Monthly Archives: May 2016

NFL-National Football League roundup (Reuters)

Second-round pick Kevin Dodd underwent surgery Thursday to repair a broken left foot and could miss the rest of the offseason with the Tennessee Titans. – – Running back Ameer Abdullah will not participate in Detroit’s offseason workouts because of shoulder surgery in January to repair a torn labrum. According to multiple reports, the Lions expect Abdullah to return for training camp.

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Lions learning to live without retired WR Calvin Johnson (The Associated Press)

Matthew Stafford dropped back and sailed a spiral through the air, over his intended target and onto the ground. The Detroit Lions gave their first glimpse of what life is like on the field without Calvin Johnson on Thursday, when the media had access to an offseason training activity for the first time this year. ”You can’t be fooled by what you see out here in shorts,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said.

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Former NFL rusher Best will take a run at Rio (AFP)

Former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best, whose NFL career was cut short by concussions, is trying to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics as a sprinter for St. Lucia. Best was a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and played two seasons for the Lions, who snapped a 10-year run of losing seasons in 2011, his final season. Best, 27, ran for 945 yards and six touchdowns over 22 games, but mutiple concussions in 2011 ended his career.

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Former Lions RB Jahvid Best trying to make St. Lucia Olympic team (Shutdown Corner)

Running back Jahvid Best hasn’t been on an NFL roster since 2012, after spending three seasons with the Detroit Lions. But now he’s in training for a different pursuit. A first-round draft pick in 2010, Best’s football career was derailed by concussions; he suffered four in three years, including two in his final year at Cal and two during the 2011 season. He hasn’t played a snap since Week 6 of that season, against the San Francisco 49ers, when he had 110 yards from scrimmage but also suffered another concussion. Now 27, Best was a California state champion in the 100 meters at Salesian High School, and finished second in the 200 meters in an impressive 20.65 seconds. He’s been in training full-time since Jan. 2015, and works out of ALTIS in Phoenix, an elite facility for track and field athletes. Best is likely a longshot to make the U.S. team, but Best’s father David is from St. Lucia, the small island nation in the Caribbean. Best isn’t a citizen of the country yet, and has visited twice, most recently in 2012, but seems determined to represent the nation of his father’s birth. “I just want to bring pride to Saint Lucia , to the Olympic team, to the sport of athletics. I want to carry the flag around the track and make my family and country proud. I will be seeking a place on the team, representing my country would mean a lot to me, and to my family.” But citizenship isn’t Best’s only challenge. He also has to run the Olympic qualifying minimum standard of 10.16 seconds in the 100, which he did last month at the Arnie Robinson Invitational in California, a personal-best time for him; he also must run in a meet on the island. The national championships are June 25-26. Though so far he’s only visited twice, Best told the St. Lucia News he is proud of his roots; he has a tattoo of the island on his left arm, and has heard many stories of his father and aunts and uncles (his father is one of seven children) growing up in the town of La Clery, the men playing cricket and soccer. While his 10.16 last month is a quite respectable on the world stage, if he gets to go to the Olympics, Best will have to continue to lower his time to advance through the competition. He knows what’s necessary, and the work that has to be done. “I never look too far into the future. So as far as sub-10 talk or expectations I can’t say. I’m just focused on getting better every single day,” Best said. “I’m a hard worker and I know there’s room for improvement. How much room is to be determined, but whatever room there is I will find it.”

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Barry Sanders’ long-forgotten final game a precursor to retirement (Shutdown Corner)

The story of Barry Sanders faxing a retirement letter to his hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagles, is as strange and infamous now as it was when it happened back in the summer of 1999. But the decision to retire, Sanders later would admit, likely was all but decided prior to his final game in the NFL. A game that few fans likely remember and one that Sanders probably would love to forget. Sanders was on the verge of history entering Week 17 of the 1998 season, his 10th in the NFL. In the short term, he was 50 rush yards short of another 1,500-yard season, which would have been his fifth in a row (Sanders still holds the record now with four straight) and the sixth total of his career. And in the bigger picture, he stood less than 1,500 yards total away from surpassing Walter Payton for the all-time hallowed mark. But as Sanders explained in “Barry Sanders: A Football Life,” he had lost the “drive, determination and enjoyment” of football and entered that cool, gray day in Baltimore, he thought, with nothing more to give to the game. “Over the next few years it looked like we would probably be rebuilding and we had gotten rid of some good players,” Sanders said. “I just felt like it was time to make a change. “I knew going into [the final game of 1998 season] that was pretty much it, so I remember after the game I just broke down. I didn’t really say what was going on. I was glad to get out of there.” No one else likely knew it would be Sanders’ final NFL game two days after Christmas 1998. Heading into the first ever meeting of the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens (at their newly built stadium, then known as Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards until the naming rights were sold the following year) the narrative at the time was clear and far different — this almost certainly was the final game of head coach Ted Marchibroda’s Ravens career. The only coach the relocated franchise had known in its three years of existence, Marchibroda was a Baltimore Colts legend, coaching that team in the late 1970s to some glory years, and later coordinating an explosive Buffalo Bills offense and coaching the Indianapolis Colts to within an eyelash of the Super Bowl. He’d had a mostly terrific NFL coaching career. But Marchibroda, then 67, had gone 15-31-1 to that point over his first three seasons with the Ravens and after the bye that season had lost 10 of 13 games after a 2-2 start. Late in the year, the team’s executives started to meet in clandestine fashion outside the facility to start the process of finding his successor. Marchibroda might have been aging, but he was not unaware of what was going down prior to that final game. “Ted probably knew,” Ravens executive David Modell told Shutdown Corner. “He knew what was going on, saw it unfolding. The signs were there.” Both the Ravens and Lions were 5-10 entering the game. Attendance actually was fairly strong that day — the announced total of 68,045 was the lowest home total for the Ravens that year, but it was only a few hundred fans fewer than the season average. Football was still new and novel again in Baltimore, although fans’ patience was growing a bit thin with this new franchise’s lack of success over its first three seasons. But even amid that disappointment — and just as Sanders’ light was secretly dimming — a fire was quietly kindling with the Ravens. Although the Marvin Lewis-coordinated defense had turned in mostly middling results in 1998, there were small signs that something special might be brewing on that side of the ball. Even with some disappointing efforts, such as allowing Chicago Bears running back James Allen to gash them in Week 16 for 163 rushing yards, which was by far the most he’d ever rush for in an NFL game, there were building blocks in place. Linebacker Ray Lewis was a burgeoning star. Pass rusher Peter Boulware was developing nicely. Team leader Rod Woodson helped glue together an emerging secondary. A strong front was led by Tony Siragusa, Rob Burnett and Mike McCrary, plus good depth. The pieces were coming together, slowly but surely. Eight of the defensive starters against Sanders’ Lions and six more defensive reserves on the Week 17 roster in 1998 also would be on the field two years later when one of the best defenses of the past several generations would dissect the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Bennie Thompson, a reserve defensive back on that 1998 team, would play one final NFL season thereafter before becoming a coach on the 2000 title team. He felt like things were starting to come together and that shutting down Sanders was the start of something special, even with a coaching change certainly afoot. “I knew that would give us the confidence we needed heading into the [1999] season,” Thompson said. “We owned Barry that day. That was big.” Sanders gained 8 yards on his first two carries of the game against the Ravens but then had those yards wiped out and more, taken down for losses on each of his next four carries. Lions tackle Ray Roberts was called for holding against Boulware in the Lions’ own end zone on their second possession, giving the Ravens a safety and an early 2-0 lead. On their third possession the Lions again were pinned back — this time at their own 4-yard line. That’s when a little-known defensive lineman stepped up and had the game of his life to that point. “I remember we loaded up the box. Barry had a tough time getting going,” said Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, then a defensive coach on that Ravens staff. “A player named Lional Dalton, an undrafted free agent who ended up becoming a key player on that Ravens Super Bowl team a few years later, played a really big game that day. We had a lot of injuries heading into the game and he had barely played before that. He stepped up and made some big plays inside.” Dalton ripped into the backfield, hit Sanders at the 1-yard line and knocked the ball free, which Siragusa fell on. Jim Harbaugh was the Ravens’ quarterback that day, and after he had missed a series with injury, he came back into the game and handed the ball to Priest Holmes, the second-year back who was quietly putting together a nice little season, for the touchdown and a 9-0 Ravens lead. Another series, another poor result for the Lions. Sanders ripped off a 9-yard gain, but two penalties and a poor pass from Lions quarterback Frank Reich to Sanders meant another punt. Sanders was dropped for a 3-yard loss on the Lions’ fourth possession, and they had to kick it away again. Harbaugh and Holmes went back to work, and the Ravens drove 97 yards — bailed out by a bad defensive holding penalty against the lions — and made it 16-0. As halftime approached, the game was almost over at that point. The Lions quickly realized that they needed points and that Sanders was being ganged up upon, suffering yet another loss (a run for minus-6) before they went into a hurry-up passing attack that netted a field goal before the half. But this was Barry David Sanders, the most electric back of his time — or any other time, for that matter. He wasn’t going to he held down all game, especially if he knew down deep that this was it. So on the Lions’ second possession of the second half, he tore free and was pushed out of bounds after a 31-yard sidewinder of a run that had them in business at the Baltimore 25. Little did we know it at the time, however, that it would be the last vintage run of his brilliant career. “I remember that one,” Schwartz said. “It was grass, and you think of Barry as a turf guy, but he made a cut on that one that looked like he was on a basketball court. He still had it, despite the appearance [he had lost it] that day. He might have been frustrated, but he could still go.” From there on, the Ravens put the clamps down once more. Sanders’ 6-yard run got the Lions inside the red zone, but Lewis stopped him short of a first down on 3rd and 2. And inexplicably, the Lions tried a fullback dive on 4th and 1 — in lieu of giving it to Sanders — and Tommy Vardell was stuffed. “We just held [Sanders] down that day,” Burnett said. “Time and time again. We tried to hit him in the backfield because we felt we had gotten to him a bit when we hit him before he had a chance to get going.” The Lions would get the ball back three more times. After a 9-yard run near the end of the third quarter, Sanders sat at 1,499 rushing yards on the season, as close to the mark without hitting it. But his final three NFL rushing attempts went for negative yards: minus-2, minus-5 and minus-1. His final handoff came with just over 11 minutes left in the game. He’d never touch the ball again in an NFL contest. The Ravens, led by Holmes’ 132 rushing yards to become the first Raven to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, ran out the clock and would win, 19-10. Sanders’ final line: 19 carries (an incredible nine of which went for negative yards, plus three more for 0 or 1 yards) for 41 yards and one fumble. “I think the emotion that’s most prevalent is disappointment,” Sanders said after the game, via the New York Times . “Really, it’s almost regret — like you wasted a whole year of football.” Elsewhere in the NFL, Terrell Davis ran for 178 yards, bringing his season total past 2,000 — only the fourth man to achieve that in league history, with Sanders being the third to do so the season before. But on that day, a page quietly turned on Sanders’ career without Davis or anyone else aware. The effort of shutting down Sanders was not enough to save Marchibroda’s job. He respectfully deflected all the postgame questions about his future but didn’t hide the fact he knew even shutting down a back such as Sanders in a meaningless Week 17 was not going to be enough to save him. Marchibroda never again would coach in the NFL. “ I can leave here and I can walk the streets of Baltimore with my head held up high,” Marchibroda said after the game. But the bigger story, which came to light the following July, was that Sanders was walking away from the game after 10 incredible seasons. Doing so right before the Lions were set to report to camp, with Payton’s record in sight, made it all the more unbelievable to the team’s long-suffering fans. As he explained in a “Football Life,” the record seemed to mean more to others than it did to Sanders. “I understood full well who Walter Payton was, what he accomplished. Not just Walter Payton [but] with all the guys that had tried to do what Walter did,” Sanders said. “The record for me wasn’t important enough to force myself to stay around to try to get the record.” Four seasons later in 2002, Emmitt Smith would break the record many thought Sanders would. Sanders would never admit to second-guessing his decision to walk away from the game two weeks after his 31st birthday. And few would remember the game as such, but holding Sanders in check kicked off a streak of the Ravens not allowing a single 100-yard rusher that would last 46 consecutive games. That streak would last through the 2000 championship season to 2001 and would register as the third-longest such streak in NFL history behind the Buddy Ryan-led Philadelphia Eagles of the early 1990s (53 games) and by the Fearsome Foursome-fueled Los Angeles Rams of the mid-1960s (51 games). It was a strangely important day in NFL history. Two legends, one past his prime and one with gas left in the tank, left the game. And the first seeds for one of the most dominant defenses of his era were planted that day. But it’s one that’s often left on the sidelines of league lore. – – – – – – – Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

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