Ponder, Vikings set to begin microcamp

Christian Ponder, the first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings, is doing everything he can to be ready for a job battle when the NFL’s lockout is ended.

He’s done work with the playbook and invested ample time. Now, he’ll get to work with some teammates in what can only be described as a microcamp. That’s because there won’t be enough Vikings players on hand to dub it a minicamp.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the Vikings will begin three days of player-run practices today at IMG’s facilities in Bradenton, Fla. Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar, other quarterbacks under contract, will be among the “10 to 15” players on hand.

Per the report, former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke will help direct the workouts. He has been working with Ponder and Webb in recent weeks, helping drill them on the playbook.

What the Vikings will do at the quarterback position after the lockout remains one of the team’s most intriguing questions. The franchise is almost certain to pursue a veteran with experience. Do they look for one to start or will they bring in a player willing to battle with Ponder for the starting job?

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Mike Kafka ready for next step if it's his turn

There are plenty of reasons the Philadelphia Eagles are committed to trading Kevin Kolb before the 2011 season begins – whenever that is – and one of the overlooked reasons is because the club believes Mike Kafka is ready to assume the backup role.

Kafka, a rookie from Northwestern last season, earned huge praise from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg last year. Now, Andy Reid suggests Kafka could be ready for the role and the young player can only do what Kolb is doing – wait.

I always have confidence in myself. But if Coach says that, it's great,” Kafka told Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer before a workout last weel. “I'm willing and waiting to take that next step to be that guy.”

Vick has confidence in Kafka being able to handle the job, too, but as McLane points out it would not be a surprise if the Eagles picked up a veteran for the season.

“If Kevin's not back, then I think the backup role is a role that Mike Kafka embraces,” Vick said. “I think he's ready for it. I think he's prepared himself well, and I think that will all translate on the field when it's all said and done.”

NFL personnel types and coaches often talk about seeing the biggest jump from players from Year 1 to Year 2. The Eagles certainly hope that is the case with Kafka, and he does need some seasoning. His base of knowledge came from observing.

“It's actually a good thing because you get to see a lot from the sidelines that not a lot of people see,” he said. “When the guys are walking off the field you see their faces. Whereas when you're the starter, you're walking off with them, and you only feel the ebb and flow of the game.”

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Buckeyes jump to 50/1 after Tressel's resignation

Jim Tressel’s headline-stealing resignation from the Ohio State University on Monday quickly made its presence felt in the southern Nevada desert.

Jim TresselICONThe sweater vest era in Columbus is officially over.

Having started the day at 25/1 to win the 2012 BCS title, the Buckeyes exploded to 50/1 at the Las Vegas Hilton after Monday’s stunning news out of Columbus hit the wires, per David Payne of Covers.com.

Ohio State was (and still is) listed at 14/1 over at Bodog.com, which is somewhat surprising considering the fact that five Buckeyes players are suspended for the first five games of the upcoming season. At one point, the 2012 odds on OSU actually dropped as low as 10/1 at the MGM Mirage, per Payne, as the sportsbook was taking in an abundance of action on the Big Ten powerhouse despite the suspensions.

In ten years at Ohio State, Tressel compiled a record of 106-22 (.828) and won the 2002 national championship.

After Monday’s developments, it could be a long time before Ohio State finds itself back in the hunt for a national title…no matter what the odds say.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

Why Finley's 2011 return has me talking football

Over the holiday weekend, I ran into plenty of Packers fans up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. No question they are talking repeat, however, the one name that always surfaced in our conversations was TE Jermichael Finley. And while talking educated football (something you always get with Green Bay fans), I started to think about the upcoming season and how lethal of a player Finley can be in Mike McCarthy’s offense.

Today, let’s think like a coach and discuss why Finley is the one player we should all look forward to seeing back on the field in 2011.

Jermichael FinleyICONThe Packers game plan is going to look solid with Finley back in the lineup.

Multiple Alignments: First thing I look at when breaking down the TE’s of today’s game. Are they a traditional “on the line Y” (think attached to the core of the formation) or are they the type of player that can be used as a receiver. With Finley, I see both. An athlete that can align as the TE in regular personnel (2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB), and in the multiple spread looks we see every Sunday from the Packers. In the slot, as the “X” receiver backside of a 3×1 formation (isolates the TE vs. a CB or SS) and when the Packers use their empty sets. The Packers’ TE gives you options in any personnel grouping.

Impact vs. Lovie and the Bears: How do you defeat the Tampa 2 defense in Chicago? Get down the middle of the field and challenge middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and the two deep safeties. As part of the 4 vertical route scheme, double china-post and in play action. QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have issues vs. Lovie Smith and the Chicago defense, and adding Finley back to the mix allows them to test the top of the scheme—which produces explosive plays. Much easier to target the defensive scheme when you have the player to get it done.

Red Zone matchups: When I was playing in the NFL, it was Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Todd Heap. The three players you had to specifically game plan for once the ball crossed the 20-yard line. And that game plan got even more nervous when the ball was inside of the 10-yard line. TEs that can catch the ball, win vs. a safety and are an issue for any defensive coordinator. Finley can abuse man coverage and Cover 4 (quarters) will be easy to beat. Look for more Red 2 (CBs sink to create an almost 5-deep look) vs. Green Bay this season. Because I don’t have a real good answer to give you right now to defend him in the red zone.

Adding to the game plan: What is crazy about this post (and the converastions I had with fans over the weekend) is that we are talking about the defending Super Bowl champs. This isn’t a 7-9 team looking to get an impact player back into the lineup in hopes of making a playoff run. Instead, this Packers’ team is already loaded on offense with No.12 under center, plus the weapons they have at receiver and in the backfield. Getting Finley back just adds to what they already have—the best offense in the NFL. The type of player that is luxury to put into your Sunday game plan.

This guy makes me want to talk NFL football. Time to get this lockout settled—don’t you think?

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

Erik Coleman confident he can learn Lions' defense quickly

Some questioned why the Detroit Lions didn’t do more in their draft to address what have been gaping holes in their secondary.

But you have to remember the Lions did get to work in the defensive backfield before the NFL’s lockout got under way more than two months ago.

As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press points out, veteran Erik Coleman signed with the Lions. He’s a safety they are hoping to pair next to youngster Louis Delmas to solidify the back of the defense.

A former Atlanta Falcon, Coleman was let go after the 2010 season. A knee injury contributed to him losing his starting job. Now, he considers having a contract to be a blessing.

“Being a free agent and not knowing where you're going to go once the lockout is done would probably be a very frustrating thing,” Coleman said. “That uncertainty would definitely make a player uncomfortable.”

Even though he’s a newcomer, he doesn’t have any fear of being far behind his teammates when football does finally resume.

“I did come in and meet with some coaches. Got to talk football with the coaches, took some notes and things like that,” Coleman said. “But I'm a football player. I can adjust. It's just a matter of learning the defensive language that (defensive coordinator Gunther) Cunningham uses … and going out and executing.”

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

All Day makes buffet patrons all happy in Las Vegas

He’s not riding bulls or messing with snakes, but Adrian Peterson has taken a page out of the Chad Ochocinco playbook.

Yes, the Minnesota Vikings treated some unsuspecting football fans in Las Vegas to dinner, something Ochocinco has been known to do after sending out mass invites via his Twitter account.

According to TMZ.com, Peterson was waiting in line at the Palms Casino and Resort Friday night for a meal at the Bistro Buffet. After a couple recognized him and asked he if he was the running back, he responded by saying his nickname, “All Day.”

Peterson then invited about a dozen folks to eat with him and he picked up the tab of roughly $400.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

NFP Scouting Series: Vanderbilt

For the rest of the summer, the National Football Post will be breaking down every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to identify which players could warrant the most interest from NFL teams in the 2012 NFL draft.

Therefore, today we take a look at the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Offense

SmithICONSmith has added some much needed leadership to the Vanderbilt offense.

QB Larry Smith: No. 10 (6-2, 220)
An athletic, well-built quarterback with a good physical skill set. Can create in the pocket, buy time for himself and hurt you with his feet when he breaks contain. Runs a lot of the zone read in the Vanderbilt offense and takes most of his snaps from the gun. Is raw and leggy with his footwork, doesn’t settle himself well into throws and doesn’t generate much torque from his lower half and/or transfer his weight well toward his target. Possesses good enough arm strength to make all the throws, but takes away from his velocity because he throws from the waist up only.

Isn’t real natural from the pocket at this stage, doesn’t trust what he sees and struggles to let go of the ball on time anytime he has to go past his initial read. Too often looks to be waiting for receivers to uncover instead of throwing them open. Eye level has a tendency to go down and will flush himself out of the pocket, limiting his options when asked to go through his progressions. Is at his best working outside the pocket where he can boot, cut the field in half. Looks most comfortable on the move, but doesn’t throw a real clean football. Passes tend to wobble and ball placement/touch are inconsistent as well. However, he makes the majority of his plays on the edge with the run/pass threat. Has a high, over the top delivery, but seems to guide the ball at times, doesn’t seem to really trust his motion and let it go with much confidence.

Impression: The game simply seems to be moving too fast for him in the pocket to warrant a draftable grade at this time.

TE Brandon Barden: No. 6 (6-5, 245)
A tall, long-framed kid who lacks ideal bend and looks a bit stiff into blocks. Possesses some natural coordination when asked to step and seal on the outside. However, struggles to gain leverage for himself, drops his head, isn’t real heavy handed and doesn’t stick to blocks through the play. Lines up as an H-back/fullback as well at times and displays some coordination when asked to get out to the second level and reach a defender off his frame. However, gets too high into contact, is stalled at the point and isn’t a guy who can initially win at the point of attack through the hole. Doesn’t hold up real well in pass protection either, struggles to create leverage, isn’t real sticky through contact and can be overwhelmed at the point.

Does do a nice job for his size staying low off the snap and releasing into the pass game. Isn’t a real gifted straight-line athlete and isn’t going to run away from anyone down the seam. However, possesses some coordination to his game as a pass catcher. Likes to play in tighter areas, displays some short-area quickness and adjusts well to the football. Is a former high school quarterback who has a feel where to sit down in the pass game and knows how to work himself free. Now, isn’t the sharpest of route runners and will chop his feet before getting out of his breaks in order to collect his balance. But understands how to gain leverage by widening/tightening his routes off the line and can pluck throws off his frame.

Impression: Isn’t a plus athlete or a real gifted blocker, but he can catch the football and move the chains. A fringe roster guy and more free agent than late-round pick.

Defense

DT T.J. Greenstone: No. 74 (6-3, 285)
Looks to possess a bit more girth in the mid-section than his 285-pound frame would indicate. Can create a bit of a jolt on contact when he keeps his base down initially. Is a linear guy and can work his way into the backfield at times vs. the run game and overpower his man off the football. But, struggles with his balance, rarely makes any plays on the football and ends up on the ground too often. But, can create a pile behind the line at times and cause some havoc. Nevertheless, his pad level is very inconsistent. Gets upright too often at the snap and is overwhelmed initially or through contact. Works his hands hard to try to gain leverage, but isn’t real heavy handed when trying to shed, as he gets upright and is often driven off the football.

Isn’t a natural pass rusher. Again gets upright off the football, doesn’t have the burst to threaten gaps inside or the power to consistently push the pocket. Plays with a good motor and keeps his hands up displaying some violence trying to keep himself clean. However, he’s limited laterally, tries to be sudden but just wastes steps/motion inside trying to get his man off balance and isn’t real creative with his pass rush.

Impression: Doesn’t possess the kind of physical or athletic tools to consistently win inside in either the run or pass game at the next level.

MarveICONMarve is a tackling machine inside.

ILB Chris Marve: No. 13 (6-0, 235)
A tough kid who is the leader of the Vanderbilt defense. Is instinctive inside and plays the game with a fire and has the willingness to fight through pain and be effective when not at 100 percent. Displays good instincts inside. Reads and reacts well to the football, picks his way through traffic and exhibits a natural burst when asked to attack downhill take on the lead guy. Isn’t a real stack and shed backer, but plays with natural leverage, can create a pop for himself and anchor with some consistency when taking on lead blocks. However, is much better suited to slip blocks/run around them inside. Possesses good coordination/ change of directions skills and knows how to keep himself clean in tight areas. Will take himself out of plays at times trying to avoid blocks and looks limited to more of a run and hit scheme. Showcases good range in pursuit, can run sideline-to-sideline, plays fast because of read and react ability and seems to always be around the football. Is a solid tackler, not the most overpowering guy and will slide off ball carriers when trying to shed and make a play through the hole. Nevertheless, breaks down well in a phone booth and in space.

Looks comfortable in zone coverage, keeps his feet under him in his drop, redirects wells laterally and exhibits a burst out of his breaks in pursuit. Needs to do a better job feeling routes develop around him in zone and keeping his head on a swivel, especially on those underneath crossers. Is physical off the line in man coverage, as well, keeps his feet under him, maintains balance and extends his arms well. Never looks overextended and can make it tough for backs/tight ends to separate initially when trying to release into their routes.

Impression: He’s a natural leader, plays with a passion for the game and can win in both the run and pass game. His size is the one negative to his game, but reminds me some of Brian Rolle, the linebacker from Ohio State last season, and if given an opportunity in a Cover 2-type scheme, the guy has a chance to play early and eventually start.

CB Casey Hayward: No. 19 (6-
0, 185)

Possesses good height and a thin build, but has the frame to add additional girth without losing much athleticism. Displays a natural feel for the pass game in zone coverage. Keeps his head on a swivel, feels routes develop around him and displays the fluidity in his hips to quickly open up and make a play on the football. Is at his best in off coverage where he can sit in routes, read and react, and can simply undercut throws. Displays some natural click and close ability when driving on passes in front of him. However, gets too upright in his drop, doesn’t consistently keep his base under him and waste too much motion out of his breaks. Not as clean as he could be driving on the football. Picked off 6 passes last year and recorded 17 passes defended. But displays only slightly above-average ball skills. Will leave some picks on the field and I don’t think his ball skills are quite as good as his stats make them out to be. Needs to do a better job catching the football more consistently.

Not real comfortable in man coverage at this stage however. Lacks great straight-line speed and doesn’t seem to trust himself on an island. When he plays closer to the line likes to prematurely open up his hips in order to keep receivers from quickly getting behind him, will give up routine separation underneath. Gets upright when asked to turn and run, doesn’t possess the type of second gear to quickly get back up to speed and can easily be taken advantage of by vertical speed. Gets leggy out of his breaks as well trying to re-direct because of his high pad level.

He does locate the football well in all areas of the game, possess good balance when asked to adjust to the throw and possesses the coordination to make a play at the highest point. But, is only an average drag down tackler, takes good angles toward the football, gives an honest effort, but lacks much pop into contact.

Impression: A smart, productive corner who can make plays on the football. Doesn’t have quite the ball skills his stats would leave you to believe and I don’t think he’s a guy who can consistently hold up in man on the outside in the NFL. Looks more like a potential starter in a zone scheme where he doesn’t have the consistently turn and run.

SS Sean Richardson: No. 21 (6-2, 215)
A tall, physical safety prospect who plays hard, likes to tackle and displays some natural thump on contact. Is at his best when asked to attack downhill. Runs the alley well, for the most part takes good angles in pursuit and uses his length to wrap on contact. Also inside the box he does a nice job defeating blocks through contact and working his way toward the football. Generates some thump on contact, keeps his pad level down and has a nose for the football. Possesses good enough range in pursuit. More of a straight-line athlete, but once he gets up to speed can track the ball carrier with some success. However, struggles to break down in space, is tight in the hips and can be exposed at times as a last-line defender.

Plays upright in coverage, isn’t real fluid when asked to redirect and struggles to generate a burst clicking and closing on the throw. Takes far too long to change directions and drive on passes. Isn’t a guy who can hold up in space at the next level on a consistent basis in man or zone. The more space he’s in the worse chance he has. Takes good angles when driving on throws downhill in the pass game. Will lay the wood and can disengage ball from man, but doesn’t have the ability to consistently put himself in position to make plays on the football itself. However, does possess some savvy as a blitzer, is comfortable near the line, times up the snap count well and uses his length the slip blocks and keep himself clean toward the corner.

Impression: Is always around the football, plays fast vs. the run game and will stick as a tackler. Isn’t a guy who will hold up in space at the next level, but as a core special teams guy and thumper in some big nickel packages I think he has a chance to make a roster.

Follow me on twitter: @WesBunting

Rex Hadnot hoping to be in starting mix with Cardinals

Rex Hadnot figures to be in line to reclaim a starting job now that Alan Faneca has moved on.

The veteran signed with the Arizona Cardinals last year but when Faneca came on board he was releated to backup duty. Things could be changing now with the Cardinals in need of a starting left guard and Hadnot has 77 career starts.

I just want to do my best to put myself in a position where I can be one of the first five out,” Hadnot told Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic.

Hadnot has been working out at the player-run practices the Cardinals have been holding. At 29, he knows he’s got a chance to re-assert himself. It certainly looked like he’d be in a position to start a year ago when the Cardinals signed him.

“Me being a guy who came in last year, I'm continuing to bond with my new teammates,” Hadnot said. “It's given us all a chance to work together as a team and when you see guys putting the work in, it should give you a better appreciation of what each and every man goes through on a consistent basis to try and prepare themselves for an NFL season. I'm excited about what we're doing under the circumstances.”

He’ll be more excited if he’s in a position to be in the starting five.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Chester Pitts finds Kurt Warner's remarks 'disingenuous'

Kurt Warner’s comments to USA Today last week raised some eyebrows around the league as the former star quarterback essentially saddled up with ownership in the ongoing labor battle.

Warner remains popular with those he played with and against in the league, so there hasn’t been real backlash against him.

But Chester Pitts, the veteran offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, has responded. He wasn’t real thrilled when he spoke with CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman.

There were a lot of players I spoke to who were stunned by what he said,” Pitts told Freeman. “I was disappointed. Disappointed is a good word, but disheartening is a better word.

“hat makes this country great is everyone is entitled to their opinion. Not all the players are in lockstep. We have disagreements, but it's disingenuous for Kurt to say those things now that he's retired and wealthy. Not every player is wealthy, and certainly not every retired player has a lot of money.”

Warner pointed out that when it comes to players missing pay checks, that’s when it’s going to get tight. He makes a good point. Many wonder if the players can remain unified if that comes to pass. Players aren’t going broke now. No one is missing out on pay. Fast-forward to mid-September and players will be missing checks.

“Most players are approaching this fight with the long term in mind,” Pitts said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. Most players feel this way. They're in this for the long fight. As long as it takes.

“There's this perception that the players should capitulate now. We're not suddenly going to start begging the owners. We understand what's at stake just like the owners do. Some of the owners underestimate us.”

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Report: Tressel resigns

There will be plenty to talk about over beer, brats and burgers at every barbecue across the state of Ohio on Monday afternoon following the report by The Columbus Dispatch that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel has resigned.

Despite university president E. Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith throwing their support behind their coach at a March 8 news conference after Tressel admitted having knowledge of Buckeye players selling memorabilia to tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife, the administration reportedly felt that encouraging their successful head coach to resign was the only option as the program faces an NCAA disciplinary hearing and possible new findings as the investigation continues.

Jim TresselICONJim Tressel is out at Ohio State following a record of 106-22.

According to The Dispatch, assistant coach Luke Fickell will serve as the interim head coach of the Buckeyes for the 2011 season. He had been named interim coach for the first five games of the season with Tressel slated to serve his suspension for withholding information regarding the Buckeye Five. Tressel was initially suspended just two games and fined $250,000 but later asked that his suspension be increased to five games to match the penalty his players received.

A search for a permanent head coach won't begin until after the season.

The newspaper obtained a memo Gee sent out to university trustees on Monday morning. Here is the release:

“I write to let you know that later this morning we will be announcing the resignation of Jim Tressel as head coach of the University's football program. As you all know, I appointed a special committee to analyze and provide advice to me regarding issues attendant to our football program. In consultation with the senior leadership of the University and the senior leadership of the Board, I have been actively reviewing the matter and have accepted Coach Tressel's resignation.

“My public statement will include our common understanding that throughout all we do, we are One University with one set of standards and one overarching mission. The University's enduring public purposes and its tradition of excellence continue to guide our actions.”

Tressel, who came to Columbus from Division I-AA Youngtown State, had his contract renewed last spring through 2014 and was earning roughly $3.7 million per season in salary and other incentives. At the news conference in March he stated that resigning never crossed his mind in light of the NCAA violations. However, it was becoming more and more evident that no coach — no matter how successful — could survive after being tangled up in violations to this degree.

The Vest departs after leading the school to a national title in 2002, a dominant run in Big Ten play which featured seven league championships and a 9-1 mark against arch-rival Michigan. He finishes his Ohio State career with a record of 106-22, including a 66-14 mark in the Big Ten, and a winning percentage of .828 — higher than the great Woody Hayes (.761).

Before his resignation, Tressel led the Buckeyes through spring practice and was slated to meet with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in August to discuss the alleged violations committed.

Of course, speculation will run rampant about who may be a fit for the Buckeyes as head coach in 2012.

Former Florida head coach Urban Meyer will likely be the first name on the wish list, followed by Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and TCU's Gary Patterson. Nebraska's Bo Pelini makes a lot of sense, as well, because he played safety at Ohio State after being raised in Youngstown. Despite having a good job at Nebraska, it'd be hard to pass up a gig at the alma mater. And if there's a coaching vacancy anywhere, Jon Gruden's name will always be in the conversation.

But how appealing will the job be at Ohio State in 2012? Tressel's resignation certainly could help the program escape major penalties, but what if the NCAA looks at the school as a repeat offender, taking into account issues with former quarterback Troy Smith, former running back Maurice Clarett and even former basketball coach Jim O'Brien? Will the school's action on Tressel today be enough for the NCAA to apply lighter sanctions?

Or will the NCAA come down hard on the program, making the head-coaching vacancy less than ideal for big-name candidates?

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave