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Classic Sports Card of The Day

14 Apr

55toppsAAberwanger

1955 Topps All American football card of the first player ever chosen in an NFL draft, halfback Jay Berwanger. He was the star player for the University of Chicago Maroons and also achieved another first – the first winner of the Heisman Trophy (then known as the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy) awarded to the top college player. He was drafted by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in the league’s first-ever draft in 1936, but his rights were traded to the Chicago Bears, who couldn’t reach a contract agreement with him. Berwanger took a job with a Chicago-based rubber company instead and never played pro football. He died of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 88.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

19 Jan

The fourth and final section of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review is our favorite part, where we put on the general manager’s hat and make suggestions as to what the team needs to do to improve going into next season. It’ll be a much easier offseason for Brandon Beane and the front office compared to last year, when they had major holes to fill all across the roster. Beane did yeoman’s work to fill those holes in both free agency and the draft, and the results of that work were positive as the team turned its’ record around from 6-10 to 10-6 while claiming a wild card playoff spot. Here is our list of needs for the Bills, with suggestions as to how to go about filling them:

 

Quarterback

 

This should come with an asterisk as it really just means backup* QB. Josh Allen is firmly entrenched as the starter, but it would behoove the Bills to kick the tires on some veteran backups to battle Matt Barkley in training camp for the clipboard carrier’s job. Most of the available “backup” types, like Washington’s Case Keenum and Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel of Chicago or Kansas City’s Matt Moore, are well into their 30s so the Bills would be looking at a short term deal. Maybe the team would consider bringing back an old friend to be third string QB and a special teams contributor, Joe Webb III of Houston.

 

Running Back

 

While Devin Singletary is poised to carry the load as the lead back next season, the situation behind him will likely change. Frank Gore faded as the season went on and he may not even decide to play another year. T.J. Yeldon was rarely used and has to be looking for a different situation where he can get on the field more. Senorise Perry is also a free agent. That leaves Christian Wade as the sole returnee so Buffalo has to add some depth in the backfield. Kenyan Drake, who exploded onto the scene after being traded from Miami to Arizona, figures to cash in on his play from the second half of 2019 with the Cardinals. He would be an ideal complementary back to Singletary but may cost a bit too much for the Bills’ liking. Philadelphia’s Jordan Howard and Jonathan Williams of the Colts are a couple of younger and cheaper options. If they stay true to their formula, they’ll add a back in the draft, probably in the mid-to-late rounds. Players in that category are A.J. Dillon of Boston College, Lamical Perine of Florida and Benny Lemay of Charlotte.

 

Wide Receiver

 

This is the position that Buffalo is in the most need of an upgrade on offense. The additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley improved the receiving corps immensely in 2019 but there is still a need for a big, fast, strong pass catcher who makes the contested catches. Bills’ fans have clamored for Cincinnati’s A.J. Green but he is 32 years old and injury prone. The only WR on the market who comes close to filling the above-mentioned needs for Buffalo is Amari Cooper of Dallas. I see the team using the draft to get their man, with a deep class of receivers available. This position has a great chance of being the top priority of the team in the first round with the talent available. Players likely available at the Bills’ slot at # 22 are Tee Higgins of Clemson and Laviska Shenault of Colorado, both dynamic playmakers. If Brandon Beane waits until the second round to grab a receiver, Justin Jefferson of national champion LSU and Michael Pittman Jr. of USC are candidates. Possible late round gems are Bryan Edwards of South Carolina and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool.

 

Linebacker

 

With Lorenzo Alexander retiring and the linebacking depth thin as it is, this position will be high on Beane’s list for additions. I believe the best free agent available, and a good fit for Buffalo’s defense, is New England’s Kyle Van Noy. Signing him would be the double hit of improving an already strong defense and weakening a tough Patriot defense. Matthew Judon of Baltimore is another interesting prospect. He is only 28 and a top young star on the Ravens’ defense. In the draft, Buffalo could go after Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma or LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson in the first round, or wait until round 2 and target Zack Baun of Wisconsin, Troy Dye of Oregon or Malik Harrison of Ohio State. Late round prospects include Carter Coughlin of Minnesota and Patrick Queen of LSU.

 

Edge Rusher

 

The lines between outside linebackers and edge rushers have been blurred in the last couple of years. The Bills still employ a defense that uses linebackers and defensive ends, and any edge rusher added would have to line up at one of those spots. As for free agents, Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree would be a nice addition, and although he’s up in years at 32 Carolina’s Mario Addison could be considered. In the draft, Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa would have to be looked at if he falls to the Bills in the first round, as would Curtis Weaver of Boise State. Later round sleepers are Alton Robinson of Syracuse and Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith.

 

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

19 Jan

minngophers86now

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Big Ten Conference, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Their program began play in 1882 and has won 18 conference titles and 9 national championships. The Gophers have produced an outstanding 7 Pro Football Hall of Famers – Carl Eller, Bronko Nagurski, Bobby Bell, Leo Nomellini, Charlie Sanders and coaches Bud Grant and Tony Dungy. Other notable former Gophers who have played in the NFL include Gino Cappelletti, Tyrone Carter, Eric Decker, John Williams, Rick Upchurch, Milt Sunde, Mike Mercer, Karl Mecklenburg, Gale Gillingham and Gordie Soltau.

 
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Classic Sports Card of The Day

19 Jan

79toppsmarioclark

1979 Topps football card of former pro cornerback Mario Clark, who played 9 years in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. He was a stalwart in the secondary as a starting cornerback for the Bills from 1976 through 1983, and collected 26 interceptions in his career. He finished his career with the Super Bowl winning 49er team of 1984.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

17 Jan

In part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review we’ll do a position-by-position scan of the special teams and the unit that was most responsible for the team’s run to the playoffs in 2019, the defense. Here’s our critique, starting with the defense:

 

Defensive Line

 

Buffalo’s defensive line didn’t have a particular star player in 2019 but collectively did a good job in pressuring opposing passers and an adequate job stopping the run in most games. They overcame the retirement of Kyle Williams without missing a beat. In the interior, Jordan Phillips was a revelation, leading the team in sacks. Rookie Ed Oliver started out slowly but was a force in the middle as the season wore on and will be a cornerstone of the entire defensive unit moving forward. Star Lotulelei, who has been somewhat of a disappointment since signing a big free agent contract a couple of years ago, made his presence known more than ever this season and was one of a few Bills’ defenders that seemed to profit from coordinator Leslie Frazier’s more aggressive approach in 2019. Cory Luiget and Vincent Taylor are big bodied tackles who were brought in during the season and both showed some ability as space-eaters when they got a chance to play. Those 2 additions to the D-tackle rotation were made necessary when promising second year man Harrison Phillips was lost for the year early on. His return will be a big factor in 2020 and also may play into whether the Bills go all in to resign Jordan Phillips, who is now a restricted free agent and likely wants a big payday. The Bills’ rotational group at end is an interesting mix. Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy are veterans who consistently apply pressure on the pass rush but are inconsistent in racking up sacks. Hughes is a player who is always around the quarterback but doesn’t finish. If his tackling improved he could easily compile double digit sacks every year. Murphy’s performance ranges from dominant to invisible. Shaq Lawson, a former high draft pick, never really lived up to the hype until this season, when he was a good run defender and consistent pass rusher, despite a low sack count. Rookie late round pick Darryl Johnson showed a lot of potential to grow into a decent defensive end in his first year, and was a major special teams player also. Mike Love, a sleeper prospect who wound up on IR all year, will also be back in the mix in next year’s training camp. The team will employ a new defensive line coach, Eric Washington,  in 2020 and there is a lot of improvement to be had from the players he’ll coach.

 

Linebackers

 

The Bills had three solid starting linebackers in 2019 in Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, who is headed to his first Pro Bowl, and veteran Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander is retiring so there is a hole to fill in the lineup there for next year. They won’t enter the season expecting the holdover backups, Corey Thompson and Julian Stanford, to man that important position. Both are core special teamers and capable reserves but linebacker is a spot they’ll need to upgrade, and add depth to, in free agency and/or the draft. Two players who were on injured reserve, Vosean Joseph and Maurice Alexander, will be back to battle for the job. Joseph is more likely of the two to have a shot at winning the starting spot, as Alexander is the same type of player, a special teamer, as Thompson and Stanford. Tyrel Dodson, an undrafted rookie last season, could make some noise too. He showed enough in the way of intelligence and physical play in training camp last year to be kept around.

 

Defensive Backs

 

For the second straight season the secondary was the brightest unit on not only the defense but the entire Bills’ squad. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are as solid of a safety tandem as there is in the NFL, despite not getting much media attention. Tre’Davious White progressed into what many thought he would be when he was drafted, a first team All Pro cornerback. Across from him, Levi Wallace won the starting job and had his ups and downs but overall his play was acceptable. In the times he struggled this past season, Kevin Johnson took over and played well also. Johnson is a free agent now and the Bills should look to lock him up for another year. Taron Johnson, although prone to injury at times, has become a reliable slot corner. Usually practice squad members are afterthoughts when a team goes into the next season, but University at Buffalo product Cam Lewis has a legitimate chance of making the team next season. He showed enough in the preseason to be kept around despite the long odds of being an undrafted free agent from an unheralded program like UB’s. One of the most valuable members of the secondary, and even of the whole team, is the versatile Siran Neal. He has cemented his place on the club as it’s best special teams gunner, and also as a fill-in at both safety and the slot corner spot. Rookie safety Jaquan Johnson made some waves on special teams and has the look of a player who could have a future as a starter once Hyde or Poyer start to decline. A couple of veterans who have the Carolina pedigree that Beane and McDermott like, Dean Marlowe and Kurt Coleman, are strictly depth and special teams players.

 

Special Teams

 

The special teams for Buffalo were horrendous in 2018 and that led to the club bringing in a new coordinator, Heath Farwell, to lead the bomb squads. Unfortunately, the STs weren’t really special in 2019 either. Pro Bowl kick returner Andre Roberts was signed to add some spark to that part of the game, and although he was reliable and did a decent job, he wasn’t really that special and never provided the big play to help win a game or provide great field position for the offense. In other words, he could be counted on to not make costly mistakes but not to create the excitement of big returns. Perhaps they look to find a dynamic returner in the college draft, or maybe Christian Wade puts his rugby skills to work to provide some exciting returns. Kick coverage was mostly alright, although they did allow a 100+ yard return for a score to Miami. Long snapper Reid Ferguson was perfect all season. Punter Corey Bojorquez was inconsistent. He had a crucial punt blocked against New England that cost the Bills the game, and had more than a few shanks, but seemed to clean that up by season’s end. Still, some competition for his spot next season seems in order. The same could be said for placekicker Stephen Hauschka. He had a very inconsistent year but settled down to regain his “Hausch Money” nickname by season’s end. Of all the players whose main job was special teams, two were standouts in my book – Neal and Jaquan Johnson. Farwell’s job for next season should be to figure out how to get his units to help win games. Block a punt or a field goal maybe, or get some big plays in the return game that turn the tide of a game?

 

 

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

17 Jan

easternKYcolonels

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. Their finger-lickin’ good program began play in 1891 and over the years they’ve won 21 conference titles and a pair of small college national championships. Former Colonels who have enjoyed careers in pro football include Yeremiah Bell, Tim Lester, Aaron Jones, Myron Guyton, John Jackson, Jason Dunn, Chad Bratzke and Wally Chambers.

 
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Classic Sports Card of The Day

17 Jan

82toppscurtisbrown

1982 Topps football card of former pro running back Curtis Brown, who played seven years in the National Football League, mainly for the Buffalo Bills. His best season was in 1978, when he finished second on the team in rushing yards, to Terry Miller, and also had a 102 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Brown, who suffered from dementia in his later years believed to be a product of his playing days, died of a heart attack in 2015 at the age of 60.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

16 Jan

Part 2 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review will take a look at the offense. Here’s a position-by-position critique of the players on that side of the ball:

 

Quarterbacks

 

If there’s one word that describes the difference at the quarterback position for the Bills in 2019 compared to 2018 it’s this – stability. After a tumultuous 2018 season that saw the likes of Nate Peterman, Matt Barkley and Derek Anderson take turns guiding the offense, this past season saw second year prospect Josh Allen take the reins as the undisputed starter, and team leader, at the position. Allen showed tremendous progress as the season wore on in terms of cutting down turnovers and leading fourth quarter comebacks, and that progress was a major factor in the team racking up 10 wins on the year. He still made his share of mistakes and regressed into his “hero ball” personna at times, but if he continues to improve on the same arc he is on now the Bills truly have their franchise QB going into the future. Barkley did enough in 2018 to grab the backup spot, but it remains to be seen if the team looks to upgrade that important roster spot next season. There will be some interesting veterans looking for jobs this offseason. Does practice squad member Davis Webb have a chance to unseat Barkley? That should play out in next year’s training camp.

 

Running Backs

 

One of the big surprises of the 2019 campaign was the jettisoning of LeSean McCoy, the Bills’ workhorse back of previous seasons. That left the ball-carrying load in the hands of future Hall of Famer Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary. Gore carried the load early on and when Singletary was hurt, but as the season wore on the rookie took over as the lead back and Gore’s carries were diminished. There’s no doubt going into 2020 that Singletary is the main ball carrier and it’s not even likely the aging Gore will return for another season. T.J. Yeldon was a free agent signee who rarely was active on game days. I don’t see him returning to the Bills next year as he will want to find a team where he can have more opportunity to play. Senorise Perry is on the roster strictly for special teams and will have to fight hard to retain his spot next season. Christian Wade, the novelty rugby player who was on the practice squad in 2019, will get another crack at making the team. He showed flashes of promise in the preseason and it will be interesting to see how much further along he is in his development when he takes the field in camp. There is definitely room for another back, preferably one who would complement Singletary, to be brought into the fold for next season. Fullback Pat DiMarco is another player who is a regular on special teams and is used on offense almost strictly as a blocking back. Could the Bills save that roster spot by utilizing an extra lineman or a big defensive player in that blocking back role next year?

 

Receivers

 

The free agent additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley were an immense improvement over the Bills’ 2018 receiving corps. Brown provided a 1,000+ yard season while Beasley posted career high numbers as a slot security blanket for Allen. The rest of the receiver group provided mixed results. Isaiah McKenzie was usually the #3 wideout and he had his moments but wasn’t a consistent threat. He made most of his noise on jet sweep running plays. Duke Williams rarely saw the field and when he did he made some important plays as a big target for Allen, but again, wasn’t consistent enough as he also had some drops. Robert Foster regressed from 2018 and it appears he will be in for a fight to make the final roster next season, especially if the Bills add more receiving help as expected. Andre Roberts was almost exclusively used as a kick returner. He was extremely reliable but did nothing spectacular. The Bills will have 5 tight ends battling for jobs in 2020. Rookie Dawson Knox appears to have locked down the starting spot, and another first year player, Tommy Sweeney, was noticeable as a weapon in the rare chances he got to see action. Veteran Lee Smith is a locker room force and a good mentor for the young tight ends, but with his penchant for taking penalties he should struggle to stick with the club next year. Free agent addition Tyler Kroft lost much of the season to injury, but he’s signed on for additional years so he will probably be among the tight ends who are kept. Jason Croom became a forgotten man as he spent the season on injured reserve, but he’ll also be around to compete for a job.

 

Offensive Linemen

 

The Bills completely rebuilt their offensive line in 2019 with left tackle Dion Dawkins being the only returnee from the previous year to keep his job. GM Brandon Beane’s biggest free agent splash was signing center Mitch Morse to a long term contract and after dealing with concussion issues in the preseason Morse settled in to anchor the line all season. In the few instances when Morse was sidelined with injuries, another free agent, Jon Feliciano, showed his versatility by filling in at center. Otherwise Feliciano nailed down the starting right guard spot and performed admirably there all year. At left guard was Quinton Spain, signed away from Tennessee. He started at that position all season and didn’t allow a single sack in pass protection while also blocking well for the run. Veteran Ty Nsekhe came in as a free agent also and alternated at right tackle with rookie second round draft pick Cody Ford. When Nsekhe went down late in the year with an ankle injury Ford took over the spot full time and although he had his share of rookie hiccups he played well enough to give the team hope that they’ve found a long term answer for that position too. One of the tasks facing Beane this offseason will be resigning Spain, who came to Buffalo on a one year “prove it” deal. The big guard bet on himself and it paid off as he earned a big payday, hopefully from the Bills. There weren’t many times when the depth players on the line were called on to fill in as the Bills stayed miraculously healthy all year, but when the need arose Beane’s acquisitions filled the bill well. Spencer Long, signed for his versatility, played both center and guard at times and there wasn’t a noticeable decline in play. A preseason trade addition, Ryan Bates, also was a versatile addition. He wasn’t called on often but spent time at both guard and tackle and as an extra lineman when called for. He could be an excellent candidate to become the aforementioned “fullback” if the team decides to move on from Pat DiMarco. Ike Boettger was on the 53 man roster but with the good health of the regular linemen he rarely was active on game day. Another of Beane’s O-line free agents, swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, was hurt in training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. He was also on a one year contract and his status will be another decision the front office has to make for 2020. Overall, the team has to be ecstatic over how the massive overhaul of the line worked out. The team is set up for the coming years with stability up front.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

16 Jan

Blufftonbeavers

Logo of a small college football team that plays in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, the Bluffton Beavers. The Division III program played it’s first season in 1913 and currently plays its’ home games at Dwight Salzman Stadium in Bluffton, Ohio. The school has produced a pair of pro football players – Seth Burkholder, a kicker in the Arena League, and former Buffalo Bills’ star flanker Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion.

 
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Classic Sports Card of The Day

16 Jan

64toppsdubenion

1964 Topps football card of a recently deceased former player, Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion, who played 9 seasons in the American Football League for the Buffalo Bills. He was a star flanker for the team and the main receiver for quarterback Jack Kemp. Dubenion was a major part of Buffalo’s back-to-back AFL championship teams in the mid-1960s. A three-time AFL All Star, he still ranks in the top 10 of Bills’ career receiving yards. After retiring as a player Dubenion worked as a scout for many years with the Bills, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.

 
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