Posted on: February 25, 2012 7:12 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 7:48 am

Notebook: Matt Kalil goes from Bambi to bruiser

Eight things I learned from hanging around the NFL Combine media center at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday:

1-Matt Kalil, who was one of only two O-linemen who worked out Saturday to clock a 40 under 5.0 seconds and is projected as a top-three draft pick, apparently wasn't such a promising athlete when he was younger. Fellow USC product Chris Galippo has known the 6-7, 306-pound Kalil since they were eight years old. And even though it's the Trojan linebacker who is in the shadows now in scouts' eyes, you might not have expected things to turn out like they have for the two childhood buddies from Orange County. 

"I was always bigger and taller than Matt," said the 6-1, 241-pounder. "I was always kicking his butt. We'd go out and play two-on-two football and he couldn't catch. He couldn't throw. He was sort of like Bambi out there." 

Galippo said then one summer when both were students at Servite High, his pal sprouted from 6-1 to about 6-7 and, soon thereafter, Kalil grew into that frame. "That's what's so crazy about it," Galippo says.

Kalil became much more coordinated, Galippo said, as the kid who always had the huge hands and huge feet finally caught up to his body.

Somwhere along the way, Kalil also honed quite a nasty streak that is a stark contrast to his jokester personality off the field, Galippo says, when pointing out one of the big differences between the USC left tackle and his older brother Ryan, a Pro Bowl center. "Matt's one of the meanest O-linemen around. He plays really angry."

2-The Michigan defenders really, really like the focus Brady Hoke's staff brought back to Ann Arbor that, um, apparently was lacking previously under former coach Rich Rodriguez. In fact, standout nose tackle Mike Martin said defense "wasn't very emphasized" under Rodriguez.

"He didn't really spend too much time on the defense," Martin said of Rodriguez. "We were kind of a supplement. Just kinda there trying to help out the offense."

When I asked Martin what the biggest difference in how Rodriguez ran the program as compared to Hoke, the 306-pounder said, "It was such a big change. The amount of accountability he gave to the seniors in the leadership. Coach Rod like to be that guy. But Coach Hoke told us, 'If I have to lead this team, we're not gonna be where we need to be.'"

Martin went on to say that new UM DC Greg Mattison came back to Ann Arbor and "just set the bar at another level. We thought that we were doing the things that we needed to do to get better, but watching film and being more technically sound and doing all of the detail things that Coach Mattison really harped on made us better as a team."

3-All of the coaching chaos at Pitt took its toll on the players. Defensive end Brandon Lindsey said the program had six different head coaches in a calendar year and the only want to handle that is for the players to lean on each other. "It was really hard to stay focused," he said. "It's definitely hard to trust people when two years in a row, your coach is gone, but you just have to trust your instincts and trust your university to bring in the right people."

4-Olivier Vernon, a former blue-chip high school prospect, thought getting "special treatment" wasn't all that special. The Miami DE, who missed six games in the 2011 season for his involvement in the Nevin Shapiro scandal at UM, said he was "baffled" when Yahoo sports broke the story late in the summer on the former UM booster.  "I didn't know what was going on," Vernon said Saturday. "I didn't know my name was going to be mentioned."

The NCAA sidelined Vernon half the season for accepting $1,200 in benefits. 

"I should've known better. Some people come around and try to give you things? I should've known better. . . . I was in high school. I didn't think it was 'special treatment.' I thought that's how things work. I didn't know anything about compliance.

"I really felt like it wasn't actually as bad as it was made out to be."

Vernon also told reporters that the people who introduced him to Shapiro were (former Miami assistants) Clint Hurtt and Aubrey Hill. Hurtt is now the D-line coach at Louisville, while Hill is the receivers coach at Florida. According to the Miami Herald, Vernon told the NCAA of both coaches' involvement, and that he wasn't the only Hurricane who told the NCAA that the former UM assistants led the players to Shapiro, and that one current Canes player said that another former Miami assistant Joe Pannunzio (now a staffer at Alabama) led him to Shapiro.

5-The biggest difference to the Texas players between Will Muschamp's defense and Manny Diaz' D is the simplicity of current UT defensive coordinator's scheme. Linebacker Keenan Robinson said it took Diaz just a week to install his defense in training camp, which was much less than it took to get Muschamp's system in place. 

"It's much more simple," said UT LB Emmanuel Acho. "You also had more freedom within (Diaz) defense. He just lets us play the game."

6-Jamie Blatnick played against Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, three QBs who all may come into the NFL as top-five draft picks, but when asked who was the hardest quarterback to prepare for, the Oklahoma State DL answered K-State QB Collin Klein. "He's a great runner and is tough as nails."

7-Things were so bleak at Washington when Steve Sarkisian took over running back Chris Polk was contemplating giving up football.

"It's crazy how fast things changed," said Polk. "Coach Sark put everything into perspective."

Thanks to the attitude adjustment that Sarkisian made with the players, the team got better not only on the field but also in the classroom, Polk said. "It was night and day. My grades (improved) dramatically."

8-Iowa D-lineman Mike Daniels could have a future as a pro wrestler. Daniels was sitting by himself at a round table in the media room, about 30 feet from the podium where UNC star Quiton Coples was fielding questions from a big media group. 

I asked Daniels who else had recruited him out of New Jersey besides Iowa. "Nobody," he said. "Nobody wanted me."

We talked about his wrestling in high school, which he went on to say has been a great source of frustration. "I had a poor attitude. It eats at me every day. I didn't take it seriously."

Thinking back to the 'nobody wanted me' answer, I asked if he has a chip on his shoulder that drives him. "I got a HUUUGE chip on my shoulder. And, I'm gonna stay pissed. That's how you get better. Do Ray Lewis play nice? Does John Randle play nice?"
Posted on: November 28, 2011 12:04 pm
This entry has been removed by the administrator.

Post Deleted by Administrator

This message has been removed by the administrator.

Posted on: November 28, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 12:21 pm

Urban's back and with a potent triggerman

We'd sat in the meeting for some three hours and Urban Meyer didn't gush when any of the top 150 recruits' names came up. Well, at least not like he did when the name Braxton Miller was called out that day.

About a dozen of us were seated around one of those long rectangular tables in a cramped room in Charlotte last February. I was there to work with the former Florida coach, among others, on ESPN's 10-hour Signing Day show. The day before we had a three-hour production meeting where Meyer talked about, well, raved about having watched film on Braxton Miller. We'd gone thru ESPN's top 150 players one by one on that list and I recall Meyer, who always seems quite measured, didn't rave about any of them like he did when Miller's name came up.

Meyer and former Miami coach Randy Shannon were two of our expert former coaches on the personnel in the 2011 recruiting class since they've had first-hand knowledge of many of the prospects, not just about what they'd eye-balled on film, but also from being hands-on with some of these players in camps, on visits and having an actual read on them off the field and in the classroom. Meyer had been very matter-of-fact whenever there'd be a kid he was familiar with. He seemed so non-plussed. With Miller, it sounded different. He got a little fired up. The room, which had more than its share of side conversations, went silent when Meyer spoke about what he saw in Miller. He even used the word "special" when describing the QB from Huber Heights, Ohio, who had been rated as the 80th best prospect in the class. Of course, Meyer's recruiting class ended up with another blue-chip quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who was a promising local QB while Miller had been long committed to the Buckeyes and Jim Tressel.

Who could've ever imagined that less than a year later Meyer would have the chance to coach Miller at Ohio State?

About a month after that day, the tattoo mess that had surfaced in December of 2010 engulfed the Ohio State program and eventually led to the downfall of Tressel. The entire year became a nightmare for Buckeye football. Tressel was forced out in shame. His bosses, OSU AD Gene Smith and school president Gordon Gee kept tripping over themselves and each other every stumble of the way as the NCAA focused on the Buckeyes. On the field, things weren't much smoother. A program that had won or shared six Big Ten titles in a row and had gone to six consecutive BCS bowls plummeted to a 6-6 record after coming into the season ranked No. 18 in the preseason polls. Worse still, after 2,926 days, the Buckeyes were finally beaten by their archrival Michigan.

One of the few bright spots in Columbus, though has been the emergence of Miller, who appears to be an ideal fit for the spread option scheme that Meyer used to attack defenses for the previous decade. Miller went 14-25 for 235 yards with two TDs and one INT to go with 100 yards rushing and a third touchdown in the 40-34 loss at Michigan. It was his third 100-yard rushing game in the past four weeks, and he ran for 99 in a victory over Wisconsin a week before that.

Miller doesn't possess Tim Tebow's bulk so it's unlikely he can provide the same power-running component to the offense, especially in short yardage situations, but the 6-2, 210-pounder has a lot more burst and elusiveness than the Gators Heisman Trophy winner had. Miller is also much more than just a dynamic runner with superb feet. He's blessed with a powerful arm and a quick delivery. Special? Maybe so. If anyone can develop his skill set, it's Meyer.

Obviously the Ohio native isn't coming back just to coach Braxton Miller. He's openly spoke, with awe, about his feeling for the program for more than a decade.

That said, it's hard not to be cynical when you look back at the statements the coach made toward the end of his time at Florida. In December 2009, he said he needed to quit, saying he "ignored" his health for years, but " recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family.” However, in equally stunning news, the next day, after attending a UF bowl practice, he did a 180 and that would be reduced to a "leave of absence" and he was back on the sidelines for the season. Bizarre doesn't even begin to sum that whole 36-hour period up.

The Gators, without Tim Tebow and many other key players, struggled in 2010, though. They'd been ranked preseason No. 4, but went 8-5 and just 4-4 in the conference. They went from No. 6 in the nation in total offense in 2009 down to 82nd. And there was another bombshell, only it really wasn't such a shocker, Meyer, again, announced he was stepping down at Florida. His explanation was "it was time" to put his focus on his his family, yet not long after word got out that he he was undertaking an analyst role with ESPN, where he ended up criss-crossing the country to visit various colleges and also handle in-studio work in Connecticut.

As much as we've all tried to get inside his head the past 24 months, it's virtually impossible to know what he truly envisioned of his future as it related to foot, er, his life when he retired from the sport back then or unretired and then re-retired. Most of us flip-flop on big decisions in our lives. We get conflicted. We just don't typically have to have press conferences, huge contracts and hundreds of people hanging on our every word.

I've been told by people who know both Meyer and another notorious coaching grinder Nick Saban that the two are wired very differently. Coaches tend to try and control everything because they know or have learned that they can control so many things in their power, and their sphere of influence only expands as they win more and their profile and persona swell. Meyer, a coach pointed out, stresses over a lot of stuff that Saban doesn't care one bit about and that only makes things that much harder on him.

Meyer's life at Florida became increasingly more stressful as the chips on his side of the table piled up. Expectations and the spotlight got higher and hotter. More and more was made of his programs high arrest number. Talking to him a year ago he sounded like he had less and less patience for the drama that had become increasingly the norm from dealing with blue-chippers. He lamented what he called the "de-recruiting" process. It also didn't help that he had lost some vital assistant coaches over his time at UF, most notably trusted defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who Meyer said really had a read on the pulse of what was going on with the players inside his team. When Strong left to become the head coach at Louisville, Meyer's program internally took a huge hit.

I suspect there were times not long after Meyer made his "spend more time with my family" retirement speech that it flashed in his head that OSU icon Jim Tressel, who was in his late 50s, probably wouldn't be coaching the Buckeyes that much longer. Maybe, Meyer reasoned, Tressel would retire three or four years down the road and the timing might be right for him to return to his native Ohio, his roots. After all, Meyer would've had those years to spend more time watching his kids' games and hanging around the house with his wife. He'd have some, well, normalcy. But at the heart, he is a coach and coaches coach. That is their "normal" and some guys can cope without it. Some can't. It's no stretch to think that one of the reasons why Meyer was so successful is because he is so consumed by what being a coach means to him. This all might've been more manageable if everything with Tressel and Ohio State happened a year later and Meyer had more time. Maybe not. 

He is walking right back into a pressure cooker, taking over a program with a huge, passionate fan base after coaching in a league that has dominated college football and the Big Ten. Remember, it was Meyer's Gators that beat Ohio State in the 2007 BCS title game that launched the SEC on this epic run.

There also is uncertainty from the NCAA investigation hanging over Columbus. Meyer does inherit that promising young QB to build his team around, though. He also gets what looks like a loaded defense. This will be fun to see if Meyer now can help shake up the balance of power in college football as he did not that long ago.
Category: NCAAF
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com