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A big Little, and other Week 15 transactions

Each week we share insights, analysis, and opinions of the week’s transactions. To see previous posts, click this link and start working back.

The highlight transaction of the week came from a player who didn’t even see the field in 2010 – Rams DE Leonard Little, who retired on Wednesday. Little spent his entire 12-year career with the Rams, piling up 87.5 sacks. While he is primarily known for a drunk-driving incident in his second season that killed a woman, Little remained a Ram throughout his career. He was on the Rams’ Super Bowl winner in 1999 and made a Pro Bowl in 2003, which was one of his double-digit sack seasons. he didn’t play in 2010 and let the Rams know in December that he was hanging up his cleats after a solid career. You can compare Little’s career to the careers of other 2010 retirees in this updated post.

In this week’s other transactions…

Giants (put WR Steve Smith and LB Clint Sintim on injured reserve) – Smith, who has been battling a left knee injury, had to finally give up the ghost and go on injured reserve. It’s a loss to the Giants, but with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham returning to health, at least it comes at a position of strength. Sintim is out for the rest of the season with a torn right ACL.

Vikings (put QB Tarvaris Jackson on injured reserve, add QB Patrick Ramsey) – Jackson suffered turf toe in his first start of the season Monday againts the Giants, and that injury ends not only his season but likely his Vikings tenure. Jackson has talent but has never been consistent enough to be a reliable starter. He could be a high-end backup QB somewhere in 2011, though. Ramsey comes on board to give the Vikings an emergency QB behind the injured Brett Favre and rookie Joe Webb.

Eagles (put DE Brandon Graham on injured reserve, add DE Derrick Burgess) – Graham, the Eagles’ first-round pick out of Michigan, suffered a torn right ACL last week. To replace him, the Eagles bring back Burgess, who spent the first four years of his career as an Eagle. Burgess can still provide a bit of pass-rush pop on occasion and should be a nice fit in a limited role.

Dolphins (put OT Vernon Carey on injured reserve, add WR Kevin Curtis) – Carey, the Dolphins’ standout right tackle, is out with a knee injury. Curtis, the former Ram and Eagle, missed most of the season coming back from testicular cancer that was diagnosed late in the summer. Here’s hoping he completes his comeback with solid play down the stretch.

Texans (put DE Mario Williams on injured reserve, add DE Jarvis Green) – The Texans set down Williams, whose injury recover has been too slow to make it back this season. Green, a long-time Patriot most recently with the Broncos, fills his roster spot.

Titans (put C Eugene Amano and DT Tony Brown on injured reserve) – The bad gets worse in Tennessee, as the Titans lose two starters for the rest of the year.

Redskins (cut P Hunter Smith, add P Sam Paulescu) – Smith, a veteran punter who botched a potential game-tying extra point last Sunday against Tampa Bay, was released in favor of Paulescu. Smith had a lot of good seasons with the Colts, but as a Redskin his punting distance faded as he aged. So it makes sense for the Redskins to bring in a younger guy in Paulescu to see if he can handle the job. Paulescu has punted for four teams, most notably in a 10-game stint with the Cowboys.

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FR: 2009 Awards

Most Valuable Player: QB Peyton Manning, Colts – This feels like such an unoriginal pick, but I’m convinced that if the Colts had just a good quarterback (even someone as good as Tony Romo) they would have been 9-7 instead of 14-2. Manning took an inexperienced receiving corps and made enough big plays for the Colts to go 8-0 in games decided by one score. That’s ridiculous. He’s a five-win player (at least), and no one else in the league provides that much of a bump to his team. If that ain’t valuable, I don’t know what is.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Chris Johnson, Titans – I’ve always thought it was weasely not to make your MVP your offensive player of the year, but since this is a different award, we’ll pick a different winner. And Johnson, who ran for 2,006 yards, was the most dynamic and dominant offensive player in the league this year. Two thousand yards is a magic number, and Johnson got there at a rate that made it seem a foregone conclusion. That’s a ridiculous level of dominance.

Defensive Player of the Year: CB Darrelle Revis, Jets – The Jets were the league’s best defensive statistically both in terms of yards allowed and points allowed, and that was in large part because Revis flat shut down opponents’ No. 1 receivers. Revis’ six interceptions and 31 passes defensed don’t even begin to show how dominant he was. No other player was as reliably dominant on defense than Revis, and that gives him the nod.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Josh Cribbs, Browns – Cribbs is the best kick returner in the game right now, as he showed with two kick return touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 15 and four total returns (kick and punt) on the season. Plus, Cribbs is a terrific cover guy. There’s no one who makes more impact on special teams than Cribbs.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: OT Michael Oher, Ravens – He didn’t play the blind side for the Ravens, at least most of the year, but he stepped right in as a starter for a playoff team and played without many hitches. Oher has great size that helps in the running game and also the feet to be a solid pass protector. He had a great rookie season and looks forward to an even better career. Oher is a narrow choice over Minnesota WR Percy Harvin for this award.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Brian Cushing, Texans – We’ve already named Cushing the best No. 56 in the league, and now we’re giving him the nod as the best defensive rookie in the league this year, over S Jarius Byrd of Buffalo. Cushing was exactly what the Texans needed – a play-making outside linebacker to pair with tackling maching DeMeco Ryans in the middle. Cushing and Ryans will be the core of the Texans defense for the next few years, and that’s a big reason that Texans playoff talk is legit. Houston has never had linebackers of that impact before.

Most Improved Player: Miles Austin, Cowboys – Back at Pro Football Weekly, I wondered why the NFL didn’t have a Most Improved Player award, a la the NBA. That’s when PFW started offering that award. And were I to get a vote there, it would be for Austin, who exploded onto the scene with 81 catches, 1,230 yards and 11 touchdown catches. Austin is the prototypical guy who developed into a star – a former small-school player unearthed by Bill Parcells and signed as an undrafted free agent. Could Austin turn into the Rod Smith of this decade? So far, so good.

Comeback Player of the Year: Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers – With all due respect to Ricky Williams, who had a career type of year after several years either out of the league or as a reserve, the Caddy had the most profound return this year. After tearing the patellar tendon in one knee in ’07 and the other knee in ’08, Williams got healthy in the offseason and started from Game One this year. He finished with 821 rushing yards and 219 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns in a system designed for him to split carries. It’s a great story, and Cadillac deserves props for bouncing back.

Head Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis, Bengals – Lewis took a team that was 0-8 in the first half of the 2008 season and led it to a division sweep and an AFC North title. Over the past two years, he’s also remade the team as a run-first offense and lockdown defense. The Bengals were more physical than traditional bullies Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and it showed in the results. For changing a mindset, Lewis earns this award.

Executive of the Year: Bill Polian, Colts – In a year of change, Polian came up big for the Colts. Rookies Austin Collie, Jerraud Powers, and Jacob Lacey all stepped right into the lineup and produced, and the head-coach succession from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell went seamlessly despite issues on the coaching staff throughout the offseason. All that can be attributed to Polian, who sets the tone for the franchise.

Offensive Coordinator of the Year: Darrell Bevell, Vikings – Bevell doesn’t call the plays in Minnesota – Brad Childress does – but Bevell served as an important buffer between Childress and Brett Favre. And regardless of what you think of the coziness of that arrangement, the fact that Minnesota was second in the league in points scored means that it worked during the regular season.

Defensive Coordinator of the Year: Wade Phillips, Cowboys – Dallas allowed the second-fewest points in the league without big additions on defense. Instead, Phillips had his team continuing to develop – especially OLB Anthony Spencer. Phillips has long been one of the best defensive coaches in the league, and since he served as coordinator along with his head-coaching duties this year, we’ll give him the nod.

Play of the Year: Brandon Stokely carom TD catch against Cincinnati, Week 1 – The play that we’ll all remember from this season is the bizarre way the Broncos won in Week 1 in Cincinnati. Ironically, while the play sparked the Broncos to a 6-0 start, Denver missed the playoffs, while Cincinnati rebounded to win the AFC North. But regardless of that, this is the play that highlight makers will feature from 2009.

Game of the Year: Colts 35, Patriots 34 – No game caused more discussion – just mention 4th-and-2 and you’ll still get an argument – and no game went further to determine the hierarchy in the AFC. This Sunday-nighter gets the nod.

Offensive Performance of the Year: Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 503 yards and last-second TD pass to win against Green Bay in Week 15 – Pittsburgh desperately needed a win, and Roethlisberger delivered against a defense that entered ranked No. 1 against the pass. The performance included a perfect throw to Mike Wallace on the game’s final play to give Pittsburgh the win. It wasn’t enough to get the Steelers into the playoffs, but it was enough to give Roethlisberger the nod here over Brandon Marshall’s 21 catches against the Colts, Miles Austin’s 250-yard receiving game against the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles’ 256-yard rushing game against the Broncos, and Jerome Harrison’s 286 rushing yards against the Chiefs.

Defensive Performance of the Year: Charles Woodson Week 12 against Detroit – On Thanksgiving Day, Woodson had the ultimate stat-filler’s day – seven tackles, one sack, four passes defensed, one forced fumble, two interceptions, and one interception return for a touchdown. That dominant performance shone a light on the fine season Woodson had overall. So we give him the nod over four-sack days by Elvis Dumervil, Antwan Odom, and Brian Orakpo.

Crazy Kicker of the Year: Hunter Smith, Redskins – Smith had a rushing touchdown, a passing touchdown, and an interception thrown on the ugliest play of the year. No kicker was involved in more crazy plays than Hunter the Punter.

Transaction Bingo player of the year: DT Orien Harris, Bengals – Harris, who played in 2008 with the Bengals, was traded from Cincy to St. Louis in exchange for RB Brian Leonard. He then went from St. Louis to Detroit in exchange for WR Ronald Curry, again before the season. But he was waived after Week 1 by Detroit without seeing action, and then the Bengals signed him in mid-October. He was released after playing one game, and then re-signed once more by Cincinnati so he could play two more games. Harris edges out Marcus McCauley, who spent time on four rosters – Detroit, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Washington.

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Crazy Kicker of Week 15

Little did we know when we started this feature how apropos the name would be. For the third time this season, we’re awarding the crazy kicker of the week award to Hunter the Punter Smith of the Redskins. The first two times, Hunter the Punter won because of a touchdown run and a touchdown pass. This time, however, a ridiculously ill-conceived fake became the craziest and most bizarre play of the year. But since we call this the Crazy Kicker award, Hunter the Punter gets the nod again. Here’s the play, in case you haven’t seen it on the endless loop on TV…

Crazy Kickers of the Week
Preseason Week 0/1 – P A.J. Trapasso, Titans
Preseason Week 2 – WR/PK Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
Week 1 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 3 – P/holder Brian Moorman, Bills
Week 5 – P Steve Weatherford, Jets
Week 6 – P Jon Ryan, Seahawks
Week 8 – PK Josh Brown, Rams
Week 10 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 13 – PK/onside kicker Rob Bironas, Titans
Week 15 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins

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Jersey Numbers: Punters and Kickers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post. Now we move to kickers and punters, who wear numbers between 1 and 19, although the vast majority sport single numbers.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers hasn’t shown off the big leg he featured earlier in his career, but he has developed into a consistent threat on field goals. He gets the nod over Dallas’ Mat McBriar, a supersolid punter. Other notable 1s: Pat McAfee, Colts; Matt Turk, Texans

2 – P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs – He doesn’t get much credit, but Colquitt may be the NFL’s best punter not named Shane Lechler. With 31 punts inside the 20 vs. just four touchbacks, and with an incredibly low average return rate of just 5.2 yards, it’s no wonder that Colquitt is second in the NFL in net punting with a 41.9-yard average. We give him the nod over good placekickers like David Akers of Philly, Mason Crosby of Green Bay, and Rob Bironas of Tennessee. Other notable 2s: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Nick Harris, Lions; Reggie Hodges, Browns

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski has developed into a solid clutch field goal kicker as well as a strong kickoff specialist. It’s rare to find a single kicker who does both jobs so well. Other notable 3s: Kris Brown, Texans; Josh Brown, Rams; John Carney, Saints; Jeff Reed, Steelers; Jay Feely, Jets; Matt Stover, Colts; Adam Podlesh, Jaguars; Hunter Smith, Redskins; Matt Bryant, Falcons

4 – P Andy Lee, 49ers – Lee is another underrated punter with terrific averages both gross and net. He gets the nod over long-time placekickers Jason Hanson of Detroit, John Kasay of Carolina, and Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis, who has missed much of the season. Other notable 4s: Sam Koch, Ravens; Brad Maynard, Bears; Phil Dawson, Browns

5 – P Mike Scifres, Chargers – Scifres’ numbers don’t completely reflect it, but he can be a game-changing punter, as he showed in San Diego’s playoff win over Indianapolis last season. Other notable 5s: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins; Garrett Hartley, Saints; Rhys Lloyd, Panthers; Matt Prater, Broncos; Ben Graham, Cardinals; Donnie Jones, Rams; Chris Kluwe, Vikings

6 – PK Joe Nedney, 49ers – There aren’t dominant kickers or punters at this number, so we’ll give the nod to Nedney, who has long been a solid kicker with a big leg. The fact that he’s about the funniest kicker I ever interviewed doesn’t hurt either. Other notable 6s: Nick Folk, Cowboys; Ryan Succop, Chiefs; Shaun Suisham, Redskins; Chris Hanson, Patriots; Brett Kern, Titans; Thomas Morstead, Saints; Sav Rocca, Eagles

7 – P Jason Baker, Panthers – Few kickers wear this number, so Baker, who isn’t having his best season but has been solid in his time in Carolina, gets the nod. Other notable 7s: Jeremy Kapinos, Packers; Billy Cundiff, Ravens

8 – PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, and he’s 18-for-19 on field goals this year, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. That gives him a slight nod over Buffalo P Brian Moorman. Other notable 8: Dirk Johnson, Buccaneers

9 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – Lechler is on his way to a record-setting season. As Bill Simmons pointed out on Friday, Lechler has a chance to break the single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt (held by Hall of Fame QB Slingin’ Sammy Baugh). Lechler is currently averaging 51.7, and his net average of 44.7 yards is nearly three yards better than the single-season record, which Lechler already holds. He’s the best punter in the league and might be the best punter ever. Other notable 9s: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers; Michael Koenen, Falcons; Jon Ryan, Seahawks; Daniel Sepulveda, Steelers; Steven Weatherford, Jets; Robbie Gould, Bears; Rian Lindell, Bills; Lawrence Tynes, Giants

10 – PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has had his playoff problems, but he’s been a reliable regular-season producer. That gives him the nod over Seattle’s Olindo Mare, who is having a good season but has been inconsistent in recent years. Other notable 10s: Connor Barth, Buccaneers; Josh Scobee, Jaguars; Kevin Huber, Bengals

11 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The kicker also known as Sea Bass (think Dumb and Dumber) has a powerful leg and has the distinction of being one of the very few kickers to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

15 – P Craig Hentrich, Titans – Hentrich hasn’t played this season, but we’ll recognize his strong career as a punter in Green Bay and Tennessee here. Other notable 15: Dave Zastudil, Browns

17 – PK Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham has developed into one of the most solid kickers around. Although his consistency this season has been lacking, Graham remains a good threat for Cincy. Other notable 17: Mitch Berger, Broncos

18 – P Jeff Feagles, Giants – Feagles has been punting in the NFL forever, but he still has a roster spot. He’s one of the few practicioners of the art of directional punting left in the league as well. Other notable 18: David Buehler, Cowboys

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Crazy Kicker of Week 10

We have our first repeat winner of the crazy kicker of the week award. Washington’s Hunter the Punter Smith, who ran for a touchdown in Week 1, threw a touchdown pass to Mike Sellers out of a fake field goal set against Denver in Week 10. It wasn’t just a duck of a pass either — Smith rolled right and then gunned the ball across the field and about 30 yards downfield to find Sellers for the score. Just watch…

Smith, whose only other career attempt was incomplete in 2005, could become the craziest kicker of all time if he can somehow add a touchdown catch to his repetoire by the end of the season. Congrats to Hunter the Punter for his fine display of trickery thus far.

Crazy Kickers of the Week
Preseason Week 0/1 – P A.J. Trapasso, Titans
Preseason Week 2 – WR/PK Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
Week 1 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 3 – P/holder Brian Moorman, Bills
Week 5 – P Steve Weatherford, Jets
Week 6 – P Jon Ryan, Seahawks
Week 8 – PK Josh Brown, Rams
Week 10 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins

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Crazy Kicker of Week One

It’s the regular season, and once again we’re going to award the Crazy Kicker of the Week award. This week the award goes to Redskins punter Hunter Smith. Hunter the punter is also the holder on field-goal attempts, and he scored a touchdown on a fake field goal. It was the second touchdown of his 10-year career. Congrats to Hunter the punter for winning this week’s award

Crazy Kickers of the Week
Preseason Week 0/1 – P A.J. Trapasso, Titans
Preseason Week 2 – WR/PK Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
Week 1 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins

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OP: End of the Lucky Horseshoe

Time for an outlandish prediction, or if you’d rather, a little preja vu…

The future arc of the Indianapolis Colts has been brewing in my mind for a while now, ever since Tony Dungy decided to retire after the 2009 season. And as the offseason has gone on, I’ve become more and more convinced that the horseshoe that has been pointed up for so long in Indy is going to turn downward. I’ve said as much in private email conversations for a while now, and now I’m goin’ public.

To leave the land of the metaphor and say it plainly, here’s the prediction:

The Colts won’t win 10 games this year.

That’s a big deal, because the Colts won at least 10 games in each of the 7 years of Dungy’s tenure (2002-08). In fact, Indy won at least 12 regular season games in each of the last six years.

But that run will come to an end this offseason. And here’s why:

*Jim Caldwell isn’t up to it – We’ve gone into this at great detail here on the site. (You can read here how I compare the Caldwell hiring to others this offseason and read here what I don’t like about Caldwell’s career path.) I lived through the Caldwell experience at Wake Forest when I was a student there, and while he is a very nice man he’s not a good coach. He came to Wake Forest with a Joe Paterno pedigree, and he gets this Colts job with a Tony Dungy pedigree. But a pedigree is not a guarantee. I simply can’t believe in Caldwell as an NFL coach.

*Staff turnover – The Colts apparently hired Caldwell as Dungy’s successor in waiting to preserve staff continuity. But that didn’t work, because the Colts will have new coordinators on offense, defense, and special teams. The offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, retired (along with OL coach Howard Mudd) in fears of losing pension money. Moore and Mudd will remain as consultants, and their replacements – Clyde Christensen as offensive coordinator and Pete Metzelaars as line coach – have been in Indy for 7 and 5 years, respectively. But losing Moore and Mudd cuts the staff’s overall experience, and something will get lost in transition. Even Peyton Manning has questions about how it’s going to work.

On defense, the Colts wanted a more aggressive scheme than Dungy’s patented Tampa 2, and so they encouraged coordinator Ron Meeks to resign. (He landed in Carolina.) That smacks of a new coach’s arrogance in trying to implement his system and his way. The Colts’ defense wasn’t great, but it was OK, and the personnel fit it. But Meeks was replaced by Larry Coyer, who has a reputation of being blitz happy from his previous stops. There’s no way the current personnel – which haven’t been upgraded on defense – can take a huge step forward with the new scheme with the current personnel. Instead, I expect a step back, if not two. And the fact that Coyer and Caldwell used to work together makes me wonder if cronyism, not strategy, prompted the move.

Caldwell also cut special-teams coach Russ Purnell loose. That’s not a big deal, except it’s another sign that Caldwell is trying extremely hard – too hard, in our opinion – to put his own stamp on the team. The team was winning 12 games a year, and a failed college coach wants to put his stamp on it?  That’s just not a good idea.

*The divisions are labor – The Colts have made hay in an AFC South that is traditionally a so-so division. Jacksonville and Tennessee have each been good at times, but rarely at the same time. But Tennessee should be tough this year, and Jacksonville (who always gives the Colts problems) should bounce back. Plus, Houston continues to get incrementally better. It will be hard for the Colts to get to 4 wins in the division. The Colts play the NFC West out of conference, which will help the win ledger, but drawing the entire AFC East plus a road game at Baltimore is no bargain. (Thanks to Andy for starting my thought process on the schedule.)

*Roster rut – If you look at the transactions ledger, the Colts have only added one free agent from another team – backup linebacker Adam Seward. They have lost some key players, including P Hunter Smith, DT Darrell Reid, CB Keiwan Ratliff, and most notably WR Marvin Harrison. The problem is that marginal draft picks will have to replace most of these guys. While that long-term strategy works, in the short term that could lead to some growing pains. And this is a team with too much in flux to afford many growing pains.

All in all, I see the Colts slipping noticably this year – even with Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, and the other stars there. The personnel depth has always been so-so because the Colts had so many stars, and that will show up negatively especially as the defense attempts to change schemes.

And remember how fortunate the Colts were to get to 12 wins last year. Over the first half of the season, the Colts were 3-4 including two white-knuckles wins over Minnesota and Houston that could have easily gone the other way. The Colts will not be good enough this year to turn those white-knucklers into wins, and the difference will show in the win/loss record. The horseshoe isn’t lucky enough to save the Colts in 2009.

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