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The Michael Vick Experience returns to the ATL in fine fashion by Lloyd Vance

For the first time since 2006, QB Michael Vick had the Georgia Dome rocking with a strong performance

The Philadelphia Eagles 34-7 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons became a footnote to bigger story.  No it was not the fact that the Eagles (8-4) are now tied for first place in the NFC East with Dallas Cowboys.  The main storyline that dominated Sunday afternoon’s game was the triumphant return of Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick to the Georgia Dome.  The trip back to Atlanta had been an emotional one for Vick.  He later admitted to tearing up on the bus ride over to the stadium.  This was the city where he first made his mark in the NFL as the Falcons star billboard player only to fall to tragic lows in 2007 due to his involvement in dogfighting. 

Vick’s fall from grace was swift and when he went to prison for a 23-month period, he not only left behind his family and friends, but also the franchise that stood by him since he first entered the NFL in 2001.  The Falcons owner Arthur Blank had given the keys to the franchise to his pseudo son only to have Vick disappoint him and ultimately causing the team to walk away from their former electrifying player.  While Vick was beginning his prison sentence in late 2007, the Falcons were also a shattered mess.  The 2007 season was one of the worst in Falcons’ history as the team finished with a dismal record of 4-12, their head coach Bobby Petrino quit with only a few games left, and many blamed the duo of Blank and Vick for the overall collapse of the former 2004 NFC Championship contender.  Vick finished his 6-year Falcons’ career with passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating plus a record of 38-28-1 as a starter.

Though the Falcons rebounded in 2008 to make the playoffs under rookie of the year quarterback Matt Ryan, the attention of many in Atlanta still remained with Vick.  The journey of Vick from a jailed dogfighter back to the NFL has been well documented and when the Eagles first signed the former Falcons star in mid-August there was a firestorm of activity on message boards, talk radio, and any other medium associated to fan feedback.  To say the least the Vick signing was polarizing across the country sometimes along racial lines – especially in Atlanta and Philadelphia.  One camp had the former 3-time Pro Bowl player designated as persona-non-grata for the heinous nature of his crimes against dogs while others believed he deserved a second chance after serving his time.  However much like any big head line story, the Eagles signing of Michael Vick eventually faded into the back pages of NFL news after a while.  The majority of fans that had threatened to boycott their beloved Eagles due to the signing of Vick still packed the stands and on the field the former first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft had become a “spare” part in the Eagles’ offense.  Vick would come in for a play here or there out of the Eagles version of the Wildcat formation called the “Spread Eagle”.  But other than a big 34-yard run against the San Diego Chargers, No. 7 was relegated to a designed run every so often while mostly watching starter Donovan McNabb from the sidelines.  Vick’s numbers in 9 games – suspended for the first two games — before Sunday were anything, but electrifying (3 of 9 passing for 7 yards and 0 TDs with 15 rushes for 65 yards and no touchdowns).

Even Vick’s return to Atlanta to face the Falcons was considered non- front page news as many figured the former Falcons’ star would play maybe one or two plays as he had done throughout his stint with the Birds.  But fate and a soft spot for a “comeback” story by Eagles head coach Andy Reid stepped in to bring Vick’s name back into the spotlight.  Playing in the Georgia Dome, which was once dubbed “The House that Michael Vick built”, the former 6-year Falcons player was everywhere.  Vick led the Eagles out of the tunnel to start the game, was a designated team captain for the coin toss, and received probably his most playing time of the season.  However when Vick entered the game on the Eagles fifth and seventh plays of their opening possession, he was showered with boos.   But those boos quickly faded in the 3rd quarter. With the Eagles leading 13-0, Reid re-inserted Vick in the redzone.  The former Falcons’ starter lined up in shotgun formation and after a direct snap, Vick ran into the endzone for a 5-yard jitter-bugging touchdown.  The play was pure “Vick” as he sprinted to his right then sharply cut back to his left then broke a tackle before finally divining into the endzone.  The play led to a thunderous ovation as many fans wearing No. 7 jerseys stood for their former superstar. 

As good as his first touchdown run since Oct 15, 2006 felt, the NFL’s only 1,000-yard rushing quarterback had to feel even better later on.  With the game well in-hand, Vick showed everyone that he still has plenty of juice left in his rocket left arm as he fired a 43-yard completion to receiver Reggie Brown.  Then in the redzone for the second time, the “Michael Vick Experience” was back as he sprinted out to his left then lobbed a pass back to the right to wide-open TE Brent Celek in the endzone.  The dome’s roof shook again as indeed the prodigal son had returned home.  Vick finished the day with numbers 2 of 2 passing for 48 yards and 1 TD plus 4 rushes for 17 yards with 1 TD.  Not bad for a “spare part” and there were even chants of “We want Vick! We want Vick!” from his former home crowd in the fourth quarter after his satisfying day was done.  Vick said of the fans cheers for him, “It was as loud as it gets in the Dome, I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”

It was easy to see the pure joy that Vick felt playing back in the ATL.  After the game Eagles starter McNabb said of Vick’s fine performance in his return, “You were seeing a guy in his element.  I think he was just relishing the moment.”  After spending a larger amount of time giving on-field interviews and reflecting,   Vick in his post-game press conference said “It couldn’t have happened at a better time, I want to become one of the top quarterbacks in this league again.”

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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The starter went down you’re the Next man up by Jeff Little

Joe Mays

NFL franchises are officially back to work, their training camps in full swing. Adversity in the form of injuries has also affected teams as it has every year; several key players have gone down with significant injuries.

When it comes to injuries in the NFL it is identical to riding a motorcycle it is a known fact that if you ride one you will go down at some point in time hopefully you can recover from any injuries. Coincidentally when it comes to injuries in the NFL it isn’t a matter of if it happens it is a matter of when.

Let’s be honest injuries suck but they’re part of the game and a setback that has to be overcome. It is also an opportunity for the back up player to step up and prove he can be the guy. Here are a couple of guys who have made it happen. Can Joe Mays be the guy in Philadelphia? Can Corey Irvin, Nick Hayden or Marlon Favorite step up in Carolina? One thing is for certain both clubs and us fans we’ll all find out right away.

  1. Kurt Warner stepped in for Trent Green in 1999
  2. Tom Brady stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001
  3. Kerry Collins stepped in for Rich Gannon in 2003
  4. James Harrison stepped in for Clark Haggans in 2005

If the entire organization (Owner, Front Office, Scouting Department & Coaching Staff) is one the same page and has properly built their team they’ll be prepared for this scenario. This is accomplished by drafting well with a 3-5 year vision in mind and clearly defined attainable goals.

In theory a teams 1st & 2nd round draft picks should be integral pieces to the puzzle that have the potential to be longtime fixtures for a franchise. A team should be drafting potential starters or players that can develop into starters in every round. However a team is actually built in rounds 3 – 7. Let’s not forget selecting un-drafted free agents to develop.

It has been said more than once that the best laid plans can and will go awry. Injuries have negatively affected the outcome of the season of several teams. It brings to mind the John Madden Football curse. I know to some people this might sound just a tad out of context but follow me if you will and it will make sense.

It must be stated that this isn’t a knock on John Madden Football. I absolutely love the game and have been playing it for years. Going back over the last ten years Injuries, having a significant impact on a team and being on the cover of the game have been synonymous. 1999 was also the first year that NFL players were featured on the cover of the game.

  • 1999 Garrison Hearst – He had an outstanding regular season, finishing third in rushing yards. However, he suffered a broken ankle in the Divisional Playoff game against the Falcons. The severe break caused Hearst to miss two full NFL seasons. The team went 8-8 3rd place in the division.
  • 2000 Barry Sanders – He is pictured over Madden’s left shoulder on the cover. Sanders abruptly retired in July before the start of the start of the 99’ season. The team went 8-8 3rd place in the division.
  • 2001 Eddie George – George’s curse came in 01’ in the form of him failing to break 1,000 yards rushing and the Titans going 7-9 and missing the playoffs.
  • 2002 Dante Culpepper – Culpepper missed 4 games due to injury, threw for 1,300 less yards & 19 less TD passes than in 2000. The Vikings went 5-11 their worst record since 1984.
  • 2003 Marshall Faulk – Faulk played in the same number of games but ran for 430 yards less and had 4 less TD’s than in 2001. His worst since 1996. The Rams scored only 16 more points then their 1996 team that had Tony Banks at QB and Lawrence Phillips at RB. The team went 7-9 3rd place in the division.
  • 2004 Michael Vick – Vick missed the first 11 games of the season with a broken leg. Vick’s QB rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt were all down from 2002. (* This is clearly a statistic that Vince Young wasn’t aware of by stating in an interview in the Sept. issue of Esquire Magazine when he stated that playing QB was all about your legs) The team went 5-11 4th place in the division.
  • 2005 Ray Lewis – Lewis for the most part avoided the curse. His numbers were slightly down from the previous year, he missed one game. However, he didn’t record an interception in 2004, the first time in his career.
  • 2006 Donovan McNabb – After week 9, McNabb suffered a hernia and was lost for the season. McNabb threw for more interceptions; his yards per attempt and completion percentage were down from 2004. The Eagles finished 6-10, in last place and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
  • 2007 Shaun Alexander – Alexander missed 6 regular season games with a broken foot. He finished the season with 896 yards and 7 TD’s; his lowest numbers since his rookie season. He had a 3.6 yards per carry average; His career average was 4.4 yards per carry) The team went 10-6, went to the playoffs, lost in the Divisional Round to the Packers.
  • 2008 Vince Young – Vince Young threw for 2,546 yards, 9 TD’s and 17 Interceptions. He did complete 62% of his passes and Tennessee went 10-6 losing to the Chargers in the playoffs.
  • 2009 Bret Favre – Favre passed for 3,472 yards, 22 TD’s & 22 Interceptions. Favre & the Jets experienced a hot start but faded late after Favre injured his throwing arm and the season collapsed. Brett threw 6 less TD’s & 7 more INT’s then in 2007. The Jets finished 9-7 after an 8-3 start and missed the playoffs losing to the Dolphins with their former QB at the helm.

The NFL is the epitome of the next man up. Overcoming adversity and moving on is the name of the game. A highly important factor in answering the obvious question; can the team trust the back up and rally around him?

Those questions will have to be answered immediately in Philadelphia, Carolina and Atlanta.

2009 NFL Training Camp Questions – NFC South by Lloyd Vance

r_bush

How will the Saints use RB Reggie Bush other than as a between-the-tackles running back? — Read about this and other NFC South Questions

Atlanta Falcons

Is 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year quarterback Matt Ryan due for a sophomore letdown season after a magical first year?

Will running back Michael Turner be able to come close to duplicating his 2008 performance (376 carry, 1699 rushing yards, and a franchise-record 17 touchdowns)?

How will perennial Pro Bowl pass catching tight end Tony Gonzalez adjust to more blocking duties with the Falcons after coming over in a trade from the Chiefs?

How much better will receiver Roddy White get after a career year during the 2008 season (88 receptions, 1382 yards, and 7TDs)?

Will the Falcons be able to produce another double-digit win season even though they are facing a very tough schedule (play NFC East and AFC East)?

Carolina Panthers

After a disappointing finish to a 13-3 season, is Panthers head coach John Fox on owner Wally Richardson’s hot seat?

Is quarterback Jake Delhomme totally recovered from elbow surgery and should have the Panthers pursued an insurance quarterback in the offseason?

Is it possible that the Panthers running game will be as effective (RB’s Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams combined for 3,251 rushing yards) as in 2008?

How happy is franchised defensive end Julius Peepers and will he have another high sack year (14.5 sacks in 2008)?

Can the 2009 Panthers produce their first back-to-back winning seasons in their team’s history (not done in 14 years of existence)?

New Orleans Saints

After an 8-8 and second consecutive non-playoff season, is head coach Sean Payton feeling the heat to win in New Orleans?

How healthy is RB Reggie Bush’s knee and have the Saints figured out ways to use him other than the miscast role of a featured rusher?

With the addition of three defensive draft picks and several other defensive free agent pick-ups will the Saints cut down on the almost 25 points per game that they allowed in 2008?

Will the Saints achieve more balance on offense with emerging running back Pierre Thomas or will quarterback Drew Brees continue to “wing-it” all over the field (threw for over 5,000 yards in 2008)?

Will Saints receiver Marques Colston bounce back from a sub-par season (47 rec, 760 yards, and 5 TDs) or will another receiver (Lance Moore, Bobby Meachem, Devrey Henderson) need to step-up?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Is young head coach Raheem Morris ready to take over as an NFL head coach after not much experience?

Who is going to be the quarterback (Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, or Josh Freeman) and will they be able to get the ball to comeback receiver Antonio Bryant?

Will the Bucs be able to replace the leadership of veterans LB Derrick Brooks, QB Jeff Garcia, WR Joey Galloway, and RB Warrick Dunn?

What defensive system will the Bucs be playing and will new defensive coordinator Jim Bates be able to replace Monte Kiffin?

Did the Bucs make the right move by trading for volatile former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow and giving him a huge extension this offseason?

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Top 10 Training Camp Position Battles – Offense by Lloyd Vance

After months of speculation surrounding NFL teams from the NFL Draft in April to OTAs, our real barometer regarding roster battles, training camp, is finally here.

Some of the NFL Training Camp Offensive Battles to keep an eye on are:

Detroit Lions QB’s – Daunte Culpepper, rookie Matthew Stafford (1st overall pick in 2009 NFL Draft – Georgia), and Matthew Stanton.

LV’s Take: As soon as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Lions had selected Stafford with the first overall pick, this competition heated up.  Conventional wisdom says that sitting a quarterback early in his career and easing him into a team’s system are the best way to go (See Steve McNair, Steve Young with the Niners, Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning and others).  But recently with the success of 2008 first year starters and playoff quarterbacks Matt Ryan (Falcons) and Joe Flacco (Ravens) more people are believing that it is “sink or swim” time for rookie quarterbacks.  Stafford definitely has all the measurable (arm, footwork, and big school pedigree) that made him the first overall selection.  But all indications are that former three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Culpepper is ready to fight for his role as the Lions starter.  Culpepper is healthier than he has been since his devastating 2005 knee injury and in throwing session you can see his arm strength, pocket awareness, and mobility coming back.

However as much as new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has proclaimed that this is an open competition, there are the mitigating factors of money – Stafford signed a huge deal of 6 years for $78 Million with 41 Million guaranteed – and a 0-16 team (an NFL-low) looking to make a splash.  Look for this battle to continue through training camp and it will be the Lions’ four pre-season games that will determine this one.  I see Culpepper winning the starter’s job for Week 1 in New Orleans, but you know eventually Stafford will get his shot.  Watch for the Lions’ Week 7 bye as a possible stake in the ground for the start of the Stafford Era in Motown.

New York Jets QB’s – Rookie Mark Sanchez, (1st Rd – USC), Kellen Clemens, Erik Ainge, and UDFA rookie Chris Pizzotti (Harvard).

LV’s Take: This is supposed to be an open competition for new Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s starting job.  But the moment that the Jets traded up with the Browns to select Sanchez in the first-round of the 2009 NFL Draft you knew who would be under center in September.  I am sure Clemens will continue to fight, but the Jets didn’t pay USC pretty boy Sanchez all that money — five-year contract worth $50 million, with $28 million in guarantees – for nothing.  I believe Sanchez has a good chance of being this year’s version of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco — strong rookie season in 2008 by “managing” the offense.

Tampa Bay Bucs QB’s – Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson and rookie Josh Freeman (1st Rd – Kansas State)

LV’s Take:  The Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris continued former head coach Jon Gruden’s trend of collecting quarterbacks by signing McCown and Leftwich plus drafting Freeman this offseason.  Leftwich was perceived to be the automatic starter when he signed, but his long delivery and lack of mobility have opened the door for McCown and surprising Freeman to step in the mix.  In the end I believe the veteran leadership of Leftwich – won a Super Bowl ring in 2008 as the Steelers back-up – will shine through.  However by midseason it maybe time for Freeman to remove his redshirt.

Tampa Bay Bucs RB’s – Derrick Ward, Earnest Graham, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Clifton Smith, and Josh Vaughan

LV’s Take:  The Buccaneers under new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will be a running team first so you know this battle is important.  I think this one was over before it even started as Ward got a huge contract – 4 years, $17 Million — to be the starter.  The former Giants change-up back produced a career-high 1,025 rushing yards last year and he will be looking to be this year’s Michael Turner.  Unfortunately roster leftovers from the Gruden era Graham (attitude) and Williams (knee) may have to prove their worth to the new Bucs regime.

New York Giants RB’s – Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Ware, and rookie Andre Brown

LV’s Take:  This one isn’t really a battle, but it will be fun in training camp to see who is going to step-up to be Jacobs other half in the backfield.  Derrick Ward is now a Buccaneer, so Bradshaw will have to hold-off Ware (strong special teams player) and Brown (hard running rookie from NC State).  You know G-Men head coach Tom Coughlin would love to have a running game with two 1,000-yard backs again, but reproducing that effort will be tough in the NFC East.  I believe that the Giants’ new Thunder and Lightning combination will be Jacobs and Brown as Bradshaw is better as a homerun threat than an every down runner.

New England Patriots RBs – Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Omar Cuff

LV’s Take:  Other than the couple years where Corey Dillon was the featured runner for the Pats, head coach Bill Belichick likes to spread the carries around.  Recovering quarterback Tom Brady is going to need some time to get back in shape, so the running game will be essential.  Look for often-injured running back Laurence Maroney to get the lion’s share of carries (200+) if he can shed his “soft” player title.  Taylor will be fill the short-yardage and goal-line role vacated by LaMont Jordan (Broncos) while Faulk will again be the pass-catcher and 3rd down back for New England.  After those Top 3, it will a training camp fight between Morris (veteran, but how much does he have left), Green-Ellis (Was the “Law Firm” a fluke after a strong ’08 season) and Cuff (good young runner from Delaware).  Look for Maroney as the starter in week one, but eventually injuries will push Taylor into the starting line-up.

Denver Broncos RBs – Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, Ryan Torrain, Darius Walker, and rookie Knowshon Moreno (1st Rd – Georgia)

LV’s Take:  Another crowded backfield situation as new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels collected running backs this off-season.  Though Buckhalter was promised the job after he signed in free agency, all indications are that if Moreno can be signed by training camp that the former University of Georgia star will be the Broncos featured back.  The first-rounder is quicker to the hole and his young legs will help new starting quarterback Kyle Orton.

New York Giants WR’s – Domenick Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham, David Tyree (2007 Super Bowl hero); rookies Hakeem Nicks (1st Rd – North Carolina) and Ramses Barden (3rd Rd – Cal Poly)

LV’s Take:  During the 2008 NFL Season there was no greater impact to a team’s fortunes than the shooting injury and suspension of former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress.  The Giants won 11 of their first 12 games but lost 3 of their last 4 after Burress’ shooting injury in November.  Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said of losing Burress, “With him, we had an identity from Week 1 to Week 11 when he went out. It is hard to bounce back, to find a new identity in the National Football League.”  The G-men tried to pump-up receivers Dommanick Hixon (career highs 43 receptions and 596 yards, but we all remember the dropped potential 80-yard bomb in Week 14 against the Birds), Steve Smith (57 catches) and 13-year veteran Amani Toomer but most secondaries didn’t respect the trio.  The Giants decided, after being bounced from the 2008 playoffs by the Eagles, that in the 2009 draft the receiver position needed to be addressed brining in Nicks and Barden.  But you have to wonder if the G-Men have done enough to get quarterback Eli Manning back in his comfort zone or if they should have pursued potential trades for Browns WR Braylon Edwards or Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin harder this offseason.  Watch for Smith, Hicks, and Hixon to be the leaders for the Giants Top 3 spots in the receiver unit.  It will also be interesting to see if Tyree can return to his pre-injury form and if Moss can stay healthy enough to live-up to comparisons to his older brother Santana (Redskins WR).

Philadelphia Eagles WR’s – DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown, rookie Jeremy Maclin (1st Rd- Missouri), Hank Baskett, Jason Avant, rookie Brandon Gibson (6th Rd – Washington State), Shaheer McBride, and Danny Amendola

LV’s Take:  Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb wanted weapons and now he may have too many pass catchers.  Obviously 2008 All-Rookie performer Jackson is the No. 1 in this unit then the fun begins after him.  Curtis is coming off his second groin surgery within a year, Maclin is speedy but comes from a spread option system in college, Brown is a former starter that showed potential earlier in his 5-year career then faded, and the others are in the mix too.  Look for the Jackson at the “X”, strong over the middle receiver Avant at the “Y”, and Curtis at the “Z’.   Brown, Baskett (hopefully still has his legs after marrying playmate Kendra Wilkinson), Maclin, and Gibson (Practice Squad) should also make the team.

Chicago Bears WR’s – Rashied Davis, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Devin Aromashodu, and rookies Juaquin Iglesias (3rd Rd – Oklahoma), Johnny Knox (5th Rd – Abilene Christian), and Derek Kinder (7th Rd – Pittsburgh)

LV’s Take:  We all know that the Bears may have mortgaged that future to bring-in Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler from the Broncos.  The 4,000-yard passer in 2008 definitely knows how to wing-it, but other than All-Rookie running back Matthew Forte and emerging TE Greg Olsen there are question marks everywhere within the Bears receiving unit.  There have been inklings that the Bears may take a look at free agents Plaxico Burress, Marvin Harrison, or Matt Jones but for now head coach Lovie Smith seems to be okay with his current group.  Unfortunately no receiver on the Bears’ current roster has over 50 catches in their career.  The Bears want Hester, an All-World returnman who is coming off a career high of 47 catches in 2008, to be their main pass catcher.  But the former Hurricane has a lot to learn in terms of running routes and not being a bodycatcher.  The wildcard in the mix could be Bennett, who played with Cutler at Vanderbilt, but the second-year player has zero career catches.  Look for Hester, Bennett, and Iglesias at the Top 3 spots with Davis, Knox, and Kinder rounding out the roster.

Other Battles to Watch

SF 49ers WR’s – Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle, rookie Michael Crabtree (1st Rd – Texas Tech), free agent pick-up Brandon Jones, Josh Morgan, Jason Hill, Michael Spurlock, and Dominique Zeigler

Seahawks WR’s – Nate Burelson, Deion Branch, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Jordan Kent, Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu, and rookie Deon Butler (2nd Rd – Penn State)

Cleveland Browns WR’s – Braylon Edwards, Mike Furrey, Joshua Cribbs, David Patten, Syndric Steptoe, Paul Hubbard, and rookies Brian Robiskie (2nd rd – Ohio State) and Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd rd – Georgia)

Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Line – OT Tra Thomas, veteran OG Chris Naole, Vince Manuwai, Maurice Williams, Tony Pashos, rookies Eugene Monroe (1st Rd – Virginia) and Eben Britton (2nd Rd – Arizona).  **Hopefully this group will be healthier in ’09 as three O-linemen went down in week one in 2008.

Detroit Lions OL – Jeff Backus, Daniel Loper, Gosder Cherilus, Ephraim Salaam, Damion Cook, Stephen Peterman and rookie Lyndon Murtha (7th Rd – Nebraska)

New Orleans Saints TE’s – Jeremy Shockey, Dan Campbell, Darnell Dinkins, Billy Miller, and Buck Ortega

Tennessee Titans TE’s – Bo Scaife, Alge Crumpler, rookie Jared Cook (2nd Rd – South Carolina), Craig Stevens, and Matthew Mulligan

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

NFL Power Rankings – Pre Training Camp 2009 by Lloyd Vance

Giants Steelers Football

(Philadelphia, Pa) – We are almost to my least favorite time of the year when there is virtually no football.  Though the NFL Calendar is now packed it seems every month, most teams take a nice break after May and early June’s OTA’s to recharge for late July’s training camps.

The fun part of this time on the NFL Calendar is that hope has sprung eternal around the NFL, as every team is 0-0 heading into next season.  Yes even the 0-16 Detroit Lions believe they have positively tweaked their roster and drafted well enough that training camp can’t get here soon enough.

With rosters pretty much set for next season, I thought now was a good time to rank all 32 NFL Teams.

1. Steelers – The 2008 Super Bowl Champions still remain in my top spot until someone knocks them off their perch.  In order to be the man, you have to beat the man…wooo!!  The Steelers lost players that they believe already have replacements on their current roster.  Plus the Steelers’ weakest area, the offenisve line, will have another year together and the draft yielded Wisconsin OG Kraig Urbik and Penn State C A.Q Shipley. Theif defense is getting a little older along their front four, but Defensive MVP James Harrison shoulld be productive after signing a lucartive extension. It will be interesting see if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues to throw 25 to 30 times a game with RB’s Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder) returning.  Will compete with the Raven for the AFC North title, but there are issues of complacency and a history of falling back after winning it all (record of 8-8 in ’06 after winning in Super Bowl XL).

2. Giants – The G-Men stumbled down the stretch after WR Plaxico Burress shot himself and the team’s playoff hopes.  But look for the Giants to return to contention at the top of the NFC.  In the NFC East, the Giants’ main competition will be the Eagles who knocked them out of the playoffs in 2008.  Quarterback Eli Manning who is looking for a Matthew Stafford type contract and guaranteed money this year will need to lean on his running game led by RB’s Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Danny Ware.  Rookie pass catchers WR Hakim Nicks (North Carolina), TE Travis Beckum (Wisconsin), and WR Ramses Barden (Cal Poly) will try to replace Burress along with returning Super Bowl hero David Tyree (knee).  The Giants’ defensive pressure should also get a boost from the additions of Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora (knee), DT Rocky Bernard (F\A – Seattle), LB Michael Boley (F\A – Falcons), DT Chris Canty (F\A – Cowboys) and rookie LB Clint Sintim (UVa) to last season’s menacing DE’s Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck.

3.  Patriots – After becoming only the second 11-5 team to not make the playoffs (Denver – 1985), head coach Bill Belichick is on a mission.  The Pats return QB Tom Brady from a devastating knee injury and they also made an emphasis of getting younger on defense this offseason.  Look for NT Vince Wilfork (playing for a contract), LB Adalius Thomas (finally comfortable in the system), and rookies CB Darius Butler (UConn) and S Patrick Chung (Oregon) to have a huge impact on defense.  Offensively the Patriots running game should be better with the addition of veteran RB Fred Taylor (playing the Corey Dillon role) and the return of RB Laurence Maroney (shoulder).  Also watch for deep throws from Brady to speedsters Randy Moss, Joey Galloway (F\A – Bucs), and Greg Lewis (Draft Day Trade – Eagles).

4.  Eagles – After a rollercoast type season where things went a little haywire in Weeks 10-12, the Birds rebounded to make some noise in the playoffs.  Any momentum gained from their playoff run was totally enhanced by arguably the NFL’s best offseason.  The Eagles obtained veterans CB Ellis Hobbs (Draft Day Trade – Patriots), Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters (Pre-Draft Trade – Bills), and OL Stacy Andrews (F\A – Bengals) plus drafted potential offensive differencemakers WR Jermey Maclin (Missouri),RB LeSean McCoy (PITT), and TE Cornelius Ingram (Florida).  QB Donovan McNabb (make or break contract season) has to like his team’s chances after the Birds’ front office made over a roster that was getting a little old at key positions. Areas to watch in training camp will be the health of RB Brian Westbrook (Ankle Surgery), the right tackle position where Shawn Andrews (back) is moving from his Pro Bowl right guard spot to battle his brother Stacy and free saftey where Quintin Demps and newcomer Sean Jones (F\A – Cleveland) will be competing to try and replace future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins (Broncos).

5. Titans – Jeff Fisher’s team was the talk of the NFL after they went undefeated for the first 11 weeks of the 2008 season, but in the playoffs it was a totally different story as the Ravens shutdown the AFC’s No. 1 seed.  However with the Titans strong running game (LenDale White and Chris Johnson) and tough defense led by LB Keith Bullock and a  talented secondary (S Michael Griffin and CB Cortland Finnegan) expect them back near the top of the AFC South with the Colts and Texans.  However there are big question marks around QB Kerry Collins (age), C Kevin Mawae (age/retirement?), their receivers (still looking for a #1 guy) and a defense that lost number #1NFL free agent DT Albert Haynesworth (Redskins).

6.  Cardinals – The 2008 NFC Champs will not be sneaking up on anyone this season after a playoff run that included an impressive road stomping of the NFC top seeded Panthers.  The NFC West is definitely improving with the Niners (playing harder under Singletary) and Seahawks (getting healthier) expected to step-up, so the Cardinals will need to avoid the dreaded Super Bowl loser hangover syndrome — 7 of the last 8 Super Bowl losers failed to qualify for the post-season the following year.  The Cardinals will again lean on their offense led by a rejuvenated QB Kurt Warner (new contract), rookie RB Chris “Beanie” Wells (Ohio St), and All-World WR Larry Fitzgerald.  It will be interesting to see if the four 2009 defensive draft picks coming in can help a unit that allowed 26.6 points per game.  Also what are the Cards going to do to keep DT Darnell Dockett and WR Anquan Boldin happy over their contracts.

7.  Panthers – Everything seemed to be falling the Panthers way in ’08 as their “Double Trouble” running back combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and an opportunistic defense led the way into the playoffs.  After securing the NFC’s number one seed, the NFC South Champion Panthers imploded at home losing badly to the Cardinals.  Panthers Head Coach John Fox (hotseat) will need to get another stellar season from his running backs, but newly re-signed QB Jake Delhomme (arm and 6 turnovers in playoffs loss) is the big key to this team’s success.  The Panthers have a stellar offensive line, so look for a continued run heavy offense with about 8 to 10 passes a game going to gamebreaker WR Steve Smith.  The Carolina defense will need LB Jon Beason (labrum),  DT Damione Lewis (rotator cuff) and rookie DE Everett Brown (FSU) to stay on top of their games in case “franchised” defensive end Julius Peppers (career-high 14.5 sacks) holds out or becomes a distraction.  Look for a three-way race between the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons in the NFC South.

8.  Vikings –  A litany of things finally came together for the Vikes in ’08 as they won the NFC North for the first time since 2004.  Right now the Vikings with All-World RB Adrain Peterson and the NFL’s #1 Rush Defense are a sexy pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season.  However there are still too many lingering questions for my taste to move this team higher.  Who is the quarterback going to be? (Tarvaris Jackson – inconsitent in the playoffs against the Eagles, Sage Rosenfels – New to their system, or dare I say it…Brett Favre, who brings age and lockerroom chemistry issues, if he is signed).  Brad Childress’ team must also deal with DT’s Kevin and Pat Williams’ facing 4-game suspensions for Water Pills-gate.  In the 2009 draft, the Vikings looked to add more offensive firepower to Peterson and emerging WR Bernard Berrian by bringing in WR/KR/RB Percy Harvin (Florida).  So whomever the quarterback is in training camp there will be expectations to get the ball in the team’s many playmakers hands.  Expect the Vikings and Bears to fight it out for NFC North supremacy again.

9.  Colts – Another season, another 12-wins for Indy (NFL Record Six Consecutive).  The Colts are a regular season buzzsaw, but once again the playoffs were a different story.  QB Peyton Manning’s team lost in OT to the Chargers, but the game seemed little bit more organizational changing.  Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy decided that ’08 would be his last season and now first time NFL head coach Jim Caldwell takes over.  Caldwell will also have to go into battle without franchise receiver Marvin Harrison (F\A), former offensive coordinatorTom Moore (Retirement), and former O-line coach Howard Mudd (Retirement).  With so much leadership lost on the coaching staff there is going to be even more pressure on veteran thrower Manning.  Expect the Colts to lean more on their running game as RB Joseph Adda is healthy and Indy picked RB Donald Brown in the first round.  On defense the Colts are still small and fast, but it will be interesting to see how they fare against larger offenses.  Expect the AFC South to be one of the NFL’s best with the Colts, Titans, Jags, and Texans all fighting it out for the top spot.

10.  Ravens – Led by Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed and upstart head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens were the surprise of the AFC in ’08 going all the way to the AFC Championship Game.  Despite the loss of several Ravens (Def Coor. Rex Ryan, LB Bart Scott, S Jim Leonhard, and others) to Baltimore North (New York Jets) expect QB Joe Flacco and his defensive minded team to still be in the mix.  The Ravens defense kept their leader in LB Ray Lewis plus they added CB Domonique Foxworth (Falcons).  There should be much more firepower this year on offense as Flacco and RB Ray Rice return for their second seasons fully knowing the playbook and the team also added TE LJ Smith (F\A – Eagles), C Matt Birk (F\A – Vikings), and OT Michael Oher (Ole Miss – 1st Rd).  Expect another black and blue season for the Ravens as they battle their hated rival, the Steelers, for the AFC North title.

11.  Bears –  Lovie Smith wanted a quarterback to compliment running back Matt Forte and management brought-in QB Jay Cutler in a blockbuster trade.  Now Smith needs a playoff run by Cutler as he is on a very hotseat in the Windy City.  All I want to know is where are the WR’s that Cutler is throwing to.

12.  Saints – Sean Payton’s team was too inconsistent in ’08 (only won two games in a row once), so they will need to equate their talent laden roster into wins this season.  Look for an improved running game led by NFL Surprise Player RB Pierre Thomas to help MVP candidate QB Drew Brees and an emphasis on defense of eliminating big plays.

13.  Chargers – The Bolts had a nice run in the playoffs to put an inconsistent regular season behind them.  But head coach Norv Turner needs a better effort by his running game (LT and Darren Sproles) to assist Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers.  The Chargers are hoping a healthly return by LB Shawn Merriman (knee) will pick-up a defense that was sporadic without him.

14.  49ers – Under new head coach “Iron” Mike Singletary, the Niners proved to be one of the NFL’s best teams down the stretch going 5-2 in their last seven games under their former interim head coach.  In order to compete with the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Niners must find a passing game to go with Singletary’s new run emphasized offense and attacking defense.

15.  Texans –  After their second 8-8 season in a row, it is hotseat time for GM Rick Smith, head coach Gary Kubiak, and quarterback Matt Schaub.  The Texans must find ways to avoid injuries on offense and add consistency on defense to compete with the Colts, Titans, and Jaguars in the tough AFC South.

16.  Dolphins – Last season’s greatest turnaround from 1-15 to 11-5 AFC East Champs will be hard to duplicate for head coach Tony Sparano and GM Bill Parcells.  The ‘Phins will be marked team as the Patriots, Jets, and upstart Bills will try to bring them back to Earth.

17.  Broncos – Former head coach Mike Shanahan, QB Jay Cutler, and GM Ted Sunquist are all no longer with Denver.  A new regime led by young head coach Josh McDaniels and over 17 new players will try to improve a team that lost 3 straight games to finish the season.  An improved defense (drafted 4 defensive players) and a hard running game led by rookie Knowshon Moreno should help in the Broncos chase the Chargers for the AFC West crown.

18.  Falcons – Besides the Dolphins there was no great turnaround story in the NFL in ’08 than Falcons.  Head Coach Mike Smith and Rookie of the Year QB Matt Ryan returned this once downtrodden franchise back into the playoffs.  Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Roddy White, and new TE Tony Gonzalez will need to jell quickly and the Falcons defense will need bigger plays to catch the Panthers..

19. Cowboys – During the ’08 season, one of the NFL’s most talent laden rosters was pulled down again from drama in Big D.  The Cowboys will be moving on to their new billion dollar stadium hopefully without the problems created by former distractions (Pacman, T.O, Tank Johnson, and others).  But there are some lingering question marks regarding whether head coach Wade Wilson and/or QB Tony Romo can lead the ‘Boys passed the Eagles and Giants in the tough NFC East.

20.  Redskins – The ‘Skins in ’08 under first year head coach Jim Zorn were a non-cohesive and inconsistent team due to injuries and internal fighting.   But expectations will be a lot higher in 2009 as owner Dan Snyder opened his checkbook for a haul that included DT Albert Hayneswoth and other big ticket items.  Zorn and Snyder will need QB Jason Campbell make them forget why the Redskins tried to bring in Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez this passed offseason.

21.  Jaguars – After a front office shakeup, all the pressure in ’09 will be squarely on head coach Jack Del Rio.  The Jags have some weapons in players like RB Maurice Jones-Drew and CB Rashaun Mathis, but they need more consistency from QB David Garrard and a defense that allowed 367 points in ’08.

22.  Jets –  With the AFC East title in their sights, the Jets underestimated the Dophins and were left home for the playoffs.  With new head coach Rex Ryan coming over from the Ravens along with several former players and staff, look for a new attitude by the J-E-T-S.  The keys will be settling a quarterback controversy (Kellen Clemens or Mark Sanchez) and getting their defense acclimated to Ryan’s attacking scheme.

23.  Raiders – After playing the “spoiler” role rather well in Tampa Bay during Week 17 in ’08, the Raiders and their new head coach Tom Cable will be looking for respect in ’09.  Cable will need to get more points from offensive weapons QB JaMarcus Russell, RB Darren McFadden, TE Zach Miller and rookie Darius Heyward-Bey (only 27 touchowns in ’08).  Plus in order to catch the Broncos and Chargers at the top of the AFC West, Al Davis’ team will need to get better on defense (allowed 388 pts).

24.  Buccaneers – Offseason changes were everywhere for the Bucs after an end of season meltdown where they were knocked from the playoffs in WK 17 by the Raiders.  New head coach Raheem Morris and a roster full of youngsters will attempt to get right in the NFC South mix, but the division is stacked with the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons near the top.

25.  Bills – Get your popcorn ready, because T.O was brought to town this offseason by soon to be Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson.  The new look Bills and their new weapon will attempt to climb out of the tough AFC East’s basement.  However the Bills may need more than Owens as they finished 0-6 in the stacked division in ’08.

26. Packers –  The Pack probably were one of the NFL’s Most Disappointing Teams in ’08, despite some solid play from new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  With an emphasis of getting better on defense via the draft (NT BJ Raji),  the Packers will need to get pressure to cut down on opponent’s scoring (allowed 380 pts).

27.  Seahawks –  Even after an injury plagued season and head coach Mike Holgrem leaving the franchise, the Hawks still have a chance in the AFC West.  However it may take more than drafting LB Aaron Curry, QB Matt Hasselbeck returning (back) and signing WR T.J Houshmanzadeh to bring the Seahawks back to the top of the NFC West.  Hopefully Curry will help lift up a defense that allowed 392 points in ’08.

28.  Browns – The Dawgs didn’t have much bite in ’08, so after an organizational shake-up it is Eric Mangini time by the lake.  However the coach once dubbed “Man-genius” in NY has his work cutout for him as the Browns have a bad quarterback controversey, a malcontent receiver that wants out in Braylon Edwards, over 15 new players on their roster, a new system, a new GM, and an owner that wants to him now.   I guess it will be an Ohio affair at the bottom of the AFC North division.

29.  Chiefs – Herman Edwards and Carl Peterson are no longer with this team, but they left behind a mess in KC.  New head coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli have their work cutout for them as the Chiefs have been a rudderless ship the last couple of years.  Any hope will need to start with a healthy and focused Larry Johnson at running back and new signalcaller Matt Cassel hitting the ground running in training camp.

30. Rams After a season where things were bad under former head coaches Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett, the Rams have turned to former NY Giants defensive guru Steve Spagnuolo.  Spags will bring the G-Men way of doing things (running the ball and attacking on defense) to the Midwest. But it may take awhile to find the right players to execute at his former team’s level.

31.  Bengals –  HBO’s Hard Knocks will be fully entertained from a team that has some talent, but loads of questions marks and dysfunction.  Head Coach Marvin Lewis will be counting on recoverd quarterback Carson Palmer (elbow), new name receiver Chad Ochocinco (formerly Johnson), huge first rounder OT Andre Johnson (Alabama) and a host of other “characters” to get him off the hotseat.

32.  Lions – Just like the Super Bowl Champion Steelers, the lowly Lions have to start in the same spot they ended the ’08 season in.  After an NFL low 0-16 season, there is no place but up for the Lions.  New head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew will be counting on over 20 new faces including first overall pick QB Matthew Stafford to turnaround the fortunes of one of the NFL’s worst teams ever.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Atlanta Falcon’s Ovie Mughelli is Flying High

March 4, 2009 1 comment

Ovie Mughelli of the Atlanta Falcons
Ovie Mughelli of the Atlanta Falcons

The sky’s the limit for Ovie Mughelli and the Atlanta Falcons and today is a new day for the team. Overcoming a dismal 4-12 season in 2007 as well as low expectations in the preseason, the Falcons beat the odds by completing the 2008 season with an unexpected 11-5 record, earning the fifth seed in the NFC Playoffs. The Falcons have truly put the drama of the past few years behind them. Under the direction of new head coach Mike Smith, Ovie Mughelli and the Falcons continue to move forward. Recently I interviewed Mr. Mughelli and we spoke of the Falcons successful season as well as his plans during the off season.

The Atlanta Falcons had a stellar season in 2008 by making it to the playoffs, what do you accredit to the team’s success?

I accredit the team’s success to the team’s unity. We played together as opposed to going in our own directions.  We took a page from the NewEngland Patriots of the past. We didn’t worry about contracts or super stardom.

Would you consider yourself a team leader and if so what steps do you take to boost the team’s moral before and during a game?

Yes, I am a team leader.  I’m in my 7th year in the NFL now and with Warrick Dunn leaving, for the 1st time I am one of the oldest guys on the team.  My responsibility is to “show” not only thru my work but by example as well.

NFL’s Rookie of Year & Falcon’s Quarterback Matt Ryan had a great season in 2008 and has been compared to Peyton Manning, what are your thoughts of the young QB?

First of all, I think I need to get more props because I said that Matt Ryan is like Peyton Manning on my radio show and on Comcast last year.  They’re both tall, goofy looking, and amazingly talented. Lol

Do you hang out with any of your teammates during the off season?

For me, the off season is time to spend alone away from the guys because during the season you’re forced to spend time with your teammates.  When the pre-season begins we spend a lot of time doing bonding exercises.  I’ve seen at least a dozen of my teammates out at events such as the super bowl, award shows, Pro Bowl, etc… so we always end up hanging out anyway.

What is your relationship like with Mike Smith?

It’s great.  We all have a good relationship with him because he treats us like real people and not just like some guys that play for him.  He lets me know when I make a good play and when it’s not such a good play. Because of the relationship we have, I respect that.

Now, that the season is over, how have you been spending your time off?

I travel, relax, visit family, and work on improving myself in preparation for life after the NFL. I’m also currently taking Business Classes.

Where do you spend most of your time?

I spend a lot of time on my couch in Atlanta watching my DVR and catching up on Lost, Heroes, 24, American Idol, and Smallville.

You’re known for doing a lot of community service, so tell me about “The Ovie Mughelli Project”. Also, what other community initiatives are you involved in?

My foundation’s goals are to empower kids thru education, health awareness, and learning about the environment. We want to help them be the best version of themselves possible. This will be our 4th annual football camp and clinic in my hometown of Charleston, SC.  Every year I push myself to make the next year bigger and better.

Are you involved in any community work in your native Nigeria? And are you Igbo or Yoruba?

Actually, I’m an Urhobo. We’re a people of Southern Nigeria.  Community service in my native land of Nigeria is definitely one my goals once I get more established.

How often do you go back to your homeland of West Africa?

I’ve only been once when I was a younger but I plan on going back soon.

Speaking of Nigeria, Soccer (aka football) is really big in your culture, do you play Soccer? And how did you become involved in American Football?

Several members of my family play soccer.  I happened to be better with both my hands and feet, Lol.  I don’t have the soft touch or finesse that it takes to handle the soccer/football.  I got into American football around the 4th or 5th grade.  We’d play football behind the building and I was always the best.  We played touch when the teachers were looking and tackle when they weren’t.  As the years went on people started to beg me to play on their teams and I just stuck with it.

What other extra curricular activities are you involved in during your spare time?

I’m very competitive so I take on every opportunity to compete in bowling, ping- pong, pool, and lots of video games.

In 2007 you had the opportunity to preside over the opening bell for NASDAQ. How did that opportunity present itself? And with the current financial state of the US, how do you invest and protect your assets during this economy?

I was in town for the NFL draft and they were looking for an athlete to ring the bell. The fact that I had just finished 2 Masters Degrees from the NFL’s Business Program, they thought I was worthy.  As far as protecting my money, you just have to be smart and understand that what you have right now will most likely have to last for the rest of your life.  Meaning you can’t spend beyond your means.

Last year you took part in Essence Magazine’s “Do Right Men”, how did you become involved with that and what was the outcome? Did you go out on any dates or meet any of the women who wrote in and voted for you?

I was already being honored by Essence for my work in the community and they asked me if I wanted to be one of the “Do Right Men”.  I didn’t get a change to formally meet any of the ladies but I have had numerous fans that voted approach me when I’m out in public.  I am still very humbled by the response.

In the Essence article it states you enjoy cooking. What is your signature dish?

Rosemary chicken with either mashed potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, or macaroni & cheese.

You are among many athletes that interact with their fans thru Blogging (i.e.-Ovie has his own personal page yardbarker.com). How important is it for you to stay connected with the fans and why?

It’s one of the most important things to do as an athlete because they’re the reason that we play the game.  We do it for the fans!  I don’t think that any player should feel like they’re too big for their fans.  Shaking hands, signing autographs, taking pictures, and being cordial to fans should be things that we always take the time to do.  However, there are times that we really want privacy when we are with our families and the fans should understand that as well.

Recently, you had a contest on your Blog where you were given the name “The Drill”, what prompted you to start the contest?

My publicist set that up.  We wanted to see how the fans felt.  Being a fullback I really didn’t have a nickname.  The contest prompted hundreds of entertaining and outrageous suggestions.  I still laugh about some of the names that were submitted.

I understand you enjoy Reporting and conducting interviews (the Espy’s, etc.). Is a career in Broadcast Journalism on the horizon for you after football?

Definitely, because I’m already a pretty outgoing person and I’ve never been afraid of a camera or a microphone. I think that I’d really enjoy a career in Broadcasting and I’d definitely consider it after my football career.

I read in another article you are a huge fan of gospel music and you recently performed in the 10th Anniversary Superbowl Gospel Celebration. So tell me what is your favorite Gospel Song and why is it your favorite song? Also, who is your favorite gospel artist?

My favorite song is “Never Would Have Made It” because it reminds us that in life if you choose greatness, you still cannot make it with just your strength, intellect, and skills alone. You couldn’t make without the Lord. My favorite gospel singer is Marvin Sapp.

Finally, what can we expect from the Falcons next year?

This past year was just a warm up of what the Falcons can do. With a new coach, quarter back, and system we will be unstoppable. You can expect to see the Falcons go to the Super Bowl this year. Miami here we come!

Ovie Mughelli is represented by Destined for Success Management, LLC a strategic marketing and personal management company which operates on the cutting edge of business in the world of sports. Destined for Success Management assists professional athletes in business, economically, socially, and in the community.