Let's go for a ride

For 15 seasons, the head coach at One Bills Drive just hasn't belonged. Gregg Williams shut himself off from the city after getting drunk, having a fight with his wife, and falling in a pond. Mike Mularkey couldn't handle his “detractors” in the local media. Dick Jauron sounded star-struck when he would talk about New England, a contender for the most hated franchise in the history of Buffalo sports. The Doug Marrone saga speaks for itself.

They weren't Buffalonians. I don't mean that they weren't born here. They didn't understand how to handle the circus that is the NFL in a small market city that cares about little else for 4-5 months out of the year. They didn't have the ability, like everyone I know from that city does, to laugh at themselves while being unabashedly proud of the team and the city they represented. If it sounds like I'm placing too much importance on the “representing the city” angle. Consider this: if you live outside of Western New York, do you know who the mayor of Buffalo is? Do you know who Doug Marrone is?

The Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills doesn't need to go 11-5 (though it would be nice once per decade). They just have to care as much as we do. And for 15 years, I've watched coaches who coached not to lose. Coaches who let players leave the field with a minute to go. Coaches who punted away entire seasons.

Whether you love Rex Ryan or not, he isn't any of these things. He hates Bill Belichick as much as I do, and that feels really good. If we go 6-10 next season, but he buries a gameball in the ECC lots if they get blown out by New England, I'm at least having fun. I can tolerate losing. I've had a lot of practice. I can't stand losing the way Buffalo has lost: “meh” coaches with “meh” excuses for their “meh” decisions. Rex Ryan isn't the best coach in the league, but he unapologetically will try to be, and be anything but “meh” along the way.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler and at Fanual.com

Chris Johnson arrested on gun charge

Ian Rapoport is reporting Chris Johnson was arrested in his hometown of Orlando, Florida on Friday after being pulled over for rolling through a stop sign. An officer searched his car and found his licensed and registered firearm in a book bag under a seat (instead of locked up inside the car).

He was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor of open carrying of weapons/firearms.

Johnson is coming off of a disappointing season in NY and facing a new General Manager and coach in the coming weeks who will be deciding whether to bring him back.

Follow @erikoehler on Twitter

No shame in punting

I appreciate what Doug Marrone did for the Bills. For 14 seasons, you could hear the same things muttered by the Buffalo faithful every Sunday. “This team doesn't want it.” “They look lost out there.” “No heart.” My disagreements with his in-game management aside, (and more recently) I couldn't say anything about this team's heart or will to win this season. Monday through Saturday, he got this team that, on paper, looked medicore and turned them into contenders. No matter how many three-and-outs you'd see for the first three quarters, you'd keep watching, because the defense could make things happen.

He was almost the guy. And a lot of Buffalonians, so desperate for a return to the glory years of the early 90's, probably don't understand why I'm calling this the best possible thing that could have happened to this team at this time, but it is.

Finding the head coach that comes to define your franchise for an extended run (your Belichicks, your Cowhers) is rare. But when you've got him, you know it. You know it, because when you watch your team, regardless of the opponent, you know your guy is just smarter than the coach on the opposite sideline. When the talent on the field is a draw, your guy is going to know when to gamble, how to use his timeouts, and when not to punt. Marrone failed in every one of those areas, week after week. And this team was never good enough on the field to overcome it. He brought them into every Sunday believing they could win, and their play reflected it. But we need that extra step. We need a coach who knows that late in a game, down two scores, that he can't punt on 4th and 1 when he's past the 50. That doing so is a disservice to a team that, for the first time in a long time, can get you that extra yard. Ask Fred Jackson to get you that yard, and time after time, he gets you two. Two more 2014 regular season wins, and this article is probably about me being on cloud nine traveling to my first NFL playoff game in 15 years. I watched him cost us those two wins (and at least 2 more).

And so, when faced with the option to opt out, to punt, career-wise, to hope that the defense can get you another shot and your reputation can get you another gig, Marrone did. And he'll get another job, probably as a head coach. Because there a lot of teams that are still ok with punting on every literal and metaphorical 4th and 1.

But we can do better, Buffalo. We deserve better. Without getting too sappy about it or attaching too much meaning to the Head Coach position, we deserve a coach that reflects what this city has done over the past decade. This city is proud. When everyone ws writing it off, and young graduates were moving away in droves, others stepped up and are transforming downtown Buffalo into someplace you want to go, instead of someplace you need to go to when you have traffic court or someone at work gave you Sabres' tickets. We're overdue for a coach that can turn a silo into a climbing gym or an old warehouse into a brewery. I don't know if Jim Schwartz is that guy, or if he's lurking somewhere in a DIII school, but I hope the Pegulas or Doug Whaley or whoever leads the search can find him.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler or fanual.com

Dear Bills: it's not the refs, it's your coach

No Goal” ruined sports for a lot of us in Buffalo. I imagine Lakers-Kings Game 6 did the same for Sacramento. When you've been legitimately, provably screwed over by officials, it changes you. You watch every game with a little zebra-clad devil on your shoulder telling you it's happening to you again. I get it. That isn't what happened in Denver Sunday.

Grand conspiracy? Or “hey, good job!”

#BillsMafia erupted after refs, who were working together to determine if C.J. Anderson got the ball past the plane or not, fistbumped after declaring it a touchdown. Sure enough, the aformentioned devil was right there telling me it was happening again. They're out to get us! The world hates Buffalo! We could have been the next New York City if railroads hadn't replaced canals! Homerun throwback! No goal!

Saftey Aaron Williams didn't help matters on Twitter when he said “No excuse for my performance but we can’t win playing 16 vs 11” This all, tragically, misdirected our rage away from the real problem, Doug Marrone.

For almost two quarters of football, Jerry Hughes, arguably your 2014 Bills' MVP, sat on the sidelines. It was originally reported that it was due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and they wanted to make sure he “cools down”. Hughes cooled down alright, sitting in the cold Denver air for 24 of the next 36 snaps. All this could still be explainable, if the head coach actually knew about it! That's right. Marrone, in the most meaningful game of the season, did not know that his best defensive player was not on the field for almost two quarters of football.

Add to this, his decision to punt on 4th-and-2 while down two scores with five minutes left, and you have, yet again, beaten yourself. There is a laundry list of these decisions in every Bills' loss this season. He has lost them all for you. There's a little blame to go around. Orton didn't do them any favors sliding for a loss on a 3rd and 1. A lot of poor penalties (are there many non-poor penalties?) and some costly turnovers stacked the deck. But those need to be atoned for by the guy who doesn't have to rely on muscle memory or split second decisions or the calls of imperfect officials. He needs to make the right choices, and he can't. He just can't.

I wrote about it in the beginning of the year, and I am more convinced than ever: he is just not ready to be an NFL coach. He is grossly unaware of clock management, in-game probabilities, and the relatively simple task of being aware of who is actually on the field. He could probably be a great assistant, where he can focus on one area. He could probably return to Syracuse and be as mediocre as he left. But you can't correct these deficiencies. They are either things that you inherently understand, or you don't. And until it's changed, the Bills aren't going to have a chance of being legitimately screwed in something as meaningful as a playoff game.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler or at fanual.com

Too good to pass up

With 30 players drafted in the 1960s, scouts in the National Football League became well versed on the route to Grambling, La., home of the Grambling State University. In the fall of 1968, wide receiver Charlie Joiner [drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Oilers and voted into the NFL Hall of Fame after a 18-year career] and quarterback James Harris were putting on quite a show.

“We had seven or eight scouts at every game,” said Douglas Porter, who was the offensive coordinator from 1966-74. He was the head coach at Howard [1974-78 and Fort Valley State [1979-1996] before returning to live in Grambling. “With the players we had: running back Essex Johnson [1968, sixth round by Cincinnati], defensive back Delles Howell [1970, fourth round New Orleans] and receiver Frank Lewis [1971, first round Pittsburgh] there were always guys here. Jackie Graves [who became director of player personnel with the Eagles], Joe Perry [49ers], Emlen Tunnell [Giants], Bill Nunn [Steelers] and Elbert Dubenion [Bills] were some of the regulars. They’d come in on Wednesday and stay through Saturday.”

Still, there was no indication if Harris would be drafted.

Harris drops back to pass with the Buffalo Bills.

“The scouts were very discreet,” said Porter. “We thought there might be an opportunity with the Rams because of Tank Younger, but we really had no idea. He was planning on getting into coaching after college. In our mind, there was no doubt that Harris could be a starting quarterback in the NFL. With his arm, size and overall understanding of the game, we knew he’d be able to adapt to any offense. We had a great quarterback with Mike Howell [1964], but he didn’t have the size and the Browns [1965-72] made him a defensive back.”

The Howell brothers [Lane, Mike and Delles] grew up across from Harris on Atkinson St. in the Bryant’s Addition neighborhood and attended Carroll High School in Monroe, La. All three went to Grambling and played in the NFL. “Coach Rob [Eddie Robinson] felt he would be our first quarterback to make it into the NFL when he brought him in,” said Porter. “I had a chance to see Harris against Coleman High School [of Greenville, Miss.] and you could tell he was a special player. They beat Coleman which was quarterbacked by George Scott [who played first base for the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers] and the top team in Mississippi. We always tried to get as much information on any techniques we could use from all the scouts who came through. Coach Rob was always adding new things on offense and defense. We learned a lot from Dub Jones.” Jones was quarterback Otto Graham’s primary receiver when the Browns won titles in 1950, ’54 and ’55 and their offensive coordinator from 1963-68. Jones lived in neighboring Ruston, La., his son Bert Jones was a quarterback for the Baltimore Colts in 1973-81.

Two scouts responsible for Harris getting drafted were Bill Groman and Elbert Dubenion. Growing up in Tiffin, Oh., Groman lived at home while attending Heidelberg University, riding his bike one mile to campus. Setting a number of records in football and track, Groman was signed as a free agent by the Houston Oilers [1960]. Catching 72 passes and 12 touchdowns from George Blanda as a rookie [he was tied for second in the AFL with Don Maynard], he followed up his second year with 50 and 17 touchdowns. The Oilers beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-16 for the title in 1960. They beat the Chargers 10-3 for the championship in 1961 [the Chargers moved to San Diego in ‘61]. The Oilers lost in 1962 to the Dallas Texans 20-17 in double overtime. Groman’s last two years were with the Bills 1964 and ‘65 championships; they beat San Diego 20-7 and 23-0. His roommate was quarterback Jack Kemp.

Dubenion, who grew up in Griffin, Ga., attended Bluffton University in Bluffton, Oh. Drafted in 1959 in the 14th round by the Browns, a leg injury prevented him from attending training camp. Picked up by the Bills as a free agent, Dubenion [1960-68] is ninth on their all-time receiving list with 294 receptions, and 35 touchdowns. Nicknamed ‘Golden Wheels’, in 1964 he was All-Pro catching 42 passes for 10 touchdowns and a 27-yard average. Dubenion became an area scout in 1969.

Groman, who spent 36 years scouting for the Bills, Blesto, Oilers and Falcons, was absolutely certain about Harris’ NFL makeup. “There was no question about James Harris,” said Groman, who was the Oilers director of player personal in 1977 and ’78. “We both gave him high grades and said he should be drafted in the top three rounds. If he was white and from a big school that’s where he would’ve been drafted. He was like a black Joe Namath, but bigger [at 6-4]. Harris had size, was strong, threw the ball very well, was able to take a hit and get away from the grasp of the defender. He was a leader and you could see what he was doing would translate well at the pro level. Harris and Charlie Joiner had a special chemistry, they complimented each other; they understood the offense and knew how to play the game. I traveled to games working [only] on the weekends then. I had the Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma area. I’d watch tape with coach Robinson; he offered me a job coaching the wide receivers. Going to Grambling or Jackson State [In 1968 Jackson State had 11 players drafted and five signed as free agents under coach Rod Paige, who later became the United States Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush] back then was like going to Alabama or USC today. You’d have eight- ten-twelve guys to watch who had the ability to play in the NFL.
“When we gave our report to the general manager Harvey Johnson a couple weeks before the draft, he asked, ‘Can he play tight end?’ I said, ‘He’s not a tight end, he’s a quarterback!’ We kept pushing for him and it’s a good thing [area scout] Elbert Dobinion was there to back me up. I think he just got tired of us talking about Harris and finally pulled the trigger.”

Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached at seth.schwartz@sbcglobal.net

Bills on the table

<p> Tuesday marked the deadline for interested buyers of the Buffalo Bills to identify themselves by submitting paperwork to the team declaring an interest in bidding. WGR’s Joe Buscaglia<a href="http://www.wgr550.com/Bills-enter-next-chapter-of-sale--so-what-s-next-/9034669?pid=417745"> cites an undisclosed source</a> saying that the interested groups were to submit a non-binding bid to the trust with an idea of a purchase price. While there may be more names that emerge over the next few weeks, there are three we know so far. The trust will work over the next month to narrow down the list of prospective buyers to those they believe most suitable to own the team. I can save them time.</p> <p> <strong>The favorite: Terry Pegula</strong></p> <p> <strong>Net worth:</strong><a href="http://www.forbes.com/profile/terrence-pegula/" target="_blank"> $3.3 Billion (Forbes)</a></p> <p> <strong>Claims to fame: </strong>Founded and sold East Resources, a natural gas drilling company, <a href="http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=640889" target="_blank">savior of downtown Buffalo</a> and <a href="http://www.uscho.com/2010/09/17/penn-state-makes-it-official-varsity-programs-on-the-way/" target="_blank">Penn State hockey</a>.</p> <p> <strong>Why he should win:</strong> There aren’t many Buffalonians that don’t want to see this happen. We would sell him the entire city, secede from the country, and make him king if he asked nicely. He brought in “business slugger” Steve Greenberg <a href="http://bills.buffalonews.com/2014/07/02/pegulas-hire-sports-business-slugger-steve-greenberg-oversee-pursuit-bills/">to assist in the process</a>. It’s conceiveable that he has more liquidity than most of the other candidates after <a href="http://bills.buffalonews.com/2014/06/11/terry-pegula-cash-hand-1-75-billion-sale-oil-acreage/" target="_blank">a recent $1.75 billion sale of Utica and Marcellus shale leases</a>. His commitment to the area, deep, philanthropic pockets, and win-at-all-costs attitude put him at the top of the list. A report that he <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/Opening-bid-for-Bills-over-1-billion.html">has initially bid over $1 billion</a> has already surfaced. </p> <p> <strong>Why he might not win:</strong> This is the part that no one wants to talk about. It will even get you labeled as anti-Buffalo and near fisticuffs if you bring up at the wrong drunken tailgate, but the existing stadium lease expires in 2023. The current round of stadium renovations, with a pricetag of $130 million, was primarily funded by a combined $90 million in state and country taxpayer funds, and it took Erie County executive Chris Collins negotiating to get it to that number. This raised a lot of eyebrows, <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/sports/bills-nfl/cuomo-expresses-concern-about-taxpayer-costs-for-a-new-bills-stadium-20140604">especially with the Governor’s office</a>. Estimates state the Bills generate $20 million in tax revenue for the state annually, so the cost was justifiable in the renovation case. This will be a tougher sell towards the end of the current lease (2023), when it is a near certainty that a new stadium will be required, and the cost should easily topple $1 billion. Governor Cuomo has been very active in <a href="http://buffalo.twcnews.com/content/news/747721/cuomo--not-convinced--bills-need-new-stadium/">discussion about a new stadium</a> and most noteably, the amount of money the state would need to contribute, even forming a new stadium exploration committee. It stands to reason that he at least has the ear of those involved in the sale and the potential buyers. I don’t know how much Mr. Pegula would or wouldn’t need from the taxpayers for a hypothetical stadium almost 10 years from now, but it’s naive to think it might not be discussed, and it is the biggest X-factor in this process.</p> <p> <strong>The bad guys: Jon Bon Jovi/Rogers/Larry Tanenbaum</strong></p> <p> <strong>Net worth: </strong>a lot</p> <p> <strong>Claims to fame: </strong>Formerly awesome music/cellular overlords/business</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Ban Bon Jovi" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/Capture2-4472.PNG" />We know what you're up to Bon Jovi.</p> <p> <strong>Why they might win:</strong> The fear is that the Canadian-based group will move the team to Toronto. Though the cost to do so before 2020 is absurd (to the tune of $400 million), we don’t actually know how deep their pockets are. They already have had <a href="http://www.thestar.com/sports/football/2014/07/18/bon_jovi_tanenbaum_rogers_bid_for_buffalo_bills_takes_shape.html ">discussions with Roger Goodell</a> and Goodell has made no secret of his desire to expand the NFL outside of the US.</p> <p> <strong>The timeline: </strong>It started in 2006 when Rogers and Tanenbaum <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/sports/indepth/analysis-nfltoronto.html">expressed an interest</a> in getting an NFL team in Toronto. In 2007, Ralph Wilson asked, and was granted permission to “sell” games to be played in Toronto, citing ticket sale unsustainability in the Buffalo region. Over the next six seasons, they would play eight games (two preseason, six regular season) in Toronto. It didn’t go well. Attendance was lower than expected. The 2013 game versus Atlanta saw fewer than 40,000 in attendance. (well below Rogers’ Centre capacity) The reaction in Buffalo went from begrudging acceptance to outright anger at having one less Sunday to spend with our stadium family, and rightfully so. The same thing happened to a lot of us when we were 14, and our best friend got a girlfriend before we did. We saw him less and less, until eventually, he spent all his time with her. Her name is Toronto.</p> <p> <strong>But they said…:</strong> Despite <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2014/07/19/toronto-bid-group-wants-to-keep-bills-in-buffalo-sources ">the bidding group saying they have no interest in moving the team</a>, (yes, Buffalo, they are saying that), that’s what your best friend’s girlfriend said! “I don’t want to change who you are.” “You can still spend time with your friends.” We’ve heard it all before. We know what you’re up to, and we're not having any of it. Reports of <a href="http://nypost.com/2014/07/25/is-bon-jovi-trying-to-steer-the-bills-to-toronto/">some initial stadium studies in Toronto</a> began the descent into Bon Jovi Toronto paranoia that has consumed the fan base. <a href="http://nypost.com/2014/07/29/bills-great-andre-reed-man-f-k-bon-jovi/" target="_blank">Andre Reed</a> and <a href="http://bills.buffalonews.com/2014/07/30/jimmy-kimmel-last-night-bills-go-toronto-going-war-canada/">Jimmy Kimmel</a> are on board, and hell hath no fury like <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/billsmafia">#billsmafia.</a></p> <p> <strong>That escalated quickly:</strong> Up until last month, if you walked into a bar in Buffalo on a karaoke night, there were two guarantees: $5 pitchers of Blue and a group of girls would get up and sing “Livin’ on a Prayer”. <a href="http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/some-buffalo-businesses-start-ba
n-of-bon-jovi-music-fear-bills-bid-073014" target="_blank">Kiss the latter goodbye. Forever.</a>  We don’t forget in Buffalo. </p> <p> <strong>The dark horse: Donald Trump </strong></p> <p> <strong>Net worth:</strong> <a href="http://www.forbes.com/profile/donald-trump/">$3.9 Billion (Forbes)</a></p> <p> <strong>Claims to fame:</strong> Real estate/business/casino magnate/punchline</p> <p> <strong>Why I’m not writing him off:</strong> Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve watched Trump rise, fall, fire people on TV, consider running for the Presidency, and incredibly, find a way to stay relevant through it all. But the one thing that remains consistent in almost every one of his headline-seeking ventures is his almost defiant insistance about his probability of succeeding, even when he clearly won't. He’s <a href="http://pro32.ap.org/article/trump-says-his-buffalo-bills-bid-unlikely-win">doing the complete opposite in this situation</a>, almost humbly joking how small his chances are of winning the bidding. This is so out of character and the perfect slow play if there ever was one.</p> <p> <strong>Why it wouldn’t be so bad:</strong> He’s openly said <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/sports/bills-nfl/trump-says-he-is-only-bidder-who-would-keep-bills-in-western-new-york-20140624">he would keep the team in Buffalo</a>, and selfishly, it would be nice to have them be relevant again, even if only for the spectacle. After 14 playoff-free, 6-10 syndrome seasons, I’m open to anything. It wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Ok, it would. Go Pegula!</p> <p> Follow <a href="http://www.twitter.com/erikoehler">@erikoehler</a> on Twitter</p>

2014 Big Ten Media Days notebook

<p> <a class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false" href="https://twitter.com/Miller_Dave">Follow @Miller_Dave</a><script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");</script></p> <p> <strong>CHICAGO — </strong>The Big Ten held its annual Media Days event on Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago.</p> <p> Here are some news, notes and thoughts from the two-day gathering of coaches and players.</p> <p> <strong>— </strong>Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell danced around the question of what his realistic expectations are for the new season, stating that he just wants his team ready to compete in Week 1. The Boilermakers were 0-8 in conference play last season, but the second-year head coach said his players are more confident and the program has made "significant strides" from year one to year two heading into the new campaign. Hazell isn't going anywhere, but progress needs to be made in West Lafayette.</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Gary Andersen" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/GARY.jpg" /><span>US PRESSWIRE</span>Gary Andersen and the Badgers will face LSU in their season opener.</p> <p> — There's no doubt that Wisconsin has a chance to be highly ranked by the end of the season because of the team's less-than-daunting schedule, which head coach Gary Andersen stated is "very challenging." Well, the truth is that it's not really difficult. The Badgers have a tough challenge in Week 1 in Texas against LSU, but the rest of the slate is very manageable even with a rebuilt front seven and questions at quarterback, where Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy will initially split the reps at QB in camp. Andersen has put "no timeline" on naming a starter. While I believe Stave would start if the season began today, McEvoy is the dual-threat who could diversify the offense a bit more.</p> <p> — Wisconsin is not the only team that has a manageable slate, as Iowa has a chance to enter November unscathed if it can get past Iowa State and Pittsburgh in nonconference play. If the Hawkeyes get good enough quarterback play, which is the question in Madison as well, the Big Ten could have a nice national presence by the end of the year. Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said Jake Rudock has more confidence and has all of the intangibles to be a successful quarterback.</p> <p> — Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said that former top in-state recruit Aaron Bailey will remain at quarterback and not switch positions. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is going to be the starter in Week 1 despite not having officially won the job yet, but Bailey has a bright future. Will he line up at various spots this fall if Lunt is the starter under center? On defense, eighteen of 22 defenders from last year's two-deep are back this year. Is that a good or a bad thing? Beckman said tremendous strides need to occur on that side of the ball.</p> <p> — Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said new coordinator Doug Nussmeier has done a tremendous job since his arrival, and the team's offense will tell the tale of whether the Wolverines can once again be a Big Ten contender. "The only pressure is every day preparing those guys for life after football," Hoke said, when asked if he is feeling the heat entering the new season.</p> <p> — Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said he believes the school's affiliation with its new conference will be a "tremendous marriage," and he noted that the recruiting footprint for the program has expanded a bit since the news of the move to the Big Ten. Maryland head man Randy Edsall echoed the recruiting sentiments of Flood. But will either the Scarlet Knights or Terps be able to compete immediately in the tough East division? Flood said QB Gary Nova has really taken to what new OC Ralph Friedgen is teaching. Consistency has been Nova's biggest issue throughout his career. Meanwhile, the Terps have one of the nation's most exciting players in receiver Stefon Diggs, who caught 34 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns before his injury last season.</p> <p> — Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said star dual-threat QB Braxton Miller is in the best shape of his life, and Miller later confirmed those words to reporters. Miller has been banged-up a lot in the past, so the Heisman Trophy contender should be the most prepared he's ever been to carry a lot of the load in Meyer's Power Spread scheme. Also keep an eye on Dontre Wilson, whom Meyer said will be an "impact guy" in a lot of ways. There has been a lot of offseason buzz for the talented hybrid athlete. Defensively, Meyer praised the work of Chris Ash, whose priority as new DC has been fixing the pass defense woes from last year.</p> <p> — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio on what keeps the fire burning in the rivalry with the Wolverines: "I continue to live in Michigan. That ought to do it." Okay then. Meanwhile, expect the Spartans to have another dynamite season despite some key losses on defense. They still have Pat Narduzzi running that unit, and he's one of the top coordinators in the country.</p> <p> — Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, when discussing his sometimes demonstrative nature on the sideline: "I'm not that intense, competitive animal all the time." He said he's laid back off the field and trying to show that more on the sideline. Yeah, I don't buy it either. But I am buying the Huskers' defense, which should be consistent and strong enough to help Pelini get past his four-loss hex in Lincoln.</p> <p> — James Franklin is going to own State College. He also inherited a quarterback in sophomore Christian Hackenberg, who could ultimately be the top overall pick in a future NFL Draft. Franklin said he's impressed by Hackenberg's hunger to learn and his humility, but the focus is on developing help around him.</p> <p> And…</p> <p> In regards to Bob Bowlsby's comments at Big 12 Media Days, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said that the major five conferences need to get together over the next year to eighteen months to achieve a new model for compliance and enforcement. Delany also said that he expects autonomy to pass in August and believes the desires of the major conferences will be met … Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald compared QB Trevor Siemian's personality to that of country music star Luke Bryan (laid-back if you're not familiar with the country music scene) … Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said he's well aware of the team's losing streak to Wisconsin … Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson believes the Hoosiers will be "significantly better" on defense this fall.</p> <p> <em>Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Miller_Dave" target="_blank">@Miller_Dave</a>.</em></p>

2014 Big Ten Media Days preview

<p> <a class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false" href="https://twitter.com/Miller_Dave">Follow @Miller_Dave</a><script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");</script></p> <p> <strong>CHICAGO — </strong>With the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 having concluded their Media Days, it's time to turn our attention to the Big Ten, which takes center stage on Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago.</p> <p> Here are some things to keep an eye on when members of the media talk to coaches and players.</p> <p> <strong>— The newbies:</strong> Maryland and Rutgers are officially members of the league after leaving the ACC and American Athletic, respectively. BTN was able to expand its footprint with the move, and both the Terrapins and the Scarlet Knights were able to secure more money for their athletic departments moving forward. But it will be a tough road for both squads in the East division, where Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State reside. Rutgers brings a power offense with a conservative flair to the league, but can they match up physically along both lines of scrimmage? And while the Terps bring back a lot of talent, can they stay healthy?</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Jim Delany" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/delany1-4488.jpg" /><span>US PRESSWIRE</span>Jim Delany is one of the most powerful individuals in college athletics.</p> <p> <strong>— The commish:</strong> Jim Delany, who along with the SEC's Mike Slive is one of the most powerful individuals in college athletics, will certainly address some of the bigger issues plaguing the sport, including the impending vote by the NCAA's Board of Directors to give autonomy to the Power Five as well as Ed O'Bannon's antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA. Slive threatened to leave Division I if the Power Five didn't get autonomy, while Big 12 boss Bob Bowlsby took a shot at NCAA enforcement. Delany should provide a few good quotes.</p> <p> <strong>— Hot seat talk:</strong> When I posted my article describing <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/Top-10-coaching-hot-seats-in-2014.html" target="_self">the head coaches whose seats were the hottest</a>, four of the ten program leaders were from the Big Ten: Michigan's Brady Hoke, Indiana's Kevin Wilson, Rutgers' Kyle Flood and Illinois' Tim Beckman. In my opinion, the Wolverines will be able to bounce back from their rough 2013 campaign if they get improvement from the offensive line both in pass protection and in opening up bigger holes for the running backs. And new coordinator Doug Nussmeier should bring a more consistent and improved identity on offense. For Indiana, a minor bowl bid could be on the horizon because the Hoosiers may have enough offensive talent to get to six wins. There is reason for optimism in Bloomington. In the case of Flood, we just don't know which direction his program is headed after initially keeping things sound following Greg Schiano's departure. Former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen is now running the offense, and Joe Rossi is leading the defense. The step up in competition in a division featuring Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan will prove challenging. Finally, in Champaign, Beckman needs coordinator Bill Cubit to keep the offense rolling with former Oklahoma State signal-caller Wes Lunt at the helm. Beckman could probably survive a bowl-less season, but improvement must continue to be made and there needs to be a reason to believe in the future.</p> <p> <strong>— Digging deeper: </strong>It's safe to assume that Ohio State and Michigan State will be involved in the national conversation for a majority of the season even if the Spartans are unable to notch a win <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/The-top-nonconference-games-in-2014.html" target="_self">in Eugene in Week 2</a>. Both the Buckeyes and Spartans are strong candidates to return to Indianapolis and play for the league title (they are in the same division now, however). But can the league find greater depth at the top with teams such as Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan becoming legitimate league title contenders? The Badgers have a chance to be <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/College-Football-Playoff-sleepers-for-2014.html" target="_self">a dark horse College Football Playoff contender</a> if they can get past LSU in Week 1, and Iowa has a chance to be unbeaten heading into its stretch run of November because the Hawkeyes' schedule is very favorable.</p> <p> <strong>— Franklin's debut:</strong> James Franklin will make his Big Ten Media Days debut after coming over from Vanderbilt, although he will be less impressed by the media turnout considering he dealt with the circus in Hoover every year while with the Commodores. He'll likely be asked about PSU's lingering sanctions as well as star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who is already one of the best players in the country. He is one of eleven returning starting quarterbacks in the league. Keep in mind thay Kerry Collins was the last Big Ten signal-caller drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.</p> <p> <strong>— Kill’s health:</strong> Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill's bouts with epileptic seizures have been well documented, and he was forced to coach from upstairs for a good portion of last season. While he is healthy and ready to put those issues behind him, Kill may have to answer questions about whether he's concerned about possible recurrences moving forward.</p> <p> <strong>— The new postseason:</strong> For the first time ever, major college football has a playoff system in place to crown a national champion. The College Football Playoff has replaced the BCS, so expect nearly every head coach and player in attendance to be asked to give his thoughts on the matter.</p> <p> <strong>— Paying players: </strong>Even the casual college football fan is aware of the various issues the NCAA has been dealing with both in the courts and outside of them, including autonomy for the Power Five conferences. Big Ten players will likely be asked to give their thoughts about issues such as cost of attendance, unionization, getting paid to play, etc., in addition to queries about the new playoff. And it's likely that Northwestern players Ibraheim Campbell, Collin Ellis and Trevor Siemian will have to deal with a surplus of media asking about player unionization.</p> <p> <strong>— Abdullah's speech:</strong> Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah will speak on Tuesday at the kickoff luncheon, and the former unheralded recruit should share his story of growing up in a large family in Alabama and discuss his journey toward becoming one of the best running backs in the country.</p> <p> <em>Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Miller_Dave" target="_blank">@Miller_Dave&lt;/a>.</em></p>

Lighter in the pockets

<p> The NFL announced on Wednesday that Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson has been <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/Eagles-announce-Lane-Johnsons-fourgame-PED-suspension.html" target="_self">suspended for the first four games</a> of the regular season for violating its performance enhancing drugs policy.</p> <p> Johnson received a fully guaranteed four-year, $19,853,104 contract, which included a $12,818,620 signing bonus, as the fourth overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. His 2014 salary consists of a $495,000 base salary and an $812,414 fifth day of training camp roster bonus.</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Lane Johnson" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/lj11.jpg" />Johnson will miss the first four games of the 2014 regular season.</p> <p> Johnson’s suspension will cost him $934,224. He will lose $116,470 (4/17ths) of his base salary. The Eagles will recoup the same proportion (4/17ths) of the prorated amount of his signing bonus ($3,204,655) as he’s losing in base salary. This amounts to $754,036. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the standard of recoupment is different for roster, reporting and option bonuses than with signing bonuses, but Johnson will also forfeit $63,718 of his roster bonus. Johnson will be playing the 2014 season for $373,190 instead of the $1,307,414 he was originally scheduled to make.</p> <p> Johnson’s contract contains language that voids the remaining salary guarantees with a suspension. Most NFL contracts have these types of clauses. Johnson’s suspension wipes out the $6,629,484 of salary guarantees he had in his 2014 through 2016 contract years.</p> <p> The voiding of Johnson’s guarantees gives the Eagles leverage to ask Johnson for a pay cut in the future and lowers the salary cap charges if they release him. For instance, Johnson’s entire $6,316,897 2016 cap number would have counted against the Eagles’ cap upon release in 2016 without the suspension. Since Johnson’s $3,112,242 2016 salary ($675,000 base salary and $2,437,242 fifth day of training camp roster bonus) is no longer guaranteed, the only cap charge for the Eagles will be $3,204,665 of signing bonus proration if he is cut in 2016.</p> <p> The ramifications for Dion Jordan, the third overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins, with his <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/Dolphins-Dion-Jordan-suspended-for-four-games-for-PED-violation.html" target="_self">four-game performance enhancing drugs suspension</a> are like Johnson’s, but a little steeper since he got $719,194 more for being selected one pick higher.</p> <p> <strong>Follow me on Twitter:</strong> @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/corryjoel" target="_blank">corryjoel</a></p> <p> <em><strong>Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. </strong></em></p>