Tag Archives: Shane Ray

Successful Next Man Up Means Next Round in NFL

This season in the NFL seems to carry a constant theme. Press conferences, media commentary, play on the field and even front office success carries the theme “Next Man Up.” A simple three word phrase when broken down further can explain the NFL and the teams able to rise above. When you apply this phrase to individual teams it’s more evident a team’s success is based on this motto.

The Denver Broncos are no exception. Their reaction to injuries can explain their success AND the hole that could be their downfall

Manning-Osweiler

The quarterback situation is THE biggest “Next Man Up” example for the Denver Broncos. When an aging first ballot hall of famer come up lame and your back up not only contributes BUT advances your division and playoff seeding that is the best case of “Next Man Up” available. The Dallas Cowboys similar situation ended in a completely different way. Tony Romo went down and Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore were disastrous. The defense was the anchor of the Broncos but Brock Osweiler steered the ship well.

Defensive Replacements

This defense will lead the Broncos where they are going to end up. Their success with “Next Man Up” was a big part of this. Whether it was Shaq Barrett or Shane Ray filling in for Demarcus Ware or Bradley Roby stepping in for Chris Harris Jr in the AFC Divisional game this side of the ball had an answer for fallen teammates. An example of how poorly this could have gone would be the Baltimore Ravens. A Super Bowl pick by some but losses of Chris Canty, Terrell Suggs and Matt Elam hurt them tremendously. They are now picking 6th in the upcoming draft.

Offensive Line

This is where “Next Man Up” falters with the Broncos. It was and still remains the main weakness looming, ready to haunt a promising team. Injuries to two left tackles, a left guard and having only one right guard on the depth chart is the main culprit of this ghost. It has posed challenges for an average offense. Throwing the ball down the field, opening running lanes and sustaining long drives are issues impeding the offensive success of this team. All issues stem from poor offensive line play and not enough talent for “Next Man Up” to be successful. It will also be the issue that determines how far this team can go in the playoffs.

“Next Man Up” is a rousing phrase for fans and players alike to be ready and know their number could be called at any time. It is inspiring and simple but if the player coming into the game is Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden the phrase means high draft picks are in your future. A team has to acquire the right players to make “Next Man Up” work. Depth is huge in the NFL. If you don’t have quality depth you will not maintain high performance on the field. The Broncos capable fill-ins are a direct cause of the front office drafting and signing the right players. Brock Osweiler, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, Darrien Stewart and Bradley Roby all filled in well AND even excelled. They were also drafted and signed by the Broncos. A strong organization from the front office down makes “Next Man Up” effective. The void of capable offensive linemen ready to step in and maintain is also the front office’s fault. This lack of depth could lead to an earlier than hoped exit from the 2016 playoffs.

The NFL Combines Gym Class and Job Interviews

The NFL isn’t struggling for popularity or market-share with today’s sports fan. They own the sports calendar five months out of the year, and it’s probably more when you factor in how much time is spent on the draft in April and May or uncountable number of Fantasy Drafts that take place in August. The process of the actual draft is a year-round thing, and I believe that the College Football calendar is a part of the process. However, the NFL doesn’t need to own the end of February.

They just don’t. There’s enough going on, with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in Florida and Arizona and it’s time to pay attention to College Basketball, if you’re making any educated choices on your bracket. You could focus on the NHL, NBA, tennis, golf, and even the NFL is making news outside of Indianapolis this week, but we’re televising a glorified gym class on the NFL Network. I think the combine is a necessary evil, not so much for the blue-chippers, but for the lesser-knowns and middle-of-the-road prospects to back up what NFL scouting departments already know about them from film. For the viewing public and observing media, it’s too much and it gives us too much to misinterpret.

Part of me wishes more of these things took place behind the scenes, but people, especially those craving something, will latch on to anything and everything. Slap an NFL shield on a bake sale or a game of chess; they’ll watch it if it’s on the NFL Network and/or ESPN. Keep this behind closed doors. In fact, don’t even let us know the results. It gives us less to be wrong or outraged about on draft day. We like the NFL, but we’re too far behind the scenes with this exercise every winter. I don’t need this any more than I needed to see John Wayne taking his physical and ASVAB before kicking ass as a Marine in his movies.

What would be missing, if we were forced to return to a time without the gym class heroes? Maybe I wouldn’t know that the USC offensive weapons didn’t spend a lot of time throwing up 225 on the bench or that a Wisconsin running back doesn’t have his sea-legs under him in February. Maybe I wouldn’t know Kevin White is a freaky fast runner or that Jaelen Strong can elevate his 6’2″ frame 42 inches above the earth vertically. Maybe I don’t think Shane Ray has the right work ethic if he won’t run in Indy. Maybe I’m not supposed to know any of this.

I’ve said it in the past. No one gets discovered at these things, even if a previously unknown aspect about a prospect is revealed. Based on everything I’ve heard about the interviews, it’s what happens at the table, when a 22 year-old goes face-to-face with the Sean Paytons and Jim Caldwells of the world, that the job interview starts. Brandin Cooks told Rich Eisen last week that the Browns asked him to thing of all the ways he could use a paper clip in one minutes. It’s a bizarre question, sure, and it might even be a throw-away question, but we’ll never know the logic behind it. That’s what makes the people that make these decision smart, while the rest of us are dumb. Our local media can’t tell us what’s said behind closed doors, only who’s walking into the rooms.

Why do we bother familiarizing ourselves with this part of the interview process, while remain in the dark on the juiciest part. Maybe we won’t always be blind to what’s said in there. HBO’s Hard Knocks is basically being force-fed as a part of the league’s marketing, so we might not be far from getting interview audio via NFL Films, even if it’s something that gets put in the vault for a year or two, as to avoid being too detrimental for public consumption. Me, I think it’s all detrimental for public consumption. Kicking down that fourth wall reveals things we don’t want to know. It’s more about things we don’t want to care about.

Caring about how a person performs in drills, while wearing shorts, it’s not my bag. I don’t understand what it is, beyond satiating some NFL off-season craving, that makes so many people tune in and analyze these things. If I watch a left tackle handle [INSERT COLLEGE LEAGUE HERE]-caliber pass rushers for a season or two on tape, my opinion isn’t going to change if he doesn’t run fast or throw up iron like it’s an olympic event. I get so little out of it that I tend to skip it, but a round of applause is due the people who make this a real-live event with sponsors and wall-to-coverage.

I just don’t need to watch these world-class athletes in a regimented gym class, seeing them play the game was, is, and always will be enough for me.

Post Regular Season SEC Awards

John David Mercer/USA Today Sports
John David Mercer/USA Today Sports

The 2014 SEC football season went kind of to plan or ended up as it was projected in the preseason. Alabama continued to edge out teams and found ways to win whether it was ugly or not and now are headed to Atlanta. The East was, well, the East and struggled to have a quality team all season. Missouri won when it counted and are traveling to Atlanta for the second year in a row as I write.

Many articles have been written previewing the SEC Championship Game and reviewing the teams’ success or lack of in the 2014 season. A team is based off of many indiviuduals working together to achieve the one goal of victory. But that doesn’t mean some cannot be singled out to give reason to some of their team’s success.

So, with that said, it’s time to give out some awards:

Offensive Player of the Year: Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even with the great season from Dak Prescott, I give my vote to Amari Cooper. Cooper has been a star in the making since his first season with the Tide in 2012. It’s crazy to look back to that time and to think he was just scratching the surface. Cooper has utilized his talent to blow by defenders with a 15.3 average yardage per catch. Cooper is the top playmaker on this Alabama offense and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin found out quickly how to use this dynamic wide-out to produce one of the better offenses in the country. Heading into his final few games (we know he is going pro) at Alabama, Cooper’s stat line for the 2014 season so far is 103 receptions for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdowns. Cooper is a lock for a top five pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and will be taking a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
Others to consider:
-Nick Chubb, Georgia, RB: 1,281 rushing yards, 6.9 average, 12 touchdowns
-Nick Marshall, Auburn, QB: 2,315 passing yards, 780 rushing yards, 29 total touchdowns
-Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, QB: 2,996 passing yards, 939 rushing yards, 37 total touchdowns

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Shane Ray, Missouri, DE

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Missouri grows the top defensive end guys in their backyard having a new conference sack leader each year. Shane Ray is probably their best though in recent memory. Ray has had a huge impact on the Missouri defensive success and is a big part in why the team is heading to Atlanta. Ray is a feared pass-rusher and has continued to produce each and every week with 14 sacks and 59 total tackles. A unique matchup to keep your eye on this Saturday is the matchup between Shane Ray and true freshman Alabama offensive tackle Cameron Robinson.
Others to consider:
-Preston Smith, Mississippi State, DT: 42 total tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions
-Martrell Spaight, Arkansas, LB: 123 total tackles, 8.5 TFL, interception
-Leonard Floyd, Georgia, LB: 55 tackles, 12 QB hurries, 8.5 TFL, three forced fumbles

 

Special Teams Player of the Year: JK Scott, Alabama, P

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

It’s nothing new to point out that the Tide have had some issues at special teams this season, with inconsistent kicking, fumbles in the return game, and down the field tackling. A bright spot, though, is freshman punter JK Scott. Scott has been a busy man this season with 45 total punts with an average of 4.1 punts per game. Scott averages 47.2 yards per punt, which ranks second in the FBS ranks. Whether Alabama fans want to hear it or not, Scott has been the savior for the Tide in a few SEC games this season similar to Steven Clark of Auburn last season on their journey to the SEC title.
Others to consider:
-Quan Bray, Auburn, PR: 15 returns, 18.1 average per return, two touchdowns
-Darrius Sims, Vanderbilt, KR: 31 returns, 24.5 average per return, two touchdowns

 

Newcomer of the Year: Nick Chubb, Georgia, RB

USATSI
USATSI

A few candidates could have been for this award as well like LSU running back Leonard Fournette or Texas A&M’s All-Star freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. No other freshman stood out in the spotlight of immensely talented freshman as Nick Chubb did for Georgia. Todd Gurley was suspended after week five and Chubb was next in line. The Bulldogs never missed a beat in the running as Chubb did everything that Gurley would have done finishing the year 1,494 total yards and 14 total touchdowns. Chubb could have also been considered for the year’s most valuable player based on what he has done as a freshman.
Others to consider:
-Duke Williams, Auburn, WR: 45 receptions, 730 receiving yards, five touchdowns
-Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, DE: 11 sacks, 12.5 TFL, nine QB hurries, blocked FG
-Leonard Fournette, LSU, RB: 891 rushing yards, eight touchdowns

 

Most Improved Player of the Year: Bo Wallace, Ole Miss, QB

John Bazemore/AP Photo
John Bazemore/AP Photo

The continued conversation with Bo Wallace each week was once the senior put together a nice game, the media and fans were quick to say that next week would be the “Bad Bo” version instead of continuing to play at a high level. Wallace never hit a wall this season as he has many times before in his three year career at Oxford. Even with the Rebels disappointed run to end the season, Wallace has played exceptionally well and has been a big proponent on why Ole Miss has been on the rise these past few seasons. Wallace finished the regular season with 3,085 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns.
Others to consider:
-Blake Sims, Alabama, QB: 2,988 passing yards, 63.1% completion, 30 total touchdowns
-Brandon Allen, Arkansas, QB: 2,125 passing yards, 56.3% completion, 18 touchdowns
-Cody Core, Ole Miss, WR: 38 receptions, 530 yards, six touchdowns

Todd Gurley: Suspended Indefinitely

Todd Gurley has been Georgia’s Mr. Everything this year. Fans and media around the nation have wondered what Georgia would look like without the Heisman front runner carrying the load for the Bulldogs. Well, brace yourself, because we’re about to find out. Todd Gurley has been officially suspended by the NCAA for a violation of NCAA rules. His suspension is listed as indefinite.
Gurley averages 154.6 yards per game and averages close to 2 touchdowns per game. In terms of total offense, Gurley has accounted for 34% of the Bulldogs offense. The logical progression would be to assume that his backups would simply pick up the slack. For starters, no one just picks up the slack for Gurley. Second, Sony Michel was already ruled out of the game due to a shoulder injury. That places the entire ground game on the legs of Nick Chubb. Chubb has had an impressive freshman year, but this is a tall order for the young man, especially considering he has no backup at this point.
As I stated earlier in the day, I gave the edge in Saturday’s game to the Tigers because I believe they are a more complete team. As would be expected, a former Bulldog player (Shaq Wiggins) took exception to this. If the Bulldogs truly are a complete team, we should see quarterback Hutson Mason step up in a big way against Mizzou.
Mason averages 137 yards per game on 20 pass attempts. He completes 68% of his attempts, but for a lackluster 6.8 yards per attempt. If the Bulldogs expect to keep up with the Tigers, Mason is going to have to increase his output by close to 34%. Shane Ray and Markus Golden are licking their chops at the prospect of Mason sitting in the pocket without the threat of Gurley.
Going into the weekend, Vegas had UGA as 3 point favorites. As I write this, I have not seen the updated line, but it would not surprise me to see a 9 point swing with Mizzou favored by 6.
As for what this means for the Bulldog’s season, well, I think it is toast. The defense has had its issues under a new coordinator and the offense has not shown consistency without Gurley.

MU and the SEC East: Title Time

Saturday, October 11, will be a “Come To Jesus” type of moment for the Missouri Tigers. The Georgia Bulldogs, led by Todd Gurley, come to Columbia for a game that will go a long way towards deciding the SEC East.
At this point in the season, Georgia’s identity has been clearly defined. It is the Todd Gurley show. While building their 5-1 record, Gurley has rushed for 949 yards. Yes, he is a one man wrecking crew, but the Bulldogs should still be considered beatable. Even with 131 rushing yards, the Bulldogs were on the short end of a 38-35 game against South Carolina. Gurley rushed for 217 yards against Tennessee which contributed to a 35-32 win against Tennessee.
What does this mean for Saturday in Columbia, MO? It means a couple of things. The first being that the Missouri defense does not have to shut Gurley down in order to give the Tigers a chance to win. As for the second thing? It means that if the Tiger defense can have any success at all against Gurley then the game should get significantly easier to win.
HOW DOES GEORGIA USE GURLEY?
Mark Richt does a tremendous job pacing Gurley as the game progresses. While looking at his situational statistics, Gurley’s touches per half are split nearly 50/50. This helps to keep him fresh and effective late in games. His average yards per carry between the first and second half of games is where this can be seen. His average yards per carry in the first half of games is a robust 7.07 yards. In the second half of games that increases to an impressive 9.2 yards.
HOW DOES MISSOURI MANAGE THESE AVERAGES?
The password is ROTATION. Missouri must keep their second level defenders fresh. This means I expect to see Eric Beisel get more snaps in an effort to keep Michael Scherer fresh and I also believe that we could see Duron Singleton taking some snaps at outside linebacker. I believe Singleton has been an unsung hero this season with the majority of his snaps coming in the Tiger’s nickel defensive packages. With Georgia’s emphasis on the running game, we should see the Tigers aligned in their base 4-3 scheme for most of the game. I would hate to see this limit Singleton’s usage in this game.
WIN BY DECISION, NOT BY KNOCKOUT
Gurley is going to get his yards, but the Tigers must not let this discourage them. The Bulldogs have proven that when Gurley runs wild, they still have issues putting decent teams away. And let’s be honest, decent is a good assessment of Missouri this season.
I would like to see Missouri’s defense show level headed patience. If Missouri rotates their second level defenders in and out throughout the game, they should be ready once the fourth quarter rolls around. They’ll have their starters relatively fresh and ready to rumble with Gurley.
THE FORGOTTEN MEN
Where does the Missouri defensive line fit into this battle for the SEC East title? They just need to continue doing what they’ve been doing. Shane Ray and Markus Golden will be a handful for the Georgia offense line; however, due to Georgia’s offensive attack being focused on the run, I do not expect quarterback pressure to be an important part of the Missouri defensive equation. Ray and Golden can influence the game through penetration and stretching the line of scrimmage east to west. If they can stretch the line of scrimmage, this should give the Tiger linebackers and safeties an opportunity to make plays on Gurley. So the effectiveness of the defensive line may not be measured in personal statistics, but should be measured in the statistical output of the defense as a whole.
WHAT IS THE ANTICIPATED OUTCOME?
Back in August, I had a discussion with some friends. They wanted to know how I saw the season playing out. The three game stretch against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida took center stage in that discussion. I was of the opinion that MU would go 2-1 against these three opponents. The blemish on their record, I thought at the time, would be on the road against the Gamecocks. Well, we saw the Tiger’s wrestle a victory from the jaws of defeat.
How did I see the Tigers matchup versus Bulldogs? I have had this game pegged as a victory as far back as August. My assessment of Georgia was that they were Gurley. No more, no less. Don’t be surprised if this takes on the feel of an unconventional shootout. Missouri’s pass attack against the running ability of Gurley.
I’m still picking the Tigers to win. My expectation is that the Tiger defense creates some turnovers at the expense of Hutson Mason’s arm and the Tiger offense should get back on track as their receiving corp has all of its receivers healthy again.

We're Just Getting Warmed Up

6-2-2-1. The number doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like 867-5309, but it will fill in nicely for the Missouri Tiger defense. 6 stands for the number of sacks tallied up against UCF, 2 for the number of interceptions and recovered fumbles and one standing for the number of touchdown returns recorded against UCF.
To quote, well, myself: Tiger fans should not like what the Tigers offer on the defensive line, they should love what will take the field this season. And three games into the season, I stand by that sentiment.
While respect for the Tigers is slowly growing as the season unfolds, there is still cautious optimism as we race towards the start of conference play. I have not been one to temper this cautious optimism. I have been bellowing the flames into a slow roar. My reasoning you ask? Well, it is because this defensive line, just like Al Pacino, is just getting warmed up.
Going into the season, everyone knew about Markus Golden and Shane Ray. These two soon to be NFL draft picks have lived up to every bit of their hype. Through the first three games of the season, the two have combined for 37 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 9 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Teams have to pick their poison with these two. UCF chose to double team Golden with an H-back, the result? Shane Ray garners SEC defensive player of the week honors: tallying 2 sacks, 7 tackles, and 4 tackles for loss. Would you like me to offer a statistic that exemplifies the prowess of this defensive line? Alright then. Ray’s 4 tackles for loss totaled 26 yards. UCF’s leading rusher had 33 net yards.
Golden and Ray continue to be dominant, but the defensive lineman who I was particularly impresses with was, drum roll….Marcus Loud. Yes, Marcus Loud. You were expecting to read Josh Augusta? It’s cool. You may not like surprises, but I don’t mind offering a few. So, why Marcus Loud? Simple; the redshirt freshman from Houston, TX is establishing depth behind Golden and Ray.
Loud had 3 tackles with a quarterback hurry. Not nearly on par with our dynamic duo, but he showed solid technique and a nice burst of discplined speed off of the edge. Two of his tackles were at the line of scrimmage, not five yards down field. And one in particular made me say “WOW” while watching from my south end zone seat. Loud lined up at the left defensive end spot. At the snap of the ball, UCF handed the ball off. The play was flowing away from the young lineman and into the “A” gap to left of the center. Missouri likes to position this end position in a 9-technique. So with ample ground to make up, Loud shed the block and pursued down the line to make the tackle.
If Loud continues to develop as he has through the first 3 games, Missouri should be able to keep Golden fresh through the course of the game and through the course of what promises to be a typical SEC season. Like the defensive line as whole, Loud is just getting warmed up.

Bright Present and Future at Mizzou

MatyMaukMizzouFootballSideline
Leading in to this season the Missouri football team has no shortage of new faces in key positions. Losing a 4 year starting QB, star RB, top 3 WR’s and a 2nd round drafted LT to boot, and that’s just on the offensive side. On defense multi year starters at 2 LB slots, both starting DE’s and 3 starters in the secondary. While my colleague @SMerenbloom did an excellent job of covering the defensive line for this year I will focus on the other new faces we’ll be getting used to as Tiger fans this year.
While we’ve heard the names Maty Mauk, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt before I think all three players are primed to get a lot of attention due to a lot of production this year. For the past two years these players have had a chance to work and practice together while departed players James Franklin, Macus Lucas, L’Damian Washington and DGB were slotted ahead of them on the depth chart. This is important because these players have had plenty of reps together and it should carry over to the field this year.
Mauk saw action in 5 games last year against tough SEC competition and showed enough flashes for me to believe he can be the next great Mizzou QB. With improvement in decision making, using his checkdown’s more often and if he starts using his legs to extend plays he could quickly become one of the top QB’s in the nation.
Hunt and Sasser have both seen plenty of playing time the past few years and have proven they can make plays at crucial times and in the redzone. It was not uncommon for Mizzou coaches to leave any of the big 3 off the field on 3rd downs or critical red zone plays (which caused me to lose some hair and yell at my TV more than a few times) because of their faith in these two to produce. Former 5 star recruit Darius White will also see a big jump in playing time and is the wild card of the group. The 5th year player who transferred from Texas will have his first shot at putting it all together this year. He’s seen the field a bit in his time at Mizzou but hasn’t had his chance to show his productivity with the wealth of talent at WR.
In the backfield we return The Gold Mamba aka Marcus Murphy, in my opinion Mizzou’s version of Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas. Murphy has proven to be a danger with the ball in his hands and small bit of daylight in front of him. He has consistently shown the ability to make something out of nothing and be one of the most dangerous return men in the country. He will share time with one of my personal favorite Tigers, junior Russell Hansbrough. Hansbrough was a player who took advantage of every chance he got last season and was a great counterpunch when Josey needed a breather. His size is a virtual replica of Murphy and Josey but each player has their own style. Hansbrough is the more physical out of the two returners and will not be afraid to stick his head between the tackles and get the tough yards this year. While Murphy reminds me of DAT, Hansbrough’s style reminds me of Maurice Jones Drew, a player who will be a hard tackle and always seems to fall forward. Murphy will play the lightning to Hansbrough’s thunder and I expect to see his receptions increase this year.
On defense everyone is heaping praise upon Marcus Golden and rightly so. Similar to last year with everyone talking up Kony Ealy and providing Michael Sam a great chance at being a highly productive player with little pressure on him. That is the role Shane Ray will be playing this season. Ray is one of the best athletes on the whole team and will be an absolute terror to opposing offenses. With valuable reps last season he was a player that consistently caught my attention by going 110% and never giving up on a play. It is not an uncommon sight to see Mizzou d lineman 10 to 15 yards downfield chasing down ball carriers and with the level of athleticism Golden and Ray have we will see plenty more of that.
With plenty of new faces in the LB corps and defensive backfield Mizzou will rely heavily on the 2 deep depth along the defensive line. Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom provide youth and athleticism at LB and I expect better play from the LB unit this year. Even with less experience this looks to be the best group of size and speed Mizzou has had at LB in quite some time. In regards to Tiger DB’s I’m most excited to see John Gibson, last year I thought he played well when he was on the field. The biggest compliment I can pay to Mizzou’s staff is they are excellent at developing their players, they have proven they can take 2 and 3 star recruits and turn them into NFL players. Gibson’s size is what is most intriguing to me as he stands at 6’ feet tall while Aarion Penton the other starting corner stands at  5’10”. Safety Braylon Webb is the most experienced DB and I expect him to play at a high level this season and seize a leadership role on defense. He will be instrumental in helping the new corners and fellow safety Ian Simon get acclimated quickly. I think Simon and Webb give Mizzou two safetys that can cover the run and the pass. Either safety can move into the slot and cover a #3 or #4 WR, line up over a TE or trail a RB out of the backfield just as easily as playing deep zone cover 1 or 3 defensive schemes, all while providing enough thump to step up and tackle SEC running games. Make no mistake though this team will go through some definite growing pains as players get adjusted to new roles and responsibilities lets just hope that by the time SEC play begins they’ve settled in.
I think the future of this team is bright for this season and years to come and I think Missouri will continue to surprise most people around the country in proving that last season wasn’t a fluke or flash in the pan, but is the standard that players, coaches and fans of the team expect. Here’s to a great and healthy season for the Tigers and hopefully a second consecutive appearance in the SEC title game. MIZ!