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  • Panthers trying to overcome runner-up curse
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 29, 2016

    SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Super Bowl hangover that routinely affects the losing team has already been talked about ad nauseam in the five months since the Carolina Panthers got back from San Francisco, the site of last season's big game.

    • The 1993 Bills were the last team that made it back to the Super Bowl a year after losing it the previous season.

      The 23-year hangover was yet again a topic of conversation Wednesday as players arrived in Spartanburg for the first day of training camp.

      Panthers tight end Greg Olsen spent his rookie year with the 2007 Chicago Bears, one of the seven teams since 2000 that didn't even make the playoffs a season after they were Super Bowl runners-up.

      What's the cause of this mysterious hangover?

      "It's human nature," Olsen said. "I think everyone just assumes, 'Hey, you've got the same guys back. Why would it be any different?' I think the answer is every game is different; every season is different.

      "I think from a human instinct perspective, you kind of rest on your laurels. We've identified that from Day 1. That can't be the case with us. We're going to start from one, and we're going to build that platform starting with OTAs to minicamp and now to training camp."

      Fullback Mike Tolbert wasn't as wordy:

      "History said that nobody won NFC South twice or three times in a row. We did it, so why can't it be done?"

      Fair point, but a 23-year slump isn't a meaningless coincidence. Something -- or things -- happen to a team after they lose a Super Bowl. If the Panthers are going to find a cure, it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

      "We have a lot of work to do," Olsen said, "we take this very seriously.

      "This is too hard to come out and just half-assed and find ourselves 1-4 asking, 'What's going on?' We're not going to allow that to be the problem and that all starts with our preparation here at camp."

  • Eagles LT Peters confident about bounce-back year
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 29, 2016

    PHILADELPHIA -- Jason Peters said Thursday that reports of his football death are premature.

    • Speaking for the first time since the end of last season, the Philadelphia Eagles' 34-year-old, eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle said he remains one of the best offensive linemen in the game.

      "I feel like I still have gas in the tank," he said after the Eagles' first full-squad workout of training camp. "Before I got hurt last year, I wasn't getting beat.

      "You can watch me out here and watch some of the younger guys. You be the judge."

      Peters attributed the drop-off in his play last season to two things: a season-long struggle with back and quad injuries, and former coach Chip Kelly's tempo offense, which he said the rest of the league finally figured out.

      He said he is enjoying being back in a more traditional offense with a huddle.

      "I'm happy to have the Andy Reid era back," said Peters, referring to the system under new head coach Doug Pederson, who was the former Eagles coach's offensive coordinator in Kansas City. "We're getting back to the old ground and pound. I'm excited."

      If the Eagles are going to compete for NFC title this season, they need their offensive line -- and Peters in particular -- to play a lot better than last season.

      Pederson has said that he will give Peters some rest during the week so that the team can "get him to Sunday."

      "It's going to be helpful," the left tackle said, "because I only have one speed. When I'm out there, I'm going (full speed). Sometimes I overwork myself. But they said they were going to take care of me, so I'm looking forward to that."

      Peters said Kelly's up-tempo approach, which was used in practice, both in season and out, as well as games, took its toll on him and many of his teammates.

      "We practiced the same way in OTAs as we did in training camp," he said, "so it pretty much was like having training camp the whole offseason. It just wore us down."

  • Broncos OLB Ware still dealing with sore back
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 29, 2016

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said he was at 70 percent during the playoffs last winter, when he had 3.5 sacks in the Denver Broncos' three postseason wins.

    • So what can he do at 94 percent? That is where he said he expects to be when Week 1 arrives. For now, he is on the non-football injury list because of a back injury and is limited to conditioning and weight-room work. He cannot take part in any practice.

      "If the game was tomorrow, I'd be out there playing," he said Thursday afternoon.

      Ware said he has soreness in the back but didn't characterize it as "discomfort." Nevertheless, Ware's absence is worrisome considering that he missed five full games and parts of two others last season because of a back problem.

      The injury already forced the Broncos to put Ware on a regimented play count when the regular season arrives. Second-year veteran Shane Ray, a first-round pick last year, could end up starting in place of Ware at outside linebacker, with Ware's repetitions limited to third downs and late-game, high-leverage situations.

      Ware thinks Ray is ready for more extended work.

      "I've seen a lot more maturity," he said. "When you have a rookie that comes in, a first-round draft pick, they get a rude awakening with the experience and guys that are mature and have done it for a long time. Expectations are there.

      "When you take those expectations off, not saying that you're a rookie anymore and taking that title off, you can see how much he's matured. You can see all the way from him teaching other guys what to do. That's what it's about."

      Even so, the Broncos still want Ware in the mix. And after his postseason, he feels he has plenty more left, in spite of the back troubles.

      "I think it will be something that is fully healed," he said. "I feel good about it, and I think I'll be ready. Actually, I know I'll be ready."

  • Sanchez shines in Broncos' first practice
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Mark Sanchez was up first among the three Denver quarterbacks when Broncos training camp opened Thursday, and he looked to be the best of the trio competing to replace Peyton Manning.

    • Sanchez's throws were crisp. His decision-making was good; he only forced one throw into traffic, and fortunately for him, the pass bounced off cornerback Bradley Roby's hands and into the grasp of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

      "I thought Mark was very sharp in practice," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "I have to go back and watch some film, but he just looked confident."

      Most important, Sanchez commanded the huddle and had a firm grasp on the offense he only began learning in March and April after the Broncos acquired him in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

      "He definitely has that leadership factor," running back C.J. Anderson said. "The way he controls the huddle with me and (Demaryius Thomas), or Emmanuel and D.T., we're laughing and joking, and (he says), 'Hey! It's time to get to work.'

      "He shuts us up like 18 (Peyton Manning) used to do."

      Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian had the day's only interception, but he completed 75 percent of his passes. His accuracy has markedly improved since his arrival last year, when he was coming off a torn ACL and needed to improve his footwork after being a sub-60 percent passer at Northwestern.

      "Last year was a lot of learning for me," Siemian said. "I got some more reps and finally got the chance to apply some of those things I picked up. I'm still trying to get better, and we'll see how it goes."

      First-round pick Paxton Lynch had some rookie moments working with the No. 3 offense on Thursday, although he made some downfield connections, including one to wide receiver Durron Neal during the seven-on-seven period.

      "I've seen him improve already," Kubiak said. "His talent is exceptional, we all know that. I think he's more comfortable right now just watching him bounce around and call plays. We'll see how far he's come."

      Lynch continues to progress, and his day-to-day progress will bear monitoring. However, Sanchez's composure under center Thursday showed why he was the No. 1 quarterback for Thursday's practice.

      Kubiak remains non-committal as to when he intends to name a starting quarterback, which is just fine with Siemian.

      "I think there is something to be said knowing your role and getting ready for the season," Siemian said. "I think that's a better question for Kubiak. I think he's got a heck of a pulse with the team, and he'll make the right call and we'll role with it when it comes."

  • Saints open camp with Brees in contract year
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis opened training camp with no news to report on a contract extension for quarterback Drew Brees.

    • "We haven't made any progress," Loomis said.

      Brees, 37, is entering the final year of a five-year, $100 million contract he was given in 2012 and he and team officials have been trying to hammer out an extension for months.

      Brees said this spring if he and the team don't reach agreement on a new deal before the regular-season opener Sept. 11, he would cut off talks and wait until after the season to try and get something done.

      If that happens, Loomis and coach Sean Payton acknowledged that they don't expect the impasse to become a distraction for Brees or the team. Brees played out his old contract in 2011, then waited until July to get a new deal after being franchised by the club.

      Brees told ESPN last week that there have been no talks in the last three months.

      "Lots of players play into the last year of their contract," Loomis said. "It happened the last time with us. (It's) not a preference, but nothing unusual.

      "I guess I would always hope that we would have a deal done (already), but we don't. I'm available. My phone is on the hook and ready to be rung."

      --Payton cancelled the annual conditioning test for veterans when the team arrived in West Virginia so players could help some of the residents of White Sulphur Springs to recover from a devastating flood that hit the area last month.

      A group of Saints players, led by Brees, helped clean up and restore a local park, while two other groups helped residents work on flood-damaged homes.

      "We made a decision as a team that we felt it would be a better idea to kind of go and help do some rebuilding," Payton said. "and help out just one of the many areas that got hit hard with the terrible floods back in June."

  • Falcons try to turn page on 8-8 season
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons wiped the slate clean.

    • The know they must rebound from their convoluted 8-8 season of 2015.

      The 29 weeks of offseason may not have been enough to flush the memory of a fall that started 6-1 and then flamed out at 2-7. It didn't take much scratching after the first practice Thursday -- official time: one hour, 42 minutes -- to find that some of 2015 endures.

      "To me, it put a different type of chip on my shoulder, knowing that we left so much on the field," running back Devonta Freeman said.

      What lies ahead is the NFL's toughest schedule (tied with the San Francisco 49ers), based on last season's results. The Falcons face four West Coast trips. Atlanta plays the reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos in Denver and has two shots at the Super Bowl runner-up Carolina Panthers.

      Five starters from the 2015 opener -- nearly of quarter of those 22 players -- are no longer with the Falcons.

      The holdovers have new challenges.

      "There are some pages that you turn, and then there are some pages that I keep as a good refresher of how we want to be," coach Dan Quinn said as he opened his second year. "Some of those scars, some of those learning incidents are pages I keep fresh on my desk."

      The team is in line with the coach.

      "There were some good things last year," left tackle Jake Matthews said, "but obviously, we got to get better."

      Just minutes into the first session, some of the new imperatives were on display. During seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills, the defense continued to try to swat balls loose well after the whistle blew, a demonstration of Quinn's campaign to force more turnovers. The Falcons' 21 takeaways last season were the sixth fewest in the league.

      Freeman had the day's prettiest play, lining up split wide and catching a long scoring pass from quarterback Matt Ryan. Both he and running back Tevin Coleman are expected to see more of the same, a signal that the team is addressing a passing game that dried up as 2015 went by.

      Ryan threw just 21 touchdown passes last season, the fewest since he was a rookie, while his 18 interceptions were the third most in the league.

      "This is part of the game that we're going to attack," Quinn said about flanking the backs in hopes of drawing man coverage. "For us to be at our best, that matchup, knowing who these guys are at running back, that's a tough (defensive) assignment. You want to exploit that whenever you can."

      Beyond numbers and formations, the Falcons also are trying to address an intangible. There is no page in the playbook for how to win. That is something good teams know, something 8-8 teams need to learn.

      "One thing that we really made evident as a group up front is, it doesn't matter if we give up zero sacks and rush for 100 yards," Matthews said. "If we lose the game, the mindset should be: What more could we have done? Obviously, we didn't do enough. We didn't win. There's always something to build on."

      For linebacker Paul Worrilow, the offseason did not pass so quickly.

      "Self-evaluation is a big part of the offseason," he said. "When you go back and watch some stuff, it doesn't sit well. That's the stuff that pushes you when you get out there, knowing what needs to be fixed. ... Stay in the moment. Stay in the process. Right now, I'm looking at that lunch and that (next) meeting. It's hard for me to look back."

      Turning the page is important for the Falcons.

  • Saints' key question: Is team evolving or devolving?
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The New Orleans Saints held their first training camp practice Thursday, ready to atone for back-to-back seasons of 8-8 and 7-9 and make another run at the playoffs.

    • But following a second straight remaking of the roster, the Saints have a lot of questions at many positions -- leaving a lot of unknowns going into their first full week of camp.

      If there are more question marks this season than in the past, they are just not talking about them.

      "There are certain areas we're paying attention to, but I don't know if we would sit down and list specifically (areas of concern)," Saints coach Sean Payton said during a pre-camp news conference. "(General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) and I have these discussions quite a bit as to what we're looking for and what we have to be mindful of on our numbers here.

      "It's hard to take that with this team and compare it relative to other teams at this point."

      After a strong 2013 season, the Saints were expected to be a contender for the NFC title in 2014 until their defense took a major step backward and they finished 8-8.

      "Obviously, we've had teams that were better than what we thought we'd have at this point and then teams that we felt real good about that underachieved or weren't as good as we expected," Payton said. "So, we'll kind of get started and get a chance to see what we've got.

      "There's a process involved with that, but I think that's the exciting part of training camp."

      Loomis is also excited about what will transpire the next six weeks with regards to the competition they tried to create -- specifically on the defensive side of the ball with the addition of three top draft picks -- defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, wide receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell.

      To that group, they added some veteran free agents in middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, strong safety Roman Harper and defensive end Darryl Tapp.

      "There's always jobs available," Loomis said. "And jobs sometimes mean roster spots, sometimes they mean more roster spots and sometimes it means, 'Hey, who's going to be the starter? Or who's going to be the contributor? Or who's going to be the guy that's going to be special teams? So we have those kinds of (battles).

      "They're still the same, but the volume may be a little different from year to year. ... I kind of feel like this is a normal year in terms of roster spots, but I think there are jobs to be won. We have a lot of younger guys with some things to prove, and we're looking for them to prove it and fulfill some of the expectations that we have for them."

      --The Saints received good news Thursday when they hit the field for their first training camp practice.

      Free safety Jairus Byrd was healthy for the first practice for the first time in his three seasons with the Saints. He missed practice time in 2014 after having back surgery and last season was dealing with a recurring knee injury.

      But Payton said at his pre-camp news briefing Wednesday night that Byrd was ready to go after being limited in the team's off-season program this spring and summer with a knee issue.

      "He's passed the physical. He is practicing, and he, too, has had a really good summer," Payton said. "He spent, obviously, an inordinate amount of time rehabbing and working in the training room. You know, he handled the conditioning test extremely well."

      Payton noted that Byrd, who signed a six-year, $54 million contract in 2014, won't have any restrictions in training camp.

      --The Saints' first day of training camp was a good one if you're looking for any kind of improvement from one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season.

      After finishing 31st in the league in total yards allowed and last in scoring defense, the Saints made something happen on that side of the ball -- even if it was in a non-padded practice.

      The Saints have said that creating turnovers is a must this season and the defense came up big several times when linebackers Craig Robertson and Tony Steward came up with interceptions in seven-on-seven work.

      Then during team drills, rookie safety Vonn Bell picked off a Brees pass intended for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

      "Those opportunities (for the linebackers), you don't get two of those at one position in a game ... you might get one in three weeks," Payton said. "It's not just the offense working on the Jugs, everyone has to develop their ball skills and take advantage of a late throw or maybe a location error."

      --In need of an experienced veteran after putting Vincent Brown on injured reserve and then waiving him with an injury settlement, the Saints signed former New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks to a one-year contract.

      While team officials would not acknowledge the signing during pre-camp press briefings Wednesday night, Nicks confirmed the deal when he tweeted the news after ESPN first reported it.

      The Saints, who reportedly also inquired about free agent wide receiver Anquan Boldin, had worked Nicks out numerous times. The 28-year-old Nicks, a first-round draft pick in 2009, has also played with the Indianapolis Colts in 2014 and had a second stint with the Giants last season.

  • Jaguars' big acquisition Jackson a bit smaller
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was pleased with the way several players reported to the first day of practice carrying less weight than they had during the offseason drills.

    • Of particular pleasure was defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who came in 12-to-15 pounds less than what he was during OTAs. Jackson was the team's biggest offseason acquisition and its most expensive with a contract worth up to $85.5 million.

      "Malik Jackson came in and had lost like 12 to 15 pounds," Bradley said. "He leaned up. He's close to what he normally plays at. OTAs were good for him in finding out how we were playing him at some different spots like strong-side end so he got heavier. After OTAs, he leaned up as he had a better idea of what was expected of him."

      The Jaguars are counting on Jackson to make a significant difference in applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. It's been an area that the team has lacked a proven pass-rusher from inside. Jackson was signed to fill such a void.

      --Two Jaguars made news out of season for the wrong reasons, something no player wants to acclaim. Running back Denard Robinson was charged with careless driving after falling asleep at the wheel and driving into a retention pond with a passenger. Robinson wasn't initially charged but after a police investigation, he was cited several days later.

      Linebacker Dan Skuta was initially arrested in Orlando after a woman claimed he assaulted her outside a nightclub. Skuta denied the charges which were later dropped.

      Both players were strong contributors to the Jaguars last year but with an improved roster, both are expected to have a battle on their hands to insure their roster spot.

      "I know the type of people they are," coach Gus Bradley said. "It's unfortunate that a mistake took place. What I appreciate is they called me. They talked to me and owned up to it. These two guys are unbelievable in the locker room."

      --Another Jaguars player who was on the receiving end of bad news during the offseason was cornerback Aaron Colvin. The third-year pro who started all but one game for the Jaguars last year, was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

      Colvin was used primarily as a nickel back and figures to inherit that spot again this year once he returns from serving his suspension. He has the support of his coach.

      "I would anticipate seeing him go out there right away, but then you might see some of those reps switch," Bradley said. "It is important to keep him sharp."

      --Wide receiver Allen Robinson was probably the Jaguars biggest and most pleasant surprises of the 2015 season. Robinson caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards -- second-highest total in Jaguars history -- and caught a franchise-record 14 touchdowns, all in just his second year in the league.

      His efforts earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl, the first Jaguars wide receiver to earn such an honor since Jimmy Smith in 2001. Robinson missed most of the team's offseason drills while recovering from sports hernia surgery in January this year. Robinson may not be the only receiver that the Jaguars will handle with care in training camp.

      "We always manage the receiving group," Bradley said. "If we had one group where more of the injuries popped up than any other with soft-tissue type injuries, it is usually the wide receiver group. So the whole group will be managed day by day to see how it goes."

  • Rookie WR Doctson hopes to be on field soon
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    RICHMOND, Va. – Washington Redskins rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson might be on the active/physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but he remains confident he will return to the field soon.

    • One of five players placed on the PUP list by Washington on Thursday, Doctson has a sore left Achilles tendon. He watched Thursday morning's walk-through practice at Bon Secours Training Center.

      "I'm not really concerned because I know my body, and I've never really had lingering problems," Doctson said. "I heal fast. My first time really being injured was my senior year, and that was a broken wrist. I've had hamstrings and stuff like that, but I always heal up quick, so I'm not really worried about it."

      That echoes what Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Wednesday. But Gruden also expressed similar confidence at the end of veteran minicamp in June and six weeks later Doctson is still unable to participate - losing valuable repetitions in the process.

      "It's kind of a lingering issue, and we had some things done over the break to help speed up the process," Doctson said. "I'm really looking forward to this as my first day of rehab, so I'll get out there and see what my body is able to do."

  • Bears' Cutler bemoans loss of Forte
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't exactly inspire confidence the offense can get through a period of adjustment.

    • He made that clear on the team's first full day of training camp this year at Olivet Nazarene University on Thursday.

      Without running back Matt Forte -- now with the New York Jets -- he anticipates a period of adjustment as Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey take over in a multi-back attack.

      Replacing Forte won't be easy.

      "You can't," Cutler said. "Just his knowledge and him being here so long, his experience on the field, his experience playing with me - most of the time I'd tell him something or just look at him and he'd know exactly what I was thinking.

      "You can't replace him, you can't replace him in a year anyway. We've got a good group of young backs that we're going to develop and we're going to put as much time as we can into those guys. They'll get there."

      Cutler experienced a career-best 92.3 passer rating last season under former offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

      "I think a lot of it was the system and the way Adam called plays and manipulated the game in that regard," Cutler said. "He definitely took care of quarterbacks and receivers and offensive linemen, and just the way he called games.

      "I think Dowell, actually I know Dowell has a lot of that same thought process in his mind. He's going to try as hard as he can not to put us in bad positions. A lot of that is going to help my game, as well."

      Offensive lineman Kyle Long, who injured a calf muscle during Thursday's practice, said the Bears feel genuinely disrespected around the league with the lack of talk about their chances.

      Cutler didn't exactly have his teammate's back in putting the chip on everyone's shoulder.

      "Whenever you're coming off losing seasons back to back like that, that's kind of how it goes," Cutler said. "There's no reason for anyone to really expect a huge change from our last two seasons, which is fine.

      "That shouldn't bother him (Long) or anyone else in that locker room. Our main goal and our main objective is just to try to get better through training camp and try to win football games. As long as we're keeping it one game at a time, it'll take care of itself."

      The Bears haven't been in the playoffs since 2010 and haven't had a winning season since 2012.

      However, coach John Fox sees natural progression coming for the team based on changes made, and what he saw with Carolina and Denver in the second season there as coach.

      "It's like when I was a kid and we'd go on a trip and it seemed a whole lot longer on the way there than it did coming home," Fox said. "And the reason is that you've seen it before, you've been there before.

      "So I think that's it's just kind of human development. We added Jake Delhomme in Carolina and made a big jump. Granted, we added Peyton Manning (in Denver). But to me, we added a bunch of players. It's not just the quarterback. I think we've done similar things (here), and we'll see where it takes us."

      --Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery refused to get into a long discussion about his contract situation. He reported to camp on time despite playing as a franchise free agent, at a time when some franchise free agents refuse to get involved until the season is about to begin.

      "I mean, it wasn't difficult. I'm here," he said. "I'm playing football. I've got a contract. I'm blessed."

      --The plan was to get rookie pass rush linebacker Leonard Floyd to put on weight, but he reported for training camp at the same 240 pounds as during offseason work.

      A stomach virus that took him out of the first practice didn't help.

      "They told me to go out and give it a shot today and then they shut me down," Floyd said about his illness. "I really was begging them to let me go back out there. They told me to shut it down and shut it down tomorrow."

      --Another weighty issue facing the Bears was defensive end Akiem Hicks. He reported to camp at 336 pounds.

      No one seemed to worried.

      "He's explosive and big," Fox said after Day 1."Those are the attributes that help when you match up. I've been very impressed.

      "I think he came back in great shape. He made a few hustle plays today that caught my eye. I've still got to watch the film."

  • Cousins treats each day as if it could be his last
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins understands the bar has been raised for him now.

    • No longer a long-shot option after Robert Griffin III faltered during training camp last season, Cousins has the contract ($19.953 million) and the profile (NFC East title, playoff berth, franchise passing yards record) that brings high expectations.

      "I mean, I had a four-year deal as a rookie but it didn't feel like a four-year deal, it felt like a one-day deal every single day I was here," Cousins said. "So I don't think things have changed a whole lot in that regard. I have got to go out there and prove myself each and every game of every season."

      For now, Cousins is willing to put contract talks aside. Playing on the franchise tag - the first quarterback to do so since Drew Brees in 2005 - his future with the organization is uncertain. That will be decided by his play this season and by talks with the Redskins after the year is over. He wanted a long-term commitment from the team this summer. It didn't happen and Cousins admits, while the money means Washington sees him as its short-term answer at quarterback, there is no guarantee beyond this season. The coaching staff doesn't think that will be a problem for a player who a year ago didn't think he'd ever have a chance to be the Redskins' starter.

      "He's a gym rat, he's a film rat," head coach Jay Gruden said. "That's just what you need to be a successful quarterback in this league. The great quarterbacks are that way in their first year and in their 15th year, that's the way you have to be at the position, and he's got the mental makeup to be a great one. Now we just have got to make sure he continues to study and continues to get better."

  • Jets' Marshall bets Porsche against Brown's Rolls
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    FLORHAM PARK, N. J. -- Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who implored the New York Jets to get a deal done with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, lost 20 pounds to get his weight down to 225 when training camp opened Thursday.

    • He also issued a challenge to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Via his Instagram account, Marshall bet his Porsche that he will exceed Brown's total receiving yards this season.

      If that happens, Marshall would get Brown's Rolls Royce and if Brown wins, he gets the Porsche. Brown was second in the league with 1,834 receiving yards last season while Marshall totaled 1,502. On the first play of one-on-one drills, Marshall caught a one-handed touchdown pass from Geno Smith.

      --With the signing of Fitzpatrick, there will be no quarterback competition for the Jets, not even for the No. 3 job unless circumstances drastically change.

      Coach Todd Bowles said that Fitzpatrick will be the starter and Geno Smith is the backup. He also said Bryce Petty will be the third-string quarterback and rookie Christian Hackenberg is fourth on the depth chart.

      "Geno's here at number two right now unless Bryce and Hack have some great gain, if they come along like gangbusters," Bowles said. "Number two right now, it's open. If Fitz has some setbacks ... something else. Geno's one, I mean Fitz is one, Geno's two, Bryce is three, Hack is four."

      --Linebacker Darron Lee was present for the first practice of training camp after becoming the last of New York's draft picks. He was absent Wednesday but will sign a four-year, $10.2 million contract, which is fully guaranteed.

      --The Jets lost Chris Ivory to free agency and obtained Matt Forte, formerly of Chicago, to fill the void in the backfield. New York added some depth at running back by signing Bernard Pierce. Pierce compiled 1,345 yards for an average of 3.7 and five rushing touchdowns in his first four seasons.

      Pierce became Baltimore's starting running back when Ray Rice was cut, but like Rice had legal issues. The Ravens cut him after he failed a sobriety test in March 2015. If Pierce makes the team, he will serve a two-game suspension. Besides the failed sobriety test, he was tossed out of a Maryland nightclub in 2014 for failing to "maintain his composure"

      --Running back Matt Forte did not practice because of a tweaked hamstring. After practice, coach Todd Bowles said the injury is not serious and he thinks Forte will be fine.

      --Cornerback Darrelle Revis did not participate in the team portion of training camp drills Thursday and will be brought along slowly after wrist surgery in March. Revis is the Jets' highest paid player at $17 million and according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a league-best 46.5 percent completion percentage when targeted.

      --P Tom Hackett was waived Thursday as the Jets needed to clear a roster spot for Fitzpatrick. An undrafted free agent from Utah, Hackett split reps in OTAs and minicamp with seventh-round pick Lachlan Edwards, who will be the Jets' punter barring any unforeseen circumstances.

      NOTES: The Jets placed six players on the physically unable to perform list and three were starters. The most prominent name is defensive end Muhammed Wilkerson, recovering from January surgery on his broken right leg. Also on the list are starting left tackle Breno Giacomini (back) and starting guard James Carpenter (hamstring). . . . Wide receiver Devin Smith (knee), running back Khiry Robinson (leg) and CB Kendall James were also placed on the PUP list. While Wilkerson recovers, Jarvis Jenkins likely gets his reps. Brent Qvale and Dakota Dozier can make good impressions filling in for Giacomini and Dozier respectively. Both players saw some reps with the first team during OTAs and minicamp.

  • Broncos' Ware expects to be "94 percent" by Week 1
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    DeMarcus Ware has yet to put on cleats as the Denver Broncos ramp up their training camp regimen, but the veteran isn't in a rush to return to the field as he continues to recover from a back injury that the outside linebacker estimates left him at 70 percent toward the end of last season.

    • "If you do something 12 times, I think that's enough," Ware said when asked about going through training camp at this point of his career. "This is 12 years for me and I know what I'm doing. It's all about getting your body ready for the long haul. There is a 16-game season and getting ready for a postseason."

      Ware stayed in Denver following the team's offseason program - which he sat out the last four weeks of - to continue to work through the back problems. He would like to get get in some game work before the end of the preseason, but acknowledged he will likely never be completely healthy at this stage of his career.

      "I will never say that anybody will be 100 percent, but by the season I will be around 94 percent," Ware said Thursday. "I always have a goal. I'd like to get out there and put the pads on before the preseason is over with.

      "You can still get some of that rust off and get out here and practice and play a little bit. A timeline of that is making sure that you get a lot of fill work before the season starts."

      Ware insisted he could play tomorrow if the Broncos had a regular-season game, but for now he will listen to the team's trainers and Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway. In the meantime, Ware will continue his indoor work, including his role as elder statesman on the team. That includes serving as a mentor for Von Miller, who signed a record six-year, $114.5 million contract earlier this month.

      Ware intends to make sure Miller understands the responsibility that comes with that paycheck.

      "I said, 'if somebody pays you to do something, you have to take up the responsibility and be that leader for the team,'" Ware said of his message to Miller. "To be honest with you, I said, 'at the end of the day, last year I wouldn't see all of my checks. You're the guy that needs to be deserving of that and lead this team to a championship. That's just a title, but it's going to come with consistent play like you had the last eight games of the season when you were a monster out there. Let’s start the regular season like that from the jump and see how consistent you can be.'"

      Miller and Ware led a dynamic Denver defense that clamped down on Carolina's No. 1-ranked offense in Super Bowl 50. The Panthers were dominated, scoring 10 points after averaging more than 31 in going 17-1 to win the NFC.

      Ware, an eight-time All-Pro, signed with the Broncos two years ago and helped form a fearsome outside pass rush with Miller, who said after the Super Bowl that it means everything to have a "percentage of the credit" for getting Ware a ring.

      "DeMarcus is everything -- All-American person, All-Pro player," Miller said at th time. "He's a leader, he's a big brother to me, coach, mentor. It's something I hold very close to my heart. I remember when I first got into the game, I wanted to pattern my game, mimic what I did after him."

  • Jets' Fitzpatrick wants to prove his value
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For the past few months, uncertainty was on the minds of New York Jets fans, not to mention wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

    • They all wanted to know if the Jets would finally sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. As the days passed and the countdown toward training camp began, the anxiety increased because of Fitzpatrick's impact last season when he set a team record with 31 touchdown passes and because of less appealing options of Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg.

      Those fears are over.

      Fitzpatrick was on the field Thursday afternoon with a newly signed one-year, $12 million deal when the Jets began their first practice of training camp.

      Taking the field to theme song from the hit 1970s sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter," Fitzpatrick heard loud cheers when he connected with Marshall on a deep pass down the sideline.

      Fitzpatrick's return ended a 140-day stalemate that featured pleas to re-sign him from several avenues. Second-year coach Todd Bowles and second-year general manager Mike Maccagnan said throughout the offseason they wanted Fitzpatrick back and would be the starter once he re-signed.

      Still there was a matter of getting it done and now Fitzpatrick said he feels he has something to prove in an attempt to get a multi-year contract next offseason.

      "I have something to prove every year," Fitzpatrick said. "This year isn't any different for me."

      Fitzpatrick reportedly wanted a multi-year deal worth $15 million annually and the Jets countered with a three-year, $24 million offer with a guaranteed $15 million.

      Even though the Jets offered more guaranteed money, Fitzpatrick viewed himself as a starter and was willing to "bet on himself."

      "The deal that was made public, that was a deal that basically said 'hey we want you here and then can you stay here as a backup,'" Fitzpatrick said. "For me, that's not how I view myself. I'd much rather pass up on some of that guaranteed money, just sign a one-year deal, which I did and bet on myself and see what happens."

      By Wednesday, Fitzpatrick had a winning bet and was set to cash in. The Jets upped their offer from $8 million to $12 million and Fitzpatrick met the 7 p.m. ET Wednesday deadline imposed by management.

      And to the surprise of nobody, Bowles said after the first practice Fitzpatrick would be the starter. He also joked that showing up at 6:59 p.m. Wednesday would result in a "12 million dollar" fine.

      "It's his job," Bowles said. "He's earned it. Happy it got resolved."

      Fitzpatrick played all 16 games for the third time in his career last season. He set a career-high in touchdown passes and passing yards (3,905). He also was sacked a career-low 19 times and his passer rating of 88 was the highest in any full season he has played.

      As for his top targets of Decker and Marshall, they stand to benefit from Fitzpatrick's contract standoff being resolved.

      "They were in my corner the whole offseason," Fitzpatrick said. "For me I got to go out and perform for those guys."

      Decker's 12 touchdowns were the second-most of his career and his 1,027 receiving yards were the third-highest since he entered the league in 2010 with Denver.

      Marshall made 109 receptions including a career-high 14 TDs last season. His 1,502 receiving yards were six shy of the career best established in 2012 with the Chicago Bears, when he caught a career-best 118 passes.

      Marshall was so excited about a quarterback who helped him set career-highs that he tweeted the following:

      "Well deserved and great move by @nyjets. Congrats bro. Now go win some dang games."

      Fitzpatrick did win some "dang" games, getting the Jets to 10 wins and within a game of the playoffs. The postseason drought reached five seasons when Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions in a 22-17 loss at Buffalo.

      Even with the interceptions and another missed playoff berth, the alternative of Smith and other unproven passers did not seem appealing as options who would keep the Jets in contention until Week 17.

  • Jags' Joeckel not relinquishing OLT easily
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    JACKSONVILLE -- One thing for certain, Luke Joeckel is not going down without a fight.

    • The Jacksonville Jaguars incumbent at left tackle has all but lost his starting job if you listen to those close to the program. But Joeckel isn't having any part of those thoughts. It's been a tough seven months for the Jaguars' fourth-year tackle out of Texas A&M.

      It all started in Jacksonville's 2015 season finale against Houston when he was burned for five sacks by opposing Texans defenders. Then in March, the Jaguars served notice that Joeckel would have to battle to retain his starting spot by signing former Pittsburgh Steelers starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum to a free-agent contract.

      Things didn't get any better in May. That's when the team informed Joeckel that they were declining to pick up his 2017 contract option, meaning he'll be a free agent next March. All the negatives might make some players become just that, but not Joeckel. He's taking the high road, expressing confidence in himself and his game such that he feels he will win the battle with Beachum.

      "I feel the healthiest, strongest, fastest I've ever felt," Joeckel said. "I have a lot of confidence going into this training camp. And then there's a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and that makes a difference too."

      Joeckel, 24, wants to remain at left tackle. He was already told that the loser of the battle between he and Beachum will move to left guard and compete against Mackenzy Bernadeau for starting honors at that spot. Not exactly where Joeckel wants to play.

      "You always try to play with some kind of chip," he said recently at a community event. "But this one is different. Going from high school and right into college as a true freshman, there was definitely competition, but I've started every game I've played in football. I want to keep that going.

      "I'm going for that left tackle job; I'm, not thinking about (guard) right now.

      The Jaguars have invested in Joeckel. They made him the No. 2 pick overall of the 2013 draft and paid him well for that honor. But doubts have crept in now after Joeckel hasn't dominated the position like the Jaguars had hoped he would. That's the reason they passed on picking up his option for the 2017 season. If he loses his starting spot to Beachum, the Jaguars would have had to pay big dollars for a player that would be nothing more than a bench-warmer.

      Instead, they want to see if he wins the job with Beachum and if so, promptly reward him with a lucrative contract after the 2016 season.

      Jaguars coach Gus Bradley liked what he saw with Joeckel during the season and now heading into training camp.

      "He looked good," Bradley said. "What we told the players was, 'We're going to find a way to get the best five guys on the field. There's competition and let's see how it plays out.'"

      No matter who wins the competition at left tackle, the offensive line will need to come together in a hurry. With a new face guaranteed at left guard and converted guard Brandon Linder about to take his first snap as an NFL center, it means the Jaguars could be starting three new faces along the line.

      Only on the right side where tackle Jermey Parnell will again join starting guard A.J. Cann on the right spot is it the same. The two were starters for the Jaguars a year ago and that will help form some cohesiveness in the line. It's an area that has to improve from last year. The Jaguars' running game was ineffective because holes weren't always there. The passing game put up some big numbers, but Bortles was sacked way too many times and forced to throw some balls earlier than he would have liked. That resulted in a high number of interceptions (18) for the Jaguars' quarterback, a number that must come down.

  • Garoppolo, Brady share Pats' first-team reps
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the first day of training camp, the New England Patriots battled the heat and began adjusting to the reality of having two starting quarterbacks.

    • With Tom Brady suspended for the season's first four weeks after declining to further pursue the appeal of his Deflategate punishment, the 38-year-old veteran and 24-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo split the first-team reps Thursday.

      Afterward, the third-year backup, a former second-round draft pick, addressed the media in the first of what will be regular press conferences that are part of his duty as the starter over the next two-plus months of summer and September action.

      Just because Garoppolo is the starter doesn't mean he will alter his mentality.

      "Nothing has really changed," he said. "When they put me in for the reps I'm in for, I'll go out there, do my best and do whatever the coaches ask. But my mindset is basically the same. I'm just trying to go out there and get my game right, trying to get the offense ready as much as we can. We've got a long way to go. Training camp is a grind, but we got to get through it."

      The former Eastern Illinois star did admit that this is a chance he has worked toward all his football life.

      "Very excited," Garoppolo said. "That's why we play the game. We play to get out there and get your opportunity, and when it comes, you've got to be ready for it."

      While Bill Belichick was quick to make it clear Garoppolo was his starter, as well as remind all that it is Brady's job when the veteran returns, the coach wasn't so interested in mapping out exactly how he will get his young passer ready this summer to make his NFL starting debut opening night in Arizona.

      "We'll do what we think is best," Belichick said of Garoppolo's reps moving forward. "Whatever we think is best, that's what we're going to do. That's the priority.

      "I don't know how else I can put it. We're going to get him ready the best that we can. That's what we're going to do."

      All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, one of the many proven production options who will be assisting Garoppolo the first four weeks, already sees things he likes in his fill-in passer.

      "Just his power of the ball, his accuracy going out there," Gronkowski said. "The way he moves the pocket. I like how he can scramble out and keep it going if everything's not going right. He's just a competitor, a hard worker, which is always great, which always goes good with the team when you have someone that wants it and goes out there and competes."

      And in true next-man-up Patriots fashion, all those playing around Garoppolo and on both sides of the ball will be expecting to fill the Brady-less void for a Belichick-led team that expects the same results regardless of who is on the field at any position.

      "Obviously, you can't take the field without a guy like (Brady) and think you're just going to go out there and pick up where you left off last year and fall right into stride, but I think we have a lot of good players," said safety Devin McCourty, the defensive captain. "Jimmy has been here a couple of years now, so I think as a team we'll just come together, go out there and figure out a way to win. That's what it comes down to; we can't stick on that subject, just prepare and get ready to play."

  • Lacy's weight a tired subject
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    DE PERE, Wis. -- The prevailing topic of Pro-Bowl running back Eddie Lacy's physique in the spring continued to carry a lot of weight at the start of the Green Bay Packers' training camp.

    • Just as in the offseason, Lacy refused to say how much weight he's dropped after abiding by head coach Mike McCarthy's ultimatum at the end of last season to get in shape.

      "Do I look like I lost a few pounds over the summer?" Lacy said to a big group of reporters after the first practice day in camp Tuesday.

      Lacy said he resumed his vigorous workouts with P90X founder Tony Horton in California in the weeks leading up to camp. Fitness guru Horton took Lacy under his wing early in the offseason in the aftermath of the young back's disappointing third NFL season in 2015 that prompted public criticism from McCarthy for playing overweight.

      The Packers list Lacy at 234 pounds, his same listed weight from last season.

      What his actual weight is, nobody's saying.

      "I'm tired of talking about it," said Lacy, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. "I'm pretty sure you all are tired of asking about it. I'm tired of hearing about it everywhere I go. I'm done with that."

      McCarthy also bristled when asked about Lacy's weight at the start of camp.

      "I'm just going to be frank here - I'm done talking about people's weight," McCarthy said. "I've never put a guy's individual weight in the media, that's not something I talk about, and in Eddie's particular case, I've talked enough about his weight.

      "Everybody has things they need to work on, we all do, and frankly, Eddie's ready to go."

  • Browns' Gordon "elated" by reinstatement
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    Josh Gordon found out like most of the NFL world that the Cleveland Browns wide receiver had been reinstated from his league-imposed suspension - from the media.

    • He received a heads-up phone call and then went online to verify that his indefinite suspension had been lifted last week.

      "I was really excited," Gordon said Thursday. "I was definitely excited man. I was tremendously happy, for sure. Elated."

      Gordon left it to commissioner Roger Goodell to explain why he still faces a four-game suspension to begin the season, but Gordon is focused on recovering from a quadriceps injury - and recovering his reputation tainted by numerous off-field issues.

      Training camp is an opportunity for Gordon to hit the "reset button," Browns coach Hue Jackson said, accompanied at a press conference by team vice president Sashi Brown.

      Gordon could return in Week 5 against the New England Patriots.

      "I truly believe he wants to make it right," Jackson said. "I think if a player wants to change, you have to create an environment for him to change. ... It's about him. He has to do this."

      Gordon caught 137 passes for 2,461 yards and 14 touchdowns over his first two NFL seasons, but then began to run into issues with the league's substance abuse program. He played in five games in 2014 - the last time he saw the field for a regular-season NFL game.

      He was suspended all of last season, and has been seen several times hanging out with former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel this offseason.

      "It definitely can't be done here at the podium," Gordon said of proving he has matured. "That's for sure. You know, nothing really gets done here (speaking), but out there on the field, I can do everything I came here to do on the field and by my actions.

      "Nothing that I say can do much to show you, but with the support that I have here, with Mr. (Jimmy) Haslam, to the team, to the coaches, to the players here, they've shown me an extreme amount of support and love, and I can only do that by showing it back to them."

      Gordon said he injured his quadriceps a few weeks ago while working out on his own. But he's excited to get back on the field and work with new Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III, whom Gordon said was the reason he landed at Baylor in 2009.

      "That's one of my best friends," Gordon said. "It's not a mistake that my locker is next to his. He looks out for me. That's part of my support staff that I was mentioning, guys I know I can lean on and can count on. I know he's a big brother in that regard. As much as I need him, everybody else in this building needs him just as much."

  • McCoy glad Winston the face of the franchise
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    TAMPA -- Jameis Winston is the face of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise, having had that torch passed to him by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

    • "I love Jameis, man," McCoy said. "He's like my brother. I referred to him as the face of the franchise, because he is. When they show commercials of the Bucs, they're not showing Gerald. They're showing Jameis. That's for a reason, and I'm happy about that. If your quarterback is the face of your franchise, usually that tags to winning or going in a positive direction. I'm excited about it."

      However, a perception grew last season that McCoy, a four-time Pro-Bowl player and de facto Face of the Franchise, wasn't comfortable with all the attention suddenly thrust on Winston.

      But McCoy says nothing was ever further from the truth. All he wanted to do was take the pressure off Winston. As the third overall pick in 2010, whose first two seasons ended on injured reserve, McCoy knows how it feels to be swallowed whole by expectations.

      It wasn't much different than the Bucs' decision to keep Winston's face off the four corners of Raymond James Stadium as a rookie.

      "We were missing a franchise quarterback. Every team needs that guy," McCoy said. "I believe very early on, Jameis Winston was the guy. So I said he will, after this year, maybe sooner, be that guy. When it came about sooner than everybody expected, I think the misperception was Jameis is getting all the publicity now, Gerald is so used to being the guy, he can't handle it.

      "I was injured my first two years. There was a time when I was considered a bust. I had to work my way out of that to even be considered a perennial Pro Bowler. Another thing people miss is if we do have a franchise quarterback and who is getting a lot of publicity, something tells me he's doing something associated with positivity and winning. So why on Earth would a person who has been here losing for six seasons not want that to be? That does not make sense to me. I re-signed with this team because I believe we can win. Now we have the piece to do that and I want to take issue with it?"

      McCoy and Winston have never spoken about the perceived schism. There was never any need to. McCoy was supportive of Winston since the day he became the first overall pick from Florida State.

      "I met his parents and his family and told them, 'I'm going to take care of your son. You don't have to worry about him while he's here in Tampa.' I did that because I know the pressure that comes with being a first-round pick."

      Winston started slowly last season. His first NFL pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and he threw seven picks in his first four games. But he finished strong, passing for 4,042 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while rushing for six scores.

      As he did as a rookie, Winston was expected to stand at the door and greet every player as they reported to training camp. The Bucs are a young team galvanized behind the leadership of their precocious quarterback.

      "I know Jameis Winston is my favorite teammate I've ever approached the game with," receiver Kenny Bell said. "The attitude he brings every single day, his approach to the game, his dedication to greatness, the guy just impresses. There's no question about it. I love playing with the guy."

      So does McCoy and other veteran leaders such as Vincent wide receiver Jackson, and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. It's Winston's team and his time.

      "I said in his second year, Jameis Winston will be the NFL MVP and people destroyed me for that," McCoy said. "You know why I said that? Because I truly believe in this kid that much."

      Winston said he needs more from McCoy.

      "I just talked to him after the season ... I believe Gerald is a great leader," Winston said after the Bucs' first practice of training camp. "I just know that he has a little bit more in him. You should have seen him out here working with Noah Spence and Kourtnei Brown, things he puts into these players, even me. He's put so much into me. I just asked him to keep doing it, bring it up a notch, step it up, just like I have to do, just like we all have to do."

  • Long injured in Bears' first practice
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- It almost appeared the best efforts of Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace came unraveled within a period of two days.

    • Pace spent the offseason rebuilding the defense, so it seemed more than a minor setback when practices began and the team was missing its most essential player on defense. Pass rushing linebacker Pernell McPhee came into camp on the preseason physically unable to perform list.

      Then an offensive line completely rebuilt, lost its best player indefinitely when Kyle Long left the field after a calf injury Thursday at the end of the first practice.

      McPhee's situation may be conditioning. Long's appears more serious.

      Long's injury is potentially devastating for an offensive line trying to fit together new pieces. He left the field at the end of practice, slammed his helmet down in disgust and showed up at lunch wearing a boot cast. He is day to day.

      Long was lined up next to center Hroniss Grasu, a partial starter last year who struggled at times. With rookie Cody Whitehair at left guard and veteran newcomer Bobby Massie at right tackle, play reps by the regular line are critical.

      Ted Larsen, who missed minicamp recovering from an injury, lined up in Long's place at the end of practice.

      "Ted's had a ton of reps, he's been in the league for a long time, he understands what it takes to have success," Long said. "But for a guy like Cody, you need to have to have reps and that goes for all of us."

      McPhee, a six-year veteran, underwent minor knee surgery in the offseason and missed all of the team's organized team activities and minicamp.

      It's being called more of a conditioning matter at this point, but a defense that has new players lining up at two inside linebacker spots and all three defensive line positions can ill afford having a key component miss a good deal of preparation time.

      "The good thing is that he came in at a really good weight," Pace said. "So I know he's been working hard over the summer so that's very encouraging.

      "And really in the OTAs, he wasn't doing a lot of football stuff. He was doing stuff more on the side with our strength and conditioning coaches."

      As a result, the McPhee will continue working on the side with trainers until it's deemed he's ready to assume his role as the team's dominant pass rusher.

      The goal is to "... build him back in instead of just throwing him out there right away with full speed football drills," Pace said.

      No decision has been made yet on whether McPhee will play in any preseason games.

      "We've got to see how he is, as we're kind of going through these activities out here," Pace said.

      Currently, McPhee weighs in the 270s, and it's the desired range because it's believed he will place less stress on his knee at a lighter weight. While in Baltimore, McPhee also missed time with minor knee issues.

      "His weight has been all over because, like in Baltimore, (he was) playing a variety of positions," Pace said. "Last year, he was primarily in the 280s.

      "And just talking to our sports-science staff, we just feel if he can play in the 270s, he's just going to be quicker, better on his knee and still maintain the same power."

      The Bears pass rush last year experienced something similar when Lamarr Houston (ACL) and Willie Young (Achilles) were coming off surgeries. They missed much of preseason. As they rounded into shape, McPhee's sack numbers dwindled because of the pain from playing through his knee injury.

      Although the Bears improved from 30th to 14th on defense last season, their inconsistent pass rush hurt in several areas. Their sack total of 35 was 22nd in the league. Without much pass rush, they made a franchise-low eight interceptions, including only four by defensive backs.

      Houston wound up leading the team in sacks with eight and Young was second with 6.5, as they picked up the slack when McPhee (6 sacks) struggled playing through his injury.

      Both of those injuries were far more serious than the one to McPhee.

      "If you don't have those guys plugging holes and stopping and forcing quarterbacks to make those errant passes, then the secondary, I don't care who you have back there," cornerback Tracy Porter said. "You could have Champ (Bailey) on one side, Deion Sanders) on the other side.

      "If your front seven isn't putting the necessary pressure on a quarterback, then he can just sit back there all day and have 7-on-7."

      It didn't help matters when first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd left the field on a cart an hour into the first practice, but it was only due to illness he'd been plagued by the previous few days.

  • Matthews and Pepper focus on football
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    DE PERE, Wis. -- Instead of being preoccupied by whether anyone from the NFL office will show up in Green Bay to talk to him and fellow linebacker Julius Peppers, the focus for Clay Matthews is on football.

    • Matthews and Peppers had yet to be questioned by a league official regarding their alleged involvement with performance-enhancing drugs in a TV report that surfaced toward the end of last season.

      Those interviews with the two current Packers named, along with several other NFL players, in an Al-Jazeera America documentary were planned to happen at the start of training camp. Green Bay opened camp Monday.

      "I'm kind of letting the NFL and the NFLPA work out everything that they need to, but hopefully it comes soon enough," Matthews said. "It's been several months of kind of dragging on."

      Matthews called the allegations in the report about using NFL-banned substances "bogus." The defensive standout was said to have used painkillers Percocet and Toradol and "newer drugs" that boosted his hormone levels.

      "It's kind of annoying that I have to continue to deal with this," he said. "But, the truth will come out and everything I said when the allegations came out (in December) I still stand by. So, I just try to kind of put that in the rearview mirror and focus on the season."

      Peppers this week also stood by his comments from late December, when the 15th-year pro called claims in the Al-Jazeera report about him taking a PED called D2 "completely erroneous."

      "I'm letting the (NFL)PA handle that," Peppers said. "I don't have any details on that situation."

      When asked if he will cooperate with the league in the interview process, Peppers said, "I'm not sure, I'm not sure. Letting the PA handle that, probably will, but don't really know the details of the process at this moment."

      Peppers, who was selected to the Pro Bowl for the ninth time last season, doesn't believe the lingering issue will be a distraction in preparation for the upcoming season.

      "I'm trying to focus on camp and getting ready to play games, not nonsense," he said.

      Earlier this week, the NFL announced retired quarterback Peyton Manning was exonerated of any purported wrongdoing in the Al-Jazeera report of using HGH or other banned substances following a seven-month investigation by the league.

      "I'm just kind of waiting for the NFL to conduct its investigation, in which case the truth will come out, and it'll just be another thing I've had to deal with in my career, but there's nothing I can really do now," Matthews said. "It's kind of ridiculous. It's good to see Peyton, at least, cleared in some regards, and I hope the names will go down the list" for being cleared.

      "Like I said in the past, I have nothing to hide, so it's not an issue for me one way or the other," he added.

  • Ravens OLB Suggs itching to return to field
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles in the 2015 season-opener against the Denver Broncos, there were questions about his future with the team.

    • It was the second time in his career that Suggs suffered that devastating injury. Now at age 33, he even acknowledges that he is on the back end of his career.

      Nonetheless, Suggs is determined to get back on the field and make an impact throughout the 2016 season. For now, though, the six-time Pro Bowler will have to wait a bit longer.

      Suggs was placed on the physically unable to perform list when the Ravens held their first full-team training camp practice

      On Thursday. While Suggs is eager to get back on the field, he knows that it is important to be patient to ensure the injury is fully healed.

      "I'm not going to give it a timetable, but it's not going to be long," Suggs said. "We're close to where we want to be."

      When asked how many more years he plans to play, Suggs, whose nickname is "T-Sizzle," was uncertain.

      "In a perfect world? What am I, 33? I don't know," Suggs said. "I don't want to cap it. Because then I say a number and then that number comes, and I'm still feeling good and want to do it, you'll be like, 'Sizz, you said you were going to stop playing at 37. What are you still doing out there?'

      "I don't know. Like I said, it's not something I want to visit at the end of this year or the end of next year. Maybe the year after that we can talk about it, but what will I be, 36 then? I'm not worried about it right now."

      --Safety Eric Weddle has quickly adjusted to playing for his new team.

      Baltimore signed Weddle in the offseason to provide another experienced playmaker in the secondary. Weddle, a long time defensive captain with the San Diego Chargers, had shaved his trademark bushy beard during the OTAs. However, the full beard was back at the team's first full-team training camp practice Thursday.

      "We want to be a great defense, and it starts by all 11 playing together, all on the same page, all playing as one, knowing what to do, executing your assignment and playing together and being all in," Weddle said. "Coach [John Harbaugh] had a great point last night: You're either with us or you're not, and if you're not, get out of the way. It's true. You have to be committed. I think everyone here is, and it's just exciting. It's exciting to see the commitment, the energy and the thoughts of what you want to get out of this season, and that's winning a lot of games."

      Weddle, a nine-year NFL veteran, spent the entire earlier part of his career with Chargers before signing with Baltimore in March. Over his career, he has played in 137 games with 122 starts and has 813 tackles, 19 interceptions, 70 passes defensed, 6.5 sacks, six fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles. Last season, Weddle started all 13 games before suffering a groin injury.

      --Ravens running back Justin Forsett is fully recovered from a fractured right arm that ended his 2015 season on Nov. 22 against the St. Louis Rams.

      Forsett was solid in offseason workouts, showing the determination to retain his starting position. The Ravens, though, enter training camp, with a young and deep group of running backs that are pushing for playing time.

      "I look at it like [this] every year: I've got to fight, make sure I'm doing my best and am at my best," Forsett said. "My goal is to go out and lead this team to a Super Bowl. I'm going to try to put myself in a position to do so and attack every day like it is my last."

      Forsett will be challenged by second-year player Javorius "Buck" Allen, who already showed that he is capable of carrying the load. Rookie Kenneth Dixon will also battle for playing time after running for 1,070 yards with 26 touchdowns for Louisiana Tech last year. Baltimore native Terrance West has also impressed coaches in the offseason workouts with his work ethic.

      Nonetheless, Forsett should have the early edge as the starter. Even with the shortened 2015 season, Forsett still finished as the team's leading rusher with 641 yards on 151 carries.

      Furthermore, Forsett has embraced challenges throughout his career.

      "This is my ninth training camp. It is a blessing," Forsett said. "Me being fired three times throughout my career and traveling from five different teams -- I don't take it for granted. Just coming in here, being able to do the conditioning test and meet with guys for the first time in a long time, I appreciate it, and it is a lot of excitement in the air."

      Notes: The Ravens ended Day 1 of training camp with six players on the physically unable to perform list -- wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles) and Breshad Perriman (knee); linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot); and running backs Trent Richardson (knee) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot). ... Running Kenneth Dixon, a fourth-round pick (No. 134 overall) from Louisiana Tech, injured his left knee after being knocked out of bounds by linebacker Patrick Onwuasor during the first full-team training camp practice Thursday. Harbaugh said the injury appeared to be minor and Dixon should be able to practice Friday."

  • NFL notebook: Ravens WR Wallace fails conditioning test
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    Wide receiver Mike Wallace failed his first conditioning test and will not practice with the Baltimore Ravens until he passes it.

    • Wallace hit five of the six benchmarks in the test of stamina and conditioning, according to the Baltimore Sun, and the Ravens are not overly concerned.

      Wallace signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract after being released by the Minnesota Vikings.

      Because of injuries to No. 1 target Steve Smith and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, the Ravens were thin at wide receiver last season. Perriman didn't play at all as a rookie and Smith ruptured his Achilles in what was supposed to be his final season in the NFL.

      -- Chicago Bears first-round pick Leonard Floyd left his first training camp practice on a cart, but coach John Fox claimed afterward that he was merely sick, and not injured in any way.

      Floyd, the ninth overall pick out of Georgia, appeared to be in good spirits headed off the humid practice field.

      The Bears traded up to select the pass-rushing outside linebacker in April. He was placed on a high-calorie diet and nutrition regimen to address his lanky 6-foot-6 frame.

      -- In February, only one month removed from leading the Vikings to their first playoff game since 2011, head coach Mike Zimmer prefaced responses to questions about the long-term future of the team with the phrase "If I'm still here..."

      The Vikings erased any speculation about Zimmer's future as Minnesota tied the franchise to the current coach with a long-term contract extension.

      Terms were not disclosed by the team but Zimmer, who led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and NFC North championship last season, won't be a free agent while the core of the team develops together.

      -- Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin officially signed with Detroit, reuniting the 35-year-old with Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was Boldin's offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens.

      Terms were not disclosed, but Boldin reportedly signed a one-year deal. The team also signed linebacker Dominique Tovell while releasing wide receiver Damian Copeland and linebacker Jerry Franklin.

      Entering his 14th NFL season, Boldin adds depth to a Lions receiving corps working to fill the void left by the retirement of Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate and free agent signee Marvin Jones are slated to be the starters, with Boldin and former New York Jet Jeremy Kerley adding veteran depth.

      -- First-round pick Josh Doctson was placed on the physically unable to perform list with a strained Achilles along with four other Washington Redskins at the outset of training camp.

      Defensive end Junior Galette, who ruptured his Achilles, went to the non-football injury list.

      Tight end Derek Carrier, linebacker Perry Riley Jr., left guard Shawn Lauvao and wide receiver Reggie Diggs joined Doctson on the Active/Physically unable to Perform list.

  • Ravens QB Flacco impresses coming off injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- On the first day of the Baltimore Ravens' full-squad training camp practice, quarterback Joe Flacco ran smoothly onto the field, zipped passes to his receivers and confidently took full control of the offense.

    • In short, Flacco appeared perfectly healthy Thursday after offseason knee surgery.

      Flacco, however, has not played a game since Nov. 22 when he walked off the turf at M&T Bank Stadium against the St. Louis Rams with a torn ACL and MCL. He spent the next eight months making sure he was ready for the start of this year's camp.

      Mission accomplished.

      "It's felt really good," Flacco said. "I was really optimistic the first day I went out there, and within a couple minutes, I really just forgot about it. Not that it is going to be like that the whole time, I don't think, but it was just a really good sign. I felt like it was a good sign as to how I may feel moving forward. We'll see after weeks at a time on it."

      Flacco, 31, took most of the snaps on a sweltering day at the Under Armour Performance Center. However, he did have a bit of a different look. Flacco was wearing a protective brace on his left knee. He plans to wear that brace during practice and games throughout the 2016 season.

      "If it helps a little bit, that is huge," Flacco said. "I'm not going to leave a risk, and then have something happen and say, 'What if?' I'm going to wear it; there is no reason not to."

      Flacco can't be too careful because much of the Ravens' season hinges on his health. He led Baltimore to the playoffs in six of his first seven seasons as the starter.

      After he went down with the knee injury, Baltimore lost four of its next five games en route to a disappointing 11-5 finish -- the first losing season under John Harbaugh, who is entering his ninth year as the head coach.

      Flacco's teammates said it was difficult to determine that he was injured at all, judging by the way he performed on the first day of practice.

      "He seemed confident and wasn't back there hobbling around or stumbling or footwork was off," safety Eric Weddle said. "You couldn't tell he just had surgery in the offseason. It's definitely a positive sign."

      While Flacco feels good, he is not overly concerned about playing in preseason games. He said the goal is to be fully healthy for the season-opener Sept. 11 against Buffalo.

      Flacco will use the practice to sharpen his skills after the layoff. He already holds franchise records for most yardage (28,322), completions (2,479) and touchdowns (162).

      "The goal is to make sure I'm as healthy as possible [for] regular season game one," he said. "I haven't directly talked to John [Harbaugh] about it. I talked to the doctors a little bit, and I'm not ridiculously worried about playing a ton in the preseason. The way our practices are out here and the way we compete and how competitive they are, I'm going to get plenty of work out here. Just talking to them -- you want to keep it [safe] -- I've played in a million games, and to put it at any further risk of getting hit in a simple early preseason game probably wouldn't be the smartest thing. I'm not really too concerned with that stuff."

      --In his first practice, Flacco did not have at least three wide receivers who were on the roster -- Mike Wallace, Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman.

      Wallace did not practice on the first day of training camp because he failed his conditioning test. When asked if Wallace was close, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, "I'm not going to get into all that. Either you pass it or you don't."

      The Ravens signed Wallace in the offseason to provide quarterback Joe Flacco with another downfield threat. Wallace is a proven veteran with 414 receptions for 6,307 yards and 49 touchdowns over his seven-year career. However, he has some work to do before he officially plays for Baltimore.

      Smith was placed on the physically unable to perform list entering training camp. Smith had initially announced that he was retiring at the end of last season. Those plans changed when he tore his Achilles mid-season. Smith hopes to be back for the regular season opener.

      Perriman started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after injuring his knee in offseason workouts. However, arthroscopic surgery showed that he did not have a torn ACL and could be available at some point during training camp. That was much-needed news for the former first-round pick. Perriman injured his knee during the opening training camp last year and was out the rest of the year.

  • Zimmer, Vikings strike new deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 28, 2016

    In February, only one month removed from leading the Minnesota Vikings to their first playoff game since 2011, head coach Mike Zimmer prefaced responses to questions about the long-term future of the team with the phrase "If I'm still here..."

    • The Vikings erased any speculation about Zimmer's future on Thursday as Minnesota tied the franchise to the current coach with a long-term contract extension.

      "There's no doubt that Coach Zimmer is going to be our coach for a long time," general manager Rick Spielman said announcing the deal.

      Terms were not disclosed by the team but Zimmer, who led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and NFC North championship last season, won't be a free agent while the core of the team develops together.

      "I really like my team right now," Zimmer said of the Vikings in minicamp.

      Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could be next in line for a contract and there are deals to consider for cornerback Xavier Rhodes and outside linebacker Anthony Barr sooner rather than later.

      Zimmer is 18-14 as head coach of the Vikings and only late Denny Green, who had 20 wins in his first two seasons with Minnesota, was more successful to start a coaching career with the franchise.

      "Mike has instilled a very positive atmosphere over the past three years and our players have thrived under his tutelage and leadership," owner and chairman Zygi Wilf said. "His focus on helping our players develop and maximize potential, individually and collectively, is critical for our current and future success. We believe the continuity established with Mike leading our football team is a very positive step for our organization."

      Zimmer is a disciple of Bill Parcells and cut his teeth as a defensive coach.

      A frank disciplinarian widely respected around the NFL, Zimmer overcame a revolving door at quarterback and season-long suspension of running back Adrian Peterson in his first season with the Vikings.

      Last season, with Peterson back in the fold, the Vikings had a top-five defense, Peterson led the NFL in rushing and Bridgewater took another step in his development.

      "We are very excited about the direction of our football team with Mike Zimmer as our head coach," team president Mark Wilf said in a statement. "His leadership and the strong partnership he has with Rick Spielman has helped transform the culture of our football team. They have established a positive identity for this team with tough minded, disciplined, and smart football players and we believe Mike's continued leadership bodes very well for our future."