Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it so that means getting an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you get a grasp of what to expect this upcoming year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 College Football Preview.
# 80 – Memphis Tigers 7-5 SU; 6-5 ATS
Fargo's Take no team in the country was affected by more significant player injuries than the Tigers were last season yet they were still able to put together a winning campaign including a bowl victory. That just shows how important tailback DeAngelo Williams was to Memphis. The Tigers lost both quarterbacks and were decimated along the defensive line but they held tough and won five of their final seven games securing a third straight bowl game. Replacing Williams will obviously be impossible but Memphis is healthy once again and the defense has experience all over the place meaning the Tigers are not dead. They have had three straight winning seasons and three straight bowl bids and while a lot of that can be attributed to Williams, there are numerous other contributors that made this team go. The defense will be solid once again and if transfer quarterback Martin Hankins can live up to his billing, Memphis could be even better. However, the departure of the greatest player in the history of the program keeps them ranking down until proven differently.
Returning Starter on Off – 6 Memphis was forced to run the ball the vast majority of the time last season following the loss of the top two quarterbacks within the first month of the season. Even though teams knew what was coming, Williams still managed to put up over 2,000 yards on the ground and score 18 times. That production will not be duplicated by anyone taking over but the Tigers do have some excellent depth at tailback with the much anticipated start of freshman TJ Pitts. There will be a three-way audition at quarterback but all signs point to Hankins being the man. He is coming in from Southeastern Louisiana where he led the country in passing in 2004 and will no doubt improve the Tigers on their 111th ranking in passing indemnity from last year. 4/5 of the offensive line returns which will provide a very easy transition for the new personnel to step in.
Returning Starter on Defense – 6 The defense finished 80th in the country in total defense but 36th in scoring defense and the return of many key players from injury to go along with some solid transfers hints at a much improved unit in 2006. Injuries hit so hard last season that the Tigers were forced to play a 2-4-5 defense toward the end of the season but things will be back to normal this year. The defensive line will benefit the most with Rubio Phillips and Van Houston healthy again along with the addition of two transfers from Mississippi. The passing defense was a huge liability last year but it could have the strength this season as five players with starting experience are back led by All-C-USA free safety Wesley Smith. Memphis has allowed 276 ypg and 280 ypg through the air over the last two seasons and that will no doubt decrease this year. Overall, this defense can be one of the better units in the conference.
Schedule The biggest challenge for the Tigers in 2006 is their schedule which might not look overly difficult on paper, but in reality it is a very tough slate. The Tigers have seven home games but only two of those are sure wins (Chattanooga and Arkansas St.). A non-conference game against Tennessee along with four contests against four of the top teams in the conference makes for one difficult home schedule. The first four road games are all coin tosses with the final game of the season at UTEP being the biggest challenge. Five of the final seven games are at home which will certainly help matters coming down the stretch. The schedule is capable but with the way it sets up with very few sure wins both at home and on the road may make the going tough for Memphis to make it four straight winning seasons.
You can bet on … Memphis will be a much more balanced team in 2006 and that will make it tougher on opposing defenses that are accredited to the Tigers running in down their throats. The emergence of Hankins will be the x-factor in making the offensive go and if he can make it work, Memphis will be a tough out. Last season, the Tigers had their first winning ATS record since 1999 but they continue to be a liability when favored. Memphis is just 14-24 against the number when laying points over the last seven years. The Tigers likely will not be in that role until the sixth game of the season when they host Arkansas St.. That game precedes their conference home opener against Tulsa so there is a strong possibility of looking past the Indians.
The two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV champion received an honorary doctorate of humanities from the Medical College of Wisconsin, the school announced Thursday.
The honor was given in recognition for his commitment to helping children with cancer through his work with the college and the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund. There was no public ceremony to recognize Rodgers.
“It is with great pride that we welcome Aaron to the MCW community,” Dr. John R. Raymond Sr., president and chief operating officer of MCW, said in a statement. “Honorary degree recipients exemplify the MCW commitment to the highest standards of education, scholarship, innovation or community engagement. When conferring an honorary degree, we honor those individuals in our community who have embraced our ideals and have dedicated a substantial portion of their lives to bettering the world around them.”
According to the school, Rodgers has helped raise $2.8 million in research and continues to make appearances on behalf of the MACC Fund. “MCW’s conferral of an honorary degree on Aaron Rodgers not only honors this extraordinary individual, but also the MACC Fund’s special relationship with the Medical College of Wisconsin,” said MACC Fund co-founder/president Jon McGlocklin, a former NBA player.
The Medical College of Wisconsin, whose main campus is in Milwaukee, opened a Green Bay campus in 2015. Green Bay’s first graduating class of 15 students received their diplomas this week at Lambeau Field.
PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia Eagles fan accused of punching a police horse and a mounted officer before the Eagles’ NFC championship victory is suing the team, Philadelphia and state police, claiming he didn’t strike the horse and he was beaten for no reason.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the lawsuit Andrew Tornetta filed Wednesday alleges assault and battery by the police and seeks damages in excess of $50,000.
The 20-year-old Tornetta says as a result of the beating, his “false” arrest and demonization in the media he has suffered “physical pain, discomfort, trauma, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress” and sleeplessness.
Charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse against Tornetta were dropped after he completed an accelerated misdemeanor program in which he completed 12 hours of community service and paid $222 in court fees.
The Eagles and city and state police say they won’t comment on pending legal action.
The Buffalo Bills reached an injury settlement with center Eric Wood and released him, a source told ESPN on Thursday, confirming multiple reports.
Wood announced in January that he could no longer play football after a postseason physical by the team revealed a disk in his neck was “dangerously close” to his spinal cord.
At what was expected to be a retirement news conference on Jan. 29 attended by many of his former teammates, Wood instead gave a one-minute statement that he remained on the team’s roster. General manager Brandon Beane later said salary-cap implications prevented the team from releasing Wood or placing him on the retired list at the time.
The Bills releasing Wood before June 1 means the remaining guaranteed portion of his contract, which extended through 2019, would count against Buffalo’s salary cap this season. His release after June 1 would have meant part of that amount would have counted against the Bills’ salary cap in 2019.
Wood, 32, was the Bills’ starting center for the past nine seasons after being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft.
The woman was seated across the aisle from Jones on a flight from Chicago to Appleton, Wisconsin. Jones was on his way back from his Memorial Day weekend holiday in his hometown of El Paso, Texas. He fell asleep with his headphones on during the short flight; when the plane landed, he awoke to see the woman struggling with her cane and bags.
“I was like, ‘Do you need help?'” Jones said Thursday. “And she said yes, so I started carrying her bags and when we were walking off the plane, the flight attendant told her that there would be somebody there to push her with a wheelchair.”
There were wheelchairs there, but no one to push them, Jones said.
“So I asked if she wanted me to push her and she said yes,” Jones said. “I pushed her down to where her daughter was. As we got halfway down there, I had a bag tag on and she asked, ‘Are you a Packers player?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I am.’ And she was like, ‘My husband would’ve loved this.’ You could tell she got excited, and it made me happy. But I didn’t know anybody had taken a picture until I got home and got on Twitter.”
By the time the Packers hit the field for Thursday’s OTA practice, the story had gone viral. The original tweet had been liked more than 18,000 times and retweeted more than 3,400 times.
“Well, I’ll tell you, it brings a big smile to my face when it comes across my phone,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’ll just say about Aaron Jones and our players: I look at that as I’m thankful that everybody else is getting to see what I get to see pretty much every day. I mean, this is a tremendous locker room. We’ve been very fortunate and blessed with the caliber of character that we have in our locker room.
“So when things like that are expressed, especially on social media, it brings a smile to my face. But that’s what I get to experience with these guys every day. Their heart is in the right place, and I’m sure obviously he probably didn’t even know someone took that picture. That’s just the type of guy he is.”
Jones, a fifth-round draft pick last year from UTEP, tied for the Packers’ lead in rushing touchdowns last season (four) and is in a competition with Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams to be the No. 1 running back this season. His rookie season could have been even more successful if not for a pair of knee injuries and a marijuana charge (to which he pleaded no contest).
It wasn’t the only Good Samaritan deed by a Packers player this week. Linebacker Blake Martinez found a stray dog, posted a picture on Twitter and then later reported that the dog had been returned to its owner.
“I’m always having fun, but I get it. Cassius had a frustrating time here. I didn’t think he would get released here and say New England was the time of his life. He can’t wait to try to come back some day,” Patriots captain Devin McCourty said after Thursday’s organized team activities.
“I think every experience for everyone, no matter what, is different. … You look at it, a team that beat us in the Super Bowl and you have guys [on their team] who are talking about it, so it’s front-page news. Cassius leaves, he played here, so that’s another one.
“But I think if you ask any guys on this team, the fun we have comes from hanging with each other, the relationships between the guys. A lot of our fun happens right in the locker room even before we come out here and have fun winning football games. Obviously, we work for a living, so in this business, you have to win. When you lose, that’s not fun. People get fired. That’s not fun.”
McCourty, entering his ninth season with the Patriots, added, “We got a couple guys from Cleveland that went 0-16, and they told me that wasn’t fun. I’m going to try to stay on this side.”
Coach Bill Belichick echoed that point when asked if he views it as important to make things fun for players.
“We feel what’s important to us is to win, so that’s really what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Another captain, Dont’a Hightower, entering his seventh year with the Patriots, acknowledged that the team’s culture is demanding, and because of that, “it’s not for everybody.”
“It’s definitely harder than most places, but I mean, that’s part of it. A lot of guys know that when they come here,” he said. “But in the locker room, it’s not Bill’s job to make this fun and this atmosphere fun; it’s the guys around it. Every guy in that locker room, I love like a brother. We have fun, whether it’s out here struggling together — blood, sweat and tears — or we’re back in the locker room or we’re hanging out outside of football.
“So, there’s a time and place for everything, but we know whenever we walk through the building, it’s time to work.”
The wider field won’t impede Johnny Manziel in the Canadian Football League. Neither will the 20-second play clock, the 12-man defensive looks, the punts on third down nor the pre-snap motion. It’s all of it, all at once, all while Manziel is in a hurry to master this league so he can move on to the next.
Most American quarterbacks need a year or more to adjust and thrive in the CFL. But if Manziel is to return to the NFL when his two-year contract expires, he must speed up the traditional timetable and put extended periods of high-end play on tape right away. He can start measuring his progress Friday night when he debuts in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ preseason opener, scheduled to kick off on ESPN+ at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“Some guys come up here and they can have success right away,” said Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2017. “But it takes some time to really understand what’s happening. It’s hard. It’s hard to be successful here right out of the gates. That’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
To be fair, most quarterbacks who migrate north don’t have Manziel’s athletic skills and pedigree. Reilly, for example, went undrafted in 2009 out of Central Washington. He was released by four NFL teams over 18 months before moving to the CFL, and only after spending two seasons on the bench did he get a chance to start in 2013.
Current Tiger-Cats starter Jeremiah Masoli spent three seasons on the bench after signing in 2013 out of Mississippi. Hamilton coach June Jones has said he is committed to Masoli as the starter, but some of Jones’ other public comments — such as when he said last winter that Manziel would be the “best player to ever play up here” — suggest he is eager to get Manziel on the field.
“I think Johnny will come fast because we’re not going to change things from here on,” Jones said this week. “He has the whole offense in, and he’s been running it on the field. Now, does he know what he’s doing with it yet? No. But because we’re repping it all with him now, he’s going to come faster than what is typical.”
Manziel has acknowledged the steep learning curve but told reporters this week that he has “a pretty good grasp on almost everything that we’re doing.” He said he has played Jones’ run ‘n’ shoot scheme “a million” times on EA Sports’ “NCAA Football,” and Jones said his approach in many ways mirrors the three- and four-receiver sets Manziel utilized at Texas A&M.
“I looked at every pass he threw in the NFL out of a four-wide, a three-wide, out of an empty set,” Jones said, “and he threw the ball just like he did in college out of those. What the NFL did to him is put him in something he had never been in before. Never in high school, never in college, he had never run what he was asked to do. But when he was asked to do the things he had done, which is what he’ll be asked to do here, he looked like an All-Pro.”
Indeed, 97 percent of Manziel’s throws in college came out of sets with at least three receivers on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That number dropped to 70 percent over two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
But Jones’ enthusiasm for his scheme, and Manziel’s fit in it, glosses over the more fundamental challenges of this transition. People I spoke with this week reinforced what others said during a trip to Hamilton in 2016: American visions of Manziel mirroring the success of Doug Flutie, another Heisman Trophy winner who moved north to find success, are outdated. Rather than scramble madly from wide sideline to sideline, successful CFL quarterbacks must now throw accurately and efficiently from the pocket above all else.
If anything, the league’s three-down structure discourages quarterbacks from taking chances on unscripted runs or off-schedule throws. Lost yardage on first down, or even a minimal gain, leads to the NFL equivalent of third-and-long, effectively quashing drives. Historically, according to league data, CFL teams convert first downs on second-and-10 or longer between 12 and 14 percent of the time. In 2017, they converted 35.9 percent on plays of second-and-7 or longer.
“A lot of guys start out up here by extending the play and trying to make things happen downfield,” Reilly said. “That’s how you can make up for a lack of seasoning. But that’s only going to take you so far. Defensive coordinators aren’t stupid. They can take that away and keep you in the pocket. You have to be able to go through your progressions and understand what the defenses are and where the advantages are.”
While he appreciates Manziel’s mobility, Jones said that — if anything — it’s less important in the CFL than in the NFL.
“Accuracy is the most important thing,” Jones said. “A lot of times, people think it’s guys with mobility and that kind of stuff, but to me, it’s always been accuracy with the football. You look at the guys that are at the top of the league with a chance at the Grey Cup, they’re not runners. They’re accurate passers. If you want to win it all, you have to have a guy that can see a guy and hit him.”
Can Manziel be that player? Jones thinks so. And you might be surprised to know that in his final college season, Manziel led all qualified players in completion percentage on throws from the pocket (73.5). But first, Manziel will have to master a set of rules and alternate structures that have tripped up many American quarterbacks north of the border.
During a phone conversation this week, Reilly detailed five differences quarterbacks have to adjust to while transitioning to the CFL. Here are those five differences in his words:
1. Twelve players on each side
Reilly’s breakdown: “Having 12 guys on offense, that sounds great. OK, I get an extra receiver. But the additional guy defensively allows defensive coordinators to draw up so many different coverages that you don’t even see in the States. There are essentially three safeties. When you get an extra guy out there, they can bring pressures that they can’t bring in the States. They can drop into certain zone coverages and things like that.
“You have your typical zones that you see in the NFL or in American football: Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4 and some combination. You may get two to one side, four to the other side, two-man, man, things like that. But the way that the defensive coordinators here can create different schemes in different zones, it’s not the same as in American football. The windows aren’t the same. How you read different coverages is not the same.”
2. Only three downs
Reilly’s breakdown: “You have to be extremely efficient with every single play that you have. We don’t have that extra down. We can’t just go in there and pound the ball up the middle and run the ball and try to get yards. If we’re going to run the ball on first down, we have to get 4 or 5 yards for it to feel successful. Likewise when you’re throwing the ball on first down. You need yards.”
3. Wider (about 12 yards) and longer (10) fields
Reilly’s breakdown: “When we’re on the left hash and we’re throwing the ball to the right sideline, you’re talking almost the width of an American football field. And so the windows that you have to be comfortable throwing in are different, understanding that the ball is going to be in the air longer and that the defensive backs have more time to break. That cushion that you might have in American football where a guy is open and you throw it, here that cushion and that window is different.
“You see it all the time with young guys that come up here and try to throw a corner route to the field side and the ball skips 10 yards short of the wide receiver. They’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve got to recalibrate and readjust.’ Everybody generally has a strong-enough arm to do it, but understanding what makes a guy actually open enough to throw the ball requires a different thought process.”
4. Twenty-second play clock and two timeouts
Reilly’s breakdown: “If you’re [at the line of scrimmage] and things are a little bit confusing, in American football, it’s the second quarter, you can burn a timeout. There’s no problem with that. Here in Canada, we get two timeouts for the game, we only have one challenge per game and we have to have a timeout to use a challenge. So if it’s the second quarter and we burn a timeout, we’ve just limited ourselves in what we can do potentially in crunch time if we need to throw a challenge flag.
“You can’t just snap the ball and throw it out of bounds, because it’s second-and-10 and you’ve pretty much wasted that drive. So that’s a big change as a quarterback, is knowing where the play clock is at all times and being able to get your guys in and out of the huddle at a fast tempo.
“You have to be able to assess what the defense is doing in a very short period of time, and if you’re trying to change out of the play with a pressure check, the operation has to be very, very quick. So I think everything in terms of mentally what you have to do pre-snap, it is all much more sudden.”
5. Pre-snap motions
Reilly’s breakdown: “That changes everything, too. It is an advantage to be able to have three or four receivers motioning from one side of the field to the other, and motioning toward the line of scrimmage to get a running start against the defense. That’s all great. But what you have to understand, too, is that the defense is also going to be moving around and making adjustments based on your motion. So when you’re at the line of scrimmage and you send your receivers in motion, you’ve got about two or three seconds before you’re going to snap the ball, and what the defense was showing you before the motions versus after the motions is going to be completely different.
“A big change is being able to process things way faster after the ball is snapped. … You’ve got to be able to catch the ball in shotgun, see the ball coming from the center and also see what the defense is doing. So it really does test whether or not you can process information in a very short amount of time.”
Each day during the season, the Eskimos wrap up practice at about 12:30 p.m. local time. Reilly said he stays at the stadium as late as 7 p.m. to watch film. His advice for Manziel, and any young American quarterback, is to “make sure you spend every minute you think you should spend in the film room — and then add an extra hour or two.”
Manziel’s work habits in Cleveland were weak. He won’t have it any easier in Canada. There is no cheat sheet in the CFL, and much less opportunity to get by on athleticism than you might think. Manziel can’t guess his way through the playbook or freelance through games. If he makes it with the Tiger-Cats, he will have earned it. The journey starts now.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Leonard Fournette was a big part of the beginning of the Raines High School football team’s 2017 season, so it’s only fitting that he’s a significant part of the end of it, too.
The school was able to purchase 85 rings for players and coaches to commemorate the state championship it won in the fall, but didn’t have enough funds to purchase jackets. That’s when the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ second-year running back partnered with MET-Rx to donate the remaining funds needed to ensure the players and coaches each received a jacket.
“They were very humbled,” Raines head football coach Deran Wiley said of his players. “They were very grateful.
“When I told them, those guys, the look in their eyes, they were very, very thankful.”
This is the second time Fournette and the supplement company have combined to help the Raines High School football program. They partnered to melt down some of Fournette’s old football trophies and turn them into a set of weights, which they presented to the school last summer.
“I think everyone should give back,” Fournette said. “No matter what’s going on in your life I think the best thing for you is to give back, and I had the opportunity to do that. … When I was in high school I wish someone came back and gave to us, so I just want to be that next generation of leader and do a lot of things by example.
“Whatever school needs help. As long as I’m here in Jacksonville still playing, my arms are open wide to any school. I want to see everybody prosper.”
As important as the weights and jackets are, Wiley said it was the time Fournette spent with the players on the day the weights were donated that had the most impact. Not only did Fournette talk with them, joke around, and give a short motivational speech, but he also spoke via FaceTime with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — who, like Fournette, is a former LSU star — and gave several players a ride in his Mercedes-Maybach.
It’s not unusual for former NFL players to be around the program. Raines High School has produced numerous NFL stars, including Lito Sheppard, Harold Carmichael, Brian Dawkins, and Shawn Jefferson — in addition to countless Football Bowl Subdivision standouts. Players often stop by the school to visit or help out, and many have donated money to the program. The program’s weight room, for example, is named after Dawkins.
Those players have ties to the program, though. Fournette doesn’t, and that’s what made his visit special, Wiley said.
“What makes it feel natural and a little normal is our former players, because we have so many,” Wiley said. “Brian’s been here numerous times and been generous with his donations as well to the facilities, equipment and all those things. To get this guy, Leonard Fournette, who has no connection, it was just huge. It felt big. The whole time he was here it felt big. It was a ‘wow’ moment.
“You could tell his genuineness to be here and to talk to the kids, not forgetting where he came from. … It was a great moment for us and one I won’t forget.”
It turned into a season Fournette won’t forget, either. The Vikings went 13-1 and won the Class 4A state title, beating Cocoa High School 13-10 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. They scored the go-ahead touchdown on Ivory Durham’s 8-yard pass to receiver Kamaree Noble with 5:41 remaining.
That victory came nearly 20 years to the day after Raines won its first state title in 1997. Raines is the only public school from Duval County — which encompasses the entire city of Jacksonville — to win a state championship in football.
That’s why Noble said he’s eagerly awaiting his jacket.
“I’ll wear it every day! You feel me?” Noble said. “We won a state championship! A lot of people can’t say that.”
Fournette is one of them. He rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns in his four-year career at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. He was the 2013 USA Today High School Football Offensive Player of the Year, too. But his teams never won a state title, so he’s taking a lot of satisfaction in his adopted school’s success.
“I’m not going to say I was out there running with them and lifting weights, but it feels good to be a part of that just a little bit and just to see those guys become successful on the next level,” Fournette said.
As far as Wiley is concerned, Fournette certainly deserves a piece of the Vikings’ latest title.
“The road to [a state title] there’s a lot of great people along the way that you have to thank,” Wiley said. “He’s definitely one of the guys I would have to thank.”
ASHBURN, Va. — The downfield throws haven’t always been successful, but they have represented hope. Developments this spring might be a mirage, or it could be the start of something — which would be good news for receiver Josh Doctson and the Washington Redskins.
During practice Wednesday, quarterback Alex Smith targeted a covered Doctson twice, giving him a shot at catching a contested pass. The first one, an out-breaking route vs. corner Josh Norman, was wide and ended up out of bounds.
The second one dropped over the head of corner Orlando Scandrick and in front of safety D.J. Swearinger to a leaping Doctson. It resulted in a gain of approximately 30 yards.
For Doctson, the Redskins hope it’s a continuation of his development. For Smith, they hope it’s what they also see during the season, a quarterback placing trust in his wideouts.
This was a topic within Redskins Park last year with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Coach Jay Gruden said late in the season that he wanted Cousins to trust his receivers more. It would be incorrect to say Cousins never took any shots or threw only safe passes. And, as receivers coach Ike Hilliard said last season, the wideouts also had to earn that trust: Doctson was new, Terrelle Pryor Sr. was hurt and Jamison Crowder was playing injured as well.
But there were other games in which the coaches simply wanted a receiver who appeared to be covered to be given a chance. And, Gruden said at the time, he also wanted Cousins to take more chances in practice — to see what both he and the receivers could accomplish.
Through two practices open to the media, Smith has taken some of those shots. He’s not reckless; he’s thrown only 33 interceptions the last five years combined. He hasn’t been intercepted in the two open sessions. He has thrown passes that have given receivers a chance to make plays.
Last week, Smith took shots with Paul Richardson on two deep balls — and he wasn’t completely open on either. Richardson caught one and the other was broken up by corner Quinton Dunbar.
After that practice, Smith said, “Most of the time you’re just trying to be the point guard out there based on the play call and the defense that you’re getting; that really dictates where the football goes. Matchups play into that, but certainly this time of year, there’s something to be said about pushing it a little bit. When we get to camp and real ball, you can kind of rein that in a little. This time of year there’s something to be said about taking some chances down the field and taking some opportunities.”
“It helps any offense to be able to have somebody to go to, especially when someone is on them stride for stride,” Richardson told reporters Wednesday. “They might not look open but they can attack the ball and make the play.”
Gruden, a former quarterback, said throwing these 50-50 passes doesn’t just help the receiver.
“We don’t know if these guys can come down with the ball unless we give them some opportunities,” Gruden said. “And it’s the same with the defensive backs. I want them … sometimes I’ll tell them to take a shot whether they want to or not because I have got to see the defensive backs play the ball in the air and I want to see the receivers play the ball in the air.”
Then there’s Doctson and what this means for him. The strength of his game coming out of TCU was his ability to track the ball downfield and make contested catches. Gruden would compare his tracking skills to that of Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green, though not quite as good.
“It’s just a matter of getting that rapport with Alex,” Gruden said. “I’m not worried about his confidence. … He’s an ultra-talented kid, without a doubt. His ball skills are top-notch and we’ve just got to find ways to get him the ball in those situations.”
Doctson played in just two games his rookie season — and missed all of the spring workouts — because of issues with both Achilles. He played all 16 games last year, eventually starting as the X receiver and catching 35 passes for 502 yards and six touchdowns. He said he’s noticed a difference in himself this spring. The Redskins need their 2015 first-round pick to continue developing, both as a player and in his rapport with Smith. The two also connected on other plays in which Smith scrambled, including one in which Smith found Doctson in the back of the end zone.
Doctson had some big moments last season, such as a 38-yard catch to help set up the game-winning touchdown at Seattle. And he had some tough ones, including a failed catch in the end zone against Kansas City in which he grabbed the ball, but in bracing for the fall with one hand, it fell out.
“It’s just being comfortable, man. Being comfortable and trusting myself. … The biggest thing is confidence level. You give anybody confidence and he’ll be fine,” Doctson said. “You have high school players who could come out here and play through confidence.
“It’s kind of surreal when you first get here, then last year was my first year playing. Just kind of calmed it down and now I’m just back like I was at TCU.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Von Miller can’t say he wasn’t warned.
In Bradley Chubb‘s inaugural trip to the Denver Broncos‘ complex after being drafted fifth overall, Chubb was asked what his plan would be when he met Miller.
“To ask him questions,” Chubb said. “A lot of questions, every question I can think of and I hope he doesn’t get tired of it.”
Miller, now in his eighth season and one birthday away from 30 years old, has decided he’s ready in this football life to do something for other players the way DeMarcus Ware did for him.
“DeMarcus, I always say, he was one of those guys who taught me how to approach things,” Miller said. “But mainly he always answered everything I asked him and a lot of people say you should ask any time and then you can’t really make that work. But DeMarcus, he really answered me every time and he was real. I want to do that.”
This is Miller’s place right now. He is at the peak of his powers as a player; 2017 was his sixth season with at least 10 sacks, he has a $114.5 million contract, and has the profile to have organized two pass-rush “summits,” a meet-and-greet of sorts for defensive players from around the league to compare notes on chasing quarterbacks.
And he has not forgotten what Ware did for him after Ware arrived in 2014 as a free agent. In 2013, Miller was suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and ended the season on injured reserve with a torn ACL. The year tested Miller’s resolve, discipline and optimism.
When Ware arrived from the Dallas Cowboys, he saw a player “with all the talent in the world, who just needed somebody to help him work on the rest.” It was Ware, with all of his experience, drive and knowledge about the league as well as the art of the pass rush, who was that person. Miller flourished, culminating in Super Bowl 50 MVP honors, and has vowed since Ware retired after the 2016 season to “just keep paying it forward.”
So when Chubb fired off a text to Miller in the early morning hours during Memorial Day weekend, it shouldn’t have surprised the rookie that Miller answered in seconds.
“He’s great,” Miller said. “He reminds me of myself. He texts me late at night. Texts me at 3 o’clock in the morning. I’m up [laughing]. I’m all for it. It’s good, it’s some of the same stuff I saw — it’s some of the same stuff that I was doing with DeMarcus.”
Chubb is the highest pick by the Broncos since they selected Miller No. 2 overall in 2011. The rookie is an important figure in the team’s plan on defense to, among other things, try to give its best player (Miller) more room to operate.
“It was the weekend,” Miller said with a laugh, referring to the recent text exchange. “We were just talking … about what stuff matters and what stuff doesn’t matter. … Just doing more talking than what you probably would in the locker room.”
And that was the point Miller learned from Ware. Get him to understand what’s important at the moment.
Miller is dealing with his own transition of sorts this offseason. Coach Vance Joseph has given Miller a new boss, as it were. Defensive line coach Bill Kollar, with his intense, no-nonsense and shall we say, high-volume approach to feedback, is now Miller’s day-to-day position coach.
And Miller, along with his new protégé Chubb, are getting the hard coaching Miller had said he wants.
“I think it’s good for Von to have somebody on his ass like that,” DE Derek Wolfe said. “Von’s the kind of guy that’s going to embrace whatever comes at him. He’s not going to make a fuss about anything. … He’s practicing harder, and he’s being a leader.”
“I just want to be the best Von I can be,” is how Miller has put it. “That’s what DeMarcus really showed me. It doesn’t stop as long as you’re in this league, you have to grind — work — to get better or you won’t be great. You won’t even be good. So embrace the work, love it, because that work is the thing. That’s my message.”