Friday, April 24, 2009

Q&A: Mike Riley, HC, Oregon St.

Coach Riley is 56-42 at Oregon St., including 48-28 since his return from the NFL in 2003, including a 5-0 Bowl record with a stint in between coaching the San Diego Chargers. As a player, Coach Riley won four SEC titles with Alabama Crimson Tide.

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Hi coach, how are you doing today?

Coach Riley: I’m doing very well, thanks for having me.

You are halfway through spring football at Oregon St., with seven practices under your belt and seven remaining before the Spring Game. How have things gone so far?

Coach Riley:
Well it feels good. The work is good. The work-ethic is good. We are getting, I think, a lot of good preparation for the season. You know, spring ball is such a great time for teaching skills and spending time with individual players without a ‘game-prep’, right-on-top-of-you. So it’s a great time of year and I think our team is working hard. We have a lot of holes to fill, but it’s all good work.

Would you say teaching is your main objective in spring ball?

Coach Riley:
It’s all about skill development really, you know, we run a bunch of plays and we’ll even tweak some stuff, but if we can get a guy to run a better out-route during spring ball then we’ve made some progress. We really try to focus on the little things because they’ll all fit into packages that go into game plans later. But you just don’t get a lot of time to do this kind of thing later on, so you have to take advantage of skill development.

Is that a constant or does it vary from team-to-team depending on who is coming back?

Coach Riley:
Well that is well said, because I think you have to balance that out between seniors and freshmen. We've got a senior quarterback that we can hit the ground running with, but we’ve got some freshmen receivers that don’t know where the ground is (laughs). You have to try and balance that out and bring those guys up to speed so they can make an impact in the fall.

You mentioned working on those specific skills. I read that you were working with the stellar running back Jacquizz Rogers on his route running in yesterday’s practice, so is that a point of emphasis with him? Should we expect to see his role as a pass catcher expand come this fall?

Coach Riley:
You know Dan, that is something that he can do very well. I mean, he’s got very good hands and of course he’s got great quickness coming out of the backfield. I think he caught 30-something balls last year--he probably can catch 50 with the screen passes we’ll throw him and some of the stuff we can do with him coming out of the backfield. I’d like to expand that a little bit, but it also--right now for him--is one of those areas that can keep him out of contact and let him get healed-up for fall camp. There are also some things that we can work on that don’t put any burden on his shoulder, so he can get some running in and catch the ball. Then we do some ball-handling with him besides that, running tracks of our running plays, but if we can get some of that accomplished in spring ball then we’ll be ahead of the game.

What’s the status on his shoulder and the rehab there--is he getting any contact, and will he get any contact at all this spring?

Coach Riley:
Probably not. I don’t think I’m being overly cautious, but I am being cautious with it. He’s basically had a big time positive report from his last appointment with the doctors, so we feel really, really good about him being 100 percent for fall camp.

What’s the status of quarterback Lyle Moevao? When do you expect him to be able to start throwing the football again?

Coach Riley:
Well, it will probably be another six weeks. He spent the first six weeks in a sling. Yesterday was his first day out of that sling, so that was good news, and I know, much more comfortable for him. He feels very good. I think the big deal with Lyle, that will keep him paying attention to the protocol, is that he has to go through and not try to do too much too early. But I expect him to be throwing the ball this summer and being ready for fall camp.

Now coach, is there a way you can spin this in a positive way. You know what you have with those two guys...now this gives more opportunities to unproven players to show what they can do and to get some experience?

Coach Riley:
That’s absolutely what we’re doing. We have to try and make lemonade out of lemons sometimes. I’d much rather have Lyle practicing with us, but the silver lining is that Sean (Canfield) is having a great spring and is basically ready to take command of this thing. He's playing the role of a ‘good senior quarterback’ and then we have a red-shirt freshman, Ryan Katz, that is really benefiting from all the extra work that he has been getting. So there is a silver lining; we are able to get him some turns that are very visible for his development, so I hope in the long run it all balances out. Lyle’s healthy, Sean’s healthy, and we can start the season with two senior quarterbacks and a younger guy who’s really got good preparation through spring ball.

Offensive lineman Michael Philip was your top recruit according to scouting services. Do you expect him, or any of the true freshmen, to make an impact from day one?

Coach Riley:
You know Dan, we really like to red-shirt guys if we can. We red-shirted 25 kids last year, including some of our walk-ons, so in my mind being in a program going on seven years, it’s really about development and having that extra year to work with guys. However, we have had freshmen play--usually there are a couple every year that find their way in--and physically a guy like Michael Philip can do it. You know, whether or not we do it with him, we’ll go into fall camp and find out for sure. We got a receiver, Markus Wheaten, coming in here that ability-wise can play right away. But we’ll play that out, probably two weeks into fall camp before we make any decisions like that.

From a coach's perspective, when spring ball comes you must be pretty excited and pumped up after doing recruiting and all that stuff. You actually get to go back on the football field and do a little football?

Coach Riley:
It’s really fun to get back on the field and work with these kids. They’ve been through what I think is one of their hardest, most tedious times of the year--and that’s the off-season program--with a lot of running and lifting, so there’s a new spirit. It’s a new phase of the year, you get to start spring ball and put on the pads. You get to go out there and do what you like to do, so it is always fun. Footballs are in the air…summer is starting to come around a little bit, so it all feels good right now.

So with all this stuff going on...you have the bowl games finishing up at the end of the year, you have a lot of recruiting, spring practice. Do you get any time off, do you do any traveling, or do you have to wait until the summertime?

Coach Riley:
That pretty much waits for us. You know, one thing about being in Corvallis, you might be able to appreciate, is it’s a small town and so we’re close to home. We have a fairly balanced life which I will never forget. I’m very thankful for that.

Let’s switch a little bit to guys that are leaving the program and moving on to the NFL. Let’s start with your cornerbacks--what can you tell us about Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, a of couple guys who I think are getting a little underrated in this evaluation process…

Coach Riley:
You know, I think they might be but I’ve gotten quite a few phone calls on those guys, which might mean something. You probably realize that more than most. I think they are very, very good players and they are really solid guys. They played a ton of football for us; Brandon started three and a half years, Keenan four years. They played that position for a long time and got great experience against a lot of great receivers. They have good size for playing that position. I think that they will get good opportunities and it will be up to them to make the most of it.

What would you say is the strength of their game? Lewis to me seems like a physical kid who is not afraid to mix-it-up, and I think Brandon Hughes surprised some people with his speed at the Combine…

Coach Riley:
You know, I think you said it right. Keenan is lanky and has long arms, which everybody likes at that position. He gets his hands on people. I thought he had a great year, he had his best year…very, very solid, also ran very well. Brandon ran very well also. When people start testing after their season is over, those are the kinds of things they’re looking for. Then you put that together with their film and I think they’re both pretty good prospects.

Another guy who could be a day-one selection is Ande Levitre, your offensive lineman who played some offensive tackle for you. I think he’s more projected as a guard at the next level. What does he bring to the table? If an NFL team called you to ask about him, what would you tell them?

Coach Riley:
Well, you know, Ande is really a good football player, one of the best linemen we’ve ever had. He has played everywhere from guard to tight end. He settled in the last two years at tackle, but you’re right on, I think he’s more of an NFL guard, but I think he’ll play for 10 years. He’s very, very smart, very tough, very competitive and athletic. He’ll be able to go in and technically be very sound, then you add that in with who he is as a person and what he brings in that regard, and I think he’ll be a real-solid pick for somebody.

Coach let me ask you about guys that you faced--I know that it’s a tough question just to pluck one or two guys out--you guys faced a lot of good teams, obviously, with a tough Pac-10 schedule. You played Penn State, Hawaii, and Utah out of conference. Can you throw maybe one or two guys at me that kind of stood out to you, guys that you faced?

Coach Riley:
Well I could start off naming USC’s team (laughter) that would be pretty easy. I’m really a big fan of Mark Sanchez, you know, I think that he brings it all there. He’s a very smart guy, can throw all the balls, and I think has been well-schooled at USC in the types of things that they’ll ask him to do in the NFL. He’s great. Then the linebacking corps: (Clay) Matthews and (Brian) Cushing and Rey Maualuga. All those guys are going to be really good players and will be great additions to whatever teams they end up with.

We like to close things out here with a segment we call ‘Three-and-out’, with three quick questions so…First down: What do you miss most about being in the NFL?

Coach Riley:
I think it’s…the day-to-day football was outstanding and being around those guys. People like Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, Jim Harbaugh when he was quarterbacking…I could go on-and-on…John Parilla. I just watched those guys that played at such a high level for such a long time and I appreciated that a ton.

Second down: What do you miss least about coaching in the NFL?

Coach Riley:
Well, you know I really...there’s nothing really. I don’t miss losing (laughter). We lost a lot of games and it was hard. And that part of it, if I looked back at it with any regrets--which I try not to--it was just that we didn’t do well enough.

Third down: If you had the first pick in the Draft what would you do?

Coach Riley:
Oh boy…I would probably…you know, I don’t know Stafford very well, but I would look hard at Sanchez. I think he will be a good quarterback for a long time.

You would lean toward that quarterback position though?

Coach Riley:
Yeah, you know, it depends on my team. But if we needed a guy, I’d look at one of those guys for sure.

Alright coach, thanks a lot for joining us and giving us some time. We wish you luck with the rest of this spring and we’ll be looking forward to that game. I believe the spring game is May 2, is that right?

Coach Riley:
That is right. We’ll be heading off into our spring game, and then it won’t be long before (laughter) we’ll be headed into our fall camp. The older we get, the faster these years go by.

I hear that. I’m starting to learn that myself as I head into my mid-30’s. Coach, try and find some time over the summer where you can kick back and relax a little as well…

Coach Riley:
Thank you for saying that, I will do that for sure. Thanks for having me on.

Photo Credit: Oregon St.

Q&A: Lawrence Sidbury, DE, Richmond

Lawrence Sidbury is one of the top small school prospects in the 2009 draft and one of the fastest risers as well. Lawrence how is it going today?

Sidbury: It’s going pretty good, thanks for having me.

Before we get into football and the Combine, workouts, and the all star games, tell us a little about yourself and what you like to do outside of football...

Sidbury: You know, I’m a real humble, down to earth guy. I try to treat people right and hang out with my friends and family.

When you hang out with your friends and family, what are you typically doing?

Sidbury: Really, we're just sitting around...having my friends over, sitting around because I don’t really get to see them that much because I’m at school. So when I get to see my family and friends I try to make the most of it.

How about your boys, you guys have to go out sometimes, right?

Sidbury: Yeah, we go out sometimes. We go out to have a good time but also be responsible and that way we (show) have character and home training. So going out and making a fool of myself is something I don’t do and I try to surround myself with people like myself and stay away from situations.

So you try to act like your mama raised you right?

Sidbury: Oh yeah most definitely. I don’t play that. (laughs) That’s pretty much it.

Did you have a strict mom growing up?

Sidbury: I wouldn’t say my parents where super strict, but they definitely taught me right from wrong. They talked to me outside of everything and if I was to do something wrong as a child I would get punished. But they would talk to me, council me, and tell me what’s right and what’s wrong. I never really was a rebellious child so I never really got in a lot of trouble growing up, but you know, knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. Not getting in trouble at school, not getting in trouble with the law, treating people with dignity and respect. Those are things my parents taught me growing up.

So we're not going to find any anonymous pictures on any web sites?

Sidbury: Nah, you ain't going to find any of that.

How about other sports, did you follow other sports as a fan growing up?

Sidbury: I played a little bit of everything when I was growing up. Basketball, baseball, ran track in high school...I was pretty much into everything when I was growing up. But you've got to make a decision at some point on which sport you're going to invest the most time to.

You are a pretty athletic guy coming from ACC country. I figured you definitely had some hoops game for sure.

Sidbury: Growing up I thought I was going to be 6’8 or 6’9. But I’m 6’3. So there aren’t too many 263-pound shooting guards out there. So I had to make a decision.

I hear that. I’m part Croatian and guys like Tony Kukoc came from there. Both my uncles are like 6’4 or 6’5. so I figured I would grow to be at least as tall as them. But I reach 6’1, barely. I have to go on my tippy toes to get to 6’1, so I hear you. Then you get shut down, like you said, when you’re a big dude and you've got to play on the perimeter--those things just don’t mix. So in high school, what did you play?

Sidbury: I didn’t play basketball in high school. We had a pretty good team. I just did baseball and track along with football when I was in high school.

Let’s talk a little bit of football then. Coming from a small school your experience is a little different than other guys', like Brian Orakpo’s from Texas or Robert Ayers', the SEC player from Tennessee?

Sidbury: You know, to be honest there really isn't much of a difference outside of maybe a little bit of a drop in talent, but not too much. Playing in the CAA, the best I-AA conference (Championship Sub-Division), there were a lot of competitive teams. I think in the past our conference had been ranked above two of the lower Division I conferences or Bowl Sub-Division conferences. Outside of not having as many fans at the games and the mystique behind our program, you know, it’s pretty much the same. We still go out there and practice like those guys and play hard just like them. But when it comes to this process right here, it seems like we have to jump through a few more hoops to show that we can play.

Talk about the fact that guys like Joe Flacco, and DRC, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They were both first round picks and made immediate impacts last season. One played in the Super Bowl and the other one led his team to the AFC Championship game and was a guy you played against, Joe Flacco. Do you pay attention to that? Do you take note of that and say, "Good for them...and not only good for them, but good for me" because it gives more credibility to the small schools in general?

Sidbury: It just goes to show that there are good players at this level and some of the players are better than some of the kids at bigger schools. I mean, those two guys...I played against Joe and throughout this whole process I had no doubts that he was one of the best quarterbacks coming out. I was on the field with him and saw how he threw the football and I saw a little bit of tape on Dominique because we had played against Vanderbilt and he played against them too. So he stood out, but at the same time seeing those guys make a impact at the next level just goes to show and gives me a little bit of confidence that I can do the same thing.

So when you step out onto the field at these all star games, like the East/West Shrine Game and then the Senior Bowl, people assume right away that you need to prove yourself against the bigger school guys. When you step on the field it sounds like you want to prove yourself to the scouts, but it also seems that you already had the mentality, you already knew you could play with these guys and you didn’t need to prove it to yourself.

Sidbury: I don’t think I need to prove it to myself. But with the situation that presented itself, I think I did have to prove it to the coaches, scouts, and GM’s. You also want to show the guys on your team and the rest of your teammates because there were a couple guys who asked, "Which school did you go to?" And I was like, "Richmond" and some of them said, "man, never heard of it." That was kind of weird because, you know, we had won the National Championship. Some guys knew what we had done as far as our playoff runs. But just going out and showing you are as good as they are and that there are some kids you may be better than out there. But when you get to those events, the East/West Shrine game the Senior Bowl and the all star games, you are going out there just like the rest of those guys. You want to come out and practice and want to make plays and show that you can beat guys that are wearing a Florida helmet or LSU or USC helmet or Michigan helmet, or whatever.

How was the camaraderie there amongst the guys? Who were some of the guys that you built a relationship with?

Sidbury: You know, you would be surprised. During those all star games, it’s very competitive, but there are a lot of good people out there. My roommate at the Senior Bowl was Robert Ayers and he was a pretty cool guy. Sometimes you see these guys on TV and you don’t know what type of people they are because seeing somebody through a television screen, you can’t really tell that much. But getting to meet the USC guys and all the guys from Ole Miss and LSU, those guys were great guys. I felt fortunate to meet those guys.

How about when you got the phone call to go to the Senior Bowl? Obviously it’s a honor to go to any of these bowl games and you don’t have to go to the Senior Bowl to be a impact player in the NFL. But that is the cream of the crop of the All Star games. You originally got the East/West Shrine game and obviously impressed the NFL people there. Talk a little bit about what you were feeling when you got the invite to the Senior Bowl...

Sidbury: Well, I found out about the Senior Bowl the night before or the day of the Shrine game. I was thinking, "Ahh, man. I’m going to be on a plane the next day and not going back to Jersey to work out. But I’m going to another week of practice". I was like, "I don’t know if I can take it" because practice was pretty intense (laughs). But you know, in my situation I knew in order to further prove myself and help myself out it was something I had to do to get rid of, that I-AA stigma. And I think playing in those games and playing well in those games, I pretty much erased that stigma of playing at Richmond. Because you have practice tape and game tape of me in practice and in the game making plays against people who are considered the top-100 seniors in the country.

People obviously know about your athleticism: A 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash for an end is pretty darn impressive. Would you say your speed and athleticism, are those the strengths of your game?

Sidbury: I would have to go ahead and say that they are. I think you don’t find too many guys my size that run the way I do. I think it’s just a gift from God and I think my athleticism definitely helps me on the field while I’m playing.

I’ve heard the term 'situational pass rusher' thrown about a lot when describing you. What are your thoughts when you hear those terms, and is that something that makes you think, "OK, I can do that", you know? Obviously when you’re a rookie breaking into the team, you try to help out any way you can. Eventually, I’m sure you see yourself as a more well-rounded player.

Sidbury: Yeah, you know, it pretty much raises two questions. Two things. One is that I want to go out and prove that I can play against the run. Then I would have to ask how much film did those guys watch, because you could see I played the run very well this season. I feel very confident in my ability to play the run and rush the passer.

Talk about playing outside linebacker. Is that something you have ever done? Have you ever played in a two-point stance, and how many teams are showing a interest in you being that 3-4 pass rushing kind of player?

Sidbury: We played basically a 4-3 at Richmond but we did a lot of zone blitzing while we were there. Dropping into that flat or that seam flat area and covering the tight end...we did a little bit of that within our defense. So that’s not something I feel uncomfortable with and if that opportunity presented itself, I don’t think it would be too tough of a transition for me--the middle part of learning different coverages and things like that. As far as my ability to drop back and flip my hips and run, I have no doubt that I can do that.

Now you have the terminology down with "flipping my hips". How about your hands? Can you snag that ball if you're out in coverage?

Sidbury: Yeah, I can snag the ball. In my workouts I didn’t drop anything so I’m feeling pretty good with my hands right now.

I believe you have had visits with the Bills, Eagles, Cowboys, Rams and Titans. Is that right, am I missing any teams?

Sidbury: I’ve already been to Buffalo and I’m going to Pittsburgh too.

Pittsburgh. Now there’s a team that knows how to pick those 3-4 guys, they know how to pick those gems. Alright Lawrence, we are going to close things out with a segment we call Three-and-Out. So first down: growing up, who was your favorite cartoon character?

Sidbury: My favorite cartoon character? Ah, Wolverine.

Wolverine alright. You mentioned liking baseball. Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?

Sidbury: Growing up my favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr..

Alright...third down: A little music now... a little hip hop, a little east coast/west coast thing--are you a Biggie guy or a Tupac guy?

Sidbury: You know what, I can’t answer that because don’t think I could choose between the two. So I’m going to say fifty-fifty.

Fifty-fifty?

Sidbury: So I'll say Biggie-Pac.

(laughs) Biggie-Pac I haven’t gotten that one. Good answer Lawrence, I don’t think you could go wrong with either one. So Biggie-Pac is a slam dunk.

Sidbury: Yeah. The Notorious P.A.C.

Richmond Athletic Public Relations

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Q&A: Alex Magee, DT, Purdue

A versatile defensive lineman, Alex Magee spent his college days with the Boilermakers, plaguing offenses on the inside and outside and left and right side of the defense. For a lineman, Magee shows tremendous athleticism blocking kicks or intercepting passes while maintaining physicality at the point of attack. Join Player Spotlight host John Sears as he discusses Magee's career at Purdue and his preparations for next week's NFL Draft.

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Judging by what I have seen from your Pro Day compared to the Combine, you have made some improvements, especially with your 40-time. What was the difference between the workouts?

Magee:
The Combine was real fun. I had fun competing against most of the top athletes in the nation. I think one thing that is different about the Combine compared to your Pro Day is that you don’t have to worry about all the other stuff. We had testing early in the mornings. At the Pro Day you get up and you have the whole day, which is just there for working out, no psychological tests. It was a great experience for me to get to hang around with the elite athletes in the nation going to the NFL Draft.

How do you think you measure up against the elite linemen from the Combine? Who do you think you are similar to?

Magee:
I think the defensive tackle class is very talented. When I was down at the Senior Bowl, I got to hang around B.J. Raji, Evander Hood, and others. I think we all bring a different style as far as our attributes are concerned. I think I bring more versatility to the table where I can do the outside as a defensive end or I can go from the inside…I’ve done it all on the defensive line, so I just feel they [NFL teams] can see me just not being in one spot. I can play basically down the whole front.

Is there any position you have the most fun playing?

Magee:
[laughs] I laugh because I get that question all the time. I guess if you ask me where I feel more comfortable I would say defensive tackle, because that’s where I have been playing the majority of my college career and all throughout high school. But I cross-train with defensive ends. I think my last season at Purdue I was 300 lbs, and I played that position at 300-lbs, defensive end…I’ve never been in steady training at defensive end, because I haven’t been there consistently. If I were to be there consistently, like I was at defensive tackle, I think I would adjust very well and very easily.

Where do you weigh in right now?

Magee:
Right now I am about 288-290.

Any feedback from NFL teams on where they would like to see your weight?

Magee:
I’ve asked teams where they'd like to see their players at as far as weight. With some of them it’s not a big issue—they asked me where I feel most comfortable playing. I think I feel most comfortable playing around 295. No lighter than 285 and no heavier than 305.

If you had it your way, what team would really excite you to play for?

Magee:
I would say...I grew up around Chicago and I like the Bears a lot. They have a great history, a great defense. I think I would want to play there and be in my hometown. It would be a real fun experience to play there. I actually talked to Coach Marinelli and he was really cool. I think the Bears would be a good fit for me. But I just want to get drafted. That’s my main goal.

Anyone you follow in the NFL? Someone you look up to?

Magee:
I don’t have a favorite player. Obviously everyone that plays football looks up to somebody that plays their position. Just to name a few: Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson, those guys on the Bears, they are great. DeMarcus Ware, my boy who used to play here at Purdue and is with the Cowboys now, Anthony Spencer.

Right, well I wasn’t expecting you to say you modeled your game after Robbie Gould, or Jason Elam, or Mike Vanderjagt. I haven’t heard someone say that someone they look up to in the NFL was someone outside their position.

Magee:
[laughs] Yeah, but you've got some professional guys like Brett Favre—he’s real smart, takes care of himself. You look up to those guys too. Those guys are smart, great football players.

Any players you are excited to line up against?

Magee:
Yeah, I wouldn’t mind putting a hit on Peyton Manning, I’m not going to lie [Sears laughs]. If I get the chance, obviously I am going to take it, but that would be something, just to see him. I’ve been in Indiana for quite some time and I have actually never met him. I understand he is a great football player, I just want to see what the hype’s all about. No, I want to just meet the guy, honestly.

You are potentially looking to work for the FBI once your football career is over. I’m curious because it’s kind of funny if you think about it, that you would be a 300-lb man out in the field, running down crooks.

Magee:
[laughs]

You would kind of be like Shaq, he’s a cop.

Magee:
Yeah, not quite as big and hopefully a little faster than Shaq. I don’t know. Maybe it will be a little easier. We won’t know until we see.

What do you like to do outside football?

Magee:
I don’t know, yesterday I just kind of kicked it with my homeboys here at school. Played some dominoes. That’s one thing I like to do. Fight Night Boxing on Playstation 3. I just like to chill and kick back and relax. And when I am home I am hanging with my family, my mom and my sister.

Or maybe hanging out at Harry’s [bar] a little bit?

Magee:
[laughs] What’s Harry’s? I don’t even know what Harry’s is.

Oh yeah, I don’t know either.

Magee:
[laughs]

Photo Credit: Purdue University Sports Information

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Q&A: Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina

Click to listen to NFL Draft Bible Player Spotlight hosted by Daniel Mogollon.


You really wowed everybody with your performance in Indianapolis and outshined every other tight end there. What’s the fastest you ever ran the forty-yard dash? Was that your best time in Indy, or could you do better?

Cook:
I had, in my sophomore year, a 4.37. I weighed about 12 pounds less.

Speaking of your college career, you played kind of both tight end and receiver early on before settling in at tight end. How much influence did you have in the decision to have you play tight end, and are you in the right spot?

Cook:
Coach Spurrier came to me and asked me if I wanted to move to tight end and I told him, “Anything to help the team” and we were good to go. We went ahead and made the transition. I feel comfortable there and happy that I went there because I just love the position.

You mentioned putting on weight and being heavier than a couple of years ago. Could you drop weight and play wide out again if that was something that a team wanted you to do?

Cook:
If a team wanted me to, I wouldn’t have a problem doing it. That wouldn’t be a problem at all. Something like that ain’t that hard.

Has anyone brought that up at all, or are all the teams looking at you strictly as a tight end?

Cook:
It's been mostly tight end. There hasn’t really been any talk about me playing receiver.

During your last year at South Carolina, give us a rough estimate of how many times you lined up in a three-point stance and how often you lined up outside?

Cook:
I lined up quite a bit attached to the line of scrimmage. Coach Spurrier actually liked me blocking out of a two point so I just kind of put my hand down and got down in the two-point squat and stance. We were more of a spread offense so I lined up in the slot also. I lined up outside in the slot more than often than I was attached to the line.

That seems to be the theme in college football right now. Teams are going to that spread offense and that’s something not only you, but almost all the tight ends in the class are being asked about, their blocking skills. Do you think those questions are legitimate?

Cook:
I was down in Florida working out with the o-line coach on my blocking. Coming out of my stance in the three point, working on staying low and coming out aggressive because you know in our offense, I wasn't asked to do a lot of that. So just being able to work on that, I’ve gotten a lot better.

Alright now, talk about your decision to leave South Carolina early. At what point did you start thinking you might make that move to declare for the NFL Draft in 2009?

Cook:
It was after the bowl game. I sat down with my family and just prayed about it and thought it was just the best decision to come out now.

What were some of the reasons for going?

Cook:
Some of the top reasons...Me and my family just prayed about it and just sat down and weighed our options. We just really just decided that it was the best time and I love South Carolina and I think I’ll always have a home there. I just felt in my heart, it was the best time to go.

What do you think you're going to miss most...is there anything you're starting to miss already?

Cook:
Just being part of the atmosphere there. The fans, all your teammates and just the camaraderie at South Carolina.

What are you hearing from people in terms of how your life is going to be different once you join the NFL, now that you’re a professional and not a college player? Have you spoken with any former South Carolina players or anybody that’s in the NFL?

Cook:
A lot of people are giving me advice and tell me to invest my money wisely and be smart...to go out and perform, do the best I can, and have fun.

Invest your money wisely is advice we could all take nowadays right?

Cook:
Yeah.

Before we leave South Carolina, what was it like playing for Coach Steve Spurrier, one of the big names in the game?

Cook:
It was a very fun and exciting process in my fours years and I really enjoyed it. Coach Spurrier is a good guy and he really taught me what I needed to know and taught me things that I will use, really for the rest of my life. I love Coach Spurrier, he’s a great man.

Okay, can you give us any insight that the public doesn’t know about him, or something they would be surprised to hear about him?

Cook:
He just a cool and funny guy. He likes to joke and likes to have fun. He’s just a great man.

One of the things he’s most known for in public is grabbing that visor and throwing it around. Did you ever cause him to throw that visor?

Cook:
Yeah, I’ve caused him to throw that visor a few times. Those are just mistakes that come from the game and you live and learn by it. He’s good about getting you right and getting you ready for games.

Give us a sneak peek as to what we should expect from Wesley Saunders who was your back up last year and will be the started next year for the Gamecocks.

Cook:
Wesley is a great player. He’s got size, he can run...he’s going to be good as long as he puts it in his mind to be the best. Wes is going to be good.

Give us another analysis of another player and let’s get even closer than your football family. Your brother Jason Cook is a fullback for Ole Miss who looks to be joining you in the NFL this September.

Cook:
I’m going to make it simple for you—my brother is pretty much a monster. Jason is pretty much solid muscle. He runs well, he’s a great blocker. He taught me a lot about how to block.

You kind of help him with the pass catching and he helps you with the blocking?

Cook:
I think he has the pass catching thing down and he also throws passes in games.

So does he throw any passes to you?

Cook:
No (laughs). At Ole Miss he threw passes in the game.

How about you guys, do you work out together? He could warm you up, right?

Cook:
Nah. He’s finishing up school and he’s at school and I’m up here in South Carolina.

Did you guys talk a lot during your college careers?

Cook:
Oh yeah, before every game. He's my best friend, man.

I hear that, I would say the same thing about my brother. Now last year you guys won, 31-24 at Ole Miss. You had three catches for 88 yards. What was that like, did you talk that week?

Cook:
Oh yeah. We were looking forward to that game for the past four years. It was really lights out for all our family and friends to just come and watch us.

Was there a lot of trash talking going on before and after?

Cook:
Oh yeah. You don’t even want to know. Obviously we got the upper hand on him so he can’t say too much.

Who’s the better trash talker?

Cook:
Ahh, I think it would have to be me. 'Cause I back mine up a little bit more.

(laughs) So at the end of the day, it comes down to what you do on the field?

Cook:
Yeah, exactly.

You talk about family and friends. Was it tough for the family, was there anyone torn? Who do you think got the most support?

Cook:
We are a close-knit family so we got even support all around the table. We had over 30 family members there so it was just good. It was like a family reunion.

That’s pretty cool. Is that the first time you guys ever played against each other?

Cook:
Yeah.

Well we will have to see about the NFL. You guys might be meeting again or who knows, you may be reunited and be on the same team. How cool would that be?

Cook:
That would be awesome.

Talk a little bit more about playing in the SEC. Who’s the best cover guy you faced during your time in the SEC?

Cook:
The best cover guy I probably played against was Asher Allen, DB from Georgia.

The cornerback from Georgia. How about the toughest guy to block?

Cook:
Probably the D-end from LSU. Because they just rotate so many. Tyson Jackson is a very good player.

We had Tyson on and he’s a good guy as well. Talk to us a little about the teams showing interest in you. I believe Miami, St. Louis, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Cleveland. Am I missing anybody?

Cook:
I’m going out to Oakland and Baltimore.

Is this the toughest part of the process? Flying around all over the place visiting different teams and talking with different teams and having teams come work you out?

Cook:
No, that’s the fun part. The hard part is was the Combine.

So at least here you get to show off your football skills. What was the most difficult part of the Combine?

Cook:
I had 19 interviews in one night. It was pretty tough.

Wow, 19 interviews in one night? How many bottles of water did you go though to keep your mouth from getting dry?

Cook:
There was quite a bit of water going around.

How long did that take? Seems like that would take all night long.

Cook:
Started about 6:30 and ended, I believe, around 11 or 11:30.

You must of slept real good that night. So doing interviews like this must be a piece of cake rather than going through all that?

Cook:
That’s right.

How about your Pro Day? I believe you worked out with three tight end coaches from Philly, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati and broke down some film with them. What was that like?

Cook:
It was just an evaluation process and stuff. They wanted to see the way I played and what kind of person I was and what kind of character I had. Breaking down film, they wanted to know about my blocking skills. So for the most part they just wanted to see if I could block.

Time for three-and-out. First down...if you had the first pick in the NFL Draft, who would you pick?

Cook:
If I had the first pick in the NFL Draft who would I pick? Jamon Meredith from South Carolina, offensive lineman.

(laughs) I like that. I had guys say themselves but never a teammate. I like that. Second down...is there a tight end whose game you'd like to emulate?

Cook:
I like Jason Witten. He’s an all-around tight end.

Alright. Another SEC guy from Tennessee, one who plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Okay, we will go with this question, third down: You were a hoops star in high school so tell me, who is your all-time favorite basketball player?

Cook:
Who else, Michael Jordan.

Hands down?

Cook:
Hands down.

No love for the young guys, Lebron (James) or Kobe (Bryant)? They have a ways to go, huh?

Cook:
Kobe is almost there. Kobe is a great player. LeBron is past Jordan’s level at this spot now. I love watching those guys.

Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media

Q&A: Stephen McGee, QB, Texas A&M

Stephen McGee, Texas A&M QB, was interviewed on The All Access Football Show by Daniel Mogollon, Ralph Mancini and Rodney Towe on April 3, 2009

We're 22 days away from the Draft. What’s going through your mind, and what type of preparations are you making at this time?

McGee:
Just enjoying the whole process right now, just doing the same things I’ve always done, continuing to workout and get in shape as if I’m preparing for spring ball or football camp. I think most importantly, just trying to get ready for those five days after, when we go to our first mini-camp.

Any meetings or private workouts with an NFL teams for you?

McGee:
Yeah, I’ve had a couple. I had a couple here in College Station in addition to the Pro Day. We had some quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators here for that. So far it’s been pretty good and I’m just excited about the future.

You want to mention any of those teams that you had the workout with?

McGee:
I would mention them, but they all threatened to not to draft me if I told everybody who I worked out with.(laughs)

Well that’s a good reason not to mention that! So you’ve been through a number of post season practices, you’ve been to the Combine. How do you feel you stack up against the top quarterbacks in the country right now?

McGee:
I’ll match myself up with any quarterback in the nation. I’m not afraid to say that. Obviously I’ve had some things happen to me in my career that were things I couldn’t control and if you want to knock for me those, that’s fine. But when you look at what it takes to be a great quarterback in the NFL—size, strength, arm, quick release, and most importantly accuracy and the intangibles that it takes to be successful—I know I have all of those. Wherever I go, I know I’ll be happy and it’ll work out.

Aside from your physical gifts, the one thing that people all say about you is that you are the ultimate team leader. Tell us, what does it take to be a leader on the field? What does it take to gain the respect of your teammates?

McGee:
I think the most important thing about it is my teammates see me prepare every week. They see me workout. There’s not going to be anybody who works any harder, nobody who’s gonna prepare any more than I will to be successful and I want to win at everything that I do. I’m extremely competitive and because of that the guys respect me and they’ll follow me because they see me do it first. Moving onto the field I want to be a guy who’s an encourager and there are obviously times as a quarterback and a leader when you have to get in a guy’s face, but those are few and far between. Hopefully I can be the guy that encourages guys and makes people better.

One of the things we often talk about here on the show is player interviews. Earlier this week there was a story out where one of the NFL coaches, Mike Singletary from the San Francisco 49ers, was somewhat critical of Matthew Stafford because he was sort of uncomfortable in answering some personal questions, some family questions. You’ve been through the interview process a number of times already. Did you encounter any situations where you felt uncomfortable answering questions that you thought were too personal?

McGee:
Oh no, not at all. I think when these guys are investing a lot of money in you, you want to let them know what they’re investing their money in and they have good reasons to ask those questions. They need to know what kind of person you are and what you’re all about. I have nothing to hide. I’ve tried to do things the best way I possibly could up to this point, on the field and off the field. I’m not scared to tell people what I am and what I believe in and the kind of person I want to be.

Let me ask you a little bit about your playing days as an Aggie. From my perspective, sometimes it seemed like you were kind of being forced into the coach's system or the coordinator's system rather than people trying to devise a system best suited to your skills. Am I way off base with that, or is that something you were talking about in terms of things that were out of your control to some extent?

McGee:
That’s certainly one of them. I can’t control what plays that we do and what we run. My biggest thing is not what plays we run, whether I run the ball 50 times a game or throw the ball 50 times a game. I think most importantly, the goal of any great quarterback is to win the ball game. Whatever it takes to be successful, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Obviously I am more of a throwing quarterback and I was put into a lot of running situations as a quarterback, and that’s fine. I’m willing to sacrifice my own individual success for the team’s success and I’ve always viewed that as the role of a quarterback, to be unselfish, to be the leader that guys can rally behind. Certainly the offense we ran last season is probably not the best offense to be in as far as preparing for the NFL, but it’s going to work out in the end. I’m glad I got to go through the things that I did.

Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to go on that field with the 12th Man and the crowd going nuts there at Texas A&M, one of the best scenes in college football.

McGee:
There’s no doubt about it. The tradition and the spirit that the 12th Man embodies is unmatched, I feel, in all of college sports. It’s an amazing thing to witness and to be a part of it is even more special. There’s nowhere else in all of America that I would rather play football than at Texas A&M. If I could do it all over, I’d go right back to Texas A&M and people ask that all the time. Of all the schools that I could have gone to and all the success those schools have had, would I change my mind? Without a doubt I would be right back here at Texas A&M. It’s an amazing place and the people who go here are special. There’s something different there. It’s very unique.

One more before we move on. After you guys score, the cadets get to kiss the girls. Do you ever think to yourself, “Hey, I’m the one that threw the touchdown, how come the guys in the stands get to kiss the girl?”

McGee:
(laughs) That’s a good point, but I think we can make up for that after the game, I guess (laughs).

Three and out...First down...your favorite movie is?

McGee:
Dumb and Dumber.

Second down...your favorite female artist—Beyonce, Madonna, Britney Spears or Gwen Stefani?

McGee:
Britney Spears.

Third down...growing up, who was your favorite superhero?

McGee:
The Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donatello.

(Laughs) Now you made feel old because I remember buying them for my kid brother when I was in college.

Photo Credit: Texas A&M Media Relations Office, College Press Box

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Q&A: Shonn Greene, RB, Iowa

Shonn Greene, former Iowa running back, was interviewed on The All Access Football Friday on April 10 2009 show by Daniel Mogollon, Ralph Mancini and Rodney Towe.

The Draft is now 15 days away. Have you done any private workouts and if so, for whom?

Greene:
I was worked out by the Jets. I went out to San Diego and then to Arizona with the Cardinals, so I’ve been here and there.

We just had Ian Johnson on, talking about the Combine process and the whole drafting process. What is your take on this process?

Greene:
I think it is huge for those NFL guys to determine how we perform under pressure in a situation where we are uncomfortable, not knowing the surroundings and things like that. I think it measures that and teams like to see how you’re going to perform under pressure.

How stressful is it...is it stressful?

Greene:
It can be if you let it, but I think if you focus on doing what you need to do and just having fun with the guys you’re around it is mush easier on you as opposed to worrying about running fast and things like that. You want to be focused but then again, you want to be relaxed and be yourself.

If we went back a year ago from today and we were talking to you as you were in spring practice and we told you in a year you would be getting ready for the NFL Draft, would you be surprised, or did you think this was a possibility, this soon?

Greene:
I would be surprised. I don’t doubt myself. I know what I am capable of and I know the things that I could do but the way (how fast) things have happened is surprising to me.

Before my buddy Ralph comes in with a question I wanted to mention that he’s a Penn State fan. Talk about that big win you guys had and how great it was to knock off that undefeated team in the Big Ten.

[Ralph] “Oh no, come on” (laughs all around)

Greene:
Oh man, that was a great feeling right there. You couldn’t ask for anything better in football. You have a top-ranked team, I believe they were ranked third in the nation at that time. It was a home game, it was cold, it was flurrying, snowing, and it was just a great football atmosphere. Our fans were into it and it was a great game. Both teams competed very well, we got after each other and the outcome, fortunately, went in our favor, so it was a good experience.

What was the atmosphere like after that win? Was everybody in Ames (IA) crazy for the whole week?

Greene:
It was crazy, man. After the win, the fans came onto the field and I was getting hit over the top of the head by so many different people. I couldn’t see where my teammates were. It was just crazy.

I heard that your kicker could probably run for mayor and win the election if he decided to.

Greene:
He probably could. That was probably the play of the year as far as Iowa is concerned. Props out to him (the kicker), he did a helluva job with all that pressure on him and still making the kick.

[Ralph] “You had enough, Dan? Have you got it all out of your system?” (laughs)

Your former coach, Kirk Ferentz, indicated that your attitude and determination are two things that make you a special player. Can you elaborate on that? What type of attitude do you bring to the table?

Greene:
I think just being dedicated and hard working, having goals and things in life you want to achieve and to do those things, you have to be dedicated to what you’re doing. You have to want to do what you need to do. You have to have the mindset of not letting anything bother you. You have push through everything that comes up and I think that’s what I put in, as far as my attitude. Whatever comes my way, I’m going to handle it and get to where I want to go.

You took a long, winding journey to where you are today. As a matter of fact, for the people who don’t know this, you were ruled academically ineligible to play back in 2007 and you weren’t allowed to play football, basically. That must have been tough on you. How did you fill that void during 2007, when you couldn’t go out and play?

Greene:
That was a big moment in my life. Football is everything to me and when that was taken away from me, I went to community college to get my grades up. I worked at a furniture store to pay rent and then to pay for my classes. I just worked to get my grades up so I could get back to Iowa and get back on the team. I think that whole year was a big turnaround for me and it matured me much more as a man.

Whenever I’ve watched you play, the thing that I really admire about you is you have excellent vision on the field and that allows you to hit those cutback lanes that you’re very good at. Walk us through what you’re thinking and what you’re looking for when the quarterback hands you the football. Does everything sort of slow down for you or do you just act on instinct?

Greene:
I think it’s a little of both. Being a running back, I think everyone acts on instinct. In the Iowa offense we run a lot of zone plays, so we are basically taking our zone reads and looking for the opening and we’re following our offensive line and we’re cutting off of them. Some linebackers tend to overrun the play and that’s where you get the cutbacks. Having vision is a key and I think that’s a great ability for me and separates me from a lot of backs this year.

When you first got to Iowa your former coach Kirk Ferentz said that you would be an awesome linebacker, but back then you also had guys like Chad Greenway and Jonathan Babineaux playing the position. Do you think you really could have been a linebacker or played another position on defense?

Greene:
I think so, but I’m not going to put my all out into that because I think I was running back at heart. That being said, I was a football player too so I think just being able to compete and get on the field I was going to do whatever. I liked the contact. That’s what linebackers do. They hit people and there’s a lot of contact. I think I could have made the transition but fortunately I stuck at running back and it turned out beautifully.

We talked about that winding road and it began back in New Jersey, where we are, in the northeast. We’ve had several guys from Jersey on. The Garden State looks like it is going to be represented well in the upcoming Draft, particularly at the running back position. Some of the guys you will be competing against for draft positioning are Knowshon Moreno and Donald Brown. Do you know any of those guys or any other Jersey guys, like B.J. Raji, who are going to be high picks in this Draft?

Greene:
I didn’t know any of them leading up to this point, but at the Combine I met a couple of those guys and talked to them. I know a couple of them. Me and Knowshon talked a lot because he was at the College Football Awards and I was there and then the Doak Walker (Award) thing, so I know him pretty well. I saw Donald on a visit and we talked a little bit. I didn’t know them beforehand.

So you guys kind of gravitated towards each other at these different events, coming from the same part of the country?

Greene:
Yes, absolutely. I think those kind of events brought us together. At first I didn’t know Knowshon or Donald were from Jersey. When those events started coming around and you hear where they’re from, you’re like “Wow, we’re all from Jersey!”

I believe you are the only running back to run for at least 100 yards in all of his games. What happened this year? Was it just that you got an opportunity to play?

Greene:
I think that is the main thing. I got an opportunity to play along with a great offensive line here at Iowa. Those guys busted their chops and blocked their behinds off for me and they did a good job the whole season. That’s why I was able to get 100 yards in every game along with getting the opportunity to show what I could do. This past year was the first year I got to show what I could do on a starting basis every game.

Time for three-and-out: First down: Your favorite basketball player of all time?

Greene:
Kobe Bryant.

Second down: Your favorite baseball player? It is baseball season...

Greene:
That’s a really tough one because I don’t watch baseball like that. I have to go with Mike Schmidt.

Whoa, Mike Schmidt, old school. Third down: If you were in “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol” which competition would you do better in?

Greene:
Probably “Dancing with the Stars”.

You've got some moves? Donald Brown said the same thing. I guess you Jersey guys have some moves, huh?

Greene:
Yeah, you know, I like to keep it "nice and smooth”. (laughs all around)

Photo Credit: College Press Box (Iowa)

Q&A: Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty

Click to listen to Player Spotlight hosted by Bo Nostra.

We wrote a piece earlier in the week about players like you, and the Rhett Bomar’s out there, that have transferred from bigger schools to smaller schools for whatever reason. In your case, you wanted to be closer to your father, who was suffering from diabetes. Do you think this preparation process would have been easier had you stayed at Pittsburgh?

Jennings:
You know, there’s controversy there and it can always be a factor. I’m glad I went ahead and came back home. If I would have stayed in Pittsburgh, because of the media and being seen on Saturdays and on TV I would have been more visible. Being able to play against different competition every Saturday, I would have been able to showcase my talent a little bit more. But I was blessed with the opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl and be the leading rusher there. Just going out and showing that I could play at that level and making people aware that I started out at that level helped my case. But everybody has to take their own route. I’m excited about this opportunity. I’m blessed. If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it any differently.

Let's discuss your Senior Bowl performance, where you were the leading rusher and really opened some eyes. From each step along the way, from the Senior Bowl, to the Combine, to your Pro Day and individual team workouts—has there been one step that has been more nerve-racking than the others?

Jennings:
Nah, not at all. I had two older brothers. I was blessed that they both played football and both played in the NFL a little bit. They have been just passing down knowledge and everything, helping with what I’ve been going through. They've even helped with all the workouts and the questions, and advising me on how to answer stuff and to just be myself. I’ve played this through my head I don’t know how many times and it’s finally happened. So I’ve been here, I’m just trying to catch up to myself.

You're 6’1 and about 231 and have the size to play linebacker or safety. Were you a running back all the way, or were there thoughts of playing another position? Because I saw where you were once around 260.

Jennings:
I always played tailback. I played linebacker also. Inside and outside linebacker. Coming out of high school I looked at a lot of different positions on offense and defense. So I’ve always had those questions like, “Have you ever played linebacker?” And of course you think about it when you’re asked the question, but my heart is at running back and that’s what I am.

Is there any part of your game you didn’t get to showcase in college? Any part of your game that the scouts and media haven’t picked up on?

Jennings:
I’d just tell them I’m an every down, complete back. I’m durable. Everything I want to showcase, I’ve shown before. It’s just that when I get on a team, that team won’t be disappointed at all because I’m a hard worker, I understand the game like a coach does, and I want it. And that’s what makes a difference—some people want it, and some people just have the gifts.

How about stats and being able to check your stats in the paper? Were you eying the guys from Stony Brook like running back Edwin Gowins and Conti Cuttino? Did you want to be the leading rusher in the Big South?

Jennings:
My goal was not to be the leading rusher. My goal was otherwise, but by the same token, of course, you compete to be the best in everything you do. But I didn’t go out there every single game thinking I wanted to be the leading rusher. I’d go out there and think I got to get these four ugly yards before I break the big one. It’s not something I think, that I've got to get a 100 plus every game. I’m trying to take it play by play.

If we hid you under an NFL helmet and jersey, who would you remind us of the most?

Jennings:
It depends. You see a lot of different guys. A lot people say they see Eddie George because of the big upright running. Some people say Jamal Lewis. Some people say Steven Jackson. Some people say...hey, everybody says something different. And they are big backs. Everybody that everybody names is a complete back, so I’m not disappointed.

Did you pattern your game after a Steven Jackson, Jamal Lewis or Eddie George?

Jennings:
Nah. Growing up I used to watch Eddie George a lot and I liked him a lot. I don’t try to mimic my game after anybody else's because then I wouldn’t be myself. I just know the characteristics of the other backs and I have those characteristics as well.

You mentioned your brothers earlier, Butch and Brian. I read that prior to going to Pitt you weighed close to 260. Was it you or your brothers that came up with the idea of slimming down?

Jennings:
It was nobody but myself. I understood that I wasn’t going to cut it at 265, so I woke up and starting running. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and I understand that. My body needed a change if I wanted to continue my career playing tailback. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t anybody saying, “You need to do this or you need to do that”. My brothers never even pushed me hard to play football because they didn’t want me to have to follow in their footsteps. It’s something I wanted and something I worked for. And now I’m down here in Florida training and I’m going to train down here until the 24th then fly back home, watch the Draft, and then get back to training. This is something I’m going for. Nobody can push me harder than myself. There’s nothing anyone can say to me that I haven’t said or thought to myself. I lost my weight because it’s just something I thought I needed to do.

Now in terms of your training, you said you’re going to train till the 24th. The next day, the 25th, is the Draft. What are your plans for Draft day, a day that’s going to be so special for you?

Jennings:
Just being with my family because they have seen me come from birth. They understand what I went through. Just like every other player, nobody understands what they went through unless they were really close to them. So those are the people I’m going to be around. My family who has been with me through this whole transition. And when my name is called, I’m going to cry like a little baby and be excited. Then I'm going to get ready to start a career.

When did the reality of playing professional football sink in?

Jennings:
I’ve always believed in myself. People gain confidence off your confidence and people believe off your beliefs. And I believed I could play in the NFL my freshman year at Pittsburgh. Being there with the coaching staff, Coach Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh...I used to go into his office as a true freshman. He had just come to Pittsburgh from the Baltimore Ravens so I would ask him about Jamal Lewis all the time. He'd say, “Rashad, you're going to be okay, don’t worry about it. You just keep that attitude and work hard and you will be fine”. Hearing that from him as a true freshman, I always knew I could play. I just had to learn. I’m constantly learning. Being down here with some of the veterans training down here in Florida, I’ve been learning a lot every single day. I’ve asked them many questions. I asked them to drill me. I understand their training and I'm trying to get into shape too. But at the same time, if they see something that will help me in the future, off the field or on the field, I asked them to let me know. I’m eager to learn. I have a drive for this. It’s not something that somebody told me, it’s something I want.

You said veterans. Who are some of the guys you’re training with?

Jennings:
I’m down here right now with Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Fred Taylor, Chad Johnson, Thomas Jones and Rudi Johnson.

Seeing those guys up close and their skills, are you ever thinking to yourself, “These guys are over the top good”. Or do you kind of pat yourself on the back and say, “Yeah, I have got what it takes. I’m comparable with these guys”.

Jennings:
They're phenomenal players and being able to get out there and train with them, learning from them and hearing them tell me. “Thanks for pushing me, young buck”. That’s what they call me, young buck. (laughs) So just hearing them tell me that I’m pushing them while at the same time, I’m looking at them saying, “You are pushing me” because of who they are. It feels good to know that these are guys you can come talk to. They push you and you can push them. Talent-wise it’s a reminder that football is football. It doesn’t matter where you come from; if you can play football then you can play football. Doesn’t matter what logo you have on your helmet. I know people look at that a lot but that’s just part of it and I understand that.

Playing for the Liberty Flames and being the so-called big man on campus, was it hard to just walk around there, or did your fellow students leave you at peace?

Jennings:
No not at all. Liberty was a great campus. Everybody knew why I played football. I want to use this as a ministry and when I say “ministry”, people are like, “Oh, man.” But it’s not spiritual. People are fearful of things they don’t understand and if you get spiritual on somebody and they don’t understand, it pushes them away from you. And I’m not a spiritual person anyways, I’m a realist. But I understand why I’m here and that’s why I want to use football as a platform. With that being said, the students, the whole campus is behind me and it’s not a distraction at all.

Looking at your game as a whole and the teams you have talked with, is there anywhere you think you might be headed to?

Jennings:
There’s been quite a few teams that have been showing a lot of interest. It’s like a chess game. I've just got to watch and see what happens and how it plays out. Nobody is really going to know until they hear their name called.

Growing up, was there anyone you rooted for?

Jennings:
I just loved watching the game.

Me too. I love football. It’s a great game to watch at all levels. From the pros to Pop Warner. Even the little kids are fun.

Jennings:
Yeah, they are hilarious. (laughs) My little nephews, I've got six nephews, and they are always playing and I always get out there for a chance to catch them play. It’s funny to think that was me not too long ago. I always tell them that. Like, “Don’t look at me like I’m far-fetched. I was just like you a couple days ago”.

OK, we're looking to wrap things up with some Quick Slants. Would you rather be a lead singer of a boy band or a male runway model.

Jennings:
(laughs) Boy band.

Can you sing?

Jennings:
No, but I can play guitar.

What do you play?

Jennings:
I’m acoustic. I love John Mayer. I’ve got all his albums and like his sound. There’s a lot of people.

Would you hold a live tarantula?

Jennings:
No. I wouldn’t do that.

Which competition would you go further in—Dancing With the Stars or American Idol?

Jennings:
Dancing With the Stars.

Photo Credit: Liberty Athletics – Photo Archives

Friday, April 17, 2009

On The Clock: Pittsburgh Steelers

Results: 12-4, 1st In the AFC North
General Manager: Kevin Colbert (Director of Football Operations), Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (3rd Year), Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Arians (3rd Year/6th Year With the Steelers), Defensive Coordinator: Dick LeBeau (6th Year)

Offense Rankings: No. 22 Overall, No. 20 Scoring, No. 17 Passing, No. 23 Rushing
Defense Rankings: No. 1 Overall, No. 1 Scoring, No. 1 Passing, No. 2 Rushing

Last Five Years: 56-24; Last Playoff Appearance: 2008; Last Playoff Victory: 2008 (27-23 Over the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl)

2008 Draft: (1-23) RB Rashard Mendenhall, (2-53) WR Limas Sweed, (3-88) OLB Bruce Davis, (4-130) OT Tony Hills, (5-156) QB Dennis Dixon, (6-188) LB Mike Humpal, (6-194) S Ryan Mundy

Top Picks Last Five Years:
2008 – (1-23) RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
2007 – (1-15) LB Lawrence Timmons, Florida St.
2006 – (1-25) WR Santonio Holmes, Ohio St.
2005 – (1-30) TE Heath Miller, Virginia
2004 – (1-11) QB Ben Roethlisberger, Miami-Ohio

Booms: QB Ben Roethlisberger (1st Round 2004), OT Max Starks (3rd Round 2004), TE Heath Miller (1st Round 2005), CB Bryant McFadden (2nd Round 2005),OT Trai Essex (3rd Round 2005), OG Chris Kemoeatu (6th Round 2005), WR Santonio Holmes (1st Round 2006), OT Willie Colon (4th Round 2006), OLB LaMarr Woodley (2nd Round 2007), P Daniel Sepulveda (4th Round 2007)

Busts: DB Ricardo Colclough (2nd Round 2004), WR Fred Gibson (4th Round 2005), WR Will Reid (3rd Round 2006), DE Orien Harris (4th Round 2006), DE Ryan McBean (4th Round 2007)

Additions:

None.

Subtractions:
QB Byron Leftwich (FA-Tampa Bay)
CB Bryant McFadden (FA-Arizona)
RB Gary Russell (Released)
OG Kendall Simmons (Released)
FS Anthony Smith (FA-Green Bay)
OT Marvel Smith (FA-San Francisco)
WR Nate Washington (FA-Tennessee)

Keepers:
QB Charlie Batch
CB Fernando Bryant
OT Willie Colon
OT Reai Essex
LB Keyaron Fox
LB Andre Frazier
LB Arnold Harrison
OG Chris Kemoeatu
DB Anthony Madison
TE Sean McHugh
OT Max Starks (Franchised)

2009 Picks:
Round 1, Selection 32
Round 2, Selection 32
Round 3, Selection 32
Round 4, Selection 32
Round 5, Selection 32
Round 5, Selection 33 (Compensatory)
Round 6, Selection 32
Round 7, Selection 17 (From Tampa Bay)
Round 7, Selection 32

Team Needs – Players of Interest (Day One):
1. Offensive Tackle:
William Beatty, UConn; Jamon Meredith, South Carolina; Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma; Gerald Cadogan, Penn St.; Fenuki Tupou, Oregon; Troy Kropog, Tulane
2. Wide Receiver: Percy Harvin, Florida; Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland; Kenny Britt, Rutgers; Hakeem Nicks, UNC; Brian Robiskie, OSU; Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma; Jarett Dillard, Rice; Mike Thomas, Arizona
3. Guard: Herman Johnson, LSU; Andre Levitre, Oregon; Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin; Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati
4. Defensive End: Tyson Jackson, LSU; Jarron Gilbert, San Jose St.; Evander Hood, Missouri; Sen’Derrick Marks, Auburn; Fili Moala, USC
5. Cornerback: Darius Butler, UConn; Jairus Byrd, Oregon; D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt; Sean Smith, Utah; Keenan Lewis, Oregon St.; Macho Harris, Virginia Tech; Mike Mickens, Cincinnati; Coye Francis, San Jose St.; Asher Allen, Georgia

Photo Credit: College Press Box (Texas), Steve Slade/UConn Division of Athletics

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On The Clock: Arizona Cardinals

Record: 9-7, 1st In the NFC West
General Manager: Rod Graves, Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt (3rd Year), Assistant Head Coach: Russ Grimm (3rd Year), Defensive Coordinator: Bill Davis (1st Year/3rd Year With the Cardinals)

Offense Rankings: No. 4 Overall, No. 3 Scoring, No. 2 Passing, No. 32 Rushing
Defense Rankings: No. 19 Overall, No. 28 Scoring, No. 22 Passing, No. 16 Rushing

Last Five Years: 33-47; Last Playoff Appearance: 2008; Last Playoff Victory: 2008 (32-25 Over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game)

2008 Draft: (1-16) CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, (2-50) DE Calais Campbell, (3-81) WR Early Doucet, (4-116) DE Kenny Iwebema, (5-149) RB Tim Hightower, (6-185) DE Chris Harrington, (7-225) OT Brandon Keith

Top Picks Last Five Years:

2008 – (1-16) CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State
2007 – (1-5) OT Levi Brown, Penn St.
2006 – (1-10) QB Matt Leinart, USC
2005 – (1-8) DB Antrel Rolle, Miami
2004 – (1-3) WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh

Booms: WR Larry Fitzgerald (1st Round 2004), LB Karlos Dansby (2nd Round 2004), DT Darnell Dockett (3rd Round 2004), DE Antonio Smith (5th Round 2004), OG Taitusi "Duece" Lutui (2nd Round 2006), WR Steve Breaston (5th Round 2007), TE Ben Patrick (7th Round 2007), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (1st Round 2008), RB Tim Hightower (5th Round 2008)

Busts: CB Antrel Rolle (1st Round 2005), RB J.J. Arrington (2nd Round 2005), QB Matt Leinart (1st Round 2006), DT Alan Branch (2nd Round 2007), LB Buster Davis (3rd Round 2007)

Additions:
TE Anthony Becht (Free Agent)
FB Dan Kreider (Free Agent)
LS Mike Leach (Free Agent)
DT Rodney Leisle (Free Agent)
DB Keith Lewis (Free Agent)
CB Bryant McFadden (Free Agent)
C Donovan Raiola (Free Agent)
RB Jason Wright (Free Agent)

Subtractions:
RB J.J. Arrington (FA-Denver)
LB Monty Beisel (FA-Kansas City)
CB Eric Green (FA-Miami)
LS Natha Hodel (Released)
P Dirk Johnson (FA-Washington)
DE Antonio Smith (FA-Houston)
LB Matt Stewart (FA-Dallas)

Keepers:
DE Bertrand Berry
OG Elton Brown
CB Ralph Brown
LB Karlos Dansby (Franchised)
P Ben Graham
LB Clark Haggans
QB Brian St. Pierre
QB Kurt Warner

2009 Picks:
Round 1, Selection 31
Round 2, Selection 31
Round 3, Selection 31
Round 4, Selection 31
Round 5, Selection 31
Round 6, Selection 31
Round 7, Selection 31
Round 7, Selection 45 (Compensatory)

Team Needs – Players of Interest (Day One):
1. Running Back:
Donald Brown, UConn; LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh; Glenn Coffee, Alabama; Andre Brown, NC State, Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon
2. Outside Linebacker: Clay Matthews Jr., USC; Brian Cushing, USC; Aaron Maybin, PSU; Connor Barwin, Cincinnati; Larry English, Northern Illinois; Clint Sintim, Virginia; Cody Brown, UConn
3. Center: Alex Mack, California; Max Unger, Oregon; Eric Wood, Louisville
4. Tight End: Jared Cook, South Carolina; Shawn Nelson, Southern Miss; Cornelius Ingram, Florida; James Casey, Rice; Travis Beckum, Wisconsin; Chase Coffman, Missouri
5. Guard: Herman Johnson, LSU; Andre Levitre, Oregon; Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin; Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati

Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media, College Press Box, Steve Slade/UConn Division of Athletics

Draft Spotlight: Running Back

Who Are the Potential Feature Backs?

“Donald Brown
(Connecticut), what can you say about that guy? LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh), holy cow! You talk about great backs, I mean, they are great backs,” West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said of the two Big East backs in a College Football Insiders radio interview. Joining the UConn and Pitt products as potential feature backs are Beanie Wells (Ohio St.) and Knowshon Moreno (Georgia), who are pretty much the consensus top two.

Before we get to Beanie the Buckeye, the NFL Draft Bible’s top two backs are a pair of Jersey Boys in Moreno and Brown. Moreno was a star for the Dawgs the past two seasons running the football, and no one in college football played with as much fire or energy. He has excellent vision and knows how to make people miss. Moreno lacks prototypical size and speed, but is such an instinctive runner. In addition, he had the second best 3-Cone time at the NFL Scouting Combine, displaying his ability to change directions and accelerate. Similarly, Brown may not possess eye-popping measurables, but the kid can play, as evidenced by his 2,000 yards in 2008 for the Huskies. Brown is a strong runner, who sees the field well with the necessary patience to allow holes to develop.

Wells is bigger and faster, but has question marks regarding his durability and desire. Does he have a passion the game? Is he willing to play hurt? Very few NFL running backs are 100 percent by the time crunch time rolls around. He has the most upside of any back and comes with great potential value, but is not as safe a pick as Moreno or Brown—Beanie could boom or bust.

Finally, we come to McCoy, who not everyone views as potential feature back. Don’t count former teammate linebacker Scott McKillop among the doubters.

“He helped me become a better linebacker this year,” McKillop said of McCoy. “I thought I was pretty fortunate to go out and practice against one of the top running backs in college football. I think he helped me become a better tackler this year than I was last. He’s a great kid, I’m pulling for him.”

McCoy, a red-shirt sophomore like Moreno, had only two years of college experience; he lacks ideal size and did not get the opportunity to strut his stuff at the Combine due to an injury. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore what he can do on the field. McCoy has good vision, great balance and even better elusiveness—he’ll make ya miss.

Who Are the Next Tier of Runners?


More than any other back at the Combine, Andre Brown (North Carolina St.) displayed his potential with 4.4-speed and an NFL frame at over 220 pounds.

“His potential is unlimited,” his former head coach Tom O’Brien said in a CFI interview. “We’ve only been here two years and actually he missed the last six games of our first year with an injury. He’s certainly made tremendous strides this year. He can play whether it’s first, second or third down—he can be that back. He has size and he has speed to take that pounding at the next level. So I think he would be a great addition to someone’s team.”

What will likely keep Brown from becoming a feature back is his lack of durability. Brown has struggled to stay on the field, which limited his production as a collegian. He possesses good vision, patience and can be a factor in the passing game.

Glenn Coffee also must overcome durability concerns. He doesn’t have standout skills, but is tough, physical runner who always seems to find a way to fall forward and pick up an extra yard or two. He possesses the ability to cut, change direction and not lose speed.

Who is the Best Between the Tackles?

Shonn Greene (Iowa) doesn’t offer much in terms of breakaway speed, elusiveness or explosiveness, but he is a downhill runner who maximizes the available yards in traffic—he pushes the pile. One has to love his consistency as well; no other back ran for 100 yards in each and every game this past season.

Another north-south runner is Gartrell Johnson (Colorado St.), who had a dominant bowl game and was very impressive at the East-West Shrine game. Originally viewed by some as fullback, it appears Johnson has solidified himself as a runner. However, he may very well be the slowest running back in this class and doesn’t have the type of elusiveness to make defenders miss in the open field, but he does possess very quick feet.

The best big back may very well be small school product Rashad Jennings (Liberty) who packs a punch at 231 pounds. In both the All-Star game process and the Combine Jennings proved he belonged among the Bowl Subdivision backs. He has good vision and can change directions very well for a big back. He surprised quite a few observers with his 3-Cone time of 6.86 (fourth at the Combine).

Are There Any Home Run Threats?

With only four backs running sub-4.5s at the Combine, there are not as many breakaway threats as NFL scouts would like. One reason for the poor Combine numbers was that the NFL did not see fit to invite little man Devin Moore (Wyoming) to Indianapolis. Moore shined at his own private workout in his hometown and teams looking for a breakaway threat should not underestimate this Wyoming product. He is elusive, possesses long speed, and is stronger than you might think.

Mike Goodson
(Texas A&M) wasn’t as productive as expected when he arrived at College Station, but he could end being the big play back the Aggies expected at the NFL level. He is explosive, has good balance in the open field and the long speed to hit the home run.

Two backs that surprised a few people at the Combine with their straight-line speed were Cedric Peerman (Virginia) and Kory Sheets (Purdue). Peerman ran a 4.5 in Indianapolis and he possesses good vision, but isn’t necessarily at his best in the open field. Sheets ran a 4.47 and excels outside the tackles, with the wiggle to make people miss. The former Boilermaker is also quite willing to get physical with defensive backs and when he wins those confrontations, he is more than able to break free for a big run.

“I think he could help a team in a lot of ways,” says Purdue head coach Danny Hope. “He’s a good kick return man, he has legitimate speed, and good size, not great. But I’m not surprised he ran as fast as he did. I think he ran somewhere in the mid, low 4.4’s. He was an excellent sprinter in high school. He was a track man in high school and had documented track times. He was fortunate this season to get the bulk of the work at the running back spot. We had an injury to one of our top running backs, Jason Taylor. We relied a lot on Kory Sheets and he rose to the occasion and really did a great job. He rushed for over 1,200 yards and was a good receiver out of the backfield, but I think the fact that he played in the spread offense and knows how to catch the football will separate him from some other guys at his position. If he can prove himself to be a physical player, I think he can do very well in National Football League. He is very talented and I think he has the desire to do well.”

Rounding out this group is Marcus Thigpen (Indiana), who may or may not get drafted, but leaves little doubt in terms of his pure speed. The man with sub-4.4 speed also has the potential to be a special return man.

Who Are the Best of the Rest?

There are still some talented backs remaining, led by the 5’9 duo of Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon) and Jevon Ringer (Michigan St.). What hurts this pair is that in addition to lacking ideal size, neither brings top end speed to the table. Ringer is very quick though, with the ability to change direction. He has good vision, is very tough, and better between the tackles than one might assume. Johnson is a little more explosive and more elusive in the open field, a very dangerous runner once he can get outside the tackles. The former Duck also seems to be able to break off long runs, he’s rarely caught from behind.

We also can’t forget Ian Johnson (Boise St.), Bernard Scott (Abilene-Christian), Arian Foster (Tennessee), James Davis (Clemson) and Aaron Brown (TCU). Johnson really proved the doubters wrong with his speed, quickness and strength at the Combine. He improved his draft stock by a round or two. Scott will get drafted beneath his talent level because of character question marks, but the kid can play ball.

The two senior sinkers since the start of the season are Davis and Foster. The former Vol has superb hands, prototypical size, and he is very smooth runner. However, he has serious questions when it comes to his ability to stay on the field. Davis has enough size and speed to play at the next level, but has tight hips, durability issues and he was not much of factor in the Tigers’ passing attack when it came to blocking or receiving.

Brown never put up big numbers as a Horned Frog and also had trouble staying healthy, but he has very good vision and burst, with the hands and ability to run after the catch. He could certainly be a solid third-down back.

Who Are the Potential PFA Gems?

A pair of backs who are not physically imposing or going to make you double check your stop-watch, but possess the quick feet and ability to change direction are Tyrell Sutton (Northwestern) and Kahlil Bell (UCLA). Brad Lester (Auburn) did not receive an invitation to the Combine because he barely contributed as a senior and struggled his entire career at Auburn to stay on the field. If healthy, Lester could be a real find.

Which Fullbacks Could Get Draft?

Tony Fiammetta
(Syracuse) is the odds-on favorite to be the first fullback off the board. He has good size and speed, is an above average blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Other fullbacks who could hear their name called are Quinn Johnson (LSU), Brannan Southerland (Georgia), Conredge Collins (Pittsburgh) and Jason Cook (Mississippi St.). Cook has prototypical size, Johnson is an excellent lead blocker, injury issues hurt Southerland, while Collins is athletic, but undersized.

Who Are the Stars of Tomorrow?


The top senior back for 2009 will be C.J. Spiller (Clemson), who possesses breakaway speed and is a true weapon coming out of the backfield. Even though Davis is gone, Spiller figures to share some carries. LeGarrette Blount (Oregon) and Charles Scott (LSU) are bruising backs that tip the scales at over 230 pounds. Stafon Johnson (USC) is an intriguing talent, but has never had the opportunity to get consistent carries as a Trojan.

Junior Jonathan Dwyer (Georgia Tech) is a powerful runner, with Jahvid Best (California) and Noel Devine (West Virginia) true game-breakers for the Class of 2011. The players with the most potential remain DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) and Joe McKnight (USC), with the red-shirt junior out of Norman the more proven talent. Also out of the Big XII, Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma St.) is a sleeper who has been very productive.

Photo Credit: College Press Box (Michigan St., Pittsburgh, NC State), SEC Sports Media, University of Wyoming Photo Service