Mar 282014
 
 March 28, 2014  Posted by  Articles, Features
Quintin Demps, Kansas City Chiefs (December 15, 2013)

Quintin Demps – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Driven by Faith, Giants’ Quintin Demps Much More Than an Athlete

A pen, a piece of paper and faith.

For every trial, tribulation, stress or struggle that has been thrown his way, Giants safety Quintin Demps always seemed to find himself retreating to a room with those two objects and one belief.

He’d sit there as long as it took, writing down whatever came to his mind in lyrical verses. It was his way to relieve stress. It started when he was growing up in San Antonio, Texas, followed him when he enrolled at Texas-El Paso and to each of his four stops in the National Football League.

Whenever stress caught up to the 28-year-old, that pen, paper and faith were always there to help him through whatever life had in store.

“I grew up with music and writing was always my way of venting,” Demps said in a phone interview. “It’s been a part of my life for decades. It’s how I express myself.”

Throughout his life, fans and onlookers have always known Demps as an athlete. During his time at Theodore Roosevelt High School, Demps was a star on the school’s track and football team.

As a junior, he led his team to a District Title while earning second team All-District 26-5A honors. As a senior, he was named as an All-District, an All-Greater San Antonio selection and All State Honorable Mention.

The accolades led to his enrollment at UTEP where the successes kept coming. In four years, Demps recorded 17 interceptions, the second most in school history, leading to his selection in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

In his rookie year, Demps displayed game-breaking ability as a kick returner, averaging 25.3 yards a return. Defensively, he showed enough promise that Jim Johnson penciled him in as the team’s starting safety for the 2009 season.

Yet Demps’ time as a starter never materialized. He was beat out by Macho Harris for the starting spot and was cut in 2010. But during those three years, the safety took note of the team he saw twice each season.

“I always knew about the Giants,” Demps recalled. “They were a first class organization. We all knew that any given year they could make it to the Super Bowl.

“They’re a team that is all about business. Coughlin is a great leader and they were about winning, nothing else. That’s what I’m about, too.”

After being cut, Demps spent a brief stint with the Harford Colonials of the United Football League before being signed with the Texans midway through the 2010 season. He played two years in Houston before reuniting with Andy Reid in Kansas City last year.

In 2013, Demps excelled as a kick returner averaging 30.1 yards per return, but the season would be his last in Kansas City as the Chiefs elected not to resign Demps. Moments into free agency, it didn’t take long for his phone to light up.

“(The Giants) were one of the first teams to contact me, they called real quick,” Demps said. “There were about four teams that reached out, but I knew that any given year the Giants could make it to the Super Bowl.

“Going into free agency, I wanted to go to a team with a chance of winning a championship. I saw that with the Giants.”

Demps vows to bring leadership, play-making ability and experience to a Giants team in desperate need of help on special teams, along with a winning pedigree. In his seven-year career, Demps has never missed the playoffs.

But for everything Demps brings to a team, there’s more than what fans see on Sundays.

“I hated to be associated as just a football player,” Demps said. “That’s what I do and that’s part of who I am, but I really don’t put myself in that category.”

Music and faith have always joined football as the ‘Big 3’ that encompasses Demps’ life. While music and football came by themselves, his mother, Jacqueline, instilled faith.

Demps said his mother always made sure God found a way into her son’s life as she brought him up in the Catholic Church.

“She did a great job training me up in faith, it all started with her and the church,” Demps said. “My mother made sure God was a part of my life at a young age.”

In Demps’ mind, faith and music have always been one. While others rapped of topics including sex, drugs and women, Demps preferred his music involve religion, purpose and motivation.

It was this combination that led to Demps creating his record label, Purpose by Faith, in 2012. Demps says he hopes the label can create music for the masses. Presently, he’s working on a mix tape with a tentative release date later this year.

“A lot of guys in the locker room are clinging to it,” Demps said. “That’s been my biggest support group. People have always known me as just an athlete, but now they see I have some potential musically.”

Former teammates such as Eric Berry, Tamba Hali and Justin Forsett have all reached out to Demps about potential collaborations, but for now he’s just focused on getting his label off the ground.

Some of Demps’ music has been released on his Sound Cloud account, including his most recent track entitled, “My Conscience.”

“That’s the one that sticks out the most,” Demps said. “I’m trying to get my rhythm and flow, but I really like that one.”

While he continues producing his mix tape, Demps is beginning to shed the label of ‘Football Player.’ While the title has defined him since he began playing as a child, it hardly describes the man he’s grown up to be.

“I’m just a man walking with Jesus,” Demps said. “I’ve been very gifted in football, but I don’t really put myself in that category.

“I’m just a guy trying to be the best he can be at life.”

Connor Hughes/Big Blue Interactive
Follow me on twitter: @92Hughes02

Share Button
Mar 272014
 
 March 27, 2014  Posted by  Articles, Giant Thoughts
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (December 29, 2013)

NFL Bans Dunk Celebration – © USA TODAY Sports Images

No Fun League: NFL Bans Dunk Celebrations

It gets to the point where enough is enough.

Sure, the NFL had every right to rethink touchdown “celebrations” moments after Joe Horn removed a cell phone from underneath the goal post at the Super Dome 11 years ago. Yes…that was over a decade ago.

Sure, the NFL had every right to implement fines when players like Randy Moss mimicked mooning the crowd at Lambeau Field and ever right when others gathered in groups for unnecessary and extravagant antics.

But dunking? ….Really?

There comes a moment in time where the NFL needs to answer what exactly is being accomplished by removing a celebration such as the “Dunk?” What was the issue in the first place?

During his 18 years playing in the NFL, did one of Tony Gonzalez 111 career touchdowns (most of which ended in his signature dunk) ever strike an un-expecting ball boy on the top of his head, rendering him concussed?

Has Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates or Drew Brees–all of which have turned to the one-handed slam in their careers–ever done any “harm” to the game while celebrating a “TD?”

No.

The NFL announced that for each “dunk,” the “dunking” team will be hit with a penalty, of which the severity is not yet known. Assuming it falls under the same category as other endzone celebrations, it’ll be a 15-yarder.

When the NFL implemented a five-yard penalty for “Delay of Game” following an inbounds spike, it was understandable. The bouncing ball had the potential to roll out of the way of officials causing the ever-precious time to slowly tick of the clock. As has been shown on countless occasions, those are seconds that could truly have an impact on the game.

But a dunk? When the clock is stopped? A players emotions running? A celebration that has been a part of the game for as long as I’ve been alive? I reiterate…

Really?

Players have taken to twitter and other social media outlets to voice their opinions. Goal-post-rattlers such as Jimmy Graham is predicting he’ll lead the league in penalties, Tony Gonzalez is stating he got out “just in time,” and others like the Giants Charles James, who has yet to score a touchdown in his career, tweeted the following:

Yeah…there was no need for that tweet to appear in red ink to sense the sarcasm filled in the young corner’s typing fingers.

Many consider the NFL arguably the most well run league in all of professional sports. The multi-billion dollar industry is at the heart of Americans and–aside from the red mark that is the concussion crisis–has been the focal point of what others strive to be.

Other Leagues have tried to duplicate “football.” Be it the XFL, AFL (Arena Football League), or CFL (Canadian Football League), yet none have mastered what the NFL has perfected.

So the question is simple, why?

While the NFL has imposed fines, suspensions and penalties over the years for offenses that have garnered backlash, there was still an answer, an understandable reason.

Safeties can no longer leap headfirst at wide outs for fear of player safety; running backs cannot lower their head for the same reason. But a dunk?

Really?

NFL vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, released the following quote on the “Dan Patrick Show” Tuesday afternoon:

“We grandfathered in some, the Lambeau Leap and things like that. But dunking will come out (of the game). Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that’s the goal post, the crossbar, that will come out and will be a foul next season.”

Ahh, just realized that I’ve forgotten to reference exactly what “NFL” stands for in the above paragraphs. I’ll clarify:

No Fun League.

Connor Hughes/Big Blue Interactive
Follow me on twitter: @92Hughes02

Share Button
Mar 072014
 
 March 7, 2014  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs (August 24, 2013)

Geoff Schwartz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2014 NFL Free Agency Preview: Whether some want to admit it or not, the New York Giants are rebuilding. It’s not a full-fledged rebuild because – assuming Eli Manning rebounds in 2014 – the Giants still have their franchise quarterback in place. But for the first time since the beginning of the Tom Coughlin era in 2004, this team has the feel of one that needs a major infusion of talent across the board. Personally, I do not think this will be a quick fix. Armed with only six draft picks (possibly another late pick when the compensatory picks are awarded), too much much needs to be done. But the Giants can be competitive in the unimpressive NFC East with a strong free agent signing period and draft.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the Giants have never had this many of their own players not under contract. Not counting two who have retired (Brandon Jacobs and David Diehl), the Giants have 27 free agents. Twenty-five of those 27 will be unrestricted. Most will probably not return. It’s conceivable that the Giants may turn over half their roster. And it’s not just the numbers, but the stature of the players they have lost or will be losing. In addition to Diehl and Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, and Kevin Boothe may all be gone. Tough decisions still need to be made on Chris Snee and David Baas.

This team will look far, far different in 2014. Things might get worse before they get better.

As for the New York Giants approach to free agency, General Manager Jerry Reese said at the NFL Combine:

The last couple of years it’s been a pretty saturated market. If there are guys you like and you have the money, you can go get them. But if you can hold your water there will probably be some guys available in the second and third wave (of free agency)…If you have the funds available to extend (your own) guys and tie them up, we’ve done that a lot in the past. We think right now it’s best to see what the market is and make our move from there.

Quarterback (Minimal Need): Whether you agree or not, Eli Manning is entrenched as the starter. Ryan Nassib must become the #2 in 2014, allowing the Giants to carry only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster again, or his selection in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft looks more dubious. The Giants will re-sign Curtis Painter or add another quarterback for an additional arm in camp.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Curtis Painter (UFA)

Running Back (Major Need): The worst group of running backs in the NFL The only running backs on the Giants who are currently under contract or don’t have significant injury concerns are Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins. Injury-prone Andre Brown is a free agent, and even if he is re-signed, how much can the Giants really rely on him? David Wilson’s future is still clouded with a career-threatening neck injury and inconsistent play on the football field. Who is the bell cow on offense? There is a very good chance that the Giants’ starting running back will be an unrestricted free agent signed from another team.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Andre Brown (UFA)
  • Peyton Hillis (UFA)
  • Da’Rel Scott (UFA – not tendered RFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • RB Ben Tate, Houston Texans
  • RB Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
  • RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
  • RB LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
  • RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • RB Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
  • RB Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Viking

Fullback (Minor Need): John Conner was impressive in his first season with the Giants as a lead blocker. He also flashed some receiving skills. Even if Henry Hynoski was not coming off of a couple of serious injuries, Conner may in fact be an upgrade.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Henry Hynoski (UFA – not tendered RFA)

Wide Receivers (Substantial Need): The Giants have Victor Cruz and then question marks. It is assumed Hakeem Nicks will leave in free agency. Much depends on the development of Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan. Regardless, the Giants will need to add at least one quality wide receiver in free agency or the draft.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Hakeem Nicks (UFA)
  • Louis Murphy (UFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • WR Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
  • WR Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks
  • WR Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
  • WR James Jones, Green Bay Packers
  • WR Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • WR Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks

Tight Ends (Major Need): The worst group of tight ends in the NFL. The Giant do not have a starting-caliber tight end on the roster unless the physically-talented Adrien Robinson and/or Larry Donnell come on like gangbusters. Brandon Myers was a disappointment, seems best suites as a role player, and probably won’t be back. Bear Pascoe is just a guy. Journeyman street free agent Daniel Fells may be the best of the bunch on the current roster.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Brandon Myers (UFA)
  • Bear Pascoe (UFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • TE Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
  • TE Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
  • TE Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills

Offensive Line (Major Need): The worst offensive line in the NFL. The Giants currently have one starter who they can count on: Justin Pugh. The Giants may bring back over-priced and injury-prone Chris Snee and David Baas if both will agree to pay cuts. But even if they do remain, their lack of durability over the last few seasons is a major concern. In addition, Will Beatty is coming off of a poor season and a serious leg fracture in the season finale. Kevin Boothe is free agent and may not be back. David Diehl has thankfully retired. None of the back-ups inspire a great deal of confidence. Other than using stopgaps, the Giants need so much help here it is doubtful they will be able to address it all in one offseason.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Kevin Boothe (UFA)
  • Jim Cordle (UFA – not tendered RFA)
  • Dallas Reynolds (ERFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • OT Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens
  • OT Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders
  • OT Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Collins, Cincinnati Bengals
  • OT/OG Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams
  • OT Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens
  • OT Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
  • OG Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OG Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OG Zane Beadles, Denver Broncos
  • OG Travelle Wharton, Carolina Panthers
  • OC Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns (Transition Tag)
  • OC Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers

Defensive Line (Potentially Substantial Need): The defensive line is the heart of a 4-3 defense. While much of the attention by Giants’ fans has been rightfully directed at the problems on offense, the defensive line continues to undergo a major transition. And it remains an open question as to whether the Giants can remain as strong here moving forward in 2014 and beyond. Much depends on whether Jason Pierre-Paul can rebound, and the overall talent and development of Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins. Mathias Kiwanuka is solid, but not a standout. It looks like the Giants are prepared to say good-bye to Linval Joseph, who many thought would be a long-term building block. Depth at defensive tackle could be a concern. If Justin Tuck’s NYG career is over, will the Giants get enough out of Moore and Kiwanuka to adequately replace him?

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Justin Tuck (UFA)
  • Linval Joseph (UFA)
  • Mike Patterson (UFA)
  • Shaun Rogers (UFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • DE Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
  • DE Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
  • DE Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
  • DE Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
  • DE Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
  • DE Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens
  • DE/DT Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks
  • DE Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs
  • DE Willie Young, Detroit Lions
  • DT Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
  • DT Henry Melton, Chicago Bears
  • DT B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers
  • DT Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins
  • DT Pat Sims, Oakland Raiders
  • DT Clinton McDonald, Seattle Seahawks

Linebackers (Substantial Need): The only linebackers current under contract are Jacquian Williams, Allen Bradford, Marcus Dowtin, and Spencer Adkins. Spencer Paysinger, who was tendered as a restricted free agent, will likely be re-signed. Even if Jon Beason is re-signed, his significant injury history (Achilles, ACL-microfracture surgery) suggests having a solid reserve behind him. Unless Paysinger and Williams come on, the Giants still lack a consistent, play-maker outside.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Jon Beason (UFA)
  • Spencer Paysinger (RFA)
  • Keith Rivers (UFA)
  • Mark Herzlich (UFA – not tendered RFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • LB Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots
  • LB Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals
  • LB Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens
  • LB Perry Riley, Washington Redskins

Defensive Backs (Substantial Need): As long as Antrel Rolle (high cap figure) and Will Hill (off-the-field issues) are in the picture, the Giants are in much better shape at safety, especially if they can re-sign either Stevie Brown or Ryan Mundy. Also keep in mind that the team has high hopes for Cooper Taylor. The need is far greater at cornerback where Prince Amukamara is the only consistent, proven veteran. If he were to get hurt, the Giants would be in deep, deep trouble. The only cornerbacks currently under contract are Amukamara, Jayron Hosley, Charles James, and four practice squad players.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Trumaine McBride (UFA)
  • Terrell Thomas (UFA)
  • Corey Webster (UFA)
  • Aaron Ross (UFA)
  • Ryan Mundy (UFA)
  • Stevie Brown (UFA)

UFA’s of Note:

  • S Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
  • S T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns
  • S Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints
  • S Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers
  • S Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions
  • CB Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans
  • CB Aqib Talib, New England Patriots
  • CB Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts
  • CB Sam Shields, Green Bay Packers
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos
  • CB Walter Thurmond, Seattle Seahawks

Kickers (Minor if Josh Brown is re-signed): Steve Weatherford is under contract. The Giants apparently would like to re-sign Josh Brown.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Josh Brown (UFA)

Notes:

UFA – Unrestricted Free Agent
RFA – Restricted Free Agent
ERFA – Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Share Button
Feb 192014
 
 February 19, 2014  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Jerry Reese, John Mara, New York Giants (July 27, 2013)

Jerry Reese and John Mara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Restocking the New York Giants for One More Run

In the history of the New York Giants, the 2005-2011 time period will be remembered as one of the franchise’s golden ages. In seven seasons, under the combined leadership and skill of Head Coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants made the playoffs five times, won three NFC East titles, two NFC Championships, and two NFL Championships.

What was remarkable about the second title was that the Giants were able to win it despite losing foundation players after the 2007 Championship. By the time 2011 rolled around, gone were Michael Strahan, Antonio Pierce, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Kevin Boss, Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, and others. Championship teams seldom lose core players like that and still manage to win another title. But the Giants reloaded with players such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, Antrel Rolle, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Jake Ballard, and David Baas.

As we enter the heart of the 2014 offseason, more of those core components of the glorious 2007 and 2011 campaigns are gone, will soon be gone, or have faded. Can the Giants restock their roster once again in order to provide the 67-year old Coughlin and the 33-year old Manning one more realistic shot at a ring?

Regardless of unforeseen factors or excuses, Senior Vice President and General Manager Jerry Reese miscalculated in 2012 and 2013. Reese believed that major components of the 2011 team would not have to be replaced quite so soon. He gambled he could postpone the inevitable transition by simply tweaking the roster, not tearing it up. The result was a combined 16-16 regular-season record and two no-shows in the playoff tournament.

2013 was a disaster and the Giants were far worse than their 7-9 record would indicate. While the defense improved, the once high-flying passing game regressed to the point of embarrassment. The Giants could not run the football or protect Eli Manning. The big-play receivers stopped making big plays. And the two-time Super Bowl MVP found himself once again the target of critics who had been cowering for the last five years. If the Giants had not played a string of teams with terrible quarterback issues, they likely would have finished the season with a 4-12 record or worse.

So is it over? Has the window closed? It may have. Reese appears to be gambling again that it has not. Coughlin is at an age when most retire but he will return for at least one more campaign. The 2013 season was not Coughlin’s fault. He will go down in history as one of the Giants’ best coaches along with Steve Owen and Bill Parcells. But replacing him with a younger man for what looks to be at least a moderate rebuilding project had to be considered as a viable option in January. If the Giants fail to make the playoffs in 2014 and Coughlin is let go in January 2015, then it was a mistake to retain him. Reese is betting that not only can Coughlin get this team back into the playoffs in 2014, but that he will be here a few more years in order to shepherd the Giants into one more legitimate title run.

Reese also appears to believe that Eli’s career can be resurrected. His current salary-cap busting contract is set to expire after the 2015 season. The safe bet would be to not re-structure his contract at the current time until the team can clearly see if he can rebound to his 2011 level. However, to not do so at the present time will limit what the Giants can do in rebuilding the roster since Manning currently accounts for roughly 15 percent of the Giants’ salary cap. It is important to note that all three of the Giants’ offensive assistant coaching hires this offseason are former quarterbacks coaches. The early indications – right or wrong – are that Reese believes Manning will be able to revert back to his 2011 form. If Reese re-structures Manning’s contract in the coming months, then that becomes a certainty.

So let’s assume Reese has already made the decision that the Coughlin-Manning combination has one more run in them. A coach and quarterback can’t do it alone. Can Reese and his personnel department provide Coughlin and Manning with enough support to seriously challenge teams like the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers in the NFC? Right now, as of February 2014, the Giants are nowhere near their class. Equipped with only six draft picks and a moderate amount of salary cap room (which looks inflated right now due to all of unsigned players), it will take a superlative effort by the front office to close the gap.

Offense: The New York Giants finished the 2011 season 9th on offense (5th passing, 32nd rushing). The Giants fell to 14th (12th passing, 14th rushing) in 2012 and 28th (19th passing, 29th rushing) in 2013. Despite the public perception to the contrary, Eli Manning doesn’t need a strong running game to succeed. But he needs decent pass protection and quality play-makers to catch the ball.

Offensive Line: Another myth that surrounds Manning is that he has been the beneficiary of superlative pass protection during much of his career. That simply is not true. Both David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie had issues with outside rushers, particularly in 2011. But the Giants’ interior pass protection really deteriorated in 2013, combined with a very inconsistent and disappointing season by left tackle Will Beatty. It is astounding really that the Giants were able to win an NFL Championship in 2011 with a 32nd-ranked rushing attack, shoddy-at-times pass protection, and the 27th-ranked defense. But Eli Manning and the 5th-ranked passing game carried the Giants to the playoffs where the running game and defense finally showed enough improvement to help New York win its eighth NFL title.

In 2013, the deteriorating, inept offensive line finally made its impact felt. The running game continued to struggle, but now Manning became gun-shy as pressure hit him from all angles. The Giants couldn’t run the ball and they couldn’t pass it. The opposition controlled the line of scrimmage and the Giants were pushed around by more physical opponents. Perhaps the biggest knock of all against Jerry Reese is that he and his personnel department did not do enough to restock the line as Diehl-Seubert-O’Hara-Snee-McKenzie aged and faded.

Right now, the line is a mess. It’s arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. The Giants have one player to build around: Justin Pugh. Pugh not only appears to have a bright future, but he is flexible enough to be plugged in anywhere on the offensive line. He will likely be the right or left tackle in 2014 depending on the injury status of Will Beatty, who suffered a serious leg fracture in the regular-season finale. The injury-prone and inconsistent Beatty, who was given a 5-year, $39 million contract last offseason, is coming off of a bad season. If he recovers quickly and if he can rebound to his 2012 level of play, that will help. But those are two big “ifs.” Then you have super injury-prone David Baas and the aging and breaking-down Chris Snee. The Giants counted on both to deliver in 2013 and neither could even make it past the first half of the season. It would be highly risky to count on Beatty, Baas, and Snee in 2014. Worse, Beatty ($7.4 million), Baas ($8.2 million), and Snee ($11.3 million) will take up almost $27 million in 2014 salary cap room unless they are cut or agree to take massive pay cuts. The problem with cutting them is dead money. Beatty is basically uncuttable with $15.5 million in dead money. Baas would cost $6.45 million in dead money if cut before June 1st; Snee $4.5 million. Kevin Boothe is a free agent and will turn 31 in July. As I said, it’s a mess.

And this mess is exacerbated by the fact that there is not a lot of young talent waiting in the wings to take over unless you have a lot of faith in James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, Stephen Goodin, Jim Cordle (free agent), and Eric Herman.

The Giants will obviously have to address the offensive line in the draft (with only six picks and many other needs) and free agency. Reese may feel he will be forced to gamble one more time on Beatty, Baas, and/or Snee. But if he does, and one, two, or three of these players end up on IR again or continue to struggle, then not only will the line once again be placed in a revolving door-type situation, but the offensive line rebuild that is necessary will be delayed yet another season.

I don’t think the offensive line can be fixed in one offseason. I think they can add one or two draft picks and add 2-3 free agents this offseason. But unless the Giants spend both their first and second round picks on linemen, it is only plausible that one rookie may start in 2014. On the free agent front, the Giants may be able to go after one premium offensive lineman, but the others will likely be older, short-term veterans merely signed to hold down the fort until more long-term reinforcements appear in 2015.

Tight Ends: Like the offensive line, the Giants have arguably the worst group of tight ends in the NFL. At times, it was like the Giants were playing with 10 men on offense. Brandon Myers is not a starting-caliber player. He is best suited as a role-playing H-Back. Since he is a free agent, there is a good chance the Giants won’t even bother re-signing him. Bear Pascoe is another role-playing type who is a free agent. He’s had a nice career here but the Giants need to do better. That leaves the physically-talented Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell. But neither developed in 2013 and neither may have NFL futures. Journeyman Daniel Fells, who was signed in January, may actually be the best tight end on the roster right now. That’s scary. So is the fact that the Giants basically fired Mike Pope for Kevin Gilbride’s 34-year old son to coach the tight ends. Gilbride’s only experience coaching tight ends was at Georgetown University in 2006.

Ideally, the Giants would want to spend a first or second round pick on a tight end. But can they afford to do that with the mess on the offensive line? Tight end is likely to be an important position with the West Coast-oriented offense of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Look for at least one veteran free agent to be added.

Wide Receivers: This position was supposed to be set for a while with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Rueben Randle. But for whatever reason, Nicks hasn’t been the same player since Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season. Although he is only 26 and should be entering the prime of his career, Nicks is likely to depart by free agency, meaning the Giants will lose the services of another high-round draft pick before it should have been anticipated.

Eli Manning has proved that if you give him great targets, he can still carry this team with an average offensive line, tight ends, and running backs. But now Rueben Randle will be counted on to become the 2010-11 version of Nicks. If he doesn’t, then teams will continue to focus on shutting down Victor Cruz. It also remains to be seen if Jerrel Jernigan’s last three weeks of the 2013 season were a mirage. If Randle and Jernigan disappoint, the Giants will be in deep, deep trouble.

A strong case could be made that wide receiver is one of the most pressing needs on this team given the importance of the position to the Giants’ overall success.  So I would not be shocked to see the Giants draft a wide receiver as high as the first round. But if they do so, the offensive line will continue to suffer. Pick your poison.

Running Backs: Another mess filled with question marks and arguably one of the worst groups in the league. (Notice the trend here those calling for the heads of coaches?) Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs got old and are gone. First-rounder David Wilson was supposed to become the new featured play-maker, but now his career is in jeopardy with a neck injury. The hope is he can return and become a Darren Sproles-like role-player. Andre Brown is an injury-prone free agent. Journeyman Peyton Hillis is also a free agent and it’s not even clear if the Giants want him back. Michael Cox flashed in the preseason but did not in the regular season. With not enough resources to deal with all of these positions, the “help wanted” sign is out here as well. The good news? The Giants have a very good fullback under contract (John Conner) and another one who may re-sign as a free agent (Henry Hynoski).

Offensive Summary: It’s a mess. Manning, Pugh, Cruz, Randle, and Jernigan must come through or it will be even worse. The Giants have more issues on the offensive line than they will likely be able to address in one offseason. The tight ends and running backs scare no one. Losing the 2010-11 version of Nicks removes a much-needed impact player.

Defense: Despite winning the Super Bowl in 2011, the New York Giants’ defense was embarrassingly bad in 2011 (27th) and 2012 (31st). Those defenses each gave up over 6,000 yards of offense – the first time that has ever happened in the Giants’ long and storied history. If it were not for the six-game run at the end of the 2011 season, Perry Fewell may have been fired. In 2013, the defense made a huge improvement, ranking 8th in the NFL (10th against the pass, 14th against the run). With the arrow pointed upwards, one may feel there are not many issues to be addressed on this side of the ball. But there are.

Defensive Line: Ever since the Giants switched back to the 4-3 in 1994, the defensive line has been the heart of the New York’s defense. But this once-formidable and deep unit is fraying at the edges. Long gone are Michael Strahan, Barry Cofield, and Fred Robbins. Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty left the scene last offseason. Justin Tuck is coming off a strong season but he is inconsistent, aging, and has had health issues. 25-year old Linval Joseph, a former second rounder, is a free agent who the Giants may not be able to re-sign. Mathias Kiwanuka is steady, but he doesn’t make many plays and will count over $7 million against the 2014 salary cap.

In a nutshell, the transition on the defensive line basically started last offseason and will continue this offseason. The Giants will need to count on 33-year old Cullen Jenkins and 21-year old Johnathan Hankins inside, especially if they lose Joseph. Depth could become a problem. Markus Kuhn is still in the picture and the Giants will likely re-sign Mike Patterson or sign someone similar.

Bigger concerns exist outside at defensive end. The team desperately needs Jason Pierre-Paul to return to his 2011 form after two disappointing and injury-plagued seasons. Will Tuck re-sign? Should the Giants re-sign him or move on? Is Kiwanuka really worth the valuable cap space he is taking up? Damontre Moore flashed on special teams but not really on defense. The Giants need him to develop or the needs here become even greater. If the offense was not such a mess, a case could be made for drafting a defensive end in the first round.

Linebacker: Perry Fewell uses more 2-linebacker packages than 3-linebacker packages so there is not a premium placed on this position by the Giants. That said, the dramatic improvement in the Giants’ defense occurred last season once Jon Beason became the new starter at middle linebacker. Beason is a free agent but will likely be re-signed. The concern with him is his injury history. If the Giants lose him, the linebacking position becomes a real weakness again, especially inside. In a perfect world, the Giants draft an apprentice middle linebacker with the leadership, intelligence, and physical skills to play in Fewell’s defense.

Contrary to many people, I think the Giants can get by with Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams. But adding more talent would help. Keith Rivers is a free agent but could be a cheap re-sign. I would move on from Mark Herzlich. Allen Bradford will get a shot.

Defensive Backs: Cornerback is a bigger issue than safety. The Giants will be undergoing a significant transition at corner. Free agents Corey Webster and Aaron Ross will likely not be invited back. Free agents Trumaine McBride and Terrell Thomas may or may not return. Right now, the only players under contract are Prince Amukamara, Jayron Hosley, Charles James, and four practice squad players. A strong case could be made for the Giants drafting a corner in round one or two to team with Amukamara. The Giants need Hosley – who missed much of 2013 with an injury – and James to develop. Imagine how bad this position would look if Amukamara was lost due to an injury?

The concerns at safety have more to do with issues off of the field. 31-year old Antrel Rolle had his best season in 2013. He shows no signs of slowing down yet. However, Rolle will be entering the last year of a contract that will count $9.25 million against the 2014 salary cap. That’s a lot of money for a team that is basically rebuilding. 23-year old Will Hill seems like the heir apparent, but his off-the-field issues are worrisome. If these two play in all 16 games in 2014, then the Giants will be in good shape. The Giants drafted talented Cooper Taylor last offseason. And they probably hope to re-sign either Stevie Brown or Ryan Mundy.

Defensive Summary: The success of this defense is largely dependent on the play of the defensive ends and cornerbacks. And the Giants could use more help at both spots. Quality is more important than quantity here.

General Summary: The #1 offseason emphasis so far has to form a team around Eli Manning that can get him back on track. See the hires of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf, and running backs coach Craig Johnson. If you have a franchise quarterback in the NFL playing at a top level, you should be a playoff team. But the Giants currently no longer have a lot of talent around Manning. They need help at every other offensive position and it will be virtually impossible to address all of these needs in one offseason. The Giants may rebound well enough to challenge for the NFC East title given the sorry state of the division, but they are far from seriously challenging the defense of the Seahawks and 49ers.

Defensively, the Giants should not be lulled into a false sense of security despite the dramatically-improved defensive ranking. The defense line and cornerback positions are in transition and it remains to be seen if the Giants can adequately restock themselves at both positions.

Share Button
Jan 222014
 
 January 22, 2014  Posted by  Articles, History
New York Giants at Cleveland Brown (November 6, 1955), Rosey Brown (79)

New York Giants at Cleveland Brown (November 6, 1955), Rosey Brown (79)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

(Part I)

Innovation via Delegation

The New York Giants first sought Army Black Knight Head Coach Earl “Red” Blaik as the replacement for Owen. After he declined the offer, assistant coach and former end Jim Lee Howell accepted the job, but only on the condition that he would be able to hire a staff consisting of coordinators on both sides of the ball – a unique idea at that time. Howell said, “Before the war, they didn’t specialize in coaches. One coach taught everybody everything.” Yet Howell foresaw a structure where the coordinators would handle their own sides of the ball, studying film, drawing up game plans, and grading their players while he oversaw the operation in more of an administrative role.

Landry had already served in a player-coach role under Owen, which not only would continue but expand. Instead of merely teaching Owen’s concepts to his teammates, Landry, who was regarded as an introspective genius by his peers, would be counted on to conceive his own game plans, a task he relished with aplomb. While playing in the Umbrella, he was already thinking ahead, visualizing a strong line that covered all possible gaps, linebackers who flowed to the point-of-attack, and a defensive backfield that covered zones on the field. Howell said, “Landry was brilliant, very, very smart. He could size up a situation very quickly and get it right.”

Sensing the defense was in good hands, Howell went outside the organization to fix the broken offense. Blaik suggested to the Giants his backfield coach, who badly yearned to coach in the NFL. Vince Lombardi (who went by Vinnie) had been a very successful high school coach at St. Cecilia’s in New Jersey before serving his five-year apprenticeship under Blaik at West Point. Among the things he picked up from one of the nation’s highest-regarded coaches was organization of practices, film study (still a relatively new idea at the time and not widely used), and an emphasis on unit execution rather than deception.

Working from Blaik’s dynamic power T-Formation, Lombardi saw many possibilities, which included implementing Single Wing blocking techniques for the offensive line (i.e. pulling guards) that he had learned while playing at Fordham. Howell liked what he saw in this burgeoning coach, “Lombardi teaches the style of football I like and believe in. Vinnie is daring and he is brainy. He knew what he could do with the players. His was very basic in his thinking. He was just a fine coach.”

The basic tenet of Lombardi’s philosophy was that players need condensed, uncomplicated information. “A few men working closely together in a spirit of discipline, singleness of purpose, and a commitment to excellence could succeed no matter the odds.” This was distilled to perfection with his signature play, the sweep.

Giants had been last in rushing in 1953. That would not be the case in 1954. Gifford teamed with new fullbacks Alex Webster and Mel Triplett. Left tackle Rosey Brown blocked and pulled. And the Giants plowed their way through the eight-man defensive fronts that were predominant of that period. Lombardi’s wider line splits made the defensive middle guard (today referred to as the nose tackle) vulnerable to double-teams.

The concert of destruction that took place at the snap was a choreographed framework that allowed for improvisation in accordance with how the defense reacted. The guards pulled. The lead guard blocked the defensive halfback and the offside guard blocked either the inside or outside linebacker. The center blocked back on defensive tackle. The onside offensive tackle chipped the defensive end, and then sealed the outside linebacker. The fullback or halfback blocked the defensive end, and then led the ball carrier into the hole, while the tight end influence-blocked the defensive end away from the point-of-attack. The reads of the ball carrier and his blocker (a halfback or fullback) was to determine the edge blocking, and the runner would decide whether to cut inside or take play to the edge.

Over time, Gifford would also have the added option of throwing the football. If Gifford made the proper read and a big play was available, he would pull up and loft a pass over rolled up defensive backs.

Lombardi humbly stated of his soon-to-be legendary sweep, “There is nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard gainer. It’s my number one play because it requires all eleven men to play as one to make it succeed, and that’s what ‘team’ means.”

The players noticed the differences immediately when they met at camp that summer. Halfback Kyle Rote noted, “When Howell took over in 1954 we started to have separate offensive and defensive meetings. Before, we all met in one big room. But the offense and defense became separate and definitive units under Jim Lee.”

Eagle Defense, Power T-Formation

Howell had traveled to Mississippi that off-season and promised Conerly if he came back he would be better protected. To make the existence of his reluctant quarterback more comfortable, the A-Formation was discarded, the T-Formation fully installed, terminology simplified, and a system of automatics that enabled Conerly to change the play at the line was developed.

Lombardi was also a breath of fresh air to Gifford. At the first practice the coach told the player, “We’re through fooling around with you. You’re a back now.” The stronger line would take time to gel, but players like Brown, Jack Stroud, and Ray Wietecha were soon to become stalwarts in the newly renamed Eastern Conference, and they gave the Giants a new attitude.

Although the Giants’ offensive system was largely ground-based and built around Gifford, the passing game was also vastly improved. End Bob Schnelker was the deep threat while Kyle Rote ran clever patterns underneath. Whether the pass was coming from Conerly or Gifford was the defense’s guess. Lombardi said, “Two intangibles make Gifford great – his versatility and his alertness. He gives the opposition fits by keeping it off balance. If the secondary comes up fast to check his run, he’ll heave the ball downfield; if the defense holds back, Frank’ll keep on running.”

The changes were evident early during the regular season. The Giants started the season 4-0, with point totals of 41, 51, and 31 in impressive wins. Week 6 brought a 24-14 loss at Cleveland, but the Giants bounced back with romps over Philadelphia and Washington.

Disaster struck in back-to-back games at the Polo Grounds at the end of November. Gifford injured his knee during a 17-16 loss to the Rams, and Conerly injured his knee on the first play of the rematch with Cleveland, which the Giants lost 17-6. The Browns went on to defeat Detroit for the NFL title.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Despite the third-place finish, the Giants carried optimism into the offseason. Lombardi’s sweep proved to be a success – Gifford’s 5.6 yards per carry led the Eastern Conference. The passing game’s efficiency improved exponentially – in 1953 the Giants’ ends caught a total of three touchdown passes; in 1954 they scored 20. There was a feeling of improvement, accomplishment, and a belief in the new systems being taught by the staff.

Motley left the Browns after the season, but Cleveland made it six consecutive conference titles in 1955 regardless. The Giants started the season slowly and sputtered to a 2-5 record after a physically-tough loss at Cleveland. But they would not lose again. The highlight of their 6-5-1 season was a 35-35 tie with the Browns in the final Giants’ football game at the Polo Grounds (although nobody knew that at the time).

This game marked the first time Howell started Don Heinrich at quarterback, ostensibly to allow Conerly to “spot flaws in the Browns from the bench.” Not all Giants players liked this sometimes controversial strategy, including the supposed number one quarterback himself. Conerly said years later, “You can’t see a damn thing from the bench. It’s the worst seat in the place. I don’t know why they did that.”

The crowd of 49,699 for the game billed as the “grudge match” was the largest in New York that year. Two future NFL head coaches started for Cleveland at linebacker: Walt Michaels and Chuck Noll. The running game by committee for the Browns was Curley Morrison and Ed Modzelewski (whose brother Dick would join the Giants in 1956). On occasion, Brown would deploy five wide receiver sets to confound Landry’s growingly versatile 6-1-4 defense.

The early advantage in the coaching chess game went to Howell as Heinrich staked New York to an early 14-0 lead. However, Graham calmly led his team back and Cleveland took the lead 21-14 late in the third quarter. The Giants, now led by Conerly, immediately tied the game 21-21 on a disputed play. Price was seemingly on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run, but was hit and fumbled at the goal line. New York’s Bob Schnelker came out of the fracas with the ball. When the Giants were awarded a touchdown, the Cleveland bench erupted in protest.

The Giants’ defensive front harassed Graham on the ensuing possession, and forced a Cleveland punt. Conerly engineered a 65-yard drive that he capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rote in the back of the end zone. Graham responded with a precision drive of his own, tying the game 28-28. Noll gave the Browns the lead when he intercepted a Conerly pass and returned it 14 yards for the score. The Giants took over on their own 15-yard line, and Conerly drove the Giants 85 yards for the touchdown, converting several third downs along the way. The decisive play was a pass completion to Gifford at the Cleveland 15, where he broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for the 23-yard score. Ben Agajanian’s point after knotted the game 35-35.

Graham was the original master of the yet-to-be-named two-minute drill. All opposing defenses and coaches feared his prowess when there was little time left on the clock. He rarely made a bad read, extended plays with his feet, and would run for yardage when necessary. The three minutes left on the clock probably felt like an eternity to player-coach Landry after the kickoff.

Graham opened the proceedings on his own 27-yard line with a bootleg to the New York 45. Just like that, the Browns were nearing the edge of Groza’s field goal range. Two Morrison rushes pushed the ball down to the Giants’ 19-yard line, and Modzelewski plunged to the 14. Groza came on for a 21-yard attempt with 0:25 on the clock, but Phil Knight leapt high from the line and blocked the kick. New York recovered the loose ball while the Polo Grounds crowd rocked in bedlam. Conerly had time left for one desperation pass, which was completed to the middle of the field as time expired. Regardless, the New York fans gave the Giants a standing ovation as they exited the Polo Grounds. Cleveland went on to their sixth consecutive championship game appearance after the season, and sent Graham off to retirement with a 38-14 win over Sid Gillman’s Los Angeles Rams.

Coordination and the Man in the Middle

Significant changes took place for both teams prior to the 1956 season. Brown was frustrated with finding a suitable signal caller for his offense and rotated Tommy O’Connell, George Ratterman, and Babe Parilli under center. The Giants, on the other hand, found a quarterback for their defense. Landry retired as a player and was now a full-time, fedora-wearing coach on the sideline. As a player, Landry knew his own physical limitations, so he had dedicated himself to being the smarter player. He was always aware not only of his own responsibilities on the field but also those of his teammates. In the burgeoning days of Owen’s Umbrella, while Landry coordinated the secondary, he envisioned all 11 players operating in a similar fashion. As he grew into the responsibilities of coaching, Landry began to teach his teammates the concept of reading offensive tendencies, which he called “keys” during film study.

Landry’s central theory was that an offense’s possibilities were limited once its personnel were on the field and a pre-snap formation was aligned. Post-snap, the defense would then read each offensive player’s first step to see where the play would go. Landry distilled it down to a science. For example, the weight a guard had on his front hand could predict whether he was going to drive block or pull on a run, or drop back to protect on a pass. Landry wanted a smart player like himself to realize the defense’s potential.

Sam Huff came to camp as a guard, but was converted to middle linebacker, a new position that evolved from watching film of Bill Willis on the Browns. On some occasions, Willis would be a half-yard back from the line of scrimmage, either in a three-point or two-point stance. But Landry used Huff as a fully declared linebacker, a full yard back from the center, always in a two-point stance, which allowed him to read the offensive backfield. Landry said, “Sam was a very disciplined player. The thing that made him so good was that he would listen, and he would do what was necessary to operate our defense. The effectiveness of the 4-3 depends on the defensive team recognizing a formation, knowing what plays can be run from that formation, and then recognizing keys that tell them the likely play or plays to expect.” Huff attributed the success to his teammates, “We played as a team on that Giants’ squad. I had help. The defense was set up so the defensive linemen actually kept the blockers off me.”

When the two 1-1 teams met in Week 3 at Cleveland, the strain of lacking an on-field leader had already worn on Brown. Always way ahead of his time, he conceived of radio communication between himself and the quarterback to get the plays called. The Giants were onto him early, and designated rookie end Bob Topp to sit on the end of the bench and decipher the Browns’ plays with a receiver tuned in to Cleveland’s frequency. Brown eventually reverted to his rotating guard system to send the calls in, but the Giants rolled to their first win over the Browns in three years, 21-9, behind the strength of a rushing attack that compiled 256 yards. On Monday, The New York Times declared “the Giants handled the Browns the in the manner the Browns used to handle the Giants.” On Tuesday,NFL Commissioner Bell barred electronic coaching devices on game day.

The Giants flexed their muscles with four more wins over Eastern Conference opponents, three of which took place on their new home field at venerable Yankee Stadium, just across the Macomb Dam Bridge from the Polo Grounds. When the Giants and Browns met in Week 11 for their rematch, 4-6 Cleveland was in the unfamiliar position of looking up in the standings at 7-2-1 New York. Brown must have used that as motivation, as the Browns defied expectations and manhandled the Giants in the rain and snow on the muddy field in a 24-7 romp.

The Giants clinched the Eastern Conference the following week with a win at Philadelphia, then won their first NFL Title since 1938 when they defeated the Chicago Bears at Yankee Stadium 47-7. Gifford had a season for the ages. He led team in both rushing yards and pass receptions, for the first of four consecutive seasons, and led the NFL with 1,422 total yards from scrimmage (819 rushing, 603 receiving). Gifford scored nine total touchdowns, five rushing and four receiving, and added two more scoring passes from his option role on the sweep. He also had 161 total yards and a touchdown in the championship game against the Bears. His receiving the NFL MVP award was almost anti-climactic.

The Browns made good use of their draft position following their first losing season in team history, taking fullback Jim Brown from Syracuse. The quarterback situation was still somewhat unsettled, as Brown split starts between O’Connell and Milt Plum, but the effects were minimal as their greatest success came when they were handing off to Brown, who led the NFL as a rookie with 942 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown would lead the NFL in rushing eight of his nine seasons, and this was the only one in which he did not go over 1,000 yards. He would also grow into a receiving threat over time, and lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage six times.

Umbrella Defense, Split T-Formation, Wing-T Formation

The Giants opened the season at Cleveland in what would be a tense defensive battle. Brown rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries, but neither team accumulated 200 total yards of offense. Cleveland won on a Groza kick at 0:23, 6-3. The Giants rebounded to win seven of their next eight games, fueled in part by another Landry defensive innovation: a linebacker “red dog” in which at the snap of the ball, Huff or one of the outside linebackers would immediately attack the backfield.

When the calendar turned to December, the 7-2 Giants were just a half game behind the 7-1-1 Browns. New York dropped games against San Francisco and Pittsburgh, rendering the finale against Cleveland meaningless in regards to the Eastern Conference standings. However, the Giants-Browns rivalry had achieved Yankees-Red Sox status, and the advance ticket sales for the game were 50,000 and the turnstile count for the game was 54,292, the Giants’ largest home crowd for the season.

This was the first game where Landry assigned Huff the explicit responsibility of keying solely on Brown. Landry said, “Our defense was not designed specifically for Sam Huff to stop Jim Brown, our defense was designed to stop the offense we were working against. Our defense was based on coordination. Sam was just one of the 11 people who were coordinated. Specifically, the front seven was coordinated against the run. He was just one element in that group. But he got great recognition, which he deserved, because in this particular defense he was stopping Jim Brown, who is almost unstoppable. ” Huff versus Brown almost became a rivalry within a rivalry.

The Giants’ offense played well. Heinrich and Conerly combined for 282 passing yards and Gifford scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. New York led 28-27 with under 7:00 left on the clock, but Plum lead Cleveland to the winning score as Graham had done so many times before. Brown had another strong outing for Cleveland, rushing for 78 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the 34-28 victory. Cleveland returned to the championship game but lost again to Detroit.

Reckoning and Recognition

The Football Giants’ ascension in New York’s consciousness came at just the right time. Following the 1957 season, both the Baseball Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers left town for California. Yankee Stadium was the fulcrum of professional sports in New York for all of 1958.

The first meeting between the two Eastern Conference stalwarts did not take place until the first week of November when the 5-0 Browns hosted the 3-2 Giants. A raucous crowd of 78,404, the fourth largest in Cleveland professional football history to-date, packed Cleveland Stadium but went home disappointed after a second-half come-from-behind effort by New York.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

Brown looked unstoppable for Cleveland in the first half, rushing for a 58-yard touchdown (his 15th of the season in just his sixth game!) but the aerial game struggled. Plum completed only four passes for the entire game and was intercepted twice by Jimmy Patton.

The Giants’ attack was balanced. Conerly tossed three scoring passes, two to Webster in the second half, the last of which came with less than three minutes remaining. They brought Conerly’s career touchdown pass total to 140, which placed him second all-time behind Sammy Baugh’s 187. The unlikely hero was Triplett, who outrushed Brown on the day 116 yards to 113 (which was 50 yards below Brown’s season average). It would be the sole 100-yard effort in Triplett’s career.

Landry’s coordinated defense truly came into its own in the second half. He had noticed keys on Cleveland’s formations that tipped off when Brown was getting the ball, and when he was being used as a decoy and the ball would go instead to Bobby Mitchell. Huff’s reads of Brown were nearly flawless, as Cleveland had only 23 plays from scrimmage in the second half, gained only two first downs, and never crossed the 50-yard line. Cleveland’s 17 points were far below the 35 they had averaged over their first five games.

The defense-first trend continued for the Giants throughout the season. The 1958 Giants would end up being the lowest-scoring team of Howell’s tenure with 20.5 points per game. But the New York fans not only didn’t mind this brand of football, they relished it. Landry recalled, “We knew we were something special in New York. The city was just on fire. It was amazing the way they supported the Giants, and the defense. This was a brand new thing in pro football, because no one even knew when you played defense until the late fifties.”

Cleveland and New York met for the final game of the regular season at Yankee Stadium with the Eastern Conference crown on the line. The 9-2 Browns stunned the 63,192 in attendance on the first play from scrimmage. Brown galloped through the middle of the Giants’ 4-3 front untouched and outran the secondary for a 65-yard touchdown. It was all defense for the remainder of the half as Pat Summerall and Groza exchanged field goals for the 10-3 halftime score. The Summerall field goal came after an uncharacteristic Cleveland fumble, which was recovered by Jim Katkavage on Cleveland’s 39-yard line.

As the snow fell during the scoreless third quarter, the Browns’ confidence increased. Their opening possession of the third quarter took a full 12 minutes off the clock, but the drive ended without points as the Giants thwarted a fake field goal attempt. Conerly’s unit was unable to move the ball and punted as the period came to a close. The big play to start the game loomed as the possible difference in a trip to the NFL Championship. This game took on the feel of a stare-down between two rugged defensive outfits.

Early in the fourth quarter the unthinkable happened as Cleveland turned the ball over in their own territory a second time. Poise and precision had always been hallmarks of Paul Brown’s team, which had committed just 12 turnovers in their first 11 games. Plum fumbled on his own 47-yard line and Andy Robustelli recovered for New York at the 45. Stymied by Cleveland’s defense all day, Lombardi’s unit seized the sudden change in momentum and struck quickly on his signature sweep/option. On first down, Conerly faked to Webster and handed off to Gifford who ran toward the right sideline. As he neared the boundary, Gifford spotted Rote coming open behind the defense. He pulled up and lofted a deep pass for a 39-yard advance to the Browns’ six-yard line. After a rush for a loss and incomplete pass by Conerly, Gifford completed a touchdown pass to Schnelker between two defenders on another sweep/option to tie the game 10-10 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

The Giants’ defense forced a punt after two sacks of Plum by Rosey Grier. But the offense failed to capitalize despite favorable field position when Summerall’s 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. The kicker remembered, “I’d have liked to have gone anywhere but back to the bench. But four or five of the guys came over and told me to forget it, that they’d get me another chance.”

Summerall did get another chance. The New York defense forced another three-and-out. The Giants fielded a short punt near mid-field (the exact yard line was impossible to determine on the now snow-covered field). Three incomplete passes left the Giants’ last hope hanging in the balance on fourth down and 2:07 on the clock, with a tie as good as a victory for Cleveland. Confidence was lacking for a Giants’ offense that had struggled all day. On third down they had missed a sure touchdown connection between Conerly (who was only 10-for-27 on the day) and Webster. “I had (the defender) beat pretty good, five or six yards. But the ball came out of the snow – I know that’s no excuse – and it went right through my hands and I dropped it on the five-yard line.” Webster said, “It would have been an easy six points.”

Howell took the unusual step of overruling his offensive coordinator Lombardi, who wanted to call another pass play, and sent Summerall on to the field for a desperation kick attempt. Summerall said, “I couldn’t believe that Jim Lee was asking me to that. That was the longest attempt I’d ever made for the Giants. It was a bad field and it was so unrealistic. Most of the fellows on the bench couldn’t believe it either.” Wellington Mara shared the popular belief, “That Summerall kick was the most vivid play I remember. I was (up in the press box) sitting next to Ken Kavanaugh and Walt Yowarsky and we all said, ‘He can’t kick it that far. What are we doing?’”

The attempt was logged officially from 49 yards, but some believe it was further. Summerall said, “No one knows how far it had to go. You couldn’t see the yard markers. The snow had obliterated them. But it was more than 50 I’ll tell you that.” Rote supported that theory. He remembered standing on the 50-yard line and said that Conerly spotted the ball, “two yards past me.”

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Regardless of the actual distance, any kick on that snow-covered field in the wind was going to be a formidable task. As Conerly cleared a spot for the placement, he heard Cleveland players shouting “stay onsides!” to one another. The snap, spot, and hold were perfect as could be, but the ball’s trajectory was not.

Summerall described the kick’s near wayward flight, “I knew as soon as I touched it that it was going to be far enough. My only thought was that sometime you hit a ball too close to the center and it behaves like a knuckleball, breaking from side to side. It was weaving out. But when it got to the 10 I could see it breaking back to the inside.” Conerly felt a little better about it, “I looked up as soon as Pat hit the ball. It looked real good and it made me feel real good. There was a lot of guilt riding on that one.”

Pat Summerall's Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall’s Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Summerall was mobbed by teammates as Yankee Stadium erupted in delirium. Plum moved Cleveland near mid-field where Summerall’s counterpart Groza attempted what was thought to be a 55-yard field goal, but it fell well short of the cross bar. The Giants survived 13-10 and had forced a playoff for the right to face the Baltimore Colts for the NFL Championship.

The perfectionist Paul Brown blamed himself for the loss. He stayed up that night and re-watched the game film. He concluded he made a tactical error by running the ball too much, perhaps caused by overconfidence from the game’s first play. After that 65-yard touchdown run, Brown was held to just 83 yards on 25 carries.

Brown was not the only one looking back; history was not on the Giants’ side. The Giants were 0-2 in the franchise’s two previous standings tie-breakers. The 1950 loss at Cleveland lingered in recent memory, but another from the past resonated as well. After the 1943 season, New York was tied atop the Eastern Division with Washington 6-3-1. The Giants forced the playoff by defeating the Redskins not only once, but twice, to close the season. However, despite the playoff being held within the friendly confines of the Polo Grounds, Sammy Baugh and his teammates exacted thorough revenge by whipping the Giants 28-0. Defeating the same team three times in the same season was believed to be an unrealistic expectation by most observers.

The players did not seem to notice the doubters however. Practices at Yankee Stadium were unusually spirited throughout the week, crisp and hard-hitting. The enthusiasm carried over to the game on a bright but bitterly cold 20-degree Sunday in front of 62,742 eager fans.

Jim Brown received the opening kickoff and advanced it 45 yards. Plum completed a pass before Brown fumbled on a hit by Katkavage that was recovered by Grier. Heinrich returned the favor however and threw an interception of his own. After a Cleveland punt, Heinrich threw a second interception. The New York defense held again. And Conerly took the field and crafted a 12-play, 84-yard drive, mixing runs and passes. The final play of the drive was a bit of razzle-dazzle drawn up by Lombardi earlier that week.

The play started out as a simple sweep left by Webster on the Cleveland 18-yard line. Webster then handed off to a reversing Gifford sprinting right. Gifford cut through a hole behind the right guard. Racing up field, Gifford juked a safety then surprised everybody when he lateralled to a trailing Conerly. The old quarterback was hit at the goal line but fell into the end zone for what would be the game’s lone touchdown. Conerly said, “It was something new we put in this week. The lateral on the end was optional.”

The Browns responded with another drive into Giants’ territory, but Groza’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide left and short. Conerly engineered another drive that Summerall capped with a three-pointer to give the Giants a 10-0 lead at the half. Cleveland managed one more scoring threat late in the third quarter when Don Maynard lost a fumble returning a punt. Plum moved the Browns to the New York six-yard line, but following two sacks, Huff intercepted a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cleveland never threatened again. After a quick exchange of punts the Giants ground away the clock with their power running game and controlled the ball 10 of the final 11 minutes.

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

The furiously-fought game’s stars were the magnificent front four, who wrecked Cleveland’s blocking schemes. Robustelli, Katkavage, Grier, and Modzelewski kept Huff free from interference and harassed Plum and Jim Ninowski every single snap. Brown endured the worst showing of his otherwise sterling career with eight yards on seven rushes. Taking into account Brown’s 20-yard run in the third quarter, it means Brown lost 12 yards on his other six carries! Huff said, “Cleveland likes to run its plays to perfection. As long as they run the play perfect, they figure your mistakes will beat you. Well, here I was knowing Jimmy would run and just where he would run. I wasn’t about to make any mistakes.”

The fans in attendance helped fuel the inspired front four’s engine, roaring their appreciation every time the defense held and the Cleveland offense trudged to the sideline. Brown said, “They just played even harder than last week, more determined.” Cleveland was held to a meager 86 yards of offense and seven first downs. The Giants had two times as many plays from scrimmage, 80 to 40, and they controlled the pace with 211 yards on 53 rushes. This was only the second time the Browns were held scoreless in nine NFL seasons, and it was the first in 114 games. The last occurrence was the very first meeting between the two teams in 1950. Howell acknowledged the impressive performance, “They played the best defensive ball I ever saw a club play against a real good team.” Katkavage succinctly stated, “We just played better under pressure.”

The Giants hosted the Baltimore Colts the following week in what became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Giants’ fans would probably disagree as their team lost the first overtime game in NFL history, 23-17. But the stage had been set for professional football to capture the nation’s imagination. After the season, Lombardi moved on to Green Bay. The Giants repeated as Eastern Conference champions in 1959, this time on the arm of NFL MVP Charlie Conerly who blossomed under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Allie Sherman. The clinching-game was on a Yankee Stadium field flooded by delirious fans who were probably somewhat in disbelief of the one-sided 48-7 score over Brown’s Cleveland team.

By the end of the next decade, football not only surpassed baseball as the National Pastime, it had become a national obsession, dominating television ratings in season while commanding headlines throughout the offseason. This was a far cry from the game’s humble stature at the opening of the decade when NFL box scores were fortunate to receive a few paragraphs of type while being buried on the sports pages alongside the previous day’s finishers in the money at the local race track.

The two teams represented the American / Eastern Conference in all 10 NFL Title games in the 1950’s, with the Browns winning three (’50, ’54 & ’55) and the Giants one (‘56.) Each franchise is well represented from the era at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Cleveland: Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Dante Lavelli, Len Ford, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza, Doug Atkins, Mike McCormack, Jim Brown, Henry Jordan, Willie Davis, Gene Hickerson, Bobby Mitchell

New York: Steve Owen, Emlen Tunnell, Arnie Weinmeister, Tom Landry, Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, Vince Lombardi, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff

The head-to-head outcomes were remarkably even, with Cleveland holding a 10-9-1 regular-season advantage, and both teams winning a conference tie-breaker.

New York Giants vs. Cleveland Browns (1950's)

10/1/50New York 6 at Cleveland 0
10/22/50New York 17 vs Cleveland 13
12/17/50New York 3 at Cleveland 8 (American Conference Playoff)
10/28/51New York 13 at Cleveland 14
11/18/51New York 0 vs Cleveland 10
10/12/52New York 17 at Cleveland 9
12/14/52 New York 37 vs Cleveland 34
10/25/53 New York 0 vs Cleveland 7
12/6/53New York 14 at Cleveland 62
10/31/54 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/28/54 New York 7 vs Cleveland 16
11/6/55 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/27/55New York 35 vs Cleveland 35
10/14/56New York 21 at Cleveland 9
12/9/56 New York 7 vs Cleveland 24
9/29/57 New York 3 at Cleveland 6
12/15/57New York 28 vs Cleveland 34
11/2/58New York 21 at Cleveland 17
12/14/58New York 13 vs Cleveland 10
12/21/58 New York 10 vs Cleveland 0 (Eastern Conference Playoff)
10/11/59 New York 10 at Cleveland 6
12/6/59New York 48 vs Cleveland 7
The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)
Share Button
Jan 202014
 
 January 20, 2014  Posted by  Articles, History
Emlen Tunnell (45), Tom Landry (49); New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 1, 1950)

Emlen Tunnell (45), Tom Landry (49); New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 1, 1950)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

When most people think of a fierce rivalry, the first image to arise is often a series of intense, physical contests – two teams meeting on the field, imposing wills, doling out punishment, one trying to outlast the other. One rivalry during the NFL’s transformative stage encompassed all of that while transcending the physical scrums along the line of scrimmage. When New York and Cleveland jousted for American and Eastern Conference supremacy, the games were more than a battle of brute strength. The coaching staffs engaged in contests of creativity and attempted to outsmart one another. The game of football and its fans still reap the rewards to this very day.

The Father of Modern Professional Football

The organization and structure of football practices are now taken for granted, but it was Paul Brown’s reforms that profoundly altered the way teams prepare for football games. George Halas, a legendary innovator in his own right, credited Brown with “turning the league into an organized, highly skilled endeavor instead of a bunch of big lugs whaling the daylights out of each other.” Brown himself humbly stated his motivation for organizing his practices was to instill a sense of pride into his assistant coaches and players. He wanted them to feel that football, as a full-time occupation, was important, and something worthy of complete dedication.

Brown was strong-willed and did not waver on a conviction. “I believed strongly in the things that were necessary for us to win, and I refused to tolerate any exceptions to those beliefs.” He held his staff and players to high standards. “I always believed that young men want to work in an atmosphere of reasoned discipline and order, and respond better under those conditions.” As a result, the following major innovations that Brown began not only changed the way football was played, but how it was perceived by the general public:

  • Full-time player scouting
    • Character was as equally important as athletic skill; “selfish or disloyal, or those who could not adjust their individual skills to our team concepts” were dismissed from consideration
    • “The ability to perform under pressure is the mark of a great player”
    • Standardized the 40-yard dash after calculating the average distance needed to cover a punt, the most repeated play in football
  • Film study
    • Not only of opponents, but self-scouting and recognizing his team’s own tendencies
  • Playbooks
    • Players were required to take notes during meetings and routinely quizzed to gauge their retention
    • If players understood why they were doing something, “they were more apt to be in the spirit of the occasion”
  • Took play-calling duties away from the quarterback
    • Initially sent plays in by rotating offensive guards; later pioneered the use of transistor radios in the quarterback’s helmet
    • Provided the quarterback with “check-with-me” calls to use at the line of scrimmage if the defense’s alignment was unfavorable
  • Instituted a year-round conditioning plan
  • Racially re-integrated professional football
    • Brought Marion Motley and Bill Willis to the Browns in 1946; no black players had been on an NFL roster since 1934
  • Meticulously pre-planned practices
    • Handed out itineraries to players
    • Morning practice would be spent on all aspects of a single rushing play, then afternoon practice on a passing play
  • Designed an attacking passing offense
    • Conceptualized read-and-react option routes (today known as ”option routes”) and timing patterns
    • Analyzed the geometry of the football field, exploiting open space by spreading defenses away from the line of scrimmage
    • Taught offensive linemen to block passively on pass plays, forming a ”pocket” for the quarterback
    • Conceptualized zone blocking for the offensive line to maximize the capabilities of fullback Jim Brown

More than anything, Brown was passionate about teaching. The list of men who played under and coached alongside Brown, eventually finding their own success as head coaches, is unparalleled:

  • Weeb Ewbank
  • Lou Saban
  • Blanton Collier
  • Don Shula
  • Chuck Noll
  • Don McCafferty
  • Bill Walsh

Brown was tagged as football’s first “genius,” a title he disdained, even if it was merited. His colleagues did not dispute it. They knew they had to be prepared and have their teams performing at their best when they faced Cleveland, and that is what served to further the game of football more than anything else. Head coaches did not want to be embarrassed. They readily adopted Brown’s practices and spent extra time studying film, developing counter plans as they anticipated how Brown would try to beat them. Brown inspired innovation among his colleagues, which is possibly the greatest of all possible legacies.

An Unlikely Protagonist

Giants’ head coach Steve Owen had enjoyed a great run with his team from 1933 through 1946, winning eight Eastern Division titles and two NFL Championships. During his tenure, New York made playing defense a brutal art form. Owen pioneered defenders playing off of the line of scrimmage when most teams deployed seven-man lines and relied on safeties to clean up on ball carriers who may have slipped through cracks in the front wall. Hall of Fame center and linebacker extraordinaire Mel Hein recalled, “Owen brought in the 5-3-3 in 1937 and we first used it extensively in 1938. The 5-3-3 was especially effective against Chicago’s T-Formation. Since we had linebackers left, right and center, none of us had to go running after the first fake. We could wait in our positions to see if the play was coming. Also, we ran stunts from this defense, with the linebackers and linemen crisscrossing as they rushed.”

Passing offense innovations accelerated with the arrival of precision quarterbacks such as Washington’s Sammy Baugh and Chicago’s Sid Luckman. Deft receivers like Don Hutson caused problems for defenses packed near the scrimmage line. Large, slow linebackers were exposed in coverage. Many teams adopted Earle “Greasy” Neale’s 5-2-4 Philadelphia Eagle defensive alignment that became known as the Eagle Defense. Earle said, “This defense was most effective against the tight T-Formation. A man-in-motion or a flanker spread it out.” The four defensive backs covered more of the field, but it would soon be discovered that this defense was still vulnerable.

The Giants were mired in a malaise of decline when the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) merged with the established league prior to the 1950 season. Realignment brought change and new challenges. The Eastern Division was rechristened the American Conference when it inherited the four-time champions of the rival league. The Browns’ 52-4-3 legacy, which included professional football’s first perfect season [15-0] in 1948, preceded them, even if NFL stalwarts were loath to recognize their accomplishments.

Owen’s football roots were firmly grounded in single-wing style formations, having a hand in the dirt and winning the battle on the line of scrimmage. He hadn’t brought a new offensive concept to the game since his A-Formation in the early 1930’s and the Giants were among the last teams to resist adapting to the modern T-Formation.

Defensive coaching was minimal in the late 1940’s. Teams met as large groups and 80% of the meetings and practices were spent on offense. Defenses lined up at the line of scrimmage, beat the man in front of them, and then pursued the ball carrier. There was little or no anticipation whatsoever. Aside from accounting for a man in motion, pre-snap defensive alignments did not change.

The Umbrella Opens

Brown proved to be a catalyst for change. Knowing he would face Cleveland twice every season, Owen spent the offseason studying game film of his new opponent. Owen had the foresight to realize brute force was not enough to get the job done against this “finesse” team. He needed to account for the open spaces on the football field. The Giants played a 6-1 defensive front, and Owen took advantage of the talent on his roster, knowing he had rangy, athletic defensive ends. They would align in their standard front, but at the snap of the ball the ends would drop out and cover the flats, while the defensive halfbacks would retreat. The two safeties covered the deep middle, and the result was an umbrella-like coverage. He thought this would serve the dual purpose of controlling the Browns’ precise passing attack while still being able to defend bruising fullback Marion Motley.

The scheme looked great on paper. Fortunately the Giants received a small bonanza of their own from the AAFC that made it come to life on the field. The New York Yankees were one of the teams that gave the Browns some competition during their four-year reign. Although they never defeated Cleveland, New York tied them once in 1947 and opposed the Browns twice in the AAFC Championship Game, nearly defeating them in 1946 before an Otto Graham-led 4th quarter comeback sent the Yankees home with a 14-9 defeat. The strength of the Yankee team was its defense, and Owen’s umbrella was supported by four newcomers from the Yankees: Arnie Weinmeister, Otto Schnellbacher, Harmon Rowe, and Tom Landry.

Single Wing, A-Formation, 5-3 Defense

Weinmeister was a rare physical specimen. At 6’4” and 240 pounds, he had the strength to consistently win skirmishes in the trenches, but it was his fluid athletic ability, speed, and the desire to dominate that set him apart. He regularly terrorized quarterbacks in the pocket and tackled backs and receivers downfield. When Weinmeister joined the Giants, he told Owen the way to defeat Cleveland was “to knock them on their butts.” Weinmeister and fellow tackle Al DeRogatis were charged with crashing the pocket on pass plays, and funneling Motley to linebacker John Cannady on rushes.

Schnellbacher, Rowe, and Landry formed a unique blend of talents with Emlen Tunnell and were the key to the success of Owen’s strategy. Defensive halfbacks Landry and Rowe played with solid technique and rarely gambled in their coverage. Tunnell had great range and ball instincts. He often freelanced through the secondary, and usually had the speed to recover from a misread. Schnellbacher combined instincts with technique. What set them apart as a unit was all four were exceptional tacklers. Tunnell recalled years later, “That was the best tackling backfield I ever saw. Everyone knew what the other fellow was going to do and that’s what made it so much fun.”

The two-time defending NFL Champion Eagles did not have much fun when they faced Cleveland on Saturday night of the NFL’s showcase opener. The pro passing game was relatively unsophisticated at this point, and Brown took a quantum step forward for this game by splitting both his ends wide on the line of scrimmage. Brown believed, “You had to integrate the running game with an intelligently conceived passing offense to win in pro football.” He also refused to allow the defense to dictate where the ball would be thrown.

Neale’s Eagle Defense was subsequently shredded by quarterback Graham’s sharp passes to ends Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli. When Neale adjusted by having his two linebackers cover the flats, Graham had Motley pound into the undefended middle. When the linebackers pinched in, Graham sent halfback Dub Jones around end to catch a pass in the short middle or sent Motley wide on a sweep. After the 35-10 thumping, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell congratulated Brown and told him Cleveland was, “the most intensely coached team I have ever seen.”

The Giants opened their season the next day in Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 18-7, playing their standard defense, as Owen dared not tip his hand to the shrewd Brown. The schedule makers did New York a tremendous favor by giving them a bye for Week 2. The Browns traveled to Baltimore and whipped the Colts 31-0 while Owen drilled his new scheme to perfection at practice.

The Giants visited Cleveland in Week 3, and the results of the new defense were so profound they may have even shocked Owen himself. As New York’s defense came to the line, they showed a standard 6-1 front. At the snap, the ends quickly dropped to cover the flats and the defensive halfbacks dropped to cover the deep sidelines while the safeties covered the middle. The four down linemen attacked the backfield while the linebacker spied on Motley. The Browns were unprepared but, more surprisingly, were slow to respond to the strategy.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (October 22, 1950)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (October 22, 1950)

Graham did not complete a single pass in the first half and was intercepted three times. The Cleveland fans, so used to seeing their team trounce the opposition, booed their team as they went into the locker room trailing 6-0. In the second half, Owen anticipated Brown altering his strategy. Cleveland came out in the third quarter shortening the pass routes of the ends and running wide, but Owen had closed the Umbrella, blitzing his defensive backs, pressuring Graham, and plugging any rushing lanes. The 6-0 score held up, marking the first time the Browns had ever been held scoreless. So impressed was the multi-talented Tunnell, he later said, “We did such a job that afternoon that I never again wanted to play offense.”

Tunnell still clearly recalled the details years later when he was a Giants’ assistant coach, “In 1950 we developed a defense against the Browns that came to be known as the Umbrella. Our ends, Jim Duncan and Ray Poole, would drift back and cover the flats while tackles Arnie Weinmeister and Al DeRogatis and guards Jon Baker and John Mastrangelo were charged with rushing the passer and containing the run. The lone linebacker, John Cannady, was told to follow the Brown fullback wherever he went. Tom Landry played the left corner, Harmon Rowe the right, I was the strong safety and Otto Schnellbacher the weak. If you would look at this alignment from high in the stands it looked like an opened umbrella. In truth, it was the same 4-3-2-2 used today. We did go into other formations, but mostly we used this 4-3 arrangement. It was so successful against the Browns that we beat them twice. The first time we played them we shut them out, the first time that had ever happened to them.”

Given the challenges Cleveland’s offense presented, DeRogatis explained the defense’s strategic goals. “The modern 4-3-4 defense came into being largely because of the fantastic ability of the old Cleveland Browns to make a defense look bad. With great ends, a great blocking and running fullback, and a phenomenal quarterback, the Browns, coached by Paul Brown moved with awesome finesse over almost everyone they met. As a result, Steve Owen devised the Umbrella Defense, which dropped the standard six-man defensive line, to go to at least a version of the 4-3-4 which most teams use now. Against the standard six, the receivers could beat you short; the swing could wreck you outside; the fullback forced you to protect the middle; and the quarterback, who could do anything, passed, ran, screened, drew, and kept you off balance. So the 4-3-4 was born and almost revolutionized the game.”

The teams met for a rematch in front of 41,734 enthusiastic fans at the Polo Grounds three weeks later. The 4-1 Browns punctured the 4-1 Giants’ Umbrella with 13 second-quarter points. The final seven came seconds before the half following a major mental error by New York return-man Jim Ostendarp. On the kickoff following a Lou Groza field goal, Ostendarp let the ball hit the ground and roll to the one-yard line, where Cleveland recovered. Graham plunged for the touchdown on the next play to increase Cleveland’s lead to 13-3.

Owen altered his defensive strategy for the second half after Weinmeister left the game with a knee injury. Instead of having the ends drop off in the Umbrella they rushed Graham relentlessly. Poole and DeRogatis harassed Graham, who completed just four passes and lost 71 yards in sacks over the final 30 minutes. Cleveland crossed midfield just once. The Giants’ offense completed the comeback on a bit of razzle-dazzle when quarterback Charlie Conerly faked a hand-off to Eddie Price and flipped the ball behind his back to Joe Scott who raced around end for an uncontested touchdown and a 17-13 win.

Weinmeister boasted after the game, “We were smarter and better. We proved that defense was more important than offense. A lot of people thought the first win was a fluke. We knew it wasn’t and we were determined to prove it to everybody else.”

Cleveland rolled through the remainder of their schedule unblemished. The Giants fell flat versus the Chicago Cardinals the week after their victory over the Browns. The ship was righted quickly, and New York won impressively the rest of the way, including an amazing run where they scored 50 points three times in four weeks. The Giants and Browns finished tied atop the American Conference with 10-2 records, necessitating a playoff in Cleveland.

Bitterly cold temperatures limited attendance to 33,054 fans. The field was frozen and Owen obviously recalled how basketball shoes helped his underdog Giants pull off an upset against the heavily-favored Chicago Bears in 1934. He brought enough on the trip so the entire squad would be outfitted for the full 60 minutes. The master of preparation Brown would not be outdone; Cleveland took the field in black Chuck Taylors.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (December 17, 1950)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (December 17, 1950)

After the Browns went up 3-0 early in the first quarter, both defenses took control. The icy field made it impossible for backs and receivers to cut sharply, and for passers Graham, Conerly, and Travis Tidwell (Giants) to plant and throw. The teams would combine for just six pass completions and 91 passing yards for the entire game. Owen mixed the A-Formation with the T-Formation throughout the first half, before committing solely the A for the second half

Five minutes into fourth quarter, New York’s Gene “Choo Choo” Roberts whipped around right end with interference in front of him. Before he could reach the end zone, Roberts was caught from behind on the Cleveland 4-yard line by Bill Willis after a gain of 32 yards. Two plunges by Price netted just a single yard (Willis was in on both tackles). On third-and-goal from the three, Conerly tossed a touchdown to end Bob McChesney, but the Giants were flagged for a false start. On the next play, Conerly’s pass was intercepted, but Cleveland was called for defensive holding. The Browns’ fans were in a full-throated frenzy, on their feet chanting “Hold that line!” as they exhorted their defense.

On first and goal from the four, Price ran for one, but the Giants were penalized for an illegal snap. On second and goal from the eight, Joe Scott was tackled for a five-yard loss by Willis. Conerly’s third-down pass was deflected incomplete and the Giants settled for a field goal and 3-3 tie after the frustrating series.

Taking possession with 6:10 left in the game, Graham led the Browns on a march downfield, including three Graham rushes for 36 yards. However, like the Giants on the previous series, Cleveland settled for a field goal after having a goal-to-go situation. With time on the clock for one last desperate drive, Conerly was tackled in the end zone for a safety, completing the Browns’ quest for revenge on the only team to defeat them in the 1950 season. Cleveland went on to defeat the Los Angeles Rams (who ironically had left the city of Cleveland following an NFL Championship in 1945) in one of the most thrilling championship games in history, 30-28.

Despite falling short in the playoff game, the Giants’ three-game series with the Browns that season had to be considered a success. In 180 total minutes played, Owen’s Umbrella Defense surrendered only one touchdown to an offense that routinely piled up points against the rest of the league. The Browns led the American Conference with 310 points scored, and their average margin of victory was just over 13 points. In their three games against New York, their aggregate 21 points came from the lone touchdown, four field goals, and a safety from their defense.

Brown poked some holes in Owen’s Umbrella the next season. Cleveland swept the season series with New York, won the American Conference title but lost to the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship game. In 1952 the Giants swept the Browns, but Cleveland three-peated as conference champs, and lost again to Detroit. The significance of these two campaigns came to full fruition in 1953. While Brown furthered the offense of the future, developing and expanding the roles of the Split End and Flanker in T-Formation variations, Owen never fully adapted to the T-Formation, and continually reverted to his familiar A-Formation. This stunted the development of quarterback Conerly.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 12, 1952)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 12, 1952)

The nadir came in an ugly 62-14 December loss to Cleveland at the Polo Grounds that was so bad even backup quarterback George Ratterman threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after Graham had been pulled. The Giants’ leadership was forced to admit their 23-year steward for the franchise needed to retire. The archaic offense was inept, scoring a meager 179 points over the 12-game season. The once-formidable defense was ragged; the league caught up to the Umbrella scheme and there was no counter strategy on the horizon. The locker room was despondent; many players contemplated early retirement.

Multi-threat performer Frank Gifford, who played both ways and averaged 50 minutes per game at the end of the season while the Giants struggled with injuries, recalled, “The last five games of 1953, I didn’t come out. I played offense and defense; I was kicking off, running back punts, kicking field goals. I was really questioning whether to come back in 1954.” A significant part of Gifford’s frustration was the inability of Owen to figure out a role that maximized his abilities. Gifford had been a star tailback for USC in college, but Owen relegated him to defensive halfback. “I would have cut the good looking son-of-a-bitch if he hadn’t been our top draft pick,” said Owen.

Quarterback Conerly, who was the NFL Rookie of the year in 1948, would turn 34 the next season. He was tired of being beaten up not only on the field behind a faltering offensive line, but by the booing Polo Grounds fans who hung up signs reading “Back to the Farm Charlie.”

The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)
Share Button
Jan 062014
 
 January 6, 2014  Posted by  Articles, The Draft
Greg Robinson, Auburn Tigers (September 21, 2013)

OT Greg Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 6, 2014 BCS National Championship: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

AUBURN

*#73 Greg Robinson – LT – 6’5/320

Third year sophomore. Unfortunately Robinson did not receive the public recognition until halfway through the year because most had no idea he was three years removed from high school. Robinson caught my eye last year when I was scouting opposing players. He is enormous but carries minimal bad weight. He is light on his feet but can anchor himself in to the ground and stone a bull rusher. Robinson may be THE left tackle of this class if he comes out. While I think he is a bit raw and will need some balance/core/stability work, Robinson has two years of starting experience in the SEC with game tape just as, if not more, impressive as Kouandijo. If he comes out, he could really go anywhere from #1 to #15 overall.

*#21 Tre Mason – RB – 5’10/205

Third year junior that has not declared yet. Mason is a fun player to watch. He had a big year (1,600+ yards) in 2013 but I am trying to figure out how much of it was the scheme, and how much was it based on his talent. He is short, but Mason is not undersized. He is thick throughout and he runs with power between the tackles and in space. He can shoot out of a cannon and accelerate through traffic with the best of them. Very efficient mover with minimal wasted steps. Once Mason is in the open field, he has good, but not great speed. His game is based on short area quickness and breaking tackles, which is what I want most in a running back. Right now he is a 2nd rounder but there is a chance he ends up being the first back taken.

#30 Dee Ford – DE – 6’2/240

Fifth year senior. Ford is a playmaker from the outside that makes things happen behind the line of scrimmage. My gripe with him is a pure lack of size/bulk and the fact that he doesn’t make his presence known play to play. If Ford doesn’t sack the QB or guess right on a running play, he doesn’t make an impact. He won’t be able to handle the power of the NFL unless he gets significantly bigger. Ford’s lack of staying power wasn’t an issue in college, but he will be manhandled by tight ends if he is an every down guy. Right now, he is a situational pass rusher that only fits certain schemes. Day three guy.

#11 Chris Davis – CB – 5’11/200

Fourth year senior. Best known for his return for a TD after a missed Alabama FG to win the game. Davis is actually a solid CB prospect that I think can be a contributor early on in his career. He is very quick, very explosive. He plays downhill with aggression. Davis is an excellent turn and run guy. He has the quick twitch and reaction that you want to see out of corners. His return skills will only boost his grade as I think he could be a 5th or 6th round guy.

#35 Jay Prosch – FB – 6’0/258

Fourth year senior. Rarely will you see a traditional fullback be drafted, but I think Prosch has a good shot at being a day three pick. He is not a receiver, he is not a rusher. But Prosch might be the best lead blocker that I’ve ever seen and I think his impact at the next level will be immediate. Prosch is effective in space against fast linebackers and defensive backs He always has his balance and power under him. He can send a violent jolt to defensive linemen as well who often outweigh him. He can perform multiple blocking duties at a high level and even though this role is dwindling in numbers around the league, I think Prosch will be drafted.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#94 Nosa Eguae – DE – 6’3/269

FLORIDA STATE

#75 Cameron Erving – LT – 6’6/320

Fourth year junior. Redshirted in 2010 because of a back injury. Backup defensive tackle that played in every 2011 game as the team’s primary run stuffer. Made the move to left tackle prior to the 2012 season and has started every game since then. Finished 2012 season on a strong note and has displayed an impressive tool set. Some consider Erving a top 10 pick and I think it is very possible. He is still somewhat new to the position, which will lead some to believe that he has a lot of untapped upside even though he plays at a very high level currently. He is an easy bender with a lot of hand power. He leans too much though and will likely need some time to shore up some technique issues before he can play. I think Erving is a solid prospect that may need some time on the bench before starting. But all in all, a likely top 15 guy.

*#1 Kelvin Benjamin – WR – 6’5/242

Third year sophomore. Benjamin has evolved in to my favorite WR in this draft class if he comes out. I have a higher opinion of him than most though. He would be better suited off returning to school so he can play with Winston one more year and make himself a definite top 10 pick in 2015. What I like about Benjamin is obvious. His height, length, and girth make him a matchup nightmare for defenses. At his size, it is unreal how well he moves when going after a pass and/or running with the ball in his hands. He has progressed more than any WR in the nation over the past year. In that offense, we may not even come close to seeing what he is capable of. I may have a top 10 grade on Benjamin when all is said and done but if he comes out, he will likely be a late 1st rounder.

#22 Telvin Smith – OLB – 6’3/215

Fourth year senior. Career backup and rotational defender until 2013 but has been consistently productive when his name is called. Was the team’s third leading tackler in 2012. Took over the starting WILL position in 2013 and flourished. Thin but wiry frame, plays stronger than he looks. Top-tier speed in pursuit, can play sideline-to-sideline. Aggressive downhill defender that can fill the lane and locate the ball carrier. Good form tackler that can be relied upon in space. Excellent in man coverage, can stick with most, if not all backs and tight ends. Fluid hips that turn well, light feet that can change direction. Has the tendency to over-pursue on runs to the other side of the line, opening cutback lanes. Discipline isn’t always there when it comes to his assignments. Will dance around blockers too often rather than meeting them straight up. Smith’s game speed and power can make him a three down defender at the next level. He has played both the MIKE and WILL positions very well for one of the nation’s top defenses over the past two years. He is also considered to be one of the more vocal leaders of the team. Smaller linebackers with supreme speed and good enough power are becoming big time players across the league. I think he can be a top 45 player in this class, although I’d expect him to be a 3rd/4th rounder in May.

#20 Lamarcus Joyner – S – 5’8.195

Fifth year senior that has seen a lot of playing time at both CB and S. Lacks the ideal height (5’8”) but weighs a solid 195 pounds and plays worth a chip on his shoulder. Possesses elite acceleration and agility. Can chase down some of the fastest receivers that college football has to offer from behind. Closes a 10 yard window as fast as anyone. Effective blitzer (5 sacks through November in 2013) with the ability to explode through small creases and ability to finish. Has long arms for his height. High energy player that the FSU defense looks to for leadership. Over-aggressive style can be taken advantage of by QBs with the ability to look off defenders. Takes a lot of false steps and is often found recovering. His attitude can only do so much downfield in one on one situations. Gets too hands on and will be flagged a lot. Creates mismatches that opposing offenses will look to exploit. Joyner is a hard nosed football player that can overcome his physical shortcomings. His approach and versatility are always in high demand across the league. Could be a 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#80 Rashad Greene – WR – 6’0/175

Third year junior that has led the team in receptions and yards all three years of his career to this point. Also an accomplished punt returner in 2012. Easy and fluid mover that can separate from man coverage all over the route tree. Has the speed to knife through a secondary over the top. Aggressive pass catcher with a strong pair of hands. Slight frame that can be beat up at the point of attack. Usually starts off the line. May not handle the press corners effectively. Effort as a blocker is there, but he does not make a big difference on the edge. Greene shows a lot of NFL ready skills and I’m not sure how much he could gain by returning to school. His upside is limited but he could be a QBs best friend because of his ability to get open, catch the ball, and run after the catch. 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#8 Timmy Jernigan – DT – 6’2/298

Third year junior. Was a top tier, 5 star recruit out of high school that made an immediate impact in a rotational role as a freshman in 2011, winning the team’s newcomer of the year award. Plays the inside gaps, mostly lining up over center. Smaller than the typical nose tackle, but plays low and powerful, making him a tough guy to push back. Strong player with outstanding footwork. Incredible quickness and speed for the position. Does a nice job of sending the initial punch with a strong pair of hands, keeping his base low so he can control the engagement with the blocker. Well-developed technique, knows how to get off blocks using moves and positioning. No matter that, he will need to develop more lower body strength before being relied upon against NFL linemen. Jernigan is a disruptor in every sense of the word that has several ways to beat a blocker. Despite his less than ideal height/weight numbers, he can play multiple roles along any defensive front. Could be 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#32 James Wilder Jr. – RB – 6’2/226

Third year junior. Top tier athlete out of high school that was highly recruited. Son of former NFL running back James Wilder. A physical specimen with the size/speed/strength that will make NFL coaches dream about stardom. Hard-nosed, physical runner that is tough to bring down once he has a head of steam. Broke out in 2012 with almost 6 yards per carry and 11 TDs. Superb blocker with the ability to process information quickly and deliver a violent jolt to the defender. Breaks a lot of tackles in space and is a tough guy to bring down past the second level of the defense. Maintains a strong grip on the ball and can be relied upon to secure it. Runs with a high pad level in traffic. Lacks the quick twitch acceleration and change of direction when approaching the line. Too many recovery steps with approaching the line of scrimmage. Not a natural receiver. Limited role but can be a valuable weapon as part of a committee approach. Wilder Jr. could declare early and me a mid-round pick that out-produces backs drafted ahead of him. I see some Eddie George here. A true workhorse that does a lot of little things well on top of having enormous gifts.

#7 Christian Jones – LB – 6’4/232

Fourth year senior that has started games at both outside linebacker positions as well as defensive end. Productive player that led the team in tackles in 2012, and was second on the team in 2011. Great size/speed/strength numbers that contributes on special teams as well. Physical player that plays well with his hands. Pursues well across the line. Can close a 5-10 yard window fast. Effective tackler that makes the effort to wrap up while maintaining a powerful presence. Can be used in a variety of ways. Gets locked on to and ridden out of plays by quality linemen and tight ends. Doesn’t use his hands effectively to control the engagement with blockers. Lacks awareness and reaction as a pass defender. Better athlete than he is a football player. I’m not as high on guys like this. He looks like a guy that will be a solid backup and special teamer, but I wouldn’t draft him until day three.

#31 Terrence Brooks – S – 5’11/197

Fourth year senior, two year starter. Plays a lot of single high safety but has shown the ability to approach the line and make tackles in the box. Led all FSU defensive backs in tackles in 2012. Quick and fluid hips that can get him moving laterally in a blink. Anticipates well and has coverage ability that you will find in a cornerback. Doesn’t have good enough speed to run downfield with speed receivers. Won’t make a lot of plays in back side pursuit. Aggressive player but doesn’t have the physical presence as a tackler to make a big difference. Does a lot of little things well to get him on the field, but has not stood out among a talented FSU defense. Sometimes guys like this get overlooked because they lack star power, but are solid prospects that can grab a roster spot in the NFL. Brooks can be a reliable third safety that can play both spots if need be. Day three guy.

#52 Bryan Stork – C – 6’4/312

Fifth year senior that has been starting since 2011. Has seen time at both guard and center. Graded out as the team’s top blocker in 2012 and is considered to be the leader of the line. Big weight room strength. Active feet that can get his hips in to the hole easily. Moves in space like a tight end, very good athlete. Lacks the power presence when matched up with bigger defensive tackles. Doesn’t create a new line of scrimmage. Leans forward too much. Weak hands prevent him from locking on to a defender. Stork isn’t strong enough for my liking when it comes to immediate production/reliability. He has good movement skills though so I think he can be drafted late and be given time to add some power to his game.

#81 Kenny Shaw – WR – 6’1/170

Fourth year senior that has played in every game since the start of 2011. Big play threat that works best in the slot because of his ability to find the holes in zone coverage. Very thin frame that needs to add bulk. Won’t break a lot of tackles. Average agility in space to make defenders miss and will often go down on initial contact. Not a pure hands catcher. Will allow the ball to get in to his body which impedes his after the catch ability. Not a fluid mover considering his size/frame. Has been the beneficiary of such a talent-rich Florida State offense which has inflated his statistics. There isn’t enough here to get me excited about his potential in the NFL. I don’t think he will handle the physical side of the game and we aren’t talking about an elite burner here. Late rounder.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#97 DeMonte McCalister – DT – 6’2/285
#55 Jacobbi McDaniel – DT – 6’0/286
#6 Dan Hicks – DE – 6’4/260

Share Button
Jan 032014
 
 January 3, 2014  Posted by  Articles, The Draft
Sammy Watkins, Clemson Tigers (November 23, 2013)

WR Sammy Watkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 3, 2014 Bowl Games: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

OKLAHOMA STATE

#4 Justin Gilbert – CB – 6’0/200

Fourth year senior. Some believe Gilbert is the top corner in this draft. I don’t quite put him on that level but I do think he has more upside than any other defensive back. Gilbert is very tools-rich. Tall, strong, fast, explosive, agile. Physically, he has the capability to do it all. I didn’t like what I saw in 2012 out of him, but he has a few ultra-impressive game tapes from 2013. What makes Gilbert so effective is the combination of abilities to jam receivers at the line and stick with them all over the field. He has his moments of pure brain lapse too often. He mis-diagnoses a lot and his game appears to be based on guess work. It’s hard to knock that area of his game though because I don’t know the background information including his reads and scheme. All said and done, Gilbert is a top 10 athlete but I don’t think he is a top 30 player yet.

#99 Calvin Barnett – DT – 6’2/300

Fourth year senior that spent two years at a junior college. Burst on to the scene in the Big 12 in 2012, earning first team all conference honors. Barnett is a thick, country strong interior guy that can fill a couple different roles. He makes an impact each and every play because of the attention he demands. Barnett is a bit of a loose cannon. There is a certain nastiness to him. He lacks discipline with both his technique and post-play antics. There is a lot to love and hate about that attitude. Barnett will be a solid mid-round pick that can handle the power of the NFL right away.

#87 Tracy Moore – WR 6’2/215

Fifth year senior that missed most of 2012 with an ankle injury. Moore is a gifted athlete that is put together was well as one would want in a receiver. His career got off to a nice start, but a combination of injuries and trouble with the law have kept his stock down a bit. Moore is a solid possession receiver that makes things happen after the catch. He is strong and aggressive and loves to bully the defensive backs. Willing and able over the middle in traffic, Moore has proven to be a solid third down target. There is some hidden upside here as long as Moore can work on his craft without distractions. Had he not been injured and stayed away from off the field trouble, we may be discussing him as a potential 2nd rounder. Now, I see him as a 4th/5th rounder.

#8 Daytawion Lowe – S – 5’11/205

Fifth year senior that missed 2010 with a shoulder injury. Lowe is a tackling machine that lays bigger than his listed size. He led the team in tackles in 2011 and 2012, second in 2013. He’s quicker than he is fast. I like him as an in-the-box safety that supports the run and covers underneath. I think he’ll struggle to play in deep coverage, as the catch speed simply isn’t there. His hips and ankles look tight. He is a different player when moving downhill than when he moves laterally. I think he can be a solid back up and special teamer in the NFL. 5th/6th rounder.

#11 Shaun Lewis – OLB – 5’11/225

Fourth year senior. Undersized player that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. But I’ve seen three of his games in 2013 and he makes a lot of impact plays. He is a brick house that plays as hard as any linebacker you will find. Lewis can use his height to his advantage. He can sneak underneath blockers and locate the football. Lewis struggles to sit tight and shed blocks though. He will shoot gaps without diagnosing, opening up huge cutback lanes for the opposing back. In the right scheme where he can attack, Lewis might be a guy that makes 100+ tackles per year in the league. I think he is a 5th/6th rounder at worst.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#31 Jeremy Smith – RB – 5’10/210
#71 Parker Graham – LT – 6’7/315
#7 Shamiel Gary – S – 6’0/210
#51 Brandon Webb – G – 6’3/328
#1- Clint Chelf – QB – 6’1/210

MISSOURI

*#47 Kony Ealy – DE – 6’5/275

Fourth year junior. Has not declared yet but many expect him to. There are some people in the Midwest that I speak with every year, and they have said Ealy has more upside that Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson did when they were in college. Pretty high praise if you ask me. Ealy is put together well. He is a comfortable 270+ pounds with above average movement ability. Ealy is an underachiever at the moment. He plays too high and doesn’t have the power presence you would think a player of his size would have. He doesn’t have the second gear when rushing the edge, either. I’m not high on Ealy but nobody can deny the upside. He has a lot of work to do and it will be a matter of how he approaches that. Probable 1st rounder if he comes out.

*#20 Henry Josey – RB – 5’10/190

Fourth year junior. A great story here. Suffered a gruesome, possible career ending injury in 2012. Came back in 2013 to lead the team in rushing , averaging over 6 yards per carry. Josey is quick and decisive with runaway speed. Despite being under 200 pounds, he can run inside with some force. Personally I think he needs to return for another year. His production is impressive but may be inflated due to the scheme he plays in. He isn’t what I would call a special back. A poor man’s Reggie Bush without the upside. If he comes out, we are looking at a 3rd rounder a best.

#52 Michael Sam – DE – 6’2/255

Fifth year senior. Opposite situation of Ealy. Sam has evolved in to a quality football player over his five years at Mizzou. He led the team with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 TFL this year. Sam has a ton of functional strength. He can handle the power blockers and run past the speed blockers. I think his best role will be a 3-4 OLB at the next level. He doesn’t have the length to play a DE spot play in, play out and he has shown some ability to work well in space. Top 100 pick, maybe top 75.

#31 EJ Gaines – CB – 5’11/195

Fourth year senior that has had a very accomplished career. I want to get another 2-3 looks a Gaines in the coming months. So far, I love what I see out of him. He is a physical player that sticks his hat in there against the run like a linebacker. Gaines shows nice ball skills down the field with proper balance and timing. He never seems to be playing catch up, which you have to respect a lot. He is a fluid mover that makes the game look easy. Right now I think he is a top 100 guy but I’ll need to see more before I put him in to the round 2 area.

#68 Justin Britt – LT – 6’6/315

Fifth year senior. The 2014 left tackle class might be the best in a long time. We all know the popular names like the back of our hand, but Britt is a guy that is close to their level and never gets talked about. I really like his pro potential and I think he can be a quality starter. He has experience at both RT and LT. His footwork and balance make me believe he can be a left side guy in the NFL. He carries 310+ pounds with ease and I think he has the frame for some more. His greatest asset are his movement skills and consistent technique. He’ll need some work in the weight room but in a year or two, I think we are looking at a quality starter.

#2 L’Damian Washington – WR – 6’4/205

Fifth year senior. Led the Tigers in receiving in 2013 among a group of talented receivers. Washington is a deep threat that has long strides with the ability to take a top off a secondary. His tool set is among the top 10 in the nation, but his skill set hasn’t caught up yet. When I watch him, I always ask myself why isn’t he better than what I see on tape? I’m not sure he has the physical style necessary to factor all over the field. Right now Washington is a limited player that can still be an asset to an offense that needs a deep route runner. But besides that, he is a backup. 4th/5th rounder with upside.

#85 Marcus Lucas – WR – 6’5/220

Fourth year senior. Another tools-rich kid that has not lived up to expectations. Lucas has a lot of experience and has shown flashes on a few occasions of being a big time player. His size and speed along can get him drafted. He has the speed to get behind a defense, but he was used underneath in the games I watched. He is a guy that can create mismatches. I think we are looking at a day three guy here.

#48 Andrew Wilson – MLB – 6’3/240

Fifth year senior. Leading tackler each of the past three years. Wilson has played the middle and outside in Missouri’s scheme. He has been a reliable contributor and the source of a lot of big plays. He dances left and right, back and forth pre-snap. Wilson is a strong player between the tackles but his lack of speed to the edge was exposed in the games I saw. He is a slow change of direction guy that plays too high. He does well when taking on blocks though and I think he can be a solid player in a 3-4 scheme down the road. Day three prospect.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#1 James Franklin – QB – 6’2/225
#7 Randy Ponder – CB – 5’10/195
#17 Matt White – S – 6’0/195

CLEMSON

*#2 Sammy Watkins – WR – 6’1/205

Third year junior. Considered by some as the top receiver in this draft. Watkins was an All-American as a freshman in 2011, but has failed to take the next step since then. 2012 was a rough year for him with a suspension, ankle injury, and stomach virus. He has come back strong in 2013 and has put himself back in to top 15 consideration. Watkins is one of the top YAC receivers you will find. He runs with the ball as if he were a running back, showing a low pad level and the power to break tackles. I can see he has strong hands, very strong hands. The ball has minimal-to-no wiggle upon contact. But he has had a case of the drops in 2013, thus I wouldn’t say he has a top grade for catching ability like most seem to give him. Watkins seems to be a very smart player that understands what opposing defenses are doing. He is an excellent route runner that knows how to set defensive backs up for failure. Combine that with his outstanding movement ability and you may have a top tier playmaker in Watkins. I will personally have him graded somewhere between 20-35 overall, but I think he gets taken in the top 15.

*#3 Vic Beasley – DE – 6’3/235

Fourth year junior that has not yet declared. After Clowney, many think Beasley is the top edge rusher. He is such an explosive, agile, flexible athlete when getting after the passer that it’s hard not to project him as a potentially special player. In the weight room, he is one of the strongest players on the entire Clemson roster and the power will show up on tape when he hits a ball carrier. While he has the frame for more weight, I question if Beasley will end up as one of the situational pass rushers that simply can’t hack it as an every down guy. He can be moved to the side by a bigger offensive tackle too easily, and that would bother me if I were trying to draft him. Teams ran the ball right at him numerous times because his impact on a game is minimal in those situations. His hustle, aggression, and speed are nullified when the action is coming his way. Beasley will be a first round pick, possibly even in the top 10. But a guy that has severe power presence concerns will needs a very specific role and scheme. I don’t like taking guys like that in the first round.

#10 Tajh Boyd – QB – 6’1/225

Fourth year senior that has re-written the record books at Clemson. A statistical compiler that has had some of the best talent and the best scheme to work with. Boyd was considered a borderline first round talent heading in to 2013, but I don’t think this year has helped him much. Boyd has a quick release and the power to shoot the ball downfield on a line. His arm talent is there. Boyd is shorter than you want and has had issue with his accuracy in 2013. He struggles when he is on the run being chased. Boyd also tucks the ball and run too early. I question his ability to stand strong in the pocket and go through progressions. He has a lot of adjustment to go though once he enters the league and I don’t see the upside being any higher than a Chase Daniel type. Quality backup, but not someone you take on day 1 or day 2 of draft weekend.

#63 Brandon Thomas – LT – 6’3/305

Fifth year senior that has started at left tackle for three years now. Thomas is a name that doesn’t get enough attention. He is going to have a much higher grade on my sheet that what’s put out there. Because of his size, he will likely move inside to guard. With that in mind, Thomas does all of the little things right to lead me to believe he will be a good one at the next level. He has a lot of power, a guy that creates a new line of scrimmage play after play when run blocking. He isn’t blessed with tremendous movement tools, but he is a consistent player because of his mechanics and strong hands. I really liked what I saw in his matchup against Clowney. Despite being out-classed talent wise, Thomas put forth an admirable performance from start to finish. His vast experience at left tackle will only help teams when building a depth chart. Thomas has a ton of value in my eyes, and may end up in the top 75 overall on my board.

*#1 Martavis Bryant – WR – 6’5/200

Third year junior that did send paper work to the advisory board. Bryant is a big time deep threat with enormous upside. He doesn’t have a lot experience in teams of balls being thrown his way, but has shown the talent to be a big time receivers. I would advise him to return to school because I think he could be a top 10 guy in 2015 if he had a nice senior year without Watkins in the picture. Bryant isn’t physical and he doesn’t get himself open underneath. He does make a lot of catches when covered though. There are some teams that will view him as a first round caliber athlete and it could get him drafted in round 2. But I would likely grade him out as a 3rd/4th rounder with big time upside.

#25 Roderick McDowell – RB – 5’9/195

Fifth year senior that has played behind some of the best RB talent that college football has seen from one school in recent years. McDowell had a huge 2013 campaign and some believe he could end up being a top 100 pick. I like him and his game, but I’m not sure he warrants something that high. McDowell comes from an extremely favorable scheme for the running game and I think his production was a result of the playmakers around him, not the other way around. At that size, you need to have game breaking speed that runs away from defenders, elite agility, and/or wide receiver-caliber hands. McDowell is average across the board. I think he gets drafted late and can stick somewhere as a 3rd string guy for a few year.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#33 Spencer Shuey – OLB – 6’3/240
#8 Darius Robinson – CB – 5’10/175
#62 Tyler Shatley – RG – 6’3/300

OHIO STATE

Carlos Hyde – RB – 6’0/235

Fourth year senior. Hyde did more for his draft position in 2013 than arguably any senior in the nation. Despite missing 3 games because of a suspension, Hyde rushed for 1,408 yards averaging over 7.5 yards per carry. Hyde is not your space back that has a lot of big runs because of speed and elusiveness. He is a brick house that doesn’t go down on initial contact and moves the pile forward every time he has the ball. He is an impressive, old school running back that moves the chains and grinds down the clock. There is a lot to like about his running style. I need to try and look in to his off the field trouble but if that checks out, his game tape warrants a top 75 pick.

*#10 Ryan Shazier – OLB – 6’2/230

Third year junior. Led the team in tackles in 2012 and 2013 by a wide margin. Shazier is a fun player to watch. He improved a lot as the year progressed and I‘ve had to re-evaluate my outlook on him. He is a little thin below the waist and it shows up when he takes on blocks. But when he is in space, Shazier might be one of the best linebackers in the nation. He plays really fast and maintains strength when approaching the ball carrier. He has a nasty style to him and it helps. Shazier appears lost in coverage. He isn’t much of an assignment linebacker. When you tell him to make reads and flow towards the action, he struggles. But tell him to blitz a gap and pursue, he can shine. Right now I think he is a lock for the top 75 but he could sneak in to the top 45.

*#1 Bradley Roby – CB – 5’11/192

Third year junior that has already declared. Came in to 2013 as one of the top CBs in the nation but I have been unimpressed all year. Roby has elite movement skills with legit sub 4.4 speed. He can turn his hips and change direction with ease. My issues with him are the extreme lack of ball skills. He is awful in deep coverage when it comes to locating the ball and making a play. In addition, he doesn’t always make the effort I want to see against the run. There is a lot I don’t like about his game I and won’t have a top 100 overall grade on him. He will probably be a day two pick though.

#74 Jack Mewhort – LT – 6’6/308

Fifth year senior. Mewhort started off as a guard playing both spots. He made the move to LT prior to the 2012 season and has done a nice job. Mewhort is a solid blocker all around that doesn’t jump off the screen, but gets his job done consistently. I want to really dive in to some of his tapes in the coming months. I want to see if he can play guard at the next level. I think his value will be as a versatile backup that can play multiple spots. 3rd/4th rounder I think with potential to start.

#4 CJ Barnett – S – 6’1/204

Fifth year senior. Hard hitting, downhill strong safety with a lot of experience as a starter. Has been the go-to-guy in that secondary for a few years. Barnett does a lot of little things well that are hard to pick up on if you just watch him on TV. From the All-22 angle, its easy to see the impact he has on that defense. He is a smart player with quick reaction. He is physically limited in man coverage. He has tight ankles and hips but if he is used correctly, I think he can be a starter in the NFL down the road. 3rd/4th rounder.

#10 Corey Brown – WR  6’0/190

Fifth year senior. Brown is a reliable underneath receiver that can run himself open. Very good route runner and does the little things right. Hands catcher that plays more physical than you would assume. Brown doesn’t scare anyone with speed or size, but he is quietly effective week in, week out. I think he is worth a late round draft choice. He can be a solid backup and brings some return ability to the team as well.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#78 Andrew Norwell – LG – 6’6/316
#7 Jordan Hall – RB – 5’9/191
#71 Corey Linsley – C – 6’3/297

Share Button
Jan 022014
 
 January 2, 2014  Posted by  Articles, The Draft
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama Crimson Tide (September 1, 2012)

Cyrus Kouandjio – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 2, 2014 Sugar Bowl: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

OKLAHOMA

#14 Aaron Colvin – CB – 6’0/192

Fourth year senior.  Colvin will likely finish as a top 4 cornerback on my sheet.  He is a versatile, physical defensive back with starting experience at both safety and cornerback.  He led the team in tackles as a starting safety in 2011 before making the move back to cornerback in 2012, where he earned 1st Team All Big 12 honors.  Colvin is at his best at the point of attack.  He is a violent press corner that can easily turn and run with speed downfield.  Colvin has elite body control, which is one of the most vital skills a cornerback can have.  He shows the aggression needed to factor as a run defender outside as well.  Colvin’s weakness shows up underneath when trying to stick with receivers.  He is over-aggressive and gets too hands on, which simply can’t happen in the NFL.  I view him as a top 45 overall talent that can do a lot for a secondary.

#8 Jalen Saunders – WR – 5’9/157

Fourth year senior that has had a nice career.  Undersized but reliable, Saunders projects to be a potential difference maker from the slot.  He started off at Fresno State, making an immediate impact.  He averaged over 20 yards per catch as a sophomore with his ability after the catch and explosive speed to get behind secondaries.  Saunders also adds a weapon to special teams as a return specialist.  He is quicker and more agile than most, making him a tough guy to get your hands on.  Once in the open field, he can run away from guys.  His lack of size will limit what he can do at the next level, but I still think he’ll be worth a day two pick for some teams.

#64 Gabe Ikard – C – Oklahoma – 6’3/298

Fifth year senior.  Four year starter that played left guard in 2010, making an immediate impact.  Earned 1st Team All Big 12 three years in a row.  Appears to be settled in at center but his experience at guard will only help his grade.  Ikard is a great athlete that moves laterally and to the second level with ease.  He has consistently been the top graded offensive lineman on that team over his career, and there is something to be said about that.  Oklahoma has a solid history of putting out quality OL to the league.  Ikard is so highly regarded that I may have to re-watch a few games.  Personally I view him as a scheme-specific blocker that doesn’t play with enough power inside.  He doesn’t get a push; he doesn’t lock on to defensive linemen.  The tools are there and he has the frame for more weight, but I think he is more of a project that should be taken on day three.

#33 Trey Millard – FB – 6’2/253

Another accomplished four year starter.  Millard is a versatile weapon out of the backfield that could thrive in the right scheme.  He has surprising quickness to the line as an inside rusher.  He can be a productive short yardage running back.  As a blocker, Millard is powerful.  He can deliver a jolt to linebackers but he struggles to maintain blocks.  He is hit or miss that needs a lot of work when it comes to blocking mechanics if that’s what he will be used for.  As a receiver, Millard could fill the H-Back role for some teams.  He is an easy catcher of the ball that can do some things after the catch.  For his size, Millard is a big time athlete that can do a lot of different things.  I think he can be a 4th/5th rounder.

ALABAMA

*#71 Cyrus Kouandjio – LT – 6’6/310

Third year junior.  Very good chance at being the first or second left tackle taken in this class.  When it comes to pure tools and talent, Kouandijo is the blue goose of this draft.  He is big and long with minimal bad weight.  He shows easy movement all over the field.  Great flexibility and power production.  I watched a lot of his game tapes early in 2013 and noticed a lot of skill-based flaws.  His technique was so inconsistent and he was being pushed around by stronger defenders.  However, as the year progressed and especially in his last two games, Kouandijo looked better than ever.  His weight distribution was flawless and he made the game look easy.  Neither speed nor power can knock him off his plan.  I think he will be a top 10 pick, possibly even top 5.

#32 CJ Mosley – LB – 6’2/232

Fourth year senior that has been one of the more productive players on one of the most talented defenses in the nation.  Mosley is a favorite of mine, and has been for awhile now.  He is a true three down linebacker that can wear a lot of hats.  I think his best fit is at the 4-3 WILL position.  He pursues well and makes good decisions.  He’s a guy that is always in the right position, run or pass.  Mosley, like most college linebackers, struggles to disengage from linemen.  He gets too upright and can be taken out of plays too easily.  If I have one gripe with him, it is the lack of progression over the past 2-3 years.  I don’t think he has gotten much better than where he was in 2011.  That bothers me a little bit.  All in all, Mosley will be a solid starter in the NFL.  Superstar?  No.  But linebackers that are a true threat for all three downs can be tough to find.

*#6 Hasean Clinton-Dix – S – 6’1/208

Third year junior.  Considered to be the top safety in this class if he comes out.  Clinton-Dix caught my attention several times in 2012 when I scouted Dee Milliner.  I came in to 2013 with high expectations but they have not been met.  I think his general-public-grade has a lot to do with where he plays rather than his true ability.  He plays the physical brand of football that Alabama always produces.  He has a lot of range as a deep cover man.  His ball skills are wide receiver-quality.  All of that put together makes him a good prospect.  What I don’t like here is the lack of impact plays week to week.  He gets fooled easily and I think his aggression hurts a defense as much as it helps.  All in all, Clinton-Dix is a player that can help a team.  But a high first rounder?  Not on my sheet.  He will likely finish 30-45 overall for me.

#26 Deion Belue – CB – 5’11/183

Fourth year senior that played two years of junior college.  Won a starting job right away in 2012 and had a productive year.  He had a nagging toe injury all year that hampered his playing time and performance.  Because of that, I think there is some hidden value here.  Belue appears undersized at first glance but he makes a physical impact on receivers in coverage.  Very good technique and he consistently has his balance.  He struggles downfield a bit with a lack of ball skills and he can be too hands on.  I think he can be a 4th round pick that outplays several guys that are drafted ahead of him/

#83 Kevin Norwood – WR – 6’2/195

Fourth year senior.  Was not a factor in the offense until 2012.  He was second on the team in catches last year and tied for the team lead in 2013.  Norwood is a better football player than he is an athlete.  His tools don’t jump off the screen when watching the Alabama offense, but his skill set does.  He is a smart receiver that understands schemes and how to manipulate defenders.  Norwood is a strong hands catcher that attacks the football.  I love this kind of receiver and I’ll have a higher grade on him than most.  Possibly a top 100 overall guy.

#10 AJ McCarron – QB – 6’4/214

Fifth year senior.  Three year starter that will leave Alabama as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the program’s history.  McCarron is a little underrated in my eyes.  Too often people will use the argument that his performances are a result of being surrounded by supreme talent.  He does have NFL prospects surrounding him everywhere, but I love this kid’s makeup.  He is a good decision maker that knows how to manage a game and exploit opportunities.  He comes from arguably the highest-pressure situation in the nation, so you know he can handle the mental side of things.  I have him graded as a 3rd/4th rounder that has starting potential.

#61 Anthony Steen – RG – 6’3/309

Fifth year senior.  Has been the starting RG for 2+ seasons.  Nothing spectacular about his game but Steen has been a reliable player for a top tier offensive line.  He is a great knee bender that plays under the pads of his opponent consistently.  He isn’t a guy that moves the line of scrimmage and he struggles to maintain his position as a pass blocker.  Steen will, at least, provide depth inside for a team that likes to move their guards in a zone-scheme.  Day three pick here.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#49 Ed Stinson – DE – 6’4/292
#7 Kenny Bell – WR – 6’1/180
#10 John Fulton – CB – 6’0/186

Share Button
Jan 012014
 
 January 1, 2014  Posted by  Articles, The Draft
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Gamecocks (October 12, 2013)

Jadeveon Clowney – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 1, 2014 Bowl Games: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch (Early Games)

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

NEBRASKA

#17 Ciante Evans – CB – 5’11/190

Fourth year senior with a lot of experience. Evans has steadily improved throughout his career. He is an aggressive, physical defender that stands out with his ability to tackle in space and defend the run. He spends a lot of time in the nickel position, and I think he can stick in the NFL there. While he is best known for his play against the run, Evans has shown the short area quickness to shadow receivers underneath. He can do lot for a secondary. He might have a shot at the 3rd/4th round area.

#16 Stanley Jean-Baptiste – CB – 6’3/220

Fifth year senior. Started off at WR but made the move to CB prior to 2011. Long, wiry frame that is becoming more sought after in the NFL these days. Jean-Baptiste is a rangy cover man that can play vertical with most receivers. He struggles to turn and change direction. There are a few schemes that covet a player with this size and style. Others will think he is too slow to play. Jean-Baptiste will get drafted somewhere between rounds 4-6 based on his size and ability to make plays on the ball.

#18 Quincy Enunwa – WR – 6’2/225

Fourth year senior that has improved every season of his career. Enunwa played in a run-heavy scheme that really hindered his ability to show his wide receiver skills. I think there is some talent here worth looking in to on day three of the Draft. He is big and physical. Very tough guy for corners to push around at the point of attack. Enunwa is also an asset on plays where just a few yards are needed. He has the quick movement skills to get himself open and he can box defensive backs out from making a play on the ball. Enunwa has shown, on a few occasions, some hidden ability that can make an impact in the NFL.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#71 Jeremiah Sirles – RT – 6’5/315
#63 Andrew Rodriguez – RG – 6’5/330
#41 Jake Long – TE – 6’3/240
#9 Jason Ankrah – DE – 6’4/265

GEORGIA

#88 Arthur Lynch – TE – 6’5/254

Fifth year senior that wasn’t really a factor until 2012. Lynch is a block-first tight end that consistently gets the job done against both defensive linemen and linebackers. He has a nice combination of power and quickness to go with good technique to handle whatever is in front of him. As a receiver, I think Lynch has some hidden upside to be factor underneath and up the seam. He has sneaky athleticism and strong hands. Lynch won’t ever be a star that puts up the sexy numbers, but for the offenses that still use a tight end as both a blocker and receiver, he will have value. I expect to see him taken somewhere in the round 4-5 area.

#56 Garrison Smith – DE – 6’3/299

Fourth year senior. Plays outside in Georgia’s 3-4 front. Smith plays the role very well, consistently demanding attention from one or two blockers. He is a blue collar type defender that does a lot of little things well if you watch him individually. Smith had a big year in 2013, showing he can make some things happen behind the line of scrimmage. He plays low and strong, making him a tough guy to block. He has the upside of a solid rotational player for most schemes. Round 5-6 guy.

#72 Kenarious Gates – LT – 6’5/327

Fourth year senior. Mammoth blocker that can overwhelm opponents and drive block. Powerful hands and a strong punch at the point of attack. Too much of a leaner, bending at the waist and playing on his toes. Gates has experience at guard and tackle. I think his future resides inside. I project him to be a backup in the NFL that can provide depth for a few spots along the line. He has some bad weight on him that impedes his ability against the quicker defenders. Developmental guy that needs time. Late day three prospect.

#68 Chris Burnette – RG – 6’2/314

Fifth year senior. Has been starting three years now and looks like a low ceiling/high floor prospect. Might project as a career backup but Burnette has been a consistent performer that past two years. He doesn’t dominate or get a big push, but he gets the job done. He is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker. His feet get heavy and he’ll lean forward too often. He is an impressive kid off the field and appears to be the player that can be a reliable second stringer. Late day three here.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#64 Dallas Lee – LG – 6’4/295
#17 Rantavious Wooten – WR – 5’9/176

UNLV

#35 Tim Cornett – RB – 6’0/215

Fourth year senior. All time leading rusher at UNLV by a pretty wide margin. Cornett is a size/speed prospect that will get a few looks after round 4. He doesn’t have the wiggle in his hips to be elusive. And I don’t see the girth to his lower half needed to handle a full load in the NFL. With that said he can be a guy that sits on the bottom of the depth chart for a couple years and tries to develop in to a quality rotational back. He has some tools and I like his style of play. Great blocker that takes pride in that part of the game. There is a spot for him somewhere.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#8 Caleb Herring – QB – 6’3/200

NORTH TEXAS

#8 Marcus Trice – DB – 5’8/193

Fourth year senior that started off at Oklahoma. He was a solid player without a true position for the Sooners, being moved all over the defensive backfield and even to WR for a little bit. He is mostly a S for North Texas and is a fun player to watch. He is brick house that can handle the physical side of the game. He explodes downhill and makes a violent impact on the running game. Trice also shows a lot of range as a cover man. He shows the ability to cover half the field as well as stick with receivers in man-based schemes. Trice will be fighting up an uphill battle because of his height and low level of competition. But keep in mind he played a great game against Georgia this year and has been coming up big for two years straight. I’m going to have him graded out as a top 150 overall guy.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#24 Brandon Byrd – RB – 5’10/223
#3 Breian Chancellor – WR – 5’9/186

WISCONSIN

#44 Chris Borland – LB – 5’11/246

One look at him prior to the game starting and I would say close to 90% of the public would state he had no shot at making an impact in the NFL. I think he is even shorter than his listed 5’11” with stubby arms and a lack of upper body strength. With that said, I’ve seen Borland more than enough to believe he will be a starting linebacker in the NFL, and a very good one to boot. He has out-produced expectations every season of his career, turning himself in to one of the most accomplished and well rounded linebackers in the nation. Borland is incredibly smart and decisive. He is constantly moving in the right direction, rarely caught out of position. He moves exceptionally well in pursuit, easily displaying true sideline-to-sideline range. He’s been a dominant blitzing linebacker because of his ability to time snap accounts and sneak under the pads of much taller, less agile blockers. Borland can be overwhelmed in traffic because of the size deficiency, but he is a guy that simply finds a way to get it done week in, week out. I’ll have him graded much higher than where I expect to see him selected. But even then, I can’t see him available after the 3rd or 4th round.

#4 Jared Abbrederis – WR – 6’2/190

It seems like Abbrederis has been around forever. I can remember watching Russell Wilson in 2011 throwing deep balls to Abbrederis, clearly looking like these two were above the level of every opponent they faced. I’m not sure how well he will test out in workouts, but he is an overachiever and I see that translating to the NFL. He is a reliable hands-catcher that rarely drops balls within his radius. He doesn’t have the top tier explosion, but he constantly runs himself open and can make things happen with the ball in his hands. The game he played against Ohio State’s Bradley Roby (whom some believe is a top 64 pick himself) was one of the more dominant one-on-one performances I saw all year. The lack of tools may hurt his grade when all is said and done, but he’ll be taken somewhere in the middle of the draft and could be an early contributor at the next level.

#20 James White – RB  5’10/195

Fourth year senior. White was the primary backup to Montee Ball for three seasons and split carries in 2013 with Melvin Gordon. He is a lesser prospect than both but something needs to be said for a back that has averaged more than 6 yards per carry for his career. He isn’t big and lacks the runaway speed, but White shows quick feet, agile hips, and easy vision. I question his ability to handle the physical part of the game. He doesn’t break a lot of tackles and has shown to be a non-factor as a blocker. White will get drafted late.

#79 Ryan Groy – LG – 6’5/320

Fifth year senior. Saw some spot duty early in his career before starting every game in 2012 and 2013. He is a guard, but has some experience playing left tackle. Groy’s greatest asset is his size and length. He can overwhelm defenders when his balance and mechanics are right. Groy is a solid run blocker because he can move forward quickly with power. As a pass blocker, he is slow out of his stance, slow to react, and leans forward too much. I think he has the tools to be a contributor but I wouldn’t spend a pick on him until day three. I project him as a backup.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#48 Jacob Pederson – TE – 6’5/240
#96 Beau Allen – DT – 6’3/325
#12 Dezmen Southward – S – 6’2/210

SOUTH CAROLINA

*#7 Jadeveon Clowney – DE – 6’6/274

No secrets or surprises here. Clowney has been destined for the top, or near the top of this draft class for years now. I firmly believe he would have been a first round pick after his freshman season had it been allowed. He has the tool set that comes around once every 5-6 years. He is the top defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers and will likely grade out above him when all is said and done. Clowney is the Calvin Johnson of defensive ends. The main red flag surrounding him has been hovering all year. His lack of hustle and conditioning have made his 2013 game tape look pedestrian for the most part. Even with that in mind, Clowney showed more than enough signs that he is still the most elite defensive talent that has come around in a long, long time. People need to stop attempting to be the black sheep when evaluating him. He is better than everyone. He isn’t a bad kid. I think he simply tried to protect himself from injury after watching what happened to Lattimore last season. He’ll be a dominant force from day one for whichever team selects him.

*#27 Victor Hampton – CB – 5’10/202

Third year junior that has already declared for the Draft. Hampton is a unique player that is incredibly strong and thick for the position. He is a little tight in the hips, but I think he can handle the speed and quickness of the NFL. He will need to shore up some technique because he is almost too physical, draping receivers down the field. Hampton brings a physical style that most teams want. I think he can be a quality nickel back and possibly even a starter down the road if he works at his craft. The talent is there, the skill set has potential. 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#99 Kelcy Quarles – DT – 6’4/298

Third year junior that has not yet declared, but his stock may be higher now than it ever will be. Quarles is a very nice prospect in his own right, but a lot of his production can be attributed to the presence of Clowney. The light came on for him towards the end of 2011, and he has shown signs every week of being a quality NFL starter. At 300 pounds, Quarles is a guy that can chase quarterbacks, and even some running backs from behind. Inside the trenches, he displays hand strength to control the engagement and the lower body power to create a new line of scrimmage. He can play a couple different roles inside, but I think teams looking for a pass rushing three-technique will have a high grade on him. He could even grade out as a 2nd rounder in a sub-par DT class.

#90 Chaz Sutton – DE – 6’5/263

Sutton looks like a player when you turn on the tape and see him prior to the action starting. Great height and length with a filled out frame and long arms. Once the game starts however, he looks pedestrian despite the majority of the opposing team’s attention on Clowney and Quarles. Too often was he overmatched by a single blocker. His run defense was especially poor because he can’t anchor. He is pushed where the blocker wants to push him. He has nice tools and can move in space, so I think there will be teams willing to gamble on him late in the draft.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#14 Connor Shaw – QB – 6’1/209
#67 Ronald Patrick – RG – 6’2/315
#15 Jimmy Legree – CB – 5’11/187

IOWA

#86 CJ Fiedorwicz – TE – 6’7/265

Fourth year senior. Took over the starting spot with 5 weeks to go in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since. Fiedorwicz is about as balanced as it gets in this draft class when it comes his attributes. He shows dominant ability against defensive linemen. He fires off the ball well and has a strong pair of hands and light feet. He carries 260+ pounds very comfortable. As a receiver, he is better than you would assume. He has reliable hands that can pluck the ball out of the air. Very good underneath route runner that can shield defenders from making a play on the ball. Underrated ball skills, can really be a weapon in the red zone. Fiedorwicz will most likely be a solid contributor at the next level but he won’t be a star. 3rd/4th rounder.

#19 BJ Lowery – CB – 5’11/193

Fourth year senior. At this time last year I spoke highly of Iowa CB Micah Hyde. He was graded out as a day three prospect by pretty much everyone. I loved what I saw on tape in 2012 and put him in to my top 45 overall. Since then, he has played in every game of the 2013 season for division-winning Packers. I see something similar going on here with Lowery. Maybe it has something to do with the system, I’m not sure. But I think Lowery might be one of the top 5-6 CBs in this class, and he will likely be available on day three. He has good length for the position. Very good at press coverage with a blend of a physical and easy moving style. I’ll watch a couple more tapes in the coming months, but this is a guy that will outplay a lot of CBs that are drafted ahead of him.

#20 Christian Kirksey – OLB – 6’2/233

Fourth year senior. Team captain known for incredible intangibles and leadership. Rangy linebacker that pursues well and consistently takes down the ball carriers. Kirksey is a little weak with his lower half and he will need to bulk up before he can be an every down guy in the NFL. However he has great athletic ability and is comfortable in coverage. He has made a lot of big plays over the past few years. I think some teams will see him as a developmental guy that can be a star on special teams and an extra pass defender early on. There is a high ceiling with him.

#31 Anthony Hithcens – OLB – 6’0/233

Fourth year senior. Led the team in tackles each of the past two years. Hitchens is undersized and it will hurt him at different points of the game. He easily gets engulfed by blockers who come straight at him. If he doesn’t get an early break towards the action, he can easily be ridden out of a play. With that said, he shows quick reaction and finds himself in the right spot at the right time consistently. Hitchens can pursue well and make plays sideline-to-sideline. His biggest struggle is coverage. He lacks awareness of whats going on around him and it really hurt the Iowa defense in games I watched. I’m not sure he can handle every down duty but I think he can be drafted for special teams/backup duty. Day three guy here.

#70 Brett Van Sloten – RT – 6’7/300

Fifth year senior. Tight end in high school that made the to move to OL when he arrived at Iowa. I can see the movement skills here. He has light feet and quick reaction. The issue is a lack of power though. A guy this big and this fast should be able to move people and he simply doesn’t. He has the frame for more weight and perhaps he can add the power game once he gets put in to an NFL weight training program. Practice squad type prospect with the upside of a solid starting RT. Day three prospect.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#44 James Morris – MLB – 6’1/240
#59 Connor Boffeli – LG – 6’5/295
#5 Tanner Miller – S – 6’1/207

LSU

*#3 Odell Beckham – WR – 6’0/190

Third year junior that hasn’t declared yet. I think Beckham is a legit first round talent with big time upside. He is more than a speed/quickness guy. He is incredibly strong and tough. It will be hard to find a 190 pounder that plays with the power and brute force of Beckham. He has the speed to get behind a secondary and the quick twitch/agile hips to get open underneath. Very dangerous with the ball in his hands that will get a lot of yards after the catch with his toughness and ability to miss contact from defenders. What stood out to me in 2013 was the improvement with his ball skills. He can make a lot of tough catches away from his body in traffic. Over the past three years, I’ve seen as much LSU as any school in the nation and I am impressed with how Beckham has improved from a great athlete to a great player. If he comes out he will be a top 20 overall guy on my board.

*#70 La’el Collins – LT – 6’5/315

Third year junior. Has not declared yet and I think he will return to school. But just in case, I wanted to get a few thoughts out on him. I think Collins has the upside to be the top OT in this class. The former guard made the move to LT this year and has absolutely shined. He holds 315 pounds with ease, minimal bad weight. He is a punishing straight ahead blocker that consistently creates a new line of scrimmage. He bends well and can lower his pad level against anyone when necessary. Collins will surprise you with his ability in space. While his footwork needs refining, he can be an immediate upgrade along several starting offensive lines right away. His experience inside only helps. If he comes out I will likely have him in the top 25 overall.

*#9 Ego Ferguson – DT – 6’2/309

Fourth year junior that hasn’t declared yet. Ferguson is an impressive player in my eyes, a far better prospect than his well known teammate Anthony Johnson. Ferguson is constantly fighting off blocks and making a difference against the run. He pursues well towards the sideline but he can also eat up the double team and anchor his position. He plays a similar style to Bennie Logan, currently of the Eagles. I like his ability with his hands the his consistent performance throughout an entire game. I don’t think Ferguson is a star, but he is a reliable player at a position that most teams are always looking to add to. Day two pick here.

*#80 Jarvis Landry – WR – 6’1/195

Another third year junior that hasn’t declared yet. Landry may not have the upside of some receivers in this class, but I am just as, if not more confident in saying he will be a productive player in the NFL in comparison to every other WR prospect. What stands out about him is his refined skill set. He is a pure hands catcher. He runs great routes. He comes back to the ball well. He times his leaps and lunges for the ball well. Everything he does is NFL-ready. He is pure toughness over the middle in traffic and tries to drive cornerbacks in to the ground when blocking to boot. Landry can be a reliable #2 at the next level, which has become more and more important in this era. Day 2 pick here that will out produce a few WRs taken in front of him.

*#33 Jeremy Hill – RB – 6’1/233

True sophomore but has been out of high school for three years, thus is eligible for the 2014 Draft. Several off the field issues with Hill and it will hamper his grade. As a running back, Hill is a downhill brick house with surprising speed in the open field. He is an angry runner that can take on a lot of contact before being brought to the ground. He’s been the top back for LSU, a team that always has an abundance of great college running backs. Hill is a 4th/5th rounder right now because of the issues off the field.

#8 Zach Mettenberger – QB – 6’5/235

Fourth year senior. Transferred to LSU prior to the 2012 season and had a disappointing first year, but came back strong in 2013. Mettenberger is an old school pocket passer with a strong arm that makes all the throws look easy. When it comes to throwing ability, he is right up there with the best QBs in this class. I’m not sold on his ability to start in the NFL, but I think he is worth a shot for teams that haven’t made a change to the zone-read offense. Mettenberger has had some of the best talent in the nation to work with at the skill positions. His rebound in 2013 can be partially attributed to that, but he made some big time throws in 2013 that will make you think he’s got a shot to be a good one.

#56 Anthony Johnson – DT – 6’3/294

Third year junior. Johnson hasn’t made a decision yet either, but he needs to go back to school. He has been a major disappointment since his arrival at LSU. The expectations were sky high and I can remember watching him as a freshman thinking he was already NFL caliber when it came to power and movement ability. However he has remained at the same level since the beginning. He fails to make an impact on the game, plain and simple. He has rare speed and quickness for the position but he doesn’t beat lone blockers. His technique is hit or miss. Just seems like he thinks his tool set is good enough to get him by. That doesn’t happen at defensive tackle in the NFL. If he comes out, someone may gamble on his athletic gifts on day 2 but I wouldn’t consider him until the 5th or 6th round.

#6 Craig Loston – S – 6’2/209

Fifth year senior. Physical, run defending safety that plays with angry intentions when playing downhill. Loston can make an impact on special teams and he could probably help defend the run right away. The problem with him is the fact that he is a major liability against the pass. He has such tight hips in coverage, failing to react in time to balls thrown in his direction. His movement skills are sub-par and in this era, that could be a major problem for his draft grade. Day three guy here.

#18 Lamin Barrow – MLB – 6’2/234

Fifth year senior. Barrow is another run defender that plays the inside gaps well. When he has a simple assignment, he can make a difference. The issues arise when he has to sit back, diagnose, and flow to the action. He doesn’t appear to be a quick thinker. If a blocker can reach him, its all but over for Barrow. He can’t shed blocks and his power doesn’t translate to that part of the game. He is an easy target for a lone blocker. There are a lot of technique-based issues with Barrow and he isn’t exactly a supremely gifted athlete either. Late rounder that fits best in a 3-4 ILB role.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#44 JC Copeland – FB – 6’1/270

Share Button