Senior Bowl Notes – Day 1


* Logan Thomas looked like Logan Thomas. You never want to get on a kid too much on the first day, but Thomas didn’t do anything to make me think I should hop on his bandwagon. He looks great. He’s got a strong arm. I just don’t see a smooth, efficient passer. Struggled in 7-on-7 drills. Lots of checkdowns. Even had one picked off. Appeared Thomas put too much mustard on a pass to a RB and it bounced off him and got picked.

* It is very possible that ILB Jordan Zumwalt will be my favorite player when I leave Mobile. He is a mean, nasty LB. A player started to the inside today after a short catch. Zumwalt came over and leveled the guy. There wasn’t supposed to be full contact and Zumwalt got a bit of heat for the hit. I’d rather have a LB that I had to tone down than one I had to pump up. Had a cut on his forehead tonight from some hit he gave/took today. Fun guy to watch.

* Robert Herron was very impressive. Who? The Senior WR from Wyoming ran crisp routes and showed good athletic ability as he got open. He also caught the ball well, including one impressive deep catch. Herron is only 5-9, 193, but he can play. He was 72-937-9 this year. He had 8 TDs and averaged more than 21 yards a catch in 2012.

* DT Aaron Donald was hard to slow down in the 1-on-1 drills. He gave OG Cyril Richardson fits. Donald fired off the ball and blew by Richardson several times. 4-3 teams that use a 1-gap system will love Donald. Disruptive force.

* Marcus Smith is playing OLB here in Mobile. He is a DE or 3-4 rush LB, but it is good to see him playing a new role. 3-4 teams will get to see how he is in space. I thought Smith looked okay today. He’s a pass-rusher first and foremost, but it is helpful to find out that he’s got enough athletic ability to drop back when asked to.

* Dontae Johnson is a press corner. He’s mostly going to play off this week so expect him to have some ups and downs. That’s exactly what happened today. You can see his ability to be physical, but when he plays off and has to rely on a combination of technique and athleticism, he’s going to struggle at times.

* Jimmie Ward is a Safety, but played some in the slot vs certain looks. He is comfortable in man coverage and playing the slot. That helps his value. Some teams like when their Safety can jump on a slot receiver. That gives the coaches flexibility. I was hoping to see Ward cover TEs, but didn’t notice that.


* Kyle Van Noy is an interesting player. I don’t like him as a 3-4 rush LB, but the guy is a good football player. He showed that today by breaking up several passes. Some came in individual drills, others in group drills. Van Noy had 58 career TFLs so we know he can make plays in the backfield. 26 of those are sacks, so we know he can get to the QB. Now people can see that Van Noy can make coverage plays as well.

Van Noy is 6-3, 245. He could be a terrific SAM. He could be a terrific ILB. He might be able to play OLB in a 3-4 if he wasn’t the primary rusher. The problem is that I don’t think he can add too much more to his frame. Most 3-4 teams prefer guys up in the 255-260 range these days.

* Let’s stick with LBs. Jeremiah Attaochu was a stud pass rusher at Georgia Tech. He has 31.5 career sacks, which is tops in the nation. Attaochu is playing 4-3 LB this week. That means he’s back off the ball and playing in space. This isn’t going to be his strength, but I think he has shown that he can be functional, which is all 3-4 teams needed to see. I would be shocked if any 4-3 teams want him as a SAM. Attaochu is still a very physical player. He blew up a FB today on a run play by attacking downhill. Attaochu packs some pop and isn’t afraid to hit.

* Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers is one massive human being. I just wish he played like it. He held his own in some battles today, but lost a few as well. The coaches were trying to praise him to get him going, but McCullers doesn’t play to his size. He should be a dominant player. His calf muscles are as big as some slot receivers. This guy should be controlling blockers, not the other way around.

* Adrian Hubbard is going to be a player that gives me fits. You watch one drill and he’s too upright and awkward. Then you see him covering a player 30 yards downfield and he’s able to do that because of his great length (6-6 and long arms). His strides eat up ground so quickly. Both 3-4 and 4-3 teams will have interest in him as a SAM. I think 4-3 teams could also see him as a DE.

Hubbard is 255 pounds. He has the frame to add weight is a team wants that. And Hubbard is a physical player. He can set the edge and will take on blockers. There is a lot to like, but you can’t ignore his awkwardness either. He’s too upright and doesn’t always show good agility. Receivers (TEs, RBs) were able to consistently create separation from him today. They used quick cuts. Hubbard was slow to react. He did use his length to recover on some plays.

* One offensive player who stood out to me today was Georgia TE Arthur Lynch. He showed the ability to get open on short and intermediate routes. He caught the ball well. He did a solid job as a blocker. Lynch isn’t going to be an athletic TE that will give you big plays, but if you want an old school 2-way TE, he could be a great fit.

* RB Jerick McKinnon had a highlight play when he ran over S Terrence Brooks. That drew oohs and ahs from the crowd. McKinnon was a QB at Georgia Southern, but will shift to RB in the NFL. He is 5-9, 209 and has a thick, powerful build. You see his potential as a runner, but he needs lots of work as a receiver.

* Speaking of Brooks, he did have a terrific downfield INT.

* Telvin Smith said on Monday night that he has no interest in moving to Safety. He is completely set on playing LB. But he’s only 218 pounds and has skinny legs. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to be a starting LB with that size. He really should have bulked up to 225 for the Senior Bowl. That would have helped convince teams he can play LB.

* Brent Urban played mostly DT at Virginia. They had him at DE in some 3-man DL sets. The NFL likes Urban as a DE. He is 6-7, 298 and looks like a DE. He’s got a medium build. He played both LDE and RDE today. Urban isn’t a great pass rusher, but he is a good run defender. I think he’s got potential as a pass rusher. He just needs coaching and more experience.

3-4 teams will love Urban as a LDE. He can easily get up to 310 and be an impact run defender, but with some pass rush potential. Urban drew praise today from the DL coach for how he set the edge.

* DE Dee Ford is fast, active and disruptive. I still don’t know what teams are going to think of his size (6-2, 243). Ford might be small, but he is physical and is more than just a speed rusher. He gave some blockers fits today.

* I loved watching OG Jon Halapio. He anchors really well. He’s not moving back an inch when he locks onto a defender. Halapio is 6-4, 320. Strong, physical player.

* RB Lorenzo Taliaferro had some good moments. He is 231 pounds, but showed the ability to get open and catch the ball well. Teams are going to love a big back who can catch the ball and has some agility.

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Senior Bowl Weigh-In Highlights

The weigh-in is over. Rather than just post the numbers, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jeremiah Attaochu – 6032, 252 – That’s good size for him. He’s just over 6-3 and came in heavier than expected. Has 32 7/8 arms, which is good size. 4-3 teams will like him as a DE and 3-4 teams will love him as an OLB prospect

Justin Ellis – 6017, 342 – He is almost 10 pounds lighter than he was at the Shrine Game weigh-in. Still has a sloppy upper-body, but you can live with that since he’s a big guy and plays NT. He’s not meant to be sleek. Might be good to lose a few more pounds and get down to 335. That’s enough bulk for NT, but also would better allow Ellis to show off his athletic ability.

Dee Ford – 6021, 243 – Came in about the size he was listed at. Can bulk up some, but not too much. Won’t appeal to every team due to his size. Does have 10 inch hands, which can help when fighting off OL and trying to shed blocks.

Jimmy Garoppolo – 6022, 219 – He’s not huge, but looked solidly built.

Jon Halapio – 6034, 320 – Naturally thick build. Love to see OL built like that. Most have just added bulk to a good-sized frame. Halapio carries it very well. His hands are 10 1/4 and his wing span is more than 80 inches.

Adrian Hubbard – 6057, 255 – Not so sure about him. Looked like he had a small belly. Hubbard listed in the 240′s at Alabama. I wonder if he’s trying to bulk up so he can play 4-3 DE. Arms were 33 7/8, which is very good.

Ja’Wuan James – 6061, 315 – Had a small belly. You don’t mind that on big OL, but James isn’t all that huge. Good frame. Would have preferred him to be in better shape.

Christian Jones – 6033, 234 – Very cut. Looks the part of a LB. Can play ILB or MLB. 4-3 teams could like him at SAM or WLB. I wonder if any 3-4 teams will have interest in him adding 15 pounds and being a rush LB.

Arthur Lynch – 6044, 258 – This is no jacked up WR. Legit TE body. Thick legs. Strong dude. Could become an excellent blocker in the NFL. Has the build for it.

Daniel McCullers – 6067, 348 – Huge. Carries it pretty well. Hands are 10 5/8. Arms are 35 5/8. Wingspan is 85 1/2. Literally a monster. Hope he plays like that. Game tape is inconsistent. Some teams love big guys. McCullers is the biggest. Now that has to show up on the field.

Jay Prosch – 6006, 256 – Do you need a FB? Prosch is one thick, strong dude. Huge calf muscles. Looks the part.

Caraun Reid – 6021, 301 – A DT from Princeton? Yep. And he had one of the best bodies at the weigh-in. Has a naturally thick build. Isn’t going to get much bigger, but is impressive as is.

Jalen Saunders – 5086, 164 – A player small enough that DeSean Jackson could kick his butt. We knew Saunders would be small, but 164 is awfully light.

Telvin Smtih – 6027, 218 – Listed as a LB, but has the body of a DB. Skinny legs Thin build. Just doesn’t look like a LB. Gotta do a lot of tape study on him to see if he can play S.

Kyle Van Noy – 6032, 244 – I was worried he’d be closer to 6-2, 235. Has solid size. I don’t think he’s going to get much bigger. I really think Van Noy is best suited for 3-4 ILB or 4-3 SAM.

Brent Urban – 6066, 298 – One of the best bodies at the weigh-in. Looks the part of a 3-4 DE. Big frame, but sleek build. I’m sure OL coaches were looking at him and thinking he’d make a good OT prospect.

Chris Borland – 5113, 245 – Came in at the size he was listed at. Built like a brick wall. If ILB doesn’t pan out for him, could be a FB for some team. Short arms at only 28 7/8.

Tajh Boyd – 6006, 222 – I’m sure he wanted to be over 6-1. Looked to be in okay shape. Was heavier early in his career.

Michael Campanaro – 5093, 191 – Short, thick, muscular. Big upper body. Not your typical slot receiver. Very short arms at 28 5/8. That build will turn off some teams.

Kain Colter – 5106, 199 – QB and WR at Northwestern will be a full-time WR in the NFL. Has a solid build. Is 199, but carries it well. Has 10-inch hands and 30 3/4 arms.

Aaron Donald – 6007, 288 – Almost made it to 6-1. The most disruptive player in the country came in a bit bigger than expected. And he didn’t look like he put on too much weight. Can go 290 and still look good. Not sure he is meant to ever be a 300-pound DT, though.

Kadeem Edwards – 6041, 309 – Didn’t make a good first impression. Had a noticeable belly, which isn’t good for 309. Has a good frame, but needs to keep an athletic build. I don’t know if he’s tried to bulk up or just isn’t in great shape. Needs to get better.

Seantrel Henderson – 6067, 331 – Big dude, but in pretty good shape. Just naturally big. Hands are 10 3/8. Arms are 34 3/4.

Kareem Martin – 6057, 272 – Looks like a DL. I don’t see him playing 3-4 OLB. Has long arms at 34 3/4. Could bulk up to the 290 range and be a 3-4 DE.

Marcus Smith – 6034, 258 – Listed at 6-3, 252 so it was good to see him exceed those numbers. Looks the part of a 3-4 LB or 4-3 DE.

Logan Thomas – 6056, 250 – Huge. Looks more like a TE than a QB. Many people think he’s a project to develop at QB. I’m not in that group. I don’t believe in him as a QB. I think he’ll end up at TE eventually. Great body.


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Pro and College Notes

* The NFC title game features the best teams in the NFL going head-to-head. The Niners at the Seahawks. This is the matchup we all wanted to see. It should be a nasty, physical game. Old school football. It’s good to see some of that after watching so many shootouts this season.

I’m picking the Niners. I know winning at Seattle is brutally hard, but I think the Niners can do it. Their offense is playing better than Seattle’s right now. Russell Wilson has put up pedestrian numbers in the last 5 games. He’s still doing enough to win, but I don’t know if that will be good enough against a team like SF.

Wilson is getting some national criticism for the first time in his career. Some is warranted, some is silly. I heard a radio guy ask if Wilson has hit his ceiling. Huh? In Year Two? That’s ridiculous. That said, some of the hype that came with Wilson early on was over the top as well. He’s got a great defense. He’s got a great running game. Wilson plays with the lead a lot. That’s worlds different than a guy like Andrew Luck who has to carry his team on his back.

Sunday will be a big test for Wilson. Will he play well in the biggest game of his young career? That’s going to be tough against SF’s defense.

* I don’t have a good feeling at all for the AFC game. The Pats are so banged up. And they’ll be on the road. But how do you pick against Brady and Belichick in January? Do you trust Peyton to beat them in the AFC title game? Does Denver have enough defense?

I’m picking the Pats, but I don’t feel great confidence in that pick. The best way to slow Peyton down is to keep him on the sideline. That means the Pats need long, sustained drives. Blount is running the ball well. The OL is playing well. Brady can make the key throw here and there to keep the chains moving.

* We all have come to admire Stanford coach David Shaw in recent years. He’s done great work with that program since Jim Harbaugh left. Shaw is now in for some real challenges.

His defensive coordinator, Derek Mason, proved to be one of the best assistant coaches in the nation. Mason is now heading to Vanderbilt to take over that program. Great choice by Vandy. Replacing Mason won’t be easy for Shaw. He needs someone who can get that defense to continue to play their smart, rugged style.

Stanford also lost some underclassmen to the NFL. They lost some key Seniors as well. Shaw might have his toughest coaching challenge so far in 2014. It will be fun to see how he handles it and if he proves to be the great coach we think he is.

* I’m not sure what to think of Jim Caldwell taking over in Detroit. He is a smart offensive coach and will help Matt Stafford. My concern is whether Caldwell has the right personality for the Lions. That team is dysfunctional. If they buy in to Caldwell’s ideas, things will go smoothly. I just wonder if Caldwell’s message will get through. He’s not a fiery guy. He’s not a forceful guy. Will some of the knuckleheads up there listen to him?

* I also have concerns about Jay Gruden to the Skins. I think Gruden can be a good NFL coach. My concern is whether he’ll stand up to Dan Snyder. Mike Shanahan had a pair of Super Bowl wins on his resume. He could stand up to Snyder and say we’re doing this my way. Snyder has given Gruden his first coaching job. I don’t think Snyder will be a mindless sycophant, but I do wonder if dealing with Snyder is going to prove to be a major stumbling block for him. I wonder if Gruden called Jason Garrett to ask what it is like to work for Jerry Jones. Similar situation.

* It sure sounds like the Houston Texans want to trade the 1st overall pick. They’re trying to seel the idea that they want Jadeveon Clowney. If you had to guess, you wonder if they’d prefer to move back and draft Blake Bortles. You can bet he and Teddy Bridgewater will be on their radar. Bortles is more accurate downfield. I think Bill O’Brien would prefer that. As for Johnny Manziel, I don’t think O’Brien would like him. Manziel is too much of an improvisational QB.

* I was glad to see Auburn RB Tre Mason enter the draft. He is a tough, physical runner. He showed how good he could be this year. RBs who have his style can wear down easily so I would almost always advise them to come out. Mason isn’t the most gifted RB, but he runs hard and has excellent strength. He’s got some violence to his game. He might remind you of Marshawn Lynch or a bit of Marion Barber. Really fun player to watch.

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Johnny Football, Part 1

Johnny Manziel is headed to the NFL. We knew this was going to happen. For some reason he was hesitant to announce this for about a week, but it was inevitable

Johnny Football has proven he can be a great college player. He won the Heisman Trophy as a Freshman and you can argue that he should have won it this year. There wasn’t anything more to prove in college and his lifestyle didn’t mesh well with NCAA rules. It was time to go.

There is no question that Johnny is an amazing talent. He’s done things on the field that make our jaw hit the floor. He is one of the most dynamic college players I’ve ever seen. How will that translate to the NFL? This is a really tough question.

NFL QBs must be pocket passers first and foremost. Making plays and improvising are added abilities, not the foundation of your game. Manziel has the potential to be a pocket passer. Does he have the discipline?

In the NFL coaches want players to play how they practice. They don’t mind some creativity from time to time, but coaches prefer guys they can control. Coaches want to know how a player will play. They don’t want to hope that Good Johnny showed up today. You can’t gameplan around that. Plays must be executed the same way over and over. They must be practiced and perfected. That’s how you win games.

Coaches will want Manziel’s physical potential and his playmaking ability. The coaches will all be convinced that “I’m the guy who can control him”. If a coach can do that, Manziel can be a special player. He can be a QB you build your team around. If Manziel and the coach don’t see eye to eye, that’s when you’ve got trouble.

No one has questioned the fact that Manziel works hard and plays hard. But the NFL is a whole other level. You can’t be out partying and then get to work at 6am and be ready to go. The NFL is hard work from April to January. When you do get time off, the great players work on their own. They know how hard it is to be great.

A team that spends a Top 10 pick on Manziel will want to know that he understands all of this and is ready to focus on football. I just don’t know if that’s the case.

I’m not making a moral judgment on Manziel. I got drunk plenty of times in my early 20′s and did some very crazy stuff. However, I wasn’t paid millions of dollars to do a job and I wasn’t the face of a billion dollar organization.

If I were a coach/GM, I’d be scared to death of Manziel. If you take him, will he stay focused on football and do all the work that’s needed? If you pass on him, will he make you regret that by becoming an elite QB?

This is a guy you will study to death on an off the field. There is no question about his arm strength, accuracy, mobility, leadership and other-on-the-field skills. Can you get him to function within the offense? That’s your primary playing concern. Off the field, I’ve got a ton of questions.

I only take Manziel if I’m fully committed to him. Don’t take this guy and shove him into a conservative offense. You’ve got to be willing to spread the field and do the stuff he likes. You’ve got to have the right coaches to work with him (OC, QB coach). Don’t get old school hardliners. Get someone that is open and willing to deal with Manziel.

I also don’t know about drafting him and having him sit. Manziel with lots of money and being a backup sounds like a bad formula. I want him playing early on. Manziel is incredibly competitive and I think getting him on the field is the best way to control him off of it.

I’ve heard more than a few comparisons to Russell Wilson. That is utter nonsense. Wilson was incredibly mature in college. He came across more like a Senator than a draft prospect. He played in the WCO for 3 years at NC State and then spent a year in Wisconsin’s power run game. Wilson led the nation in passing efficiency as a Senior.

Manziel led the SEC in rushing n 2012. He threw the ball better this season and dialed back the running. But he still improvised a lot. And he benefited a great deal from throwing the ball to Mike Evans. I would guess the majority of his big plays came due to his running or throwing the ball to Evans and then having Evans make most of the play on his own.

Give Manziel the right weapons and put him in the right system and he can be a star QB in the NFL. Try to force Manziel to play in Norv Turner’s system and I think you’re asking for trouble.

I hope wherever he goes, Manziel pans out. Football is a lot more fun when he’s good.

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Draft Notes

* Logan Thomas is a polarizing player. Some people love his size and raw skills. There is no questioning that he’s got a strong arm or that he can be a very good runner. He makes his share of “wow” plays. Many people see him as a player to take in the 3rd or 4th round and coach up. They seem to look at him as EJ Manuel Jr.

I’ll pass. Thomas really got my attention as a Sophomore, but he’s failed to make any progress since then. He actually looks worse to me. I’ve heard a ton of excuses. He didn’t have good receivers to work with. He didn’t get great coaching. I don’t dispute that these factors did hurt him.

My problem is that I question if the guy will improve in the NFL. We’ve seen a ton of guys who had terrific physical skills get to the NFL and not pan out. You need more than a strong arm and good mobility. I don’t question Thomas brain or character. I just don’t see a guy who looks like an NFL QB to me. I would absolutely have interest in him as a TE or some other position. There’s no doubt that he does have an NFL body.

I hope he’s not over-drafted because that will put extra pressure on the young man and make it that much more difficult for him to succeed.

* Clemson had some good NFL talent on display in their bowl game. WR Sammy Watkins is an elite player. He’s one of the best college receivers I have ever seen. He is special because he is such a complete receiver. Watkins has the speed to go deep and make plays down the field. He is strong and physical enough to take short catches and get RAC yards. He’ll run through tacklers when he’s got to. He also can be elusive, as you saw with one dynamic move in the game. Watkins should absolutely be a Top 10 pick.

WR Martavis Bryant also looked good. He made one incredible TD catch on a fade pass. That showed body control, hands and great concentration. Bryant is 6-5, 200 and plays to that size.

DE Vic Beasley projects to OLB in the NFL. He’s just 6-2, 235. Some 3-4 teams won’t like a guy that small. He could have to be a SAM for a 4-3 team and then situational pass rusher, similar to Von Miller. Beasley was terrific in the bowl game. He got regular pressure throughout the game. He was a disruptive force.

Beasley is very quick off the ball. He is a natural pass rusher. He’ll mix in some inside moves, which is crucial for a speed rusher. Beasley also will use power at times. I’m curious to see how Beasley measures in at the Combine. 3-4 teams will be thrilled if he’s 6-3, 250 or anywhere close.

Size-wise, Beasley is similar to former Penn State star Aaron Maybin. But Beasley is a more complete rusher. Maybin flew off the edge and went wide/deep, play after play. That one trick worked in college, but not the NFL. Beasley is much better prepared.

* Need a good ILB? This is the year for you. The headliners are going to be Ryan Shazier from Ohio State and CJ Moseley from Alabama. There are plenty of other players to choose from. You just need to decide if you want a run stuffer, an athlete or an instinctive, overachiever type. Really impressive group of prospects.

* One player that has always jumped out to me is Oregon DB Avery Patterson. He’s 5-10, 189. Has experience at both CB and Safety. Patterson is very productive. He was third on Oregon in tackles (80). He also had 6 TFLs, 3 INTs and 6 PBUs. Patterson shows up on tape. He is a solid tackler. Very active in pursuit. Goes hard after the ball.

Patterson lacks ideal size or athletic ability, but NFL teams could have interest. He might fit in as a Tampa 2 CB. He could be a backup S for teams that aren’t focused on size. Patterson sure looks like a guy who would go all out on STs. Mid to late round type, but a fun player to watch.

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Underclassmen WRs Leaving in Droves

Big names like Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson have also declared. After the National Title game, we might hear from FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin.

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A Safety Worth Checking Out

Pryor had 75 tackles this year, 5.5 TFLs, 4 pass breakups and 3 INTs. The Junior is 6-2, 208. He’s started the last 2 1/2 years.

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QB Update

A report came out on Sunday night that UCF star Blake Bortles will head to the NFL. UCLA star Brett Hundley will stay in school.

Bortles joins Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr as the most likely 1st round QB candidates. You never know if someone else will emerge in the pre-draft process (see EJ Manuel from last year), but this group is probably all teams will be going for in the 1st round.

Hundley made a good decision. He’s not ready for the NFL. An extra year at UCLA won’t turn him into Peyton Manning, but it should help him to get ready. Hundley reminds me physically of Colin Kaepernick. Hundley has a cleaner motion, but Kap had 4 years and a ton of starts under his belt when he got to the NFL.

As for this year’s 1st rounders…Bridgewater is the most polished and most accurate. He has a strong chance to go first among the group. Manziel is…well he’s Johnny Football. There’s no other way to describe him. Carr has the strongest arm. He reminds me a bit of Tony Romo. Bortles is interesting. He’s big and mobile. Has a good arm. I need to watch more tape since I didn’t anticipate him coming out.

Zach Mettenberger had a chance to be a 1st round pick before tearing his ACL. Tajh Boyd has some moments when he looks like a 1st rounder, but he’s just too inconsistent. His bad plays are painfully bad…like the INT he threw inside the 5-yard line in the Orange Bowl.

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Around the League

* The Miami Dolphins are having a better year than some people expected, especially after the Martin-Incognito situation. One of the keys has been a stingy defense. Miami is only 20th in yards allowed, but they are 8th in points allowed. They are tied for 9th in the NFL in sacks with 42.

Cam Wake is having a good year and has 8.5 sacks. He draws a lot of attention so that total is misleading. Olivier Vernon has 11.5 sacks and has been a revelation this year. He’s showing the potential to be a complete DE.

Some people have wondered if the emergence of Vernon could make rookie Dion Jordan expendable in the offseason. I doubt it. Wake will turn 32 in January. He’s still a good player now, but only has limited time left as a top rusher. Vernon is young and is now a key part of the future. Jordan has been quiet as a rookie, but he’s still got a bright future. As the Giants proved in 2007 and 2011, you can never have too many pass rushers.

* Skins ILB London Fletcher is going to retire after Sunday’s game. Fletcher has had a great career. The first thing to discuss is longevity. Fletcher was a rookie in 1998. Think about that for a moment. 1998. I was using my first computer. It was a crappy Compaq that I spent almost $2000 on. It ran on Windows ’95 and had a dial-up connection. That made downloading the Pam & Tommy video a lengthy, frustrating process. But I digress.

Fletcher didn’t just play a long time. He played really well. Fletcher has 39 sacks, 20 FFs and 23 INTs in his career. Ray Lewis had 41.5 sacks, 19 FFs and 31 INTs. Brian Urlacher had 41.5 sacks, 12 FFs and 22 INTs. Fletcher doesn’t come across as that much of a playmaker, but he really is.

The highlight game for me came a few years back. Eagles C Jamaal Jackson, who was 330 pounds (or more), went to block Fletcher. Bad idea. Fletcher shed the block easily and went and tackled the RB. Later in the game Fletcher covered RB Brian Westbrook down the sideline on a wheel route. He was stride for stride with Westbrook. How do you beat a man who can best your giant and your most gifted skill player?

Kudos to Fletcher for a great career. You can argue whether he was ever a great player or whether he should go to the HOF, but you can’t argue with his durability and his career production. In that regard, he’s special.

* It is almost certain that Lions coach Jim Schwartz will be fired. Who should they hire to replace him?

I think the Lions should look for a Mike McCoy or Bruce Arians type. Those coaches were veteran NFL assistants who didn’t need to rebuild a team from the ground up. They had talent to work with and were able to fix some key problems and get immediate results.

The Lions have plenty of talent. They need the right guy to run the team, but they don’t need a complete overhaul. Pete Carmichael of the Saints and Jay Gruden of the Bengals would be a couple of interesting names.

If the Lions want to roll the dice on a defensive coach, Mike Zimmer could be a great hire. He’s not the safest guy for some teams because Zimmer tends to speak his mind and that could be “interesting” in the right media market. Detroit doesn’t have an adversarial press and the Lions aren’t the key to the city. Zimmer could fit that situation.

Schwartz did some good things for the Lions. He got that franchise turned around and made them relevant. The problem is that he couldn’t get them to perform at a consistent level. The team lacked discipline. When things were good, they could be very good. But when things went wrong, they could go very wrong.

* Thomas Davis has had a great year for the Carolina Panthers. Luke Kuechly and Greg Hardy are the headliners on the defense, but Davis is still a key player for them. He’s got 117 total tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 2 INTs, 8 PDs and 9 TFLs on the year. That is a complete LB.

Davis is a physical presence for the defense. He’s been that way going all the way back to his days at Georgia. Davis is one of the most physical, rugged players I ever scouted. He was flat out mean. And a joy to watch.

It is great that he’s overcome a horrible injury situation to have a great season and help the Panthers get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

* Where is RB Chris Johnson going to be next year? It’s hard to believe he ran for 2,000 yards back in 2009 and now is largely irrelevant. He had 34 rushing TDs in his first 3 years. He’s got 15 in the last 3 seasons.

Johnson would be an interesting player in the right offense. He would be interesting in Indy and Atlanta. I don’t know about the logistics of those situations, but each team could use a RB with speed and big play ability.

* How the heck does Hakeem Nicks have no TDs?

* The Cowboys OL has been a mess in recent years, but there is real hope moving forward. Tyron Smith is becoming a great LT. He is a gifted pass protector. I love the fact that he doesn’t have to sell out to block edge rushers. He cam move backward in a balanced fashion, which keeps rushers from taking a hard inside move. Smith is also an excellent run blocker.

Rookie C Travis Frederick has proven to be a good player. You can still argue whether or not he was worth a 1st round pick, but the guy can play.

The line still needs help, but those are 2 young building blocks and that’s a good start.

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The Wizard of Oz

If you have any interest in scouting or the personnel world, you like Ozzie Newsome. Actually, you should love Ozzie. He is everything that’s right about being a GM.

Greg Bedard wrote a brilliant piece on Ozzie, starting with his childhood and going right up to now. Lots of great information and stories in there.

Here is a great bit on his transition from college to the NFL.

Before the 1978 draft, another coach was sent, like Mitchell, to visit Newsome, with very specific instructions. Rich Kotite was part of Sam Rutigliano’s new coaching staff with the Browns. Rutigliano wanted a weapon who could attack the double zone defenses of the day down the middle. That meant he needed a tight end. Newsome was a receiver most of his career at Alabama, but Rutigliano thought he could make the transition if he possessed one unique physical trait.

“I told [Kotite], ‘I don’t want to know anything else except does he have a big butt?’ ” Rutigliano recalls.

A few days later, Kotite returned from Tuscaloosa. As he walked into Rutigliano’s office, Kotite didn’t have any scouting reports or any materials on Newsome. “He just said, ‘Sam, he’s got a big butt.’ I said OK, and we drafted him 23rd overall, after taking linebacker Clay Matthews 12th,” Rutigliano recalls.

Newsome reported for a mini-camp and met with Rutigliano, who told his new player he could make it as a receiver but could be a great tight end. “Coach, Bear Bryant told me to tell you that he thinks I should play tight end too,” Newsome said. “Well, if coach Bryant feels that way, that’s good enough for both of us, right?” Rutigliano replied.

“Yes sir,” Newsome said.  Continue reading

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