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Monday, March 20, 2023

Patriots reportedly signing veteran OT Riley Reiff, expect him to start

 
















Chicago Bears offensive tackle Riley Reiff (71) lines up during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 27-24. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

 

By ANDREW CALLAHAN | acallahan@bostonherald.com

PUBLISHED: March 15, 2023 at 10:07 a.m. | UPDATED: March 15, 2023 at 10:20 a.m.

 

The Patriots are expected to sign free-agent offensive tackle Riley Reiff, according to ESPN.

Reiff, an 11-year veteran, started 10 games last season at right tackle with the Bears but can play both sides. The Patriots expect him to win a starting job in training camp, per The Athletic.

Reiff started his career at left tackle and has enjoyed previous stints in Detroit (2012-16), Minnesota (’17-20), Cincinnati (2021) and Chicago (2022). Last season, Reiff allowed pressure on 6.1% of his pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus, and posted an average run-blocking grade. In New England, he joins Trent Brown and the newly-signed Calvin Anderson as the top contenders to start at offensive tackle next season.

The Patriots had a revolving door at right tackle last year between Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste and Conor McDermott. Reiff might also serve as a swing tackle if Brown, Anderson and/or a draft pick win the starting jobs. The 34-year-old is a former captain who also crossed paths with Pats interior lineman James Ferentz in college Iowa.

Before reaching terms with Reiff, the Pats re-signed McDermott and tendered Cajuste, a restricted free agent.

In a postseason press conference, Bears GM Ryan Poles raved about Reiff’s impact on his young team.

“That guy did more than a lot of people think for that O-line room and the mentality,” Poles said. “When I first got here, I wasn’t fired up on how we protected the quarterback in terms of getting ’em off the ground and that attitude and that physicality. He’s a reason why we ran the ball so well. We finished. We had an attitude. We had an identity and that’s a lot because of guys like him.”

Riley played only one snap in the Patriots’ 33-14 loss to Chicago last October, but started the team’s final 10 games. He also started all 12 games he played in with the Bengals in 2021.


Nate Ebner: The best Buckeye value from 6th round of the modern NFL Draft

 







These Scarlet and Gray legends produced the highest ROI relative to when they were selected in the NFL Draft.



















Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Since 1936, the first year in which an official pro football draft took place, 481 Ohio State Buckeyes have been selected in the NFL Draft. Two players – Russ Thomas and Bob Meyers – were actually drafted into the NFL twice, in back-to-back (but separate) years. And 14 of those 481 former Buckeyes were also taken in the AFL Draft, including the legendary Hall of Fame wideout Paul Warfield. That makes 497 total draft picks for OSU since Gomer Jones was selected by the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals nearly a century ago.

Of the nearly 500 Buckeyes taken, hundreds have enjoyed successful pro careers, while others flamed out and/or never playing a snap after their time in Columbus. The Ohio State football program has produced NFL Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers, Players and Rookies of the Year, ten-year tackling dummies, one-and-doners, monumental busts, and everything in between.

All of these former OSU football players share one thing in common, which is their affiliation with THE greatest university on the planet. Conversely, one thing that sets them all apart is their varying degrees of success (or lack thereof) in the NFL.

Another way to look at it is in terms of value. Each of these players produced value – positive or negative – for the team which drafted them. And that is what I am going to look at in the weeks leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft. I am going to attempt to identify the seven best Scarlet and Gray values, picking only one player from each round (length of the modern draft, and going in reverse order).

Before we get started, “best” and “most” must be sorted out. Best value is not the same as most valuable. And most valuable is not same as best value. Warfield, Eddie George, Orlando Pace, Jack Tatum, or Jim Parker would inarguably be among the most valuable (former) Buckeyes at the professional level. All became team captains, Pro Bowlers, eventual Hall of Famers, you name it. But they were also taken within the first 20 picks of their respective drafts, whereas Dick LeBeau made the NFL Hall of Fame as a fifth-rounder.

I might argue that LeBeau was the better overall value because of where/when he was drafted. But going round by round means I do not have to choose between Pace or LeBeau, which is a good thing because there are already plenty of difficult decisions ahead... Without further ado, let’s go bargain shopping.

Round 6: Nate Ebner, Safety





















Ebner, a world-class rugby player, joined the Ohio State football team as a walk-on safety in 2009. While obviously familiar with the game, he never even played football for his high school team. And he was a third-year college student by the time he walked on in Columbus! Out of practice and out of his natural element, Ebner’s physicality and aggressiveness earned him an unlikely spot on the roster.

But in three seasons as a Buckeye, he made little if any impact at his DB position. Instead, 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 garnered respect as a leader on the gridiron. He also earned the nickname “Leonidas” for his resemblance to actor Gerard Butler in the movie 300.

By the end of 2009, Ebner was already considered one of OSU’s best special teams players. And if you remember anything about those Jim Tressel-coached Buckeyes, you remember the emphasis placed on special teams. So to be mentioned as one of the best players on that unit was a real honor, and speaks volumes about how he was viewed by coaches and teammates.

The rugby-playing walk-on more than earned his spot on the roster during the next few 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, Ebner 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 meant (and 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 most players do – even if they are not believed to be a highly-coveted draft prospect – 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 with pick No. 197 in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.

And wouldn’t you know, he contributed right away as a rookie, finishing second on the Pats in special teams tackles and playing close to forty snaps as a safety. Ebner became a roster mainstay in short order and enjoyed plenty of success over the next eight seasons as a core special teamer with virtually no “traditional” positional value.

Ebner won three Super Bowls with New England, was named Second-Team All Pro in 2016, and received unusually high praise from Bill Belichick. The legendary coach once said of the former Buckeye:

“His development has really been outstanding. I would probably put him in the, not the all-time top, but maybe in the top-five percent all time of players that I’ve coached, from where they were in college to how they grew in the NFL.”


The Pats never won fewer than 11 regular season games with Ebner on their roster, although Tom Brady’s presence also played a role in the team’s unprecedented success. But Ebner was a key contributor. Furthermore, he was revered by coaches and teammates and provided leadership and attitude not easily found elsewhere.


Ebner spent years 9 and 10 of his NFL career with the New York Giants, for whom he last suited up in 2021... A decade in the league for a rugby-playing safety, taken in the sixth round of the draft, with one career pass breakup. Pretty unique. And pretty damn impressive.


Ebner only totaled 105 tackles, but played in 133 games during his NFL career — which again, lasted 10 seasons. He received an All-Pro nod in 2016 and legitimately contributed to three Super Bowl-winning teams in New England. While his traditional stats do not jump off the page, there is absolutely no question that Ebner provided tremendous value as a sixth-round draft pick.


Monday, March 13, 2023

Browns special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone might enlist Josh Cribbs and Phil Dawson to help Cade York, returners


 



















Updated: Mar. 10, 2023, 9:36 a.m.|

Published: Mar. 09, 2023, 4:59 p.m.

By Mary Kay Cabot, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio - New Browns special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone played with former Browns All-Pro kicker Phil Dawson during Ventrone’s four years here as a special teamer, so he has the bar set high for Cade York at FirstEnergy Stadium.

But after scouting York, the Browns’ fourth-round pick out of LSU last season, when Ventrone was special teams coordinator of the Colts in 2022, he’s can’t wait to get his hands on him.

“It’s not too often you get to actually coach a guy you rank coming out of college at the highest at that position,” Ventrone said on a video conference Thursday. “Last year, grading all of the specialists, the kickers and the punters, I had Cade at the highest. I’m fortunate to be able to coach him this year. I think that he obviously can improve. We’re just going to coach him up, and we’re going to be as good as we can in the kicking phase.”

Ventrone might even enlist the services of Dawson, one of the best kickers in the history of the NFL, to help accelerate York’s progress. After York was drafted last April, he talked to Dawson for about 40 minutes about treacherous conditions at FirstEnergy Stadium and passionate Browns fans, but it might be time for another check-in after York went 10 for 16 at home, and 24 of 32 overall on field goals. He also had three blocked as a rookie.

“I actually touched base with Phil Dawson last year – we played at San Francisco – because he had kicked out there and put our kicker back then – it was (Michael) Badgley – in touch with him just to give him some insight on how the stadium was with the wind and things like that,” Ventrone said. “I think that would be a good resource for Cade honestly to reach out to Phil at some point, which he probably has already.”

Likewise, Ventrone might call on former Browns return ace Josh Cribbs to help inspire the Browns’ ball handlers. A first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, Cribbs has 11 returns for touchdowns, including eight on kickoffs and three on punts. The eight are tied for second in NFL history.

“Both of those guys would be great resources to bring into our room and talk at some point,” Ventrone said.

While he embraces the power of a big return or game-winning kick, Ventrone won’t swing for the fences.

“Just being able to impact the game is what we want to do,” he said. “First, we’re going to emphasize fundamentals and technique, and then those big plays will come. We’re not going to reach for them.”

Ventrone also understands the mentality of York, who’s such a perfectionist it can be hard to shake off a mistake. It’s one of the first areas he’ll emphasize with his young charge.

“The kicking position, I feel like the best guys, the guys that have the most successful and the best kickers – I have been around quite a bit Phil Dawson, (Adam) Vinatieri, (Stephen) Gostkowski – and the guys who I have coached in Indianapolis – Chase (McLaughlin) this past year-had a good year and (Michael) Badgley – those guys have done a good job of putting misses to bed and moving on and not being so caught up in missing a kick,” Ventrone said. “It’s how fast you can make the correction and then move on to the next kick. I have not had a chance to sit down and actually meet with Cade, but that will be one of the things that I am going to influence for him.”

If Ventrone can have the same impact on York that he had on McLaughlin, the former Browns kicker, in Indy last year, York will be kicking pretty. McLaughlin went 4 for 10 from 40-49 yards in 2021 with the Browns, and improved to 9 of 11 from that distance last season under Ventrone, who led top-10 units in Indy in each of the past three seasons.

“I feel like I have a good understanding of the techniques that are played within the scheme,” Ventrone said. “I’ve actually done it in my career. That’s all I did really. I feel like I have maybe a little bit more insight into the true intricacies of the techniques. I am big, big, big – we will drill it to death – on the fundamentals of the game: footwork, hat placement and playing with the base. I’m going to emphasize that ad nauseam to our players, and ultimately, that’s going to get us the best results. You can’t do anything unless you have good fundamentals and technique. That starts from Day 1.”

You can bet that when Bubba speaks, York will listen.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

New offensive line coach Joe Rudolph officially hired at Notre Dame

 







INSIDE THE IRISH | NBC SPORTS     











Courtesy Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame has made official its hire of Virginia Tech offensive line coach Joe Rudolph for the same role in South Bend. Rudolph also has experience as an offensive coordinator at Wisconsin and Pittsburgh under former Badgers head coach Paul Chyrst. The Tuesday morning announcement comes after Rudolph’s hire was first reported on Feb. 27.

“We are excited to add offensive line coach Joe Rudolph to our staff,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said in a statement. “He has a proven track record of developing elite college football players, many of whom have gone on to also experience great success in the NFL. We look forward to Joe having a similar impact in our program.”

Rudolph replaces Harry Hiestand at Notre Dame after Hiestand retired following Tommy Rees’s departure for Alabama. He has a lengthy history of being prominently involved in run-first offenses, as Chryst’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at both of his head-coaching stops.

As Irish head coach Marcus Freeman and newly-promoted offensive coordinator Gerad Parker looked for their offensive line coach, they emphasized remaining a run-first offense.

“The thing we know we are built on, we want to be o-line driven,” Parker said when in his introductory press conference on Feb. 20. “We want to be built from inside-out. With what we have returning up front and with our running backs and tight ends, to be able to control a box, that’s where it always has to start.”

With three proven running backs in rising juniors Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs, and rising senior Chris Tyree, along with two possible preseason All-Americans at tackle in rising juniors Joe Alt (left tackle) and Blake Fisher (right tackle), Rudolph should have a clear foundation to establish such a run game up front. Add in three-year starter Zeke Correll at center, and Rudolph’s offensive line is left with only two questions: Who will start at left guard and right guard?

There is talent at the interior position, just little proven with Josh Lugg and Jarrett Patterson matriculating. Expect fifth-year Andrew Kristofic, rising junior Rocco Spindler and rising sophomore Billy Schrauth to get the first cracks at earning a starting spot this spring, with practices beginning March 22.

While coaching the Badgers, Rudolph played a part in developing six offensive linemen into NFL draft picks, notably 2017 first-round tackle Ryan Ramczyk and 2020 fourth-round center Tyler Biadasz, a 2022 Pro Bowler.

At both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, Rudolph’s offenses developed into run-first offenses, quite distinct improvements over the years when looking at his first two seasons at each. Disregard Rudolph’s first two (out of three) years with the Panthers and his first two (out of seven) years with the Badgers and six of the remaining seven offenses (the exception being the 2020 Wisconsin rendition) finished in the top 25 in the country in at least two of the three primary rushing stats: rushing yards per game, rushing attempts per game and yards per carry.

Notre Dame may not have the same long-standing ethos of run-first offenses as Wisconsin does — just like a band needing a fiddle if it wants to play in Texas, an offense needs a bellcow of a running back if it wants to play in Camp Randall — but Freeman has preached the running game since the moment he was hired as the Irish head coach. Adding an offensive line coach with a decade of coordinating run-first offenses on his résumé underscores that.

PITTSBURGH OFFENSES UNDER RUDOLPH
2012 — No. 94 in rushing yards per game, No. 64 in rushing attempts per game, No. 104 in yards per carry
2013 — No. 103, No. 104, No. 101
2014 — No. 16, No. 12, No. 18

WISCONSIN OFFENSES UNDER RUDOLPH
2015 — No. 95 in rushing yards per game, No. 59 in rushing attempts per game, No. 104 in yards per carry
2016 — No. 39, No. 11, No. 71
2017 — No. 23, No. 17, No. 30
2018 — No. 6, No. 17, No. 4
2019 — No. 15, No. 18, No. 12
2020 — No. 62, No. 30, No. 83
2021 — No. 22, No. 17, No. 35


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