Monday, April 30, 2018

Frank Ragnow shares motivating words from Bret Bielema, thanks his former coach

By Adam Spencer
April 29, 2018

Arkansas OL Frank Ragnow had a great offseason and did everything he needed to do to work his way into the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, where he was chosen with the No. 20 overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

He didn’t allow a sack his entire college career, living up to expectations set for him by his former coach, Bret Bielema.

On Sunday, Ragnow shared a tweet that quoted Bielema as saying he thought Ragnow could be a first-round pick even when he was only entering his sophomore year:

Ragnow’s father sent him that text message with the tweet back in 2015, but sadly passed away from a heart attack in 2016, so this message means all that much more to the former Razorback.

Though Ragnow going in the first round may have caught some by surprise, Jon Ragnow and Bret Bielema knew this day was coming all the way back in 2015.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ferentz Factor: How much playing at Iowa boosts offensive linemen’s draft stock

James Daniels (left) is searching for NFL success. Marshal Yanda (right) already has it. They both have Kirk Ferentz to thank.

By Bobby La Gesse
April 19, 2018

IOWA CITY, Iowa — During an NFL combine interview, a pro scout asked James Daniels to draw a formation.

He quickly started sketching out ’21’ personnel. He put two wide receivers, one tight end and a tailback on the field. When he added the fullback the scout spoke up.

He never saw a player do that before and thought it was cool. The reaction didn’t surprise Daniels.

“There are a few teams whose base formation is 21 personnel,” Daniels said. “If you think about it in the Big Ten it’s probably us, Wisconsin and Michigan State. That’s three out of 14 teams. The entire NCAA is like that.”

Iowa is old school, relying on a pro-formation, zone-blocking scheme led by a former NFL offensive line coach in Kirk Ferentz. It’s the antithesis of the spread revolution which has overtaken the sport, as Daniels’ story demonstrates.

It’s the ideal breeding ground for future NFL offensive linemen. Sixteen Iowa offensive linemen heard their name called at the draft since Ferentz took over in 1999. Four potential draftees are part of the 2018 NFL Draft, which starts April 26.

Between Ferentz’s reputation and Iowa’s ability to churn out technically proficient linemen, how much does it help a player come draft day to play for Iowa?

“Teams know what they are getting,” Inside the Pylon draft analyst Jeff Feyerer said. “The way they are coached and the way they come out fundamentally sound, that goes a long way to show why [Iowa is] a pretty reliable source of offensive linemen.”

The Kirk Ferentz brand

In November, Daniels was just a 20-year-old college center. He wasn’t on the radar of 2018 draft analysts.

Fast forward to January when he declared for the NFL draft. The surprising move made sense once Ferentz broke down Daniels’ game.

“Just I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a more talented center prospect,” Ferentz said. “That includes my time in the NFL.

“He’s got some skills that are just really unusual. And he’s a really intelligent guy. And one interesting thing about him, you get the feedback from the NFL folks. That’s strictly off film. They haven’t had a chance to investigate the kind of person he is and his intelligence.”

Ferentz doesn’t hand out praise, especially about offensive linemen, lightly. It was an indication Daniels is likely an early-round draft pick.

Ferentz played high school football for and learned the craft from Joe Moore, an offensive line coach legend. Ferentz coached the offensive line at Pittsburgh and Iowa in the 1980s, where 11 of his players were NFL draft picks, including three in the first round.

He spent 1993-98 seasons coaching offensive line in the NFL for Cleveland and Baltimore before becoming the coach at Iowa, where he put an emphasis on the offensive line and running the ball, in 1999.

Some NFL executives, coaches and scouts consider Ferentz one of the brightest minds when it comes to coaching and developing offensive line talent, especially for zone blocking.

“Nobody does it better than Kirk Ferentz with the offensive line,” Ourlads general manager and former NFL scout Dan Shonka said. “He spends as much time with those guys as any of the offensive line coaches do. I think that is a big plus.”

The results back it up. Offensive linemen make up 25.4 percent of Iowa’s draft picks since 2000.

Only two programs have sent more offensive linemen to the NFL in that span than the Hawkeyes.

The Iowa traits

NFL general managers and scouts like Iowa because they know what they’re getting in a player. Every player arrives with the basic skills. Iowa linemen tend to be smaller and more athletic.

As a whole, they are technically sound. It’s a simple thing, but it goes a long way with NFL coaches and talent evaluators.

“They don’t have that much more learning to do,” Feyerer said. “The fact they were well taught, you aren’t having to re-teach some of those fundamental things that are not innate in every offensive lineman coming into the draft.”

Shonka points out a football player takes a big step toward a lengthy pro career by mastering technique. For an offensive lineman, that requires an understanding of hand, head and foot placement.

Every Iowa practice focuses on those basic, yet vital, parts of line play.

“It’s very beneficial to play at a school like Iowa,” Shonka said. “It’s like in kindergarten, you are doing certain things all the time, all the way through high school in your school system. At Iowa, you come in as a freshman and if you are an offensive lineman, you are going to have all those reps on technique for five years.”

No one prospect in this draft class better exemplifies the prototypical Iowa traits than Daniels. Strong game film and an impressive combine performance make Daniels a possible first-round pick.

“He is very quick,” Feyerer said. “The athleticism is up there. He looks so fluid in his movements, getting to the next level on pulls. He is smart. He rarely gets beaten. He is always playing through the whistle. I would be shocked if he’s not a starter from Day 1.”

Iowa players

Iowa’s most successful NFL offensive lineman under Ferentz is six-time pro bowler Marshal Yanda, a former third-round pick. His time at Iowa helped him become one of the best guards in the NFL. It’s a point he’s quick to share with Iowa recruiting targets.

Guard Brandon Scherff made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons and offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Bryan Bulaga have started for a combined 13 seasons since 2010.

Not every Iowa prospect turns into an NFL star. Strength at the point of attack is often a concern. It certainly was for Reiff when he entered the league in 2012.

But Shonka believes strength isn’t as big an issue for teams now as it was in the past.

“One thing about zone blockers is you are more concerned about their feet and their hand and head placement,” Shonka said. “It’s not like the old days where you fired off [and just pushed people back].”

Marshal Yanda is one of the best offensive linemen Iowa has produced under coach Kirk Ferentz. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

With spread offenses prevalent in college football, it’s becoming harder for pro teams to develop offensive line talent. Linemen in spread offenses start in two-point stances and spend more time screening off defenders instead of moving them off the line than pro teams do.

Players from pro-style teams such as Iowa can become more enticing to a general manager because there is less concern about their adjustment to the NFL.

“The limited time that pro coaches have to work with the guys because of the collective bargaining agreement, especially if you are a zone-blocking team, the more experience a guy has in pro zone-blocking techniques the better off you are,” Shonka said.

The NFL draft

NFL front office executives and scouts let players know they value how Iowa develops players.

But they don’t do it in a direct manner.

No one comes out and says it, but guard Sean Welsh heard more times than he can count about being a hard worker or his strong fundamentals during the draft evaluation process.

“Just a lot of intangible compliments,” Welsh said.

The biggest compliment for the players — and the program — comes on draft day.

“Guys get drafted even later in the draft just because they are knowledgeable in the techniques and things and they get put on practice squads and can develop,” Shonka said.

Center Austin Blythe followed that path. Indianapolis selected him in the seventh round in 2016. He is entering his third season and carved out a role as a reserve with the Los Angeles Rams.

New England signed tackle Cole Croston as a rookie free agent in 2017. Croston worked his way onto the 53-man roster for the AFC champion in his first pro season.

Former Iowa offensive lineman Austin Blythe has carved out a role in the NFL as a center. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers would love to replicate Blythe’s or Croston’s career. Each saw their senior year cut short by injury. Each is a fringe draft prospect.

Having a lineman selected who missed most of his senior season because of injury would speak volumes about how much value the NFL places on Iowa prospects.

“I think any team that takes a chance on me, they’re going to get a versatile guy, he’s going to learn the offense, he’s going to learn how to play multiple positions,” Boettger told Land of 10 in March. “When I get thrown in the fire, I’m going to know how to react, and I’m going to know how to do my job out there.”

Welsh is a mid-to-late round prospect. A disappointing NFL combine hurt his draft stock, but his versatility is a bonus. Shonka believes some teams could see him at center.

Daniels is the most sought after of the bunch.

He knows Iowa helped prepare him for his pro future and it extends beyond having Ferentz as a coach.

“There are a lot of places in the NCAA that don’t have mandatory body weights and just having to be in a 4-pound limit with goal weight,” Daniels said. [Playing at Iowa] takes a lot of discipline and a lot of things like that translate over [from] Iowa. It’s why a lot of NFL scouts like Iowa so much because of how structured the program is here.”

That, and because the players still know what a fullback is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Redskins Exercise Option On Brandon Scherff

Guard Brandon Scherff has been a mainstay in Washington's starting lineup since entering the league as a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He has been named to two Pro Bowls.

Stephen Czarda
April 16, 2018

The Washington Redskins announced on Monday that they have exercised the fifth-year option on Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, officially keeping him with the team for the 2019 season.

Scherff, 26, first joined the Redskins after being selected with the No. 5-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. While he began his time in Washington at right tackle, he transitioned to right guard where he’s started all 46 of his appearances through three seasons.

During his rookie season, Scherff appeared in all 16 regular season games along with the Redskins’ playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. The Iowa product played all but one offensive snap during the regular season, exiting the field momentarily after losing his shoe.

Scherff became only the third rookie offensive lineman to start all 16 games for the Redskins, joining Jon Jansen (1999) and Chris Samuels (2000). For his efforts, Scherff was also named to PFWA’s All-Rookie Team.

During the 2016 season, Scherff joined Samuels (2000-01) and Jansen (1999-2000) as the only Redskins offensive linemen to open their careers by starting 16 games in each of their first two NFL seasons.

He was also named to his first Pro Bowl,
as the 6-foot-5, 319 pounder was part of an offensive line that led Washington to team records in in total net yards (6,545), net passing yards (4,758) and yards per play (6.40) while allowing only 23 sacks, fourth-fewest in the NFL.

Despite missing two games during the 2017 season, Scherff earned his second consecutive selection to the Pro Bowl.

With his back-to-back Pro Bowl nods, Scherff became the first interior offensive lineman for the Redskins to be named to consecutive Pro Bowls since Pro Football Hall of Famer Russ Grimm was selected four straight years from 1983-86.

Additionally, Scherff joined Samuels and Jansen as the only offensive linemen since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to start at least 14 games for Washington in each of their first three NFL seasons.

“He’s been very impressive since he walked in the building with his work ethic, his athleticism, his strength, his power,” said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.
“Now he’s really getting comfortable. He’s reacting. He’s anticipating. He’s pulling. He’s pass-blocking. He’s run-blocking. He’s double teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him.”

Prior to his time with the Redskins, Scherff appeared in 43 games with 36 starts. During his senior season in 2014, Scherff was received the Outland Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman.

He also earned unanimous consensus All-American honors and was named first-team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive season.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Park View students chat with Patriots player during 'Fuel Up' event

FUELING UP: Park View students asked New England Patriots player Nate Ebner questions about his plight as a professional athlete during the school’s Fuel Up to Play 60 event last week.

April 11, 2018

When Park View Middle School students arrived at school Tuesday morning a week ago, they were not expecting to see an NFL player ready to hand out breakfast from the school’s Grab n’ Go breakfast cart, but that’s exactly what happened.

New England Patriots Player Nate Ebner arrived at Park View early to greet students in the gymnasium, where the school’s breakfast cart is set up to make it easy for students to grab something to eat before heading into class.

The school currently offers breakfast two ways: at the Grab n’ Go cart that is parked in the gymnasium and in the school’s cafeteria. Using two different methods allows Park View to reach a greater number of students, since not everyone has time to eat breakfast in the cafeteria upon arriving at school. The addition of the Grab n’ Go model, which allows students to pick up something to eat on their way into or during the very beginning of class, provides more flexibility to accommodate busy schedules.

After breakfast service ended, a group of students joined Ebner in the cafeteria for a 30-minute question and answer session. The students asked him questions about his journey to becoming a professional football player, an Olympic rugby player, and what drives him as an elite athlete. The group also discussed the importance of nutrition and physical activity for fueling success on the field and in the classroom.

“As a professional athlete, part of my job is making sure I continue to eat well and exercise so that I can perform at the highest level possible,” said Ebner, safety and special teams leader for the New England Patriots. “You also have a choice to make every day at breakfast, ‘Is what I’m eating going to help me to perform at my best during my calculus test, or during my football game later?’ We all have the ability to choose.”

Jane Vergnani, RDN, LDN, Program Coordinator, Youth Leadership with New England Dairy & Food Council, described the breakfast model at Park View Middle School to be “very inclusive” since they offer students two ways of receiving breakfast once they arrive at school.

“The students that don’t have time to sit and eat in the cafeteria are not being missed, thanks to the Grab n’ Go cart in the gym,” said Vergnani.

Park View participates in the nationwide Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which is a student-led, in-school physical activity and nutrition program that has supported their breakfast program expansion. Funding for this program is provided by New England Dairy & Food Council and the dairy farm families of Rhode Island and New England.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Katie Smith thrilled to be inducted but too busy to leave Columbus

Basketball Hall of Fame
Katie Smith thrilled to be inducted but too busy to leave Columbus
Associated Press

Columbus — Katie Smith has been running around the women's Final Four all weekend, serving as the unofficial hostess of basketball's biggest event.

There were awards to hand out, courts to dedicate and parties to attend. So the best women's basketball player from Ohio in history decided to skip going to San Antonio, where the men's Final Four is being held, to be announced as part of the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame class.

''I have a lot of stuff here; that's why I felt I would like to be in Columbus,'' Smith said. ''It's the first time we're hosting, and I'm super invested in things. The city is putting on a good show. It feels like the perfect match to celebrate here with those that were with me from the beginning. They didn't fight me much about staying.''

Smith is one of the most decorated players in all of women's basketball. She retired following the 2013 season as the top scorer in women's professional basketball history with 7,885 points, and she ranked second in the WNBA with 6,452 points at that point.

''You take pride in what you do, and to be recognized for it means a lot,'' Smith said. ''When you are playing, you're not thinking about the Hall of Fame. I played for a long time, and it does mean a lot to be recognized among the best.''

She had a stellar career at Ohio State, where she helped guide the Buckeyes to the NCAA title game as a freshman and broke the Big Ten's all-time scoring record for both men and women. She then won WNBA titles in 2006 and 2008 with the Detroit Shock and two ABL titles with the Columbus Quest, guiding that team to the only two championships in league history.

That second Quest title team never got a chance to receive its championship rings because the league folded, so coach Brian Agler spearheaded a movement to get those players their jewelry.

Smith and her teammates received them Saturday night at an event in front of 1,000 fans. They held an autograph signing, where Smith and her former Quest teammates basked in the adoration of their fans.

''It was unfortunate they never got a chance to be celebrated for winning that championship, and this was the perfect place to give them the long overdue recognition,'' Agler said. ''If you think about that team, they had four Olympians on it, and it might have been one of the best women's basketball teams ever.''

Smith, who will be inducted in the hall in her first year of eligibility, is joined in the class by Tina Thompson, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, Maurice Cheeks, Lefty Driesell, Dino Radja, Charlie Scott, Rod Thorn, Ora Mae Washington and Rick Welts.

''I've coached a lot of players, but never have I coached one more competitive than Katie,'' Agler said. ''With the success she's had both at the collegiate level and the championships she won at the professional level and the Olympic gold medals, I can't imagine anyone else being more deserving than her being inducted.''

Smith, 43, was honored to be included in the same class as Thompson, against whom she spent years playing while in the WNBA but was a teammate of hers in USA Basketball.

''We're forever linked. The great thing is I respect Tina on and off the court,'' Smith said. ''She's a great person and a great player. It is fun to go in with someone I really appreciate.''

The two were announced as part of the 2018 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame class this year.

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