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NFL hopefuls try to impress in All-Star Classic

NFL hopefuls try to impress in All-Star Classic

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Former Purdue quarterback Robert Marve remembers watching Montgomery's Blue-Gray game when he was a kid and hoping to play in it someday.

That old Christmas day tradition has been defunct for a decade, but Marve and other college seniors hoping for pro football careers are playing in Saturday's first Raycom College Football All-Star Classic in the same stadium.

``You're always kind of looking at it as, that's where you're going to be when you grow up,'' Marve said of the Blue-Gray game that ran for six-plus decades.

The game, and newly renovated Cramton Bowl, has had a makeover since the last one was played in Montgomery in 2002 before moving an hour away to Troy University's stadium for one year.

It features players from BCS national championship game opponents Notre Dame and Alabama and an assortment of other big-name schools, along with prospects from smaller programs also trying to catch the attention of NFL teams.

Former Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves will coach the Stripes and Jim Bates, who was a longtime NFL assistant, heads the Stars team. Reeves said he wants to help the players ``put on a good show'' and that he watches enough college football during the season to appreciate the talent level at schools big and small.

``There's just an awful lot of talent out there,'' he said. ``When you only have 32 NFL teams and there's just a small number when you think about the United States and how many great players there are out there. All they need is an opportunity and a chance. There's a lot of talent here.''

Marve, Iowa's James Vanderberg and Mars Hills' Jon Richt - son of Georgia coach Mark Richt - will quarterback the Stripes team.

That squad also features Georgia linebackers Michael Gilliard and Christian Robinson and defensive linemen Isaac Remington (Oregon) and Jamarkus McFarland (Oklahoma).

Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri, California's Zach Maynard and Murray State's Casey Brockman are the Stars quarterbacks.

While LSU kicker Drew Alleman is on the opposite side, four of his former teammates will line up for the Stars - wide receiver Russell Shepard, offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk and defensive linemen Chancey Aghayere and Josh Downs.

Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. and wide receiver Robby Toma get one more crack at several Alabama counterparts, this time as part of the Stars team. Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley, longsnapper Carson Tinker and backup defensive lineman Quinton Dial are on the Stripes.

The Crimson Tide beat the Fighting Irish 42-14 on Jan. 7 in the national title game in Miami. So moving right on to job auditions isn't so bad for Golic.

``You're obviously never going to forget something like that,'' he said. ``It's going to stick around forever but to get back out here and be able to get back to work and what we all love doing, it helps take your mind off it a little bit and just get back to playing football.''

Among the quarterbacks, Brockman had an adjustment early in the week after estimating he took 10 snaps from under center in Murray State's Oregon-style no-huddle spread offense, mostly for sneaks.

Brockman ranked third in Football Championship Subdivision with 339 passing yards per game and completed a nation's-leading 32.6 passes a game. He's embracing the chance to compete against players from higher-division schools.

``It's a huge opportunity for me and some other small-school guys just because we want to prove we can play at the level and speed of the guys from LSU and Alabama,'' he said. ``It's a good opportunity and it's a neat experience.''

Sunseri is well-acquainted with the state. His brother, Vinnie, is a safety for Alabama and his father, Sal, is a former Tide assistant. Plus, Sunseri and the Panthers have played in Birmingham's Compass Bowl for three straight years.

He might have a leg up among QBs trying to quickly grasp a new system. Sunseri played for three head coaches and four offensive coordinators at Pitt but finished with his best season.

``It's a huge benefit,'' said Sunseri, who threw for 21 touchdowns and was intercepted just four times as a senior. ``You already learned different ways of understanding terminology and different ways of being able to ride out plays and find the easiest way to pick it up as fast as you can, because you want to be one of those guys that's out there on the field helping people direct traffic, make sure that you can help people line up.

``That's what your position is when you're playing quarterback.''

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do. 

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.