Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nate Ebner's muffed-punt-fumble-recovery well-deserved if not heroic

Nate Ebner didn't play high school football, but is in his second season with the Patriots.

By Austin Murphy
November 26, 2013

If you hadn't been one of the heroes, what moments would you most remember from Brady-Manning XIV, I asked New England's Nate Ebner late Monday night. If he hadn't made the play on which the game hinged, if the second-year special teams commando hadn't fallen on the muffed punt that allowed New England to complete the biggest comeback in franchise history, what would've stuck with you?

Ebner disagreed with the premise that he'd done anything special. I could almost see him wincing when I used the h-word. "I just did what my job entailed," said the 24-year-old ex-Ohio State Buckeye. "A ton of guys made plays. That was the real takeaway -- the fight we showed, the way our team never quit."

Wow, a self-effacing, willfully bland, praise-deflecting team-first guy on Bill Belichick's roster -- what were the chances?

Here's the other element Ebner says he'll always remember from last Sunday night in Foxboro: the elements. "That was one of the coldest games I've ever been in."

The wind chill was six degrees, although it felt colder to a special teamer like Ebner, who had to stand there and shiver in his cape because the Pats barely punted in the first half. They kept fumbling instead.

No offense to Ebner, but when he notes that Sunday night was one of the coldest games he's been in, he's not saying that much. We're not talking about a huge sample size here. This is a guy who didn't play college ball until his third year at Ohio State, as a walk-on.

Was he one of those preferred walk-ons that the coaches have their eyes on, ahead of time? No. Ebner told me he made the team in a tryout with a hundred other wannabes. And why were the Buckeye coaches unfamiliar with him? Because he didn't play high school football. Yet I would venture to say that Ebner had more tackles during his time at Hilliard Davidson High, in suburban Columbus, than any other schoolboy in the Buckeye State. It's just that no one was counting them.

Ebner was an international-class rugby player, one of the top young Americans in the game. As a 16-year-old he was selected to play for the USA Rugby Boys U-19 squad that played in the world championships in Dubai. By the time he graduated high school, Ebner had played all over the world.

Once he was an undergrad at Ohio State, however, the international travel wasn't feasible anymore. The collegiate and club-level rugby he was playing was a comedown for him. Looking for a greater challenge, he walked on to the football team. He knew how to put on shoulder pads. After all, he'd played as recently as junior high. "I was all right at tackling, from rugby, but I had no clue about was happening on defense," he says. "Schemes, reading keys -- I was so far behind. One thing I knew I could do, though, was run under kickoffs."

He was so fast -- at six feet, 205 pounds, he ran a 4.48 40 -- and so instinctive at finding the football that the Buckeye coaches had to get him on the field. Ebner became a special teams standout. Going against the grain, as usual, the Patriots left draftniks scratching their heads when they took him in the sixth round two years ago.

But Buckeyes assistant and ex-Patriot Mike Vrabel had given Belichick and his staff the down-low on Ebner, a tough, hard-working, relentless quick study with a big upside. Ebner had a strong camp, and made the club outright. His 17 special teams tackles were second-most on the team last season. He wasn't credited for a tackle against the Broncos, which is strange, because there he is on New England's first punt in overtime, streaking up the middle of the field, beating his blocker, Mike Adams, then taking Wes Welker out at the shins with a swipe of his left arm.

In a game that had "tie" written all over it, the Patriots punted a second time -- Denver also punted twice -- with just over three minutes to play in OT. New England appeared to have the gusting wind at its back, but the left-footed Ryan Allen's punt seemed to stall at its apex. On the replay, the ball hangs in the air, confounding Welker, who at the last instant tried to wave off his teammates, calling out "Peter! Peter!" A lot of teams use the warning "Poison" in that circumstance. The meaning is the same: Head for the hills, here comes the ball, and if it touches you, it's live.

It touched poor Tony Carter, caroming off the turf, glancing off his right hip on the short hop. "I was hoping it wasn't the ball," said Carter afterward, somewhat endearingly -- because, really, what else could it have been? A brown, pebble-grained handbag flung from the stands? Carter must now wear that "muff" around his neck like an albatross, but it was Welker who screwed up, waiting until far too late to make the "Peter" call.

Ebner plays on every special team. On punts, he's Allen's personal protector. After making sure no one leaked past the line of scrimmage to threaten a block, he was free to "cover down" -- his expression for hauling ass up the middle of the field.

Marquice Cole arrived a step ahead of him, pushing Carter backward, and into the path of the bouncing ball, upon which Ebner gratefully pounced, on the 13-yard-line. New England ran two plays, then sent kicker Stephen Gostkowski out to win the game.

"I was in the right place at the right time," concluded the chronically modest Ebner. And he's right: there wasn't anything that special about the recovery. See ball, fall on ball, curl into fetal position around ball. Of much greater interest is the journey that led him to that right place.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Denver Broncos RB Montee Ball Nominated for Rookie of the Week Award

He's only getting started.

By Jon Heath

November 20, 2013

The Denver Broncos have been slowly easing rookie running back Montee Ball into their offense this season. Knowshon Moreno, the team's most experienced runner and best blocker, has been the starter, but Ball has begun to chip away at goal line carries as Moreno's regular relief back.

It makes sense for the team to give Ball goal line carries—the 5'10", 215-pound running back set NCAA records while at Wisconsin, rushing for 77 touchdowns as a Badger.
Over the past three weeks, Ball has received 25 carries, scoring three touchdowns.

On Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, Ball rushed eight times for 25 yards and two scores, adding three receptions for 16 more yards.
If he continues to steal carries—especially in the redzone—from Moreno, his fantasy football status will continue to rise.

For now, considering Ball a risky flex option with the potential to mold into a No. 2 fantasy running back.

Ball's performance in Week 11 got him nominated for the Pepsi Rookie of the Week award on Voting is open until Friday.

Up against three quarterbacks and defensive end David Bass in the voting, Ball has a slim chance of taking home the ROW award this time around. But if he continues to take advantage of the opportunities Denver's coaching staff has given him, we expect to see Ball's stock rise considerably in the second half of the season.

Vote for Montee here:

Ted Ginn Jr. rejuvenating NFL career in Carolina

November 20, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ted Ginn Jr. is rejuvenating his career with the Carolina Panthers.

Ginn, who was an afterthought the last three seasons on offense with the San Francisco 49ers, has emerged as a valuable receiving threat -- as well as a returner -- for the surging Panthers (7-3), who have won six straight games.

Ginn has 24 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning 25-yard TD catch from Cam Newton with 59 seconds left in Carolina's 24-20 win over the New England Patriots on Monday night.

The seven-year NFL veteran has nearly as many receptions this year as he did in his three combined seasons in San Francisco (31). And his three TD receptions this season already stand as a career best.

Ginn said coming to Carolina has been a "blessing" and there's little doubt he has fit in well as Carolina's No. 3 receiver behind starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Newton has been spreading the ball around and six Carolina receivers have at least 15 receptions.

"It's good when everyone is eating," Ginn said with a laugh.

He didn't eat much last year.

Ginn caught two passes for 1 yard in 2012 for the 49ers, used primarily as a returner by coach Jim Harbaugh.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said Ginn arrived in Charlotte ready to prove he could do more than just field punts and kickoffs.

"He was kind of that stigma special teams All-American," Newton said. He comes here very hungry trying to learn from Steve Smith and those guys and they're all feeding off each other."

Coach Ron Rivera has raved about Ginn's speed, saying he's a player who can "blow the top off the defense."

Ginn's other two TD receptions this season went for 40 and 47 yards after he got behind the defenders.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said he was shocked when Ginn told him before the season how little he'd been used in the passing game in San Francisco.

"Man, I couldn't believe it," said Munnerlyn, who faces Ginn daily in practice. "I feel like he's the complete package. He can run by you. He can run great routes. And he can catch the ball. It's scary to go against a guy like that who is so fast."

On Sunday Ginn will make his return to Miami to face the Dolphins, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2007 and traded him away three years later.
It's his second homecoming game in three weeks.

He avoided questions about his return to San Francisco, where there were differing opinions on how he should be used on offense. As for the Dolphins, Ginn said there are "no hard feelings."

"It was for the betterment of both situations," Ginn said of his departure from South Florida. "I had my time there and enjoyed it and it started me off."

Now he's trying to start over.

Ginn signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Panthers, so he's playing for a future contract.

He'd like to remain in Carolina where he's found a role on offense he didn't have in San Francisco and the quarterback stability he lacked in Miami.

"Oh yeah, it is a big difference," Ginn said of playing with Newton. "Any time you know what you're dealing with at quarterback. (In Miami) you might have a guy come in off the street and be the starter for the week. But they have moved past it and it's over with and done. Hey, I'm with the Carolina Panthers and having a good time."

And playing well.

"He's been in the league seven years, but it seems like his career is just starting to take off," Munnerlyn said.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Katie Smith joins Liberty as assistant

November 19, 2013

By Mechelle Voepel

Katie Smith retired from playing in September, but she knows her mind could pull a few tricks on her next spring as she watches the New York Liberty prepare for the 2014 season.

"I don't have the itch to play now, but I might think, 'Maybe I can still do it,'" Smith said, chuckling. "In terms of just working out, staying in shape, my routine is still kind of the same. But the truth is, it's exciting to move on and now be able to jump in with both feet to something else."

Her new occupation is being an assistant coach for Bill Laimbeer with the Liberty. Smith will join the staff as another former WNBA standout, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, moves on to other pursuits.

Smith finished a 15-year stay in the WNBA with career averages of 13.4 points and 2.9 rebounds, and she was also one of the league's best and most versatile defenders. Smith has long been like a coach on the floor, having played until age 39. And she has worked in an administrative grad-assistant capacity for her alma mater, Ohio State.

"But I can't say I've really coached; this is definitely my first real go at that," said Smith, who averaged 6.1 points and 1.9 rebounds this past season. "There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes. Of course, I've watched it and been aware of it. But to be the ones to hash it out, why we're doing stuff -- that will be a different dynamic for me.

"Film-watching, doing the scout and then presenting it in a way that people can understand it. And now I'll see the management side of the game, too: how to put the pieces together in running an organization."

Smith, who finished an All-American college career with the Buckeyes in 1996, started as a pro in the short-lived ABL in Columbus, Ohio. She won two titles there playing for coach Brian Agler.

In the WNBA, Smith spent six-plus years in Minnesota before a famously lopsided trade during the 2005 season, pulled off by Laimbeer, brought her to Detroit. There she won two WNBA championships. The Shock relocated to Tulsa, but Smith didn't. She ended her WNBA career playing for Washington, Seattle and New York. She also won three Olympic gold medals with the United States.

"Over the years as a player, in your own mind, you think, 'How would I do things?'" Smith said of coaching. "I'd think, 'This is what I would pull from what I've seen Bill do, and this is what I would pull from Brian.' Things like that. But I'm looking forward to getting a crash course in actually doing it all."

The Liberty finished 11-23 and missed the playoffs in Laimbeer's first season back in the WNBA after coaching in the NBA. So New York will get a lottery pick in April's draft.

Katie Smith looks forward to a crash course in coaching with her former team.

The date of the lottery has not yet been announced. The league and the players' union are still negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, for which the players' primary goal is expanding rosters to 12. The players also want to see a workable injured-reserve system that can protect players who are hurt, but that doesn't severely limit teams from managing rosters to compete more effectively.

Meanwhile, WNBA fans are waiting to hear who will take over as head coach in Atlanta and Tulsa. The other opening created after this season -- at Phoenix -- was filled last week as the Mercury hired Sandy Brondello.

Brondello, 45, is a former WNBA player from Australia who got into the league in 1998 and, like Smith, competed in multiple Olympics. Brondello is a little older but part of the same generation of players as Smith.

Smith thinks those players who essentially founded the WNBA are still going to be important to the league for the next several years.

"I think we need to stay visible and involved, and that could be in a variety of ways," she said. "It could be at the high school or university level, talking about our experiences and what the game has done for us.

"We have to continue to give publicity to women's sports and say how that's impacted our lives. We need to still stay vigilant about making sure people have these opportunities."

Smith is finishing her master's degree at Ohio State and will be a registered dietician. She'll also do some scouting of the college game in preparation for the draft. She's eager to see the Liberty take steps forward next season, when the team will be back in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

The Liberty have played the last three seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as the Garden underwent extensive renovation during the summer months. Smith competed in the Garden as an opposing player, and she knows how loud the place can get when the fans are engaged.

"If we do our part on the floor next year, it's going to be a great atmosphere," Smith said. "I thought the fans did well going to Newark, with how they supported us. But the energy of coming into the city, it's just different. I'm looking forward to it."

She's also eager to work with Laimbeer, whom she credited with giving her playing career a needed jump-start in 2005 when she came to Detroit.

"Ultimately, he's the one who's calling the shots," Smith said. "But from my playing experience, what's good is you can have a clear, comfortable dialogue with him. Whether you agree or disagree, you can tell him, and he'll make the decision.

"I watched how he managed people and situations. It will be a good learning experience now working with him."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Zastudil shares punter of the week honors

November, 12, 2013

By Josh Weinfuss |

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s hard to compete with 50,000 career yards, but Arizona Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil gave it his best shot Sunday against the Houston Texans.

While Texans punter Shane Lechler was across the field booming kicks, averaging almost 59 yards per punt and soaring past the 50,000-yard mark for his career, Zastudil was punting with the precision of a heart surgeon. He had two punts downed at the 1-yard-line.

And for that, Zastudil and Lechler were named co-punters of the week by ESPN Stats & Information.

Lechler, in his 14th season, is the all-time leader in punting average with 47.6 yards per kick but has been even better this year, averaging 48.7 yards per kick. Even Zastudil had to salute Lechler for his seven-punt day.

But as much respect as Lechler received this week for surpassing 50,000 yards, Zastudil was equally praised.

Downing one punt at the 1-yard-line is hard enough. But doing it twice? On Monday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians compared it to hitting a hole-in-one. A punter has downed the ball at the 1 just three times in the past five seasons. Zastudil is responsible for two of them.

When ESPN Stats & Information debated between Lechler and Zastudil this week, the input fromNew York Giants punter Steve Weatherford swayed the decision to split the honor. Weatherford, via Twitter, threw his support behind Zastudil because two punts inside the 1 “will impact the game greater.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Greatness Of Yanda's Grit

Marshal Yanda played through a partially torn labrum during last year's playoff run.

November 10, 2013

By Patrick Gleason Assistant Director Of Public Relations

On a May afternoon following the 2007 NFL Draft, several Baltimore scouts were meeting in the office of Joe Douglas, who at the time, was in charge of cross-checking all offensive line prospects the Ravens deemed draftable.

Without notice, then-director of college scouting Eric DeCosta walked into the room and made a silent, yet attention-striking statement.

Picking up a Dry Erase marker, DeCosta quickly scribbled something on Douglas’ whiteboard. Never uttering a single word, he then turned around and exited the office – leaving behind a message that had his scouts beaming.


DeCosta’s declaration came fresh off his return from the Ravens’ first offseason rookie minicamp. In practice that day, a young Marshal Yanda had made an immediate impression – one that began validating the Ravens’ decision to utilize a third-round pick on the promising Iowa Hawkeye.

Receiving high grades from every Ravens scout who evaluated him for months, Yanda exhibited outstanding intelligence, an exceptional work ethic, a desire to excel, and most importantly, a level of toughness that went beyond extremes.

Recalling Baltimore’s initial evaluation of Yanda, Douglas states: “We knew we could win with this guy on our offensive line.”


Backtrack to Yanda’s childhood – a time when he actually quit playing football. The reason behind it? Well, he was actually too tough.

Growing up on an Iowa farm in the rural town of Anamosa, Yanda had long desired to play football. “It’s just what I always wanted to do,” he says.

Forced to join a flag football team due to the long wait list of a nearby Pop Warner tackle league, Yanda first stepped on the gridiron as an anxious and aggressive sixth grader. Unfortunately for him – yet luckily for his peers – things didn’t work out so well.

“I played my first two games of flag football, and then I quit,” Yanda affirms. “All they would let you do was rip the flags off, but I wanted to hit somebody. I didn’t want that flag football crap; I wanted to tackle. From a very young age, I just loved being physical and knocking guys down.”

Though he had to wait an entire year before joining the seventh grade tackle league, Yanda finally received the opportunity to assert himself on the football field. Immediately, he began doing so in a manner that mirrored his family’s grind-it-out farming lifestyle.

“With me growing up on a farm, we always had to work for something, and we never had it easy,” shares Yanda, who says his family milked cows twice a day – first at 4 a.m., then at 4 p.m. – and never took any type of vacation.

“Work always came first. That was all we knew, and we just thought that’s how life was. But, seeing how hard my parents worked and what they instilled in me – that’s where I developed this mentality. With football, I realized that you can be a great player when you have ability, but you can go really far if you get every inch out of your body and work hard daily. That’s the mentality I have every day.”

It was that intrinsic attitude that developed Yanda’s unique work ethic and forged his rare toughness. Additionally, it was that approach that fueled his appetite for success and eventually propelled him to NFL heights.


Fast-forward to the summer of 2012. Coming off a season in which he earned his first Pro Bowl honor, Yanda was quickly becoming a household name. A key ingredient in the Ravens’ recipe for success, he was someone Baltimore fans adored, and opposing defenses dreaded.

In the midst of a great training camp, Yanda continuously displayed a style of leadership defined by strength, tenacity and dedication. Without question, his influence blended perfectly into a veteran-laden squad with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. In fact, during a speech he gave to the team following a grueling practice, Yanda implored his teammates to “Embrace the Grind.” Naturally, his rousing instruction yielded what eventually became a 2012 Baltimore battle cry.

As the season progressed – and the Ravens experienced many emotional highs and lows – Yanda’s grit would be tested mightily.

During one particular game, Yanda suffered a painful shoulder injury. After fighting through the discomfort for several weeks – never missing a practice or a game – Yanda eventually learned that he had sustained a partially torn labrum. Soon after, he was forced to make a difficult choice.

“I had played with it for a while and reached a point where I had two options,” he recalls. “I could either take it day-by-day and continue to gut it out, or I could get surgery and be out for the remainder of the season.

“I had already done it for a while, so I figured I’d just keep on fighting. The NFL is an everyday struggle and a constant fight. I just decided to see how long I could keep going.”

Incredibly, Yanda continued to battle for the Ravens, gritting through not only the shoulder pain, but also a nasty ankle sprain that hampered him.

“It was tough last year,” he remembers. “The off days were miserable, and I really didn’t want to do much. But even in high school, I remember hearing: ‘There are ouchies, and there are injuries.’ At the NFL level, sometimes you just have to fight through it.”

Though he’d miss Week 15’s contest against Denver while resting his ankle, Yanda was determined to return the following Sunday versus the New York Giants. With playoff hopes and an AFC North title on the line, the Ravens faced a must-win situation.

“I couldn’t miss that one,” Yanda reveals, noting that he made a decision to play, but only because he felt it’d be at a high level. “I wasn’t just going to power through and not play well. I would never want to hurt the team. Only a selfish person would do that. If I ever got to the point where I was hurting the team, well heck no, I was going to let somebody else get in there and play well.”

Aided by a valiant performance from Yanda, Baltimore beat New York to secure the division title and a postseason berth. Though he understood just how battered his body was, Yanda took solace in knowing that he could miss the no-implication, regular season finale at Cincinnati. Certainly, a little rest would significantly help him prepare for the playoffs.

“After the Giants game, I was in bad shape. But we were going to be in the playoffs. So considering we had made it that far, why couldn’t I just keep grinding it out?”
What happened next is well documented. Producing one of the most incredible postseasons in NFL history, the Ravens went on an astounding four-game winning streak – capping it off with their Super Bowl XLVII title.

Amazingly, Yanda didn’t miss a single play during Baltimore’s championship charge, playing in all 282 snaps. And not only did he persevere through the pain, but as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell would later note: “Marshal also played at an exceptionally high level.”

“In the end, oh my gosh, it was all worth it – 150 percent,” Yanda affirms. “If I would have missed out on last year, that would have killed me. That was part of the journey. I’m just happy we experienced everything we did and that I was able to grit through it all.”

So what kept Yanda mentally strong in the face of last season’s physical pain? What was it that fueled his Herculean ability to keep pushing forward?

“A Super Bowl is a great goal, but it can’t be why you play this game. It has to be for your love of the game and for the guy lined up next to you. In the end, it’s about the competitiveness, the work you put in, and because you love it.”

As if further proof was needed, it’s clear that DeCosta’s initial assessment in 2007 was spot on. Because certainly…


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka keeps same approach on game-ending kicks

Seattle kicker credits mindset, core training for torrid start to season.

Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka leaves the field victorious after the winning field goal in overtime to beat Tampa Bay on Sunday.

By Bob Condotta
November 6, 2013

RENTON – Reporters who approached Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka after his 27-yard overtime field goal to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday were greeted with a sympathetic smile.

Sorry, he had no great story to tell. For Hauschka, it was just another kick.

“It really is,’’ he said. “It’s not that exciting. It’s a big one because it won the game. But for me it was just the same thing (as any other kick). It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to go through, right?’’

Indeed, that is an essential mindset of the position, that the kick in overtime to win a game that might ultimately decide whether the Seahawks get home-field advantage through the playoffs is the same as the one in practice Wednesday.

And, no doubt, a 27-yarder is about as automatic as it gets in the NFL — kickers have made 122 of 123 attempts in the 20- to 29-yard range this season.

Still, Hauschka remembers his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, when treating a game-winner the same as a practice attempt wasn’t possible.

“Ryan Longwell told me that all the kicks count the same,’’ Hauschka recalled of the former veteran who kicked in the NFL from 1997 to 2012. “I didn’t really understand it because most people think that that kick at the end of the game is way more important than the kick at the beginning of the game.

“But as a kicker you can’t think like that. They are all the same. They all count the same. And you’ve got to treat each kick like it’s another kick. It’s just been a mental thing realizing that. But it clicks with me now, and it’s been really helpful.’’

That realization came as Hauschka learned some hard truths about the business early in his career. He was cut by the Ravens late in the 2009 season after going 9 of 13, with two of the misses playing decisive roles in the outcome of games.

He also had a brief stint with Denver in 2010 before landing in Seattle in 2011.

But everything has come together for the 28-year-old Hauschka with the Seahawks. In his third season as Seattle’s kicker, he’s off to one of the best starts in the NFL.

He has made 18 field goals, tied for fourth in the NFL, including another overtime winner, at Houston.
He has missed only one, a kick that was blocked at Indianapolis. And his percentage of 94.7 is third-best among kickers who rank in the top 20 in made field goals.

“He’s having a great season,’’ Carroll said. “And we’ve recognized the whole mechanism from (snapper) Clint Gresham to (holder) Jon Ryan to Steven. They’re doing a great job for us and they’re just really consistent and performing at a tremendous level. Steven has hit everything, but the one that they knocked down, so he’s had a great first half of this season.’’

Hauschka credits not only a maturing mindset but also some changes in his offseason routine for his current success.

If there was a knock on Hauschka his first two years as Seattle’s kicker, it was his lack of success on longer attempts. He was 3 of 8 from 50-and-beyond the last two seasons while going 46 of 49 inside 50 yards.

To address that, and improve his overall consistency, Hauschka altered his conditioning routine to strengthen the core of his body.

“I just strengthened some muscles in particular that kept shutting down on me and were weak last year,’’ he said. “I get a lot of power from my core. Just like a baseball player, there is a lot of rotation in my swing, so the stronger I can be through there, the more powerful I can be throughout the game and throughout the entire season.’’

It appears to have worked. Hauschka made his only 50-plus attempt this year at Arizona, a 51-yarder, but also hit three from beyond 50 in an exhibition game against Denver and just missed a 61-yarder at San Diego that glanced off the crossbar.

He also said he started his offseason kicking program in March, a little earlier than past years, to further refine his kicking stroke.

“I started with a good, solid, natural stroke back in March and just kind of continued that all the way through,’’ he said. “In years past, I’ve felt maybe I had to change some part of my motion in camp, but this year it was smooth sailing all the way through.’’

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


By Bill Livingston, The Plain Dealer

November 3, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The missing man not only showed up Saturday, but Jeff Heuerman also jumped over one tackler, rocked another when he landed, and made you wonder how, exactly, Purdue lost track of a 6-6, 252-pound guy with a trackman’s instincts and a bronco-buster’s appetite for contact.

Heuerman caught five passes for more yards (116) than any Ohio State tight end in more than a generation. The last previous time an Ohio State tight end had a 100-yard game was in 1996, when Rickey Dudley, a former Brown, caught 104 yards worth of passes in the Citrus Bowl against Tennessee.

Thirty years ago, tight end John Frank recorded 130 yards against Michigan.

Heuerman’s game was enough to compete as a spectacle with the fall foliage outside Ross-Ade Stadium and to shame both the beleaguered Purdue defense and the Ohio State coaches who had mislaid such a weapon.

It could be argued, however, that the missing man could have been anyone wearing a black helmet for Purdue on defense. If the helmets were supposed to make the Boilermakers look sinister, with the connotation of black-hatted villains and all that, they failed as dismally as everything else the Boilermakers tried. Ohio State beat Purdue like the home team's band beat the world's biggest drum, 56-0.

Tight end is a position that has been neglected for years at OSU. The drought encompassed such players as Ben Hartsock, who, after Michael Jenkins caught the 37-yard "Holy Buckeye" touchdown pass from Craig Krenzel to Michael Jenkins on fourth-and-1 against Purdue during the national championship season of 2002, blurted out: "You mean that was fourth down?"

And it included Ryan Hamby, who bobbled not once, but twice, the short pass in the end zone, which, until Hamby finally dropped it, might have beaten national champion Texas in 2005.

And it included five years of broken game-plan promises to Jake Stoneburner.

There was the occasional flash, such as when Jake Ballard went up among a Nike bad-taste catalogue of bizarrely clad Oregon Ducks and hauled down Terrelle Pryor's third-and-13, "here's-hoping" lob for a 24-yard gain in one of the biggest plays in the 2010 Rose Bowl victory. But Ballard's catch left you wondering what might have been at Ohio State with more involvement of the big, rangy target a tight end presents.

Perhaps that was because Ohio State under Jim Tressel used slot receivers like St. Ignatius' Anthony Gonzalez and Toledo's Dane Sanzenbacher to beat linebackers over the middle.

Perhaps it was because Pryor's floater to Ballard was an anomaly. Customarily, he threw infield practice at the ankles of big receivers on shallow crosses.

"They play too high and forget about the tight end," assessed quarterback Braxton Miller, who burned Purdue for the first of his four touchdown passes with a 40-yard throw to Heuerman, who was as open as Purdue's defense was confused.

One of Heuerman's catches was for no gain. Otherwise, the next-shortest one he caught, for 18 yards on third-and-eight in the second quarter, caused the most commotion. The leaping Heuerman's knee registered a knockdown of cornerback Antoine Lewis as he closed for the tackle.

"I'm going to tell him to cut that out. He's too big," said Miller.

"Coach Mick (strength coach Mickey Marotti) told me I looked athletic," said Heuerman, smiling. "I knew we had to get that third down. I wasn't quite aware of where we were at."

Actually, he had left the first-down sticks in the rear-view mirror long before he went all Peyton Hillis – up, up and away.

"A lot of guys have been coming after my legs so I just gave it a little jump, trying to get a few extra yards," Heuerman said.

Coach Urban Meyer said the game was due to Heuerman's improvement, while being pushed for playing time by backup Nick Vannett, who also caught a Miller touchdown pass.

"When you play with extended receivers, more than one, more than two, the defense dictates where the ball goes," said Meyer. "Push the fast rewind button one year ago against the same team (a 29-22 comeback victory by OSU in overtime). Who are you going to throw the ball to? Now you got five, six targets you actually want to see with the ball in their hands, and they've earned that right."

Heuerman gave due consideration to this upbeat assessment of personal improvement, then declined to go there.

"I don't think its me as much as the other guys. You see Devin Smith running around and me in the flat," he said, mentioning one of the Buckeyes fastest flyers outside freshman Dontre Wilson. "Who are you going to cover?"

Hint: Cover the tight end, too.You'll regret it if you don't.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Ron Rivera says Ted Ginn ‘has been very special’ for Panthers


October 30, 2013

While with the San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver Ted Ginn found his receiving duties slip away as he became primarily a returner. As a free agent this offseason, he signed with the Carolina Panthers and has become one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite targets. Ginn has caught 20 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns.

The touchdown mark ties a career high and his 17.9 yards per reception would be a career high. It is also 4.6 yards more than his career average. Needless to say, Ginn has been a great player for the Panthers.

“We had no idea Ted Ginn was going to be the type of player he has been,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said, via the Charlotte Observer. “We knew he had potential and we knew he had ability. But he’s been very special for us.”

Ginn has helped the Panthers stretch defenses and score quickly.

“We want to get it into the end zone as fast as we can,” Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “But we’ll take it any which way we can.”

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