Friday, April 30, 2010

From the mat to the Pats

By Ian R. Rapoport

April 30, 2010

FOXBORO - A collegiate wrestler, Central Michigan’s all-time leading receiver and the brother of a former Patriot highlight the list of undrafted free agents who have signed contracts with the Patriots [team stats].

Coach Bill Belichick added eight players to the roster in time for today’s rookie minicamp, which begins at 10:15 a.m.

John Wise, a former All-American wrestler at Illinois, is hoping to become another find, a la former collegiate wrestling champion and starting guard Stephen Neal. Wise last played football as a freshman at Western Illinois.

On the football field, ex-Chippewas star Bryan Anderson is the most accomplished. The 6-foot-5 receiver left as his school’s all-time leading receiver after making 290 catches for 3,648 yards.

He’s joined by Ross Ventrone, a Villanova safety whose brother Ray spent time as a Patriot. As for Notre Dame safety Sergio Brown, he played under current Patriots coach Corwin Brown with the Fighting Irish. Brown had 50 tackles and a sack in 2009.

The other players are Montana State linebacker Dane Fletcher, California (Penn.) defensive back Terrence Johnson, Mississippi State defensive lineman Kyle Love, and North Dakota State running back Pat Paschall.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Bob Stoops the Next Oklahoma Sooner To Go Pro?

By Jeb Williamson

April 28, 2010

No matter how you try to slice it, the perennial question of who was the big winner in last week’s NFL draft was answered in mere moments of its start.

It was Bob Stoops.

With Oklahoma Sooners Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, and Trent Williams being chosen with the first, third and fourth picks overall—in case people forgot—NFL suits reminded everyone of just how much respect they have for the head man in Norman.

Talent is one thing, which all three players do possess in spades, but in an era of pro football when teams—often literally—mortgage their futures to selections at the top end of the draft, where athletes played and who they played for is an ever-increasing factor in the decision process.

Look at the number of Florida Gators taken by the New England Patriots and try to make an argument that says Bill Belichick’s relationship with Urban Meyer did not play a part.

Do you think Josh McDaniels—from the Belichick coaching tree—might have relied on the same connection when deciding to take Tim Tebow in the first round?

Or Kansas City Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli’s decision to trade up to the No. 93 spot for Iowa TE Tony Moeaki; did Pioli’s relationship with Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz play a role?

In deciding to select a predominantly blocking TE in the third round—with plenty of other higher rated TEs on the board—Pioli obviously sought and took Ferentz’s opinion of Moeaki and his fit into the Chiefs offense.

The Cleveland Browns’ brass actually had Texas head coach Mack Brown announce their pick of former Longhorn Colt McCoy in the third round.

In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, NFL front offices showed this past draft weekend that they are not only keeping tabs on players throughout the college ranks; they have opinions on coaches as well.

The thought of the college ranks being a training ground for future NFL head coaching positions has cooled—if not iced over—the last few years due to the lack of success the last several attempts have yielded.

The last six coaches to leave a head coaching position in college to take the same spot for an NFL team have produced exactly two winning seasons and one playoff appearance at the pro level in the 19 seasons their stints totaled.

That does not count Lane Kiffin’s 5-15 effort with the Oakland Raiders as Kiffin moved into that head coaching job from a coordinator’s position at USC.

In full disclosure, I did count Bobby Petrino’s 3-10 record with the Falcons as a full season even though he resigned—if it can be so dignified—with three games left on the schedule.

There was a time when moving on to the NFL was as much a public pursuit by collegiate coaches as it was for their players.

After a decade or so of having their egos cut down at the knees in the NFL, college coaches have begun to realize that their lofty salaries, contracts full of golf club memberships and leased automobiles, and not having to manage a salary cap make the top spot in the college game a pretty good gig.

So, too, NFL teams have realized that college coaches who have built successful programs on the strength of schematics—i.e. a high-flying offense—are quickly exposed in the NFL as having neither the stamina nor the ability to adapt in a 16-game regular season.

Now—more than ever—it seems that the divide between what college coaches can offer and what NFL teams are looking for is at its widest and most defined point.

That is not necessarily the case.

Studies of the one coach to replicate his college success in the NFL —Jimmy Johnson—will all end up telling you the same thing:

Johnson succeeded because of his ability to spot and develop talent.

If last Thursday night’s primetime extravaganza has a hidden lesson, it is that the NFL thinks Bob Stoops knows how to do it as well.

I understand the knocks on the idea of Stoops going to the pros: his offense does not translate to the NFL; the Sooners are 2-5 in BCS Bowl games; despite all the talent on last year’s squad, OU went 8-5.

I will grant you the win on each of those.

I just do not think they matter that much.

A quick look at both the number and quality of players that were cut loose or traded by NFL teams is proof positive that getting the most out of every dollar spent is near the top of NFL coaching priorities.

At $5 million a year, I do not actually see Stoops leaving Oklahoma any time soon, but he has crossed the 10-year threshold that many people believe is the longest a coach—in the modern era—can stay at one program before things begin to turn south.

Another eight-win season in Norman—due to injuries or not—might just get both sides of the table to start wondering if the program Stoops revived into a national player might need another shot of adrenaline.

If and when the time comes for Bob Stoops to find another job, he will have plenty of suitors.

And the NFL will be one of them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mike Vrabel "embodies strong, fast and disciplined"

"Character and Teamwork: The Two 'Eyes' in Pioli"

By Mikedkc

April 17, 2010

With the NFL draft just days away, the speculation of the Chiefs number five, over-all selection is heating up. And with eight picks in the first five rounds, Kansas City has a chance to make a significant talent upgrade.

But will it convert to regular season victories?

Last December as the Chiefs were preparing for the Denver Broncos, most of us expected to be on the receiving end of another Denver butt-kicking. Sitting at a disappointing 3-12, Todd Haley saw progress. "I think there’s been progress in all areas. But the next step for us as a team … is we’ve got to start playing complete games in all three phases. We’ll win because we’re going to continue to work on being a smart team and one that makes good decisions."

As fans, we had every right to be skeptical.

The following week, the Chiefs manhandled the Broncos in a 44-24 victory. And in the process, opened our collective minds to the possibility Scott Pioli, Todd Haley and "The Right 53" might be building a culture of winning.

We’ve had a full regular season and an encouraging off-season to assess what Pioli originally referred to as "The Patriot Way" and the "Right 53". I submit to you those terms are simply another way to define the essence of "Teamwork".

And that isn’t all bad.

At the risk of sounding like a motivational seminar, let’s look at the fundamentals of teamwork and slap a big ol’ Chiefs logo on it.

Teamwork starts with leadership. A leader communicates objectives clearly. Scott Pioli established the mantra from day one: "We want big, strong, fast, disciplined football players."

Teamwork means trust in your teammates. Having declared his expectations, Haley set about getting the right 53 to buy in. Showing up in shape for mini-camps and OTAs speaks volumes about a player's commitment, which positively impacts team performance. Even crafty veterans weren’t spared from Haley’s discipline. Training camp singled out the unprepared and undisciplined. They lost weight, got in shape and stayed that way. No exceptions. Even all-pro, Brian Waters slugged through Haley's extra curricular training sessions.

Teamwork means trust in the system. Haley was so committed to the system he fired offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey a month before the regular season opener and installed his own offense. On the surface, it looked like the actions of a mad man. In hindsight, it was an expeditious leap that laid the foundation for the offense of the future and the hiring of a brilliant coordinator to run it in Charlie Weis.

Now let's take a look at the Chiefs' recent individual application of these principles.

Bernard Pollard. We might never know the specifics, but it's certain, Haley wasn't alone in the Chiefs decision to cut him. Is it possible he was the sacrificial lamb to make a point? Based on his talent, it's more likely Pollard simply viewed himself as bigger than the team, rendering him an unacceptable locker room influence who undermined the system and became unfit as a trusted teammate.

Jamaal Charles. Distasteful as it was, Larry Johnson was going to start until Jamal Charles proved he could be trusted to carry the ball without fumbling. Injuries to Kolby Smilth and Johnson's disrespectful twitter posts paved the way for Charles' MVP season. With Thomas Jones competing for carries, Charles has to hold on to the ball--in practice as well as in games.

Derrick Johnson. Whether he lacked the ability to shed blockers, took plays off or lacked the discipline to maintain his assignment in practice, his freelancing got him benched. Meanwhile, less talented linebackers started and got the reps. They could be trusted to do the right thing. After the Denver game, Haley no doubt recognized Johnson's ability to drop back in coverage and spy and contain. This year, he will likely be situationally assigned to those things but might not start until he proves he can be trusted by his teammates on every down. Hopefully, Romeo Crennel coaches DJ up to the player we all expect him to be.

Mike Vrabel. At age 34 with 57 career sacks, Vrabel is on my all-bar-fight first team. Along with his toughness, Vrabel's fitness regimen has extended his career and made him a trusted player on three Super Bowl championship teams. He is, admittedly near the end of his career. But Vrabel embodies strong, fast and disciplined. Derrick Johnson, take note.

Rudy Niswanger. Yes, he snapped the ball over Cassel's head twice against the Chargers. The pocket frequently collapsed at the center point of attack. But to his credit, he's tough. Niswanger played through "a significant" knee injury in 2009, which speaks volumes to his character. His high intellect and dependability make a solid case for keeping him as a reliable center/guard backup and valued teammate.

Casey Wiegmann. Brought in to provide leadership and a model work ethic. Wiegmann demonstrates the definition of teamwork with his weekly preparation.

Ryan Lilja. His interview last week spoke volumes about his character and leadership qualities. Look for an improved right side on the Chiefs offensive line and expect way more from this 2010 edition of the offense.

With these recent examples of the Chiefs personnel management, we'll see not only a vast improvement in the overall talent level of the team, but a significant jump in the number of victories.

I have a personal preference for the number five pick. But with Scott Pioli's vision of character and teamwork, I trust him to do the right thing on draft day.

He stated it clearly in yesterday's press conference: "I don’t know what my reputation is, but this is what I do. It is my job to evaluate players, not only on the field, but who they are, which is an important part. I believe that player personnel is not only the evaluation of the skill-set and playing ability, but is the makeup of the player and who the player is as well as trying to determine his fit. I am sure you are all tired of me talking about the right 53 but it is a core belief of mine and it was a core belief of some of the teams I have seen win championships at every level, whether it is pro football, college football or high school football."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brian Hartline : An ideal complement to Brandon Marshall

By Omar Kelly

April 15th, 2010

I’m going to present two batches of statistics for the Miami Dolphins fan base, and the world to dissect.

Before I tell everyone the names, and the breakdowns of who these individuals are, or what offense they work in, just look at the numbers.

Individual No. 1: 45 receptions, 680 yards, 15.1 yards per catch, four touchdowns in 15 starts (with two different teams).


Individual No. 2: 31 receptions, 506 yards, 16.3 yards per catch, and four touchdowns (one rushing) in a season where he started just two games.

Drum roll please…..

The first receiver is New York Jets wide out Braylon Edwards, a talented but still unpolished fifth-year veteran, who is becoming fairly expensive, and has a little bit of diva in him.

The second receiver is Miami Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline, a smart and savvy youngster from Ohio State, who is coming off an impressive rookie season where he split time with four other receivers.

Hartline works fairly cheap (base salary is less than $400,000 in 2010), doesn’t have much of an ego (yet…it’s never too late), and it appears he has plenty of upside, especially with newly acquired “Alpha Dog” receiver Brandon Marshall lined up across from him.

If you don’t believe Hartline has the goods I encourage you to check out some of the athletic catches he made last season around the 4 minute-mark of this Dolphins highlight video, which certainly got me excited about the playmakers on the team in the post-Marshall era.

While I think Ted Ginn Jr. is the most talented athlete in the unit (behind Marshall of course), and I have the greatest amount of respect for what Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess have achieved in their brief careers, if you made me guess who lines up opposite Marshall right now…..

Hartline would be my answer.

With that said, whoever performs in practice during OTAs, minicamps, training camps, and the exhibition season, deserves the job.

But a quick, and unbiased look at Hartline’s numbers, and a sampling of his body of work in his one NFL season, sure does hint that he might have the goods.

I’d say the Dolphins wide receiver unit isn’t looking too shabby these days.

Nicks: Bo has 'done magic'

April 14, 2010

By Rich Kaipust

8:52 p.m.: Carl Nicks saw the Nebraska defense at its worst, when it was giving up yards and points in alarming amounts during the 2007 season. So count the former Husker offensive lineman among those impressed with the rebuilding job done by NU head coach Bo Pelini, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini and the defensive staff.

"I'm going to be 100 percent honest, Bo Pelini's done magic," Nicks said. "Because what I've seen on TV the last couple years from when I was playing .... it's a complete 180. He's got everybody buying in, they believe in a system, and rightfully so because he's producing wins. But he's a great coach and I tip my hat to him."

Nicks not only offered praise for Pelini but apologies after visiting practice Wednesday. Two years ago, after Nicks had completed his eligibility, Pelini barred Nicks from taking part in the Huskers' pro day workouts.

"I figured it was about time to put some water on some of those bridges I burned," Nicks said.

Nicks stopped going to class immediately after the 2007 season ended and Bill Callahan was fired, which he counts among the "immature stuff I did."

"For about a good three or four months I had blamed Bo for it and I was blaming other people, and at the end of the day you've got to look in the mirror," Nicks said. "Once I got a little older, played a little professional ball, I realized how good I had it and just how bad I treated everybody."

New Orleans made Nicks a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft and Nicks recently finished his second season with a Super Bowl championship after the Saints beat Indianapolis 31-17.

"It was literally a dream come true," he said. "I just remember when the clock ended and the confetti came, I almost started crying."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mike Vrabel: Outside Linebacker Prototype

April 12, 2010

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH -- At the Patriots pre-draft party April 3 for season-ticket holders -- which was presented by SportsCenter and -- Tedy Bruschi touched on why a certain body type is important at outside linebacker in New England's defense.

"When I came into this program, I'm 6-1, and they tried me at outside linebacker. That lasted about four days, then they said 'Tedy, you're at inside linebacker.'

"Think of Mike Vrabel [6-foot-4] -- the long arms, the long legs, the shorter torso where he can extend. You always hear Bill [Belichick] talking about setting the edge in the running game. That's how you do that -- you extend your arms. There is a tight end on you, you extend your arms and set that edge so the running back can't get outside. If he can, you have the other arm to get free and make that play, or force it back to those inside linebackers. You have to have a body type that fits that -- that Vrabel-type that [Sergio] Kindle-type body."

Bruschi said it's still possible someone without the body type could play the position, although it's not what the Patriots usually seek at that spot.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sports law symposium brings officials from NFL, NBA and MLB to Harvard Law School

April 8, 2010

As the three most popular sports leagues in the United States all confront the end of their collective bargaining agreements in 2011, industry representatives previewed the key issues affecting negotiation, during the second annual Sports and the Law Symposium held on March 26.

Sponsored by Harvard Law School’s Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law, the symposium featured panels with officials from the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB), representatives from the leagues’ players associations and teams, and player agents. The event also included a presentation on the Sports Legacy Institute, established in 2007 to address the problem of sports concussions, and a tribute to Professor Paul Weiler for his groundbreaking work in sports and entertainment law at HLS.

Robert Manfred ’83, MLB’s executive vice president for labor relations, gave the keynote address [see video below]. He said that the spending disparity among baseball teams has been the most pronounced among all sports because large-market teams generate more local revenue. At the same time, he said, small-market teams have frequently remained competitive through the season and several have made recent World Series. Representing a league that canceled the World Series in the mid-’90s because of a labor dispute, Manfred expressed optimism that baseball – and, he hopes, the other leagues – will come to an agreement so that the games will carry on without interruption.

The NFL panel featured Adolpho Birch, vice president of law and labor policy, NFL; David Feher, partner, Dewey & LeBoeuf; Neil Cornrich, president, NC Sports; and Sarah Stuart, senior counsel, Reebok. Among the topics discussed were revenue sharing, the authority of the NFL commissioner to hand out penalties to players, concussions, endorsement contracts, and the antitrust case American Needle v. NFL.

Sitting on the NBA panel were Jeffrey Mishkin, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Hal Biagas, executive vice president of management, Wasserman Media Group; Michael Zarren ’04, assistant general manager and team counsel, Boston Celtics; and Robert Tilliss, CEO, Inner Circle Sports. The panel covered revenue sharing, the financial difficulty of franchises in smaller markets, the growing internationalization of the league, gambling in the wake of the betting scandal involving referee Tim Donaghy, player conduct, and the requirement that players cannot enter the NBA unless they are at least a year removed from high school.

The MLB panel consisted of Daniel Halem ’91, senior vice president, general counsel for labor, MLB; Derek Jackson ’99, vice president and general counsel, Florida Marlins; David Prouty ’86, chief labor counsel, Major League Baseball Players Association; Timothy Slavin, assistant general counsel, MLBPA; and Joseph Rosen, Partner, Brown & Rosen. They discussed the lack of a salary cap in baseball (the only major sports league without one), testing for performance-enhancing drugs, the draft, and the system of signing international players.

At the Sports Legacy Institute kickoff luncheon [video below], HLS Lecturer on Law Peter Carfagna moderated a panel discussion with panelists Chris Nowinski, president and CEO, Sports Legacy Institute; George Atallah, assistant executive director for external affairs, NFL Players Association; NFL Player Pete Kendall; and Retired NFL Players Ted Johnson, Isaiah Kacyvenski and Christian Fauria. During the lunchtime talk, panelists discussed the NFL’s upcoming collective bargaining negotiations, as well as safety, health and brain trauma issues in the NFL.

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