Thursday, June 28, 2012

Camp Keepers: Jake Muasau, LB, New York Giants by Damond Talbot on Jun 22, 2012 12:32 PM EDT in 2012 NFL Draft

Jake Muasau has not always had an easy road ahead of him, but the 6’1, 243 pound Samoan who has long hair like Troy Polamalu is continuing to make huge strides in his life. Born in Tacoma, Washington to a family of Samoan immigrants, Jake’s parents came to the U.S. in search of a better life. Jake would spend the early part of his childhood in Los Angeles, California before moving to Phoenix, Arizona. Jake played both Safety and Wide Receiver in High School at Buena High School. Jake and his brother Louie who is a year older, both began playing football in their freshman year of high school. Louie had quite a bit of looks from Division 1 football teams, before getting hurt his senior year. When Louie sustained his injury he lost his scholarships, and Jake began hanging around the wrong crowd, and his grades began to drop. Louie enrolled at Phoenix College, and it wouldn’t be long that because of Jake’s grades he would soon follow. Jake had offers from Division 1 schools but his SAT score wasn’t were the schools wanted it to be. Jake went to Phoenix College to play again with his brother before they were both given scholarships to play for Georgia State.

Both Jake and Louie excelled at Georgia State where both lined up at the linebacker position and talk their native language to disrupt the players on the other side of the ball. Jake is Georgia State's career leader in tackles for loss (16.5) and interceptions (3), along with 106 career tackles, seven sacks, four fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles. Jake was the top playmaker on the Georgia State defense in the Panthers' first two seasons. Jake was voted by his teammates as GSU's Most Valuable Defensive Player for 2010 and 2011. Plays the hybrid outside linebacker position known as Bandit in the GSU scheme, and is now being used as a Linebacker for the New York Giants. Since most of the fans wanted to know more about Jake, I figured I would ask him some personal questions before we go into Camp Keepers, so you can hear more from Jake since this is his first time on Mocking the Draft.

What is your favorite genre of Music?

I would have to say Reggae or Gospel music, I listen to both of them a ton. I love getting my spirits flowing.

Do you have any pre-game rituals?

I always watch the video from Any Given Sunday on Al Pacino’s speech. Before every game, I am always going to watch that video. I also have to listen to Reggae Music and pray before I go into the game. It helps me stay focused.

What does your brother Louie think of you making it to the NFL?

He is really excited for me, he still has one year left of eligibility, but because of injuries he will not be able to play his senior year. Both my brothers Matt and Louie have been great, and do a great job at keeping me humble.

What was the most traumatic thing that has ever happened in your life?

I would have to say when my brother and I were in a group home, and we received a phone call from our Aunt telling us our father had passed away. Our oldest brother was incarcerated in Arizona, and my mother was struggling with health issues, and then to add to that Aunt called to tell us that our Father passed. It was definitely the hardest part of my life, and it is when I really began to focus on the bigger picture.

If you found a genie lamp and could get three wishes, what would they be?

I would say to see my Father once again, and see his reaction to how life has been, because we share the same birthday, and I miss him a lot. The second wish would be able to provide for my mother who has always done her best to provide for us, and the third wish to be able to give back to the community and be part of something bigger than football. Helping foundations and youth kids, I really want to help the kids not just in my community but around the world.

Who would you compare yourself to as a player in the NFL?

I am still trying to establish myself as a player, but I am still a UDFA. I have to establish myself first. They gave me number 43 so you know people are comparing me to Troy Polamalu because of my hair. We are both very spiritual and I hope I can live up to his skills; it is great to see people comparing me to him.

Take me to the draft, did you receive any calls?

No I didn’t, I didn’t receive a call from anybody, I watched the third day because I knew the Giants were interested in a Linebacker, but I didn’t get the call during the draft. So I left and went to my cousin's house for a BBQ.

Where were you when you answered the call from the New York Giants?

I was at my cousin’s house for a barbeque, and it was about an hour after the draft, I received a call from the Giants scout. I stepped in a secluded room to take the call, and he told me that I would be given a workout with them on a tryout basis. That is all I asked for, and I was so thankful for that. I stepped outside and told everyone to gather around. I told the family that I had a workout with the New York Giants and the family went nuts. They were so excited for me, I had a really emotional moment with my older brother.

What has been the biggest change so far from Georgia State to the New York Giants?

The biggest change has to be change of position, it is very different playing Mike. You have to worry about a lot more, but I like it. Louie my brother played Middle Linebacker, and I remember telling him about how much responsibility he had. It has been going really well though, I like it, I am the quarterback of the defense.

Who was the first person you signed an autograph for in a Giants uniform, and what did you sign?

It was the week after I signed, my mentor and my brother came to the city because none of us have ever been there before. While in the city, there was a guy who took pictures of you with any background. After taking a picture with my brother and mentor, we were able to choose a background. I asked the gentlemen if he had a New York Giants background for the picture, he told me that he actually just created one but he has never used it. It showed a picture of the Super Bowl Trophy and it was really nice. So I chose it, my mentor was bumping me to get me to tell him that I had just signed, but I didn’t want to just come out and be arrogant or say I am a Giant. So my mentor bumped me again and said, tell him, the man turned at me and said tell me what? So I told him I just signed with the New York Giants. The guy was a diehard fan, he was wearing an older New York Giants Red hat and you could tell he had it for a long time. He asked me to sign it, and as a player that was the first autograph I had signed for anybody as a Giant.

What is it like to be in a locker room with the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants?

It is an amazing feeling, every day to go to work, to be in the same locker room with JPP, Eli Manning and Justin Tuck. I still get star struck sometimes, I look to my right and see JPP and Osi sitting there, it’s an amazing feeling. They are good genuine people, and it is a blessing to be around the some of the best players in the NFL.

Has there been any players that have kind of guided you so far in the OTA’s?

Chase Blackburn, he is a great guy, and a tremendous athlete. All the linebackers have really embraced me, but Chase has been very good and helpful. He sits with me in the meeting room; he will take the time to break it down if I have a question. He is one of the smartest guys in the locker room, and he has been very helpful, and is the first person I go to if I have a question.

Do you feel you have something to prove since you were an UDFA?

Most definitely, I have a big chip on my shoulder. Especially coming from a small school, I had to come out on a rookie tryout basis, but I am determined, and focused. I think the chip on my shoulder is a little bigger than others. I use it as motivation in everything I do, from sprints, to workouts to practice.

Where have you been lining up on the field, and are you playing special teams as well?

I have been lining up Middle Linebacker, and they starting moving me up on the depth chart on Special Teams. That is my number 1 goal, to make an impact on Special teams, I want to be depended on, and I cannot wait come preseason.

Who is the toughest player you have had to go up against so far in camp?

That is hard to say, because there is no contact, ask me that question after the first week of practice with pads, and I will let you know.

What player do you see as the vocal leader on the New York Giants defense, who is the guy that is getting people ready so far in camp?

There are a few that are pretty vocal, but if I was to say one player I would have to say Chase Blackburn again. He is so smart, he knows what everyone’s job is and he makes sure everyone is on the same page. He is a good player and a good person, he has been a huge help to me.

The Giants fans at Mocking the Draft have wanted an interview with you for a while, how does that make you feel?

Man, honestly I feel honored, because it is such is amazing feeling. I have done a few interviews during media day, but I didn’t know that my name has been flowing through Giants fans, and the community. I hope I can make you all happy and I want to be a Giant. It has been a great experience, and I would like to thank Mocking the Draft to help me get my story out there.

What would you tell other small school prospects who are coming out of school this year?

Don’t quit, I am a small school kid and I know I come from nowhere, but you can be anything you want to. I wasn’t given a contract I had to earn it, and as a small school player, you have to earn a lot of things. Believe in yourself though, and stay humble.

Is there anyone you would like to thank for helping you develop the way you did, throughout college?

God, that is first and foremost, then my family, my mother, my oldest brothers and all my immediate family. My family has always been there with me, they are the ones that have been there to make sure I stay humble.

So now it is the real question, Jake is playing linebacker for the Super Bowl winning New York Giants, last year an undrafted wide receiver named Victor Cruz came out the wood work to become a huge asset for the Giants, do you think Jake could be the next big Diamond in the Rough for the G-Men? If he wants to make this squad he will have to compete with guys like Chase Blackburn, Mark Herzlich and others at the linebacker spot in Perry Fewell’s defense.

I would like to thank the Giants organization for setting up the interview w/ Jake and I wish Jake the best of luck with his experience in New York. The readers at Mocking the Draft are excited to have you in this article and are hoping to see big things from you this year.

Lofa Tatupu tries to bounce back with Atlanta | NFL

Lofa Tatupu started to believe his career was over as he spent the 2011 season away football. After his release from the Seattle Seahawks...

By The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Lofa Tatupu started to believe his career was over as he spent the 2011 season away football.

After his release from the Seattle Seahawks before last season, Tatupu said his only chances with other teams were as an outside linebacker. Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker with Seattle, wasn't looking to change positions.

When he realized he wasn't going to play last season he began to lose hope and considered filing his retirement papers.

"At a certain point, I just stopped working out," Tatupu said Tuesday. "I thought it was over. I was really ready to send those papers in."

A call this year from Tatupu's agent, Fletcher Smith, changed the linebacker's outlook.

"He called me and said, 'Do you want to go play?' " Tatupu said. "I said absolutely. He told me the options and I said 'Yes, I'm going to go work out right now.' "

One of those options was the Atlanta Falcons, who need help at the position after Curtis Lofton signed with the Saints.

Tatupu, 29, opened minicamp with the Falcons on Tuesday, competing with Akeem Dent for the starting middle linebacker job and relishing the rebirth of his career.

"I'm excited about the whole process and just being back playing ball again," Tatupu said.

Tatupu signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with Atlanta.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Tatupu is expected to push Dent, a third-round pick from Georgia in 2011.

"Lofa is a very experienced player and we anticipate he and Akeem should have a good battle this training camp," Smith said.

The Falcons re-signed many of their free agents but the loss of Lofton, who led the team in tackles the past three years, was significant.

"I just hope I bring the veteran leadership," Tatupu said. "I know Curtis, he's a hell of a ballplayer and I know they're missing that with his departure. I'm hoping to take up where he left off."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lineman Foketi says K-State won’t grant his transfer request

The Kansas City Star

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Even though Manase Foketi has one season of football eligibility remaining, his time at Kansas State is over.

Foketi, a left tackle, graduated with a degree in criminal justice in May, and is currently living in Fontana, Calif., with his family. He hasn’t worked out with the K-State football team since spring practices ended, and while his teammates have been on campus for summer school he has been exercising at his former junior college, waiting to be released from his scholarship.

But that may never happen.

Foketi, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder who started 13 games at left tackle as a junior and opened his senior year in 2011 as a starter before suffering a season-ending injury early on, said he requested his release two months ago. K-State will not grant him one.

“I want to move on and close this chapter in my life, but they aren’t letting me. They are blocking me and have denied my transfer request,” Foketi said by phone. “I have no hard feelings toward them, but it’s just the way it is. If someone isn’t comfortable somewhere they should have the right to leave. I don’t know how they are able to hold me.”

Foketi said his request was initially denied by K-State football coach Bill Snyder and that he appealed that decision. He said he was informed earlier this week on a conference call with athletic director John Currie, Snyder and academic personnel that his request was still denied.

K-State makes it clear in its student-athlete handbook that transfers aren’t always granted. The handbook reads: “Except for the most compelling of circumstances, which place an undue burden on the student athlete, it is the policy of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics not to grant a release for purposes of a transfer.”

Wildcats basketball players have been granted transfer releases for various reasons in recent years. But football players have found the process more difficult. For example, K-State denied a transfer release for former wide receiver/running back LaMark Brown two years ago before he landed at Division II Minnesota State.

In this case, the debate seems to center around Foketi’s injury and the medical redshirt he was given afterward.

“They were saying that I owe it to K-State to play another year for them,” Foketi said. “It was something dumb like that. I got hurt and they gave me my year back and now they want me to play my senior year for them. They say I owe them.

“Well, I’ve never redshirted before. This was my first redshirt year. It’s not like they had to fight for it. I’ve got my degree. I don’t see what else there is to do at Kansas State.”

Currie did not return a message on a cell phone seeking comment. A K-State spokesman said Snyder was unavailable for comment.

Foketi said he began seeking a transfer for two main reasons. First, his relationship with offensive line coach Charlie Dickey began deteriorating after he got hurt. Foketi said Dickey regularly reminded him of how well K-State performed with Foketi on the sideline. He didn’t feel like he fit into their scheme moving forward.

“Me and him always bumped heads,” Foketi said.

Second, he has a desire to finish his college career closer to home.

He thinks both are acceptable reasons for seeking a transfer, and says he will contact the NCAA about further appeal options.

Foketi hoped to obtain a waiver that would take advantage of his graduate status, and allow him to transfer to another Division I program and play right away as long as the new school offered a graduate program not available at K-State.

But without consent from K-State’s athletic department, he may only be able to transfer to a lower level. Though Foketi has only played three full seasons of college football – two at Mt. San Antonio College in Hesperia, Calif., and one at K-State – his eligibility expires in one year. Without a waiver, Division I athletes have five years to complete four years of eligibility. He can’t sit out a year and continue playing in 2013, as would be the case with most transfers.

An NCAA spokesman said Foketi may be able to transfer to a Division II school and play next year regardless of his status with K-State. Though not the ideal path for someone who has proven himself in the Big 12, Foketi said he would gladly explore such an option if it meant he could continue playing.

The only place he says he won’t play next year is K-State.

“I am 100 percent leaving,” Foketi said. “After all this stuff, there is no way I am going back.”

Had Foketi decided to return, he would have likely played a key role on K-State’s offensive line. He would have been one of the most experienced players of the group, and could have anchored the unit alongside standout sophomore B.J. Finney.

His departure will be viewed by some as a big loss. Foketi doesn’t think that’s a reason he should have to stay.

“I’ve done all the right things,” Foketi said. “It’s not like I’ve done anything illegal. I was a starter, I went to all my classes, I graduated and I put in my transfer request. I don’t understand why they blocked everything.”

Kentwood’s Toeaina signs on with Huskies | Track and field

Covington Reporter Reporter
June 19, 2012 · Updated 5:04 PM

Recent Kentwood graduate Alyx Toeaina has signed on with the University of Washington to throw for the Huskies track and field team.

Toeaina, who lives next to Kentwood, stated that she signed with the university for a partial scholarship the first week into the track season.

“I wanted to get it out of the way so I wouldn’t have to worry about it during the season,” she said. “I wanted to stay closer to home.”

Toeaina finished her final track season as a Conqueror with two silver medals at the state championship in discus and shotput, throwing distances of 130 feet, nine inches and 43 feet, 03.5 inches respectively. As a junior she took first place at state in the discus with a throw of 136-03.

Toeaina started out freshman year in 2009 with a 12th place at state in the shotput and ninth at districts. With a natural talent to throw, Toaeina said she improved due to the intense competition she had at the various invitationals she was able to go to.

“It built up my competitiveness,” she said. “I was up against people who were better than me.”

Her sophomore year Toeaina made large gains, taking fifth at state in the shotput and qualifying for state in the discus, where she ultimately placed fourth. Her junior year, she secured third at state in the shotput and the gold medal in discus.

Much like the Conks girls team, which place third this year after taking the state title in 2011, Toeaina said she struggled to repeat the same level of success.

“It wasn’t as good as last year,” she said. “In discus I was all over the place. I wasn’t as consistent (as shotput).”

In addition to track, she was also able to use her explosive power on the court with the Conks volleyball team, which took second at state in November.

With a summer training program already in place, Toeaina hopes to build on her throwing talent during her time as a Husky. At the moment, she said she is considering studying either psychology or business, but has no definite career ideas yet.

“I’m just continuing my track career and see where that leads,” she said.

Toeaina also has a younger sister, Sarah, who will be a junior in the fall. Sarah Toeaina qualified for state in several running and hurdling events in addition to her roles on Kentwood’s volleyball and girls basketball squads.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

3-time Pro Bowl LB Lofa Tatupu relishing his career revival at 29 with Atlanta Falcons

David Goldman/Associated Press - Atlanta Falcons’ Lofa Tatupu takes part in an NFL
football practice at minicamp, Tuesday, June 19, 2012, in Flowery Branch, Ga.

By Associated Press, Updated: Tuesday, June 19, 3:41 PM

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Lofa Tatupu says he started to believe his career was over as he spent the 2011 season away football.

Following his release from the Seattle Seahawks, Tatupu says his only chances with other teams were as an outside linebacker. He was a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker with Seattle.

When he realized he wasn’t going to play last season he finally stopped working out. He says he even thought it was time to file his retirement papers.

Instead, Tatupu is enjoying a new start with the Atlanta Falcons, who needed help at the position after Curtis Lofton signed with the Saints.

The 29-year-old Tatupu opened minicamp with the Falcons on Tuesday, competing with Akeem Dent for the starting job and relishing the rebirth of his career.

Haloti Ngata Made More Money Over Last 12 Months Than Any Athlete Playing A Team Sport

By Zach Wilt, on June 19th, 2012

Even with a salary cap, football somehow seemed to give the biggest pay day of the last 12 months.

According to Mike McCartney, who cites Forbes, Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata earned $37.1 million in salary and bonuses over the last year which is more than any other athlete playing a team sport.

Well done, Haloti. Congratulations.

If you gave me Ngata and four other options and asked me to pick the highest paid over the last year, I would’ve picked anyone else. I guess I had no idea just how much of a pay day he’s received.

Ngata’s numbers took a dip last season, but I don’t blame that on a fat check. He seemed to be playing injured most of the year.

He’ll definitely be earning that paycheck this season though with Terrell Suggs on the shelf for most of the year.

Deuce is an Ace

Post by Dave Boling / The News Tribune on June 19, 2012 at 6:26 am with 25 Comments »

Good morning. Here’s my column on new Seahawks guard Deuce Lutui. What an interesting guy. I suspect he was somewhat of a villain to Seahawks fans when he played for the Cardinals. It seemed he was always going after linebacker Lofa Tatupu, his old USC teammate. But he’s a very community-involved and thoughtful man who has powered through some grave challenges in his life and career. That he has gotten himself in impressive condition speaks to his motivation.

Coach Pete Carroll loves his spirit and his locker-room presence. His on-field effect should be even more positive. Right now, he’s slotted behind John Moffitt at right guard. Consider this is a guy with 72 NFL starts now available for fill-in duty. The quality of O-line depth is one of the unnoticed upgrades for this team. And Lutui is a big part of it.

Haloti Ngata among the world's highest-paid ... - The Baltimore Sun

By Matt Vensel

11:00 a.m. EDT, June 19, 2012
Forbes released its list of the world’s highest-paid athletes on Monday, and one of the biggest names on the Ravens defense is ranked 12th on the list. I’ll give you a hint: It is not Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs or Ed Reed.

 Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who signed a five-year, $61 million extension with the Ravens last September, earned $37.1 million in salary and bonuses over the past 12 months, which was more than any other athlete playing a team sport. Throw in the $200,000 that he made in endorsements and Ngata raked in $37.3 million.

That’s roughly 746,000 jugs of Lubriguard -- one of Ngata’s endorsements -- in case you were wondering.

Download The Baltimore Sun's new iPhone app.

Ngata has made three consecutive Pro Bowls and is regarded as one of the NFL's top defensive tackles. Ngata made a career-high 64 tackles, recorded five sacks and forced two fumbles in 2011.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather was first on the Forbes list at $85 million, followed by boxer Manny Pacquiao, golfer Tiger Woods, Miami Heat forward LeBron James and tennis star Roger Federer.

Rounding out the top 10 were Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, golfer Phil Mickelson, soccer players David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Soccer player Lionel Messi came in at No. 11.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Troy Polamalu facing his own football mortality

6/10/2012 8:18:46 PM Share on email

Troy Polamalu turned 31 in April and will be playing in his 10th NFL season. Polamalu broke personal tradition to attend organized team activities this spring, working around his training schedule with Marv Marinovich (Todd’s father) in California because he sensed he was needed.

“More than any other year, the face of this franchise has changed,” Polamalu told Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We lost a lot of great leadership.”

Polamalu relaizes he is in the twilight of his career and the end could come soon.

“I’ve never thought about the end of my career. I’ve had this growing motto in my life to live day to day — and when you live day to day, it’s hard to talk years.”

Even with that Polamalu knows the dangers he faces on the football field.

“People are paralyzed on a football field. People die,” Polamalu said. “You just never know when it’s going to be your last moment. I was the kind of guy who would never talk to my wife on game day. Now I’m the guy who’s like, ‘I love you.’ I want my children to know I love them because I don’t know what’s going to happen out there. I’m not trying to play the martyr here. I love football. It’s something we choose to do. We all know how much of a gamble it is to play this game.”

Manti Te’o Posted on June 13, 2012 by Chris Fleck

They grow up so fast. Can you believe Manti Te’o, the highly touted and dominant linebacker who graduated in blue and gold from Punahou in 2009, will enter his senior year at Notre Dame this fall? Te’o, who, in the opinion of many college and NFL analysts, would have been a first-round draft pick in this past April’s NFL draft, opted to return to Notre Dame to earn his degree, work on his leadership abilities and hone in on perfecting his trade as one of the nation’s most ferocious linebackers.

Te’o, a 6-foot-2-inch, 255-pound defensive specialist, is excited to wrap up his degree in graphic design, as he has had aspirations of becoming an architectural engineer.

“I always wanted to be an architectural engineer, but the engineering program is a six-year program, so I wouldn’t have finished on time with football. The next closest was to be a design major. I am a graphic design major, but also taking industrial design classes,” says Te’o, who was on MidWeek‘s cover March 18, 2009. “I love having the ability to design and create – to have an idea and to be able to create it into a three-dimensional object.”

Even with his tough demeanor and tenacious ability to get after opposing ball carriers, Te’o had his difficulties – as thousands of young college students do – in finding a comfort zone while acclimating to campus life at Notre Dame.

“It was hard coming from a place where you know everybody and you’re in a comfort zone. Then you go to a place that’s a whole new environment. For an 18-year-old, that can be a little overwhelming at times,” says Te’o, who couldn’t be more thankful in having his best friend Robby Toma with him throughout this maturation process.

“I don’t think I’d be able to transition as I did without him. He didn’t notice it, but just him being there made it not as difficult as it could’ve been. He helped me realize there are a lot of people who depend on me,” he adds.

Going on four years later, it appears Te’o has transitioned extremely well, especially on the football field. An All-American linebacker, he has a sound grasp on infusing both his natural athletic ability with leadership qualities. As coaches, analysts and the public have expectations for Te’o this year, he too has expectations for himself.

“I want to be a leader, make sure everyone is on the same page and playing beyond the interest of themselves. If we have 11 guys playing for each other, there shouldn’t be a team that can beat us,” says Te’o, who follows the leadership examples of some pretty reputable NFL greats.

“I definitely grew up watching Ray Lewis, I really like the way he plays; Sean Taylor and the way he attacked the ball. Troy Polamalu and Jerry Rice’s work ethic I look up to. I’ve always respected Junior Seau and how he always portrayed the Samoan culture. All these guys, I try to carry what they’ve already done and incorporate that in my game.”

Tatupu, Dent Are Facing Classic Position Battle

Lofa Tatupu and Akeem Dent have spent the OTAs learning the middle linebacker role in Mike Nolan’s scheme. Once training camp begins they’ll put everything they’ve learned — and taught each other — to the test as they face off to determine who will be the team’s next starting middle linebacker.

The Falcons have a job opening at middle linebacker and this offseason heading into training camp it’s shaping up to be a classic kind of battle: Veteran vs. Youngster.

With the loss of four-year starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in free agency, the Falcons signed former All-Pro Lofa Tatupu to come into camp and compete with 2011 third-round linebacker Akeem Dent. Tatupu missed all of last season as he sat out recuperating from injuries and Dent spent the majority of his time as a special teams ace.

This season Tatupu is healthy and Dent has a shot at the job.

On Wednesday, linebackers coach Glenn Pires said Tatupu’s background has helped him come in quickly and learn the system. The foundation for what is shaping up to be a hotly-contested training camp battle is being laid now and it’s Tatupu’s experience against Dent’s youthful enthusiasm.

Tatupu’s resume speaks for itself and Dent is still writing his. Pires helped the young linebacker out a little and described a player who is committed to doing everything he can to win the job the right way.

“He’s a very detailed, diligent guy,” Pires said. “He wants to do it the way we do it. He’s a team guy that way. He’s going to be exactly where he’s supposed to be. Now, he’s got the explosiveness to go make a play. He’s a very consceientous guy, a great team guy.”

The best part about the two players is the degree to which they’re helping each other win the job. It’s a frequently asked question around the league: How do you handle your relationship with a player you’re competing against. Time and time again the answer is the same: We just want what is best for the team. The same is true in the Tatupu-Dent relationship.

When Dent saw that Lofton would be departing the Falcons, he knew he’d have a shot. Even with the addition of Tatupu, he still has a shot and he works the relationship just as he did with Lofton, trying to learn everything he can from a veteran who has seen success in the league.

“Bringing in Lofa, it’s the same way,” Dent said. “We’re always inside watching film together. He still brings those leadership qualities that Curt (Lofton) had. It’s working out well… It’s great for me. I’m a competitor. He’s a competitor. He’s been around and knows the game. I’m just a guy that is willing to go in and do whatever it takes to help my team.”

New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan runs a scheme that often utilizes six defensive backs requiring one linebacker to come off the field. Occasionally that linebacker will be the middle linebacker, but Dent says that doesn’t change the way he and Tatupu will man the position under Nolan.

“It all depends on the call or the situation,” Dent said. “Most of the time it’s the same as any other linebacker. You have to run and hit. That’s the main thing. As a defensive unit, we have to go out and bring a lot of fight and attitude and run around and make plays.”

According to head coach Mike Smith, the playing field is even since all the linebackers are learning a new scheme. With starting linebacker Stephen Nicholas out of the OTAs recovering from an injury, Smith said Dent is getting a lot more reps. To earn the job at the end of training camp, Dent — or Tatupu for that matter — will have to emerge as “one of the three best linebackers.”

One of the buzz words of the offseason has been “competition.” Smith and his staff have upgraded and stocked the roster in a number of key positions with the hope of raising the level of competition among his team. Few jobs are guaranteed and players with strong offseasons and training camps can emerge as starters.

Tatupu vs. Dent will be one of exciting battles to watch once training camp begins.

Clothes? Giants' Muasau just wants a uniform Originally published: June 16, 2012 1:55 AM

One of the first phone calls Jake Muasau made was to his older brother, Louie. He wanted to share the good news: After a tryout during the rookie minicamp in May, he'd just been invited to sign a free-agent contract with the Giants. But he had other more pressing issues, too.

He needed his brother to send him some clothes. Muasau would be sticking around New Jersey and he'd brought only two outfits with him for the tryout.

Muasau's wardrobe now is the least of his worries. He's still a long shot to make the Giants' 53-man roster at the end of training camp, and even a spot on the eight-man practice squad seems out of reach from the bottom of the depth chart. He's essentially the 90th man on a 90-man team, and the last one in is often the first to go.

But the Giants' coaches have been raving about him since he arrived . . . even if they haven't always known who he is.

When Perry Fewell first saw Muasau in the Giants' complex, he was disappointed. He spotted the long, flowing Samoan hair from behind and thought veteran Kawika Mitchell had come back to the team. Fewell had to hide his disappointment when Muasau turned around and started beaming about how excited he was to be here.

Fewell said earlier this spring that he still hadn't quite figured out how to pronounce Muasau's last name -- he just calls him Jake -- but he's no longer disappointed. In fact, he's practically thrilled.

"We saw something in him at the rookie minicamp and we said, 'Let's give this guy a shot,' " Fewell said. "He's really professional about how he went about his work and his business. We think if we give him the opportunity to get reps at the position he's playing right now, we might find something. Obviously, preseason games will tell, but we like what we've seen in the rookie minicamp and we like what we've seen in these three OTAs."

Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann went even further, saying Muasau will "have a legitimate chance to make the team." Not bad, considering the depth the Giants have at linebacker.

Muasau can play outside linebacker, as he did at Georgia State, but Fewell said he "looks more like a natural Mike than some of the guys we have."

"Middle linebacker, you're the quarterback of the defense," Muasau said. "You can't sit in no-man's land because then the rest of the defense is sitting the same way. It definitely gives me an opportunity to really lead the defense and try to get everybody on one page."

At Georgia State, Muasau was an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, essentially a stand-up defensive end. His size is not imposing -- he's listed at 6-1, 243 pounds -- but he has good speed and athleticism.

"I'll be very interested in seeing how he performs when we get to training camp and we get to preseason," Fewell said.

Muasau's path to the NFL -- even the fringes of the league, where he currently resides -- has been arduous. He grew up in difficult circumstances in Arizona, sometimes homeless, and could not afford to play organized football until he got to high school. It was there that he flourished as a wide receiver and defensive back, and he even made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Nebraska.

Low SAT scores and an off-field incident involving the selling of prescription pills forced the Cornhuskers to rescind their scholarship offer, so Muasau went to junior college at Phoenix College, where his brother Louie was playing.

They were together for two years at Phoenix, then went to Georgia State together as part of the fledgling program's first recruiting class.

"We tried to see if we could stay together and transfer out to a university," Muasau said. "Georgia State just happened to be the only school that would take us both. They offered us both and we decided to go to Georgia State. Being a new program, we wanted to help set the foundation at Georgia State."

After two years, Jake is on the cusp of the NFL. Louie is finishing his degree and plans on being a graduate assistant at Georgia State this fall. Both had dreams of playing in the NFL, but because of Louie's knee injuries, only Jake has made it this far.

"I guess I'm just holding it down for the both of us," he said.

He won't be playing next to his brother for the first time since his senior year in high school, but Muasau does know a familiar face on the Giants' roster. He and last year's first-round pick, Prince Amukamara, competed against each other as school kids in Arizona and nearly were teammates at Nebraska.

"It's crazy how growing up together, we could have wound up at the same university," Muasau said, "but we just had different paths, and now you look at us four or five years later, we're in the same locker room. It's a true blessing, especially with a guy who I used to share these type of dreams with . . . It's amazing to sit back and talk about your childhood with someone who was there as well."

Amukamara said he remembers lining up against Muasau when they were in different tournaments and workouts for elite players. Back then, Muasau was a wide receiver and Amukamara would cover him. They kept in touch a little bit through college but hadn't seen each other until Muasau showed up with the Giants a few weeks ago.

"I guess he filled in," Amukamara said of the difference in size between high school receiver and NFL linebacker. "Those Samoans always get big like that."

Amukamara chortled when asked if he still could cover Muasau, a kind of what-do-you-think? confidence. Muasau laughed at the thought, too. But he doesn't have to worry about it.

Said Muasau, "I'm on the same side of the ball as him now."

Ravens' Ngata focused on upcoming season

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2012 6:37 pm | Updated: 11:37 pm, Fri Jun 15, 2012.
OWINGS MILLS — An unsuspecting Rashard Mendenhall didn’t even have an instant to brace himself for the impact.

Unblocked and ignored for some reason by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line, Baltimore Ravens All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata powerfully charged through the line and delivered a crushing hit to Mendenhall.

Ngata engulfed the Steelers’ running back, forcing him to surrender the football for a forced fumble and fumble recovery during the Ravens’ 35-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to open last season.

Two weeks later, Ngata adeptly scooped up a Sam Bradford fumble against the St. Louis Rams and scooted 28 yards into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.

It was all the Ravens had hoped for when they signed Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract that included a $25 million signing bonus and a $10 million option bonus.

Although Ngata had an extremely respectable season as he finished with 65 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, he wasn’t the same dominant player by the end of last season.

A deep thigh bruise and double-team blocking schemes curtailed Ngata’s productivity. There were no sacks for Ngata following his two-sack game on Thanksgiving against the San Francisco 49ers. And he recorded just three tackles in the Ravens’ two playoff games.

“I had a couple of problems, but I just didn’t feel probably just as powerful at the end of the season as what I usually feel,” Ngata said. “I just didn’t feel that strong. So, I think a little bit this year I’m going to probably try to get up on the weight a little bit just to help me with some of that power. I think being a little bit lighter kind of made me lose some of that power.”

Now that he’s regained his health after getting down to 335 pounds last season, Ngata has commenced bulking up.

The Utah native says he’s up to 345 pounds, and he appeared even heavier than that during the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp. Ngata’s weight is deceptive because of his athleticism and big frame at 6-foot-4, but he definitely looked heavier than any point since his rookie season.

Ngata hopes to play at 340 to 345 pounds this season and maintain his trademark quickness.

Two years ago, he weighed 350 pounds when he made the Pro Bowl for the first time. During the NFL lockout, Ngata lost 20 pounds in an effort to upgrade his stamina.

“I still feel the same,” Ngata said. “That’s the thing, though. I felt more, not as winded, but I’m so used to playing at this weight anyway. So, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Although the Ravens had the NFL’s third-ranked defense last season and ranked second against the run and first in red-zone defense, Ngata seemed to wear down in the second half of the year other than a season-high 11 tackles against the Seattle Seahawks.

And Ngata emerged as an even more known commodity after forcing New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to fumble last season, a big play that led to a Jarret Johnson touchdown.

“Haloti was healthy most of the year, but those guys are never going to be 100 percent,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s trench warfare in there, and there are always going to be things.” He had a pretty deep thigh bruise as the year went on. Hopefully that won’t happen. Maybe we’ll get some thigh boards on those guys like the league wants to do. That’s just part of the game.

“They pretty much know Haloti, and he does get double-teamed, pretty much all the time. Some other guys rose to the occasion. Sure, he gets a lot of attention. They know who he is. The Jets game, if you think about that game for Haloti, was the one where they really struggled to block him.”

A three-time Pro Bowl selection in six NFL seasons, Ngata has registered 393 career tackles, 17 sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

The former first-round draft pick could become a marked man again with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs sidelined for at least the majority of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

“If they pay attention to me, then it will open up other guys,” Ngata said. “That’s how I feel.”

A week ago, Ravens majority owner Steve Bisciotti expressed optimism that Ngata could join Suggs, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed as the defending AFC North champions’ next NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“Terrell is the third player that [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and [assistant general manager] Eric [DeCosta] have drafted that has won Defensive Player of the Year, and we think we’ve got one in Haloti on the rise,” Bisciotti said. “Maybe it’s Haloti’s time this year.”

Humble and low-key, the athletic former rugby standout referenced the presence of Lewis, Reed and Suggs as being his primary roadblocks to winning the award.

“We have too many stars,” Ngata said with a laugh.

It’s been a dozen years since a defensive tackle was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, dating back to 1999 when Warren Sapp posted 12 1/2 sacks.

So, Ngata would be in some rarified company if he garners such an honor.

“That would be cool,” Ngata said. “It would be awesome to be Defensive Player of the Year because I think that would help our team get to a Super Bowl. If it happens, it happens, but that’s not something I’m thinking about.

“I just want to help our team win. If I actually get it, that would be really cool and that’s something that I would probably cherish. Whatever helps our team win, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Golf: Tony Finau wins Provo Open

| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published 1 hour ago • Updated 1 hour ago

Since graduating from West High School and turning pro, golfer Tony Finau has tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the PGA Tour. But he keeps showing signs of advancing in the game, with the latest evidence coming in Sunday’s victory in the 73rd Provo Open.

A two-time winner on the National Golf Tour this season, the 22-year-old Finau shot 64-67-65 for a total of 20-under-par 196, earning the $3,000 prize at East Bay Golf Course. He finished six strokes ahead of Farmington’s Zach Johnson, Provo’s Chris Moody and Utah Valley University golfer Mason Casper. Pete Stone finished fifth, another shot back.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

BYU football: BYU, Brandon Doman continue cultivating recruits from American Samoa

By Jeff Call, Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 7 2012 2:14 p.m. MDT
 “For BYU, coming on the island to recruit is only a natural thing for us to do. Our roots and our foundation of Polynesian culture has been here for years and years at BYU.”

Coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff are looking for talented players in American Samoa, and looking to strengthen the Polynesian Pipeline that has bolstered the Cougar football program for decades, dating back to the 1960s.
Blue roundup: Offensive coordinator...

“For BYU, coming on the island to recruit is only a natural thing for us to do. Our roots and our foundation of Polynesian culture has been here for years and years at BYU.”

Brandon Doman

PROVO — The first time Brandon Doman visited American Samoa — eight years ago — he and his wife were picking up their adopted son, a baby boy named Isaac Siaosi.

It was an unforgettable, emotional, and joyful experience for the Doman family. That was not long before Doman joined coach Bronco Mendenhall's staff at BYU.

Eight years later, in May, Doman returned to the Island as the Cougars' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. And this time, it was a business trip.

"I went by myself," Doman said. "This was strictly BYU football recruiting."

The four-day whirlwind visit, beginning with a 12-hour flight covering more than 5,000 miles, marked the first time a Cougar football coach had made an official recruiting trip to American Samoa in many years.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff are looking for talented players in American Samoa, and looking to strengthen the Polynesian Pipeline that has bolstered the Cougar football program for decades, dating back to the 1960s.

"For BYU, coming on the island to recruit is only a natural thing for us to do. Our roots and our foundation of Polynesian culture has been here for years and years at BYU," Doman said. "We have 37 Polynesian kids on our team, more than anybody in the country. It had been a few years since we had been (to American Samoa). It was very important that we return to the island. There are fans, alumni and former players on that Island that are supportive of BYU football and BYU in general. If there's ever a place of great resource in the Polynesian community, that is the place. That was the reason for the trip out there. Hopefully we'll find a handful of kids over the next few years that will come here to BYU."

American Samoa — an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean — is crazy about football, Doman said.

"They play every day. The kids are walking to school in helmets and shoulder pads. When school's over at 3 o'clock, they practice football. It's an amazing thing. I don't know what rules and regulations they have over there. It's full-padded practice. It's a big deal."

The Island is just 54 square miles and has a population of about 67,000. Doman told the people there that almost all of the residents in American Samoa could fit inside LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Despite its small size, American Samoa has sent a steady stream of players to colleges around the country and some of those players have landed in the NFL, including Troy Polamalu, Tonui Fonoti and Anton Palepoi.

"Last year, they sent 26 kids off the Island to either Division I-AA, Division II or junior colleges," Doman said. "They probably had five Division I kids. There are only seven high schools out there. But between those schools, over 30 kids went off the island to play football.

"There were kids I was aware of that I was heading out to see," Doman continued. "But there are some kids that signed last year that were pretty good players that we never really got in the mix with. In hindsight, you look at who they were and how talented they were and it probably would have been nice to be in the mix with them."

Former Cougars that hail from American Samoa include Spencer and Gabriel Reid, Shaun Nua and Ifo Pili. The family of one BYU signee, linebacker Toloa'i Ho'Ching, who is currently serving a mission, is also from American Samoa, according to Doman.

"The (LDS) Church is so strong over there," Doman said. "About one-third of the people are members of the Church. For moms and dads, for their kid to play football and go off the island to get a degree and an education is important. Football is a vehicle for those kids, quite frankly, to get off the island and get a college education. They don't have many other avenues.

"I think football is one of their top three vehicles to get those kids an education."

That explains why Doman was treated like royalty when he visited American Samoa.

One of Doman's hosts while visiting the island was Kalilimoku Hunt, a former BYU football player who serves as the LDS Church's director of public affairs in American Samoa.

"We set up a whole itinerary for him," Hunt said. "Every hour was set up while he was here. He had very little time to himself. We took good care of him while he was here."

When Doman arrived at the Pago Pago International Airport, Hunt presented him with the traditional flower lei and took him to the Trade Winds Hotel.

Joined by Valosia Talataina, a representative of the American Samoa Department of Education, Doman visited a number of high schools to meet with coaches and players.

Doman also granted numerous interviews to radio and television stations and newspapers. "He was here when (former NFL star Junior) Seau died," Hunt said. "He had known Seau and made some comments about his passing."

During his time in American Samoa, Doman not only represented BYU, but also the LDS Church. He was the featured speaker at two LDS firesides.

"We had almost 1,000 people come and see him at that first fireside," Hunt said. "We kept him busy, and he was well-received. Brandon enjoyed the people. The people seem to have a natural rapport with him."

"Man, they worked me. I got out there and they had a schedule set up. It was a productive, good visit," Doman recalled. "They never left my side the whole time I was there. It was pretty cool. It was four jam-packed days of visiting high schools and doing firesides in the evenings. It was an exhausting trip.

"When I initially set the trip to fly out there, we had to get approval through the athletic department and ultimately through the Church. Next thing I know, I'm doing a couple of firesides out there. I was escorted for four days straight by some great people. They certainly treated me with great hospitality and great respect and honor. There are a lot of people who are tied to this university out there."

Other schools, particularly from the West Coast, like Washington State and Oregon State, recruit American Samoa on a fairly regular basis, Hunt said. UCLA and USC recruit most of their Samoan players at high schools or junior colleges in California and Hawaii.

In the weeks after Doman left the island, Arizona assistant Robert Anae — a former BYU player and coach — and assistant coaches from Oregon State and the University of Utah also took recruiting trips to American Samoa.

The biggest obstacle keeping American Samoan players out of BYU is academics, Doman said.

"The No. 1 challenge on the island is the obvious — it's the standardized test, the ACT and SAT, with English being a second language for these kids," Doman explained. "The curriculum in the school ensuring that they're prepared to take these tests and prepared for the curriculum in the U.S. Because of some of the barriers, the tests become a real difficult challenge for them. They're improving every day. They're doing fairly well in school. Hopefully we'll be bringing kids from the island to play here."

Doman doesn't know if BYU will sign any players from American Samoa this year, but the future looks promising.

"I saw several freshmen and sophomores and kids coming up — I saw plenty of football players over there," he said. "There's not a shortage of talent. It's making sure that they qualify."

"Brandon was very much impressed with our talent, skill and the size of our students here," Hunt said. "The only thing he was concerned about was the academic portion. We have some people that are working on that now, helping them with the NCAA clearinghouse. BYU's GPA requirement is so high, it may be difficult for them to attain that."

Some of those players, if they don't qualify, could attend a junior college and eventually transfer to BYU.

Certainly, Cougar coaches are determined to ensure that the Polynesian Pipeline continues in Provo.

"When people look at the Polynesian Islands, and how these people became such football-driven people, it traces itself to BYU," Doman said. "I, Coach Mendenhall, all of us on the coaching staff, recognize the importance of them to our football program and the value they bring to our football team, and to their families. It's as strong as it's ever been right now. We just hope to continue to make it stronger and stronger. That's another reason why we were out there. This Polynesian culture is paramount for BYU football. And we're grateful for it."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tukuafu taking on a new role Posted on June 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm by Kevin Lynch in 49ers

Defensive linemen Will Tukuafu looks like he can add a new line to his resume – fullback. The 293-pounder caught a swing pass from Alex Smith in the red zone on Tuesday and barreled into the end zone during team drills.

With Bruce Miller the only returning fullback from last year, Tukuafu could be the back up and could play the role of the next Fridge Perry for the 49ers. Frequently, the 49ers used Isaac Sopoaga at fullback, and maybe that chore will be transferred to Tukuafu. It’s early June and roles on this team are not set, but Tukuafu looks like good at not only receiving but blocking.

“Will’s doing a great job athletically,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think the best will come when he puts on the pads, and that’s when it will get really exciting and fun.’

Tukuafu made the team last year, but was then placed on injured reserve with a wrist injury after recovering a fumble in the team’s opening day win against the Seahawks.

Tukuafu is playing offense and defense equally. “He’s a very physical, very smart player, we felt like it was something he would excel at,” Harbaugh said.

Here are some other highlights from Tuesday’s off-season practice.

-Harbaugh mentioned tight end Vernon Davis as having an outstanding off-season.

-Harbaugh continues to mention the attendance of these volunteer practices as a plus. Only linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Cam Johnson missed practice Tuesday. Johnson had a surgical procedure but should be ready for training camp. Harbaugh said Bowman’s absence was not because of anything significant.

-A number of the Stanford players including defensive end Matthew Masifilo and wide receiver Chris Owusu could be back at the team’s only official minicamp next week. Stanford is going through finals right now.

-Randy Moss made a juggling, one-handed catch in the end zone.

-Harbaugh mentioned Perrish Cox as standing out and Harbaugh believes Cox has a chance as a special teams player and possibly a nickel back.

-Harbaugh also mentioned the entire secondary as making strides, particularly Tramaine Brock, who is looking faster than he did last year.

-Josh Johnson ran one of the two-minute drills and it started well with three straight completions, but the second-string offensive line allowed two sacks and led to four straight incompletions.

-Johnson looked impressive earlier in practice firing a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone from the 3-yard line.

-Scott Tolzien showed good arm strength on sideline routes today. Harbaugh maintains that all four of the team’s quarterbacks are NFL worthy and is looking forward to seeing them in preseason games.

-First-round pick A.J. Jenkins made a twisting fingertip catch after dropping some earlier passes. Jenkins has dropped a lot of passes in these early workouts but is showing a glimpse of his potential.

-Randy Moss, who has been excellent, failed to locate a long pass from Johnson in the end zone. He can’t catch them all.

-Pac-12 referees officiated Tuesday’s practice and will likely be present for next week’s minicamp.

Su'a Cravens chooses USC

Su'a Cravens, the nation's top-ranked safety recruit, has committed to USC, strengthening the Trojans' already impressive recruiting haul.

A four-star recruit from Murrieta, Calif., Cravens confirmed his decision Wednesday, becoming the Trojans' eighth commitment for the 2013 class and their third player ranked in the top 15 of the ESPN 150.

Although he has been pursued by multiple high-profile programs, Cravens said his mother will be pleased to see her son remain close to home.

"I think if I would have announced anywhere else, my mom would have killed me," Cravens said. "She wanted me to go there but told me wherever I wanted to go, she'd be happy."

Cravens has several ties to the Trojans. He grew up down the street from Memorial Coliseum and his cousin, current Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, was a fourth-round draft pick out of USC last year.

Cravens also figures to attract more top players to USC, building on coach Lane Kiffin's extensive list of recruits. The 6-foot-1 Cravens said he chose USC in part because of the Trojans' strong 2011 campaign.

"I love the atmosphere at USC and how you come together as brothers through that," he said.

Kiffin and the Trojans did not have a smooth path in their pursuit of Cravens, who initially was recruited as a fullback -- an offer that confused the 205-pound safety. However, Kiffin's staff quickly adjusted its offer to the defensive side of the ball, where Cravens feels more comfortable.

There is no guarantee where Cravens will line up for the Trojans, as he could be slotted for either safety or linebacker. Cravens also could serve as a two-way player with occasional carries out of the backfield.

Cravens recorded 100 tackles, 11 sacks and three interceptions during his junior season at Vista Murrieta High School, leading the Broncos to the CIF title. He also rushed for 673 yards and scored 19 touchdowns.

Falcons get Lofa Tatupu back in the game

By Chris Vivlamore

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

FLOWERY BRANCH — Lofa Tatupu was more than an insurance policy.
Enlarge photo

Curtis Compton, CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Lofa Tatupu takes the field for team practice at Flowery Branch on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.

The Falcons signed the linebacker, who did not play last season, before they lost four-year starter Curtis Lofton to free agency. Now that their leading tackler of the past three seasons is gone, Tatupu will compete for the starting middle linebacker job.

“We were very interested in having a guy who was going to add an element of grit, passion, fire and football knowledge that could be very beneficial to our defense,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “It was like a total-package idea.”

Tatupu and second-year player Akeem Dent will compete for the starting job in what Dimitroff figures to be a “heated battle.” Both Tatupu and Dent split time with the first-team defense during organized team activities Wednesday.

Tatupu, a Pro Bowl selection his first three seasons in the NFL, did not play last season after the Seahawks released him following a six-year career. He started all 16 games in 2010 after playing only five games in 2009 with pectoral and hamstring injuries.

While there was much speculation that the effects of concussions and other injuries caused Tatupu to miss last season, he insists he was healthy. The phone simply did not ring.

“It wasn’t my choice,” Tatupu said. “I think that’s kind of what happened to veterans across the league. ... But it wasn’t anything to do with concussions or lingering injuries. I was ready to play last season. I got released, like a lot of people did, and I just didn’t catch on with anybody.”

The Falcons signed Tatupu, who also visited the Saints and Titans, to a two-year contract after being assured he was healthy. Tatupu said his body feels “amazing” after his first season without football in 23 years. He also said he is mentally refreshed and ready for the added responsibilities of the middle linebacker position.

“We understand that he was out for a year, but at times players can benefit from being out for a year given the situation that he had,” Dimitroff said.

While Tatupu stayed in shape waiting for another chance, he said he told his wife he would retire if the phone stayed silent. It did not. There is still gas in the tank of the 29-year-old who was a first-team All-Pro in 2007. There is still something to prove.

“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder because they told me I didn’t belong in this league in the first place,” Tatupu said. “I’m not worried about that. You’re going to always have your critics. I always enjoy listening to what they say and proving them wrong. I’m not on a personal vendetta of any sort, I’m just here to play ball as best as I possibly can.”

During his season away from the game, Tatupu stayed in touch by adding satellite TV and the NFL package. This despite the fact his home was equipped with cable TV.

“As a fan of football, the first few games are tough to stomach because you’re not out there,” Tatupu said. “As a competitor and as a man, you feel like that’s your spot and that’s where you’re supposed to be. That was hard. I’m not going to lie and say that it wasn’t.

“Definitely I had fun calling out plays that I knew were coming and they did come — just from previous years of playing against a team or an offensive coordinator and knowing their tendencies.”

Tatupu had 410 tackles, 10 interceptions and seven forced fumbles during his career with the Seahawks. Competing for the starting middle linebacker job in the Falcons’ 4-3 defense, he will be asked to replace Lofton, who had 351 tackles in his four seasons with the Falcons. That’s fine with Tatupu, who counts hitting as one of the things he missed the most while out of the game.

“That was probably the toughest part, not being able to take your aggression out,” he said. “Just everyday aggression you get to get out in practice. [Being] a regular civilian was kind of tough.”

Rey likes middle of road

The Bengals plan to meet but won't be on the field Thursday for their last OTA of the spring in what looks to be another of head coach Marvin Lewis's team bonding off-campus trips. The scuttlebutt is volleyball.

So Wednesday was a final tune-up for next week's mandatory minicamp and all signs are that incumbent middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is feeling as comfortable as ever in his four seasons as a Bengal.

"Just think about it," he said after practice Wednesday. "Last year at this time I didn't know if I was playing SAM or the middle."

Plus, Maualuga appears to be responding to new linebackers coach Paul Guenther's mantra of "Letting Rey be Rey." That means less thinking and more reacting.

"I'm not going to try and throw everything down your throats. I'm just going to tell you what you need to do and you get on the field and play football. There's only so much a coach can do," is the way Maualuga is hearing it. "I'm going to fill your guys' heads with less info and let you go out and do what you do best. That's been awesome.

"Having to mess up a little bit and then come back, correct it, and go back out and do what you've got to do."

Maualuga reiterated he played "scared" after he missed three games in midseason last year with a severe high ankle sprain that was corrected with postseason surgery. "I played wrong," he said because he was so concerned about getting cut-blocked at the feet.

Maualuga is crossing his fingers that no news is good news. He said he hasn't heard from the NFL concerning an offseason legal case that was dismissed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Potential story lines for the Miami Dolphins and HBO's 'Hard Knocks' Paul Soliai Adoption Story

Paul Soliai and his wife were having trouble having children, so the couple traveled to American Samoa, to adopt one-year-old Paul Jr. last year. Keeping his family intact, and in a familiar environment was one of the reasons the Pro Bowl nose tackle decided to re-sign with the Dolphins. Now, will Soliai blossom in the team's new 4-3 scheme?

Alameda Ta'amu Will Get Opportunity To Shine With Steelers

by Bill Hanstock • Jun 2, 2012 6:00 AM PDT

Washington Huskies defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu saw his stock drop leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, but was selected in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with Stanford Cardinal offensive guard David DeCastro and Ohio St. Buckeyes offensive tackle Mike Adams. Now the Steelers have some formidable linemen on both sides of the ball, one of whom will actually give area fans a reason to root for the Steelers.

According to Rob Rang at CBS sports, the Steelers came away with one of the best draft classes of any team this year. Here's what he has to say about Ta'amu.

Getting a talented player to achieve up to his potential could also be the task at hand with fourth-round pick Alameda Ta'amu, as well. The 6-3, 348-pound former Washington Husky certainly has the bulk and power to take over for Casey Hampton as the Steelers' nose guard in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's beloved 3-4 defense. For the Steelers to enjoy the type of consistency on defense that they've had with Hampton in the middle, however, Ta'amu will have to ratchet up the intensity to levels that he didn't always play with in college. Ta'amu certainly played well when the lights were brightest, however, enjoying quite the breakthrough performance against Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl and dominating the line of scrimmage during practice sessions at the 2012 Senior Bowl. With the soon-to-be 35-year-old Hampton coming off a torn ACL, Ta'amu could be in line for significant playing time immediately.

Rang believes that Ta'amu could end up being a starter for the Steelers in 2012.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Uaea Masina primed for a big Spring

Uaea Masina, LB, Brighton (Utah) Salt Lake City

Masina is a name that jumps out to 247Sports national analyst Barton Simmons. Masina now sports offers from Colorado and Utah with others showing interest. Stanford is one of several new programs showing interest and Masina could be in for a big Spring, like the others on this list.

Honolulu (Hawaii) Moanalua defensive tackle Scott Pagano enters the Rivals250 at No. 104.

There were 20 new additions to the Rivals250 led by Honolulu (Hawaii) Moanalua defensive tackle Scott Pagano, who named LSU his favorite this past weekend and has picked up nearly 50 offers. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound prospect checks in at No. 104.

Honolulu (Hawaii) Moanalua defensive tackle Scott Pagano enters the Rivals250 at No. 104.

"Pagano has some of the best junior film in this class," West analyst Adam Gorney said.

"The reason he wasn't included in the initial rankings was because we had not seen his highlight tape; right after the release, we got our hands on it and knew he was going to be an immediate addition this time around. Pagano has size, strength, speed and he plays with ferociousness. And we always like to see that from defensive tackles."

Players Who Don't Get Enough Credit Isaac Sopoaga

Isaac Sopoaga does not play a glamorous position as a 3-4 nose tackle in the 49ers scheme. He is a player that is often absorbing blocks or attempting to get pressure in three or four man rushes. His job is difficult, but he does it well. Because of the nature of the position, we don't get to hear Sopoaga's name much.

Sopoaga transitioned from the end position to nose in 2011; it was a part of incorporating Ray McDonald and letting Aubrayo Franklin walk. It's easy to forget that Sopoaga changed positions, so 2012 will be his second year as the 49ers' starting nose tackle. And like most of the team, I believe Sopoaga will progress in technique, knowledge and experience.

He is also a lot more athletic of a player than folks give him credit for. Sopoaga has selflessly come in on offense to run block and even catch passes from Alex Smith. He has the versatility of a linebacker, but he's playing the nose tackle position. If you watch the film on Sopoaga, it's visible that his footwork greatly assists in his technique.

When a 3-4 defense works as well as this one does, the nose tackle position and outside linebacker positions are usually positions to consider as reasons for the success. Sopoaga is at the nucleus creating disruption and allowing those around him to operate at a high level.

Louisville Cardinals

Red Flag: Turnovers

All seems to be going smoothly in Louisville. The Cardinals did not lose any key players to the NBA draft, return almost all of their core for next season and are still coached by Rick Pitino—one of the most exciting basketball gurus in the game.

Despite Louisville’s excitement and Top 5 national ranking, there is one issue that could doom the team: turnovers.

Peyton Siva could be the team’s best player. There is no doubt that when he is on, the Cardinals are almost impossible to stop. When Siva is playing erratically and practically handing the ball to the opponent, however, the entire team suffers.

Louisville ranked 228th in the country last season in turnovers per game—averaging a whopping 13.8 per contest.

If the team cannot take care of the ball, opponents will capitalize. The Cardinals’ mid-season rut in 2011-12 almost doomed their season—something similar could happen next season if Siva and the rest of the team cannot take care of the ball.

Te’o overcomes doubts to fulfill promise with the Irish

Keith Arnold May 30, 2012, 3:58 PM EDT

Before Aaron Lynch or Louis Nix struggled with second thoughts about the decision to spend four years in South Bend, there was another highly touted prep phenom that had great expectations heaped on his shoulders.

Manti Te’o, the lifeblood of the Irish defense, and one of the most recognized players in all of college football, almost walked away from his commitment to Notre Dame. Choosing the Irish over USC in a last-minute Signing Day change of heart that was spurred on by a belief that Notre Dame was where he could make the biggest impact both on and off the field, Te’o's first season in South Bend was hardly as smooth as we might remember now.

Speaking at the Downtown Athletic Club of Honolulu, via his hometown Star-Advertiser, Te’o recalled those first days in South Bend, when the Irish linebacking prodigy was just another in-over-his-head freshman.

This from the Star Advertiser’s profile:

Three years ago, everything seemed fine when Brian Te’o would speak on the phone with his son, who had just left for college. “But then I got two calls. (Notre Dame quarterback) Jimmy Clausen’s dad called me and we had a long talk. Then a call from a coach, and we had a long talk.”

Manti Te’o would put on a happy voice for his dad. But things weren’t going so well for the Fighting Irish freshman linebacker. He hardly got reps. When he did, they quickly became fodder for film-room examples of how to do things incorrectly.

“After two practices I waited until everyone left the field and sat and cried on the bleachers. ‘What am I doing here? I want to go home,’ ” Te’o told the Downtown Athletic Club of Honolulu on Tuesday. “I was no longer that big fish in the small pond.”

Now he’s big enough to share his story of wanting – if ever so briefly – to give up. He knows it might inspire at least one person in despair to keep trying and fight through like he did, and that’s what it’s all about.

Te’o soon adjusted to college football and Notre Dame. If he needed reinforcement, he soon got it from Brian, who told him, “This ain’t Punahou and that ain’t the ILH, so you better get beyond that.”

Irish fans will likely feel their blood boil picturing loud-barking defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta drilling the talented freshman in meeting rooms, using negative reinforcement on a youngster who was likely the most talented player on the field for the Irish defense, even if he didn’t know ten percent of what he needed to do.

That said, it’s interesting to remember Brian Kelly‘s earliest comments on Te’o after watching his entire freshman season of tape after taking over the Irish program in December. Here’s Kelly on what he saw in Te’o, as the Irish prepared for their first spring practice under the new regime.

“He’s a college football player. He’s got that, you know, excitement, that passion,” Kelly said then. Those are the guys I want to be around. I’m passionate about what I do. I want to be around guys that love the game, love being around it. So he brings that energy on a day-to-day basis. But he’s got to get much better as a football player. He wasn’t very good. And he understands that. He’s been committed to learning. Remember, he hasn’t been here a year. He’s a freshman. So I just love the energy that he brings and the passion that he wants to be a great player.”

In the last two seasons playing under Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, we’ve seen a steady rise in the baseline level of Te’o's play, matching the raw ability that he walked in with that made him a ready-made All-American candidate. Even while battling through an injury that robbed him of his explosiveness for much of his junior season, the consistency in his on-field play is what makes the senior linebacker such a terrific player.

Te’o's terrific development over the last two seasons doesn’t mean things have only been smooth between Kelly and his star defender. When Kelly had some polarizing comments about the players he inherited from the previous regime, it was Te’o that bristled among the most, taking to Twitter before being among the team leaders in the locker room as the Irish ironed out their differences.

Yet Te’o's decision to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, announcing his plans spontaneously at the Lott Impact Awards back in December without going through any NFL evaluation process or other overwrought deliberations, shows you the type of student-athlete he’s matured into.

“This was a tough decision, and I found myself praying about it often,” Te’o said back in December. “Ultimately, I really want to experience my senior year at Notre Dame. The happiest moments so far in my life have come when I am spending time with people I love. I wanted to spend another year with my teammates and the coaches on our team. I don’t think any sum of money can replace the memories I can create in my senior year.

“Graduating from Notre Dame is really important to me. Many people encouraged me to go to the NFL because I could always earn my diploma later in life. If I did that, though, I would not have the chance for the same experiences that are ahead of me in my senior year, and I would not have finished at Notre Dame with the guys I started with and care so much about. When I weighed all the factors that went into this decision, it just felt right to stay at Notre Dame.”

That’s a long way from the guy that battled his emotions and self-belief as he cried on the empty bleachers of Notre Dame Stadium.

Jake Muasau journeys from living in a van to NFL

by Paola Boivin, columnist - May. 31, 2012 10:56 PM
The Republic |

At the conclusion of rookie minicamp for the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin called all the undrafted players into a huddle.

"I want to thank you all for coming," the coach said on May 12. "Keep working hard and stay ready."

It was your run-of-the-mill, thanks-but-no-thanks speech. Linebacker Jake Muasau, who attended high school in Southern Arizona's Sierra Vista, 15 miles north of Mexico's border, felt sick. His mind raced.

Lord, no. This can't be it for me. Not after this journey.

The players gathered into a huddle. They chanted "1-2-3 Team" and dispersed. Crushed, Muasau, 22, began the green-mile walk toward the end of his football career when a hand reached out of him.

"Jake, I'm here to let you know the team loves you," a Giants scout told him. "We want to sign you."

Muasau, all 6 feet 1 and 243 pounds of him, bear-hugged the scout, lifted him off the ground and then exhaled.

To understand that hug is to appreciate Muasau's journey, one that has concluded with an opportunity to land on the Giants' 53-man roster or eight-man practice squad before the team's regular season begins Sept. 5 against Dallas.

"When he called me, I started crying," Louie Muasau, his older brother, said. "It was like, finally, everything has paid off."

Their journey started in Washington before their father, Liuavano Mataaga, a pastor, moved his family to Southern California to help Mataaga's brother build a church.

The family struggled. The mother, Asoiva, battled mental illness and the father, Jake Muasau said, was arrested and imprisoned for domestic abuse.

"We never had a stable place," Muasau said. "I remember sleeping on park benches. We had this red 1985 Dodge Astro van that we lived in."

They brushed their teeth in water fountains and often used public restrooms to clean up.

The family relocated to Glendale in 1998, to try a new life.

Four years later, Mataaga was diagnosed with throat cancer. His voice box was removed and he was fed liquid through a hole in his neck. Jake Muasau had started middle school in Glendale, but his mom moved him and his two brothers to Sierra Vista where an aunt lived while Mataaga stayed in the Valley for treatment.

The opportunity to stay with the aunt fell through, and the family was back to living in a van.

The police discovered them and sent the boys to a group home. While they were there, their father died.

"It was hard to bear as a child," Muasau said. "What I am supposed to do? Who am I supposed to look up to?"

Football had been part of the boys' life, but only on the street, in alleys and the side of apartment complexes.

"We never had enough money for organized football," Muasau said. "My first experience that way was as a freshman in high school."

At Buena High in Sierra Vista, he and Louie, a year older, were defensive standouts. Jake, who also played wide receiver, had jaw-dropping speed. They idolized a famous NFL player whose roots also were Samoan: the late Junior Seau.

To help their mom, they would sneak food home from the school cafeteria.

When Louie went on to play at Phoenix College, Jake, who had committed to Nebraska, felt lost. He wanted to help his mom and agreed to sell a friend's prescription drugs on the Buena campus to make money. He was caught.

"Without Louie, I lost direction," he said.

He was expelled his senior year, but there was such fondness for Muasau by teachers that they approached the school board to plead his case and his penalty was changed to a suspension.

Still, Nebraska pulled the scholarship offer, and Muasau's SAT scores were low. He had few options.

He joined his brother at Phoenix College.

"It's funny," he said. "My junior year in high school, I became such an arrogant person. I thought I was going right to the NFL out of high school. Suddenly, here I am at a junior college in Phoenix."

It was a turning point. He played side-by-side at linebacker with Louie, who had redshirted. They were determined to stay on the right track together. They tattooed half of the Seal of American Samoa on their arms so that when Jake's right arm is next to Louie's left arm, it makes the complete seal.

Both were recruited to play at Georgia State, an Atlanta university that had just started football that year (2010). Former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky coach Bill Curry would be in charge of the program.

The brothers thrived there. Louie gave the team the defensive leadership Curry sought, and Jake provided flat-out athleticism. It was a great fit for the two, who benefited from the structure a scholarship could provide: expectations, education, necessities.

The day the pair first arrived at school, they couldn't believe the scholarship paid for all their meals.

"We were so hungry," Louie said. "We sat down and ate about three plates. It was unbelievable."

Jake was the defense's top player and MVP both seasons. He captured the attention of NFL scouts and particularly the Giants, who didn't draft a linebacker. The team brought six players from that position into the rookie camp, and most were better known than the young Musasau.

He made a strong impression. He was the one they kept.

"He'll do well in the NFL," Louie said. "He loves challenges."


Lofa Tatupu worked with the Falcons starters

According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, veteran Lofa Tatupu was lined up as the Falcons’ starting middle linebacker during Tuesday’s drills.

This is a great sign for a talented veteran like Tatupu, who’s looking to stay healthy and revive his career in Atlanta. As long as he can stay out of the trainer’s room, he should be a starter this year.

Peyton Siva-led Louisville could be looking at a return trip to the Final Four next season. Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Peyton Siva, Louisville

It feels like he's been around forever, especially if you've read George Dohrmann's Play Their Hearts Out, and now Siva is a big key for a Cardinals club that has the talent to repeat as a Final Four team. With the way the Cards defend, they don't need a ton of offense and improved decision-making and consistency from their floor general should help them improve on that side of the ball.