Thursday, January 31, 2013

Race to the Finish: National Signing Day

With National Signing Day quickly approaching, college football fans are eager to see which schools emerge victorious in the recruiting war. Sure the usual suspects are there, Florida, Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio St., USC, but there a few other schools in this year's race that are worth keeping an eye on.

Texas A & M found a new home in the SEC and a new star in Johhny Football. With the spotlight shining bright on their program the Aggies have used that to their advantage on the recruiting trail. Last year their recruiting class ranked 15th, but they will finish with a top ten class this year, thanks in part to verbal commitments from receivers Ricky Seals-Jones, Derrick Griffin and Sebastian LaRue, who are obviously excited at the prospect of catching passes from Johnny Manziel. And yes, the Aggies may have the Heisman trophy winner running their offense, but their newest QB addition isn't too shabby either. Joining the team this year is Southlake Carroll QB and AP Texas high school football player of the year, Kenny Hill. The Dragons finished 39th in our inaugural iBN 50 and Hill is one of the reasons why. 
Next up UCLA. That's right Bruin fans, Coach Mora and his staff have been hot on the recruiting trail and it's paying off. Just this week two of the nation's top ten safeties, Priest Willis (Marcos De Niza, AZ) and Tahaan Goodman (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) verbally committed to UCLA. Plus the Bruins are making a push for the nation's #1 dual threat QB, Asiantii Woulard out of Winter Park, FL. Woulard was the ESPN Elite 11 MVP. UCLA is picking up steam at the right time and is poised to give their cross town rival a run for their money in the recruiting battle.
Finally don't sleep on Ole Miss. Coach Hugh Freeze and staff are rounding out their first full recruiting cycle and the results are impressive to say the least. They scored verbal commitments from DE Elijah Daniel, dual threat QB Devante Kincade and the nation's top wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell. But the cherry on top could come from landing the number one prospect in the nation, DE Robert Nkemdiche, which is a very real possibility. The Rebels could very easily go from the 40th best recruiting class last year to a top ten recruiting class this year!
Of course anything came happen as we continue to count down to signing day. Make sure to keep checking out the iBN Sports Network YouTube page as we continue to post highlights from the nation's top recruits. It's been fun covering the best of the best in high school football, can't wait to see what they do at the next level!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tobacco Road

Excited for tonight's match up between Duke and UNC, I thought I'd revisit a blog I posted last year during rivalry week. Here's a revised version of Tobacco Road:

Once again it's rivalry week and in my opinion there is no better rivalry than the Battle of Tobacco Road. While Wake Forest and NC State both reside along Tobacco Road, it is the rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tarheels that's unlike any other. I mean where else could you find students camped out for months in the tent city known as Krzyzewskiville!

The die hard devotion of the fans adds fuel to an already intense fire. Tobacco Road could be called The Great Blue Divide and the question is which blue do you bleed?

8 miles on US Highway 15-501 is all that separates these bitter rivals. Proximity explains some of the rivalry, but it's not just about the two schools being so close together, it's that two of the nation's premier basketball programs just happen to be miles apart.

UNC, a public school, plays in the Dean Smith Center, capacity 21,750, while private school Duke plays in Cameron Indoor Stadium (referred to by Coach K as the 6th man) which holds an intimate 9,314 including the raucous crowd simply known as the Cameron Crazies.

Between these two teams there are 9 national titles (UNC 5, Duke 4) and 33 Final Four appearances (UNC first all time with 18, Duke 3rd all time with 15). Plus they've combined for 47 ACC Regular season championships and 36 ACC tournament championships. In fact in the last 128 meetings at least one of these teams has been ranked in the top 25.

Even Crazier (pun intended), according to ESPN research in the last 75 UNC-Duke games the score is Duke 5,858, UNC 5,857!

The meetings between these two have provided some of college basketball's most memorable moments, like Jeff Capel's running 37 ft rainbow at the buzzer to send the game into overtime or Tyler Hansbrough's broken nose, courtesy of Duke's Gerald Henderson. Needless to say this fierce battle for supremacy does not disappoint.

These programs have introduced some of the games greatest names like Worthy, Perkins, Jordan, Reid, Montross, Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Wojo, Battier, Boozer, Brand, Wallace, Stackhouse, Carter, Smith, Reddick and the list goes on and on.

At least twice a year one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports takes center stage and hopefully tonight will deliver another stellar performance. After all it's tradition, it's for bragging rights, it's Duke-North Carolina.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Florida State Player to Watch: Christian Jones

Florida State football is back. As Coach Jimbo Fisher begins his second year at the helm, the Seminoles return 18 starters, possess the nation's top incoming class and have high hopes for new quarterback EJ Manuel. Needless to say the Noles are already in the BCS Championship discussion.

Manuel must control the offense and have a standout year in order for the Seminoles to dominate. On the other side of the ball is a player who is poised to have a breakout year and be the difference maker Florida State needs, linebacker Christian Jones.

At 6'4", 236 (look for his playing weight to eventually be 240) many describe him as a physical freak. As the "Sam" (strong side) linebacker, his size, strength and athletic ability will come in handy going up against opposing tight ends.

A Florida State legacy, his dad and brother both played football for the Seminoles, Jones has elite natural pass rushing abilities and above average coverage skills at this stage in his career that will only get better with experience. That is what linebacker coach Greg Hudson and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops are counting on.

Last season, playing sporadically behind senior Mister Alexander, Jones racked up 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.

A likely starter in 2011, Coach Fisher has high expectations for Jones. "Somebody blessed him in the body with ability. He has a lot of size, potential, range, instincts and toughness. He's a big body that can play in space. That's rare. I think he has the potential to be a very good player."

According to Tomahawk Nation, Jones looked good in coverage in Florida State's annual Gold and Garnet spring game. That's good news for Seminole fans, as Jones defensive play will be crucial for a successful season.

Even teammate Nigel Bradham is excited to see how Jones will fare this upcoming year. "I'm really interested in seeing how Christian is going to do. I know he's going to do well."

At the end of the regular season Coach Fisher and the Seminoles hope to be in BCS contention. Christian Jones may very well be a catalyst that helps propel them into the national spotlight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 Preview: Miami Dolphins Defense

These days all eyes are on the Miami Dolphins offense, but it is the defense that teams should be on the lookout for.

Second year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan gives Miami fans reason to smile. With a year under their belt the chemistry between players and coach should be even stronger. Plus the players have had a year to learn Nolan's scheme and should be more productive executing it.

The Dolphins finished the 2010 NFL season ranked 6th in overall yards allowed and tenth in sacks. Not too shabby, especially considering how young this defense is. Twelve players who figure to play a prominent role in 2011 are in the early part or prime of their career. Basically Nolan has young talent at his disposal.

The solid anchor of the defense is the line. Coach Sparano echoed that sentiment stating, "That group was the only one on my football team I knew what I was getting every game."

The return of 2010 first round pick Jared Odrick, who sat out last season due to injury, adds depth to an already strong defensive line. Randy Starks earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2010 and some believe nose tackle (and franchise tag player) Paul Soliai should have been in Hawaii as well. Add the ever improving Kendall Langford to the mix and it is obvious the defensive line is among the teams greatest strengths.

It is hard to talk about team strengths without mentioning the linebacking corp. These guys were impressive last season and should build on that this year.

The front office made a smart move bringing Karlos Dansby into the fold. Not only is he a great player, but his leadership skills are important for this young defense. Look for Dansby to make more noise this season.

In just his second year in the NFL, Cameron Wake emerged as one of the leagues premier linebackers. The Pro Bowler ranked 3rd in sacks recording 14.

Rounding out the linebacking corp are Koa Misi and team defensive leader Channing Crowder.

Wreaking havoc in the secondary are play maker Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. With teams shying away from Davis' side look for them to take shots at Smith. After dropping several potential interceptions last year Smith must have better hands this season. If he does many believe he will have a breakout year.

And don't forget about Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell. He has great instincts and is a solid tackler.

The defense will benefit from a stronger offense. If Miami can put points on the board it should free up the defense to play more aggressively. Playing from behind makes it hard on a defense to really play loose.

Creating turnovers will be defensive focus. Last year the defense struggled in this area, this year they want to turn up the pressure. If they can capitalize on turnovers in 2011, Miami may just compete in the loaded AFC East.

For now most fans and media are focused on the offense. Who will be the quarterback? What will Miami's backfield look like? But it very well may be the defense that gives the team a chance to contend this season.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Dolphins and Ricky Williams May Need to Create Perfect Harmony

"I'd love nothing more than to finish my career winning a Super Bowl with the Dolphins, but that's gonna take some cooperation from others." This tweet is courtesy of Miami running back Ricky Williams, the same player that in January said it was time to move on from the Dolphins. What a difference five months and the lockout can make.

Williams has changed his tune several times over the last five months. In January he said it was time to move on. In March he basically said he would have fun wherever he played, whether it be in Miami or elsewhere. In April he said if the Dolphins want him to stay and make a fair offer it would be hard to turn down. Cut to the above tweet in June. The question is what should Miami do?

It's no secret the Dolphins want fresh legs in the running back corp, but they may need a veteran to teach these young guys, such as recently drafted Daniel Thomas, the ropes. Veteran leadership is important because the longer the lockout goes on, the less time for the newbies to become acclimated to playing in the NFL or for free agents to become comfortable playing for a new organization.

Miami may have a different offensive playbook under new coordinator Brian Daboll, but don't think for a second that Williams doesn't have something to offer. Last year he rushed for 673 yards (averaging 4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Not bad for a 33 year old.

What Miami may want to consider is the veteran experience Williams brings, a sentiment he stressed when talking to WQAM-560. "I have things to offer that a rookie can't offer. I think I bring positivity. I think I bring leadership. I've proven I can play at a high level consistently."

Whether or not the Dolphins head office agrees, we'll have to wait and see. Afterall Williams had some pretty harsh words for teammates and coaching staff back in January when he was sure he would never put on a Dolphins uniform again.

It may be in the end the Dolphins admit the importance of locker room leadership and sign Williams for one year, but Williams may have to compromise on the financial terms

With no player contact allowed it's hard to tell which way the brass is leaning. Pat Kirwan of brings out an important point, "With 29 backs taken in the recent draft it doesn't leave many teams looking to spend big bucks in that position... there really aren't many willing to pay much in free agency for a veteran, especially if the next contract brings the back past his 30th birthday."

Williams himself said they haven't shown much interest in resigning him, but just as he changed his tune, so may the Dolphins.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Meet Gabbert's New Best Friends

It has been said that a tight end can be a quarterback's best friend. Why is that? A tight end may not be as dynamic as a wide receiver or running back, yet are usually the one the quarterback dumps the ball to when in trouble.

According to Rams General Manager Billy Devaney, "The tight end is a real nice safety valve for the quarterback to have. If you've got to spit the ball out fast it's a comfort knowing you've got a sure handed tight end as a receiver even if he's not running down the middle of the field. If you have someone like that who knows how to read blitzes and knows how to get open, that becomes a quarterbacks best friend."

Luckily for Blaine Gabbert, if he gets the nod to start, the Jacksonville Jaguars have an strong, experienced tight end corp. General Manager Gene Smith believes they are a winning group. "Winning at tight end in a very real sense is about versatility, depth, improvement and experience."

One of the Jaguars most durable and reliable leaders is Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis. Known as one of the NFL's better blocking tight ends, he emerged as a receiver last season racking up 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is a force to be reckoned with, a reality not lost on Gabbert.

In an interview following the draft Gabbert had this to say about Lewis, "He's a great player, having a big athletic tight end like that helps you out. We had a great tight end in Missouri as well and having a guy like that can get a mismatch on a linebacker and stretch the middle of the field puts stress on the defense. Anytime you have a guy like that, like Marcedes. that's definitely a comfort for the quarterback."

Smith also had high praise for No. 2 tight end Zach Miller. "Miller has the potential to continue to develop and in a more pass oriented offense could put up numbers on the scale of some of the NFL's better receiving tight ends."

That bold statement potentially puts Miller in the company of exceptional pass-catching tight ends such as Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and the man known every year in my fantasy league as Capt. Witten (of course I'm talking about the Cowboy's Jason Witten).

Rounding out the tight end trio is blocking tight end Zach Potter. As defenses continue to run creative blitzing schemes having solid tight ends handling the pressure is important. Smith is confident the tight end position is one of his teams most reliable areas.

In Jacksonville there will be a close watch on the competition between David Garrard and Gabbert. Regardless of who wins, there is a strong tight end corp ready for either quarterback to rely on.

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Raiders Passing Camp at CES: Behind the Scenes Account

Buford High School is used to the spotlight. The Wolves have won four straight Georgia state titles and seven of the last nine, but this week a different caliber of star stepped onto the field. The Oakland Raiders arrived in town.

Because contact with coaches is not allowed, NFL team workouts are up to the players. Around the league some players are practicing routes while others are running seven on seven drills. Raiders veteran Richard Seymour had another idea in mind.

It just so happens that Seymour lives around the corner from one of the nation's top sports performance training facilities, Competitive Edge Sports. A few weeks ago Seymour reached out to founder Chip Smith and set up a four day structured mini camp. He then reached out to his teammates and invited them to attend.

I asked Seymour if it was true he paid for the whole camp. "Nah, it's just a rumor," he replied, but we both knew he was just being modest.

The Raiders arrived bright and early for day one field training. Seymour showed up first, followed by the offensive linemen. One by one the players such as Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley filed in ready to begin the day. Not everyone showed up on time but when all was said and done over 30 players participated in the workouts.

Upon arrival the players noticed lots of equipment: resistance cords, Stinchcomb harnesses, snatchback cords, shackles, etc... As an observer even I was wary of all the contraptions.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement as teammates greeted each other. After Chip introduced himself, Seymour said a few words and then it was time to get to work.

CES trainer Tripp Smith led the team through ballistic warm-ups and quick foot ladders. The guys were winded but there was no time to waste as they quickly broke into groups for position specific training.

Next up a team favorite, seven on seven. Quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Kyle Boller took turns directing the offense. It was obvious Campbell, constantly with playbook in hand, is truly embracing his leadership role.

Ready for a reprieve from the hotlanta heat the team headed back to CES for lunch and lifting. The weight room was a madhouse with guys everywhere, music blasting, the sound of weights and bars clanging along with the screams of encouragement to just do one more rep.

Day two started with more field drills, consisting of release harnesses, reaction coach, the dreaded Mama Bird drill and "Chip-O-Meters." Inventor Chip Smith designed this piece of equipment to give the athlete overspeed in flexion of the foot and resistance in extension of the foot. Basically cords are attached to both a harness on your body and straps on your feet.

About this time a bus pulled up with players who train at a facility based in Orlando. These guys were in town with a colleague of Smith's, Tom Shaw. This group consisted of former Viking and free agent Javon Walker, Steelers unrestricted free agent Ike Taylor, Patriots BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cardinals D'Anthony Batiste, Titans Myron Rolle, Jaguars Greg Jones and Chargers free agent Travis Johnson.

The Raiders and Shaw's guys played a little seven on seven. Oakland ran plays from their playbook while Shaw's team was not as scripted. It seemed everyone enjoyed catching up and appreciated a little healthy competition.

As the players left the field, the Atlanta Falcons, who also use Buford's field, arrived. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones greeted Raider players. With all this NFL star power on the field you would think we were at the Pro Bowl!

Back at CES headquarters players were treated to lunch, consulted with nutrition expert Marie Spano and some took advantage of the top notch CES rehab and prehab medical team.

Next on the agenda was the infamous CES pool workout. Now if you are thinking that pool day is an easy day than you are mistaken. These guys were attached to resistance cords as they tried to swim and used resistance bands in the water for upper body work. Let me tell you this workout is no joke. Pool day may be a rest for your joints, but that is the only thing that gets a rest on this day!!

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left a satisfied customer stating "the pool workout was a different kind of workout, but it was good."

Punt returner/wide receiver Nick Miller told me he didn't know what to expect. "I've done pool workouts before, but normally it's swimming laps. We got here and I saw the bands and that kinda threw me for a loop, I didn't know what to expect. It was a lot of hard work and just when we thought we were done we had to go do more, do the bands and the shoulders. It kicked my butt and it was good work."

Campbell tweeted "the pool workout with resistance bands was one of the best workouts I've done because it's working every muscle in the body at once."

CES director of sports performance lifting Robby Stewart complimented the guys, "as a group they worked hard and did a great job for their first time through the CES pool workout."

Seymour's goals for the week included: building team camraderie, reminding everyone to take care of themselves physically so they are ready to go when the lockout ends and hopefully picking up a few tips from the CES staff along the way.

As an observer I would say the Raiders time at CES not only fulfilled but exceeded expectations.

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet