Thursday, April 30, 2020

The 10 Most Underappreciated Arkansas Football Players of the Past Decade: A.J. Derby

By Ryan Bolding  
Apr 28, 2020, 5:30pm CDT

In this world, there are many things about us that are underappreciated. Maybe it’s your beard that you’ve spent so long grooming and perfecting (the girl at the bar definitely notices). Maybe it’s the indie-rock band that you started with some co-workers (I’m sure you’ll be charting soon). Maybe it’s your twitter game (that next tweet for sure will get you verified). No matter how underappreciated these are, they pale in comparison to some of the athletes who have played the game they love in front of 70,000+ screaming fans, yet have not been given the recognition they deserved. Here are 10 of those underappreciated football players or the past decade.
Here are the qualifications for this list:
  • Player must not hold any all-time records at Arkansas
  • Player must not have been drafted any earlier than the 6th round of the NFL Draft
  • Obviously, the player must have been on the team in the last 10 years
This goes without saying, but these are purely my opinions and by no means a definite list.
Let’s get it rolling.

AJ Derby

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

AJ Derby’s transition from a quarterback to a NFL tight end is nothing short of impressive. Derby came to Arkansas in 2013 as a quarterback after a stint at Iowa and Coffeyville CC. He appeared in 7 games as the backup quarterback to Brandon Allen and even started at Rutgers due to an Allen shoulder injury. Fans quickly saw that Derby could not get it done at the quarterback position and with Brandon Allen struggling throughout most of the 2013 season, the future looked bleak.

The 2014 season was much more promising and moving AJ Derby to the tight end position for his senior year made head coach Bret Bielema look like a genius. All season he showed tremendous athleticism and speed for his 6’5” 255-pound frame.

Despite backing up star tight end Hunter Henry, Derby finished the 2014 season with 303 receiving yards on 22 catches with 3 touchdowns.

Derby was drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. His best season was with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins in 2017. He put up 244 yards on 21 receptions with 2 touchdowns. After getting placed on injured reserve in late 2018, he has not been seen in the NFL since.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Trey Flowers, Langston Galloway, Detroit sports teams take over Boys and Girls Virtual Club

Detroit Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers (90) tries to get past Chicago Bears offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr. (72) in the second quarter of their NFL game at Soldier Field in Chicago, on Sunday, November 10, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | Mulholland |

DETROIT -- If there is anything to take away from staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that humans need to interact with each other. With the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan shuttered as people in the state of Michigan sheltering in place, “virtual” clubs have become an alternative where children can connect with each other. On Thursday, members of all four of Detroit’s sports teams took over the virtual club along with rapper Big Sean, actor Hill Harper, other celebrities and local media personalities. Detroit Lions Trey Flowers and Da’Shawn Hand faced off against Detroit Tigers Niko Goodrum and Travis Demeritte in a game of Celebrity Family Feud. Detroit Red Wings Madison Bowey and Brendan Perlini played against Detroit Pistons Langston Galloway and Bad Boy Rick Mahorn in a game of Shazam. The aim of the game was to name the song that 97.9 D.J. Dr. Darrius played. The virtual clubs have been in place since schools closed on March 13. The Boys and Girls Club, which serves 15,000 youth, has used it as a way to combat any anxiety or depression that the kids may be feeling in these uncertain times. The club runs five days a week and like Thursday’s event, it has a D.J. on hand to play music. With a $6 million budget, the organization President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Shawn Wilson, said that the money raised from the virtual takeover would close the $2 million gap in the budget. Usually, they would be able to raise that money from events that they would host throughout the year. But, with the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, they opted to cancel in-person fundraisers. “And we just let them dance and release energy and stress and we spotlight them and you know make them feel good about themselves and all that good stuff," Wilson said. "And then we have different guests that now they’re not always the Big Sean’s and the Ludacris.” Those guests pass along words of advice to the kids who check into the virtual club every day. They also lead dance classes or acting workshops to allow the kids to express themselves creatively. On Thursday the virtual club saw more than 300 participants tuning in to see the athletes play games. Typically, the get about 175-200 unique screens. With the extra views, the Boys and Girls club raised more than $320,000. With the money, the organization will be able to continue hosting the virtual clubs. Through running these virtual clubs, Wilson has seen a decrease in the number of kids reporting self-reporting anxiety. Helping to reduce the stress kids are facing and connecting with them socially is one of the reasons that Flowers participated.
 “Yeah is definitely important,” Flowers said. “Honestly it’s hard times right now, just as a kid. I think back to when I was a kid you know, it’d be hard for me just to kind of stay in the house, stay inspired or just you know do things online school and so I know it’s hard for them to just to kind of sit still.” Galloway shared similar thoughts on the importance of staying connected with the community. Since the NBA season has been on hold, he’s done a number of question and answer sessions, he’s shared his morning workouts live on Instagram and has connected with healthcare workers to discuss the pandemic. It’s something that he’s happy to do. Plus he relates because of how much organizations like the Boys and Girls Club impacted him. “Sports Programs & Clubs have changed my life," Galloway said. “Being able to stay off the streets and involved in things that I enjoyed, really gave me an avenue for success. To this day I have lifelong friends from the program.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Mike Vrabel nominated for Patriots Hall of Fame

Posted by Michael David Smith on April 21, 2020, 12:36 PM EDT

Bill Parcells hasn’t always been on the friendliest terms with the Patriots since leaving them to coach the Jets in 1997. But time heals all wounds, and now the Patriots may give Parcells the franchise’s highest honor.

Parcells was named today as one of the three finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame. This is not his first nomination, just a recent reminder that any acrimony between Parcells and the Patriots is now ancient history.

Nominated for the fifth consecutive year was former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel. Now the head coach of the Titans, Vrabel played linebacker for the Patriots from 2001 to 2008. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2007 and won three Super Bowl rings in New England.

The third nominee is former Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who also played for the Patriots from 2001 to 2008. This is the fourth consecutive year Seymour has been nominated.

A panel of media, Patriots alumni and staff nominate the former players and coaches most worthy of making the Hall of Fame, and fans make the final vote on the Patriots’ website.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

College football's greatest coaching 'What if ...' scenarios

Apr 13, 2020
·       Chris Low | ESPN Senior Writer

Bob Stoops won 10 conference championships and a national title in his 18 years at Oklahoma. AP Photo/Brett Coomer, File
College football is defined, in large part, by legendary coaches who become institutions at the schools they call home. But in many cases, those coaches came within an inch of never ending up at those schools in the first place. How different would the landscape of the game look if Bob Stoops had gone to Iowa instead of Oklahoma? Or if he took the Florida job in 2002 and it was never open for Urban Meyer just a few years later? What if the Head Ball Coach made his name at LSU or even Tennessee instead of The Swamp?
We talk to those coaches to get the story on just how close they came to taking different jobs and how things would have changed if they did.

What if Iowa had offered its job to Bob Stoops?

It's a question Bob Stoops doesn't have to answer now, and probably wouldn't anyway.
But what if his alma mater had offered him the head-coaching job back in 1998, when it was looking for a replacement for retiring Hall of Famer Hayden Fry, whom Stoops played for and coached under at Iowa? Would Stoops have taken it, and if so, would he have carved out the same legendary career at Iowa that he did at Oklahoma? And where would Kirk Ferentz have landed?
It's an interesting question, considering the fact that Ferentz has been an institution in Iowa City. He's set to enter his 22nd season at Iowa, and surpassed Fry in 2018 as the winningest coach in school history.
"Sometimes, things have a way of working out for the best for everybody involved," Stoops told ESPN.
Throughout his coaching career, Stoops has been a hot commodity. He was also one of the rare ones: Stoops stayed at Oklahoma for 18 seasons before retiring prior to the 2017 season, and he worked for the same president (David Boren) and the same athletic director (Joe Castiglione) all 18 seasons.
"I'm willing to bet you'll never see that happen again," Stoops said.
Stoops was only 38 when he took over what was a broken program at Oklahoma on Dec. 1, 1998, and led the Sooners to a national championship in his second season in 2000. But before saying yes to Oklahoma, he followed through on a promise he had made to interview with Iowa. Oklahoma had already offered Stoops the job a day earlier and didn't want him to visit with Iowa.
"I guess that was kind of naïve of me," Stoops said. "In hindsight, I'd tell any young coach out there, 'Take the Oklahoma job and don't take a chance on screwing it up.'"
Stoops, who had just finished his third season as Florida's defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier, realized about midway through the interview with Iowa that he wasn't going to be offered the job. At least not right then.
"And I don't know if they ever would have," Stoops said.
So he politely excused himself and went to call his agent, Neil Cornrich.
"I'm pretty sure it was a pay phone. Heck, it was 1998," Stoops joked. "I just told Neil, 'Get a hold of Oklahoma and make sure they know the second I get out of this interview that I'm going to take the job.'"
And the rest, as they say, is history.
It was hardly the first time or the last time that Stoops would be courted by another school or by an NFL organization.
After his first season at Florida -- in 1996, the year the Gators won the national championship -- Minnesota tried to hire him as head coach, but there was no university president in place at the time.
"Coach Spurrier's point to me was, 'Look, we're not going bad here. If this doesn't fit you perfectly, just stay. You're young and will have other opportunities that will fit you,'" Stoops said. "And he was right."
As fate would have it, the closest Stoops said he ever came to leaving Oklahoma was after Spurrier left Florida following the 2001 season to take the Washington Redskins' head-coaching job. Jeremy Foley, then the Florida athletic director, flew to Norman to meet with Stoops.

"We'd just won the national championship at Oklahoma [in 2000], but I also had a close relationship with Jeremy Foley and [wife] Carol and I loved our time at Florida," Stoops said. "It was hard to say no, but all the positive feelings I had about Florida were countered by the positive feelings I had about Oklahoma. They gave me my first shot.
"And had it not been for the leadership and faith I had in Joe Castiglione and David Boren, in all likelihood I probably would have gone to Florida."
With Stoops saying no thanks, Florida turned to Ron Zook, who made it three years before being fired, which led to the Gators hiring Urban Meyer. Meyer won national championships in 2006 and 2008 at Florida, then resigned following the 2009 season only to change his mind and come back for the 2010 season. He then resigned for good following the 2010 season.
Once again, Foley made a hard push for Stoops, who was the epitome of consistency in Norman. He won 10 conference championships at OU, and only four times in 18 seasons on his watch did the Sooners win fewer than 10 games.
"I remember Coach Spurrier always saying that after eight or 10 years, you lose a certain percentage of the people who are supporting you," Stoops said. "After a while, people just want a change. I guess at a certain point, you feel like it's time to do something different after so many years, or you can also say that it's easier to do something different. But the hardest thing sometimes is staying and continuing and continuing to have success like we did."
Stoops has also never been one to shortchange his family. His twin sons, Isaac and Drake, were entrenched in their school in Oklahoma when Florida came calling the second time, and he simply didn't want to uproot them.
"For my family and where we were in life ... I just couldn't leave," Stoops said.
Stoops, the general manager and head coach of the XFL's Dallas Renegades, is well aware that his name will continue to pop up for every high-profile coaching job that comes open, especially now that the future of the XFL is up in the air after the league suspended operations Friday and laid off nearly all of its staff.

So, yes, there is one more "what if" for Stoops, as in what if the right coaching situation presents itself in the next year or two?
"Who knows?" Stoops said. "What I'm doing right now fits my family and fits what I want to do. It's been enjoyable, and who knows what the good Lord is going to bring to you?
"Everyone wants you to define the rest of your life at every point in your life. You just can't do it."

Most bizarre NFL stats in the past 20 years: Mike Vrabel

by Mike Johrendt

All professional athletes are apt to producing some amazing stat lines, because that is exactly why they are playing at the highest level. And regardless of what sport it is, some of those stats live in infamy for the entirety of that sport’s existence, regardless of how good or bad the stat line was.
For the NFL, a lot of statistics revolve around the offensive side of the ball, with teams setting good and bad records all while trying to score points. These records do not always involve strictly offensive players, however, as this list will point out.
Here are some bizarre statistical anomalies that you may not be aware of.
The Secret Weapon For The New England Patriots… Was A Linebacker

A 13-year playing career in the NFL is nothing to scoff at, and linebacker Mike Vrabel made a living sticking his nose into the offense’s business and getting dirty in the trenches. But what he was also known for was becoming a goal-line weapon for both the New England Patriots and the Chiefs.

The former Ohio State Buckeye turned NFL player now turned NFL head coach for the upstart Tennessee Titans, Vrabel was the most efficient of efficient players in the history of the league when it came to being in the offensive huddle.

16 career targets. 12 career catches. 17 career receiving yards. 12 career receiving TDs.

That is right – on every ball that Vrabel ever caught in his career, it always went for six points – the incredible nature of this happening is quite unique, and even when the other team knew that Vrabel was in the offensive huddle at the goal line, they still failed to stop him on many occasions.

While Vrabel is much more well-known for his defensive abilities, the flare that he brought when he was playing both ways is something not many players can attest to, and Vrabel’s efficiency is bar none across the league.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Kittle crowns Dallas Clark as one of the greatest TEs ever


Former Iowa and current San Francisco 49er tight end made headlines during Friday’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) for Bleacher Report when he was asked to give his top five tight ends in NFL history.

There were the obvious picks like Rob GronkowskiAntonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, but he also sent social media into a frenzy when he listed former Iowa and Indianapolis Colt tight end Dallas Clark. He also mentioned Kansas City Chiefs' tight end Travis Kelce.

Clark was the staple for Iowa that really began its run of great tight ends. Since Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999, the Hawkeyes have produced 11 draft picks at the position. Clark was a consistent player throughout his career and was a security blanket for soon-to-be hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning. He caught 505 receptions for 5,665 yards during his 10 seasons in the NFL.

Kittle has emerged as one of the top tight ends the NFL. He finds a way to be effective even when one aspect of his game isn't working. Kittle has developed into one of the best run-blockers in the NFL. His aggressiveness, technique and strength provide the 49ers a versatile weapon in both phases of the game.

The former fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft caught 85 receptions for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns this year for the 49ers. He is the fifth player and first tight end in 49er history to record multiple seasons of 1,000 passing yards.

“I do, yeah,"49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said earlier this season when asked if Kittle is the best tight end in the NFL. "He just does so much for our offense, like you said, in the run game, pass game, even if he’s a distraction on a play. He’s willing to do whatever you ask him to and for a guy of that talent to do that, it’s impressive.”

Kittle was graded as the highest rated player in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

"Kittle’s overall grade of 95.0 wasn’t just the best grade of any tight end in the game this season (by some distance), but was the best grade of any player at any position league-wide," PFF wrote. "A lot of players in the NFL had phenomenal seasons, but at the end of watching and grading every player on every play of the NFL season, George Kittle graded out as the best in football, and he rightfully deserves the Dwight Stephenson Award for his efforts."

Coach's Corner: Brumbaugh Poised for Success on Rocky Top

Brandon Martin
April 12, 2020

Following the 2019 season, Jeremy Pruitt was forced to make several changes to his coaching staff. Some of these changes came as coaches left for NFL opportunities, while others departed for other college jobs. Some of the coaches that left the Tennessee staff were coaches that Pruitt would have liked to keep staff if possible, while others had expiring contracts, appearing that Tennessee let them move on to their next stop. It is unclear just which set of circumstances the departure of Tracy Rocker to South Carolina fell under. Rocker was an excellent on-field coach for Tennessee, developing the defensive line into one of the strengths of the defense. However, Rocker came to be viewed as a recruiting liability, an accusation that has arisen before in his career. The result saw Rocker's contract expire before he left for the Gamecocks. With Rocker's departure, Pruitt was in the market for a new defensive line coach, a position he quickly filled with Jimmy Brumbaugh.

The Facts

Brumbaugh arrives in Knoxville with the kind of résumé that has come to be expected of most coaches Pruitt adds to his staff. The Gainesville, Florida native has deep SEC ties, beginning with his time as a player at Auburn. Brumbaugh was a Freshman All-SEC selection in 1995, as well as an All-SEC Selection for the Tigers in 1996 and 1997. Brumbaugh's playing career was stifled after an injury late in the 1997 season led to him only playing in three games in 1998. After his fifth-year senior season in 1999, more on-line with his first three seasons on the Plains, Brumbaugh played for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. Stints in the XFL and Arena League preceded Brumbaugh retiring as a professional player and embarking on his coaching career.

Brumbaugh worked his way up through the coaching ranks, primarily serving as a defensive line coach for the last decade. Notably, Brumbaugh has served as the defensive line coach at Syracuse, East Mississippi Community College, Kentucky, Maryland, and Colorado before he was hired to join Tennessee's staff. Brumbaugh also served as the Co-Defensive Coordinator in his time with Maryland and Colorado. Brumbaugh brings an interesting combination of understanding the SEC thanks to his playing career at Auburn, his four years with Kentucky, and his time working at Colorado under longtime SEC assistant Mel Tucker. Brumbaugh has recruiting ties across the south thanks to his path through football, from being a Florida native to years coaching in Louisiana early in his career, a brief stop in Chattanooga, ties in Alabama after playing at Auburn, and further ties established while at Kentucky. Brumbaugh brings an on-field coach and recruiter that can help Tennessee while having the kind of coaching chops Pruitt looks for.

The Strengths

One of the most important things to know about Jimmy Brumbaugh is that he understands what it takes to be an elite SEC defensive lineman, as he was one himself. He has also logged significant time on staff and learning from some of the most highly regarded defensive minds in the country, all specifically tied to the south.  Brumbaugh played, primarily, under then Auburn defensive coordinator Bill Oliver. Oliver coached for over thirty years, the majority of those either at Auburn or Alabama. Oliver became somewhat of an assistant coaching fixture on SEC sidelines, and used Brumbaugh to great effect with the Tigers.

As a coach himself, Brumbaugh was an assistant in the strength and conditioning program at LSU, where the Tigers won a National Title in the 2007 season. When Mark Stoops assembled his first staff at Kentucky in 2013, Brumbaugh was hired to his original staff. It was at Kentucky that Brumbaugh proved he could develop talent to the NFL and recruit against traditional SEC powers. Brumbaugh helped to recruit and develop several Wildcats that went on to have NFL careers, most notably among them Josh Allen. At Kentucky, Brumbaugh was able to be a part of Mark Stoops working to take the Wildcats from 2-10 to a team that is able to compete in the SEC. That transformation was built on the strength of the Kentucky defense, which Brumbaugh's defensive front was key to. The time in Lexington allowed Brumbaugh to prove that he belonged on an SEC sideline on game days, as well as in living rooms for recruiting battles. He earned his SEC coaching chops developing quality players and learning from one of the most respected defensive minds in college football in Stoops. Brumbaugh left the Wildcats for Maryland when offered the chance to become a co-defensive coordinator. In 2019, Brumbaugh left the Terrapins to join another great defensive mind in Colorado. In 2019, Brumbaugh came to Boulder to serve as the defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator for Mel Tucker. Under Tucker, Brumbaugh was working to help implement a 3-4 defense in which his line would set the tone. Tucker wanted to bring an SEC feel to his defense in the PAC 12, and Brumbaugh was key in achieving that. Working under Tucker also allowed Brumbaugh to work closely with another greatly respected defensive coach with extensive ties to the south. At all of his stops, Brumbaugh has had success with his units, has been able to recruit well, and has served in helping to build quality defensive line groups. Exactly the kind of history Pruitt has looked for.

The Questions

Arriving at Tennessee, Brumbaugh will immediately be presented with two distinct challenges that will define his success in Knoxville. First, Brumbaugh inherits a group that is laden with seniors like Aubrey Solomon, Emmit Gooden, Darrel Middleton, and Savion Williams. Brumbaugh will need to get the most out of these seniors for Tennessee to achieve what they want this season. The Vols finished with a Top 25 defensive unit in 2019, and much of that success was built on the way the defensive line improved throughout the season. If the Vols wish to continue improving on the defensive side of the ball in 2020, their defensive line will need to play at a high level from start to finish in the season, meaning Brumbaugh will need to hit the ground running. How much Brumbaugh can get out of his seniors, and how quickly they acclimate to him, will be a key for the Volunteer defense in 2020.  Beyond his group of seniors, Brumbaugh will also inherit players like Greg Emerson, Omari Thomas, Dominic Bailey, and Elijah Simmons, to name a few. While Emerson played extensively in 2019, looking like a potential rising star for the Vols, the others are new arrivals or spent 2019 as a redshirt. How Brumbaugh is able to teach and develop these talented newcomers will impact 2020, but also the future for Tennessee. These are some of the highest-rated players in Tennessee's 2020 signing class. Their development is key for the future of the Volunteer defense, and Brumbaugh's ability to develop and prepare young talent will be an area to watch closely when practices resume.

The second task that will be set before Brumbaugh is to get on the recruiting trail and replace all the seniors his group will lose at season's end. The defensive line is one of, perhaps the, biggest priority for Tennessee on the recruiting trail in the 2021 cycle. It is also no secret that Brumbaugh's predecessor is working in Columbia rather than Knoxville now in no small part due to his shortcomings on the recruiting trail. Much like he is being asked to get the most out of his defensive line group early on the field, Brumbaugh will be thrown into multiple, intense recruiting battles right out of the gate. While unlikely he wins them all, it is critical for Brumbaugh and Tennessee as a whole in the 2021 seasons and beyond that Brumbaugh is successful in helping to land quality defensive linemen to bring to Knoxville. Some will be depth players, but others will need to be prepared to play early.

Jimmy Brumbaugh has shown success on the field in the SEC. He was worked with multiple, excellent defensive coaches, and now is working under Jeremy Pruitt and with Derrick Ansley. At Tennessee, Brumbaugh won't be asked to rebuild a unit from the ground up. He will have a talented and experienced group to work with for 2020, however, his effectiveness on the recruiting trail will be critical in Tennessee avoiding a rebuild upfront. If he can win battles on the trail, the Vols will be able to reach the recruiting level Pruitt wants, where Tennessee is able to bring in the next wave of talented players to replace departing seniors. Brumbaugh finds himself very much in a, “Prove It,” type scenario in his first season in Knoxville. History shows that he has the experience and track record to do just that, and should he prove up to the task, the Volunteer defense should take steps forward in 2020 and 2021.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Redskins OL Brandon Scherff signs franchise tender

By Kevin Patra

·         Around the NFL Writer

·         Published: April 8, 2020 at 04:26 p.m.


Brandon Scherff is putting pen to paper.

The Washington Redskins guard signed his franchise-tag tender worth more than $15 million, the team announced.

ESPN first reported the news.

Scherff, the No. 5 overall pick in 2015, becomes just the fourth of 15 players slapped with the franchise or transition tag this season to sign his tender, joining Patriots guard Joe Thuney (franchise tag), Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake (transition tag) and Titans running back Derrick Henry (franchise tag).

Until a franchise-tagged player signs his tender, he is not considered under contract, cannot be traded, and is not required to report to offseason workouts. Teams can rescind the tender unless it's signed. Once the tender is signed, the player is required to attend all mandatory workouts, including training camp.

Signing his $15-plus million tender makes Scherff the highest-paid guard for a single season next year. Obviously, he'd like the long-term security and guaranteed money that comes with a multi-year deal, but the franchise tag for the guard is a good one-year payday.

Scherff and the Redskins have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, or the three-time Pro Bowl guard will play the 2020 season on the one-year tender.

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