NFL Nation: Joe Paterno

RENTON, Wash. -- A few notes after watching the Seattle Seahawks' rookies practice on a clear, 75-degree day at team headquarters along the Lake Washington shoreline:

  • Veteran presence: Veterans were not allowed on the field, but Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman showed up about 20 yards offshore -- on a personal watercraft. For a few minutes, photographers had their backs to practice while they snapped away, their cameras trained on the Seahawks' brashest player. Not that Sherman likes attracting attention. "Was that Sherm?" head coach Pete Carroll quipped, adding in jest that he thought he'd seen workaholic quarterback Russell Wilson peeking over the hill on the other side of the field, away from the water.
  • [+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
    AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenBarred from attending, veteran corner Richard Sherman watched Seahawks rookies from the water.
    Lots of faces: Seattle had 67 rookies in camp, including 38 players attending on a tryout basis. There were 12 draft choices and 17 players signed as undrafted free agents. Printed rosters have seldom been so helpful.
  • Wilson's legacy: Carroll opened a morning staff meeting by showing video of Wilson struggling with some of the basics, including center exchanges, during the rookie camp last year. Wilson finished the season with a playoff victory and an appearance in the Pro Bowl. Carroll wanted to put into perspective the first day of rookie minicamp so his coaches wouldn't get down on a young player for struggling early.
  • Tight end stands out: The recently released tight end Darren Fells was among those trying out. He caught passes consistently, but fifth-round choice Luke Wilson was the tight end standing out most demonstrably. He beat safeties in coverage to make catches on the run and separated from defenders. Carroll singled out Wilson as impressing him. Carroll: "Luke stood out today. He has really good speed and it showed. Caught the ball really well. That was probably the brightest spot that you could really see a guy jump out on. That was a really good first impression."
  • Inside job: Third-round choice Jordan Hill and fifth-rounder Jesse Williams worked together at defensive tackle, sometimes with seventh-rounder Ty Powell lining up in what appeared to be the "Leo" position. Hill and Williams are roommates. Hill played at Penn State, Williams at Alabama. Both played in tradition-rich programs led by old-school coaches, at least until Bill O'Brien succeeded Joe Paterno at Penn State. Carroll's new-school approach comes through loud and clear in the music playing over speakers during practice. Hill said that "wasn't going on in my first three years" at Penn State. "I just enjoy, you get to be yourself," he said.
  • Scruggs update: Second-year defensive end Greg Scruggs underwent reconstructive knee surgery Thursday after suffering a non-contact injury while planting awkwardly during a training drill. It's too early to know whether Scruggs could factor at all during the 2013 season.
  • Not much to go on: Players wore helmets, jerseys and shorts for practice. No tackling or hitting was allowed. Coaches encouraged defenders to make a quick attempt at stripping the ball from runners before letting them proceed upfield. This was not football, in other words. However, coaches were able to see players move. Second-round running back Christine Michael stood out for his quickness, balance and for the primal scream he let out after running to the end zone on one play. Michael also stood out for his biceps. He practiced in a No. 33 jersey with no sleeves.
  • No vets around: Years ago, before the current labor agreement went into place, teams held mandatory camps for veterans and rookies at this time of year. Only rookies are allowed under the current agreement. That made it impossible to compare rookies to the players they'll challenge for roster spots and playing time.
  • Smith at center: Seventh-round pick Jared Smith worked at center. He could project at guard, too. The Seahawks are converting him from defensive tackle, a transition J.R. Sweezy made last year. Carroll singled out Smith's quickness. He also praised seventh-round guard Ryan Seymour for having good feet.
  • Harper's hands: Carroll liked what he saw from fourth-round receiver Chris Harper. Carroll: "He caught the ball beautifully. He really has great hands."

That's it from here. Every team in the NFC West is holding its rookie camp Friday through Sunday. I would expect each team's coaches to come away excited about new players. That's a good thing. Draft choices come as-is, without receipts. There are no refunds.
INDIANAPOLIS — If Devon Still ends up in the AFC West, his new team will not be getting a player looking for an easy ride.

Still’s college career has been anything but smooth.

The athletic Penn State defensive tackle suffered two major injuries in college and then he had to deal with the Jerry Sandusky scandal last fall and the recent death of his former coach Joe Paterno.

Still said the experiences toughened him, and he's dealing with them was easier because of the life lesson Paterno taught him.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity in college,” Still said. “But I’ll tell teams it made me tougher.”

Still is expected to be a first-round pick. Both Kansas City (No. 11) and the Denver Broncos (No. 25) will consider defensive tackles. If Still has a strong combine and pro day, he could be a possibility at a pick as high as No. 11. If he is available at No. 25, Denver will surely consider him.

On Tom Clements and the Penn State job

December, 16, 2011
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Mike McCarthy is biased. He grew up in the Pittsburgh area and has three siblings who graduated from Penn State. So from McCarthy's standpoint, the Nittany Lions' head coaching position is a prized job.

That's why McCarthy endorsed Packers quarterback coach Tom Clements for the job Friday. McCarthy said he was unaware that Clements was set to interview via phone Friday, as reported by USA Today, but said: "I think it's a great opportunity [and] I think Tom would be an outstanding candidate."

I'm no college football expert, but it's at least worth wondering how good a job this really is, at least in the winter of 2011. Not only will the next coach replace one of the sport's all-time legends in Joe Paterno, but he will also assume control of a program rocked by unprecedented charges of sexual abuse against longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. There are no templates here and no one can say for sure what the program will look like next season from a legal, institutional and NCAA perspective. That's a lot of uncertainty to go with the prestige of the Penn State job.

By all accounts, Clements is a good man with a deft coaching touch, one who doesn't get enough credit for the development of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers blocked an opportunity he had to interview for the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator position in 2010 and, at 58, Clements is probably running out of time to advance his career.

Again, I don't know all of the ins and outs here, including whether Clements would be a courtesy candidate or if there is genuine support at Penn State. But put it this way: It will take a special person to go there, pick up the pieces and maintain the prominence of the Penn State program.

The NFC South's best rivalry

November, 11, 2011
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Roddy White, Jabari GreerChuck Cook/US PresswireAfter saying plenty about the Saints last season, Roddy White's twitter account has been quiet.

Perhaps the best indicator of how big Sunday’s game is between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons is Roddy White’s verified Twitter account.

For nearly a week now, it’s gone almost silent. White, who never has been one to hold back what’s on his mind, has weighed in a few times on the Joe Paterno controversy, but he hasn’t written a word about the Saints.

That says a lot about what this NFC South rivalry has become. If White’s staying quiet and the Saints aren’t getting their cameras ready for postgame pictures, you know players from both teams are taking this game very seriously. There also is a very good chance they’re following orders from New Orleans coach Sean Payton and Atlanta coach Mike Smith, who realize you don’t need to throw gas on a fire that’s been burning for about four years, and still may not have reached its peak.

It might not have the historic significance of, let’s say, Green Bay-Chicago or Washington-Dallas, but it’s hard to find a rivalry that’s been more heated the past few years.

"This is one of the most overlooked rivalries in football right now,’’ Atlanta running back Michael Turner said. “We've been playing some great games. We know we don't like each other. We've been fighting each other since 2008 for this division. It's a rivalry game."

The part about not liking each other is about as close as any Saint or Falcon has come to fanning the flames. But that part is pretty well known if you’ve spent any time around either team. It extends even to the fans.

"If you're just kind of walking around town, fans say, 'If you do one thing this year, just beat Atlanta,' " New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think that's probably the sentiment of fans that have been longtime Saints fans, I'm sure. Maybe longtime Falcons fans say the same thing to them about beating the Saints, I don't know.’’

It’s pretty safe to say that Atlanta fans -- longtime or not -- do feel the same way about the Saints.

Two incidents from last season demonstrate just how strong this rivalry has become.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees
Chuck Cook/US PRESSWIRE"If you're just kind of walking around town, fans say, 'If you do one thing this year, just beat Atlanta,' " Drew Brees said.
One came long before White turned to more tame tweets -- or Smith ordered him to. Before a game with New Orleans last season, White tweeted that the “grace of God’’ was the reason the Saints won their Super Bowl so the "city wouldn’t fall apart."

That caused outrage by New Orleans fans and probably didn’t score much goodwill with the Saints. But this rivalry flows both ways. After New Orleans defeated Atlanta in the Georgia Dome last season, some of the Saints were seen dancing and having their pictures taken on the Falcons’ logo. Former New Orleans defensive tackle Remi Ayodele made a comment that indicated the Saints were intentionally showing the ultimate disrespect to the Falcons.

That caused a stir, but the Saints insisted they had the utmost respect for the Falcons and the pictures were taken to commemorate an important victory.

As word of that scene spread through the Atlanta locker room, defensive end John Abraham, generally one of the more subdued Falcons, grew visibly angry.

“We can never let that happen again,’’ Abraham said.

The Saints and the Falcons weren’t biting this week when the media asked them about that incident. Not even White.

"They came down here and got a W,’’ White said. “They can kind of do whatever they want to do. That's kind of what happens. When we won down there, we kind of went on the field. It happens. We kind of did our thing when we went down there and won the game. They won, so congratulations to them.’’

But don’t let the diplomacy fool you.

"I'm not too familiar with that. I heard about it,’’ said Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who tried to be coy when first asked about the incident.

That didn’t last.

“But at the same time, I don't forget a lot of stuff,’’ Weatherspoon said. “Sometimes you have to have the memory of an elephant."

Although the Saints and Falcons are the oldest of the four NFC South franchises and played together in the NFC West before realignment in 2002, the rivalry hasn’t been this volatile for long. Both teams struggled through much of their early existence. When one team was good, the other wasn’t.

When Carolina entered the league in 1995, the NFL tried to make the Falcons and Panthers a natural rivalry because the cities are less than a four-hour drive apart. But that never really took off because the Panthers and Falcons were seldom good at the same time.

Without any encouragement by the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers became the NFC South’s only real rivalry, soon after the division came into existence. In those days, Carolina’s Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins and Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp and Kenyatta Walker, lobbed verbal shots back and forth. Even Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun and Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica got into the rift and the teams played a series of brutally physical games through the middle of the past decade.

That rivalry has faded. But it’s been replaced by the Falcons and the Saints.

"If you look at the past four years, ever since Mike Smith has been there and Sean has been here, both teams have been up there as far as first or second in the division quite a few times,’’ Brees said. “So I'd say that's part of the reason why it's even more competitive now than maybe it ever has been."

There’s no doubt. When two good teams are going at each other, it makes things more interesting. The Saints are 6-3 and the Falcons are 5-3 and they’ll be playing for first place when they meet Sunday in the Georgia Dome.

Things tend to get heated between the Falcons and Saints these days. But that’s a good thing. It’s the sign of a healthy rivalry. The best rivalry the NFC South has ever had.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coach Mike Munchak rates as an all-time great at Penn State, where he played on Joe Paterno’s offensive line from 1978-81 and got a business degree.

Munchak is the first Nittany Lion to be an NFL head coach.

Munchak
Munchak
Wednesday he talked at length about the scandal rocking State College, Pa., and the college football world, about the man at the center of the scandal, Jerry Sandusky, and about Joe Paterno, who announced he intends to step down after the season.

Highlights of that section of Munchak’s media session.
  • “For me this whole thing has been a horrible situation. It’s been a tragedy that something like this can happen. I can’t imagine what the victims and their families have been through.
  • “(Paterno) is probably doing what he needs to do. He knows what’s gone on here and I’m assuming he sat back and thought this is what’s best for the university and for him going forward.”
  • “It’s the shock of it all. I was there four years, Jerry (Sandusky) was there as a coordinator, and to think that he’s involved in something like this or accused of something like this, it’s very hard to take in.”
  • “I haven’t been back to Penn State that much over the years because of playing football and coaching it. I wasn’t close with Jerry by any means, but I was there with him for four years and knew a lot about him. I never spent a whole lot of time with him.”
  • “(Paterno) is ultimately responsible for anything that happens while he’s the head coach there, and so he knows he has a lot of responsibility in this.”
  • “I think I speak for everyone that’s gone there. (Paterno) was a great coach to be around. I know the players were very important to him, not just as football players but as people, he made that very clear. I thought the way he handled the team, the way he motivated the team, the stories he told us, it was more about life, not just football. He really cared, was concerned for what you did after football. The school thing was legitimate, he did want guys to graduate. All the things you heard about him were exactly true. I don’t think that’ll change for anybody… That university wouldn’t be what it is today without him. Unfortunately right now it’s not something you’re going to dwell on. People realize that… the question is, how did all this happen?”
  • “It’s heartbreaking for me. We get caught up in the football. It’s the kids and the families that went through this.”
  • “(Paterno) is like anybody else, he’s going to make some mistakes. I don’t know what kind of mistakes he made in all this, I’m not going to judge him -- at all. I don’t think it’s smart to judge anybody, especially when you don’t know exactly what went on and what he was told and all the details of this thing. I just go on my experiences with him. I’ve made a lot of mistakes myself, so, no, it won’t change how I feel about him, my relationship with him, what he’s done for me and my career as a player. Those kinds of things will always stay the same. Yeah, it’s going to be a black eye for a while for Penn State University, but the university will go on and recover from this.”

Munchak also said, isolating football from the rest, he thinks it’s OK that Paterno finish the season as coach.

Titans special teamer and linebacker Tim Shaw, who played at Penn State, said in his experience Sandusky's "Second Mile" organization was "a big, big positive spot in Central Pennsylvania."

Shaw urged people to let justice run it's course as things are sorted out.

"Let's handle it the right way because we're coming at somebody who didn't do it the right way," he said.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 26-20 victory against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The NFC South race is closer than anticipated. The Saints had a chance to run away with it if they could have collected a third straight road victory. They didn’t. Tampa Bay played its most complete game of the season and earned this one. The Bucs and Saints each are now 4-2 and the Falcons are only a game behind them in the win column.

Play of the day: Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone with three minutes and 16 seconds left to seal the victory for Tampa Bay. It’s not often you see Brees not succeed when the game is on the line.

Bizarre scene of the day: With the exception of Joe Paterno, you don’t see many coaches getting hit on the sidelines. But New Orleans’ Sean Payton took a big shot in the fourth quarter. After catching a pass, tight end Jimmy Graham was forced out of bounds and collided with Payton. The coach spent much of the rest of the first half sitting on a bench with his leg elevated. He appeared to still be calling plays. At halftime, the Saints announced Payton had a torn MCL and a fractured tibia. The team also said Payton would coach the second half in an upstairs booth with some of his assistants.

Who needs practice? Not Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson. He was reinstated Tuesday after being suspended for 56 weeks for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday, went through Friday’s light walkthrough and got the start Sunday. Jackson intercepted a tipped Brees pass in the second quarter to give Tampa Bay’s offense good field position. Three plays later, the Bucs scored a touchdown to take a 20-7 lead.

What’s next: The Bucs play a “home’’ game with the Chicago Bears next Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Bucs will fly out Monday morning and spend the week practicing near London. The Saints host the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday night at the Superdome.
Kerry CollinsAndy Lyons /Allsport Kerry Collins -- the Panthers first "franchise" quarterback -- had off-the-field issues in Charlotte.
In the months before the 1995 draft, the throwing motion of Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins came under intense scrutiny. Supposedly, Collins had a hitch somewhere in the middle of his motion.

As it turned out, Collins never had any problems throwing. The problems were everywhere else.

When the expansion Carolina Panthers used the fifth overall pick on Collins, he started down a treacherous path in which the team’s first “franchise’’ quarterback would drink his way out of Charlotte. Collins, unavailable for comment, has talked openly many times about the Carolina days, typically emphasizing he was the root of his problems there.

It’s no wonder then that the Panthers have not used a first-round pick on a quarterback since Collins. Scarred by his demise, the franchise has for more than a decade tried to get by with veterans such as Steve Beuerlein and Jake Delhomme.

But the NFL has become more of a passing league, and coming off a 2-14 season, the Panthers realize it is time once again to target a franchise quarterback. They hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and all indications are they’re ready to take the plunge on Auburn’s Cam Newton, who may or may not come with a hitch or two of his own.

Let’s be clear: Newton's issues are much, much different than Collins’, but they’re still issues when you're talking about a franchise quarterback. Newton comes with questions about background and character and whether he’ll be able to adjust to an NFL offense after running a different attack in college.

The Panthers' coaching staff has changed several times over and so has the front office since Collins was drafted in 1995. But Jerry Richardson has been the owner from the start and you can bet that the Panthers are looking back at Collins’ downfall, analyzing what went wrong and thinking about what they can do better to make life easier for Newton and enhance his chances for success if they draft him.

“We know anybody we take, franchise quarterback or another position, you have to have a support plan in place because it’s such a difficult task coming in as a rookie,’’ Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said.

Hurney admitted he has thought extensively about a support system to help Newton if the Panthers draft him at No. 1. He didn’t want to detail the plan. But the Panthers might be wise to use the Collins fiasco as a guide.

“We did our homework on Kerry as thoroughly as possible,’’ said one person who worked in Carolina’s personnel department in the early years. “...Yeah, there might have been rumblings Kerry was something like a frat boy who liked to have fun, but there were no screaming red flags.’’

In talking to numerous people who were with the Panthers at the time, there were not any major problems in Collins’ first two years. With team president Mike McCormack, general manager Bill Polian and coach Dom Capers running the show, the initial plan was to bring Collins along slowly.

The Panthers brought in veteran Frank Reich to serve as a mentor and a bridge. But the bridge collapsed. Reich bombed in three starts and a team that had the luxury of a built-in honeymoon period got impatient and threw Collins into the starting lineup.

He started 13 games, the Panthers went a somewhat-surprising 7-9 and the next season Collins and Charlotte partied. With a very good defense and Collins leading an efficient offense, the Panthers went all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Packers. They came back to Charlotte after losing in Green Bay and Collins stood on the steps of Bank of America Stadium and proclaimed the Panthers would win Super Bowls and become a "dynasty."

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREIf the Panthers take Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick, they'll have a plan in place to keep him from the pitfalls that befell Kerry Collins.
Those were heady times in a city that was new to the NFL, and doors around town were open to Collins. It was at that time he started falling through a trap door. The future was so bright, Collins had to wear shades -- for all the wrong reasons.

Every person interviewed for this story said the signs of Collins having a problem began showing in the run to the NFC title game and expanded rapidly in the months that followed.

On the final night of 1997 training camp, reports -- which Collins never has disputed -- said the quarterback was out at a Spartanburg, S.C., bar when he hurled racial slurs at two teammates. One, offensive lineman Norberto Garrido, reportedly got into a physical altercation with Collins.

“We got back to Charlotte to check into the team hotel the night before a preseason game and Kerry was walking around inside with sunglasses,’’ said one person who was with the team at the time. “He was coming out of a meeting room later and he took them off for just a second to wipe his eye and you could see a big shiner. I was like, 'Oh no, what did he do now?’'"

That sentiment echoed throughout the building for more than a year. In a 2003 interview, I asked Capers, then the coach of the Houston Texans, if the Panthers did all they could to get Collins under control. Capers sighed and then said the Panthers did everything you’d expect and much more. He also said Collins simply refused help.

People who were with the team at that time said that’s all true. Speaking days before leading the New York Giants against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Collins admitted he was in denial at the time and summed up his flawed philosophy.

“I’ll show you. I’ll hurt me,’’ Collins said.

Collins hurt more than himself. With McCormack retired, Polian gone and Capers running essentially a one-man show in 1998, things got worse. After four ugly games, Capers told the media that Collins said his heart no longer was in the game and had quit the team.

“I’m not sure the interventions you see and hear so much about today were legal or even done at that time,’’ a former team employee said. “But I can assure you that organization did at least everything else. I mean, we had Donnie Shell [the former NFL safety who was the team’s longtime director of player programs], the team chaplain, the coaches, his teammates and ownership all over Kerry to straighten up. If Mike and Bill weren’t gone, maybe things could have worked out better or been handled better, but I seriously doubt it.’’

The Panthers released Collins, who then signed with New Orleans and got arrested for drunk driving when the Saints came to Charlotte to play a game later that season. Collins went to the Giants in 1999 and stopped drinking. He revived his career and has had a productive run with the Giants, Raiders and Titans.

Collins is 38 now and started seven games for Tennessee last year. He has patched up relationships with just about everyone who was involved with the Panthers in those dreadful days.

It makes you wonder what could have been. If things had gone differently, maybe Collins still would be with the Panthers, maybe they would have won Super Bowls and become a dynasty.

Maybe they’d still be drafting Newton. But maybe it would be to replace one franchise quarterback with another. The reality is the saga caused enormous problems for the Panthers.

But, hey, maybe one old wound can help prevent a new one.

Gailey calls out first-rounder Aaron Maybin

March, 22, 2011
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MaybinAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBills head coach Chan Gailey says 2009 first-round choice Aaron Maybin has "got to get his own fire going."
NEW ORLEANS -- Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey appeared to gather himself when talking about 2009 first-round draft choice Aaron Maybin.

Gailey sat up a little straighter in his chair, cleared his throat, narrowed his eyes and spoke a little more sharply.

He's a straight shooter. And you could almost see Gailey inserting verbal bullets into the revolver.

Gailey delivered strong words Tuesday morning at the NFL coaches' media breakfast, a traditional event during the annual owners meeting. Gailey declared it was put-up-or-shut-up time for Maybin, an alleged edge rusher who "hasn't shown it in practice or in games."

Maybin knows what's expected of him, Gailey insisted. The kid just hasn't done it.

To be clear, I asked whether the failure came down to Maybin not trying hard enough or simply not being good enough.

"I think he wants to. I think he wants to," Gailey said, leaving pauses between each sentence. "He works at it. I'm glad you [asked that]. I don't want anybody to think he doesn't work at it."

Another pause.

So that must mean he's not good enough, I deduced aloud.

Gailey didn't blink.

"I don't want anybody to think he doesn't work at it," Gailey replied with a raised-brow expression that confirmed the unspoken point had found the bull's-eye.

Gailey's frustration is obvious when it comes to Maybin. Bills fans aren't too pleased either.

Maybin, the 11th overall selection in 2009, has started one NFL game. He was selected to chase quarterbacks, yet has zero sacks. Other prospects still on the draft board when the Bills took Maybin included Brian Orakpo and Clay Matthews.

The Bills were enamored with Maybin's one good season at Penn State. He didn't become Joe Paterno's starter at left defensive end until the third game but recorded 12 sacks and 20 tackles for losses. Maybin was named an All-American and was one of three finalists for the Bednarik Award.

"We all know his speed," Gailey said. "He tried to get bigger as the season went on to handle the run better. But it's more than just getting bigger."

Maybin entered the draft with two years of eligibility left. His game hasn't translated.

Since Maybin entered the NFL, 797 players have recorded at least a half-sack. Of that group, 132 weren't drafted.

"I don't think I've lit very many fires," Gailey said. "We might provide a spark, but he's got to get his own fire going.

"He's got to understand where he is. I always talk to guys about 'This is where we are. This is where we want to be, and this is how we get there.' Individually, guys have got to do that. 'This is where I am. This is where I want to be. Now, how do I get there?'

"We tell him all the time how to get there. He's got to do it. Talking's over. You've got to go get it done."

Maybin was a healthy scratch fives times last year, watching in street clothes. The Bills credited him with four solo tackles. So he must have competed on special teams, right? No, he had zero tackles there.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix said at the NFL scouting combine last month the Bills won't cut Maybin. Nix insisted they will find a way to use him somehow, somewhere.

What Maybin might have going for him is he has considerable room to mature. He turns 23 in two weeks. His progress was stunted by missing his entire rookie training camp, eventually signing a five-year deal worth as much as $25 million. He quickly needed to absorb Dick Jauron's 4-3 defensive system and then had to switch to 3-4 outside linebacker last year under new defensive coordinator George Edwards.

"Right now all it is is potential because he hasn't shown it in practice or in games," Gailey said. "He's got to understand about pass-rush. He's got to understand about leverage and changing direction and not running past the quarterback and all those little things that go into a great pass-rusher's feel for beating an offensive tackle and getting to the passer. He's got to be a better special-teams player. He's got to be better versus the run."

That pretty much covers it.

QB prospect for Saints, Falcons, Bucs

February, 28, 2011
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It seems like the only quarterback prospects we’ve been talking about for months are Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. Now that the combine is here, Washington’s Jake Locker and Arkansas Ryan Mallett also are getting some attention.

But let’s face the facts, the Carolina Panthers are the only NFC South team in the market for a starting quarterback this year. I have said and continue to say, that won’t come through the draft. I think the Panthers go out and get a quarterback with some experience in a trade or free agency and use the No. 1 overall pick on a defensive lineman, either Clemson end Da’Quan Bowers or Auburn tackle Nick Fairley.

But there’s one common theme I see with the other three NFC South teams when it comes to quarterbacks. Each of them could use an upgrade at backup and the guy that I’m real curious about is Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin.

I could see the Buccaneers, Falcons or Saints taking a shot on Devlin anywhere from the fourth round on and I think he could be better than what any of those teams have at backup. Maybe not immediately, but I think Devlin is sort of a hidden gem in this draft and a few weeks of training camp could make him better than Tampa Bay’s Josh Johnson, Atlanta’s Chris Redman or New Orleans’ Chase Daniel, the current backups for those three teams.

In fact, I view Devlin as a scaled-down Matt Ryan. I followed those two closely in high school because both are originally from my home state, Pennsylvania. Devlin was better than Ryan in high school. Penn State’s Joe Paterno didn’t even recruit Ryan, but he recruited the heck out of Devlin and convinced the quarterback to back out of a commitment to Miami as Devlin was generally seen as the highest-rated quarterback in his high school class.

Things didn’t work out for Devlin at Penn State, even though he had some bright moments. Paterno, who is well known for always favoring upperclassmen, chose Darryl Clark to start over Devlin. That prompted Devlin to transfer to Delaware, where he had a decent career.

His performance at the combine was decent, but nothing outstanding. These days, Devlin’s not as polished as Ryan was when he came out of Boston College in 2008. But Devlin has prototype size, a decent arm and excellent mechanics.

He’s not going to be an instant starter. But he could provide a quality backup for Atlanta, New Orleans or Tampa Bay. In fact, I’d argue Devlin has a better shot landing in the NFC South than Newton or Gabbert.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Munchak faced a difficult balancing act in his first news conference as Titans coach.

He surely wanted to differentiate himself from Jeff Fisher, the coach and longtime boss he’s replacing, but he couldn’t appear to be throwing him under the bus.

I thought he walked the tightrope well.

Mike Munchak
AD/Icon SMI"There are going to be things I think I can act immediately on that need to be changed, " new Titans coach Mike Munchak said at his news conference.
He praised Fisher for his adaptability and willingness to change as he needed to, and said he hoped to be able to adjust in the same ways. He plans to not be too stuck in his ways, he said.

But when I asked him about two major Fisher issues/things he could never admit were problems -- his stance that the Titans were not undisciplined and were sufficiently accountable -- Munchak didn’t embrace Fisher’s traditional coachspeak.

"Like I said, changes need to be made,” he said. “Obviously some things were not going right.”

He said he was never chasing a promotion. But he’s a smart guy who clearly had his own thoughts on things as they arose, though his position as an assistant didn’t allow for him to share most of them.

“In the back of my mind, yes, I was saying sometimes, ‘Well, if I was the head coach, I’d do this’ or ‘If I was the head coach, I’d do that,’” he said. “I wasn’t going to say it publicly. But yeah, I definitely knew what I would do. I’ve been around enough, I’ve been around good coaches. I think I’d take a little bit from everybody I’ve been around and you’ll start seeing that applied around here real soon.”

Separately he said: “There are going to be things I think I can act immediately on that need to be changed.”

The new Titans coach also talked of Penn State’s Joe Paterno, his college coach, as his biggest coaching influence, steering away from Fisher there.

As far as Munchak’s philosophy, he summed it up in his opening statements, offering a three-pronged approach:

  1. Give direction by laying out a plan regarding the expectations for everyone.
  2. Manage people while being hands-on and involved, keeping them on the tasks at hand and solving problems before they become bigger issues.
  3. Get out of the way and let people and players do their jobs.

“My philosophy is simple: no matter what your job is in this organization, be a pro,” he said. “Know what to do and do it. No excuses. No whining. Just do it.”

There is quite an interesting story behind Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless, whom Green Bay selected with the first of its two fifth-round picks Saturday.

Anyone who watched Big 10 football last year knows Quarless was a scary tight end who weighs 255 pounds but gets downfield like a wide receiver. You might also know that Quarless had so many off-field issues that he had to talk Penn State coach Joe Paterno out of kicking him off the team.

First, here is the off-field history Insider from Scouts Inc.:
2007: Cited for underage drinking two weeks before the start of the season. Penn State suspends him for the first two games of the season. 2008: Gets cited for two counts of DUI, a traffic violation and underage drinking for an incident that occurred at 3 a.m. on March 2. Penn State suspends him from the team until the conclusion of spring practice. Sentenced to 15 month rehabilitation program. Police find a small amount of marijuana in apartment he shares with A.J. Wallace, Abe Koroma and Maurice Evans. He is suspended for the season opener (Coastal Carolina.) Though he does not play, he is reinstated the following week (Oregon State) when information indicates he is not connected to the marijuana. 2009: Head coach Joe Paterno says Quarless has been a leader this year.

Quarless told Wisconsin reporters that he hasn't had a drink since the 2008 DUI arrest. He convinced Paterno that he would change his life. He also said he proved in a drug test that he had not used the marijuana found in his apartment.

Put down Quarless squarely in the risk-reward category. He could be the next Jermichael Finley, or we might never see him on the field.
Jahri EvansRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesScouts and coaches think Jahri Evans of the New Orleans Saints may be the best guard in the NFL.
NEW ORLEANS -- Out in the middle of nowhere, which officially starts just a few miles from downtown Bloomsburg, Pa., a cell phone was ringing in the woods.

The caller ID said “Jahri." The caller’s first word was “congratulations."

“For what?’’ was the response by Brian McBryan, the long-time assistant football coach at Bloomsburg University.

“I made it,’’ Jahri Evans said. “I made All-Pro.’’

This was a January day a couple of weeks ago and cell phones were ringing all over the middle of nowhere, including inner-city Philadelphia, as just about every coach who ever worked with Evans got the same call.

Evans, who hadn’t even played football as a high school senior and somehow had caught the attention of the NFL playing in a rural mountaintop stadium in central Pennsylvania, wasn’t running up and down Bourbon Street telling the world he had just made All-Pro as a guard for the New Orleans Saints. Although scouts and coaches have been whispering for months now that Evans might be the best guard in the NFL, he was calling around to congratulate -- and to thank -- everyone who had put him at the top of the mountain.

“That just personifies Jahri,’’ McBryan said. “He remembers where he came from.’’

Evans remembers all that very well because he’s only 26 and four years ago he was fighting the dreaded “Division II" label. Four years before that, he showed up for the first day of high school summer practice on crutches with his leg in a cast that would stay on for all of what would have been his senior season.

To fully understand Evans’ rise, you first have to hear about his fall. It happened on a summer day on a Philadelphia playground.

“I was playing pick-up basketball and I came down wrong,’’ Evans said. “I fractured my knee, fractured it about as bad as you can.’’

Imagine the look on coach Tom Mullineaux’s face when the best offensive lineman on a team destined for a city championship showed up on crutches on that August day.

“I just looked at him and said, 'What’s a big idiot like you doing playing basketball?'" said Mullineaux, who retired from coaching a couple years later. “It was a real shame."

To fully understand Evans’ rise, you need to realize that he wasn’t exactly falling off the top shelf to start with. There’s a legend out there that Pennsylvania is a high school football hotbed. It’s true, but it’s not a categorical statement. It’s that way in much of Western Pennsylvania, and certain other parts of the state -- places such as Harrisburg, Berwick, Allentown, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre -- turn out some occasional jewels.

But Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, forever has been known as a basketball town. For his half century or so at Penn State, Joe Paterno has generally avoided recruiting from inner-city Philadelphia. He’ll dip into the suburbs and, once in a great while, a Philadelphia kid has come along who was too good to resist. But Evans never came close to fitting that category.

To fully understand Evans’ rise, you need to watch “Rocky" (the original) one more time, if it already isn’t ingrained in your memory.

“The end of the EL [elevated train] stop in Rocky . . . that’s where Frankford is,’’ Mike Capriotti said.

[+] EnlargeJahri Evans
AP Photo/Bill Haber Evans has started every game since he's been with the New Orleans Saints.
Frankford High School is one of the oldest high schools in a blue-collar city full of old high schools. Capriotti is Frankford’s head football coach now. He was an assistant to Mullineaux when Evans was there.

"Even before the injury, Jahri wasn’t being recruited like crazy," Capriotti said. "When he broke his leg, that could have been the end of it. You’ve got to understand where Frankford is. A lot of kids with promise just disappear, even if they don’t get hurt. I’ve got a note from at least one teacher in my mailbox every day of the year about one of my players having some sort of problem. I guarantee you that when Tom was here, he never got a single note about Jahri and that’s rare around here."

Blame it on Katrina Evans. She’s the single mom who raised Evans and three older sisters while working as a receptionist.

“With my mom, I just always knew I couldn’t step out of line,’’ Evans said. “She was working so hard to raise us, there was no way I was going to disappoint her.’’

Evans was already a good student before the injury and that didn’t change. He finished in the top 10 of his graduating class. He kept showing up for football practice everyday -- on crutches.

"I’d just help carry footballs or equipment out to the field or whatever," Evans said.

"I used to call him the biggest manager ever," Mullineaux said with a laugh.

But Mullineaux and Evans weren’t laughing as the recruiters started to stop into Frankford. They’d ask about certain healthy players and Mullineaux would talk them up. At the end, he’d throw in a pitch "about a huge kid, who could move, was in the top 10 of his class, had an SAT score well over 1,000, but was hurt."

They wouldn’t listen, except for Bloomsburg.

"We were recruiting another kid from Frankford and he kept telling us we needed to take a look at his buddy," Bloomsburg head coach Danny Hale said. "At the time, it was within the rules, now it’s not, to bring him along on the visit. And [Mullineaux] was talking him up too. Sometimes, you have to take a chance. We brought him up on the visit and he passed the eyeball test as soon as he showed up at my door. He interviewed very well and the academics were there."

The academics actually were what got Evans a scholarship. He qualified for enough academic scholarship money that Hale only had to kick in $2,000 from the football budget, which works with only the equivalent of nine full scholarships.

It would turn out to be one of the biggest bargains in the history of recruiting, but Hale and the Bloomsburg staff really didn’t know what they had right away. They redshirted Evans for a year to let his leg heal fully and put him on a weightlifting program. They then used him as a utility lineman in his first active season and the kid from inner-city Philadelphia fit right into a town of 12,000, where the mall features a JC Penney anchor that is about the size of a typical Old Navy store. The town is about a 90-minute drive and three worlds away from Philadelphia. Evans got so comfortable that he spent all his college summers in Bloomsburg.

"We have kids that size, but they’re not that athletic," said McBryan, who coaches the offensive line and serves as assistant offensive coordinator. "Jahri’s athleticism was obvious right away. I guess the first time I thought we might have something special was on a hot summer day that first year that he played. I remember running a drill and Jahri was running behind me. As he came up, you couldn’t hear him. You could just feel and, then, see him go by."

Kind of appropriate because Evans snuck up on the NFL world in an age when every team spends millions on scouting college players. The next season, McBryan and Hale moved Evans to left tackle. For two straight years, Evans was a finalist for the Division II Gene Upshaw Offensive Player of the Year award and, all of the sudden, he was on the NFL’s radar.

“The scouts were coming in and they all were giving me that stuff about us being 'just Division II,'" Hale said. “I just looked at them and said, 'He’s throwing 300-pound guys around. I don’t care if it’s Division I or Division II, 300 pounds is 300 pounds.'"

The New Orleans Saints listened. They took Evans in the fourth round of the 2006 draft and moved him to guard. Partly because of injuries, he ended up being an instant starter.

You know the story from there because it’s no longer hanging out in the middle of nowhere. Evans has started every game since he’s been with the Saints. He has become a dominant force and scouts and coaches around the league will tell you he’s on the verge of claiming the title as the league’s best guard from Minnesota Vikings veteran Steve Hutchinson. The two teams will play in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

Evans has been selected to the Pro Bowl and, as McBryan and the rest of his former coaches found out from their private phone calls, he made the All-Pro first team along with Hutchinson. While Evans is out of the woods and out of a tough inner city, he often returns to his home and alma mater.

He still goes back to Bloomsburg and runs a camp for high school offensive linemen every summer and, during his bye week, attended a Bloomsburg game and led the Huskies’ chapel service. Evans also goes back to Philadelphia to visit his mother, who he insisted retire as soon as he signed his first NFL contract, and to stop by Frankford.

“He’s talked to our students and he’s an inspiration for all of them," said Frankford athletic director Jack Creighton, who was an assistant football coach when Evans played. “When the Frankford Chargers were going to the Pop Warner national championship, they were short on money. Jahri found out about it and he kicked in the money so they could go. He’s just a neighborhood kid."

But Evans’ neighborhood and playground have grown beyond anything he or anyone else ever could have imagined.

“Yeah, it’s kind of funny the way it all has worked out," Evans said. “They say things happen for a reason and I guess this is one of those stories. Breaking my leg, having to go to a smaller school . . . it all makes sense now. It hurt and it wasn't always fun, but it was all perfect for me."

Wake hopes long journey just beginning

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
5:06
PM ET
Cameron WakeAP Photo/Hans DerykCameron Wake's professional football journey has taken him from Canada to Miami.
This is not your first time. ... You've done this before. ... It's just a different-colored uniform and a little warmer. ... Get to the quarterback.

The words scrolled through Cameron Wake's mind in an endless loop on a steamy August night. He was about to play his first NFL preseason game, something he'd waited five years to experience. He didn't want to blow it.

Wake was a dynamic linebacker at Penn State, a captain. But when he left campus he might as well have fallen off the face of the earth. He wasn't drafted, and although he signed with the New York Giants, they cut him before training camp began.

So he floated. For years. He took a job shuffling mortgage papers, another as a personal trainer. A pro tryout got mixed in here or there. He assumed a new name.

Wake finally landed in the Canadian Football League and created enough of a ruckus to get another shot at the NFL.

He signed with the Miami Dolphins, and that's what brings him to that seminal moment in August at Land Shark Stadium. It's only the preseason, but he feels the moment and wants to make sure he experiences many more.

"I don't know if it's fear, but it's a feeling of wanting to make sure you're as ready as you can be when the moment comes," Wake said. "If you're not nervous when that situation comes up, then something's wrong with you. But that situation has happened many, many times.

"When I went up to Canada, every game was a chance. Coming down here [to the Dolphins] and auditioning for the various teams, this was my chance. Getting on the field was my chance. The first preseason game, 'Don't blow it.' It's something I've definitely come across more than once."

Wake has showed he belongs in the NFL. He was deactivated the first three games and gets the scrap snaps left over from veteran outside linebackers Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, Matt Roth and Charlie Anderson.

But Wake has managed to get to the quarterback a few times anyway. He enters Thursday night's game against the Carolina Panthers with 4.5 sacks, tied for second on the team and one behind Taylor.

Symbolic of Wake's journey, he traveled as far as a professional football geographically could -- about 2,800 miles from Vancouver to Miami -- to get his big break. He spent the past two seasons as a 4-3 defensive end for the BC Lions. He collected 39 sacks and was named the CFL's best defensive player each year.

"It's amazing," Wake said. "I changed positions, changed leagues, changed climates, changed coaches, changed countries. I'm literally in the opposite corner of the continent. It has been a major journey."

Wake, however, won't ever admit to feeling like he has arrived.

"Once you get a little bit, you want a lot more," Wake said. "When I signed, that was fine. I was part of the Dolphins. But that wasn't enough. I wanted to make the team. I made the team. That wasn't enough. I wanted to play. When I played and got a couple sacks, that's not enough.

"I need more. Give me more. I want more responsibility. I want more everything. I know it's not going to happen overnight, but I'm hungry."

Wake will turn 28 in January. Brigham Young grads and even Chris Weinke think that's pretty old for someone with one season of NFL experience.

DobbsIt's amazing. I changed positions, changed leagues, changed climates, changed coaches, changed countries. I'm literally in the opposite corner of the continent. It has been a major journey.

-- Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake
The long road to quasi-rookie status has given Wake perspective.

He calls himself "a sponge," trying to absorb as much as he can from the wisdom that surrounds him. He played for Joe Paterno (under the name Derek Wake), but for the past nine months he has been inundated by highly concentrated football lessons from the likes of football operations boss Bill Parcells, head coach Tony Sparano, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, the NFL's active sacks leader (Taylor) and last season's AFC sacks leader (Porter).

"Sitting in the locker room, you can see all the guys who were big names coming out of college," Wake said. "No disrespect to the easy way to the NFL, but I had to sit on the couch. Being cut from football and having to go off somewhere and having to work your way back in, you appreciate every day moreso than maybe somebody who hasn't had to go through that."

Many Dolfans would like to see Wake get more chances to produce in games. Porter hasn't been getting it done. Porter has been bothered by a hamstring problem and was benched for Sunday's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wake had a sack against the Buccaneers, giving him one in consecutive games.

But his signature NFL performance thus far came in his second regular-season game. He recorded 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4.

He abused Bills right tackle Kirk Chambers. Wake used speed and power to record his first NFL sack. He sprinted deep into the Bills' backfield, made a U-turn to shake off Chambers and charged at Trent Edwards from behind, jarring the ball loose.

Wake slowly climbed to his feet, stomping as he rose. He clenched his fists, and in a sudden motion arched his back, threw his arms outward and yelled at the sky.

"It's amazing to go from the couch to a game ball," Wake said. "It's hard to put into words. That journey, to get to that point, it's just the beginning."

NFC South: Final Word

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
4:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:

New Orleans’ defense will look like the Steelers of the 1970s. There’s been a lot of hype about new coordinator Gregg Williams and all the new defensive personnel. We’ve seen glimpses of a new aggressive attitude in the preseason. But we really haven’t seen anything yet. This unit will be spectacular Sunday and that’s naturally going to raise hopes. But keep this one in perspective. The Saints are playing the Detroit Lions and rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford. Williams will go after him and you’re going to see sacks and turnovers -- things that were rare for this defense in the past -- and that’s great. But the Saints have to build from this game and show that this defense can dominate against teams that have won a game sometime in recent memory.

J. Meric/Getty Images
Josh Freeman is No. 2 on the depth chart behind the injury-prone Byron Leftwich.
Josh Freeman’s only an injury away. The Bucs made a lot of offseason noise about how they don’t want rookie quarterback Josh Freeman playing right away. Probably not a bad concept when you look at the Lions and realize the Saints could turn Stafford into the next Joey Harrington. But the Bucs, who’ve done a lot of things that defy logic recently, kind of contradicted themselves when they traded Luke McCown to Jacksonville. Sure, they’ve got veteran Byron Leftwich as the starter and they want him to lead this team through a brutal early schedule. But Leftwich doesn’t have a track record for durability and he’s the only insulation between Freeman and the playing field. With DeMarcus Ware lining up across from Jeremy Trueblood, Bucs fans could be seeing Freeman long before they want to.

If I’m Andy Reid, I’m turning into Joe Paterno: Yeah, I know the Eagles aren’t what anybody would call a power-running team. Brian Westbrook does most of his damage on the fringes and that’s been working nicely for almost a generation. But, if Reid takes a look at the middle of Carolina’s defensive line, he’s got to consider scrapping all that for a day. With Maake Kemoeatu lost for the season, the Panthers likely will start Damione Lewis, who isn’t a run stuffer, and Nick Hayden, who shouldn’t be an NFL starter. They’ll be backed up by two guys who just joined the roster this week. John Fox and Kris Jenkins despised one another when they were together in Carolina. But I’m thinking Fox would gladly swallow his pride and welcome back Jenkins, and all his antics, right about now.

Is Atlanta’s defense really that bad? There was panic in the preseason because the Falcons looked horrible on defense. Yes, there are reasons to be concerned, but don’t freak out about what you see in the preseason because it doesn’t show you the whole picture. The Falcons were cautious with veteran defensive end John Abraham, but they won’t hold him back in the regular season. Yes, they’ve got five new starters on defense and there may be some growing pains. But did you really think the aging Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy and Grady Jackson were that vital to a defense that wasn’t exactly great last season? There was a reason the Falcons let them go.

Fantasy advice: We’ve got other people on our site who specialize in this and take their word before mine. But I’ve got some random thoughts this week. If you’ve got a Saint -- any Saint -- start him. If you’ve got Drew Brees or Marques Colston, you’ve already won. Be careful if you’ve got a Tampa Bay running back -- Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham are going to be splitting carries. With the possible exception of Brees, DeAngelo Williams is going to be the most solid fantasy player in the NFC South each week. Don’t let all the Tony Gonzalez and Jerious Norwood hype steer you away from Michael Turner.
 
  Ned Dishman/Getty Images
  The Buffalo Bills hope rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin can provide a serious pass-rush threat that was missing in 2008.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The scene was typical for a teenage boy and his father.

Together in a van on a long drive, the father began to preach a little. In this particular case, he really was a preacher. With nowhere to escape, his son stared out the window and looked for anything amid the passing landscape to distract him from the lecture.

Only this wasn't some mundane interlude. The teen wasn't ignoring the speech or rolling his eyes. He was absorbing every word. The tears welled.

"It was a very pivotal time for me in my life," Buffalo Bills rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin said of the intimate talk he had four years ago with his father.

Maybin was 17 and on his way to Penn State for a Nike camp. College football recruiters from across the country had begun to notice his athletic ability. He had the size, the speed, the explosiveness that made them slobber. He was on the verge of landing a full scholarship to practically any college in the East.

"Everything was really starting to come together," he said.

Michael Maybin reminded Aaron of what they had endured, shared some painful regrets. Aaron's mother died while delivering his little sister. He was 6.

Michael Maybin was the 12th of 14 children and the son of a steelworker. Nobody in the family earned a college degree. He attended Penn State for a while but didn't finish. That kept him from being the provider he wanted to be.

"Before we both knew it we both were looking out the window, trying not to make eye contact with each other because we were both crying," Aaron Maybin said. "He spent a lot of time relaying how badly he wanted to see his son be successful.

"That was a time when he allowed himself to be vulnerable and express to me how much he really loved me. We expressed to each other what our feelings were. We both put it out on the table how important it was for us to see that moment happen for us the right way."

One day after his father's seminal speech, Aaron Maybin was incandescent at that Nike camp. Penn State coach Joe Paterno offered him a scholarship that opened the door for all sorts of glorious possibilities.

The tears returned Saturday. Aaron Maybin's dream of being in the NFL came true.

The Bills drafted him 11th overall. He left Penn State a year early, but he's looking at a contract that will pay him around $4 million a year and about $14 million in guarantees.

"This whole thing is mind-blowing," said Michael Maybin, a fire inspector and associate minister at Transformation Church of Jesus Christ in Baltimore. "He went into a press conference at his school as Aaron Maybin, a defensive end heading to Penn State and walked out a corporation."

(Read full post)

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