Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Patriots’ Trey Flowers shows leadership at early time in his career

Credit: Matt West

By Ross Gienieczko
August 27, 2018

Fourth-year defensive end Trey Flowers is already something of an elder statesman on the defensive line for the Patriots.

Despite just turning 25 earlier in training camp, Flowers’ three seasons with the Patriots ties him for the longest tenure of any defensive lineman, along with Malcom Brown and Geneo Grissom. Adrian Clayborn and Lawrence Guy are entering their eighth seasons in the NFL, but just their first and second seasons with the team, respectively.

As a result, Flowers is already playing the role of knowledgeable veteran with just those three years of experience under his belt, and he has the resume to back up that status. Flowers led the Pats in sacks each of the past two seasons and is already part of storied postseason history after his 2.5 sacks helped fuel the Super Bowl comeback victory against Atlanta.

As second-year players like Deatrich Wise Jr. and Derek Rivers attempt to develop into major contributors on defense, Flowers’ path is the one they’ll try to follow. Wise showed impressive flashes last year, finishing third on the team with five sacks. Rivers missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL and is still awaiting his first real NFL action.

After practice yesterday, Flowers talked about what it’s been like working with the young defensive ends.

“I don’t view myself as a mentor, but if they’ve got something to ask me as far as a technique or a way to play something, I’ll be there for them and I’ll let them know,” Flowers said. “Or if there’s anything I see, as far as on film, I see their footwork, I give them little pointers to kind of help them out, things like that.”

However, Flowers was quick to add that he’s still picking up the nuances of pro football himself.

“I don’t know if it’s a mentor thing, because I’m learning myself. I’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “It’s just one of those deals that if I know something, or if I can help them out, I will, but I’m still learning as well.”

Only a few years removed from picking up pointers from veterans, Flowers is now one of the defensive leaders handing them out.

“You had a few guys when I came in. (Rob) Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, a lot of older guys, (Dont’a) Hightower, people like that just able to help you out, give you fundamental techniques and things like that,” Flowers said. “There were a lot of guys that helped. I just kind of observed and asked questions if need be.”

Coach Bill Belichick noted Flowers’ contributions early in the preseason.

“Yeah, Trey’s great,” he said. “He does an outstanding job with his teammates at that position.

“He hasn’t had a lot of practice time this year but when he does, and the opportunities he has in meetings and things like that, he’s a great example for them. If they just watch what he does and do what he does, you couldn’t do much better than that.”

After dealing with injuries earlier in camp and sitting out all three preseason games so far, Flowers was back in a more active role at practice yesterday. He wasn’t spotted heading down to the lower field for extra strength and conditioning work, an encouraging sign of his availability as the start of the regular season approaches.

As for playing in the final year of his rookie contract, Flowers didn’t sound concerned. He’s due for a raise from the four-year, $2.8 million deal he signed after he was drafted in the fourth round, but said there’s no news on that front.

“I’ve been working,” said Flowers. “I’ve been out practicing and working on my craft. That’s the only progress.”

Austin Blythe on track to start first two games at right guard

By Charean Williams
August 27, 2018

Austin Blythe is on track to take over the right guard job in Jamon Brown‘s absence. That means he will get the starter treatment Thursday and rest with the team’s other starters.

“Yeah, I think Austin has done a great job,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, via quotes distributed by the team. “Right now, you feel really good about him being able to step in at, really, any one of those three interior spots.

“As far as that position is concerned, we’re figuring those things out. But, he’s done a great job. We have so much confidence in Austin, and we feel like he’s a starting-caliber player in this league.”

Brown will miss the first two games while serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Blythe, a seventh-round pick of the Colts in 2016, has started only two career games. His only start last season came in Week 17 at left guard.

Friday, August 24, 2018

ReFocused, NFL Preseason Week 3: Cleveland Browns 5 , Philadelphia Eagles 0

August 24, 2018

The Cleveland Browns defeated the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, 5-0 kicking off the third full week of preseason action in the NFL.

PFF’s ReFocused series this season features immediate takeaways and a key to the victory from two Senior Analysts who graded the performance, watching every player, on every play of the game. For more data and analysis from the game, utilize our Premium Stats 2.0 dashboard to expand your knowledge on the key players, signature stats and much more.

Cleveland Browns 5 , Philadelphia Eagles 0

Analyst Takeaways


Quarterback Baker Mayfield was a bit up and down throughout the game, while frequently under duress. But Mayfield did manage to connect on a few key third down conversions, with one being outside the numbers at the intermediate level and the other a throw into tight coverage on a seam route for a big gain. His lone major mistake came when he tried to force a shallow cross with his intended receiver getting knocked off the route upon release, and so, the pass was intercepted by rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox.

Rookie running back Nick Chubb ran the ball well, breaking off a few solid runs and salvaging some plays for short gains after being disrupted in the backfield.

Edge defender Myles Garrett showed why he was the number one pick in 2017, manhandling left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the edge. Vaitai had no answer for Garrett, who simply outclassed him at ever snap. While quiet against the run, Garrett showed good discipline in filling his assignments and setting the edge.

Defensive lineman Jamie Meder flashed against the run, showing good burst when beating blockers. At one point, he defeated a double team block to make a tackle for a loss on an outside run.


Philadelphia: The key to this game was the Eagles’ struggling passing game. Between the red zone turnover, and a barely missed connection between Nate Sudfeld and Rashard Davis, the Eagles couldn’t capitalize on their few chances to get into the end zone.

Cleveland: With the offense struggling to sustain drives and convert key fourth downs, this win can be clearly chalked up to the defensive effort.

New England Patriots of the Past: Mike Vrabel

By Dale Lavine
August 23, 2018

Over the offseason, the Patriots office at Last Word on Pro Football has been fortunate enough to pen tributes to some of the greatest New England Patriots players to ever take the field. From defensive all-stars like Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, and Houston Antwine to offensive playmakers like Kevin Faulk, Ben Coates, and Sam Cunningham. As the kickoff of the 2018 regular season nears, so to does the end of this special series. This week, we’re happy to present the story of legendary former linebacker (and current Tennessee Titans head coach) Mike Vrabel.

New England Patriots of the Past: Mike Vrabel

Vrabel’s college football career featured a fair share of honors. While playing defensive end for (the) Ohio State University on an athletic scholarship, Vrabel racked up 36 total sacks and 66 tackles for loss between 1993 and 1996. His defensive abilities earned him first-team All American honors and the title of Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1995 and 1996 – one of only two players in history to receive the latter award twice.

Offense or Defense, Vrabel Does Both

In 1997, Vrabel was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he would spend the first four years of his professional career. During his rookie year, Vrabel sacked Drew Bledsoe, then-quarterback for the Patriots, to earn the Steelers a playoff win.

After becoming a free agent at the start of the 2001 season, Vrabel was signed by Bill Belichick‘s Patriots. Though he had played defense for his entire career, Belichick would occasionally use him as a tight end. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Tom Brady completed a one-yard touchdown pass to Vrabel, making him the first defensive player to record a touchdown since 1986 – when the Patriots squared off against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. Vrabel’s assistance during Super Bowl XXXVIII wasn’t limited to an offensive touchdown either – he also sacked Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme twice. On one of the sacks, he also forced a fumble.

Belichick’s dual-use of Vrabel continued through the years, and he was again used to reel in a short yardage touchdown during Super Bowl XXXIX – the first Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. For any Eagles fans reading, remember this: We won first.

While Vrabel was an effective offensive weapon, his usage as inside linebacker when paired with the legendary Tedy Bruschi often proved to be near unstoppable. During his eight years with the Patriots, Vrabel recorded 48 sacks – 12.5 of which came during his penultimate season with the team – as well as 13 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. Vrabel also recorded an astounding 411 total tackles during his eight seasons with the Patriots.

Vrabel was ultimately traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, where he played for two years before retiring.

Coaching Career and Offseason Additions

Following his retirement, Vrabel worked as a defensive line coach for Ohio State before being hired as a linebackers coach for the Houston Texans. In 2017, he was promoted to the Texans defensive coordinator when Romeo Crennel became the team’s assistant head coach.

In 2018, the Titans hired Vrabel as their new head coach following the firing of Mike Mularkey. While the Titans have yet to play a game under Vrabel’s direction, things have been looking up for them.

Throughout the 2018 NFL Draft, the Titans repeatedly jumped ahead of the New England Patriots by swapping draft picks. So often, in fact, it seemed that Vrabel was purposely derailing the Patriots potential draft choices. With one pick, the Titans drafted Rashaan Evans, a linebacker that our own Patrick Johnson and David Latham believed would (or should) be picked up by the Patriots.

The Titans also signed two of their former stars: Super Bowl XLIX hero cornerback Malcolm Butler and unstoppable running back Dion Lewis.

Last Word on Mike Vrabel

Vrabel has and always will be one of the most respected linebackers to play for the Patriots. In 2018, he was nominated for the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. The three-time Super Bowl champion has earned the respect of not just from players past and present, but fans young and old as well.

It remains to be seen if Vrabel’s coaching will take hold in Tennessee. The team has lost both preseason outings against the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Additionally, the AFC South is no easy playing field this year with the return of Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, and Andrew Luck. However, with a healthy quarterback and new offensive and defensive additions, the Titans under Vrabel’s direction are a team to keep an eye on this year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bill Belichick says young defenders should try to emulate Trey Flowers

By Tanya Ray Fox
August 21, 2018

Trey Flowers has been a rising star on the New England Patriots defense since he joined the starting rotation in 2016, going on that season to contribute 2.5 sacks in their thrilling Super Bowl LI victory over the Atlanta Falcons. In fact, he’s been one of their best players over the last two seasons — and his productivity and effort has earned him the admiration of Bill Belichick.

The head coach was damn near effusive while talking to the media on Monday about Flowers’ leadership among the defensive ends.

“Yeah Trey’s great… he does an outstanding job with his teammates at that position. He hasn’t had a lot of practice time this year but when he does, and the opportunities he has in meetings and things like that, he’s a great example for them. If they just watch what he does and do what he does, you couldn’t do much better than that.

“But yeah, all those guys do a really good job of helping their teammates – you know, telling them what they did wrong or showing them what they do that works for them, along with the coaches who obviously are very good at instructing the players as well.”

The 25-year-old was taken by the Patriots with the 101st pick in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and he earned an impressive 87.8 grade for his 2017 season from Pro Football Focus, making him the third-highest graded defender from his draft class behind Adrian Amos (Bears) and Landon Collins (Giants), both safeties.

Even more impressively, his 13.5 sacks over the last two seasons leads the team by a large margin, so Flowers’ consistency will be paramount as they try to build a new and improved pass rush in 2018.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Former Hawkeye Ben Niemann nearly runs over referee in preseason pick-six for Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo: John Amis, AP)

By Danny Lawhon
August 17, 2018

Josh Jackson, eat your heart out.

The much-ballyhooed former Hawkeye and current Green Bay Packers cornerback may be expected to run back interceptions for touchdowns, but when former Iowa teammate Ben Niemann is rumbling picks to paydirt, that's a uniform of a different color.

The undrafted free agent linebacker has been turning heads this NFL preseason, and he may have sealed his spot with the Kansas City Chiefs after taking an interception back for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Friday's 28-14 preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Niemann took a pass from Atlanta third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert (yes, who?) 26 yards for a score that put Kansas City ahead 26-14.

He almost bowled over veteran NFL referee Walt Coleman in the process. The white-hat made a savvy move to crumple to the ground and make way for the Niemann Express.

Ben Neimann PICK SIX

Niemann also led Kansas City with five tackles in the team's preseason opener.

At least one other former Hawkeye was taking notice.

The three-year starter at outside linebacker was timed in 4.6 seconds flat at his Iowa Pro Day, a noteworthy time for someone at 6-foot-3 and weighing 235 pounds.

“I think Ben’s got a lot to offer a team," Iowa teammate and current Denver Bronco Josey Jewell said of Niemann this past spring. "Maybe he hasn’t gotten the big hype and stuff like that — I think he’s fine without it — but I think he’ll do a great job on a team, whatever team he goes to and whatever he does. I think he’s a sneaky fast guy. He’s a football player, that’s for sure.”

And probably a full-time Chiefs football player, to be more exact.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Perfect 53-Man Roster: Brandon Scherff

Image result for espn images

In our efforts to try to build a perfect team under the $177 million salary cap while also maintaining some semblance of realism, we've upped the difficulty level from last year's exercise.

Team restraints We'll need at least one player -- but no more than three -- from each of the 32 NFL teams. No stocking up on playoff rosters.

Finances Each player's cost is determined by his current cap number after any restructuring but without any cap acceleration for the acquisition.

Team composition Our team starts with 32 picks from the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 drafts, with one player from each round, plus an undrafted free agent. You can try choosing between Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters. (We didn't choose either.) Throw in a 2014 first-rounder playing out his fifth-year option and fill out the rest of the roster with 20 players on veteran contracts.

Special teams As tempting as it is to fill a team with big-play threats and situational contributors, real teams fill out the back of their rosters with players who contribute on special teams. Our team will do the same.

Scheme As was the case last year, we'll build an offense that fits within Josh McDaniels' system with the New England Patriots, meaning versatile receivers and running backs who can create mismatches in the passing game. On D, we'll build to suit Jim Schwartz's units, most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles, meaning pressure with our front four while dropping seven into coverage.


Our line is simultaneously athletic and vicious, especially on the interior, where Nelson was our first-round pick from this year's draft. We have former Patriots left tackle Solder in the lineup and likely replacement Brown as our swing tackle, in part because he might be the only starter left standing from the final round of the 2015 draft. We have plenty of flexibility. Scherff was a college tackle. Dawkins was a college tackle who will start at left tackle for the Bills, but he still might profile best in the long run at guard. Roullier was a college guard before becoming Washington's starting center.


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