Before making his fourth move in five years, Dana Holgorsen needed a little convincing. West Virginia had contacted the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and expressed interest in grooming him to be its next head coach. But prior to any commitments, Holgorsen wanted to see what it was his new home had to offer. So in late fall of 2010, he boarded a plane for Pittsburgh, where he was met by WVU athletic director Oliver Luck. And on they went, the 75 miles south to Morgantown.
Holgorsen’s first request was to see WVU’s indoor practice area, an amenity Oklahoma State had yet to add. The tour moved through the football facilities, and it was there, walking past photos of that year’s team, that Oliver Luck first mentioned Tavon Austin. “One of the first things Oliver did when he walked me through the building was point to a picture of Tavon Austin and say, ‘You need to get that guy the ball as much as you possibly can,’” Holgorsen recalls. “[Tavon] certainly was not shy about wanting the ball, and we certainly weren’t shy about giving it to him.”
During two seasons in Holgorsen’s offense, Austin got the ball plenty — 303 times, an average of more than 11.5 touches per game. As a senior, he caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards. He added another 643 yards rushing, on 8.9 yards per carry. Including kick returns, Austin hit the end zone 17 times. He was, along with USC’s Marqise Lee, one of the two most electric players in college football.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The AFC Championship Game featured a pair of offenses that for most of the season could not have been more different. As was brought up countless times during the playoffs, Joe Flacco was the best deep-ball thrower in football in 2012, but the Ravens struggled in their intermediate passing game and in manufacturing first downs. For the Pats, manufacturing first downs is all they do. They had 444 in all, 62 more than any other team.
Much of this middle-of-the-field dominance was — and has been — a product of Wes Welker. The 31-year-old receiver has caught 627 passes in his six seasons as a Patriot, and as every other piece of New England’s backfield and receiving corps has turned over, Welker has remained a constant for Tom Brady. Welker had another typically outstanding season in 2012, catching 118 passes for 1,354 yards while Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski missed significant time with injuries, and Brandon Lloyd, well ... didn’t do anything.
This steady production is what’s made Welker’s treatment by the Patriots and Bill Belichick a bit puzzling. Before the 2011 season, Welker, coming off his worst year as a Patriot, was offered a two-year, $16 million contract. He turned down that deal before getting the franchise tag that spring. Last offseason, coming off his best season as a Patriot, Welker was given a lesser offer, which he again turned down before getting the franchise tag. In total, Welker brought home more than he would’ve by signing the original sheet, but what had become clear was that to the Pats, Welker’s value had been defined. In New England, that usually means a line in the sand. When it came time this week for the Pats to decide whether to again use the franchise tag on Welker, they declined, meaning that Welker will likely become a free agent when the league year begins.
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit a preview for each of that weekend's games. The best preview from each game will be selected and combined with the others into one comprehensive guide, and points are awarded based on how many individual previews from each writer are selected. Get it? OK. We sorta do, too.
Bills at Patriots
Buffalo hemorrhages 169.5 rushing yards a game and there’s a toddler-with-permanent-marker glee in Tom Brady’s eyes when he gashes open wounds, even if it means doing so via hand-offs (40 carries, 247 ground-game yards when these teams met in Week 4). There won’t be six New England turnovers this time; coupled with the running game, I’m expecting sub-par receiving lines for the Pats’ aces. Stevie Johnson has been leaving behind a data trail of ghastly box scores, including a three-catch-for-29-yards showing last week. This is largely because Ryan Fitzpatrick loves wheel routes to running backs and third-read safety-valve tosses to Scott Chandler. Donald Jones has scored every three weeks this season, and these migration patterns point to a touchdown this week.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Red-hot Mariners ace Felix Hernandez tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout as the M's squeaked by the Twins 1-0. In related news, Las Vegas is now a bankrupt ghost town after more than 100 million gamblers placed significant bets on the Mariners-Twins game ending 1-0.
Patriots shell out more money to pass catchers, continue blatant taunting of Wes Welker
Every bit of this Karen Guregian blog post for the Boston Herald is so perfectly Bill Belichick that I don’t think anything could make me happier. It starts with the news of Aaron Hernandez’s new $40 million extension, which comes on the heels of Wes Welker’s very public griping about his own contract situation. It’s no secret that Belichick’s Pats have never let loyalty get in the way of business matters, but an apparent willingness to jettison Welker is a far cry from dealing Deion Branch. Welker has caught at least 110 passes in four of his five seasons in New England, including a 122-catch, 1,500-yard 2011 campaign. Allowing Welker to walk would take the Patriot Way to an entirely different place — the place where we might finally be able to conclude that Belichick has lost his mind.
The above image comes courtesy of photographer Amanda Swinhart, who happened to capture this unlikely moment of tenderness between man and robot-terminator head coach at New England Patriots camp. Take it away, Amanda:
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick kisses tight end Aaron Hernandez's elbow after Hernandez appeared to injure it during a passing drill at the Patriots' training camp practice for season ticket holders and Foxborough residents in Gillette Stadium on Wednesday in Foxborough, Massachusetts. It was the one time I saw Belichick smile during the entire practice, and Hernandez laughed after he realized what Belichick was doing.
This is a ballad for Julian Edelman. For Rob Ninkovich. For Andre Carter and Kyle Arrington. They went to colleges like Hofstra and Kent State. They play wherever you put them, wherever you need them. And they play the right way; they learn their playbook and give maximum effort and execute the game plan.
So why do I have the sneaking suspicion that the New England Patriots are going to get blown out of the water in the playoffs, yet again.
The Patriots are now fully back to the Patriot way. They dispatched the Tyler Palko-led Chiefs last night with huge performances, not only from Rob "Who Needs A Neck" Gronkowski but from nickel-and-dimers like Arrington and the former high school safety, college quarterback and current "ghost of Troy Brown," Julian Edelman.
"I know Troy Brown pretty well, I've talked to him a couple times, and I know he's done a little bit of everything. He's like a Swiss Army knife. I know he's a stud," Edleman said after a game that saw him fill in ably in the Patriots depleted defensive backfield and return a punt for a touchdown.
Here's the problem with that statement. What do you do when your entire team is a Swiss Army knife? See, that handy little device is supposed to get you out of minor jams, like maybe you can unlock a door with it. But it's not going to build you a house. You've got Brady, Welker, A-Gronk (that's Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) and then you've got a lot of Swiss Army knives. That's a lot of house building for just a couple of players.
This is a triumph of system over personnel. Bill Belichick has shed the players, regardless of whether or not their name plates read "Haynesworth" or "Meriweather," that didn't fully commit to his way of playing or fully connect with scheme he was trying to employ.
One almost gets the feeling, if these next couple of seasons are to be Belichick's last run at a Super Bowl, that he is dedicated to doing it on his own terms. But you have to wonder, wouldn't the Pats look even better if they had just one of the Chiefs' wide receivers helping extend the field? Wouldn't their defense be that much more intimidating if they had an intimidating pass rusher like, oh, I don't know...Richard Seymour? I'm just picking a name totally at random and not at all bringing up the fact that Belichick traded Seymour for a first-rounder that he will probably flip into six Kyle Arringtons.
It will be fascinating to see the contrast when the Patriots line up against the Eagles next weekend. Two franchises who have experienced remarkable success over the last decade, but have chosen two different routes to get over the playoff hump. The Eagles went with big names like Asomugha and Babin and Jenkins, while the Patriots are going with no names at all.
The question is, when the chips are down (sigh), who is going to make a big play, who is going to give that spark that gets the Pats over the hump? Or maybe, as constituted, this is exactly the team that Belichick wants to go into battle with. Maybe the longtime head coach thinks that's how you win a war; with guys who know how to follow orders.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Nobody is going to call the Colts stiff competition (or competition, really), but Julio Jones played Sunday like a robot sent from the future to destroy us all. His falling catch in triple coverage is not something humans should be able to do.
2. Andre3000, rapper
Just so we're all clear if you make the album Stankonia and then show up on the new Drake album with the line, "Now that both of us are colorblind, ’cause the other side looks greener/Which leaves your turf in a Boise State, can’t see a play or the team," chances are you will find yourself very, very high in a power rankings list called Rankonia. Just FYI. Take care.
3. Drunk Falcons Fans
To finish off the ATL's grip on the top three, Rembert Browne, an Atlanta native and the Doris Kearns Goodwin of celebrity softball, brings this to our attention. Sayeth Rem: "Blue Laws Repealed! Sunday Alcohol Sales in Atlanta! Church Parking Lot Tailgates Galore! MATTY NATTY ICES FOR ALLLLLLLL."
4. Lenny Dykstra, investment consultant As suggested by our human frailty editor, David Jacoby. Dykstra is the "face" of one of the craziest sports-related stories you're going to come across all year. Dykstra was supposed to fight Jose Canseco in Hollywood this past weekend in an event that was organized by a Broomall, PA. man who is "no longer allowed to legally promote fights in Pennsylvania after pleading to charges of promoting without a license and fight-fixing" AND a Nigerian-born Internet mogul. This fight didn't happen and now Dykstra is saying he never even agreed to get into the squared circle with the one-time Bash Brother.
I'm personally shocked at all this. A fight promoter accused of fight-fixing? A Nigerian internet mogul? Stock market guru Lenny Dykstra? Jose Canseco? The table was set! All they had to do was eat the meal. Can't believe this didn't go off without a hitch.
5. Marcelo Bielsa, manager, Athletic Bilbao
For those who don't actively follow South American or Spanish football, a) what's wrong with you? and b) meet this genius. Bielsa, a one-time Argentina national coach who led Chile on a breathtaking World Cup run last summer, is now guiding the Basque team Athletic Bilbao.
After a rocky La Liga start, the eccentric tactical genius, who employs little-used formations like 3-3-1-3 and drills his players to play aesthetically beautiful and athletically demanding football, has righted Bilbao's ship and over the weekend he offered up a managerial masterclass against Barcelona, drawing with the La Liga and Champions League winners in what might have been the best football match of the European season, to date. Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona boss called the match, "un canto al futbol," an ode to the game, and said of Bielsa, "I would have liked to have played under him: he is different to everyone else."
7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles might be slumping, but at least they have someone who can do this.
8. Pius Heinz, 2011 WSOP champion You gotta love a sport where the trophy presentation is actually a dude putting on a bracelet in what looks like a Birdman video. Nice work if you can bluff it.
9. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Got to love the visor. Got to love him because he's a man and he's 40. Got to love him because he teaches you how to Gundy.
But you mostly have to love him because after beating Kansas State this past weekend, in the shadow of the Game of the Century, Gundy had the stones to say, "I'm not so sure they shouldn't have been watching our game."
10. Yao Ming, college student
The average student height at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University just got a little taller. Sometimes it's important to remember that this guy was the absolute best. Yo! Yao!