National Football League
NFL News Wire
  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Cowboys LB McClain sentenced to jail
    By The Sports Xchange

    Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain was convicted of two misdemeanor charges from a 2013 incident in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., and was sentenced to 18 days in jail, according to Al.com.

    • McClain's lawyer filed an appeal for a jury trial, which will allow McClain to return to the Cowboys' training camp.

      McClain was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after he allegedly yelled "(Expletive) the police" at a crowded park. in Decatur. His lawyer disputes if it was McClain who actually is the one who said it.

      However, police video did indicate that McClain told officers: "You can't expect to be arrested three times in three years and play in the NFL."

      McClain was acquired by the Cowboys from the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round pick after he sat out the 2013 season. He had 246 tackles and 6.5 sacks in three seasons with the Oakland Raiders.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Vikings sign Cruse, Walker
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Minnesota Vikings made a series of roster moves on Friday.

    • The team signed rookie wide receivers Andy Cruse and Ty Walker and waived wide receiver Josh Cooper and tackle Matt Hall.

      Minnesota also placed tight end Chase Ford, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Andrew Sendejo on the physically unable to perform list.

      Cruse spent the first 10 weeks of the 2013 season on the Houston Texans' practice squad. He entered the NFL with the Texans as an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio). He was released on May 19.

      Walker spent last season on the practice squads of the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. He played in all four games with the Packers during the 2013 preseason. He signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    NFL names Brooks as appeals officer
    By The Sports Xchange

    The NFL and NFL Players Association announced Friday that Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Derrick Brooks will serve as an appeals officer beginning this season.

    • Brooks will hear player appeals of on-field discipline. He replaces Matt Birk, who was named NFL Director of Football Development earlier this month.

      Brooks spent 1995-2008 as a linebacker with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his 14 seasons, he played every game and was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times. He helped the Buccaneers win Super Bowl XXXVII.

      Since 2011, Brooks served as the president of the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena League.

      "Derrick views this game with a very unique understanding as both a player and a team president," NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said in a statement. "His review of appeals will be informed by experience as a player and as an executive."

      Brooks joins former NFL player and coach Ted Cottrell as the league's appeals officers.

      "Derrick was jointly selected by the Players and the NFL and we expect he will bring expertise and professionalism to his role as an arbitration officer," NFLPA Senior Director of Player Affairs and Development Jason Belser said in a statement. "We look forward to working with him."

      Brooks and Cottrell are jointly appointed and jointly compensated by the NFL and NFLPA.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Seahawks sign G Davis, WR Gilreath
    By The Sports Xchange

    RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks signed guard C.J. Davis and wide receiver David Gilreath to reach their 90-man roster limit as the defending Super Bowl champions opened training camp Friday.

    • Davis was out of the NFL last season after appearing in seven games for the Denver Broncos in 2012. He was originally signed by the Carolina Panthers in 2010 as an undrafted rookie and played in seven games that season.

      Seattle will be Gilreath's seventh NFL team since entering the league in 2011 with the Indianapolis Colts. He has played in three career games, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Eagles excuse S Johnson from camp
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Philadelphia Eagles announced Friday that they excused safety Keelan Johnson from training camp for an undetermined amount of time stemming from his arrest in Arizona last weekend.

    • Johnson, who will still count toward the team's 90-man roster, met with coach Chip Kelly on Thursday in Philadelphia.

      The team wrote in a statement that it will not comment any further because it is a pending legal matter.

      Johnson, 24, was arrested in Tempe for shoving a police officer after a bar fight, according to multiple reports.

      The Eagles signed Johnson to the practice squad last season and was placed on the active roster on Dec. 17. He had two tackles.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Falcons waive WR Johnson
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Atlanta Falcons waived wide receiver Darius Johnson, who caught 22 passes for 210 yards with one touchdown last season as an undrafted rookie signed out of Southern Methodist.

    • Johnson saw unexpected significant playing time in 2013, appearing in 10 games with Julio Jones suffering a season-ending injury.

      Undersized at 5-feet-10 and 175 pounds, Johnson went undrafted after posting modest 40-yard dash times of 4.53 seconds at the Scouting Combine and 4.59 at his pro day in 2013. But he is a solid route-runner and earned a roster spot with the Falcons' practice squad coming out of training camp and was signed to the active roster on Oct. 19.

      His most memorable game as a rookie came in a six-catch, 67-yard effort on Thursday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints, but the performance was marred by Johnson's fumble in the red zone that cost the Falcons a chance at a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

      With Jones healthy and a five rookies added to the wide receiver depth chart along with veteran Devin Hester, the Falcons waived Johnson just one day into training camp.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Fans stoke Dalton debate: 'AJ to A.J.' is future
    By The Sports Xchange

    CINCINNATI -- While debates simmer about if, when and for how much the Cincinnati Bengals should redo quarterback Andy Dalton's contract, now in its fourth year, the fans weighed in when training camp began Thursday.

    • Shortly after practice began, some fans hung a couple of signs over the railing of the bridge above the practice fields.

      One implored the Bengals to not sign Dalton, while the other read "AJ to A.J. The future is now," referring to rookie quarterback AJ McCarron, whom the team selected in the fifth round, and All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green.

      Another sign read: "Don't sign Dalton. He sucks." The signs were taken down quickly.

      Meanwhile, the team and player continue to indicate a deal is in the works and it will be only a matter of time before there is a resolution.

      Early this week, Bengals owner Mike Brown suggested Dalton is worthy of a deal similar to the one San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed this year -- a six-year extension worth as much as $126 million, give or take a truckload of cash. That is a bit misleading because the deal includes a lot of conditions, escalators and de-escalators, but does have $61 million guaranteed.

      But it is a sure bet that Dalton is clinging to that big number in negotiations. After all, he has taken the Bengals to three straight playoffs, although their stay was brief each time. Kaepernick took over the 49ers quarterback job in midseason in 2012 and took the team to the Super Bowl before losing that final game to the Baltimore Ravens. Last season, he led the 49ers to the brink of making another Super Bowl, missing by inches on a last-ditch pass against the Seattle Seahawks.

      Despite Brown's remark, most evaluators do not rate Dalton as highly as they do Kaepernick. That is where curiosity is rampant about what kind of deal will be made. Dalton played it down, saying it will just be a matter of time, which he repeated in various ways Thursday before the team's first training camp practice.

      "When the time is right, it's going to happen," he said. "Until then there is nothing new. I can't worry about it because there's no reason to. Will it be a relief when it gets done? Yeah, I'm sure because I won't have to keep talking to y'all about it."

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Battered Bengals rejoin team in practice
    By The Sports Xchange

    CINCINNATI -- Three Cincinnati Bengals who sustained devastating season-ending injuries in 2013 were back on the field for the first practice of training camp Thursday, and a fourth may not be too far behind.

    • Punter Kevin Huber's return from a broken jaw and fractured vertebrae -- the result of a vicious, illegal hit by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terence Gavin in Week 16 -- was expected, and cornerback Leon Hall's recovery from a second torn Achilles' tendon in three years was predicted.

      But Clint Boling surprised everyone when he lined up at left guard for the first snap of 11-on-11 drills less than seven months after surgery to repair an ACL tear he sustained in his right knee Dec. 1 at the San Diego Chargers.

      "That was always the goal I had in the back of my head, to be ready for the start of training camp," said Boling, who has played in 33 games with 31 starts in three seasons in Cincinnati. "That was the first milestone to get across. Back in May the knee started feeling really well. I got a lot of the motion back, and I thought it was starting to get pretty realistic to be ready to go."

      Hall may not have surprised anyone, but he continues to amaze. After going through an intense rehab process following a left Achilles' tendon injury in December 2011, he was back in time for the first snap of camp in 2012 and turned in arguably the best season of his career.

      Coach Marvin Lewis claimed Hall actually increased his speed after that first surgery.

      This time around, he had some extra time to rehab after tearing his right Achilles' tendon on Oct. 20 at the Detroit Lions. But more important was the added knowledge.

      "Mentally it was easier the second time," Hall said. "Not even close. I mean, the first time going into it my goal was to come back for training camp, and I felt I could achieve that goal but obviously I was going into it blind. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to do as opposed to the second time."

      It is unclear when All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins will return from the right ACL tear he sustained Oct. 31 at the Miami Dolphins, although Lewis indicated it should be soon.

      "Geno's goal is to be out there the very first practice," Lewis said at the media luncheon two days before camp opened. "I'm going to keep him from achieving that goal because I want to lay eyes on Geno for a few days. He's going to begin on PUP, and as soon as he and I agree he's ready to go in the rigors of practice, we'll feel good about it."

      While the Bengals were able to bring several players off the Physically Unable to Perform and Non-Football Injury lists to start camp -- cornerback Onterio McCalebb, defensive end Christo Bilukidi and undrafted rookie wide receiver Colin Lockett also participated in the first practice -- there was one surprise addition.

      All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth was placed on the PUP list after straining his calf in a conditioning drill on the eve of camp.

      In addition to injuries, a lot of offseason talk has centered on the contract status of quarterback Andy Dalton, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

      The Bengals signed a pair of wide receivers to give the team some depth at the position while Marvin Jones (ankle) and Ryan Whalen (hamstring) mend from what appear to be minor injuries. Jeremy Johnson, who played as SMU and previously signed with New England after going undrafted in May, was added just prior to the start of Thursday's first practice. After Thursday's practice the Bengals were awarded Conner Vernon off waivers from the Cleveland Browns. The Duke product signed with the Oakland Raiders as undrafted college free agent in 2013 but was part of the final cut preseason he cuts. He landed on the Browns' practice squad in December.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    49ers TE Davis not holding out
    By The Sports Xchange

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis -- the first in NFL history to post multiple 13-touchdown seasons -- reported back to the team on time, ending his holdout after missing the team's minicamp.

    • In doing so, he accrued $270,000 in fines and forfeited a $50,000 workout bonus.

      "It was a very easy decision. All you have to do is think about the team," Davis said at the 49ers' new facility here Thursday. "That's what I did, think about my teammates and some of the guys like Frank Gore, who are on their last contract, the last end of their contract, guys who I love and provide for."

      Davis has two years remaining on his contract after signing for five years and $36.75 million in 2011. At the time, it was the richest contract in history for a tight end. Now, he remains the league's fourth-highest paid player at the position, averaging $7.35 million. However, Davis' deal was front loaded, and he was due to see a $1.3 million decrease in pay in 2014 and another $350,000 decrease in 2015.

      "It's already such an exciting day, the first day of football, where it's the new year," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And definitely having Vernon there added to that. Everybody sees their friends, their family, they haven't seen them for a month or so, since we've been apart after the minicamp. It's a happening."

      San Francisco's other headache of the offseason, linebacker Aldon Smith, is also back with the team. After his lenient sentencing of 11 days on work crew he received last week, there is a chance Smith will not be suspended for his DUI and weapons charges.

      That is the case after Ray Rice was given a minimal two-game suspension following his arrest for domestic violence when he allegedly struck his then-fiancee Janay Palmer at an Atlantic City Hotel. Rice pleaded not guilty to the charges in May and has since married Palmer.

      But given that Smith's charges were non-violent in nature, and his gun charges were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, there is a chance his punishment could be even less punitive than Rice's. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last fall he would consider Smith's five-game leave of absence last season into any potential punishment.

      On the field, Smith says he has never been better.

      "I'm in the best shape I've been in coming into a camp," he said. "My mind's probably in the best spot it's been in. I'm feeling great."

      That could be great news for the 49ers, who are hoping Smith can return to his 2012 form when he notched 19.5 sacks in the regular season before a labrum injury slowed him down in the postseason.

      Smith also said he would meet with Goodell "as soon as possible" regarding potential discipline, but a time has not yet been set.

      Meanwhile, Harbaugh was raving about another Smith

      "I've come to learn never to underestimate Justin Smith," Harbaugh said of the team's powerful defensive lineman. "He's strong as ever, looks like to be in great shape, as all our guys did.

      Smith confirmed Wednesday he played the majority of last season with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Smith had a down year for his standards in 2013, and the shoulder problem could be a reason why.

      Smith, 34, did not participate with the team in its first training camp practice Thursday, instead working out on the side field and in the weight room. The team expects Smith to be 100 percent by the start of the regular season.

      First-round draft pick, defensive back Jimmy Ward, made his practice debut Thursday after missing the entire offseason program with a foot injury. He made an interception and looked good while learning his new role as a nickel corner.

      Cornerback Chris Culliver also practiced in full for the first time in a calendar year after sustaining a torn ACL in the early stages of training camp in 2013. Culliver is a favorite to start opposite of Tramaine Brock and is entering a contract year.

      Marcus Lattimore, the spectacular second-year running back who blew out both knees at South Carolina but was still drafted in 2013 by the 49ers, will open camp on the active/non-football injury list. Lattimore practiced with the team during the offseason program, but was slowed by a hamstring injury during voluntary minicamp. Harbaugh describes placement on the list as precautionary, saying it was a combination of both the hamstring and knee injuries he sustained during his final game at South Carolina.

      Wide receiver Michael Crabtree had his most intense practice Thursday since the season after he took it easy during minicamp. The team took a cautious approach with Crabtree in May and June after he sustained a torn Achilles' tendon at that point in 2013.

      Right tackle Anthony Davis remains out of action after having offseason shoulder surgery. The team plans on having him ready for the start of the regular season.

      Jonathan Martin, the eye of the controversial bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins last year, took the majority of first-team reps at right tackle in Davis' absence. Martin had a case of mononucleosis during the offseason program but appears fully healthy and back in shape.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Report: Ravens sign S Hill
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Baltimore Ravens signed former New York Giants safety Will Hill on Friday, according to the Baltimore Sun.

    • Hill is under a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, which triggered the Giants' release of him in early June.

      Hill was suspended two other times in 2012 and '13 for similar offenses. He missed four games in each of those seasons in due to drug-related bans.

      Just days after Hill's latest suspension was announced, the Giants released him June 2.

      The Ravens learned on Thursday that star running back Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games of this season stemming from his offseason arrest on an assault charge against his now wife.

      Last season, Hill had 77 tackles, two interceptions, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles with New York. He signed with the Arena League's Arizona Rattlers after his release from the Giants.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Jones on Cowboys, Garrett: Same tune, new lyrics
    By The Sports Xchange

    OXNARD, Calif. -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones opened training camp last year proclaiming it was not a do-or-die year for coach Jason Garrett.

    • And while Garrett followed with his third straight 8-8 season, giving him a 29-27 overall slate to extend a four-year streak without a playoff appearance, Jones was singing a similar tune about his coach to open the 2014 camp, just with different wording.

      "This is not a make-or-break year," Jones said. "I'm not going to use that word you just used just because I'm superstitious. No, this is not. In terms of the record of this team, this is not a make-or-break situation. We both know where our expectations are and when it's looking good and when it's looking dire. And I don't expect it to be the latter."

      Jones said the latest 8-8 season was not like the first. He sees Garrett as a coach on the come because of the experience he gained the past three years, his learning curve of a young coach and the continuity of being in his eighth season with the Cowboys.

      Garrett is entering in the final year of his contract.

      "The things that make the record will be the primary consideration (regarding Garrett's future), but not the record. That's been case," Jones said. "Did the record of 8-8, 8-8, 8-8 (cost him his job)? Was that the factor? No. Principally it was other things that I'm proud of that creates quite an asset for us. In my mind, he is more of an asset after this last 8-8 season than he was before the first 8-8 season we had three years ago.

      "I know where he is. I know how he has evolved. ... I think all of us are either going or coming as far as that era is concerned. So I think I know from where he's been in the past, so I'm excited."

      As the son of former coach who was a long-time scout and as a long-time player himself, Garrett knows not to take anything granted.

      He said he is concerned only with the team's success, not his contract status.

      "We have so much to focus on as coaches to try to build this football team the way we want to build it, so that's where our focus is," Garrett said. "That's been my focus since Day 1."

      Garrett believes the Cowboys can better in 2014 because of a dynamic offense behind quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and running back DeMarco Murray and an overhaul on defense with younger and healthier players. Gone are defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. The defense will be led up front by former Chicago Bears Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton and rookie second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence at end.

      "We're not going to have those marquee players we've had in the past," Garrett said. "Some of the pickups in free agency are talented guys. We're better on the back end, in the secondary. It's a combination of young guys, guys chomping at the bit and coaching."

      Jones believes the Cowboys made moves to compete for a playoff spot in 2014. And if they don't compete right now?

      "Well, I'm not anticipating doing that," Jones deadpanned. "You say, can you stomach it? I don't want to have to stomach it. Let's put it like that. You're talking about something that I don't want to spend a lot of time on, and that's what happens after the season's over on any basis."

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Rex: Jets "a zillion miles" ahead of 2013
    By The Sports Xchange

    CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The New York Jets began the 2014 season the same way they ended the 2013 campaign: bubbling with optimism.

    • Of course, the first day of training camp is an ebullient one throughout the NFL. But even by those standards, the Jets are off to an enthusiastic start.

      The Jets reported to camp in upstate New York on Wednesday, and coach Rex Ryan told reporters every player passed the conditioning test -- the first time Ryan saw that in his NFL coaching career.

      Hours later, Ryan delivered an impassioned speech to the players.

      "He just flipped the switch five minutes into the talk," rookie quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "You could just feel the fire burning inside the guys. He made me want to run through a brick wall."

      Nobody ran through a brick wall during the opening practice Thursday, but Ryan still saw enough good things during the workout to declare afterward the Jets were "a zillion miles ahead of where we were at this time last year."

      Ryan acknowledged a lot of that is a byproduct of having a relatively entrenched starting quarterback (Geno Smith) working in the same system as a year ago. Last year, Mark Sanchez was hanging on to his job by a fingernail while learning Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense.

      However, Ryan said the progress wasn't just limited to the offense. Indeed, he sounded like a man almost disappointed the regular-season kickoff remains 45 days away.

      "This is kind of the team that I want," Ryan said, "It's not just me pumping it out and sending the message out there. It's each other. They're pushing each other. Their communication is phenomenal on both sides of the ball, and it's just great to see.

      "I'm telling you, we are so much further along than I can remember (at) anytime (during) this time of year. We're further along with this team than I have been with any other team."

      If there is one thing Ryan knows how to do -- not counting his often outrageous oral rants -- it is to wring value out of pass rushers. With that in mind, the Jets added more depth by agreeing to terms Thursday with former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin on a two-year deal.

      Babin turned 34 in May, but he led the Jaguars last season with 7.5 sacks. He has 62.5 sacks in 10 NFL seasons.

      With outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (knee) still working his way back from last October's ACL surgery, Babin should team up with outside linebacker Calvin Pace -- who racked up a career-high 10 sacks as a 33-year-old last season -- to provide the Jets with another weapon off the edge.

      "You can't have enough pass rushers," Ryan said Thursday. "(Babin) is a relentless guy, (has) a phenomenal motor and obviously he has got a history of being able to get to the quarterback."

      The Jets will be the seventh team for Babin, who was drafted by the Houston Texans in the first round in 2004.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Mum is the official word on Jets' QB job
    By The Sports Xchange

    CORTLAND, N.Y. -- For those keeping stats, after one day of training camp for the New York Jets, the tally is Geno Smith 1, Michael Vick 0.

    • Of course, the Jets' quarterback competition is a competition in name only. Smith is expected to get 75 percent of the first-team reps in training camp, and the interception Vick threw Thursday was largely a result of the wrong route being run by rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders -- somebody Smith probably won't be throwing to a whole lot this summer.

      It is an open secret -- one some suspect may fester into an open sore as is often the case with the Jets -- that Smith merely needs to avoid face-planting over the next six weeks in order to open the season behind center when the team hosts the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 7.

      Still, in keeping with general manager John Idzik's company line, head coach Rex Ryan said he was in no rush to officially name a starting quarterback.

      "I love the fact that we have competition, and I want to have competition at every position," Ryan said Wednesday. "So for us to say, 'Hey, this guy specifically is going to be the quarterback,' or you want to have it on a certain date and things, I don't know if that's really appropriate. I think you let this competition play out.

      "I'm excited about our competition at all positions. And at the appropriate time -- that we think is the appropriate time -- to name the starting quarterback, we certainly will."

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Hardy incident hangs heavy over Panthers
    By The Sports Xchange

    SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- After a tumultuous offseason that included the surprise release of the franchise's most popular and perhaps best player ever in wide receiver Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers returned to work Thursday. But football still wasn't the main storyline.

    • While players and staff reported for the start of training camp, general manager Dave Gettleman addressed the elephant in the new Bank of America Stadium media room.

      "Obviously what's happened with Greg (Hardy) is very concerning and very disappointing. These are very serious allegations," Gettleman said. "At the same time, we also respect the fact that Greg has appealed the decision and is entitled to a jury trial."

      Hardy, the Panthers' 25-year-old star defensive end, was found guilty of communicating threats and assaulting his ex-girlfriend during a domestic violence trial last week. That ruling was handed down by a judge, and in North Carolina, defendants are allowed to ask for a jury trial after such a decision. Hardy was granted an appeal, which will likely not be heard until after the upcoming season.

      The Panthers could punish Hardy with a suspension of up to four games, but the NFL highly discourages teams from taking action themselves, preferring to handle most legal matters itself.

      "We have to abide by the league's conduct policy," Gettleman said. "It's in the courts and we have to respect that process. We just have to."

      The league usually waits out legal matters, and because Hardy's case likely won't be complete until 2015, he heads into the new season without much threat of suspension.

      Coach Ron Rivera was adamant he wouldn't comment on Hardy or if he'll address the team about the situation, instead deferring all questions to his boss. And Gettleman is deferring to the NFL.

      "It appears that the league is going to let the entire process play out," Gettleman said. "Again, it's in the courts. That's all I can say."

  • Friday, July 25, 2014
    Chiefs hint Smith is good, not great
    By The Sports Xchange

    ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- One down, two more to go.

    • That was the checklist for Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey faced on the contract front as the team began training camp practice Thursday at Missouri Western State University.

      A holdout by Jamaal Charles ended up being measured in minutes, not days, as the running back and the team agreed Wednesday to a two-year extension that will bring him $18.1 million in new money. Charles was only a few hours late for the deadline for veterans to report to campus.

      "I didn't want to hold out," he said. "That's not my personality. I couldn't do it. I didn't want to be selfish. I just wanted to get the deal done ... to come back and play football."

      Now, Dorsey must get back to finding a way to do new deals or extensions with quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston. Those negotiations have been going on since the end of the 2013 season, but neither player appears to close to a revised agreement with the team. Both are under contract for the upcoming season, Smith at $7.5 million and Houston at $1.4 million. It is the final year of both contracts.

      "There's been a lot of continued open conversation between both sides," Smith said of negotiations between the club and his agent, Tom Condon. "But come camp for me, that's going to be forgotten about. For me, it's all about football. And if it gets done, it gets done. But until then, it's focused on that first game really."

      Speaking publicly for the first time about his contract situation, Houston did not share much information on the state of negotiations or his emotions.

      "It's in God's hands, I'm here to play football and I'm not going to worry about that," Houston said. "I'm here to help better the team and do what the coaches ask of me."

      However, the linebacker's feelings were obvious when he boycotted the team's offseason program and the mandatory minicamp, costing him just less than $70,000 in fines. He is in the final year of the rookie deal that came with his third-round draft position. Houston fell to that spot after testing positive for marijuana at the 2011 NFL Combine.

      In 43 games over his first three seasons, he has 26.5 sacks and 180 total tackles. Houston also had a sack of Andrew Luck in the Chiefs' 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in a first-round playoff game last season.

      Before the extension was completed with Charles, the Chiefs had $9.4 million available under the 2014 salary cap. Given the money that starting quarterbacks and pass-rushing outside linebackers receive in the league, there appears to be little chance the team could sign both players to long-term deals in the next few months. The Chiefs may be forced to use their franchise-player tag again come next spring if they have not reached agreements with Smith and Houston.

      A decision must be made on the importance of the current starting quarterback to the team's future. Based on a lack of agreement to this point, it would seem the team would like to keep Smith, but it doesn't view him as a franchise player at the position.

      Good quarterbacks are expensive in the NFL. Great quarterbacks are really expensive. Smith is a good quarterback. Are the Chiefs ready to give him mega-millions to solidify the most important position on the field?

      If it is not Smith, then who is going to be the man? Finding that guy is going to cost money. If the Chiefs decide Smith is worth of a major investment, the move would limit what they can do with other players looking for big money.

      It is the biggest challenge for Dorsey in his first 20 months on the job.

      --Last year's No. 1 overall draft choice, Eric Fisher, was moved back to his college position, left tackle. He spent his rookie season playing right tackle. Along the way, Fisher injured his left shoulder, and postseason surgery was required. That allowed him to come to camp early and work on the field with the rookies and other veterans returning from injury.

      "It felt good being out there today," Fisher said of returning to left tackle. "I'm glad to be back in my old position. It felt natural, and I'm really excited about it."

      Fisher said he weighed in at 315 pounds.

      "I'm happy with that weight, and I think they are happy with that weight," he said.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Embarrassed Broncos set high goals for defense
    By The Sports Xchange

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After last year's decline from being the NFL's No. 2 defense in 2012, that side of the football has heard far too much about the Denver Broncos being half a team.

    • Most of the offseason tweaks were made to that side of the ball: the Broncos' first three signings in unrestricted free agency (T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib) and their first-round draft pick (Bradley Roby).

      "We just want to be enforcers out there," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said Thursday when the team began training camp practice. "We want to go out there and set the tone. We don't want our offense to have to go out there and score 28 or 35 points a game in order for us to win. We want to go out there and shut teams out and develop that image throughout the league that it's not only Peyton you have to worry about; it's that defense."

      During organized team activities, Ware set a goal with linebacker Von Miller -- who returns from a torn ACL -- of combining for more sacks than at least one team amasses. In 2012, Miller and Elvis Dumervil succeeded at that feat, so it is realistic.

      On Wednesday, Ware established a team goal of having the No. 1 offense and defense, which he described succinctly as "one and one."

      "The sky is the limit for us," Ware said.

      Miller isn't all the way back from the torn ACL, but he is close. He took part in the 7-on-7 periods of practice Thursday and was held out of team work, but that keeps him on schedule to play Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts.

      But just as important as his physical recovery is his mental and emotional one. His 2013 season was marred by an arrest and a six-game suspension for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. He put on weight during his suspension, which appeared to slow him down. Although he still generated consistent pressure, he failed to finish with sacks as frequently as he did in 2012.

      This offseason, he dropped some of that weight, bringing him closer to the 250-260-pound range, which is ideal.

      "I feel good where I'm at," Miller said. "A Ferrari wasn't built to carry luggage to and from the airport. You just want to have light, streamlined. That's just what I was trying to get to. Everything but the knee brace, I want to be streamlined, fast and quick."

      Last year, he hoped playing at above 270 pounds would help him burst through opposing blockers. But it hindered his ability to get around them.

      "I figured out when I was 280, 270 pounds, they're still going to hold you regardless. It's not like you're going to keep offensive linemen from holding you," he said. "So I might as well be at a weight we're I'm comfortable."

      Before the Broncos took a five-week break between organized team activities and training camp, offensive coordinator Adam Gase had his players watch the game footage of Super Bowl XLVIII.

      They weren't the only players to do so. Knighton admits that he has re-watched the 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks "a lot."

      "I watched it enough to hate them," Knighton said. "You can keep that, you can write that down, do whatever you want.

      "I'm looking forward to playing them again. The good thing is, we'll see them in the regular season and the preseason, and like I said, we just want to get that bad taste out of our mouths."

      The teams meet Aug. 7 in their preseason opener in Denver and in Week 3 in Seattle, but neither will come close to providing redemption, and Knighton knows it.

      "Playing them in Week 3 won't get (the taste) out of our mouth," Knighton said. "It'll be winning the Super Bowl. We want to hoist that trophy."

      Until then, the loss will stick with the Broncos.

      "Everybody might not say it, but I'll say it. It's definitely in the backs of people's minds," Knighton said.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Saints say all's well with Graham
    By The Sports Xchange

    New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton don't anticipate any animosity from Jimmy Graham this season after they testifield against the tight end at a hearing to determine his position for contract purposes.

    • Graham went to arbitration with the team this summer after he sought to be considered a wide receiver instead of a tight end for franchise tag purposes. Loomis and Payton testified against Graham.

      Last week, the two sides ended their negotiations when Graham signed a four-year, $40 million contract.

      "Look, it was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well," Loomis said. "Obviously going to an appeal hearing over the position argument was unique. But otherwise it was a negotiation. You know, all of these negotiations are tough.

      "Obviously, when it's a high-profile guy, there's more written about it. And those are personal issues for the players, in particular, and we understand that. But that's behind us. We're glad to have it done. I'm sure Jimmy's glad to have it done. It's just a process that we had to go through. And, look, I think both sides are pretty pleased with the outcome."

      Loomis took exception to a reporter calling the situation with Graham "messy."

      "I don't know if I would describe that as 'messy,'" Loomis said. "There was just an issue that had to do with the way the CBA was written that introduced some more elements to it. I didn't feel like that was really messy. It was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well."

      Payton said he remained in contact with Graham throughout the process and even at the hearing.

      "There's a weight on your shoulders when you're at a crossroads with regards to a contract," Payton said. "Listen, I've been there as a coach in a different way. And so when it's resolved, man, there's a lot of relief."

      During the Saints' training camp practice in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on Thursday, Payton said Graham posted one of the best times in a conditioning test -- a sign that he's ready for the season and to potentially improve upon last year.

      In 2013, Graham finished the regular season with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, boosting his career totals to 301 receptions for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Report: Group explores Toronto stadium sites
    By The Sports Xchange

    A potential NFL franchise ownership group that includes rocker Jon Bon Jovi conducted a stadium feasibility study this month in Toronto.

    • According to an Associated Press report, the Toronto-based group looked at two sites in the city and one in a suburban area. The group has been linked to a possible bid for the Buffalo Bills.

      The fear in Buffalo is that the group, should it succeed in purchasing the team, would move the Bills out of Buffalo. The Bills' 10-year lease in Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Buffalo extends through 2022.

      Terms of the lease stipulate that the franchise cannot negotiate with a possible buyer until the end of the 2019 season, three years before the lease expires. If a sale was negotiated then, there would be a $28.4 million fee to void the final three years of the contract.

      Bon Jovi's group denied conducting a feasibility study on stadium sites in the Toronto area.

      "We have undertaken engineering and design studies," Andy Bergmann, in charge of the group's stadium plans, wrote in an email to the AP. "All of our work has been about a generic site and whether it was more rural or urban. We are aware of potential sites in the western NY and southern Ontario region, and are in fact meeting with two Buffalo area developers next week. No feasibility studies have been undertaken on any site to date."

      Bon Jovi has said his wish would be to keep the team in Buffalo. His group, which includes the Rogers family and Larry Tanenbaum, is among at least 10 interested buyers.

      Tanenbaum heads Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which has controlling interest in the NBA Raptors and NHL Maple Leafs. Rogers Communications is a Toronto-based communications company.

      The Bills are for sale after the death of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson in March. According to reports, a potential owner could be selected among the candidates and presented to the NFL as early as October during league meetings.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Seahawks' Lynch expected to hold out
    By The Sports Xchange

    Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch plans to hold out during training camp, former teammate Michael Robinson said Thursday.

    • Lynch is in search of a new contract. He signed a four-year, $31 million deal in March 2012 and is scheduled to make $5 million in 2014 with a $500,000 roster bonus.

      The 28-year-old Lynch faces the possibility of $30,000 per day in fines during a holdout. Training camp practices begin Friday for the Seahawks.

      Lynch's planned absence comes on the heels of Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles receiving a two-year contract extension on Wednesday that boosted his 2014 salary to $8.3 million.

      "Marshawn Lynch just called me, we just talked," Robinson said on NFL Network"s Inside Training Camp. “He said he will be holding out from training camp this year with the Seahawks."

      Lynch showed up for a mandatory minicamp in June after threatening to stay away while he angled then for his contract to be renegotiated. He did not participate in any drills at that time.

      In three full seasons since joining the Seahawks via a trade with the Buffalo Bills in 2010, Lynch has rushed for 4,517 yards and 41 touchdowns and had an NFL-high 1,002 regular-season and playoff carries.

      Meanwhile, the defending champion Seahawks added a player to their summer roster while removing two players.

      Wide receiver Morrell Presley signed with Seattle, which released tight end Chase Dixon and waived/injured guard Jared Smith.

      Presley earned a job through a rookie tryout camp in mid-May. He finished his college career at California University of Pennsylvania after playing for UCLA.

      Dixon, an undrafted rookie, signed with the Seahawks on May 10. Smith was a seventh-round draft pick in 2013, and he spent last season on the practice squad and on injured reserve due to a leg ailment.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Gronk's return upstages Brady in Pats camp
    By The Sports Xchange

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The biggest applause Thursday morning from the thousands of fans in attendance as the New England Patriots opened training camp wasn't for quarterback Tom Brady. That honor was saved for tight end Rob Gronkowski.

    • Though the Pro Bowler was a limited participant for the first practice session of the summer -- he did not take part in group or team drills, and he got no reps against defenders -- the mere fact that New England's second-most-important offensive player was on the field was a major positive.

      One day after coach Bill Belichick announced that Gronkowski was cleared medically as he works back from the torn ACL he sustained last December against the Browns, fans and players alike were happy to see big No. 87 in his jersey and on the field.

      "It's a positive," Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins said. "We were all hoping Gronk would have a good recovery. So far he has. We'll just see where he is and how good he is right now. It's great to have him out there. He's a dynamic blocker. He does a great job in the blocking, and he's a big target for Tom (Brady) to get the ball to and he gets open.

      "Any time you can have Gronk on the field, it's good."

      No one knows that better than Brady, who saw his own production and effectiveness peak last season in the six-plus games in which Gronkowski was healthy and in the lineup. However, the quarterback is always aware that he has to be prepared for life without his tight end, as was the case in the postseason the last two years.

      "If he's not out there, then we still have to find a way to do it, and I think really that's a lesson that we've learned," Brady said. "You've got to try to win, no matter who is out there. You've got to try to compete at a high level. When you have great players like that that are on the field, it helps you a lot. Your margin of error goes up. But you've got to prepare for both.

      "We've had different times over the offseason where certain guys have been in there, certain guys haven't, but I don't think the expectations have changed. You've still got to go out and execute the play the best way you know how to and try to do it at a high level on a consistent basis."

      With Gronkowski cleared to open camp, it means that the physically unable to perform option is removed from the equation moving forward. While the Patriots are expected to be cautious with the tight end, all signs continue to point to him being ready for opening day in Miami.

      That will be a far cry from a year ago when he missed the first six weeks with arm and back injuries. It also will be a big boost for a Patriots offense that relies on the tight end almost as much as it does Brady to move the ball and score points.

      Brady dealt with a total overhaul of his weapons leading into training camp last summer. With Gronkowski hurt, slot receiver Wes Welker gone to the Denver Broncos and tight end Aaron Hernandez arrested on murder charges, Brady entered 2013 with a bunch of new and young faces to work with. Heading into his second season with the likes of veteran wide receiver Danny Amendola as well as returning second-year receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, there are higher expectations for the passing attack that struggled so mightily without Gronkowski a year ago.

      Still, Brady is far from taking anything for granted.

      "It's about making improvements, and I think it goes from the guys who are newest on the team to the guys who are oldest on the team," Brady said on the first day of training camp. "I don't think you ever have it all figured out. You try to come out here and you work hard to put yourself in a good position and to compete, and when you get a chance and you get your opportunity, you've got to go out and make it happen.

      "It's really everybody. There's nobody that's immune to it. You've got to put the work in. You've got to give it everything you've got, and like I said, hopefully on a daily basis you continue to make improvements. This game is a very humbling game. You can't ever think that you've got it all figured out. You've got to go out there and prove it every single day."

      Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was a full-go for the first day of training camp as he returns from the torn Achilles that cost him all but four games a year ago. The veteran clearly wants to put the injury in the past.

      "I'm looking forward," he said. "Right now, I just feel good. I don't know what's going to happen further down the road, but right now I feel good. I'm happy to be out here with my teammates."

      Missing all those games a year ago, dealing with the first injury of his now 11-year career, Wilfork has a newfound view of his job.

      "I always appreciate the game, but being out last year, it just made me dwell on the things a little bit more and appreciate them a lot, lot more," Wilfork said. "You think about things a little differently now going through what I've been through -- my first time being injured. It's one of those things, I had a road block in the road, and what am I going to do about it?

      "With the teammates I have, with my coaches, with my family -- that's a big supporter of mine, my family -- just having somebody that you can talk to every day, come and work out every day and have guys surrounding you and just being able to comfort you when times get tough.

      "Just having someone to talk to, I think this team does a real good job of that. Everybody just sending you a text or a phone call or just coming to your house to see how you're doing -- it went a long ways for me, and I really appreciate it from everybody."

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    NFL roundup: Rice suspension set at two games
    By The Sports Xchange

    Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been suspended for the first two games of the regular season by the NFL after his offseason arrest on an assault charge stemming from an incident with his fiancee.

    • Rice stands to lose more than $470,000 in base salary and will also be fined $58,000, per the report.

      Rice can practice with the team and play in preseason games, with the suspension beginning Aug. 30. He is eligible to be reinstated Sept. 12, meaning Rice will miss key home games against division rivals -- the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals and a Week 2 tilt against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

      Bernard Pierce is expected to start in Rice's absence. However, he was only medically cleared Wednesday after an idle offseason. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry last year and underwent offseason shoulder surgery.

      --- The Atlanta Falcons agreed to terms with Roddy White on a four-year contract extension that runs through the 2018 season and could set the wide receiver up to finish his career with the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 2005.

      Financial terms were not disclosed, but ESPN reported the deal includes $10 million in guaranteed money for the four-time Pro Bowler. White was scheduled to enter the final year of his six-year, $48 million contract signed following a training camp holdout in 2009. White, 32, was set to earn a $5 million base salary in 2014 before the extension, ranked No. 11 among NFL wide receivers.

      ---Jay Gruden's first training camp as an NFL head coach got under way in the rain in Richmond, Va..

      Of course, nothing can dampen the 47-year-old's enthusiasm, and that energy appears to have revitalized quarterback Robert Griffin III. After a trying second season under former coach Mike Shanahan, Griffin has received nothing but praise so far from Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay.

      "It's really just a good thing to have two coaches that believe in you," Griffin said. "

      The Redskins backslid from 10-6 NFC East champions in 2012 to 3-13 division cellar-dwellers in 2013.

      ---New England Patriots veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork was on the field for the first time in team workouts since he tore his Achilles at Atlanta four games into last season. There was a time in the offseason when it appeared Wilfork, entering his 11th season at age 32, might not be back with the Patriots.

      "Hopefully I'm picking up where I left off. I don't know," Wilfork said. "Like I said, I try not to think about it. That's me. The future, you never know what happens in the future. Like I said, I'm not going to dwell over the past. Right now I feel good, I'm practicing, I'm excited about being here and I'm going to keep that excitement."

      ---All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith was back on the field with the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, and hopes to keep the focus there after repeated off-field issues.

      Six days after he received three years probation and was ordered to do 11 days work crew service during sentencing for drunken driving and weapons charges. Smith said he was pleased with the outcome. But there's still a looming meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the prospect of a suspension.

      Smith, who has 42 sacks in 43 career games, said he has been sober since he went to rehab last September during a leave of absence from the team.

      ---Rookie offensive tackle Taylor Lewan signed a four-year deal with the Tennessee Titans, closing the book on contract negotiations for the 2014 NFL Draft class.

      Lewan was the last player selected in May to sign his rookie deal.

      Despite not really having a guaranteed starting spot for Lewan to make an immediate impact as a rookie, the Titans pulled the trigger with the future in mind when he was surprisingly on the board with the 11th overall pick. Tennessee already has veteran left tackle Michael Roos, a starter since his rookie year of 2005, and the team recently signed right tackle Michael Oher to a four-year, $20 million contract. That could leave Lewan waiting in the wings until 2015.

      ---Three months and six days after ankle surgery, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was medically cleared to participate in training camp when the team opens with a Friday night workout.

      Newton was ahead of schedule and participated in on-field sessions in June. Head coach Ron Rivera said questions about the quarterback's mobility are moot until he is on the field in "live situations." Game situations are not expected to be simulated this week and Newton will not be exposed to contact in scrimmages.

      The Panthers are taking no disciplinary action against defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted on two counts of domestic violence last week and is expected to be suspended by the NFL. However, the NFL could wait to bring any punishment until after his appeal is heard at trial, which might not occur until after the season ends.

      ---Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon will appeal a pending one-year suspension in a meeting with NFL officials on Aug. 1, according to an ESPN report.

      Gordon has a string off off-field incidents since entering the NFL as a Supplemental Draft pick in 2012, and is facing a yearlong suspension after another failed drug test this offseason. The suspension was reported leading up to the NFL Draft in May, two months before Gordon was charged with a DWI in North Carolina.

      The Browns open training camp Saturday, and will not know Gordon's status for at least another week. However, coach Mike Pettine made it clear the franchise has no intention of giving up on Gordon.

      Also on Thursday, the Browns signed linebacker Edgar Jones, an eighth-year veteran was originally signed by Baltimore as an undrafted rookie in 2008 and has appeared in 64 career games as a reserve.

      The Browns added offensive linemen Chris Faulk and Jeremiah Warren, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel and running back Terrance West to the active roster. All four were designated as active/non-football injury Wednesday. Running back Jourdan Brooks and wide receiver Kenny Shaw were waived.

      ---The Dallas Cowboys placed guard Ronald Leary and defensive end Anthony Spencer on the active/physically unable to perform list on Thursday.

      Spencer continues to rehab from the microfracture surgery he had on his knee last October. Leary reportedly strained his hamstring during the team's conditioning test earlier this week.

      The Cowboys also placed defensive tackle Amobi Okoye on the non-football illness list. He was out of football last season but the former first-round pick, just 27 years old, is hoping to contribute under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

      ---Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon was arrested in Edmond, Okla., and charged him with possession of marijuana, according to multiple reports.

      Blackmon was reportedly stopped for a traffic violation, and police officers smelled the odor of marijuana coming from his car. A search found marijuana and Blackmon was taken into custody.

      Owner Shad Khan said the Jaguars will not cut ties with Blackmon despite the ongoing off-field issues. It is the third arrest for Blackmon, who is currently suspended indefinitely by the franchise. following his third violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

      ---Former Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly, who is recovering from cancer treatments, will take part in the coin toss for the Hall of Fame game to kick off the NFL season.

      Kelly will represent Buffalo as an honorary captain, while former linebacker Harry Carson will be the New York Giants' honorary captain to open the NFL's 95th season at Pro Football Hall of Fame Field in Canton, Ohio, on Sunday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. ET.

      ---The Green Bay Packers swapped linebackers on their 90-man roster, signing Korey Jones and releasing Shaun Lewis.

      Jones is a 6-foot-1, 232-pound first-year player who went undrafted out of Wyoming in 2013. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie and spent training camp with the team before being released on Aug. 25 and playing for the B.C. Lions in the CFL last season. Lewis signed with the Packers on June 10 after being invited to the team's rookie orientation camp in May on a tryout basis.

      ---Luke Butkus will be interim offensive line coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, filling in while George Yarno battles cancer near his family in Spokane, Wash.

      Butkus, nephew of Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, played football at University of Illinois and is in his seventh season in the NFL.

      Yarno, 56, will be away from the team for "some months," head coach Gus Bradley said Thursday.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Chargers' Rivers squarely focused on playoff run
    By The Sports Xchange

    SAN DIEGO -- Year Two of Camp McCoy has arrived at Chargers Park, and quarterback Philip Rivers might just embrace a repeat of Year One.

    • The Chargers opened training camp on Thursday, their second under coach Mike McCoy, and what does Rivers do for an encore?

      McCoy's up-tempo offensive approach was among the reasons Rivers had a phenomenal 2013 season. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, gained more than 4,400 yards through the air and heaved 32 touchdown passes.

      But improving on those numbers really isn't the quest.

      "I think's it's to try and win more than nine games and find a way to reach your ultimate goal," Rivers said. "But shoot, I would like to throw for 70 percent completion again, but that is not all that I'm trying to get done. You just want to keep fine-tuning the details and all the little things.

      "Every little thing matters and it's not relaxing on anything. And I think our whole offense has that mindset that you don't get bored with the minute little things that you've done a million times because we all know that is the difference: it's a play here, a play there."

      Rivers was the difference last year as the Chargers reeled off four straight wins down the stretch and watched the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens get swept in their final four games. That put the Chargers into the playoffs for the first time in four years, and it's a destination Rivers seeks again -- and then some.

      "We got a lot of younger players but we've got a veteran group that has played a lot and now feels like we have played a lot together," Rivers said. "We couldn't say that last year."

      Not with the offensive line being rebuilt, a new weapon in running back Danny Woodhead and a receiving corps relying on a rookie in Keenan Allen. And that speaks to how much more advanced Rivers feels he is, not only in McCoy's offense but with the team in general.

      "I feel like we've played a long time together," Rivers said. "Even though it has been only a year you feel that confidence when you've had the game experience and some of the ups and downs we dealt with."

      Rivers is as optimistic as he is a realist. Entering his 11th season, he knows he likely has more yesterdays than tomorrows.

      "I'm excited this year but I'm not necessarily more than any other when I thought we had a chance to be a really good team," he said. "I may be a little more excited just because I'm further along in my career. I think over the last few years you realize you're not going to do this forever. I never have taken it for granted, but I think us veteran players know we're probably closer to the end than we are the beginning."

      This season got started Thursday on a hot San Diego July morning. The Chargers are hoping it doesn't end until a warm February night in Arizona.

      "I don't want to win (a Super Bowl) more now than I did seven years ago," Rivers said. "I don't think you try any harder but you just enjoy every element. You just appreciate what we get to do. We're just a bunch of young men that get to be on a team and play football. So I think it's just appreciating the heck out of that."

      -- Tight end Antonio Gates, who missed the offseason workouts, practiced in the opening camp session. Gates spent time with Pamela, his 22-year-old sister this offseason who was suffering from lupus. She passed away on the eve of training camp's first practice.

      "It's always good to be back to have that camaraderie and chemistry around the guys," Gates said. "You don't have to be a football player; no one is immune to trials and tribulations of life. When it happens it's just something you have to deal with. Life goes on, for the most part. But at the time, dealing with it, I felt being with my family was the right thing to do."

      -- There were a group of players that avoided the physically unable to perform list, proving what the Chargers had said about most of them all along -- that they would be ready for camp. Those avoiding PUP and working at some level during the opening session were cornerback Jason Verrett, the team's first-round pick this year, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (quad), tight end John Phillips (knee) and tackle Michael Harris.

      "It feels great," Freeney said. "But it's early and it's one of those injuries where time is going to tell."

      Verrett looked good, playing at right cornerback.

      "I'm happy to be back there playing," said Verrett.

      Among the receivers Verrett tracked was veteran Malcom Floyd.

      "I've been watching guys like that since I was a kid," he said.

      -- Marion Brice has done what a good rookie does: give up his number. With the Chargers signing cornerback Brandon Flowers late in the offseason, Brice had already been assigned No. 26, the digit Flowers prefers. So Brice, a sixth-round pick, relinquished the number and switched over to No. 28.

      -- Training camp is about winning roster spots, overall, and claiming positions, in particular. Among the areas where the most spirited battles should take place are at right guard, kick and punt returner, outside linebacker, cornerback and defensive line. The last three spots are players fighting to add depth to those positions.

      "Right now there is a depth chart, but that is just a starting point for where we are in the season," coach Mike McCoy said. "We're going to play the best guys and let all those guys compete."

      -- Nine of the camp practices at Chargers Park are open to the public.

      -- RG Jeromey Clary was placed as the physically unable to perform list as he continues to rebound from offseason hip and shoulder surgeries.

      -- G Johnnie Troutman started nine games at left guard last season when starter Chad Rinehart was sidelined, but this summer Troutman is setting up shop at right guard. With Clary on the mend, Troutman has been the first guy up to run with the first team at that spot.

      -- CB Brandon Flowers was new to the team but that didn't prevent coach Mike McCoy to having him line up as the starter on the left side from the get-go. He often lined up in the slot for the Chiefs last season while dealing with a sore knee.

      -- DE Damik Scafe continues to be on the tips of coaches' tongues and he'll be worth watching going forward after being injured last year.

      -- DT Sean Lissemore is playing with the first unit.

      -- WR Malcom Floyd continues to run smoothly and looks good after missing most of last season with a serious neck injury.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    RGIII excited Redskins coaches 'believe' in him
    By The Sports Xchange

    RICHMOND, Va. - Jay Gruden's first training camp as an NFL head coach got underway in the rain in Richmond, Va., on Thursday.

    • Of course, nothing can dampen the 47-year-old's enthusiasm, and that energy appears to have revitalized quarterback Robert Griffin III. After a trying second season under former head coach Mike Shanahan, Griffin has received nothing but praise so far from Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay.

      "It's really just a good thing to have two coaches that believe in you," Griffin said. "Sean and Jay have done a great job. They've given me a lot on my shoulders in that quarterback room and I cherish that. You want to be asked to do more or just to do the bare minimum.

      "As a quarterback, you have to have that fire in your heart that says when things are going wrong that you're going to get it right."

      Griffin is continuing to learn a new offensive system, but the difference from 12 months ago is he isn't recovering from major knee surgery and was able to fully dive into the offseason program. And while not mentioning Shanahan by name, it's clear Griffin has a different relationship with the new coaching staff.

      "I think everybody feels different in the organization," he said. "We just have an opportunity to come in with a lot more energy. There is a togetherness in that locker room and in the building."

      Gruden is excited. Griffin is excited. Now the task is putting in the work to improve on a daily basis.

      The Redskins certainly didn't do that last year under Shanahan as they backslid from 10-6 NFC East champions in 2012 to 3-13 division cellar-dwellers in 2013. To his credit, Gruden didn't adopt the usual "every year is a new year" coach-speak when addressing Washington's mindset.

      "You try to learn from history, coaches' past mistakes, not only here but every other franchise in the NFL," said Gruden, the offensive coordinator of playoff teams in Cincinnati the past three years. "We'll learn from what we did in Cincinnati, what we did right, what ... we did wrong, how we ended the season, how poorly we finished and what we can do to rectify that. ... We're going to get second guessed all the time, but we have to feel confident the way we're doing things is the right way and the best way for them to succeed on Sundays. Ultimately that's all we can ask."

      The Redskins added quality free agents in receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, defensive end Jason Hatcher and safety Ryan Clark while losing only inside linebacker London Fletcher to retirement. So Gruden and Co. firmly believe that a bounce-back season is within their sights.

      "We've all got a chip on our shoulders," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "To win three games, that takes a toll on you physically and mentally. We're happy right now. We're undefeated and we're ready to roll."

      Which, of course, is what Gruden wants to hear.

      "From a coaching staff standpoint ... all the way to the top to (owner Dan) Snyder, I feel good about where we are," Gruden said. "Now we've just got to find the right 53 guys. It's not going to be easy because we feel like we have a very good, competitive group. We have to make sure we get a good look at all the young guys, all the free agents, all the undrafted free agents, the draft picks, the veteran free agents.

      "When you play four preseason games and you scrimmage against the (perennial AFC East champion) New England Patriots (Aug. 4-6 in Richmond), hopefully we'll get enough reps where we do make the right decision because nothing is worse as a coach than when you let somebody go and they go on and kick you're ass later on."

      Added Griffin, whose performances the past two seasons were indicative of the entire team's, "We won the division one year and didn't win the division the next. This year, we look forward to getting back on top."

      Griffin has a leg up on that goal because unlike last year when he was coming off ACL surgery and was held out of the entire preseason, he has two healthy legs.

      "There's just a difference in coming back from a knee injury and rehabbing as opposed to being able to work on your craft throughout the whole offseason," he said. "It's beneficial to be out there at practice, it's beneficial to be able to not have to worry about an injury. ... I'm ready to go."

      Gruden, himself once a star quarterback in the Arena League, is very pleased with his quarterback.

      "Obviously he's in great shape," Gruden said. "Physical conditioning, not an issue. Mental conditioning, we feel excellent. (Offensive Coordinator) Sean (McVay) has done an excellent job with him. (Robert)'s doing a great job with the command of the game, the huddle, his progressions in the passing game. His audibles in the run game have been excellent.

      "He's in his third year and he's still going to make mistakes here and there, but the key is to learn from his mistakes and not make the same mistakes over and over and just continue to get better every day, and he's the type of guy that will."

      Griffin sounded like Gruden in making a similar point.

      "The more you play, the more you grow," said Griffin, who set NFL rookie records for passer rating and quarterback rushing yards in 2012. "(You) learn from your mistakes, don't make them over and over again and that's part of playing quarterback. If you keep making the same mistakes over and over, you're not going to be out there and that's something that I pride myself on - being able to adapt and learn whatever coach is trying to teach me in a rep."

      Hall sees a different Griffin, mentally, from last summer's version.

      "The stress is kind of off him ... worrying about reps, worrying about a head coach (who) you don't really know if he likes you or doesn't like you, things like that," Hall said. "From the jump, from the moment Jay came in here, I think Robert kind of knew that Jay wanted him, he wanted to coach him and felt he could be special."

      For his part, Griffin ridiculed the idea that defenses befuddled him in 2013 as he dropped from a 20-5 touchdown/interception ratio, 65.6 completion percentage and a 102.4 passer rating as a rookie in 2012 to 16/12, 60.1 and 82.2 last season.

      "You don't go from the ability to read defenses one year and not have that ability the next, so I don't believe that one bit," Griffin said.

      Griffin will certainly have every chance to read defenses this summer with all the reps he's slated to take.

      "You can never have too many reps," Gruden said. "We can run the same play 10 times and we might get 10 different defenses. The more you see that play against different defenses, the more you see the blitzes that he has to handle from a quarterback position, step it up in the pocket, his fundamentals, his footwork... He just needs to continue to get reps. All quarterbacks need the reps. All quarterbacks want the reps. They desire the chance to compete not only on Sunday but every day during the week and Robert is an ultimate competitor. From Robert's standpoint, he just needs to keep getting the reps."

      -- Hall is just 30, but Fletcher's retirement has made the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback the face of Washington's defense, which he joined in November 2008 after his stunning release by Oakland.

      "The onus is on me," said the often-combustible Hall, who's beginning his 11th NFL season. "Meeting with Jay this offseason he kind of stressed that to me. I embraced it. I felt like I was ready for it. London, I tried to stay in his hip pocket as much as possible, so I'm definitely up for the challenge."

      Which is how Hall plays his position.

      "As a corner, if you don't feel like you're the best, there's a problem right there," he said. "I never said I was the best, I would be a fool to think 11 years in I'm the best in the game right now. (But) I definitely think I'm pretty successful at doing what I do. I put my film against any corner in the league and we'll see what he does and we'll see what I do and we can go from there. I definitely think that if you put me out there against a (top) receiver ... I'll take my chances. I never said I was the best, but I definitely feel like I should be in the conversation. ... I'll take myself in a heartbeat."

      -- Given the usual summer heat and humidity in Richmond, Gruden has opted to hold practices at 8:35 a.m. most days with a walkthrough at 4:10 p.m.

      "We try to do what's best for our team and for this place," Gruden explained on the eve of the first practice. "We thought practicing in the morning was the best option for us. Just walking out there today, it was hot, so I'm kind of glad we're going in the morning."

      However, Thursday morning was rainy and relatively cool. Perhaps that's why the defense was a clear winner during the first practice of camp.

      "When we first walked out and saw the rain, we were like, 'Man, please cancel practice,'" Hall said. "Then when we saw it wasn't raining that hard, we were like, 'OK, let's go ahead and try and get this done.' We had fun."

      Which is more than Griffin could really say.

      "As an offense we weren't as efficient as we wanted to be," he admitted. "It's a good thing to have to work through the rain and have to throw those wet footballs and have to catch those wet footballs and have to work on the quarterback/center exchange, all those things. (When) you start camp, there's a lot of excitement. Football is back. And then you have a practice like today where the weather plays a huge factor and you have to kind of block that out."

      The afternoon walkthrough was canceled due to rain.

      -- Cornerbacks Tracy Porter (shoulder) ad Richard Crawford (knee) took part in the first practice of camp.

      -- Nose tackle Barry Cofield, who missed the latter part of the spring following hernia surgery, took part in the first practice of camp.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Smith eager to puzzle Bucs' talented pieces together
    By The Sports Xchange

    TAMPA - Lovie Smith commands respect through his quiet demeanor and is not one to show his emotions on his sleeve, but it was difficult for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach to hide the excitement of opening his first training camp with the team Thursday.

    • "I know I'm not jumping up with pom-poms right now, but, believe me, I've seen this day for a long time," said Smith.

      Smith has been forthright with his big expectations for 2014 since taking the job, continually talking about the Bucs' potentially throughout the offseason program. The excitement around the team's headquarters Thursday was palpable, but Smith attempted to temper things a bit with the reality check that this is a team that went 4-12 last season and underwent a massive offseason facelift.

      "All we know right now is what we look like without pads," he said. "We've had meetings. We know about all the things we've done, and that's meetings and what you can do in your time without pads. But it's a contact sport. It's Tampa. From what I've seen this summer, we play in the elements here, too. So there's a lot we have to find out about our football team still."

      As familiar with, and confident in, as Smith is with quarterback Josh McCown, he was reminded that this is the first of 10 training camps in which the 35-year-old veteran will enter as the unquestioned starter. It's a bit ironic considering McCown is being pointed to as a veteran leader and one of the biggest personnel upgrades of the offseason.

      "I was just thinking about that decade, that's a long time," Smith acknowledged. "It is different and Josh will be the first guy to tell you, but he's a little bit different. He's not just your average guy that we're talking about as far as that's concerned.

      "He's just excited still even though he's been playing for a long time. Like most rookies, he probably had that same rookie feeling right now which you want and whether it's - I can be truthful I don't know how many years I've been doing this, a lot now and a lot of us, we should all have that type of excitement. Guys like Josh have been doing it for a while or the rookie that's coming in."

      McCown hasn't played on many winning teams, but he does see what the Bucs are putting together and said it's one of the "top" collections of talent he has seen assembled in a training camp.

      "Just because of everything that we've done through the offseason, and where the focus is, where we're headed," he said. "I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves through the spring and what it's going to take for us to be a good football team, to win football games. That's the key.

      "Now we can come in and hone that. So it's exciting when you think about that, because sometimes you come to camp and you're still figuring things out. I feel like we've got a little bit more of a narrow focus now after we've evaluated things in the spring. We've got a good idea where we're headed."

      It's that kind of excitement that has long-time Bucs defensive end Gerald McCoy so amped up that he showed up at One Buccaneer Place to work out the day after his twins were born.

      "Everybody has all these expectations for us," McCoy said. "We've got high expectations for ourselves. We have, quote unquote, 'potential.' Potential will get you cut. We have to go out there and put the work in and just get the job done. There's not a whole lot of talking you have to do."

      The words echo in the ears of Smith. Expectations can quickly fad into disappointment. The Bucs have a new coaching staff, several key offseason acquisitions and high draft picks who are expected to contribute early on.

      "It's not a magic pill. It's just hard work, going to work from today on and that's what we plan on doing," Smith said. "What's the motto? What's the slogan? It's just daily improvement ... Let's not put a ceiling, let's see how good we can become and how soon we can become a really good football team.

      --Offensive guard Carl Nicks was excused from reporting to camp Thursday for personal reasons.

      "That's about all I know," Smith said. "It doesn't concern me; it's a part of training camp, part of life. During the course of the year, you're going to have guys that have things that come up where they can't be here. What you can't do is just concentrate on that a whole lot.

      "Everything is fine, we'll be ok with it. There are just too many other things that are going on with the rest of our crew, including the other guys that are here right now."

      Nicks remained sidelined from the offseason program while recovering from a toe injury and dealing with a MRSA infection last season. He did pass his physical last month, and Smith said he is not concerned about the potential impact on the offensive line just yet.

      "Not at all. This is how I look at it in general: when a player is injured, he doesn't practice and we're going to have that throughout. You just move on; it's a chance to see other guys,” Smith said. “It's always about who's there, who's available to work out. Again Carl missed all of the offseason, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, they missed all of the offseason, and we got other players a lot better. With 90 guys, there are a lot of players that we have to evaluate."

      --Much has been made of the depth at tight end with incumbent Tim Wright joined by free agent Brandon Myers and second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

      "That's not necessarily fact that you can't play three good tight ends together, they all do things differently if you look at it," said Smith, who classified Wright as an H-back, Myers as a more traditional tight end and Seferian-Jenkins as a combo. "They really have different roles and we will dress three tight ends each week and all three will play and it will be fun to see where they all kind of end up, but they give us a lot of options."

      Blocking tight end Luke Stocker is also on the roster.

      --Defensive end DaQuan Bowers has dealt with injuries throughout his career and was called out by general manager Jason Licht as a player who must step up this season.

      "I owe it to this organization, I owe it to this team," Bowers said of becoming an impact player. "I've been here long enough and haven't really been that player that I know I can be. I think it's about time that I really put forth the extra foot and be that player I know I'm capable of being."

      --Defensive end Ronald Talley was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list, and the Bucs claimed linebacker Brandon Magee off waivers from the Cleveland Browns.

      Magee, 5-feet-11 and 225 pounds, entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona State in 2013 who signed with the Dallas Cowboys. He was waived before last season and went on to appear in eight games for the Cleveland Browns.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014
    Jaguars name Butkus interim OL coach
    By The Sports Xchange

    Luke Butkus will be interim offensive line coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, filling in while George Yarno battles cancer near his family in Spokane, Wash.

    • Butkus, nephew of Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, played football at University of Illinois and is in his seventh season in the NFL.

      Yarno, 56, will be away from the team for "some months," head coach Gus Bradley said Thursday.

      "We're all rooting for him and we'll welcome him back with open arms when he comes back," Bradley said.

      Yarno, diagnosed with cancer in May, planned to coach during treatment with Butkus, then assistant offensive line coach, filling in as needed. The prognosis and expected recovery has not changed, and Bradley said positive progress is being made. No additional details will be made available out of privacy for Yarno.

      This is Yarno's second season with the Jaguars, who has been an assistant coach for 24 years in college and professional football.