Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Patriots LB Ellis 'All In' on Football Before Giving Medical School a Shot

By Phil Perry

May 29, 2017

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques.

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons.
Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate.
And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead.

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simple advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him.

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

Texans' J.J. Watt pleased with Mike Vrabel's promotion

Vrabel was praised by Patriots coach Bill Belichick prior to the Texans' AFC divisional-round playoff loss at Gillette Stadium.

By Aaron Wilson
May 25, 2017

Mike Vrabel was praised by Patriots coach Bill Belichick prior to the Texans' AFC divisional-round playoff loss at Gillette Stadium.

When the Texans shuffled their coaching staff by promoting linebackers coach Mike Vrabel to defensive coordinator and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to assistant head coach, it was expected to be a seamless transition.

So far, the move has been met with wide approval by the Texans' players.

That includes three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

"It's been very good," Watt said. "I think it's great. I think I've said all along, to have a guy like Mike come in who is so knowledgeable and so experienced is great. It's very good for us.

"But then also to have RAC out there every single day and still coaching and teaching guys – to have two defensive minds like that, and then with the assistant coaches that we have, we are very fortunate."

Vrabel was a versatile All-Pro outside linebacker with the New England Patriots who earned three Super Bowl rings.

He was scheduled to interview for the Los Angeles Rams' head coaching job before it went to Sean McVay.

He was offered the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator job a year ago and was pursued by the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers this offseason.

Vrabel was praised by Patriots coach Bill Belichick prior to the Texans' AFC divisional-round playoff loss at Gillette Stadium.

"Mike does a tremendous job," Belichick said. "As a player he was very astute, had a great understanding of his position and technique and how to play his spot and corresponding positions from an overall standpoint. He had a very good grasp of the overall defensive and offensive concepts and how they would attack different fronts. We talked about that.

"Of course, I never worked with Mike as a coach. As a player, he certainly showed those qualities. A lot of players understand the game well and have a good awareness, but Mike has good leadership, good communication. He's direct. He gets along with everybody, has a good way of working with people, got good leadership skills. Those things are very important."

Vrabel is regarded as a tough, passionate coach who relates well to his players. The former Patriots standout has a demanding style, but he also communicates well. He's been instrumental in the development of Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, John Simon and Benardrick McKinney with veteran Brian Cushing remaining productive under his coaching tenure.

"Coach Vrabel has done an unbelievable job of teaching me where to be, in the right spot," said McKinney, who led the Texans with 129 tackles last season. "He's an unbelievable coach. He loves the game of football. He tells us how much he loves coaching us. He's a great coach. I'd be happy with whatever coach Vrabel decides to do. He's a great guy and a great coach."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New England’s New Back Is Its Most Important

May 23, 2017

By Andy Benoit

1. I think Rex Burkhead will wind up being New England’s most important running back this season. Great receiver, good runner and a better blocker than fellow scatbacks Dion Lewis and James White.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Kyle Shanahan Regrets Trey Flowers’ Super Bowl Sack The Most

May 22, 2017

BOSTON (CBS) — Members of the 2016 Patriots will fondly remember their incredible comeback in Super Bowl LI for the rest of their lives. The Falcons will never forget that night, either – but more because of regret.

Few members of the Falcons regret the second half of Super Bowl LI, in which the Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit before winning in overtime, more than Kyle Shanahan. Handed the keys to Atlanta’s opportunity to ice the Super Bowl, the now-former Falcons offensive coordinator instead he made an inexplicably aggressive series of play-calls that ultimately put the football back in Tom Brady’s hands with a chance to tie the game.

Brady and the Patriots, of course, did not disappoint. And Shanahan was left to ponder his mistakes throughout the offseason as he works toward 2017, now the head coach of the 49ers. He spoke about his regrets from the game when he joined the Rich Eisen Show last week.

He told Eisen that he regrets the call that led Trey Flowers’ late-fourth-quarter sack on Matt Ryan more than any other play.

“I wish I had dialed up something differently,” said Shanahan. “And then the next play, we called an option to [Mohamed] Sanu, we got right back in field goal range, but we had a holding call on the play and it knocked us out some more, and an incompletion on the next one.

“I go through every single play in the game, but when it comes down to it, the big one was the sack that we had on second-and-10.”

As a quick refresher: the Falcons had the ball on the Patriots’ 22-yard line up eight points with under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Instead of running the ball and kicking a field goal, which would have effectively ensured victory for the Falcons, Shanahan called just one running play before sending quarterback Matt Ryan back to pass for the rest of the possession.

Trey Flowers sacked him on second-and-11 (sorry Kyle, it wasn’t second-and-10) for a loss of 12 yards. It led to a holding call on the next play that put the Falcons out of field goal range, forcing them to punt the ball back to the Patriots.

Dont’a Hightower came up with arguably the biggest play of the game with his fourth-quarter strip sack on Ryan, but Flowers was the team’s defensive MVP with an excellent 60-minute effort capped with the fourth-quarter sack. It should come as no surprise that Flowers’ play was the biggest source of Shanahan’s regrets.

The important thing for Shanahan is that he’s learned from the experience and will play to kill the clock and kick a field goal next time he’s in a similar spot. It appears that he has, and he will.

Washington Redskins mountain man Brandon Scherff strikes again

In two years with the Washington Redskins, Brandon Scherff has solidified himself as one of the strongest and quickest young guards in football. He’s also revealed himself to be an outdoors enthusiast. A recent incident at a golf course only reinforces that reality.

By Ian Cummings

May 21, 2017

The offseason is a valuable opportunity for players to relax and build chemistry with one another on their own accord. There are plenty of ways to do this, one of which being to swing some sticks on the golf course. Tress Way and Brandon Scherff found themselves doing this recently, and during the excursion, a snapping turtle attempted to halt their progress. Scherff promptly reminded him who the king of the wild is.

A nice move by Scherff, holding the intruder by the tail. He proves to have the strategic advantage, and the critter’s canines are rendered inept. Way is understandably impressed, but this is nothing new. Mountain man Scherff has a habit of assuming the advantage, whether it be against the subordinates of Mother Nature, or the front seven of any given NFL team.

Scherff has quietly been a very reliable facet of the Redskins’ offensive line. The converted tackle earned his first Pro Bowl bid in just his second season, and there will hopefully be many more to come. Although there was skepticism surrounding his selection, he has done nothing but impress.

It’s easy to be excited about what the Redskins offense might accomplish in 2017. The team has a new playmaking duo at wide receiver in Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson. Samaje Perine will be an energetic new talent in the backfield. And the resigning of Vernon Davis ensures that the Redskins once again have a top tight end tandem.

It all starts, however, in the trenches. Scherff showed his dominance against the wild on the golf course, and come September, he’ll be doing the same to opposing defensive linemen.

For Cardinals K Phil Dawson, the joy is in the product, not the process

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and kicker Phil Dawson. (Adam Green/Arizona Sports)


May 19, 2017

TEMPE, Ariz. — Phil Dawson doesn’t come to work expecting to have fun.

“It’s a job,” the Cardinals new kicker said. “It’s a great job and one I’m very grateful to have, but I don’t come to work looking to have a good time.”

Dawson does find joy in his work, but it comes more from the product than the process.

“I’ll take satisfaction in knowing I did my job,” he said. “Kicking is very misunderstood and a lot of people don’t know a whole lot about it. You may be the only one in the stadium that understands how difficult a certain kick may have been, so just knowing what you went through to prepare for that moment, knowing what you felt in that moment, to know how much everything was riding on that moment and to then be able to come through, that’s a very rewarding experience.”

It’s that mature, business approach that general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians were looking for when they set out to upgrade the kicking game after Chandler Catanzaro made just 21 of 28 field goal attempts last season, including critical misses against New England, Seattle and Miami.

It’s an approach Dawson has refined over the years when faced with the reality of his job.

“In the NFL, strange things happen so I’d rather dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ and make sure I am almost over-prepared so that when those weird things happen I’ve got a fighting chance to get the ball through,” he said. “It may not be the approach that allows you to have the most fun but it allows you to do your job.”

As he has progressed through an 18-year career, Dawson’s attention to detail has allowed him to appreciate the smallest of victories when others might view them as mundane. As an example, he cited a December game two seasons ago at Soldier Field against the Bears.

“In the first quarter, they blocked an extra point on our first touchdown,” Dawson said. “That point kind of haunted us the whole day but at the very end of the game, we’re down seven and we score this dramatic touchdown, and I’ve got to go out and make an extra point to tie the game and send it to overtime.

“Most people are going to the fridge to get a beer if they’re watching it on TV because they’re figuring it’s going to OT. I’m thinking how that first-quarter kick was blocked. I’m thinking about the bad footing. I’m thinking about the wind. It was not an easy day to kick,” the kicker added. “What may appear to be a routine chip-shot to most people goes down as one of my favorite kicks of my career because I had to move the spot of the snap because of the footing, which then made me aim in a certain way that I really didn’t want to aim because of the wind that day. There was a lot of stuff going on, so to see the ball go through was pretty cool.”

The Cardinals raised some eyebrows when they signed the 42-year-old kicker, but Arians is convinced there is plenty of game left in Dawson’s leg after he made 18 of 21 attempts last season, including 10 of 10 inside 40 yards.

“Having been around Adam Vinatieri and now Phil — and I was around Phil when he was a lot younger — they’re special guys,” Arians said. “They’re different personalities, but they just don’t age.”

Arians has been consistent in his message to Dawson.

“Not just when I was signed, but since then the communication has been, ‘come do your thing. Be an example to the younger guys in the locker room of how to be a pro, how to go about things. When there are opportunities to lead, do that,'” Dawson said.

“My leadership style may be different than AB (safety Antoine Bethea), a teammate of mine who we brought over, but they just want me to bring a veteran presence, be a guy that takes his job seriously and then obviously performs when his team needs him.”

Arians has consistently mentioned Dawson as one of the key, offseason signings he hopes will bring needed leadership to the team. Dawson is happy to fill that role, but he knows his ability to lead will only materialize if he performs.

“We’ll just have to see, won’t we?” he said, smiling.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Patriots notebook: Deatrich Wise feels right at home with lots of familiar Razorback faces in Foxboro

By Stephen Hewitt

May 19, 2017

FOXBORO — In his first couple of weeks in New England, Deatrich Wise has likely looked around and experienced some deja vu.

In some ways, it’s almost like he never even left Arkansas.

Wise, the former Razorbacks defensive end drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots last month, is feeling right at home as a new pro. He’s reunited with three former college teammates in Trey Flowers, Brooks Ellis and Cody Hollister.

Wise, who officially signed with the Pats yesterday, probably is closest with Ellis, a middle linebacker who was signed as an undrafted free agent. The two were teammates for four years at Arkansas, and they’ve already picked up in Foxboro where they left off.

“Every day, I try to keep up with him, he tries to keep up with me,” Wise said yesterday at Gillette Stadium. “We learn from each other. We’ll be running plays, and he’s still my middle linebacker, so we still communicate. It’s awesome seeing how he works.

“We were locker buddies, we were teammates for four years. He was behind me telling me what to do, and I was in front of him telling him the same thing, so it’s been the same.”

Wise also has reunited with Flowers, who was his teammate from 2012-14. Flowers is only going into his third season, but he’s already taken on a mentor role with Wise, who figures to play with him on the edge.

Wise has watched closely what Flowers — who had 2.5 sacks in the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI win — has done from afar and is eager to follow in his footsteps.

“I kind of say if he can do it, I can do it too type thing, you know?” Wise said.

“It’s been awesome. He’s a big mentor, and the advice he gives me is just take it one day at a time, don’t try to think ahead, stay in the now, and he’s been helping me out here and there with the plays and what I have to do, and it’s been great.

“I try to follow him a little bit, try not to be too close to him, but try and follow and see how he does and see how he works and do the same.”

As far as the pantheon of colleges Bill Belichick has grown fond of, Arkansas is no Rutgers just yet, but it’s getting close. Wise believes coach Bret Bielema’s pro-style system is one of the reasons he’s not only prepared for the NFL, but why the Patriots are developing a pipeline with the Razorbacks.

“They both teach mental toughness, they both teach things that pretty much transfer over to the league,” Wise said. “How to take care of your body, mental and physical toughness. They teach the terminology, it’s kind of the same, and it’s just how they run their whole program from the top to the bottom.

“Showing everyone respect. I don’t care if it’s a CEO, a GM, a head coach or a janitor or cafeteria lady, you treat everyone with respect. And that’s kind of what Arkansas taught me and what I’m learning here as well.

Wise said it’s a point of pride that such a high-pedigree NFL program like the Pats has continued to poach away from Arkansas.

“It shows what Arkansas does for their players,” he said. “It shows Arkansas holds itself to a high standard, and it’s exactly what the Patriots look for in their players, so they kind of bounce off each other.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Redskins' Will Compton gives back in Bonne Terre

Washington Redskins linebacker Will Compton sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott during a game last November in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo)

By Jim Thomas
May 18, 2017

BONNE TERRE, MO. • They ran around huge truck tires, hopped over tackling dummies, fell on fumbles, caught passes — just about everything you’d expect at a youth football camp.

The guest instructors, five of them at least, were members of the Washington Redskins, which seemed strange here in the middle of the Missouri Lead Belt on the day before Mother’s Day. Until, that is, you looked at the T-shirts worn by the 130 campers who ranged in age from third grade through eighth grade:

“Create Your Own Destiny. Will Compton Football Camp.”

Undrafted out of Nebraska in 2013, Compton started most of the past two seasons at middle linebacker for Washington. He was a team captain last season, registering a career-high 125 tackles during a breakout campaign.

As such, he’s the headliner in Bonne Terre’s first family of sports.

It’s basically unanimous in the Compton household that most of the family’s athletic DNA comes from Mom. Kathey Compton starred in volleyball, softball, and track in high school, growing up in tiny Gower near St. Joseph on the western side of the state. She went on to play college volleyball at Missouri Western.

Kathey’s husband, Bill, was an amateur body builder who once owned a gym in nearby Park Hills that served as the family business.

Wyatt, the youngest of their three sons, played a year of college football at Southeast Missouri State and now is a student assistant coach at Colorado Mesa University.
Of course, there’s oldest son Will, who’s on the verge of big things with Washington.

But the star of the family growing up was middle son Cody, a gifted wrestler.

“When Cody was 5, he placed fifth in a national tournament in wrestling,” Kathey said. “So we traveled all over the country with him. He wrestled every year for the Missouri dual team and the national team. I mean, he was really good.”

Cody won a state wrestling title at North County Desloge High as a senior. At senior nationals that year, he made a deal with Mom and Dad. If he finished first at nationals, he could get a tattoo. Kathey was adamantly against the idea of a tattoo, but since you had to be a state champion just to qualify for the tournament, she thought it was a safe bet in such a stacked field of competitors.

Cody finished first, and there’s a tattoo of — surprise — a wrestler on his back.

“Cody was the one that kind of was recruited young, and everybody had their eye on,” Kathey said. “It was like, ‘Oh, his brother plays football, too. Isn’t that nice.’

But that all started to change one summer weekend about 10 years ago. Bill was with Cody, who was wrestling for the Missouri National team at an event in Kansas.

Kathey went with Will to Purdue for a Nike football camp for college prospects. She was surprised, maybe a little stunned, at the speed and athletic ability of the other campers. So much so that when her husband called to check on how things were going, she replied, “I think we just wasted a six-hour drive.”

Well, imagine how she felt when Will was named MVP of the camp.

“I’m not kidding, as soon as we got to the car (to drive home), there were like five coaches on the phone that wanted to talk to Will about coming to school,” she said. “It was the craziest thing we had ever experienced in our lives. It was literally like overnight.”

Until that point, Will was getting looks from smaller Division I programs. After the Nike camp, the likes of Missouri, Illinois, Notre Dame and Nebraska got in on the act.

It was all but understood that whoever got Will for football would also get Cody — one year younger — as a wrestler. It ended up being Nebraska where Will had a very good career for the Cornhuskers in football.

Cody, meanwhile, was slowed by multiple concussions and a torn labrum. He finished 32-8 for the Huskers in a shortened college career and now is an assistant wrestling coach at Farmington High who spends his summers working camps for Purler Wrestling all over the country.

No one’s prouder of Will’s success than Cody.

“What really set him apart from everybody else was just how intelligent he was on the field,” Cody said. “For me, looking at him and all the success he’s had, it was kind of expected.

“He’s always worked hard and did all the right things. He took off about a year and a half ago. Washington gave him his opportunity and he ran with it, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s been doing great.”

Washington had its rookie minicamp last weekend, meaning Will was free to come back home for his annual football camp. He brought along four teammates to help — defensive end Trent Murphy, nose tackle Kedric Golston and linebackers Houston Bates and Martrell Spaight.

Lavonte David, the Pro Bowl linebacker for Tampa Bay and a former Nebraska teammate, has worked the camp in the past.

But there was also a hometown feel when it came to the other instructors and volunteers, such as Will’s little league coach, Terry Cole.

“My first year when I got into the (NFL) I was on practice squad and stuff,” Will said. “But a goal of mine I had within a year of being in the league, I wanted to make a point to give back to my community in a way that I can give them things I learned, and just influence the youth. I wanted to hold a football camp.”

Will comes across as a serious type, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how that might translate into an intense type on the football field.

He was all over the place Saturday, encouraging the youngsters in his raspy voice, posing for pictures, shaking hands with old friends, even making sure the instructors had water on a warm day.

Kathey pretty much supervised the whole thing, down to helping hand out pizza and snacks to the campers in the high school gym afterward. Cody was there all day, and Bill dropped in to see how things were going.

“My mom, as you saw her working around, she’s kind of the wonder woman behind all of it,” Will said. “She makes all of it go and work.”

Will likes coming home whenever he can. He bought a home in Bonne Terre just six blocks from his parents. Like the entire town, he lives over the tunnels and shafts of the old lead mine.

“If we have an earthquake, we’re doomed,” Kathey laughed.

Whether it’s Hub’s Pub and Grill, the Shamrock Restaurant and Lounge, or the Space Museum, basically everyone in the town of 6,800 knows the Compton family, especially Bonne Terre’s favorite son. You know, the NFL linebacker.

“Everybody definitely knows us, and everybody for sure knows Will,” Cody says. “It’s always a hassle going to WalMart when Will’s in town.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kevin Wilson's offensive line background is helping the Buckeyes

He may be the tight ends coach, but Wilson is going to help fix all aspects of the offense.

By Patrick Murphy

May 15, 2017

COLUMBUS – Before Kevin Wilson became known as one of the best offensive minds in college football, before he worked with Adrian Peterson (Heisman finalist) or Sam Bradford (Heisman winner) at Oklahoma or turned a non-football power like Indiana into an offensive Big Ten program, he was a football player.

Despite his success with skill position players and offenses as a whole, Wilson wasn't a quarterback or a wide receiver. The recently hired Ohio State offensive coordinator was an offensive lineman at North Carolina, where he walked on in 1980 and worked his way into a scholarship as a guard/center.

If you didn't know this about Wilson, it's not surprising. Even his new players, specifically the offensive linemen, didn't know that either when the former Hoosiers coach was hired by Urban Meyer in January.

"He actually has an offensive line background," Billy Price said of his new offensive coordinator this spring, "which I didn't know."

While the talk about Wilson's hiring has focused on the passing game and helping to bring some creativity back to the Buckeyes offense, he can also assist an offensive line in flux. Four starters from last year's unit return but questions hover over this line.

Will Price make as smooth of a transformation from guard to center as his predecessor? Can Isaiah Prince live up to potential of his recruiting or will the staff need to find a new right tackle? Who is the starter at right guard?

Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is looking for answers to these as the Buckeyes head into fall, but he's not alone. Although he's designated to the tight ends, Wilson is finding time to work with the front five as well.

"When the tight ends are in special teams or doing passing stuff, he’s working with us directly," Price explained. "Today he was on my case a little bit just to make sure because he’s an offensive coordinator so he is responsible for us as a head."

Although the line opened holes for Ohio State backs to rush for a Big Ten-best 245.23 rushing yards per game last year, the group was not as productive in pass protection. The Scarlet and Gray were in the bottom half of the conference with 28 sacks allowed in 2016, not good enough by Buckeye standards.

Working on timing between J.T. Barrett and his receivers on deep ball will certainly improve the offense, but giving the quarterback time to find players downfield is just as, if not more, important.

Considering Wilson is in charge of the offense, this matters just as much to the former offensive lineman.

It's only been 15 full practices, but it appears Wilson's addition to the staff is already helping in more ways than even those involved with Ohio State expected. This gives these offensive linemen another coach with experience both playing and coaching the position, which should only be beneficial to all involved.

"He’s doing a real good job with us," Price said of Wilson. "He’s helping Isaiah, helping Jamarco, myself. You’ve got to take a great player to be an elite player and it’s having that support system and the role models around you and he’s doing a fantastic job. I’m really glad he’s here."

Ex-Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel paying dividends to Bill O’Brien in Houston

By Hector Longo
May 16, 2017

Former New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel is such a rising star in the coaching ranks, he is freeing up Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien to do what he does best.

Vrabel, who took over the Houston defensive coordinator spot from Romeo Crennel after the 2016 season, has assumed control of that side of the ball, and that comes at the perfect time. O’Brien, the former Patriots offensive coordinator, is now focusing on his offense full-time.

After a season-long disaster with Brock Osweiler, Houston has a quarterback battle brewing with Tom Savage and rookie No. 1 pick Deshaun Watson out of Clemson.

When his team was thrashed 27-0 in the AFC divisional playoff round at New England, O’Brien took much of the heat for George Godsey’s inept offense, powered by Osweiler. “We have to be better offensively,” he said that day. “I have to be better.”

Godsey is gone. So is Osweiler, and that leaves O’Brien and his fresh cast of QBs.

“I’ve been probably doing more coaching myself in the last four or five weeks than I’ve done in the three years that I’ve been here,” said O’Brien in an story by Sarah Barshop. “I’m really involved in the offense, and I’m having a lot of fun.”

The head coach could not do that without the 41-year-old Vrabel, who was considered for a couple of the head coach openings this past offseason, despite just six years in the coaching ranks.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hogs football reaping success of academic center

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema (right) watches Saturday, April 1, 2017, as head strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert leads warmup drills during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.

By Richard Davenport
May 14, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE -- Since being named the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks in December 2012, Bret Bielema has placed a greater emphases on academics, thus resulting in a higher team grade-point average and a better Academic Progress Report.

The team posted a 2.94 grade point average in the spring of 2015, as the Hogs led the SEC with 40 student-athletes on the fall academic honor roll. They led the conference again in 2016 with 39 on the prestigious list.

The football facilities routinely receive glowing reviews from prospects and their parents, but the Hogs' success in the classroom, along with the Jerry and Gene Jones Family Student-Athlete Success Center, also garners praise.

The center is a strong selling point in recruiting, and numerous prospects and parents have mentioned that the Hogs have one of the best academic setups in the nation. The facility was dedicated on Sept. 19, 2015, and is the largest of it's kind in the SEC. There are 37 tutoring rooms, 3 computer labs and 3 learning labs in the 55,000-square-feet building.

Chris Johnson was the director of student-athlete services at Jacksonville University before becoming the assistant director of academics for football at Arkansas in January 2014. He was promoted to director of academics for football in the spring of 2016.

Johnson said the facilities, the administration's support and all the necessary resources go a long ways in the academic success, but Bielema's leadership is key.

"Coach Bielema really makes it all work with just with how he supports us," Johnson said. "I got here after coach did. I wasn't here before, but what you hear it wasn't the way it is now."

Johnson, along with assistant director of academics Liz Reyes and academic counselor J.L Jennings, give updates on the status of the 105-player roster to Bielema and his staff during Thursday meetings. The academic report can take up approximately 30 minutes of the hour-long staff meeting.

"It's doesn't matter if we have Alabama in two days or in the middle of spring ball or the start of the spring semester," Johnson said.

He, Reyes and Jennings prepare a weekly packet that's given to the coaches which includes current grades, upcoming assignments, and a list professors attending spring or fall practice.

"The packet also has information on the players the academic staff have concerns about that semester and a daily report of who was in class and who wasn't. Who had a great tutor session and who really needs to be given some kudos," Johnson said.

The players are very aware of the Thursday academic meeting.

"They try and have their grades ready by that day," Johnson said. "They're like, 'have you guys met with the coaches yet?' because they don't want to be called out in their position groups."

Johnson said he's aware some schools have an assistant coach and a few graduate assistants overseeing a team's academics.

"If there's a problem that's who you go through, but knowing I can just pick up the phone and talk to coach himself, that goes a long way," Johnson said.

The Fred W. Smith Football Center has numerous football-related posters and pictures hanging on its walls, but the Jones center is void of such.

"There's nothing athletic related on the walls and that's very strategic," Johnson said. "We know they're going to get enough of that in the Fred Smith center. So what we really want the focus to be everything in the classroom, in the community, career development and all those sort of things."

There are approximately 100 tutors available to the student-athletes.

"Some are undergraduate students themselves, some are graduate students depending on their qualifications and depending what their majors are," Johnson said. "They're given the ability to tutor our students, and they have to go through a certification process to do that."

The academic center is geared to serve the athletes much like how the student union serves the general student population.

"Really, the vision for this building was to be a student union for our athletes," Johnson said. "We have pretty much everything they need here. They can get computers and laptops checked out for a week at a time and complete their work. We allow them to check out calculators. We have a sports nutritionist, a sports physiologist, we have our student-athlete development unit which I feel like is one of the best in the country.

"The expectations for us [are] to be No. 1 in the league in honor rolls, so that's something we take a lot of pride in."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Playing away from home for first time, Arkansas’ Brooks Ellis could stick with Patriots

Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis, right, will play for a football team outside his hometown for the first time as he tries to make the New England Patriots as a rookie free agent.

By Hector Longo
May 11, 2017

The New England Patriots, despite the rumors, have not added fried catfish to the players’ daily menu.

They only do things like that for high draft picks. Sorry rookie free-agent Brooks Ellis, you’re on your own. In Foxborough, Mass., for about two weeks, the native of Fayetteville, Ark., must be in need of home cooking.

A 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker, Ellis had a strong career at Fayetteville High School, which included a pair of state titles. He eschewed chances to move out on his own and stayed in town to play at the University of Arkansas. Sure, there were road trips and bowl games and even an excursion to Central America with his fellow biology students. But, Ellis always returned to Fayetteville, that is until now.

Ellis went on to play 49 games with 41 starts for the Razorbacks. He won the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year Award this past December.

A traditional inside linebacker who relies more on savvy and his cerebral nature than his average athleticism, Ellis has a shot to land a job. Look at the prospects around him on the depth chart. Dont’a Hightower is a legit NFL player. After that, it’s Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, not exactly a string of Pro Bowl players.

His intelligence has to be considered an asset. Ellis will be given a chance to play because Belichick believes in his high-level, SEC production.

Oklahoma State's Mike Yurcich is no longer just dreaming

Back after OC "opportunities" with Alabama and Auburn, Mike Yurcich knows well how good he has it in Stillwater after a unique career path. (Photo: Bruce Waterfield, Oklahoma State Athletics)

Chris Hummer
May 10, 2017

STILLWATER, Okla. – Time used to slip by for Mike Yurcich as stars would pass a ship in the night. He’d sit at his desk a few nights a week scribbling formations and schemes on a notepad. Pen and paper served as his laboratory as he drew up plays, dreaming up counters to them and then a counter to his counter.

It doesn’t happen as much anymore – time is more limited with his two young sons, Jack and Clay, in the house – but his favorite birthday present in recent memory remains a notebook from his wife, Julie, specifically designed for his experimental scribbles.

This is Yurcich’s escape. It’s also a window into what makes Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator one of the sport’s fastest-rising stars.

“It’s like you’re in a time warp,” Yurcich told 247Sports.

“Knowing what the answers are and how to defend plays is the key. Drawing up plays is how you learn to do that. There’s still so much football I need to learn it’s amazing.”

That thirst for football understanding is the central theme of Yurcich’s career, one that’s taken him from his first coordinator job at Saint Francis (Ind.) to Oklahoma State, where he’s led a Top 25 offense in three of his four seasons.

He’s been so good, his star pupil Mason Rudolph fretted this offseason after Yurcich’s name popped up in serious association with head coaching and coordinator jobs at places like Tulane and Alabama.

“I was kind of worried we might lose him there for a second,” Rudolph, who threw for 4,000 yards as a junior, said. “There was some Tulane interest this offseason and he got coordinating opportunities with both Auburn and Alabama. So that was good and bad for me. ... One day he’ll definitely be a head coach, but selfishly I wanted him to at least hang around for my senior year. He just has the leadership qualities, smarts and football IQ to run a program.”

Yurcich is back at Oklahoma State for a fifth season because “the grass isn’t always greener, and the grass is very green in Stillwater, Oklahoma.”

He’d know, too.

Yurcich might sit daily in front of a large glass window overlooking Boone Pickens Stadium in a facility that rivals any in the country. But, at one point in his career, he wondered if he’d ever make it to the FBS ranks.

His play-calling dreams and drawings started as a quarterback at California University in Pennsylvania. When Yurcich found himself reciting plays in class, he knew his future was in coaching. Those thoughts led to a most unusual path.

At Saint Francis he did everything from lining the field to mowing the grass. In 2003, after four years cutting his teeth, he took a graduate assistant role at Indiana. In 2005, he went to Edinboro University (Penn.) for what turned out to be a six-year stint.

That reads like a resume, yes, but it’s also critical to understanding Yurcich’s path. After the six years at Edinboro, Yurcich had all but accepted that he’d be a Division II coach unless he did something spectacular.

He needed to take risks. He needed his offenses to score points in bunches. He needed to win.

“After you coach six years in Division II you stop calling guys to get your foot in the door as a Division I coach,” Yurcich said. “That’s just the way it goes.

"My thought process was score as many points as we could and win football games.”

In 2011 Yurcich took what he calls a “lateral move” to become the offensive coordinator at Shippensburg University (Penn). He inherited what had been a roster built for the Wing-T and installed an up-tempo spread attack. Yurcich had a head coach, newly promoted Mark Maciejewski, who gave him room to experiment.

There, his notebook scribbles came to life.

“We did things at Shippensburg I had wanted to do for a long time,” Yurcich said. “A lot of the things I did I copied, some I made up, but for the most part it was watching a lot of film and spread offenses, learning tempo, learning from mistakes and being able to have the courage and the freedom to experiment. That’s the biggest thing we did. ”

The end result of those schemes was two record-setting seasons with Shippensburg. His first team set school records for points and total yards. His second, in 2012, Shippensburgh led the nation (D-II) in total offense and finished second with 46.9 points per game.

After that spectacular campaign with Shippensburg, Yurcich felt ready to take a step. He interviewed for the head job at West Virginia State. Yurcich thought being Division II head coach is how he’d support his family, an opportunity to “try and buy a house” and make $80,000 a year.

But he didn’t get it.

“I was crushed,” Yurcich said.

A few weeks later, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy made a surprise call to Yurcich. Then Gundy flew out to meet Yurcich. Shortly after that, he was Oklahoma State’s new offensive coordinator.

“I saw what I liked,” Gundy told USA Today in 2013. “They played fast. I think he’s the best guy for us.”

Gundy wanted a bright, innovative offensive mind that would fit into the Cowboys preexisting system, an attack that’s found success through a litany of coordinators over the years. The sandbox isn’t quite as open as it was at Shippensburg, but Yurcich has found the balance.

His offenses at Oklahoma State have varied widely at times, yet they’ve all found success. In 2015, for example, the Cowboys did not feature a running back who earned more than 518 yards or four touchdowns, so he employed quarterback J.W. Walsh as a situational goal-line rusher. As a change-of-pace option for Rudolph, Walsh scored 13 rushing touchdowns and Oklahoma State finished 13th nationally in points scored.

The next year, buoyed by the play of freshman running back Justice Hill (1,142 yards, 6 TDs), the Cowboys offense again finished in the Top 20. With Rudolph (4,091 yards passing), Hill and wide receiver James Washington (1,380 yards), Oklahoma State was one of just two Power Five programs to have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard wide receiver.

“J.W. gave us a great look in the box and it helped us win some games," Rudolph said. "(Coach Yurcich) just knows what we have as far as personnel from year to year.”

Cowboy players describe Yurcich's demeanor in meeting rooms as detailed and intense. They make fun of his Ohio accent, “W-ah-ter”, and his favorite phrase featuring a mythical creature: “You throw the ball to Washington right here! He’d be running like a banshee for six! What are you doing, Rudolph!?”

Rudolph relays that memory in his finely-tuned Yurcich impression, and it’s appropriately loud.

Just as Yurcich gets absorbed in drawing plays, his passion for getting them right is reflected in the meeting room. But that’s the type of spirit that stems from a coaching journey like Yurcich’s.

“You can tell by his attitude and stuff that he wasn’t always the guy that was here at the D1 stage,” said Oklahoma State senior offensive lineman Larry Williams. “You can tell he worked his way up and it means a lot to him and he’s not trying to let people down.

“You can tell he’s been through a lot of scenarios.”

Entering 2017 the Cowboys return seven offensive starters, including their potent skill trio, on a team that will likely enter the season ranked in the Top 10. Rudolph is a Heisman dark horse, Washington should compete for national awards and Yurcich will likely be a Broyles Award nominee (given to the nation’s top assistant coach) for a second straight year.

Yurcich will be around for what could be a special season in Oklahoma State history. Still, the grass won’t always remain greenest in Stillwater. Gundy’s assistants, including recent coordinators Larry Fedora (UNC by way of Southern Miss), Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia) and Todd Monken (Southern Miss), have gone on to head coaching jobs after their OC stints at Oklahoma State.

Yurcich's aspirations are no less lofty entering his fifth season at Oklahoma State.

He wants to be a head coach one day and will be. But the situation he’s in, under the guy he calls the “rattlesnake hunter,” is hard to let go of.

“I think about it a lot,” Yurcich said. “When you’re working for a guy like Coach Gundy you’re getting a crash course on how to be a head coach. He communicates well and every person in this program, we all know what the values are and what the culture should be. That’s the most important thing, the communication aspect and the relationships. That’s what makes him great.

Former Husker Will Compton’s NFL tale is one Nebraska's undrafted free agents look to copy

Former Husker linebacker Will Compton, No. 51, has gone from undrafted free agent to team captain in four seasons with Washington.

By Rich Kaipust / World-Herald Bureau
May 11, 2017

LINCOLN — Will Compton was starting to believe his first NFL training camp might be his last.

The former Nebraska linebacker already was running uphill as an undrafted free agent, a hard road that a host of former Huskers are staring at right now.

Compton was at the bottom of the Washington Redskins’ depth chart in 2013, with a bad hamstring making it hard to do anything about it. The NFL also was proving to be an even more ruthless and businesslike place than he could have imagined.

“You find out that they don’t know as much about you as you think they did, and they don’t care,” Compton said. “It’s not like college, where they’re invested in you.

“And it was such a grind, to fight through practice and all that, and I just wasn’t getting a lot of reps. It got hard for me. Mentally I’d be like, ‘I don’t care. This just isn’t the same game for me.’ ”

It wasn’t long before a hometown friend and his wife came to visit that August, and Compton was sitting in their room at the Super 8 and sharing some deep thoughts during an off day.

“I said I didn’t care if this is the only year I do this,” Compton said. “I was doubting myself. I didn’t see myself succeeding in it. So I started justifying the reasoning for if it didn’t go any farther. But good things started to happen, I got out of it, I started identifying some things ... and now here I am.”

Compton, 27, is coming off his best season as a pro, making a career-high 104 tackles (60 solo) with two fumble recoveries and an interception in 15 starts. He was voted a Redskins co-captain in 2016 — a nod to his communication and leadership skills at the middle linebacker spot but also his place in the locker room — and cornerback Josh Norman was the only Washington defender to play more snaps than his 938.

The Redskins then chose to re-sign him as a restricted free agent just before the NFL draft, a contract that will pay Compton a reported $1.8 million in 2017.

“I definitely couldn’t have forecast this,” he said.

The same would go for many others.

Compton finished his NU career with a team-high 110 tackles in 2012, after being second only to Lavonte David the year before with 82. A few teams showed interest after the 6-foot-1, 238-pound Compton went undrafted in 2013, but his NFL starting point would be his agent calling and saying: “You signed with the Redskins.”

Compton spent that first season on the Washington practice squad until being activated for the final game. Each following year included a bump in his starts and production.

Along the way, Compton not only outlasted the down times but started becoming someone teammates would respect and follow, even before he became a captain.

“Leadership is not necessarily a status or a title,” he said. “Just being a good teammate is being a good leader. Just taking care of yourself is a leader. People knowing you’re in it for the right reasons, knowing you care about what happens and know that you care about what’s going on in between the walls and things like that, I just feel like that goes a long way.”

Compton is big on reading and drawing inspiration from motivational speakers. It’s something he could even see himself doing down the line, along with coaching.

The here and now, though, is a role with the Redskins that he labored to carve out, through long hours of film study, fine-tuning of his football IQ and always working physically to improve. This offseason he spent time with London Fletcher, who finished a 14-year NFL career with Washington in 2013 when Compton was a rookie.

The Redskins fired defensive coordinator Joe Barry after last season, but maintained some continuity by promoting outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky. They then added Pro Bowl inside linebacker Zach Brown in the offseason to go with Compton and Mason Foster.

With the first minicamp coming on May 23, the focus is on bouncing back from an 8-7-1 season after Washington had made the NFC playoffs the season before.

“Our expectations are high,” Compton said. “I feel like we’re putting together a good puzzle, as far as getting things in order, and our job is to carry out the culture. If we take care of that foundation, the wins and losses take care of themselves.

“The Super Bowl is going to be the expectation every year. But once you’re done saying that and writing that out, then it’s all about the work.”

Compton knew it wasn’t a given that he would be back with the Redskins, and there was at least a rough draft of a Plan B going through his mind as he rehabbed a PCL injury to his right knee that nagged him over the final two games of last season.

Restricted free agency gave him the right to negotiate with other teams, but Washington reserved the right to match any offers within seven days.

Compton didn’t hesitate to re-sign.

“This is the spot where I want to be,” he said. “This is the place that gave me my first opportunity. I love my locker room, love my teammates, love the staff I get to play under, so I definitely wanted to be here.”

Compton remembers his NFL introduction well enough to understand what’s ahead for nearly a dozen former Huskers starting free-agent journeys. Josh Banderas is the latest NU linebacker trying to go the undrafted route after Compton, Zaire Anderson, Trevor Roach and Eric Martin have made NFL rosters in recent seasons.

Compton said fifth-round pick Nate Gerry reached out to him after the draft, too, and asked if he had advice to share.

Aside from the obvious of buckling your chin strap and going to work, Compton said, it often comes back to your state of mind. He knows that from being there a few summers back.

“There could be a lot of negatives that enter your mind — that you can play at this level, or the way you’re getting coached, or the limited chances you might get,” he said. “The main thing is don’t doubt yourself. It’s all about your self-talk. The way you talk to yourself every day. It’s all about how you feed your mind.

“It’s difficult, man. It’s not easy. Nothing in life is when you get out of your comfort zone. But I definitely had some luck on my side, I got some opportunities, and fortunately I took advantage of those opportunities.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Video: Lance Kendricks sends message to teachers in Milwaukee

By Brian Jones

May 9, 2017

Lance Kendricks grew up in Milwaukee and he's proud of it. So with Tuesday being National Teachers Day, Kendricks decided to send a message to the teachers of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Here's a look at what Kendricks had to say.

Lance Kendricks message

Kendricks graduated from Rufus King International High School in 2006 where he a two-time all-city selection in football. Kendricks also played basketball and track, and he actually was the state runner-up in the triple jump as a junior.

Kendricks went on to play college football at Wisconsin and then was drafted by the Rams in 2011. He signed with the Packers in March.

Popular Posts