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Bill Cowher Unlikely to Coach in 2010

Published: January 9, 2010

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Former Head Coach Bill Cowher wants to coach again, that is a certainty.

Cowher’s options are seemingly limited as this year as head coach firings are few and far between, especially considering the number of other high-profile coaches available. So far, his options run the gamut from the Buffalo Bills to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

At this point and time, other teams like the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, and Chicago Bears are high contenders as well, but their current coaching contracts prohibit them. Each team’s current wheelmen have uncertain futures with their teams, so only time will reveal the result.

Cowher isn’t simply settling for a vacant headset and a wad of cash, he is looking for a position similar to Mike Holmgren’s when he was in Seattle. Cowher wants control over the personnel and overall direction of the team.

Tampa Bay has offered Cowher a $6 million deal, but, Shanahan’s $7 million contract with the Washington Redskins nullifies Cowher’s chances for taking such a low bid. Buffalo also has a chance at nabbing Cowher but their small market and marginal roster talent won’t be enough to attract “the chin.”

Cowher’s most likely destination is Charlotte. The Carolina Panthers have promising young talent on both sides of the ball and a potential franchise quarterback in Matt Moore.

John Fox has one more year on his contract and Jerry Richardson has made it clear that Fox will retain his position through 2010 but, with General Manager Marty Hurney’s contract expiring in June, the Panthers are in terrific shape to give Cowher a big, fat contract and unlimited control at the start of the 2011 season-that is, if Cowher is willing to wait.

The threat of a lockout in 2011 and the end of the current CBA is also a concern for both team and Cowher but he will sign with a team regardless. Also, Cowher has lived in North Carolina for a number of years and will, no doubt, have the support of his family if he opts to stay in the area.

Cowher may not commit to any team this year, but that doesn’t mean his talents won’t be missed.

Next year, there is sure to be a number more of head coach firings and, while Carolina will likely remain at the top of Cowher’s short list, a number of other teams will be vying for his leadership.

Any decision that Cowher makes needs to come quickly, though. His Super Bowl win in 2005 is slowly becoming a moot point.

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Tom Heckert Likely to Be Named Cleveland Brown’s GM

Published: January 8, 2010

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Mike Holmgren is expected to announce current Eagles GM Tom Heckert as the Cleveland Browns’ new GM.

According to multiple sources, Heckert interviewed for the job earlier this week.

Holmgren is, yet again, moving pieces of the personnel puzzle around the board. After announcing his decision to retain Mangini as head coach, Holmgren has now turned his sights to locating a No. 2 for himself.

Heckert has done well in Philadelphia, but, recent additions to the Eagle’s already high number of executives has encouraged the team to cut a few front office folks.

Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, made an offer to the Atlanta Falcons back in 2008 for Heckert, and there was even talk of a similar trade to Cleveland at the beginning of the ’09 season, but the deal never gelled.

If Heckert is named to the Brown’s staff, an announcement that is expected on Monday, then expect Holmgren to turn his attention to Will Lewis, Seattle’s director of pro personnel.

Lewis joined the Seahawks in 1999 after serving three years in the Green Bay Packer’s scouting department, a position that brought Holmgren and Lewis together. 

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Seahawks Fire Mora—Carrol Likely to Replace

Published: January 8, 2010

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After only a year in Seattle, Jim Mora has been fired as the Seahawks’ Head Coach.

The firing of General Manager Tim Ruskell in December might have served as a foreshadowing for what was to come, but neither Mora nor Seahawk nation anticipated such a strong decision by team executives.

Mora was only able to marginally contend in the NFC West with a 5-11 record, but his final 2-6 record to end the season was the probably the final indication that the team needed a new direction.

Mora’s replacement is still up for grabs but the popular contenders are USC’s Head Coach Pete Carrol and the Minnesota Viking’s defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier.

Carrol is the likely candidate, a stellar college coach who spent minimal time in the NFL with little success and, coming off his worst year in recent Trojan history, could get everything he needs to take the next step in Seattle.

Coach Carrol will likely approach the job with a Holmgren-like attitude, meaning he will probably not accept or pursue the job unless he is given a fair amount of control over the team’s operations.

Frazier is the more far-reaching candidate. His experience on the defensive side of the ball is something the Seahawks want, but his inexperience as a head coach may deter his chances.

Whoever gets the job will have quite a fruitful opportunity. Paul Allen has money to spend and the ‘Hawks have two picks in the first round of this year’s draft (6 and 14).

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Charlie Weis To Join Kansas City Coaching Staff

Published: January 8, 2010

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According to team and league sources, Charlie Weiss has been named the new offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. Weis is coming off a less-than-spectacular career as the Notre Dame head coach. During his five years there, he amassed a 35-27 record.

Weiss is reunited with former friend and colleague, Todd Haley, who worked with Weis on the coaching staff of the New York Jets. At the time, Weis served as the receivers coach and Haley as his assistant and later, Weiss as the offensive coordinator and Haley as the receivers coach.

Since, Weis served a stint as the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, a job that saw four Super Bowls and three rings.

Haley served as the wide receivers coach for the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys before reaching his own Super Bowl berth as the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals.

Now, Haley is the boss and it was unclear whether or not the relationship between the two would gel properly.

Weis was recorded saying, “At this situation right now, it’s Todd’s ship and I just want to be there to help him guide it.”

Weis is also being reunited with General Manager Scott Pioli, a former front office executive for the New England Patriots. Weis was more than happy to join forces with his former comrades and the Chiefs are looking better than ever.

Haley is more than happy to give up his position as offensive coordinator; his attention can then be turned completely to the duties of a head coach.

There have also been talks that Romeo Crennel, who also has connections with Weiss and Pioli, will replace Clancy Pendergast as the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs. If this were to take place, Kansas City will have one of the league’s premier coaching staffs.

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

Published: January 8, 2010

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

1.     Russell Okung (Oklahoma State)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 300 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 5

Okung is a complete tackle, one that will do very well in the NFL. He is one of the few offensive players in this year’s draft to show true progression, both in his statistical achievements and understanding of the game. He is an ox on the line and a light foot in the open field. He has every quality needed to succeed at the next level and maybe even take the first pick in the draft.

Okung is a strong, patient pass blocker that does a great job at extending blocks and using his long arms and legs to sustain the rush. He needs to learn to keep his pads lower at times, but if he senses any sort of defeat, he is quick to push his man off balance or get low for the cut block.

He has great force in blocking down the field, getting a great initial pop on the defender. Okung is better at using angles to cut his man inside or outside rather than sheer strength, something that will benefit him at the professional level and only requires a little time in the weight room to perfect.

Okung has all the pieces you look for in a left tackle in the NFL and will most assuredly be the first tackle taken in April. He has no character problems and will be a great addition to any squad.

Teams that will target him: St. Louis, Kansas City, Cleveland

2.     Anthony Davis (Rutgers)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 325 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 25

Davis is in the second position simply for his dominant run blocking. He hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot in Rutgers’ offensive scheme (traps, pulls), but he has all the athleticism you look for in a left tackle. He has a flawless work ethic and can play a number of positions at the line, a true scholar of the game.

Davis’ size will be his greatest attribute; his long arms are well suited in knocking over undersized ends and linebackers taking poor angles. At times, he depends upon his initial pop to sustain the block rather than sticking to his man and extending the play.

Davis has the sheer force and tenacity to create a gaping hole on either side of the line. He has the athleticism to catch the Sam linebacker off balance and drive the lane into the secondary. He does a great job staying within the defender’s pads; he is rarely victim of a holding penalty. His durability typically outlasts the man on the other side of the line, and he is consistent as he is strong.

Although questionable at times, Davis will show up big at the combine and cause his draft stock to rise considerably, making him my number two tackle taken in the draft. He will fit in well with a team who has more than one hole at the line because he can assist in whatever capacity is required.

Teams that will target him: Oakland, Indianapolis, Houston

3.     Charles Brown ( USC)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 295 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 25

Brown was a tackle with great potential at the beginning of his junior season, finally getting the starting position after Sam Baker was taken in the 2008 Draft. Even then, his potential was evident.  ut after a stunning senior season, Brown is among the O-line elite in this year’s draft.

His athleticism is more dominant than his strength, but that isn’t meant to imply that Brown isn’t one of the stronger tackles in this year’s class. He relies on a quick pop to throw his defender off balance but doesn’t always drive his feet to sustain the block. His major strength is his ability to discern the motives of the rusher, going inside to cut off the blitz and jumping outside to mirror the defender.

Although he is an adequate run blocker, his technique and mechanics still need considerable work. He leans on the defender at times rather than driving him down the field. He is considered a quick lineman but doesn’t always follow through with his blocks down the field and could do a better job at creating additional run lanes in the secondary.

All in all, Brown is a gifted young man with enormous potential at the next level and, with proper coaching, could blossom into a pro-bowl tackle within his first three years. Look for a team with a low draft pick and pedigreed coaching to give Brown a spot on their roster.

Teams that will target him: San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans

4.     Trent Williams (Oklahoma)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 290 lbs.

Projected Round: 1-2

As the only returning starter on Oklahoma’s offensive line, Williams had his work cut out for him, both in physical demand and leadership potential. Moved from right to left and back to right tackle throughout his career, he has had the chance to prove himself on both sides of the line.

As a run blocker, Williams is above average at best. His speed isn’t consistent and his arm extension is his best weapon against blitzes from the secondary. He will struggle against quick under-sized ends in the NFL.

When blocking for the runner, though, Williams is dominant at the very least. Fires off the line faster than anyone else on this list. His snap anticipation sometimes causes trouble in the form of false starts, but he makes up for it with a tenacious push on his man.

He struggles in a zone blocking scheme, failing to move his feet adequately at times.  He is best when confined to a small space in traffic; he struggles when given the responsibility of managing open space.

Williams’ progression isn’t great, but it isn’t bad, either. His return to school for his senior year will play a major role in the way teams look at him, but it’s unclear as to how long he will have to wait to be drafted. Look for a team to look at him as a potential player at the guard position or an anchor on the right side to pick him up.

Teams that will target him: Detroit, Washington, New England

5.     Bruce Campbell (Maryland)

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 310 lbs.

Projected Round: 1-2

Campbell was unlikely to enter this year’s draft until he, well, declared for this year’s draft. Although there is little to no doubt of his potential at the next level, there are some concerns about his past injuries and whether or not his durability can remain intact in the NFL.

Campbell gave the struggling Tarrapin offense a decent chance for success in ’09, although Turner and company still haven’t found their stride. With more than a few offensive line starters departing, Campbell was among the few elite players left and had to overachieve the entirety of the year.

While most expect him to hit his ceiling early in the NFL, Campbell is strong as he is quick. He has a tremendous pop in the pass blocking scheme, though he over-extends at times, causing the outside rushers to use a second move to get to the quarterback.

Campbell has elite strength as a run blocker and will undoubtedly do the same at the next level. I don’t know if he is ready to be an NFL left tackle, but he could certainly provide some girth in any position on the front. He has the speed to get down the field quickly and provide a second and third block for an advancing runner.

Campbell’s issue with grades will cause his stock to fall further than he’d like, but he can prove his physicality at the combine and make himself a contender to be a top-five OT rookie in 2010. Look for a team that has a sufficient enough line to make Campbell a personal project.

Teams that will target him: Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

6.     Ciron Black (LSU)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 322 lbs.

Projected: 2-3

Black is another offensive lineman who could have done very well had he declared for the 2009 draft, but he opted to stay to further develop his technique. Although he lacks superior athleticism, he has great strength and versatility on the line.

As a pass blocker, Black is marginal at best due to his slow kick slide and his sluggishness off the snap. His long reach, though, will make up for it as he can reach the outside rusher and use a mean cut block if all else fails.

Black’s size is his greatest asset in creating run lanes, and he has sufficient straight-line speed to reach the next level and bowl over small corners and safeties. He has elite upper body strength and does very well at staying low and using his low center of gravity to create a push and open up the lanes.

He doesn’t always seal off the rush when it matters most, but he has a level of consistency that most other lineman at his level lack. His progression in college is something scouts look for and, while his stock is floating between elite and above average, the combine will be his opportunity to prove he is ready to compete at the next level.

Even though he has only ever played as the blind-side anchor for LSU, he has the ability to play multiple positions and that may be the deciding factor for a team looking at Black. Look for a team with needs in their run blocking scheme to look closely at him.

Teams that will target him: Houston, Arizona, Philadelphia

7.     Bryan Bulaga (Iowa)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 312 lbs.

Projected Round: 2-3

Bulaga comes from a long pedigree of good linemen at Iowa and will likely continue the trend in the NFL. His progression at Iowa is something to be desired by other fellow linemen in this year’s class and, while he lacks the physicality needed to be dominant at this position at times, his athleticism makes up for it.

Bulaga’s pass blocking skills are marginal, but it’s unclear as to how well he could do with an offensive scheme that features it. Iowa isn’t a passing juggernaut but he has all the tools needed to be elite at the next level.

As a run blocker, he is better than most, progressing nicely from year to year. Most noticeably, he became less content to focus solely on the first line of defense his senior year and turned his sights on getting to the next level and create the secondary blocks needed to turn the back loose.

Bulaga is one of those linemen who could go either way in the NFL; he could become a backup who excels at filling the holes in most teams’ revolving door line or he could find a permanent home as a guard and, eventually, a right tackle. Of course, I’ve been surprised before and it’s always possible for a marginal player to find their stride at the professional level. Look for a team with shallow depth on the line to look closely at Bulaga.

Teams that will target him: Carolina, New York Jets, Green Bay

8.     Selvish Capers (West Virginia)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 298 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Protecting Pat White in the versatile West Virginia offense has forced Capers to remain athletic and quick, creating a unique profile for the upcoming draft. Capers made the switch from Tight End to right tackle in ’07, but showed no signs of difficulty in the transition. Rather, he excelled and began to increase his build to adjust to the new position.

It is Caper’s athleticism that sets him apart from the other linemen on this list. He lacks consistency in some of the mechanics that most others have mastered, but he has a desire to learn and the ability to progress that will overcome those downsides.

Even though he has a tremendous cut block, he goes to it too quickly at times. He presents a solid anchor as a pass blocker but doesn’t always keep his body low enough and loses his balance.

As a run blocker, Caper presents a tenacious pop and uses his quick feet to drive the defender far from the play. West Virginia’s spread offense doesn’t always call Capers to get set in a three point stance so transitioning to the next level may be difficult for the young man. He is quick off the line, but loses count of the snap sequence too much, resulting in unnecessary penalties.

He runs with surprising fluidity for a lineman down the field, getting to the next level fast and causing damage to an unsuspecting secondary. No matter the position he is called on to play, Capers is a football player at heart and his tenacity on the line will not go unnoticed by scouts. Look for teams to depend on his versatility and athleticism to contribute at the professional level and give Capers a chance at success.

Teams that will target him: Minnesota, Baltimore, Houston

9.     Kyle Calloway (Iowa)

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 317 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Calloway is another lineman that comes from the Iowa pedigree of NFL-ready players who transition to the next level well. The only real controversy surrounding Calloway is his run-in with the law when he was pulled operating a Moped while intoxicated. Other than that, he is good at what he does and should receive deserved recognition come draft day.

Calloway does a wonderful job at mirroring the defender as a pass blocker. He stays low and becomes a wall at which defenders love to punch and get through but have little success. He uses his reach at times when he should use his feet, and doesn’t use his lower body to drive the outside rush, but he adjusts nicely to a variety of moves by elite ends and utilizes a mean cut block.

Run blocking is arguably Calloway’s forte, using his size to push the defender in any direction he desires. He does well to keep his hands inside and avoid penalties that often call the play back. He is a fighter at heart; he plays through the whistle each and every play.

Calloway has efficient speed and uses that quickness to get down the field and reach the secondary to create an extended run lane. Overall, he has tremendous upside and, even though he won’t be a top five tackle in the draft, will eventually blossom into an elite player at any position on the line.

Teams that will target him: San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland

10. Sam Young (Notre Dame)

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 320 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Young comes from a pro-style offense which will make his transition easier than most. Although he lacks superior athleticism and quickness, he has massive size and strength, an upside that will not go unnoticed by pro scouts.

Pass blocking is not something that Young excels in which is a large concern for a pass-happy NFL. His lack of quickness inhibits his lateral agility and ability to reach the outside rusher and maintain his balance. Against the elite ends of the NFL, Young will most likely have to rely on the cut block to protect his quarterback.

What keeps Young on the top ten list is his ability to be a wrecking ball in the run game. His technique still leaves something to be desired, but his size allows him to create holes that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. He has tremendous initial pop and, if he can keep his balance, will drive the defender all the way down the field.

Four years as a starter has given Young more than enough experience and tremendous awareness on the field. He hasn’t shown as much consistency as some would like to see, but his sheer physicality will demand attention on draft day. He will probably never reach left tackle status, but could be a force on the right side or in the middle should that become a factor at the professional level. Look for a team needing beef on the front to give Young a spot on their roster.

Teams that will target him: Houston, Seattle, Tampa Bay

These, and other rankings, can be read at

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs

Published: December 19, 2009

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The end of the season is nearing and, like a good NFL fan, I’m already preparing for the draft. In a defense dominated by defense, this year’s class of running backs is under the radar. With its fair share of freakish athletes and bruising workhorses, this class has enormous potential, despite it being considered one of the weaker groups of backs in recent years.

Here’s a look into this year’s group of running backs.

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Quarterbacks

Published: December 18, 2009

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College Bowl season is upon us, which means January and the NFL Playoffs are closing in, bringing us ever closer to the dramatic days that lead up to the 2010 NFL Draft.

Now that we know that Jake Locker will be returning to Washington for his senior season, predicting which passers go where just became a little less difficult. Emphasis on a little.

Here’s a good, hard look at the top 15 prospects who are entering (or likely to enter), with in-depth analysis, as well as potential NFL landing spots. Mel Kiper, eat your heart out.

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NFL’s Watershed Year Thrills Fans with Unexpected Drama

Published: December 16, 2009

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Another season is nearing its end, and I must admit I am pleased with the way things have turned out.

Whether your team is rolling towards a playoff berth or suffering from soggy bread syndrome like mine, you can’t deny that the league has provided us with a fair share of fresh headlines and new drama.

The usual suspects are still in the newswires, but for different reasons.

Rather than contributing to the prosaic discourse of age-old players pushing the limits of their capabilities, Brett Favre is having the best year of his epic career.

Rather than leading his team down the road to another Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger finds himself at the helm of a team that has lost five straight, a first for a team that still holds the title as NFL champion.

The New England Patriots and their ethereal offense are no longer enough to bear the weight of a team suffering from the locker room blues. Discord has replaced the amity that has allowed those in Foxboro to serve as the cornerstone by which to measure the success of a championship-caliber team. Even their coach’s competence is being questioned with his ambiguous fourth down decisions.

While Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens seem to be suffering from a mild case of the sophomore slump, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Baltimore’s Ray Rice are feeling just fine and blossoming into legitimate backfield threats.

Two years ago, the Patriots shocked the football world by finishing the regular season without a loss, something that hadn’t been done since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. This year, there are two teams who are endeavoring to do the same. The Colts and the Saints have relatively easy schedules for the remainder of their year, and I don’t foresee either team falling to an opponent.

For teams like the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals, the future is promising. A solid draft and fortuitous trading have left both teams with a talented roster.

For teams like the Panthers and the Cowboys, the talent is there, but the leadership is lacking.

This year has also been fraught with comeback players working to prove themselves in a league where second chances are few and far between. Last year, Vince Young sat patiently while veteran Kerry Collins led his team to a 13-3 record and an eventual playoff loss.

With as much humility and determination as a man could muster up, he waited his turn, and when the Titans lost their first six games, he was given his redemption notice and has since won six of his seven games.

Cedric Benson was one of three RBs drafted in the top five positions in the 2005 draft, but a disenchanting career with the Chicago Bears had him pegged as nothing more than an overpaid bust.

The Bengals entered the 2009 season with minimal expectations by the rest of the league, and the media world chuckled when WR Chad Ochocinco spouted his prediction for a lofty 12-4 record.

It was a match made in heaven. Cincinnati took a chance on Benson, and he has rewarded them with a large contribution to their 9-4 record. While they may not be meeting Chad’s previous conjecture, they are certainly doing better than expected.

Even two of the worst teams in the NFL are generating excitement. The Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns played, arguably, the best game of the year. Both Matthew Stafford and Brady Quinn put up extraordinary numbers in a match that featured eight lead changes and an unbelievable fourth quarter drive by Stafford and company to put his team on top for good.

In a world where sports can quickly become hackneyed and dull, it’s refreshing to see a league where records are constantly broken and reset to a standard that stands beyond former generations.

Even the sometimes inadequate Chad Henne of the Miami Dolphins just broke the record for most consecutive completed passes in a single game (17), a franchise record previously owned by the great Dan Marino.

Sure, some things remain a constant like the tides. The Colts are still faced with the prospect of resting their starters for the remainder of the season, the Lions are still a calamity, and the Cowboys are yet again winless in December.

It’s hard to imagine a season without its ups and downs, but without a fair amount of disequilibrium, we lose those thrilling endings. That hasn’t been a problem either. When the Browns can beat the Steelers and Oakland can beat Philadelphia and the Redskins push the Saints to overtime, all is well in the world. 

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Helmet-to-Body Hits in the NFL Becoming More Than a Concern

Published: December 8, 2009

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In the first game against Tampa Bay, our own Dante Wesley was penalized and ejected for an early hit on a punt return. Now, whether or not his reasons were justified or caused by another player’s rookie mistake, the type of hits that are made by gunners today concerns me.

In Sunday’s game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, safety Ryan Mundy was called for a late hit which gave the Raiders a first down, eventually leading to the game-winning touchdown. Again, though, it was the type of hit that Mundy made that caught my eye.

The NFL already has a rule that discourages players using their helmets to initiate contact on another player in a defenseless position, but helmet-to-helmet hits are still allowed. The tenacity of these kinds of blows is a large contributor to the concussions that are becoming front-page news in the NFL right now. 

Aside from the lateness of the hit, I don’t blame Mundy for his helmet bashing. It’s a result of standard coaching.  I can still remember my old ball coach yelling at us to get a hat on our man and lay him out. There was never much regard for injury to myself or the opposing team.

Concussions have been on the ballot for prevention lately, but it hasn’t always been. Last year, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed upon a program that appointed pre-determined medical facilities to assist former players in knee, hip, and shoulder replacements.  Joint deterioration has been a recurring issue; 1,200 knee injuries alone were reported from 2000 to 2003.

To understand the very real seriousness of a concussion, though, I think it’s important to know what it actually is. Quite simply, a concussion is a blow to the head that jars the brain loose and causes it to shift inside the skull. The results can range from unconsciousness, permanent damage to the brain cells, and internal bleeding.

Doctors are also reporting cases of extensive memory loss, dementia, and encephalopathy in former players. In many cases, X-Rays also show areas of the brain that are permanently inactive, causing a variety of mental and psychological side effects.

The NFL is in no way ignoring the issue of safety, though. Former coach John Madden was recently named as chairman for the Coaches Subcommittee to the Competition Committee, a fraternity of coaches with the sole purpose of establishing a presence of ethical responsibility in the league and proposing new ways to keep players safe on the field.

The committee is comprised of Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, San Diego’s Norv Turner, San Francisco’s Mike Singletary, and former Seattle coach Mike Holmgren. They convene with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell every three weeks, sometimes over speakerphone, to discuss further safety measures.

One of those measures was to reduce the four-man wedge during kick returns to a two-man wedge, reducing the number of direct collisions that take place on the field. Another calls for teams to use non team-affiliated doctors to determine whether or not a player suffering from a head injury is ready to return to the field.

Everyone is familiar with the sights and sounds of a good NFL hit. It’s like two cue balls smacking into each other with a resounding CRACK. For example, a 200 lb safety running at full speed can deliver up to 1,600 pounds of leveling force, a strength that can result in serious injury.

While some would give the responsibility of these injuries to the ever-increasing size and strength of players, I blame the piece of equipment designed specifically to protect the player, the helmet.

Since its conception in the early twentieth century, the helmet has taken on many shapes and materials. Some have been shaped like beehives and cones but all were initially made of leather. The first plastic model was created by the John T. Riddel Company.

In 2002, Riddel broke even greater strides by releasing the Revolution model, a state-of-the-art helmet made of polycarbon plastic with a high-tech cushioning system. Another company, the Schutt Sports Group, followed suit with a similar model called the DNA. While certainly a step in the right direction, it seems redundant to me that modern helmet designs still use models from 1949 as a prototype.

Rather than introduce a variation of the current helmet, I feel it is the responsibility of these companies and others like it to create a completely new design, one based on fresh perspectives and new technologies.  Instead of continuing the rhetoric of providing pads inside the helmet, why not adopt a system where the interior pads are separated from the outer shell with mini-springs or some kind of shock absorber?

There are other possible solutions, as well. Nearly thirty years ago, NASA created their Visco elastic foam, a memory foam widely popularized in the form of pillows and mattresses. It was utilized because it retains its shape better than conventional foam, rebounding rapidly after hits.

More recently, Mahercor Laboratories created a jaw positioning mouth guard designed to reduce the force that comes with a hard hit to the head. It has been primarily used by the New England Patriots who reported an astoundingly low two concussions during the 2006 and 2007 season. Whether or not that is a direct result of the new equipment, it’s important to note that, in the same amount of time, the Indianapolis Colts reported close to twenty.

Dow Corning, a silicone and textile manufacturing giant, is also working to improve the world of sports. They recently released several products specifically designed to reduce collision impacts.  The S-Range is based on 3D spacer textile technology and the TP-Range is based on thermoplastic technology.  Both are lightweight and comfortable and could be major contributors to better products on the football field. 

While I can appreciate the efforts Roger Goodel and company are making, there is still vast room for improvement. Some have suggested that teams practice without their helmets to encourage players to find alternate ways of tackling without leading with their head.

I won’t go so far as to suggest that the NFL go back to leather helmets; that would be more comical than helpful. But the dangers that come with modern helmets can not go unnoticed. Rule changes and fundraising for retired players is a wonderful measure, but it is not enough.

We, as fans of the greatest game on Earth, can not stand idly by and watch another Troy Aikman or Steve Young retire due to unnecessary head injuries.

Reform is a long time coming, folks, I just hope it comes soon enough.

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NFL’s Woebegon Kickers: Houston, Carolina Originals No Longer Making The Cut

Published: November 27, 2009

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John Kasay and Kris Brown, the last original members of their respective franchises, are having their worst years to date.

A kicker can be the life or death of a team, sending their projectiles towards the yellow bars for last-minute victories or heart-wrenching defeats. These gentleman have felt their share of ups and downs, some more important than others.

The Texans’ Kris Brown has felt his woes of late, missing a game-winner against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts last week and doing the same on Monday against the Tennesse Titans.

John Kasay’s great moment of shame is unforgettable for Carolina Panthers fans back in 2003. It was late in the fourth quarter in, arguably, one of the greatest Super Bowls ever. The Panthers were trying to add an exclamation point to a season primarily made up of games won by three points or less.

Delhomme and the boys had fought the odds and driven down the field against a stellar Patriots defense and were ready to make the stop to seal the deal. All that was needed was a decent kickoff by Kasay to put the Patriots in containable field position.

Instead, Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Tom Brady and his electric offense the ball at their 40 yard line.

That was all the leverage they needed and they took full advantage, allowing Adam Vinatieri the chance to vault the game-winning field goal as the clock ticked out its final seconds.

Every Panthers fan’s heart broke that night. While the blame rests on the entire team, it’s hard to ignore the last-minute mistake that cost us our ring.

All has been forgiven since then, for the most part. Kasay has since earned the reputation of being one of the most accurate kickers in the league even though his career make percentage sits four points behind the league average at 53 percent.   

Brown has also enjoyed a career of great kicks with an overall make percentage of 60 percent. He kicked 25-plus field goals in the 2007 and 2008 season, finishing both years with a field goal percentage over 85 percent.

However glorifying their careers have been thus far, both kickers are having their least accurate year ever. Kasay is squeezing what he can out of the tube with eleven three-pointers and a field goal percentage of 73.3.

Brown is feeling his pain with an equal eleven field goals and a rating of 64.7 percent. To be fair, though, the 60 points he’s contributed is 26 percent of his team’s total points while Kasay’s 53 is 23 percent of Carolina’s total.

Kasay hasn’t made a field goal over 50 yards this year but the Carolina coaching staff has put him in that situation on three seperate occasions.  Kasay’s lack of power isn’t a news update, though.  The Panthers picked up Rhys Lloyd to give a power boost to kickoffs but they haven’t yet utilized him in the field goal package.

On the flip side, Kris Brown is perfect beyond the fifty-yard line but seems to struggle more when he is under pressure rather than from a specific spot on the field. 

I don’t think either franchise is ready to part ways with their original members.  Kasay recently signed a contract extension that has him in Carolina until 2012 and Brown has also recently extended his own contract until 2013. 

That being said, there are still holes that need to be filled. The first step is for the coaching staff to assess the strenghts and weaknesses of their players and adjust the situations they put them in accordingly.

The responsibility rests on the players themselves to take charge of their position, though, and I believe that both players have the sufficient skills and heart needed to do just that. 

Brown has a chance to redeem himself this week when the Texans face off against the Colts again.  Houston has struggled to punch it in when they get in the red zone so he will have his opportunities, let’s just see if he capitalizes.

Kasay also has a chance to look good this week as the Panthers face off against the Jets in New York.  Not only does Kasay do exceptionally well in other teams’ stadiums, he has only missed one field goal in all of his career games against New York. 

As a Panthers fan myself, I just hope the trend continues.

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