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NFL – Throwback Thursday: An AFL Preview

22 Oct

The Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears face off on this week’s NFL schedule, which leads us to travel back to November 2, 1958 for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was a wild game in L.A.’s Coliseum between these 2 clubs that saw an offensive explosion that wasn’t a common sight in those days, as the Rams won 41-35. Actually, the Rams were noted for high-flying offense in those days but on this day the usually defensive-minded Bears joined the show too. Chicago’s defense started the scoring onslaught when Erich Barnes intercepted a Bill Wade pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. Wade and the Rams took control from there. The L.A. signal caller led drives that produced 4 touchdowns and a field goal, as he ran 3 yards for one score, hit Tommy Wilson and Leon Clarke with touchdown throws and saw Wilson run 9 yards to the end zone for another six-pointer. Those 4 TDs and a field goal gave the Rams a resounding 31-7 lead, and it looked like they were on there way to a one-sided victory. When Chicago QB Zeke Bratkowski hit Bill McColl from 10 yards out to cut the score to 31-14 at halftime, it was a harbinger of things to come. He hit Willie Galimore for a 12 yard score early in the second half, but the Rams got the momentum back with another Wilson touchdown run and a field goal to finish up the third quarter with what appeared to be a comfortable 41-21 lead. The proud Bears weren’t about to lay down, however. Rick Casares, who had 23 carries for 113 yards on the day, ran in from 5 yards out and Bratkowski found McColl open again for a 25 yard scoring connection. The clock ran out on the visitors from the Windy City from that point and the Rams escaped with the win.

One Ram player who had an outstanding afternoon that day, although he never reached the end zone, was halfback Jon Arnett, who carried the ball, caught passes and returned kicks for a massive 298 total yards from scrimmage. Wade’s performance must have gotten the attention of Chicago owner/coach George “Papa Bear” Halas. He later traded for Wade and was rewarded when the signal caller guided his Bears to the NFL championship in 1963. The offensive display the Rams put on was somewhat of a look into the future. Their coach, future Hall of Famer Sid Gillman, became the first head coach of the fledgling American Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers in 1960, where he was the architect of some unstoppable offensive attacks that were a large part of the high-scoring attraction that the new league’s fans enjoyed. Gillman’s Chargers, who moved to San Diego in 1961, reached the AFL title game 5 times in the league’s first 6 years and won it all in 1963 behind stars like Jack Kemp, John Hadl, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln and Lance Alworth.

 

Rams’ Tommy Wilson had a huge day (Daryl Norenberg photo)

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The “Oilers” Return To Houston

15 Oct

For this week’s NFL Throwback Thursday feature we’ll go back to 2002 for a clash between the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, who meet on this week’s schedule. Being one of the youngest franchises in the NFL, this is the first time the Texans have been featured in a weekly TBT post here. The importance of the game lies in the fact that the Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers prior to abandoning the city to move to Tennessee, were returning to their old home for the first time since leaving in 1997. The Texans, the newly minted expansion franchise, were closing out their first season against their division rivals and were hungry to give their fans some measure of revenge in the game. The Titans had beaten them earlier in the season at Memphis in a relatively close 17-10 battle, so there was reason for optimism.

As far as how the game went, it was pretty forgettable. The Texans had valiantly played most of their opponents closely all year, an accomplishment for a new team, and also racked up 4 wins along the way. This game was no different, but Houston, led by prize rookie quarterback David Carr, couldn’t muster any kind of offense at all against the tough Tennessee defense. The Texans’ defense played strong also, and the only first half scoring was a pair of Joe Nedney field goals to give the Titans a 6-0 lead. Houston managed a third quarter field goal to pull with 3, but in the final quarter, the only player to have any success for either team, running back Eddie George, scored on a 4 yard touchdown run to give the Titans a 13-3 lead that wound up being the final score. George managed 102 yards rushing on 25 carries on the day.

Because the two clubs were placed in the same division, the AFC South, they had to play each other twice a year. Still, maybe because of the 5 years that Houston went without a team and the rebranding of their old team as the Titans in Tennessee (they remained the “Tennessee Oilers” for 2 seasons), there wasn’t a great deal of hatred generated by the rivals or their fans. Tennessee dominated play for the first 2 seasons, but the Texans finally did capture a measure of pride in the 2004 season by sweeping both games from the Titans.

 

 

Titans’ stars RB Eddie George, QB Steve “Air” McNair

 

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Shocking The Future Champs

08 Oct

The Battle of Pennsylvania takes place on this week’s NFL schedule as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Philadelphia Eagles. The two clubs also took each other on in the penultimate game of their respective 1960 seasons on December 11th of that year, and that is the contest we feature for this week’s Throwback Thursday post. The Eagles were enjoying one of their best seasons in a long time, while Pittsburgh was slogging along to another in a line of mediocre to bad years. It was unknown at the time of course, but Philly would go on to win the league’s championship later that year as they caught lightning in a bottle behind the quarterback play of aging veteran Norm Van Brocklin. With a 9-1 record they entered Forbes Field on this day as heavy favorites over the Steelers, sporting a losing 4-5-1 mark. In a shocking turn of events, Pittsburgh rode a spectacular performance from future Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson to jump out to a 27-0 lead by halftime in the game. Johnson, who rushed for 182 yards on 19 carries on the afternoon, scored on scampers of 7 and 87 yards and added a halfback option touchdown pass of 15 yards to flanker Buddy Dial, all after quarterback Bobby Layne had opened the scoring with a 6 yard rushing touchdown.

The stunned Eagles replaced Van Brocklin with Sonny Jurgensen in the second half and after a scoreless third quarter the young red-headed signal caller restored some pride in his club in the final stanza. He led drives that saw him complete scoring tosses of 53 yards to Timmy Brown and 19 yards to Tommy McDonald, while Brown also ran 7 yards to paydirt to bring Philly to within 27-21. Brown would finish with 3 catches for 112 yards to lead all receivers on the day but the Eagle comeback fell short and the 27-21 score held up. Johnson’s big day was the highlight of the winning effort for the Steelers, but he wasn’t alone in contributing to the win. Tom Tracy added 95 yards on 22 carries and Dial totaled 6 grabs for 85 yards and his TD, while Layne, although he was intercepted 3 times, was responsible for a pair of scores. Van Brocklin would come back to eventually lead the Eagles over Green Bay in the title game, then go out on top as he retired after the season to take the head coaching job of the NFL’s new expansion team, the Minnesota Vikings, in 1961.

 

 Steeler QB Bobby Layne, sans face mask, sails a pass over Eagle defenders (Getty Images/Neil Leifer)

 

 

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Paul Warfield Curse

01 Oct

The Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns lock horns on this week’s NFL schedule, and we’ll travel back to a game played between these 2 clubs on December 28, 1969 for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was a divisional round playoff game between the Browns, the Century Division champs, and the Capitol Division titlist Cowboys. The NFL, in it’s last couple of seasons prior to the merger with the AFL, was divided into 4 divisions – Century, Capitol, Coastal and Central. Both clubs were perennial winners in the decade of the 1960s, although Dallas was beginning to gain the reputation as a team that “couldn’t win the big one”. Despite being molded into a perennial winning franchise by coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys had suffered crushing defeats in the prior 3 years’ playoffs. Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers beat them twice in the NFL championship game and the Browns upset them in a divisional playoff game in 1968. The rematch in this 1969 clash would be a repeat of the previous season, and a certain nemesis that haunted the Cowboys was to be a major factor again. That nemesis was Browns’ wide receiver Paul Warfield. He had been a thorn in Landry’s side in the clubs’ two prior meetings – catching 7 passes for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns in Cleveland victories. Warfield again burned the Cowboy defense in this game. Although he didn’t reach the end zone, he racked up 99 yards on 8 receptions to lead all receivers in a resounding 38-14 win by the Browns.

Cleveland had control of this contest from the opening whistle as quarterback Bill Nelsen engineered drives that resulted in a pair of short rushing touchdowns from fullback Bo Scott, a scoring throw to tight end Milt Morin and a Don Cockroft field goal as the Cotton Bowl visitors built a 24-0 lead in the third quarter. Craig Morton, battling to get Dallas’ offense moving, finally got his club on the scoreboard with a 2 yard QB sneak, but after Leroy Kelly scored on a short run, his struggles reached the point of no return as Cleveland cornerback Walt Sumner intercepted him and ran it back 88 yards for a gut-punching touchdown to open up a 38-7 Browns’ lead. In what was to become an omen for the future, Landry turned to his backup signal caller, Roger Staubach, to salvage some dignity in the game. Roger the Dodger guided the Cowboys on a scoring drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel to complete the game’s scoring.

It took a few years and a couple more cringeworthy postseason losses before Dallas finally overcame the “can’t win the big one” stigma. In Super Bowl VI in 1971, they routed the young Miami Dolphins 24-3 to give Landry his first championship. To finally end their postseason failure string was one thing, but it also came with a cherry on top. Warfield, now a member of the Dolphins, was held to a pedestrian 4 catches for 39 yards in the win.

 

Browns’ QB Bill Nelsen surveys the defense (Getty Images)

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Double Doldrums

24 Sep

The NFL is on to week 3 of their schedule, and a matchup on the slate of games has the Detroit Lions taking on the Arizona Cardinals. Our Throwback Thursday feature is a game between these 2 franchises that was played on December 6, 1959, as both teams were winding down on seasons they couldn’t wait to get to the end of. Both were once proud NFL powerhouses that had fallen on hard times lately. Detroit, a club that won 3 titles in the 1950s and could be realistically put on a pedestal as the team of the decade, entered this contest with a lowly 2-7-1 record. The Cardinals were in even worse shape. Based in Chicago at the time, they were finishing off a dismal final season in the Windy City. Unable to compete with their neighboring team, the Bears, the Cards were slated to move to St. Louis for the 1960 season. Their 2-8 record entering the game was indicative of a franchise that was going nowhere. So basically this week’s TBT featured game is a contest with little historic significance between a couple of late ’50s bottom feeders.

The Lions, whose championship pedigree was much more recent than the Cardinals, reached back into that winning history to club their soon-to-be-leaving Chicago opponents, 45-21. Lion quarterback Tobin Rote, who had led his team to an NFL title just 2 years prior in 1957 and would later guide the San Diego Chargers to an AFL title in 1963, opened the scoring with a 9 yard touchdown run. They added a field goal, and in the second quarter the defense pitched in when Yale Lary scooped up a fumble and rambled 28 yards to paydirt to widen Detroit’s lead to 17-0. One Cardinal who refused to be disheartened was halfback John David Crow. He scored from a yard out to get his team on the board, but Rote got the points back with a 13 yard TD pass to Dave Middleton, giving the Lions a 24-7 lead going into the half. The Lions went to backup QB Earl Morrall in the second half, and he responded by hitting Jim Gibbons for a 33 yard score. When Terry Barr scampered 32 yards for a touchdown early in the final quarter, the game was all but over as Detroit took a commanding 38-7 lead. With John Roach being ineffective most of the day, Chicago turned to M.C. Reynolds to try to salvage some dignity. Reynolds hit Crow for a 36 yard touchdown and Woodley Lewis for another score from 20 yards out, but it was too little too late. Jim Doran recovered a fumble in the end zone for Detroit between the 2 Cardinal TDs, and the 45-21 final score was cemented. Crow’s 103 yards of total offense was tops for both teams, and Reynolds completing 8 of 10 throws for 170 yards and the 2 touchdowns in a relief role was impressive, but the Lions dug into their winning past to claim the victory, giving them a temporary respite from the doldrums they were mired in all year. Both teams lost the following week, which back then was the final week of a 12 game regular season. Little did either franchise know that their doldrums would continue to this day. The 1957 championship was Detroit’s last, and the Cardinals haven’t won one since 1947.

 

 

Detroit QB Tobin Rote (18) dodges Cardinal defenders

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tebow Mania!

17 Sep

As the NFL season enters week 2, we’ve picked out one of this week’s matchups, between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, as our Throwback Thursday feature for the week. We harken back to an AFC Wild Card game played on January 8, 2012 between these 2 franchises that was the apex of a phenomenon, at least at the NFL level, known as Tebow Mania. The Broncos had used a first round draft pick on the quarterback from the University of Florida, Tim Tebow, whose skills weren’t really on par with a top NFL signal caller, but who definitely had one distinct quality- he was a winner. The game was arguably the crowning moment of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s mostly forgettable NFL career. It was Denver’s first appearance in the postseason since 2005, and with home field advantage at Mile High Stadium the excitement level among Bronco fans was high. The Steelers did all the scoring in the first quarter with a pair of field goals as Tebow struggled to get his team’s attack off the ground, but the controversial quarterback came alive in the second stanza by leading Denver to 20 unanswered points, firing a 30 yard scoring pass to Eddie Royal and then finishing a drive with an 8 yard rushing TD. He guided the Broncos to two more field goals to lift Denver to a 20-6 halftime lead. The Steelers, a proud franchise with a rich winning tradition, rallied back in the second half. Wide receiver Mike Wallace cut the lead to 20-13 with a one yard end around run for a touchdown, and after both clubs traded field goals, the Steelers capitalized on a Willis McGahee fumble to drive to a tying touchdown on a 31 yard Ben Roethlisberger to Jericho Cotchery pass. Both defenses stiffened from there and the game went into sudden death overtime.

After winning the OT coin toss, Tebow and the Broncos wasted no time. Tebow, who had guided his team to an 8-8 record and an AFC West title after being named the team’s starter following a 1-4 start to the season, connected with his favorite target, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, on an 80 yard throw-and-catch touchdown pass that gave Denver a 29-23 victory and sent the Mile High crowd into a frenzy. For Thomas, the play capped a record breaking afternoon, as he finished with 4 catches for an incredible 204 yards receiving. The excitement only lasted a week for the Broncos and their fans. They were brought back down to earth the following week in the divisional round when Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots handed them a resounding 45-10 defeat.

 

Denver’s Tim Tebow in action vs. Steelers

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Freezer Bowl

10 Sep

The 2020 NFL season, in all it’s Covid-19 weirdness, is finally here beginning this week. Rayonsports is back with our weekly Throwback Thursday feature. To start the year, we’re looking at a week one matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals. For the opening TBT post of the season, we’ll travel back to January 10, 1982 for the AFC Championship game of the 1981 season played between these 2 teams. The contest went down in NFL lore as the “Freezer Bowl”. Played at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, is was the coldest game in NFL history as the temperature was -9 degrees Fahrenheit which, combined with the day’s wind chill factor, made it feel like -37 degrees. For the Chargers, based in San Diego, it was a rude awakening. Besides making their home in sunny southern California, they were coming off of a grueling overtime duel in Miami that was played in polar opposite conditions – 88 degrees with high humidity. The weather affected the coin toss as the Bengals won the opening toss and elected to take the wind at their backs instead of the ball. So when San Diego took the ball to start the second half, the Bengals wound up kicking off to start both halves.

Bengal coach Forrest Gregg used the unusual strategy figuring the howling winds would affect the Chargers’ high-powered passing attack, and it worked as Cincinnati jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a Jim Breech field goal and an 8 yard scoring pass from Ken Anderson to M.L. Harris. San Diego put together a drive against the wind that stalled, and their first attempt to get on the board was thwarted when kicker Rolf Benirschke missed a 37 yard field goal attempt into the harsh wind.  The Chargers got on the board in the second quarter, with the wind at their backs, as Dan Fouts found his All Pro tight end, Kellen Winslow, for a 33 yard touchdown. But that’s all they could muster, and the Bengals drove downfield against the wind, thanks to a long kickoff return from David Verser, to beat the wind and add a score on a one yard plunge by fullback Pete Johnson, upping their lead to 17-7. Johnson was the unsung hero for the Bengal offense on the day as he ground out 80 hard-earned yards. The Chargers were stymied the rest of the way by the weather and a tough Bengal defense. They drove into Cinci territory 5 more times but came up empty on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Bengals added another Breech field goal, and when Anderson found Don Bass on a 3 yard TD pass to put his team up 27-7, the game was all but over. That wound up being the final score as the Bengals advanced to their first Super Bowl, where they would become the victims of Joe Montana’s magic in a 26-21 loss.

Ironically, Cincinnati’s coach Gregg had also been part of the other iconic cold weather game in NFL history as a guard for Green Bay in the 1967 “Ice Bowl”. For the Chargers, it was an especially long and sad trip home from the loss, as their return flight to San Diego was delayed for over 3 hours due to ice buildup on the plane.

 

Bengals, Chargers battle in the Freezer Bowl

 

 
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Buffalo Bills’ 2020 Season Preview

08 Sep

The 2020 NFL season is sure to be like no other, with the Coronavirus threat changing all the rules as far as having fans attend games and keeping the players and coaches safe. The teams will have 53 man rosters as in previous years, but practice squads have been increased to 16. As the Buffalo Bills work to finalize their roster, we’re ready to preview the upcoming season, which starts this week. Here’s our position-by-position evaluation:

 

Front Office / Coaching

 

The Bills recently locked up head coach Sean McDermott with a long term contract extension, and hopefully plan on doing the same for general manager Brandon Beane. Continuity is now a major plus for the team with McDermott returning for his fourth season, and coordinators Leslie Frazier, Brian Daboll and Heath Farwell also back. The team brought in a new position coach who they think will be an upgrade in Eric Washington, the new defensive line coach. Beane has done an excellent job replenishing the team’s talent in his tenure, and this year he went out of his way to add a huge weapon in the passing game for QB Josh Allen by pulling the trigger on a trade with Minnesota for a top-flight receiver in Stefon Diggs. Despite surrendering his first round draft choice in the trade, Beane was still able to pluck some players in the draft who appear poised to contribute to the club right away. There is one fly in the ointment for the coaches. There are expectations that the team is ready to take over the AFC East crown, but the fact still remains they are 0-6 against Bill Belichick’s Patriots in the McDermott era.

 

Quarterbacks

 

QB Josh Allen is the undisputed leader entering his 3rd year

 

Josh Allen, entering his third season, is the undisputed leader of the offense now, and although he still showed a few rough edges in 2019, he has steadily progressed to the point where the team is comfortable with him as their “franchise” quarterback. He should continue to improve under the guidance of offensive coordinator Daboll and QB coach Ken Dorsey. Veteran Matt Barkley returns as the main backup, although Beane hedged his bets here somewhat by drafting Jake Fromm to compete for the position. The Bills, mostly because of Covid concerns, will carry 3 signal callers on the roster this year.

 

Running Backs

 

T.J. Yeldon is a multi-skilled RB who needs to find playing time

 

The Bills will carry 4 running backs on the roster this season and for the first time ever that RB room will not include a fullback. Two young bucks – Devin Singletary and rookie Zach Moss – figure to carry the bulk of the load. Singletary showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign last season and looks to build on that this year. Moss is a pounder who should be the team’s short yardage option, while also possessing decent receiving skills. T.J. Yeldon rarely saw the field last season but with Frank Gore gone he could play more often in 2020. The fourth back, Taiwan Jones, is strictly a special teamer but an important one as one of the gunners on kick coverage units.

 

Receivers

 

Newly-acquired WR Stefon Diggs (Liz Flores photo)

 

The shiny new toy in the Bills’ offensive arsenal is wideout Stefon Diggs, a top veteran obtained from the Vikings in the off-season. He joins John Brown and Cole Beasley, both brought in last season as free agents, as the team’s top 3 receiving options for Josh Allen. Rookie Gabriel Davis appears to have earned the fourth spot with an impressive showing in the shortened training camp. Isiah McKenzie is back as another reserve option. He was utilized extensively in gadget and “jet sweep” plays last year so OC Bran Daboll retains that weapon in his deck of cards for 2020. Andre Roberts made the team mostly as the team’s primary punt and kickoff returner, but can also be a reliable player when needed at the receiver position. Tight end is obviously a high priority position in Daboll’s offense, as the Bills kept 4 of them on the active roster. The starter is Dawson Knox, a possible emerging star if he can improve his ability to hang on to the ball. Tyler Kroft is the main backup, while veteran Lee Smith, a sometimes penalty liability, returns to provide blocking for the run game and leadership in the locker room. The fourth TE is a bit of a Swiss Army knife – rookie undrafted free agent Reggie Gilliam. Being that he played both fullback and tight end in college, he looks to be more of an “H-back” type of player who can fill multiple roles, including on special teams.  At some point during the season the Bills will have to make a decision on another 2019 draft pick, Tommy Sweeney, who starts the year on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.

 

Offensive Line

 

Tackle Dion Dawkins enters 2020 armed with a new contract

 

Buffalo’s offensive line stays mostly intact from 2019, except for the temporary loss of starting right guard Jon Feliciano. Anchoring the unit is center Mitch Morse, the big-ticket free agent signee from 2019. The left side, with underrated Quinton Spain at guard and newly re-signed Dion Dawkins at tackle, returns intact. The right side is still not completely set, but second year man Cody Ford will certainly start, either at guard or the spot he manned last season, tackle. If Ford moves inside, veteran Ty Nsekhe will likely be at tackle. Due to the possibility of Covid infections being high among linemen since they are engaged in close proximity battles on every play, the NFL recommended that teams stack their rosters with extra players at those positions. The Bills kept 10 O-linemen on their initial 53 man roster before temporarily placing Feliciano on IR. Among the reserves, Darryl Williams and Ryan Bates can play multiple positions. Brian Winters and Ike Boettger have mainly manned the guard spots. Also, there are 4 extra offensive linemen on the practice squad ready for action under the new league rules allowing more liberal activation from there to the regular roster each week.

 

Defensive Line

Ed Oliver, 2019 top draftee, starts at one DT spot

 

The Bills allowed a couple of their top 2019 contributors along the defensive front, Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, to leave via free agency, and starting tackle Star Lotulelei opted out of the season. Still, GM Beane managed to replenish the troops along the line in the off-season. Three of the four starters on the line are set – top prospect Ed Oliver at one tackle spot and veterans Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy at end. Among the candidates to fill Lotulelei’s position are Harrison Phillips, returning from a season-ending injury, and newcomers Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, both free agent signees. Jefferson provides position flexibility that the Bills’ coaches desire since he can play both inside and outside. Another new free agent, Mario Addison, figures to fill the pass rush specialist role that Lawson played in recent years, while the remaining backups, who will certainly see plenty of action in the team’s D-line rotation, are a pair of prospects teeming with potential – Darryl Johnson and rookie A.J. Epenesa. Again, the Bills covered their bases depth-wise by keeping 3 extra front line defenders on the practice squad.

 

Linebackers

 

Young LB Tremaine Edmunds (Konezny USA Today photo)

 

The retirement of Lorenzo Alexander leaves a hole in the Bills’ linebacking corps since he was a heady, versatile leader on the defense. However, young middle backer Tremaine Edmunds has taken over the defensive signal calling role and has steadily improved so far each year. He is a budding star. Matt Milano, who arguably is another rising stud on the Bills’ D-unit, mans one of the outside slots. To replace Alexander, Buffalo signed veteran A.J. Klein, who will see the field only when the team isn’t in their nickel formation, which is a majority of the time in the modern NFL. The Bills changed up the depth spots at linebacker as all 3 backups are new. Tyler Matakevich was signed away from Pittsburgh, mostly for his special teams ability. Tyrel Dodson, a PS member for most of 2019, made the final roster this year. The biggest surprise to make the active 53-man list has to be the other reserve LB, Del’Shawn Phillips. Also, Andre Smith, acquired in a training camp trade from Carolina, is available on the practice squad.

 

Defensive Backs

 

NFL’s top paid CB Tre White (Adrian Kraus AP photo)

 

The shining star in Buffalo’s talented secondary is All Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, who recently signed an extension that makes him the highest paid CB in the NFL. He’s earned that distinction with stellar play so far in his career. At the other corner spot, a grizzled vet, Josh Norman, was brought in to compete with Levi Wallace to start, but injuries in camp kept him from doing that to a degree. It’s uncertain how the Bills will line up at that position on opening day. The Bills are secure on the back end of the secondary with a pair of highly underrated safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Backing them up are steady Dean Marlowe and an up-and-coming 2019 rookie, Jaquan Johnson. The important slot or nickel cornerback spot, which is almost a starting position these days, is manned by Taron Johnson. He has excelled at the job since he’s been in Buffalo but has had injury concerns. Maybe the most important member of the secondary is Siran Neal. He can play both safety spots and also the nickel corner, in addition to being a gunner, and one of the main players, on special teams. There are also a number of reinforcements ready on the practice squad should the injury bug bite this position.

 

Special Teams

 

Rookie placekicker Tyler Bass

 

The Bills invested heavily on improving their bomb squads for the upcoming season, re-signing Taiwan Jones to be a gunner on kick return coverage to go with their other gunner, Siran Neal. Tyler Matakevich was signed after being a ST star in Pittsburgh. Also, undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam perfected the art of blocking kicks (he got 6 of them in his college career at Toledo). The Bills haven’t had a threat to do that since Steve Tasker. Andre Roberts, signed last year to put a charge into the team’s return game, is back to fill that role. Two thirds of the Bills’ kicking game return in long snapper Reid Ferguson and punter Corey Bojorquez.  Bojorquez beat out a couple of rivals to retain his job so the Bills must trust him. Buffalo is rolling the dice a bit in going with a rookie kicker, 6th round draft pick Tyler Bass, over veteran Stephen Hauschka. Hausch Money’s consistency and leg strength had diminished in the last couple of years, but it’s still a gamble.

 

Here’s your annual song to get psyched up for the upcoming season, the Bills’ Shout song:

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Buffalo Bills’ 2020 Draft Picks

23 Aug

We’re a little late to the party this year in posting our evaluations of the Buffalo Bills’ choices in this year’s college draft, but with the season fast approaching and our season preview post due soon, it’s better late than never! The Bills used their first round pick as part of a trade with Minnesota for a proven veteran wide receiver, Stefon Diggs. Here’s an analysis of their remaining choices:

 

(James Coller photo)

Round 2 – A.J. Epenesa (DE, Iowa) – a quick, strong pass rusher to add to the team’s defensive line rotation. Known for a strong work ethic, he should fit in well with the Bills’ “process”.

 

Round 3 – Zach Moss (RB, Utah) – the Bills elected not to resign Frank Gore, so there is an obvious opening for another back on the roster. Moss is a tough inside runner who should excel in short yardage situations, and also possesses good pass receiving skills.

 

Round 4 – Gabriel Davis (WR, Central Florida) – the first of 2 big receivers the Bills went after in the draft. Davis had impressive stats in his junior year at UCF before declaring for the draft – 72 receptions for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

(Tammy Baker photo)

Round 5 – Jake Fromm (QB, Georgia) – Jake “Fromm State Farm” became a controversial pick after some questionable texts by him were revealed, but his football ability makes him a solid possibility to win the team’s backup quarterback job behind Josh Allen.

 

Round 6A – Tyler Bass (K, Georgia Southern) – the first of a pair of sixth round choices turned out to be a serious competitor for incumbent kicker Stephen Hauschka. Bass has an extremely strong leg to compete with Hauschka, who seems to have lost some long range ability with age. Having kicked in a small conference in the south, Bass will have to show he can handle booting in the Buffalo weather.

 

Round 6B – Isiah Hodgins (WR, Oregon State) – here’s the other big-bodied wideout GM Brandon Beane chose. At 6’4 and 209 pounds, he is an imposing red zone target with a great pair of hands, and will be solidly in the mix for a roster spot among a talented group of receivers the team has.

 

Round 7 – Dane Jackson (CB, Pittsburgh) – seventh round draft picks are always long shots to stick with an NFL team, but the Bills value depth in their defensive secondary so he has a chance. He played 4 years at Pitt so he is experienced, and was second team All-ACC in his senior year.

 

The Bills, as always, signed some intriguing undrafted free agents after the selection process was over, including Reggie Gilliam, a fullback from Toledo who comes into camp with a reputation for being a special teams standout, specializing in blocking kicks. Trey Adams, a massive 6’8 311 pound tackle from Washington, was considered a top prospect before injuries hampered him but if he stays healthy he can win a roster spot. Brandon Walton, a big tackle from Florida Atlantic, blocked for Bills’ back Devin Singletary in college. Ike Brown is a cornerback from Florida International who will be one of a large group of young CBs trying to stick with the team. The COVID-19 virus and the NFL’s decision to expand rosters and practice squads to account for possible positive tests during the season certainly gives a lot of these players a great opportunity to continue their careers. However, the shortened training camp and lack of preseason games definitely cuts down on their chances to show their worthiness.

 

 

 
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NFL – 2020 Bills’ Mock Draft Predictions

19 Apr

We are now less than a week away from the NFL’s 2020 college draft. The first round mock draft by our Rayonsports correspondents is in the books, and now the four of us will try our hand at identifying the 7 players that our local team, the Buffalo Bills, will select this week. Here are our picks along with scouting reports and some rationale as to why the choices make sense:

 

Round 2, Pick # 54

 

Connor Pohlman – D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia) – Recently Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller noted that the Bills will look to add more offensive playmakers in this year’s draft. With the addition of stud WR Stefon Diggs this offseason, the Bills’ offense looks to take that step and the addition of Swift will help them get there.

 

Josh Pohlman – Jonathan Taylor, RB (Wisconsin) – Taylor would be the perfect 1-2 complement to Devin Singletary and would be the best player available at pick 54. 2019 Bills’ RB Frank Gore became a free agent in the offseason.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Trevon Diggs, CB (Alabama) – cornerback depth is added by picking up the brother of recent trade acquisition – wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Curtis Weaver EDGE (Boise State) – GM Brandon Beane has put his team in position to pick the best player available and Weaver fits that description as well as filling a future position of need, with Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and newly-signed Mario Addison all getting up in age.

 

Round 3, Pick # 86

 

Connor Pohlman – Chase Claypool, WR (Notre Dame) – Beane continues to add offensive playmakers here and clocking in at 6’4 and 238 lbs. Claypool would be the primary big body target in a WR room filled with “smurfs”, as coach Sean McDermott said last year.

 

Josh Pohlman – Chase Claypool, WR (Notre Dame) – the final offensive piece for the Bills, a big-bodied receiver who can make contested catches. It would be a stretch if he’s still available at pick # 86 but would also be the best player available.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Matthew Peart, OT (UConn) – Jamaican-born prospect with long arms and great athletic ability who may need development but his ceiling is high.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Bryan Edwards, WR (South Carolina) – Edwards is a physical, possession type receiver who projects as a slot receiver, making him the eventual heir apparent to Cole Beasley as well as an immediate contributor as he learns the ropes of being an NFL player.

 

Round 4, Pick # 128

 

Connor Pohlman – Kenny Willekes, EDGE (Michigan State) – the Bills added DE Mario Addison this offseason, who has been extremely consistent in his time with the Panthers, racking up at least 9 sacks every year since 2016. Adding Willekes here is a good value pick and will help the Bills get younger on the edge, eventually replacing Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes.

 

Josh Pohlman – Alton Robinson, EDGE (Syracuse) – a dominant pass rusher who would be a nice replacement for UFA Shaq Lawson. He has a career total of 19.5 sacks for 102 yards lost in the ACC.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Darrynton Evans, RB (Appalachian State) – small school back who would be expected to complement Devin Singletary. He’s an explosive, shifty runner who is good in pass protection, a bonus for a rookie back.

 

Ray Prelewicz – A.J. Dillon, RB (Boston College) – Bills need a big, physical short yardage back to complement Devin Singletary and Dillon would provide an immediate plug-and-play option there. He is a 6’1 249 lb. bruiser who also displays some unexpected shiftiness in the open field.

 

Round 5, Pick # 167

 

Connor Pohlman – Tanner Muse, S (Clemson) – Jordan Poyer was just recently extended for 2 more years on his current contract, but adding Muse will add depth and youth to the position. While he won’t start at safety right away, McDermott and DC Leslie Frazier like to rotate their young DBs similar to Taron Johnson and Siran Neal in their rookie seasons. Muse could compete for the chance to start on special teams. The Bills were also heavily involved in Clemson’s pro day.

 

Josh Pohlman – Shaquille Quarterman, LB (Miami) – Quarterman is a potential replacement for retired linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Also, Matt Milano hits free agency in 2021, barring an extension.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR (Liberty) – a big (6’4 223 lb.) red zone target for Josh Allen. He has a big catch radius and showed tremendous improvement with his hands in his senior year.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Markus Bailey, LB (Purdue) – a tough, blue collar defender who has the tenacity to carve out a role for himself in the NFL. He would have to earn a spot on special teams while learning the nuances of the position, but with the Bills’ lack of depth at LB would have a chance.

 

Round 6A, Pick # 188

 

Connor Pohlman – Javaris Davis, CB (Auburn) – Davis brings youth and depth to a position the Bills have done a good job of improving this offseason with the additions of Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines. Davis could find himself rotating at nickel corner with Taron Johnson.

 

Josh Pohlman – Terence Steele, OT (Texas Tech) – there are still some questions along the offensive line. Dion Dawkins will be a free agent in 2021 barring an extension and Ty Nsekhe will be 35 years old in October.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Raequan Williams, DL (Michigan State) – a good hand fighter in the defensive line who would have to work hard to make the Bills’ roster. His versatility to be able to play any position along the line would help him.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Carter Coughlin, EDGE (Minnesota) – a consistent playmaker for the Gophers in his college career, Coughlin totaled 22.5 sacks and 8 forced fumbles. Some scouts question his height and strength but he is a high-motor guy and a good value pick at this point.

 

Round 6B, Pick # 207

 

Connor Pohlman – Francis Bernard, LB (Utah) – with the loss of veteran LB Lorenzo Alexander this offseason, the Bills lost a pivotal part of that #3 ranked defense. Newest signing A.J. Klein should become a starter at OLB, but the addition of Bernard will add good depth, coming from a Utah defense that played a major role in landing them in the AP Top 10 this past season.

 

Josh Pohlman – Reggie Robinson II, CB (Tulsa) – cornerback depth is always needed and with Josh Norman only on a one year deal there is room to make the roster. Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White are potential free agents also barring extensions for them.

 

Scott Prelewicz – K.J. Osborn, WR (Miami) – he transferred from MAAC school University at Buffalo to Miami for his senior season and the jump wasn’t too big for him as he led the Hurricanes in receiving and contributed as a punt returner and on special teams, which gives him an edge in his attempt to stick in the NFL.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Jake Hanson, C (Oregon) – some scouts don’t think he’s strong enough to thrive in the NFL but his college coaches rave about him, especially his nasty temperament. He will probably have to show some versatility at other line positions to make the Bills’ roster if they pick him.

 

Round 7, Pick 239

 

Connor Pohlman – Austin Mack, WR (Ohio State) – the last pick of the Bills’ draft brings in a WR from a good college football program who made some big plays in the 2020 CFB Playoff.

 

Josh Pohlman – Rodrigo Blankenship, K (Georgia) – Bills’ kicker Stephen Hauschka will turn 35 years old in June. Last season he signed an extension and won’t be a free agent until 2022. Hauschka had a rocky start to the 2019 season, going 8-13 on field goals through the first 9 games. One game included an 0-2 performance (with a missed extra point also) that resulted in a 19-16 loss to Cleveland. It became clear that the Bills were exploring other options when they put in a waiver claim for Chase McLaughlin later in the season.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Trevon Hill, EDGE (Miami) – another Hurricane is picked. Hill enrolled at Miami after being dismissed from the team at Virginia Tech. He doesn’t have ideal size for an edge rusher but his play sometimes defied his lack of the prototypical body type.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Reggie Robinson II, CB (Tulsa) – big corner with good ball skills and a willing and able tackler in the run game. A versatile player who has also played safety.

 
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