AROUND THE NFL
And the winner of the inaugural 40 Yards of Gold is former Olympian WR MARQUISE GOODMAN – although some of the big names who were expected did not make it to the starting block. David Furones of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
With so many Florida speedsters in the inaugural 40 Yards of Gold tournament consisting of some of the fastest NFL players — and the event being held in South Florida — it was a Texan that came away with the title.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, of Lubbock, Texas and a University of Texas alum, topped Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson by .05 seconds in the tournament final on Saturday night at the BB&T Center.
“Everything’s bigger in Texas,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin came out of the 16-player field victorious, and won a $1 million check after navigating through four rounds in the bracket-format tournament that was broadcast on Pay-Per-View.
Hosted by former All-Pro Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Johnson, along with ex-NFL 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson and DJ Irie and with a performance by rapper Rick Ross that preceded the final, a crowd of about 2,000 to 3,000 fans provided an electric atmosphere given the numbers. An official attendance for the event is yet to be released.
“This was good,” said Chad Johnson. “Obviously, whenever you do something for the first time, it’s trial and error. Based on my experience and what I saw, it was nice. It was awesome. It was exciting. Listening to the feedback from the players, they enjoyed it.”
Participants would race two-by-two over 40 yards of artificial turf, enhanced by elaborate lighting and augmented reality graphics visible on the arena screens and Pay-Per-View broadcast. The winners of each round would meet Johnson beyond the finish line for a quick, fun interview that often involved trash talk — some directed at Johnson himself.
“This event superseded my expectations,” Goodwin said. “I think it can be one of the biggest speed events in the world if we can get enough people every year. This turnout was great.”
Goodwin will be entering his seventh NFL season this fall — after his first four with the Buffalo Bills. His best season to date was his first in San Francisco, where he had 56 receptions for 962 yards in 2017. He also has a track and field background, participating in the long jump at the 2012 Summer Olympics and winning two NCAA long jump titles. Jackson, a New Orleans native, had four interceptions for the Panthers as a rookie second-round pick out of LSU.
Jackson eliminated former South Plantation and FAU standout John Franklin III, who also starred on the Netflix series “Last Chance U” and had FSU and Auburn among his college stops, in a semifinal by one-hundredth of a second officially. Replay displayed at BB&T Center appeared to show Franklin crossing the finish line slightly ahead of Jackson, bringing boos from the pro-Franklin hometown crowd.
Goodwin won easily over Denver Broncos running back Khalfani Muhammad in his semifinal. Forty-yard dash times were not released; only time differential between winner and loser.
The event featured a mix of well-known NFL names, practice squad-level players and free agents.
“It’s always great to see the guys who aren’t quite big names in the league and see how they come out and compete,” Goodwin said. “Their hunger — you see it in their eyes when they compete. I appreciate the guys who came out who weren’t on teams. Hopefully this opportunity affords them another opportunity in the league.”
“Sometimes most of the top guys that are in the NFL, that are fast, won’t take a chance,” said Johnson of the difficulty of filling the field with top-notch NFL players. “So it’s hard.”
Johnson hopes the tournament can grow into a marquee event in football, like the Slam Dunk Contest is to the NBA or the Home Run Derby in Major League Baseball.
“Watch what happens next year,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to turn guys away.”
In an all-Broward County quarterfinal, Franklin topped current free agent cornerback Rashard Robinson, who is a Blanche Ely grad and, like Jackson, an LSU alum.
In one of the more star-studded pairings, New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson, another South Plant alum, beat New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara in the first round. Anderson apparently withdrew following the victory as a fill-in faced Goodwin in his place in the quarterfinals.
Former Miami Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn Jr., still in the NFL with the Saints, withdrew before competition began. Alternate runners were seeded based on 40-yard dash times run on Thursday and filled in for players in the field as needed.
Big NFL names were in the stands. Former University of Miami and Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller, now with the Houston Texans, as well as Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy were among those on a guest list, as were Dolphins great Mark Clayton, ex-NFL and UM cornerback Duane Starks and former NFL wide receiver Antonio Freeman.
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This seems nice. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:
When former Patriots cornerback Ty Law is officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early August, his longtime friend Byron “Book” Washington will be his presenter. For the player with 53 career picks, this 54th pick was an easy one.
“My best friend in the world, like a biological twin brother, from when we were 1 year old,” Law said. “We grew up across the street from one another. Any experience that I had, closer to anyone in my life, he knows everything — all the good, where all the bones are buried. That’s my guy through thick and thin.
“If my grandfather was alive and here, it would be a no-brainer, as far as the impact in my life, but I couldn’t think of anyone else who knows me like Byron does.”
Their bond traces to Wykes Street in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, when Law would race kids around the neighborhood and most often beat them handily. They played together on the Little Quips football team, and when Law’s roommate moved out his final year at Michigan, Washington relocated to Ann Arbor and moved in because Law didn’t want to live with anyone else.
As kids, they dreamed of one day playing in the NFL, and becoming Hall of Famers. So when it actually happens Aug. 3 for Law, 45, it’s fitting that “Book” will help him write the final gold-jacket chapter.
RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT’s assault of/pushing/bumping a hapless Las Vegas security officer, that was shrugged off by Nevada law enforcement, has caught the ever-vigilant eye of NFL Justice. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Todd Archer of ESPN.com reports that Elliott will meet with Goodell on Tuesday. Elliott has once again landed on the league’s radar screen in the aftermath of an incident at a Las Vegas music festival, where Elliott had a confrontation that resulted in a security guard falling, possibly with a nudge/shove/elbow from Elliott.
As a prior offender under the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, Elliott faces enhanced penalties, if the league concludes that he committed another violation. In 2017, the NFL suspended Elliott six games in the aftermath of an allegation of domestic violence for which he was never arrested, charged, or even sued in civil court.
It was, frankly, a Keystone Cops investigation and a kangaroo court proceeding, with one of the investigators recommending no suspension and having her voice thereafter frozen out of the process. But that doesn’t change the end result — the league suspended Elliott, and he served the six games. If he violates the policy again, he’s a repeat offender, period.
Then there’s the fact that Elliott fought the issue in court, successfully obtaining an order that delayed the start of the suspension. Even though Big Shield ultimately won, Elliott made the mistake of tugging on Superman’s cape. Throw in the fact that the incident sparked a failed effort by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (with an assist from Papa John) to topple Goodell, and the Commissioner’s revenge could be a dish served colder than a refrigerated slice of John Schnatter’s signature product.
Still, whatever Goodell does now to Elliott (along with what Goodell did two years ago) rightfully will be compared to whatever Goodell does to Hill. And if there’s a disparity between the outcomes, fans of the Cowboys and of Elliott will have good cause to react badly.
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Is Kellen Moore the guy to free the Cowboys from the shackles that Mike Florio thinks were imposed on the Dallas offense by Jason Garrett/Sean Linehan?
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has survived in Dallas for more than eight years despite an offense that relies far less on creativity and innovation than it does on physicality and skill of its players. With Garrett entering an up-or-out year in 2019, the question becomes whether the offense will make enough changes to take the team to the next level — and to get Garrett a third contract.
Changes apparently are coming, with 29-year-old (until Friday) Kellen Moore serving as offensive coordinator after only one season as an assistant coach. In May, COO Stephen Jones explained that the goal is to make the offense “a little harder to diagnose when we snap the ball.” Which implies that, previously, it hasn’t been all that hard to spot what the Cowboys will be doing before the ball is snapped.
The way to do that is to use different formations and alignments, along with pre-snap motion and players who are capable of lining up in multiple positions. The return of Jason Witten, the arrival of Randall Cobb, and the 2018 trade for Amari Cooper gives the offense intriguing elements that, fueled by a potent running game and a still-strong offensive line, can make things far more interesting offensively.
Then there’s quarterback Dak Prescott, who seemed to elevate his game in a pair of postseason contests in January, arguably performing more impressively in the loss to the Rams than the win over the Seahawks, because the running game went nowhere in L.A., with Elliott gaining a mere 47 yards on 20 carries. If Dak can continue on that trajectory, taking full advantage of his weapons and of the attention Elliott still commands, the Dallas offense could take it to the proverbial next level, extending Garrett’s tenure, vaulting the team to its first NFC title game since 1995, and helping owner Jerry Jones in his quest to recapture a little of the glory hole.
The Cowboys were 22nd last year in both yards per game and points per game.
Will TE VERNON DAVIS segue into a career on the screen? John Keim of ESPN.com:
The producer knocked on the trailer door, needing Vernon Davis on the set. It was time for his scene, one rich with dialogue. Davis, though, needed another minute. He wasn’t done preparing.
There’s a reason Davis is entering his 14th season and remains the Washington Redskins’ No. 2 tight end at age 35. There’s also a reason he is receiving praise for what he hopes will be his post-NFL career — acting. It’s preparation.
On the set of “Hell on the Border” this January day, it meant telling the film’s producer he needed to get into character.
“When I heard that, I was so excited, like, ‘Oh, my god, this guy really came to do this movie and is prepared,'” producer Henry Penzi said. “He had a big monologue. I read it and said, ‘Oh, god, I hope he can pull it off.’ I never told him that because I didn’t want to scare anyone.”
Penzi said only two other actors on other films had told him they needed a few more minutes: Edward Norton while filming “The Italian Job” and Taylor Kitsch on “Lone Survivor.” They turned out just fine. Davis, playing freed slave Columbus Johnson in a true story about the first black deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River, eventually emerged for his scene.
It included two to three minutes of monologue.
“I backed off [his scene] 100 feet and walked away,” Penzi said. “Funny thing is, I walked away and was climbing a hill. Everyone was clapping and clapping for him because he killed it on the first take. The director was like, ‘That’s all I need.’ I couldn’t believe it. It was a great moment.”
Davis shrugged it off.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Davis said. “I knew I was prepared. I had rehearsed that monologue so many times to the point where it was innate for me.”
Davis isn’t done with the NFL — he’s under contract through 2020 and doesn’t have an end date in mind — and he saves his acting for the offseason. In fact, he doesn’t do interviews about acting during the season.
This offseason, Davis also ventured into other businesses, including founding a line of supplements. He wants to become an NFL analyst, too, but acting — and eventually producing — remains his passion. It’s why he plans on moving to Los Angeles at some point after retiring from the NFL.
Davis has his sights set on Hollywood after football – and he plays a key role in the movie “Hell on the Border” coming out this fall. Davis said of acting “I love connecting to those moments from the past, whether it was my mom not being around or that moment I got drafted.” “Hell on the Border,” which was directed by Wes Miller and also stars Frank Grillo and David Gyasi, will be released this fall. Davis filmed his scenes Jan. 27-30 in Birmingham, Alabama.
He said he will spend a couple of days in late June playing the role of a policeman in the movie “Asphalt.” Another NFL tight end is scheduled to work on the same movie: recently retired Rob Gronkowski.
Penzi, speaking by phone last month en route to Gronkowski’s retirement party in Las Vegas, said he has big plans for Davis.
“If you notice on different interviews, he is pretty funny, he could do some comedy,” said Penzi, who also has worked with Richard Sherman. “I might try to find something with him and Kevin Hart. I talked to him [recently] about doing something with Vernon.”
For Davis, who like Hart is represented by United Talent Agency, it’s simple.
“After football, I have to have something to do,” said Davis, who also attended the NFL’s Broadcast Boot Camp this offseason. “When I was a young kid, the first couple years in the league, I couldn’t find anything to do with my time except things I probably shouldn’t be doing: going to the clubs every night and chasing women. Things that young men do. There was so much time in my day, I tried to find stuff, but I couldn’t find enough.”
As a child, Davis said he was interested in painting and acting but didn’t pursue it because it went against the norm in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood — the potential teasing and name-calling wasn’t worth it to him. But his desire piqued again after getting an A in an arts class while attending the University of Maryland.
Davis took an improv acting class while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, and a flame was ignited.
“Next thing you know, people started bringing me things and ideas, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool. Let me indulge,'” said Davis, who called Denzel Washington his favorite actor.
Soon after, he started creating his own skits and scenes for fun using his iPhone. He dubbed one of them “Random Acts of Kindness” in which he would go to a gym dressed as an old man. Then he’d look for someone who needs help. Or he would ask someone to spot for him on the bench, before lifting, well, like a pro football player does. A football version of Uncle Drew.
One thing led to another, and suddenly he’s following in the footsteps of actor Terry Crews, who played for the Redskins in 1995. Davis has acted in three movies and made four appearances on TV shows, with his biggest role being in “Hell on the Border.” He had a cameo in “Baywatch” two years ago, and he appeared on “Inside Amy Schumer.”
“I enjoy the ability to express myself in ways that I like,” he said. “They’re asking you to involve all the moments from your life, things you went through that were negative and positive in relation to what you’re trying to get out of this film. I love connecting to those moments from the past, whether it was my mom not being around or my grandmother raising my six siblings and I or that moment I got drafted. I pulled from those moments.”
For one scene in “Hell on the Border,” he drew from a motivational talk he once gave his brother, Vontae. But he also went to a deeper place, saying that memories of his grandmother working late hours to give him and his siblings a better life also provided motivation.
“It comes out of his heart,” Penzi said. “I’m not sure, but I feel there was some pain before, and most brilliant actors come with pain. They’ve been through a bad situation. Their upbringing wasn’t good. When he acts, he’s very subtle and listens, and he brings it out.”
That preparation started in football. Davis said he never planned to spend this much time playing the game, accumulating 7,439 receiving yards and 62 touchdowns.
“Being consistent over time, like what Tom Brady has been able to do,” he said. “I tell a lot of young guys coming in that you can’t play catch-up; you can’t get to Year 5 or 6 and all of a sudden say, ‘I’m going to start stretching or seeing a chiropractor or seeing a massage therapist.’ It doesn’t work that way. I’ve been blessed to go as long as I’ve gone and not have any surgeries. A lot of that has to do with consistency: stretching, catching.”
Davis developed those habits early: He still catches 100 balls off a tennis ball machine every night during the season in his basement. That, after catching 200 passes from the Jugs machine after practice.
And he carried that level of devotion to acting. He continues to take classes in the offseason, in Washington and Los Angeles. Davis will Skype with one of those teachers, Rob Epstein, before various scenes to make sure he has nailed his part. Epstein said Davis has “great humility” and, true to football, likes to be coached.
Davis said he likes the entire experience, relating it to football. For “Hell on the Border,” Davis said he’d wake up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. And then wait. Sometimes his scene wouldn’t be shot until six or seven hours later. He equated that to being in the locker room before a game, waking up early at the hotel then getting to the stadium and warming up. Instead of stretching or seeing a trainer, he’s prepping for his shot. In football, it’s about taking a playbook and making it work. In a movie, it’s about learning 50 or so pages of a script and then, he said, “bring it to life.” He likes the synergy.
“You have to really give your best,” he said, “because those cameras are rolling and I know it. When I do my part, I’m anxious — there’s adrenaline. There’s a rush. It’s like a high. I know if I put bad [football] film out there, everyone will be watching and say, ‘This guy’s not good.’ It’s the same with acting.”
Said Epstein: “He’s got great impulses. Very free personality. … Acting is nice for him probably for the same reason I’m attracted to it: It puts you on your feet and is very active. A little bit like sports in the sense that you’re there in 3-D with your whole body and nervous system and reacting to things and doing things.”
Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, like Davis, has focused on post-NFL ventures, including film. He said they discuss acting “all the time” and have talked about working together on a film someday.
“He’s getting these roles, and the roles he’s getting are bigger and bigger,” Norman said. “It’s only a matter of time before that one comes and you see him all the time. He’s on the verge of doing it. I’m cheering for him. I’m his biggest supporter.
“He’s committed to it. You can’t just jump into acting; it won’t work. You won’t come off onscreen like the way you’re supposed to, and people can tell if you suck or not, like Ben Affleck playing Batman. I respect [Davis’] hustle and his grind, and that’s why he’s going to be a big guy in this arena when it’s all said and done.”
Tweeting Greg Auman of The Athletic, apparently asked about Fantasy prospects for 2019, is bullish on RB PEYTON BARBER, at least in comparison to RB RONALD JONES who is studying bus schedules to Bustville.
I think for fantasy, people look for upside at that point more than reliability. Barber is certainly likely to finish with more yards right now. They’re just taking a shot on Jones hoping he plays like a 2nd-round draft pick.
DE SHAQ LAWSON doing good. The AP:
Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson says he will pay for the funeral of an 11-year-old South Carolina girl who died after someone fired more than 35 shots at her home.
News outlets report a family member announced Lawson’s contribution Wednesday evening at a vigil for Ja’Naiya Scott. Someone fired shots at the house in Anderson on Sunday morning. Ja’Naiya’s 18-year-old sister and her 11-year-old cousin were also wounded.
Lawson grew up in South Carolina and played football at Clemson University before being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft. He says he read reports about the shooting and felt compelled to contact the family. Lawson says he has a sister around the same age as Ja’Naiya.
No suspects have been named in the case.
Whether or not to retire can be a weighty matter as Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com discusses as he looks at the shrinking Rob Gronkowski.
Rob Gronkowski looks serious about retiring.
Gronk, the former Patriots tight end who announced his retirement this year, has been the subject of some speculation that he might change his mind and return to the field. But in a recent appearance he looked visibly thinner, suggesting that he has cut back on lifting weights, which would make it hard for him to get back on the field.
Given his appearance at a Showtime event for Julian Edelman‘s new documentary, Gronk is significantly below his listed playing weight of 268 pounds.
Losing significant weight can be good for retired players’ long-term health, but it generally closes the door on coming out of retirement. Former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez said in 2015 that he had teams reach out to him about playing again, but he’d lost too much weight to make it feasible.
Gronk is only 30, so it’s not impossible for him to put weight back on if he does change his mind. But his physical appearance suggests that playing football again is not in the cards.
THIS AND THAT
A couple of former NFL players with checkered histories have more trouble over the weekend. First, Josh Brent as reported by Clarence Hill, Jr. of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
Former Dallas Cowboys player and current team scout Josh Brent was arrested Sunday by Coppell police and charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest.
Police said they received a welfare concern call for the 800 block of MacArthur Boulevard. The caller said a man was sitting in the grass talking to himself and that he was concerned for him. Once police arrived, they determined the man was drunk, according to a press release.
Police told Brent he was going to be arrested on suspicion of public intoxication, and he started to become uncooperative with officers and resisted being put in handcuffs, police said.
“Officers attempted to verbally de-escalate the situation, but Joshua Brent ignored their commands,” police stated in the release.
An officer used his Taser on Brent and took him into custody. During the follow-up, Brent admitted to police he was drunk, according to police.
After medics cleared Brent, he was taken to the Carrollton Police Department Jail for booking. He was charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest, and Coppell police are reviewing the incident to determine whether additional charges are applicable.
A video posted by WFAA appears to show Brent running from and tussling with police.
This is the latest in a litany of alcohol-related issues for Brent, who crashed his car while driving with Cowboys teammate Jerry Brown on Dec. 8, 2012. Brown, a close friend who had also been Brent’s teammate at Illinois, died in the crash. Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter, convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ probation and 180 days in jail.
Brent, who also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2009, failed two drug tests while out on bail after Brown’s death.
He has worked in the Cowboys’ scouting department for the past four years as the team has tried to support him. He also faces scrutiny under the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, which applies to all NFL personnel and team employees.
And WR DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM, who could have been all-time great except for being a knucklehead, needs to move to a state where marijuana is legal. Harrison Keegan in the Springfield News-Leader:
Former NFL wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was formally charged Thursday with resisting arrest and possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana.
The charges, which are both misdemeanors, stem from a December incident where Green-Beckham was present while Springfield police executed a drug-related search warrant at a home.
According to a probable cause statement, officers were conducting surveillance outside of a home in the 600 block of East Grand Street on Dec. 19 as they prepared to execute a search warrant at the property. That’s when they say Green-Beckham showed up, parked his Cadillac Escalade and walked inside, carrying a bag.
A man named Keenan Brown was the target of the search warrant. Green-Beckham was not.
The Springfield Police Department’s Special Response Team raided the home about 15 minutes after Green-Beckham’s arrival, and Green-Beckham allegedly jumped out through a window, where he was then tased and arrested.
The statement says Green-Beckham, 26, had two small bags of marijuana in his pocket, weighing about 5 grams each.
Green-Beckham was taken to the hospital to be treated for a cut under his nose before going to the Greene County Jail, according to the statement.
The statement says officers then searched the home where they found more than 8 pounds of marijuana, 29 THC vape pen cartridges and more than $3,200 cash.
The Springfield in question is located in Missouri and is Green-Beckham’s hometown. Wikipedia reminds us of some of Green-Beckham’s history.
Green-Beckham was born as the third of six children born to Charmelle Green, a single mother, in St. Louis, Missouri. He never knew his biological father and lived in several foster homes before John Beckham, his high school coach, and his wife Tracy officially adopted him on December 30, 2009. The Beckhams had brought Green and his younger brother Darnell into their home in 2006. The couple has one other child, a young daughter, whom Dorial is very close to. Darnell Green-Beckham is currently receiving treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia but is in remission. Darnell also signed a letter of intent to play for Missouri, but decided to pursue a career in modeling instead.
This is at least the fifth arrest for Green-Beckham, all having to do with marijuana except one that is a DUI with no specific mention as to what provided that influence.
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This sounds scary concerning former QB Jared Lorenzen:
Former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen has been hospitalized with an infection, according to Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones.
Jones shared a message on Twitter on behalf of Lorenzen’s family, who said the former quarterback was brought to the hospital on Friday after not feeling well for a few weeks. Lorenzen was placed in ICU and is battling an infection, kidney and heart issues.
“He is fighting with every thing he has and his immediate family by his side,” the statement read.
Jones first tweeted on Friday night that Lorenzen had been hospitalized due to an infection. The radio host said he spoke to Lorenzen’s mother, who requested privacy for the family.
I just spoke to Jared Lorenzen’s mother. He has been admitted to the hospital with an infection and is dealing with some medical issues at this time
She asks for prayers from the Big Blue Nation and privacy at this time
Prayers for one of the best people I know
Lorenzen, nicknamed “The Hefty Lefty,” played for four seasons at Kentucky from 2000-03. As a freshman, he led the SEC in passing yards with 3,687 and threw for 528 against Georgia. The Kentucky native still holds the school record for most career passing yards with 10,354.
And this sad news about a former Super Bowl MVP. ESPN.com:
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien was arrested Sunday in Washington state on suspicion of domestic violence, according to jail records.
Rypien, 56, faces one count of fourth-degree assault after being booked into Spokane County Jail at 6:28 p.m. local time Sunday, according to the Spokane County Detention Services website. He is expected to appear in court Monday.
Washington television station KHQ-TV reported that Rypien was arrested after an incident with his wife near a bank in north Spokane. Rypien and his wife spoke separately with police before Rypien was handcuffed about 45 minutes later, according to KHQ-TV.
Rypien, in an interview last year with KHQ-TV and The Spokesman-Review, said he once tried to kill himself — the result of mental health issues stemming from his football career.
“I suffer from a complex stew of mental health conditions,” he said. “Dark places, depression, anxiety, addictions, poor choices, poor decisions, brought about from dozens of concussions and thousands of subconcussive injuries from playing this sport.”
Rypien was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Redskins and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXVI, when Washington defeated the Buffalo Bills.
It’s a busy day for David Furones of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in the DB. He was at the 40 Yards of Gold race – and he also checks in on Steelers LB RYAN SHAZIER and his recovery:
After Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier went down with a frightening spinal injury while attempting a routine tackle on Dec. 4, 2017, the first non-Steeler or doctor he can remember seeing was Jerome Howard. A former Plantation High football teammate and close friend, Howard is also his trainer.
“He told me, ‘Let’s pray. We’re going to get through this. If you need me, whatever you need me to do, I’m here for you, and I love you. You’re my brother,’ ” Shazier recalled recently.
Howard was there for Shazier at that harrowing time, when doctors were doubtful he would walk again. Howard has been there for him long before Shazier was a Pro Bowl selection or All-American at Ohio State. Howard continues to be by his side as, nearly 19 months after being diagnosed with a spinal contusion and undergoing spinal stabilization surgery, he pursues an NFL comeback.
“I actually had mixed emotions,” Howard said at a camp for Plantation High football players run by his training company, Dynamic Performance Development. The camp featured Shazier as a guest star. “Part of it, of course, was a devastating moment to see him go down that way, but then another part of it was ‘Who better than me to help him get back to where he was before?’ So part of it was a badge of honor that he chose me and wanted me to help him fight this battle.”
Shazier, 26, and Howard met as eighth-graders who began working out with Plantation football players the summer before beginning high school. Shazier instead enrolled at Blanche Ely to start. However, he transferred to Plantation for his sophomore year, and they were reunited. Shazier, who played defensive end in high school, went on to become a Buckeye linebacker, while Howard, a linebacker, ended up at Prairie View A&M.
They kept in contact during college, with Howard catching Shazier’s games when possible and the two getting together at home during breaks and holidays. Since he was always the one who would push his teammates in workouts, Howard became a professional trainer. So it was only natural for the two to work together.
Then the game in Cincinnati late in 2017 changed everything.
Initially told by doctors he had less than a 20 percent chance of walking again, Shazier surpassed that hurdle, famously walking across the stage on national TV at the NFL draft in April 2018. As he was able to resume working out, it has been Howard at his side, even traveling with Shazier, guiding him through a progression of workouts and providing moral support.
“With his injury being so different, the biggest thing for us was just understanding where he was in his current place, [reaching a] few milestones along the way and then celebrating every win,” said Howard, whom Shazier says is like family to him.
“With someone with a work ethic like Ryan’s, it’s not very hard. Anyone that’s met him understands his optimism, his positivity, and he’s never afraid to go above and beyond,” Howard continued. “We had our tough moments. We had our ups and downs, but with our relationship together, we were able to be 100 percent honest with each other, reflect.”
“It’s not just a client-athlete relationship. It’s more so like a brotherhood between those two guys,” said Davis, who still coaches the Colonels. “Jerome deeply cares about Ryan and his success. When you look at those factors, he’s a perfect person to bring him from that injury that he had that night in Cincinnati to where he is today.”
Those tracking Shazier’s recovery have seen public milestones, such as his draft appearance or last October, when he walked onto the field at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, where the injury occurred. He has posted workout progress on his Instagram account, showing he’s able to do different workouts such as deadlifts (lifting a barbell off the floor) and box jumps (a standing jump onto a high box or platform).
At the Dynamic Performance Development camp with Howard, Shazier demonstrated for campers the TRX row, a back-strengthening exercise where one pulls their body forward while holding on to straps attached diagonally to an overhead pull-up bar. Shazier said he has been able to do the TRX row for some time now.
“I try to be appreciative of every day I get,” Shazier said. “Because every day I’m beating the odds. Every day I’m getting better, proving people wrong that never thought I’d be where I am. I constantly am proud of where I’m at. There are some moments that people see that are a little bigger than others. I set goals, but every day that I take another step, take another breath, I’m truly thankful and praise God for that.
“I have a lot of little moments like that to myself and my family, but my goals may be different from a lot of people’s goals. People might see me walking on the stage and be thinking, ‘Man, that’s an amazing goal. I know he’s been trying to achieve that.’ But at the end of the day, I can be trying to achieve something entirely different.”
While a comeback won’t happen during the 2019 season, since the Steelers have him on the physically unable to perform list, Shazier’s ultimate goals remain unchanged from what they were before his injury.
“I still want to make the Hall of Fame, still want to be the best linebacker in the NFL,” he said. “I’m not giving up on my goals, and the doctors said don’t give up on my goals, so there’s no problem with me doing that. I’m just going to keep working, and hopefully I’m going to be back as soon as I can.”
Howard’s recent camp took players through a day of conditioning, strength training and football drills split up by position. There was also an educational seminar, involving a number of Plantation football alumni who have gone on to careers in a variety of professions. Howard hopes to expand the camp in coming years and open it beyond Plantation football players.
“It’s amazing because Ryan Shazier’s a Plantation High alum, and just [for campers] to see someone that has played in that same jersey as you, on the same practice field and even with the same coach that they have now, just seeing all those things kind of motivates them and just inspires them,” said Howard, who also is coming out with his own book.
Beyond Howard, Shazier is thankful for the support his family has provided, the work of several doctors, the Steelers’ organization for sticking with him and the city of Pittsburgh. The Steelers have tolled Shazier’s contract for 2019, meaning he remains on the roster as he recovers and is on the PUP list and is paid a salary commensurate with his years of service in the NFL. He continues to accrue seasons toward his NFL players’ pension, and his medical insurance remains the same coverage that all active NFL players receive.
As Shazier rehabs, the Steelers drafted another Broward County high school linebacker who played in the Big Ten in college, using a first-round pick on Flanagan and Michigan alum Devin Bush Jr. Shazier said he has been in contact with Bush and that he looks forward to mentoring him.
Of course, Shazier knows how important it can be to get a helping hand — especially the one of his friend and trainer, Howard.
“Just to have him in my circle all the way through, it really means a lot, and just to know that he’s always been my brother, it feels even better.”
Conor Orr of SI.com identifies some teams that are running out of time.
It’s hard to imagine a realist overseeing his NFL personnel department and not looking at his assembled group in terms of a championship window. Quarterback performance arc, depth at injury-riddled positions and the number of talented players on rookie contracts all factor in. One of the most stressful places has to be when the team is approaching a major landscape shift without a Lombardi trophy to show for it.
In the recent past, we’ve seen teams make wild decisions to prolong those windows. The pre-Dave Gettleman Giants come to mind as particularly delusional (or desperate) to energize something that may have already passed.
For Friday’s Morning Huddle read, here’s a look at which teams might be in a closing window of opportunity.
1. Dallas Cowboys
While cap space is a poor indicator of roster health, Dallas doesn’t have a ton of it, and they need to pacify an awful lot of star players at expensive positions. Dak Prescott becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Ezekiel Elliott becomes a UFA in 2021, but should (and probably will) take a stand at some point and earn some guaranteed money before he’s out of his prime. Byron Jones hits unrestricted free agency in 2020 and Jaylon Smith hits restricted free agency that same season. Dallas missed the chance to bet on Prescott financially when he was cheaper, something that the Eagles may make more popular in the coming years. Should they miss the playoffs this year, or limp along the way, we could be looking at a massively different roster a year or two from now.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers deserve credit for not spending ridiculous amounts of money to accentuate their roster, especially given the price tag at their biggest positions of need. That being said, Philip Rivers turns 38 in the last month of the season. Joey Bosa slides into his fifth-year option season in 2020, surely en route to a market-resetting deal. The cornerstones on their offensive line are turning 30 and 31 respectively this football season, Melvin Gordon’s contract expires after this season and Melvin Ingram, now 30, has one more year of significant dead cap space before his future will potentially be evaluated. On paper, one of the best defenses in football is quickly nearing a breakup.
3. New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara has a long way to go before he hits free agency following the 2020 offseason, but like Ezekiel Elliott, we may wisely see him make a contractual stand before he’s overused (or, before the NFL market for hybrid running backs gets grinded down even further). Michael Thomas is nearing an epic payday, with the basement for wide receivers sitting around the $19 million per year mark. Drew Brees, obviously the biggest part of this, is playing his age-40 season.
4. Carolina Panthers
While Cam Newton just turned 30, he has played two lifetimes of football. Whether it was the incalculable number of devastating hits or the latest shoulder surgery, this is not a 30-year-old body, no matter how phenomenally athletic it may be. So many of Carolina’s cornerstones are exceptional but fighting similar outlooks. Greg Olsen, 34, is not long for the NFL. Luke Kuechly is playing season eight this year, also with a lifetime’s worth of football injuries behind him. It feels like Carolina drafted and signed players with the knowledge that a Super Bowl return is fleeting. This may be the last time this team of familiar faces together.
5. Minnesota Vikings
If the all-in gamble on Kirk Cousins a year ago wasn’t clear enough (as well as the in-season coordinator firing later that season), this is a team that feels the pressure of an exceptional but aging defense and a tandem of skill position players who they’re desperate to maximize while they’re still in their primes.
Adam Schein of NFL.com offers us nine offensive players (QBs need not apply) who he feels are indispensable.
Every offseason, I identify the nine most indispensable offensive players in the NFL. And every offseason, I explain why the list doesn’t include quarterbacks. But something tells me I should spell out my rationale once again …
Type “indispensable” into Dictionary.com, and here’s the first definition that pops up: absolutely necessary, essential, or requisite. If finding players who embody those words is the goal, and I allow myself to include quarterbacks, well, then the entire list will be quarterbacks. What’s the fun in that?
So, QBs are excluded from this rundown. Before you tweet me, read that sentence again. And once more.
Another thing I want to make clear: This is not a simple ranking of the best players in the game today. My aim is to spotlight the guys who are most critical to their teams’ success, taking into account surrounding talent, game planning and all of the other factors that are unique to each franchise.
Additionally, I didn’t include Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown. I think both can be brilliant in new situations. But both come with baggage. So I’m going to need to see how they settle in before giving them a spot on this list.
With all of that as the backdrop, here’s my annual rundown of the most indispensable offensive players, Schein Nine style:
1) DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Plain and simple: He’s the best wide receiver in the NFL. And without him, the Texans wouldn’t have a chance.
Hopkins is the perfect blend of hands, size, speed and clutchness — the guy puts it all together in electric fashion. For years, he produced in spite of Houston’s lackluster quarterback play. Then last season, he finally got to play 16 games with a legit signal-caller in Deshaun Watson. And the results were 115 catches for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns — robust numbers that earned Hopkins a second consecutive first-team All-Pro nod.
But here’s the real reason Nuk tops this list: Who’s the next-best offensive weapon on the roster? Will Fuller can’t stay healthy. The tight end group’s unproven/underwhelming. And Lamar Miller somehow remains RB1. Take Hopkins out of the equation, and the Texans’ skill-position talent would be among the league’s worst.
2) Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
When Todd Gurley is healthy, he’s a candidate for MVP (remember midway through last season?) and Offensive Player of the Year (remember the 2017 campaign?). When No. 30’s firing on all cylinders, the Rams can be considered the best team in the NFL. L.A. was nearly perfect in the first three months of last season, sitting at 11-1 in early December.
When Gurley’s compromised, the entire complexion of Sean McVay’s team changes. A grand total of three points on Super Bowl Sunday? Yeah, I don’t think that happens with a healthy Gurley.
Gurley is not only an incredible runner — he’s a security blanket for Jared Goff out of the backfield catching the football (see: ten receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons). He’s the Swiss Army Knife that makes this offense go. The Rams need to do everything they can to keep that balky left knee from barking.
3) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Zeke makes Dak. Never get it twisted. And Elliott makes the Cowboys a contender to go deep into the playoffs, as a game-changing back and the perfect complement to one of the best defenses in the league.
Elliott has been in the NFL for three seasons, and in each of those years, he’s paced the league in rushing yards per game. He’s also a potent weapon in the pass game, fresh off a season that saw him set career highs in catches (77), yards (567) and touchdowns (3). Not to mention, he stones opposing QB hunters in pass pro.
In today’s NFL, committee backfields are the norm. But Elliott’s a true bell cow, the motor that Dallas’ entire game plan revolves around.
4) Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts
It was hardly a coincidence Andrew Luck — and the Colts as a whole — returned to prominence when Nelson entered the fray. With the No. 6 overall pick earning first-team All-Pro honors in Year 1, Luck finally had the dominant offensive lineman in front of him that the prior regime failed to bring aboard for years. Nelson gave Luck time to be sensational (the QB was sacked just 18 times, as opposed to 41 when he was last healthy in 2016), made good running backs great (Marlon Mack blossomed in Year 2) and helped bring cohesion to the entire line.
Oh, and the Colts shocked many by winning nine of their last 10 regular-season games and marching to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
5) Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had a down season in 2018, finishing below .500 for the first time in Dan Quinn’s tenure. But don’t blame Julio, who eclipsed 1,400 receiving yards for the fifth straight year (hauling in 113 balls for 1,677 yards). Through the years, some folks have dwelled on the freakish athlete’s low touchdown totals, but A) that’s more on Atlanta’s approach in the red zone and B) Jones notched a respectable eight scores last season. And look for Julio’s numbers to be even more eye-popping this fall, with Dirk Koetter back calling the plays.
Bottom line: This is a special talent. A 6-foot-3, 220-pound specimen who possesses every talent you’d want from a receiver, from run-after-catch ability to run blocking. With him, Atlanta’s offense is always a threat to be a top-five unit. Without him, well, you cannot even go there mentally if you are a Falcons fan.
6) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
McCaffrey is one of my favorite players in the league today. He’s scary great, with the kind of all-around skill set every team is looking for in a modern back. Sometimes stats lie, but McCaffrey’s output in 2018 was the truth. Eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing and 100 catches in the same season? He’s only the third man to achieve that feat, joining Matt Forte and LaDainian Tomlinson.
McCaffrey was the critical cog in Carolina’s offense in 2018, especially with Cam Newton’s shoulder issue down the back half of the season. With the Panthers undoubtedly looking to lighten the franchise quarterback’s load as much as possible, McCaffrey figures to be a touch monster again in 2019.
7) Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
The only reason he’s ranked in the bottom third of this list is because I have serious doubts about these Giants racking up that many wins — even with Barkley in the fold. Without him, though, they’d REALLY be in trouble.
Barkley has a Barry Sanders feel to him. This is the ultimate team sport, but Saquon truly changes games with his individual brilliance. The Giants might be trailing by two scores because of inept quarterback play, a porous line or leaky defense, but Barkley is always capable of breaking one. Ninety-one catches to go with his 1,307 rushing yards — as a rookie?! I gave him my AP vote for first-team All-Pro. Barkley was truly a Giant amid chaos.
8) Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
In theory, it’s difficult to differentiate Thomas from Alvin Kamara in terms of impact on the offense. I’ve already listed Kamara as a dark-horse MVP candidate and I stand by that. But Thomas is everything for Drew Brees and Sean Payton in the passing attack. And the numbers he’s put up in in first three seasons — averaging 107 catches for 1,262 yards and eight touchdowns — speak for themselves.
Jared Cook was a nice offseason edition, but it’s not like this receiving corps is teeming with encouraging options beyond Thomas. Brees understandably targets Thomas at an extremely high rate, and the wide receiver certainly makes it worth the QB’s while. On 147 targets last year, Thomas logged 125 catches — that’s a crazy-high catch rate of 85 percent. What would Brees and Co. do without him? Not be Super Bowl contenders, for one thing.
9) Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, Patrick Mahomes is amazing and makes everyone better. But Kareem Hunt is gone. And who knows what’s next for Tyreek Hill? Kelce is the best pass-catching tight end in the game today. Even the mighty Mahomes would have issues adjusting to life without his tight end’s amazing hands, ability to get open and dominant ways on third down and in the red zone.
Kansas City’s defense remains a huge question mark, so the Chiefs will have to keep scoring points in bunches. And Kelce, who just set career highs in catches (103), yards (1,336) and touchdowns (10), is absolutely critical to this attack.
The DB would say that the Rams already kind of proved that TODD GURLEY II was dispensable late last year.
We also would put ALVIN KAMARA on this list over MICHAEL THOMAS, as good as Thomas might be. Kamara’s skill set is harder to replace.
Should Tampa Bay WR MIKE EVANS have a spot?