Austin Morris
NFP Fresh Voices


Even though the NFL Draft was almost a month ago, it is never too early to start taking a look at the prospects for next year’s draft and get a head start on the NCAA Football Season.

In this article, we will be taking an early look at QB Connor Cook. Cook is a 6’2″, 220 pound, Redshirt Senior at Michigan State. I felt like it was a good idea for Cook to not enter the Draft last year because, at the time, he still had some issues to work on to help improve his craft. I watched a few games of Cook in 2013 and in all honesty, it was hard to watch. He was a very raw and inexperienced quarterback who made mistakes. Fast forward to the 2014 season, and he had greatly improved, but still had some parts of his game he needed to work on. The law of averages tells me that by the end of his senior season, Cook will have developed even more. Here are my preseason notes on Connor Cook:

Strengths

He has great athletic ability to get out of the pocket and avoid being sacked. He has greatly improved his mechanics from his first year of starting. He’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and make a throw. He spreads the ball around very evenly to his receivers and different spots on the field. He has the rare ability to go through his reads and progressions, sees the whole field, and has a decent enough arm to make all necessary throws. He puts nice touch on the ball to where only his guys can get to it. He is very accurate on deep throws and doesn’t often miss.

Weaknesses

He does have some hesitation issues. He seems to have trouble figuring out where he wants to go with the ball. He tries to complete passes while he is getting hit, which often leads to interceptions. He doesn’t really have a tight spiral on his passes, so the wind catches the ball (this makes me curious about hand size). His footwork is still a little sloppy but is much better than when he first started. He tries to force the ball into places it shouldn’t go. He could have better pocket awareness to know when to get out of Dodge. He needs to know when to throw the ball away or take a sack. He needs to get more air under the ball. Too many passes are batted down at the line of scrimmage, and too many balls end up in the dirt.

I charted several of Cook’s games and found an interesting piece of information. Cook does not seem to have a favorite receiver; he spreads the ball around to every player a couple of times a game. Watch Manning or Rodgers toss the pigskin and you will notice they do the same thing – distribute the ball evenly to everyone.

Keep in mind this is a preseason report, so the point of scouting now is to get an idea of how the players play the game and what they should be improving on from the previous year. Cook still has a lot to work on heading into 2015, but I feel he will greatly improve from 2014. As of now I have Cook listed as a 3rd Rounder. If he can have a great season and improve his mechanics, I can see him easily moving to the 2nd Round.

Austin is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Reach him by e-mail at amorris3585@scc.stanly.edu

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Millissa Beaton
NFP Fresh Voices


 

JJ chats with me on everything from running track at the University Of Oregon, catching passes from Joe Montana, and everything on his new book due this June.

 

MB: Firstly, allow me to thank you kindly for agreeing to speak to me this afternoon. Which sports did you play growing up?

JB: I did gymnastics for 2 years; however, not many people know. I played baseball. I played football from my sophomore year of high school through college and nine seasons in the NFL.

 

MB: Wow, I would not have guessed gymnastics; however, I know it is common for kids to play two sports. What lessons do you feel sports taught you?

JB: I learned how to focus, setting up time management, teamwork, as it is not all about you. In addition, once I reached my goal I knew I had to repeat the whole process.

 

MB: At the University of Oregon you were an All American in Track And Field. Which events did you do?

JB: I ran the 4X100 meter relay, the 110 hurdles and the long jump.

 

MB: That sounds like fun; however, very busy.

JB: It was and I enjoyed it.

 

MB: You said you walked on the football team your second year at Oregon?

JB: Yes, I really wanted to join them my freshman year; however, it was not allowed for freshman at the time.

 

MB: During the NFL Draft you were selected by the Cleveland Browns in the eighth round?

JB: Yes, I was.

MB: That had to be exciting! During my research for our interview, I learned you only had two practices for the Browns before sustaining the ACL tear. You were preparing for the Olympic trials at the time. How did you handle that? I imagine that had to be disappointing to say the least! Yet, you made a way.

JB: Well, it ended my track career immediately. Later, I thought to myself; NFL, you injured me and now you are stuck with me!

 

MB: I really admire that. Many people would have been adrift after that. I have no idea what I would do in that situation. But you set new goals and went forward. I respect your ability to do so.

JB: Thank You.

 

MB: What do you think of the Chiefs currently?

JB:I think they have a good team. They have a good QB in Alex Smith; good rushing game with Jamaal, excellent defense and a great special teams. I was happy to see them sign Jeremy Maclin. I believe they need to continue to add playmakers on both sides of the ball. I look forward to the draft. I played with four different teams in the Browns, Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons; but the Chiefs are my favorite team.

Birden amassed 3400 yards in seven seasons as a Chief.

 

MB: Do you see any similarity to yourself and DeAnthony Thomas?

JB: I see some similar qualities.. He has great speed and is great at making people miss. I believe you will see him improve this season. He is now in his second season in this system, and that will help him.

 

MB: JJ, do you stay in touch with your teammates?

JB: Yes! Social Media has brought about so many opportunities. It is a great thing and helps us to be better at staying connected. It used to be much more difficult.

 

MB: In today’s NFL there are so many things happening. Do you feel that an owner can be overly involved in the running of their team? I mention Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins as an example. Moreover, how do some compare or contrast to Lamar Hunt?

JB: I think so. Lamar was great that way. He did not stand in the way. Carl could do his job. Marty had freedom to coach. Players could play. Lamar believed in hiring great people, and then, he allowed them to do their job. Some owners get too involved and it affects their team.

 

MB: Speaking of the team, how did it feel in that huddle the miracle win at Mile High? What was that huddle like?

JB: It was surreal. Joe was great in the huddle. His calm in the huddle carried over to the rest of the team. You knew he could march down the field and score. We knew it and went about our jobs. It was great to win because there had been four games I had been part of and we had lost them. Elway had the same sort of gift for winning like Joe. I was happy to win that game.

 

MB: The Chiefs play the Lions next season in the UK. What do you think of playing overseas? In addition, do you think a team will be set up there in the next few years?

JB: I think it is great. We played a few games overseas; I played in Japan with the Browns. I played in Germany and London with the Chiefs.

 

MB: Since you retired, what have you been up to? I know you are working on a book; tell me about it.

JB: I work with Isagenix in the Health & Wellness industry. They focus on four main solutions. First: Weight Loss. Second: Energy and Performance. Third: Healthy Aging. Fourth: Wealth Creation. I am also doing some motivational speaking in reference to my nine seasons in the NFL.

 

MB: That is great and rather unselfish. You are helping others recognize the signs. I would like to thank you for giving me an opportunity to seek my dreams, too.

JB: Oh, I am glad. My new book, When Opportunity Knocks; 8 Surefire Ways to Take Advantage (Pre-order Here) will be available in June.

 

MB: Why do you think we fail to take advantage when opportunity arises?

JB: That is a good question. Well, I think sometimes we do not know. We are scared. We don’t know what our passion is. We allow others to silence us.

 

MB: I know you have a big family; how do you stay close?

JB: We have dinner every Sunday Evening. We do not restrict other activities the kids do; but we save Sunday nights for dinner because we know we will not always have the opportunity to be together like this

 

Millissa Beaton is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow her on Twitter @SportsWizard28

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Dr. David Chao
The Training Room


Is there more to Derek Carr missing OTAs?

A starting quarterback missing workouts is always news, even in the offseason. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen initially reported the Raiders first-string signal caller’s ring finger injury and then indicated it was numbness in the fourth digit on the throwing hand that has kept Derek Carr out of organized team activities.

Despite Carr’s agent squashing the finger injury rumor as “very minor”, my experience tells me there might be more to this than what is being let on. I am not saying anyone is being untruthful. I am positive the agent is doing his job in supporting his client; however, the glass can always be viewed as “half-full” or “half-empty”.

How minor is any injury that keeps a young quarterback from learning a new system and acclimating to new teammates and coaches? At this point, he has missed two weeks of practice. When talking about the likelihood of Carr being able to throw before OTAs end, his agent uses the word “probably”, not “definitely”. He also claims even if Carr is not ready by end of OTAs on June 4, he expects Carr to be 100% by minicamp, which begins June 9.

Nerve issues typically don’t act this way. Numbness can be fleeting, but if it does last for weeks, as this one seems to have, feeling doesn’t come back in a matter of days. I am not saying Carr won’t participate in minicamp but going from non-participation one week and being 100% the following week on a nerve issue would be very unusual.

My bigger concern is why is Carr being held out completely? I understand holding him out from throwing, but what about run game installation and learning calls? If it is a minor numbness issue that temporarily affects passing, why not participate in limited fashion to learn a new system?

There must be a reason Carr is being held out as Raiders management, coaches and medical staff are not dumb. I am not being a Raider-hater here. To the contrary, last offseason, I defended their failing Rodger Saffold on physical examination after agreeing to a free agent deal when others were critical of the situation. Carr is known as a good leader, conscientious player and hard worker. He has to be following medical precaution to have him sidelined.

I doubt the Raiders are being overly cautious in holding Carr out. I have the utmost respect for head coach Jack Del Rio. I first met him as the starting middle linebacker in Minnesota when I was a young physician for the Vikings and our paths have crossed several times since. He knows the value of young QB learning a new system. Del Rio does not dismiss the injury, only saying “time missed in May is better than time missed in September”. However, it is best never to miss any time, especially when your name is not Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

The agent has added that Carr doesn’t need hand/finger surgery. I would agree with that assessment, although I have not examined Carr or seen his medical records. Based on publically available information, if surgery became necessary, my guess is it would be on his elbow in the form of an ulnar nerve transposition (approximately three months recovery) and not on his hand or finger.

According to NFL quarterbacks I have worked with, the thumb, index and pinkie are most important for grip/touch and throwing is possible with a numb ring finger. An ulnar nerve subluxation (nerve stretched and slides out of groove) might explain why he is being held out of all signal-calling duties. Repetitive elbow flexion and extension tends to aggravate this condition, which typically causes parts of the 4th and 5th finger to go numb.

Agents are paid to defend their clients. It could be true that missing OTAs is purely precautionary. I hope he is right and this injury turns out to be a non-issue, but there is a chance it becomes a bigger deal.

MMMD 1: New PAT rule may lead to more injuries

On the traditional touchdown conversion from the 2-yard line, few teams try for a block due to low yield and risk of a giving up two points on a fake. With the new PAT line of scrimmage at the 15-yard line, kicks are more vulnerable to a block and there is little risk of a fake. Strategically, defenders will become more aggressive at the point of attack.

In my NFL experience, a field goal has significant risk for head, neck and knee injury as players sell out to disrupt the line of scrimmage to attempt to block a kick. The new PAT is now essentially a 4th-and-goal from the 15, leading to aggressive block attempts. This may lead to more injuries. I hope that is not the case. These unintended consequences may be why the new rule is a one-year trial and not permanent yet.

MMMD 2: New rule change may lead to platooning quarterbacks

Barring injury, the starting quarterback traditionally takes all of the snaps. Most other positions have undergone specialization. For example, the every down running back is obsolete and is bolstered with 3rd down, short yardage and change of pace backs. The QB position also might change with the new PAT rule.

If teams are enticed to go for two on every conversion, the injury risk for a star QB may become too high. Run/pass threat is likely the most effective way to gain two yards but also exposes the quarterback to injury risk. Specialist QBs may be introduced to gain the critical two yards, potentially from wildcat type formations. After all, risk injury to a star pocket quarterback by making him a run/pass threat or let another player handle that? With this new rule, we might even see the second coming of Tebowmania.

MMMD 3: Is the league serious about its new chief health and medical advisor position?

In state of the NFL address at Super Bowl XLIX, Roger Goodell announced the creation of a chief health and medical advisor role. Cardiologist Dr. Betsy Nabel, Harvard medical professor and president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was named to the new position. She is charged with all safety issues including concussions, sideline injury protocol and health of players in retirement.

I applaud the NFL’s creation of this much-needed role during what is clearly defined as the health and safety era. Certainly Dr. Nabel’s credentials are impeccable. She is an outsider to the football and perhaps this is exactly what is needed to give good perspective. She presented herself well in her first public interview with MMQB.

My only question is how is this role a one-day-a-month job? Ted Wells spent considerably longer than a dozen days to investigate and produce a 243-page report on deflated footballs. If Dr. Nagel produces a 20-page report per each day of her work, it would take a year to produce what Wells did on the singular issue of pressure in game balls. How can important health and safety issues be solved by devoting only what amounts to two hours a week?

MMMD 4: J.J. Watt photo

The star Texans defensive lineman tweeted this picture on throwback Thursday. The injury was suffered in the first half of the Bills game early last season, yet he still had a monster game and returned an interception for a touchdown. Very little attention was paid to the injury at the time as Watt was listed as probable on the injury reports.

It just goes to show what NFL athletes routinely play through. 80% healthy is considered a good week in the Not For Long league.

MMMD 5: Another offseason injury: Giants lose starting left tackle

Will Beatty injured his pectoral while lifting weights and needed surgery. Typically this injury occurs during max bench press. The fact that repair was needed indicates a complete tendon tear.

A recovery of 5-6 months was reported and he will undoubtedly start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. There is no guarantee of return this season but he could play in late November or December.

As I indicated previous, half of teams will lose a significant contributor to offseason injury. The Giants join the Jaguars (Dante Fowler, ACL), Broncos (Jeff Heuerman, ACL) and Vikings (Brian Robison, pec). Unfortunately other clubs will inevitably suffer the same fate before training camp arrives.

MMMD 6: Seahawk diagnosed with cancer

2013 fifth-round draft pick Jesse Williams has papillary Type 2 cancer. The Seattle defensive tackle was slated for kidney surgery. Knee injuries each of the last two years has kept him from suiting up for a regular-season game.

I am not an oncologist or nephrologist, but he likely will have all or part of one of his kidneys removed. This type of tumor detected early can be removed and cured. Assuming he has good remaining renal function, Williams can return to football. Right now, everyone’s first priority is for a return to a healthy and happy life.

MMMD 7: Virtual reality trainer: game changer?

It is not just a video game, it could help train quarterbacks and other football players. Decision-making and situation recognition is key in the NFL. Now a virtual reality trainer may become a standard tool.

At the college level, Stanford’s David Shaw and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema believe in it. In the NFL, Pete Carroll and Sean Payton see the potential. After all, the military embraces the technology for training fighter pilots, why not for quarterbacks?

Follow David on Twitter: @profootballdoc

Dr. David Chao is a former NFL head team physician with 17 years of sideline, locker and training room experience. He currently has a successful orthopedic/sports medicine practice in San Diego.

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Matt Pearce
NFP Fresh Voices


Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft, hence the reclassification of the players.

With this in mind, there are still some players on the market who could help your favorite team reach the playoffs in the 2015 season. As teams suffer injuries in minicamps and other team activities, expect to see these free agents sign with teams.

The defensive free agents will be posted at a later date.

Quarterback: Michael Vick

As Vick has aged, his play has declined and he is no longer the best athlete on the field. Soon to be 35 years old, he won’t be confused for a starting quarterback anytime soon, but he could be a backup for plenty of teams. In one of his three starts last season, he led the New York Jets to a 20-13 upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers, while throwing for two touchdowns. His quarterback rating in these three starts was 83.1.

Running Back: Pierre Thomas

A staple of the Saints’ offense for years, the 30-year old Thomas is one of the better pass catching running backs in the league. He is coming off an injury-shorted season, but still caught 45 passes for 378 yards. While he has never played outside of Sean Payton’s diverse scheme, Thomas has attributes that can be transferred to any offense in the league. He can contribute as a third down running back for most teams.

Wide Receiver: James Jones

Released by the Oakland Raiders after the draft, Jones was the best receiver in Oakland last season. With a rookie under center (Derek Carr) and a lack of other talent on the offensive side of the ball, Jones caught 73 passes for 666 yards and six touchdowns. Prior to that, he played in the receiver friendly Packers’ offense. There won’t be any repeats of 2013 where he caught 14 touchdowns, but the 31-year old Jones can still be a solid receiver in the NFL.

Wide Receiver: Donnie Avery

Injuries limited Avery to just six games (three starts) in 2014, but prior to that he was a productive receiver for Kansas City and Indianapolis. Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he caught 100 passes for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. Soon to be 31 years old, Avery isn’t a spectacular receiver, but he can be a contributor for a team looking to add a veteran presence to their offense.

Wide Receiver: Wes Welker

One of the best slot receivers in history, Welker’s performance has sharply declined recently. Last season, he caught 49 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns and appeared to be a shell of his former self at times. At 34 years old with a concussion history, his career is close to over. There is a chance he could come in and contribute as a fourth receiver for some teams.

Tight End: Jermaine Gresham

If not for back surgery earlier in the offseason, Gresham would have been off the free agent market by now. Teams are waiting for his back to heal before giving him a look. Soon to be 27 years old, Gresham caught 62 passes last season, but this is an inflated number from Andy Dalton regularly checking down to him. Assuming his back progresses nicely, expect him to be with a new team by training camp.

Offensive Tackle: Jake Long

A former first overall pick, talent isn’t the question with Long––it is his health. The 30-year old hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2010 and is currently rehabbing a torn ACL, which was suffered in week eight. This is the second year in a row that he has torn his ACL, causing teams to stay away. Once healthy, Long should sign a contract with playing time incentives and little guaranteed money.

Offensive Tackle: Anthony Collins

One of the prized free agents in Tampa Bay’s 2014 haul, the 29-year old Collins lasted just one season with the Buccaneers, in what was his first season as a full-time starter. He fell from Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) 23rd rated offensive tackle in 2013 to 63rd in 2014. With the ability to play either tackle position, most teams would love to have him on their roster, but he is likely holding out for a starting position.

Guard: Justin Blalock

Since entering the league in 2007, Blalock has started 125 out of a possible 128 games for Atlanta, the only team he has ever played for. Released in a salary cap move, the 31-year old has been a top 30 guard the last two seasons according to PFF. He isn’t a top guard, but he could be a quality starter for a team.

Guard: Rob Sims

Sims is in a similar situation to Blalock, being 31 years old and having started 94 out of the last 96 games for Detroit and Seattle. Sims wasn’t as good according to PFF, ranking in the top 40 the past two seasons, but that is still a serviceable level. Sims is the type of guard who you can improve upon, but you could also do much worse than him.

Center: Chris Myers

One of the best centers in the NFL over the last few seasons, Myers has started 128 straight games for the Texans and Broncos. At 286 lbs, he is undersized for the position, but has thrived in zone blocking schemes as a run-blocking center. The 33-year old has received a few looks as a free agent after Houston cut him for salary cap reasons. If he goes to a team with a zone-blocking scheme, he should have another successful season.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


Anthony Johnson – DT – Miami Dolphins

Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, it was thought that Johnson had the talent to be a premium round draft choice. Because of some off field issues and an inconsistent motor on the field, Johnson didn’t get drafted and ended up an undrafted rookie free agent.

Regardless, the talent is there and if Johnson decides he wants to play to his potential he can be a top player in the Dolphins’ defense. He is big, strong and athletic and can both play the run and rush the passer. Granted, the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh and drafted Jordan Phillips, but most clubs now are playing their defensive linemen in a rotation, and there will be plenty of reps for Johnson to show his ability. Having strong depth on the defensive front can help Miami challenge New England for AFC East supremacy.

Cyrus Kouandjio – OT/OG – Buffalo Bills

Before the 2014 Scouting Combine, the general consensus was that Kouandjio had a strong chance of being a first round draft choice. Medical testing at the Combine found that Cyrus had an arthritic knee, and that dropped him to the second round.

Once camp opened in July, Kouandjio was not in the best of shape and was beaten out for the right tackle spot by seventh round pick Seantrel Henderson. Henderson played well at the right tackle position, and it is doubtful that Kouandjio can beat him out. Both of the guard positions are open, however. The Bills signed Ritchie Incognito to play on one side, but Kouandjio can and should challenge Kraig Urbik for the other position.

Reportedly, Kouandjio has lost weight, is in top condition, and is looking good in the offseason program. If that is the case, he should put up a strong fight for one of the guard positions. The talent is there, does he want it?

Dominique Easley – DT – New England Patriots

Easley was the Patriots first round pick last year. He was a bit of a surprise pick in that he was coming off two ACL injuries while at Florida. As a rookie, Easley was still bothered by knee issues and only played in 11 games.

This year, the Patriots are taking their time getting Easley ready, but all reports indicate that he will be 100% by training camp. If that is the case, the combination of Easley and rookie defensive tackle Malcom Brown will give New England a very quick and athletic pair of defensive tackles.

The Patriots decided not to bring back perennial Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork, and while Easley doesn’t have Wilfork’s combination of bulk and power, he is far more athletic and will be able to do much more as an interior pass rusher.

Jimmy Garoppolo – QB – New England Patriots

Going into the appeal hearing of Tom Brady, it is not known if Brady’s suspension will be held up or reduced by a game or two. No matter, Garoppolo has to be ready to play as he will start some games this season.

Garoppolo put up some huge numbers in college leading Eastern Illinois. In his little bit of play time in 2014, Garoppolo showed that he was ready to make the jump to the NFL. While he will never be the passer that Brady is, Garoppolo is far more athletic and gives the Patriots a player who has to be accounted for as both a runner and a passer. It will be interesting watching how he develops this year.

Jace Amaro – TE – New York Jets

Amaro didn’t play badly as a rookie, but he didn’t do quite as well as expected either. He finished the season with 38 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. With his athleticism and natural talent, he should be able to almost double that output in 2015.

Today’s offenses are designed for an athletic tight end to put up big numbers. Amaro can be almost like a big wide receiver and create some big time mismatches. His presence can help Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and rookie deep threat Devin Smith. If quarterback Geno Smith puts it together, the Jets passing attack can be something to be reckoned with.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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