CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rodney Smith was looking for a three-peat. The new Carolina Panthers running back tweaked his recipe for success from the previous two years, knowing you don’t improve without putting in the extra time and practice to get better. He thought he’d spiced things up with just the right blend of new with the old to remain on top.
But he lost. It wasn’t on the football field, where the former University of Minnesota running back had overcome two ACL injuries. It was the “Running Backs Top Chef Cook Off” held annually by Gophers running backs coach Kenni Burns.
“I rigged it,” Burns said with a laugh. “He couldn’t go out three years in a row as a winner.”
Another elite Running Back Top Chef Grill-Off 🍗 this year to bring in the start of Fall Camp! Defending champ Rodney Smith @Numerouno1_ had to battle for his title but lost by just one point to your 2019 Champions, Preston Jelen @Preston_Jelly and Bryce Williams @BryceWill21! pic.twitter.com/qWjTaQDu6I
— Kenni Burns (@UMcoachburns) July 21, 2019
But the qualities that allowed Smith to overcome adversity in football are the same ones that make him a success grilling ribs. He adapts and doesn’t settle. He’s always looking for an edge that will take his game to the next level.
“I’m resilient,” Smith said from his home in Mundy’s Mill, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. “Anytime you get injured and have to bounce back, it’s tough. The unknown variables. Will I play football again?
“I can’t let the circumstance keep me down. That helped me grow into the young man I am now.”
Smith has no illusion of beating out Christian McCaffrey as Carolina’s starting running back. He understands that McCaffrey, who last season became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, is special.
But Smith does have a chance to be the back who gives McCaffrey an occasional break and perhaps holds down the position in case of injury.
Burns believes Smith’s style, which is not much different than McCaffrey’s in terms of being an all-purpose back, gives him a chance.
“They both can do things outside. They both are great in space. They both have great top-end speed,” he said. “Christian is a little more refined than Rodney, but Rodney can get there for sure.”
Smith suffered his first ACL injury in his junior year of high school, a critical time for college recruits. Despite recovering to rush for more than 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior, his college options were limited to Minnesota, East Carolina and a few smaller schools.
“If you ask anyone I grew up with, I told them I wanted to go the farthest place away I could go,” Smith said.
That was Minnesota and a cold climate far from what he was accustomed to in the barbecue-friendly South. He was enjoying a stellar college career, too, before suffering his second ACL tear during his redshirt senior year.
Fortunately for Smith, the NCAA granted a sixth season. He took advantage with a career-high 1,163 yards rushing, which ranked third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins (Ravens) and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (Colts), who each were picked in the second round of the draft last month.
“My goal to be a professional athlete was still right in front of me,” Smith said.
Then Smith got banged up in the Outback Bowl against Auburn, which kept him from competing in the East-West Shrine game in front of NFL scouts. He didn’t receive an invitation to the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic that kept him from visiting NFL teams or holding a pro day. Teams had to settle for a virtual video in which he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds.
Burns had about 15 teams call with questions before the draft, but none took a chance on draft day.
“A lot of people were, ‘OK, this kid is a second team All-Big Ten back for an 11-win team. He was productive on that team. What’s the story here?” Burns said. “Everybody had that question: What’s wrong with him?’”
Smith has spent a lot of down time during the pandemic trying to perfect his rib recipe that he initially learned from Tyrone Carter, a former Minnesota defensive back who played in the NFL from 2000-10 and won two Super Bowls with the Steelers.
Much of what he learned centered on seasoning.
“First I smell the seasoning and think about what I like,” he said. “I like to put cinnamon on my stuff to get a sweet taste.”
Burns can’t deny the savory flavor of Smith’s ribs last year. He also can’t deny that his arm-twisting of the judges — his wife, daughter, father-in-law and a few others — helped then-redshirt freshman Preston Jelen win for his salmon.
“He let one of the young guys win … to give him some confidence,” Smith said.
Smith’s recipe for success on the field starts with great instincts and acceleration even after the knee surgeries. He has an ability to make great cuts and get his hips vertically square. He also is a solid route-runner with good hands, but he didn’t get used a lot out of the backfield because the Gophers had a talented group of receivers.
“He’s as dynamic as any back I’ve been around,” Burns said.
Smith aspires to one day be like other undrafted backs who became stars, from Priest Holmes to Arian Foster to Fred Jackson.
Burns believes Smith’s intelligence increases those chances.
“I know the coach from the Panthers was really impressed with how far along he was,” he said. “People a year or two from now are going to look at this kid and wonder how he got to where he is.”
Dwayne Haskins, social media react to Washington NFL team name change
Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins said he’s “looking forward to the future” after the NFL franchise announced on Monday that it will be retiring its nickname and logo after completing a thorough review that began on July 3.
Haskins was one of several current and former NFL players who weighed in on the latest news, with other players asking social media followers to offer suggestions on what name the franchise should use next.
Last week, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the franchise would not use any Native American imagery.
Washington’s logo of an American Indian chief had been designed by a Native American in 1971.
Washington has held the same nickname for the past 87 seasons, the most consecutive seasons with one nickname before a change in the history of NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL franchises, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Another source told ESPN that the plan, as of now, is to retain the franchise’s use of its burgundy and gold colors.
Here is how social media reacted Monday to the news:
— Dwayne Haskins, Jr (@dh_simba7) July 13, 2020
I guess all of these jerseys, t-shirts, helmets, etc. that I have in my house are collector’s items now? pic.twitter.com/IQ0wY6xuli
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) July 13, 2020
Unbelievable ha. https://t.co/6Gjo6HvflV
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) July 13, 2020
Going to be crazy seeing a different logo for the redskins … and name !!!
— F L ⚡️ S H (@Melvingordon25) July 13, 2020
— Chris Baker (@cbakerswaggy) July 13, 2020
— Notah Begay III (@NotahBegay3) July 13, 2020
Washington …….??? Let’s hear it
— T.J. Ward (@BossWard43) July 13, 2020
I think it will be Redwolves!
— Phillip Daniels (@PhillipDaniels) July 13, 2020
Seahawks’ Quinton Dunbar changes lawyers after report of payoff
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar has changed legal counsel after new information came to light late last week about a possible payoff that took place at the office of attorney Michael Grieco.
Grieco and Michael Weinstein have withdrawn as Dunbar’s counsel, according to court records. Andrew Rier and Jonathan Jordan of Rier Jordan will now represent Dunbar as he faces four counts of armed robbery from a May 13 incident in Miramar, Florida.
“We agreed that new counsel would allow for continued advocacy of Mr. Dunbar’s innocence without any collateral distractions,” Grieco told ESPN in a text message Monday about his decision to step aside in the case.
Dunbar’s new attorneys filed Sunday for a Notice of Appearance and Notice of Participation in Discovery requesting all the necessary information from the state for this case.
The switch was made just days after evidence obtained by the New York Daily News from a search warrant indicated that the witness in the alleged robbery, Dominica Johnson, oversaw a payout to the victims at Grieco’s office. The warrant noted video footage and direct messages as evidence. All four alleged victims signed affidavits shortly after recanting their original stories.
The Miami Herald then reported over the weekend that, as of last month, Grieco was under criminal investigation.
Grieco responded to the Daily News’ report over the weekend.
“Law enforcement, both local and federal, was advised from day one and beyond that the alleged ‘victims’ in this case were actively extorting [DeAndre] Baker and Dunbar,” he told The Seattle Times. “These men fabricated a robbery story after waiting an hour to call police and then immediately began contacting the players demanding money.
“My office obtained accurate and truthful affidavits consistent with the independent witness and my client’s account. These ‘victims’ are seasoned career criminals who have been arrested and/or convicted of crimes ranging from conspiracy to commit murder, to human trafficking, to filing a false police report. Mr. Dunbar took and passed a polygraph confirming that he did not participate or witness any robbery.”
Baker, a cornerback for the New York Giants, also faces four counts of armed robbery and four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm from the incident. His attorney, Bradford Cohen, told ESPN over the weekend that no payment or offer of money was made from Baker.
NFL unveils Oakley Mouth Shield to combat coronavirus
In the name of health and safety, NFL players could be sporting a whole new look in 2020.
The Oakley Mouth Shield — a product designed by doctors and engineers from the NFL and NFL Players Association to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus on the field of play — is expected to be distributed to all 32 teams over the next week, when it will receive a test drive on a much larger scale than it has gotten to date.
Safety protocol negotiations are ongoing between the league and players. Currently, there is no mandate to wear a face shield, but the NFL’s medical experts are advocating for the use of the protective equipment.
“That’s certainly what we’re going to encourage,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “And we hope that we’re going to land on a product design that’s something that everyone would want to wear, because they’ll see the value and want that additional protection without any detriment to performance.”
The Oakley Prizm Lens Technology used by skiers, military personnel and, most recently, NFL players for enhanced color and contrast in their visors, is featured in the new design. Plastic sheets extend down and attach to the faceguard. There are airways and openings on the mouth shield but none that allow the direct transmission of droplets, according to the chair of the NFL’s engineering committee, Dr. Jeff Crandall.
The mouth shield has already been distributed to the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers — two teams close to Oakley’s home base — per NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer, and has also been sent to various player representatives and equipment managers for feedback.
The two biggest concerns to date have been visibility and breathe-ability, according to Mayer.
“We’ve only had it on a few players — we have 2,500 players in the league — but I was surprised that … claustrophobia has not been an issue yet,” he said. “I think it will be when we [have more players testing them].”
“My second year in the league I thought it’d be cool, I put a visor on my helmet,” Watt told ProFootballTalk. “I was like, ‘It looks so cool, I wanna put a visor on.’ I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, ‘Take this sucker off — I’m gonna die out here.’ … So now you’re gonna put something around my mouth? You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don’t think you’re gonna see me on the field.”
The current design, however, is the result of an iterative process based in large part on player feedback, with comfort and functionality top of mind along with protection. Quarterbacks who tested them recently were able to effectively call out plays, Mayer said, following initial responses that the sound was too muffled. There was also broad consideration given to field of view.
Crandall said that Oakley has conducted internal testing in which it has sprayed particles of fluid to represent droplets expelled by players and has seen a high success rate of blocked transmission.
“I don’t know that there’s a direct percentage that anyone’s come up with because a laboratory is not the on-field environment, obviously,” Crandall said. “There’s lots of things that players do on the fields that they’re not easily replicating [in] the laboratory, but it is a significant blockage to transmission of droplets. There is no straight pathway through the face shield or visor for a droplet to be transmitted.”
While Oakley is the official supplier of the NFL, there are other manufacturers of face shields, and players may end up using other brands as well in 2020, according to chief revenue officer and executive vice president of NFL partnership Renie Anderson.
Mayer called football “probably the perfect milieu or petri dish in which to transmit the virus,” given that it is a contact sport involving a large number of players. The NFL and NFLPA are hoping the different safety measures they are taking, including the introduction of the Mouth Shield, will lead to a safer environment.
“Just like everything we do, whether we’re talking about better cleats or better performing helmets, it’s all about something that’s safer and yet also protects and in many cases enhances performance,” Sills said. “That’s the same mantra and the same sort of approach that we’re taking here. I’m really pleased with how the work is going along. We’re not at a finished product yet. Like most things in health safety, there’s really no finish line here. So we’re hoping to continue to innovate and improve as we go along. But we’re excited about where we are and excited about the potential role this may play in risk mitigation on the field.”
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