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  • Brown a no-show at Texans training camp
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Houston Texans tackle Duane Brown was placed on the reserve/did not report list to open training camp.

    • The three-time Pro Bowl blocker's salary has been reduced from $9.65 million to $9.4 million because of a de-escalator clause He can be fined $40,000 for each day of missed camp.

      Brown is skipping camp due to a contract dispute. He was fined $80,000 for missing a mandatory minicamp this spring.

      "I have talked to Duane," Texans general manager Rick Smith said. "There is no contract dispute. Duane is under contract for two more years. That's our position.

      "We're here to get our team ready for the season. He should be a part of it. Duane and I have a really good relationship. He's our longest-tenured player. He's an important member of our team, and he ought to be here. He needs to be here."

      Smith used a first-round pick on Brown in 2008. Smith, Brown and his agent, Kennard McGuire, haven't disclosed what the issue is with his contract.

      "Well, I'll let him speak for himself," Smith said. "Again, from our perspective, there is no contract dispute because he's under contract. We just want him here."

      Brown is expected to report for the regular-season opener. Players are paid base salaries over 17 weeks during the season.

      "I'm not going to guess," Smith said when asked when he thought Brown might report. "We've got 89 other guys here, ready to go to work right now. Those are the guys we're focused on.

      "This is a wonderful facility. We're excited to be in West Virginia. There's a little bit of a buzz around the building, I think, in anticipation of getting here. We've got to get settled. We're here for a reason.

      "This is a business trip. The goal of training camp doesn't change because we changed environments. The goal is still the same, to ready our team and to figure out who the best 53 are that'll help us chase a championship."


      --QB Deshaun Watson. Watson has proven to be a quick study. A starter as a high school and college freshman, Watson is behind Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden on the depth chart. That might not last long, though. Watson has a good arm, athleticism and leadership working in his favor. He could be ready as a rookie to contribute and take over as the starter if Savage falters.

      --Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins tried to get an extension with two years left on his contract, and general manager Rick Smith refused. Smith has a policy of not doing contracts during the season.

      Hopkins is expected to get an extension before the season begins.

      "We tend to keep our negotiations in-house," Smith said. "I think if you look at our team - (including) those 10 first-round draft picks still on our team - we like to keep our good players.

      "Not only those (first-round picks) but as many of our good young players we develop and can help our team win. We try to keep those guys around. He (Hopkins) certainly fits that category. We're hopeful he's going to be here for a long time."

  • Texans rookie runner proclaims innocence
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Houston Texans rookie running back D'Onta Foreman talked about his recent arrest in Austin on charges of possession of marijuana and an unlawful gun.

    • "Yes, I was innocent, and I think everything will take care of itself," Foreman said.

      Foreman's attorney, Chip Lewis, said his client underwent a urinalysis test for marijuana that was negative. Lewis said he's confident the charges will be dropped.

      "My lawyer is great," Foreman said. "He's doing everything possible to get everything dropped. I definitely feel good about it."

      Foreman, who spent the night in an Austin jail, said he learned from the experience that involved six others who were charged with possession of marijuana of less than two ounces.

      "I learned there are certain things and people I can't always involve myself with," he said. "Those guys that are my friends, we understand now there are certain ways we have to go about doing things. I understand that, and I'll definitely do better."

      Head coach Bill O'Brien declined to discuss his conversation with Foreman after the arrest.

      "I'll leave that between D'Onta and I," O'Brien said. "Look, he's got a long way to go. I thought he practiced pretty decently today from what I saw.

      "He's a very talented guy, but he's young, and he's learning. He's got to learn what pro football's all about, what it means to be a Houston Texan relative to playing football, practicing and meeting. We're going to work closely with him."

  • Ravens' Flacco to miss at least start of camp
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco is dealing with a back injury and will at least miss the start of training camp, according to multiple reports.

    • The Baltimore Sun reported that Flacco could be limited early in camp while took it a step further, saying Flacco is preparing to miss 3-to-6 weeks with a disc issue in his back.

      Veteran backup Ryan Mallett and Dustin Vaughan are the only other quarterbacks on the Ravens roster heading into camp.

      Ravens coach John Harbaugh is expected to speak with reporters after Thursday's practice while the 32-year-old Flacco is scheduled to speak to the media after Friday's workout.

      Flacco is set to enter his 10th season. Last season, he threw for 4,317 yards with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. For his career, he has thrown for 32,639 yards with 182 touchdowns and 117 interceptions. He also has a 61.5 percent completion percentage and a 84.5 passer rating for his career.

  • Panthers eager to put 2016 behind them
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Perhaps no team was more anxious to begin training camp for the 2017 season than the Carolina Panthers.

    • The miserable 2016 season became just the initial seed of what became significant upheaval across the offseason.

      It hit a climax with last week's firing of general manager Dave Gettleman and the return of former GM Marty Hurney in an interim role.

      So with the Panthers gathering for training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., it's a chance for a return to normal. The team began its on-field work with a night session Wednesday.

      "I think everything is in place," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We have everybody here."

      That was one of the concerns with contract issues involving linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen unresolved. But they reported anyway, in part, because Rivera said they are leaders intent on setting the right example.

      "This part is about business. They're professionals," Rivera said. "There was no doubt in my mind (they'd be here). I really believe in those guys. Despite what has gone on, these guys are here and they're professionals."

      Davis has seen the chatter about the team making front-office moves so close to the start for training camp. To him, it shouldn't matter.

      "You have to realize we are the ones who go out and play the games," Davis said. "We will determine how our season goes."

      There has been enough upheaval within the organization in the past week or so that eliminating drama at the start of training camp is probably a good thing.

      "I didn't want to add fuel to the fire," Olsen said.

      Otherwise, the fire could be burning stronger for the Panthers in this training camp as they strive to rekindle the good feelings they had two seasons ago.

      Rivera said having quarterback Cam Newton back in action is going to be good for the team's psyche after his injury-riddled 2016 season.

      Newton's role will be significant on an offense that's undergoing some retooling along the offensive front plus in several other positions.

      First-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey adds versatility to the offense as a running back. Plus, there's a crop of receivers that will undergo careful scrutiny during training camp.

      The more time they can spend with Newton figures to benefit the Panthers.

      "I'm really excited to see how the guys mesh together (on offense)," Rivera said.

      The football part is what interests the players and coaches the most. That's why getting back out on the field after the stunning off-field news is probably best for this team.

      Rivera said he can focus on the issues that are important, and that's grooming a team and witnessing improvement during these critical weeks leading to the season.

      "For the young guys, it's going to be really about their development, he said. "What steps have they taken and what's their retention."


      --RB Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers haven't been shy about the desire to use McCaffrey in key roles right away. He wasn't available for much of minicamp because of NFL rules in place that related to him coming out of Stanford, which has an academic calendar extending into June. Now it should be full-speed ahead for McCaffrey, with the specific roles he'll be used in generating plenty of preseason speculation.

      --Quarterback Cam Newton arrived at camp noticeably trimmer than in the past. He weighed in at close to his listed weight of 245 pounds. What this means is difficult to know at this point.

      Head coach Ron Rivera said he was pleased with Newton's arrival and said he sensed that the quarterback appears in good shape.

      The bigger question might be the condition of his throwing arm after offseason shoulder surgery. Rivera said Newton has been on target in his rehabilitation and should be ready to throw at the outset of camp. His durability might be the bigger question.

      "There's a plan," Rivera said of Newton's workload dictated in part by the medical experts. "They'll see how he is every day."

      Newton threw during the opening practice, but they were short passes. It appears he'll work his way up to longer throws.

      --Linebacker Thomas Davis says there's no sense in making a big issue about his desire for a renegotiated contract. He's where he wants to be and he said he's confident things will work out.

      "Carolina is my home and it always will be," Davis said.

      Davis, 34, has been a staple not only for the defense but for the franchise in recent years. He says he's not interested in pondering the winding down of his playing career.

      "I feel like I have a lot of years left in me," he said. "Maybe not a lot of years, but a few good years to play."

      Davis said there should be no concerns about his motivation.

      "I'm chasing that ring," he said. "That's still the goal."

  • Chargers acquire QB Jones from Bills
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    The Los Angeles Chargers acquired second-year quarterback Cardale Jones on Wednesday in a trade with the Buffalo Bills that sends a conditional draft pick to Buffalo.

    • ESPN reported that the conditional pick is for the seventh round.

      Jones appeared in only one game as a rookie last season for the Bills. He completed 6 of 11 passes for 96 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

      The Chargers have been looking for a reliable back up to veteran Philip Rivers. They worked out Robert Griffin III earlier this week, but Jones' chief competition for the backup role seems to be Kellen Clemens, who has been the Chargers' No. 2 quarterback the past two seasons.

      Jones received only limited reps with the Bills offense during organized team activities and minicamp this spring.

      Besides starter Tyrod Taylor, the Bills added two quarterbacks this offseason -- T.J. Yates, who was signed as a free agent, and Nathan Peterman, a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft.

      Jones is familiar with new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, who was the Bills' head coach at the end of last season.

  • NFL camp openings: Broncos' quarterback battle front and center
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      TRAINING CAMP: UCHealth Training Center; Englewood, Colo.

      COACH: Vance Joseph

      1st season as Broncos/NFL head coach


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 323.1 (27th)

      RUSHING: 92.8 (27th)

      PASSING: 230.3 (T21st)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 316.1 (4th)

      RUSHING: 130.3 (28th)

      PASSING: 185.8(1st)


      All times Mountain

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Kalif Raymond, Cody Latimer and Hunter Sharp could all factor into the competition on returns, but general manager John Elway drafted Henderson and McKenzie with the intention of using them on returns right away. Henderson's straight-line speed, long stride and running-back build make him a good fit for kickoff returns, while McKenzie's quickness made him one of the best punt returners in college football last year. McManus and Dixon are one of the best young kicker-punter combinations in the league.

  • NFL camp openings: Jaguars battles brewing on interior O-line
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

      COACH: Doug Marrone

      1st full season with Jaguars

      1-1 overall

      3rd full season as NFL coach

      16-18 overall


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 334.9 (23rd)

      RUSHING: 101.9 (22nd)

      PASSING: 233.0 (20th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 321.7 (6th)

      RUSHING: 106.4 (19th)

      PASSING: 215.3 (5th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Tinker and the two kickers start their third year together with the Jaguars. Myers improved on his extra-point duties a year ago, missing just three times after suffering through seven such misses the year before. His field-goal kicking suffered, with seven misses in 34 attempts, but five of those misses were from beyond 50 yards. His 60 touchbacks on 76 kickoffs was good for an NFL-best 78.9 percent touchback percentage. Nortman's 46.6-yard gross punting average was his second-best mark in his five NFL seasons. Tinker has been the Jaguars' regular long snapper for the past four years. Grant was the team's top kickoff returner a year ago, but he may need to be replaced if he doesn't make the roster as a running back. Westbrook may be the fastest player on the team and could replace Greene, who was inconsistent and tended to fumble as a returner a year ago.

  • NFL camp openings: Search for Browns quarterback never ending
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      TRAINING CAMP: Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex; Berea, Ohio

      COACH: Hue Jackson

      2nd season with Browns

      1-15 overall

      3rd season as NFL head coach

      9-23 overall


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 311.0 (30th)

      RUSHING: 107.0 (19th)

      PASSING: 204.0 (28th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 392.4 (31st)

      RUSHING: 142.7 (31st)

      PASSING: 249.8 (21st)


      All times EASTERN

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Dolphins hell bent on proving doubters wrong
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Top summer battle

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

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

      THE FACTS:

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

      COACH: Adam Gase

      2nd season as Dolphins/NFL head coach

      10-7 overall; 0-1 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 332.8 (24th)

      RUSHING: 114.0 (9th)

      PASSING: 218.8 (26th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 382.6 (29th)

      RUSHING: 140.4 (30th)

      PASSING: 242.2 (15th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Bills hope for healthy WR Watkins
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

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

      COACH: Sean McDermott

      1st season as Bills/NFL head coach


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 354.1 (16th)

      RUSHING: 164.4 (1st)

      PASSING: 189.8 (30th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 357.0 (19th)

      RUSHING: 133.1 (26th)

      PASSING: 223.9 (6th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Time for Rodgers to hone magic touch
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Top Summer Battle

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

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

      HEAD COACH: Mike McCarthy

      12th season as Packers/NFL head coach

      124-69-1 overall; 10-8 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 368.8 (8th)

      RUSHING: 106.3 (20th)

      PASSING: 262.4 (7th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 363.9 (22nd)

      RUSHING: 94.7 (8th)

      PASSING: 269.3 (31st)


      All times Central

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Vikings place Bridgewater on PUP list
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was placed on the physically unable to perform list, the team announced Wednesday.

    • The move was expected for Bridgewater, who is working his way back from tearing his ACL and dislocating his left knee during a late August practice last year.

      Bridgewater was among the veterans arriving to camp Wednesday before the team's first practice the following day. The 24-year-old is expected to address the media on Thursday.

      Bridgewater, the Vikings' 2014 first-round pick, missed the 2016 season as result of the injury. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2015, when he passed for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions.

      After his injury, Minnesota acquired Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2016, Bradford established an NFL single-season record for completion percentage (71.6) while passing for 3,877 yards and 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

  • NFL camp openings: Vikes say hello to new RB, goodbye to Mankato
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Top Summer Battle

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN

      HEAD COACH: Mike Zimmer

      4th season as Vikings/NFL head coach

      26-23 overall; postseason 0-1


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 315.1 (28th)

      RUSHING: 75.3 (32nd)

      PASSING: 239.8 (18th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 314.9 (3rd)

      RUSHING: 106.9 (20th)

      PASSING: 207.9 (3rd)


      All times Central

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

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

      Aug. 27, SAN FRANCISCO, 7:00

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Competition key to Bears improvement
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Top Summer Battle

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

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Olivet Nazarene University; Bourbonnais, Ill.

      HEAD COACH: John Fox

      3rd season with Bears

      9-23 overall

      16th season as NFL coach

      136-119 overall; 8-7 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 356.5 (15th)

      RUSHING: 108.4 (17th)

      PASSING: 248.1 (14th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 346.8 (15th)

      RUSHING: 121.9 (27th)

      PASSING: 224.9 (7th)


      All times Central

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

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

      Aug. 27, at Tennessee, 12:00

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Hall among Redskins' PUP candidates
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

      Top Summer Battle

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

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

      HEAD COACH: Jay Gruden

      4th season as Redskins/NFL head coach

      21-27-1 overall; 0-1 postseason


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

      2016 STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 403.4 (3rd)

      RUSHING: 106.0 (21st)

      PASSING: 297.4 (2nd)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 377.9 (28th)

      RUSHING: 119.8 (24th)

      PASSING: 258.1 (25th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

      Aug. 27, CINCINNATI, 4:30

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Eagles already aboard Wentz's Wagon
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Now, that opportunity is with the Broncos.

      Top Summer Battle

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: NovaCare Complex; Philadelphia, Pa.

      HEAD COACH: Doug Pederson

      2nd season as Eagles/NFL head coach

      7-9 overall


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

      2016 STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 337.4 (22nd)

      RUSHING: 113.3 (11th)

      PASSING: 224.1 (24th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 342.8 (13th)

      RUSHING: 103.3 (15th)

      PASSING: 239.5 (13th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openings: Saints put Payton, Peterson on public display
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Top Summer Battle

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

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Saints Training Facility; Metairie, La.

      HEAD COACH: Sean Payton

      11th season as Saints/NFL head coach

      100-70 overall; 6-4 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 426.0 (1st)

      RUSHING: 108.9 (16th)

      PASSING: 317.1 (1st)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 375.4 (27th)

      RUSHING: 101.6 (14th)

      PASSING: 273.8 (32nd)


      All times Central

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL notebook: Jets claim WR/KR Whitehead
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    The New York Jets claimed wide receiver/kick returner Lucky Whitehead off waivers, multiple outlets reported on Wednesday.

    • The move comes two days after Whitehead was cut by the Dallas Cowboys following an initial report that the 25-year-old was accused of petty larceny. Police later reported that it identified the wrong man and regretted the impact its errors had bestowed upon Whitehead and his family.

      Whitehead denied he was in the state of Virginia at the time of the arrest and claimed it was a case of mistaken identity, which Prince William County Police Sergeant Jonathan L. Perok confirmed Tuesday in a statement.

      "Upon reviewing the June 22, 2017, arrest of an individual named "Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr.," the police department is confident that the man charged with petit larceny, and who is subsequently being sought on an active warrant for failure to appear in court, is not Lucky Whitehead of the Dallas Cowboys," Perok's statement read in part.

      --Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed has been placed on the physically unable to perform list.

      Safety DeAngelo Hall, linebacker Houston Bates and wide receiver Kendal Thompson joined Reed on the PUP list. The players in the group are ineligible to practice until activated.

      The Redskins did not designate a specific ailment for Reed, who did not participate in voluntary offseason workouts before making appearances in minicamp in June.

      Reed recorded 66 receptions for 686 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last season. The 27-year-old has missed time with a concussion and a shoulder injury. Hall and Bates are recovering from knee surgery while Thompson is nursing an undisclosed injury.

      --John Elway was promoted to president of football operations/general manager of the Denver Broncos, just two days after signing a five-year contract extension through 2021.

      Elway previously served as executive vice president of football operations/general manager. He will retain full autonomy over the team's football decisions.

      "We're football first here at the Broncos and obviously John is our leader of the team," team president and CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement. "I think he is definitely deserving of this title elevation. It's really a recognition that he deserves for all that he does and all that he has done for this team over the years since he arrived here in 1984."

      Elway has seen the Broncos record the second-most overall wins (73) in the NFL since 2011. Denver has captured five AFC West Division titles and reached the Super Bowl on two occasions during that stretch, with the highlight of Elway's tenure as general manager coming in 2015 as the Broncos posted a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

      --The Baltimore Ravens signed Bobby Rainey to add depth at running back after confirming Kenneth Dixon will miss the 2017 season because of a torn meniscus in his left knee.

      The 29-year-old Rainey, who started his career in Baltimore as an undrafted rookie out of Western Kentucky in 2012, was talking to the Ravens before Dixon underwent knee surgery Tuesday.

      As veterans reported for training camp on Wednesday, coach John Harbaugh announced Dixon was out for the season.

      Dixon, 23, suffered the injury while working out recently with strength and conditioning coaches from Louisiana Tech, where he played four years.

      --Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler will get the first-team reps to start training camp, coach Hue Jackson announced.

      "He deserves the chance to walk out there first," Jackson told reporters at a press conference to kick off training camp, which opens with the first practice Thursday.

      Jackson made no guarantees about Kessler remaining No. 1 and said he would like to name his starter before the first preseason game.

      "The cream will rise to the top," Jackson said.

      --The Minnesota Vikings signed defensive end Everson Griffen to a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the organization through the 2022 season.

      The deal is worth $58 million and includes $34 million in guarantees, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

      "Man, this means I'm a Vike for life," the 29-year-old Griffen told the team's website. "I appreciate the coaching staff, the ownership, the organization."

      Griffen, a fourth-round pick out of USC in 2010, signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in 2014. He has two years remaining on his current contract with base salaries of $6.9 million in 2017 and $8.4 million in 2018.

      --As if losing the Lombardi Trophy by coughing up a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl wasn't enough, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones lost a $100,000 earring on a jet ski this week.

      Jones emerged from a ride on the motor-propelled personal watercraft on Lake Lanier in Georgia and noticed one of his massive diamond-stud earrings dislodged when he crashed into the water. Jones otherwise was unharmed during the joy ride.

      Jones' jeweler told WXIA-TV in Atlanta the gem was worth between $100,000 and $150,000. The 28-year-old All-Pro has earned $51.71 million since entering the NFL as the sixth overall pick in 2011. His 2017 base salary is $11.5 million. That's about $179,687.50 for every quarter of football over 16 regular-season games.

      "It was worth a little bit," Jones said of the earring in a television interview.

      --The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed defensive end Jacquies Smith on the physically unable to perform list ahead of training camp as he recovers from a torn ACL last season.

      The Bucs open camp on Friday morning.

      The 27-year-old Smith suffered the injury to his right knee while attempting to cover a punt in the first quarter of a season-opening win at Atlanta last season.

      The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Smith recorded 13.5 sacks in 27 games during the 2014-15 seasons.

      --Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins announced his retirement, two months removed from signing a one-year deal with the New England Patriots.

      Hawkins revealed in a video on social media that he didn't think he could play another season at age 31.

      "I just got off the phone with the New England Patriots and coach (Bill) Belichick, and I just had to inform them of my decision to retire," he said. "After OTAs this summer, my body just didn't respond and didn't feel the way it should going into camp."

      Hawkins played three seasons with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns before signing a one-year contract with the Patriots in May. He recently earned his master's degree in sports management from Columbia University with a 4.0 GPA.

  • NFL camp openings: Falcons cautious with Jones, McKinley
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

      But general manager Thomas Dimitroff prefers to be cautious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Top Summer Battle

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

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

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

      HEAD COACH: Dan Quinn

      3rd season as Falcons/NFL head coach

      21-14 overall; 2-1 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 415.8 (2nd)

      RUSHING: 120.5 (5th)

      PASSING: 295.3 (3rd)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 371.2 (25th)

      RUSHING: 104.5 (17th)

      PASSING: 266.7 (28th)


      All times Eastern

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

      Aug. 20, at Pittsburgh, 4:00

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      When the Falcons elected not to re-sign Eric Weems, that created at least three openings on the special-teams units. Weems, a former Pro Bowler, was a coverage player, and the punt and kickoff returner. Roberts signed in free agency and will get the first shot at kickoff and punt returner jobs. Roberts averaged 22.2 yards on kickoff returns and 11.7 on punt returns with two touchdowns last season for Detroit. Meyer is a player to watch just because Bryant turned 42. Bosher is back as a weapon on kickoffs and with his superior directional punting skills.

  • NFL camp openings: Improved Patriots must determine No. 3 cornerback
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      TRAINING CAMP: Gillette Stadium; Foxborough, Mass.

      COACH: Bill Belichick

      18th season with Patriots

      226-80 overall; 25-9 postseason

      23rd season as NFL head coach

      263-125 overall; 26-10 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 386.3 (4th)

      RUSHING: 117.0 (7th)

      PASSING: 269.3 (4th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 326.4 (8th)

      RUSHING: 88.6 (T3rd)

      PASSING: 237.9 (12th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • NFL camp openers: Ravens are kneed at RB, CB positions
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      THE FACTS:

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

      COACH: John Harbaugh

      10th season as Ravens/NFL head coach

      95-64 overall; 10-5 postseason


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


      TOTAL OFFENSE: 347.7 (17th)

      RUSHING: 91.4 (28th)

      PASSING: 256.3 (12th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 322.1 (7th)

      RUSHING: 89.4 (5th)

      PASSING: 232.8 (9th)


      All times Eastern

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Patriots WR Hawkins retires
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins announced his retirement on Wednesday, two months removed from signing a one-year deal with the New England Patriots.

    • Hawkins revealed in a video on social media that he didn't think he could play another season at age 31.

      "I just got off the phone with the New England Patriots and coach (Bill) Belichick, and I just had to inform them of my decision to retire," he said. "After OTAs this summer, my body just didn't respond and didn't feel the way it should going into camp."

      Hawkins played three seasons with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns before signing a one-year contract with the Patriots in May. He recently earned his master's degree in sports management from Columbia University with a 4.0 GPA.

      Hawkins led the Browns in 2014 with 63 catches and 824 yards in his first season.

      He dropped off to a total of 60 catches the last two seasons and was released by the club in February.

      Hawkins reeled in 209 receptions for 2,419 yards and nine touchdowns in 74 games with the Bengals and Browns.

  • Redskins place TE Reed on PUP list
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed has been placed on the physically unable to perform list, the team announced Wednesday.

    • Safety DeAngelo Hall, linebacker Houston Bates and wide receiver Kendal Thompson joined Reed on the PUP list. The players in the group are ineligible to practice until activated.

      The Redskins did not designate a specific ailment for Reed, who did not participate in voluntary offseason workouts before making appearances in minicamp in June.

      Reed recorded 66 receptions for 686 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last season. The 27-year-old has missed time with a concussion and a shoulder injury.

      Hall and Bates are recovering from knee surgery while Thompson is nursing an undisclosed injury.

  • Broncos' Elway gets promotion
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    John Elway was promoted to president of football operations/general manager of the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, just two days after signing a five-year contract extension through 2021.

    • Elway previously served as executive vice president of football operations/general manager. He will retain full autonomy over the team's football decisions.

      "We're football first here at the Broncos and obviously John is our leader of the team," team president and CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement. "I think he is definitely deserving of this title elevation. It's really a recognition that he deserves for all that he does and all that he has done for this team over the years since he arrived here in 1984."

      Elway has seen the Broncos record the second-most overall wins (73) in the NFL since 2011. Denver has captured five AFC West Division titles and reached the Super Bowl on two occasions during that stretch, with the highlight of Elway's tenure as general manager coming in 2015 as the Broncos posted a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

      Elway played for Denver from 1983-1998 during a Hall of Fame career that was capped with consecutive Super Bowl titles.

      He was drafted No. 1 overall by the then-Baltimore Colts, who traded him to Denver.

  • Jets claim WR Whitehead
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    The New York Jets claimed wide receiver/kick returner Lucky Whitehead off waivers, multiple outlets reported on Wednesday.

    • The move comes two days after Whitehead was cut by the Dallas Cowboys following an initial report that the 25-year-old was accused of petty larceny. Police later reported that it identified the wrong man and regretted the impact its errors had bestowed upon Whitehead and his family.

      Whitehead denied he was in the state of Virginia at the time of the arrest and claimed it was a case of mistaken identity, which Prince William County Police Sergeant Jonathan L. Perok confirmed Tuesday in a statement.

      "Upon reviewing the June 22, 2017 arrest of an individual named "Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr.," the police department is confident that the man charged with petit larceny, and who is subsequently being sought on an active warrant for failure to appear in court, is not Lucky Whitehead of the Dallas Cowboys," Perok's statement read in part.

      The department went on to say that the man did not have identification on him at the time of his June 22 arrest, but verbally provided his information to police officers.

      Officers then checked his information through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles database and used the DMV photo on file to compare to the man they had in custody.

      Whitehead admitted to the Dallas Morning News that he was "blindsided" and "no one (in Cowboys management) had my back in the whole situation."

      He could see immediate action as Jets' incumbent Jalin Marshall is suspended for the first four games of the season.

      Whitehead recorded just nine receptions in two seasons with the Cowboys; however, he returned 44 punts for 305 yards and 33 kickoffs for 846 yards with the club.