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From New Jersey mayor to Baltimore Ravens’ kicking guru: Meet Randy Brown – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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PHILADELPHIA — Like he typically does, Randy Brown hovered near his star pupil, the Baltimore RavensJustin Tucker, watching the NFL’s most accurate kicker hit ball after ball through the uprights.

During this week’s joint practices at the Philadelphia Eagles‘ NovaCare Complex, Brown’s familiar spot felt even more like home.

Brown, the assistant special-teams coach for the Ravens, was standing 12 miles from Evesham Township, New Jersey, where he was the mayor from 2007-18. His journey from elected official to the best kicking coach in the NFL has been much longer.

For the previous 11 years, Brown worked double duty as the mayor of a town with a population of 50,000 and the specialists coach for a team that played in front of 70,000 fans each week. He would attend Ravens practices on Wednesday and Thursday before driving two hours back home for planning-board meetings on Thursday nights.

On game days, his two worlds sometimes collided.

“You know how nice constituents are when you’re the elected official, and how understanding they are when you don’t get back to them when a deer is dead in their front lawn, when their trash can was ruined, and when their street wasn’t plowed on a very snowy day?” Brown asked. “So, even though they’re watching you on TV coach a game … You should see the emails and texts, or the phone calls my wife would get: ‘The mayor hasn’t responded to me.’ ‘Well, do you understand he’s coaching a game right now?’”

On those drives down Interstate 95, Brown brought Philadelphia soft pretzels for the Ravens organization along with a coaching technique that has produced results unlike any other in league history.

Three of the most accurate field goal kickers of all time — Tucker at No. 1, Wil Lutz at No. 4 and Steven Hauschka at No. 7 — have all been tutored by Brown. He also worked with Kaare Vedvik for two years, transforming an undrafted rookie into a coveted prospect who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth-round pick this month (the highest draft pick compensation for a kicker in 23 years).

“Randy does a really nice job of teaching the fundamentals of kicking and taking the skills and abilities of that kicker or punter and kind of work with that guy as opposed to teaching his way of kicking,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Brown, 52, once set his sights on playing in the NFL. He broke 10 school records at Catawba College but never kicked in a pro game despite working out for 15 teams over a three-year period.

Brown went into coaching, where his path first crossed with Harbaugh in 1998 at the Senior Bowl. Harbaugh had recently been hired as the Philadelphia Eagles’ special-teams coordinator, and Brown was a kicking consultant with the Chicago Bears under Dave Wannstedt.

When Harbaugh was hired as the Ravens’ head coach a decade later, he reached out to Brown to join his staff. The only problem was Brown had been elected mayor nine months earlier. Brown felt he couldn’t step down after beating a four-term incumbent by 277 votes.

That was the start of Brown’s twice-weekly trip from New Jersey to Maryland. A total of 20,000 miles of driving per year allowed Brown to remain part of the NFL and keep his commitment as mayor, which paid him $300 each month.

“Thankfully, John Harbaugh is a political science guy and loves politics, and he allowed me to be mayor for 12 years,” Brown said.

Along with former special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, Brown helped form one of the best specialist crews in the NFL. Tucker, punter Sam Koch and long-snapper Morgan Cox have all been named to the Pro Bowl over the past four seasons.

The fact Brown was mayor isn’t lost on the Ravens either. Cox would loudly hum “Hail to the Chief” when Brown walked onto the practice field. Occasionally, despite coaching in three AFC Championship Games and winning a Super Bowl, Brown’s mayoral duties took precedence. Brown has had to miss a practice because of problems with snow removal in Evesham and once canceled a film review because he had to balance the budget.

Cox calls Brown the “backbone of the Wolfpack,” the self-appointed nickname of Tucker, Koch and Cox.

One of Brown’s greatest accomplishments was helping Tucker become the league’s most consistent kicker. When Brown first saw Tucker, he saw a player who kicked the ball for what seemed to be a mile, but he had no idea where it was going.

During Tucker’s rookie season in 2012, Brown and Rosburg spoke with the undrafted kicker on the second day of training camp. Brown’s message was that Tucker could kick in the league by using his technique but he’s not going to last for long. Brown knew the key for a “home run hitter” like Tucker is planting from the same spot each time.

The result: Tucker has the best field-goal percentage in NFL history at 90.1 percent. He’s the first kicker in the league to produce six seasons of 30-plus field goals. He became the fastest pure kicker to reach milestones of 800 points (95 games) and 900 points (107 games).

“I owe a large part of my individual success to Randy Brown,” Tucker said. “So, without Randy (as a rookie), without Randy now, and all the time that we’ve had in between the last seven-plus years, I would absolutely not be the football player that I am today.”

Brown nearly chose to put all of his energy toward politics. He once contemplated making a run at succeeding Chris Christie as the governor of New Jersey.

Instead, Brown dropped his campaign for a fourth term as Evesham’s mayor last year and accepted a larger role with the Ravens this offseason. With Rosburg retiring, Brown was named an assistant under special-teams coach Chris Horton.

“You guys only see him as the specialists coach, really versatile with kicking and things like that, but he definitely brings great ideas to the table when we’re talking about, ‘What do we want to run, game plan-wise? And player-wise, do you think we should play this player here or there?,'” Horton said. “He’s been in this league for a long time, so he understands the game, he sees it from different sides, and he’s been great to have around.”

The Ravens had turned down interview requests for Brown over the years. When Brown spoke to Baltimore reporters for the first time this week, he could see Tucker, Koch and Cox watching him from behind the cameras.

Why has Brown been so vital to their success? He has an eye for what it looks like to kick a good ball, deliver a perfect snap and hit a great punt. He also brings a strong voice into the room, whether it’s politics or football.

“He’s an excellent communicator,” Tucker said. “The hallmark of a great coach is being able to communicate to a variety of different personalities effectively, and Randy absolutely knows how to do that.”

You might even say that Brown would get their vote.

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For Jaguars, headache might outweigh Jalen Ramsey’s talent – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There’s no doubting Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s immense talent.

He’s a lock-down defender with a rare combination of size, length and speed. In his first three seasons, he has been to the Pro Bowl twice and was first-team All-Pro once.

There’s also no doubting Ramsey can be an immense headache.

He has questioned coaching schemes and decisions. As a rookie, he advocated for the entire defensive staff to be fired. He ripped most of the league’s quarterbacks in a magazine article. And, as everyone saw last Sunday, he publicly confronted his head coach during the game on the sideline.

At some point, the headache outweighs the talent. It’s no different than any high-maintenance relationship. There’s only so much selfishness and so many demands one side is willing to put up with until there’s no benefit to continuing the relationship.

That’s where the Jaguars seem to be with Ramsey. And if that’s the case, it’s time for that relationship to end.

Granting Ramsey’s trade request would not be not a good precedent, but it might be the best thing for the organization. Ramsey has his supporters in the locker room — including running back Leonard Fournette — and sending him away might not be well received, but the alternative is keeping someone who is unhappy and doesn’t want to be here. That doesn’t work in any relationship.

It’s not a matter of choosing coach Doug Marrone over Ramsey, either. Based on Ramsey’s history and his actions last Sunday, would Ramsey really change his behavior if the Jaguars fired Marrone and gave Ramsey the mega-contract he wants (and deserves, based on his production and talent)?

It seems unlikely.

And, to be honest: Does a team need an elite corner — and Ramsey might very well be the best in the league today, a generational talent — to win a Super Bowl? Elite quarterback, yes. Elite pass-rushers, certainly. It obviously helps to have as much talent as possible, but teams have won Super Bowls without elite cornerbacks.

As good as Ramsey has been, the Jaguars have won 18 games in his three-plus seasons — and that includes 10 victories in 2017. The franchise has had many personnel issues in the past few seasons, especially at quarterback and along the offensive line, and Ramsey’s talent and work ethic haven’t been able to help team overcome it.

Another thing to note: High-maintenance players generally don’t spend their careers in one spot. Some do: Michael Irvin, for example. But Deion Sanders didn’t. Neither did Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Darrelle Revis. In fact, Sanders and Revis played for a combined nine teams.

By all accounts, Ramsey is one of the team’s hardest workers. He studies opposing receivers and has notebooks full of information on each. He is always in great shape and treats his craft seriously. He’s also not a bad guy. He adores his family. None of that is an issue for the Jaguars. In that respect, he’s the perfect player.

It’s everything else that’s the problem. Saying defensive coordinator Todd Wash should be fired in 2016. Questioning Wash’s defensive calls in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against New England. Ripping most of the league’s quarterbacks in a GQ article. Going on a profane tirade toward the media after a fight between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue was recorded during an open portion of training camp practice.

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All the fallout from the Big Ben and Brees injuries

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Big NFL news seems to come in pairs these days. A few weeks ago, the Texans made two huge trades in the matter of an afternoon. Over the past few days, a pair of promising young cornerbacks in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jalen Ramsey hit the trade market. On Monday, unfortunately, we saw two superstar quarterbacks hit the shelf. After Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger left their respective games with injuries in Week 2, it was confirmed that both will undergo surgery.

Brees could miss six weeks after he gets surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand, while Roethlisberger is done for the season after injuring his elbow. Surprises haven’t been hard to come by during this wild league year, but this qualifies as a stunning one-two punch. In going back through the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, I can find exactly one other date in which a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks suffered multi-week injuries on the same date. John Elway and Warren Moon each suffered injuries on Nov. 15, 1992, with Elway missing five weeks and Moon’s absence costing him six.

There are major ramifications for both the Steelers and the Saints, though the injuries hit their teams in different ways. Teams such as the Bills, Browns, Chargers and Colts have a better chance of making the postseason than they would if the Steelers were projecting to roll out Roethlisberger for 14 more starts. And while the NFC South remains wide-open, the Saints might still be the favorites with Teddy Bridgewater under center.

There’s a lot to write about with each of these situations. Let’s start with Roethlisberger, whose season is over after just six quarters of football:


Is this the end for Big Ben?

Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury throws the Steelers into significant uncertainty at the most important position in sports for the first time in 15 years. He has struggled to stay healthy at times — and his off-field behavior has included a serious motorcycle accident and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct — but the Steelers have been assured of generally above-average play from the quarterback they selected in the first round of the 2004 draft. One NFL executive to whom I recently spoke compared his team to a house and the starting quarterback to a roof. The Steelers haven’t had to worry about getting wet for 15 years. Now, suddenly, there’s a huge hole in their roof.

This injury comes at a time when the Steelers already were in transition on offense. Longtime starters Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert and Jesse James — along with legendary offensive line coach Mike Munchak — all left the organization this offseason. While the Steelers already had developed a pair of replacements in running back James Conner and offensive tackle Matt Feiler, Pittsburgh generally used mid-round draft picks (and former Munchak assistant Shaun Sarrett) to replace the others.

Pittsburgh always has been an organization built around drafting and developing young talent; but in recent years, it has used some of its cap space to target veteran help in free agency, including cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Perhaps owing to the $21.2 million in dead money Brown occupies on their 2019 cap, the only veteran the Steelers added to their offense this year was wideout Donte Moncrief, who has been a disaster while playing through a dislocated finger over the first two weeks of the season.

Roethlisberger was supposed to be the rock of the offense, one of the few players who wasn’t moving into a larger role or subject to a coaching change over the offseason. Now, he’s gone. The Steelers didn’t choose to sign a veteran to help back up Roethlisberger this offseason, instead letting 2017 fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs and 2018 third-rounder Mason Rudolph compete for the job. Rudolph was the favorite and won the competition, with the Steelers promptly shipping off Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick.

The Steelers already have promoted Devlin Hodges from their practice squad to serve as the new backup quarterback. There aren’t exactly many options available in free agency, but I wonder if Pittsburgh might call Matt Cassel, who played under former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Kansas City. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s scheme shares many of the same playcalls with Haley’s playbook.

Even if the Steelers sign a veteran such as Cassel, they’ll move forward in the short term with Rudolph as the starter. Projecting how he will perform is a difficult enterprise. The 24-year-old played in a spread offense at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, posting a 79.1 Total QBR over his four seasons at school. That number comes in just behind Sam Darnold‘s 79.5 mark over his two years at Southern California.

Like Roethlisberger, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rudolph has the prototypical size you would expect from an NFL quarterback. Some reports coming out of college, however, suggested Rudolph doesn’t have the prototypical arm strength that often is associated with that physical archetype. For what it’s worth, Rudolph’s numbers throwing deep in college were quite good, as he posted a 98.8 QBR on throws traveling 16 or more yards in the air.

The arm strength concern popped up during Rudolph’s biggest play on Sunday, the 45-yard flea-flicker that he tossed to JuJu Smith-Schuster. When Rudolph threw the pass, Smith-Schuster was accelerating past a wrong-footed Lano Hill, but Rudolph’s throw forced the star wideout to slow down and nearly gave Hill a chance to break it up. A better throw would have produced a walk-in touchdown:

It would be impossible to draw broader conclusions about Rudolph’s future from his appearance on Sunday. He was 12-of-19 passing for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against a Seahawks pass defense that had been gashed by Cincinnati at home the prior week. His interception was entirely on Moncrief, who was benched after his most recent drop. His two touchdown passes were short throws to Vance McDonald, one of which came on a failed screen. The second of those touchdown drives was just three yards. Rudolph didn’t cost the Steelers the game; Pittsburgh’s defense allowing three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half before letting the Seahawks turn a third-and-16 over two plays into a new set of downs was what pushed the Steelers to 0-2.

What we know, historically, is that the success rate for third-round quarterbacks in the NFL hasn’t been great. Since 1990, 36 quarterbacks have been drafted in the third round. Two of them are Rudolph and Will Grier, whose futures still are basically indecipherable. When you look at the other 34, just six became players who started three seasons or more. (This assumes that recently drafted quarterbacks who have been slotted into backup roles, such as C.J. Beathard and Sean Mannion, don’t suddenly turn into multiyear starters.) Five made it to at least one Pro Bowl. Two of them started and won Super Bowls; one was Nick Foles, while the other was the only passer from the 34 to turn into a no-doubt franchise quarterback — Russell Wilson.

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Tim Hasselbeck says that Mason Rudolph’s campaign to become the Steelers’ starting quarterback, even after Ben Roethlisberger’s return, has now begun.

Wilson only fell to the third round because he lacked prototypical size. Rudolph has that size; if NFL organizations thought he had the skills to play quarterback at a high level, he would have been a first-round pick. My working theory with quarterbacks is that the league is generally awful at evaluating passers and that success depends much more on the infrastructure surrounding a quarterback than we think. Moncrief aside, Rudolph seems to have above-average infrastructure around him as he begins his starting career. Most rookie quarterbacks would kill for this offensive line and a receiver as good as Smith-Schuster.

What happens next is up in the air. Roethlisberger, who has flirted with retirement in years past, issued a public statement suggesting he intends to rehab his injury and return to the team in 2020. Plans change, of course; nobody expected quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning (Colts) and Tony Romo (Cowboys) to leave their franchise when they went down injured before a season began, but their departures seemed inevitable by the time those seasons were over.

The best thing for the Steelers, naturally, would be for Rudolph to play like a superstar. If that happens, Pittsburgh will face a difficult decision. Roethlisberger is due a $12.5 million roster bonus on March 20, and his $8.5 million base salary for 2020 already is guaranteed for injury. The Steelers could choose to bring back Big Ben as their starter and keep their quarterback of the future as a backup, but once teams find their new quarterback, they tend to stick with that guy.

Realistically, if Rudolph plays well, the Steelers will have to decide on Roethlisberger’s future on March 20. If they found a trade partner, they would be off the hook for paying him that $21 million in 2020. But if they trade him — or if he retires — they also would simultaneously owe $25 million in dead money on their 2020 cap, which would see the team set the single-season dead money record for a player for the second consecutive season.

If the Steelers chose to designate Roethlisberger as a post-June 1 release, Pittsburgh would owe as much as $33.5 million in dead money, depending on the offset language in his contract. They would be able to spread that money over two years, but it still would be an enormous sum of money for him to go play somewhere else.

What the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade means

Originally, I was going to argue that the Steelers also would be in good shape if Rudolph flamed out. That argument went by the wayside on Monday night, though, when the Steelers sent their 2020 first-round pick to the Dolphins for disgruntled defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. The deal leaves Pittsburgh without its first- and third-round selections in the 2020 draft, given that it sent away its third-round pick to move up and grab Devin Bush with the 10th pick in April.

Fitzpatrick was promising as a rookie, and the Steelers will have him under contract for the next three years for a total of less than $6 million, which is a pittance for a starting cornerback in the NFL. It’s reasonable to make the economic case that the surplus value Fitzpatrick plausibly offers as a starter over the next three years would be worth a first-round pick, especially if it falls in the back half of the first round.



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‘Blessed’ OBJ torches Jets in return to MetLife

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When asked his feelings about New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Odell Beckham Jr. responded, “Who?” Then, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver let out a smile.

OBJ made his point both during — and after — Cleveland’s 23-3 win on Monday night, highlighted by a pair of spectacular plays.

On the game’s opening drive, Beckham hauled in a one-handed grab near the same pylon of his famous one-handed stab at MetLife Stadium with the New York Giants five years ago. Then in the third quarter, Beckham hauled in a quick slant off a run-pass option play from quarterback Baker Mayfield and raced a career-best 89 yards to the end zone.

Earlier in the week, Beckham accused Williams of teaching “cheap shots” and “dirty hits,” and he said that led to an ankle injury that nearly derailed his career two years ago. The next day, Williams responded to the charge with a joke, saying, “Odell who?” He then went on downplay the notion that Beckham was a “dynamic” player.

“Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” Beckham said after the game. “He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s got a great defense. I’m done talking about it.”

Beckham let his play do his talking.

He finished with six receptions for 161 receiving yards, outproducing the entire Jets pass-catching corps, which collectively had only 125 yards receiving.

“Pretty dynamic,” deadpanned Mayfield, who seemed stunned to find out that Williams had suggested otherwise. “He’s a special guy.”

On his touchdown, Beckham actually reached a maximum speed of 21.7 miles per hour, the fastest any player has run while scoring this year, according to NFL NextGen Stats.

Beckham had battled a hip injury throughout the preseason, which landed him on the injury report. He also noted he had to work through cramps in his calves and tightness in his hamstrings Monday. But Beckham said that he’s now feeling great in every way after two games with his new team.

“I think I’m in a better physical, mental space than I’ve ever been in my life,” said Beckham, who celebrated his maiden score with the Browns by pantomiming opening a front door with a key, as if to signify, “I’m home” in MetLife. “I was joking with my trainers, I’m trying to hit 24, 23 [miles per hour]. Not saying it’ll happen, but I’m working for it.

“It didn’t feel like [that was] fastest I could run. I was just trying to get to the end zone.”

Officials took away Beckham’s other opportunity to reach the end zone on the opening drive. Two plays after his one-handed catch, officials removed Beckham from the field on third-and-goal, saying his visor was too reflective. Without Beckham in the game, Mayfield threw an incompletion and Cleveland had to settle for a field goal.

“It’s just frustrating. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, to be better, do better and it’s always something,” said Beckham, who admitted he doesn’t know what visor he’ll be wearing going forward. “I don’t want to break any rules. I just want to play football.”

Beckham also complained last week about being singled out by the league for wearing a $189,500 Richard Mille watch during the season opener. The NFL said the watch violated a league rule against players wearing “hard objects.” Beckham didn’t wear a watch in Monday’s game, though he did warm up with a different designer watch beforehand. When asked about it after the game, and whether it actually cost $2 million, as some had speculated over social media, Beckham played it coy.

“I’m off of it,” he said of the watch. “I don’t really have any comment about it.

“I’m just blessed.”

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