Penn State's star running back bolts for USC

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Penn State's star running back bolts for USC

From Comcast SportsNet
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Penn State's loss could turn into a big gain on the ground for Southern California. Star tailback Silas Redd bolted Happy Valley to join the Trojans in a season of great expectations in Los Angeles. A 1,200-yard rusher, Redd will join heralded quarterback Matt Barkley on a team already favored to win the Pac-12 and return to the Rose Bowl. It's a perk that Redd wouldn't have enjoyed at Penn State with the program burdened by stiff NCAA sanctions because of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Among the penalties was a four-year postseason ban, as well as a scholarship reduction. The NCAA also allowed players to seek new schools to play immediately this season, so long as they left by the start of Penn State training camp on Monday. Since the sanctions were imposed last week, Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien has been trying to keep the team intact by stressing academics, family and the prospect of playing seven home games a year in front of a crowd of 108,000 strong at Beaver Stadium. For the most part, it seems to have worked -- even though Redd's departure will be a serious blow to an offense being reconfigured by O'Brien, the former coordinator of the New England Patriots' high-powered attack. Counting Redd, three players have left Penn State since the NCAA imposed its landmark sanctions on July 23. A fourth player, third-string quarterback Rob Bolden, was removed from the roster this week but had been granted permission to talk to other schools before the sanctions. Otherwise, O'Brien hasn't lost any other starters or top backups so far. He had also said last week at Big Ten media days that more than 50 players had indicated they would stay. Six 2013 recruits have also reaffirmed their verbal commitments. Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner wished Redd and the other transfers well. "I think that certainly we understand and it's within their purview," Joyner said in an interview Tuesday night with The Associated Press at an evening football function. He added the low number of transfers was "a great testament to Bill O'Brien, and the kind of person he is, the kind of coach he is and the kind of players these are overall. "This team has a lot of unity." But it won't have Redd. Sophomore Bill Belton, a converted wideout, is next on the Penn State depth chart, and that could prove to be a roadblock as O'Brien tries to transform the offense on the fly. Out west, Redd joins a team that finished 10-2 and No. 6 in the final AP poll last season despite its own NCAA sanctions -- bowl ineligibility and a smaller roster. After Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald decided in December to return for their senior years, USC signed a top-flight recruiting class led by elite quarterback prospect Max Browne. Redd could make the Trojans even better. "We welcome Silas Redd to the Trojan Family," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement. "He is an outstanding student and athlete." USC had been sanctioned for rules violations committed during the 2004 and 05 seasons. "At USC, we've seen both sides of this issue, having lost a number of players to transfer due to our NCAA sanctions in 2010. But Lane Kiffin and his coaches would not be doing their job if they did not try to improve our team every single day," Haden said. "There is a specific need here for a player like Silas Redd, so Lane and our coaches recruited him within the guidelines set up in this instance by the NCAA." An early-morning rally and last-minute social media campaign couldn't keep Redd from leaving Penn State. He took a weekend visit to USC before delivering the news to Nittany Lions coaches at the team headquarters -- about 12 hours after Tuesday's "Rise and Rally" community event to rouse the players at morning workouts. Penn State said later Tuesday that tight end Kevin Haplea was also no longer with the team. It was unclear where the junior, who started one game last year, was headed. Backup safety Tim Buckley, a former walk-on, was the first player to leave Penn State in the wake of the sanctions. He joined North Carolina State this week. And then, there is the case of Bolden, the former starting quarterback, who pondered leaving last year, as well. LSU has shown an interest in Bolden, yet he has not chosen a new destination. Most players interviewed after the rally and voluntary workout said they hoped Redd and others would stick around, but would honor their decisions regardless. "Each player came here for different reasons and with different objectives," tight end Garry Gilliam said. "When it comes down to it, I'd like them to stay, but if they don't, I'll respect their decisions." Linebacker Khairi Fortt -- like Redd, a junior from Connecticut -- has considered Cal, Florida State and Kansas, his father, Guy confirmed in an email to The Associated Press. The Stamford Advocate first reported details of Fortt's recruitment. The younger Fortt, a top reserve for Penn State, liked his visit to Cal but loves his Nittany Lions coaches, his father said. His decision could come Wednesday. The rally was evidence of the Penn State community's resolve to stand behind the Nittany Lions that remain. With the pep band playing, at least 2,500 blue-and-white backers, alumni and local business owners cheered outside the football building Tuesday in support of the players caught in the middle of one of the worst episodes ever in college athletics. Fans lined the sidewalks to slap high-fives and shake hands with the Nittany Lions as they snaked their way to the workout. The scene resembled the team entrance to home games at Beaver Stadium on fall Saturdays. Inspirational quotes from Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine and Vince Lombardi were posted in the windows of the building. "It isn't whether you get knocked down. It's whether you get back up," read one quote attributed to Lombardi, the Hall of Fame NFL coach. "It was so cool. I couldn't believe how loud it was," fullback Michael Zordich said. "This just goes to show why we're still here and why we're going to fight this thing through." Former player Keith Conlin, a local businessman and online radio show host who helped organize the event said he wanted current team members "to know that we have their backs." "These kids, they've been fighting an uphill battle for eight months, and it's nothing that they did," he said. "We're not going to leave them and run away." Most downtown businesses are displaying "Proud to Support Penn State Football" signs on windows. Some stores have started selling shirts with the slogan "Billieve," playing off of O'Brien's first name. After much deliberation, Redd will not be a part of this revival. Instead, he's going to chase a title with the Trojans.

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.

 

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”