Monthly Archives: April 2012

Tyrone Crawford on joining America’s Team

#40 Tyrone Crawford vs Air Force_#1
NEW YORK — America’s Team has added a Canadian.

On Friday night at the NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Windsor, Ont., native Tyrone Crawford in the third round, with the 81st overall selection.

The pick was announced shortly after 10 p.m. EDT here at Radio City Music Hall.

Crawford was a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end at Boise State University.

“When I got the call I was surprised,” Crawford told me by phone late Friday from his mom’s home in Windsor.

“Dallas is a great destination. Obviously they’ve got great coaches and a great defence, and I can’t wait to play for them.”

A 6-foot-4, 282-pounder, the supremely athletic Crawford rose up draft charts following a strong performance in January at a post-season college all-star game, the East-West Shrine Game.

He played two seasons at Boise State, following two at Bakersfield Junior College in California.

Crawford said it was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones himself who gave him the good news by phone.

“He said he thought I was a great player, that I’m the type of guy that they want,” Crawford said.

He is the Cowboys’ second pick of the draft, after the club traded away its second-rounder. On Thursday the Cowboys took LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall selection. Claiborne said his mom is a huge Cowboys fan.

Guess what? So is Crawford’s mom, Tara. Crawford said he himself liked Dallas while growing up just three miles from the Lions’ Ford Field — in Windsor, a city that borders Detroit.

And, as with Claiborne, the Cowboys did not tip the pick; they did not meet with Crawford, nor work him out, before the draft.

“I’m so happy to be their second pick,” Crawford said, his excitement still bubbling. “It’s crazy!”

Did Jones mention anything to him about his being a Canadian?

“Yeah, he made fun of me a bit, in a way,” Crawford said. “I forget what he said.”

Either on Saturday or Sunday morning, Crawford will fly to Dallas to meet Jones, team management, the coaches and the Dallas press.

Fourteen NFL teams had met with Crawford since February, including the Patriots (twice), Colts and Lions.

At Boise State in 2010, Crawford made an immediate impact. As a non-starting but often-rotated-in defensive end, Crawford recorded 13.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks.

Last fall as a senior, Crawford started and was often unblockable. He rang up another 13.5 TFLs, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles (racing one back for a touchdown) and had 6.5 quarterback sacks. He was an all-conference defender in the Mountain West.

So Crawford, 22, now goes from being a Bronco to a Cowboy.

Giddyup.

32 bits of news & views after Round 1

RADIOCITYNEW YORK — Thirty-two tidbits of news, views and reminders on the morning after Round 1 of the NFL draft:

1. Of all the trade-ups and trade-downs, the move of the night was made by the Dallas Cowboys.
America’s Team traded up from 14 to 6, in a swap with St. Louis, to get top-ranked cornerback Morris Claiborne of LSU.
No one saw it coming. Not even Claiborne.
He said the Cowboys had never been in touch with him, according to reports. No meetings. No visits. No emails. No reach-outs of any kind.
For weeks, insider reports claimed the Cowboys were hot to trade up to the lower Top 10 to nab the top safety, Bama’s Mark Barron.
Deliberate misinformation, we’re guessing, to keep their true intention secret. That they pulled it off in this day and age of news leaks? Impressive. And damn smart.

2. I asked Pats head coach Bill Belichick at the NFL annual meeting if he felt an urgency to shore up his leaky defence, with Tom Brady now in his mid-30s.
No, he said, they’ll just do what they always do this off-season and blah-blah-blah.
Right.
The Pats traded up twice in the first round, when they normally trade down.
Who’d they draft? Pass-rushing specialist Chandler Jones from Syracuse, and dynamic linebacker Dont’a Hightower from Bama.
Project Urgency is on in Foxboro.

3. Browns fans were livid the team didn’t take a wide receiver with its second first-round pick, at 22. The club was reportedly about to draft Baylor wideout Kendall Wright, but Tennessee grabbed him at 20.
Rather than take another playmaking WR, the Browns took QB Brandon Weeden, who will be 29 in October, is four years older than current maligned Cleveland starter Colt McCoy, and is considered by many to be a first-round reach.
Can’t the Browns and their fans ever see eye-to-eye?

4. Many Bears fans were praying that Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd would fall all the way to their spot, at 19.
No chance.
The Cardinals grabbed him at 13, and if that team can ever find someone to throw the ball, Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald might soon form the league’s most dynamic wideout tandem.
The Bears took Boise State DE/LB Shea McClellin, an off-the-charts prospect coveted later in the first round by several teams. A good pick.
Expect the Bears to grab a wideout at 50th overall in the second round.

5. Only four of the five expected University of Alabama first-rounders were drafted Thursday. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw awaits the call and, presumably, remains in New York City.

6. Eight of the first 18 players picked are from the Southeastern Conference. That league rules college football because it has the best players. Period.

7. Ten college teams had at least two players drafted Thursday: Alabama, Stanford, Baylor, Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma State, LSU, South Carolina, Illinois and Boise State.

8. Sprite Zero is not a sponsor of the NFL. I was asked to either put that pop bottle under my desk in press row HH, or rip off the label.

9. Here’s hoping the NFL never attempts to squelch, remove, reduce or eliminate the fans.
They were rowdy. They were rude. They barely ever shaddup. They booed commish Roger Goodell mercilessly at almost every opportunity.
And they were great.
The fans in attendance — wearing caps and colours of every team in the league — are largely responsible for making the atmosphere as electric as it is inside Radio City Music Hall. Otherwise, it’s a business meeting.
You should have seen the looks on some of the fans’ faces upon entering the theatre. Last time I saw such “I can’t believe I’m here!!!” excitement among fans for such a big event was while standing in line all day at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1981 to catch the Rolling Stones/Santana show.

10. Fifth-best fan chant of the night: “RG3! … RG3! … RG3!” And this was when QB Andrew Luck was being interviewed.

11. Fourth-best fan chant of the night: “ARF! ARF! ARF! …” That from the Cleveland Browns “Dog Pound” when the club took RB Trent Richardson No. 3 overall.

12. Third-best fan chant of the night: “OVERRATED! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) OVERRATED! …” From Jets fans, when division rival Miami picked QB Ryan Tannehill at No. 8.

13. Second-best fan chant of the night: “J–E–T–S, JETS! JETS! JETS! … J–E–T–S, JETS! JETS! JETS!” Yeah, that team’s fans were pumped beyond belief in anticipation of their team’s pick at No. 16. And then …

14. Best fan chan of the night: “_______.” That is, silence — nothin’. Jets fans deliberately sat on their hands to voice their displeasure when pass-rusher Quinton Coples of North Carolina was introduced as the Jets’ pick. The book on Coples is he takes plays off, and Jets fans still carry fresh scars from pass-rusher Vernon Gholston, a complete bust at No. 6 overall in 2008.
That those fans could organize themselves so quickly up there in the far right side of the second and third balconies was one of the most impressive things of the night.

15. Buffalo Bills pick Stephon Gilmore, the second-ranked cornerback from South Carolina, is tall, solid as a rock, and has huge, strong hands. Looks like a serious, focused young man.

16. I wrote late last night in the fog of replate deadline that there were no shockers among first-round selections. I was wrong. Hardly anybody had Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins going so high, but the Niners grabbed him at No. 30 overall.

17. Speaking of the Niners, what does it say about their confidence in Randy Moss when, after signing him as their supposed deep-threat WR, they proceeded to sign free agent Mario Manningham from the Giants, and now Jenkins?

18. Best suggested headline I saw on Twitter was in reference to the Lions picking up tackle Riley Reiff: “The great barrier Reiff.”

19. Also re the Lions on Twitter, from @PrideOfDetroit: “Interesting coincidence: Like (’60s D-line star) Alex Karras, Riely Reiff wore No. 77 at Iowa and now No. 71 with the Lions.”

20. The draft officially began at 8:03 EDT and concluded at 11:03 EDT. Three hours flat.

21. Andrew Luck in Indy needs a good tight end to throw to. So do many other teams.
Number of tight ends drafted Thursday: zero.
Top-ranked Coby Fleener of Stanford might go as early tonight as the second pick of Round 2, to Indy. Yes, hooking up with his old Stanford pal, Luck.

23. Much is being made today of the fact three running backs were taken in the first round. But two of them were the last two picks. So, really, nothing has changed. Only one of the first 30 picks was as running back.

24. A reminder that New Orleans’ original second-round pick, No. 59 overall, is forfeited. Right, the bounty scandal. Thus, only 31 picks will be made in the round.

25. Teams making their first 2012 draft picks tonight: Denver, Baltimore, Oakland, Atlanta and New Orleans.

26. Fifteen first-rounders play on offence, 17 on defence. Pretty balanced. But, the first five players taken line up on offence. From picks 6 to 19, all but two were defenders.

27. Invitees Fleener, Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn, Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill, LSU WR Rueben Randle, Penn State DT Devon Still and Upshaw had the shared, crushing experience of leaving Radio City Music Hall with their loved ones, undrafted.

28. Tonight for Rounds 2 and 3, teams have only seven minutes to make a pick. For Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, only five minutes.

29. Tonight’s selections begin at 7 p.m. EDT, and should conclude by 11:15.

30. Saturday’s selections begin at noon, and the 253rd and final pick of the 2012 draft should be made by 7:30 p.m. EDT.

31. Most hated team among the fans? Easy. The Dallas Cowboys. Giants fans booed loud and long when it was announced the Cowboys had traded up to get Claiborne. Gotta love the passion of a football fan.

32. Here’s how fans got tickets to opening night. It wasn’t easy.
Literally thousands descended on Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday, the day before. They lined the building, with many waiting all day to score one of about 2,000 free wristbands to gain entry the next night.
The NFL handed out the wristbands Wednesday at 11 p.m. local time.
On top of that, on Thursday afternoon dozens more fans wearing jerseys and/or hats from just about every NFL team — mostly teens and twentysomething males, it appeared — waited for hours in the sun, and eventually rain, in hopes of getting stand-by tickets.

Newest Buffalo Bill — Stephon Gilmore

GILMORE

NEW YORK — Stephon Gilmore was all smiles shortly after the Buffalo Bills made him the 10th overall pick in Thursday night’s NFL draft.

In a one-on-one interview on is way to the media interview room, I got in a couple quick questions to the 6-foot-1, 193-pound cornerback from the University of South Carolina.

On whether he’d talked to Bills GM Buddy Nix yet.

“Yeah, I talked to him,” he said. “He’s happy with the decision. I’m happy they picked me and believed in my talent. I’ll just keep working hard, like I’ve always done. It don’t stop here — this is the beginning. So I’m looking forward to it.”

On whether he did board work with the Bills on his pre-draft visit:

“Yeah, I did a lot of board work, and I like how they play. They’ve got some great coaches. They’re an upcoming team. They had a good year last year, so I’m just looking (to be) a piece so they can make more plays this year.”

On whether he knows any of the Bills defenders:

“I don’t know ‘em, but it’s a great feeling, man. It’s a dream come true, and I’m just happy with it.”

 

 

Draft news roundup @ T-minus 24 hours…

Group

NEW YORK — Experts predicted it would come in the final week before the NFL draft. And, ohhh, has it come.

The misinformation.

It’s deliberately planted by some clubs, in an attempt either to scare off teams nearby in the draft order from a player they actually covet — or to profess love for a lower-graded player, to entice teams down the order to trade up to get him.

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, for one, has had it.

“There’s so much stuff out there that just drives me crazy right now,” he told reporters Wednesday morning, before the NFL’s PLAY 60 Youth Football Festival at Chelsea Waterside Park, attended by 26 top draft prospects.

“I just go back about two weeks, or three weeks ago, and trust what I feel like is the right thing to trust. There’s way too much misinformation out there.”
Case in point: Justin Blackmon. The Oklahoma State star had been the top-rated wide receiver for months in just about everybody’s ratings and mock drafts — until the past week or so.

“I think Blackmon is still going to be a solid Top 6 pick,” Mayock insisted. “I can’t see him falling beyond that.”

ClaiborneQUOTE OF THE DAY I:
“I’ve been spending my time just trying to watch the Disney channel.”
— LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne (above), on how he avoids the pre-draft speculation circus.

CORNERBACKS DISCUSS BUFFALO VISITS:
After Claiborne, a Top 5 lock, Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina and Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama are seen as the next best corners.

Both have visited Buffalo. And, yes, with both being Southerners they felt a kinship with Bills GM Buddy Nix, a native Alabamian whose drawl remains thicker ‘an a horse-trader’s mule.

Gilmore“I’m from the country, his kind of country,” Gilmore told me (That’s my snap of him, at right). “I think I’d blend in well in Buffalo. If they believe in me, I’ll be happy with that decision, because I’m going in to work hard.”

Kirkpatrick told me he and Nix are practically Bama neighbours.

“He’s from Talladega, and I’m from Gaston, so we’re 35 minutes away from each other. So that’s a connection we had.

“When I first met him, me and him just clicked. He had a positive energy with me, and we pretty much connected from the jump. We had a couple of great talks.”

Some were about football, even. And those went well too.

“The thing that impressed them was how fast I learned their plays, the plays they put up on the board for me,” Kirkpatrick said.

Last year the Bills drafted Kirkpatrick’s former Bama teammate, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

“They’re growing,” Kirkpatrick said. “If I go in there, I’d be trying to bring the best possible energy and enthusiasm that I could.”

RYAN’S ROLLERCOASTER:
The stock of Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill — the third rated QB — is all over mock-draft map.

Tannehill“I just try to ignore it all,” Tannehill said Wednesday. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t have any inside information or anything like that. I just try to stay out of all the predictions and all that stuff.

“I’m blessed to hear my name called, whether it’s early first, late first, second round — whatever. It’s not really about where you get drafted. It’s about how you play after you get drafted.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY II:
“Yeah, I wonder how the NFL worked that one out. They have a crazy way of getting things done. But it’ll be fun. In that game, neither of us will probably play very much.”
— QB Robert Griffin III, on the fact his soon-to-be Redskins play Andrew Luck‘s Colts in a pre-season game, announced earlier this month.

RG3 THINKS HE HURT COLTS’ FEELINGS:
At one point following the scouting combine, the Colts asked Griffin to work out privately for them.

RG3RG3 declined.

“But I refused everybody,” Griffin said Wednesday. “I didn’t do any private workouts.

“I think after that, feelings might have been hurt (in Indy), or something like that. I went to D.C. on a visit, and (the Colts) didn’t offer a visit at all — so we kinda new what direction they were going in. There’s no hard feelings … I’m not going to hold personal vendettas against anyone.”

 

LIONS CORNERED:
It’s no secret the Detroit Lions need help at cornerback — in a big way. They might have one of the league’s nastiest defensive fronts, but their secondary got scorched repeatedly in 2011.

Mayock doesn’t see help coming from the first round, unless the Lions reach. They pick 23rd.

“I did about 10 mock drafts last night, and I couldn’t find a way to get a corner to the Lions,” Mayock said. “There are three first-round picks that don’t have significant off-the-field issues — and I think Claiborne, Gilmore and Kirkpatrick are all gone before 23.

“So from my perspective, if they want a corner they’re going to either have to move up, or take a guy with significant off-the-field issues.”
Not that such a player would be a stranger on the Lions.

QUOTE OF THE DAY III:
“I told (Vikings GM) Rick Spielman that if they draft me, they won’t worry about a left tackle for the next 10 years.” — USC’s Matt Kalil.

MR. VERSATILE, MR. HUMBLE:
Alabama running back Trent Richardson was asked by a youth reporter from Sports Illustrated Kids what his biggest strength is.

“I don’t have just one,” Richardson said matter-of-factly. “I think (I’m) versatile — being able to catch the ball, run the ball, and block and break down the whole defence.”

Gee, thanks, Trent!!!

EXTRA POINT:
Mayock on why QBs are so valuable:

“The numbers are almost shocking. If you look at the last eight drafts for first-round quarterbacks, 15 of 23 are starters. In the same time period, there have been I think 83 quarterbacks taken in Rounds 2 through 7 — and only seven of them start.”

Why the Bills will pick Luke Kuechly at #10

NEW YORK — Reading “tea leaves” to guess which player an NFL team might select with its first-round draft pick is pure folly.

So let’s give it a go.

Our test case: the Buffalo Bills.

Based on what GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have said to me over the past two months, I am absolutely certain (ahem) who the Bills will pick at No. 10 overall on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
Follow along.

At the scouting combine in February, Gailey lamented his team’s awful defence — rated 26th in 2011. The offence markedly improved, so now it’s the defence’s turn, he said.

With the league so in love with the pass, Gailey said by far the two most important positions on any defence are “corners and pass rushers — that’s where it is. That’s our game.”

The next day I asked Nix if he agreed.

“I do,” he said. “But I think, too, that cover linebackers are also important. Those are our definite concerns and needs.”

Then Nix added a caveat.

“I think you can get by with lesser corners if you can get pressure on the quarterback. If you can disrupt a quarterback’s rhythm, you’ve got a chance, and that’s a priority.”

A few weeks later, of course, Nix took care of that priority with the monster signings of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, pass rushers extraordinaire.
By the NFL annual meeting in late March, most mock-drafters were sure the Bills will take the best offensive tackle available at 10, with Demetress Bell bolting to the Eagles.

“I hear (that),” Nix told me in Palm Beach. “We feel good about Chris Hairston at left tackle, but we do need some depth there.”

Scratch OT, then.

What about a speedy wide receiver? The offence sure could use one.

“I think that’s important. We need that,” Nix told me at the combine. “Stevie (Johnson) is a medium route runner. He separates good underneath, but he’s not going to stretch the field much. We need somebody to do that. We think we’ve got two or three candidates already on the squad, but we still need to add one or two.”

Neither Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State nor Michael Floyd of Notre Dame, however, is a field-stretching burner, even if they’re the top rated WRs.

And so, bearing in mind that both Nix and Gailey said their off-season priority is upgrading the defence — and considering the WR class this year is ridiculously deep, meaning they can always get one with one of their other nine picks — I think the Bills will select a defender at No. 10.

I don’t think it will be a cornerback, for as Nix told me, the need to get a top cornerback has been lessened with the huge upgrade to the pass rush.
Two more things to consider.

Nix said “if you can get a guy who can start for you for 10 or 12 years, you’d have a good pick.”

And he has tried to convince every reporter and his dog that “we won’t reach. We won’t go past a playmaking guy that we’ve got graded higher to go down the board just to fill a position need. We won’t do that. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. We’ll take the best player.”

What, then, about one of Nix’s three priorities for his defence — a pass-covering linebacker?

Namely, Luke Kuechly of Boston College?

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock calls Kuechly one of the 10 best players in the draft, and “the best pass-dropping inside linebacker I’ve ever seen in college football … He’s never been hurt. He’s got no significant injuries. He’s clean off the field. Intelligent. He’s got great instincts, and he’s a better athlete than people think.”

What’s more, Kuechly can play any of the three LB positions in a 4-3 — Mike, Sam or Will. And to beat the Patriots in the AFC East you have to defend the short passes that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loves to throw — hooks, ins and outs to his tight ends, backs and slots. Who covers a lot of those routes? Linebackers, not cornerbacks.

In Palm Beach I asked Nix about Kuechly. His eyes lit up.

“I think Kuechly will play 10 years in this league, barring serious injury,” Nix said. “I think he’s that good a player. I think he blew everybody away … He would certainly be a consideration (at No. 10 overall).”

Will he last that long, though?

“There’s a pretty good chance he’d be there, I say.”

And if he’s the highest-rated player on the Bills’ board at No. 10?

“That means he might be the guy,” Nix said coyly, playfully or uncomfortably — I couldn’t tell which.

What’s more, with Kuechly helping to back up the new, ferocious line in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defence, the Bills suddenly would have one of the best front sevens in the AFC.

That’d be a helluva one-year improvement on defence. Exactly what Nix and Gailey are after this off-season.

I think the Bills will draft Luke Kuechly at No. 10.