Monday, June 25, 2012

Badgers, Packers Superstar Mark Tauscher named Fourth of July Grand Marshal

June 21, 2012

The Greenfield 4th of July Parade and Celebration Committee is announcing former University of Wisconsin and Green Bay Packers football star Mark Tauscher as the honorary parade grand marshal.

Tauscher will also be assisting with flag-raising ceremonies, enjoying the 5th Quarter performance featuring his alma mater University of Wisconsin band and appear as a special contestant in Greenfield Park & Rec's special event, "Are you smarter than a 5th grader."

Tauscher's was a star offensive tackle for the University of Wisconsin, with his best years coming in 1998 and 1999. He contributed significantly to Ron Dayne's Heisman Trophy-winning season in 1999.

Tauscher was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round (224th pick overall) of the 2000 NFL draft. His illustrious career with the Packers spanned a decade from 2000 to 2010. Career highlights include Superbowl Champion (XLV), Packers Walter Payton Man of the Year (2008) and Packers Ed Block Courage Award (2008).

Tauscher was born in Marshfield, Wis. on June 17, 1977.

"Tausch" is a life-long Wisconsinite and continues to be a huge fan of Badgers and Packers football.

As honorary parade marshal, Tauscher will proudly wave to fans knowing that Greenfield will be the only parade in Wisconsin to feature the University of Wisconsin Marching Band "and" Bucky Badger.

The Independence Day activities in Greenfield are hosted by the Partners of Greenfield Park and Recreation.

Partners of Greenfield Park and Recreation are a nonprofit community support group run in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Recreation. Partners of Greenfield Park and Recreation assist the Department of Parks and Recreation in the beautification of green space, purchasing park amenities, and development of park site activity areas for the benefit of the Greenfield community.

Partners of Greenfield Park and Recreation are a great avenue for individuals and organizations to make a positive difference in the promotion of public recreation in the city of Greenfield.

The Greenfield 4th of July Parade (12:15pm start) and Celebration will run from 11am to 11pm on Wednesday, July 4th. The parade and celebration are free of charge.

More than two points from Tupa

Time and Change: Catching up with ex-QB, whose son is headed to Miami (Ohio)

June 21, 2012

By Brad Bournival | BuckeyeNation

Time and Change is a series at BuckeyeNation where we chat with former Ohio State athletes.

Tom Tupa was an All-America punter and was the starting quarterback during his senior season in 1987, Earle Bruce's final year as head coach.

After being a backup quarterback for three seasons behind Mike Tomczak and Jim Karsatos at Ohio State, Tupa threw for 1,786 yards and 12 touchdowns his senior season. He was selected to the 1988 Hula Bowl.

Tupa, now 46, was a third-round pick in the 1988 NFL Draft, selected by the Phoenix Cardinals with the No. 68 pick. He averaged 43.4 yards per punt, which ranks 36th in NFL history, before retiring in 2006. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season.

Tom Tupa had a 16-year NFL career as a quarterback and punter and started 11 games at quarterback for the Phoenix Cardinals in 1991.

A 1999 All-Pro selection, he was a backup quarterback in the NFL and became known as "Two-Point Tupa" for his three two-point conversions in 1994, when the rule was added to the NFL. He scored the first two-pointer in NFL history as a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Tupa is the recreation director for the city of Brecksville, Ohio, where he led the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bees football team to a state title in 1983. He is also the offensive coordinator for the Bees' varsity squad, where his sons Tommy and Tim play. His youngest son, Tyler, will be a freshman this year, and his daughter Emma will be a seventh-grader.

His son, Tommy Tupa, committed to Miami (Ohio) in May. The RedHawks expect him to be their future quarterback.

BuckeyeNation caught up with Tupa recently and asked him about fatherhood, coaching and his time at Ohio State.

BN: Do you miss your playing days?

Tupa: I do a little bit as far as hanging out with the guys and game days and things like that. To be honest with you, though, I enjoy what I'm doing now. I'm coaching my boys and my daughter, actually. It's just a great situation to coach and watch them and be a part of what they're going through. It's been great so far.

“Obviously, making it to the first Rose Bowl my freshman year, that was a special time. Beating Michigan my senior year. It was Earle's last game up there. That was a special game for us with the circumstances surrounding that whole week.”
-- Former Ohio State quarterback and punter Tom Tupa

BN: What pieces of advice from Earle Bruce have you taken and applied to your everyday life?

Tupa: It's just to go out there and fight for what you want. To compete for the things in your life and what you believe in and not to back down when you believe in them.

BN: What is your fondest memory of Ohio State?

Tupa: To pick one is tough. I have a couple of great memories. Obviously, making it to the first Rose Bowl my freshman year, that was a special time. Beating Michigan my senior year. It was Earle's last game up there. That was a special game for us with the circumstances surrounding that whole week [Bruce was fired early in the week]. There are a lot of moments and games and what not, but those are the ones that stand out.

BN: Is it tough to sit back and not overstep your bounds when you're giving advice to Tim and Tommy as members of the football team?

Tupa: It's tough at times. You're probably always tougher on your kids than any other kids, so they get it more than anyone else. I think they understand that it's just part of being a coach's kid. When we're at home, we try to let it go. It's over with, it's done with. It's on to the next thing. It's tough because I'm looking for them to do the best they can and want to see them be successful. I think they know I'm just looking for what is the best for them.

BN: What does it mean to coach at your high school alma mater?

Tupa: It's great. I'm back in my hometown. We've had a few successful years back-to-back. We've got the program on the right trail again. The kids have bought into what we want to do. We've had a lot of city supporters and people are anxious to see us play. We're not a boring team. People like to see what we're going to do out there. We keep them on the edge of their seats from play to play. It's fun.

BN: What's next?

Tupa: I'm going to do the coaching thing for the foreseeable future. We'll see how long I do this, but I enjoy it. I have fun and we're winning and that makes it all that much better. For now, I'll stay the course, coach the kids and see where it leads us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Raymont Harris inducted into Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame

June 19, 2012

By Plain Dealer staff

Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel heads a list of eight local sports figures who will be inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame for 2012.

Established in 1976, the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame has inducted nearly 500 sports figures, all with ties to Greater Cleveland. The induction ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 19 at Landerhaven.

Ticket information is available at or by calling 216-682-0141.
The Class of 2012 inductees are:

Larry Chernauskas: Longtime high school boys and girls basketball coach, notably at West Tech, Gilmour and Magnificat. His career record was 508-280, and he was named Coach of the Year four times.

Mary Joe Fernandez Godsick: The current Cleveland resident who was born in the Dominican Republic was a three-time finalist in women’s singles and two-time champion in doubles at Grand Slam tennis tournaments. She won a gold medal in doubles at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and a bronze in singles in 1992.

Raymont Harris: The Lorain native finished as the eighth-leading rusher in Ohio State history with 2,649 yards. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1994 and rushed for a career-best 1,033 yards in 1997.

Clinton Jones: The Cathedral Latin standout was a two-time All-American at Michigan State, then spent six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He ran for nine touchdowns in 1970 and gained 452 yards on kickoff returns that year.

Tim Mack: The St. Ignatius graduate won a gold medal in the pole vault at the 2004 Olympics with a jump of 19-6¼, setting an Olympic record. He won the NCAA indoor pole vault title in 1995 for Tennessee and won at the 2001 Goodwill Games and the 2002 U.S. indoor and outdoor championships.

Preston Powell: He returned 16 kickoffs and had five rush attempts for the Browns in 1961, and after time with the Cowboys and Bears, he became a softball legend in the area, being inducted in the Greater Cleveland Softball Hall of Fame in 1985.

Jim Tressel: Won national championships as head coach with Ohio State in 2003 and Youngstown State in 1991, after starring as a quarterback at Berea High School and for his father, coach Lee Tressel, at Baldwin-Wallace College.

Vonda Ward: Twice named to the Parade Magazine All-American team as a basketball player at Trinity High School. Played in the 1995 NCAA women’s basketball championship game for Tennessee and played pro basketball before turning to a pro boxing career.

Monday, June 18, 2012

UW's Bielema a real keeper


June 18, 2012

If I was the king of the Wisconsin sports world, I would:

Sign University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema to a lifetime contract.

There was plenty of trepidation in Badger Nation when Bielema replaced Barry Alvarez back in 2006. But Bielema not only has been as good as King Barry but perhaps even better.

In Bielema’s six seasons as the Badgers’ boss, Wisconsin has gone to six bowls, has been ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll five times and has compiled a 60-19 record.

Bielema’s winning percentage of .759 is the fourth-best among active FBS coaches who have been on the job for at least five years.

Aaron Kampman's influence will linger

June, 7, 2012

From Paul Kuharsky's "Aaron Kampman's influence will linger"

Aaron Kampman’s no longer a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But if some of his teammates picked up on his professionalism, his influence will linger.

And Twitter gives us a couple indications that will be the case.

The first time I spoke with Kampman, when he was recovering from the first of two ACL tears, he spoke of the recovery in a way I’ve never heard another player talk of it. He said he found the experience “purifying,” an outlook that’s struck me as healthy and always stuck with me.

I hope Kampman gets healthy and gets one more look somewhere. But if he doesn’t, I hope he’s satisfied with what he did as a player.

O'Brien: Nate Ebner has done a "really good job"

Talking special teams with O'Brien

June, 14, 2012

By Field Yates |

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots special-teams coach Scott O’Brien fielded questions from the media on Wednesday afternoon. Below are highlights from the chat, including his impressions of rookie Nate Ebner and the process of finding players capable to return kicks:

On the kick returner position being a work in progress and trying out different guys. “I don’t know if we’re trying out different guys. We’re getting other guys involved, and keep working Danny (Woodhead), who I thought got better as the year went on last year for the very first time doing it. So it’s good there, along with Julian [Edelman], but based on how our team unfolds here, we’re going to work everybody we can.”

On Donte’ Stallworth as a kick returner. "Donte’s just like Devin [McCourty]. When we got Devin as a rookie, we got him exposed to it, we got him experience doing it. So he does it too. You never have enough … it’s been good so far for those guys."

On whether he’d like to see improvement in the kick return game from last year. "No question. The only thing we’re really concerned about, when I say only thing, is drive starting. That’s the big issue for us. Obviously you’ve got to be good at returning the ball, but you’ve got to be able to handle a lot of situations that come with it, so we’ve gotta keep working."

On the importance of working in elements, such as the rain today. "It’s great. It’s a great experience. Because, especially specialists, they always have something to fall back on. Bill does a good job, even if we’re not getting bad elements of mixing them in, if it’s wet balls and things like that. It’s always good to know exactly what we get here as far as wind patterns, being able to focus on the conditions of being wet, all that kind of stuff. It’s good, it’s great experience."

On the role and value of special teams assistant Joe Judge. "I think Joe is a great addition, and he would be to any team…You’re developing a younger guy at a position that’s very critical in regards to what we do. It’s good because we meet together, we’re on the same page. When we need certain looks, if it’s by the opponent, we get what we need in practice. It’s really good now, he’s learning the tricks and the trades of the NFL."

On potentially using rookie Nate Ebner as a punt returner. "We’ve talked about him handling the ball. But I think that time will come. He’s done a really good job, after we got him out there, of fitting in to what we’re asking him to do as a core guy in the big four (punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return). He’s kind of absorbing that first, and then we’ll kind of get with his ball skills as we get into training camp."

More on Ebner. "He’s pretty instinctive. We’ve all seen players not play football very much and have a little bit of experience with, they just don’t have instincts. But I think when you talk about rugby now, those coverage instincts or defensive instincts showed up in him because of the background in rugby."

On if he had any input in drafting Ebner. "Everybody gets involved in that. We all rank players. Since I’ve been around Bill, he does an exceptional job as far as the detail of the number of reports and the future of what we’re looking for. We’re all on the same page there."

On what goes into the decision of making a player a kick returner. "The first thing you gotta do is, they have to show you some type of skill level for it, because there’s more than just catching the ball. With Julian, we liked his stride length, in and out of cuts good, physically good, the quickness that he had, the athletic, the quarterback background, being that leader back there. But catching ‘em was one thing, the experience of making good decisions and having awareness on the field is another. That’s why he’s worked so hard to get where he’s at. That has to come into play, and the only way they’re going to get that is by trial and error on the field, experience the play, either good or bad and learning from it."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Iowa football put Yanda on track

Marshal Yanda (73) leads the Hawkeyes onto the field at Kinnick Stadium during his senior season in 2006. Yanda now plays for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2011. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Former Hawkeye offensive lineman thriving with Baltimore Ravens

June 15, 2012

All-Pro offensive lineman Marshal Yanda's goal of playing football for the University of Iowa didn't follow a straight 40-mile path from Anamosa to Iowa City.

But the work ethic he gained growing up on a farm in Jones County kept him focused on competing inside Kinnick Stadium, despite taking a detour through North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.

"My dream when I was young was to play for the Hawkeyes," says Yanda, now a 6-foot-3, 315-pound behemoth. "I wanted to do that, but I strayed in high school. I worked hard, but I didn't take the classroom seriously. So when I wanted to go to Iowa, my grades weren't in order and I was behind, and I had to go the junior college route."

Still, there have been no regrets for Yanda, who not only played for the UI in 2005 and '06, but has gone on to play 69 games for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. This past season, the right guard was named to the Pro Bowl.

"That had to be the coolest experience I ever went through," Yanda says. "I obviously wanted to go to the Super Bowl, and we were really close, but I wanted to play at a Pro Bowl level last year, and I got that done."

Yanda is preparing for his sixth season in the NFL after being drafted in the third round by the Ravens (86th overall) in 2007. Last season, Baltimore won the AFC North Division with a record of 12-4. The Ravens defeated Houston, 20-13, in the Divisional Playoffs before falling to New England, 23-20, in the AFC Championship.

The Pro Bowl selection is based on voting by coaches, fans, and players. Yanda found out he would be making the postseason trip to Hawaii during Week 14 of the season.

"I was banged up that week and had surgery on my leg, so I was lying on the couch when my head coach (John Harbaugh) called," Yanda says. "The head coach normally doesn't call, so I figured he was checking up on how I was doing. He told me I made the Pro Bowl. I was ecstatic and about jumped off my couch. I was very fired up and excited to be part of that group."

When Yanda needed stars to align, they did. UI head football coach Kirk Ferentz doesn't make it a habit to sign junior college players, but the Hawkeyes were thin at offensive line after the 2004 season and Yanda was a logical fit.

It was Sept. 3, 2005, when Yanda made his first official jog onto the Kinnick Stadium turf.

"The hair stood up on the back of my neck when I ran out of the tunnel for the first time," he says.

When the afternoon was over, the Hawkeyes had a 56-0 win against Ball State. Six more victories followed and the Hawkeyes accepted a bid to the Outback Bowl. As much as Yanda enjoyed playing at home, he took special pride in winning on the road.

"I love taking over (an opponents') stadium," Yanda says.

In 2005, that included Ross-Ade Stadium in Purdue, where Yanda started at right tackle and more than held his own against defensive end Ray Edwards, now with the Atlanta Falcons. Iowa also defeated No. 19 Wisconsin, 20-10, in the rain in Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, during Barry Alvarez's final regular-season game as head coach.

In 2006, the Hawkeyes opened with four straight wins, including a 27-17 decision against Iowa State in Iowa City and they spent the postseason at the Alamo Bowl. But it wasn't until an invitation to the Senior Bowl arrived that Yanda realized he had a future in professional football.

"You don't know how far it will take you," he says. "I still take the same approach of one day at a time and see where you are at the end of the day. In high school, I wanted to play for the Hawks and that was it. I had no aspirations of playing in the NFL, so when I went to NIACC, it was like, bust my butt for two years and see if I can get a scholarship to play for Iowa."

The time Yanda spent at the UI was invaluable and launched him to the next level.

"There is such a high respect level for coach Ferentz in the NFL, that for him to say, 'Hey, this kid is probably going to be a good player,' spoke volumes to the coaches and staffs of the NFL teams," Yanda says. "That was a huge influence with them. Even before looking at me, his word went a long way."

Yanda said he received a lot of advice from Ferentz over the years, but none more important than after the 2007 NFL Draft.

"Coach Ferentz told me to stay the same, don't change," Yanda says. "It doesn't matter about the money, continue to do what you're doing now and life will be great. Don't change your personality and don't think you don't have to work hard now that you've made it."

Yanda and his wife recently purchased a home in Marion, and he still makes the commute to the Hayden Fry Football Complex to work out with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.

"I'm here working out with the same regimen as 2005," Yanda says. "That's still working, so don't change it."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Aaron Kampman is THE best teammate I ever had"

Ten Things I Think I Think

By Peter King
June 11, 2012

I think the NFL lost one of its quiet statesmen Thursday, when Jacksonville cut defensive end Aaron Kampman, who just hasn't been able to stay healthy enough through two major knee injuries to stay on the field for the Jags. He's as classy and as good a teammate and effort player as the league has employed.

On Twitter, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said: "Aaron Kampman is THE best teammate I ever had."

The values instilled in Kampman during his formative days in Iowa never left him. If this is it for him, the NFL needs to find a way to keep Kampman involved in the game. I might suggest some sort of ambassador role with high school football, where Kampman can pass along lessons learned from the late and great Ed Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg High in Iowa.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anthony Pleasant brings player perspective to Dontari Poe's development

Chiefs defensive line coach Anthony Pleasant spent a portion of his playing days in Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense

By Nick

June 11, 2012

Anthony Pleasant should know exactly what Dontari Poe is going through. At various stops during his 13-year NFL career, Pleasant had to learn the exact techniques Poe is now learning at OTAs.

Pleasant, the current Chiefs defensive line coach, played under Romeo Crennel twice--once as a member of the New York Jets, and again as a member of the New England Patriots. He thrived in New England, rushing the passer as a defensive end as stopping the run as a defensive tackle during two Super Bowl-winning seasons.

Crennel and the Chiefs had similar expectations in mind when they made Poe the eleventh overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. And in order to groom their prized prospect, the Chiefs are relying on Pleasant to impart the knowledge he gained playing for Crennel on Poe.

Poe played nearly every position on the defensive line at Memphis, and draft experts said he could excel as one of two defensive tackles in a 4-3 system or as the sole tackle in a 3-4 alignment.

Poe will be expected to act as the latter in Crennel’s 3-4 system and line up as the nose tackle. The rookie has played in some sub-package alignments during OTAs tailored for passing situations, but in a 3-4 configuration, outside linebackers usually amass sacks—called the “glory stat” by Pleasant.

Poe said he’s been using OTAs to begin to tailor his game to an unfamiliar style of defense.

“It’s a different technique,” Poe said. “But once you learn it, you can be dominant with it. They’ve been playing (the 3-4) way longer than I have, so anything I can get from my teammates is the best thing for me.”

Pleasant’s advice to Poe comes from first-hand knowledge he gained during his own playing career. In 1990, Pleasant was drafted by the Browns to be a pass-rush specialist at defensive end. However, when Bill Belichick was hired as Cleveland’s head coach in 1991, Pleasant has to adjust to his new role outside the spotlight.

“That was something totally new to me,” said Pleasant of his transition to a “two-gap” defensive lineman. “But I was willing to make that transition because I was determined to make it.”

So far, Pleasant likes what he sees from his new star pupil. Without pads and contact, determining how far along Poe actually is can be difficult. But Poe has shown flashes of disruptive run-stopping ability—as evidenced by a two-play stretch from one of last week’s OTA sessions.

The first play exhibited Poe’s block-shedding ability. Lined up with the first team players, he shot between left guard Ryan Lilja and center Rodney Hudson to force running backPeyton Hillis to bounce outside.

On the next snap, Poe was one of the players that met Hillis on the edge after another running play. He correctly diagnosed the play as an outside zone run, shuffled down the defensive line, and was the first player to meet Hillis in the hole he was supposed to run through.

Pads or no pads, Pleasant was impressed.

“He’s a unique type of player,” said Pleasant about Poe after Friday’s OTAs. “It’s good to have a guy of that magnitude and size. He just has to continue to work hard and push himself.”

The Chiefs could need Poe to keep pushing himself in order for the defense to reach its full potential. He could be the missing link in the middle for a squad that looks great on paper.

Safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis return in the secondary, Pro Bowlers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson comprise a promising linebacking corps, and Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are building their reputations as two of the league’s better run-stopping 3-4 defensive ends.

If Poe can learn from Pleasant and be a disruptive force in the middle of that talented group, the Chiefs defense could be equally unruly in 2012.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Phil Dawson has been one bright spot for Browns since 1999 - Comment of the Day

Phil Dawson has been one of the few bright spots for the Browns, kicking many game-winning field goals.


June 6, 2012

In response to the story Phil Dawson hoping to kick beyond Lou Groza's record: Browns Insider, reader aroundsince48 says kicker Phil Dawson has been lone bright spot for the Browns since 1999. This reader writes,

"Through all the crap that this franchise has been since 1999, there has been one beacon of hope.

God bless you Phil Dawson, a guy who truly earned his paychecks.

My only hope is that some day you will be able to make kicks that truly matter on the march to the Big One, whether it be in Cleveland or elsewhere.

You deserve that much buddy."

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Phil Dawson hoping to kick beyond Lou Groza's record

June 6, 2012

By Tom Reed, The Plain Dealer

BEREA, Ohio -- Phil Dawson skipped the first six voluntary organized team activities of the spring, but returned for mandatory minicamp Tuesday and made it clear he wants to kick for no other organization.

Dawson, a franchise fixture since its 1999 rebirth, said he hopes to finish his career with the Browns and take aim at Lou Groza's 45-year-old team record for points.

"I'd like to, I really would," said the 14-year veteran when asked if he intends to make Cleveland his final stop. "I'm not thinking about my career being over at this point, but it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go play somewhere else.

"We'll see what happens. Like I've told you guys before, I'm not very good at predicting the future, but I'm just gonna go to work like I always do and hope that things get worked out."

The Browns have expressed a desire to sign the 37-year-old to a long-term deal, but instead tagged him as a "franchise player" for the second straight season. He's set to earn $3.8 million a season after converting 24 of 29 field-goal attempts, including an NFL-tying best seven from 50-plus yards.

As if he needed to demonstrate his worth, Dawson just missed a 70-yarder in his first practice. "I undercut it a bit," he said.

His future with the Browns has been uncertain in recent years to the point where he sold his suburban home and moved his family back to Austin, Texas after the 2010 season. His wife and three children made visits to Cleveland last year, and might need to do it for a couple more seasons if he expects to eclipse Groza's mark of 1,349 points.

Dawson, the team's all-time leader in field goals (276), has 1,155 points.

"That was a goal I set in 1999 when Danny Kight and Chris Boniol were out here competing against me in training camp," Dawson said of the team record. "If I had admitted back then that that was one of my goals, you guys would have laughed me out of town and I wouldn't have blamed you."

Dawson said he was delivering no statement by missing the OTAs. He has skipped several others in the past.

"I have my reasons, which I'll keep to myself, but I can assure ya'll they're not headline worthy," he said. Asked about potentially signing a long-term deal, Dawson added: "there's a time and place for everything. ... It just hasn't happened yet."

Alex Henery In Control Of FG Game

It was a rookie season that was historic, and yet nobody talks about Alex Henery and the Eagles' kicking game these days. Isn't that the ultimate compliment for Henery, the second-year placekicker?

By Dave Spadaro

June 6, 2012

All Henery did was make 24 of his 27 field goal chances, missing only a 63-yarder at the end of the first half in Atlanta and two chippie-kicks in the agonizing loss to San Francisco at Lincoln Financial Field.

In one fell swoop, so to speak, Henery eased all concerns about a kicking game that had for a decade been handled at a Pro Bowl level by David Akers, the greatest kicker in franchise history. The Eagles invested a fourth-round draft pick in Henery, a standout at Nebraska, and allowed Akers to test free agency and ultimately sign with the 49ers. There, Akers had a brilliant 2011 season and reached the Pro Bowl and nearly the Super Bowl.

Here, Henery started the next generation of great kicking for the Eagles.

Consider that a win-win for all concerned.

"I didn't think about David or any of that other stuff when I came here. I didn't know what to expect. I was thrown into a situation and just went with it. There wasn't time to think about it. I was just focused on my job and I guess pretty happy with the way things went, especially the way I finished the season," said Henery. "Every kick you go out there and your job is to make it. I felt like I maintained my strength and actually got stronger through the year."

Henery's misses are etched in his mind. In Atlanta, he thought he hit it well and because it was a lower trajectory, the kick was tipped and fell short. Against the 49ers, Henery missed from 39 yards and then 33 yards, pushing both kicks wide right.

"The two I missed, I didn't follow through and I just sliced the ball," said Henery. "It happens. I wasn't happy at all, so I had a correction to make and I made it."

The Eagles thought Henery was special enough at Nebraska to use a fourth-round pick on him, a stunning move at the time. They added kickoff duties to his list of job responsibilities, and Henery did a great job in that department. As for field goals, Henery made his last 13 kicks after the misses against the 49ers.

Now Henery is on to his second NFL season. The Eagles didn't add a kicker for competition, a clear sign that they have complete trust in him in his sophomore campaign. The team may add a leg later just to give Henery a breather in training camp, but he is the guy 100 percent. The Eagles believe they have something special in Henery, who has a big leg and a flatline-demeanor that is perfect for the pressure of the job.

Henery says he was "50/50" on kickoffs last year, and he is striving for more consistency in that phase of his game. He also wants to be as automatic as possible from 55 yards and in on field goals and extend his range to 60-plus yards.

"I know what's going on and what to expect and that's a good thing," said Henery about being in his second season. "It's kind of more relaxed and I'm able to work more on my game instead of spending time thinking about other things. It's gone well."

Henery is an avid golfer, an 8-handicap and he recently shot a 73 at Blue Heron Pines in South Jersey. It's no surprise that he is a steady hand on the links, as much as he is lining up for a pressure field goal with Jon Dorenbos snapping to holder Chas Henry.

The Eagles overhauled their kicking game last offseason, a bold and daring move lost in the shuffle of the free-agency spree that dominated the headlines. A generation of excellence from Akers was suddenly a gigantic question, and Henery provided the resounding answer of confidence.

If you have been an Eagles fan long enough to cheer the team prior to the Akers years, you know how shaky the kicking game here was. You know about all the ups and downs of the special teams. Henery looks like the next great one, an incredibly visionary move by Howie Roseman and Andy Reid in the 2011 draft. Without skipping a beat, the Eagles have themselves another fantastic placekicker.

"I don't look at things other than just making sure I go out every day and focus on my job," he said. "There isn't anything really in my life that makes me lose my cool, I guess. I probably lose it more on the golf course than in football. This is my job and so I go out there and know what I have to do. I have to make kicks. I just go out and do it."

It sounds so simple, but it's not. The Eagles have themselves a good one in Henery, and potentially a great one if he continues to stay in his groove, hone his timing and build his strength. There is not an ounce of waver in Henery's personality. He's married. He's a solid guy. He's a humble young man. He loves being an Eagle.

And he's on his way to terrific things, even if nobody talks much about him. The truth is, the lack of chatter is the highest form of flattery for a kicker who one year ago was replacing a legend. Now Henery is on his own path, and is off to an historic start.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Lions' Riley Reiff turning heads at practice

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says lineman on track to play a lot early
June 5, 2012

By Carlos Monarrez

Lions rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff has yet to put on pads, but so far offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes what he sees from the team's highest draft pick this year.

The Lions held their third organized team activity open to the media Monday. As with the previous two OTAs, Reiff played only tackle. On Monday, he played left tackle with the second team, opposite Jason Fox at right tackle.

Whether Reiff challenges starting tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus remains to be seen.

"It's still early to say who's going to play where," Linehan said. "But Riley's on track to play a lot of football for us really early. He's an exceptional talent, and he's a great kid. He's going to really help us on our offensive line. Where he ends up this year really hasn't been determined yet. But we're just happy with what we've seen so far. We think he's going to be a heck of a player."

Linehan said he is pleased overall with the offensive line. Now it could come down to whether he prefers competition or continuity.

"There's a lot of competition there," he said. "And the group that played for us last year, they've really been together now we're going on our fourth season, except for Rob (Sims). ...

"But with that added depth and competition, we're just going to be a better football team because we've added some good, young players and getting Fox back healthy and obviously we drafted Riley. I really feel good about that group and the way that group has progressed and played in our three years going on four now."

Monday, June 04, 2012

Secret Superstar: Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey, DTs, Tennessee Titans

June 1, 2012

Author: Ben Stockwell

For the first time since Bill Clinton’s first term in the Oval Office, the Tennessee Titans had a new head coach. Under Mike Munchak they suffered an infuriatingly inconsistent season, losing to the likes of Jacksonville and Indianapolis in divisional play while running out winners against Baltimore and pushing New Orleans close. Nowhere was that inconsistency epitomized more than on the defensive line where the majority of players struggled to put together all-around seasons and three defensive linemen received their highest individual grades for their pass coverage.

In years past, Jeff Fisher’s heavy line rotation was the hallmark of a quality defensive unit, but in 2011 all it did was bring below-average performer after below-average performer on to the field. There were, however, two notable exceptions; a pair of mid-round rookie defensive tackles who give the Titans hope for the future inside: Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug.

After Fischer’s departure, the Titans found themselves with a problem at defensive tackle. The loss of the immensely talented, but immensely lazy Albert Haynesworth had left a talent void the Titans struggled to fill. Tony Brown had some success, but injuries caught up with him and players like Sen’Derrick Marks have failed to take over and carry the load. When Tennessee’s new defensive coaching staff made the ill-advised decision to move Jason Jones out to defensive end, the team was left with no proven quality inside.

Much like the Carolina Panthers, the Titans entered a 2011 draft in dire need of a defensive tackle, but with a likewise urgent requirement at quarterback and with “franchise” quarterback options available, they had to pass on Nick Fairley (though after his recent arrests that may not be a bad thing). Like the Panthers they too were left looking in the mid rounds and came away with a trio of tackles in the shape of Casey, Klug, and Zach Clayton. Clayton managed only 28 snaps, but, in a slightly more favorable situation than the Panther pairing of Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, the Titanic duo of Klug and Casey reaped immediate rewards for Tennessee’s defensive tackle rotation.

The Perfect Complement

Due to the way in which the Titans’ run their defensive tackle rotation, Casey and Klug didn’t share the field much in their rookie seasons, only 74 snaps. However, they complement each other and give the impression that if they were to be paired they could provide a quality defensive tackle set. Casey is the big-bodied run-stuffer (+12.5 run defense) who, in his rookie season, was as productive in run defense as any defensive tackle not named Brodrick Bunkley or Sione Pouha. Klug, meanwhile, is the upfield penetrator who does just enough against the run while providing the sort of interior pass rush (+5.8 pass rush) that many teams lack.

The duo comfortably outshone the Titans’ other defenders in the same mold; Shaun Smith was solid in run defense but was inconsistent shedding blocks and couldn’t make the same positive impact as Casey. Klug was not only the Titans’ premier interior pass rusher, he was just about their best overall pass rusher. His 24 total pressures and 5.7 Pass Rushing Productivity numbers were topped by only one Titan defensive lineman, a defensive end, Derrick Morgan (28 and 5.9).

In a season where the new-look Titans were on and off of the boil, these rookies–in particular the bigger Casey–were remarkably consistent. While Klug had a handful of down games around mid-season against the AFC North teams, Casey only had one poor game in run defense, coming against Atlanta in Week 11. That “down game” was a -1.2 run defense grade. Most defensive tackles league-wide would love for that to be their worst single game in run defense. Playing more snaps than any other Titan defensive tackle in 2011, Casey faced off with some top-line NFL talent and showed scant regard for the likes of Andy Levitre, Marshal Yanda, Ryan Kalil, and Bobbie Williams. He wasn’t necessarily making the splash plays that his running mate Klug recorded (three sacks to Klug’s six) but the consistency of Casey’s play–35 defensive stops–was astonishing to see from a rookie.

In more of a pass-rushing role, Klug, a former Iowa Hawkeye, was equally impressive and his work on third downs was particularly noteworthy. As an interior pass rusher Klug recorded four third-down sacks, which was more than all but 10 other defensive tackles recorded throughout the season. Three of those came against Alex Mack, Carl Nicks, and Eugene Monroe. Whether center, guard, or tackle, Klug was not afraid to mix it up with the very best in the league to provide the sort of pass rush that the Titans’ simply couldn’t produce from the defensive end position. You have to wonder what Klug might be capable of if the Titans could generate more rush than the combined -36.4 grade their defensive ends mustered last season.

The Sky is the Limit

Now that these two have a season and a combined 1,181 snaps under their belts, the Titans might be more willing to play them at the same time and get their best defense on the field. Sen’Derrick Marks is still around, as is Shaun Smith, but both could be in grave danger of losing not only their slot in the rotation, but also their roster spot to a host of free agent signings and rookie acquisitions.

The law of averages suggest that at least one of Klug and Casey two will suffer second-season blues, but if they can avoid that, the Titans have at their disposal a real weapon with which to attack the balanced offense of new division front-runner Houston.

It is real pressure for a pair of second-year players, but Klug and Casey have the potential to be the cornerstones of the Titans’ defense as they look to pick up those extra couple of wins in 2012 that take them from knocking on the playoff door to kicking it down and joining the party. With the acquisition of pass rush specialist Kamerion Wimbley, Karl Klug might now have the outside threat that allows him to “go off”. If he can hold up under the strain of a higher snap count, he could have the type of second season that saw Geno Atkins thrust himself into the upper echelon of defensive tackles. Similarly Casey’s continued high level of play in run defense is crucial for the Titans to allow fellow second-year players Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy to settle in at linebacker.

The pressure is there to perform and if they do, Klug and Casey will be a double act that offensive coordinators league wide will be fully aware of.

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