The Daily Briefing Friday, July 13, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

At least as far as Twitter is concerned, Ray Lewis is a fraud.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Hall of Fame linebacker turned television commentator Ray Lewis was one of the celebrities named in a New York Times exposé about buying Twitter followers, and now Lewis is seeing those questionable followers disappear.

 

Twitter has begun purging fake accounts, and Lewis’s follower count was particularly hard hit. Lewis quickly declined from 712,000 followers to 364,000 followers when Twitter began the process of cutting millions of accounts yesterday.

 

Why did Lewis buy fake Twitter followers? Who knows? Perhaps he thought the appearance of a big Twitter presence would help his media career. Or perhaps someone did it on Lewis’s behalf without his knowledge.

 

Regardless, Lewis now doesn’t have all those fake followers.

 

– – –

Even as his recent charges are substantially reduced, more legal woes surface for Kellen Winslow II:

 

Kellen Winslow II, the retired NFL tight end already facing multiple rape and kidnapping charges, was arraigned Thursday on a new charge — forcibly raping a 17-year-old female who was unconscious at the time.

 

Winslow, now 34, was 19 at the time of the alleged rape that took place in June 2003 in a San Diego County residence, according to Dan Owens, deputy district attorney in San Diego County.

 

“California law allows for certain specified sexual offenses to be charged regardless of the time of their commission under certain circumstances,” Owens said. “Those circumstances are met in this case. …

 

“When there is a rape that occurs and the victim is under the age of 18 years old, there is no statutory time (limit) to when that can be charged. That’s exactly what we have here.”

 

Owens declined to provide information when asked if publicity around the previous charges led the alleged victim, now 32, to come forward.

 

The other felony counts include two counts of rape, two counts of kidnapping with intent to commit rape and one count of forcible sodomy. Winslow pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday at a preliminary hearing in San Diego County Courthouse.

 

The other two alleged victims are 58 and 54, and one said she was homeless at the time. USA TODAY does not release the identities of alleged victims.

 

Superior Court Judge Harry M. Elias  reduced two criminal counts of attempted burglary to misdemeanors, but Winslow could face life in prison on the remaining eight counts. Elias found enough evidence to move forward on those counts.

 

Bail was set at $2 million. Winslow’s attorneys said he would post bail and be released Thursday or Friday.

 

The next court hearing is set for Aug. 17.

 

Winslow’s mother, Katrina Ramsey, wept outside the courtroom and his father, Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr., looked upbeat as he spoke to friends and family members.

 

Winslow II remained impassive during the court proceeding and has been held in custody since his June 14 arrest.

 

During final deliberations, Winslow II’s lead attorney, Harvey Steinberg, said he expected the case to go to trial and “this is going to be hotly contested.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Kevin Patra of NFL.com on the growth of QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY:

 

Trace most changes the Chicago Bears made in 2018 and they’ll lead back to quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

 

New coach Matt Nagy was brought in to install a QB-friendly offense. The Bears signed two back quarterbacks, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, who have experience in Nagy’s system and can help teach Trubisky. The signings of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton all immensely improved the QB’s pass-catching targets. The Bears used two second-round picks on offense, receiver Anthony Miller, who has a chance to earn a big role, and guard James Daniels.

 

During Trubisky’s rookie campaign, not only was Chicago’s offense poorly equipped to buffer a young signal-caller, it was mind-numbingly uncreative, conservative, and didn’t cater to the QB’s skill set. For example, Trubisky conducted almost all his college plays out of the shotgun. During Trubisky’s rookie season, the Bears ran 50 percent of their snaps from the formation last season, 13 percent below league average, per Warren Sharp.

 

According to Bears guard Kyle Long, who joined NFL Network’s NFL Total Access on Thursday, the offense will no longer keep Trubisky in shackles.

 

“I’d say they took his training wheels off this spring,” Long said. “I can only envision a 3-year-old Mitch Trubisky riding around on training wheels being pissed off because he wants to go over the jumps and he wants to do all the tricks like the big kids are doing. Because that’s who Mitch is. He’s a kid, but he can roll with the big guys. That’s when he’s going to do this (season), and be able to have some freedom and creativity. We really respect that about coach Nagy. He’s really letting (Trubisky) fly his freak flag.”

 

During his flashes as a rookie, Trubisky displayed plus accuracy and athleticism. His struggles came in reading the defense, reacting to pressure, and getting help from his pass-catchers. With an overhauled offense and a creative mind in Nagy, Trubisky’s true burgeoning potential should be on display during his sophomore season.

 

The optimism surrounding the Bears this offseason emanates from Halas Hall all the way down to Michigan Ave., out to Oak Park, cascades towards Bourbonnais and pours to the rest of state of Illinois.

 

“For the first time in my career I feel like we really have a shot to make a run at things,” Long said entering his sixth NFL season. “All you can do is take it one day at a time. We’re really lucky to have a guy like Mitch Trubisky there, the offensive captain, and somebody the entire team looks up to and has faith in. The addition of Matt Nagy and his offensive prowess is going to be really huge for us. Ryan Pace has done a great job bringing guys in. And, obviously, Vic Fangio being able to retain him on the defensive side of the ball has been great for us.”

 

 

DETROIT

Marc Sessler of NFL.com looks at the Lions and sees a playoff team:

 

1) Matthew Stafford operating at peak levels

By now, you get the picture: We’re cycling our way through the entire league and attempting to piece together reasons why even the shoddiest of teams will make the playoffs. It’s an exercise that ebbs and flows in terms of believability, but the Lions — typically on the outside looking in — have a new coach, a new identity and a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford.

 

The Lions are bound to operate as a more balanced offense under Matt Patricia, but the first-year head coach was wise to retain play-caller Jim Bob Cooter. Detroit’s creative coordinator has managed to maximize Stafford over the past two-plus seasons. Stafford’s completion percentage totals since 2015 are the best of his career, while his 10 picks in each of the past two campaigns are also career bests. Same goes with last year’s 7.9 yards per attempt, but forget the numbers: Stafford has played with more confidence and has seen the field better under Cooter.

 

He was one of the league’s more frustrating signal-callers for years on end, but the Stafford we saw last season finished as the NFL’s sixth-most valuable fantasy arm and looked the part in real life. He can make every throw on the field and has a better cast around him than in years past. It’s understandable if fans have typecast Stafford as a somewhat blasé presence, but here’s what he really is: a top-10 quarterback zooming into September. With Jim Bob still dialing up the calls, I see a passer ready to deliver his finest season yet.

 

2) A legitimate offensive line

Stafford’s potential for 2018 feeds off an improved offensive line. First-rounder Frank Ragnow is a plug-and-play starter at left guard who saw his draft stock rise after analysts perused his tape. Left tackle Taylor Decker — another first-rounder — should bounce back after missing the first half of last season due to shoulder surgery. Center Graham Glasgow and right guard T.J. Lang are solid, while Ricky Wagner is a top-five right tackle.

 

Here’s where we pour one out for Bob Quinn, the Lions general manager who acquired all five of these starters over the past three offseasons. The line was a major issue during much of Stafford’s career, but Quinn prioritized the front five and rapidly compiled a unit of athletic blockers tasked with opening up the offense — which brings us to our next point.

 

3) At last, a juicy backfield

The Detroit ground game has been an area of concern for a billion sunsets. The Lions finished dead last in rushing a year ago with a league-worst 3.4 yards per carry. In the three previous seasons, they finished 30th, 32nd and 28th, a crystal-clear indicator of a team lacking any sort of identity when it comes to pounding the ball. The result? Stafford having to do everything alone for a team that often played from behind and struggled to keep leads.

 

Patricia and Quinn reimagined the roster this offseason, trading up in the second round to draft Kerryon Johnson, who impressed the team enough this spring to be called a “three-down player” by running backs coach David Walker. The Lions also signed hammer-back LeGarrette Blount, whom Patricia knows well from New England. Blount and third-down asset Theo Riddick make this a committee backfield, which might drive fantasy owners nuts but worked well enough for the Eagles a year ago.

 

There’s excellent depth here, too, with Ameer Abdullah and Dwayne Washington suddenly part of a crowded house. The potential exists for a much-improved ground game, something Stafford hasn’t enjoyed in eons.

 

4) Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay

Detroit’s 980 offensive snaps last season topped only four other teams. Their inability to string together clock-chewing drives points back to that lack of balance we mentioned above. The Lions have been a pass-heavy team as a result, which comes with its share of hazards.

 

If the backfield clicks, though, Detroit has a reliable stable of pass catchers when it’s time to wing it. Golden Tate has produced four straight seasons of 90-plus grabs for the Lions, while showing himself to be a dangerous after-the-catch performer. Marvin Jones zapped defenses for nine touchdowns last season and finished ninth league-wide with 1,101 yards through the air.

 

Kenny Golladay is coming off an impressive rookie season. He popped on tape and showed moments of power down the stretch after returning from a hamstring injury. His 6-foot-4, 213-pound frame makes him a headache for smaller cover men. There’s a chance Golladay will someday be the finest of the group, but he’s No. 3 for now inside an offense that might use fewer three-wide sets. If any of these receivers miss time, T.J. Jones is ready to step in.

 

5) Matt Patricia

Under ex-coaches Jim Caldwell and Jim Schwartz, the Lions floated on the outskirts of NFL relevance. The fan base has endured more than its share of losing, with older followers wondering if Detroit will ever win a Super Bowl before they pass from the planet.

 

It’s been a struggle to point to the Lions and say: Yes, this is their identity. They’ve lacked anything of the sort, but Patricia brings hope. The NFC North, in general, is a more exciting division with Patricia and new Bears coach Matt Nagy at the helm.

 

Detroit’s defense lacks star power and depth, but Patricia is a brainy, charismatic leader who specializes in making the most of his players. Learning for years under gridiron demigod Bill Belichick, Patricia is also paired with a general manager he knows and trusts in Quinn. Ownership is patient in Detroit. All of this matters to a first-year coach who might need some time to make this team sing — but has a shot to author a turnaround in 2018.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Interesting comments from former Giants coach Ben McAdoo regarding WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.  Pat Leonard in the New York Daily News:

 

Ben McAdoo regrets not being a better coach for Odell Beckham Jr.

 

McAdoo, fired in December during his second season as Giants coach after benching Eli Manning for Geno Smith in Oakland, admits in Peter King’s debut Monday morning column for NBCSports.com he “needed to be better for (Beckham) personally, as a coordinator and head coach.”

 

“I was too busy trying to scheme ways to get him the ball, especially early in my time in New York, that I didn’t step back and see the big picture the way I should have,” McAdoo says in an advance excerpt released by NBC ahead of the column’s debut next Monday.

 

It seems, then, that McAdoo in his time off finally has recognized how his enabling of Beckham’s counterproductive behavior impacted his ability to discipline the rest of the team and establish himself as a respected authority. It was only one of many factors in his quick firing, but was certainly a significant part of why his brief tenure went south.

 

McAdoo entered 2016 as a rookie head coach seemingly prepared not to repeat Tom Coughlin’s mistakes, saying after Beckham’s Week 3 fight with the kicking net Beckham has to “control his emotions better and become less of a distraction.”

 

But the head coach quickly reversed course and backed off of Beckham, making excuses for the infamous Boat Trip, leaving it to Jerry Reese, of all people, to say Beckham had to “grow up” and forcing John Mara to announce the organization was “very unhappy” with Beckham pretending to pee like a dog in Philadelphia last season.

 

When McAdoo did decide to discipline players, beginning with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s suspension in Week 6, his inconsistent enforcement affected his authority and caused him to lose a significant portion of the locker room.

 

More broadly, McAdoo seems to be acknowledging he had his head too much in X’s and O’s and wasn’t in touch enough with some players as people. And he also seems to recognize that how a head coach handles his team’s best player has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster.

 

Of course, the money question for McAdoo is his true feelings about being fired after benching Manning. But given that McAdoo’s interview is the first in a weekly King series titled “What I’ve Learned,” we’re guessing this first installment will be a long one.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON is the Sensei of Nicknames.  David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

It’s one thing to have a great nickname. It’s another to give great nicknames.

 

So when ESPN.com asked NFL Nation reporters to come up with the best nickname on the team they cover, it was a slam dunk that the honor for the Carolina Panthers went to quarterback Cam Newton, the self-proclaimed “Sensei of Nicknames.”

 

Newton made his title known partly out of necessity in 2014 when apologizing for referring to then-Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as “Donkey Kong Suh.”

 

“If anything, I was trying to say it as a compliment of him for wreaking havoc,” Newton said at the time. “Me going forward, I should have called him ‘Wreck-it Ralph.'”

 

It was during this apology that Newton said, “I just call myself the ‘Sensei of Nicknames.'”

 

He then rattled off a dozen or more from that Carolina team. Then-fullback Mike Tolbert had more nicknames — Tub of Goo, Tub of Mayonnaise, Plate of Paste, Chunky Soup, Toldozer, Fat Boy, Bowling Ball — than anybody because of his 5-foot-9, 250-pound physique.

 

Tolbert wasn’t offended. Carolina players just roll with whatever nickname Newton gives them.

 

“Cam’s weird. A good weird, though,” defensive end Mario Addison said. “He’s given me so many nicknames, I don’t know which one he really calls me by. He’ll say Rio, Super Mario — everything. Cam, man, I guess it’s what he’s feeling like that day which one you’re going to get.”

 

Newton gave himself the nickname “Ace Boogie” when he initially came into the league. He also considers himself the “Sensei of Swag,” for obvious reasons, if you’ve seen his sometimes out-there wardrobe.

 

Center Ryan Kalil said the nicknames show “what an incredible mind he has.

 

“I couldn’t come up with half the things he comes up with,” Kalil said. “A lot of them are more clever than people realize. There are a lot of them that are inside jokes that can’t leave the locker room that are really funny.

 

“He’s sharp that way. His mind goes 100 miles an hour.”

 

Not all nicknames are public knowledge. Kalil’s is one of them.

 

“He says it a lot to me,” Kalil said. “But it’s a quarterback-center bond thing. I can’t break that trust and tell you what it is.”

 

Garrett Gilbert, the front-runner to be Newton’s backup, is amazed by the depth of some of Newton’s nicknames.

 

“Depth is a good word,” he said. “They are extremely creative. Sometimes they take a while to craft. Sometimes it hits him the first day when a player comes on the field. But they are definitely, without a doubt, very creative.”

 

Gilbert’s nickname is a prime example, although Newton gets an assist from wide receiver Brenton Bersin on this one. Gilbert is called Glanch, after Matt Blanchard, who was on the Carolina practice squad in 2013-14.

 

“Cam heard it and took off with it,” Gilbert said.

 

Most of the nicknames Newton comes up with on his own. Some are obvious. Some not so much.

 

He dubbed former defensive coordinator Steve Wilks “Denzel” because the now-Arizona Cardinals coach reminded him of the actor Denzel Washington. He called former Carolina wide receiver Willie Snead (now with the Ravens) “Honeycomb” because of the blond-dyed tips to his hair that reminded him of the cereal.

 

Cam’s best creations

Many new nicknames are sure to come from the current roster during training camp, which begins on July 26. Here are some that are already out there:

 

Bud Light (WR Damiere Byrd): The Panthers had two players named Byrd on the roster in 2016, so Newton labeled Damiere “Bud Light” because he’s 5-foot-9 as opposed to the 6-4 LaRon Byrd.

 

Blistex (TE Chris Manhertz): Manhertz made the mistake of telling Newton he gets blisters on his feet in practice.

 

Bucky (OL Tyler Larsen): You have to dig deep to figure this one out. Larsen apparently reminds Newton of Bucky Larson from the comedy “Born to be a Star.”

 

Captain America (LB Luke Kuechly): The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is the All-American do-good super hero for the Panthers.

 

C-Mac (RB Christian McCaffrey): No explanation needed.

 

Clutchery (WR assistant coach Jericho Cotchery): Cotchery was Newton’s clutch receiver during the Panthers’ 2015 run to Super Bowl 50.

 

Frazier (DE Julius Peppers): This is after former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, whose punch was as lethal as the hits the future Hall of Famer Peppers makes on quarterbacks.

 

Fun or Fun-Fun (WR Devin Funchess): Funchess always is smiling and likes to have fun, so this one is self-explanatory.

 

Kirko (WR Curtis Samuel): Newton originally gave this to safety Kurt Coleman, but after Coleman was released Samuel inherited it. Newton also called Coleman “Bishop.”

 

KK (DT Kawann Short): Not so much a Newton original since everyone calls Short this.

 

Lil Cap (CB Captain Munnerlyn): At 5-9, Munnerlyn is one of the smallest players on the team.

 

Mayor of Charlotte (LB Thomas Davis): The then-real mayor of Charlotte gave Davis the key to the city in 2015 for his leadership role in the community.

 

Major James (CB James Bradberry): Something to do with Bradberry being bald. Deep.

 

Old School (SS Mike Adams): He is old (37) in NFL years. He also likes to listen to what Newton would call old-school music.

 

Super Mario (Mario Addison): Again, no real explanation needed for the player who has been Carolina’s sack leader the past couple of seasons.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

It might be good legal strategy to refuse a breathalyzer test, but it’s not a good idea in the court of public opinion which can sway NFL Justice.  Trisha Hendricks of 12news.com has seen the arrest of Cardinals GM Steve Keim:

 

The Chandler Police Department released body camera footage Wednesday of Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim’s July 4 arrest for DUI.

 

The video gives a better idea of what happened that night.

 

It begins with an officer following Keim through the streets of Chandler. Police say he swerved, sped and nearly ran into a curb while making a turn.

 

Eventually officers pulled him over and that’s when he told officers he had drank two beers that night.

 

During the stop, police say he refused part of the field sobriety test, claiming he had a bad knee. He also refused a breath test.

 

Officers then arrested him for DUI and later conducted a blood test in a mobile command center.

 

The following is part of what you hear in the newly released body camera video:

 

Officer: “How much have you had to drink tonight?”

 

Keim: “Two beers.”

 

Officer: “Two beers? How long ago?”

 

Keim: “Um probably like 10:30-11.”

 

Officer: “What I’m gonna have you do, is blow into this. It’s not admissible in court, it just verifies what I’m already seeing.”

 

Keim: “Um, I’m not gonna do that.”

 

Officer: “Okay, that’s fine, go ahead and get your hands out of your pockets. Right now, you are under arrest for DUI.”

 

Chandler PD has not released the results of Keim’s blood test.

 

Since Keim’s DUI arrest, Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill has spoken out, saying there will be consequences.

 

Keim has apologized for what he called “incredibly poor judgment.”

 

On the other hand, the story about Keim calling himself the Director of Security for the team was Fake News.

 

The officer who spoke with Cardinals general manager Steve Keim when he was pulled over on July 4 on suspicion of DUI misunderstood Keim, the Chandler Police Department said Wednesday.

 

Keim did not misidentify himself as the team’s director of security, according to a police spokesman. The reporting officer believed that’s what Keim said and documented it in the initial police report, according to the police spokesman. After watching body-cam footage of the stop, police determined that Keim said a person named Sean Mackenzie was the team’s director of security. While there’s no one on the Cardinals by that name, their current vice president of security is Shawn Kinsey. The team’s director of security is named Kristi Johnson.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

QB CASE KEENUM is thrilled that John Elway wanted him.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Case Keenum was never a highly sought commodity in his NFL career. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent, has been cut twice, once got traded for a seventh-round draft pick, and finally became a starter last year because two other quarterbacks were hurt.

 

So when Keenum became a free agent this offseason and a Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway wanted to make him the Broncos’ starter, he finally felt like he’d made it.

 

“When my phone rang and it was John Elway telling me to come sign with the Broncos, it feels pretty good, especially as a kid growing up an Elway fan,” Keenum said on Sirius XM NFL Radio, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic. “We actually talked first when I got to Denver. It was great. Walking into his office there and it’s John Elway behind the desk. It’s Big John. He’s definitely a presence, obviously one of the greats that ever played the game. There’s a lot of tradition and history there, and a lot of it is because of him. It’s a cool atmosphere, a cool organization, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

 

The last time Elway signed a free agent to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback, he hit a home run with Peyton Manning. It may not be realistic to think Keenum can have that kind of success in Denver, but Elway is confident he’s found the right man again — and Keenum appreciates a Hall of Famer having confidence in him.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

According to former NFL WR Steve Smith, Sr., if you love QB DESHAUN WATSON of the Texans, you’ll also love QB LAMAR JACKSON.  Katherine Fominykh in the Baltimore Sun:

 

Since rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson’s college days at Louisville, comparisons to Michael Vick have flown around like debris in heavy wind — including from Vick himself.

 

But that’s not the best parallel for everyone.

 

On Tuesday, former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. likened Jackson to 22-year-old Houston Texas quarterback Deshaun Watson.

 

Watson, 22, heading into his second season, leans more heavily on his arm. He had 19 passing touchdowns in seven games (six starts) before his rookie season ended because of an ACL tear. Jackson is well-known for his quick feet as much as his throwing game, and was even scouted by the Los Angeles Chargers as a potential wide receiver.

 

But it wasn’t so much their play style as their attitude that drew a link in Smith’s mind.

 

“[Jackson], he’s willing to hone in his craft and improve on whatever deficiencies he has, kind of like Deshaun Watson did when he was at Clemson,” Smith said on NFL Network. “Every year they said he needed to be more pocket-present. That’s what he did. Be more accurate. That’s what he’s become.”

 

Even though Smith agrees Joe Flacco will start for the Ravens, he views Jackson as a player who, when he takes the helm, will be an impactful organizational centerpiece.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Another good deed from DE J.J. WATT who comes from a family of firefighters.  The AP story misses the connection:

 

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has donated $10,000 to help the family of a Wisconsin firefighter killed in an explosion.

 

A natural gas leak in downtown Sun Prairie led to an explosion Tuesday evening that claimed the life of Sun Prairie Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr. He leaves behind a wife and 3-year-old twin daughters.

 

Kate Cichy, a spokeswoman for GoFundMe, said in a news release Wednesday evening that Watt has donated $10,000 to the GoFundMe for Barr’s family. She added that the Sun Prairie community has already raised nearly $70,000 for the family.

 

Watt was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and played college football at Wisconsin. He has been selected to four NFL Pro Bowls.

 

This from back Rana Cash in 2014 in The Sporting News:

 

The Texans’ defensive end provides endless entertainment with his jaw-dropping athletic ability. And tell the truth, you’ve started dancing along with him during the commercial with him at the prom. It doesn’t end there, though.

 

Watt bought pizzas for lunch for the Houston area firefighters and policemen on Tuesday, his way of thanking them for their service. The Papa John’s delivery came with a handwritten note from Watt:

 

@ELobpries

 Pizza delivered to our fire station thanks to @JJWatt. Thanks for your support and the delicious lunch!  #PapaJohns

 

I just wanted to send y’all a small token of my appreciation for everything you do. My Dad and Uncle were both firefighters, so I spent a lot of time around the firehouse when I was younger and gained a great deal of respect for both firefighters and the police [force] along the way.

 

Y’all show up day in and day out, never knowing what the day might hold and never getting enough thanks for what you do, yet you continue to put others before yourselves and save lives because of it.

 

As athletes, we often get the headlines and big crowds, but just like the men and women in our military, y’all are the ones who truly deserve the credit, appreciation and admiration. I know it’s not much, but please enjoy lunch on me today. Thank you for all that you do!

 

JJ Watt 99

 

There are a lot of reasons to be dismayed by some of things we see athletes do. There’s enough negativity to go around. It’s refreshing to come across stories like these.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

QB BLAKE BORTLES states the obvious – the Jaguars are a known commodity.  NFL.com:

 

The Jacksonville Jaguars were on the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2017, and are a trendy offseason pick to displace the Patriots as the AFC champs.

 

Tony Romo got the ball rolling this week predicting the Jags to make the Super Bowl. He won’t be the last person who looks at Jacksonville’s roster and sees a championship contender.

 

Blake Bortles joined NFL Network’s NFL Total Access on Thursday and admitted that the Jags know they won’t sneak up on anyone this season.

 

“I think last year we kind of caught some teams by surprise — if that’s possible in the NFL,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something that’s going to happen this year. The way we play, as good as our defense was, I think we’re definitely a bit on people’s radar now as far as a team that’s headed in the right direction and a team to be taken seriously. I think we’re going to get everybody’s best shot, which you do week-in and week-out in the NFL, regardless, but I think we’ll definitely get that. And the AFC South is going to be tough, and you know it’s our goal every year to win that.”

 

Taking a question from Mike Tiscione, who runs the Bortles-themed Twitter account @BortlesFacts, the Jags QB noted that the experience from the 2017 run will be instructive in making the next step.

 

“The experience we got, playing in a playoff game — a home playoff game for the first time in a decade in Jacksonville — being able to win. Kind of an ugly win, but it was a win at home in front of our home fans and first playoff game in a long time,” he said. “Then go up to Pittsburgh, in a hostile environment, (against) a good organization, (with) tradition, that is extremely good. And to go in there and beat them for the second time. Then to go to Foxboro. I think it’s just a bunch of experiences that we can draw from as a team throughout. I think it also gave us a bit of a taste of where we want to go every year and how much further we want to go.”

 

The biggest question mark for the Jags heading into the season is whether Bortles will improve upon his 2017 season, regress, or remain an enigmatic riddle. The 26-year-old said he hears the criticism of his play but doesn’t let that bother him on the field.

 

“There’s times when I deserve it,” Bortles said of the criticism. “And I don’t have a problem admitting that I didn’t play good. And I don’t have a problem with people critiquing me when I don’t play good. It’s just never really bothered me. I love going to work every day. I love playing football, and the locker room, so why let something affect me that I have no control over?”

 

If the good version of Bortles shows up regularly for the Jags in 2018, a deep playoff run is on the horizon in Duval.

 

 

TENNESSEE

RB DERRICK HENRY now sits atop the Titans depth chart at running back.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Titans made a change at running back this offseason, saying goodbye to DeMarco Murray and signing Dion Lewis. But it’s holdover Derrick Henry who’s expected to be the starter.

 

That’s the word from Jim Wyatt of the team’s website, who reports that Henry is viewed as the lead back.

 

Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has referred to Henry and Lewis as 1A and 1 B. It seems likely that Henry will get more carries while Lewis gets more playing time on passing downs.

 

Last year Henry had 176 carries for 744 yards while splitting duties with Murray, and Lewis led the Patriots with 180 carries for 896 yards. The Titans would love to have both players maintain that level of production.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Andrew Marchand of the New York Post has been told by someone who saw FOX’s broadcast schedule for the first eight games that Jeff Fisher is slated to do one.  He will work with Dan Hellie in Week 4 on the Jets at Jaguars tilt.

 

 

T.O. GETS NO SHOW

The Hall of Fame has opted to act like Terrell Owens does not exist.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is not impressed:

 

The Hall of Fame will be fighting petty with petty.

 

Apparently miffed that receiver Terrell Owens has decided not to attend the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, Owens will get minimal attention as he officials enters the Hall of Fame.

 

As explained by Hall of Fame voter Clark Judge (in an article that makes his feelings on the matter abundantly clear), the Hall of Fame will not announce Owens’ name during the Friday night gold jacket ceremony or during Saturday night’s enshrinement.

 

“The focus is on the guys who are here,” Hall of Fame executive director Joe Horrigan told Judge.

 

Of course, that same reasoning would apply to new Hall of Famers who are inducted posthumously (and that attitude partially exists when it comes to induction speeches and Hall of Fame jackets and rings). But this isn’t about Hall of Famers being available to attend; it’s about one of them having the perceived audacity to choose not to attend. In obvious retaliation for Owens’ choosing not to be there, the Hall of Fame is acting like he doesn’t exist.

 

Sure, he’ll get his jacket in the mail. And, yes, he’ll be mentioned when references are made to the entire class. Beyond that, nothing.

 

“There’s no reason to bring him up as an individual,” said Horrigan. “He’s not here.”

 

Judge responds to that sentiment by saying, “Bingo.” I’d use a different word that starts with B.

 

This was the opportunity for the Hall of Fame to take the high road, to acknowledge Owens by name, to display a video of the achievements that earned him a spot in Canton. Instead, the proprietors of the museum have decided to mimic the scattered members of the Selection Committee who have a bug up their butts because T.O. won’t take his seat alongside the rest of the class.

 

The enshrinement festivities are (or at least should be) about celebrating the greatness that earned the player a permanent place in the Hall of Fame. It shouldn’t be about settling scores or acting on vendettas or engaging in tit-for-tat exchanges. The Hall of Fame is (or at least should be) better than that.

 

Clearly, it’s not. But we already knew that, given the manner in which specific members of the Selection Committee opted to justify the decision to omit T.O. on his first and second try not by explaining that there are too many worthy finalists and most need to wait a bit but by trashing him so viciously that it made some say, “Why are you even considering him?”

 

But they did consider him. And they did enshrine him. And even if they don’t like the fact that he’s exercising his right not to show up and display appropriate gratitude and deference to the custodians of the museum, he should at least be mentioned individually, and his bust should be unveiled in front of everyone in attendance.

 

With so many owners and other persons of influence on the Hall of Fame’s board of trustees, here’s hoping one of these grown-ups makes a grown-up decision.

 

But Owens is trying to make nice to his fellow members of the Class of 2018.  TheRedZone.org:

 

The cold war battle between Terrell Owens and the Hall of Fame presses on, but the former receiver made it clear his bitterness doesn’t extend towards his fellow inductees.

 

On Thursday, Owens tweeted a video of personalized shoes he’s sending to the 2018 Hall of Fame class.

 

@terrellowens

 Bout to send these to my fellow 2018 HOFers. Thanks to my guy on IG: @inkyourshoes for getting these done for me for my guys! Much love. #HOF @RandyMoss @raylewis @BrianDawkins @BUrlacher54 @JerryKramer64GB #BobbyBeathard #RobertBrazile @ProFootballHOF

 

7:08 PM – Jul 12, 2018 · Los Angeles, CA

 

Man, Bobby Beathard is going to rock those kicks hard.

 

The gesture from T.O. comes the day after one Hall of Fame executive said Owens would not be mentioned individually during the ceremony on Aug. 4.

 

 

FIRST ROUND SLEEPERS FOR 2019

Chris Trepasso of CBSSports.com has some folks who might rise into the first round in 2019:

 

Every year a handful of players totally off the first-round radar before the season ultimately become Round 1 selections. And they’re not always from obscure small schools.

 

In 2018, UTSA’s Marcus Davenport, UCLA’s Kolton Miller, Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch, Maryland’s D.J. Moore, and UCF’s Mike Hughes parlayed huge final seasons at the collegiate level to hearing their names called among the first 32 picks.

 

Here are some dark horse prospects who very well may ascend into the first round of the 2019 draft.

 

Stanley Morgan Jr., WR, Nebraska

Morgan Jr. was the Huskers’ prime downfield target last season because of his deceptive long speed, impossible-to-miss strong hands and plus tracking ability. He had 61 grabs for 986 yards (16.2 yards per catch) with 10 touchdowns. Morgan Jr. made one-handed grabs look routine and played with noticeable power as a runner. He beat 2018 No. 4 overall selection Denzel Ward for a 17-yard touchdown against Ohio State and had receptions of 44, 46, 51 and 80 yards in 2017.

 

At around 6-feet-1 and close to 200 pounds with a chiseled frame, Morgan Jr. has decent size and should up his yards-after-the-catch production in Scott Frost’s wide-open offense this season, which will make him more of an appealing prospect for the increased prevalence of quick passing in today’s NFL. He reminds me of Packers star wideout Davante Adams.

 

Khaleke Hudson, S/LB, Michigan

Hudson will again be Michigan’s most multi-dimensional defender in 2018, as a blitzing coverage nickel linebacker/safety hybrid with sideline-to-sideline run-stopping ability. Last year for the Wolverines, Hudson had 77 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, two interceptions, a pair of forced fumbles and nine pass breakups. He attacks the ball-carrier with a no-nonsense suddenness and power packed into his 6-0, 205-pound frame. As a pass-rusher and when dealing with run-blocking offensive linemen, his urgency and springy athleticism allow him to consistently bounce off blockers to stay involved in the play.

 

Michigan lost superstar Maurice Hurst to the NFL but returns the vast majority of its starters from a season ago that was one of the most dominant in the country. The Wolverines allowed 30 touchdowns, and only 10 teams allowed fewer.

 

Defensive coordinator Don Brown proved to understand how to deploy Hudson to optimize his dynamic skill set, so the defender is primed for a huge, stat-sheet stuffing year in Ann Arbor. In short, he’s a more productive version of Jabrill Peppers who went in the first round of the 2017 draft and projects outstandingly to an NFL that’s increasingly becoming “positionless.”  

 

Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia

Based on his play in 2017, Cajuste looked like a mid-round selection, but he makes this list because of his rare athleticism at the left tackle position. Sleeper offensive linemen typically rise into the first round due to light feet or insane measureables. Cajuste fits the latter profile and has good size at 6-5 and 310-plus pounds. He didn’t always appear comfortable when he got to the second level last season, but he was quick getting there and had no issues flowing laterally on zone runs. Cajuste’s feet led to tremendous positioning in pass protection in 2017.

 

He’ll find himself in the spotlight as Will Grier’s left tackle in 2018 and with more assertiveness and anchoring strength, Cajuste’s natural athleticism could be the catalyst for the West Virginia blocker to receive first-round consideration in the 2019 draft. 

 

Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

The NFL has seemingly begun to gradually move away from prioritizing tall, jump-ball wide receivers early in the draft (see Courtland Sutton going in Round 2 in 2018), but Butler could be the exception as a freak athlete who stands 6-6 and over 220 pounds and poses a serious threat down the field. In his redshirt sophomore season, Butler reeled in 41 catches for 697 yards (17.0 yards per) with seven touchdowns. He showcased the ability to comfortably make grabs outside his frame, routinely tracked the ball well — typically using his immense size to his advantage — and was a load to take to the turf after the catch.

 

With Allen Lazard to the NFL — and don’t ask me how he went undrafted after his illustrious career and strong combine — Butler should be in line for the most targets of the Cyclones receiver group, although running back David Montgomery will be the offensive foundation.

 

After what should be another productive campaign in Ames and what will likely be an outstanding combine, Butler could be on the first-round radar for many teams.

 

Carl Granderson, EDGE, Wyoming

At 6-5 and almost 250-plus pounds, Granderson passes the eyeball test, and he was all over the field for Wyoming as a junior with 78 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. Many of his behind-the-line production was a byproduct of scary speed-to-power ability and bend and burst around the corner.

 

I won’t call him the next Marcus Davenport just yet, but if there’s a edge-rusher outside the Power 5 who could rise into Round 1 of the 2019 draft, it very well could be Granderson. His arms look long too, which will entice scouts and general managers. In 2017, he forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes.

 

The Cowboys quietly had one of college football’s stingiest defenses a season ago, and beyond Granderson, they have a pair of sure-fire NFLers in playmaking safety Andrew Wingard and penetrating defensive tackle Youhanna Ghaifan who had 15.5 tackles for loss last season. The attention he’ll draw inside will likely give Granderson more one-on-one opportunities on the outside.

 

 

BEST TRIPLETS

Dave Dameshyk of NFL.com with a summer exercise – what college has produced the best QB/RB/WR combo among current players:

 

As you may know, we annually like to focus on the offensive star power of the NFL’s 32 teams by ranking triplets (QB/RB/WR). As you may also know, many pro football players first played in college … which brings me to our first-ever top-10 ranking of NFL triplets by college. If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised more by the juggernauts that DIDN’T make it. Sorry, LSU, you need a QB. Tom Brady, you’re short a worthy RB or WR. Beyond Zeke Elliott, the Buckeyes are meh. Even without a viable RB, Fresno State is better off with Derek Carr and Davante Adams than all of the above. No Texas, no UCLA, no Penn State, no Miami, no Florida, no Oregon … Here are four triplets that JUST missed:

 

UCF: Blake Bortles/Latavius Murray/Brandon Marshall

TEXAS A&M: Ryan Tannehill/Christine Michael/Mike Evans

TEXAS TECH: Patrick Mahomes/DeAndre Washington/Michael Crabtree

LOUISVILLE: Teddy Bridgewater/Bilal Powell/DeVante Parker

 

10) Alabama: AJ McCarron (Bills), Mark Ingram (Saints), Julio Jones (Falcons)

The Freak at WR and the (when-healthy) dynamo at RB allow us to look past McCarron’s lack of success (which the Bills are hoping is only owed to his lack of opportunity) so far in the pros.

 

9) Oklahoma: Sam Bradford (Cardinals), Joe Mixon (Bengals), Sterling Shepard (Giants)

Don’t get too comfy, Sam: The Browns are Baking up a new recipe for success with another former Sooner … and they KNOW QBs. Look out for Mixon in his sophomore year.

 

8) USC: Sam Darnold (Jets), Buck Allen (Ravens), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers)

Going glass half-full on Darnold despite the chance he could sit for much of ’18. Look for Bucs rookie Ronald Jones to supplant Allen on our list by the end of September.

 

7) Utah: Alex Smith (Redskins), Devontae Booker (Broncos), Josh Gordon (Browns)

No need to explain the QB and WR (beyond Gordon being affiliated with Utah via the one season he sat out after transferring there from Baylor). But don’t close the book on Devontae. Going into Year 3, there’s still reason to hope for a breakout.

 

6) Clemson: Deshaun Watson (Texans), Wayne Gallman (Giants), DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)

Nuk ranks among the very best WRs on the planet. Watson was a phenom in that brief stint for which he was healthy last year. And then there’s a guy who hopes he can make the Giants’ 2018 roster.

 

5) Michigan State: Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Le’Veon Bell (Steelers), Bennie Fowler (Bears)

Two high-priced guys … and a guy named Bennie. There was a time Sparty was known for producing quality NFL wideouts. That time is, optimistically, on sabbatical.

 

4) Florida State: Jameis Winston (Bucs), Devonta Freeman (Falcons), Kelvin Benjamin (Bills)

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook could find his way past Freeman here, while Famous Jameis faces a massive 13 games when he returns from suspension.

 

3) Stanford: Andrew Luck (Colts), Christian McCaffrey (Panthers), Doug Baldwin (Seahawks)

A feel-good comeback story for Luck could vault this trio — which includes an under-appreciated WR in Baldwin — to the top spot.

 

2) Cal: Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Marshawn Lynch (Raiders), Keenan Allen (Chargers)

The NFL’s best QB and, yes, ANOTHER seriously under-appreciated WR fall just short of No. 1 because of their no-longer-dominant RB.

 

1) Georgia: Matt Stafford (Lions), Todd Gurley (Rams), A.J. Green (Bengals)

What’s remarkable about the Dawgs’ skill-position talent base: Their “classic” trio of Fran Tarkenton, Herschel Walker and Hines Ward will be up there if and when we rank all-time college trios.