Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Matt Spaeth: Remembering Underappreciated Pittsburgh Steelers

By: Connor Deitrich | March 30, 2020

Remembering underappreciated Steelers is a new series where we will give praise to some of the forgotten or underappreciated Steelers players in recent years. Some of these guys definitely didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but they played their role and played it well. The first installment is Matt Spaeth.
Matt Spaeth isn’t a player that most non-Pittsburgh Steelers fans around the league will remember. The tight end spent seven of his nine seasons in the black and gold (playing the other two for the Chicago Bears). Spaeth wasn’t the kind of tight end that gets love from the media or most fans. He wasn’t much a receiver, but he was a great run blocker. He embraced his role and performed very well at it.

Remembering Matt Spaeth

In the 2007 NFL draft, the Steelers selected Matt Spaeth in the third round with the 77th overall pick. Spaeth was coming off an All-American, Mackey Award-winning season at Minnesota. He only recorded five catches on six targets in his rookie season for 34 total yards. Three of his five receptions went for touchdowns, though, and another for a first down. That’s the kind of player Spaeth would be his whole career. He never racked up many yards per reception, but he was reliable in goal-line or short-yardage passing situations. In fact, ten of his 55 career receptions were touchdowns and an additional 15 were for first downs. Almost half of his career receptions resulted in points or moved the chains.
The most memorable moment of Matt Spaeth’s career (other than becoming a Super Bowl champion) came against the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. In that game, Ben Roethlisberger set an NFL record by throwing 12 touchdown passes in a two-game span. Spaeth was on the receiving end of the record-setting 12th touchdown. Not only was he part of Roethlisberger’s record, but it was the longest reception of Spaeth’s career. On 4th and 2 with under two minutes to go, the Steelers came out in a running formation. Instead, they ran play-action and Roethlisberger found Spaeth streaking behind the defense for a 33-yard touchdown. It was Spaeth’s longest career reception by 20 yards and it was great to see how happy his teammates were for him (and Roethlisberger, of course) following the score.
Playing alongside Heath Miller, it’s no wonder why Matt Spaeth never got tons of recognition. Everyone in Steelers nation loved Miller and still do, years after his retirement. It’s especially hard to get recognition as a tight end whose only real role is to block. Spaeth worked hard, did his job, and did it well. He was respected in the locker room and a Super Bowl champion. For all of those reasons, it’s important to remember Matt Spaeth and the role he played as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Monday, March 30, 2020

WATCH: Lions' T.J. Hockenson encourages fans amid coronavirus

By ALEX SEATS Mar 24, 7:31 PM

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt the globe, the populous is urged to keep safe and implement social distancing measures. With every community’s health at risk, nobody is considered above these infection control precautions, not even professional athletes.

Fortunately, good guys like Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson are able to take the time to remind the public to stay safe. The former Iowa Hawkeyes’ star took to twitter to check on fans, reiterating the importance of social distancing and encouraging others' to enjoy their time spent with family. 

Hockenson can be seen addressing fans concerning coronavirus in the video below. 

“What’s up guys, T.J. Hockenson here. Back home with the family right now, we’re actually outside playing some games, playing with the dogs. I wanted to check in to make sure you guys are staying safe, being smart, practicing social distancing. You know, take this opportunity to be with your family. You know we’ll see you guys soon after this we’re going to come back better than ever. Go Lions!”
Hockenson, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 220 pounds, was an Ozzie Newsome and John Mackey awards winner (granted to the nation’s top tight end) during his tenure at the University of Iowa. In two seasons for the Hawkeyes, the Iowa native hauled in 73 receptions for 1,080 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Hockenson was rated a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite out of Chariton High School. He was considered the nation's No. 66 tight end and the No. 7 recruit in the state of Iowa, ultimately choosing the Hawkeyes over an offer from the Iowa State Cyclones.

Cole Croston, former Patriots offensive lineman, settles into new role as a business banker

Mar 28, 2020
Mason Dockter

Cole Croston stands in the lobby of Pioneer Bank in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. Croston, a former offensive tackle for the New England Patriots now works as a Business Banker for Pioneer Bank, Wednesday, March 4, 2020 | Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal

SERGEANT BLUFF -- Cole Croston wants to be known for more than his NFL career.  
The former Iowa Hawkeye and New England Patriots offensive lineman recently started his banking career at Pioneer Bank's location in his hometown of Sergeant Bluff.
While some bankers probably dream of playing in the NFL, for Croston, it's somewhat the reverse. He wants people to know he's now a business banker. 
"Football has kind of defined my life up until the last few months, where all I did, and all I was known for, was playing football," Croston said. "I just don't want football to be, 100 percent Cole Croston. Obviously, it was a part of me in the past. But now I've kind of moved past that." 
Cole Croston talks about his time in the NFL playing for the New England Patriots, Wednesday. He now works at Pioneer Bank in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, March 4, 2020 | Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal
Croston, 26, was a prep standout at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School and went on to Iowa, where he started as an offensive tackle for two years and received honorable mention All-Big Ten honors his senior season
In May 2017, the Patriots signed Croston as a rookie free agent. Against heavy odds, he made the Patriots 53-man roster as a reserve due to his versatility playing both guard and tackle. Inactive for the first nine games of the season, he made his NFL debut in Week 11 in a 33-8 win over the Raiders.
The Patriots made Super Bowl LII that year, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-33. Croston was inactive for the 2018 game, as well as Super Bowl LIII, where the Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3.
His NFL career ended late in 2019, and Croston was back home by January. He said the close of his NFL career was brought on by "a combination of things." 
"I mean, all good things have to come to an end. Struggled through some injuries here and there," he said. "I was just kind of ready to move on from football. They have all these studies out now, and the health aspect of it -- I liked being able to walk away, literally." 
Cole Croston talks about his time in the NFL playing for the New England Patriots, Wednesday. He now works at Pioneer Bank in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, March 4, 2020. | Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal

Croston probably could have gone anywhere he wanted after his NFL days were over. He's seen big cities. Yet he chose to move back to Sergeant Bluff. 
"Iowa's always been home for me. The East Coast was quite an experience, different culture, everything over there, and I enjoyed it. But, I'd never really see myself living anywhere but here," he said. 
Why did Croston become a banker? His father, Dave Croston, who was also a starting offensive tackle for Iowa in the mid-1980s and later played for the Green Bay Packers, had a lot to do with it. 
"My dad always kind of pushed me to, he wanted me to be an accountant," the younger Croston said. (Dave Croston works in pharmaceutical sales.)
But while he was a student at the University of Iowa, Cole Croston said he "kind of realized that, maybe accounting wasn't for me." 
"Finance was kind of an alternate path that was something I found enjoyable," he added. 
Three of Croston's football helmets -- one from his days playing for Sergeant Bluff, one from his days at Iowa and one from the Patriots -- decorate his office. The helmets are displayed on a shelf physically behind where Croston sits in his office; he uses the helmets' strategic placement in his office as a metaphor for how he's "moved past" the sport. 
But he doesn't decorate his finger with his Super Bowl ring from Super Bowl LIII. "I've always been a low-key kind of person, and, you know, the ring is the size of my entire hand." 
The Super Bowl ring will probably make its way to Pioneer Bank eventually, but not for showing off: "I'm looking forward to bringing it in here and actually getting it in a safe deposit box, which is probably the best move for me." 
He chose Pioneer Bank because of its "team culture," as he described it. 
"I was kind of looking for, like a team culture, which is tough to find. Kind of like a tight-knit group. I had been to this bank a few times, Pioneer, and I had kind of gotten that feel. And the more I hung around here, the more I just realized that, I fit this mold," he said. "The culture aspect of what Pioneer brings was kind of the same culture aspect that Iowa -- the Iowa Hawkeyes -- brought, the New England Patriots brought." 
He was living with his parents earlier this month, but he recently acquired a house in Sioux City's Whispering Creek neighborhood and was planning to set up house there shortly. 
"Looking forward to moving into that place in about a month here," Croston said.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Former Ohio State player Nate Ebner leaves Patriots for Giants

Bill Rabinowitz

A longtime New England Patriot left for another team this week.
Well, another longtime Patriot.
Tom Brady’s departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rightly captured all the attention, especially in a sports world that has stopped except for NFL free agency.
But Nate Ebner also will have a new home after a Patriots career that was impressive in its own right. The former Ohio State special-teams player has agreed to a one-year deal with the New York Giants after eight years with New England.
“The Giants was the right fit for me,” Ebner said.
New York’s new coach, Joe Judge, coached special teams for the Patriots starting in 2012, when New England drafted Ebner.
“Obviously, I have a strong relationship with him,” Ebner said. “He’s someone I spent years with every single day arguing with and laughing with. He has a huge background in special teams, and we kind of came into it together.”
That Ebner, 31, made it to the NFL at all, let alone has lasted this long, is a story worthy of a book. In fact, he has written one that he expects to be published next year.
Ebner was an elite rugby player growing up in Hilliard. He didn’t play football at Hilliard Davidson, but he and his father, Jeff, talked about him trying out at Ohio State. After his father was killed during an attempted robbery at his family business in 2008, Ebner decided to give it a go.
He made his mark on special teams and became a Buckeyes captain. The Patriots then made him a surprise sixth-round draft pick, and he became a special-teams fixture during New England’s dynasty.
In 2016, he went back to his first love when he made the U.S. Olympic rugby team and competed in Rio de Janeiro.
Ebner won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. When asked about his time with New England, Ebner spoke uninterrupted for more than three minutes. He praised his teammates, Patriots fans and the culture that demanded and rewarded ceaseless work and dedication.
“If you want to be a (pro) football player, it’s a full-time job,” he said. “And in New England, they really know how to work. If you’re not built for it, you don’t last very long.”
Ebner lasted eight years, a tenure matched or exceeded only by Brady, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, cornerback Devin McCourty and receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater.
“I’ve taken so much from New England,” he said. “It’s been fantastic, and I couldn’t have been more blessed.”
Now it’s on to a new chapter. Ebner, who got married last year, has been in San Diego, staying in shape by training with U.S. rugby players. No, he doesn’t intend to try out again for the Olympic team, even if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t affect this year’s games in Japan.
NFL free agency continues despite the pandemic, but on-site work with the Giants is on hold.
“We’re kind of in unchartered territory, right?” he said. “I’m going to do what I have to do to get in touch with the people I need to. You just have to modify and adapt to the situation and make the most of what you can with what you have.”
That’s what Ebner has done his entire career. Now his goal is to make it to at least 10 years in the NFL.
“I’m just blessed to be able to play a ninth year,” Ebner said. “It’s not something I envisioned, and the fact I’m able to go out and do my thing, it’s a blessing. But I feel good and plan on playing as long as I can until the wheels fall off, and I don’t feel it’s anytime soon.”

Counting Down Colts Draft Picks of the Past: TE Dallas Clark

Photo by Aaron Josefczuk /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Colts GM Chris Ballard has regularly stated that his philosophy is that you build teams through the draft. That makes this time of year critical to the Colts’ long term success. So in the lead up to this year’s draft, I wanted to do something to honor some of the meaningful draft picks that the Colts have made in their time in Indianapolis. These players have helped to tell the story of the Colts franchise we love. Every day leading up to the draft, we’ll drop a story about a different player from Indianapolis Colts draft history.
Today we’re talking about the Colts’ most prolific all around tight end, Dallas Clark. Drafted 24th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft, Clark was the unsung hero of a star-studded offense. His nine seasons in Indianapolis saw him rack up 46 receiving touchdowns, the most of any Colts tight end.
What’s more, Clark really turned it on in the postseason. He ranks 2nd behind only Reggie Wayne in both postseason receiving yards and touchdowns for the Colts with 847 yards and 4 touchdowns. In the most important games of the year, Clark was a major factor.
Despite making just one Pro Bowl and one First-Team All-Pro, Clark was a legitimate threat and a well-rounded player who added a dynamic to the offense that was needed to both take pressure off of Manning and help eliminate the need for Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison to carry the passing game.
While we think of the tight end position now as being a clear part of the passing game, Clark was among an age of evolution at the position and helped to redefine how it could be used. In his best season, he had 1,106 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, but even when his time in Indy ended, he remained a productive player for two more seasons.
His short stints in Tampa Bay and Baltimore yielded similar production, and he retired ahead of the 2014 season, signing a one-day contract with the Colts so that he could retire wearing the horseshoe.
Clark helped the Colts to a Super Bowl win, and became a fan favorite along the way.
What’s your favorite Dallas Clark memory?

LSU Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini Happy to Be Back in the Place He Calls a "Second Home"

Glen West
Mar 14, 2020

For five years, Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini received countless job offers and inquiries but for five years he turned those opportunities away. As a native of Youngstown, Ohio, the attraction of being home made it very hard for another job to pull him away. 

"To be honest with you, I didn't take them to my wife, didn't even bring them up to her," Pelini said of the other job offers.

Then Ed Orgeron came calling.

"It was about 30 seconds and I looked at my wife and I was a little bit nervous," Pelini said with a slight chuckle. "I went up to her and I said 'hon, LSU wants to talk to me tomorrow about me going back there. I thought she was going to lay into me but she looked at me and said you're going to talk right?"

The only place that could beat home for Pelini was the opportunity to go back to the city and university he calls his second home.

"This place is special to me, I feel like this is my second home and to me it's about the culture," Pelini said. "Obviously coach O's culture and the culture here at LSU. The things he represents, that this program represents, the winning but just the culture of this state. I always felt at home here."

On Jan. 27, Pelini was hired as the Tigers next defensive coordinator, returning to that second home where he captured a national championship back in 2007. In his three-year first stint with the Tigers from 2005-07, Pelini constructed the No. 3 defense in 2005, No. 4 in 2006 and No. 17 defense in the championship season, allowing 288.8 yards per game.

"Bo was the only guy I ever talked to," Orgeron said Thursday night at the annual coaches clinic. "This is what Pete Carroll said about Bo Pelini, he said he's the most intelligent, best defensive mind of any coach I've ever coached with. That says a lot."

With Pelini on board, the Tigers have switched to the 4-3 defense Orgeron has envisioned for a while now. 

"Our players love it and it really fits the skill of our football team," Orgeron said. "They're playing fast, putting in blitzes and he's doing a tremendous job of energy and is already capturing our guys."

Pelini gave a short presentation to some 100 high school coaches in attendance as he put that defensive intelligence to work. He went down the list of his most important principles but the most important principle to have according to Pelini is having a sound philosophy. 

"Actually sitting down with your staff and asking the simple question, what do we want to be," Pelini said. "Whatever you come up with as a staff, it better match up."

The high school coaches in attendance intently listened as one of the great defensive minds in the game gave them some quick bullet points and film study. These are the coaches that will be one day handing off some of their special talents to LSU down the road.

Pelini has been in coaching for 29 years and coached at nine different universities and NFL teams. Yet through all of those years, all of those different experiences, Pelini considers the time he's spent in Baton Rouge as his fondest.

"I talk to a lot of people and they ask me  where the most special place where you worked and I say LSU," Pelini said. "The reason why that was is because the kids from Louisiana, they set the culture for the program. It doesn't matter how many kids you bring in from out of state because they all follow along with what the Louisiana kids are doing. To me, that's why this place is what it is and why I wanted to come back."

Nate Ebner will deliver a special message for Joe Judge


Nate Ebner #43 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  Credit: Getty Images/Maddie Meyer

Updated March 20, 2020 3:29 AM

Unless you’re a Patriots fan — and perhaps a diehard one, at that — chances are you haven’t heard of Nate Ebner.
Special teams players, even good ones, almost always fly under the radar. Especially special-teamers who are converted rugby players.
But the 31-year-old Ebner could very well become one of the Giants’ most important acquisitions in what is a most important offseason roster-building process.
It’s just a one-year contract for Ebner, but he’ll be an invaluable part of the Giants under first-year coach Joe Judge, who came to the Patriots the same year that  Ebner did and has coached the special teams ace every day of his pro career.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Ebner has never been a regular position player, but he has been an indispensable member of the Patriots’ special teams throughout his career. And if you know anything about Bill Belichick, you know that his early years as an NFL special teams coach created a lasting impression that has extended to his time as a future Hall of Fame coach in New England.
Judge now inherits the mantle as the Giants’ head coach and can use Ebner as an example of what he wants from his players. While other Patriots players have scattered elsewhere to other Belichick disciples this offseason — center Ted Karras and linebacker Kyle Van Noy to Brian Flores’ Dolphins; defensive tackle Danny Shelton, defensive back Duron Harmon and linebacker Jamie Collins to Matt Patricia’s Lions — Judge now gets Ebner.
It’s commonplace for head coaches and former assistants to bring in players familiar with their systems when they work elsewhere. Belichick brought Carl Banks and Pepper Johnson with him to Cleveland in his first head-coaching gig. Bill Parcells lured Curtis Martin away from the Patriots when he worked for the Jets. Mike Holmgren made Matt Hasselbeck his quarterback in Seattle after moving on from Green Bay.
Those players are valuable not only from an on-field perspective, but they help spread the coach’s message to the rest of the players. That’s one of the most important tools in creating roster cohesion, and Ebner now will perform that vital role with the Giants. At the same time, he’ll provide the kind of aggressive, intelligent play that made him one of the league’s best special-teamers in his time in New England.

Versatile O-lineman Austin Blythe to re-sign with Rams

12:26 PM ET (March 18, 2020)
·        Lindsey Thiry | ESPN

The Los Angeles Rams have agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agent Austin Blythe on a one-year contract, the team announced Wednesday.

Blythe, who turns 28 on June 16, proved his versatility as the Rams' offensive line underwent significant changes last season. He played right and left guard before he eventually took over at center when Brian Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury with seven games remaining.

Blythe joined the Rams in 2017 after he was waived by the Indianapolis Colts. He served as a backup his first season and was scheduled to fill in the first two games of the 2018 season at right guard for Jamon Brown, who was serving a two-game suspension.

Blythe, however, earned the starting role for the remainder of the season as the Rams' offensive line was arguably the NFL's top-performing group during a run to Super Bowl LIII.
The Colts selected Blythe with a seventh-round pick in 2016. He appeared in eight games his rookie season.

Beachwood-based agent Neil Cornrich's clients have struck plenty of new deals in 2020

Sports Business
March 19, 2020 12:34 PM | UPDATED 7 MINUTES AGO

Chris Gardner/Getty Images
Cleveland native Mel Tucker left Colorado for Michigan State, which will pay its new head football coach at least $5.5 million per year.

The start of the new league year in the NFL this week has brought the usual flurry of action to Neil Cornrich's schedule.
The first couple months of 2020, though, were a testament to the strength of another arm of the Beachwood-based agent's business: the myriad of college and NFL coaches he represents.
Last weekend, the Washington Redskins placed the franchise tag on guard Brandon Scherff. The move guarantees Scherff, the fifth overall selection in the 2015 draft, $15.03 million this season.
Two other Cornrich clients, center Austin Blythe and special teams standout Nate Ebner, agreed to one-year deals this week with the L.A. Rams and New York Giants, respectively. Blythe made $2.025 million with the Rams last season. Ebner spent the previous eight seasons in New England and just completed a two-year, $5 million deal.
Cornrich's clients in the coaching business have fared pretty well, too.
The biggest move in 2020 was Mel Tucker leaving Colorado to take over at Michigan State. Tucker more than doubled his salary when he landed a six-year deal that is worth more than $5.5 million annually. The Cleveland native will make at least $1.2 million more per year than Mark Dantonio, his predecessor at Michigan State.
Tucker's salary is expected to rank among the top 12 in college football. Sixteen head coaches made at least $5 million last year, according to USA Today's database.
Other notable deals involving Cornrich's clients in the pro and college ranks are as follows:
• Bo Pelini left Youngstown State, where he had been the head coach since 2015, to become the defensive coordinator at LSU. The Youngstown native is believed to be one of the two highest-paid defensive coordinators in college football after securing a three-year deal worth $2.3 million annually.
Pelini's salary was much lower at Youngstown State (in the $214,000 range), but until February 2019, he was owed $150,000 a month by Nebraska, which fired Pelini after a 9-3 regular season in 2014.
• Texas lured Mike Yurcich from Ohio State with a three-year deal that will pay the Longhorns' new offensive coordinator $1.7 million per year. The Euclid native nearly doubled his $950,000 salary at Ohio State, where he was the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
At the time Yurcich signed his deal, he was the highest-paid offensive coordinator in college football. Prior to spending a year at Ohio State, Yurcich was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for six seasons.
• Tucker wanted to have Vince Marrow join his coaching staff at Michigan State, but the assistant stayed at Kentucky and was rewarded with a contract that will pay him $900,000 per year through 2022. Marrow, a Youngstown native, is the Wildcats' associate head coach, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
• Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was a member of Tucker's staff at Colorado in 2019, is now Tennessee's co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. Brumbaugh will get $650,000 in each of the next two years.
• Bob Diaco left Louisiana Tech, where he was the defensive coordinator, to become the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Purdue. Diaco was Connecticut's head coach from 2014-16 and made a combined $1.7 million in 2017 and '18, when he was the highest-paid assistant in Nebraska history.
Cornrich also negotiated a few deals for NFL assistants this year.
• Josh Boyer, a former Kent State assistant, was promoted to defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. Boyer was Miami's cornerbacks coach and defensive passing game coordinator in 2019.
• Darrin Simmons signed an extension with the Cincinnati Bengals, for whom he has worked since 2003. Simmons is the Bengals' assistant head coach and special teams coordinator.
• Phil Rauscher, after spending the last two years as a Washington Redskins assistant, is the Minnesota Vikings' new assistant offensive line coach.
Cornrich's most prominent client is Bill Belichick, who hasn't gotten a new deal but will have a new quarterback after the surprising exit of Tom Brady.
The longtime agent also represents Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
His player roster includes Trey Flowers, who struck it rich as a free agent in 2019, when he signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Detroit Lions.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Bob Quinn’s best free agent signings: Trey Flowers

by Jon Poole 1 day ago


Best: Trey Flowers, DE
General Manager Bob Quinn had to pay a hefty price their star defensive end, five-years at $90 million to be exact. But that’s because he’s a high-end talent in one of the most important positions in football … and it’s Detroit.
Flowers still proved Quinn right here though you wouldn’t necessarily know it by just looking at his stats. Including leading the team with 7.0 sacks, 21 QB hits, 14 hurries, 14 QB knockdowns, and 35 QB pressures.
Though not far off from his career numbers you have to believe much more is possible. Detroit had almost zero talent up the middle for opposing offensive lineman to worry about, Trey saw more attention than I may have ever seen for a Lions defensive end. Double and triple-teamed.

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