Friday, March 09, 2018

Burkhead bringing three-sport fundraiser back home

Plano Senior alum Rex Burkhead will return to his hometown of Plano on March 24 to host the second annual Team Jack Trifecta, a fundraiser to help raise money for research on pediatric brain cancer.

By Matt Welch
March 9, 2018

On March 24, Plano Senior alum and New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead will return to Plano to host the second annual Team Jack Trifecta, a multi-sport fundraiser for pediatric brain cancer research.

The event will consist of a 5K fun run and youth football camp at Clark Stadium, plus and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at Plano Sports Authority (PSA 2).

The fun run begins at 8 a.m. March 24, and costs $35 for adult and $15 for children 10 years and under.

At 10 a.m., Burkhead will be joined by numerous NFL veterans and former teammates for a football skills camp. The camp is open to kids ages six through 14 and costs $50.

Festivities will continue at 1:30 p.m. with a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. The registration fee is $200 per four-person team.

All proceeds from the event will support pediatric brain cancer research. Last year’s event raised approximately $35,000.

To register for any of the three events at the Team Jack Trifecta, go to

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The offseason’s underrated hire

From Albert Breer's "Four Downs"
March 8, 2018

2. The offseason’s underrated hire. We don’t talk much about position coaches here. But I’m going to give you one that I believe has a chance to be a big-time difference-maker for his first-time head coach: new Bears line coach Harry Hiestand. Matt Nagy did incredibly well to poach Hiestand, who’d been a target for a number of guys interviewing for jobs in January, from Notre Dame. And his star guard of last year, Quenton Nelson, reminded me of that last week at the combine.

I asked Nelson how, as an elite offensive line talent, he wound up playing guard and not tackle. Nelson answered, “Left tackle, we had Ronnie Stanley. Right tackle, we had Mike McGlinchey. Center, Nick Martin. Right guard, Steve Elmer, who was a very good player. And there was a hole in the left guard spot that I competed for and I ended up playing there.” Think about that. Stanley was the sixth pick in the 2016 draft, and is now Baltimore’s left tackle. Martin was the 50th pick that year, and is the Texans’ center. McGlinchey is likely to join Nelson in the first round of this year’s draft. And Elmer actually decided to forgo his final year of eligibility at Notre Dame, after starting for two years, to pursue a career in politics. Of the five, only Nelson was a Top 100 recruit coming out of high school.

That’s a staggering record of development,
and doesn’t account for Zack Martin (Nick’s older brother), who left Notre Dame the year that Nelson arrived, and has grown into the NFL’s best guard. We’ve seen the importance of line coaches the last few years, of course. Jeff Stoutland’s work last year in Philly—remember the Eagles lost Jason Peters for the year—helped the Eagles win it all and earned the ex-Alabama assistant a promotion to run-game coordinator. The difference Dante Scarnecchia makes in New England is well-documented, and Tony Sparano was huge in helping the Vikings meld new piece to fix their front last fall. Likewise, it looks like the Bears got a good one.

In fact, I hit up Nagy on this on Wednesday. He and Hiestand didn’t know each other before Nagy assembled his staff, and as first impressions have gone, the new Chicago boss put it like this: “He impresses me more and more every day.”

Harry Hiestand named most underrated NFL hire

By Matt Eurich
March 8, 2018

Lost in the shuffle of new Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy bringing back Vic Fangio and hiring Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator was the fact that the organization brought in one of the most well-respected offensive line coaches in the game in Harry Hiestand. He's been credited for his outstanding work with offensive linemen at Notre Dame between 2012 and 2017 and adds a wealth of experience to Nagy's offensive coaching staff.

In Albert Breer's latest piece for The MMQB he listed Hiestand as the offseason's most underrated hiring, writing:
We don’t talk much about position coaches here. But I’m going to give you one that I believe has a chance to be a big-time difference-maker for his first-time head coach: new Bears line coach Harry Hiestand. Matt Nagy did incredibly well to poach Hiestand, who’d been a target for a number of guys interviewing for jobs in January, from Notre Dame.

Breer noted Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson and fellow teammate Mike McGlinchey are set to be first-round picks come April and players like Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Zack Martin have all become NFL stalwarts under the tutelage of Hiestand in the past. Breer was told by Nagy that the young coach did not know Hiestand before the staff was assembled and Nagy is blown away by him on a daily basis.

"He impresses me more and more every day," Nagy said.

Hiestand is no stranger to Bears fans. The veteran offensive line coach followed offensive coordinator Ron Turner to the Bears in 2005 and held the offensive line coach position until the 2009 season. During that stretch he helped the offensive line become one of the team's strengths, backed by the play of Olin Kreutz and Ruben Brown on the interior of the line. After his five-year stint in Chicago he coached at the University of Tennessee before joining Notre Dame's coaching staff in 2012. During his time as an offensive line coach he has seen a long list of his collegiate players make major impacts in the NFL.

The veteran coach will have his work cut out for him this year as the Bears try to get better along the line of scrimmage after moving on from former Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. If Hiestand can work wonders with Chicago's offensive line like he did in the past then good things could be on the horizon for the organization.

The enduring legacy of Jack Hoffman's inspiring Nebraska run

March 6, 2018
By Mitch Sherman

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Late last October at Gillette Stadium, 12-year-old Jack Hoffman and his parents, Andy and Brianna, found themselves as guests on the New England Patriots' sideline before kickoff against the Los Angeles Chargers.

It was any kid's dream, mingling among some of the biggest stars in sports. So for whom did Jack first look, Brady or Gronk?

"We're pretty big Rex Burkhead fans," Brianna said. "We were there to see Rex."

For good reason. Five years ago this spring, a friendship between Burkhead, then a Nebraska running back, and Jack led to a moment at the Cornhuskers' Red-White game that made the youngster an overnight celebrity. His 69-yard touchdown run electrified Memorial Stadium and brought awareness nationally to pediatric brain cancer, with which Jack was diagnosed in May 2011 at age 5.

Jack Hoffman's touchdown run in the 2013 Nebraska spring game immediately became a viral sensation, as the 7-year-old battling brain cancer became a national inspiration. Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Media Relations

The run won an ESPY, earned Jack a meeting with President Barack Obama and landed him as the grand marshal in the 2013 Nebraska homecoming parade. It also launched a fundraising effort, boosted by the Hoffmans' continued relationship with Burkhead and the Nebraska football program, that has enabled the Team Jack Foundation to raise more than $5 million for pediatric brain cancer research and treatment.

Last month, the foundation hosted its fifth annual gala for a crowd of 750 donors that featured more than two dozen current and former Nebraska players, including Burkhead, who recently completed his fifth NFL season and first with the Patriots.

In addition to its financial impact, the Team Jack Foundation provides support to dozens of families affected by pediatric brain cancer.

"I don't think we ever envisioned this," Burkhead said.

Jack, after enduring two surgeries in 2011 and two regimens of chemotherapy before his participation in a 13-month clinical trial when the tumor showed growth in August 2014, has remained off treatment since late in 2015.
"I'm doing good," Jack said in February. "Haven't felt cruddy lately."

He takes 14 pills a day to battle seizures caused by epilepsy, a secondary condition of the present-but-stable brain tumor. His next scan is scheduled for April at Boston Children's Hospital, the site of Jack's operations and previous treatment.

Jack attends sixth grade at West Holt Elementary in Atkinson, Nebraska. He plays basketball and baseball, though he's currently sidelined by a fractured right tibia and fibula courtesy of a faulty playground swing. The cast comes off in May.

Five years after his unforgettable run at Nebraska, Jack Hoffman is thriving and raising money for pediatric cancer. Mitch Sherman/

But you won't hear any hint of a complaint from the Hoffmans about such normal, pre-teen mishaps.

"You live day to day when you have a kid with cancer," Brianna said. "We have a lot of friends with kids who have brain tumors. And a lot of them aren't doing as well as Jack. So we're fortunate to be where we're at right now. You're thankful for every day that you've been given. We're thankful for today.

"And we're thankful for the opportunity to get the word out. There are a lot of kids with cancer. It's technically a rare disease, but it's not really rare -- once you're in it and you see how many people are affected by it."

More than 4,600 children in the United States are diagnosed annually with brain cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among children. Still, Jack's father said, funding lags for research and treatment.
That's where Team Jack has accomplished its most meaningful work.

"There's been too much attention brought to our family and to Jack," Andy said. "Because it was never about Jack. It was never about our family. What Team Jack is really about is a disease."

The foundation has given nearly $4 million to research, investing in six projects nationally. In 2015, Team Jack committed $1.5 million to create a dedicated program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The Nebraska Legislature matched the pledge. And this summer, Dr. Jonathan Schwartz arrives from Michigan to begin work as the state's first pediatric neuro-oncologist.

The Team Jack Foundation this year announced a donation of $500,000 in seed money to UNMC for the POWER5 initiative, a $5 million program to fund research, pain management and education for this cause.

And at the Team Jack Gala last month, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said the school would again in 2018 stage special events for pediatric brain cancer patients around a football game -- the Sept. 28 visit to Lincoln from Purdue.

Jack Hoffman's run resulted in a meeting with President Barack Obama and an ESPY. Rich Arden/ESPN Images

"Our goal was to take those blessings that we have in life and use that platform to raise awareness to a crisis in this country," Andy said.

With Burkhead, the Hoffmans truly found a match made in heaven. He came to Nebraska in 2009 as a schoolboy legend out of Plano, Texas, the son of an FBI agent and a fourth-grade teacher. Burkhead left as a beloved figure and the fifth-leading rusher in school history.

"Growing up, my parents always preached to me to use my platform," he said. "Giving back was a big thing."

Teammates, coaches, even casual acquaintances gained a sense that Rex was destined for something larger than football. For former Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell, now with the Denver Broncos, that relationship with Jack crystallized the importance of Burkhead's generous spirit.

"I think I can speak on a lot of guys' behalf when you talk about what that meant to us," Bell said. "It showed us as Rex's teammates how to grow individually. We were all able to build on that moment and do things in our personal lives because of what Rex did for Jack."

The Hoffmans found special significance in the timing of their first encounter with Burkhead in 2011 during a visit arranged by Nebraska. It came just days before Jack's second brain surgery.

And when Burkhead signed last March with New England, it again marked a moment of deep meaning for the Hoffmans.

"We attribute Boston to saving our son's life," Andy said.

Burkhead plans his own fundraiser in Texas this year -- he did it last year for the first time -- to support Team Jack. When the Hoffmans attended in 2017, they stayed at the home of Burkhead's parents, Rick and Robin.

"I think Jack says it best," Brianna said. "If you ask him who his best friend is, he'll say Rex. From the beginning, it's almost like he was an angel."

It's no surprise, you see, that Jack and his parents, in that visit to Foxborough last season, looked right past the Patriots' more famous names in search of Burkhead. In a season shortened to 10 games because of a knee injury, he scored eight touchdowns, doubling his career output.

You could say his focus shifts in the offseason, but that wouldn't be exactly right. Team Jack and its mission never stray from the top of Burkhead's priority list.

"The way the foundation has grown, how the awareness has grown, it's unbelievable," Burkhead said. "As for Jack, when we met, I just didn't know how much longer he would have. So to see him now, getting tall and enjoying life and experiencing things, playing sports and being able to go to school, it's very heartwarming."

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Inside the NFL Scouting Combine

From Adam Rossow's "Rossow's Rants: Inside the NFL Scouting Combine"
March 6, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS - As most of you know, I had the pleasure of covering the NFL Scouting Combine over the past week. You can check out all of my stories over at Hawkeye Headquarters, as well as some web extras on Twitter and Facebook.

But I wanted to give an inside look at some other happenings in Indianapolis, including some behind the scenes conversations. Here goes it.

• I had multiple NFL people (scouts, former players, etc) that Kirk Ferentz is a top-10 college football coach and has been for years. He’s held in very high regard around the league – both for the way he runs the Iowa program and with his relationships with NFL organizations.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Lions banking on Jeff Davidson to boost feeble run game

By John Niyo
March 4, 2018

Indianapolis – Matt Patricia used to be an offensive lineman. But he made a name for himself coaching defense in the NFL.

And now that he’s a head coach, one of his most important hires shortly after accepting the Lions’ top job was to bring in veteran offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. The two worked briefly together in New England when Patricia joined the Patriots’ staff in 2004.

But at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Patricia spoke highly of Davidson, a 24-year NFL coaching veteran who most recently served as the Denver Broncos’ offensive line coach.

“He knows me, and he knows what I want,” Patricia said. “I have a great relationship with him. Jeff and I worked together a long time ago. I think he’s a phenomenal coach. He’s very smart, Jeff is very analytical about the game. Really an outstanding coach in relating to the players.”

That’s a necessity after the past few seasons in Detroit, when the Lions rushing attack ranked as arguably the NFL’s worst with Ron Prince coaching the line while also holding a dual title as assistant head coach.

The expectation is that Davidson, a former All-Big Ten lineman at Ohio State in the late 1980s, will do more than just revamp the Lions’ blocking scheme. He’ll also develop a better rapport with his offensive line group.

“He understands when he needs to be hard on ’em, and he understands when he needs to love ’em up,” Patricia said. “And he can just relate on a whole different level than I can, because I never played at this level, and Jeff has.”

Friday, March 02, 2018

Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia on Iowa’s Brian Ferentz: ‘The sky’s the limit for him’

Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia praises former colleague Brian Ferentz, who is the offensive coordinator at Iowa.

By Scott Dochterman
March 2, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and new Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia were on the same coaching staff in New England when the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl following the 2011 season.

Ferentz coached the Patriots’ tight ends while Patricia led the team’s safeties that year. In 2012, Patricia became New England’s defensive coordinator, while Ferentz left to join Iowa’s coaching staff as offensive line coach. Ferentz became the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator last season.

Patricia, who became the Lions coach earlier this month, praised Ferentz for both what he brought to the Patriots as a leader and as a teammate.

“Just in general with Brian, I think he’s phenomenal,” Patricia said Wednesday morning at the NFL combine. “He’s a really smart guy. He works extremely hard. He studies the game. Tries to understand the problems that are involved in it. His overall organization is phenomenal. He was a young guy with us and very detail-oriented from that standpoint.

“I just think the world of him as a coach, as a person. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

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