Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Terminator II: Jets Fullback John Conner Looks to Build on His Rookie Season

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gym Rat Reunion


In Sunday's preseason game (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), the Bengals want to flex their muscles against the big bad Jets, the most physical of the physical offer the trenches' most interesting matchup.

Off what his coaches say is a solid debut at middle linebacker, the Bengals' Rey Maualuga hopes to literally take it to the second level. That's where he'll be pounding heads with one of his workout partners from this offseason, second-year Jets fullback John Conner, the Cincinnati prep product out of Lakota West High School the Jets hope keeps their running game one of the more bruising in the league.

"He brings it," Maualuga says. "We knew eventually we'd meet in some game along the way. There was no trash talking, or 'You better watch out.' We're just going to line up and work. He's going to try and block me and I'm going to try and get away from him and get the ball."

These two blue-collar guys won't put on a very glitzy show off Broadway Sunday night. It's going to be a lot like the no-nonsense workouts at Ignition Sports in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio, which turned out to be a haven for about 30 NFL players locked out during the spring. But there were many days Ignition director Clif Marshall remembers Conner being the only guy in there with 13 and 14 other Bengals.

"They're two grinders. They bring the same approach. Hard working. Very humble," Marshall says. "It's going to be something to watch them meet in the hole on that first series."

The 5-11, 240-pound Conner often found himself paired with the 6-2, 263-pound Maualuga in their lifting sessions, and Conner had the best seat in the house for Maualuga's monster spring in which he strapped on about an extra eight pounds while setting personal bests in the bench press and dead lift.

"He's a real physical guy, great linebacker. We grew pretty close," Conner says. "It wasn't really that weird. We all got along up there. They're all great guys and we're all competitors. We competed and made everybody better."

Maualuga thinks the extra time in the weight room derived from the lockout yielded some benefits. His goal was to get a little bigger while not losing his lateral quickness.

"I never took into consideration how much work it took to actually get there," he says. "I figured this is my one chance to get better in certain areas and those are the areas I got better, so it sort of helped me."

Maualuga knows all about Conner's story. When no offers came out of high school, how he walked on at the University of Kentucky and earned a scholarship before the Jets took him in the fifth round.

"Cinderella story, but none of that came easy for him," Maualuga says. "Nothing is ever handed to you and he's living proof of it."

But even though Maualuga has taken two years to get to this point after his star-studded college career, he's not looking for any glass slippers. He's simply trying to build off last week's outing in which he got everyone lined with virtually no mental mistakes on a night the Bengals allowed just two yards per rush.

"Everyone doubts where we're at and where we're going so all we can control is what we can control and prove them wrong," Maualuga says. "I feel comfortable. Very comfortable. We're looking to play fundamentally sound football and go from there."

Conner drew close to his personal bests at Ignition, but he believes no matter the numbers, he got faster and stronger. Now he's on his own after being mentored that rookie season.

"Tony Richardson was a big help to me. I learned so much from him and now I'm just trying to get better," Conner says of the long-time NFL fullback.

Maualuga also lost his mentor, but he has been keeping in touch with Dhani Jones via the cell phone. And Jones does a dead-on imitation of Maualuga's unique chatter.

"Ooh-aay, I'm watching you on film so I can be in the right spot."

There's no question that Jones is the biggest fan of Maualuga and linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald. While he works out waiting for a call from another team, Jones says he understands why the Bengals have turned to Maualuga.

"I hear Rey's huge. Two-sixty. That's big and fast. That's dangerous," Jones says. "Rey will do a great job. The MIKE (middle linebacker) is where he should be playing. He just has to stay focused on playing middle linebacker and being able to stay healthy and keep working in the classroom. ... Fitzy is one of the best ... when Rey is on, nobody can stop him."

Maualuga's workout partner is going to give it a shot.

"I know we'll be grinding out there," Conner says.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Team Ignition's Alex Albright quietly impresses at Cowboys camp

"*Quietly outside linebacker Alex Albright is impressing people. Albright, an undrafted free agent from Boston College, made two tackles for loss on Saturday. He seems to be in the right positions during run plays and it appears he's not committing mental mistakes on a regular basis." -
 "“I tell you what, you guys aren’t mentioning that No. 47, Alex Albright, but he was laying some wood out there.” - Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan

SB Nation Interview with Ignition athlete Sam Acho

Sam Acho Exclusive Training Camp Interview, Learning To Be A Pro From The Pros

 By Seth Pollack - Regional Sports Editor

Texas rookie linebacker Sam Acho is just a few days into his first NFL training camp. He's got a lot to learn but is excited and getting positive feedback so far.

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Aug 3, 2011 - Sam Acho, the Arizona Cardinals fourth round draft pick, has a lot to learn as a rookie linebacker. Just four days into his first NFL Training Camp, we caught up with Acho after practice on Tuesday in Flagstaff. He was still slightly out of breadth from having just finished running extra laps around the high altitude NAU Lumberjack indoor field with 12-year veteran Clark Haggans.

In any team or organization you look for continuity of message and implementation of concepts. One theme for this lockout-modified training camp from head coach Ken Whisenhunt has been the importance of his young players learning from the vets.

Without the normal offseason mini-camp and OTA routine, Whisenhunt has repeatedly said that he's leaning heavily on his experienced players to help the youngsters get up to speed with being a pro and learning the Cardinals way of doing business. It's great to hear the rookie Acho immediately talk about that happening from his perspective.

Question: Four days into your first training camp, what are your impressions so far?

Answer: "Man, I love it out here. I've got so many great teammates that are just kind of taking me in and showing me what it means to be a professional, what it means to be a Cardinal.

"As a linebacker, I look up to guys like Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, guys I can learn from and also the younger guys, a Will Davis, O'Brien Schofield. Those guys have kind of taken me under their wing and shown me the ropes. It's just a great team atmosphere here."

Q: Is it everything you thought it would be?

A. "I honestly didn't know what to expect but it's everything that I thought it would be and more."

Q. Besides the speed and size that rookies always talk about, what's stood out for you so far playing at this level?

A. "I would say the intensity. Everybody on our team practices full-speed. They give it everything they have every play. They never take a play off. That's part of the reason why we're going to be a great team this year is because everybody practices with full intensity, full effort, full focus to try and help the team win."

Q. It's early in camp but what kind of feedback have you gotten so far from the coaches?

A. "I'm definitely learning a lot and getting some positive feedback from coaches. Obviously, I have a long way to go. We all have a long way to go. I have a lot I need to work on as a player, as a linebacker and as an individual part of this team. So, I'm going to take it a day at a time, stride by stride and learn from the older guys."

Q. I heard a rumor you had already learned the entire playbook. Is that true?

A. "No, not the whole playbook. I'm learning that day by day. I got a chance to go over some of it with Adrian Wilson, who's a safety. I'm learning it everyday."

Veteran Adrian Wilson has this to say about Acho:

"I like Sam. Sam's, once again, we got a very good kid. He's very well-rounded and I was able to work with him throughout the whole offseason just getting his body prepared for training camp...Sam's a smart kid and he was able to pick up the playbook very fast."

Good luck to Sam.

Team Ignition's Nate Bussey and Johnny Patrick impress early at Saints camp

Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune

The New Orleans Saints' two first-round draft picks were not in uniform during the first day of training-camp practice, but a late-round pick made an impression on the second-team defense and special teams Friday morning.

New Orleans Saints' Nate Bussey had a good first day at camp.

Former Illinois linebacker Nate Bussey, one of two seventh-round picks, took snaps on defense and was featured prominently in special teams' drills.
Voted the Special Teams Player of the Year for Illinois last season by his teammates, Bussey said he expects to earn his initial playing time through kickoff and punt coverage and blocking.
"Special teams is where I plan on making my first impact," said Bussey, who received honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team. "I'll be ready when my number is called for on defense, but I don't take special teams lightly. That's how I started in college, and I still played there my whole career, even when I was staring my last two years."
The addition of Bussey and teammate Martez Wilson (third-round pick) plus the recent re-signing of Danny Clark gives the Saints three Illini linebackers.
Bussey, listed at 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, said he likes the rookies he is joining and was adamant the group will bring enthusiasm to the sweltering training-camp practices.
"We're all excited to be here and ready to bring in a lot of athletic ability to the team," he said. "All the rookies are coming in with a level head and perform to our highest potential. We believe in the coaches and want to perform so they believe in us."
PATRICK PART OF DEEP SECONDARY: Another Saints defensive addition, rookie cornerback Johnny Patrick (third-round pick), was ahead of the curve on day one of training camp, according to assistant coach Tony Oden.
Patrick, a 5-11, 191-pounder from Louisville, attended the Drew Brees-organized workouts at Tulane in May and June, and Oden said that experience helped his schematic knowledge in early workouts.
"It's almost like we didn't have to do much," said Oden, who is replacing Dennis Allen -- who left to become the defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos -- as secondary coach. "(Patrick) knew the verbiage, all the calls and the communication already based off what we did last year. He also knew the language, our personnel groups and our checks. It was definitely easier for him through practice because he knew how to line up already."
Oden said Patrick, who intercepted five passes as a senior, will provide a "great skill set" that includes the ability to play press coverage and even blitz.
According to Oden, safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Tracy Porter have welcomed Patrick into the fold.
"There's a good group of older guys to take care of him in the secondary," Oden said. "Malcolm and Tracy make it a lot easier for a young guy. They're quick to point out any coaching thing I might have missed."
Patrick is also expected to play on special teams, and he played as a gunner on punt returns during morning drills.
Oden said that would be necessary experience for Patrick, with a stacked secondary likely to not allow much playing time in the defensive backfield.
"He needs to put that time in on special teams and earn the playing right," Oden said. "We actually view those as defensive snaps anyway, because he's tackling and getting field action."

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Friday, August 5, 2011


By Barry Jackson
Dolphins and Canes talk:

Fourth and sixth-round rookies come with no guarantees of playing time, but the Dolphins like what they’ve seen so far from Clyde Gates, enough that they have passed on several prominent veteran receivers. And though sixth-rounder Charles Clay is dealing with information overload (he’s learning three positions), coach Tony Sparano has a role in mind, believing his versatility can add an unpredictable element.

Sparano said Thursday getting enough snaps for both rookies, provided they earn it, “will be important” this season. The recent success of several mid-round rookie receivers has him “absolutely” believing Gates will be a factor.

Sparano compared Gates and fellow Abilene Christian alum Johnny Knox, a fifth-rounder who had 45 catches for 527 yards and five touchdowns as a Chicago Bears rookie.

“They’re kind of similar guys, though Gates didn’t play as much football,” Sparano said, because Gates quit football after his freshman year of high school in Vernon, Tx., to play basketball, including two years at a junior college. Bernard Scott, now with the Bengals, helped Gates get a tryout as a walk-on at Abilene when basketball fizzled as an option.

Gates said he and Knox “talk every night and what he did as a rookie gives me inspiration.” Gates also has a “good relationship” with his father, who was released in October after an 18-year prison term for murder.

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock compares Gates with Mike Wallace, who caught 39 passes for 756 yards as a rookie for Pittsburgh. “My speed you can’t teach,” Gates said. “And my route running is pretty good.”

Yeremiah Bell and Sean Smith offered positive early reviews but said Gates has a lot to learn, especially recognizing coverages. “He’s not faster than Ted Ginn, but he’s close,” Smith said. Gates had the fastest 40-yard time at the NFL Combine among receivers (4.37) despite a groin injury. Gates has caught several long passes during the first week of practice, including a 50-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne on Thursday night.

“This guy catches the football well, but it’s the top end speed,” Sparano said. “I see a different gear than what we had” before. “To have to account for his speed can help create some big plays [for others]. If he can be the returner we think, that will help us as well.”

Gates averaged 26.7 yards on college kickoffs but has never returned punts. He had 66 catches for 1182 yards last season (17.9).

Clay said he has been staying up until 2 a.m. to learn three positions: H-back, fullback (where he started at Tulsa) and tight end. He expects to be used mostly at H-back - “where I can end up out wide or in motion” - but is also comfortable at tight end, having played there a lot in 2010.

“I have soft hands, and my speed will help me a lot,” said Clay, who dropped an easy pass this week but is an accomplished receiver (189 catches, 13.5 yard average, 28 touchdowns at Tulsa). He averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 179 college rushing attempts, but his skills in the passing game most intrigue Miami.

“I can see him playing in a few different spots,” Sparano said. “I’m trying, with a player like that, to become a little less predictable.”

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