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  #26  
Old 08-03-2017, 12:18 AM
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Crowded House; Steelers have depth, diversity at receiver
August 2, 2017


LATROBE, Pa. (AP) Their All-Pro wide receiver spent the day welcoming newborn son Apollo into the world. Their talented but enigmatic project watched practice in a long-sleeved T-shirt and shorts waiting for the NFL to fully reinstate him after a year away from the game for running afoul of the league's substance abuse policy.

The guy with more receptions of 40-yards or more than anyone on the team last fall jogged around with his surgically repaired left knee wrapped in ice.

Oh, and perhaps the NFL's best running back remains in Miami, his pen yet to sign his franchise tender.

And yet even without Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates and Le'Veon Bell on Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger weren't exactly lacking for options.

There was veteran Justin Hunter - trying to catch on in Pittsburgh after splitting last season with Miami and Buffalo - using every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to haul in a pass in the back of the end zone. There was Eli Rogers - a slot guy by trade - lining up on the outside and winning a 50/50 ball. There was 20-year-old rookie Juju Smith-Schuster - fresh off an ankle injury that forced the second-round pick to watch the opening few days of camp from the sideline - making a sliding grab one minute then showing off his blocking prowess for former Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward the next.

Brown will slip back into his familiar No. 1 role when he returns. Bryant will be given every chance to show he can be the No. 2 provided he keeps taking all the necessary steps. After that, the picture is considerably blurry. And that's a good thing for an offense that expects to be among the NFL's most dynamic.

Maybe that's why Roethlisberger is even chattier than usual these days. The depth and diversity at wide receiver has never been greater in his 14-year career. So is the potential.

''I want them to know what I see and I expect when we're out there,'' Roethlisberger said.

Namely, production. Lots of it.

Roethlisberger won't lack for options, a sharp contrast to the makeshift group the Steelers took to New England in January. Bryant was suspended. Coates wasn't anywhere close to 100 percent. Markus Wheaton was on injured reserve. Tight end Ladarius Green in sweats dealing with a concussion.

In their place were seventh-round pick Demarcus Ayers and undrafted free agents Rogers and Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton provided Pittsburgh's lone touchdown, a 30-yard rainbow to save a little face at the end of a 36-17 blowout. It was also a cap on Hamilton's rise from a player who began 2016 on his couch to significant contributor on a division champion.

Seven months later, Hamilton is well aware a job come early September is anything but assured. That's the business.

''Every team drafts a wide receiver, every team went out and got a wide receiver from another team,'' Hamilton said. ''This is kind of how it goes.''

Brown, Bryant and Smith-Schuster's spots are secure. Darrius Heyward-Bey remains one of the fastest players in the league and is a special teams ace. That leaves two spots at most to emerge from a cluttered group that includes Hunter, who has played for three teams over the course of the last two seasons searching for the right landing spot.

Hunter has spent most of the opening week working with the starters while Bryant clears the league-mandated procedural hurdles required to end his winding path back to the team. The former second-round pick hasn't wasted any time making an impression, making at least one highlight reel grab during every session.

''I thrive off competition,'' Hunter said. ''I like the offense and how they distribute the ball real well during the season. I just wanted to be a part of it.''

Hunter and Smith-Schuster give the Steelers some insurance in case of another misstep by Bryant, one that Bryant knows would likely end his career. He and Roethlisberger sat down for a heart-to-heart recently to clear the air after Bryant took issue with the quarterback's public admonishment of him following Bryant's most recent suspension.

Roethlisberger stressed he and Bryant ''were never really off the same page'' and that ''there never was an issue.'' Roethlisberger is more concerned with getting Bryant back on the field, saying Bryant has ''paid his dues.''

Bryant's absence, however, will provide Hunter, Smith-Schuster and everyone else an opportunity to get a long look. There's no doubt Brown is the alpha dog. After that, it's kind of wide open. While the receivers insist they're not counting reps, when one of them gets going, the rest take notice.

''When (Hunter) made two great catches with the (starters), it's like `OK, now I've got something I've got to do when I come back,''' he said. ''At the end of the day, we're going to play the best players the (most) and it's going to help us win the Super Bowl.''

NOTES: RB James Conner is day-to-day with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. ... Brown wasn't the only Steeler to welcome a new addition on Wednesday. Defensive end Cam Heyward was excused from practice to attend the birth of he and wife Allie's second child.
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Old 08-03-2017, 12:19 AM
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The Latest: Man on probation wishes for Christie's nachos
August 2, 2017


TRENTON, N.J. (AP) The Latest on Gov. Chris Christie restraining himself from dumping his nachos on a baseball fan who heckled him at a game (all times local):

8:25 p.m.

A former high school classmate of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who masterminded the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scheme says he wasn't as lucky as a baseball fan who got away with heckling Christie at a Milwaukee Brewers-Chicago Cubs game.

Christie on Wednesday reminded people he didn't dump his nachos on the Cubs fan who heckled him days earlier.

But former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein tweets he wishes all Christie dumped on him ''were some nachos.''

Wildstein contradicted Christie's account that he didn't know about the plot to deliberately create traffic jams at the bridge until months afterward and was sentenced last month to three years of probation. He said then he had put his faith ''in a man who neither earned it nor deserved it.''

Christie wasn't charged in the traffic jams scheme at one of the world's busiest bridges.

---

3:30 p.m.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is reminding people he didn't dump nachos on a Chicago Cubs fan who heckled him.

Speaking Wednesday at an event in Trenton, the Republican governor said won't quit attending baseball games. The declaration came three days after he confronted a heckler at a Milwaukee Brewers-Cubs game.

Christie was carrying nachos when he was caught on video calling fan Brad Joseph a ''big shot.'' Christie says Joseph heckled him once, and that he confronted him after a second jibe.

Christie was loudly booed at a recent a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets after snagging a foul ball.

His next opportunity to be booed could come Friday when he attends the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
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  #28  
Old 08-03-2017, 12:21 AM
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Vikings kicker competition: Will winner be Forbath or Koehn?
August 2, 2017


MANKATO, Minn. (AP) Whether they pick Kai Forbath or Marshall Koehn, the Minnesota Vikings badly need their kicker to come through after all those points squandered last season.

Koehn sure delivered last year.

While Forbath was settling in after a midseason switch from Blair Walsh in Minnesota, Koehn was making carpet and tile drop-offs for a flooring company in eastern Iowa. He lived with his parents and tried to keep his leg, mind and body in shape on the side between deliveries.

''It was a really good gig,'' Koehn said. ''My boss was pretty good to us.''

Kicking for the Vikings would be a pretty good job, too.

Their home games are indoors, after all, about a 4 1/2-hour drive from the Iowa City area where he was raised and eventually became a pro prospect with Iowa. He started as a walk-on and tallied 95 points in 2015 for the Hawkeyes, the ninth-most in program history.

Koehn vied last year in Miami with Andrew Franks, who'd been the Dolphins' kicker in 2015, before being cut at the end of training camp. Koehn has the home run hitter's leg, giving him a probably advantage in kickoffs and long-range field goals, but Forbath has the 58 games of NFL experience and an 86.6 percent conversion rate for career field goals.

''I've been in a couple competitions like this, and I know it brings out the best in both guys,'' Koehn said. ''Hopefully that'll happen here too.''

Forbath made 15 of 15 field goals in seven games for the Vikings, despite missing three extra points. The scramble for a roster spot is familiar to him too.

''Obviously it's a competition, but I don't see it that way,'' Forbath said. ''I just see it as a way for me to get better. Obviously it's the best man wins, but I don't focus on what anyone else is doing. I just kind of focus on myself and getting myself ready.''

Walsh never recovered from his failed 27-yard field goal try in the closing seconds of a 10-9 loss to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs after the 2015 season. After missing four extra points and four field goals in the first nine games, Walsh was released .

One week before that, the Vikings included both Forbath and Koehn in a group of six free-agent kickers for a tryout. With that, plus about two months of organized spring workouts and the first week of training camp now on tape, the front office and the coaching staff have already had plenty of time to formulate an opinion about which of the two will be better to keep for 2017.

The kicks that will really matter, though, are about to come in the form of four preseason games. That starts with Minnesota's opener at Buffalo on Aug. 10, with both Forbath and Koehn likely to take turns on extra points, field goals and kickoffs. The Vikings are also choosing a punter, between Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank.

''You always want a strong-legged guy, but again, Kai is better than he was a year ago in my opinion. Marshall is a strong-legged guy. Marshall, his task is to be more consistent on field goals, and Kai's is continuing to be consistent on field goals and of course extra points for both of them and to be better on kickoffs as well,'' special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said.

Though Forbath has live action in the league on his resume, Koehn is no stranger to pressure after kicking in Big Ten games with an ardent fan base behind him. As a junior in 2014, in the second game of the season, he missed two field goals under 40 yards.

''Basically got booed off of Kinnick Stadium,'' he said.

Then he bounced back the next week with a 44-yard make late in the fourth quarter to tie the game against rival Iowa State.

''That's what your coaches want to see, how you're going to respond when you're down,'' Koehn said. ''You can't let one kick affect the next.''
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  #29  
Old 08-03-2017, 12:22 AM
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Preseason Betting Tips
August 2, 2017


It may be HOT and many folks are still on vacation, but August kicks off the best time of the sports betting calendar: Football season! Competition on the field won't be as intense as September, of course, as wins aren't as important as evaluating young talent and trying to keep players healthy. However, there will be betting lines available on preseason pro action and it's possible to cash winning tickets. Here are some things to keep in mind when watching preseason football.

Coaching Strategy: An understanding of what coaches are trying to accomplish each week in August is essential. With four preseason games to play, NFL coaches will typically go with starters one quarter or less in the first August game, one quarter-plus in second game, the first half and into the third quarter in the third game, and then very little in the fourth game. Keeping starters healthy while getting them some competition against the opponents' first stringers are the obvious reasons.

Coaches will often use "vanilla" game plans, working on short passes and running plays. This is why preseason totals are lower than the regular season. Last year, the NFL Hall of Fame game was cancelled (Colts/Packers), but the previous season the Giants topped the Bills, 17-13. QB Eli Manning threw only seven passes and the five other QBs in the game were named Nassib, Painter, Tuel, Lewis and Manuel – no future Hall of Fame signal callers in that group!

Three years ago in the first preseason game, the high-powered Broncos offense played the 49ers, but it sailed 'under' the total in a 10-6 Denver win. Four years ago, the high-powered Saints played the Cardinals and the total was 34. It stayed 'under' in a 17-10 New Orleans win with four turnovers as the teams combined to go 9-of-28 on third down.

If the game had been during the regular season, the total would have been closer to 44. In fact, when the Saints did open the regular season the total was 50 against Washington and their lowest total all year was 49. In the third preseason game, starters are projected to play the most. Working on basic plays and keeping things simple are often the case for the first two weeks of preseason.

Home Field: While home field is a big edge when games count in the post and regular seasons, home field can be less important in preseason, especially in Week 4, the most meaningless of games where coaches are more focused on the opener the following week. Last year the home team was 8-8 SU, 6-10 ATS in Week 4. The last three preseasons the home team is 24-23 SU, 18-27-2 ATS. That's not unusual. Five years ago, the home team was 7-9 SU, 6-10 ATS in Week 4.

Newspapers: Keeping tabs daily on what local beat writers are commenting on is important. Many times coaches will hint at potential strategy, such as "We're going to open up the passing game a bit in the first half this week. Or, "Our starters will play two series just to get their feet wet." These tidbits are key and a successful sports bettor knows how to evaluate coaching comments, injuries, and how strategy changes may influence the side and total.

A few years ago in a preseason game, the Atlanta Falcons coach was furious with his team's play the week before and announced that the starters would play the entire three quarters. The line jumped from Atlanta as a 2-point favorite all the way to 5, and went off at 6 by kickoff. Sharp bettors wasted no time in hammering the Falcons, who won and covered the game easily, all because of the extensive game plan (and anger) revealed by the coach.

Quarterback Play: Quarterback is the single most important position on the football field. Think of the Super Bowl matchups the last decade: How many below average QBs have gotten their team to the big game? The Ravens in 2000 with Trent Dilfer and Chicago's Rex Grossman. Last February's Super Bowl pitted two of the best in the game, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.

QB play is essential and a key this time of year as starters don't play the whole game. When wagering on a favorite in preseason, it's important to carefully evaluate the No. 2 and 3 QBs as they often play as much as the starter or more. A team with a great starter expected to play just two series, with a rookie or poor backup QBs playing most of the game can be at a disadvantage.

Coaches: Coaching is such an important part of football, as so many players need to be organized and taught various roles each week. Some coaches are more demanding in preseason, while others are more laid back. Notice that Bill Belichick is 45-32 SU, 42-31-2 ATS all time in preseason. A year ago in preseason, the Pats won their first three preseason games but packed it in for Week 4, losing 17-9 at the Giants, getting outscored 14-3 in the second half with rookie QB Jacoby Brisset getting sacked 3 times.
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Old 08-04-2017, 01:42 AM
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NFL notebook: Dolphins QB Tannehill suffers knee injury
August 3, 2017


Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill sustained an injury to his left knee during Thursday's practice.

ESPN reported an MRI exam revealed that Tannehill did not suffer a tear in the knee, but the extent of the damage and how long Tannehill will be sidelined remain unclear.

Tannehill was scrambling toward the sideline and went down without contact. Trainers were examining his brace-covered left knee before taking the 29-year-old inside for further evaluation.

Tannehill sustained a sprained ACL and MCL in the same knee last season, but did not require surgery. He missed the Dolphins' last three regular-season games and their playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

--Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did not throw at practice for the third consecutive day because of right shoulder soreness.

Head coach Ron Rivera said a change in the offensive scheme means Newton will run less this season, but that was before the Panthers ran into Newton's nagging right shoulder issue that prevented him from throwing passes Thursday and three straight training camp workouts.

Newton fled the practice field on a utility cart, first speeding away from media in reverse across the football field before shifting into drive and fleeing toward the locker rooms. Joe Webb was a stowaway in the bed of the cart.

--The Philadelphia Eagles added depth to their secondary by signing free agent defensive back Corey Graham to a one-year contract, the team announced.

Graham will be reunited with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who held the same title while the former played with the Buffalo Bills in 2014.

The 32-year-old Graham spent the majority of his career at cornerback before shuffling to safety for the last two seasons in Buffalo.

Philadelphia likely will use Graham as a cornerback with the team aiming to upgrade from Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, rookie Rasul Douglas and Ron Brooks.

--The New York Jets have attempted to trade defensive end Sheldon Richardson on a few occasions this offseason, but to no avail.

Richardson told the New York Daily News that he was asked to take a pay cut to make a trade work.

Richardson is slated to make $8.1 million this year and can be a free agent at the end of the season. He recorded 62 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 15 games last season.

--Tennessee Titans rookie wide receiver Corey Davis will undergo an MRI exam after sustaining a hamstring injury during seven-on-seven drills, coach Mike Mularkey said.

Davis' soft-tissue injury comes on the heels of him missing the first two days of training camp while finalizing his contract. Davis, who was the fifth overall pick of the 2017 draft, received a four-year contract worth an estimated $25.4 million, with a $16.6 million signing bonus, according to The Tennessean.

--The New England Patriots think the world of Tom Brady, with the term "GOAT" (Greatest Of All-Time) often linked to the five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

The Patriots showed their appreciation for Brady on his 40th birthday by bringing five baby goats to training camp. The adorable creatures were each fitted with a No. 12 jersey.

The team also set up a mammoth "GOAT" sign in his honor.

--The San Francisco 49ers waived wide receiver Bruce Ellington, the team announced.

Ellington did not play last season after being placed on the injured reserve list with an ailing hamstring in August.

The 25-year-old reeled in 19 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns in his two previous seasons with the 49ers.

--Seattle Seahawks rookie defensive tackle Malik McDowell reported to training camp and was promptly placed on the non-football injury list, the team announced.

McDowell, who was a second-round selection of the 2017 draft, reportedly sustained a concussion and facial injuries in an ATV accident a couple weeks ago.

--Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, was dedicated hours before the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys were to meet in the Hall of Fame Game.

A larger-than-life statue of Benson also was unveiled.

Benson gifted $10 million toward the construction of the 23,000-seat stadium in 2014. He also made a $1 million contribution toward the creation of Legends Landing, an assisted living facility which will be part of the Player Care Center at Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village.

--The Jacksonville Jaguars announced that long snapper Carson Tinker will miss the entire season after sustaining a torn ACL in a non-contact drill on Wednesday.

Tinker, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama, has been the Jaguars' long snapper the past four seasons. He signed a four-year contract extension prior to the 2015 season.
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Old 08-04-2017, 01:45 AM
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Six QB options for Dolphins without Tannehill
August 4, 2017


Ryan Tannehill might require season-ending surgery on his left knee. Then again, he declined a repair last year.

While the facts of the prognosis settle in for the Miami Dolphins, hindsight is blinding. Tannehill's injury might well have been avoided had he opted for ACL surgery last year when he suffered a partial tear of his MCL and ACL.

Letting the injury heal over the next two months and attempting to play on an unstable limb keeps Tannehill on the field and the Dolphins in precarious waters.

Hitching their wagon to the 29-year-old Tannehill equates to risking the season on his wobbly knee.

Here are six other options for the Dolphins to consider:

1. Alex Smith, Chiefs


Where have we seen this before?

In 2016, Teddy Bridgewater and the playoff-hopeful Minnesota Vikings saw their expectations crumble to the field during a non-contact play during training camp. Bridgewater tore his ACL and dislocated the same knee, and he still isn't participating in on-field drills with the Vikings.

Minnesota traded a first-round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2010, and competed in the NFC North until the final week of the season.

Smith, the top pick in the 2005 draft, is the warfare equivalent to a slingshot -- deadly accurate from close range and effective enough to beat most opponents when played perfectly.

The cost would be reasonable compared to some other quarterbacks, but the Chiefs seem legitimately concerned about forcing rookie Patrick Mahomes, the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, onto the field too soon. Then again, the Eagles were saying and stressing the same pressure points about playing Carson Wentz this time last year -- and he had less than 40 preseason game snaps when Bradford was traded before Labor Day -- before the Vikings floated a first-round pick.

2. Brock Osweiler, Browns


Osweiler could walk into the team facility at Davie, Fla., this weekend and pick up the offense without touching a playbook. He lived it in Denver with current Dolphins coach Adam Gase. Then a Broncos assistant coach, Gase handled a one-on-one workout with the 6-foot-8 QB project before Denver drafted Osweiler in the second round in 2012.

Gase praised Osweiler for his ability to adapt -- his release, role as a backup and work ethic -- almost immediately as an NFL player.

"His biggest thing he was trying to work on was his mechanics and how to be a quarterback. He knew that he had time to do that behind Peyton (Manning)," Gase said in 2016. "That was one of the reasons we wanted to draft him: We knew his work ethic was off the charts. We knew he was smart. We knew he understood his role that was going to happen in the organization.

"He was the right guy for that kind of role for us, but we had great confidence he was going to be the next guy for us as well. It just worked out different than probably a lot of people foresaw."

Osweiler is competing for a roster spot in Cleveland after a crash-and-burn season with the Houston Texans. A fourth team in two years might be a label Osweiler could accept if it meant reuniting with Gase.

3. Jay Cutler, FOX broadcasting

It's fair to contemplate whether Gase's intimate familiarity with Cutler -- as a person, as a flammable surveyor of sideline still shots, as a hot-cold-hotter-colder quarterback -- works for or against Cutler.

When interest from actual football teams was limited to a poke test from the New York Jets this summer, Cutler, not long after being cut by the Bears, decided to join another team -- FOX's broadcast crew -- and will call the Week 1 Chicago-Atlanta game at Soldier Field, according to the network.

However, if Gase is willing to present Cutler an opportunity to start at, say, $10 million for a playoff contender, would he drop the mic and pick up a helmet?

4. Tony Romo, CBS broadcasting


Romo sounded half-committed when he was introduced by CBS as the new No. 1 analyst alongside Jim Nantz, bumping Phil Simms to the studio show much as Dak Prescott pushed Romo aside.

The well-played scenario for Romo's return -- even Dallas QB coach Wade Wilson admits he has done it -- was the vision of him returning to save the Cowboys after an injury at the position forced the team's hand.

But if the Dolphins find the magic words and enough money, might Simms get his gig back and Romo ride into South Florida for one final season?

A QB-friendly offense that lifted Tannehill to new levels of respect and performance -- including a completion percentage better than Aaron Rodgers' -- could be enticing.

5. Mike Glennon, Bears

Does anyone other than Glennon believe the Bears when they say "Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback"?

Chicago shifted fault lines and sacrificed half of its draft to move up one spot in April and select Mitch Trubisky, the unproven, one-year starter from North Carolina and the by-default top-ranked passer in a draft most agreed was without a franchise-changer at the position.

To hear general manager Ryan Pace tell the story, Glennon (guaranteed $16.5 million to sign a three-year deal in March) is the right fit for the Bears this season.

That narrative could change should the Dolphins decide that surrendering a first-round pick, or even a second-rounder with future picks thrown in, is worth it to get Glennon.

6. Colin Kaepernick, free agent

His 2016 statistics match up quite favorably to Tannehill's, and Kaepernick's ability to run and escape pressure are excellent traits when paired with a play-action-fueled running game led by Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins are not exceptional on the offensive line, but Kaepernick knows all about that, having survived last season behind the 49ers' front five.

Owner Stephen Ross is on the record as saying Kaepernick should be considered by any team he can help win, regardless of his outspokenness on social issues. Then again, several owners seem to think Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster, and he remains unemployed.
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Old 08-04-2017, 01:47 AM
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Dolphins Injury Outlook
August 3, 2017


Tannehill’s Potential Injury Goes From Bad To Worse

Let’s get the forecast out of the way. The news on Ryan Tannehill is not good. He’s going for an MRI, nothing out of Dolphins camp has felt positive regarding the injury and the incident was non-contact. Those three elements always add up to a bad situation for the player.

Another thing we have to discuss is whether or not you feel Ryan Tannehill is truly a franchise quarterback. He signed a 4 year contract worth $77 million, with $23.5 million guaranteed. He’s already coming off an ACL/MCL recovery and the big elephant in the room is that the Dolphins can cut him after this season with minimal dead cap.

This is why Tannehill’s injury could go from really bad to way worse. And here’s the reason that Miami might already be considering a change at the quarterback position regardless.

Player 1 – 240.8 yards per game / 2.3 TD per game / 1.0 INT per game
Player 2 – 230.4 yards per game / 1.5 TD per game / 1.5 INT per game

I know you probably think that Player 1 is Colin Kaepernick, but it’s actually Matt Moore. That four-game sample was the perennial backup’s production in place of Tannehill pre-injury. Player 2 is Ryan Tannehill averaged over his 13 games. Yes, these are real numbers from real people in real NFL football games.

Nobody has ever watched Tannehill with an objective eye and said, “Man that guy is the future.” Miami has had a solid look at him for the past five years, and Adam Gase has to have a sense of what he’s capable of.

It’s also worth mentioning that his teammates reportedly don’t like him that much after that whole “practice squad” incident from last year.

This isn’t meant to deride a player, especially when he’s at an unfortunate crossroads in his career, but the business of football – and football betting – is cruel. To put things in perspective, BetOnline.ag has the Miami Dolphins as +2500 to win the AFC. That puts them behind the Baltimore Ravens (+2000), Tennessee Titans (+2000) and right on even keel with…the Los Angeles Chargers. The Patriots hold sway in this market at a monstrous +165 to win the AFC in 2017.

Those were the odds before Tannehill was hurt. Who knows what’s going to happen. Oh wait, we know how this unfolds.

YES WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT KAEPERNICK


It’s really difficult to discuss Kaepernick without getting in to the whole racial thing. He is being allegedly blackballed by NFL owners for his views on a ton of important social issues, which is absolutely insane. And without taking up too much space talking about it, I’ll just say that I support him on a broad basis. I think it’s important for celebrities to try and use their platform for social improvement.

Beyond that, I think Kaepernick is a really good quarterback. Give him a solid coach and he excels. Provide him with a former janitor as a coach, and he’s going to be bad. You can argue about the value of a scrambler versus a traditional pocket passer, but the truth is that some players are at their best when they’re moving. Kaepernick isn’t Big Ben or Cam Newton. He’s more elusive and evasive. Whatever. You know how Kaepernick plays the position because you probably – you know – watched him play in the Super Bowl and almost win it.

You can argue that Kaepernick isn’t a franchise quarterback, or that he’s not what certain coaches like to see at the position, but one thing isn’t up for debate. Kaepernick is the best quarterback remaining on the market. If guys like Geno Smith and Luke McCown are getting signed, eventually some team is going to be forced to take Kaepernick on because football is about winning games and putting the best product on the field that you can (unless you’re the Jets).

What is the worst case scenario for the Miami Dolphins if they sign Kaepernick to replace Tannehill? They’re either going to move on from Tannehill after this season, or release Kaepernick back in to the wild and stick with their guy moving forward (after potentially two knee surgeries). If Kaepernick is great, everyone wins. If he stinks, they at least get a good draft pick out of it.

Or you can just hand the keys to Matt Moore and that 7th rounder and hope for the best.

Or do what Twitter suggests and coax Jay Cutler out of retirement.

If the news on Ryan Tannehill is bad, then there’s only one move left on the board. The Miami Dolphins and Colin Kaepernick need each other.
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Old 08-04-2017, 11:39 PM
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Saturday’s six-pack

— Ohio State transfer Jaquan Lyle signs up with New Mexico.

— Doc Rivers lost his front office role with the Clippers Friday; he has $20M, two years left on his contract, and will just coach from now on.

— Nationals 4, Cubs 2— Daniel Murphy homered twice for Washington.

— Jaime Garcia started on the mound for his third big league team in 15 days last night.

— San Jose State finally got around to hiring a new hoop coach; Colorado assistant Jean Prioleau will get the job on Monday

— Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin had his contract extended thru 2020; Pittsburgh has had three head coaches……..since 1969!!!!

Saturday’s List of 13: Random thoughts on a summer night…..

13) So I’m having dinner at a Ruby Tuesday’s last night; there are 5-6 people sitting to my left. Next thing I know, the two guys in the group are in the parking lot, trading punches. Cops were called, I think both of them got arrested and that was that. Just another Friday night in Canton.

12) Spent several hours at the Football Hall of Fame Friday; if you like the NFL, this is an excellent place to visit. So much history to re-visit, the room with the Hall of Fame busts is very impressive, but bring your walking shoes to get there.

11) Parking at the Hall of Fame isn’t great; the area is probably too small to host a venue that is so popular, and with all the construction going on, its a pretty good hike from where you park to the actual Hall of Fame.

When all the construction is done in 2020, there will be a Hall of Fame Village, with shops and places to eat. Look forward to seeing that.

10) Pretty cool to see the Lombardi Trophy, which has its own display area upstairs in the Hall of Fame. They also have all the Super Bowl rings displayed in a case; they’re pretty big now.

10) I was in here once before, in 2001, when Jackie Slater/Jack Youngblood were inducted; it is so much different now, so many more sponsors’ exhibits- the memorabilia tent is like a small building now. Back then, it was just a regular-sized tent.

It is normally $25 to get into the Hall of Fame; it is $30 this weekend. Cheapest ticket for the induction ceremony Saturday night is $40. Worth it, but listening to people this week talking about how much autographs/memorabilia cost now— this is definitely big business.

9) Rams played Miami in the Hall of Fame Game in 2001; the induction ceremony wasn’t in the stadium, it was outside the Hall of Fame, with portable bleachers. Now the ceremony is in the actual stadium. Hope it doesn’t rain…..or my butt is going to get very wet. LOL

8) It is ironic that the head of the Hall of Fame now is a guy named David Baker; when Kurt Warner played for the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena League, Baker was commissioner of the AFL— he ruined the league by moving teams in Iowa/Albany (where I live) to NFL cities, with hopes of making the AFL a AAA-league for the NFL.

The Arena League was awesome; we regularly drew crowds of 11-12,000 people in downtown Albany, where Touchdown Eddie Brown (Antonio Brown’s father) was the best player.

Baker’s son Sam was a tackle at USC and later for the Atlanta Falcons.

7) In either 1996 or 1997, the Firebirds lost a home game 77-76 to Iowa; highly entertaining game. Little did I know that night that in 1999, the Barnstormers’ QB that night would lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl title. If it was a movie, it wouldn’t be very believable.

6) What an honor to be selected as a presenter for the Hall of Fame; imagine it can be a touchy thing, especially for someone who may have changed teams, like Warner— he chose his wife, as did Jerry Jones. I wonder if Mike Martz will be here tomorrow; he and Dick Vermeil deserve so much credit for Warner’s initial success in the NFL.

5) Jerry Jones’ Hall of Fame party here in Canton tonite is at a country club that he rented……for $5M. For one night.

4) Dolphins are talking to Jay Cutler; looks like Ryan Tannehill is out a minimum of six weeks, with a strong possibility that he misses the whole season.

3) Fantasy football is also a big business; ton of sites sites are advertising for leagues to sign up. Our baseball league is run by CBSSports.com, which does a great job.

2) Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent was talking Friday about how legalized gambling is going to help pro sports; this is the same guy who put Pete Rose in baseball prison for his involvement in gambling. Life can be very ironic sometimes.

1) Can you imagine what is like, at the Gold Jacket Dinner for Hall of Famers, walking thru that gauntlet of Hall of Famers? The icons of the sport, all there to see you get inducted into the Hall of Fame. What a feeling that must be.
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Old 08-07-2017, 12:09 AM
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NFL notebook: Cutler agrees to deal with Dolphins
August 6, 2017


The Miami Dolphins agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract with quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday, according to multiple reports.

The deal also includes incentives that could push Cutler's income to $13 million.

Cutler was sought by the Dolphins after starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill sustained a serious injury to his left knee on Thursday. The former Chicago quarterback worked with Dolphins coach Adam Gase when the latter was offensive coordinator of the Bears in 2015.

Cutler was released by the Bears this offseason and retired to take a television job with Fox Sports as a TV analyst in May. He indicated he would consider a return to the NFL under the right circumstances.

The Dolphins have not announced a timetable for Tannehill's recovery or even if he will undergo surgery, which likely would be season-ending.

Cutler, 34, enjoyed success in his one season playing under Gase. He compiled a career-best 92.3 quarterback rating. He passed for 3,659 yards and 21 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.

--The San Francisco 49ers' worst fears were realized regarding an injury suffered by linebacker Malcolm Smith on Saturday as an MRI exam revealed a torn pectoral muscle that is likely to sideline him the entire season.

Immediately after Saturday's practice, coach Kyle Shanahan said Smith would probably be out for a long period, but might be able to return sometime this season. His chances of returning this season were diminished considerably by the MRI findings, which were confirmed by the team.

Smith joined the 49ers as a free agent in March after signing a five-year, $26.5 million deal. He played in 15 games, including 14 starts, for the Oakland Raiders last season, and he started all 16 games in 2015, when he had four sacks for the Raiders.

Smith was the MVP of the Super Bowl following the 2013 season while playing for the Seattle Seahawks

--Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins has been suspended 10 games without pay for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances for the second time, the league announced.

Collins, 24, served a four-game suspension last season for his first offense.

"We are extremely disappointed that for the second straight season we are dealing with a suspension for Jalen," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "Such are the consequences when certain choices are made. Our decisions going forward will be based on what (coach) Dan (Quinn) and I feel is best for the team."

Collins is allowed to participate in practice and preseason games during his suspension, which starts at the beginning of the regular season. He is eligible to return to the Falcons' active roster on Nov. 21.

--New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft surprised Tom Brady's mother with a Super Bowl LI ring in recognition of her health scare fighting cancer and the impact it had on her son last season.

Brady collected his fifth Super Bowl ring in February when the Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit in the third quarter to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime.

Brady dedicated the game to his mother, Galynn Brady, and said the victory was that much more special when she was able to travel to Houston for the Super Bowl. Kraft revealed after the game that Galynn underwent chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer throughout the 2016 season. Brady's father, Tom Sr., previously told the Boston Globe that Galynn finished cancer treatments in April.

--The New Orleans Saints added a second kicker, Patrick Murray, to their 90-man roster.

Murray agreed to a deal with the Saints, according to a tweet from his agents, Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod.

Murray spent the 2014 season as the kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, making 20 of 24 field goals and all 31 extra points in 16 games. He spent the 2015 season on injured reserve and was released after the Bucs drafted Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016.

Murray landed with the Browns last season and spent just two weeks kicking for the team before a knee injury ended his season.
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NFL notebook: 49ers LB Newsom seriously hurt in collision
August 8, 2017


San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Donavin Newsom was carted off the field by ambulance and taken to a hospital after colliding with a teammate in Tuesday's practice at Santa Clara, Calif.

Newsom was hurt when he ran into safety Chanceller James as the two players were attempting to defend a pass over the middle. He lay motionless while his teammates took a knee and formed a circle around him.

Although Newsom appeared to lose consciousness, according to the Sacramento Bee, coach Kyle Shanahan said the player's eyes were open and he had feeling in his lower half and hands.

Newsom was strapped to a back brace by emergency medical technicians and placed in an ambulance on the field to be taken to Stanford Hospital. Shanahan expressed optimism that Newsom would be all right but didn't want to get ahead of himself.

"I'd like to talk to the family and find out everything before I start speculating on anything," Shanahan said.

--Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will not play in Carolina's preseason opener Wednesday against the Houston Texans.

Soreness in his right shoulder limited Newton in training camp practices and the Panthers are taking the risk-averse route in August, coach Ron Rivera said.

Newton was able to throw in practice Monday and again Tuesday, when he worked mostly on a side field with a trainer.

Veteran Derek Anderson filled in for Newton in the past. But while Anderson has been steady at times, he lacks the dynamic elements that Newton brings to the offense.

--Former Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers announced his retirement.

The 31-year-old Flowers played nine NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. He was released by the Chargers in March.

Flowers completes his career with 21 interceptions and he returned four for touchdowns. He also had 490 tackles, four forced fumbles and three sacks.

Flowers played his first six seasons with the Chiefs and totaled 17 interceptions. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2013 and then departed as a free agent and signed with San Diego and had four interceptions in 31 games with the Chargers. But he played in just six games last season due to injuries.

--The Green Bay Packers parted ways with troubled defensive tackle Letroy Guion by announcing the release of the 322-pound run stuffer.

Guion was arrested on drunk-driving charges in June and also received a four-game suspension without pay for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The suspension, which was set to begin at the start of the 2017 season, marked Guion's second dose of league discipline in three seasons. He received a three-game penalty in 2015 for his first offense.

Guion recorded 30 tackles last season, his third with the Packers. He played his first six campaigns with the Minnesota Vikings. Guion posted 173 tackles and 8.5 sacks during nine NFL seasons.

--Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis will be away from the team to deal with an unspecified "minor health issue," the team announced.

The team said in a statement that Lewis' absence is expected to be brief, with a possible return on Tuesday night or later in the week.

The 58-year-old Lewis is in his 15th season as coach of the Bengals, guiding the club to a 118-103-3 record. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons will lead the team during Lewis' absence.

--Retired NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said Monday on his WFAN radio show "Boomer & Carton" with Craig Carton that he believe he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, during his storied career.

Esiason, 56, also said he believes all NFL players probably have CTE, which is associated with concussions.

"If I died tomorrow and my brain basically was taken and researched and I was found to have CTE, which most likely I have, because I think all football players probably have it," Boomer said.

The retired quarterback played 14 NFL seasons from 1984 to 1997 with the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, throwing for 37,920 yards (20th most all-time) and 247 touchdowns (22nd all-time).

--Film director Spike Lee is using social media to invite fans and supporters to gather in support of unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick this month.

A social media post from Lee called for a "Rally for Colin" and "United We Stand" rally and will start at 5 p.m. ET on Aug. 23 at 345 Park Avenue in New York City. The address is noteworthy as the headquarters of the NFL administrative offices.

Kaepernick remains unsigned one month before the start of the 2017 regular season. Lee and others have suggested Kaepernick, who was 2-10 as a starter with the 49ers last season, is not employed by a team because of his public position on social injustices.

Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before games last season to raise awareness for such issues, but declared in the offseason he would not bring any form of protest to a new team in 2017.
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Falcons' Freeman signs 5-year extension, becomes highest-paid RB
August 9, 2017


The Atlanta Falcons made Devonta Freeman the highest-paid running back in the NFL, signing him to a five-year contract extension on Wednesday.

Although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Michael Silver of the NFL Network reported that Freeman's pact is worth $41.25 million.

The extension, which runs through 2022, has an annual value of $8.25 million, topping the $8 million yearly salary of Buffalo's LeSean McCoy. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell will surpass both when he signs his franchise tag tender.

The 25-year-old Freeman was a big part of Atlanta's run to the Super Bowl last season, starting all 16 regular-season games and leading the team with 1,079 rushing yards to go with 462 receiving yards on 54 receptions. Freeman had 13 total touchdowns.

"We are very pleased that we were able to get this extension done," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "Devonta embodies everything we are looking for in a Falcon, and we are proud that he'll be able to spend his career here in Atlanta."

A fourth-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2014, Freeman has amassed 2,383 rushing yards in his three seasons, earning a pair of Pro Bowl berths by going over 1,000 yards in 2015 and 2016.

"This is where I've always wanted to be," said Freeman in a statement. "I want to thank Mr. Blank, Thomas and Coach (Dan) Quinn for all of their support. I feel extremely blessed, but the work and grind are just beginning."

Freeman rolled up 3,175 yards from scrimmage over the past two seasons, second in the league to teammate Julio Jones. He has rushed for 11 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons and has 29 total TDs in 47 regular-season games.

In addition, Freeman is the only player in the league with at least three games of three rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Atlanta, which blew a 25-point second-half lead before losing 34-28 in overtime to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, plays its first preseason game on Thursday night at the Miami Dolphins.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:58 AM
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Richardson rips Marshall -- Again
August 8, 2017


FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Head coach Todd Bowles has moved on from the Sheldon Richardson-Brandon Marshall feud that helped bring the New York Jets down last season. Unfortunately for Bowles, Richardson hasn't.

Richardson once again dredged up old family business Monday afternoon, when he blasted Marshall and said he quit on the Jets last season during an appearance on ESPN Radio in New York City.

"That man knows what he did," Richardson said of Marshall, with whom he nearly got into a fistfight following a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last season. "I was the one who addressed it and I would still address it to this day."

Bowles would rather he wouldn't. The normally low-key and close-to-the-vest head coach snapped at reporters for asking him about Richardson's comments numerous times during Tuesday's post-practice press conference.

"I don't have time for B.S.," Bowles said. "We've moved on. You're going to get that answer the next 30 times you ask it. We can move on or the interview can be over. I don't care. Either way is fine with me."

If Richardson's history is any indication, Bowles will probably be asked again about the battle between his star lineman and former wide receiver - maybe even later this month, before the Jets and Giants play their annual preseason game. Marshall signed with the Giants shortly after being released by the Jets in March.

Richardson, who said during the spring there were "15 reasons" why the Jets had a better locker room this season - Marshall wears No. 15 - said he would like to play linebacker against the Giants, presumably to get a shot at tackling Marshall in the open field.

Marshall, no shrinking violet in front of the cameras, has generally remained mum regarding Richardson. For now, anyway.
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Denver Broncos Outlook
August 8, 2017


What Is Jon Elway Thinking?

If there’s one team in the AFC that nobody seems to be betting on despite their surreal talent, it’s the Denver Broncos. BetOnline.ag has them listed as +1400 to reach the Super Bowl which puts them in the same range as the Titans (+1800) and the Chiefs (+1200). This shouldn’t be happening. Not with how well this team is built.

So why is John Elway wasting his time with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch?

Paxton Lynch was a late, first-round pick for the Denver Broncos in 2016 and hasn’t sizzled at all. The 6-foot-7 Memphis product has reportedly struggled mightily with the playbook that Vance Joseph and his staff have been trying to implement, which was sort of the problem with him last year as well. It’s not that Lynch is a bonehead, but nothing he’s doing at the position screams “franchise player”. Lynch recently went through an entire scrimmage without completing a pass!

I’m not willing to write Lynch off completely, but he’s being clearly outplayed by seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian who did an admirable job last year as the stater for the Denver Broncos. Siemian’s numbers weren’t great, but they also weren’t garbage. With 3,401 passing yards and 18 touchdowns against 10 picks, Siemian checked out with an 84.6 quarterback rating as a first-year starter last year. Again, that’s totally fine.

None if this is meant to put either quarterbacks’ careers on tombstones just yet, but I’m not rushing to BetOnline.ag to bet on them as MVP’s either.

What I’m curious about is the timing. The Broncos boast perhaps the league’s best defence, even without the recently retired DeMarcus Ware. Von Miller, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe anchor a squad that ranked 4th in points (18.6) and 4th in total yards agains (5,057) but didn’t have an offence that offset how well this unit performed.

And that’s the crazy part. This team is literally one player away from being a real Super Bowl contender and there’s nothing out there which suggests that Lynch nor Siemian is really capable of pushing this team over the edge. Say what you will about Peyton Manning towards the end of his career, but he at least knew what he was doing (outside of being a freaking Hall of Famer).

The move to ignore the quarterback position falls outside of what the team has been doing in the off-season for years. They gave Demaryius Thomas $43.5M and Emmanuel Sanders $26.9M in guarantees. They just dropped $70M in guarantees over a 6-year, $114.5M contract to Von Miller. They even rolled the dice on Jamaal Charles. Everything that the Denver Broncos have done and are doing screams, “This is our window and we are locking this down.”

When everything – and I mean everything – about the Denver Broncos is geared in Win Now Mode, there’s no excuse for having a quarterback that is as inexperienced and unproductive as Trevor Siemian. BetOnline.ag has the Broncos listed at a Regular Season Win Total of 8.0 games. That’s inexcusable given how talented this roster is, but it’s well justified when you look at how weak of a link that they have at the offensive helm.

So what’s the plan in Denver? Why pass up on Colin Kaepernick? Why not kick the tires on Jay Cutler? Why aren’t you throwing whatever you’ve got at Tony Romo? Why aren’t you trying to upgrade the position in the slightest just in case?

There’s also no hard proof that the staff in Denver is capable of developing a young quarterback. Head coach Vance Joseph is a defensive coordinator by trade, and Mike McCoy will be running the offence. I think McCoy is a very good coach, but he also had the supremely underrated Philip Rivers to work with. The step down to Siemian and Lynch must’ve been a gut punch.

Bill Musgrave is more specifically the quarterbacks coach, and he has spent the last two seasons developing Derek Carr in to the highest paid quarterback in the league. It’s one thing to take a second round pick who was always highly rated and help him blossom in to a franchise superstar. Siemian’s standing as a seventh rounder that nobody really wanted says plenty, and there weren’t enough glimpses in 2016 to suggest that he has what it takes to push this team over the edge.

The prevailing argument is that Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl, and helped this team to the playoffs, despite being in the twilight of his career. I’m sorry, but that argument is totally bunk. Comparing Peyton Manning at the end of his career to Trevor Siemian is ridiculous. You can’t just rely on overall talent at skill positions and an all-world defence to break through in an NFL that routinely tailors its rules to make things easier for a quarterback.

As they say in the NFL, it just takes one bad game for New England to get bumped from the playoffs. The Broncos are most certainly built like a team that can challenge for the AFC Championship. They just forgot to construct their foundation around the pillar that’s probably most important. I’d be willing to overlook this oversight myself if there general manager wasn’t Jon Elway.
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Depth gives Packers D more versatility
August 8, 2017


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Josh Jones is listed as a safety on the Green Bay Packers roster, though he eventually he might be better known as a jack-of-all-trades player.

The hard-hitting rookie drafted in the third round has left a strong impression so far in training camp, showing the potential to contribute quickly at an already strong position.

There are safeties in numbers in Green Bay, giving coach Mike McCarthy the kind of depth and flexibility needed to keep up with pass-oriented or spread offenses.

''I mean it definitely fits my skill set. I can do a lot of things for a defense,'' said Jones, who had 229 tackles and eight interceptions over three seasons at North Carolina State. ''I don't put a limit on what I can do as a football player.''

There might be limits, though, to how much playing time he will get as a rookie. Strong safety Morgan Burnett and free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made his first Pro Bowl last year, are the unquestioned starters.

Micah Hyde left in the offseason to sign with Buffalo, but coaches like what second-year player Kentrell Brice has done in camp. Brice and fellow safety Marwin Evans were the only rookie free agents to play in all 16 Packers regular-season games and three postseason contests last year.

Hyde's value came in lining up at various positions. Sometimes, when Burnett was used more like an inside linebacker in early-down situations, Hyde would play a more traditional safety role. Hyde could cover the slot receiver. He could line up wide when the cornerback position was decimated by injuries.

It's a versatile role that Brice or Jones could be slated to fill. Jones might also be used at times like the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Burnett, as a defender closer to the line more adept at covering receivers than a traditional inside linebacker.

''So the ability of those guys to play the nickel, the dime, the sub linebacker and free safety, strong safety, that speaks volumes. Morgan does that,'' McCarthy said. ''That body type, that position, the importance of the safety position I think is critical to the way you need to play defense in today's NFL.''

Safety was a problem area for the Packers not long ago. Clinton-Dix has become a core player after being drafted by the Packers in the first round in 2014, filling what was then a critical need.

Burnett is an important piece in the Packers' evolution into becoming more flexible. Once primarily a 3-4 defense, the Packers have gone with five defensive backs more often on early downs to better match up with offenses. It's called a ''nitro'' package when Burnett is in the box playing more of a linebacker role.

''Everyone in the room is capable of doing the same thing, doing each other's job,'' said Burnett, entering his NFL eighth season.

Jones is listed at the backup to Burnett on the depth chart going into the preseason opener Thursday against Philadelphia. Cornerback Davon House has described Burnett as a ''thumper,'' and the rookie out of North Carolina State has a stoic demeanor that backs up his early reputation as a hitter.

''I come to work, a blue-collar type of dude,'' Jones said. ''I want it the hard way, and that's what I do, I just play football.''

NOTES: McCarthy said before practice Tuesday that the Packers haven't determined yet how much playing time to give QB Aaron Rodgers in the preseason. The two-time NFL MVP is entering his 13th season and 10th as the starter. ... Backup QB Brett Hundley appears likely to get the start against Philadelphia. McCarthy said coaches will determine playing time at a meeting Wednesday. ... CB House (hamstring) was considered day to day, though McCarthy said he had ''no long-term concern'' about the injury.
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Old 08-09-2017, 12:04 PM
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Chiefs QB Mahomes to start second half
August 8, 2017


ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) It has been years since the Kansas City Chiefs gave their fans any reason to stick around after halftime of their preseason opener, when the starters and backups generally take a seat.

That will change Friday night.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid plans to give each of his quarterbacks a full quarter against the San Francisco 49ers. That means Alex Smith will start and veteran backup Tyler Bray will get the second quarter, while first-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes II will start the second half.

It's arguably the most anticipated preseason debut by a Chiefs rookie since 1983, which also was the last time Kansas City spent a first-round draft pick on a quarterback.

Asked what he wants to see out of his young signal caller, Reid replied: ''I'd tell you this with everyone: execute. Obviously the quarterbacks have a little more responsibility with all the calls and so on, but the main thing is to execute.''

Reid said most of the starters would play the first quarter alongside Smith, while the backups on the depth chart this week will have Bray under center. So whatever the outcome for Mahomes is Friday night, it must be examined through the prism of working with third-team players.

Likewise, it will almost certainly come against the second- and third-team 49ers defense.

That's one reason Reid was reticent Tuesday following the Chiefs' final open practice of the week to put too much stock in a single preseason game. He instead will lump the performances in a game setting along with what he's seen out of practice and the meeting rooms, and begin deliberating with his coaching staff on what will ultimately comprise his 53-man roster.

With changes to the cutdown rules, he'll also have three more games to examine.

''The first preseason game, everyone has an opportunity to play. After that, it's not guaranteed,'' Reid said. ''That kind of stuff has never changed. The thing you don't want to do is give another team, if possible, a good player. You want to make sure you do as thorough evaluation as you can.''

Several starters are also unlikely to play because of injuries, and one of them forced the Chiefs to make a roster move ahead of their preseason opener. Incumbent kicker Cairo Santos is out while nursing a groin injury, so the Chiefs signed Sam Ficken late Tuesday to handle those duties.

They placed wide receiver Corey Washington on waivers to make roster space for him.

''He's going to be fine,'' Reid said of Santos. ''It's not a serious deal.''

Most of the other injury woes have occurred on defense.

Rookie lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon was the latest to go down with what Reid called shin splints. DT Bennie Logan has already been out with a knee injury, while second-year pro Chris Jones remains on the PUP list following offseason knee surgery.

DT Roy Miller, signed last week, continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles tendon sustained last October. He has yet to practice with the team.

In the secondary, star safety Eric Berry is unlikely to play while dealing with a heel injury that has sidelined him since Saturday. Cornerbacks De'Vante Bausby (ankle) and Jacoby Glenn (concussion) are also out, while linebackers Tamba Hali and Dadi Nicolas remain out with knee injuries.

The positive of all those injuries is that others will have an opportunity to stand out.

''You get to see them with the swings that happen in games. That is really what it is all about,'' defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said, ''is how you deal with these swings and can you get your focus right back in. Can you let that play go, good or bad, and get right into it? Or hey, we have had two or three series that have not gone the way we wanted it to go on defense. So can we get this thing back on track and get in position to win the game?

''We have a lot of young guys,'' Sutton said, ''so I think it will be exciting to see them.''
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NFL notebook: Wife pushes Cutler out of retirement
August 7, 2017


Jay Cutler credited his wife and the recruiting pitch of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase for pulling him out of a short-lived retirement and into the starting quarterback job in Miami.

Cutler, who was released by the Bears in March, said spouse Kristin Cavallari is more responsible than any other for his return to the NFL, eschewing the opportunity to call games for FOX Sports for the chance to play for Gase again.

"She got tired of me being around the house," Cutler said Monday in Davie, Fla.

While Cutler will not play in Thursday night's preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Gase said the quarterback "didn't come out of retirement to stand on the sideline."

The 34-year-old Cutler met with the media at midday before taking a physical and officially signing a one-year, $10 million contract. He agreed to the deal Sunday, including incentives that could push it to $13 million.

--Dolphins star wide receiver Jarvis Landry is under investigation for possible battery, according to multiple reports.

The investigation stems from an incident involving Landry and his girlfriend earlier this year in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Gase confirmed the team is aware of the report, but he declined to comment further.

The Broward County State Attorney's Office confirmed to CBS Miami on Monday that the Fort Lauderdale Police Department presented them with the case. No decision is expected this week on charges.

Landry's girlfriend filed a paternity suit against him in April in Broward County court, according to the Miami Herald. However, she released a statement to NFL Network via a publicist on Monday in support of Landry.

--Perennial Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork did not have to be dragged over hot coals to make him walk away from the game. But in announcing his retirement after 13 NFL seasons, hot coals were part of that decision.

Wilfork revealed to the world why he is quitting the game in a video posting on social media, letting the public know in simple terms what the reasons were for his decision.

"No more cleats. I'm moving on to smoked meats," Wilfork proclaimed in the video while clad in denim overalls and standing in front of a Kingsford charcoal grill.

The posting, a promotional for the company, lit up the Twitterverse, blotting out the simple retirement tweet earlier by the five-time Pro Bowl selection.

--The San Francisco 49ers officially placed linebacker Malcolm Smith on the injured reserve list with a torn pectoral muscle, ending his 2017 season.

The 6-foot, 225-pound Smith suffered the injury during practice Saturday at Levi's Stadium.

Smith, 28, joined the 49ers as a free agent on March 9 after signing a five-year, $26.5 million deal. He played in 15 games, including 14 starts, for the Oakland Raiders last season, and he started all 16 games in 2015, when he had four sacks for the Raiders.

The 49ers signed linebacker Austin Calitro on Monday to add depth at the position.

The 6-0, 240-pound Calitro originally signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent on May 5 out of Villanova and was later waived on May 15. During his time at Villanova (2012-16), he appeared in 48 games and registered 220 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, eight passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.

--The New York Jets' thin wide receiving corps sustained a hit with Quincy Enunwa being placed on injured reserve.

Enunwa injured his neck while falling face-first to the turf during the team's 7-on-7 drills session on Saturday.

The loss of the 25-year-old Enunwa is a major blow to a team that features an inexperienced depth chart at the position. Robby Anderson, Charone Peake, rookie ArDarius Stewart and Marquess Wilson remain the top receiver options for the club after the Jets cut Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall signed with the New York Giants in March and Eric Decker joined the Tennessee Titans three months later.

Enunwa recorded career highs in receptions (58), yards (857) and touchdowns (four) last season. The fourth-year pro's 80 career receptions rank first among the team's current wideouts, followed by Wilson (56) and Anderson (42).

--The Minnesota Vikings activated running back Latavius Murray from the physically unable to perform list, the team announced.

Murray was sidelined while recovering from offseason ankle surgery.

The 27-year-old was expected to practice with Minnesota for the first time since signing a three-year, $15 million deal -- $8.55 million guaranteed -- as a free agent in March. He missed all of the offseason practices and the first 10 days of training camp while rehabilitating his surgically repaired right ankle.

Murray is expected to compete for carries with second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon.

--Quarterback Brock Osweiler will start the preseason opener for the Cleveland Browns, coach Hue Jackson announced.

Osweiler, 26, will open Thursday night's home game against the New Orleans Saints at FirstEnergy Stadium. Jackson said Cody Kessler will be second in line, followed by rookie DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan.

"At this stage in the evaluation process of our quarterbacks, we are going to have Brock start the preseason opener against the Saints on Thursday night," Jackson said in a statement released by the team. "A lot goes into our evaluation, but it's always going to be about efficiently and effectively running the offense. You want your starter to be able to do that despite any circumstance.

"Brock hasn't really gotten any first-team reps and this will give him that chance. We look forward to seeing what he can do with this opportunity throughout the week and against the Saints."

--Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian will start Thursday night's game against Chicago Bears, coach Vance Joseph announced.

The first-year Denver head coach said Paxton Lynch will get the start against the San Francisco 49ers in the second week of the preseason on Aug. 19. Both games are on the road.

The two quarterbacks have rotated with the first team throughout training camp as they battle for the starting job.

"Games matter. The games start Thursday," Joseph told reporters after Monday's practice in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse. "I want to get to the games so we can get to the bottom of this."
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Kicker Mason Crosby, Packers look to get leg up on FGs
August 7, 2017


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Hitting field goals in the NFL comes down to more than just making a strong, accurate kick.

The snap must be on target, while the holder has to make a clean catch and set up the ball at the correct angle. All this must be done in a matter of seconds.

The Green Bay Packers are working on this process after the normally dependable Mason Crosby missed six of his last seven kicks at the team's Family Night practice. Crosby is working with a new long snapper in Derek Hart, along with a new holder in punter Justin Vogel. Both are undrafted rookies.

Coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coach Ron Zook said the blame falls on the whole field goal unit, not just Crosby.

''Ah gosh, obviously it wasn't very good Saturday night,'' Zook said Monday. ''But obviously we've got to get better. We will get better.''

The Family Night practice was the team's first this preseason at Lambeau Field, an annual event that drew 63,000 fans despite a brief weather delay. It is as close as rookies and newcomers will get to the atmosphere of the first preseason game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.

Crosby described the process as a running like a fine-tuned machine when successful. The Packers have another month to get up to speed before the regular season begins.

''You go out there in front of 80,000 people and believe it or not, everybody is kind of amped up a little bit, things change, and that's a great experience,'' Zook said. ''One of the things (Hart) said, `I wish we could do this more often.' I said, `Well, you'll get your chance Thursday. We're going do it again.'''

Hart is trying to replace long-time snapper Brett Goode, while Vogel is trying to become the Packers' third punter in three seasons. Last year's punter, Jacob Schum, is on the reserve/injured list with a back injury. Schum had replaced six-year veteran Tim Masthay toward the end of training camp in 2016.

Crosby is the Packers' franchise scoring leader with 1,267 points going into his 11th season in Green Bay. He hit 86.7 percent of his field goals last season, the second-highest mark of his career behind 2013 (89.2 percent).

''I've been fortunate. I've had the same snapper for the last nine years prior to this, so the consistency there, it takes some work, it takes some time,'' Crosby said. ''Justin and Derek need to get in sync with their stuff and then I just have to trust and go.''

NOTE: CB Davon House missed practice on Monday after injuring his right hamstring at the Family Night practice. ''Just trying to be smart. Week 1 is a month away. I don't want to hurt it out there at practice before the real games start,'' House said.
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QB Siemian to start preseason opener
August 7, 2017


Quarterback Trevor Siemian will start Thursday night's game against Chicago Bears, coach Vance Joseph announced Monday.

The first-year head coach said Paxton Lynch will get the start against the San Francisco 49ers in the second week of the preseason on Aug. 19. Both games are on the road.

The two quarterbacks have rotated with the first team throughout training camp as they battle for the starting job.

"Games matter. The games start Thursday," Joseph told reporters after Monday's practice in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse. "I want to get to the games so we can get to the bottom of this."

Siemian, 25, has the advantage in terms of experience, having started 14 games in 2016. He passed for 3,401 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

The Broncos selected the 23-year-old Lynch with the 26th overall pick in the 2016 draft. He played in three games, passing for 497 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

**********************

QB Savage to get start for Texans
August 8, 2017


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.VA. -- Tom Savage will get the start Wednesday night for the Houston Texans as they open the preseason against the Carolina Panthers as the former backup tries to establish himself as the defending AFC South champions' new QB1.

Rookie backup Deshaun Watson will play extensively, followed by third quarterback Brandon Weeden.

"Tom's going to start the game," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Deshaun and Brandon will play."

As for how much time the quarterbacks will play, O'Brien was noncommittal.

"You have no idea how the game's going to play out," he said. "How long is this drive? How long is that drive? You have to play it by ear relative to how the game goes."

Savage has taken every snap with the first-team offense during training camp. He needs all the repetitions he can get because he's started only two games in his first three seasons. O'Brien expects a sharp night.

"Good operation of the offense," O'Brien said about what he wants to see from the offense. "Take care of the football. Getting in and out of the huddle quickly. From all three of them, just a clean game, a clean operation. Everybody on the same page, and see if we can score some points."

O'Brien said having Savage and Weeden has been good for Watson's development.

"Absolutely," he said. "When Deshaun has a question, (they) can help him, not just the coach. That's what these guys do. Tom and Brandon have done a really good job with Deshaun of kind of giving him their own insight into the offense, which is good to see."

--Even though the trip to Carolina is for only a preseason game, Savage expects a lot from himself.

"I think just consistency," he said. "Ultimately, we've got to score points. That's what I want to accomplish on Wednesday and then protect the ball."

Like his teammates and coaches, Savage is eager to begin the preseason schedule.

"Yeah, I know our offense and defense are kind of getting on each other's nerves right now," he said. "It'll be good to take it out on someone else."

Savage enjoys working with the other quarterbacks, Watson and Weeden.

"It's awesome," he said. "We're always communicating with each other. That's what we want to see. That's the name of this game. We want to win games and by that, you've got to have good leadership in that room, and we've got to be a tight-knit room."
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Spotlight on Battle of the Week
August 9, 2017


As the first full week of preseason games kick off, there is competition at numerous spots on rosters. Some are for starting jobs and many are for key backup roles.

Writers on the scene for The Sports Xchange provided a snapshot of one of the battles on their team this week. The variety illustrates how much is up for grabs.

The area with the most competition is cornerback, which was identified by six teams. After that, four positions have three teams with competition.

Following is a look at 32 teams, grouped by division.

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS


--Rod Smith and Alfred Morris at third running back. Morris is the veteran. He is in the best shape of his career and can still look like the former 1,000-yard rusher he was with the Redskins. But he doesn't play special teams and is not good in pass protection or receiving. Smith can play special teams, and the Cowboys found out he is a pretty good runner in the preseason opener. Smith has the advantage. Morris might be trade bait.

NEW YORK GIANTS


--Offense vs. the defense: Offenses going against defenses is nothing new to NFL training camps, but what has made the Giants' offense vs. the defense so interesting to watch is how much more lethal the Giants' offense now is. At the start of camp, many predicted that the offense would get a good test against the 10th-ranked defense from last year, and sure enough, that battle has come to fruition. Head coach Ben McAdoo has designed periods during the practice that pit a receiver against a defender, for example, and he'll keep score to see which side wins. The competition has not only resulted in some classic battles, but more important, it's provided an early glimpse into just how far the offense, which last year this time looked sluggish and flat, has really come.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

--Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack for the starting left-guard job. Seumalo will start Thursday night against Green Bay and it's his job to lose. But Warmack, who played for offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama, has had a pretty good camp thus far.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

--Rob Kelley vs. Samaje Perine at running back: Kelley was the surprise of last season as an undrafted rookie free agent who took over for Matt Jones in Week 8. Coaches love him for his push after contact and his reliability. If a hole is there, Kelley will find it and at least get the Redskins into a manageable down and distance. Perine, a fourth-round pick in 2017, is a true power back. Overshadowed by star running back Joe Mixon at Oklahoma, Perine is well positioned for playing time if Kelley falters. He has better hands than Washington's coaches expected, though he needs to be better in pass protection and he drew the coaches' ire for a fumble in practice last week. For now, Kelley is the No. 1 back.

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS


-- Mitch Unrein vs. Jonathan Bullard and Jaye Howard at defensive end. Unrein isn't particularly fast or powerful but has displayed enough on both counts to remain with starters for two years. He played in Denver for John Fox four seasons. He's been dependable and has 44 tackles in two seasons playing largely in the base 3-4 defense. In nickel, he usually came off the field. The Bears acquired Howard in the offseason and his strength and experience have been apparent, although he is trying to come back from last year's season-ending hip injury. Bullard has the most to prove after a rookie year when he drew criticism from coaches and didn't make an impact until the season's final games. Bullard has a new jersey number (90, after being 74), a new outlook and has been moved to both end spots in camp. He has generally been more disruptive. Yet, the real test for him will be preseason games. Howard and Bullard are perceived as bigger pass rush threats than Unrein. It would appear the Bears can use all three on the roster, but this might be impacted by how many pure nose tackles they keep. All three have been tried at nose at times to add depth. Former Packers C.J. Wilson and John Jenkins are run-stuffing nose tackles who could back up starter Eddie Goldman. At 6-3, 314, Howard is heavier than both Unrein and Bullard and a better emergency fit at nose if needed there.

DETROIT LIONS

--Quandre Diggs vs. D.J. Hayden at nickel cornerback: While Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson have the starting cornerback jobs locked up, a good battle is brewing between Diggs and Hayden for the No. 3 spot. Diggs has taken most of the reps so far, but he's coming off a down season that ended prematurely because of a torn pectoral muscle. The Lions signed Hayden to a one-year deal in free agency with the expectation that he would contribute in nickel packages. Both players have had solid camps so far, with Diggs looking more and more like the player who overachieved as a part-time starter his rookie year.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

--Quinten Rollins vs. Kevin King vs. Damarious Randall at cornerback. Green Bay, which had some of the worst cornerback play in football last season, solved half of its problems this offseason by signing Davon House in free agency. The other cornerback job remains open, although Rollins has surged to the lead. Rollins had an injury-plagued, forgettable 2016 season in which he allowed seven touchdowns. Foes also had a 133.8 passer rating against Rollins and completed 71.4 percent of their passes.

But Rollins, who played four years of college basketball at Miami (Ohio) and just one year of football, has been an early star of camp. "He's quick. You can tell his core issues have been taken care of," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said of Rollins. "He's fluid. You can see the explosiveness out of his breaks. The kid is coming in with a focus that our standard of play wasn't there last year and he's a very prideful man. He hasn't said two words. He's just been working. That's what I like. We don't need a lot of talking."

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

--Emmanuel Lamur vs. Ben Gedeon at weak-side linebacker: Gedeon, the rookie fourth-round draft pick, has muscled his way into the competition for the job in the base defense. This is the position Chad Greenway played before retiring after 11 seasons. The position is needed for only about 40 percent of the snaps since the Vikings play so many nickel packages. Camp started with Lamur competing with Edmond Robinson for the job. But Robinson has tailed off, while Gedeon has come on strong. The 6-foot-2, 244-pound Gedeon is a more natural middle linebacker, but has enough athleticism to handle the primary job of stopping the run as weak-side backer in the base.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS


--With cornerback Jalen Collins suspended for the first 10 games, the Falcons will turn to C.J. Goodwin to take over the fourth cornerback spot. Goodwin, a former college basketball player and converted wide receiver, made the team last season as a special teams player. He played in 14 games and made one start. The Falcons are hoping Goodwin can make a big jump in his second year as a cornerback. He was already working with the second team as the Falcons had to be anticipating the news on Collins, who was working with the third team.

"One other corner that has jumped out to me so far and I thought he was making progress last year is C.J. Goodwin," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "For sure, he's one that we counted on. He made the team as a special teams player first and then through injuries, him and Jalen Collins really jumped in quickly and both of them answered the bell."

Goodwin, 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, played 16 plays on defense and 23 on special teams in Super Bowl LI. He had two tackles and one pass breakup.

"Goodwin, to me, I know he's going into his third year technically in the NFL, but it's his second year as a defensive player, so I'm hopeful that jump we talked about, going from year one to year two, that's the jump I hope he'll make," Quinn said.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

--The role of backup tight end doesn't receive a lot of chatter, but given the heavy workload placed on Greg Olsen, there's a need to have a steady reserve. Ed Dickson and Scott Simonson are in contention for this role, though Dickson's experience as an eight-year veteran and Simonson, who has been waived by the organization three times since 2015, but had a slow start to camp because of an injury have probably tilted this competition. Still, there's ample opportunity for the needle to move here. Because Olsen is so productive, there hasn't been a need to go after another high-profile player at that position, but that shouldn't lessen the importance.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

--Third-year DE Hau'oli Kikaha has recovered from his third surgery on his left ACL and has been getting reps with the first team as he tries to surpass Alex Okafor, who was signed as a free agent to upgrade the pass rush. Okafor is the front-runner but a healthy Kikaha, who was a second-round draft choice in 2015, has a chance to challenge him if he performs well early in the preseason.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

--Javeon Elliott vs. Robert McClain at slot cornerback: Elliott, who was an undrafted rookie signed after a tryout, is the starting slot corner in nickel passing downs. He has a knack for making plays on the football. But McClain enters his eighth NFL season and is a real asset on special teams. He adds some experience to the position and, right now, it's Elliott's job to lose.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS


--Second-year defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche keeps turning heads in camp seemingly every single day and it's getting to the point now where the former first-round pick could be on the verge of overtaking 12-year veteran Frostee Rucker for a starting role in the Cardinals' 3-4 base defense. Rucker, who turns 34 in September, might be difficult to displace because of his experience and reliability. The Cardinals like to rotate their defensive linemen in and out of games, however, so Nkemdiche is sure to see plenty of action. Because of his youth and explosiveness and ability to be an overall disruptor, he's likely to find himself getting most of the snaps up front in 2017.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

--Cooper Kupp vs. Pharoh Cooper at wide receiver: The Rams under head coach Sean McVay feature a number of different wide-receiver and tight-end packages, but it will be interesting to see who earns the bulk of the time alongside Robert Woods and Tavon Austin between Cooper and Kupp. Kupp, a rookie from Eastern Washington, has impressed with his command of the playbook and route-running polish.

"I see a mature rookie," McVay said. "I think one of the things that really impressed us about (him), just watching him in college is that he's one of those receivers that sees the game through the quarterback's eyes. He always has a plan at the line of scrimmage, understands coverages and route concepts and I think that's what enables him to be such a productive player and very advanced for a rookie. He's one of the more mature rookies that I've ever been around and we're expecting some good things from him moving forward."

Cooper also drew praise from McVay.

"I think Pharoh is a great competitor," McVay said. "I think what Pharoh Cooper's doing is continuing to get more comfortable playing the receiver position as a whole. This guy is just a very good athlete that's continuing to become a better receiver each and every day. A tough, physical player, competes well in the run game and I think you see the play that he makes down in the red zone yesterday -- he's aggressively running through the football, he's kind of a fearless mindset and mentality. I really enjoy being around Pharoh and love what he's done the last few days."

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

--Matt Barkley vs. C.J. Beathard for backup quarterback. Training camp began with a clear-cut pecking order at quarterback, with Brian Hoyer starting, Barkley backing up and Beathard probably headed to a season on the developmental squad. But the rookie has outplayed the veteran in the early going, giving 49ers coaches something to watch in Friday's preseason opener against Kansas City.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS


--Backup quarterback: Trevone Boykin earned the backup job to Russell Wilson last season without a challenge from a veteran quarterback in training camp. He doesn't have that luxury this year as Austin Davis is pushing him hard for the reserve role. Davis unofficially completed 8 of 13 passes with an interception during the team's scrimmage on Monday while Boykin was 6 of 11 with an interception. Boykin struggled significantly in the first handful of practices of camp, but has looked marginally better in recent days. It will be a fight that should last all of camp.

AFC EAST

BUFFALO BILLS


--Tight end has been interesting because of the presence of Logan Thomas in the competition. Charles Clay is the starter, and unless his nagging knee injury barks, that will be the case come opening day. Behind him, Nick O'Leary is probably No. 2, but that's certainly not set in stone. Thomas, a converted quarterback who is trying to make the transition to tight end at the NFL level, is 6-foot-6 and weighs 250 pounds. He's a big target down the middle, and he has good hands. The big issue for him is will he be able to block? O'Leary has improved in that area, and if Thomas does, too, he could make the team and even get meaningful snaps because he has real potential to be a downfield threat.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

--QB Jay Cutler vs. time: Not to be cute or flip, but this is a real battle because the opener is Sept. 10 against Tampa Bay, which gives the newly-acquired Cutler roughly one month to learn the offense and his teammates. Cutler, signed Monday, retired in May and admitted he hadn't been working out recently. In the QB-driven NFL, this is now the biggest battle of training camp.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS


--Cameron Fleming vs. LaAdrian Waddle for backup swing offensive tackle. The New England offensive line returns its five starters, who seem pretty well entrenched in their roles. Fleming and Waddle served as backups a year ago, although the latter was a healthy scratch virtually all season. Despite New England using two draft picks at the position -- Tony Garcia and Conor McDermott -- Fleming and Waddle have split reps at left tackle when starter Nate Solder has missed practice time. With neither rookie stepping up at this point, it looks like Fleming and Waddle are likely battling it out for one roster spot as the veteran swing tackle backup. Fleming's ability to serve as a tight end in jumbo packages could give him an edge, but the battle likely will have to play out in preseason game action.

NEW YORK JETS


--No. 1 wide receiver: Last week's battle was for the No. 2 wide receiver job. Well, every understudy is now battling to be the headline attraction following the season-ending neck injury suffered by No. 1 wideout Quincy Enunwa. Robby Anderson, whose 42 catches for 587 yards last season are by far the most of any returning player in camp, is the favorite by default, though he's gotten off to a slow start this summer. Veteran Marquess Wilson, who had 56 catches for 777 yards in four seasons with the Chicago Bears, is also a candidate but has broken his foot three times in the last two years. Rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen will each have a big learning curve to negotiate, which might leave Chris Harper - who has 14 catches in two NFL seasons but has displayed good hands and big-play ability thus far in training camp - as the sneakiest candidate to win the job.

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE RAVENS

--Returner: The Ravens have as many as 10 players looking to earn their way onto the roster as a returner. Michael Campanaro, a fourth-year player from Wake Forest, has the most experience, but he has battled through injuries throughout his career. Keenan Reynolds, a former record-setting quarterback at Navy, has shown much improvement since his rookie season and is pushing hard for the job. Baltimore has also been impressed with undrafted rookie receiver Tim White. He has shown blazing speed and the poise to handle kicks. Other players getting looks at returner are Griff Whalen, C.J. Board, Chris Moore, Bobby Rainey, Lardarius Webb, Danny Woodhead, and Taquan Mizzell.

CINCINNATI BENGALS


--With Adam Jones suspended for the first game of the season, the starting cornerback spot for that game, and subsequent chance for a player to showcase themselves on Sunday, Sept. 10 versus the Ravens, is available. William Jackson III, whom the Bengals selected as the 24th overall pick in last year's draft, appears to be the favorite. Jackson missed his rookie season after being injured during training camp. He's battling Darqueze Dennard for this spot. Dennard also has had his share of injury issues in his career. Jackson has performed well in 11-on-11 drills against the first team-offense even handling himself quite well in one-on-one coverage with A.J. Green.

CLEVELAND BROWNS


--Incumbent Cody Parkey and rookie seventh-round draft choice Zane Gonzalez usually end practice every other day in a kicking duel. The competition is close to dead even at this point, which makes the preseason opener against the Saints on Thursday and the next three games critical to both kickers. Gonzalez kicked field goals of 39 and 22 yards in an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday. Parkey connected from 40 yards. Both can reach the back of the end zone on kickoffs. Practice ended Monday with another field-goal session. Parkey was 5-for-5. Gonzalez missed from 33 yards. but then hit his next two kicks.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

--Backup running back: Le'Veon Bell has not yet reported and rookie third-round pick James Conner has missed most of camp with a shoulder injury. That has left most of the reps with the first-team offense to Fitzgerald Toussaint and Knile Davis. Toussaint was designated the starter when the Steelers released their first depth chart of training camp Tuesday. It's been a spirited competition between the two. Toussaint has been with the Steelers the past two seasons, and Davis was signed as a free agent in March. Conner returned to practice Tuesday, but Toussaint and Davis will continue to battle because the Steelers will keep only three tailbacks.

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS


--Wide receiver: Jaelen Strong and Braxton Miller are competing to be the No. 2 receiver opposite Pro-Bowl selection DeAndre Hopkins. Strong is big and jumps well and has improved his conditioning. Miller is shifty and smart and has sound hands. A converted quarterback, Miller knows the game extremely well.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

--Inside linebacker: Second-year linebacker Antonio Morrison has been having a good camp thus far. Morrison played relatively well against the run as a rookie, but struggled in pass coverage. He has getting first-team reps while doing a better job of playing under control. Veteran Jon Bostic was a free-agent pickup in the offseason from Chicago and has done a nice job. Bostic has also been working with the first defensive unit. The big question is if he can stay healthy over the course of the season. Sean Spence has had a consistent camp as he continues to push for work. Edwin Jackson, who got extensive playing time last season, remains in the mix. Lee Rhodes is also a possibility.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS


--Cam Robinson vs. Josh Wells at left tackle. When veteran Branden Albert made his surprising announcement last week that he was retiring, it was assumed that rookie Cam Robinson would move into the starting spot that Albert was supposed to have had this year. But Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone made it clear that Robinson would not be handed the job, rather he would have to earn it. Josh Wells may have something to say about that. A thumb injury cost Wells the entire 2015 season and the first 11 weeks last year. But he's healthy now and is pushing Robinson for the starting spot. Both players are 6-foot-6, but Robinson has a 15-pound weight advantage. They've shared working with the first unit offensive line in recent days and while most expect Robinson to win the job, Wells is making a strong push for the starting spot.

TENNESSEE TITANS

--Adoree' Jackson vs. Eric Weems at kickoff returner: Jackson has been electric, but Weems was signed to fill that role in the offseason. It will be interesting to see just how much the Titans want to put on Jackson's plate, as the first-round pick is already likely to be the punt returner and is in the race for a starting cornerback spot as well.

AFC WEST

DENVER BRONCOS


--Starting left guard: After being acquired in a pre-camp trade, Allen Barbre was expected to make a push for the left-guard spot, but Max Garcia has held him off so far, taking every first-team repetition at the position where he started last year. The Broncos moved Garcia back to left guard after he struggled at right guard during OTAs, gambling that free-agent pickup Ron Leary would be as effective at right guard as he was on the left side, where he started in Dallas before jumping to the Broncos in March. Barbre could still make a push for the job, but right now, it appears the spot is Garcia's to lose.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

--Kansas City struggled against the run last season, and one reason stemmed from a plethora of injuries and lack of experienced depth at inside linebacker. The Chiefs added significant competition with the addition of fifth-round pick Ukeme Eligwe and acquiring Kevin Pierre-Louis from Seattle via a trade. Kansas City also re-signed veteran Josh Mauga, who missed last season with a labral tear in his hip. The leader of the group remains Derrick Johnson, who returns from an Achilles tear in December that ended his season. Ramik Wilson appears to be the likely starter alongside Johnson, but the competition remains fierce behind them for the remaining roster spots. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton continues rotating Mauga, Eligwe and Pierre-Louis with Justin March-Lillard and Terrance Smith looking for the right chemistry in shutting down the run.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

--Dwight Lowery vs. Tre' Boston at safety. Lowery is the returning veteran here, but Boston wasn't brought in to stand on the sidelines. Lowery provided solid play last year and was often the calming factor in the secondary when Jahleel Addae played loose. Boston, a former Carolina Panther, is opening eyes with his plays around the ball. He capped Tuesday's practice by picking off Philip Rivers in the red zone.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

--Sean Smith vs. Obi Melifonwu at dime back. Smith, at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, was recently getting time covering tight ends in four-receiver sets, a role that the Raiders specifically selected Melifonwu to fill. The problem? Melifonwu struggled early and then was injured. As for Smith, he was at least temporarily demoted from his starting position at corner but his length could enable him to compete for that role, depending on his approach and attitude.
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NFL notebook: Falcons' Freeman signs 5-year extension
August 9, 2017


The Atlanta Falcons made Devonta Freeman the highest-paid running back in the NFL, signing him to a five-year contract extension on Wednesday.

Although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Michael Silver of the NFL Network reported that Freeman's pact is worth $41.25 million.

The extension, which runs through 2022, has an annual value of $8.25 million, topping the $8 million yearly salary of Buffalo's LeSean McCoy. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell will surpass both when he signs his franchise tag tender.

The 25-year-old Freeman was a big part of Atlanta's run to the Super Bowl last season, starting all 16 regular-season games and leading the team with 1,079 rushing yards to go with 462 receiving yards on 54 receptions. Freeman had 13 total touchdowns.

--Former Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork signed a one-day contact with New England so he could officially retire as a member of the Patriots.

Wilfork, 35, played the first 11 of his 13 NFL seasons with New England and was a Pro Bowler five times, including four consecutive seasons from 2009-12.

"It was truly an honor to have coached him," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said during the ceremony. "Best defensive lineman I have ever coached."

Wilfork spent his final two NFL seasons with the Houston Texans. Coincidentally, his final game was at Foxborough, Mass., where the Titans lost to the Patriots in an AFC Divisional playoff game last January.

--The NFL will hire as many as 24 full-time game officials for the upcoming 2017 season, the league and the NFL Referees Association announced.

Full-time officials will be hired at each of the seven officiating positions. The NFL currently employs a roster of 124 officials, including 17 crews of seven people apiece and five swing officials that serve as substitutes.

Prior to the announcement, officials have worked as contractors to the league.

"We believe this is a great development for NFL officiating overall and ultimately the quality of our game," NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said. "We share a common goal, which is to make our game as great as it can possibly be, and look forward to working together on this new effort."

--Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford appeared to have escaped serious injury after he was carted off the field during Tuesday's practice.

Crawford underwent X-rays that revealed a lateral right ankle sprain, but team officials said he is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener against the New York Giants, multiple media outlets reported.

The injury occurred while Crawford was chasing down second-year running back Ezekiel Elliott. He appeared to be in excruciating pain and one teammate grabbed his helmet as Crawford lay prone on the field.

The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Crawford underwent surgery on his right shoulder following last season. He registered 4.5 sacks despite sitting out the final two games of the regular season.

--A minor leg injury did not keep Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis away from the team for long.

After missing Tuesday's practice for what reportedly was a cyst on his knee, Lewis returned to the facility later that evening.

"I was able to return to work last night after receiving great medical care," said Lewis in a statement Wednesday. "I especially want to thank all of the doctors, nurses and technicians who treated me. I am glad to be back with the team as we prepare to play the Buccaneers on Friday."

The team announced Tuesday that Lewis would briefly be away from the team to deal with an unspecified "minor health issue."

--Linebacker DeAndre Levy filed an injury grievance against the Detroit Lions.

Levy, who was released by the team in March, is seeking to recoup $1.75 million in salary for this season, ESPN first reported.

Hip and knee injuries limited the 30-year-old Levy to only six games over the past two seasons. Detroit cut Levy with two years remaining on a four-year, $33 million contract.

Levy injured his knee in the 2016 season opener and subsequently underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He returned three months later to play in the final four regular-season games as well as a playoff matchup vs. Seattle.

--The San Francisco 49ers released Jeremy Zuttah, less than five months after acquiring the Pro Bowl center from the Baltimore Ravens.

Linebacker Sean Porter was signed to a one-year deal to take the roster spot of Zuttah, who was expected to compete with incumbent Daniel Kilgore for the 49ers' starting job. Kilgore easily claimed the role and the 31-year-old Zuttah then saw second-team center snaps shift to the versatile Tim Barnes, who is also a guard.

Zuttah played both guard and center during his nine NFL seasons, and made 41 starts at center for Baltimore over the past three campaigns. He appeared in 131 contests with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ravens.

Porter, who was a fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2013 draft, spent time on the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad last season before being promoted to the active roster. The 26-year-old played in two games in 2016 before being released on May 1.

--Felony domestic violence charges against former 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock were dismissed.

The Santa Clara District Attorney's office declared that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the case because the alleged victim declined to cooperate.

Brock, 28, was arrested on April 6 on suspicion of felony domestic violence and booked into Santa Clara County Jail. His bail was set at $50,000 and he was released from jail the following day.

Santa Clara police found "visible injuries" on Brock's girlfriend after responding to a domestic violence call, according to the Sacramento Bee. Police described the woman's injuries as "minor" and she received no medical attention.

--Cowboys punter Chris Jones signed a four-year contract extension through the 2021 season, the club announced.

The 28-year-old Jones was slated to become a free agent after this season.

Jones was more interested in staying put than seeking out big-money contract offers.

"Chris loves the organization, loves playing for the Cowboys and loves living in Dallas, that's the reason," agent Derrick Fox told ESPN about reaching the deal. "With free agency coming up in March, it's my job to take my client to free agency, but Chris asked me to get a deal with the Cowboys because he wanted to be there long term."
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Study break; Rookie QB Dobbs eager to step in for Steelers
August 9, 2017


PITTSBURGH (AP) Don't get Josh Dobbs wrong. The Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie quarterback is amped to take the first snaps of his NFL career on Friday night when the AFC North champions open the preseason against the New York Giants.

The fourth-round pick from Tennessee - who may or may not be Ben Roethlisberger's eventual replacement depending on whom you ask - wants to get in the huddle with the starters.

He wants to hear the roar of the crowd and the sound of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's voice crackling in his headset. He wants to stand at the line of scrimmage, scan the defense, put the puzzle together and go.

Of course there will be pressure to show the Steelers they made the right decision when they took him with the 135th overall pick, the same exact spot the Dallas Cowboys took Dak Prescott last spring. But Dobbs is well aware pressure is relative, one of the byproducts of earning a degree in aerospace engineering.

Trying to read a defense and put the ball in the right place is one thing. Trying to figure out how to safely get people - be they pilots or passengers - from one place to another safely is another, one with considerably more significant consequences than an incomplete pass.

''You have a lot of lives at stake with every problem that you do,'' Dobbs said.

So while Dobbs fully expects a range of emotions when he sprints onto the field with his No. 5 game jersey pulled tight, fear of failure won't be one of them. It's simply not part of his considerable vocabulary.

''I'm just anxious to compete,'' Dobbs said.

And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is anxious to see if Dobbs' poise and precision during the opening weeks of camp translate when it (almost) really matters.

''At that position, you're defined by how you perform under certain circumstances,'' Tomlin said. ''And it'll be good to get him in that stadium on Friday night and watch him in terms of putting his skills on display. This is just the first time out.

''I'm interested in his game day demeanor, his ability to communicate through circumstances, not only with his fellow players but with his coaches as well.''

Dobbs won't lack for opportunities. Roethlisberger is getting the night off and primary backup Landry Jones will sit while battling an abdominal injury.

With Bart Houston the only other active quarterback on the roster, Dobbs should play the entire first half and perhaps well into the second in what marks as the beginning of extended audition to take over whenever the 35-year-old Roethlisberger - who weighed retirement over the winter before deciding to return for a 14th season - decides to walk away.

Not that Dobbs is ready to look that far down the road. He can't predict his own future let alone Roethlisberger's.

So he'll just continue to bury himself in Haley's playbook and try to be ready when and if the time comes, if it does at all.

''I learned quickly at the college level that you never know when your time is going to come,'' Dobbs said. ''It's a peculiar position that you play. You're expected to, whether you have one rep in practice or you have 50 reps in practice to come in and play at a high level just as the starter did.''

Dobbs made his debut at Tennessee as a true freshman in 2013 against Alabama, pressed into action when Justin Worley went down with a thumb injury. He managed just two touchdown passes in five games that year. More growing pains followed in 2014 before he took off as a junior. He set a school record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season (12).

The Steelers aren't as interested in Dobbs' legs so much as his right arm and his voracious appetite to learn.

Following a whirlwind spring Dobbs spent the five weeks buried in Haley's playbook, focusing just as much on the ''why'' as the ''what'' and the ''how.''

Now comes the fun part: seeing how quickly he can translate all that knowledge into performance. He looked pretty comfortable running a two-minute drill with the starters on Wednesday, throwing a touchdown as the clock ticked toward zero.

''He doesn't second-guess what he's doing,'' said rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has quickly developed a bond with Dobbs.

That comes later in the film room where Dobbs will grade himself out. And there is no Bell curve. There can't be. When in the huddle, his job is the same as Roethlisberger's. It's heady territory, but one Dobbs believes he can navigate.

''You have to own the position, own the playbook,'' Dobbs said, ''say (the play) with confidence and keep moving forward.''
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Fight for LA: Rams, Chargers scuffle during joint practice
August 10, 2017


IRVINE, Calif. (AP) The Fight for LA finally has some punch.

A handful of skirmishes broke out Wednesday when the Los Angeles Chargers visited the Los Angeles Rams' training camp for the teams' second joint practice in five days.

The fights mostly arose between the Chargers' offense and the Rams' defense during a lively scrimmage.

In the first and best scrap, Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson threw a punch at Chargers receiver Dontrelle Inman before Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman pushed Inman to the ground - and Chargers receiver Keenan Allen responded by body-slamming Robey-Coleman.

Even veteran Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers chipped in with some trash-talking of the Rams' defenders during the workout, but Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines' bloody face was the only noticeable result of the short-lived brouhahas.

The players and coaches left UC Irvine with the first on-field instance of bad blood between two franchises currently competing for the hearts and minds of Los Angeles' football fans after moving to town one year apart.

''We're definitely building a nice little rivalry with the Rams,'' Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said. ''That's what I got out of today.''

The franchises have co-existed peacefully in the seven months since the Spanos family announced the Chargers' intention to join the Rams in Stan Kroenke's lavish Inglewood stadium complex, which will open in 2020.

The Chargers also moved north with a bold advertising campaign built around a ''Fight for LA " slogan, and they actually released a new video from the campaign earlier Wednesday.

That fight hadn't really materialized until the teams got together for a workout lasting more than two hours. They are holding their training camps 5 miles apart in Orange County.

''It's a fun experience being out here,'' Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. ''I'm sure there's a little bit of a rivalry among the fans with both LA teams now, but it was a good day today, and it was a lot of fun to see both teams' fans out here.''

The teams also held a joint practice last weekend at StubHub Center, the Chargers' new home stadium, without anything approaching a fight.

Everything changed in Irvine, where Johnson and Inman set off the festivities with a scrap after the whistle.

''He probably landed (a punch) on my helmet, which is kind of nothing,'' Inman said of Johnson. ''I think that's stupid. If you break your hand, then what? But nah, I think it got real intense.''

Johnson, the Rams' highest-paid player, indeed threw a punch at Inman, and Robey-Coleman flattened Inman as the third man in. Johnson said the scuffle arose from Inman leaving his hand in Johnson's facemask for far too long.

''Where I'm from, if somebody initiates it, you're going to finish it,'' Johnson said. ''But it was a fun competition. ... I'm from Stockton, (California) and the Stockton came out in me. At the end of it, he got in my face, and I'm not going to let anybody disrespect me.''

The intensity and feistiness likely were secretly thrilling to both coaches, who used the joint practice to shake their teams out of the preseason doldrums with their exhibition openers looming this weekend.

Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn both expressed relief that nobody got seriously hurt in the workout.

''I liked the energy,'' McVay said. ''Going against another quality team is something that's going to be helpful for us going forward. ... (Fights) are a good learning opportunity for us as a team, about keeping that composure in scrimmage situations.''

The teams won't play each other during the regular season, but they will face off in a preseason game at the Coliseum on Aug. 26.

Neither team expects any bad feelings from this workout to linger - and most players were back to casual friendliness by the time they wrapped up this practice at dusk.

During their first year of cohabitation, the clubs will spend their weeks about 90 miles apart on opposite ends of the sprawling Los Angeles metroplex. After their preseason showdown, the Fight for LA will be mostly an advertising slogan and a point of debate for fans.

The Rams' faithful made their feelings known in Irvine with rude chants directed at the Chargers. Talkative Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward had a running dialogue with hecklers during one drill, but it was mostly in good fun.

''I just saw a lot of good competition out there,'' Lynn said. ''I didn't encourage the fighting, but I was pleased with the intensity.''
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2017 AFC Preview
August 22, 2017


Toe-to-Toe


The AFC stands a blasť 154-169-2 SU and 154-160-11 ATS in non-conference clashes against the NFC the past five seasons, including 6-1 SUATS as double-digit favorites.

They have gone 172-148-5 ‘Over’ in those games, including 100-83-3 ‘Over’ when playing as a dog.

In intra conference games – AFC versus AFC – overall the teams off a SU underdog win have struggled to get back up the following game, going just 65-93 SU and 62-88-8 ATS. Inside those numbers is a paltry 1-14 SU and 4-11 ATS mark for dogs of 6 or more points.

Passer Rating Differential


In a passer-friendly league these days, it’s important to know that you win when you have a quality quarterback, and you lose when you don’t.

Of the 50 teams in the NFL that ranked in the Top 10 in season ending defensive pass efficiency, 32 of them make the playoffs (although only three last season).

Among those a total of the 14 teams combined to finish the season ranked in both offensive and defensive pass efficiency, with 13 of them finding their way to the postseason. The only one that did not: the 2015 New York Jets of the AFC.

This is our NFL AFC Division pointspread prognosis for this season...


2017 AFC EAST PREVIEW

BUFFALO BILLS
TEAM THEME: SALUD


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123.5

Rex Ryan’s grandstand firing of OC Greg Roman following an 0-2 start last season wasn’t enough to save his hide as his toxic personality, along with his defenses that finished No. 24 and 26 in two years with the Bills, proved to be his Waterloo. Fired brother Rob also won’t benefit from the finally healthy services of last year’s top pick, DE Shaq Lawson who never fully recovered from preseason shoulder surgery, or 2nd-rounder LB Reggie Ragland who sat out the entire season with a torn ACL. As for the offense, Dan Graziano of ESPN notes that of the quarterbacks who have played at least 20 games the past years, Tyrod Taylor ranks 4th in TD/INT ratio and 7th in Total QBR.

The addition of WR Zay Jones, who set an NCAA single-season record with 158 receptions at East Carolina last season, along with the healthy return of stud Sammy Watkins, should help Taylor and 1st-year head coach Sean McDermott ease the pain of a difficult schedule that finds the Bills taking on foes with a projected 134.5 wins. And if upper management can prevent any further pillaging from their division rival Patriots, maybe even retired anchor Chris Berman will, once again, circle the wagons in upstate New York.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rex Ryan’s record with Buffalo was the best of any of the previous five Bills’ head coaches.

PLAY ON: vs. NY Jets (9/10)

MIAMI DOLPHINS
TEAM THEME: GASING AT THE POSSIBILITIES


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 7 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 134

There’s a lot to like about the 2017 Dolphins as owner Stephen Ross laid out a bundle in resigning key personnel while trying to hold on to the core of his 10-6 team. There’s also a lot to be concerned with as the Fish allowed went just 4-13 ‘In The Stats’, allowed more points than they scored, and were also only 2-4 SU against winning opposition last season. The latter is extremely alarming considering Miami tackles the 3rd most difficult schedule in the league (projected wins 134) and the 6th toughest based on win-loss records from last year (148-119).

Numerous close calls (seven games decided by overtime or 4 points or less) had the Dolphins gazing at defense in the draft, headlined by pass-rusher Charles Harris (Missouri) in the first round. Looking for red-zone help, they also re-united TE Julius Thomas with head coach Adam Gase. The offensive line looks to be a strength as Laremy Tunsil, last year’s value-packed first-round pick, will move to his natural position at left tackle, though they will need Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey to overcome nagging injuries that has caused him to miss 19 games over the past four seasons. The main question is whether retread QB Jay Cutler can adequately fill former starter Ryan Tannehill’s shoes.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 2000, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald notes the Dolphins have drafted a total of 12 players that have totaled 12 Pro Bowl seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: at Buffalo (12/17)

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
TEAM THEME: GAME OF GROANS


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 12.5 +100
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124

Tom Brady got his ‘one for the thumb’ in leading the Pats past Atlanta, capping the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. We’re not sure who groaned more: the growing legion of New England haters or the sportsbooks who took a virtual bath, especially on 2nd half action. After suffering its first shutout loss at Gillette Stadium in franchise history in Week Four, Brady returned from suspension and the Pats never looked back. We don’t want to say he’s getting old but your TV might still have knobs on it as old as Brady (40). Nonetheless, he adds another weapon to his “5’10” arsenal” in deep threat Brandon Cooks, complimenting Julian Edelman out of the slot and pass-catching back James White.

A 9th straight postseason appearance figures to be in the bank as a difficult non-division lineup is offset by the soft AFC East. And the more things change in the ever-developing NFL, the more they stay the same in Foxborough: the Patriots will continue to employ one of the NFL’s smaller coaching staffs (its 15-member group is far below the league average of 20). It’s an old school approach that Belichick feels leads to better communication. One thing’s for sure… with or without rabbit ears, his message is clear.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 2006, five defending Super Bowl champions have failed to make it back to the playoffs the following season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Atlanta (10/22)

NEW YORK JETS
TEAM THEME: KISS THIS


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 131.5

You know you’re in trouble when your owner asks the fans for patience. Even Hall of Fame QB Joe Namath, who displayed just that when waiting for a kiss from his main squeeze, Suzy Kolber, said, “Right now I don’t think there are many teams wary of the Jets.” Recognizing an obvious need to officially begin their rebuild, the Jets said adios to mainstays Ryan Clady, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Darrell Revis. They then proceeded to trade down four times in the NFL draft to acquire much-needed extra selections for an aging roster.

Quizzically, QB Josh McCown (19-46 SU in the NFL, including 2-20 the last 22) figures to start until they figure out what they want to do with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Together they form a sluggish MPH (McCown, Petty, Hackenberg) trio that is simply not up to speed in this league. Its no wonder why the Flyboys season win total came in at 5 – the same number of victories they finished with last season after posting 10 wins in HC Todd Bowles’ rookie season. Despite filling obvious needs, New York’s draft also looked like something out of Noah’s Ark as the Jets drafted positions in pairs: two safeties, two receivers and two corners. Right now they are hoping the ‘beat out’ Cleveland for the top spot in this year’s draft.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jets are 15-0-1 ATS as division dogs against foes off a division ATS win.

PLAY ON: vs. Miami (9/24)

2017 AFC NORTH PREVIEW

BALTIMORE RAVENS
TEAM THEME: THE MUCK STOPS HERE


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 +110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 127

Yes, Joe Flacco has won 83 games since entering the league in 2008, only trailing Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan during that span. However, since winning the Super Bowl and signing a monster contract in 2013, Flacco’s total QBR rating ranks 21st, behind the likes of Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The firing of OC Marc Trestman five games into the season didn’t help as the Ravens ended the year averaging only 2 points and 10 yards per game more than with him. Nor does the lack of depth at wide receiver as Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are primarily deep threats that struggle to make plays (Perriman has yet to produce 65 receiving yards in a game). Thus, the signing of WR Jeremy Maclin should help.

So in typical Ravens’ fashion when all else fails, John Harbaugh will, once again, turn to a defense that features six new starters and a deep secondary. Harbaugh is pumped, going on record as saying “I don’t want to overstate the expectations, but I’m not afraid to do that, really. I expect these guys to be great.” That should certainly help a team that played in a whopping 11 games last season that were decided by one score (7 points) or less.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Half of the Ravens’ road wins the last two years have been at Cleveland.

PLAY ON: at Oakland (10/8)

CINCINNATI BENGALS
TEAM THEME: STARVIN’ MARVIN


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123

Apparently London Bridge wasn’t the only thing falling down across the pond. Cincinnati’s trip to Wembley Stadium in late October against the Redskins resulted in a 24-24 tie and the Bengals could never really get it in gear from that point on, closing out a dismal 2016 campaign with a 3-5 finish (all five losses by 5 or fewer points) – and ending a streak of five straight one-and-done postseason appearances. However, things are looking up for Andy Dalton in America’s Queen City. Cincy has added speedy WR John Ross and controversial RB Joe Mixon to an explosive offense that features WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert.

In addition, no team will face an easier set of foes in 2017 as the Bengals’ schedule of opponents tallies a combined 123 projected wins. Marvin Lewis' men also have the luxury of traveling the second fewest air miles in the loop (7,652) while taking on the NFC North - a division they have owned of late as evidenced by a 10-2 SU and 8-3-1 ATS mark since 2005. It’s all for naught, though, unless the offensive line can keep their red-headed rifle upright and seeing ‘Green.’ With that, it’s hard to look past the fact that Cincinnati last tasted playoff victory in 1990.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cincinnati is 12-2-1 ATS as a pick or dog of 3 or less points off a DD win under Lewis.

PLAY ON: vs. Detroit (12/24)

CLEVELAND BROWNS
TEAM THEME: KIZER PEMANENTE


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 4.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132

The quarterback-starved Browns passed on signal callers with their two first-round selections but the carousal added another pony in the following round with the selection of DeShone Kizer. Kizer will likely open the season holding the clipboard for Brock Osweiler and/or Cody Kessler but history suggests it won’t take long before he gets his chance as the Browns have cycled through 26 QBs since 1999 (New England has used a total of five in that span and would have been three if not for Brady’s suspension). Still, color us intrigued as it looks like Hue Jackson has the Brownies heading in the right direction. They upgraded their offensive line and amassed a ton of draft picks (12) for 2018, including two firsts, three seconds and a pair of fourth rounders. All this while earning top grades in this year’s draft.

One constant is LT Joe Thomas (160 consecutive starts in 10 Pro Bowl seasons) who will need to remain productive as the game plan should be to pound the ball on the ground with RBs Isaiah Crowell (4.8 YPR) and Duke Johnson (4.9 YPR). The hire of DC Gregg ‘Bounty’ Williams is a good move but that will lead to a change of schemes (back to 4-3) for the third time in seven years. A salty division slate, along with a 1-5 SUATS log at home versus the NFC North, figures to keep the Brownies in the oven for another season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 2006, the Browns have drafted 7 QBs that have gone 22-69 collectively.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Green Bay (12/10)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
TEAM THEME: KILLER B’S


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 10.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129

Playing every away game in an Eastern Time zone for only the third time in NFL history, the Steelers capitalized by going 5-3 SUATS in those games en route to a 11-win regular season – keeping Mike Tomlin’s 10-year streak of never having a losing campaign intact. And not only will the Steelers, like last year, travel the fewest air miles (6,790) in the league, they’re also expected to be favored in all but two games this season (small dogs at KC, small home dog to NE) according to Cantor Gaming in Las Vegas. The full time return of WR Martavius Bryant is a scary proposition as Ben Roethlisberger has never played a full season with all three B’s (Bell, Bryant, and Brown) in the lineup (provided LeVeon Bell eventually signs a contract).

The feel-good addition of RB James Conner compliments Bell while second-round selection WR JuJu Smith-Schuster gives Big Ben another weapon (can you say 40 TD passes!) to improve on an already impressive 138-66 SU record in his NFL career, including 25-10 SU and 23-12 ATS in division roadies. Anything less than a fourth consecutive double-digit win season and a second straight AFC North title will be a disappointment for the Terrible Towels.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Persistence has paid off for Pittsburgh: the Steelers have made 29 playoff appearances over the last 45 seasons. They are also only the fourth NFL franchise to earn 600 victories, trailing only Chicago, Green Bay, and NY Giants.

PLAY ON: vs. New England (12/17)

2017 AFC SOUTH PREVIEW

HOUSTON TEXANS
TEAM THEME: ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 130.5

It’s been reported that head coach Bill O’Brien changes quarterbacks more often than he does underwear, which if true, could lead to a malodorous situation in Houston this season. The truth of the matter, though, is no one gets more from a stable of mediocre quarterbacks than the QB whisperer as his teams have started 8 different signal-callers in his three years with the Texans, yet somehow managed to pull off 28 wins and a couple of playoff appearances along the way. Despite paying dearly for first-round pick Deshaun Watson, it’s unlikely the Clemson star will join the stable anytime soon as O’Brien’s philosophy is rookie quarterbacks should be seen and not blurred (and if all else fails, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear a few Tony Romo ‘whispers’).

The return of J.J. Watt, who missed 13 games last season after undergoing back surgery, along with the rise of DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney – who is now playing at the level expected when Houston made him the top pick in the draft four years ago – ensures the defense is no laughing matter. It also should send the Texans back to the postseason out of a very winnable AFC South.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Houston is 12-0 SU and 10-2 ATS as a favorite against foes off a loss under O’Brien.

PLAY ON: at New England (9/24)

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
TEAM THEME: OPERATION: DVOA


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 +120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 122.5

There’s a new buzzword in Indy this season: DEFENSE. According to Bill Barnwell of ESPN, new GM Chris Ballard shored up the league’s fourth worst defense per DVOA via the draft and free agency. (DVOA is a statistical metric devised by Football Outsiders.com that measures Defense-adjusted Value Over Average – sort of like MLB’s ‘WAR’ Wins Above Replacement statistic. It allows you to compare teams and players overall and their offenses and defenses with better accuracy than standard measures such as yards gained and yards allowed, which don’t adjust for opponent quality.)

The offense, which ranked 7th in the league in points scored and 9th in total yardage won’t need metrics as long as Andrew Luck is back at full strength following off-season shoulder surgery – and that’s iffy as of this writing. Luck (46-30) is coming off a quiet 4,24/31 TD/63.5 completion percentage performance and will face the league’s softest SOS slate with foes going just 112-147 last season. Sure, the offensive line still needs help but if last year’s three selections (nabbed with the first five picks) come around and Ballard’s defensive plan pans out, the Colts could get off the 8-win schneid and return to the postseason for the first time in three years.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Andrew Luck is 21-3 SU and 20-4 ATS in his NFL career in games following a Colts’ SUATS loss.

PLAY ON: at Houston (11/5)

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
TEAM THEME: HAIL THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 6.5 -150
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124.5

Despite holding half of their opponents to under 300 yards last season, the Jags managed to net only three wins as they lost a league-high eight games by a touchdown or less. It marked their sixth straight losing season, as they have not made the playoffs since 2007. Hence, they got busy in the offseason, bringing in numerous free agents, removing the interim label from head coach Doug Marrone and naming Tom Coughlin VP director of football operations. They also landed RB Leonard Fournette who should make an early splash as five of the Jags’ first six foes ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed per attempt last season. That can only help QB Blake Bortles, who next to Philip Rivers (52), has tossed more interceptions (51) than anyone in the league over the past three years (it’s never a good sign when your QB has more pick-6s than wins).

The Jaguars will also need to outplay Vegas projections as they are predicted to be favored in only six of their sixteen contests and will count on Marrone to handle division duties as the former head man in Buffalo (15-17 SU) is 10-4 ATS in division games, including a near spotless 5-1 ATS at home. A September 17th date versus an improved Tennessee team will put that number to the test. It will also be crucial to Bortles’ future as a starter with Jacksonville.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jaguars are 1-10 SUATS at home in games after facing an NFC foe.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Indianapolis (12/3)

TENNESSEE TITANS
TEAM THEME: MULARKEY ASIDE, BEWARE OF THE TITANS


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124.5

Taking the Titans from 3 wins in his rookie season to 9 victories last year, QB Marcus Mariota’s career looks promising – as long as he can avoid the dreaded injury bug that cut short each of his first two seasons in the league. That becomes a major hassle should Tennessee be forced to turn to Matt Cassel. The rest of the offense is also in good hands as dynamic first-round draft pick WR Corey Davis joins Rishard Matthews, who exploded over the final 12 games of the season, catching 65 balls for 945 yards and 9 TDs. The backfield is also well fortified as DeMarco Murray re-established himself as a bonafide anchor while Derrick Henry averaged 4.5 YPR in his rookie campaign.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans reinforced a secondary that ranked 30th overall with key free agent signings. Yes, we realize that head coach Mike Mularkey is just 14-34 SU in his last 48 games dating back to his days with Buffalo, but if they can take advantage of a soft schedule that finds only six foes owning winning records in 2016 (116-148 overall), then they just might make some noise in the vulnerable AFC South.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Music City Titans are 10-1 SU and 8-2-1 ATS versus sub .500 NFC West opponents.

PLAY ON: vs. Indianapolis (10/16)

2017 AFC WEST PREVIEW

DENVER BRONCOS
TEAM THEME: RIGHT BACK AT YOU


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 133.5

It’s a good thing rookie head coach Vance Joseph, a former defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins, won’t have to spend too much time shoring up a stop-unit that ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed (18.6) and 4th in overall total defense (316.1) last season. That’s because he’ll be spending most of his days (and nights) figuring out who will be under center while tackling the second most difficult slate in the league based on opponents’ win-loss records last year (150-114), and fourth hardest looking at foes’ projected wins (133.5) for this season.

Will it be Paxton Lynch, Denver’s top pick in the 2016 draft? Trevor Siemian, a 7th-rounder in 2015? Or perhaps Mr. Irrelevant – Chad Kelly – the final selection in the 2017 class will eventually get his chance. If healthy, the signing of RB Jamaal Charles could be a coup for a rushing attack that averaged less than 100 YPG for the first time in recent history. Simply put, the Broncos will need to get back to a bread-and-butter run offense in order to avoid the ‘Lynch’ mob and book their usual postseason spot. ‘Ad- Vance’ notice: Christmas (at Kansas City) and New Years (vs. Oakland) will likely decide how the AFC West is won this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 15-3 SU and 14-4 ATS in their last 18 division away games.

PLAY ON: at Kansas City (10/30) - *KEY

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
TEAM THEME: ONE STEP UP, TWO STEPS BACK


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132

After trading up 17 spots in the first round of this year’s draft, many feel Patrick Mahomes II will be Andy Reid’s quarterback in the near future. Considering Mahomes went 0-9 SU in his college career against ranked opponents and the Chiefs square off against the toughest SOS in 2017 with foes sporting an overall .573 win percentage (153-115), Reid should consider jumping in the Delorean ASAP and driving back to the future. Despite being outgained by 34 YPG and losing the stat battle in 11 of 16 contests, the Chiefs managed to collect 12 scalps in 2016.

That immediately puts them on our early-season fade list unless they can improve on a defense that is often forced to play a Dime package (6 DBs) due to lack of depth at linebacker and ranked 22nd or worse against the run five of the past six seasons. However, if oft-injured MLB Derrick Johnson returns and RB Kareem Hunt, who surpassed 300 touches and came into his own as a weapon out of the backfield last year at Toledo, can fill in for the departed Jamaal Charles, things for Andy could be just dandy in the wild, wild AFC West. But we simply don’t trust teams from one year to the next that lead the league in net turnovers. They tend to regress to the mean in a mean way.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last quarterback drafted by the Chiefs to win a game in the NFL was in 1983.

PLAY AGAINST: at NY Jets (12/3)

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
TEAM THEME: BOLTING FOR L.A.


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total 7.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128.5

There was plenty of crying for Philip Rivers last season in San Diego as the Chargers all-time passing yards leader – who hasn’t missed a start since taking over the reins in 2006 – suffered a career-high 21 picks while completing just over 60% of his passes, far below his career completion percentage. It’s no wonder why the Chargers drafted stud WR Mike Williams and used three of their seven draft picks on offensive linemen. Unfortunately, Williams is out until at least October with a back injury. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bolts allowed the most pass pressure in the league over the past three seasons. That same massive line, though, is the main reason RB Melvin Gordon showed considerable improvement.

The defense also asserted itself with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram forming a fierce pass-rushing duo. However, the schedule-maker did the Chargers and rookie head coach Anthony Lynn no favors this season as they take on a league-high 11 foes that owned winning records in 2016. The feeling here, though, is if this team can shake their annual injury bug (they led the league with 355 man games lost last season) and pull out a few close ones (1-8 in games decided by a TD or less), they could supplant the Chiefs as playoff contenders.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chargers are 24-4-1 ATS as road dogs of more than 4 points since 2004.

PLAY ON: vs. Miami (9/17)

OAKLAND RAIDERS
TEAM THEME: JUST SAY WHEN, BABY


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124

Future bettors who rolled the dice on the Raiders last season were rewarded early as the Vegas-bound Silver and Black easily topped their projected win total of 8.5 by delivering 12 victories, despite the fact that they were actually outyarded on the season. With that a serious red flag pops up – especially if they can’t match a trend that saw them go 8-1 in games decided by a TD of less. A relatively easy schedule this season (according to Vegas, not the NFL) may see them top the number (9.5) this year, especially with a healthy Derek Carr driving a potent attack that features WR Amari Cooper and recently added RB Marshawn Lynch and TE Jared Cook. Unfortunately, the Raiders made no high impact moves to help Khalil Mack and beef up a front seven that failed to sack Brock Osweiler in a humbling Wild Card round loss to the Texans.

The good news is last season was the first time since 1967 that Oakland won five consecutive road games; the bad news is Blackjack Del Rio’s bunch is 1-8 SU versus the NFC East since 2005. Still, we’ll consider a double down ‘under 10 wins’ should the public drive the number up as teams who lead the league in net turnovers (tied with the Chiefs last year) average 16.5 less net TO’s the following year. Think about that before jumping off the high board again with the Black-and-Silver in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After going 1-18 SU since 2009 in games in Eastern Time zone cities, the Raiders went 3-0 in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: at Buffalo (10/29)
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NFL notebook: Browns TE DeValve kneels during anthem
August 22, 2017


Seth DeValve is believed to be the first white NFL player to kneel during the national anthem when the Cleveland Browns tight end joined his teammates in what he referred to as a prayer group prior to Monday's preseason game against the New York Giants.

DeValve said recent events in Charlottesville, Va., had a lot to do with his decision. The 24-year-old went a step further by saying the situation hits close to home as his wife, Erica, is African-American.

"I myself will be raising children that don't look like me, and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now," DeValve said. "So I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do."

The display by the Browns on Monday, in which a dozen players kneeled, is the NFL's largest protest since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling in August 2016.

--Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is on track to start the team's upcoming preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, coach Ron Rivera told reporters on Tuesday.

Rivera plans to make a final decision for Thursday's game on Wednesday, per multiple reports. Newton has yet to dress for a preseason game as he works his way back from a surgically repaired shoulder. The 2015 NFL MVP has participated in team drills on both Monday and Tuesday.

Newton had surgery on March 30 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff that was expected to require a four-month rehab process.

--The New England Patriots
activated linebacker Dont'a Hightower from the physically unable to perform list.

A defensive captain, Hightower had been nursing an undisclosed physical ailment that kept him off the field in voluntary spring practices. He had been wearing a brace over his right knee during the start of training camp.

Hightower signed a four-year contract extension this offseason with a base value of $35.5 million and more than $17 million in guaranteed money. The 27-year-old Hightower's fourth-quarter strip sack of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was one of the key plays in Super Bowl LI, helping the Patriots complete their rally from a 25-point deficit to win the contest.

--Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is weighing his options in regard to running back Ezekiel Elliott's participation in Saturday's preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.

Garrett told reporters that Elliott could either sit out or see as many as eight to 12 snaps in the contest, which amounts to what is a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

"I haven't made that decision. I just haven't had those discussions with him," Garrett said of the 22-year-old Elliott, who faces a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. The ban stems from the league's 13 month-long investigation into domestic violence accusations made against Elliott by former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.

--New York Giants safety Landon Collins criticized Cleveland Browns defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun for his hit that injured wideout Odell Beckham Jr. during Monday's preseason game.

Collins' primary issue was Boddy-Calhoun's decision to go low on a high throw to Beckham, who exited the Giants' 10-6 loss with a sprained ankle. Beckham is undergoing additional tests on Tuesday.

"I cannot have a teammate next to me playing that way," Collins said, per the New York Daily News. "I cannot condone it. It's not something I seek. He had all the opportunity in the world to make a different play. The play wasn't a penalty, but it's something everyone knows ... you don't do."

--San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers came out in a story published in Outsports, becoming the first openly LGBT coach in all of men's professional sports.

Sowers became just the second female coach in the league earlier this month when she was hired full-time with the 49ers for the 2017 season.

"No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are," the 31-year-old Sowers told Outsports. "There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation. The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day."

Sowers, who came out to her family in college, was hired as a 49ers offensive assistant working with the wide receivers.

--The Arizona Cardinals activated linebacker Deone Bucannon from the physically unable to perform list.

Bucannon underwent surgery on his right ankle in May on the heels of missing the final three games of the regular season.

The 24-year-old Bucannon had 91 tackles in 13 games last season. He has posted more than 80 tackles in each of his three NFL seasons and has five sacks, four fumble recoveries and one interception.

--The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed long snapper Andrew DePaola and waived injured cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, the team announced Tuesday.

DePaola has registered eight special teams tackles while playing in all 48 games over the last three seasons with the Buccaneers. He will compete with fellow long snapper Garrison Sanborn, who had spent the last nine campaigns with the Buffalo Bills.

Adjei-Barimah recorded 62 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble over 23 contests over the last two seasons with Tampa Bay. He had been plagued by a knee injury that he sustained late in the 2016 campaign.
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NFL notebook: Browns QB Kizer to start next preseason game
August 23, 2017


Three weeks into his first NFL preseason, DeShone Kizer emerged as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

The rookie second-round pick out of Notre Dame earned a chance to solidify his spot atop the pecking order of passers for the Browns with a start in Cleveland's preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week.

"This morning, I informed our quarterbacks that DeShone will be our starter for the third preseason game against Tampa," head coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday. "He has made a lot of progress by investing the time necessary to learn our offense, working hard to improve on his fundamentals while also effectively moving the offense in preseason games. Development is so important for a young quarterback, this is the next step he needs to take and he deserves this opportunity. We are very excited about seeing DeShone in the role of starter for this week, as he is certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season."

Cody Kessler entered training camp as the presumed starter. A rookie in 2016, Kessler entered the lineup after injuries to Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. Kessler is 12 of 17 in two preseason games but averaging less than 6.0 yards per completion. Brock Osweiler, acquired in a trade from the Houston Texans, is completing 54.5 percent of his passes with one interception and Kevin Hogan has only one pass attempt.

--Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne will start Thursday's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, coach Doug Marrone announced .

Fellow quarterback Blake Bortles will also receive reps with the first team.

Marrone has not been pleased with what he has seen from his quarterbacks thus far in the preseason.

Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft and the team's starter since Week 4 of his rookie season, was ineffective in his four series in the first half against the Bucs, all of which ended in punts.

--New York Giants
coach Ben McAdoo didn't shed much light on the condition of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

McAdoo didn't elaborate if Beckham sustained a high or low ankle sprain on a hit by Cleveland defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun during a 10-6 loss to the Browns in a preseason game on Monday night.

"He's got an ankle (injury), he's in there getting treatment," McAdoo said. "We're just taking it day by day."

McAdoo also did not confirm or deny an ESPN report, citing sources, that said Beckham may not be ready for New York's season opener at the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 10.

--The Giants
waived offensive lineman Michael Bowie following a charge of domestic assault and battery in Oklahoma.

Bowie, 25, turned himself in to authorities on Monday after a warrant was issued last week. He was charged with one count of domestic assault and battery and two counts of malicious injury or destruction of property.

The NFL is investigating the incident and Bowie could be subject to potential discipline by the league under the personal conduct policy.

The team waived offensive lineman Corin Brooks, and waived/injured wide receivers Darius Powe and Andrew Turzilli with hamstring injuries. In addition, the Giants signed wide receivers Marquis Bundy and C.J. Germany, and linemen Richard Levy and Matt Rotheram.

--If Le'Veon Bell's
Tuesday night tweet is legit, the running back plans to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the beginning of next month.

Bell has not been with the team during the preseason, working out on his own during his holdout.

On Tuesday, a fan tweeted to James, "So like when is le'veon bell gonna show up??," Vadarmendariz asked in regard to fantasy football.

Bell tweeted a simple response: "9-1-17" with a wink emoji. When the fan responded that his announcement was good news, he replied, "you're welcome."

Sept. 1 is one day after the Steelers' preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.

--Baseball legend Hank Aaron
came to the defense of Colin Kaepernick, saying the unsigned quarterback is "getting a raw deal."

Aaron told BlackAmericaWeb.com in an online video published Wednesday that Kaepernick is being blackballed by NFL owners who disagree with his politics.

"I think he's getting a raw deal," Aaron said. "If you look at all the quarterbacks in the league right now, I think you have to say he is 1, 2, 3, 4. I don't think anybody can do the things he could do. I wish somebody would open up and give him a chance to do his thing."

Aaron endured racism throughout his legendary baseball career. The Hall of Famer was the target of racist taunts, death threats and hate mail throughout his historic chase of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974.

--The Chicago Bears signed left tackle Charles Leno to a four-year, $38 million contract extension.

The deal through the 2021 season includes $21.5 million in guarantees, according to multiple reports. Leno was scheduled to earn $1.797 million in the final year of his rookie deal.

The 25-year-old Leno, the Bears' seventh-round draft choice in 2014 out of Boise State, played in 38 games over three seasons with 30 career starts.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Leno took over left tackle on a permanent basis in Week 4 of the 2015 season and started all 16 games in 2016.

--Oakland Raiders left tackle Donald Penn ended his 26-day holdout and returned to practice on Wednesday.

Penn is entering the final season of his two-year, $11.9 million contract he signed in March 2016. By comparison, at least 14 offensive tackles in the NFL make $10 million per season.

The 2016 Pro Bowl selection has yet to miss a regular-season game since entering the league as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007. The 34-year-old sat out the Raiders' wild-card playoff loss to the Houston Texans last season with a left knee injury.

--Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has been ruled out of Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, the team announced.

The contest will be the second straight missed by Freeman, who reportedly is navigating his way through the final stages of the concussion protocol. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is not practicing, but has been running sprints on the side of the field.

--The San Francisco 49ers signed free agent defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks to a one-year deal to add depth at the position.

The 49ers have been hit with injuries on the defensive line, including defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (ankle) and defensive end Ronald Blair (groin).

--The 49ers
activated free safety Jimmie Ward off the physically unable to perform list, the team announced Wednesday.

Ward has been sidelined since sustaining a hamstring injury during the team's conditioning test on the first day of training camp.

--The Indianapolis Colts activated center/guard Brian Schwenke from the physically unable to perform list.

Schwenke, who signed as a free agent with the Colts in March to play guard, had been battling a foot injury that kept him out of offseason workouts and training camp. The veteran offensive lineman can practice with the team immediately.
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