Month: July 2017

Cleveland Browns season breakdown: Games 9-12

After a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2016, the Browns are hoping to show signs of progress in their new rebuild. This is the third part in a series where I  break down the Browns’ schedule by each four-game “quarter”. These are my predictions as of right now. Of course, things tend to change a lot week-to-week during the NFL season.

Game 9: Cleveland at Detroit

Coming out of the bye week after their trip to London, the Browns should be rested and well-prepared for a Lions team that despite having Matt Stafford at quarterback, isn’t much better than the Browns at this point. If things go right, I can certainly see the Browns stealing a game here.

Prediction: Browns 24, Lions 21. Record: 4-5

Game 10: Jacksonville at Cleveland

Something crazy always seems to happen when these two former AFC Central division teams meet up. The Jaguars seemingly have been on the cusp of being a playoff team for a couple of years now but have not gotten over the hump. But still, I think Jacksonville will be too much for the Browns here.

Prediction: Jaguars 30, Browns 17. Record: 4-6

Game 11: Cleveland at Cincinnati

I gave the Browns the edge in their meeting in Cleveland in my analysis of the first four games. I’m going to give the Bengals the split here.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 21. Record: 4-7

Game 12: Cleveland at Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers had the distinction of being the only team to lose to the Browns last season. However, that was at home in December. Now, the Browns have to travel across the country to face the Chargers in Carson, Calif. The Chargers should be ready for some payback here.

Prediction: Chargers 23, Browns 17. Record: 4-8

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Smooth first day of training camp for Browns

The bikes were empty. And that’s a great thing.

 

Fans and Cleveland media have often called training camp “Tour de Berea” because of all the injured players on exercise bikes, even on the first day of camp.

But on Wednesday, Browns coach Hue Jackson remarked that the team was 100 percent healthy coming into training camp. He was proven right Thursday when all players showed up healthy and practicing and not on bikes.

This includes No. 1-overall pick Myles Garrett and second-year wide receiver Corey Coleman, who both were sidelined by injuries at the end of Organized Team Activities.

For a franchise that has seen its share of first-day calamities, by all accounts this was a smooth, drama-free opening to camp in Jackson’s second season.

Garrett made backup offensive linemen look foolish. Second-year quarterback Cody Kessler, not known for having a big arm, threw a 40-yard touchdown to free-agent addition Kenny Britt.  There were no major injuries, aside from the expected hot summer day cramps. Jackson said the team is “a step better than a year ago.”

For some franchises, a smooth opening to training camp isn’t a big deal. For a Browns team in year two of a major rebuild, it’s a big deal.

Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who is vying to prove he is the quarterback of the future, was even the last one on the field after practice going through the play sheet and directing invisible players. The work ethic is very much appreciated a mere two years after the antics of former first-round pick Johnny Manziel.

Of course, there is a long way to go before the start of the NFL regular season. But for these young Browns, a step forward at the start of camp is a big plus.

Cincinnati Bengals: Injuries do make a difference 2013-2016

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There comes a time in every Cincinnati Bengals fan’s life (Usually around playoff time every year), when you ask yourself “Why in the world am I still a fan of this team?” It is agreed that being a Bengals fan is very frustrating most times. Common conversation among Bengals enthusiasts and enemies alike sounds something like this:

-Honestly, I just want them to win 1 playoff game. I don’t care if they lose the next 7 in a row again after that.

-Monday Morning: Did you hear the news? Pac-Man Jones made it through the weekend without getting arrested.

-Maybe this will be the year Marvin Lewis finally gets fired!

-Vontaze Burfict is only suspended the first 3 games this year so we should get off to a hot start.

-The Bengals should have beat the Steelers in the 2015 Wild Card game. Joey Porter should have been flagged too. The refs definitely fixed the game ,etc, etc.

Here is why there is still hope, that this core group of players still can get the job done come playoff time when it counts.

First, the main issue is the health of 4 of their key offensive playmakers (Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert). Since 2013 the Bengals have had 67 games, regular and post season. These 4 players have only been on the field together during 32 of these games. For those of you counting at home that is just under 48% of games. The Bengals still have been productive enough to make the playoffs 3 out of 4 years and win the division twice. Digging a little deeper into the statistics of the games that they missed we discovered that their record when all 4 players are healthy at the same time drastically improved.

Cincinnati Bengals record involving Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert since 2013:

-With all 4 players on the field:    21-10-1

-With 1 player out:    9-7

-With 2 players out:   7-8-1

-With 3 players out:    1-2

The Bengals have shown that they can compete with the best teams in the league week in and week out during the regular season, but key injuries have taken a toll on this team through the past 4 years.

Looking deeper at when the Bengals played four traditionally good teams in the AFC (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens).

-Their overall record against these teams: 10-13

Overall record when all 4 players are on the field: 5-2

-When Eifert is out:  4-7

-When Bernard is out:  1-4

-When Dalton is out:  1-3

-When Green is out: 2-2

-When multiple players are out: 2-5

This team can not only compete, but play a major role in the AFC this year. Only if they can avoid having a key player miss extended playing time. Add in playmakers like John Ross and Joe Mixon and this team has the potential to surprise a lot of fans.

 

WHO DEY!

 

Cleveland Browns training camp battles: Quarterback

It’s the song that never ends.

The Browns have been looking for a franchise quarterback since they came back into the league in 1999. Really since even before that when then-coach Bill Belichick released Bernie Kosar and made Vinny Testaverde the starter.

After the team made an offseason trade and used another draft pick on a quarterback, chances are good another name is going to be added to the infamous jersey list.

Gone from last year are the ineffective Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. In are Brock Osweiler (via trade from the Texans in addition to a second-round pick) and second-round pick DeShone Kizer out of Notre Dame. Returning are second-year players Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan.

The quarterback competition this summer is wide open. Kessler is the incumbent and starter heading into camp according to coach Hue Jackson. But Osweiler has the most NFL starting experience in his time in Denver and Houston and impressed coaches in OTAs. Kizer also reportedly has been impressive and is learning at a fast rate this summer.

Kessler knows the system the best. Osweiler has the experience. Kizer has the best arm and is the most likely to be the quarterback of the future.

The best case scenario heading into September is Kizer proves to be ready to be the Week 1 starter and becomes this year’s Dak Prescott. If he plays the majority of the season and shows improvement as the year goes on, it will put a lot of pressure off the organization to find “the one.” Osweiler can then become trade bait if a contending team suffers an injury at the quarterback position.

Worst case is Kizer is not ready. Kessler or Osweiler start but either struggle or suffer injury early and the quarterback carousel begins anew again. My guess is, Kizer wins the battle. What happens after that remains a mystery.

Position grade: Incomplete

Osweiler and Kizer should be upgrades to Griffin and McCown. But can anyone prove this season that they are the future of this franchise?

 

Tennessee Vols Preview 2017

butch jones

2016 SEASON:
Tennessee finished with a record of 9-4. The season had some very high points but some very low points as well. The Vols started their season on a roll at 5-0, which is quite exceptional in an elite conference like the SEC East. Following that mark, they finished with a disappointing 4 wins and 4 losses. The unexpected nosedive was in large part due to injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Cameron Sutton were vital players on the defensive side of the ball that were out for a large portion of the season after the 5-0 start. As far as their 9 wins, 3 of them stood out for Tennessee. Facing Georgia, they won on a late hail merry from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings to secure the victory 34-31. In the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl game win against Nebraska, Derek Barnett broke Reggie White’s team sack record late in the 4th quarter. Additionally, anytime a team wins a bowl game it’s a big deal. The most notable win of the three came against the Florida Gators. The game didn’t end on a Hail Mary or didn’t go into overtime. In fact, the Vols won the game 38 to 28. The Vols went into halftime down 21-3; however, Dobbs and company were able to come back to win, capitalizing on several mistakes made by the Gators. This win snapped an 11 game winning streak that Florida had established over Tennessee.

QUARTERBACK:
Quinten Dormady, junior, started spring practice in the front of the repetition line, but head coach Butch Jones has said that there is no depth chart and that the quarterback position is still very much up for grabs. This leaves opportunity for Sophomore quarterback Sheriron Jones to win the starting job. Jones looked comfortable in open drills, and had his athleticism and accuracy on display. Nevertheless, the starting job is likely to come down to Dormady and 2016 redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. Guarantano was listed as the nations number 1 duel threat quarterback of the 2016 class. Like Dobbs, Jarrett Guarantano shows awareness in the pocket and has the ability to escape pressure when necessary.

OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tennessee’s offensive line last season with Dobbs at quarterback were 52nd in sacks allowed per game and 37th in rushing yards per game. Senior guard Jashon Robertson could be an NFL offensive lineman. Offensive line coach Walt Wells has done nice work with the offensive line, especially 5-star recruit Trey Smith who is getting off to an incredible start. The offensive line were so productive in the month of November that the Vol’s offensive averaged 50 points per game. Coming into 2017 they will be more of a veteran team and if they can stay healthy should be a much better group overall in both the run and passing game.

SECONDARY:
It is imperative that the Vol’s secondary get better results this season. They must limit the amount of explosive plays allowed. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is considering moving to a 4-3 look. Tennessee could have 2 of the most dynamic defensive backs in the SEC with safety Todd Kelly Jr. and Nigel Warrior. Both are sons of former vols first round NFL Draft picks. Warrior is the son of former NFL All Pro Dale Carter. He is expected to push for the starting job against the more experienced Abernathy. Abernathy, who was out this spring due to surgery on his shoulder did show flashes last season but missed a game with a hamstring injury. Injuries were a big problem for the Vols last season. In fact the Vols started 11 different secondary combinations over the course of 13 games. None of the players in the secondary started every game.

RECRUITING:
According to 247 Tennessee is ranked 17th in recruiting with 1 five-star recruit, 4 four-star recruits, and 23 three-star recruits. The 5-star recruit is OL prospect Trey Smith. The best 2 four-star recruits are Maleik Gray at safety, and running back Ty Chandler. Both are top 80 nationally ranked prospects and top 10 at their respectful positions.

SCHEDULE:
@ Georgia Tech (Mon. 9/4, 8pmEST on ESPN)
Indiana State (Sat. 9/9)
@ Florida (Sat. 9/16, 3:30pmEST on CBS)
Umass (Sat. 9/23)
Georgia (Sat. 9/30)
BYE
South Carolina (Sat. 10/14)
@ Alabama (Sat. 10/21)
@ Kentucky (Sat. 10/28)
Southern Miss (Sat. 11/4)
@ Missouri (Sat. 11/11)
LSU (Sat. 11/18)
Vanderbilt (Sat. 11/25)

STATS:
Total Offense: 40th (443 yards/game)
Total Defense: 95th (449 yards/game)
3rd Down Conversion: 59th (72 of 175 for a .411%)

Final Pre-Season Edition: Top 100 Small School Big Board (80-100)

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WR Julius Jones from North Alabama (photo credit to The News Courier)

 

80 Julius Jones WR North Alabama
81 Joe Protheroe RB Cal Poly
82 Erik Furmanek TE Missouri State
83 George Dawson LB Fordham
84 Damon Gibson WR MSU Morhead
85 Austin Kuhnert C North Dakota State
86 Joe Kupcikevicius OT Azusa Pacific
87 Marcus Bagley RB St. Francis
88 Cardell Best DE Central Arkansas
89 James King DT Shepherd
90 Taylor Nikithser C Cal (Pa)
91 Antonio Brown DE North Carolina Central
92 Chris Durant OG William & Mary
93 David Reese OT Montana
94 Kevin Anderson QB Fordham
95 Darious Crawley WR McNeese
96 Bakari Triggs CB Lindenwood
97 Jordan Hein QB Bemidji State
98 Connor Strahm LB Montana
99 Tremon Smith CB Central Arkansas
100 Ray Clark FS San Diego

Cleveland Browns season breakdown: Games 5-8

After a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2016, the Browns are hoping to show signs of progress in their new rebuild. This is the second part in a series where I  break down the Browns’ schedule by each four-game “quarter”. These are my predictions as of right now. Of course, things tend to change a lot week-to-week during the NFL season.

Game 5: New York Jets at Cleveland

If things don’t go as well as I predicted in the first four games for the Browns, this could be the battle for next year’s No. 1 overall pick. The Jets are beginning a rebuild similar to what the Browns did last season so their roster is very, very thin. The Browns will be facing former quarterback Josh McCown in this game. With the Browns a year into their rebuild, I like their roster a lot better.

Prediciton: Browns 24, Jets 13. Record: 3-2!!!!!

Game 6: Cleveland at Houston

The Browns likely will be facing off against the quarterback they passed up on in Deshaun Watson in this game. The Texans are so loaded on defense and Watson has so many more weapons on offense than the Browns have. This one probably will be over early.

Prediction: Texans 33, Browns 14. Record: 3-3

Game 7: Tennessee at Cleveland

The Titans are my pick to win the AFC South this season. They are where the Browns should be in the next year or so, but the Browns aren’t there yet. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Titans edged out the Browns last season. Look for a similar result this year.

Prediction: Titans 28, Browns 21. Record: 3-4

Game 8: Minnesota vs. Cleveland (at Twickenham Stadium in London)

The Browns gave up a home game to play overseas in London against the Vikings. They don’t even get to play in Wembley Stadium, either. Underdogs haven’t fared well in these games, and while the Vikings aren’t title contenders at this point, I like them in this matchup.

Prediction: Vikings 20, Browns 17. Record: 3-5.

Cleveland Browns training camp battles: Wide receiver, tight end

This time last year, the Cleveland Browns were looking at the possibility of having a returning Josh Gordon, a rising star in quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor and talented rookie Corey Coleman.

One year later and Gordon is still inactive by the league, Pryor is a Washington Redskin and Coleman is dealing with an injury after a fall in OTAs.

In Pryor’s place is veteran Kenny Britt, whom the Browns signed as a free agent in the offseason. Britt had just over 1,000 yards and five touchdowns for the Rams last season.

Outside of Britt and Coleman, the wide receiver depth chart is full of 2016 draftees who did not make much of an impact last year. Those receivers are Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins, Jordan Payton and Ricardo Louis. Others vying for a spot in camp are James Wright, Leslie Jordan, Mario Alford, Rannell Hall, Josh Boyce and Richard Mullaney.

At tight end, the Browns are young and athletic with first-round pick David Njoku and Randall Telfer, who missed last season due to injury. Seth DeValve will be fighting to keep a spot on the team.

The Browns are counting on Coleman to be their No. 1 wide receiver in place of Pryor. But if Coleman can’t stay healthy or meet the team’s expectations, expect a lot of work for Britt and Njoku this season in the passing game. The Browns need Higgins, Payton and or Louis to make a leap in their second season to help the offense.

Position grades: WRs – C; Tight ends – B+

 

Breakout Candidate of the Year: Tennessee Titans (Part 1)

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Former MTSU standout is looking to build on an excellent rookie campaign.

Dick Lebeau’s defensive scheme is always at it’s peak when it has a playmaking safety patrolling the secondary. His most iconic player ever, is likely former Pittsburgh Steelers’ great, Troy Polamalu. Coach Lebeau left the land of the Yinzers, and travelled south to Nashville to mastermind a defensive turnaround for the Tennessee Titans.

In the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Titans braintrust selected a safety from Middle Tennessee State, Kevin Byard. Dick Lebeau was very impressed with him and said, “He has an exceptional football mind and I think that is one of his strengths. He is going to grow and he is going to be a coach on the field, there is no question about that.” That’s glowing praise from a legendary coordinator.

Byard went on to validate much of it in his rookie season, playing in all 16 games and starting in 7. He had 63 tackles and four passes defended. DBkM3kvUQAE0w7S.jpgAccording to Pro Football Focus, in the 7 games he started, Byard gave up the second fewest receiving yards per snap (.22) in the NFL. Byard will start all 16 games next season, barring injury, and will have plenty of opportunities to build on a good rookie campaign.

The Tennessee Titans secondary has a new look this year, after several key additions. With the Titans signing Logan Ryan (former New England Patriot) and drafting Adoree Jackson (USC) in the first round, cornerback play should be much improved from the travesty that was fielded last season. When Byard learns to trust his cornerbacks, he’ll be able to attack the ball more frequently. Another season within Lebeau’s scheme will see him grow as a player. By the end of next season, expect Kevin Byard’s name to be in the conversation with some of the best safeties in the league.

Follow @Jason_Tyrant on Twitter for more Titans analysis.

Arkansas football 2017 preview

Arkansas finished the 2016 season with a record of 7-6, 3-5 vs. SEC opponents. The Razorbacks must succeed in the SEC conference in the future to rise above those average records produced year after year. They haven’t won more than 8 games since 2011 when they earned 11 wins under the tutelage of former Head Coach Bobby Petrino.

Arkansas will have to make great strides to improve their pass protection situations, short yardage running and conversions in the red-zone. Austin Allen had a very good first half in the 2016 season with 18 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions and a 63 percent completion rating through his first 7 games. One of Allen’s most productive games was against Alabama where he was able to put up 400 yards in the air.

OFFENSE:

Arkansas will greatly miss their leading running back from a year ago in Rawleigh Williams. Williams suffered his 2nd serious neck injury during the Arkansas spring game. With the loss of Williams, the bulk of the carries will go towards sophomore running back, Devwah Whaley. Arkansas’ offense is returning 4 starters. The most established being at the center position with Frank Ragnow. Fans of Arkansas are hoping they protect Allen better this season against the pass rush. In 2016 the offensive line allowed a devastating 35 sacks.

Jared Cornelius is their returning leader at the wide receiver position. Cornelius finished 2016 with 32 catches, 515 yards and 4 touchdowns. Other than Cornelius, Arkansas has a fleet of inexperienced wide receivers. Sophomore wideout Deon Steward should see plenty of action coming into 2017.

DEFENSE:

The Arkansas defense allowed an (FBS) worst and a school record 39 rushing touchdowns. New Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads has moved the defense to a 3-4 front with the blessing of Head Coach Bret Bielema. A sound move after considering the previous coordinator’s 4-3 defense was ran all over repeatedly by other SEC teams, averaging 258 yards on the ground per game.

Reports are saying Bijhon Jackson and Austin Capps are expected to start at the defensive tackle positions, while McTelvin Agim and Armon Watts will lead a pack of very inexperienced defensive ends. The redshirt freshman’s Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall could also have an impact in the rotation. Dre Greenlaw, Junior, is the returning linebacker. In the secondary Kevin Richardson, recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, is expected to be 1 of 6 defensive backs with starting experience. Ryan Pulley is one of the SEC’s most underrated cover corners in the game.

RECRUITING:

According to 247Sports Arkansas recruiting class of 2017 finished 27th in the nation and 10th in the SEC. They bring in zero 5 star recruits, four 4 star recruits, and twenty 3 star recruits. Some of their key recruits are Chevin Calloway, CB, Dallas, TX and Montaric Brown, S, Ashdown, AR.

2016 TEAM STATS:

The Razorback offense was 57th in the nation and 8th in the SEC in scoring. They were 78th nationally in rushing and 11th in the SEC. In passing, they finished 32nd in the nation and 3rd in the SEC. In total offense they ranked 54th and 8th.

Defensively, Arkansas was 85th nationally and 10th in the SEC for scoring. Defending the run, they were 94th in the nation and 10th in the SEC. Defending the pass they finished 58th in FBS and 8th in the SEC. In total defense they ranked 76th and 8th.