Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Aquarium names seal after Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers

February 28, 2017

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WHDH) — A seal named after Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers will be released back into the wild Tuesday after being rescued off the coast of New York.

The seal was found with several wounds on his flippers, neck and belly when it was rescued. He was just 30 pounds.

Now at 48 pounds, the seal is healed and ready to return to the sea.

The Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic wanted to honor the Patriots’ Super Bowl win in a creative way and reached out to Flowers to set the seal free.

A ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. at Blue Shutter Beach in Rhode Island.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cincinnati Bengals Can’t Let Rex Burkhead Get Away

By Emile Pierce

February 26, 2017

Rex Burkhead has emerged as a free agent priority on many NFL lists. Now, it’s time for the Bengals to do the right thing and bring him back.

The Cincinnati Bengals have done it again. The franchise has effectively allowed another top-tier athlete access to that place many fans dread. They have ignored the talents of running back Rex Burkhead and face the possibility of losing him in free agency. It’s now two years in a row that fans are biting nails and sitting on their fingers. The insanity of grooming players for other teams has to end. Rex can’t get away.

Free agency can be both a blessing and a curse for teams. In the case of the Bengals, the 2016 season yielded a decent case for the free agent pool. Brandon LaFell was picked up by Bengals brass and was better than advertised. Instead of an injury-laden ex-New England Patriot, LaFell proved to be a worthy No. 2 receiver. He was able to rock the competition for 862 yards and six TDs. His best season was in 2014 when Tom Brady was tossing him the pigskin. That year, he pulled in 953 yards.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby came to the Queen City in search of a ring. But, did he bring his A Game from The Dawg Pound? A quick comparison, via ESPN, shows that his stats were virtually the same. But, Sporting Charts gives the argument that his 2016 Stuff yards made him a great value for the Bengals. He chimed in just outside the top 10.

We Talkin’ ‘Bout T-Rex

Unfortunately, the Bengals will see a few of their productive free agents sign with other teams. It’s a reality of the NFL that oftentimes sucks. But, it didn’t have to come to this. Burkhead waited patiently on an opportunity to show his worth…and it came. It came late but he was able to prove a point.

Bengals fans were able to see the former Nebraska Cornhusker do what comes naturally. He ripped up the Baltimore Ravens run defense with ease. In the January 1 finale, PBS rocked as Burkhead weaved and slashed for 119 yards on the ground and 144 total.

Now, there’s a chance Burkhead won’t be wearing Orange and Black.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis spoke life into the situation. Per, his thoughts are solely on getting Burkhead on the field for Cincinnati. Yes. Jeremy Hill is going to remain the featured back. But, the objective is clear.

“We have no other choice. We bet on Jeremy to continue to progress and move forward,” Lewis explained. “Our job is to try and re-sign Rex. That doesn’t affect Jeremy.”

It’s good to know that Lewis understands the value of Burkhead’s presence. The intensity he brings to the running game will be a necessary evil in the AFC North. Even if he’s merely used more than he was before his “discovery,” the increase in carries means ball control offense.

Do The “Smart” Thing

The Bengals have become a free agent machine for teams on the come up (check out Urban Dictionary). In other words, players like Mohamed Sanu, Reggie Nelson (2016 Pro Bowl), and Marvin Jones helped their new teams ball out. But, those talents could have been utilized for a better record in Cincinnati.

If the Bengals want to truly ensure the success of the running game. It’s a simple gesture. Burkhead is a beast. Pay the man and get the season started right. The consequences of Rex getting away are not worth it.

Burkhead wants to remain with the Bengals. But, he’s no idiot.

“I always wanted to play for one team my whole career,” Burkhead said, via the Omaha World-Herald, “but if the opportunity is better for my family and myself somewhere else, I’m not going to pass that up.”

Burkhead’s rookie contract was $2.26m, over four years. Now, the Bengals will have to wrestle with the entire NFL to keep him on the Ohio River shores.

I’ve never been one to beg. But, there’s always a place to start. Oh, great and powerful owner Mike Brown…please do the right thing.

Detroit Lions — Five possible free agent defensive tackles who could be good fit

Tennessee Titans defensive end Karl Klug (97) during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By Paula Pasche

February 24, 2017

The interior of the Lions’ defensive line should get attention from general manager Bob Quinn through free agency, the NFL draft or both.

Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson could start in 2017. Ngata played younger than his age (33) last season while Robinson got off to a slow start as a rookie but his improvement was clearly visible.

Khyri Thornton, a restricted free agent, and Anthony Zettel, a sixth-round pick in 2016, could fit in the rotation.

Tyrunn Walker, who had eight starts in 15 games for the Lions in 2016, and Stefan Charles who played in a dozen games for the Lions last season could both become free agents.

NFL teams can start discussing contracts with free agents on March 7 and sign them starting at 4 p.m. on March 9.

Here are five possible free agent defensive tackles who might be good fits for the Lions:

1. Karl Klug, 28, could be a good rotational guy at defensive tackle or end. He’s 28 which is younger than many of the free agent candidates. However, he tore his Achilles’ in Week 15 and is unlikely to be ready for the start of training camp. He’s spent the last six seasons with the Titans who could bring him back on an incentive-laden deal. In 2016 he had 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 14 games.

2. Tyson Alualu, 29, is an ironman of sorts missing just two games in the last seven seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. reports that he’s never lived up to his 10th overall selection in the 2010 draft but “has been a consistent presence in the defensive line rotation. Filling in at defensive tackle (where he was originally drafted to play) and also stepping in at defensive end on occasion.” It’s possible he could test the open market and while many teams could show interest he’s not expected to break the bank.

3. Alan Branch, who is coming off another Super Bowl win with the Patriots, has said he is not ready to retire. The 32-year-old defensive tackle, who played at Michigan, had 49 tackles (a career high) and two sacks last season when he made $2.4 million. reports that Branch has been solid on the practice and playing fields. He was the Patriots’ most consistent tackle last year, as noted by coach Bill Belichick. It’s uncertain if the Patriots will bring him back or go with the younger Malcom Brown.

4. Sylvester Williams, 28, is not expected to return to the Denver Broncos where he has anchored the line for the past three years according to the Denver Post which also reported he was a part of Denver’s struggles against the run. That could be a red flag for the Lions. Last season William had 29 tackles and one sack in his fourth season in Denver.

5. Dontari Poe, 26, could be the odd man out for the Chiefs who may have to pick between him and safety Eric Berry due to salary cap limitations. He could be pricey as reported he could be looking for a six-year, $85 million deal. He’s young, but that’s a big payday and might be too much for the Lions. A first-round pick by Kansas City in 2012, he had a career low in tackles (27) in 2016. Pro Football Focus wrote: “His movement skills at 346 pounds, coupled with the huge durability he has had in playing over 4,500 snaps in his five seasons in the league, will get somebody interested, because there simply aren’t many human beings on the planet that can tick those boxes. Poe, though, has struggled to live up to the potential he showed back in 2013.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Five free agents who are out to sign their second contracts may surprise

Third-string running back Rex Burkhead is a player who might opt to find a better opportunity outside of Cincinnati. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

By Rivers McCown

February 24, 2017

The opening salvo of NFL free agency is always a mess, and with the excess of salary-cap space this year, the numbers will get only more distressing. Just think, quarterback Brock Osweiler's huge contract with Houston will look like a blip on the radar screen two years from now.

But what this should do for the smart NFL teams is create an opportunity like what the Patriots have been pursuing for years. Rather than compete for the absolute top of the NFL free-agent market -- a place that only rarely has star-caliber players -- those teams could try to scour the expired rookie contracts for gems. New England, of course, is even more proactive in this arena, trading for players such as Jabaal Sheard and Kyle Van Noy before their rookie contracts even expired. But with free agency, these risk-averse teams will no longer have to give up draft-pick compensation for reclamation projects.

I call these players second-contract sleepers. There's clearly a reason why their teams gave up on them, but they have enough talent to add value on another NFL roster. Here are five players who I think have a chance to be difference-makers somewhere:

Rex Burkhead, 26, Bengals running back

Why he's available: Burkhead was an interesting college prospect at Nebraska but wound up as a sixth-round pick of the same team that used second-round selections on Giovani Bernard (2013 draft) and Jeremy Hill (2014). Burkhead's sample size of 87 regular-season carries is incredibly low on his NFL career.

What he does offer: Despite Burkhead vastly outplaying Hill in short samples last season, the Bengals continued to pound the rock with the player they believed in more. To quantify this further: Burkhead finished first in rushing defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) among all players with fewer than 100 carries. Hill was 25th among 42 qualifying backs in the same statistic, finishing with five times less DYAR than Burkhead in triple the carries.

Burkhead also fits the new breed of running back who doubles as a receiving threat out of the backfield. When injuries banged up the Bengals heading into the 2014 season, Burkhead was asked to be a slot receiver and gadget threat, and he performed admirably.

The free-agent running back market is often ugly, and advocating a huge contract for a back is a step I'm not willing to take. But Burkhead doesn't come with the usual mileage caveats of backs in free agency, and he just might be able to elevate his game and become the next Shane Vereen.

Ex-Husker running back Rex Burkhead, now a free agent, ponders next move after showing promise with Bengals

“My body feels great,” Rex Burkhead said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now, so hopefully that continues.”

By Rich Kaipust / World-Herald Bureau

February 24, 2017

LINCOLN — Rex Burkhead could scan the internet and convince himself that any number of NFL teams might be interested in his services, with fan sites and traditional outlets saying where he potentially could be a good fit.

Burkhead instead will just wait until March 7 to see what happens.

“It’s just funny to see all the rumors and articles out there that people send me,” he said. “I hear a lot of, ‘Oh, you’re going here.’ You kind of tune it out, because you know right now none of it is really true.”

The former Nebraska I-back became an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season, his fourth with the Cincinnati Bengals. The last time he was in uniform, Burkhead gave the Bengals and 31 other teams something to think about by rushing for a career-high 119 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-10 win over Baltimore.

Until noon on March 7, however, teams are not allowed to contact or enter into any kind of negotiations with an unrestricted free agent. A contract with a new club cannot be executed until March 9.

Burkhead has just gone about his business in the meantime, including a return to Lincoln on Saturday for the annual Team Jack Gala, a fundraiser in the fight against pediatric brain cancer.

“It is weird,” he said. “You kind of want to relate it to coming out of high school and picking a college, but you can talk to coaches then. It’s a little different, but it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to the process.”

Asked if he’s most focused on playing time, financials or winning, Burkhead said it might come down to the best combination of the three. He declined to say if he might have any specific teams in mind or whether he would seek a one-year or longer deal.

Immediately after the season, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said the Bengals would look to re-sign the 5-foot-10, 210-pound back.

“I always wanted to play for one team my whole career,” Burkhead said, “but if the opportunity is better for my family and myself somewhere else, I’m not going to pass that up.”

Burkhead caught 16 passes over the last seven games in 2016, but it wasn’t until New Year’s Day against Baltimore that he got to be the Bengals’ feature back. With Giovani Bernard out, Burkhead picked up his 119 yards on 27 carries, and also had two receptions for 25 yards — and no doubt lifted his free-agent status.

“I think it was huge,” he said. “I hadn’t had that many carries since my days back at Nebraska. It was fun to end the season that way with the guys. It was kind of a surreal day, surreal moment.”

It was noted after the season that Burkhead averaged 4.65 yards per carry overall, while Bernard and Jeremy Hill were both under 4.0. Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese even told the Cincinnati Enquirer, in retrospect, that maybe Burkhead should have figured more heavily in the team’s plans.

“He certainly made a case for that,” Zampese said. “Maybe we were wrong. Evidence would suggest that at this point.

“He averaged 4 yards a carry in every game he played. Same line. Same calls. Four-plus. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. There’s a place for that kind of guy in our offensive system.”

The Bengals might have to fight to keep him now, after initially signing their 2013 sixth-round draft pick to a four-year, $2.2 million deal. He played in just one game as a rookie and saw limited offensive snaps the following two seasons, but also led Cincinnati in special teams tackles in 2016 after being second in 2015.

Burkhead turns 27 in July, but he had only 60 career carries before the 27 against Baltimore, leaving him more than optimistic about what’s left in his tank.

“My body feels great,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now, so hopefully that continues. My career is just getting started.”

Pro Football Focus last month put Burkhead at No. 9 among its “under-the-radar” free agents. Other publications have listed him as a potential bargain signee, with one possibility being Dallas looking for help behind Ezekiel Elliott.

Burkhead recently bought a house in the Dallas area. He starred at Plano High before running for 3,329 yards and 30 touchdowns at NU. He ranks No. 6 on the Huskers’ all-time rushing chart.

If he ends up leaving Cincinnati, Burkhead won’t be sure how to feel after building a host of relationships and friendships with teammates and staff. Before the Bengals slipped to 6-9-1 last season, he was part of teams that averaged 11 wins and made three AFC playoff appearances between 2013 and ’15.

“Even though I didn’t really get opportunities offensively until year four at the running back position, it was still just an unbelievable experience,” he said. “I haven’t wrapped my mind totally around it. I’ll know for sure if that comes up, but I do like Cincinnati, though.”

Burkhead right now has just tried to enjoy the first two months of his offseason. He was in Florida on Friday for the wedding of a former NU teammate, and the Team Jack Gala on Saturday night will include Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry and a host of current and former Huskers. Burkhead also is planning a Team Jack event April 1 at Plano High.

“So I haven’t thought about it too much,” he said.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

2017 NFL free agency: Targets, must-keep players for every NFC team

By Pete Prisco

February 21, 2017

New York Giants

The Skinny: The Giants made the playoffs as a wild-card team and did so with a much-improved defense. They spent big on that side of the ball last spring and it paid off. The offense wasn’t as good as in previous years, which is a concern. Eli Manning isn’t a kid anymore, so there has to be more urgency. They have to run the ball better and protect him better.

Biggest free-agent need: They had offensive line issues last season, especially at tackle, so they need to possibly get an upgrade there. I also think they could use help at linebacker, but that’s never been a real concern under General Manger Jerry Reese.

Free agent they should keep: They actually have two. So many people want to mention defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, but don’t sleep on defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. He’s too good to let walk as well. Keep them both.

Free agent they should target: Lions tackle Riley Reiff. He has proven he can play the left and the right side, although if the Giants signed him he’d probably be a left tackle.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rex Burkhead, Denver Broncos could be free agent match

By Cameron Parker

February 21, 2017

At running back, the Denver Broncos see themselves without a glaring need, but adding the likes of Rex Burkhead gives them added punch offensively.

The Denver Broncos find themselves in a new offense tailored to the players and of the up-tempo variety. In this offense, the Broncos must find a ‘move the chains’ versatile playmaker to help pick up the slack if they struggle like they did in 2016. Under the watch of Mike McCoy, the team might consider a run at Danny Woodhead in free agency.

Due to recent injury history of Woodhead, Rex Burkhead may also find himself on the radar of the Broncos. Burkhead attended the University of Nebraska for four years, racking up over 20 awards with the team. According to coaches, media, ESPN and Phil Steele, Burkhead was named first-team All-Big Ten in 2011.

In 2012, Burkhead wrapped up one of the more illustrious, all-around careers at the university. The same university that has Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Tommie Frazier, Eric Crouch, Scott Frost, Roger Craig and many others. Burkhead ranked in the top five all-time in rushing at the university.

Fast-forward to the 2013 NFL Draft, where the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Burkhead in the sixth round in hopes to add depth at running back. The problem for Burkhead with the Bengals became the people in front of him. Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard are both terrific backs on their own because of the versatility they possess.

There is a slight connection with Vance Joseph, who was the defensive backs coach with the Bengals from 2014-2015. He may not have coached the offensive players, but as a former quarterback himself, he understands the importance of a running back as a safety valve. Now that he is a free agent, Burkhead may be one of the more under-the-radar and high impact player the Broncos could target.

There is plenty to like about Burkhead if you are a Broncos fan. He is a slasher of a runner, but is not afraid to mix it up and become a physical back at the point of impact. One of the knocks on Burkhead since coming out of college has been his pass protection. He has all but eliminated the doubt there and added that as a strength.

Every person I spoke to about Burkhead said his pass protection has taken a significant leap since entering the NFL. Pass protection became an area of concern for the Broncos both on the offensive line and at running back. If the Broncos sign Burkhead, the pass protection at running back instantly becomes better.

Much like Woodhead, Burkhead is valuable out of the backfield and as a runner.
Right now Burkhead is proven to be more durable than Woodhead because of injury history. Certainly familiarity with Woodhead and McCoy is a potential factor the Broncos might look at for the running back position. He is a slasher, but also shifty out of the backfield.

The Broncos do not exactly see themselves in serious need of a running back, but with the emergence of the Atlanta Falcons and how they used multiple backs, it is hard to ignore. Despite rookie struggle, Devontae Booker is still the future back in my eyes. Meanwhile C.J. Anderson adds the perfect ‘bowling ball’ compliment runner when healthy.

Kapri Bibbs deserves a shot, but will it be with the Broncos? Time will tell. Signing Burkhead gives the team three different skill sets at running back and all of them will still make impacts on the field.

Yet, Burkhead stashed away on a talented Bengals team makes him an intriguing player for the Broncos to consider in free agency. If it were me, I would rank him higher than Woodhead and make him a priority to look at in free agency..

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Film Breakdown: Patriots EDGE Trey Flowers uses versatility to star in Super Bowl LI

The Patriots pass rusher is already one of the most dominant defenders on the team and plays every spot on the defensive line.

By Rich Hill
February 21, 2017

New England Patriots EDGE Trey Flowers stepped into the starting line-up halfway through the 2016 season. He ascended from 3rd on the depth chart to 1st over the course of his dominant sophomore season and ultimately capped of the year with a 2.5 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 quarterback hit performance in Super Bowl LI.

Flowers is still a relatively unknown commodity, but he’s primed to make a statement to the league in 2017 as one of the best up-and-coming pass rushers in the NFL.

“Trey Flowers is one of the better players in the League,” Patriots DT Alan Branch said after the Super Bowl. “He’s definitely going to have a lot of people paying attention to him next year because that guy’s a monster. I think he’s one of the better pass rushers and one of the better all-around defensive linemen in the League. I give him all of the credit in the world. To me, he’s one of the best.”

The most notable play by Flowers came late in the fourth quarter with the Atlanta Falcons in field goal position and looking for a single point to pick up a two-score lead.

Q4 2-11-NE 23 (3:56) (Shotgun) M.Ryan sacked at NE 35 for -12 yards (T.Flowers).
M. Ryan sacked at NE 35 for -12 yards (T.Flowers)

The 266-pound Flowers lined up in between the right tackle and right guard in what is considered the 3-technique, mirroring the placement of 320-pound DT Malcom Brown on the opposite side. DT Alan Branch is the nose tackle at the 0-technique alignment.

Flowers undercuts Branch to split the guard and center, while Branch stunts behind Flowers to occupy the guard and tackle. Flowers drives All Pro C Alex Mack back into the lap of All Pro QB Matt Ryan for a 12-yard sack.

The Falcons had been in position for a 40-yard field goal prior to the play, but were knocked back to the fringe of K Matt Bryant’s range at 52-yards. A subsequent holding penalty drawn by EDGE Chris Long ended any Falcons chance at a score and the Patriots held on to their one-score deficit.

“Huge,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Flowers’ sack. “That was a huge defensive stop....We got the holding penalty and we were able to push them back out of field goal range, so that was a huge defensive series for us.”

“It was a good play call,” Flowers said. “I just went inside on the guard and just kept getting vertical. We knew he always likes to attack the spot and he [Ryan] likes to step up in the pocket, so anytime you get some inside penetration, he was right there to get the sack. I was just blessed I had the opportunity to make the play when the time came.”

While the play call was great and Flowers executed it perfectly, Branch relayed how Flowers stepped up into a leadership role in crunch time.

“We got the play called,” Branch explained. “We had a stunt on that. Someone was supposed to stunt on that play. Trey stepped up. He was like, ‘Look, let me do the stunt.’ He went in there. I just went in there and covered him and let him do work.”

“I honestly don’t think it mattered if Trey wanted it [to stunt] or not, because we were going to give it to him,” defensive captain LB Dont’a Hightower added after the game. “Trey is honestly one of the best players on defense, he does a hell of a job each and every day. Works hard, he’s great at his craft. There’s been plenty of times throughout the year, where he’s had double-team, triple-team guys and he’s gotten sacks. To be honest we expected it and I’m glad to have him as my teammate as good as Trey is.”

Flowers earned the trust of his teammates as he delivered on the field every time his number was called. He might not be the flashiest pass rusher, but he uses his long arms to create leverage against bigger offensive linemen and to get into the backfield to create big stops.

What’s even more impressive about Flowers is his ability to generate a highlight play from any place on the defensive line.

9 Technique
9 Technique Video
Flowers lines up in a wide-9 formation opposite the left tackle to give himself a more direct path to QB Matt Ryan. Flowers beats the left tackle easily with his inside arm warding off the contact and his outside arm beating the tackle’s arms. Flowers slings Ryan to the ground and almost forces a fumble-6.

7 Technique
7 Technique Video
Flowers is lined up outside the left tackle again, but is closer to the line of scrimmage to help defend against the run. No Falcons blocker engages Flowers (were they trying to have a wide receiver crack block Flowers?) and he is able to knife into the backfield to tackle the ball carrier.

4 Technique
4 Technique - Video 1
4 Technique - Video 2
Flowers shades on the inside shoulder of the tackle (offensive right side on the top image, offensive left side on the bottom image) in what could also be considered 3 technique in the bottom image.

Flowers uses a spin move to get away from the double team in the first play and lays a hit on Ryan. The Falcons ultimately completed the play, but Flowers forced Ryan off his mark.

On the second play, Flowers uses his inside arm to ward off the right guard in a potential stretch run, before ultimately swimming back to tackle the running back at the line of scrimmage. Additional kudos for LB Elandon Roberts for reading the run play perfectly and eliminating the cutback lane.

0 Technique
0 Technique Video
Flowers lines up across from the center on a passing down and holds the point against a double team. A crashing Hightower occupies Mack and allows Flowers to have a one-on-one with the Falcons left guard, where Flowers uses his length and height to rip down and away from the block, before crashing the pocket and bringing Ryan to the ground.

The Patriots play Flowers everywhere on the defensive line because he’s a mismatch at each position. Despite standing at 6’2, Flowers possesses arm length more similar to a player at 6’5 so he can both engage with offensive tackles and use his height to get under their blocks. Flowers is also stout enough to hold his own against interior linemen in the run game, despite his weight, and uses his length to ward off the blockers.

Flowers continued to improve as the season wore on after sitting out his rookie year. In a conversation with NESN’s Doug Kyed, Kyed noted that Flowers appeared to make the sophomore jump in the middle of the season. There’s a real chance that Flowers could return in his third season and experience an even larger increase in production.

“Last year I didn’t play a lot, but I saw the other side of it,” Flowers said after the Super Bowl. “Being able to sit out and just the opportunity seeming to fade away, it could have. But I just kept playing and whenever my opportunity came, I made the best of my opportunity and I just made sure I was prepared.”

Flowers picked the biggest stage to introduce himself to the rest of the league and there’s no question that when Flowers receives even more opportunities in 2017 that he’ll find a way to deliver.

What will happen with Rex Burkhead?

By Paul Dehner Jr.
February 21, 2017

This week Bengals beat writers Jim Owczarski and Paul Dehner, Jr. break down five free agent questions surrounding the club as they head to the NFL Scouting Combine. The “legal tampering” window begins March 7 and the new league year begins at 4 p.m. on March 9.

Over the final quarter of the Bengals season, running back Rex Burkhead assumed an opportunity four years in the making when asked to fill in for an injured Giovani Bernard (ACL). His moment couldn’t have come soon enough as he prepared to enter free agency with almost no regular season game experience at the running back position.

He made the most of his opportunity. In fact, he rated as one of the most versatile and efficient running backs in football with his sample size. At the very least, he proved more effective than even the two backs that held the job before him, Bernard and Jeremy Hill.

Burkhead, a 2013 sixth-round pick out of Nebraska, carried 74 times for 4.65 yards per rush. He also caught 17 passes for 145 yards.

Meanwhile, Bernard and Hill both failed to cross 3.8 yards per carry this past season.

Burkhead not only hits the open market with a wave of momentum, he hopes to land an opportunity to finally play. If the Bengals can offer him a fair shot at playing time after proving his worth at the end of last season, striking a deal in Cincinnati shouldn’t be much of a challenge.

The question will come down to if Burkhead believes the opportunity will be given to him with the Bengals, a place where Hill and Bernard played ahead of him the entirety of their careers, or if he should look elsewhere for a greater opening to contribute as a central cog in an offense.

Between Hill’s inability to cross four yards per carry the last two seasons and Bernard coming off an ACL, the possibility opens for Burkhead to see an expanded role. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese opined on the possibility that a deeper rotation including Burkhead should have been part of the 2016 plan, keeping the option in place for next year.

"Because of the way we put this together, it hasn’t included a third guy," Zampese said. "He certainly made a case for that. Maybe we were wrong. Evidence would suggest that at this point. He averaged four yards a carry in every game he played. Same line. Same calls. Four-plus. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. There’s a place for that kind of guy in our offensive system.”

You could argue given the offensive structure, Burkhead was a more snug fit anyway. Zampese leaned more toward the pass than any Bengals season since 2012. Leaning more on the arm of Andy Dalton would mean leaning on the skill set of Burkhead. Remember, he was used as a slot wideout in the playoffs against Indianapolis in 2014 and came up as a seven-on-seven receiver in Texas.

This past year Burkhead caught 17 of the 20 targets thrown his way, for 85 percent. Of the 63 running backs last year to catch at least 15 passes, Burkhead ranked third in catch percentage behind only Seattle’s C.J. Prosise (89.5 percent) and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy (87.7).

Signing running backs to second contracts rarely play out as smart business in a league where the best years for most backs come at their cheapest rate. The top four backs in yards per game last year were all on their rookie contracts, as well as seven of the top 10.

Burkhead breaks the mold a bit, having almost no tread on his tires from lack of use when he turns 27 in July.

What also weighs into the equation would be a running back draft class loaded both at the top and in depth. Adding a cheaper, younger version of Burkhead in the middle rounds – where the Bengals will own four compensatory picks on top of their standard allotment – would be a reasonable fix. And a possibility exists the team makes a bold move for LSU star Leonard Fournette if available at No. 9 overall.

Fellow running back and special teams standout Cedric Peerman also enters free agency, but if the team allows him to find another club, they could fill the four-back room with Bernard, Hill, Burkhead and a draft pick, then let the group play it out.

The scenario would certainly sit well with the Bengals, but the question will be if that feels like enough opportunity for Burkhead.

Top 10 running backs set to hit free agency

Which running backs are worth targeting on the NFL free agent market this offseason?

By William Moy

February 18, 2017

While the goal for virtually every NFL team is to build the foundation of their roster through the draft, for many teams, the easiest route to take to pick up a player at a position of need is through free agency. Last offseason, we saw running backs Lamar Miller, Matt Forte and Alfred Morris, among others, sign with a new team. Here we’ll take a look at the top 10 running backs who are, potentially, about to hit the open market.

To see Pro Football Focus’ full NFL free-agent rankings featuring the top 50 players set to hit the market in 2017, click here.

1. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (88.3 overall grade in 2016)
It’s more of a matter of when, not if, Bell is placed under the franchise tag. If he hits the open market, though, not only is he the best free agent RB, he’s the best free agent, period. Bell has finished each of the last two seasons as our highest-graded running back, and finished among the top-10 in each of his first four pro seasons.

2. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers (77.3)
Few players will have more to prove in 2017 than Eddie Lacy. Lacy earned an 86.0 overall grade in 2014, which ranked third-best among RBs that season. Since then, though, he’s dealt with a very public weight battle, and that, compounded with some injuries, have resulted in him barely cracking our top 50 free agents list in 2017. Lacy forced 73 missed tackles on 287 total touches in 2014 (one every 3.9 touches); since the start of the 2015 season, he’s forced only 51 missed tackles on 282 touches (one every 5.5 touches).

3. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots (68.1)
Blount led all RBs in 2016 with 18 rushing touchdowns and ranked eighth with 1,161 rushing yards. However, as PFF’s 68.1 overall grade for him would indicate, his production stats weren’t necessarily indicative of his level of play. Of the 12 running backs to eclipse the 1,000-rushing-yard threshold this past season, Blount and Indianapolis’ Frank Gore were the only two to not average at least 4.0 yards per carry. Blount has always been a one-trick pony, and at 30 years old, that’s not changing. If you’re an NFL team who has a passing-down back, though, and is looking for some competence on first and second downs, Blount may be a decent bet.

4. Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (73.1)
Latavius Murray has been given two years now as Oakland’s starting running back, and the results have been serviceable, but certainly not great. Murray finished this year ranked 21st among RBs with a 73.1 overall grade after putting up a 70.0 overall mark in 2015. Murray isn’t overly elusive with the ball in his hands, as his 31.9 elusive rating (PFF’s elusive rating metric distills the impact of a runner with the ball independently of the blocking in front of him) ranked 33rd among running backs this season He also doesn’t offer much as a receiver.

5. Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (77.2)
Rodgers was a mere afterthought entering the 2016 season, but injuries to both Doug Martin and Charles Sims thrust him into a starting role for a chunk of the season, and he really took advantage of that opportunity. Rodgers’ 76.5 rushing grade—the highest of his career—ranked eighth among qualified RBs this past season, and he’s traditionally graded well as both a receiver and pass blocker. It’s unlikely that Rodgers ever turns into a top-tier three-down back, but he’s proven that he can fill a large role over short spurts; if you’re a team looking for backfield depth, or looking to add a competent third-down back with some upside, Rodgers makes for an intriguing option.

6. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals (63.6)
Ellington is a bit of a wildcard free agent this offseason. The 28-year-old running back exploded onto the scene in his rookie season back in 2013, when he finished the year with the sixth-highest overall grade among all RBs, at 81.1. He followed that up with a disappointing 2014 season, and has since been completely overshadowed by David Johnson in Arizona’s backfield. Ellington presents an interesting case to prospective teams, because he’s still under 30 years old and has fewer than 1,500 NFL snaps to his name. He has an outstanding season under his belt that he can point to, and it’s relatively unknown which had more of an impact on his decline in snaps, his own poor play or the emergence of Johnson?

7. DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers (72.9)
What Williams has been able to do into his mid-30s is pretty remarkable. In the 2015 season—at age 32—Williams earned a 78.9 overall grade over the course of 715 snaps, which ranked eighth among RBs. Williams had a much more limited role in 2016—his snap total dropped to 336—but he still produced, finishing the season with a 72.9 overall grade, 23rd-best among qualified running backs.

8. Rex Burkhead, Cincinnati Bengals (74.5)
Burkhead has received a very limited number of snaps over his three-year NFL career, but he enjoyed his most expanded role last season, and he thrived within it. Burkhead averaged 3.03 yards after contact per attempt in 2016, which ranked 12th among all RBs receiving at least 50 carries, forcing 15 missed tackles on 91 total touches.

9. Danny Woodhead, Los Angeles Chargers (55.0)
The biggest question the 32-year-old Woodhead this offseason is how he recovers from a torn ACL that cost him virtually all of the 2016 season. When healthy, Woodhead has proven that he’s capable of being one of the premier pass-catching threats out of the backfield. Woodhead led all running backs with 755 receiving yards in the 2015 season, and his 1.91 yards per route run mark ranked fourth among all RBs who received at least 50 targets in 2015.

10. Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (58.0)
Jennings graded positively as a runner in 2015; in fact, his 71.7 running grade that season ranked 23rd among all RBs. His performance in that department fell off a cliff in 2016, however, as his 55.3 running grade from this past season ranked 53rd out of 55 qualifying RBs. Jennings can bring a veteran presence to a backfield, though, and still does one thing extraordinarily well: pass protect. Jennings ranked first among all qualifying running backs this past season with a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 98.3, as he allowed just one total QB pressure on 60 pass-blocking snaps in 2016. (PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric is a weighted formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many snaps a running back stays in to pass protect.) Jennings has allowed just seven total QB pressures on 160 pass-blocking snaps since the start of 2014.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Picking one free agent every team should sign this offseason

February 17, 2017

By Pro Football Focus staff

Free agency offers the chance for every NFL team to kick-start its roster improvements. Every franchise wants to excel in the draft and build its roster over the long term for minimal outlay, but free agency can fast-track that process and give teams proven NFL commodities -- if they are willing to pay for them.

The Dallas Cowboys arguably have the league's best offensive line because they threw draft resources at it for several seasons -- and hit on those draft picks -- but the Oakland Raiders came close to matching that with a free-agent spending spree, bringing in several key players to transform their line and offense overall.

With that in mind, here is one free agent -- unrestricted or restricted, from the list of every player who could make it to the market -- each NFL team should sign this offseason.

Note: Each player's position rank is based on PFF's grades, and we're not including re-signings -- only players switching teams.

New England Patriots

Karl Klug, DL | Position rank: 22nd

The Super Bowl LI champions love to tap into the veteran market to fill holes along the defensive line, and Klug brings the versatility they covet up front. Klug is capable of playing on the interior or the edge while producing in multiple fronts, and he's an efficient pass-rusher, finishing at 78.3 in that department last season with the Titans. Klug hasn't played more than 400 snaps since his rookie season in 2011, but he's a valuable addition as a rotational piece with the ability to rush the passer from multiple positions.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Champion Athlete with a Heart of Gold

What do football and Valentine’s Day have in common? Flowers. Trey Flowers, to be exact.

Following a historic win in the game last weekend, pro football player Trey Flowers surprised his mom on Friday with 1,000 flowers in her home.

Fresh off the heels of his victory at the big game last weekend, the star athlete worked with the ProFlowers team to orchestrate a Valentine’s Day surprise his mom, Jacqueline, would never forget. We snuck into Trey’s parent’s home in Huntsville, Alabama and decorated it with 50 bouquets of assorted roses, tulips and more.

And the result was, well, watch for yourself: Trey Flowers Surprises Mom with 1,000 ProFlowers

Talk about a tear-jerker.

During the recent championship game, Flowers boasted six tackles and five quarterback hits – but throughout his career, he’s always given credit to his mom for being one of his biggest sources of inspiration.

As Trey so affectionately puts it, “You taught me a lot of core values, and without those things, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”

Mrs. Flowers had similar feelings to share about her son. “I’m so excited. It’s overwhelming and I love flowers! My kids, they mean everything to me. They are my life.”

From all of us here at ProFlowers, thank you for letting us be part of your mom’s special Valentine’s Day surprise, Trey!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Trey Flowers The Defensive MVP Of Super Bowl LI For Patriots

Trey Flowers celebrates his fourth quarter sack in Super Bowl LI. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
February 10, 2017

HOUSTON (CBS) — When Bill Belichick traded Chandler Jones, most people believed the Patriots’ head coach was making a decision that was best for the team. When Belichick traded Jamie Collins, some folks wondered if Bill had lost his mind.

But, of course, the coach had not. The Patriots finished the season with the No. 1 scoring defense, and they finished the postseason as Super Bowl champs.

And while it takes a game-day roster of 46 men to win a Super Bowl, it’s fair to say this victory would not have been earned if not for the performance of Trey Flowers.

While it was Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack in the fourth quarter that has received a proper level of credit as being the turning point of the game, the fact is that the turnover would not have mattered if not for Flowers’ sack on the Falcons’ next drive.

“Huge,” Bill Belichick said of the work of Flowers and the defense after Atlanta had quickly driven to the Patriots’ 22-yard line. “That pushes it back to a two-score game. That was a huge defensive stop. … We got the sack [from Flowers]. We got the holding penalty [drawn by Chris Long] and we were able to push them back out of field goal range. So that was a huge defensive series for us.”

While the athleticism on display from Flowers throughout the night was evident with his six tackles and 2.5 sacks, what’s most encouraging for the Patriots is the young man’s confidence.

According to Alan Branch, it was the 23-year-old Flowers who told his teammates in the defensive huddle that he wanted to be the one to make the play. And he did.

“We got the play called,” Branch explained. “We had a stunt on that. Someone was supposed to stunt on that play. Trey stepped up. He was like, ‘Look, let me do the stunt.’ He went in there. I just went in there and covered him and let him do work.”

As Hightower explained, the entire defense felt that Flowers was the right man for the job at that moment.

“I honestly don’t think it mattered if Trey wanted it or not,” Hightower said, “because we were going to give it to him.”

What happened next perfectly displayed Flowers’ explosiveness, strength, speed and sheer willpower, as he bullied his way through center Alex Mack and flung Matt Ryan to the turf.

Watch: Trey Flowers 4th quarter sack of Matt Ryan

Despite the obvious individual effort required to make this play, Flowers opted to not talk about himself in the glow of a victorious postgame press conference.

“We knew then it was just one play away. Now we just need one stop, one big-time play and we were able to get it,” Flowers said. “We were able to get the stop and put our offense out there with a lot of time left, and they marched the ball down the field and got the two-point conversion.”

Trey Flowers sacks Matt Ryan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The sack came, of course, at a point in the game when the Falcons have been heavily criticized for not running the ball up the gut, forcing New England to use its timeouts, and then kicking a field goal to put the game likely out of reach. This is fair criticism.

But to harp on the Falcons’ mental mistakes is to overlook the championship effort put forth by the Patriots’ defense at the time. Had the Patriots played like the game was over, they would have lost. Instead, they scrapped. And you know the final result.

It was incredibly appropriate that on the next snap, it was Chris Long who drew the holding penalty on Jake Matthews. All season, Long has been an important contributor on defense, even if his impact was rarely measured properly by statistics. Though he didn’t get a tackle or a sack or a hurry or a QB hit on that play, it pushed the Falcons out of field-goal range and kept the Patriots’ hopes alive.

While the flurry of events through the course of a 25-point comeback can lead to some blurred memories, there should be no downplaying the significance of that Flowers sack.

The crunch-time play was really just a continuation of the night Flowers was already having. He came up with a sack on a third-and-5 on Atlanta’s opening possession to force an early punt (and nearly create a defensive score), and toward the end of the third quarter, he and Kyle Van Noy sacked Ryan on another third down to force another punt. That was an Atlanta drive, mind you, that began on the Patriots’ 41-yard line after a filed onside kick and a penalty on kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The high-flying Falcons offense should have easily been able to at least tack on a field goal. Instead, they were forced to punt.

At that point, the Patriots still trailed by 19 points, and they needed every stop they could get. A third-down sack at that point in the game might have been overlooked in the moment. But after a comeback like that, its significance is known.

That’s three sacks, all with a major impact on the game. The first two forced the opponent to punt. The final sack helped turn a 41-yard field goal attempt into a 53-yard field goal attempt, before the ensuing play ended up removing the field goal opportunity altogether.

Take it all together, and that is the work of a defensive MVP.

And now, as Flowers enters year three, he has a Super Bowl victory under his belt, and he’s progressing on a path to become the next dynamic, explosive player in that Patriots’ front seven.

Turns out, this Belichick guy knows what he’s doing with his roster.

“Trey Flowers is one of the better players in the league,” said Branch, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons. “He’s definitely going to have a lot of people paying attention to him next year because that guy’s a monster. I think he’s one of the better pass rushers and one of the better all-around defensive linemen in the league. I give him all of the credit in the world. To me, he’s one of the best.”

Hightower, a highly accomplished defensive captain with five years and two Super Bowls on his resume, agreed.

“Trey is honestly one of the best players on defense,” Hightower said. “He does a hell of a job each and every day, works hard, he’s great at his craft. There’s been plenty of times throughout the year where he’s had double-team, triple-team guys, and he’s gotten sacks.

“To be honest,” Hightower continued, “we expected it. And I’m glad to have him as my teammate.”

Prior to Sunday night, teams that trailed by 25 points in a game had won just six times in 2,655 opportunities. So to mount a historic comeback, it takes the contributions of dozens of players stepping up when it matters.

And while the offensive exploits of Brady and Co. have received their proper due, and while Hightower’s game-changing play has likewise gotten its fair share of attention, it’s only right to put it on the record that the Patriots would not have won this Super Bowl if not for the fourth-round pick out of Arkansas.

“It’s crazy,” Flowers said shortly after becoming a champion. “I still can’t believe it. It’s going to be amazing waking up tomorrow because this is like a dream. It feels like a dream.”

Trey Flowers celebrates winning Super Bowl LI. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Youthful Flowers' growth key component as Patriots defense came of age

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is sacked by New England Patriots' Trey Flowers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston.

By Glen Farley
February 8, 2017

Limited to only one game his rookie year, Trey Flowers became a force in New England's defensive line this past season. Flowers' development was a key element in the Pats' Super Bowl championship run.

FOXBORO - He spent the season carving out a niche out for himself as an integral piece of the Patriots' future.

Last Sunday night, he played a major role in history.

A non-participant (he appeared in one game) his rookie season, Trey Flowers capped off his second year with the team by registering 2 1/2 sacks in the Patriots' 34-28 overtime victory over Atlanta in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium.

If Flowers made a statement during the season - and he did - this was the exclamation point.

"Trey Flowers is one of the better players in the league," linemate Alan Branch, a 10-year NFL veteran, said in the aftermath of the big game. "He's definitely going to have a lot of people paying attention to him next year because that guy's a monster.

"I think he's one of the better pass rushers and one of the better all-around defensive linemen in the league. I give him all of the credit in the world. To me, he's one of the best."

Flowers' biggest contribution last Sunday night was a 12-yard sack of Matt Ryan that helped prevent the Falcons from kicking what could have been a fourth-quarter field goal that would have denied the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

"It still hasn't hit me yet," Flowers said upon the team's arrival home from Houston earlier this week. "I've been seeing (the sack). A lot of people posted about it and it was all on TV and things, but it's just one of those that I really have to sit down and say, you know, 'Twenty years from now, people are still going to talk about this game. You came back 25 points, the first overtime victory win (in the Super Bowl), it was big.' It still hasn't hit me, but it feels good."

Flowers had his share of hits this season: 14 quarterbacks hits and seven sacks to be exact, both team highs, while his 45 tackles ranked eighth on the Patriots.

All of that contributed to a defense that was the NFL's stingiest during the regular season, surrendering just 15.6 points per game.

Facing a 28-3 third-quarter deficit (and, in defense of the defense, recall that seven of the points came on a pick-six) on Sunday night, the unit shut down the league's highest-scoring offense (33.8 points per game during the regular season, 40 PPG in its first two postseason games), allowing the Patriots' offense to rally.

The Falcons' final four possessions consisted of 16 plays and resulted in three punts and a turnover.

"(It was) guys (that) just continue to fight, guys that do their job and do their job well," said Flowers. "I just think that all the people who doubted us and all the people who said we didn't play any good teams, good opponents, things like that, they really weren't watching film, really weren't understanding the scheme of things because this defense, we just do what it takes to win.

"So whatever it takes, whether it's dropping back eight or rushing three or whatever, a lot of guys buy into it and we're going to play our role and do it well."

A fourth-round pick out of Arkansas in the 2015 NFL Draft, Flowers lacked a role his rookie season, injuries limiting him to four plays in one game in a year he finished on the injured reserve list.

"A year ago, outside looking in, just trying to get on the field, just trying to participate and just be able to not only participate but participate well and produce for my team to help them win, that's what I worked hard for and that's what I prepared for," said Flowers. "So it was good to get the results."

The results - the rapid development of the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder - may ultimately make unrestricted free agent Jabaal Sheard, who had eight sacks in 2015, expendable.

Flowers was indispensable last Sunday night, answering the call when the Patriots were in dire need of (yet another) game-saving play, his sack of Ryan moving the Falcons back from New England's 23 to its 35.

"I was just thankful I was able to execute on that opportunity when my time was called," said Flowers. "When I had that chance to make a big play, I was glad I was able to execute it to make that play. After that, I knew we pushed them out of field-goal range but ...

"I knew they've got a good field-goal kicker (Matt Bryant) so I knew another play had to happen or we had to count on him missing it, but then we got the holding call on Chris Long (the defensive end was held by Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews) so that pushed them even further. That just made them negate the field and go for the punt, so that was a big stop right there by the defense."

Monday, February 06, 2017

Trey Flowers emerges as star for Patriots in Super Bowl LI

Trey Flowers pressures Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan in the 4th quarter.

February 5, 2017
By Mark Daniels

HOUSTON - The Super Bowl is a stage where unknown players can turn into stars in an instant. For the Patriots, on the defensive side of the ball, no one had a bigger impact than Trey Flowers.
The second-year defensive end, who finished the season with a team-high seven sacks, might not have been a household name before Super Bowl LI, but he very well could be after the Patriots' dramatic, 34-28 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The 23-year-old finished with 2.5 sacks including a game-changing sack on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter.

"Trey Flowers is one of the better players in this league," Alan Branch said. "He's definitely going to have a lot of people paying attention to him next year because, I mean, that guy's a monster. I think he's definitely one of the better pass rushers and all-around defensive linemen in the league."

Flowers, who played in just one game last year, didn't start until Week 10. But when he was inserted into the main rotation, the Patriots defensive line changed for the better. That was clear on Sunday.

On the Falcons' first series, Flowers came up with his first sack - on third down - for a loss of 10.

"Last year, I didn't play a lot, but I saw the other side of it," Flowers said. "Being able to sit out and just the opportunity seeming to fade away, it could have. But I just keep playing and whatever my opportunity came I made the best of my opportunity and I just made sure I was prepared."

With 52 seconds left in the third quarter, Flowers came up with his second sack - again on third down to force a punt. The Patriots offense was able to turn the next drive into three points, but the biggest play of the game for Flowers came at 3:56 of the third quarter.

After a 27-yard catch by Julio Jones, the Falcons were in field-goal range. The Patriots likely would've lost if Atlanta got three more points, but two plays after the big catch, Flowers sacked Ryan for a loss of 12. The play pushed Atlanta out of field-goal range and the Falcons punted. Tom Brady took over after that.

"It was a good play call," Flowers said. "I just went inside on the guard and just kept getting vertical. We knew he always likes to attack the spot and [Ryan] likes to step up in the pocket, so anytime you get some inside penetration, he was right there to get the sack. I was just blessed I had the opportunity to make the play when the time came."

Vrabel's Ascension to Potential Head Coach Unusual, but not Undeserved

When the Los Angeles Rams added Mike Vrabel to their list of head coaching prospects, eyebrows rose. A linebackers coach who’s never been a coordinator, never mind a head coach, in line to run a franchise?
It is unusual. But not because Vrabel’s ill-equipped to do so. He just was in a different stream than most coaches who saw their playing days end in their early 20s and -- loving football -- got into teaching it.
Vrabel apprenticed differently. He rolled up 34 sacks in his final three college seasons at Ohio State and was a two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big 10. He was a third-round pick by the Steelers, and played alongside and behind some of the best linebackers of the 90s in a zone-blitzing defense. He signed with the Patriots in 2001 and was the equivalent of an on-field defensive coordinator in an amorphous defense that was ruthless, intricate and designed with logic in mind. Dealt to Kansas City in 2009, Vrabel was the Chiefs old head until retiring after two seasons and heading back to Ohio State to coach linebackers and the defensive line in consecutive years.
If the knowledge Vrabel gathered in 14 seasons as an NFL player, a very active NFLPA rep and a truly brilliant guy who gets the business of the NFL as well as the Xs and Os isn’t suited to coach because he wasn’t a quality control guy for two seasons 12 years ago, I mean…
As Belichick said in a statement in 2011 when Vrabel went to the Buckeyes, "During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over.
"Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached. He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners."
This year, Vrabel’s Houston linebackers have arguably been the strongest part of the Texans outstanding defense with Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, John Simon and rising star Benardrick McKinney in particular having solid seasons.
Asked on a conference call why Vrabel would be a good candidate in Los Angeles, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said, “I think people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities nd the type of guy that he is. He’s a guy that really cares about people, he really cares about football. Great dad, great husband. He’s got all the capabilities to be a future head coach.”
Vrabel is on the road less traveled because he had the ability as a player to take it.

MMQB's Defensive Player of the Week: Trey Flowers

February 6, 2017

The Award Section


Trey Flowers, defensive end, New England.
The second-year standout was a disruptive force Sunday night, recording 2.5 sacks for a combined loss of 26.5 yards. He sacked Matt Ryan for a loss of 12 yards in the fourth quarter with less than four minutes on the clock, and destroyed Atlanta’s best chance to score again and suffocate New England’s comeback. Flowers also led New England with five quarterback hits.

Friday, February 03, 2017

State of the Hogs: Father recounts Trey Flowers' rise from lightly-recruited to Super Bowl starter

New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) tackles San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Clay Henry

February 3, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE — What number Trey Flowers wears may not be a big deal anymore. So it probably wouldn't be a motivational tool ahead of the Super Bowl for the New England brain trust to change his No. 98.

At this point, Flowers probably plays as hard as possible every play. That's his reputation. It was in a sterling four-year career at Arkansas. It still is with the Patriots as a second-year defensive end, the starter on the right side for the Patriots on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

But it's worth noting that there was a time when Flowers did let a number change ignite a raging fire on the field. Robert Flowers, his father, recalls his son's ninth-grade season when the high school coach in Huntsville, Ala., gave No. 75 to a promising senior transfer.

“We lived in a military district, lots of kids coming and going,” Robert Flowers said. “Trey was starting at offensive tackle as a ninth grader for the varsity. He'd always worn 75. But this big kid moved in and asked for it. The coach said OK.”

That was bad news for the move-in when the team scrimmaged. He lined up opposite Flowers.

“He thought he was going to take Trey's position at defensive end, too,” Robert Flowers said. “Trey was playing offense, assigned to block him. That was a mistake for that boy. Trey whipped him up and down the field. Trey balled.

“That kid kept 75 for the year, but the coach gave it back to Trey the next year. They eventually changed him to 88 because he was playing some tight end and he had to have a receiver's number to go out for passes.

“I'm telling you, Trey beat the crap out of that boy. I don't think he ever cusses on the field, but he's pretty mean. Off the field, he's as nice as they come. But he gets mean out there playing."

That's no joke. Flowers played in 49 games at Arkansas, starting 39 times. He was all-SEC as a senior in 2014 when he helped Arkansas record back-to-back shutouts against ranked foes Ole Miss and LSU.

Flowers finished his UA career with 190 tackles, 18 sacks, an interception, 13 passes breakups and four forced fumbles. He completed his career as the active SEC leader and tied for second nationally in tackles for loss (47.5).

Trey Flowers celebrates a fumble recovery in his final home game vs. Ole Miss on Nov. 22, 2014. (Photo by J.T. Wampler)

The productivity was there from the start as a true freshman in 2011. He was part of a big defensive end class that included the more heralded Lonnie Gosha. Flowers was the last player added in that class, getting his only SEC offer from Bobby Petrino on the weekend before signing day.

Flowers probably was headed to Georgia Tech until UA defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell talked him into visiting with a phone call late in January. The other schools interested were Alabama-Birmingham and South Alabama.

“Bobby Petrino signed four defensive ends in that class,” Robert Flowers said. “He told them all, 'Come to school expecting to play and I'll pick one of you.' Trey was determined to be that one.”

Actually, Gosha played, too, and he was getting more snaps ahead of Flowers early in their freshman season. When starters Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright suffered injuries, the freshmen playing time increased. Flowers played some in a reserve role against Texas A&M and Auburn before coaches figured things out.

“They played others for most of the Auburn game, and just at the end of the game, with the score out of hand, Coach Caldwell put Trey in for the last two minutes,” Robert Flowers said. “Trey got three plays. He made tackles on first and second down and they took him out on third down. A little later they put him back in and he almost got a sack, forcing an incomplete pass.

“So that's three snaps and he got two tackles and a QB hurry. After the game, Coach Caldwell came to him at his locker. He said, 'I'm sorry. I was wrong. You are the one who needs to play. You'll play from now on.' He started the next three games.”

Flowers finished the season with 28 tackles, tied with Bequette, a senior, and three ahead of Wright, a junior. He was named to the SEC all-freshman team.

The early playing time effected Trey's academic plans. He came to Arkansas with plans of an engineering degree. The path for that degree generally takes five years.

“He could have done it if he'd had a redshirt year," Robert Flowers said. “Trey had the academic background. He was straight As in high school, really all the way back to grade school.

“But when things started out so well as a freshman and he was playing, we had to rethink the engineering part. It was not going to be easy. There were some classes that had tests on Friday for the start of the engineering program. If you missed, you got an F. He was missing on travel weeks.

“The plan when he went to school was to get a significant degree. He had an older brother go to Cincinnati for basketball and they put athletes in a cookie-cutter program, criminal justice; not significant. Trey was not going for that, coming out of high school with no Bs on his card.

“But engineering and football are tough together. With football taking off for him, I told him maybe a switch to economics would work out better.”

Flowers finished the economics degree in three-and-a-half years, making the SEC honor roll throughout.

Nothing Trey does surprises his father. He's always had high expectations for his son, one of 10 children.

“The NFL? It's nice, but I always thought that's where he'd be,” Robert Flowers said. “He said that's what he was going to be when he played peewee ball. He was going to do this and I'm not surprised at all. It's what I thought he could do.”

There were older brothers with college scholarships, in football and basketball.

“Jamal was the offensive guard at Middle Tennessee, Rod the basketball player for Bobby Huggins at Cincinnati,” Robert Flowers said. “Jamal was four or five years ahead of Trey. Rod asked Jamal, 'You think you can block baby Trey?' The answer, 'No, but I betcha I can hold him.' Trey was always as strong as a bull. The older boys knew that.”

If there was ever any doubt that Trey could make it in football, it came in the eighth grade.

“Trey hurt his knee pretty bad, the same injury they eventually fixed at Arkansas,” Robert Flowers said. “I remember going to the knee doctor. He told Trey, 'You will never play football again. Your career is over.' Then, he left the room for a few minutes. Trey looked over at me and said, 'I'll play football.' He missed two games.”

It wasn't just enough to play. Winning was always the goal. It was tough during his first three years at Arkansas. After an 11-win freshman campaign he had to endure the John L. Smith season, then a tough time in Bret Bielema's first season. Things took off at the end of Trey's senior season.

“Man, Trey hated losing, always did,” Robert Flowers said. “I remember the first year he played peewee. He was coached by my college roommate. They only lost two games and Trey cried both times. He didn't understand losing. Me and momma talked to him about that.

“Really though, he didn't lose much as a young one. I think his teams lost only one game combined the next five years.”

Trey Flowers talks to the media for Super Bowl 51 media day Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Obviously, the Patriots aren't losing much. It's been a fun ride this season to another Super Bowl.

Robert Flowers said he has made it to seven games and the entire family is headed to Houston for the Super Bowl.

“I think Trey got around 15 tickets,” he said. “All 10 kids are going. Then, it's me and momma, and his daughter.”

It was about like that for Arkansas games when Robert used an oversized van for the trip from Alabama to the Ozarks. It was equipped with six captain's chairs, a requirement for some big people.

“Me and momma fly now,” he said. “The rest are driving.”

Flowers leads the Patriots with seven sacks. He's been a force over the second half of the season, drawing praise from coaches and teammates. Former Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, a defensive leader for the Patriots, gave Flowers the nickname “Technique.”

“Trey plays it perfect,” Robert Flowers said. “You show him, he'll get it. He'll master it. He did.

“I know when they drafted him, (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick told him, forget everything you know, it's all going to be new. Trey did a pretty good job of learning it. He's learned end and tackle.”

Flowers has been a destructive pass rusher at both spots this season. The Falcons might have to do what older brother Jamal thought would be required.

They may have to resort to holding.

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