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George Iloka and Mike Mitchell are right to be concerned about the direction of football

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 3:32 PM

Iloka says NFL made right decision

Since the Steelers beat the Bengals in an extremely physical game Monday night, I’ve been trying to figure out how to say what George Iloka said Thursday

After Steelers safety Mike Mitchell expressed concerns about turning the NFL into a flag football league, Iloka doubled down even though his suspension for a high hit on Antonio Brown was overturned. 

“I personally think, like Mike said, if you start suspending guys for that, the league is going to turn into a brand of football in which, if you’re worried about losing viewers, you’ll lose a lot more,” Iloka said.

“Fines. Understandable. Repeat offenders. Understandable. Plays away from the ball, off ball incidents, post-whistle kind of things. OK, all right. Those might warrant suspensions if deemed unreasonable.” 

Iloka, who was penalized 15 yards for “unnecessary roughness” after he hit Brown on a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter Monday night, correctly drew a line between what should be legal and what should not. 

“But on-ball kind of plays, which are football plays, to suspend for that is going to set a bad precedent to where guys are just going to pull up and give away things,” Iloka added. 

In some ways, changes to the rules have forced defensive players to play a more sound brand of ball, but they are still left with some unfair choices — like letting a player catch a ball if the only place to hit him was in the upper chest and neck area because that might lead to an accidental head hit (I’m thinking of the Jabrill Peppers hit against the Bengals two weeks ago as an example). 

“Quarterbacks are going to throw into tight windows and you’ll be in that situation a lot,” Iloka said. “It feels like what am I supposed to do? What would you want your safety on your team to do? Just concede us a touchdown?

“That’s not how anybody should want the game to be,” he added. “Not a fan, not a coach and not a player. Period. I think that’s what (Mitchell) sees. He’s like man, if you’re suspended after football plays, what are we doing? We’re not playing football anymore. It’s just flag football. If you want a flag, go to your local college intramural league, not what we’re doing here.”

Now, I’m trying not to be a caveman here. 

I admit there are hits I grew up celebrating that are literally “unnecessary,” and Mitchell and Iloka have both gone over the line at times themselves. 

The game will go on without some of those highlight hits. Maybe when they’re gone, they won’t really be missed.

But what about plays that can’t be made without contact to the head or neck area?

Do we really want to tell defensive players to concede catches because they aren’t sure exactly where their target is going to be in another second or two?

Or, as Iloka pointed out, to have more plays like Monday night when William Jackson III pulled up at the sideline because he was afraid of getting a personal foul for hitting Le’Veon Bell out of bounds? 

I don’t think so. 

Undoubtedly, safety is important, both for the current players and for future players and of course their parents. 

To that end, the most significant change so far is how concussions are dealt with after the fact. 

Most if not all of the ex-players who have made news for having health issues played not just before we started cracking down on the high hits but also before anyone thought much about going right back into a game despite possibly having a concussion. 

And even if they stayed out that day, how many returned to play way too soon the following week? 

»RELATED: Bengals Weekend Forecast: First look at the Chicago Bears

I believe that alone will change outcomes significantly, but obviously there is much more research to be done. 

Even fairly early in the research process, there have been some encouraging signs in terms of treating brain injuries in the long term, but that’s another discussion. And of course it doesn’t mean we should start treating brain injuries like torn knee ligaments or broken arms. 

Regardless, parents aren’t dumb. They know the game is still violent and dangerous and that only so much can be done to change that without creating a new sport. 

It has survived for a dozen or so decades despite this knowledge. 

So if we’ve reached a crossroads with these high hits, what do we do? 

I believe most of the truly unnecessary hits have been weeded out and now we’re at a point of diminishing returns in which the rules are taking away from the action. 

Players like Mitchell and Iloka have made it pretty clear they are going to choose to risk a penalty if they feel they have no other choice. 

It’s time to listen to them. 

College football’s targeting rule does more harm than good because the way it is written opens the door to too many incidental plays being major penalties.

The NFL should avoid that.

RELATED: 5 things Bears coach John Fox said about the Bengals

Does that mean there are no high hits, intentional or not, that should result in the loss of playing time? No. 

But let’s slow down the process. 

An ejection is too serious to be handled in a matter of seconds. 

Obviously replay officials are not mind-readers, but knowledgeable football people (such as former players) can via film do a reasonably effective job telling the difference between plays that can be made without gratuitous head contact and those that can’t.

Give them the chance to do that — after the game. 

If they decide such contact was unavoidable because of the flight of the ball or movements by the receiver, then there should be no punishment.

If it wasn’t necessary or was avoidable, suspend a player for the next game.

That’s much better than trying to guess in the moment what happened live and then having just a minute or two to determine if such an important call was correct. 

›› Iloka backs Steelers’ Mitchell, defends JuJu hit on Burfict

Would this be a perfect system? No, but it could hardly be worse than the current college setup.

Will it make the game safer? Somewhat.

Will it make it less violent? Not really. But people working under the idea that’s possible or even desirable are out of touch.

Players and fans understand violence and danger are part of the game — and part of the appeal, too. 

Now that Mitchell and Iloka have said it, let’s stop pretending it’s not true and find workable solutions rather than continuing this cycle. 

Report: FSU hires Maryland’s Walt Bell as offensive coordinator and QB coach

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 4:16 AM

Willie Taggart went to the Big Ten to find the man to guide his offense.

Florida State is hiring Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, according to Yahoo Sports reporter Pete Thamel.

The Tallahassee Democrat confirmed Thamel’s report.

The 33-year-old Bell is now the youngest member of the Florida State staff.

Under Bell, 4-8 Maryland averaged 24.1 points last season, which ranked 100th in the nation. The This is largely due to the fact that the Terrapins were down three quarterbacks to major injuries and were forced to start a walk-on for two games.

Taggart will still be calling the plays for the Seminoles’ offense according to the Democrat.

Florida State has also hired David Kelly as the team’s wide receivers coach according to the Democrat.  Kelly has coached at Georgia, Georgia Tech, UCF, Stanford, LSU, and Duke, mostly as a wide receivers coach

Kelly has been alongside Taggart in an off-field capacity  since the 2015 season at USF and was with him in Oregon for the 2017 season as director of recruiting.

NBA mock draft 2018: Where are Kentucky players projected?

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 4:00 AM

Shai Gilgeous Alexander-Kevin Knox-Hamidou Diallo-Nick Richards-NBA draft-2018
            NBA draft-mock drafts

The 2018 NBA Draft is still five months away, but there’s always the question of which Kentucky players will stay, and which will go.

The 18th-ranked Wildcats (14-4, 4-2 SEC) are coming off a 76-68 loss at South Carolina on Tuesday. Freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has rocketed up draft boards, but he failed to record an assist and turned the ball over six times against the Gamecocks.

Here’s where Kentucky players stand in NBA draft rankings and mock drafts:

SF/PF Kevin Knox: 6-9, 215 pounds

“Knox is a role of the dice: an inconsistent shooter who is playing out of position on the wing on a Kentucky team with too much size and not enough 3-point shooting,” The Ringer wrote. “His situation in college actually mirrors former Jazz forward Trey Lyles’s under John Calipari, though that may not excite Utah fans much.”

SG Hamidou Diallo: 6-5, 198 pounds

“Outside of fast-break offense, Diallo hasn’t looked overly sharp in any skill area,” Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman wrote. “And he hasn’t made the strongest case on defense, despite possessing tremendous tools to guard. Athleticism alone wasn’t enough for Diallo to earn first-round interest a year ago, and so far this season, it appears to be his only enticing selling point.”

PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 6-6, 180 pounds

“Gilgeous-Alexander is on the rise, improving his stock with crafty scoring and playmaking,” Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman wrote. “He won’t wow with speed or explosiveness, but he compensates by changing speeds and playing over the top at 6’6″.”

SF Jarred Vanderbilt: 6-9, 214 pounds

  • 15th overall to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • ESPN: 49th overall draft prospect

C Nick Richards: 6-11, 240 pounds

  • ESPN: 50th overall draft prospect

PF PJ Washington: 6-7, 236 pounds

  • ESPN: 51st overall draft prospect

The post NBA mock draft 2018: Where are Kentucky players projected? appeared first on SEC Country.

Newest Alabama QB target talks possibility of committing next weekend and more

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 4:00 AM

alabama-alabama football-alabama recruiting-brock purdy

Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Roll Tide-ings, a rundown of everything happening in Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting with Chris Kirschner. Today, we talk about the latest offer at quarterback. 

Could Brock Purdy be Alabama’s next quarterback? 

New Alabama assistant coach Jeff Banks traveled to Arizona on Monday to meet with Brock Purdy and his family. Banks was expected to fly back to Alabama on Tuesday, but the snowy weather in the Yellowhammer State kept the Tide’s special teams coordinator on the West Coast.

Because recruiting rules prohibit an assistant coach from visiting a prospect multiple times in one calendar week, Banks couldn’t spend more time with Purdy and his family on Tuesday. So, the coach, after speaking with coach Nick Saban, delivered Purdy the news he was waiting to receive over FaceTime.

“My family and I were so excited,” Purdy told SEC Country. “He FaceTime’d me, and I was excited to see him. He’s a good guy. He’s super energetic. He told me that ‘I have some good news for you.’ My heart dropped and then he told me that Coach Saban told him to call me to offer me a scholarship.”

SEC Country was alerted to Purdy likely receiving a scholarship offer over a week ago. The 3-star prospect from Perry High School (Gilbert, Ariz.) had picked up a preferred walk-on offer from the Tide on Dec. 13. Former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi reached back out to Purdy a week after that, he said, and told him to remain patient because the staff really liked his game and they would visit him after the dead period ended.

Purdy broke down his conversation with Banks and said it was easy to form a connection with the new Crimson Tide assistant.

“He broke down the plan of them getting a quarterback in this class,” Purdy said. “He said that I am the No. 1 guy on the board out of the ones that they are still trying to sign in the 2018 class. I am the guy they want to get. They want me to get up there on the visit and go from there decision wise.”

RELATED2018 Alabama recruiting big board

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect led his school to the state championship while throwing for 57 touchdown passes and 4,410 passing yards. He also rushed for 1,016 yards and 10 touchdowns. Purdy was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona.

Those are gaudy stats, and it makes you wonder how a prospect such as Purdy goes under the radar for so long. He didn’t pick up his first Power 5 offer until Dec. 21, which is when Kansas offered.

He has a theory as to why his recruitment has taken so long to ignite. Quarterback recruiting is much different than every other position. Most schools lock in their quarterback recruits before the player’s senior season even begins. Schools want their quarterback in place so they can be the face of their recruiting class.

Purdy started his junior season playing with mononucleosis, keeping his weight down and making him weak. He played several weeks hovering around 180 pounds and just didn’t have the strength that colleges covet.

“I was small and looked frail,” Purdy admitted. “Once my senior highlights came out, I started getting looks by colleges. I have always been in touch with coaches, but they’ve wanted to see me in person to size me up. For the most part, these colleges get their guys after their junior year and shut things down. It helped that I got bigger and stronger this year. When the coaches come see me, they all say I’m bigger in person. Every single one of them.”

Banks was no different. He mentioned how he looks bigger than what his film suggests. Purdy will visit Tuscaloosa for the first time next week. He’ll visit Iowa State this weekend. He was originally going to visit UCF, but after Hawkeyes coaches visited him on Tuesday, he decided to change his plans. Those are the only two visits he has planned before National Signing Day on Feb. 7.

Purdy said Illinois and Oregon State have been in touch with him, but no offer had been extended his way.

As far as what he wants to get out of his visit to Tuscaloosa next weekend, Purdy said he’s just looking to experience everything the city has to offer.

“I just want to make sure it’s a great college town, and I know it will be,” he said. “I obviously want to meet the coaching staff and the players and build a good relationship with them. That’s going to be huge for my family and I. And then, obviously, meeting with Coach Saban. That will be a big deal. As a quarterback, you need to have a good relationship with the head coach, so that will be big.”

Alabama is an interesting spot right now when it comes to quarterback recruiting. The Tide are looking for their next offensive coordinator after Daboll left for the Buffalo Bills. Purdy said that Banks told him that he shouldn’t worry too much about it because Saban has the call on which quarterbacks they want to offer.

He still wants to see who Alabama hires, and he hopes the coordinator is in place by the time he visits next weekend.

“I want to find a system that I’ll be able to pick up pretty easily and as fast as I can so I can play, so I obviously want to know what kind of system they are going to run with their new offensive coordinator,” Purdy said.

It was always going to be difficult for the Tide to land an elite quarterback in the 2018 class. Heading into the season, Jalen Hurts was the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year and the team signed the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat prospect in Tua Tagovailoa and 4-star prospect Mac Jones. The depth in Tuscaloosa would suggest that any 2018 quarterback won’t play for a few years.

And now that Tagovailoa showed what he can do in the National Championship Game, it’s something that Purdy is looking at when he considers Alabama.

“It’s definitely important to think about when I’ll play if I go there,” Purdy said. “I’m a competitor and I would go there and do my job and do whatever it is they ask me to do. We’ll see what happens there. His play as a true freshman was amazing. All props to him. But I just need to take my visit and get a feel for the place first.”

It’s possible and likely that by the end of next weekend, though, Alabama will have its 2018 quarterback in place.

“I hope to not make my decision by Signing Day, but it might happen that way,” Purdy said. “If I go to the right school and feel like that place is home on one of my visits, then I’ll probably commit then.”

Miss a previous edition? Find every post of SEC Country’s daily Roll Tide-ings recruiting notebook right here.

The post Newest Alabama QB target talks possibility of committing next weekend and more appeared first on SEC Country.

LSU official visit has set bar for priority QB target James Foster

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 4:00 AM

LSU-LSU football-recruiting-James Foster

Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers, a rundown of everything happening in LSU Tigers recruiting, with Sam Spiegelman. Today, we discuss LSU’s priority 2018 quarterback target, James Foster, who is coming off an official visit to Baton Rouge. The 4-star prospect says the bar has been set — and high — ahead of a Signing Day decision.

4-star QB James Foster recaps LSU official visit

James Foster had never been to LSU, not even to Baton Rouge.

The 4-star quarterback’s visit this past weekend marked his first. It was an official visit, the first of four that the Elite 11 finalist has in store ahead of a National Signing Day decision.

RELATED: 2018 LSU recruiting big board

Before making his way to the Bayou, Foster claimed all four of his top schools — LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida State — were on an even playing field. That’s no longer the case. The Tigers’ priority quarterback target has a whole new perception after a memorable first trip to LSU.

“The bar has really been set for LSU,” Foster told SEC Country. “Before I went on my official visit, every school was equal. No school had an edge on another school, but after the LSU official visit, the bar has been set by them. The others schools I’m going to visit, I know that they’re going to bring their A game. I’m ready to see where it goes.”

James Foster will officially visit Alabama on Jan. 19. He heads to Texas A&M on Jan. 26 and Florida State on Feb. 2 before a Signing Day decision. (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Alabama native will head to Alabama this weekend before a visit to Texas A&M and Florida State right before Signing Day.

Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart will have to contend with the red-carpet treatment that coach Ed Orgeron planned for Foster and his parents, which centered around the Tigers’ need — not want —for the blue-chip quarterback.

“It was definitely a great experience,” Foster detailed. “The people out there were great. Everything about the school was great. It was fantastic. I enjoyed it so much and it was so much more than what I expected it to be. They welcomed me with open arms. They stressed the whole weekend how they need a quarterback. The whole time, the players were telling me that. The coaches were telling me that — that I can come in and compete for the job.”

“The best part of the visit,” he added, “was everything. I enjoyed the whole visit.”

Steve Ensminger makes his pitch

Orgeron tabbed Steve Ensminger as LSU’s next offensive coordinator 24 hours before Foster arrived in Baton Rouge for his official visit. The timing was no coincidence.

LSU had been planning to promote Ensminer into the new role well ahead of Jan. 12 weekend. That was quite clear when the newly minted coordinator broke down tape with Foster in the film room as the Tigers’ quarterbacks coach made an impression on the team’s top target at the position.

“We talked a lot about how the offense is going up-tempo and will include a lot of no-huddle. Basically, they’re doing the same thing as my offense in high school,” Foster said. “We sat down, broke down film; we broke down my film and some of their film. Some of the plays that they run are similar to what I ran in high school. It’s some of the same stuff with tempo, a lot of RPO game.

James Foster passed for 2,912 yards with 31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions during his senior season at Sidney Lanier (Ala.) High School. He sees a lot of similarities between his high school offense and Ensminger’s. (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

“With Coach E, I feel like the offense fits me perfectly. The RPOs, the no-huddle. I feel like it would fit me perfectly.”

Foster completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,912 yards, throwing 31 touchdowns compared to 3 interceptions during his senior season at Sidney Lanier (Ala.) High School.

Ensminger believes that Foster would be an ideal fit at LSU, pushing the new-look offense, incoming passing attack and the quarterback depth during the meeting. The difference between want and need certainly caught his attention.

“They stressed that [the depth chart] to me a lot,” Foster recalled. “They said other schools want you, but we literally need you. I know what opportunities I have and at LSU, they really stressed it to me. I told them that I wanted to see what other schools have to offer me during my official visits at those schools. They respected that, but they hope that they get me. They need a quarterback and I’m the only quarterback on their board … and they want me bad.”

The Terrace Marshall Jr. factor

Foster met 5-star wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. in Los Angeles back in June during the Elite 11 event. Foster was a finalist in the nation’s top quarterback competition, while Marshall was the invited guest of now-TCU quarterback Justin Rogers.

The two bonded then and reconnected over the weekend. This time, however, Marshall was enrolled at LSU and got in Foster’s ear about teaming up.

“Me and Terrace … we met this past summer at the Elite 11,” Foster explained. “We already had a great bond. He told me that he needs me up there in The Boot, to be his quarterback. He told me that they [LSU] are going to throw a lot, which definitely means a lot.

“I know the type of wide receiver he is and having that type guy as a receiver to go to … I love it. I know he’s a great kid and a great wide receiver, and I can see us playing together for the next three to four years.”

Marshall made his pitch to Foster. As did Orgeron.

On the final day of the three-day official visit, LSU’s coach sat down with Foster and his family to give him some food for thought before he returned to Montgomery, Ala. Orgeron made Foster’s spot on the Tigers’ wish list exceedingly clear, but more importantly, provided a unique cap to the trip.

“It was a rare feeling, just like crazy because this is such a dream come true,” Foster said. “Honestly, to see myself talking to Coach O, being the head target for them, it’s a dream come true. It’s a surreal feeling that I never thought in a million years would be happening. It gave me chills just thinking about it.”

Miss a previous edition? Find every post of SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers recruiting notebook right here.

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