Thursday, July 29, 2021

UW Health recruits Badger great Montee Ball to help with vaccine distribution


Posted: July 28, 2021 6:25 PM

Updated: July 28, 2021 7:16 PM


by Christina Lorey


MADISON, Wis.– #28 is known for turning things around for Wisconsin on the football field. Now, UW Health hopes having Montee Ball on its team will be a gamechanger in helping the state of Wisconsin improve its vaccination rate, specifically within the black community.

We’ve been reporting on doctors’ concern for weeks: that while nearly three-quarters of white people in Dane County are vaccinated, three-quarters of Black people are not.

“There are some things health care workers have done to break trust within the Black community, but this is most certainly not one of them,” said Montee Ball, in an exclusive interview with News 3. “Getting vaccinated is one of the things we need to come together as a team and do.”

This weekend, the Badger great is partnering with UW Health and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center for a free vaccination clinic at Penn Park this Saturday, July 31. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is open to anyone 18+. Health care workers will offer both the two-shot Moderna vaccine and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson.

Ball, who received the one-and-done J&J vaccine in March, will be onsite to talk with anyone who attends Saturday’s clinic about the vaccine, as well as his time with the Badgers and his stint in the pros, which he writes about in his new book, ‘Nowhere to Run.’

 “The statistics show that if you’re vaccinated, yes, you can still catch COVID, but the chances of you being hospitalized are drastically lower,” said Ball.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

PFF's NFL Power Rankings for the 2021 NFL season



Jul 13, 2021


Super Bowl Win Probability: <1%
Highest-Graded Player: ED Trey Flowers (83.3)

Friday, July 16, 2021

T.J. Hockenson cracks top 5 TEs in NFL polling of coaches and execs


Jeff Risdon 

The respect for Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson continues to grow. Hockenson earned enough votes from various NFL coaches, executives and players to land in the top five in the polling compiled by ESPN.

It’s a recognition of his growth as a player from his rookie campaign of 2019 to a Pro Bowl berth in 2020. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN writes:

Hockenson emerged from the cluster of young tight ends with a barrage of top-five votes. In Year 2, Hockenson made his first Pro Bowl with 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He also showed the ability to separate, standing 3.28 yards from the nearest defender when targeted.

Considering the experience and talent in the four players above him — in order: George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews — it’s an impressive showing for Hockenson. He was not even ranked a year ago.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Why Dean Pees is Falcons biggest defensive offseason addition


Coaxing respected defensive coordinator out of retirement was huge win for Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot

Jul 13, 2021 at 12:07 PM

Scott Bair

Falcons Digital Managing Editor

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees during organized team activities on June 17, 2021.


Dean Pees doesn't need to flash two Super Bowl rings to earn your respect. His reputation precedes him. That'll happen naturally after 40-plus years in coaching, with so many of them spent as one of the NFL's best defensive coordinators.


He has led the Patriots, Ravens and Titans through golden eras highlighted by deep postseason runs. His defenses have been excellent in the only metric that truly matters: preventing points. Pees has eight top-10 scoring defenses in 12 seasons as coordinator thanks in part to a creative, effective scheme that's somewhat hard to pin down.


3-4 or 4-3? Classification isn't pertinent when adaptability and unpredictability seem to be a scheme's greatest strengths.


Blitzes come from everywhere. Pre-snap alignments suggest one thing, then defenders do another. Tape from a previous game may not foreshadow what's happening in the next one. In short, dealing with Dean must be confusing as heck for a quarterback. Oh, and his former players love him.

Coaxing Pees out of retirement was as important as anything new Falcons brass have done this offseason. That's why he's the right guy to help a Falcons defense that has fallen on hard times.


And, yeah, I know. That's not a fresh take. It has certainly been said between the time head coach Arthur Smith brought Pees back and now, likely more than once.


It has become so apparent during my Falcons crash course that it had to be restated from a megaphone on a mountaintop. This deep dive started when I took over as Digital Managing Editor on June 1, initially using OTAs and minicamp to focus on roster construction. The NFL offseason has gone church-mouse quiet since, with coaches and players alike relaxing on white-sand beaches before training camp starts later this month.

The down period has provided time to examine Falcons schemes, especially while impatiently waiting (taps foot, checks watch) for moving trucks to cross the country. Arthur Smith's offensive system seems effective and efficient. Pees has a real knack for maximizing roster strengths, which is all you can ask from a coordinator.

Coaches typically deflect praise like this with a common refrain.


Players make plays. Execution over everything.


In other words, no call works unless the players make it effective. There's truth to that, but coaching them up well and putting them in position to succeed will go a long way in helping this Falcons defense improve.


Pees will certainly take advantage of an athletic linebacker corps featuring Deion Jones and Foye Olukuon. He has a pair of smart, veteran safeties in Erik Harris and Duron Harmon. That will help Pees' plays run well. Creative blitzes should energize a pass rush that sagged last year and didn't do enough to help teammates on the back end.


Building this defense up will take some time, so let's temper expectations in this first season. Just having Pees in red and black, rocking a headset, will make this unit better. When the Falcons gain the financial flexibility to be bigger players in free agency, when Terry Fontenot gets another crack at the NFL Draft and if position coaches can develop young talent on the roster, Pees system will look better and better.


Having access to it is a coup in itself, and should help the Falcons both now and in the future.


Monday, July 12, 2021

Do virtual yoga with Lions TE T.J. Hockenson for charity!


This is one of the more unique charity drives you’ll ever see.


Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports


It seems like this year Detroit Lions star tight end T.J. Hockenson is coming out of his shell. Who could possibly know what prompted him to go from a pretty reserved, quiet player to one unafraid to let his personality fly? I literally have no idea why that may have happened, but we’re all better for it.

Hockenson is using this newly-public personality to team up with his tight end friends George Kittle and Robert Tonyan for a unique charity drive. The three tight ends are leading a yoga class that you can join virtually for a $35 donation to Haiti Creates. Haiti Creates is a non-profit charity aimed to help children in the most impoverished parts of the nation get a good education. This video has a nice breakdown of what Haiti Creates is all about.

“This is an opportunity to raise money and helps kids get an education, provide jobs and feed hungry people in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the entire world,” Hockenson said in an Instagram post. “We are proud to be apart [sic] of it and excited to be partnering with Haiti Allies to raise money for their efforts in Haiti.”

The yoga event will also feature a live Q&A with the players and more information about the charity itself. If yoga isn’t your thing, charity drive is also selling $85 yoga mats bags signed by all three tight ends, which would be as unique of football memorabilia as you could possibly find. Of course, 100 percent of the proceeds from tickets and sales go directly to Haiti Creates.

The event is Wednesday, July 21 at 6-8 p.m. ET. For more information on the charity drive, including a link to buy tickets and yoga mats, head to Haiti Creates’ website here.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Forgotten Buckeyes: Nate Ebner never started a game at Ohio State, but he is a legend nonetheless


The ongoing series where we re-remember lesser known Buckeye heroes.


Ebner was at the center of many special teams celebrations


If you’ve been following Forgotten Buckeyes, first and foremost: thank you! It has been a lot of fun reminiscing about some of the most under-appreciated heroes in OSU football history. From Scotty Mac to Damon Moore, all the players in this series made a special contribution to Ohio State, and we should continue to celebrate their legacy.

That being said, as the football season rapidly approaches, we are going to put a pause on Forgotten Buckeyes after this installment. It will be back! I can promise you that! Just taking a break to focus on some more timely topics, and reload for a different version of the series.

I look forward to highlighting forgotten OSU hoopers soon, and I would love to hear some of your Forgotten Buckeyes before the series returns. I am going to close it out (for now) with a personal favorite.

Contrary to how it sometimes seems, not every difference-making football player at Ohio State will go on to have success in the NFL. In fact, it is a small group that even makes it onto a Week One roster.

However, just because a former player fades away from the spotlight, it does not mean that they deserve to be forgotten. Some of the most important moments and memories from the last 20 years can be attributed to the players whose careers ended with a bowl game.

This is a series acknowledging forgotten Buckeyes; an ode to the players without pictures and plaques hanging in The Horseshoe. These guys all played a pivotal role in historic Ohio State moments, and should be remembered for their special contributions to OSU football.

Nate Ebner | DB/Special Teams (2009 - 2011)

Might as well call this guy Captain America Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images


Nate Ebner has become infinitely more recognizable since leaving Ohio State than he was as a Buckeye. Unlike his time in Columbus, at least a few fanbases are now acutely aware of his on-field contributions and locker room leadership. In a way, he is the perfect Forgotten Buckeye because his OSU playing career was so forgettable! For those who do know the name, Ebner is a great example of hard work, perseverance, and chasing your dreams.

Ebner was born in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, and attended high school in nearby Hilliard. His father Jeff was a former college rugby player, and that became Nate’s first love. He developed into a star at the junior level, eventually playing in three Junior World Cups. He continued to play at the club and national level in college, earning MVP of the IRB Junior World Championships in 2007 and 2008.

Because of his success and passion for rugby, Ebner did not play football in high school. Even upon his enrollment at Ohio State, he still had no intentions of pursuing a football career. It was not until 2009, after a life-altering event, that he would finally pursue opportunity on the gridiron.

His father, Jeff Ebner, was tragically murdered in November of 2008. He was working at the family business, Ebner & Sons (which his son called “the junkyard”), when a robbery attempt went terribly wrong. Nate was his only child, and they were inseparable. Jeff introduced his son to rugby, and was fortunate enough to be a fan during his best years on the pitch.

Just prior to his passing, he was also able to have a conversation with Nate regarding his pursuit of football. Jeff fully supported him, and encouraged his son to chase a new dream. If you want to read more about the Ebners’ relationship, Nate released a book this year called “Finish Strong: A Father’s Code and a Son’s Path,” and it speaks more to the strong bond they shared.

After his father’s tragic death, when many would struggle to just move forward, Nate Ebner plowed ahead. He became a walk-on for the Ohio State football team in 2009. While he was obviously familiar with the game, Eber was out of practice — to say the least. However, his physicality and aggressiveness earned him a spot on the roster. Listed as a safety, he barely saw the field on defense that season. He played just a handful of downs in the Buckeyes’ nickel package, but did record a sack.

Ebner made his mark on special teams. Blessed with good speed (4.5 in the 40), he sprinted down the field with reckless abandon on kick coverage. He was known for his win-at-all-costs mentality and willingness to sacrifice his body. Because of his mental makeup and toughness, he quickly became viewed as a leader on the football field. He also earned the nickname “Leonidas” for his resemblance to the movie character in “300.”

By year-end, Ebner was considered one of, if not the, best special teams players for OSU. The Buckeyes have preached the importance of special teams for many years, so to be mentioned as one of the best players on the unit is a real honor, and speaks volumes about how he was viewed by coaches and teammates.

Ebner more than earned a spot on the roster over the next two seasons. He accumulated 30 special teams tackles during his Ohio State career, but made a larger impact than the stats would tell you. By 2011, he was on scholarship and voted the team’s most inspirational player, as well as its best special teamer. He also excelled in the classroom, earning All-Academic Big Ten each season he played for OSU. Ebner epitomized what it means to be a Buckeye, and was revered by those in the program. His reputation and pro day performance would go on to earn him an unlikely opportunity in the NFL.

As with pretty much every player who chooses to do so, Ebner participated in Ohio State’s pro day held after the 2011 season. Despite his limited role, NFL teams and personnel took notice. He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, had a 39.5 inch vertical jump, and benched 225 pounds 23 times. At 6-feet and just over 200 pounds, he was viewed as a special athlete. Against all odds, the New England Patriots selected Ebner in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.

He stepped in as a rookie and played right away. He finished second on the team in special teams tackles, and even played close to forty snaps as a safety. Ebner would enjoy plenty of success over the course of his New England career. He won three Super Bowls, was named Second-Team All Pro in 2016, and head coach Bill Belichick once said that he was in the top five percent of players he had ever coached when it came to growth and development from college to the pros. Ebner also took a brief NFL sabbatical to go back to his rugby roots, when he played for the Team USA Rugby Team in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Ebner is not yet retired from the NFL, but is currently without a contract. He spent 2020 with the New York Giants, and is rehabbing an injury in hopes of returning. That injury kept him from making a return to the Olympics, which he was considering beforehand.

That injury and lack of a contract are small potatoes for Ebner though. He is a Forgotten Buckeye with an unforgettable story, and has overcome all of the odds stacked against him. From walk-on, to NFL draft pick, to United States Olympian, Nate Ebner is a one-of-a-kind Buckeye legend.

Friday, July 02, 2021

Fourteen from Football Are Big Ten Distinguished Scholars


JULY 1, 2021


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fourteen Ohio State Buckeye football players were honored on Thursday by the Big Ten Conference as Distinguished Scholars as a result of their work in the classroom during the 2020-21 academic year. Student-athletes must maintain at least a 3.70 grade point average for the school year to earn the prestigious honor.

The Buckeye honorees are: LB Tuf Borland, OL Gavin Cupp, K Dominic DiMaccio, TE Luke Farrell, Blake Haubeil, TE Jake Hausmann, LB Justin Hilliard, QB Gunnar Hoak, OL Ryan Jacoby, OL Chris Kuhn, LS Roen McCullough, OL Harry Miller, TE Corey Rau and OL Zach Stevenson.

In addition, Farrell, Cupp and Rau were among 16 football players conference-wide to maintain a perfect 4.0 grade point average for the 2020-21 academic year. Farrell, who also had a 4.0 GPA in during the 2019-20, is a two-time honoree while the other 12 earned the honor for the first time in their careers.

Eight of Ohio State’s 14 Distinguished Scholars were graduate students in 2020-21 and the offensive line rooms led all positions with five honorees. The tight end room wasn’t far behind with three of the six that were eligible making the list.

This good news continues what has been an exceptional stretch of academic achievement for head coach Ryan Day’s program. Consider:

  • A program record 61 student-athletes, including 44 scholarship players, named an OSU Scholar-Athlete for having a cumulative GPA of 3.00 and above for the 2020-21 academic year;
  • A program record 40 named Academic All-Big Ten Conference this past season; this honor is open to those who have been enrolled for at least a full year and carry a cumulative 3.00 grade point average;
  • A cumulative GPA for this spring semester of 3.05; and
  • A current GPA for all scholarship players on the cusp of 3.00: 2.998.
  • The football team has had four consecutive semesters under Day with a team cumulative GPA of at least 3.00, including a 3.206 cumulative GPA in autumn 2020 and a 3.347 GPA in spring of 2020.

2020-21 Big Ten Distinguished Scholars
LB Tuf Borland, Graduate – Sports Coaching (first award)
OL Gavin Cupp, Graduate – Kinesiology (first award)
K Dominic DiMaccio, Senior – Consumer and Family Financial Services (first award)
TE Luke Farrell, Graduate – Human Development and Family Science (second award)
K Blake Haubeil, Graduate – Communication (first award)
TE Jake Hausmann, Graduate – Health Care Innovation (first award)
LB Justin Hilliard, Graduate – Consumer Sciences (first award)
QB Gunnar Hoak, Graduate – Sports Coaching (first award)
OL Ryan Jacoby, Junior – Hospitality Management (first award)
OL Chris Kuhn, Junior – Construction Systems Management (first award)
LS Roen McCullough, Junior – Finance (first award)
OL Harry Miller, Sophomore – Mechanical Engineering (first award)
TE Corey Rau, Graduate – Sports Coaching
OL Zach Stevenson, Sophomore – Medical Laboratory Science (first award)

Top 50 Patriots Under Bill Belichick: No. 31-40


By Tom E. Curran  Published July 1, 2021  Updated 2 hours ago


Want to talk about overlooked, underrated, never-in-the-limelight positions that matter a lot?



We’re going to do it anyway because we are into a string of players on the Top 50 Players of the Bill Belichick Era that are lunchpail, Regular Joes who will just punch the clock day after day.

31. Ty Warren

Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 24

First up, Ty Warren. The 13th overall pick in 2003, Warren missed one game in his first five seasons. For a 3-4 defensive tackle to take that kind of pounding on a weekly basis and play at the level Warren did throughout cannot be overstated. Plenty of players got more accolades -- Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour in particular -- but Warren was nearly as vital to the success of the front-seven as those would-be Hall of Famers.

32. Joe Thuney

Years in NE: 5 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: N/R

We have Warren’s offensive mirror image at 32. Joe Thuney. He started every single game in his five-year career, won a pair of Super Bowls protecting Tom Brady and opening holes like a madman in 2018 (as did many others) and then chased huge free-agent riches in Kansas City. He played 5,486 snaps in his five years with the Patriots. Almost 1,100 per year. Hello.

33. Joe Andruzzi

Years in NE: 5 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 32

The Triangle of Toughness continues with another guard, Joe Andruzzi. We related this story in 2015 the first time we did this list. Andruzzi went from being listed as “out” on a Wednesday with a leg injury that had him on crutches to “active” on Sunday and going wire-to-wire in that unforgettable 29-26 win over the Chargers in OT.

“After what Joe did two weeks ago, it's hard to even put him on the injury report,” Belichick said back then. “It looks like if he's walking, he's playing. He came back from a back injury [in training camp] sooner than people thought he would. He played with a back brace and looked uncomfortable doing it, but he did it.

“When you talk about leadership, you can't get any more leadership than he has shown by playing with these injuries,” Belichick added. Some guys give a team speech, but to go out there when things aren't going well for you, that shows leadership, a commitment to the team and your teammates. He's a pretty impressive guy.''

34. Stephen Neal

Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 1 | SB appearances: 2 | 2015 rank: 31

Also impressive? The guy behind Andruzzi, Steve Neal. He played on the side opposite Andruzzi and won a pair of Super Bowls. He’s this high on the list because when we talk about the players who went the furthest and are the most emblematic of what the Patriots “You Create Your Role” mantra is all about, it’s Neal. "They don't come any better than Steve Neal,” Belichick said when Neal retired in 2011. “In terms of improvement and development as a player, Steve may have accomplished more than any player I have ever been around. His toughness, intelligence and competitiveness were at rare levels and all contributed to him going from being a champion in an individual sport (wrestling) to being an integral part of championship teams.”

35. Danny Amendola


Years in NE: 5 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: N/R

Now here’s an integral part of two championship teams (shoulda been three). Danny Amendola is at No. 35. In his final four playoff games with the Patriots -- SB51 and the 2017 playoffs -- Amendola caught 34 of the 44 passes sent his way for 426 yards and three touchdowns. He made sure the Patriots got to SB51 with his late-game heroics in the AFCCG against Jacksonville and he did all he could in the Super Bowl with eight catches for 152 yards. After the win over Jacksonville, Belichick said this about Amendola: “Danny’s a tremendous competitor, made some big plays for us. I thought, as usual, he handled the punts great and he had the last punt return that really set us up for the final touchdown. Danny’s such a good football player. When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery -- whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration.”

36. Malcolm Butler

Years in NE: 4 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 1 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: N/R

And why is Amendola -- and a whole lot of other players from the 2010s -- one ring lighter? Probably because the guy at No. 36 was on punishment and not allowed to play defense against the Philadelphia Eagles. Malcolm Butler made the greatest play in Patriots history (edging the Snow Bowl 45-yarder) against Seattle in the Super Bowl. Then he was on the receiving end of the most mysterious and still unexplained benching in Patriots history. Between those games, Butler became a Pro Bowl-level corner.

37. Jerod Mayo


Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 2 | SB wins: 1 | SB appearances: 2 | 2015 rank: 26

Jerod Mayo was a Pro Bowl-level linebacker. He was actually an All-Pro, led the NFL In tackles in 2010 and was the near-unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008.

And when the team tottered toward dysfunction in 2009 with a slew of veterans who weren’t really feeling it with Bill Belichick, it was Mayo that Belichick heaped the leadership demands on. And he delivered.

"I would say he’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player,” Belichick said during the 2014 training camp. “Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that. But I think that he really touches pretty much everybody. Not just the defensive players, but all the guys. Not just the older guys, but the younger guys. He’s got a great work ethic, great presence on the football field, and great personality. In a very good way, professional but he also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches. As respected as any player in the locker room. One of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of our glue/chemistry guy.”

38. Nate Solder

Years in NE: 7 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 36

Right behind Mayo at No. 38 is Nate Solder. The Senator Phil Perry says Solder’s too low on this list. And maybe he’s right. Solder won two rings with the team (2014 and 2016) and protected Tom Brady’s blind side from 2012 through 2017 (he played right tackle his rookie year). Steady, workmanlike, tough and about the sweetest 6-foot-8, 320-pounder you could meet, Solder actually could be a bully on the field when the occasion called for it. Very good player.

39. Kyle Van Noy

Years in NE: 4 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: N/R

40. Trey Flowers

Years in NE: 4 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: N/R

We have more meat-and-potatoes at 39 and 40 with linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Trey Flowers. Both were inspired pickups by Belichick -- Van Noy at the 2016 trade deadline, Flowers in fourth round in 2015 -- and both were big-game beasts in the Super Bowl wins over the Falcons and Rams. Flowers had to take the free agent money he had dangled at him in 2019 but his best move for the future would be getting back to Foxboro where he was one of the most effective defensive linemen in the league.

Editor's note: Tom E. Curran's Top 50 players under Bill Belichick, 2.0, will be released all this week right here on

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