Monday, April 23, 2018

Green: Why drafting Saquon Barkley with the first overall pick should be a no-brainer for the Cleveland Browns

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas- USA TODAY Sports

In an era where second guessing in front offices across the National Football League are the norm, the Cleveland Browns are arguably in a good position from a depth standpoint for the first time since the Bill Belichick era in the early 1990’s.

Given their brash off-season upgrades with quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills, running back Carlos Hyde from the San Francisco 49ers and Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins, the Browns should not focus on drafting a signal caller right away given their murky results over the last two decades.

Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen could be on the board and taken by Cleveland with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but not the first as the top priority should be Barkley and here are the reasons why:

1) Much needed depth in the running back position

- With Hyde now in the fold, Barkley would not have to take every touch in the backfield and can line up in the backfield and as a slot receiver, which could give defenses headaches as they would have put together more packages to stop the nifty back from Penn State.

2) 'Pulling an Eli’ should not be a deterrent

- Despite a report on Apr. 18 that Barkley’s agent, Kim Miale implored him to pull an Eli Manning and make the Browns not draft him, which was denied vehemently.

- Sure, the bright lights and massive media market of New York City seem like the dream, but most fans forget the New York Giants are in a similar fate fresh off a 3-13 record in 2017 with no guarantees that Odell Beckham Jr. will be the same player he was before last season. The grass might not always be green on the other side and Cleveland should not be afraid of the “small market” reputation and take a chance with Barkley to help strengthen its running back depth.

3) No guarantees with the No. 4 overall pick

- Management can’t assume Barkley will be available at the No. 4 spot as the New York Giants and Jets would be ready to scoop up the prospect if the Browns fail to take him with the top overall pick.

4) Combine performance for the ages

- Sure, everything can’t be judged on a performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, look at JaMarcus Russell from 2008 as a shining example. On the other hand, Barkley made a strong case as to why he could be the top pick in the draft as he benched press 29 reps, ran 1.54 seconds in the 10-Yard Split, breezed by with a 4.4 in the 40-Yard Dash and a 41” in the Vertical Jump in the NFL Combine last month in Indianapolis.

- To put those numbers in perspective, here is a comparison to other NFL players from different positions via the NFL Research department:

Browns fans are used to having the rug pulled under them time after time, but with the pieces they assembled free agency, the time is now to make what would be a surefire pick in Barkley and potentially challenge the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North in the 2018 season.

Come Thursday night, everyone will be glued to a television screen or streaming device to see how Cleveland’s first pick plays out.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The annual Blue-Gold game delivered for Notre Dame as the spring season concludes

Photo Credit: Chantel Shetler

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

NOTRE DAME, IN – The 89th annual Blue-Gold Game marked the conclusion of spring practices for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The Blue team pulled off the win by a score of 47-44 in front of a crowd of over 37,000 at Notre Dame Stadium. 

The format of the spring game featured the offense in blue against the defense in gold. The defense got six points for a touchdown, three points for a turnover forced, three for a 3-and-out, two points for a stop, and 1 point for each sack and tackle for a loss.

By far, the most anticipated and notable position battle was between quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book.  Wimbush was the starter for all but one game last year, but also struggled with his accuracy. Book impressed in his time off the bench for the Irish, including leading a come from behind victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl.  Both QB’s connected for deep touchdown passes in the first half. Wimbush found Miles Boykin for a 65 yard score, while Book found Chase Claypool for an 85 yard strike.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Brandon went out and got a chance to go with the first group and Ian played with the second group,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “You know, that’s not etched in stone but that’s the way they’ve been trending.”

Wimbush finished the contest 19-of-33 passing for 341 yards, two touchdowns, and had one interception.  Book finished 17-of-30 for 292 yards and a touchdown. 

Avery Davis is listed as a quarterback on the roster, but has moved into a more flexible role within the offense this offseason. Davis picked up 30 yards on 11 carries and picking up 24 receiving yards as well. Towards the end of the contest, Davis replaced Wimbush at quarterback and went 2-of-2 for 26 yards.

Following the contest, Kelly announced that Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr. would essentially be listed as 1 and 1A on the depth chart.  Williams finished with 117 yards and a touchdown, including a 72 yard dash where he was chased down by Notre Dame track star Troy Pride Jr. Jones Jr. finished the afternoon with 20 yards on eight carries.

Claypool and Boykin had huge days at the receiver position. Claypool finished with 151 yards on six receptions, including two touchdowns. Boykin hauled in three passes for 132 yards and a score. Michael Young and Chris Finke finished with 82 and 81 yards, respectively. 

Brian Kelly was impressed and confident with how his defense has preformed to this point.  “They are a very confident group.  I think depth at the safety and cornerback position.  I like our rotation on the defensive line,” Kelly said.  “I think if there’s one concern, it’s finding the depth at the linebacker position.  That would be probably my only concern.”

Drue Tranquill led all players defensively with nine tackles and a sack on the day.  Adetokunbo Ogundeji added six tackles including two sacks.  Jalen Elliot had the lone interception on the afternoon for the Gold team.

Notre Dame will take on the Michigan Wolverines under the lights in South Bend on Sept. 1, 2018 to kick off the regular season.   This will be the first game in the series since 2014 between the Irish and the Wolverines.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fighting Irish have plenty of position battles with the spring game around the corner

Photo Credit: Matt Stamey- USA TODAY Sports

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

Snow in the middle of April can only mean one thing, right?  Spring football time in the Midwest.  Notre Dame will be hosting its 89th annual Blue-Gold Game, presented by Boling Vision Center on Saturday, April 21, 2018 with kickoff at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Coming into the game, the most notable position battle sits under center between quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book.  Wimbush led the Irish offense for the majority of the 2017 campaign, starting all but one contest and finished with a scoring efficiency of 93 percent in the red zone, but often struggled with his accuracy throwing the ball.  Book showed last year that he looked comfortable passing the ball, but does not have the mobility that makes Wimbush a dual-threat quarterback.

With running back Josh Adams heading to the NFL Draft, the Irish will also need to find a new running back.  Dexter Williams seems to be the favorite to this point, but Tony Jones Jr. also seems like he’s making a case to split carries with Williams. 

Losing All-Americans Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson will be an astronomical loss for the Irish.  Projected starters from left to right are Liam Eichenberg, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, Tommy Kraemer, and Robert Hainsey.

Talent is aplenty at the skilled positions.  The Irish return Nic Weisher and Alize Mack as tight ends and Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Chris Finke highlight the receiving core. 

The transfer of Jay Hayes to the University of Oklahoma could be a disappointment for Irish fans, but the defensive front seems to have plenty of stability.  The return of Daelin Hayes, Jerry Tillery, Jonathan Bonner, and Khalid Kareem brings plenty of experience to the table.

Te’Von Coney and Drue Tranquill will bring plenty of senior leadership to the linebacker position.  Julian Love also returns to the secondary following his monster year last season.  If Love can continue at the pace that he finished last season, he will find his name on an All-American list following the season.Troy Pride Jr. and Shaun Crawford look to maintain their starting positions at cornerback and nickel, respectively.

Spring games are a great opportunity for fans to get a glimpse of the future and return their focus to the gridiron following another abysmal Indiana winter.  When the Blue-Gold Game concludes spring practices for the Irish, we will most likely be left with some question marks regarding the depth chart heading into week one.

Monday, April 16, 2018

HBO’s ‘Paterno’ casts light on the dark Penn State scandal

Photo Credit: Matthew O'Haren- USA TODAY Sports

By: Jeff Hauser
Twitter: @radiohauser

Joe Paterno was once revered for his accomplishment in life beyond the football field. Known to many as a leader, mentor, and father during his 61-year tenure at Penn State, JoePa left behind a polarizing legacy due to the child sexual abuse by former assistant Jerry Sandusky. HBO films’ ‘Paterno’ captures the emotions of college football’s winningest coach through his record-breaking game and the scandal that rocked Happy Valley a week later.

A story directed by Barry Levinson opens with Paterno undergoing an MRI before a transition to the events that occurred prior to his career coming to an end. Academy Award-winning actor Al Pacino masters the part of the 84-year-old Paterno, who fails to make sense of Sandusky’s actions, along with not losing focus of his responsibilities on the field. A sobering look at Paterno’s final weeks starts at Beaver Stadium in the 2011 Penn State-Illinois game as the rattled coach is calling plays from the booth after suffering a fractured hip in practice.

Penn State’s elation of Paterno’s 409th career victory would be short lived with the storm that was brewing. Levinson tries to answer the question of when Paterno knew about the abuse Sandusky was inflicting upon his victims. Paterno told school administrators in 2002 of the Sandusky’s wrongdoing with a boy in the showers at Penn State’s athletic complex, but might have known about another instance nearly 30 years prior and wasn’t concerned enough to take the claims further.

Administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz did not go forward with the information to Penn State president Graham Spanier or the authorities, placing an emphasis on a powerhouse’s winning program over the victims need for protection. A reminder that Paterno “had a job to do” with Nebraska being the next opponent on the schedule and less focused on the lives that were ruined potentially under the watch of him and others. Pacino channeled Paterno’s need for keeping it “about football” several times throughout the film, even at one point taking criticism from his family while seeming unobligated to even know what has happened out of his residence.

The victims’ prospective is told through Sara Ganim, played by Riley Keough, who broke the story for The Patriot-News and won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the events. A struggle of daily life for Aaron Fisher one of Sandusky’s victims is a sticking point for the truth with Ganim pressing on despite being stonewalled by Penn State officials time and time again. She starts to see more victims coming forward after telling Fisher’s account and during the last scene of the film takes an anonymous phone call from a victim. He tells Ganim that he talked to Paterno about being abused in the summer of 1976 and was told, “Jerry was a good man and shouldn’t talk that way about a good man.”

A differing account was touched on by Joe’s wife, Sue Paterno, played by Kathy Baker, who walks Joe back through a couple past instances and draw the conclusion that Joe could not have known about Jerry’s involvement with boys, otherwise their own sons (Scott and Jay) wouldn’t have been playing in the pool around Sandusky.

What’s hard to fathom is the length at which these crimes continued to happen over the course of decades. And how Sandusky was able to draft his own retirement terms when many university representatives including Paterno were aware of the abuse and aided in the cover up—another point shown throughout the film’s entirety. 

Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012. He was sentenced to 60 years in jail, the maximum allowed under Pennsylvania’s guidelines. Curley and Schultz pled guilty to child endangerment and Spanier was tried and found guilty of the same charge. All three were sentenced to prison time along with a combined $60 million fine. 

Paterno died of cancer on Jan. 22, 2012, two and a half months after being fired from Penn State. At the time of his demise he said, “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”