Friday, September 29, 2017

Disrespectful block of the week: Brandon Scherff blocked Washington to a big Week 3 win

Retired NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz hands out the weekly blocking awards from Week 3 in the NFL.

By Geoff Schwartz

September 28, 2017

Disrespectful Blocks of the Week is back for Week 3! Got some excellent blocks lined up that I know y’all will enjoy. Thank you again for sending me suggestions to me on Twitter, @geoffschwartz. I love how y’all are getting involved in the process.

We will start off in Washington with right guard Brandon Scherff who gets two blocks on this reel. The first is a blistering knockdown of a blitzing safety. In pass protection, when our man goes away, we are taught to find work. I’ve talked about getting a slab of ribs, well, this was the whole animal here. The safety doesn’t see him and Scherff launches him.

Next up for Scherff is a screen block. He punches the man over him and almost sends him to the ground. His first assignment is checking for a peel back, but there’s no one there so he takes off down the field. Look at him moving. He lines up the safety and boom, takes him out with a wicked cut. The poor Raiders defender goes head over heels:

Disrespectful Block of the Week 3: Brandon Scherff

The 5 Toughest Linemen I’ve Ever Faced

September 20, 2017

By Gerald McCoy

Yo, they got a comments section on this article?

If they do, cool. If not, then I want y’all to go find this on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, because I need everybody to answer one question for me. It’s a yes-or-no question, but you also gotta give an explanation. That’s important. It’s like when you took a test in high school. You must support your answer.

Here we go:

Is Batman a superhero?

I say definitely yes. But I’m biased. I got a life-size Batman statue in my man cave at home. He’s actually my favorite superhero because he’s just as powerful as the other superheroes, but he doesn’t have any superpowers. His greatest attribute is that he’s highly intelligent. He’s just a regular dude who always finds a way to get the job done.

That’s kind of how I look at myself as a football player.

A lot of people consider me to be a big guy. I’m 6′ 4″, 300 pounds or whatever, so I’m not a small human. But in the NFL, all the defensive tackles are pretty big dudes. And if you look at my combine stats, I didn’t have freakish numbers. I didn’t bench as much as other guys at my position. I didn’t run as fast. I didn’t jump as high. My numbers weren’t bad, they just weren’t freakish. They weren’t superhuman.

But when you watch me play, I figure out a way to get the job done.

That’s because I rely on things like my work ethic and my preparation. I try to be in peak condition so I can outlast guys in the fourth quarter. And I watch a ton of film so I can narrow down which plays might be coming based on the situation, the formation or the personnel — I just play the odds.

But my saving grace is my quickness and my get-off. And that comes down to technique. I’m a technician because I believe technique will win out over speed and strength every time. In this league, if you’re not the strongest, fastest or most talented, you gotta outwork everybody else. Outthink ’em. Outlast ’em.

You know, get you a little Batman in your game.

That’s why he’s my favorite superhero. Because he does the most with the least amount of tools. I can relate. So if you think Batman is not a superhero, then you can just get out. Don’t even scroll down and check the list. Just stop reading. I ain’t got time for you.

But either way, if you dig superheroes like I do, I got a good list for you, because these dudes are some metahumans.


Marshal Yanda

In 2014, the Ravens came down to Tampa and just punished us. We weren’t winning a lot of games that year, and they went up like 28–0 in the first quarter. It was ugly.

I had never really faced Marshal Yanda before that, but I had heard about him from other guys — how he’s not the biggest dude or the most physical, but he’s a technician. You know, he’s got a little Batman to his game.

Marshal Yanda is like Tim Duncan … He’s a dude who just gets it done.

I learned about him for myself that day.

He’s a great run blocker. He keeps his pad level low. He’s got great footwork. He’s never out of position. His hands are always in the right place. He’s a lot like Zack Martin because he’s played a lot of offensive tackle, so he’s abnormally patient for a guard.

He doesn’t do anything crazy. He’s just super patient, he’s working his feet and his hands are in great position.

Marshal Yanda is like Tim Duncan. He’s not flashy or physically dominant. He’s just really intelligent and fundamentally sound. He’s a dude who just gets it done.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Don’t overlook Riley Reiff’s role in Vikings’ offensive turnaround

By Matthew Coller
September 27, 2017

After spending big in free agency and spending their top two draft picks on offense, the Minnesota Vikings expected to see improvement in both the running and passing game. But ranking second in the NFL behind only the New England Patriots through three weeks surpasses all expectations – especially with two games started by backup quarterback Case Keenum.

All of the sudden, the NFL is noticing that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are one of the league’s best receiving duos. They rank No. 2 and 3 in the league in yards. Rookie of the Year buzz has already started for Dalvin Cook, who’s led the Vikings to the third best running game in the NFL thus far.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has pointed out the overall success of his offensive line, but left tackle Riley Reiff hasn’t gotten much attention as one of the league’s best offseason signings.

In three games, Reiff has allowed zero sacks, zero hits and only six QB Hurries, according to Pro Football Focus data.

He’s also helped allow the Vikings to complete deep throws. They have averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt (5th in the NFL) and haven’t turned the ball over.

The Vikings have looked to their new tackle, who signed a five-year, $58.75 million contract in May, for leadership. He was named a captain prior to the start of the season.

On Sunday, Reiff will be facing his former team for the first time. On a conference call with Twin Cities media Wednesday, Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell raved about the former first-round pick of the Lions.

“Let me put it this way in terms of Riley: Maybe one of the best men that I’ve ever been around,” Caldwell said. “Tremendous person, loved working with him through the years. I’m not certain you’ll find a tougher guy mentally and physically. One of my all-time favorites.”

When the Vikings signed Reiff, there were questions about how he would fit back into playing left tackle. The Lions used a first-round pick on left tackle Taylor Decker in 2016 and moved Reiff to the right side. But performed well on the right side despite battling injuries.

When he hit free agency, the Vikings gave him left tackle money and a role back at his original starting position.

“I know just watching him against our guys and how he performed against us, we really hone in on how they play against our division,” GM Rick Spielman said after signing Reiff. “We sat with our coaches and scouts, we did a lot of group studies watching the tape … we’re very excited to get him.”

Reiff wasn’t the top tackle on the market – that was long-time Bengal Andrew Whitworth – but what the Vikings knew they could expect was consistently solid play. His Pro Football Focus grades since entering the league were between average and above average across the board.

The move has turned out to be a boon in a league filled with teams struggling to fix their left tackles. Carolina is hardly thrilled with Matt Kalil, who has allowed four sacks, a QB hit and six pressures, and the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants haven’t made much progress up front either.

Vikings teammates and coaches have been drawn to Reiff for the same reasons as Caldwell enjoying having him around.

“Riley’s played really well,” Zimmer said in a teleconference with Detroit reporters. “I think part of the reason why we were attracted to him is his attitude, demeanor, toughness. He’s a Midwest guy that I think we just thought would fit in well here.”

During training camp, Reiff suffered a back injury and was forced to sit out several weeks. Young tackle Rashod Hill stepped in and took Reiff’s practice reps with the first team.

Hill calls Reiff a “laid back guy,” but that’s selling it short. Reiff is so soft spoken in public that on a conference call to announce his life-changing deal, Reiff talked about his mom liking the Vikings and being excited about hunting and fishing.

But Hill, who was on the Jaguars’ practice squad at this time last year, said that Reiff has helped set a new standard for the offensive line.

“Personally, if I ever need help with anything, I can always depend on Riley,” Hill said. “He talks when he wants to, when he can, but most of all Riley’s a leader. He’s in the facility before anybody. I try to get here early and Riley beats me here.”

The Vikings may see Hill as part of the long-term plan after playing well in Week 17 last year and in training camp this season. He sees Reiff’s disposition carrying over to the field.

“How patient he is with a lot of stuff, he doesn’t seem overwhelmed,” Hill said. “When there’s something that’s not working, he knows how to switch it up and that comes from being a vet…it’s my second year in the league, so I’m still learning. Seeing them, they know how to handle adversity so if something’s not going their way, they change it up.”

Some adversity may be on the way as the Vikings begin facing tougher defenses – and that starts with Detroit. The Lions have improved their pass rush and have eight sacks through three weeks.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ex-Lion Reiff making good on big deal from Vikings

By Justin Rogers

September 27, 2017

Allen Park — Riley Reiff is doing pretty well for himself these days. The former Detroit Lions’ first-round pick and starting offensive tackle is now manning the blindside for the Minnesota Vikings, who have boasted one of the NFL’s most potent offenses the first three weeks of the season.

Reiff scored big as a free agent, signing a five-year, $58.8 million deal with the Vikings, which included $26.3 million guaranteed.
That was more than the Lions were willing to pay for a right tackle, but the Vikings committed to playing him on the left side, the more valuable of the two positions.

“Well, we thought he was the best one out there,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said during a Wednesday conference call. “We thought he played really well on the left side. I know they moved him to the right side, but we thought he played well there.

“I think part of the reason we were attracted to him was his attitude, his demeanor, his toughness,” Zimmer said. “He’s a Midwest guy that we just thought would fit in well here.”

Through three games, Reiff hasn’t allowed a sack. He hasn’t even allowed a defender to touch quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. Reiff also has played a role blocking for the Vikings’ vastly improved run game, opening lanes for rookie rusher Dalvin Cook.

Reiff played five seasons in Detroit, starting 69 games for the franchise. He replaced longtime starter Jeff Backus in the 2013 season, but was moved to the right side when the Lions drafted Taylor Decker last year.

The Lions spared no expense to replace Reiff, signing Rick Wagner to five-year, $47.5 million contract this offseason. It was the most lucrative deal ever given to a designated right tackle.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Browns' Jamie Meder graded top two leading performer vs. Colts

By Josh Edwards

September 26, 2017

The Cleveland Browns were unable to complete a comeback Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

As a team, the Browns performance was sub-par. However, there were a handful of players that put forth solid individual performances. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas was the team's leading performer according to Pro Football Focus.

Thomas recorded an 87.6 on a scale to 100:

"It was another quiet day for Joe Thomas, as he went about his job with the kind of near flawless performance we’ve come to expect. He built on his snap streak, didn’t surrender a single pressure and just for good measure was the highest graded Browns run blocker and their highest-graded player. Would you expect anything else?"

Defensive tackle Jamie Meder was the second best performer with an 84.8. Linebacker Christian Kirksey posted a 23.1 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday, he recorded an 84.3.

"A redemption game for Kirksey, as he followed up the putrid 24.1 overall game he earned last week against Baltimore with his best game of the season in Week 3. The linebacker from Iowa tallied six total stops on the day – more than doubling his season total, he had five in the first two weeks – and played well in both run defense and coverage."

Defensive tackle Danny Shelton graded out as an 84.1.

"Shelton ate up the middle of the field on Sunday, earning an 88.7 run-defense grade from his spot in the defensive interior. Shelton tallied five run stops on 19 run defense snaps; he had just one run stop on 32 run defense snaps in the first two weeks. Shelton had the second-most run stops among all defensive tackles last season, look for more weeks like this one moving forward."

To round out the list of top five performers, cornerback Jason McCourty had an 83.4 while Jamar Taylor struggled on the other side of the field.

Quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a rather average score, 69.7, but he did display some positive attributes.

"If you’re looking for a quarterback to take you to the playoffs this year, Kizer is not your guy. But that’s not what the Browns are focused on, and instead what they’ll be looking at is can he be a franchise quarterback in the long term. There was more good than bad (even with his receivers dropping three passes and doing a bad job of holding onto three more with defensive contact), including three big time throws that show he can really punish a defense over the top. But when it comes to 2017 there are too many errant throws and a tendency to hold the ball that bit too long."

The top performers for the Colts included quarterback Jacoby Brissett (86.2), offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo(84.5), linebacker Jabaal Sheard (81.2), cornerback Nate Hairston (79.4) and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins(79.3).

Practice Report: Blythe Ready to Step In If Needed

By Kristen Lago
September 26, 2017

Even without its starting center, the Rams offense was able to keep its rhythm going in the second half, running and passing the ball effectively, thanks in large part to backup center Austin Blythe. Blythe —who took Sullivan’s place on Thursday — was able to almost seamlessly fill the void left on the line and is ready to take the field again on Sunday if needed.

“I’m feeling good,” Blythe said about this week. “Everybody in here is a professional, and everybody has to be ready to go. I think I was on Thursday and throughout this week, if that’s the case where I’m having to start a game, I’ll be equally as ready and I look forward to it.”

Blythe played 36 snaps and did an effective job of keeping the pocket clean. He earned the game ball for his efforts and was met with high praise from both McVay and quarterback Jared Goff.

“Austin Blythe did excellent. He did a great job,” McVay said.
“I think there were a couple things that we can always clean up, but, in terms of taking command, controlling some of the calls that are required up front because we do put a lot on our center, I’m very pleased with Austin.”

This week, with Sullivan’s status still unknown, the backup center said he is ready to improve his performance in practice and will be prepared should his number be called.

“Anytime you play football there are always going to be things you can correct and there certainly were on Thursday. But overall I feel good about the job that I did going in and helping the team get a W,” he said. “And at the end of the day, that’s what it was, it was a win.”

“We’re all professionals in this locker room,” he added. “It was my job to be ready when I went in there and it just comes down to being a professional and doing your job.”

Former Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks catches a TD, throws up the ‘W’

By Chris Kwiecinski
September 25, 2017

Lance Kendricks caught eight touchdowns during his time as a Wisconsin Badger, and he’s seems to be at it again.

This time, however, Kendricks is a member of the Green Bay Packers, and is catching touchdowns from superstar Aaron Rodgers instead of Scott Tolzien.

Kendricks played for the Badgers from 2007-2010, catching 78 passes for 1,160 yards and eight touchdowns. The 2010 season was Kendricks’ best, as he caught five touchdowns, was a finalist for the John Mackey Award and was a consensus first-team All-American at tight end.

He was taken in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, and spent his entire career there until his release in 2017.

Kendricks, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also hasn’t forgotten his roots, as he threw up a “W” in reference to his Wisconsin days.

WATCH: Lance Kendricks TD score and celebration

Kendricks was signed by Green Bay during the spring of 2017, trying to revive his NFL career with the Packers in the same state he went to college.

That plan seems to be working well so far, as he’s becoming a red zone option for Rodgers, the former NFL MVP, who has a receiving corps that flaunts Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Martellus Bennett.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Dynamic OSU offense strengthens Mike Yurcich’s position as a possible head coach

By Bill Haisten Tulsa World
Sep 16, 2017

PITTSBURGH — Before Saturday, when he and Mason Rudolph mauled the Pittsburgh Panthers with big plays, Mike Yurcich hadn’t coached in a football game played on Pennsylvania soil since Nov. 17, 2012.

That day, in an NCAA Division II playoff game conducted before a crowd of 6,165 at Shippensburg State’s Seth Grove Stadium, Yurcich drove the Raider offense to 673 total yards and a 58-20 conquest of Bloomsburg State.

Exactly one person in Oklahoma noticed what Yurcich had done in two seasons as the Shippensburg State offensive coordinator. That person was Mike Gundy, who in February 2013 hired Yurcich to coordinate the Oklahoma State offense and coach Cowboys quarterbacks.

Yurcich’s arrival in Stillwater coincided with unfortunate circumstances. For three seasons, OSU lacked impact running backs and a consistently effective offensive line. In 2013 and 2014, injuries resulted in instability at the quarterback position.

The 2014 offense was terrible and Yurcich was blamed for everything. Blasted incessantly on social media. “Fire Mike Yurcich” tweets were common.

Before the kickoff of Saturday’s Oklahoma State-Pittsburgh game, Panthers fans were energized by perfect weather, by the presence of former Pitt superstars Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green, and by the possibility of a nationally relevant upset.

By halftime, many of those same fans had seen enough. They were gone.

During the first half, as the ninth-ranked Cowboys totaled 516 yards, converted on nine consecutive third-down plays and ended each of their seven possessions with a touchdown, there was this statement from a media member in the Heinz Field press box: “Mike Yurcich will be a head coach next year.”

Following a 59-21 OSU victory, a second voice — Gundy’s voice — essentially expressed the same opinion.

“I brought him here to hide him for a few years,” Gundy said of Yurcich. “It ended up being a good decision. I don’t know that I’ll be able to hide him much longer. He’s pretty dang good at what he does.”

Calling Yurcich “a good candidate” for a head-coaching position, Gundy said his coordinator is on the Dana Holgorsen-Todd Monken level of offensive coaching talent.

Holgorsen was Gundy’s offensive coordinator in 2010 and now is West Virginia’s seventh-year head coach. Monken coordinated at OSU in 2011-12. He was the Southern Miss head man for three seasons and now is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator.

The 41-year-old Yurcich hails from Euclid, Ohio, and coached at Shippensburg, located 170 miles east of Pittsburgh. More than 20 of his family members and friends were at Heinz Field on Saturday, but Yurcich swore the Pittsburgh game was no more personally significant than any other.

“We always want to win,” he explained. “You’ve always got to have consistency. If something changes, you’re going to perform differently.”

While some OSU fans griped about the coordinator hire in 2013, Yurcich ignored the chatter and focused on the evaluation and recruiting of a high school quarterback from South Carolina.
Yurcich is being paid $600,000 this season. He should get a $600,000 bonus for having signed Mason Rudolph and developed the senior QB into a Heisman Trophy candidate.

In only 8½ quarters of playing time this season, Rudolph has passed for 1,135 yards and 11 touchdowns and completed 72 percent of his attempts.

This statistic would support anyone’s contention Yurcich and Rudolph have at their disposal more weaponry than any other coordinator in college football: James Washington entered the season as perhaps the No. 1 contender for the Biletnikoff Award, given each year to the top wide receiver in the nation. When he got his first catch on Saturday, OSU already had a 35-0 lead.

By game’s end, Washington was one of four Cowboys with at least 100 receiving yards.

“It’s obvious that we spread the ball out and you never know who’s going to get it,’ Yurcich said. “We don’t force it. The quarterback makes good decisions. We don’t predetermine who the ball is going to.”

Against a Pittsburgh program only five games removed from having beaten Clemson, OSU finished with 676 total yards.

If Gundy had played his starters for four quarters, OSU might have scored a hundred points. Not since the Cowboys’ 2011 obliteration of Texas Tech — a 66-6 blowout of the Red Raiders — has a Cowboys offense been this explosive and efficient in a road game.

Gundy knows to savor what he has: an elite quarterback, a tremendous collection of skill-position players and a coordinator whose clever play-calling has resulted in a three-game total of 18 offensive touchdowns.

Rudolph and Washington are seniors. They’ll be on NFL rosters next year. Yurcich also might be on a different roster, and he might be at the very top of it.

Pees to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

Sep 15, 2017

The University of Findlay athletic department is pleased to announce that former Oilers assistant football coach and current Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, will enter the Hall of Fame as the 2018 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is a part of the Oilers Athletic Hall of Fame and was established in 2013 to honor outstanding Oilers who have attained an extremely high level of success in their industry, sport or profession. This success may or may not have a connection to a Varsity "F" letter earned at the University of Findlay. This award serves as humble appreciation for the recipient who has brought positive recognition and distinction to the University of Findlay athletics and the University of Findlay as an institution.

Pees has had an incredible career as a coach across all levels and has two Super Bowl rings to show for it. He got his start at Findlay under Strahm and served as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach from 1979-82. While at Findlay, Pees played a key role in helping the Oilers capture the 1979 NAIA national championship and helped lead Findlay to a 23-6-1 record during his tenure with the program.

After getting his start at Findlay, Pees later served as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Miami (Ohio) from 1983-86 before becoming the secondary coach at Navy from 1987-89. He would then serve as defensive coordinator at Toledo from 1990-93, secondary coach at Notre Dame in 1994 under Lou Holtz and defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Michigan State from 1995-97 on Nick Saban's staff.

Pees became a collegiate head coach for the first time in 1998 when he took the reins of Kent State's program. He would compile 17 wins for the Golden Flashes from 1998-2003 before leaving the collegiate game for the NFL.

Pees got his start in the NFL as a linebackers coach for the New England Patriots in 2004 under Bill Belichick. In his first season on staff, the Patriots finished the regular season with a 14-2 record and went on to win Super Bowl XXXIX by a score of 24-21 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Patriots would promote Pees to defensive coordinator in 2006 and he held that title until 2009. During his time as defensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots won three AFC East titles (2006, 2007, 2009). In 2007, the Patriots finished the regular season unblemished with a 16-0 record. They would later fall by a score of 17-14 to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Pees would join the Baltimore Ravens staff in 2010 and spent his first two seasons in Baltimore as their linebackers coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012, a position he still holds today, and helped lead the Ravens to a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

The 2018 Athletic Hall of Fame induction and ceremony will take place on Jan. 27, 2018 in Winebrenner Theological Seminary. Doors will open at 10:15 a.m. and the induction/luncheon will begin at 11 a.m. The registration fee is $25 for adults, $15 for minors and free for children ages 6 and younger. To register in advance, visit or call (419) 434-4516.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What Went Right: Riley Reiff Turns Heads in Vikings Debut

By Austin Belisle

September 14, 2017

Duct tape may prove a quick fix for leaky pipes, but as every DIY repairman knows, a patchwork job only lasts so long. In the NFL, where leaks in the offensive line can flood a team’s Super Bowl aspirations, duct tape is the least desirable option in a general manager’s toolbox.

Jake Long, Jeremiah Sirles, Matt Kalil, and T.J. Clemmings were just that — temporary measures in the season-long effort to protect Sam Bradford‘s blindside. The Minnesota Vikings survived the year, but not without catastrophe along the way. General manager Rick Spielman recognized he’d need more than a roll of tape to fix the critical infrastructure; he’d need to replace the pipes completely.

Riley Reiff, signed to a five-year, $58.75 million deal this offseason, was the first in a series of Spielman’s offseason repairs. He followed the highlight move by acquiring right tackle Mike Remmers in free agency, drafting Pat Elflein as the franchise’s long-term center, and releasing veteran guard Alex Boone just a week before the regular season.

The result? An overhauled offensive line with new starters at every position. Doubts about the unit’s cohesiveness and preparedness mounted as Week 1 approached, and none louder than those surrounding Reiff. He’d missed nearly all of the preseason with a back injury, one that thrust swing tackle Rashod Hill into a prominent role during the exhibition slate.

Even before the injury occurred — on the first day of padded practices, no less — there were rumblings among the purple and gold faithful that Reiff would make a better right tackle than Remmers. The logic, at least on paper, was coherent; Reiff had started 14 games at right tackle for the Detroit Lions in 2016, posting better Pro Football Focus (PFF) numbers than Remmers in the same span.

Shifting Reiff to the right and plugging Hill in as the other bookend wasn’t necessarily crazy; Hill had, in a limited sample, proven up to the task of protecting Bradford’s back shoulder. But the bulk of Reiff’s work as a professional has come at left tackle, where he’s been an above-average starter since 2012. As the head of a relatively successful front office, Spielman was never going to entertain such ideas.

Sure enough, Reiff returned to the field for the team’s third preseason game, putting together a quiet, yet solid performance on the left side in a quarter of play. Not once did the broadcast booth mention Reiff’s name, which is always a win for tackles; the less you’re mentioned, the fewer mistakes you’re likely making to the naked eye. And last season, fans heard far too much “Clemmings” and “Sirles” blasting from their television speakers.

Fast-forward to Monday night, when Reiff debuted as Spielman’s signature free agent acquisition. Days before Minnesota’s Week 1 matchup, head coach Mike Zimmer made Reiff one of six team captains, signaling his value in the Vikings’ 2017 run for a Super Bowl. Fans may have worried about Reiff’s early prospects, but the front office and coaching staff clearly recognized the upgrade they’d found, at a price, in their new left tackle.

After the 29-19 victory over the Saints, it was abundantly clear that no group had a bigger impact on the game than the offensive line; their cohesive play gave Bradford ample time in the pocket and paved the way for Dalvin Cook‘s record-setting performance. Of the five starters, none were more impressive than Reiff, who reminded an oft-burned fanbase of the luxury that is a trustworthy blindside blocker.

What Went Right

Pass Protection

One game won’t justify Reiff’s hefty price tag, but the instant gratification could be a sweet sample of what’s to come. PFF charted all of Reiff’s snaps, finding he had, by the website’s measure, a perfect evening in pass protection. According to Nathan Jahnke, Reiff set up in pass protection 35 times, allowing zero sacks, hits, or hurries on Bradford in the pocket.

The performance makes Reiff one of nine tackles — both left and right — who’s yet to allow a QB pressure. He joins Tyron Smith and Andrew Whitworth on the list, putting himself in the company of an exceptional sampling of NFL tackles.
The two aforementioned names should be there after years of elite play, while Reiff’s mention is more anomaly than expectation; still, to see any Vikings tackle mentioned in the same breath is an encouraging step forward.

Handling Speed and Power

Whether protecting Bradford in a five- or three-step drop, Reiff showed no signs of lingering pain from his back injury. He moved with the mobility and fluidity from his time in Detroit, countering the speed and power of New Orleans’ pass rushers with quick feet and a balanced base.

In the below example, he kicked to the appropriate depth, engaging with the blitzing safety at the apex of Bradford’s drop. Rather than allow Vaccaro to initiate contact, Reiff recognized his intent and attacked the outside shoulder. Like any tackle with experience, Reiff turned Vaccaro’s speed and momentum into an advantage, using his right hand as a club to force the rush too far upfield.

When tested with power, Reiff also showed an ability to anchor down and stop the bull rush in its tracks. The defensive end in the below situation attempted a speed-to-power move; a pass rush technique to throw a tackle off balance and collapse the pocket. Reiff met the contact with square shoulders and proper weight distribution, lowering his hips and taking short, choppy steps to nullify the rusher’s momentum.

What stands out in Reiff’s limited Vikings resumé is “easy” power; making the embarrassment of professional-level athletes look more fluid than it should. When fully healthy and put in a system that emphasizes his strengths — especially those in the running game — Reiff has a chance to elevate himself into a higher class of left tackles.

Run Blocking

With Cook in the backfield, Minnesota’s offensive line has not only seen a shift in personnel, but in scheme and philosophy. Cook starred in an offense at Florida State catered to his abilities as a home-run-hitting tailback; one that allowed him to read an offensive line’s blocks, make one cut, and sprint for the end zone.

To run a scheme heavy on inside and outside zone concepts, a team must have linemen who can separate from the line of scrimmage and block in space. In Reiff, the Vikings have a left tackle who can do all of these things and genuinely seems to enjoy looking for work while running downfield.

In the example below, Cook took the shotgun handoff from Bradford as the offensive line set up the outside zone. Elflein and Reiff, arguably Minnesota’s two most capable linemen, opened their hips and ran to the sideline, positioning themselves as Cook’s pseudo lead blockers.

Reiff’s specific block isn’t the catalyst on the play — Rudolph lost his battle on the edge — but demonstrates his athleticism in space. He correctly identified Vaccaro’s aiming point, throwing a chop block at the proper angle to remove the safety as New Orleans’ alley defender. If Rudolph had created any push at the point of attack, Cook may have been able to spring loose for more than a four-yard gain.

Capable in space, Reiff’s power also pays dividends on double-team and down blocks. Below, he and the offensive line executed zone blocks, with each player blocking the defender immediately to their right. Given the Saints’ defensive alignment, Reiff was responsible for double-teaming the defensive tackle (3-technique) with Nick Easton to the second level.

Upon first contact, Easton generated little push, but Reiff’s help catapulted the tackle to linebacker depth. Without separating from the block, Reiff nearly drove the scraping linebacker out of the play completely. While he should have disengaged and worked to cut off No. 53’s path to the gap, it’s clear Reiff brings needed explosiveness at the point of attack.

Side note: Props to David Morgan for the seal block on No. 48.

Following Reiff’s first game in Minnesota purple, Zimmer called his left tackle a “fighter,” lauding his efforts as a pass protector and road-grading blocker. “I thought he played well. He’s a fighter,” Zimmer said, per “I thought he did a good job in the run game and the pass game.”

All measures — analytics, statistics, and film work —show Reiff was the best left tackle on the field Monday night.
He’s arguably the best left tackle the Vikings have seen since Kalil’s rookie year in 2012, and could be considered the ultimate solution to Minnesota’s leaky offensive line if this trend of consistent, needed play continues.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The NFL's Top 10 Head Coaching Candidates

By Robert Klemko
September 13, 2017

We’re approaching Week 2 of the NFL season, which means a handful of fan bases have a pretty good idea of whether their head coach needs replacing *cough* Cincinnati *cough*. During my training-camp travels this summer, I spoke with 20 current and former NFL personnel executives who make it their business to know who’s got next in the NFL head coaching carousel. (Refer back to this list in December for an idea of how these coaches were regarded before the fortunes and failures of the 2017 season.)

1. Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots (age 41): New England’s offensive coordinator since 2012, McDaniels could have had just about any job in the NFL he wanted for the past three offseasons, but hasn’t found the right fit. He’s technically a re-tread after a humbling two-year stint in Denver, but at 41 with a PhD in Belichick-Brady football, he’s far and away the No. 1 coaching free agent.

2. Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator, New England Patriots (age 43): New England’s defensive play-caller runs a bend- don’t-break unit that gets aggressive in the red zone and allowed the fewest points in the NFL last year. He’s a renowned expert on offensive line protections.

3. Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions (age 52): Austin’s cut-and-dry, zone-based defense has oscillated from a Top 3 performer to a middling unit that collapsed against the run in last year’s playoff loss at Seattle. The former secondary coach is partly responsible for the development of shutdown corner Darius Slay, and is said to have impressed in his various interview opportunities.

4. Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles (age 51): The former Lions head coach has led the transformation of a defensive unit that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in points and yards allowed in 2015. Schwartz coaches in profanities and has an abrasive reputation with some around the league.

5. Steve Spagnuolo, defensive coordinator, New York Giants (age 57): He runs a complicated, heavy-blitzing defense that has begun to put all the pieces together. The former Rams head coach is one of the most unpredictable defensive play-callers in football, with a knack for putting one-dimensional players in a position to thrive.

6. Jim Bob Cooter, offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions (age 33): Detroit’s offensive coordinator since 2015, Cooter distilled the offense for Matthew Stafford, utilizing a slower pace and a diversity of formations to take advantage of Stafford’s ability to judge defenses in pre-snap. For Cooter, much will hinge on an offensive boon in Year 3.

7. Kris Richard, defensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks (age 37): The former NFL defensive back has quietly diversified and expanded Seattle’s base Cover 3 defense and added more blitzing and man coverage than predecessors Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn, both of whom got head-coaching opportunities after stints in Seattle. Richard, like many Carroll protégés, will interview very well and will benefit from a Quinn endorsement.

8. Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator, Houston Texans (age 42): Another Belichick disciple, Vrabel had a leadership role in arguably football’s best defense in 2016, and now takes over as defensive coordinator with Romeo Crennel moving to assistant head coach. Considered a tremendous motivator, Vrabel would be one of the most successful former players to ever become a head coach.

9. Dave Toub, special teams coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs (age 55): Considered one of the great special teams coaches of all time, Toub, 55, helped develop Devin Hester into arguably the greatest return man in NFL history during his decade in Chicago. If a special teams coach is going to get the nod to lead an NFL team in the near future, it will be Toub.

10. Marquand Manuel, defensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons (age 38): Dan Quinn handed over the reins of Atlanta’s defense, including playcalling, to this former defensive back from Miami. That’s a big deal for Quinn, who opted for Steve Sarkisian to replace Kyle Shanahan on the offensive side, in part, because he preferred an experienced playcaller.

NOTABLE: Mike Smith, Pat Shurmur, Harold Goodwin, Scott Linehan, Todd Haley, Paul Guenther, Mike McCoy, Darrell Bevell, Frank Reich

Monday, September 11, 2017

Vikings announce captains for 2017 season

September 11, 2017
By Kyle Ratke

A day before facing off against the New Orleans Saints to kick off the 2017 season the Minnesota Vikings announced their captains for the season.

The six captains: Quarterback Sam Bradford, defensive end Everson Griffen, cornerback Terence Newman, left tackle Riley Reiff, defensive end Brian Robison and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

No huge surprises here. Reiff is a little odd considering he’s in only his first year with the team and missed a big chunk of training camp with a back injury.

Bradford is the quarterback, Griffen is a two-time Pro Bowler, Terence Newman is a solid veteran presence who can still play and Robison is one of the most-respected Vikings over the last decade.

The captains for the Vikings last season were Chad Greenway (retired), Griffen, Robison and Peterson (now with Saints).

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Pats make quite the catch in Rex Burkhead

By Mike Giardi

August 3, 2017

FOXBORO -- Trying to cover Rex Burkhead here in training camp is a little like trying to catch a bee with a fishing net. Not impossible, but not likely either.

Just ask linebacker Elandon Roberts or safety Brandon King. Both had the unenviable task of trying to corral the quick Burkhead during one-on-one pass catching drills Thursday. Both found themselves looking quite foolish. That continues a week-long trend here at Patriots training camp -- Number 34 getting into space and creating even more.

“I’m trying to reach the expectations every day of excellence,” Burkhead said, as if he just created a slogan for the back of a t-shirt.

Burkhead broke into the league five years ago with the Cincinnati Bengals. He earned his way by being an ace special-teams player, but eventually saw an increase in his role offensively a season ago, both running and catching the football. Word is Burkhead was chased by Bill Belichick and Bill Belichick alone. You can see why, with the Pats wanting to create even more uncertainty for opposing defenses.

“Hopefully, this year, we’ll have a little more balance between the running game and passing game,” Belichick said. “Again, [the departed LeGarrette Blount] was primarily a runner. He didn’t have a lot of receiving production. The reverse is true of James White. So hopefully with our backs this year we’ll have a little more balance and be a little less predictable from that spot.”

That’s one of many areas where Burkhead can factor in.

“It’s something growing up, my dad -- he was a coach, he played football -- he always told me, ‘You can’t be a one-dimensional player. You’ve have to be able to catch the ball as well,’ ” Burkhead said. “It’s always been something I’ve taken pride in. I want to make sure I can do it well.”

The Pats haven’t been shy about trying Burkhead in short yardage situation down at the goal line either. Running backs coach Ivan Fears is on record saying the team needs to find its power back and while Mike Gilislee is probably the lead dog in that area, Burkhead is bigger than you think, right around 210 pounds. That’s not Blount beef, but that doesn’t mean the Texas native can’t get it done.

“Find the creases and see the reads. You don’t want to have your head up with a guy 50 pounds or 100 pounds bigger than you, so you try to find those creases where you can really lower your pads and get on in there,” adding, “I can fit through some cracks that some normal - or bigger backs - can’t get through.”

If Burkhead keeps showing up and showing out in every practice, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to impact the Pats in all facets and pay off Belichick’s faith in him.

Anthony Gonzalez, former Ohio State University football star, files to run for Congress in Ohio

In this 2007 file photo, Anthony Gonzalez announces at a news conference that he is entering the NFL draft rather than returning to Ohio State University to play for his senior season. Gonzalez, an Avon Lake native, has filed paperwork to run for Ohio's 16th Congressional District in 2018.(Kiichiro Sato, Associated Press)

By Andrew J. Tobias
September 2, 2017

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Former Ohio State University football star and Cleveland-area native Anthony Gonzalez has filed official paperwork to run for Ohio's 16th congressional seat in 2018.

A filing received by the Federal Election Commission on Aug. 28 lists Gonzalez' address as an apartment in Crocker Park, the Westlake outdoor shopping complex. Since retiring from the National Football League and receiving his MBA from Stanford University, Gonzalez, 32, had worked for an education technology company in the San Fransisco bay area. But he recently moved back to Ohio to prepare to run for the seat, which is up for grabs since the incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, is running for governor rather than seek re-election.

The FEC paperwork lists a home in Dublin, Ohio, as Gonzalez' campaign office. The home belongs to Gonazlez' campaign treasurer, Natalie Baur, a Republican operative who worked last year as finance director for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman's re-election campaign.

The filing makes official what was previously reported by -- Gonzalez, who graduated from Saint Ignatius High School, in recent weeks has been laying the groundwork to try to transition into politics, which has included meeting with the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C. Despite the filing, Gonzalez still has not officially announced he is running or publicly revealed his campaign team.

The unusually shaped 16th District, which is considered a safe Republican seat, includes Wayne County, and portions of several others, stretching from rural suburbs east of Akron and up to Cuyahoga County's western suburbs.

Other Republicans running for the seat include Stark County State Rep. Christina Hagan and Strongsville State Rep. Tom Patton. On the Democratic side, Aaron Godfrey of North Olmsted, a first-time candidate whose campaign website describes him as a scientist, has filed to run.

Gonzalez was not known for being outspoken about political issues during his time at OSU and his five-year NFL career, which was cut short due to injuries. He graduated from OSU with a degree in philosophy and was an Academic All-American. He was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft.

Running for a reason

Those who took part in the Gatorade/Steelers 5K are making a difference.

By Teresa Varley
September 4, 2017

As runners crossed the finish line for the 29th Annual Gatorade/Steelers 5K Race, they felt a sense of accomplishment, finishing the 3.1 race either in a personal best time, or in some cases for the first time.

They should feel a much greater sense of accomplishment.

The race is one of the main fundraising events for the Art Rooney Scholarship Fund, carrying on the memory of the late Steelers’ owner Art Rooney Sr. Three graduating seniors from North Side high schools, one from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and two from Perry High School through the Pittsburgh Promise, are awarded a college scholarship, helping them with the ever rising cost of education.

This year’s scholarship recipients, Dominic Serventi from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, and Samantha Ervin Upsher and Roman Ramsey from Perry High School,

“This It means I can go to school and study to try to make a career for myself,” said Serventi. “It’s an opportunity I might not have if it weren’t for the Steelers organization and this race. It means that I am able to afford to go to college. Funds are tight. It’s incredible. It’s a great opportunity. And it’s a great honor for them to consider me for it.”

Serventi, who will attend Robert Morris University and study actuarial science, grew up a Steelers fan, so receiving a scholarship from his favorite team is a bit overwhelming for him.

“It’s exciting,” said Serventi. “If you grow up in Pittsburgh, you grow up a Steelers fan. I played football growing up. To have them give me scholarship money, it’s crazy to think about it.

“The opportunity I am given is incredible. Everybody always looks forward to taking the next big step in their lives. Going to college is a big one.”

Matt Spaeth, who played for the Steelers from 2007-210 and 2013-15, served as the honorary captain for the race. It was an event he heard about as a player, but didn’t realize the impact it had until now. And it doesn’t surprise him.

“The Steelers are such a great organization, and the Rooney family is special” said Spaeth. “They are hands on in the daily life of Steelers football and the community, they are accessible to the players and community. I doubt any other organization compares to that. That is what makes it so special.”

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