Shutdown Corner

  • This appears to be a picture of Geno Smith understanding football. Go figure! (ESPN)

    So, we're all familiar with the scouting report from Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, in which West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is said to be "a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job," who "could drain energy from a QB room." If you're not, you can read more about it, and the responses of those who know Smith, here. Safe to say that none of the people who have actually talked and worked with the man thought to be the consensus number-one quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft would agree with Nawrocki's slam-job.

    Smith recently put himself under the microscope of a more experienced and respected evaluator when he agreed to participate in "Gruden's QB Camp," the show in which former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden goes one-on-one with draft prospects. It's a fascinating series, because you get to see Gruden ask a lot of the same types of questions you might see if you were in a team interview -- especially when the player is asked to go to the whiteboard and detail the schemes and structures he used to get him to this point (You can view a programming schedule here).

    "I want to see how much substance is behind these statistics," Gruden said in the show's opener. "I want to find out how they pull this off. How they practice it, and how many concepts they have in their offense. I want to find out how he reads patterns, and some of the exact responsibilities he does have."

    Gruden got his answer pretty quickly.

    Read More »from Geno Smith shows game intelligence, offensive complexity in ‘Gruden’s QB Camp’ episode
  • Lions kicker Jason Hanson hangs up his cleats after 21 seasons

    Jason Hanson announced his retirement on Thursday (USA Today Sports Images)

    After spending the last 21 seasons with the Detroit Lions, unrestricted free agent kicker Jason Hanson has announced that he is retiring from professional football.

    "It's time," Hanson said in a statement released by the Lions. “I gave serious thought and consideration to playing in 2013. While the determination and willpower are still there, the wear and tear on my body, especially the issues I had and still have with my heel have convinced me that it’s time to retire.

    "While I look forward to my press conference next Tuesday where I can publicly thank so many people who have played such a big part in my career, I do want to offer my sincere appreciation to the Ford Family, all my coaches and teammates, the Lions organization and the incredible Lions fans. You all helped me along this journey and I am forever grateful."

    Hanson, who turns 43-years-old in June, is a native of Spokane, Washington who played his college ball at Washington State before he was selected by the Lions in the second round (No. 56 overall) of the 1992 NFL draft. (Side note: Hanson was selected on April 26, 1992. Thirty-two days later, Florida defensive tackle and likely Top 10 pick Shariff Floyd was born.) Over his 21 seasons, Hanson missed just nine games due to injury, connected on 495 of 601 (82.4 percent) field goal attempts, and was named to a pair of Pro Bowl squads. Anderson's 52 field goals from beyond 50 yards are the most in NFL history.

    Hanson finished his career with 327 games played, the most one NFL player has ever played with one team, and 2,150 points, which is the most in Lions' history and ranks third in NFL history, behind fellow kickers Morten Andersen (2,544) and Gary Anderson (2,434).

    Read More »from Lions kicker Jason Hanson hangs up his cleats after 21 seasons
  • Kellen Winslow forced NFL teams to defend him in different ways. (Getty Images)

    The word “value” is constantly used at this time of year. It seems to take on some kind of transcendent meaning as it relates to the NFL Draft. We don’t speak about selecting good football players that will likely improve teams; rather, we debate where players get chosen, as if the overall objective is to “manipulate” the draft.

    I love when I hear analysts say after a pick that that particular team could have selected that player later, that they “reached” for a player who did not have the necessary “value” to be picked where he was. Really! According to whom? Apparently some analysts have every team’s draft board and evaluations at their disposal. I’m not on that e-mail chain. I missed that memo.

    All this is prelude to a discussion of the tight end position in the NFL, and its evolving impact on offensive concepts. Let’s use 1995 as our initial starting point. Two tight ends were selected in the first round in that draft: Kyle Brady of Penn State by the New York Jets with the ninth overall pick, and Mark Bruener by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 27th pick. Both Brady and Bruener were traditional line of scrimmage tight ends; they were better blockers than receivers. In 13 seasons in the NFL, Brady caught more that 40 passes only twice. Bruener, in 14 NFL seasons, never caught more than 26 passes in a single season, and that was his rookie year. In fact, he ended his career with only 152 total receptions.

    The larger point is this: Brady and Bruener would not likely be on team’s draft boards in 2013. If they were, they would be late round addendums far more than serious discussions. They certainly, and this I can say without hesitation, would not be first-round considerations. None of this is meant to denigrate either Brady or Bruener; instead, it speaks to the changing nature of NFL offense over the last decade and a half. And by extension, the shifting premiums placed on different positions, one of them clearly and definitively being the tight end position.

    It’s important to go back a little further in NFL history to truly understand the genesis of the receiving tight end. Don Coryell coached the San Diego Chargers from 1978-86. In 1979, the Chargers drafted Kellen Winslow with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Initially, Winslow was utilized the way in which all tight ends of the time were deployed: run blocking and short-to-intermediate routes originating from their conventional line of scrimmage alignment.

    Winslow’s remarkable athletic talent was being held back by the traditional limits of the position. Coryell, always an unconventional and alternative thinker, saw the limitless possibilities of removing Winslow from the line of scrimmage and aligning him all over the formation. We know the results. Winslow became an innovative and distinctive player in the evolution of NFL offense, and Coryell clearly expanded the thought processes of football in a creative and imaginative way.

    Read More »from Cosell’s Take: Modern tight ends present new opportunities and challenges
  • Carson Palmer has a $4 million cap number in 2013 (USA Today Sports Images)

    If the Arizona Cardinals did not make any changes at the top of their quarterback depth chart this offseason, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton would have combined to earn $12.13 million in cash and count $14.175 million against the team's salary cap.

    Instead, the Cardinals released Kolb, signed free agent Drew Stanton, acquired Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders and waived Skelton. Those four transactions, along with Palmer agreeing to renegotiate the two years and $28 million that remained on his Raiders contract, will result in the Cardinals saving $1.13 million in cash and $2.46 million in cap space at the top of their quarterback depth chart this season.

    According to a source with knowledge of Palmer's renegotiated deal with the Cardinals, the 33-year-old, who was scheduled to receive $13 million in base salary from the Raiders, received a $6 million signing bonus and will have a 2013 base salary of $2 million, which is fully guaranteed.

    Palmer has a first-year cap number of $4 million as he is technically signed through the 2015 season. The third season, which was included to allow the signing bonus to be prorated over three seasons, calls for a $10 million base salary, but voids if Palmer is still on the roster five days after Super Bowl XLIX.

    Palmer is scheduled to earn $8 million in base salary in 2014, $2 million of which is also fully guaranteed at this time, and is currently scheduled to have a $10 million cap number in that season. Palmer is eligible to trigger escalators that could increase his base salary and cap number in 2014.

    Read More »from Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has a first-year cap hit of $4 million
  • J.J. Watt, looking tough with Orbit, the Houston Astros' mascot. (Getty Images)

    Bad news for quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive lines throughout the NFL: Houston Texans monster defensive lineman J.J. Watt, the consensus NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, wasn't fully healthy last season. Turns out, the dislocated elbow that prevented him from playing in the preseason also affected his play early in the regular season, and was the reason for the brace on his left arm that he wore through a 2012 campaign in which he amassed 20.5 quarterback sacks, and set an NFL record with 16 passes defensed.

    “In the beginning, it definitely affected me,” Watt said on “Texans All Access” on Tuesday afternoon. “All the ligaments in there were torn, they were all gone, so they had to have time to recover and regroup. So obviously, I wasn’t at full strength. The brace helped a lot, but it was more of a mental thing, getting over the thought process of knowing that it was injured and making sure that I could still have confidence in it. As the season went on, I got more and more confidence in it and obviously, it didn’t hinder me too much; I had some success out there. But (I’m) looking forward to a 100 percent full healthy season.”

    Yikes. So, when Watt was doing things like completely clowning the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 30, grabbing two of his quarterback sacks and making the formerly verbose Leroy Harris look rather silly, he wasn't at 100 percent.

    Read More »from J.J. Watt is looking forward to a fully healthy season, thinks he can be ever better
  • (Getty Images)

    Is Stevie Johnson a secret agent doing reconnaissance work in the United States for everyone's least favorite hermit kingdom, North Korea? Judging from a quick glance at the replies on his Twitter page, it would appear many think so.

    The always-outspoken Buffalo Bills wide receiver ruffled a few feathers in New England on Wednesday night when he started talking about North Korea's escalating nuclear threats toward the United States and other world powers. But if Kim Jong Un and his pals won't "chill out," Johnson said, there's one spot he wouldn't miss if it was targeted.

    That place? Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots and a location where the Bills haven't recorded a victory since November 5, 2000.

    Here are Johnson's tweets:

    Read More »from Stevie Johnson thinks North Korea should target the home of the New England Patriots first
  • Elijah Cummings isn't impressed with the NFL's argument, but does he see the whole picture? (Getty Images)

    The argument about HGH testing between the NFL and the NFL Players Association has been going on for a number of years. It was the major chip that Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted in the current collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in 2011, and it was the one major issue Goodell had to leave behind to get the season going on time after the lockout. Almost two years later, we seem to be no closer to a testing system that will satisfy both parties, and some folks on Capitol Hill are fed up with the whole thing.

    "It's either put up or shut up," Maryland representative Elijah Cummings said of the players during a Wednesday interview with Jarrett Bell of USA Today. "They'll have to explain to the American public, why there's no testing. I don't think that it would be a pretty picture."

    Cummings, who recently had Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith interning in his office, blames the players for the holdup.

    "They are pushing our committee into a corner, where we won't have any choice but for them to come to Washington."

    The NFL last put forth a proposal for testing in March, and the NFLPA has not issued a public response. I've talked with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith about where the players are with the process, and the primary issues are two: The Players Association wants a testing system that is regarded as universally reliable, and they want an independent and objective appeals process for those players who have tested positive under any system. For whatever reason, it's been tough for everyone to get on the same page.

    Cummings' grandstanding aside, a recent suspension reversal that had nothing to do with the NFL on its face complicated the process. On March 26, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Andrus Veerpalu, an Estonian skier, should have his three-year suspension overturned after it was decided by a panel that the sample size and test accuracy figures put forth by WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), whose tests the NFL would like to use, were not correct and did not line up to WADA claims.

    “There is a proper test,” Goodell said last September. “WADA is implementing it in the Olympics. It is being used in Minor League Baseball. It is being used in sports throughout the world, obviously cycling where it has gotten a lot of attention. The test is developed to such a point where the technology is such that the window of detection has expanded to a point where it is more reasonable to detect the use of HGH.

    "As that technology evolves, we have to evolve and so does the policy. It is appropriate and I think the Players Association agrees that it is appropriate to implement that. I hope we can get that done quickly.”

    Read More »from Congress’ insistence that NFL players ‘put up or shut up’ on HGH testing ignores a few basic facts
  • It's never easy to bring Jesse Williams down. (USAT Sports Images)

    With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.

    #35: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

    We continue this year's series with Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams, the JUCO transfer from Australia who made a real name for himself in Nick Saban's defense in 2012. Williams grew up playing basketball and rugby in Brisbane, and coaches from the University of Hawaii discovered him there when he was 16. Since his academics were incomplete, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College, amassing 76 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks in 18 games over two seasons. Saban came calling before the 2011 season, and Williams chose the Crimson Tide over a host of other high-profile schools. He started 13 games that first season as a five-tech end in Alabama's multiple fronts, moving inside on passing downs.

    In 2012, Saban moved the 6-foot-4, 323-pound Williams inside to nose tackle, but he also played a lot of three-tech. It was inside on a regular basis where Williams was able to truly display his impressive combination of speed, agility, leverage, and freakish strength. He had 17 solo tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in two seasons with Alabama, but those stats don't tell the whole story with Williams -- you really have to look at the tape and project another level of future development to get the picture.

    Williams skipped the speed and agility drills at the scouting combine due to a knee issue, but ran a 4.92 40 at Alabama's pro day. He proved to be agile in the short shuttle and three-cone drill, rounding out all the signs of his athletic potential. We've seen many underdeveloped athletic freaks come into the NFL in recent years, especially on the defensive line, and between Williams, Ezekiel Ansah, and Margus Hunt, this is a banner year for them. But Williams may be the easiest of this year's crop to project to the next level because his raw skills are easily superimposed onto potential football greatness.

    Pros: Benches 600 pounds in the weight room and that upper-body strength transfers to the field. Incredible leverage player who frequently takes on double teams as a nose shade defensive tackle, or straight over center, and rarely gets stood up or rocked back. Will push back blockers who outweigh him by 20 and 30 pounds, and will occasionally throw a blocker out of the way. Comes off the snap low and angry and loves to mix it up. Disengages from blocks quickly and gets on the move to tackle ballcarriers. Gums up gaps of one and two blockers, allowing others to flow through and make plays. Equally effective as a three-tech tackle shading outside the guard, especially on run plays.

    Read More »from The Shutdown 50: Alabama DT Jesse Williams
  • Report: Packers, Clay Matthews nearing long-term extension

    Clay Matthews is nearing a long-term extension (USA Today Sports Images)

    The Green Bay Packers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews are nearing agreement on a long-term extension that will average over $13 million per year in "new money", ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

    Matthews, who turns 27 this offseason, is scheduled to earn $3.77 million in cash compensation ($3.73 million base salary, $40,000 workout bonus) in 2013, the final season of his rookie contract.

    In addition to working on an extension for Matthews, the Packers are nearing a long-term extension with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with the two sides reportedly being $2 million per season apart. According to Schefter, the agent for Matthews and Rodgers — David Dunn — would like new contracts in place by the start of the Packers' offseason workout program, which begins on April 15.

    According to a source with knowledge of where each teams stands against the cap, the Packers have just under $17.8 million in cap space in 2013, which should be more than enough to get team-friendly, long-term deals done with both Rodgers and Matthews.

    Matthews was selected with the 26th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and has posted 42.5 sacks with seven forced fumbles, four interceptions and 22 passes defensed in 58 career games. The four-time Pro Bowler also has 7.5 sacks in eight career post-season games and is arguably coming off his most productive season in the NFL. Despite missing four games due to an injury, Matthews posted 13 sacks in 12 games and has clearly established himself as one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL.

    Read More »from Report: Packers, Clay Matthews nearing long-term extension
  • Johnthan Banks (13) makes a play against South Carolina's Damiere Byrd (Getty Images)

    With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.

    #36: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

    We continue this year's series with Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks, who came to his school as a lightly-recruited player out of Maben, Miss., and made a big splash as a true freshman. In his third collegiate game ever, playing at free safety, he picked off two passes from the arm of one Tim Tebow -- then Florida's quarterback -- and returned both interceptions for touchdowns. Now, while it may be true that stealing a couple of wounded ducks from Tebow isn't exactly all-time stuff, Banks kept his performance level high through a collegiate career that included 45 starts, 139 solo tackles, 15 interceptions, 41 passes defensed, and five forced fumbles. He also returned 30 punts for 289 yards and a touchdown, and won the 2012 Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in the nation.

    However, Banks missed the Senior Bowl due to a knee injury, and disappointed at the scouting combine with a 4.62 40-yard dash -- hardly an optimal time for a 6-foot-2, 185-pound defensive back who's not going to bowl anyone over with his pure physicality. He ran slightly better times at his pro day, but those inconclusive results certainly had NFL teams heading back to the tape, wondering if Banks could grow (literally and figuratively) into a top-level pass defender worthy of a first-round pick. Right now, I'd say it depends on what you need out of a cornerback, and the system you intend to use.

    “I think I can play against anybody," Banks said at the scouting combine. "I can own anybody. I think I can cover Megatron.”

    Well, we'll see about that. We're sure that Calvin Johnson will be very interested in meeting Mr. Banks for the first time.

    Pros: Legitimate press corner who redistributes receivers very well inside and outside. Establishes position from the snap from the line. Gets sticky in short spaces with more physical receivers without initiating too much contact. Has ideal quickness to slip inside to the slot. Consistently good backpedal, hip turn, and lateral movement. Mirrors receivers impressively on slants and drags. Has the recovery speed to counter curls and quick in routes when playing off coverage. Can bait quarterbacks and jump routes in a hurry. Reads the backfield astutely and exhibits excellent timing when breaking from deeper coverage to play shorter and intermediate routes. Uses height to his advantage -- can high-point with the tallest receivers and make plays in the air.

    Read More »from The Shutdown 50: Mississippi State DB Johnthan Banks