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Reunited with Fox, Del Rio charges up Denver 'D'

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Reunited with Fox, Del Rio charges up Denver 'D'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) There are a few more lines around the eyes, each of them a symbol of some lesson learned during a head-coaching tenure that lasted nearly a decade, had its share of success but ended badly for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville.

Some things, however, haven't changed.

The Broncos defensive coordinator, now 49 and reunited with John Fox in the same role he had a decade ago in Carolina, is still a formidable presence whenever he walks onto a football field. And the schemes the NFL linebacker-turned-coach crafts still make life very difficult for offenses around the league.

Asked to describe his approach to defense without using the word ``aggressive'' - because, really, what defensive coordinator doesn't want to be aggressive? - Del Rio laughed.

``Aggressive,'' he said. ``I don't know. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things. From my standpoint, the No. 1 thing we want to do is create a culture where players understand the things they're being asked to do. That they build a confidence playing for each other, with each other. And that in the end, you play fast.''

Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven years has the Broncos (6-3) playing fast, and at a level this defense hasn't reached in a while. Yes, they are ranked a more-than-respectable sixth in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed, in the running to finish with the best statistics in those categories since the mid-2000s. But they are also ranked second in sacks per pass play and, with four touchdowns and a pair of safeties, are making the kind of plays that swing games.

They are building a reputation as a swarming, playmaking and, yes, aggressive group, which is just how Del Rio coaches it, especially when the talent is there to make it happen. Had it worked this well in Jacksonville over the past few years, the coach might still be there. Instead, he got released 11 games into last season with a 69-73 career record.

Some might have sat it out for a while, let some wounds heal and, in Del Rio's case, collected some easy paychecks, which could have totaled up to around $5 million.

Not this coach, who Thursday was standing in the midst of his defenders at the start of practice, shouting, listening, correcting and at one point, insisting the players ``get this (expletive) down'' by the end of the day.

``I love coaching,'' he said. ``And this was a good opportunity for me to get hooked up with a guy I respect and a program that's first class.''

Indeed, when Fox came calling, Del Rio knew he could get right back into his comfort zone: Coaching defense alongside one of the men he came up with; working in the room with players; getting back to the kind of routine that wasn't available as much when he was a head coach, where PR, delegating to staff and big-picture decision-making often overshadows the Xs and Os.

``That's something you probably kind of miss after a while,'' Fox said. ``It kind of re-energizes you. I think he's having fun doing it.''

No doubt, Del Rio said.

``When we interviewed, I said, `Hey, I don't mind being an assistant strength coach again,''' Del Rio said. ``I love ball with the right people, right organization. I love to be a member on the staff and going through the grind and having my feet in the grass and having a chance to touch some players. That's what I have a passion for.''

Del Rio's last two stops in his 11-year NFL playing career were in Dallas, where he played for Jimmy Johnson, and Minnesota, where Tony Dungy was the defensive coordinator. It was Johnson's ``all-in mentality,'' as Del Rio called it, and Dungy's ability to coach, teach but not dwell on failure that got Del Rio thinking about the kind of coach he'd like to be someday.

He started in New Orleans as, yes, the assistant strength coach, then moved to Baltimore to coach the linebackers from 1999-2001. Led by Ray Lewis, the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. Del Rio left Baltimore to join Fox in Carolina in 2002, where he transformed the defense from 32nd-ranked to second in the span of a season.

Impressed with that sudden bout of success, and looking to inject some new, young energy into the franchise after firing Tom Coughlin, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver bypassed coaches with more experience and took a chance on Del Rio, who with blue eyes, blond hair, standing 6-foot-4 and still close to his 240-pound playing weight was a made-for-TV presence in a city looking for a football star.

He had also proven he could coach a little, though the perils of going with a guy who had never been the head man reared their head early. There was the infamous tree stump Del Rio put in the locker room. Message: Keep chopping wood, but when punter Chris Hanson did, he swung the ax nearly through his shin and had to be rushed to the hospital.

The coach had trouble managing changes at the quarterback position involving Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich and David Garrard. There was a revolving door of assistant coaches and two playoff appearances to show for eight-plus years on the job.

Through it all, though, the players played hard for Del Rio. And, of course, staying in the same job for that long in the NFL is a victory of sorts, no matter how it ends.

``Certainly, I'm a much better coach now,'' Del Rio said. ``I got a wealth of experience. You learn from good and bad. I feel like a better coach at this point. I still have all my fire and desire and energy, which is why I'm doing what I'm doing now.''

By returning to his roots - running the defense - Del Rio gets to go back to what he's best at: Connecting with players, devising schemes that bring out their best, which, in Del Rio's mind, is what coaching is supposed to be all about.

``When I was in college, I started hearing about him and we used to watch the Jaguars defense,'' said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who leads the team in tackles and has earned an AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor in Del Rio's scheme. ``They used to always talk about him and the stuff he runs. He's one of those guys who's always amped and believes in his players. And him being a past linebacker, it makes it easier for us to follow him, look up to him and believe in him.''

The subplot in all this is that the success of the Denver defense could make Del Rio a popular choice to become a head coach again. That's a particularly delicate topic for the Broncos, who lost Dennis Allen to the Raiders after last season and haven't had a defensive coordinator serve back-to-back seasons since Larry Coyer from 2003-06.

No problem from the boss's point of view.

``Whenever you hire an assistant coach, you want them to have high aspirations,'' Fox said. ``You want to hire people who may have that ability. Otherwise, you're not hiring the best people.''

Del Rio says he doesn't look beyond the next Sunday, which in this case is a rematch with the Chargers. If Denver wins, it takes a three-game lead in the AFC West. Knowing far more about life as a head coach than when he took the job in Jacksonville, Del Rio says there's no rush to move up the ladder again.

``When you're a young guy and you haven't been there, the urgency and desire to get that opportunity is such that you'd take just about any job given to you,'' Del Rio said. ``I don't feel that way now. If there's something that fits and the right situation comes along, so be it. But in the meantime, I'm all in, 100 percent as a lieutenant on this staff. I'm somebody that John Fox, John Elway ... and the players can count on. I'm 100 percent invested in helping them be their best.''

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2017 NFL Draft: Final Mock Draft Thoughts

2017 NFL Draft: Final Mock Draft Thoughts

The time is here.

The 2017 NFL Draft, round one.

Thursday. My 11th and final mock draft, completed.

Before getting into all the picks, here are some final thoughts:

CLICK HERE FOR BEN STANDIG'S FINAL 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT

  • Here are the five players that could really, really screw up my grand plans: QB Mitch Trubisky, ILB Reuben Foster, CB Marlon Humphrey, WR Corey Davis, S Jabrill Peppers. Why? Trubisky is the likely first passer selected. I’d bet the Browns land him with their second first-round selection. It just probably won’t be at 12. That means a trade up. Whether it’s the Jaguars (4), Titans (5) or Jets (6) makes a major difference in how the selections might unfold. Foster is a top-10 talent who some suggest could slide out of round 1 altogether because of various injury/off-field concerns. Humphrey might be the third corner selected. When he comes off the board, a run on corners begins. Does that run begin at 18 or 28? Last month Davis had top-10 projections. Because he hasn’t been able to work out for teams due to injuries, his range is now 10-30. Peppers is a big favorite for many talent evaluators, but where he plays every-down in the NFL is the concern

CLICK HERE FOR BEN STANDIG'S FINAL 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT

  • Yes, we all know that the Redskins need defensive line help. Don’t freak out if that doesn’t happen on Day 1. There simply are not many (any?) viable options projected in the 15-35 range. Better they take talent for other need areas than reach. Oh, they also might have an issue in the second round for similar reasons. Cheers!
     
  • Speaking of strengths and weaknesses, teams seeking cornerback, safety, edge rusher and tight end love the first two rounds of this draft. Those hoping for offensive line, defensive and wide receiver are hoping for the best.

CLICK HERE FOR BEN STANDIG'S FINAL 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT

  • For the last 10 mocks I’ve changed the selections for 30 slots numerous times. Two remain the same. Cleveland taking Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garett No.1 – and the Los Angeles Chargers going with Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. The former is clear; one league source told me he’s the best OLB prospect since Lawrence Taylor. As for Hooker, it just made sense from the jump in a Beautiful Mind sort of way.

 

  • If you make me pick a surprise for the top 10 – quarterbacks don’t count – give me Washington receiver John Ross, i.e. the guy who ran the fastest 40-time in the history of the NFL Combine. Teams picking 6-10 all need receivers.

 

  • The “Best Player Available vs. Need” debate is real with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. Everyone acknowledges both need help at offensive tackle, badly. Viable players – Garret Bolles, Ryan Ramczyk, Cam Robinson – will start going off the board in that range. They just won’t be the best player available. The Broncos and Giants also need a tight end and Miami’s David Njoku could be there. Decisions, decisions.

 

  • Based on likely scenarios – meaning Jonathan Allen, Haason Reddick and Christian McCaffrey aren’t available -- here are the five players I like best for the Redskins at 17: Alabama ILB Reuben Foster, UCLA OLB Takk McKinley, G Forrest Lamp, WR John Ross, Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey.

 

  • Potential slider? Not saying I buy it, but Florida State running back Dalvin Cook slipping to Day 2 is something to consider. If you think Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is some top 10 lock

 

  • Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley's stock improved dramatically throughout the draft process to the point he may have been the second at his position off the board after college teammate Marshon Lattimore. That is until a recent rape allegation halted his rise if not flat out changed direction South. Teams are investigating the situation rapidly, but the uncertainty could drop Conley out of round one. Without knowing which way to turn I left him, but the fact that there are so many intriguing corners in this draft also works against him. Alabama's Marlon Humphrey could fill the second CB void starting with the Saints (11) or Eagles (14).

 

  • The Ravens, barring the unforeseen in front of them, will take one of these players: WR Corey Davis, OL Cam Robinson, edge rusher Derek Barnett/Takk McKinley.

 

  • Three players I like for the Redskins in round 2: Utah safety Marcus Williams, Michigan DL Chris Wormley, Houston pass rusher Tyus Bowser.

CLICK HERE FOR BEN STANDIG'S FINAL 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT

Ok, here are my 1-32 picks.

Click here for my thoughts on each selection and the entire second round.

1. CLE — Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2. SF — Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
3. CHI — Jamal Adams, SS, LSU
4. JAX — Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
5. TEN (via LA) — Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
6. NYJ — O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
7. LAC — Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
8. CAR — Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
9. CIN — Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
10. BUF — Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
11. NO — Haason Reddick, ILB, Temple
12. CLE (via PHI) — Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
13. ARI — Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
14. PHI (via MIN) — Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
15. IND — Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
16. BAL — Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
17. WAS — Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
18. TEN — John Ross, WR, Washington
19. TB — Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
20. DEN — Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
21. DET — Charles Harris, OLB, Missouri
22. MIA — Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky
23. NYG — David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.)
24. OAK — Jarrad Davis, MLB, Florida
25. HOU — Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
26. SEA — Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
27. KC — Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA
28. DAL — Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
29. GB — Adoree Jackson, CB, USC
30. PIT — Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
31. ATL — T.J Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
32. NO (Via NE) — Kevin King, CB, Washington

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Ravens Mock Draft Roundup: Looks like Baltimore's getting a new wide receiver

Ravens Mock Draft Roundup: Looks like Baltimore's getting a new wide receiver

This is it. It’s finally the week of the 2017 NFL Draft, signaling the end to all of the mock drafts and educated guesses about which move your favorite team will make in the first round.

As for the Baltimore Ravens, there are a number of different directions they could go — add some youth to their receivers, buff up their defensive line or pull a move that could surprise everyone.

With the countdown to the NFL Draft now down to days, here’s a look at which players draft experts and analysts think the Ravens will take with their No. 16 first-round pick.

 

Corey Davis, WR from Western Michigan

Ben Standig, CSN Mid-Atlantic: He argues the Ravens need to prioritize their receiving unit to give Joe Flacco more consistent opens.

“The 6-foot-3 Davis wasn't just a receiver in 2016. We're talking playmaking monster after catching 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns.”

But he also offers up the idea of an edge rusher for the Ravens too.

See Ben Standig's complete 2017 NFL Mock Draft 10.0

Chris Wormley, DE from Michigan

Cameron DaSilva, FOX Sports: Although he asserts Wormley deserves to be a first-round pick somewhere, the Raven’s No. 16 pick could be a bit too high but thinking he’ll still be around by the team’s second-round pick at 47 is “risky.”

“Often overshadowed by other playmakers on Michigan’s defense (Taco Charlton, Jabrill Peppers), Wormley is a great player in his own right, and fits perfectly as a 3-4 defensive end. He can eat up blocks on the edge for Terrell Suggs and Baltimore’s other dynamic pass rushers, while also generating pressure himself.”

Mike Williams, WR from Clemson

Rob Rang, CBS Sports: With the losses of Steve Smith, Sr. and Kamar Aiken, he’s not the only one to point out the Ravens need someone Flacco can rely on, and Williams might be it.

“The Ravens need help at edge rusher and offensive tackle, as well, but general manager Ozzie Newsome may have a hard time letting a prototypical split end like the 6-4, 218-pound Williams slip any further. His ability to box out defenders and win contested passes could make him a quick favorite for Joe Flacco…”

Corey Davis, WR form Western Michigan

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: His argument is quite simple.

“At some point, they have to get Joe Flacco more help outside. This is a player who will end up being the best receiver in this class.”

Cam Robinson, OT from Alabama

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: No matter what’s left by the time the Ravens’ pick rolls around, he argues Baltimore will find someone for the O-Line.

“If Buffalo takes this physically dominant tackle from Alabama at 10, then Ozzie Newsome will find another bargain here.”

 O.J. Howard, TE from Alabama 

Evan Silva, Yahoo Sports: In a year of stand-out tight ends, he asserts this might be the right move for the Ravens.

"Tight ends ordinarily do not make first-year impacts, and the depth of the class could work against the top-end talents. At No. 16, however, I think Howard would be too appealing for GM Ozzie Newsome to pass. 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams has been a colossal disappointment, and Dennis Pitta is on his last legs. Howard is the pro-readiest tight end in this class." 

John Ross, WR from Washington

Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report: His point is to basically have the Ravens strengthen their offense so it’s reliable and they can leave it alone while working to improve other areas.

“So fast. So record-shatteringly fast. Can also run routes and catch and stuff.”

MORE NFL DRAFT: 15 first-round NFL Draft busts