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Old 07-26-2017, 11:58 PM
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Cnotes 2017 NFL camp openings

NFL camp openings: Broncos' quarterback battle front and center

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - As the Denver Broncos convened at the UCHealth Training Center here beginning July 26, the same story that dominated the offseason will remain the top headliner.

There is a new head coach (Vance Joseph), a new offensive coordinator (Mike McCoy) and a new defensive coordinator (Joe Woods). But the focus will be on quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch to see which one will open the season when the Broncos host the division-rival Chargers in the second game of a Monday night doubleheader.

Siemian has the advantage in terms of experience, having started 14 games in 2016, but the offense has been tweaked to play more toward Lynch's strengths, and he appeared to gain confidence during offseason work, particularly in his timing with starting wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Joseph has said that he wants consistency from his starting quarterback, and with a veteran team, that is a priority. However, upside has to come into consideration, and if Siemian can't break free from Lynch, he could find himself as the No. 2 quarterback by Week 1 behind Lynch, whose first-round pedigree and raw arm strength could give him an advantage despite his scattershot moments.

For the time being at least, Joseph announced Wednesday that Siemian will be the first unit for the opening practice of camp.

On the defensive side, Woods, the defensive backs coach last season, takes over for the departed Wade Phillips and promised only minor changes from the way Phillips ran the defense.

"I don't want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense," Woods said in the offseason. "All I said is, I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It's something that will give us a little change-up, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That's all we're doing."

Said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., "Our defense, we made little tweaks. We're not as simple as we have been in the past. In the past, we played so much man and just making it so easy for the quarterbacks. So now we're going to sprinkle in (some) different little things and make them think."

TRAINING CAMP: UCHealth Training Center; Englewood, Colo.

COACH: Vance Joseph

1st season as Broncos/NFL head coach


2016 finish: 3rd AFC West (9-7-0)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 323.1 (27th)

RUSHING: 92.8 (27th)

PASSING: 230.3 (T21st)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 316.1 (4th)

RUSHING: 130.3 (28th)

PASSING: 185.8(1st)


All times Mountain

Aug. 10, at Chicago (Thu), 6:00

Aug. 19, at San Francisco (Sat), 8:00

Aug. 26, GREEN BAY (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 31, ARIZONA (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Trevor Siemian. Backups - Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly, Kyle Sloter.

Siemian and Lynch are expected to split first-team repetitions until there is enough separation for head coach Vance Joseph to name one of them the starting quarterback. Kelly is expected to begin throwing at some point during training camp, but this is likely to be a redshirt year for the seventh-round pick as he learns the system. Sloter was signed to handle third-team repetitions while Kelly heals; if Kelly is up to speed by the end of the summer, there might not even be a practice-squad place for him.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - C.J. Anderson, FB Andy Janovich. Backups - Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, Juwan Thompson, De'Angelo Henderson, Bernard Pierce.

Anderson was in shape during OTAs and looked stronger than he did in previous offseasons, even though he spent the early part of the year rehabilitating from a torn meniscus. Janovich is the only fullback on the roster and he might find himself in a utility role, even seeing some tight-end-type work. There is a significant crunch on the depth chart. Henderson, a sixth-round pick, seems a good bet to make the team as a potential third-down back of the future. Booker could push Anderson for a starting role. The wild card is Charles. If he's healthy and can put his recent injuries behind him, he could start; if he struggles to overcome his issues, he might not make it out of camp. If Charles' knee responds, he could create a crunch that leads to a trade of one of the veteran runners.

Starter -- A.J. Derby. Backups - Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Henry Krieger-Coble, Steven Scheu, Austin Traylor.

Butt will begin training camp on the non-football injury list, but when he completes recovery from a torn ACL, he could represent the future of the position, as he can line up in an in-line or stand-up alignment. Derby provides an interior target who should help the quarterbacks get the football out quickly. Heuerman is finally healthy and could provide a down-the-seam presence. Green is a solid blocker, but could be on the bubble in the new scheme. Krieger-Coble, Scheu and Traylor will have their chances to impress.

Starters - Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders. Backups - Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor, Cody Latimer, Marlon Brown, Carlos Henderson, Isaiah McKenzie, Kalif Raymond, Hunter Sharp, Anthony Nash.

Thomas and Sanders should see the football plenty of times in what is expected to be a "pass-happy" offense, and Henderson and McKenzie will help provide depth and could be good change-of-pace options. McKenzie, in particular, could provide some explosive plays in limited use, and could be utilized on jet and fly sweeps. From there, it gets interesting, because a roster crunch looms. Fowler, Taylor, Latimer, Brown and Raymond are all returning veterans from last year's roster, but if the Broncos avoid injuries, no more than two of those five are likely to make the 53-man roster out of the preseason. Fowler and Latimer could stick because of their roles on special teams, but Taylor had the most receptions of that group last season, and his flair for spectacular catches and outstanding body control in mid-air could allow him to steal a roster spot once again.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ty Sambrailo, LG Max Garcia, C Matt Paradis, RG Ron Leary, RT Menelik Watson. Backups - LT Garett Bolles, C/G Connor McGovern, G/T Michael Schofield, RT Donald Stephenson, G/T Allen Barbre, G Billy Turner, C Dillon Day, G Chris Muller, T Justin Murray, T Cedrick Lang, T Elijah Wilkinson.

Once again, the Broncos are starting over on the offensive line, and if Bolles can earn the starting job, they will likely start Week 1 with 60 percent of the line comprised of players who were not on last year's roster. They have already moved Leary from left guard, which he played in Dallas, to the right side; this allows Garcia to return to left guard, where he started last year. Leary has said he doesn't care which side he plays on. Paradis did not take part in OTAs, but is expected to return from a pair of hip surgeries. With so much change up front, his health is crucial to the unit's success. If his hips don't hold up, it's hard to imagine the Broncos getting any kind of improvement unless McGovern makes a big leap in his second season. As camp opened, the Broncos acquired versatile backup Barbre from the Eagles.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Derek Wolfe, NT Domata Peko, DE Jared Crick. Backups - DE Zach Kerr, DE Billy Winn, NT Kyle Peko, DE Adam Gotsis, DE DeMarcus Walker, NT Tyrique Jarrett, DE Shakir Soto, DE Shelby Harris.

Wolfe is the proven commodity and enters training camp poised for a big year after an outstanding spring. Domata Peko, a team captain with the Bengals, brings leadership, even though he will probably be limited to base-package work only at this point in his career. The question revolves around who will help generate a pass rush along with Wolfe. Crick and Gotsis both added weight, but Gotsis suffered a knee injury late in OTAs and underwent a knee procedure; he is expected back early in camp. Walker was a prolific pass rusher at Florida State, but at 280 pounds, is he strong enough for an interior role at the next level? Kerr should also be a part of the rotation.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Von Miller, OLB Shane Ray, ILB Brandon Marshall, ILB Todd Davis. Backups - OLB Shaquil Barrett, OLB Vontarrius Dora, OLB Kasib Edebali, ILB Zaire Anderson, ILB Corey Nelson, OLB Ken Ekanem, ILB Josh Banderas, ILB Jerrol Garcia-Williams, ILB Kevin Snyder, ILB Quentin Gause, ILB Deon Hollins.

DeMarcus Ware's retirement pushes Ray into the starting lineup; he had eight sacks last year and should be ready for an expanded role opposite Miller, a perennial All-Pro who is the unquestioned ringleader of the defense. Marshall is effective when healthy, but has dealt with injuries in each of the last two years; he and Davis are an effective tandem. Anderson and Nelson provide experienced depth. The questions are with depth on the outside. Barrett is injured and out until the regular season, and with Ware retired and Dekoda Watson having departed for San Francisco in free agency, either Dora or Edebali will have to step up.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Chris Harris Jr., CB Aqib Talib, FS Darian Stewart, SS T.J. Ward. Backups - CB Bradley Roby, CB Lorenzo Doss, FS Justin Simmons, SS Will Parks, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, CB Brendan Langley, FS Orion Stewart, SS Jamal Carter, CB Dontrell Nelson, CB Marcus Rios, FS Dante Barnett, SS Dymonte Thomas.

The starters have all been Pro Bowlers at some point in the last three seasons, and represent the best secondary in the AFC, if not the NFL. But Harris, Talib, Stewart and Ward are all in their seventh season or later, and Talib in particular is in his 10th year and coming off a season in which he battled back issues. Roby had his fifth-year option picked up and will continue to work at least 50 percent of the snaps as the No. 3 cornerback. Simmons is an emerging center-field-type safety who intercepted a pass in each of the final two games last season; he and Parks provide solid young depth. Doss, Lewis-Harris and Langley will battle for the No. 4 role; Lewis-Harris' experience gives him an edge. Langley should see plenty of special-teams work right away. The Broncos signed four undrafted safeties -- Stewart, Carter, Barnett and Thomas -- and at least one of them should stick on the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Brandon McManus, P Riley Dixon, LS Casey Kreiter, KOR Carlos Henderson, PR Isaiah McKenzie.

Kalif Raymond, Cody Latimer and Hunter Sharp could all factor into the competition on returns, but general manager John Elway drafted Henderson and McKenzie with the intention of using them on returns right away. Henderson's straight-line speed, long stride and running-back build make him a good fit for kickoff returns, while McKenzie's quickness made him one of the best punt returners in college football last year. McManus and Dixon are one of the best young kicker-punter combinations in the league.
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Old 07-27-2017, 12:03 AM
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NFL camp openings: Jaguars battles brewing on interior O-line
July 26, 2017

JACKSONVILLE - As the Jacksonville Jaguars convened here July 26 for the start of training camp, they are hoping quarterback Blake Bortles begins showing he can be the player he was in 2015, not 2016. And, they expect rookie running back Leonard Fournette to be the guy that will relieve some of the pressure from Bortles and provider balance to the offense.

However, much of that hoped-for success will depend on how the competition plays out for the three interior spots on the offensive line. The outside spots appear set with Branden Albert at left tackle and Jermey Parnell a lock to open at right tackle. Albert could be pushed by second-round draft pick Cam Robinson, the left tackle of the future for the Jaguars, but for now, the rookie from Alabama is likely to compete for a starting guard spot. That's where Robinson will be joined by any number of players competing for one of the three interior spots.

Last season, the Jaguars had five different starters at left guard, none of whom started more than six games. All five players are still on the current 90-man roster, and all seem to have a legitimate shot of starting. Perhaps none will get the job. Last year's starter at right guard, A.J. Cann, may move to the other side of center this year. That leaves a wide-open competition for the right guard spot, one where last year's starting center, Brandon Linder, saw as much time as anyone during offseason workouts.

If Linder, who recently signed a long-term contract extension, is the best fit for that spot, he'll be the starter there, otherwise he'll be back snapping the ball to Bortles. A handful of the five guard contenders can also play center, along with the team's starting center from three years ago, Luke Bowanko. That's also when Linder was a 15-game starter at right guard. Add in Robinson to the list of contenders for one of the starting guard spots. Robinson is too talented to be sitting on the bench, waiting for his time to be the team's starter at left tackle.

That leaves at least eight legitimate contenders for the three interior spots on the line. The team would like three of the eight players to emerge early in training camp so that the Jaguars can finalize the starting unit and begin to develop continuity and consistency.

Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields; Jacksonville, Fla.

Doug Marrone

1st full season with Jaguars

1-1 overall

3rd full season as NFL coach

16-18 overall


2016 finish: 4th AFC south (3-13)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 334.9 (23rd)

RUSHING: 101.9 (22nd)

PASSING: 233.0 (20th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 321.7 (6th)

RUSHING: 106.4 (19th)

PASSING: 215.3 (5th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, at New England (Thu), 7:30

Aug. 17, TAMPA BAY (Thu), 8:00

Aug. 24, CAROLINA (Thu), 7:30

Aug. 31, at Atlanta (Thu), 7:00


Starter -- Blake Bortles. Backups -- Chad Henne, Brandon Allen.

For Bortles, it's time to make it big and become a well-paid quarterback for the next four years ... or else find another team. His up-and-down three years in Jacksonville will go one of those two directions. If he returns to his 2015 form, the Jaguars' offense could be explosive. But a repeat of last year, when he threw 16 interceptions and only 23 touchdowns, won't cut it. The Jaguars did not draft a quarterback nor did they sign a veteran to challenge him, so it will be up to Bortles to push himself. Henne returns for a sixth season after playing just one snap (a kneel-down right before halftime) a year ago. Allen will get plenty of playing time in the preseason to see if he can challenge Henne for the backup spot.

Starter -- Chris Ivory. Backups -- Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant, FB Tommy Bohanon, FB Marquez Williams.

Fournette may not be the starter during preseason games, but he's likely to be in the starting lineup come the regular season. His size, speed and athleticism is something the Jaguars have not had at this position since the days of Fred Taylor, the franchise's all-time leading rusher. A successful rookie season by Fournette will take a lot of pressure off QB Blake Bortles to have to carry the offense. The Jaguars will still have two solid backups in Ivory and Yeldon. Ivory had a strong offseason, displaying the running style he showed in 2015 when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the Jets. Yeldon missed all of the preseason with an injury, falling to the No. 3 spot among the running backs. How much the Jaguars use Bohanon at fullback will be interesting. It could spike a rushing attack that has not been very good in recent years.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Mychal Rivera. Backups -- Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling, Alex Ellis.

Rivera gets the opportunity to replace the departed Julius Thomas, who never lived up to his success in Denver. Rivera caught at least 30 passes in each of his first three NFL seasons and should easily hit that mark this year. Lewis returns for an 11th year and is the longest-tenured Jaguars player. His best contribution will be as a blocker to strengthen the running game. Koyack had 19 catches a year ago and should improve on that number this year. Sterling enters just his second season playing the tight-end position and will need to improve on his blocking skills to maintain his roster spot.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee. Backups -- Dede Westbrook, Rashad Greene, Arrelious Benn, Shane Wynn, Amba Etta-Tawo, Jamal Robinson, Larry Pinkard.

Robinson had just a pair of 100-yard games last year after reaching that plateau six times in 2015, when his connection with Blake Bortles was very effective. Hurns is another who saw his production fall in 2016. He went from a 1,000-yard receiver to just 477 yards a year ago, a season hampered by a hamstring injury that cost him the final five games. Lee is the one receiver who hiked his numbers from the previous year. After being slowed by injuries his first two seasons, he played in every game in 2016 and had a career-best 851 receiving yards. Westbrook is a fourth-round draft pick with blazing speed who will likely double as the team's punt returner. Greene and Benn will contend for playing time with Westbrook. Both have been injury-prone and will need to stay healthy in order to make the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Branden Albert, LG A.J. Cann, C Brandon Linder, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Jermey Parnell. Backups -- LT Cam Robinson, G/C Tyler Shatley, C/G Chris Reed, T Luke Bowanko, T Josh Wells, G Chris Reed, G Jeremiah Poutasi, G Earl Watford.

This unit has the most question marks entering training camp. Parnell is the only player firmly established at a starting spot. Linder and Cann will both be in the starting lineup, but at which of the interior spots? Linder is probably the team's best lineman, which would seem to indicate another year at center, but he saw more time at guard during OTA workouts. Albert was thought to be the answer at the left-tackle spot, but he skipped all of the team's OTAs and only showed up for the three-day mandatory veteran minicamp. While he was away, Robinson made good in-roads to inheriting the left-tackle spot. Should Albert show that he's the real deal at that position, Robinson appears to be the best bet to land one of the guard spots. Omameh, Shatley, Poutasi and Reed were among five players who started at least one game at left guard a year ago. Cann may get that job in 2017, but that leaves a void at right guard if Linder stays at center. All are issues that need to be resolved in August's preseason games.

Starters -- RDE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Malik Jackson, DT Abry Jones, LDE Calais Campbell. Backups -- DE Dante Fowler, DE Dawuane Smoot, DT Sheldon Day, DE Lerentee McCray, DE Jonathan Woodard, DT Stefan Charles, DT Michael Bennett, DE Carroll Phillips.

Campbell may prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle along the defensive line. He's a big free-agent addition who is as valuable in the locker room as he is on the field. He has the skill to play either side of the line and his presence will undoubtedly help his linemates. Jackson has made significant strides in the past two years. He had nine sacks in his first three years, but has increased that number to 11.5 in the last two seasons. Ngakoue set a team rookie record with eight sacks a year ago. Dante Fowler, a 2015 first-round pick, missed his rookie season with a torn ACL and then had a mediocre season a year ago. He drew raves for his play during the offseason, but will need to carry that over to the regular season. Smoot is a third-round pick out of Illinois who could help out at either of the end spots. Day appeared in every game a year ago as a rookie, but will battle Bennett for the backup spot behind Jackson. McCray could be a contributor at the end spot, but his value is more likely to come from his skills as a special team player.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Paul Posluszny, MLB Myles Jack, WLB Telvin Smith. Backups -- OLB Audie Cole, MLB Blair Brown, OLB Josh McNary, MLB Hayes Pullard.

Two starters return in Smith and Posluszny, and Jack is a stronger player than the man he will replace, Dan Skuta, in the starting lineup. But there is trepidation with the linebacker group on several fronts. Jack will become a full-time starter in the middle after making 10 starts at strong-side linebacker a year ago. Not counting 2014, when he missed the last nine games with a torn pectoral muscle, Posluszny has started all but three games in the other five years, dating to 2011. If he stays healthy and can enjoy the same success he experienced as a middle linebacker, the Jaguars' starting trio will be as good as they've had in recent years. Smith has been as solid a three-year starter at the weak-side spot, recording at least 99 tackles each season. But all three starters must stay healthy; there is no proven talent behind them. Cole and McNary, who have earned their reputations as gifted special teams players, are listed as backups on the outside. Brown, a rookie, is likely to win the backup spot behind Jack in the middle. The Jaguars will be watching for a veteran linebacker to get released to possibly add depth to this group.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB A.J. Bouye, RCB Jalen Ramsey, FS Tashaun Gipson, SS Barry Church. Backups -- CB Aaron Colvin, FS Peyton Thompson, CB Taurean Nixon, SS Jarrod Wilson, SS James Sample, CB Jalen Myrick, CB Josh Johnson, CB Doran Grant, CB Tracy Howard.

The secondary is likely the best in Jaguars history. The addition of Bouye and Church make this the strongest unit on the team. In Bouye and Ramsey, the Jaguars arguably have two of the best cover corners in their division, possibly in all of the AFC. In just one season, Ramsey became the team's best defensive player. His coverage skills were so good that the Jaguars didn't hesitate to assign him to cover the opponent's best receiver. With the newly acquired Bouye on board, the Jaguars won't have to lean on Ramsey so much in covering the elite receiver. In signing Church to take over at strong safety, the Jaguars upgraded the spot that Johnathan Cyprien had held the past several seasons. If Gipson plays better than everyone knows he can from a year ago, the safety spots will be improved as well. There's good depth within the secondary as well. Colvin would likely be a starter for many other teams, but will be relegated to nickel back. Sample and Wilson will battle for the backup spot behind Church. The starters must be healthy however. Gipson was the only one of the four likely starters to have taken part in the team's 10 OTA workouts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Myers, P Brad Nortman, LS Carson Tinker, KOR Corey Grant, PR Dede Westbrook, PR Rashad Greene.

Tinker and the two kickers start their third year together with the Jaguars. Myers improved on his extra-point duties a year ago, missing just three times after suffering through seven such misses the year before. His field-goal kicking suffered, with seven misses in 34 attempts, but five of those misses were from beyond 50 yards. His 60 touchbacks on 76 kickoffs was good for an NFL-best 78.9 percent touchback percentage. Nortman's 46.6-yard gross punting average was his second-best mark in his five NFL seasons. Tinker has been the Jaguars' regular long snapper for the past four years. Grant was the team's top kickoff returner a year ago, but he may need to be replaced if he doesn't make the roster as a running back. Westbrook may be the fastest player on the team and could replace Greene, who was inconsistent and tended to fumble as a returner a year ago.
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Old 07-27-2017, 12:06 AM
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NFL openings: Search for Browns quarterback never ending
July 26, 2017

BEREA, Ohio - It was the same old song July 26 when the Cleveland Browns reported to their training and administrative complex for the start of another training camp.

For yet another summer, the Browns enter camp wondering who their quarterback will be when they open the season against the division-rival Steelers on Sept. 10.

The Browns historically (hysterically?) start rookie quarterbacks before they are ready. It happened with Tim Couch in 1999, Charlie Frye in 2005, Colt McCoy in 2010, Brandon Weeden in 2012, Johnny Manziel in 2014 and Cody Kessler last year. Time will tell if the same thing happens to 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer.

The Browns are hopeful Kizer can be their quarterback of the future. He will likely start training camp third on the depth chart behind Kessler and Brock Osweiler, but he will have the opportunity to do a lot of convincing in six weeks. Head coach Hue Jackson acknowledged that Kessler will be the quarterback with the first team for the first practice. Said Jackson, "He deserves a chance to walk out there first."

Kessler knows the offense better than Osweiler and Kizer simply because this is his second season running it. The problem with not having an established starting quarterback at the beginning of camp is the would-be starter is robbed of snaps. It will be interesting to see how much practice time Osweiler gets. He was 5-2 as a starter with the Broncos and 8-6 with Houston before the Texans traded his contract to the Browns this past offseason in an unusual deal.

He is the only quarterback on the roster that has won in the NFL and probably the best one on the team - at least for now.

Kizer was selected after the Browns used three first-round picks to select defensive end Myles Garrett, safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end David Njoku.

: Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex; Berea, Ohio

COACH: Hue Jackson

2nd season with Browns

1-15 overall

3rd season as NFL head coach

9-23 overall


2016 finish: 4th AFC North (1-15)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 311.0 (30th)

RUSHING: 107.0 (19th)

PASSING: 204.0 (28th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 392.4 (31st)

RUSHING: 142.7 (31st)

PASSING: 249.8 (21st)


All times EASTERN

Aug. 10, NEW ORLEANS (Thu), 8:00

Aug. 21, N.Y. GIANTS (Mon), 8:00

Aug. 26, at Tampa Bay (Sat), 7:30

Aug. 31, at Chicago (Thu), 8:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Cody Kessler. Backups - Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan.

Kessler was 0-8 as a starter last season. He is likely to begin training camp with the first-team, but he doesn't have the arm or size to be the long-term answer for head coach Hue Jackson. Osweiler deserves the chance to show he can win the job, and then it's up to him to hold off Kizer as long as he can. Coaches have gone out of their way to say Osweiler has been a good guy in the building. It's a different picture than the one painted of him in Houston, where he allegedly quarreled with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Isaiah Crowell. Backups - Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes, George Atkinson III, Terrance McGee, FB Danny Vitale.

The Browns want to run more than they did a year ago, but for that to happen they have to keep the score close. They naturally became pass-happy last year when they quickly fell behind by two touchdowns. Crowell just missed 1,000 yards last year, finishing with 952 yards on 198 carries a 4.8-yard average. He is motivated this year because he can be an unrestricted free agent next winter. Jackson wants to get Johnson the ball in open territory so Johnson can use his elusiveness. Vitale has to improve as a receiver out of the backfield to become more than a short-yardage blocker.

: Starter - David Njoku. Backups - Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer, Taylor McNamara, J.P. Holtz.

The Browns cut Gary Barnidge, who caught 55 passes last year, after trading back into the first round to select Njoku. Njoku caught 43 passes at Miami last year and at 6-foot-4, looks the part. He and DeValve give the Browns a strong 1-2 punch at a position Jackson likes to exploit tight ends in his offensive scheme. They can make up for what on paper is a thin group at wide receiver. DeValve, though he caught only 10 passes last year, came on strong at the end of the season. Telfer has had some health issues with his foot and ankle, but he is an adequate blocker when healthy.

Starters - Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis. Backups - Rashard Higgins, Mario Alford, Josh Boyce, Rannell Hall, Jordan Leslie, Richard Mullaney, Jordan Payton, James Wright.

The wide receivers the Browns are taking to training camp caught a total of eight touchdown passes last year, and five of them were made by Britt when he played for the Rams. Coleman caught the other three as a Browns rookie. Britt and Coleman will be the top two targets for whoever ends up playing quarterback and that quarterback will need at least one other to jump out from a group of obscure names. Louis, in his second season, caught 18 passes last year. The Browns signed Britt after losing Terrelle Pryor to the Redskins in free agency. Pryor, in his first full season as a wide receiver, caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards in 2016. Pryor will be missed. Keep an eye on Hall. He was having a fine camp until a knee injury ruined his season.

Starters - LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Shon Coleman. Backups - C/T Cameron Erving, G/C John Greco, G Chris Barker, LG Spencer Drango, C Anthony Fabiano, C Gabe Ikard, T Rod Johnson, C Marcus Martin, LT Matt McCants, C Austin Reiter, RT Zach Sterup.

Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown transformed the offensive line on the first day of free agency by signing Zeitler from the Bengals and Tretter from the Packers. Thomas is back for his 11th season, aiming for his 11th straight Pro Bowl. Bitonio is coming off foot surgery and conservatively has set the start of the regular season as his goal for returning. Coleman and Erving will battle at right tackle for the only unsettled spot on the line. Erving and Greco provide flexibility as backups to cover multiple positions. The Browns gave up 66 sacks last season - one of the many reasons they finished 1-15. That wasn't all on the offensive line, but until the blocking improves, Browns quarterbacks will continue to have a short life span. The last Browns quarterback to start 16 games was Tim Couch in 2002.

Starters - DLE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Desmond Bryant, NT Danny Shelton, DRE Myles Garrett. Backups -- DRE Jamie Meder, DLE Carl Nassib, NT Caleb Brantley, DT Trevon Coley, DRE Xavier Cooper, DE Jamal Marcus, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DRE Nate Orchard, DE Karter Schult.

No unit on the Browns has had a bigger transformation than the defensive line. Garrett, Ogunjobi and Brantley are rookies and Bryant is back after missing all of 2016 with a pectoral injury. Orchard is back after missing last season with an ankle injury. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is switching to a 4-3 base defense. Ogbah and Garrett, with Bryant rushing from the inside, could move the Browns from one of the weakest pass rush teams (26 sacks in 2016) to at least the top half of the league. Shelton, in his third season, seemed quicker than ever in minicamp. Brantley, Meder, Nassib, Orchard and Ogunjobi will be key parts of the rotation to keep Garrett, Ogbah and Shelton fresh for the fourth quarter.

Starters -- WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Christian Kirksey, SLB Cam Johnson. Backups - MLB Tank Carder, WLB Dominique Alexander, SLB Joe Schobert, OLB B.J. Bello, MLB James Burgess, MLB Ladell Fleming, OLB Kenneth Olugbode.

The Browns will be in trouble at linebacker if anything happens to Kirksey or Collins, because the position is thin after them. However, both got contract extensions in the offseason, so the coaching staff is willing to live with the results. Kirksey led the Browns with 148 tackles - third best in the league according to NFL.com. Kirksey has the ability to slice into the backfield and tackle the runner behind the line of scrimmage. He doesn't pad his stats by making all his tackles after a five-yard gain. Collins has emerged as a team leader after being acquired from the Patriots in a trade last Oct. 3. He made 69 tackles in eight games and showed he can pressure the quarterback. Still, run defense has to improve the Browns gave up an average of 4.6 yards a carry. Johnson started nine games at outside linebacker last year and made 29 tackles. The Browns would like more production from that spot. Carder is one of the Browns most consistent players on special teams.

Starters - LCB Joe Haden, RCB Jamar Taylor, FS David Kindred, SS Jabrill Peppers. Backups - CB Jason McCourty, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, FS Trey Caldwell, RCB Marcus Burley, SS Ibraheim Campbell, FS Justin Currie, CB J.D. Harmon, CB Alvin Hill, CB Darius Hillary, CB Najee Murray, SS Kai Nacua, FS Ed Reynolds III, SS Calvin Pryor III, CB Channing Stribling, CB Howard Wilson.

The 2017 training camp is going to be very important for the Browns secondary for numerous reasons; Haden is trying to bounce back from two sub-par seasons, neither safety position has a locked in starter and the nickel back is likely to be a battle between McCourty and Boddy-Calhoun. The Browns gave up 36 touchdown passes last year - a franchise record that contributed to Ray Horton being fired as defensive coordinator. Kindred and Peppers, the rookie from Michigan, are penciled in as the starters at safety, but they will be challenged by Reynolds and Campbell. Defensive coordinator Williams says the Browns will work daily on tackling. The secondary in particular needs help in that area, because instead of wrapping up they would rather go for the big hit, which often leads to missed tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cody Parkey, P Britton Colquitt, LS Charley Hughlett, KOR Mario Alford, PR Jabrill Peppers, K Zane Gonzalez.

Hughlett and Colquitt are locked in after signing long-term contracts in the offseason. Hughlett is what a coach wants in a long-snapper - a player that goes unnoticed because he does his job so well. Colquitt is steady and has a knack for feathering the ball inside the 20. Parkey and Gonzalez will battle it out for the kicking job throughout the preseason. Unless one fails miserably, it is a battle that could go on all summer. Peppers is eager to return punts. Alford accelerates quickly and has enough speed to break a long return.
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NFL camp openings: Dolphins hell bent on proving doubters wrong
July 26, 2017

DAVIE, Fla. - The Miami Dolphins will be trying to impress the naysayers when they reported to their team facility for the opening of training camp July 26.

Despite being in the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008 after having a 10-6 regular-season record, Las Vegas isn't necessarily buying. Sportsbooks in Sin City have the Dolphins' over/under for wins at 7.5. Keep in mind that books adjust the opening line based on what the public wagers.

If bettors believed in the Dolphins, they would put their money on the over and the number would increase.

Inside the team facility, there is confidence that quarterback Ryan Tannehill is healthy. Tannehill missed the final three regular-season games and the wild-card game last season because of two sprained ligaments in his left knee, but appears to be full speed ahead for the start of training camp.

Tannehill participated in OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and minicamp wearing a brace on his left knee, a practice that will continue for the foreseeable future. But Tannehill came out of offseason workouts strong and is ready to go full speed from Day One of training camp.

Beyond that, players believe head coach Adam Gase's main tenet of accountability transformed Miami into a playoff team last season, and they saw what can happen, are excited about the future and how they could become even better in 2017.

"If it's on the field, off the field, sleeping better, eating better, whatever it is to make yourself even better than we were last year," Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Wake said, "Each man has to do that, and if we do that individually and collectively, I think that's how we make it happen."

The Dolphins did learn prior to reporting day that linebacker Koa Misi won't be available. Misi played just three games last season because of a neck injury and was placed on reserve/injured July 25.

On the other hand, the news was good on center Mike Pouncey, who played just five games last season because of a hip injury. Pouncey was evaluated prior to camp and in an Instagram post Wednesday, he had a picture of himself with the caption, "when you get the news you've been waiting for!!!!"

Safety Reshad Jones opened camp on active/non-football injury. The Miami Herald reported that Jones "tweaked something" working out before camp, but the injury is not considered serious.

Top summer battle

--Middle linebacker is a key spot for the Dolphins' 4-3 scheme, so expect the most closely-watched battle to be at that position. Rookie Raekwon McMillan, the second-round pick from Ohio State, could emerge as the starter. But Lawrence Timmons, the veteran inside linebacker in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme, has five consecutive 100-tackle seasons. Ideally, Timmons would be on the strong side, McMillan in the middle, and Kiko Alonso, last year's starter in the middle, on the weak side.

The good thing is among McMillan, Timmons and Alonso, the Dolphins have many options at middle linebacker. But there's probably only one correct solution, and it's probably McMillan or Timmons.


Baptist Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southwestern University; Davie, Fla.

COACH: Adam Gase

2nd season as Dolphins/NFL head coach

10-7 overall; 0-1 postseason


2016 finish: 2nd AFC East (10-6)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 332.8 (24th)

RUSHING: 114.0 (9th)

PASSING: 218.8 (26th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 382.6 (29th)

RUSHING: 140.4 (30th)

PASSING: 242.2 (15th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, ATLANTA (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 17, BALTIMORE (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 24, at Philadelphia (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 31, at Minnesota (Thu), 8:00


Starter - Ryan Tannehill. Backups - Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty, David Fales.

Tannehill (19 TDs, 12 INTs, career-best 93.5 passer rating) must take the step from game manager to top tier QB. He's recovered from the two torn ligaments in his left knee that caused him to miss the final three regular season games as well as the wildcard loss at Pittsburgh. Now, for the umpteenth time in his five-year career, the pressure is on to show he can be a leader instead of a caretaker. Moore showed he's a steady backup by going 2-1 in the regular season in Tannehill's absence and giving a good effort in the wildcard loss. Doughty seems the favorite for the No. 3 job.

Starter - Jay Ajayi. Backups - Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams, Storm Johnson, Senorise Perry, De'Veon Smith.

Ajayi (1,271 yards, 8 TDs) made the Pro Bowl, and now the question is whether he can repeat that performance. If so, the offense should operate more smoothly. If not, it could be a choppy season. Miami likes the versatility Drake (179 yards rushing, 5.9 yards per carry, 2 TDs) provides, and it likes the third-down effectiveness Williams (3 rushing TDs, 3 receiving TDs) provides. Together, they're a good trio. This position isn't a concern.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Julius Thomas. Backups - Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray, Thomas Duarte, Chris Pantale.

Thomas is the key. He was a Pro Bowl performer in Denver when coach Adam Gase was his offensive coordinator, and Gase thinks he can get Thomas to that level again. If so, Miami has a quality seam runner as well as a red zone threat. Fasano is a quality blocker with ability to catch the ball. Gray is athletic and showed last season he can be trusted in limited exposure. This seems to be a decent unit, but to make the offense hum this must be a play-making unit.

Starters - Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker. Backups - Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford, Rashawn Scott, Drew Morgan, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Francis Owusu, Malcolm Lewis, Mitch Mathews.

Landry (94 reception, 1,136 yards, 4 TDs) and Stills (9 TDs, 17.3 yards per reception) were the stars last season. The hope is Parker (56 receptions, 744 yards, 4 TDs) joins the party. If that happens this becomes one of the NFL's best. If not, they continue to be good but not necessarily dangerous. The backups don't offer the same dazzling skills as the starters so this is a three-man show. If they deliver, this offense could be vastly improved.

Starters - LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Ted Larsen, C Mike Pouncey, RG Jermon Bushrod, RT Ja'Wuan James. Backups - C/G Kraig Urbik, C Jake Brendel, C/G Anthony Steen, T Avery Young, G Isaac Asiata, T Terry Poole, T Eric Smith, T Jesse Davis, T Sam Young.

There are a couple of keys here - Pouncey's health and the left side of the line. Pouncey (hip) was limited to five games last season, he'll be limited in training camp and limited in regular season practice participation. It's a hugely different OL with and without Pouncey. On the left side, Tunsil takes over at LT for veteran Branden Albert (Jacksonville) and Larsen takes over at LG. Depth seems better than a year ago but the quality can be questioned. Still, among Urbik, Steen and Young the Dolphins have starting experience across the board, and Asiata, the fifth-round pick from Utah, should reinforce the guard position. If Pouncey stays healthy they could be better than last year, when they allowed 30 sacks (10th-best in the NFL). If not, they'll likely struggle.

Starters - DLE Cam Wake, LDT Ndamukong Suh, RDT Jordan Phillips, DRE Andre Branch. Backups - DT Vincent Taylor, DT Davon Godchaux, DE William Hayes, DE Charles Harris, DE Terrence Fede, DE Joby Saint Fleur, DE Arthur Miley, DE Cameron Malveaux, DE Praise Martin-Oguike, DT Lawrence Okoye, DE Nick Williams.

These guys must show they can stop the run. They can produce a pass rush among Wake (11.5 sacks), Branch (5.5 sacks) and Suh (5.0 sacks). And Harris, the first-round pick from Missouri, should add to that threat. But against the run the defense was 30th in the NFL after finishing 28th in 2015. The addition of Hayes should help as well as drafting Godchaux (fifth round) and Taylor (sixth round). Depth might be the key here. The starters, save for Phillips, who was disappointing last season, seem solid. If the rotation players perform, the run defense should improve. If not, it will be another long season on the ground.

Starters - WLB Kiko Alonso, MLB Raekwon McMillan, SLB Lawrence Timmons. Backups - MLB Mike Hull, OLB Neville Hewitt, MLB Lamin Barrow, OLB Deon Lacey, OLB Trevor Reilly, OLB Brandon Watts, OLB Chase Allen.

The linebackers have been blamed for much of the run defense's woes of the last two seasons so immediate action is needed. Miami might have found it with Timmons, who had five consecutive 100-tackle seasons with Pittsburgh, and McMillan, the second-round pick from Ohio State. Miami would like to have Alonso on the weak side, McMillan in the middle and Timmons on the strong side. That trio, they believe, provides skill, speed, athleticism and toughness. Perhaps Miami goes with a different alignment but the bottom line is this might be the No. 1 area for improvement defensively, and they must show progress.

Starters - LCB Xavien Howard, RCB Byron Maxwell, FS Nate Allen, SS Reshad Jones. Backups - CB Alterraun Verner, CB/slot Bobby McCain, FS/slot Michael Thomas, FS T.J. McDonald, CB Tony Lippett, CB Jordan Lucas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S A.J. Hendy, S Walt Aikens, CB Maurice Smith, CB Torry McTyer, CB Cordrea Tankersley, CB Larry Hope.

Miami has experience in the secondary, but the question is whether the Dolphins have play-making skills. For example, at cornerback Maxwell, Howard and Lippett each started last season. But none, for a variety of reasons, was close to fulfilling his potential. Tankersley, the third-round pick from Clemson, doesn't seem a starting candidate but figures to be a contributor. That's numbers, but not necessarily a collection of playmakers. McCain returns at nickel/slot, and Allen and Jones will likely form the starting safety tandem, which, such as the cornerbacks, is decent but nothing special. If these guys show improvement they could elevate themselves to playmakers. Otherwise, they'll just have to hold serve such as they did last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Andrew Franks, P Matt Darr, P Matt Haack, LS John Denney, LS Winston Chapman, KOR/PR Jakeem Grant, KOR/PR Kenyan Drake, PR Drew Morgan.

The one to watch if Grant, who mishandled five KOs/PRs. He has play-making ability as evidenced by his 76-yard TD against Tennessee, but he can't be trusted. Drake, who had a 96-yard KOR TD against the New York Jets, is being tested at PR and will continue sharing KOR duties with Grant. Franks (16-21 FGs, 41-42 XPs) has no training camp competition, which equates to a vote of confidence. Darr (44.3 yards per punt, 22nd in NFL) figures to retain his job even though he has camp competition. These guys are mostly solid but must become game-changers, which they've threatened to do.
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NFL camp openings: Bills hope for healthy WR Watkins
July 26, 2017

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - When the Buffalo Bills reported to camp here July 26, there was one major goal: keep wide receiver Sammy Watkins healthy. Sound familiar?

The first-round pick in 2014 did not receive a fifth-year option from the Bills, so essentially, he's in his walk year. Injuries have sabotaged his career, and he's coming off a second foot surgery that forced him to miss most of the offseason program. In training camp, Watkins must stay healthy and prove he is ready to become the star the Bills thought he would be when they picked him fourth overall.

Watkins' health will also have a major impact on whether quarterback Tyrod Taylor will be around after the season. Taylor restructured his bloated contract to return as the starter, rather than face likely being released.

Even with a healthy Watkins, the competition for the starting spot opposite him will be front and center in camp.

Rookie second-round pick Zay Jones was drafted with that job in mind, but nothing is a given. The Bills signed several middle-of-the-road veteran free agents including Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Rod Streater, and Jeremy Butler, plus have a couple holdovers in Dez Lewis and Walter Powell to consider. Even if Jones is the clear-cut No. 2, the battle for the other spots on the depth chart will be fierce.

Meanwhile, the depth chart was thinned at quarterback when Cardale Jones was traded to the Chargers.


: St. John Fisher College; Rochester, N.Y.

COACH: Sean McDermott

1st season as Bills/NFL head coach


2016 finish: 3rd AFC East (7-9)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 354.1 (16th)

RUSHING: 164.4 (1st)

PASSING: 189.8 (30th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 357.0 (19th)

RUSHING: 133.1 (26th)

PASSING: 223.9 (6th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, MINNESOTA (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 17, at Philadelphia (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 26, at Baltimore (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 31, DETROIT (Thu), 7:00


Starter -- Tyrod Taylor. Backups -- T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman.

Taylor is playing for his future for the third year in a row. The Bills brought him back on a restructured contract that essentially is a prove-it contract because they can escape it easily prior to 2018 if Taylor does not show improvement in the passing game. Veteran Yates was signed to be the backup, mainly because he has experience in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's system. Peterman was a fifth-round flyer who may compete with Yates.

: Starters -- LeSean McCoy, FB Patrick DiMarco. Backups -- Jonathan Williams, FB Mike Tolbert, Cedric O'Neal, Jordan Johnson, Joe Banyard.

McCoy has lot of mileage on his now 29-year-old body, but the Bills are banking on him being able to be a stud once again. He'll need to be as the team lost backup Mike Gillislee to the Patriots, and has no other backup with any real NFL experience. The Bills have led the NFL in rushing two years running, due in large part to McCoy, but he has also been assisted by Taylor's running ability from the quarterback position, as well as quality backups Gillislee and the departed Karlos Williams. Jonathan Williams or O'Neal must step in and be that useful backup to spell McCoy. At fullback, DiMarco is considered one of the best blockers in the game and he might be able to add a little to the passing game, too.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Charles Clay. Backups -- Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas, Keith Towbridge, Wes Saxton, Jason Croom.

Clay has not lived up to the $38.5 million contract he signed in 2015. He was supposed to be a down-the-seam threat who would draw coverage away from the wideouts, but it really hasn't worked out that way. Now he's battling what could be a chronic knee problem, so his durability will be a big question. This is not good for the Bills because they are weak at this position behind Clay and he's the only legitimate playmaking tight end they have.

Starters -- Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones. Backups -- Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Jeremy Butler, Walter Powell, Brandon Tate, Dezmin Lewis, Rod Streater, Brandon Reilly, Rashad Ross, Daikiel Shorts.

If Watkins is healthy and performing the way the Bills believe he can, the passing game will be able to at least function. Watkins can be a difference-maker, but his unavailability has been a constant during his first three years. If Jones proves to be a second-round talent who can replace, and perhaps surpass in production, Robert Woods, all the better for the Bills. After those two, it's a whole lot of mediocrity with the likes of veteran retreads Holmes, Brown, Butler, Streater and the rest. The only guy who stands out is Holmes, who had a pretty nice season in Oakland a couple years ago.

Starters - LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills. Backups - T Seantrel Henderson, G/C Ryan Groy, G/T Dion Dawkins, G Vladimir Ducasse, T Michael Ola, G Jordan Mudge, G Greg Pyke, G Zach Voytek, T Cameron Jefferson, G Karim Barton.

The Bills are basically set at every position except right tackle. Mills has been the weak link the past couple years, so the Bills drafted Dawkins in the second round to address that problem. However, the 330-pound rookie from Temple must prove he's ready because the Bills did re-sign Mills in the offseason just in case they couldn't find anyone better. The blocking style will change a bit under Dennison's new scheme, so it will be interesting to see how the Bills adapt, but this is a veteran group that shouldn't struggle with the change.

Starters - DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Shaq Lawson. Backups - DT Adolphus Washington, DT Jerel Worthy, DE Ryan Davis, DE Jake Metz, DE Max Valles, DE Marquavius Lewis, DE Ian Seau, DT Deandre Coleman, DT Nigel Williams, DE Eddie Yarbrough.

Returning to the 4-3 should be exactly what this group needs. It allows Dareus and Williams to return to tackle positions where they can plug the run game and push the pocket up the middle. And it frees Hughes and Lawson to line up on the ends and rush off the edge, which is their greatest strength, rather than worrying about dropping in coverage as they did last year under Rex Ryan. Washington has much to prove in his second season, while Worthy is a solid veteran. Where the Bills are really lacking is options at end behind the two starters. No one on the current roster stands out.

Starters - MLB Reggie Ragland, OLB Gerald Hodges, OLB Lorenzo Alexander. Backups - MLB Preston Brown, OLB Ramon Humber, MLB Carl Bradford, Jacob Lindsey, Abner Logan, OLB Matt Milano, MLB Tanner Vallejo. Sam Barrington.

The Bills need Ragland to come through in a big way. The 2016 second-round draft pick missed his rookie season due to a knee injury, so he's essentially a first-year player trying to lock up the vital middle linebacker spot. Preston Brown, who has led the Bills in defensive snaps the last three seasons, is his competition and it should be a very interesting battle. The outside spots are weak as Alexander is primarily a pass rusher, and Hodges and Humber are unproven players. Humber seems more suited to special teams, and the same goes for the two rookie draft picks, Vallejo and Milano.

Starters - CB Ronald Darby, CB Tre'Davious White, SS Micah Hyde, FS Jordan Poyer. Backups - CB Kevon Seymour, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Shareece Wright, CB Charles James, CB Greg Mabin, CB Marcus Sayles, CB Bradley Sylve, S Colt Anderson, S Shamiel Gray, S Trae Elston, S Joe Powell, S B.T. Sanders, S Bacarri Rambo.

The Bills lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots in free agency, and he will be missed. To that end, they used their first-round draft pick on White and they believe he can step in and win the starting job opposite Darby, who is coming off a down sophomore year with Buffalo. The Bills revamped the safety position, releasing Corey Graham and Aaron Williams and replacing them with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Hyde should excel, but Poyer has a lot to prove. The nickel job is also open, and second-year pro Seymour, and veteran free agents Wright and Johnson will be in the thick of that battle. If White falters in camp, one of those players may end up starting.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Steven Hauschka, P Colton Schmidt, LS Reid Ferguson, P Austin Rehkow, KOR/PR Brandon Tate.

Hauschka is an upper-level kicker who not only is accurate, but has a stronger leg than the departed Dan Carpenter and can also kick off, thus saving the Bills a roster spot that has previously been used on kickoff specialist Jordan Gay. Schmidt returns as the punter, but he needs to be much better than he was in 2016 when he took a sharp downturn from 2015. Ferguson replaces Garrison Sanborn who had an almost flawless eight-year tenure as Buffalo's long snapper.
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NFL camp openings: Time for Rodgers to hone magic touch
July 26, 2017

DE PERE, Wis. -- For the Green Bay Packers, the magic really begins when they showed up for training camp Wednesday (July 26) and then get on the field Thursday here at St. Norbert College.

This is where and when quarterback Aaron Rodgers dials in the sleight of hand that helps pull the rabbit out of the hat, as it were, as he did so often in his career. Yes, he is the linear descendant in Packers quarterback history to Don "Majic Man" Majkowski, who preceded a guy named Brett Favre, who eventually yielded to Rodgers.

But while Majkowski's magic was in name only -- regardless how you spell it -- Rodgers actually performed his unbelievable deeds on the field, over and over.

Last year he won the ESPY award for "Best Play." Technically, it was for a 61-yard, game-winning, Hail Mary pass to tight end Richard Rodgers, but there were many. This year, Rodgers also was honored with the ESPY award for "Best NFL Player" for the fourth time in seven years, which may rankle New England Patriots fans who probably believe that honor belongs elsewhere.

But Rodgers led the league in 2016 with 40 touchdown passes, ranked fourth in passing yards (4,428) and passer rating (104.2), and set a single-season franchise record with 401 completions. So he became the first player in the ESPY's 25-year history to be named Best Player four times (also, 2011, 2012 and 2015).

What does all that have to do with the Packers' training camp?

Notably, Rodgers played only one preseason game last summer - and all of two series in that cameo appearance. More of the same is expected this August for the indispensable 33-year-old quarterback.

Hence, the practice field will be where Rodgers will get the most quality experience to get timing of pass routes down and solidify the rapport that started in the spring with his new gadgets on offense.

Top Summer Battle

--Surprise, it is at wide receiver, where the Packers open camp with at least 10 prospects vying to be a target for Rodgers.

The Packers are set at the top of the depth chart with the talented trio of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. After that, no fewer than six players will jockey for three or four spots. Jeff Janis, Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis have experience. Max McCaffrey, older brother of Carolina Panthers running back and top-10 draft pick Christian, also is back after joining the team late in the season.

Putting pressure on those holdovers will be newcomers DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre, who were taken in the fifth and seventh rounds of the draft, respectively. Dupre jumped out in the team's spring workouts.


TRAINING CAMP: St. Norbert College; De Pere, Wis.

HEAD COACH: Mike McCarthy

12th season as Packers/NFL head coach

124-69-1 overall; 10-8 postseason


2016 finish: 1st NFC North (10-6)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 368.8 (8th)

RUSHING: 106.3 (20th)

PASSING: 262.4 (7th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 363.9 (22nd)

RUSHING: 94.7 (8th)

PASSING: 269.3 (31st)


All times Central

Aug. 10, PHILADELPHIA (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 19, at Washington (Sat), 6:30

Aug. 26, at Denver (Sat), 8:00

Aug. 31, L.A. RAMS (Thu), 6:00


Starter - Aaron Rodgers. Backups - Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Taysom Hill.

Rodgers not only remains the longest-tenured active player with the Packers, but he also heads into the season their second-oldest at age 33 - just 3 1/2 months younger than newly acquired guard Jahri Evans, who turns 34 in late August. What will be Rodgers' 10th season as a starter could become his most productive as a passer in what already has been a tremendously prolific run. He will start play in September with a streak of 245 straight passes without an interception in regular-season games, 49 pass attempts behind Bart Starr's team record. A rare free-agent spree by general manager Ted Thompson in the offseason gives a healthy and determined Rodgers an embarrassment of riches on the receiving end. Like last year, Rodgers isn't expected to play more than a few series in the preseason for the sake of preserving him for the games that matter. That will give Hundley, the team's fifth-round draft pick in 2015, ample opportunity to atone for a sluggish and injury-plagued preseason last year as he starts to market himself for a potential new suitor with his rookie contract up after 2018. With Rodgers and Hundley relegated to the sideline, the agile Callahan starred in exhibition play last August as an undrafted rookie out of the Division III college ranks and earned an opening-day roster spot. The Packers released him in October, but he found his way back to Green Bay by the end of the season after brief stops with the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. The intriguing and supremely athletic Hill (6-foot-2, 221 pounds) joined the Packers as a 26-year-old undrafted rookie this spring. His checkered college career at BYU was delayed by a required two-year Mormon mission before he sustained season-ending injuries four times from 2012-16.

: Starters - Ty Montgomery, FB Aaron Ripkowski. Backups - Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Kalif Phillips, William Stanback, FB Joe Kerridge.

The Packers enter the preseason with all of 105 carries and 562 yards and five touchdowns on the ground from their halfbacks as NFL players, including the playoffs. All of those numbers are the doing of Montgomery. The third-year pro embarks on his first full season as a running back - and as the team's anointed lead rusher - after he made the conversion from wide receiver at midseason last year. Shifty and elusive in the open field, Montgomery finished with 457 yards, the fewest by a Packers rushing leader since Alex Green's 464 in 2012. Thompson made a substantial overhaul behind Montgomery in the offseason, jettisoning the injury-prone tandem of Eddie Lacy and James Starks with three running backs in the NFL Draft, all on the last day in the final four rounds. The competition should be fierce for the backup roles. The powerful Williams, a fourth-round selection from BYU, and the speedy Jones, a fifth-round choice out of UTEP, are their college programs' all-time leading rushers. The robust Mays, a seventh-round pick from Utah State, dazzled in 2015 before knee and ankle injuries cost him most of his final college season last fall. Ripkowski, moving into his third pro season, stepped out of the shadow of the departed John Kuhn last season and is a valuable cog in the offense as a rugged blocker and short-yardage ball carrier. Kerridge spent most of the 2016 season with the team as an undrafted rookie, first on the practice squad and then as a special-teams contributor down the stretch.

: Starter - Martellus Bennett. Backups - Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers, Beau Sandland, Aaron Peck.

Thompson didn't just upgrade the position, which tends to get overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers' pitch-and-catch exploits with his deep group of wide receivers. Instead, while allowing veteran Jared Cook to walk after only one season in Green Bay, Thompson pulled off a major heist in free agency, giving Rodgers two more proven pass catchers. The signings of Bennett, fresh off contributing to the New England Patriots' Super Bowl LI victory, and Kendricks, a mainstay with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, will leave opposing defenses in a pickle as they try to match up with Green Bay's multiple-tight-end sets. Bennett and Kendricks, who have a combined 15 years in the NFL, also address the blocking shortcomings that have undercut Richard Rodgers his first three seasons.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb. Backups - Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, Malachi Dupre, DeAngelo Yancey, Max McCaffrey, Michael Clark, Colby Pearson, Montay Crockett.

Though the Packers have a major void or two to round out their backfield, the most compelling battle(s) of training camp should come at receiver. Given the frequency head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy likes to put the football in his star quarterback's right hand, the position is a hot commodity. McCarthy hasn't been averse to keeping seven wideouts. The top three remain unchanged from a year ago with Nelson, Cobb and Adams. The 32-year-old Nelson removed any doubts about how he would respond a year removed from a torn ACL that cost him the 2015 season by catching 97 passes (one short of his career high) for 1,257 yards and a league-best 14 touchdowns to earn the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award from The Associated Press. Cobb was dinged by hamstring and ankle injuries at different points last season but still managed 60 receptions. Adams' long-awaited breakthrough season on the perimeter as a third-year pro (75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns) allowed the Packers to spotlight Nelson more in the slot with Cobb. The young incumbent trio of Allison, Janis and Davis seemingly would have experience in the system on their side for retaining roster spots. However, compelling cases also could be made the next several weeks by McCaffrey, whom Green Bay signed to the practice squad late in the season, and several newcomers, most notably the drafted duo of Dupre and Yancey. Dupre, a seventh-round pick out of LSU, showed to be a quick study in Green Bay's offseason workouts. Yancey, a fifth-round selection from Purdue, can stretch the field.

Starters - LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley, RG Jahri Evans, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups - T Jason Spriggs, T/G Don Barclay, T Kyle Murphy, G Lucas Patrick, G Kofi Amichia, G Justin McCray, G Geoff Gray, G Thomas Evans, G/T Adam Pankey, T Robert Leff.

The anticipated starting five across the line for the Packers when camp opens in late July will be considerably different from what they had as their No. 1 group last summer. Yet, despite moving on from the Pro Bowl guard tandem of Josh Sitton (surprise release at preseason's end last year) and T.J. Lang (not re-signed as a free agent this year), Green Bay has stability up front. Linsley is expected to be ready for the start of camp after he missed the entire offseason to recover from ankle surgery. The ankle injury contributed to hamstring issues that sidelined Linsley last preseason and the first half of the season. Linsley, a fourth-year pro entering the final year of his rookie contract, anchors the interior of the line that is a mix of old and new. The Packers had no dropoff with Taylor, a fifth-year pro, as the opening-day replacement for Sitton in 2016. To address the departure of Lang at right guard after the eight-year Packer bolted for the rival Detroit Lions, Thompson signed Jahri Evans. The 12th-year pro was a six-time Pro Bowl honoree with the Saints. And, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers well protected in the pocket with veteran bookends Bulaga and Bakhtiari, who earned a Pro Bowl spot last winter for the first time. The Packers also moved on this offseason without JC Tretter (signed with Cleveland), a capable replacement at center before his midseason knee injury opened the door for Linsley's return to the lineup. Though he's been the target of much scrutiny after five seasons in the league, the coaches like the tough-minded Barclay as the O-line's Mr. Utility for being to play every position. Spriggs, the team's second-round draft pick in 2016, is relegated again to backing up both tackle spots.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Mike Daniels, DT Kenny Clark, DRE Dean Lowry. Backups - DT Letroy Guion, DT Ricky Jean Francois, DT Montravius Adams, DT Christian Ringo, DT Brian Price, DT Izaah Lunsford.

The start of a preseason filled with the usual high expectations among Packers backers, especially after their team nearly advanced to the Super Bowl, has one ominous cloud hanging overhead. The future of Guion with the team is up in the air after his double whammy this offseason. Three months after the NFL suspended the 10th-year pro the first four games of the season for a violation of the league policy on performance-enhancing substances, Guion was arrested the morning of his 30th birthday on June 21 and charged with driving under the influence while he was vacationing in Hawaii. The case is pending. Though Guion will be allowed to participate in training camp, further discipline from the league could be coming. He's coming off a productive third season with the team as he played and started all but one game, but the Packers have the pieces in place in the interior of the line to get by without Guion, whether in the short or long term. Clark, the team's first-round draft pick last year, is being entrusted with a bigger role after he showed flashes in a part-time role as a rookie. Green Bay also bolstered depth at tackle with the free-agent signing of ninth-year pro Jean Francois, formerly of the Washington Redskins, and this year's third-round draft selection of the fleet-footed Adams out of Auburn. The no-nonsense Daniels, who's on to season No. 6, sets the tone for the defensive line. A relentless Lowry, a fourth-round draft pick last year, appears to be ticketed for a substantial role after he came on late in the season with a couple sacks and a slew of quarterback pressures.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Nick Perry, ILB Jake Ryan, ILB Blake Martinez, ROLB Clay Matthews. Backups - ILB Joe Thomas, OLB Jayrone Elliott, OLB Kyler Fackrell, OLB Vince Biegel, ILB Reggie Gilbert, ILB Jordan Tripp, ILB Cody Heiman, OLB Johnathan Calvin, ILB Derrick Mathews, ILB David Talley, OLB Josh Letuligasenoa.

Julius Peppers, a destined Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Datone Jones no longer are in green and gold. They signed with the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, respectively, in free agency. The Packers aren't fretting over losing more than 20 percent (9 1/2) of their 44 sacks, including the postseason, from those two pass rushers. They rewarded former first-round draft pick Perry for his team- and career-high 12 sacks last season with a five-year, $60 million deal with an $18 million signing bonus to keep him from fleeing in free agency. Opposite Perry is the highly decorated Matthews, who showed signs of wear with a career-low-tying six sacks while missing four games with recurring hamstring and ankle injuries. The ninth-year pro is 31 years old. The Packers will look to replenish the lost punch with the pass rush from young holdovers Elliott and Fackrell as well as Biegel. However, Biegel, a Wisconsin product taken in the fourth round of the draft this year, underwent surgery in May for a broken foot and may not be ready for the start of camp. Martinez and Ryan are the starting incumbents in the middle, but both missed time last season with leg injuries. Thomas, an instinctive thumper entering his third season, flourished as a part-time starter and the defense's frequently deployed inside dime linebacker with 90 tackles (71 solo), an interception and 10 pass breakups, including the playoffs. Heiman is an intriguing newcomer. The 6-2, 229-pound undrafted rookie dominated at the Division II level with Washburn University.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Kevin King, RCB Davon House, SS Morgan Burnett, FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Backups - CB Damarious Randall, CB LaDarius Gunter, CB Quinten Rollins, CB Demetri Goodson, S Josh Jones, S Kentrell Brice, S Marwin Evans, CB Josh Hawkins, CB Herb Waters, S Jermaine Whitehead, CB Lenzy Pipkins, S Aaron Taylor, CB Donatello Brown, CB Daquan Holmes, CB Raysean Pringle.

The biggest offseason overhaul for the Packers came at the position that needed the most help. The 392-yard, four-touchdown thrashing administered by Matt Ryan through the air in the Atlanta Falcons' 23-point victory in the NFC Championship epitomized just how horrid Green Bay's defense was against the pass last season. Thompson promptly shook things up by cutting veteran shutdown corner Sam Shields, who missed all but the first game of the season with a concussion, and allowing versatile defensive back Micah Hyde to sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency. In turn, the Packers invested their top two draft picks in dire help for the secondary. The hope would be King, taken with the first selection in the second round (No. 33 overall) out of Washington, is starter ready in Week 1 this season with his impressive 6-foot-3 height and ball skills. However, he had to miss a long stretch of spring workouts since Washington still was in session with classes. Thompson brought back House, who left Green Bay two years ago to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, as a dependable seventh-year pro with starting chops. Presuming House and King get the starting nods on the outside, underachieving 2015 first-round draft pick Randall will have to hold onto key role manning the slot in coordinator Dom Capers' liberal use of nickel and dime packages. Gunter, who took over for Shields in the starting lineup last season, as well as fellow holdovers Rollins, Goodson and Hawkins also will challenge for playing time. Burnett and Clinton-Dix are the leaders on the back end. Clinton-Dix earned his first Pro Bowl trip with a team- and career-high five interceptions. Burnett led the defense with 108 tackles (93 solo), counting the playoffs. The fly-to-the-football Jones, the team's second second-round draft pick this year (No. 61 overall), should see the field a lot in the hybrid role Hyde previously had. The Packers saw some good things out of Brice and Evans as undrafted rookies last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mason Crosby, P Justin Vogel, LS Derek Hart, KOR Jeff Janis, PR Randall Cobb or Trevor Davis.

Crosby will turn 33 a week before the Sept. 10 season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. If the Packers' roster doesn't turn over with their specialists by then, Crosby will be working with two NFL neophytes who were barely teenagers when he broke into the league in 2007. Vogel emerged as the punter in the spring workouts as the team released incumbent Jake Schum, who had been sidelined with a back injury. Vogel excelled as a directional kicker at Miami (Fla.) last season, averaging 43.8 yards. Perhaps as unlikely, fellow undrafted rookie Hart is the team's new long snapper. Hart, who last played competitively in 2015 in his final college season at James Madison, had been working as an engineer for Harley-Davidson in Pennsylvania last year before he felt an itch in the fall to return to football. Should Hart falter in the preseason, the Packers could bring back 32-year-old Brett Goode, who handled the snapping duties in Green Bay the last nine seasons and remains unsigned as a free agent. The seemingly ageless Crosby padded his team-record points total (1,267) with one of his most productive and accurate seasons in 2016. He connected on 26 of 30 field goals (86.7 percent) and tallied 122 points in the regular season, then had a memorable sequence the last two minutes of regulation with field goals of 56 and 51 yards (the latter as time expired) to lift the Packers a 34-31 upset win at the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. Still to be sorted out is the seemingly annual ritual of who will return kicks. What happens with roster decisions at wide receiver will give some clarity. Janis replaced Montgomery as the primary kickoff returner late in the season and averaged 25.7 yards in three runbacks during the playoffs. Cobb has the most experience on punt returns, and Davis had a 55-yard runback as a rookie last season.
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NFL camp openings: Competition key to Bears improvement
July 26, 2017

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- With two quarterbacks stealing the spotlight, the Chicago Bears' obvious talent problems elsewhere have been cast into the shadows, but will be brought to light when the full team opened training camp Wednesday (July 26) here at Olivet Nazarene University.

From the time the Bears traded up to select Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick of the draft, the quarterback battle became a huge focus. But this is a team with plenty of issues, and the most pressing is finding a way to compete in the NFC North against Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit with a coaching staff in the crucial next-to-last year of a contract.

Quarterback Mike Glennon is being given the controls to the offense, and begins training camp far ahead of his rookie competitor. So it doesn't seem much of a quarterback controversy, even if media members are frothing at the mouth over it.

Head coach John Fox believes improvement from a 3-13 disaster is a matter of job competition elevating the entire team's talent level.

"I think really throughout our whole team, you know, regardless of the position, I think we've created a lot more competition," Fox said. "You know whether they were a starter a year ago or not, a lot of times people talk to coaches but players know better than us about competition. They see it, they feel it."

Job competition in camp is fine, as long as the winner produces at high levels. The Bears must prove that the battle for jobs will produce winners worthy of even starting in the NFL.

At wide receiver, tight end and the secondary, the Bears are a bubbling caldron of competitive juices. Whether this mix actually produces anything challenging in the NFC North remains to be seen.

Top Summer Battle

--Kendall Wright vs. Victor Cruz at slot receiver. It's two older receivers on the comeback trail looking to become the third receiver behind Kevin White and Cameron Meredith. It could be a battle for a roster spot because it's unlikely either will be able to help with special teams and they can only retain so many receivers without those abilities. When both were entirely healthy, Cruz would have been a hands-down winner because of his blazing speed. But he caught only 39 passes last year after missing all of 2015 and catching six before suffering a torn patellar tendon the previous season. He's never played in another offense besides the Giants, so that's working against him as well. Cruz is an inch taller, 10 pounds heavier and has had team success with the Giants. Wright, meanwhile, has been productive even while playing through injuries the last two years. He had just 65 catches for 824 yards and six touchdowns over the last two seasons, but prior to that averaged 72 catches, four touchdowns and 807 yards a season. Wright's style is more ground-based, much like Marty Booker was for the Bears. Cruz has better ability to go up after a ball. A team as suspect at receiver as the Bears might be better off keeping both.


TRAINING CAMP: Olivet Nazarene University; Bourbonnais, Ill.


3rd season with Bears

9-23 overall

16th season as NFL coach

136-119 overall; 8-7 postseason


2016 finish: 4th NFC North (3-13)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 356.5 (15th)

RUSHING: 108.4 (17th)

PASSING: 248.1 (14th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 346.8 (15th)

RUSHING: 121.9 (27th)

PASSING: 224.9 (7th)


All times Central

Aug. 10, DENVER (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 19, at Arizona (Sat), 9:00

Aug. 27, at Tennessee, 12:00

Aug. 31, CLEVELAND (Thu), 7:00


Starter - Mike Glennon. Backups - Mitchell Trubisky, Mark Sanchez, Connor Shaw.

Glennon's ability to move in the pocket on scripted plays at 6-foot-6 has been surprising after he was often depicted as immobile with the Bucs. He has shown good ability to run the boot pass and fake, and also move before throwing screen passes. His problem with quickness comes when pursued in the open field by pass rushers. His arm strength is above average, but the Bears are seeing leadership from him in ways they never saw from Jay Cutler. In some ways, Trubisky has been the opposite of Glennon in OTAs and minicamp. He has been able to move around and throw outside the pocket when being rushed. It was when he looked best. His arm strength has been solid. But he obviously doesn't know the offense well enough. Sanchez has helped steady, inexperienced QBs in the meeting room but has been out since mid-May due to thumb surgery, and will be catching up on the field when camp starts. The only returning quarterback from last year, Shaw knows the offense. His lack of arm strength compared to the other candidates is obvious.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Jordan Howard, FB Michael Burton. Backups - Ka'Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford, Benny Cunningham, Tarik Cohen, Joel Bouagnon, FB Freddie Stevenson.

Howard's power after first contact extended his rookie season all the way to the Pro Bowl. For some reason, he has decided to lose 7 to 10 pounds in hopes it will increase his breakaway speed. Some backs are not meant to be breakaway threats, but are powerful runners. He could regret a change of this type. One thing he has done that's obvious is work on his receiving ability. At least through minicamp, the case of the drops he suffered throughout 2016 seems to have vanished. Langford has the most to prove among backs after an injury-plagued 2016. But he has been unavailable while rehabbing from an ankle injury. He'll be starting off in a hole. Langford's speed made him a big asset in 2015, but the ankle deprived him of this. Carey's value as a slashing back and also a special teams player increased last year and increased his value. Langford could be battling for two roster spots with Carey and Cunningham, and versatility will be important. Cunningham has been a valuable short-yardage and relief back in the league, but his role has been diminished in recent years. Burton might be the big (247 pounds), physical lead blocker the Bears seem to have trouble finding for his position, but it's a position rarely used.

Starters - Dion Sims, Zach Miller. Backups - Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Daniel Brown, MyCole Pruitt.

The Bears brought Sims in as a free agent for his multifaceted game, and it's obvious Shaheen will be around as a potential threat in the red zone due to his size. Miller could fit nicely as the receiving tight end who can line up in the slot as a wide receiver in some packages. But it's also possible he'll get challenged for a roster spot by Brown, who showed decent hands with 16 catches and lacked speed to get free of coverage when he played due to injuries to others. Miller's larger contract could make him expendable.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Kevin White, Cameron Meredith. Backups - Victor Cruz, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle, Daniel Braverman, Titus Davis, Tanner Gentry.

Some Bears voiced the opinion this receiver group gets insufficient respect. It's easy to see why it happens. There are reclamation projects as huge as refloating the Titanic, and a complete lack of experience in big-game situations. Only Cruz has the latter, and he also has a problem many of the others have - he's still fighting back from a major knee injury suffered three years ago. White needs to rapidly become the big-play threat downfield and also at breaking short ones into big gains. Meredith is underrated, but this is based only on one year of production when there was almost no one else healthy to make catches. Wheaton has speed, but injuries derailed him in the past. Bellamy became a valuable special teams player and is worth keeping based on this alone. He makes tough catches, but drops easy ones.

Starters - LT Charles Leno Jr., LG Kyle Long, C Cody Whitehair, RG Josh Sitton, RT Bobby Massie. Backups - C Hroniss Grasu, G/C Eric Kush, G/C Taylor Boggs, T/G Tom Compton, G William Poehls, T Bradley Sowell, G Jordan Morgan, T Dieugot Joseph, T/G Cyril Richardson, G Mitchell Kirsch.

For a team certain Long will be fine after ankle surgery, the Bears brought in a curiously large number of guards from the free-agent scrap heap. Coincidence? Depth is no problem with this line, and their strength remains in the middle, especially if Long is healthy. Long has lost weight to help with his ankle rehab, and playing left guard instead of right guard might be more suitable. He could return to the right side if healthy enough. Sitton proved every bit a Pro Bowl player when healthy. The problem was he had a few nagging injuries and initially lost playing time. Whitehair proved a wise draft pick when he had to take over for the injured Grasu, and now the Bears have two early-round draft-pick options at center. Tackles Massie and Leno are big, lumbering types who might not be a fit in some other schemes, but they work here because the blocking emphasis is on the inside pushing forward to let the quarterback step forward and throw. Tackles need to get an outside push on pass rushers, and both Massie and Leno seem to have grasped this without grabbing too many jerseys.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Akiem Hicks, NT Eddie Goldman, DRE Mitch Unrein. Backups - DE/DT Jonathan Bullard, DE Rashaad Coward, DE/DT Jaye Howard, NT John Jenkins, NT CJ Wilson, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE Roy Robertson-Harris.

Goldman potentially could become a Pro Bowl player. He has to first avoid the trainer's room. Ankle injuries last year proved detrimental. Hicks was both durable and a leader in his best pro season. He plays the run, but showed a knack for bull rushing the passer, too. Unrein is holding a spot until Bullard figures out how to be a contributor, or until Howard steps up and becomes the player who made 5.5 sacks for Kansas City two years ago. The size and strength of this group has improved greatly with Jenkins joining Wilson as a potential reserve plug inside. There are far more potential 3-technique defensive tackles for use when they switch to the four-man line in pass-rushing situations.

Starters - LOLB Pernell McPhee, ILB Danny Trevathan, ILB Jerrell Freeman, ROLB Willie Young. Backups - OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Jonathan Anderson, ILB John Timu, OLB/ILB Christian Jones, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, OLB Sam Acho, OLB Hendrick Ekpe, OLB LaMarr Houston, OLB Isaiah Irving, OLB Alex Searce, ILB Dan Skuta.

This unit brings every playing style possible to the field, from power rushing by McPhee and Houston to pure speed by Floyd to speed and technique with Young. The trouble is, they also had about every injury imaginable. McPhee (knee), Houston (knee) and Floyd (shoulder, concussions) are concerns, and losing too many of them causes problems because this 3-4 must live off the outside rush. McPhee is potentially devastating and another year removed from injury, while Floyd continues to get stronger to complement his speed. Houston has to show he can come back from a second serious knee injury. Inside, Trevathan is the brains of the defense and unlikely to be available until late preseason. His physical style is part of the plan to cause more turnovers, and Freeman is the interceptor at linebacker in the nickel as well as a sure open-field tackler. The linebacker depth inside is solid with Kwiatkoski, Anderson and Jones all productive in the past.

Starters - LCB Kyle Fuller, RCB Prince Amukamara, FS Quintin Demps, SS Adrian Amos. Backups - S Deon Bush, S Deiondre Hall, CB Marcus Cooper, CB Bryce Callahan, CB Cre'Von LeBlanc, CB Sherrick McManis, CB Rashaad Reynolds, S Eddie Jackson, CB Johnthan Banks, CB DeAndre Houston-Carson, S Harold Jones-Quartey, S Chris Prosinski, CB B.W. Webb.

A revamped group will rely on Demps, who had more interceptions than any NFL safety last year. Putting Amos at strong safety lets him explore a strength - an ability to hit inside the box. Amukamara's experience showed immediately after arrival in free agency, as he and Demps quickly developed good on-field communication. Amukamara needs to make more plays on the football and increase his interception total. Fuller fell into disfavor last year when he didn't play with a knee injury the Bears thought had healed, but he has flashed big-play ability in the past. Depth is a strength, even if established standouts at corner are missing. It's possible young defensive backs like Jackson or Bush might emerge and take over roster spots held by underachieving veterans. McManis remains valuable because of kick and punt coverage ability, while Callahan and LeBlanc are experienced nickel candidates. The height and speed of this group has improved, as well as the leadership.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Connor Barth, P Pat O'Donnell, LS Patrick Scales, KOR Thompson, PR Jackson.

Eventually Jackson could become the punt returner, but it's an open battle and there will be many candidates. Jackson will start out behind because a broken leg suffered in college as a senior sidelined him in offseason work. LeBlanc performed poorly as a punt returner last year. Cohen is likely to get a crack at it, as well. Thompson led the league in most kickoff returns - a testament to the number of points allowed by the defense. He was solid in yards per return, though, and relies on straight-line speed. Barth last year started slowly after the Bears let go of Robbie Gould. Much like Scales the previous season, Barth came on at season's end and appears solid. Scales and O'Donnell are solid pros, and O'Donnell has improved every season he's been in the league in terms of consistency and ability to put the ball inside the 20.
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NFL camp openings: Vikes say hello to new RB, goodbye to Mankato
July 26, 2017

MANKATO, Minn. -- When the remnants of a recently good roster all arrived here at Minnesota State University Wednesday (July 26), the theme will be hello and goodbye.

First, this will be the last time the Vikings hold training camp here as the team moves into its luxurious new headquarters in the Twin Cities this year and will have future summer camps there, well until further notice. So, hello and goodbye to MSU-Mankato.

It was without notice last year that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sidelined with a serious, non-contact knee injury and is on the PUP list as training camp began while Sam Bradford, acquired in a trade from Philadelphia last year, is the starting quarterback, until further notice.

And this will be the first time in 11 years the designated starting running back will not be Adrian Peterson, who signed with the New Orleans Saints.

Even his potential heir apparent, Latavius Murray, signed as a free agent (Oakland), is already on PUP, recovering from ankle surgery in March.

Also on PUP is rookie linebacker Shaan Washington, while fifth-year veteran defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is on the non-football injury list with nerve damage to his knee, and his career may be over.

The Vikings also got a key contract done as camp opened with the signing of a four-year extension for defensive end Everson Griffen.

Top Summer Battle

--Running back. For the first time since 2006, the Vikings head into a season without Peterson. Granted, they will use their top three backs in various situations as they transition away from an offense built around the best running back of this generation. But someone will emerge as the No. 1 back who gets more playing time.

It appears that battle will come down to rookie second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook and Murray.

Cook is the quick, fast and explosive player no one expected to fall out of the first round. Murray is the bigger, powerful back who, for now, is more polished in pass protection. Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick in 2014, is a talent the team will take advantage of. But he's more suited for a third-down role.


TRAINING CAMP: Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN

HEAD COACH: Mike Zimmer

4th season as Vikings/NFL head coach

26-23 overall; postseason 0-1


2016 finish: 3rd NFC North (8-8)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 315.1 (28th)

RUSHING: 75.3 (32nd)

PASSING: 239.8 (18th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 314.9 (3rd)

RUSHING: 106.9 (20th)

PASSING: 207.9 (3rd)


All times Central

Aug. 10, at Buffalo (Thu), 6:00

Aug. 18, at Seattle (Fri), 9:00

Aug. 27, SAN FRANCISCO, 7:00

Aug. 31, MIAMI (Thu), 7:00


: Starter - Sam Bradford. Backups - Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, Taylor Heinicke, Wes Lunt.

Bradford is the undisputed starter heading into camp because Bridgewater likely needs another year to recover from the devastating knee injury that sidelined him for all of last season. Bradford would have the upper hand even if Bridgewater were healthy enough to compete. Despite arriving a week before last season began, Bradford became the starter in Week 2 - helping beat the Packers at home in his debut - and went on to set the NFL pass completion record despite the offense being ravaged by injuries. He should be even better with a full offseason to prepare. Keenum will start the season as the backup since Bridgewater is expected to begin on PUP. Keenum is a new face, but has experience in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's system. Heinicke is the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

: Starters - Latavius Murray, FB C.J. Ham. Backups - Dalvin Cook, Jerick McKinnon, Terrell Newby, Bishop Sankey.

There will be a good battle between Murray, the new free-agent acquisition, and Cook, the explosive rookie second-round draft pick. Both will be used regardless of who wins the starting job. Murray missed offseason workouts while recovering from ankle surgery. Cook needs work in pass protection and ball security, but is a solid pass catcher. Ham is a converted running back, but is more suited to play fullback at 5-foot-11, 235. McKinnon will be used as a third-down weapon. He's a shifty back with strong receiving skills.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Kyle Rudolph. Backups - David Morgan, Bucky Hodges, Kyle Carter, Josiah Price, Nick Truesdell.

Rudolph is a matchup headache for defenses. He's also in his prime and should be used better in Shurmur's offense now that Rudolph and Bradford are more comfortable together. Hodges is a rookie sixth-round draft pick and a guy to keep an eye on. He offers very little as a blocker, but his ceiling as a receiver is very high. He's 6-foot-6, 257 pounds and is faster and longer than the typical tight end. Morgan is the blocking tight end that replaces Rhett Ellison, who left in free agency. Morgan is versatile and willing as a blocker. He's likely the No. 2 tight end when the Vikings go to two-tight end sets.

: Starters -- Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen. Backups - Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright, Michael Floyd, Rodney Adams, Moritz Bohringer, Stacy Coley, Isaac Fruechte, Cayleb Jones, R.J. Shelton.

Diggs isn't the typical No. 1 receiver at 6-foot, 191. But if he can stay healthy, he can put up big numbers in this offense. He's developed a chemistry with Bradford. Last year, Diggs had back-to-back games with 13 catches. But then nagging leg injuries overcame him down the stretch. Thielen is the ultimate rags-to-riches NFL story. An overachiever from Division II who goes from the practice squad to starter to big contract. Treadwell enters a pivotal season and is sitting on the hottest seat on the team. The 2016 first-round draft pick caught only one pass as a rookie. He looked slow and unable to separate. The team's spin is Treadwell was still recovering from injuries suffered in college. We'll see. He's fighting for the No. 3 receiver spot. But he has to hold off Michael Floyd, the native Minnesotan who returned home with a truckload of personal baggage. Floyd was suspended for the first four games of the season. If he gets his act together, he'll give the Vikings the big receiver they've lacked for a long time. Wright, the veteran of the unit, is an underrated weapon that is most dangerous out of the slot position. He's quick, smart in his route running and deceptively fast.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Riley Reiff, LG Alex Boone, C Nick Easton, RG Joe Berger, RT Mike Remmers. Backups - G/T Jeremiah Sirles, C Pat Elflein, G/T T.J. Clemmings, G Willie Beavers, T Aviante Collins, T Reid Fragel, T Rashod Hill, G Danny Isidora, G Zac Kerin, T Austin Shepherd, G Freddie Tagaloa.

The assumption is the offensive line will be better than the unit that was devastated by injuries last season. Of course, that's not saying much considering the Vikings went through 12 linemen total and five left tackles. The Vikings were desperate in free agency, knowing that there were no tackles of any value in the draft. So they jumped in full force and signed Reiff from Detroit and Remmers from Carolina. The good news is they're young and durable. The bad news is neither of their former teams felt they were good enough to keep despite being young and durable. Reiff is a former first-round pick of the Lions. The Lions wanted him to be their long-term answer at left tackle, but moved him to right tackle after spending another first-round pick on a tackle. Then the Lions let him walk after they dipped into free agency for his replacement this offseason. Boone didn't live up to the hype last season after arriving as the team's prized free-agent signing. But he'll benefit from some stability on the line. Center is up for grabs between young veteran Easton and rookie third-round pick Eflein. Reliable veteran Berger keeps going strong at 35. He can start at any of the three interior positions, but seems set at right guard baring injuries. Sirles is a valuable, experienced backup at all positions except center. Clemmings was a starter in his first two seasons, but that was more out of desperation than anything else. He'll move to guard and work to provide depth.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Danielle Hunter, DT Datone Jones, NT Linval Joseph, DRE Everson Griffen. Backups - DLE Brian Robison, DT Tom Johnson, NT Shamar Stephen, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Tashawn Bower, DT Dylan Bradley, DT Jaleel Johnson, DE Caleb Kidder, DE Sam McCaskill, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Will Sutton.

Hunter had only one start in his first two seasons, but posted 20.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher. He'll most likely relegate 34-year-old veteran Robison to backup and part of the nickel packages as an interior rusher. Joseph can be a force in the middle. He's tough to move in the running game and has quick enough feet to disrupt the passing game. Jones, the former first-round pick of the Packers, is being moved from end to the three-technique, where the Vikings and Jones believe he's better suited to play. If he can't win the starting job, the Vikings can fall back on 33-year-old Tom Johnson. Johnson is still a force as a nickel pass rusher, but the team would prefer to limit his reps against the run. Griffen is equally strong against the run and pass from the right edge. He has All-Pro potential. Floyd, a force at the three-technique during the rare times he's been healthy, missed all but last season because of a knee injury. Nerve damage in the leg will keep him off the field heading into the season, and probably will end his career.

Starters - WLB Emmanuel Lamur, MLB Eric Kendricks, SLB Anthony Barr. Backups - MLB Kentrell Brothers, WLB Edmond Robinson, OLB Ben Gedeon, OLB Elijah Lee, LB Shaan Washington, OLB Eric Wilson.

Kendricks is the leader of the group. He has led the team in tackles in both of his seasons. If he stays healthy, he'll make it three in a row. He's undersized for the middle, but fast, quick and very instinctive. Barr is All-Pro material when he pushes himself. He tends to coast, which is something the team is trying to shake him out of. He had few flash plays last season, but is capable of being one of the best and most versatile linebackers in the league. The weak-side 'backer spot in the base is up for grabs with Chad Greenway now retired. The position plays only about 40 percent of the time, but is important against the run. Robinson, a backup to Barr on the strong side, could make a serious run at the position. Lamur, who has been in this defense going back to when head coach Mike Zimmer was defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, would seem to have the inside track.

Starters - LCB Trae Waynes, RCB Xavier Rhodes, FS Harrison Smith, SS Andrew Sendejo. Backups - CB Terence Newman, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Antone Exum Jr., S Anthony Harris, S Jayron Kearse, CB Jabari Price, CB Marcus Sherels, CB Horace Richardson, CB Tre Roberson, CB Terrell Sinkfield, S Jack Tocho, CB Sam Brown.

Rhodes and Smith are Pro Bowlers who will make a push for All-Pro status at ages 26 and 28, respectively. Rhodes has the size, length, instincts and swagger to be one of the best shutdown corners in the league. Smith has all that and the versatility and nasty streak to be a force at the line of scrimmage and in deep coverage. Waynes, a first-round pick in 2014, is ready to start at left corner. But Newman, who turns 39 before the season, isn't ready to just sit around. He'll compete for the starting job, and could end up being the nickel back in the slot now that Captain Munnerlyn is gone. Alexander was drafted in the second round last year to take Munnerlyn's job this year. Whether he's ready for that assignment full-time remains to be seen. Sendejo once again heads into camp looking to fend off competition from many others. Exum, Harris and Kearse will make a run at the 29 year old. But Sendejo is a scrappy overachiever who just refuses to let go of his starting job.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Kai Forbath, K Marshall Koehn, P Ryan Quigley, P Taylor Symmank, LS Kevin McDermott, KOR Rodney Adams, KR Stacy Coley, PR Marcus Sherels.

There's much that needs to be settled on special teams before the Vikings open the regular season. There will be open competition at kicker, punter and kickoff returner. At kicker, Forbath returns after settling the waters midseason a year ago. When Blair Walsh's confidence completely bottomed out, it was Forbath who came in and made all 15 of his field-goal attempts. But Forbath lacks the leg strength the team prefers for longer attempts and kickoffs. Koehn has no regular-season experience, but has a much bigger leg than Forbath. At punter, the Vikings are looking to replace Jeff Locke, who was inconsistent throughout his four-year career before moving on in free agency. Quigley was signed in free agency. He has the experience. Symmank has no regular-season experience but does have a big leg. At kickoff returner, the Vikings will miss Cordarrelle Patterson, who led the league in returns three of the past four seasons. The leading candidates to replace him are rookie receivers Adams and Coley. They were drafted in the fifth and seventh rounds in large part for their return skills. Sherels continues to be one of the steadiest and deceptively quick punt returners in the league
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NFL camp openings: Hall among Redskins' PUP candidates
July 26, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- Among the curiosity items when the Washington Redskins opened training camp here at the Bon Secours Center Wednesday (July 26) will be the health and roster status of several players who were designated as physically unable to perform, or the PUP list in NFL parlance.

Best known name on that bubble is 14-year veteran DeAngelo Hall, a three-time Pro Bowl selectee with 43 career interceptions. He tore his right ACL in Week 3 last year, but the Redskins hoped to keep him around to lend experience to a secondary in transition.

But D.J. Swearinger was signed as a free agent (Arizona) and athletic, second-year Redskin Su'a Cravens looks good so far after moving from dime linebacker to strong safety.

Hall took a pay cut to increase his odds of sticking around, but he still would be a $3.1 million hit on the salary cap if he is on the roster and would count $831,000 against the cap if he is cut. So they will take a look and do the math.

Others placed on PUP were outside linebacker Houston Bates (ACL Week 15 last year), tight end Jordan Reed (toe) and wide receiver Kendal Thompson. Linebacker Martrell Spaight (shoulder) and two rookies -- cornerback Fabian Moreau (pectoral, during Pro Day workout) and safety Montae Nicholson (surgery for torn labrum), passed their physicals although they could be limited at the beginning of camp.

Top Summer Battle

--Will Compton vs. Zach Brown at inside linebacker. This is a tough one. The Redskins had to upgrade their speed at inside linebacker, so Brown was a good fit after a Pro Bowl season in Buffalo. But Compton has been the primary defensive signal-caller the past two seasons and works well with fellow inside linebacker Mason Foster. Are there enough snaps to go around for all three?

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will have to finesse this one. Compton hasn't exactly felt great about his restricted free-agent contract status the past two offseasons, and bringing in Brown won't ease the perception Washington wanted an upgrade.

For his part, Brown was a bust in Tennessee early in his career and needed his Pro Bowl season with the Bills to re-establish his career. There must be some concern that last season was a fluke. It will be intriguing to see how Manusky uses Compton, Brown and Foster during camp.


TRAINING CAMP: Bon Secours Training Center; Richmond, Va.

HEAD COACH: Jay Gruden

4th season as Redskins/NFL head coach

21-27-1 overall; 0-1 postseason


2016 finish: 3rd NFC East (8-7-1)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 403.4 (3rd)

RUSHING: 106.0 (21st)

PASSING: 297.4 (2nd)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 377.9 (28th)

RUSHING: 119.8 (24th)

PASSING: 258.1 (25th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, at Baltimore (Thu), 7:30

Aug. 19, GREEN BAY (Sat), 7:30

Aug. 27, CINCINNATI, 4:30

Aug. 31, at Tampa Bay (Thu), 7:30


Starter -- Kirk Cousins. Backups -- Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld.

Cousins and the Redskins couldn't come to a long-term contract agreement by the July 17 deadline, so he will play 2017 on the franchise tag ($23.9 million) and faces an uncertain future in Washington. He has set the franchise record for passing yards in consecutive years and finished last season with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But a rough game in the season finale against the New York Giants cost the Redskins a playoff spot. McCoy didn't take a snap but is under contract one more year. Sudfeld remains a long-term project.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Rob Kelley. Backups -- Samaje Perine, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown, Keith Marshall.

Kelley supplanted Jones as the starter in late October and was lauded by coaches for his ability to avoid negative runs and break tackles. Perine's selection in the fourth round of the 2017 draft suggests Jones' days are numbered. He was benched for the final nine games of 2016 for ball-security issues and did not participate in OTAs. Thompson stayed healthy again and is an effective third-down back who holds up in pass protection. Brown is a solid special teams player who will push for a roster spot again. Marshall's speed gives him a puncher's chance to make the roster.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jordan Reed. Backups -- Vernon Davis, Derek Carrier, Niles Paul, Jeremy Sprinkle, Manasseh Garner.

The offense got by without Reed in midseason, when he missed two games with a concussion. But a left shoulder separation Thanksgiving Day at Dallas proved harder for Reed to shake. He was a shell of himself down the stretch. When healthy, Reed was among the game's best (66 catches, 686 yards, six touchdowns), but he played in just 12 games. Davis showed at age 33 he still had something left in the tank (44 catches, 583 yards, two touchdowns), and Paul's return from a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 8 will help. Watch out for Sprinkle, a fifth-round pick from Arkansas.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Terrelle Pryor Sr., Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder. Backups -- Brian Quick, Ryan Grant, Maurice Harris, Robert Davis, Matt Hazel, Lavern Jacobs, Zach Pascal, James Quick, Kendal Thompson.

One of the NFL's deepest units has been revamped. Gone are Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, who both topped 1,000 receiving yards in 2016. But the Redskins signed Pryor, a 1,000-yard receiver last year in Cleveland. Crowder topped his fine rookie season with 67 catches and has established himself as one of the best slot receivers around. The big question is former first-round pick Josh Doctson, who missed 14 games last season with a sore left Achilles' tendon. But he was healthy throughout offseason workouts. The Redskins added veteran Brian Quick in free agency and love Ryan Grant's reliability as a blocker and special-teams player.

Starters -- LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Spencer Long, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses. Backups -- T Ty Nsekhe, G Arie Kouandjio, T Vinston Painter, T Kevin Bowen, T Tyler Catalina, G Kyle Kalis, T John Kling, G Ronald Patrick, C Chase Roullier, T Isaiah Williams.

A top-tier offensive line is back intact. Trent Williams missed four games due to a substance abuse suspension by the NFL, but still made a fifth Pro Bowl. Scherff made the Pro Bowl in his second season. Moses made strides in his third season and was rewarded with a five-year contract extension. Nsekhe played well in Williams' place and is a capable reserve who could start for other teams. Cousins was sacked just 23 times, fourth-fewest in the NFL, but run-blocking needs to improve.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Jonathan Allen, NT Stacy McGee, DRE Terrell McClain. Backups -- NT Matt Ioannidis, DE Ziggy Hood, DE A.J. Francis, DE Anthony Lanier, DE Joey Mbu, DE Brandon Banks, DT Ondre Pipkins, DE Phil Taylor.

The Redskins desperately needed more young talent on the defensive line and got it when Allen -- from Ashburn, Va., where Washington trains -- unexpectedly slipped to them at No. 17 in the draft. He should be an immediate boost after a brilliant career at Alabama. Lanier showed promise as an undrafted rookie while Ioannidis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, didn't even make the team out of camp before signing to the practice squad and eventually seeing snaps late in the year. Washington hopes the free agent additions of McGee and McClain help stabilize this group.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Will Compton, ILB Mason Foster, SLB Preston Smith. Backups -- ILB Zach Brown, ILB Martrell Spaight, OLB Trent Murphy, OLB Lynden Trail, OLB Ryan Anderson, ILB Zach Vigil, SLB Junior Galette, WLB Houston Bates, OLB Chris Carter, ILB Josh Harvey-Clemons, ILB Nico Marley, OLB Pete Robertson.

Not a ton of speed at inside linebacker, though Foster played well late in the year and Compton is a smart, instinctive player. The Redskins could look to upgrade here. Kerrigan battled through elbow, knee and finger injuries late, but made the Pro Bowl with 11 sacks. Murphy was supposed to switch to defensive end, but the season-ending injury to Galette (Achilles' tendon) pushed him back to linebacker, where he had a nice year with nine sacks. Washington needs more from its pass rush. Smith (4.5 sacks) was a disappointment and needs to make strides entering his third year.

Starter -- LCB Josh Norman, RCB Bashaud Breeland, SS Su'a Cravens, FS D.J. Swearinger. Backups -- CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Fabian Moreau, S Deshazor Everett, S DeAngelo Hall, S Josh Evans, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Dashaun Phillips, S Will Blackmon, CB Josh Holsey, CB Tevin Homer, S Montae Nicholson, S Fish Smithson, S Earl Wolff, CB Lou Young.

Norman gives the Redskins a fighting chance every week when facing top receivers. They need more behind him, however. Fuller, a 2016 third-round pick, struggled as the slot corner, but still shows promise. Breeland had an up-and-down year opposite Norman, but plays fearlessly. Veterans Blackmon and Hall are converted corners, but Hall begins training camp on the PUP list.

K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, KOR Chris Thompson, PR Jamison Crowder, LS Nick Sundberg.

Hopkins fell back to earth in 2017 with eight missed field goals and three missed extra points, but he was reliable enough on kickoffs that there is no competition in camp. Crowder went from one of the worst punt returners in the NFL as a rookie to third (12.1 yards per return). He was a Pro Bowl alternate. Sundberg has been reliable at long snapper since 2010. Way, in his fourth year, faces no camp competition.
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NFL camp openings: Eagles already aboard Wentz's Wagon
July 26, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- When the complete Philadelphia Eagles roster gathered Wednesday (July 26) at the Nova Training Complex, a primary focus will be on second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who has a firm grip on the reigns of his rebuilt offense.

He was pro-active in getting teammates to pile on to what is being called "Wentz's Wagon."

Most of the Eagles' skilled position players -- including wide receiver free-agent additions Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith -- met in the quarterback's home stomping grounds of Fargo, N.D., during the second week of this month -- usually precious off-time -- to become better acquainted with bison burgers and each other.

It was a spinoff of workouts in previous years with quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez in California. Of course, the North Dakota experience was very different, but worked wonders to pull the teammates together.

"We out here in North Dakota," Matthews said in a TV segment from Fargo. "Ain't no rap stations on the radio or nothing, baby. Straight bison burgers, country music and red heads. Shout out to Carson Wentz."

"It shows the leadership that Carson has and the type of rapport he has with the receivers and the confidence he has in his guys," head coach Doug Pederson said of the gathering. "It's something that's exciting as a coach, to know your guys are getting together. ... and working on their craft."

And for good reason. The Eagles finished 20th in third-down efficiency and 24th in red-zone production last season. Wentz finished 30th in touchdown percentage. The eight touchdown catches by the Eagles' wideouts were their fewest since 2003.

During the rookie phase of camp, which began Sunday, Pederson announced that Matthews could be limited for a while due to knee tendinitis. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks broke a bone in his hand while on his honeymoon this summer, underwent a "minor procedure" and will also be limited to start training camp.

Then, as camp opened, disappointing defensive end Marcus Smith, the team's first-round pick in 2014, was released, and guard/tackle Allen Barbre was traded to Denver for a conditional 2019 draft pick. The announcement of Barbre's departure came as it was revealed that Isaac Seumalo would open camp as the starting left guard. Originally, the Eagles said Barbre would be released, but the trade opportunity developed.

In a statement, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman had said, "Allen Barbre is a pro's pro. Not only did he help the team with his solid play as a starter at left guard, but his ability to step up and play multiple positions helped us battle through some difficult situations. We had a conversation yesterday and agreed it made sense to allow him to pursue some other opportunities, but the door is open for him to return here as well."

Now, that opportunity is with the Broncos.

Top Summer Battle

Perhaps the key camp battle will be for the two starting cornerback jobs, as well as the nickel spot.

With second-round pick Sidney Jones expected to be sidelined until at least midseason as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon, as many as eight defensive backs have a legitimate shot at winning one of the top three corner spots.

Two spring standouts were former All-CFL corner Aaron Grymes and C.J. Smith, an undrafted free agent in 2016.


TRAINING CAMP: NovaCare Complex; Philadelphia, Pa.

HEAD COACH: Doug Pederson

2nd season as Eagles/NFL head coach

7-9 overall


2016 finish: 4th NFC East (7-9)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 337.4 (22nd)

RUSHING: 113.3 (11th)

PASSING: 224.1 (24th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 342.8 (13th)

RUSHING: 103.3 (15th)

PASSING: 239.5 (13th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, at Green Bay (Thu), 8:00

Aug. 17, BUFFALO (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 24, MIAMI (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 31, at N.Y. Jets (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Carson Wentz. Backups -- Nick Foles, Matt McGloin, Dane Evans.

While Wentz's rookie numbers weren't very impressive, he got valuable experience, starting 16 games and throwing a rookie-record 607 passes. He showed off his mobility more in the second half of the season, using it to move the chains and also extend plays. The Eagles have added quarterbacks with game experience behind Wentz. Foles and McGloin have a combined 43 NFL starts, 36 by Foles.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- LeGarrette Blount. Backups -- Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Byron Marshall, Corey Clement, Ryan Mathews.

Head coach Doug Pederson favors smaller, more versatile running backs who can line up all over the formation and create passing-game mismatches. But the Eagles lacked a short-yardage weapon last year. The 6-0, 250-pound Blount gives them that. He had a career-high 299 carries for the Patriots last year. He isn't likely to come close to that this year with the Eagles. Sproles turned 34 in June, but still is one of the league's most dangerous players in space. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound Pumphrey, a fourth-round rookie who broke the FBS career rushing record at San Diego State, is a Sproles clone.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Zach Ertz. Backups -- Trey Burton, Brent Celek, Anthony Denham, Billy Brown, Adam Zaruba.

Ertz is one of the league's better receiving tight ends. He had a team-high 78 catches last season, including 40 in the final five games. With the pass-catching upgrades the Eagles have made on the outside, Ertz could be an even bigger factor inside this year. Burton is one of the team's top special teams players, but blossomed as a pass-catching weapon last year, catching 37 passes. The 32-year-old Celek caught just 14 passes last season, but still is a very effective blocker. He played 39 percent of the snaps in 2016. Zaruba (6-5, 265) is a Canadian rugby star who played football in high school before becoming a member of the Canadian National

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews. Backups -- Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Marcus Johnson, Greg Ward, David Watford.

Eagles wide receivers had just eight touchdown catches last season, which was their fewest in 14 years. They renovated the unit in the offseason, signing free agents Jeffery and Smith and drafting the 6-foot-4 Hollins and Gibson. Jeffery will be the key. The long-armed 6-foot-3, 218-pounder has missed 11 games due to injuries the last two years. When he's healthy, he is one of the league's most dangerous receivers. He has an impressive catch radius that the Eagles hope to take advantage of in the red zone, where they finished 24th in touchdown percentage last year. Smith is a vertical threat who had 30 touchdown catches in four seasons with Baltimore, but was a non-factor with San Francisco the last two years. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Matthews is an effective slot weapon, who has 225 catches in his first three seasons. But he missed most of the spring workouts with tendinitis in his knee. Agholor, the team's 2015 first-round pick, has just three touchdown catches in his first two seasons. But he had a solid spring after being moved inside to replace Matthews.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Jason Peters, LG Isaac Seumalo, C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson. Backups - C/G Stefen Wisniewski, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai, G/T Matt Tobin, G Chance Warmack, G Darrell Green, C/G Josh Andrews, Taylor Hart, T Dillon Gordon, T Victor Salako, C Tyler Orlosky, G Dallas Thomas, C/G Aaron Neary.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Eagles' offensive line as the best in the league. But there are a lot of ifs involved. If the 35-year-old Peters can stay healthy and continue to play at a Pro Bowl level. If Kelce can be more consistent than he's been the last two years. If Brooks can avoid the anxiety problems that caused him to miss two starts last year. And if Seumalo, the team's 2016 third-round pick, can play as well over a full season as he did in four rookie starts last year. Peters and Johnson are the best tackle tandem in the league. Kelce is one of the league's most athletic centers, but has struggled against bigger interior linemen. He added weight and strength this offseason. With the additions of Warmack and the re-signing of Wisniewski, the Eagles have as much depth up front as any team in the league.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Brandon Graham, DLT Tim Jernigan, DRT Fletcher Cox, DRE Derek Barnett. Backups - DE Chris Long, DE Vinny Curry, DT Beau Allen, DE Alex McCalister, DE Steven Means, DT Destiny Vaeao, DT Elijah Qualls, DT Justin Hamilton.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is not fond of blitzing and prefers to rely on his front four to get pressure on the quarterback. That strategy failed the Eagles in the second half of the season last year as the front four came up short. The result: The Eagles used their first-round pick on Barnett, who broke Reggie White's sack record at Tennessee, traded for Jernigan and signed 32-year-old veteran Long. Cox is one of the league's top interior linemen, but he was almost always double-teamed last year. The Eagles are hoping the additions of Jernigan, Barnett and Long will force defenses to play him more honest. Curry was a disappointment last year. The Eagles gave him a big contract and thought the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 would maximize his strengths. But he had just 2.5 sacks in 435 snaps.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Mychal Kendricks, MLB Jordan Hicks, SLB Nigel Bradham. Backups -- Nathan Gerry, MLB Don Cherry, OLB Najee Goode, MLB Joe Walker, OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill, Steven Daniels.

Depth is the biggest issue with this unit. Beyond the three starters, Goode is the only backup with anything close to real defensive playing experience. Hicks has developed into a solid MIKE 'backer, but will take it slow at the beginning of camp due to a hand injury on his honeymoon. Bradham finished third on the team in tackles and third in tackles for losses last year, but could be facing a suspension after two 2016 arrests. Kendricks is one of the most athletic linebackers in the league, but can't be trusted in coverage and played just 27 percent of the defensive snaps last year. Gerry, a fifth-round rookie, was a college safety at Nebraska.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Jalen Mills, RCB Patrick Robinson, Nickel CB Ron Brooks, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Rodney McLeod. Backups - CB Aaron Grymes, CB Rasul Douglas, S Jaylen Watkins, S Terrence Brooks, CB C.J. Smith, CB Dwayne Gratz, CB Randall Goforth, CB Jomal Wiltz, CB Mitchell White, S Chris Maragos, S Tre Sullivan, CB Sidney Jones.

McLeod and Jenkins are one of the league's better safety tandems. Jenkins also has the ability to drop down and cover the slot, which he did frequently last year. The Eagles didn't keep either of last year's starting corners -- Nolan Carroll or Leodis McKelvin. Jones, who was considered one of the top two corners in the draft, won't be available until at least mid-season as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles. Mills is a tough corner with a short memory, but got beat too often as a rookie. He needs to be more consistent. Robinson is an eight-year veteran with 49 career starts. Douglas is a big-bodied press corner, but is very raw. Grymes, a former all-CFL corner, had an excellent spring and could push for one of the three starting jobs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Caleb Sturgis, P Donnie Jones, LS Jon Dorenbos, KOR Wendell Smallwood, PR Darren Sproles.

Sturgis converted 35 of 41 field-goal attempts last year, including 4 of 6 from 50-plus yards. In two seasons with the Eagles, he has an 84.1 accuracy rate. Jones turned 37 in July, but averaged 45.8 yards per attempt last season and had just 39.6 percent of his punts returned. Even at 34, Sproles remains one of the league's most dangerous punt returners.
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NFL camp openings: Saints put Payton, Peterson on public display
July 26, 2017

METAIRIE, La. -- When the New Orleans Saints gathered their full roster for training camp Wednesday (July 26), it will not be at plush Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for the first time in four summers. Instead, they are camping here in their suburban New Orleans headquarters.

And the summer show, featuring head coach Sean Payton and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson fighting for their jobs, will be on public display for free. The team will have 11 practices open to the public, but for the first time, free tickets will be required to gain entrance to the sessions.

The practices from July 29-31, Aug. 2, Aug. 5-7, Aug. 12-14, Aug. 17-18, and a joint practice with the Houston Texans on Aug. 24 are open to the public. The team will also hold practice sessions with the Los Angeles Chargers on Aug. 17-18 in California in advance of their Aug. 20 exhibition game.

After the team stumbled to a 7-9 finish for the third consecutive season last year, Payton is the subject of constant chatter about his job status.

And 32-year old Peterson, one of the best running backs in NFL history, will battle for playing time against 27-year-old Mark Ingram, whose career suddenly blossomed last season with 1,043 rushing yards, 1,362 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. He tied Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys for fifth in the NFL with a career-high 5.1 yards per carry.

A year ago, Peterson was ranked as the fifth best player in the league by NFL Network. Then he missed 13 games last season (torn meniscus in knee) and became disposable by the Minnesota Vikings. He settled for a two-year contract with the Saints with only $3.5 million guaranteed.

But nobody expects Peterson to give up. He came off a torn ACL in 2012 and ran for more than 2,000 yards to win the league MVP award. In 2015, he led the NFL with 1,485 rushing yards at 30 years old.

Peterson gets all the headlines, but Ingram will be hard to supplant because this is a team still driven by the passing talents of quarterback Drew Brees. Ingram has the advantage there. Ingram caught 96 catches over the past two seasons for a total of 724 yards and catching the ball is not considered one of Peterson's strengths, with his high point of 43 catches back in 2009, when he was only 24 years old.

Top Summer Battle

--The Saints must improve against the pass after ranking dead last in the league in that category a year ago, which is why they used the 11th overall pick in the draft to grab Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

He will get a chance to make an impact early and will likely engage in a training camp battle with incumbent P.J. Williams on the right side while Delvin Breaux mans the left.

Williams missed his entire rookie season in 2015 with a hamstring injury and then won the starting job last summer in camp. But Williams suffered a severe head injury in Week 2 and landed on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

The Saints hope that Lattimore, the top cornerback available in the draft who was expected to go in the top five or six picks, will display his considerable talent and make a strong run at the starting job. The loser of the battle could be in line to be the No. 1 nickel back.


TRAINING CAMP: Saints Training Facility; Metairie, La.

HEAD COACH: Sean Payton

11th season as Saints/NFL head coach

100-70 overall; 6-4 postseason


2016 finish: 3rd NFC South (7-9)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 426.0 (1st)

RUSHING: 108.9 (16th)

PASSING: 317.1 (1st)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 375.4 (27th)

RUSHING: 101.6 (14th)

PASSING: 273.8 (32nd)


All times Central

Aug. 10, at Cleveland (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 20, at L.A. Chargers, 7:00

Aug. 26, HOUSTON (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 31, BALTIMORE (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Drew Brees. Backups - Chase Daniel, Ryan Nassib, Garrett Grayson.

Entering the final year of a contract extension he received just before the start of the 2016 season, Brees is primed to have another solid year and prove he hasn't lost anything at the age of 38. Brees led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards a year ago and now needs just 5,829 yards to jump Peyton Manning as the league's all-time leader. He also threw 37 TDs to just 15 interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 101.7. Daniel returns after four years away and will likely be the backup with Nassib and Grayson, a former third-round draft pick, fighting for the third spot if Sean Payton keeps three on the roster -- which he has rarely done.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Mark Ingram, FB John Kuhn. Backups - Adrian Peterson, Travaris Cadet, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco, Trey Edmunds, FB John Robinson-Woodgett.

Even though Ingram had his best season as a pro with 1,043 rushing yards and six TDs, not to mention his 319 receiving yards and four scores, the Saints had a chance to beef up their backfield even more when signed Peterson. While the compactly-built Ingram runs hard and aggressively, the Saints believe Peterson will bring a different dimension to the offense and the competition will be a big plus for the league's top offense last season. Cadet has been a handyman out of the backfield, but Kamara, a third-round draft pick, could give the Saints the wiggle they haven't had since the days of Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles. Lasco was a valuable special teams performer a year ago as a rookie.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Coby Fleener. Backups - Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui, John Phillips, Clay Harbor, Garrett Griffin.

Despite being one of the Saints' top acquisitions last spring, Fleener didn't have the season many expected with 50 receptions for 631 yards and three TDs, but he'll likely have an expanded role after getting a taste of the high-powered offense he now is a part of. Hill and Hoomanawanui, who are both valued for their blocking ability, were plagued by injuries last season. Hill, who is a solid receiver as well, played in just nine games and Hoomanawanui spent the entire season on injured reserve. Phillips was also a capable reserve after being signed at midseason as a fill-in for Hill.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Michael Thomas, Willie Snead IV. Backups - Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis, Jake Lampman, Corey Fuller, Travin Dural, Justin Thomas, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Rashad Lawrence.

The Saints were so well-stacked here that they traded away their top field stretcher in Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots for a first-round draft pick. The decision to do that was made easier by the emergence of Thomas, a rookie second-round find who caught 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine TDs. Snead had a second consecutive solid season with 72 receptions and the Saints brought in Ginn to add a veteran presence to the group. Coleman and Lewis are good options as well, while Fuller has impressed since being snatched off the Detroit Lions' practice squad last December.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ryan Ramczyk, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, RT Zach Strief. Backups - T Terron Armstead (injured), G/C Senio Kelemete, T Khalif Barnes, C Josh LeRibeus, T Bryce Harris, OL Landon Turner, C Jack Allen, OL John Fullington, C Cameron Tom, G Kristjan Sokoli, T Martin Wallace.

Even though there is some concern here because of injuries to Unger (foot) and Armstead (shoulder), the Saints usually put together a solid group to protect Brees. That could be the case again with Ramczyk, the second of their two draft picks, ready to step in for Armstead and LeRibeus getting a chance to fill in for Unger until he returns late in training camp. Now in his third season, Peat seems to have found a home at left guard. Warford, a former Lions' standout, is a solid technician who will team up with Strief, a seven-year starter, to form a solid duo on the right side. Kelemete, Barnes and Harris provide veteran backup help along with LeRibeus.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Cameron Jordan, DT Sheldon Rankins, DT Tyeler Davison, DRE Alex Okafor. Backups - DE Darryl Tapp, DE Hau'oli Kikaha, DT David Onyemata, DT Tony McDaniel, DE Obum Gwacham, DE Trey Hendrickson, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DT Ashaad Mabry, DE Mitchell Loewen, DT Devaroe Lawrence, DT Justin Zimmer.

The Saints were stunned by the loss of defensive tackle Nick Fairley for the season to a heart problem, but they still have a good group of players to plug into the rotation. It starts with Jordan, their best pass rusher with 46.5 sacks in his first six seasons, and Okafor, a pass-rusher who is getting a fresh start with the Saints after some good years with the Arizona Cardinals. Rankins, a 2016 first-round draft pick, and Davison, who came on last season to start 15 games, will have to hold down the middle along with Onyemata, a promising second-year pro, in Fairley's absence. Tapp and McDaniel are seasoned veterans and Kikaha, who is valued for his pass-rushing ability, is trying to come back after sitting out the 2016 season a torn ACL. Hendrickson and Muhammad will also get opportunities to help generate some pressure from the edge after the Saints recorded just 30 sacks a year ago.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Dannell Ellerbe, MLB A.J. Klein, SLB Manti Te'o. Backups - MLB Craig Robertson, OLB Nate Stupar, OLB Stephone Anthony, OLB Alex Anzalone, MLB Sae Tautu, OLB Adam Bighill.

Robertson and Stupar came up huge for the Saints last fall, but the need to beef up the position brought the team two quality UFAs in Klein and Te'o. Klein, a former Carolina Panthers' player, caught the eye of Saints' officials last year when he capably filled in for All-Pro Luke Kuechly when he was dealing with concussion issues. Te'o is coming off an injury-filled season with the Los Angeles Chargers and will get a chance to win the strong side spot opposite Ellerbe, who has sparkled when he can avoid the injury bug that has plagued him the past two seasons. Anthony will try to redeem himself after a poor season, while Anzalone hopes to make his mark as a third-round draft pick.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Delvin Breaux, RCB P.J. Williams, FS Vonn Bell, SS Kenny Vaccaro, Backups - CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Sterling Moore, S Marcus Williams, CB Ken Crawley, S Rafael Bush, CB Damian Swann, CB De'Vante Harris, S Chris Banjo, S Erik Harris, CB Taveze Calhoun, S Robenson Therezie, CB Arthur Maulet.

Even though they ranked 32nd against the pass, the Saints showed some improvement in not giving up as many explosive plays and touchdowns last season. It didn't help that Breaux and Williams combined to play in just eight games and Vaccaro, a hard-hitting player who can line up in multiple positions, missed the final four games because of an NFL suspension. The Saints used the 11th overall pick in this year's draft on Lattimore to help cover the dangerous wideouts they'll face in the NFC South. They're hoping they can stay injury-free in the back end and get more help from Bell, another hard hitter and Williams, a ball hawk whom they picked up in the second round. Moore was solid as an early-season pickup, while Crawley impressed as an undrafted free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Wil Lutz, P Thomas Morstead, LS Thomas Gafford, LS Chase Dominguez, KOR/PR Ted Ginn Jr., KOR/PR Tommylee Lewis.

Lutz, a rookie, sparkled when he was signed shortly after the final cuts were made when he connected on 28 of 34 field-goal attempts despite having a few problems with some low-trajectory kicks. Still, Sean Payton loves Lutz's leg strength and stuck with him through some rough patches. Morstead had another solid season with a 48.3 gross average and 42.4 net average with only five touchbacks. Lutz and Morstead will have to work with a new snapper after veteran Justin Drescher was not re-signed, but Gafford, a 10-year veteran, could be the answer there. The Saints hope Ginn can give their anemic return game a lift after they averaged just 9.6 yards on punt returns and 16.5 yards on kickoffs last season even though Lewis gave them a spark here and there on punts.
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NFL camp openings: Falcons cautious with Jones, McKinley
July 26, 2017

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When the Atlanta Falcons opened training camp here Wednesday (July 26) and tried to forget their Super Bowl meltdown, a key issue will be the availability of three key players -- running back Devonta Freeman, wide receiver Julio Jones and their top draft pick, defensive end Takkarist McKinley.

McKinley, counted on as a pass rusher, will be limited at first as he recovers from March surgery on a torn labrum. He is expected back in four to six weeks.

The team is monitoring Jones' recovery from a March 6 procedure on his left foot. Jones said last month when "training camp comes, we'll definitely be rolling."

But general manager Thomas Dimitroff prefers to be cautious.

"Julio, he's healed up very, very well," Dimitroff said. "He's such a focused guy. We're ready for him to jump into camp. I don't know the exact rep count. ... I think he's one of those guys right now that is really fired up about coming back, because the spring was not as active. You know him. He's so competitive. He wants to get out on the field."

The Freeman situation needs to be healed at the negotiation table. The Falcons are under no obligation to extend Freeman, set to make $1.8 million heading into the final year of his rookie contract. He could then be franchise tagged for the next two seasons.

But the Falcons took part in some "good-faith" negotiations. A modest to very generous increase is expected, but the team owns most of the chips like most teams do in NFL negotiations. Freeman's agent was in town negotiating, but left Wednesday without agreement.

Freeman watched closely as Pittsburgh was not able to reach a long-term deal with running back Le'Veon Bell, who is set to play for the $12.12 million franchise tag.

It doesn't appear any player will be placed on the physically unable to perform list, but that's not guaranteed. Some of the other players back from injuries include Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral), wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (lower leg), wide receiver Devin Fuller (shoulder), linebacker Kemal Ishmael (shoulder), and defensive linemen Derrick Shelby (Achilles) and Adrian Clayborn (biceps).

In addition, free-agent defensive tackle Dontari Poe earned a $125,000 bonus for reporting to camp at 330 pounds or less.

Top Summer Battle

--The battle royale of training camp will be between Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland for the starting right-guard position. The Falcons need a replacement for Chris Chester, who elected to retire during the offseason. Quinn has declared Schweitzer and Garland as the top contenders.

The Falcons drafted Sean Harlow in the fourth round and have converted the former Oregon State tackle to guard. Last season, Chester won a battle over Schweitzer, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. Garland played on offense and defense last season. The competition is considered a toss-up heading into camp. Schweitzer tried to make the switch from college left tackle to guard last season.

"We are excited about where Wes is headed," Quinn said during the offseason.

The Falcons started three rookies last season on defense and have not been afraid to get their young talent on the field. Harlow, whose father, Pat, was the 11th pick in the 1991 draft, by New England, will get a good look, too.


TRAINING CAMP: Atlanta Falcons Training Facility; Flowery Branch, Ga.


3rd season as Falcons/NFL head coach

21-14 overall; 2-1 postseason


2016 finish: 1st NFC South (11-5)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 415.8 (2nd)

RUSHING: 120.5 (5th)

PASSING: 295.3 (3rd)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 371.2 (25th)

RUSHING: 104.5 (17th)

PASSING: 266.7 (28th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, at Miami (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 20, at Pittsburgh, 4:00

Aug. 26, ARIZONA (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 31, JACKSONVILLE (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matt Ryan. Backups - Matt Schaub, Matt Simms, Alek Torgersen.

Ryan thrived under offensive coordinators Mike Mularkey and Dirk Koetter, when protected, for the first seven seasons of his career. He had a bumpy 2015 season, with a 21-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio while adjusting to then-coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. With a year under his belt in Shanahan's system, Ryan was nearly flawless in 2016 and guided the franchise to its second Super Bowl appearance since starting play in 1966. Ryan was absolutely dynamic as he threw touchdown passes to 13 receivers. With some pinpoint accuracy, Ryan led the league's top-scoring offense, setting franchise records in passing yards (4,944) and touchdowns (38). He started all 16 games and completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 completion percentage; third in the NFL), with only seven interceptions and a 117.1 passer rating. Schaub returns to serve as his backup.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Devonta Freeman. FB Derrick Coleman. Backups -- Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Brian Hill, B.J. Daniels, FB Tyler Renew.

Freeman is set to make $1.838 million in 2017, but would like a contract extension. The team is not expecting any issues despite rumblings from Freeman's representation that surfaced at the Super Bowl. While the Falcons hope to continue the blend of Freeman and Coleman, they drafted Hill in the fifth round. He must beat out Ward while they attempt to replace fullback Patrick DiMarco with Coleman, a former Seattle standout. Freeman and Coleman combined for 1,599 rushing yards, and 85 receptions, 883 receiving yards and 24 combined touchdowns. Hill is the wild card and perhaps insurance if Freeman's negotiations go off the rails. If Hill turns out to be the player that the Falcons scouted in college, he'll be quite the change-of-pace and perhaps a solution for the team's short-yardage woes.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Austin Hooper. Backups - Levine Toilolo, Joshua Perkins, D.J. Tialavea, Eric Saubert, Darion Griswold.

The Falcons are passing the baton at tight end from Jacob Tamme to Hooper, a second-year player. The Falcons elected not to re-sign Tamme, in part because of Hooper's promise. With Toilolo and Perkins, the tight-end group was productive in 2016, catching 10 touchdowns passes: Tamme (three), Hooper (three), Toilolo (two), Perkins one) and Tialavea (one). In the playoffs, Hooper caught six passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. Toilolo caught three passes for 31 yards. Toilolo will remain a key cog in the run game and in pass protection.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu. Backups - Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts, Reggie Davis, Marvin Hall, Devin Fuller, Nick Williams, Anthony Dable, Deante Burton, Josh Magee.

Despite being slowed by injuries, Jones turned in another spectacular season with 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdown catches. In the playoffs, Jones made 19 catches for 334 yards and three touchdowns. Sanu had a career-high 59 catches for 653 yards and four touchdowns last season. Gabriel had the highest passer rating of any receiver on passes thrown to him in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus' unofficial data. The rating of 148.1 on balls thrown to Gabriel last season was significantly better than the second-best rating of 129.8 on passes to Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan. Gabriel finished with 35 catches for 579 yards and six touchdowns, playing as the No. 3 receiver behind Jones and Sanu. Hardy and Roberts provide quality depth.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Jake Matthews, LG Andy Levitre, C Alex Mack, RG Wes Schweitzer, RT Ryan Schraeder. Backups - T Kevin Graf, T Will Freeman, T Daniel Brunskill, T Andreas Knappe, C Ben Garland, C Travis Averill, G Ben Garland, G Marquis Lucas, G Sean Harlow, G Cornelius Edison.

In all 19 games last season, the Falcons started the same offensive line. With the retirement of right guard Chris Chester, there will be a new starter in 2017. Mack, who was named second-team All-Pro, helped the Falcons be Pro Football Focus's sixth-ranked overall offensive line in the NFL last season, grading out as the team's best run blocker and overall offensive lineman. Schraeder was rewarded with a five-year, $32 million contract extension last season. Matthews, who was selected sixth overall in 2014, needs to step up to Pro-Bowl level. They must find a backup swing tackle to replace veteran Tom Compton, who signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Vic Beasley Jr., DT Grady Jarrett, NT Dontari Poe, DRE Adrian Clayborn. Backups - DE Takkarist McKinley, DE Martin Ifedi, DE Jack Crawford, DE Derrick Shelby, DE Chris Odom, DT Courtney Upshaw, DT Taniela Tupou, DT Ra'Shede Hageman, DT Joe Vellano.

Improving the defensive line was the Falcons' highest priority this offseason as they poured $28.5 million into the renovation project. After saying goodbye to former defensive line coach Bryan Cox and hiring Bryant Young, they signed Poe (one year, $8 million) and Crawford (three years, $10.3 million) in free agency and drafted McKinley (four years, $10.2 million). The team elected not to re-sign 12-year veteran Jonathan Babineaux and released veteran Tyson Jackson. With a stouter interior of Poe and Jarrett, the Falcons are hoping that Beasley can build on his breakthrough season in which he led the league in sacks with 15.5. Clayborn can also be a factor in the pass rush.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Kemal Ishmael, MLB Deion Jones, SLB DeVondre Campbell. Backups - Brooks Reed, Jack Lynn, LaRoy Reynolds, Josh Keyes, Duke Riley, Jermaine Grace, J'Terius Jones.

Stardom is predicted for Deion Jones, set to enter his second season in the league. He had a dynamic rookie season and is trying to get more vocal as the team's defensive signal-caller. He also wants to add some weight and play between 230 and 235 this season. Jones led the rookie class with 108 tackles and three interceptions last season. He also had 14 passes defended, which was third-most among rookies. Campbell played 11 games, starting 10. He rang up 48 tackles, seven pass breakups and a pick. Ishamel is making the move from safety and must hold off a challenge from Riley. Reynolds is a quality backup. Grace is another speedy linebacker with a chance to contribute.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Desmond Trufant, RCB Robert Alford, FS Ricardo Allen, SS Keanu Neal. Backups - CB C.J. Goodwin, CB Akeem King, CB Janor Jones, CB Taylor Reynolds, CB Brian Poole, CB Blidi-Wreh-Wilson, CB Damontae Kazee, CB Jalen Collins, CB Deji Olatoye, CB Quincy Mauger, FS Sharrod Neasman, FS Marcelis Branch, SS Kemal Ishmael, SS Jordan Moore, SS Deron Washington.

Collins was forced to start down the stretch last season. With the return of Trufant from pectoral surgery, the Falcons now have some quality depth at the position. Collins slid down the depth chart after he was suspended for the first four games of last season. He started the final six games of the regular season and three playoff games. He played 428 defensive snaps (38.3 percent) during the regular season. He compiled 48 tackles, including 10 in the Super Bowl, 12 pass breakups and two interceptions. With Trufant, Alford, Poole and Collins all seasoned now, the Falcons have some options to mix and match their coverages better. Neal played roughly 83 percent of the team's snaps, third-most on the defense. He played his highest snap percentage (40) at down low at linebacker level, according to Pro Football Focus' unofficial data. Neal is expecting more of the same with some additional middle-of-the-field duties. Allen made the transition from cornerback to free safety. He played 1,101 defensive snaps (99.1 percent), most on the team last season, in just his second year at free safety. Drafted as a cornerback in the fifth round of the 2014 draft out of Purdue, Allen was cut and then made his way back to the roster from the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Bryant, K Mike Meyer, P Matt Bosher, LS Josh Harris, KOR Andre Roberts, PR Andre Roberts.

When the Falcons elected not to re-sign Eric Weems, that created at least three openings on the special-teams units. Weems, a former Pro Bowler, was a coverage player, and the punt and kickoff returner. Roberts signed in free agency and will get the first shot at kickoff and punt returner jobs. Roberts averaged 22.2 yards on kickoff returns and 11.7 on punt returns with two touchdowns last season for Detroit. Meyer is a player to watch just because Bryant turned 42. Bosher is back as a weapon on kickoffs and with his superior directional punting skills.
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NFL camp openings: Improved Patriots must determine No. 3 cornerback
July 26, 2017

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With all the bickering about whether the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots should even talk about going undefeated, head coach Bill Belichick was probably thrilled when the yakking was replaced by a focus on tasks at hand when the improved roster reported here for training camp Wednesday (July 26).

For example, before the Patriots can even think about their first victory, let alone an undefeated season, they must tend to details, such as the battle for No. 3 cornerback.

With big-money free-agent signing Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler atop the cornerback depth chart, New England starts a pair of Pro-Bowl talents on the outside.

That duo should be the foundation - along with high-level safety play from Pro Bowler Devin McCourty and returning vets Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon - for what may be one of the top defensive backfields in the NFL The biggest question in the group is with the No. 3 cornerback spot and, tangentially, who will play in the slot.

Yeah, mundane stuff for a team with such lofty ambitions, but the key to success for Belichick and the Patriots is to put a magnifying glass on the little things and get them right.

Eric Rowe was added via trade last season and evolved into a key force on the way to the Super Bowl, capping the season with a big day in the big game. But the former Eagles second-round pick is a bigger (6-foot-1, 205) matchup corner ill-suited for the inside. If he retains the third corner job he had last winter, it would likely mean Butler would move into the slot in nickel and dime packages.

Other options for the No. 3 job include 2016 second-round pick Cyrus Jones, who struggled mightily on both defense and special teams as a rookie. He was drafted out of Alabama with an eye on the slot corner job but as of yet hasn't shown the ability to fill the role in practice or limited game action. Fellow second-year player and former undrafted player Jonathan Jones got some starter reps this spring and he'll also battle third-year former undrafted corner Justin Coleman for rotational reps.

The No. 3 cornerback is essentially a starting job in the modern pass-happy NFL, so the battle for that role will be one to watch this summer in Foxborough. Or is it Foxboro? Belichick needs to fix that, too.

Newsworthy as the Patriots opened camp was the decision by wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, signed in the offseason as a free agent, to retire.

TRAINING CAMP: Gillette Stadium; Foxborough, Mass.

COACH: Bill Belichick

18th season with Patriots

226-80 overall; 25-9 postseason

23rd season as NFL head coach

263-125 overall; 26-10 postseason


2016 finish: 1st AFC East (14-2)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 386.3 (4th)

RUSHING: 117.0 (7th)

PASSING: 269.3 (4th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 326.4 (8th)

RUSHING: 88.6 (T3rd)

PASSING: 237.9 (12th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, JACKSONVILLE (Thu), 7:30

Aug. 19, at Houston (Sat), 8:00

Aug. 25, at Detroit (Fri), 7:00

Aug. 31, N.Y. GIANTS (Thu), 7:30


Starter - Tom Brady. Backups - Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett.

Brady will turn 40 in the second week of his 18th training camp, but the man picking up more G.O.A.T. votes each season shows no signs of slowing down. After missing the first four games of 2016 to his Deflategate suspension, Brady put forth an MVP-worthy regular season in which he threw 28 touchdowns with just two picks, completed 67 percent of his passes and a 112.2 passer rating that was the second best of his career. Oh, and he capped it all with a historic comeback in Super Bowl LI to earn his fifth ring and fourth Super Bowl MVP. New England's embarrassment of riches at the most important position in sports doesn't end with Brady, though, as the team reportedly passed up a number of trade offers for the fourth-year backup Garoppolo this spring that could have brought a first-round pick and then some to the draft coffers. Heck, the Patriots even have a second-year quarterback in Brissett, who cobbled together a win for the team in his own rookie debut last September.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Mike Gillislee. Backups - James White, Rex Burkhead, FB James Develin, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, LeShun Daniels Jr., FB Glenn Gronkowski.

It's not often that a team lets a franchise-record-setter from the previous season walk and feels like the position may actually end up an upgrade. But that's exactly what happened for the Patriots this spring as LeGarrette Blount and his NFL-best 18 rushing touchdowns ran off in free agency to the Eagles while New England added former Bills restricted free agent Gillislee and versatile Bengals backup Burkhead to a new-look backfield committee. Gillislee clearly offers youthful upside going from the Bills' run-first attack to the benefits of playing in the Brady-led passing game in New England. Meanwhile, White returns as the top receiving back after a historic Super Bowl LI performance. After catching 60 passes last regular season, White had three touchdowns - including the game-winner in overtime - and a two-point play on the biggest stage that helped earn him an offseason contract extension. Lewis is now more than a full year removed from the torn ACL that cut short his 2015 campaign that saw him put forth an electric, breakout effort as both a runner and receiver in the first seven weeks. Burkhead is the wild card. He signed a contract worth $3 million this season, more than any Patriots back since Fred Taylor in 2010. That for a guy with one career start who was basically a special teamer until the final two-plus games last season in Cincinnati. Develin is a trusted fullback and special teamer who brings grit, physicality and leadership that's been lauded by his teammates and coaches alike.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Rob Gronkowski. Backups - Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton.

Gronkowski proved two things in 2016: that he's the most dominant tight end in the game when healthy and that staying healthy remains a concern. The big man battled a hamstring injury to open the year and then landed on injured reserve on the way to his third career back surgery. He signed a contract restructure this offseason that will double his pay to more than $10 million if he can put up the elite numbers he's capable assuming he can stay on the field. While he's battling to return to his best, Allen arrives to try to fill the void of Martellus Bennett's departure. Allen has never put up huge reception numbers, but did have six touchdowns in two of the last three years in Indianapolis and should benefit from playing with Gronkowski as a complementary weapon working with Brady. O'Shaughnessy also arrives via trade, coming from Kansas City where he was primarily a special teams contributor. He'll compete with Lengel, who was signed off the Bengals practice squad last fall to fill in after Gronkowski's injury and hauled in his first career touchdown among his two catches.

Starters - Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan. Backups - Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Devin Lucien, Matthew Slater, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister.

Brady has never had a more trusted, proven, versatile receiving corps than the one he'll work with in New England in 2017. Edelman returns to his role as a slot machine with a nice new contract extension after a healthy season in which he notched 98 catches for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns. As long as he's on the field, he'll be one of Brady's top go-to guys. But there is no doubt Cooks arrives from New Orleans with a chance to spice up a passing game that already ranked No. 4 in the NFL last fall. Cooks had 78 catches for 1,173 yards - a career-best 15.0-yard average - and eight touchdowns for Drew Brees' Saints last fall. While Cooks is expected to be the unit's big-play force, the group actually returns Hogan on the outside after he tied for the NFL lead with a 17.9-yard average in his first fall in Foxborough. Amendola isn't an every-down option by any means at this point in his career, but he's proven himself a clutch performer over his time in New England, as he did once again last postseason. Mitchell was an impressive rookie who swiftly worked his way into Brady's so-called circle of trust with 32 receptions as a fourth-round pick, as well as six catches in Super Bowl LI. Slater is a receiver on the roster only, earning his keep on special teams with an occasional blocking rep or go-route his only contributions on offense.

Starters - LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon. Backups - C/G Ted Karras, T Tony Garcia, T Conor McDermott, T Cameron Fleming, T LaAdrian Waddle, OL Chase Farris, OL Jamil Douglas, T Andrew Jelks, C/G James Ferentz, OL Max Rich, OL Jason King, OL Cole Croston.

New England returns the entirety of its starting offensive line from last season's Super Bowl run. The unit struggled at times against the Falcons' speedy defense in the Super Bowl and though relatively young, there are some upside questions. Solder is the former first-round pick in a contract year as a middling left tackle, though a trusted veteran. Cannon inked a $30 million extension last fall when he put forth his best season, when he lost weight, got in better shape and benefited from the return from retirement of legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia. While Cannon and Solder each have six years under their belts, the interior starters have just five years of combined experience. Mason is the best of the group, but heading into his third year the former fourth-round pick continues to struggle at times in pass protection. Andrews earned his own contract extension starting 27 games, including all 16 last fall, as a former undrafted rookie. He's undersized and solid, but far from dominant. Thuney is the biggest question after the third-round pick started 16 games as a rookie. He appeared to wear down as the season played out and there are questions about his potential for growth moving forward. Beyond the starters, the backup roles and roster spots are very much up for grabs. Waddle was a healthy inactive 14 times last fall and is unlikely to earn a spot. Fleming is another backup at tackle, but the addition of the third-round rookie Garcia and sixth-round selection McDermott increase the competition on the outside. Inside, Karras started the opener at guard as a rookie and is really the only potential backup at center.

Starters - LDE Rob Ninkovich, DT Malcom Brown, DT Alan Branch, RDE Trey Flowers. Backups - DT Vincent Valentine, DE Kony Ealy, DE Derek Rivers, DL Lawrence Guy, DE Deatrich Wise Jr., DT Woodrow Hamilton, DT Darius Kilgo, DE Geneo Grissom, DL Adam Butler, DT Josh Augusta.

At end, Ninkovich is the trusted veteran even as his age has begun to show in recent years. He started the final 10 games last season after a four-game suspension, but his sack numbers and overall production have declined for three straight years. The other starting end job will likely go to Flowers, who broke out over the second half of 2016 to lead the team with 7.0 sacks and then was maybe New England's best defensive player with 2.5 sacks in Super Bowl LI. He'll be expected to carry an even larger load this fall with the likes of role players Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard having departed in free agency. The depth at end will come from trade addition Ealy and draft picks Rivers (third round) and Wise Jr. (fourth round). Ealy is in a contract year as a former second-round pick, but started just 15 games in three seasons in Carolina while notching 14 total sacks. Grissom is a third-year former third-round pick who has yet to find a way to get on the field on defense and shows no signs of doing so moving forward, meaning his roster spot is tenuous at best. The roles at tackle are a bit more defined. Branch was the best player at the spot last year and re-signed this spring, but the veteran missed offseason practice to an undisclosed injury and his status to open the season is very much in doubt. Brown will hold one of the starting jobs, even if the former 2015 first-round pick has been somewhat of a disappointment. Valentine was a nice role player as a third-round rookie last fall and will slide into the starting lineup if Branch isn't healthy. Hamilton saw spot duty as an undrafted rookie, while Guy signs on as a versatile backup who can play all over the defensive front. The veteran started a combined 16 games over the last two seasons in Baltimore and should be in line for a roster spot at the very least.

Starters -- SLB Dont'a Hightower, MLB David Harris, WLB Kyle Van Noy. Backups - OLB Shea McClellin, MLB Elandon Roberts, OLB Jonathan Freeny, MLB Harvey Langi, LB Trevor Bates, MLB Brooks Ellis.

Prior to the late offseason signing of Harris, the depth at linebacker was one of the bigger concerns in New England. But the former Jets mainstay has proven himself over the years against the Patriots and now pursues a ring on the other side of the Border War after a year in which he tallied 95 tackles despite missing his first game in eight seasons. More important than Harris' arrival, though, was New England's re-signing of the Pro Bowler and captain Hightower. The former first-round pick has durability issues - he missed at least three games in each of the last three years, something that hurt his value on the open market this spring - but is the key man on the front seven. Van Noy arrived last October via trade from the Lions and the former second-round pick carved out a solid role for himself. Though he only started two of the seven games he played, New England sees him as a starting-caliber option moving forward. Van Noy did have 27 tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and two passes defensed in a reserve role, production he'll be very much expected to build on with more playing time in 2017. The former Bears first-round pick McClellin has settled into a role as an off-the-line linebacker at this point, not the rusher he was drafted to be. He'll battle with second-year player Roberts, who impressed with both his maturity and production as a sixth-round rookie, more of an early-down, run-first option. Freeny started the first four games last season and has strangely been a favorite of Belichick's in his time in New England, seen as a coverage linebacker. The veteran may be in a battle for a roster spot at this point, though.

Starters - LCB Malcolm Butler, RCB Stephon Gilmore, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty. Backups - FS Duron Harmon, CB Eric Rowe, SS Jordan Richards, CB Justin Coleman, CB Cyrus Jones, SS Nate Ebner, CB Jonathan Jones, SS Brandon King, S David Jones, CB D.J. Killings, CB Will Likely, CB Kenny Moore II, DB Dwayne Thomas, DB Jason Thompson, DB Damarius Travis.

Though Butler's status seemed a bit precarious this offseason, his return as a restricted free agent and the addition of Gilmore after his Pro-Bowl season in Buffalo could give the Patriots one of the best cornerback tandems in football. Based on spring practice, Butler will retain his left corner spot, although work in the slot can't be ruled out depending on how the battle for the No. 3 job shakes out. Gilmore will settle in on the right side where he'll play under massive expectations thanks to his $65 million contract that makes him by far the biggest free-agent signing in Patriots history. Rowe was the third cornerback last fall after arriving via trade and is the favorite for that job again, although his 6-foot-1 size and matchup style mean his playing time could push Butler into the slot. Cyrus Jones was terrible in limited defensive action as a rookie, struggles that were actually overshadowed by his even worse struggles as a kick returner. Coleman and Jonathan Jones are both former undrafted players who have each had some reps this spring at the No. 3 spot and will battle for depth roles and playing time. In addition to the talent at cornerback, the Patriots' back end is also loaded at safety. McCourty is the leader coming off a Pro-Bowl season. Though not a flashy playmaker, the former cornerback and first-round pick is a solid last line of defense and the guy who keeps the whole thing running on pass defense. Chung is the physical force in the box who has remained surprisingly durable in his second tour of duty in New England starting all 16 games last fall. Harmon re-signed for $20 million this offseason, starter money for a guy who's been a reliable third safety option over the last couple years. He allows the Patriots to play many nickel packages with three safeties on the field, depending on the opposition and weekly game plan. Richards is a third-year former second-round pick the team still believes can be a contributor on defense, something he's failed to prove in two-plus seasons, ending last year as a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl. Ebner is a specialist in the kicking game, where his 19 tackles were more than double his next closest teammate. King is also a coverage specialist, one of a crowded bunch on the New England roster.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, KOR Cyrus Jones, PR Cyrus Jones.

New England's specialists very much had their ups and downs in 2016. A year after earning All-Pro honors, Gostkowski had his worst season in the NFL missing field goals and extra points with uncharacteristically alarming regularity. The four-time Pro Bowler missed three extra points and five field goals in the regular season and another two extra points in the playoffs. Allen may not have the strongest leg - his gross average ranked just 21st in the league - but his situational work is very much trusted by his coaches. Allen's 41.4 net last fall was seventh in the NFL and he'll once again go without training camp competition entering his fifth season. The same is true for Cardona, who entering his third year has juggled his commitments to the Navy while putting forth very few hiccups in his job in New England. The biggest question in the kicking game comes with the return jobs. Jones had five fumbles and even more bad decisions as a rookie in his work on both punts and kickoffs. If Jones can't take over the job he was very much drafted to fill, veterans like Edelman and Amendola may need to continue to do the work on punts, while McCourty, James White or Lewis might need to handle kickoffs, something Belichick would prefer not to have to do for all involved.
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NFL camp openers: Ravens are kneed at RB, CB positions
July 26, 2017

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the full Baltimore Ravens squad reported here Wednesday (July 26), knee injuries were already impacting what needs attention during the next few weeks of training camp.

On Tuesday, running back Kenneth Dixon had surgery to repair a medial meniscus and head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday that he will miss the entire season. The team signed Bobby Rainey to add depth.

Dixon was already suspended for the first four weeks for violating the NFL rules on performance-enhancing drugs.

Meanwhile, the season-ending knee injury to incumbent starting slot cornerback Tavon Young opened a heated battle for that job.

Maurice Canady, Brandon Boykin and Lardarius Webb are the top candidates to assume that role. Boykin previously thrived in that position with the Philadelphia Eagles before missing last season with a torn pectoral.

Webb adds a veteran presence and knows the Ravens' system. Canady, a second-year player, showed playmaking potential last season before he was placed on reserve/injured with a hamstring injury in Week 4. However, Boykin appears to be the early favorite to win the job because of his experience at that position.

Reports then surfaced the night of July 26 that quarterback Joe Flacco could miss from three-to-six weeks because of a disk issue in his back. There were also reports he might be out no more than one or two weeks.

The Ravens had not commented, but will likely discuss it Thursday.


TRAINING CAMP: Under Armour Performance Center; Owings Mills, Md.

COACH: John Harbaugh

10th season as Ravens/NFL head coach

95-64 overall; 10-5 postseason


2016 finish: 2nd AFC North (8-8)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 347.7 (17th)

RUSHING: 91.4 (28th)

PASSING: 256.3 (12th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 322.1 (7th)

RUSHING: 89.4 (5th)

PASSING: 232.8 (9th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 10, WASHINGTON (Thu), 7:30

Aug. 17, at Miami (Thu), 7:00

Aug. 26, BUFFALO (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 31, at New Orleans (Thu), 8:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Joe Flacco. Backups - Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan.

Flacco did not appear fully confident one year removed from season-ending knee surgery. However, he did manage to throw 20 touchdowns with 15 interceptions and a had a quarterback rating of 83.3 last season. The Ravens are expecting much more from their franchise quarterback. Flacco has looked sharp in offseason workouts and the Ravens added receiver Jeremy Maclin as another potential weapon for him. Malley will be the primary backup for the third season and Vaughan appears headed to the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Terrance West, FB Lorenzo Taliaferro. Backups - Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen, Taquan Mizzell, FB Ricky Ortiz, Bobby Rainey, Kenneth Dixon.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh named West as the starter in offseason workouts. West did well with limited opportunities last season, finishing with 774 yards and five touchdowns on 193 carries. Woodhead was signed as a free agent and he will be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. The key for him is to stay healthy. Allen has struggled over the past two seasons, but he will get an opportunity to make plays, especially with Dixon out for the season after undergoing knee surgery Tuesday to repair a medial meniscus. Rainey was signed to add depth. Taliaferro made the switch from running back to fullback in the offseason. The Ravens hope can he effectively replace Pro Bowler Kyle Juszczyk, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent. Taliaferro, however, has struggled to stay healthy and finished the past three seasons on injured reserve. Ortiz, an undrafted rookie from Oregon State, could push Taliaferro for the starting job and is a solid blocker.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Benjamin Watson. Backups - Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Ryan Malleck.

This is perhaps the thinnest position on the roster. Dennis Pitta, the team's most productive tight end, reinjured his hip in offseason workouts and his career is likely over. Darren Waller is suspended without pay by the NFL for at least one year for violating the league's substance abuse policy for a second time in two years. Watson was a key free-agent signing in 2016, but suffered a torn Achilles in a preseason game against the Lions and never played another snap. He is expected to be ready for training camp. Williams and Gillmore have also struggled with injuries. Boyle has been suspended twice for violating the league's performance enhancing drugs policy. However, he took advantage of the extra snaps in the offseason OTAs and appears much more comfortable making catches in traffic and with blocking assignments.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin. Backups - Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Matthews, Chris Moore, Vince Mayle, Keenan Reynolds, Quincy Adeboyejo, Aaron Bailey, Kenny Bell, C.J. Board, Tim Patrick, Tim White.

Maclin was signed in the offseason to provide quarterback Joe Flacco with another sure-handed receiver. Maclin, a former first round pick by the Eagles in 2009, caught 44 passes for 536 yards with two touchdowns over 12 games last with Kansas City last year. He would fill a void for Baltimore, which lost Steve Smith to retirement and Kamar Aiken to free agency in the offseason. Wallace was the most productive receiver last season, finishing with 1,017 yards and four touchdowns. Perriman was one of the most impressive players in this year's offseason workouts and is poised to have a breakout season. Campanaro and Reynolds, a converted cornerback, will battle for one of the remaining spots. Their ability to contribute on special teams will be a big factor in making the team.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Alex Lewis, C John Urschel, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Ryan Jensen. Backups - T James Hurst, G Nico Siragusa, G Jarell Broxton, Jermaine Eluemunor, T Roubbens Joseph, T Stephane Nembot, G Jarrod Pughsley, G Maurquice Shakir, C Matt Skura, G/T De'Ondre Wesley.

Yanda is a six-time Pro Bowler and the anchor of the rest of the unit. He is a steadying presence for the rest of the group. Stanley, the team's first-round pick in 2016, was arguably the best rookie offensive lineman in the league last season. Lewis, another rookie, showed versatility and earned a starting spot before being hampered with an ankle injury. The Ravens traded starting center Jeremy Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason and starting right tackle Rick Wagner signed with the Lions as a free agent. This has left a void on the line. For now, coach John Harbaugh is prepared to move forward with Urschel and Jensen filling those roles. Rookie guard Nico Siragusa could also push for playing time.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DT Bronson Kaufusi, NT Brandon William, DE Matt Judon. Backups - DT Chris Wormley, DT Michael Pierce, Michael, DT Patrick Ricard, NT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry.

This unit was No. 1 against the run for much of the season before wearing down in the final four weeks. Williams, who was drafted by Baltimore in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, signed a five-year, $54-million deal in the offseason, foregoing a shot at free agency. Over 55 games, including 46 starts, Williams has recorded 158 tackles (97 solo), 4.5 sacks, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He will be the leader of this unit. Baltimore is also relying on Kaufusi to make a bigger impact after he broke his ankle during his rookie training camp and was out for the year. The rookie Wormley could push for a starting job.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Terrell Suggs, MLB CJ Mosley, MLB Kamalei Correa, OLB Tyus Bowser. Backups - OLB Matt Judon, OLB Za'Darius Smith, OLB Tim Williams, ILB Anthony Levine, ILB Lamar Louis, ILB Bam Bradley, ILB Patrick Onwuasor, ILB Brennen Beyer, ILB Donald Payne, OLB Albert McClellan, OLB Boseko Lokombo, OLB Randy Allen.

A main offseason goal for the Ravens was improving its pass rush. So, the team drafted Bowser of Houston in the second round and then took Williams from Alabama one round later. Both are high-energy players that showed a tenacity to get to the quarterback in college. Bowser has been especially impressive and could win a starting job. Suggs, the team's all-time sacks leader, turns 35 in October and has battled injuries. Baltimore might need to rely heavily on some other younger players, such as Judon and Smith, to make an impact.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Brandon Carr, RCB Jimmy Smith, SS Eric Weddle, FS Tony Jefferson. Backups - CB Marlon Humphrey, CB Maurice Canady, CB Brandon Boykin, CB Robertson Daniel, CB Al-Hajj Shabazz, CB Jaylen Hill, CB Sheldon Price, CB Tavon Young, DB Lardarius Webb, S Chuck Clark, S Daniel Henry, S Otha Foster.

This unit struggled with injuries over the past three seasons. Smith missed time with ankle and back issues last season, but has been dominant when healthy. Young, who earned a starting role last season, is already out for the year with a knee injury. This opened up a battle at slot cornerback. Canady, Boykin and Webb are the top candidates to assume that role. The Ravens signed the veteran Jefferson and durable Carr, both of whom are expected to make an immediate impact.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox, KOR Chris Moore, Keenan Reynolds, PR Michael Campanaro.

Tucker is widely considered by some as the best kicker in the league. The veteran Koch made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and has been consistently solid. People rarely hear about Cox and that's a good thing for a long snapper. While the three of those players will offer continuity, there will be a heated battle among the kick and punt returners. Campanaro appears to have the edge as the main punt returner, but he has to show he can stay healthy. Reynolds, a converted quarterback from Navy, has shown steady improvement and will push for the job and opportunities as a kick returner. Moore has breakaway speed but must avoid turnovers to stay atop the depth chart.
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NFL camp openings: Texans' eyes on rookie QB Watson
July 25, 2017

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- When the full Houston Texans roster reported for duty here at the Greenbrier Resort Tuesday (July 25), most attention will be on a Savage, a rookie quarterback and one of the best defensive lineman in NFL history who must prove he can play again.

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien named Tom Savage as the starting quarterback over rookie Deshaun Watson, who must gain some seasoning before the Texans consider changing his status.

"It's best for the team," admitted Watson, the former Clemson standout who was a Heisman Trophy finalist, Davey O'Brien and Manning Award winner and claimed an ESPY this month for Best Male College Athlete.

"Coach OB knows a lot of football. He's been with the best, if not one of the best in NFL history, Tom Brady. He knows how everything is operated. He knows when the perfect timing will be. He knows when it's right and when it's wrong."

Meanwhile, J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, must show he can return to some semblance of his former greatness and stay healthy after undergoing a pair of back surgeries to repair a herniated disk. Watt was not in contact drills yet but was fully cleared and participated in all offseason practices. His health is paramount to the NFL's top-ranked defense.

The opening of camp was not without some drama. Tackle Duane Brown, who wants a new contract despite having two years remaining on his current deal, is officially a holdout and was placed on the team's reserve/did not report list. Brown was also absent from the team's June mandatory minicamp.

His scheduled salaries are $9.4 million this year and $9.75 million in 2018.

Top Summer Battle

With most public and media attention focused on the all-important quarterback position and Watt's return, one of the key battles to watch in camp this summer will be at strong safety.

This will a highly-contested battle for a starting job between Corey Moore, Lonnie Ballentine and, perhaps later, K.J. Dillon when he is healthy.

Moore returns with starting experience and held up solidly last season, but didn't make many big plays. Ballentine has prototypical size and speed, but keeps getting hurt. Dillon is recovering from a torn ACL suffered as a rookie last year.


TRAINING CAMP: The Greenbrier; White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

COACH: Bill O'Brien

4th season as Texans/NFL head coach

28-23 overall; 1-2 postseason


2016 finish: 1st AFC South (9-7)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 314.7 (29th)

RUSHING: 116.2 (8th)

PASSING: 198.5 (29th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 301.3 (1st)

RUSHING: 99.7 (12th)

PASSING: 201.6 (2nd)


All times Central

Aug. 9, at Carolina (Wed), 6:30

Aug. 19, NEW ENGLAND (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 26, at New Orleans (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 31, DALLAS (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Tom Savage. Backups -- Brandon Weeden, Deshaun Watson.

Savage has a lot to prove as the Texans' new starter. He has had durability issues and hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in an actual game. Watson is a multi-dimensional option down the road, but Savage has been named the starter and it's not an open competition. Weeden is a reliable option who's won games for the Texans in the past.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Lamar Miller, FB Jay Prosch. Backups -- D'Onta Foreman, Akeem Hunt, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, Dare Ogunbowale.

The Texans want to be more judicious with Miller's workload after he wore down at the end of last season. When healthy, Miller is one of the better backs in the NFL. Prosch plays mostly on special teams but is a rugged lead blocker when called upon. Foreman was recently arrested on drug and gun charges and was overweight in the spring. He enters camp in coach Bill O'Brien's doghouse. Hunt has speed to burn. Blue is a solid backup who lacks explosiveness. Ervin has been a nonfactor on offense, but is getting another shot.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- C.J. Fiedorowicz. Backups -- Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson, Zach Conque, RaShaun Allen, Evan Baylis.

Fiedorowicz emerged last season as a productive pass-catcher. He's always been a stout blocker. Griffin is a big downfield target who can run after the catch.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller. Backups -- Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller, Wendall Williams, Chris Thompson, Riley McCarron, Justin Hardee, Deante' Gray, Shaq Hill.

Hopkins is looking for a bounce-back season after his production dipped last year during the failed Brock Osweiler experiment. Fuller, the fastest player on the roster, is working to improve his hands after dropping too many passes as a rookie. Miller is a converted quarterback who's starting to find his groove as a slot receiver. Strong has been a disappointing former third-round pick. He has good size and speed, but has yet to put it all together.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su'a-Filo, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, RT Chris Clark. Backups -- T Kendall Lamm, G Chad Slade, G David Quessenberry, C Greg Mancz, T Breno Giacomini, C Erik Austell, C Kyle Fuller, T Laurence Gibson, T Julie'n Davenport, G Josh Walker.

Brown is a three-time Pro Bowl blocker and the anchor of the line, but he opened training camp as a holdout after being absent for the entire offseason due to a contract dispute. Allen had a rough first season but has lost 20 pounds. Su'a-Filo had his best season last year, but his play hasn't justified his second-round draft status. Martin takes over in the middle and draws high marks from coaches after missing his rookie season with an ankle injury. Clark struggled at right tackle last season and needs to improve. Lamm is a capable swing tackle. Giacomini has to prove he can stay healthy. Mancz gives the Texans quality depth after starting all of last season.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE J.J. Watt, NT D.J. Reader, DRE Jadeveon Clowney. Backups -- DT Eli Ankou, DE Christian Covington, DE Matt Godin, DE Joel Heath, DE Carlos Watkins, DE Daniel Ross, DE Ufomba Kamalu, NT Ricky Hatley, DE Brandon Dunn.

Clowney shed his injury-prone reputation last season and consistently disrupted offenses as he was named to the Pro Bowl. Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who's made a full recovery from back surgery. Reader is a massive interior presence who takes over as the new starting nose tackle for Vince Wilfork. Covington's forte is stopping the run. The coaching staff likes Heath's long arms and versatility. Watkins was ultra-productive at Clemson and should fit in well as a rotational defensive lineman.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Whitney Mercilus, ILB Brian Cushing, ILB Benardrick McKinney, SLB Brennan Scarlett. Backups -- ILB Dylan Cole, ILB Zach Cunningham, OLB Eric Lee, ILB Sio Moore, ILB Brian Peters, OLB Gimel President, OLB Dayon Pratt, ILB Shakeel Rashad, OLB Tony Washington, ILB Avery Williams.

Mercilus is regarded by some scouts as the Texans' most complete defensive player. He has size, speed and skill. Cushing is regarded as the emotional leader of the defense, but he's coming off shoulder surgery. McKinney was named second-team All-Pro last season as he led the Texans in tackles and notched five sacks. Cunningham was a tackling machine in college, but needs to upgrade his strength and ability to shed blocks. Scarlett is the new starting strong-side linebacker as the replacement for John Simon. Peters operates as the special-teams ace.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Johnathan Joseph, RCB Kareem Jackson, FS Andre Hal, SS Corey Moore. Backups -- CB Kevin Johnson, CB Robert Nelson, CB Dee Virgin, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Denzel Rice, S Kurtis Drummond, S Lonnie Ballentine, S K.J. Dillon, S Eddie Pleasant, CB Bryce Jones, CB Treston Decoud.

Joseph returns for his 12th season and is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who's healthier this year. Hal lost his starting job last season but regained it during a down year in pass coverage and tackling. Jackson is aggressive and got picked on some in single coverage. Johnson is fully recovered from a broken foot that required surgery. Moore is a fast, sound tackler, but doesn't make many plays in pass coverage. Ballentine has had chronic injuries. Dillon is a hard hitter but is not expected to be fully ready for training camp. Decoud is a prototypical big corner who excels in press coverage. Nelson could step in as a nickel back after intercepting Andrew Luck once last season. Rice has good size and speed, but needs to keep improving his understanding of coverages.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nick Novak, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Weeks, KOR Tyler Ervin, PR Will Fuller, K Ka'imi Fairbairn, P Cory Carter.

Novak is a very accurate clutch kicker who keeps bailing out a horrendous red-zone offense. Lechler is one of the top punters in NFL history, seemingly ageless with strong hang time and distance. Fairbairn is expected to push Novak in camp, but Novak is the favorite to win the job. Weeks is a former Pro Bowl selection who remains one of the top long snappers in the NFL. Ervin had ball-security issues as a rookie. Fuller is explosive, but needs to stay healthy to have a full-time role on offense and returning punts.
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NFL camp openings: Chargers again beset by key injury
July 29, 2017

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- It had an echo of business as usual when the Los Angeles Chargers placed wide receiver Mike Williams, their first-round draft pick, on the physically unable to perform list Saturday (July 29) as the team reported to the Jack Hammett Sports Complex for the beginning of training camp.

In a tale all too familiar for the injury-plagued Chargers, Williams is trying to overcome a herniated disk in his lower back. The former Clemson star is joined on the active/PUP list by cornerback Jason Verrett (knee) and safety Darrell Stuckey.

Players on the PUP list count against the 90-man roster and can be activated at any time before final roster cuts.

Williams was seen as a key new target for quarterback Philip Rivers, who watched his favorite target, Keenan Allen, sidelined by injuries in each of the last two seasons.

The annual proliferation of Chargers injuries relegates news of another -- even involving a first-round pick -- to the dog-bites-man category.

But quarterbacks are big news on any NFL team, and so the most interesting headlines in the days leading up to training camp were about the travels of a couple of Chargers' signal-callers -- long-time star Rivers and newcomer Cardale Jones.

First, Rivers announced that he will not move his wife and eight children from their home of eight years in Rancho Sante Fe, just north of San Diego. Instead, he will commute in a customized vehicle that will include a chauffeur and a rolling quarterback room, complete with video screens.

"We just thought it was best for me and my family to go this route -- that it was at least worth a try this first season, being that it wasn't too far," Rivers said on local radio. "There's two things I didn't want to compromise: I didn't want to compromise my preparation/being a teammate. I love being a teammate, so I didn't want to compromise that because I'm going back and forth. And I wasn't going to compromise my time spent away from my family."

Jones, Buffalo's fourth-round draftee out of Ohio State last year, traveled to southern California Wednesday after the Chargers acquired him in a trade with Bills.

General manager Tom Telesco said the team had a high grade on Jones last year and was trying to get him since this year's combine.

"Obviously we're looking for competition at that spot," Telesco said. "And with Cardale, he's a quarterback with some developmental traits that are hard to find."

Jones trained in San Diego before the draft last year with quarterback guru George Whitfield, working alongside Rivers' brother, Stephen Rivers.

"He's big. He's strong. He's got a strong arm," Telesco said of Jones. "He's a pretty good athlete, played at a high level and played well. But his body of work in college is not as large as you would like, so we know it's going to take some time. But it's hard to find a quarterback with those type of skills."

Top summer battle

--OK, it's a bit of a summer rerun. But the truth is the competition for spots along the offensive line -- once again -- will be among the most spirited in training camp. The Chargers surrendered on tackle King Dunlap and guards Orlando Franklin and D.J. Fluker in the offseason, eager to embrace change. They brought in left tackle Russell Okung and drafted Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp and won't it be fun to see which big body ends up where?

Matt Slauson, as usual, is in the middle of anything in the Chargers' trenches. He was a stud last year at center. But he's versatile, and enough of a veteran that he'd able to slide over to guard to make room for someone at center. There's also Spencer Pulley and Kenny Wiggins sniffing around for snaps. Just maybe what was once a team weakness becomes a strength from fresh faces and agreeable depth. Either way, positions nearly all along the line will be for the taking.


TRAINING CAMP: Jack Hammett Sports Complex; Costa Mesa, Calif.

COACH: Anthony Lynn

1st full season as Chargers/NFL head coach

0-1 overall


2016 finish: 4th AFC West (5-11)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 356.8 (14th)

RUSHING: 94.4 (26th)

PASSING: 262.4 (8th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 347.1 (16th)

RUSHING: 97.9 (10th)

PASSING: 249.2 (20th)


All times Pacific

Aug. 13, SEATTLE, 5:00

Aug. 20, NEW ORLEANS, 5:00

Aug. 26, at L.A. Rams (Sat), 5:00

Aug. 31, at San Francisco (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici, Cardale Jones.

Rivers continues to produce at a Pro-Bowl level. Is he minus blemishes to his game? No, as he often forces something to happen as he sacrifices statistics for the chance to win. But he remains a threat with his quick release and now he has a stable of receivers that could make stopping him even a taller order. Clemens is good in the quarterback room and has winning experience as a starter: the epitome of a solid backup. Jones, acquired in a trade with Buffalo just before camp convened, was inconsistent, but showed outstanding athletic ability and a strong arm at Ohio State.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Melvin Gordon. Backups - FB Derek Watt, Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow, Andre Williams, Kenjon Barner, Austin Ekeler.

Gordon finished just shy of 1,000 yards last season as he rebounded from a disappointing rookie season. If he's fit from a knee injury, there's no reason why he shouldn't produce a Pro-Bowl caliber year, especially with the Chargers' balanced offense. New head coach Anthony Lynn, a former NFL running back, has loaded up with various options at backup. Oliver has been steady and Williams has shown a spark. Barner could be a sleeper.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry. Backups - Sean McGrath, Jeff Cumberland, Asante Cleveland, Sean Culkin.

Gates needs but one touchdown catch to have the most for anyone at his position in NFL history. He's not what he once was, but he still has the frame and know-how to be a lethal weapon in the red zone. Henry had a big rookie season and there's few young players the Chargers' brass is higher on. Hunter had eight touchdown catches last year and he's learning at the feet of Gates. Cumberland will provide the muscle; same would go for McGrath.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams. Backups - Mike Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin, Isaiah Burse, Andre Patton, Mitchell Page, Artavis Scott, Jamaal Jones, Geremy Davis, Da'Ron Brown.

Allen's return could elevate the Chargers' offense to another level. He has Pro-Bowl skills, but staying fit is a concern. Tyrell Williams stepped in last year and shined by producing a 1,000-yard season with seven touchdowns. Mike Williams, the top pick and former Clemson star, is battling a herniated disc in his back. Planning on him to contribute early seems unlikely, which opens the door more for Inman, and to some degree, Benjamin.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Russell Okung, LG Matt Slauson, C Spencer Pulley, RG Forrest Lamp, RT Joe Barksdale. Backups - C Max Tuerk, G Donavon Clark, G Dan Feeney, G Brett Boyko, T Sam Tevi, G/T Chris Hairston, T Tyreek Burwell, G/T Kenny Wiggins, C Dillon DeBoer.

It's a new look up front for the Chargers and some of these spots could still be switched. But the Chargers decided to go with youth in Lamp and Feeney and it's not farfetched to think both could end up in the starting lineup this season. Slauson's calm veteran demeanor will help steady a line that welcomes free agent Okung to protect Rivers' blind side. There is no bigger chore, or responsibility, on the team. Depth, which was once a concern here, could be a thing of the past if the injury bug doesn't make its annual visit.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Melvin Ingram, DT Corey Liuget, NT Brandon Mebane, DRE Joey Bosa. Backups - NT Ryan Carrethers, DT Damion Square, DT Caraun Reid, DE Jerry Attaochu, DE Darius Philon, DT Tenny Palepoi, DT Kaleb Eulls, DE Isaac Rochell, DE Christopher Landrum, DE Chris McCain.

The Chargers make the switch to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme. The middle looks decent, with Liuget and Mebane, but it's on the edges that the Chargers think they have two game-changers in Bosa and Ingram. Looking to supply a 1-2 punch, they signed Ingram to a long-term deal on the heels of Bosa being the NFL's defensive rookie of the year. Depth might be a concern behind those two, but the Chargers think the pairing of Bosa and Ingram will have an impact.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Korey Toomer, MLB Denzel Perryman, SLB Jatavis Brown. Backups - OLB Joshua Perry, OLB Kyle Emanuel, ILB Nick Dzunbar, OLB James Onwualu, OLB Mike Moore, OLB Nigel Harris.

Perryman is a thumper and he plays with an edge that teammates seem to feed off. Brown is a keeper from last year's draft as is Perry. Transition here from the 3-4 is also worth watching as the team retools its roster to find players better suited for the scheme. Toomer's nose for the football would play in any alignment.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Jason Verrett, RCB Casey Hayward, FS Dwight Lowery, SS Jahleel Addae. Backups - CB Trevor Williams, S Darrell Stuckey, CB Craig Mager, S Adrian McDonald, S Adrian Phillips, S Tre Boston, CB Desmond King, CB Ryan Reid, CB Trovon Reed, CB Brandon Stewart, CB Michael Davis, S Dexter McCoil, S Rayshawn Jenkins, CB Brad Watson.

Like the offense, the secondary can have an impact in various ways. The tandem of Verrett and Hayward could make for a good pair, especially when considering the potential with the pass rushers. But Verrett has to prove his body can stand up to 16 games and Hayward has to provide an encore on a Pro-Bowl season that not many saw coming. Addae loves the contact, but his body often revolts. Depth behind him is a key and it seems to be there. Williams and Reed have the inside track to be the nickel back.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Lambo, K Younghoe Koo, P Drew Kaser, P Toby Baker, LS Mike Windt, KOR Isaiah Burse, PR Isaiah Burse.

The Chargers are eager to see what comes of the Lambo-Koo competition. Despite Lambo coming back, he's no lock to stick. Kaser will be under a microscope, too, but not to the degree of Lambo. Burse opened some eyes last year as a returner; he was eons better than Travis Benjamin. But the return spot could have some emerging candidates as well. Windt is a steady veteran.
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NFL camp opening: Seahawks cook up surprise, sign Reece
July 29, 2017

RENTON, Wash. -- When the Seattle Seahawks reported for training camp here Saturday (July 29), the team confirmed rumors by celebrity TV chef Guy Fiere that the team had a surprise on the menu.

Fiere tweeted Friday morning that versatile Marcel Reece was returning to the Seahawks, with whom he played the final four regular-season games and the playoffs. Fiere, a well-known fan of the Oakland Raiders, befriended Reece when the player was with that team and last year they worked together on a video.

The team announced Saturday that it re-signed Reece.

Reece was a popular player at the University of Washington in 2006-07, when he was primarily a receiver. With the Raiders, he made the Pro Bowl while lining up as a fullback, tight end and even wide receiver.

After his release by the Raiders in September, Reece signed with the Seahawks in December after injuries diminished the team's fullback position.

On Friday, the Seahawks traded linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for linebacker D. J. Alexander.

Alexander played mostly special teams for the Chiefs. He started at inside linebacker in the team's 19-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 last season following Derrick Johnson's season-ending Achilles injury.

"He was a good football player for us," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. "Gives him an opportunity up there."

When the team begins on-field workouts, a key battle will take place at cornerback, where the Seahawks are looking for somebody to start opposite talkative Richard Sherman.

With DeShawn Shead sidelined and probably headed to the PUP list with an ACL tear, Jeremy Lane will get significant playing time, either as an outside cornerback or slot option.

Rookie Shaquill Griffin could challenge Lane for the job, or at least take over on the outside in nickel situations so Lane can move inside. Neiko Thorpe, DeAndre Elliot and Mike Tyson could also challenge for roles as well.


TRAINING CAMP: Virginia Mason Athletic Center; Renton, WA

HEAD COACH: Pete Carroll

8th season with Seahawks

79-46-1 overall; 9-5 postseason

12th season as NFL head coach

113-79-1; 10-7 postseason


2016 finish: 1st NFC West (10-5-1)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 357.2 (12th)

RUSHING: 99.4 (25th)

PASSING: 257.8 (10th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 318.7 (5th)

RUSHING: 92.9 (7th)

PASSING: 225.8 (8th)


All times Pacific

Aug. 13, at L.A. Chargers, 5:00

Aug. 18, MINNESOTA (Fri), 7:00

Aug. 25, KANSAS CITY (Fri), 5:00

Aug. 31, at Oakland (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Russell Wilson. Backups -- Trevone Boykin, Austin Davis.

Wilson returns from the first injury-plagued season of his career looking to rebound from his least efficient season as a pro. Davis brings veteran competition to the backup spot with Boykin, who held the reserve job a season ago.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls. Backups -- C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins, Chris Carson, Mike Davis, FB Tre Madden, FB Marcel Reece, FB Kyle Coleman.

Lacy's addition expresses a desire by Seattle to regain its running roots, which were lost following Marshawn Lynch's departure. Staying healthy will be critical as Lacy, Rawls and Prosise all missed significant time due to injuries last year. Collins and Carson will be battling for final roster spots. Reece, Madden and Coleman will compete to become Seattle's new fullback.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jimmy Graham. Backups -- Luke Willson, Nick Vannett, Marcus Lucas, Tyrone Swoopes, Steve Donatell.

Graham set several franchise receiving records by a tight end last season with 65 catches for 923 yards. Willson returns as a trusted rotational player. Vannett looks to earn more playing time in his second season. Lucas, Swoopes and Donatell will have a difficult time cracking the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett. Backups -- Paul Richardson, Amara Darboh, David Moore, Tanner McEvoy, Kenny Lawler, Kasen Williams, Rodney Smith, Cyril Grayson, J.D. McKissic, Darreus Rogers.

Baldwin is Wilson's favorite target and became the first Seattle receiver to make the Pro Bowl in 17 years. Lockett is working to return from a broken leg suffered last December. Kearse had a down year last season and may be one of the few veterans on the roster in danger of losing his job in the preseason. Draft picks Darboh and Moore will be trying to create roles for themselves. Richardson had a strong conclusion to last season as he enters a contract year. Lawler, McEvoy and Williams will be in the mix for roster spots as well. Grayson is trying to return to football after being a track athlete exclusively at LSU.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT George Fant, LG Luke Joeckel, C Justin Britt, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Germain Ifedi. Backups -- G/T Rees Odhiambo, G/T Oday Aboushi, C Joey Hunt, G/T Ethan Pocic, C/G Will Pericak, T Justin Senior, G Jordon Roos, T Robert Myers.

A young group returns looking for a leap in performance from last year. Joeckel and Aboushi were the only free-agent additions to the squad. Joeckel's addition likely kicks Glowinski from left guard to right guard (where he played as a rookie) and Ifedi from right guard to right tackle. Joeckel will also compete with Fant at left tackle. Pocic will battle Ifedi at right tackle after being selected in the second round. Odhiambo and Hunt pencil into reserve roles, with Roos and Pericak pushing them for spots.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Cliff Avril, DT Jarran Reed, NT Ahtyba Rubin, RE Michael Bennett. Backups -- DE Frank Clark, DE Malik McDowell, DE Marcus Smith, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Quinton Jefferson, DT Nazair Jones, DE Dion Jordan, DT Garrison Smith, DT Jeremy Liggins, DT Shaneil Jenkins, DE Tylor Harris, DE David Bass.

A strong defensive front returns intact, while the additions of top draft pick McDowell and third-round pick Jones bolster the group. Avril and Bennett lead the pass-rush unit with Clark, McDowell and Marsh expected to add diversity to the attack. Marcus Smith was signed after being released by the Eagles earlier in the week. There will be competition for the backup tackle spots with Jefferson, Jones, Garrison Smith and Liggins fighting for spots. Jordan is attempting to take advantage of a second chance after two lost seasons to injury and suspension, but another surgery in June has set back the efforts.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB K.J. Wright, MLB Bobby Wagner, SLB Michael Wilhoite. Backups -- OLB Terrence Garvin, MLB Arthur Brown, MLB Dewey McDonald, OLB Kache Palacio, OLB Otha Peters, OLB Ronald Powell.

The most change on the roster comes at linebacker with Mike Morgan and Brock Coyle no longer with the team. Morgan was a starting strong-side linebacker last season. Wilhoite is the favorite to earn that job moving forward. The depth options could be completely overhauled as free agent additions Garvin and Brown could usurp spots from Pierre-Louis, McDonald or others.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Richard Sherman, RCB Jeremy Lane, FS Earl Thomas, SS Kam Chancellor. Backups -- CB DeShawn Shead, CB Shaquill Griffin, CB Mike Tyson, CB Neiko Thorpe, FS Bradley McDougald, FS Tedric Thompson, SS Delano Hill, CB DeAndre Elliott, CB Pierre Desir, CB Demetrius McCray, S Marcus Cromartie, S Jordan Simone.

Shead is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last January, which creates uncertainty at cornerback. Lane, Griffin and Thorpe are the most likely candidates to receive that playing time opposite Sherman. The additions of McDougald through free agency, and Thompson and Hill through the draft, have overhauled the depth at safety behind Thomas and Chancellor. Elliott, Tyson and Desir will all be battling for roles as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Blair Walsh, P Jon Ryan, LS Nolan Frese, LS Tyler Ott, KOR/PR Tyler Lockett.

For the first time since Pete Carroll's initial season in Seattle, the Seahawks will have a new kicker. Walsh is the only candidate on the roster to replace Steven Hauschka, who signed with Buffalo. Hauschka's inconsistency led to the Seahawks electing to move on, but Walsh has struggled recently as well in Minnesota. Frese and Ott will battle for snapping duties.
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NFL camp openings: Colts unsure when Luck will play
July 29, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Indianapolis Colts veterans fleshed out the full training camp roster Saturday (July 29), the primary concern was whether quarterback Andrew Luck will be ready to play in the season opener.

Team officials have been almost nonchalant in referencing Luck's return from January labrum surgery on his throwing wing to repair an injury that lingered since 2015. But there is increased concern about when he will be ready to play and that concern was heightened when he began camp on the physically unable to perform list, unable to participate in practice.

Even Luck said he is not ready to commit to playing the regular-season opener on Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams.

"It's hard for me to look beyond, really, today's rehab session," Luck said Saturday. "That's the approach I have to take ... if you want to get truly healthy. If you want to get better than you were before the injury."

But, in an effort to prevent panic, he dutifully espoused the party line.

"I would say that there's no reason to freak out," Luck said. "I will be better than I was coming into this coming out. I know that. I don't know what day it's going to be, I don't know what week, I don't know when it's going to be, but I definitely will be.

"So there's no reason to freak out. And on that note, football is the greatest team game in the world. No one person is bigger than the team and I've always felt that. We've got a solid, solid team that is forming at this complex. So, no reason to freak out."

Luck threw for 4,240 yards with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2016 while trying to cope with the bad shoulder. After the January surgery he missed all OTAs and minicamp, but says he should be better off -- at some point.

"It does feel different than it did last year because I still have a ways to go in strength, still have a ways to go," Luck said. "But I know every day it's improved and I really feel this way, especially in the last couple weeks, month, I see the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will. I truly feel in my mind and in my heart that I know I'm going to be better. I really, really know I'm going to be better.

"No one wants to miss practice, no one wants to miss training camp, but I'm confident that when the time is right for me and when I'm able to practice -- whenever that is -- that I'll be up to speed and good enough to be productive in games and give this team my best."

Interestingly, owner Jim Irsay and the Colts were aware of Luck's shoulder issues when they signed him to a five-year, $122.7 million contract that runs through the 2021 season. Luck is guaranteed $44 million.

Meantime, attention logically turns to the backup quarterback.

Scott Tolzien was the top backup last season after coming to Indianapolis from Green Bay. Tolzien played well in his only start, a home-field loss to Pittsburgh. Inexperienced Stephen Morris looked good in practice and in last year's preseason games. Morris was on the practice squad last year and could be ready to push Tolzien. Undrafted rookie Phillip Walker is also on the roster, but the Colts haven't ruled out bringing in another veteran quarterback as needed.

The Colts restored safety Malik Hooker to the active roster on Saturday from the physically unable to perform list. The 15th overall pick in this year's draft tweaked a hamstring during a conditioning test Monday. The 21-year-old former Ohio State standout had hip and sports hernia surgeries before the NFL Scouting Combine. Hooker missed the Colts' offseason program.

The Colts also placed defensive end Kendall Langford (knee) and center/guard Brian Schwenke (foot) on the PUP list


TRAINING CAMP: Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center; Indianapolis, Ind.

COACH: Chuck Pagano

6th season as Colts/NFL head coach

52-34 overall; 3-3 postseason


2016 finish: 3rd AFC South (8-8)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 364.4 (10th)

RUSHING: 101.8 (23rd)

PASSING: 262.6 (T5th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 382.9 (30th)

RUSHING: 120.4 (25th)

PASSING: 262.5 (27th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 13, DETROIT, 1:30

Aug. 19, at Dallas (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 26, at Pittsburgh (Sat), 7:30

Aug. 31, CINCINNATI (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Andrew Luck. Backups -- Stephen Morris, Scott Tolzien, Phillip Walker.

Luck is still expected to be THE starter to begin the regular season, but his ability to at least be close to 100 percent is the big question. After not seeing any on-field work since the end of last season, he is expected to be rusty in terms of cohesion with his receivers. Tolzien and Morris will probably split the majority of the practice work once camp begins. Luck is slated to be on a pitch count when he is given the green light to return to the field.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Frank Gore. Backups -- Dalton Crossan, Josh Ferguson, Marlon Mack, Troymaine Pope, Robert Turbin.

Gore is coming off a 1,000-yard season, his best season overall since coming to the Colts prior to the start of the 2015 campaign. While his age (34) is a factor, Gore hasn't really shown signs of slowing down. Turbin impressed last season in spot duty and will most likely see a lot more work in 2017. He was particularly impressive in short yardage and goal-line situations. His abilities as a receiver out of the backfield and as a pass blocker also got positive reviews. Mack caught the eye of Colts officials this past spring and will be used as a change-of-pace back. If he can master the pass-blocking duties, he has shown the ability to be used in the passing game as well. Ferguson, meanwhile, needs to have a strong camp.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jack Doyle. Backups -- Mo Alie-Cox, Darrell Daniels, Colin Jeter, Erik Swoope, Brandon Williams.

Doyle has moved from the third tight end on the roster to being the team's starter in a relatively short time. He has proven to be dependable as a receiver and is a pretty good blocker. Doyle has developed a strong chemistry with Luck. Swoope will get the chance to be the No. 2 tight end after a strong second half of the 2016 season. Williams is also in the mix and could win the primary backup job with a good camp.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief. Backups -- Kamar Aiken, Harvey Binford, Quan Bray, Chris Briggs, Fred Brown, Phillip Dorsett, Bug Howard, JoJo Natson, Chester Rogers, Tevaun Smith.

Hilton and Moncrief are the Colts' top two receivers. Now, the question is who will make the push for the No. 3 spot. Aiken is a proven veteran who came to Indianapolis from Baltimore looking to be utilized more. Dorsett continues to flash at times but needs to become more consistent. He needs to play well and step up his overall performance. Rogers has been a pleasant surprise. Bray will be in the mix but will also be used on special teams.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, C Ryan Kelly, RG Joe Haeg, RT Le'Raven Clark. Backups -- T Zach Banner, T Fahn Cooper, T/G Denzelle Good, T Blake Muir, G Adam Redmond, C/G Brian Schwenke, T Jerry Ugokwe, T Jeremy Vujnovich, T Andrew Wylie.

Castonzo and Kelly are solid starters. Mewhort will be if he can stay away from the nagging injuries that have slowed his progress the past two seasons. Haeg looks to settle in at guard and could have a big future there. Clark got off to a slow start as a rookie last season but got better as the year progressed. Schwenke came over from the Titans and will provide solid leadership as a backup and potential starter. Good has started at guard or tackle; his natural spot is tackle. Banner is an interesting rookie with great size.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DT Johnathan Hankins, NT Al Woods, DE Kendall Langford. Backups -- DT Henry Anderson, DE Tarell Basham, DT Josh Boyd, DE Margus Hunt, DT T.Y. McGill, DT David Parry, DT Hassan Ridgeway, DT Grover Stewart, DE Jhaustin Thomas.

The Colts have been impressed by the potential of its rebuilt defensive line. Hankins comes over from the Giants and could play tackle or nose tackle. Woods is a former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman who looked good this spring. Langford is coming back from a season-ending knee injury. Anderson looks to be completely back from knee issues that have slowed his progress the last two seasons. Hunt is an ex-Bengals draft pick who will get a lot of opportunities. McGill just makes plays whenever he gets playing time. Ridgeway is also returning from injury issues but has impressed. Parry had off-field issues this spring. Rookie Basham and Stewart could push for playing time.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB John Simon, ILB Jon Bostic, ILB Sean Spence, OLB Jabaal Sheard. Backups -- OLB Akeem Ayres, OLB Lavar Edwards, ILB Jeremiah George, ILB Edwin Jackson, OLB Barkevious Mingo, ILB Antonio Morrison, OLB Deiontrez Mount, ILB Lee Rhodes, OLB Garett Sickles, ILB Anthony Walker.

Lots of new faces at linebacker for Indianapolis heading into the season. Simon, Bostic, Spence, Sheard, and Mingo were all signed as veteran free agents during the spring and all are expected to make immediate contributions. Jackson and Morrison saw a lot of playing time for the Colts last year. Walker is a rookie who impressed once he arrived at OTAs in the spring. He can play inside and outside linebacker. Rhodes is also in the mix as a top backup.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Vontae Davis, S Clayton Geathers, S Malik Hooker, CB Rashaan Melvin. Backups -- CB Dante Blackmon, S/CB Darius Butler, S Matthias Farley, S Tyson Graham, S T.J. Green, CB Nate Hairston, S Lee Hightower, CB Chris Milton, CB Tevin Mitchel, CB Darryl Morris, S Tyvis Powell, S Andrew Williamson, CB Quincy Wilson.

Davis is the only sure thing in the secondary heading into training camp. Geathers did not participate in workouts last spring as he rehabbed an old injury. Hooker was the team's top draft pick but was held out last spring after undergoing surgery once his college season was over. Butler is making the move from cornerback to safety this year. Green has ability but is still raw. Wilson, a rookie, could push for a starting job. Farley, Melvin and Morris have proven to be dependable backups who could produce as starters if needed.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Adam Vinatieri, P Jeff Locke, LS Thomas Hennessy, KOR Quan Bray, PR Chester Rogers, P Rigoberto Sanchez.

Vinatieri is the only returning key starter for the Colts special teams unit. He will be 44 when the season starts, but he still has a lot of tread on his tires and remains as one of the league's premier kickers. Locke, coming from the Vikings, takes over as the starting punter after the surprising retirement of Pat McAfee. Also gone is veteran long snapper Matt Overton, who is expected to be replaced by highly regarded rookie Thomas Hennessy. Bray impressed as a kick returner last season. Rogers handled the punt return chores for most of the 2016 season.
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NFL camp openings: Lions must rebuild wall to protect Stafford
July 29, 2017

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When the Detroit Lions veterans reported Saturday (July 29) to fill out the training camp roster, quarterback Matthew Stafford was better prepared than previous years and, with his problematic finger healed, healthy and ready to go.

And the Lions want to keep him that way.

That means they must focus on the offensive line, where left tackle Taylor Decker looked great as a rookie last season, but tore the labrum in his right shoulder last month and is expected to miss half the season.

Decker's potential replacements include draft bust Greg Robinson, acquired in a June trade with the Los Angeles Rams; oft-injured backup Corey Robinson, who missed all spring rehabbing from foot surgery; late-spring free-agent addition Cyrus Kouandjio, who was waived by the Buffalo Bills after a series of weird off-field incidents this year; and the underwhelming Cornelius Lucas.

On Saturday, backup guard Brandon Thomas and erstwhile starting defensive end Ezekiel Ansah were designated as physically unable to perform (PUP), while Greg Robinson and defensive end Cornelius Washington were placed on the non-football injury list.

On the other side of the ledger, Kouandjio and cornerback Teez Tabor were taken off injured lists and should be good to go in the first practice Sunday.

This probably means Kouandjio and not Robinson will get first shot at replacing Decker at left tackle. Also, it opens a spot for someone to push Washington early at defensive end.

It was revealed that Stafford went against his previous beliefs in the offseason and hired a private quarterback coach. He would not name the mentor, but reports indicate it may have been Tom House of 3DQB, whose most notable recent client was Matt Ryan, who led the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl last season.

"I just think I want what's best for this team -- I want what's best for me as a player," Stafford said Saturday after reporting for training camp. "If I play well, our team is going to play well. It just goes to preparation and doing everything you possibly can.

"When you're competing against yourself to be as good as you can possibly be, then why not give everything you got and find different people with different ideas who maybe can help you out?" Stafford said. "I just thought it was an opportunity and I went for it and enjoyed it."


TRAINING CAMP: Lions Headquarters and Training Facility; Allen Park, Mich.

COACH: Jim Caldwell

4th season with Lions

27-23 overall; postseason 0-2

7th season as NFL head coach

55-47 overall; 2-4 postseason


2016 finish: 2nd NFC North (9-7)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 338.8 (21st)

RUSHING: 81.9 (30th)

PASSING: 256.9 (11th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 354.8 (18th)

RUSHING: 106.3 (18th)

PASSING: 248.4 (19th)


All times Eastern

Aug. 13, at Indianapolis, 1:30

Aug. 19, N.Y. JETS (Sat), 7:30

Aug. 25, NEW ENGLAND (Fri), 7:00

Aug. 31, at Buffalo (Thu), 7:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matthew Stafford. Backups - Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya.

The Lions' hope this year rests largely on Stafford and the continuing maturation of his game. Stafford had arguably his best season as a pro last year, leading the Lions to eight come-from-behind victories, and he's in line to land a record contract extension soon. If he stays healthy, the Lions should be in the NFC North race. If not, they'll turn the team over to Rudock, a sixth-round pick last year who spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Ameer Abdullah. Backups - Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, Matt Asiata, Tion Green, Mike James.

The Lions ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing last season when Abdullah and Riddick combined to play in just 12 games because of injuries. Abdullah is healthy after undergoing Lisfranc surgery, while Riddick missed all of spring coming off double-wrist surgery. Abdullah should get the bulk of the carries this fall, with Riddick contributing as a pass-catching back and Zenner playing in a backup role.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Eric Ebron, Darren Fells. Backups - Michael Roberts, Cole Wick, Robert Tonyan, Brandon Barnes, Khari Lee.

Ebron has made steady improvement in his first three NFL seasons and the Lions are counting on another step forward this fall as he'll be an integral part of a passing game given the Lions' lack of depth at the wide receiver position. Fells is expected to play significant snaps as a blocking tight end, and the Lions spent a fourth-round pick on Roberts in April. Wick enters camp as the favorite for the fourth tight-end spot, assuming the Lions go deep at the position again.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Golden Tate, Marvin Jones. Backups - Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Keshawn Martin, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, Noel Thomas, Ryan Spadola, Michael Rector, Dontez Ford.

Tate led the Lions in receptions in each of his three seasons in Detroit, but he's surrounded by an underwhelming cast of receivers. Marvin Jones had a disappointing first season in Detroit last year, though he is still the team's No. 1 deep threat. Golladay, a third-round pick out of Northern Illinois, had a promising spring, but rookie receivers tend to struggle in their first season. And TJ Jones, Martin and Abbrederis are among those dueling for the No. 4 receiver spot - a competition that might be decided by who wins the return job.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Taylor Decker, LG Graham Glasgow, C Travis Swanson, RG T.J. Lang, RT Rick Wagner. Backups - LT Greg Robinson, LT Cyrus Kouandjio, T Cornelius Lucas, T Corey Robinson, T Tony Hills, T Storm Norton, G Laken Tomlinson, G Brandon Thomas, G Matt Rotheram, C Leo Koloamatangi.

The Lions have put a huge emphasis on upgrading their offensive line under general manager Bob Quinn, but still enter this season with significant questions up front. Decker is out, likely for half the season or more, following June surgery on a torn labrum. Greg Robinson is the favorite to start in his absence, though he hasn't practiced with the team after a June trade. Corey Robinson was the No. 3 tackle last year, but is coming off foot surgery. Lang, one of two big offseason additions along with Wagner, should be a fine addition at guard once he's recovered from January hip surgery, and Swanson missed a month last year with a concussion.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - RDE Ziggy Ansah, DT A'Shawn Robinson, DT Haloti Ngata, LDE Kerry Hyder. Backups -- DE Armonty Bryant, DE Cornelius Washington, DE Brandon Copeland, DE Anthony Zettel, DE Pat O'Connor, DE Alex Barrett, DE Jeremiah Valoaga, DT Khyri Thornton, DT Akeem Spence, DT Jordan Hill, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Bruce Gaston, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter.

When Ansah was healthy two seasons ago, he was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The Lions are counting on him returning to form this fall after a high ankle sprain limited him to just two sacks last season. If Ansah can't recapture that form, the Lions could be in for a long season as they have no other proven pass rushers up front. Hyder had eight sacks last season, but just one in the last eight games (including the playoffs). Washington should push for a starting job at left end, while Robinson and Ngata are a nice tandem inside, though one that won't put up big sack numbers. Spence is the top interior backup, while Thornton will serve a six-game suspension to start the year. Bryant begins the season with a four-game suspension giving Zettel a shot to to be the fourth end in the rotation at the beginning of the season.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Jarrad Davis, OLB Paul Worrilow. Backups - Antwione Williams, Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, Thurston Armbrister, Nick Bellore, Steve Longa.

Davis, the Lions' first-round pick, takes over as the starting middle linebacker and play-caller on a defense that ranked 18th in the NFL last year. Whitehead, the team's leading tackler in 2016, is moving to outside linebacker and sat out all spring recovering from a knee injury. Worrilow can play middle or weak-side linebacker, and Williams will compete for time on the strong side. The Lions are high on fourth-round pick Reeves-Maybin, and plenty of linebackers should see the field in different packages.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Darius Slay, RCB Nevin Lawson, FS Glover Quin, SS Tavon Wilson. Backups - CB D.J. Hayden, CB Teez Tabor, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Jamal Agnew, CB Johnson Bademosi, CB Adarius Barnes, CB Des Lawrence, CB Josh Thornton, S Don Carey, S Miles Killebrew, S Alex Carter, S Rolan Milligan, S Charles Washington.

The Lions did a good job building depth in the secondary. Slay has emerged as one of the better cornerbacks in the game, and Lawson is an underrated defender. Hayden and rookies Tabor, a second-round pick, and Agnew, a fifth-rounder, should compete for time in nickel packages, with Hayden and Agnew having the ability to play inside. Quin is the NFL's ironman at safety, while Killebrew should see his role expand after playing primarily as a dime defender as a rookie. Carter, a third-round pick by Martin Mayhew at cornerback, is trying to make the team at safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Prater, P Sam Martin, P Kasey Redfern, LS Don Muhlbach, KOR Keshawn Martin, PR TJ Jones.

Prater and Martin form one of the best kicking tandems in the NFL. Both were Pro-Bowl alternates last season, when Prater made six game-winning or game-tying field goals and Martin set a franchise record for net punting. The ageless Muhlbach returns as long snapper, but the Lions have legitimate questions about who will handle return duties this fall. Martin and Jones can return both kickoffs and punts, and Jace Billingsley and Jamal Agnew could be in the mix as well.
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Carolina Panthers Outlook
August 2, 2017

Can McAffery Save Cam Newton?

A video has surfaced of Christian McAffery sending one of his teammates to the ankle repair shop, and boy is the world of football excited for this young rookie. It’s especially interesting because the player that McAffery puts on skates is none other than former Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. Is he the injection of pace that the Panthers need to overcome the Falcons in the NFC South?

ODDS TO WIN NFC SOUTH - per BetOnline.ag
Atlanta Falcons +155
Carolina Panthers +225
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +325
New Orleans Saints +450

It’s worth noting that McAffery was the fourth skill position player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. Leonard Fournette (4th – Jacksonville), Corey Davis (5th – Tennessee) and Mike Williams (7th – Los Angeles Chargers) were all taken before the Panthers jumped on the athletic stud from Stanford at eighth overall.

What do all three of those guys have in common? They’re known commodities. Fournette is as downhill as rock pounding running backs gets, while Corey Davis is a blazingly fast slot guy and Mike Williams is that giant x-type you find terrorizing the league currently.

McAffery brings something delightfully different to the table. He’s the epitome of “lightning in a bottle” and can acquire possession from a variety of different angles. At Stanford, McAffery terrorized the Pac-10 as a kick returner, receiver and running back. You probably already know this so there’s no point in listing all of his ridiculous college credentials.

But what’s essential here is that the excitement buzzing out of Carolina Panthers training camp is well justified. Everyone on the team seems to understand that McAffery fills a void that the team lacked last year – a dynamic threat that isn’t Cam Newton.

The team already has Jonathan Stewart, a bell-cow type of back who went for 824 yards and 9 touchdowns in 13 games last season. Stewart is a 10 year veteran of the sport and needs someone to properly split the load with. Usually, that guy has been Cam Newton (aka the most polarizing quarterback in the league).

The 2015 NFL MVP and former number-one pick has been massively criticized for how he runs the ball and how effective he is at passing. And that whole sentiment about “traditional pocket passers” is absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes, a guy comes along who breaks the mould without completely redefining it. Newton has long known that he can’t run his way to a Super Bowl, and his numbers reflect that in a big way.

His rushing attempts alone have dipped significantly. Last year was the first time he didn’t crest at least 500 yards rushing and 100 attempts rushing. He followed the same habit in his third and fourth year when he had to forcibly adjust his game to the NFL standard where you have to be a serviceable threat with your arm. The irony is that when Newton is rushing for all-time career highs he is putting up his best seasons. In his rookie year, Newton amassed 4,757 total yards with 126 rushing attempts. In his 2015 MVP season he ran the most times in his entire career with 132 attempts. Last year, he ran just 90 times and had one of his worst seasons ever, though injury played a big role there.

Newton, the Panthers and everyone else knows that’s not the pathway to a sustainable career nor consistent success as a team. The problem with Carolina is that they’ve gotten boring. Everyone knows that Cam is going to try and lob it up to Benjamin or Olsen. Everyone knows that Jonathan Stewart is just going to ram it down your throat and try and break one. It’s staggeringly predictable.

That’s largely why McAffery is such a salivating addition to this team. He can do so much out of the backfield, as a slot receiver and kick returner. Obviously, if Keuchly was trying to kill him in practice, that video might have been a different story but McAffery has making defenders miss his entire life.

The NFC South is a serious dogfight. This division has the last two MVP’s, a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees and Jameis Winston banging on the door. Cam is a +2200 MVP longshot to win the MVP at BetOnline.ag but McAffery is a very appealing +350 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

If McAffery can put up the kind of numbers – and the highlights – that he did in college, then Carolina could very well be an awesome team to bet on again in the regular season like they were in 2015. Why not get excited? The league is way more fun when Cam Newton is forcing arguments at the water cooler.
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Old 08-02-2017, 04:20 PM
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Houston Texans Outlook
August 1, 2017

Shocker! O’Brien Likes His New Rookie Quarterback

In what can only amount to jaw dropping news, head coach Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans showered praise on rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. “He’s better than any other rookie quarterback I’ve been around,” said O’Brien. That’s high praise coming from a guy who’s been around highly touted rookies like Ryan Mallet.

The running gag in the NFL is that if the Houston Texans like a quarterback, then he can’t possibly be that good. This is a team that invested in Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler. Their track record for grading NFL quarterbacks is simply awful. You’d expect one of those guys to be at least serviceable, right?

That’s why it’s impossible to take O’Brien’s praise of Watson seriously. The guy’s a totally fine coach. He has a great team, and Watson is a super exciting talent. But assessing and developing quarterback talent haven’t been strength of this coaching staff (or the coach’s staff). So if you’re looking at the NFL futures markets with BetOnline.ag it’s very hard to figure out exactly where to pin your money when it comes to the Houston Texans.

The quarterback position is truthfully the only thing they’re actually missing. They were the top-ranked defence in terms of total yards allowed last season, and didn’t have any huge gaps to fill in that department. Where they struggled is with a quarterback, and the general hope is that Watson just has to be decent and that fixes everything. Right? Let’s dive a little deeper.


In 2016, the Houston Texans stumbled to a 9-7 SU and 6-9-1 ATS record that saw them beat the Raiders (without Derek Carr) and then get obliterated by the New England Patriots. No matter which quarterback is at the helm, this sort of record seems to be their destiny. The Texans have finished 9-7 SU for the last three years straight.

It’s worth highlighting that they went 9-7 SU despite having Brock Osweiler on the field, and J.J. Watt of of it. So even if they get menial play out of the quarterback position, they are probably going to trip in to a 9-7 SU record. The main reason you bet the UNDER is because they got very, very lucky in some games last year including a 12-10 win over Cincinnati in Week 16 and a 20-13 win over Detroit in Week 8.

You can check out all the NFL regular season win totals at BetOnline.ag by clicking here.


One of the standard markets in the NFL futures is division winners, but BetOnline.ag takes it a step further with NFL Final Standings. You can specifically bet on where the Texans will finish in the AFC South. Right now, they’re poised to win the division according to the oddsmakers.

Houston Texans Final Standings in AFC South
1st (+185)
2nd (+210)
3rd (+260)
4th (+450)

As always, no bet really lives in a vacuum. The Indianapolis Colts have seemingly stepped sideways while the Tennessee Titans are also emerging as a real threat to take the division with +215 to odds to finish first. The only team the oddsmakers are set on is the always-awful Jacksonville Jaguars, who are -110 favorites to finish dead last in the division.

So where do you fall on Houston?


We’ve seen rookie quarterbacks be amazing in their first season. Dak Prescott is a prime example of a player in a prime situation, but he also came from a program that ran a pro-style offence. Deshaun Watson did not, and that adjustment can be a massive one. Watson threw 17 interceptions in his last year at Clemson which should serve as a red flag. Those picks came because he was asked to run less in order to preserve his health for the important games.

Watson is an incredible athlete, which is a given. But O’Brien runs a traditional NFL offence that is predicated on a pocket passer. That is not Watson’s strength. He’s most hostile when he’s agile, and lobbing up passes to a freakishly large target like Clemson’s Mike Williams (now a Charger) bailed Watson out of some spotty throws. Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins need accurate gunslingers.

Now, mind you, scouting reports on Watson in general are a mixed bag and he doesn’t come in with the same sort of hype that guys like Newton, Mariota and Winston did. A lot of people believe that Houston reached for him in the first round, especially considering that they traded two first-round picks to get him.

There’s always a chance that Watson is a breakout star. But Houston of all places has a notoriously bad record of overpaying for under-qualified quarterbacks. If all of your NFL futures bets regarding the Texans are hinging on Watson becoming the second coming of Dak Prescott, then you’re taking a much bigger gamble than you think.
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As Brady turns 40, some other old athletes for the ages
August 2, 2017

Tom Brady is celebrating his 40th birthday like no one before him.

Having won a fifth NFL championship ring and a fourth Super Bowl MVP at the age of 39, the New England Patriots quarterback has shown no signs of aging even as he inevitably gets older. He'll turn 40 on Wednesday, and fans usually celebrate by singing ''Happy Birthday'' to him during training camp.

Brady just keeps on going.

Golfers such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin won majors in their 40s. Bill Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby at 54. George Foreman was heavyweight champion at 45. But for team sports - especially at a position as important as NFL quarterback - it has been a while since an athlete has been this good this late in life.

Here are some of the active fortysomethings in sports, along with all-time greats whose careers stretched into a fifth decade.


Bartolo Colon, 44, is the oldest active player in the majors. But he is 2-9 with a 7.70 ERA.

Ichiro Suzuki, five months younger, is a reserve outfielder for Miami. Carlos Beltran is a role player at 40, but for the best team in the AL.

None of them is going to make anyone forget Satchel Paige, who, because of the color barrier, didn't reach the majors until he was 41. He stuck around for five seasons, and then made a one-shot appearance at the age of 58. Pete Rose led the majors in hits at 40, played every game the next year and broke the career hits record at the age of 44.

Honorable mention: Carlton Fisk, who was an All-Star at 43 and played until he was 45 - as a catcher, the most grueling position on the field.


When you're 39, like Manu Ginobili, every game can be your last. So San Antonio fans gave him a huge cheer when he was pulled from the playoff game against Golden State that eliminated the Spurs from the Western Conference finals.

''It felt like they wanted me to retire,'' Ginobili said with a smile. ''Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I'm getting closer and closer.''

But Ginobili, who turned 40 a week before Brady, is coming back for a 16th season with his only NBA team. Vince Carter, already 40, will be back with his seventh team.

They'll have to keep it up to catch Hall of Famers Robert Parish, who played well after his 43rd birthday, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who started every game of his final season at the age of 42.


Jaromir Jagr, 45, is looking for a team after finishing his 24th pro season with the Florida Panthers, when he played every game and scored 16 goals with 30 assists. The previous year, he was awarded the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and sportsmanship.

But the king of longevity on the ice is Gordie Howe.

Mr. Hockey finished in the top 10 of the NHL MVP voting every year until he turned 41. He took one more spin around the league, scoring 23 goals, and then took a few years off before a comeback with the World Hockey Association that brought him to the age of 50.

He made another comeback in the NHL at 51, playing with his sons Mark and Marty on the Hartford Whalers and scoring 15 goals while appearing in 80 games.

In 1997, he made a cameo with the Detroit Vipers at the age of 69 - making him the only hockey pro to play in six decades.
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Don't look for Dak, Zeke, Carson or other stars for HOF game
August 2, 2017

CANTON, Ohio (AP) �� Don't look for too many stars on the field Thursday night when the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals kick off the NFL preseason in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game.

Don't look for many starters, either.

For those who believe four preseason games are too many, seeing their team play in Canton isn't a welcome sight. Both coaches, Jason Garrett for Dallas and Bruce Arians for Arizona, will covet getting an extra chance to watch their rookies and fringe guys compete. That's it.

As for the Dak Prescotts, Jason Wittens and Ezekiel Elliotts from Big D, forget it. Same for Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson for the Cardinals.

"This will be about the young guys," Arians says, although top draft choice Haason Reddick of Temple , who is making a switch from defensive end to linebacker, will see limited action, too. He "is not going to play a ton," Arians said.

Both teams are heading to Ohio from out west, with Dallas holding early training camp in Oxnard, California. The reason they were chosen for the game is simple: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner will be inducted into the hall on Saturday night. Fitzgerald plans to stay for the ceremonies, as does Witten.

Some things to look for as the Hall of Fame game switches from its usual weekend spot to Thursday night on NBC.

Kellen Moore is likely to see his first action since the end of the 2015 season with the Cowboys, when he made his first two career starts. He made his NFL regular-season debut off the bench that season, his fourth year in the league. It was mop-up duty back then, with Dallas finishing a 4-12 season ruined by Tony Romo's twice-broken left collarbone.

Moore broke his right ankle as Romo's backup in training camp last year, the first domino to fall in Prescott's path to the starting job. Romo's back injury last preseason cleared the way for Prescott. Moore is healthy again, and a backup again - this time to the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Not only will Palmer, coming off a mediocre season, be sitting out, so will his backup, Drew Stanton. The quarterbacking duties will fall mostly to journeyman Blaine Gabbert, seeking a spot in Arizona after supplanting Colin Kaepernick as San Francisco's starter last year. With the 49ers going 2-14, Gabbert didn't exactly light up the Golden Gate Bridge.

While it's unclear how the defensive rotation will work, two young defensive ends are eagerly awaiting their NFL debuts: Dallas rookie first-round pick Taco Charlton and second-year player Charles Tapper. A third-round pick last year, Tapper missed his rookie season, preseason included, with a back injury. Improving the pass rush is a high priority for Dallas, and these two prospects are supposed to be part of the solution.

Last year's game was canceled when the field was unplayable , an embarrassment to the hall and league that left an empty spot on the national TV scene, too.

Hall of Fame President David Baker promises the new turf will be as good as any the Cowboys and Cardinals will play on. He said it "passed the test with the NFL's game operations folks." Baker joked that the football team and cheerleaders from McKinley High School next door had been successfully practicing on it.
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Old 08-02-2017, 11:11 PM
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First Coach Fired in 2017
August 2, 2017

Who Will Be First NFL Coach To Be Fired

The oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag have released an interesting NFL futures market recently. It includes betting odds for which coach is going to get fired first. For the sake of brevity, I’m only listing coaches who have odds of less than 20-to-1 to be fired during the 2017 NFL season.

First NFL Coach To Be Fired in 2017
Todd Bowles (NYJ) +550
Marvin Lewis (CIN) +550
John Fox (CHI) +600
Chuck Pagano (IND) +600
Hue Jackson (CLE) +1000
Jim Caldwell (DET) +1000
Bill O’Brien (HOU) +1400
John Harbaugh (BAL) +1400
Sean Payton (NO) +1400

That above list has nine guys on it, and the two headliners seem like strange choices. Marvin Lewis is the second longest tenured coach behind Bill Belichik, who has a comical +20000 number in this NFL futures market. It would be a shocker to see the Bengals all of a sudden lose faith in a guy they’ve stood behind since 2003. During that span, Lewis has had 10 winning seasons and is coming off just his fourth losing one after going 6-9-1 SU last year. The Bengals, like the Steelers, are not about serious turnover.

As for the Jets, they went out of their way to acquire Todd Bowles two years ago after he had served masterfully as a star defensive coordinator with Bruce Arians in Arizona. Despite the odds at BetOnline.ag, Bowles feels relatively safe. The guy who isn’t? Whomever put together the worst NFL team we’ve seen since the winless Detroit Lions. The Jets could very well go winless after jettisoning all of their useful players. None of that has to do with Bowles.

Both Chuck Pagano and John Fox seem weirdly safe for different reasons. It’s not easy finding a good head coach, and the Chicago Bears would do themselves a lot of favors surviving this season with Fox instead of blaming him for any problems. They’re in a rebuilding process after finally moving on from Jay Cutler and Fox – like Bowles with the Jets – is a very important part of that.

Pagano seems to have the undying faith of lunatic owner Jim Irsay, and if he hasn’t been fired yet he’s not getting launched towards the unemployment line anytime soon. Contracts don’t equate to job security all that much, but It’s worth noting that Irsay handed Pagano a four-year extension just last year when they went just 8-8 SU. For the record, the Colts went 8-8 SU last year as well.

Where this market actually gets interesting is in the 20-to-1 range. Jay Gruden, Adam Gase, Doug Pederson, Ben McAdoo and Mike McCarthy are the five guys that have that exact number. Of those five, I actually think McCarthy is the best bet because there have been simply too many rumblings about how predictable the Green Bay Packers seem to be getting. They took a massive leap forward at the end of the 2016 season, but before that it was utter turmoil. McCarthy is already on a shorter string than most fans imagine, and the memory of the Super Bowl he helped lead the team to is fading fast.

But let’s remember that most NFL teams don’t fire head coaches midseason. It’s become more rare. Jeff Fisher of the Los Angeles Rams was the first to be handed a pink slip in 2016, and he was quickly followed by Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, Rex Ryan in Buffalo, Chip Kelly in San Francisco and Mike McCoy in San Diego. Almost all of those firings came right at Week 17.

The reason is simple. Owners are realizing more and more that finding a new head coach is a laborious task that’s compounded by idiot general managers and team presidents. The guys who are on really thin ice are also in terrible situations, so it’s hard to drop the axe on their necks.

If you’re cranking my arm, however, the guy I’d put money on is probably Jim Caldwell. All the other guys seem too well liked, or in precarious situations that aren’t entirely their fault. Bowles is in the worst situation possible but there’s nobody on the staff really ready to take his place if he’s fired. It might not matter if the Jets just don’t think that Bowles is the guy to rebuild this wayward franchise. The fact that he has no successful experience as the man in charge doesn’t bode well for him overall.

To be clear the best way to play this market is if you’re a fan of a certain team and you absolutely hate your head coach to begin with. So If you’re in Indy and you are no longer standing by Chuck, or you’re sick and tired of watching Caldwell stare blankly in to space while the game unfolds, then fire away.

In terms of value, Bowles is still a great take at +550. He inarguably has the worst team in the league. Someone’s going to eventually take the blame for that and I don’t know if he has the credentials to fully insulate him.
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NFL notebook: Rams DT Easley (knee) out for season
August 2, 2017

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out for the season after an MRI confirmed a torn ACL, according to multiple reports Wednesday.

The Rams confirmed that Easley will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, but did not specify the injury.

"We received word that it is going to be an injury that's going to require surgery, and he's going to be out for an extended period of time," head coach Sean McVay said on the Rams' website. "But he's a guy that's done all the things we've asked of him. And we love Dominique. We're going to embrace him."

Easley went down with a knee injury during a full scrimmage on Tuesday. The fourth-year veteran was helped off the field by two trainers and then carted to the locker room.

--The Miami Dolphins confirmed running back Jay Ajayi has been diagnosed with a concussion and ruled out of practice.

Ajayi, 24, was hit hard during Monday's full-contact practice and was escorted off the field. He will miss at least a week of drills, sources told the Miami Herald.

The 6-foot, 223-pound Ajayi led the Dolphins last season with 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games to earn his first Pro Bowl selection. He also caught 27 passes for 151 yards.

Dolphins starting safety Reshad Jones was activated off the non-football injury list and will practice for the first time since training camp opened a week ago. He tweaked his calf during personal workouts this summer.

--Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone after leaving practice with the injury.

Fuller was a first-round pick in 2016 and earned a starting spot opposite DeAndre Hopkins.

Dropped passes were an issue for Fuller, but head coach Bill O'Brien said Fuller worked diligently in the offseason and was looking like a more complete receiver.

Fuller caught 47 passes for 635 yards and two touchdowns last season.

--Jacksonville Jaguars running back I'Tavius Mathers was released from a hospital, one day removed from sustaining a cervical spinal cord injury during practice.

The team announced the update on Mathers, noting that the medical staff will work with him to "decide the best course of action for his recovery." He was back at EverBank Field on Wednesday.

Jacksonville also signed third-year running back Tyler Gaffney to fill the roster spot made available after offensive lineman Branden Albert opted to retire.

Mathers, 23, was strapped to a board and carried off the practice field Tuesday following a collision with a defensive back during a run-game drill.

--Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti continues to be torn whether to sign controversial free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick because of the possible backlash from fans.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome support the signing of Kaepernick but have met resistance from Bisciotti, sources told ESPN's Dianna Russini.

Newsome responded to Wednesday's report from ESPN regarding Kaepernick.

"We are going through a process, and we have not made a decision," Newsome said in a statement. "Steve Bisciotti has not told us we cannot sign Colin Kaepernick, nor has he blocked the move. Whoever is making those claims is wrong."

--Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates will attend former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday.

Gates, however, will not be accompanied by quarterback Philip Rivers, who will remain with the team for Saturday's joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams, coach Anthony Lynn said.

"Antonio's going to go and be with L.T. at the Hall of Fame, and Philip's going to stay and be with the team," Lynn said. "We're going to the StubHub for the first time. It's a dress rehearsal for our organization, for our players. We've got a lot of things to work through that day, and Philip wants to be there. He was torn. He wants to be with L.T. as well.

"But like I said, we're all good. L.T.'s happy. And this whole deal is about L.T., anyway."

--New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard was carted off the practice field after sustaining an ankle injury.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo told reporters it appears Shepard avoided serious injury.

"It looks at this point like he has a rolled ankle, a basketball-type ankle," McAdoo said. "We'll see how he responds to treatment and go from there."

Shepard needed to be supported by trainers after suffering the injury in practice before being taken inside to undergo tests.

--The Indianapolis Colts signed free agent offensive tackle Arturo Uzdavinis and waived tackle Jerry Ugokwe.

The 6-foot-7, 305-pound Uzdavinis most recently spent time with the Minnesota Vikings before being waived on July 26. He also spent time with the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2017 offseason.

In 2016, Uzdavinis spent time on the practice squads of the Jaguars and Chicago Bears. He originally signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent on May 6, 2016. Uzdavinis spent the 2016 offseason and training camp with the Texans before being waived on Aug. 30.

The 6-7, 321-pound Ugokwe signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent on May 4. He participated in the three-day rookie minicamp and 2017 offseason program.

--The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed rookie wide receiver Shaq Hill and waived/injured wide receiver Jhajuan Seales.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Hill originally entered the league in May with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent after playing at Eastern Washington. He was on the roster when Houston opened camp on July 26 but was waived two days later.

Hill played four seasons at Eastern Washington and caught 178 passes for 2,818 yards and 34 touchdowns. In his senior season, he caught 77 passes for 1,157 yards and 17 TDs.

Seales signed with the Bucs on Sunday. He spent the first part of the offseason with the Chicago Bears after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State.
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