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  • Browner glad to back with his Seattle friends
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    RENTON, Wash. -- Brandon Browner doesn't want to talk about his tenure with the New Orleans Saints. He's back in Seattle with the Seahawks and couldn't be happier.

    • "I'm happy to have a job, happy to be playing with my friends again," Browner said.

      Browner's 2015 season was nothing short of disastrous. The Saints' defense was the worst in the league statistically last season. Browner led the league in penalties with 24 on the season. No other player in the league had more than 16. The Saints asked Browner frequently to play in off-coverage when he excels more as a press cornerback.

      So why didn't it work in New Orleans?

      "I don't know. I'm here in Seattle and I don't even want to talk about New Orleans," Browner said.

      After two seasons away from Seattle with the Saints and New England Patriots, Browner is back with the team that gave him a second chance at the NFL in 2011. Browner signed with the Seahawks after spending several seasons playing for Calgary of the Canadian Football League. He earned a starting job at right cornerback in training camp and had six interceptions in his first season with the team.

      When Richard Sherman took over in midseason at left cornerback, the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary had finally come together. Browner appeared in 36 games with Seattle over three seasons before a suspension for violating the league's drug policy sidelined him through Seattle's run to a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.

      However, his role with the Seahawks is different this time around.

      The Seahawks are moving Browner to safety. During their OTA on Thursday, Browner was playing as a traditional safety and as a hybrid linebacker in sub-packages. Head coach Pete Carroll hopes to take advantage of Browner's size to help match up on bigger receivers and tight ends.

      "We're moving him around, doing some different stuff," Carroll said. "Gives us a really special player with unique qualities and we always love that."

      Browner believes the move best suits his abilities.

      "I love it," Browner said. "It's kind of similar to some of the things I did in New England. I'll be matched up on guys that fit my size, play the run a little bit. It will show my skill-set a little bit, I guess."

      --For the third time in as many seasons, the Seahawks are trying out Justin Britt at a different position on the offensive line.

      A second-round pick in 2014, Britt started every game for Seattle at right tackle en route to Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. The Seahawks made the decision to move Britt to left guard in training camp last year when no one stepped up to replace James Carpenter.

      Now Britt is getting a chance at center for Seattle.

      "It's an opportunity for us to mix our guys and see how we can get the best guys on the field," Carroll said. "Justin is the guy that's been with us the most and can be in command of the most information and all that. We're going to take a good look at him at center and see how that works out."

      Mark Glowinski, a fourth-round pick last year, and third-round pick Rees Odhiambo give Seattle options at left guard. Moving Britt to center provides competition for Patrick Lewis and would give Britt the flexibility to back up at center, guard and tackle positions.

      "We know he can play guard and tackle. We have great flexibility here, so at this time of year we're trying to get more information," Carroll said.

      "He's making a good statement that he understands how to play in that area. Communication is going to be really important and we're starting to learn how to talk, we're still a long ways away there."

      --While not taking part in practice on Thursday, running back Thomas Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham were both on hand to watch intently from the sidelines.

      Rawls and Graham are both recovering from significant injuries that ended their seasons last year. Graham suffered a torn patellar tendon in his knee in a November game against the Pittsburgh Steelers while Rawls suffered a broken ankle and ligament damage in December against the Baltimore Ravens.

      Graham was actually able to jog around in early work on Thursday and catch a handful of passes from the quarterbacks.

      "Those guys are both making really good progress." Carroll said. "Thomas is running and Jimmy is back to running on the field the last couple of days, which is great. He's made terrific progress. Both of their attitudes are really good. They are really positive about making it."

      Head coach Pete Carroll said he was encouraged about the chances both Rawls and Graham have of being ready in time for the start of the season.

      "We're thinking that that's a real possibility, yeah," Carroll said. "That's kind of what we are thinking. We have to avoid setbacks, obviously. But we are kind of counting on it."

  • It's the Patriots' mantra: 'Get better'
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots held their first week of OTA workouts on the practice fields of Gillette Stadium this week, the third of which was open to the media on Thursday.

    • Despite the absence of more than a dozen starters for a variety of reasons, the Patriots put forth a solid two hours of work in sunny, hot conditions that left players drenched in sweat when they met with the media after the session.

      While head coach Bill Belichick was probably at least somewhat impressed with the work done on the field in the sunshine, he must have really brightened up when he heard some of the answers his defensive players were offering up to the media afterward.

      The effort was led by fifth-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower, now seen as the leader of the defense in the wake of Jerod Mayo's retirement. The former first-round pick uttered the phrase "get better" 17 times in an interview with the gathered media that lasted barely more than three minutes.

      "I'm just glad to be out here and get better with my teammates," Hightower said, regarding how he felt with his past experiences as he heads into his fifth season as a perceived leader.

      The "get better" word pairing was clearly his go-to answer, regardless of whether it came in response to questions about the team missing Mayo or whether the bitter end to last season in the AFC title game in Denver was being used as fuel heading toward a new year.

      One of the few topics that didn't get the generic response was in regards to the weather, with temperatures in the high 80s. Despite the heat, Hightower wore full-length sleeves layered under his jersey.

      "Just part of not trying to get too dark," the linebacker joked.

      A topic he wasn't looking to joke about or even really address was his contract situation. Along with fellow linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback Malcolm Butler, Hightower is one of New England's key defenders seemingly in line for potential lucrative, long-term contract extensions that many have expected to come this offseason or at least prior to the end of the regular season.

      "I ain't got nothing to do with none of that," Hightower said before returning to his phrase of the day. "I'm just out here trying to get better with my teammates."

      Reminded that it's his future and his desire to remain in Foxborough is something that is under his control, Hightower again preferred to focus on the practice-field task at hand.

      "That might be it. There is a time and place for everything and right now, I'm just out here trying to get better," Hightower reiterated.

      It wasn't just the returning leaders who were espousing the very Belichickian company line. Free-agent addition Chris Long sounded like a life-long Patriots player rather than a first-year Foxborough worker.

      "That I fulfill my duties as a New England Patriot every day is what's important to me," Long said in his first face-to-face session with the New England media. "I have a lot of learning to do. My only way to approach that is to work as hard as I possibly can every day and worry about myself.

      "I've always just worried about taking things one day at a time, I really have. You try to stack up enough good days in a row and they cumulatively turn into a good body of work. So that's all I've ever done. We're just focused on football and winning one day at a time."

      The Patriots are a team that gets back to work coming off five straight appearances in the AFC Championship Game. A defense led by Hightower, Collins, Rob Ninkovich, Butler, Devin McCourty and others is coming off a year in which it ranked in the top 10 in both yards and points.

      But according to the leader and free-agent-to-be Hightower, all those various talking points are left to outsiders. The focus inside the walls of Gillette Stadium and on the practice fields is simple - "get better."

      "We're just all out here just trying to get better. If I get better I feel like that will take care of everything else. If I get better every day that's all I can ask for," Hightower concluded.

      --Defensive end Chris Long was a leader and star on the Rams front over the years as the team's former No. 2 overall pick. Now, he's in New England trying to rehab his career after a couple down seasons and learn the ropes in a new system.

      Upon landing in Foxborough, Long quickly found that incumbent New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has started all 16 games in five straight seasons while tallying 41 sacks in that span, was probably a good guy to model himself after in his new home.

      "Rob and I really clicked. I think we have a lot of similarities. He's a great guy to learn from and kind of shadow," Long said after New England's third OTA session on May 26. "He's been here obviously a long time. Rob knows how to do things the right way around here. You see a guy like that if you are halfway smart you follow him around and you try to do what he does. So if Rob goes to lunch, I go to lunch. That type of thing. Rob's a good buddy, already."

  • Titans lose LB Dodd to foot injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    NASHVILLE -- Another OTA and another injury for the Tennessee Titans. Two days after losing journeyman tackle Byron Bell to a dislocated ankle, Titans second-round draft pick Kevin Dodd underwent surgery for some persistent pain in his foot.

    • Dodd, expected to help the Titans' pass rush at outside linebacker, posted 12.5 sacks last year at Clemson. He had been experiencing pain in his right foot since rookie minicamp, and the Titans sent him for an MRI, which revealed a situation that needed to be corrected rather than run the risk of further damage down the road.

      "It was actually something in the rookie minicamp. He had some soreness. We were smart and did some more tests on it with the MRI, and it just showed that there could have been some issues down the road if we tried to push him with it and why do it. Why have an injury later on when we can take care of it and nip it in the bud right now," Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said.

      The bad news is that Dodd will miss the rest of OTAs and minicamp; the good news is the Titans expect him back for training camp.

  • Lions hope Ebron can make big jump in 2016
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have tried to downplay the impact of losing star wide receiver Calvin Johnson to retirement, saying teams lose players every year.

    • What's clear, though, is that the best way for the Lions to overcome Johnson's absence is for their 2014 first-round pick, tight end Eric Ebron, to finally make good on his tremendous potential.

      "I hope we all do," Ebron said of replacing Johnson. "Whenever you plan something, you plan for him and around him. So now, we're planning for everybody. We're planning for everybody to succeed; we're planning for everybody to unite as one to basically try to fill that hole or be better than what we were."

      The Lions signed former Bengals receiver Marvin Jones in free agency, and he and Golden Tate should form a decent tandem at receiver. But having Ebron thrive in the middle would make things much easier for the offense.

      Ebron showed improvement in his second NFL season, finishing with 47 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns compared to his 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown as a rookie.

      This offseason he returned to New Jersey to train similarly to last offseason. He worked out three times per day, five days per week and finished his sessions by catching 100 to 150 passes.

      "Anything you could think of, I've probably done it to better myself," he said.

      And while expectations are high for Ebron in 2016, he still has to deal with criticism for his performance the first two seasons, which didn't come close to the supreme feats of players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald selected a couple picks after him. Pro Football Focus included Ebron in a story titled, "Can these five draft 'busts' revive their careers in 2016?"

      "It's a long offseason," Ebron said. "Somebody's got to make money by selling something. You can come at me all you want. My childhood was a lot rougher than people talking smack on Twitter and stuff like that, so it's cool with me.

      "It gives my mom something to read. She looks out for that (stuff); I don't really care for it. And that's my motivation, so if she's upset, it gives me every reason to destroy the people that talk about me. And the only way I could do that is by performing at my best."

      --Running back Ameer Abdullah underwent shoulder surgery, and it's unclear when he'll return to practice, head coach Jim Caldwell said Thursday.

      "He's recovering nicely," Caldwell said.

      Caldwell said Abdullah had the surgery early in the offseason, but declined to provide more information.

      "You know I don't talk about injuries and all that stuff in those kind of details," he said.

      Abdullah was the Lions' leading rusher as a rookie in 2015 with 597 yards and is set to be the No. 1 back again in 2016.

      --Linebacker DeAndre Levy was practicing with his teammates Thursday, a good sign that he's on track for a healthy 2016 after appearing in just one game last season.

      Levy said he's still rehabbing from his hip surgery last fall, but said he'll be ready for training camp.

      --Suddenly, with wide receiver Calvin Johnson retiring, quarterback Matthew Stafford is the elder statesmen among offensive starters.

      The only other projected starter older than the 28-year-old Stafford is 31-year-old tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but they were both in the 2009 draft class. And, Pettigrew might miss the start of the year as he recovers from knee surgery.

      "I feel old," Stafford said. "It's crazy how it happens. You feel like you're the young guy for forever and then all of a sudden (you're not). It's the NFL. They're always trying to bring in competition, bring in young guys, see if they can pave their way in this league and we're no different. We've got a bunch of competition at a lot of positions, and it's going to make us better."

  • Bucs bring in legend to help Aguayo settle in
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    TAMPA, Fla. -- If there is a kicker who can relate to former Florida State star Roberto Aguayo, it's former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica.

    • Aguayo was selected in the second-round by Tampa Bay, the highest the team had drafted a kicker since 1999, when Gramatica went in the third round. On Thursday, they spent time together as Gramatica was a guest at the Bucs' OTA practice.

      "He's a legend here in Tampa as a kicker, and I hope to be as successful as him, or maybe even more so," said Aguayo, who had spoken to Gramatica on the phone but hadn't met him before Thursday.

      Gramatica, 40, kicked six years for the Bucs and holds has the team's career record with 137 field goals, a mark many Tampa Bay fans hope Aguayo can stick around long enough to break. Gramatica said he already has a respect for Aguayo and understands the pressure he'll face.

      "You can tell he's a perfectionist, so it doesn't matter if you get drafted or you're a free agent," Gramatica said. "He's going to put pressure on himself just to be great, regardless of where you get drafted. ... Sometimes being a free agent is a little more pressure, because you can get fired right away (laughs). I think in his case, he wants to be great, so you can tell he works hard to be great."

      --The Bucs will have joint workouts with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns before their preseason games with those teams, coach Dirk Koetter announced Thursday.

      The Bucs will head to Jacksonville early before their second preseason game, practicing with the Jaguars for two days and then taking a day off before their game on Aug. 20. They'll do the same at home before facing the Browns on Aug. 26.

      "Training camp's a long grind," Koetter said. "It's great to go against other people and other looks and a good way to test where you're at. It's almost like you're having two practices at once -- your offense is practicing on one field, your defense on the other, instead of going against each other. I'm a big believer in seeing the different looks."

      The Bucs haven't had a joint practice since 2013, when the Patriots worked out in Tampa with the Bucs as an extension of the friendship between head coaches Bill Belichick and Greg Schiano. Lovie Smith wasn't a fan of joint workouts so the team didn't have any the past two seasons.

      --Rookie defensive end Noah Spence, the Bucs' second-round pick from Eastern Kentucky, is drawing comparisons to at least one of the NFL's most elite pass rushers. Defensive end Robert Ayers says Spence reminds him of Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.

      "I told him he kind of reminds me, stature and watching his college film, he kind of reminds me of Von Miller," Ayers said. "Von Miller was a 4.4 (40-yard-dash) guy, though, so he's a little bit different, but their body language and their body movement, their build, their stature, their arm length and things like that, they're real similar. Von is a lot faster, but just the way they play and the way they do things is real similar."

      --Koetter said he is impressed with the speed and tempo of the Bucs' new defense under former Falcons coach Mike Smith.

      "I've really been impressed with the energy of our defense in general," Koetter said. "Their communication, the way they're flying around to the ball. I think those guys are having fun out there and they're making plays

      "I think it's not only Mike, but the entire defensive staff. I think those guys are doing a heck of a job coaching those guys and hats off to the players for the way they've taken it and ran with it."

      NOTES: S Ryan Smith, the Bucs' fourth round pick out of North Carolina Central, did not participate in OTAs Thursday due to an undisclosed injury, but Koetter said it would not keep him out long-term. ... CB C.J. Wilson, who lost two fingers on his right hand in a fireworks accident last July 4, hopes to resume his football career with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Wilson has signed with Winnipeg, his agent confirmed, and the Bucs on Wednesday waived Wilson from the reserve-retired list, where he had been since shortly after the accident. ... RB Charles Sims, WR Adam Humphries, WR Donteea Dye and CB Alterraun Verner received looks on kickoff returns Thursday. ... The Bucs' first offensive line had Kevin Pamphile (LG) and Josh Allen (RG) filling in at guard for J.R. Sweezy and Ali Marpet, who are coming off minor offseason surgeries.

  • Brees reports no progress in contract talks with Saints
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints may have only about three months to get something done in regards to quarterback Drew Brees' contract, which is scheduled to expire after the upcoming season.

    • Brees said earlier this week there have been no talks on a contract extension in the last six to eight weeks that would likely keep him with the Saints for the rest of his career.

      At the same time, Brees said he remains hopeful talks will be rekindled and he will get a new deal before the regular season starts. Otherwise, he'll go about playing the 2016 campaign the way he always has -- regardless of whether he has a long-term deal or not.

      Brees, who is entering the final year of the five-year, $100 million contract he received in July 2012, said Tuesday night at teammate Tim Lelito's annual charity softball game that he won't talk about it once the season begins.

      "I hope those discussions will take place again," Brees said. "If they don't, they don't. ... I'd love a long-term deal to get done, something that would lock me up for the rest of my career. I plan on playing for a few more years, and obviously, I expect them to be here."

      Brees said he hasn't thought much about the contract since the talks stalled.

      "I'm not stressing about it at all, honestly," said Brees, who's scheduled to carry a cap figure of $30 million this season.

      After the team's media availability following its third OTA Thursday, head coach Sean Payton said he doesn't believe the contract issues will affect Brees' preparation for the season.

      "I think he does that extremely well," Payton said. "He's someone that's extremely focused. Been sharp here these three days.

      "I would say it's been a strength of his, just in regards to playing," he added. "The ability to focus, whatever situation we're in."

      --Payton said Thursday after the team's third practice closed out the first week of OTAs that free safety Jairus Byrd could be limited for the rest of their offseason work.

      Byrd hasn't played a full season since signing a six-year, $54 million contract with the Saints in 2014. He missed the final 12 games that season after tearing the meniscus in his knee during practice, then sat out the first three games of 2015.

      Payton said Byrd has been able to do some work so far in the first week of OTAs, but has been held out of team drills. He worked on the side during Thursday's practice session.

      "We expect him to be ready when training camp starts," Payton said of Byrd, who had 53 tackles, an interception and three passes defensed after returning to the lineup last fall. "Right now, he's getting walk-through snaps and work off to the side.

      "He's going through his rehab," he said. "It's right on schedule, so it's nothing different than what was expected."

      --After being hampered throughout the 2015 training camp and regular season with a knee injury, which resulted in the Saints shutting him down late in the season, running back C.J. Spiller was back on the practice field Thursday.

      Spiller was hurt early in training camp and had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, which sidelined him for the season opener at Arizona.

      Later, Payton said Spiller's health was an issue all season long, which helped them make the decision to put him on injured reserve after he had 351 total yards from scrimmage (112 rushing, 239 receiving) in 13 games.

      The Saints are hoping that Spiller, who received a four-year, $16 million contract, will be able to use the speed that made him a dual threat out of the backfield and give starter Mark Ingram a break.

      "C.J.'s health and his movement skills look noticeably different," Payton said after Thursday's practice. "He worked his butt off in the offseason to get the strength back in that leg he had his injury. That's been real encouraging."

  • NFL notebook: Titans' Dodd undergoes foot surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    Second-round pick Kevin Dodd underwent surgery Thursday to repair a broken left foot and could miss the rest of the offseason with the Tennessee Titans.

    • The rookie said he felt soreness in rookie camp and the Titans took him for additional tests, which revealed the fractured fifth metatarsal.

      Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said the surgery was preventative and should not linger into training camp.

      Dodd, 6-5, 277, was a defensive end at Clemson. He had a breakout year with 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season. He dealt with a severe toe injury his second season with the Tigers and never carved out a significant niche until last season.

      --Running back Ameer Abdullah will not participate in Detroit's offseason workouts because of shoulder surgery in January to repair a torn labrum.

      According to multiple reports, the Lions expect Abdullah to return for training camp.

      A second-round pick from Nebraska in 2015, he led the team with 597 rushing yards and was the team's primary kick returner last season. He started two games -- the last two of the regular season -- before visiting Dr. James Andrews and opting for surgery, the Detroit News reported.

      --Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, began practice with the Dallas Cowboys as the backup to starting running back Darren McFadden.

      Since the Cowboys called Elliott's name with the fourth pick in the draft, he was presumed not only the starter at his position but perhaps the most important piece on a star-studded Dallas offense that includes quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant.

      Owner Jerry Jones said putting Elliott behind arguably the top offensive line in the NFL would give Dallas the same potential it had two seasons ago, when they went 12-4 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs only to lose at Green Bay on the now infamous Bryant "drop."

      --The Cleveland Browns signed linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah.

      The second-round pick was the 32nd overall selection from Oklahoma State. He reportedly inked a four-year, $6.6 million deal that includes a $3 million signing bonus.

      Ogbah has 133 tackles and 28 sacks in 39 career games at Oklahoma State.

      --The Baltimore Ravens will forfeit one week of organized team activities due to a violation involving offseason workout rules, the NFL announced.

      "I told the team that not one coach or player should have any anxiety over this. This is all on me," coach John Harbaugh said Thursday afternoon.

      Baltimore will give up OTA sessions from June 1-3. In addition, both the Ravens and Harbaugh were fined under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The violation involved putting rookies and first-year players in pads.

      --The Green Bay Packers signed rookie quarterback Marquise Williams and released quarterback Ryan Williams.

      Williams started 33 of 48 career games at North Carolina and set more than 20 school records, including career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (35), career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,458) and career total offense (10,423). The dual-threat player also moved into third on the school career list for touchdown passes with 61.

      The Packers have four quarterbacks on their roster: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams.

  • Ravens' OTA focus on WR Perriman
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Much of the focus at the Baltimore Ravens' organized team activities this week was on wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

    • Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, missed the entire season with a knee injury. That robbed the Ravens of a legitimate downfield threat and also played a key part in the team's disappointing 5-11 finish.

      Perriman is finally healthy and is competing with veteran Mike Wallace for the starting spot opposite Steve Smith. Perriman said Wallace has served as a mentor throughout the OTAs and that he has a lot to learn from that type of veteran leadership.

      "I feel like a kid in the candy store. I'm very happy. I don't even think about (the knee) anymore," Perriman said. "I feel much stronger. I went through a lot last year and it made me a better player and a better person."

      If the Ravens can stay healthy, the team will enter the season with one of the most potent offenses in franchise history. In addition to Perriman and Wallace, Chris Moore is another legitimate downfield threat at wide receiver.

      "We've had years when we couldn't back anybody up," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It's hard for me to see the speed all of the time in some of these drills. I'm like, 'How fast are they really moving?' Then I go ask the (defensive backs) and they say, 'They're moving really fast.' And that makes me feel good about it."

      Smith, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles last season, put off retirement for a year and could make another huge impact. After Smith went down, Kamar Aiken took over the starting role and had the best season of his career. Each of these players will serve as viable options for quarterback Joe Flacco, who is recovering from knee surgery.

      After that group, Michael Campanaro, rookie Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews and Jeremy Butler will likely be fighting for two available spots. Their ability to play special teams could help their chances.

      At tight end, the Ravens added veteran Benjamin Watson, formerly of New Orleans, to the fold. Crockett Gillmore, last year's starter, appears to have recovered from offseason shoulder surgery and could play another big role on the offense. Second-year player Maxx Williams appears ready to take another big step in his development. If Dennis Pitta is healthy enough to play, Baltimore might have the best group of tight ends in the NFL.

      --Tight end Dennis Pitta is determined to get back on the field and make an impact after fighting back from a devastating hip injury.

      He participated in OTAs this week and did not appear to have any setbacks. Pitta hasn't played since Sept. 21, 2014, after suffering a hip dislocation and fracture for the second time in as many years. Last month, Pitta restructured his contract to remain with the team. He is not worried about injuring his hip.

      "I feel really good physically out there," Pitta said. "Obviously, I haven't played football for a while, so there (are) some things I'm getting back used to, but overall I can't complain. I feel great out there and I feel like I'm running like I want to and like I used to, so it's very encouraging."

      When healthy, Pitta has been one of the team's most effective playmakers for quarterback Joe Flacco. In 50 career games, Pitta has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also had four receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco in the 2013 Super Bowl.

      Pitta was able to practice with the Ravens for three weeks during the 2015 season, but doctors never gave him the OK to play in a game. He hopes to be a difference-maker this season.

      "He looked good," Harbaugh said. "I think it's hard to really evaluate and make a comparison. If you're asking for a comparison from what he was when he was playing to what he is now, he's removed from football for a couple of years and this is nothing."

      --Former Ravens running back Ray Rice spoke to the team's rookies Wednesday at the OTAs to discuss some of his difficult life lessons that sidetracked his career.

      In 2014, Rice was suspended indefinitely by the league after a video surfaced of him apparently assaulting his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator. Just hours after the footage was made public, Baltimore terminated Rice's contract.

      After eventually being reinstated by the league, Rice was not able to find a new team and has not played in the NFL since the incident.

      The Ravens said in a statement: "Rice, who played for the Ravens from 2008-2014, delivered an important message that included his story, both the good and the bad."

  • Browns sign LB Ogbah to four-year deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    The Cleveland Browns signed linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah on Thursday.

    • The second-round pick was the 32nd overall selection from Oklahoma State. He reportedly inked a four-year, $6.6 million deal that includes a $3 million signing bonus.

      Ogbah has 133 tackles and 28 sacks in 39 career games at Oklahoma State.

  • Packers exchange one QB Williams for another on roster
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    The Green Bay Packers signed rookie quarterback Marquise Williams and released quarterback Ryan Williams on Thursday.

    • Williams started 33 of 48 career games at North Carolina and set more than 20 school records, including career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (35), career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,458) and career total offense (10,423). The dual-threat player also moved into third on the school career list for touchdown passes with 61.

      During Williams' senior season with the Tar Heels, he finished with 3,027 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and added 948 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

      Ryan Williams had signed with Green Bay on Jan. 5 after spending the 2015 season out of football and missing the 2014 season at the University of Miami with a knee injury. The 6-foot-5 Williams last played for the Hurricanes in 2013.

      The Packers have four quarterbacks on their roster: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams.

  • Titans second-rounder Dodd (foot) to sit after surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    Second-round pick Kevin Dodd underwent surgery Thursday to repair a broken left foot and could miss the rest of the offseason with the Tennessee Titans.

    • The rookie said he felt soreness in rookie camp and the Titans took him for additional tests, which revealed the fractured fifth metatarsal.

      Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said the surgery was preventative and should not linger into training camp.

      Dodd played defensive end at Clemson and had surgery just weeks after Buffalo Bills first-round pick Shaq Lawson, his college teammates with the Tigers, underwent reparatory surgery on his shoulder.

      Dodd, 6-5, 277, was a defensive end at Clemson. He had a breakout year with 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season. He dealt with a severe toe injury his second season with the Tigers and never carved out a significant niche until last season.

      Because of his size, not many projected him to be a fit for the Titans.

      But general manager Jon Robinson, who helped identify multiple edge players during his time with the New England Patriots, said he was completely comfortable projecting Dodd from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 edge player.

      "What we looked for was his ability to get depth, to get off the line of scrimmage and get back into coverage," Robinson said last month. "You're looking at his footwork. How quickly do his feet move? You're looking at his hips — does he drop (smoothly) or does he look stiff when he's moving out of there? And then, does he have the ability — once he settles in that zone spot — to turn on the speed and break on the ball?"

  • Steelers need Coates to step up in Bryant's absence
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers drafted Sammie Coates in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft as insurance against another misstep by Martavis Bryant. The decision might pay dividends in 2016 because Bryant was suspended for the season for a violation of the NFL's drug policy.

    • Coates, who dressed for only seven games as a rookie, will have an opportunity this spring and summer to replace Bryant.

      "We just have to go out here and work every day," Coates said. "Whatever happens, happens. We lost a player. We have to pick up his slack. Everybody has to work together and get it done."

      While Coates only had one catch for 11 yards during the regular season he did have a breakout game against Denver in the playoffs. With Antonio Brown out with a concussion, Coates caught two passes for 61 yards.

      "That's part of this business," Coates said. "You have to be ready all the time. I knew my chance will come and I took advantage of it. I built the confidence during the regular season, doing the scout team. You build confidence throughout the season. When I had a chance to step up I was just ready."

      There is also Markus Wheaton, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Wheaton was limited to snaps mostly in the slot last season, but he could get a chance to play outside this season with Bryant gone.

      "I hope so," Wheaton said. "I'm not making the calls, but I'm definitely excited about the opportunity. I wish Martavis was here, but we have a lot of young guys who are willing and able."

      --The Steelers signed former Charger Ladarius Green to replace Heath Miller as the starting tight end, but Green is a spectator this spring as he rehabilitates from offseason ankle surgery. Green expects to be ready for training camp at the end of July, but he won't get much of a chance to work with his new teammates during OTAs and minicamp.

      That's the hard part," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I just know kind of the things I've heard and seen with him and the Chargers. I'm excited to have him out here, just not sure when that's going to be. We spent some time talking behind the scenes a little bit, behind practice. So, I hope mentally he'll be ready to go, when he's physically ready."

      --Cornerback Senquez Golson, who missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury, is getting the first shot to earn the slot corner position. He has been lining up with the first-team defense with veterans William Gay and Ross Cockrell occupying the outside corner spots.

      "I was just getting my feet wet last year," Golson said. "It's definitely easier than last year with me knowing the playbook already. I have the playbook down. At this point it's just learning the communication from the other players, learning how they talk."

      --Wide receiver Antonio Brown arrived in time Thursday for the third practice of the week after missing the first two. Brown had contractual obligations to fulfill with "Dancing with the Stars" earlier in the week.

  • Ravens lose week of OTAs due to violation
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    The Baltimore Ravens will forfeit one week of organized team activities due to a violation involving offseason workout rules, the NFL announced Thursday.

    • "I told the team that not one coach or player should have any anxiety over this. This is all on me," coach John Harbaugh said Thursday afternoon.

      Baltimore will give up OTA sessions from June 1-3. In addition, both the Ravens and Harbaugh were fined under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

      The violation involved putting rookies and first-year players in pads.

      "We made a mistake and we are sorry for that," the Ravens said in a statement. "We accept the NFL discipline."

  • Lions RB Abdullah sidelined by shoulder surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    Running back Ameer Abdullah will not participate in offseason workouts because of shoulder surgery in January to repair a torn labrum.

    • According to multiple reports, the Lions expect Abdullah to return for training camp.

      A second-round pick from Nebraska in 2015, he led the team with 597 rushing yards and was the team's primary kick returner last season. He started two games – the last two of the regular season – before visiting Dr. James Andrews and opting for surgery, the Detroit News reported.

      The Lions signed Stevan Ridley in the offseason and Theo Riddick, a third-down back primarily, also got work with the first team.

      "You know I don’t talk about injuries and all that stuff, and those kind of details," coach Jim Caldwell said. "But he had a procedure and he’s recovering nicely."

  • Cowboys list RB Elliott as backup
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 26, 2016

    Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, began practice with the Dallas Cowboys as the backup to starting running back Darren McFadden.

    • Since the Cowboys called Elliott's name with the fourth pick in the draft, he was presumed not only the starter at his position but perhaps the most important piece on a star-studded Dallas offense that includes quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Owner Jerry Jones said putting Elliott behind arguably the top offensive line in the NFL would give Dallas the same potential it had two seasons ago, when they went 12-4 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs only to lose at Green Bay on the now infamous Bryant "drop."

      "Zeke has to earn it. I think that's the best thing for our team and for those guys going forward," said Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown.

      Earning it appears almost a given but rookie first-round running backs are not automatic hits.

      Last season, Todd Gurley started on the bench and eased into action as a backup because of his health. By the end of the year, Gurley was a Pro Bowl selection for the Rams, who drafted him 10th out of Georgia in 2015.

      But the second back off the board last season was Melvin Gordon, whose rookie season was a washout behind a constantly changing offensive line and ball-security issues.

      The Cowboys brought back McFadden and signed former Redskins Pro Bowl runner Alfred Morris to a one-year deal in free agency.

      Elliott smiled through questions about the stacking of the depth chart in Dallas.

      "It's definitely better to have the competition," Elliott said. "It keeps you on your toes and make sure you get your work done. The competition makes you better."

  • Patriots file brief in federal court supporting Brady
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    The New England Patriots filed a brief in federal court Wednesday supporting quarterback Tom Brady, urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to rehear his case.

    • Brady is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for his role in Deflategate.

      "The Patriots stand to lose their All-Pro quarterback for 25 percent of the upcoming regular season based on a severely flawed process," team attorney Daniel L. Goldberg wrote. "But the impact of the majority opinion is not limited to professional football. It threatens to undermine vital principles governing arbitration of collective bargaining agreements throughout the national economy."

      The team also said the NFL-sponsored investigation was "a sham" and the Wells report, which said Brady was generally aware of the deflated balls discovered during the 2015 AFC championship game, was flawed.

      "From the outset of this matter the League's conduct reflects less a search for the truth than pursuit of a pre-determined result and defense of a report which, despite no direct evidence of tampering or Mr. Brady's involvement, was relied on to impose penalties with no precedent or correlation to the alleged offense," Goldberg wrote.

      A circuit court panel ruled 2-1 in April that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was within the rights of the collective bargaining agreement to suspend Brady four games after the suspension was first overturned by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman.

  • Return to health of Romo has Cowboys excited
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    IRVING, Tex. -- The drafting of Ezekiel Elliott brings optimism. The return of Dez Bryant is full of excitement. But the Cowboys' biggest move of the off-season?

    • Quarterback Tony Romo and his return to health.

      The biggest difference between 12-4 in 2014 and 4-12 in 2015 was the absence of Romo, who missed 12 games after twice fracturing his left collarbone.

      The Cowboys were 3-1 with Romo in the lineup and 1-11 without him. Roughly two months after undergoing the Mumford procedure in hopes of preventing further injury to his left clavicle, Romo is a full participant in the offseason program and a welcomed sight at OTA practices.

      "Yeah. Certainly he is a big part of what we do," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "He is a big factor in what we do. Him being out there is great not only for our team, but his leadership role he has for the younger quarterbacks, for any of the guys that he's been around, it's an example of how we do things, especially our offensive system."

      It's not just Romo's ability on the field, but his leadership that strikes a chord with the Cowboys.

      "That means a lot. It just builds the chemistry," Bryant said. "It's not even on the field. Just off the field in his body demeanor, his actions, his interactions with everybody. It's been great. Everybody can see the spirit. It's high. We love it. When you see your main guy like that it makes you just want to be that much better."

      Romo said his twice fractured clavicle is fine.

      And so is his back that underwent offseason surgeries following the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

      Romo says he doing things now that he hasn't done in several seasons.

      Now, two years moved from surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, Romo said he can do things for longer periods of time, take less breaks in between and have a bigger workload.

      "I do think that based on what my situation has been like the last three or four years, I do think that this is drastically different," Romo said. "It started to show signs last offseason and this one is different, it takes me back five years ago when I was able to do things this way. I'm not there yet. I still have these months that after I just have to get after it, but it's exciting to be able to actually get after it a little bit. If everything keeps going the way it's going, I think it's going to be exciting going into camp."

      The presence of a Romo that is a full participant in the offseason program who is doing more things than in past years is not lost on head coach Jason Garrett.

      "I do think, ironically enough, he's healthier than he's been. He's been able to go through more of the offseason program, lay the foundation for himself," Garrett said. "I think his back feels better. I think he's come back from the surgery on his collarbone seemingly without any problems. So he's been able to function leading up to the OTAs and I think he's been good the first couple of days."

      Romo feels so good that he agrees with owner Jerry Jones that he can play four or five more years.

      "Yeah, I think absolutely," Romo said. "With the way that it's going right now the running joke is that I'm the only one in here getting younger each year, so we'll see if that continues."

      --Wide receiver Dez Bryant is healthy again even though the Cowboys are being cautious with him after he missed seven games in 2015 with a fractured foot.

      He plans to turn back the clock to his dominant 2014 season when he was a consensus All-Pro.

      "Man, I'm not even trying to (get back) to 2014. I'm past that," Bryant said. "I'm going to be better than that. I'm going to. The way we've been working, the way the coaches have been on us, the way we've been holding each other accountable, I think that alone is going to make us all be better than what we were in these past years."

      Bryant is being held out of contact work through the offseason and OTAs.

      Bryant will undergo another X-ray to make sure the bone is fully healed.

      "Have to go in and get another X-ray, see how it looks," Bryant said. "I feel fine. I've been working out real good. I'm getting back to my old self. I feel like I am on track. I'm excited. I'm just ready for these results next week."

      --Defensive end Randy Gregory is taking first-team reps with the Cowboys in OTAs, but he will be miss the first four games of the season because of an NFL suspension for repeated violations of the substance policy.

      The Cowboys are hoping he has learned his lesson and matured in his second year with the team. Gregory was drafted in the second round last year with the baggage of a failed drug test at the Combine.

      He promised that he had learned his lesson, but subsequently failed more tests as a rookie.

      Head coach Jason Garrett said Gregory remains a work in progress, but he is seeing signs of maturity.

      "With any player, it's their job to prove to you on a daily basis that you can count on them," Garrett said. "That's for the players who have been here for a long time, and that's for the players who just got here. It's their job every day to come to work, be prepared, be ready to go, be mentally and physically and emotionally ready to be their best. And if you do that, day in and day out, you prove to your teammates and to your coaches that we can depend on you. So, Randy is going through that process, but we have some 80 guys on the team that are doing the same thing."

      Garrett said Gregory knows the team is disappointed and they expect him to be better on and off the field this year.

      "Certainly it's very disappointing. There's no question about that," Garrett said. "We made that abundantly clear with him and he understands that more than anybody. But at some point you have to say OK this is what happened. This is what the consequences are for that action and now we're going to get to work. 'I've got to make sure it doesn't happen again and I've got to get to work as a football player to become a better player with the opportunities I do have.' That's what our emphasis is with him and really with the rest of the guys."

  • WR Jackson a no-show at Redskins' OTA work
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    ASHBURN, Va. -- For the second year in a row, Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson has skipped the voluntary organized team activities.

    • It will cost him money - a $500,000 workout bonus if he doesn't appear at 90 percent of the team's offseason program. And some teammates privately grumble about Jackson's absence. He was the lone healthy player to miss an OTA session on Wednesday at Redskins Park. Even injured players like running back Chris Thompson, outside linebacker Junior Galette and inside linebacker Perry Riley were on hand.

      "You want him here," Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall said. "But you understand (Jackson) has things going on; he has a newborn. He lives all the way on the West Coast. It's not like his home is an hour and a half away like mine where I can kind of jet down to Atlanta every now and then and kind of be around the family. He has to go a long way. We understand D-Jack's gonna work, though."

      Jackson's workout bonuses were guaranteed the previous two years so there was little incentive for him to show. He has been at Redskins Park at times during offseason workouts, but was not there on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. Last year that became an issue when Jackson sustained a shoulder injury during training camp and a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the first game that cost him six weeks.

      "Yeah. (Jackson has) been here. He's popped in, had a cup of coffee. Popped out," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday, drawing laughs from reporters. "But last time I looked up the word voluntary, it is his choice. He's been in the league nine years, I believe it is, and he knows what type of shape he has to come in. Obviously, last year he pulled his hamstring. People are going to say he was out of shape. But he wasn't, really. I think he'll be ready to go and he'll probably show up here."

      Jackson did catch 30 passes for 528 yards and four touchdowns in the 10 games he played last season. That production shields him from too much criticism. But he also turns 30 this December and is an unrestricted free agent after the season.

      "DeSean will get here," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "He was here the last few weeks and was able to work with us. He knows what's best for him and what he's gotta do to be ready this fall. I'm excited for whenever he does get here and expect to get a lot of work in."

      --The Redskins anxiously await the return of Galette, who tore his left Achilles tendon during a preseason practice last August. They never got to see him paired with Ryan Kerrigan. Add in second-year pro Preston Smith (nine sacks as a rookie) and Washington thinks its pass rush could be greatly improved.

      But it needs Galette on the field first. And caution is the buzzword of offseason workouts. Galette didn't take part in either of the first two OTA sessions. And he wasn't all that thrilled with it.

      "I've never really had a year off before away from football," Galette said. "So being a year off away from football, something I love to do, my passion, you just got that hunger. I feel like an undrafted rookie all over again with so much to prove to myself."

      Galette had 22 sacks in 2013 and 2014 with the New Orleans Saints before issues on and off the field led that team to cut him last summer. Washington, desperate for pass-rush help, pounced. But it has decided to hold Galette out until training camp. Wednesday he glumly watched teammates go through a practice from the sidelines.

      "So anxious," Gruden said. "He's like a kid at Christmas and he is sitting up waiting on Santa Claus every day and he hasn't come yet. He can't wait to put on the pads and practice."

      --The Redskins insist that second-year running back Matt Jones can be their No. 1 this season. He kind of has to be right now after they let Alfred Morris go in free agency. Chris Thompson was a solid third-down back last year, but is coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Keith Marshall was a seventh-round pick from Georgia with great speed, but limited production in college and a shaky injury history. Mack Brown spent much of last year on the practice squad. That's not exactly a lot of competition. Jones also averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and fumbled five times as a rookie, losing four of them. Needless to say, Washington is still looking for a veteran No. 2 back to help. If the price is right, of course.

      "We have every intention of Matt being No. 1, and we're excited about it," Gruden said. "He's a big guy and I think he can handle it. But, there will be other running backs you know worth mentioning."

  • Jets open OTAs as Fitzpatrick stalemate continues
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The most scrutinized New York Jets player during the opening of “voluntary” OTAs this week remained the player who wasn’t even in attendance.

    • The Ryan Fitzpatrick saga hit its 143rd day Wednesday, when the Jets’ erstwhile starting quarterback was nowhere to be found during the team’s first OTA practice viewed by the media. With Fitzpatrick still unsigned, Geno Smith took the first-team reps ahead of second-year signal-caller Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg.

      It’s a depth chart to which the Jets may have to become accustomed as a break in the stalemate between Fitzpatrick and the Jets appears to be nowhere on the horizon. The Jets are offering Fitzpatrick about $8 million per year to return while Fitzpatrick, who had the best year of his career last season and led the Jets to within an eyelash of the playoffs, wants about double that.

      Fitzpatrick’s bargaining position has weakened in recent weeks. He once appeared to be the best quarterback on the free-agent market as well as the Jets’ best option at the position for years to come, but every other team has filled its quarterback vacancy while the Jets may have found their long-term starter when they selected Hackenberg in the second round of last month’s draft.

      Nor did Fitzpatrick do himself any favors this week, when he appeared at fellow free agent Willie Colon’s charity golf tournament, where he told reporters he will play this season — ESPN reported in late April that he would rather retire than accept the Jets’ offer — and that he’d prefer to do so with the Jets.

      “I would like to be back,” Fitzpatrick said.

      Those were the extent of the public comments by Fitzpatrick, who said he wanted to keep a low profile. But he hasn’t exactly been invisible the last four months: The Arizona resident has been seen at New York Rangers hockey games and at a reunion of New York sports-talk show hosts Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.

      In other words, he has long acted like he wants to be back — and the Jets, outside of stone-faced general manager Mike Maccagnan, have made it clear they’re holding the door wide open for Fitzpatrick.

      “You’re hopeful, I don’t know about confident (about Fitzpatrick’s return),” head coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday. “A lot of things can happen in football. Nothing surprises you, but they’re working on it and hopefully things work out.”

      Even Smith seemed to be speaking wistfully of Fitzpatrick Wednesday.

      “He’s not a ghost,” Smith said. “We’re still in communication with him.”

      But nothing will change until he’s in communication with Maccagnan.

      --No fewer than three of the Jets’ most valuable veteran players weren’t present for the start of “voluntary” OTAs this week. Coincidence, or a statement in support of unsigned quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick?

      Probably a little bit of both. Center Nick Mangold, the longest-tenured member of the roster, was not in Florham Park because his wife just gave birth. But wide receivers Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, both of whom had career seasons last year with Fitzpatrick behind center, raised eyebrows with their absences.

      Marshall specialized in acrimonious relationships with his quarterbacks in Denver, Chicago and Miami before hitting it off with Fitzpatrick.

      “The way we communicate, the way we practice together, the way we bring other guys together, I’ve never seen that anywhere else — and I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve had a lot of quarterbacks,” Marshall told The Rich Eisen Show in March.

      Yet Decker has been even more outspoken in his support of Fitzpatrick, noting after the draft that he was surprised the Jets used a second-round pick on quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

      Earlier this month, Decker told NFL Total Access he believed Fitzpatrick would return to the Jets, but perhaps not until late in the summer.

      “Right now it’s a business and they’re so far off in dollar amount,” Decker said. “But Ryan wants to be back. They want Ryan back. Something is going to happen. It might be before training camp, the day or two before, but I believe that he’ll be back on the team come this fall.”

      As for Decker and Marshall not being with the Jets this week? No big deal, per head coach Todd Bowles.

      “It’s voluntary,” Bowles said. “When they finish doing what they have to do, they’ll be here.”

      --Some other familiar faces were either not working out or nowhere to be seen this week.

      Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson remains away from the facility in protest of the lack of a long-term contract offer from the Jets. Wilkerson was slapped with the franchise tag in February and appears likely to sit out until at least July 15, the deadline for a long-term deal to be reached. reported earlier in the spring Wilkerson could hold out into training camp or beyond.

      Cornerback Darrelle Revis is no stranger to holdouts, but his lack of activity this week has everything to do with his recovery from wrist surgery. Revis watched from the sidelines during Wednesday’s workout. Head coach Todd Bowles said he hoped Revis, who had surgery in March, would be ready for training camp, but that he couldn’t guarantee it.

      A trio of players returning from injury — left tackle Ryan Clady, running back Khiry Robinson and wide receiver Devin Smith — didn’t practice this week and probably won’t suit up until training camp. Clady missed all of last season with a torn ACL while Robinson (broken leg) and Smith (torn ACL) suffered season-ending injuries in November and December, respectively.

  • Bears have holes to fill on offensive line
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    LAKE FOREST, IL -- Wide receiver Kevin White dropped the first pass thrown to him in Wednesday's Chicago Bears organized team activities.

    • "It usually doesn't happen much, but it happened," White said sheepishly. "You've got to go on, move on the next play."

      Kevin White dropping a pass or two during his comeback from shin surgery in what will be his first actual NFL season is hardly the big problem facing the Bears.

      Nor is the absence of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is missing the non-mandatory aspect of offseason work after being tagged as the team's franchise player.

      Even a new offensive coordinator hardly seems the problem it once might have been for the Bears.

      The real problem is the revamping of their offensive line.

      Quarterback Jay Cutler has a relationship with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, his former quarterbacks coach, and the Bears merely expanded on this with his new role. So few are worried about the offense struggling with continuity at this point.

      "Dowell has done it in the league," head coach John Fox said. "He is a sharp coach. He's done it before with the quarterbacks room as well as with the rest of the offensive players."

      If there are problems in a new offensive coordinator-quarterback relationship, it won't show until the pressure of the regular season.

      "In terms of the relationships (Loggains) has with players he does a great job relating to everybody," right guard Kyle Long said. "Also, his confidence, the swagger he has emanates throughout the building. You can see it in meetings.

      "There's a trickle-down effect there."

      The glaring problem is getting a group together to protect Cutler with different starters at three positions and two young players at the other line spots.

      Long moving back to right guard from tackle, with Bobby Massie taking over at right tackle, is a change that shouldn't require much adjustment. Even he admits, though, he'll have to "shake off rust," before he's comfortable at guard after a season at right tackle.

      The situation at the other guard spot isn't as fluid. Rookie Cody Whitehair and veteran acquisition Ted Larsen will battle and when that's combined with center Hroniss Grasu being in his second year and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. in his second season of starting, the Bears have work ahead before the group meshes.

      "Obviously missing Matt Slauson, there's large voids to be filled," Long said.

      When the team cut Slauson to open the spot for Whitehair and Larsen, they lost their most respected line leader. He immediately signed with San Diego.

      "Every decision we make is to improve and I've probably been more into under-state/over-produce, so we'll see what kind of improvements we've made," Fox said about the guard move.

      Without Slauson, the void in offensive line leadership falls to its three-time Pro Bowl player, Long. He's deflecting that.

      "This team has been built on horizontal leadership," Long said.

      By that, he means, "I can hold somebody accountable, they can hold me accountable.

      "You don't hear a lot of screaming and shouting from coaches because they know the guys are going to be on one another."

      Training camp offers linemen the chance to hit and pull together as a unit. Without pads on in OTAs, the task is difficult. This all leaves little time for the line to be ready to protect Cutler and open holes for inexperienced running backs Ka'Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford by opening day.

      "You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they said they didn't really gel unitl the end of training camp, or it took us until training camp," Long said. "So there's going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a live football standpoint.

      "But I think we'll be all right."

      --White said he first felt 100 percent health-wise in his rehab from shin surgery "a couple months ago."

      "Everything is full go so I'll try to put in as much energy as I can, work as much as I can," White said.

      Sitting out a year in the NFL makes this a rookie-plus season for White. He found benefit to a year without playing in the NFL after coming out of West Virginia as an inexperienced college player and the seventh overall pick.

      "It's a lot easier now," White said. "Last year (in OTAs) everything seemed so fast. It was really hard trying to learn concepts and things of that issue because at West Virginia I stayed at one side (of the line) and everything was hand signals."

      Overall, White described his rehab as an ordeal.

      "There were rough days, but I knew I would get back to this at one point," he said.

      --First-round draft pick Leonard Floyd made an immediate impression on teammates with his speed.

      "He covers everything with a heartbeat," Long said. "And he rushes the passer."

      Speed was never the issue with Floyd. At 6-foot-6, 240, his size seems the problem.

      The Bears' staff suggested he might have to gain weight in the future.

      "I don't think weight is the issue," Trevathan said. "As long as you've got an atttude.

      "A lot of people said I was too small a lot of times. And I was 240. It's all about your attitude."

  • NFL notebook: Bills GM claifies controversial statement
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    One day after saying humans aren't supposed to play football, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley issued a statement Wednesday to clarify his comment.

    • "Clearly I used a poor choice of words in my comment yesterday morning," Whaley said in the statement. "As a former player who has the utmost respect and love for the game, the point that I was trying to make is that football is a physical game and injuries are a part of it.

      "Playing football no doubt is very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, and that is all part of what make the game so compelling to play and watch. The game has more protection for players now than ever, thanks largely to the safety advancements and numerous rule changes made by our league and promoted to all levels of football. I believe our game continues to have a bright future and I hope that this statement provides clarity as to the intent of my earlier comment."

      On Tuesday in response to a question during an interview on Buffalo radio station WGR-550 about whether Bills star wide receiver Sammy Watkins is injury-prone, Whaley said: "This is the game of football. Injuries are part of it. It's a violent game that I personally don't think humans are supposed to play."

      --The Denver Broncos signed second-round defensive lineman Adam Gotsis to a four-year rookie contract.

      The deal is worth about $3.9 million and includes a signing bonus of $1.064, based on the NFL's slotting system for rookies.

      The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Gotsis, a defensive end from Georgia Tech, is rehabilitating a torn ACL and has not been participating on the field in the team's offseason program.

      --Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Ladarius Green missed the start of Organized Team Activities after ankle surgery.

      Green, who signed with the Steelers in March, injured the ankle last season while he was playing for the San Diego Chargers. He is expected to return for training camp in July.

      --Offensive lineman Le'Raven Clark signed his rookie contract with the Indianapolis Colts, who have signed all eight of their selections from the 2016 NFL Draft.

      The 6-foot-5, 316-pound Clark was a three-time All-Big 12 first-team selection while starting at left tackle the past three seasons.

      --Linebacker Jarrett Grace was signed by the Chicago Bears, who waived linebacker Danny Mason.

      Grace went undrafted this year out of Notre Dame.

      Mason spent parts of the 2015 season on the Bears and Denver Broncos practice squads. He did not appear in a regular season game.

  • Browns coach Jackson likes his running backs group
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    BEREA, Ohio – The Cleveland Browns had 14 selections in the draft last month and, in a bit of a surprise, did not use one of them on a running back.

    • New head coach Hue Jackson is confident he can get more from third-year back Isaiah Crowell. Likewise, Jackson expects Duke Johnson, a third-round pick in 2015, to make a leap in his second year.

      Both have been busy during the first two weeks of OTAs, and so has Raheem Mostert, who might prove to be more than a kick returner. Mostert was signed by the Eagles as an undrafted rookie in May of last year. He started the season on Philadelphia's practice squad, was signed by Miami in midseason last year and ended up playing with the Dolphins, Ravens and Browns. He returned kicks for all three teams, but never touched the ball from scrimmage.

      OTAs at Browns headquarters were open to the media last Wednesday and again this Wednesday. Mostert showed he can catch the ball and take off when he secures it.

      "I'm very happy with the guys that are here," Jackson said. "That's one of the things that once I got here that I wanted to take a strong look at. From top to bottom, I think we have some good candidates here. We still have a ways to go.

      "Obviously, no shoulder pads have been put on, but the guys accepted my challenge and I think (run game coordinator/running backs) coach (Kirby) Wilson has done a really great job of really bringing these guys along. We have a long way to go, but we'll find out a lot more about them in training camp. I'm very happy with the group thus far."

      Crowell and Johnson are equally excited about playing for Jackson, who has a "share-the-load" approach to his running backs. Jackson in 2015 was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, where Jeremy Hill rushed for 794 yards and 11 touchdowns on 223 carries. Giovani Bernard carried 154 times for 730 yards and two touchdowns. Bernard also caught 49 passes compared to 15 for Hill.

      Crowell would have the role of Hill and Johnson the role of Bernard, at least as a receiver, in the Browns' offense.

      "I am (excited), especially just seeing the way (Jackson) used them in the past and just splitting them out wide," Johnson said. "Getting the best out them and using their strength in every way he can so I'm excited to see. We're off to a good start already, but just happy to see how far and how in-depth we go with the offense."

      Crowell led the Browns with 706 yards rushing in 2015 and scored four of the five Browns' rushing touchdowns. Jackson wants him to do a better job of hitting the holes opened by the offensive line. He would have been closer to 1,000 yards had he done that last season.

      "He called me on the phone before we actually met and he told me he had been watching film and he'd seen my strengths and he'd seen what I need to work on," Crowell said. "Since we've been back, when we got on the field he tries to communicate with all of us and just help everybody get better."

      Crowell rushed for 607 yards and eight touchdowns as an undrafted rookie in 2014.

      --Veteran left tackle Joe Thomas said after practice Wednesday the Browns will be running more no-huddle this season, but it won't necessarily be a fast-paced no-huddle like the one the Eagles ran under Chip Kelly, Thomas said.

      "We're going to make the defense guard every blade of grass on the field," Thomas said.

      --Emmanuel Ogbah, the second-round draft pick from Oklahoma State, is making the transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker smoothly, according to Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

      "Not to put an anchor around his neck, but collectively we were shocked at his first individual drill how well he moved," Horton said after the OTA practice Wednesday. "He's so much more athletic than he showed on his tape. We know he can rush, but there's a big difference between rushing and dropping in space. When he figures it out, I don't know if he knows how good he can be yet."

      Ogbah had 12.5 sacks last season at Oklahoma State.

  • Redskins proceed in OTAs without Jackson
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    DeSean Jackson's absence from Organized Team Activities doesn't seem to concern the Washington Redskins.

    • The veteran wide receiver is the only healthy player skipping the voluntary offseason workouts this week at Redskins Park.

      "The last time I looked up the word 'voluntary,' it is his choice," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday. "He's been in the league nine years I believe it is and he knows what type of shape he has to come in. Obviously, last year he pulled his hamstring, and people are gonna say he was out of shape, but he wasn't really. I think he'll be ready to go."

      The 29-year-old Jackson has one year remaining on his contract, which includes a $500,000 bonus clause for attending 90 percent of the team's offseason workouts.

      Last season, Jackson suffered the hamstring injury in the opener but returned after missing six games to finish the year with 30 receptions for 528 yards and four touchdowns.

      Jackson is expected to be one of the primary receivers in a Washington offense that will have Kirk Cousins as the starting quarterback. The Redskins drafted wide receiver Josh Doctson from TCU in the first round last month and also return wideout Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed.

      "DeSean will get here," Cousins said. "He was here the last few weeks and was able to work with us. He knows what's best for him and what he's gotta do to be ready this fall. I'm excited for whenever he does get here and expect to get a lot of work in."

      Gruden isn't sure when he might see Jackson, who lives in California and has a newborn at home.

      "He'll probably show up here, could be next week could be whenever," Gruden said.

      Doctson did not participate in workouts because of a sore Achilles, but he could return next week.

  • 49ers outline what they want on defense
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- New San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil took time Wednesday to paint a picture of what new coach Chip Kelly would like to see from his players this season.

    • “We talk to them about three attributes that we are looking for as a staff that will allow them to be successful in this system,” O’Neil explained.

      “The first one was being relentless. We want to coach guys how to play football, not how hard to play.

      “The next one was accountable. Everybody has a job; get your job done. The guys that consistently do that will be the guys that will play for us.

      “And the last one was productive. There’s a lot of guys that are scared to make plays. We want to find guys that trust their technique and are confident enough to go make plays in this league, because that’s what it’s all about.”

      --Kelly has insisted there will be open competition for starting spots this season, and already battle lines have been drawn at several positions.

      In fact, it appears only eight starting spots are locked up: Carlos Hyde at running back, Torrey Smith at one wide receiver, Joe Staley at left tackle, Daniel Kilgore at center, Ian Williams at nose tackle, NaVorro Bowman at one of the inside linebacker positions, and Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid at the safety positions.

      --Looking for a long shot to emerge as a starter for the 49ers this season? It’s clearly a possibility at three positions where the competition is particularly wide-open:

      Wide receiver: Quinton Patton, who has proven to be an adequate No. 4 receiver in his career, has been lining up as the starter opposite of Torrey Smith. The 49ers would love to see 2015 fourth-round pick DeAndre Smelter win the spot coming off a “redshirt” season a year ago due to a ACL injury incurred in college. But don’t count out Canadian Football League veteran Eric Rogers or 2015 disappointment Jerome Simpson.

      Tight end: The 49ers felt so good about their depth at the position last season that they traded three of their tight ends, including starter Vernon Davis. But now they are so concerned about what is left that former fullback Bruce Miller has been moved to the position and is as likely as anybody to start the opener against the Los Angeles Rams.

      Inside linebacker: Remember the good old days of Bowman and Patrick Willis? Heck, the 49ers would kill to have even Chris Borland now. The remaining scraps to play alongside Bowman include Michael Wilhoite, a guy the new regime seems anxious to replace, and Gerald Hodges, who might not be good enough to do it.

  • Vikings' Walsh putting playoff field-goal miss behind him
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Considering the magnitude and painful finality of his last field-goal attempt, the only way Blair Walsh can silence his critics is to make one to win a playoff game in the closing seconds.

    • Until then, everything else is pretty much baby steps for the Minnesota Vikings young kicker as he moves toward a similar opportunity and away from the 27-yarder that he pulled badly left with 22 seconds left in January's 10-9 wild-card playoff loss to Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium.

      Wednesday, Walsh took the tiniest of baby steps during an OTA session at the team's indoor facility. In his first field-goal attempts during a team portion of the spring OTA schedule, Walsh made all five attempts. He was right down the middle from 30, 33, 35, 37 and 40 yards.

      "I feel like I am better than I was last year," Walsh said after the workout. "I'm ready to go, honestly. I'm excited to go. Today was our first day doing live reps. It will be fun."

      Without question, Walsh is the Vikings' player most likely to be placed on one of those trendy preseason hot seats. He made 34 of 39 field-goal attempts during the regular season and was 3-for-3 in the playoff game before missing his last kick. But it's that last kick that spooks a fan base that's had more than its share of haunting losses over the years.

      Don't fret, Walsh says. After all, he's not, he says.

      "My common message to (those who have reached out to him) is it's one moment," Walsh said. "It won't define me."

      Walsh was asked if he blocks out the memory of the miss or uses it as motivation.

      "A little bit of both," he said. "I'm way past the point of being upset about it or, you know, to the point where it bothers you like that. It's something I've already dealt with and gone through. On a day-to-day basis, no, I don't think about it. I really don't use it like that.

      "That initial month or so period, I definitely looked at it as motivation for me. But, like I said before, I had a good year. That was enough motivation for me going into this year.

      "I thought I had one of my better years as a pro. It was unfortunate how it ended. The nice thing is it keeps you hungry, keeps you motivated. Not that I'm not already, but it's just a little extra fuel for the fire."

      The good news is Walsh no longer will be kicking in the wind and below-zero temps of TCF Bank Stadium. After two seasons in their temporary home, the Vikings move back indoors to new U.S. Bank Stadium.

      "It's always going to be easier indoors," he said. "I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it's easier to kick at TCF than it is inside. It's just you can take the elements out of it and focus on your form and your craft. You can forget about, 'Hey, man, it's minus-10 out today.' You get to go in there and act like it's a normal day outside."