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.

Monday, November 02, 2015

OU football journal: Frank Beamer's retirement moves Bob Stoops up list

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops will become the longest active tenured coach after Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer retires at the end of the season. (AP Photo)

By Ryan Aber

November 1, 2015

With Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer's announcement that he would retire after the season, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is likely to move up to the top spot on the list of longest-serving active coaches.

Stoops is tied with Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who also took over for the 1999 season.
Stoops was hired days before Ferentz, though.

Stoops has been second, behind Beamer who began with the Hokies in 1987.

Here are the top five active coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision:

1. Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech), 1987
2T. Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), 1999
2T. Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), 1999

4. Gary Patterson (TCU), 2000
5T. Mark Richt (Georgia), 2001
5T. Gary Pinkel (Missouri), 2001

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