NFP Sunday Blitz

It’s a move that pretty much flew under the radar, but it wasn’t just coincidence that the Denver Broncos recently turned to 11th-year veteran center Dan Koppen when starter J.D. Walton underwent a second surgery to address problems with a left ankle injury that forced him out for all but the opening month of last season and could potentially sideline him for the first half of 2013.

An unrestricted free agent, Koppen was signed last year by the Broncos when Walton first sustained the ankle injury, and he ended up starting the final 12 regular-season games and Denver’s one playoff contest.

Even with the adjustments that first-year coordinator Adam Gase figures to make to the offense, Koppen, 33, knows the basic Denver system now, and his experience will allow him to quickly pick up any tweaks.

Dan KoppenKoppen returns to Denver after an injury to starter J.D. Walton.

But, beyond the fact Koppen was probably the best center still available in free agency, there’s another reason it’s a very good choice and makes perfect sense: Having played the first nine seasons of his career in New England, and with Tom Brady, Koppen is eminently familiar with an offense in which the quarterback makes many of his play-calls at the line of scrimmage. And he’s well-versed as well with the extraordinary demands of a no-huddle attack, and an offense where the center is counted on so heavily to make the blocking-assignment adjustments.

Essentially, he was the best fit.

The familiarity with the no-huddle and “check with me” systems that Peyton Manning employs definitely were a factor in the Broncos’ decision to bring back Koppen on a second straight one-year contract. He’s an upgrade over the alternatives, Manny Ramirez or Philip Blake. And at a veteran-minimum salary, he could have maximum impact. Barring complications, the Broncos could get Walton back for the second half of the season. But Koppen, if in shape and able to withstand the rigors of camp, should be able to hold the fort.

Koppen and Manning became quickly comfortable with one another in ’12, and part of that synergy, ironically enough, was the center’s past experiences with Brady. The bond between Manning and Koppen probably isn’t as notable yet as the one that the quarterback had in Indianapolis for so long with Jeff Saturday, but Koppen does offer some similarities.

Manning and Brady will be inexorably intertwined for long after their Hall of Fame careers have concluded. Koppen, unwittingly, is just another link in the chain.


*In light of the Aaron Hernandez situation in New England, the attempted murder charges against former Cleveland rookie Ausar Walcott, and some of the other off-field problems experienced by players the past few months, several NFL teams are revisiting the “vetting” processes they use. One team’s personnel director and the security chief for another franchise acknowledged to NFP this week that they were advised by ownership to review their procedures. At least two teams have discussed the possibility of bringing aboard staffers expert in digital technology to research the backgrounds of prospective players. Which doesn’t mean there’s an opening for leaker/hacker Edward Snowden if he ever re-enters the country.

*Despite their shared success, one key area in which the Atlanta tandem of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith hasn’t yet drafted and developed a player into a solid starter, besides pass rusher, is cornerback. In the pair’s five drafts, the Falcons have chosen three cornerbacks – Chevis Jackson (2008), Christopher Owens (2009) and Dominique Franks (2010) – and none ever started more than six games in a season. Two, in fact, are no longer with the franchise. All that could change this year, with the back-to-back choices of corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the first and second rounds, respectively. One of them, likely Trufant, will start, and the Falcons need him to be good. Atlanta released big-money free agent flop Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes left in free agency, leaving just Asante Samuel as a truly experienced starter. The Falcons prefer to keep Robert McClain, who blossomed as a “nickel” corner in 2012 after a reclamation project, on the inside in “sub” packages. McClain has only one career start in non-nickel situations, and is far better on the inside.

Jarvis JonesUS PRESSWIRESteelers coaches hope Jones will develop into the next James Harrison.

*Pittsburgh coaches and officials weren’t exactly thrilled when first-round linebacker Jarvis Jones showed up for early offseason workouts with a hamstring injury, a problem that cropped up, he said, during his “pro day” at Georgia, and which caused him to miss some field-time with the Steelers. But the team has seen enough of the 17th overall pick since then to privately acknowledge that he could be that rarest of commodities: a rookie who actually starts for the Steelers at the prized outside linebacker spot. There’s apparently a decent chance now that Jones can bump fourth-year veteran Jason Worilds (10 sacks in three seasons) as the heir apparent to James Harrison’s old spot on the right side.

One big reason: Unlike most of the players Pittsburgh has developed at outside linebacker, Jones is a pure linebacker. The standard paradigm for the Steelers is to take an undersized college defensive end, then develop him for a year or two as a 3-4 linebacker. Jones will have some rough patches, for sure, but he won’t have to make the switch that so many Steelers’ stars have in the past.

“He’s got (linebacker) instincts,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “You don’t have to (wean) him off the end stuff.”

Jones was primarily a straight-ahead, rush player at Georgia, with 28 sacks in two years for the Bulldogs. But even though he posted just one interception and six pass breakups in college, he did have some pass-drop responsibilities in the 3-4 scheme of Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham.

*There’s no doubt that San Francisco coaches are concerned about the absence of wide receiver Michael Crabtree (Achilles) from the passing game. But the suggestion that the Niners are considering moving Vernon Davis full-time to wide receiver, based on his extensive “reps” at the position in recent sessions, are overblown, the 49ers tell NFP. There are some new wrinkles planned for Davis, who can stretch the field like few tight ends and who possesses unique abilities, but he won’t morph into a full-time wideout. The coaches note that, while it took Colin Kaepernick a while to develop the same chemistry that Alex Smith had with the tight end – Davis had 29 receptions (and 41 targets) in the nine games Smith started and just a dozen receptions (and 20 targets) in Kaepernick’s seven regular-season starts – the two hooked up 11 times in San Francisco’s final two playoff games. Although the Kaepernick-Davis tandem connected only six times in the last six regular-season outings, Davis was targeted 14 times in the NFC championship game and the Super
Bowl. And he had over 100 yards in both those contests.

*The notion that a player’s draft status can be enhanced (or even diminished) because of his choice of representation, most feel, is greatly overblown. That said, there is little doubt that St. Louis weighed the role of agent Pat Dye Jr. in selecting linebacker Alec Ogletree with the 30th pick in the first round. Dye and Rams’ general manager Les Snead are very close, and St. Louis officials felt comfortable enough that Dye will keep Ogletree in line that they didn’t hesitate to snag him. And to sign him to a four-year, $7.03 million contract that not only fits the No. 30 slot, but doesn’t include a lot of safeguard-type caveats like the ones in Janoris Jenkins’ contract from last year. Ogletree has had a problematic past – a February DUI, a four-game suspension at Georgia, some off-field indiscretions as a freshman – but the Rams are counting on Dye, in part, to keep him toeing the line.

Colts' Joe Lefeged arrested on weapons charge

Indianapolis colts safety Joe Lefeged was been arrested early Saturday morning in Washington, D.C. for being in possession of a semi-automatic pistol, per

Lefeged was a passenger in a car that fled from a traffic stop in D.C. Officers smelled marijuana in the car and found a bottle of vodka in the vehicle and the gun under the passenger's seat. Lefeged and another passenger in the car were apprehended trying to flee on foot. The driver also fled on foot and was not immediately caught.

A receipt and paperwork showed that Lefeged had purchased the gun earlier this year for $900.

“We are aware of the reports regarding Joe Lefeged in Washington, D.C. At this time, we will have no further comment on the pending matter until we gain more information,” the Colts said in a statement.

Lefeged is being held without bond.

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Virginia lands the top DT in the Class of 2014

Andrew Brown, who is the top defensive tackle in the Class of 2014, made a verbal commitment to Virginia on Saturday afternoon at a cookout attended by family and friends.

The 6-4, 285-pound consensus five-star defender from Oscar Frommel Smith High School (Chesapeake, VA) is the second-best player in the state of Virginia behind five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand.

Brown chose the Cavaliers over Virginia Tech, Alabama and Clemson, and he'll give Mike London and Co. an anchor for their future defensive lines.

The Cavaliers now have nine commits for 2014, and Brown is the second five-star in-state recruit. Safety Quin Blanding is also heading to Charlottesville.

Stanford lands top Class of 2014 pro-style QB

<p> Stanford received a huge but expected verbal commitment from one of the best players in the Class of 2014, as quarterback Keller Chryst gave his pledge to the Cardinal on Friday.

Arguably the nation's top pro-style quarterback in the 2014 class, the 6-4, 220-pounder from Palo Alto High School (Palo Alto, CA) chose to play for David Shaw and Co. over offers from major programs such as Alabama, USC and Pittsburgh, where his uncle, Paul Chryst, is the head coach.

Chryst, who is the son of San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, has good poise and possesses very good fundamentals. He becomes the seventh commitment for the Cardinal in the 2014 cycle.

The Under Armour All-American will participate in the Elite 11 quarterback camp this weekend in Oregon.

Vanderbilt dismisses four players

Four Vanderbilt football players have been dismissed from the program and placed on interim suspension from the school amid a sex crimes investigation by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.

James FranklinICONFour players have been dismissed from James Franklin's Vandy program.

Vanderbilt announced this morning the dismissals and suspensions for violation of team rules of four players, all of whom were not identified. No arrests have been made thus far.

“The well-being of our students is of paramount concern to us, and we will not tolerate any actions that threaten student safety and security,” said Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at Vandy. Fortune did not give additional information about the players.

“Because it's an ongoing investigation, we will not be releasing names or other information about those suspended,” she said.

Vanderbilt first reported the matter to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department and is cooperating with the department's investigation.

“I can confirm that the Metropolitan Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit began an investigation on Wednesday in regard to a matter that was alleged to have occurred at a Vanderbilt University dormitory,” said Don Aaron, a police spokesman. “Our sex crimes detectives became involved as the result of a notification to us on Wednesday from Vanderbilt University police. The investigation remains very much in progress.”

The Commodores went 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the SEC last season in James Franklin's second year in Nashville. He has led the 'Dores to the postseason in back-to-back years.

How do NFL clubs find out about character?

The almost unbelievable ongoing story of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez leads many to ask how NFL clubs find out about character. It’s a long ongoing process and in reality you “hope” that the information you receive is solid information.

The year Hernandez was drafted, 2010, was my last draft in Chicago. If I recall, we did not have Hernandez on our “Board” and the reason for that was his personal character. In our pre-draft research we discovered that there were failed drug tests and there was a general feeling that Hernandez couldn’t be believed and trusted.

Hernandez had good “football character” but his personal character left something to be desired. During the interview process, he would not make eye contact with the interviewer and did not seem believable. When you asked him questions about his past and failed drug tests his answers were vague at best. He never confronted the “issues.”

Aaron HernandezICONAaron Hernandez seemingly had good “football character” but his personal character left something to be desired.

People around the Florida program said he lived on the edge and couldn’t be trusted. They didn’t like the people he hung around with and there were questions about his life back in Connecticut. I have read that unnamed GM’s have said that there were questions about his involvement with “gang type” people at home but I do not recall any talk about him being involved with “gangs.” In short there was a side of Aaron Hernandez that was very questionable and we had serious doubts as to wanting to get involved with him as a player. Too much risk…not enough reward.

How is the character check done?

Finding out about a prospect's character is not a one year study done by one scout. It’s an ongoing process and years in the making and done by many people. All clubs do not do their character research the same way. Some clubs put more emphasis on character than others. I can say that we put a huge emphasis on finding out ALL the information. After you gather the information, the decision makers (usually the GM, Head Coach and Scouting Director) determine if the club can “live” with a player who has concerns.

The area scout is the first person who does the character background on the players in the schools he is responsible for. I was not the type who kept changing a scout’s area. I kept the area scouts in the same area my whole time in Chicago. The reason being is that I wanted them to know their area inside out. In order to do that the scout has to develop strong relationships with people in and around the football program. This is not a short term process…it's years in the making. Good information comes from a scout’s familiarity with his area and strong relationships with people in that area.

A good area scout will start a file on young players in his area as soon as he “discovers” that they may be prospects. In some cases that may be in a player's freshman or sophomore year. If a player gets into trouble with the law or is suspended early in his career he has that information at hand. He can also do some checking with people on campus to find out “what” the problem was/is. If there are concerns about a prospect's life back home then he has to check with people who know the player in his home town. That could be a former teacher, guidance counselor or coach.

When a prospect is in his final year, the interview process starts with people directly involved with the program. This would include the pro liason on the coaching staff, his position coach, the equipment manager and trainer. A good scout will also talk to the academic advisor and campus police if there were some past problems. In short, leave no stone unturned.

The league does an outstanding job in getting arrest, conviction and traffic violations to each club. If there was some pertinent information that you got from the league that you didn’t know about, you can do more research.

At the Combine, All Star games and private workouts, coaches and staff can have sit downs with a player to find out if you can interact well. The player has to be a “fit” with the club.

Football Character and Personal Character

Many clubs have their scouts grade two types of character: Football character and personal character. Football character is a player’s passion for the game, his work ethic, his desire to be great, competitive nature and leadership. Personal character is how a person lives his life. Is he a good citizen? Is school important to him? Is he involved in the community? His family life and background. Who does he hang out with, etc.? If you find a prospect has good football character and questionable personal character the hope is that the strong football character will help the player succeed. Obviously the veteran makeup in the locker room plays into that. A locker room with strong veteran leadership can help guide a young player with “issues.” If the player has both poor football character and poor personal character he has no chance…he will fail. He may get by for a year or two because he has talent but it will eventually catch up with him.

Obviously, if the personal character issues are too severe to deal with then you have to pass on the player. The problem we have in the league today is that in some cases there are coaches or front office types who don’t look at the personal character information hard enough to make a good decision. They let the “talent” of the player affect their decision. In some cases it’s their ego saying “I can fix him.” But in reality it rarely happens. I’m hoping that the Hernandez case will make everyone involved in scouting look that much harder into character evaluation. The league and clubs don’t ever need to have a similar situation happen again.

Third suspect arrested in Florida

Massachusetts State Police confirmed that the third suspect with an apparent connection in the Odin Lloyd murder case has been captured in Miramar, Fla.

Ernest Wallace was apprehended hours after a warrant was issued for his arrest as an accessory after the fact in Lloyd's shooting.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez remains jailed in Massachusetts on first-degree murder charges, while Carlos Ortiz was jailed in Connecticut and was being extridicted to Massachusetts, though the charges had yet to be revealed on Ortiz.

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Matt Light: I never believed in anything Aaron Hernandez stood for

Just with the sheer volume of all that is coming out and surrounding Aaron Hernandez, sometimes information can get lost in the shuffle.

But this statement and story on Wednesday from the Dayton Daily News from Hernandez's former New England Patriots teammate Matt Light is worth revisiting.

Light, who recently retired from the Patriots after an 11-year NFL career, had very little good to say about Hernandez, who now sits in a Massachusetts jail charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of acquaintance Odin Lloyd.

“I never talk about other guys, but I will say I have never embraced – never believed in – anything Aaron Hernandez stood for,” Light told the newspaper after being somewhat hesitant to comment at all.

The report states that Hernandez appeared to have his own agenda, something Light apparently took issue with – and now it appears for good reason.

Not every player in every locker room is going to get along and be best of friends, but players do spend an enormous amount of time together. So guys do get to know each other, and Light's offering on Hernandez is very telling.

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Hakeem Nicks not planning training camp holdout

Hakeem Nicks missed time in the New York Giants organized team activities, and then showed up for a mandatory mini-camp.

Nicks tells the New York Daily News that he has no such plans to hold out and miss time when training camp opens next month for the Giants.

Nicks, the Giants first-round pick in 2009, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He needs to have a big year in order to entice the Giants to extend his deal or find one on the open market from someone else.

He has already been working with Eli Manning and plans to get together a couple of more times with his quarterback prior to the opening of training camp.

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Sources: Hernandez had hints of gang ties

Front office sources from two NFL teams have confirmed to National Football Post that their background research on Aaron Hernandez in preparation for the 2010 draft revealed the tight end had hints of gang ties and associations in his past.

Hernandez, who is jailed in Massachusetts on first-degree murder charges, was drafted in the fourth round of the draft by the New England Patriots that year.

A first-round or second-round talent, Hernandez was taken completely off the board by one of the teams and regarded as only worth a seventh-round no-risk flier by the other franchise. In addition to the speculation of being tied to gangs, Hernandez had multiple failed drug tests while at the University of Florida, which also contributed greatly to the character questions about the star tight end.

NFL scouts and cross-checkers do detailed work, trying to leave no stone unturned when evaluating potential draft picks. Even the smallest of transgressions often leads to a red flag when it comes to assessing a player's character. One of the club officials said that while the gang ties were never completely verified by his organization, the hints and rumors of such were strong enough to steer the front office clear of Hernandez altogether on draft day.

TMZ’s website reported Thursday that Hernandez had possible gang ties, displaying a photo of him as a 17-year-old in Bristol, Conn.

Hernandez was arrested Wednesday for the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, whose body was found June 17 about a mile from the tight end's home in North Attleboro, Mass. One other man, Carlos Ortiz, is being held in Connecticut, believed to be connected to the shooting, while police are still looking for others possibly tied to the case.

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