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ProCanes NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview: Alonzo Highsmith on the Move, Ed Reed Returning to Sideline?

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The real grind begins, as a couple University of Miami alumni look to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

You might figure it has to be special season in the NFL when you’re playing games in the early part of January. You’d be correct in that assessment as the NFL playoffs get underway this weekend in what has come to be known as Wild Card Weekend. With the exception of the top two seeds from each of the AFC and NFC having a bye, the following four teams will look forward to hosting a home game in divisional round of the playoff next week .

Teams on bye (with their ProCanes players)

AFC

1) New England Patriots (WR Phillip Dorsett)

2) Pittsburgh Steelers (CB Artie Burns, LB Anthony Chickillo, LB Sean Spence)

NFC

1) Philadelphia Eagles

2) Minnesota Vikings (G Danny Isidora, WR Stacy Coley)

Wildcard Weekend Preview

Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs Saturday 4:35PM EDT

One would assume that Kansas City would have the advantage in this game, based on the homefield factor. However, Arrowhead Stadium has not been kind recently to the Chiefs in the postseason. Kansas City’s last victory at the stadium came in the 1994 postseason, where they won both the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and the divisional game against the then-Houston Oilers. Since then, Chief fans have tomahawk chopped toward five straight home losses in the playoffs. The last postseason win came in 2015 on the road at Houston.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs
Returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, DE Allen Bailey hopes to help the Chiefs end their first round jitters.
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

So what can the Chiefs and lone ProCane DE Allen Bailey do to change their misfortune? This will be Bailey’s first playoff appearance since 2015, after missing most of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury. Looking back to that 2015 postseason, the former Hurricane lineman piled up two sacks and two forced fumbles for a ferocious Chiefs’ defense. Finishing the 2017 regular season with 21 tackles and two sacks after missing the previous season, especially considering that he plays defensive end in a 3-4 defense, is a decent season from the seven year NFL veteran.

For the Chiefs to succeed, it starts with stuffing the run on early downs against the Titans. Tennessee RB Derrick Henry runs like a locomotive, gradually gathering speed once he takes the handoff, then hitting another gear once he’s past the line of scrimmage. In his last game against the Chiefs in week 13 of the 2016 season, Henry rushed for 58 yards on nine carries for two touchdowns. If successful, the onus will be on Titan’s QB Marcus Mariota to win the game with his arm and legs against a Chiefs’ front seven stacked with defenders capable of chasing him down.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Los Angeles Rams Saturday 8:15PM EDT

A year ago, the only ProCane to make it to the ultimate goal, the Super Bowl, was punter Matt Bosher for the Atlanta Falcons. The 30-year-old returns to the postseason looking to put his defense in an advantageous position since the upcoming games hold more meaning. Squaring off against a Rams offense that ranked tenth in total offense during the regular season, it would be in the Falcon’s best interest to make a young Rams team—led by young stars such as QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and WR Cooper Kupp—to drive the full length of the field.

That being said, in games that Bosher has four or more punts in the 2017 regular season, the Falcons have a 4–3 record, meaning that even if Bosher does pin the Rams within the 20—a feat he accomplished 19 times in the regular season—the onus still remains on the defense to get Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan and the offense back on the field.

When the Rams are on defense, one of the players to watch in the contest will be DT Aaron Donald. Donald is one of, if not the, best defensive tackle in the NFL. No one has a quicker first step off the snap than the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year. He should give our next ProCane, Calais Campbell, a serious run for some hardware at the annual NFL awards in a month.

Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday 1:05PM EDT

It’s been a long time coming for both of the franchises in this game. Oddly enough, the last time the Buffalo Bills made it to the playoffs was in 1999, when they lost in what became known as the ‘Music City Miracle’ to the Tennessee Titans. The last time Duvall County and the Jacksonville Jaguars hosted a playoff game was also in 1999, defeating the Dolphins and then suffering a loss at home the following week to those same Titans. With Jacksonville’s last playoff win coming just over a decade ago in 2007 and the Bills’ in 1995, one of these franchises will be cursing their luck come Sunday night.

Similar to the Chiefs’ DE Allen Bailey, Jaguars’ DL Calais Campbell’s last playoff appearance also came in the 2015 postseason. A much different player now than when he was a member of the Cardinals, Campbell put together a career-best regular season that no one could have fathomed when he signed with Jacksonville in free agency. His 14.5 sacks in the regular season tied him with Cowboys’ DE Demarcus Lawrence and were two-and-a-half back of league leader Arizona’s DE Chandler Jones. Going against a Bills’ offense this week that may not have the services of RB LeSean McCoy, Jacksonville should be primed to not only dominate the line of scrimmage, but have the Bills playing into their strengths. Bills’ QB Tyrod Taylor is a one-read-and-scramble QB that only has a couple reads on a given passing play. With Pro Bowl corners AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey locking up outside receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Deonte Thompson, it should play in the Jacksonville’s favor.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans
Looking out for QB Blake Bortles best interests, C Brandon Linder will be tasked with keeping his QB clean against the Bills on Sunday.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

If that is the case, then the onus is on the Jaguars’ offense to make the most of each possession. C Brandon Linder had a good regular season, and has helped what was once a dreary offensive line become more balanced. In the final game of the regular season last weekend, the former Hurricanes’ guard did not allow a single pressure while in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, that is the eighth time that Linder accomplished a clean sheet in the regular season. That said, Jacksonville’s offense is built around the run game, meaning that Linder is going to need to get a good push up the middle against Bills’ defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Adolphus Washington. If RB Leonard Fournette can get the running game going, then it could be quite the playoff ride for these cats.

That brings us to the big question of the game: Will Jaguars’ QB Blake Bortles be a positive factor for Jacksonville, or will he be the Bills’ best ally on Sunday? In the final two games of the regular season, Bortles had more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (two). The good news is that WR Allen Hurns returned to the lineup last weekend, looking refreshed and recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup for six games. Burning through healthy receivers all season long, Jacksonville can only hope that Hurns is able to provide some stability and comfort to Bortles moving forward. Lining across from an opportunistic Bills’ defense that has picked off 18 interceptions this season, Hurns should be the reassurance Bortles needs this week.

Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints Sunday 4:40PM EDT

The two most sure things in this game are that Saints’ DE Al-Quadin Muhammad will see few (if any) snaps in this game, unless there is another injury in the defensive line rotation. The other is that Panthers’ TE Greg Olsen will be one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets.

It wasn’t for lack of trying in the final week that Olsen had a one reception and 10 yards receiving day. Targeted 10 times, Olsen and Newton were unable to connect with one another in a game that would have helped their seeding. Because of that loss, the Panthers will be the visitors in Saints’ QB Drew Brees’ house, and be tasked with the unenviable mission of figuring out how to stop RB Alvin Kamara. It’s funny that over a decade ago Sean Payton and the Saints drafted a RB out of USC named Reggie Bush to line up all over the field and make a significant impact. It didn’t work out, but Kamara—who was a third round selection—has been the player that this franchise thought they had when they selected Bush all those years ago.

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers
It’s unlikely that TE Greg Olsen will be this wide open against the Saints on Sunday.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

This will also be Olsen’s ninth postseason game of his career. At age 32, the tight end still has tread on the tires at the position, serving not just as a good receiver but an excellent blocker on the line of scrimmage. Olsen should be in his best form of the season after suffering from a broken bone in his foot that kept him out for much of the early part of the season. The Panthers have the fourth highest rushing average in the league with 4.3 yards-per-run. However, the team has become more reliant on Cam Newton’s legs instead of handing off to running backs Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart. With WR Devin Funchess and a group of unknowns filling out the rest of the receiving corp, it could be up to Newton and Olsen to form that familiar bond to carry the Panthers back the Super Bowl.

CB Ladarius Gunter did not play last week. With the exception of two snaps against his former team, Green Bay, he has not played in another game all season. Gunter will be inactive throughout Carolina’s playoff run.

Black Sunday in the NFL

Normally the big head coach firings don’t happen until the following day, but some teams are just itching to get rid of guys that they feel have not lived up to expectations.

One of those names was Chuck Pagano. A former grad assistant as well as secondary and special teams coach at the University of Miami, Pagano has strong ties with the U from having worked under Butch Davis. Regarded as one of the more brilliant defensive strategists before being tapped as the Colts’ head coach, Pagano was expected to bring balance to a franchise that became a joke on that side of the ball. The Colts made strides, but ultimately did not meet the expectations that would have helped Pagano keep his job. There should be plenty of suitors in both the NFL and college ranks looking to bring Pagano in as defensive coordinator. His unemployment should be short-lived should he choose it to be.

NFL: NOV 08 Broncos at Colts
Pagano (far left) and Chudzinski (second left) could have used more Luck on the field in 2017.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

One of Pagano’s staff members was another man with ties to UM. Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski worked as a graduate assistant, tight ends coach and then offensive coordinator from 1994–2003. Chudzinski was one of many head coaches to try and correct the ills of the Browns with no success, his four wins are three more than the current Browns’ head coach, Hue Jackson. After getting canned by Cleveland, Chudzinski joined Pagano in Indianapolis, working his way up to offensive coordinator. This season was trying, especially with the absence of QB Andrew Luck due to a shoulder injury. Should Chudzinski not be retained by the future head coach, the offensive coordinator could fall anywhere, be it pro football or the NFL in the near future.

Ed Reed Returning to the sidelines?

While it’s not the NFL, Former Hurricanes safety Ed Reed dropped some knowledge on some future gridiron hopefuls at the Under Armour All-American Game. Reed last coached in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills under head coach Rex Ryan as an assistant defensive back coach during the 2016 season. There was talk this week that University of Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops would ask Reed to join his staff in the upcoming season.

Here’s an interview that Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post conducted with the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year regarding his coaching future, specifically as it pertains to helping Miami build for the future. For Reed, it has always been a question of when and where his next coaching opportunity would be. Sounds like Reed should be returning to the sideline in some form in 2018.

Highsmith taking his talents to ‘The Land’

NFL: Green Bay Packers-Training Camp Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

After it was announced that GM Ted Thompson would be transitioning from general manager to senior advisor of football operations, there was a chance that former Hurricanes fullback and current Green Bay Packer personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith would be a candidate for the general manager position. However, feeling that he wouldn’t even get the opportunity to interview for GM role with Packers, Highsmith has decided to reunite with new Browns’ GM John Dorsey, having been unofficially hired by Cleveland to be the team’s new vice president of Football Operations. The pair worked together for the Packers from 2000–2012.

There is plenty of turnover expected on the Browns roster after finishing 0–16 in the 2017 regular season. The Browns have two ProCanes on the roster in RB Duke Johnson Jr and TE David Njoku. You can now add a front office executive to that contingent.

Quick Outs

  • QB Stephen Morris has signed a s reserve/future contract with the Washington Redskins.
  • Calais Campbell was named a First Team AP All-Pro this past weekend. Campbell was a Second Team All-Pro in 2016.
  • Quick Aside: A reserve/future contract can be offered to players as soon as the regular season is complete. They are similar to a regular contract with the exception that they don’t count to a team’s salary cap until the following season. By signing a player to a reserve/future contract, said player is the property of the team until he is either released of waived. Consider it the NFL’s version of calling dibs on player fore training camp.
  • Giants LT Ereck Flowers is adamant that it was and injury and not being benched that kept him out of a Week 17 game against Washington.
  • According to Peter Ariz of Canesinsight.com TE Christopher Herndon IV has agreed to be represented by First Round Management and Marketing.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!