Thursday, December 30, 2021

Texans' Rex Burkhead named FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week


By Aaron Wilson
Dec 29, 2021

In a nod to his hard-nosed and productive rushing performance Sunday during an upset win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Texans running back Rex Burkhead has been named the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week.

Burkhead rushed for a career-high 149 yards with two touchdown runs during a 41-29 win at NRG Stadium.

FedEx will make a $2,000 donation to a Historically Black College and University in Burkhead's name.

Burkhead had a 25-yard touchdown run that set the tone for the win.

It was the first of two touchdown runs for the former New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals runner who began the season buried on the depth chart behind Mark Ingram, David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. Burkhead and his straightforward approach to the game grew on the Texans, who traded Ingram to the New Orleans Saints for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick, cut Lindsay and supplanted Johnson with Burkhead, a former Nebraska standout.

The Texans rushed for a season-high 189 yards for their most in a game since rushing for 216 yards as a team in 2019 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Burkhead, 31, displayed strength, burst, balance and toughness one week after his status was in doubt for a road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars due to hip and quadriceps injuries.

“Rex is a phenomenal back,” said wide receiver Chris Conley, who provided downfield blocking for Burkhead. “What I saw today is what I've known all season is that Rex still has it. He never lost it. Just needed to get him healthy.

Getting that man the ball, he runs with reckless abandonment. He does it every time he touches the rock. It makes it real easy to block for a guy like that who is going to fight and scrap for every yard.”

Photo: Getty Images

The Texans began Sunday with the NFL’s last-ranked running game with averages of 77.3 rushing yards per contest and 3.2 yards per carry.

And Burkhead’s contributions were significant enough in complementing Davis Mills’ passing – 254 yards and two touchdown passes – that the rookie quarterback made it a special point to ask a team staff member to secure the game ball for the veteran back.

“That was right after the last play of the game,” Mills said. “When we took a knee, somebody ran on the field I threw them that game ball and made sure Rex got it because he played extremely well today. Ran hard all day, love to see it.”

With the Texans down 18 players and missing left tackle Tytus Howard, left guard Lane Taylor, center Justin Britt and wide receiver Brandin Cooks on the reserve-COVID-19 list, they ran it down the Chargers’ throat. Burkhead surpassed Ingram’s season-high 85 rushing yards. He also passed him to become the Texans’ leading rusher with 356 yards for the season. Although traded several games ago to the Saints, Ingram entered Sunday as the Texans’ leading rusher with 294 yards.

Burkhead averaged 6.8 yards per run as the Texsans piled up 437 yards of total offense. Mills was sacked only once and hit just twice. The play-action fake and Burkhead deserved respect.

“My running style, I try to be patient,” Burkhead said. “Try to let things develop and hit it when I need to hit it. Try to change it up, of course. You can't just be one-dimensional or guys are going to key on you. I try to mix it up. 

“My dad was a running back growing up. He always preached to me about being versatile. And not always just hitting the hole fast, you've got to be patient at times. The offensive line did a great job allowing us to be patient and letting things develop and really getting through their holes when we needed to.”

Signed to a one-year, $1.487 million contract that includes an additional $500,000 in incentives, Burkhead has outplayed his contract and salvaged the Texans’ languishing running game. He has started since a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

“He's been Mr. Consistent for us,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He's a guy that's going to get north and south. He knows how to play. He just knows how to play the game. Rex could probably play another position. That's just how instinctive he is as a football player. 

“What happened today is we got him on the perimeter and our receivers and tight ends made some blocks for him. Of course, he made some guys miss and he took it in the end zone just like you would expect him to do with the situation he had in front of him.”


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Bob Stoops is back for the Alamo Bowl, and Oklahoma fans are loving it


7:00 AM ET

Dave Wilson

ESPN Staff Writer


On Nov. 28, a bad weekend for Oklahoma football fans turned even worse. A day after losing to Oklahoma State in Stillwater and getting eliminated from Big 12 title contention, head coach Lincoln Riley made a swift, stunning departure for USC.

For the first time since 1947, a Sooners coach had left for another college job. Oklahoma, once the bastion of sustained success and stability, was in free fall.

"For 24 to 36 hours, there was panic in the streets, and people didn't know what was going to happen with Oklahoma football," said Dusty Dvoracek, a former Sooners player who lives in Norman and hosts a daily radio show on SiriusXM, contributes to television in Oklahoma City and calls games on ESPN. "People were freaking out around here, I mean, freaking out. Oklahoma's not a place that somebody leaves."

Then Monday rolled around, and Oklahoma president Joe Harroz and athletic director Joe Castiglione had a news conference inside Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Beside them sat a familiar face: former Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who would be the new interim coach. Stoops took the podium and announced that Oklahoma football would be just fine.

"It's Lincoln's choice to leave," Stoops said he told the team after Riley announced his departure and left the room. "It's OK. You're the ones who are going to make all the plays or not make the plays. You guys win and lose. You're OU football. He isn't. I'm not. And any other coach who comes here isn't.

"OU football has been here a long time. And it isn't going anywhere else. It's going to be here, and it's going to be at the top of college football and it's going to continue that way."

It had only been five years since Stoops stepped aside, handing the keys to the storied program to the 33-year-old Riley at the end of a legendary career that included a 190-48 record at OU. Stoops was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this month.

But when Stoops got his turn at the microphone, fans had flashbacks. Every time he spoke, thousands of tweets were launched as fans celebrated his confident assertions that this was a "bump in the road."

Rick Knapp, the executive director of the Touchdown Club of Oklahoma who has been to 591 Sooners games, said Stoops' comments stopped the panic after Riley's departure.

"It was darkness and, all of a sudden, it's light," he said.

"It's just amazing how quickly it flipped," Dvoracek said.

"That really helped quickly change the narrative," Castiglione said. "Those are the identical characteristics that made him the winningest coach in Oklahoma history. A coach that, through his players, achieved greatness on so many levels. And why he is so beloved."

For OU fans, it was a stark contrast. Riley jilted the Sooners and the coach who hired him from East Carolina and handed him a national championship-caliber team; whereas Stoops -- who Castiglione said immediately asked, "How can I help?" -- embodied loyalty.

The man who wore the OU visor for 18 years and turned away dozens of opportunities to leave for the NFL or other college jobs just happened to be down the road, still living in Norman. With Stoops leading the charge, fans have been thrilled to be along for the ride that will culminate with Wednesday's Valero Alamo Bowl, when Stoops and Oklahoma play Oregon (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app).


"Here's the thing," said Berry Tramel, the longtime columnist at The Oklahoman and radio host. "They loved Bob. But it's possible they love him more now than they did back then."


Tramel covered his first Sooners game in 1979 when OU faced Iowa and a freshman named Bob Stoops was making his first start at safety for the Hawkeyes.


"I think people sort of forgot that persona," Tramel said of Stoops. "No matter what's going on, he projects confidence. The world falls in, and the next day, he's up there saying, 'Hey, everything's gonna be fine. Everybody settle down.'"


It wasn't much different than Dec. 1, 1998, when Stoops arrived from Florida -- where he was Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator -- to be introduced as the new coach of the Sooners.


"People are going to expect what they want," Stoops said then. "Certainly, I expect more. I expect us to be in a position next year to be very good, to have a chance to win many games, if not all of them."


Nothing was guaranteed. The Sooners hadn't had a winning season in six years before Stoops arrived, going 12-22 under John Blake, 5-5-1 in one season under Howard Schnellenberger and 6-6 in Gary Gibbs' final season.


The Sooners didn't win all of them that year, finishing 7-5, while making their first bowl appearance in five years. But they did run the table the next season, beating No. 11 Texas 63-14, before knocking off No. 2 Kansas State and No. 1 Nebraska then No. 8 Kansas State again in the title game to finish 13-0 with a win over No. 3 Florida State in the BCS National Championship. The Sooners were back, and under Stoops, they went to 18 straight bowl games and won 10 Big 12 titles. The school built a statue of him outside the stadium alongside those of Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.

Stoops was drenched by his players after Oklahoma beat Florida State 13-2 in the 2001 Orange Bowl. Under Stoops, the Sooners went to 18 straight bowl games and won 10 Big 12 titles. AP Photo/David F. Martin)

"He didn't just come in and wake a sleeping giant, but he left it in a situation where it was gonna continue to thrive for decades to come," Dvoracek said of Stoops. "So for him to be able to step in when there is that little gap as everybody was somewhat stunned, I think is really unique."

Tramel joked that Stoops didn't exactly upend his life to take on this role, saying, "He didn't move back from Miami Beach or anything. He lives right there on I-35."

Stoops, who isn't much for the adoration, agrees. He doesn't quite see what the big deal is.

"I think it just allowed people to have some comfort," he said of his return. "I mean, obviously, coming back after being out five years is different. Just the fact that I've been here so long made it easy to do."

He has been around the team frequently. He recruited some of the players who are still there. His son Drake is a Sooners wide receiver. Several of the assistant coaches worked for him.

And Stoops was just 56 when he retired, which means he still looks the part at 61.

"He left when he still had a lot of fire," Tramel said. "And now, here, five years later, he's still got a lot of fire. He's not a relic, you know? He sounds just like he used to, and he looks -- outside of the beard -- a lot like he used to."

Stoops also spent an entire season firing up OU fans while working on Fox's college football pregame show, even leading the crowd in a "Texas Sucks!" chant before OU's Sept. 18 game against Nebraska. It endeared him to a whole new generation of fans and even to those who criticized him for not winning a national title after his second season, which is the true measure of success at Oklahoma.

"Anybody that was on the fence about him was off after that," Tramel said.

Stoops hit the road recruiting, helping the Sooners maintain a top-10 recruiting class during a coaching change. And while Riley was a Stoops assistant for two seasons, the Sooners' new coach, former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, is a longtime Stoops loyalist.

Venables played linebacker at Kansas State when Stoops was defensive co-coordinator of the Wildcats, then the two coached alongside each other at K-State from 1993 to 1995, until Stoops left to become Spurrier's D-coordinator at Florida. When Stoops got the Oklahoma job, he brought Venables to Norman, where he served as Stoops' defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2011, including several of those campaigns as co-coordinator with Stoops' brother Mike.

"Brent's the absolute perfect fit for OU," Stoops told reporters after Venables was hired on Dec. 7. Stoops was in Las Vegas, where he spoke at the National Football Foundation dinner on behalf of all his fellow College Football Hall of Fame inductees. "He's perfect for us. I love his experience, not just with us, but at Clemson, seeing it at the best level. So he's going to bring us a lot, I think, to even improve us."

A popular Christmas gift this year in Oklahoma was a T-shirt that said, "Bud. Barry. Bob. Brent." The guy who went 55-10, won four Big 12 titles in five years and made three College Football Playoff appearances has already been excommunicated.

It seems a few weeks of holding down the fort while a protΓ©gΓ© moves into his old office has given Stoops' legacy a new shine.

"We need to build him a second statue, maybe with a beard and some Rock N Roll Tequila and a cigar on it," said Oklahoma fan Travis Davidson, who organizes regular Twitter Spaces gatherings about the team, in a nod to Stoops' post-coaching side business.


On Tuesday, Stoops was asked if he would mind substituting a Gatorade bath for a splash of tequila if he led the Sooners to a victory in the Alamo Bowl.

"That'd be OK," he said. "What's the administration gonna do, fire me?"

Comments like that are how Stoops has already gotten Oklahoma fans excited about a bowl game that would have been a disappointing destination when the season began with national championship aspirations.

"Quite honestly, OU fans are a little jaded. And they don't quite stir very easily, especially for a bowl like the Alamo Bowl," Knapp said. "But we have people wanting to go to the Alamo Bowl just to see Bob beat Oregon."

They'll be watching to see Stoops in the visor one more time, one last chance to thank a Hall of Famer for his devotion.

"When he left, he didn't leave," Tramel said of Stoops. "You know, Florida loves Urban Meyer, but when he left, he went to Ohio State. When Pete Carroll left USC, he went to Seattle. Most guys move on to something else. And now, when you look back, you think, you know what? Turned out when he said he liked Oklahoma, he wasn't just babblin', compared to Lincoln, who you never thought was going to pull something like this. But he did."


For Knapp, this chapter puts Stoops in even more rarefied air among legendary company in OU history.


"Everybody in Oklahoma says Barry Switzer is the king and then Bob was the prince," Knapp said. "But Bob is the king for the generations after us." 

Opinion: Michigan State’s win with Mel Tucker is a glaring loss for the NFL


Rising star did serious “soul searching” while passed over repeatedly for NFL head coaching jobs


Jarrett Bell


December 28, 2021


ATLANTA – Mel Tucker is here now. For a long time. This is the destination job, as Tucker declared it when he arrived at Michigan State in February 2020. If Tom Izzo can put Sparty on the map as a basketball hotbed (post-Magic), then Tucker can surely envision a football powerhouse,

And lo and behold, it took less than one full season for the big donors and power brokers to demonstrate faith with a 10-year, fully-guaranteed, $95 million contract extension that sends a message that they won’t let Tucker get away like his mentor, Nick Saban, did years ago in bolting from East Lansing to LSU.

But this wasn’t always the destination job. Tucker spent 10 years in the NFL, when he became the youngest defensive coordinator in Cleveland Browns history, had a stint as an interim coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and for a spell was on the circuit as a candidate for an NFL head coaching gig.

Tucker, 49, may have received the largest contract extension in college football history at the time in less than one full season at Michigan State, but no NFL team ever saw fit to put him in charge. His NFL experience was so familiar to the legion of Black coaches who put in time, paid dues, prepared for the ultimate promotion, then saw themselves passed over for white candidates with lesser resumes.

With another NFL hiring cycle looming – against the backdrop of just four Black coaches hired for the 27 openings over the previous four cycles – Tucker’s case resonates for what it might have become on the pro level.

“I actually had to do some soul-searching when I was in the NFL,” Tucker told USA TODAY Sports during an exclusive interview as the Spartans (10-2) prepared for a Peach Bowl matchup against Pitt (11-2) on Thursday night. “I said, ‘Listen, you have to be OK with yourself as a person if you never become a head coach.’ I told myself that. Because I’m sitting there looking at guys that I coached with or that I knew that were head coaches. It was, ‘I can do that.’

“I was ready to be a head coach many, many years ago. When I interviewed for the Browns job in 2008, I firmly believed I could be an NFL head coach. Then they hired Eric Mangini.”

Mangini lasted two years and produced a 10-22 record. Tucker was reminded that in 2012 he lost out to Mike Mularkey for the Jaguars job. Mularkey was 2-14 in his one season.

“People always go, ‘Well, we want someone with experience.’ How the hell do you get that?" Tucker said. "It takes one person to say 'Yes, we’re going to take a chance on this guy.’ But I can remember sitting there saying, ‘No matter how good of a coach I am, I may never get that opportunity.’ “

Tucker’s soul-searching and the specter of racial barriers is hardly new. I’ve heard so many Black coaches express similar sentiments for decades, while hiring patterns often reflect the frustration that many experience. Tucker ultimately went back to the college level, the option that Herm Edwards (Arizona State) took in 2018 and Hue Jackson (Grambling) followed this year after not getting another NFL crack.

Tucker knows. It’s difficult for any coach from any hue to land a head coaching job in the NFL or at a major college. But he can surely relate to respected, passed-over Black coaches such as Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. He wonders, too, how Steelers defensive backs coach Teryl Austin (who previously coordinated a top-five defense) can just fall off the radar after once being viewed as a hot head coaching candidate.

“I’ve studied everything,” Tucker said, alluding to hiring patterns. “I asked a lot of questions. I watched how guys got jobs and I would trace it back. ‘How’d this guy get his job?’ You’d see, ‘He knew this guy,’ or ‘He was a grad assistant there,’ or ‘He knew the AD.’ I watched how all that happened and I realized I can’t hire myself. Becoming a head coach, especially as a Black coach, is like catching lightning in a bottle.”

Tucker, who grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, has coaching in his DNA. His father, Mel Sr., who is enshrined in the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Toledo, was his first coach – in Little League, basketball, at home and then some – and instilled “old-school” principles. Yet it wasn’t until Tucker realized that he wouldn’t make it as a pro football player following his college career as a defensive back at Wisconsin, that he had enough of a bug to pursue a coaching career.

The first stop was, ironically, Michigan State, where Saban hired him in 1997 as a grad assistant. Tucker also worked on Saban’s staffs at LSU and Alabama, and along the way took his advice to seek NFL experience on his resume (as Saban himself did before winning six national championships).

Tucker, though, said he never thought he’d coach in the NFL for 10 years, seeing himself as better suited to mold young men, on and off the field. He stayed in the NFL longer than originally projected, he admits, thinking he was close to landing a head coaching job. Saban, nonetheless, was spot-on about the value of NFL experience.

“There’s a lot of (expletive) that happens in the NFL,” said Tucker, who had stints with the Browns, Jaguars and Bears. “It’s rough. Especially if you’re not in winning franchises. It’s cutthroat. It’s rugged. And it’s long.”

Tucker, who won national championship rings as an assistant at Ohio State and Alabama, landed his first head coaching job at Colorado in 2019. He stayed in Boulder for just one season (5-7) before jumping to Michigan State. It just so happened that his charge to establish a new culture was greeted by the pandemic and a social justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd.

What did Tucker learn about himself amid that challenge?

“It reinforced what I already knew: I was prepared for the job,” he said. “As a coach, stuff is always happening. You have to lead. And you cannot lead unless people know where you stand. ‘Here’s how I feel about George Floyd. Here’s how I feel about civic engagement. Here’s how I feel about COVID. Here’s how I feel about the way football should be played. Here’s how I feel about the health and safety of the players and coaching staff.’"

Tucker and his new program have rolled with the punches well enough to land in a New Year’s Six bowl game and, of course, for him to land the security of a long, massive contract. In 2022, only new LSU coach Brian Kelly will top the contract for Tucker in terms of total value at a public school. Tucker insists the deal won’t change his mindset. Of course, he still wants to win national championships … especially since he won’t be chasing Super Bowl glory.

“I had a good contract before the extension,” Tucker said. “So, it doesn’t change anything. But what it has done is raise the bar. And I think Michigan State is seen maybe in a different light now as we aspire to be a Tier 1 program.”

Achieve that and Tucker would certainly prove that Michigan State’s win is the NFL’s loss.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Rex Burkhead makes NFL history


Michael David Smith


Rex Burkhead had 22 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns yesterday.

Three players in NFL history have had 140+ yards, 6.5+ yards per carry, and 2+ TDs at age 31 or older:

John Henry Johnson in 1964

Tiki Barber in 2006

Rex Burkhead yesterday.

11:21am · 27 Dec 2021 · TweetDeck

Monday, December 27, 2021

Potential candidates to replace Urban Meyer with Jaguars


Mike Jones

December 16, 2021

When the Jacksonville Jaguars lured him from the broadcast booth to the NFL last offseason, Urban Meyer stepped into a highly attractive job. 

It came with the first overall pick of the draft (Trevor Lawrence), a bevy of other high picks, roughly $80 million in cap space to invest in free agency and an owner willing to provide the support and resources it would take to transform the team into a championship contender.

However, through a series of missteps on and off the field, Meyer failed miserably, and Wednesday night got the axe with Jacksonville owning a 2-11 record and Meyer embroiled in controversy. 

Now, Jaguars owner Shad Khan will try to make amends for a bad hire and attempt to once again get the franchise back on track. Working in his favor are the prospects of working with Lawrence and plenty of cap room to help rebuild.

Last winter, Khan hired Meyer over Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, then-San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (now the Jets’ head coach), then-Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith (now the Falcons’ head coach) and now-Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. 

It’s believed Bieniemy and Morris could again receive consideration. However, other teams with head-coaching openings likely will pursue both men. League insiders say there are several other candidates who seemingly would be good fits in Jacksonville.

Khan has many decisions to make. Does he pursue someone with extensive head-coaching experience or a newcomer? The Jaguars need a coach with strong leadership skills and credibility, particularly after Meyer destroyed the trust of his players and assistants and cultivated a toxic culture that extended beyond the locker room and coaches' rooms. 

Khan also must determine the fate of general manager Trent Baalke. Three people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that he helped fuel the toxic environment while berating and clashing often with players. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject. 

Some league insiders believe coaching candidates may have reservations about joining forces with Baalke, who left his previous GM stint (San Francisco) on bad terms. If that's the case, Khan could wind up making a clean sweep of the leadership positions and opt for a coach with a strong personnel track record, or one who would bring with him a talent evaluator with whom he already shares a good working relationship. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the men expected to draw interest for the job

Pep Hamilton 

The Houston Texans’ offensive coordinator has a strong track record with young quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert. He has 24 years of experience on the college and pro levels, working primarily as a quarterbacks coach. His tutelage would benefit Lawrence. Hamilton also served as head coach of the D.C. Defenders of the XFL.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Washington guard Brandon Scherff and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen named to Pro Bowl


Bryan Manning 


The Pro Bowl finally got one right Wednesday when Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen was named to his first Pro Bowl. Allen is one of two Washington players named to the Pro Bowl, as right guard Brandon Scherff also made the roster.

Allen is having not only his best season but one of the best seasons for an interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Allen has recorded 52 tackles, including 10 for loss, 8.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hits. Even when Washington’s defense was struggling early in the season, Allen stood out.

Per Pro Football Focus, Allen is the third-rate interior defender in the NFL behind Aaron Donald and Cameron Heyward.

In addition to his outstanding play, Allen is durable, consistent and the consummate leader.

Scherff, who is currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list and missed Washington’s Week 15 loss at Philadelphia, is having another dominant season despite missing a total of five games. Interestingly enough, Washington has lost all five games Scherff has missed. Washington is 6-3 when Scherff starts.

This is the fifth time Scherff has made the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Feb. 6 in Las Vegas.

Five other Washington players were named as alternates: Punter Tress Way, long snapper Camaron Cheeseman, returner DeAndre Carter, running back Antonio Gibson and wide receiver Terry McLaurin. McLaurin was having an outstanding season until the last four games, where he has rarely been targeted.

Congratulations to both Allen and Scherff.

Jonathan Allen, Brandon Scherff named to 2022 Pro Bowl


Washington guard Brandon Scherff, left, and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (93) arrive for practice at the team’s NFL football training facility, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

by: Allif Karim

Posted: Dec 22, 2021 / 09:36 PM EST Updated: Dec 22, 2021 / 09:36 PM EST


ASHBURN, Va. (WDVM) – Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, and Guard Brandon Scherff will represent the Washington Football Team in the 2022 Pro Bowl.

Allen, 26, earns his first Pro Bowl nod as Washington’s team leader in sacks (8.5), tackles for a loss (10) and quarterback hits (26). He is the first Washington defensive tackle to be named to the Pro Bowl since Dave Butz in 1983. Allen is also the first ever defensive tackle in Washington franchise history to be named a starter in the Pro Bowl.

Scherff, who turns 30 on Sunday, receives his fifth career Pro Bowl selection despite missing four games earlier this season with a sprained MCL and landing on the COVID/reserve list last weekend. Scherff joins Trent Williams, Chris Samuels, and Len Hauss as the only Washington offensive linemen to be selected to the Pro Bowl five-plus times.

The following Washington players were named Pro Bowl alternates for the NFC:

  • Punter Tress Way — Second Alternate
  • Long snapper Camaron Cheeseman — Third Alternate
  • Running back Antonio Gibson — Fourth Alternate
  • Kick return DeAndre Carter — Fourth Alternate
  • Wide receiver Terry McLaurin — Fifth Alternate

The Pro Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 6, 2022 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.

McClain: How Pep Hamilton is molding another rookie QB in Davis Mills


Texans quarterback Davis Mills, left, has made strides this season under the watchful eye of QBs coach Pep Hamilton, right, who previously helped develop Andrew Luck and Justin Hebert. Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Mills replaced the injured Tyrod Taylor in the second game at Cleveland and made his first start a week later against Carolina. Mills returned to the bench when Taylor was healthy. When Taylor struggled, Mills was named the starter for the last five games. He earned his first victory at Jacksonville.

“I think having to play when he did has benefited him to this point,” Culley said. “He’s progressing very well.”

And Hamilton has a lot to do with that. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, who calls the plays, and Taylor also work closely with Mills, who’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions with a rating of 82.2 — higher than every rookie other than New England’s Mac Jones.

“Pep’s making sure fundamentally that he’s (Mills) doing things he needs to do to improve,” Culley said. “He doesn’t make the same mistakes twice. His decision making is much better now. The game has kind of slowed down for him.”

When helping develop Mills, at times Hamilton has used Herbert as an example of what he’s trying to teach. Herbert has thrown 32 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions to lead the Chargers to an 8-6 record this season.

Mills said most of what Hamilton showed him about Herbert was during training camp.

“A lot of it was pulling up old film of what they (Hamilton and Herbert) were doing last year,” Mills said. “His foundational teachings of what he likes from the quarterback position, and he was using Justin as an example.

“Pep has done a ton for me growing in this offense and as a quarterback.”

Mills, who communicates on a daily basis with Hamilton, was asked to provide an example of their weekday routine when they’re preparing for the next opponent.

“Day to day, we (offense) go through the install in the morning,” Mills said. “The night before or the morning (of), he’s always previewing me on what’s going into that install and making sure I can get questions asked before the whole team is able to go over it.

“Afterward, we’re able to walk through it before the pre-practice walkthrough and practice. (After practice) we go back and make sure everything is fully cleared up. Once we’re good to go with that day’s work, we get a head start on the following day.

“Tonight, I’m going to get a head start on the third down game plan. He makes cutups on the computer for different things and situations we should look out for. He’s ultimately been a huge help, along with TK (Kelly) and all the other quarterbacks in the room. It’s kind of a big collaboration.”

Mills pointed to something that’s helping his development.

“I think the biggest thing is just staying to my routine, that quarterback routine that we’ve laid out with Pep and other quarterbacks and the strength staff,” he said. “Just staying consistent and making sure I’m getting my full week of preparation (and being) confident (going) into the game.”

Mills’ teammates are seeing him make progress.

“What I’ve seen is his confidence just grow and grow,” running back Rex Burkhead said. “Any time something bad happens, he’s the same person throughout the game. He’s so levelheaded. He’ll be on the sideline like, ‘Hey, sorry I missed you there. Let’s get the next one.’

“The sky’s the limit. I look forward to seeing what he can do.”

Mills has three games left against playoff contenders — the Chargers, 49ers and Titans.

“He’s going to see a lot of different coverages,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “I feel like he can make every throw, and with experience, I think he can get a lot more comfortable. This offense (system) is perfect for him.”

Mills spends a lot of time in the weight room with strength coach Mike Eubanks and his staff.

“He’s gotten stronger, and he becomes more durable with that,” Culley said. “It’s not so much getting his arm stronger, it’s more about getting his body ready and being able to take the punishment to play that position.”

Culley was asked about Mills improving his mechanics working with Hamilton.

“Pep’s as good as there is understanding how to throw the ball, how to be a passer instead of a thrower,” Culley said. “They’ve worked well together doing that.”

Sunday will be the first of three more opportunities for Mills to show general manager Nick Caserio and the coaches he’s learning and improving and deserving of being the starter in 2022.

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