Hall of Fame Class of 2009 to be Announced

 

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Taking It to the House’s Editor Lloyd Vance tries to predict who will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009.  The announcement will be made Saturday in Tampa.

Super Bowl XLIII is right around the corner as the Steelers and Cardinals are ready to do battle.  But one of the bigger events of Super Bowl week is almost upon us, as the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009 will be announced on Saturday, January 31st.  Being a historian of the game, I absolutely love the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions each July, but each year when the classes are announced at the Super Bowl the controversy soon follows.

No matter the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s fraternity will grow beyond it’s current 247 members as at least four and up to six worthy players will be selected to the PHOF from list of 17 finalists.

The finalists include:

WR Cris Carter – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins

Center Dermontti Dawson – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

DE Richard Dent – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles

G Russ Grimm – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins

WR Bob Hayes – 1965-1974 Dallas Cowboys, 1975 San Francisco 49ers

DE Claude Humphrey – 1968-1978 Atlanta Falcons, 1979-1981 Philadelphia Eagles

DT Cortez Kennedy – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

G Bob Kuechenberg – 1970-1984 Miami Dolphins

G Randall McDaniel  – 1988-1999 Minnesota Vikings, 2000-01 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DT John Randle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks

WR Andre Reed – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins

TE Shannon Sharpe – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

DE Bruce Smith – Defensive End – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000-03 Washington Redskins

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue – 1989-2006

LB Derrick Thomas – 1989-1999 Kansas City Chiefs

Team Founder/Owner Ralph Wilson –  1960-Present Buffalo Bills

CB/S Rod Woodson – 1987-1996 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers, 1998-2001 Baltimore Ravens, 2002-03 Oakland Raiders

Alright here is my best guess at predicting whom will join the greatest sports fraternity of them all in my opinion.  To me all of the candidates are worthy and I believe that there even might be a couple of other guys missing from the list — checkout my Top 10 list of players deserving to be in the Hall of Fame for some of the players that I felt should be in Canton.  It will be interesting to see whom my fellow PFWA members vote-in when they get in the room.

1. Shannon Sharpe – This is a no-brainer as this former lanky too slow receiver from Savannah State, who became one of the greatest tight ends ever, deserves to get into the Hall of Fame.  I know the loquacious Sharpe, who now works as a CBS analyst, can plead his own case for the Hall.  But his resume really speaks volumes with his 815 career receptions for 10,060 receiving yards and 62 touchdowns, which all were NFL career records for tight ends at the time of his retirement 5 years ago. The man longer known simply as Sterling’s little brother had a career that included 8 Pro Bowls, 3 Super Bowls rings (two Broncos and one with the Ravens) and 5 selections All-Pro.  Move over Mike Ditka and John Mackey as a new tight end joins your ranks.

2. “Bullet” Bob Hayes – The veterans committee got this pick right as a player that revolutionized the game in terms of speed gets into the Hall of Fame.  Hayes was an amazing receiver that brought world-class speed to the NFL (Gold Medalist in 100 meters and 4X100 relay in 1964).  Hayes won a ring with the Cowboys in 1971 and had 7,414 receiving yards with an amazing average of 20 yards per catch in an era when running the football was the focal point. Anyone questioning Hayes’ merit should look at his 73 career touchdowns, which are ahead of both current Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Art Monk. This 3-time Pro Bowler and 2-time first-team All-Pro should have gotten a while ago, but he will get his due in July. Unfortunately if he is selected it will be posthumously as the Cowboys legend passed away in 2002 at the age of 59.

3. Bruce Smith – This one is a no-brainer as Smith left the game as the NFL’s all-time sack leader in 2003 with 200 career sacks.  The only player that I believe was more dominant than this former first overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft was the late Reggie White.  Smith was a two-way end who could turn a game by stuffing the run as well as getting after the quarterback.  The former Virginia Tech star terrorized opposing quarterbacks for 19 years and he almost single-handedly carried the Bills defense to four Super Bowls. Smith has the amazing streak of 10 or more sacks in an NFL record 13 seasons.  Two times the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996, selected to 11 Pro Bowls, and 8 times first team All-Pro… get ready for another one of Marv Levy’s Bills to get in Canton.

4. Cris Carter – Are you kidding from last year when the man that ran the prettiest routes and had the stickiest hands in the ’90s didn’t get into the Hall of Fame.  Well in 2009, the doors in Canton, Ohio will open for one of my favorite players from Buddy Ryan’s Eagles.  Carter left the game in 2002 with 1101 catches, 13899 yards, and 130 in a career that spanned 16 years.  The now ESPN analyst is too humble to toot his own horn, but the man known for “just” catching touchdowns in Philly was an artist especially on third down and in the red zone for the Eagles, Vikings, and Dolphins.  Carter was physical and could make any catch low or high for the many quarterbacks that he played with including Hall of Famer Warren Moon.  With one of his pupils Larry Fitzgerald (former Vikings bellboy) playing in Super Bowl XLIII, it will be fitting that the Hall opens its doors to this 8-time Pro Bowler and 2-time first-team All-Pro player.

5. Rod Woodson – Sometimes defensive backs have difficulty kicking in the doors to the Hall of Fame, just ask Class of 2007 inductee Roger Wehrli who got in after years of trying.  But I have a feeling that the player, who was once described as, “The Greatest Athlete in the NFL” will get into the Hall of Fame.  Woodson left the game in 2003 after 17 years with 71 career interceptions (ranks 3rd All-Time) and 17 returns for touchdowns (kickoffs, punt, interception, and fumbles) including an NFL record 12 interceptions returns for scores.  The former first round pick by the Steelers in 1987 out of Purdue was selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s plus he was the NFL’s Defensive player of the year in 1993. Woodson made to 3 Super Bowls (one each with the Steelers, Ravens, and Raiders) winning with the Ravens hard-hitting defense in Super Bowl XXXV as safety.  Like follow Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, Woodson was able to transition from a young fast corner to a smart veteran free safety.  With Steelers Black-and-Gold nation in the house at Super XLIII, the Hall of Fame should open the doors to this 11-time Pro Bowler and 6-time first-team All-Pro selection.

6. Claude Humphrey – There is a saying in the media, “Don’t Mess With the Veteran’s Committee”.  So if any year deserves a sixth candidate to enter the Hall of Fame then it is this year as two worthy men were sent forward for voting by the committee.  Many people may not remember Humphrey as a player, but he was a dominating defensive force from the great Tennessee State teams of John Merritt from the late 1960’s.  Humphrey was a cat-quick defensive end that was equally stout against the run and pass.  Selected in the first round of the 1968 NFL Draft by the Falcons, Humphrey for years toiled for a defensive unit that did not get enough recognition around the NFL in my opinion.  Humphrey started out his career strong winning the 1968 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and continued his excellence for over 13 years being selected to the Pro Bowl six times and being picked first-team All-Pro twice.  I remember him coming to my hometown Eagles in 1979 to solidify the Dick Vermeil’s defensive line and even at the age of 35, he helped the Eagles reach their first Super Bowl in 1980.  I am not sure the number of sacks that this legend put up, but who cares as he was a spectacular two-way end that deserves his spot in Canton.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 Senior Bowl Review

 

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West Virginia quarterback Pat White was one of many stars from Senior Bowl week.  You can read more about White’s performance in Taking to the House’s 2009 Senior Bowl Review 

(Mobile, AL) — Every NFL GM, head coach, and their staffs were in Mobile, Alabama the week of January 19th as the 2009 Senior Bowl took center stage on the NFL Calendar.  Though the first week of the two week lead-up to Super Bowl is supposed to be quiet, the future was on the minds of every NFL team as they sent their scouts and talent evaluators to Ladd-Peebles Stadium to prepare for the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft.  The teams had the right idea in going to Mobile, because the Senior Bowl is the top place to view players “in pads” before all of the t-shirt and shorts workouts start in February leading up to the draft in April.  Senior Bowl week is a special event unto itself as shown by the extensive amount of coverage on NFL Network, but this year’s event had even greater significance as some of the lower tier College Football All-Star Games were cancelled due to the economy.

Even though many of the top players in the 2009 NFL Draft will be underclassmen, the good news was that several top-level senior players (USC LB Maualuga, Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew, USC LB Brian Cushing, Ole Miss OL Michael Oher, and others) did chose to participate in the Senior Bowl’s week long activities, probably to the chagrin of their agents.  However the bad news was that several high profile potential 2009 first-round picks did decide to stay away from this year’s event including Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins and LB Laurinaitis, Baylor OT Jason Smith, Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson, Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry, Virginia OT Eugene Monroe, and Texas DE Brian Orakpo. Overall, several scouts that I talked to that were in Mobile indicated that this year’s senior group was a little more talented than the 2008 group.  But don’t expect to see this year’s group reach the heights of the 2006 Senior Bowl class that produced 14 first-round picks.

Hopefully the players were relaxed, because the Senior Bowl is a week-long blur of Weigh-in’s, NFL level practices, competitive “Live” one-on-one drills, interviews, and of course Saturday Night’s game under the lights all under the supervision two NFL staffs (North: Bengals and South: Jaguars).   You can have the lesser All-star games (East-West Shrine, Hula Bowl, “Favor of the Year” All Star game) and the NFL Combine, because the Senior Bowl is the place where “football” players get to show off their skills in front of the entire NFL.  The scene is really incredible, because everyone understands that the Senior Bowl is almost like the NFL’s yearly open scouting clinic.  Also several new and old head coaches use the Senior Bowl as an opportunity to interview potential coaches to fill their vacancies on their staffs before hunkering down for the draft.  Make no bones about it, everyone in Mobile was starting the long pre-draft scouting trek that will end at Radio City Music Hall, but I am sure some of the talent evaluators present were there to start their draft cajoling and smoke-screening too.  The crazy thing about the event is that every team for the most part is open to talking to other NFL staffs, you could even see division rivals like Bill Parcels (Dolphins) and Bill Belichick (Patriots) sitting in the stands next to each other talking shop at morning and afternoon practices.

As for the game, Ladd-Peebles Stadium was packed with 38,796 fans looking to see the nation’s best seniors battled it out in the 60th annual Senior Bowl.  The storyline going into the game may have been a supposedly stacked North squad, but it was a day of redemption for West Virginia senior quarterback Pat White.  The former Alabama high school quarterback that was not recruited to play the position locally returned to his home state leading the Jacksonville Jaguars coached South team to 35-18 victory over the favored North squad.  White (4-10, 95 yards passing and 1 TD with an additional 31 yards rushing), who was incorrectly assumed to be automatically converted to receiver by many evaluators, showed that he could make it in the NFL as a passer too.  The NCAA 1-A level all-time leading rushing quarterback showed off his stronger than expected arm while leading the South squad on two scoring drives plus looking very comfortable in the pocket. White showed what he could do early in the second quarter, leading an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Quinn Johnson of LSU. The drive also included a 33-yard pass from White to North Carolina State running back Andre Brown.  However White’s best throw of the game and possibly of the week came on a 3rd quarter 39-yard touchdown strike to Ole Miss WR Mike Wallace in the corner of the end zone.

After the South’s victory, White said of his performance, “I’m just happy I had the opportunity. This was a great coaching staff that taught me a lot in a week, I’m looking forward to keeping working, trying to get better.”  White even outshined more heralded University of Alabama homeboy quarterback John Parker Wilson, who was named the Offensive Player of the Game after completing 7-of-13 passes for 56 yards and rushed for the game’s opening score on a short 4-yd touchdown run.  The South had a 21-10 halftime lead and they never let up as their coach Jack Del Rio was looking for the win.  Coach Del Rio was impressed by his squad and said of their efforts,  “We had a good week of practice, the guys really worked hard and had fun. We got after it pretty good, especially early in the week, came out tonight and kind of let it all out and had a good time competing”.  One of the players that the South staff and everyone else here in Mobile were high on after the game was Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers, who completed a very good week by winning the Defensive Player of the Game after producing 3 tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The North squad coached by the Cincinnati Bengals staff tried to play catch-up all night in Mobile even narrowing the score to 28-18 early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run by Eric Kettani of Navy and a 2-point conversion run by Oregon’s Jeremiah Johnson. But it was not meant to be as the South pretty much closed out the game when University of Mississippi All-American defensive tackle Peria Jerry fell on a fumble in the North end zone for the South’s final score about midway through the fourth quarter.

Now that the weighing, practicing, questioning, and playing is over for the Senior Bowl, we have some observations, news, and notes from the 2009 Event.

Event Risers – These were players that we believe increased their value in at the 2009 Senior Bowl.

USC LB Rey Maualuga – The player that everyone came to see in Mobile didn’t disappoint.  Maualuga (6’3, 250) may need to tighten up a little after hitting the banquet circuit in the postseason, but in practices and in the game he flashed often.  He was very aggressive and all over the field in Saturday’s game producing 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and forcing a fumble. You could see all week that #58 was the leader in almost every linebacker drill and Maualuga showed a “Can-Do” attitude when receiving coaching.  The USC intimidating linebacker was definitely in his comfort zone and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his Top 10 status through Pro Day workouts and the Combine. 

West Virginia QB Pat White – After arriving in Mobile with many talent evaluators still wondering when he would make the jump to receiver ala Antwaan Randle El in 2002, White continued to prove his naysayers wrong.  More known for his running in college, the former WVU star took control of the huddle in practice and looked fluid in his drops and throws.  The 6-foot, 190-pound lefthander had a lot of zip on his throws and clearly outplayed Alabama’s John Parker Wilson and Clemson’s Cullen Harper.  In the game, White showed that he is more than capable of continuing as a passer and we maybe seeing the maturation of a future NFL difference maker.  White will now have to continue to impress at the combine where the scouts will be looking to see him throw deep out patterns.

Penn State WR/KR Derrick Williams – After being a highly heralded recruit, Williams may not have had the dominating college career once predicted for him, but he showed in Mobile that will be a solid pro prospect.  The former Penn State utility player was good coming out of his breaks, showed strong hands, and had a good burst in separating from DB’s.  The area where I really think Williams will shine is in the return game where he looked fluid catching kickoffs and punts while not wasting effort getting up the field.  In the game Williams led the North team with 124 all-purpose yards from 5 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving, 89 yards on kickoffs, and 11 yards on punt returns.  I like that Williams has great value as a “football player” where he should be able to be a contributor on specials teams and trick plays (former HS quarterback) at the next level.

Southern Miss. TE Shawn Nelson – This H-back type receiver/tight end really had his stock rise in Mobile.  Though not built like a pure tight end or wide receiver, Nelson surprised many in the stands with his sure hands and his willingness to block. With a height of 6’5 and a weight of 239 pounds, the best hope for Nelson would be that he turns into a Chris Cooley type at the next level.  Nelson in drills and practices was explosive out of his stance and was good running in space.  Though he didn’t have any catches in the game, Nelson had a very nice week to build upon at the NFL Combine and on his Pro Day.

Northern Illinois DE Larry English – Though overshadowed at times by higher profile guys, you could not help but follow this high-motor defensive end from a non-football factory.  English was explosive in his first step and showed good closing speed to the ball in drills.  However being a smaller school prospect, you hoped that English would flashed more in the game as he only produced 1 tackle.  Going into the combine and his Pro Day workout, English will need to get stronger at the point of attack and cut down on his head faking.

Event Maintainers – These were players that we believe were solid and did not hurt their value at the 2009 Senior Bowl. 

Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew – One of the top-rated prospects overall at the 2009 Senior Bowl, the big tight end (6’5, 265) from Oklahoma State didn’t disappoint.  The North starter at tight end didn’t have a catch in the game, but he shined in practices and drills.  The All-Big 12 tight end in practice blocked well with a solid anchor and showed a nice ability to find holes in coverage.  Though I wouldn’t categorize him as a burner, Pettigrew showed good speed, but he will need to find his 2nd gear on seam routes.  At the combine he will need to prove that he has the speed and strength to be considered a first round pick.

Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher – Another player that came to the Senior Bowl with high expectations maintained his first round standing with a solid showing.  Oher (6’5, 318) showed an ability to be a dominant run blocker, used his hands to get a good punch, and had a nice nasty streak in drills.  The area the All-SEC offensive tackle will need to work on is his pass-blocking skills, as he sometimes reached and didn’t play with leverage in drills.  He maybe a better suited for right tackle than left tackle, but his strength and good feet still make him a first-rounder.

Hawaii DE David Veikune – A classic tweener (6’3, 265) this possible 3-4 outside linebacker showed good quickness and determination in drills.  I liked his explosive first step and ability to play with leverage against larger men in drills.  The question though is, “Can Veikune continue to play with his hand in the dirt at the next level?”  I am not sure if we got our total answer in Mobile, but I did like what I saw in this high-effort player as he produced 2 tackles and provided pressure for the winning South team.

Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias – After coming into Mobile as one of the receivers from Heisman-winner Sam Bradford’s high-powered offense, Iglesias continued to shine.  In the game, he was the North’s leading receiver catching six balls for 90 yards and in practices, Iglesias (6’0, 202) showed good speed, an ability to make catches in traffic, and good separation.  I thought Iglesias, Williams, and Ohio State’s Brian Robiske were the strongest receivers in Mobile.  It will be interesting to see at the combine if Iglesias can show his reported 4.4 speed to maintain his first-day status.

Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the Senior Bowl and will need to make up ground at their Pro Days and the Combine to get back up in the mix by the NFL Draft.

LSU offensive guard Herman Johnson – The player known as being the Biggest Baby Ever Born in the State of Louisiana (15 pounds, 14 ounces) did not help himself in Mobile.  Johnson who is for lack of a better word “huge” measured out at 6-7 ¾ and 382 pounds, as the ballroom was abuzz by his girth.  Unfortunately all of his size was not that impressive to the coaches and personnel evaluators that I talked to.  At Johnson’s size you would think he would be an ideal tackle, but his conditioning, footwork and questionable effort have placed him on the inside at offensive guard rather than at offensive tackle. Johnson struggled in one-one drills and at times got lost in practice.  You could clearly see that he was not explosive out of his stance and quicker players were able to beat him.  Johnson will need to work on his conditioning and footwork before the combine and his Pro Day.

Missouri S William Moore – Probably one of the most heralded players coming into the Senior Bowl, probably wished that he had stayed home.  After an injury-plagued season and USC’s Taylor Mays surprisingly going back to school, the former Tigers star hoped to shine in Mobile.  Unfortunately nothing seemed to come together for this David Fulcher sized (6’1″ 230) hitter. Moore didn’t look the part of a centerfield safety as his deep coverage was not there.  He may have been slowed by an ankle injury, but he was constantly beat by small quicker players.  He only had one tackle in the game and one scout that I talked to said that he went from an almost-certain first-rounder to a possible late second-rounder. Now there are even questions about whether Moore might make a better weakside linebacker instead of safety in the NFL.  Moore was clearly outplayed by Western Michigan FS Louis Delmas, Alabama FS Rashad Johnson, and Oregon’s Patrick Chung.  Moore like fellow safety David Bruton of Notre Dame will need to pick-it-up at the combine and on his Pro Day.

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell – Oh no…. I think we have another quarterback with inflated stats from Mike Leach’s high octane Texas Tech offense.  Harrell looked like the second coming of Kliff Kingsbury as his arm was a disappointment in practice and drills.  Harrell (6’2, 205) did show nice touch and pocket awareness, but he didn’t have the arm the pros love and he struggled at moving under center, which is essential for an NFL quarterback.  Harrell’s passes didn’t have zip and you have to wonder in cold weather cities if he might struggle.  In the game, Harrell was only 4 for 13 passing for only 40 yards and 1 INT.  Harrell along with fellow unimpressive quarterbacks Sam Houston State’s Rhett Bomar (fumble in the game) and Clemson’s Cullen Harper (inaccurate in practice) will need to find a way to shine at the combine.

Cal Poly WR Ramses Barden – Sometimes it is hard for smaller school guys to make the transition against higher competition and that is exactly what happened to Barden.  Everyone liked his size at 6-6, 227 pounds, but he was far from the stud receiver that his numbers showed (broke several of Jerry Rice’s lower level records).  Barden had trouble getting off the line of scrimmage and his speed/quickness, all ready a question mark given his size, was not that great either.  Barden will need to fix his problems quick, because in the NFL he will not make a roster with just his route running and hands.  It will be interesting to see if he gets faster and stronger by the combine, because his stock is currently suffering.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Defensive Tackles were impressive in Mobile — Going into the Senior Bowl, most people thought that the O-linemen would dominate the D-linemen in drills.  However led by Boston College DT B.J. Raji, was the best player at almost every practice seeming to be unblockable, the defensive tackles shined.  . Raji was joined on the Stock Up List by fellow space-eaters Ole Miss’ Peria Jerry (maybe a first rounder after manhandling several O-lineman in drills and recovering a fumble for a score in the game), Georgia Tech’s Vance Walker, Missouri’s Ziggy Hood, Georgia’s Corey Irvin, Purdue’s Alex Magee and USC’s Fili Moala. All of the defensive tackles listed showed a good anchor and were stout at the point of attack in practices and in the game.

Running Backs struggle again – I don’t know if it is the All-Star setting or that most of the best runners are clearly underclassmen (Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State’s Beanie Wells, Iowa’s Shonn Green, Uconn’s Donald Brown and others).  But the running back group at the Senior Bowl was not that impressive. The fact that little known Rashad Jennings of Liberty College in Virginia (South) was the game’s leading rusher with only 41 yards on nine carries tells you everything you need to know about this group.  I guess the two standouts of the weak group were North Carolina State’s Andre Brown and Tennessee’s Arian Foster of Tennessee (hamstring) with both displaying good vision and cuts in practice.  Brown did display some nice hands receiving the ball catching two passes for 41 yards in the game.  It will be interesting to see how this group fairs once they are tested at the combine against the underclassmen standouts. 

Corners came to play – With the NFL going to more spread formations putting four and sometimes five receivers on the field, teams are looking for cornerbacks that can cover and tackle on draw plays.  This year I would have to say that the featured group in Mobile.  Led by sure first rounder Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith (1 pass break-up in the game), this group was physical in press coverage, showed a good backpeddle, and an ability to break on the ball.  I was also impressed with Smith’s fellow corners Virginia Tech’s Victor “Macho” Harris, West Virginia’s Ellis Lankster (had the game’s only interception), Jackson State CB Domonique Johnson (4 TKLs in the game), Oregon State’s Keenan Lewis of Oregon State, Uconn’s Darius Butler of UConn and San Jose State’s Coye Francies. 

The Trojans come marching in – As if the USC Trojans’ Rose Bowl thumping of Penn State wasn’t enough, head coach Pete Carroll for the second year in a row sent the most players to the Senior Bowl with six players.  Of course everyone knew about Maulaga, but the Trojans also sent his partners highly touted linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.  Cushing had one tackle in the game, but all week everyone was impressed with his size, recognition skills, and downhill playing style.  Matthews — son of Cleveland Browns legend Clay Matthews Sr. — proved that he was more than a pass rusher by showing that he also had the feet to dropback in coverage, so look for him to be a steal on someone’s draft board.  Other members of the Trojans contingent included wide receiver Patrick Turner (had some drops in practice, but the big 6’5 receiver led the South with three catches for 30 yards), rangy defensive end Kyle Moore (had a sack in the game), and defensive tackle Fili Moala (described as the strongest man in Mobile and had one tackle in the game).

That’s a wrap for the 2009 Senior Bowl and now the NFL’s attention will shift to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa between the Steelers and Cardinals.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

African American Quarterback Research Study by Lloyd Vance

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Redskins WR Antwaan Randle El is one of 33 African American QB’s that were drafted then converted to another position as found in a research study of African American quarterbacks.  The study found that 1 out of 3 African American quarterbacks drafted were converted to another position

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Recently a graduate student asked me to assist him in compiling the statistical aspects of the African American quarterback’s journey in the NFL compared to their white counterparts.  We decided to analyze the data in terms of the NFL Draft, conversion to other positions, and Combine Testing (specifically the Wonderlic Test).  The information compiled is quite compelling and hopefully it will assist the requesting graduate student plus spur some additional conversation in the public arena on the journey of the African American quarterback. 

The raw statistical data should definitely help in piecing together the over 80-year journey of the African American quarterback since Fritz Pollard played in the early days of the NFL.  However the data and several other artifacts clearly show that the journey of the African American quarterback in the NFL has been quite arduous at times with some people that I have talked to categorizing their treatment as “unfair”. 

But I do believe that progress has been made and we maybe on the cusp where coaches, fans, and the media will only be judging a quarterback based solely on his abilities on the field.  To those that wish to explore beyond the numbers, I will point to the ESPN Book and DVD “Third and a Mile” as a great reference tool to further understand the history and struggles of the African American quarterback.

Special Thanks goes out to Mac Marible for helping to compile the Wonderlic score information for all of the quarterbacks.

 Draft Information

— The first African American quarterback drafted was George Taliaferro from the University of Indiana by the Chicago Bears in the 13th Round of 1949 NFL Draft.  The Bears intention was to convert Taliaferro, so he first played for the LA Dons of the rival All American Football Conference (AAFC).  He later returned to the NFL playing for the NY Yanks, Baltimore Colts, and Philadelphia Eagles.  Though Taliaferro was converted to halfback, he threw 284 passes in his NFL career that lasted until 1955.  The first African American quarterback to be drafted solely to play quarterback was Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins from Prairie View in 1955 by the Green Bay Packers in the 16th Round.  Also for historical reference, from 1933 to 1946 the National Football League just like professional baseball had a “Gentleman’s Agreement” to keep the league all-white.

— As of the 2008 NFL Draft, 96 African-American quarterbacks (13%) have been drafted out of a total number of 719 quarterbacks drafted going back to the first NFL Draft in 1936. Of the 96 African American quarterbacks drafted only 13 of the quarterbacks were selected in the first round (2%), with two being converted to other positions.

— Conversely as of the 2008 NFL Draft, 617 White quarterbacks have been drafted from the total number of 719 quarterbacks drafted for a percentage of (86%). Of the 617 White quarterbacks drafted, 128 were selected in the first round (18%) with two being converted to other positions.

— Of the 96 African American quarterbacks drafted, 33 were converted to another position (34%).  So the statistical data shows that 1 out of 3 African American quarterbacks drafted since 1949 were converted to another position.  Of the 617 white quarterbacks drafted, only 10 were converted to another position (1.6%)

— African American quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft by decade (first NFL Draft was in 1936):  1930 to 1939 – Zero; 1940 to 1949 – One; 1950 to 1959 – Two; 1960 to 1969 – Twelve; 1970 to 1979 – Nine; 1980 to 1989 – Twelve; 1990 to 1999 – Twenty-Six; 2000 to Present – Thirty-Four.  The highest number of African American quarterbacks drafted in one season was in 2006 with nine and 1999 with seven.

— African American quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft by round — Round One: 13; Round Two: 11; Round Three: 2; Round Four: 8; Round Five: 12; Round Six: 17; Round Seven: 11; Round Eight or higher: 22

— African American quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft for conversion to another position by decade: 1930 to 1939 – Zero; 1940 to 1949 – One; 1950 to 1959 – One; 1960 to 1969 – Eight; 1970 to 1979 – Three; 1980 to 1989 – Four; 1990 to 1999 – Five; 2000 to Present – Eleven.

***NFL Draft data was compiled from NFL.com by Lloyd M. Vance

Wonderlic Test

If there is one part of the NFL Combine experience I do not like or understand, it is the Wonderlic test.  The test is designed to measure a player’s I.Q. through a 50-question test administered in 23 minutes.  Most players are tired/uninterested when taking the test, which leads to a majority of guys not completing the test.  Some agents have started to have their clients cram for the Wonderlic test like the SAT coming out of high school, but at least you can take the SAT test multiple times.  However the Wonderlic is a one shot deal that many people put way too much credence in it.  I can still hear all of the preposterous Vince Young test score reporting from 2006 — By the way did Vince’s score of 16 preclude him from winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year award.  And did you know that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15 while colossal bust Quincy Carter scored a 30. 

Here is a sample question: “Paper clips sell for 23 cents per box. What will 4 boxes cost” — take all the time you need.  To me this test should not be part of the NFL evaluation process, because all teams should only care about a player’s “Football Intelligence” along with their character, on-the-field play, practice habits, and many other “true” evaluation measurables.

— Sample Size of 271 quarterbacks (196 Whites, 71 African Americans, and 4 players identified as other) that took the Wonderlic test with an average score of 25 for the group. (Data supplied by Mac Marible’s website (http://www.macmirabile.com/Wonderlic.htm).

— The average score for the 71 African American quarterbacks from the 271 quarterback sample size was 19 (high scores belonging to Bruce Eugene (41) and Darrell Hackney (40) with low scores by Oscar Davenport (6) and Vince Evans (8)                                                                                                 

— The average score for the 196 White quarterbacks from the 271 quarterback sample size was 26.5 (high scores belonging to Jason Mass (43), Drew Henson (42), and Alex Smith (40) with low scores for Jeff George (10) and Hall of Famers: Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Terry Bradshaw (all scored a 15)                                                                                                  

— 112 of the 271 Wonderlic Tested Quarterbacks were not drafted (30 blacks, 79 whites, and 3 players from other races)                                                                                                  

 — The forty-six NFL First Round draft choices in the 271 quarterback sample size scored an average score of 24.6 (high scores belonging to Alex Smith (40) and Eli Manning (39) with a low score by Jeff George (10).  Other notable scores included Peyton Manning (28), Michael Vick (20), and Donovan McNabb (14) with Steve McNair, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly all having the same score of “15”.                                

 

 

Lloyd Vance is an NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 NFC Championship Game Brings Another Sad Ending for Eagles Fans

After another disappointing end to another Philadelphia Eagles season in an NFC Championship Game, I have been deluged with questions and comments from Birds fans asking, “Where Did the Eagles Go Wrong in this NFC Championship Game?”

I have broken my response to this question into sections:

1) Head Coach Andy Reid – These guys must like Hawaii in February (coaching the Pro Bowl), because once again Reid and his staff were out-coached in their biggest game of the season.  Sure the offense had a miraculous 19-point third quarter erasing an 18-point lead that they spotted the Cardinals, but the coaching staff failed to make the necessary adjustments after the half that could have helped particularly on defense.  

  • Reid continued his “Bombs Away” throw-it at all costs mentality on offense and the Eagles were never to achieve balance or sustain long drives because of this.
  • The Eagles were inside the Cardinals’ 30-yard line three times in the first half and came away with only six points
  • The Eagles were out-rushed by the Cardinals (29 rushes for 102 yards to 18 rushes for 97 yards) and the Cardinals showed how the run still means something in their game-closing 14 play, 72-yard touchdown drive where they called 9 runs and only 5 passes.
  • The Eagles passed the ball 47 times putting the ball in harm’s way too much, which led to 3 turnovers and quarterback Donovan McNabb being sacked 2 times by safety Adrian Wilson with one sack causing a fumble.
  • Not enough touches for Correll Buckhalter.  I know Buck is not the next coming of NFL legend Walter Payton, but the NFL is built around two-backs sharing the load.  Buckhalter was the forgotten man for the second week in a row in the playoffs as he only had 4 rushing opportunities gaining 21 yards.  You would think with an ailing Brian Westbrook (2 rec 26 yds, 12 rushes for 45 yds, and 1 fumble) being game-planned out of action by the Cardinals that Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mohrningwig should have called Buckhalter’s number more.  I guess you can’t blame Buckhalter, a potential free agent, looking other places for more touches.
  • Reid the “personnel evaluator”, if allowed to continue in that role, has some hard decisions to make this off-season (Buckhalter, Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Reggie Brown, and others).  The hope among many Eagles faithful is that Reid and the upper brass final decide to bring in a fresh face to handle talent procurement.

2) Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles Defense

  • The main reason that the 9-6-1 Eagles (ranked #1 in the NFC) made some noise with two playoffs wins, were not at their best in the Desert against the Cardinals (allowed 32 points and 369 yards). 
  • Johnson needed to look at how his defense demolished former Giants starter Kurt Warner and the G-Men 31-17 in the 2004 opening game to help in setting up his game plan.  In that game, the Eagles sacked old Kurt five times and produced three fumbles (recovering one) mostly from pressure from their front four.  However in this year’s NFC Championship, the Eagles blitzed too often with little results.  I guess the coaching staff and defensive members were too busy reading their press clippings, comparing them to if not saying that they were better than the 1991 Number-one-across-the-board Reggie White led defense, to make the necessary adjustments to get after Warner.  The two-time MVP quarterback and Cardinals young offensive coordinator Todd Haley were able to diagnose most of the Eagles blitzes and neutralize them by going to crossing patterns and 3-step drops.
  • In 10 offensive possession, the Cardinals scored points on half of their drives (5), were 3 for 3 in the Redzone, were a solid 6 of 13 on 3rd and 4th down plays, and had no turnovers. 
  • The quickness of the Cardinals 24 first-half points was maddening as Warner led drives with an average starting spot of the ARIZ 25 to the following results Touchdown-Punt-Touchdown-Touchdown-Field Goal.
  • The Eagles defense only had four 3-and-outs and no turnovers for the entire game as they could not get off the field, especially during the Cardinals game-closing 14-play, 72-yard, 7:52 minute scoring drive. 
  • Speaking of the Cardinals game-closing drive, it was groundhog day for the Eagles as their group looked oh too much like their 2001 version against the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Championship.  In that game too, their smallish defense wore down at the end as the Rams behind Warner and Marshall Faulk dominated the second half.  The Rams similarly closed the game mixing in runs and screens that kept the chains moving…remember the Rams 12-minute drive at the beginning of the 3rd quarter.
  • With the Cardinals going to three and four receiver sets along with Larry Fitzgerald dominating, can someone please tell me why former two-time Pro Bowl player Lito Sheppard was barely on the field.  To answer my own question, the Eagles decided that an unhappy player sulking about his contract was no longer “Good” enough to even play for them (see Jeremiah Trotter circa the 2001 NFC Championship Game or Michael Lewis circa the 2006 NFC Divisional Round loss to the Saints).  I guess Sheppard is on the fast train out of town and the team is starting their spin before the off-season hits…can someone please tell me how Barry Gardner and Mark Simoneau did at replacing Trotter.

3) The Eagles Receiving Core

  • The Eagles no-Number 1 receiving core only had 15 catches, which was only 2 more than the 13 catches that the Cardinals starting duo of Fitzgerald and Boldin put up. BTW: How great was it to watch Fitzgerald performing as a Number one (nine receptions for 152 yards and 3 TDs), making you wish the Eagles had tried harder to trade for the game-breaker last off-season.
  • The Eagles receivers had at least 4 drops that I counted.  The biggest one of course being the Kevin Curtis’ 4th down play to basically end the game, but I also have to point out Greg Lewis’ huge drop in the first half.  Can you please tell me how in the world has G-Lou – since when does he merit a nickname – hung around on the Birds roster for 6 years.  I wonder if Patriots receiver Jabar Gaffney (38 catches for 468 yards and 2 TDs in 2008) would have caught that ball as Lewis made the Eagles roster instead of him in ’07.
  • Franchise TE LJ Smith, the team’s franchise player, who Reid said was just as good as future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez on trading deadline day, had one measly catch for 5 yards.  I know it had to have burned LJ’s britches that backup Brent Celek had a career day of 10 receptions for 83 yards and 2 TDs.  I don’t know if you knew this or not, but the Eagles personnel department (i.e. Reid) decided that LJ Smith was a better pro prospect than current Cowboys four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten in the 2003 NFL Draft.  The Birds selected their “franchise” tight end with the 61st pick (2nd round) and Witten went at pick #69 (third round).

4) Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb

  • With the game on the line and given the weapons or lack there of that McNabb had to work with, did anyone think he could tie the game with the Eagles two-minute drill.  In a microcosm of his 10-year career, McNabb’s last four throws [Basket (receiver slipped), Jackson (overthrow), Basket (threw behind receiver), and Curtis (slipped/tripped and dropped pass)] were erratic, but he also needed someone else to make a play on the receiving end.
  • Overall in his fifth NFC Championship Game (1-4 record), I don’t care what the McNabb bashers will say (missed some early throws, an interception, fumbled by getting sacked by Adrian Wilson and could not lead the Birds back in the 4th quarter), this man had a great game in the NFC Championship.  McNabb led his team back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead when it mattered and lets face it the defense let him down.  He set a career-high with 375 passing yards and was an incredible in the second-half completing 17 of 28 passes for 266-yards and 3 TDs.
  • His final numbers were 28-47, 375 yards, 3 TDs, and 31 rushing, but I guess that will not be enough for the “Haters” who want the Kevin Kolb era to begin.  To everyone yearning for another quarterback than McNabb, you better take a good look around the NFL because there are not many quarterbacks better than Big 5.  Just image what McNabb could do with some real weapons — Did you see Greg Lewis drop that potential bomb??  Hopefully in the off-season Reid will look to add someone else to compliment scrappy Kevin Curtis and improving rookie DeSean Jackson.  Whomever the team is looking to improve their receiving core, it sure will not be former 2nd round bust Reggie Brown who was in sweats in the Eagles most important game of the season.

5a) Too Many Penalties – Quality teams in the NFL usually execute well causing penalties to drop.  The Eagles definitely struggled with penalties committing 7 for 64 yards as opposed to only 3 for 15 yards for the victorious Cardinals.

5b) Eagles kicker David Akers – As like to always say, “Just a Kicker, Being a Kicker”.  I know Akers was a little snippy after the loss saying don’t blame him for the loss, but the little guy with only one job to do had a big hand in the Birds loss.  He lost his consecutive post-season field goal streak on a missed 47-yarder (dome conditions) then sent a kickoff out of bounds right before halftime setting up Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers for 3 points and his exclamation point moment was inexcusably missing a point-after, which caused the Eagles to chase a two-point conversion.

2008 HBCU All-America Team

HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the National Football League, in fact there is not enough paper in the world to list the numerous players that have made the jump from historically black colleges and universities to excellence in the NFL. 

Super Scouts/Architects Bill Nunn (’70s Pittsburgh Steelers) and Lloyd Wells (’60s Kansas Chiefs) were masters of mining “Diamonds in the Rough” at HBCU’s in helping to build Super Bowl winning teams and the pipeline continues today with players like Jacksonville Jaguars LB Justin Durant (Hampton).  This year the talent level at HBCU’s is just as exemplary and you can expect to hear many of the names listed on our 2008 HBCU All-American team called at the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft. 

OFFENSE

QB: Jacary Atkinson, Tuskegee (6-3, 205, Sr., Valley, Ala.)Was named the SIAC MVP and Offensive Player of the year along with his first team selection.  Led the conference and was tenth in Division II Football in passing efficiency (163.2). Atkinson also led the conference in passing average per game (244.4), passing yards (2,444), passing touchdowns (23) and total offense averaging 316.6 yards per game. Atkinson was named Offensive Player of the week six times this season and became the first player to win consecutive Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors in the modern era of the SIAC. Tuskegee finished the year 10-1 and won the 2008 SIAC Championship. Led the Golden Tigers to a second straight SIAC championship. Atkinson, 22-1 as a starting quarterback, earned two straight Doug Williams offensive player of the year awards from Sheridan Broadcasting Network and is a two-time SBN All-America.

RB: William Ford, South Carolina State (5-11, 185, Jr., Travelers Rest, S.C.)  — Ford led the MEAC in rushing with 1,499 yards and was tied for third in the conference in scoring (78 points). He carried the ball 246 times for an average of 115.3 yards and accounted for 13 touchdowns. Ford, a junior expected to return in ’09, is just 1,009 yards away from becoming the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher. He was named the 2008 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year.

RB: Javarris Williams, Tennessee State (5-11, 215, Sr., Richmond, Tex.) — Williams helped the Tigers to an impressive 8-3 overall record with a 5-3 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). He was named the OVC Offensive player of the year finishing with a league best 103.7 yards per game with 1,037 yards in 10 games. His 15 touchdowns were also a league best. He finished his TSU career as the All-time rushing TD leader (42) and is now second on the All-time rushing list with 4,329 yards. Javarris had six 100+ yard rushing games this season and twenty such games in his career. He rushed for 1,000 yards three consecutive years. Selected Most Valuable Player at the East-West Shrine Game.  Invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

OL: Raymond Harrison, South Carolina State (6-2, 275, Sr., Columbia, S.C.) — Harrison was a key performer in one of the most dominating offensive attacks in the MEAC this season.  The Bulldogs’ third consecutive MEAC Lineman of the Year winner, Harrison aided SCSU’s offense to 4,972 yards of total offense including 2,651 yards on the ground. 

OL: Dwayne Frost, Bowie State (6-6, 300, Sr., Largo, MD)

OL: Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State (6-5, 310, Sr., Jacksonville, Fla.) — This former transfer from Florida State was selected first team for the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and was also invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

OL: Michael Steven,

Tuskegee (6-5, 380, Jr., Montgomery, Ala.)

OL: Adrian Brown, Delaware State (6-6, 327, Sr.)

OL: Dennis Conley, Hampton (6-4, 303, Sr. Suffolk, Va.) 

TE: Octavius Darby, South Carolina State (6-4, 240, Sr., Hollywood, Fla.)  — Selected to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) First Team. This “Alge Crumpler” type tight end had 31 receptions for 518 yards and 12 TD’s.

WR: Justin Brown, Hampton (6-2, 200, Sr., Dover, N.J.) — Led the MEAC in receiving yards (887), averaging 80.6 per game, and was second in the conference in catches per game with 5.1

WR: Raytron Mayfield, Langston (6-1,205, Sr., Dallas, TX) —Mayfield had 799 yards receiving on 59 catches with nine touchdowns. Plus an additional 165 yards rushing with three touchdowns and he also threw for 77 yards and one touchdown. Led the Lions in scoring with 76 points. Was selected First-Team All-CSFL (Central States Football League Conference). Also guided the Lions to the NAIA National Playoffs second round and an 11-2 record. 

DEFENSE

DL Chris Baker Hampton (6-2, 305, Jr., Windsor, Conn.) — This former transfer from Penn State was selected first team for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Baker led the Pirates and the MEAC with 8.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hurries, to go along with 69 tackles – the third-highest total on the team. Invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

DL: Louis Ellis, Shaw (6-4, 295, Sr., Jackson, Miss.) — Was named CIAA Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year as Shaw won their second consecutive CIAA Championship. This season he anchored the Shaw Bears defensive unit to the national number one spot of the NCAA Division II in total defense (#1), rushing defense (#1), tackles for a loss (#1). Louis was the CIAA’s leader in tackles for loss (16 solo and 8 assisted) and was second in the conference with 8 sacks. He was also credited with 60 total tackles. Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game.

DL: Richard Washington, Clark-Atlanta University (6-3, 305, Sr., Miami, FL) — An All-SIAC first teamer, Washington had a big day at the East Coast All Star game, finishing with a couple sacks and several other key stops.

DL: David Williams, Kentucky State (6′-3, 240, Sr. Detroit, MI) — All-SIAC first teamer had 51 TKLS, 5.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.5 sacks, and 2 FF

DL: Marcus Benard, Jackson State (6-4, 260, Sr., Ypsilanti, Mi.) — The senior defensive end led the SWAC with 15 sacks (which is first in the SWAC and second in FCS), as well as leading the SWAC with 22.5 tackles for loss. He also recorded season highs of 17 tackles against Ala. A&M, five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss against Ala. A&M.

DL: Christian Anthony, Grambling State (6-4, 246, Jr., Birmingham, Ala.)  — Anthony had 48 tackles with 14 tackles for loss.  He also amassed six sacks, broke up five passes and had 2 INTs in 12 games played.

LB: Jeffrey Cargile, Morehouse (5-9,200, Sr. Cincinnati, OH —Won the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year award after leading Division II and the conference in sacks (12.5). Cargile also led Division II and the conference in tackles for a loss (23.0) and finished the season with 99 tackles. Morehouse finished the 2008 campaign with a 6-4 record over-all and 6-3 in the SIAC for a second place finished.

LB: Marcellus Speaks, Jackson State (6-2, 230, Sr., Jackson, Miss.) — Speaks led the SWAC with 115 tackles (54 solo; 20.5 for loss), along with 5.0 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one blocked kick in leading the Tigers to the SWAC Championship Game for the second consecutive year. He was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year and he also had Player of the Week honors three times this season. Speaks made a season-high 16 tackles (with 1.0 for loss with 0.5 sacks) vs. Southern (Oct. 4)

LB: Endor Cooper, Howard (6-3, 245, Sr., Woodbridge, Va.) — An All-MEAC Conference first team player. This senior middle linebacker had an outstanding season leading the MEAC in total tackles per game with 11.4 and in forced fumbles with four. Also finished tied for third in tackles for losses in the MEAC. Recorded double digits in tackles in nine of 11 games played.

LB: Jarrell Guyton, Morgan State (6-0, 225, Sr., Miami, Fl) — The MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Year honor after leading one of the most dominating defensive units in the FCS. For the second year in a row the Morgan State Bears led the FCS in total defense giving up less than 213.4 yards per game. Guyton collected 35 solo and 35 unassisted tackles for the Bears this season. He put up numbers in almost every defensive statistical category including 70 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss of 41 yards, four sacks for a 22 yard loss, one interception for a 22 yards return, three broken up passes, one hurry, and one forced and recovered fumble.

DB:  Rodrick Jones, Elizabeth City State University (5-11, 179, Sr.) — Was the MVP of the CIAA Championship Game finishing his last collegiate game with 9 tackles, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.  Had an interception in the East Coast Bowl and will play in the Cactus Bowl. Runs in the 4.6 range in the forty.

DB: Domonique Johnson, Jackson State (6-2, 200, Sr. Texas City, Tex.)  — This All-SWAC performer was originally signed and played for Missouri, leaving for undisclosed reasons after the 2006 season. One of the best defensive backs in the upcoming NFL draft, Johnson finished his senior year with a team high four interceptions (returned one for a touchdown) and a league high 13 pass break-ups. Had his best game against Mississippi Valley State recording 10 tackles and 2 INTs.  Extremely fast as Johnson has been clocked in the 4.35 to 4.4 range in the forty. Played in the 2009 Senior Bowl and was also invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

DB: Eddie Young, Fort Valley State (6-0, 205, Sr., Macon, GA — A physical tough safety chosen first team All-SIAC.  Participated in the East Coast Bowl and is considered a Pro Prospect at safety running a 4.65 in the forty-yard dash.

DB: Gregory Toler, Saint Paul’s (6-1, 185, Sr., Washington, D.C.)  — 2008 All-CIAA selection – Toler participated in the East Coast and Cactus Bowl All Star games after leading the CIAA with 6 INTs (ranked third in NCAA DII) and 19 passes defended.

DB: Niles Rainey, Virginia Union (5-10,165, Sr., College Park, GA) — Rainey had a very good season for VUU despite playing in a strange rotation.  The Georgia native finished with 3 INTs.  He was named CIAA Defensive Back of the Week, for the week ending on October 18, 2008 for his defensive efforts in a 68-6 victory over Lincoln University (Pa).  In the Lincoln game, Rainey recorded 2 touchdowns (one on a fumble recovery and the other on an interception).

DB: Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State  (6-2, 200, Jr., Virginia Beach, Va) — Whitehead was named First Team All-MEAC for the second straight year after having the second-most passes defended (15) of any MEAC player.  He also tallied four interceptions (13 for his career ranking him 3rd in MEAC history) and 11 pass deflections. The physical junior defensive back led NSU and ranked seventh in the MEAC with 83 tackles.

Special Teams

PK: Brandon Gilbert, North Carolina Central (5-10, 190, Sr. Graham, NC) — School’s all-time leading scorer and holds school records for career Field Goals made, extra point kicks made, single-season field goals made, extra point kicks made (48), and record for field goals made in a game (4). Booted the longest field goal in school history with a 51-yard last-second, game-winning kick in the 2006 CIAA Championship Game (Nov. 11).

P: Jahmal Blanchard, Hampton (6-3, 182, Jr., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) — Averaged an amazing 43.1 yards per punt

KR: William Osbourne, Texas Southern (5-7, 160, Jr., Marshall, TX) — This explosive all-purpose player made an impact all over field averaging 192.3 yards per game.  Was TSU main receiving threat producing 82 catches for 1092 yards and 7 TD’s while averaging 15.9 yards per punt returns and 22.5 on kickoffs.

PR: Jeremy Gilchrist, Hampton (5-10, 174, Sr., Virginia Beach, Va.) — This transfer from Virginia Tech is a very explosive return man with top-level speed.  Averaged 15.6 yards per return and had 3 TD’s in ’08.

HONORABLE MENTION

OFFENSE

QB – Bryant Lee, Southern; Curtis Rich, Elizabeth City State; Bobby Reid, Texas Southern (Transferred from Texas Southern); Antonio Hefner, Tennessee State (Transferred from South Carolina); Kisan Flakes, Albany State (Transferred from Illinois); Lamar Little, Virginia Union; Carlton Hill, Miles College (Transferred from South Florida)

RB – Devan James, Morgan State; Winston Thompson, Clark Atlanta University; Michael Wright, Kentucky State University; Taron Hampton, Virginia State, Tarian Donaldson, Virginia Union; Kareem Jones, Delaware State; DeAngelo Branche, Norfolk State

OL – Revay Smith, Grambling State; Cleveland Collie, Prairie View A&M; Oliver Pazdry, Shaw; Robert Okeafor, Florida A&M

WR – Dexter Manley, Elizabeth City State; Jason English, Tuskegee; Thomas Harris, Alabama A&M; Juamorris Stewart, Southern
Defense

DL – Jarvis DeVaughan, Tuskegee; Justin Lawrence, Morgan State; Sammie Lee Hill, Stillman (Invited to the 2009 NFL Combine); Melvin Matthews, Grambling State; Vincent Lands, Southern; Jeremy Maddox, Alabama A&M; Marcus Kennedy St. Augustine’s
LB – Zach East, Prairie View A&M; Travis Roland, Bethune-Cookman; Lee Robinson, Alcorn State (Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and was also invited to the 2009 NFL Combine)

DB – Dre’Mail Hardin, Stillman; Darnell Brown, Langston; Anthony Beck, Prairie View A&M; Justin Hamilton, Elizabeth City State; Jeff Franklin, Central State; Darren McKhan, Morgan State; Enrique Cox, Virginia Union; Al Donaldson, Alabama AM; Stephen Jackson, Fort Valley; Don Carey, Norfolk State

PK: Jeremy Licea, Alabama A&M

KR: LeRoy Vann, Florida A&M

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 NFL Playoffs – Conference Championships Round Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) – The 2008 NFL season themed, “Believe In Now”, continued to roll on toward an oh-too-fast ending. But one thing is for certain when the epilogue for this season is written, it will be titled, “One Crazy Season”.  I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball registered the Cardinals against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII way back in September — remember I picked the Colts over the Saints, so what do I know ;) — however we are now set to enjoy a rivalry game on February 1st in Tampa, Florida between too coaching staffs that know each other very well. 

To me both Conference Championships games were enjoyable and the interesting part from the games’ results is that the sanity of home field advantage was restored with the Steelers 23-14 win over the Ravens and the Cardinals 32-25 win over the Eagles.   With both home teams winning, the playoff history-defying streak of 5 out of 8 road teams winning thus far in the playoffs was ended.  The NFL’s Final Four round produced two games that definitely had two different NFL flavors.  The Philadelphia Eagles – Arizona Cardinals game featured a pinball machine type offensive explosion in a perfectly conditioned indoor dome environment, while conversely the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was an old-fashioned black-and-blue rivalry game that featured several players limping to the sidelines of cold, snowy, and muddy Heinz Field.

In both Conference Championships our keys to success in the playoffs — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, and Limiting Penalties – were all very prevalent for the winning teams (Cardinals and Steelers).  

  • Super Bowl XLIII will pit two quarterbacks, in the Cardinals Kurt Warner and the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, that have already won a Super Bowl against each other.  The Conference Championships brought out the best in the two signal callers as Warner was efficient in getting the ball down the field to superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald (see Game Balls) and in picking up the blitz while Big Ben made a key deep throw to receiver Santonio Holmes and did not turn the ball over.
  • The Steelers (+3) and the Cardinals (+2) both won the turnover battle in their games and it was a huge difference.  The Cardinals produced 3 turnovers by the Eagles while only giving the ball up once (defensive player) and the Steelers were a little better producing four turnovers by the Ravens, including Troy Polamalu’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, to only one giveaway.  The Cardinals and the Steelers also got pressure on the quarterback producing three and two sacks respectively.
  • The Steelers and Cardinals both had more rushing attempts than the Ravens and Eagles respectively (PITT 28 to 25) and (ARIZ 29 to 18).  The key was the final four winners never abandoned the run even when they lost their lead or the other team was within a couple of points.
  • An often overlooked factor in games is penalties, but the Steelers and especially the Cardinals made sure they were not hurt too bad by penalties in their wins.  The Cardinals only had three penalties to seven for the Eagles while the Steelers and Ravens were knotted at six apiece.

Game Notes

Arizona Cardinals 32, Philadelphia Eagles 25

This year’s NFC Championship Game, titled the “Why Not Us” Bowl was played out in the cozy confines of University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  If nothing else, this game between two improbable NFC lower seeded playoff teams was enjoyable.  The Cardinals came out of their locker-room full of emotion as they put their 48-20 Week 13 loss to the Eagles behind them by going on a 80-yard nine play touchdown drive culminated by Fitzgerald bullying his way into the endzone.  From there it was all Cardinals in the first half as they built a 24-6 halftime lead mostly on Warner finding Fitzgerald over and over (finished with 6 receptions for an NFL record 113 first-half yards and 3 TDs) as the Eagles either had to punt or settled for field goal attempts (the Eagles were inside the Cardinals’ 30-yard line three times in the first half and came away with only six points).  The Cardinals even brought out a beautifully crafted flea-flicker 62-yard touchdown pass from Warner to RB J.J Arrington back to Warner then down the field to Fitzgerald.  However the 3rd quarter it was all Eagles as the Cardinals got a good look at why Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is one of the NFL’s best.  McNabb led the offense in scoring 19 unanswered points to erase an 18-point Cardinals lead.  McNabb threw touchdown passes to TE Brent Celek of 31 yards and 6 yards.  But his finest throw was a 62-yard bomb that rookie DeSean Jackson juggled then took to the house giving the Eagles an improbable 25-24 lead.    While the Eagles were scoring in bunches in the 3rd quarter the Cardinals were limited to two three-and-out possessions.  However veteran quarterback Warner and the Cardinals had one more drive left in them.  The former two-time NFL MVP led the Cardinals on a chain-moving 72-yard, 14 play drive that took 7:52 minutes off the clock and culminated with a perfectly executed Warner 8-yard screen pass to rookie RB Tim Hightower.  The rookie from the University of Richmond also had a key play earlier in the drive converting a 4th and 1 play with a tough 2-yard outside run.  For good measure Warner also completed a two-point conversion to backup TE Ben Patrick to make the score 32-25.  Given one more chance, the McNabb and the Eagles moved the ball to the Cardinals 47-yard line.  But on the game’s defining four downs for the Eagles, McNabb could not connect on last four throws (Basket (receiver slipped), Jackson (overthrow), Basket (threw behind receiver), and Curtis (slipped/tripped and dropped pass).  The Eagles defense stopped the Cardinals leading to a poorly executed hook-and-lateral that was intercepted by the Cardinals to end the game.  The Eagles duo of McNabb and head coach Andy Reid are now a disappointing 1-4 in NFC Championship Games leaving many to wonder if this veteran Birds team will get another precious shot in the near future or has their window of opportunity closed. The Cardinals now become the final NFC team to make the Super Bowl in the history of the Big Game and they are the second 9-win regular season team to make the Super Bowl (other team was the 1979 Rams).

Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Baltimore Ravens 14

If you liked a hard-hitting defensive football in bad weather conditions then this was your type of game.  The Steelers, in their NFL leading 14th AFC Championship Game, early on were content to play solid defense and allow their offense to secure three points (two Josh Reed 2 FG’s).  But a 65-yard Roethlisberger to receiver Santonio Holmes touchdown pass broke the game open putting the Steelers ahead 13-0 and sending their home Terrible Towel waving fans into a frenzy.  However the Ravens kept hanging around at the end of the first half as running back Willis McGahee pounded his way to his first touchdown making the score 13-7 at the half.  Even though the Steelers were nursing a 16-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, you never sensed that the veteran team would panic.  The Steelers were never afraid that Ravens rookie quarterback  Joe Flacco (Lloyd’s Lackey) could beat them even when another McGahee touchdown cut the Steelers lead to 16-14.  All of everyone’s apprehensions about Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl were confirmed with less than five minutes left in the game.  The Steelers pass rush caused Flacco into an overthrow that safety Troy Polamalu picked off and zigzagged his way 40 yards into the endzone for the game-sealing score for the Steelers.  The game was not without injuries as this was probably the hardest hitting game, I have seen in some time as Steelers WR Hines Ward tweaked his knee missing the 2nd half, Ravens CB Frank Walker left in the 2nd quarter causing him to not return, and in the game’s scariest moment Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark drilled McGahee causing the former Miami Hurricane to be taken off on a stretcher (later had movement in his extremities). The Steelers are the 12th team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to defeat an opponent three times in the same season. And the Black-and-Gold will make their seventh Super Bowl appearance, second most all-time behind the Cowboys’ eight. Kudos should go out to Steelers 36-year old head coach Mike Tomlin, who validated Steelers owner Dan Rooney’s belief in him when the savvy owner handpicked the relatively unknown defensive coordinator as his headman.  Now Tomlin will be able to face the two men, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who thought they had a leg-up on the competition to replace Bill Cowher back in 2007.

 Game Balls

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – The NFL’s best receiver was on display again as Fitzgerald was spectacular against the Eagles.  First he set an NFL record with 113 first-half yards on six catches including 3 TDs.  Then he helped close the game out with two big receptions on the Cardinals game-winning drive.  The former University of Pittsburgh All-American finished with nine receptions for 152 yards and 3 TDs. The Pro Bowl bound receiver also set a single playoff record with 419 receiving yards, surpassing the great Jerry Rice and did I mention that Fitzgerald has one more game left in Super Bowl XLIII.

Honorable Mention

Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb –– I don’t care what the McNabb bashers will say (missed some early throws, an interception, fumbled by getting sacked by Adrian Wilson and could not lead the Birds back in the 4th quarter), this man had a great game in the NFC Championship.  McNabb led his team back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead when it mattered and lets face it the defense let him down.  He set a career-high with 375 passing yards and was an incredible in the second-half completing 17 of 28 passes for 266-yards and 3 TDs. His final numbers were 28-47, 375 yards, 3 TDs, and 31 rushing, but I guess that will not be enough for the “Haters” who want the Kevin Kolb era to begin.  To everyone yearning for another quarterback than McNabb, you better take a good look around the NFL because there are not many quarterbacks better than Big 5.  Just image what McNabb could do with some real weapons — Did you see Greg Lewis drop that potential bomb??

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu — Finished with four tackles and led a Pittsburgh defense that held Baltimore rookie QB Joe Flacco to 141 passing yards.  Put the Steelers win on ice sending them to their 7th Super Bowl with his 40-yard interception touchdown return.

Other Honorees: Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (Drilled 3 FG’s in tough conditions and finished with 11 points); Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (In going to his 3rd Super Bowl he was spectacular throwing for numbers 21-28, 279 yds, and 4 TDs); Philadelphia Eagles TE Brent Celek (In a game where franchise TE LJ Smith struggled, Celek had a career-high 10 catches, gaining 83 yards and two touchdowns); Pittsburgh Steelers LB Lamar Woodley (The Steelers “D” was stifling against the Ravens and Woodley was everywhere producing 7 TKLs, and 2 sacks);  Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (The perennial Pro Bowl safety was spectacular finishing with 7 TKLs, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble); Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley (Kept the Eagles Defense off-balance the whole game mixing the run and pass well and how about the 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that was a game closer)

Lloyd’s Lackey

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco – In the biggest game of his career, “The rookie quarterback, played like a rookie quarterback”.  Flacco entered the game with no interceptions or sacks in 45 postseason pass attempts, but he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times by the Steelers.  Finished with terrible numbers 13-30, 141 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs

Other DishonoreesEagles safety Quintin Demps (The rookie safety, was beaten for a 62-yard touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald and he also cost the Eagles 15 yards on a dumb late hit on Kurt Warner); Eagles kicker David Akers (“Just a Kicker Being a Kicker”… lost his consecutive field goal streak on a missed 47-yarder, missed a point-after and sent a kickoff out of bounds right before halftime); Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles Defense (Too many blitzes with little results and overall the defense got pushed around…so much for this unit being better than Reggie White’s group.  Gave up 24 first-half points and couldn’t prevent a game-winning 14-play scoring drive at the end.  BTW: Why was two-time Pro Bowl player Lito Sheppard barely on the field); Eagles TE LJ Smith (The franchise-tagged tight end produced 1 catch for 5 yards as backup Brent Celek had a great game);  Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (Played with a hamstring injury producing four catches for 34 yards, but his sulking and arguments with Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines were bush-league.  Yo Q… your team is going to the Super Bowl, so put a smile on your face and grab a NFC Championship t-shirt and hat).

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 Conference Championships Round: Ravens at Steelers

AFC Championship Game Preview

Baltimore Ravens (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4), Sunday, Jan. 18th, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Broadcast Team: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Next up for the Steelers in their NFL record tying 14th AFC Championship game is their hated AFC North rival the Baltimore Ravens.  For the 13th time since 1990 when the NFL went to the 12-team playoff format, teams that played at least once during the regular season will meet in the AFC Championship Game. If Pittsburgh defeats Baltimore, it will mark the ninth time in 13 opportunities that the team that won the regular-season meeting(s) won the AFC Championship.

These teams are the NFL’s version of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s (allegations of bounties) and it will real be interesting to see if the Steelers can beat the tough Ray Lewis led Ravens three times in one season.  There is a lot of history between these two teams – met 26 times including twice this year (both Steelers wins) with the Steelers holding a 16-10 edge including a 2-1 record in the playoffs.  In their prior games in Weeks 4 and 15, the Ravens hung around, but the Steelers always found a way to make a play when needed to produce a victory.

The game will be a battle to two defenses that love to get after the passer looking for sacks and turnovers.  The Ravens were the NFL’s leader in takeaways with 34 and the Steelers were ranked #1 in every category except for the run where they finished second.  Both teams are led by young charismatic head coaches with the title of  the “NFL’s rising new young head coach” at stake — the two coaches have only led their teams for a  combined 48 regular-season games (the second fewest such games by opposing coaches in a conference championship game in the Super Bowl era since 1966).   Though John Harbaugh’s Ravens are a mix of older and younger players, they are perceived as upstarts Ravens compared to Mike Tomlin’s veteran Steelers team.

On offense the Steelers will need to continue to play with balance after a 2008 regular season, where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (281-469, 3301 yards, and  17 TDs) threw the ball entirely too much – usually over 25 times a game.  With Roethlisberger recovering from a concussion and a minor spine injury from the regular season, last week the Steelers and their offensive coordinator Bruce Arians went back to Steelers’ black-and-blue offense.  Roethlisberger was efficient throwing for numbers of 17-26, 181 yards, 1TD, and 0 INTs in a solid win over the Chargers and veteran running back Willie Parker was the teams catalyst (career postseason high of 146 rushing yards).  The Steelers will need to continue to protect Big Ben, who was one of the NFL’s most it passers in 2008, from the Ravens’ “Organized Chaos” defense led by Pro Bowl players LB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and safety Ed Reed.  The Ravens defense, who have some injury problems (Rolle – groin and Suggs – Shoulder) will need to keep an eye on Steelers third-down chain moving receiver Hines Ward, who is on the verge of passing 1,000 yards in receptions in his postseason career.  Also another huge factor offensively for the Steelers maybe receiver Santonio Holmes, who turned last week’s Chargers game around with a huge punt return for a touchdown.

Plain and simple I believe this game will come down to the Steelers pass rush led by Defensive MVP James Harrison (2nd in the AFC in Sacks with 16) getting pressure on Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco (257-428, 2971 yards, 14 TDs and 12 INTs) to force turnovers by their back four — safety Troy Polamalu (7 INTs).  Flacco, a former 1-AA player from Delaware, has been as cool as a cucumber throughout the playoffs winning an NFL rookie record two postseason games.  However the stakes are higher than ever and the former University of Pittsburgh transfer will need to show the country something in terms of that he is more than just a “Game Manager” – only had numbers 11-22, 161 yards and 1 TD in last week’s 13-10 win over the Titans. 

In the postseason the Ravens have lived on the edge producing turnovers that have helped their offense, but the Steelers are a veteran team and the Ravens offense will need to put some drives together.  The Ravens have to get the ball down the field to WR Mark Clayton and WR Derrick Mason (80-receptions for 1,037 yards and 5 TDs), because their running backs LeRon McClain (ankle) and Willis McGahee are very banged up going into this game.

LV‘s Pick: After 18 straight weeks of play without a bye, the Ravens have seemed to have hit a wall.  They were outgained in every category in last week’s win over the Titans, but they will need more in cold snowy Pittsburgh.  The Ravens’ magic run of winning 11 of their last 13 comes to an end at the hands of the Steelers.  Mike Tomlin’s group will make Flacco beat them and I don’t see that happening.  I expect the rookie quarterback to play like a “rookie quarterback” with at least two turnovers.  It will be a “Keystone State” Super Bowl in Tampa as the Steelers and Eagles square off in Super Bowl XLIII. Steelers 24, Ravens 10

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)