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.”
Bears kicker Pineiro questionable with knee injury
No such luck.
Pineiro will go into Monday night’s game in Washington questionable on the injury report because of right knee trouble.
Pineiro was hurt Friday, with coach Matt Nagy saying it happened during weightlifting. Pineiro didn’t practice Friday, but did kick on a limited basis at Saturday’s practice.
“Especially after what just happened with us and what we’ve been through (with kickers), and what he just did this past weekend, it’s like we’re on a roll here and then all of a sudden something crazy like this happens,” Nagy said. “But I try to stay positive with it, and I think we’ll be OK. We’ve just got to see how it goes the next couple days.”
The Bears had one other player who was a surprise on the injury report. Safety Eddie Jackson came up with a knee injury in Friday’s practice and was able to go Saturday only on a limited basis. He also is questionable.
The Bears conducted a massive offseason kicking search after Cody Parkey double-doinked a 43-yard field goal miss to end the 16-15 playoff loss to Philadelphia. Parkey was waived.
Chicago brought in nine kickers at one point in the spring, traded a seventh-round draft pick for Pineiro, and then he beat out Elliott Fry to win the kicking job. Pineiro is 4 for 4, including last week’s winner and another 52-yarder against Denver.
“I’m going to be on the cautious side with him, and we’ll just kind of feel out the pain part and if it’s something that’s going to affect him, then we’ll have a decision to make,” Nagy said.
Pineiro didn’t think it was serious at first, according to Nagy.
“Just thought that it was something that was minor, and I think as the time has gone by and then going out there today he just felt it a little bit,” Nagy said. “So we’re just going to pull back and see where it’s at and be optimistic and try to do everything we can to make sure that we’re taking care of it, the pain.”
And if Pineiro can’t kick?
“That’s a good question,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to work through that. I know [punter] Pat O’Donnell has some experience. But we’ll see how this thing goes. I don’t want to rush to judgment yet. That’s not where we’re at.”
At least the Bears know a lot about some of the potential emergency kickers available.
“There are a lot of different scenarios that could happen, but I’m not going down that route,” Nagy said. “I feel good that things will be OK. If they’re not, then we just have to have a contingency plan when that time comes, and if that’s something that we’ve got to do something different, then we’ll do that.”
Jackson’s injury is different than the one he had earlier in the week to go on the injury report. He had a shoulder problem then, but went through a full practice on Friday and then suffered knee soreness afterward. He practiced only on a limited basis Saturday.
Defensive end Bilal Nichols is out for the game due to the broken hand suffered last week.
Pats activate first International Pathway player
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Fullback Jakob Johnson became the first player to enter the NFL through the International Pathway Program to make a 53-man roster when he was promoted from the New England Patriots practice squad on Saturday.
The International Player Pathway Program was instituted in 2017 and aims to provide international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.
Johnson was born in Stuttgart, Germany and played in 47 games at the University of Tennessee, initially as a linebacker before switching to tight end. In 2018, he appeared in 12 games for the Stuttgart Scorpions of the German Football League.
The Patriots were assigned Johnson as part of the International Pathway Program on April 8. The three other teams in the AFC East were also assigned players as part of a random draw, and none of them counted against the 90-man roster limit.
In 2018, Efe Obada became the first player from the International Pathway Program to make a 53-man roster with the Carolina Panthers, but he didn’t initially enter the NFL through the program. He had signed as a free agent with the Cowboys in 2015 after playing only five games of amateur football with the London Warriors, then was on the Cowboys practice squad before spending time in the 2016 offseason with the Chiefs and Falcons. In 2017, Obada was part of the first class of players in the International Pathway Program, which gave him additional time to develop with the Panthers.
During the season, teams can carry an International Pathway Program player as an extra 11th member of the practice squad, but because of the roster exemption, the clubs could not promote the player to the active roster during the season. In the case of Johnson, the Patriots elected to forgo that option and make him a regular member of their 10-man practice squad, which gave them the option of promoting him.
“Jak came in with a great attitude this offseason,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said a few weeks ago. “He really put his head down and worked hard through our offseason program, and then continued to do that in OTAs and into training camp — good attitude, he’s been out there every day, toughness, willing to do the things that you need to do to play that position on offense, smart kid, studies hard, prepares well, knows what to do and is ready to go. And he’s competitive, so I think there’s nothing more you can ask of each player than to give your best and be ready to go when your number’s called.”
The Patriots are one of the few teams in the NFL that still features the fullback, as Develin has played 41.5 percent of the offensive snaps through the first two weeks of the season. Develin also has an important role on the team’s punt coverage unit, which Johnson could also fill.
Browns’ Garrett fined $42K for two Siemian hits
The Browns pass rusher was penalized four times on Monday night, which included two roughing the passer calls. The second resulted in a season-ending ankle injury to Siemian.
“You do not want to put anybody out for the season,” Garrett said earlier this week. “That is their job. That is something that you do not do unless you love it, and you do not want to take that away from anybody. I hope [Siemian] comes back faster and stronger than he ever has. I wish the best for him.”
First of all, I want to wish @TrevorSiemian a speedy recovery. We put our bodies on the line every single snap, and I wouldn’t wish an injury on anyone.
Other than that, great team win but we still have a lot of work to do. So much love to all the fans, onto next week🤟🏾
— Myles “Flash” Garrett ⚡️ (@MylesLGarrett) September 17, 2019
Garrett currently leads the NFL with five sacks.
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