Friday, October 29, 2010

Replacing Dallas Clark? Sorry, that's not possible

By Bob Kravitz

October 29, 2010

Almost without fail, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning spends part of his postgame post-mortems talking about the ways opponents try to take away tight end Dallas Clark.

They play nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six DBs). They double-cover him, using a linebacker and a defensive end, or another unusual pairing of defensive players. Some clubs have tried straitjackets and cluster bombs, with varying levels of success.

Since Clark emerged as one of the league's most dynamic weapons three or four years ago, defenses have spent the week leading up to Colts games saying, "We've got to make Dallas Clark disappear."

Well, Clark has disappeared, courtesy of a season-ending wrist injury.

Which means this: There's even more pressure now, if that's possible, on Manning.

If No. 18 can lead his team past Houston in a Monday night monster game at The Luke, if he can overcome the injuries to Clark, receiver Austin Collie, running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown, and receiver Anthony Gonzalez's tenuous return from injury, and lead this group to another 12-win season, he should not only get his fifth MVP, they should rename the trophy after him.

"You still have the same expectations, but you may have to make some adjustments," Manning said Thursday. "To sit here and say there's not an adjustment without Dallas Clark, we can't say that. He's too great of a player not to have an effect."

Outside of the 2008 season -- when Manning's bum knee left the Colts 3-4 before a nine-game winning streak -- has Manning ever faced a bigger challenge?

It doesn't take a coaching legend to break down the obvious X's-and-O's ramifications of Clark's loss.

With Clark in the lineup, most defenses have used five or six defensive backs, daring the Colts to run the football -- which they have done with uneven success. Unless Jacob Tamme emerges as Dallas Jr., defenses will pay less attention to the Colts' tight end, meaning more emphasis on closing down the outside receivers (Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Gonzalez) and/or more emphasis on shutting down the run.

In 2006, the Colts went 11-1 with Clark in the lineup. When he went down with a knee injury, the Colts finished the season 1-3, although a lot of the blame fell on the porous run defense, which got shredded by Houston and Jacksonville. When Clark came back for the postseason -- thank heaven for medical second opinions -- the Colts didn't exactly light up the scoreboard, but Clark was their best weapon on the way to a Super Bowl title.

"It's going to be different than 2006 because we've literally seen a change in the way teams defend Dallas now," Manning said. "Since he's established himself as such a threat in the slot, at tight end, in the backfield, he's become even more versatile. The last four years, teams are using nickel, using dime, double-teaming him with a defensive end and a linebacker; we just didn't see it back then.

"Now the real question is, 'Do they continue to do those kinds of things or do they totally change what they do?' Dallas has just been so awesome, he's made defenses think a lot more."

We've already seen how different the Colts looked in 2006 when they lost Clark for a month.

Two more random examples:

In 2007, the Baltimore Ravens were 3-3 when they lost tight end Todd Heap. They went 2-8 down the stretch without him. (There were extenuating circumstances, but the numbers are instructive.)

The Green Bay Packers opened this season 3-1 and averaged 26 points per game with emerging tight end star Jermichael Finley. In the three games he has missed, they've gone 1-2 and averaged 17.7 points. (Again, some extenuating circumstances; the Packers lost their running back and several other key players.)

This won't all be about Manning, although he's always at the center of things.

Gonzalez needs to come back with a strong performance and re-stake his claim as part of the team's long-term future. The defense has to step up and consistently take more ownership of a team whose offense has been wracked by injuries. And the offensive line, which has improved markedly since that opening-game mess in Houston, has to play its best game of the season in run and pass blocking.

There also can't be any slippage in special teams, an area that tends to suffer the trickle-down effects of front-line injuries. There's no punter/kickoff man/holder Pat McAfee -- and his suspension now makes more sense with the knowledge that coach Jim Caldwell laid down the law on off-field shenanigans right before McAfee's late-night swim.

This isn't a must-win; those don't come until a loss means the end of the season. But it's really, really close. They can't afford to go 0-3 in the division and two games behind the Texans, factoring in the tiebreaker. It's not going to be easy to reach the playoffs as a wild card this year.

Next man up?

How about "next men up?"

And this just in: John Mackey isn't walking through those doors anytime soon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Badgers coach Bret Bielema changing perceptions

October 28, 2010

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez slipped across a crowded interview room to embrace coach Bret Bielema not long after the Badgers toppled then-No. 1 Ohio State two weeks ago.

Bielema's face was flush with a combination of relief, excitement and energy after a resounding 31-18 victory over the Buckeyes on national television. Little did the pair realize that the bigger win was seven days away with a 31-30 win at Iowa, Bielema's alma mater.

In eight days, the fifth-year coach shed the perception that he couldn't win the biggest games. Now, Bielema's profile is rising and his ninth-ranked Badgers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) are battle tested.

For all the success Wisconsin has had since Alvarez led a rebuilt program to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances in 1999 and 2000, the Badgers have never quite broken down the perception that they're big, slow and boring - at least on offense.

Bielema even jokes that his team would never be considered flashy or sexy. Of course, this is the same guy who used a fake punt and converted two fourth downs on the final drive against the Hawkeyes.

"To have such a high, play so well against the No. 1 team in the country, is one thing, but, to manage your team after being emotionally spent and playing in a physical game and being drained, turn it around, having them ready to play a very good Iowa team on the road, overcome all those injuries and find a way to win that game, that speaks to itself,'' Alvarez said. "That's very difficult to do."

So difficult, in fact, Alvarez, who also took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl in 1994, never knocked off a No. 1 team or beat a ranked Iowa team in Iowa City in his 16 seasons. Wisconsin last beat ranked teams in consecutive weeks in 1954.

"The thing that's probably jumped out the last two weeks is the exposure that we've gotten and the amount of people who want to jump in our boat,'' Bielema said.

And while Wisconsin is suddenly a hot name in recruiting, the coach gives the current credit to his players' preparation. He hasn't cited his catchphrase much this year: a "1-0 mentality,'' but the proof came against the Hawkeyes when his team rallied late with a 15-play, 80-yard game-winning drive.

Bielema's players say that toughness describes their coach's intensity.

"If he could go out there and play every snap, I'm sure he would,'' safety Aaron Henry said. "The monkey finally jumped off his back. I think for him, man-to-man, he's a very young coach, he has a tremendous future ahead of him. People are going to find something to say when you're not winning, I can remember in the bowl game people were saying we weren't going to beat Miami, but we pulled that off.

"With Coach B, when people say he can't do something, he tries to defy the odds. He's always trying to get after it."

Alvarez picked his successor after Bielema had spent just two years as defensive coordinator. Bielema is moving out from his boss's shadow.

Not that he doesn't rely on Alvarez, who had 118 career victories.

"Bret's not afraid,'' Alvarez said. "In that position, you have to have a sounding board. He hasn't been bashful. He's asked questions, he asks for opinions. Sometimes he uses them, sometimes he doesn't. But he has another view of how to do things.''

Wisconsin's power running foundation is straightforward, but the Badgers, who are off this week before playing at Purdue on Nov. 6, certainly are an entertaining crew.

There's the neat freak signal caller Scott Tolzien, a comedian on the offensive line in John Moffitt, the funky hair designs of running back John Clay and a former pizza delivery driver, J.J. Watt, who now chases down quarterbacks with frightening intensity.

Tolzien has been described as the perfect quarterback for the Badgers' system by teammates and opponents, even though he wasn't recruited by big schools until Wisconsin came in late. He spent his first three years watching, but he's gone 17-4 as a starter under Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

Bielema also acknowledges quickly when he's made a mistake.

J.J. Watt was a lightly recruited tight end and said Bielema told him point blank the 6-foot-6 Watt wasn't big enough to play the position for the Badgers. Watt later walked on, earned a scholarship as a defensive end and is now one of the biggest playmakers in the Big Ten.

"I can't be more thankful for Coach B for just trusting in me and believing in me that much,'' Watt said. "I've seen people criticize him in the media and people criticize him all over the place, but you can't argue with his results. It's unbelievable."

The 40-year-old Bielema, a walk-on himself at Iowa who later became a starter and captain, is 45-15 overall, and now 7-10 against Top 25 opponents. He grew up on a pig farm near Prophetstown, Ill., and has a Hawkeyes tattoo on his leg. It's the work ethic and honesty his players admire.

"He has that 'put-your-hand-in-the-ground-and-just-go-to-work' mentality. That definitely rubs off on our football team,'' Watt said. "He runs a tough football program, but we like it. We like working hard and it definitely helps us in the end.''

Bielema insists he's only focused on a week at a time and will reflect on the season when it's over. When he finally does, a different image of the up-and-coming coach may finally emerge.

"You have to win big games to get national respect,'' Alvarez said. "That's exactly what he did. People saw it first hand and have acknowledged, 'Hey, he's doing some things right up there.'"

Shannon, Ferentz, Pelini boast programs with top graduation rates

From Steve Wieberg's "NCAA football grad rates at all-time high"

October 28, 2010

Reshuffling this week's Bowl Championship Series football rankings according to each program's graduation rate:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

49ers to start Troy Smith in London

Associated Press

October 27, 2010

LONDON -- With quarterback Alex Smith ruled out because of a separated shoulder, San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary is gambling on Troy Smith being able to turn his struggling team around.

Singletary said Wednesday the former Heisman Trophy winner will get his first NFL start in three years after Alex Smith was ruled out for 2 to 3 weeks with a separated left shoulder. The Niners play the Denver Broncos at London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Singletary picked the former Ohio State standout ahead of David Carr, who came on against Carolina after Alex Smith was injured on Sunday but threw a costly late interception that led to the winning field goal for the Panthers.

"Troy Smith gives us a good opportunity to win this game," Singletary said. "I talked to David Carr about it. He understands. We had a couple of conversations about it. That's a personal thing between he and I, and I'm going to leave it there. Troy Smith is our starting quarterback."

With the Niners off to a 1-6 start, Singletary has little to lose by taking a gamble.

Troy Smith spent the last three years with Baltimore, where his only two starts came in the 2007 season as he struggled to live up to the hype from his college days. But the mobile quarterback, who could give San Francisco's offense extra options with his scrambling ability, said he wasn't surprised by Singletary's decision.

"The way that you prepare as a professional athlete, you have to be prepared when your number is called. And that's exactly where I'm at," he said.

The Niners have a bye following the game at Wembley, giving Alex Smith a chance to heal before San Francisco faces the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 14. He was tackled from the blind side by Carolina's Charles Johnson, driving his shoulder into the turf. He arrived in London on Monday -- along with the rest of the team -- and spent the morning at the hospital, still with his non-throwing arm in a sling.

Singletary said Troy Smith had never taken first-team snaps in practice with the Niners before this week, but that he's catching on quickly.

"He's been studying since we got here, and has been getting with the coaches as much as he possibly could," Singletary said. "He has enough of the offense to play."

Troy Smith said he was told "a couple of days ago" that he would start and would "continue to prepare like a madman" for the rest of the week.

"I think the easiest way to get through to your teammates that you're serious about what's going on is to know exactly what your job is, know exactly what everyone expects from you and go out and execute," Troy Smith said. "At the same time you have to respect your boundaries. I believe in not stepping on anybody's toes, I believe in getting in where you fit in."

While the quarterback will be leading a new team in completely new surroundings -- in front of about 85,000 British fans -- there is one reason he might feel right at home.

Troy Smith will be linking up once again with wide receiver Ted Ginn, one of his best friends from childhood and a favorite target throughout his playing career.

The duo played together both in high school in Cleveland and at Ohio State, and Ginn said they can't wait to get out on the field again together.

"It's great to be able to get back in tune with a guy that you've been playing with your whole life," Ginn said. "For us to go out and continue our journey that we've been [on] so far is great."

Ginn, who joined the Niners from Miami this season, said he first met Troy Smith when they were 7 years old and their families went to the same church.
Back then though, their conversations didn't focus on football, but on who was going to sneak out to get some snacks.

"It was at church, and we had a McDonalds to our left, and we had a little candy store to our right," Ginn said. "And we would sneak out of the church, and either I would hold the door and he would run to McDonalds, or he would hold the door and I would run to the candy store. That's how we started off, and then we just grew from there."

Troy Smith said he isn't about to favor his old buddy if other targets are open.

"It's not just about my brother Ted Ginn, it's about the other receivers that are going to be out there also," he said. "We have tremendous playmakers everywhere, and it's my job, my duty, to get everybody the ball."

Improve your football IQ

By Clare Farnsworth

October 22, 2010

That’s the goal of the Football 101 workshop that will be held Saturday at VMAC and is being sponsored by the Seahawks Women’s Association – including Michaela Bradley, wife of the team’s defensive coordinator.

Michaela Bradley’s football IQ should be off the charts.

After all, she has one brother, Dave Marion, who was an All-American offensive lineman at North Dakota State and another, Steve, who also played for the Bison. Oh, and she is married to Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

But just because Michaela Bradley has football in her blood doesn’t mean it’s always on her brain.

“I had to be somewhat in tune to the game, because it was so much a part of our life,” Michaela said Thursday. “We’d go to the games, where it was junior high, high school or college. That’s just what we did.

“But understanding football is like learning a foreign language.”

Especially when you husband speaks it so fluently.

“I had to ask him the other day about the Bears game (on Sunday), and how do you know when you blitz as much as you do? I just don’t get that,” Michaela said. “He was trying to explain it and then he just looked at me and said, ‘Never mind.’ ”

That’s why Michaela has decided to co-chair the Football 101 workshop on Saturday that is being hosted by the Seattle Seahawks Women’s Association at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

“Women who watch football every Sunday with their husbands that really don’t have an idea, they can come to this and it gives them a better insight,” Bradley said. “I can learn from this, too, because it’s not like Gus and I sit down and talk about A-gaps and B-gaps.

“So it will be great for everyone on Saturday to walk away with a greater amount of knowledge.”

On hand to impart their knowledge of the game will be middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and his wife, Rachael; nose tackle Colin Cole and his wife, Kaye, the other co-chair of the event; former Seahawks linebacker Dave Wyman; and former offensive tackle Ray Roberts. Jen Mueller, the sideline reporter for the radio broadcasts of Seahawks games, will serve as the emcee.

“The Football 101 workshop is twofold,” Kaye Cole said. “Not only will fans have the opportunity to sharpen their football IQ, but also learn about the myriad set of complex demands, stressors and challenges associated with being diagnosed with breast cancer.”

The workshop is being held in conjunction with the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and proceeds from the event will benefit the Pink Daisy Project and the Young Survival Coalition.

Michaela Bradley and Kaye Cole also can share experiences of what it’s like to be married to an NFL coach and player.

“It’s a commitment to your husband’s job and supporting them, and recognizing the fact that you are somewhat on your own for a period of time,” said Michaela Bradley, who has four young children – Carter, Anna, Eli and Ella.

“You just have to roll with it.”

She got an idea what the lifestyle would be like as soon as she and Gus stayed dating. That was when Bradley returned to North Dakota State in 1996 after a five-year stay at Fort Lewis College. Bradley, who also played at North Dakota State, had been a graduate assistant in 1990-91 – when coached Steve Marion.

“I remember my brother saying, ‘Hey, you’ll never guess who’s back at North Dakota State?’,” Michaela recalled. “And I said, ‘Who?’ He said, ‘Gus Bradley.’

“I said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to talk to him, he’s the happiest guy I’ve ever met.’ ”

They met. They dated. And 10 months later they were engaged. But only after a dating process that Michaela laughingly likens to an interview process.

“I think I had 10 questions on our first date: Am I independent? Can I raise children by myself? Do you think you can be an OK coach’s wife?” Michaela said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m 24 years old, I have no idea; but yes, yes and yes.’

“That’s when we knew it would work out OK, and it’s been awesome.”

Asked about his wife’s football IQ, Gus Bradley cracked, “Let’s not get it confused that just because she had brothers that played that she’s got a high football IQ. She understands it somewhat, just what the game involves.

“But when it gets to X’s and O’s, she’s like anybody else.”

Which is just another reason why Michaela Bradley is looking forward to Saturday’s Football 101 workshop.

49ers: Troy Smith Will Start for Injured Alex Smith

October 27, 2010

By Matt Maiocco

LONDON -- Troy Smith, who has yet to take a first-team practice snap with the 49ers, will be the team's starting quarterback Sunday against the Denver Broncos, coach Mike Singletary announced Wednesday morning.

Alex Smith is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks with a left shoulder separation, Singletary said. David Carr has been demoted after struggling against the Carolina Panthers after taking over for Alex Smith. Carr completed 5 of 13 passes for 67 yards and a critical interception in the 49ers' 23-20 loss to the Panthers.

"The bottom line is I think for where we are, Troy Smith gives us a good opportunity to win the game," Singletary said.

Troy Smith was signed to a one-year contract leading up to the 49ers' first game of the regular season after the Baltimore Ravens released him at the final cutdown date.

"Probably the No. 1 thing I like about him is leadership," Singletary said. "The ability to get everybody on the same page."

There are no other changes to the 49ers' starting lineup, Singletary said.

Alex Smith and center Eric Heitmann (neck) are the only players who have been ruled out for Sunday's game, but reserve cornerback Tarell Brown (back) is unlikely to play, Singletary said.

Guard Chilo Rachal (stinger), running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring strain), tackle Joe Staley (stinger) and safety Taylor Mays (stinger) are all day-to-day.

There was no plan to activate practice-squad quarterback Nate Davis to the 53-man roster, Singletary said. The 49ers did make one move: waiving safety Chris Maragos and activating cornerback Tramaine Brock.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Steven Hauschka field goal lifts Locomotives to overtime victory

Las Vegas Locos tackle Jason Capizzi lifts up kicker Steven Hauschka after his field goal against Hartford Colonials during the Locos 24-21 overtime win Saturday, October 23, 2010 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

By Ray Brewer

October 23, 2010

On a typical windy Las Vegas fall afternoon, Steven Hauschka’s game-winning field goal Saturday for the Las Vegas Locomotives football team was easier said than done.

The distance of the 53-yard attempt was only half the battle.

Hauschka also had to account for wind gusts up to 20 mph that severely altered game strategy, passing plays and kicking all afternoon.

Still, he was able to drill the long attempt
— a wobbling kick that didn’t win any style points but still did its job by splitting the uprights for a 24-21 overtime victory against the Hartford Colonials.

The winning boot came with 17 seconds to play in overtime, lifting the Locomotives (4-1) to their fourth straight victory. It was the first regular season overtime game in the history of the 2-year-old United Football League.

A Hauschka miss would have likely resulted in the league’s first tie. But the former NFL kicker, who honed his craft of kicking in poor conditions while with the Baltimore Ravens and growing up in the Boston area, was calm under pressure.

“I hit it pretty solid on my foot and I felt it, so I knew it was going to be good,” Hauschka said.

Las Vegas led 21-13 late in regulation before Hartford scored the equalizing touchdown and 2-point conversion with 1:04 to play. Hartford’s Josh McCown threw a 4-yard scoring strike to Tyson Devree for the touchdown, then connected with Syndric Steptoe for the conversion to even the score at 21.

That’s when strategy took over.

Las Vegas coach Jim Fassell ran out the clock in regulation, opting to be conservative with rookie quarterback Drew Willy making his first professional start. He knew it would have been asking a lot of Willy, a rookie from the University of Buffalo taking over for injured veteran Tim Rattay, to lead the Locos into field goal range going into the wind.

Then, when Las Vegas won the overtime coin toss, Fassell made the no-brainer decision of having the wind at the Locomotives’ back while on offense.

Fassell allowed Hartford to receive the ball first, knowing UFL overtime rules guarantee each team receives the ball once. In the NFL, overtime is sudden death, meaning the winner of the coin toss always elects to receive.

The strategy paid off as Hartford kicker Taylor Mehlhaff missed a 38-yard attempt wide right with five minutes remaining in overtime — a kick clearly hindered by the wind.

“I thought the team that won the wind in overtime would definitely have an advantage,” Hartford coach Chris Palmer said.

Fassell credits his nine seasons coaching the NFL's New York Giants for helping him become comfortable with managing the game with windy conditions. The UFL's overtime rules didn't hurt, either.

“I think it’s better than the college system, and I think it’s better than the NFL system," Fassell said.

Willy was effective in his debut, completing 18 of 29 passes for 191 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He connected with Adam Bergen for a 4-yard score in the third quarter to give Las Vegas a 14-13 lead.

When the 23-year-old Willy returned to the sidelines, Bergen gave him the ball to keep as a souvenir. It was that kind of day from Willy, who spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts before signing with the UFL.

He’s making the most of his opportunity. He solidified his spot as the Locos quarterback and will be in the spotlight as the UFL’s first-place team looks to defend its championship.

“I felt good out there. I thought I made some good decisions,” Willy said.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mike Vrabel’s Improbably Perfect Stat Line

The Fifth Down - The New York Times N.F.L. Blog

October 23, 2010


Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel may take a fascinating stat line into retirement — if he ever retires.

Vrabel, who is in his 14th N.F.L. season, caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in Sunday’s 35-31 loss to the Texans. It was the 12th reception of his career, and all 12 were for touchdowns, including two in the Super Bowl with New England — against the Panthers in 2004 and against the Eagles in 2005. Sunday’s 2-yard score matched Vrabel’s career long, such as it is.

But he also has a 13th touchdown, a 24-yard interception return against the Panthers in 2005 that, in one play, surpassed his career receiving total (17 yards).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Locos getting kick from Hauschka

Steven Hauschka (9), shown lining up to attempt a field goal in the Locomotives' 22-10 victory over Omaha on Oct. 8, has converted 7 of 8 field-goal tries for Las Vegas and drawn praise for his deep kickoffs.


October 22, 2010

The Locomotives might not know if they have a quarterback, but they finally have a kicker.

While the jury is out on backup quarterback Drew Willy, who replaces the injured Tim Rattay on Saturday when the first-place Locos host Hartford at Sam Boyd Stadium, Steven Hauschka not only has given Las Vegas a dependable field-goal kicker, the 3-1 Locos also have someone who consistently can launch kickoffs into the opposing team's end zone.

"I had been waiting for an NFL team to call, and it took a lot of thought to do it," Hauschka said of playing in the United Football League after stints the past two years with several NFL teams, including Minnesota, Baltimore, Atlanta and Detroit. "Sometimes, you don't know if it was the right decision. But so far, it's worked out."

In two games, Hauschka is 7 of 8 on his field-goal tries, including a long of 49 yards. He kicked four field goals in the Locos' 26-3 win over Sacramento last week and was selected as the UFL's Special Teams Player of the Week.

"Obviously, you want to make all your kicks," said Hauschka, who was signed Oct. 4. "But to get off to a good start and help the team win has helped my confidence."

Coach Jim Fassel knew one of his offseason tasks was replacing Graham Gano, who had signed with the Washington Redskins after the Locos won the inaugural UFL championship in November. He thought he had filled the void with Brooks Rossman, but Rossman hurt his leg late in training camp, forcing Fassel to sign Parker Douglass, who had played in the UFL last year with California (now Sacramento).

But Douglass was erratic with his field goals, and his kickoffs weren't going deep enough. He was released after Las Vegas' 1-1 start, and Hauschka, who had played soccer at Middlebury College in Vermont before becoming a place-kicker and played one year at North Carolina State, got the call.

"We always keep a list of players at every position in case we get in trouble," Fassel said. "We researched a few guys, and I really liked (Hauschka's) demeanor. He's calm and confident. Kickers don't have to learn a system; they just have to kick. He's come into a pressure situation and done a real nice job for us."

And while Hauschka is putting points on the board, his kickoffs have been just as vital. In the Locos' first two games, the average starting field position for their opponents was the 27-yard line with no touchbacks in eight attempts. With Hauschka, teams are starting drives at their 22. In 13 kickoffs by Hauschka, only one has been returned beyond the 30, and there have been five touchbacks.

"The depth of our kickoffs early this season bothered me," Fassel said. "We don't have that concern anymore."

Hauschka said he has concentrated on driving the ball deep.

"I think I have a strong leg, but I've been focusing on hitting my kickoffs right on my foot and hitting it square," he said. "The difference between starting at the 20 or at the 35 is huge."

Hauschka said he hopes to follow in Gano's footsteps and get picked up by an NFL team in late November.

"I think if I can keep kicking well, I can get back" to the NFL, he said.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Buckeye spirit reigns with alumni

By Bill Davis

October 20, 2010

MOUNT VERNON –– That noise you heard throughout Mount Vernon? It’s was Ohio State alumni shouting “O-H!”

The next thing you heard was someone else shouting “I-O!”

The Ohio State University Alumni Club of Knox County kicked off its third annual “Buckeye Spirit Event” on Tuesday with a rousing O-H-I-O chant, one that shook the walls of The Dan Emmett Conference Center.

It wasn’t just the chants. The OSU Marching Band performed their biggest hits. Buckeye cheerleaders mingled with the guests while Brutus Buckeye shook hands with the likes of Buckeyeman and the Jim Tressel look-alike.

“This event is a great boost for our community. We collect a lot of money for scholarships, both for freshmen and for upper-classmen,” President-elect Joyce Skocic said.

The event is the area’s largest fundraiser for Ohio State alumni. Last year the event raised well over $10,000. Organizers say this year’s event will likely exceed last year’s.

Craig Krenzel, the former OSU quarterback who led his team to a perfect 14-0 record and the 2002 National Championship, said in the keynote address that he loves taking part in Spirit Events around the country.

“It’s great that I can take part of something that affects someone’s life in a positive way,” Krenzel said of the fundraiser.

The event has grown each year, from a few dozen guests in 2008 to over 200 on Tuesday.

“This is a great boost for the kids. This club gives out four scholarships every year. We’re hoping we can increase that,” Past President Dave Daniels said.

A lot of the money comes from auctions. More than 90 Buckeye-related items were up for bid in both silent and live auction. Some attracted a lot of attention.

•an autographed basketball signed by Jerry Lucas,
•An autographed painting of Krenzel winning the 2002 championship,
•An OSU soda dispenser,
•A scarlet and gray bowtie, autographed by OSU President E. Gordon Gee,
•A lithograph signed by Hopalong Cassidy, Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Troy Smith,
•An E. Gordon Gee bobblehead, which started at $10 and ended up selling for $300.

“I collect them,” winning bidder Linda Fritz said. “I have the Heisman trophy winners, four different Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel. This one’s a natural fit.”

Plus the money goes to a good cause.

Organizers say this year could be the biggest fundraiser yet for the OSU Knox County Alumni Club.

“It’s great to be involved with the best fan base in the world. That’s what it means to be a Buckeye,” Krenzel said.

Vrabel remains perfect

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel lined up as tight end and caught a first quarter touchdown pass against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX on October 17, 2010.

USA TODAY's Sean Leahy looks at the superlatives for Week 6 of the NFL season:

Surest hands:
Chiefs LB Mike Vrabel caught a 2-yard touchdown while lining up with the offense in the 35-31 loss at Houston. That marked Vrabel's 12th career TD (including the postseason), and all of his 12 career catches have gone for scores.

Warren Buffett praises Pelini

Warren Buffett has a big collection of Nebraska Cornhusker paraphernalia. "I've always liked sports. I haven't been that good at it. I've been redshirted now for 61 years," the 80-year-old investor said.

'Oracle of Omaha' Warren Buffett is a Cornhusker at heart

By Kelly Whiteside

October 20, 2010

"Bo Pelini has got it," Buffett says. "Devaney and Osborne couldn't have been two more different guys, but they both really could rally their teams in a different way, and Pelini is the same way."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Possible ACC candidates for Broyles Award

October 19, 2010

By Heather Dinich

There are two ACC assistant coaches this year who immediately come to mind as possible candidates for this year's Frank Broyles Award, which is given to the top assistant coach in the country: Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and North Carolina defensive coordinator Everett Withers.

Stoops was hired to turn around one of the country's worst defenses, which he has done with remarkable speed, and Withers has managed to hold opponents to just under 20 points per game despite missing seven starters heading into the season and losing two of the country's best defensive linemen to NCAA investigations.


UNC is still without the following defensive starters: defensive tackle Marvin Austin (dismissed), defensive end Robert Quinn (permanently ineligible), cornerback Kendric Burney (case still pending) and cornerback Charles Brown (case still pending). The following backups are also still missing: strong safety Jonathan Smith (one year of eligibility remaining), free safety Brian Gupton (one year of eligibility remaining), defensive end Michael McAdoo (case still pending). And yet ...

• UNC is fourth in the country in red zone defense.
• UNC is third in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and No. 22 in the country in pass defense.
• UNC ranks seventh in the country in turnover margin thanks in part to 11 interceptions and five recovered fumbles.


• FSU was No. 108 in rushing defense last year (204.62 yards per game) and is No. 18 now (104.86).
• No. 94 in scoring defense a year ago (30 points per game) and No. 15 now (16.14)
• No. 108 in total defense (434.62) to No. 22 now (308.14).
• No. 58 in sacks in 2009, No. 1 now.
• The list goes on.

Both are deserving of consideration, but my vote would go to Stoops. The program hasn't been tainted by an NCAA investigation (this year), and the defensive improvement is a major reason why Florida State is still undefeated in league play.

Kicker Steve Hauschka named Special Teams Player of the Week

United Football League

October 19, 2010

Las Vegas Locos Pair Honored

JACKSONVILLE, FL – Omaha Nighthawks quarterback JEFF GARCIA was recognized for guiding his team into a tie for first place in the United Football League standings with his second Offensive Player of the Week award.

Also for the second time this season, Garcia directed a fourth-quarter comeback against the Hartford Colonials. His 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeb Putzier with 6:43 to play ended up being the difference in a 19-14 road victory. Garcia completed 18 of 34 pass attempts for 185 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a game that saw turnover play a key role in the outcome.

In the Nighthawks' first-ever game in front of a 23,067 sellout crowd at Rosenblatt Stadium, Garcia led a dramatic game-winning drive in Week 2, which culminated in his 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Ferguson with six seconds remaining to give Omaha a breathtaking 27-26 victory over the Colonials. That performance saw him share the offensive award with Sacramento Mountain Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

United Football League Players of Week 5

Offense – Jeff Garcia, QB, Omaha Nighthawks

Defense – Lewis Baker, S, Las Vegas Locos

Special Teams – Steve Hauschka, Las Vegas Locos

Defensive honors went to Las Vegas Locos safety LEWIS BAKER, who made a significant impact in a 26-3 victory at the Sacramento Mountain Lions. Baker had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and two tackles as the Locos stayed tied atop the UFL standings at 3-1.

Chosen in the 10th round (46th overall) of the 2010 UFL Draft by the Locos, Baker boasts NFL experience with the San Francisco 49ers (2008-2009) after playing for four years at Oklahoma from 2003-2006 where he recorded 171 tackles from the safety and linebacker positions.

In only his second week in the UFL, Locos kicker STEVE HAUSCHKA tied a league record by hitting four field goals in the same 26-3 victory at Sacramento to earn the Special Teams Player of Week 5 vote. Hauschka hit field goals of 47, 44, 34 and 36 yards in the victory, equaling the mark set a week earlier by Florida Tuskers kicker Nick Novak. In his pro career, the North Carolina State product signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and has played for the Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Durand makes NFL debut

Congratulations are in order for Ryan Durand, who was raised in Leominster and educated at St. Bernard’s in Fitchburg, after he made his NFL debut in the Tennessee Titans’ 34-27 win over the Cowboys in Dallas last Sunday.

Durand, a second-year pro, came in as an injury replacement at left guard midway through the fourth quarter. He was then part of the push up front that paved the way for Chris Johnson’s winning, 1-yard touchdown run with 3:28 to play.

The Titans drafted Durand in the seventh round with the 239th overall pick in 2009 after a fine career at Syracuse on the field and in the classroom. A three-year starter and four-time Big East All-Academic selection, he graduated with a degree in exercise science and posted a 3.75 GPA.

Durand spent last season on the Titans’ practice squad before making the 53-man roster this year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dawson sets Browns' career field goal record

By Stephanie Storm, Marla Ridenour and Nate Ulrich

October 18, 2010

PITTSBURGH: This was not the way the record should have come.

For a guy who cares as much about his teammates and is as committed to his profession as Browns kicker Phil Dawson, he should have passed hall of famer Lou Groza on the Browns' all-time field-goal list with a memorable kick. A kick like his improbable one a few years ago against the Buffalo Bills in blinding snow at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Or for that matter, any one of his many game-winning kicks would have been more appropriate.

Instead, Dawson had to settle for No. 235 coming on an otherwise meaningless first-quarter 39-yard field goal in the Browns' 28-10 loss Sunday at rival Pittsburgh. It's a game that will probably be remembered more for wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi suffering injuries after hits by Steelers linebacker James Harrison than Dawson's milestone.

''As I said last week, I would've gladly traded [the record] for a win, and that was against an opponent that's not a division rival,'' Dawson said. ''I've been around here long enough to understand what this rivalry is about. As I stand right now, that's all that really matters to me — we just got beat by the Steelers. That's about as tough as it gets.''

Last week, Dawson tied Groza on the Browns' list in a loss against the visiting Atlanta Falcons. Afterward, he spent time with his family as a reward.

''I don't know what I'll do after this one,'' Dawson said. ''I don't want to do the record a disservice. It was something that I set out a long time ago to do. But we just lost to the Steelers, and it's not the best night to throw a party.''

Pat Narduzzi named National Coordinator of the Week

Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State

A good defense beats a good offense. That's true even for Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

The matchup between the Wolverines' Heisman-contending quarterback and Michigan State's defense tilted convincingly in the Spartans' favor, earning Narduzzi the National Coordinator of the Week honor. His colleague on the other side of the ball, Don Treadwell, earned coordinator honors last week in a victory over Wisconsin.

Narduzzi's defense held Michigan to 162 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry. The Wolverines came into the game averaging 324.4 yards per game and 6.8 yards per carry. The Spartans held Robinson to a season-low 86 rushing yards and intercepted him three times, twice in the end zone.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Krenzel to speak in Sylvania


October 15, 2010

Former Ohio State University quarterback Craig Krenzel will appear at the Starlite Tailgate at the Starlite Plaza, 5700 Monroe St., in Sylvania prior to the OSU-Wisconsin game on Saturday.

Krenzel, who helped guide the Buckeyes to an undefeated season and national championship in 2002, will sign autographs from 1-3 p.m. at the Buckeye and More Store in the Plaza. Krenzel will also read to children for the Second and Seven Foundation, supporting children’s literacy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kampman leads the way

‘The Boys of GM Gene’

By Vic Ketchman

October 10, 2010

ORCHARD PARK, NY—GM Gene, you really are a friggin’ genius.

What do Aaron Kampman,
Tyson Alualu, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, Mike Thomas, Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton and Deji Karim all have in common? That’s easy: They’re all Gene Smith acquisitions of the last two years that have helped change the face of a team that, when Smith was named the Jaguars’ first-ever general manager less than two years ago, was in hard decline.

Those aforementioned players also have something else in common: They played major roles in the Jaguars’ 36-26 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Let’s begin with Kampman, who turned in one of the most dominant performances by a Jaguars defensive lineman since Tony Brackens was in his prime. Here’s the line on Kampman’s afternoon: six tackles, 1.5 sacks for 14.5 yards lost, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and one pass-defensed.

The guy was all over the field. His most impressive play of the day left those in the press box to say to each other, “Watch this,” as the replay was shown of Kampman pushing two Bills blockers back into quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

His stats only begin to tell the story. To fully understand the impact Kampman is having on the Jaguars’ recent surge to consecutive victories and into a four-way tie for the AFC South lead, you must look closely at the eyes of the opposing quarterbacks. They are looking for Kampman. He’s in their head.

Here’s the best part: The guy is only 10 months off knee reconstruction. What could Smith possibly have known about Kampman to have given $11 million to a guy who, on the day he signed his contract, couldn’t have played a game? Is Smith clairvoyant? Lucky? Does it matter which it is?

Are you fully recovered, yet, Kampman was asked as he toweled off a day of amazing satisfaction?

“I’m getting there,” Kampman said, which begs the even bigger question: How much better can this guy get?

“It’s fun for me. I really enjoy playing defensive end. It suits the way I was created,” Kampman added.

He didn’t fit the way the Packers defense was being re-created by 3-4 mastermind Dom Capers. As a standup linebacker, Kampman wasn’t himself and he wasn’t Kevin Greene, either. He was a guy standing up who needed to have his hand on the ground.

Smith seized the opportunity to sign a player in free agency the Jaguars otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. Thank heavens for torn anterior cruciate ligaments and 3-4 defenses. Simply put, without Kampman, the Jaguars wouldn’t be where they are today. He is their best defensive player. He’s also well on his way to becoming the best high-priced free-agent signing in Jaguars history.

“What we did is we grew again as a team,” Kampman said of Sunday’s win. “We had adversity. We had to look them in the eye. Slowly but surely we’re expecting to win. You know this better than I do,” he said to the reporter, “but that’s something we haven’t had.”

Here’s something else the Jaguars haven’t had: a guy who can rush the passer. Kampman can. He changes everything.

The Jaguars have something else they haven’t had in awhile: a strong cast of young players that are quickly developing into the core of a team on the rise. Karim, the sixth-round draft pick from another one of those little schools that cause Jaguars fans to wrinkle their noses, is the new star on the block. He returned four kickoffs for 145 yards; that’s a 36.3 yards-per-return average. Karim thoroughly outclassed Bills rookie running back/kick-returner C.J. Spiller, a first-round draft pick from big-school Clemson.

Spiller returned seven kickoffs for 146 harmless yards. He also rushed five times for 31 yards and caught a pass for three yards. Karim rushed 15 times for 70 yards.
“Deji had a great day today. He’s got game-breaking speed. It was great to get him involved,” coach Jack Del Rio said.

Here’s another guy that got involved: cornerback Derek Cox, a third-round pick in 2009 who had a sensational rookie year but lost his job following a meltdown in week one that caused him to lose his confidence, his head coach said. The Cox mystery would seem to be over. He got his job back after David Jones was beaten for a touchdown by Lee Evans and failed in run-support on a sweep to his side.

Not long after he got his feet back under him, Cox responded by knocking away a pass for Evans on the same type of deep sideline route that resulted in an easy touchdown in the first quarter and helped stake the Bills to a 10-0 lead.

So, it would seem, Cox’s confidence has returned, except he said he had never lost it.

“Confidence has never been lost. I’ve always been confident. It’s a pleasure to contribute to the win. That’s what I expect of myself,” Cox said with a degree of intended cockiness.

Meanwhile, Smith had other players about which he could boast:

• Alualu, Smith’s first-round pick this year, is becoming a dominant run-defender. He chipped in with three tackles, one of which was a tackle for a loss.
• Knighton, a third-round pick in ’09, would appear to be back on his game following a slump in the first two games of the season. He got a sack for five yards lost, made two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. Alualu and Knighton, it would seem are in the process of developing into one of the league’s top, young defensive tackle tandems.
• The same can be said of Monroe and Britton, first and second-round picks in ’09, at the two offensive tackle positions. Quarterback David Garrard would’ve gone sackless for a second consecutive game had he thrown away a pass instead of stepping out of bounds and accept a six-yard loss, and had he picked up a safety blitz and gotten rid of the ball more quickly. At all other times, Garrard got fantastic pass-protection.
• Thomas, a fourth-round pick by Smith in ’09, continues to be the team’s leading receiver. He had another solid day on Sunday, catching four passes for 54 yards and rushing three times for 53 yards, including a 33-yard end-around play that helped turn the game decidedly in the Jags’ favor.

In this case, I didn’t already have my column written about what a friggin’ genius GM Gene is. I had to wait for his players to write it for me, and they did.

Q-and-A: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema

Coach Bret Bielema will have the crowd on his side when Wisconsin hosts top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday in Madison.

By Tom Dienhart

October 12, 2010

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema knows his Badgers have no margin for error. An Oct. 2 loss at Michigan State made sure of that.

No, if the Badgers still hope to win their first Big Ten title since 1999, Bielema must notch the biggest win of his career on Saturday, when Ohio State visits. It will be the first time the Badgers have played host to a top-ranked team since 1997.

Bielema, a defensive tackle at Iowa from 1989-92, thrives on the pressure. That's why he wanted this job and became Barry Alvarez's handpicked successor before the 2006 season despite being on the staff for only two seasons.

Bielema, who was defensive coordinator at Kansas State from 2002-03 before joining Wisconsin in the same capacity in 2004, hasn't disappointed. He debuted by winning 17 of his first 18 games, the second-best start for a Big Ten coach (Michigan's Fielding Yost went 55-0-1 from 1901-05). And Bielema became the third first-year coach in NCAA history to win 12 games in his debut, posting a 12-1 mark in 2006.

Bielema, 40, entered 2010 with a 38-14 record in four seasons in Madison, compiling two double-digit win seasons and four bowl games.
But Bielema still is looking for that elusive Big Ten crown.

Bielema's tenure hasn't been without some rough spots. A 7-6 record in 2008 that was capped by a lopsided loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl caused some to wonder if Bielema could sustain success. But he responded with a 10-3 record in 2009, capped by a big victory over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. caught up with Bielema before he prepared for Saturday's showdown. He didn't want to discuss the brouhaha that erupted after he went for two points in the fourth quarter of Saturday's rout of rival Minnesota, but he did talk about a variety of other subjects.

Is this your best team yet?

"I think elements of it are, but more of the season will tell us that. From when we came back in January to where we are today, I have more seniors than ever who have been starters at anytime in my career, 13 guys. The leadership they have provided just by how they do things -- they aren't necessarily all rah-rah guys, but they understand that for us to have success at Wisconsin, you have to take every day at its true value. Nothing is more important than today. If we ever start thinking that tomorrow is more important than today, we will never get to where we want to be at the end, and I think they really buy into that."

Do you think Wisconsin ever will have as much talent as Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, teams of that nature?

"I don't go into a case-by-case scenario because of what we are here at Wisconsin. We need to recruit to what we know. We have to bring them in and develop them. We are a workman's program. We don't lose a lot of kids because we really, truly understand that we are going to have the best players two, three, four years down the road that we possibly can have because of the way we develop kids."

Is Scott Tolzien a typical Wisconsin quarterback?

"He is a kid who came in and for three years [and] never really saw the playing field. He understood his day would come. And when his opportunity came, he jumped at it full go.

"I think we have two categories [of players] -- the Scotty Tolziens, who come in and put in two, three, four years and have great junior and senior seasons. And you have a guy who is under the radar like [sophomore linebacker] Chris Borland, who only had one Division I scholarship. He happened to come to our camp and I loved what I saw, so we offered him. No one else did. He went out and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. So I think we kind of have those two extremes that exist for us. That is how we have been able to build it."

Did you think that you were ready for this job when you got it?

"I did. But a lot of times when you're young, you are very confident. But I know the one part that truly gave me an advantage was to be here for two years and see the daily workings of what this place has, like the details of media, the details of the alumni, the details of working within an environment that the state capitol is tied into the university and a lot of the government dynamics. And just also to understand how Wisconsin works. I believe if I was a new coach coming in, I would have had the desire or first instinct to try to change all of these things that had been so successful here. What we did was we kind of modified them over a four- or five-year window."

Were there any hard feelings among some of Barry Alvarez's longtime assistants when he picked you to follow him?

"On Coach Alvarez's last staff, I would definitely say it was an uncomfortable working environment, especially as the end got closer because I had basically made my opening comment the day when the announcement was made that I wasn't going to make any decisions until after our regular season was done, and that was the Hawaii game. In that bowl-game preparation, I basically let guys know if [I] intended to retain them or move them on. And it created some pretty tense situations. It was a true testament to Coach Alvarez the way those guys rallied and won that bowl game because it truly was about the love of the program and university and left all of the politics out of it."

What has been your high point?

"Every one of those wins, doesn't matter if it was Austin Peay, big wins over Michigan, rivalry games against Iowa or Minnesota -- the wins. ... If you are in this profession, that's what it's truly about. That's what jumps out at you. But some of the most rewarding things are when I watch our kids grow more than just on the football field. It is neat to see something that has nothing to do with the football side of it. It has to be about being human and giving something back. Those are the things that really mean a lot to me. Like the thing Isaac Anderson did on the Big Ten Network about [fighting] childhood obesity."

What has been your low point?

"I never, ever had any thought in my mind that I couldn't do this. There have been low points. One of the hardest aspects of my job is when I have to make the decision to remove someone from this program. You recruit them here and you want them all to have success. If that situation ever comes up, and it's going to in the world of college football, either by their choice or ours, that's the hardest part I ever have to deal with, when you realize you can change the path of someone's life because they no longer can be a part of what you're trying to build here."

What has been your toughest loss?

"I think a couple years back, the game at Michigan [27-25 loss]. When we were up by 18 points, the missed opportunities we had in the first half and to come back and bite you in the second half. That was a pretty hard one to deal with."

Do you still talk to former bosses Bill Snyder and Hayden Fry?

"Coach Snyder and I make a point to get together every year at an outing in Phoenix, and we probably talk a couple dozen times during the course of the year. If I have a problem or situation, I call him. I dropped him a note after [Kansas State] beat UCLA. That stuff still goes on.

"Coach Fry and I are extremely close. He always says he's happy for me because I am the one coach who never has called him and asked him for a job or had help to get a job. I never have used him as a reference. I've just used him as a mentor. And he always makes a reference to that."

Did you like how the Big Ten split teams into divisions?

"I don't think it could have worked out any better for us for two reasons. First off, we were guaranteed to play Ohio State and Penn State every year. For us, a lot of our recruiting has been east and not west.

"It's a big benefit to get to play Ohio State and Penn State, and now we can tell kids we recruit on the East Coast from New Jersey down to Miami; that is a huge recruiting tool for us. And to be able to keep the rivalry game with Minnesota alive, it is a win-win for Wisconsin."

Wisconsin and Iowa aren't in the same division, nor are they permanent cross-division opponents. Does that upset you?

"That's one of the negative parts. Any time you have league change, there will be parts that are really good and parts that you wish you could retain. But the bottom line is you can't make everyone happy in all phases. I think every school had to sacrifice something to get the bigger picture to be the best it can be."

Did you want a season-ending game with Nebraska?

"I wanted a season-ending game with somebody. Right now, the way it lays out, we have a pretty significant game at the end [Northwestern]. If there is any way we can keep that moving forward, I think it would be kind of neat."

How do you feel about the addition of Nebraska?

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for that program. I learned a lot about it growing up but more specifically when I was in the Big 12 to compete against them. To get to know Coach [Tom] Osborne, and I know Bo Pelini personally, so it's kind of a neat thing to bring him into the league because he shares a lot of the same values that I think a lot of coaches in this league have built their programs around."

Would you like to see the Big Ten grow to 16 teams?

"I do know this: I have been impressed with commissioner Jim Delany and his vision. If they think the league is going to gain more value by adding teams, I can't beg to differ with any of that. But the part that I really have learned during this whole thing -- and I mean this whole-heartedly -- there is nothing that Jim or the league does that doesn't bring value to our league. I don't think they will add teams to just add teams. In the bigger picture, whoever they add will bring value to our league, whether it's academics, athletics or ultimately the dollars that we get more of. That's just being smart. I wouldn't mind 16 teams if those next four teams bring value to all of us."

Would you like to see the Big Ten spread league games out to where there was at least one each week of the season?

"That's a neat perspective and I haven't thought that much of it. The more the fans are interested, the better it is for our sport overall. With our league being as big as it is, and especially if they go to a nine-game league schedule down the road, it would promote the value of our conference, which is what we all want."

Many people contend schools such as Wisconsin lack speed compared to those in the southeast. You played Florida State and Miami in your past two bowls. Do you think that's true?

"In that particular case, Miami's roster probably was faster than ours top to bottom. But it is about the 11 guys on the field and how they can execute. We have speed. Four starters on our defense are from south Florida. [True freshman running back James White is, too.]"

What do you think is the toughest Big Ten venue?

"I really do believe Penn State is a very tough environment. We haven't had success at Penn State, so that's one of my top priorities. There are a lot of great venues in the Big Ten. But the ones that pop out to you right away are Penn State, Iowa and probably Ohio State and Michigan.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dawson ties Groza with 234 field goals

Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson pumps his fist after hitting a 19-yard field goal in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Oct. 10, 2010, in Cleveland, Ohio. The kick was the 234th of Dawson's career in Cleveland, tying him with Hall of Famer Lou Groza for the most in Browns history.

By Stephanie Storm, Nate Ulrich and Marla Ridenour

October 11, 2010

Kicker shares honor with snapper Pontbriand

CLEVELAND: It was Phil Dawson's moment, but he wanted to share the spotlight.

Standing in front of his locker after the Browns' 20-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Dawson talked about his third-quarter, 19-yard field goal that tied him with Browns Hall of Famer Lou Groza for the most field goals in franchise history with 234.

''I tried all week to anticipate what that moment would be like,'' Dawson said.
''Fortunately during the game, it felt like just another kick — which is what I was hoping it would feel like. . . . Uncharacteristically, though, I am going to take some time tonight to reflect and try to let it soak in.''

Instead of basking in the glory by himself, Dawson turned his attention to long snapper Ryan Pontbriand. Dawson gave Pontbriand a personalized football that included a game picture of the latter in thanks for his steadying presence over the years.

''This guy has been with me for eight years,'' Dawson said, handing a surprised Pontbriand the special football. ''He plays a position that's not respected that much. But he's a Pro Bowler, the best I've ever seen. I did a little research and no snapper has been a part of more successful field goals made in Browns history than Pont. Since there are no records for him to break, he's a big part of this one. It means a great deal to share this with him.''

With that, Dawson and Pontbriand hugged.

''It means the world to me,'' Pontbriand said. ''It seems like it's flown by, all these kicks. But this is going in my entryway. You're going to have to see this [every time you] come in my house.''

Tying the record, however, was ultimately bittersweet for Dawson. He said he's honored to match a feat of the legendary Groza, whom Dawson met during Browns training camp in 1999 before Groza died a year later. Still, the Browns fell to 1-4.

''I have a lot of mixed emotions,'' Dawson said. ''I would trade it for a win.''

Dawson's field goal was set up by a turnover. Browns linebacker Scott Fujita forced a fumble when he sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Browns defensive end Kenyon Coleman recovered it at the Falcons' 25-yard line. Six plays later, Dawson reached a milestone following quarterback Jake Delhomme's fumbled snap on third-and-goal at the Falcons' 2.

Ginn gets 'em going with kickoff returns

David White, Chronicle Staff Writer

October 11, 2010

The 49ers came into Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Eagles ranking second-to-last in the NFL in kickoff returns. Ted Ginn Jr. quickly showed he is healthy enough to give San Francisco reason to hope for more than a touchback.

Ginn took the opening kickoff, cut left and turned it upfield for a 44-yard return against the Eagles.

His left knee finally unsprained, Ginn gave the 49ers the ball at their 49-yard line. The offense used the kick start to drive 51 yards for the score, with quarterback Alex Smith throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.

Ginn's return was the team's longest of the season by 14 yards - until the fourth quarter, when he returned a kick 61 yards to set up the 49ers' final scoring drive.

Ginn also had kick returns of 23 and 18 yards in the first half, showing the team's blocking has more work to do.

He also played seven snaps in three-receiver sets by halftime. The idea is for the speedy Ginn to stretch the field, and he tried on a go route early in the second quarter.

Only Smith underthrew a 44-yard pass, allowing third-string cornerback Dimitri Patterson to intercept the ball at the Eagles' 3.

Ginn did have a 17-yard catch on a play-action call on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter, running a deep post before slamming the brakes and turning around for his first catch since a Week 1 knee injury.

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