Friday, April 29, 2011

Which team will Kaepernick call home?

We knew quarterbacks would fly off the NFL Draft board, the unknown was the order in which they would go. Even with four quarterbacks taken in the first round, big names including Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick still remain.

Keep an eye on Kaepernick. The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins have early picks in the second round and have all expressed interest in drafting a quarterback. The Bills aren't sure if Ryan Fitzpatrick is their long term answer, the Bengals situation with Carson Palmer is a mess and apparently it's all but over for McNabb in Washington so it would be make sense for any one of these teams to draft a passer.

Kaepernick grew up in Turlock, California, which is about 100 miles from the Bay Area. Fittingly the two Bay Area teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, are both in need of a quarterback. The Raiders have especially shown interest in the hometown boy. It would come as no surprise if they traded up for an earlier second round pick in order to secure Kaepernick.

Jason La Canfora of reported that the Dolphins seriously considered Kaepernick with their 15th pick before ultimately choosing offensive lineman Mike Pouncey. Currently they don't have a second round pick, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to move up if the right deal comes along.

All eyes will be watching to see where Dalton goes and Mallett for that matter, but don't count Kaepernick out. I expect him to be gone in the second round. He's a smart, fast, extremely focused, driven competitor and natural born leader. Trainer Chip Smith believes he could be the face of a franchise. The only question remains, which franchise will that be?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dolphins Draft Needs

Miami Dolphins 2011 Draft picks: No. 15 (1st), No. 79 (3rd), No.111 (4th), No. 146 (5th), No. 179 (6th), No. 216 (7th), No. 217 (7th), No. 234 (7th)

Team Needs: QB, RB, OL, TE, WR, S

It's no secret the Dolphins have needs on offense, the question is which need to address first, quarterback, running back or offensive lineman? Is trading down to acquire more draft picks the best strategy? Decisions, decisions.

Until drafting Dan Marino in 1983, Miami hadn't used a first round pick on a passer since Bob Griese in 1967. Both players were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not a bad track record. Do the Dolphins see a future Hall of Famer in this year's crop?

In the 12 seasons since Marino's retirement the Dolphins have been through 15 starters. The most recent, Chad Henne, doesn't seem to be the answer some had hoped for. Should Miami wait to acquire a veteran quarterback or is there a player in the draft who could be the face of the franchise?

With the era of running back tandem Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown coming to an end, don't be surprised if the 15th pick is used on a fresh set of legs. Many analysts think Mark Ingram may be the stud in the backfield that the Dolphins need. Also on their radar is Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams, who could be a draft steal.

Miami wants a stronger rushing attack so they need to beef up the offensive line, specifically guard and center. Is Mike Pouncey, twin brother of Steelers Maurkice Pouncey, worthy of the 15th overall pick? He could help anchor the line along with Jake Long and Richie Incognito.

At the moment Miami still has monster receiver Brandon Marshall plus Devone Bess has proven to be a good choice in the slot, but they need another threat opposite Marshall. Could Titus Young or Leonard Hankerson be that threat? In the later rounds look for them to possibly pick up a tight end.

The Dolphins addressed their defensive needs in last year's draft and it paid off. The team finished sixth in overall yards allowed and tenth in sacks. Hopefully this year's draft will transform the offense the way last year's transformed the defense. With Bill Parcells gone, draft day duties belong to General Manager Jeff Ireland and new director of player personnel, Brian Gaine. Wonder what their strategy will be?

Players I like for the Dolphins

Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
Titus Young, WR, Boise State
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech

Follow me on Twitter @Courtney_Sweet

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Future Looks Bright for Florida State

53,818 fans filled Doak Campbell Stadium to watch Florida State take on... themselves! The Seminole faithful gathered to watch the annual Garnet and Gold game, the culmination of spring practice. Garnet barely edged out Gold 19-17.

Florida State enters the 2011 season with high expectations and rightfully so. Following a 10 win season which included winning the ACC's Atlantic Division and the Chick-fil-A Bowl (where they beat Head Ball Coach and South Carolina), Coach Jimbo Fisher went out and scored the nation's number one recruiting class, plus his team returns 18 starters. Sounds like a recipe for success.

Leading the charge is new starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Fortunately Manuel was able to complete the full spring practice session, something he hasn't done before. In the spring game he was 17 for 36 with 204 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Fisher said he learned more watching Manuel bounce back from mistakes than if his quarterback would have had a perfect game. This could be a breakout year for the the Virginia Beach native.

Manuel's targets include returning receivers Rodney Smith, Taiwan Easterling, Bert Reed and Willie Haulstead. One thing the Seminoles need is a big play receiver. Hoping to fill that void is Kelvin Benjamin. The 6'6" 210 pound freshman out of Glades Central (FL) has explosive speed and may be the deep threat Florida State is looking for.

Another freshman hoping to have an immediate impact is Nick O'Leary, the nation's top tight end prospect. O'Leary, grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, has strong hands, plus his on field versatility is attractive. Look for him to challenge for the starting position.

When it comes to the rushing attack the Seminoles have plenty of weapons in their arsenal. Returning upperclassmen include running backs Chris Thompson, Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones, who together combined for nearly 2,000 yards last season, along with productive fullback Lonnie Pryor. Freshman James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman add to an already deep running back corp.

The defense had a solid 2010 season and will continue to build on that foundation. Greg Reid, who picked up right where he left off last season snagging a pick six in the spring game, along with 2010 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Xavier Rhodes, team sack leader Brandon Jenkins and leading tackler Nigel Bradham will spearhead the defense.

The defensive line added depth and should be fun to watch. One player to keep an eye on is junior college transfer and phenomenal athlete Tank Carradine. Look for him to compete for the starting defensive end position opposite Brandon Jenkins.

Coach Fisher has assembled all the pieces necessary to compete for the BCS National Championship. He returns 18 starters (though replacing four year starting center Ryan McMahon will be key), added top notch depth and has invigorated new life into Florida State football. Now it is up to his players to make it happen on the field.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: One on One with Colin Kaepernick

"All the things Cam Newton does, Colin Kaepernick does better." This bold statement is straight from the mouth of Competitive Edge Sports (CES) founder Chip Smith, the man who's had the distinct privilege of training both players.

Smith's declaration piqued my interest. I wanted to know more about Colin Kaepernick. Born in Wisconsin and raised in California, football became a passion at a young age. Like most quarterbacks his father was his childhood coach. Over the years he's blossomed into a remarkable player. He's the only Division 1 quarterback to have passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,00 yards in a collegiate career. Plus he's the only quarterback to have passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

His stats are impressive, but this player is more than numbers. Smith says he's a driven, focused competitor. Throughout training he was the first one in and the last one out. His last rep was as good as his first and he wanted to do everything all the other guys did. He's analytical, extremely smart, a man of character and a leader. Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Kaepernick and truly believe this quarterback is a diamond in the rough.

CS- In regards to football who were your influences growing up?

CK- Besides my father, my high school coach Brandon Harris, I think he had a big influence on me. He was very smart in how he game planned for teams. We didn't have the most talented players but we'd have a good scheme, which taught me the mental side of the game is as important, if not more important than the physical side.

It should be noted that Kaepernick excelled in football, basketball and baseball in high school. He received several scholarship offers to play Division 1 baseball but turned them all down in favor of taking his only Division 1 football scholarship offer from the University of Nevada.

CS- What is it about football that made you turn down all other scholarships and take the one football scholarship offer?

KC- For me football's always been my passion, it's been my love. Growing up I watched Brett Favre every weekend and he played the game like he was a kid out there, playing with so much excitement and passion for the game. Plus spending time with teammates you build a camaraderie and going toe to toe with another team, there's nothing like it.

CS- What did it mean to you to be the quarterback of a Division 1 school (The University of Nevada)?

KC- The first thing that comes to mind for me is responsibility. There's a lot of responsibility of being the quarterback of a team as well as being the leader of the team. Especially in Reno where there's no professional team, we are the show in town. You have to carry yourself a certain way so everyone respects the program, respects what you're doing and they don't look down upon you.

CS- What was your relationship like with Coach Ault while at Nevada?

CK- I had a growing relationship with our coach. My first few years he was really tough on me because he was trying to make me better and make sure I was ready for every game. As I progressed during my junior and senior season we had more of a partnership type relationship where he would run things past me and it got to the point where he basically said, "You're the coach on the field, you're comfortable with what you're doing just go out there and play football."

CS- Sometimes coaches are hardest on the players they see the most potential in.

KC- Definitely and I think the reason he pushed me so hard was to get the best out of me.

CS- I can't talk to you without mentioning Boise St. This past season, on senior night, they rolled into Reno amidst BCS National Championship hype. You said your team felt overlooked, disrespected. At the half you're down 17. As the leader what did you tell your team in the locker room?

KC- I told them we can come back from this, we're moving the ball we just need to cut out the little mistakes. I told the offensive line to keep grinding, our skill players were gonna make plays for us. In the second half our offensive line started responding like they've never responded before and started blowing Boise off the ball. They were the real reason we were able to get back in that game.

CS- What was going through your mind when they lined up to kick a field goal at the end of regulation?

KC- A lot of us on the sideline were just praying for another shot because we knew if we went into overtime there was no way we were going to lose that game.

CS- What did it mean to you to walk off the field that night with the win?

KC- It's something I can't even describe. There were so many emotions, all the blood, sweat and tears to get to that point, not only for me but for my whole team and to see all our hard work pay off, it was a real special moment.

CS- What has life been like for you post college?

KC- It's definitely different. It's all football all day. While I trained at CES we worked out from 9-5 everyday. From there I went to the Senior Bowl, the combine and back to Reno to get ready for Pro Day. After Pro Day private workouts began for teams and now I'm into visits, flying around the country meeting personnel from different teams. It's a surreal experience, you're meeting people you've watched on Sunday. It's something you dream about growing up but you never really know if you'll be able to make it to that point, but now that I'm to that point it almost seems like this can't be happening.

CS- There are many guys who dream of playing in the NFL, but only a select few make it, it must be an amazing feeling knowing your name will be called in a couple of weeks.

KC- It's a special moment to see all your hard work pay off and get you where you need to be. It's something I won't be able to describe when my name is called but I'm excited for it.

CS- Among the quarterbacks at the combine you ran the second fastest 40, had the strongest arm (throwing the football 59 mph) and scored a 37 (third highest) on the Wonderlic . You're draft stock is definitely rising. Do you think you're peaking at the right time?

KC- I think I'm peaking at the right time and have been able to open the eyes of NFL teams to show them what I'm capable of.

When asked which teams he's worked out for, he said he wasn't allowed to disclose that information. Although he did say he's worked out for 13 teams and has more visits set up.

CS- At CES you trained along side Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech. How did that level of competition elevate your game?

KC- Training with Tyrod was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. He's a very explosive player but I didn't want him to be more explosive than me so I wanted to keep training. We had a very competitive time doing all the drills together and I think it's turning out well for both of us.

CS- Running the Pistol offense at Nevada how comfortable are you under center?

KC- Being under center is something I'm very comfortable with. I was under center my whole career until I got to Nevada and even while I was at Nevada we took snaps under center every day at practice. It wasn't something new to me or that I wasn't used to.

When I got to the Senior Bowl everyone was surprised I could take a snap under center, which wasn't a big deal. For me it was almost easier to take a snap under center and drop back because you don't have to worry about looking to catch the ball before you read the defense. You can keep your eyes on the defense the whole time, so I see that (being under center) as easier.

I've always said either you can play or you can't, it doesn't matter what offense you're in. You're going to perform game day or you're not.

CS- If I'm an owner, general manager, coach why should I draft you? What are your strengths and how will you be an asset to my team?

KC- You'll get a player who's not going to be unprepared for anything. My preparation is what makes me successful on the field.

Another thing that separates me is my leadership and hard work, especially at the next level you have to show everybody that you're there to work hard, you want to win games and you're not there to just be on the team. You're playing side by side with all pro's and veterans, you have to show them you're there to be successful, you're not there to play games or to mess up one of their years.

You're also going to draft a player who's not going to have any off the field issues. I'm not going to put the organization or team in a bad position.

CS- Where will you be on draft day?

KC- I'll be back home in Turlock, CA with my family. It's an exciting time for me and my family.

CS- Speaking of the draft, this year's draft is unique due to the lockout. Obviously you don't have anything to compare it to, but with all the uncertainty surrounding the NFL what's it like being a part of this particular draft?

KC- I wouldn't say the process is any different. It's just gonna be different once you get drafted because you're not going to be able to get with your team or get a playbook to start working. It depends when this is all resolved but it does change how much preparation you get going into your first season.

CS- With all the hype who or what keeps you grounded?

KC- My faith, which is my foundation and my family. When I go back home I'm not anyone special I'm just another member of the family.

CS- What drives you?

KC- Going through this process, I think the biggest thing is everyone that doubted me and told me I wasn't capable of things. I told my dad I wasn't going to let someone tell me what I'm capable of. If I think I'm able to do something and I put my mind to it, then I'm able to do it and prove all those people wrong.

CS- Well, I think you're doing just that!

On April 28 the 2011 NFL draft begins. There are many questions surrounding this draft, but this I know, whoever drafts Colin Kaepernick is getting an exciting quarterback and a class act. Smith believes he could be the face of a franchise, not bad for a guy who was offered only one football scholarship.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Will the Ravens Draft an Inside Linebacker?

Ray Lewis is a beast. The 12 time Pro Bowler is the face of the Baltimore Ravens (sorry Flacco, but it's true). It's hard to imagine the Ravens without Lewis, but inevitably at some point that will happen. Although that day isn't today, the Ravens know they will eventually need to prepare for life post-Lewis and in the 2011 draft there are a few linebackers that could potentially help with the transition.

Illinois' Martez Wilson impressed at the combine posting the fastest 40-yard dash time of all linebackers. As a freshman he played outside linebacker and then moved to middle linebacker his junior year. As a senior he lead the team in tackles and was voted All-Big 10. Speed and versatility make him an appealing prospect.

North Carolina's Quan Sturdivant has great speed and is particularly productive against the run. He, like Wilson, is also able to play outside linebacker. Although there were off the field issues involving a marijuana possession charge, on the field he was considered a strong leader.

Another name to keep an eye on is Michigan State's Greg Jones. Like Lewis, Jones is a little shorter than most linebackers, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in heart. He's a tackling monster with great instincts who thrives in blitzing situations. A three time first team all Big-10 selection, Jones exhibits extremely strong leadership skills.

The Ravens have shown interest in Oregon's Casey Matthews. Of course everyone mentions his football rich bloodlines, which run deep, but Matthews has made a name for himself as a play maker. He has great instincts, as demonstrated in the BCS National Championship game by his Cam Newton forced fumble. He led the Ducks last season with 79 tackles, three interceptions and three recovered fumbles. Although he was injured at the combine, Matthews productive career at Oregon speaks for itself.

It remains to be seen if the Ravens will take any of these players come draft day. Ray Lewis isn't leaving the game just yet, but he did recently suggest he couldn't see himself playing football past the age of 37. His 36th birthday is just a month away, which gives Baltimore a year or so to start grooming his successor.

The Ravens will never be able to replace what Ray Lewis has meant to the franchise and the community. He's not only important statistically, but also serves as the fiercely outspoken, emotional leader of the Ravens. Although no one will ever take the place of Lewis, someone will need to step in to fill the position of inside linebacker and make an impact of their own. Who knows, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the coaching staff may just envision one of these players in that position. Guess we'll find out their strategy the last weekend in April.