Thursday, December 31, 2015

Right Guard Marshal Yanda Wins Team MVP

December 30, 2015
By Garrett Downing

Marshal Yanda has arguably been the Ravens’ best overall player for the last few seasons.

And on Wednesday he received much-deserving recognition as the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player for the 2015 season.

The award is voted on by the local media, and this is the first year the veteran offensive lineman has received it.

“It’s a good honor, that’s for sure,” Yanda said. “We all want to be great at our jobs, and it’s great to be recognized. Obviously you understand that you don’t get there alone. Obviously football is the ultimate team sport, and I just feel like it’s all of us together as a group out there wanting to be great.”

Yanda, 31, has clearly established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. His five Pro Bowl selections put him in an exclusive group along with other franchise greats like Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

His selection as team MVP comes in a year where his durability is particularly impressive. Yanda has missed just two games the last seven years, and he hardly missed a snap in a season where the Ravens finished with 20 players on injured reserve.

“I’ve had some luck involved with that, and I’ve also played through a lot of stuff too,” Yanda said. “You’re going to get hurt no matter what in this business, so it’s just a matter of having to play through injuries because your team needs you. You just owe it to the guy next to you.”

The other finalists for the award included wide receiver Kamar Aiken, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and punter Sam Koch.

In addition to the vote for Yanda as MVP, cornerback Jimmy Smith was selected as the team’s Media Good Guy. This award is given to a player who makes himself readily available to media members and also provides quality material or information.

Smith has been one of the go-to veteran players for quotes throughout the season, and his wit often makes for entertaining podium sessions or group interviews.

Ferentz Wins Bobby Dodd Trophy

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz has been named the recipient of the 2015 Dodd Trophy. The announcement was made Wednesday by the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

Presented annually by the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, The Dodd Trophy, college football’s most coveted coaching award, honors the head football coach whose program embodies the award’s three pillars of scholarship, leadership and integrity, while also having success on the playing field throughout the season.

“It is an honor to be recognized with the Dodd Trophy, knowing what this award represents in college football on a national level,” said Ferentz. “I appreciate the recognition for the hard work of our entire coaching staff and every member of our football program and appreciate the acknowledgment of our accomplishments. I am honored to share this recognition with our staff, our players and our great fans and I am grateful to the University of Iowa for providing the necessary support for our success.”

“On behalf of the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation, we congratulate Coach Kirk Ferentz,” said Jim Terry, chairman of the Dodd Foundation. “His success on and off the field this season made our decision an easy one. He represents the pinnacle of coaching achievement and loyalty and has built a program that is admired by many throughout the country. His leadership has prepared a community of young men to be leaders in the world, ensuring that Coach Dodd’s legacy will continue for generations to come.”

Ferentz has also been recognized as the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (FWAA), the Woody Hayes Coach of the Year, presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Region 3 Coach of the Year.

Ferentz was named both the Dave McClain and Hayes-Schembechler Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year on Dec. 1, marking the fourth season he has earned the league honor.

Ferentz is in his 17th season as Iowa’s head coach. He guided the Hawkeyes to a perfect 12-0 regular season mark, the most wins ever for a Hawkeye football team.
Iowa, ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings, has earned a spot in the 2016 Rose Bowl against Stanford (Jan. 1, 4:10 p.m. CT, ESPN). The Hawkeyes lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, 16-13 after winning the West Division.

The Hawkeyes began the season unranked, before moving into the top 25 following a 10-6 win at Wisconsin. Iowa steadily climbed in the rankings and was ranked as high as fourth in the CFP rankings.

Ferentz ranks seventh in Big Ten conference wins (76) and eighth in total victories (127). He has led Iowa to 13 bowl games in the last 15 seasons, including eight January bowl events. Ferentz has led Iowa to nine first-division finishes in the Big Ten, including winning the conference in both 2002 and 2004.

Iowa has won seven or more games in seven of the last eight seasons, including eight wins in 2010 and 2013, nine wins in 2008, 11 wins in 2009, and a school-record 12 wins in 2015.

Ferentz has been very involved in his local community, having served as the honorary chair of the University of Iowa’s United Way campaign and currently serving on the National Advisory Board of the Bethesda Family Services Foundation. He and his wife, Mary, have given multiple major financial gifts to the University of Iowa, including a $400,000 gift to the University’s College of Liberal Arts and University’s Children’s Hospital and a $100,000 gift to the University’s College of Liberal Arts. They have also served as advocates for the Children’s Hospital across the state by hosting and speaking at events to raise support for UI Children’s Hospital, to their personal generosity in establishing the “Ferentz Family Pediatric Research and Education Endowment Fund” in 2007.

With a head coach leading by example, members of the Hawkeye squad have also thrived in the community. A crucial component of character building for the Hawkeyes is community service. From 2013 to 2015, the Iowa football team combined for more than 1,500 community service hours.

While Ferentz has guided the Iowa program to great success on the field, the Hawkeyes have also made their mark in the classroom. In the most recent release on academic standings, Iowa’s football team compiled a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) that ranked above the national average. The 2014-15 Academic Progress Report (APR) showed a score of 966 for Iowa football, a score that ranked 10 points above the national average for football programs.

In addition, defensive back Jordan Lomax was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America second team. The senior who finished third on the team in tackles earned academic All-Big Ten honors each of the past two seasons. Lomax carries a 3.49 GPA, has been a member of Iowa’s Leadership Group the past three seasons and was named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week in November.

“We’re proud to present college football’s most prestigious coaching award, and strongly believe in the tenets it represents,” added Gary Stokan, president and CEO of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. “Coach Ferentz has long exhibited the ideals that are emblematic of Coach Dodd – scholarship, leadership and integrity – so we are honored to recognize him and the impact he has had on his student-athletes and in the Iowa City community.”

Six of the nation’s top head coaches (Mark Dantonio, Kirk Ferentz, Jim McElwain, Ken Niumatalolo, David Shaw and Dabo Swinney) were named finalists for this year’s award by a panel consisting of all previous winners, national media, a member of the Dodd family and a College Football Hall of Fame member.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Marshal Yanda Selected To Pro Bowl

The veteran punter will make his first trip to Hawaii, and Yanda earned his fifth-straight selection.

December 22, 2015

By Garrett Downing

Sam Koch is finally going to his long-deserved Pro Bowl.

The veteran punter is one of two Ravens who have been selected for the NFL’s annual all-star game. Right guard Marshal Yanda is the other selection, and this will be his fifth-straight Pro Bowl nod.

The news is particularly exciting for Koch, a 10-year veteran.

He has clearly established himself as one of the NFL’s best punters – he leads the NFL in net punting average, and also led the league in that category last season – and he is now getting overdue national recognition for his impact on the game.

“This has definitely been a long time in the making,” Koch said. “This is a very surreal and exciting moment for my family and me. I can’t wait to represent the Ravens in Hawaii.”

Koch earned the nod thanks to strong support from his peers and NFL coaches. He finished fourth at his position in the fan voting, but got a bump from the players and coaches who make up two-thirds of the vote.

Ravens Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who has openly campaigned for Koch to get the nod, correctly predicted that votes from the players and coaches would send Koch to Hawaii.

“Sam is richly deserving of that honor,” Rosburg said. “Perhaps the rest of the league has figured that out, as well. We certainly are looking forward to that.”

Koch also had plenty of people he wanted to thank for helping him get to this point.

“A lot of hard work and practice have gone into this. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from family in Baltimore – my wife, Nikki, and kids, Ryan, Braxtyn, Kamdyn and Gianna – and our family in Nebraska,” Koch said. “I want to thank my coaches – John Harbaugh, Jerry Rosburg and Randy Brown – for all they have done by believing in and helping me. There is also the support from our great fans, because without their votes, this dream probably wouldn’t have come true.

“Last, but certainly not least, I must give a ton of credit to my teammates, especially Morgan Cox, Brynden Trawick, Kyle Juszczyk, C.J. Mosley, Terrence Brooks, Albert McClellan, Zach Orr and Anthony Levine [Sr.]. They are the frontline guys who work their tails off – in addition to all the gunners we’ve had this year – to make sure we’re the best punt team in the league”

For Yanda, the trip to the Pro Bowl is almost routine at this point. The right guard has clearly put himself into the upper echelon of the NFL’s offensive linemen, and he continues to cement his legacy as one of the best players in franchise history.

Yanda joins Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata as Ravens selected to five Pro Bowls in their careers.

“Football is the ultimate team sport, and you don’t do anything in this league on your own,” Yanda said. “I want to thank the coaches and my teammates for helping me along the way. We all grind together with the goal of achieving greatness.”

In addition to Koch and Yanda, the Ravens also have a pair of alternates. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk and inside linebacker C.J. Mosely are both third alternates, and they will make the trip if players in front of them can’t participate because of injuries or their team makes the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will take place in Honolulu on Jan. 31.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Shannon a key for the Florida Gators in landing Reese

Randy Shannon has helped the Florida Gators increase their recruiting presence in South Florida. / Gator Country photo by David Bowie


DECEMBER 21, 2015

Friday was a big day for the Florida Gators as linebacker David Reese (6-1, 235, Farmington, MI High) committed to Florida and the big time linebacker spoke to GatorCountry about why he made that decision.

“My last meeting with Coach [Jim] McElwain and Coach [Randy] Shannon was what sealed my decision,” Reese said. “They took me through all of the academic stuff that I need to know and showed me how the defense was going to be run and they showed me how thin the depth chart was. I already had a great relationship with Coach Shannon so I felt it was the best move for me.”

Reese had previously told Gator Country that he thought of Shannon as a legend and that relationship between the two of them is what helped the Gators land Reese.

“Coach Shannon just told me that he needed linebackers bad in this class,” he said. “He said that he saw the potential in me to become one of those guys that he coached in the past and he has coached some great guys in the past so it was an honor to be offered by Florida. It’s an honor to be recruited by Coach Shannon who’s a guru at coaching linebackers and he’s a big reason as to why I picked Florida.”

Prospects all year have said that McElwain has taken an easy going approach with them when talking about picking a school and Reese says the same thing, plus says McElwain’s personality helped him pick the Gators.

“I had some very important talks with Coach McElwain about what being a Gator is all about,” Reese said. “Coach McElwain seems like a very family oriented guy and when I went down on my visit, he welcomed me into his house with his family. He kept telling me that he wanted to welcome me into the Gator family but that he didn’t want to pressure me into a decision because he wanted me to make the best decision for myself and I think I did that by picking Florida.”

There is no hiding the fact that Reese, who early enrolls in January, will be looked at to contribute next year and he says that he knows what he must do in order to play early.

“I think I need to keep working hard and follow what Coach Shannon tells me to do and then I think I will be able to get on the field early,” he said. “I think if I better myself as a person and a player then the rest will come along with it.”

Now that Reese is committed to Florida, he will turn his attention to another top target from the state of Michigan.

“My biggest target in recruiting right now is Donovan People-Jones, he’s a 2017 receiver,” Reese said. “He likes Florida a lot and he’s the one that I want to get down there with me.”

INSIDERS TAKE: Reese is very polite and humble guy that really did his homework in making his decision to commit to Florida. Reese and his father both have a tremendous amount of respect for Randy Shannon and that played a large part in getting Reese to Gainesville.

Ted Ginn Jr. makes history

By Stephen Igoe
December 21, 2015

The Carolina Panthers knew someone at receiver had to step up with the preseason injury to Kelvin Benjamin.

Little did they know that Ted Ginn Jr. would become the first Carolina wide out to haul in 10 touchdowns since former Panther great Steve Smith did it in 2005.

But that's exactly what Ginn accomplished with his 14-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Giants. Ginn hauled in a 3-yard scoring reception to get the scoring started in the first quarter as well.

Then there's also this:

Quite a season for a receiver that many other teams never believed in.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Phil Dawson: The 49ers Calculated Kicker

"It's a miserable existence being a kicker, I joke with people. It doesn't matter how many you've made, how many times you've been able to do your job, it's always about the next kick. The longer you play, the more you come to learn that. Every time I go on the field it's, 'Oh boy, here we go.'"


By Joe Fann
December 15, 2015

Phil Dawson never wanted to be a kicker.

Where's the glamour in that?

As a boy growing up in Dallas, Dawson idolized Randy White and Ed "Too Tall" Jones of the Cowboys "Doomsday Defense" and knew he wanted to be a football player. He tried his hand at different positions on both sides of the football - mainly linebacker.

But never kicker.

No, that afterthought of a position didn't cross Dawson's mind until the beginning of middle school. And even then, the idea wasn't his own.

Instead, Dawson's coach needed someone to handle kick-off duties, and friends on the team volunteered Dawson for the job because they knew he once played soccer.

"I knew I could kick a ball," Dawson remembered thinking at the time.

And that was the seemingly chance beginning to an eventual two-decade long NFL career, the last three years of which have been with the San Francisco 49ers.

"It chose me for sure," Dawson said. "But I made the decision to make sure I approached it the same way I would approach a 'real position.'"

The Offseason Regimen

Contrary to popular belief, Dawson's offseason isn't filled with rounds of golf and time spent relaxing by the pool.

In non-playoff years, Dawson's offseason workouts begin in January and start with several weeks of weight training.

When the time comes to kick again, Dawson leaves his home in Austin, Texas, to a nearby field armed with nothing but a bag of footballs. The kicker puts himself through extensive situational training: kicking from the left hash, right hash, varying distances and mayday kicks when he has to run in from the sideline with an imaginary clock approaching zeroes.

When the day's on-field work is complete, Dawson moves to conditioning.

"I'm the one with the stopwatch, pushing myself to make sure I'm giving it my all on every sprint," Dawson said. "When I'm in the weight room, I'm lifting by myself and making sure I'm not cutting a set short."

With no teammates present to keep him honest, Dawson relies on the motivation of his past failures.

Dawson, who has been good on 384 career field goals, can't name his most memorable make. He can, however, recall "dang near every miss." The anguish of being off-target is far worse than the joy of seeing an attempt sail through the uprights.

"To remember what it feels like to walk off the field after missing a kick, you don't ever want to experience that again," Dawson said. "So in those lonely times of training, those are the thoughts that come to mind that keep me going."

Gameday Routine

Dawson hardly needs an alarm anymore. The 40-year-old has been perfecting his repertoire ever since he first became an NFL starter 17 years ago for the Cleveland Browns in 1999.

Unlike some of his teammates who enjoy sleeping in, the 49ers kicker likes to be up and at 'em six hours before game time. Dawson's routine begins with a quiet moment in his hotel room, often as the sun begins to peek through the blinds.

Then there's just enough time for a quick breakfast before departing for the stadium four and a half hours prior to kickoff.

That's more than an hour before the first bus of his teammates leaves the team hotel.

Dawson then heads to the stadium with punter Bradley Pinion and long snapper Kyle Nelson in a van carrying various football operations personnel. Prior to this season, Dawson was the lone player on that trip.

Once he arrives at the venue, Dawson walks onto the vacant field and begins analyzing the weather conditions - comparing them to the hourly forecast that he's had memorized for days.

Dawson then assesses the playing surface and decides on which plant shoe to wear during the game. He'll always have five-to-six different options to choose from. As for his kicking shoe, Dawson has worn the same cleat for more than a decade - the Nike Tiempo. Dawson purchased 100 pairs of the shoe before Nike discontinued his favorite model, and he'll go through around six sets per season. The kicker's stockpile is down to only four pairs of the shoe, but that's a different dilemma for a different day…

With three hours until kickoff, Dawson begins to get loose. He stretches for 90 and then spends 30 minutes kicking on the field alone before his teammates join him for warmups.

"That's where I gather all my information, get warmed up and make sure I'm ready to go," Dawson said.

As the lone special teams captain, Dawson is also in charge of the decisions made after the coin flip. If there's an opportunity to select a side of the field, head coach Jim Tomsula gave Dawson the power to handle that choice. This is when the kicker's extensive knowledge of stadium and weather conditions is most valuable. Dawson said there have been multiple times this season when he's been able to get the wind at his back in both the third and fourth quarters by out-studying his opponent.

Once the game starts, the kicker's focus sharpens.

Dawson will hit a few balls into the net at the beginning of each possession to make sure he's loose. Once the ball crosses midfield, Dawson mimics the offense, paying close attention to where the ball is snapped on each play. For example, if the ball is on the right hash, Dawson will pretend that's the angle he's kicking from while he sends another ball into the net.

Dawson confessed he still gets nervous each time he takes the field, but he finds solace in his routine. Regardless of how busy his day is in the box score, whether or not he gets five field-goal attempts or none, Dawson estimates he kicks around 150 balls every Sunday.

Following each game, Dawson returns home and pulls out a binder with thorough notes on each of the 32 NFL stadiums. He adds any observations or new information he learned about the venue while it's fresh on his mind.

"I'm probably as meticulous as they come," Dawson quipped.

Becoming a Mentor

Dawson entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 1998 out of Texas. He was signed and subsequently waived by the Oakland Raiders before spending his rookie season on the New England Patriots practice squad.

Cleveland added Dawson the following offseason - the beginning of the kicker's 14-year tenure with the Browns. That's where Dawson developed his appetite for details.

Dawson credits former Browns punter Chris Gardocki for putting him on the right path towards his now scrupulous approach to his job. The two specialists were teammates for five seasons in Cleveland from 1999-2003.

Now many years later, Dawson has someone of his own to tutor - Pinion, the rookie punter San Francisco selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Dawson was immediately curious about the 6-foot-5 punter out of Clemson. Pinion, despite being the top-ranked punter in his draft class, wasn't the Tigers primary holder. With longtime 49ers punter Andy Lee being traded shortly following the draft, the spotlight quickly shifted onto the rookie.

"The day I got here, (49ers special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr.) T-Mac gave me Phil's number and told me to get in touch with him," Pinion said.

The only problem was that Pinion never thought to look up a picture of his new mentor. When Dawson arrived for minicamp, briefcase in hand, Pinion assumed he was a coach. It wasn't until after the two greeted each other when it dawned on the punter who he'd just met.

"Well, I thought you were an intern," Dawson jabbed back at Pinion upon hearing the story.

After a few weeks of minicamp in June, the kicker decided more work was needed prior to training camp.

Pinion and Nelson flew to Austin during the month of July to spend four days working with Dawson while staying with the kicker's family. Dawson continued to critique Pinion's holding technique, ensuring that the punter would put the ball down exactly to his liking.

Dawson would watch: snap to hold, snap to hold, snap to hold - over and over again until Pinion had it down.

"That's when we really started to mesh," Pinion said.

And just as Dawson credited Gardocki with his development more than a decade ago, Pinion said he owes much of his rookie-season success to the 49ers kicker.

"I've never seen someone who's so mentally ready to play a game in my entire life," Pinion said.

The Player Coach

How does a coach go about instructing a player as experienced and technically-sound as Dawson?

"You leave him alone," McGaughey said of the kicker who owns San Francisco's franchise record with 27 consecutive made field goals set in 2013. "You let him make the kick. He's been doing it for almost 20 years. There's not a whole lot of coaching going on with Phil.

"Phil coaches you."

Jerry Rosburg, Dawson's special teams coordinator for six seasons in Cleveland, had a similar opinion on the subject.

"This guy knows football," said Rosburg, who now holds the same position with the Baltimore Ravens. "He could coach special teams today."

Rosburg came to the Browns in 2001 from Notre Dame. The coach, who also referred to Dawson as "one of the greatest men in the world," had never worked so closely with a kicker in his career. He took the opportunity to absorb what he could from Dawson.

"Every day I was trying to learn from him," Rosburg said. "I told him, 'I want to help you. I want to be your other set of eyes. You need to teach me what you're trying to do, and I'll try to help you do that.' It became a partnership."

Dawson is in fact the outlier, not the norm among NFL kickers. Rosburg further realized in 2003 that Dawson's value went beyond his preparation. In Week 14 of that season against the St. Louis Rams, Dawson broke his arm trying to make a tackle.

Rosburg said that game is his most quintessential story about Dawson.

The kicker suffered the injury in the first quarter, and after a brief trip to the locker room, Dawson returned and finished the game. In excruciating pain, Dawson connected on an extra point in the fourth quarter and kicked off twice.

"That's Phil. That's who he is," said Rosburg, acknowledging that such a scenario would never happen again in today's NFL. "He wanted to finish what he started."

Dawson's toughness left a lasting impression, but the injury cost the kicker the final three games of the year. Rosburg recalled that the replacements Cleveland brought in to finish the season failed to match Dawson's lofty standard.

"I remember a whole different mentality," Rosburg said.

Dawson's dedication to the mental side of kicking has paid dividends in his accuracy on the field. He's made 85 percent of his field goals throughout his career, 12th best in NFL history. Moreover, Dawson's percentage is the best all-time for kickers with more than 350 made field goals.

Dawson enduring the winter conditions in Cleveland for 14 seasons only magnifies his accomplishments. What's more, Dawson played yearly AFC North road games in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, none of which are cities known for their balmy temperatures in December.

"It's nothing short of marvelous," Rosburg said of Dawson's career, which includes every notable kicking record in Browns franchise history. "This guy has worked his way into an elite kicker in National Football League history."

What's Ahead

Dawson doesn't have a timetable for when he'll hang 'em up, although he admits he's on the "back nine" of his career.

There are constant reminders that the kicker is an old soul in a young man's game. Players like Eric Reid often joke with Dawson that the safety was in kindergarten when the kicker first broke into the NFL. Or when he invited Pinion to his home over the summer and the punter became fast friends with Dawson's middle-school aged boys while playing the new Star Wars video game together.

"I just ask them what they're going to do when they're 40," Dawson fires back.

The constant ribbing is accompanied by genuine admiration. Some of the kicker's teammates call him "The O.G." based on his tenure and success in the NFL.

Not wide receiver Torrey Smith, who calls Dawson, "Uncle Phil."

"I love Phil, man," Smith said. "He's a great man. As a pro and a Christian, being here a short time with him, I love being around him. The way he carries himself, both as a professional and as a father is really cool.

"His presence is heavy in the locker room. Everyone looks up to him."

Times have certainly changed though. It's odd for Dawson to watch the young players on the team - a qualifier which encompasses nearly the entire 53-man roster - zoom around the locker room on two-wheeled hover boards. Much to the chagrin of his prodding teammates, San Francisco's eldest statesman refuses to take part in such tomfoolery.

"God made gravity for a reason," Dawson tells them. "So I'm gonna stay on the ground."

Despite the evident generational gap, the free-agent-to-be isn't quite ready to call it a career just yet.

Dawson said he still loves playing and is still committed to his laborious training habits. As long as he can connect from 58-yards out, the kicker knows he can be a weapon in this league. For comparison's sake, Morten Anderson, the man who owns the NFL record with 565 career made field goals, played for 25 seasons.

"I'm not going to say my leg is as strong as it's ever been, because it's not," Dawson said. "But it's as strong as my team needs it to be."

At the spry age of 40, Dawson is in the midst of one of his most accurate seasons. The kicker owns a streak of 19 consecutive made field goals and also provided a game-tying, 33-yard extra point against the Chicago Bears in challenging conditions at Soldier Field.

And while a transition away from handling kickoff duties was a hard responsibility to let go of - Pinion handles that now for the 49ers - the reduced role has kept Dawson's body fresher this deep into the season.

But it's not just his body that will tell Dawson if he can keep playing. The kicker's family, living 1,700 miles away in Austin, will also have a say in the matter. Dawson wants to make sure they're still ok with him being gone six months out of the year.

"It's not ideal," Dawson said.

His wife, Shannon, flies out for every home game at Levi's Stadium. Dawson's kids - sons Dru (14) and Beau (12) as well as his daughter Sophiann (nine) - attended the game over Thanksgiving weekend against the Arizona Cardinals and will attend the contests against the Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams once school is out for winter break.

"It's fun for my kids to see that dad's not this old hack just walking around, he can actually do a few things here and there," Dawson said.

The self-deprecated "old hack" has 381 career field goals, which ranks 11th in NFL history. With six more makes, Dawson will pass Nick Lowery (383) and former 49ers kicker David Akers (386) and assume his place in the top 10 all-time.

"I glance at it from time to time," Dawson said. "I've always been one to want to know what's out there. I like chasing things. That's one of the things that keeps me going."

If and when Dawson connects on his 400th career field goal, he'll be just the ninth kicker to ever reach the milestone.

It's a shiny number that would put a bow on Dawson's career that's spanned over three different decades. But for a calculated man like Dawson, he knows he's already accomplished far more than the former middle-school linebacker ever imagined.

"Any time that I decide to walk away," Dawson paused. "How could I have any regrets? How could I feel like I'm leaving something out there? I'm very blessed to be in that position."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ginn’s explosiveness pays off

By Lorenzo Reyes

December 13, 2015

CHARLOTTE – Ted Ginn Sr. took the seat normally reserved for his son.

A crowd of reporters started to gather, some with confused faces because of the middle-aged man wearing an oversized No. 19 Panthers jersey, seated in front of the locker bearing his son’s name. The Panthers (13-0) had just demolished the Atlanta Falcons 38-0. The room was loose as Panthers players faced a fresh wave of questions asking them, again, about the possibility of going undefeated.

Junior showed up.

“Boy, you’re just too quick for ‘em,” father told son, who was fresh out of the shower.

All Ginn Jr. could do was flash a smile.

This may scare some Panthers fans, but the most important player not named Cam Newton for the Carolina offense might be Ted Ginn Jr., the electric wideout capable of going off for a touchdown on a moment’s notice.

Sunday’s rout showed exactly why.

One week after he dropped two pivotal passes but also hauled in two touchdowns in a close victory against the New Orleans Saints, Ginn demonstrated his value as one of the NFL’s most dangerous pass catchers when he can play error-free. Known as a boom-or-bust player, Ginn set the tone for Carolina on Sunday, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter.

They were the only two catches he had all game, but they were bombs, one for 74 yards and the other for 46. Two plays, 120 yards, 14 points.

“Ted is gaining confidence,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “(Offensive coordinator Mike) Shula is gaining confidence. This offense is gaining confidence. I’m gaining confidence. When you have a team like that that is peaking, you really don’t look for anybody to make plays. You start making plays. You saw out there today. We have a saying on offense: ‘Let’s take turns making plays.’ Ted only needed two catches to display that.”

Ginn now has eight touchdowns on the season and four in his last two contests. He gives the Panthers – along with Newton’s rocket arm that can fling passes down the field – a deep threat who boasts unrivaled speed. And with the Panthers potentially facing tight games in the playoffs, Ginn’s explosive ability is a prized asset. But danger lurks with Ginn in the form of drops.

Ginn entered Week 14 tied for second-most dropped passes in the NFL with eight. Last week in New Orleans, it almost cost his team the win.

“You have to give hats off to Cam because he trusts those guys and he knows they will come back and make a play for him,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “Teddy is a great example today. I’m very proud of what Teddy did today – came back like nothing had happened.”

The Panthers became the eighth team in the Super Bowl era and the 9th team in NFL history to start the season 13-0. They clinched a first-round bye. Home-field advantage throughout the postseason is next, provided the Panthers take care of opponents on a favorable remaining schedule.

An unblemished regular season campaign may be attainable, too. Having a consistent and reliable deep threat will go a long way toward reaching those goals.

Ginn's current value is at all-time high after uneven outings in his previous eight seasons (with the Arizona Cardinals, Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins). Prior this season, Ginn had caught just 11 career touchdowns.

In fact, if you take away Ginn’s 2013 season – also with Carolina – during which he registered five touchdown catches, Ginn would only have six other scoring grabs.

Everyone else in the league viewed him as a return specialist. Here, he has a quarterback who can get him the ball, and an offense that allows him to use his talents – mainly his speed.

“Having Ted here, it means you’re one play away from scoring,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “His presence out there is hard for people to account for.”

Ginn, for his part, credits teammates for his career revival.

Added Ginn: “I give all my success to Cam Newton. Without him, there is no Ted Ginn. I can’t say that vice versa, but we really, really have a nice thing going right now.”

That’s high praise, but Ginn is partly right. With the exception of Carson Palmer in Arizona, Ginn never really had a quarterback who could consistently feed him deep passes. But on the receiver-rich Cardinals in 2014, Ginn was never a factor in Arizona’s offense.

In Carolina, there’s a perfect combination of quarterback, aggressive scheme and desperate need for a weapon on the outside.

“Well, yeah,” Ginn said, when asked if the go route is his favorite. “Anytime I can showcase my speed and put a stretch on the defense, it’s always a good thing – no matter if I catch the ball or not.”

Is Panthers WR Ted Ginn Jr. the fastest player in the NFL?

Panthers WR Ted Ginn Jr. has been clocked running as fast as 22.4 mph this season. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
December 15, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The debate in training camp was whether wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was the fastest player on the Carolina Panthers' roster.

Perhaps that debate should turn into whether Ginn is the fastest player in the NFL.

Ginn was clocked at 22.44 mph near the end of his 74-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter of Sunday’s 38-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

That's the fastest foot speed turned in on an offensive play all season, according to the NFL Network.

Ginn surpassed Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (22.05 mph), Pittsburgh wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (22.01), Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson (21.89) and Arizona wide receiver J.J. Nelson (21.78).

To put this in perspective, the average speed of Usain Bolt when he ran the 100 meters in a record 9.58 seconds was 23.35 mph.

What's really impressive is Ginn, 30, is seven years older than Johnson. He's the second-oldest among those in this year's top five, a month younger than Peterson.

Many may be surprised by Ginn's speed. Not Ginn.

Asked on Sunday whether Atlanta respected his speed, he deadpanned, "Well, I guess they did, but everybody wants to see it for themselves."

Ginn gave the same sort of response in training camp when asked how his speed compared to undrafted rookie Damiere Byrd, who was clocked at 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his pro day at the University of South Carolina, and wide receiver Corey Brown, who ran a 4.3 40 at Ohio State.

"No disrespect," Ginn said. "But I get a little edgy when people talk about fast."

Ginn reportedly was clocked at 4.28 seconds in the 40 while at Ohio State, where he was a track star. He claims to have gone as low as 4.22 seconds.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said "wow" the first time he saw Ginn on the field in 2013. Ginn caught 36 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns that season, then signed a free-agent deal with Arizona.

The Cardinals released Ginn after a disappointing season in which he caught 14 passes for 190 yards and no touchdowns.

The Panthers were quick to re-sign him, understanding Ginn's speed could blow the top off defenses.

Despite a few drops, including two long ones that would have been touchdowns a week ago against New Orleans, Ginn hasn't disappointed. He already has 37 catches for 645 yards and eight touchdowns.

Among the 61 players who have been targeted 70 times this season, Ginn has the highest air yards per attempt (16.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

That is the highest of any Carolina player over the last 15 seasons.

Ginn's speed is a big reason the Panthers now are the highest-scoring team in the NFL (31.6 ppg.) for the first time in franchise history.

"Ted, he can really fly," tight end Greg Olsen said during the training camp debate about the fastest Carolina player. "I'm telling you, he's a different cat. He's got elite speed in this league.

"Guys like him are special athletes. ... You wouldn't think he was 30."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Vrabel a natural in coaching ranks

By Tom Curran

December 13, 2015

HOUSTON – I never should have asked. I realized that right after I got the answer.

It’s 12 years ago almost to the day that a feature story I’d written on Mike Vrabel ran in the Providence Journal. December 11, 2003. I checked. I followed the usual formula – talk to the coaches, talk to the teammates, call the high school coach, get an anecdote or two and slam it in the Sunday paper.

A couple of days later, I asked Vrabel if he’d seen it.

“Yeah. It was kinda boilerplate.”

What a dink.

But I re-read it yesterday. It was kinda boilerplate.

The Patriots play the Texans on Sunday. Mike Vrabel, now 40, has been a linebackers coach in Houston for two seasons. This provides me with all the cover I need to write about Vrabel again. Can’t help it. He was absolutely one of the best players I covered on so many levels.

He just had a blunt, brutal, biting sense of humor and an impeccable sense of timing. “Like Vince Vaughan on steroids,” is how Stephen Gostkowski described Vrabel this week.

He was one of the smartest players the Patriots have had – and that’s Bill Belichick’s appraisal, not mine. He was as strong a leader – a leader of the leaders – during his eight seasons in New England.

If Vrabel decides to chase a head coaching job – which would mean determining he can deal with the amount of BS an NFL head coach has to deal with – he could probably land one.

“If he wanted to, he would be able to be a head coach at this level when the right time is appropriate,” said Vince Wilfork, who played with Vrabel for five seasons and plays under him now. “I think he knows that. I have so much respect for him, not only as a coach, but what he has done as a player, just being able to sit in a captain’s meeting with him or sit on the sideline or sit in some meetings as a player, we watch film together, how he looks at the game, or when him and (Patriots Head Coach) Bill (Belichick) used to talk all of the time about football in general, he is very, very, very brilliant when it comes down to football, so I definitely see him having a coaching career at this level, being the head coach when the right time is appropriate.”

If he did choose that path, Vrabel would be an anomaly. There just aren’t many accomplished players that become head coaches. Used to be. Not now.

The list of current NFL coaches that played in the league is six names long. They are (listed by level of NFL accomplishment) Jack Del Rio, Ron Rivera, Todd Bowles, Jason Garrett, Gary Kubiak and Jeff Fisher. Why aren’t there more former players that ascend? Maybe because the dues-paying and relentless pressure isn’t real appetizing for a player once his career ends. Maybe he got his pro football itch scratched and made more money and contacts while playing than the players of other generations.

It’s clear, though, that having played in the NFL isn’t a prerequisite to coaching successfully. And yet, the most accomplished NFL coach of his generation – Belichick – acknowledges there are things former players can lend that he cannot.

“I think Mike has a great mind for (coaching), great passion for it,” said Belichick. “He’s got great playing experience, so he can draw on things that honestly I can’t. I’ve never played in this league. I can’t draw on those, so I think there is definitely some advantage to that. I don’t think that’s a ticket. There are a lot of other things that go into it, too, but if it’s used properly I think it’s valuable.”

The truth is, Vrabel didn’t begin coaching in 2011 when he retired to join the Ohio State staff. He started coaching when he was playing.

“He’d give me advice and I would tell him, ‘Mike when you’re a coach and you’re calling the defenses, you should go ahead and do that. Here’s why we’re not going to do that. Or that’s a great idea. We can do that, that’s good, I’m glad you brought that up,’ ” said Belichick. “Mike is not afraid to make a suggestion, and we’ve had a lot of good discussions even when he was at Ohio State or when he was in Kansas City for that matter, we would bump into each other from time to time, but when he was Ohio State particularly when he got into coaching, we would talk about different things, whether it would be X’s and O’s or managing players or practice tempo or whatever it was. It could be general coaching things.”

The psychology of a particular team – the order of the hive, in a sense – is something Vrabel seemed particularly attuned to when he was a player.

“There was a select few when you got here – him, Tom (Brady), (Tedy) Bruschi, (Larry) Izzo, Rodney (Harrison), (Richard) Seymour – that you knew were the guys that everyone respected,” said Stephen Gostkowski, who came to the Patriots in 2006. “Those were the guys who won championships, who were well-liked around the locker room, were respected. You had to earn their respect. And Vrabel was one of the guys who really gave me a hard time my rookie year but when I proved I could play in this league he was really cool.”

Vrabel was like a beat cop when he was with the Patriots. Eyes everywhere. Involved. I remember watching him walk up to a player in the locker room just signed in the middle of a season, stick out his hand, introduce himself and tell the kid to find him if he needed anything. He was a media critic. His interactions with Mike Felger when Felger was on the beat were amusingly awkward because Vrabel would poke, poke, poke at Felger and Felger would persistently poke back. He would roll his eyes at Belichick when Belichick would go on about the 1980s Giants defense.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s funnier,” said Gostkowski. “He had a comeback for everything. You could never get the better of him probably physically or mentally. He was someone I really looked up to coming in and I just wanted to prove to those guys that I belonged. I just kept my mouth shut until I felt a bit more accepted. But he was just non-stop. When you’re a rookie you can’t do anything without someone pointing it out to you how you did it wrong. And Mike’s one of those guys whose voice stuck out. Some people’s way of saying things affect you more than others. Him, Josh Miller and Tom were the ones who started calling me ‘Meat’ after 'Bull Durham' I can still hear his voice in my head. You could tell he was probably going to be a coach the way he carried himself.”

His personality hasn’t dulled in Houston.

“He is always laughing just like when we played,” said Wilfork. “Telling jokes all of the time and talking crap all of the time, but Vrabel is being Vrabel. The Vrabel that you have seen as a coach is the same Vrabel that I have as a coach, which is funny to me, but it is awesome to have that in a room, especially with the younger generation of guys coming up that they can kind of relate to a coach that is young, but played the game at a high level and has some accolades himself, Super Bowls and big games and stuff like that. I think guys cling onto him like they should and I am just here to let them know that what you see here now is what I had as a player and just the fun that we had was just amazing. He is still the same way.”

Blunt, funny and having been a great player only gets you so far, though. It’s Vrabel’s intelligence that separates him, in Belichick’s mind.

“He’s played different systems, he’s played different positions,” said Belichick. “He’s played offense, defense, special teams. He’s played end, he’s played linebacker. He would play free safety in practice for us probably once or twice a year, especially when we were up against a guy like Ed Reed or somebody who you really didn’t know what he would do. You would just say go back there and go with what you see and if you want to gamble, gamble. Mike, he would love that. He would drive [Tom] Brady crazy doing that, like, ‘He’ll never be there on that pattern,’ but it’s Ed Reed – you didn’t know where Ed Reed would be. He was usually wherever the ball was. He somehow got there.

“Even when he first got here, that was only his fifth year in the league or whatever it was, you could even kind of see it then and his career wasn’t even half over and he was already thinking about coaching,” said Belichick. “You could kind of tell when he got done playing that’s what he was going to do. That came up pretty early. But he had a real passion for not just knowing his position but understanding the total game. He was always very good on things like being able to anticipate what the offense was going to do, hearing a call and then that call coming up later – maybe not even that game, maybe it was like the next year we played them – a guy like [Peyton] Manning who is making checks at the line of scrimmage or things like that. He had a lot of those little things that you never see on film but somehow he knew them or he figured them out or anticipated them and made a lot of instinctive plays or plays based on experience and just knowledge.”

If Vrabel does become a head coach, his sideline manner won’t be mistaken for Pete Carroll’s.

“Mike was really tough,” said Belichick. “He was a tough football player. I’m sure that comes across in his coaching as well. I don’t think he babies them. I don’t think there’s a lot of sitting around eating marshmallows. That’s not really his style.”

It’s a style all his own. Far from boilerplate.

Friday, December 11, 2015

49ers’ Phil Dawson was loved in Cleveland

San Francisco 49ers' Phil Dawson (9) kicks an extra point during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

By Eric Branch
December 10, 2015

It’s rare to see an NFL placekicker form a close connection with a blue-collar city, but that’s what happened with Phil Dawson and Cleveland.

In fact, at some point during Dawson’s 14-year tenure with the Browns, longtime radio analyst Doug Dieken noticed a phenomenon he figured was unique to Cleveland’s home games: fans roaming FirstEnergy Stadium with a No. 4 on their back.

“Not many places have people walking in wearing a kicker’s jersey,” Dieken said, “but Phil earned that respect from the fans here.”

On Sunday, those fans — including members of the Dawg Pound he came to know personally — will welcome Dawson back to his once-adopted home when the 49ers visit the Browns.

Dawson, 40, joined the expansion Browns in 1999 and hung around for 215 games, 363 field-goal attempts and 14 seasons that included two winning records, one playoff berth and zero postseason wins. During his stay, the Browns had six head coaches, 18 starting quarterbacks and … Dawson.

In the Browns’ revolving-door existence, the lone constants were losing and Dawson, who ranked 12th in NFL history in field-goal percentage (84.0) when he signed with the 49ers in 2013.

Dieken, 66, an offensive lineman who has spent 42 years with the team as a player or broadcaster, said Clevelanders appreciated Dawson’s dependability amid a sea of dysfunction.

“When you don’t win a lot of games, you don’t have a lot of heroes,” Dieken said. “But the guys who are professional, consistent, go about things at the highest level and are just good people off the field? That gives the fans someone to grab onto. And Phil was all that.”

The Browns’ ineptitude has made them a popular punchline, but Dawson speaks only respectfully of his time with a much-ridiculed franchise that resides in a much-ridiculed city. He said he “always considered it a privilege to be a Cleveland Brown” and the Dallas native established deep roots. Dawson and his wife, Shannon, raised their children, Dru (14), Beau (12) and Sophiann (9) in Cleveland.

“I was very blessed to be there for so long because I became a member of the community,” Dawson said. “I wasn’t just popping into town, playing and leaving. I lived there. I raised my kids there. I was able to form relationships all over the place. I think that’s some of the bond. There was tangible connection between myself and the fans.”

In 2005, on the heels of a 4-12 season, Dawson signed a five-year contract extension. Why stick with a loser? Dawson was motivated to see the city exult in the Browns’ first NFL title since 1964.

“I wanted to see that happen in my time there,” Dawson said. “I didn’t want to just leave and go pursue that somewhere else. That was part of my motivation. I think that would be tremendous city to be in when things are going good.”

The Browns placed one-year franchise tags on Dawson in 2011 and 2012, but Dieken says a new front-office regime that included general manager Mike Lombardi didn’t consider Dawson a priority after the 2012 season.

“They were looking at the budget,” Dieken said, “rather than the production.”

As a result, Dawson signed with the 49ers, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. In his two-plus seasons with the 49ers, he has established the franchise record for consecutive made field-goal attempts (27) and drilled 75 of 86 kicks (87.0 percent), including 13 of 18 from 50-plus yards. On Sunday, he’ll arrive having made 18 straight field-goal tries, tied for the second-longest streak in franchise history.

Dieken hopes the Browns find a way to recognize Dawson in his return.

“There’s kickers in the league and there’s football players that kick,” Dieken said. “Phil has always been to me a football player that kicked. He had the same mentality as the other guys.” Big 12 Coach of the Year: Oklahoma's Bob Stoops

Bob Stoops revamped the Sooners after a disappointing 2014 campaign and has them on the verge of a national title. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

December 11, 2015

Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer

Just one year ago, some wondered if Bob Stoops had lost his coaching touch.

This year, Stoops has Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff. And as a result, he's the Big 12 Coach of the Year.

Why he won: The Sooners entered this season seemingly on a tier below returning Big 12 co-champs Baylor and TCU following a disastrous 2014 campaign. Stoops, however, revamped his program by making some bold offseason changes. He fired offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who had quarterbacked the Sooners to the 2000 national championship, and brought in 31-year-old Lincoln Riley to re-install the air raid. He also stood by his brother Mike Stoops, who was under fire after Oklahoma's defense had crumbled down the stretch of an 8-5 finish. And, he reopened the quarterback competition.

All three moves paid off big.

After a slow start, Riley's offense was electric during the second half of the season, featuring a lethal rushing attack. On the other side of the ball, Mike Stoops put together his finest defense since returning to Norman in 2012. And quarterback Baker Mayfield became a Walter Camp All-American.

Now, the Sooners are two games away from giving Stoops his second national championship.

Defining moment: After a stunning loss to Texas, Oklahoma appeared destined for another second-half swoon. But Stoops kept the players believing they could still meet all their preseason goals. And with some personnel and schematic adjustments on both sides of the ball the following, Oklahoma instantly made a gigantic turnaround, blasting Kansas State 55-0 in Manhattan.

Since that moment, no program in college football has been more dominant than Oklahoma.

Runner-up: Perhaps no coach in college football endured more adversity this season than TCU's Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs suffered a rash of injuries to the defense early on in the year, then lost stars Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson late in the season. Despite that, TCU rallied to win 10 games, culminating with an overtime victory over arch-rival Baylor in a torrential downpour in the regular-season finale.

The Horned Frogs didn't win any championships this season. But this was one of Patterson's finest coaching jobs in his illustrious tenure in Fort Worth.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bill Belichick: Mike Vrabel used to 'drive Brady crazy' on practice field

Former Patriot linebacker Mike Vrabel.

By Chris Mason

December 9, 2015

FOXBORO — When the Patriots traded Mike Vrabel in 2009, Bill Belichick felt so strongly about the linebacker that he issued a statement.

"Mike Vrabel epitomizes everything a coach could seek in a professional football player," it read. "Toughness, intelligence, play-making, leadership, versatility and consistency at the highest level."

It's only fitting that such a coachable player went on to be a coach. Vrabel is currently serving as the linebackers coach for the Texans, and Belichick leapt at the chance to talk about his former player this morning. He said he knew Vrabel would pursue this career path.

"Mike and I talked about that a lot," Belichick said. "(As a player) he'd give me advice, and I'd say, 'Mike, when you're a coach, you should go ahead and do that. Here's why we're not going to do that.' Or, 'That's a great idea. We can do that. I'm glad you brought that up.' Mike's not afraid to make a suggestion."

Belichick believes Vrabel is using his time as a player as a tool to become an even more effective coach.

"I think Mike's got a great mind for it, great passion for it. He's got great playing experience.
He can draw on things. I never played in this league. I can't draw on those," Belichick explained. "I think there's definitely an advantage. I don't think that's a ticket. There's a lot of other things that go into it, too, but I mean that's something that, if it's used properly, I think it's valuable."

As a Patriot, Vrabel played on both sides of the ball. He gained notoriety as a linebacker, but also played tight end in red zone situations. According to Belichick, he was also moonlighting as a free safety.

"Mike was a great player who played in different systems," Belichick said. "He played different positions. He played on offense, defense, special teams. He played tight end. He played linebacker. Honestly, he would play free safety in practice for us once or twice a year, especially when we were up against a guy like Ed Reed who really knew what he was going to do. Just say, 'OK, sit back there and go with what you see. If you want to gamble, gamble.'

"And Mike, he would love that. He'd drive Brady crazy. It's Ed Reed, you didn't know where he was going to be. He was usually wherever the ball was. He somehow got there. So, Mike did that. You could just see his overall passion for the game, whether it was offense, defense. He had a great total understanding of the game and loved to play it. Loved to play tight end. If it was a big receiver, he'd play receiver (on scout team)."

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Kirk Ferentz Named Big Ten Coach of the Year; All-Conference Teams Make It Obvious

Michael Hickey, Getty Images

By Bob James

December 1, 2015

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the fourth time, something that only one other coach in the history of the conference has done. When you consider Iowa is 12-0 and look at the all-conference team(s), it’ll little wonder Ferentz received the award.

Kirk was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2002, 2004, and 2009. The only other Big Ten coach to win the award four times is former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who took it home six times. Ferentz won both the Dave McClain (voted on by media) and Hayes-Schembechler (voted on by coaches) Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year awards tonight.

Ferentz made this statement after the announcement: “I’m honored to be recognized in a conference that has outstanding coaches throughout the league. The success of our season is the result of a lot of hard work by our entire coaching staff and every member of our football program. The Big Ten Conference has forever featured outstanding football coaches; I have great respect for the head coaches in the Big Ten and appreciate their acknowledgment of our accomplishments. I share this recognition with our staff, our players, and our great fans. I am grateful to the University of Iowa for providing the necessary support for our success.”

The only other individual award won by a Hawkeye was by Desmond King, who was chosen as the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year.

The all-conference offensive teams were announced tonight and again only four Hawkeyes appear on the squad(s). All notes below are for the teams voted on by the coaches.

Iowa’s only offensive First Team selection is Guard Jordan Walsh. He joins Desmond King, who was named to the First Team defense last night.

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard was named Second-Team All-Conference at Quarterback. Michigan State starter Connor Cook was named First-Team. Center Austin Blythe, a Williamsburg native, was also named to the Second Team. Running back Jordan Canzeri was named to the Third Team.

Iowa kicker and Solon native, Marshall Koehn, was chosen to the Second Team.

Last night, Josey Jewell (Second Team/Linebacker from Decorah, Iowa), Nate Meier (Third Team/Defensive Line from Tabor, Iowa), and Jordan Lomax (Third Team/Defensive Back) were Iowa’s other defensive all-conference selections.

These Iowa players were named Honorable Mention:

Offense: Sean Welsh, Matt VandeBerg
Defense: Cole Fisher, Jaleel Johnson, Ben Niemann
Punter: Dillon Kidd
Return Specialist: Desmond King

That’s 15 players receiving recognition for a team that’s won 12 games. Michigan State, meanwhile, also has a total of 15 selections. However, FOUR were chosen on the First Team offense. Three others were selected for either the Second or Third Team Offense(s). The Spartans have five more on the defensive teams and three were chosen as honorable mention.

All this leads me back to Kirk Ferentz. There can be no doubt, his Big Ten Coach of the Year award is well-deserved. If he doesn’t win the national award as well, there should be an investigation. Go Hawks… beat the Spartans!

Monday, November 30, 2015

49ers’ Phil Dawson says he could keep kicking next year at age 41

Veteran Phil Dawson has made 16 of 17 field-goal attempts, including a long of 54 yards. He’s also one of just 12 kickers who have made all their extra-point attempts.

November 27, 2015

Phil Dawson said he hasn’t spoken with the 49ers about extending his contract and that any decision about next season would have to be agreed upon by his family.

But the 40-year-old kicker knows this: He definitely has another year – or more – left in his right leg.

“As long as I feel that I can be not just good enough, but a solid contributor to the team, I want to continue playing,” said Dawson, who is due to become a free agent in March. “Still love this game, still have a passion for it.”

He’s also still very good at it. Dawson has made 16 of 17 field-goal attempts, including a long of 54 yards. His lone miss was in Week 1 when a defender shot through the 49ers’ line and blocked the attempt.

He’s also made all of his extra-point attempts, which used to be a meaningless statistic but is more notable this year after it was moved back to the 15-yard line. Only 12 kickers have made all their point-after-touchdown attempts this year; last year 26 kickers made all of their tries.

Dawson leads the team in scoring with 59 points, 42 percent of the 49ers’ NFL-low 139 points. To put that in perspective, when former 49ers kicker Joe Nedney was the team’s offensive MVP in 2005, he accounted for 40.5 percent of the team’s points.

The next-worst team in scoring, the Rams, have 179 points. The Cardinals, who play the 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, lead the league with 336 points.

Dawson said plenty of kickers compete into their 40s. The Colts’ Adam Vinatieri, 42, and the Falcons’ Matt Bryant, 40, are two active examples.

And he said he wouldn’t let age be a factor. When he reached his 30s, he had been in the league eight seasons and he started to believe the chatter that his body would start breaking down around the 10-year mark. As a result, he felt older.

But at some point Dawson decided his mid-30s malaise was in his mind, and he’s been on a roll since. After finishing with a career-low field-goal percentage of 72.4 percent for the Cleveland Browns in 2006, Dawson has finished at 80 percent or higher every year. This year’s 94.1 percent would be a career best, although the 49ers still have bad-weather games in Chicago and Cleveland.

Another reason to think he can keep kicking at age 41 – his birthday is in January – is that 21-year-old punter Bradly Pinion has taken over kickoffs.

Dawson said he wishes he still handled kickoffs because he wants to be involved as much as possible. But he understands why Pinion has the job. More than 78 percent of the rookie’s kickoffs have ended up as touchbacks.

Dawson called it a “win-win.” His body feels better than it usually does heading into December because kickoffs aren’t part of his routine. And nodding toward Pinion, who has the locker next to his, he said, “You can’t argue with how he’s been able to help the team.”

The Guru: When Gators Assistant Randy Shannon Speaks, Everyone Listens

Gators assistant coach Randy Shannon will face Florida State for the 23rd time on Saturday. (Photo: Tim Casey)

November 25, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- More than 10 months have passed since the day Randy Shannon walked into a room full of reporters dressed in Gators attire, their first glimpse at the University of Miami icon in Florida’s orange and blue.

Several snapped photos on their smartphones to share on social media, as if to verify, yes, Shannon really is a Gators assistant.

In the time since his official introduction at Florida, Shannon has quietly gone about his business far from the spotlight he once occupied as head coach of the Hurricanes. Shannon was dismissed by his alma mater after the 2010 season.

He spent a year working as a TV analyst, returned to coaching in 2012 at Texas Christian, worked on Bret Bielema’s staff at Arkansas in 2013-14, and accepted an offer from first-year Gators head coach Jim McElwain to return to his native Florida in January.

Well-regarded for his character and straight-forward approach by high school coaches around the state, Shannon helped the Gators salvage a respectable recruiting class in his first month on the job, the initial sign he would make a difference in the reshaped program under McElwain.

“The one thing you have to do in recruiting is be honest,’’ Shannon said. “I try to be up front and honest with all the coaches, all the parents and all the kids. If it doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do, I’ve got to be honest with them. I think that is the one thing that coaches respect about me.”

Gators assistant coach Randy Shannon has quietly made an impact in his first season with the Gators. (Photo: Tim Casey)

A year ago Shannon never imagined he would be at Florida.

Other than for a brief exchange with McElwain during a trip to Alabama the year he spent out of coaching, Shannon had no connection to the former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different.

Shannon grew up in Liberty City, the hardscrabble neighborhood in Miami that took a devastating toll on Shannon’s family growing up. McElwain is from Montana, where he was a two-sport standout in high school who later played at Eastern Washington.

Despite the unknowns, the 49-year-old Shannon viewed the opportunity as one that worked professionally and personally.

“I didn’t have any concerns,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned in this business is don’t have an ego, just keep working, and you can work with anybody if you have an open mind. I have an open mind about everything I do.”

As the No. 12 ranked Gators (10-1) prepare this week to face No. 14-ranked Florida State (9-2), no one on Florida’s staff can match Shannon’s history against the Seminoles. His first matchup against FSU was 30 years ago as a freshman linebacker for the Hurricanes.

Shannon was 4-0 against FSU as a player from 1985-88, helping Miami win the 1987 national championship. He spent two seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys -- drafted by Jimmy Johnson, his college coach -- before returning home to join Miami’s staff as a graduate assistant in 1991, earning a second national championship ring.

In his three stints at Miami as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Shannon went 14-8 (including one bowl game) against the Seminoles over 21 seasons.

Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, who is having a breakout season, calls Shannon the “guru.”

“It’s like he has a lot of secrets to the game,’’ Davis said. “I feel real close to Coach Shannon … just the way he approaches business every day. He knows how to specifically reach each and every one of us. That really adds something special to me. Everything he says I really pay close attention to.”

Florida’s unexpected success in McElwain’s first season has turned attention toward the staff he assembled. Shannon, who is the team’s associate head coach/co-coordinator and linebackers coach, and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins are reportedly drawing interest as potential candidates to become UCF’s next head coach.

McElwain made no secret of the importance of Shannon’s hire when he brought him on board.

“He was a guy that was at the top of my list from a standpoint of the people and how they speak about his integrity, his discipline and his organization and ball-coaching ability,” McElwain said. “This guy is a great ball coach. I feel it was an unbelievable hire to be able to get that done.”

Once Shannon got settled and evaluated the players Florida’s defense had returning, he was confident the Gators could have one of the top units in the country. The Gators have lived up to those expectations, ranked sixth nationally.

Shannon also sees the impact McElwain’s approach has made on a team that many projected to win no more than seven games.

“His swag, the way he’s handled himself, the way he’s handled this football team, he is very confident,’’ Shannon said. “His mindset is to win 15 and that’s our mindset. He’s also held guys accountable. The biggest thing he stresses is the ‘why.’ If you can give a person ‘why’ you are doing something, or the reason ‘why’ this happened, they will respect you and do everything they can for you.”

The players say Shannon has played an important role, too.

“When he talks, everybody listening, everybody in the room, including Coach Mac,’’ sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “He's meant a lot, you know not only on the field, but he's kind of a mentor for some of us guys off the field. I go talk to Coach Shannon at least once a week just for him to drop some knowledge on me.”

At his introductory press conference at UF, Shannon said he would like to be a head coach again one day. But he also said he doesn’t know when, or if, that will happen.

Like he tells his players to, Shannon keeps an open mind.

He has enjoyed the transition to Florida and the surprises that have come with a turnaround season for the program.

“It’s been great. I’m having fun,’’ he said. “Being part of something that is unique and means something at a special place like Florida, that you’ve seen do a lot of great things and continues to progress, a lot of enthusiasm every day.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Browns give back to Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Browns players, alumni, staff spend day providing meals to those in need.

November 25, 2015

By Kyle Morrison

Browns players had the day off Monday, but they still did plenty of heavy lifting. Only instead of weights, they were hauling frozen turkeys and sacks of potatoes.

In one of the Browns First and Ten program’s biggest events of the season, a long list of Browns players and alumni came out to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank to help distribute meals leading up to the holiday season.

Dozens of players and alumni contributed to the cause – either financially or through in-person service. Those who volunteered in-person included: Johnson Bademosi, Joel Bitonio, Ibraheim Campbell, Pierre Desir, John Hughes III, Erle Ladson, Johnny Manziel, Jamie Meder, Barkevious Mingo, Austin Pasztor, Danny Shelton, Scott Solomon, Dylan Wynn and alumni Keith Baldwin, Roger Chanoine, Kevin Mack, Greg Pruitt, and Cleo Miller.

The visit was particularly meaningful for defensive tackle Jamie Meder, a Cleveland native.

“It feels great to give back to my city,” he said. “I’m part of it – I’m from Cleveland. I bleed Cleveland."

Meder and his teammates spent the day loading up vans for the food bank’s partner agencies, who will, in turn, distribute the food to those in need. Typically, those partner agents are volunteers who load up their vehicles on their own.

Not Monday, though, as they had a team of NFL players eager to haul hundreds of frozen turkeys and mountains of fresh produce.

"Having the Browns come out here today is great,” said Karen Pozna, Communications Director for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. “It’s such a busy time of year for us, any extra hands are much appreciated."

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank is a partner of First and Ten, with the two having collaborated on events like the Taste of the Browns, the First and Ten Food Drive and others. On Monday, that collaboration continued with a long list of players and dozens more team staff volunteering.

“This is just one more opportunity for us to work with them,” Pozna said. “It’s great to see such a committed organization to help fulfill a need."

With more than 800 partner agencies across six counties – and with a variety of programs – the food bank provided enough food for 45 million meals last year. Pozna said Monday’s volunteers did work that will help feed thousands across the area.

And it wasn’t just the Browns, either.

As part of the Browns youth football outreach, players from Glenville High School also participated in the event alongside the Browns players. Their camaraderie was on full display while volunteering.

“They’re obviously pretty close knit,” rookie safety Ibraheim Campbell said. “They were joking on each other, and it was cool to be around. I haven’t been around a high school team in a while."

The Browns players also flashed some chemistry during Monday’s event. Meder’s group, in particular, had a blast – whether it was Danny Shelton pretending to chomp down on an ear of corn during a photo opportunity or the guys setting out to break a speed-loading record.

“We were having a lot of fun, trying to load up as fast as we can and break whatever record we thought existed,” Meder said. “We definitely set the new record, for sure."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gundy has high praise for OC Yurcich

O'Colly File Photo | Mike Yurcich
OSU coach Mike Gundy says offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is a rising star in his profession.

November 16, 2015

By Dekota Gregory

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is the best play-caller he has ever worked with after Saturday’s game at Iowa State.

“It sure is a heck of a compliment,” Yurcich said. “But at the end of the day, we have good players, and that’s the reason these plays are working.”

The Cowboys are averaging 43.6 points a game, which ranks seventh in the nation. OSU also ranks 18th in total offense, averaging 497.6 yards a game.

“(Yurcich’s) certainly very intelligent and very creative,” Gundy said. “He’s developed into what I would describe as a good teacher. He’s kind of a young and rising star in this profession. Fortunately, I’ve had him three years now. Hopefully, we can keep him here for a while and let him develop.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lions need improved play from o-line in second half

Ron Prince (Photo: Detroit Lions)

November 12, 2015

By Tim Twentyman

If the Detroit Lions are going to turn this thing around the second half of the season, the offensive line, more than any other unit on the team, needs to play dramatically better than they have the first half of the season.

Detroit's line is allowing too many hits on quarterback Matthew Stafford, and providing too few holes for running back Ameer Abdullah and Co. to run through.

The Lions own the 31st-ranked offensive line according Pro Football Focus. The site recently ranked all 32 units in the NFL.

The Lions are 29th in pass blocking, 26th in run blocking and 20th in penalties. Their highest rated player - guard Manny Ramirez - doesn't even start for them. No player along Detroit's front grades better than 19th at their position by the website.

This was supposed to be a young, athletic line that would start strong and only get better as the year went on. It hasn't worked out that way and now it's up to new offensive line coach Ron Prince to get things in order.

The former tight ends coach has taken over the reigns in the offensive line room since former offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan were relieved of their duties before the trip to London.

"He's definitely one of the smartest people I've ever met," tight end Brandon Pettigrew said of his former position coach. "Big on details.

"Overall, he's probably the best coach I've ever had."

That's certainly high praise from Pettigrew, and he's right about Prince being a stickler on the details.

"He's a little more straight forward and to the point," right tackle LaAdrian Waddle said of Prince. "He'll keep it real with you. If you didn't do your job, he's going to let you know about it.
"We have to make those tiny little details count. We have to pay attention to the little stuff. We can't be short on stuff anymore."

It's the little things, and the details, Waddle says, that Prince has been working to improve over the last two weeks.

"Obviously, anytime that you make changes, you're going to get a little difference in personality, a little difference in style, a little difference just in terms of experience and background of dealing with the guys at the position," head coach Jim Caldwell said when asked what Prince brings to the offensive line room.

"It takes a little adjustment for the guys up front because he does have a little different style, but I think it's been constructive."

Starting left guard Laken Tomlinson said fans would have to wait and see Sunday when asked how much effect Prince has already had in that room.

Pettigrew thinks Prince will get the best out of the unit.

"His approach on coaching is excellent," Pettigrew said of Prince. "It's hard to describe but he has a method of taking each player and kind of molding his coaching around that player. You can't really coach every player the same. He just has a right way of doing that.

"One thing I do know is he's going to do everything he can to make sure that everything is understood down to the small details of the game plan. At the end of the day, (the offensive linemen) are going to have to buckle down and learn it and get with it."

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Ranking college football coaching openings: Where do Virginia Tech, USC, Maryland fall?

By Adam Kilgore

November 2, 2015

Virginia Tech has not chosen a new football coach in about three decades, but that will not put them at any kind of disadvantage. No college football program has experienced circumstances anything like the present: The Hokies are among a confluence of schools in Power Five conferences and a smattering of lesser programs that will be looking to fill head coaching vacancies this offseason. By the time the carousel stops, it’s feasible a quarter or even a third of Football Bowl Subdivision programs will have new top whistles.

The hierarchy of coaching vacancies is not as cut-and-dried as many would make it seem. The first consideration is a coach’s current station. The USC opening is a dream job for, say, Justin Fuente, but it’s possibly a lateral jump, if not a step back, for Urban Meyer. The fit also matters more than perceived prestige. Geography, familiarity and a million other overlooked factors come into play when it comes times for a coach to actually make a decision.

“How do we determine a good job?” said Neil Cornrich, a leading agent for college and NFL coaches. “Our evaluation of a particular job is unique to every coach. We debate it on an individual basis for each coach and each job. What may be a good job for one coach may not be a good job for another coach. It depends on his other opportunities. They may be similar coaches, but it may not be the right fit for a number of reasons.”

Still, the offseason is about to tell us a whole lot about the pecking order of college football programs. Is South Carolina a more appealing job than Virginia Tech? Wait two months, see which coach lands where and we’ll find out. Does Minnesota have the cash and cachet to look beyond an interim? We’ll see. Can Maryland convince a big name to compete in the Big Ten’s varsity division? The answer is on the way.

Virginia Tech will not be able to pick its next coach at leisure. It will have to pry Beamer’s replacement from the clutches of another power school, or else wait and choose off the discard pile.

So where in the hierarchy does Virginia Tech fit? It is undoubtedly the biggest program in its region, if not the most powerful sports enterprise in the state of Virginia. The Hokies have a strong recruiting pipeline out of the Hampton Roads region, one of the most fertile territories in the nation. They have top-shelf facilities. They have big-boy games scheduled for years to come, starting with Notre Dame and Tennessee – at Bristol Motor Speedway! – next season. They play in the easier division of the easiest Power 5 conference to win.

On the other hand, if Memphis’s Justin Fuente or Houston’s Tom Herman is choosing between Virginia Tech and South Carolina, they may be inclined to lean toward Columbia. Recruits want to play in the SEC. South Carolina has a bigger stadium. It’s an uphill climb in the SEC, but it’s not as brutal in the East division and, if you reach the top, the national championship is there for the taking.

The amazing thing is how many schools will find themselves asking the same questions of themselves. Many years, Maryland would be in position to woo the best up-and-comer. Now? They’ll need to line up behind several schools.

The crush of openings may be a blessing for coaches on the hot seat. For example: It might be the right move for Virginia to fire Mike London, but it would be the wrong year to hire a replacement. With so many other schools in the market, Virginia would be forced to pick at the scraps. It may be smarter to be on a more normal coaching-change cycle next year.

Any ultimate ranking of coaching vacancies is premature. What happens if Georgia slides and the school parts ways with Mark Richt? Or if South Carolina shocks the industry and convinces alum Mark Dantonio to come home? But there already have been startling tremors across the sport, and who doesn’t love a list?

1. USC: The only no-doubt crown jewel program with an opening. Recruits pour through the doors. Even with the recent rise of Oregon and Stanford and the overall increase in quality, USC is unquestionably the king of the Pac-12. The athletic director seems to have lost control of the program and the Trojans just fired a coach who literally showed up to a game drunk, yet two weeks ago they stomped the No. 3 team in the country. With the right coach, the Trojans should contend for the College Football Playoff on an annual basis.

2. South Carolina: It’s the SEC, stupid. Even a middling program in the country’s best conference is a prime attraction. The stadium seats more than 80,000, and the pay is right. Steve Spurrier proved the best of the best recruits will go to South Carolina. Winning the SEC East and toppling a juggernaut from the West in Atlanta is far from fantasy.

3. Virginia Tech: There’s no real reason an engineering school tucked in the southwestern Virginia hills should be a power. Beamer elevated it to that status, but that doesn’t guarantee it’ll stay there. The next coach will have a great opportunity, especially because of the strong recruiting ties to the Tidewater and the school’s facilities are first-rate. But it’s not a guarantee.

4. Miami: No job offers greater reward or more potentially pratfalls. The money probably won’t be great, the facilities are a mess, the stadium is often empty and every school in the country invades the recruiting territory. Then again, the history and recruiting base means there’s also a clearer path to the national championship from Miami than any opening aside from Southern Cal.

5. Minnesota: The new stadium is a boon. The recruiting base is thin, but the best players in the state usually grow up wanting to be Gophers. A coach can build a good roster with the leftovers from Michigan and Ohio. The division provides little resistance. Most years, if Minnesota can upset Wisconsin it will have a strong chance to play in the Big Ten title game.

6. Maryland: The new coach will have to compete with Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State with an outdated stadium and a recruiting base that the best teams from three major conferences invade on a regular basis. We keep hearing that Kevin Plank and Under Armour are going to turn Maryland into Oregon East. Well, why hasn’t it happened yet?

7: Illinois: It’s probably one of the worst Power Five jobs, but it’s still a Big Ten coaching job.

8: UCF: Even though George O’Leary left it a mess, UCF is one of the best small-conference jobs out there. It’s got a massive alumni bas,e and it’s smack in the middle of Florida. It should be an ideal spot for an up-and-comer – this year’s version of Tom Herman or Chad Morris could be wooed here.

9: North Texas: At least it’s in the continental 48 states.

10: Hawaii: You get to live in Hawaii, but there might not be a football program left when you get there.

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