Friday, August 30, 2013

Panthers' Ted Ginn Jr. shines early in preseason finale against Steelers

August 30, 2013


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ted Ginn Jr. is proving coach Ron Rivera is right - he can still blow the top off a defense.

The 28-year-old Ginn is earning himself a home in Carolina, catching five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns to lift the Panthers to a 25-10 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

In a game devoid of star power, Derek Anderson completed 10 of 15 passes for 220 yards, including TD strikes of 87 and 35 yards to Ginn, who is looking to re-establish himself in the league after being run out of Miami and San Francisco.

"It was great just going out and finishing the preseason with a bang," said Ginn, whose 74-yard punt return sparked Carolina's 34-27 win over Baltimore last week.
"I'm happy I was able to show my team what I have."

Only a handful of starters played as both coaches took a long look at players further down the depth chart.

Rookie quarterback Landry Jones started and played the entire game for the Steelers, completing 16 of 35 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. After throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Paulson on Pittsburgh's opening drive, Jones couldn't get the Steelers back in the end zone on their next 13 possessions.

Jones admitted he made "some really bad decisions."

"It was just errant throws - it happens," Jones said.

The Steelers drafted Jones in the fourth round giving them another option at quarterback for the often-injured Roethlisberger.

The reviews were mixed.

He did well avoiding the pass rush he seemed to struggle as the game progressed throwing three second-half interceptions, including one in the red zone. His best play came in the second quarter when he escaped a pass rush and threaded the needle by hitting Derek Moye on the run with a 32-yard completion.

"I just wanted to go out there and play to the best of my abilities, and obviously, I didn't do that tonight," Jones said. "There's a lot of football (game film) out there to watch, and I've got all day tomorrow to get it done."

The Steelers' starting offensive line played for two series, but all of their primary skill players were given the night off, including Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman and Antonio Brown.

The Panthers rested almost their entire starting offense, as well, including Cam Newton. The only big play Newton made all night was wearing a bold pair of neon-green sneakers that stood out like a beacon on Carolina's sidelines.

Rivera rested Newton and company despite the fact Carolina's first-team offense had only scored one offensive touchdown in the preseason.

Earlier in the week Rivera scoffed at the idea the Panthers offense had "struggled" in the preseason, instead saying he liked the way the team was moving the ball "but we just need to put the ball in the end zone."

Anderson did that twice in the first half, including finding Ginn on a seam route for a 35-yard touchdown pass on the game's opening drive. Ginn then raced by Pittsburgh's DaMon Cromartie-Smith and Curtis Brown for an 87-yard touchdown catch.

"I came out and saw the safety take a bad angle right away and Ted's so fast that I just gave him a chance," Anderson said. "I don't think you can actually overthrow him."

After placing Jonathan Stewart on the physically unable to perform list earlier this week, the Panthers went into the game looking for a potential backup for DeAngelo Williams.

Tauren Poole got the start at running back and ran for 32 yards on 10 carries, while Armond Smith had 43 yards on 17 carries.

Rivera was pleased with his team's overall play, including the defense which had three turnovers.

The Panthers finished the preseason with 13 takeaways in four games.

"The thing that showed is we have some good young backups," Rivera said. "We got an opportunity to see those guys play today and they played well against a very physical, very tough Pittsburgh Steelers team."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was a little more critical of his reserves.

"Hopefully, we can separate the guys who don't belong and we can correct that over the next 48 hours," Tomlin said in advance of NFL's looming roster cuts to 53 players on Saturday.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The No. 1 Northeast Ohio high school football player over past 50 years is ... Euclid RB Robert Smith as PD50 series concludes

By Branson Wright, The Plain Dealer

August 23, 2013

EUCLID, Ohio - Robert Smith on a recent Saturday morning took a stroll inside the football stadium that produced so many personal memories and so much joy for the Euclid fans who packed the place to watch him play.

What they saw from 1987-89 was the No. 1-ranked high school football player in The Plain Dealer's seven-county coverage area over the past 50 years, as decided this summer by a panel formed by The PD. Smith's combination of vision and warp speed produced some of the most memorable long runs in Northeast Ohio high school history. See bios of the Top 10 here.

"He's the greatest running back I've ever seen or experienced," said Smith's former Euclid coach, Tom Banc. "He had so many big long runs in pro football, and imagine what it was like in high school. We had a rule – any time Robert got into the secondary, no one was allowed to block, for fear of a stupid penalty that would call the play back. Once he got into the secondary, we knew no one would be able to catch him."

Smith gave fans a preview of what was to come as a sophomore in his first varsity game when he scored on a 50-yard run. In his second varsity game, he rushed 10 times for 171 yards and touchdown runs of 56 and 82 yards. Smith opened his senior year with four long touchdown runs the first four times he touched the ball. Fans also remember the long touchdown run in a game against Eastlake North in which Smith changed direction five times.

Smith, who also ran track, made these sprints on the field his trademark.

He reached a speed few could imagine.

"I started that long run right there," said Smith, peering at the field while recalling one of countless signature plays. "Long runs are exciting. It gives you a rush. I describe it like leaning back in a chair and you almost fall and then there's that burst of adrenalin. It's like that in a good way."

It's easy to see why former Euclid running back Robert Smith has been voted the No. 1 area high school football player over the past 50 years by a Plain Dealer panel -- two Mr. Football awards, career totals of 5,318 yards and 71 touchdowns and taking the Panthers to their first three playoff appearances while compiling a 29-5 record.

Smith, now a college football analyst for ESPN, compares the joy of speed to a character in the movie "Chariots of Fire."

"Eric Liddell was running for the British team and he kind of throws his head back, and you can see him and sense that joy," Smith said. "That's what those runs felt like. In those few seconds, it's pretty incredible."

So was Smith's prep career, which produced consecutive Mr. Football awards, Ohio's top individual honor. Smith, then 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, ran for 2,042 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior campaign, and 5,318 yards and 71 touchdowns for his career. He led the Panthers to a 29-5 record, three conference titles and its first three playoff appearances.

But one of the greatest running backs in national high school history played his last game at Euclid out of position -- by design. After getting blown out on national television earlier that season by St. Ignatius, Banc moved Smith to quarterback in the regional final against the Wildcats.

"That was the first and last time he played quarterback," Banc said. "We ran the option. We wanted the ball in his hands every play. We were able to run the ball, and he did well considering it was the biggest game of his high school career."

And considered by many as one of the greatest.

"It was my last high school game, and certainly a memorable one," said Smith, who also saw time in the secondary.

Smith ignited the game early behind a spectacular 67-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 9-0 Euclid lead. The inspired Panthers took control with a 30-19 lead with 10 minutes left. St. Ignatius rallied and pulled out a 31-30 victory and went on to win its second state title.

Four of Smith's five high school losses came against St. Ignatius.

"And my high school career was all over," Smith said. "I have wonderful memories and lifelong friends from that time in my life. It was a special time."

Smith continued his career at Ohio State, breaking Archie Griffin's freshman rushing record with 1,126 yards. Until last season, he was the Minnesota Vikings' all-time leading rusher. Smith has won numerous awards from high school to the NFL (see his college and pro stats here). He was named an All-American as a Euclid senior, and won two national high school football player of the year awards. Smith was a two-time Pro Bowl player and holds the all-time NFL record for average yards per touchdown run at 27.2.

But, Smith said, those accomplishments barely compare to being considered No. 1 among some of the best high school football players in the rich history of this area.

"There's a lot of awards and things that happen throughout your life," he said, "but to be acknowledged in such a great area, and quite frankly at home, is something you can't replace."

With Yanda back, Ravens look better on offense

By Darin Gantt

August 22, 2013

All preseason, the worry with the Ravens has been that they lack complementary wide receivers or healthy tight ends.

Now that they have their offensive line back, it might not matter nearly as much.

With Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda back at right guard, the Ravens’ offensive line just mashed the Panthers front seven (which isn’t bad) for an impressive touchdown drive.

Quarterback Joe Flacco was sharp running the no-huddle, but the way they leaned forward and ran with Ray Rice was significant. With a defense on its heels , Flacco stood back and moved it around to guys such as wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, and those replacement targets looked more than sufficient.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith signs with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL

Former Ohio State and Glenville quarterback Troy Smith is restarting his football career with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL.

By Doug Lesmerises, The Plain Dealer

August 14, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - From Glenville High School to Ohio State to the Heisman Trophy to the NFL Draft to the Baltimore Ravens to the San Francisco 49ers to the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL to the Pittsburgh Steelers to an internship at Ohio State.

Troy Smith's football career has taken him a lot of places. And now it's taking him to Canada.

The Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League announced on Wednesday night that they had signed Smith to a two-year contract.

"We welcome Troy to the Alouettes. We've been in discussions together for well over three months and have been patiently waiting for Troy to finish his commitments at Ohio State,” Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp said in a statement released by the team. “We'll have to fast track Troy in order to get him over the learning curve of the CFL and caught up to speed over the next several weeks. He's here to learn and grasp the game for future competition."

Smith had been around Ohio State for about a year, working last fall with the gameday operations crew, throwing to Ohio State receivers at their Pro Day in March.

“I totally have accepted the next stage of my life,” Smith said then, while making it clear he would still love to get a call from the Browns.

He was open to opportunity and staying in shape by throwing with the younger Buckeyes.

“You’ve got no choice but to look young and spry right with them,” Smith said then.

He's spry enough for the Alouettes. The CFL is in the middle of its season. Montreal is 2-4 with 12 more games in to play in a schedule that runs through Nov. 1.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stock Rising After Preseason Game No.1: Running Back Rex Burkhead

Bengals running back Rex Burkhead had the chance to get some action late in the Thursday night preseason opener against the Falcons and took advantage of his opportunities.

By Anthony Cosenza

August 9, 2013

Coming into the 2013 season, all of the attention and fanfare, from a Bengals perspective, was placed on running back Giovani Bernard. It's not as if that sentiment isn't understandable, given that he was the first back taken in this year's draft and is expected to give the Bengals a nice punch in the running game with his shiftiness and speed.

The Bengals drafted another running back this year in sixth rounder, Rex Burkhead. The former Nebraska Cornhusker received some attention as well, though most of that centered around his philanthropic efforts with a youngster battling cancer in Jack Hoffman. Even though Burkhead has done some awesome things in that family's life, he was also a productive college player.

When the Bengals allowed Brian Leonard to leave in free agency this offseason and drafted Burkhead, it seemed as if there would be a smooth transition. And, even when Burkhead was doing the right things in Training Camp this year, he just wasn't focused on because of Bernard's play. He received his chance in the latter part of Thursday night's beatdown of the Falcons and made the most of it.

On offense, Burkhead led the running backs in both yardage and yards per carry.
Though backup quarterback Josh Johnson was the overall leading rusher, Burkhead performed well and had Jon Gruden gushing in the announcing booth about his hard running style. On nine carries, Burkhead churned out 52 yards to the tune of almost six yards a carry. His long gain of the day was 15 yards and that wasn't his only nice run of the day.

What impressed me was the quickness that Burkhead showed when hitting a hole.
Though he's a slasher and can be a north-south runner, he does have some elusiveness to him and doesn't shy away from contact when finishing a run. The one thing that I wished that I saw more of from him was his pass catching ability. If he truly wants to be the Leonard replacement, he'll need to flash that ability at some point.

Beyond that, Burkhead assisted on special teams. He recorded a tackle on a punt and was a staple in the coverage unit on Thursday. All in all, it was a solid day for the rookie back and he made some good headway towards becoming one of the backs on the final roster.

Ravens agree to terms with tight end Dallas Clark

Veteran tight end could fit into Ravens' plans

By Aaron Wilson The Baltimore Sun

August 11, 2013

The Ravens have agreed to terms with veteran tight end Dallas Clark, coach John Harbaugh said after practice today. Clark will take a physical Monday.

"Dallas Clark is on his way to Baltimore right now," Harbaugh said.

A former Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl selection, Clark, 34, has strong connections to the Ravens through his relationship with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Caldwell coached him in Indianapolis where Clark was one of quarterback Peyton Manning's favorite targets.

Clark should provide a veteran, sure-handed presence for the Ravens' injury-riddled tight end position following a season-ending fractured and dislocated hip for starter Dennis Pitta and a slightly torn hamstring that has sidelined Ed Dickson.

Although the Ravens have veteran Visanthe Shiancoe under contract, Clark is coming off a strong season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where the 6-foot-3, 252-pounder caught 47 passes for 435 yards and five touchdowns. Shiancoe is a former Minnesota Vikings and Morgan State star who didn't catch a pass last season during an injury-plagued year with the New England Patriots.

For his career, Clark has 474 receptions for 5,322 yards and 50 touchdowns for an average of 11.2 yards per reception. He won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts.

During the 2009 NFL season, Clark caught a career-high 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Clark is a 2003 Colts first-round draft pick from Iowa who's represented by Cleveland-based agent Neil Cornrich, who has long-standing relationships with the Ravens organization. Cornrich also represents Ravens Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda, who signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract extension three years ago that included $10 million in guaranteed money.

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