Scouting the Combine: Running backs

It’s no surprise that the running back group each year tends to garner a lot of attention. Among the skill players, these candidates may be returners, burners, slot receivers, outlet receivers, blockers and, oh yes, guys who carry the ball for you. It’s a pass-oriented league, which means that the ability to block and to catch out of the backfield or off the line in four- and five-wideout sets makes a player that much more interesting to teams.

Shonn Greene showed why this past season - he struggled some in running the ball, and his lack of skills at blocking and receiving left him on the bench more often than he or the Jets would prefer. I like Greene, and enough to write a bio praising the way he’s overcome his background. It’s not a matter of complaining about him, but a fact of life.

Greene had one great year in college and neither blocking nor receiving were a part of it. He’s a powerful, punishing runner, but those missing skills would have benefited both him and his team in 2011. Athletic skills, the ability to make tacklers miss, and the patience to see the lanes open up are the things that you usually get off of tape, but the athletic skill tests are essential to making sure that you have covered the bases of every player that might help you. The more skills a player brings to the table - short yardage, between the tackles, around the edge, blocking and receiving, etc - the more valuable they become. The better they are at each, the more that value ascends.

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Broncos will tag Prater

According to Adam Schefter, the Broncos will use their franchise tag on kicker Matt Prater. The 27-year-old has been Denver's full-time kicker for four seasons and has made 90 of his 112 field goal attempts, a success rate of 80.4%.

Should Prater sign his franchise tender, he will be assured a $2.6M salary and a raise of $800K over his 2011 figure. Last season was an eventful for Prater, who was arrested in August for crashing his truck into a parked car while drunk and after having picked up an employee at area strip club Shotgun Willie's. It took him only months to find redemption, as several game-saving and -winning kicks had none other than JC singing his praises on national television.

The Broncos and Prater will still have until the beginning of the 2012 season to agree to a long-term contract.

The Daily Lard 3-5-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Mike Freeman is hearing that Roger Goodell will penalize the Saints for their bounty system with an even heavier hand than he used with the Patriots over Spygate. Freeman suspects that New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton are likely to face suspensions and hefty fines, and for the team to lose at least a first-round draft choice.

Why such severe punishment when players Freeman spoke to estimated that 30-40% of the league's players (does this mean almost every team, since only defensive players appear to have employed bounties?) were party to a bounty system last season? After all, it's a bit too late to simply make an example of the Saints and pretend the problem doesn't span the league.

However, a current player told Freeman that bounties have been rendered less effective by the rules meant to protect offensive players (Anyone still dismissing the need for those? Didn't think so), and the Saints appear to stand out for having institutionalized the system, as Freeman puts it. That the head coach and general manager were aware of the system and even condoned it is another strike against them.

But the guess here is this scandal will grow bigger and take down more names before the Commish metes out his punishment.

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The Daily Lard 3-4-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! As we'd figured, Willis McGahee's firing of agent Drew Rosenhaus served as an indication that the RB is unhappy with his 2012 salary. According to Mike Klis, the Broncos told Rosenhaus they would not renegotiate McGahee's deal, a four-year $9.5M contract signed just last summer. The 30-year-old running back was a bargain by any measure in 2011, racking up 1,250 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns for just a $1M salary and $2M signing bonus. McGahee is due a $2M salary in 2012 and will count for $2.5M against the cap; Klis says Willis has no plans to hold out, but it's also only March. Then again, how much leverage does a 30-year-old back have? Not much.

Meanwhile, the Broncos have until tomorrow to lock up kicker Matt Prater to a new long-term deal or use their franchise tag on him, which would result in a $2.6M salary for 2012. Here's guessing the two sides would still pursue a lengthier contract if Denver ends up tagging the 27-year-old kicker.

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The Daily Lard 3-3-12

Good Afternoon, Broncos fans! The biggest NFL news in quite some time hit yesterday - that the Saints defense under the direction of former DC and momentary Denver head-coaching candidate Gregg Williams (and mentor to recent Broncos DC and new Oakland head man Dennis Allen) employed a bounty system funded mainly by players to reward each other for knocking out opposing players and forcing them to be carted off the field, along with less-nefarious goals like creating turnovers and scoring touchdowns.

Who else put cash into this system? A felon not employed by the team, but with a direct line of communication to Saints coach Sean Payton.

Williams, who rejoined his old boss Jeff Fisher (when both were with the Titans) in St. Louis to run the Rams defense, issued a statement yesterday acknowledging the program and taking full responsibility for it. The league's investigation found the bounty system existed throughout Williams' three-year tenure in New Orleans; as could be expected, the Redskins defense employed a similar system while the well-traveled Williams was coordinating their defense. Joe Gibbs, his boss in Washington, is claiming ignorance.

It's worth noting that between Williams's stints in Washington and New Orleans, he spent the 2008 season running the Jaguars defense for new Denver DC Jack Del Rio, then Jacksonville's head coach. As for Williams' first stint with Fisher in Tennessee, ex-Titans safety Blaine Bishop claims there was no bounty system.

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The Daily Lard 3-2-12

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! The jury in Perrish Cox's rape trial failed to reach agreement on a verdict yesterday, and they will resume deliberations today.

As Mike Florio sees it, this extended discussion is likely a bad sign for the prosecution, especially following such a brief trial short on facts and testifying witnesses. But, Florio stresses that a potential acquittal of Cox would point to the strength of our judicial system in not providing convictions in the absence of conclusive evidence and/or testimony.

A Lone Tree detective testified that while in a holding cell, Cox posed the following query to explain his accuser's pregnancy:

What if she jumped on me when I was passed out?

For what it's worth, Mike Klis thinks the prosecuting attorney is a low talker.

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Scouting the Draft: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Fletcher Cox - DT - Mississippi State, 6-4, 298 lb

One of my favorite stories from the recent Combine was one told by NFL Network's excellent analyst and draft expert Mike Mayock about his own introduction to Bill Parcells. The first thing the two-time Super Bowl champion head coach said upon meeting Mayock was, “You’re like a bull in high grass, Mike.” "What’s that?" asked Mayock. “You’re lost.” Parcells replied.

Mayock may have come a long way since then, but it's also fair to note that even the best of draft guys are wrong a lot of the time. On the other hand - so are head coaches and GMs. Those that try to comprehend the draft are always going to be in some high grass. That's one of the things that makes it so enjoyable:  you can always either find a diamond in the rough, or take a can't-miss candidate who can -and does.

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The Daily Lard 3-1-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! The more we learn about the Perrish Cox rape trial, the worse it gets. According to the testimony of Demaryius Thomas, Cox had carried the unconscious alleged victim into a bedroom before suggesting she was "ready" for sex. Thomas testified that he took Cox's words to mean the woman was "ready" for Thomas, not for Cox; hopefully that's the truth, and Thomas didn't walk out with the knowledge that Cox was planning to take advantage of the woman. From NFL.com:

"I wanted to have sex with her but I didn't," Thomas testified. "We hadn't done nothing before. I wasn't going to try nothing that night because she had been drinking. She had got drunk."

Cassius Vaughn is expected to add his testimony today as another witness for the prosecution.

Mike Klis finds it noteworthy that Thomas and Wesley Woodyard both were interested in the same woman (the alleged victim), and he led off his blog entry with "Boys will be boys." No matter the intent of the words - and he's referring to romantic interest, not the alleged rape - that is a remarkably poor choice of words.

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Scouting the Draft: Mychal Kendricks, LB, California

Mychal Kendricks - ILB - California, 5-11, 240 lb

A former running back, and the son of UCLA running back Marvin Kendricks (who led the Bruins in rushing twice in 1970 and 1971), Marvin Mychal Hendricks out of Cal had the best 40 time among linebackers at 4.47 seconds, edging out North Carolina's Zach Brown by .03 seconds. He also lead the LBs in the vertical leap at 39.5 inches, the broad jump at a remarkable 127 inches, and the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.19 seconds. As you’d expect after that, he is extremely athletic and he has played both inside and out in the past, so he’s also very scheme flexible. At just over 5’11”, Mychal is shorter than your average linebacker. Of course, Mike Singletary was barely six feet tall, and ten pounds lighter than Kendricks, and they said that about him before he started piling up running backs and Pro Bowls. Height can be useful, but it’s not always the measure of a man - or a football player. Kendricks can play the Mike or Will slots in a 4-3, is experienced in Cal’s 3-4, and could even play Sam for some teams.

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Scouting the Draft: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan

Mike Martin - DT - Michigan, 6-1, 306 lb

Mike Martin might have been one of the most enjoyable players to watch when I was catching the DT drills at Combine. I caught sight of him in some of the hand power drills, and it only took a minute to remember some of his games at Michigan. He also got consistently good reviews during Senior Bowl practices and stood out in both one-on-one drills and during team scrimmages.

He isn’t in the top tier of players, and he probably won’t go all that high. After watching him, I think that could be a bit of a mistake. Martin carries a seriously nasty punch that he fires from an incredible stance - low and powerful, using that naturally short, incredibly strong frame. He had fast, hammering movements and devastating strikes. Said Warren Sapp, ‘I dare you to cut him’. I thought that Warren’s got it right. That punch will leave linemen black and blue right through their pads.

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