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Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Sep

60fleerkemp

1960 Fleer football card of a pro football and political legend, quarterback Jack Kemp. He was the QB for the Chargers in their inaugural American Football League season, when they played in the city they are now returning to, Los Angeles. Kemp guided the Chargers to the AFL title game, but they lost to George Blanda and the Houston Oilers. He would go on to lead the Buffalo Bills to a pair of AFL titles, then became a Western New York congressman after retiring. The pinnacle of his political career came in 1996, when he was Bob Dole’s vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket. His son Jeff played in the NFL, mostly as a backup quarterback, for 10 seasons.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ 2017 Season Preview

03 Sep

It’s a whole new ballgame once again at One Bills Drive in 2017 as the team, in what seems like the umpteenth time, starts over with an entirely new regime in charge of football operations. Owners Terry and Kim Pegula, burned the last 2 seasons by the Rex Ryan circus, turn to Sean McDermott to try and right the ship. The expectations will be low as the roster seems to lack talent and the turnover has been high, but Buffalo fans will surely have high hopes that the 17 year playoff drought will finally end. Here is our assessment of the newest rendition of the hometown team, position by position:

 

Front Office / Coaching

Shortly after McDermott was hired as coach, Brandon Beane was brought in to replace Doug Whaley as general manager. The 2 newcomers at least seem to be on the same page when it comes to the type of player they want on the roster. The turnover on the roster has been stunning, and there was no more shocking move made than the trade of prize receiver Sammy Watkins. That move may backfire, but this regime certainly is not afraid to move boldly to accomplish their vision of a winning organization. McDermott hired a couple of experienced coordinators in Rick Dennison and Leslie Frazier, but time will tell whether there is enough talent on the team for them to orchestrate any success. With all the new faces on the team, it will be difficult to coordinate anything, given the lack of familiarity involved.

 

Quarterbacks

TyrodTaylor2

QB Tyrod Taylor

Although he enters the season in the concussion protocol and his status is uncertain for opening day, Tyrod Taylor is back as the Bills’ starting quarterback. He gives the team its’ best chance to win with his unique skill set, but still needs to show he can throw over the middle and just play more consistently in general. Still, the Bills’ offense, with Taylor at the helm, scored more points last year than the franchise did in Jim Kelly’s final 2 seasons in the 1990s. Rookie Nathan Peterman won the backup job in camp and showed poise in the pocket in the game action he saw. For the time being the Bills have 4 signal callers on the roster, with veteran T.J. Yates also in concussion protocol, and “Swiss Army knife” Joe Webb, a late addition from the waiver wire.

Running Backs

leseanmccoy

RB LeSean McCoy

Buffalo’s rushing attack is among the NFL’s best and LeSean McCoy is easily their best player. He will be a top weapon in both the running and passing attacks, and a major challenge for the coaching staff will be getting him the ball in space when opposing defenses will be keyed to stopping him. He is the only apparent big play threat on offense. With Mike Gillislee gone in free agency and Jonathan Williams a surprise cut, newcomer Joe Banyard looks like the main backup. Pro Bowl fullback Pat DiMarco was added to the roster, with his major role being that of a blocker for the feature backs. He can also help out in the passing game. Another new backfield addition is veteran Mike Tolbert, a fullback by trade who has also gotten opportunities as a running back. He should be valuable in short yardage and goal line situations. Speedy Taiwan Jones is also on the roster. He showed some flashes as a runner, but was outstanding as a special teams gunner, which will likely be his primary role.

 

Receivers

jordanmatthews

WR Jordan Matthews

The receiving corps got a major shakeup and lost a valuable downfield weapon when Watkins was dealt to the Rams, and the 2017 group looks like a mish-mosh of mostly slot-type receivers. Jordan Matthews, acquired from the Eagles the same day Watkins was traded, appears to be the top pass catcher now even though he has yet to suit up for a game. rookie Zay Jones will have to become a major player in the passing game whether he is ready or not. So far he looks like he has reliable hands and may even have the potential to develop into a deep threat. Brandon Tate is the club’s main kick returner, and a pretty effective one, but he also could see significant time as a receiver. The receiving corps is rounded out with veteran journeyman Andre Holmes, plus new addition Kaelin Clay, who is relatively unknown. He has some speed and made some plays in the preseason for Carolina, and is another kick return option. The Bills are keeping 4 tight ends on the roster, since tight ends apparently are important pieces of Dennison’s offensive scheme. Charles Clay can be a playmaker if Taylor can get him the ball over the middle, while Nick O’Leary is capable of moving the chains with third down receptions. The third option is project Logan Thomas, who is being converted to the position from quarterback. He is probably a candidate for the inactive list each week. The newest waiver acquisition is another tight end, Khari Lee, who has a couple of years of limited NFL experience.

Offensive Line

eric-wood1

C Eric Wood

The offensive line has been a strength of the team in recent years, despite the mediocre overall play of the offense. Anchored by center Eric Wood, the starting five have played together for awhile now, although they are learning a new zone-blocking scheme this year under Dennison. Richie Incognito and John Miller man the guard spots, with Cordy Glenn and Jordan Mills at tackle. There is some solid depth behind the starters, and some of the backups may push their way into the starting lineup as the season wears on. Ryan Groy played well in Wood’s spot last year after the starting center was injured, and is the primary backup. He could also slide into both guard and tackle positions in a pinch. The fact that Buffalo matched a free agency offer to keep him proves his value. Rookie second round pick Dion Dawkins may also push Mills out of the lineup when he gains some experience. Free agent signee Vlad Ducasse battled Miller for his job in camp, and will likely spell him during games all year. A late addition is Conor McDermott, no relation to the coach, who is a large rookie tackle from UCLA who was claimed off waivers.

Defensive Line

shaqlawson3

DE Shaq Lawson

Despite the low expectations, there is reason for optimism for Bills’ fans heading into the 2017 season. That reason is that the strength of the team is in the trenches, which is usually what winning teams need to be successful. Just like the offensive line, the defensive line is loaded with talent, and will be playing in a scheme that should highlight that talent, rather than hinder it, this year. Kyle Williams is a solid veteran, and locker room leader, at one tackle, and man-child Marcell Dareus is at the other tackle. Dareus needs to have a big year for the D-line, and the defense in general, to succeed. He can start by getting his off the field act together and then begin living up to his big contract. Ends Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson are primed to have big years harassing opposing quarterbacks. Hughes appears ready for a return to top form, while Lawson may have a breakout year. In the modern NFL, a robust defensive line rotation is important, and the Bills have plenty of depth to keep the troops fresh as games, and the season, grind on. Jerel Worthy, Adolphus Washington and DeAndre Coleman are stout as reserve tackles inside, while newcomers Ryan Davis and Eddie Yarbrough man the backup end spots. Yarbrough in particular showed a lot of energy in the preseason playing time he got. Judging from the preseason, the Bills will be tough to run against this year, after allowing multiple 200 yard rushers last season.

Linebackers

prestonbrown

LB Preston Brown

Buffalo’s linebacking corps is a little unsettled as the season begins. First off, the switch from last year’s 3-4 alignment to a base 4-3 left some players as bad fits. That was the case with Reggie Ragland, who was dealt to the Chiefs. Preston Brown was supposed to be challenged for the middle linebacker job by Ragland, but the veteran from Louisville resoundingly won that battle and will quarterback the defense from that spot. Aging vet Lorenzo Alexander was a revelation last year, but can he repeat the successful year that won him a surprising Pro Bowl trip in 2016? That remains to be seen. The other outside starter is journeyman Ramon Humber. Both he and Alexander were supposed to be special teamers but now find themselves as starting ‘backers. Humber could be pushed for playing time by the reserves. However, after final cuts the only other backups for this unit are rookie late round draft picks Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo, which prompted GM Beane to scour the waiver wire for help at the position. He wound up signing a young prospect in Deon Lacey.

Defensive Backs

CB E.J. Gaines

As far as the defensive secondary is concerned for Buffalo entering 2017, one thing is certain – it will be different. There are no holdovers from last year among the DBs. The starting safety tandem is a pair of free agent additions, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Hyde was a solid player for a winning franchise in Green Bay, and figures to be an effective leader on defense. Poyer is a bit of an unknown wild card, having toiled with the lowly Cleveland Browns and coming off an injury. They looked good and comfortable with each other in preseason action, and now will be tested in real games. Another ex-Brown, Trae Elston, is the only other reserve safety. The cornerbacks are all new faces. Rookie top draftee Tre’Davious White replaces departed Stephon Gilmore as the top corner, with the other starting spot and slot corner position still open. Veterans Leonard Johnson, Shareece Wright and E.J. Gaines (acquired for Watkins) are the candidates. Rookie Greg Mabin had 2 preseason interceptions to earn himself a surprise roster spot.

Special Teams

Brandon+Tate

KR Brandon Tate

Holdovers on the bomb squads are punter Colton Schmidt, who needs to rebound from a poor 2016, and main kick returner Brandon Tate, who is valuable in giving the offense field position. Long snapper Reid Ferguson is new, as is placekicker Stephen Hauschka, who was highly successful in Seattle. He had problems with the new extra point distance last year, however, much like his predecessor here, Dan Carpenter. With the high turnover on the roster, the special teams will include many new faces, among them gunner Taiwan Jones. New WR acquisition Kaelin Clay has kick return potential also.

 

Overview

As stated earlier, the fact that the Bills are strong in the trenches, on both the offensive and defensive lines, gives them hope for a successful season. They’ll need big years from their few playmakers, McCoy, Charles Clay, Dareus, Hughes and possibly Hyde, to have any success. They’ll have to play solid team defense, and offense for that matter, and get contributions from their non-superstar but solid players like Kyle Williams, Alexander, Jordan Matthews, Holmes and Poyer. If youngsters like Lawson, Tre White, Zay Jones and Dawkins can develop, they could surprise people. McDermott certainly has his hands full in his head coaching debut season, but with expectations low he really only needs to show that the team is showing weekly improvement. If they are showing solid improvement as the year goes on, the future will look bright, especially with all those stockpiled high draft choices coming in 2018.

For the die-hard Bills’ fans, here’s the annual traditional ending of this season preview. Enjoy:

 

 

 

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

03 Sep

indiana7681

Logo of a college football program, the Indiana Hoosiers, who play in the Big Ten Conference. The Hoosier program has existed since 1887, and has sent numerous players on to pro football careers, including Pete Pihos, Earl Faison, Antwan Randle-El, Chris Dielman, Bob Skoronski, George Taliaferro and Trent Green.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

03 Sep

84toppsfrazier

1984 Topps football card of former Chicago Bear defensive back Leslie Frazier, who played 5 seasons in the NFL, helping the Bears win the Super Bowl in 1985. Frazier is now a well-regarded coach in the league. He was head coach of the Minnesota Vikings for 4 years, and has been a defensive coordinator for various clubs, currently serving in that role for the Buffalo Bills.

 

NFL – Mock Draft 2017 Round One

23 Apr

For the second year in a row, Rayonsports.com will offer a first round mock draft for the NFL’s annual selection process of college talent. Here are our guesses as to who will be chosen in the draft, which is mostly a crapshoot for the league’s 32 teams:

  1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M). Garrett has been the consensus top pick for awhile, and to hard to imagine the Browns passing up this can’t miss edge rusher.
  2. San Francisco 49ers – Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina). New 49er GM John Lynch seems enamored with Trubisky, who has risen up team’s draft boards rapidly for some reason, despite his only having 13 games of college starting experience.
  3. Chicago Bears – Jamal Adams (S, L.S.U.) The Jay Cutler era is officially over in Chicago, and the Bears signed Mike Glennon as a possible replacement. But is he really the answer? I could see the Bears going QB here, but Adams is too good a prospect to pass up.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Allen (DT, Alabama). Conventional wisdom has the Jags picking a running back here, but I can see Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone adding to their young stable of up-and-coming defensive players instead.
  5. Tennessee Titans – Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State). The Titans are thin at cornerback so this choice makes sense. He’ll be an instant fit in defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau’s defense.
  6. New York Jets – O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama). The cream of the tight end crop this year may be the best receiver in the draft, including the wide receivers.
  7. Los Angeles Chargers – Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford). An elite edge rusher, Thomas would be an excellent bookend paired with last year’s top pick, Joey Bosa, in the Chargers’ defense.
  8. Carolina Panthers – Leonard Fournette (RB, L.S.U.). Adding a stud back like Fournette would be the best way to help Cam Newton regain his 2015 form, so I can see coach Ron Rivera liking this addition.
  9. Cincinnati Bengals – Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State). Coach Marvin Lewis adds a major playmaker to his already stout defense. Strong defense is needed in the AFC North in order to compete with Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
  10. Buffalo Bills – Mike Williams (WR, Clemson). A partner in crime to line up opposite Sammy Watkins at wide receiver will help the Bills’ offensive production in the passing game, complementing one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks.
  11. New Orleans Saints – Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford). A versatile weapon for Drew Brees to utilize in coach Sean Payton’s offense would be a shot in the arm for the Saints, who have gotten a bit stagnant since their 2009 Super Bowl win.
  12. Cleveland Browns – Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson). The Browns got this pick from Philadelphia as part of last year’s Carson Wentz trade. They get their future franchise quarterback with the bonus pick.
  13. Arizona Cardinals – Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee). Although Bruce Arians is an offensive-minded head coach, they’ll be hard pressed to pass up a top prospect like Barnett if he falls to them.
  14. Philadelphia Eagles – Haason Reddick (LB, Temple). The Eagles know Reddick well, with him having played at Temple, and they’ll jump at the chance to add him to their defense.
  15. Indianapolis Colts – Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan). The Colts need to upgrade Andrew Luck’s corps of offensive weapons, and Davis would be a welcome addition.
  16. Baltimore Ravens – Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama). An addition of much-needed help to a thin secondary, in a division where you have to match up with the likes of A.J. Green and Antonio Brown.
  17. Washington Redskins – Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama). Foster is too good a prospect to pass on at this point, despite his off the field issues. A smart pick by Jay Gruden and the ‘Skins.
  18. Tennessee Titans – John Ross (WR, Washington). using the Los Angeles Rams’ pick acquired during last year’s draft, the Titans add a speed demon weapon for Marcus Mariota.
  19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State). The Bucs look in-state for an input of youth into their running game.
  20. Denver Broncos – Cam Robinson (T, Alabama). John Elway will jump out of his chair to pick the big Crimson Tide blocker if he’s available this late.
  21. Detroit Lions – Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan). He is a player who is hard to pigeon-hole into a specific position on defense, but his versatility will be a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators when he establishes himself in the league.
  22. Miami Dolphins – Gareon Conley (CB, Ohio State). The Fish need to strengthen their secondary to take another step forward in 2017, and Conley would be a good addition to help achieve that goal.
  23. New York Giants – Garrett Bolles (T, Utah). The Giants had one of the NFL’s weakest run games last season, and need to make upgrades along their offensive line to improve in that area.
  24. Oakland Raiders – Takkarist McKinley (DE, UCLA). Oakland has a stud in Khalil Mack, but still needs help to improve the pass rush. McKinley would be a strong addition to their D-line.
  25. Houston Texans – Patrick Mahomes (QB, Texas Tech). The Texans are a decent team lacking a good quarterback, and after ridding themselves of Brock Osweiler, they’ll take home-state signal caller Mahomes to be their next savior.
  26. Seattle Seahawks – Kevin King (CB, Washington). This would be a strong pick for the Hawks regardless of whether or not they trade Richard Sherman.
  27. Kansas City Chiefs – Malik McDowell (DL, Michigan State). A big body lineman to help offset the loss of Dontari Poe.
  28. Dallas Cowboys – Adoree Jackson (CB, USC). The Cowboys do a bit of a reach to fill a need in their secondary.
  29. Green Bay Packers – Charles Harris (DE, Missouri). The Pack goes for an edge rusher to help shore up their defense.
  30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Tim Williams (DE, Alabama). Another of Nick Saban’s many Crimson Tide pro prospects, he will be a good fit for the rugged Steeler defense.
  31. Atlanta Falcons – Forrest Lamp (G, Western Kentucky). The Falcons can use some O-line help to keep QB Matt Ryan upright, and Lamp is high on their list.
  32. New Orleans Saints – Ryan Ramczyk (OT, Wisconsin). The Saints got this pick from New England for Brandin Cooks, and they’ll use it to give Drew Brees some more protection along the front line.
 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

23 Apr

lachargers

Logo of the National Football League’s latest relocated franchise, the Los Angeles Chargers. An original member of the old American Football League, the Chargers actually were born in L.A., spending only their inaugural season of 1960 in that city before moving to San Diego. The coach of the original L.A. Chargers was Hall of Famer Sid Gillman, considered a pioneer in the modern passing game. That team had a 10-4 record, won the Western Division title, but lost to the Houston Oilers in the very first AFL Championship game.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

23 Apr

65toppswilliebrown

1965 Topps football card of former AFL and NFL defensive back Willie Brown, who is one of only 16 undrafted players who went on to have Hall of Fame careers. Brown originally signed with the Houston Oilers, moved on to Denver, and had his most success in his 12 years spent with the Oakland Raiders, helping them win 3 Super Bowl titles. He was voted to the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1970s and was inducted into Canton in 1984.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

07 Jan

The fourth and final segment of our Buffalo Bills’ 2016 season review takes a look at what the team needs to do to finally snap the 17 year playoff drought. Of course, the first and most important thing they need to do is find a new head coach who can change the attitude and the culture of a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for almost two decades. Here is a summary of the Bills’ biggest needs and our suggestions on how to fill them:

Head Coach

The lack of discipline under Ryan needs to be corrected. If the Pegulas and Doug Whaley decide they need to have some semblance of continuity, then promoting interim coach Anthony Lynn to the job full time would be a good option. Two candidates who have been lined up for interviews are relative unknowns – Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator for Carolina, and Harold Goodwin, offensive coordinator for Arizona. A dark horse candidate who I liked before Ryan was hired is former Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich. He is currently offensive coordinator for the Eagles, and did a pretty good job helping develop rookie Carson Wentz there. He’s not a flashy or hot candidate, but the fact he knows the fan base and understands the team’s history is a plus. He seems to have the right demeanor to be a good head coach also, and really was basically a coach on the sideline for Jim Kelly during his playing days.

Quarterback

If the Bills want to try to build on what they’ve accomplished on offense, then bringing back Tyrod Taylor is the best option. A new head coach will likely have input in that call, however. No matter what, the Bills will need to replace EJ Manuel as their primary backup. As far as veteran free agents go, the pickings are slim. They might be better off just continuing to develop Cardale Jones and drafting another lower round player to compete with him. Middle round options with some possibilities include Iowa’s C.J. Beathard and a familiar name, Chad Kelly from Ole Miss.

Receiver

The Bills have 3 impending free agent receivers in Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter, four if you count Percy Harvin, who should not be retained after contributing nothing after being re-signed this year. It would behoove them to try to retain Woods and Hunter and then try to strengthen the unit through the draft. Good receivers can be plucked in the middle to late rounds if your scouts are doing their jobs. Some options there are Corey Davis from Western Michigan, Travis Rudolph of Florida State and Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook.

Safety

This is the Bills’ biggest area of need and may very well be where they look to improve their defense with their top draft choice, which will be the tenth pick of the draft. There are three top players who might be available there – Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, a versatile star, Malik Hooker of Ohio State and LSU’s Jamal Adams. Any of these three would be able to step into Aaron Williams’ starting spot in the lineup. An interesting free agent possibility is Duron Harmon of New England, who could be a diamond in the rough for the Bills’ currently depleted secondary.

Defensive Line

The Bills need to start looking toward the future with Kyle Williams aging and Marcell Dareus being a player they can’t count on. A couple of draft prospects are Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones and Clemson’s Carlos Watkins, who are both nose tackles. If they decide to try to improve the pass rush, a couple of draftable edge rushers are Josh Carraway of TCU and Auburn’s Carl Lawson.

Placekicker

The Bills have a lot of needs but Dan Carpenter was so bad this season that they may have to use a draft pick on a new kicker. The top prospect is Auburn’s Daniel Carlson, who also can punt. If they can convince him to come here, Los Angeles Ram kicker Greg Zuerlein is one of the NFL’s best. Signing him would be equivalent to when they inked Steve Christie back in the “Plan B” free agency days.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 Jan

swmissouristbears082005

Logo of a small college football team, used until 2005, the Southwest Missouri State Bears. The program began in 1908 and in 2005 the school shortened it’s name to Missouri State. Former Bears who went on to play pro football are Brad St. Louis, Tom Mullen and Jason Whittle.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Jan

68toppslittle

1968 Topps football card of former pro football running back Floyd Little, who was a star player for the Denver Broncos during some of their lean years in the old American Football League. He played 9 seasons for the Broncos and was a two-time AFL All Star, then carried that success into the NFL after the leagues merged, being named to the Pro Bowl 3 times. Little was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.