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Late For Work 3/19: Genius Raven Has Thought-Provoking Response To Chris Borland


Genius Raven Has Thought-Provoking Response To Chris Borland

The Ravens have a straight-up genius walking amongst them.

I'm not exaggerating.

Second-year guard John Urschel received a perfect 4.0 while getting Bachelor's and Master's degrees in mathematics at Penn State University.  When he's not pounding defensive linemen, he does math research on numerical linear algebra, multigrid methods, spectral graph theory and machine learning "in his spare time."

Mathematical journals have published several of his papers. His latest, "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector" was recently published in the Journal of Computational Mathematics.

With a brain like that – fully capable of earning a substantial living without the risk of long-term injury – why in the world would he subject it to the incessant beating, battering and drubbing that goes on in NFL trenches?

"It’s not rude to ask. It's not some taboo topic that offends," Urschel wrote in a blog on The Players' Tribune.

The question has taken on more meaning in the wake of San Francisco 49ers linebackers Chris Borland, 24, abruptly retiring from football after just one (promising) NFL year. One of the league's top rookies in 2014, Borland cited concerns about the overall health effects of head injuries as the reason he's walking away.

Walk away from something you *love? *

Most Americans could only dream of the opportunity to go to work every day and truly love what they do. Not everyone would say, "Thanks, but no thanks," even if their own safety was at risk.

For that reason, "I envy Chris Borland," wrote Urschel. "Objectively, I shouldn't [take the risk]."

"I have a bright career ahead of me in mathematics. Beyond that, I have the means to make a good living and provide for my family, without playing football," Urschel continued. "I have no desire to try to accumulate $10 million in the bank; I already have more money in my bank account than I know what to do with. I drive a used hatchback Nissan Versa and live on less than $25k a year. It's not because I'm frugal or trying to save for some big purchase, it's because the things I love the most in this world (reading math, doing research, playing chess) are very, very inexpensive."

Growing up, we all learned about Maslow's theory of human motivation. You know the one; it's the pyramid that depicts the hierarchy of needs that drive all human decisions. Well, nothing on that pyramid is driving Urschel's decision to play football. He doesn't need football for his basic survival, for his safety, for love or belonging in relationships, for esteem or self-actualization.

Urschel would love nothing more than to please his mother the next time she asks him if it's time to call it quits. The two recently had that conversation for the 10th consecutive offseason*following his rookie year in Baltimore. She's supportive, but it's not the life she wants *for her son.

But there's something that Momma Urschel and all his mathematician colleagues don't understand, and maybe never will.

"I play because I love the game. I love hitting people," Urschel wrote. "There's a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I'm (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I'm hard-pressed to find anywhere else. My teammates, friends and family can attest to this: When I go too long without physical contact I'm not a pleasant person to be around. This is why, every offseason, I train in kickboxing and wrestling in addition to my lifting, running and position-specific drill work. I've fallen in love with the sport of football and the physical contact associated with it.

"Simply put, right now, not playing football isn't an option for me. And for that reason, I truly envy Chris Borland."

What Might Have Been For Bernard Pierce

When Ray Rice was cut last season, who was the first person on the list to get the chance to be the Ravens' starting running back?

Here's a hint: it wasn't Justin Forsett.

It was Bernard Pierce.

But Pierce didn't take advantage of the opportunity on the field (17 yards on six carries in the season opener), and Forsett stepped to eventually earn the starting role and a Pro Bowl nod. 

Cut to Wednesday morning, six days after Forsett signed a long-term deal with the Ravens, Pierce was released after being arrested and charged for driving under the influence.

"One running back stepped up and cashed in on a golden opportunity," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "The other fumbled his shot at establishing himself as a starter and punctuated his disappointing three-year Baltimore Ravens career with an embarrassing arrest on Wednesday.

Pierce had a promising rookie season in which he led the Super Bowl XLVII champion Ravens with a 4.9-yard per carry average. He even led the team in rushing in two of the playoff wins on the way to lifting the Lombardi Trophy. But he took a step back behind a struggling offensive line in 2013, and didn't improve when the line returned to its dominating ways in 2014.

"Pierce's decline continued into the offseason with bad decision-making," Hensley wrote. "He was given the chance to become the Ravens' starting running back, and he ended up dropping the ball time and time again."

Would Ravens Cut A Star For Poor Behavior?

Pierced marked the third Ravens' release following arrests this offseason. The team also cut  ties with Terrence Cody (animal cruelty) and Victor Hampton (DUI).

At the end of the season, Head Coach John Harbaugh made it clear to media and players that there would be "shorter leeway" for off-the-field issues. The Ravens were not proud of a string of offseason arrests last year and leadership was hoping it was an "aberration" based on the previous five years of good behavior.

 So even Pierce knew he was going to be cut.

But plenty of media pointed out after Pierce's release that he would be at best the No. 3 option at running back heading into training camp. While Pierce was expected to have a bigger role than Cody or Hampton, many are wondering whether the Ravens would have the same strict stance against a bigger star.

"The Ravens don't operate under a zero-tolerance policy for off-the-field behavior," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. "They judge each situation independently."

Underrated Pickups At Defensive Line

The Ravens are bringing in the reinforcements to the defensive line.

In the past two days, they have re-signed three defensive linemen: Chris Canty, Christo Bilukidi and Lawrence Guy.

With Haloti Ngata being traded to the Detroit Lions, the Ravens brought back Canty for veteran leadership to a defensive line that had an average age of 24.3 years before he rejoined the team. He drew interest from the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks, but ultimately decided on Baltimore.

"The Ravens have promising talent on the defensive front, but they found themselves thin at experience a week into free agency," Hensley wrote.

Meanwhile, Bilukidi and Guy are two underrated signings that provide solid depth and insurance in case Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore don't have a smooth return from season-ending injuries.

"This is another solid move by the Ravens because Guy is the type of steady role player that makes their defensive line so strong," Hensley wrote. "Signed in Week 4 last season after being waived by the Chargers, he inched up the team's depth chart and even started a game when Canty was injured. He immediately fit into the team's rotation as a hard-nosed run defender.

"There really wasn't much of a dropoff from Canty to Guy. Pro Football Focus ranked Guy No. 61 among defensive linemen, which was two spots behind starter Canty."

Quick Hits

  • Webb is being praised around town for restructuring his deal, but he was being blasted on social media before the new deal was complete. "Let's be clear here: Players aren't greedy for asking for what the team agreed to pay them," wrote Bo Smolka. "Would a banker, or an architect, or a teacher, be fine if a supervisor approached him or her and said, 'Hey, we are going to drop your salary by about 25 or 30 percent. You're good with that, right?* *'" []
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