Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Jawaan Taylor, Doug Marrone Reflect On the Tackle's Year 2 Growth



18 hours ago


“I feel like I’m progressing well from last year onto now. I look forward to getting better. I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet.”

That’s how Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor described his growth in pass protection. The second year, former second rounder has played every snap through the Jags (1-2) first three games. 

Through those three games—while giving quarterback Gardner Minshew II time to throw himself into the league’s Top 5 in various passing categories the first two weeks and help running back James Robinson become a household name—Taylor has seen areas he’s made improvements from his rookie season to his second year…but he’s also area’s that still need work.

For starters, penalties. Taylor was the second most penalized player in the league in 2019, drawing flags 15 times (second only to Laremy Tunsil). Taylor also had the fifth most amount of penalty yardage in the league his rookie season with 120 yards.

Through three games thus far this season, Taylor statistically has no penalties. He’s drawn has one, for offensive holding, and it was declined.

“[In] year two, I feel like [I’m] just trying to be more consistent with my play, especially like [with] penalties [and] different things like that I was going through early on last season. That’s just things that I want to sharpen up on, being more professional, so that’s mainly my thing right now. [I’m] just trying to play more consistent and help my team win games.”

That consistency is the primary thing coaches are asking for from their right tackle—who used his strength to pull in a massive catch this offseason. 

His talent has always been there, as Head Coach Doug Marrone explains, but the key was learning how to combine that raw talent with a game plan and be productive for 60 whole minutes.

“[Jawann’s] still a young football player,” says Marrone.

“I mean, you’re going to see growth. I think overall there’s times that he’s really looked good and the whole O-Line has looked good. But sometimes during the course of a game, when the games have gotten to a point where we’re just throwing and you get beat inside, or you get beat around the horn, you know, things like that. So, the consistency of being able to go out for 60-something plays, run and pass and win on all of them, it’s something that’s really striving for. And I think Jawaan has worked extremely hard to do that, along with the rest of those guys.

“So, I still think there’s a lot left, I still think that he’s going to really keep improving as the season goes along. And I think he’s going to improve over the course of the year. I think he’s a second-year player. I thought for a first-year player playing tackle, I thought he did a very good job. And then, this year, there’s an expectation of him to take a step up and I think, at times, we’ve seen that and now we’re looking for the consistency in him.”

As that consistency has been developed, the line—anchored by Taylor on the right side—has opened holes for the running back unit led by James Robinson. The rookie has been most productive straight up the middle, but he—along with Gardner Minshew, Laviska Shenault and Chris Thompson—have picked up 82 yards running off the right side of the line. Taylor has given up one sack through three games as the Jaguars and Minshew open up the passing game.

If you ask Taylor, it’s Offensive Line Coach George Warhop that deserves credit for any and all progress.

“Coach Warhop plays a great part in the offensive line’s play and everything that we do. He’s an amazing coach. I learned a lot from him since the first day I came on this team, so I look forward to the things we’re going to do leading up to the rest of the season. We’re definitely dialing into what he’s coaching us and everything he wants us to do because he knows what he’s doing. He’s been a coach in this league for over 20 years now, so he’s coached some of the best players that played these games. We look forward to seeing what we can do the rest of the year.”

The rest of the year picks up on Sunday as the Jags travel to Cincinnati to take on the 0-2-1 Bengals, led by overall No. 1 pick Joe Burrow. The Begnals defense has given up the ninth most yards in the NFL through three games.

“We always look at it as 0-0 mentality and just keep pushing forward, so that’s mainly what we like to do and how we go about our business here,” says Taylor of the matchup.

“[We’re] definitely trying to win these next two games, like you said, that’s the main focus right now. Cincinnati’s on the clock, so we’re just going to go out there and try to have a good week of practice and get prepared and go out there and get a win.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Patriots Report Card: Unsung heroes on O-line, defense drive blowout Raiders


New England Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr., left, celebrates with teammates after he recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)



PUBLISHED: September 29, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: September 29, 2020 at 8:12 a.m.


Prior to Sunday’s win, Rex Burkhead could fairly be described as an unsung hero of the Patriots.

He can play any down at running back and quietly logs starting snaps on special teams plays. He’s taken goal-line handoffs in championship games and caught passes on key third downs. Most of his efforts, because Burkhead is solid but unspectacular, went unnoticed.

That all changed this weekend, with three loud touchdowns and a team-high seven receptions. If you watched the game, you saw Burkhead and marveled. He was outstanding.

But you may have missed a few other unsung heroes in Burkhead’s shadow, who also drove the Pats’ 36-20 blowout win of the Raiders.

Here are the position-by-position grades from their latest win:

Quarterbacks: D+

Superman crashed to earth Sunday. Hard.

His interception was an early birthday gift to Raiders safety Jonathan Abram, who otherwise may have been the worst player on the field. Newton fired twice into triple coverage, both times endangering Julian Edelman’s health against a head-hunting Las Vegas secondary. He missed N’Keal Harry with two bad throws in the red zone and almost got picked on a screen to Burkhead.

Newton even made a rare questionable run read in the first quarter, keeping possession instead of ceding it to Burkhead, who was taking off around an open left end. His 21-yard scramble in the fourth quarter that preceded the offense’s final touchdown was his only highlight.

Running backs: A

It’s hard to ask much more of Burkhead than a career day and of Sony Michel his best game in two seasons.

They combined for 238 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Michel’s vision was excellent, particularly on his 48-yarder, the longest rush of his career, where he slipped back to the middle in the face of a crowded edge and broke into the open. He also took no prisoners in pass protection, eviscerating any blitzing Raiders hunting for Newton. This may have been Michel’s best all-around game as a pro, including a first-quarter reception.

Undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor also provided a spark with 43 rushing yards sprinkled over the middle quarters. He proved particularly effective outside, taking two crack tosses for good gains, as the Pats ran on the edges of Las Vegas’ defense at will.

Wide receivers: C-

By himself, Burkhead had as many catches as Patriots wideouts Sunday.

N’Keal Harry and Edelman both finished with two, while Byrd silently led with three. Harry’s 27-yarder, where he shed two tacklers, was the best play made by any receiver. But the fact is, he’s still prone to inconsistencies as a pass catcher and ball carrier. His best work came as a blocker. Perhaps Harry’s ankle injury is bothering him more than he’s let on, but opportunity lay everywhere against a spotty Raiders secondary, and he couldn’t find many openings.

Practice-squad rookie Isaiah Zuber, who was promoted to the active roster Saturday, flashed his long speed on a 13-yard jet sweep in the first half.

Tight ends: D+

Two tight ends, one target, zero catches. That’s a bad day.

Ryan Izzo earned the one target, which Newton rifled to him from close distance during a broken play inside the red zone. It shot off his hands.

As blockers, Izzo and Devin Asiasi were responsible for one run-stuff apiece, though they generally competed in the run game. They played better over nine combined snaps of pass protection. Most notably, Asiasi’s snap count almost tripled, shooting up to 29, but he failed to generate many looks as a receiver. Fellow rookie Dalton Keene was a healthy scratch.

Offensive line: A

This group is bordering on special.

In his starting debut at center, Joe Thuney was the only lineman to post a clean sheet, yielding zero pressures or run-stuffs. Rookie Michael Onwenu pulled off an equally impressive performance, slotting in at left guard after a two-game, part-time stint at right tackle. Onwenu played left guard for most of training camp and was at fault for only a single hurry. He was unsung hero No. 1 on Sunday.

His movement skills at 350 pounds are unbelievable, and his raw power will be a problem for any defender aligned across from him. To his left, Isaiah Wynn played a clean game for three quarters, then surrendered a QB hit and a hurry. Right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor dominated as a run-blocker, but yielded a sack and a hurry. Shaq Mason allowed two hurries and one run-stuff.

Defensive line: C+

From a run defense standpoint, production was scarce for this front. But in terms of pressure, the Patriots D-linemen did more than enough.

Deatrich Wise accounted for a half-sack, a hurry and one flag drawn en route to recovering a fumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He dominated as a pass rusher in multiple alignments, which made up for being successfully targeted in run defense. Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy also added a QB hit, and Adam Butler mustered one hurry.

John Simon set a soft edge early in the game, then settled in and tackled as well as any other Patriot the rest of the game. The Pats allowed a survivable four yards per carry between the tackles.

Linebackers: B

Chase Winovich continued to rack up pressures at an elite level, totaling three with a sack, a QB hit, and a hurry. Shilique Calhoun forced two fumbles in his best game with New England, gaining a modicum of revenge on his old team that also yielded a half-sack, a hurry, and a QB hit at his hands. Derek Rivers added a pair of QB hits off the edge.

Inside, Ja’Whaun Bentley struggled mightily for the second straight game. His run defense was misplaced, and he got worked on the edge on a couple of snaps, while bringing little as a blitzer. It will be interesting to see how many snaps he takes at Kansas City, given their collective track speed and his lack of sideline-to-sideline range.

Defensive backs: B+

The Pats outright eliminated Darren Waller, Las Vegas’ top weapon, who wasn’t targeted in the first half. Waller finished with two harmless catches for nine yards against zone coverage. The combination of heady safety play and man-to-man coverage provided primarily by Joejuan Williams, Kyle Dugger and Jason McCourty took him out. In all, seven Patriots lined up on Waller.

Stephon Gilmore’s defensive pass interference penalty late in the first half was the secondary’s worst mistake. Jonathan Jones played the worst game, getting worked by Hunter Renfrow for five catches on six targets, though he was step for step with Renfrow on his near touchdown and batted away another sideline throw intended for him late. Adrian Phillips played his best game as a Patriot, another unsung hero, who covered Waller early, made a game-high seven tackles and provided enough resistance against the run playing inside the box.

Special teams: B+

Only one of Las Vegas’ 11 drives started outside the team’s 25-yard line: their first.

The Pats controlled field position through strong kick and punt coverage, plus their turnovers. On one of the day’s best plays, Justin Bethel drew a penalty while making a tackle at the Raiders’ 11 on the kickoff that preceded Wise’s touchdown. Matthew Slater was a magnet to Renfrow on punt returns, forcing him into two fair catches. Nick Folk missed a kick for the third straight week, and Kyle Dugger took the Patriots only punt return for 17 yards.

Coaching: A-

The Patriots were not whistled for a single offensive penalty for the third straight game and took only two penalties on defense. That’s outstanding coaching.

Schematically, they induced several check-downs from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr by dropping eight consistently in obvious passing situations and blanketing Waller downfield. The Pats caused him to hesitate with their pre-snap disguises and allowed only two touchdowns on five red-zone trips. On offense, Josh McDaniels caused an undisciplined Las Vegas front to self-detonate by calling a season-high seven screens, plus draws and other misdirection plays.

Head of the class

RB Rex Burkhead Three touchdowns? Enough said.

OL Michael Onwenu He may prove to be a special, special lineman, which will leave the rest of the NFL to wonder how the heck he was allowed to fall into the sixth round.

OL Joe Thuney There’s no position he can’t play at a high-level up front. Thuney, somehow, has become even more valuable to the Patriots.

Back of the pack

TE Ryan Izzo If Asiasi or Keene can’t pass him soon, the Pats may explore options on the trade market.

QB Cam Newton It would be surprising to see him play this poorly again.

CB Jon Jones If it weren’t for Renfrow’s success, the entire Vegas passing game would have been locked down.

PFF grades: Darrell Henderson is top RB in NFL, Jared Goff is No. 3 QB


Cameron DaSilva 

It’s no secret that Jared Goff and Darrell Henderson have been two bright spots for the Rams through three weeks. They’re both playing at a very high level, with Goff bouncing back from a difficult 2019 season and Henderson emerging as the Rams’ top option at running back.

Based on Pro Football Focus’ grades, they’re each among the best players at their respective positions, which is part of the reason L.A.’s offense has been so effective in the first three weeks of the season.

According to PFF, Goff is the third-highest graded quarterback in the league, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. In fact, he’s the fourth-highest graded player in the NFL on offense, with Mo Alie-Cox between him and the other two quarterbacks.

As for Henderson, he’s the NFL’s top-graded running back through three weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. That puts his performance thus far into perspective, showing just how effective he’s been not only as a runner, but also as a receiver.

They’re not the only Rams players who rank in the top 10 of their respective positions. Cooper Kupp is the third-best receiver, according to PFF’s grades, while Tyler Higbee is the No. 10 tight end.

On the offensive line, Andrew Whitworth is the second-best tackle in the league, David Edwards (in limited action) has the ninth-best grade of any guard, and Austin Blythe’s shift to center has gone well, earning the eighth-best grade among all NFL centers.

Even in a game where the Rams scored just three points in the first half, the offense performed well. Goff went over 300 yards passing, Henderson had 114 yards rushing and a touchdown, and Kupp caught nine passes for 107 yards and a score.

It’ll be hard for the Rams’ top offensive players to keep up this pace, but if they do, L.A. will be in great shape as the season rolls on.

Monday, September 28, 2020

TJ Hockenson off to franchise record start with Lions


ByDAVID EICKHOLT 4 hours ago


T.J. Hockenson has had a strong start to his 2020 season. After a devastating ankle injury prematurely ended his rookie season, the former Iowa Hawkeyes star has been a consistent weapon for Matthew Stafford

In Detroit's 26-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Hockenson finished with four receptions totaling 53 yards. Following the performance, the Detroit Lions' PR account tweeted out a feat that Hockenson has already accomplished this season.  


"(T.J. Hockenson) is the first TE in franchise history to produce at least 50 receiving yards in each of the first three games of a season. He is also the first Lions tight end to have 4+ receptions and 50+ yards in 3-straight games since TE Brandon Pettigrew did so in 2010."


Through three games this season, Hockenson has 13 catches totaling 171 yards and one touchdown. It's a solid start, especially considering that Hockenson told reporters in August that he still doesn't feel one hundred percent.


During his rookie season, the former Iowa star went on to appear in 12 games with seven starts, hauling in 32 receptions on 59 targets for 367 yards and two touchdowns.


Earlier this offseason writer Adam Rank previewed the Lions 2020 season and believes that Hockenson will be a breakout star for Detroit this season. 


“A lot of people called the tight end "Patricia's Gronk" after Detroit selected him at No. 8 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft,” Rank wrote. “And those folks doubled down on that sentiment when Hockenson caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. But he never came close to that kind of production again, totaling just 26 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown over the rest of the season.


“Honestly, not a huge surprise, considering A) the TE position usually takes a few NFL seasons to master, B) Hockenson was limited by injuries and C) Stafford missed half the year. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Hockenson can do in 2020.”


Prior to the start of the season, Tim Twentyman of said that Hockenson is his breakout player for the Lions in the 2020 season. 


"The tight end position is probably the toughest for rookies to learn outside of quarterback," wrote Twentyman. "It's essentially learning three positions at once, and those guys have to know all the protections, blocking schemes and then obviously the route tree and passing game concepts."


"We don't typically see tight ends come into the league and tear it up as rookies. There's plenty examples, however, of guys having big second seasons, and that's certainly what I expect from Detroit's first-round pick in 2019."


Hockenson was a star for the Hawkeyes caught 24 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns over 13 games in 2017. But he broke out as a redshirt sophomore, hauling in 49 catches for 760 yards and six touchdowns en route to winning the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end and being named a first-team All-American.


The former Iowa star is currently on pace to finish 2020 with 69 receptions totaling 922 yards and five touchdowns. Hockenson and the Lions will return to action on Sunday when they host the New Orleans Saints. 


Rex Burkhead thanked his teammates after 3 TD performance


"It all starts with the guys up front."

Rex Burkhead of the Patriots celebrates scoring a third quarter touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. –Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

By Deyscha Smith, Staff

September 27, 2020

“Burky had a game. He had a day.”

That’s how Patriots quarterback Cam Newton summed up an electrifying performance from running back Rex Burkhead in the win against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. The Patriots’ running backs dominated against the Raiders, especially Burkhead — who had 49 yards rushing, 49 yards receiving, and finished with three touchdowns.

“It doesn’t matter if it was at the running back position, which was highlighted today, or anything else moving forward. It’s just another different asset to attacking the defense and, like I said, Burky had a day and who knows who it could be next week.”

 While Newton praised him, Burkhead dished the credit to his teammates for helping with the win.

“It all starts with the guys up front,” Burkhead said after the game. “Offensive line did a tremendous job tonight, just being physical from the get-go from the first drive, and of course J.J. [Taylor] and Sony [Michel] doing great as well.”

With the absence of center David Andrews and running back James White, he was just as impressed with how different players stepped in to fill their spot.

“Like you said, it’s the next guy up. For them to fill in was tremendous [and] not only them but the receivers out wide, blocking Julian [Edelman], N’Keal [Harry] doing a great job finishing plays.”

Burkhead himself was doing his job, leaping over Raiders’ defenders to find the end zone. It’s the first three-touchdown game of his career.

As far as what to expect against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday,

“It’s a great challenge for us,” he said. “They’re the defending champs so we know they’re a great team offensively, defensively and special teams. We’re going to have to be ready to go.” 

Anthony Gonzalez in the 16th Congressional District


Posted Sep 25, 2020

In a July 2019 file photo, U.S. Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, a Rocky River Republican, left, and Colin Allred, a Texas Democrat, discuss Allred's then-upcoming trip to Gonzalez' Ohio congressional district.

By Editorial Board, and The Plain Dealer

U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the freshman Rocky River Republican representing Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, has been in Congress fewer than two years but is already making his mark as someone eager to reach across the aisle to achieve compromise.

Gonzalez, 36, a former star football player at Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School who played in the NFL for five years before knee injuries cut short his football career, is looking for bipartisan solutions not just on small matters, like allowing battlefield crosses in U.S. military cemeteries. A member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Gonzalez is also seeking potentially breakthrough solutions to consequential disputes, such as the gridlocked coronavirus stimulus aid package.

And he told our editorial board during the endorsement interview this week that he’s also working on legislation to improve on health care delivery and costs, including drug costs -- to go beyond, not to discard, the Affordable Care Act.

Gonzalez is, in fact, one of those rare Republicans who says he opposes abrogation of the ACA -- as is being sought single-mindedly by the Trump administration in a case the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. Rather, he said, his legislation will propose a series of innovative ways to address issues such as health care cost transparency and prescription drug costs that the ACA failed to solve.

Gonzalez is being challenged for reelection by Westlake Democrat Aaron Paul Godfrey, 34, a physicist who has worked in the aerospace and defense industries, who has a compelling life story of his own. He grew up in a lower-income family in Lorain County, where his father could not afford the regular insulin treatments needed for his diabetes until he reached an age that qualified him for Medicare. By then, according to Godfrey, it was too late to restore his father’s health fully, and his father died of complications relating to the disease, a decline that also meant Godfrey had to leave his Ph.D. program at the University of Toledo to help care for his father and provide for the family.

Godfrey is earnest and well-versed on technical issues in energy policy, where despite his strong support for the Icebreaker wind energy project on Lake Erie, he also sees a role for nuclear power to keep the lights on for now. However, he needs more political seasoning and to moderate partisanship that causes him to stake out narrow and unachievable positions.

Anthony Gonzalez is a refreshing example in a U.S. House that seems to have become untethered from the people. He’s a congressional representative who wants to be a doer, not a speech-maker or grandstander, and who is working in a focused manner to achieve solutions that work for more Americans.

He deserves reelection in the kangaroo-shaped 16th Congressional District, which picks up parts of Cuyahoga, Medina, Summit, Portage and Stark counties and all of Wayne County.

In the Nov. 3 election, voters in the 16th Congressional District in Ohio should return Anthony Gonzalez to Congress for a second term. Early voting starts Oct. 6.

The two candidates for Ohio’s 16th Congressional District -- incumbent U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Rocky River Republican, and physicist Aaron Paul Godfrey, a Westlake Democrat -- were interviewed by the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and on Sept. 23, 2020, as part of the editorial board’s endorsement process. Listen to audio of this interview below.

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of and The Plain Dealer -- the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.

Two members of U.S. House introduce bill regarding NCAA athletes' name, image and likeness


Steve Berkowitz


Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are introducing a bipartisan bill on Thursday to address the ongoing fight over college athletes’ ability to make money from their name, image and likeness.

The measure from Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., would enhance athletes’ opportunities in ways that would make some NCAA schools unhappy while stabilizing the name-image-and-likeness (NIL) issue for college sports officials in ways that may not please athlete advocates.

“There are things that everybody's going to see that they like and some things that they wish were different,” Gonzalez, who played wide receiver at Ohio State and in the NFL, told USA TODAY Sports. “But I think that's the sign of a good bill. And, frankly, that's the hallmark of a bipartisan bill. It's never everything that any one individual, or one group, wants. It's always a collaboration.”

According to a copy of the bill provided to USA TODAY Sports, its “rules of construction” – or guidance related to the legislators’ intent – state that none of the bill’s provisions can provide the basis for an antitrust lawsuit. They also state that athletes who make endorsement deals will not be considered school employees.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Lions - Packers Unsung Hero of the Week: T.J. Hockenson holds it down


The sophomore tight end is becoming one of Matthew Stafford’s favorite targets.



Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images


The Lions are a mess, and the offense isn’t living up to the potential we all envisioned. The passing game has failed to pick up where it left off when Matthew Stafford was at the helm last season, in no small part due to Stafford simply not looking like himself.

On that note, Kenny Golladay has yet to play, and the Lions will need him around on Sunday to have a fighting chance against the fast-paced Arizona Cardinals. One thing has been consistent through two weeks, however.

Unsung hero of the week: TE T.J. Hockenson

Honorable mention: Frank Ragnow, but he won this last week. He has been the only other consistent thing through two weeks.

Back to Hockenson. He’s blossoming just like we all hoped. After the failed conducting of the Eric Ebron hype train, there was a lot of negativity and fear surrounding the selection of T.J. Hockenson in 2019. While I still think it was a reach, Hockenson is at the pace that a superstar tight end should be at entering their sophomore year.

Hockenson has accumulated nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown through two weeks, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. When you see it on film, you truly appreciate how hard those stats were to come by. Hockenson has made snatches in traffic, earned yards with his new and improved muscular frame, and he’s been a security blanket for his quarterback, as a good tight end should be.

Hockenson has bullied defensive backs through two weeks and is learning to utilize his size in the way that the best tight ends do—something we shouldn’t take for granted since Hockenson had a nasty injury that ended his 2019 season after trying to hurdle a defender.

Hockenson is holding his own, and he’s continuing to grow week by week. Keep an eye on him for Bold Prediction of the Week, as he’s matching up against an Arizona Cardinals defense that he torched to the tune of 131 yards in his debut game as a rookie. If Hockenson keeps this up, he’ll be in the conversation for the “really good” tier of tight ends in no time.

Popular Posts