Falcons GM says lines need to get better, tougher

The Atlanta Falcons have identified where they need to improve: in the trenches.

The Falcons have fired both line coaches and owner Arthur Blank said the team needs to get tougher along the offensive and defensive lines.

“There is no mystery here,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We know that need to continue to build along our fronts. We need to continue to focus on getting more gritty and more rugged in certain areas. That’s going to be important for us coming into the season as 2014 Falcons to make sure that we all know that this is a warrior game. We have to come to the line of scrimmage with that mentality.

“Mike Smith is a heck of a football coach and we’ve added two tough football coaches along both offensive and defensive lines. Now, we need to continue to look at personnel that is going to fit into our system.”

Dimitroff said the team needs more tough players to go with the players it already has on the roster.

“I believe that we have some tough guys on this team,” Dimitroff said. “I believe that we have some guys, who have a lot of perseverance. There were a number of things that played into our 4-12 season. Along with that, we as an organization realize that we need to ramp up our ruggedness, not only the field, but off the field as well as far as in the locker room and continuing to add players who are already, in my mind, a tough element of roster and they will hold each other accountable. That’s very important.”

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Recognizing the Champions

by Bryan Matthews

AUBURN, Ala. — Flags representing Auburn’s National Championships in 1957 and 2010 have flown over Jordan-Hare Stadium for the past three seasons.

Auburn came up just seconds short of winning the 2013 BCS National Championship, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be new National Championship banners raised for the Tigers’ home-opener against Arkansas Aug. 30.

Auburn athletic officials are considering recognizing as many as seven more national championship teams.

“If other schools are using these same polls to declare a national championship, we should at least consider it,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. “I don’t think there’s a better time for the Auburn family to consider it than right here at the end of the BCS era.

“As we transition into another playoff format for the national champion, I just think we need to look hard at it.”

The 1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams are all under consideration. Each finished undefeated or won the conference championship, or both. All were recognized as national champions by at least one national selector, which are used by other schools to recognize National Championships.

The facts are laid out quite thoroughly by Michael Skotnicki in his book, Auburn’s Unclaimed National Championships, which was published in 2012.

“Texas A&M decided upon entering the SEC that they would add the 1919 and 1927 titles,” Skotnicki said. “Minnesota added the 1904 title last summer. USC added the 1939 title in 2004. Ole Miss claims three national titles and not one is AP, Coaches’ Poll or BCS.

“Why should Auburn be any different? In this day and age, why should Auburn be so stuffy about it?”

For Jacobs, the teams with the strongest cases are 1913, 1983 and 1993. He was a starting offensive linemen for the 1983 team, that finished 11-1 including a Sugar Bowl win over Michigan.

“Those three teams are listed in the NCAA record book as champions. It’s hard to dispute the NCAA record book,” Jacobs said. “The former players that have been on those teams, they all support it as I do from playing in ’83.”

Jacobs also feels strongly about the 2004 team, which finished 13-0 but was denied a chance to play in the BCS Championship game after both USC and Oklahoma finished undefeated.

USC won the game handily, but was stripped of the title after being hit with NCAA sanctions.

“The 2004 team are national champions,” Jacobs said. “I just find it hard for us to not recognize teams in the same manner that sister institutions have given the same criteria.”

“There is no national champion in 2004, and I think there should be,” said Skotnicki, who holds two degrees from Auburn and is currently a practicing lawyer in Birmingham.

Texas A&M used retroactive rankings by the National Championship Foundation, Billingsley Report and Sagarin to officially recognize the 1919 and 1927 national titles two years ago. In 2012, Minnesota used Billingsley to recognize the 1904 national title.

USC used the Dickinson system to recognize its 1939 title. Ole Miss cites Berryman, Dunkel and Sagarin for its 1959 title, five selectors including Billingsley for 1960, and Litkenhous for 1962.

Alabama also cites different selectors for many of its national championships before 1961 including Football Annual, Billingsley and Helms in 1925, Helms in 1926, the Davis Poll in 1930, Dunkel, Williamson and Football Thesaurus in 1934, and Houlgate in 1941. The 1941 Alabama team finished 9-2 overall, 3rd in SEC and 20th in AP poll.

To this point, Auburn only recognizes the AP national championship in 1957 and the consensus national championship in 2010.

“We’re so competitive. We compare ourselves to other schools,” Jacobs said. “If they’re counting something that we’re not counting, and we’re on equal footing, wouldn’t it be wise to count it.

“I think it’s something we need to consider right now. It’s been talked about here and there, but lets get it out there now and look at it and see what we should do.”

Jacobs and athletic department officials have already taken steps in researching and evaluating each team. Skotnicki met with Auburn officials last summer, and Jacobs said the athletic department’s Recognitions Committee is looking into it.

“We don’t have a timeline,” Jacobs said. “It won’t be an athletic director decision, it will be an Auburn decision. It will be an Auburn family decision. I want to hear from the Auburn people.”

Since publishing his book, Skotnicki has had positive feedback from a lot of Auburn people including a descendent of Legare Hairston, who was the starting quarterback of the 1914 team.

Hairston’s grandson attended one of Skotnicki’s book signings.

“His grandfather would tell him stories of how he scored the winning touchdown in the game against the Carlisle Indians,” Skotnicki said. “It means something to those people. The book meant a lot to him to see his grandfather get recognition as the quarterback on a national championship team, and I think they deserve that.

“I think they should finally get the rings and the recognition they’ve earned.”

Jacobs said he’s very appreciative of the work Skotnicki did writing his book and making a very compelling case for Auburn’s unclaimed national championships.

“It’s right there, nothing but facts. It’s awful hard to argue against facts,” Jacobs said.

Here’s a quick summary of the seven Auburn teams being considered as National Champions…

1910: Finished 6-1 and SIAA co-champions. Outscored opponents 176-9. Recognized national champion by Maxwell Ratings and Kyle Matschke. Coached by Mike Donahue.

1913: Finished 8-0 and SIAA champions. Outscored opponents 203-13. Recognized national champion by six selectors including Billingsley Report, Howell’s Power Ratings, Hatch Mathematical Rankings and Kyle Matschke. Recognized by the NCAA. Coached by Mike Donahue.

1914: Finished 8-0-1 and SIAA champions. Outscored opponents 193-0. Recognized national champion by Howell. Coached by Mike Donahue.

1958: Finished 9-0-1. Outscored opponents 173-62. Recognized national champion by Montgomery Full Season Championship. Coached by Shug Jordan.

1983: Finished 11-1 and SEC Champions. Outscored opponents 311-186 against the fifth-toughest schedule in college football history. Recognized national champion by 10 selectors including N.Y. Times, Billingsley, Massey, Howell and Hatch. Recognized by the NCAA. Coached by Pat Dye.

1993: Finished 11-0. Outscored opponents 353-192. Recognized national champion by four selectors including National Championship Foundation. Recognized by the NCAA. Coached by Terry Bowden.

2004: Finished 13-0 and SEC Champions. Outscored opponents 417-147. Recognized national champion by Darryl Perry and GBE College Football Ratings. Coached by Tommy Tuberville.

This article originally appeared on http://auburn.247sports.com
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Rams owner Stan Kroenke buys 60 acres by Hollywood Park

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has bought a 60-acre parking lot between Hollywood Park and the Los Angeles Forum, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This will only lead to more talk about whether the Rams are returning to Los Angeles, which has been without a team since the Raiders left town.

Per the report, it's enough land for an NFL stadium.

The Rams' lease at the Edward Jones Dome expires following the 2014 season.

Kroenke has a lot of real estate in California.

Hollywood Park is no longer conducting horse races.

The area is expected to be redeveloped and is extremely valuable real estate.

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

NFL Prospect Focus: C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jace Amaro

To date I haven’t written that many tight ends, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about two totally different types of players at the position. Iowa’s Fiedorowicz is your old fashioned throw back “Y” tight end while Texas Tech’s Amaro is among the new breed of athletic tight ends that we are seeing more and more of.

C.J. Fiedorowicz – Tight End – Iowa

Fiedorowicz is a fourth year senior and a two-and-a-half year starter at Iowa. His most productive year as a receiver came in 2012 when he caught 45 passes for 433 yards. This year he had 30 receptions fo 299 yards and six TDs.

C.J. has great size for the position. At the Senior Bowl he measured 6055 – 262 with huge hands (10 5/8). He is a well built kid with good muscular development. As an athlete, C.J. shows good overall athleticism and body control to go along with better than adequate speed for the position. I estimate that he will run around 4.70 at the Combine.

Iowa plays form mostly a pro set with some spread thrown in. They use two tight ends, often, in their scheme. Most of the time, C.J. is lined up in tight as a “Y”, but he does flex out also. As a blocker, he comes off the ball quickly and can stay low. He makes good initial contact and can keep his feet moving to finish. He has the strength and power to turn and seal his opponent and can also gain some movement. He shows he can play with bend but will get tall on occasion. He does a good job with his hands and keeps them inside.
As a receiver, he is used mostly on short routes. He has a good release and can get in and out of a cut with good quickness. He knows his to use his size to shield a defender and has a good receiving radius. With his huge hands, he catches the ball easily and can extend to make the difficult catch. On seam routes, he shows he can get some separation, but I don’t see him as a top deep receiving threat. After the catch, he is a strong runner who can break tackles and get yards after contact.

I see Fiedorowicz as being a “Y” tight end in the NFL. His blocking is good enough to help the run game. He is not going to be the big play tight end that we now are seeing in the league, but he is the kind of player that every team needs and are becoming harder to find. With his size and blocking skills, he is going to play early in his career and probably start as a rookie. Because “blocking” tight ends are becoming harder to find, he has high value and should go somewhere in the second round. If he runs better than I expect, that will only push up his stock.

Jace Amaro – Tight End – Texas Tech

If Webster’s had a definition for “tight end”, Amaro would not fit the description. The way he is used at Texas Tech fits the definition of a slot receiver more than a tight end. In all the tape I looked at, I only saw Amaro lined up “tight” a few times. On most plays, he is the inside slot receiver.

Amaro is listed as being 6050 – 260. If he really is 260, he holds his weight very well. I would guess he is closer to 250. Still, he is very athletic for a big guy and has excellent speed and body control. I would estimate his speed at 4.58 – 4.60. He is quick off the line and is a very good route runner. He can break down and get in and out of cuts very quickly for a big guy. On the shorter one-cut routes, he consistently gains separation. He has the play speed to get open on post and flag routes versus defensive backs. He has very good hands and can adjust to the ball. He is a competitive and tough kid who consistently competes for the ball in traffic. After the catch, he has a quick burst to pull away and has the quick feet and moves to make a defender miss. He uses his size well and can easily break tackles. Jace was Texas Tech’s number one receiver in 2013. He caught 106 passes for 1352 yards and seven TDs. He is an instant mismatch because of his size and athleticism.

As a blocker, he looks like a big wide receiver blocking. He can use his hands and can stay with a block but he is not overly physical. Most of his blocks are in the open field. There were a few plays in short yardage where he lined up tight and showed he can come off the ball and explode into a defender but you don’t see enough of these plays to really be able to grade his in line blocking skills.

Amaro is the type of “tight end” that most NFL teams are now looking for. He has the speed and athleticism to play split out and can really be called a jumbo wide receiver. I see him easily getting drafted in the first round and I expect him to contribute very early in his rookie year.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

Browns hiring Loggains as quarterbacks coach

The Cleveland Browns are hiring former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains as their quarterbacks coach, according to multiple reports.

He was interviewed for the offensive coordinator as well as former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahanan.

Loggains, 33, coached the Titans quarterbacks for three seasons.

Oakland Raiders quarterbacks John DeFilippo is also on the Browns' list of interviews for the offensive coordinator vacancy.

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Minor knee procedure for E.J. Manuel

E.J. Manuel played the majority of his rookie season with a lingering knee injury.

According to the Buffalo News, Manuel has taken steps to fix that for 2014. Manuel underwent a minor knee procedure to help fix the ailing problems.

Manuel has started rehabbing the knee post-surgery, as well.

Due to the knee issue, Manuel sat out six games. He finished his rookie campaign with 1,972 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Wes Welker has no plans to retire

Wes Welker has had an exceptional career after he wasn't expected to.

And it seems he has no plans of stopping any time soon. Even though he's 32 years old, Welker believes he still has some seasons left in his tank.

While ending his career with a Super Bowl win would be ideal, he said he's enjoying the game too much to quit, regardless of what happens in Sunday's game.

“Of course it would be a good way to end it, but I am still having fun,” Welker told reporters covering the Super Bowl. “I am still enjoying the game. I feel good, and as long as I am out there having fun, I will continue to play.”

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Jones ready to bring in a loaded class at Tennessee

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Tennessee fans that have recently become accustomed to being home for the holidays can take solace in the stellar recruiting job being done by second-year Vols head coach Butch Jones and his staff.

Despite a 5-7 campaign in 2013, Jones recorded a signature win over South Carolina, was able to get his players to buy into the type of program he wants to run and continued to put together what is shaping up to be one of the best 2014 classes in the country.

Butch JonesButch Jones is putting together a great crop of talent in the 2014 class.

When National Signing Day arrives next Wednesday, the Vols are positioned to bring in a class that will rank in the Top 10 nationally — and likely closer to Top 5 depending on the scouting service.

The class features a nice blend of offensive and defensive talent, led by the in-state duo of running back Jalen Hurd and safety Todd Kelly, Jr., who pledged to the Vols last March. The 6-4, 222-pound Hurd, who had also strongly pondered heading to Ohio State and Florida before deciding to go to Rocky Top, broke the state of Tennessee's single-season record for rushing yards in 2012. Both Hurd and Kelly are two of the best nationally at their positions.

Those standout commitments helped put Jones and the Vols on the map even before a lot of other programs were starting spring practice last year. And the momentum continued to build.

Joining Hurd on the offensive side of the ball are LaVon Pearson, one of the top JUCO receivers in the entire country, as well as Josh Malone, a fellow receiver who is one of the better players at the position in this class. Malone was being sought by Florida State, Clemson and Georgia. Athlete Vic Wharton III has a chance to step in and contribute at receiver, but his biggest assets are his speed and return ability. If he doesn't pan out on offense, he could develop into a nice safety as well as a very dangerous special teams ace.

Defensively, the Vols have an impressive haul as well in addition to Kelly. Fellow safety Cortez McDowell is a well-rounded DB who will be joined by cornerback D'Andre Payne. Payne isn't the biggest defender, but he could develop into a shutdown corner because of his instincts and athleticism. Florida linebacker Dillon Bates, meanwhile, is a legacy commit. His hard-hitting father, Bill, played for Tennessee in the '80s. He'll be joined by run-stuffing inside linebacker Gavin Bryant from Alabama. And Joe Henderson, who had offers from Michigan State and Ole Miss before choosing the Vols, is a weakside defensive end from Ohio who could move to outside linebacker. He is raw and needs to add weight, but there's a chance he could emerge as a situational pass rusher early in his career.

One player who remains a bit under the radar is Orlando Brown Jr., who is the son of another former NFL player. The 6-8, 348-pound offensive tackle is considered a very raw prospect with a very high ceiling. The Georgia product had scholarship offers from BCS-level schools such as Alabama, Florida State, Michigan and USC. “Baby Zeus” is a very intriguing talent but has struggled to keep his weight down, which has led to questions of whether his footwork and quickness would be good enough at the SEC level. The projected right tackle once weighed 450 pounds in eighth grade. But the son of the late NFL O-Lineman by the same name has coaches drooling over the potential that he possesses. His work ethic, however, will be scrutinized until he gets his body into top shape for the rigors of the SEC.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this current class, besides the immense talent and depth, is that Jones has shown that he can get prospects that are scattered across the country. He currently has commitments from Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio. He also was expected to have as many as 14 early enrollees in this class.

But the work is not yet done.

Jones would love to close strong and further strengthen the class in the final days before NSD. But even if the Vols fall short in that pursuit, the future is extremely bright in Knoxville as Jones enters his second season with the program. Throughout his career he has proven to be a very good head coach. Now he is showing that he can recruit with the big boys on the main stage as well.

Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.

Colin Kaepernick fires back at Richard Sherman

For the first time since the NFC Championship game, 49ers Colin Kaepernick went on the record about Richard Sherman's post-game rant and actions that took place on the football field.

Speaking to the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch, whotweeted Kapernick's comments out, Kaepernick was unhappy about it to say the least.

First there's this: “Did that make you feel better about yourself? Then go ahead. Because I’m not worried about you.”

Then this: “His comments were ridiculous. If you have to tell people how good you are, then how good are you really?”

And here's another: “He's afraid of our receivers, and that's something I'm looking forward to [exploiting] next year.”

And finally: “If I throw that ball one foot farther, it's a TD and now you're the goat, Richard Sherman.”

But the problem is Kaepernick didn't throw that ball one foor farther. As a result, Sherman got his hand on the ball and Seattle won the game.

But moments like this make the NFL great. Seattle and San Francisco are emerging as one of the league's better rivalries and it could be something to keep an eye on for years to come.

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Jahvid Best suing NFL, helmet manufacturer

Former Lions running back Jahvid Best is suing the NFL, Riddell and Easton-Bell Sports in relation to concussions he sustained in his playing days, according to a report from ESPN.com.

Best had a promising career that was cut short due to multiple concussions throughout his NFL career. He also had a major concussion during his final season in college at California.

“The purpose behind the lawsuit, there's a number of requests of release in the lawsuit,” Best's attorney Bret Schnitzer said, via the ESPN article. “One of them is to set up a medical fund for Mr. Best in order to deal with future medical conditions out of this concussion syndrome.”

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.