KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Kansas City Chiefs held a news conference recently to introduce new defensive end Frank Clark, the player who showed up first to publicly welcome him wasn’t one of their long-time veterans. It was another new arrival, safety Tyrann Mathieu.
That may have been a small gesture on Mathieu’s part, but it was telling nonetheless. Mathieu signed with the Chiefs in March, but he’s already the face of their heavily renovated defense.
The Chiefs were an overtime loss to the New England Patriots in last season’s AFC Championship Game away from reaching the Super Bowl, a failure directly traced to their faulty defense. They overhauled the defensive coaching staff and base system, and acquired as many as seven new regulars to try to make quick and dramatic improvement.
Mathieu, along with Clark, is one of the key pieces in the rebuilding effort, and he isn’t wasting time trying to get the turnaround started. He embraced the defensive leadership role that was vacated earlier in the offseason when the Chiefs released safety Eric Berry. They also parted with another vocal veteran, linebacker Justin Houston.
“I’ve always been quiet, for the most part, especially any time I’ve come into a new environment,” said Mathieu, who joined the Chiefs after five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and one with the Houston Texans. “Obviously, you’d like to have respect for the people around you.
“But for me, it’s about obviously embracing the guys around me and believing in them but knowing that there’s a certain direction we want to go in and everybody can’t lead you in that direction so a lot of the guys on our side of the ball, we have to really follow somebody in the right direction. Hopefully, I can lead those guys in that direction.”
We got ourselves a new vocal leader in the secondary.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) May 21, 2019
The Chiefs aren’t shy about allowing him to take that role. Indeed, they liked his leadership skills from his time with Arizona and Houston, one reason he was signed to a three-year, $42 million contract.
“You can acquire as many great players, as many talented players as you’d like,” general manager Brett Veach said. “But until you have a catalyst to make it go, things will never work out the way you want. [Mathieu] was the catalyst that we had to have.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes said, “I think if you meet him you see the mentality and the leadership that he has just by being himself. I think that’s a huge thing that he’s going to bring to this team. He’s going to come in with the mentality of, he wants to be great, he wants to be known, [he wants] the Kansas City Chiefs to be known as a great defensive team, a team that can shut people down. He brings that mentality as he walks through the locker room and I think that’s going to be something that we will utilize this year.”
It’s not unusual for a high-dollar free agent to become a significant and immediate presence for his new team off the field as well as on it. But many such players find it takes time to find their place in the new locker room. The Chiefs’ major free-agent addition last year, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, acknowledged recently that he was more of a locker room observer.
Mathieu hasn’t had such reservations but rather has jumped right in.
“We’re really trying to build a defense with an attitude,” he said. “Anytime you can have 10, 11 guys with a chip on their shoulder, with an edge, a certain kind of presence, a certain kind of attitude, a kind of swagger, you can create a collective identity.
“We’ve got a good group, a young group. As long as me, as a leader, gets everybody to buy in, I think we’ll be all right.”
End Alex Okafor, linebackers Damien Wilson and Darron Lee, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Juan Thornhill join Mathieu and Clark as new defensive players who will have significant roles this season. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is holding Mathieu up as the example for how he wants those players and others to work.
“The way he plays, the way he goes about his profession here, for young guys it’s invaluable [to see],” Reid said. “Here you bring in a veteran player that does it the right way. … He’s going to go out and he’s going to attack it and study and take the leadership role, handle it the way you’re supposed to handle it on and off the field.
“He’s kind of fun to be around. He’s [all] business. He shares that with the guys around him. He has those instincts [and] you can’t teach that part. That’s what he’s had. He had it in college and he’s had it in the NFL. He works hard every snap and that’s infectious. Along with Frank [Clark] being Frank and going 100 miles per hour every snap, that kind of stuff is contagious.”
Mathieu said he’s seen teammates respond positively to him at his previous stops.
“When I went to Houston last year, I really just went there not just trying to be a leader in particular,” he said. “I was just being myself. A lot of guys, they feed off me. … I’m extremely prideful in what I do. I think a lot of guys take heed of that. They look up to that.
“It will be my job to come in here, try to give some direction, try to give guys some motivation [and] some inspiration and then be an every-day factor. I want to be the same guy I am in the weight room that I am on the football field. I want to … help the young guys, help my teammates, help everybody be confident and make everybody feel like they’re special.”
Shanahan joins first Broncos practice in 11 years
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos rolled out the welcome mat Saturday for the winningest coach in franchise history, as Mike Shanahan attended his first Broncos practice since he was fired as head coach in 2008.
Shanahan, who was 146-91 (including playoffs) in 14 seasons as Broncos coach and a two-time Super Bowl winner, was fired by then-owner Pat Bowlen after the team’s 8-8 finish in 2008. Shanahan had attended several team functions through the years, including games, a ceremony to honor the Super Bowl winners and the dedication of the team’s fieldhouse, but this was the first time he had been at the team’s practice field since he was the coach.
He also attended Bowlen’s funeral last month.
Just a few Denver locals watching #BroncosCamp.
Welcome back, Coach Shanahan! pic.twitter.com/KumzluUFOj
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) July 20, 2019
“I was glad to have Mike here. I invited him. I’m glad he could come,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “I invited him for the spring work, and the schedules never matched up, but I was glad he was here. I think it was good he was here. Mike’s got a big part in the rich history of this franchise. He’s welcome to come here any time he wants.”
Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello also had hands in arranging the visit. Elway had talked extensively with Shanahan about a potential return in recent years, but it didn’t come to fruition.
Shanahan arrived Saturday shortly after practice had started and quickly moved to his usual vantage point behind the team’s offense. He spoke with Elway and others during practice before going inside the team’s complex to see staff members who still remain from his time with the team.
Fangio, who said they go back “far as competitors, but not long as friends; we’ve gotten to know each other the last five, eight years,” stood with Shanahan and Elway during a special-teams period late in practice.
Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was on Shanahan’s staff from 1995 to 1999, and assistant offensive line coach Chris Kuper was a Shanahan draft pick in 2006. Trainer Steve Antonopulos, who will be Bowlen’s presenter for his Hall of Fame enshrinement next month, was also with the team during Shanahan’s entire tenure.
How Mike Vrabel balances life with a head coach’s relentless schedule – Tennessee Titans Blog
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chinese takeout. That was what Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said he was planning to eat for Thanksgiving dinner last year.
Of course, Vrabel would have liked to have joined his family for the holiday, but he had to stay at the office to prepare for a Week 12 game against the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. That’s NFL life.
Even the offseason is demanding. Here’s a sample of what Vrabel’s schedule looked like during minicamp:
4:30 a.m.: Leave for the office
Coaches fitness club. They pick different things to do — sometimes they push the blocking sled. It’s another bonding opportunity for them. Vrabel makes it a point to commit to finding 30 minutes for his own health. “This is a stressful environment. I have to remind myself to take care of myself mentally and physically.”
Plan team meeting
Meet with coordinators
Meet with director of sports medicine Todd Toriscelli to talk about the health of the team
Sit in on different position meetings
Stop by the training room to talk to players
More meetings, review practice film
6 p.m.: Leave the office
In addition to his responsibilities at the facility, the Titans’ community events in the evening can keep Vrabel out later.
“If there’s something going on at night, I have to get some more work done during the day so that I can get out for that appearance or event,” Vrabel said.
The second-year head coach always has football on his mind, continuously evaluating ways to improve his team. But he’s also a family man who strives to stay involved with his wife, Jen, and two sons, Carter and Tyler. How does he balance the two?
In short, it’s maintaining priorities despite numerous demands of the job.
Vrabel’s oldest son, Tyler, is a 19-year-old redshirt freshman offensive lineman for Boston College. Sometimes Vrabel flies up to Massachusetts to check out Tyler’s games if the Titans have a bye week or a Thursday night game.
— BC Football 🏈 (@BCFootball) April 3, 2018
His younger son, Carter, 17, is a pitcher on Father Ryan High School’s baseball team in Nashville. Vrabel has no problem wrapping up his day at St. Thomas Sports Park to take in Carter’s games, even if one of them starts at 4:30 p.m.
“You love what your family loves. There’s a lot of baseball games. Carter loves baseball. When there is a baseball game, I am leaving,” Vrabel said.
Since Carter is at games or practice a lot, Jen doesn’t cook as much as she used to. But Vrabel said his favorite dish she makes is lemon chicken with pasta. Jen said she got the recipe from Heidi Bruschi, the wife of former New England Patriots teammate Tedy Bruschi.
“She made it the first time we went over to their house for dinner. I was like, ‘I need this recipe!'” Jen said.
Staying connected with family is something Vrabel stresses to members of his staff, too, especially during the offseason.
“I tell our staff that we work too much during the season for any of our guys to miss something that their family has in the offseason. That’s not healthy for their families,” Vrabel said while sitting at his desk after a minicamp practice in June. “It’s not healthy for them. They’re not going to be productive here at work if they’re thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was at that game.’ If their kid has a game or a dance recital, I need them to be involved in that.”
Vrabel’s assistants appreciate his work-life philosophy. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was especially thankful to Vrabel for allowing him to go to Canton, Ohio, last year during training camp for former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Pees will be taking the trip once again this August when Ravens safety Ed Reed is inducted. Both players played for Pees in Baltimore.
“Coach Vrabel does a great job of giving coaches long weekends off during the offseason, along with several full weeks off during that same period,” Pees said. “We have almost five weeks off in the summer. During the season, he is a head coach that doesn’t watch the clock. It’s get your work done and go home — myself along with all the coaches truly appreciate that.”
Navigating the season grind
Strangely, coaching in the NFL has afforded the Vrabels more time together than when he was a linebackers coach at Ohio State.
“Fridays are always our nights because we have a teenage son that doesn’t want to hang out with Mom and Dad, so he goes to high school football games,” Jen said. “It’s fun. He’s usually home earlier, and we grab dinner. When he coached in college, he really didn’t have a night like that, so we cherish that night. It was the same when he played. Fridays were always the best. It became like a date night or family night.”
But on other weekday nights during the season, Vrabel can get home from the facility as late as 11 p.m. He needs time to wind down before he can sleep — that’s when he has to fight poor eating habits. Vrabel shook his head at the thought of all the late-night snacks and leftover pizza he has put away.
Eating healthy in season can be tricky. Like most team employees, Vrabel mostly eats what is provided at the team facility. He loves the Buffalo chicken wraps.
“I’ve been hammering too many of those. They put them there, and every time you walk by, you’re tempted to grab one,” Vrabel said with a smile.
On weeks when the Titans have road games, Vrabel doesn’t see his family much on Saturdays or Sundays. Vrabel and his wife primarily text each other to keep in contact. Back-to-back road games are the worst because there are times when the team returns to Nashville late at night so Vrabel might not see his family on consecutive weekends. Jen bought Mike an inflatable queen-sized mattress for the occasional nights when he has to crash at the office.
Sleeping at the facility is something Vrabel tries to avoid. But sometimes it’s necessary to save time and get a jump on the next day.
Home games afford him a chance for more family time. Vrabel goes to the facility around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday but returns in time to chill with the family. “We like to sit around and watch college football,” Jen said.
After a casual college football scouting session, Vrabel heads to the team hotel around 7 or 7:30 p.m. before a home game. The Sunday afternoon games allow him to get home earlier and see his family before going back to work Monday.
So what do the Vrabels do to get away from the grind? They planned an RV trip to Atlanta this summer. Vrabel laughed as he told the media that he did a good enough job on a similar trip last year to talk Jen into taking the journey again. Sitting behind the wheel on the four-hour trip gave him plenty of time to think. Although it’s the offseason, the relentless pursuit of finding an edge over the opponent won’t allow Vrabel to detach from football entirely, especially with training camp rapidly approaching.
“I think it all the time. You’re always thinking about a play or a player throughout the course of your day or night or time off,” Vrabel said.
How do you stop pass-rushers like Von Miller? Blockers gather, swap secrets – New York Giants Blog
FRISCO, Texas — More than 40 offensive linemen were flanked in a horseshoe formation with their eyes plastered to the screen at the front of the room. They were all transfixed.
The oversized group was watching clips of Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller dominate offensive linemen across the league while Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz provided a scouting report of his rival. Schwartz suddenly stopped mid-sentence and nonchalantly blurted, “Don’t watch that one.”
The comment drew chuckles across the room as they watched a clip of Miller getting the best of Schwartz on a rep last season. Schwartz then continued with his assessment of Miller’s game. Others added their input on the seven-time All-Pro.
“He’s got elite quickness and elite timing,” one lineman said. “That is a pretty s—ty combo to go against.”
This is why all these offensive linemen gathered last weekend at the Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star, around the corner from the Dallas Cowboys‘ training facility. They were sharing trade secrets and trying to improve their games, figuring out how to stop or minimize the damage some of the league’s best pass-rushers inflict on Sundays.
None of the men in that room, no matter their accomplishments or resumes (some of which are quite impressive), are impervious to getting beat by Miller when they face off for potentially 60 to 70 snaps in a game. So for the second straight year they congregated at the OL Masterminds and devised plans to stop players such as Miller, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.
Schwartz, Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, Saints tackle Terron Armstead, Bucs center Ryan Jensen, Raiders tackle Trent Brown, Bears tackle Charles Leno Jr., Broncos guard Ronald Leary and Eagles guard Brandon Brooks were some of the more dominant voices in the room. They talked about how Mack’s get-off is simply to get them to open up, how not to fall for DeMarcus Lawrence‘s head fakes, how to avoid getting bull-rushed by Cameron Jordan, and why it was mandatory to use an attacking and physical pass set against Donald.
More than just seasoned All-Pros digested the knowledge. The group also consisted of some of this year’s top draft picks (the Vikings’ Garrett Bradbury and Saints’ Erik McCoy), free agents who have played in the league such as Hugh Thornton and Jeff Allen, retired veterans such as Geoff Schwartz and even a few college linemen.
Renowned offensive line trainer and scouting consultant Duke Manyweather and Johnson organized the event, the offensive line’s version of what Miller has done the past few years in California with some of the league’s top pass-rushers. Manyweather introduced the conversations, which ranged from how to train, take care of their bodies, handle conflict with coaches and deal with crowd noise and self-confidence. Even the veterans were taking notes.
“There are a ton of things I learned the past few days. There are some techniques that I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been doing this the hard way the whole time.'”
Eagles guard Brandon Brooks
But a majority of the two-plus-hour classroom sessions from Friday to Sunday centered around the best players they face on Sundays (Miller, Lawrence, Mack, Donald, JJ Watt, Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey and more). Different linemen who play different positions chime in on each.
“Just finding a way to stop some of those guys and having those blueprints on field,” Armstead said. “They’re like study guides. It’s work done for you in a sense in that you can see how effective it can be, or ineffective. And then make your plan from there.”
It’s a start, but it’s hardly foolproof.
“There is more to it than the plan,” Armstead added. “You still have to execute.”
Trying to get better
Manyweather, along with offensive line consultant Brandon Thorn, have the clips loaded. There is a slide that notes each pass rusher’s top moves, counters, best practices and some notes on their preferences — such as the frequency with which Miller used his spin move in 2018.
Then the floor opens and the conversations flow. Anything goes.
“This stuff is all about offensive linemen trying to bounce ideas off each other,” Leno said. “We’re just trying to get better. Get better and improve offensive line play. We’re saying all this stuff, and to think we’re going to go out there and block every single defender, no. They get paid, too.”
The idea is that the offensive linemen can take some of the ideas and techniques discussed and add them to their arsenal. Armstead explained during one of the sessions how he utilized something from last year’s OL Masterminds during an early matchup with the Buccaneers’ Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul beat Armstead early in that Week 1 matchup with a cross-chop move. This prompted Armstead to make an in-game change. He switched to a striking technique that was discussed by Mitchell Schwartz (among others) at the previous year’s OL Masterminds. After that adjustment, Pierre-Paul went silent. His name did not make the stat sheet.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that what worked for Armstead that week will work for another offensive tackle. Everyone in the room seemed to concede that. Linemen come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone can take the same approach that Trent Brown did, when his pass sets begged Mack to bull-rush into his chest. Not everyone is 360 pounds and has Brown’s 36-inch arms.
In fact, Schwartz talked about how early in his career in Cleveland he was trying too much to imitate future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas when he was not Joe Thomas. Schwartz believes his game elevated to the next level when he focused on his individual strengths. That played right into the theme of the second annual OL Masterminds, which seemed to be to trust yourself and do what you do well.
The information sharing that occurred at OL Masterminds and at Miller’s pass-rush camp has been met with criticism by those who view it as helping the enemy. But the players don’t seem to have reservations about the sessions.
“Even if we didn’t have this, there are guys in here that know each other,” Brooks said. “They are going to discuss the same things. It’s just a great idea where guys from all over come. There are a ton of things I learned the past few days. There are some techniques that I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been doing this the hard way the whole time.’ You have some O-line coaches who teach their ways. There are different line coaches and players who teach it a different way that just so happens to work for you.”
Johnson noted that players speak immediately after games, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Some then train together and talk about techniques and opponents in the offseason. So why not get all this offensive line knowledge in one room to better yourself and the overall line play around the league? All the information in the world doesn’t necessarily make a good lineman or mean that the individual digesting it can stop or contain Miller or Mack.
“Mike Tyson said it. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” Johnson said. “Basically, there is no recipe. There are going to be guys that get their ass kicked. Sometimes I’m on the other end of that. But the more you can prepare, you’ll be in a better position to be your best self. That is what I like about [OL Masterminds].”
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