Man on fire: Rob Gronkowkski

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Photo credit: Angie Six

Author: Jon Kuzma

Fantasy football owners who drafted Rob Gronkowski got to pop champagne after Gronkowski dominated against the Steelers in the regular season opener. Gronkowski finished the game with 3 touchdowns and looked untouchable for opposing defenders. The first thing that stands out when watching Gronkowski on the field is the fact that his size overwhelms defenses. Standing 6 feet tall and 6 inches Gronkowksi or “Gronk” as those close to him call him, is nearly the largest player on the field. That frame he boast creates a match up problem for defensive backs and linebackers that try to match up with the sixth year tight end. Having the best quarterback ever passing him the ball also adds a lot to the mix. Brady was able to locate Gronkowski unguarded several times during the game by hurrying the snap before the Steelers could adjust. Nearly every time Gronkowski made the Steelers pay, whether it was a pass up the sideline or a post route down the middle of the field. The Patriots also showed an interesting new two tight end personnel combination by pairing Scott Chandler with Gronk. The two ran a pick route with Gronk clearing Chandlers defender allowing Chandler to catch a touchdown pass for the Patriots. The play showed how even Gronk’s influence on the field can shift a defense and open up opportunities for other players. The defense is always sliding and adjusting coverage to Rob Gronkowski and that causes them to overcompensate at times. The final part of Gronkowski’s game that should be noted is his ability to go up above defenders and make the catch. Tom Brady knows he has to lob his passes to Gronkowki and use elevation and touch to help his tight end make plays. Gronk clearly did all night and that is why he brought home three touchdown receptions. A sign of what is to come this season for the best tight end in football.

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10 things to look out for this upcoming season:

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Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall

Author: Jon Kuzma

10. Will Jadeveon Clowney become the pro football player we all expect him to be?

Clowney missed most of last year and only registered 7 combined tackles. The guy is a freak of nature but can he truly put it all together and become an effective pro? Only time will tell.

9. Will Jaboo win?

Jameis Winston aka Jaboo has a lot of weight on his shoulders after being selected with the first overall pick. Will he live up to expectations with the Bucs? After a shaky preseason this is defintely something to keep an eye on.

8. Which team will end up securing a Los Angles bid?

The Rams, Chargers, and Raiders all hope to relocate in the mega Los Angeles market. What team will actually solidify that right though? While it’s almost certain that a team will be in L.A shortly, it will be interesting to see which of the three makes the most compelling push.

7. Can Drew Brees throw for his fifth 5,000 yard season?

It’s no secret that Drew Brees has been one of the league’s most prolific passers. Will he be able to do the unimaginable and throw for his 5th 5,000 yard season. With the Saints seeing a return of investment from promising young receivers like Brandin Cooks anything is possible.

6. After a one year hiatus how will Adrian Peterson fair?

Adrian Peterson has been one of the best running back’s the league has ever seen. Will he be able to keep up that high level of play after a year away from the game due to legal issues? The Minnesota Vikings sure hope so.

5. Will Peyton Manning regress into a shell of what he used to be?

Peyton Manning has struggled in the later half of his last few seasons. The veteran quarterback seems to be feeling the effects of three neck operations and variety of NFL hits. Manning might be on his last ride for the Broncos, does he go out on top (or at least in a respectable manner) or does he continue to regress into a less than serviceable player.

4. Did the Packers do enough to get to the next level?

The lost of Jordy Nelson is already going to set this team back. However there is always hope with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Can the team figure out how to put the puzzle together without the key piece of Nelson? This will be an interesting topic to watch down the stretch.

3. Can the Seahawks keep the band together?

The Seahawks are already prepared to enter the season without standout safety Kam Chancellor. The team seems to be having some issues with its cohesion and keeping everyone happy. How will this effect the team’s morale? More importantly will they return to their third straight Super Bowl?

2. Will Roger Goodell finally get what is coming to him?

With the mess that Roger Goodell has made of pro football, one has to ask will he ever get what is coming to him? Maybe not from spygate however it’s almost guaranteed that Mr. Goodell will have another slip up. I mean he has had several during his tenure. Will the league finally pull the plug on the outlandish commissioner if he has another?

  1. Will Tom Brady achieve the great feat of winning his 5th Super Bowl Ring?

It’s no secret Tom Brady is the arguably the best quarterback ever. Since Tom terrific took over for Drew Bledsoe during his second season, he has been nothing short of outstanding. Amassing 4 Super Bowl wins, 3 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, 2 league Most Valuable Player awards, and 10 Pro Bowl selections. Not too bad.

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What to expect from the Regular Season Opener

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Photo credit: Keith Allison

Author: Joey Carr

For nearly 6 months, the fans of the NFL have waited desperately for the talks of Deflategate and free agency to come to a halt. We’ve endured numerous preseason injuries, holdouts, and arrests and now all we’re looking for is some real, genuine, exhilarating football to be played. And now, at long last, that wait has come to an end. The Patriots play host to the Steelers tomorrow night on the biggest stage since the Super Bowl, and the energy is going to be like nothing we’ve seen before.

Tomorrow, in most people’s minds, is going to be more than a game. It’s going to be a celebration for Patriots Nation, who gets to see their team raise its 4th Super Bowl banner in 15 years. The New England faithful also get to see their quarterback, Tom Brady, play with more fire and anger than ever before. Fresh off a win in court against Roger Goodell and the NFL, expect to see an entirely different Tom Terrific. However, this game isn’t just about Brady. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the more consistent teams in the league since the early 2000’s, and plan to keep that persona alive with a stacked offense led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’veon Bell. Bell is suspended for tomorrow’s game unfortunately for Pittsburgh, making newly acquired running back DeAngelo Williams the prime starter for the Steelers. The Terrible Towel’s also don’t have the services of their starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, which is a fairly significant loss up front since the last time the team lost him they went 8-8. Also, the Pittsburgh defense is something to keep a close eye on tomorrow night. Long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau left for Tennessee, leaving the Steelers D with a big question mark on it. It’ll be interesting to see how Belichick and the Pats take advantage of the weaknesses of Pittsburgh’s defense and which part of it they will target the most. However, Steel City isn’t the only defense with questions surrounding it. New England lost some key members on defense this past offseason-Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner- and even though people within the Patriots organization feel like they’ve gained enough pieces to help minimize those losses, it’ll be fascinating to see if New England did indeed get their defense to where it was last year. Malcolm Brown, drafted 32nd overall, will try to fill the enormous shoes of longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, which won’t be an easy task by any means. Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown will attempt to keep the Pats secondary a strong point, also not an easy task with Antonio Brown on the field. But an extremely strong linebacker corps could help overcome some of the defense’s weaknesses.

A key matchup that many people are going to be looking forward to watching is Antonio Brown vs. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. Brown is debatably the best receiver in the NFL, boasting lightning quick speed and terrific hands. Butler is a somewhat proven player who is being thrust into the Patriots number one cornerback spot, previously filled by Darrelle Revis. Last year, Butler proved himself to be a reliable defensive back but can he be the player the Pats need him to be? Antonio Brown will determine that when they line up across from each other tomorrow at Gillette Stadium. Brown is definitely one of the hardest players in the

league to cover, and Butler’s skills will be pushed to the absolute max tomorrow night when he tries to defend him.

All in all, tomorrow could turn out to be one of the best games of the season. Two AFC powerhouses battling it out under the lights on Primetime television promise a hard fought and intense game. Big Ben and Antonio Brown are not an easy tandem to stop, but it seems like the Patriots D is up for the challenge. Tom Brady takes the field as the starter for New England for the 14th straight time and never has he had a bigger chip on his shoulder. With versatile weapons Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and a trio of pass-catching running backs, the Steelers D should expect to have their hands full. This game should go down to the wire with both teams matching up nicely, making for an epic and memorable season opener.

Prediction: New England 27 Pittsburgh 20

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Jameis Winston must improve as an overall passer but the tools are there:

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Photo credit: Kevin Thomson

Author: Jon Kuzma

Jameis Winston looked shaky as a passer in preseason action for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking much more comfortable with his feet. The rookie quarterback out of Florida State often relied on his running skills when the play broke down in preseason action, which is not a good sign for him in terms of his progression as a quarterback. Quarterbacks at the NFL level must be able to trust their reads and have a quick release before the defensive pressure gets to them. Jamies was evading the pressure by rolling out and buying time, or scrambling to the edge during plays. The first thing he must further develop is that ability to sit in the pocket and deliver all of the throws downfield. He never had a problem like this at the collegiate level and it was odd to see him developing these habits now as a pro. Despite all of that criticism, he did score two touchdowns rushing so you can’t completely knock him for those efforts. It’s just that 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions passing wise over those 4 preseason games is not the production that will elevate the Buc’s in the regular season. The team is depending on Winston to step up and live up to that role as franchise savior. He has big time weapons in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson that depend on an adequate quarterback to deliver the ball to them. Winston has all the tools as far as size, accuracy, and arm strength go. Now he has to put it all together on the field. To be fair he is still a rookie, but the Buc’s need him to grow up right now in order for them to have the success they’d like. If Winston can become that player they will be a force in the NFC South for years to come.

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Rams would be smart to be patient with Todd Gurley:

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Photo credit: Ken Thomson

Author: Jon Kuzma

Todd Gurley was one of the most electrifying players in all college football last year. He is clearly a big part of the St. Louis Rams future and that is why they chose to go with Gurley with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft. At the time Gurley was selected he was still recovering from a an ACL tear that he had sustained during his time at the University of Georgia. While a running back hadn’t been selected in the first round since the 2012 draft, the Rams selected Gurley despite the fact he was recovering from that knee injury. The commitment showed their beliefs in Gurley as a player. It also was a sign of how far medicine has advanced in sports. Since just two decades ago an ACL tear meant the end of a player’s career. In the preseason the Rams suited Gurley up before a few games but didn’t play him in the actual games. When watching him take hand offs in pre game warm ups in full pads vs the Colts. Gurley looked tense in and out of his cuts. His knee didn’t seem to have the strength to give him that fluent motion as a runner when planting and accelerating. In order for Gurley to be anywhere near the player that he was in college football last year. He will have to be playing at optimal health. That is why the Rams should be patient with Gurley and make sure he is indeed 100% healthy before putting him back on the field. Clearly he is going to want to get back on the field as soon as possible, so he can get back to what he does best. It’s up to the Rams medical staff to do their due diligence and make sure that is at the proper time. Gurley will have to play at an even higher level than what he was playing at last year to have success at the pro level. Sometimes rehab can push athletes to new heights in terms of their athletic abilities. So maybe Gurley will benefit from those rehabilitation sessions, and be able to regain that speed and quickness which made him so effective last season. Regardless it’s in the Rams best interest to be patient with the rookie.

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