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  • Key OTA Battle: 'Skins look to young safeties
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    ASHBURN, Va. -- Safety has been a position of concern for the Washington Redskins for more than a decade now.

    • Since the tragic death of Sean Taylor during the 2007 season, the Redskins have cycled through dozens of options at strong and free safety.

      Some top draft picks (LaRon Landry) didn't pan out. More often than not, Washington has relied on unheralded journeymen (Reed Doughty), veterans past their prime (Ryan Clark, Dashon Goldson) or converted cornerbacks (DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon), among many others.

      At Wednesday's organized team activities session, the Redskins sent the first-team defense onto the field with two young safeties. Second-year pro Su'a Cravens, a second-round pick in 2016 from USC, is shifting there from dime linebacker, where he played as a rookie. Free-agent signee D.J. Swearinger was at free safety.

      "He still has a ways to go, but I think Su'a has got a great chance to be a very good safety because he can play in the box and if he shows us the range we think he might have, he can be very versatile," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "And D.J. (Swearinger) can come down, he can play back, whatever. It's a good mix."

      Swearinger was signed as a free agent after a nice season in Arizona. Cravens won't turn 22 until July. Swearinger, who grew up idolizing Taylor, won't turn 26 until September.

      For the first time in a while, the Redskins have youth at the position. Hall is still recovering from a torn ACL sustained in Week 3 last September and Blackmon remains in a reserve role.

      No offense to the previous safeties we've had before, but I just think D.J. is to a level in his career right now where he's got a lot of confidence," Gruden said. "He has got a lot of talent. We know that he's a physical guy, but as far as coverages and breaking up things ... I think he's going to really emerge as a top safety not only for this team but in this league."

      Swearinger took time to get to that point. He was a second-round draft pick by Houston in 2013 but cut after just two years thanks to clashes with teammates and coaches and inconsistent play. Swearinger resurfaced in Arizona, where he finally had a breakthrough season in 2016.

      "I always wanted to be a Redskin because of my idol, Sean Taylor," Swearinger said. "I like this fit. I actually wanted to come here when I got drafted, so when I seen that offer on the table, I went for it."

  • Key OTA Battle: Cowboys' QB situation much different
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    How different are things for the Dallas Cowboys at quarterback than they were a year ago?

    • In 2016, Tony Romo was to be the starter with Kellen Moore as the backup and rookie fourth-round pick Dak Prescott pegged as a developmental prospect for the future.

      In keeping with that theme, Prescott got two reps during his first OTA practice that consisted mostly of watching and looking.

      Of course, that was before Prescott took over for an injured Romo and Moore in training camp and fashioned one of the finest seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

      This year, Romo is gone to CBS, Moore is the backup and Prescott is the face of the team and getting all the first-team reps.

      Prescott has returned to minicamp looking to build on that rookie season with a different outlook, different role and many more reps as the team's franchise quarterback.

      "Yeah, it's funny just watching that film from last year," Prescott said. "I mean I got two reps out of the whole day compared the reps I get today. It's great improvement the number of reps. I'm thankful."

      "Literally, he was splitting reps with the third group last year at this time," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Wednesday after the second offseason practice. "Now he's taking all the reps with the 1s. That's a big difference, right?"

      Linehan said the majority of the reps give him a chance to improve in every aspect of the game from footwork to accuracy to making calls at the line of scrimmage to knowing the system.

      "There's a lot of plays that we ran in spring ball that he didn't get reps at," Linehan said. "We didn't run them last year because you didn't have a big background on it. We didn't necessarily need them at the time. We might run into a defense that's we're running those plays specifically for that. Just getting experience in the system that he didn't have last year.''

      Wide receiver coach Wade Wilson said Prescott has already surpassed his rookie numbers in the team's offseason program in terms of speed, strength and agility.

      Prescott, tested with his teammates in the 20-yard dash, bench press, cone drills and vertical jump among others, is faster and stronger heading into his second season.

      "They tested last Monday," Wilson said. "He has improved strength-wise, flexibility-wise, speed-wise, quickness-wise. He is not resting on anything that went on last year."

      Prescott said he credits his work in Orlando with coach Tom Shaw, who prepared him for the draft last year as well as the offseason work with Cowboys strength coach Mike Woicik, but mostly his desire get better.

      "Yeah my numbers went up," Prescott said. "It's just working hard continuously. That is how I have gotten to where I am in life. I'm not going to forget that and keep working hard. ... I don't look at what's behind me. I look at where I can go and what I can do. The only way I know to do that is through hard work. That is something I continue to try to do."

  • Key OTA Battle: QBs Kessler, Osweiler compete
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    BEREA, Ohio -- Another session of OTAs has begun at the Browns training complex in the Cleveland suburb of Berea, and that means another quarterback battle is underway.

    • Cody Kessler, by virtue of his eight starts as a rookie last year, is working with the first team. It doesn't matter that he lost all eight games; his experience puts him ahead of trade acquisition Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer. Kevin Hogan is the fourth quarterback.

      Of course, much could change between now and the start of training camp in late July. Even that is a long way from the start of the regular season in a home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

      "I think Cody is stronger and the ball has more zip on it," coach Hue Jackson said after practice Wednesday. "He's worked extremely hard. What he's working at now is maintaining it and being able to do it week in and week out and day in and day out. That's his challenge, and we'll keep staying after it with him."

      Osweiler is the X-factor in this quarterback derby. The Browns sent the Houston Texans a 2017 fourth-round draft pick. In exchange the Texans shipped Osweiler, a 2017 sixth-round pick and 2018 second-round pick. The Texans made the move to dump Osweiler's $16 million 2017 salary and because, for whatever reason, he failed in his only year in Houston despite his 8-6 record as a starter.

      Osweiler would not discuss reports he was the cause of friction in his brief time with Houston, but he is eager for a new beginning with the Browns.

      Soon after the trade, reports surfaced saying the Browns were trying hard to trade Osweiler because all they really wanted in the deal was the second-round pick next year and that they were willing to spend $16 million to get it. Now, though, it appears Osweiler will get a legitimate chance to win the starting job. He made one of the best plays of the Wednesday practice when he hit wide receiver Core Coleman on a deep route down the left side of the field.

      "The thing that I love that has taken place so far," Osweiler said, "is coach Lee (quarterbacks coach David Lee) and coach Jackson really, really coach fundamentals: feet, delivery, where your eyes are on a play, progressions and I believe fundamentals are how you play great football. So if your fundamentals are out of whack, you're going to be out of whack.

      "Just to be surrounded by coach Lee, pushed by him every day, pushed by coach Jackson, it's going to make me a better player. I'm getting back to the things that I think make great quarterback play and I really appreciate them being on me and coaching me hard."

      Jackson said he has seen none of the orneriness that supposedly ruined Osweiler with the Texans.

      "I can't speak to anything that's gone on in Houston," Jackson said. "I just know that here he's been great. He's done everything we've asked him to do."

      Kizer understands his role as the third quarterback -- for now. At Notre Dame the play came in from the sideline via hand signals. Now he has to take in the play through the radio helmet and relay it in the huddle. It's just one of the adjustments he's making in the jump from Notre Dame.

      "I have to find out probably more about him than I do any of the guys," Jackson said. "He's not going to get too far away from me, I know that. He's done a good job. He just has to keep getting better.

      "He's improved from day to day. Hopefully, the guy is going to have a little downtime. The quarterbacks understand there is still so much more work they have to do away from here to play this position at a high level. That's the challenge for all of our guys."

  • NFL notebook: Seahawks to work out Kaepernick
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    The Seattle Seahawks are planning to work out free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a possible backup option behind starter Russell Wilson.

    • Kaepernick, waiting for an opportunity after almost three months on the free agent market, will work out for the team on Wednesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The Seahawks also plan to bring in other reserve quarterbacks to work out, including Austin Davis.

      Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week that Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III were among the free agents they were considering as a potential backup to Wilson.

      Seattle currently has Jake Heaps and Trevone Boykin on the roster as backups.

      --Running back Ezekiel Elliott missed a second consecutive day of voluntary workouts with the Dallas Cowboys after being involved in a car accident.

      Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters that Elliott also would not practice Thursday and would return next week as he deals with some "body soreness, neck soreness" because of the car accident Sunday night.

      Garrett said Elliott was the passenger in a car that was rear-ended, but the head injury is not serious.

      --Orlando will host the 2018 Pro Bowl on January 28 at Camping World Stadium.

      The game was played at the same venue in 2017 and dubbed a success by the NFL, which weighed many changes to the format and returned to the traditional NFC vs. AFC roster makeup.

      --The Buffalo Bills released offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who was the team's second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

      The move comes a month after Kouandjio was hospitalized when police found him "undressed in a field" in Elma, N.Y.

      The 23-year-old Kouandjio spent his first two seasons in the NFL mostly in a reserve role.

      The Bills also signed wide receiver Rod Streater, who played in 16 games (two starts) last season for the San Francisco 49ers. Streater, 29, caught 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.

      --Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was flagged three times last season for his post-touchdown celebrations, approves of the NFL's rule change.

      The NFL announced Tuesday at the owners meeting that it will permit celebrating with teammates in the end zone or using the football as a prop, thus allowing players to be more expressive after touchdowns.

      "It's amazing," Brown told reporters at practice for the Steelers' organized team activities. "I'm sure the guys are looking forward to it, the O-line, some of the guys who don't get to celebrate with the guys who are getting in the end zone. I think it will be fun."

      Brown plans to incorporate several of his offensive linemen in his celebrations, including getting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey involved.

      --The New England Patriots agreed to a one-year contract with free agent wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.

      Hawkins, who played last three seasons with the Cleveland Browns, confirmed the deal in a video posted to Uninterrupted's Twitter account.

      Hawkins, 31, was released by the Browns in February.

      --Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was on the sidelines at practice for voluntary organized team activities due to a broken hand suffered in "freak accident."

      Kirkpatrick, sporting a cast on his hand, told reporters Tuesday he has a small fracture on his right hand and expects to be out of practice for two to three weeks, although he did not elaborate on the accident.

      The 27-year-old Kirkpatrick signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract this offseason.

  • Key OTA Battle: Arians loves Cardinals depth at receiver
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    TEMPE, Ariz. -- If you believe Bruce Arians and you need a wide receiver, call the Arizona Cardinals head coach. He's got twice as many as he needs and he swears their top-of-the-line quality wideouts.

    • "I can honestly say, and this is my 23rd or 24th year in the league, that I've never been around a wide receiver group of 12 that are NFL quality," said Arians, who has actually coached offenses for 25 years in the league. "Every one of these guys - and I'll throw Andre (Ellington) in there because Andre's gone back and forth as running back/wide receiver - they can all make a team."

      The Cardinals, like most teams, aren't expected to keep more than six receivers and most of the spots already are filled between Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown J.J. Nelson and rookie Chad Williams, a third-round pick out of Grambling State.

      But they also have Aaron Dobson, the 2013 draft pick of the Patriots, plus Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, who all have NFL experience and can contribute on special teams. Beyond them, the Cardinals also have Marquis Bundy and rookies Larry Clark, Krishawn Hogan and Carlton Agudosi.

      Jaron Brown is returning from a torn ACL, which he suffered on Oct. 23 against the Seahawks, but he's been flying up and down the field during the team's spring practices.

      "He's actually running full speed," Arians said. "We're keeping him out of the team drills just because I don't want to see him cut. But he's running routes full speed, he looks great and his computer numbers are faster than they've ever been."

      Brown hopes to be completely healthy by the start of training camp. He's not there yet.

      "My speed is back where I want it, but my strength is not 100 percent," he said. "Not yet, but that's to be expected."

      Dobson, meanwhile, has been opening eyes and turning heads.

      "He's already learned all three positions," Arians said. "He's caught two or three balls 50 yards down the field already, so he's got that deceptive speed. I've been very pleased with him."

      Additionally, John "Smokey" Brown pronounced himself healthy after struggling most of last season with the effects of sickle-cell trait and a concussion. Earlier this offseason, it was discovered he had a cyst on his spine that was sapping much of his strength. Once that was removed, Brown said he felt normal again.

      And he's looked like it so far in OTAs.

      "Smoke looks like John Brown," Arians said. "A couple of those routes he ran, he did not run one route like that last year. He couldn't. The smile on his face, him laughing, knock on wood it stays that way."

  • Key OTA Battle: QB Smith worrying only about now with the Chiefs
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    KANSAS CITY -- There is no doubt the name of the man that will start at quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2017 season: Alex Smith. Only a serious injury will keep him from opening all 16 games with head coach Andy Reid's offense.

    • But as the team hits the practice field for the start of OTA practices this week, the spotlight remains on the quarterback position. That's thanks to first-round draft choice Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs paid dearly in April's draft for the chance to select the Texas Tech passer with the 10th choice in the first round.

      Smith is the starter, but the football world always loves a quarterback controversy, especially when it involves a 33-year-old seasoned starter (Smith) and a 21-year old rookie challenger (Mahomes).

      Playing time and opportunities are in flux at running back, inside linebacker and cornerback with the Chiefs, but the attention even in late May is on how Mahomes will handle the transition to the NFL, and how Smith will handle the presence of the youngster on his shoulders.

      Last week, Smith indicated with public comments that he felt the Chiefs were only committed to him for the coming season. The implication was that his days behind center for Reid were numbered.

      After an OTA session this week, Smith attempted to walk back his comments, believing they were misinterpreted.

      "What I felt like I said is this is my 13th year, we're opening up with New England, we're in the middle of OTAs and right now I'm worried about beating our defense," Smith said. "In the back of my head, I'd be lying if I didn't know that the opener was there (Foxborough). Beyond that, I'm not thinking about Week 2, I'm not thinking about next year and I'm not guaranteed anything beyond that. I've been playing long enough to know that. This is a year-to-year deal.

      "Regardless of the draft picks behind me or free agency or this or that -- that's the deal. You've got to go out and prove it every week and every year. If you don't, they're going to find someone who can. That's the nature of the business. That's what I felt like I tried to say, certainly not that I felt like my days were numbered or anything like that."

      The dynamic of the situation is familiar territory for Smith. He was the young challenger when he was the first choice of the 2005 draft by San Francisco. He was 21 years old and billed as the 49ers' quarterback of the future. Eight seasons later, after finally enjoying some success as the San Francisco starter, the 28-year-old Smith suffered a midseason concussion that cost him his starting job as head coach Jim Harbaugh replaced him with 25-year-old quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in his second NFL season.

      "This is a team sport at the end of the day," Smith said. "It can be awkward and different at times. You've just got to communicate, hash it out and work through it."

      Smith touched base early with Mahomes after the draft, but he's going to let football nature take its course in the coming weeks and months.

      "All of a sudden, you're thrown out here in the middle of camp, you've got a new playbook and you're going against an NFL defense," Smith said. "He'll need a chance to settle down, focus on football and get into a regular routine. We're going to have a lot of time to hash it out. For me, it's important to not be in a rush with that and get to know him."

      The Chiefs' locker room continues to say it knows Smith is the No. 1 quarterback.

      "I've had a chance to play catch with (Mahomes) a little bit and everybody knows he has a big arm," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. "But everybody knows this is Alex's team, and I think it's going to benefit him learning from Alex and how Alex approaches things. It's a win-win situation. He has a bright future, but we're riding Alex."

  • Key OTA Battle: Floyd challenges Treadwell to be Vikings' third WR
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have wide-open competition at right guard, weakside linebacker in the base defense, the three-technique defensive tackle spot and kick returner.

    • But don't overlook what's going on at receiver.

      Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen figure to be starters and get plenty of snaps as the top two receivers coming back from last season. But in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's attack, a third receiver will be a valuable and oft-used weapon.

      During Wednesday's OTA practice, which was open to the media, the third receiver running with the first offense was Laquon Treadwell. But the disappointing 2016 first-round draft pick has an intriguing big fella pushing him -- St. Paul native Michael Floyd.

      "(Floyd) is the guy that's probably most behind," Shurmur said of the 6-3, 220-pounder signed only two weeks ago. "But he's a fast learner. He's a really good route-runner. And you can see that he's a guy that can make plays."

      The Vikings took a one-year, $1.5 million gamble that a Minnesota homecoming will straighten out Floyd's well-documented off-the-field troubles.

      Floyd's second DUI got him cut from the Arizona Cardinals during the 2016 season. He ended up in New England, but was unimpressive and ended up being inactive in the Patriots' Super Bowl victory.

      Floyd hit free agency, but the Vikings were the only team interested in the 27-year-old veteran, who was selected 13th overall in the 2012 draft. Floyd was under house arrest in Arizona until June, but had that portion of his DUI sentence transferred to Minnesota.

      He's staying with tight end and former Notre Dame teammate Kyle Rudolph, Rudolph's wife and their twin seven-month-old girls.

      "Everything I've been through was eye-opening," Floyd said. "The stuff that you go through, positive or negative, grows you as a person. I couldn't be in a better position right now."

      The Vikings are hoping that's the case. They've lacked a bonafide big receiver in their offense since Sidney Rice filled that role back in 2009. Treadwell was drafted with that in mind in 2016, but he was virtually invisible all season and finished with one catch for 15 yards.

      Treadwell is ahead of Floyd at this point, but, of course, there's ample time for Floyd to flex his talent and NFL experience. Floyd has 246 career catches with 24 touchdowns and a 15.4-yard average in 78 NFL games, including 47 starts.

      "I'm ready to do whatever it takes to help this team win," Floyd said.

      Staying out of trouble off the field is priority No. 1, of course. If Floyd does that, look for him to make Treadwell's hot seat even hotter.

  • Bills release T Kouandjio
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    The Buffalo Bills on Wednesday released offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who was the team's second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

    • The move comes a month after Kouandjio was hospitalized when police found him "undressed in a field" in Elma, N.Y.

      The 23-year-old Kouandjio, a first-team All-SEC selection at Alabama in 2013, spent his first two seasons in the NFL mostly in a reserve role. He started five games last season because of injuries to left tackle Cordy Glenn.

      Kouandjio was sidelined during OTAs activities because of January hip surgery resulting from a fall at home.

      The Bills also signed wide receiver Rod Streater, who played in 16 games (two starts) last season for the San Francisco 49ers. Streater, 29, caught 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.

  • Steelers' WR Brown celebrates NFL rule chance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was flagged three times last season for his post-touchdown celebrations, approves of the NFL's rule change.

    • The NFL announced Tuesday at the owners meeting that it will permit celebrating with teammates in the end zone or using the football as a prop, thus allowing players to be more expressive after touchdowns.

      Sexually suggestive celebrations, such as Brown's twerking last season, will continue to be a penalty.

      Brown wants to incorporate linemen into his touchdown celebrations this season.

      "It's amazing," Brown told reporters Wednesday at practice for the Steelers' organized team activities. "I'm sure the guys are looking forward to it, the O-line, some of the guys who don't get to celebrate with the guys who are getting in the end zone. I think it will be fun."

      Brown plans to incorporate several of his offensive linemen in his celebrations, including getting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey involved.

      "We'll give them another reason to be on the field," Brown said of the offensive lineman.

      The 28-year-old Brown signed a four-year, $68-million extension this offseason.

      In 2016, he landed his fifth Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro honors for the third consecutive year, finishing the season second in the NFL in receptions (106), tied for second in touchdown catches (12) and fifth in receiving yards (1,284).

  • Patriots sign WR Hawkins to 1-year deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    The New England Patriots agreed to a one-year contract with free agent wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on Wednesday.

    • Hawkins, who played last three seasons with the Cleveland Browns, confirmed the deal in a video posted to Uninterrupted's Twitter account.

      "After giving it a lot of thought, I've decided that I'm going to join the New England Patriots," Hawkins said. "I'm super excited about the opportunity, man, to join the reigning football champions."

      Hawkins shared his excitement to work with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

      "When I exited Cleveland I said that it was about joining a contender, and the Patriots are the contender," Hawkins said. "They're the reigning champs.

      "And the program is top-notch, and you get the opportunity to play with the best quarterback and the best coach in NFL history. So it's super exciting."

      Hawkins, 31, worked out for the Patriots last week. He recently earned his master's degree in sports management from Columbia University with a 4.0 GPA.

      Hawkins, who signed with Cleveland as a restricted free agent in 2014 after playing for the Cincinnati Bengals in his first three NFL seasons, led the Browns 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 Browns in February.

      The 5-foot-7, 180-pound Hawkins joins a crowded wide receivers depth chart in New England that includes Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola.

      "It's all about winning for me at this point, and putting myself in the best position to do so," said Hawkins, who added that he passed up bigger deals with other teams.

      "I have my work cut out for me, it's an opportunity, and that's how I'm approaching it: Go in there, seeing how I stack up with the best, and try to earn my keep and prove my worth. Hopefully I can be a part of something special and kind of join that Patriots legacy."

  • Key OTA Battle: LaFell settled in with Bengals for second year opposite Green
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    CINCINNATI -- This time last year, Brandon LaFell was just trying to get acclimated in Cincinnati, learning a new playbook, terminology and routines.

    • LeFell had just arrived from New England having signed a free-agent deal to give the Bengals some veteran support alongside wide receiver A.J. Green.

      "It was a guessing game every day," LaFell said on Tuesday, the first of three Organized Team Activities (OTAs) days. "What plays we're putting in, how's practice going to go, what are we going to do in the weight room.

      "This year, it's just second nature, just waking up every day going out here and playing fast."

      It's all about football now.

      And, after catching 64 balls for 862 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns, LaFell has established himself as an integral part of the Bengals' offense. This year, though, he has plenty of company.

      Cincinnati drafted speedy John Ross from the University of Washington in the first round, then in the fourth managed to nab physical Tennessee Volunteers receiver Josh Malone.

      The Bengals already have Tyler Boyd coming off a standout rookie campaign and deep threat Cody Core. LaFell said he's enjoying being a mentor for the group.

      "My role is to be the vocal leader of that group," LaFell said. "A.J. (Green) leads by example, I'm the vocal leader. I just want to go out and make plays, teach the young guys the speed of the game. Answer any questions they’ve got."

      The Bengals have voluntary OTAs until mid-June. The team's mandatory mini-camp will be held June 13-15. Training camp begins July 27.

      Cincinnati is coming off a disappointing season in which they finished 6-9-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

      If tight end Tyler Eifert and stay healthy and he gets protection from a revamped offensive line, quarterback Andy Dalton should have plenty of big-play options at his disposal.

      There are some uncertainties surrounding the running game, which will be vital for the offense's success.

      Can Jeremy Hill rebound from a dismal 2016 season? Will Giovani Bernard be back to full speed in a reasonable amount of time coming off an ACL tear? And, how will dynamic rookie Joe Mixon perform amid a bevy of scrutiny?

      Green will be motivated after falling 36 yards short of 1,000 receiving yards when a hamstring injury caused him to miss the final five games. He finished with 66 catches for 964 yards and four touchdowns.

      It was the first time in Green’s six NFL seasons that he failed to reach 1,000 yards.

      Ross hasn't joined the team yet and might not be fully recovered from shoulder surgery by the start of training camp. But, LaFell is excited to see the Bengals receiving corps together for the first time.

      "I felt like midway through the year before A.J. got injured, we started clicking a lot," LaFell said. "We added some young guys in the draft, one guy who's as fast as I don't know what.

      "We added Malone, who is really talented, a big receiver who can run and catch. We've got a lot of talent in that room. We have a lot of competition which is going to be good."

  • Car accident causes Cowboys RB Elliott to miss workouts
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Running back Ezekiel Elliott missed a second consecutive day of voluntary workouts with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday after being involved in a car accident.

    • Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters that Elliott also would not practice Thursday and would return next week as he deals with some "body soreness, neck soreness" because of the car accident Sunday night.

      Garrett said Elliott was the passenger in a car that was rear-ended, but the head injury is not serious.

      The team learned about the incident on Monday, Garrett said. Elliott will be is doing conditioning work off to the side at practice.

      The Cowboys are holding their OTAs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for three weeks.

      Elliott also was involved in a car accident in January, before the Cowboys hosted the Green Bay Packers, but was uninjured.

      Elliott, 21, rushed for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie in 2016. He led the NFL in rushing yards.

      The NFL has been investigating Elliott for several months regarding allegations that caused police in Columbus, Ohio, to question him. A former girlfriend alleged Elliott forcibly pulled her out of a car.

  • Bengals CB Kirkpatrick breaks hand in 'freak accident'
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was on the sidelines at practice for voluntary organized team activities due to a broken hand suffered in "freak accident."

    • Kirkpatrick, sporting a cast on his hand, told reporters Tuesday he has a small fracture on his right hand and expects to be out of practice for two to three weeks, although he did not elaborate on the accident.

      The 27-year-old Kirkpatrick signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract this offseason. He recorded 46 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defended in 15 games last season.

      Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said there is no timetable for Kirkpatrick's return.

      The Bengals have voluntary OTAs until mid-June. The mandatory minicamp is June 13-15 before the team breaks until training camp begins on July 27.

  • QB Kaepernick to work out for Seahawks
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    The Seattle Seahawks are planning to work out free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a possible backup option behind starter Russell Wilson.

    • Kaepernick, waiting for an opportunity almost three months on the free agent market, will work out for the team Wednesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The Seahawks also plan to bring in other reserve quarterbacks to work out.

      Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week that Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III were among the free agents they were considering as a potential backup to Wilson.

      The Seahawks currently have Jake Heaps and Trevone Boykin on the roster as backups.

      The 29-year-old Kaepernick threw for 2,241 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while fumbling a career-worst seven times with the San Francisco 49ers last season. He also ran for 468 yards and two TDs.

      In six NFL seasons, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards with 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, adding another 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

      Kaepernick opted out of the final year of his contract on March 3 before the 49ers were expected to release him. He was due $16.9 million in salary and bonuses in 2017.

      Kaepernick drew a national spotlight last season for kneeling during the national anthem. He started the campaign as the 49ers' backup behind Blaine Gabbert before taking over as the starter on Oct. 16.

      With Kaepernick under center, the 49ers lost nine straight and 10 of 11 overall to finish the season with the second-worst record in the NFL at 2-14.

      NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't believe Kaepernick is being blackballed for his national anthem protest.

      "Each team makes individual decisions about how they can improve their team. If they see an opportunity where they feel they can improve their team, I think they do it," Goodell said in his news conference Tuesday in Chicago at the league's owners meeting. "They evaluate their players. They evaluate their systems and coaches, and they all make those individual decisions to try to improve their team."

  • Key OTA Battle: Bucs Fitzpatrick accepts backup role
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    TAMPA -- If Ryan Fitzpatrick realizes he may be on the downside of his career, but he wanted to join a team on the rise.

    • Fitzpatrick, 34, signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which will be the seventh NFL team he's played for since entering the league as a seventh-round pick from Harvard by the St. Louis Rams in 2005.

      That kind of experience is what the Bucs are hoping to tap into for Winston. The other quarterbacks on the Bucs roster are Ryan Griffin, who has never thrown an NFL pass in two seasons with Tampa Bay, and Colorado rookie Sefo Liufao.

      "We think Ryan is a good fit for what we do No. 1, for our style," Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. "And the second part of that was if we were going to bring in another guy, we also wanted a guy with a lot of game experience that could possibly be of assistance to Jameis in the day-to-day grind during the season. (Quarterbacks coach) Mike Bajakian can't be down there as many hours a day as Jameis is in that room. Mike can't be down there all that time. A guy that's got 116 starts and played for seven different teams has got that experience."

      Fitzpatrick started 27 games for the Jets the past two seasons, but realized that his best option of continuing his career would be as a veteran backup.

      "Last year, I was the starter. If you play well as the starter, you continue to play," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't play well and so I lost. The game of musical chairs? They pulled my chair out from under me."

      Fitzpatrick spent some time Tuesday talking not only about his mastery of the Rubiks Cube, but also about what makes him a good fit with the Bucs, meeting another Harvard man and the plans for his beard.

      Why did he choose the Bucs?

      "Just being in the NFL for a while, I'm a fan, I keep my eye on things and they did a lot of good things last year," Fitzpatrick said. "I think it's a team on the rise. Personnel-wise, even now being here, there's kind of a feeling of everybody in the locker room, out there on the field, in meetings, in the weight room - I don't know if it's a young team or if I'm really old. One of the two. But so far so good in terms of the energy in this building and the confidence of these guys."

      What can you help Winston with?

      "I'm not going to tell him how to throw a football," Fitzpatrick said. "He was the No. 1 pick for a reason. He knows how to throw a football. I'm not going to tell him how to interact with anybody. He has his own personality, which I think is great for this team. There's a lot of stuff in the film room, also just looking at defenses, preparing for a game - a lot of things like on the sideline during the game, talking about adjustments and things."

      What do you think about all the weapons on this Bucs team?

      "I think it's exciting, but then again, it's on paper and on paper everything looks great," Fitzpatrick said. "There's a lot of work that needs to be put in. That chemistry needs to be established. You can't just try to slap together an all-star team and be good. You've got to put in the work because every other team in this league has an all-star team, too. You've got to go out and do it."

      What's it like having another Harvard man on your team in Cameron Brate?

      "It felt good. It was funny, because when I saw Cam, it was the first time I met him and Cam and Jameis were walking down the hallway and I had Jameis look away because we had to do our secret handshake that nobody else is allowed to see," Fitzpatrick said.

      How will the beard hold up in Tampa Bay?

      "It was pretty hot in Houston as well. I don't know how they compare," Fitzpatrick said. "It tends to frizz out a little more here so I've got scissors. I actually didn't bring them on this trip, but next week, I'll be a little more maintained around the upper lip. But in terms of the actual beard oil, I'll be using the same for now."

  • Key OTA Battle: Savage looks to cement hold on Texans' QB job
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Standing a few yards behind Tom Savage, Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien had the perfect vantage point Tuesday to observe his starting quarterback's throwing delivery and mechanics.

    • O'Brien watched intently as Savage calmly delivered a series of spirals in individual drills during an organized team activity. Following a perfect strike over the middle from Savage to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, O'Brien nodded in approval, shook his fist and told the quarterback group of Savage, rookie first-round draft pick Deshaun Watson and veteran Brandon Weeden that was what he was looking for.

      All of the quarterbacks figure to benefit from O'Brien's increased, hands-on approach as the Texans' de facto offensive coordinator. O'Brien is operating as his own hand-picked replacement for former offensive coordinator George Godsey.

      As a newly minted starter, Savage is happy to get lessons reinforced by his head coach. O'Brien previously collaborated with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

      "It's awesome," Savage said. "I think he's a tremendous coach, and he knows what he's talking about. It's just good to be on the same page with him and just go out there and execute what he's trying to teach."

      Now that Savage has replaced $72 million failed experiment Brock Osweiler, the Texans want to establish him as a viable starter while Watson gains experience and knowledge.

      A former fourth-round draft pick from Pitt, Savage is a classic pocket passer at 6-foot-4, 228 pounds. He is working on getting the football out of his hands quicker. He admittedly has been slower than ideal in the past, taking too long to make a decision.

      Savage has yet to throw an NFL touchdown pass. Last season, he completed 63 percent of his throws for 461 yards and no interceptions in three games, including two starts, for an 80.9 passer rating.

      "In order to be a leader, you have to go out there and you have to make plays," Savage said. "I've started two NFL games in this league, so first of all you have to go out there and make plays. I think that's what kind of promotes the leadership, is going out there and performing and executing what you need to do before you can take that vocal jump. Obviously, you need some juice out there on offense, but I think you just have to make plays first."

      Savage is correct. In order to maintain his status as QB1, he will need to perform at a higher level than he did last season when he stepped in for an ineffective Osweiler before sustaining a concussion against the Tennessee Titans and being sidelined for the playoffs.

      Both Savage and Watson had some rough moments Tuesday, mixed in with a few crisp throws.

      Savage was intercepted by linebacker Shakeel Rashad, and Watson was picked off by safety Kurtis Drummond. Both quarterbacks had trouble completing passes in the direction of cornerback Robert Nelson, who deflected several passes. Weeden had arguably the top throw of the day on a long touchdown pass to wide receiver Will Fuller.

      "I think it went really well," Savage said. "I think obviously it's May. We got to work on some things and keep meshing as a team, but I think ultimately we're just striving for one goal, and that's to win ballgames."

      Watson looked fairly comfortable overall and didn't display the usual nerves of a raw rookie. A Heisman Trophy finalist who defeated Alabama to win the national championship last season for Clemson, Watson has athleticism, poise and a live arm working in his favor.

      "He's doing a good job," O'Brien said of Watson. "He's working hard. He's picking up things every day. He's doing a good job out here."

      At this stage of the offseason, O'Brien is seeking a mixture of execution and how quickly the quarterbacks process information. Savage is entering his fourth year in O'Brien's system and has a deep knowledge of a complex playbook.

      "Those other guys have been here a little bit longer than Deshaun, but Deshaun's executed well," O'Brien said. "You have to be able to process the information and come out on the field and execute it. It's a combination of both. That's what we're trying to do, have perfect execution, and you never really achieve that, but you're always striving for that."

      Savage has 588 yards and one interception in 92 career passes for a 74.9 career passer rating. Beyond statistics, though, Savage has earned respect from his teammates for his confident personality and accountability for any mistakes. He has developed a growing chemistry with Hopkins and the other receivers.

      "I think it's all trust," Savage said. "I think we just have to keep going out there and staying after practice and throwing and getting together and just kind of doing what we need to do to understand where we're at mentally. It just really comes down to trust."

  • Key OTA Battle: Hackenberg remains hidden during Jets QB competition
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets' 2017 quarterback competition began the same way the 2016 one played out -- with Christian Hackenberg out of sight, and not in the good way.

    • Veteran Josh McCown took most of the first-team reps Tuesday, when the Jets opened organized team activities in Florham Park. Petty saw the rest of the first-team reps while Hackenberg spent his practice time with the third-stringers on the back end of the two fields utilized by the team.

      It would be easy to say nothing should be read into practice reps and the fields on which they are taken more than three months before the season kicks off. And both head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator John Morton seem committed to holding an open competition throughout the late spring and summer.

      "We're giving everybody a great opportunity to show themselves and see if they can be the starter," Morton said Tuesday.

      But it certainly isn't a good sign for Hackenberg's prospects that the Jets still seem eager to hide him from public view. Neither Bryce Petty nor Hackenberg were made available to reporters on Tuesday.

      The low-key OTA debut for Hackenberg came two days after reported scouts were worried how wobbly his passes looked in pre-game warmups last season, when he failed to make it on to the field as a rookie despite his draft pedigree (a second-round pick) and the underwhelming performances of Petty and since-jettisoned veterans Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.

      McCown, who turns 38 in July and is 2-20 as a starter since 2014, may not be much of an upgrade on Fitzpatrick and Smith. But given Petty's spotty, injury-plagued track record and Hackenberg's lack of apparent progress, McCown may not need to be any better than the quarterbacks the Jets trotted out last season in order to start behind center come September.

      "Obviously, you want to see them start to separate at some point," Bowles said Tuesday. "It's going to come down to playing in games. As far as getting more reps in practice, as we go, we'll see what happens."

  • Key OTA Battle: 49ers focus on O-line interior
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The center position is the center of attention this week as the San Francisco 49ers hold their first week of organized team activities at the club's training facility in Santa Clara.

    • The club's new regime made the addition of center Jeremy Zuttah one of their first pieces of business, acquiring him from the Baltimore Ravens.

      Zuttah will duel Daniel Kilgore for the starting position, but the early indication is the competition might not be a fair fight.

      New head coach Kyle Shanahan already has opened the door for Kilgore, who has experience at guard in his 49ers career, to move away from the center position this season.

      Shanahan noted Tuesday that Joshua Garnett, who made 11 starts as a rookie last season, will split time at the guard positions during the summer sessions.

      "We know he's going to play guard for us," Shanahan said of Garnett, a first-round pick last season. "We're trying to see what he's better at, left guard or right guard, based on our five that are going to end up being out there. Whoever that other person is, what's the best way to put those inside three people?

      "So you need some versatility. I know he played at right guard last year. I know he played at left guard throughout college. We worked him at both. Hopefully we'll put him in a spot that's the best for him and hopefully it will be the best for the team."

      Flexibility is a good thing for two reasons.

      First off, it would give Kilgore a chance to slide over to right guard if it were deemed he and Garnett were the club's best tandem. That would leave Zane Beadles, who can also play tackle, as the backup capable of filling in at multiple positions.

      Or possibly, it could be determined that Garnett will serve the role as the backup guard, with Beadles, who started all 16 games last season, and Kilgore, who started 13, getting the starting roles.

      Of course, a third option would be Garnett and Beadles retaining their starting spots, which would push Kilgore back into the competition with Zuttah, or settle for the multi-position backup role.

      Trent Brown (16 starts last season) and Joe Staley (13) return at the tackle spots, with Garry Gilliam having been wrestled away from Seattle to provide summertime competition.

      The 49ers did not use any of their 10 draft picks on an offensive lineman in April.

  • Key OTA Battle: Titans strive to get Mariota on-field work
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    NASHVILLE -- Marcus Mariota's recovery is ahead of schedule, say the Tennessee Titans, but it is still not complete.

    • Still that hasn't stopped the Titans from tailoring their organized team activities to accommodate their injured quarterback as much as possible.

      Mariota, working his way back from surgery for a broken fibula last December, is not taking part in team drills during organized team activities, so the Titans are doing additional 7-on-7 work to allow the quarterback to work with his receivers to develop timing and to run as much as possible without putting him in harm's way.

      "It felt great. Four months ago, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to participate in OTAs, and being able to do some of the drills and go through practice, it's a lot in my progress and in my recovery. I was just very happy and very grateful to be out there," Mariota said Tuesday.

      Titans head coach Mike Mularkey allowed Mariota to take all 15 reps in 7-on-7 work Tuesday, rather than working in the team's other quarterbacks.

      "I'll take it day-by-day with Marcus. We monitored him with the scripts. Basically he did everything in walk-through and individual and then we extended our 7-on-7 period to give him more reps. He took all the reps in the 7-on-7 period," Mularkey said.

      Mariota said he tries to take advantage of whatever opportunities come his way on the field, since he is limited by the injury.

      "That's the little I'm going to have in terms of my opportunity to see defenses and continue to grow mentally. As much as I can get out of the 7-on-7 and take mental reps in team (drills), I'm going to do my best to do that and continue to prepare for the season," Mariota said.

      Mariota had another tactic he used while sitting out team drills. Rather than stand away from the action, he positioned himself about five yards behind the backfield and stood alone in order to observe the play unfold and examine the defensive positioning.

      "It was something at Oregon we did. It just helps you mentally. It's like you're still in the play. You can still see everything, especially the defense," he said. "For me, at this point in time, I've got to get as much out of the mental reps as I can, and I'm going to do my best to play the game from there and learn and continue to get better every day."

      Mariota said he didn't dwell on his injured leg while on the field Tuesday.

      "During the drills, I do my best to not even think about it. As I've gone through my entire process, I've gone about doing things normal and just getting back to where I feel like myself again," Mariota said. "As I'm out there, I'm not even thinking about it. When I'm in here doing rehab, when I'm doing specific things to make my body ready, that's when I'm focusing on it."

  • Key OTA Battle: Getting Lynch immersed in Raiders system
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders got back to the business of football with their first on-field team session with coaches Tuesday with the hope of building on the success of a 12-win season.

    • "It's really about building a base right now, trying to install our system in all three phases," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "Trying to bring the young guys up to speed, the new veterans up to speed. And tweaks that we've done with our system to make sure we tighten things up."

      For a non-contact organized team activity, the Raiders weren't short on spirit, so much so that there were two scuffles -- including one with left tackle Donald Penn and second-year defensive lineman Jihad Ward.

      "I don't know what you're talking about," Penn said.

      The best news the Raiders could have manifested itself early, as quarterback Derek Carr practiced with no restrictions after breaking his right fibula in Week 16 -- an injury that was followed by consecutive losses to Denver in the regular-season finale and Houston in the wild-card round.

      Carr was moving freely, throwing well, showing no sign of being affected in any way.

      "He's healthy now," wide receiver Amari Cooper said. "He looks great. He looks normal."

      If Carr wasn't the center of attention, then it was running back Marshawn Lynch, who came out of retirement to play for his hometown team and was acquired by trade from Seattle.

      Lynch was present and went through warmups, but never put on a helmet as other running backs got the work. Del Rio said it was all according to plan.

      "He's doing great," Del Rio said. "He'll continue to do the things that we're asking him to do. He's really soaking up the system. He's doing a great job fitting in ... we have no issues there. He's been here like he said he'd be here. Really committed, excited to be a Raider. We're excited to have him."

      Lynch seems to have made a quick impression on his teammates.

      "He's a good spirit, good to have around," Cooper said. "A real cool person."

      Defensive tackle Mario Edwards had a recent sit-down with Lynch and came away impressed.

      "On camera he may not talk as much, but you know, once you get to know him, he opens up to you," Edwards said.

  • Key OTA Battle: All eyes on Broncos QBs Siemian and Lynch
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Trevor Siemian was the first quarterback under center when the Denver Broncos began their team-period work at their first OTA on Tuesday morning. But that doesn't mean anything in his competition with 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch.

    • Lynch will be the first quarterback up Wednesday. And Siemian will be the first quarterback to take snaps Thursday. That's just how Broncos head coach Vance Joseph wants it, as the two are expected to divide first-team work on a 50-50 basis throughout OTAs and into training camp.

      It's clear what Joseph wants to see from his two young passers.

      "Decision-making, accuracy, command of the huddle, consistency -- that's always key with quarterback play," Joseph said just after Tuesday's OTA concluded. "So far, so good. It's the first day. Both guys were engaged. So it was a good day."

      Siemian looked smooth and composed, settling into coordinator Mike McCoy's new scheme. He forced few throws, and made quick reads, completing a variety of short to intermediate passes that are expected to be staples of the offense.

      "It's different all across the board: the run game, drop-backs, managing protections," Siemian said. "It's totally different. We're all getting used to it, but I think a lot of guys are excited about what we're doing, and some guys have experience coming from a few years back, so that's always good too.

      "At the end of the day, it's 11-on-11, right? There's a lot of carryover, but it's pretty different from what we were doing."

      Lynch struggled early during Tuesday's work. His first pass was nearly intercepted by safety Justin Simmons. His third pass, in a seven-on-seven period, was picked off linebacker by Brandon Marshall, who dived down to the ground to grab the pass. But eventually he found a groove, and stretched the field with a completion to backup tight end Steven Scheu.

      The scheme is "pretty different," Lynch said, but he feels it suits him better.

      "I feel like it fits more of how I play," Lynch said. "I'm more comfortable in it and there is a little bit more similarities to what I did at Memphis compared to what I had to do last year."

      The scheme suits Lynch. But it also appears to suit Siemian, and with his 14 games of starting experience from last year, he could have an edge.

      Time will tell, however. Joseph has said multiple times that he wants the competition to extend well into training camp. Siemian looked sharper out of the gates, but Tuesday's work was just a beginning, and nothing more.

  • Key OTA Battle: House's return amps up secondary competition
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    GREEN BAY -- Plenty has changed since Davon House last played for the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 18, 2015.

    • Fellow defensive backs Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde no longer are with the team, as they all were when the Packers suffered the forgettable 28-22 overtime loss at the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship during the 2014 season.

      As House returned to the Packers this year after what turned out to be a two-season getaway in Florida with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the once-former understudy to those aforementioned mentors has been entrusted as a leader in the secondary.

      "From when I was here before, we had Sam and Tramon, so they were THE guys," House said Tuesday. "Now, I'm in the role where I'm going out there every time they call the 1s. I'm the first one doing the reps and the drills. I'm the example, I guess you could say."

      Only 27 years old, the seventh-year pro has embraced his newfound role as the dean of Green Bay's defensive backs.

      No matter in what direction House looks while he's on the field this spring in drills for the defensive backs, in the group's meeting room and its section in the locker room at Lambeau Field, he is unequivocally surrounded by a youthful cast. Demetri Goodson, a fourth-year pro who also is 27, is the only other DB who has logged more than three seasons in the NFL.

      "I think it's easy to give leadership because all I'm going to do is teach them what the vets taught me," said House, reflecting on his first stint in Green Bay, when his esteemed collection of tutors also included future Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.

      The return of House to the Packers, who signed him to a one-year, $2.8 million contract after the Jaguars cut him in early March, is part of a substantial overhaul of the back end of the defense this offseason.

      Green Bay previously cut Shields, the onetime top cornerback who missed all but one game last season because of a recurring concussion, and versatile contributor Hyde wasn't re-signed as a free agent.

      Instead, the Packers have begun to reshape what was their weakest link last season around House, the incumbent safety duo of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett and the arrival of rookies Kevin King and Josh Jones.

      "It's very versatile," said House, giving his assessment of the secondary two days into Green Bay's organized team activities.

      The Packers won't have their full complement of defensive backs until minicamp, which is June 13-15.

      That's because King, the team's top draft pick who went first in the second round at No. 33 overall, can't participate in OTAs with his college (Washington) still in session for classes this spring.

      King is expected to step right in as a starter as Green Bay tries to remedy its pass-challenged defense. The Packers ranked 31st in the 32-team league last season, allowing an average of 269.3 net passing yards.

      Things only got worse in the NFC Championship in January, when the Atlanta Falcons torched Green Bay's injury-riddled and confused secondary for 392 yards and four touchdowns through the air from Matt Ryan in a 44-21 rout.

      Head coach Mike McCarthy is adamant this spring for the Packers to pass the football liberally as a way to help the defense as much as it is to keep Aaron Rodgers and his long list of receivers sharp.

      "We're really focused on the passing game," McCarthy said.

      He noted Tuesday that the number of run plays has been cut in OTAs by 6 to 10 percent from the previous year.

      Besides the urgency to get the defensive backs more reps in tracking the football, McCarthy said the spring practices with players not in pads and full contact off-limits softens the need to run the ball even with a revamped backfield this year.

      "The practice environment with the helmets and the shorts and the rules in place, the run-game production is minimal, as far as the quality of work," McCarthy said. "The quality of work is definitely higher in the environment of throwing the football. So, we're just taking a little more advantage of that."

      House, for one, likes the extra work defending the pass. He lined up in Tuesday's OTA session as a starter on the outside opposite LaDarius Gunter, a third-year pro who started all but one game last season with Shields sidelined.

      The Packers also worked in underachieving Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins as the nickel back and featured Clinton-Dix, Burnett, Kentrell Brice and the intriguing Jones at safety. Burnett and the speedy Jones, also a second-round draft pick this year, have been getting some hybrid work at linebacker early on in the OTAs.

      "It's a little bit of everything," House said of the varied assignments playing the secondary in the Green Bay defense. "This is like a DB's dream - to come here and to play football."

      Saying he's "a lot more confident" in his second go-around with the Packers than he was his first four years with the team, House is ready to lead the defensive backs by example and with production.

      "My first year in Jacksonville (in 2015), I was able to do what I know I can do," House said. "I had 25 pass breakups with four picks, which is pretty darn good, and that's what I expect to do here again as a full-time starter."

  • Key OTA Battle: Eagles hope fire lit under Agholor
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    PHILADELPHIA -- Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles didn't get near enough production from their wide receiving corps. Slot receiver Jordan Matthews was the only wideout with more than 36 receptions (he had 73).

    • With 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor underperforming for the second straight year and summer trade acquisition Dorial Green-Beckham making little progress, the Eagles did two things in the offseason.

      First, they fired wide receivers coach Greg Lewis after just one season and replaced him with the more experienced Mike Groh. Then, they used free agency and the draft to upgrade the position.

      They signed veteran free agents Alshon Jeffery (to a one-year, $9.5 million contract) and Torrey Smith and added two more wideouts in the draft (fourth-rounder Mack Hollins and fifth-rounder Shelton Gibson).

      Suddenly, their talented, young second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz, has several enticing targets to throw to, particularly in the red zone, where the Eagles weren't very good last year.

      Now, both Jeffery and Smith come with question marks. Jeffery has missed 11 games in the last two years and had just six touchdown catches in the 21 games he did play in.

      And while Smith caught 30 touchdown passes in four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens from 2011-14, he comes to the Eagles after catching just 53 passes the last two seasons for the San Francisco 49ers.

      But Jeffery has that one-year deal and Smith's three-year deal only includes just $500,000 in guaranteed money. So, adding them was not a major gamble.

      The Eagles are hoping the hiring of Groh and the additions of Jeffery and Smith might light a fire under the underperforming Agholor, who has just 59 receptions in his first two NFL seasons and has yet to have more than 65 receiving yards in a game.

      "Nelson's worked extremely hard this offseason," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Mike Groh's addition has really sort of lit a fire under him a little bit. And bringing in Alshon and Torrey, as I've said all along, competition, man. It sharpens you. And that's what I've seen from Nelson. He's done a great job already this spring."

      If Jeffery and Smith can return to form, the Eagles' offense could make some noise this season. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Matthews already is one of the leagues' better slot receivers. And tight ends Zach Ertz and Trey Burton both are major matchup problems for opposing defenses. And don't forget about running back Darren Sproles, who has had 50-plus catches in eight of his last nine seasons.

  • Key OTA Battle: Competition to be fierce on Chargers O-line
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    SAN DIEGO -- The line is in motion and that's a good thing for the Los Angeles Chargers.

    • It's the offensive line, in particular, which is getting so much attention in the team's last set of offseason workouts. And, the final sessions to be held in San Diego, as the team relocates to Los Angeles.

      It once seemed the only item to compete with stadium talk with the locals was what to do with the line. Quarterback Philip Rivers was on his back too often and running back Melvin Gordon found lanes too seldom.

      So general manager Tom Telesco went to work -- again -- in trying to patch up something that wasn't holy.

      Telesco declined to continue with right guard D.J. Fluker, a former first-round pick, and King Dunlap, an injury prone left tackle.

      So he burned two high draft chips on guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. The result is an offensive line in flux, but if it gets it out of its funk, what's to lose?

      Center Matt Slauson has slid over to left guard. Spencer Pulley, an undrafted free agent who opened eyes last year in spot play, is at center.

      "Spencer has been really solid," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said after Tuesday OTA session. "I've been pleased with his consentincy."

      Feeney is at guard, or is that Lamp? Or both?

      Joe Barksdale mans right tackle, but he's not above being pushed. Kenny Wiggins is another guard, but he'll have to fight, too. Max Tuerk, a mending center, is in the mix in year two but has to show something fast.

      The Chargers are still figuring out which big body to fill which large gap and that's what the offseason is for.

      But don't be surprised if it's a line with at least one, if not two, rookie starters. The Chargers were thrilled in getting Lamp and Feeney, two of the better linemen on most anyone's draft board.

      "It's his techniques and fundamentals," Lynn said about Feeney. "A lot of his game he had in college has helped him a lot ... it has just carried over. He walked on campus ahead of some of the other rookies."

      No matter the line's makeup, put your marker on Slauson. He will be on it in some capacity, as teammates gravitate to his leadership and coaches love his production.

      Lynn embraces a spirited position competition and he's got one with his wide-open offensive line.

      "When we get in training camp and get the pads on," Lynn said, "that is the true evaluation at that position."

  • Giants' Beckham inks most lucrative shoe deal in NFL history
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    Nike re-signed New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a shoe deal that, according to multiple reports, will pay him twice as much as any previous Nike deal with a football player.

    • reported that, based on sources, Beckham signed a five-year deal that will pay him about $5 million per year. reported the deal is worth more than $29 million, with incentives that could add $1 million each year. reported the deal is the most lucrative for an NFL player in history.

      NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the five-year contract could be expanded to eight years.

      Apparently, Beckham was able to create a bidding war with Adidas. Nike was given the option to match Adidas' offer, which is what the company did. Beckham's original deal with Nike was scheduled to expire earlier this month.

      Nike did not comment on the deal.

      "It was a long process," Beckham's agent, Zeke Sandhu, told ESPN. "This proved he's an icon."

      Beckham's appeal to the shoe companies is not only his talent and flashy style on the field, but also his social-media impact.

      He has 8.3 million Instagram followers, 2.3 million Twitter followers and 1.3 million Facebook followers.

      The Nike shoes he wore for each game last season also drew attention. Each design seemed to spark interest on social media.

      The deal was done by Sandhu and Beckham Jr.'s mother, Heather Van Norman, who is his business manager.

      Nike's endorsement deal with Beckham was scheduled to expire earlier this month.