Thursday, October 30, 2008

USA Today Names Donte Whitner an All-Pro

Midseason All-Pro team: Who's been best in NFL's first half?

By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY

October 30, 2008

Who's en route to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl? USA TODAY chooses its top performers of the first half of the year with the midseason All-Pro team:


DE — Justin Tuck, Giants: No Strahan, no Osi, no problem. Versatile playmaker sparks still-dominant front.

DT — Kris Jenkins, Jets: With impact newcomer in 3-4 scheme, Jets run D has improved from 29th to fourth.

DT — Albert Haynesworth, Titans: Anchors NFL's stingiest defense; tied with Vikings' Kevin Williams for most sacks (six) by DT.

DE — John Abraham, Falcons: Few, if any, are as fast off the snap. His seven sacks, two forced fumbles evidence of impact.

OLB — James Harrison, Steelers: As emergency long-snapper, not so good. As force on the edge (8½ sacks), carries Pitt tradition.

MLB — London Fletcher, Redskins: Inspirational heartbeat of D always all over the field, and doesn't take plays off.

OLB — Joey Porter, Dolphins: Nope, not washed up. Leads NFL with 10½ sacks, already matching career high.

CB — Charles Woodson, Packers: Playing on broken toe, tied for NFL-high four INTs (two for TDs); snuffed out Reggie Wayne.

CB — Cortland Finnegan, Titans: With his four picks and playmaking skills, former seventh-rounder getting fewer passes his way.

CB — Antoine Winfield, Vikings: At 5-9, 180, great pound-for-pound value; maybe NFL's most underrated playmaker.

SS — Donte Whitner, Bills: No questions now about whether Buffalo reached to draft him eighth overall in 2006.

FS — Michael Griffin, Titans: Has emerged as a star in his second season; range reflected with four picks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dallas Clark has huge game on Monday night

October 28, 2008

By John Oehser -

DOUBLE DOSE OF DALLAS: Dallas Clark hardly could have timed things better.

Clark, a year after setting a franchise record for touchdown receptions by a tight end, hadn’t caught a touchdown pass in the season’s first six games.

On Monday, the Colts played their biggest game of the season. And Clark had his biggest game, too.

Clark, a sixth-year veteran, caught a pair of touchdown passes from Manning in the Colts’ loss to the Titans Monday night – a 10-yarder late in the first quarter and a 19-yarder early in the third quarter to give the Colts an eight-point lead.

The 10-yarder was the first time this season the Titans allowed a first-quarter touchdown.

Clark finished the game with seven receptions for a team-high 94 yards.

Krenzel addresses Knight Commission on student-athletes' rights

NCAA unlikely to wage war on fantasy site

By Jack Carey, USA TODAY

October 28, 2008

WASHINGTON — The emergence of fantasy sports leagues using collegiate athletes' names and statistics in apparent disregard for NCAA amateurism principles has the attention of the reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which debated the topic at Monday's meeting where commission member Nick Buoniconti criticized the NCAA for what he called a "weak response" to the issue.

The CBS site this year introduced a fantasy football game that utilizes NCAA players and their statistics, after a court ruling over a similar issue involving major league baseball players was decided in favor of another fantasy league provider.

The NCAA asked CBS to cease implementation of the football league because of the association's amateurism bylaws but has been reluctant to take legal action because of the court ruling in the baseball case.

CBS pays the NCAA $6.2 billion for the rights to the annual Division I basketball tournament.

Buoniconti, a former Miami Dolphins star, who serves on the Board of Trustees at Miami (Fla.), chided the NCAA for not standing up for players.

"I've always though the NCAA doesn't act as an advocate for student-athletes but represents universities," he said. "The NCAA should be leading the fight for student-athletes. Go back and examine your response to fantasy football and every other area of commercialization that could exploit student-athletes. Go back and review what your purpose is."

Wally Renfro, senior advisor to NCAA president Myles Brand, said understood the sentiment but maintained the NCAA's hands are tied.

"I think no matter how passionate you feel about this, I've yet to hear an argument that the association has the standing to take this on legally," Renfro said. "The association does not own the publicity rights of the student-athletes, and that's what this case is about. The association has taken on a number of cases in which it has looked at protecting the rights of the student-athlete. This is one in which the association has not been able to identify a standing for doing so."

Although players themselves could likely try to take CBS or a similar fantasy game provider to court, Renfro said he's not sure if anyone wants to.

"I've not heard an uproar or even a murmur (from players) that they take issue with this," he said. "I'm not going to say they don't care. I'm just unaware what their position is."

Former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, addressing the commission on athletes rights and commercialization, said he'd like to see former players who are now college administrators or in the business world form an advocacy group for current and future players. One idea, he said, would be to explore the possibility of fantasy league providers setting aside some profits from the games to fund post-graduate scholarships for athletes.

"There probably needs to be athletes or former athletes spearheading such a campaign, working in conjunction with the NCAA and universities and conferences to try to secure the brightest future for these student-athletes," he said.

CBS had no comment on Krenzel's suggestion, according to LeslieAnne Wade, senior vice president of communications. Neither would the network release the number of fantasy players in its football game. There is no cost to enter games and no prizes are awarded. And, according to Wade, while a basketball fantasy game has been discussed, there is nothing officially planned yet.

One site,, charges to play its college fantasy game and advertises $35,000 in prizes.

The issue of athletes rights continues the long debate over whether players should ever be compensated. But after Northwestern president Henry Bienen said athletes already receive thouusands of dollars in scholarship money and special services like tutoring, Buoniconti, a former Notre Dame player, said during a break, "That's bull. We earrn every single nickel of that scholarship. We put seats in the stadiumm. We put seats in the skyboxes. What do you tink the TV networks are showing?"

The commission also received a report from James Isch, the NCAA's senior vice president of administration and chief financial officer, on the association's efforts to improve the accuracy of financial data reported by Division I athletic programs and on the overall health of Division I programs.

In fiscal year 2006, the report showed, only 19 of 118 schools in the NCAA's Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) generated revenue that exceed their expenses. The 99 schools who had expenses exceeding revenues lost an average of $8.9 million that year.

Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College, said that since some coaches are making as much as eight or 10 times more money than presidents of universities, the NCAA should seek an antitrust exemption from Congress in order to reign in salaries and implement more control.

"That idea has been talked about from time to time, virtually for as long as I can remenber," Renfro said. "But it's never been one that has gained much popularity among our membership, that has been perceived as one that we would have high success at getting, or that if we got, would necessarily be one that member institutions would ascede to.

"At the end of the day, even if you had the exemption, member institutions would have to agree to cede authority to the association to have a larger role in determining spending than it does today. And institutions are very jealous of their autonomy in that area, because (schools) are so varied in nature. It's so difficult to find a path that is satisfactory to a majority of institutions.

Praise for Al Groh

By David Teel

October 27, 2008

If Virginia football coach Al Groh ever needs a reference, or even an agent, he should call Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg.

At the ACC's basketball media gathering Sunday in Atlanta, Greenberg called Groh's work guiding the Cavaliers from a 1-3 start to first place in the Coastal Division the best coaching job he's seen in his five years in the conference.

Greenberg's remarks were unprompted and knowledgeable. You could tell he's followed the football season, from Virginia's struggles against Southern California, Richmond, Connecticut and Duke, to its four subsequent victories over Maryland, East Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

"As a coach," Greenberg said, "the hardest thing to do is get your team back. To get that team back on point, and to get them believing and trusting in one another is a testament to coaching. As a coach, you want to sit down and study them and say, 'What did you do to keep the guys together?' "

Some other leftovers from Sunday's basketball interviews:

Virginia coach Dave Leitao suggested his Cavaliers will take advantage of their new-found depth and gamble more defensively.

"For three years we played defense by the book, conservatively, like a baseball manager," said Leitao, entering his fourth season at U.Va. "We went by the percentages."

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said of sophomore guard Terrence Oglesby, "It would not surprise me at all if at the end of the day he's the career scoring leader at Clemson."

Oglesby averaged 10.2 points last season and displayed outrageous shooting range, making 40.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Purnell admitted he had no idea who Clemson's top career scorer is, or how many points he totaled. When we looked it up in the Tigers' media guide, we found it was Elden Campbell with 1,880.

Oglesby scored 356 last season. Given a conservative estimate of 30 games a year, he would need to average 17 points a game for the next three seasons to surpass Campbell.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dawson's field goals seal Browns' win

October 28, 2008

Ted Ginn Jr. comes up big

October 28, 2008

Thumbs up for Virginia, Oklahoma

By Mike Lopresti

October 27, 2008

Thumbs of the week:

Up to the service academies. Anybody can spread the field and start throwing. But Army, Navy and Air Force have each won a game this season without completing a pass. Navy didn't even try one Saturday against Southern Methodist.

•Up to Virginia. The team that lost three games in September by scores of 52-7, 45-10 and 31-3 now leads its division in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

•Up to Oklahoma. Let's put it this way. The Sooners scored 55 points in one half against Kansas State. Wyoming has 70 points in eight games.

•Up to Kevin Goessling. The most powerful leg this side of the Rockettes. The Fresno State kicker beats Utah State with a 58-yard field goal as time runs out.

•Down to Tennessee. Among the dark numbers in this bleak season: The Vols have lost to Florida, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 85-29.

•Down to the Big Ten replay official at Ann Arbor. He reverses an on-field call and rules a Michigan touchdown, even though the scorer hit a pylon. Maybe they need a rulebook in the booth.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Consistent Cole earning his keep

Making positive impact


October 24, 2008

Green Bay - Minus any fanfare, unheralded Colin Cole has been the Green Bay Packers' most reliable and productive defensive tackle through the first seven games.

These are heady heights indeed for Cole, the deep-thinking former free agent from Iowa. Since arriving in Green Bay as a December fill-in in 2004, he has outlasted three players that the Packers expected to render him expendable and is moving into position to secure a long-term contract.

“Right now, I’m just happy being in the NFL,” Cole said this week. “I wasn’t drafted coming out, so I know what it’s like to not have an opportunity and not have a job. I hope to be here with the Packers for the rest of my career.”

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, Cole should attract interest if he sustains his current level of play and the Packers don’t re-sign him.

Not only has Cole become more stout at the point of attack, he is providing a degree of pass rush which, for his girth, undoubtedly has drawn notice across the league.

“All three of the D-tackles have been effective but Cole probably has been the most consistent,” said position coach Robert Nunn. “He’s taken advantage of his opportunity. He’s a steady hand.”

After Aaron Kampman, Johnny Jolly ranks second in playing time among defensive linemen at 70.2%. Ryan Pickett (53.2%) is third and Cole, whose 50.3% is the highest of his career, is fourth.

Cole attributes his increased production to the simple fact that he’s playing more. It was just 12 months ago, Cole reminded a listener, that he was inactive for two games despite being healthy.

“That uncertainty caused me to feel like, ‘Well, if I get in, I have to make a play,’ ” said Cole. “ ‘If I don’t, they’re going to take me out, or whatever.’ This year, not having that pressure and not putting that pressure on myself, I can just be cool, calm and let stuff come to me.”

The primary responsibility for a defensive tackle in coordinator Bob Sanders’ scheme is staying square against the run. Previously, Cole had a few too many plays in which he would be turned or buckled.

Cole, who stands just 6 feet 1½ inches, is playing about 10 pounds heavier than ever before at 328. He ranks with center Scott Wells as the strongest player on the roster, so power never has been a problem.

“I haven’t given up much movement at all this year,” he said. “Guys have to respect the fact that they can’t move me off the ball as well.”

Nunn called Pickett the best of the three at holding the point of attack but said Cole shows the most gap discipline, the area in which Jolly most needs improvement.

But Cole is doing more than just holding his ground. He also has 26 tackles in 241 snaps, a tackle-per-snap average of one per 9.27. That trails only Pickett’s unit-leading mark of one every 7.97 but is better than Jolly’s one every 11.59.

“Johnny can shed a block quicker and go make a play in the backfield,” said Nunn. “Colin may not make plays beyond the line, but it’s going to be a 1- or 2-yard gain. When he does get knocked off, he bounces off and makes a play.”

Until now, Cole basically had been categorized with most men his size as a non-pass rusher. A poor 40-yard dash time (5.27 seconds) at the 2003 combine helped deep-six his chances to be drafted, and he doesn’t have the quick twitch most successful interior rushers have.

But then, almost inexplicably, Cole finished as the best pass rusher in the one-on-one rush segments during August after ranking a lowly ninth in 2007. And he has followed it up with seven hurries and one knockdown in the first seven games, a total of eight “pressures” that ranks third behind Kampman (20) and Cullen Jenkins (16½).

Cole is averaging one “pressure” every 30.13 snaps, far better than Jolly and Pickett and the fourth-best mark on the line. Cole’s career high is one every 51.11 snaps in 2005.

“He’s shown up every game,” said Nunn. “He does a good job with leverage and getting on the edge of guys when pass shows.”

Flushes by Cole were partially responsible for sacks by Kampman against Dallas and by Charles Woodson against Seattle. Cole whipped Seahawk guard Floyd Womack for a clean sack but lost it due to a penalty.

“I can give them the bull but I can also give them moves on the edge that give them fits,” Cole said. “I’m using my hands better. I’m also more explosive than I’ve been.”

A pragmatist, Cole understands what the organization has invested in Justin Harrell and desires to see him play soon. But since the days in February that the Packers traded Corey Williams and then gave him the second-round restricted-free agent tender ($1.417 million) rather than the low tender ($927,000), Cole says he knew the club was serious about him.

“You know what?” said Cole. “What it comes down to is, the team wants to win. You’re not going to sacrifice trying to get somebody’s feet wet for winning. It’s not going to happen.”

Cole also is keenly aware that teams always are trying to replace backups. He was supposed to be beat out by James Lee and Donnell Washington in the summer of 2005, by Kenderick Allen in the summer of 2006 and by Harrell in the summer of 2007.

All but Harrell are out of football, and Cole believes that the first-round pick still will have to prove himself.

“Colin’s always in good shape,” said Nunn. “Good for our football team, good for our locker room. He’s an outstanding player and I’m glad he’s here.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Healthy Cole Showing Strong All-Around Presence

by Mike Spofford

October 22, 2008

Last year, when defensive tackle Colin Cole got his first chance to make a significant impact on the Packers' defense, he came through, but due to an injury he was never able to build on that performance.

This year Cole is again making an impact, and he's steadily showing up more and more with each successive week.

Back in 2007, Cole was somewhat of a bit player in the Packers' defensive line rotation as a backup to the team's top three defensive tackles -- Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Corey Williams. Through the first 10 games of the season, he was inactive twice because of a mild concussion and twice because of gameday roster decisions, and he made just eight tackles in the six games he did play.

But then Jolly went down with a season-ending shoulder injury against Carolina on Nov. 18, and with rookie Justin Harrell not yet recovered from an ankle injury, Cole immediately moved up in the rotation for the Thanksgiving game four days later in Detroit.

He responded admirably to the call, posting a season-high five tackles (three solo), plus a pass breakup, before a freak pile-up during a goal-line situation fractured his forearm, ending his season seemingly just as it was getting going.

Fast forward to this year, and injuries once again have forced a larger role on Cole than initially thought, even after Williams was traded to Cleveland in the offseason. Harrell has yet to play because of two offseason back surgeries, and end Cullen Jenkins, who would often move to tackle in passing situations, has been lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle.

That has left Cole in essentially a three-tackle rotation with Pickett and Jolly, and the fourth-year pro is producing at the rate he likely would have last year had he not gotten hurt.

"He's been outstanding," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "The guy has been a solid performer since I've been here. He's been steady, done everything we've asked him to do.

"He's taken advantage of his opportunities this year, and has made the most of them. He's made some big plays in some key moments, and I'm extremely proud for Colin."

Cole has posted 26 tackles (15 solo) on the season, including five in each of the last three games since Jenkins went down and his workload increased. Cole's game also has evolved from being strictly a first- or second-down run-stuffer to playing any down and providing some interior pass rush when needed.

He has yet to record an official sack this season, but Cole had one two weeks ago at Seattle that was wiped out by a penalty on a teammate. Then last Sunday against Indianapolis, he got his arms around Peyton Manning's waist and was dragging him to the ground as Manning got rid of the ball.

Add to that two deflected passes in the past two games and Cole is certainly doing his part to help collapse the pocket, adding considerably to his contributions.

"The guy is playing as good as anyone up there in the front," Nunn said. "I may be wrong on this, but I think every game he's had a pressure or a quarterback hit. And he should have drawn a couple more holding calls. I think he ended up drawing one, but he certainly could have drawn a couple more.

"That's as important as pressures and hits, when you back them up. He's done an outstanding job and I've got as much confidence in him as I do anyone up there."

Cole's steady, increasing production is also a sign there are no lingering effects from the broken arm from last November.

Nunn said he really sensed Cole coming on back in Week 3, when he made one of his best plays of the season against Dallas, shedding one of the Cowboys' massive offensive linemen to get to running back Marion Barber.

"He was a little tentative at first, but that went away pretty fast," Nunn said of Cole's recovery. "That was the only thing that slowed him a little bit early was getting comfortable with sticking that thing in there after what was a pretty serious injury."

Cole played more than 40 snaps against Indianapolis, his most in quite some time. He may not be called upon for that much duty again anytime soon after the bye, as the defensive tackle depth should improve once Harrell is activated from the physically unable to perform list.

But after his season was cut short in '07, the Packers now know what they have in Cole for '08. And with everything that has occurred injury-wise on the defensive line this year, it's hard to imagine where the unit would be without him.

"I'm glad he's in a Packer uniform," Nunn said. "He's a solid performer. He's good for our meeting room, our locker room and our team as a whole, and I'm just glad we've got him."

Buffalo stampede: Bills on move with rising star at safety

October 21, 2008

By Rick Gosselin

There is a film clip on YouTube of Buffalo's selection of Ohio State safety Donte Whitner with the eighth overall pick of the 2006 NFL draft.

Whitner keeps that clip on his home computer – plus his Web site, MySpace page and blog, for that matter – to remind him of how humble his NFL beginnings were.

Whitner was perceived as a draft-day reach by media pundits and fans. The YouTube clip shows a fan screaming after the selection, "Who?" The pick also was roundly booed at NFL Draft Central in New York that day.

"I remember how I felt," Whitner said. "I remember how much it hurt. I always keep that in mind. I use that to motivate me and drive me. As hard as I worked to prepare for the combine and draft so I could get drafted that high … then to get booed really hurt."

Whitner was an All-Big Ten safety at Ohio State. The Bills drafted him because he fit a need for them in the changing nature of the NFL – he was a coverage safety. At 5-10, 208 pounds, he wasn't the prototypical thumper at the position. But the undersized Whitner could line up in the slot and cover a third receiver.

"You can't find too many strong safeties in the NFL who do that," Bills backup safety Bryan Scott said. "That's how versatile he is."

Whitner has started since Day 1 with the Bills. He posted 100 tackles each of his first two seasons, earning a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team in 2006.

"I remember Oakland was praised for taking [Texas safety] Michael Huff [with the seventh overall pick]," recalled Whitner of his draft.

Huff was finally benched by the Raiders last weekend.

"I remember the fans and the media saying the Bills should have taken [USC quarterback] Matt Leinart," Whitner said.

Leinart has started only 16 games in his three NFL seasons at Arizona and sits the bench these days as the aging arm of Kurt Warner has taken the Cardinals to the top of the NFC West.

"Fans and media should give it two or three years to see how a draft pick works out before they pass judgment," Whitner said. "Think of how disappointed the Buffalo fans and organization would be if I didn't work out.

"I bet they like that 5-1 right now."

The Bills lead the AFC East with that 5-1 record and rank 10th in the NFL in defense, eighth in pass defense. Whitner has been a big part of Buffalo's turnaround this season with his team runner-up 31 tackles.

The Bills may have reached for Whitner in April 2006 – but they were reaching for a player who has proven worthy of that eighth overall selection. That's the bottom line on draft day – pick players who can make you a better football team, regardless what round. Whitner has done that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Giants safety Michael Johnson earns a game ball

A look back to New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers

by Mike Garafolo

October 20, 2008


*S Michael Johnson.
I've been telling you folks for a while I think these Giants safeties are underrated. Maybe MJ will get some respect now that he's notched a pair of INTs. The first one, I think even I could have had that one. But the second one was a tremendous play. That ball was on him as soon as he turned. That's not an easy play.

What we learned in the Pac-10, Week 8

October 19, 2008

By's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action.

The Pac-10 is down because it goes limp on the road: Stanford and California both expected to move up in the conference pecking order this weekend but they were doomed from the start: They were playing on the road and Pac-10 teams don't win on the road in 2008 -- unless, for obvious reasons, the opponent is Washington or Washington State. Conference teams are now 8-22 on the road this year -- 6-14 in conference play -- and five of those conference road wins came at the Huskies and Cougars. Arizona's win at UCLA still ranks as the best road win of the season in conference play. Cal, the conference's only other ranked team besides USC entering the weekend, looked like a team that could push its way into the top half of the national rankings, but it flopped in the second half at Arizona. Its two losses this year were on the road (the other at Maryland). Bay Area neighbor Stanford is unbeaten (3-0) at home but is 1-4 on the road, the one win coming, yes, at Washington.

Whitner is the heart of Bills' defense

October 17, 2008


Building a franchise in the NFL is widely considered the toughest job in professional sports. There are so many variables that go into constructing a team that many try and fail on a yearly basis.

The Bills have come flying out of the gates this season and look like a complete football team for the first time in over a decade. The players and coaches should be given credit for their amazing performance thus far, but the success of the franchise is owed to one man: Marv Levy.

Many people were skeptical when owner Ralph Wilson when he re-hired Levy in January 2006. At the age of 80, critics worried Levy may be too old to still operate at a high level.

He wasted no time in beginning to mold the team to his vision. He hired Dick Jauron two weeks into his tenure, a move questioned by fans across Buffalo. He then started building his offensive line, which was a staple of his '90s Bills teams, whom he coached to four straight Super Bowl appearances.

He, along with coaches, made the decision to move All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters to the offensive line from tight end. This move may have been the most instrumental in the resurgence of the line.

He followed, the next off-season, by adding respected league veterans Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker. In 2007, he drafted starter Brad Butler and signed free agent Kirk Chambers who have both made contributions this season.

To see Levy's true imprint on the Bills, one must look no farther than his two draft classes.

Quarterback Trent Edwards and strong safety Donte Whitner, both team captains, are the leaders on their respective sides of the ball.

Whitner was the first pick Levy made as GM and it has paid big dividends that Bills fans would have never dreamt of. One of the best young defenders at his position, Whitner consistently brings intensity to each play. He is the heart of a defense that ranks seventh in total defense this season, up from second to last a year ago.

Dallas Clark: Good Guy of the Week

October 20, 2008

In this business, we in the media often rely on players and coaches to call us back. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but rarely do we get a phone call like the one I got last week from Indianapolis Pro Bowler Dallas Clark, who I tried to reach in the wake of the Colts' first vintage offensive game of the season.

"Peter, this is Dallas Clark of the Colts. I just wanted to call and let you know that I did get the message to call you after the game, and I left the locker room, and got with my family and friends, and went out to eat, and I totally forgot to call you. I apologize. I totally forgot and I'm really sorry. I just wanted to let you know I should have called you. It wasn't anybody's fault but mine, and I'm sorry. I hope you're having a good day, and if you need me, reach out to me again. I will talk to you soon. Bye bye.''

"Kudos" to Giants' Safety Michael Johnson

By ETVal

October 20, 2008

Kudos to ...

• Michael Johnson: Two interceptions for the second-year safety -- the first two of his career, in fact. The first one set up a field goal and the second one negated a potential San Francisco touchdown. That makes Johnson responsible for a 10-point swing in the game all by himself. Yes, he gets 'kudos.'

Whitner executes perfect open field tackle

October 20, 2008

All you high-school coaches out there having trouble teaching your defense how to tackle and wrap up in the open field need to get video of the Buffalo-San Diego game. Early in the third quarter, Bills safety Donte Whitner wrapped up wideout Legedu Naanee in the flat for a gain of three. Perfect.

Giants safety Michael Johnson gets his first two NFL interceptions vs. 49ers

By csstephe

October 19, 2008

Michael Johnson (20) celebrates his second quarter interception with teammate Chase Blackburn.

Before Sunday's 29-17 win over San Francisco, second-year safety Michael Johnson had no career interceptions. Then, in the span of three minutes, he snared two.

"Turnovers are everything," Johnson said after the game.

They were certainly a large factor in the Giants' victory over the 49ers. But through the first five games of the season, the defense had only tallied two takeaways. With Johnson's pair of interceptions -- and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka's third-quarter fumble recovery -- that number more than doubled.

Johnson first picked off San Francisco quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan with just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter, running it back 18 yards to the San Francisco 9-yard line to set up John Carney's 21-yard field goal.

He then ended San Francisco's next possession right before the half by staying inside 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle and intercepting O'Sullivan's pass in the end zone.

"He threw the ball right to me," Johnson said of O'Sullivan. "It stuck out like a gift."

The second interception thwarted San Francisco's attempt to tie the score heading into the half (they entered the break trailing 17-10). But his secondary teammates were most impressed with the way Johnson played the pass, turning along with the receiver at the right time to make the play.

"It's very tough," safety James Butler said of the play. "It shows you how good of an athlete Michael Johnson is."

Versatile Whitner assumes three positions

By Allen Wilson

October 19, 2008

The Buffalo Bills went into Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers without several defensive players.

Their solution? Play Donte Whitner at several positions.

With cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Ashton Youboty sidelined with injuries, Whitner stepped in and played corner in the base and nickel packages. He also played a lot at free safety as well as his normal strong safety spot.

Whitner's versatility helped make up for some of the missing players and proved to be a key to the Bills' 23-14 victory.

"I moved around from the nickel to the strong to the free safety, played some corner, and we held them to 14 points, so that's a good thing," he said. "The coaches told me before the season that I would be used all over the field. I don't know if this is what they had in mind, but I definitely enjoyed the extra responsibility."

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said using Whitner as a roaming defender allowed the team to take full advantage of his athletic ability. Just as impressive as playing multiple positions was his memorizing the assignments for every role.

"It's a tribute to him because he learned all those positions," Fewell said. "I thought it was important for us to do that to break with some tendencies."

Fewell's defensive shake-up included using backup Bryan Scott at strong safety when Whitner was at free safety or cornerback. The move was not out of necessity because starting free safety Ko Simpson was available, but was part of the Bills' game plan to combat the Chargers' big receivers, especially All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.

At 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds, Scott is much bigger than Whitner and Fewell felt Scott was better suited to muscle up on the 6-4, 260-pound Gates. Gates caught four passes for 55 yards, but wasn't a huge factor in the game.

"Antonio is a physical guy," said Scott, who is not known as a cover guy, but played cornerback at Penn State. "His game consists of getting his hands on whoever is on him, not pushing off where it's illegal, but giving you that extra oomph to create the separation.

"It's not my first time competing against Antonio. He's a hell of a player. My mind-set was re-route him, get a hand on him. I don't think he's faster than I am, so if I could just stay with him, stay in his pocket hopefully long enough the rush will get there and Philip will have to look somewhere else."

Conventional wisdom was the Bills would have a difficult time competing against the Chargers' passing game without two of their three best cornerbacks. But Whitner provided good support for healthy corners Jabari Greer and Leodis McKelvin.

"I'm not used to playing out there, but whenever you get out there you have to play your leverage rules," Whitner said. "On outside leverage, allow those guys inside and try to separate them from the football. We did a good job today."

Indeed. The Bills limited the Chargers to 191 net yards passing, well below their 240-yard season average.

"We had some trouble on third down [San Diego converted 7 of 11 times], but the guys kept fighting," Fewell said. "The Chargers are a very good team and we knew they would be a hell of a challenge for us. But the guys handled any adversity they faced."

Ravens 'sick' about Yanda's injury

By Dan Kolko

October 16, 2008

Marshal Yanda's season-ending knee injury will be a big loss to the Ravens on the field, but it might affect them just as much off of it.

Yanda was developing into a solid right guard in just his second pro season, but his leadership during practices and his hard-nosed, professional style was what really impressed his teammates.

Players always feel bad when a teammate goes down for the season, but I was a bit surprised at the level of disappointment and sympathy that the Ravens are feeling for Yanda. They really feel for the 24-year-old, knowing how hard he works and how dedicated he is to the team.

Here are just a few of the comments by Ravens' players about Yanda and the impact of his loss:

"You're sick for a guy like Marshal," tight end Todd Heap said. "The mentality, the intensity that he brought to our offense, is going to be extremely missed. That's a guy that just brought that physical mentality every week to practice, to the games. [He is] definitely a guy that I loved lining up with. But it's unfortunate that he's going to [be out], and we're going to miss him."

"I'm really close friends with Marshal, so it affects me as well," left guard Ben Grubbs said. "I hate to see him go down like that because I know that Marshal is a fighter and he doesn't want anything else but to help this team out. For him to go down like that...I feel for him."

"Obviously, we all love Marshal," said quarterback Joe Flacco. "When something like that happens, it's the last thing we want - to see your teammate and your friend on the ground. You feel bad for him. You know he's been working as hard as he possibly can for you all season, and he's been doing a great job."

Losing Yanda for the year is big, but it's a great sign that his teammates are reacting to his injury like this.

For a young guy, he's gained great respect in the locker room, and if he can come back healthy, expect him to be a mainstay on the Baltimore offensive line for years to come.

Tauscher shuts down Kerney

October 15, 2008

The Green Bay Packers are back to .500 and now gearing up for a big game on Sunday.
They're breathing a little easier after their first victory in four weeks, and some credit goes to Tuesday Night Touchback host Mark Tauscher.

Going head-to-head with Seattle's Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney, Tauscher pitched a shutout.

Remember in last year's playoff games Tauscher held Kerney without a sack or even a single tackle. Sunday Kerney had one solo tackle but, again, zero sacks.

"He did a good job in pass protection," said Packers offensive line coach James Campen, "and Kerney is a fine player, and Tausch did OK in the run game."

"I don't think it was like last year's performance but Mark was solid," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.

Whitner reaches out to community

by David Kindervater

October 16, 2008

Live United: Donte Whitner

Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner is on a mission to aid underprivileged youth in effort to enrich, educate, and encourage families in impoverished communities. Donte lives united through his Team20 Foundation. He hosted a Youth Football Mini-Camp to teach kids the values of sportsmanship, leadership and teamwork — on and off the field. His Annual Charity Cancer Strike Bowling Tournament was started as a result of his grandmother being diagnosed with lung cancer. She is now in remission and co-hosts the event to raise funds for families who have a loved one affected by cancer.

“Growing up I always knew that I wanted to remain connected in my community. Being raised in a single-parent home in the inner city of Cleveland showed me the importance of family and education. Without either I would not be the man I am today.”

As a result, Donte honors single parents for their struggles, strength, and sacrifice through the Single Mother’s Spa Day and Do Right Dads initiatives. Donte created Whitner’s Read to Win program and the Impact Plays, Impact Families program. He also joined forces with the Gloria Pointer Teen Initiative Movement in Ghana, West Africa to help build a school for children in need.

For 35 years, United Way and the National Football League and its teams have been working together to help strengthen America’s communities. Today, the NFL and United Way are leveraging resources and relationships to raise awareness about the importance of youth health and fitness and create opportunities for kids to live healthier lifestyles. It’s part of United Way’s 10-year goal to increase by one third the number of youth who are healthy and avoid risky behavior. United Way is proud to partner with the NFL and we incite you to join us. You can help support youth fitness by volunteering your time, lending your voice or contributing to youth fitness programs.

Whitner, Hardy help Southsiders ‘Get Active’

By Charlie Specht

October 15, 2008

While young Bills fans might enjoy playing Madden 2008 as much as Bills safety Donte Whitner or wide receiver James Hardy, at least 150 of them won’t be returning to their video game consoles anytime soon after a visit by the two Buffalo Bills players.

Whitner and Hardy visited Southside Elementary School in South Buffalo on Tuesday as part of the Buffalo Bills and United Way’s 10th annual Hometown Huddle program. The players encouraged 150 students in Southside’s after school program to put down their controllers and pick up their running shoes to get active, fit and healthy.

Whitner talked to students about balancing their time indoors and outdoors. He encouraged students to make healthier choices, such as eating more carrots and less candy. He stressed the importance of spending less time in front of the television and more time outside being active.

“Slice off half of that time and try to be active and do something,” Whitner said.

Hardy challenged each student to exercise for at least 60 minutes each day. He said an active lifestyle, along with healthy eating, can lead to a long, healthy life.

According to Hardy, healthy living isn’t the only benefit of staying active. He talked about the social impact of playing sports as being just as important. Hardy said interacting with peers is one of the main benefits of sports.

Whitner and Hardy demonstrated the new HOPSports system, a technology-driven training system loaned to the school’s afternoon program by the United Way.

Kirk Alger of HOPSports led the students through basic balance exercises before introducing the HOPSports system. The system includes a virtual personal trainer that leads students through stretching and fitness exercises while playing motivational videos focused around exercise, healthy nutrition and good choices.

Alger said that many of the students he trains with the system don’t even realize they are exercising because the program is so much fun.

“They don’t have time to think,” Alger said. “They follow along, but they’re still getting the anti-smoking message or nutritional message while they’re exercising at the same time.”

Students eagerly watched as Hardy zig-zagged in and out of foam ladders placed on the ground. Following Hardy’s example, the students made their own way through the ladders. After a minute or two, the entire gymnasium was abuzz, filled with movement, excitement, screams and the constant activity of motivated youngsters.

Patti Dixon, who runs Southside’s after school program Monday through Thursday, said the excitement of her students Tuesday was “over the top” compared to most days.

“Normally they’re not too keen on doing any type of physical activity, and they were all hyped up about it,” she said.

Dixon plans on making the HOPSports system a part of the program’s daily schedule, along with traditional academic, homework and enrichment segments.

Students Zack, 12, Shammond, 11, and Alyssa, 10, all enjoyed the karate martial arts segment of the program the most. Alyssa said the program encouraged her to meet new people.

Ashley, 11, and Lori, 10, said running through the foam ladders helped them understand the need to be more active. Lori said she enjoyed the segment because Whitner and Hardy “helped us with ones we didn’t know.”

Hardy said that willingness to help others grew from his own experience of being an active youth in the Boys and Girls Clubs around his hometown.

“I wanted to play each and every day after school,” Hardy said. “I just tried to find a group of guys that was willing to come out here and have fun with me and I was able to do that. It helped me get where I’ve got so I definitely want to encourage other youths to definitely do it.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

KSU football program reaches new heights in academic acheivement

October 15, 2008

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The NCAA released its latest graduation rate data based on 2008 reports this week and for the second straight year, Kansas State is ranked first among Big 12 institutions for all student-athletes in the 2001-02 class according to the Federal Graduation Rate.

“The posting of this data demonstrates the commitment to academic excellence by Kansas State student-athletes and reflects the expectation of academic achievement promoted by K-State coaches, staff, faculty and administration," said Phil Hughes, Associate Athletics Director for Student Services. "The rates signify their priority for academic success and the dedication of staff and resources to our students in order to facilitate such success.”

Highlighted in the numbers were perfect 100-percent graduation rates for men’s basketball, men’s track and field, women’s basketball, women’s track and field and men’s golf (listed among other sports according to the NCAA), while K-State Football was also listed at No. 1 in the conference with a 67-percent graduation rate. K-State led the way for all student-athletes with a 75-percent fed grad rate, while Texas was second at 63-percent.

The 2008 Federal Graduation Rate is based on data from scholarship student-athletes receiving athletics aid who were designated as freshmen for the 2001-02 academic year. K-State also led the Big 12 Conference in 2007 with a 75-percent graduation rate for all student-athletes and was No. 1 in the conference in football as well at 87-percent.

Also released was data regarding the four-year class average and graduation success rate, which both study freshmen classes from 1998-99 to 2001-02.

Kansas State ranked second to Colorado among all student-athletes at 67-percent when determining the four-class average, while men’s golf, listed among men’s other, led the Big 12 with a 100-percent rate. Football checked in at No. 2, behind only Nebraska, at 70-percent.

K-State had an exceptional year in the classroom in 2007-08 as a total of 475 student-athletes earned Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll accolades, including 99 athletes with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. K-State also placed 63 student-athletes on Academic All-Big 12 teams this past season.

The football program reached new heights in academic achievement for 2007-08 as it placed a total of 74 student-athletes on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, including a record number 38 in the spring. K-State’s football program was also recently recognized by Diverse magazine as at it ranked 10th nationally among all Division I football programs, and was the lone Big 12 institution in the top 10, with a 77.2-percent graduation rate among African-American student-athletes.

Cole Excels for Packers, Defensive Line Play Impressive

October 2, 2008

One thing I wanted to note after going back and watching most of Colin Cole’s snaps this season - Cole has really taken his game to the next level. For a long time, up until and through training camp as a matter of fact, I thought Cole was just a complete waste of space, simply a big body that could give Pickens and Jolly a breather.

Boy was I wrong.

So far this season, Cole has done a great job of holding the point of attack and clearing the line for Hawk and Barnett to make plays, much better than in previous seasons. It seems he’s just a bit stronger this year than in years past. But where his play has really jumped is in diagnosing the pass, getting off of blocks and getting pressure on the quarterback. I mean, it’s shocking how much he’s finding himself in the opposing backfield, which simply never happened before this year.

Now don’t get me wrong - Cole didn’t become Albert Haynesworth overnight or anything. But his improved play is just the kind of thing the Packers will need to see more of in order to compensate for the loss of Jenkins for the year.

A first for Santi

October 6, 2008

By Mike Chappell

Tom Santi was able to enjoy his first career touchdown catch, a 7-yarder from Manning in the fourth quarter.

At first, the rookie tight end didn't believe that was going to be the case. It came with 4:04 to play and narrowed the Colts' deficit to 27-17.

"It means a lot now that we won,'' said Santi, who caught four passes for 27 yards. "I'll be honest with you, at the time I wasn't too excited.''

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giants' Safety Michael Johnson flattens Edwards

A look back at New York Giants at Cleveland Browns

By mgarafol

October 14, 2008


And I know S Michael Johnson was ready to hit Edwards because he flattened him on a third-and-2 with 2:22 left in the first quarter. If you get a chance, take a look at that play and watch Johnson level Edwards on a crossing route. Great play within the 5-yard bump (or, on that play, "crush") zone.

Kampman comes up big


October 13, 2008

Seattle - Not even a Pro Bowl defensive end such as Aaron Kampman can be held beyond reproach when a team loses three games in a row.

Until Sunday, Kampman had not registered a legitimate, hard-won sack since the first half of the Green Bay Packers' game in Detroit on Sept. 14. Even then, the right tackle he beat was the overmatched George Foster, who lost his job to a rookie that day at halftime.

"Whenever there are losses, a fine-tooth comb just goes through everything," Kampman said Friday. "Everything's looked at, numbers are crunched. And it makes sense. Things need to be written and people want answers."

Kampman gave them their answer at Qwest Field, playing his finest game of the season against a good tackle in the Packers' 27-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

"It felt better," Kampman said. "It felt very good. We weren't on the field as much this week."

Right tackle Sean Locklear, regarded as the Seahawks' third-best offensive lineman, was at least partially responsible for Kampman's haul of two sacks, three quarterback hits and four tackles.

"I definitely think Kampman won that battle today," said Will Lewis, the Seahawks' director of pro personnel. "I saw a couple times where he got him on the edge and Locklear was off balance. He handled Locklear pretty good."

The sacks increased Kampman's team-leading total to six, 3½ more than anybody else.

Through five games, Kampman had been averaging one "pressure" (defined as the combination of sacks, knockdowns and hurries) every 20 snaps, down from one every 17 snaps in each of the past two seasons.

Also, he had been averaging one tackle every 13 snaps, down from one every nine in 2007.

"He hasn't had the success, the production, he's had," said Lewis, whose job each week is to prepare detailed scouting reports on Seattle's opponent for coaches and players. "I wouldn't necessarily say he wasn't playing as good. Sometimes people find a way to emphasize getting a blocker on him."

Kampman is well aware that offensive coordinators have chipped him with running backs, but was unable to say if the double-teaming had been any more than in 2006 and '07.

What he did say Friday, and reiterated Sunday, was that his performance shouldn't be measured until the season is over.

"The body of evidence needs to work itself out," he said. "There's so many variables."

After breaking down Kampman, Lewis warned the coaching staff and Locklear about his excellent hand usage.

"Really, his game is he's got a nice craftiness with his hands," said Lewis, who scouted for Green Bay in the late 1990s. "His hands are always moving. He gets the tackle off balance a little bit, and a lot of times it's based on his hand movement.

Then every now and then he'll go ahead and stick (bull rush) him and get him back on his heels.

"He's got a nice little repertoire of things that he does."

Kampman's first sack came on first down when the Seahawks went play-action. Having to sell the run, Locklear made contact with Kampman earlier than usual and was beat around the corner.

"He tried to jump me," Kampman said. "I had seen on film that he struggled a little bit regenerating his feet. I felt I could run the loop on him and did."

In the third quarter, Kampman sacked Charlie Frye on a third-down stunt working inside against Locklear and right guard Floyd Womack.

"On two previous third downs I saw something that we could run a particular stunt," he said. "Ran it. Got it. It's always a great thing when the mind works. Very rewarding."

Meanwhile, Patrick Kerney, Seattle's decorated left defensive end, couldn't get much going against right tackle Mark Tauscher.

"They're different players," Tauscher said. "They're both relentless. They pursue. I think Aaron is more bull where Kerney is more counter.

"Both Pro Bowl players. You can pick and choose who's better. Aaron Kampman is as good a defensive end, from a complete-package standpoint, as there is in the league."

Plus, he doesn't mind the scrutiny that goes along with being a premier player.

Santi makes great catch in coverage

Ten Things

October 6, 2008

4.) Tom Santi's catch was made in the tightest coverage imaginable. Draped all over him doesn't begin to describe it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kampman relentless against Seahawks

Ten Things I Think I Think

By Peter King

October 13, 2008

I think this is what I liked about Week 6:

Aaron Kampman defines the phrase "great motor."

Katzenmoyer was a game-changer

The Laurinaitis debate: A very good player, lacking great moments, says Bill Livingston

by Bill Livingston

October 03, 2008

EDITOR'S NOTE: OSU beat writer Doug Lesmerises and columnist Bill Livingston ponder the accomplishments of Buckeyes linebacker James Laurinaitis. Lesmerises' opinion can be found here.

How good would James Laurinaitis be at Ohio State without the back story of the war paint and spikes of his pro wrestler father, Joe?

Would he be Tom Cousineau, a top pick of the entire NFL draft? Would he be A.J. Hawk, taken fifth?

How good would he be at a school without Ohio State's recent dominance of the Big Ten?

Would he be Shawn Crable, a fierce force at Michigan? Would he be J Leman last year at Illinois?

The Nagurski Award winner in 2006 as the best defensive player in college football, as well as the Butkus Award winner in 2007 as the game's best linebacker, Lauriniatis, now a senior, ought to have made plays that reverberate like the Victory Bell. But when you put him in perspective, matched against Ohio State's best at a strong position for the Buckeyes historically, those plays are missing.

Marvin Fong/The Plain DealerAs good as James Laurinaitis has been, and for every big stop he's had --- as in this BCS title game stop of LSU's Jacob Hester --- there seem to be plenty of tackles that come one yard too late or lack the jarring impact that can change games.

• Appreciating Laurinaitis

"I think most great players have a play you remember," said Ohio State radio network analyst Jim Lachey.

Lachey, a 10-year NFL veteran from OSU, remembers Lawrence Taylor breaking Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann's leg on a Monday night game. It sticks in his head, like a dark room he doesn't like to peek inside.

"Laurinaitis was in on 19 tackles against Wisconsin last year," said Lachey, "so he makes a lot of plays. He has 10 career sacks, so the plays might not be for big losses."

The game plan at Ohio State is for the front four to occupy blockers and let the middle linebacker make the tackle. But Laurinaitis is often the second guy in on the tackle. Pursuit is as big a part of football as it is in cops and robbers. But all-world guys should make the first hit.

At Ohio State, Cousineau had 569 tackles, 16 solos in one game, and averaged 17.6 tackles per game in 1978. Marcus Marek had 572 tackles, the OSU record. Chris Spielman had 283 solos, the OSU record. Steve Tovar had 408 tackles. Hawk had 394 tackles, 41 for losses, seven interceptions and a fourth-and-2 red zone sack of Brady Quinn when the Fiesta Bowl was still a game. Andy Katzenmoyer had 18 sacks, six interceptions, and a hit in the open field on Missouri quarterback Corby Jones that sent his helmet, pads, and address of next of kin flying.

Mostly a special teams player as a freshman, Laurinatis has 339 total tackles, 143 solo stops, 18.5 tackles for loss, the 10 sacks, and eight interceptions.

"Laurinaitis' strengths are sound fundamentals, good balance and working hard to be in the right place at the right time," said Browns General Manager Phil Savage. "Is he going to make the explosive, game-changing hit like Katzenmoyer? Is he going to get the big pass rush off the corner? Not as much as some others, but there is much to be said for being in the proper position to make the play. Guys can be going around trying to make that hit to blow someone up and be completely out of position. They're not as steady. I think Laurinatis will go fairly high."

A pass rush late in the game is gold in football. Bobby Carpenter was also a more impactful linebacker at OSU, because he was a pass-rushing fiend when lined up as a defensive end. Crable played the same hybrid position at Michigan.

"We tried to make plays in the hole," said Earle Bruce, the former Ohio State coach who had Spielman, Marek and Pepper Johnson on his teams. "I didn't like hitting them downfield. I think linebackers have to play too much pass defense now."

When Bruce talks of Pepper Johnson getting to the point of attack "like you wouldn't believe," or of Spielman stuffing Minnesota quarterback Ricky Foggie on fourth-and-1 "when the little guy [Lou Holtz] was the coach up there," the absence of such plays by Laurinaitis is hard to overlook.

In the matchup of Southern California middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and Laurinatis this season, Maualuga's touchdown interception return, on which OSU wide receiver Brian Hartline could not catch him, was a big-time athletic play, like the ones you see on Sundays.

Laurinaitis' biggest plays so far are a forced fumble and an interception at Texas in 2006. They were big, for the victory helped send Ohio State to the BCS title game. But you were left wanting more.

He is good. Not great.

Monday, October 06, 2008

MVP Katie Smith finds a way


October 6, 2008

Shock leader sees all the angles on court

All series she'd been two steps ahead of everyone else, anticipating angles and lanes and the smallest of creases before they opened up. That's how it is when you see a basketball court the way Katie Smith sees it.

Sunday night at the Eastern Michigan University's Convocation Center, Smith used that vision to demoralize the San Antonio Silver Stars in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. In short, she simply took over from the opening tip of the opening game. And when she was finished, and the Silver Stars had been swept back to Texas, and the confetti fell around her, the Shock guard had earned her first Finals MVP, averaging 21.7 points a game.

"Her will is never to lose," said assistant coach Rick Mahorn. "Players just can't get that. It's already instilled in them."

In that sense, she may be the most clutch athlete in the city at the moment. With apologies to Henrik Zetterberg, no player around here dominates their sport the way Smith does when the game is on the line.

Sunday night, with a championship at stake and her team struggling a bit, she sliced open a close game and iced the team's third title in the past six years, scoring 11 of her 18 points in the last quarter.

It all started with the clock winding down at the end of the third quarter, when she took her defender off the dribble, glided to the hole and lofted a finger-roll off the glass.

She followed that gorgeous foray with two free throws. Then an 18-footer from the wing. Then, in what was the backbreaker, a three-pointer that she'd set up after directing traffic on a fast break.

"A coach on the floor," Mahorn said.

Head coach Bill Laimbeer went further.

"This was Katie Smith's series," he said.

Smith told Laimbeer in a huddle early in the fourth that "we are not going to lose this game. I'm going to make shots right here."

She didn't want to play another game and give the Silver Stars any chance at momentum -- last year, Smith and the Shock lost to the Phoenix Mercury in five games. So when the fourth quarter started, Smith took over. That's two titles in three years for the 34-year-old. She also has three gold medals -- she added to that collection in August in Beijing.

Yet Smith remains one of women's basketball's most low-profile stars. She was a phenom at Ohio State, a scoring prodigy when she entered the WNBA in Minnesota. She was named to the All-Decade team in 2006.

She could never dunk and was never particularly quick or flashy, but she knew how the game worked. And she knew how to shoot. Most important, she knew how to rise up late in games.

"It's something I've been doing since I was in the fifth grade," she said.

Sunday night, Smith rose up again, taking the team, and this franchise, with her.

"She wanted to put her mark on this series," Laimbeer said.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pats' LB Don Davis reflects on faith and choices


September 30, 2008

Former football stars discuss careers and how to be successful on and off the field

Having a game plan for life is tantamount to being successful. And three athletes, Don Davis, Ernie Dubose and Rhondy Weston, are all well versed in games and planning for success. Last week they shared their stories at Lemon Bay High School's "NFL Night."

Don Davis, Ernie Dubose and Rhondy Weston spoke before the Lemon Bay High School Athletic Department during their inspirational "NFL Night." Each of the speakers shared anecdotes about their first time on the field or other times that had an impact on their lives.

Dubose, a former University of Florida Gator running back and a Port Charlotte High School alumnus, discussed his four-year career with the Gators before he was found to have a heart condition.

"God had a plan for me. I had choices in high school and college, I got my grades, stayed out of trouble and made good decisions," Dubose said. "It's all about making the right decisions, making a commitment, have faith in God, have a passion and setting goals."

Weston, who played with the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and the Gators, talked candidly about family members who did not make good choices.

"You have a choice on what you want to do in life. It's in your hands. Preparing yourself is the key," said Weston, whose NFL career ended because of a knee injury.

Davis, a Super Bowl player with the New England Patriots and a graduate of the University of Kansas, delivered a message that cautioned students that the mistakes they make today may affect their future. Davis encouraged students not to give up future blessings for temporary pleasures.

For the athletes in attendance, Davis told them to make sure they eat a healthy diet. "Color up your plate," Davis said, referring to his diet at NFL training camps. "The more colors on your plate, the healthier."

Each of the speakers also shared anecdotes about their first time on the field or other times that made an impact on their lives.

In discussing what it is like to play before a packed stadium, Weston said, "It's a feeling you can't put into words, a feeling you will never forget."

"NFL Night" was joint effort of teacher Sally Lutz and Tom Catanzarite, athletic director.

Arizona's pass defense ranked No. 1 in nation


October 2, 2008

The University of Arizona's pass defense ranks No. 1 in the nation, and cornerback Devin Ross thinks he knows why.

"They are scared to challenge us deep, to be honest with you," Ross said. "Everybody watches film, and they know we have great DBs and our line is getting pressure. That makes it easier on us.

"Of course, we're going to face better quarterbacks and better receivers. We're going to have to step up to the challenge and play hard and play aggressive."

Washington might not air it out, either, when the Huskies travel to Arizona Stadium for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. That's because redshirt freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch is getting his first start for the injured Jake Locker.

The Huskies might use a power running back set to slow the game and manage the clock. Others have tried the strategy.

New Mexico went away from its deep threats and settled for the run. It worked with the Lobos rushing for 221 yards in a 36-28 win over UA.

UCLA ran well in the first half against Arizona before being forced to throw after falling behind by 21 points.

UA's poor tackling at New Mexico gave opponents hope, safety Cam Nelson said.

"A lot of teams are going to try us on the ground and wait for us to fall asleep in the secondary and then open it up," Nelson said.

Coming into the season, it was thought teams would test new UA cornerbacks Marquis Hundley and Ross, who replaced 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason and fellow four-year starter Wilrey Fontenot.

That hasn't been the case - yet. Opponents have settled for screen plays and short routes. UA is allowing just 103.2 passing yards a game.

"For the most part we have not let guys get behind us very much," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "We have contested things. It has gone according to plan. I have a lot of confidence in this group."

A 37-yard screen to Toledo tailback Morgan Williams is UA's longest pass given up.

The Cats also got caught off guard by a 25-yard trick toss from New Mexico tailback Rodney Ferguson to quarterback Donovan Porterie - only one of two TD passes allowed by UA.

Whatever works.

"I'm surprised. I'm not going to lie," Nelson said when told about Arizona's ranking. "We don't get to watch a lot of the other college games, so we don't keep up with stats. We just try to go out and create takeaways.

"We don't look for stats or the glory. We just want wins."

Nelson knows this is no time to get satisfied.

The Cats (3-1, 1-0 Pac-10) have picked off five passes, but they've faced weak aerial attacks in their first four games.

Toledo ranks 79th nationally in passing, followed by Idaho (94), UCLA (95) and New Mexico (109).

Injuries and poor play have plagued Pac-10 quarterbacks. Only ASU's Rudy Carpenter, Oregon State's Lyle Moevao and USC's Mark Sanchez remain as big-time passing threats to UA.

Stanford's Tavita Pritchard is not a 300-yard per game quarterback, California has its starting job up for grabs, Washington State's offense is abysmal and Oregon is down to its fifth-string quarterback.

"I think as long as our guys stay hungry, and stay disciplined and play with a chip on their shoulders, then we have a chance every time we step on the field,'' UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Vrabel is staying tuned in

By Mike Reiss

October 1, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - Three games into the season, outside linebacker Mike Vrabel has emerged as the Patriots' primary defensive player to have the coach-to-player communication device in his helmet.

This marks the first year NFL defenders have been allowed to have the device, and while calling it an "ongoing battle," Vrabel feels it's been a positive change.

"It's pretty good. I think it helps," he said. "I don't think it hurts."

When teams voted to approve the device for defenders in the offseason, one of the issues that Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out was that some teams don't have a player who is on the field for every play, a result of substitution packages. That makes it challenging to decide who gets the device.

Vrabel is as close to an ironman as the Patriots have, seldom coming off the field. He plays on early downs in the base defense, and usually stays on the field on third down. It also helps that he's been in the team's defense for eight seasons and is one of the club's smartest players.

Vrabel reports that there have not been major problems with the device.

"Sometimes there are some blips then and now, but for the most part I think it's been pretty good," he said. "It's [defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] holding the button, getting used to holding the button, which he's doing and everything. It's just not something that we're used to doing, whereas the offense has been doing it for quite a few years."

Defensive signals remain a part of the weekly preparation because there is always the possibility that the communication device won't work.

"When yours doesn't work or there is an issue, you really can't wait," Vrabel said. "We're pretty much dependent on what the offense is doing, and we kind of have to respond quickly to what they're doing."

Perhaps the most pressing issue for Vrabel is keeping his two helmets straight. When he comes to the sideline after a change of downs, he makes sure he's close to his other helmet - which doesn't have the communication device - just in case he's needed as a third tight end on offense.

"Offensively, I can't have the device on because the quarterback has it," he said, referencing the rule that only allows one player to have the device. "What I do is hold the other helmet in case I have to go out there. If I don't, or if something else changes fast, sometimes I forget."

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