AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Things are quiet as the Bears go about choosing a kicker, literally.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

As the Chicago Bears’ kicking competition crawls into another month, Bears coaches are employing an unusual pressure tactic, borrowed not from the stands of Soldier Field but the galleries of Augusta National.

 

Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor told reporters Wednesday that he is having Chicago’s three kickers compete under the code of “Augusta silence” when a field goal is attempted during the offseason program.

 

“No one talks,” Tabor said, per ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson. “Obviously we’re doing the ‘Augusta silence’ [for a reason]. That’s been awesome. I am used to people yelling at me. You know, I’m used to, I mean my daughters and my wife will yell at me, so I’m used to it. But when it’s quiet out there it is, it is a different feeling. [Bears coach Matt] Nagy and I have talked about it … it’s different.”

 

Ever since Cody Parkey double-doinked the Bears’ season and his career in Chicago away, the organization has searched for a replacement. The Bears brought eight kickers to rookie minicamp but have since narrowed their options down to three booters: Chris Blewitt, Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro, whom they acquired the Oakland Raiders in a trade.

 

“We’re creating as much pressure as we can on these guys,” Nagy said. “We’re getting the ‘Augusta silence’ out here with the team and that’s eerie.”

 

This sort of pressure might be more applicable to game situations at Soldier Field, where the home crowd is more likely to tense up during a field-goal attempt late in the game, rather than those at a rival locale, like Lambeau Field or U.S. Bank Stadium. Parkey, for what it’s worth, missed five field goals and two extra points at home last season, including playoffs, and three FGs and one XP on the road.

 

Under a microscope after the way their 2018 season ended, the Bears are trying anything and everything to get the kicker position right. While Chicago doesn’t know when it will decide on a starting placekicker for the 2019 season, the Bears at least know there’s a deadline.

 

“We’ll definitely have to have somebody Thursday night [in the NFL regular-season opener] against Green Bay,” Tabor said. “I feel good about that.”

 

Chicago is surely hoping the eventual starter will be more Tiger Woods than Greg Norman.

 

 

DETROIT

The Lions have signed WR JERMAINE KEARSE.  ESPN.com:

 

Veteran free-agent wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is signing a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday.

 

Kearse, who turned 29 in February, is coming off his most disappointing season in the NFL. He finished with only 37 receptions for 371 yards and a touchdown, as the New York Jets struggled for most of the season under rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Kearse made $5 million in the final year of his contract.

 

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS sends a message to his new coaching staff.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Packers have a new head coach and a new offensive system, but a couple of key things about their offense have not changed this offseason.

 

Aaron Rodgers is still their quarterback and Davante Adams is still their top wide receiver. Adams had 169 passes thrown his way last season, which was good for second in the league behind Julio Jones but Rodgers revealed this week that it was not good enough for him.

 

“I’d like to throw to Davante more,” Rodgers said, via ESPN.com. “He’s that open. We’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the ball.”

 

Rodgers acknowledges the need for “complementary pieces” in the passing game with tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling noted as options for that role, but makes it clear that he plans to look to Adams more than anyone else once the season gets underway.

 

Although presumably, the responsibility for finding open receivers and throwing to them is the quarterbacks.  We doubt any coach would object to a completion, just because another route runner was “the primary.”

 

And it’s not like Adams was an afterthought last year.

 

Here is a list of the most targeted receivers in 2018:

 

1          Julio Jones                  170     

2          Davante Adams         169     

3          Antonio Brown             168                 

4          JuJu Smith-Schuster  166     

5          DeAndre Hopkins       163     

 

More from Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:

 

The issue is whether it’s good for the Packers’ offense — or any offense, for that matter — to have one player dominate the football like Adams did last season.

 

No, the Packers didn’t add a single receiver through veteran free agency or the draft — and they let Randall Cobb, who signed with the Cowboys, walk. In fact, the only skill-position players they added who handle the football were third-round tight end Jace Sternberger and sixth-round running back Dexter Williams.

– – –

New coach Matt LaFleur’s offense would seem to fit Adams, whose best attribute among many is his ability to get open almost immediately off the line of scrimmage. And without a prototypical slot receiver to fill Cobb’s old role, Adams could move around even more than he did last season, when, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, he caught 75 of his 111 passes when lined up outside.

 

 “I think it enhances it and it gives him different means of getting open and the flexibility to move him around in different spots on the field, and that way defenses can’t key on them,” Packers receivers coach Alvis Whitted said. “I think he just has a tremendous skill set as far as being able to get open, the short-area quickness that he has, his football intelligence, just how he can manipulate defenders is really awesome and it’s really refreshing to see him work and be able to do the things that he can do.”

 

Adams, 26, likes what he has seen of the offense so far.

 

“It’s inviting a lot less press coverage, but something I’ve been comfortable with is press coverage, so it’s not like it’s taking anything away or adding anything, really,” Adams said earlier this offseason. “It’s going to allow me to get out and get into my routes a lot easier, and if guys want to still move with motions and matching and press from there, it’s just going to take it back to what I’m used to, so at the end of the day I feel like it’s a win-win for the offense.”

 

Adams’ 169 targets came in 15 games last season. He missed the season finale — and his chance to set the Packers’ single-season receptions record — because of a knee injury.

 

If Rodgers thinks Adams didn’t get the ball enough and if Adams can stay healthy for all 16 games, perhaps the Packers could be looking at what might be their first 200-target receiver. According to Pro Football Reference, Sterling Sharpe was targeted 189 times during his record-setting 1993 season, when he caught 112 passes.

 

Only two players have been targeted 200 or more times in a season over the past 16 years: Jones with 203 in 2015 and Calvin Johnson with 204 in 2012.

 

What’s more, Adams has, by most accounts, accepted his role as not only the go-to receiver but as the leader among his position group after losing veterans Cobb and Jordy Nelson over the past two offseasons.

 

“I think he sets the tone for the group,” LaFleur said. “And I think his energy not only spills over, it spills over to everybody on the offensive side of the ball. He’s got a mentality about him. I love it, man. He is, he’s a dog and he’s a fighter and he elevates the play of everybody around him. So, yeah, any time we can have him out there I know we’re going to be a better offense.”

 

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

T TRENT WILLIAMS is AWOL, apparently due to concerns about Washington’s medical staff.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Trent Williams is skipping mandatory minicamp due to frustrations about his contract and his recent medical issue.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that along with new contract desires, there is “frustration” from Williams over the handling of his health scare earlier this spring in which he had a growth removed from his scalp that was originally thought to be cancerous, but turned out it was not.

 

“I really don’t have one,” Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden responded Wednesday when asked about the recent reports about his star left tackle. “Just trying to focus on the guys that are here right now. Trent knows how much we need him and want him back. That’s the only thing I can do from here. As far as what happened with him and the doctors, that’s between he and the doctors; hopefully, we can get that cleared up soon.”

 

Gruden acknowledged that Williams might be irritated by the injury issue but hasn’t had discussions about the blind side blocker not wanting to be in Washington moving forward.

 

The coach rejected the notion that a potential misdiagnosis or any of Williams’ issues were caused by the Redskins medical staff.

 

“I think our medical staff has done a good job,” he said. “I think where the frustration might lie is the timing of the diagnosis. Maybe he wishes it was diagnosed a little sooner to my understanding but other than that I think our doctors and medical staff have done a good job.”

 

Gruden noted that he “hopes” to see Williams back in the building at some point his offseason, but right now is focused on the players at minicamp.

 

“I have a lot of people I need to coach right now and we’re doing a good job,” he said. “We have a lot of good things going on here in training camp. Our rookies have come in and have done a great job. The guys that we signed in free agency have done a great job, the veterans we have coming back have bought in and are practicing really hard. That’s what I’m focused on. Trent’s our best player, one of our best players and we want him back. Right now, we have to cater to the guys that are here. We’ll handle Trent accordingly and hopefully we’ll get him back by training camp. We have so many good things going on right now, I’m not going to let one distraction hold us back and it’s really not a distraction for me right now.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Warrick Dunn has some advice for RB DEVONTA FREEMAN, who also went to Florida State.  Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:

 

Devonta Freeman has done a solid job emulating Warrick Dunn as a dual-threat back, but imitating how Dunn talks is another story.

 

Freeman, the Atlanta Falcons’ two-time Pro Bowl running back, leaned on a set of bleachers, took a deep breath, lowered his tone and offered his best impersonation of Dunn, who had his most productive seasons with the Falcons from 2002 to ’08.

 

“Warrick always tells me all the time — you know he talks low — but he tells me, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to do better. You can’t be taking all these hits, man. It’s all about longevity,'” Freeman whispered with a Southern drawl. “That’s what he always says to me, and I appreciate that. I really appreciate stuff like that.”

 

Dunn probably would have laughed at the way Freeman mimicked his tone, but at least his message seems to have resonated. The bond Freeman shares with Dunn, a fellow Florida State Seminole, extends beyond football talk. They keep in touch often, even if it means checking in just to say hello. In the bulk of those conversations, Freeman has grown accustomed to Dunn preaching to him about avoiding some of those vicious hits.

 

“Yeah, I agree with him 100 percent,” Freeman said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about it.”

 

Dunn, now a Falcons minority owner, never regrets bringing it up.

 

“A lot of times, these guys always want to prove that they’re tough or that they can get the tough yard, but sometimes you have to live for another down,” Dunn said. “My advice to Devonta was, ‘You have to learn how to protect yourself at the same time. You’re picking up tough yards, but you have to be smart and strategic about it.’

 

“To be a better runner, it’s not always about, ‘Let me run over guys.’ It’s ‘How can I avoid the big hit so I can have longevity in this league?’ And I just try to encourage him to become a better overall runner.”

 

Healthy approach

The 27-year-old Freeman, entering his sixth NFL season, played in two games last season because of foot, knee and groin injuries before he had season-ending core-muscle surgery. In 2017, he missed two regular-season games with an in-game concussion, missed preseason action because of a practice concussion and sprained two ligaments in his right knee during the regular-season finale. He also missed a game with a concussion in 2015.

 

Considering his size, at 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds, plus the fact that he has sustained at least three concussions, there are durability concerns.

 

“I’ve really never even thought about it because it’s just one of those things where it’s football,” Freeman said. “No. 1, you already know you’re signing up for a 100 percent gladiator sport. Anybody can get injured — 100 percent.

 

“But it’s never one of those things that I dwell on, like, ‘Man, I’ve got this many concussions. I got hurt this many times.’ As long as God is still blessing me to do what I want to do, I’m going to keep doing it because this is God’s timing. This is not my timing. This is what God wants me to be doing, so I’m going to do it.”

 

Freeman understands why folks chide him about taking hits. And Dunn isn’t the one who rides him the hardest.

 

“Of course, my momma, she’s No. 1,” Freeman said of his mother, Lorraine. “She’s like, ‘Baby, you just need to get out of bounds sometimes’ and ‘Why you be trying to hit the big people like that?’ and ‘Why they trying to hit you like that?’ Because my mom didn’t grow up a football fan. She understands it a lot more now because I’m her son.”

 

Dunn, unlike Lorraine Freeman, speaks from football experience. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Dunn played 12 NFL seasons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He started and ended his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but during his six seasons with the Falcons, Dunn had a stretch of starting all 16 games in three consecutive seasons (2004-06). In that stretch, he averaged 304 touches and 1,448 yards from scrimmage per season.

 

“If I was running, I wouldn’t want to get hit at all,” said Dunn, who started 154 of 181 career games. “I’m trying to avoid getting hit. I’m not going to take shots. So there’s times that you need to run out of bounds.”

 

Freeman agreed with Dunn’s reasoning yet explained that he has evolved into a smarter runner since his rookie season.

 

“It’s not like I’m out there trying to be a tough guy,” Freeman said. “I’m not trying to run people over. I have before. I mean, some guys on the sideline, sometimes I just wanted to just run through people. But that was just my younger years. A couple of games, I ran some guys over on the sideline when I could have run out of bounds. It happened a couple of times when I was 1 yard away from the sideline, and I should have went out of bounds.

 

“Once I get going downhill, I’m going downhill. It’s like a truck — hard to stop. That’s for anybody, though. But sometimes, you have to live for another down as well. I’m learning. I’m growing in that. I’m going to continue to get better.”

 

In fairness to Freeman, it’s hard not to take a pounding when you don’t have adequate blocking in front of you. He didn’t miss a game in 2016 when the Falcons started the same five offensive linemen all the way through the Super Bowl. The Falcons hope the 2019 version of the line, which features Pro Bowl picks Alex Mack and Jake Matthews and could include rookie first-rounders Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, protects Matt Ryan and opens more holes in the running game.

 

Freeman, who looks rejuvenated after the surgery in October, is sure to carry the bulk of the load with Ito Smith and perhaps rookie back Qadree Ollison behind him. Freeman can help his cause by using his shiftiness to avoid tacklers.

 

“Yes, I can use my elusiveness, but it’s hard to at certain times,” Freeman said. “If I’m in the hole, it’s hard for me to be elusive because I don’t have the time to be elusive when you have these linebackers who are running 4.4 now. So I got to get it and go.”

 

Role model

Freeman met Dunn during his junior season at Florida State, when Dunn came back to address the running backs in the meeting room. Dunn talked about the benefits of the outside-zone blocking scheme and offered pointers.

 

Freeman didn’t get a chance to speak with Dunn afterward, but the moment left an impression.

 

“Of course, I knew all about Warrick Dunn because that was, like, the guy when I was at FSU. I was like, ‘Man, I want to accomplish everything Warrick accomplished,'” Freeman said. “He’s a great person, on and off the field.”

 

Dunn is second on Florida State’s all-time rushing list with 3,959 yards, behind current Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4,464). Freeman is ninth with 2,255 yards.

 

Dunn amassed 10,967 rushing yards, 4,339 receiving yards and 64 total touchdowns in his 181 career NFL games. In 2008, he became just the sixth player in league history to reach 10,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions, joining Marcus Allen, Tiki Barber, Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson.

 

Freeman has 3,316 career rushing yards (767 attempts), 1,605 receiving yards (198 receptions) and 37 total touchdowns in 63 career games. He admitted to being in a “dark place” last year while injured as the Falcons finished 7-9. But there are high expectations for a now healthy Freeman heading into this season.

 

“I’m not going to set any personal goals as far as [statistics],” Freeman said. “I’m going to play as long as I can play. As long as I can still be explosive and have fun with it and God gives me the ability to do it, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m not going to put no time limit on my career because I don’t want to do nothing else but play football.

 

“Whenever it’s time for me to hit something else — maybe be a coach one day or something like that — that’s when the time comes. But for now, I just want to play football as long as I can.”

 

Freeman also admires Dunn’s body of work off the field. Through the Warrick Dunn Charities Homes for the Holidays initiative, Dunn’s foundation has awarded 169 homes to single-parent families. Dunn created the program in honor of his late mother, Betty Smothers, who was a single parent and police officer murdered in an ambush at a Louisiana bank in 1993.

 

“Warrick lost his mom, and look at the way he carries himself,” Freeman said. “He’s got a lot of heart. He went and visited the man in jail. That’s tough, to look at somebody eye to eye and ask them why they killed your mom. That’s tough.

 

“Just him as a man, he’s such a well-rounded guy. I would advise anyone to take after his footsteps. I mean, be your own person, but try to mimic that or come close to it in your own way.”

 

Freeman, who grew up in the rugged Miami projects, has his own foundation and hosted a free camp a few years back at the Charles Hadley Park where he played as a youth. Freeman has partnered with an elementary charter school in Atlanta for laptop giveaways and shopping sprees, something he hasn’t advertised and shied away from discussing in detail.

 

“You can tell Warrick is all about family and giving back to the community, and that inspires me,” Freeman said. “Giving the houses away, that’s something that’s always motivated me.

 

“There’s a lot of people who are unfortunate. It feels good when you have the caliber of legend of Warrick Dunn going back and giving back and showing he really cares. Football is huge, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot more to be thankful for.”

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Coach Kliff Kingsbury about the relationship between the Legend and the Rookie.  Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

f there’s one thing we know about Larry Fitzgerald at this stage of his career, it’s that he’ll make a play if you throw it his way.

 

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury hopes playing with quarterback Kyler Murray, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, and a revamped offense will inspire the 11-time Pro Bowler to do that in a Cards uni for at least a little while longer.

 

“I’m hoping he enjoys the process and enjoys what the offense turns into and how we’re playing and can give him a reason to stick around a few more years,” Kingsbury told the media Wednesday. “He practices and he plays like he’s trying to make the team and that’s the biggest compliment I can give him with all the accomplishments he has and what he’s done. He doesn’t need it and you’d think he’s starving out there so it’s impressive to watch.”

 

After registering 60 receptions for 734 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2018 and starting in all 16 regular season games — for the 11th time in 16 seasons — Fitzgerald has entered mandatory minicamp displaying the same toughness and passion that has made him a fixture in the NFL since being drafted third overall in 2004.

 

And his new coach has thoroughly appreciated his greatness.

 

“He’s still a dynamic player, you know? Some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. Big, physical, tough, available, he’s at every practice and doesn’t miss a practice. He’s waving young guys off if they try to get reps so he’s going to have a big role,” said Kingsbury.

 

Determining where the 35-year-old Fitzgerald fits into Arizona’s scheme is a task Kingsbury doesn’t envision will be difficult, saying that he’ll “be at multiple spots at times” after having primarily played in the slot the past few seasons. But, regardless of his usage rate, Kingsbury knows Fitzgerald’s reliability will be invaluable to Murray.

 

“He’s a security blanket. There’s a comfort level there; if you get it close, he’s going to make a play for you,” Kingsbury shared. “For a young QB, you know’s he’s going make plays and that goes a long way.

 

“He wants the ball his way so I think they’ll have a good chemistry once we get this thing rolling.”

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

An extension for veteran T JOE STALEY.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com on the harmonious relationship between player and team:

 

The San Francisco 49ers have signed 12-year veteran tackle Joe Staley to a two-year contract extension.

 

Team owner Jed York announced the agreement at a State of the Franchise event on Wednesday night.

 

“Since the moment you guys drafted me in 2007, it’s been an absolute honor to play for this franchise and I want nothing more than to complete my entire career here with one franchise,” Staley said, via Matt Maiocco of NBC Bay Area.

 

Staley, 34, was about to enter the final year of his existing contract with the team, which was set to pay him $8.05 million in base salary for the 2019 season. The two-year extension will keep Staley under contract with the 49ers through the 2021 season and gives him the chance to play his entire career for the franchise that drafted him in the first-round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Staley turns 35 in August and would play the 2021 season at 37 years old.

 

Staley has started all 174 regular season games and eight postseason games he’s appeared in during his career. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl six times and is a three-time, second-team All-Pro selection.

 

That’s the way a first round draft pick is supposed to work, but so few do.

 

 

SEATTLE

With Doug Baldwin done, the Seahawks are re-discovering WR JARON BROWN.  Lindsay Wisniewski of NBCSportsNorthwest.com:

 

While Tyler Lockett is prepared to pivot into a larger leadership role this offseason with a young wide receiver corps, there’s another player the Seattle Seahawks are counting on this summer, the coaches just “kind of forgot” him.

 

Veteran Jaron Brown has been taking first-team reps alongside Lockett and David Moore during organized team activities (OTAs) and his play is starting to turn heads of the Seahawks coaching staff.

 

“He’s not a young guy, but wow, talking about just an unbelievable camp, I mean, really stepping up,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He did so much of the dirty work for us last year that you kind of forgot-we kind of forgot-that he’s a really established receiver and he’s looked dynamic out here.”

 

Brown was only targeted 19 times last season, but was incredibly effective when utilized. The 29-year-old wideout hauled in 14 receptions for 166 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, leaving Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wanting more.

 

“Jaron Brown is a really good player that we look back and we could’ve used him a lot more,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle in March. “He did a lot of things for us. He blocked well and fit into a lot of stuff, scored five touchdowns on a limited amount of catches. So, we know we can go to him. He’s a real pro and so we’re anxious to develop him more.”

 

With Doug Baldwin gone, and Lockett and D.K. Metcalf the favorites as the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 options, Brown will have an opportunity to carve his role in a deep receiver group.

 

If he can continue to flourish in his second year with Seattle and assist in leading the team’s three rookies, Brown might just cement his status as a reliable option in the Seahawks passing game.

 

“Jaron Brown is a guy we all have a lot of respect for,” Schottenheimer said. “He never questioned one thing we tried to do with him last year. He did the heavy lifting, a lot of the blocking responsibilities and things like that. He certainly stepped up in that regard.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

The Broncos are counting on RB PHILLIP LINDSAY to be ready for training camp.  Aric DiLalla at DenverBroncos.com:

 

Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday that running back Phillip Lindsay will be ready for the team’s mid-July start to camp, and guard Ron Leary said he is already practicing without limitations.

 

Leary, who suffered a torn Achilles in October, recently started to take reps with the first-team offense during team-period drills.

 

“I’m cleared,” Leary said. “I’m doing everything out there. I’ve been cleared by the doctors. Recovery went good. Probably was fast, but that’s a good thing. I feel great. I haven’t had any setbacks. Like I said, I’m doing everything and feel great out there.”

 

Lindsay, meanwhile, has been limited to individual drills as he recovers from a wrist injury he suffered on Christmas Eve.

 

“I feel like I’m very close,” Lindsay said. “It’s going to come down to the head coach and our training staff to make the decisions. I trust them and for me, I’m going to be ready when it’s time. That’s it. When they say, ‘It’s time to go. Let’s go today,’ I’ll be ready.”

 

Fangio said Lindsay likely could’ve participated in the team’s minicamp practices, but the team’s medical staff wanted the second-year player to avoid unnecessary contact.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

The Oakland Raiders confirmed on Wednesday that their August 22 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers will be played at IG Field, the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. has made it to Cleveland.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. took the podium on the second day of Browns minicamp Wednesday to address the media, answering questions about his impressions so far of being a Brown, of Baker Mayfield and why he skipped all but one of the team’s voluntary workouts.

 

Some excerpts of his remarks:

 

On how it’s been so far: “New place, new environment. Catching on, catching up with teammates . . . Everybody is out here, they’re moving fast. . . . I’ve always been a pretty smart guy when it comes to the playbook, so it won’t be too hard to pick up.”

 

On the Browns’ dangerous receiving corps: “It creates matchup problems. Some receivers go to the left side, the right side . . . It makes it a lot harder for the other team to game plan.”

 

On why he skipped most of OTAs: “I know my body better than anyone else. I know what it takes to get in top condition. It’s not my first rodeo. Not my first go-round. I know what it takes to get there. . . . (Coach Freddie Kitchens) and I had a different plan than everyone else knows. He knew my whereabouts and he knew when I’d be here . . . The good thing about it is we play in September.”

 

On how he feels so far: “Words don’t do it justice for being out here. I’m almost giddy. I’m like a little kid, seeing Baker, seeing this offense, and this defense is something special. This team is coming together, and it’s only June. I feel like this team is going to come together. I’m excited about it. . . .The goal is always the same, to hang banners. We know we have a lot of expectations and a lot of work to do.”

 

On what it would be like for him if he saw fewer targets but more wins: “More celebrations. Different ways for us to celebrate, get to see some guys’ creativity. But this game is about winning. I’d much rather be in the playoffs than go for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, because I’m supposed to do that anyway. . . . I’m ready to get back to the playoffs and show what I can do.”

 

On long-term rumors he would be traded: “There was talk and speculation for so long. . . .You just kind of can feel those things coming. I was training at USC track all last offseason, and like the whole (Browns) team was out there, Baker, Jarvis, the receivers. . . We hung out all last offseason.”

 

On whether he is behind building chemistry with Baker Mayfield: “The good news is we play in September. We have a lot of time to build chemistry. We’re both going to be in LA, throwing every day, going over the plays, going over the nuances, the little stuff above the X’s and O’s.”

 

His thoughts on Mayfield: “I’ve watched Baker since Oklahoma. I think it’s the confidence he has, and it’s on display always. . . You have to love that about him. . . He’s got an arm. I’m also going to have to get adjusted to the speed. Just catching him from the first day it was like, ‘This is different.’”

 

On dealing with expectations: “I got in this game to be a champion. . . . That’s just how I am. I want to win. I want to be a champion.”

 

On being covered in practice by cornerback Denzel Ward: “I personally think he’s going to be a top, top corner. . . I told him, if you have any questions, ask me. And I told him I’ll do the same and ask if he saw anything . . . They say iron sharpens iron. “

 

On being here with his teammates: “I still feel like the new kid in school.”

 

On how good he feels: “I’m in a place I’ve never been in my entire life. I’m trying to grow and mature and be a man.”

 

On comparing Baker Mayfield to Brett Favre: He says its an apt comparison. He sees the similarities, even when their highlights are shown side-by-side.

 

On the season ahead: “I feel something in the air . . . and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

G ANDREW NORWELL was one of the big signings of the 2018 free agent class.  He did not earn his money for the Jaguars last year.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Last year guard Andrew Norwell signed a five-year, $66.5 million contract with the Jaguars, which at the time made him the highest-paid guard in the league. The return on the Jaguars’ investment was not good.

 

Norwell missed five games with injuries, didn’t play particularly well in the games he did play, and admitted that he had a poor first year in Jacksonville.

 

“It’s no excuse, but it wasn’t my healthiest season,” Norwell said, via the Florida Times-Union. “I battled through it and ultimately had a significant injury there and that ended my season. I was very disappointed. I’m not going to let my teammates down like that again.”

 

Norwell had been a first-team All-Pro with the Panthers in 2017 before signing with the Jaguars in 2018, and he says he’s still that same player if he’s healthy.

 

“I was my same self,” he said. “I just struggled through some injuries the whole year. I really just couldn’t get healthy. I wasn’t practicing consistently every week. It was just pretty tough on me. You know what? That’s why you fall back on your fundamentals and work hard. What got me here, you just fall back on that.”

 

Getting Norwell healthy will go a long way toward getting the Jaguars back to where they want to be.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tells us what RB Le’VEON BELL was up to when he wasn’t hanging out with the Jets.

 

Le’Veon Bell has a unique running style. If he doesn’t see immediate daylight, he waits … waits … and … vroom. You can’t argue with the results: He has more than 5,300 rushing yards in five seasons.

 

You might say he has taken the same approach to his first offseason with the New York Jets, training in South Florida in March … April … May … and … here he comes.

 

After skipping the voluntary workout phase, during which time he ignored the pleas of past and present teammate Steve McLendon and subjected himself to criticism from a new fan base, Bell is expected to report Tuesday to the Jets’ mandatory minicamp. Because of his season-long contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, this will be his first football practice in 17 months, raising the curiosity level to an unprecedented high for a June workout.

 

“Of course he will be in great shape,” Pete Bommarito said Friday in a phone interview.

 

Bommarito, the president of Bommarito Performance Systems, is Bell’s personal trainer, which means he has spent more time with the star running back than Jets coach Adam Gase. Bommarito is the mastermind behind Bell’s offseason program — a comprehensive, scientific regimen that includes everything from 40-yard sprints to Pilates to banded TKEs (terminal knee extensions) for quadriceps development. Bell also has access to a nutritionist, a massage therapist and an acupuncturist; if he wants to grab a meal, there’s an in-house chef ready to prepare his order.

 

Think: Pumping iron at the Ritz.

 

Bell has been training with Bommarito in North Miami, Florida, since he came out of Michigan State in 2013, and the running back didn’t want to disrupt his routine after signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Jets. Bell has caught some flak for skipping practice with his new teammates, but it’s not like he is wasting time by taking leisurely jogs along Ocean Drive in South Beach.

 

He spends up to five hours a day, sometimes five days a week, at Bommarito’s facility. Each day begins with an appointment in the medical room, where his joint alignment is checked out. Based on the results, Bommarito can adjust his daily script for Bell, who currently is in the high-specificity phase of his training cycle — drills that include a lot of running back-style motion.

 

Bell always shows up wearing his game face, according to Bommarito.

 

“He’s highly intelligent and he definitely knows what we’re doing,” said Bommarito, who has trained running backs such as Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte and Frank Gore. “He knows my philosophy, and he has bought into the approach that we sold him. That’s what makes him great. He’s got the talent, but he’s so serious about how he takes care of his body. That’s what makes him elite.

 

“It isn’t about work ethic; anyone can work themselves into the ground. It’s about the focus on the little things during the high-intensity training, understanding that everything counts. Le’Veon is so focused that a bomb could go off and he wouldn’t even notice.”

 

Gase claimed he doesn’t mind that Bell has been away from the team, saying he figured that would be the case based on his recent history. In his next breath, Gase acknowledged it’s easier to disseminate information to players and correct their mistakes when they’re at practice and in the classroom. Bell watches practice video on his computer tablet, which is fine, but he can’t interact with his coaches and teammates.

 

“I know he feels comfortable with [Bommarito], which I’m good with because I know once we hit training camp, he’ll be ready to go,” Gase said.

 

McLendon, a defensive tackle who played with Bell from 2013 to 2015, called him recently to say he was needed at practice. In particular, McLendon stressed the importance of building chemistry with second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, whose development is paramount to the organization.

 

“I told him, ‘You understand, this place is different than Pittsburgh. You need to get back here and understand your quarterback and the situation,'” McLendon said.

 

McLendon’s appeal didn’t work. He said he respected Bell’s decision, knowing the kind of impact Bell can make once he does arrive.

 

“I know what I’ve seen in the past from him,” McLendon said. “I understand he sat out a year, but for a running back, that’s good, especially with all the hits they take. I can say this: He’s still going to be fast; he’s still going to be shifty. I’m excited for him to come back.”

 

Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Bell “always came to camp in phenomenal shape, 218 or 219 pounds.” Haley doesn’t expect that to change now. If anything, he suspects Bell will be more motivated than ever.

 

“He’s a highly competitive guy and an extremely hard worker,” Haley said. “Besides AB [Antonio Brown], nobody came in and looked in better condition, and he did most of it on his own because I don’t know if he was ever there for much of the offseason except his rookie year. He’ll have a chip on his shoulder, and he’s very talented. It’ll be interesting in New York. It’ll be fun to watch.”

 

If you watch Bell’s Instagram stories, you can see some of his on-field workouts. A couple of weeks ago, he did speed training with 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-yard sprints. A lot of players say they never run 40s once they get into the NFL; Bommarito believes running backs need an extra gear once they get to the second level. Last week, Bell focused on resistance running (a band attached to his waist) and a jump-cut drill that simulated a typical running play.

 

“It’s not like we have to teach him how to cut — he’s already got that pattern down — but it’s a great training mechanism for the muscles across the ankle joint, the joint to the feet and the joint to the knee,” said Bommarito, who has a master’s degree in exercise science with a specialization in sports biomechanics. “You have to get those stabilizing muscles strong if you’re going to withstand and sustain a whole season.

 

“That type of threshold training works very well with NFL running backs, especially taller running backs like Le’Veon. They respond well to that because, even though he’s tall [6-foot-1], he plays low. The feet angles and the ankle angles are at such a great angle that you have to make sure those muscles surrounding those joints are strong.”

 

Bell will break his routine to take a trip up to New Jersey for three days of minicamp practice. Finally, football.

 

That sounds good.  But here is another story that provides a little more insight into Bell’s South Florida lifestyle.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Jets running back Le’Veon Bell apparently has plenty of jewelry. For now, he has more than $500,000 less of it.

 

Via the Associated Press, two women allegedly robbed Bell of a more than a half million in jewelry last month.

 

Per the report, two female acquaintances — described in the police report as girlfriends of Bell — absconded with the jewelry. Bell claims that he returned from the gym on May 25 to find the women gone, along with the jewelry.

 

The New York Post reports that Bell claims to have lost via the theft two gold chains with diamonds, a black panther pendant with black and white diamonds and a Rolex. The total value amounts to $520,000.

 

The theft happened in Hollywood, Florida. Bell has joined the Jets this week for the first time, to participate in the team’s mandatory offseason minicamp.