Thursday, August 28, 2008

Newcomer Wahle has solidified front wall

August 14, 2008

Although the Seahawks currently have their share of issues at center and right guard, daily camp observers tell us the stabilizing force that veteran newcomer Mike Wahle has been providing at left guard has certainly helped to partially offset those concerns. “His impact was noticeable right from the start,” a longtime team insider told PFW. “He immediately became like another coach in the weight room during the team’s offseason conditioning program, and although he’s not overpowering like Steve Hutchinson was, he’s very solid and very quick, particularly pulling on screen passes and runs to the outside.” Clearly, the former Pro Bowler has solidified what has been a sore spot since Hutchinson split the scene for Minnesota. “He will definitely make life a lot easier for (longtime OLT) Walter Jones, the insider said. “Unlike some of the other guys who have been working next to Walter since Hutchinson left, Mike really appears to know what he’s doing.”

Tauscher honored at Welcome Back Packers luncheon

August 28, 2008

Green Bay Packers tackle Mark Tauscher received this year’s Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Service Award at the annual Welcome Back Packers luncheon at the Lambeau Field.

Taucher was honored for his involvement with area schools, hospitals, food pantries and civic organizations. In 2005, he established the TRIFECTA (Taucher’s Reading Initiative For Every Child to Achieve) Foundation as a means to encourage literacy in Wisconsin. The foundation has raised more than $110,000 so far.

Tauscher, who played college football at the University of Wisconsin, has been involved in numerous other community and nonprofit programs.

He once cut his trademark long hair to raise $25,000 for St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield and organized a charity basketball game to benefit cancer research.

Tauscher, 31, is beginning his ninth season with the Packers.

Vince Lombardi initiated the luncheon tradition in the 1960s as a way for fans and players to mix prior to the start of the regular season. Players are randomly placed at tables with fans.

Almost 1,000 people attended the luncheon, which is sponsored by the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. This year's event was sold out in April. Head coach Mike McCarthy spoke about the upcoming season that begins Sept. 8 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Phil Dawson named "one of the best Browns, 1999-present"

August 26, 2008

This is not a ranking, because it's stupid to compare linebackers to wide receivers. But as we enter the 10th season of the "new Browns," it seems appropriate to look back at some of the best players from what has been a mostly forgettable period.

Phil Dawson (1999-present): Every year people wonder about Dawson, and almost every year he remains one of the most consistent kickers in the league.

Last year he kicked two game winning field goals in overtime. He made 26 of 30 kicks last year, and has a career success rate of 82.7 percent.

Here's another intersting stat. In 1999, he attempted 12 field goals all year, making eight. It's easy to forget how inept the 1999 offense was.

Jamir Miller, ILB (1999-2001): What could have been. Miller's 2001 season was remarkable. Thirteen sacks, 83 tackles, four fumbles forced.

If he'd have played in 2002, the Browns may have won 11 games instead of 9. Instead, his career ended after an injury in the 2002 preseason. It was at that time that Butch Davis brilliantly referred to Miller's 2001 season as a "product of the system."

Darrin Hambrick replaced Miller, and he lasted all of one season. Miller also had two strong seasons under Chris Palmer. He was the best free agent signing of the Dwight Clark era, and even though his career with the Browns was brief, he was often the only light on a consistently pitiful defense.

Until 2007, Miller was the franchise's only pro bowler since coming back.

Kellen Winslow TE (2004-present): If it seems like he hasn't been around that long, well, he really hasn't. But when he has been on the field, he's been a beast. He had 89 catches in what was an atrocious 2006 for the Browns, and last year, put up one of the best receiving seasons in team history. Eighty-nine catches, more than 1,100 yards, five TDs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shock's Smith savors U.S. gold in basketball

Joanne C. Gerstner

August 23, 2008

BEIJING -- The first time Katie Smith won an Olympic gold medal, everything was a blur.

The second time Smith won a gold medal, she was injured and worried about her career.

But Saturday, the third time Smith won a gold medal, everything was perfect.

She was healthy, happy and intent on absorbing every moment of this special night in Beijing. The U.S. women's basketball team trounced Australia, 92-65, in a game that was never in doubt.

Smith didn't score and only had two assists while playing 16:53, but that was of no consequence.

She was part of a team, the best she says she's ever played for, that accomplished its mission.

"Oh man, what can I say? This was perfect in every way," an excited Smith, also a member of the Detroit Shock, said. "Just to come in to a game like this, and just be so locked in, so dominant from the get-go. You dream of something like that. We've been locked in this whole tournament.

"We had something to prove. We had a legacy to uphold. I can't think of a better way to do it. This is another dream come true. I've had three dreams come true."

This was the fourth consecutive Olympic gold for the U.S. women.

Three straight have come on Smith's watch.

She was one of Team USA's young hotshots in the 2000 Sydney Games, an offensive star shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range.

It all came easily then, as the U.S. routed Australia in their first Olympics final clash.

Standing atop the medal stand, having the gold put around her neck, even receiving the ceremonial bouquet of flowers, happened so quickly.

In 2004, Smith's games were cut shot after she suffered an ACL injury to her right knee during pool play against China.

Smith missed playing in the medal rounds in Athens, knew surgery awaited, and also that her career was in jeopardy.

Team USA went on to beat the Aussies in the final without her, so her trip to the 2004 medal podium was bittersweet.

So, Smith decided she wanted to keep playing for the national team, sticking around another four years for the Beijing Games.

That's a larger commitment than just showing up for a training camp.

Smith has been playing for the U.S. team in world championships and international tournaments, and attending camps for the past three years.

She's one of the few on this current Olympics roster who has perfect attendance.

"Katie gets a lot of the credit for the cohesion on this team, because she's helped set the tone with her presence," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "Whenever we've needed her, she's said yes. It's never been maybe.

"It's always been, 'When do you need me there?'"

Saturday's game was a perfect synopsis of Smith's on the team.

She didn't have to be a huge scorer. Instead, she was the steady, veteran guard. She got the ball to teammates when they were in position to make plays, and she played tough, focused defense.

Smith's reward was another gold medal.

When it was over and the medals distributed, she was one of the last Americans to leave the floor.

She took photos with her parents, John and Barb, and signed autographs for enthusiastic American and Chinese fans.

She wanted her waning Olympic moments to last.

"I've had a great run," said Smith, 34. "You really can't ask for more than this. Everything's been special: the times laughing with my teammates, the film sessions, the practices, the games, everything.

"It's been awesome in a way I can't even describe."

Golden enemies

Here are the results of the last three Olympic women's basketball finals:

2000 Sydney Games: U.S. 76, Australia 54
2004 Athens Games: U.S. 74, Australia 63
2008 Beijing Games: U.S. 92, Australia 65

Dawson is one of NFL's leading kickers

Steve King

August 25, 2008

Dawson answering leg strength questions

When it comes to long field goals, people are always trying to shortchange Phil Dawson.

First things first. Ever since Dawson made his NFL debut with the expansion Browns in 1999, he has battled the unfair rap by some that he lacks leg strength.

"I don't know where, or how, that got started," said Dawson after Saturday's 26-6 preseason loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. "I had 13 field goals over 50 yards in college. I had never faced that criticism until I got to the pros."

He has proven that opinion dead-wrong by all credible accounts, as he has made good on 7-of-9 attempts, a healthy 77.8-percent success rate, from 50 yards and longer in his career.

It has helped Dawson establish himself as one of the top kickers not just in Browns history, but in NFL annals as well. He enters this year ranked fourth on the league's career accuracy list at 82.7 percent.

Not bad for a guy who has to kick in Cleveland with all the wind, cold, snow and assorted other bad weather.

Through the first three games of this preseason, however, Dawson is setting the bar even higher and has been one of the team's bright spots. He is 3-for-3 on field-goal tries, having hit the two longest of career at 57 and 53 yards.

The shorter one occurred late in the second quarter at Detroit. He's satisfied with it.

"It's nice to get a chance to kick long ones like that," he said.

The even longer one came last Monday night in the 37-34 loss to the New York Giants, and Dawson is still complaining about it.

Say what? Why in the name of Lou Groza would a kicker voice displeasure over his career-best field goal?

"Because they measured it wrong," Dawson said.

He explained, "We had the ball at the Giants' 39-yard line. I always -- always -- attempt my kicks from eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. So the ball was placed down at the 47, and when you add the extra 10 yards for the goal post being on the back line of the end zone, that makes 57 yards, not 56, right?"

Well, yeah, right.

"That's why I'm counting it as a 57-yarder," Dawson said. "From now on, that's going to be my career-long, 57 yards."

Officially, his career-long is 52 yards, which he had in both the 2002 and '03 regular seasons. Preseason statistics don't count in that regard.

But if Dawson is hitting them from 56 -- er, whoops, 57 -- and 53 yards in the preseason, it only stands to reason that he'll be able to convert kicks from that distance when the games start to count in two weeks. That's good news for the Browns, but the bigger issue right now, while we're still wrapping up the preseason with a game against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium, is trying to figure out how Dawson has been able to strengthen his leg at the age of 33.

Even though Dawson is coming off probably his best season, hitting 26-of-30 field goals and scoring 120 points, tying him for the second-highest total in Browns history, he wasn't satisfied.

"I knew I had gotten away with some things last year," he said. "I wanted to work in the offseason to change my technique a little and correct those things.

"I was a little apprehensive about doing it, because I didn't want to mess myself up. I made a promise to myself that if things weren't going well after several games, I'd abandon it and go back to my old style.

"But that's not been the case. I'm clearly hitting the ball better, and with more efficiency."

Now, if only the people measuring the distance of his kicks were as efficient.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The All-NFL "Good Guys" Team: Offense

August 23, 2008

OT: Mark Tauscher (Green Bay Packers) — T.R.I.F.E.C.T.A. Foundation

Mark Tauscher was a seventh-round pick in 2000 for the Packers and has never made a Pro Bowl, but you’ll never hear anyone say he hasn’t made a difference.

In 2005, Tauscher founded the T.R.I.F.E.C.T.A. (Tauscher’s Reading Initiative For Every Child To Achieve) Foundation to enhance education and literacy of children in Wisconsin.

With Associated Bank, Tauscher’s Foundation has raised more than $110,000 for distribution in Wisconsin.

Ginn ignites Dolphins in 24-0 win over Chiefs

August 23, 2008

MIAMI (AP) -Ted Ginn Jr. took the punt, ran backward, shook off two defenders and jetted up the left sideline. He crossed the goal line and put his fist in the air, waiting for a mob of teammates as the Miami Dolphins ' sideline erupted.

Forgive them for the preseason celebration. Miami doesn't get many chances to cheer.

Ginn had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown and added three receptions to lead the Dolphins to a 24-0 romp over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night for their second straight exhibition win. Ginn's starting to look as though he was worth that high draft pick, becoming a top target this preseason in Miami's offense.

And he's starting to get used to the celebrations.

''It's great. We love to celebrate. We were 1-15 last year and we really got away from all that enjoyment of winning and things like that. So just to go out and get two preseason games under our belt, we just need to continue and push this into the regular season.''

The speedy Ginn, taken No. 9 overall in the 2007 draft, is finally displaying the go-to-skills of a top NFL receiver. He finished with 29 yards receiving in his third solid performance of the preseason, getting a big boost with the arrival of quarterback Chad Pennington .

Pennington threw for 94 yards on 11 for 15 passing, including a 17-yard pass to Anthony Fasano that put the Dolphins ahead 17-0 at the half. Pennington, cut by the New York Jets barely two weeks ago to make room for Brett Favre , has had a smooth transition to Miami.

''With a guy like Ted, he's got something that you can't coach. And that's speed,'' Pennington said. ''It's so important to have speed. It's so hard to score with 12- and 15-play drives on a consistent basis. You have to have that quick fire power to be able to score on a big play, and Ted has that.''

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wahle named Seahawks' best free-agent addition

August 21, 2008


BEST FREE-AGENT ADDITION: Mike Wahle. He has plugged what had become a sore spot at left guard so well that even coach Mike Holmgren labels him "our best offseason acquisition."

Hauschka making the most of an opportunity

August 22, 2008

By Kevin Seifert

We told you we planned to experiment with the weekly mailbag and we're still doing it. This week, we decided to produce a feature-style post based on a reader's question or comment. Monty of Buffalo suggested telling the story of rookie placekicker Steven Hauschka, who has been in a unique position this summer with the Minnesota Vikings.

Ask and you shall receive.

Barring catastrophic injuries elsewhere, Steven Hauschka has no chance to make the Vikings' 53-man roster. He never did and knew it the day he signed as an undrafted rookie; Veteran Ryan Longwell is firmly entrenched in the job.

As it turns out, however, Hauschka could not have made a better choice. The Vikings decided this summer to curtail Longwell's preseason kicks to maintain his leg strength, giving Hauschka the relatively rare opportunity to kick exclusively in their first two preseason games.

Hauschka has made the most of it, connecting on all eight attempts -- including a 48-yard field goal last Saturday in Baltimore. Longwell is expected to resume his duties this Saturday against Pittsburgh, but if nothing else Hauschka likely has earned himself a few tryouts when the annual scramble for kicking help begins later this month.

"He's done a great job listening and taking suggestions," Longwell said. "He's realized there is a bigger picture here than just trying to kick it right now. He's done a great job and I think he has a chance to kick in this league."

Like many kickers, Hauschka took a unique road to this point. He started as a soccer player at Division III Middlebury College before walking on to the football team as a sophomore. As a result, he had one year of football eligibility remaining when he graduated in 2006.

With an eye toward the NFL, Hauschka began graduate work at N.C. State and walked on for the 2007 season. He won the Wolfpack's kicking job, made 16 of 18 field goals and led the ACC with an 88.9 percent conversion percentage.

Undrafted rookies rarely win a job in their first training camp, so Hauschka took a more global view in deciding his next step.

"I looked at it and thought, 'Ryan is obviously a 12-year veteran,'" Hauschka said. "'There's a reason why he's been around for so long. He really knows what he's doing.' I just thought I could learn a lot from him and get some good exposure while I was doing it.

"There are very few kicking coaches," Hauschka added. "So really the guys that know the most about kicking are the guys that are in the NFL, and they're not always willing to share it. I'm thankful that Ryan has been."

Among the many adjustments Longwell has suggested is squaring his hips toward the crossbar, rather than angling them toward the pylon, when setting up for a field goal. Hauschka also had a 20-minute conversation last week with Ravens kicker Matt Stover and is keeping a journal of everything he learns this summer.

"I give him a lot of credit," Longwell said. "I've been with guys in camp that I've suggested things to, and they have said, 'No, my way is the way I want to do it.' They never pan out. But he's taken the suggestions and he's got a great situation here: Two full games for himself. That's rare for an undrafted guy. He's performed well, and you never know. There's certainly some jobs open out there."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stoops a financial savior for OU

By Jake Trotter

August 21, 2008

NORMAN — Upon his arrival to Oklahoma's athletic director post, Joe Castiglione found a mess.

"I had never been involved with a department that had lost money, in my entire career,” he said. "It was foreign to me.”

But that was the scenario in May 1998.

Because he wasn't there, Castiglione can't explain how or why, but the OU athletic department had accrued an estimated $15 million in debt following years of athletic budgets that fell in the red.

Something had to change.

"It was kind of like turning a battleship,” Castiglione said. "You can't wheel it around quickly.”

Today, OU is among just a handful of institutions that not only balance their budgets, but turn windfall profits that go into academic endeavors.

The department's $15 million debt has been paid down to $4.2 million.

And in just a decade, the OU athletic department's budget has ballooned from $26.5 million to $70.8 million and the school has added women's soccer and rowing.

None of that includes the more than $120 million that was raised to renovate Memorial Stadium, including construction of the east side's upper deck.

Or the endless increases in other capital improvements, alumni giving and admissions applications.

How did this all happen?

"We can tie everything back to Bob Stoops,” Castiglione said. "The success of our football program has been like the high tide in the harbor that has raised all of the boats.”

Turning the tide

In 1998, the Sooner football team finished with a fifth consecutive non-winning season.

And the athletic department budget was in the dumps. Football was not generating enough revenue to cover the rest of the athletic department.

The result was a $15 million debt, which was substantial considering the overall operating budget hovered around $25 million

The school was only reeling in about $700,000 in advertising and sponsorships, and just $300,000 in trademarks and licensing, according to executive associate athletic director Larry Naifeh.

Castiglione's first move was to balance the budget. He decided to cut 25 positions that had come open through retirement or departure, which put a strain on the other 85-plus employees in the department.

"Tough calls were made,” he said. "But one way or another, we were going to balance the budget.”

Castiglione's next and most crucial move was hiring a football coach who could not only produce wins, but revenue streams, too.

In December 1998, Stoops was hired, tasked with resurrecting a football program that had been dormant for more than a decade.

In Stoops' first year, OU went 7-5 and reached the Independence Bowl.

Said Castiglione, "We showed a lot of promise that first year.”

Months before the 2000 season, Sooner officials scheduled the public kickoff of a $100 million capital projects campaign for Oct. 27, the weekend of the Nebraska game.

Castiglione said he was questioned as to why he didn't schedule the campaign kickoff around a game the Sooners could win.

But in the end, the timing proved to be perfect.

In its two previous games, OU had beaten Texas, 63-14, and No. 2 Kansas State on the road.

The day after the campaign was announced, OU hammered Nebraska 31-14 to assume the No. 1 ranking on the way to the school's seventh national championship.

The campaign had a three-year goal, but raised the $100 million in less than two years.

In all, the campaign raised more than $120 million, which led to construction of the east side's upper deck and suites and building of an indoor practice facility, the Everest Indoor Training Center.

"The success of that season proved to be a great catalyst for the completion of that campaign,” Castiglione said.

But the capital campaign didn't factor into the annual athletic budget. Nor did the dollars earned from appearing in a BCS bowl — that money was divided among the Big 12 schools as part of the conference's bowl revenue sharing agreement.

The national title didn't help with ticket sales, either, because the stadium had already been sold out.

"People were already buying all the tickets we had,” Castiglione said. "Let's not be na├»ve, there were ticket price increase. But we weren't going to get into price gauging.”

Still, the national title helped raise the value of a ticket.

In addition to raising its ticket pricing, the athletic department was able to reorganize its season-ticket pricing. In the past, season-ticket holders were given roughly a 35 percent discount on each ticket's face value.

OU was able to eventually lower that to between 10 and 12 percent.

OU also increased the giving categories of season-ticket holders, though about two-thirds of the stadium's seats still require no contribution.

That next year, the athletic department revenues shot up from $27.5 million to $38.1 million.

Ever since, the athletic budget has grown by average of $5.2 million a year and has turned a profit in every year.

In 2007-08, the budget was at a record $69.4 million. Football brought in $30.5 million in direct revenues, mostly from ticket sales, while contributing only $15.2 million in expenses.

But that only tells half the story.

Football has the heaviest hand in OU's other revenue streams, such as conference revenue distribution from bowl appearances, advertising and sponsorship dollars, licensing and trademark dollars, concession and program sales and alumni contributions — none of which are treated as football revenues in the budget.

Since Stoops' arrival, advertising and sponsorship revenues have increased from $700,000 to $7 million. Licensing and trademark revenues have gone from $300,000 to $3.2 million.

The athletic department has also been able to raise an additional $65 million in capital donations that has gone to other projects, like construction of indoor facilities for baseball and softball.

And the $15 million debt has been paid down to $4.2 million. The loan is expected to be repaid in full by 2012.

"The football program obviously ushered in enormous interest,” Castiglione said. "It reinforced people's faith in athletics.”

OU's athletic budgetary turnaround is even more impressive when put in context.

Prior to 2004, the NCAA commissioned Dan Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania (Ky.) University, to analyze the budgets of 313 athletic departments over a three-year span.

Unlike those done in the past, Fulks' report ignored allocated revenues (student fees, institutional support and government support) and focused on revenues directly generated by athletics (ticket sales and alumni contributions).

The study produced startling results.

Of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, only 19 operated in the black in 2006 without allocated revenues.

The rest spent more than they earned by an average of almost $7.3 million.

"The schools that are making money are schools like Oklahoma that put 80,000-100,000 in the stands for every football game,” Fulks said. "Football is what pulls the train.”

This season, Stoops will receive a $3 million bonus from the university for having remained at OU for 10 years. That's on top of $2.77 million he'll receive in guaranteed compensation this year.

High coaching salaries like Stoops' have drawn criticism in the past.

Fulks' report, however, suggests that having a winning, revenue-generating football program prevents the institution, the state or the students from having to pay for athletics.

"He is worth every penny he earns,” Castiglione said.

Only $220,000 of Stoops' annual salary comes directly from the university. The rest Stoops makes from supplemental compensation coming from endorsements and appearances.

"The vast majority of his compensation package comes from sources we wouldn't have without the level of success of the football program,” Castiglione said. "The endorsements, the radio and television, the events that he attends. Those things are successful because the football program under his leadership continues to be successful.”

Giving back

While interviewing for a dean's position at Boston College, Fulks asked the school's president how diverse the student body was on campus.

"That depends,” the president told Fulks.

Pre-Flutie, he said, 80 percent of the students were from the eastern seaboard. Post-Flutie, only 50 percent.

In 1984, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy, which increased the university's visibility outside New England.

"The Flutie Effect is very real,” Fulks said. "The visibility of a football program has non-financial benefits.”

OU president David Boren said Stoops and his winning football teams have had profound effects on the university's academic side.

"The national attention given to our football program brings many outside visitors to our campus where they become much more aware of our academic strengths,” Boren said.

"During televised football games we are also given an opportunity to provide a message outlining the strengths of our university including our academic excellence.”

Other effects are more financially tangible.

Two dollars from every Sooner football ticket purchased go toward academic endeavors. The OU athletic department also contributes an annual $1 million endowment to the university library.

Boren also believes that the success of the football team has contributed to an uptick in admissions applications and alumni giving to the non-athletic sides of the university.

"It is very difficult to exactly quantify coach Stoops' financial impact,” said Boren, who estimates that Stoops has made at least a $40 million impact to the university's non-athletic side. "An outstanding athletics program does attract students and tends to increase applications for admissions. The pride generated by athletic success does encourage private giving to the university. Much of the additional private giving results from visiting other parts of the university when friends and graduates come back to attend football games.

"Bob Stoops has had a very healthy impact on the high standards of the university in all areas. There is no doubt that he has helped to create a very positive image for the University of Oklahoma all across the nation.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

DT Colin Cole valuable to Packers

The most important Packer you don't think about

By Jason Wilde

August 20, 2008

GREEN BAY -- Colin Cole might be the most important Packers player you've never heard of. Or, at the very least, hardly thought of.

With the possible exception of having seen Cole's TV ad for a Milwaukee-area personal injury law firm, you probably don't recognize his name. That's why Cole is the pitchman for Weigel, Carlson, Blau & Clemens (You can see his ad here.) instead of selling Wranglers and Sensodyne toothpaste on TV (Brett Favre), pumping his car dealership with his face on highway billboards (Donald Driver) or reminding theatergoers to silence their cell phones before a movie starts (A.J. Hawk).

Even at his position, he's overshadowed by 2007 first-round pick Justin Harrell, starters Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett and even the departed Corey Williams, whom the Packers traded in the off-season and is clamored for by many a fan (although not as much as a certain quarterback).

Not that it matters. Cole is what he is: A hard-working, unassuming guy who's really been the only player at his position the Packers have been able to count on throughout training camp.

"Cole's always there," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "You always know what you've got. Just a solid, solid guy."

While Harrell, Jolly, Pickett and Daniel Muir have all missed practice time throughout camp -- Harrell (back) and Pickett (hamstring) have yet to practice, while Jolly (hip, tooth) and Muir (ankle, groin) have been in and out of the lineup -- Cole hasn't missed a rep and figures to make his third straight preseason start Friday night at Denver.

And if Pickett isn't ready for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, or Jolly's July arrest for felony drug possession results in a suspension for violation of the NFL's personal-conduct or substance-abuse policies, both Nunn and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said they'd have no reservations about starting the 6-foot-1, 330-pound Cole.

"You know what you're going to get with Cole. He's big and he's physical," Sanders said. "As far as being available and being loyal and being a guy you can really count on in there, he's been that guy."

If there was any doubt how much the Packers' value Cole, it should have evaporated when GM Ted Thompson placed the second-round restricted free-agent tender ($927,000) on him this spring. An undrafted free agent out of Iowa in 2003, Cole was waived by two other NFC North teams (Minnesota in 2003, Detroit in '04) before former Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman signed him to the practice squad early in the '04 season.

Ever since then, Cole has faced training-camp battles for his roster spot, but he's emerged each time. Now, he's solidified himself as what Nunn calls "a valuable, valuable player" to the Packers. Nunn said Cole was "outstanding" in his first 20 snaps at San Francisco Saturday night before making some technique mistakes later in the game.

"I came into this league as an undrafted guy, and it's been a fight for me every single year I've been in the NFL," said Cole, who has played in 41 games for the Packers (eight starts). "It's always been this guy ahead of me, that guy ahead of me, and I've always had to rise above that to show what I could do.

"The biggest plus for me now is I don't have that fear looking over my back seeing how many guys are there worrying about being out on the next cut. My first couple years, I worried about that. Now I can focus more on getting better rather than trying to impress every play -- not try to do too much, just do what I'm supposed to do."

Last season, Cole played in just seven games, first because he was toward the bottom of the rotation, then because of a fractured radius in his forearm suffered against Detroit on Nov. 22, when he had five tackles after Jolly suffered a season-ending shoulder injury a week earlier.

Cole missed the rest of the year and his arm wasn't cleared for practice until camp -- he still has a five-inch scar from the surgery, during which eight screws and a plate were inserted -- but he hasn't missed a snap since.

As a result, he's not only contributing to the Packers, but he could be a popular guy on the open market next spring as an unrestricted free agent if he plays well this season.

"The two years prior, I had been upper-echelon when it came to (the rotation at) defensive tackle, but then my role backed down a little bit last year with the first-rounder (Harrell) and the fact that Johnny was playing so well," Cole said. "So it was a little difficult as my role had shifted.

"Now, I just know that Ted really likes me and really wants me to be here. And when they gave me that second-round tender, that reaffirmed that for me and gave me a lot more confidence that they saw me in the overall plans for this year and upcoming years. I believe they don't want to let me go."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dawson shows off leg strength

August 19, 2008

By Chris Pokorny

Game Ball - Phil Dawson: Dawson's leg strength reached new highs against the Giants. His opening kickoff was deep enough to warrant a touchback, and on our first offensive drive, he connected on what would've been a career-high 56-yard field goal, had it been the regular season. He not only hit the kick straight down the middle, but he had several yards to spare. Those kicks will be critical against tough opponents like Dallas come Week 1.

Dawson nails 56-yarder against Giants


Mary Kay Cabot

August 19, 2008

Dawson nails it: Kicker Phil Dawson opened the scoring with a 56-yard field goal– 4 yards longer than his regular-season career high. Dawson has made 7-of-9 from 50 yards or more in his career.

Kansas' Mangino on the Rise

August 11, 2008

Dolphins' Ginn lives up to billing

Harvey Fialkov

August 17, 2008


Maybe speedy receiver Ted Ginn Jr., didn't live up to his draft status last year because he didn't have a quarterback named Chad throwing him the ball.

Ginn, who was drafted ninth overall by the previous regime last year, displayed the go-to-skills of a true number one receiver as he hauled in four catches for 58 yards in the first half.

The 5-foot-11, slightly built Ginn fearlessly darted across the middle where headhunting defensive backs prowl, and made lunging grabs of 22 and 17 yards to help make quarterback Chad Pennington's Dolphins' debut a rousing hit. In the second quarter, Ginn grabbed a pass in the flat from rookie Chad Henne and darted for 12 yards.

"How about them Chads?'' Ginn joked. "We had a game plan and we executed it. It was a great atmosphere. I'll just continue to play hard, play fast and just have fun.''

Ginn, who has been criticized for his inability to create separation, was toasting Jags cornerback Rashean Mathis on a regular basis. He nearly had a 43-yarder down the sideline on a perfect back-shoulder lob from Henne, but he juggled it and was ruled out of bounds. Coach Tony Sparano tossed his first challenge flag, but the call was upheld.

After the game, Ginn was adamant that he had possession of the ball before going out of bounds.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Breathtaking" Smith made Vikings offense work


AUGUST 7, 2008


Even if you're a reasonably acute football fan you may not remember Robert Smith, and not just because he has a name usually found in sleazy motels' guest registers.

Smith was a breathtaking running back for my beloved Minnesota Vikings from 1993 to 2000. While the Vikings' passing game grabbed the headlines during that era (especially once Randy Moss came to town), true fans knew it was Smith who made the bombs-away offense work, because he virtually forced opposing defenses to devote their strong safety to run-stopping - which made it easy for the Vikes' wide receivers do their thing. When frustrated defenses did slip that extra man back into pass coverage, Smith made them look silly with a loping, stand-up style that didn't look especially fast - until he was 15 yards beyond the nearest defensive back.

Smith's career was plagued by injuries that led to what was either a heroic deed or common sense that looks like heroism by comparison. He had his best season in 2000, rushing for an NFC-leading 1,521 yards. Moreover, his contract was up for renewal. At age 28, he was looking at el Payday Grande, the big career-capping contract that would be front-loaded with a non-refundable bonus ...

... and instead, he up and retired. One of his knees needed cleaning up, which was practically an off-season ritual, and he decided that with money in the bank and interests to pursue, he would leave the game and walk normally the rest of his life, rather than play another four years and limp.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dawson Drills 54-yarder in Practice

By Chris Pokorny

August 13, 2008

Dawson Clutch: To end the morning practice, Crennel asked the team if they'd put their faith in kicker Phil Dawson. If Dawson could nail a 54-yarder, their afternoon team meeting would be canceled, and the players would have spare time to do whatever they wanted. If he missed, they'd have to run laps. The team accepted the challenge, and Dawson drilled it. More than anything that serves as a great pressure situation for Dawson -- not that he needs it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Krenzel Claims Celebrity Golf Shootout Title

August 11, 2008

GROVE CITY, Ohio — Former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel claimed his second Wall to Wall Celebrity Shootout championship, beating Fredrik Modin of the Columbus Blue Jackets by three strokes at Pinnacle Golf Club.

Krenzel, who previously won the event in 2005, became the first two-time Wall to Wall Celebrity Shootout Champion.

"It's a great course," Krenzel said. "Pinnacle is very challenging. It has a lot of length and there are some areas where you can get into some trouble as we saw in the last couple holes. It's a lot of fun to play."

Modin, who struggled early in the tournament, turned things around after completing the third hole and established himself as a player to beat. Despite steady play, he was unable to overcome Krenzel's lead.

"I really had some troubles getting off the tee," Modin said. "I couldn't really keep it in the fairway and the rough killed me."

Woods's hits keep on coming

Linebacker holds nothing back

By Christopher L. Gasper

August 12, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - Pierre Woods doesn't discriminate. If you're on the field and you're in his way, then the third-year outside linebacker is going to hit you. He doesn't care who you are, friend or foe, arch enemy or family, quarterback or even a teammate defending a runback.

"I'll hit my Momma. I'll hit whoever. It doesn't make a difference," said Woods. "You've got equipment on and you step on the field in between the lines and it's, 'Hey, you ready to get hit?' It's full tilt. It doesn't make a difference. They're going to hit me, so why not me hit them?"

Woods's aggressive nature was evident in the Patriots' preseason-opening 16-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday night. While most of the focus following the game was on the play of rookie linebackers Jerod Mayo and Shawn Crable (a college teammate of Woods at Michigan), it was Woods who made the biggest impact.

Filling in as a starter at outside linebacker for Mike Vrabel, who didn't play after coming off the physically-unable-to-perform list last Tuesday, the 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound Woods set up the Patriots' only touchdown of the game with a fourth-quarter strip-sack of Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and finished with three tackles.

It was a continuation of what coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots saw last season from the 26-year-old Woods, who has grown from strictly a special teams player to a reliable backup at outside linebacker behind Vrabel and Adalius Thomas. It was a glimpse of why Woods was on the field early in the Patriots' 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

What most remember about Woods in that game is the fumble he let slip through his grasp and into the arms of New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw. But what was lost was the fact that with Rosevelt Colvin out for the season, Woods had earned the confidence of the coaching staff to be on the field in the most important game of the year.

If anybody knows what Crable (outside linebacker) and Mayo (inside linebacker) are going through trying to learn the Patriots system, it's Woods, who joined the team in 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan. That's one of the reasons Woods has taken Crable, a fellow Ohio native whom Woods has known since Crable was in the eighth grade, under his wing, just as Vrabel, Colvin, and Thomas mentored Woods.

"My first year, my head was spinning. My second year, my head was spinning. My third year, my head is still spinning," said Woods. "It doesn't stop. It's always something new that you have to learn around here. That's the good thing about being here - you learn a lot. You've got great coaches and great players around you, and you can always learn from them."

Part of what Woods has learned is that being overly physical isn't always necessary. Last year, he injured fellow linebacker Eric Alexander when he hit him too hard with a celebratory shove after Alexander made a tackle on the opening kickoff of the Patriots' 48-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

At times Woods's exuberance might be misplaced, but it's also what makes him a good fit in New England, where an infatuation with football is a prerequisite.

"Football is fun. It's always been fun to me. I love football," said Woods. "I always have loved football. There is nothing else in this world that I will ever do besides play football. Where else do you get to hit people and you don't go to jail for it or nothing like that? I mean, I'd hit your mother if she had equipment on."

That comment drew laughter from the assembled media. Woods was playing to the crowd a little bit, but his point was made.

With Colvin now playing for the Houston Texans and Vrabel still working his way back, Woods has an opportunity to push for more playing time and to prove that his apprenticeship at outside linebacker is nearly complete.

It's an opportunity Woods doesn't take lightly.

"Every day, you have to come out here and you have to work hard because anything can happen," said Woods. "Just like last year and [Buffalo Bills tight end] Kevin Everett and some of the [NFL] guys who got killed last year. This is always an opportunity. God has given us the ability to be out here and play football and use your talents and everything, so why not take full advantage of that?"

Woods then referenced a group of disabled children from the AccesSportAmerica program who visited practice yesterday to illustrate just how lucky he is to have a chance to play in the NFL.

"They can't do the things that we do," said Woods, who signed autographs for the children after the walkthrough practice, along with Belichick and the rest of the team. "By us being out here and walking over to them, that put a smile on their face and made them happy. Anytime you see that, it makes you feel happy. It makes you feel good inside. Your heart starts to melt."

That's the paradox of Pierre Woods. He's a big hitter with a big heart.

Woods "best out of all" linebackers in Pats' preseason opener

Easy to defend this group

Young linebackers provide big boost

By Mike Reiss

August 11, 2008

When compared to the rest of the NFL over the last eight years, the Patriots have done well in identifying college talent and integrating those players into their system.

And any mention of young linebackers must also include Pierre Woods, a rookie free agent from 2006, who although now in his third season has not seen extensive playing time in the regular defense at outside 'backer. But Woods (6-5, 250 pounds) essentially went wire to wire Thursday night and might have been the most impressive linebacker of all with three tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

As a former linebacker, longtime Patriot Steve Nelson naturally was keeping an eye on the team's new talent at the position.

Then there was Woods, who began building positive momentum on the second play of the game by taking on fullback Le'Ron McLain, shedding his block, and dropping Rice after a 1-yard gain. It was the type of no-frills power-based play that outside linebackers must make to earn playing time in the Patriots' defense. Woods then capped his night in the fourth quarter by sacking quarterback Joe Flacco and forcing a fumble, which he recovered.

"I thought he played the best out of all of them," Nelson said. "He was around the ball all night. You can see him improving, and that's going to be important for the Patriots because through the course of the year you need seven, eight linebackers to play."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pierre Woods pulls weight at LB

By Karen Guregian

August 9, 2008

FOXBORO - While rookie linebackers Jerod Mayo and Shawn Crable received most of the accolades following the Patriots’ 16-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in their preseason opener Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, the efforts of third-year linebacker Pierre Woods shouldn’t go overlooked.

Woods, who played most of the game in Mike Vrabel’s usual spot at left outside linebacker, set the edge and had the upper hand in most of his battles against tight ends and tackles.

Most impressive was his fourth quarter strip-sack of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and ensuing fumble recovery.

Known largely for his special teams play - last year he led the team with 22 special teams tackles - Woods is trying to finally break in on the linebacker rotation and make an impact on defense.

“The whole offseason I was up here for almost the entire year working out and working hard,” Woods said after Thursday’s game. “I will continue to do the things I’m supposed to do to become a better linebacker, and hopefully it will pay off.”

Coach Bill Belichick called Woods “one of our hardest-working kids. I think he has improved every year.”

Woods, meanwhile, could certainly relate to how rookies like Mayo and Crable felt playing their first NFL game.

“I think everyone is nervous their first game,” Woods said. “I was nervous my first game. It is the NFL, not college anymore. In college, you have a little bit more fun and time on your hands, and here it’s work, work, work. You got to do your job and know what you’re supposed to do and pay attention to detail.”

Friday, August 08, 2008

Pierre Woods Stars in Pats' Preseason Opener

There were some bright spots — mostly on defense, where many of New England’s regulars saw at least a few series’ worth of action.

Pierre Woods was the standout, as the former undrafted rookie finished with three tackles, a sack, a forced and recovered fumble and a pass defensed. He was one of the few players to play the entire game.

Woods started at outside linebacker opposite Adalius Thomas. With Mike Vrabel just coming off the physically unable to perform list, Woods has gotten a lot of time with the first-team defense in training camp. He led New England with 21 special-teams tackles last year but did not see much time with the defense.

“I think he’s improved every year,” Belichick said of Woods. “He has had a good training camp this year and it looked like he got in on a few plays out there.”

“I was up here [in New England] for almost the entire (offseason) working out and working hard,” Woods said. “I will continue to do the things I’m supposed to do to become a better linebacker, and hopefully it will all pay off.”

Monday, August 04, 2008

DT Colin Cole impressive in training camp

In the trenches

By Bill Huber

August 1, 2008

Allen Barbre, battling Daryn Colledge to be the starting left guard, beat Alfred Malone in back-to-back reps in one-on-one pass-rushing. Earlier, Malone beat Colledge.

Colin Cole had perhaps the most impressive rep, getting underneath starting right guard Jason Spitz and bulldozing to the “quarterback.” Impressive rookie Jeremy Thompson beat starting left tackle Chad Clifton with a strong inside move.

Krenzel Delivered in the Clutch for Buckeyes

What is 'it' about the clutch players?

By Mark Schlabach

August 1, 2008

What made former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana play so calmly in the final seconds of the fourth quarter?

What caused former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel to lead his team to so many comeback victories during the Buckeyes' 2002 national championship season?

What was really running through Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's veins last season?

If college football coaches knew the answer, they would surely bottle it and pass it on to generations of players to come. But for the most part, coaches really aren't sure what drives the sport's greatest clutch players.

From Montana to Krenzel to Ryan, some college players just thrive under pressure. It is a trait seemingly derived from the same DNA that determines the color of a player's hair and eyes.

Craig Krenzel delivered in the clutch for the Buckeyes.

"Those guys just have it," Tressel said. "They don't blink."

Krenzel barely blinked during his two seasons as Ohio State's starter. As a sophomore, he was thrust into the starting role when teammate Steve Bellisari was suspended for drunken driving, days before the Buckeyes played rival Michigan. Krenzel led the Buckeyes to a 26-20 upset of the No. 11 Wolverines, the Buckeyes' first victory in Ann Arbor since 1987.

Afterward, Krenzel said, "I was surprisingly calm. I was more calm than before my first high school start."

The next season, Krenzel stayed remarkably cool during a series of memorable comebacks. He ran for the winning touchdown in the final minutes of a 23-19 victory over Cincinnati in the opener. Late in the season, when the Buckeyes were trying to remain unbeaten, they trailed Purdue 6-3 late in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-1, Krenzel threw a 37-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins with 1:36 left for a 10-6 victory.

Against defending national champion Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Krenzel led the Buckeyes to a 31-24 upset in two overtimes. He completed only seven passes, but five of his throws were for first downs. He also ran for a game-high 81 yards and two touchdowns.

"A guy like Craig, because he worked so hard to master the things he needed to do, that gave him the confidence for his innate qualities to express themselves," Tressel said. "One of his strengths was his toughness and his belief in himself. He thought, 'Hey, don't worry about it. I'm going to get it done.'"

Krenzel named one of Big Ten's all-time clutch players

Big Ten's clutch players from the past

August 1, 2008

By Adam Rittenberg

Here's a look at 10 players who earned the title of "Captain Clutch" during their Big Ten careers:

Anthony Carter, WR, Michigan [1979-82] -- Carter was only a freshman when he played a part in one of the greatest plays in Michigan history, hauling in a 45-yard touchdown pass as time expired to beat Indiana in 1979. The wideout/return man had 37 touchdown receptions in three seasons.

Kerry Collins, QB, Penn State [1991-94] -- Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, and Collins made his mark the next year. He led the Nittany Lions to a 12-0 record, which included three road victories (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois) by seven points or fewer.

Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin [1996-99] -- The NCAA's all-time rushing leader made his mark in big games, winning back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards after rushing for 246 yards and 200 yards in Badger victories. Dayne also had a 246-yard effort in his first bowl appearance, a Cotton Bowl win against Utah.

Bob Griese, QB, Purdue [1964-66] -- Griese's near-flawless performance in Purdue's upset of No. 1 Notre Dame in 1965 stands as one of the greatest in team history. The next year he led the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl appearance and a 14-13 win against USC.

Brian Griese, QB, Michigan [1994-97] -- After coming off the bench to rally the Wolverines past Ohio State in 1996, Griese cemented himself as a clutch quarterback the next season. He led Michigan to a 12-0 record and a national championship, winning five games by 10 points or fewer, including a 21-16 triumph over Washington State in the Rose Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh, QB, Michigan [1983-86] -- Considered by many to be the best quarterback in school history, Harbaugh led Michigan to a 27-23 win against Nebraska in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. He won four games by three points or fewer as a senior.

Nile Kinnick, RB, Iowa [1937-39] -- The stadium is named after him for a reason. Kinnick did it all for Iowa, including a 63-yard punt that pinned No. 1 Notre Dame at the 6-yard line in a 7-6 Hawkeyes win in 1939.

Craig Krenzel, QB, Ohio State [2000-03] -- He took heat for his arm strength, but no one could question his late-game toughness. The two-time Fiesta Bowl MVP led Ohio State to a national title in 2002 with his arm and his legs.

Chuck Long, QB, Iowa [1981-85] -- A dramatic fourth-down touchdown run against Michigan State kicked off a memorable 1985 season for the Hawkeyes and Long, who many believe should have won the Heisman Trophy. Two weeks later, Long rallied Iowa past Michigan.

Mike Nugent, PK, Ohio State [2001-04] -- Record-setting kicker was nearly unshakable under pressure. He kicked game-tying and game-winning field goals to beat Purdue in overtime in 2003, and his game-winning 55-yard kick against Marshall stands out in an otherwise forgettable 2004 season.

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