Wednesday, May 27, 2015

If Ravens want to extend Marshal Yanda, it's going to cost them

By Jeff Zrebiec

May 22, 2015

How much is Marshal Yanda worth?

That’s a question the Ravens are exploring these days as the four-time Pro Bowl selection is heading into the final season of a five-year, $32.5 million contract he signed with the team in 2011.

Owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome have both made clear this offseason that the team would like to sign Yanda to a contract extension that will increase the chances that one of the best offensive linemen in team history eventually retires as a Raven. But finding compromise on such a deal may be difficult.

Yanda will turn 31 years old in September, so he’ll obviously be looking at this as his last contract. For those who think his age should lower his price tag and want to point out that the Ravens don’t pay for the past, Yanda remains at the top of his game, viewed around the league as one of the best guards in football.

He is the leader of the Ravens’ offensive line and one of the most well-liked and respected players in the locker room. When Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner were hurt late in the season, Yanda moved out to right tackle and his play didn’t drop off. And one more thing: Yanda has missed just two games over the past six seasons.

In other words, Yanda won’t come cheap. At the very least, you’d have to think that Yanda’s agent, Neil Cornrich, will be looking to eclipse two deals given to guards in free agency this offseason.

In March, the Arizona Cardinals signed Mike Iupati, the former San Francisco 49er who has been selected to three Pro Bowls, to a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $22.5 million in guaranteed money. Former Denver Bronco Orlando Franklin agreed to a five-year, $36.5 million pact with the San Diego Chargers, which includes $20 million guaranteed.

If Yanda is looking to be the highest paid guard in football -- and to be clear, he’s never said publicly that he is -- the Ravens would have to go even higher than the deals that Iupati and Franklin got more than two months ago. They’d have to beat the six-year, $51 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) that Logan Mankins, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed with the New England Patriots in 2011.

Would the Ravens be willing to go that high for a player as important and beloved as Yanda? That remains to be seen, but it certainly would be difficult for a team that is always dealing with a tight salary cap situation.

The Ravens know they’ll need to restructure the contract of quarterback Joe Flacco next offseason. Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele, strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Will Hill, kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch could all join Yanda as unrestricted free agents.

If they can’t agree to a deal, the Ravens always have the option of using the franchise tag on Yanda, but that would be costly, too. The franchise figure for offensive linemen this offseason was $11.6 million. They could also let Yanda walk after the season and put the money toward a contract extension for the younger but less decorated Osemele.

What seems especially unlikely is the Ravens being able to afford to keep both guards. They’ve used fifth-round picks on guards in back-to-back years and either John Urschel or Robert Myers should be ready to step in if either Yanda or Osemele departs.

The Ravens do have time on their side and more often than not, Newsome has been able to work out deals to keep the franchise’s signature players in purple for their whole careers. But sometimes -- as was the case this offseason with the extension/restructure talks with Haloti Ngata -- it just becomes impossible to bridge the gap between what the team has to offer and how it values the player with the player and agent’s asking price.

Yanda clings tightly to his Iowa roots and to a blue-collar mentality, and he’s not one for extravagance. And that’s actually quite the understatement. But based on value, production, durability and importance to the team, It would be hard to blame Cornrich if he insisted that Yanda make more than the $8.5 million per year on average that Mankins has gotten under his current deal, or if he was adamant about Yanda getting close to or eclipsing $30 million in guaranteed money.

A little over 14 months ago, the Ravens signed Monroe to a five-year, $37.5 million deal that includes $19 million in guaranteed money. Sure, book-end tackles demand more money than interior offensive linemen, but Monroe was never considered one of the top players in the league at his position and he had played with the Ravens for less than a full season when the deal was reached.

How much more is arguably the league’s best guard worth, a guy who will almost certainly be inducted into the team’s ‘Ring of Honor’ one day?
It will be up to the Ravens to answer that question.

ESPN: Phil Dawson NFL leader among active kickers in 32-33 yard FGs

PFF’s Top 101 of 2014: No. 5, Marshal Yanda

By Gordon McGuinness

May 19, 2015

Without a doubt the best offensive lineman in football in 2014 was the Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda. Yanda has been one of the players who has set the standard at the position throughout his career, with the former Iowa Hawkeye finishing three out of the past four seasons as one of our three highest-graded guards.

We saw his form take a dip in 2013, as he and the rest of the Ravens’ offensive line struggled to get to grips with the new scheme, but rebounded better than ever with his 2014 showing, which was the best of his career.

A solid pass blocker, Yanda had the seventh-best pass-blocking grade of all guards in the regular season, allowing one sack, five hits and 10 hurries in 2014. Coming on 543 pass blocking snaps, that gave him a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 97.7, 11th at the position.

Where he really dominated, however, was as a run blocker. We’ve seen Evan Mathis destroy opposing defenders in the run game in recent years, and that’s exactly the level Yanda was at in 2014. He dropped off somewhat in the final few weeks of the season, but his efforts in the first 14 weeks included some of the finest run-blocking performances we’ve ever seen from an offensive lineman. When all was said and done nobody came close to him in 2014, with Yanda’s +34.2 run-blocking grade far ahead of Mike Iupati’s +18.5 in second place.

Overall, only Mathis’ 2012 and 2013 single season overall grades were better than Yanda’s 2014 (+43.4), with that first three quarters of the season as good as you’ll see.

Best Game: Week 14 @ Miami (+5.4)
There were a couple of games in contention for Yanda’s best in 2014, with a dominant performance as a run blocker against Tampa Bay in Week 6 a particular highlight. In the end, though, it was the game against Miami that saw his highest grade of the year.

He was solid in pass protection, finishing with a grade of +0.9 while surrendering a hit and a hurry. Coming on 35 pass blocking attempts that gave him a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 95.7. That definitely wasn’t his best pass-blocking game of the season, but then it’s not where the bulk of his grade comes from.

That, unsurprisingly, came from his work as a run blocker, where he had his fourth highest run blocking grade of the season. What impressed about his performance was that he didn’t have any negatively graded plays as a run blocker, just a series or impressive blocks to open up lanes for the running game.

Look at his block with 11:32 remaining in the third quarter, where he reaches and seals defensive lineman Jared Odrick inside to open the hole for Justin Forsett. It’s an understated block in that it’s not easy for a guard to get there and make it look so simple, but that’s exactly what Yanda does.

Key Stat: 97.7 Pass Blocking Efficiency in Regular Season and Playoffs.
The model of consistency, Yanda’s Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating stays at 97.7 whether or not you’re looking at the regular season on its own or throwing the playoffs in there too. A safe pass blocker throughout his career, he allowed just six knockdowns (sacks and hits), and 10 hurries for 16 total pressures overall. His pass blocking was definitely not as impressive as his run blocking, but it’s easy to see he was no slouch there either. Grading out amongst the Top 10 at the position in that regard, with the Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating to back it up.

That being said, it’s because of his monster season as a run blocker that we have Yanda in with the five best players in football. The best offensive lineman in the league last year, he was nothing short of dominant for long stretches during the season. He’ll be 31 years old not long after the season begins, so it’s fair to wonder how much longer we’ll see him at his best, but after getting to grips with the Ravens’ blocking scheme in 2014, it’s difficult to expect much drop off in 2015.

Ravens' Yanda rated fifth-best NFL player by Pro Football Focus
MAY 20, 2015

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda was the best offensive lineman in the NFL in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus.

Not only was Ravens guard Marshal Yanda the best offensive lineman in the NFL in 2014, he was one of the best players in the league overall, according to Pro Football Focus' list of top 101 players.

The advanced metrics site rated Yanda as fifth overall with a grade of plus-43.4, the best marks for an offensive lineman in the site's eight-year history aside from Philadelphia Eagles guard Evan Mathis in 2012 and 2013.

Yanda was ranked seventh in pass blocking among all guards, but the run game is where he really excelled. His plus-34.2 run-blocking grade was far away the best in the league, nearly twice as high as second-place finisher Mike Iupati. The Cardinals guard came in at plus-18.5.

In case you were wondering, Houston's J.J. Watt was rated the best player in the league for the third straight season. Packers QB Aaron Rodgerswas second, while Kansas City's Justin Houston and Denver CB Chris Harris rounded out the top four.

Beach Blast celebrates 27 years taking students to the shore

Thank you to the Panthers - Ted Ginn, Jr. and Kurt Coleman for joining this years Beach Blast.


Dick Keffer has enjoyed going to the beach for years. He knew his kids loved going, too.

“About thirty years ago, my family and I were on vacation at Wrightsville Beach, when an old bus from Whiteville, N.C., pulled up filled with kids from a Sunday School class. The kids jumped out of the bus and ran around like crazy. They were just so excited to be at the beach,” said Keffer, whose name is familiar due to his car dealerships in the region.

He found out that even though Whiteville was only about 50 miles from Wrightsville, these children had never been to the beach or seen the ocean. Keffer said he thought about how much we take for granted in life and how spoiled we can be.

“I knew there must be children in Charlotte who had never had the opportunity to go to the beach, and so I decided I’d figure out a way to help them have the experience, too,” Keffer said.

The South Park Rotary needed a new project at that time, and Keffer said he’d pay for the venture if they’d get involved. The rotary agreed, and a meeting was set up with the superintendent of schools to formulate a plan.

“I especially wanted to help kids who were high dropout risks, show them there was more to life and that someone cared,” Keffer said. “I’ve had a lot of assistance with this event from my right hand, Bonnie Hunter, all these years, too.”

From that meeting, the “Beach Blast” was formed. May 2 was the 27th year in a row that, each year, up to 500 underprivileged children of middle school age have been treated to a day – including lunch – at the beach. Dick Keffer paid for the first 26 years of the event.

Every year, 10 to 12 buses have been filled with excited children, teachers and Rotarians, who serve as bus captains. Keffer also supplies a private plane to take a Carolina Panther or two who go as a special treat for the children. This year, Panthers Ted Ginn Jr. and Kurt Coleman went.

“The children love the event, and so do we,” said Julie Freeland, a Rotarian.

She, along with Curt Oliver, chaired the Beach Blast again this year and also were bus captains. The Myrtle Beach Sunrise Rotary is involved with this project, too. They provide the entire barbecue luncheon, and chauffeur those who ride on the plane back and forth to the event.

Schools from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system select students to go on the one-day trip.

Beverly Mauldin, Coordinator of Court and Student Discipline, has been key to the project for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“Students need something positive in their lives. Some of our students don’t even have permanent housing. This trip is often used as incentive for good grades, attendance and behavior,” Mauldin said. “Mr. Keffer is really a visionary. He also instigated the Beach Blast Scholarship program in 1998. The scholarship awards the winner(s) up to $5,000 a year, renewable for three years if the criteria is met and kept.”

Janet Newton is president of the foundation for the scholarship.

Keffer, 82, is a father and grandfather. He said he enjoys taking the children every year and exposing them to something fun and educational.

The children have shown an eagerness to learn North Carolina geography during the drive, much to the delight of their teachers.

“I’m so happy we’ve been able to keep this project going for 27 years,” said Keffer. “I hope it continues for a long time.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Trey Flowers should bring athleticism to pass rush

RAZORBACK RAISES THE BAR: Fourth-round pick Trey Flowers, out of Arkansas, brings an elevated level of athletic ability to Patriots pass-rushing plans on defense. According to reports, Flowers can box jump to an impressive height of 55 inches.

By Karen Guregian
May 10, 2015

The more you learn about Patriots fourth-round draft pick Trey Flowers, the easier it is seeing the defensive end fitting in, and possibly contributing as soon as his rookie year.

First, let’s consider something that’s a bit off-the-wall on his resume. Flowers and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt have something in common aside from the position they play. They can box jump to outrageous heights.

What’s a box jump?

It’s basically where you jump from a standing position on top of some kind of platform or box. There’s a video out on the internet of Watt leaping up onto a 591⁄2-inch platform.

Why do it? This type of exercise helps with explosive movement.

The Pats rookie, meanwhile, hasn’t quite gotten to Watt’s extreme, but he does have a 55-inch jump on the books. It’s crazy.

“Yeah, that’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?” University of Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said when reached last week and asked about Flower’s box-jumping exploits.

Bielema, however, was impressed by so much more after spending the past two years with Flowers. The coach believes the Patriots truly struck it rich by drafting his player.

“From the first day I arrived on campus, he was one of the greatest leaders, one of the greatest competitors, and one of the greatest players I’ve been around,” Bielema said. “I think I’ve had 35 players drafted now from the first round to the seventh round, and he set himself apart Day One.”

Flowers could have entered the draft as a junior, but thought there was unfinished business left at Arkansas. He hated leaving on a losing note, as the Razorbacks finished 3-9. So he returned for his senior year, and wasn’t sorry. The team finished 7-6, and he played well enough to get invited to the Senior Bowl, something that truly elated Bielema.

“To me, what that Senior Bowl recognizes, the greatest players in college football. It’s a week where you can set yourself apart, from guys that maybe who don’t work as hard as you do, or strain as hard as you do, and that’s exactly what he did. I knew his stock would jump off the charts once that happened.”

Flowers strength is in setting the edge and stopping the run. He was an All-SEC Second Team with 68 tackles last season, including 15.5 for loss. He had six sacks, six pass breakups and nine quarterback hits.

Bielema wasn’t going to give Belichick any advice about how to use Flowers. The Patriots coach will see him first hand, and know exactly what to do with the 6-foot-2, 266-pound hybrid defender, who comes from an athletic family.

“I just think he’s an incredible competitor. I’ve seen him play outside. I’ve seen him play inside. I do think he has some ability to do a lot of special things, because mentally he can handle anything,” Bielema said. “He’s one of those few players that truly understands all the defensive schemes, where he fits into it, where others fit into it. I think wherever they end (up) using him, I think it’s going to be a real good story in the end.”

Given all Flowers has had to endure with the Arkansas program, Bielema was pleased where the kid ended up. There’s nothing better than going to a winning organization. But Flowers should be able to fit right in.

“He’s been through three head coaches, four defensive coordinators in four years, and he’s persevered,” Bielema said. “No one told him about the things that were going to go on here during his tenure. To be able to be a part of a world championship team, and I’ve seen firsthand the way they do things, I think he’s going to flourish more than anyone could ever imagine. Just sit back and watch this one. It’s going to be pretty incredible.”

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Arizona State's Todd Graham ranks No. 1

By Steven Lassan

May 7, 2015

Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.

A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?

Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking.

Ranking the Pac-12's Football Coaches for 2015

1. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Record at Arizona State: 28-12 (3 years)
Career Record: 77-41 (9 years)

It’s a close call between Graham and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez for the No. 1 spot among current Pac-12 coaches. The Sun Devils enter 2015 as one of the favorites for the conference title, and Graham has guided the program to 28 wins over the last three seasons. The Sun Devils won the South Division in 2013 and tied for second in '12 and '14. Under Graham’s watch, Arizona State has clearly removed the label of a program that struggles to reach expectations. And the Sun Devils are in the midst of a stadium renovation that will only help Graham and this staff sell a program that has inked back-to-back top-25 signing classes. Graham’s success isn’t just limited to Arizona State, as he helped Rice make a six-game improvement in the win column in 2006, won 36 games in four years at Tulsa and went 6-6 in his only season at Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

New England Patriots 6th round pick A.J. Derby has a tie to Bill Belichick

Former Arkansas TE A.J. Derby was a 6th-round draft pick of the New England Patriots (AP Photo)

By Kevin Duffy

May 2, 2015

FOXBOROUGH -- This may date Bill Belichick a bit, but soon he will have coached two generations of players from one family.

A.J. Derby, taken by the Pats in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, is a converted quarterback who has size and athleticism at tight end. His father, John, was a linebacker who appeared in one career game with the Detroit Lions and spent a training camp with the Cleveland Browns when Belichick was head coach.

"He didn't say much (about playing for Belichick)," Derby said on a conference call Saturday. "He went through one camp so he was just trying to make a spot. I don't think he really knew much about the NFL. He was just scraping at the bottom."

Some other notes from A.J. Derby, who spent just one college season at tight end:

*On moving from quarterback to tight end: "It's been kind of a long road. I was pretty stubborn about playing quarterback early in college, and that's the reason I ended up leaving Iowa to go to JuCo and then to Arkansas. But I ended up meeting with coach (Bret Bielema) and it worked out great to be a tight end."

*On former Arkansas teammate Trey Flowers, a third-round pick of the Pats: "All through the combine process, everybody asked me who the hardest guy to block was. And I said Trey Flowers every time, because I believe that. He's a great player and the Patriots are very lucky to have him in the organization."

*On favorite tight ends: "Growing up, being an Iowa guy, I was a huge fan of Dallas Clark. And I like to watch Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Rob Gronkowski."

Monday, May 04, 2015

NY Giants provide star power at Animal Shelter fundraiser

By Art Schwartz

May 3, 2015

Three members of the New York Giants football team brought their star power to the recent fundraiser for the Secaucus Animal Shelter. The Harmon Cove Clubhouse was packed for the afternoon as the three “good sports” met and mingled with fans.

“These guys are great,” said Councilwoman Susan Pirro, the town’s liaison with the shelter. “It was a great, great afternoon. We had a very good turnout.”

“When we come out it usually draws a bigger crowd, and if you have a bigger crowd it draws more attention to the cause. Hopefully we’ll get some of these guys adopted here,” said defensive tackle Markus Kuhn, referring to the five dogs brought along by the shelter for adoption.

Kuhn heard about the event from his girlfriend, Hoboken resident Alyssa Fasciano. “We’re big into animal support,” said Kuhn. “We have a dog. We both don’t eat meat.”

“There are so many beautiful dogs in shelters dying every day,” said Fasciano. “They’re being put down. Luckily now there are a lot of no-kill shelters.”

The Secaucus Animal Shelter is a no-kill facility. Over the years they have expanded from a local shelter to an interstate one, accepting animals from overwhelmed shelters in southern states, and finding them homes in New Jersey.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” said Kuhn. “It’s not an impulse buy, like ‘Oh, I like those shoes’ or ‘I like that bag’ or ‘I like that t-shirt.’ It’s like having a kid all of a sudden. Hopefully they’re staying adopted and people are taking great care of their dogs.”

Also attended the event were Giants linebacker Devon Kennard and running back Andre Williams.

New isolation building needed

The event was put together by Secaucus realtors Re/Max Infinity. Hundreds of people attended, according to Re/Max co-owner Rhoda Traum. “We never have this kind of outpouring,” she said. “Ever. I know a lot of people because I live here but I didn’t know half of them. We made a ton of money for the shelter.”

The goal of the event was to raise money to replace the animal shelter’s isolation room, which had deteriorated to the point of unusability. The isolation room is used for sick animals and for those coming into the shelter. Before animals are introduced to the resident population they must be checked out by a veterinarian and their health confirmed.

When the event wrapped up, the organizers had taken in close to $4,000, with a few more donations still pending. Applications for adoption had been taken out on four of the five dogs brought to the event.
“When we come out it usually draws a bigger crowd, and if you have a bigger crowd it draws more attention to the cause.” –NY Giant Markus Kuhn
The same weekend that the event took place, the old isolation building was demolished. Work began on a replacement but soon hit a snag.

“The guys were ready to start the foundation and they hit something really hard,” said Councilwoman Susan Pirro, the town’s liaison with the shelter. “We may have hit some kind of bedrock. So we may redo the concept of what we’re going to do there. We still need an isolation building but we may be looking into a pre-fab where we just drop it in place and then customize it ourselves.”

Currently a trailer has been set up on the premises for isolation use until a permanent building can be completed.

Puppy power

In addition to the celebrities, the event featured free food and drink, a DJ, and a wide array of raffle prizes. Many local vendors and restaurants donated gifts, including a big screen TV, a mini iPad, and coupons for fine dining.

“I’m very excited,” said Chris Conte, manager of the shelter, about the turnout for the event. Although the shelter also houses kittens, none were brought out for the day. “We have tons of them now but they’re three weeks old, four weeks old. We took them out last week and I think they got a little cold.”

The dogs, however, were the true stars of the afternoon. Kids swooned over them. Adults hugged them and filled out adoption applications.

Jess Lombardi came from Verona to check out the event and fell in love with a boxer mix about a year old. She completed the paperwork and was ready to take the pup home as soon as she cleared one last hurdle. “We rent and we’re waiting to get approved for the okay from our leasing company,” she said.

Secaucus resident Thea Isabella and her daughter Giulia came not to adopt, but just to enjoy the day, bringing along their five-year-old French Bulldog Lulu to join in the fun. “She’s a rescue too,” said Thea. “So we’re here to support. It’s a great cause. My daughter’s an animal lover.”

Friday, May 01, 2015

Redskins select Brandon Scherff with No. 5 overall pick

By Conor Orr

April 30, 2015

We have our first perceived head-scratcher of the NFL Draft.

The Washington Redskins selected Iowa guard/tackle Brandon Scherff, a strong but conservative move by new general manager Scot McCloughan.

McCloughan oversaw the drafting of star offensive lineman Mike Iupati in San Francisco back in 2010 and could be trying to replicate his formula in the Nation's Capital. Washington has enough to worry about at quarterback, so why not strengthen the line in front of them?

The Redskins gave up the second-most sacks in football a year ago and, despite losing some quality pass-rushers like Brian Orakpo in free agency, opted against taking USC's Leonard Williams, believed by some to be the best overall talent in the draft.

Washington has held a top five pick eight times in franchise history, using the pick on offensive line help just twice, most recently Trent Williams back in 2010.

But this is a new era in D.C. and they hope that a 6-5, 320-pound mauler can get them off on the right foot.

If nothing else, all indications are that Washington is getting a Day One starter that, if healthy, can play two positions at an elite level for years to come.


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