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Private Workouts Now in Focus with Draft Season Speeding Towards Conclusion

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Private Workouts Now in Focus with Draft Season Speeding Towards Conclusion

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Glenn Clark

Like Florence & The Machine said, “The Pro Days are over.”

Well maybe those weren’t the exact lyrics from Florence Welch and company, but the statement remains true.

Draft season has officially shifted from Pro Days to private visits and workouts.

Before I continue, I remind you of the players we have already profiled during Draft season.

QB-Ricky Dobbs (Navy), Pat Devlin (Delaware), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Josh Portis (California-Pennsylvania), Taylor Potts (Texas Tech), Christian Ponder (Florida State), Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), Jake Locker (Washington), Greg McElroy (Alabama), Andy Dalton (TCU), Jeremiah Masoli (Ole Miss), Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Jerrod Johnson (Texas A&M)
FB
-Anthony Sherman (Connecticut), Owen Marecic (Stanford), Shaun Chapas (Georgia)
RB
-Evan Royster (Penn State), Da’Rel Scott (Maryland), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), Damien Berry (Miami), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Roy Helu Jr. (Nebraska), Alex Green (Hawaii), Shane Vereen (Cal), Jordan Todman (UConn), Dion Lewis (Pitt), Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State), Mark Ingram (Alabama), Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech), Mikel Leshoure (Illinois), Darren Evans (Virginia Tech)
WR
-Lester Jean (Florida Atlantic), Terrence Toliver (LSU), Leonard Hankerson (Miami), Austin Pettis (Boise State), Denarius Moore (Tennessee), Owen Spencer (North Carolina State), Jock Sanders (West Virginia), Titus Young (Boise State), Vincent Brown (San Diego State), Ryan Whalen (Stanford), Torrey Smith (Maryland), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Jon Baldwin (Pittsburgh), Greg Salas (Hawaii), Cecil Shorts III (Mount Union), Jerrel Jernigan (Troy), Niles Paul (Nebraska), Dane Sanzenbacher (Ohio State)
TE-Will Yeatman (Maryland)
OT
-Matthew O’Donnell (Queens University Canada), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Nate Solder (Colorado), Anthony Costanzo (Boston College), Joseph Barksdale (LSU), Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State), DeMarcus Love (Arkansas)
G-Danny Watkins (Baylor)
C-Zane Taylor (Utah), Kris O’Dowd (Southern Cal), Rodney Hudson (Florida State), Brandon Fusco (Slippery Rock)
DE
-Justin Trattou (Florida), Allen Bailey (Miami), Eddie Jones (Texas), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), Brooks Reed (Arizona), Cliff Matthews (South Carolina), JJ Watt (Wisconsin), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Dontay Moch (Nevada), D’Aundre Reed (Arizona), Aldon Smith (Missouri), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), Sam Acho (Texas), Ryan Winterswyk (Boise State)
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple)
LB
-Mark Herzlich (Boston College), Casey Matthews (Oregon), Adrian Moten (Maryland), Nate Irving (NC State), Colin McCarthy (Miami), Martez Wilson (Illinois), Kelvin Sheppard (Louisiana State), Alex Wujciak (Maryland), Akeem Dent (Georgia)
S
-Jermale Hines (Ohio State), Jaiquawn Jarrett (Temple), Maurice Rolle (Louisiana-Lafayette), Rahim Moore (UCLA), Ahmad Black (Florida)
CB-Anthony Gaitor (Florida International), Aaron Williams (Texas), Jalil Brown (Colorado), Jimmy Smith (Colorado), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Miami), Brandon Harris (Miami), Ras-I Dowling (Virginia), Richard Sherman (Stanford), Brandon Burton (Utah)

If you missed any of those profiles, you can check them out in the archives here at WNST.net.

Part 1-A look at players who participated in the East West Shrine Game in Orlando, Florida
Part 2-A look at players who participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama
Part 3-A look at players who participated in the NFLPA Game (former Texas vs. The Nation Game) in San Antonio, Texas
Parts 456-Previews of players ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis
Part 7-A look back at players who made in impact at the National Football League Scouting Combine at LucasOil Stadium in Indy
Parts 8, 9 & 10-A look at players who participated in early Pro Timing Days

The Baltimore Ravens (obviously) made no personnel changes this week, so my team needs remain the same…

1. Defensive End
2. Offensive Tackle
3. Wide Receiver
4. Cornerback
5. Fullback
6. Inside Linebacker
7. Safety
8. Center
9. Running Back
10. Quarterback

Here are ten more prospects-all of whom have been shown special attention by the Ravens during Draft season. (Reported by WNST.net, National Football Post, Carroll County Times, Baltimore Sun, Pro Football Weekly or others.)

Thanks to CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com, NFLDraftBible.com, WNST.net (The AP), ESPN.com, NFL.com, Wikipedia, YouTube and various official athletic websites for helping to put together the profiles.

DE Christian Ballard (Iowa)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhgvSsE5tLI[/youtube]

Ballard is one of a number of Defensive Ends that has wandered over to Owings Mills during Draft season.

The Ravens are clearly in need of a rush end, and have looked at a number of players who could fit the role. Ballard (6’4″, 283 pounds) managed to tally eight combined sacks over his junior and senior campaigns with the Hawkeyes despite playing part of that time on the interior of the line.

Ballard has shown good speed during Draft season, trimming his 40 time from 4.75 at the Combine to 4.70 at his Pro Day in Iowa City. He’s not a first round pick, but he is a player the Ravens could consider as early as the second round.

They may have addressed rush end before that. Ballard’s teammate Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward and a number of other players are all higher on the board. The Ravens have a GLARING need at the position. If they don’t address it in the first, don’t be surprised if they address it with Ballard.

OT James Brewer (Indiana)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X01sxTrZZY[/youtube]

We don’t know for sure whether or not the Ravens have hosted Brewer at 1 Winning Drive, but we do know that the team paid special interest to Brewer’s Pro Day in Bloomington.

The Ravens have an issue along their O-Line. OT Jared Gaither is an unrestricted free agent and there are just a few question marks surrounding him. OT Michael Oher may or may not have a future at LT. G/T Marshal Yanda probably needs to return to being a Guard only.

The team will have to make some decisions.

Brewer (6’6″, 323 pounds) could help in that decision making process. He’s not a first round talent, but he looks like someone who is going to be able to play fairly early on if selected late Friday or early Saturday.

There is a SMALL issue with Brewer…he’s from Indianapolis. If he roots for the Colts, that could be trouble.

But otherwise, he has to be a legitimate option to help new O-Line coach Andy Moeller.

RB Stevan Ridley (LSU)

stevan

Unlike Ravens RB Ray Rice, Ridley’s game is much about power than speed (his 4.65 40 time at the Combine was better than either of his runs at his Pro Day in Baton Rouge). That could be a recipe to get him to Charm City, as the team may well lose both RB Willis McGahee (expected to be released) and FB Le’Ron McClain (Unrestricted Free Agent) this offseason.

Ridley might not be massive, but he packs 225 pounds in a 5’11″ frame. He has the look of a third down/red zone weapon at the next level, which is part of what the Ravens will be looking for in their backfield this offseason.

Ridley had just one big season with the Tigers before declaring for the Draft a year early. After rushing for just 272 yards and four TD’s combined between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he exploded for 1,147 yards and 15 TD’s as a junior. Clearly part of the reason for leaving early was to save some “tread” on his tires.

The Ravens paid special attention to Ridley at the Combine, where they learned more about why he was voted a team captain as a junior. He’s not a Thursday night pick and probably not a Friday night pick either. As the Draft wares into Saturday, he’ll look more and more appealing to the Ravens-who need to give Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron a change of pace option in the backfield.

CB Curtis Marsh (Utah State)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-DwCYgqHWk[/youtube]

Just to recap the Ravens’ CB situation this offseason-Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington are all unrestricted free agents; Cary Williams is an exclusive rights free agent and Domonique Foxworth is coming off an ACL injury that cost him the entire 2010 season. Lardarius Webb is the only corner that saw the field last season that remains fully under contract.

Clearly new Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano will need SOMETHING in his defensive backfield, be it returning players or newcomers.

Marsh is an intriguing option who has already visited General Manager Ozzie Newsome and company in Owings Mills. He was very much under the radar screen playing for the Aggies, but his 6’1″, 197 pound size and 4.42 speed have been undeniable during Draft season.

Marsh initially garnered attention for his matchup abilities against Boise State receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young. He received a Senior Bowl invite but missed the week due to a hamstring injury.

Marsh could come off the board as early as Friday night. If the Ravens don’t select a cornerback in Round 1, he could be a legitimate option after that point.

DE Ricky Elmore (Arizona)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtE9qFonW7s[/youtube]

The Ravens have shown equal interest in Elmore and fellow former ‘Zona DE Brooks Reed, as both have shown an ability to get after Pac 10 quarterbacks.

Elmore tallied 21 combined sacks between his junior and senior seasons, finishing his Wildcats career with 25 sacks overall. During Draft season he’s been training with Clay Matthews Sr. (whose son is a pretty good pass rusher himself) in an attempt to even further improve his ability to get after QB’s.

Elmore is a physical beast, measuring in at 6’5″, 255 pounds. He’s not blazing fast (4.88 40 at the Combine), but he’s deceptively quick for his size.

As I mentioned with Ballard, the Ravens have to be desperate for rush help on the edge. If they select an end Thursday (or early Friday), they’ll likely want him to be someone who also has the ability to stand up in a 3-4 defense.

If they don’t go DE early, Elmore could be a better option later into the Draft (likely Saturday). Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz and company will have to determine how quickly Elmore could make an impact.

S Will Hill (Florida)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQK0xhpkE4Y&feature=fvst[/youtube]

Hill’s size (6’1″, 202 pounds) and decent speed (4.64 40) as well as his overall football ability (four interceptions over three seasons in Gainesville) should make him a solid Free Safety prospect.

Yet despite the Ravens showing interest in Hill at the Combine, he’s viewed as a borderline possibility to get picked anywhere in the Draft.

Hill’s issues are more off the field than they are on the field. He had some problems with his Twitter account-as well documented by the website “Every Day Should Be Saturday.”

Hill later claimed his Twitter account was hacked, but the damage was certainly done-and Hill didn’t exactly win everyone over with his comments about the incident at the Combine.

There are clear question marks off the field, which are clouding the ability he could have on the field. The Ravens appear to be in the safety market this offseason, as SS Dawan Landry is an unrestricted free agent and FS Ed Reed is…well…not getting any younger or healthier. Reserves Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura give them options to plug in, but they’ll certainly look for depth.

Should the Ravens not select a safety at all early in the Draft, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could take a chance on a player like Hill late in the Draft. After taking risks on DT Terrence Cody and LB Sergio Kindle early in the Draft last season, they might not be as quick to take a chance on a player with a red flag in this year’s Draft.

CB Chris Culliver (South Carolina)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jFfXPtIMlk[/youtube]

As I mentioned with Marsh, the Ravens have secondary issues this offseason. They’ll need to address them SOMEHOW, and Culliver could be part of that.

Culliver is a 6’0″, 199 pound corner who tallied four sacks and three interceptions during his Gamecocks career. (All three picks came in 2008.) He’s coming off a torn pec that caused him to miss the final six games of his 2010 campaign.

Of all of the corners on the Ravens’ active roster in 2010, only Williams (6’1″) is as big as Culliver. None have the blazing speed (4.36 40 at the Combine…which he stood on instead of running at his Pro Day in Columbia) that Culliver has.

Culliver paid a visit to Owings Mills during Draft season to meet with Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta and company. They likely wanted to see how fluid he was in coverage, as he played just one season at corner in the SEC after converting from safety.

The other nice option with Culliver is his potential involvement in the return game. Culliver finished his SC career with a school record 2,476 return yards. The Ravens got solid production from Webb and WR David Reed/RB Jalen Parmele in the PR and KR roles respectively last season, but they certainly didn’t do so much that they have to be considered locks to return in the roles. Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg wouldn’t be disappointed to add another return man if the Ravens were to use a late Friday or early Saturday selection on Culliver.

G Will Rackley (Lehigh)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaXM8yMXOHM[/youtube]

The Ravens have certainly had no trouble using a pick in the top half of the Draft on interior linemen before.

G Ben Grubbs (1st round), C/G Chris Chester (2nd round), G/T Marshal Yanda (3rd round) and St. Louis Rams C Jason Brown (4th round) have all been players the Ravens have selected early, and they’ve received mostly good results from the selections.

The Ravens don’t appear to have a glaring need amongst their interior linemen, but there are certainly issues to be addressed.

While Head Coach John Harbaugh would like to return Yanda to Guard, he’s an restricted free agent that could depart in the offseason. Even if he stays, the Ravens could be faced with a need to have him stay at RT should the team not re-sign Gaither or not Draft/Sign a better option at the position. After getting a second round tender, Chester (also a restricted free agent) is expected to return, but the team would prefer to have him play a utility role along the line instead of being penciled in at RG.

Rackley could be the type of player who could step in and play RG immediately. The 6’3″, 309 pound lineman turned a number of heads during East West Shrine Game week, showing he was quite capable of playing against big time opposition despite his FCS background.

Rackley was a four year starter for the Mountain Hawks, dominating Patriot League opposition. Clearly the AFC North (and the likes of DT’s like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Casey Hampton) will offer more significant opposition. Rackley is expected to be a Friday night pick, which could certainly be a legitimate place for the Ravens to jump up and grab him.

CB Buster Skrine (Chattanooga)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2jksB_vrsM[/youtube]

Similar to Curtis Marsh, Skrine is going to be looking to overcome a lower level of competition to make a name for himself as a National Football League corner. But Skrine (who played in the Southern Conference) has many more questions about competition to overcome than Marsh-who played his ball in the WAC.

Skrine (5’10″, 186 pounds) has great speed (4.37 40 at the Combine-but rumored to have actually been as fast as 4.29) and finished his Mocs career with five interceptions.

The Ravens both attended Skrine’s Pro Day and hosted him in Owings Mills in March.

The biggest question surrounding Skrine is whether or not he can play press coverage against NFL receivers, many of whom will have a slight to significant height advantage.

If the Ravens feel like he could be, it would make him a solid option late Friday or early Saturday.

LB Justin Houston (Georgia)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kR0L2RVId90[/youtube]

Houston appears to be a true standup OLB instead of a down DE, which could help as the Ravens try to find pass rush help.

At 6’3″, 270 pounds; Houston was considered “undersized” to play along the D-Line for the Bulldogs, so he was moved to the outside. He responded to the move by producing 10 sacks in 2010; finishing his career in Athens with 19 sacks total.

Houston’s size and solid speed (he trimmed his 40 time down to 4.57 at his Pro Day) make him a borderline first round pick. The Ravens are obviously in the market for pass rush help (more specifically someone to team with LB Terrell Suggs), and they have hosted Houston in Owings Mills during Draft season.

The only obvious red flag with Houston is a 2009 suspension by UGA coach Mark Richt for an unspecified violation of team rules.

While the team seems unlikely to trade out of the 26th spot this year, Houston could be the type of available player that would make them feel like they could. Should Houston be available in the 30-40 range, the Ravens would likely feel as though they got #26 value after trading back.

-G

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Randall Cobb is “do it all” Percy Harvin Type

Posted on 06 April 2011 by Brian Billick

Kentucky’s Randall Cobb has a similar skill-set to Percy Harvin when he was coming out a couple years ago.  in 2010, Cobb broke the SEC single-season record for all-purpose yardage with 2,396 including 1,017 receiving and 424 rushing.  Last season, he scored at least one touchdown as a receiver, running back, quarterback, and returner…accounting for 16 touchdowns overall.

As expected, when watching him on the field, you see an extremely versatile athlete that displays very natal movements on the field.  He catches the ball with ease, extending his arms out fully to catch the ball away from his body and the defender.  He runs crisp routes and adjusts and tracks the ball in the air extremely well.  He shows the skill to play either outside or as a slot receiver, but I think he would be best suited inside.  This way, he can get the ball quickly and use his run after catch ability to make big plays in the passing game.  He has great acceleration in short bursts that make him tough to tackle in the open field.  Outside of his playmaking ability, I really like the fact that he is a tough and willing blocker to help spring his teammates for bigger gains.  He also will be a special teams contributor from day one on the return teams.

With the “wildcat” offense still being prevalent in today’s NFL, this former Kentucky Wildcat will give his future team a ton of versatility and productivity.  Most teams will be looking for him as the fifth best receiver in this draft.

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Pro Days Nearly in Books as Draft Season Begins Home Turn

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Pro Days Nearly in Books as Draft Season Begins Home Turn

Posted on 06 April 2011 by Glenn Clark

With only Notre Dame left amongst significant Pro Timing Days this season, NFL Draft season is now headed to pro facilities, as teams will host private meetings with prospects.

This of course is all happening despite the fact that the league and the players are battling in court in Minneapolis.

Before I continue, I remind you of the players we have already profiled during Draft season.

QB-Ricky Dobbs (Navy), Pat Devlin (Delaware), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Josh Portis (California-Pennsylvania), Taylor Potts (Texas Tech), Christian Ponder (Florida State), Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), Jake Locker (Washington), Greg McElroy (Alabama), Andy Dalton (TCU), Jeremiah Masoli (Ole Miss)
FB
-Anthony Sherman (Connecticut), Owen Marecic (Stanford), Shaun Chapas (Georgia)
RB
-Evan Royster (Penn State), Da’Rel Scott (Maryland), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), Damien Berry (Miami), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Roy Helu Jr. (Nebraska), Alex Green (Hawaii), Shane Vereen (Cal), Jordan Todman (UConn), Dion Lewis (Pitt), Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State), Mark Ingram (Alabama), Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech)
WR
-Lester Jean (Florida Atlantic), Terrence Toliver (LSU), Leonard Hankerson (Miami), Austin Pettis (Boise State), Denarius Moore (Tennessee), Owen Spencer (North Carolina State), Jock Sanders (West Virginia), Titus Young (Boise State), Vincent Brown (San Diego State), Ryan Whalen (Stanford), Torrey Smith (Maryland), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Jon Baldwin (Pittsburgh), Greg Salas (Hawaii), Cecil Shorts III (Mount Union), Jerrel Jernigan (Troy), Niles Paul (Nebraska)
TE-Will Yeatman (Maryland)
OT
-Matthew O’Donnell (Queens University Canada), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Nate Solder (Colorado), Anthony Costanzo (Boston College), Joseph Barksdale (LSU), Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State)
G-Danny Watkins (Baylor)
C-Zane Taylor (Utah), Kris O’Dowd (Southern Cal), Rodney Hudson (Florida State), Brandon Fusco (Slippery Rock)
DE
-Justin Trattou (Florida), Allen Bailey (Miami), Eddie Jones (Texas), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), Brooks Reed (Arizona), Cliff Matthews (South Carolina), JJ Watt (Wisconsin), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Dontay Moch (Nevada), D’Aundre Reed (Arizona), Aldon Smith (Missouri), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa)
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple)
LB
-Mark Herzlich (Boston College), Casey Matthews (Oregon), Adrian Moten (Maryland), Nate Irving (NC State), Colin McCarthy (Miami), Martez Wilson (Illinois), Kelvin Sheppard (Louisiana State), Alex Wujciak (Maryland)
S
-Jermale Hines (Ohio State), Jaiquawn Jarrett (Temple), Maurice Rolle (Louisiana-Lafayette), Rahim Moore (UCLA), Ahmad Black (Florida)
CB-Anthony Gaitor (Florida International), Aaron Williams (Texas), Jalil Brown (Colorado), Jimmy Smith (Colorado), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Miami), Brandon Harris (Miami), Ras-I Dowling (Virginia), Richard Sherman (Stanford)

If you missed any of those profiles, you can check them out in the archives here at WNST.net.

Part 1-A look at players who participated in the East West Shrine Game in Orlando, Florida
Part 2-A look at players who participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama
Part 3-A look at players who participated in the NFLPA Game (former Texas vs. The Nation Game) in San Antonio, Texas
Parts 456-Previews of players ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis
Part 7-A look back at players who made in impact at the National Football League Scouting Combine at LucasOil Stadium in Indy
Parts 8 & 9-A look at players who participated in early Pro Timing Days

The Baltimore Ravens (obviously) made no personnel changes this week, so my team needs remain the same…

1. Defensive End
2. Offensive Tackle
3. Wide Receiver
4. Cornerback
5. Fullback
6. Inside Linebacker
7. Safety
8. Center
9. Running Back
10. Quarterback

Here are ten more prospects whose schools have already held their Pro Timing Days.

Thanks to CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com, NFLDraftBible.com, WNST.net (The AP), ESPN.com, NFL.com, Wikipedia, YouTube and various official athletic websites for helping to put together the profiles.

DE Sam Acho (Texas)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea4RHlaq8eg&feature=fvst[/youtube]

Acho became an interesting name in Charm City when he told us at the Combine he had met with the Ravens. Clearly the team had gone down the “Longhorns pass rusher” road recently (see Kindle, Sergio), and they desperately need a rush end.

Acho is a 6’2″, 262 pound beast who tallied eight sacks in each his junior and senior seasons in Austin. He has decent speed (he posted a 4.67 forty yard dash at the Combine and sat on the number at his Pro Day) and has shown the ability to be a solid pass rusher at the college level.

The Ravens will have to figure out if that can translate to a level in the NFL that allows him to partner up with LB Terrell Suggs to get after quarterbacks.

If Kindle’s off-field issues scare fans into thinking the team should avoid all former ‘Horns defenders altogether, consider some of Acho’s accomplishments.

-William V. Campbell Trophy winner (nation’s top football student-athlete)
-2010 Wuerffel Trophy (all-around excellence in athletic, academic and community achievement)
-ARA Sportsmanship Award
-UT’s seventh two-time Academic All-American
-member of the 2010 AFCA Good Works Team
-2010 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete
-finalist for the 2010 Lott IMPACT Trophy and Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award

The Ravens will have to decide whether Acho’s on-field ability warrants a late Thursday or early Friday selection, but they shouldn’t be concerned about him away from the field at all.

(Acho joined Thyrl Nelson last week on “The Mobtown Sports Beat” on AM1570 WNST, make sure you hit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net if you missed him!)

RB Mikel Leshoure (Illinois)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVgFcPDMQLQ[/youtube]

I would be FLOORED if the Ravens selected Leshoure with the 26th pick in the Draft. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Ravens selected him in the 2nd round should he be available.

Leshoure is a 6’0″, 227 pound back with solid speed (4.56 40) who exploded on the scene in 2010. Leshoure posted nearly 1,900 yards of total offense and 20 total touchdowns after totaling just over 900 yards in 2009.

Seeing the way NFL teams have considered the number of touches a back has at the college level more and more, Leshoure decided to leave Champaign a year early and keep as much tread on his tires as possible.

The Ravens will need to overhaul their backfield this offseason. RB Willis McGahee is expected to be let go, FB Le’Ron McClain could depart as an unrestricted free agent. The team needs to figure out how to pair someone with their undersized superstar Ray Rice to carry them offensively.

Leshoure’s size could make him a decent complement paired with Rice.

But I would still only expect it to be possible if Leshoure slips to 58th.

LB Akeem Dent (Georgia)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJbNrEv5zXc[/youtube]

The Ravens have issues at Inside Linebacker.

They have a future Hall of Famer at one position (Ray Lewis) who-while still performing at a Pro Bowl level-is not getting any younger.

Lining up next to him, the team has attempted to see Tavares Gooden, Dannell Ellerbe or Jameel McClain nail down a spot-but none of them have done so.

They have to find some better answers at ILB.

Dent recently met with Ravens LB Dean Pees, meaning the team is at least considering a Saturday selection on the former Bulldogs backer. He’s 6’1″, 242 pounds with underwhelming speed (4.78), but he capped his career with Athens with an exceptional 122 tackle, three sack, two forced fumble senior campaign.

There’s nothing about Dent in particular that really makes him stand out-but he’s been productive against SEC offenses and has shown decent character.

For a team needing help at the position, that might be all that’s necessary.

QB Ricky Stanzi (Iowa)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p9xT-7-UkU[/youtube]

When Gil Brandt reported that the Ravens’ QB coach attended Stanzi’s Pro Day in Iowa City, I will admit that I was a bit confused.

Jim Zorn has since taken over the same role with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and Offensive Assistant Craig Ver Steeg to split the responsibilities of working with Joe Flacco.

It is believed (from the folks in Owings Mills I talked to) that Ver Steeg was the coach working with Stanzi at Iowa’s Pro Day. It’s certainly a sign that the team is legitimately considering Stanzi as an option should backup Marc Bulger depart (or perhaps even if he ends up returning).

Stanzi had a solid career for the Hawkeyes, compiling a 3,000 yard senior season to finish off a 7,377 yard/56 TD career. He has solid size (6’4″, 223 pounds) and while he isn’t quick, he did improve his 40 time to 4.93 at Pro Day.

There will likely be some concerns still lingering from a 2009 ankle injury that forced him to miss time, but he didn’t miss a game in 2010.

The Ravens probably won’t even think about quarterbacks until Saturday-as they are not looking for someone who will need to play (unless there’s an emergency situation) in 2011. If Stanzi remains on the board after three rounds, he will have to at least be a consideration.

CB Brandon Burton (Utah)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8HHyOuT4NM[/youtube]

This won’t be the first time I will have written about the Ravens’ CB situation as they (eventually) enter the offseason.

CB’s Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington are all unrestricted free agents. CB Domonique Foxworth is coming off of an ACL injury that cost him the entire season. CB Cary Williams is an exclusive rights free agent.

As of this moment, the team has Lardarius Webb, Marcus Paschal and Danny Gorrer as healthy players under contract. They’re going to have to do SOMETHING at the position-although we all expect Foxworth and at least one of the UFA’s to be back in the mix.

Burton is a 6’0″, 190 pound corner who produced solid if not spectacular numbers during three seasons with the Utes. He finished his career with 97 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and three interceptions.

Clearly those numbers were skewed at least a bit by the fact that Mountain West opponents learned not to throw in his direction quite as much.

Burton has decent speed (he shaved his 40 time down to 4.50 at his Salt Lake City Pro Day), but a quicker time might have made him a first round possibility. Instead, he’ll likely be a player the Ravens can consider adding to Chuck Pagano’s defense on Friday night.

RB Darren Evans (Virginia Tech)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVJY_1wU8Lo[/youtube]

Evans only did positional workouts at his Pro Day in Blacksburg, deciding to sit on all of his workout numbers from the Combine.

The decision-much like his decision to leave Va Tech with a year of eligibility left-could certainly be considered questionable.

While his Hokies’ teammate Ryan Williams is all but a sure thing to be a Friday night pick, there is certainly no guarantee Evans will be selected at all. He has decent size (6’0″, 227 pounds) and speed (4.56 40), but the ACL injury that cost him his entire 2009 season will certainly leave personnel folks (like Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome) wary of using a pick on him.

Evans was tremendous in 2008, rushing for 1,265 yards and 11 TD’s. He bounced back for a decent season in 2010, posting 854 yards and another 11 TD’s. He clearly made the decision to leave school out of fear that he would take too much “tread off his tires”, which has become a significant concern for NFL teams who tend to lower the life expectancy for a running back every year.

Evans might be the type of back that could complement someone like Rice, but he’d likely have to come in as a late round pick (or Undrafted Free Agent…if teams are ever able to sign those) and compete for a job behind Rice, Jalen Parmele and whoever else the team brings back in the backfield.

DE Ryan Winterswyk (Boise State)

winterswyk

I think we all expect the Ravens to have addressed the need for a rush end early in the Draft, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they could consider selecting multiple Ends during the course of the weekend.

Winterswyk is an intriguing late round prospect. He measures in at 6’4″, 268 pounds and shaved his 40 time down to the 4.80 range at his Pro Day (according to the National Football Post) after a disappointing 4.96 at the Combine.

Winterswyk garnered plenty of attention during his junior season, tallying nine sacks for the Broncos and establishing himself as the type of player who could be a serious threat off the edge at the next level.

That excitement died down a bit in 2010, as Winterswyk managed only two sacks during his senior campaign.

The Ravens certainly couldn’t use a Saturday selection on the former BSU rusher and assume that they had solved their issues on the edge. But if they used an early pick on an End (or waited to address the issue if and when free agency finally begins), Winsterswyk could certainly be an interesting project for Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta and company to consider.

WR Dane Sanzenbacher (Ohio State)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I08QqP7cE5A[/youtube]

I’ll say what you’re thinking…yes, there’s reason to compare Sanzenbacher to former Ravens receiver Brandon Stokley.

But there’s no guarantee that a Stokley-type receiver is what the Ravens need right now to complete their receiving corps.

The team will be looking for a downfield speed threat as WR Donte’ Stallworth (unrestricted free agent) may well depart following a season where he was unable to get into the mix offensively.

Sanzenbacher (5’11″, 182 pounds) could be the type to fill that role-but will initially be looked at as more of a possession receiver with a speed threat (4.48 40 at his Pro Day).

The Ravens will return two possession receivers at the top of their corps (Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason), meaning size and speed will be what they are most looking for in a receiver.

Should they address those issues by selecting a Jon Baldwin-type receiver early in the draft, Sanzenbacher could be an additional option on Saturday to further bolster Cameron’s offense.

QB Jerrod Johnson (Texas A&M)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7VFdi_WhLY[/youtube]

At 6’5″, 251 pounds; Johnson certainly has the LOOK of a NFL quarterback. At times during his career with the Aggies, he certainly showed off the skills necessary to be a NFL quarterback as well.

Unfortunately, his career in College Station ended with him on the bench due to a shoulder injury. Coach Mike Sherman’s staff lost faith in Johnson’s arm strength-and those questions have clearly lingered over his performance during Draft season.

Johnson has a unique mix of size and athleticism, and managed to throw for over 8,000 yards and 67 touchdowns before ending up on the bench. He had a particularly prolific junior season, completing 296 of 497 attempts for 3,579 yards with 30 TD’s and just eight interceptions.

Johnson could be particularly interesting on Saturday (or as an undrafted free agent) to Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz and a Ravens team that will be looking for depth behind Flacco but not for someone who would need to step in and play anytime soon barring emergency.

OT DeMarcus Love (Arkansas)

demarcuslove

Not only has the situation with OT Jared Gaither not been resolved, we’re absolutely no closer to having any true understanding of how the team’s tackle position might shake out.

The team could still decide to retain their former supplemental pick despite the injury issues that cost him the entire 2010 season. They could choose to allow the unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere and sign or draft another tackle. They could let Gaither depart and re-sign OL Marshal Yanda to play tackle. They could choose to elevate a Tony Moll or Oniel Cousins to the position.

Get the picture?

Love (6’4″, 315 pounds) could be an option for the Ravens at tackle or guard as the team considers how they’ll shape their O-Line opposite LT Michael Oher and LG Ben Grubbs.

Love certainly showed his ability to handle top rushers as an All-SEC performer for the Razorbacks; but struggled against top talent during Senior Bowl week in Mobile.

He’ll probably be a late Friday/early Saturday selection and will certainly be an interesting prospect for a Ravens team needing changes along the line.

Flexing my mic muscles since 1983…

-G

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Harvey Updyke Story Strikes at Nature of Rivalry in Sports

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Harvey Updyke Story Strikes at Nature of Rivalry in Sports

Posted on 17 February 2011 by Glenn Clark

There’s nothing in sports I enjoy more than rivalry.

I can honestly say that I became a sports fan growing up more because of the pageantry and tradition that I saw on display when I attended events than because of any of the athletic abilities I had the pleasure of witnessing.

As I’ve continued to follow sports both as a fan and analyst, there’s little I’ve enjoyed more than the nature of rivalry.

My father’s family has roots in Akron, Ohio. I fully understood growing up why Ohio State-Michigan was simply more important than any other game.

When Peyton Manning was at Tennessee, the youth minister at my church (David Robinson-now the minister at Community Christian Church in White Marsh) convinced me that nothing mattered more then when the Volunteers took on Florida. Given the results, maybe he shouldn’t have hyped these games up so much.

During the two years I was at KDUS in Phoenix, I dove fully into the Arizona-Arizona State “Territorial Cup” rivalry. I knew more about Chuck Cecil than any young man from Charm City would ever have a reason to.

But as someone who was born and lived in Baltimore for all but two of 27 years, there have been a few rivalries that have particularly stood out.

From 1995-1999, my life came to a halt whenever the Baltimore Orioles opened a series with the New York Yankees.

From 1999-2004, the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans stole my attention unlike any other National Football League contest could.

But since 1992, I learned the nature of what the word “rivalry” really meant by watching the Maryland Terrapins take on the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils.

I had no idea at the time that most sports fans worldwide really didn’t consider any of those games I was losing sleep over to truly be “rivalries.”

The reality is that the much truer forms of rivalry in the area were embodied by Calvert Hall & Loyola, City & Poly and Maryland & Johns Hopkins lacrosse.

As an adult who has made his living in the sports industry, I have found myself particularly interested in three very true forms of rivalry.

Every year I make the trip to see Army battle Navy in football, whether I have covered any other Midshipmen games that season at all. I’ve argued that the Army-Navy Game is the greatest institution in all of sports, and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise.

The hoops rivalry between Morgan State and Coppin State is of particular interest to me. My grandmother spent more than a decade as an English professor on Hillen Road, and I waited a long time in my life to see the resurgence of the Bears’ basketball program that Todd Bozeman has provided. That being said, I view Fang Mitchell as a pillar of this city’s sports community and someone who deserves the admiration and respect of anyone who calls this place home.

But clearly the rivalry that I am most involved with is the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens that many NFL pundits now believe is amongst the best the sport has to offer.

As the Ravens prepared to visit Heinz Field this January for their AFC Divisional Round playoff game, Drew Forrester and I tossed around a notion of “making a sacrifice” in hopes of seeing the Ravens get over the hump against their rivals from the Steel City. We agreed one day on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST that we would march with sandwich boards of gratitude at the Royal Farms on Providence Road in Towson should the Ravens be victorious.

We all know the outcome of January’s playoff game. Drew and I never made such a sacrifice.

During our week of Super Bowl XLV coverage from the Sheraton in Dallas, Texas; Drew, Nestor Aparicio and I found ourselves frustrated by the number of former Steelers who were parading around Radio Row and celebrating another AFC Championship, even if their team would go on to fail to claim a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy.

We often remarked, “this is what happens when the Ravens can’t beat the Steelers.”

As we thought about next year’s coverage of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, I asked a question that didn’t necessarily have an obvious answer.

“What could we do as a civic group to help the Ravens get past the Steelers this year.”

I’m well aware of how goofy that question sounds, but I was genuinely wondering if there was something we could do as a fanbase to lift the Ravens up. The public outcry regarding the return of Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

My question was dismissed, as we all know that it will be the players and coaches that will decide whether or not the Ravens can finally get past their AFC North rivals.

But in Alabama this week, a story has been made public regarding how one fan decided to take the “Iron Bowl” rivalry into his own hands.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Harvey Almorn Updyke, who was arrested for criminal mischief in connection to the poisoning of the famous “Toomer’s Corner” trees at Auburn. Toomer’s Corner is the traditional gathering spot for Tigers fans to celebrate a big win, as fans would cover the trees in toilet paper. You can see an example of such a celebration in this YouTube video following Auburn’s BCS Championship Game win over Oregon in January…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iso55KnPCXc[/youtube]

The Auburn-Alabama rivalry apparently meant so much to Updyke that he (allegedly) decided he needed to take things into his own hands.

Updyke is believed to have phoned into the Paul Finebaum radio show (Finebaum is a media mogul in SEC Country) January 27 under the name “Al from Dadesville” announcing he had taken herbicide to the trees. He ended his call by saying simply “Roll Damn Tide.”

Updyke has since claimed in court that he was not responsible for the poisoning of the trees.

The crime has been met with mixed reactions by Crimson Tide fans. Some have denounced the activity, but others have stood behind the action as a statement in the heated rivalry. In fact, National Football Post pointed out Thursday that “Free Harvey Updyke” t-shirts are now available

updyke

The entire situation is interesting to me. As someone who loves the nature of a rivalry, I can’t help but enjoy rivalry pranks. When the Army Cadets steal “Bill the Goat” from Annapolis, I find humor. When rival high schools paint logos on each others’ campus, I tend to believe the kids involved should be absolved from punishment.

But rivalry can certainly cross a line into a violent, unacceptable area. Just two weeks ago, a City-Edmondson game was stopped in the second half due to violence between rival fans in the Baltimore gymnasium.

That’s clearly unacceptable.

The Updyke case is interesting. The alleged actions are deemed as criminal, so they cannot possibly be passed off as “acceptable” or as part of the nature of a rivalry.

But I wonder how we would feel today if we were Alabama fans.

Listener John from Towson, Ozzie Newsome, Jarret Johnson and Le’Ron McClain are notable Baltimoreans who ARE Alabama fans. WJZ-TV’s Marty Bass has a daughter in Tuscaloosa himself.

I haven’t reached out to anyone in that group yet because that’s not necessarily the nature of the column.

The bigger question is whether or not we would support similar activity should it be based in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry.

As the Steel City is by no means aesthetically pleasing, it’s not necessarily a fair comparison.

But if there were a park…or a field…or a garden that Steelers fans revered, would we celebrate should it meet a demise at the hands of a Ravens fan?

I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but I’m not sure.

We’ve all seen the pictures of a Ravens fan urinating on the grave of former Baltimore Colts owner Bob Irsay in Indy. While I have stated that I would never support or participate in such actions, I also would be sympathetic in a response. Should someone have been arrested in connection to the pictures, I would probably be of the opinion that the guilty party deserved some form of leniency, as the nature of sports rivalry can sometimes lead to lewd, maybe even despicable behavior.

I don’t believe it’s necessarily okay for a Ravens fan to urinate on the grave of Robert Irsay, but I don’t believe there should be severe punishment for someone who did.

So if Baltimore had it’s own “Harvey Updyke”, I’m not sure how I would feel.

Would I see him as a renegade who committed a shameful act regardless of my overwhelming support for the Ravens and disdain for the Steelers?

Or would I see him as a folk hero of sorts, who didn’t hurt anyone but made a memorable statement in the history of a sports rivalry.

The rivalry between the Ravens and the Steelers will NEVER be as intense as the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama, so it might not be a fair comparison. But it’s an interesting discussion point nonetheless.

I’d like to think I would denounce the activity…but I can’t say for sure that I would.

-G

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A mistake on a pop quiz nearly ended former MD QB Josh Portis’ football career-now with a fresh start wants to finish this NFL test the right way

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A mistake on a pop quiz nearly ended former MD QB Josh Portis’ football career-now with a fresh start wants to finish this NFL test the right way

Posted on 17 February 2011 by Ryan Chell

Josh Portis

Josh Portis has traveled far and wide in his football playing days.

The Woodland Hills, California native was once one of the most highly touted, dual-threat prep quarterbacks in the nation, and appeared to be well on his way toward building up a decent pro resume in the NFL playing for the University of Florida and the Maryland Terrapins.

That was until his Division-I college career was derailed by coaching changes, transfers, and some bad decisions on his part.

Ultimately starting over though for Portis, while it may have appeared  to end his chances at making the NFL, it turned out to be a good decision on his part.

Portis joined Drew Forrester on “The Morning Reaction” this week to share his enthusiasm for being invited to next week’s NFL Rookie Combine in Indianapolis on July 24th.

“It’s great to work out with the best competition, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Portis told Forrester. “I’m excited, anxious, and I’m looking forward to playing in the NFL on Sunday.”

Portis-whose cousin, Clinton, is an All-Pro running back in the NFL having played for the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins- saw his career as a Gator fall apart due to the presence of one Tim Tebow in Gainesville, forcing a transfer to College Park as he became a Maryland Terp for three seasons.

But Portis saw the same problem occur at Maryland as he did at Florida, where he could not break the depth chart in 2008 due to Chris Turner stepping up as the starter for the Terps.

This was after missing all of 2006 sitting out because of the transfer to Maryland. And in 2007, things seemed to get even worse for Portis, as a small but dumb decision on his part at the time may have cost him at chances at playing football for good.

Portis was caught cheating on a pop quiz while enrolled at College Park, and ultimately suspended for the year for violating the school’s Honor Code policy.

“Everyone knows about it. At Maryland, when I was there, it was a ten-point pop quiz. I made a mistake, and happened to copy someone else’s answer. Everybody moves on, but the school decided to suspend me for the whole year, but not the NCAA.”

With a ten point quiz, everyone makes a mistake. Something major happened to me on my part, and I moved on from it.”

And he expects the NFL scouts at the Combine will also ask him about his mistakes at Maryland the same way Forrester asked him about it on “The Morning Reaction.”

And Portis knows that he has to face it head-on the same way he would face an opposing defensive lineman barreling down on him.

“I feel like if you’re just open and honest about off the field things, it will take care of itself,” Portis said.

And so far, since his departure from Maryland, he has been forthright about what happened. But in order to make the NFL, you have to prove that you can play football too.

But most schools wouldn’t take a flier on a guy jettisoned from two Division-I programs, let alone one that barely played. So instead, Portis had to eat “humble pie” and and try and make an impression on NFL scouts at the Division-II level.

Which is what he did.

Portis was ultimately  invited to the NFL Combine mostly because of his play for the two seasons at the University of California in Pennsylvania, a Division-II program.

In those two years as a Vulcan, he had 69 passing touchdowns, a Cal U record. His 6,072 career passing yards were good for fourth best in school history.

He becomes the first ever player from the school to be invited to the biggest step in the process of becoming an NFL player.

Portis was actually eligible to come out for the NFL Draft after his first season as a Vulcan, but stayed on for a second year to boost his draft status.

Doing so helped become  ranked as the second-best Division-II quarterback prospect trying to make an NFL squad.

“It’s been a journey,” Portis said. I went to Florida, Maryland, now I’m at Cal U. It’s been a difficult road, but I’m finally here. God has given me perseverance, and I continue to work hard and continue to live my dream.”

In reality, Portis said the competition was challenging at that “subdivision” of college football, and while it definitely wasn’t like playing in the ACC or the SEC, it still tested his skills.

“The competition obviously at the D-II level is a little bit lower,” Portis said.  ” The atmosphere may not be as big, but D-II is still some pretty good competition.”

And even before his invitation to next week’s NFL combine, he has already had his NFL-cousin, Clinton Portis, giving him advice on how best to direct his preparation toward making an NFL squad.

“I mean you guys have been around him when he was with Washington, you know he’s a straight forward guy,” Josh said of Clinton Portis. “You know, he definitely doesn’t play around with giving me advice. He’s just been telling me to stick it out and keep working, that my time will come. He’s been a great addition and help to me as I develop my career.”

Josh Portis said he hopes to have as long an NFL career as his cousin.

“Obviously he’s given me some confidence because he’s been at that level of play in the NFL for a long time..that level for a long time with the Redskins and the Broncos. He’s been there for nine years as a running back which is pretty good. He knows how to take care of his body how to be mentally prepared, and how to go out and get the job done on Sunday.”

Portis recently participated in the former NFL PA game, now known as the “Texas versus the Nation” game on February 5th showing off some of the NFL’s eventual rookie class prospects.

Portis was 7-of-17 for 80 yards, helping the Texas team beat the Nation, 13-7.

In the game, he got a lot of comparisons based on his play and physical attributes.

“Players were telling me, “Oh, you’re like another Mike Vick. Big, fast, strong arm, move out of the pocket, pocket awareness…but I want to be a quarterback who sits in the pocket for a little awhile and run when I need to. So I kind of see myself as a Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick late in his career.

“I’m like a Tom Brady and a Vince Young. The kind of QB who moves around and throws the ball first…Aaron Rodgers is another late in his career and he has won a Super Bowl. He’s not really an actual athletic quarterback, but he has some mobility around the pocket so he can make some throws.”

But maybe Portis’ biggest asset so far other than his physical skills?

His perseverance to keep going and rebounding after making some dumb decisions in his life.

“I mean, just not giving up on your dreams, keep working hard…God has a role for you at the end of the day. You just have to believe in him and you have to work and strive for your success.”

Glenn Clark will check Josh Portis out next week at the NFL Combine! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

And continue to follow all of Josh’s exploits at his website!


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Indy Calling: Workouts Continue As Draft Season Moves Toward Combine

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Indy Calling: Workouts Continue As Draft Season Moves Toward Combine

Posted on 16 February 2011 by Glenn Clark

If the NFL Draft is the “Super Bowl” of NFL Draft season, I believe next week’s trip to Indianapolis, Indiana for the NFL Scouting Combine would qualify as the end of the regular season.

After next week, the Draft season “playoffs” begin as players hold Pro Timing Days on college campuses and private workouts at National Football League facilities.

Before I continue, I remind you of the East West Shrine Game players, the NFLPA Game players, the Senior Bowl prospects and the rest of the Draft prospects we have already profiled.

QB-Ricky Dobbs (Navy), Pat Devlin (Delaware), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Josh Portis (California-Pennsylvania), Taylor Potts (Texas Tech), Christian Ponder (Florida State)
FB
-Anthony Sherman (UConn)
RB
-Evan Royster (Penn State), Da’Rel Scott (Maryland), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), Damien Berry (Miami), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Roy Helu Jr. (Nebraska), Alex Green (Hawaii)
WR
-Lester Jean (Florida Atlantic), Terrence Toliver (LSU), Leonard Hankerson (Miami), Austin Pettis (Boise State), Denarius Moore (Tennessee), Owen Spencer (North Carolina State), Jock Sanders (West Virginia), Titus Young (Boise State), Vincent Brown (San Diego State), Ryan Whalen (Stanford)
TE-Will Yeatman (Maryland)
OT
-Matthew O’Donnell (Queens University Canada), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Nate Solder (Colorado)
C-Zane Taylor (Utah)
DE
-Justin Trattou (Florida), Allen Bailey (Miami), Eddie Jones (Texas), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue)
LB
-Mark Herzlich (Boston College), Casey Matthews (Oregon), Adrian Moten (Maryland)
S
-Jermale Hines (Ohio State), Jaiquawn Jarrett (Temple), Maurice Rolle (Louisiana-Lafayette)
CB-Anthony Gaitor (Florida International)

The Baltimore Ravens made some personnel changes this week, adding CB Marcus Paschal and WR Brandon Jones. Both of those players are little more than guys who are getting Training Camp tryouts.

The team placed the franchise tag on DT Haloti Ngata ensuring his return for at least the 2011 season (if there is one). They also worked out free agent DC Reynaldo Hill.

Despite all of that, my team needs remain the same…

1. Defensive End
2. Offensive Tackle
3. Wide Receiver
4. Cornerback
5. Fullback
6. Inside Linebacker
7. Safety
8. Center
9. Running Back
10. Quarterback

Here are ten more prospects to keep an eye on as we move towards the Combine.

Thanks to CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com, NFLDraftBible.com, WNST.net (The AP), ESPN.com, Wikipedia, YouTube and various official athletic websites for helping to put together the profiles.

CB Aaron Williams (Texas)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5oUaOLG-yE[/youtube]

Our buddy Scott Wright from DraftCountdown.com had the Ravens selecting the 6’1″ junior Longhorns DB at 26th a week ago. (He’s since switched to Colorado CB Jimmy Smith.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the mock, but I definitely wouldn’t be up in arms if Williams was the pick.

Williams has one unique advantage as a 6’1″ corner-the advantage of being two or three inches taller than any corner on the Ravens’ roster (not named Cary Williams).

Williams is best known for the sack that ended the career of then Oklahoma (and now St. Louis Rams) QB Sam Bradford. Unfortunately his senior season might have been most remembered for a TD he gave up to Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon. Blackmon burned a few folks during the 2010 season to be fair.

But Williams was very good for the better part of his three seasons in Austin. He finished his career with 89 tackles, five forced fumbles and four interceptions-including one he returned for a TD.

There’s a good chance he’s on the board at 26. He definitely won’t reach to the team’s pick in the second round. They could possibly trade back and get him-but with question marks surrounding CB’s Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington in free agency-GM Ozzie Newsome and company might not be able to take that chance.

WR Torrey Smith (Maryland)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A_6n_eoI2o[/youtube]

I know what you’re thinking.

“How could I possibly not know everything there is to know about Torrey Smith? I listen to him every Tuesday at 12:30 with Thyrl Nelson on “The Mobtown Sports Beat” on AM1570 WNST!”

While I INDEED suggest checking out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault at WNST.net to hear more from the former Terrapins star, I figured I might pass along a little more information as well.

Smith may ultimately go down as a player who would have been better off sticking around for one more year to make himself a first round pick, but there’s also a chance he’ll be a player whose Draft season alone makes him a first round pick.

Smith will run one of the more important 40 yard dashes at LucasOil Stadium next week, where is expected to post a sub-4.40 time. The only thing working against him will be the fact that fellow former Terps WR Darrius Heyward-Bey lit the Combine on fire two years ago but has disappointed since being selected in the Top 10 by the Oakland Raiders.

Smith wouldn’t address a size need for the Ravens (he’s 6’1″), but he would certainly address a speed need-which Donte’ Stallworth was unable to do during his season in Charm City.

Smith saved his best for last in College Park, grabbing 67 catches for 1,055 yards and 12 TD’s. The only disappointment for Smith in 2010 was his return game, as he tallied just 585 return yards after combining for 2,498 yards and 3 return TD’s between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

While Lardarius Webb and David Reed each came on at the end of the season in their respective return roles, it’s safe to say neither have particularly locked their roles down.

Smith could offer a lot to the Ravens. 26th might be a stretch as of now, but as he rises in Draft season it could very well be the exact spot where he ends up. Before they pull the plug, they’ll probably want to encourage Smith to improve some of the company he keeps…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apWJYZNRyQA[/youtube]

OT Anthony Costanzo (Boston College)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqJrjwjf55c[/youtube]

At this point, it seems unlikely that the Eagles’ 6’7″, 308 pound monster will be around when the Ravens are on the clock at 26.

But with the Jared Gaither situation still very much up in the air and question marks surrounding Michael Oher’s long-term stability at LT; it might be a good decision for Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz and company to make a move for a player of Costanzo’s stature.

Costanzo had a remarkable career in Chestnut Hill, having been a starter for four seasons. He was the first true freshman to start on the O-Line for BC in ten years during the 2007 season-which we remember as the year Matt Ryan was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

Costanzo had a big week in Mobile, showing off his quick feet and long arms. More impressive (according to Rob Rang of CBSSports.com) was his frame, as he displayed a muscular torso despite his mammoth size.

He’s not quite (Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl OT) Joe Thomas as a prospect-but he’s really good. There’s a chance he could become Joe Thomas at the next level.

DE Brooks Reed (Arizona)

brooksreed

There has been plenty of attention given during Draft season to Wildcats DE Ricky Elmore, but Reed is certainly deserving of note himself.

Reed boasts an impressive 6’3″, 262 pound frame and tallied 17 sacks during his career in Tucson. There has been discussion of whether or not he can be and end at the next level or if he’s going to end up being a stand-up guy.

With the Ravens very obviously needing End help, he would have much more potential value to Chuck Pagano’s defense as an end than an OLB. The question is whether or not he can provide a consistent rush from the end position, and we don’t quite know the answer to that.

Reed has plenty of athleticism, having played RB as well as DE in high school. It doesn’t guarantee he’ll be a great athlete at the NFL level, but it certainly speaks to his versatility.

WR Randall Cobb (Kentucky)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i09R28AWgFU[/youtube]

It is REALLY hard to figure out how valuable the former Wildcats star will be at the next level.

During three seasons in Lexington, Cobb played quarterback, running back, receiver and returner. Between the four positions, he was responsible for 42 total touchdowns over those three seasons.

As a more natural receiver in 2010, Cobb was very impressive. He grabbed 84 catches for 1,017 yards and seven TD’s. But it’s hard to figure out if Cobb can make a seamless transition to being a natural receiver at the NFL level.

With a 5’11″ frame, Cobb is going to have to be FAST to really be a dynamic threat in the NFL. At a Pro Timing Day last season, he ran just a 4.55 in the 40 yard dash. Scouts will need to see a time better than that in Indiana next week.

Cobb’s 40 time could be the difference in going as high as the first round or as low as the fourth round. It seems as though 26th would be a stretch for a team like the Ravens, as Cobb probably has to be viewed as a “project” for folks like Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta.

But if Cobb ends up slipping, a project might not be a bad addition to the team’s receiving corps; as long as they further address the need to compliment Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason with a true top target.

OT Joseph Barksdale (LSU)

barksdale

After moving from Right to Left Tackle between his junior and senior seasons, Barksdale has seen his draft stock continue to rise.

The 6’6″, 318 pound big man made the move to the left side for the 2010 season after Ciron Black graduated. The move appears to have paid off, as Barksdale is currently projected amongst the top 10 tackles available in the Draft. He’s not in the Thursday or Friday night conversation as of right now, but he could be moving in that direction as Draft season continues.

Barksdale claimed second team All-SEC honors during his senior campaign in Baton Rouge, helping the Tigers finish 4th in the conference in rushing. He tallied 49 knockdowns at the most important position on the line.

Head Coach John Harbaugh has said he wants OL Marshal Yanda to return to RG (if he returns to the team as a free agent). To do that, the team has to get a player to complement Oher and solidify the tackle position. As the Draft progresses to Friday night/Saturday, Barksdale will be a more attractive option for new O-Line coach Andy Moeller.

RB Shane Vereen (California)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNKfztfmFWE[/youtube]

The Ravens will be looking for a back to compliment Ray Rice should Willis McGahee (as many of us are expecting) be let go. Vereen might very well be a solid option.

Vereen isn’t a big back, but his 5’10″ (205 pound) frame was big enough to allow him to carry the ball 15 or more times in nine of the Golden Bears’ 12 games in 2010. Vereen finished the year with a 5.1 yard per carry average, adding 13 TD’s.

Vereen finished his three year career in Berkeley having rushed 556 times for 2,834 yards and 29 TD’s. He added 874 receiving yards and six receiving TD’s over the three seasons. His numbers (and build) are similar to fellow former Bears back Marshawn Lynch.

Vereen could play his way up the board during Draft season, but without having participated in a College All-Star Game as an early entry his only Draft season statement thus far was an appearance on ESPN2′s All-Star Football Challenge. He’s probably a late Friday night pick right now, which could be the perfect spot for the Ravens to plug him into Cam Cameron’s offense.

DE Cliff Matthews (South Carolina)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajnVMrltDc4[/youtube]

Much like Arizona’s Reed, the Ravens are going to have to determine if Matthews can be a true rush end at the NFL level.

He certainly did a solid job in the role during his four years in Columbia, tallying 13 sacks between his junior and senior seasons. Matthews finished his Gamecocks career with 142 total tackles from the edge.

The Ravens haven’t found a true rush end since the demise (and ultimate departure) of Trevor Pryce. They rotated Ngata, Paul Kruger and even Cory Redding on the edge last season, with none of them settling into the role.

Matthews would certainly bring an impressive frame (6’4″, 268 pounds) to anchor the line, as well as a fairly high motor (expected to run the 40 in the 4.7′s range). He often went against premiere O-Linemen in the SEC (including Barksdale above) and had success.

Early in Draft season, Matthews is a Saturday pick-probably in the 4th-5th round range. It would make sense for the team to draft an end earlier in the weekend, but Matthews could certainly end up being an additional insurance policy.

CB Jalil Brown (Colorado)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84WC_f_3Ip4[/youtube]

While more attention is given to his Buffaloes teammate Smith, Brown certainly has the tools to play at the next level.

Brown (6’0″) isn’t quite as tall as Smith (6’2″), but his size does separate him from other corners in the draft-as well as the corners on the Ravens’ roster. Only Cary Williams (6’1″) from last year’s roster is taller than Brown, although Paschal is also 6’0″. The Ravens’ top corners under contract (Domonique Foxworth and Lardarius Webb) are 5’11″ and 5’10″ respectively.

Brown had a solid career in Boulder, finishing with six interceptions over his final three seasons. His performance was good enough to pick up All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors. There may be some concern for NFL scouts due to a shoulder surgery between his junior and senior seasons-but it did not appear to affect him during his senior campaign.

Brown’s 40 time in Indianapolis will go a long way in determining where he will be picked. If he stays in the range of 4.5, he’ll probably be an early Saturday pick. If he cuts under 4.5, he’ll have a chance to be picked Friday night. If he ends up posting a number over 4.5, he’ll be in danger of sliding to late Saturday.

The former Buffs corner has a unique connection to the Ravens. He set an Arizona High School record by once running for 412 yards in a game at South Mountain High School. The player who previously held the record? Ravens LB Terrell Suggs.

S Rahim Moore (UCLA)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im2SZjMaO2A[/youtube]

With Ed Reed’s future almost always in jeopardy and Dawan Landry a free agent, the safety position will have to be addressed by the Ravens in the offseason.

Moore exploded on the Pac 10 scene in 2009, recording 10 interceptions for the Bruins. He tallied just one interception as a junior however before leaving Los Angeles early for the Draft.

While his interception numbers were down in 2010, his tackle numbers increased greatly. He tallied 77 tackles, up from 45 as a sophomore.

Moore has an impressive build (6’1″, 197 pounds) and can work his way up the Draft board by going under 4.5 when he runs the 40 yard dash at the Combine.

He looks like a Friday night pick as of right now. The Ravens could do well to pick him in the second round.

Flexing my mic muscles since 1983…

-G

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Former Maryland OC and current Vanderbilt coach James Franklin to WNST and Terps Nation: I didn’t want to walk away”

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Former Maryland OC and current Vanderbilt coach James Franklin to WNST and Terps Nation: I didn’t want to walk away”

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Ryan Chell

James Franklin
Former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin meant a lot to the University of Maryland, especially this year in the Terps’  8-4 campaign helping springboard his coach in Ralph Friedgen to ACC Coach of the Year and his quarterback Danny O’Brien to ACC Rookie of the Year for 2010.

His work this season was also enough to garner attention on the national stage, as Franklin-at one point named the coach-in-waiting at College Park-was hired as the Vanderbilt Head Coach last week, the 27th man to do so in the Commodores history.

Franklin joined Thyrl Nelson and Glenn Clark on “The Mobtown Sports Beat” as an opportunity to not only wish the best for the fans cheering him on in Maryland, but to explain how hard his decision to leave an organization he has been a part of for so long in Maryland to take the head coaching position at Vanderbilt.

“I wanted an opportunity to be a head coach and I wanted to have an opportunity to do it at a great school with a great history, great tradition, and one that was in the best conferences in America,” Franklin told Nelson and Clark. “I really had narrowed it down to specific schools, but when I got the call and got a chance to talk to the people here-and in my mind that’s what it’s all about anywhere-it’s about the people.”

The school was won over by Franklin’s interview-he used the same skills in recruiting players to execute Ralph Friedgen’s offense to impress Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos and Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics David Williams II.

“The hiring of Coach Franklin represents a new day for Vanderbilt football,” Zeppos said in a press release. “He has my full support and commitment that we will help him create an environment where the successes on the field equal the university’s extraordinary successes off the field. Coach Franklin will have an immediate and positive impact on our students, alumni, faculty, staff and broader Vanderbilt community, and I welcome him to Vanderbilt.”

Ultimately though, Franklin admitted that the school won him over from the spot more than some other high-profile jobs out there that Franklin could have had.

“When I got a chance to sit down and talk to the Chancellor…and he was totally committed to winning at the highest level here.”

I just saw a tremendous commitment to excellence in everything we do, and it was an unbelievable opportunity,” he said. ” To me, it’s not about looking around country and say what jobs would I like, it came down to the people that are on those campuses and the opportunities presented to you.”

Vanderbilt will look to the offensive-minded Franklin to turn around a Commodores team that finished 2-10, and 1-7 in the tough SEC conference.

The school was looking to find a candidate who could supplant themselves as an institution at Vanderbilt-one that could bring stability to a struggling program.

“They’ve been so supportive, and they understand where we’re at, and I think after us sitting down and talking, they know where were going. They’re in this for the long haul, and they want to do this the right way. They want to build something that’s going to be built to last. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

“And they’ve been committed to that from the first time I’ve talked to them. But we have to keep improving, just like we did at Maryland this year. We got better every single game throughout the season, and if we do that, we’ll take that same approach here at Vanderbilt.”

In July, Bobby Johnson stepped down as coach of the program after 8 seasons on the Commodore sidelines, but he finished with a 29-66 record during his time in Nashville. Robbie Caldwell took over for Johnson and led the team this year with the interim title attached to his name, and he resigned after the season was completed.

Franklin-who is the school’s first ever minority candidate-brings with him an impressive resume to the SEC school. Franklin, 38, has been in the coaching ranks since 1995 both at the college and professional levels.

His first big stop at the college level came in 1998 when the was a graduate assistant to Mike Price at Washington State, followed by a stop at Idaho State as their receivers coach the following season.

He came to College Park in 2000 and a little less than a season in, the Terps head coach at the time-Ron Vanderlinden -was relieved of his duties and replaced by(continued…)

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Holiday Fun: Fantasy College Football Bracketology

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Holiday Fun: Fantasy College Football Bracketology

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Glenn Clark

It’s Holiday season. Let’s have a little fun today.

Like every other red-blooded American, I’m no fan of College Football’s BCS system. In fact, I believe the approval rating for the BCS actually just somehow dropped lower than Barack Obama’s.

The best playoff proposal I’ve ever heard for a NCAA Tournament at the FBS level is a 16 team format that includes all conference champions getting automatic bids. I don’t know who to credit with coming up with the idea, so I won’t bother. The idea is that you include all conference champions, then fill out the other remaining seeds via final BCS rankings.

Were a tournament in place this year, these teams would be automatic qualifiers:

Auburn (SEC)
Oregon (Pac 10)
TCU (MWC)
Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Oklahoma (Big 12)
Boise State* (WAC)
Virginia Tech (ACC)
UConn (Big East)
Central Florida (Conference USA)
Miami (Ohio) (MAC)
Florida International (Sun Belt)

*Technically Nevada won the WAC’s tiebreaker system, as they and BSU finished with better overall records than Hawaii; but they beat the Broncos head to head. However, this tournament would adapt the rules that all conferences determine non head-to-head tiebreakers by BCS standings; which is a system already in place in the Big Ten. Thus, Boise State qualifies.

and the following teams would be at-large qualifiers…

Stanford
Ohio State
Arkansas
Michigan State
LSU

Therefore setting up a 16 team tournament that would look something like this…

(1)Auburn (SEC)
Game 1 Details
(16)Florida International (Sun Belt)
(2)Oregon
Game 5 Details
(15)Miami (Ohio) (MAC)
Winner of 1
Game 9 Details
Winner of 2
Winner of 5
Game 11 Details
Winner of 6
Winner of 9
Game 13 Details
Winner of 10
Winner of 13
Game 15 Details
Winner of 14
Winner of 11
Game 14 Details
Winner of 12
(8)Arkansas
Game 2 Details
(9)Michigan State
(7)Oklahoma
Game 6 Details
(10)LSU
(4)Stanford
Game 3 Details
(13)UConn (Big East)
(3)TCU (Mountain West)
Game 7 Details
(14)Central Florida (Conference USA)
Winner of 3
Game 10 Details
Winner of 4
Winner of 7
Game 12 Details
Winner of 8
(5)Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Game 4 Details
(12)Virginia Tech (ACC)
(6)Ohio State
Game 8 Details
(11)Boise State (WAC)

Pretty good looking Tournament, huh? Games could start next weekend after finals, with the Championship Game being played somewhere around Martin Luther King Day. It would be only about a week longer than the season is right now.

So here’s your chance to fill out the bracket. Thanks to Bracketmaker.com, you can click HERE and decide how you think it would play out. OR you could leave your thoughts here in the comments.

Me personally, I still have Cam Newton and the Tigers beating the Ducks in the title game out in Glendale…

(1)Auburn (SEC)
Game 1 Details
(16)Florida International (Sun Belt)
(2)Oregon (Pac 10)
Game 5 Details
(15)Miami-Ohio (MAC)
Auburn (SEC)
Game 9 Details
Arkansas
Oregon (Pac 10)
Game 11 Details
LSU
Auburn (SEC)
Game 13 Details
Virginia Tech (ACC)
Auburn (SEC)
Game 15 Details
Oregon (Pac 10)
Oregon (Pac 10)
Game 14 Details
Ohio State
(8)Arkansas
Game 2 Details
(9)Michigan State
(7)Oklahoma (Big 12)
Game 6 Details
(10)LSU
(4)Stanford
Game 3 Details
(13)UConn (Big East)
(3)TCU (Mountain West)
Game 7 Details
(14)Central Florida (Conference USA)
Stanford
Game 10 Details
Virginia Tech (ACC)
TCU (Mountain West)
Game 12 Details
Ohio State
(5)Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Game 4 Details
(12)Virginia Tech (ACC)
(6)Ohio State
Game 8 Details
(11)Boise State (WAC)

(Editor’s note: In my tournament theory, teams are slotted to bowl games as they are eliminated. It isn’t a PERFECT theory, but we’re comparing it to the BCS. The BCS is TERRIBLE. This is better.)

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 04: Quarterback Cam Newton  of the Auburn Tigers celebrates with the crowd after the 2010 SEC Championship against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Tigers beat the Gamecocks 56-17. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Your thoughts? Have fun with this today…

-G

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Franklin’s departure significant to future of Maryland football

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Franklin’s departure significant to future of Maryland football

Posted on 14 December 2010 by Luke Jones

The report of offensive coordinator James Franklin accepting an offer to become the head coach at Vanderbilt provides conflicting feelings if you’re a supporter of Maryland football.

On one hand, the coach-in-waiting was the program’s heavyweight recruiter, a charismatic 38-year-old who can make the connections with young football players that current head coach Ralph Friedgen cannot at the age of 63. Franklin was entrusted to revitalize recruiting after the program plateaued — or regressed — in recent years after Friedgen’s success at the beginning of his 10-season tenure.

Following a 2-10 season in 2009 when it looked like the futures of both Friedgen and Franklin were in doubt, it was redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien — heavily recruited out of Kernersville, N.C. by the offensive coordinator — who stabilized the quarterback position and led the Terps to an improbable 8-4 season and trip to the Military Bowl against East Carolina on December 29. It likely saved the jobs of both men as new athletic director Kevin Anderson was settling into the job formerly held by Debbie Yow, who orchestrated the coach-in-waiting agreement nearly two years ago.

And here is where feelings begin to conflict regarding Franklin’s departure for the Commodores and the SEC.

That coach-in-waiting designation included a $1 million bonus for Franklin had he not been named head coach by Jan. 2, 2012. At the time, Yow viewed it as a necessary measure to insure the program would not lose its young figurehead of the future after an aging Friedgen would retire from his alma mater.

However, for a program struggling to sell tickets and operating on a shoestring budget in relation to its ACC counterparts, the agreement began looking more like a brick wall than an insurance policy as the Terps struggled through that disastrous 2009 campaign. As much as many fans don’t want to hear it, money was the biggest factor in the decision to retain both Friedgen and Franklin for the 2010 season.

Whether you’re an affluent program or not, $1 million is a lot of money to pay someone not to become your head coach, not to mention the two years of salary each coach was owed at the time.

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Fast-forward to the present, and the Terps appear to be in better shape on the field after a six-game turnaround and pending “trip” (the game’s being played in Washington, D.C., after all) to a bowl game. Maryland announced last month that Friedgen would return in 2011, and now the head coach seeks a contract extension beyond next year.

It’s a tough decision that looms for the new athletic director, the man left to deal with a precarious situation in his first few months in College Park. Anderson publicly expressed his disdain for coach-in-waiting agreements back in October, not an indictment of Franklin at the time but not exactly a ringing endorsement either.

The sheer fact that Franklin was willing to take the Vanderbilt job in the cutthroat nature of the SEC speaks volumes about where he thought he stood at Maryland in regards to his future as the potential head coach. If Franklin thought it was tough getting recruits to come to College Park, he’ll have a difficult time persuading top players to join a program that’s played in two bowl games in the last 36 years to get their brains beaten in by the college football royalty that exists in the SEC annually.

The writing was on the wall for the young coach. If the Terps would flourish again, Anderson would have little choice but to offer Friedgen some type of extension, leaving Franklin $1 million richer, but with no guarantee of a head job elsewhere.

If Maryland were to fall on hard times again, Franklin likely would have found himself unemployed (along with Friedgen) and no longer in a position to pursue a top gig, even with a fatter wallet.

Through it all, the new athletic director remains the wild card of Maryland football, with no one knowing exactly what Anderon has in mind for the future.

It was a gamble that Franklin, apparently, was not willing to take with the current opportunity to become a head coach elsewhere.

With the $1 million coach-in-waiting clause no longer a factor, Friedgen might now feel he’s in a better position to coach beyond the 2011 season, even though he no longer possesses his top recruiter and offensive coordinator. Or Anderson may view the veteran coach as the only obstacle blocking a fresh start for a program that’s fallen on hard times after a brief renaissance early in the Friedgen era, this year notwithstanding.

Franklin’s departure will certainly impact recruiting and the offensive product on the field, but it also creates the financial flexibility for Anderson to wipe the slate clean and start anew should he decide Friedgen is not his man beyond the 2011 season.

Whatever the case, its impact on the future of Maryland football cannot be argued.

Time will only tell whether it pays off for the parties involved.

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A Tale of Two Johns: Like Cooper Had to Beat Michigan, Harbaugh Has to Beat Steelers

Posted on 08 December 2010 by Glenn Clark

2-5 isn’t quite 2-10-1.

That being said, 2-5 might not be a totally fair representation.

Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh has learned a tough lesson this week following his team’s heartbreaking 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.

In Baltimore-much like in Columbus, Ohio-fans simply won’t accept rivalry losses.

John Cooper was a tremendous college football coach. During a head coaching career at Tulsa, Arizona State, and Ohio State that spanned from 1977-2000; Cooper posted a 192-84-6 record and tallied nine conference championships.

Cooper was the head coach of the Buckeyes from 1988-2000. He went 111-43-4 during that span, claiming three Big Ten titles. Cooper guided the Buckeyes to bowl appearances in 11 of his 13 seasons and finished with a losing record only once-his first season in Columbus. Cooper counted wins in both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl during his time as the Buckeyes’ head man, and played in bowl games on New Year’s Day or later an impressive nine times.

Cooper had incredible success as the Head Coach at Ohio State. The type of success that might have earned him the right to determine his own fate. “Might have” if not for one glaring problem.

2-10-1.

As head man in Columbus, Cooper’s Buckeyes posted just a 2-10-1 record against the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State’s biggest rival.

It wasn’t just that Cooper’s teams struggled in their regular season finale against the opponent alumni and fans despised the most. The bigger problem was that Ohio State’s battles with Michigan regularly determined the final outcome for the Buckeyes’ season.

In 1993, Ohio State entered the Michigan game with a 9-0-1 record, but a 28-0 loss in Ann Arbor cost them an outright conference title. In 1995, Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George lead the Buckeyes back to Ann Arbor with an undefeated record and national title dreams. After a 31-23 defeat, the Buckeyes were sent to the Citrus Bowl instead.

1996 provided the greatest heartbreak for the Buckeyes in the John Cooper era, as they entered the Michigan game again undefeated and ranked #2 in the country. The Buckeyes had a 9-0 lead at halftime against Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines, but ultimately fell 13-9 at home.

OSU would eventually win another game against Michigan under Cooper in 1998, but they never posted back to back wins in the series under his guide. Cooper was fired following an 8-4 campaign in 2000. While academic and off-field troubles surrounding the program played a role in his firing, his record against Michigan ultimately played a major role.

In fact, when new coach Jim Tressel took over in Columbus he made a point to put special emphasis on the Michigan rivalry. After the former Youngstown State head coach was hired by the Buckeyes, he made a memorable halftime speech at a Ohio State-Michigan basketball game, according to ESPN.com…

“I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field.”

Following Sunday’s loss, Harbaugh now holds a 2-5 record against the Ravens’ heated AFC North rivals, including the 2009 AFC Championship Game.

(Every Ravens fan knows that both of Harbaugh’s wins in the rivalry came in games where Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was not on the field. That’s why the 2-5 record may not be such a fair representation.)

In 2008, Harbaugh’s second loss to the Steelers cost the Ravens a shot at the division title and forced them to hit the road in the playoffs. After a hard fought divisional round win over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, the Ravens appeared flat when they hit the field for the conference title game at Heinz Field. Harbaugh’s third loss to the Steelers cost the Ravens a trip to Tampa Bay to face the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

(Harbaugh’s first loss to the Steelers-a Week 4 Monday Night Football defeat early in 2008-was also a loss that could have earned the Ravens home field advantage had they won the game. Week 4 losses just don’t tend to be quite as agonizing as losses in Week 15.)

Harbaugh’s fourth loss to the Steelers wasn’t quite as crushing. Despite losing in the Steel City in late 2009, the Ravens held on to earn a Wild Card playoff berth via a tiebreaker after the teams finished with matching 9-7 records.

Harbaugh’s fifth loss in the series shapes up to be as crushing if not more than any of the others. Had the Ravens held on for a Week 13 win over the Steelers, they would have controlled their own destiny (and actually held a one game margin of error) to win the division, receive a first round bye and host a playoff game in the divisional round.

The Ravens were a home win over the Steelers away from having a significantly clearer path to Dallas and a chance to again play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy this season.

We know now that the path isn’t so clear.

Had Sunday’s loss been to the Cincinnati Bengals or Cleveland Browns, it would have been difficult for fans to stomach. Sunday’s loss was particularly costly, and it would have left a dark cloud hanging over Charm City no matter who the opponent had been.

Yet because it was a rivalry loss, because it was the Steelers, there is simply no doubt that the black cloud left by the defeat remains darker than anything that came from fires on The Block or in Mt. Vernon.

(As an aside, does anyone see symbolism in the fact that the city has dealt with multiple REAL black clouds after a Steelers loss?)

The fact is, this fanbase CANNOT stomach losses to the Steelers, especially not losses of such magnitude. Losses hurt, but losses to the Steelers are absolute gut punches.

As Drew Forrester and I opined last week on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST, this city doesn’t look at a Ravens loss to the Steelers as a NFL loss. The city tends to look at such losses as a loss to the city of Pittsburgh in general. There’s a natural feeling that it wasn’t a football team that won on Sunday night, but instead the entire Western Pennsylvania area.

It leads to frustration, pain and anger. As I wrote immediately following Sunday night’s game, the ability for fans to be rational goes completely out the window after a loss to the Steelers.

Harbaugh found that out Tuesday night during his radio show on WBAL.

A caller to the show questioned Harbaugh on the job status of DL Coach Clarence Brooks, one of the more respected assistants on the Ravens’ staff.

Harbaugh didn’t handle the question well, chiming back “Clarence Brooks does a great job. We will fight our tails off. If that’s not enough, then find another team to root for” according to the National Football Post.

It wasn’t the only time Harbaugh lost his cool during the show. Again according to NFP, Harbaugh also explained at one point: “if you’re not proud of this football team, then you don’t know football.”

Harbaugh probably didn’t handle the questions the best way he could have. There’s no doubt that his frustration reflected poorly with the fans who were listening, even if his answers were fair.

But the problem wasn’t the response. The problem was the result.

Ravens fans are NEVER going to be accepting of losses to the Steelers.

When the Ravens lose to the Steelers, the fanbase is going to respond poorly. This won’t be the last time a John Harbaugh-coached Ravens team plays the Steelers with major AFC North or overall playoff ramifications. In fact, the majority of the games the two teams will play against each other will be played with a lot on the line.

While college football and the NFL aren’t similar in many ways, this is an area where the rivalry is much like Ohio State-Michigan.

It isn’t just a rivalry because the two teams (or fanbases) don’t like each other. Ole Miss and Mississippi State don’t like each other, but their games rarely mean much of anything in the SEC. Ravens-Steelers games regularly mean a lot in the AFC.

The comparison is something John Harbaugh should really understand. John went to Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. His father (Jack Harbaugh) was an assistant under Bo Schembechler at Michigan. His brother (Jim Harbaugh) was a quarterback for the Maize and Blue. (Jim’s teams were 3-1 against Ohio State.) Ohio State-Michigan is in John Harbaugh’s blood.

In that way, Harbaugh probably understands well what happened to Cooper at Ohio State. Hopefully that understanding can be transcendent.

If John Harbaugh is going to succeed as the Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens, he is going to HAVE to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There’s just no getting around that.

Harbaugh is not in jeopardy of being run out of town like Cooper was at Ohio State.

I repeat, Harbaugh’s job is NOT in jeopardy. Certainly not at this point anyway.

But if he’s going to succeed here long-term, he’s going to HAVE to beat the Steelers. If not, a few annoying calls to a radio show will turn into general discontent, and eventually a much more vitriolic fanbase.

That’s what happened to Cooper in Columbus.

Harbaugh doesn’t have to win EVERY game against the Steelers. Since taking over at Ohio State, Tressel has gone 9-1 against the rival Wolverines, which isn’t a realistic expectation for Harbaugh against the Steelers.

But he has to start winning SOME meaningful games against the Steelers, or the Ravens won’t accomplish the things they need to for Harbaugh to be successful as a Head Coach.

And if 2-5 is a pace that continues for Harbaugh against the Steelers, Harbaugh’s story will likely have a similar ending as Cooper’s.

-G

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