Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Zastudil consistent in more than just punting

By Jim Horvath

November 26, 2008

For those who know him, the consistency and reliability that Cleveland Browns punter and Bay Village native Dave Zastudil has displayed in his seven year pro career are only an extension of the steadiness that he has shown on and off athletic fields all his life.

“Dave is the same person he has always been,” said T.J. Putnam, his longtime friend and former athletic teammate in several different sports from grade school through through their high school years at Bay High School.

“With some people, there might be a change because he’s made the NFL and has more money and status now, but not Dave,” said Putnam. “He’s the same as he’s always been. He’s a great athlete and is always one of the leaders in the locker room wherever he’s gone. But he’s a very down to earth, caring guy who has always helped others when they need it. He’s the guy who our principal would have the new kids go around the school with because he knew Dave would take care of them and show them around.”

Dave’s parents, Tom and Terri Zastudil, who still live in Bay Village, said Dave has always displayed concern for others.

“He’s always been a leader, whether it’s with his teammates or in another activity,” said Tom. “He’s a consistent person. He always was able to get the other guys on a team to work toward the common goal by working together.”

Tom said the entire family has always been giving, but said Dave carries on tradition well.

“We all take part in work campaigns and projects around the area,” Tom said. “But I think he got the extra caring gene from his mother. She’s always active with the church and many other places.”

His mom, Terri, said she’s proud of her son in many ways that go well beyond his athletic skills.

“He’s been helping people out for as long as I can remember,” she said. “It’s great that he’s a fine athlete, and it’s fun to watch him as his parent. But in addition to using his abilities on the field, he’s used it to help others where he can,” said Terri. “He’d be helping other people out anyway, but it’s great that he uses all the gifts he has to help others.”

For his part, Zastudil said he’s glad to give back to other people.

“It’s great that I’ve been fortunate enough to get this far professionally,” Dave said. “Because of it, I’ve been able to do some things that most people aren’t able to or don’t have the resources to do. So, I’m glad to give something back and help out in different areas.’

Zastudil’s willingness to use his athletic and people skills extends to many areas, his parents noted. Putnam agreed, adding that as the holiday season nears and the spirit of giving grows, said he expects his longtime friend to be active in it by continuing to help others.

“He does it all year round,” said Putnam, who currently is a manager at the city of Dublin Recreation Center near Columbus. “It’s a little tougher during the season, but he’s always been there when you need him. He’s been great, whether it’s just talking with me as a friend when I want to talk or doing something for a group that needs help.”

In some recent examples, last February, Zastudil was a sponsor for a Super Bowl party which raised funds for Rise Above It, a non-profit organization which helps young adults battling cancer. Some other activities that he he’s helped in recent months with include reading books for young children for the Cuyahoga County Public Library system, appearing at an alumni event for his collegiate alma mater, Ohio University, or the extensive help he has given to athletics at Bay High School. He’s aided the Fields of Dreams renovation of athletic facilities for the school district and helped the high school football team.

Tom said all those activities and more are typical for Dave.

“He’s that type of person,” he said. “He’ll do it for people and places that he doesn’t know as well.”

He cited as one example, Dave lending a hand and helping raise $4,000 for the Willoughby South High School track program.

“As soon as he found out they needed help, he got involved,” Tom said.

Officials with the Fields of Dreams project said he’s been just as active with the group’s work in raising funds for renovating the various athletic facilities for the Bay School District.

“He has been a major contributor,” said Barb Harrell, one of the Rockets Renovation group’s leaders. “He has certainly helped out a lot financially on his own, but he’s also worked with other people and groups. He’s always helpful and encouraging and he genuinely cares about what’s going on.”

Clint Keener, superintendent of the Bay School District, said Zastudil has helped draw attention to the field work both intentionally and unintentionally.

“Certainly it helps having someone of his stature help out by raising funds and taking part in the project,” Keener said. “He helps bring other people in when they see he’s taking part and we appreciate it. It shows the type of person he is.”

Keener said Zastudil’s strong work ethic even brought accidental attention to the field and renovation work several months ago.

“We got a call this summer about someone going out on our new fields and using them without permission and possibly causing some problems,” Keener said. “So, when we went to check it it out, it turned out to be Dave and (Browns placekicker) Phil Dawson, who were practicing their kicking and working out. Of course, our reaction: leave them be and let them practice, but we’re glad people are interested in the fields.”

Putnam said he isn’t surprised by that story.

“Dave’s always been a hard worker, so that’s typical of him. But it also shows the type of place Bay is,” he said. “It’s a great place because people care about their community and what’s going on. I’d love to come back there some day and I know Dave was glad to come home.”

Zastudil, who spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Browns’ AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens, agreed with Putnam.

“It was a lot of fun growing up there with guys like T.J.,” he said. “We got to do a lot of things because people care about Bay Village. T.J.’s the type of guy who’ll be my friend forever. I’m glad that I can help give a little back and give other kids the opportunity to use some good facilities in the community.”

One teenager who has benefited from Dave’s help both personally and with the field is Bay High School senior Brian Harrell, a second team all district kicker in 2008.

“He’s a great guy,” said Harrell. “He helped me personally with my punting and kicking. He started working with me when I was a sophomore and I really appreciate it. He’s always stressed consistency and hard work.”

Harrell said Zastudil has helped the entire football team with more than just the new athletic fields.

“He’s brought in other Browns and they all helped us out,” he said. “It’s nice to get that kind of help from players who have achieved what they have to get that far.”

Zastudil admits that with he and his wife Jennifer now having had their first child, Mckenzie, he is even more aware of family and community.

“Having our daughter makes us want to help around not only where we live, but in the Cleveland area and other places when we can,” he said. “Being a parent makes you think of those things.

“I’m fortunate because I had great parents and a supportive family, and my in-laws are super people as well. Now, we just continue and try to give something back that the kids and other people can use,” he said.

Kampmans Ring Bells for Salvation Army

November 25, 2008

Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman normally wears green and gold, but Tuesday night he and his family donned red aprons at Bay Park Square Mall in Ashwaubenon to help the Salvation Army of Brown County.

It's their second year supporting the cause as bell-ringers.

They say they're especially grateful for the service the Salvation Army provided their hometown when a tornado devastated Parkersburg, Iowa.

"They did a great job supporting people from the community we're from, so now this is obviously part of the community we're from, and we're just trying to do our small part," Kampman said.

The Salvation Army hopes to raise more than one million dollars this year but staffed kettles raise more money than un-staffed kettles, and the organization needs more people to sign up for bell-ringing.

Browns’ Dawson as good as it gets when it comes to kickers

By Dan Coughlin

November 25, 2008

Browns kicker Phil Dawson rejects the hero’s crown.

“I don’t like it. I’m more comfortable going to work,” he said the other day in the Browns’ locker room.

He thinks of himself simply as a guy with a job and, in this economy, anyone with a job considers himself lucky.

The Browns were equally lucky when they picked him up as a free agent back in 1999, when the franchise was getting started. Dawson has been winning games with last-minute field goals since he was in high school, later as a four-year starter at the University of Texas and for the last 10 seasons with the Browns.

His 57-yarder Monday night to beat Buffalo was his personal best, but it was just another day on the job. It was his third successful 50-plus kick of the season. For his career, he’s 10 of 14 from 50 yards or more, an incredible success rate.

Looking at that tiny opening between the uprights from 57 yards away is like looking at a vertical mail box slot.

“If I stared at that narrow opening I’d get a lot of negative vibes. I pick out a spot and aim for it. I’m glad it was 57 yards. No one expects you to make a 57-yarder,” he said.

He didn’t elaborate about the location of the “spot.” It’s probably some metaphysical dot somewhere in the spectrum that you and I wouldn’t understand. It’s like pondering how the Father, Son and Holy Ghost work. There are some things mortals are not supposed to understand.

According to accuracy percentages, Dawson is the fourth-best kicker in NFL history and the all-time best in Browns annals, which is saying something. The Browns’ kickers include Lou (The Toe) Groza, Don Cockroft, Matt Bahr and Matt Stover, a star-studded cast unparalleled in NFL history. Groza’s widow, Jackie, still drives around with the most recognizable license plates in Ohio. “TOE,” they say and that’s not vanity, that’s fact.

Field-goal kicking is not a one-man job, however. It’s a three-man operation, probably the most symbiotic play in football.

Most plays involve no more than two people working together. The quarterback hands off to a running back or he passes it to a second person.

In Dawson’s line of work, he depends on a long snapper and a holder to perform their jobs perfectly. If the snap is a couple of feet up, down or to the side, the timing is thrown off and four things can happen. Three of them are bad — ball fumbled, kick blocked, kick missed.

Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand might be the best who ever snapped the ball. Now in his sixth season, the 29-year-old Texan from Rice vindicated Butch Davis, who drafted him in the fifth round, one of the few times in the history of the draft a pure long snapper was picked.

I can’t remember Pontbriand ever making a bad snap. Not even one that’s a little bit off. Dawson says every snap has the same number of revolutions so the laces are always in the same place when holder Dave Zastudil catches it. Ideally, the laces always face away from the kicker. I’ve been watching the pro game for almost 60 years, and I’ve never seen anyone better than Pontbriand.

(I probably just jinxed him.)

Dawson says he kicks from a spot exactly 73/4 yards from the line of scrimmage, which means he starts every kick with a math problem.

“If the ball is on the 12 1/2 yard line, I’ve got to add 7 3/4. I’m glad I help my second-grade son with his math homework,” he said.

“If you miss, is it because you did the math wrong?” asked a reporter.
“That’s what I’m going with,” said Dawson.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dawson's game-winner would have been good from 60

By Tony Grossi

November 21, 2008

A game of inches:

Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal of 56 yards was four inches shy of going down as a 57-yarder.

The line of scrimmage was the Bills' 39. The Browns' field goal unit generally goes back 18 yards to set up a kick. But Dawson said that long snapper Ryan Pontbriand is so precise and consistent that Dawson knows that moving four inches forward gives him the best placement of the ball, with the laces in just the right spot.

Once a play begins beyond a yard-line -- even by one inch -- the official NFL statistics mark it down to the next one. So it became a 56-yard kick.

"I think I've had eight 49-yard field goals in my career," Dawson said. "Those could have been 50s instead."

The winning kick would have been good from more than 60 yards. Is a 60-yarder a career goal for Dawson?

"I don't know about that," he said. "It would have to be early in the year."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Mr. Automatic' keeps faith with saving kick for Browns

Dawson's 56-yard success breaks streak of blowing leads, has team on a high

By Marla Ridenour

November 19, 2008

BEREA: Flirting with infamy, about to become the first NFL team to blow leads of 13 points or more in three consecutive games, the Browns were saved by ''Mr. Automatic.''

With 1:39 remaining in the game Monday night at Buffalo, coach Romeo Crennel confidently called on Phil Dawson for a 56-yard field-goal attempt, even though it would be a career-long for the 33-year-old kicker.

''As soon as we threw the incomplete pass on third down I was ready to go and Romeo gave me the nod,'' Dawson said. ''He had the confidence to send me out there, which I appreciate.''

On a bitterly cold night in Ralph Wilson Stadium, Dawson had already connected on all four of his attempts from 40, 33, 43 and 22 yards. In the previous two games, he'd hit from 54 yards against the Baltimore Ravens and 52 yards against the Denver Broncos.

A year ago in Cleveland, facing the Buffalo Bills in a blizzard, Dawson had made
one of the most difficult field goals in recent Browns history, nailing a 49-yarder.

Crennel's faith in Dawson was rewarded. With the wind at his back, Dawson's kick missed the outstretched right arm of 6-foot-6 defensive tackle Marcus Stroud by inches and cleared the crossbar with a few yards to spare.

When a 47-yard attempt by Rian Lindell of the Bills sailed wide right with 38 seconds left, Dawson's final field goal proved to be the game-winner as the Browns prevailed, 29-27.

''It was unbelievable. It was one of the best kicks I've ever seen. To see it twice for the same team is pretty remarkable,'' said punter/holder Dave Zastudil, also referring to last year's 49-yarder against the Bills.

''As soon as it left his foot I looked up and it looked right on target. I knew that the end we were kicking, the ball carried a little bit better so I knew it had a shot. Then as soon as I saw it about halfway, I said, 'Boy, this thing is probably good.' Then I just turned around and dashed to try to hug him. It was an outstanding kick for a guy who's having an outstanding year.''

Crennel was still gushing about Dawson on Tuesday afternoon.

''I can't say enough about him,'' Crennel said. ''It was a pressure kick and he put it right through with some distance to spare.''

Linebacker Andra Davis, like Dawson a Browns' co-captain, looked at the kick from a broader perspective.

''It helps me sleep better. It was a huge win for us, a huge win for the organization, a huge win for the city,'' Davis said. ''The last couple weeks we've let a couple games slip away. Thank God for Mr. Automatic, Phil Dawson, or it would be another sad day in Cleveland.''

Five of the Browns' past 10 victories in two seasons have been won on Dawson field goals. The one Monday was Dawson's 12th career game-winner.

Asked if it was the best game of his 10-year career, Dawson said, ''I had six one time and we lost against San Diego (in 2006), so I will take five and a win any time. Whether it is five extra points and we win or no field goals, I don't care any more. I've been here a long time and I just want to see this team win.''

Before the game, Dawson said he had determined his limit going into that end zone was the 35-yard line. His attempt came from the 39.

''I naturally get the ball up pretty high, anyway, so I was focused on the line,'' Dawson said. ''I had a 50-plus yarder against Washington to tie the game, and I tried to get on it a little too much and left it out to the right, which you do sometimes when you overstride. I concentrated on just staying short, trusting my technique.''

Going into the home game Sunday against the Houston Texans, Dawson is tied for fifth in the league with three field goals made from 50-plus yards. Jason Hanson of the Detroit Lions leads with six (on six attempts). Dawson has connected on 22 of 24 this season, with his misses coming from 51 yards (against the New York Giants) and 54 yards (against the Washington Redskins).

''Phil has been here for a long time,'' Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald said. ''I wish we could have gotten him a couple more yards to make that kick a little easier. But that's what we live for, moments like that. I'm just glad he made it.''

Calm, quiet kicker lets foot do talking

By Patrick McManamon

November 18, 2008

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.: He's the quietest player on the team, and he has been with the Browns longer than any other.

He has seen all kinds of defeats, and he has been through all kinds of trials and tribulations along with his team.

But Monday night in a game that went back and forth and up and down and all around, Phil Dawson gave the Browns a badly needed win in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Dawson drilled a 56-yard field goal with 1:39 left to give the Browns a 29-27 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

He didn't just make that long kick.

He demolished it, sending it right down the middle and well over the crossbar for a career-long kick to remember.

It was not an easy win. The Browns gave the Bills many chances, the last when Ryan Lindell tried a game-winner from 47 yards away with 38 seconds left.

Lindell's kick missed.

Dawson's didn't.

Just like the other four he made Monday night.

Which means that for the season, Dawson has made 22 kicks and missed just two, both longer than 50 yards.

This 56-yarder never was in doubt. One of the team's true pros made it, straight and pure.

How fitting for Dawson, a good guy and a pro who shows up every day to just do his job.

Dawson does not get into histrionics. He just does his job as well as anyone at his position in the league. And the Bills know it well — last year, Dawson made a near-impossible 49-yard kick in a blizzard against the Bills. Monday night, he made a 56-yarder on a cold night.

He kicks in lousy weather, on bad fields. And he just makes his kicks.

Clutch, anyone?

Dawson had help in the win, of course.

Brady Quinn completed just enough passes to give Dawson a chance. And Dawson had help from little-used Jerome Harrison.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Harrison took a toss left and zipped through a crease to score from 72 yards and give the Browns a 23-13 lead.

Harrison's speed and quickness are in stark contrast to Jamal Lewis' style, and the surprising thing is that Harrison wasn't used sooner.

Either that or it was perfect timing to use him when the Browns did.

Harrison's run changed the momentum, but not for long.

The Bills followed with a kickoff return for a touchdown.

This was the order of the night. The Browns would get ahead, then let the Bills back. The Browns had leads of 13-0, 23-13 and 26-20 dissipate. They almost lost, but they didn't.

Instead, they showed they have some fight — and life — left this season.

Not for the playoffs, mind you, but for the general welfare and well being of the team and its fans — and its coach.

A team that likes its coach and wants to keep him does not sit back when a teammate accuses some players of quitting.

It fights.

The Browns fought, and because they fought, they beat the Bills.

It was not easy — mainly because they forgot how to tackle.

The Browns' defense let the Bills turn the short dump-off pass into an art form. Time and again, they threw short to a back who broke one, two, three tackles and ran for a first down.

Their defense plays defensively, despite the near immeasurable efforts of Shaun Rogers. And it cannot stop the run.

The Browns gave up 186 rushing yards to the Bills, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The Bills often seemed to blow through a nonexistent line before being touched.

If Rogers did not make the stop, well nobody did. Not until the ball carrier was six or seven yards downfield at least.

And letting the Bills back into things when the Browns had a chance to grab hold of the game is a cardinal sin. In the NFL, when a team has another down, it needs to take a hatchet to the Gatorade buckets.

Bottom line: In the fourth quarter, on the road, when the Browns needed plays to win, they came up with them.

In the first quarter, someone held up a makeshift tombstone that appeared on the video board.

It read: ''R.I.P. Browns.''

Predictable? Yes.

Silly? Sure.

Accurate? Not this Monday night. Because in the end a 56-yard kick was good, which makes all the negatives and concerns a little easier to accept.

Thanks to the ever-dependable and reliable Phil Dawson.

Phil Dawson is A Golden God

November 18, 2008

Rejoice! The Browns won a game on the road on a Monday Night where the winds were howling and Brady Quinn was the starting QB. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the defense nearly choked on another double digit lead and literally forgot how to tackle. If not for the magic foot of “Philly The Groin,” Phil Dawson, we would all be sitting here this morning wondering how such a winnable game got away.

You can have any kicker you want, give me “The Groin.” Seriously, how clutch can one man be? I know he hasn’t played in the big games, but Phil Dawson is moving towards the Adam Vinatieri category. He went 5-5 on the night, including the game-winning 56 yarder on a night where the wind was whipping. This is just the latest in a long line of clutch kicks by the last original “new” Brown.

Dawson leads Browns to victory

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Phil Dawson's boot fits for Cleveland Browns

November 18, 2008

By Mary Kay Cabot

Orchard Park, N.Y.- What could Phil Dawson possibly do for an encore after his 49-yarder in the Snow Bowl against Buffalo last year?

How about a career-long 56-yard game-winner with 1:39 remaining to beat the Bills, 29-27, on "Monday Night Football"?

"It was amazing because we won the game," Dawson said. "I just want to make the kicks to help the team win.
To see the happiness on my teammates' faces makes it all worthwhile."

Dawson, who made five field goals on the night, including the 200th of his career, was thrilled to help get the monkey off his 4-6 team's back.

"We finished," he said. "Who says we can't finish? Hopefully it will be the first of many to come."

He also empathized with Bills kicker Rian Lindell, who pushed his game-winning attempt wide right with 38 seconds remaining.

"We've all been there," said Dawson, who had the wind on his side at the end whereas Lindell did not. "He's a great kicker and he'll come back from that."

Dawson said the 56-yarder was beyond his limit, "but at the end with the game on the line, you go for it. I gave [coach] Romeo [Crennel] the nod and he had the confidence in me to do it. It was spur of the moment."

Holder Dave Zastudil turned and embraced Dawson after the kick sailed through.

"It was unbelievable because he works so hard in practice," Zastudil said. "To make a game-winner like that is amazing. I knew the ball would carry a little bit better at that end of the field. It was an outstanding kick for a guy who's having an outstanding year. It cleared by a few yards."

Zastudil described it as "one of the best kicks I've ever seen and he did it twice in a row against the same team in back to back years."

Special teams coach Ted Daisher said this week Dawson's leg is even stronger this year than last year.

"I thought as you get older you get weaker, but he's getting stronger," Zastudil said.

Said Daisher during a press conference on Friday: "The year before I got here, Phil had had a tough year. We were looking at him and saying 'we have to get this guy back on track.' If we were to line up and have to kick a game-winning field goal, there's no one I would rather have than Phil Dawson. He's a great leader, a good person, he is talented, and he works meticulously at his job. [Phil] has not missed under 50 yards this season."

Dawson's first kick of the night, a 40-yarder, was the 200th of his career. He's 19-for-19 under 50 yards and it was his third straight game with a kick of 50-plus yards - a first in Browns' history. The 56-yarder was his 11th career game-winner.

"I'm grateful to have the opportunity to coach a great kicker like Phil Dawson," Daisher said.

Cleveland Browns defeat the Buffalo Bills, 29-27, thanks to Phil Dawson's field goal

FG ends run of lost leads and losses

November 18, 2008

By Tony Grossi

Orchard Park, N.Y.- Phil Dawson saved the Browns from making history with another defensive collapse.

After blowing leads of 13-0 and 23-13, the Browns escaped with a 29-27 win over the Buffalo Bills on Dawson's career-long 56-yard field goal.

Dawson's fifth successful kick of the evening prevented the Browns from becoming the first NFL team in history to surrender leads of at least 13 points in three successive games. They blew a 14-point lead to Baltimore and one of 13 to Denver in their previous two games.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ted Ginn Jr. sparks Miami Dolphins to another victory

Ted Ginn Jr. kept the Dolphins' winning drive alive with a fourth-down catch. Earlier, he had a 40-yard touchdown run.

By Andre C. Fernandez

November 16, 2008

Whether it's rushing, returning kicks or receiving, Ted Ginn Jr. continues to prove himself reliable to the Miami Dolphins in clutch situations.

Ginn made several plays at critical moments Sunday against the Oakland Raiders that helped the Dolphins pull out another close victory.

The one that will make numerous highlight clips across the country came in the first quarter, when he took a handoff on a reverse and scored on a 40-yard touchdown that gave the Dolphins an early 7-0 lead.

But the most important play came with Miami trailing 15-14 at the fourth quarter's two-minute warning and facing fourth-and-5 from Oakland's 35-yard line. When Miami needed to make a big decision on whether or not to kick a field goal, the Dolphins chose to go for the first down instead of going for what would have been a 53-yard field goal and the longest attempt of kicker Dan Carpenter's rookie season.

Ginn got open in the middle of the field and caught a pass from quarterback Chad Pennington for a 7-yard gain. Three plays later, Carpenter kicked a 38-yard field goal that lifted the Dolphins to the victory.

''I didn't expect the ball to come to me, but I got into my position and that's what I was supposed to do,'' Ginn said. ``As long as you do the little things, big things should happen. I got into position to make a play and they took a chance on me and it came out to be all right.''


Ginn said after the game that he didn't think he deserved to be referred to as the team's ''go-to'' receiver, but he has been vital in Miami's four-game winning streak.

Ginn finished with 166 all-purpose yards and led the Dolphins in receiving for the third time in the past four games. Greg Camarillo's 11 catches for 111 yards kept Ginn from leading the team in receiving against Denver on Nov. 2. Ginn finished with four catches for 51 yards on Sunday.

''I think one of the things is certainly Chad getting more comfortable with Ted,'' Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. ``What I see with Ted is him catching the ball across the middle at the end and run with it. So he made some good plays in the middle of the field there and in some other areas.''


His first-quarter rushing touchdown was the first of his career, and the first by a Dolphins receiver since 2003. On the play, Ginn swept to the left side, broke a tackle, and weaved his way through Oakland's secondary to the end zone.

''We worked on that play all week in practice,'' Ginn said. ``It was a simple reverse and I had a great block by Samson [Satele], I broke a tackle and once I saw the goal line I had to be there. We just came out and executed it to perfection. That's why we do what we do. We just go out and execute the play.''

Ginn caught another timely pass late in the third quarter that set up Miami's second touchdown. Pennington found Ginn open near the sideline for a 12-yard completion to convert on a third and 7 from its own 39-yard line.

Ginn ranks second on the team in receiving behind Camarillo after Sunday's game with 38 catches for 508 yards, while averaging 20.8 yards per kickoff return. He has caught at least four passes in six games this season.

Ginn, who had a slow start to the season, catching only three passes in the first two games, said the difference has been getting more opportunities.

''I work hard every day and try to make the best of them,'' Ginn said. ``If I get a good kickoff return, it boosts my morale.

``As long as we, as a team, keep getting better in all phases of the game.''

Whitner goes to school

Contest leads Bills safety to Niagara Catholic

By Mark Gaughan

Niagara Catholic freshman Adam Winkworth broke a bone in his foot in the first game of his school’s varsity soccer season this fall.

That will not be what he remembers most about his first semester of high school; not after Tuesday, when he drove to school in a limousine along with Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner.

Winkworth, a 13-year-old from Youngstown, was one of 34 youths nationwide who won a random drawing in the “NFL Take a Player to School” Contest, sponsored by the league and JCPenney.

Whitner showed up at Winkworth’s house at 7:30 a. m., took him to school in style, addressed an assembly in the gym, then took the lead in running Winkworth’s gym class during the first period of the school day.

“How many people here play video games?” Whitner asked the Niagara Catholic students as he stepped to the microphone.

When every student’s hand shot in the air, it gave Whitner his opportunity to launch into his message about a campaign called “Play 60.”

“I play video games, too,” Whitner said.

“But video games are contributing to a lot of people being out of shape, not really knowing how to stay healthy, how to eat right, how to stay fit.

“Play 60 is a program just telling you to do anything active for 60 minutes a day just to stay healthy. Whether you like to dance, whether you like to fish, play basketball, run, lift weights, whatever you like to do, you have to do it for 60 minutes over the course of the day, because if you don’t our generation and the next generation will be very unfit and very unhealthy.”

Whitner has been incorporating the “get active” message into many of his public appearances since April, when he participated with other NFL stars in an event that drew about 1,000 school children.

“When I was in junior high, people liked to come and take a break from class and run around in the gym,” Whitner said after his speech. “Nowadays, it seems like some people feel like they’re too cool to sweat a little bit in the middle of the day in high school.

“We’re trying to get kids off the couch from playing all those video games and being obese. There’s a lot of kids who are obese right now. The numbers are staggering. It’s crazy.”

Over the past three decades, the obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As you’re playing the video games, you might be eating cupcakes or chips or pop,” Whitner said. “You’re not running around burning those calories off. You accumulate for weeks and weeks and weeks of doing that, and you start to pick up weight.”

Whitner isn’t trying to get youths to give up video games, just to embrace exercise.

“If you want to live a healthy life,” Whitner told the assembly, “staying in shape, staying active and staying focused has a positive effect on the way you look, how your peers look at you, on the way that you feel about yourself, on how you feel when you get out of the bed in the morning. I ask you guys to just try to stay active for at least 60 minutes a day, and I promise you it will pay off in the long run.”

Whitner told the students he keeps himself on a strict diet year round.

“I try to stay away from a lot of carbs during the offseason,” he said. “Carbs are your breads and pastas and all those things that put weight on you. You don’t want many carbs when you’re not working out a lot. . . . I eat a lot of baked chicken, no fried food, a lot of vegetables. I thought I loved broccoli, but my chef brought me something new, broccolini. I love broccolini.”

Before the limo ride, Winkworth showed Whitner his bedroom, where the walls are lined with more than 600 pictures from magazines of sports stars, including Whitner.

One reason Winkworth likes Whitner, ironically, is a video game.

“He’s really good,” Winkworth said. “I play him in Madden. I use him blitzing. You can tell he stands out on the team.”

The 6-foot Winkworth, however, is no couch potato. He plays travel soccer and basketball. His injured foot will be healed in time for him to try out for the Niagara Catholic basketball team in a few weeks.

“This was cool,” Winkworth said. “Even though I didn’t get to participate (in gym class), it was cool just being a part of it. There’s something bigger than the injury now.”

Ginn coming up big for Dolphins

By Ron Jaworski

November 15, 2008

There are a couple of matchups that I'm really looking forward to, but the Atlanta-Denver game is definitely one to keep your eye on. This one features elite young quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler. I don't like to harp on any particular player, but Ryan is getting better every week. He is excelling at anticipating the play and what his receiver is going to do. He's not afraid to throw without knowing where the receiver is because he trusts himself and his receiver.

Let's take a look at what I saw in the film room:

• Miami's Ted Ginn Jr. is having a major impact on the Dolphins' passing attack. His ability to make the big play is opening up the intermediate area, and that's why we're seeing more explosive play from Chad Pennington. All of a sudden opposing defenses have to cover all over the field, and he's able to take advantage of the openings that present themselves.

• The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive ends have really struggled against opposing teams' power running game. The Eagles rely on speed, and they struggle getting off the blocks because they are undersized. The Giants handled them on the edges last week.

• Tyler Thigpen is impressing me every week. The past three games he's thrived against good defenses, completing 65 percent of his passes for 710 yards and six touchdowns for a 102.9 QB rating. The Chiefs have found their quarterback.

• Don't blitz Kurt Warner. He made the San Francisco 49ers pay the price last week when they blitzed, and this season when teams have blitzed him, he's completed 70 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and only one interception.

• The Panthers' speed on defense is awesome. Jon Beason flashes to the ball and plays with great speed.

• Madison Hedgecock is a large part of the Giants' success this season. Through 10 weeks, he's been on the field for 41 percent of the plays, which is phenomenal for a fullback. Of those plays, 169 have been called runs, which have gained 811 yards. That's an amazing 4.8 yards per touch, and it's directly attributable to his ability as a lead blocker.

• Over the past three weeks, the Titans' offense has called more passing plays than runs. The rushing attack is only gaining 3.1 yards per rush over the past three games, but Kerry Collins has completed 63 percent of his passes. He has really stepped up his game and is proving to be a threat to defenses.

Spaeth finds niche with Steelers

Second-year tight end adds versatility to Pittsburgh’s revamped offense

November 15, 2008

By MATT PAWLIKOWSKI, Correspondent

It's no secret that Steelers offensive coordinator Brice Arians loves to utilize his tight ends.

Just ask former Steeler fullback and Lancaster County native Dan Kreider, now with the Rams. He was not resigned last year, a main reason being the utilization of the two-tight end set on many downs, instead of the traditional I formation.

It is also a reason that in 2007, the Steelers surprised many when they drafted Matt Spaeth, who won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end that fall. They already had Heath Miller, their top pick in 2006, but in adding Spaeth to the equation, it allowed Arians to diversify the offense even more.

"He is big, tall and fast. He can block. He is an outstanding, prototypical tight end," Arians said of Spaeth. "At 6-7, he can help stretch the field and he can also handle the point of attack. He gives us good flexibility to take Heath and move him around a lot more.

"I like having three tight ends on the field a lot of times. It gives us a good personnel group, with two tight ends that can stretch the field, and all three guys can block the point of attack."

Asked if he was surprised when the Steelers called his name in the third round, Spaeth, who was selected behind Greg Olson (Chicago, No. 31) and Zach Miller (Oakland, No. 38), said he wasn't sure what would happen.

"I didn't really know what to expect in the draft process. You have inclinations and I think that is the best way to go into it," Speath said. "But it's been unbelievable here, especially when it comes to fan support. Coming from Minnesota, it's not like this at all."

Although Speath has not seen a lot of action since his rookie year, with Miller nursing a high ankle sprain against the Colts, he emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, catching six passes for 53 yards.

"I'm just trying to do what I can in there," Spaeth said. "Heath is our go-to guy. I was trying to step in and take advantage of the opportunity and leave us some underneath stuff. Every day, I've taken some extra time to study film and different things like that."

That he has been a quick study should come as no surprise. His father Ken played the same position at Nebraska, and was drafted by Buffalo. His receiving ability also should not be unforseen.

Despite being 6-7, 270, he has 4.7 speed, and at Minnesota his senior year, Spaeth had 47 receptions for 564 yards. Thus far, he has nine catches for 79 yards. Last year, four of the six passes he caught were for touchdowns.

"Everyone loves to catch the ball," Speath said with a smile. "Last year, it seemed that a lot of my stuff came in the red zone. If you're open, Ben will find you. If you're not, he's going to find the open guy."

His blocking is another reason Spaeth has become a viable part of the offensive scheme. When he is in the lineup, the team not only has another lineman for protection, but an extra player to clear the paths for Melwelde Moore or Willie Parker.

"The NFL game is a lot more complex in the things you learn, and I'm still learning as everyday in practice there is something new that comes up," Spaeth said. "So it's a constant learning process. My main focus ever since I was in college was to have a great game blocking and whatever opportunities come and present themselves in the passing game, to go out and take full advantage of them."

After starting hot and looking as if they would run away with the division, of late the Steelers have struggled to find a niche, losing games they should have won. Spaeth still believes the best is yet to come.

"Anytime you lose it is tough, and when you lose close ones like we have it is tough," Spaeth said. "But we can't hang our heads low and we're not. That's what makes this team special. We're weathering some things right now, but we're not going to make excuses or blame it on that. I think when we get people healthy again, it's going to be great."

Kicker from Needham gets on the scoreboard

Long-range plan is working

By Mike Reiss

November 16, 2008

So much for the chip shot. Steven Hauschka, the local boy turned unsuspecting pro, was being tested from the get-go.

The Baltimore Ravens had driven into Houston Texans territory in the second quarter last Sunday, but the drive stalled at the 36-yard line. Coach John Harbaugh had a decision to make.

Leading, 9-3, with 1:06 remaining until halftime and facing fourth and 7, Harbaugh weighed two options: a better-safe-than-sorry punt or the slightly more risky choice of attempting a 54-yard field goal.

Realizing that a missed field goal would give the Texans the ball at the 44 with a chance to seize momentum and get the home crowd back into the game, Harbaugh decided to kick it anyway. Looking in the direction of his rookie kicker from Needham, he sent Hauschka out for his first career NFL field-goal attempt.

"I was definitely nervous for it, as anybody would be," said the 23-year-old Hauschka. "That's a long kick, not to mention it was my first one."

Then it all happened so fast - 1.3 seconds to be exact. Snapper Matt Katula fired the ball back to holder Sam Koch, it was placed on the left hash mark, and Hauschka swung his right leg through the ball.

It has the distance . . . it has the accuracy . . . it's good.

And with that, Hauschka put a check mark in the box that he never dreamed was possible - first career NFL field goal. The kid who never kicked field goals at Needham High (he was a soccer player), picked up the skill at Middlebury College, then spent one year as a post-grad kicker at North Carolina State in 2007 had officially arrived.

Even he finds it hard to believe.

"Going into N.C. State, I never thought there was a shot of making the NFL," said Hauschka, who had a signed picture of Adam Vinatieri's Snow Bowl kick in his childhood bedroom. "I figured it would be an accomplishment to be considered a good Division 1 college kicker. Coming out of it, I realized I was better than a lot of the guys, but even then, the NFL seemed unlikely."

Yet scouts took note of his size (6 feet 4 inches, 210 pounds), powerful leg, and consistent mental approach. That put him on the NFL radar, but like most kickers, Hauschka went undrafted in April.

With multiple options, he inked a deal with the Vikings, knowing it was highly unlikely he'd beat out veteran Ryan Longwell. But the idea for a young kicker is to get on tape for other teams to see - just as Chicago Pro Bowler Robbie Gould did in New England when Vinatieri had a firm hold on the job in 2005.
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By the second preseason game, when Hauschka struck his kickoffs deep and made all three of his field-goal attempts (21, 34, 48 yards), a pro career began to feel less like a dream and more like a possibility. What he didn't know at the time was that his future employer was on the other sideline.

The Ravens had taken note of his performance, and when the Vikings tried to slip Hauschka through waivers and sign him to their practice squad, he was claimed by Baltimore.

In one sense, it was the ultimate compliment because Harbaugh, the Ravens' first-year coach, was primarily a special teams coach before landing a top job. Yet the move also created stress for Hauschka because he had to relocate, whether he liked it or not.

The Ravens' situation turned out to be a great fit, as Hauschka now handles the kickoff chores (70.4-yard average on 11 attempts) and long field-goal attempts, while 40-year-old Matt Stover, now in his 19th season, takes care of everything else.

After throttling the Texans, 41-13, last Sunday, the Ravens are one of the NFL's surprise clubs at 6-3, and today they look to send shockwaves through the league by upsetting the Giants on the road.

"This is a big test for us to see where we're at," Hauschka said. "I think the coaches have instilled a hard-working mentality among the players and it carries through the whole organization.

"We're trying to have the reputation as a hard-hitting team, a relentless team, one that takes advantage of every opportunity we can. It seems to be working right now."

Improbably, it is working - not just for the team, but for its young long-range kicker as well.

Steelers' TE Spaeth doing a "great job"

Steelers barely get it done

November 17, 2008

By Gene Collier

Willie Colon's thundering belly laugh echoed through a Steelers locker room that was rapidly emptying winners into the wintry darkness, and no other reaction was particularly valid, really, to the insanity just completed.

The Steelers got 115 yards from Willie Parker, 124 from Hines Ward, 308 off the arm of Ben Roethlisberger ... and scored no touchdowns.

"HAHAHAHA!" said Colon, approximately, upon first hearing it put that way. "I guess that's just a team that's just getting it done when they're just not getting it done."

That the Steelers won a game, 11-10, was apparently not psychedelic enough yesterday. That they ran 73 plays, rolled up 410 yards, possessed the pig for a season-high 36 1/2 minutes, and still scored no touchdowns, well, that was some kind of testament to the offense as a whole, or hole, as the case may be.

This is an offense that doesn't deserve a name as much as a title. I'm thinking "Spaeth: The Final Frontier."

Six of Roethlisberger's 31 completions went to backup tight end Matt Spaeth, just as six others did a week ago, and now the guy filling in for Heath Miller has 108 receiving yards in two weeks.

"We've been teasing Matt, telling him that he does a nice Robin, but can he do Batman," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said a few minutes after his club flipped the visiting San Diego Chargers and took back a one-game lead in the AFC North Division. "He's been driving the Batmobile pretty good."

This offense, as situated, is frankly not like any Batmobile with which I'm familiar, although it is certainly of the comic genre. Were it not for James Harrison harrying Philip Rivers into a fumble and resultant safety in the first half yesterday, we would be talking about what it feels like to go 103 minutes and 21 seconds without a touchdown on your own lawn. Doubtless 410 total net yards is nice, but how come it feels like it came on 410 total net plays?

"Part of that is our doing, and it's discouraging," Tomlin said. "We're not a finished product, but maybe we found something today in Gary Russell."

Russell, a second-year free agent out of Minnesota whose 39-yard kickoff return last week showed that it is apparently legal to return one beyond the 30, popped himself free for 10 yards on two short-yardage plays, something Mewelde Moore has been failing at in recent games. Moore lost 1 yard on fourth-and-1 at the Chargers' 1 as the first quarter expired yesterday.

But if Russell is the answer, or if Spaeth is the answer to why 410 yards of Bruce Arians-designed offense apparently has gotten out of the touchdown business, then the problem might be worse than it appears.

Asked that if he would throw for 300 yards, that Ward would catch more than 100 yards worth of passes, that Parker would gain more than 100 on the ground, how many points would he guess the Steelers would have accumulated yesterday, Roethlisberger didn't have to think for very long.

"You would think a lot more," Roethlisberger said. "I haven't seen the completion numbers, but it seemed like a lot of people were catching balls. Spaeth, Sean McHugh, Mewelde, you like it when you're spreading the ball around. Spaeth has done a great job filling in for, umm, for Heath."

"I've been real happy about what I've done the past two weeks," said Spaeth, who grabbed four throws that resulted in first downs in the third quarter as the Steelers labored to overcome a 7-5 deficit. "Heath is a great tight end and we need him back, but in the interim, I'm doing whatever I can to fill the void."

The Steelers tried filling the void with penalties for most of yesterday, running up a season-high 13 with a major contribution from the offense, where holding and blocking in the back were a staple, with an innovative six-men-on-the-line thrown in for spice. That likely won't happen again, but the knowledge that the offense failed to crack the goal line against a defense that had allowed three touchdown passes in a game four times this season, a defense that hasn't produced a turnover since Oct. 12, that's a little more problematic.

"We can't get caught up in, 'is this play-call right or is that play-call right,'" Colon said. "We just have to keep after it, and that's what we did. At the end, you could see it breaking down in their eyes. Key guys stepped up."

Ward caught four balls for 42 yards on the final Steelers possession, the one that chewed all but 11 seconds from the final 6:41, and Parker ran six times for 31 more. But they needed a Jeff Reed field goal to win it, and just as surely needed James Harrison and a defense that persists in its excellence.

"They've saved our butts all year," Colon said. "We're blessed to have 'em out there."

You can count your blessings in this NFL, but you can't win a division title on faith.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Packers tackle nominated for NFL Man of Year Award

By Steve Prestegard

November 12, 2008

Packers offensive tackle Mark Tauscher has been selected as the Packers’ 2008 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

As the Packers’ winner of the award, Tauscher will receive a $1,000 donation for his TRIFECTA (Tauscher’s Reading Initiative For Every Child To Achieve) Foundation, which he established in 2005.

He also is nominated for the league-wide award to be selected from 32 NFL players. Four finalists for the award will receive an additional $5,000 and be invited to the Super Bowl in Tampa, with the winner announced on field directly before kickoff of the game. The winner will receive a $25,000 donation to the 501(c)3 organization of his choice.

Tauscher is in the midst of his ninth season as a starter for the Packers and has played in 118 career games with 116 starts. He bounced back from a significant groin injury that snapped a 57-game starting streak in 2006 and sidelined him for five games, then went on to play in all 16 games in 2007, topping all Packers offensive players by playing 94.5 percent of the offensive snaps as Green Bay had the league’s second-ranked offense. A popular home-state hero, the former Wisconsin Badger entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick in 2000.

The Marshfield native’s involvement in the community has included various visits to local schools, hospitals, food pantries and civic organizations. He has recorded public service announcements in support of nonprofit groups, and has spoken with youth football players. He also attended a dinner in support and appreciation of local military families. Tauscher was part of the Packers’ second annual Tailgate Tour in 2007, visiting various Wisconsin cities with both scheduled and unscheduled stops, reaching out to literally thousands of fans and thanking them for their enduring and enthusiastic support of the club through the years. He also spent a week traveling with pediatric cancer patients to participate in winter activities around Wisconsin as part of former college teammate Jerry Wunsch’s Circle of Friends program. In addition, Tauscher has regularly attended the Families of Children with Cancer annual holiday party, sharing dinner and playing games with the guests. He also organized a charity basketball game to benefit cancer research.

In 2005, Tauscher established the TRIFECTA (Tauscher’s Reading Initiative For Every Child To Achieve) Foundation; its mission is to benefit literacy and education in the state of Wisconsin. He has held golf outings each of the past three springs to raise money for the foundation, and with Associated Bank, TRIFECTA has raised more than $110,000 for distribution in the state of Wisconsin. He has backed the fundraising efforts and community outreach of his teammates and coaches; he participated in both the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament and the Brett Favre Celebrity Softball Game, the “Evening of Elegance” which goes to support the Donald Driver Foundation, as well as the Edgar Bennett Celebrity Bowl-A-Thon. He has golfed in the Green Bay Packers Golf Invitational as well as the Vince Lombardi Charitable Funds Golf Classic. In April 2008, he received the Professional Achievement Award at the annual Lee Remmel Sports Awards Banquet.

The Man of the Year honor is the only league award that recognizes player off-the-field community service as well as playing excellence. This year’s finalists — one player from each NFL team — have demonstrated an outstanding balance between civic and professional responsibilities in their lives this season.

The prestigious award was renamed in 1999 for the legendary Chicago Bears Pro Football Hall of Fame running back. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award has been given annually since 1970.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Randy Shannon has UM playing with renewed potential


November 10, 2008

I don't quite get what Randy Shannon is doing with quarterbacks Robert Marve and Jacory Harris, but it's working.

Don't quite know what to make of Miami's four-game winning streak, but it sure beats the dismal four-game losing streak that ended last season.

"You can look at this football team and see where we're going," Shannon said after the Hurricanes' most recent success, a wild 24-17 overtime comeback at Virginia.

He's got a point there, which is more than Miami had in its last game with Virginia. That was a 48-0 loss to the Cavaliers in the Hurricanes' Orange Bowl farewell, one year ago this week.

The picture is so much better now, with Miami 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. With a win over Virginia Tech on Thursday night at Dolphin Stadium, the remade Hurricanes could even stay on track for a potential shot at their first ACC championship.

Not quite as satisfying as a national title? Get over it.

Shannon finally has, or at least he's temporarily tabled the topic for public discussion.

Before Miami staggered to a 5-7 record in his rookie season as a head coach, Shannon stood before a group of boosters and said what he thought they wanted to hear - "This is going to be a great year where all we're thinking about are championships. Not ACC championships, the national championship."

Hey, so he got caught up in the moment.

What's happening now with the Hurricanes is real, at least, and with strong hints of unreal possibilities, even in the setbacks.

Take September's 26-3 loss at The Swamp. Miami held Florida to 89 yards rushing that night. Nobody else has kept the Gators below 100. Nobody but Miami has made the Gators punt seven times in a game, either.

That 41-39 shootout loss with Florida State said a lot, too, about Miami's ability to turn it on in the second half, rather than folding up psychologically in the manner of 2007. UM trailed 24-3 at halftime but had the Seminoles scrambling for an onside kick at the end.

The North Carolina loss at Dolphin Stadium was just the opposite, with Miami blowing a 24-14 fourth-quarter lead, but even then the Hurricanes came within a deflected interception in the end zone of scoring a comeback victory of their own.

Marve's pass went off the hands of Kayne Farquharson as time expired, turning what would have been the winning touchdown into a game-ending North Carolina interception.

That tip-drill play is all that stands in the way of Miami leading the ACC's Coastal Division. As it is, the situation is messy and headed toward some kind of tiebreaker. North Carolina beat Miami. Virginia Tech beat North Carolina. And all three teams have two conference losses.

"The recruits interested in Miami see no matter what happens that if you do your job, compete and prepare the right way, coaches will give you an opportunity to be successful," Shannon said. "You look at this football team, you'll see those types of guys all around."

Guys like Harris, who threw a tying touchdown pass in the final minute at Virginia and the winning pass in overtime. Like Travis Benjamin, who had 274 all-purpose yards against FSU. Like Aldarius Johnson and Sean Spence and Laron Byrd.

True freshmen all, and true freshmen have had a hand in 21 of Miami's 32 touchdowns this season.

Shannon's right. You can see where the Hurricanes are going these days, regardless of what happens Thursday night.

They're coming back,
slower than anybody connected to the program likes but far surer than it seemed a year ago.

Ginn Jr. has big game against Seahawks

November 10, 2008

WR Ted Ginn Jr.- Ginn was a blur on that 100-yard kickoff return that didn't count. Why didn't this blazer start the season as the kickoff returner again? Sure looked like he could make that first defender miss. Ginn also showed off those mitts for hands he has on the 39-yard touchdown catch, which the Dolphins second-year receiver caught with two defenders draped all over him.Ginn's route running has consistently gotten better this season, and he proved that on the four passes he caught for 67 yards. He also had a 37-yard kickoff return that sizzled. He's clearly gaining confidence in his ability, and the coaches and quarterback are gaining confidence in him. I'm predicting it's only a matter of time before he produces a big return. When a blocking unit knows they have someone dynamic behind them they work a little harder to make sure he has openings. Now, if only the special teams unit could clean it up a little bit to make sure Ginn doesn't have another big return called back.

Hauschka kicks first field goal of career, second longest in Ravens' history

November 10, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Whitner makes Dr. Z's All-Pro Notebook

November 10, 2008

By Paul Zimmerman

Dr. Z's All-pro Notebook

Halfway through '08, some spots are almost locked up, others wide-open


QB—Drew Brees (Saints) is running away with it, with almost 500 more passing yards than his closest pursuer.

RB—Last year's rookie phenom, Adrian Peterson, has been slowed by a bad hamstring, leaving the field to Clinton Portis (Redskins). No one plays with more emotion than Marion Barber (Cowboys), who could slip in here if he starts piling up yards.

FB—The importance of this position keeps diminishing, but every now and then a fullback is thrust into a runner's role to devastating effect. Le'Ron McClain (Ravens) was a 260-pound wrecking ball against Pittsburgh in Week 4.

WR—The clear stickout is Andre Johnson (Texans), who keeps putting up 100-yard days (four in a row October). Brandon Marshall (Broncos) grabbed 18 passes against the Chargers.

TE—No one's close to Jason Witten (Cowboys), but he'll have to hold up under the terrible beatings he takes. I do enjoy watching Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars) putting DEs on their backs with his blocks.

T—Jordan Gross (Panthers), whom I once picked as an RT, is thriving on the left side. Michael Roos (Titans) is an LT standout on one of the best OLs, and Marc Colombo (Cowboys) has fully realized his mean streak on the right side.

G—Last year Pete Kendall (Redskins) was great in the early going but then faded. Now he's great again. Chris Snee (Giants) is a hard-nosed mauler on a quality unit.

C—I like quick guys at the position, which is why Tom Nalen practically had a permanent berth on my squad. Ryan Kalil (Panthers) is a worthy successor. I like Nick Mangold (Jets) better than all of New York's high-priced OL imports.


DE—Justin Tuck (Giants) is a Michael Strahan--type: solid. John Abraham (Falcons) is hustling—and sacking—more now, and Juqua Parker (Eagles) had a huge game against the Steelers. Against the same team, rising phenom Mario Williams (Texans) rolled the tackle, the blocking fullback and the ballcarrier into one big pile.

DT—I put 3--4 end Brett Keisel (Steelers) here because he reduces down in rush situations, and he's technically as skilled as any tackle. The monsters are at it again: Albert Haynesworth (Titans) and Shaun Rogers (Browns), who's back from the doghouse. Kris Jenkins (Jets) is a good 30-play-a-game man. Kevin Williams (Vikings) is grading highest on my charts.

OLB—Rushers abound. DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys) probably is the most effective, but Joey Porter (Dolphins) can get into a zone and become unstoppable. James Harrison (Steelers) stands out on a talented defense. Lance Briggs (Bears) is still my best all-arounder. And I saw highlight-filled games from D.J. Williams (Broncos) and Leroy Hill (Seahawks).

MLB—Coaches could use film of Barrett Ruud (Bucs) to teach how to play the position. Not flashy, just tremendously sound.

CB—Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders) could read a newspaper out there because everybody's afraid to go at him. Wild man Cortland Finnegan (Titans) is the most fun to watch. Or maybe the second most, after tough little Antoine Winfield (Vikings). Charles Woodson (Packers) is having a quality year, and I've always liked Will Allen (Dolphins).

S—Pittsburgh doesn't let many great players get away, but it did with Chris Hope (Titans). Chris Harris (Panthers) and Donte Whitner (Bills) are comers. Troy Polamalu (Steelers) makes more big plays than anyone.

Ted Ginn Jr. makes amazing TD catch

Ted Ginn Jr.: 'I've never made a catch like that'


November 9, 2008

MIAMI GARDENS — When Chad Pennington flung the ball 39 yards downfield to a double-covered Ted Ginn Jr., just about everyone wondered what he was doing - including a wide-open Greg Camarillo, who was at least five yards ahead of his defender.

"I was so open, I started slowing down, figuring the ball was coming my way," said Camarillo, the Dolphins' other wide receiver on the play.

If only Pennington and Ginn believed it was the right throw, that was enough. Ginn caught his first touchdown pass of the season, the opening score in Miami's 21-19 win against Seattle. The play showed that Ginn, a first-round draft pick who struggled as a rookie last season, has earned the confidence of his quarterback and coaches.

Pennington admitted after the game Sunday that he missed Camarillo and joked that he "elected to make it hard" by forcing it to Ginn.

But Ginn justified Pennington's decision by making an amazing catch. Ginn took his eyes off the ball to turn his head and catch it over his right shoulder as he neared the back of the end zone with defenders draped all over him.

"I've played on the highest level in high school, in college and now in the pros," Ginn said, "and I've never made a catch like that... It fell in the right place at the right time. If I didn't catch it, it was going to hit me on my helmet."

In recent weeks, Ginn has been showcasing his resilience as much as his speed. His touchdown catch Sunday capped a series that started after he returned the opening kickoff for an apparent touchdown that was negated by a holding penalty.

He admitted that the wiped-out touchdown return hurt "for a minute. But all you can do is come back and try to make the next play."

He continues to keep coming. His four catches for 67 yards against Seattle gave him 34 receptions this season, matching his 2007 total. Ginn now has now caught a pass in 21 consecutive games and he said he no longer feels judged after every effort.

The Dolphins are one of the few teams that still conduct one-on-one drills against defensive backs, and Pennington said that is helping Ginn. Their motto in practice is simple: "No dropped balls."

That's what Ginn remembered Sunday on his big pass from Pennington.

"He threw it up, took a chance," Ginn said, "and I came down with it."

Ravens' Hauschka drills 54-yard field goal

By Don Banks

November 9, 2008

Baltimore's secret weapon is Steven Hauschka. Who is he, and what was he doing kicking a 54-yard, second-quarter field goal for the Ravens in their win at Houston?

He's the Ravens' rookie kickoff specialist and was given a shot at a long field goal attempt that's well beyond Matt Stover's range. Not a bad first career NFL field goal effort for the former N.C. State product.

Dawson superb on prime time

By Mary Kay Cabot

November 07, 2008

He's got a big foot: Dawson kicked field goals of 24, 52 and 33 yards through three quarters. He also had one touchback and watched two of his kickoffs get muffed. Dawson's night began with his wife, Shannon, signing the national anthem. The Browns are 8-1 when Shannon sings the anthem.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Coach Mike Stoops leads disciplined Arizona squad

Arizona football notebook: UA sees fewest flags in NCAA

November 5, 2008

The Arizona Wildcats are last in the NCAA in a major statistical category — and thrilled about it.

Arizona has been penalized just 25 times in its first eight games, the lowest total among all Division I-A schools. The Wildcats were not flagged in their latest game, a victory over Cal, and just once in their previous game, a loss to USC.

Should they stay disciplined through the final month of the season, the Wildcats will be the school’s least-penalized team since 1937. That squad was flagged 2.5 times per game; this year’s team is sitting at 3.1 per game.

“It comes from discipline and being focused to play,” coach Mike Stoops said. “Sometimes, penalties are a lack of focus. That’s the one thing we’ve been decent at throughout the course of the year. Nobody’s been more disciplined than Eben Britton.”

Britton, the Wildcats’ starting left tackle, has not been officially penalized this year. Britton was flagged for shoving Cal linebacker Zack Follett following a play in Week 7, but the penalty was canceled because of off-setting calls.

Britton, the Cats’ best blocker, credits offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh for keeping the team in line.

“Coach Bill gives us up-downs when we jump offside in practice,” he said.
“Maybe that’s it.”

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

DT Cole's value rising with free agency on horizon

By Dan Arkush

October 31, 2008

It’s not likely the name of Colin Cole instantly rings a bell when the topic of NFL defensive tackles comes up. But the way we hear it, in discussions among league personnel heavyweights, Cole’s name is being brought up a lot more frequently as of late, considering how consistently well he has been performing on the Packers’ defensive line. Taking advantage of increased playing time, the 6-1, 320-pound fourth-year pro really has surprised daily team observers with the steady inside pass rush he has been providing. In addition to being among the team leaders in QB pressures, we’re told Cole also has been the team’s best D-lineman in terms of gap discipline. Cole’s game is coming together at just the right time, as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March and could have his share of suitors on the open market — provided the Packers don’t first decide to lock him up long term.

Dawson booms 54-yarder

November 04, 2008

Tony Grossi

. . . Phil Dawson had at least 5 yards to spare on his career-long 54-yard field goal on Sunday. "I was fooled," he said. "I had actually told the coaches that 53 was my limit [into the Dawg Pound end zone]. It tells you how much I've learned in my 10 years here."

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