Category:NFL
Posted on: August 22, 2010 5:31 am
Edited on: August 22, 2010 3:00 pm
 

Seahawks lose rookie Okung to ankle injury

By the end of the first drive of his second NFL game, Russell Okung -- the player Seattle drafted (and paid) to replace Hall of Famer Walter Jones -- suffered a "legitimate ankle sprain" which could keep him sidelined into the regular season.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said he wasn't sure if the sprain was of the "high ankle" variety, which often takes considerably longer than "low ankle" sprains to heal. High ankle sprains are known to sideline players for 4-6 weeks or more.

Seattle hosts NFC West division favorite San Francisco in three weeks to begin the regular season.

I attended this game and looked forward to comparing the play of Okung and Green Bay Packers' first round pick Bryan Bulaga (who was impressive ).

In watching Okung's three plays live, as well as watching and re-watching the recording of the game I took at home, I still am not sure how or even when, precisely, Okung was injured.

Neither were Carroll nor quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when interviewed following the game.

Okung started at left tackle and played each of the three offensive downs of Seattle's first drive. The rookie did not appear to be injured on either of the first two plays -- two runs by Justin Forsett.

Okung appeared to ease out of his stance cleanly into pass protection on third down. He was balanced and under control. The pocket began to break down and Hasselbeck made his throw -- which Deion Branch allowed to slip through his hands -- and the Seahawks were forced to punt. Though I focused on Okung throughout much of the play, I followed Hasselbeck's pass and didn't notice Okung being hurt.

Later, after it was announced that Okung had suffered an ankle injury and was "doubtful" to return, I asked some of the media and pro scouts around me if they had noticed Okung limp off the field or suffer the injury. None had. 

In fact, the first notion most (all?) of us in the pressbox had that Okung was hurt was when former offensive guard Mansfield Wrotto took over as Seattle's left tackle on the next drive. Seattle Post Intelligencer's Greg Johns reports that Okung was "helped to the locker room early in the first quarter." Okung did not return to the field, nor was he made available to the media following the game. 

Upon getting home this evening, I reviewed the film to see if there was a clearer view of the injury.
 
As I suspected, the television coverage focused on Hasselbeck's pass to Branch on third down. Okung appears to be comfortable in pass protection when the camera follows the ball. 

Often, when offensive linemen receive ankle injuries while in pass protection, they are rolled up from behind. The pocket was shifting as the play ended and it is possible that this is precisely what occurred with Okung. The television coverage I have, however, does not show Okung being knocked down. 

Regardless of how it happened, the injury to Okung could wreak havoc with the quiet optimism that had been brewing in Carroll's first training camp in Seattle.

The Seahawks struggled mightily with injuries along the offensive line last year; they started five different left tackles last season. Improved consistency and durability along the offensive line was considered as critical to the Seahawks improving from their 5-11 record last year as any other factor.

The usually energetic Carroll appeared somber in the post-game press conference, admitting that Okung's ankle sprain was "pretty significant."

He was short on specifics other than to say that Okung's x-rays were negative and that the No. 6 overall pick would undergo an MRI Sunday.

Carroll did, however, further acknowledge the severity of the situation.

"We obviously made it [left tackle] as big a priority as we could make it in getting him," Carroll said. "So, we'll have to see how it goes."

"That's a big loss if he can't come back. We put a lot of time and effort into getting this guy right and he's done everything we've asked of him. We'll just have to see how long it's going to take."

Mansfield Wrotto played the rest of the game at left tackle for the Seahawks.

Okung's injury is the second the team has faced in the past week along the offensive line. Ray Willis, who started all 16 games last year at right tackle for the club, was already out with plans to undergo knee surgery.  His injury, like Okung's, is expected to keep Willis out until at least the start of the regular season -- and perhaps much longer.

 


Posted on: August 21, 2010 11:59 pm
Edited on: August 22, 2010 12:22 am
 

Bulaga impressive as GB's backup LT, LG

If the season goes as hoped for the Green Bay Packers, first round pick Bryan Bulaga won't see much time at left tackle. The Packers feature former Pro Bowler Chad Clifton on the left side and certainly don't want to have to trust Aaron Rodgers' blindside protection with a rookie.

However, with Clifton, Rodgers and the rest of Green Bay's starters comfortably on the sideline, Bulaga has been impressive working againt Seattle's starting defense throughout the second quarter of the team's preseason game tonight.

Bulaga, playing left tackle matched up against Seattle's best pass rusher -- DE Chris Clemons -- throughout much of the second quarter. While Clemons has occasionally challenged Bulaga with a speed rush, the former Iowa Hawkeye has done a nice job protecting backup quarterback Matt Flynn and providing big running lanes.

Bulaga has the footwork necessary to remain at left tackle, though he isn't an elite athlete. He's shown good upper body strength, routinely latching onto Clemons and controlling him. Bulaga's anchor has also been impressive. Clemons was flagged late in the second quarter for getting his hands too high into Bulaga's facemask, but the No. 23 overall pick of the 2010 draft held his ground surprisingly well. He's also done a nice job in the running game, popping Clemons quickly and turning him either inside to set the edge or outside to open up a clear gap for the Packers' backup runners.

Beginning in the third quarter, Bulaga was moved inside to left guard. While his play there has been solid, his inexperience at the position was obvious. Quinn Pitcock, a backup defensive tackle struggling to earn a roster spot, beat him off the snap on a few occasions with a quick burst early on. There were also times when his initial punch was too high, giving the Seattle DTs an opportunity to rush the passer after being stopped initially. As the third quarter went on, however, Bulaga seemed to gain confidence inside. Again, the power that was evident against Clemons when playing left tackle proved helpful at left guard. Bulaga was consistently able to land the initial pop to the defender and generate running lanes.

Currently listed as the backup left tackle and left guard for the Packers, Bulaga is likely to see plenty of playing time as a rookie.

If tonight's performance was any indication, Bulaga appears capable of helping immediately and like a potential future standout at whatever position the Packers most need help along the left side.



Posted on: August 20, 2010 1:53 pm
 

Brandon Spikes a future star in New England

When Brandon Spikes was clocked at 5.05 seconds in the all-important 40-yard dash during his Florida Pro Day, some immediately questioned whether he could be effective in the NFL.

After all, few linebackers have ever run that slow and still been high draft picks. The only middle linebacker from the 2010 draft to have anything close to the two-time All-American Spikes' production in college and his slow time in the 40-yard dash was former Kentucky star Micah Johnson, who went undrafted, was signed by the New York Giants as a free agent and is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

The slow time did force me to re-evaluate whether he could be effective as a true middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme, but if protected in a 3-4 alignment, I thought he could continue the spectacular play in the NFL that he'd enjoyed throughout his career with the Gators. His sideline to sideline speed had concerned me even prior to Spikes' senior season.

If his first two preseason games in the NFL are any indication, the Patriots may have a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate with Spikes, the 62nd overall pick of the draft.

Spikes "only" contributed three solo tackles in the win over Atlanta last night, but his physicality in the hole and timing as a pass rusher makes him an ideal fit for this scheme, especially when you consider that the Patriots already feature one of the game's better young inside linebacker in Jerod Mayo -- who captured 49 of a possible 50 votes to win the 2008 award.

In the first preseason game, Spikes was much more statistically impressive, leading the team with eight tackles against the Super Bowl champion Saints.

Spikes' impressive performance has drawn relatively "rave" reviews from Bill Belichick, who, of course, is rarely complimentary.

"Now that he’s in our defense, some things he does are a little bit different than the way we would teach it, but he still does them well,’’ Belichick was quoted by Robert Mays of the Boston Globe.

Wow. Acknowledgement from Belichick? For a rookie?

That's about as rare as a linebacker running a 5.05 second 40-yard dash and still making the second round... 
Posted on: August 19, 2010 11:28 pm
 

With Jackson/Lynch hurt, Spiller stealing the job

Every year there are a few rookies whose immediate impacts in the NFL are utterly predictable.

This year, one of those players is Buffalo's C.J. Spiller.

I've taken a lot of heat for my pre-draft comparisons of Spiller to Titans star Chris Johnson. While I certainly won't compare Buffalo's offensive line to the one that Johnson ran behind last year for his 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, the similarities between the 5-11, 191 pound Johnson and the 5'11, 196 pound Spiller are just too damn striking for me to back down on them now.

Like Johnson, Spiller's game lies in his vision, lateral agility and pure, unadulterated speed. At less than 200 pounds, neither back possesses the power to consistently taken and discard NFL tacklers, but both players have such agility (and underrated leg drive) that they're often able to change the tackle dynamic at the last possible second. Rather than take on tacklers head on, they're able to give one final juke or acceleration to turn direct hits into arm tackles. And like Johnson, Spiller is plenty strong enough to run through arm tackles.

The undersized Johnson used this style to make it through last season unscathed despite a staggering 408 touches. I believe Spiller can do the same for Buffalo. He certainly showed off his underrated strength and determination in tonight's game against the defending AFC champion Colts.

Spiller's best play was his 31-yard touchdown scamper on just his second touch of the game. On the play, Spiller made three very solid NFL starters -- defensive end Robert Mathis, cornerback Jacob Lacey and free safety Antoine Bethea -- look silly in trying to tackle him. Spiller ran through an arm tackle by Mathis and appeared to be going straight up the middle for another few yards. His vision and balance took over, as he cut back outside, slipping by a lunging Lacey to streak down the sideline. Bethea is one of the better tackling free safeties in the league, but in attempting to cut off Spiller, he committed to the sideline, allowing Spiller to cut back inside this time for the touchdown.

For a team as weak in so many other positions as the Bills are, they are very talented and deep at running back. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch have each proven themselves to be legitimate starting backs.

With each sidelined, however, don't be surprised when Spiller's big plays force the Bills to keep him on the field.

Prior to the 2008 draft, I had one veteran NFL scout characterize Johnson's running ability as "video game-like."

Check out Spiller's touchdown run against the Colts here . Now you tell me -- doesn't that look like a video game?

Posted on: August 18, 2010 3:36 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2010 3:47 pm
 

Pats give OG Simmons a chance, despite clubfoot

With Pro Bowler Logan Mankins holding out and the Nick Kaczur's back a potential season-long issue, the Patriots were in the market for an offensive guard.

The man they picked up, former Oklahoma standout Brian Simmons, is as surprising a choice as there could be.

You see Simmons, a 6-4, 315 pound former defensive tackle who played in 42 games for the Sooners at left and right guard, has a clubfoot. He wasn't invited to the Combine and despite plenty of hype surrounding him, wasn't drafted. As his mother explained in an sad email used by David Ubben on ESPN's Big 12 blog , her son's clubfoot had landed him on the NFL reject list.

A clubfoot, according to WebMD , is a deformity that occurs in the tendons of the foot prior to birth. The tendons force the foot to turn downward and inward towards the other foot. It may result in the foot, especially after the heel, being smaller than the other foot. To correct the issue, the foot is often broken and placed in a cast to re-shape it.

According to Brandon George's article in the Dallas Morning News, Simmons wears a size 17.5 shoe on his left foot and a size 16 on his right.

George's article, written in August of 2007, notes that Simmons has had his right foot broken and re-set a staggering 16 times during surgeries.

With thousands of prospects to grade, NFL teams rely on sharing medical information. It is one of the primary reasons for the development of the Scouting Combine as we now know it. By being placed on the reject list, Simmons had virtually no shot at getting as much as a workout from an NFL team despite the fact that other professional athletes, including Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, have beaten clubfoot to enjoy productive careers.

Simmons was an often-used backup for much of his career, but a knee injury robbed him of five games during his senior campaign -- the only year in which he started at Oklahoma. Playing next to Trent Williams for much of the time, Simmons' athleticism and balance stands out on film. He proved at his Pro Day (the official Oklahoma Pro Day March 9, not Sam Bradford's throwing session March 29) that he was a legitimate draftable athlete at guard -- especially considering the relatively weak crop of talent that was available this year. Simmons measured in at 6-4 1/4, 315 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash between 5.19-5.26. He was timed at 4.75 in the short shuttle, 7.61 in the 3-cone and posted a 28" vertical jump and a 8-10" broad jump. I was disappointed, if not surprised, when Simmons wasn't drafted or immediately signed as a high priority free agent.

Fortunately for Simmons (and potentially the Patriots), New England elected to roll the dice Sunday and gave the former Sooner a shot.

I, for one, will be rooting for him.

Posted on: August 17, 2010 12:45 pm
 

Ten Surprising Rookies So Far (3rd Rd-UFA)

During a handful of radio spots over the past few days I've been asked to list rookies that have stood out to me in film review so far in the preseason.

Of course, I start out with some of the obvious choices. Many of the first and second round picks are already proving that the 2010 draft class was every bit as strong as we said it was .  

Rather than re-state the obvious -- that Ndamukong Suh guy is pretty good -- I thought I'd highlight ten players selected in the third round or later that I and, more importantly, league sources feel have been impressive thus far in the preseason.

This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. There are certainly other players who have stood out, as well. Feel free to leave comments with others that have impressed you and I'll keep my eye on them.

Players are listed in the order they were selected, not necessarily by who has impressed the most.

  1. S Morgan Burnett, Packers (3rd round, 71st overall): Burnett struggled a bit in Green Bay's preseason opener against Cleveland, but otherwise has been one of the rookies generating the most buzz.  Green Bay loves his range, but wants to see him be more consistent in his gap responsibilities. 
  2. WR Jordan Shipley, Bengals (3rd round, 84th overall): Anyone who focused on Shipley while at Texas won't be at all surprised that he's impressed so far with the Bengals. Shipley's toughness, reliable route-running and soft hands have made him the unsung star of a receiving corps dominated by the personalities of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
  3. TE Tony Moeaki, Chiefs (3rd round, 93rd overall): Moeaki has been one of the real stars of training camp for the Chiefs, displaying the athleticism and soft hands that helped him be a standout at Iowa. If he can remain on the field (durability was an issue in college), he could give the Chiefs the best option down the middle they've had since allowing Tony Gonzalez to leave for Atlanta. 
  4. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers (4th round, 101st overall): I've already highlighted Williams in a previous blog post as having a terrific camp. He showed off his athleticism in the preseason opener, making bigger plays against Miami than Brandon Marshall was able to do against the Bucs. If Williams can keep his focus, he could end up as one of the biggest steals of the 2010 draft.
  5. CB Walter Thurmond, Seahawks (4th round, 111th overall): Thurmond entered his senior year as a potential Top 50 prospect, but a horrific knee injury sidelined him early. It was surprising to see a team take him as early as Seattle did simply because the belief was that Thurmond was at least a year away from contributing. Instead, he saw extensive time in Seattle's opening game against the Titans at cornerback and punt returner. Watch out for Thurmond. He was among the more consistent of Oregon'd DBs in recent years -- quite a statement considering that the other three starters (Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward, Jarius Byrd) were all second round picks.
  6. DT Geno Atkins, Bengals (4th round, 120th overall): I've touted Atkins' explosive burst off the snap before and it is showing up for the Bengals. Atkins is known for flashing and then disappearing for long stretches. If he can play with consistency, he could emerge as Cincinnati's starting three-technique. In two games he has 3.5 sacks.
  7. FB John Conner, Jets (5th round, 139th overall): Due to his Terminator nickname, the fact that Rex Ryan used "his" draft pick on him and the exposure of Hard Knocks and Monday Night Football, Conner is finally getting the hype his game deserves. It's been awhile since we've seen a fullback this explosive a blocker and capable as a runner/receiver come into the NFL.
  8. NG Cam Thomas, Chargers (5th round, 146th overall): The Chargers made a calculated gamble releasing veteran Jamal Williams, but in Thomas they appear to have the big body necessarily in filling their former Pro Bowler's large shoes. Thomas has impressed head coach Norv Turner and appears well on his way towards seeing extensive playing time as a rookie this season.
  9. DE Greg Hardy, Panthers (6th round, 175th overall): Like the Bucs' Williams, I've already highlighted Hardy's play because, quite frankly, he's been among the most impressive rookies I've seen so far this preseason. With Julius Peppers gone, few are expecting Carolina to have any success rushing the passer this year. I think the combination of Hardy and 2009 second round pick Everette Brown could surprise.
  10. WR Victor Cruz, Giants (undrafted free agent): I considered several undrafted free agents to list here, including Philadelpia offensive tackle Austin Howard, Detroit safety Randy Phillips and Houston DT Malcolm Sheppard, among others), but Cruz's dominating performance against the Jets on Monday Night was too much to ignore. I blogged about his 6 catch, 145 yard, 3 TD performance last night, but all indications are that his efforts have been just as good throughout OTAs and training camp. 


Posted on: August 16, 2010 11:23 pm
Edited on: August 16, 2010 11:42 pm
 

Giants' WR Cruz steals rookie spotlight on MNF

For all of the talk about high profile rookies leading up the Gotham showdown between the New York Jets and New York Giants for tonight's Monday Night Football game, it was an undrafted wide receiver that stole the show.

Victor Cruz, an undrafted receiver from the University of Massachusetts, caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns against Rex Ryan's Jets that, along with Eli Manning's gash , made the opening of the New Meadowlands Stadium memorable.

It wasn't just that Cruz was productive. It was the spectacular fashion with which he did so that will be catching the attention of every NFL team.

Cruz's first touchdown -- an eye-popping one-handed grab over tight coverage supplied by Jets' cornerback Dwight Lowery -- went for 64 yards. Only moments later, he caught his second score from Giants' backup Jim Sorgi. This one went for 34 yards. Not finished yet, Cruz caught his third touchdown in less than nine minutes of game-time with a 5-yard toss from Rhett Bomar.

Cruz, who was not invited to the Combine despite earning First-Team All-CAA honors in 2009,  has been impressive throughout training camp. He quickly moved up the UMass receiving records list, catching all but one of his 131 passes for 1,958 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final two seasons. Ironically enough, Cruz entered the game not even the most hyped of the UMass rookies. The Jets, of course, spent their second round pick on Massachusetts' offensive lineman Vladimir DuCassse. DuCasse is expected to win the starting left guard position for the Jets.

As ESPN analyst Mike Tirico noted during the telecast, Cruz's big game was historic -- it was the first time a receiver caught three touchdowns in a game since some guy named Terrell Owens accomplished the feat for the 49ers in 1998.

As for the so-called star rookies...

Jets' first round pick Kyle Wilson was largely invisible, finishing with only one tackle. The Giants' first round pick, Jason Pierre Paul, flashed his burst and good flexibility in recording his first NFL sack, but also showed the poor football instincts and relative weakness at the point of attack that had led some scouts to rank him as the most overrated prospect heading into last April's draft.






Posted on: August 16, 2010 12:17 pm
 

Tebow's first game as predictable as it comes

There are times when I really do try to not mention a certain quarterback wearing the No. 15.

In explaining the hoopla to a few family members who don't care about football I realized that unless Tim Tebow truly revolutionizes the game, he'll never be able to match his hype. John Elway, who was the best all-around quarterback I've ever seen, couldn't live up to the expectations some are placing on Tebow.

And let's be clear, Tim Tebow is no John Elway.

Like many of you, I've intently watched Tebow for the past four years light up NCAA defenses with a brand of leadership, toughness, power running and passing just consistent enough to keep opponents in check.

I'm kicking myself this morning for not writing a Tebow Preview post yesterday prior to Denver's preseason game at Cincinnati.

Sure, it is easy to sound like a know-it-all after the fact, but was Tebow's up and down premiere really that surprising?

You tell me -- what wasn't predictable about last night?

Consider that:

  • One could see Tebow's nervous energy on the Denver sideline as the game went on and he knew his time was coming.
  • Once on the field, Tebow was loudly booed (amidst some cheers) by the Ohio crowd. Surprise, surprise that Buckeye and Bearcat fans remembered Tebow's impact in the 2007 BCS Championship Game (41-14) and 2010 Sugar Bowl (51-24) throttlings, respectively, of their beloved teams. 
  • Tebow's best throw was a 40-yard bomb to wideout Matt Willis. Though the ball wasn't perfectly placed -- it would have hit Willis in the helmet had it not bounced off of both hands first -- it was thrown with enough trajectory and speed to allow the receiver to catch and run away from the cornerback. It should have been a 60 yard touchdown. Tebow's deep ball prowess was among his most impressive traits I noticed when scouting him during his Pro Day workout and the Senior Bowl .
  • Once pressured, Tebow reverted back to the long wind-up delivery that we'd seen throughout his four years at Florida. By dropping the ball to his hip like he'd done hundreds of times with the Gators, Tebow had the ball knocked free when hit by a Cincinnati blitz. Bengal pass rusher Frostee Rucker picked up the ball and ran for an apparent touchdown. Replay ruled that Tebow's arm was going forward and the defensive touchdown was wiped away, but this was precisely what scouts were concerned about . Even when the ball wasn't knocked away during his wind-up, Bengal pass defenders still got a half-step advantage in breaking to the ball. Again, for all of the talk about Tebow's smoother throwing motion following the season, did anyone really believe the tutoring in a controlled situation would take over for his instincts and muscle memory once back in an actual game?
  • Finally, was anyone surprised that Tebow was able to score on the game's final play? Trailing 33-17, the last timed play of the game wasn't going to have any bearing on the final outcome. The players giving their all on this play would be the ones whose jobs were on the line or simply the most competitive on the field. Tebow's competitive fire is as impressive as any player I've ever scouted and he's a load as a runner (as his SEC-record 57 rushing touchdowns can attest) so it was quite predictable to see him take off from the 7-yard line and bowl over a defender (Bengals safety Kyries Hebert) on his way to the endzone. Even Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer wasn't surprised with the outcome. As he told reporters following the game, "It was one of those things where you knew he was going to score on the last play of the game, either run it in or throw it in there," Palmer said. "He's such a competitor. I've been a big fan of his ever since he started at Florida. He's one of the greatest college football players."
Now, the day after the game, sports analysts everywhere are micro-analyzing Tebow's performance. Some are surprised he didn't fall on his face, completely. Others, buying into Tebow-mania, are surely certain that his last-play touchdown forecasts immediate NFL success.

And I guess that mixed reaction is the most predictable of all.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com