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  • Broncos' QB race starts off tight
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 28, 2017

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you were looking for separation between quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch on the first day of the Denver Broncos' training camp, you didn't get it.

    • What you did get was an emphasis on red-zone work, narrow windows through which to throw and a slow start for Siemian, who acknowledged it took two periods for him to shake off the rust from six weeks away.

      "Hopefully, the No. 13 that rolls out of the locker room tomorrow is better than the (joker) that rolled out here today," Siemian said after practice. "That's really all I'm trying to do, and if I can make the big things small, which I've tried to do really since I got drafted, hopefully things will work out."

      Neither quarterback threw an interception Thursday. But both found the going rough at times against a pass defense that led the league the past two seasons and looked to be in midseason form. The fact that the offense had to function in the compressed territory of the red zone only exacerbated matters.

      "There's really tight throws, which is interesting getting back (for the first practice of camp)," Siemian said. "Usually you come back and you're in the first install and you're throwing to a bunch of green grass and kind of easing your way into it, but down there it's bang-bang, especially with our guys."

      The quarterbacks' cause is helped by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy's new scheme, which offers plenty of underneath options and allows the quarterbacks to work more in the shotgun than they did last year. That helps Siemian, who worked in a spread offense at Northwestern, but it aids Lynch even more.

      "Having the ability to come out here and get in the shotgun is something I'm way more used to than getting under the center," Lynch said.

      And despite their occasional struggles Thursday, there were moments of promise. Siemian fired the ball into some tight windows, and Lynch showed good touch and placement on some passes into the end zone, particularly one he dropped into C.J. Anderson's grasp.

      "Both guys were in command of the huddle," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "Their communication was pretty sharp; the concepts were there. Obviously, versus our guys in the red zone is tough because those DBs don't backpedal, but I thought it was really a good practice for the first time out in camp."

      But it was not a day that would bring the Broncos even a step closer to any kind of closure on a quarterback competition that their starting receivers have said they want to see end sooner rather than later.

  • Patriots deflect talk of perfection as camp opens
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 28, 2017

    FOXBORO, Mass. -- Bill Belichick isn't new to questions about a possible undefeated season.

    • Back in 2007 his new-look Patriots, buoyed by the additions of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas, flew out of the gates with seven straight wins by 17 points or more on the way to a 16-0 regular season. That march through the record books ended with an upset loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

      A decade later, the questions about a possible perfect season are coming a bit earlier. The defending champion Patriots' aggressive offseason -- trading for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the biggest free agent deal in team history -- elevated already-high expectations for the defending Super Bowl champs.

      USA Today's season preview projected New England to repeat, this time with a 19-0 record.

      So, it's not surprising that Belichick was asked about the high expectations in his first press conference of the summer on the eve of the team's first practice.

      Of course, it's also not surprising that the future Hall of Fame coach deflected such media- and fan-driven chatter.

      "Right now, we're just trying to have a good day here today, get off to a good start in training camp," Belichick responded when a reporter broached the topic of an undefeated season. "We're not really worried about all that's in the future. That will come when it comes."

      In a follow-up question, the coach was asked how he would keep his team focused amid such potential distractions.

      "We're focused on one day at a time. Like I said, I guess I missed some of the big reading you guys have had," Belichick said. "Honestly, I don't really pay any attention to it. Sorry."

      The players were actually a bit more emphatic than their coach in swatting down 19-0 talk.

      "I think it's quite foolish to believe and to buy into some of the things that are being said about our football team right now," said Pro Bowl special teamer and team captain Matthew Slater.

      "We have yet to go out and have a competitive practice in pads in 2017, so I think we need to remember that and understand that it's hard to have success in this league. There are so many good players, so many good coaches. I honestly think it's quite disrespectful to say some of the things that have been said about our football team to the other players and coaches in this league."

      The Patriots, according to early Vegas' odds, are favored to win every regular-season game. Many expect them to march right to Minneapolis this February to defend their title in Super Bowl LII.

      "To say before we even tackle somebody, throw a pass, that we're going to beat everybody on our schedule, I think that is kind of disrespectful to the work and what everyone is trying to put in to be a team," said Pro Bowl safety and captain Devin McCourty.

      "Obviously every goal from every team is to not lose. You don't go out there and plan to lose, but I think to not see anything from a team and say they're going to win every game and disrespect every opponent on the schedule is kind of ludicrous. But I think the good thing is we don't pay attention to that.

      "We kind of know we have a good group of guys that have been here for a while that knows what it takes to go in and have a good football team, knows how hard it is to go out there every Sunday or whatever day you play and win a game."

      New England has opened camp with arguably the most talented roster the team has ever fielded.

      Just don't expect too many in Foxborough to acknowledge that fact.

      "Long process, one step at a time, we have a long, long way to go," Belichick said.

  • Bills take careful approach with Watkins, Glenn
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Two key offensive players opened camp on a "rep count" as the Buffalo Bills took to the field Thursday night on the campus of St. John Fisher College.

    • Wide receiver Sammy Watkins and offensive left tackle Cordy Glenn missed significant time in the offseason. Watkins was rehabbing following his second foot surgery, and Glenn was out with a troublesome ankle injury. But both were on the field when the workout began in front of an energetic opening-night crowd.

      Coach Sean McDermott said the team would monitor and manage the workload for both players.

      "But we have to be flexible with that and see how they feel," he said. "That starts tonight."

      Both players are vital to the Bills.

      Watkins is far and away the top receiver. If he were to get hurt again and miss regular-season games, the offense surely would sputter given the lack of top-end talent at the position. Glenn anchors a good offensive line, but if he were out, the Bills probably would have to turn to rookie second-round pick Dion Dawkins.

      The Bills have made it clear to Watkins that it is on him to deliver this season. The team did not pick up the fifth-year option on his contract because it wants to see how the season plays out.

      "I wasn't here for that decision," general manager Brandon Beane said of the choice that was made before he was hired.

      "With that said, again, Sammy's been great. He's doing everything he can. I'm excited with where he's at and looking forward to watching him. We'll let it play out. Contracts will get done when they're supposed to get done."

      Watkins maintains he's not bothered by what might be perceived as a slight since about 75 percent of the 2014 first-round contracts were picked up for the fifth year.

      "I haven't even put any thought in it," he said. "At the end of the day, it's a business. My job is to catch as many balls and touchdowns to help this team win. Everything else will play out. I have to earn it. No chip (on my shoulder), I just have to stay healthy and go out and make the plays I need to make."

      Watkins was asked if he feels a burden to perform up to his draft status, especially given how the first three years have gone.

      "I have nothing to prove," he said. "I know what I'm capable of doing. I've made plays in this league, and my job is to go out and earn it this year. I want to earn it; I don't want anything handed to me. My job is to earn it like I did all my life."

  • Packers DE Daniels calls out defense
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    DE PERE, Wis. -- Mike Daniels arrived in Green Bay as an unheralded fourth round draft pick in 2012. In the time since, Daniels has become arguably Green Bay's best defensive player and inked a four-year, $41 million deal in December, 2015.

    • While Daniels has been stellar, Green Bay's defense has certainly struggled.

      The Packers' average defensive rank between 2011 and 2016 has been 20th. And while the Packers have reached the postseason each of those years, it's allowed an average of 33.8 points per game in their playoff losses.

      Last season, the Packers ran off eight straight wins and reached the NFC Championship Game. But Green Bay's last impression was a horrific one as it was blown out by Atlanta, 44-21.

      "That's a terrible impression. It makes me sick," Daniels said. "I take it personal every single day. I know I do. It's been six years now. Something's got to shake. We've got to step up and take pride in this thing."

      Year in and year out, Green Bay's offense has been one of the NFL's strongest. And Daniels knows all fingers are quickly pointed at the defense when Green Bay falls short in the postseason.

      "We have to take it personal. You have to get pissed off that people are saying, 'You guys suck on defense' every year," Daniels said. "People are like, 'Oh it's the defense's fault. Oh, the defense is terrible. Oh man, we need to get Aaron (Rodgers) a defense.' That's got to make you angry to the point where you're like, 'I'm going to shut these people up.'"

      Daniels believes Green Bay's defense will be much improved in 2017.

      The Packers' secondary was decimated by injury a year ago, but is healthy now. Green Bay also made some key additions to the group, most notably free-agent cornerback Davon House and rookie Kevin King.

      Youngsters like Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry on the defensive line, and linebacker Kyler Fackrell could be poised for breakout years. Daniels is hopeful his unit can make strides, because he knows a Super Bowl title is virtually impossible without a high-level defense.

      "You name me a Super Bowl champion that had a pacifistic defense and I'll give you my paycheck," Daniels said. "I'm serious. There aren't any.

      "Every last Super Bowl winning team had a defense that was filled with renegades that weren't afraid to hold each other accountable. And if you can't do that, if you can't hold each other accountable because you're afraid of hurting somebody else's feelings, well guess what, you'll never be great."

  • Glennon is undisputed No. 1 QB at Bears' camp
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Anyone who needed further proof that there is no quarterback battle with the Chicago Bears only needed to see Mark Sanchez taking second-team snaps at Thursday's first practice.

    • Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the draft, isn't even the backup to veteran Mike Glennon.

      The Bears said it throughout the offseason -- there is no quarterback controversy.

      "I think for a young quarterback, you want him to take time and develop behind the scenes," general manager Ryan Pace said. "I think that can naturally happen.

      "But right now, our focus is that Mike Glennon is our starter, and then competition at the backup job."

      About the closest thing to controversy at the position was Sanchez wearing jersey No. 6, Jay Cutler's old number. How quickly they forget.

      Sanchez, now over a knee injury suffered when banging that knee into another player's knee in OTAs, took snaps with the second team. Third-team snaps for Trubisky on Thursday were less plentiful, but the rookie made the most of them.

      The vote of confidence only underscored what Glennon has known since leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and signing with the Bears -- he really is the starter.

      "When I signed here, I already had my mind set on that," Glennon said. "So it is a different approach when you go into the season as the starter rather than the backup. When you're the backup, you want to prepare like you're the starter. It's just not the same.

      "You can try to trick your mind into that as much as you want, but when you are the starter, it's different. I don't know that I've prepared that much differently. I just think it's a different mental approach to know what's coming."

      After the Bears selected Trubisky, it might have looked as if Glennon was merely a place-holder. He's not treating it that way.

      "I think it's just what I've dreamed of my whole life, to be a starting quarterback in the NFL and to enter the season as that guy," he said. "It's what I've worked for; I've prepared for it ever since I was a kid and all the way through college and into the pros, to get to this moment. So, it's going to be a great opportunity."

      Glennon displayed confidence throwing over the middle and across the field throughout Thursday's first practice. His command of the offense appeared sharper than when OTAs started, and he found a wide variety of receivers.

      Coach John Fox came away impressed with the sharpness of all the quarterbacks, considering it was the first time at an official practice since mid-June minicamp.

      "What I was impressed with is how focused they were. They didn't forget everything in five weeks; they came in in good shape," Fox said.

      There is no substitute for experience in Pace's view.

      "You lean on Mike's experience a lot and you can tell he's been in the league for four years with different coordinators," Pace said. "You can feel that."

      After minicamp, Glennon and Trubisky were together in Ft. Lauderdale working out with several Bears receivers in a sort of voluntary bonding/work session.

      "It was good to kind of get to know those guys in a different manner," Glennon said. "We have a lot of new guys, myself and obviously Mitch, and a handful of receivers are new as well. So it's good for all of us to get together and build those relationships in a different setting."

      Sanchez said "there's no chance" of a quarterback controversy.

      "It's been defined clearly," Sanchez said. "And that's what you need. You need it from the top and it's already been addressed -- by Ryan Pace, by Coach Fox."

      Still, it's not unheard of for a rookie quarterback to wow coaches so much that he takes over the position early. Sanchez was a part of Dallas' offense last year, when Dak Prescott became the starter after Tony Romo's injury.

      "As far as Dak last year, what an incredible talent, No. 1, what an incredible amount of talent around him," Sanchez said. "He played his butt off, made really good decisions at critical moments and then guys helped him out.

      "That's important. I don't care if you're Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Dak Prescott, you need help. He definitely got that and then worked his butt off also and put himself in the right positions and guys helped him."

      Pace was asked about a hypothetical situation in which Trubisky has a strong camp and Glennon struggles, but he wanted nothing to do with it.

      "This thing is going to have to play out," Pace said. "But Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback and I don't think now is the time to deal in hypotheticals going forward."

  • Browns camp opens with Kessler the No. 1 QB
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    BEREA, Ohio -- Size matters, but so does experience, and for that reason Cody Kessler was the first quarterback to work with the first-team offense on Thursday when the Cleveland Browns opened their 19th training camp and second under head coach Hue Jackson.

    • Brock Osweiler worked with the second group. Rookie DeShone Kizer followed him and Kevin Hogan worked with the fourth group.

      Kessler was 0-8 last season as a rookie third-round draft pick from USC. Osweiler was 8-6 with the Houston Texans in 2016.

      "(Kessler) is still the guy who demonstrates knowing the offense the best," Jackson explained. "He's the guy that's played the most football for us in that group.

      "As we go through the process, we'll evaluate and see where we are. There'll be markers as we go. There will be data that we'll look at to make very important decisions as we move forward. It could change. It could not change. That's all going to play out as we go through training camp."

      Not much happened on the first day to change the pecking order. The top three quarterbacks each had their moments, but most important all were careful with the ball.

      "I thought there was some good work," Jackson said. "We were mixing and matching. I'll keep going and looking and make adjustments as we go, but I thought it was good work for them all.

      "Any time you don't turn the ball over the first day of practice or have fumbled snaps on the ground, that's something you look for and you feel good about. All in all, it was a good first day."

      A quarterback battle has been a summer tradition in Browns training camp since the expansion year of 1999. Ty Detmer beat out rookie Tim Couch that year, but Detmer was benched after a 43-0 loss to the Steelers in the season opener. Couch replaced him and for most of the last 18 years the position has been in chaos.

      Jackson was offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014 and 2015 before being named Browns head coach in 2016. He knew both years in Cincinnati his quarterback was Andy Dalton and so Dalton could get the lion's share of practice time. Now with the Browns, Jackson is searching for a starter. Whoever ultimately wins the job is losing valuable practice time while quarterbacks rotate in and out.

      Jackson said he hopes to settle on a starter before the Browns play their preseason opener against the Saints on Aug. 10, but he concedes he might not have a decision by then.

      "You adjust as you go," Jackson said. "As you start to see guys start to distance themselves, you start to move into a different direction.

      "I can't tell you exactly how fast it's going to happen, but I think we all know that old saying - 'The cream kind of rises to the top.' They'll start to separate themselves as we go. As that happens, we'll make that decision and make sure that guy gets enough reps to be ready to play. I would like to have a quarterback hopefully named by (the preseason opener), but I 'm not going to force it. What's important is to feel good about the guy that we stick out there."

      Kizer is expected to get more and more work as training camp progresses because the Browns know less about him than any of their other quarterbacks.

      ROOKIE TO WATCH

      --DE Myles Garrett, taken first overall, might have difficulty living up to the hype, but he certainly looked the part on the first day of training camp. He showed quick penetration. He spent time with the second unit, but it is only a matter of time before he is with the first team and going one-one-one with left tackle Joe Thomas. He said he is eager to get pointers from Thomas and inside linebacker Chris Kirksey.

      --Left guard Joel Bitonio is coming off Lisfranc surgery after being injured in the fifth game of 2016. He wasn't expected to practice until maybe mid-August, but he was able to work on the first day of practice.

      "He's ready to go," head coach Hue Jackson said. "Joel's done a great job on his rehab. Credit to our medical staff."

      Jackson said the coaches will monitor the work of Bitonio and other players coming off injuries.

      --One of those players is rookie defensive end Myles Garrett. Garrett suffered a sprained foot on the second day of minicamp in June and spent about a week in a walking boot. He looked quick on Thursday on the first day of training camp, particularly after an intense pass-rush drill in the middle of practice.

      "Obviously he's a good player, but as I told Myles, you've got to do it every day and keep working at it and keep his head down and stay humble," Jackson said. "I think the young man will do that."

      --Left tackle Joe Thomas, now in his 11th season, did not practice on the first day of training camp. Thomas will probably rest more than he practices this summer.

      "He's fine," Jackson said. "I'm going to monitor Joe. I'm going to keep that hourglass on that guy until we need to. Joe's proven to me everything he needs to and I know this young man knows how to get ready to play, and I kind of give him the green light that way because one thing we all know about Joe is he's going to be out there when the time comes and he'll be ready to play and play well."

      Thomas has never missed a snap in his career.

  • Saints' Brees not worried about contract
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees started his 17th NFL training camp and 12th as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.

    • Among his many NFL records are five 5,000-yard passing seasons and 11 consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, and he was MVP of New Orleans' Super Bowl victory after the 2009 season.

      But it's unclear how much more Brees will be able to add to his legacy with the Saints. The team has finished 7-9 in each of the past three seasons and Brees' contract expires after this season.

      Still, Brees seemed to be approaching this camp with as much youthful enthusiasm as he did for any of its predecessors.

      "I love camp," Brees said after practice.

      "I love getting back with the guys, my teammates, getting back in the locker room. I love chopping away every day. I love the process -- coming up with a plan and executing the plan. Each and every offseason I am looking at ways, not only about how I can get better, but also about how I can take care of my body, how can I get a little stronger in this area, recover a little faster in this area."

      Brees, 38, is the oldest player on the roster. He had the second-highest score on the team's conditioning test on the eve of training camp

      "I take pride in that," Brees said. "I think that's part of being a leader, that you've got to set the tone and establish the tempo. I want to make sure guys know I've been working as hard as I possibly can to put us in the best position to succeed."

      Brees admitted to being sore, practicing less than 24 hours after the conditioning test.

      "Yes, there are a lot of things that I do to take care of my body," Brees said. "But my approach to the game is I tell myself I'm young, I act like I'm young, I approach the game like I can do anything I want to do. I mean, I'm smart about it, but that's how I keep my edge."

      Brees said he wasn't looking past the first day of training camp, which occurred 46 days before the Sept. 11 season opener at Minnesota. He added that contract talks with the Saints are not currently happening.

      "I don't expect them to, I don't really desire them to," he said. "I just want to play football; I want to help this team win. For me, it's all about this season and how good can we be this season. That's really all I'm focused on now.

      "My sense of urgency is in making myself and my team better and putting ourselves in the best position to go out this year and have success. And I know that that stuff takes care of itself when it's supposed to, and that just shouldn't be the priority right now."

  • It's deja vu for Redskins QB Cousins
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has been here before.

    • One year after playing on the one-year franchise tag, Cousins will do so again in 2017. After that his future in Washington is uncertain. But Cousins insisted Thursday that will have no effect on how he does his job this upcoming season.

      "I think it was a good season last year. I don't think it played any factor into how I played or how we played," said Cousins, who broke his own franchise record for passing yards in 2016. "And the fact of the matter is so many of my teammates - critical teammates - to the success of this team are also on one-year deals. So we're kind of all in that boat together."

      That list includes wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, left guard Shawn Lauvao, center Spencer Long, running back Chris Thompson, safety DeAngelo Hall, tight end Niles Paul, outside linebacker Trent Murphy, inside linebackers Will Compton, Mason Foster and Zach Brown and cornerback Bashaud Breeland, among others.

      At least seven of those players are expected to start this season and the ones who don't will be key reserves. Murphy is serving a four-game suspension to start the season. Thompson was a critical part of the offense last season as the primary third-down back and Compton, Foster and Brown, a Pro Bowler last season with Buffalo, will all see significant playing time at inside linebacker, though which two start remains to be seen and will be decided during training camp.

      Cousins and his teammates began camp in Richmond with a Thursday walk-through and practice. The Redskins finished 8-7-1 last season and missed the playoffs thanks to a Week 17 loss at home to the New York Giants.

      Cousins will play 2017 on a $23.9 million contract. Washington can still use the transition tag ($28.7 million) on Cousins next year to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent - though other teams would be able to negotiate an offer sheet with him and agent Mike McCartney.

      The Redskins could also use the franchise tag one last time on Cousins, though at a prohibitive price ($34.4 million). And they will also have time after the season to push for a long-term deal before free agency hits in March. All of that is months down the road now, though. Cousins and the Redskins have a season to play first. The future will have to wait.

      "The lesson I learned is the same lesson I learned as a senior in high school when I played my high school senior year with zero scholarship offers, the same thing I learned my senior year of college when I played wondering if I'd go to the NFL," Cousins said. "If you win football games everything else takes care of itself and that's a beautiful thing."

      ROOKIE TO WATCH

      --DE Jonathan Allen. All eyes will be on Washington's first round draft pick in 2017. Allen wasn't expected to fall to No. 17, but questions about arthritis in his shoulders worried some teams. The Redskins hope they got a steal. Allen will get a chance in training camp to prove he's ready to start as a rookie. The Alabama product worked with the reserves in OTAs and minicamp.

  • NFL camp openings: 49ers rookie LB Foster cleared for action
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    By Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange

    • SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As the San Francisco 49ers reported to training camp Thursday (July 27) they were greeted by something different these days -- good news.

      Linebacker Reuben Foster, whom the team traded up to select No. 31 in the draft this year, was cleared for action for the first practice Friday. This comes after months of debate and concern over the condition of a rotator cuff injury from Alabama's national semifinal victory over Washington.

      Foster used the team's social media account to exclaim: "Guess what? It's training camp and the kid just got cleared yesterday and I'm so excited. We're going to have an exciting season, an exciting training camp and I can't wait."

      Foster was rated by most as a top-10 player, including NFLDraftScout.com, but when he remained unselected through the top 20, then 30, rumors circulated that he had problems, including the shoulder and growing curiosity about bizarre conduct at the Scouting Combine, from which he was sent home early.

      49ers doctors and trainers limited Foster to non-contact drills during the offseason program while eyeing training camp as a potential full go. As it turned out, that's exactly what happened as Foster officially got the green light on Wednesday.

      "I would say that we pride ourselves in doing all our due diligence not afterwards but before we make decisions," general manager John Lynch said. "And we had done exhaustive research on Reuben Foster in a lot of different areas, medically was one area. We feel great about our doctors, our medical program here. ... He's fully cleared and no limitations; we're excited about that."

      So now what? Foster must battle for a job.

      Foster starred in college as a middle linebacker. But with NaVorro Bowman locked into that position with the 49ers, the rookie, who is known to cover sideline-to-sideline, must beat out either Ahmad Brooks or Malcolm Smith on the outside to earn a starting spot.

      Likely, Foster will be pitted against Smith at the right outside spot. The 49ers signed Smith away from the Oakland Raiders in free agency.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: SAP Performance Facility, Santa Clara, Calif.

      HEAD COACH: Kyle Shanahan

      1st season as 49ers/NFL head coach

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: 4th NFC West (2-14-0)

      STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 308.1 (31st)

      RUSHING: 126.2 (4th)

      PASSING: 181.9 (32nd)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 406.4 (32nd)

      RUSHING: 165.9 (32nd)

      PASSING: 240.5 (14th)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Pacific

      Aug. 11, at Kansas City (Fri), 6:00

      Aug. 19, DENVER (Sat), 7:00

      Aug. 27, at Minnesota, 5:00

      Aug. 31, L.A. CHARGERS (Thu), 7:00

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Brian Hoyer. Backups -- Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens.

      The job has been handed to Hoyer, who will have to demonstrate he's more than just a journeyman to keep the club from looking elsewhere next offseason. Beathard, a rookie from Iowa, has a legitimate chance to beat out perennially disappointing veteran Barkley for the backup role.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Carlos Hyde, FB Kyle Juszczyk. Backups -- Tim Hightower, Joseph Williams, Kapri Bibbs, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, FB Tyler McCloskey.

      No team has less quality depth at this position, so the pressure is on Hyde to stay healthy. He should benefit from having a legitimate fullback for the first time in his career.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Vance McDonald. Backups -- Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, George Kittle, Logan Paulsen, Cole Hikutini.

      The 49ers went to camp with so much depth at this position last year, they dealt two guys for draft picks before the season started. It could happen again this year.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Bruce Ellington. Backups -- Jeremy Kerley, Trent Taylor, Aaron Burbridge, DeAndre Smelter, Aldrick Robinson, DeAndre Carter, Victor Bolden Jr., BJ Johnson, Kendrick Bourne.

      One of Kyle Shanahan's quests in the preseason will be figuring out if he can get his two top wideouts -- Garcon and Kerley -- on the field at the same time. You've got to believe he will. Goodwin gives Hoyer a deep threat the 49ers haven't had in recent years.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Joe Staley, LG Zane Beadles, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Josh Garnett, RT Trent Brown. Backups -- LT John Theus, LT Darrell Williams, LG Brandon Fusco, LG JP Flynn, LG Richard Levy, C Daniel Kilgore, C Tim Barnes, RG Erik Magnusson, RT Garry Gilliam, RT Norman Price, RT Andrew Lauderdale.

      The key battle up front will be between holdover Brown and newcomer Gilliam at right tackle. Also to be determined: Is Kilgore, a regular starter for the 49ers in recent years, good enough to unseat any of the three projected starters in the middle of the line? His versatility could prove invaluable even as a non-starter.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Solomon Thomas, NT Earl Mitchell, DT DeForest Buckner, DRE Arik Armstead. Backups -- DLE Elvis Dumervil, DLE Tank Carradine, DLE Ronald Blair, DLE Noble Nwachukwu, NT Quinton Dial, NT D.J. Jones, DT Chris Jones, DRE Aaron Lynch, DRE Pita Taumoepenu.

      New management did wonders to the depth of the unit with the additions of Thomas in the draft and Mitchell and Dumervil in free agency. It's going to be interesting to see if any/all of the club's last three top picks -- Solomon, Buckner and Armstead -- can live up to their pre-draft hype.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Ahmad Brooks, MLB NaVorro Bowman, ROLB Malcolm Smith. Backups -- LOLB Eli Harold, LOLB Ray-Ray Armstrong, LOLB Jimmie Gilbert, MLB Brock Coyle, MLB Donavin Newsom, ROLB Reuben Foster, ROLB Dekoda Watson.

      With Bowman secure in the middle, three inside linebackers -- Smith, Armstrong and Foster -- will attempt to transition to the outside. But the competition there is steep, too, with Brooks a proven commodity and Harold an impressive youngster.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Dontae Johnson, RCB Rashard Robinson, FS Jimmie Ward, SS Eric Reid. Backups -- LCB Keith Reaser, LCB K'Waun Williams, LCB Zach Franklin, LCB Will Davis, RCB Ahkello Witherspoon, RCB Adrian Colbert, RCB Prince Iworah, RCB Will Redmond, FS Don Jones, FS Vinnie Sunseri, FS Lorenzo Jerome, SS Jacquiski Tartt, SS Chanceller James.

      The competition should be fierce for all except Reid's starting spot, with recent starters Tramaine Brock and Antoine Bethea no longer around. Third-round pick Witherspoon has a chance to earn playing time right off the bat.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Robbie Gould, P Bradley Pinion, LS Kyle Nelson, KOR/PR Jeremy Kerley, K Nick Rose, KOR/PR Bruce Ellington.

      The 49ers might have floundered last season, but their special teams weren't to blame. Pinion was a solid punter, and Phil Dawson was one of the most consistent placekickers in the league. Gould has some big shoes to fill.

  • Bortles at crossroads as Jaguars' camp opens
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The 2017 season likely will determine the direction of Blake Bortles' NFL career.

    • The Jaguars picked up the fifth year on Bortles' original contract several months ago. It calls for the quarterback to make just over $19 million in 2018. But the money is only guaranteed for injury, meaning that if Bortles doesn't produce this year, the Jaguars could release him in the offseason and not owe him anything.

      The former Central Florida standout -- the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft -- said after the first day of training camp that he has a clear mind in knowing what is at stake.

      "I think it's just about going out there, playing football and making plays, making more plays than they make, score more points than they score," he said.

      "I think last year we thought probably a little too much about, 'What are the possibilities, can we do this, can we do that.' Obviously, that didn't work out; it didn't go well. So I think to be able to free the mind and just go play football and enjoy it and have fun and make as many big plays as we possibly can is the goal."

      Bortles' 2016 season was a letdown after he posted franchise records of 4,428 passing yards and 35 touchdowns passes a season earlier. His threw for 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.

      His 34 interceptions in the past two seasons rank among the worst figures in the league. Since entering the NFL, Bortles is 15th in touchdown passes (69) but is second in most interceptions thrown (52).

      Bortles must also improve his completion percentage. It has been consistent -- 58.9, 58.6 and 58.9 -- in his three NFL seasons, but his average percentage of 58.8 is second-worst among the 25 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 1,000 passes since 2014. Only Carolina's Cam Newton at 56.9 is worse.

      Bortles is hopeful that a strong offseason workout regimen that included a stint in California with some of his personal coaches, will lead to a strong start this season. He looked slimmer and refreshed on Thursday.

      "I thought there was a lot of good stuff actually, and I thought there was some stuff we have to clean up and work on, which I think is expected for any first day," he said. "You're not going to go out there flawless on the first day of camp. But I thought the guys' effort was good, I thought the energy was good. It was good to see guys flying around."

      An improved running game would be an asset. A year ago, no Jaguars running back gained 500 yards on the ground. That should change this season.

      The Jaguars drafted LSU's Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick. With the return of a healthy Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, the Jaguars will be able to alternate three quality backs. A stronger running game will likely mean that Bortles won't be throwing an average of 37 passes per game like he has done throughout his first three seasons.

      "If we're doing that, that means Leonard and Chris and T.J. and Corey (Grant) and those guys are running for 150, 200 yards," Bortles said. "So that makes my job way easier and I'm fine with that. I'll throw it five times or I'll throw it 50 times, whatever can help us win and whatever is the most efficient way for us to put up points."

      Bortles said he likes what he's seen in Fournette.

      "Awesome," Bortles said in describing Fournette's style of running and receiving.

      "I didn't know a lot. I knew they gave him the ball a bunch. I knew he was a downhill runner, but he's been really good out of the backfield. He's been good with routes; he's good doing one-on-one stuff with linebackers, getting away, creating separation and he's got really good hands."

      Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said Bortles made a good impression on the first day.

      "I think he's done a good job this offseason maintaining the footwork, the mechanics and the progression of what he's been doing," Marrone said.

      "Now the challenge is going out there and doing it consistently on a daily basis. And like we said the other day, we're looking to make sure we continue to cut down on any mistakes and continue to make big plays."

  • NFL camp openings: Bucs' Evans offers Reality Check TV
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    TAMPA -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reported to training camp here Thursday (July 27), they were stars under the constant scrutiny of HBO's Hard Knocks production.

    • The idea is to capture reality TV while the team molds itself for the 2017 season. The first chapter might be named Confidence vs. Reality Check.

      After finishing 9-7 last season and adding more talent since then, the Bucs are the focus of many who believe the team is destined for big things this year. But when confronted with all the enthusiasm and optimism, veteran wide receiver Mike Evans issued a reality check for reality TV.

      "This is the most talented team we've had since I've been here," he said Thursday. "But, we haven't won anything. We haven't been to the playoffs in the three years I've been here. I'm going on Year 4."

      Fueling the optimism was a great draft that snagged tight end O.J. Howard and safety Justin Evans, a solid offseason with the addition of free agents DeSean Jackson (wide receiver) and defensive tackle Chris Baker.

      But the biggest reason why the Bucs are one of those teams many pundits are predicting a return to the postseason is because of quarterback Jameis Winston.

      The third-year star from Florida State has enjoyed back to back, 4,000-yard seasons and the Bucs have spent the offseason surrounding him with more weapons. But the last two seasons, he forced the football too much to Evans. The result has been a total of 42 turnovers - 33 interceptions and nine lost fumbles.

      "I see why there's a lot of excitement," said Evans. "It's been 10 years (since the Bucs reached the playoffs). Hopefully we can break that. We've got a lot to prove. We're good on paper, but we've got to do it."

      With everybody noting the uptick in talent at the skill positions, one of the key camp battles may be overlooked -- Roberto Aguayo vs. Nick Folk at kicker.

      Aguayo did not handle the pressure that came with being a second-round pick. He converted on a league-worst 71 percent of his field-goal attempts as a rookie. In fact, his longest successful field goal was only 43 yards. Against this backdrop, with expectations mounting, the Bucs seem ready to cut their losses. They signed Jets free agent Nick Folk in the offseason and guaranteed him $850,000, which says they're serious. The best man will win the job. It was pretty even in the offseason and minicamp.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: One Buccaneer Place; Tampa, Fla.

      HEAD COACH: Dirk Koetter

      2nd season as Buccaneers/NFL head coach

      9-7 overall

      THE BREAKDOWN

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

      STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 346.4 (18th)

      RUSHING: 101.0 (24th)

      PASSING: 245.4 (16th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 367.9 (23rd)

      RUSHING: 117.2 (22nd)

      PASSING: 250.8 (22nd)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Eastern

      Aug. 11, at Cincinnati (Fri), 7:30

      Aug. 17, at Jacksonville (Thu), 8:00

      Aug. 26, CLEVELAND (Sat), 7:30

      Aug. 31, WASHINGTON (Thu), 7:30

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Jameis Winston. Backups - Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin, Sefo Liufao.

      Winston became the only player in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and also set a club record with 28 touchdown passes. But he led the NFC in interceptions with 18 and lost six fumbles. The Bucs signed Jets free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick to provide experience for Winston. Griffin still could win the No. 2 job, but he has not thrown a regular-season pass.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Doug Martin. Backups - Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber, Jeremy McNichols, Russell Hansbrough, Blake Sims, FB Austin Johnson, FB Quayvon Hicks.

      Martin was inactive in Week 16 and suspended four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs, voided his $7 million guarantees for 2017. He completed rehab, but will miss the first three games of the season serving the remainder of his suspension. Rodgers will carry the load early with Sims and McNichols serving as third-down backs.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard. Backups - Luke Stocker, Alan Cross, Anthony Auclair, Tevin Westbrook.

      Brate splashed onto the scene by tying a club record with eight touchdown receptions by a tight end, tying Jimmie Giles. The Bucs never expected to have Howard fall to them at No. 19 and he will be a force in the run and passing game. Stocker still is the Bucs' best edge blocker at that position. Cross was used mostly on special teams but caught a touchdown pass vs. Kansas City.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson. Backups - Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Freddie Martino, Donteea Dye, Josh Huff, Thomas Sperbeck, Derel Walker, Bobo Wilson, Bernard Reedy.

      Evans has more receiving yards in his first three NFL seasons than Jerry Rice. He tied his club mark with 12 touchdown receptions. He will be helped by the addition of Jackson, who at 30, still is one of the NFL's fastest receivers. Humphries had a breakout year as a slot receiver. The Bucs are thrilled with the progress of Godwin, the third-round pick from Penn State who should see 20-30 snaps on offense per game.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Donovan Smith, LG Kevin Pamphile, C Ali Marpet, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Demar Dotson. Backups - C Joe Hawley, G/C Evan Smith, G Caleb Benenoch, T Leonard Wester, T Cole Gardner, Korren Kirven, Gs Michael Liedtke, Jarvis Harrison, C Josh Allen, S James Stone.

      Smith and Marpet played every offensive snap this season. Marpet will move to center to give the Bucs a more physical presence. The Bucs don't perceive the offensive line as a major weakness.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - RDE Robert Ayers, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Chris Baker, LDE Will Gholston. Backups - DE Noah Spence, DT Akeem Spence, DT Clinton McDonald, DT Sealver Siliga, DE DaVonte Lambert, DE Jacquies Smith, DE Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, DE Sterling Bailey, DE George Johnson, DE Evan Panfil, DE Tavaris Banes, DE Channing Ward.

      The Bucs were pleased with the addition of Ayers, who brought some attitude to the pass rush along with 5.5 sacks, and Spence, who emerged as an every-down player. Tampa Bay sought to get bigger at the tackle position with the addition of Baker and Tu'ikolovatu.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - WSLB Lavonte David, MLB Kwon Alexander, SSLB Devonte Bond. Backups -- Kendell Beckwith, Richie Brown, Riley Bullough, Jeff Knox Jr., OLB Adarius Glanton, OLB Cameron Lynch.

      David and Alexander played nearly every snap with the latter among the NFL leaders in tackles. David saw his tackles drop from triple digits to 67, but he had five sacks and a pick-six last season. Beckwith should be healed from a torn ACL in time for training camp and will compete with Bond.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Vernon Hargreaves, LCB Brent Grimes, SS Chris Conte, FS Keith Tandy. Backups - S J.J. Wilcox, S Justin Evans, CB Josh Robinson, CB Ryan Smith, CB Jude Adjei-Barimah, CB Javen Elliott, CB Maurice Fleming, CB Jonathan Moxey, CB Robert McClain, CB Cody Riggs, S Alex Gray, S Isaiah Johnson.

      Hargreaves evolved into an impact player while Grimes was a ball hawk with four interceptions and a pick-six. Tandy took over Conte's spot and had four interceptions in five starts last season. Evans will get a chance to earn a starting spot in training camp, as will Wilcox, who was signed as a free agent from Dallas.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Roberto Aguayo, K Nick Folk, P Bryan Anger, LS Garrison Sanborn, PR Adam Humphries, KOR Josh Huff.

      Aguayo had a terrible year with a long field goal of 43 yards. He was 22 of 31 on field-goal attempts (71 percent) and 32 of 34 on extra points. Anger had 32 punts inside the 20 and signed a five-year extension. Aguayo faces competition in training camp from Folk, who was guaranteed $875,000 as a free agent.

  • NFL camp openings: Bengals bad boys fight for jobs
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    CINCINNATI -- Even as the Cincinnati Bengals gathered their full roster for training camp here Thursday (July 27), offseason troubles loomed despite efforts to move past them.

    • Talented, but oft-troubled cornerback Adam Jones, is suspended for the first week of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy when he reportedly spat in the face of a jailhouse nurse in January and his penalty was limited to two days served.

      For Jones, 33, this was his seventh arrest and third off-field incident since joining the Bengals. And, regardless of his dynamic achievements on the field in the past, his timing may be bad. Second-year corner William Jackson III sat out last season with an injury, but is ready and eager to get a chance to start. Jones is giving him that chance.

      At the other corner, Dre Kirkpatrick recovered from a hand fracture during the offseason and is expected to be 100 percent.

      Meanwhile, former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon was rated with first-round talent, but fell to the Bengals in the second round because he was unable to outrun a domestic abuse incident in college. Regardless, Mixon shed 10 pounds since the Indianapolis Scouting Combine (which he prohibited from attending) and appears ready to challenge for a starting job immediately.

      Incumbent running back Jeremy Hill had two subpar seasons, but insists he's motivated to return to his 2014 form when he rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a rookie.

      Lack of a consistent running game was partly responsible for quarterback Andy Dalton being sacked 41 times last season, And, with a revamped offensive line needing help, too, finding someone to step up in the backfield is a priority for Cincinnati during training camp.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Paul Brown Stadium; Cincinnati, OH

      COACH: Marvin Lewis

      15th season as Bengals/NFL head coach

      118-110-3 overall; 0-7 postseason

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: 3rd AFC North (6-9-1)

      STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 356.9 (13th)

      RUSHING: 110.6 (13th)

      PASSING: 246.4 (15th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 350.8 (17th)

      RUSHING: 113.3 (21st)

      PASSING: 237.5 (11th)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Eastern

      Aug. 11, TAMPA BAY (Fri), 7:30

      Aug. 19, KANSAS CITY (Sat), 7:00

      Aug. 27, at Washington, 4:30

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

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Andy Dalton. Backups - AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel.

      Dalton had his best season despite a suspect line, inconsistent running game, and injuries to key veteran players. He passed for 4,206 yards and 18 TDs with just eight interceptions despite being sacked 41 times. Dalton also completed 64.7 percent of his passes to reach the 4,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. McCarron was the focus of trade rumors during the offseason but for now remains a Bengal.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Jeremy Hill. Backups - Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Tra Carson, Stanley Williams.

      Mixon was a controversial draft choice, but he has a legitimate shot to assume the starting role. Hill is coming off a couple subpar seasons and Bernard missed the final six games with an ACL tear. The Bengals need more production from the running game to take pressure off Dalton and a revamped offensive line.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Tyler Eifert. Backups - C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, Mason Schreck.

      Eifert underwent back surgery during the offseason and worked on the side during the spring. But, he's expected to be ready for training camp. Kroft was impressive during spring workouts and is expected to compete for the backup role that mostly belonged to Uzomah last season. An ankle injury suffered in the Pro Bowl resulted in surgery and caused Eifert to miss the first four weeks. The back injury then delayed his return until the seventh game. Eifert had 29 catches for 394 yards and five touchdowns before the back issues resurfaced.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd. Backups - John Ross, Cody Core, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, Chris Brown.

      This group is deep and versatile with the addition of speedy rookie Ross and the tall, physical Malone. Green missed the final six games with a hamstring injury and fell 36 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season, something only Randy Moss has done. But, the five-time Pro Bowler proved himself to be healthy during the spring. LaFell says he's more comfortable going into his second season with the team.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Cedric Ogbuehi, RT Jake Fisher, C Russell Bodine, RG Andre Smith, LG Clint Boling. Backups - LT Landon Lechler, LG Trey Hopkins, C T.J, Johnson, RG Christian Westerman, LG Dustin Stanton, LG Cameron Lee, RG Alex Redmond, LG Kent Perkins.

      This group is among the biggest questions heading into the 2017 season, especially after veteran left tackle Andre Whitworth left as a free agent after 12 seasons and leaving a significant leadership void in the locker room. Another veteran, guard Kevin Zeitler, also is gone. Smith was brought back to play guard. Ogbuehi struggled most of last season, even briefly moving to left tackle where he said he was more comfortable. But, the results were the same. His weaknesses in pass protection were partly responsible for Dalton being sacked 41 times last season.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins, RDE Michael Johnson, LDT Pat Sims. Backups - DT Andrew Billings, DT DeShawn Williams, DE Jordan Willis, DT Marcus Hardison, DE Will Clarke, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Ryan Glasgow, DT David Dean, DE Chris Smith.

      Domata Peko left in free agency. Billings missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but appears to be full go for training camp. Dunlap had eight sacks and Atkins had nine, but the Bengals' pass rush wasn't as ferocious as in recent years. Willis was drafted in the third round out of Kansas State and is widely considered a steal for the Bengals.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - MLB Vincent Rey, SLB Marquis Flowers, WLB Vontaze Burfict. Backups - MLB Kevin Minter, SLB Carl Lawson, SLB P.J. Dawson, WLB Nick Vigil, SLB Bryson Albright, SLB Jordan Evans.

      Veterans Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby left via free agency. Minter was signed to provide some experience and could assume Maualuga's role in the middle. Vigil had a solid offseason. Burfict finished second on the team in tackles despite missing the first three games of the season due to suspension. He was in better shape this summer and the Bengals look for big things if he can avoid the extracurriculars.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Dre Kirkpatrick, RCB Adam Jones, SS Shawn Williams, FS George Iloka. Backups - RCB Josh Shaw, RCB KeiVarae Russell, RCB Darqueze Dennard, SS Clayton Fejedelem, FS Derron Smith, CB William Jackson, RCB Brandon Wilson, LCB Tony McRae, LCB Bene Benwikere.

      Kirkpatrick drew praise from the coaching staff for his improvement this season, but Jackson, the team's top draft choice a year ago, is expected to recover after being injured late in training camp and will push for a starting role next year. Jones is among the team captains and emotional leaders, but his arrest just days after the conclusion of the regular season puts his future in doubt. Jones faced multiple charges for his conduct at a local hotel.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber, PR Adam Jones, KOR Alex Erickson, LS Clark Harris, K Jake Elliott, K Jon Brown.

      The journeyman Bullock was signed when veteran Mike Nugent was released after missing six extra points. Head coach Marvin Lewis was pleased with Bullock's production, but said there will be competition at kicker in training camp. Elliott was drafted out of the University of Memphis and was impressive during OTAs. Erickson led the NFL with 810 kickoff return yards including one 84-yarder.

  • NFL camp openings: Steelers open without RB Bell
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    LATROBE, Pa. -- As the Pittsburgh Steelers reported to training camp here at Saint Vincent College Thursday (July 27), the focus was on running back Le'Veon Bell, who did not report with the rest of the team. Bell is not under contract until he signs his franchise tender worth $12.12 million.

    • Until he does, Bell is in danger of losing leverage and money if he were to be hurt in camp.

      Wide receiver Antonio Brown increased team and fan angst that Bell is considering a holdout by making public pleas, on radio and Twitter, for the prolific runner to join camp.

      "I was talking to him last night for about two hours," Brown said earlier this week. "And, you know, we need him. I need him. We need every guy a part of the organization, in the helmet, to be there committed to the cause. He's a special piece. Obviously, we know what he brings to the team, his dimension, playing football. But he's a special individual, and I pray that we have him there."

      Head coach Mike Tomlin said of Bell's absence, "There is no question we are a group that values the team-building process. And doing it in this setting, so yes, there is value, and yes, there are consequences for not being here. That's the reality of it."

      Bell is a dynamic part of the Steelers' offense. He averaged 146.5 yards per game over the final six regular-season and the first two playoff games. For the season, Bell had 1,268 rushing yards and caught 75 passes for 616 yards. Bell also missed time with injuries and suspension.

      DeAngelo Williams was Bell's backup the last two years, but he was not re-signed. James Conner was drafted in the third round and figures to have that role at some point, but he missed almost all of OTAs and minicamp with a hamstring injury.

      Knile Davis is a four-year veteran who has not played much the past two seasons, but looked good in the spring.

      There was some good news on the arrival front when starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva reported after agreeing to terms on a four-year contract. Villanueva had been an unsigned exclusive-rights free agent.

      Meanwhile, wide receiver Sammie Coates will open training camp on the PUP list. Coates said he will be out at least two weeks while he recovers from minor knee surgery. Coates said he injured the knee while training this summer. It's his second offseason knee surgery, and he also had surgery to repair a sports hernia after the season.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Saint Vincent College; Latrobe, Pa.

      COACH: Mike Tomlin

      11th season as Steelers/NFL head coach

      111-63 overall; 8-6 postseason

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: 1st AFC North (11-5)

      STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 372.60 (7th)

      RUSHING: 110.0 (14th)

      PASSING: 262.6 (T5th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 342.6 (12th)

      RUSHING: 100.0 (13th)

      PASSING: 242.6 (16th)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Eastern

      Aug. 11, at N.Y. Giants (Fri), 7:00

      Aug. 20, ATLANTA, 4:00

      Aug. 26, INDIANAPOLIS (Sat), 7:30

      Aug. 31, at Carolina (Thu), 7:30

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Ben Roethlisberger. Backups -- Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs, Bart Houston.

      Roethlisberger turned 35 in March but remains among the top quarterbacks in the league. Roethlisberger finished 11th in the NFL in quarterback rating, but he threw 29 touchdowns (sixth-most in the league). He figures to be much better this season with Martavis Bryant back in the fold. Jones has been an adequate fill-in when Roethlisberger has been injured the past two seasons, and the Steelers rewarded him with a two-year contract to remain the backup. Dobbs was drafted in the fourth round and will learn behind the two veterans as a rookie.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Le'Veon Bell. Backups -- Knile Davis, James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Terrell Watson, Tre Williams.

      Bell is a weapon for the Steelers as a runner or receiver. He averaged an unreal 146.5 yards per game over the final six regular-season and the first two playoff games. For the season, Bell had 1,268 rushing yards. But he's almost as effective as a receiver out of the backfield, contributing 75 receptions for 616 yards. The Steelers are high on Conner and they believe Davis has a chance to rejuvenate his career after he fell out of favor in Kansas City. Toussaint has been on the roster for most of the past two seasons, but he might have a hard time making the 53-man roster if the trio ahead of him on the depth chart remains healthy.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jesse James. Backups -- Xavier Grimble, David Johnson, Phazahn Odom, Scott Orndoff.

      James stepped in last season and performed well after Ladarius Green was injured. With the Steelers releasing Green in the spring with a failed physical designation, James will assume the starter's role again. He started 13 times last season and caught 39 passes for 338 yards. He also has improved as a blocker. Grimble had 11 receptions for 118 yards in his first NFL season. He is more of a receiving tight end than an in-line blocker. Johnson returns on another one-year deal and will serve as the H-back.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers. Backups -- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers, Justin Hamilton, Cobi Hamilton.

      If Brown and Bryant are healthy all season, the Steelers should have one of the top receiving corps in the league. Brown has strung together four consecutive 100-catch seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. Bryant returns after a one-year drug suspension, but he was in great shape this spring and the year off didn't appear to hamper him. Bryant had 76 receptions for 1,314 yards in his first two NFL seasons. Rogers proved to be effective in the slot last season, but Smith-Schuster could challenge him for some playing time as a big-bodied possession receiver. There also is a strong possibility offensive coordinator Todd Haley goes to more four-receiver sets to take advantage of the talent at his disposal.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups -- T Jerald Hawkins, C/G B.J. Finney, C/G Chris Hubbard, T Matt Feiler, C Mike Matthews, T Jake Rodgers, T Brian Mihalik, T Keavon Milton, C Kyle Friend, G Ethan Cooper.

      This is one of the best offensive lines in the league, led by Pouncey and DeCastro. Foster is coming off his best season, and Gilbert is one of the most underrated right tackles in the league. The Steelers have some strong backups, too. Finney has capably filled as a reserve center or guard, and Hubbard has done the same at tackle and guard. The Steelers even use him as an extra tight end every once in a while.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Cameron Heyward, NT Javon Hargrave, RE Stephon Tuitt. Backups -- DE Tyson Alualu, DE L.T. Walton, DE Nelson Adams, DE Christian Brown, DE Lavon Hooks, DE Francis Kallon, DE Johnny Maxey, NT Daniel McCullers, NT Roy Philon.

      The Steelers have a strong starting trio, but this is not the deepest position group on the roster. Heyward and Tuitt are a couple of impactful defensive ends, and Hargrave played well as a rookie last season. Alualu was brought in to shore up the depth behind the starters. The former first-round pick of the Jaguars is looking to rejuvenate his career with the Steelers. Walton grew into an effective reserve last season. This is a big year for McCullers. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and could get pushed for a roster spot by a younger player.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB James Harrison, ILB Ryan Shazier, ILB Vince Williams, LOLB Bud Dupree. Backups -- OLB T.J. Watt, OLB Anthony Chickillo, OLB Arthur Moats, OLB Keion Adams, OLB Farrington Huguenin, ILB Tyler Matakevich, ILB L.J. Fort, ILB Matt Galambos.

      The Steelers used their first-round pick on Watt because they want a better pass rush from the outside. Watt demonstrated a good grasp of the playbook in the spring and could challenge Harrison for the starting job. Either way, both figure to play in a rotation, at least in the beginning of the year. Dupree is the starter on the other side, and the Steelers need a big year from him. He missed half of last season with a sports hernia. If the former first-round pick can stay healthy all season he has the best chance among the outside linebackers to crack double digits in sacks. On the inside, Shazier made the Pro Bowl last season and is one of the top inside backers in the game when healthy. Williams takes over for Timmons at the other inside spot. He might not be an every-down player like Timmons was for the Steelers, but the coaches like his ability as a run-stopper. The Steelers have decent depth on the outside with veterans Moats and Chickillo, but their inside depth is questionable. This is one spot where a veteran could be added after other teams cut their rosters to 53 players in September.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Artie Burns, RCB Ross Cockrell, FS Mike Mitchell, SS Sean Davis. Backups -- CB Will Gay, CB Coty Sensabaugh, CB Senquez Golson, CB Brian Allen, CB Brandon Dixon, CB Greg Ducre, CB Mike Hilton, S Robert Golden, S Jordan Dangerfield, S Jacob Hagen, S Damion Stafford, S Terrish Webb.

      This is the area in which the Steelers have to improve the most. The secondary performed better, but Tom Brady proved there are miles to go. The Steelers drafted Sutton to compete for a starting job, whether that's at slot corner or the outside corner where Ross Cockrell is currently. The Steelers showed their hand this spring when they offered Cockrell the lowest tender possible as a restricted free agent. Burns is their top corner and played fairly well for a rookie. He needs to take another step in his development, as does second-year safety Sean Davis, who also played better in the second half of last season. The most veteran player in the secondary is Mike Mitchell, who is entering the fourth season of a five-year contract. He is the leader of a young group that has to develop on the fly.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Chris Boswell, P Jordan Berry, LS Colin Holba, KOR Knile Davis, PR Antonio Brown.

      Boswell has been one of the league's most accurate kickers since entering the league in 2015, and he's been especially clutch in the playoffs, going 15 for 15. Davis was signed to jump-start a struggling kick return game. He was effective in that role when he was with the Chiefs. Holba takes over for Greg Warren, who had been the team's long snapper since 2005.

  • NFL camp openings: Chiefs players to meet new team executives
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- When the entire Kansas City Chiefs team gathered for the first time Thursday (July 27), the first task was to settle down and get comfortable.

    • First the players will meet new general Brett Veach. The 39-year-old former co-director of player personnel takes the reins from John Dorsey, who was fired June 22 less than an hour after the team announced a new contract extension for head coach Andy Reid.

      The team also announced other changes to the personnel department. At the top of the list was naming Mike Borgonzi as the director of player personnel, which the team described as a promotion, although it appears to be a modification as much as anything. Borgonzi and Veach were co-directors of player personnel before Veach was promoted to general manager, so he should be up to speed on things related to his new title.

      The Chiefs also hired Michael Davis as a personnel executive and David Hinson as an area scout. Davis previously worked for the Eagles and Jets while Hinson worked for both those teams as well as the Browns, Saints and Bills.

      Players and coaches will also seek a comfort level with linebacker Tamba Hali, who used social media to rant about wanting more playing time, which was minimal in the playoffs last season. Many thought he was going to hold out of training camp. Then on Tuesday he went on Facebook Live and said he will show up on time.

      "I'm all in," Hali said. "All the guys at the Chiefs understand that I'm one of those guys who loves to compete, and I will continue to compete at a high level. ... I don't feel like I'm done. I just want to know where we're going."

      So, while that may be settled, the right cornerback job opposite All-Pro Marcus Peters is not.

      Last season, veteran corner Phillip Gaines struggled in his recovery from a torn ACL sustained in September 2015, and the Chiefs tested a variety of young defensive backs before journeyman Terrance Mitchell stabilized the position late in the season.

      Both Gaines and Mitchell return in a battle for the starting role. Nickel back Steven Nelson joins the pair for the team's most competitive battle for a starting spot.

      The Chiefs leaned on Nelson mostly in the slot last season and showed a willingness in offseason workouts to use the third-year pass defender as the right corner in their traditional 3-4 look. Nelson then moves back to the slot when Mitchell or Gaines enters at right corner.

      Mitchell enters camp with a slight edge over Gaines. The 26-year-old Gaines served as an observer at the end of offseason practices, hampered again by his balky knee.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Missouri Western State University; St. Joseph, Mo.

      COACH: Andy Reid

      5th season with Chiefs

      44-24 overall; 1-3 postseason

      19th season as NFL head coach

      184-126-1 overall; 11-12 postseason

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: T-1st AFC West (12-4)

      STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 343.0 (20th)

      RUSHING: 109.3 (15th)

      PASSING: 233.8 (19th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 368.5 (24th)

      RUSHING: 121.1 (26th)

      PASSING: 247.4 (18th)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Central

      Aug. 11, SAN FRANCISCO (Fri.), 8:00

      Aug. 19, at Cincinnati (Sat.), 6:00

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

      Aug. 31, TENNESSEE (Thu.), 7:30

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Alex Smith. Backups - Tyler Bray, Patrick Mahomes, Joel Stave.

      Make no mistake, the 2017 Chiefs belong to Smith. The future belongs to first-round draft pick Mahomes, however. The team needs Smith and backup Bray ready for the season's Thursday night opener at New England, but prepping Mahomes to take the reins sooner the later remains the next priority. It remains difficult to paint a scenario where Mahomes gets significant playing time this season barring injury or a total team collapse. A year ago the Chiefs stood ready to enter the season with Bray as the backup but picked up free agent Nick Foles during training camp. It seems unlikely the Chiefs do the same this year with Mahomes on board and needing practice reps.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Spencer Ware, FB Anthony Sherman. Backups - Charcandrick West, Kareem Hunt, C.J. Spiller, Devine Redding.

      One of the underrated positions battle for the Chiefs is at running back. Ware enters camp as the incumbent starter, but third-round draft pick Hunt impressed during offseason practices and expects to get playing time, perhaps as a third-down back who can run as well as catch out of the backfield. West provides an experienced hand at backup, but Spiller stands out as the wild card. The 29-year-old veteran has not had a full healthy season since 2013. If Spiller can regain his old form, he could provide a powerful punch in the team's run game, which ranked 15th in the league a year ago.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Travis Kelce. Backups - Demetrius Harris, Gavin Escobar, Ross Travis, Orson Charles, Emanuel Byrd.

      Kelce posted his breakout season in 2016, catching 85 passes for 1,125 yards. The Chiefs need more of the same from the 27-year-old All-Pro, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. The team added free agent Escobar from Dallas as insurance and backup. Escobar along with the athletic 6-foot-7 Harris could provide a dangerous trio for head coach Andy Reid, who loves three-tight end sets. Travis hold an edge over Charles and Byrd for the fourth slot entering camp.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson. Backups - De'Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson, Seantavius Jones, Jehu Chesson, Alonzo Moore, Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp, Tevin Jones, Tony Stevens.

      The Chiefs need Conley and Hill to thrive in the absence of departed veteran Jeremy Maclin. The battle for backup roles could be intense with 2016 fourth-round pick Robinson and journeyman Jones impressing in offseason workouts. Fourth-round pick Chesson expects to make the roster, which means veterans Wilson and Thomas facing competition for the final roster spot.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Eric Fisher, LG Zach Fulton, C Mitch Morse, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitchell Schwartz. Backups - LG Parker Ehinger, T Jah Reid, T Bryan Witzmann, G Mike Person, G Jordan Devey, G Joseph Cheek, G Damien Mama, T Josh James, G Andrew Tiller, T Donald Hawkins, T Isaiah Battle.

      The biggest question mark for the Chiefs entering camp focuses on the right knee of Ehinger. The left guard sustained a torn ACL in week eight last season against Indianapolis and missed all of the team's offseason workouts. Fulton steps into the left guard role until Ehinger returns, which removes the team's most versatile lineman from the bench. Reid holds the lead for the swing tackle role, with veterans Witzmann, Person and Devey competing for any vacancy that arises. Among undrafted rookies in camp, the mountainous guard Mama stands out. Mama caught the eye of Andy Reid during offseason practices, and could be a sleeper to make the roster.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Allen Bailey, NT Bennie Logan, DRE Chris Jones. Backups - DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DE Jarvis Jenkins, DT Cam Thomas, DT Montori Hughes, DE David King, DE Ricky Ali'fua.

      Logan steps into the hole left by free agent Dontari Poe, and the team hopes Logan can shore up the team's leaky run defense. Bailey returns from a season-ending injury a year ago, but most of the defensive line's hopes rest on Jones. The second-year defensive end shined as a rookie, and a slimmer Jones hopes to prove more elusive in the pass rush and tracking down the rush. Second-round draft pick Kpassagnon expects to make an impact in a limited role as a rookie. Nunez-Roches showed signs of breaking through last season, improving his pass rush skills while remaining a strong run defender. Veterans Thomas and Hughes expect to compete as Logan's primary backup.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Justin Houston, WILB Derrick Johnson, SILB Ramik Wilson, ROLB Dee Ford. Backups - OLB Tamba Hali, ILB Justin March-Lillard, OLB Frank Zombo, ILB D.J. Alexander, ILB Ukeme Eligwe, ILB Josh Mauga, OLB Dadi Nicolas, OLB Marcus Rush, ILB Terrance Smith, OLB Earl Okine, OLB Reshard Cliett.

      A healthy linebacker corps may be all that stands between the Chiefs and an elite defensive unit in 2017. The position group suffered numerous setbacks last season, with Houston, Johnson and Ford all missing playing time. Injuries to March-Lillard and Mauga also limited the team's depth. Houston, Ford and Hali provide a ferocious pass rush when all three are healthy. Johnson looks ready to return from a ruptured Achilles tendon last December, and the team needs his veteran presence. Wilson and March-Lillard expect to compete for the starting role alongside Johnson, but the return of Mauga on a free-agent contract intrigues. Mauga appeared the leader at SILB at camp a year ago until hip injury ended his season. Alexander remains one of the league's best special teams players, and fifth-round pick Eligwe offers big upside for the future.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Marcus Peters, RCB Steven Nelson, FS Ron Parker, SS Eric Berry. Backups - SS Daniel Sorensen, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Phillip Gaines, S Eric Murray, DB Leon McQuay. CB Kenneth Acker, CB D.J. White, CB De'Vante Bausby, S Jordan Sterns, S Steven Terrell, CB Ashton Lampkin, CB J.R. Nelson, CB Keith Baxter, S Trevon Hartfield.

      Berry and Peters lead a ball-hawking Chiefs secondary that ranked tops in the league in taking away the football last season. Finding a reliable running mate for Peters at right corner is the only weakness in the defensive backfield. Steven Nelson showed a knack for playing the slot last season, and could see more time at right corner. Mitchell shined down the stretch as a late-season roster addition, and hopes to prove his strong finish was not a fluke. Sorensen provides hard-hitting punch off the bench and on special teams. Gaines, in the final year of his rookie contract, hopes to show he's fully recovered from a knee injury that hampered throughout last season.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cairo Santos, P Dustin Colquitt, LS James Winchester, KOR Tyreek Hill, PR Tyreek Hill.

      The Chiefs special teams unit led by coordinator Dave Toub ranks among the best in the league in all phases. Hill proved an impact player in the return game as a rookie, returning three kicks for touchdowns and leading the league with 13.3 yards per touch. The Chiefs will search for a reliable backup for Hill during training camp and preseason, hoping to limit Hill's special teams play as his offensive contributions rise. Santos connected on 89 percent of his field goal tries a year ago, and Colquitt gives the Chiefs ability to flip the field and pin opponents inside the 20-yard-line with regularity.

  • Titans ink LB Walden to 1-year deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    The Tennessee Titans reached agreement with free agent linebacker Erik Walden on a one-year deal, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.

    • Walden, who turns 32 in August, had a career-high 11 sacks and forced three fumbles last season while starting all 16 games for the the Indianapolis Colts.

      The 6-foot-2, 238-pound Walden is expected to give the Titans depth behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan.

      Walden was a sixth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, and he has played for the Kansas Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers as well as the Colts.

      He has started 86 of 129 career NFL games, recording 329 tackles, 31 sacks, 13 pass breakups, seven forced fumbles, two recoveries and two interceptions.

  • Falcons not planning to rush rookie McKinley
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons want to have an improved pass rush in 2017.

    • A big part of that plan is to get more push opposite Vic Beasley, who led the league in sacks with 15.5 last season.

      The Falcons drafted Takkarist McKinley in the first-round (26th overall) of the NFL Draft with the hopes that the former UCLA standout can help the pass rush.

      Even though McKinley had surgery on March 3 to repair his right shoulder socket, he was one of the first players on the practice field for the opening of training camp Thursday.

      He went off to the side, alone, swinging his left arm in a big looping motion before repeating the motion with his surgically repaired right shoulder and right arm.

      He nodded his head. He was ready to start his professional NFL career.

      "I'm going as hard as possible," McKinley said. "That's how I played with the shoulder for two years. Got to take it slow. Don't want any setbacks."

      During individual drills, McKinley was slamming both arms into the bags with great force. He looked fierce.

      "I do all the (individual drills)," McKinley said. "They're keeping me out of teams."

      Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said he liked what he saw of McKinley, who couldn't work out with the team over the offseason, per league academic rules, because UCLA is on the quarters system.

      "He really put the work in over the summer," Quinn said. "When you're a little bit behind and you don't get to get here and do some of the skill work ... you don't have some of the knowledge. Over the summer, you can tell he applied himself.

      "He put the work in from a rehab standpoint. He looks very strong. Just take it one step at a time."

      Defensive line coach Bryant Young used FaceTime on his phone in the offseason to talk to McKinley and instruct him about the nuances of the defense.

      "Met the doctor last week and met the coaches," McKinley said. "They told me we're going to take it slow, just slowly progressing. I went out there and did the best I can do.

      "Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll do it. It felt good. It's good to be back with the team, good to be back to football. My last game was in November."

      He's been working out at the team's facility.

      "Once UCLA was over, June 15th, actually I flew out June 15th, and I've been working hard Monday through Fridays in the weight room, outside doing drills, just doing everything I could do," McKinley said.

      His teammates were impressed with his first practice.

      "He looked good," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "I hope he can rush the passer because that will help me out."

      In addition to McKinley, the Falcons added LSU linebacker Duke Riley and San Diego State safety Damontae Kazee in the draft. With key free-agent signings -- including run-stopping defensive tackle Dontari Poe and defensive end Jack Crawford -- the Falcons are hoping the pass rush and the entire defense is much improved.

      "This is definitely the fastest team I've played for, the deepest team I've played for and the closest team," Trufant said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We're a tight group. ... We know we've got a lot of talent and we know we can go as far as we want."

  • Dolphins look sharp in first camp practice
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins were in midseason form mentally on Thursday, the first day of training camp. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was able to hit wide receiver DeVante Parker on a two-point conversion after fellow wide receiver Kenny Stills showed some awareness by briefly screening a defender. Parker shrewdly used the screen and Tannehill recognized what was going on, which, according to the Dolphins, is an indication things are different this year.

    • Tannehill said such wisdom shows players understand the play instead of simply knowing how to run the play.

      "Once you get to that step, that next step in development as an offense," Tannehill said, "that's when you see more plays being made because guys have an overall understanding of what we're trying to accomplish."

      The defense was sharp mentally, too. In fact, in a red zone-intense practice, the offense and defense came out fairly even on Thursday.

      Again, the players maintain advanced knowledge of the system was at the root of the cause for that, this time on the defensive side of the ball.

      "Instead of trying to teach guys the defense like we were last year, now we're trying to work on the details," safety Michael Thomas said. "And it's a process. You can't jump ahead at any point, but at the same time because we're not having a whole new coaching staff now we can try to start honing in on the details."

      About the only issue with the team is wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. Miami hasn't been in touch with Landry's representatives recently.

      Owner Steve Ross is appreciative of how Landry has handled himself.

      "I think that he's a great player," Ross said. "There's no question about it. I think he's handled himself well. He didn't hold out. It's not a question if we don't sign him now, we lose him. We can franchise him and go from there. So there is a lot of opportunity for him to stay here. I hope he stays here because he's a great player."

      However, Ross also knows the aforementioned franchise tag is his trump card. That's why Ross is hesitant to say they'll get something done with Landry before the season opener.

      "I don't know if before the season," Ross said, "but like I said, it's not really mandatory that we do it before the season."

      Despite Landry's contract situation, Pro-Bowl center Mike Pouncey being limited by a hip ailment, Pro-Bowl safety Reshad Jones being on the non-football injury list with some type of muscle ailment, and linebacker Koa Misi being placed on season-ending injured reserve due to the neck problem that limited him last year, Miami remains optimistic about training camp and the season.

      They're confident that bringing back 17 starters and probably the vast majority of the players from last year will equal similar success to a year ago, and maybe more.

      "Last year you walked into this and it was like, 'Where are we going with this? How does this work? When things don't quite go right, what's our answer?'" head coach Adam Gase said. "Now they're one step ahead. It was fun to go through that today because those guys look like we just had an OTA like three days ago. They look really comfortable and the speed of practice was good."

      ROOKIE TO WATCH

      --MLB Raekwon McMillan. The second-round pick from Ohio State seems to have the inside track on the starting job in the middle. And he didn't have a setback on Thursday, the opening day of training camp. McMillan was active (even though Miami wasn't in full pads) in the defense on both running downs and passing downs. The better test for McMillan will be when the team puts on the pads Saturday. Miami thinks that will turn out well considering McMillan has a reputation as an aggressive player.

  • NFL camp openings: Giants' Manning on a pitch count
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the New York Giants reported for training camp Thursday (July 27), the main topic was that 14-year veteran quarterback Eli Manning, who has not missed a start since taking over as the team’s quarterback, is on a pitch count this summer.

    • "You can call it a pitch count, you can frame it like that, you can frame it however you like," general manager Jerry Reese said Thursday, a day before the team's first practice. "That's a good way to frame it if you like."

      The 36-year-old Manning had an off season in 2016, totaling 4,027 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and 20 turnovers. Although he did have a hand injury, he denied that he was impacted by that or a sore arm.

      "I don't know if that was an issue or not, but that is something that we have talked about," Reese said. "We want to make sure that he is fresh in the games late in the year and hopefully going into the playoffs. We want him to be fresh and ready to go.”

      Other veterans are expected to be treated conservatively in camp, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall (30), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (30) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (31), each of whom had injury issues in recent years.

      Said Reese, "There are a few guys on the squad that coach (Ben) McAdoo and our staff, we've talked about, 'OK, let's make sure these guys get to the game, get to the season.' You've got to protect them in some ways. Each one of those guys you want to protect along with a few more guys, older guys you want to protect."

      But don't expect free safety prospects to take it easy. Darian Thompson was so impressive as a rookie last year that he locked up the job by the end of the spring, but then Andrew Adams played well enough when Thompson suffered a season-ending injury.

      "You can sit here right now and say, 'Yes,' but I can't sit here and take away from what Andrew Adams has done,’" Giants safeties coach David Merritt said last month when asked if Thompson had the advantage in the competition.

      "I think they're all competing for a starting job. To have two guys that can step in there and actually hold down the position, hopefully we will find that solid piece this year."

      Thompson, who had 19 career interceptions at Boise State, was a third-round draft pick. Adams, with one career pick at UConn, went undrafted.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Quest Diagnostics Training Center; East Rutherford, N.J.

      HEAD COACH: Ben McAdoo

      2nd season as Giants/NFL head coach

      11-6 overall; 0-1 postseason

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: 2nd NFC East (11-5)

      2016 STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 330.7 (25th)

      RUSHING: 88.3 (29th)

      PASSING: 242.4 (17th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 339.7 (10th)

      RUSHING: 88.6 (T3rd)

      PASSING: 251.1 (23rd)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Eastern

      Aug. 11, PITTSBURGH (Fri), 7:00

      Aug. 21, at Cleveland (Mon), 8:00

      Aug. 26, N.Y. JETS (Sat), 7:00

      Aug. 31, at New England (Thu), 7:30

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Eli Manning. Backups - Josh Johnson, Geno Smith, Davis Webb.

      The Giants plan to keep three quarterbacks on the roster this year. Manning has the starting job locked up while Webb, a rookie third-round draft pick, will be the third-stringer to start the season. That leaves the No. 2 spot open between Johnson and Smith. Although Johnson has been in the league longer, Smith, recovering from a torn ACL suffered last year, has thrown more passes and started to show signs of being an effective field general in the final six games of the 2014 season before the bottom dropped out on his New York Jets career. Still, Johnson is entering his second year in the Giants system, and he did take all the reps in the spring, which put him ahead of Smith at the start of training camp.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Paul Perkins. Backups - Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, Shaun Draughn, Wayne Gallman, Khalid Abdullah, FB Shane Smith, FB Jacob Huesman.

      The Giants are determined to get the running game, which has struggled to achieve relevancy since 2012, back on track. Perkins has already been named the starter, and Vereen will presumably continue in his role as the third-down back. The third spot belongs to Gallman, a rookie who at Clemson showed he could do something the Giants running backs could not with any consistency last year: power through tackles and gain yards after contact. That leaves the final spot (assuming they keep four running backs) up for grabs between Darkwa and Draughn, a decision that will likely come down to who plays better on special teams. Lastly, the Giants are carrying two fullbacks on the training camp roster, Smith and Huesman. For one of those two to stick, he'd probably have to show versatility, not just a run blocker but as a potential receiver out of the backfield if he's to dissuade the coaches from keeping four tight ends.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram. Backups - Will Tye, Jerell Adams, Matt LaCosse, Colin Thompson.

      Although Tye has been the starter the past two years -- due to either injury or ineffectiveness of former starter Larry Donnell -- he's far from a lock to be on the roster this year. LaCosse, with whom the Giants have stuck despite his losing his first two years to injury, seemed to edge in front of Tye during the spring practices and could be in a position to knock Tye off the roster if he stays healthy. Although there haven't been padded practices, Engram so far has lived up to his hype. The coaching staff has moved him around in various personnel sets to achieve matchup advantages. He looks to be particularly effective over the middle of the field, where the Giants struggled so much to exploit. Ellison, signed to be a blocking tight end, spent most of the spring sidelined with a calf injury. There was optimism that he would be good to go for training camp, but remember, the Giants held the same optimism for former receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz, like Ellison, suffered a torn patellar tendon only to develop a calf issue in the months after having surgery. If Ellison is still not ready to go, he will likely start on the active/PUP list.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard (slot). Backups - Tavarres King, Roger Lewis, Dwayne Harris, Darius Powe, Travis Rudolph, Keeon Johnson, Jerome Lane, Kevin Norwood, Kevin Snead.

      If healthy, the Giants should have one of the best receiving units in the league, thanks to the addition of Marshall, the kind of tall, physical receiver who has been missing from this offense for some time. Marshall's presence should help take some of the double teams away from Beckham. Shepard, whose performance tailed off last year after a semi-hot start, should be vastly improved in his second season. At the bottom of the depth chart, Lewis, who last year made the roster as an undrafted free agent, is in danger of being phased out. Lewis saw his opportunities decrease as the 2016 season wore on while King saw his chances increase. Powe very narrowly missed making the 53-man roster last year; to help his chances this year, he's done some work at tight end. Rudolph is the latest "feel good" story to hit Giants camp. Although not very big, there are some who think he might be able to push Harris for the return man duties this year.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG John Jerry, RT Bobby Hart. Backups - G/T D.J. Fluker, G/C Brett Jones, G/C Adam Gettis, OT Adam Bisnowaty, OT Chad Wheeler, OT Jessamen Dunker, G/T Michael Bowie, G, Jon Halapio, OL Jarron Jones.

      The Giants are taking a big leap of faith with Flowers and Hart, their two young tackles who have struggled in their development in their two seasons. New York has been encouraged by the fact that both youngsters stayed in East Rutherford during the offseason to work out. Offensive line coach Mike Solari and head coach Ben McAdoo both claim they can see some improvement, but both have cautioned that the picture won't be complete until the pads go on. Fluker, whose career with the Chargers was a bust, is aiming to make the most of his "show me" opportunity with the Giants. Brought in as a guard, Fluker is supposed to be competing with incumbent John Jerry for the starting job; however, Fluker was unable to earn any snaps with the starting unit in the spring, at times even looking a bit sluggish. Bisnowaty is the guy to keep an eye on. The coaches have sounded pleased with the progress their sixth-round pick has made. He could emerge as a sixth offensive lineman in the jumbo package as well as the first option off the bench if Hart struggles at right tackle. Wheeler, who's been working at left tackle, didn't really impress much in the spring, though again, until the pads come on, it's premature to pass judgment on a lineman.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Jay Bromley, NT Damon Harrison, DRE Olivier Vernon. Backups - DE Devin Taylor, DE Romeo Okwara, DE Kerry Wynn, DE Avery Moss, DE Owa Odighizuwa, DE Evan Schwan, DE Jordan Williams, DT Robert Thomas, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Corbin Bryant, DT Josh Banks.

      If the Giants want to elevate last year's 10th-ranked overall defense to a championship level, they'll need to find a viable third pass-rushing defensive end. That option could be Taylor, the former Lions veteran who in addition to being a pass rusher, offers an ability to play inside, similar to how the Giants used to deploy Justin Tuck. The Giants had hoped that Odighizuwa, their third-round pick from two years ago, might develop into that player, but it's unknown if Odighizuwa will even report to camp this year, let alone continue his NFL career after he tweeted in April of needing to take some time away from the game. At defensive tackle, no one jumped out in the spring to take an early lead in locking down the starting job previously held by Johnathan Hankins. The long-term hope is that Tomlinson, the second-round pick, will emerge as the guy. However, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo indicated that for the time being, they'll probably deploy a rotation at that spot until someone separates from the pack.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Jonathan Casillas, MLB B.J. Goodson, SLB Devon Kennard. Backups - Keenan Robinson, Mark Herzlich, J.T. Thomas, Eric Pinkins, Deontae Skinner, Stansly Maponga, Curtis Grant, Calvin Munson.

      The Giants are all in on second-year man Goodson, who takes over the inside linebacker role after the team declined to re-sign veteran Kelvin Sheppard. Goodson had a solid spring against the run, but is still trying to find his way in coverage. He's also not necessarily a lock to be calling the signals -- that duty might fall to Casillas, the defensive captain from last year. Kennard saw his snaps decrease last year, but he seemed to find some new success as a down lineman on pass-rushing downs, a role he'll likely continue this year. Robinson was supposed to compete with Goodson for the starting inside linebacker role, but there is some doubt as to whether he would be able to hold up as an every-down backer. Thomas, who has spent the last two years injured, could be in the plans if Goodson falters or gets hurt. Thomas has experience playing inside from his days with the Jaguars and could give the Giants that option if he stays healthy.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Eli Apple, RCB Janoris Jenkins, Slot CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, FS Andrew Adams, SS Landon Collins. Backups - CB Valentino Blake, CB Michael Hunter, CB Donte Deayon, CB Nigel Tribune, CB DaShaun Amos, S Darian Thompson, S Nat Berhe, S Duke Ihenacho, S Jadar Johnson, S Trey Robinson, DB Mykkele Thompson, DB Ryan Murphy.

      All eyes will be on the battle at free safety, where Adams, the incumbent, will try to hold off Darian Thompson, the man who was supposed to be the starter until a season-ending foot injury put an end to that. Adams played well despite being undrafted, but Thompson is more of a ball hawk who has a history of picking off passes in college. At cornerback, the team hopes to find a backup slot guy to Rodgers-Cromartie for the long-term future. Deayon, Hunter and Mykkele Thompson are all potential candidates. Hunter received snaps with the first team during the spring.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Aldrick Rosas, P Brad Wing, LS Zak DeOssie, KOR/PR Dwayne Harris.

      All eyes will be on Rosas, the young inexperienced kicker who was with the Titans last summer but who has yet to kick in a regular-season game. Head coach Ben McAdoo has said the staff will create various pressure situations during camp to see how well Rosas responds, but added that there is no substitution for game action. Harris, who hung in there last season despite assorted injuries, accepted a pay cut this year but can earn back the money if he can keep his punt return average over 10 yards. He'll have some competition for his job, though, particularly from undrafted rookie Travis Rudolph, the inspiring young receiver from Florida State who made national headlines for befriending an autistic child last year. Rudolph received reps as a punt returner in the spring, showing flashes of promise, but it will all come down to how well he delivers in games.

  • 49ers LB Foster cleared for camp
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    San Francisco 49ers first-round pick Reuben Foster is ready to take the field in training camp after being medically cleared, coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday.

    • "We're excited to get him out there," Shanahan said of Foster, who had shoulder concerns raised by multiple teams before the 2017 NFL Draft.

      The 49ers' top pick, Solomon Thomas, taken 28 spots ahead of Foster in the first round at No. 3 overall, remained unsigned as of Thursday's workout.

      Foster, though, was itching to go. General manager John Lynch said in an interview with KNBR the 49ers "Almost had to put a leash on him to keep him out of drills. His excitement is infectious. He's an Alpha Dog."

      San Francisco traded back into the first round to selected the 23-year-old Foster with the 31st overall selection in April's draft. The 49ers dealt their second-round pick (No. 34 overall) and a fourth-rounder acquired from the Chicago Bears earlier in the night (No. 111 overall) to the Seattle Seahawks for pick No. 31.

      Foster fell in the draft after reports surfaced that his medical recheck revealed concerns about his right shoulder. He underwent surgery for a rotator cuff problem in February.

      Listed at 6 feet, 229 pounds, Foster was considered the best inside linebacker in the draft. He was ranked No. 10 overall by NFLDraftscout.com and among the top 10 by many. But questions arose after he was sent home from the Indianapolis Combine for causing a commotion during his medical exam. He technically flunked his drug test because the urine sample was diluted by too much water.

      On the field for Alabama, Foster displayed undeniable talent. He was perhaps the most intimidating hitter in the draft, and he possesses the fluid athleticism to serve as a three-down defender.

      In four years with the Crimson Tide, two as a starter, Foster totaled 222 tackles, with 115 collected last year while winning the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college.

  • Early injuries and retirement affect Ravens
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Head coach John Harbaugh is confident the Baltimore Ravens can be a playoff-bound team provided they stay healthy.

    • That has already been a considerable challenge.

      Quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to miss at least one week of training camp with a back injury, Harbaugh confirmed after the team's first full-squad practice Thursday. There were also four other players on the current roster out for the opening practice -- offensive lineman John Urschel, running back Kenneth Dixon, receiver Michael Campanaro (PUP list) and cornerback Tavon Young (PUP list).

      "We're taking precautions," Harbaugh said about Flacco. "I think for Joe, a week of rest here is not going to hurt our offense. It might help our offense in terms of developing some guys. I'd rather go that route, rather than go the other route and push him."

      The rest of the Ravens' players, however, almost looked relieved after a tumultuous offseason filled with devastating setbacks.

      Starting tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a third hip injury in the OTAs and his career is over. Young and Dixon are out for the season with knee injuries also suffered over the summer.

      Urschel decided to abruptly to retire from the NFL after just three seasons, delivering news about two hours before the first practice Thursday.

      "That was something that has been on his mind for quite a while, throughout the offseason," Harbaugh said about Urschel. "We respect John tremendously."

      Dealing with injuries has been a troubling trend for Baltimore over the past few years. Flacco also suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015. He wore a knee brace in 2016, and at times, did not appear fully comfortable in the pocket.

      This is expected to be a bounce-back year for Flacco, who has gone 29-29 since winning the Super Bowl in 2012. He has thrown 80 touchdown passes, but 61 interceptions -- third most in the NFL -- over that four-year span.

      Backup Ryan Mallett will likely take most of the snaps while Flacco recovers from his latest injury. Dustin Vaughan, a second-year player out of Division II West Texas A&M, is the only other quarterback in camp.

      Baltimore will likely bring in another quarterback and is considering Colin Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers on March 3. Kaepernick has been a polarizing figure for his refusal to stand during the national anthem prior to games.

      "He's a guy right now that's being talking about," Harbaugh said. "We'll just see what happens with that. It will all be speculation right now. He's a really good football player. As I've said at the owner's meetings, I do believe he'll be playing in the National Football League this year."

      Young, who played his way into the starting lineup last season, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the OTAs. After that injury, the Ravens added Brandon Boykin, Otha Foster and Al-Hajj Shabazz for depth.

      Earlier this week, Dixon had surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He was already suspended four games of the season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

      Terrance West was already named the starter at running back and free agent Danny Woodhead is expected to provide a boost. Baltimore signed Bobby Rainey for depth in effort to boost the struggling rushing attack.

      The Ravens were ranked 28th in the NFL with 1,463 yards. However, the running backs were effective with the limited opportunities they were given as Baltimore was ranked 30th with 367 rushing attempts. That will likely change this season with the hiring of Greg Roman as the offensive assistant/tight ends coach.

      The biggest question now is whether the healthy running backs can be effective.

      "Just move forward with what we got," Harbaugh said. "Coach the guys that we have. I feel like we have plenty of great players. I'm excited."

      ROOKIE TO WATCH

      --CB Marlon Humphrey: While Humphrey might begin camp behind Brandon Carr on the depth chart, he showed some big-play ability in offseason workouts and could eventually take over the starting job. Humphrey, the 16th overall pick, has adapted quickly because of experience at Alabama, which had the nation's top-ranked defense. Humphrey started all 29 games in two seasons for the Crimson Tide and had two interceptions with three forced fumbles in 2016. He has shown the skills and confidence to make an immediate impact in Baltimore. Humphrey has already impressed the Ravens' coaches with his athleticism.

  • Steelers LT Villanueva inks four-year extension
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva signed a four-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and will report to training camp on the first day of mandatory workouts Thursday in Latrobe, Pa.

    • A two-year starter, Villanueva was without a contract until the deal was finalized because he opted not to sign a one-year tender for $615,000 as an exclusive rights free agent. The 28-year-old worked out with the team throughout the offseason despite the contract matter, which can be forgotten now that he's ready to roll.

      Terms of the deal were not immediately known, but 14 NFL left tackles are paid at least $10 million per season.

      Running back Le'Veon Bell, who has yet to sign his $12.12 million franchise tag tender, did not report Thursday in time for a conditioning test with the Steelers after hinting at a preseason holdout.

      Villanueva, the former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and was a Bronze Star recipient, said in the offseason he never worries about the financial side of football.

      He entered the NFL as a defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. He was eventually picked up by the Steelers only after coach Mike Tomlin suggested it based on the 6-foot-9 Villanueva standing out during the playing of the national anthem before a preseason game.

      "I don't focus about contracts. I come from very little money in my family. I've spent most of my time in the military so I'm institutionalized about the ways I spend my money," he said. "My agent will make a decision and let me know. He's the guy I trusted when I got cut from Philly. He taught me the steps about how to get me back on my feet."

      One transaction this week that might have helped push Villanueva's deal across the line was the two-year, $15.7 million contract extension the Dallas Cowboys gave La'el Collins. Collins, undrafted out of LSU, was moved to right tackle in the offseason to compensate for the retirement of Doug Free.

      "It's not a fun process," Villanueva said during OTA workouts. "It's not something I like to go through. ... From my end, I've been extremely fortunate where I am. I've been to Afghanistan three times. A lot of service members have died next to me protecting my life. Being here is a blessing. I've won 10 lotteries already. If I get a percentage of the lottery on top, it is what it is. If not, it's something I can live with.

      "I'm not the best at making decisions, but I feel very comfortable making decisions. It's a process. I'm very thankful to the Steelers and their treatment. They've always been very respectful. The only thing I can do is show that respect back."

      With Villanueva back in the fold, the Steelers return all five starters to their offensive line.

  • Vikings extend DE Griffen again
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    MANKATO, Minn. -- Everson Griffen was rewarded. Again.

    • Three years ago, one of the first things the Minnesota Vikings did when Mike Zimmer arrived as head coach was give Griffen, then a backup, a five-year, $42.5 million extension while letting the aging Jared Allen walk away in free agency.

      Wednesday, with two years still remaining on Griffen's contract, the Vikings poured an even more lucrative deal into their defensive end. Griffen signed a four-year extension worth $58 million with $34 million guaranteed.

      "This means I'm a Viking for life," said Griffen, 29.

      Griffen has started all but one game since he was given his last contract. He has 30.5 sacks in that time, and has played the run much better than Allen did.

      "I think we all knew (a deal) was going to happen. You don't let guys like that go," safety Harrison Smith said. "A lot of time people just see sack numbers and that's what sticks out. But he's a complete player that dominates the game -- run and pass."

      When Zimmer arrived, the Vikings ranked 31st defensively. Last year, they ranked third.

      "I don't have to change nothing in my play," Griffen said. "Just take my game to the next level each and every day and help this team win."

      The Vikings might have another extension to announce soon. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is expected to get one this summer, a year ahead of when he could become a free agent.

  • Vikings say they have no quarterback controversy
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    MANKATO, Minn. -- Move along, people. If there's a quarterback controversy you're looking for in Minnesota, there's nothing to see.

    • At least not yet.

      The Vikings begin training camp following a disappointing 8-8 season with Sam Bradford as their undisputed starter, Case Keenum or Taylor Heinicke as the contending backups, and Teddy Bridgewater on the physically unable to perform list, still unable to play because of the devastating left knee injury he suffered last August.

      Apparently, all is well with Bradford, even though he's entering the final year of his contract with nary a peep said about extending his deal. This despite the fact he arrived via trade eight days before last season, became the starter in Week 2 and went on to throw for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns, five interceptions and an NFL-record 71.6 completion percentage.

      "My focus is to come in and get better and prepare myself for the season," Bradford said. "Nothing has changed (with his contract). If something changes, then I would look at it. But at this time, it's not really on my radar."

      Meanwhile, Bridgewater spoke Thursday for the first time publicly since the knee injury happened. He insisted that his career is not in jeopardy and insisted that doctors have never told him it was.

      "That's the good thing about all this," he said. "I know I get to continue to live out my dream. I don't know when it's going to happen, but for me, I know it's going to happen."

      Bridgewater said he doesn't have a target date for his return. And he's not afraid to take that first hit, even though his knee gave out without any contact.

      "That first initial hit or contact will tell me, 'Hey, I can do this,'" Bridgewater said. "If I can do it one time, I know I can do it forever."

      As for whether he or Bradford leads this team long-term, Bridgewater said that's not something he's thinking about.

      "Right now, I can't even think long-term," Bridgewater said. "It's one day at a time because within a blink of an eye, it was taken away from me (last year). I have to focus just on Teddy. Try to get healthy first and the rest will take care of itself.

      "My goals are the same. If anything, (the injury) motivated me to want more out of this game and out of life."

      Meanwhile, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows that a decision day on the 24-year-old Teddy or the 29-year-old Sam is coming. But apparently not anytime soon. So ...

      "Those calls will come in time," Spielman said. "I think we are very fortunate to have two quarterbacks like that on our roster. I know what Sam did was unbelievable for the circumstances."

      One thing working in the Vikings' favor is terms of Bridgewater's contract. Although he's also entering the final year of his deal, the Vikings would retain his rights for 2018 if Bridgewater remains on PUP during the regular season.

      Bridgewater clearly has made progress, but no one is quite sure when it will be safe to put him back on the field.

      "I know Teddy and what he means to this organization and how hard he has worked in his rehab to get back on the field as quickly as he can," Spielman said. "So, I'd rather face those type of questions or issues as we move forward and it'll play itself out."

      Meanwhile, Bradford said he doesn't anticipate a distraction developing between Bridgewater and him, or teammates who might line up behind one or the other someday.

      "It really doesn't change the way I approach things," he said. "My goal is to come in and get better. To be the best player I can be. The other stuff is up to the coaches."

      And the general manager. And possibly ownership. Because one day, the Vikings will have to make Teddy or Sam the long-term face of the franchise. But that day has not arrived.

      Yet.

      ROOKIE TO WATCH

      --RB Dalvin Cook. For the first time since 2006, the Vikings open training camp without Adrian Peterson, their now former face of the franchise. Cook won't replace Peterson's presence or focal point in the offense. But the second-round draft pick does head into camp and the preseason with very high expectations surrounding him. In fact, his versatility and youthful explosiveness have many already assuming that he'll be better for this offense than Peterson could have been at age 32. The expectations could grow the longer veteran running back Latavius Murray sits on the physically unable to perform list. Murray, who was signed in free agency, had offseason ankle surgery and has yet to even work out with the team. Cook, meanwhile, has flashed the foot speed of a guy many expected to be taken in the first round.

  • Bengals Jones won't appeal suspension
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones indicated on Thursday afternoon he does not plan to appeal his one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

    • "I take all accountability for what I did and my actions," Jones said, on the day Bengals players were required to report for training camp. "I accept it, the one-game suspension. I'm ready to move on. I'm happy to be here."

      Jones, who will miss the Bengals' season opener on Sept. 10 against Baltimore, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from an incident outside a Cincinnati hotel in January in which he threatened police and allegedly spit on a jail nurse.

      "Your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL," the league wrote in a statement announcing the suspension.

      The 33-year-old Jones has a history of misconduct dating to his suspension during the 2007 and 2008 seasons due to a series of arrests and violations.

      During the annual pre-training camp media luncheon on Tuesday, Bengals president and owner Mike Brown stood by his decision not to institute further disciplinary action against Jones.

      "Adam Jones is a good person if you know him," Brown told reporters. "I like him personally. I admire his energy, I admire his courage, I admire a lot of things about him. He didn't come up the easy way, believe me."

      Jones had 66 tackles and an interception in 16 games last season, his 11th in the NFL. Jones said he's in his best physical shape in years and said he'd like to play four more seasons in the NFL.

      On Thursday, Jones said Brown's support will serve as motivation for him, with the Bengals coming off a disappointing 6-9-1 season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.

      "The respect and the love that I have for Mr. Brown is undeniable," Jones said. "Words can't express the gratitude I feel about him. I haven't been around a guy like that in my lifetime. I'm very eager to lead by example and help these young guys get better."

  • Dolphins' C Pouncey haunted by Hernandez suicide
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey became emotional on Thursday when discussing his friend and former college teammate Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide in his jail cell while serving a life sentence for murder on April 19.

    • "It was tough," Pouncey said, via the Miami Herald. "Obviously, I don't condone any of the things that he was accused of, but just to have a friend I was so close with, that I felt like was my brother and I know that he felt the same way, it's tough. It's tough for anyone to have a loss in their family, but that one right there hit me and my brother really hard."

      For the record, Hernandez wasn't only accused -- he was convicted of murdering Odin Lloyd -- although he had been acquitted in a separate double-murder trial days before his death.

      Pouncey recalled the last time he talked to Hernandez, saying he was in "great spirits."

      "Just, you know, about the case that he had just won," the Pro Bowl center said. "He was excited, ready to fight the first one again. Just a lot of different stuff. Happy for him."

      Pouncey and his twin brother, Maurkice, remained friendly with Hernandez's family and attended the funeral.