Friday, August 30, 2019

Dante Scarnecchia's enduring brilliance integral to Pats dynasty

·         By Mike Giardi

·         Published: Aug. 30, 2019 at 09:22 a.m.
·         Updated: Aug. 30, 2019 at 10:29 a.m.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Damien Woody had no idea what he was in for. The Boston College standout was considered a lock to be a first-round pick and -- in his own words -- "was reading his press clippings." So when he made the 45-minute drive from Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, down to Foxborough to meet with the New England Patriots, Woody figured he'd have to answer some questions, maybe spend some time in front of the white board, but generally be stress-free. That was initially reinforced when he met Pats offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. They exchanged pleasantries. "He couldn't be friendlier," recalled Woody.
Then Scarnecchia had Woody sit down, put a tape into the VCR (they still used those back then) and "it was literally my worst game in college," laughed Woody, recalling his performance against Syracuse. "He went play by play and I sat with him for hours and it seemed like every play took 15 minutes. I literally felt like melting in the chair."
Woody left the meeting convinced there was no way he was going to be a Patriot. But a month or so later, in the 1999 NFL Draft, the Pats called out Woody's name, making him the 17th overall selection.
"When we had our very first conversation after that and he (Scarnecchia) said, 'How did that visit of ours go?' He just wanted to see how I would react. I guess it was better than I thought. We both laughed."
Scarnecchia has been coaching in the NFL since 1982, and other than a brief stint in Indianapolis, he's been a fixture on the Patriots' sideline, lasting through six different head coaches, from Ron Meyer to Raymond Berry, Dick MacPherson, Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. Safe to say those bosses all had different styles and approaches to the game, but Scarnecchia has been a trusted member of each and every one of those coaching staffs.
"I think he's a great coach," Belichick said some 20 years ago when he took over the Patriots job, famously adding: "I would trust him with my career. In fact, I am trusting him with my career."
That trust was so great that Belichick was able to lure Scarnecchia out of a brief two-season retirement earlier this decade, bringing the coach back following the 2015 campaign. That Patriots season had ended with Tom Brady taking a vicious beating during the AFC Championship Game in Denver, a 20-18 New England loss. Belichick believed if anyone could rectify that, it was Scarnecchia, who swears he wasn't looking to get back in the game, dismissing the notion that retirement was boring.
"It wasn't," he smiled. "I was doing good."
I reminded him that, when he left at the end of the 2013 season, he said it was time to hang out with the grandkids.
"I did," he assured me. "And I'm going to do that again."
But there is no timetable on the now-71-year-old's coaching career.
"I like what I'm doing," he said. "I like all aspects of it. I like the meetings. I like the practices. I like the games. I think if it's something you really enjoy doing, the energy, the passion, comes out that way. I really do. I think those are the things that are really important. You've got to let 'em know how you feel about everything."
He does. Don't just take it from me. The players, past and present, will tell you.
"He's honest to a fault," 2007 Pro Bowl center Dan Koppen told me. "He's going to tell you exactly where you are, what you're not doing well, what you are, what's your standing on the team. I think most players appreciate that. There's no messing around. You know where you stand."
"He just wants me to give him as much effort as he's giving me," said Stephen Neal, a starting guard on New England's 2004 title team. "If you don't match that, you'll feel his frustration because he's doing everything he can to make sure you're prepared for what's happening out there."
In his younger years, Scarnecchia ruined many training camp B-rolls with his sharp and sometimes profane tongue. But it never came from a bad place.
"Offensive line coaches are all unique and stuff," said left guard Joe Thuney, entering his fourth NFL season. "You just gotta hear the message of what he's trying to say. He cares so much about the game and his players. You gotta have that in your head (when you're getting yelled at)."
"Sometimes it's tough love," said fifth-year right guard Shaq Mason, "but you can tell it's just because he wants the best for you and from you. He knows what the hell he's talking about. Listen and learn."
Sebastian Vollmer was a surprise second-round draft pick back in 2009. Not that draft guides are the be-all, end-all, but most figured Vollmer was a sixth- or seventh-rounder. The Patriots didn't see it that way, although there certainly were growing pains.
"I remember, as a rookie, I was trying to emulate Matt Light," Vollmer recalled. "[Scarnecchia] was like, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I watched [Light]. I'm just trying to do it that way.' He said, 'No. You need to find your own style.' "
Koppen recalls a lowlight -- but teachable moment -- for him a couple of seasons into his 11-year career during an in-stadium training camp practice for season-ticket holders.
"Apparently I wasn't giving him the effort he was expecting. Boy, did I learn that pretty quickly that there's no days off. I got an ass-chewing. It wasn't in private. It was in front of all my teammates, all my linemen. He'd do it to me, to Matt Light, to Shaq. There are no sacred cows. And he would say he's not one, either."
That may be one of the reasons Scarnecchia will join the linemen as they condition during practice, or have to run a penalty lap for a mistake or even hop on the team's training hill post-practice for sprints. That, and the fact that the former Marine is in ridiculous shape, known for doing crunches in the back of a meeting when the Patriots' defense is being discussed.
"When you see that," said Mason of Scarnecchia running hills, "you have no choice but to fall in line and keep pushing."
Neal is probably Scarnecchia's greatest success story, a four-time All-American wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield who hadn't played a snap of college football. He had to be built from the ground up -- and, in Neal's mind, Scarnecchia was the only one capable of such a task.
"Absolutely," Neal told me. "If I had come in under these new rules (limiting contact and eliminating two-a-days), there's no way he would have been able to teach me how to play. I needed to learn everything. I mean everything. Wrestling is one-on-one. You don't have to worry about the big picture. It's one-on-one and I'm trying to dominate you. Football is 11-on-11. I had to see the game the same way everyone else was. But he (Scarnecchia) was great at it, always putting us in good position. He had us prepared out there. He had me prepared."
"Think about that," marveled Woody, who won two Super Bowls in New England. "You don't play football in college and you go on to do pretty well in the NFL. That's remarkable. You have to give a lot of credit to Stephen Neal, obviously, but a lot of it has to do with coaching."
The German-born Vollmer was also raw, not playing football until he was a 14-year-old. He was later recruited to play tight end collegiately, signing on with the University of Houston. He eventually moved to left tackle and started 25 straight games for the Cougars, but even that didn't earn him an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. Still, the 6-foot-8, 320-pounder emerged quickly in New England.
"I needed to learn how to play the game and he was the greatest person I could ask for," said Vollmer, who spent his entire eight-year career in New England. "He would push you really, really hard, but I went from the eighth or ninth tackle on the depth chart to ending up starting and, I think a year after that, I was an All-Pro (second-team in 2010). No doubt, it was his coaching for sure."
Scarnecchia will resort to a number of methods, including putting in what Koppen refers to as the "fuzzy film," showing his group tape from an earlier era, be it of the player in his younger days or of one of the game's greats. "Shoot, you had to pay attention," Koppen said. "There was always a point to what he'd put up there for us."
But what he's really known for is drilling his players with the same teaching points. "Over and over and over again," Koppen stressed.
"He leaves no stone unturned," Mason noted. "Scar goes over everything multiple times."
"Sometimes guys that have seemingly done this over and over and over again for a long time can get into funks and they start stepping the wrong way, don't quite do things the right way," Scarnecchia said to me. "I notice this about a lot of them. They have a tendency to improve and a tendency to flatten out and you gotta get off that plateau and get them to a higher level. I think that's what it's all about."
Fans of the Patriots long ago adopted an "In Scar We Trust" motto. That theory will be tested again, with a new left tackle (Isaiah Wynn) and the very real possibility that center and two-time captain David Andrews will miss a good portion -- if not all -- of the season due to a blood clot in his lungs. Should followers of the team be worried?
"I don't think there is a better offensive line coach," said Vollmer when I asked. "I don't think there's a coach that will get more out of a group. There is no doubt in my mind. He can make it work. He will make it work."
Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter @MikeGiardi.

Seahawks 17 Raiders 15: Winners and Losers from Seattle’s preseason finale

By Mookie Alexander@mookiealexander

Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Congratulations, you survived another NFL preseason!
The Seattle Seahawks ended their four-game exhibition run with a 17-15 win over the Oakland Raiders, and now we await the roster cuts on Saturday afternoon. Don’t be surprised if we also see John Schneider and Pete Carroll get to some wheeling and dealing before Week 1.
Here’s your final Winners and Losers preseason column, and I assure you this will be beefed up when the regular season begins.


Ben Burr-Kirven
The former Washington Husky was a real standout on defense and exemplifies the depth that the Seahawks have at the linebacker spot. He had 12 tackles, a sack on a 4th and goal at the 1, a pass defensed, and he was largely assignment correct and closed down ball-carriers with quickness. We hadn’t seen much of BBK on defense compared to his appearances on special teams, but even against backups that was an encouraging display. Seattle has a lot of thinking to do when it comes to whether or not BBK and Shaquem Griffin both make the team, or if Quem’s knee injury is grounds for IR and makes Schneider’s job a bit easier.
Geno Smith
Hopefully Geno heals up because after a shaky Week 1, he played well against the Los Angeles Chargers and again on Thursday vs. Oakland. His deep balls to Terry Wright (for a touchdown) and Jazz Ferguson (for 41 yards) were extra impressive given the rainy conditions. If we had to “rate” backup QBs over the years, Smith is really Russ’ best one since Tarvaris Jackson departed.
Jazz Ferguson
Nevin Lawson is a former starter for the Detroit Lions and he was able to haul in a slightly underthrown pass in a jump ball situation against the Raiders CB. At worst, I want to see Jazz on the practice squad. Ideally, he’s on the WR depth chart.
C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer
A combined 84 yards on 13 carries for the two RBs who are really jostling for position to be the third-down back (with a slim chance they actually do keep four on the depth chart(. Homer’s power and drive through would-be tacklers was good to watch, as was Prosise’s nifty spin move to turn a short gain into a 30-yard scamper. Again, Prosise’s talent hasn’t been the issue, it’s his durability... ultimately that could be what leads to Homer making the team over him.
Akeem King
I say this with the uncertainty of King’s spot on the roster, but his strip-sack of Nathan Peterman on the improvised blitz was really cool and helped Seattle get its only points of the 2nd half. I’d rather see him stick around as safety depth though, as he continued to show difficulties as a cover corner.
Jamie Meder
I really love Meder’s run-stuffing abilities on the interior. He gets good push and is a sound tackler when he gets running backs in the backfield. If he doesn’t make the roster, I imagine he’ll be snapped up quickly.
Branden Jackson
He saved us from preseason overtime by sacking Nathan Peterman. For that, Branden Jackson deserves a multi-year contract extension, never mind just a spot on the roster.


Paxton Lynch
Farewell, Paxton. It was evident that Lynch wasn’t going to make the team even entering the Raiders game, but his 1/7 for 4 yards effort sealed his fate. Even if Geno Smith’s injury causes him to miss Week 1, I think Seattle goes elsewhere. I hear the Indianapolis Colts are looking for a backup quarterback, though!
Gary Jennings Jr
I really think Jennings’ spot on the roster is in jeopardy. He has notably struggled in training camp, has been ineffective in preseason games—Lynch and Jennings were not on the same page on a red zone throw, and it appears to have been Jennings’ error—and his fair catch interference penalty was his second personal foul flag in as many weeks. That felt more like someone trying to make a play out of sheer frustration, because he’s not been making them on offense. Even if he does get on the 53-man roster, we might see a lot of healthy scratches for the fourth-round rookie.
Jordan Roos
He was arguably the worst of Seattle’s offensive line reserves, giving up at least one sack, blowing several blocks, and just looking like a human turnstile. Seattle doesn’t have a lot of guard depth so he has a chance to make the team, but he’s on thin ice.
J.D. McKissic
McKissic failed to make an impact on special teams or offense in limited snaps. I suspect he’s behind both C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer in the running back depth chart, and even if Prosise doesn’t make the team, I see Homer getting in over J.D.
That stupid roughing the passer penalty on Burr-Kirven
The NFL is trying to enforce “driving the QB to the ground” penalties. Someone tell me what the hell Burr-Kirven is supposed to do that doesn’t involve bending physics.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

2019 NFL Rank: Predicting the NFL's best 100 players for this season

Aug 26, 2019

With the 2019 NFL season about to kick off, it's time for our annual ranking of the top 100 players in the league.
We asked a panel of more than 40 ESPN NFL experts to rate players based on how good they will be in the 2019 season in comparison to their peers. Emphasis was entirely on predicting potential greatness for the upcoming season, rather than past performance or positional value. From those ratings, we were able to rank the best of the best.

It's probably not surprising that playoff favorites Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints dominated the list with seven representatives apiece. And 30 of the 32 teams had at least one player (sorry, no Titans or Redskins here).
For each player, our NFL Nation reporters weighed in on his 2019 outlook, ESPN Stats & Information provided a signature stat, and fantasy analyst Mike Clay projected a stat line for this season. Here's the full list:

G | Ravens
Age: 34
2018 rank: 99

Yanda has been among the most dominant linemen of his generation. He is the second-best guard in Pro Football Focus' grading history (since 2006). Known for his toughness and technique, Yanda anchored an offensive line that helped the Ravens produce the NFL's No. 2 rushing attack (141.9 yards per game) last season-- Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Yanda was 10th in pass block win rate among guards last season, including the playoffs, at 82%.

No Redskins player was better in the fourth quarter than Brandon Scherff last year

By: Chris Roling | August 22, 2019 8:45 am ET

Washington Redskins guard Brandon Scherff set the tone for the team last year in the fourth quarter.
While he only played in eight games, Scherff made sure those counted — especially late, as Pro Football Focus pointed out in the above tweet.
Scherff shouldn’t have a problem leading in the same category again next season. He’s not worried about his comeback from the “fluke” injury and has said he isn’t too worried about the status of his contract as he is a candidate for extension.
The Redskins can’t afford to have Scherff regress in this area because one of the other guys on this list might be missing — Trent Williams. And thanks to his impact on the line, another guy on the list, Adrian Peterson, could perform worse too. Jamison Crowder is also gone.
Scherff has been a rock for the Redskins, at least, so if he’s healthy expect to see his name again.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

TE A.J. Derby 'in tune' with Saints as 2nd preseason game nears



·         AUG 16, 2019 - 5:21 PM

Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Reshard Cliett (43) attempts to take down New Orleans Saints tight end A.J. Derby (81) during the second half of an NFL pre-season football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. 

COSTA MESA, Calif. — One player rising in the Saints’ stock is tight end A.J. Derby.
Derby, an Iowa native who went to Arkansas, joined the team a week into camp on Aug. 7 after a stint with the Miami Dolphins.
Back in 2015, the Saints did NFL Draft prep on Derby, but he was selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round. The Patriots placed him on the injured reserve in August of that year.
“There’s some things he can do in the passing game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Derby. “I’d say he’s pretty in tune, too. It’s just establishing a confidence level as to what exactly and what’s the vision for the play.”
Payton added: “We’ve evaluated him before, certainly in the draft process. We’re aware of the player. Now you get a little bit more familiarity. He’s on your own roster. So we’re having a chance to look at him.”
In his three seasons in the league, Derby has 452 yards receiving on 40 catches with three touchdowns.
He had two receptions for 13 yards receiving in the Saints' preseason opener against the Vikings. 

Popular Posts