really put it into words. He’s been so supportive throughout our whole journey,” said Jack’s mother, Bri. “I can’t really put a price tag on what he’s done for our family and for our foundation. It’s been amazing.”

“What he’s done with his platform is simply amazing,” Andy said. “To me, Rex sets the example of what others could do … It doesn’t matter what the cause is. I would encourage all athletes to look at Rex Burkhead and try to emulate him. Even as a grown adult, I need to be more like Rex Burkhead. He’s someone everybody should look at and say, ‘That’s what you should be like. You should grow up and try to be like him.’”

To learn more about the Team Jack Foundation, visit its website.

Monday, October 30, 2017

NFL assistant coaches on the rise

By Tom Pelissero
October 28, 2017

By any measure, Sean McVay was a unique head coaching candidate a year ago: He was 30 years old, already three years into his role as Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, an experienced play-caller, the product of a football family, a fantastic communicator and mature beyond his age.

The Los Angeles Rams heard the predictable concern as they did their homework -- "He's a couple years away" -- but also knew that, for every Lane Kiffin-level failure, there was a Jon Gruden, Don Shula, John Madden or Mike Tomlin who had jumped out at an early age. McVay did that in his interview and checked every other box. So, the Rams decided to bet on McVay immediately, rather than betting they'd get another shot when others deemed him ready.

Now 31, McVay is all of seven games -- and five wins -- into his NFL head coaching career. I'm not enshrining him in Canton just yet. If going young were a magic formula, Kyle Shanahan (37) and the 49ers wouldn't be 0-7 right now. (Shanahan's wildly talented, too, and has plenty of time on a six-year contract to grow through a roster overhaul.) But it's worth wondering if the life McVay has infused into a Rams franchise that sorely needed it might embolden a few other teams to step outside their comfort zones during the upcoming coaching-search season and ask the question I posed to dozens of NFL executives, GMs, coaches, agents and others this past week:

Who's this year's Sean McVay?

My criteria were loose. Nobody has the experience McVay had at that age; it's hard to even find many under age 40. But my focus was to identify young and, in many cases, less-heralded coordinators and assistant coaches who might get a shot to run the show sooner than expected. Here's a short list of names to remember:

-- Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: The former Arena League quarterback has trained under Andy Reid for a decade, rising to co-offensive coordinator last year, and now he has the solo job. People who have worked with Nagy, 39, say he has done tremendous work with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes and would have Reid's endorsement. Nagy doesn't call plays, but Doug Pederson didn't do that very much in Kansas City before he landed the Eagles' head coaching job, either (nor did Reid in his pre-Philly days). One person who knows Colts general manager Chris Ballard says Nagy will be high (if not first) on Ballard's list if Indianapolis makes a change. The two worked together in Kansas City.

-- Kris Richard, defensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks: A former NFL defensive back, Richard is known as a very good leader and speaker -- traits you need to be heard in a Seahawks meeting room filled with strong personalities. He was an assistant on both of Seattle's Super Bowl teams and was promoted to coordinator in 2015. One NFL executive who knows Richard, 38, said he's ready for a head job -- it'd just need to be at the right place, with time on his side and a strong GM overseeing personnel. The Bills interviewed Richard last year and told people he did well.

-- Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator, Houston Texans: The 14-year NFL veteran followed Bill O'Brien's branch of the Bill Belichick tree to Houston, and Vrabel, 42, was promoted to defensive coordinator this year. O'Brien's assessment of Vrabel when we spoke in June: "He's a great leader. He's a very good communicator. He's got that good ability to be tough on his players, but also have a chance to put his arm around them and pick them up. He's got a good motivational way about him. Brings a lot of cachet to the field, because he played 14 years, played in a [Patriots] defense that required a lot of smart people and a lot of communication." The Rams requested an interview with Vrabel last year, but they hired McVay before it happened.

-- Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator, New England Patriots: I almost disqualified him from this list, given the fact that his profile is much higher than the others (and not just because of his post-Super Bowlwardrobe choices). But his name comes up in every conversation about the NFL's bright, young assistants. Patricia, 43, has won two rings in five-and-a-half years as Patriots defensive coordinator, and he interviewed the past couple of years with the Browns, Rams and Chargers. He's smart (rocket science!) and engaging. Several people told me they've gotten the impression it'd have to be a perfect fit to convince Patricia to leave New England.

-- John DeFilippo, quarterbacks coach, Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz said he was excited the Eaglesblocked DeFilippo, 39, from interviewing for the Jets' offensive coordinator job, and why not? People who know him say he's energetic, passionate and fun to work with. One former colleague with the Raiders recalls DeFilippo even embraced trying to get something out of all-time bust JaMarcus Russell (who had his only modestly functional season with DeFilippo as his QB coach in Oakland in 2008). He's highly motivated to be a head coach and has a plan. He's a bit of a wild card, because he only has one year of experience as a coordinator, on a doomed staff in Cleveland in 2015. The 49ers interviewed him the following January.

-- Todd Downing, offensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: Tough sell right now, with the Raiders' offense struggling out of the gate in his first season calling the plays. But they made sure to keep Downing, 37, for a reason. The traits people in Oakland describe are what teams look for in a head coach: great communicator, relates to players, has organizational skills and personality. Some people even pushed him as a candidate last year. Said one coach who has worked with Downing: "He has head coach written all over him."

-- Matt Burke, defensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins: A 13-year NFL assistant who replaced close colleague Vance Joseph (now the Broncos' head coach) as coordinator this year, Burke was the guy I knew the least about on this list, until NFL people kept bringing up his name. Scouting report from people Burke, 41, has worked with: very smart, great communication skills, adjusts well on game day, good leader, players respond to him. Said one NFL executive I respect: "If I said, 'Who's the next Sean McVay?' it would be Matt Burke."

A few other young coaches to keep an eye on in the coming years: Jim Bob Cooter (age 33), offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions; Matt LaFleur (37), offensive coordinator, Los Angeles Rams; Marquand Manuel (38), defensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons; David Raih (37), offensive perimeter coach, Green Bay Packers.

Top candidates

The full field of head coaching candidates is shaping up a little like last year's: It's Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and everyone else. McDaniels, 41, is reflective about how things went in his first head coaching stint with the Broncos (11-17 in Denver) and has learned a lot since. He pulled out of the 49ers' coaching search last year and will remain selective, but I'm told he's ready and excited if the right opportunity comes. Other names that came up in my conversations with people around the league, several of whom had interviews last year:

Those who would be getting their first shot: Frank Reich, offensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles; Steve Wilks, defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers; Paul Guenther, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals; Dave Toub, special teams coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs; Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions.

Those who would be getting a second chance: Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings; Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles; Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos; Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills; Tom Cable, offensive line coach/assistant head coach, Seattle Seahawks; Mike Smith, defensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

White whales: Former Raiders and Bucs coach Jon Gruden, Stanford coach David Shaw, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

5 thoughts following the Cats' latest win

By Justin Rowland | Publisher
October 30, 2017

Five thoughts following Kentucky's win over Tennessee, which moved the Cats to 6-2 and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

It really doesn't matter how good you think Kentucky is or isn't.

What matters is through eight games the Cats are 6-2. If you're trying to gauge "how good Kentucky really is" then you can find whatever evidence supports your point. It's certainly true that Kentucky could be worse than 6-2, but the Cats were also a series of unfortunate events away from being 7-1 and most people would probably take Kentucky's 6-2 over Florida's 3-4. The schedule is far from the toughest Kentucky has faced in recent or much longer history, but that doesn't matter. A decade from now very few people are going to be talking about Kentucky's strength of schedule, but a lot of people will remember how many games were won in 2017 and what bowl game the Cats reached. You can only play the schedule you're given.

For the doubters, there are only four regular season games left. The season is two-thirds of the way over, and no matter how much improving you think Kentucky needs to do, three of their four remaining games (Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Louisville) seem very winnable.

It really was all about beating Tennessee.

During the heat of a game it's easy for anyone (myself included) to get caught up in what's going right and what's going wrong. Overreactions are always going to happen anytime humans are involved. We're good at snap judgments and we're prisoners of the present moment to varying degrees.

But at the end of the day, it really was all about beating Tennessee. It's the second time in more than three decades that it's happened, and the second time in the same period of time that Kentucky is 6-2.
You're still going to hear about how often Tennessee has beat Kentucky because it will make for a nice graphic anytime the SEC Network is showcasing games in the series to the casual fan, but now that Kentucky has won two against UT since 2010, it doesn't sting nearly as bad.

I hope you're appreciating Stephen Johnson, because he really does just win.

Johnson is now 13-6 as Kentucky's primary quarterback over the last two seasons. Over the past two weeks the passing numbers have regressed to some of the uglier numbers from last season and more than once in a while Johnson reminds you that he's not an elite passer. But when he went out of the game with an injury that was clearly very painful, and came back in, was there any doubt that he would sacrifice limb and seemingly life to pick up that extra yard and do whatever it takes to win a football game?

Kentucky's football turnaround in the Mark Stoops era is due to a lot of things. Vince Marrow's recruiting, Eddie Gran building an offense that's more conducive to wins based on Kentucky's personnel and program strengths/weaknesses, but just as much as anything, Johnson's penchant for making the big play at the right time.

Beyond the intangibles, at this point it's clear that it's Johnson's mobility that has won several of these games.

Benny Snell had his best moment of 2017 and showed some real maturity last night.

When Snell fumbled in the Southern Miss game, during the Cats' season opener, he did not respond well. He went on to miss several holes and ran with less confidence than he did in 2016. He didn't fumble again until last night, but he promptly put the miscue behind him and on the very next drive ripped off the huge run and followed it up with his first of three rushing scores. That showed some real maturity on his part and perhaps learning from an earlier response, against Southern Miss, that hindered his productivity for a little while.

If the offensive line has rightfully been the object of blame for much of 2017, the unit deserves a lot of credit for Kentucky's win against Tennessee.

What a difficult year it must have been for John Schlarman until last night. He returned what many believed would be one of the SEC's top offensive lines, but the Cats' front has struggle with snaps, penalties, missed assignments and simply getting pushed backwards. But last night there was some serious redemption. The line handled a very talented Tennessee front, got plenty of push off the ball, blew open holes, avoided bad mistakes and kept Johnson clean unless he wanted to run, which he did for more than 80 yards.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Blythe’s Practice Time Allows for Seamless Transition

October 24, 2017
By Kristen Lago

Losing your starting center is never ideal for an NFL team. But for the Rams in particular, anytime starter John Sullivan goes down during a game — as he did in Week 7 against Arizona — the transition is made easier because of who takes his place.

Austin Blythe, a former Iowa standout, joined the Rams in May after he was claimed off of waivers from the Colts. Since then he has proven himself as both a capable and dependable player with solid technique.

So far this season, Blythe has had to step in for Sullivan on two occasions
— once against the 49ers and most recently against the Cardinals. In both instances, his effort was met with high praise from head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff.

“I thought Austin Blythe stepped in again and did a nice job,” McVay said Sunday. “Those guys are getting better and they’re getting more comfortable playing together as well.”

“Austin again did a great job stepping in,” Goff said. “He’s done it twice now and his ability to come in there cold and be able to kind of just pick it up on the move and not really hit any speed bumps is really impressive.”

Much of that seamless transition stems from Blythe being able to practice with the other starting linemen on Wednesdays. As part of the team’s maintenance program, Sullivan is one of a few veteran players held out of practice each week in an effort to keep them healthy come game time. McVay says Wednesday’s sessions have “been very helpful, as [Blythe] is able to go through some of the looks that we anticipate.”

“Some of those looks came up and I think it helps Austin continue to gain a command on all the communication that’s involved from that center spot,” McVay said. “I think it’s a big reason why he’s handled the playing time that he’s had this year pretty seamlessly and he’s done a great job filling in when John’s had to step out.”

On Sunday against Arizona, Blythe was instrumental facilitating a lengthy 10-minute drive in the fourth quarter. The series consisted of five converted third downs and culminated in an 18-yard touchdown by wide receiver Cooper Kupp. It also helped drain the clock, all but sealing the Rams’ 33-0 shutout victory.

Right guard Jamon Brown praised Blythe’s efficiency in Sunday’s contest, saying there was “no drop off or decline in the level of communication or the level of play.” He also credited Blythe’s ability to practice with the starting line as key to his success.

“It’s been huge,” Brown said. “Having him on Wednesdays and being able to work on things that he would not have necessarily worked [on] if Sully went on Wednesdays has been huge in game time. … Building confidence that we have in him and obviously his confidence — you see that just riding an all-time high.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Have the New England Patriots finally figured out the recipe to fix their defensive struggles?

Sep 17, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98). Photo Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

By Ian Carrano

October 24, 2017

Through the first six games of the season, the New England Patriots’ defense has struggled on the defensive side of the ball in numerous areas. Partially due to injuries, the team has been inconsistent thus far even against some weaker competition. The secondary has especially been the main source of the team’s struggles on defense, as it has allowed at least 300 yards passing to each of the team’s opponents through week 6. That streak came to an end Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons in a Super Bowl rematch when the team limited Matt Ryan to only 233 yards passing and a touchdown, which is a good sign for a struggling secondary. It has only been one game, but against an offense with a multitude of weapons, it was impressive to see the adjustments the team made following a week surrendering 408 total yards to a much weaker New York Jets offensive group. The team may not have everything figured out on the defensive end just yet, but Sunday’s performance is certainly a step in the right direction.

Forced to play without their No.2 and No.3 corner-backs in Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe for the third straight game, the Patriots looked destined to have a tough time defending against a Falcons receiving corps lead by Julio Jones and Mohammad Sanu. That wasn’t the case Sunday night as Jonathan Jones, Johnson Bademosi, and Malcolm Butler held their own in the secondary. Bademosi, who was acquired from the Detroit Lions for a late round pick, fared well filling in for the injured Gilmore, and provided the Patriots with strong coverage on Jones when Butler was asked to defend other receivers. Jones finished with 9 receptions for 99 yards and a score, but was held in check throughout the game. His lone touchdown came in garbage time, which was well defended by Butler and nearly picked off in the end-zone. Most of his production came on the Falcon’s final drive of the night at the end of the game where Jones caught 3 receptions for 21 yards and touchdown, which is impressive considering the team’s previous struggles against opposing wide receivers.

Sanu finished with only six receptions for 65 yards, which was also a good sign for the Patriots’ secondary. With Jones facing double coverage through most of the game, Sanu was targeted more often leading to his six receptions. Facing off against a variety of Patriots corner-backs throughout the night, he was limited from his normal production; something that can be credited to the Patriots’ strong play. However, other than Sanu and Jones, the Falcons got limited production from their other weapons. Only Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Devont’a Freeman, and Austin Hooper got involved in the passing game, but all failed to eclipse more than 30 yards receiving. It was a quiet night in the passing game for the Falcons, primarily due to the strong play from the Patriots’ secondary.

This season, the Patriots’ run defense has allowed multiple big runs that have kept the defense on the field. The team had success against the Falcons in preventing these big runs despite facing up against two capable running backs in Tevin Coleman and Freeman. Freeman finished with 72 yards on 12 carries, but failed to reach the end-zone; something the Patriots struggled with during the Super Bowl. Although Freeman had a few good runs during the game, he struggled to get going on the ground, partially due to the team falling behind 17-0 at halftime.

Through seven games, the Patriots’ run defense has allowed 116 yards per game to their opponents. Ranked 22nd in the league in that category, the Patriots have some work to do to establish themselves as a complete defensive team. The recent play of Trey Flowers has proven to be a big part of the team’s improvement against the run. Although he is mostly known to be an effective pass rusher off the edge, Flowers has also made big plays in the backfield, which has given the Patriots an effective run-stopping option on the defensive line.

However, a big part of the team’s struggles against the run can be connected to Dont’a Hightower‘s absence to injury this season. He has only played in three games this season, which has left a big gap in the defense. As the team’s leader on defense, Hightower’s absence affected the overall chemistry of the Patriots’ defense. With lack of experience in the team’s linebacker group, teams were able to take advantage of mismatches, leading to some of the big runs. With Hightower on the field, the Patriots’ defense has proven to be much better, which is why it is crucial for the veteran to stay healthy. A large part of the team’s improvement is due to Hightower’s presence on the field, which will help in making the Patriots’ defense much more consistent than it’s been half way through the season.

The Patriots still have plenty of work to do to be considered a championship contending defense, but are trending in the right direction. Mid-way through the season, the Patriots have proven their ability to make big plays late in games, which is a crucial part in becoming a successful defense. The team is also more disciplined and will continue to improve in that category. Despite the lack of consistency this season, Sunday’s showcase has given the Patriots a blueprint of how to fix their weaknesses on defense.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

By Rich Tandler
October 20, 2017

Those who doubted the wisdom of the Redskins drafting a guard with the fifth overall pick in 2015 (yes, I was one of them) should be preparing to eat their words.

On draft day and during the two and a half years since then, there has been plenty of talk that the Redskins would regret taking Brandon Scherff, who played tackle in college but seemed destined to play guard in the NFL, so early. Not that anyone thought that Scherff would be a bad NFL player but given that they left DL Leonard Williams and edge rusher Vic Beasley on the board, he needed to develop into an All-Pro caliber guard to justify such a high pick.

Well, don’t look now but Scherff is making his way towards becoming one of the best guards in the game. Not just Pro Bowl good; he checked that box last year. Scherff could become the first Redskins position player to be named a first-team All-Pro since Darrell Green and Jim Lachey earned the honors in 1991.

Asked about Scherff’s play this year, Jay Gruden was effusive in his praise.

“He’s reacting. He’s anticipating. He’s pulling. He’s pass-blocking. He’s run-blocking. He’s double teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him.”

Gruden is not exactly an unbiased observer. But other, more neutral analysts also have been heaping praise on Scherff.

An article on Pro Football Focus said that Scherff had an “elite” game against the 49ers, not allowing any pass rush pressures and dominating as a run blocker.

Two other analysts clipped some plays from the 49ers game to illustrate just how well he was playing.

This one from Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network shows one play, the 49-yard screen pass to Chris Thompson on which Scherff threw a key block.

Brandon Scherff with a key block downfield to spring Chris Thompson

I’m not sure what the scouting credentials Brandon Thorn has but he did put together a nice collection of clips of Scherff making quality blocks both in space and in the interior vs. the 49ers.

Brandon Scherff is playing as well as any RG in football this season. Elite 2nd level/space blocker, puller, and finisher.

Will Scherff earn All-Pro honors? That could depend on how well the team does. While the All-Pro teams are supposed to be individual honors, it’s tough for an offensive lineman to get many votes if he’s not on a winning team, especially on like Scherff who would be trying to break into the club for the first time.

But the Redskins are not really worried about All-Pro votes. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing and he gets no such consideration it will be fine with them.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brandon Scherff cements himself among elite interior O-linemen

Brandon Scherff was taken fifth in the 2015 NFL Draft by former Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan. He was picked before defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who was available and widely considered the best player in the draft.

By Brandon Thorn
October 18, 2017

Once it was announced that the team would switch Scherff from left tackle (LT) to right guard (RG), people began doubting the logic of drafting an interior offensive lineman (IOL) so highly. The last time an offensive lineman was picked inside the top five of the draft and inserted into the interior as a rookie was Mike Williams in 2002, so naturally the 13-year gap for this scenario raised concerns among most fans and pundits.

Scherff made the transition from the left to the right side of the offensive line, and from tackle to guard from Day 1 of his first training camp… and has not looked back since. Scherff has drastically improved his consistency and technique in each of his first 2.5 seasons, earning a trip to his first-career Pro Bowl in 2016. Through the first six weeks of 2017, Scherff looks well on his way to earning an All-Pro nod, and has cemented himself among the elite IOL in the NFL.

Scherff’s dominance begins with his athletic ability (AA) and mental processing. These two traits, along with taking superior angles in space, combine to create elite play speed. No other IOL plays faster in space on screens or second-level blocks than Scherff. His elite competitive toughness forges an unmatched ability to fit, latch, and finish against second- and third-level defenders.

Through six weeks Scherff has elevated the proficiency in his technique to an elite level, validating his draft slot in the top five and providing the Redskins their second elite OL, joining teammate and LT Trent Williams in this rarefied air. There are no glaring weaknesses to Scherff’s skill set, which possesses the critical factors and position-specific traits I have not seen matched on tape from another RG this season. At just 25 years old and barely into the prime of his career, Scherff has reached a level only Cowboy RG Zack Martin and Raven RG Marshal Yanda have recently matched.

Led by O-line coach Bill Callahan, Washington’s OL continues to elevate itself to rival the best units in the league, largely due to the rapid development of Scherff. I would be surprised to not see Scherff at worst earn his second trip to the Pro Bowl by season’s end, and likely a selection to his first All-Pro team.

Credit assistant Mike Devlin for his work with Texans' offensive line

By Aaron Wilson, Houston Chronicle
October 18, 2017

Quarterbacks kept crashing to the ground during the first game of the season.

Heavy-handed bull-rushes were delivered to the chest and midsections of the Texans' blockers as they were rudely shoved into the backfield.

General chaos ensued as the Texans' offensive line was dominated during a 29-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Since allowing a franchise-record 10 sacks in that defeat, the situation has stabilized and pass protection improved. The Texans have benefited by the upgraded mobility that went along with installing rookie Deshaun Watson as the starting quarterback.

Over the past five games, the Texans have allowed 11 sacks. While they rank 28th in the NFL in that category, the offensive line has improved after opening the season as a major liability when Tom Savage was sacked six times in one half.

"I'm proud of these guys because of the way things started out," Texans offensive line coach Mike Devlin said. "We talk about it every week. This is where we started and where do we want to be at the end of this? That's really all you can do as a unit and try to keep progressing every week.

"Every week is a tough matchup. Every week (defenses) have great players. These guys know where they are at. I love coaching them because every week they come out to prepare to try to get better."

Toward that goal, the Texans have relied heavily on Devlin. In his third season with the team, Devlin has drawn praise for his ability to develop linemen and devise strategies to get the most out of his players.

As a former NFL offensive lineman, Devlin relates well to the challenges the line faces each week and has remained patient with the Texans' blockers during games they've struggled in.

"I don't even know where to begin with Mike Devlin," coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think he's one of the best line coaches I've ever been around. I've been around some great line coaches. I've been around Dante Scarnecchia, I've been around Doug Marrone, I've been around Ralph Friedgen, Pat Watson, Mac McWhorter.

"The list of offensive line coaches that I've been around and Mike Devlin's right there at the top. He's a great teacher. He's got a great demeanor. He really creates unity in his room. That's a real brotherhood within that room. They believe in him. I believe in him. I just think he's a very, very vital part of the staff."

No Brown in sight

The Texans have progressed significantly as an offense without their top offensive lineman.

Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown remains absent due to a contract holdout that has lasted six games and cost him $3.31 million in game checks. Brown already had his $9.65 million base salary reduced to $9.4 million for triggering a de-escalator clause for skipping the offseason. He racked up over $1.5 million in fines for not reporting to training camp.

Just prior to the start of the season, Brown said: "I definitely plan on playing football this year."

However, no compromise is in sight between the Texans and Brown. The former first-round draft pick remains on the reserve-did not report list.

Chris Clark has started at left tackle since the Texans benched Kendall Lamm.

"I coach who's there," Devlin said when asked about Brown. "He's doing what he feels is the best for him. For the team's sake, for my family's sake, for the guys in that room grinding it out, that's what I'm coaching."
The Texans have been adapting to how Watson operates, learning they have to hold their blocks and stay aware he could change directions and take off running at any moment.

"Obviously, he's a special player," center Nick Martin said. "You've got to block to the echo of the whistle."

The Texans believe Martin has the makings of being a special player.

A second-round draft pick from Notre Dame last year, Martin was sidelined for his rookie season when he underwent ankle surgery.

Martin has started every game this season and displayed an aggressive mentality and strong technique and footwork.

"I'm real happy with how he approached, actually started last year when he couldn't play," Devlin said. "Learning the system, his communication and then really being his rookie year, his week-to-week preparation. Really his communication with Deshaun, I think they're really bonding that way, and that's helped."

Allen coming around

A year ago, Texans right offensive guard Jeff Allen had a rough season after signing a four-year, $28 million contract as the replacement for Brandon Brooks. He dealt with an ankle injury that required offseason surgery, dealt with a concussion and had issues adjusting to a new position.

Since returning from a high-ankle sprain and getting shoved around during the Jaguars game, Allen has played much better.

"I feel like he's being more consistent this year, more physical, better on his pulls," Devlin said. "I feel like both him and Clark relative to last year have taken the coaching and the criticism, if you will, and tried to improve on those areas."

Another new starter for the Texans is right tackle Breno Giacomini. Giacomini started for Devlin when he was coaching the New York Jets' offensive line. Giacomini plays with a nasty streak.

"He's old-school," Devlin said. "He's going to defend his own. He's going to fight. He's a brawler type."

That fits right in with Devlin's feisty style.

"Coach Devlin is awesome," Martin said. "He played the game. He really gets it from our point of view."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Redskins G Brandon Scherff puts forth an elite effort against 49ers

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 24: Brandon Scherff #75 of the Washington Redskins in action during the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Washington defeated Chicago 41-21. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

By Brett Whitefield

October 17, 2017

• The Washington Redskins pulled out a tight win Week 6 against the San Francisco 49ers. A key component in the team’s win was getting a monster performance from right guard Brandon Scherff, who put up an absurd 96.3 game grade, the top game grade among guards on the season.

Scherff was dominant in the run game, producing the season’s highest run-block grade across all positions of 99.8. His impact run block percentage of 34.4 percent led the NFL this week, as he routinely won his block at the point of attack and got to the second level.

Not allowing a single pressure on 42 pass-block snaps, Scherff kept a clean sheet in pass protection also.

• With his huge game this week Scherff now ranks third among guards with an overall grade of 85.0. His run block grade of 91.8 ranks second.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The best run stuffers on the defensive line in Week 6

October 16, 2017

Katie Smith Replaces Bill Laimbeer as Liberty Coach

Katie Smith before a June 2016 game. Smith was named Laimbeer’s replacement as the Liberty’s head coach on Monday. CreditJuan Ocampo/NBAE, via Getty Images

October 16, 2017

Katie Smith, one of the most decorated players in W.N.B.A. history, has been named coach of the Liberty, the team announced Monday morning.

Since 2014, Smith has been an assistant under Bill Laimbeer, who began coaching the Liberty in 2013. But over the last week, an unexpected string of events altered the W.N.B.A. landscape, leading to Smith’s promotion.

The San Antonio Stars confirmed on Thursday that they were in negotiations to sell and relocate the team. The Stars began as one of the W.N.B.A.’s original franchises in 1997 as the Utah Starzz. Since the 2003 season, the team has played in San Antonio and currently shares ownership with the N.B.A.’s San Antonio Spurs.

ESPN and The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, reported that the team expected to relocate to Las Vegas once its sale was completed. The Golden Knights of the N.H.L. became the city’s first professional sports franchise this month, and the N.F.L.’s Oakland Raiders are scheduled to move to Las Vegas for the 2019 or 2020 season.

On Friday, multiple news media reports, said that Laimbeer would become the coach and general manager of the new Las Vegas team. The Stars finished in last place in each of the last three seasons.

The league has yet to disclose the potential buyer because the negotiations were ongoing.

Laimbeer missed the playoffs during his first two seasons with the Liberty and was fired after the 2014 season. But Laimbeer was rehired in January 2015 shortly after Isiah Thomas, his former teammate with the Detroit Pistons, began working as an adviser to the Liberty front office.

Creating a style focused on relentless defensive pressure and the diverse offense of Tina Charles, a former W.N.B.A. most valuable player, the Liberty excelled in 2015, finishing at 23-11, with their most wins in franchise history and the best regular-season record in the league that season. Laimbeer was named coach of the year, an award he won in 2003 with the Detroit Shock, with whom he won three W.N.B.A. titles before coming to the Liberty.

The Liberty made the playoffs the last three seasons, but they have never won an W.N.B.A. championship.

Laimbeer credited Smith, who won two titles with him in Detroit, with implementing the Liberty’s defensive schemes. In 2016, Laimbeer allowed Smith to coach the final regular-season game of the year, after the Liberty were already locked into their playoff seeding.

Smith, 43, has long been viewed as Laimbeer’s successor, although a change was not expected to occur this off-season. In 2013, Laimbeer signed Smith as a player to provide veteran leadership, and she was preparing for a transition into coaching the following year.

Smith scored more than 6,000 points in a 15-year W.N.B.A. career, and won three Olympic gold medals with the United States national team. Last year she was named one of the league’s top 20 players in its history.

“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to promote Katie Smith — unquestionably one of the best to ever play the game of basketball —- to head coach of the New York Liberty,” Thomas said in statement. “Katie has transitioned from an all-time great player to phenomenal coach during her time with the Liberty, which has included the most successful stretch of basketball in franchise history.”

Smith is respected by players but could overhaul the Liberty roster this off-season. Under the W.N.B.A.’s new playoff format instituted in 2016, the Liberty, despite finishing toward the top of the standings, have been eliminated in single-elimination games in the postseason.

Charles remains a perennial M.V.P. candidate, but the league has become dominated by teams in Minnesota and Los Angeles that are built around several players of such caliber.

Making an impact: Parkston native Reiff embracing role with Vikings

By Eric Mayer
October 15, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS -- Letting his game do the talking, Riley Reiff is thriving as a Minnesota Viking.

Six games into the 2017 regular season and roughly eight months after signing a five-year, $58.75 million contract, Reiff continues to showcase his talents that made him a household name in South Dakota.

On Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Parkston native helped pave the way for a Vikings offense that outgained the Green Bay Packers 351-227 in a 23-10 NFC North victory.

“I’m just trying to work hard and help the team win in anyway possible,” Reiff told The Daily Republic after the game. “Any time you play a division team, it’s going to be a tough game and you’re going to be in for a fight. It was today, hats off to the Packers, but it’s good to get the win.”

Coming over from another Black and Blue Division city — Detroit, where he spent the first five years of his career — Reiff has gotten comfortable in Vikings’ purple and playing closer to home.

“It’s been good. I’m enjoying it,” said Reiff, who has started all six games for Minnesota this season. “I’ve had to give more tickets up, but it’s been fun. I’m close to home. I know a lot of people up in the area.”

Reiff’s impact has been quick and steady. He’s settled in as one of the Vikings’ five team captains and stabilized the left tackle position, one that was a revolving door and highly scrutinized during an 8-8 campaign for Minnesota a year ago.

Standing 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Reiff has been a key piece on Minnesota’s offensive line that has helped the Vikings rank in the top-10 for fewest sacks allowed, most yards per play and turnover percentage.

“He’s a tough, nasty guy,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said about Reiff. “You know what you are going to get out of Riley on every down. He’s gonna fight his tail off and he shows that every play.”

It showed against the Packers Sunday, a game in which Reiff and the offensive line kept Clay Matthews and company away from quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum, filling in for starter Sam Bradford, completed 24 of 38 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown, along with one interception.

In his postgame press conference, the former University of Houston standout had high praise for Reiff and the offensive line.

“They are doing a great job of, first of all, identifying fronts. Green Bay really came after us today and they mixed up their pressure and mixed up their fronts,” said Keenum, who wasn’t sacked during the game. “They’re playing their tails off. It’s been fun to be back there behind those guys.”

Representing South Dakota

It wasn’t just the passing game that benefitted from Reiff and the offensive line. The Vikings found success in the rushing attack against the Packers totalling 112 yards on the ground.

Fullback C.J. Ham, who was standout at Augustana University alongside Mitchell natives Jason and Justin Greenway, said Reiff is showing why the Vikings signed him as a free agent.

“(Reiff) brings a lot of experience, a lot of strength and (he) pretty much relies on what he knows. He’s a good player,” Ham said. “He’s done a phenomenal job of protecting the quarterback and us (running backs and fullbacks) as well.”

Ham noted Reiff, who is second on the team in games played for offensive lineman, doesn’t try to do too much and doesn’t make many mistakes. On Sunday, which was Reiff’s 75th start of his career, the 2012 first-round draft pick was flagged only once for a false start penalty just before the last play of the first half.

“It all starts up front,” Ham said. “They’ve been playing great, playing assignment sound and getting their job done. It really helps our team.”

At 28, Reiff joined the Vikings shortly after Chad Greenway, a Mount Vernon native, announced his retirement from the purple and gold. Greenway, who played 11 years with the Vikings, was one of the first people to congratulate Reiff when he signed with Minnesota.

Rudolph, who played alongside Greenway for six seasons, poked some fun at his former teammate when asked about comparing Greenway and Reiff.

“Riley’s way better than Chad,” Rudolph said with a smirk. “It’s not even close. … Naw, they’re both Iowa guys, as well, and they are guys that didn’t have a ton of scholarship offers coming out of high school. … (Reiff) worked hard. He earned it and nothing was given to him.”

Ham, who is very familiar with South Dakota after his time in Sioux Falls, said Reiff exemplifies the state.

“There’s not a lot of NFL players that come out of that South Dakota, Iowa area,” Ham said. “He’s definitely a big name there and I know a lot of people in South Dakota that look up to him.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Vince Marrow helped Kentucky Wildcats land Kevin Knox

Knox’s surprise commitment was helped by fellow players, Vince Marrow, and, of course, John Calipari.

By Graham Duncan

October 11, 2017

No one was expecting Kevin Knox to commit to the University of Kentucky.

All the top recruiting gurus had picked Duke or North Carolina has foregone conclusions to land the 6’9”, 5-star forward; Kentucky was nowhere in the mix.

But, after being recruited by other 5-star, future Wildcats and Kentucky football recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, Knox provided Calipari with one of the coups of the 2017 recruiting cycle
and became the final piece of a loaded Kentucky squad.

Kyle Tucker’s story on SEC Country tells the full story of Knox’s unusual recruitment. It all started at the McDonald’s All-American game. UK commits Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington, and Nick Richards gave Knox the full pitch, including the famous BBN cookies.

Knox’s refusal to eat the baked goods was a snub that most Wildcats fans felt was a sign that he definitely would not be coming to UK. But the gesture, as well as the intensity with which those guys recruited him, showed Knox just what kind of guys he would be playing with as a Wildcat.

Said Knox, “...just seeing them recruiting me even after they got all those people, it was great to see. I loved the way they recruited me.”

The most incredible part of this story, to me, is the selflessness with which these star players recruited Knox. Jarred Vanderbilt, the player who stood the most to lose by Knox’s presence in Lexington, was one of the most vocal recruiters of Knox during the week of the All-American game.

The second piece of Knox’s recruitment finds its home on the gridiron with UK’s football recruiter extraordinaire Vince Marrow. Marrow was playing for the Buffalo Bills in 1994, when that organization drafted Kevin Knox, Sr., a wide receiver from Florida State.

As Knox’s recruitment heated up, Marrow and Knox, Sr. were able to reconnect. Knox enjoyed his time with Marrow and got the full spiel from the recruiter. Knox played football in high school, but once he hit his growth spurt, football was no longer the best option.

Marrow, being the ace recruiter he is for Mark Stoops, was called on to assist John Calipari this time to help get Knox.

But even after the cookies and the family connect with Marrow, it was Calipari who sealed the deal for Knox and his family. Knox, Sr. spoke about his recruitment with Bobby Bowden and how he felt about Coach Cal.

In the end, Knox kept his decision to come to UK a secret from everyone but his parents. His decision to play for Cal and the Wildcats proved to be the last piece to complete this team. It's a young team, it's a talented team, and Kevin Knox fits right in to the mix. I can’t wait to see him suit up this fall and watch what he can do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Brandon Scherff is the best guard in the NFL, according to Chris Cooley

By Dan Steinberg
October 10, 2017

The debate about whether you take a guard with a top-five pick in the NFL draft — even a very good guard like Brandon Scherff — should be over, according to Redskins analyst Chris Cooley. Because Cooley doesn’t think Scherff is a very good guard. He thinks he is the best guard in the NFL.

“Watching this game, and him so far this season with his progression from last year, I don’t care what anybody says about whether you draft a guard with the first 10 picks,” Cooley said in his review of Washington’s Oct. 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs during his ESPN 980 program. “You do draft the best guard in the NFL with the first 10 picks, and he is that.”

“Good job, Scot,” eventually joked co-host Kevin Sheehan, referring to ex-general manager Scot McCloughan, who faced some heat over the pick.

“Good job, whoever drafted him,” Cooley said.

It was McCloughan, of course, who took some criticism over the unconventional choice of Scherff in the 2015 draft, when many fans were clamoring for a defensive lineman, and many analysts were insisting that guards should never be selected quite that high. McCloughan has long defended the pick — he recently wrote that it was one of the two best picks he made during his time in Washington — but I’m not sure anyone has ever praised the third-year guard as effusively as Cooley did after the Chiefs game, calling him the best player in that game, on either team.

“Brandon Scherff was incredible,” Cooley said. “He was knocking dudes down throughout this game at a rate that I haven’t seen offensive linemen knock dudes down. Just pancake blocking, KO blocking. . . . He had great vision as a pass blocker, great protection one-on-one when he had to be one-on-one. . . . He’s so good in space when he’s pulling, when he’s moving. He’s so physical. . . . He is gritty. He gets down and dirty. He is technically sound. He’s physical. He’s everything you ask for.”

The folks who re-watch NFL games and pick out noteworthy offensive line plays have also enjoyed Scherff’s play in recent weeks.

But there’s a difference between pulling out highlights and making declarative statements about where a player ranks among his peers. ESPN’s Jon Gruden started the party even before the Chiefs game, saying Scherff “is having an unbelievable season” and that “he made three or four plays against Oakland that are jaw-dropping.” And then Cooley took it to the next level.

“You say whatever you want to say about drafting a guard; you didn’t just draft a guard, you drafted the best guard in the NFL,” Cooley said. “He’ll be all-pro this year, no question. No question about it. If he’s healthy, he’s all-pro, first-team all-pro. Best guard in the NFL. Best right guard in the league. I’d put him up against anybody, and I would not question it for one second.”

WATCH: Brandon Scherff block on Justin Houston

WATCH: Scherff protects runner

WATCH: Scherff semi-truck

WATCH: Scherff nice cut block

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