Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lance Kendricks is Rams' leading receiver

Kendricks finding his groove with Rams


August 30, 2011

Unlike many of the better inner-city athletes in Milwaukee, Lance Kendricks turned down the option of attending high school in the suburbs, where the caliber of football was considerably better.

Kendricks also was seeking a good education, so he stuck it out at King High. The football wasn't great, he acknowledged. "As far as running a real offense similar to a college-style offense, it kind of lacks a little bit," he said.

The academics were top-notch, though. Today, Kendricks holds a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and is two classes short of receiving a second diploma, in economics. Some day, he'd like to dabble in real estate; he loves watching HGTV.

And, oh, by the way, he's off to an impressive start in his NFL career with the Rams.

Asked what he's seen so far of Kendricks, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "A lot. He's a versatile guy. He's moving around at a lot of different spots. And the other thing, unless I'm missing something, I don't think he's missed a rep of practice. That's a credit to him and the way he prepared himself."

The Rams drafted the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Kendricks in the second round (No. 47 overall) of the draft. He was the second tight end selected, just four spots behind Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, who went to Minnesota.

The notion of bringing Kendricks along slowly evaporated when fellow tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) and Fendi Onobun (groin) missed time early in camp with injuries. Onobun is back, but Hoomanawanui is out with a calf strain.

"There's been a lot of playbook thrown at" Kendricks," Spagnuolo noted.

"They kind of threw me in there," Kendricks said. "I was able to learn on the job and take a big leap and kind of land on my feet."

Admittedly a bit overwhelmed early in training camp, Kendricks said he's become more comfortable with his duties in new coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense.

"It's definitely getting better," Kendricks said. "The plays are getting more familiar. It's kind of like, 'OK, now I'm getting into the groove of it.'"

The results back that up: After three preseason games, Kendricks is the Rams' leading receiver, with eight catches for 82 yards. He's scored two touchdowns, also a team high.

"We practice so uptempo and so hard, I think by game time it's kind of calmed down," he said. "It's just like practice; nothing's really crazy. I don't really get nervous during the game."

Kendricks played basketball his freshman and sophomore years at King, and twice placed in the state track meet in the triple jump. He chose Wisconsin over Louisiana State and Arkansas despite the Badgers' run-first approach on offense.

At the time, Kendricks was a wide receiver, and he'd observed the success that St. Louisan Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr were having at wideout for Wisconsin. "They were doing really well," Kendricks said. "So at the time my mind-set was, if I can come and be a big factor as a wide receiver, I can probably make a difference."

He also wanted to stay near home, so that his father, Leon, a retired machinist, his mother, Linda, a secretary in the Milwaukee public schools central office, and his three older brothers, Leon, Landon and Donte, could follow his career closely.

When he was switched to tight end, Kendricks didn't know what to make of it at first. But he became the fourth Badgers tight end in the last five years to be drafted, following Owen Daniels (Houston, 2006), Travis Beckum (New York Giants, '09) and Garrett Graham (Houston, '10).

Kendricks was a consensus All-Big Ten Conference performer as a senior, when he caught 43 passes for 663 yards, the third-highest total in the nation among tight ends.

He also developed into a solid in-line blocker.
"You can't step on the field (at Wisconsin) unless you know how to block," Kendricks said. "A lot of the techniques carry over. I'm glad I'm able to use a lot of that stuff now."

And his background at wideout eased the transition to tight end.

"It helps me a ton," he said. "I can use a lot of what I learned playing wide receiver. And just watching the wide receivers here on film, I can kind of take some of their tools and use them for myself."

So, the shift from Wisconsin to the Rams hasn't been as dramatic as Kendricks might have guessed.

"It's pretty similar," he said. "Here, you also have the mentality of, you have to establish the run first; in that way, it's the same. But also here, it's more creative with the passing game. That's where it gets a little different.

"I'm trying to get adjusted to it, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job so far."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To clean up its image, North Carolina should hire Randy Shannon

By Gregg Doyel

August 23, 2011

The ideal hire for the scummy North Carolina football program would be the guy from scummy Miami.

And I'm dead serious.

North Carolina should replace Butch Davis with Randy Shannon.

That's something I first thought months ago, well before North Carolina found the backbone to get rid of Davis, and that thought hasn't been shaken by the sleaze that Yahoo found under 70-plus rocks in Coral Gables. Actually, that thought has been strengthened by the UM scandal, because there was one guy at Miami -- and only one guy -- who sniffed out Nevin Shapiro as the jock-sniffing piece of scum that he is.

And that person was Randy Shannon.

Shannon also is the same person who replaced a long line of impotent Miami coaches -- one of them being Butch Davis, come to think of it -- and put his, um, foot down and said, "No more."

No more arrests. No more academic embarrassments. No more of the stuff that had been going on since Jimmy Johnson begat Dennis Erickson begat Butch Davis begat Larry Coker.

No. More.

And you know what? There was no more. Well, almost no more. In his four years as head coach at Miami, one player was arrested. One! Contrast that to what was happening up the road in Gainesville, a city with fewer temptations than Miami, where the Florida Gators endured 25 or 30 arrests -- accounts vary because there were so damn many players arrested under Urban Meyer -- in the same time period.

At Miami, Shannon also had the third-highest lifetime APR among active coaches in Division I-A. The only coaches ahead of him were at Navy and Air Force. Not at Duke or Vanderbilt or Stanford, by the way. Only two service academies. That was Miami's academic company under Randy Shannon.

But he won only 28 games in four years, so Miami fired him. Before that could happen, though, Shannon saw through Nevin Shapiro -- the same guy you've seen smiling in this photograph with the Miami president, Donna Shalala, who is such an astute judge of character that she ran off Randy Shannon but embraced Nevin Shapiro.

Shannon didn't embrace Shapiro -- he loathed him. He told his players multiple times to stay away from that snake, and he told his coaches he would fire them if they associated with Shapiro.

That's how clean Randy Shannon is as a football coach -- and North Carolina needs somebody spotless. North Carolina football is very much like Oklahoma basketball after the Sooners were dragged into the swamp by Kelvin Sampson, then held there by a staff member under Jeff Capel.

Oklahoma needed the cleanest coach it could find, and it found him in Lon Kruger. The guy doesn't have a Hall of Fame résumé, but Kruger wins a lot more than he loses, and he's so clean that he squeaks when he walks. Oklahoma needed a guy like that to restore public confidence in its program, and Oklahoma got him.

Now it's North Carolina's turn, but I'm not confident the Tar Heels understand what they need. Lord knows they didn't know it was time to get rid of Butch Davis when it was clearly time to get rid of Butch Davis -- a year ago, when the NCAA was investigating separate scandals, when nearly 20 percent of the team was suspended and when Davis' close friend and recruiting coordinator, John Blake, was being exposed as a longtime runner for an agent.

North Carolina needs Randy Shannon, but North Carolina was the last to know it didn't need Butch Davis. Then again, a different athletic director will be making this hire at UNC, so there is hope. Also, the list of realistic candidates for the job won't be impressive, given the NCAA sanctions sure to be facing the Tar Heels. There will be some ambitious head coaches at smaller schools willing to do anything to get into a BCS conference. There will be veteran assistants at big-time football schools who've never been able to land a BCS head-coaching gig.

And there will be the guy who went to three bowls in four years at Miami, graduated his players, kept them out of arrest reports and was the only person on campus who tried to steer the UM football team away from Nevin Shapiro.

If North Carolina can do better than Randy Shannon, do it. But I'm telling you, it can't. North Carolina needs the cleanest good coach it can find -- and Randy Shannon emerged from the muddy mosh pit at Miami without a grain of sand on him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A high school hotbed

Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. talks to his team. Ginn's rolling showcase helped make his team the top Big Ten recruiting factory since 2002.

By Dirk Chatelain

August 20, 2011

The best high school football factory in the Big Ten started when a security guard rented a seven-passenger van.

A decade later, Glenville Academic Campus in Cleveland is the most important place on every recruiting map. You want to build a Big Ten dynasty? You'd better start here.

With Ted Ginn Sr.

He has sent 31 players to Big Ten schools over the past decade. No other school in the country has produced more than 12.

How did it happen?

Ginn's mother moved him from New Orleans to Cleveland when he was 11. He played for Glenville in an era when Glenville didn't win anything.

Two years after he graduated, his mother died.

The head coach made Ginn volunteer on the football staff “so I wouldn't go astray.” In '97, Ginn took over the program. School security guard by day, head football coach by night.

Soon he established a bold plan to draw attention to his players. Instead of waiting for college coaches to call him, Ginn took his players on the road. He packed them in a van and spent most of the summer ushering them to college camps.

Sometimes seven or eight slept in the van. Sometimes they piled into one hotel room. The next morning, they showed up at a campus, spent an hour or two running through drills, then hit the road for the next stop. They drove as far as LSU.

Ginn recalls telling college head coaches like Nick Saban that he had five kids in his van who could run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash.

“Everybody used to laugh at me,” Ginn Sr. said.

Until they observed the talent in the van. Pierre Woods was the first Glenville player to take advantage of Ginn's recruiting showcase on wheels. In 2001, he signed with Michigan.

Why limit the journey to seven passengers, Ginn decided. He got a bus. Picked up kids all over Cleveland. Why limit it to Cleveland, Ginn decided. He picked up kids all over the state. Columbus. Dayton. Toledo.

“When you're driving around and putting on a show like that, word is going to travel,” Ginn said.

Now Ginn's teams regularly compete for state championships. Now the Glenville Tarblooders attract players from all over the city.

“It's kind of the all-stars of Cleveland,” said Bill Conley, a former Buckeyes assistant.

Ginn, who knows Bo Pelini, recalls days when eight or nine Big Ten coaches came to Glenville. The most frequent visitor: Ohio State.

Of the 31 Glenville players who signed with Big Ten schools the past decade, 17 landed at Ohio State.
Pretty good players, too. Troy Smith, Heisman Trophy winner. First-round draft picks Donte Whitner and Ted Ginn Jr.

In February, the Glenville pipeline continued. One player signed with Indiana, one with Michigan, one with Ohio State.

Ted Ginn Sr. doesn't need a van or a bus. Now the recruiters come to him.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Giants' Offensive Weapons Are Statistically Elite

By Michael Salfino

August 17, 2011

Giants fans may be worried about the strength of their offense after the losses of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss, plus a lackluster effort in the team's preseason opener. But a closer look at the numbers should provide some reassurance. Big Blue's key remaining skill players have résumés that would make them the envy of most of their peers.

Quarterback Eli Manning last year became just the 30th quarterback since the 1970 merger to post a 30-plus touchdown pass season. His primary target, wideout Hakeem Nicks, has 17 scoring grabs in his first two seasons, the 11th most since 1970. Smith's replacement at wide receiver, Mario Manningham, was the second-most effective weapon in the league last year measured by average gain on all passes thrown his way (completions plus incompletions). Should the opposing defense overplay these elite wideouts, Manning can just turn around and hand the ball off to Ahmad Bradshaw, whose 4.84 yards per carry is ninth best since 1970 among all running backs with at least 500 attempts .

Pessimists will argue that the Giants finished just fifth in yards gained and seventh in points scored even with these four playing at high levels. But that was largely due to the team's league-high turnover rate. Most notably, Manning threw 25 interceptions, but there's an argument that this was the result of bad luck, considering eight of these picks first hit the hands of his intended receiver.

If Smith and Boss returned, it may have turned out to be subtraction by addition. After all, Manning only has one ball to distribute on every play, and already has three weapons with achievements great enough to demand a bigger share of the action.

Ashland High School Football: Former OSU QB Krenzel passes along words of wisdom

Ashland High School multi-year letterman at Sponsor Banquet ft:John Bolin, Marquise Jones,Adam Wolbert, Jake Wolfe, Greg Galloway, Connor Hopton, Spencer Cooper. In the back row from left are BACKCoach Valentine, Brandon Nardo, Steve Mowry, Josh Duewel, Zach Bernhard, Derek Ward, Steven Gill, Craig Krenzel.


August 15, 2011

Craig Krenzel's message to the Ashland High School football players on Arrow Pride Night 2011 in Ashland University's Myers Convocation Center was simple.

Enjoy yourself when you hit the field this fall and make sure you take time to stop and smell the grass you play on. Even if it's artificial turf, find some nearby green stuff and inhale the sweetness it has to offer.

Krenzel said it will also help you get ready for what lies ahead.

The quarterback who led Ohio State University to its first national championship in 34 years during the Buckeyes' 14-0 season, including a win over the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 championship game in which he was named MVP, Krenzel was modest in his opening remarks.

"It's an honor for me to be here," Krenzel said. "For what I've heard and seen just this evening, you all don't realize how good you have it.

"I grew up about an hour north of Detroit and we had nothing like this. We did not have the community involvement and support behind a football team and program at the high school level but it's truly a blessing and an honor and I'm very humbled to be here."

Arrow Pride Night was reinstated many years ago by Ashland dentist Dr. Bill Ihrig, bringing together local sponsors who mentor with the Arrow football players.

It's that local support which Krenzel admired and said makes him get "jacked up" at this time of year.

So much so, when he got done mowing the grass a few nights ago, his wife caught him cleaning off the mower and grabbing a clump of grass and smelling it.

"When the weather cools off, that fescue, that bluegrass, it's got a different smell," Krenzel said. "It just smells like football and back in the good old days I use to walk into the 'Horseshoe' at OSU and pick up a handful of grass and smell it. I'd do it at every stadium we went to.

"But there's just so many senses the game brings to me and the greatest thing I want to encourage you guys to look at the game and what it's going to teach you about life as a whole," he added. "I look back on my career and I've been so blessed, so fortunate. But when I look back at the game, it's so amazing how football will prepare you for anything and everything life has to throw at you."

Krenzel said the first thing football taught him was how important it is to have a foundation.

In almost his first three full seasons, he held a "nice cozy warm spot on the bench, which was frustrating and humbling."

But he said when things are going bad, "It's the people, it's your beliefs, it's everything that picks you up. And, when things are going well, it's those same people and beliefs that will keep you humble and keep you grounded and keep you working hard and grinding to get better."

Before Krenzel spoke, former AHS football player Noel Watson gave a tribute to legendary Arrow Roosevelt Robinson, who in most local circles is considered the best football player ever to don the orange and black, if not also the best-ever overall athlete, as he also played basketball and baseball.

Robinson passed away July 7 at the age of 64.

Watson noted how Robinson, 45 years after the fact, still holds four AHS football records, including rushing yards in a single season (1,963 in 1964); career rushing yards (4,085 from 1963-65); career touchdowns (56); and total career points (408).

Arrow Pride Night emcee Ev DeVaul pointed out Robinson set those marks playing nine-game seasons.

AHS head coach Scott Valentine introduced his coaching staff, thanked the sponsors for their commitment to the program and noted how through hard work, Krenzel persevered in his career.

Krenzel earned his first start as QB for the Buckeyes in 2001 against the Michigan Wolverines in a 26-20 Ohio State triumph in Ann Arbor.

It was the first win for OSU in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

The grass likely smelled pretty sweet for the former Buckeye that season, and in the next, when he brought the national crown back to Columbus.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tennessee Titans rookie Karl Klug gains attention on defense

Titans rookie defensive tackle Karl Klug (97) chases Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) out of the pocket.

Klug gains notice with speed, attitude

By John Glennon

August 15, 2011

One point of emphasis for the Titans during the offseason was getting bigger and beefier on the interior of the defensive line.

To wit: They signed 6-foot-2, 325-pound Shaun Smith, drafted a pair of 300-pounders in Jurrell Casey and Zach Clayton, and nodded in approval as veteran Jovan Haye bulked up to 312 pounds.

So who’s been one of the biggest training-camp standouts so far?

It’s rookie defensive tackle Karl Klug
(pronounced KLOOG), a relative lightweight at 275 pounds. The fifth-round pick has earned a significant number of first-team reps and was a starter alongside Haye last Saturday in the preseason opener against the Vikings.

“He may be relatively light, but he’s a very strong young man and he understands leverage,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “You do want big people. But you can have big people that don’t understand leverage. He understands leverage and he understands how to play in there.”

Say this about Klug: He’s used to playing against bigger bodies.

When he arrived at the University of Iowa, the Caledonia, Minn., native weighed all of 207 pounds. He gradually put on weight, but even as a junior he was going head-to-head with Big Ten linemen while checking in at 255 pounds.

“He’s always been that kind of guy — never been a monster,” Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. “But he’s strong and he’s a good athlete. He can get his body in unique positions where you and I would probably fall down. He keeps his balance and keeps going.”

Said Klug: “I just try to use my quickness, my first step. I try to engage (offensive linemen) before they can engage with me. If they get to me first, I’m pretty much screwed.”

At Iowa, Klug played alongside two other NFL draft picks — first-rounder Adrian Clayborn and fourth-rounder Christian Ballard — and the Titans weren’t sure if his abilities would translate to the NFL.

Coach Mike Munchak has been impressed with what he’s seen so far, however, and cited two examples of Klug’s best work against the Vikings.

“You will be watching a play and think he is blocked, and then he is scrapping and the next thing you know he works down the line of scrimmage,” Munchak said. “The first play of the game, he is being double-teamed, the ball bounces to the outside and he is the guy that makes the tackle.

“On that third-and-one (stop in the first quarter), two guys blocked him and he finds a way to split them. … He is one of those guys that is slippery. You can’t get a great shot at him.”

Klug said he’s heard those words before, from Iowa coaches and Iowa offensive linemen.

He figures his background as a high-school wrestler probably helps, giving him a feel for leverage and how to use opponents’ momentum against them.

As for his frequent first-team appearances so far in camp, Klug said he’s just trying to keep everything in perspective.

“It’s a good feeling to run with the ones, but right now it really doesn’t matter,” he said.

“Wait until the regular season. Right now, just whatever reps I can get, I want to make the most of them.”

Parker said that kind of attitude is just what he’d expect to hear from a small-town kid like Klug, whose hometown bills itself as both “The Wild Turkey Capital of Minnesota” and “The Heart of Quilt Country.”

“He’s just a down-to-earth, good guy,” Parker said. “He’s a farm kid that enjoys playing football. I’m sure he’s having the time of his life.”

Lance Kendricks Impressive In Rams Debut

Rams rookie tight end Lance Kendricks had an impressive debut for the Rams, catching a touchdown pass from Rams QB Sam Bradford.

By J. Rudd

August 15, 2011

Many NFL experts and fans shook their head in confusion when the St. Louis Rams selected tight end Lance Kendricks out of Wisconsin in this past season's NFL Draft. The Rams already had a promising young tight end on the roster in Michael Hoomanawanui.

But in the Rams impressive 33-10 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at the Edward Jones dome in St. Louis, Kendricks showed everyone why the Rams coveted him so much.

Kendricks, making his NFL preseason debut, caught five passes for 47 yards, including a touchdown reception thrown by Rams standout quarterback Sam Bradford.

Kendricks showed the ability to get open in the middle of the field, run with burst after the catch, and an the strength to overpower smaller defensive backs in the "Red Zone."

Kendricks and Hoomanawanui figure to see plenty of time on the field together this season as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels builds his offense around the tight ends, running back Steven Jackson, and of course Sam Bradford.

Kendricks also figures to be an above average blocking tight end, considering he played his collegiate ball at run-first Wisconsin.

Kendricks certainly flashed some of his skills in his first NFL contest and Rams fans hope that drafting the tight end in the second round pays off in a big way for the Rams organization.

Karl Klug shines for Tennessee Titans

August 15, 2011

By Pat Harty

Add Karl Klug’s name to list of rookies from the University of Iowa that are making a strong impression in NFL preseason camps.

Klug, a defensive tackle from Caledonia, Minn., has performed well enough in practice for the Tennessee Titans to where he’s now rotating in with the first-team defense.

“Klug got in and he’s looking really good, making a lot of plays,” quoted Tennessee coach Mike Munchak as saying after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s very good with his hands and makes things happen.”

Klug started his last two seasons at defensive tackle for Iowa, earning second-team all-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2010.

Tennessee selected him the fifth round, making Klug one of six players from the 2010 Iowa team to be taken in the 2011 NFL draft.

Two of Klug’s former Iowa teammates, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safety Tyler Sash, also have performed well as rookies in preseason camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, respectively.

Clayborn is pushing for a starting position in Tampa Bay and Sash also has worked with his team’s first-team defense.

Klug was soft-spoken and humble at Iowa and nothing seems to have changed based on how he’s handling his early success with the Titans.

“I feel like I’ve been doing all right, I guess, but there’s a lot of work left to do,” Klug told “There’s a lot of camp, but the preseason games are going to determine a lot.”

Klug is surprised to be working with the first-team defense this soon.

“I guess I wasn’t really expecting that,” he said. “You’ve just got to take it as is, and just keep working really.”

The Tennessee coaches considered moving Klug, who weighed around 270 pounds as a senior at Iowa, to defensive end because he is considered small as a tackle by NFL standards.

But now they’ve decided to leave Klug inside.

“I was indifferent,” Klug told “I was told I was going to play end, but the fact that I’m going to play tackle, and the three technique, that’s pretty cool. I played it in college and I’m used to that.”

Klug also drew praise from Tennessee defensive line coach Tracy Rocker for not only his performance, but also for how he approaches each practice.

“Playing the three-technique he’s shown that he can hold the point of attack and then he can also create off the one-on-one move in pass protection,” Rocker said. “And the thing is he’s been business-like every day in practice.

“There are not a lot of missed assignments and he’s taking coaching. It’s been enjoyable to watch.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lance Kendricks: making a name for himself

August 8, 2011

The Rams have struck gold in the second round, acquiring Pro-Bowl-caliber talent in 2009 and 2010's drafts in James Laurinaitis and Rodger Saffold. They may have done it again with Lance Kendricks.

Prior to the draft, "Tight End" was somewhere down near "kicker" and "new equipment manager" in our pre-draft position rankings, so it was a huge (and not necessarily pleasant) surprise when Kendricks' name was called by the Rams. Add to that confusion that the initial announcements called him a "fullback"...

Now though, his positional versatility is becoming the talk of camp. Kendricks has lined up and carried the ball as an upback, blocked for the running game as both an H-back and a true tight end, lined up in the slot and split wide with equal verve. And his ability to shed blocks and get vertical in a hurry, combined with his soft hands, is drawing a lot of attention from camp attendees.

Clark’s pain in past

Tight end Dallas Clark stretches before Colts practice at Macholtz Stadium during Colts Camp at Anderson University on Wednesday.

Tight end coming back strong from wrist injury.

By George Bremer

August 11, 2011

ANDERSON, Ind. — Colts tight end Dallas Clark glanced at his left wrist, imagining the brace he wears during all contact drills at Anderson University.

It’s a constant reminder of one of the worst moments of his nine-year NFL career.

He suffered a freak injury on Oct. 17 last season against the Washington Redskins. Five days later, Indianapolis placed him on injured reserve — ending his season.

Clark, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time a year earlier, had 37 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns in just six games.

Even Wednesday morning, some 10 months after the injury, pain was evident in his voice as he tried to put into words how it felt to watch from the sideline as his teammates made another playoff run.

“Miserable,” Clark said. “I can’t even explain it. It’s the toughest part about this sport, I feel, dealing with injuries. You’re out there and giving everything you’ve got for the team, and one play you’re done for the year. It’s tough, but it happens. It’s part of the game. It’s not a shocker or anything like that. But it doesn’t make it easier.”

Don’t get the wrong idea.

Clark isn’t wallowing in self-pity.

He said he was inspired watching his teammates rally to win the AFC South championship and earn the conference’s No. 3 playoff seed.

But it was tough watching the 17-16 loss against the New York Jets in the wild-card game and knowing he might have been able to make a difference.

“It’s something you go through, you experience, and you either get better from it or you let it eat at you and just kind of break you down mentally,” Clark said. “It’s tough. But it’s great to see the team go out there and play well and make the playoffs and give it a great run with all the injuries that they had. I’m just really proud of how everything turned out.”

He’s even more proud of how his 2011 training camp has begun.

All the pain associated with last year’s memories vanishes the moment Clark is asked about stepping back on the field for Saturday’s preseason opener at St. Louis.

“I might actually be nervous, I don’t know,” he said with a sheepish grin. “It’ll be weird. It’s been so long, it feels like anyway. I’ll be excited to get out there. I know it’s only preseason so gotta kind of keep the excitement at a minimum. You know, it’s hard to get excited for a couple series. But I’ll enjoy the heck out of those.”

According to head coach Jim Caldwell, Clark enjoys the heck out of just about everything he does on a football field.

“Dallas is an unusual guy,” Caldwell said. “He loves football. I’m not certain that you will find anyone anymore infatuated with the game than he is. He exudes it. He walks out on the field, he has a great time, he loves practice and does a tremendous job. It’s infectious.”

It’s also been a highly successful approach.

The next time Clark hauls in a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning during a regular season game, the duo will tie former New England Patriots Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates for the most scoring passes (45) from a quarterback to a tight end in NFL history.

Clark already owns Colts single-season records for receptions (100 in 2009), yards (1,106 in 2009) and touchdowns (11 in 2007) by a tight end. The previous owner of all three marks, John Mackey, has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1992.

In his most recent healthy season, 2009, Clark caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. And the Colts advanced to the Super Bowl.

So it’s worth noting when Clark says the brace on his wrist hasn’t slowed him down on the field at all.

Doctors have said he’ll need to wear the brace all season. Clark isn’t as certain.

“It’s not inhibiting (me) from doing what I need to do,” he said. “It just looks stupid. But, other than that, it does its job. It gives me just a little more protection. I’ll probably wear it all year. We’ll see what happens, take it week-by-week.”

As long as he continues to feel as good as he has so far at AU, Clark isn’t likely to complain about the brace or anything else.

He’s back where he belongs.

On the football field.

“I’m trying not to jinx myself or think about it too much,” he said. “I’m seriously trying to take it day-by-day and just kind of cross whatever bridge that comes. ... But it feels great. So I’m really excited.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A different kind of football comes to Costa Rica

July 22, 2011

By Will Ferguson

A U.S. football tournament this weekend will pit teams from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the United States against each other.

Under a starlit sky in the suburb of Santa Ana, 11 men lined up on both sides of a football. Shouts from players and coaches died down as quarterback Arturo Ogiste barked out a snap count. Ogiste grabbed the ball from a waiting center, dropped back, and pitched the football to star running back, Reinhard Weiss.

Weiss cut left, deftly evading two blockers, and bulled his way through defenders into the end zone for a touchdown.

Immediately after the play, offensive and defensive coordinators rushed onto the field, barking instructions in English. On the sidelines, team members shouted encouragement and translated coaches’ commands from English to Spanish.

Tuesday night football practice was a special occasion for a number of reasons. For starters, the athletes on the field represented the cream of the crop of U.S.-style football players in Costa Rica. They were selected over a yearlong period, based on speed, strength and knowledge of the game, to compete for their country this weekend.

The late-night practice at Río Oro Stadium was the last time the Costa Rican national team would suit up for practice before its first game today at 4 p.m.

“This is a historic moment for American football in Costa Rica,” said Cody Gear, a national team coach and director of football operations for the Raptors, one of six teams that comprise the Federation of American Football. “It is the first time there is a national selection comprised entirely of Costa Rican citizens.”

In the three years since Costa Rican Division One U.S. football got its start, progress has been steady. The number and caliber of coaches per team has increased dramatically. Costa Rican players have the opportunity to learn from ex-collegiate athletes and even two-time Super Bowl champion Ethan Kelley, who played five years in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots.

“I wanted change, challenge and adventure when I came to Costa Rica,” Kelley said. “But when I got here there was a part of me that couldn’t let the game go.”

While all Tico citizens, many of the players on the team learned the game in the U.S. Ogiste, who played in high school and college, said he took a 10-year hiatus before hearing about the Costa Rican league three years ago.

“I had the fever,” he said. “After 10 years I was ready to come back and I haven’t left the game since.”

Charlton Ortega, a Tico by birth who grew up in Brooklyn, is a player, coach and organizer for the San José Tiburones. He said he likes to take athletes and turn them into football players.

“A lot of the teams are really one dimensional but they have been getting better,” he said. “Only true players want to take their own time to come out and learn a game that is completely foreign to them.”

This weekend’s tournament is unprecedented for a number of reasons. Not only is it the first time the Costa Rican National team will play together, it is also the first time the team will play against a team from the United States.

“The team from the [United] States is coming here to help us improve our level of play,” said Jose López, Santa Ana Bulldogs coach and commissioner of the first division. “Playing against people who are better than you is the only way to get better yourself.”

Coaches agreed the talent pool here in Costa Rica has improved, increasing the odds that Costa Rica’s unpaid national team will have a chance to play for their country on Saturday in the tournament championship.

The National team will face off against the Jaguares of El Salvador Friday night at 4 p.m. at the Río Oro Stadium in Santa Ana, southwest of San José. Their game will be followed by the Guerreros of Nicaragua playing the Thundercats from the U.S. If Costa Rica wins, they’ll go on to play the following night at 8 p.m. If they lose, they will play Saturday at 4 p.m.

Love of the Game

The national selection includes Costa Rica’s best talent, López said. The hardest thing about bringing the team together, he said, was getting players to work on developing skills and a sense of camaraderie that a U.S.-style football team must have to win games.

“You can have a little bit of athleticism, but if you don’t come to practice you won’t know what’s going on,” he said. “If you don’t mesh in with the team you don’t gain the confidence level, the camaraderie, the brotherhood. At the end, the most important thing is if you don’t come here, you don’t gain the heart.”

López said the league got its start when expats in the sports book business started a gentlemen’s league three years ago. Gradually, he said the league’s popularity spread by word of mouth, and Ticos started to join.

“A lot of word of mouth,” he said. “I started putting up posters, I started organizing events and international games. People are starting to listen. Every once in a while I will walk in to a store and people will say, ‘Hey aren’t you Don José from football?’”

In 2010, the league achieved national recognition from the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute, which will bring it into the Costa Rican physical education system at the public school level (TT, June 18, 2010).

Recently, López said the league has had some success finding sponsorship. Sports drink company Gatorade is assisting the Costa Rican national team host the tournament this weekend.

However, more than anything else, he said the tournament this weekend is about love of the game.

“We are going to come out hard and strong,” he said. “But more than anything else I expect to have fun and for these guys to play at 150 percent. They are going to leave everything they got on the field for Costa Rica.”

Admission for tournament games is ₡2000 ($4) for adults and free for children 12 and under. Games will be played on both days at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Kampman led defensive line mates through offseason

August 5, 2011

By John Oehser

Aaron Kampman swears coaching, particularly in the NFL, isn’t in his future.

“I won’t do that to my wife,” he said, laughing.

A fairly large faction – numerically and physically – of his Jaguars teammates may see his point, but they still figure the veteran defensive end may be missing a calling. At the very least, football would be missing a pretty capable coach.

Want to know why Austen Lane has impressed fans, teammates and coaches throughout Jaguars 2011 Training Camp? Want to know why Tyson Alualu feels more prepared now than before?

A variety of reasons, but the Jaguars’ defensive linemen will tell you at the top of the list was time spent with Kampman – the group’s veteran leader – in the off-season.

Because of the off-season lockout, players were not permitted at the team’s facilities throughout most of March, April, May, June and July. No conditioning, no mini-camps and no organized team activities. No working with trainers, and no meetings with coaches, either.

Players from teams throughout the NFL held various workouts, some of which were well-publicized and some of which weren’t. Jaguars players opted to have position groups work together much of the off-season, with a few team sessions at various times.

Kampman led the defensive line group, and Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said the progress made was obvious.

“They got together and they worked on things specific to playing defensive end,” Del Rio said this week. “I think the guys that worked with Aaron came into camp and they’re playing at a higher level right now just based on some of the wisdom he was able to share during the offseason, some of the work they put in.”

Kampman said whereas a normal off-season often focuses on overall conditioning, his hope with his defensive line teammates was to focus on “functional training.”

“We were trying to not just work on some of the traditional lifts and strengthening, but really developing the whole athlete in a couple of players,” Kampman said, adding that a big emphasis was on core-area training.

“You can have strong legs and you can have strong upper body, but if you don’t have stuff from here connecting those two – I’ve seen tons of strong guys in the weight room who can’t do it on the field, so we spent a lot of time trying to connect those two halves.”

Lane said the group focused on weight training, lateral movement and pass rush.

“We were basically doing everything a defensive lineman is going to do to get ready for the season,” Lane said.

But Lane and Alualu each said the logistics and details of the workouts would have meant little had Kampman not been in charge.

“It’s his work ethic, and his experience – he knows what he’s doing,” Lane said. “The reason he’s successful is he does the little things right. Obviously, he has athleticism and things like that. He gets the little things down so they’re not a problem, and that’s what makes you successful as a defensive end.”

Kampman said before any drill he would explain specifically its benefits because, “If a player understands why he’s a lot more apt to keep going.”

“Everything he teaches us there’s a meaning behind it and he explained it before we did it,” Alualu said. “Just having that mindset of him relating to how we can take it on the field makes it a lot better for us.”

Lane, one of the standout players early in camp, has impressed coaches with his speed off the line, body control and improved pass-rushing techniques. He said he doubts that would have been true without working with Kampman.

“Not only were we getting after it, but it gave us time to bond as a defensive line,” Lane said. “We’re still young, for the most part.”

Just how the off-season work will translate onto the field remains to be seen. For the Jaguars to improve, they must improve as a defense, and that means continuing to develop an effective, disruptive pass rush. Thus far in camp, Lane has impressed, as has Alualu, while Kampman – returning from a second knee surgery in as many seasons – has worked on both the right and left sides. Jeremy Mincey has also worked on both sides of the line, and Aaron Morgan is expected to be a factor.

Terrence Knighton, considered a key to the Jaguars’ interior, reported to camp out of shape and has yet to practice, while defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith is returning after missing his entire rookie season with an Achilles injury.

Continuing to improve, and finding a consistent pass rush from the group, will be key as preseason continues. To hear the members of the line tell it, their chances to make those improvements are better because of the leadership of a guy who may not want to coach, but is actually already doing so.

“For me, it’s part of the responsibility of being an older player who has learned a lot over his career,” Kampman said. “I wanted to help these guys learn how to train and be the best pros they can be.”

Friday, August 05, 2011

Tauscher took pleasure in toiling anonymously as Packers lineman

"The state of Wisconsin should be very proud of him. He was dedicated to the game. He had a great desire to play." - Ron Wolf, former Packers general manager on Mark Tauscher

By Tom Silverstein

August 4, 2011

Green Bay - In a sport in which touchdown spikes, sack dances and camera poses are as common as the endorsements to which they may lead, Mark Tauscher wanted only one thing during his career with the Green Bay Packers.

He wanted to be invisible.

Anchoring the right tackle position for more than a decade, Tauscher's goal every Sunday was to remain as anonymous as possible, at the same time taking great pains to make sure the guy across from him remained so, too.

Last Friday, the former University of Wisconsin player got the news that the Packers, unable to pass him on his physical because of a shoulder injury, were letting him go. Just as quietly as Tauscher entered the NFL in 2000, his association with the Packers ended.

The news came from general manager Ted Thompson, and Tauscher accepted it as the kind of business decision that happens every day in the National Football League. No hard feelings, no tears, no fanfare.

If this is it, Tauscher has few regrets.

"I think what I always wanted was to get the most out of my abilities and you knew when I went out there to play I was going to give everything I had," he said. "I feel like I can say that and sleep pretty well at night."

In this state, Tauscher is as homegrown as dairy cows, cheese curds and tailgate parties. Born in Marshfield and a graduate of Auburndale High School, Tauscher progressed from walk-on to starter at UW before landing with the Packers.

Among Wisconsin natives, only linebacker John Anderson (146) played more regular-season and playoff games for the Packers than Tauscher (134). Of those who played for both Wisconsin and the Packers, Tauscher ranks No. 1 in games played for the Packers.

"The state of Wisconsin should be very proud of him," said former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who drafted Tauscher in the seventh round in 2000. "He was dedicated to the game. He had a great desire to play. The game was important to him."

Tauscher, 34, isn't completely sure that he's ready to call it quits. He's still working on strengthening the shoulder and hopes to be back to 100% fairly soon.

Whether there's a team out there that wants him or one for which he wants to play will be determined later. Right now, Tauscher is helping tend to his infant son and thinking about whether he should put his master's degree in educational administration to use or even consider a job in coaching.

"I'm just worried about what I can control and that's getting healthy and then trying to figure out what my next step is going to be, whether that's playing or not playing," he said. "I'll have to figure that out.

"It really just comes back to how I'm feeling that's going to be the factor. How that plays out, I don't really know."

Many fans want to know if there's a chance that Tauscher would return to the Packers when he's healthy, but there was no talk of that in his discussion with Thompson. The Packers are loaded with young linemen, and Thompson needs to find out whether they can play.

Tauscher can certainly relate to that. A seventh-round draft choice in 2000, people gave him an ice cube's chance in hot coffee of making it past the first round of cuts. One guy who did give him a chance was Wolf, even though Tauscher had been a starter at Wisconsin for just one season.

"They had all these other top guys, but once you went to a Wisconsin practice and watched the pre-drills you'd see his athletic ability," Wolf said. "They had these foot drills they did with soccer balls and he was phenomenal.

"He had exceptional footwork and balance and strength."

Tauscher lasted until the seventh round because he had a terrible looking body. He was wide and pudgy and poorly defined and that likely turned off a lot of scouts. But Wolf saw through that.

Then the best thing that could have happened to Tauscher did when he arrived at Packers training camp in the summer of 2000. He was the only lineman signed to a contract for the three-day rookie pre-camp workouts.

So while the other rookies worked in groups, Tauscher worked by himself with offensive line coach Larry Beightol. The one-on-one tutoring was perfect for the eager Tauscher, but even better because it allowed Beightol to see how much potential the rookie had.

Tauscher knew he arrived when in a one-on-one blocking drill later in camp, he took enormously strong end Vonnie Holliday and threw him on the ground.

"I laugh at Vonnie about this, that Vonnie helped me get my foot in the door," Tauscher said. "There was a lot of hooting and hollering and everybody was asking what's going on. That's when I thought, 'I can get this thing done.' "

Tauscher took over the right tackle starting job from Earl Dotson in Week 3 of his rookie season and became a fixture on the offensive line. He was so steady and reliable that players used to go up to his teammates after games and say, 'I can't believe I couldn't beat that guy.' "

He was reliable and so technically sound that he did not commit a holding penalty until his seventh season. Among the players he had frustrated over the years were Reggie White, Julius Peppers, Michael Strahan, DeMarcus Ware and Jevon Kearse.

"You try to be as invisible." Tauscher said. "You want to do everything well, but in the grand scheme of things, if you don't give up sacks and pressures and don't get penalized you're going to be a pretty successful player.

"And you show up. I had a (57)-game streak, those are things you take a lot of pride in, not being penalized and being able to be counted on."

If Tauscher doesn't play another snap, he'll have more than made his mark in Green Bay and certainly with the Super Bowl XLV team even though he spent the last 16 games on injured reserve.

Coach Mike McCarthy asked Tauscher to hang around so he could lend his expertise to the offensive line and keep everyone loose as he always had done. Tauscher agreed and attended Friday and Saturday meetings.

"From what I know, the guy hasn't changed from the moment he got here to the moment he left," said Tauscher's successor, first-round pick Bryan Bulaga. "That speaks volumes about him. When the rookies came in my class, he was a great guy to us.

"You just saw the type of person he was. That's how I remember him, how helpful he was and his humor."

Tauscher, who served as the team's union rep, won't be along for the ride when the Packers go to the White House, which is a disappointment given his interest in politics. But he said it's enough to have the big, gaudy Super Bowl ring the club gave out in June to remind him of everything he accomplished.

"I completely understand it and I'm not the least bit upset about it," he said. "You have to be able to roll with the punches, and I think it will be a great time for those guys."

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bradford likes what he sees from Kendricks

Rookie tight end Lance Kendricks is making an early impression on quarterback Sam Bradford.

By Mike Sando

August 2, 2011

The St. Louis Rams are far enough along in training camp to visualize how quarterback Sam Bradford and some of his new weapons might mesh in the future.

They're still too early in the process to claim a strong rapport has developed. There are first impressions, however, and rookie tight end Lance Kendricks is making a favorable one.

"Lance has done some great things," Bradford told reporters in St. Louis. "He has been asked to do a lot as well. I think he’s probably taken more reps than anyone else on our offense."

That last part could be telling. The Rams envision moving Kendricks, a second-round pick, around the formation and keeping him on the field.

"It seems like that every time I look out there, he’s in there," Bradford said. "Whether he is at 'Y', he’s at 'F', he’s playing wide receiver some. I think he’s done a great job, he’s physical. He really stood out to me yesterday when we put the pads on and we had the 'Ram Drill'."

Turn your playbooks to the index for a little review session. The "Y" spot is where traditional tight ends line up. The "F" spot refers more to the slot and allows for more motion/movement. As for the Ram Drill? It's a version of the Oklahoma Drill featuring one-on-one battles between blockers and tacklers.

"(Kendricks) was in my line and the first time he went, he absolutely destroyed his defender," Bradford said. "I think two guys later, we were looking for someone on offense and he came running back up to get some more. It's things like that, that really turn you on to a guy like that."

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tauscher: A Tremendous Performer

By Bob McGinn

July 29, 2011

You'd almost have to go back to Sept. 1, 1986, when coach Forrest Gregg purged quarterback Lynn Dickey and tight end Paul Coffman, to recall a day like Friday in the annals of the Green Bay Packers.

Among the big names terminated was Mark Tauscher.

This isn't meant to be a full-blown analysis of Tauscher's career in Green Bay. This blog really isn't the vehicle for that.

Instead, let's just recall Tauscher by some of the numbers by which offensive linemen are measured.

To do so, it's inevitable that Tauscher has to be compared to Chad Clifton, his friend and fellow tackle. They were drafted together in 2000, they became starters together in 2000 and they were the team's starting tackles until the fourth game last season when Tauscher's season, and presumably career, ended with a torn rotator cuff against Detroit.

We know how really good Clifton has been for a really long time. Finally, he was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2010 after having been an alternate twice before. Tauscher never made the Pro Bowl, and if he ever was chosen as an alternate the club never released it.

Because of injury, Clifton has played more games than Tauscher. Counting playoffs, Clifton has played in 171 games, starting 166, whereas Tauscher played in 142 games, starting 140.

Clifton's margin in starts of 26 is a significant number when you start examining raw totals in various categories, as we shall do.

OK, let's start by looking at sacks allowed during each of their careers. If I've learned anything on this beat, it's that responsibility for sacks is what you think it is maybe 65% of the time. There are all kinds of variables that affect sack responsibility, and over the years I've done my level best to ascertain who truly was responsible for every sack allowed by the Packers.

SACKS ALLOWED: Tauscher 20 1/2, Clifton 37.

OK, let's move to "bad" runs. I started this in the late 1990s in an attempt to measure run blocking. I defined a "bad" run as a gain for 1 yard or less in non-goalline or non-short yardage situations. Why didn't I just say no gain or worse? Just an arbitrary decision.

BAD RUNS: Tauscher 82, Clifton 106 1/2.

OK, let's move to penalties. This total is for penalties that were accepted. Penalties that were declined or offsetting were not counted.

PENALTIES: Tauscher 28, Clifton 77.

The above three categories measure pass blocking, run blocking, poise and discipline. They do not consider that Clifton played LT and Tauscher played RT, and that by and large Clifton played against somewhat better opponents at RDE/ROLB than Tauscher did playing against LDE/LOLB.

But considering how well Clifton has played and continues to play, seeing how those numbers favor Tauscher are rather startling.

Clifton was blessed by better health. His one terrible injury was the separated pelvis that he suffered in Tampa Bay in 2002. Tauscher, on the other hand, suffered three: the torn ACL in New Orleans in 2002, the torn ACL in Houston in 2008 and the torn rotator cuff against Detroit in 2010. Each had other physical problems that kept them out of games.

Each year since the early 1990s, scouts from the division teams have picked an all-NFC Central and then all-NFC North team for the JS. Here's how Tauscher fared on those teams at RT:

2000: T3 behind Korey Stringer.

2001: 2nd behind Big Cat Williams.

2002: Injured.

2003: T1 with Mike Rosenthal.

2004: 2nd behind John Tait.

2005: 1st (unanimous).

2006: 2nd behind Fred Miller.

2007: 1st (unanimous).

2008: 2nd behind Tait.

2009: 3rd behind Phil Loadholt.

2010: Bryan Bulaga was the GB rep at RT.

So, in nine seasons, Tauscher was first three times, second four times and third twice. He was never fourth or fifth.

The point of all this should be rather obvious. Tauscher was one hell of a football player.

Over his 11 seasons, I must have talked to more than 100 scouts and assistant coaches about Tauscher's game. Some guys just could never get over the way he looked in a uniform. Over time, some almost grudingly came to admit that he was a solid player.

It's true. Tauscher didn't look exactly cut on the field. But he possessed remarkable athletic ability, remarkable powers of concentration and remarkable intangibles that made him a worthy successor to Earl Dotson at the position and a proud predecessor for Bulaga.

Tauscher was an acquired taste. One needed to see him play every game over a period of years to appreciate him. A four-game segment of a season or hurried off-season tape work wasn't enough.

When the waiting period is up, Tauscher will have his induction night into the team's Hall of Fame. That will be well-deserved, of course, but it might be a little too slick for No. 65.

Mark Tauscher doesn't need his name on a plaque or the Pro Bowl that now is skewed by fan voting to know what he accomplished. He just wanted to play the game well, and play it well he did.

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