Duchene at forefront as camps open
Three yards and a cloud of dust? Not good enough, not this year for the Big Ten.
In a conference that has long relied on the ground game, the Big Ten currently averages 4.66 yards per rush. That’s only fourth-best among the Power Five conferences, but the Big Ten also has seven running backs aver- aging more than 100 yards a game — tops among 10 Bowl Subdivision leagues. At the moment, seven of the top 25 rushers in FBS are from the Big Ten; at the end of last season, there were only two.
The yards might be harder to come by once conference play begins in earnest, but in an age when many college teams seek victory through the air, the Big Ten has so far found the surest route to be on the ground.
“Teams want to run the ball,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “You might win the game if you throw for 350 yards, but if you’ve run for 350, you probably won the game.”
Wisconsin true freshman Jonathan Taylor leads the conference with 310 yards in two games and is aver- aging 8.9 yards per carry.
“Certainly Jonathan has done some good things in his first two games, and we’re really glad we got him,” said Badgers coach Paul Chryst, who recruited Taylor out of New Jersey.
Another true freshman, J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State, is averaging 126.5 yards per game and had 181 in the opener against Indiana, a school record for a freshman.
Even the quarterbacks are getting into the swing of things.
Brian Lewerke has thrown for 411 yards and four scores, but he’s also Michigan State’s leading rusher with 150 yards.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt and stands third in the Big Ten with 260 yards rushing, behind only Taylor and Tre Bryant of Nebraska (299 yards).
Penn St a te’s run-pass option attack provides just enough balance to keep opposing defenses guessing what might come next. The Nittany Lions have gone nine straight games with at least 30 points, and Barkley is a big reason why.
“We ’re not just go i ng to hand the ball to him 35 times,” Penn State coach Jim Franklin said of Barkley. “When he runs the ball, he’s going to be running into a good look. Then he’s got to have the ability to make that one free defender miss. Over his career, he’s been able to do that.”
Rookie quarCLEVELAND — terback DeShone Kizer didn’t have to wait long to figure out what the AFC North is all about. He andthe Browns lost 21-18 to the Steelers in the opener last week and will play the Ravens and their bruising defense in Baltimore on Sunday.
“Welcome to the NFL,” Kizer said. “Welcome to the AFC North. This is what we signed up for when Cleveland decided to bring me in here. I’ve been doing a lot of preparation up to these games to try and learn as much as I can about this divi- sion and schematically what teams like to do. Now, going against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, I will learn quickly what it takes to win in this conference.”
Browns coach Hue Jack- son, who was Ravens QB Joe Flacco’s position coach in his rookie year in 2008 and again in 2009, knows what Kizer is about to experience at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are 54-18 in John Harbaugh’s nine seasons. The Ravens are also coming off a monster defensive performance in a 20-0 victory over the Bengals in which they picked off Andy Dal- ton four times and sacked him five times.
“They’re coming,” said Jackson. “That’s the big- gest thing I can say to him. This young man is going into uncharted territory for him. Going into Baltimore, the stadium where it will be loud, a good defensive football team, on the road, division game. There are a lot of subplots here, but the biggest one for him is preparing and being ready for whatever comes at him.”
Jackson, who also spent
Even with two years left on his contract with the Colorado Avalanche, Matt Duchene’s situation is anything but simple.
With his name in trade talks at the deadline and then again at the draft, Duchene went about his business playing for the NHL’s worst team. But after another offseason of general manager Joe Sakic not making a move, Duchene is unhappy in limbo and now training camp has arrived.
Unlike the NFL, where four seasons with the Bengals, knows how to set the table for Kizer in the AFC North.
“My job is to create the environment for him along with (quarterback coach David Lee) and the rest of our offensive coaches. ... Then he has to go do the work. If he’s what I think he is, then he’ll rise up to the challenge and play the way I know he can play.”
Harbaugh knows how well Jackson will prepare Kizer. When Flacco was a rookie, Jackson coached him to a 13-6 record and a berth in the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to Pittsburgh.
“We have a lot of respect for Hue Jackson,” said Harbaugh. “Nobody has more knowledge or has had more success with developing rookie quarterbacks than Hue Jackson. ... (Kizer is a) super talented, super smart, you can tell, a poised passer, big-arm guy, true pro-style quarterback. We are just pre- holdouts are commonplace, it’s unprecedented in the NHL’s salary-cap era for a player under contract not to report to camp, and Sakic has said he expects Duchene to be there. But it’s probably the strongest leverage the $6 million center has to effect change as interest swirls from teams like the Hurricanes, Predators, Blue Jackets and two-time Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
“I’m not the GM, so whoever Joe and the staff decide to put on the team, I know it’s going to be for the best and it’s going to make us better,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “With Duchy, I’m not sure what the situation is exactly. paring for that. That’s what we expect from DeShone Kizer.”
Flacco said Jackson knew how to prepare him as a rookie.
“He was a very emotional guy and gets you ready to play in a very confident way,” said Flacco. “He allows you to go out there and play fast, and free, and wants you to go out there and play with emotion and let it all go. His coaching style and his offen- sive philosophy allows the quarterback to do that.”
Jackson acknowledged that he can apply some of those lessons to Kizer.
“We played Pittsburgh three times that first year ... but there were lessons in there that I’m sure (Flacco) used later on to get to where he is today,” said Jackson. “DeShone is going through that now. He played Pittsburgh last week. Here we go again on the road against Baltimore. That is not an easy task.
“The scheduling sure I know there’s trade rumors and things like that, but he’s not traded as of today and he’s my teammate, so (we’re) getting ready for him to be on the team this season.”
Duchene being in Colorado’s opening night lineup Oct. 5 at the Rangers is far from a certainty. The Avalanche are in rebuilding mode after their 48 points were 21 fewer than the next-lowest team, and at age 26 Duchene is their best trade chip in the hopes of landing a young defenseman.
Here are more things to watch as NHL camps open:
If the Islanders don’t sign captain John Tavares by July 1, he can be an unrestricted
isn’t nice to us, but that’s OK because the growth that he’ll get out of these two games and growing as a football player, as a quarterback, as the leader of this foot- ball team, as a guy in the locker room and as a guy who is the face of this orga- nization, this is what it’s all about. This is how you build a quarterback.”
You also build a quarterback by making him come to work at 5 a.m. Kizer revealed that he’s a “crack of dawn guy” and that he’s in bed by 9 p.m.
“I can’t let him beat me in the building,” said Jack- son. “I guarantee he wasn’t acrack-of-dawn guy before, but that’s changed. He is a stay-late-at-night guy, too. ... This is going to become who DeShone Kizer is, and he understands that. That’s the commitment you have to make to this football team and this organization.”
It’s also what he needs to do to prepare for the Ravens. Sacked seven time s and picked off once last week, he faces arguably a better unit this week.
“It’s o ne of the best defenses we’ll play all year,” said Jackson. “Their front seven is as good as anybody. (Linebacker C.J.) Mosley is playing as good as I’ve seen him play. Terrell Suggs looks like he’s found the fountain of youth all over again. The two inside tackles are as good as there is in football.
“We’re looking forward to going down and accompa- nying the challenge that is going to be laid before us.”
When Kizer gets back home, he’ll have a pretty good idea what AFC North football feels like, bruises and all. free agent. His situation will be a never-ending story line made complicated by the Islanders’ unsettled arrangement at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The smart money ison Tavares trying to shove contract distractions aside in camp but wait to sign an eight-year contract later.
Unsigned, unsealed, undelivered:
Six restricted free agents remain unsigned: Boston’s David Pastrnak, Columbus’ Josh Anderson, Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou, Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno and St. Louis’ Petteri Lindbohm. Also, Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla are talented, unsigned graybeards still waiting for a call.