Friday, June 29, 2018

A big payday awaits Redskins guard Brandon Scherff

Brandon Scherff could be in line for a big payday thanks to a rival’s recent contract. (Doug Kapustin/Associated Press)

By Kareem Copeland
June 28, 2018

Washington Redskins guard Brandon Scherff had to be wearing a massive smile when Zack Martin signed an extension earlier this month.

The Dallas Cowboys guard landed a six-year, $84 million deal, with $40 million guaranteed, to become the highest-paid player at the position in the NFL, additional proof of the increasing value teams are placing on guards. The importance of the quarterback and the NFL’s continued development as a passing league have funneled more money to those who protect the franchise player, but offensive tackles are no longer the only ones landing hefty contracts.

Scherff can patiently await his own lucrative deal. He has a great case for cashing in.

As he enters his fourth NFL season, Scherff already is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Pro Football Focus ranked him ninth among the league’s guards last season. Martin ranked first; Andrew Norwell, who signed a five-year, $66.5 million contract (including $30 million guaranteed) with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, was fourth. Norwell is the second-highest-paid guard in the league.

Scherff is still on his rookie deal and will make $705,000 in base salary in 2018, according to salary website He’ll take home more than $6 million from signing and roster bonuses.

Scherff’s salary rises to $12.525 million in 2019 if the team exercises his fifth-year option, but the Redskins would like to secure his services for the long term. The team doesn’t want to go into the final year with the 2015 draft’s fifth pick on the edge of unrestricted free agency. Preserving salary cap space for Scherff is likely a reason Washington took a conservative approach to free agency this offseason.

When tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are healthy, the Redskins have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, and they need it to protect the $94 million investment they just made in quarterback Alex Smith. There’s also new hope for a previously floundering running game with the addition of running back Derrius Guice and the development of Chris Thompson.

Scherff is off to a strong start to his NFL career, and offensive line coach Bill Callahan said the 26-year-old is still getting better.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” Callahan said. “He’s a guy that continually challenges you as a coach and every day wants to get better, wants to know specifically what he needs to work on to improve. We go over that list continually.

“He’s a guy that you just love to coach because you tell him one time and he gets it and he’s got it. You can do a lot of different things with him because he has that type of versatility and that type of adaptability as well.”

Monday, June 25, 2018

Q&A: Olympian and Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner on how rugby and NFL compare

With rookies Christian Scotland-Williamson and Jordan Mailata both attempting to make the switch from rugby codes to the NFL, ESPN's Mike Reiss caught up with Nate Ebner -- a Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots and a U.S. Olympic Sevens rugby player -- on the challenges they will face to make the grade. Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

By Mike Reiss
June 22, 2018

Mike Reiss: What did you find most challenging about the transition from one sport to the other?

Nate Ebner: "That's a big question. I grew up playing football. I didn't play in high school. But I've been around it; I watched it every day. It's part of our culture. I transitioned in college too; I was in my second year in college and I had three years of eligibility before the NFL when I walked on, so I had some time to do it at Ohio State.

"That first year was actually a humbling experience, because I thought I would be able to go in and lean on my athletic ability a bit more. But learning the ins and outs and stuff that has to do with football -- offensive formations as a defensive player, and all the different packages, I could go on and on about that. It's basically a lot to learn. It was hard. You play rugby -- there are 15 guys on the field and you don't sub [out].

"I play rugby union, Jordan Mailata plays rugby league, and that's different. Rugby league is a different version of rugby.

"But again, the transition for me was a humbling one. There's a lot to learn, but you just have to grind away at it. That's the biggest thing I can say. My biggest learning years were definitely my rookie year in the NFL. I played three years of college football and didn't really grasp it like I did in my rookie year. So to come straight into the NFL right away with no real experience, it's going to be challenging [for Mailata and Scotland-Williamson]. It's challenging enough as it is just to make it, for everyone, even if you grew up playing the sport your whole life."

Nate Ebner left the New England Patriots for a spell in 2016 to compete for the United States sevens rugby team when the sport made its debut at the Rio Olympics. PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

MR: What surprised you? Something maybe you didn't see coming?

NE: "The amount of studying that you have to do. In rugby, and coming from all my experiences, we studied film a little bit but not to that extent; it's a game where you go out and practice. The amount of film study was a surprise, how much detail went into it. Knowing what I know now, I realized it's what you need to do to gain every edge you can on your opponent and totally understand situations.

"Another surprise is that people who really understand football, it's almost like a second language. There's so much verbiage, and that verbiage changes from team to team and can even change from week to week within the same team. But there's definitely a football language out there that you have to learn and understand. That was news to me as well."

MR: How much time did it take to adjust to the pace of the game?

NE: "It felt fast at first, but that's because I didn't know what I was doing. If you do anything for the first time that requires speed, it's going to feel fast until you understand it. Until you get used to it, it feels like everything is flying.

"The biggest thing I learned is that you can't have any false movement in the plays. In rugby, you can afford a couple wasted steps here and there. The game's constantly flowing, you don't really get a break, so people are tired. In football, you can't afford to be going the wrong direction or take false steps. No wasted movement -- that was new."

MR: What skill sets from football lent themselves to rugby?

NE: "That's such a tough thing to answer. For me going back to rugby like I did, I would say the biggest thing that helped was just the explosiveness and strength you gain training in football, and football made me a more explosive rugby player. It's a different ball, it's a different skill set, even the way you tackle and play defense can be different. People love to correlate the two because they're contact sports and you tackle, but they're also very different sports too. Man-to-man coverage is nothing like being in a ruck and vice versa, there are plenty of examples."

MR: How challenging was the mental switch from one sport to the other?

NE: "For me going from rugby to football -- I had a lot to learn. I couldn't just let the game flow and play because your footwork is important, your eye control is important, what you're thinking about in certain situations is important.

"I think the speed of playing in the NFL helped me slow the game of rugby down. But even with that, my first World Sevens Series event that I did in Singapore felt like the game speed was flying, compared to when I was in the [2016] Olympics just a couple months later. So it still took some getting used to.

"The hardest part for me going from football back to rugby wasn't mental, it was cardiovascular. Trying to transition from six years away from rugby and playing in the NFL where I get a break after six seconds of playing with all-out effort, to having to continually move -- tackle, pass, get up, run, ruck; all those things -- that cardio was a monster.

"It's unlike anything most football players have experienced, and would be a very different kind of challenge to do what those men do on the Sevens team day in and day out. Again, another part of the game that is very different."

Nate Ebner runs on to the field at Super Bowl LI in Houston flanked by Danny Amendola (left) and Tom Brady (right), seven months after playing rugby at the Olympics. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

MR: How did a rugby tactics book compare with a playbook?

NE: "This is another aspect of rugby that, to me, is more like basketball. Whatever you think of a basketball playbook, I'd say rugby is more similar to that. A football playbook is on a completely different level.

"A lot of basketball is running down the court -- fast breaks, 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s, some double teams so try to find the open guy. Rugby is a lot like that -- quick turnover, fast break, we're going the other way; try to find the overlap, try to find the 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 situation. It's very similar in that regard.

"Every once in a while you will have the set piece, like a half-court play, where you run a certain play and it's not an exact play where something specific has to happen. It's kind of like there are suggestions off this play, like a pick-and-roll [in basketball]. You can keep the ball, or shoot it, or hit the roll guy. You have to take what the defense gives you and rugby is the exact same as that."

MR: How did you find the different shape of the balls?

NE: "I grew up with a football and a rugby ball, sitting side by side. If you're an athlete, we do drills with tennis balls all the time, it doesn't matter -- the ball, you catch it."

MR: How does the buzz of playing in the Olympics compare with playing in the NFL?

NE: "To me, they're completely two different things. Playing in the NFL is a great experience, walking out to play in a Super Bowl, for a championship, that's what you do it for. It is the most-watched event in all of sports. It's amazing to be a part of, special in its own right.

"But walking out with a United States badge on your chest and being on a completely different continent and walking out for the opening ceremonies and having a different country cheer for you because you're representing the United States -- and getting a chill because you know what you represent, what's on your chest and what you're there to do and how this thing is so much bigger than you -- that's an unmatched feeling in and of itself. They're both awesome."

MR: Any final thoughts?

NE: "Professional sports require so much more than just athletic ability. There are going to be challenges along the way. Some people have a lot of potential. This kid [Mailata] is 6 feet 8 inches, 350 pounds and runs like a tight end. That's some God-gifted size and ability. Just look at his highlights. So he has a start right there.

"But he's going to be competing with guys who are similar size and they know what they're doing. I think it's a hard transition. There is a lot to football. But it's doable. I've done it, others have done it. But it's hard, a lot of guys have failed, too.

"It's challenging at the top of anything. You can talk about business, art, sports, etc. The best in the world are the best for a reason. So it's tough... but you can do it if you work hard enough."

Trey Flowers projected to make Pro Bowl in 2018

June 22, 2018

If he hadn't already, Trey Flowers looks like he's going to blossom in 2018.

In a piece projecting various players throughout the league to make it to the Pro Bowl for the first time in their careers on, former Cowboys VP and current senior NFL analyst Gil Brandt has tapped the Patriots defensive end as New England's candidate.

Here's his explanation and breakdown of Flowers' game:

Flowers has led the Patriots in sacks in each of the past two seasons (with 7.0 in 2016 and 6.5 last season), and he was one of just four Patriots to play every defensive snap in Super Bowl LII, which further shows you his value to this team. He has 34-inch arms and an 85-inch wingspan, two traits that are very helpful to a pass rusher.

Statistically, Flowers hasn't put up the numbers of the elite pass rushers in the NFL, but he plays every bit the part of it within the Patriots' defense. The Arkansas product was drafted by New England back in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but really didn't start making an impact until 2016 after dealing with a shoulder injury.

Flowers wasn't kept a secret for long as he was able to make his presence known on the biggest stage during Super Bowl LI against the Falcons. The pass rusher was able to sack Matt Ryan on a critical second down with 3:55 to play to essentially keep New England's hopes of their historic 25-point comeback alive. For that game, he totaled 2.5 sacks and his rise to notoriety began, despite his somewhat underrated sack being overshadowed by Dont'a Hightower's strip sack of Ryan and Julian Edelman shoe-string catch.

Flowers has been budding for quite some time, so he does seem like the right call by Brandt. And it couldn't be better timing as he's set to hit free agency this upcoming offseason.

Another sleeper candidate could end being Chris Hogan given that he'll likely receive more looks from Tom Brady during the first quarter of the season with Julian Edelman suspended as well as the quarterback still works to build chemistry with his new pass catchers. While he's been a clutch player for New England since arriving to Foxboro, Hogan could now be in position to put up the statistical numbers in 2018. It's certainly a long shot, but I wouldn't rule it out entirely.

Speaking of Edelman, if he does lose his appeal of his four game PED suspension, then he would be ruled ineligible for that honor, per league rules.

The rule states, "In addition to the suspension imposed on him, any Player suspended for a violation of the Policy will be ineligible for selection to the Pro Bowl, or to receive any other honors or awards from the League or Players Association, for the season in which the violation is upheld (i.e. following nay appeals) and in which the suspension is served."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Our Dynamic Duo

June 19, 2018

"2018 Michigan Heavyweight Camp brought in one of the best! Great working with Stephen Neal 2x NCAA Champ, '99 Freestyle World Champ and 3x Super Bowl Champ with the New England Patriots!"

-Adam Coon

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bodybuilding Heroics Highlight College Football Talking Season

June 14, 2018
By paulmbanks

The World Cup has now arrived to help fill the void of the baseball-only doldrums that mark this portion of the annual sporting calendar. Off course, the United States of America didn’t qualify for this one, so for many sports fans, this period will remain dull until football season gets here.

At the very least, football talking season will be here soon, as it’s only a month or so away now. Football talking season arrives when college football media days begin in mid July.

A consistent staple of these prolonged media sessions are the glorious tales of bodybuilding heroics. Discussions of power cleans, incline press, squats, bodybuilding shoes, weightlifting gloves, protein consumption, added mass, repping out and maxing out are what these conversations are all about.

This discourse is a lot more fun and interesting than your typical media day interviews, which are dominated by corporate cliches, mind-numbing pablum and worthless platitudes. When you talk shop on bodybuilding and weightlifting, you’re dealing with numbers, metrics, facts and figures, not coachspeak catch phrases that would fit only a motivational cat poster.

Two past tales of weight room heroism remind of us what is to come in 2018.

In 2017, Northwestern Wildcats defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster was able to do 37 reps of 225 on the bench press, which was a higher number than any NFL Draft prospect at the Scouting Combine that year.

In 2014, former Iowa Hawkeyes Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff power cleaned 443 pounds three times.

“He’s not just a weight room freak,” Iowa Hawkeyes tailback Weisman said of Scherff. “He’s a football freak.”

Indeed he was then and he is now. Scherff went on to be selected as the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and thus ended the Big Ten’s long drought of having no top ten overall picks.

The streak dated all the way back to 2008, when Michigan OT Jake Long went 1st overall.

Scherff made the all rookie team, and has now started 46 games in the NFL. He’s made the Pro Bowl twice in his first three seasons. Audio of the Brandon Scherff interview can be found on Sound Cloud at this link.

Moving on to Lancaster, he’s a prime example of how the capacity to bench press one’s own body weight is an accurate marker of good physical fitness.

In 2017, we learned at media day that Lancaster can bench 450 pounds, which is 140 above the 310 that he’s currently listed. For comparison’s sake, 300 is typically regarded to be an elite bench press max out for a layperson. You really have to be pretty “do you even lift, bro?!” to even get anywhere near that benchmark (pun intended)

Lancaster could also deadlift 740 pounds, and also possesses a broad jump of 9’4” and a 27-inch vertical. It’s easy to see why last summer saw Lancaster named #32 in the nation on the list of Sports Illustrated’s “workout warriors.”

His former Northwestern teammate Godwin Igwebuike described Lancaster’s ability to bench press 225 37 times as “scary.”

The weight of 225 (two plates on each side, a “plate” is the vernacular for a 45 pound weight, as it equals the weight of the bar) is considered the football standard for “repping out.” It’s the level at which one tests muscular endurance by trying to execute as many repetitions as possible.

Repping out measures endurance while maxing out is to test pure brute strength. Lancaster believes he’s much stronger and better in one area than the other.

“I feel like my repping out is a lot better than than the max, but 450 I think is still pretty good,” he said before later describing what’s going through his mind when he’s on the bench doing work.

“You’re in the zone, it’s just about you and the bar. It’s a fight, it’s a battle with yourself- can I do this extra rep? One more, one more, one more, one more.”

Audio of the Tyler Lancaster interview can be found on Sound Cloud at this link. Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald spoke of Lancaster’s tremendous work ethic, not just in the weight room, but all around.

”He’s always been a great worker in the weight room, and a great player, but to see him kind of take it to the next level has been really spectacular. He’s not a guy that says a lot. He’s a guy that speaks more through his actions,” said Fitzgerald.

“He’s done that since he got here and to see the relentless nature in which he attacks every day is really special.”

Lancaster did not get drafted by the NFL this past spring, but he was signed by the Green Bay Packers. Facing long odds, he will get his opportunity to make the squad when training camp opens up in July.

Jamie Meder "one of the best run players in the NFL"

From Steve Doerschuk's "82 days before opener, Browns coaches say all systems go"
June 14, 2018

BEREA — In his spare time, Bob Wylie flies airplanes, performs magic tricks and plays musical instruments.

Wylie’s full-time employer is looking for the magic that might make an 0-16 team fly out of an era whose theme song has been Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

The Browns’ 67-year-old offensive line coach has a body-shape and bearing akin to Pop Fisher, the crusty manager from filmdom’s “The Natural,” who needed a miracle to revive his baseball team.

Old Pop’s dreams came true when aging Roy Hobbs fell out of the sky doing a superb Babe Ruth impersonation. It’s the other way around for Wylie, who has lost aging Joe Thomas, the best player from the Browns’ expansion era.

Yet, Wylie is optimistic he can get a left tackle ready in time to help the Browns do their take on coming out of nowhere.

“We have 83 days until we play the Pittsburgh Steelers on the ninth of September,” Wylie said as minicamp dispersed Thursday. “If we can’t get it done in 83 days, it probably can’t be done.”

All around him, Wylie’s colleagues popped up with examples of why something amazing can be done.

As a No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 draft, isn’t defensive end Myles Garrett supposed to be amazing?

“If he stays healthy,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said, “watch out.

“Earlier in camp, when we were running sprints, Myles didn’t run with the defensive linemen. He ran with the DBs and the wide receivers. Here’s this 280-pound lineman and they were having a hard time keeping up with him. I am just looking, going, ‘Wow.’ ”

Williams admits he loves Bradley Chubb, the defensive end half of Browns Nation seemed to want as the No. 4 overall pick. Williams laughs at Chubb’s “weakness” — he would have no chance trying to cover Antonio Brown. The Browns sorely needed a cover corner and spent the No. 4 on former Nordonia and Ohio State standout Denzel Ward.

Williams raved at how quickly Ward endeared himself to Browns veterans with his attitude. His talent?

“He’s one of the best press-cover guys I’ve seen at this level,” said Williams, who first worked in the NFL before Bill Belichick was hired to be coach of the Browns.

Williams said holdover Emmanuel Ogbah is more than a consolation prize after passing on Chubb.

“Knock on wood,” said Williams, “if Ogbah stays healthy, he’s going to really stand out this year.”

Williams seems jazzed about so much of what might be in his second year as coordinator.

By way of example, he called Jamie Meder, one of only two defenders (along with Christian Kirksey) who has played more than three years with the team, “one of the best run players in the NFL.”

Of safety Jabrill Peppers, who spent his rookie year on the warning track in center field, Williams said, “It’s so much fun having him in the box.”

Safeties coach Jerod Kruse said he sees Peppers living up to his status as a Round 1 pick.

“He’s better for having had that experience [of playing so deep],” Kruse said. “He was seeing it from the top down.”

Former Alabama quarterback Freddie Kitchens, the Browns’ new running backs coach, was hit by a vision in the final minicamp practice. It happened while running back Carlos Hyde was timing a run to explode through a crease at the exact right moment.

“The way he ran the ball there looked like the guy in Pittsburgh,” Kitchens said.

“The guy in Pittsburgh” is Le’Veon Bell, a No. 48 overall draft pick out Michigan State in 2013 now regarded as one of the top three running backs in the league. Hyde was a No. 57 overall draft pick out of Ohio State in 2014 who started for the San Francisco 49ers.

Kitchens, who spent recent years with Bruce Arians in Arizona, also has been handed rookie No. 35 overall draft pick Nick Chubb. Kitchens alluded to the fact Browns general manager John Dorsey has never been involved with drafting a running back as high as 35.
“I don’t know that John factored that in,” Kitchens said. “I know that Nick was sitting there at 35, and that John loved him, and I loved him.”

Speedster Antonio Callaway is supposed to be a fourth-round steal if he can get past off-field issues. He has looked the part when he has practiced, coaches say.

“The Callaway kid is stepping up,” said new special teams coordinator Amos Jones, eyeing the young wideout as a punt returner.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley suggested Tyrod Taylor is more than the latest starting quarterback.

“Tyrod has done a tremendous, tremendous job establishing himself as the leader of this offense,” Haley said. “His car is in its parking spot every morning when I get here and it’s there when I’m leaving.
“We threw a lot at him. I’ve been really impressed.”

Linebackers coach Blake Williams said he loves where his unit might be headed with Jamie Collins returning from injury and Mychal Kendricks signing on after starting for the Eagles in a Super Bowl win.

Williams talked as if there is no odd man out, even though someone will have to be in terms of playing time.

Of Pro Bowl “Mike” linebacker Joe Schobert, Williams said, “I feel like he grew three years in one year.”

He said Kirksey is so good at pass coverage that there’s no sense in replacing him with a safety on some passing downs.

“We’re really blessed with the linebacking corps,” Williams said.

For what it’s worth, Blake’s father, Gregg, has called his son “the best young coach I’ve ever had.”

Can things actually turn quickly for the Browns? Last year was so bad.

The tone among coaches coming out of minicamp was all good.

Josh Cribbs, who is still strapping on the cleats to perform his new role as an intern return-game coach, sounded ready to pull on some boxing gloves.

“I get offended when people talk bad about us,” Cribbs said.

There was no chance of Cribbs being offended as long as he hung out in Berea on Thursday.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Patriot Way is why Rex Burkhead re-signed this offseason

By Tyler Sullivan
June 4, 2018

Rex Burkhead decided to double-down on his time with New England, showing that he's a-ok with the Patriot Way.

After one season with the club in 2017, the Patriots running back hit free agency and had the rest of the NFL in front of him. After a season where he showed his versatility as a runner and pass catcher in New England’s offense totaling 518 combined yards and eight touchdowns, he likely could have carved himself a nice spot with someone else if he so chose.

Instead, he decided to come back to Foxboro inking a three-year contract with the club worth $9.7 million earlier this offseason. While a player re-signing is hardly an uncommon occurrence in the NFL, it's newsworthy in the sense that the Patriots are in the midst of an offseason where stones have been thrown at their dynasty for how their militaristic culture operates.

Eagles lineman Lane Johnson has been one of the louder NFL figures bashing the Patriots this offseason, but just recently former Pats linebacker Cassius Marsh also elected to rip the organization for how much he "hated" his time with the team. That report was later followed up detailing a halftime tirade the linebacker went on during a Patriots blowout of the Raiders down in Mexico City after playing in just two snaps.

While some NFL-ers have decided to condemn playing in Foxboro, Burkhead has embraced it. In fact, he told Henry McKenna of Patriots Wire that it was the winning culture that drew him back there this offseason.

“Privileged to have the opportunity to come back to a place like this, play for an organization like this with this group of guys,” Burkhead told McKenna at Patriots OTAs last week. “It’s the type of atmosphere you want to be in as a competitor as a person that loves the game of football. There’s no better place like this.”

He added: “It was my second time in free agency, so you just go through all the pros and cons or whatever. But this is where I want to be. I wanted to be back here and have another opportunity these next few years to put another run at it.”

And it's that type of mindset that the Patriots must scout when looking to bring players in. While every team will look for players of specific skill-sets to fit their scheme, New England must be even more careful about what kind of player is coming through those doors. If they've shown signs that they can't handle their way of coaching, you'll likely get a Cassius Marsh-like result.

If they nail it, you're looking at a player in Burkhead, whose only mission in 2018 is to do something that the Patriots have been able to do better than every other team in the NFL over the last two-decades: win.

“Make another run,” Burkhead told McKenna of his aspirations this year. “We were so close last year. We have a long way to go, but hopefully we can put ourselves in that position again.”

Spoken like a true Patriot.

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