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Gabriel on Newton, Gabbert

Buffalo native Greg Gabriel was director of college scouting for the Bears for nine years and was a college scout for the Giants for 16 years before that. He's now a columnist for the National Football Post. Gabriel has written columns in the past two weeks on both Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. The bottom line is he doesn't love either of them as a top-10 pick ... or even a top 10 pick. Here are a few excerpts from his two columns, plus the link to the Newton column:

"As much as I like Newton the player, I don’t trust Newton the person and at the position he plays there has to be trust. He has 3 documented issues from his college days, two at Florida and the recruiting issues with Mississippi State. I don’t believe for a minute he didn’t know what was going on at Mississippi State. The two issues at Florida are serious issues that deal with a person’s personal character. He was involved in a theft…people can say he was young…I don’t buy that excuse! I have been told that in front of the cameras, he is all smiles and a pleasure to deal with but behind the scenes he can be arrogant and have a “me first” attitude. There are teammates that question his authenticity as a person."

"As a starting NFL quarterback, that player is the designated leader of the team. If he has character issues, how can he be the team leader? His teammates HAVE to respect and trust him. I have no doubt that Newton will go high in the draft but it will be a tough decision for the team that drafts him. He is a “Hit or Miss” prospect because of the character issues. If they “Hit” it could be an all time great pick, if they “Miss” it could end up causing the decision maker his job!"

On Gabbert, Gabriel likes the physical tools, but he does not like how Gabbert handles pressure. He also says Gabbert drops his arm down on longer throws, which adversely affects his accuracy throwing downfield.

Says Gabriel: "Gabbert is not ready to be a starting quarterback  in the NFL. He is going to have to learn to take a snap from under center and drop back. His NFL coaches are going to have to fix the changes in his delivery and he is also going to have to learn to stay in the pocket and step up while reading receivers. He is also going to have to learn to read the whole field, something he has never done. This is not something that can be done overnight, it will take time! A club will probably draft him somewhere in the first round but I’m not so sure he is really a first-round talent. He is a long ways away from being ready to play and the lockout doesn’t help him!"

Meanwhile, ESPN analyst Todd McShay is not a big fan of Cam Newton's, either, and he has some reservations about Gabbert as well, which he discussed on a media conference call on Wednesday: Said McShay: "As much as I like Blaine Gabbert – and I do think he can become, maybe not Aaron Rodgers, but someone in that ballpark a few years down the road – that we have to kind of take a step back from the last few years and maybe go back to the old mentality of sitting a guy and developing him…He’s got to become more consistent throwing the ball down the field and I just think there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve coming from that system to the NFL. But does he have it, absolutely. I think he has it mentally. I think he has the work ethic. And, most importantly, he’s accurate enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s the only quarterback in this class that I would draft in the top 10.”

---Mark Gaughan


The Road to the Draft: S Ahmad Black


Ahmad Black, SS, Florida
5-foot-9, 184 pounds
Draft projection: Fifth round or later.

Lowdown: Black has everything one would want in a safety – except elite size and speed. He’s tough, quick, instinctive and he’s a leader. He started 39 games for the Gators. He was MVP of the Gators’ 37-24 Outback Bowl win over Penn State. He clinched the game with an 80-yard interception return for a TD with a minute to go. Black played well during Senior Bowl practices, too, but he sat out the game due to illness. Black is an excellent tackler. Black started his career at cornerback but shifted to safety due to a lack of pure speed. He ran a poor 40 time of 4.7 seconds at the combine and then ran 4.75 at the Florida pro day. Will NFL scouts respect all the good game video on Black enough to give him a chance?

“It’s frustrating, but people are always talking about size and speed,” Black said. “The thing is, at the end of the day, it’s about making plays. You’ve got the big guy that’s fast and can make plays and you just want to make more plays than that guy. … Teams may pass on me because of my size, bit the team that picks me up will definitely have something good.”

 ---Mark Gaughan

Newton's schedule

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton starts a pre-draft tour of NFL teams this weekend, and ESPN reports his schedule includes nine teams. A visit with Miami Dolphins officials is set for Sunday, followed by a trip to Buffalo Monday, Minnesota Wednesday and Cincinnati the following Sunday. Carolina, which holds the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, has Newton scheduled for April 5, according to the network, followed by Tennessee the next day. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington and Denver are the others on the list. Denver has the No. 2 pick.

Broncos coach John Fox was asked at the NFL owners meetings this week about the fact he attended the workouts of both Newton and Blaine Gabbert. Was that an indictment of young Denver QB Tim Tebow? ""I don't think it's an indictment on anybody," Fox said. "I just think if there's a Hall of Famer, there we ought to look at them.''

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was effusive in his praise of Newton at the owners meetings. "The ability to make people miss as a quarterback is critical. Avoid. Being able to go with your legs. We’ve got some quarterbacks in this draft like Cam Newton and (Blaine) Gabbert in particular, and Jake Locker that not only will make people miss and avoid people, but they can run and keep defenses out of certain coverages, which is quite the trait to have. And they can pick up first downs with their legs, keep the chains moving. ... And Cam Newton – that’s plutonium-grade raw material, you know? I haven’t seen upside like with this guy in probably the last 10 years."

---Mark Gaughan




The Road to the Draft: LB Kelvin Sheppard


Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Louisiana State
6-foot-2, 250 pounds
Draft projection: Late third or fourth round.

Lowdown: Sheppard could be a middle-round find at inside linebacker. He started 30 games, made all-Southeastern Conference and was third in the SEC in tackles as a senior (with 105). He’s a good leader, known for firey pre-game speeches. He graduated in December. Sheppard looked good during Senior Bowl practices under the watch of Bills coach Chan Gailey and could be a fit for Buffalo, which needs inside linebacker candidates.

Quote: “I like to watch linebackers, of course. Guys like Ray Lewis, (Brian) Urlacher, Patrick Willis, Jonathan Vilma is right down the road from me, so I watch a lot of their (Saints) games a lot. I’ve seen a lot of their games personally. I just like the game of football. When it’s offseason, I’m sick because I’m stuck having to sit there and watch basketball game after basketball game. I love football.”

---Mark Gaughan

New kickoff rule

The NFL approved moving the kickoff line up from the 30 to the 35. Touchbacks occurred on 16 percent of kickoffs last season. In 1993, the last season in which the kickoff was at the 35, there were 27 percent touchbacks. Due to better field conditions and stronger kickers, we're figuring there will be touchbacks on at least 32 percent, and maybe 35 percent of kickoffs under the new rule. Good idea or bad idea?


The Road to the Draft: LB Greg Jones


Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State
6-foot, 242 pounds
Draft projection: third or fourth round

Lowdown: Jones has a ton of production and good leadership traits. He doesn’t have great size and speed. He started 46 games and made 465 tackles. He was Big 10 defensive player of the year as a junior. He was the first true freshman to lead the Spartans in tackles in 31 years. He’s not overly physical. He will scrape off and around blocks, rather than take on blockers. He’s not tall, either. He ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.75 at the combine. Some scouts wonder if he would be better at outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

Said ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “He’s been around a long time, and when you’re around that long you’re scrutinized sometimes you’re pushed down a bit. I think that’s been the case with Greg Jones. The more he played, the more people looked at him, they said, ahh, he’s a little overrated. He’s a Day Three guy, more than likely. Seems like he’s dropping, but if teams look at production, he may go higher. There’s a lot of mixed opinion on Greg Jones.”

---Mark Gaughan

Breakfast with Gailey

NEW ORLEANS -- As promised, though long overdue, here are some highlights from my chat with Bills coach Chan Gailey during the NFL coaches breakfast at the owners meetings:

He said his coaching staff is working as they usually do while the owners and players try to work out their labor issues. No players are around because of the owner-imposed lockout, but Gailey said the coaches are dealing with that.

"If coaches are nothing else, we’re flexible,'' he said. "We have to be able to adjust. We adjust to the seasons, we adjust to games, we adjust all the time. That’s what we do. You just handle it."

Gailey added that the coaches are dealing with the reported pay cut, saying the organization did a good job of keeping them informed of what was going to happen.

Gailey was grilled on the draft, particularly the quarterback position. He did a good job of addressing the issue without giving anything away. While he reiterated that Ryan Fitzpatrick is his starter, if a franchise quarterback is available with the third pick in the draft, the Bills would strongly consider him.

There are only two choices that high in the first round: Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. A lot of mock drafts in cyberspace have the Bills taking Newton, but there was a lot of talk at the meetings this week about the Carolina Panthers leaning towards using the No. 1 overall selection on Newton. If that happens, it will be interesting to see if the Bills took Gabbert at No. 3 or addressed a need on defense like outside linebacker (Von Miller) or defensive line (Marcell Dareus or Nick Fairley).

Gailey was also asked about outside linebacker Aaron Maybin, the disappointing 2009 first-round pick that has bust written all over him. It looks like the Bills are going to give him one last chance to put up or shut up.

As for Gailey, who has never mince words in his assessment of Maybin, he said Maybin needs to get better on special teams, play the run better and develop better pass-rushing skills.

Asked about Maybin's potential, Gailey said, "Right now all it is is potential because he hasn't shown it in practice or in games.''

I asked Gailey if Maybin needed a fire lit under him. Gailey's response: "I don't think I've lit very many fires. We might provide a spark, but he's got to get his own fire going. He's got to understand where he is. I always talk to guys about 'This is where we are. This is where we want to be, and this is how we get there.' Individually, guys have got to do that. 'This is where I am. This is where I want to be. Now, how do I get there?'

"We tell him all the time how to get there. He's got to do it. Talking's over. You've got to go get it done."

Gailey and I talked about wide receiver Lee Evans and his lack of production the past two years. Gailey said teams continued to double cover Evans early in the season, but didn't do it as much by the middle of the year. Gailey wants Evans to improve his route running and Gailey said he needs to expand the kind of routes Evans runs.

"He’s been more of a deep threat," Gailey said. "I’ve got to get him to do a better job of becoming an underneath threat. I’ve got to do a better job of that."

---Allen Wilson

NFL changes kickoffs, replay

NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL owners voted 26-6 Tuesday to change the kickoff system in 2011. Kickoffs will now take place from the 35-yard line. They were moved back to the 30 in 1994. Another change is the kick coverage team can line up no more than five yards behind the spot of the kickoff. This is intended to minimize the number of violent collisions on special teams. 

The competition committee had initially proposed that the ball be moved from the 20-yard line to the 25 in the event of a touchback, but the old rule will remain intact after some coaches said the extra five yards would affect field position too much. Supporters of the proposed change felt moving the ball to the 25 would discourage touchbacks.

Top kickoff return specialists like Chicago's Devin Hester, Seattle's Leon Washington, Brad Smith of the Jets and even the Bills' C.J. Spiller can't be thrilled with the new rule because it could neutralize their impact on the game since the additional five yards will help strong-legged kickers drive the ball deep into the end zone. 

Another part of the kickoff rule that went unchanged is the two-man wedge. The competition committee wanted the wedge eliminated altogether. Wedges of three men or more were abolished last year.

We don't know how the Bills voted on the kickoff rule, but judging from coach Chan Gailey's comments during the NFL coaches breakfast, one would assume the team gave a yes vote.

"The objective is to maybe reduce the number of kickoff returns because there has been some big collisions,'' Gailey said. "I understand that. If you know something is X-amount of danger involved and you weigh it’s an exciting play versus the risk factor of the injury, you want to take some of [the danger] out but don’t take the play out of the game. It would be easy to go, ‘OK, we’ll give everybody the ball at the 25 after a score.’ That’s not even the game we play. I guess you've got to decide what can you do to accomplish the goal of keeping the exciting play but keeping it safe.''

Gailey agreed that kickoffs from the 35 without some deterrent to discourage touchbacks could hurt good returners.

"If you’ve got a good returner, you would like more returns,'' he said. "But that’s being a little selfish. We’ve got congressmen who vote raises for themselves and we’re cutting back everywhere else in America, that’s selfish. Yeah, it would be good for me. But if it’s going to be better for the league, hey, we’ll adjust. If we don’t have to cover as many, that might help us, too.''

Another proposal that passed by a 30-2 margin was allowing the replay official to review all scoring plays at any time during games instead of just in the last two minutes of the first half and fourth quarter. Coaches will no longer be able to challenge those plays, but they will continue to get a third challenge if they win their first two. That was a provision of the proposal the competition committee wanted to do away with.

Surprisingly, the owners chose to table the expanded language in the rule involving penalties for defenseless players. The competition committee spell out eight descriptions of what would be deemed an illegal hit on defenseless players.

The NFL took a hard-line approach on illegal hits last season by issuing fines and threatening suspensions. Look for this rule to pass eventually.

---Allen Wilson

Stevie & Madden 12 cover

The EA Sports people have come up with a creative way to market the release of their Madden NFL 12 video game. They have picked a player on each team to be a candidate to be on the cover of the next edition of the game.

The Bills' Stevie Johnson is one of the 32 candidates. Through April 27, fans can participate in a bracket-style voting campaign on and make their choice for the player to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 12. Fans’ votes will determine which NFL players advance through the seeded bracket. The winner gets announced at 4 p.m. April 27 on ESPN.

---Mark Gaughan

Gailey speaks

NEW ORLEANS -- I had a sit down with Bills coach Chan Gailey during the annual coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings Tuesday morning. I'm in the process of transcribing one hour's worth of his comments. When I'm done, I will give you some of the highlights, so stay tuned.

By the way, all the coaches were in attendance except New England's Bill Belichick. He spoke to reporters Monday, so I guess he felt his media obligation was fulfilled. Word is the NFL won't fine him for the no-show.

---Allen Wilson

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