CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ryan Hoover is 5-foot-7, 145 pounds and 45 years old. He has no formal background in football and only watched the game on a casual basis until 10 years ago. He doesn’t look like a guy who is instrumental in developing the skills of a Pro Bowl defensive lineman eight inches taller and more than twice his weight.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Kawann Short credits Hoover, a martial arts expert, with getting him ready for training camp and improving his hand-eye coordination in ways that will help him get to the quarterback more efficiently.
Other teammates swear by Hoover as well.
“He understands we’re not training to be fighters, but takes the pieces out of what they do and how it applies to what we do,” Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said. “He’s really good.”
A chance email from a mom
Hoover came to help the Panthers in a roundabout way.
In 2011, he received an email from a mom looking for a self-defense course for her daughter before she left for college. Her name didn’t resonate outside of the fact she’d taken a couple of his classes, so he didn’t think twice about it.
Then one morning, after another session with the young woman, Hoover had one of those a-ha moments. He realized the mom was Stephanie Rivera, the wife of Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“I was, ‘Oh, my God! How did I not make that connection?’” Hoover recalled.
A few weeks later, Stephanie asked Hoover if her husband could watch a session. And Ron Rivera observed many of the concepts that went into martial arts and wrestling are compatible to moves used in football, which led to Hoover being hired to work with players.
“Just simple hand movements, the way he turned his body, really clicked in my mind,” Rivera said. “It’s all about keeping a center line on his edge, always know where [your opponent] is.”
Hoover’s help with the Panthers isn’t as formal as it was a few years ago, when he came to Bank of America Stadium and taught players on the 53-man roster during the week and those on the practice squad on Saturdays. When league rules changed prohibiting teams from employing outside entities in-season, Hoover began to work with players who hire him on an individual basis.
Among his Panthers clients are Short, Olsen, offensive tackle Taylor Moton, linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback James Bradberry. Former defensive end Charles Johnson, second on Carolina’s all-time sack list, worked religiously with Hoover before retiring.
Rivera sees the benefits.
“Especially when you watch Kawann use his body movement to create momentum and then he counters, when you see him with that little head move and then he comes back,” Rivera said as he recalled one of Short’s moves that led to a sack in a preseason game against Buffalo.
Understanding push-pull energy
The move Rivera mentioned is one the 6-foot-3, 315-pound linemen has used throughout his career, but one that has improved with Hoover’s help.
“It was a swim move where we tap the hands of the lineman down quick and make a quick movement to get to the side,” Short said.
The move is the same one Hoover would use to keep an opponent off him in martial arts.
“Hand speed,” Hoover said. “When you’re trying to get off that line, O-line guys, they’re trying to get inside hand position. From the amount of time you’ve got to get from point A to point B, point B being the quarterback, the O-line has the advantage. They just have to stall you a little bit.
“If they get that inside hand position, it’s hard to break with the amount of time you have. So having good hand speed, being able to fight those hands before they get inside, is super important. That is probably where you see some of the most improvement.”
It works on the other side of the ball for offensive linemen trying to gain an advantage. Moton’s work with Hoover helped him record a stellar rookie season.
“I only worked with him a couple of times, but that guy is a stud,” Hoover said.
Hoover said the understanding of “push-pull energy” makes the best martial fighters.
“They can either push you out of the way or pull you to the ground,” he said. “And so with wrestling, you start to feel those sensibilities in real time. If I can recognize it in real time, I can use it to my advantage. If I can push him or pull you out of the way, that allows me to get where I’m going as fast as I can.”
For defensive backs such as Bradberry, it helps them fight to prevent separation on one-on-one matchups. For receivers like Olsen, it’s about creating that separation.
Olsen in particular impressed Hoover with his work ethic as he spent the past two offseasons improving his upper body strength while rehabbing a foot injury.
“I would have to pretend for me to rest in between to give him a break,” Hoover said of Olsen. “That guy would work and work until he passed out. He has a work ethic unlike anything I’ve experienced.
“I’ve worked with athletes from across the spectrum, and that dude was unreal.”
Giving in-season advice
Hoover typically texts Rivera once during the week before games to wish him good luck and once afterward. Occasionally, he’ll offer feedback.
“I definitely watch for moves and movements, the good and the bad,” he said. “Things we’re working on that work, or things we’re working on that didn’t work or things we’re neglecting that we should work.
“I don’t watch film the way those guys do, but I’m watching games with a different kind of eye than I ever have before.”
Players seldom visit Hoover during the season for training because, as Short said, “It gets you real sore.”
“It’s a different workout,” said Short, working to get back on top of his game after collecting three sacks in 2018 following a three-year average of 8.1. “You’re using different muscles and cores. You breathe different. It’s just different.”
The common thread from all of Hoover’s football clients is they must put their egos aside.
“It would be easy for these guys to be like, ‘What’s this 5-7, 145-pound guy that knows nothing about football going to teach me?’” Hoover said. “Most of the guys will come and say, ‘What do we need to work on? … I’m here to learn from you.’
“These guys are at the highest level. For them to come in and let that ego go and learn is a pretty big deal.”
Cowboys hoping to reach deal with Dak Prescott, avoid franchise tag
INDIANAPOLIS — Time might be running out, but Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones remains confident a long-term deal can be worked out with quarterback Dak Prescott before the organization will need to use the franchise tag.
Jones said there are no talks scheduled with Prescott’s agent, Todd France, but the team intends to meet with him at some point this week during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Jones said there is no scenario in which the Cowboys would move on from Prescott in 2020.
“I mean, Dak’s our quarterback. He’s our quarterback for the future and we have nothing but the greatest respect for him,” Jones said. “He’s a competitor. He’s won a lot of football games for us. Obviously, he, like us, we all want to take that next step and get into a championship game and get to the big game and ultimately win a championship. So there’s no thoughts like that.”
Jones acknowledged the sides have not spoken since September when the Cowboys thought they were closing in on an agreement that would have made Prescott among the top-five paid quarterbacks in the NFL.
“It just kind of stopped. We kind of left it where it was,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t say there was anything acrimonious. They felt they were done where they were. We felt like we were kind of where we were and we never really got going again.”
Despite the inactivity, Jones believes a deal can be consummated before March 12, the final date in which the club can use the franchise tag. That is two days later than the original deadline because of the ongoing discussions with the NFL and the NFL Players Association on a new collective bargaining agreement. Jones said there are “a lot of moving parts,” that go into negotiations when it is the final year of the CBA. With a new CBA, the Cowboys would lose the chance to use the franchise and transition tags but it would ease up some of the issues in getting a long-term deal completed.
Jones would not get into whether the Cowboys would use the nonexclusive franchise tag, which would cost $27 million but allow Prescott to shop the market, or exclusive tag, which would cost $33 million and prevent teams from signing him.
“I just don’t think we’ve had our hands around what the next steps are,” Jones said. “Obviously we didn’t end up getting it done because they were pretty entrenched with their thoughts and we were pretty entrenched with our thoughts. I think really that’s the facts of the world we work. Certainly we’ve done a lot of thinking about it and looking at it and we’ll see where it ends up.”
Prescott is not the only high-profile free agent the Cowboys want to re-sign. Wide receiver Amari Cooper, cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn are also set to be free agents. Without a CBA extension, the Cowboys could theoretically use the franchise tag on Prescott and transition tag on Cooper. If there’s a new CBA, then they would only be able to use one tag, thus making it more likely Cooper, Jones or Quinn could hit the market.
“We haven’t gone into any details with players since the end of the season. We are really wanting to see where the CBA is,” Jones said. “The way I look at these contracts, the two we are talking about [Prescott and Cooper], when things get momentum they can happen in 24 hours. It’s just a matter of can you get some traction and [be] headed in the right direction.”
Chattanooga State asst. Volonte Bell killed in accident
Volonte Bell, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Chattanooga State and the older brother of New Orleans Saints safety Vonn Bell, was killed in a traffic accident Sunday night, the school confirmed.
The Chattanooga State family is deeply saddened by the passing of Volonte Bell. Volonte was killed in a tragic car accident last night. He has been a valued member of our men’s basketball coaching staff for the last three seasons and will be greatly missed.
— Chattanooga State Community College (@ChattStateCC) February 24, 2020
Thanks to everyone for all the love and support to my family and I during this time..we’re grieving right now, this one hits different.
— Vonn Bell (@Vonn) February 24, 2020
Hurt my soul man 💔 lost for words foreal we have memories since college visits man just watch over me I will always remember your energy and your smile you kept on your face wish we could flick it up just one more time. 😢 https://t.co/1z4NySlkJJ
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) February 24, 2020
Chattanooga State head coach Jay Price spoke glowingly to the Chattanooga Times Free Press about Volonte Bell, who was in his third year with the team.
“I spoke with his mother this morning and she was trying to be strong, but this is just a very sad day for all of us who knew him,” Price said. “Volonte was just a positive, energetic guy who was always upbeat. Anybody who met him will tell you the first thing you always noticed was his smile and that’s the thing a lot of us will remember him for.
“This was probably his last year to coach with us because he was too good at such a young age not to be moving up. His personality made him a perfect fit for the coaching world because he never met a stranger, he could talk to anybody and didn’t mind working hard. He had such a bright future ahead of him. It’s just hard to believe.”
The Chattanooga police department would not confirm the names of anyone involved in the accident. But according to police, the 29-year-old male later identified as Bell was pronounced dead on the scene shortly before 10 p.m.
According to police, he was driving a Honda Civic and failed to slow down before striking a trailer that was being towed by a Volvo truck in front of him in the middle lane of traffic.
Ex-Browns DE Chris Smith eyes NFL comeback after girlfriend’s death
Former Cleveland Browns defensive end Chris Smith, whose girlfriend was killed in a traffic accident last September, is making a comeback and is looking to sign with an NFL team, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Smith is feeling better and ready to resume his career, the source said.
Smith’s girlfriend, Petara Cordero, was struck and killed by a driver on Interstate 90 in Cleveland. She had been a passenger in Smith’s 2019 Lamborghini and exited the vehicle when it had a tire malfunction and hit the median.
The couple had just had a daughter together the month before.
Smith started two games for the Browns in 2018, but compiled only one tackle in eight games following Cordero’s death.
The Browns released Smith on Dec. 3.
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