Kiper stands by his man Clausen

An NFL draft class cannot be fairly evaluated for three or four years, and to that end Mel Kiper Jr. is saying he’ll let the jury decide on whether he was right about Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen or not.

The veteran draftnik rated Clausen as the No. 4 player on his board but the Irish quarterback took a freefall through the draft and luckily wasn’t present in New York to face the scrutiny as he dropped all the way to the Carolina Panthers at No. 48.

It made Kiper look terribly wrong in his forecast, but no one can tell whether or not he’ll ultimately be right or wrong for some time. Kiper, in discussing his fondness for Clausen this week, said let’s wait and see.

“The reason I like him is because he's tough, he's gritty and he competes,” Kiper told the Charlotte Observer on a conference call with reporters this week. “He's 6-2 1/2, 220, which is ideal size. He doesn't have a howitzer for an arm, but it's good enough – it's more than good enough.

“That's my opinion (that Clausen was the No. 4 prospect in the draft) and I'll stand by it,” he said. “We'll see where it stands three years from now.”

How long it takes Clausen to get a real shot on the field remains to be seen. The Panthers are committed to Matt Moore this season and head coach John Fox could be under a win-or-else mandate.

Kiper said in his evaluation he got a great deal of positive feedback from people at Notre Dame, input he said they didn’t have to offer up on the quarterback who left with a year of eligibility remaining.

“I'm not saying he's going to be Dan Marino or John Elway or the greatest quarterback in the NFL,” Kiper said. “I've never said that. I think he can be a very good starting quarterback in this league.”

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D-II record setter Johnny Bailey ailing from cancer

Former running back Johnny Bailey, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and a distinguished three-time Division II Player of the Year at Texas A&I, is ailing from pancreatic cancer, a source with ties to the football program told the National Football Post.

The 43-year-old Bailey, was drafted in the ninth round by the Chicago Bears in 1990, and spent six seasons in the NFL, also playing for the Phoenix Cardinals and Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams. Bailey was a Pro Bowl special teams performer for the Cardinals in 1992 when he averaged 13.2 yards per punt return.

Bailey scored six rushing touchdowns and had three return touchdowns in his career, but he is best remembered on the field for a decorated career at the school that is now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville. The 5-8, 190-pound Bailey was the three-time recipient of the Harlon Hill Trophy and was a runner-up as a freshman for the award. He began his college career with four 200-yard rushing games and won the Division II rushing title in 1986, 1987 and 1988. He was named the Division II Offensive Player of the Decade.

When his playing days in Kingsville had ended, Bailey, who prepped at Jack Yates High School in Houston, was the all-purpose yardage leader (7,803) in college football and he was No. 3 on the all-time scoring list with 428 points.

The National Football Post sends its thoughts and prayers to Bailey and his family.

Follow me on Twitter: BradBiggs

Time to hype up the Bucs?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a solid draft last weekend, and it started with one of the projected “sure things” of the 2010 class in Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy. A player we expect to have an immediate impact and show up on film once the regular season starts.

Tampa then added another DT in UCLA’s Brian Price, who had first-round grades from some clubs and should be a part of the game day rotation for this Bucs defense. Another solid move along that defensive front.

But, one position that the Bucs addressed that should have a big effect on the development of QB Josh Freeman is the wide receiver position. Arrelious Benn came off of the board to Tampa in the second round before the team took a flyer on Syracuse’s Mike Williams in the fourth — a player who has his fair share of red flags and question marks, but we can’t deny his pure talent.

Too often we overlook the options that are needed on the field when a QB like Freeman, who had some success in his rookie season, is still learning and working on his craft when it comes to the pro game.

With Benn and Williams, the Bucs now have two receivers who can match up physically against NFL DBs and who can both provide something different in the passing game.

Williams can get vertical and can go up, high point the ball and make plays down the field. From a size/speed impact, he could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft. In Benn, the former Illinois product, Tampa might have a player who can emulate what Anquan Boldin did for the Cardinals and is expected to do with the Ravens this season once he gets the ball in his hands. He is the type of player who can break tackles and pile up yards after the catch.

Both are major upgrades from the WRs that Freeman had to work with in ’09.

However, it all goes back to the second-year QB. For this team to be successful as an offense, they need to allow him the time needed to develop. That starts with a running game of Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham, and now two young receivers who should be expected to contribute serious minutes and make plays — even as rookies.

We can’t call the Bucs challengers just yet for the NFC South, but when you look at their draft class and the talent they already have in Freeman, this has the feel of a young team that is starting to put together the right parts to eventually be a major player in the NFC.

I like teams that build through the draft. They get to develop their own talent and in time it pays off in the win column. This is exactly what we are seeing down in Tampa — and it will only get better.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

The best round two picks

In what was considered one of the deepest drafts in years, the National Football Post takes a look at some potential impact-caliber prospects from round two:

RB Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns

Not only was Hardesty one of my favorite picks of the draft, I honestly think he has as good a shot as any being offensive rookie of the year in 2010. I made the case in March that I considered him the better overall running back prospect compared to Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews, and although both players will be productive rookies, I think Hardesty’s game is better tailored to the next level. In addition to running with power and toughness inside, he showcases the body control/balance to make defenders miss behind the line and is a more patient runner. I think his skill set is a perfect fit for a cold-weather team like Cleveland, and since the Browns don’t have much of an every-down back on their roster, I expect Hardesty to come in and carry the load from day one.

OG Vladimir Ducasse, New York Jets

We know the physical skill set is there for this guy to be one of the better guards in the NFL. He’s powerful, fluid, displays nice overall bend in his lower half and can drive defenders off the football. The only question is: How quickly until he’s ready? My answer: The season opener. When watching Ducasse at this year’s Senior Bowl, it was amazing how quickly he adjusted to the speed of the game despite struggling early in the week at guard and tackle vs. any kind of inside move. As the week went on, however, we saw him get comfortable and trust his skill set, which resulted in an impressive game at left tackle. He isn’t going to play the blind side in the pros, but the point is, there was a lot of improvement from this guy in only one week. If given an opportunity to submerge himself in some good NFL coaching – which he’ll be getting from Bill Callahan — the sky’s the limit for this kid.

OLB Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers

I said all along that Worilds possesses, in my opinion, the most explosive first step of any defensive linemen in the class and has the ability to consistently reach the edge in the pass game. However, what really stand out to me are Worilds’ balance and fluidity when asked to stand up and change directions either as a pass rusher or in space. He’s a perfect fit for the Steelers as a stand-up rush linebacker and has the ability to come in and be an instant impact guy from day one. Pittsburgh needed to get some youth behind OLB James Harrison, and because of Worilds’ explosion off the snap, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will likely find a way to get this guy on the field in 2010 and maximize his skill set as a sack artist down the line.

RB Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs

How could I leave McCluster off this list? He’s dynamic in the open field, can catch the ball in the pass game and is simply going to be a mismatch nightmare in the NFL. Plus, he’s a well-spoken, endearing young man who has a real passion for the game and is a willing worker. Now, is McCluster going to come in and be a 1,000-yard wideout or running back? No. But much like Percy Harvin carved out a niche for himself last season in Minnesota, I expect the same from McCluster. Look for him to line up in the backfield, split out in the slot and also help out on special teams in both the kick and punt return game. He’ll add a much needed big-play element to the Chiefs’ offense/special teams and will be worth more in the long run than the second-round pick they used to get him.

WR Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There isn’t much talent in the Tampa Bay wide receiving corps, so an NFL-ready specimen like Benn can have an instant impact. He’s a big, physically gifted kid who showcases the body control and suddenness to separate for himself underneath and create after the catch. He runs with impressive power and balance for a guy his size and is an absolute bear to bring down in the open field. He also does a great job using his big frame and coordination to adjust to the football and should be one of the more productive wideouts in the rookie class.

SS T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns

Many viewed Ward as a reach in the second round, but the “experts” who said that never saw him on tape. I’ll admit he wasn’t the biggest or fastest safety still on the board at the time, and compared to Taylor Mays, his name definitely wasn’t as well known. However, as I wrote during the college football season following the Oregon-USC matchup, “Ward is simply the more naturally instinctive football player – compared to Mays — and I think he will definitely, in the long run, end up being the much better overall NFL player.”

Ward does a great job recognizing his run/pass keys, is fluid when asked to redirect in space and possesses the balance to consistently make plays on the ball. Although he’s a bit undersized, he loves to tackle and throw his body around at the line of scrimmage and definitely has the ability to play as a three-down safety in the NFL. That’s more than I can say for Mays.

Others worth noting:

Jimmy Clausen, Carolina Panthers
Nate Allen, Philadelphia Eagles
Jermaine Cunningham, New England Patriots
Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots
Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals

Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting

Eagles extend contract of Kevin Kolb

If you had any doubt that Kevin Kolb is the quarterback of the future for the Philadelphia Eagles, you don’t any more.

He has received a one-year extension, according to Adam Caplan of, that will land him $12.26 million in guaranteed money. He gets a $10.7 million signing bonus in the deal and is now signed through 2011.

It’s a tricky situation right now for extensions because of the 30 percent rule, and per the report Kolb receives the maximum allowable increase in his base salaries for this year and 2011. The bottom line is he will now average more than $6 million each of the next two seasons, still a bargain if he becomes the kind of player the team expects.

Follow me on Twitter: BradBiggs

Report: Shockey on board for offseason program

Jeremy Shockey has taken his share of hits in the past for decisions he’s made not to work out with his team during the offseason.

But Shockey is on board as the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints gear up for their title defense, reports Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Shockey spent most of the offseason with the team a year ago and that is a departure from what he did during his days as a member of the New York Giants. In those days, Shockey spent most of the offseason working out in Miami. It should be noted that the offseason workout programs are voluntary, something that is often forgotten.

“You know, it's hard working out in New York when it's cold outside and you have to work indoors. It's great weather here, and I have no excuse not to be here,” Shockey told Triplett. “We work all the time. Today we worked on routes with Drew (Brees) and everything. So I'm here a lot of the time. And if I'm not here it's for a good reason.”

If the quarterback is putting the time in, it stands to reason his targets should be putting the time in as well. Shockey could also realize that heading into his ninth season – and making good coin – he needs to invest the time to remain at the top of his game. He’s missed seven games over the last two seasons in New Orleans and needs to make sure he is healthy going into the season. The Saints might have an eventual replacement on board now too after they drafted Miami’s Jimmy Graham.

Follow me on Twitter: BradBiggs

Georgia’s Richt: Murray ‘has not won the job’

With freshman Zach Mettenberger out of the competition for the starting nod following his dismissal from the team, Georgia's depth at quarterback could suffer another blow if Logan Gray decides to leave the school.

The junior met with Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt early Monday to discuss his future at the school after rumors swirled that he may transfer. The sentiment is that freshman Aaron Murray has already won the starting quarterback job.

The only scholarship signal-caller behind Murray, who ended spring practice atop the depth chart, Gray sat behind Joe Cox last season while playing mostly on special teams. He considered changing positions after the season but decided to remain at quarterback for spring drills. He went 10 of 17 passing for 132 yards and one TD in the Bulldogs’ spring game, while Murray completed 10 of 22 through the air for 96 yards with one interception.

Believing that Murray was more consistent throughout the spring, specifically in his accuracy and decision-making, Richt pronounced him the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. However, while at the Savannah Bulldog Club at the Savannah Golf Club on Wednesday for a school function, Richt reiterated that no decision on the starting gig has been made.

“Aaron has not won the job. I've been saying that since the day the depth chart came out,” Richt declared. “All the depth chart says is where we see him right now. Aaron might win the job. Logan Gray might win the job. Hutson Mason might win the job, for that matter.”

Mason, the only other scholarship quarterback expected to be on the roster, is a Parade magazine All-America pick who won’t arrive until the fall.

If Murray does start the opener, he would be the first Georgia freshman to start a season opener under center since David Greene in 2001.

Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

Chris Johnson and the 30-percent rule

When the “opt-out” provision of the renegotiated 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allowed for an uncapped 2010, the idea of a year without a salary cap was thought to be a potential windfall for the players. Teams like the Redskins and Cowboys, it was thought, would engage in unfettered bidding for all the best players, becoming the Yankees and Red Sox of football. Spending on players would rise dramatically. Well, not so much.

The 2010 league year – the much-hyped uncapped year – has been, at best, business as usual in the NFL. More realistically, it has been business as management would like it. With no spending floor, teams have not had minimum spending levels and have each set their own “cap” at a figure likely lower than before.

Veteran players with high salaries are being shed; restricted free agency saw one player (Mike Bell) change teams, and benefits to players that totaled roughly $10 million per team last year have been cut. Now, another unfortunate side effect of the uncapped year is rearing its head on some of the league’s top young players.

30-percent rule restrictions

The 30-percent rule, found in Article XXIV, Section 8 (b) of the CBA, states that renegotiations/extensions entered into in the 2010 league year may not increase per year from 2009 to 2010 or beyond more than 30 percent of the 2009 salary. For example, if the 2009 salary is $2M, the maximum available in 2010 is $2.6M, in 2011 it’s $3.2M, etc.

The theory behind the rule was to prevent the dumping of disproportionate amounts of compensation into a year with no cap to regulate spending. The rule was another quid pro quo for what was expected to be an uncapped windfall for players.

Especially affected are rising players in the middle of their rookie contracts, all structured with low salaries and previously paid bonuses. The latest player expressing some discontent with his situation is Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Johnson is not attending offseason workouts, but his frustration is probably more directed at the system than the Titans. The 30-percent rule is stunting potential deals for young ascending players such as Johnson; receivers DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith (Giants) and Sidney Rice; running backs DeAngelo Williams and Joseph Addai; linemen Ryan Kalil and Nick Mangold; and linebackers Lamar Woodley and David Harris.

Frustrating for teams

Team officials – assuming there was a budget for extensions, which may be rare — are equally frustrated about not being able to lock up these young players, as it would make good business sense to do so now rather than later. Whether it’s simply a convenient excuse or reality, their hands are tied. As Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt told the Tennessean newspaper, “With all these deals, the 30-percent rule makes it very, very hard to do.”

Johnson made $385,000 in the second year of his rookie contract last season. Under the rule, he’s limited to an increase of $115,000 this year and each year beyond.

Signing bonus

There is one way around the 30-percent rule, but no team wants to use it. According to Article XXIV (7)(b)(iv) of the CBA, a signing bonus (or a payment that is treated as a signing bonus) does not count toward the rule.

In the event the Titans are willing to give Johnson a five-year, $40-million extension, they could satisfy the 30-percent rule in the salary portion of the deal by giving him roughly $37M in signing bonus. No team wants to structure a deal with 80 percent or more in guaranteed signing bonus, money that is essentially gone the moment the player signs the contract. Teams are much more willing to structure large base salaries that may be guaranteed in the future to allow for the possibility of recovery and forfeiture.

Although players are frustrated, agents understand. As agent Ben Dogra of the powerful CAA group, which represents a few players in this situation, including Williams, Addai and Panthers lineman Ryan Kalil, said, “For this year at least, your hands are tied.”

The rule is a true impediment to getting something done with a rising young player, as these deals likely will not happen until next year at the earliest. As a result, these players become further casualties of the uncapped year.

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Te’o will be focus of defensive revival at Notre Dame

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly promised the media and fans that new coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense would not stand out during Saturday’s Blue-Gold game at Notre Dame Stadium. The primary focus for Kelly was seeing how his new spread offense would function under the direction of quarterback Dayne Crist and the various weapons at his disposal.

While Kelly was pleased with the progress the offense has made — calling Saturday’s 27-19 Gold victory the best day of practice this spring — every Fighting Irish fan knows that improvement in the win-loss column in 2010 will not be possible unless Diaco’s unit plays much more sound and disciplined than in the previous disappointing regimes.

With the installation of the 3-4 defense, Notre Dame will certainly look different from a scheme perspective. It should be noted, however, that an outside linebacker will walk up to the line quite often next season to create a four-man front — making it look less like a 3-4 and more like a traditional 4-3 scheme.

The pressing question is will the Irish have enough playmakers on that side of the ball? Or, more simply, will it be able to stop the run and the pass more consistently?

Manti Te’o, one of the most highly recruited defensive players in the country in 2009, is the face of the new scheme. The 6-2, 250-pounder will man the middle linebacker spot after playing on the outside in space during his freshman campaign. Te’o, who finished with eight tackles and an interception on Saturday, played inside of a 3-4 defense while in high school, so the familiarity can only bode well for the Irish. And despite making 63 tackles in a solid first season in South Bend, Te’o is driven to become a more consistent defender. All expectations are that Te’o takes a huge step in his second season.

He’s confident in his progress under the new system, as is Kelly.

“He is, in his own mind, and our coaches and myself, living up to maybe some of the expectations that everybody had coming in as one of the top, premier high school players in the country,” Kelly boasted.

“He can be a great player. He’s got a chance, and he’s showing some signs of that. His recognition, his leadership, it’s exciting to watch him grow. He’s really growing quickly in a short period of time.”

While Te’o garners the most individual attention, his fellow defenders will need to step up their performance, as well, after the Irish surrendered 397.8 yards per game — the worst defensive performance in school history.

It makes one wonder whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that most of the core players from last year return next season.

The returnees, however, are confident that they have improved enough to make the unit a team strength and not a weakness. Perhaps the switch to Jon Tenuta’s 4-3 scheme last year — after many of the players were recruited to play Corwin Brown’s 3-4 — proved too much to overcome.

The defensive front of Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore must be stout next fall, while Brian Smith, Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal have the talent to excel at the outside linebacker/defensive end spot. Linebacker Steve Filer also should provide insurance after leading all players with 12 tackles on Saturday, including two tackles for loss.

Continuing to develop solid depth will be crucial for the Irish to have any significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Fresh bodies will be needed for an effective defense, as Kelly’s Cincinnati offense was last in time of possession last season, meaning the defense spent a lot of time on the field — a distinct possibility for any team whose offense runs the spread.

What’s certain is that whoever is on the field on Saturdays will contribute. Remember former Irish quarterback Demetrius Jones? After transferring to Northern Illinois, he landed with Kelly at Cincinnati. His position? Linebacker. Did you ever expect to see that?

Prepare for the unexpected in South Bend. Maybe even a formidable defense.

Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

Diner morning news: It’s trust that counts

QUOTE: “The future is of our own making — and (for me) the most striking characteristic of the century is just that development, that maturing of our consciousness which should open our eyes to that truth.” — Joseph Conrad

Jets chemistry

In an interview with WFAN radio on Wednesday, Leon Washington had this to say about the Jets’ offseason moves: “I’ve got a bunch of friends I talk to…and they’re excited about the new players they have coming in. But they do have questions about how well they will gel with the new people in the locker room….Those guys are professionals, and I’m sure they’ll handle it, but at the same time, it takes continuity and it takes time to build relationships.”

It will take some time for the Jets to build chemistry, but the essential element to any team is being able to overcome adversity. The Jets will only be tested next year if they get into a slump or an extended losing streak. At this point in the season, their chemistry will be tested, but the one thing they have working in their favor is that their defense is built on trust and chemistry, so if they’re playing well, their locker room will function. The way the Jets install their defense, call their defense and play their defense forces them to work as a team. Each player knows his assignment and those of his teammates, so they build trust in one another. Trust is the common trait in all good locker rooms, and the Jets defense is based on trust.

Ryan Clady is down and out…for three months

Today we learned that Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady suffered a torn PCL playing basketball and underwent surgery to repair the tendon. Clady is a fantastic player, but the Broncos should sign Flozell Adams right now since he would protect them for the early part of the season while Clady heals. The one thing the Broncos don’t want to do is panic and rush Clady back just because they desperately need him. Yes, they need him, but they need him healthy for the second half of the season, not the first half. It would be wonderful to have Clady to start the year, but it’s essential to have him ready as the season moves into November and December. As we learned last season with the Broncos, fast starts don’t mean much. It’s fast finishes that count, and having a healthy Clady will allow them to finish strong.

Is Kevin Mawae being blackballed?

I read Kevin Mawae’s claim that he’s being blackballed by teams, but I really don’t think that’s the case. Mawae claims that because he’s president of the NFL Players Association and labor talks with the owners have been strenuous that he’s not getting the work he deserves. What really bothers Mawae is that Alan Faneca signed two days after being released and Faneca is 34 years old. Mawae is 39 and coming off a Pro Bowl season, but like Faneca, he got to the Pro Bowl more on reputation that what he did on the field. (By the way, Faneca did not play well last year, but when you mention this to anyone outside of the NFL, they look at you in disbelief like you have some type of disease.) Because Faneca plays guard, there were more teams looking to add a guard than a one position player in Mawae. Mawae could certainly help a team, but with the center position it’s all based on need. Most teams are willing to go with an unproven younger player for now since they have time to determine the level of play. When the preseason rolls around, teams will be more honest with their evaluation and Mawae should get a call. If he doesn’t, then he might be right to complain.

I’m heading to Denver today to spend time watching the Broncos’ rookie minicamp for NFL Network, so there won’t be a Diner on Friday morning. But Sunday at the Post will return this weekend, so join me then.

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