Monday, September 28, 2015

The Dallas Clark effect

By Abigail Pelzer

September 28, 2015

Well, I’m going to have to go to the Blake Shelton concert at Kinnick Stadium, even though I can’t name a single song of his.

You could call that the Dallas Clark effect.

Widely known and loved as a former Iowa Hawkeye standout, pro football star and all-around amazing guy, he’s got me on board for a country music concert. Well played, Dallas.

While I have an eclectic taste for music, including some classic country artists, I’m just not a lover of the country genre. Sure, I’ve dabbled. Everyone did, thanks to Garth Brooks. I also really liked the Dixie Chicks and even attended their concert, clad in my cowgirl boots. (Real boots, used for horseback riding, not simply a prop to convey my taste in music.)

Back to Dallas Clark. It all started Sept. 19 in Iowa City. Aside from the 57-yard field goal for the win and the 3-0 record that had eluded us since 2009, there was another piece of notable news — Kinnick Stadium will, for the first time ever, host a music concert in 2016.

Clark delivered the news via a video displayed on the Jumbotron, but didn’t name the artist. I believe this is what’s called “creating a buzz.” Dallas returned to the big screen this past Saturday to announce that Blake Shelton, a big-deal country musician and TV personality on “The Voice,” will headline the concert.

Last week when I found the Iowa City Press-Citizen news article “Mystery concert coming to Kinnick Stadium in 2016” I immediately posted it to Facebook with a disclaimer. “I’m going — unless it’s a country artist. Then I’m not going.”

The speculation began instantly. Who would be able to pack a crowd into Kinnick?

Of course my post did lend itself to what kind of music would highlight the event. Everyone figured it would be a country musician.

I happened to be in attendance Saturday as Iowa crushed North Texas. But I missed Dallas Clark’s announcement. I read about it Sunday morning, and I was moved. This isn’t just about music.

Clark has created the Native Fund, a nonprofit that aims to helps Iowans dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and also assists Iowa youth and military veterans. The charity will fill the gaps between what’s available from government agencies and others and help Iowans when they need it the most.

Now that’s cool. It also serves as a firm example of what a class act Dallas Clark is.
Also involved — Iowa natives Ashton Kutcher and Zach Johnson.

So, despite the razz I received on social media about Blake Shelton and country coming to my beloved stadium, I am intrigued.
Looks like it’s time to dust off my boots, I’ve got a country music concert to hit at Kinnick Stadium.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Brandon Scherff: Up to the challenge

Tackle Brandon Scherff held up well in his NFL debut. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

From Ben Standig's article "Three and out: Scherff, injuries, bad pennies"

September 13, 2015

Quick thought on Brandon Scherff's NFL debut, another round of injuries and the real hurt coming from two lagging veterans.

LANDOVER -- Many things took place in the Washington Redskins' 17-10 loss Sunday afternoon to the Miami Dolphins. Initial postgame thoughts on three of them.

Up to the challenge

For perhaps the first time in my life, I'm genuinely excited to rewatch the game specifically for the right guard. Based on the initial eye test and postgame reaction, rookie Brandon Scherff more than passed the immense test of facing Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Scherff and tackle Morgan Moses were the biggest uncertainties entering the season opener. The pair held their own on right side of the offensive line. Washington's running game gashed Miami in the first half and the offensive line largely gave quarterback Kirk Cousins a clean pocket to work from. "I think for the most part, Morgan and Brandon, in their first game together, I'm happy the way they played," coach Jay Gruden said. Build a strong offensive line and in most cases, the other pieces on offense improve. Curious what our film analyst Paul Conner thinks off Scherff after looking at the tape. Seems like a solid first step.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Brandon Scherff brings modest attitude to offensive line

FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2015, file photo, Washington Redskins offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (75) watches the team warm up before an NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions in Landover, Md.

By Zac Boyer - The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

They had been introduced one by one, positionally, then alphabetically, until the public address announcer asked Brandon Scherff to make his way onto the floor of the banquet hall.

Scherff, the Washington Redskins‘ rookie right guard, deferred. He stepped out of the entryway to make room for three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who received his own introduction moments later. Scherff respectfully followed, taking his seat at the annual awards luncheon at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center only after Williams had done so.

Of all the traits that led the Redskins to select Scherff with the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft in April — strength, athleticism, toughness — there may be no better characteristic that has defined his foray into the professional ranks than his humility.

Asked frequently to describe how he’s developed through the offseason, Scherff is quick to reply that he’s improved everything. Questioned about a change from right tackle to right guard after only a week of training camp, Scherff merely acknowledges that he was told to prepare to play both spots.

And, when recalling the moments that followed the announcement that he had been drafted, Scherff expressed no particular delight. To him, it was merely the acknowledgement that it was time to go to work.

“It was just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” Scherff said, “and I could finally go on with getting better.”

‘I’ll be happy where I go’

Gripping the lectern under the bright lights of a makeshift press conference at the NFL combine in February, Scherff was presented with the idea that life, as he knew it, was about to change.

The five-sport athlete who had grown up in rural, small-town Denison, Iowa and had become a star at the state’s flagship public university would, almost certainly, have to leave the Midwest if he were to play professional football. With a twinkle in his eye and a crooked smile, he chuckled.

“I’ll be happy where I go,” Scherff said. “A small-town guy in a big city? That’s perfect.”

For Scherff, whose idea of happiness is sitting alongside a small farm pond with a rod in his hand and a lure in the water, there may be fewer cities that provide a bigger departure from his norm than Washington. Scrutiny can be intense, which is almost certainly why Scherff tries to keep a low profile.

Aside from meeting with representatives from the Redskins during that week in Indianapolis, contact between the two parties was limited. Perhaps it was an attempt by general manager Scot McCloughan to throw off other teams; reportedly, the Redskins had only two players ranked higher on their draft board than Scherff — outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and wide receiver Amari Cooper, each of whom were off the board by the time the Redskins were on the clock.

The 6-foot-5, 319-pound Scherff was, still, a fitting selection. McCloughan, entering his first draft with the Redskins, subscribes to the belief that a team is built from the football out. His preference for strong, tough-nosed offensive linemen is well known; Scherff can hang-clean 480 pounds, and last season, after sustaining a right knee injury in Iowa’s season opener, he underwent arthroscopic surgery, practiced the next two days and didn’t miss a game.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden had wanted to overhaul the offensive line since he arrived prior to the 2014 season, and he did so by releasing center Will Montgomery, moving left guard Kory Lichtensteiger inside and signing Shawn Lauvao to fill his void. McCloughan took that a step further this offseason, drafting Scherff and cutting right guard Chris Chester, a four-year starter, as well as hiring longtime offensive line coach Bill Callahan to join the staff.

Scherff was viewed by analysts as a player who could play well on the outside, but who would likely excel as a guard, given his abilities as a blocker when teams ran the football. McCloughan addressed the team’s plans for Scherff shortly after he was drafted, saying he would be a right tackle, but when practice began on Aug. 5, not even a full week into training camp, he worked at right guard.

“It’s [about] getting the best five on the field,” McCloughan said. “It doesn’t matter to me [where Scherff plays]. He could play center. He’s one of the five. We want the best five out there.

Remaining humble in the East

The third of four children, Scherff grew up playing several sports, but his love was always football. During the spring of his freshman season of high school, in addition to playing baseball, Scherff played tennis alongside his older brother, Justin — “I tried to spin in,” he said of his serve, because opponents “never expected it” — and also competed in track and field, throwing the shot put and the discus.

It was during his sophomore year, when Scherff won the Class 3A title in shot put, that Iowa’s coaches actually began to take a look at him. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan was stunned by the way Scherff, with poor form, was able to muscle a throw 59 feet, 5 1/2 inches.

“There’s a lot of great athletes, but not with the athletic skills that he has and his frame combined with his work ethic,” said Dave Wiebers, Scherff’s high school football coach. “It’s kind of that combination of those things that could get you to that next level. He’s our first one that got to this level.”

Scherff won the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman last season, when he earned all-America and all-Big Ten honors. Former teammates have praised his work ethic; Carl Davis, a defensive end who was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens, said that may be Scherff’s greatest attribute.

“There’s a lot of things that go into being a good offensive lineman in theNFL,” Lichtensteiger said. “He’s been blessed to have a lot of tools to help out, but it’s not like college. You can’t maul somebody every single play. You’re not going to get those kinds of knockdown shots with the same frequency that you will in college, so you have to hone in your technique and work every day to become better.”

Those long days have, in one regard, inhibited one of Scherff’s favorite pastimes. While in college, Scherff would go fishing up to four days a week, spending plenty of time at a fishing hole on land owned by the family of Austin Blythe, Iowa’s center. Last year, at another pond, Scherff and a friend reeled in a 45-pound catfish, which they cleaned, grilled and ate.

Such excursions allow Scherff to clear his mind, but as he found at Iowa, they can also draw him closer with his teammates. He has already found a few small holes near Redskins Park, and he said quarterback Colt McCoy has expressed an interest in joining him. So, too, has Lichtensteiger, who joked that he’s sure an invitation is coming.

Scherff feels fortunate to be able to pursue doing the things he enjoys, including making a living playing football. That, in a way, could be why he’s unwilling to upset the establishment, remaining humble and deferring to the advice, and wishes, of his teammates.

“I think he just has a different level of maturity to him,” Williams said. “He’s a good player. Obviously, taken No. 5 overall, everyone knows that, so I’m excited just to watch him show [everyone] the reason he was picked at five.”

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Browns' best player in preseason was DL Jamie Meder, per Pro Football Focus

Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer
September 6, 2015

Jamie Meder was the Cleveland Browns' best player in the preseason.

That’s the word from, which gave Meder its best grade by far in ranking Browns players. Meder was the team’s best defensive player, best run defender and third-best pass-rusher.
That's why he made the roster of 53.

One caveat: Meder did it playing against mainly backups. The next step in his growth is to play against starters.

It also should be considered that backup center Nick Easton was the Ravens' best preseason player, per PFF, and he was traded on Saturday. Easton was an undrafted rookie from Harvard. Pittsburgh’s best player was linebacker Howard Jones, who is on the Steelers' practice squad.

That being said, Meder deserves credit. He was active, aggressive and impressive in the opportunities he received. The backup nose tackle earned his way on the roster the old-fashioned way -- by being productive on the field.

Diving deeper into the 53, it's interesting that PFF's worst run-blocker also made the team: Undrafted rookie tight end E.J. Bibbs, whose grade was by far the lowest of the run- blockers. Bibbs has been very productive in the passing game, but a tight end has to block.

That issue led to Bibbs being the lowest-ranked offensive player overall. Bibbs, who had a very positive grade on pass offense, was dragged down by the run blocking.

Among other tidbits about the Browns' preseason provided by PFF:

• The Browns' best pass-blocker was Joe Thomas, whom the site also called the best pass-blocker in the league. More greatness from Thomas, who doesn't even take a play off in preseason.

• Thomas was not the best overall player on offense, though. That honor went to quarterback Josh McCown, whom PFF rated was the sixth-best quarterback in the league.

• The next three best Browns offensive players were TE Jim Dray and WRsTravis Benjamin and Brian Hartline.

• The worst pass-blocker? Terrance West. Which would make clear why coach Mike Pettine seemed exasperated with West’s inconsistent play this preseason.

• The lowest ranked pass-blocking offensive lineman: First-round pick Cam Erving. PFF raves about Danny Shelton, but also says Erving struggled far more than Shelton.

• The highest-rated offensive player to not make the team was wide receiver Josh Lenz. He earned the respect of coaches and teammates with his work. That had to be a tough cut for Pettine. It would be a huge surprise if Lenz is not on the practice squad.

• While Xavier Cooper’s sacks stood out, PFF gave him the team’s lowest grade in run defense.

• Cornerback Justin Gilbert ranked third lowest in overall defensive play, and second lowest in pass defense.

• The highest ranked defensive player not to make the 53: Cornerback Kendall James. Gilbert and Paul Kruger (?) were the lowest ranked defenders to make the roster.

• In overall play, PFF calls Karlos Dansby the best coverage linebacker in the league, and said McCown ranked ninth in the league in deep passing in 2014. Problem is McCown ranked 31st against the blitz, 28th in short throws and last in intermediate throws.

ProFootballFocus uses its own analytics and metrics to assess the performance of each player, breaking each down by play, then assessing a grade. Their formula can be found here.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Rookie DE Trey Flowers had a monster game

Patriots vs. Giants Final Score: New England drops preseason finale 12-9
By Greg Knopping | @patspulpit on Sep 3, 2015, 10:34p

Rookie DE Trey Flowers had a monster game, but the New England Patriots dropped the preseason finale to the New York Giants 12-9.

Neither the New York Giants nor the New England Patriots would score a touchdown in the final week of the preseason, with the Giants hitting one more field goal than the Patriots en route to a 12-9 victory.

The Patriots would get deep into Giants territory twice in the final five minutes, but two Ryan Lindley turnovers would erase any hope the Patriots had of a victory.

It was a relatively ugly game from start to finish, with very few big names playing for either the Giants or the Patriots. The star of the night for New England was rookie defensive end Trey Flowers, who absolutely dominated in every facet of the game - setting the edge, tackling, assignments, and getting after the quarterback.

New England finishes the preseason at 2-2. But more importantly, the preseason finished. We're onto the regular season. Full highlights from the game below.

1st quarter
Jimmy Garoppolo received the veteran treatment, with roster longshot Ryan Lindleygetting the start, and quickly generating a three and out.

Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne received the start - likely to get more acclimated to the Patriots' system. Interestingly, LeGarrette Blount also received the start (and began with a 5 yard loss).

On defense, veterans to get the start included Alan Branch and Logan Ryan. The Giants also began with a mix of reserves and starters in the game - notably Ryan Nassib starting at quarterback in place of Eli Manning.

After a stop due to some nice pass rushes from Rufus Johnson and Trey Flowers, the Patriots had another three and out. On a positive note, Ryan Lindley did have a completion on this drive. Yay.

On the punt, however, the ball bounced off a Giants player and the Patriots recovered the football. However, it was ruled Giants football on the field, and then inexplicably Giants football after a challenge. After a pair of penalties, the Giants would put 3 points on the board.

2nd Quarter
The Giants got things going midway through the second quarter with a long completion down the sideline from Nassib to Geremy Davis. Dax Swanson fell down in coverage. The Giants would eventually settle for a second field goal to bring the score to 6-0.

You want a Patriots highlight? Trey Flowers continued to play some good football:

So there's that.

Ryan Wendell did get some game action in, which was good to see.

A little over midway through the quarter, the Patriots did finally put three points on the board, due to this big completion from Ryan Lindley to Aaron Dobson.

Lindley would then barely miss on a long ball to Dobson in the end zone. However, a LeGarrette Blount 12-yard catch and run would set the Patriots up for the field goal to cut the deficit back to three.

After a quick stop defensively, the Patriots put up another quick three to tie the game at halftime thanks in part to this great catch down the seam by Asante Cleveland.

And now, we have just 30 more minutes to go of preseason football.

3rd Quarter
Note a whole lot to report on from the third quarter. The Giants did tack on a field goal at the end of the quarter to gain the lead. So, points.

4th Quarter
The Patriots generated some momentum on offense to start the 4th quarter. Lindley found Zach D'Orazio over the middle on a third a long. James White made a couple of nice plays, and Stephen Gostkowski netted a 50-yard field goal to tie the game at nine.

Jerome Cunningham had a big catch for the Giants on the ensuing drive, and the Giants tacked on yet another field goal to take a 12-9 lead. However, Trey Flowers had this beautiful pass deflection that nearly turned into an interception:

Flowers has been one of the consistent outstanding performers of the Patriots' preseason and has impressed every time he's taken the field.

New England would make things interesting on the next drive. Chris Harper had a pair of nice snags in traffic to help move the Patriots down the field. Unfortunately, a 3rd down pass near the Giants' red zone would be overthrown by Lindley, resulting in a tip off the fingers of LeGarrette Blount and an interception for the New York Defense.

The Patriots would get the ball back one more time due to a fantastic stack, shed and tackle for a loss in the running game by... guess who? Yes, Trey Flowers.

On a 3rd and 8 on the Patriots' final drive, LeGarrette Blount had a 23-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass to bring the Patriots to a goal-to-go situation at the Giants ten yard line. Unfortunately, two plays later, Ryan Lindley would be stripped on his drop back, with the Giants recovering the fumble and securing the win.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Jamie Meder the No. 1 ranked DL in the NFL this preseason

Mike Pettine Press Conference - August 31

August 31, 2015

On why the Browns defense fits DL Jamie Meder so well:

“Jamie is a guy that has played very well for us. He is not a flashy guy, but he is very good with his technique and with his hands. I am very pleased with where Jamie is. We are just going to see how it all plays out. As we all know, that is a room where we have tremendous depth. Jamie is a guy that – I think (defensive coordinator Jim) O’Neil said it the other day – if you had to vote for a most improved that he would certainly be in the discussion.”

5 Browns observations from Monday’s practice

August 31, 2015

By Kevin Jones

Jamie Meder the No. 1 ranked DL in the NFL this preseason

On the last day of August, the Browns hit the field in Berea for a jog-through practice session. Because of the light tempo, many players were able to return from injuries.

Here’s what we saw.

1) DL Jamie Meder’s momentum growing

It may be the preseason, but Pro Football Focus ranks Meder as the No. 1 rated defensive lineman in the entire NFL. Working with mostly backups in the second halves of games, Meder has logged 49 snaps, producing seven tackles, a sack and has blown up a countless number of running lanes.

“I think (defensive coordinator Jim) O’Neil said it the other day that if you had to vote for a most improved, that Jamie would certainly be in the discussion,” coach Mike Pettine said.

We’ve written about Phil Taylor’s return to the field, Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper’s superior play, Randy Starks’ needed veteran presence and undrafted rookie Dylan Wynn’s emergence. The shot clock is quickly approaching zero, and the Browns will have some big decisions on the horizon.

“We are just going to see how it all plays out,” Pettine said. “As we all know that is a room where we have tremendous depth.”

“I just want to do anything to help the team win,” Meder said Saturday.

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