Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Broncos special-teams concerns, Derek Wolfe’s take, A.J. Derby’s development and more

November 29, 2016

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has a list of concerns about his team that seems to grow by the week.

After Sunday’s overtime loss to the Chiefs, special teams became a glaring concern after an array of mistakes that included multiple holdings calls on punts, two muffed punts by Jordan Norwood, an illegal formation penalty on a Chiefs field goal attempt, and a Broncos free kick that Tyreek Hill returned 86 yards for a touchdown.

“That’s really disappointing because that had been a consistency for us,” Kubiak said. “There have been a couple of times here in the last month where we have not played well on special teams. … There are two phases of the game. Field position, we lost that phase of the game and we lost the turnover battle in that phase of the game, too. It’s very disappointing. We need to rebound.”

Critical stretch. The pressure is on high after the divisional loss. If the playoffs started this week, the Broncos wouldn’t be in the postseason field. Which means their final five games are raised in importance.

But defensive end Derek Wolfe said the pressure would have been there even after a win.

“We’re the type of team where we don’t feel pressure, we try to apply it,” he said. “That’s something that we’re going to have to emphasize. … It happened last year. We were in the same type of situation. The margin for error is not there. We can’t be messing up. We can’t be making mistakes.”

Derby’s development. Among the bright spots for the Broncos’ offense Sunday night was tight end A.J. Derby’s involvement. Derby, who was acquired in a trade with New England in October, caught all four targets for a season-high 43 yards. One of those catches was for 13 yards on a critical third down in the fourth quarter that led to Bennie Fowler’s touchdown.

“(We’re) excited about how far he’s come since we’ve gotten him,” Kubiak said. “Obviously, he’ll continue to take more of a part of what we’re doing, but (he) makes a lot of plays (and) he catches the ball well. He can improve in the physical part. Blocking and those types of things are the things that we need him to improve upon, but I think that he has a chance to be a really good player.”

Tale of two halves. Weak pass protection upfront stalled the Broncos’ offense and left quarterback Trevor Siemian little to time to create much of anything in the first half Sunday. So what changed in the second half?

“In the first half, we couldn’t hold the ball to throw anything, to be honest with you,” Kubiak said. “In the second half we found a way to get the ball down the field a little bit and make some plays. We stood committed to the run even though we were down. We didn’t run the ball great, but we ran the ball enough that we could still run play-action. He played extremely well. He made a lot of plays. He made a lot of plays with his feet.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Phil Dawson Reflects on 400th Field Goal, 'Uncle Phil' Nickname

November 23, 2016
By Joe Fann

There was no denying the moment. Phil Dawson could feel the difference as he paced backwards to line up the 33-yard field goal attempt. Longsnapper Kyle Nelson and punter/holder Bradley Pinion were unusually quiet.

Focus was essential amid wet conditions at Levi’s® Stadium, and neither player wanted to be the one responsible for keeping Dawson away from the looming milestone.

“I could sense the anticipation and excitement,” Dawson said. “I lined up, it was a great snap, a great hold, the guys protected well, and I just tried to punch it through.”

Dawson drilled it between the uprights. The kick put the San Francisco 49ers on the scoreboard against the New England Patriots, but more importantly, it marked Dawson’s 400th career field goal.

The 18-year veteran became the 10th kicker in NFL history to reach the mark.

“It was a great sense of relief. … It felt really good. We’d been tracking it for a while now,” Dawson said, referring to the countdown to 400 that had been in the office of special teams coordinator Derius Swinton II. “It was really special.”

What’s more, Dawson owns the best career field goal percentage of any kicker to make 400 (84.7 percent). That’s a remarkable number given the 14 years Dawson spent in Cleveland’s unpredictable winter conditions.

“Part of being a kicker is that you never know (when your opportunities will come),” Dawson said. “You just have to be ready, and whenever your team needs you, you have to go out there and make the most of it. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my career.”

And it’s what Dawson continues to do. The 41-year-old has made 14-of-15 field-goal attempts this season and is showing no signs of slowing down (as evidenced by his booming 53-yard field goal against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10).

Dawson't teammates mobbed him back on the sideline. Everyone took the opportunity to shake his hand and congratulate their esteemed teammate best known in the locker room as, “Uncle Phil.” Dawson has learned to love the nickname first given by Torrey Smith.

“I guess it’s a term of endearment, and so I’m gonna go with it,” Dawson said. “My boys think it’s cool and say it’s the in thing to be called, so I guess I’m cool now.”

But it’s better than “Grandpa Phil,” right?

“Yeah, but with the gray hair, that’s coming,” Phil joked about the white hair that is not-so subtly creeping into his beard. “I might be great uncle Phil before too long.”

The 49ers kicker couldn’t have timed his momentous achievement any better. Each year, the kicker’s wife and three kids come to a home game around Thanksgiving. This meant that no special travel plans were needed to be made for the Week 12 contest against the Patriots. In addition, Dawson’s parents alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with his in-laws.

This year, it was Dawson’s parents who got to be in town for the turkey day trip.

“They don’t get to come to very many games. That was a neat deal, to share it with them," Dawson said. "They’ve been there since my first kick.”

As for the ball, it still resides in the equipment room at 49ers HQ. It will eventually assume it’s proper place on the mantle at Dawson’s home in Austin, Texas.

“That will find a special place,” Dawson said. “That will be one that as I’m done playing, whenever that is, I’ll appreciate that ball even more. Right now, I’m still doing my thing and trying to get ready for another opponent. I can’t really go into grandpa-reflection mode yet, but as time goes by, I think I’ll really enjoy that one.”

Toughness, versatility and ingenuity allow Marshal Yanda to dominate while injured

By Childs Walker
November 29, 2016

Marshal Yanda devised the solution himself.

If there was no way to get his injured left shoulder up to snuff for the remaining seven games of the 2016 season, the Ravens guard would find a way to rely more heavily on his right shoulder. Perhaps if he fired from the left side of the line instead of the right, he'd be able to use his healthier wing to smash interior defenders.

Yanda, a five-time Pro Bowl selection at right guard, suggested the shift to Ravens coach John Harbaugh at the beginning of last week. By Sunday, he looked ready to start the Pro Bowl at his new spot.

So what if he hadn't played a single snap at left guard in 10 pro seasons? So what if his bad shoulder would torment him through two more months of NFL combat? The move provided a perfect mini-synopsis of Yanda's understatedly brilliant career — a blend of will, resourcefulness and rare athletic ability.

"If guys wouldn't look up to Marshal, I don't know who they would look up to just in terms of the total package," Harbaugh said. "The ability to do what he did, the willingness to do it and then to be able to pull it off, it's pretty remarkable."

Yanda has now served as a model of professionalism for an entire generation of Ravens offensive linemen.

"As soon as I came here, I knew one of the guys I'd be looking up to was Marshal," said left tackle Ronnie Stanley, the team's No. 1 draft pick. "He's everything I expected him to be and more. Great teammate, great leader, really understands the game without taking it too seriously. If coaches are doing something he doesn't think is useful to players, he'll say something. He's kind of a players' leader. He's always fighting for us, and out on the field, he's always fighting."

Yanda hurt his shoulder sometime during the Ravens' Week 5 loss to the Washington Redskins. The stoic All-Pro didn't come out of the game, so many were surprised when he appeared on the team's injury report the following week.

He missed three of the next four games, fueling concerns that his shoulder might be wrecked enough to cost him the rest of the season.
Leave it to Yanda, however, to find a way to keep playing.

He did not merely grit his way through a so-so performance. He graded as the best guard in the league, according to the scouting web site Pro Football Focus.

He was flawless in pass protection, a major reason why quarterback Joe Flacco took just three hits all game. And he was the key blocker on the Ravens' first scoring drive, which featured runs of 20, 16 and 18 yards.

After running back Terrance West powered across the goal line, Yanda sprinted to meet him in the end zone, where he wrapped West in a vigorous hug.

The last thing he looked like was a guy with a busted shoulder.

Of course, we've seen this before. Yanda played with a torn rotator cuff during the team's run to Super Bowl XLVII, postponing surgery until five days after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.

As a rookie, he famously took two jolts from a stun gun to win a $600 bet. Easiest money he'd ever made, the Iowa farm boy declared.

Yanda, 32, has accepted pain as an inherent part of the job ever since he blew out his knee five games into his second season.

"You have to understand, it's not if you're going to get hurt. It's when," he said in 2014.

It's an outlook he shares with linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of only two players who have been on the Ravens longer than Yanda.

"That's kind of the mentality, for some of us," said Suggs, who's playing with a torn biceps. "It's the cost of doing business. That's the only way Marshal knows to play. We all be getting banged up, and Marshal's going to be out there. It's good to see your bell cow out there, definitely."

Yanda has never been the most talkative Raven, and he politely declined an interview request Wednesday.

But his teammates are happy to fill in the blanks on one of the most respected players in the locker room.

"I asked him when was the last time he was on the left side, and I forget what he told me, but it wasn't any time close to now," Flacco said. "So it's definitely impressive what he does, week in and week out.

He recalled Yanda was "pretty down" a few weeks ago when his season appeared in jeopardy. But when Flacco showed up for work last week, he noticed "an extra pep" in Yanda's step.

"Then he broke it to me he was going to try to play the left side," Flacco said. "Obviously, I love that."

Harbaugh is no longer surprised by Yanda's adaptability. He has shifted him to tackle several times over the years to cover for injuries to other players. But the right-to-left flip revealed another layer of versatility.

"I don't know if it's quite as drastic as this, but in some ways, it's like you're a lefty all of those years, and now, you have to go over to the right of the plate and hit," Harbaugh said. "You have your other hand down. You have your other foot back and everything is backwards; you're setting to the left instead of to the right. All the plays are flipped. I think for him to do it … I was weary of it early in the week. I was just watching him in individual and seeing how he moved, but he did look natural doing it. … It just shows you what a phenomenal athlete he is and how determined he is and really what a good football player he is."

Stanley made the switch from right tackle to left tackle over an entire offseason in college and said it's no small thing to reset your muscle memory.

"That's the hardest part, is just getting your body parts to react the same way," Stanley said. "Offensive line isn't a normal body position for humans to be in, so to alter that after you've been practicing your legs to move a certain way for so long, it doesn't just come naturally. It's definitely a big feat."

Stanley was mighty impressed with the way Yanda carried it off against the Dallas Cowboys.

"But for Marshal," he said, "it's probably just normal."

Strong Defense Is Only Reason Ravens Are In 1st Place

By Chris Schisler

November 28, 2016

The Baltimore Ravens Defense Deserves Nothing But Credit For Giving The Ravens A Chance To Win The AFC North

The Baltimore Ravens offense ranks 25th in points scored per game. They rank 18th in passing yards per game and 28th in rushing yards per game. Needless to say the offense has been disappointing. Despite these very unappealing numbers, the purple and black are 6-5 and due to the head to head tie breaker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, are in first place in the AFC North.

The Baltimore offense has been awful. When you compare the results of the Ravens offense to the results of their opponents, you see how good the defense is. The offense has gained 209 first downs compared to their opponents 183. Joe Flacco and company have gained almost 4,000 yards more than the Ravens opponents have this season. Justin Tucker has gone 27-27 on field goal attempts this season. Baltimore’s opponents have only tried 14 field goals this season and only scored on nine of them. While opponents have combined for six more touchdowns than the Ravens offense, that just shows you how impaired the purple and black are when it comes to scoring.

Baltimore’s defense is allowing just 18.3 points per game, which is the fourth best in the NFL. Dean Pees’s defense ranks in the top 10 in almost every statistical category. The overwhelming conclusion to all of this is simple. The defense is so good, that it is carrying the entire team.

Every week the defense is asked to do it all. The defense knows going into the game that they can’t win in a shootout. The purple and black have to get big time results from the defense to even have a chance of winning. Baltimore has won six games and it is the defense that deserves the most credit.

The Bottom Line

A 2016 Ravens game has a very familiar pattern. The defense gets off to a strong start. The defense keeps the team in the game while the offense wastes their potential. Eventually the dam breaks and the defense gives up a big play or two. It’s hard to win when the defense has to dramatically out perform the offense just to stay in the game. If Baltimore wins the AFC North with this stagnant of an offense, the defense deserves a ton of credit.

Dean Pees is now calling the defense from the sideline and it is making a huge difference. Now Pees can communicate with the players better. This may explain why he seems to fix things and adjust better in the game. Lardarius Webb and Eric Weddle have strengthened the back end of the defense. This has given Pees the freedom to mix of pressures and coverage schemes.

The Baltimore defense may be the most impressive unit in all of football. There are few teams that have asked their defense to do more for them. The defense has been put in bad spot after bad spot and Terrell Suggs and company don’t blink. What could the Ravens do if the offense got their act together?

Kevin Wilson Has Indiana Moving Forward, So Appreciate It

Kevin Wilson is just the second head football coach to bring IU to back-to-back bowls.

By Sam Beishuizen | Staff Writer

November 28, 2016

IU football's 26-24 win against Purdue wasn't the prettiest of victories.

It wasn't a sexy win. The Hoosiers grinded it out against an in-state rival that only had the Old Oaken Bucket left to play for. But IU won, clinching its second consecutive bowl bid in the process.

You know what that looks like?


You know who deserves credit for it?

Kevin Wilson.

It took time for Indiana's head coach to build the Hoosiers into a competitive program, and his work is far from over. Back-to-back six-win bowl seasons aren't out of this world good, fine.

But for Indiana football, that's a significant accomplishment.

By beating Purdue for a fourth consecutive year—and oh by the way, only one other IU coach has ever done that…ever—Wilson became just the second Indiana head coach to lead the Hoosiers to back-to-back bowl teams.
The other way Bill Mallory, who did it twice.

Mallory's 1991 team was the last in program history to win a bowl game. Wilson's going to have the chance to make that stat far less relevant at the end of December against whatever opponent in whatever bowl the Hoosiers get sent out to.

Yes, around the same time Zander Diamont was kneeling in the end zone for a safety to win the game against Purdue—that was a percentage play, by the way—Michigan and Ohio State were heading to overtime in a battle of College Football Playoff candidate teams. Indiana football isn't exactly front page news on a national landscape.

But Kevin Wilson is quietly doing a hell of a job at a school where the mighty basketball program will forever shadow the football program that is too often the butt of jokes among its own fan base.

This year, Indiana claimed the Old Oaken Bucket and Old Brass Spittoon in the same season for just the fifth time ever. The Hoosiers did so reinventing themselves, finishing their regular season ranked No. 40 in total defense (credit Wilson's hiring of Tom Allen there) and No. 53 in total offense.

No, the wins weren't pretty. Indiana's six victories came against opponents with a combined winning percentage of just 30.5 percent. But the wins came. Isn't that what matters?

Because remember, IU had only won six games or more in a single season ONCE in the 16 years before Wilson accepted the head coaching duties before the 2011 season. In six years, he's now gotten Indiana to the bowl eligibility mark twice.

There's a reason IU extended the man's contract through 2021 in January.

With plenty of key pieces returning next season, including who many projected to be the best offensive weapon in Simmie Cobbs back from injury, Indiana seems destined to be in a pretty spot to head to a third straight bowl game for just the third time. Another win against Purdue would mark five in a row, the longest such streak in a rivalry that dates back 119 years.

Recruiting appears to be in a good place. The classes have continually gotten better, players have developed and in-state prospects are choosing the Hoosiers now with seven Indiana natives already pledged in the 2017 class. IU fans complain about Tom Crean missing in-state talent all the time, but the same can't really be said for Wilson any more. These are Hoosiers choosing the Hoosiers.

The climb up the Big Ten's pecking order is a steep one, especially in the Big Ten East. The Michigans and Ohio States of the world are going to rule, and Penn State is surging back into national contention.

But did you notice who finished fourth in the Big Ten East behind three programs with a legitimate chance at making the College Football Playoff to fight for a national championship? You probably can guess.

Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers.

Indiana football isn't elite. It isn't going to become elite any time soon. Attendance is bad, and doesn't seem to react to the team winning. The pulse among students remains dull. There's so many bowl games that being one of 80 teams in the postseason doesn't seem to resonate all that much, and that's understandable. That is what it is.

But what Wilson is doing is noteworthy whether we choose to admit it or not.

He's fixing IU football.

Dr. Z Unsung Guys of the Week

November 28, 2016

By Peter King

Each week, in conjunction with Pro Football Focus, I’ll point out three players who played well but were under the radar. Paul Zimmerman would have loved this section. This week’s trio:

1. Bucs LB Lavonte David. The upstart Buccaneers suddenly have a winning record, and Lavonte David’s performance Sunday is a big reason. David was so good on Sunday that his 93.9 overall grade was the highest of any player at any position in Week 12. In coverage, David allowed only one catch for three yards, and his 96.5 coverage grade ranked first among all defensive players in Week 12. Russell Wilson’s QB rating when throwing into David’s coverage was 56.3, and David also harassed Wilson with one hit and one hurry on nine pass-rush snaps.

2. Saints TE Josh Hill. Hill might not be the first Saints tight end who comes to mind, but his blocks were the key to some of New Orleans’ bigger runs in the demolition of the Rams’ defense. Hill’s run-blocking grade of 88.8 ranked second among all offensive players in Week 12. Hill was also a productive in the pass game, with six receptions on six targets and 51 yards after the catch. Drew Brees’s QB rating when throwing at Hill was 118.1.

3. Lions OT Riley Reiff. Matthew Stafford gave thanks for Reiff on Thursday. Reiff didn’t allow a single sack, hit or hurry of Matthew Stafford on 45 pass-blocking snaps, and Reiff’s 86.6 pass block grade ranked second among all tackles in Week 12. Reiff was also a solid contributor to the run game as well, with a 73.6 run-block grade in a big NFC North divisional win.

Rex Burkhead finally gets his shot in Bengals’ loss to Ravens

The Bengals sixth round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft is finally getting a chance to show his worth. And, he played a great game on Sunday in Baltimore, proving to the Bengals he deserves more touches.

By Rebecca Toback

November 28, 2016

When Giovani Bernard went down with a torn ACL in the Bengals’ Week 11 loss to the Bills, it signaled an opportunity for Rex Burkhead to finally get his shot at proving his worth in the NFL.

Burkhead got just that in Week 12 as he played 38 snaps in the Bengals' loss to the Ravens, which is actually one snap more than starter Jeremy Hill played in the game.

“Gio is a very big part of what we do, but we still have to go forward,” Hill said after Sunday’s game. “Rex did a really good job for us today.”

That he did. Burkhead was the Bengals' leading rusher with 29 yards on five attempts (a 5.8 yard per carry average), including a long of 17 yards.
It's a pretty sad state of affairs when the Bengals' leading rusher notches only 29 yards. Burkhead added to his total yardage on the afternoon with two catches for 19 yards. Coincidentally, he also had a 17 yard catch. The Bengals were slow to put their trust in Burkhead as he only carried the ball five times, and they will need to —and should— trust him more in the weeks ahead. Jeremy Hill had 12 rushes for 21 yards on Sunday, (a 1.75 yard per carry average), with the Bengals inexplicably running the ball only 17 total times (not including Andy Dalton's three running plays). Even against a tough defense like the Ravens’, the Bengals typically don’t succeed when they abandon the run game.

“It felt good to get out there, to get your hand on some balls and get some touches,” Burkhead said after the game. “I feel like I could have played better, of course. I’m never satisfied. I always look for ways to improve, but my number one priority is to get a win for this team, and we didn’t do that today.”

In the fourth quarter, Burkhead did the bulk of his damage, getting his hands on the ball five times, including three consecutive run plays where he accumulated 28 yards and netted the Bengals first downs on two of the three plays.

Prior to Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, Burkhead had 70 career rushing yards, 167 receiving yards, 1 rushing touchdown and 1 receiving touchdown. He has mostly made an impact on special teams during his time in Cincinnati, including being used as a return man this year. On six kickoff attempts this season, Burkhead has accumulated 114 yards including a long of 26 yards (averaging 19 yards per attempt). His impact is sure to increase in the five games ahead on offense. And, for Burkhead, it’s good timing as he’s set to become a free agent in March 2017.

“I haven’t had that many opportunities in my career, so finally I got some chances, and it felt good. I got into the rhythm. I was comfortable in the run game. I just went out there and tried to do my best,” Burkhead said.

Prior to last season, there was significant hype surrounding Burkhead and the impact he could make as a pass catcher. But, the Bengals have hardly utilized the player who many have referred to as an X-factor. Burkhead sounds like his has the right attitude and all the motivation necessary to try and steal some wins in the Bengals’ final games of the season.

“We’re disappointed, but we’re going to keep fighting,” he said. “That’s what this team is made of – high character guys who are going to keep fighting.”

Burkhead figures to be a big part of that fight for the rest of the season.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Best games of the best rivalry

My list extends from Bruce to Meyer, includes a win with Ginn and a thriller with Miller

By Bill Livingston
November 26, 2016

Freshman Ted Ginn Jr.'s 82-yard punt return highlighted the Buckeyes' 37-21 victory in 2004. Punter Adam Finley was the last line of defense.

Before the once-beatens, Ohio State and Michigan, play ''Survivor'' for a potential berth in the College Football Playoff at high noon today in The Horseshoe, the Big Ten Network is airing a documentary about the unbeatens in The Game of 2006.

Ten years ago, No. 1 Ohio State outgunned No. 2 Michigan, 42-39, on the day after the great Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died.

This spurred thoughts of the best Ohio State games I've covered since I began writing columns on Ohio State in 1984.

I'm skipping the losses — the Desmond Howard Heisman pose in 1991; Stan Jackson's pick-six thrown while the ground was rushing up at him, rather than take a sack in 1997; the ''Shawn Springs Slipped'' game in 1996.

They would all be on a list of Michigan fans' favorites.

As for Buckeye fans, their list would skew to the Jim Tressel/Urban Meyer era, although Earle Bruce's valedictory makes my list, too.

2006: Ohio State-Michigan 2006 was a great event, marking the zenith of the Big Ten's reputation in this century. Only now, with three teams in the Associated Press top five (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan, No. 5 Wisconsin) has the Big Ten come close to the 1 vs. 2 frenzy in 2006.

Ohio State was in command most of the game. A late Michigan touchdown and two-point conversion made it closer than it seemed.

Unfortunately, it was followed by serious routs of both teams in bowl games. Southern California bounced Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 32-18, and OSU fans got an early, terrifying glimpse of Urban Meyer when his Florida team humbled Ohio State in Arizona in the BCS Championship Game, 41-14.

2005: I have to put the 2005 game high on the list. It was a 25-21 Ohio State comeback win in Ann Arbor, led by Wolverine nemesis and former Glenville standout Troy Smith.

OSU rallied from a ninepoint deficit in the last seven minutes. Unforgettable highlight: ''The Catch'' on the winning drive by St. Ignatius' Anthony Gonzalez.

2004: Everyone saw what was coming, both good and bad, the previous year in a 37-21 Buckeyes upset of a Michigan team that had already clinched the Big Ten championship.

The good: In his first Michigan game, Smith ran for 145 yards, passed for 241, threw for two TDs and ran for one. The play of the game, for all that, was still the 82-yard dazzler of a touchdown punt return by Glenville's Ted Ginn Jr.

The bad: On fourth and 1 at the Michigan 29, future Cleveland Browns receiver Braylon Edwards, foreshadowing much of his Browns career, ran a 1-yard turnout, designed to get the first down and step out of bounds late in the game. The pass was right in the breadbasket as OSU played soft, just trying to keep everything in front of the defense. Edwards dropped it.

1987: An emotional No. 1 might be this game, Earle Bruce's last after he was fired in the week leading up to The Game for winning ''only'' three of every four games in his OSU career. Ohio State had lost three straight games going into The Game and trailed, 13-0, in the first half. A comeback does not happen in such circumstances after the week the Buckeyes had, but it did.

It was as memorable for Bruce's ride off the field on the shoulders of his players, all of whom were wearing headbands lettered ''Earle,'' as for the 23-20 victory in a rousing second-half rally.

2001: I also have to include the 2001 edition, a 26-20 Ohio State victory in Jim Tressel's first try against the previously dominant Wolverines.

Michigan's Marquise Walker dropped the would-be winning touchdown pass deep in the end zone right between the uprights late in the game. But the bigger story was Tressel got a look at what a quarterback named Craig Krenzel could do.

The biggest story might have been that Tressel ''called his shot,'' all but promising a victory in Ann Arbor on the day he was hired.

2013: More exciting to me even than the fabled 2006 meeting was Ohio State's 42-41 victory in 2013 over an inspired Michigan team that went only 7-6, but emptied the playbook that day.
The Wolverines burned OSU all afternoon with throwback screens.

Included in the wild game was a near-brawl between players, with quarterback Braxton Miller's participation somehow missed by referees, the ejection of Marcus Hall, the ''Birdman of Glenville'' and the game-saving interception by Bedford's Tyvis Powell on a two-point conversion pass by Michigan QB Devin Gardner.

The latter foreshadowed Glenville linebacker Chris Worley's similar play to save Saturday's 17-16 victory at Michigan State.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Marshal Yanda Proved his Toughness Again in Switch to Left Guard

The Ravens Pro Bowler came up with the idea to move across the offensive line for his first start at left guard since high school. The move helps him be stronger and protect the injury to his left shoulder.

November 22, 2016

By Ryan Mink

Add this to Marshal Yanda’s tome of tough stories.

With concern that the Ravens’ five-time Pro Bowl right guard could miss the rest of the season because of an injury to his left shoulder, Yanda came up with the idea to flip sides on the offensive line.

Left arm’s hurting? Let’s try the right one.

Yanda started at left guard for the first time in his 10-year career in Sunday’s 27-17 loss in Dallas, and could stay there for the rest of the season. He hadn’t played left guard since high school.

It’s a major development for an offense that has been hampered by a shuffling line this season.

“He felt like it would be better with his situation, with his shoulder to be on the other side, that it would give him the best chance to be strong and stay healthy,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

“We said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it, let’s try it.’”

In 2011, Yanda played in a game just days after having emergency leg surgery. He played through a torn rotator cuff in 2013. There are probably countless other injuries he’s played through without the media or public knowing.

This year, Yanda has been dealing with a left shoulder injury suffered on Oct. 9 when he moved to right tackle to help out when Rick Wagner went down.

Yanda missed the next two games (Week 6 vs. the New York Giants, Week 7 vs. the New York Jets), then came back to face the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers after the bye. He wasn’t well enough to face the Cleveland Browns four days later.

Just the fact that Yanda missed three games speaks to the severity of the injury. He had missed just two games over the previous seven seasons.

“I’m a team guy, and if I can play at a high level and help the team, I’m going to be out there no matter what,” Yanda said last week. “It’s one of those things that I pride myself in and I feel like I owe it to the team. I owe it to the guys in this locker room to be out there if I can.”

Yanda didn’t just prove his grit by taking the field. He played at a high level too.

According to Pro Football Focus, Yanda was still the Ravens’ best offensive player against the Dallas Cowboys with a plus-4.0 grade.

Running back Terrance West ran behind Yanda for an 18-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Yanda fired off the snap, turned and walled off Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain.

“He kind of looked like he’s played it all along,” Harbaugh said. “He didn’t have any problems in there. It was a good move for us.”

Harbaugh said he was wary of the move early in the week, and he kept a close eye on the offensive linemen’s individual drills to see how Yanda would adapt. Yanda looked natural, he said.

But just how hard is that transition?

“I don’t know if it’s quite as drastic as this, but in some ways it’s like you’re a lefty all those years, now you’ve got to go over to the right side of the plate,” Harbaugh said, dropping a baseball reference.

“You’ve got to play golf the other way, you’ve got to play tennis the other way. I don’t think it’s that drastic, but it’s different. You’ve got your other hand down, you’ve got your other foot back, everything is backwards. You’re setting to the left instead of to the right. Everything is flipped.”

At right guard, his inside arm would be with his injured left shoulder. So he would have the most trouble stopping an interior rush, and getting push up inside that way. At left guard, Yanda can rely more on his right shoulder and arm coming off the snap.

“It just shows you what a phenomenal athlete he is and how determined he is,” Harbaugh said. “And really how good a football player he is.”

The good news is Yanda came out of the game healthy and told Harbaugh on Monday that he felt strong. Yanda even got in a weightlifting session Monday morning.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

John Harbaugh Praises Marshal Yanda's Play Vs. Dallas

By Joe Platania

November 21, 2016

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Marshal Yanda was the Ravens' media Most Valuable Player last year due to his omnipresence and efficiency at right guard.

But what has made the five-time Pro Bowl pick one of the best players in team history is that he has displayed the same qualities up and down the offensive line.

In 2010, when supplemental draft pick Jared Gaither incurred a training camp back injury, Yanda quietly and selflessly moved to right tackle and stayed there for 16 regular-season games and two postseason contests.

After returning to right guard the following year, he was called upon to move back to tackle for a key November game against Pittsburgh, and he again distinguished himself as the Ravens converted 14-of-21 third-down plays and won a key road game.

In the 2014 season finale, with Rick Wagner out with a foot injury, Yanda again put the team before himself and helped the Ravens beat Cleveland, 20-10, to clinch a playoff berth.

And on Nov. 20 in Dallas, Yanda put into motion his own plan to switch to left guard, protecting his injured left shoulder on which he sports a harness.

Yanda played all 52 offensive snaps and paced an offense that posted a season-high 7.1 yards per play during a 27-17 loss to the streaking Cowboys.

The performance from the 2007 third-round pick was a big talking point for head coach John Harbaugh
as his 5-5 team battles inconsistency heading into the season's second half, which begins with the first of two games against AFC North rival Cincinnati Nov. 27.

"He got out of it really well," Harbaugh said. "In some ways, it's sort of like, you're [a] left-handed [hitter], and now you're on the other side of the plate.

"You're placing your other hand down and you've got your other foot back. ... You're setting for the left side instead of the right. All the plays are flipped. I was wary of it early in the week."

With a mediocre record, the bigger picture for Harbaugh is trying to capture another AFC North crown, which would be his third and the team's fifth.

One saving grace to the Ravens' spotty performance so far this year is the fact they are 3-0 against division foes.

But that comes with two caveats: the division is noticeably down this year, and two of the wins were against the winless Cleveland Browns.

"We look at this as a six-game season," Harbaugh said. "And, in some ways, this is like our opener. ... We know everything is right in front of us. This is an opportunity to win the division."

The way this year's schedule was laid out, all three of the Ravens' AFC North home games were slated for November. Two of them are already out of the way, with Baltimore having beaten Pittsburgh and Cleveland in a five-day span earlier this month.

But an intriguing game awaits with Cincinnati, a team struggling at 3-6-1 and sucker-punched with injuries to standout receiver A.J. Green (strained hamstring) and running back Giovani Bernard (ACL tear). Neither is likely to play against the Ravens.

Green has been a particular challenge, having posted 41 career catches and six touchdowns during eight games against Baltimore, averaging 17.7 yards per reception, more than any other opposing receiver in team history.

For perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Jimmy Smith averaged 15.8 yards per catch in 15 games against Baltimore from 1996-2005 and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward posted a 12.2-yard rate in 26 games against the Ravens from 1998-2011.

Green is a major reason why the Bengals have won five straight and six of the last seven games against the Ravens; the lifetime series between the teams is tied (20-20).

"If we don't start beating the Bengals, we're not going to win any division championships," Harbaugh said. "That's especially true this year."

However, the situations aren't as clear regarding two key Ravens, linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), who has played in just two games this year, and cornerback Jimmy Smith (back).

Harbaugh said he will leave it up to team doctors to see if they return.

Tight end Nick Boyle's 10-game suspension is up, and he will return to the practice field this week, but there is no clear determination on whether he will play against Cincinnati. Tackle James Hurst has been used as a third tight end the past two weeks.

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda's injured shoulder held up through Sunday's game

By Edward Lee
November 22, 2016

The last time Ravens guard Marshal Yanda had played prior to Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, he re-aggravated a left shoulder injury that forced him to sit out his third of four games.

But Yanda avoided another setback after playing all 55 snaps on offense in an eventual 27-17 loss at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Coach John Harbaugh said Yanda felt good enough to work out at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills on Monday.

“He got out of it well,” Harbaugh said Monday. “I talked to him this morning, and he felt really good and felt strong. He got a lift in this morning. So that was a good sign. He got out of it 100 percent.”

A five-time Pro Bowler at right guard, Yanda approached the coaching staff about starting at left guard, where the team has lost rookie Alex Lewis to a high ankle sprain for at least another four weeks. Harbaugh said Yanda looked like a natural on the left side between rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Jeremy Zuttah, while Vladimir Ducasse made his second consecutive start at right guard.

“He kind of looked like he’s played it all along,” Harbaugh said. “He didn’t have any problems in there. Yeah, it was a good move for us.”

While Yanda solidified the offensive line, there isn’t much clarity regarding the availability of cornerback Jimmy Smith and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil for Sunday’s pivotal AFC North showdown with the visiting Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

Smith missed his first game of the season due to a back ailment that flared up last week. Dumervil is still dealing with a foot injury related to surgery he underwent in the offseason.

Harbaugh did not have much information on either player’s status for Sunday. “We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t really know. It’s up to the doctors.”

Phil Dawson becomes 10th kicker with 400 field goals

Phil Dawson became the 10th kicker in NFL history to convert 400 field goals in his career. Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

By Nick Wagoner
November 21, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For a team that hasn't had much to celebrate during a nine-game losing streak, the San Francisco 49ers at least have kicker Phil Dawson to serve as the one consistent positive they can count on from week to week.

Dawson's latest accomplishment was mostly lost in the shuffle of the Niners' 30-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but it was no less impressive despite the lack of attention.

With a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter, Dawson became just the 10th kicker in NFL history to convert 400 field goals in his career. Out of that club, which includes the likes of Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson and Adam Vinatieri, Dawson has the highest field goal percentage at 84.7.

In typical Dawson fashion, he downplayed the accomplishment because the Niners came up short on the scoreboard.

“In a team game, it’s hard to feel good about individual accomplishments," Dawson said. "Probably when it’s all said and done and I’m no longer a member of the team I’ll enjoy it a little more. My focus [Sunday] was not on the 400 [field goals] but trying to help this team win the game and we came up short in that area.”

After Dawson's field goal sailed through the uprights, long-snapper Kyle Nelsonbee-lined for the end zone to secure the ball as a souvenir for his kicker. Dawson also received a warm welcome and congratulations from the majority of the Niners coaches and players.

“Well, I’ve always tried to be just one of the guys on the team," Dawson said. "I never wanted to be the weird kicker that did his own thing. To have that kind of reception means a lot to me, given my efforts through the years. I try to be a football player and just go kick the ball on fourth down, so I’ll remember that for a long time.”

Beyond the field goal achievement, Dawson finished with five points in Sunday's game, becoming the 10th player in team history to score 400 or more points with the franchise. He's the third-fastest kicker in 49ers history to reach that 400-point mark, doing it in just 58 games.

Dawson has drawn plaudits from coach Chip Kelly for his extensive study of wind patterns and conditions at all of the NFL stadiums. Sunday's game might have brought some of the most difficult he's faced since joining the 49ers as heavy rains hit Levi's Stadium.

It didn't seem to bother Dawson much.

“It got pretty tough there for a while," Dawson said. "At first it was just a nuisance. The field was fine. The balls weren’t getting that water-logged. Then it just kind of picked up in the second and third quarters. I’ve got to hand it to our field guys. The field held up really well. But, obviously, the balls were water-logged. Everything was just messy. It was a challenging day. Both teams had to play in it. I think there were no turnovers; that’s pretty impressive.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Marshal Yanda nominated for Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award

NFL newswatch

November 16, 2016

From wire reports

Rooney Award: Three members of the 2015 AP All-Pro team — Browns tackle Joe Thomas, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda and Seahawks kick returner Tyler Lockett — are among the 32 finalists for the NFL's Art Rooney Award recognizing sportsmanship.

Nominees for Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award announced

November 15, 2016

The 32 player nominees for the third annual Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award have been finalized, the NFL announced Tuesday. Each NFL team nominated one of its players for the award, which recognizes players around the league who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship on the field.
The award was created in 2014 in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Rooney, Sr.
The winner of the NFL Sportsmanship Award is determined by a vote of current NFL players. A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community will select eight finalists (four in the AFC and four in the NFC) from the 32 nominees. The panel is comprised of Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.

The eight finalists will be listed on the Pro Bowl ballot under the NFL Sportsmanship Award category when players vote on Friday, December 16. From the eight finalists, each team’s players will submit a consensus vote of their choice for the winner. As in Pro Bowl voting, a team cannot vote for its own player.

The award is presented each year to an NFL player who best demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition.

Last year, the players selected Charles Woodson of the Oakland Raiders as the recipient of the 2015 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals was the inaugural winner of the award in 2014.

The winner selected by the vote of the players will be announced during the nationally televised NFL Honors show on Saturday, February 4 on FOX, the night before Super Bowl LI. He will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice. He will also receive a trophy that represents the important role that sportsmanship plays in the game and how NFL players that demonstrate integrity and honor on the field serve as role models for players at all levels.

The 2016 nominees for each team are listed below.

• Arizona Cardinals: DT Calais Campbell
• Atlanta Falcons: FB Patrick DiMarco
Baltimore Ravens G Marshal Yanda
• Buffalo Bills: DT Kyle Williams
• Carolina Panthers: TE Greg Olsen
• Chicago Bears: LB Sam Acho
• Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green
• Cleveland Browns: T Joe Thomas
• Dallas Cowboys: CB Brandon Carr
• Denver Broncos: LB DeMarcus Ware
• Detroit Lions: S Glover Quin
• Green Bay Packers: LB Julius Peppers
• Houston Texans: LB Brian Cushing
• Indianapolis Colts: RB Frank Gore
• Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Paul Posluszny
• Kansas City Chiefs: LB Derrick Johnson
• Los Angeles Rams: DE Robert Quinn
• Miami Dolphins: T Branden Albert
• Minnesota Vikings CB Terence Newman
• New England Patriots: S Devin McCourty
• New Orleans Saints: T Zach Strief
• New York Giants: WR Victor Cruz
• New York Jets: WR Brandon Marshall
• Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr
• Philadelphia Eagles: RB Darren Sproles
• Pittsburgh Steelers LB Arthur Moats
• San Diego Chargers: QB Philip Rivers
• San Francisco 49ers: T Joe Staley
• Seattle Seahawks: WR Tyler Lockett
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Gerald McCoy

Monday, November 14, 2016

Flowers fills the hole on defense

November 14, 2016


FOXBORO - Sunday night marked the beginning of a new era for the Patriots' defensive unit - life without Jamie Collins.

The trade of the veteran linebacker to the Cleveland Browns, who was third on the team with 43 tackles, had its first ramifications in the Patriots' 31-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette Stadium because the Patriots had been off since Halloween, on their bye week.

No doubt, Collins' departure was going to result in changes in playing time and responsibilities up and down throughout the front seven.

Among those seen as potential beneficiaries of the trade was defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who continues to have a solid first full season with the Patriots.

"It's been good," said Flowers, who collected a pair of sacks to go with three tackles against the Seahawks. "I feel like I'm ready for the second half of the season, no dings or anything like that. So away we go."

Flowers spent all of last season on injures reserve, so technically, he's a second-year player. So far this year, he has 18 tackles and two sacks (one more than Collins had) as well as a pass defense and a fumble recovery.

Flowers, who got the start Sunday night at right defensive end, had five tackles and both of his sacks in the Patriots' 41-25 win at Buffalo just before the break. He got a 7-yard sack of Seattle's Russell Wilson in the first quarter and another sack in the third quarter.

"Yeah, that's just the maxim of continuing to get better," he said. "It's just to continue to grow on my pass rush, stopping the run, whatever they want me to do and being productive in those areas."

Flowers had been on the field for 238 defensive snaps, or 42.9 percent of the available snaps, entering the game against Seattle. By contrast, Rob Ninkovich (who served a four-game suspension) has played in 34.1 percent, Jabaal Sheard 69.7 percent and Chris Long 70.3 percent.

Flowers said he wasn't sure if Collins' departure would impact those numbers, but he said he was ready for whatever might come his way.

"I don't know which way they're going to go with that," he said. "I just know it's my job to be ready whichever way they go. If they choose me to increase my role, just to be ready for it. If my role stays the same I'm going to work with what I've got. My main job is to stay ready for any time and any position they want me to play."

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Credit offensive line for Lions QB Stafford’s health, success

By Jeff Seidel

November 9, 2016

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford walked through the door without a limp.

He could breathe with no apparent pain in his ribs or chest.

He didn’t wince. Didn’t gasp for air. There were no bandages on his hands and no reports of postgame X-rays, which was truly remarkable considering he had just reached the halfway point in the season.

Stafford smiled and looked relatively healthy, standing at the podium Sunday afternoon after an overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

If you want to know why the Lions have won three of their past four games, it starts right there — with Stafford’s health.

It starts with the protection he is getting from the offensive line.
Because Stafford can’t pull off any miracle comebacks when he’s beat up and on his back after getting sacked.

In the first five games of the season, Stafford was sacked 14 times. He has been sacked six times in the past four, and the Lions have won three.

“They did a great job,” Stafford said of the offensive line after he was sacked once and hit four times Sunday. “It might be the cleanest I have been in a game playing these guys, especially at their place.”

Let’s get a quick history lesson.

A year ago, Stafford was beat up unmercifully in both games against the Vikings. After the first game, Stafford needed X-rays on his ribs and chest, and he barely could breathe. In the second game, Stafford was hit 13 times, sacked seven times and needed X-rays on his left hand.

I remember watching the offensive line and thinking: They look so confused, like they have no idea whom to block.

The next day, the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter took over, a change widely praised and dissected — in Cooter we trust!

But something else significant happened, which has gone largely unnoticed. On the day Cooter took over the offense, Caldwell also fired offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan. Ron Prince, who had been coaching the tight ends, took over the offensive line. Prince was an assistant offensive line coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2012) and Indianapolis Colts (2010-11).

Last January, Caldwell made another move that seems to have paid off, hiring Michael McCarthy as a new quality control/offensive line coach.

“Ron Prince has done a great job,” Caldwell told reporters Monday. “He and Mike McCarthy have done a tremendous job with those guys, and we’re just trying to keep going, keep getting them better.”

When Pro Football Focus graded the Lions’ offensive players after Sunday’s game, four of the top-six grades were given to the Lions’ offensive linemen:
left tackle Taylor Decker (83.4), left guard Graham Glasgow (73.6), right tackle Corey Robinson (73.6) and right guard Larry Warford (71.5).

Only Golden Tate (85.0) and Stafford (79.1) also cracked the top six, although I think they give extra points for the backflip.

And a lot of the credit has to go to Prince and McCarthy.

“I think the guys are really playing better and better together,” Caldwell told reporters Monday. “It’s because they’ve got a lot of heart and they fight you.”

There is plenty of room to improve for the offensive line. The Lions are averaging a measly 86.8 yards per game on the ground, fourth worst in the NFL. But the Lions are trying to cover up a bad running game with Stafford’s arm and a strong kicking game.

Everything, as always, hinges on Stafford.

In the four losses, Stafford has completed 63.3% of his passes for five touchdowns and four interceptions. In the five wins, Stafford has completed 71.2% of his passes for 13 TDs and one pick.

All in all, Stafford is a pretty good quarterback when he isn’t on his back.

So, as you praise Cooter and Stafford, don’t forget about Prince and the offensive line, which still is incredibly young and far from perfect, but it is jelling and continues to improve.

You could see the proof on Stafford’s face Sunday.

The way he looked pain-free after playing the Vikings.

Monday, November 07, 2016

For Legendary Cleveland High School Football Coach, It's About Winning at Life

Ted Ginn Sr. and his academy teach pride, loving oneself and giving back to the community

November 4, 2016

The man on the east side Cleveland football practice field doesn’t look like anyone who might be aligned with the high school football players running their 40-yard practice dashes as the sun starts to dip in the west. He’s dressed in a dark suit, with a bright linen dress shirt and a small dark tie, with dress shoes brightly shining on the recently installed synthetic field.

As he watches the 60 or so players as they finish their 40-yard sprints, Glenville High School football coach Ted Ginn Sr. is not yelling with inspiration or scowling at these young men closing up their Monday workout. He is talking on his cellphone, keeping up with the 400-plus students attending the Cleveland public school he runs, Ginn Academy, and making sure the kids not playing football for him are on the right course toward decent grades and scholarships to colleges by next spring.

And it is that part of the legendary Cleveland football coach that often gets ignored when discussing Ginn’s accomplishments, his leadership academy for young men in Cleveland’s east side African-American community that has not seen the improvement the city’s leadership likes to brag about to national media covering the Republican National Convention and the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship this past summer. For Ginn, it is much more practical: get his good football players on scholarship to schools such as Ohio State University, his little players to Division II or III colleges, and the young men at Ginn Academy to accept a scholarship at private colleges that want the students’ ability to get good grades.

What Ginn has been working to do for the past 20 years or so as a head football coach – with the last 10 or so running a separate school concentrating on getting 80 percent of the students college scholarships – has not changed his views, but has better concentrated what he emphasizes. Meaning, what one learned as a 17-year-old either on the football field or within the special school, is essential “to teach them we don’t have time for foolishness, and our goal is to break through from much of the foolishness that society has built into many of their heads,” Ginn said.

After practice this week, senior running back Demerius Goodwin, 17, echoed Ginn’s view that emphasizes hard work and how that translates into improvements after high school football.

“Most of the stuff we learn in playing football for Coach Ginn at Glenville High School is how to be a leader on our time,” Goodwin said after preparing for the state playoffs this week. “We understand more and more that we are responsible for figuring out leadership roles and inspiration for doing those. We realize what we learn in football practice and in school inspired us to improve ourselves and our community.”

The approach to teaching young men is a key to what Ginn does as both a football coach and as a director of Ginn Academy. “Everything I’ve talked about in the past is now in real time and something we have to adjust to,” Ginn said. “Our young people are being taught that everything is in an uproar and is crazy for them. But we have concentrated on dealing with young people from our heart and to help them with their attitude on what comes out of their mouth.

“People often try to emphasize that football is the greatest thing we do for young men in our community in Cleveland, but they are missing the purpose,” Ginn said. “Love is the greatest thing we do, and how they learn to use love in their lives when they move on from us. It is not complicated what we teach and how we inspire these students.”


What Ginn has done in Cleveland is important in many respects. He was born in Louisiana, moved to Cleveland with his mother when he was 11 and later attended Glenville High School. He worked as a security guard after graduating in 1974, and later volunteered as a football coach at his alma mater starting in 1976. He was appointed head coach in 1997, and his players became known as good scholarship players for the Big Ten. During Ginn’s nearly 20 years as head coach, about 100 players have gone on to play football at Ohio State University.

With nine players currently in the NFL – including his son Ted Ginn Jr. with the Carolina Panthers, Cardale Jones with the Buffalo Bills and Donte Whitner with the Washington Redskins – the Glenville Tarblooders are one of the most successful programs at producing professional football talent.
In 2006, Ginn was offered jobs outside of Ohio, including as a football coach in high schools in the Dallas area in Texas.

“I had opportunity to leave Ohio and go to Texas and get paid $100,000 a year coaching football,” Ginn said. “But at the time, with my son and others I coached moving forward to success in college and the NFL, I realized my purpose was to help out young men in Cleveland. I saw these kids as God’s kids, and I learned we had to pick up the pace.”

And it was the challenges he faced that changed him. By staying in Cleveland, he was allowed to open Ginn Academy in 2007. And in 2012, he was close to death after it was discovered that he had pancreatic cancer. “I was sick because of my working in this football business,” Ginn said now as he looks back. “I found out that at times I was sacrificing myself to sports. But I’ve changed somewhat now to where I coach both men and the kids playing and import wisdom and love in what they do.”

Antoin Eley, who played for Ginn at Glenville in the early 1990s and now works in youth support programs for his former coach at Ginn Academy, said that his old coach is now stronger than he ever was. “I could see his heart change in some respects when he decided to stay in Cleveland in the late 2000s and that his heart was a positive way to reach out to young people who had needs,” Eley said.

“Our community is suffering, despite what the leadership in Cleveland says,” Eley said. “But Mr. Ginn knows his key contribution is to give pride and teach people in high school how to have pride and contribute to this city. Some of the leadership in Cleveland ignored the problems in the African-American community in Cleveland, but we know that what we are doing is bigger than football and could have a drastic impact on our people and the neighborhood in which we live.”


For the 61-year-old coach and high school administrator, his purpose seems more obvious than it ever has been. The African-American population in the city knows that the growth in Cleveland has been in whiter neighborhoods and has been hard to find in African-American areas on the city’s east side. Neighborhoods such as Hough, Glenville and Collinwood, where Ginn has concentrated his efforts, all have lost population since 2000, have seen increases in shootings, few business openings and the degeneration of housing stock.

“We are losing many people in these black neighborhoods in Cleveland because there is no investment by the city and business leaders,” Ginn said. “What we are trying to do to inspire those who attend our school and play football for us is to have our students be the examples of hope for others and hope for the rest of the city of Cleveland.

“I have learned over time that both football and our school are both teaching the same thing,” Ginn said. “We teach them to understand the value of life. Things are not moving fast enough for the African-American community on the east side of Cleveland. What we work with is educating our children that they need to try hard to help their families because in so many cases the families they come from are broken and those families need leadership from them after they graduate high school.”

For Ginn, the difference between the destitute African-American neighborhoods in Cleveland and those areas seeing investment is part of the changes Cleveland needs to address. Richey Piiparinen, director of the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, brought out such issues in a 2015 Cleveland Magazine article. “A number of quality of life indicators, outcomes in various east side neighborhoods are below that of developing nations,” he wrote.

“According to data by Case Western Reserve University, homicide rates for sections of the city are similarly comparable,” Piiparinen continued. “In 2010, homicide rates in Ward 1, comprising parts of the southeast side, and Ward 9, which entails Glenville, are similar to Guatemala and El Salvador … where the spatial patterns of having and not having mean poverty gets pushed together, not alleviated. When cities [like Cleveland] evolve as separate and unequal, they create a deepening sense of alienation and marginalization.”

With a 7-3 record this year, Ginn’s Glenville High School football team has qualified for the state playoffs that begin this weekend. Glenville travels about two hours west to Toledo to play Anthony Wayne High School on Friday night, and if they win, they will likely be playing future games in the Cleveland area.

Ginn is confident in his players and coaches, and thinks this year will be the one where the school has success, possibly even a state championship (they’ve made the playoffs 12 times in the past 18 seasons).

“I’ve picked up the pace since my pancreas problems, and I had to face it and how it affects my life and the kids we teach,” Ginn said. “I’ve learned it is all about being a servant, and I now know that is about investing in people without looking for anything in return. If you aren’t in this for those reasons, you’re a user.”

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