5:00 p.m.-ATLANTA FALCONS COACH DAN QUINN EXPECTS NFC SOUTH DIVISION TO BE LOADED WITH PLAYOFF TEAMS IN 2018
Prior to the start of the 2017 season, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn felt like the NFC South Division was loaded with top-end talent that would make weekly matchups challenging and fun at the very same time, and he was not disappointed.
The New Orleans Saints (11-5) and Carolina Panthers (11-5) finished at the top of the NFC South with the Saints winning the division and getting a home playoff game against the Panthers thanks to a tiebreaker, while the Falcons (10-6) advanced to the Divisional Round after overcoming some midseason lulls.
And Quinn is expecting another challenging year within the NFC South Division in 2018.
“I had a sense that this was going to be a hell of a division all the way back to last offseason,” Quinn said at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. “I sense that again. It’s the quarterback play. It’s the toughness of the defenses. It’s the way guys feature them. I said it when we played New Orleans, ‘If you like running backs, this is going to be your kind of game,’ and we weren’t even talking about Drew Brees and Matt Ryan at that time. How crazy is that?
“It’s a hell of a division, and one that you know every week, when you’re playing these division games, you know it’s going to be a battle. It’s one of the really cool things about being in a division like that. You better bring it, and that’s going to be that way again in ’18.”
When Quinn is preparing for a game within the NFC South Division, he loves watching and breaking down individual matchups and finding ways for his talent-laden lineup to exploit gaps in opposing defenses while working to take away the strengths of the opponents.
“When you see guys battle at all spots, deep down as a coach, you really appreciate those,” Quinn said. “Some of them don’t show up on a stat sheet. Some of them are at offensive tackle and defensive end. Some are at wideout and corner. Some are at quarterback against a certain coverage or a certain scheme.
“Those moments, as a player, are a lot of fun. This division is loaded with matchups. It’s linebackers on running backs. It’s corners on receivers, so it’s pretty cool to see those, and you better have your eye out to say, ‘In this game, how are we going to deal with this player and make sure he doesn’t affect the game in such a way that we don’t have control over that?’”
Tight end Austin Hooper is one of those players Quinn will look to for extended productivity in 2018.
During his second season out of Stanford University, Hooper finished the year third on the Falcons with 49 catches for 526 yards and three touchdowns. The three receiving scores were tied for the second-most on the team.
“We’re really pumped about what Austin can do,” Quinn said. “He played a good snap count this year, I believe, with 49 catches. He’s got athleticism. He’s a good matchup getting on the safeties, and kind of the fun thing about being one of the features in our offense is there’s a number of guys that are real weapons.
“He comes through in all occasions for us. We love what he stands for as a ballplayer, as a man, and he’s a real important piece to what we do.”
3:45 p.m.-DIRK KOETTER CONFIDENT NOAH SPENCE CAN RETURN TO TOP FORM FOR TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Noah Spence showed flashes of what he could do as a pass rusher in the National Football League during his rookie season in 2016, and had visions of making even more plays in 2017.
However, Spence reinjured his shoulder early in the 2017 season, and was limited to just six games before being placed on injured reserve on October 25.
“That was just a sad and disappointing situation,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter told media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
“When a guy has offseason shoulder surgery and goes through all that rehab, and Noah was very diligent in that rehab, and then, halfway in our second game of the year in Minnesota, he comes off and he’s holding his shoulder and they say, ‘It’s the exact same thing.’”
True to his craft, Spence not only finished the game against the Vikings, but registered seven tackles and a safety over the next four weeks before having his season come to a premature end when he was placed on IR.
“He goes in the locker room, puts on a harness and finishes the game,” Koetter recalled. “Noah loves football, and when you draft a guy where we drafted him, you have high expectations for him, and he has high expectations for himself.”
Not much has been easy for Spence when it comes to staying on the field during his playing career.
Spence registered 52 total tackles during his sophomore season with the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2013. Of those 52 stops, 14.5 were for lost yardage, and eight were sacks of opposing quarterbacks. A first-team All-Big Ten Conference performer in 2013, Spence also forced a fumble for the Buckeyes.
But the 2013 season proved to be Spence’s final year in Columbus before failed drug tests caused the Big Ten Conference to indefinitely suspend him from competition, and later, deny his appeal for reinstatement the following November.
Given a second chance with Eastern Kentucky University in 2015, Spence registered 63 total stops, including 31 solo tackles, 22.5 tackles for 113 lost yards, 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two recoveries. Because of that, the Buccaneers took a chance on Spence with a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
In two seasons with the Buccaneers, the 6-foot-2, 251-pound Spence has registered 31 total tackles, 21 solo stops, 10 assists, 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles along with a safety and two passes defended.
And by monitoring his training habits, Koetter feels Spence will be an impactful player when he returns in 2018.
“He’s training like crazy,” Koetter said. “I saw him last week. He told me he weighed 254 pounds and he looks great. He is still not cleared coming off that shoulder surgery, but obviously, we feel like if we can get him out there healthy, he has a chance to be an impact player for us.”
3:15 p.m.-DIRK KOETTER FOCUSES ON GETTING TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS TO FINISH RED-ZONE DRIVES WITH TDS
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only team in the NFC South Division to finish the 2017 season without a double-digit victory total and out of the playoffs.
The New Orleans Saints (11-5) and Carolina Panthers (11-5) finished at the top of the NFC South with the Saints winning the division and getting a home playoff game against the Panthers thanks to a tiebreaker, while the Falcons (10-6) advanced to the Divisional Round as the Buccaneers (5-11) watched from home.
“We’re in a tough division, that’s for sure,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine Wednesday. “Those three teams are well coached, and they’ve got good players, and we’ve got to figure out a way to get up there with them.”
One way Koetter believes could get the Buccaneers back in contention within the NFC South Division is by finishing trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line with touchdowns instead of settling for short field goal attempts.
During the 2017 season, the Buccaneers were minus-47 in net point differential and posted a 1-7 record in games away from Raymond James Stadium.
“It’s a lot of things,” Koetter said. “I think we were seventh at getting into the red zone, but 24th in the league in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. We have 53 possessions in the red zone. If we got touchdowns in five more of those, we would’ve gone from 24th to top eight in the league.
“I broke down every one of those possessions and why we didn’t score. Sometimes, it was poor execution. Turnovers were a factor. Untimely penalties were a factor, and sometimes, it was bad play-call sequences. There’s always more than one thing. That’s one of our top priorities as an offensive coaching staff to get fixed for next year.”
During that film breakdown, Koetter said there were plenty of “what if” questions, but not about the players on the field.
“Your guys are your guys every year, so I’m not one to look back and whine about the players that we have,” Koetter said. “Your players are your players. We were 3-7 in one-score games. We’ve just got to win close games and we’ll be fine.
“When you’re 3-7 in one-score games, and then, you watch those red-zone possessions and how many times you had to settle for a field goal, you say, ‘Man, what if we would’ve gotten a touchdown right here instead?’ That’s one of the quickest ways to flip your record around.”
2:26 p.m-DOUG MARRONE: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS MUST COMMIT TO EARNING EVERYTHING ALL OVER AGAIN
The Jacksonville Jaguars were one fourth-quarter score away from upsetting the top-seeded New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium and earning their first-ever trip to the Super Bowl. However, at the end of the game, they found themselves four points short on the scoreboard.
Heading into the 2018 season, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone feels everyone must come back to work hungry to work toward a return trip to the AFC Playoffs.
“I know there’s a lot of talk about here’s this team and they’re all ready,” Marrone said when speaking to the media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. “They just need one or two or three, whatever it may be, pieces, but that’s not the way I’m approaching this. I’m approaching this to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to better our football team. We’ve got to do a better job, starting with me and the coaches.’
“The draft process and free agency gives you the ability to go out and better your football team, no matter what the position is. I don’t think anything is ever off-limits when it comes down to trying to better your football team.”
Although Marrone did not have much time to meet with the team and discuss the loss to the Patriots back in January, he plans on addressing the issue early in the offseason as a way to clean the slate and turn the focus squarely toward 2018.
“That’s something we’ll probably discuss just to make sure that’s on the back end of it because the new season starts,” Marrone said. “Obviously, you’re always going to be disappointed when you fall short of getting to the big game, playing in the Super Bowl and playing for a World Championship.
“You get that close, I just think it hurts and there’s a lot of pain. If you’re not feeling that, then you probably shouldn’t be in this profession. We have to understand that when you lose football games, that pain’s going to be there. It’s going to stay there, and it’s something that you hope motivates you to never feel that way again.”
Marrone took responsibility for not putting his players and coaches in position to optimize their skills against the Patriots, and when everyone reports back to Jacksonville for the start of the offseason program in April, he wants to see competition and improvement.
“I think it’s like anything else,” Marrone said. “When we get out there, I think no one’s really slotted for the following season. We all have to go out the same way I approach my job. I have to go out there every day and every time I step in that office, I have to earn the right to be part of this organization.
“That’s how I talk to our coaches, and that’s how I talk to our players. We’re going to start from the beginning again, build it from the foundation, and at the end of the day, we’ll be competitive at all our positions and the best players are going to play. It’s really that simple for me.”
12:53 p.m.-VANCE JOSEPH AIMS TO BUILD UP DENVER BRONCOS DURING OFFSEASON PROGRAM
The Denver Broncos finished the 2017 regular season with a 5-11 record under first-year head coach Vance Joseph, and after making the playoffs for five straight years from 2011 to 2015, a sub-.500 record just is not going to cut it for an organization with designs on making it back to the Super Bowl.
To Joseph, that process of redemption will start when the Broncos report for the offseason program at the beginning of April.
“When you go into the offseason, you want to build more strength and more durability,” Joseph said while addressing the media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. “You’ve got nine weeks with your team and you want to grow in all areas.”
The Broncos were besieged by ineffective play and injuries at the quarterback position throughout the 2017 season.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian played in the most games, 11, and posted a 5-5 record over his 10 starts. In his 11 appearances, Siemian completed 206 of his 349 attempts (59 percent) for 2,285 yards and 12 touchdowns, but threw 14 interceptions and was sacked 33 times.
Then, veterans Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch combined to complete 126 of their 217 attempts (58.1 percent) for 1,385 yards and seven touchdowns against eight interceptions. Neither Osweiler nor Lynch won a start in 2017.
“We’ll get better if we don’t have to play three quarterbacks,” Joseph said.
In addition to solidifying the quarterback position, the Broncos have plenty of work to do on the roster in the offseason.
Currently, the Broncos have 11 players set to hit the free-agent market on March 14. That group includes several starters: tight end Virgil Green, right defensive end Jared Crick, right inside linebacker Todd Davis and right tackle Donald Stephenson.
“We want all of our good players back in Denver,” Joseph said. “We want to do what’s best for our football team, but we want all of our good players to stay with the Broncos.”
As for what the Broncos may look for during the NFL Scouting Combine and in free agency, the blueprint is similar to what led Denver to three Super Bowl championships over the last 20 years.
“We want to play great defense and run the football,” Joseph said. “It’s all about fit.”
12:28 p.m.-SEAN MCDERMOTT: BUFFALO BILLS HAVE PLENTY OF WORK LEFT TO DO
The Buffalo Bills broke the NFL’s longest playoff drought when they clinched a Wildcard berth after winning and getting the requisite help on the final day of the 2017 regular season, but there is much more work to be done for the team to get where it wants to go.
Coach Sean McDermott addressed the media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine Wednesday morning and spoke about the Bills not being satisfied with simply getting into the playoffs.
“We made a lot of progress in a short amount of time, made some big-time gains in that first year, and it was a team effort, really,” McDermott said.
“The biggest thing for us is making sure we hit the reset button. We’re not as far along as maybe some people think we are. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and at the same time, remaining true to who we are, as an organization, and our core values.”
Being in the AFC East Division, where they have two games a year against the New England Patriots, the Bills get a first-hand look at the type of consistency the organization wants to have, as it did during Buffalo’s run to four straight Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, especially with the Patriots and how successful they are,” McDermott said. “Hungry is a great word to use. We’ve got to be hungry and embrace that mindset.”
Part of that process of building the Bills into a sustainable winner includes adding depth and talent to the roster every offseason, which is what McDermott and Buffalo’s decision-makers are in Indianapolis to do, find the players that best fit the needs and the demands of the organization’s plans.
“This whole process has evolved,” McDermott said. “It’s evolved to watching film during interviews and drilling down with questions instead of just drilling in.
“Our scouts do a good job of gathering information throughout the year. Not only have the meetings changed, but so has what teams are asking. It’s nice to see the combination of good athletes and good people off the field.”
12:00 p.m.-CLEVELAND BROWNS COACH HUE JACKSON RELISHES CHANCE TO INTERVIEW PROSPECTIVE QBS
The NFL Scouting Combine is one of the many times coaches and decision-makers from across the league get the opportunity to interview prospective talents in a formal setting and test players in their ability to retain information, overall knowledge of the game and learn about them as people.
Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson relishes that part of the process, which got underway in Indianapolis Wednesday.
“I think the most important part is being able to sit in front of them and talk to them,” Jackson told the media in his Combine press conference.
“I think it’s really about getting to know them as people and being able to dig into all of the medical things that you need to, but be able to really put a face with a name. You ask them questions you probably always wanted to ask since you’ve known they’re coming out. That’s the questions we’ll get answered.”
With the Browns holding the Nos. 1 and 4 overall selections in the 2018 NFL Draft, they are very much in the discussion as it pertains to the quarterback position, but the Combine is the first of many steps in the evaluation process.
“I’ve seen them all, but this is another opportunity starting now, at the Combine, to get a chance to talk to them, get a feel for them a little bit more,” Jackson said.
“I think it’s too early in the process to really talk about where they are, where they rank or anything like that. Obviously, this is the start of it. You’ll work through the Combine, work through the Pro Days, the private workouts and all those things, and we’ll get to know them more as we go through this process.”
With Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, the competitive spirit is what teams would like out of their quarterback, but he has made questionable off-the-field decisions that have resulted in an arrest, as well as vulgar actions toward opposing fans.
Despite winning the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns against six interceptions and leading Oklahoma into the College Football Playoff, Mayfield is listed at just 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds.
“There’s still guys in the league that are playing that are below 6-foot-2 and have played really well,” Jackson said. “There’s always that one player that’s going to be special, and this young man may be that, but we don’t know that yet. We’ll find that out as we go.”
Despite taking 26 sacks and missing time because of injuries, including a concussion at the end of the regular season, Josh Rosen set career highs with 3,756 passing yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for two scores in 2017.
In three years at UCLA, Rosen threw for 9,341 yards with 59 touchdowns against 26 interceptions, but questions exist about his desire to commit the requisite time to be a successful NFL quarterback.
“There’s always reports,” Jackson said of Rosen not wanting to play for the Browns.
“Last year, Myles Garrett had reports. I don’t think we play into any of that. I think we’ll sit and talk with the player. Obviously, we’ll ask him that question and he’ll be able to answer it, but I’m not concerned about those things because sometimes, things get written that players don’t say.”
In two years as a starter at the University of Southern California, Sam Darnold completed 549 of his 846 attempts (64.9 percent) for 7,229 yards and 57 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. However, Darnold fumbled 21 times in just 27 games as a starter and lost 14 of those miscues.
In a 24-7 loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl Classic, Darnold fumbled twice, both of which were recovered by the Buckeyes, and threw an interception that was returned by defender Damon Webb 23 yards for a touchdown.
“We wish he would throw,” Jackson said of Darnold’s decision not to throw at the Combine. “We’d like to see him throw, but at the same time, there’s going to be other times to have an opportunity to watch him work out and do those things.
“Again, do I wish he was throwing here this weekend? Yes, I do, to watch him compete with the other guys, but at the same time, that’s not going to hinder us making the decision what kind of player he is for our football team.”
10:30 a.m.-BROWNS COACH HUE JACKSON EXCITED TO GET EVALUATION PROCESS UNDERWAY
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns have had plenty of struggles over the last two seasons, but with a new league year on the horizon and the pre-draft evaluation process getting underway in earnest with the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week, hope is springing eternal once again.
Browns coach Hue Jackson spoke to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine Wednesday and expressed excitement about going through the pre-draft evaluation process with new general manager John Dorsey.
“This is an exciting time for our organization, a lot of positive energy in our building with John Dorsey and our personnel staff being there because we truly believe we have an opportunity to impact our football team, our organization in this draft,” Jackson said.
“Having six of the first 65 picks is going to be a huge opportunity for us moving forward. Our organization is working hard each and every day, excited about this chance and opportunity, and I truly believe we’re going make this opportunity work. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
With a year-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, the Browns went winless in a 16-game season for the first time in franchise history, and their 17th consecutive loss dropped the organization to a league-worst 1-31 since the opening game of 2016.
The Browns have not won on a Sunday afternoon since December 13, 2015, and those 33 straight Sunday losses are an NFL record.
Last season, the Browns set the record for the worst 28-game stretch in NFL history, as they bested the previous mark of 2-26 set by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 1976-1977 seasons with a 1-27 mark that got four losses worse over the final month of play in 2017.
“I really don’t want to get into comparing regimes or anything like that, but I’m excited about John being in the building,” Jackson said of the new Browns general manager. “I’m excited about what we do each and every day to try and get this football team better and headed in the right direction.”
By having the Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Browns are in the quarterback discussion once again, and Jackson pledged that any decision made regarding potential players will be done collectively.
“It’s going to be a collaborative effort through the personnel department, John, through the coaching staff,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a new coordinator in Todd Haley. We’ve got a new quarterbacks coach in Kenny Zampese, so I think we’ll all have input. At the end of the day, I’m sure me and John will sit down and put our heads together on what’s best for our organization.”
Should the Browns elect to choose a quarterback in the top five, Jackson wants a little bit of a different look to the players in the room with him.
Last year, the Browns selected quarterback DeShone Kizer in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and then, parted ways with veteran signal-caller Brock Osweiler at the end of training camp. That decision left the Browns with a rookie in Kizer and a pair of second-year quarterbacks, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, serving as the backups.
None of those quarterbacks have experienced a win as an NFL starter.
“You want a guy who’s been a veteran player, that’s played in the National Football League, that’s had a chance to win,” Jackson said. “You’d like to have a young player that you’re developing, maybe two of those kind of players in your room.”
6:00a.m.-2018 NFL SCOUTING COMBINE GETS UNDERWAY
Let the National Football League offseason (officially) begin!
The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine will get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, this morning, as on the first of two interview days, head coaches and decision-makers from the around league will address the media about the state of their teams, as well as what they will look for out of prospects auditioning for jobs at the professional level.
Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson will be one of the first people to address the media, as he will hold his annual combine press conference at 9 a.m. this morning.
Jackson is expected to field plenty of questions about the Browns, and their future at quarterback.
With a year-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, the Browns went winless in a 16-game season for the first time in franchise history, and their 17th consecutive loss overall dropped the organization to a league-worst 1-31 since the opening game of 2016.
The Browns have not won on a Sunday afternoon since December 13, 2015, and those 33 straight Sunday losses are an NFL record.
Last season, the Browns set the record for the worst 28-game stretch in NFL history, as they bested the previous mark of 2-26 set by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 1976-1977 seasons with a 1-27 mark that got four losses worse over the final month of play.
Currently, the Browns have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and there are four quarterbacks (USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield) considered to be top-of-the-round prospects.
To be a part of our coverage of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, tweet at us using the hashtag, #3Combine.