NFL lockout puts undrafted players in tight spot

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NFL lockout puts undrafted players in tight spot

July 12, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com

Through six rounds of the NFL draft, Chris Maragos did not hear his name called.The safety from Wisconsin actually began hoping he would not get selected during the 2010 NFL draft. He wanted an opportunity to choose for himself where he had his best opportunity to succeed.Maragos got his wish. He went undrafted. And after scouring the rosters of the teams that were interested in signing him, Maragos agreed to a two-year contract with the 49ers. Four days later, he was on a plane to the Bay Area to participate in his first NFL minicamp.Although Maragos was among the 49ers' final cuts of training camp, he was re-signed to the practice squad. He spent 10 weeks on the practice squad before getting called up for the final six weeks of the NFL regular season. He saw action in three games as a rookie.The road is never easy for a undrafted rookie trying to make his way into the NFL. But during the lockout, that road has been marked with more potholes than usual.Usually, undrafted players, such as Maragos, can determine which teams give them the best chance of playing in the NFL based on where teams filled holes during free agency and the draft. In a normal offseason, undrafted free agents are the final piece of the puzzle.But in the reported "transition rules" that will take effect when the lockout is over, the period for signing undrafted free agents would begin three days before veteran free agency.RELATED: Post-ratification timeline of NFL rules
Maragos was an NFL rookie in 2010. If he had been in the 2011 draft, he said, he would not have wanted to be undrafted. After all, more than 10 weeks after the draft, those rookies who were not selected remain in limbo -- unsure of what their futures hold."This year is quite a bit different," Maragos said. "It's a huge transition from college to the NFL. I played in Big 10, so I was already acclimated to a high level of physicality. But the NFL is definitely a big jump in the level of competition. I needed the time (in the offseason) to learn the playbook, get up to speed and develop an understanding of what it takes at this level."The three-day draft saw the 32 NFL teams select 254 players. When the lockout ends, it appears as if teams will be allowed to bring a roster maximum of 90 players to camp. More than 400 undrafted players might be signed for NFL training camps in a three-day period.
"It's a very bad spot," said agent Greg Linton, who represents 10 undrafted rookies who expect to be signed once the lockout lifts."Even in a normal year undrafted free agents are against draft picks, and the draft picks always get more reps in camp. This year, it'll be even worse with (potentially) a shorter training camp. They are at a big disadvantage."MAIOCCO: 49ers prepare for NFL feeding frenzy
Among Linton's clients are three players the 49ers showed interest in before or during the draft. The 49ers in April contacted Louisville quarterback Adam Froman, a Santa Rosa native, as well as Virginia Union offensive tackle David Mims and Georgia defensive end Kiante Tripp. None was among the 254 players chosen in the seven-round NFL draft.Last year, the 49ers had rare success with their class of 11 undrafted free agents.In a seven-year period from 2003 to 2009, only one undrafted rookie broke camp on the 49ers' 53-man roster. Receiver Otis Amey made the team in 2005, and he keyed an opening week victory against the St. Louis Rams with a punt return for a touchdown.Receiver Dominique Zeigler, outside linebacker Diyral Briggs and tackle Alex Boone are among the 49ers' undrafted free agents during that period who spent time on the team's 53-man roster.Last year, the 49ers brought in an impressive haul of rookie free agents. Although just one of those players -- cornerback Tramaine Brock of Belhaven -- survived the 49ers' cuts at the end of training camp, five ended up on 53-man rosters.Brock was a surprise 49ers roster choice after an impressive training camp. He appeared in three games, making three tackles apiece on defense and special teams.Maragos also saw action in three games and registered five special-teams tackles. He says getting in the right mindset to compete is paramount to the success of undrafted players."It's like anything, it's what you do with the opportunity," Maragos said. "I walked-on at two different schools (Western Michigan and Wisconsin) and I switched positions (from receiver to safety). The coaches are going to play the best players, so it's about competing and playing hard."Linebacker Keaton Kristick (Oregon State) spent the first four weeks of the season on the 49ers' practice squad before getting the promotion. Kristick appeared in six games.Offensive tackle Matt Kopa (Stanford) spent eight weeks on the 49ers' practice squad before the Miami Dolphins signed him to their 53-man roster in November.Linebacker Mike Balogun (Oklahoma) spent time on the Washington and Tampa Bay practice squads after the 49ers cut him at the end of camp. Late in the season, he played two games for the Buffalo Bills. He is currently is on the Dallas Cowboys' roster.In addition, the 49ers initially agreed to contract terms with running back LaGarrette Blount of Oregon. Blount, though, changed his mind and signed with the Tennessee Titans. After the Titans released Blount, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him up. He led all rookies with 1,007 yards rushing.With signed veterans and draft picks currently accounting for 60 roster spots, the 49ers will be active in signing undrafted players. And there are plenty from which to choose.
Stanford All-American center Chase Beeler has been in limbo since he was not among the 254 college players drafted. He accepted an invitation two weeks ago from 49ers tackle Joe Staley to attend the 49ers' player-organized playbook sessions at San Jose State. Beeler, of course, played at the college level for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and line coach Tim Drevno, so there's a logical connection.
Unlike a typical offseason when undrafted players do not have to wait long to sign a contract and begin working as professionals, this offseason has been tortuous."One of the things that helps the most is surrounding yourself with other guys who are undrafted free agents and who love the game and want to continue playing as much as you do," said Beeler, mentioning former Stanford teammates defensive lineman Brian Bulcke and tackle Derek Hall."We work off each other. If one of us is down on a particular day, it's on the other guys to bring him up and remember what you're working for and remembering there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.