The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 24, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Gary Myers in the New York Daily News, with the best player on his Giants ailing, comes out for a version of the DB’s 17-game plan.
The preseason games must go.
Roger Goodell has said many times over the last few weeks that he wants to cut the preseason from four games down to three and eventually to two.
That’s not going far enough. It’s more important to get to September healthy than giving the first-team offenses and defenses 10 series or so when they play in the second and third games. The NFL season is a marathon and a game of attrition and changes need to happen to try to make sure the stars have a better chance to stay healthy.
Here’s my plan:
Seventeen regular season games.
Each team gets two byes.
The Super Bowl gets pushed back two weeks to President’s Day weekend, officially making the game a national holiday.
This has nothing to do with the games being so unwatchable. It has everything to do with Odell Beckham Jr., taking a clean but unnecessary hit to his lower leg Monday night in Cleveland, staying down, jogging to the locker room and then curling up in the fetal position in the corridor outside the locker room as the Giants dream of a Super Bowl was — for a couple of minutes — being dumped into Lake Erie.
OBJ added to the drama by going down on all fours in the corridor with what was later diagnosed as a sprained left ankle and thankfully not a torn ACL. But with an ESPN report that he could miss the first two games of the season against the NFC East champion Cowboys and the Lions, who were a wild-card team last year, it’s just further proof that these practice games are counterproductive and need to be eliminated.
Football is a violent high-speed collision sport. Even though Goodell has put through 47 rule changes over the years to make the game safer, especially with the concussion crisis, there is no avoiding injury. It’s like walking across the Sprain Brook Parkway at rush hour and expecting not to get hit.
It makes little sense to have established stars playing it safe on the same field with young wannabes going all out to make some noise and earn a spot.
It makes it even worse when the injuries come in games that are meaningless. This is not a new phenomenon.
The Giants are playing the Jets on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium in another thrilling installment of the Snoopy Bowl. The third game is when the starters are still in until midway through the third quarter. It is the dress rehearsal for the opener. And because of the rivalry, the hits are a little harder.
Just look at some of the injuries in previous Jets-Giants games:
Remember Eli Manning getting his head bashed open dripping blood against the Jets in 2010? How about Mark Sanchez’s Jets career ending with a throwing shoulder injury in the Snoopy Bowl in 2013? Or Jason Sehorn tearing his ACL returning a kickoff in 1998. Or Chad Pennington fracturing his wrist in 2003. Or Osi Umenyiora suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2008.
Roger Goodell: NFL fans should try to understand anthem protests
Who needs this?
So, here are the issues in cutting back the preseason:
Getting teams ready: Instead of preseason games, every team can schedule practice against other teams to increase the intensity level and gives coaches a chance to evaluate their players against other teams in a controlled environment. Red jerseys for the QBs. Not full-speed hitting. This summer, the Patriots practiced against the Jaguars and Texans before playing them in preseason games. They practiced against the Saints in 2015 and 2016. The Jets and Giants have not practiced against other teams for years. When they practiced against each other in 2005 in Albany, it turned into a backyard brawl.
Would it hurt offenses getting in sync and defenses learning to play with each other? Probably a little bit. But scrimmages run by the coaches are safer and can provide the same kind of work.
My guess is going into the preseason games, teams already know 48 of the 53 players who will make the final roster. Just use practices and scrimmages to evaluate the final five spots.
Revenue: Okay, I think a $14 billion-a-year industry can survive the loss of ticket revenue and TV money it receives for four preseason games, especially with many teams no longer forcing fans to pay regular season ticket prices.
The money can be made up by adding the 17th game. Season ticket holders would rather pay for a ninth home game every other year than for two home preseason games every summer. I would think the networks would prefer their inventory include an extra week of regular season games rather than the couple of preseason games they televise.
The league would have to pay the players for 17 games instead of 16 when they get paid a nominal amount in the preseason. This would potentially result in less revenue for the billionaire owners, but the value of the franchises could increase, and really, how much money do they really need? And Goodell has a great track record when it comes to finding a way to make billionaires even richer.
Injuries: Would the 17th game just provide another opportunity for players to get hurt? Starters usually played a little less than four quarterbacks in the preseason: Just over a quarter in the second week and a little more than two quarters in the third week. Coaches play the young guys in weeks one and four. Adding a 17th game in the regular season would be about the same playing time as they are getting in the preseason.
The NFLPA: Goodell can reduce the preseason without the union’s approval but can’t increase the regular season without them signing off. The union was adamant it would not accept Goodell’s plan of an 18-game season when the last CBA was negotiated in 2011, but eliminating four preseason games, adding one in the regular season, and scheduling in a second bye should address their concerns.
The Super Bowl: The league has been trying to get the game to President’s Day weekend for years. Most people are off that Monday, so with no work the next day, the Super Bowl would become even more of a celebration.
The idea is to make the game better and safer and to avoid seasons drowning in Lake Erie.
We feel the 17th game should be an international game or special neutral site contest, not a 9th home game for half the teams each year. We could live with two preseason games, but Myers’ zero is fine.
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Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report scans the 32 rosters and comes up with some big names who might get cut. We did some editing below, the whole thing is here.
It’s dress rehearsal time!
This week, 32 teams across the NFL will compete in their most important preseason game. Starters will see their most playing time of the preseason by far. It’s also the last, best opportunity many veterans will have to remove themselves from the roster bubble and secure a roster spot for 2017.
Yes, there’s still a final preseason game to be played next week. But the vast majority of players who take the field for that game will no longer be members of an NFL team by Sept. 2.
When that fateful day arrives, it won’t just be journeymen and youngsters who receive their walking papers. As is the case each year, a number of recognizable veteran names will be among the released players.
In 2016, tailback Justin Forsett, offensive guard Josh Sitton and cornerback Dee Milliner wound up on the outside looking in with their respective teams.
In 2017, the following players find themselves on the thinnest of ice as cutdown day looms.
The following veterans are also in jeopardy, even if they don’t have the highest of profiles.
Branden Bolden, RB, New England Patriots
Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin already suggested Coates and Justin Hunter are fighting for the team’s last wide receiver spot
Cody Latimer, WR, Denver Broncos
Latimer was once a second-round pick.
Geno Smith, QB, New York Giants
Geno Smith’s second preseason game against the Cleveland Browns was a perfect microcosm for why he may not make the team. For most of the evening it looked like he had the backup job sewn up…right up until he threw a back-breaking interception near the goal line.
Sean Spence, ILB, Indianapolis Colts
And now the 10 biggest names –
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Two years ago, Blake Bortles finished second in the NFL in touchdown passes. His star appeared to be on the rise. But after a substantial backslide in 2016, Bortles entered the 2017 campaign under a ton of pressure to rebound.
So far, no dice.
The fourth-year signal-caller and former top-10 pick has looked awful both in training camp and preseason action. Many pundits have already begun calling for Jacksonville to sit Bortles, if not release him outright.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Cleveland Browns
It’s rare to find a quarterback who could either win a starting job or be cut over the next few weeks.
Welcome to the world of Brock Osweiler.
DeAngelo Hall, DB, Washington Redskins
Over a 13-year career with the Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins, DeAngelo Hall has intercepted 43 passes, scored 10 touchdowns and been named to three Pro Bowls. But at 33, he is nearing the end of the line.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Denver Broncos
Like Hall, Denver Broncos tailback Jamaal Charles has been exceptional throughout his nine-year NFL career. The 30-year-old has gained over 7,000 career rushing yards, made four Pro Bowls and holds the NFL record for career rushing average among running backs at 5.5 yards per carry.
But after knee injuries wiped out each of his last two seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs let him go this offseason. As cutdown day gets closer, Charles still hasn’t had the opportunity to show the Broncos he isn’t finished.
Charles told Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself to his new team by playing in the preseason.
“I don’t think I have to prove anything,” he said. “… People know what I can do. I feel confident. Whatever Coach Vance [Joseph] and the trainers say, that’s their direction. I’m just out here every day just getting healthy and getting my craft ready and preparing to play whenever.”
However, Denver’s head coach said the team “probably” needs to see Charles on the field before making a decision on his future with the club, per Kosmider.
This week, Charles will get his shot. Per Kevin Patra of NFL.com, he will play against the Green Bay Packers in a game where the starters will be on the field for most of the first half…at least.
Joseph said Charles will play “a lot,” per Patra. He also stated Charles will not play in the finale, so this is it.
It’s time for Charles to put up or shut up.
Sheldon Richardson, DE, New York Jets
Sheldon Richardson is a Pro Bowl-caliber edge-rusher when he’s on his game. He wasn’t on his game last year, however.
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As with most of the bigger names featured here, the Jets aren’t necessarily likely to show Richardson the door outright. It would make more sense to let him play out the season and re-up him at the expense of releasing Muhammad Wilkerson if need be.
But when’s the last time the Jets did something that made sense?
Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears
Kyle Fuller is an abject lesson in how quickly things can change in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears selected Fuller with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. In his rookie year, he showed a nose for making big plays, compiling four interceptions and three forced fumbles over 14 starts.
That first year was also easily the high point of Fuller’s career.
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Fuller has been OK over the Bears’ first two preseason games, but little more. It’s anyone’s guess whether that will be enough to keep him on the team.
Harry Douglas, WR, Tennessee Titans
As Jason Wolf of the Tennessean reported, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey recently talked up the leadership veteran wide receiver Harry Douglas brings to the team’s locker room.
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That leadership ability has value in Tennessee’s young receiving corps, but on-field performance is important as well. And in the Titans’ second preseason game, Douglas looked his age, hauling in just one of his four targets.
D.J. Fluker, OG, New York Giants
When the New York Giants signed free-agent guard D.J. Fluker in the offseason, they hoped he would help bolster an offensive line that was among the NFL’s worst in run blocking in 2016.
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Unfortunately, that excitement has petered out since Big Blue hit the practice field. Per James Kratch of NJ Advance Media, Fluker has done nothing to push John Jerry for the right guard job.
Stephone Anthony, OLB, New Orleans Saints
Things haven’t gone according to plan for New Orleans Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony.
The 2015 first-round pick started 16 games for the team as a rookie. At first glance, his 112 tackles that year would appear to indicate a relatively successful season.
But the Saints coaching staff appeared to disagree. In his second season, Anthony barely saw the field, making just three starts and accruing 16 tackles.
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Unfortunately, Anthony watched last week’s matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers in street clothes while Anzalone drew the start and played well.
The Saints aren’t going to cut Craig Robertson, who can play both “Will” and “Mike.” Te’o appears locked in as the starter in the middle. And Klein has been calling the defensive plays from the strong side.
In other words, Anthony may be the odd man out.
Jarius Wright, WR, Minnesota Vikings
There’s been plenty of chatter regarding Jarius Wright’s tenuous position on the Minnesota Vikings’ 53-man roster on social media dating back to the beginning of training camp.
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It isn’t that the 27-year-old can’t play. It’s a matter of his role versus the other receivers on the team.
The team’s top receiver, Stefon Diggs, does some of his best work from the slot, which is partly why Wright’s playing time disappeared a year ago.
The team also has a number of outside options, whether it’s Adam Thielen, second-year pro Laquon Treadwell or free-agent acquisition Michael Floyd.
Considering Wright has seen little work this preseason with the starters, as Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus noted, those “idiots” may be onto something.
The Bears have locked up T CHARLES LENO, Jr. for the long term. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
The Bears have found a left tackle to lean on for years to come.
Chicago announced Wednesday that it gave Charles Leno Jr. a four-year extension. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported the extension is worth $38 million with $21.5 million in guarantees, per a source informed of negotiations.
Slated to become a free agent after this season, Leno would enter September as the league’s 14th-highest paid left tackle based on annual average, per the Chicago Tribune.
The deal also locks down Chicago’s left side, with both Leno and left guard Kyle Long laced into long-term contracts alongside a quality, young center in Cody Whitehair.
“We were so fortunate to [have him],” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said early in the offseason, per the Tribune. “He’s got great athleticism. He’s long. I like Leno a lot. I like his makeup. I like his intelligence.”
A 2014 seventh-round draft pick, Leno has started 29 straight games at left tackle. That consistency obviously matters for a Bears team hoping to ultimately give quarterback-in-waiting Mitchell Trubisky a sturdy front five to play behind deep into the future.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com studies the timing of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT’s appeal:
Not much has been said publicly, or privately, about the Ezekiel Elliott case in the past week. Next week, plenty will be said at the formal appeal hearing. After a ruling is issued, that’s when things could get very interesting.
In recent years, players facing suspensions have repeatedly used the court system to delay the punishment, even if each of them have ended up serving the suspensions after losing in court. Elliott could indeed do the same thing if/when non-neutral neutral arbitrator Harold Henderson rubber stamps the suspension.
Regardless of which side initiates the litigation (in Tom Brady‘s case, it was the league that filed suit), Elliott can seek a preliminary injunction, barring the league from suspending him until the case ends. It’s not an easy move, but NFL players (starting with the StarCaps case driven by former Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams) have had success in this regard.
The key factor is what’s known as “irreparable harm.” If Elliott ultimately wins in court, he’d get the money he would have made in the games he missed, but there would be no way he could go back and play those games. In other words, there’s no way to cure the practical damage to Elliott’s career by writing Elliott a check, if it turns out that the NFL got it wrong.
Another important factor that applies in cases of this nature hinges on the likelihood of success in court. With a stream of players trying to overturn suspensions in court and not succeeding, at some point the NFL could point to the inability of players to win as proof that this one won’t, either.
Those factors (along with consideration of the relative hardships to the parties and the public interest) are considered in a loose, subjective way. In cases like this, the irreparable nature of the harm becomes glaring; if Elliott wins there’s no way Elliott can truly have the damage undone.
Given that he’s starting his second NFL season and presumably will play in 2018 and beyond, what’s the harm to the NFL in pushing the suspension back until Elliott has a fair chance to have his day in court? Even if he’s likely to lose, the slim chance of winning makes delaying the suspension a sensible outcome — which would make Elliott available perhaps for the entire season.
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LB JAYLON SMITH seems to have done fine in his debut. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith‘s long road back from the knee injury he suffered while playing for Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2015 season took a big step forward last weekend when Smith took the field against the Colts.
It was Smith’s first game since the injury and he played 12 snaps to open the contest before returning to the bench. That wasn’t a great deal of playing time and Smith was in on one tackle, but it was enough to elicit a rave review from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli after he looked over the film of Smith’s efforts.
“Oh boy, good instincts, speed,” Marinelli said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Man that was a heckuva play he made on that tackle. You could see his speed, got natural instincts with leverage. And he’s just so hungry. Energy. He took another step. Another good step.”
Marinelli said he hopes to see Smith play more snaps and against more looks, particularly running plays, when the Cowboys face the Raiders this weekend. Should that go well, Marinelli won’t be the only one gushing about Smith.
The Redskins acquire an offensive lineman in a trade with the Steelers. This from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s veteran scribes Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac:
The Steelers traded for a cornerback Wednesday night in a minor swap of players that might not have made either team.
The Steelers sent center Lucas Crowley to the Washington Redskins in exchange for cornerback Dashaun Phillips in a straight player-for-player trade.
Phillips, 26, appeared in 11 games with two starts for the Redskins over the past two seasons. He was an undrafted rookie who signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 and spent that season on the New York Jets practice squad. He joined the Redskins practice squad last September.
Phillips (5-11, 185) is the second cornerback brought in Wednesday by the Steelers, who earlier signed former West Virginia cornerback Antonio Crawford.
Crowley is an undrafted rookie the Steelers signed this year from North Carolina. He was not expected to make their roster this season.
While Phillips and Crawford are considered long-shots to make the team, the moves point to the Steelers desire to create more competition at the position in attempt to shake up their personnel.
The movement included inserting free-agent cornerback Coty Sensabaugh into the starting lineup ahead of Ross Cockrell during Wednesday’s practice.
Kevin Clark of The Ringer calls RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY “the future of football” in that he defies conventional positioning labels:
One of the most bizarre entries in Sports Illustrated’s extensive catalogue is a 1990 piece in which football coaches complained about how teams no longer used the same players on offense and defense.
Alabama coach Gene Stallings sounded off: “Today we put in a player to rush the passer, another to run a deep route, someone else to catch a pass out of the backfield, somebody to cover that. … When I played, the only time we came out was when we did bad.” Meanwhile, Penn State coach Joe Paterno, incredibly, argued that getting rid of this specialization, and making everyone a two-way player, would help “values” return.
Yet, while their ideas and motivations seem totally misguided, the past these old guys were clinging to is looking more like than NFL’s future than ever before.
We won’t see two-way players any time soon, but football’s offensive personnel are becoming so flexible that in about a decade, offenses might be made up of five linemen, a quarterback, and a bunch of gifted athletes doing anything to get open on any given play. Players like Carolina Panthers rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will change the future of schemes. McCaffrey, so far in the preseason, has lined up in the backfield, in the slot, and near the sideline as a wideout. This, mind you, is in the preseason, when teams are least likely to show their true plans for a player; come the regular season, McCaffrey might be able to do all of that, play all the defensive positions, coach the team, and do that thing from Superman where he goes around the globe so fast he turns back time.
Football players are all stronger and faster now than they were in Stallings and Paterno’s day. A decade of high school and college schemes that spread the ball out and use running backs and wide receivers interchangeably has created Swiss army knives across the NFL.
I asked McCaffrey what he wanted his role to be in five years, considering where the NFL is heading. He answered in broad, ambitious terms befitting his athletic profile.
“What I would like to be known as is a playmaker. I would like to line up everywhere on the field and be a mismatch, inside the tackles, outside the tackles, be an elite pass catcher, route runner, everything,” he said. “I want to be able to make plays—big plays.”
Let’s be clear: There will never be a time when all the positions on an NFL football field are interchangeable. Paterno and Stallings’s wishes won’t ever come to pass. The Dutch soccer team did that in the 1970s, it was called “Total Football,” and it was brilliant—but there is no one in soccer who weighs 200 pounds more than the guy 3 yards to his right. That puts a limit on interchangeability.
However, anything other than quarterback and offensive line is fair game. Mike Shula, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, said the key to unlocking true flexibility in an offense is for the team to have a group of players that, without substitutions, can provide a dramatically different look from snap to snap.
“What you want to do is a lot of stuff out of the same personnel grouping,” Shula said. “All of the sudden if you want to do something [new], you can just switch what you want to do to another guy.”
When anyone can split out wide, anyone can run the ball, and anyone can catch a pass, “there are no tendencies there” that a defense can pick up on, Shula said. Film study is still the backbone of NFL strategy, and if you give defenses a dramatically different play on each down out of groupings and formations that look the same, there are no tells, and that’s a huge problem for defenses that rely on repetition of plays to figure out what’s coming.
This sort of scheme is what the NFL is trending toward; Carolina’s just pushing it faster than anyone else. The NFL’s personnel groups are becoming more homogenous by the year. The 11 personnel, in which teams employ one running back, one tight end, and three receivers, has become the default offensive option for teams, who ran it 60 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. The looks NFL teams are throwing out are more vanilla because they help the offense and because the players are what now make the game dynamic. This is a mismatch league. When these flexible players take on their slower counterparts, this happens:
Golden Tate, the Detroit Lions star, has forced 53 missed tackles since 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. He is, of course, a wide receiver, and no one at his position has been as elusive over the past two years.
Tate was a running back in high school who, on his recruiting visit to Notre Dame, found the wide receiver drills at practice more interesting.
“I watched Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija at practice,” Tate said. “[Former Notre Dame coach] Charlie Weis noticed and said, ‘I have no problem with you playing receiver.’ I couldn’t run routes but I knew I could catch and had great hand-eye coordination.”
Tate said he takes pride in being near the top of the league in both yards after catch and yard after contact. “My mom always told me, ‘They can’t hit what they can’t catch,’” he said.
The reason Tate is so elusive is that he runs like a running back. He already has a plan before the quarterback even releases the ball toward him. “When I come out of break, I can take a picture and visualize people are coming at me,” Tate said. “I’ll take a mental picture; I take an educated guess on what angle they are going to take, then time my steps.”
If Tate turned himself from a running back into a wide receiver, the Packers reversed the transition by turning wide receiver Ty Montgomery into a running back. Last year, with his backfield ravaged by injuries, coach Mike McCarthy figured Montgomery could handle the duties. “Even at Stanford, Ty always had running back characteristics,” McCarthy said.
When Montgomery makes a cut, he said, it’s with a lower center of gravity than a normal receiver. The flexibility of his game is more of a necessity than anything: “Because there’s such an emphasis on the passing game, every running back has to be able to run routes. I don’t even know if the third-down back is a thing anymore.”
McCarthy said the future is trending toward these athletes because teams want to get their players in space, full stop. The more places you can line them up in, the easier that is to do. “Everyone talks about carries, but for players like Ty and Christian, it’s about touches,” McCarthy said. “If they could touch the ball 15 or 18 times a game, it doesn’t matter where they play.”
More than 70 percent of Division I football players also play another sport, according to the NCAA. In order to be one of the athletes who will dominate the future of football, the thinking goes, you better be well-rounded.
McCaffrey played football, basketball, baseball, and track throughout his youth and said that basketball taught him much of what he can now pull off on the football field: jab steps, explosion on the first step, setting a defender up for a move. Tate was a baseball draft pick, which explains his hand-eye coordination.
Jabrill Peppers, the Cleveland Browns “safety” who played snaps at 11 positions at Michigan, said that while he’s always focused on football, he honed many of his athletic traits in track and hoops. “You actually learn how to run in track—there’s a right way and a wrong way to run,” Peppers said. “You need to know about shin angles, keeping your foot pointed up so you learn to land on the balls of your feet to get more burst and more pop from the ground.” And playing one-on-one defense in basketball translated to playing man coverage in the secondary.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that these all-around athletes who can do anything in any sport are the key to the future of the NFL. Put them on a football field and let them do whatever they do best.
“Everything is so specialized now in youth sports,” Rivera said. “But when you get these kinds of athletes and they’ve been developed, you see the way they grew up and the different sports they play. Most of the guys with the best hand-eye coordination in football are guys who played baseball, learning how to glove it, learning how to catch it one-handed, catching it on the run, laying out to catch it.”
“It’s amazing,” he continued, “how different sports translate to different positions.”
When the Carolina Panthers were scouting McCaffrey and Samuel, who played H-back at Ohio State, they realized that raw athleticism gets players only so far. Instincts that apply across the positional spectrum are way more important.
“With those guys, you have to see them with the ball in their hands and then you ask: ‘What did he do to get it in his hands?’” Rivera said. “You look at the tape and you say, ‘Oh wow, look at that, he knows how to sit down in the zone, how to run away from man coverage.’ You see this creativity.”
Rivera also said that Stanford’s offense, which blended the pro style and the spread style, was a perfect mixture for McCaffrey’s skill set. “You look at it and say, ‘Wow, we have to find a way to exploit that.’”
Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said that this generation of offensive coordinators “does a great job of getting their running back getting matched up against their linebacker. The running back is more athletic, and they get them the ball in space, and they know ‘my guy is going to beat your guy.’ So you’ve got to have guys all over the field who can keep up. It’s a chess match on both sides of the ball.”
Rivera agreed that a similar movement is now happening on defense.
“Every team has a 6-foot-3 wide receiver that they put in the slot and they come down and just crush these nickel[backs] who are under 6-foot,” he said. “So that prompted us to say, ‘Let’s put Shaq Thompson there.’” The Panthers drafted Thompson in the first round of 2015 as a nominal linebacker; he was the no. 1 safety in the nation coming out of high school and was also once a minor league baseball player. Rivera has used him all across Carolina’s defensive alignment.
“He could go out as a regular linebacker,” Rivera said. “He’d play in space. A couple of our opponents kept trying to create these mismatches with him, and we kept saying, ‘Go ahead!’ We’ve got Thomas Davis on one side, Shaq on the other—try to create those mismatches.”
Finally, players on offense and defense are being asked to do everything.
T DONALD PENN has capitulated to his contract. Jerry McDonald of BayAreaNewsGroup.com
The holdout officially ended a little before 2 p.m. Wednesday when left tackle Donald Penn jogged in from the performance center in full gear and joined his Raiders teammates for warmups.
Thus ended the only contract holdout in the tenure of general manager Reggie McKenzie. Penn, 34, failed to report on July 28 and missed the entirety of training camp as well as Tuesday’s practice.
Given that Penn wasn’t at the morning walkthrough, there was no indication the stalemate had ended. That changed before practice, when Penn jogged out to join his teammates, first shaking hands with place kicker Sebastian Janikowski and then exchanging pleasantries with coach Jack Del Rio.
When the Raiders broke into individual groups, Penn joined his fellow linemen under the direction of line coach Mike Tice until the media were excused for the beginning of team sessions.
When media sessions ended, neither Penn nor Del Rio was available for comment.
The Pro Bowl left tackle is seeking an increase in pay from his scheduled $5.8 million. Penn found little market for his services after the 2015 season and eventually agreed to rejoin the Raiders on a two-year, $11.9 million deal.
He then went out and had probably the best season of his career. Penn gave up just one sack, but it came on Christmas Eve with Trent Cole providing the blow that fractured the right fibula of quarterback Derek Carr.
Penn injured his knee in the regular-season finale against Denver and missed the Raiders’ wild card playoff loss to Houston, with Menelik Watson moving to the left side where he was dominated by the Texans’ Jadaveon Clowney.
Penn’s scheduled salary puts him well down the list of offensive tackles in the league, and he was seeking a bump to somewhere near the $10 million mark.
At the time of the deal he signed last year, Penn decided against a visit to the New York Giants and later said he wanted to be a Raider and be part of turning around the franchise.
There is no word on whether Penn received assurances of a raise.
While it’s unlikely Penn will play Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys, he has 18 days and nine practice sessions to get ready to face the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sept. 10.
That should be plenty of time for the Raiders to go with their original plan and have veteran Marshall Newhouse start at right tackle.
Newhouse has been exclusively on the left side during Penn’s absence, with second-year player Vadal Alexander on the right side.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing didn’t seem overly concerned Wednesday if Newhouse had enough time to assimilate should Penn return.
“He’s a true pro,” Downing said. “We saw a good amount of him in the offseason even though we were in pajamas out there. We saw him at right tackle in the offseason. We trust his preparation, his ability and his ability to transfer technique from the left to the right.”
OC Marty Mornhenweg thinks QB JOE FLACCO will be there for the opener. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun:
Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg acknowledged that he’s “twitching” to get Joe Flacco back on the field, but he remains confident that there is enough time for the starting quarterback to be ready ahead of the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Flacco remains sidelined with a back injury and won’t play in any games this preseason. Team officials have been consistent in saying that Flacco will return for the start of the regular season.
Preston: Despite injuries, Ravens have young core that lends hope for future
“As long he’s back in a reasonable amount of time to prepare, I think we’ll just be fine there,” Mornhinweg said after Wednesday’s practice.
The Ravens are hoping Flacco is able to return to the field at some point next week, so he gets a few extra days to practice and prepare for the Bengals game.
The team has a day in mind for Flacco’s return. However, they have not disclosed it publicly.
“I think I know. At least, Joe thinks he knows when this will happen. So that way, I think I know. So, we think we know,” Mornhinweg said. “Look, if it’s before that or a little bit before — it’s probably not going to be much before — or a little bit after, we’ll adjust the plan.”
Mornhinweg said Flacco has been in the offensive and quarterback meetings and remains engaged with everything that’s going on. Mornhinweg and Flacco met recently for about 90 minutes to go over “schematics.”
Robertson Daniel and rookies Tim Williams, Quincy Adeboyejo return to Ravens practice
“He’s on it,” Mornhinweg said. “Now, I’m sort of twitching to get him out on the field one of these days. … We’ll have a nice little plan for him.”
With Flacco sidelined, Ryan Mallett is expected to make his third consecutive start in Saturday’s preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
Would QB BROCK OSWEILER be an upgrade for the Jaguars? He can be had in a trade according to Pat McManaman of ESPN.com:
The Cleveland Browns, after naming rookie DeShone Kizer the starting quarterback for their third preseason game, have renewed their attempt to trade veteran Brock Osweiler, a league source tells ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Browns coach Hue Jackson named Kizer the starter for Saturday’s preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a statement released Wednesday morning, saying the former Notre Dame signal-caller is “certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season.”
“I think he’s gotten better each and every week,” Jackson said later Wednesday. “He’s showing the characteristics that I look for in a quarterback.”
Osweiler, who is due a guaranteed salary of $16 million for 2017, is not expected to play Saturday, Jackson confirmed.
Asked whether he would ask for a trade, Osweiler told ESPN, “That’s something I’m going to stay away from.”
“I’ve told you guys all along, I’m always going to just focus on the things that I can control,” Osweiler said. “Right now, that’s being a great teammate, that’s continuing to prepare, be a pro, stay in the playbook and continue to strive to be a better player every day.
“Our general manager and our head coach, they decide who plays and how much they play. As players, all we can do is make the most of the opportunity.”
Asked what would have to happen for him to win the job, his response was, “I think that’s a great question for our general manager.”
When asked about Osweiler’s reference to GM Sashi Brown, Jackson said, “It’s my decision. I don’t know where that came from.”
Jackson said he had a “great conversation” with Osweiler on Wednesday morning and that the quarterback “is doing a good job.
QB CHAD HENNE will audition for the starting job tonight. Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:
The quarterback competition is officially on in Jacksonville.
Chad Henne will start at quarterback in the Jaguars’ third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, the team announced Wednesday. Blake Bortles will also get reps with the first team. The Jaguars say the quarterbacks will split reps “relatively evenly.”
Bortles’ fall out of favor in Duval has been swift. Following an offseason of optimistic praise from new football tsar Tom Coughlin and coach Doug Marrone, Bortles performed poorly in Jacksonville’s first two preseason games. His Week 2 performance on national television, during which he underthrew Allen Robinson twice and heard boos in the first quarter from Jags fans, prompted Marrone to open the starting quarterback job to competition.
“It’s this simple: I’m looking for the best person to lead this offense,” Marrone said following that game. “[The QB position] is right up there for grabs, and either person can take it.”
The other person to which Marrone is referring is Henne, who has carved out a comfortable life for himself over five seasons in Jacksonville. The former Dolphins quarterback went 5-14 in 19 starts for the Jaguars in 2012 and 2013, after which the Jags drafted Bortles in the first round of the 2014 draft. Henne was benched for the rookie after three games in 2014 and has not started a game since.
Through two preseason games this season, Bortles is 11 of 18 for 81 yards with no touchdowns and no picks, while Henne is 11-16 for 183 yards with one TD.
How the Jags will play both signal-callers on Thursday night remains to be seen. Will Henne and Bortles alternate series? Will one quarterback play the first quarter with the starters and one play the second?
Either way, Thursday’s otherwise meaningless test against a Panthers squad with quarterback concerns of its own will go a long way toward deciding the fate of Bortles and Jacksonville’s season. The remaining preseason game is often used to weed out those fighting to make the cutdown from 90 to 53 two days later; if the Jaguars attempt to play Bortles or Henne then, there will be no substantial data to evaluate. All that is left are four quarters on Thursday, during which Bortles can earn back his starting job or find himself starting the season on the bench or elsewhere.
After not signing another backup quarterback this offseason, and instead throwing its weight and confidence behind Bortles and Henne, who have won a combined 17 games for the Jaguars since 2012, Jacksonville has so far botched what looked to be a promising 2017 campaign. Will this overdue QB competition salvage the season before it begins? Tune in Thursday.
The new Bills regime may be looking to jettison another player from the previous regime. Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News on the rumors surrounding LB REGGIE RAGLAND:
Six times during an interview that lasted less than 2 minutes Tuesday, Reggie Ragland reiterated the same phrase.
“I’ve got to keep getting better,” the Buffalo Bills’ linebacker said, over and over again, when asked about the trade rumors that have swirled around him.
“That don’t bother me. God going to put me where he need me to be,” Ragland said. “Right now I’m with the Buffalo Bills and I’m happy to be.”
How long that is for remains to be seen. Ragland has been running with the third team at middle linebacker, leading many to suggest his time with the Bills could be short. As a second-round draft pick in 2016, it would be a surprise if the Bills simply cut Ragland – although with a new coach and general manager running the show, that possibility can’t be discounted. A trade could also be a possibility – with the league’s website suggesting recently that a deal to the Kansas City Chiefs might make sense. More recently, a rumor has made the rounds on the internet about Ragland being sent to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
“I’m here where I’m supposed to be right now with the Bills,” Ragland said. “I can’t worry about no trade talk or none of that. I’m worried about what’s going on right now.”
That would be fighting his way back up the depth chart.
– – –
Ragland mentioned that he’s coming off a major knee injury. Asked whether he felt like those outside the team don’t understand that, he said, “People ain’t going to never understand, but as long as I know what’s going on, and the coaches know what’s going on, that’s the only thing that matters to me right now.”
Ragland played in a 3-4 defense at Alabama and was drafted to fit the same scheme under Rex Ryan. The switch to the 4-3 under Sean McDermott has left many wondering whether Ragland can fit his game into a different scheme.
“I really think I can,” he said. “I know I can. … I know when my time comes, I’ve got to take it and run with it.”
THIS AND THAT
The NFL offices were the scene of a protest by folks who think COLIN KAEPERNICK is the subject of an organized blacklist. Ken Belson of the New York Times was there:
The most talked-about N.F.L. player this season may not even be taking the field.
The player, Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, caused conflict last season by kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and racial oppression. He inspired several other players to follow suit or make similar gestures, leading to debate about whether athletes should publicly engage in political discourse — and how actively.
But now, as teams prepare for the start of the regular season on Sept. 7, Kaepernick is a free agent without a team. And while he is not at the top of his game, as he was when he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl four years ago, many analysts believe teams are refusing to sign him because of his political nature, not his ability.
With the nation consumed by racial division and discussion, the Kaepernick protests have spread beyond football, drawing more people not associated with the sport to speak out.
The latest demonstration took place on Wednesday in Manhattan when a dozen groups including Justice League NYC and Color of Change rallied in front of N.F.L. headquarters. Several hundred Kaepernick supporters showed up, holding signs and chanting “I’m with Kap.” The event’s speakers took the N.F.L. to task for a lack of racial sensitivity and Kaepernick’s continued unemployment.
“First, we are here because we believe Colin Kaepernick deserves a job,” said Symone D. Sanders, the former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. “We also believe that the N.F.L. has been complicit in the ostracization of Colin Kaepernick. And today, it is time for the N.F.L. to take a stand.”
Although he did not organize the Manhattan rally, the filmmaker Spike Lee lent his support to it in a tweet a couple of weeks ago.
“I Did Not Organize And Set Up This Protest,’’ he wrote. “However I Still Support My Brother And His Stance On The Injustices In The USA.”
The N.A.A.C.P. wants to meet with Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., to discuss Kaepernick’s absence from an N.F.L. roster.
“No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech — to do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the N.F.L.’s own regulations,” Derrick Johnson, the organization’s interim president and chief executive, said in a letter to the N.F.L. commissioner.
As the DB sees it, the NFL finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The fact that Kaepernick is some kind of box office/TV ratings poison with many of the league’s older, more conservative fans was shown to some extent last season.
But his continued unemployment this year is offending members of the elite, in the media and elsewhere, such as Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post:
A self-appointed social critic recently warned against fostering “a monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” The NFL’s issue with Colin Kaepernick is not about belief, but conformity to its monoculture. Owners don’t really care much what Kaepernick believes, what his cause is. They care that he is a disrupter-dissenter who refuses to play the stock character role assigned to him and might threaten a bottom line. As a result, they have blacklisted him — there is no other term for it — and in doing so have unintentionally underscored his message about pervasive injustice for blacks. This larger wrong is beginning to overtake any original insult or disrespect he may have committed.
Americans don’t like gag rules and pressured silences and enforced obedience of any stripe and usually end up kicking back like mules. If the owners doubt this reflex, they should consider that the above quote is not from some progressive-subversive lefty. It’s from James Damore’s memo about Google’s “Ideological Echo Chamber,” which got him fired for questioning the company’s corporate gender diversity effort. You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick taking a knee during the anthem last season — or Damore’s reasoning and language — to be offended by the fact that they are out of jobs for speaking their well-intentioned minds.
There are people in the NFL whose handshakes ought to come with bottles of antibiotic soap, but Kaepernick remains unsigned despite the fact that he is clearly among today’s top 50 quarterbacks and has played in a Super Bowl. This is “revenge in excess of the injury,” to borrow a phrase from W.H Auden. Free speech is not guaranteed in the workplace, of course, and this is not to defend every one of Kaepernick’s actions, such as wearing socks emblazoned with pigs. But what’s also not guaranteed is that the NFL’s audience won’t turn against it for needlessly making a martyr of Kaepernick and serve it up a heaping plate of backlash.
It will be interesting in the extreme to see how much NFL owners care about offending large swaths of their black audience and their own players. African Americans make up 15 percent of the league’s TV viewers and 70 percent of its players. The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP has called for a boycott of the NFL until Kaepernick is signed by a team. A half-dozen black Southern pastors, with a network of peers all over the country, have asked churches to tune out the NFL. They made a video titled “I’m Blacking You Out” that they say has gotten 7 million views and six-figure shares on Facebook. New York City police officers rallied in support of Kaepernick last weekend. Filmmaker Spike Lee was scheduled to join a multi-group protest in front of the NFL’s Park Avenue offices Wednesday.
These are not people on the fringe. These are clergy, college presidents, lawyers and law officers. And Hank Aaron, who spoke in defense of Kaepernick to broadcaster Roland Martin.
“What we’re seeing and hearing could easily — right now — could easily gain greater momentum and cost the NFL a segment of its fan base,” said Rob Ruck, a sports historian at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game.”
Atlanta NAACP vice president Gerald Griggs is a civil rights attorney — and the son of a Vietnam veteran — who played youth football and has watched the NFL since he was 4 years old. But he is calling for a boycott against NFL teams because “the only language they speak is revenue.” The pro-Kaepernick movement is not a small minority but a growing coalition, he said, and he predicts an increase in involvement by NFL players, such as the dozen Cleveland Browns who took a knee this weekend.
“There has been momentum building for something of an economic disturbance,” Griggs said. “. . . We can see clearly where the mood of the nation is, and I don’t think NFL owners want to be on the other side of the mood of the nation. It’s a long season, and steam will build.”
Pellom McDaniels is a curator at Emory University’s archives and a professor of African American Studies, as well as a former NFL defensive end who played from 1993 to 2000 with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. He sees the Kaepernick controversy in the larger continuum of pro football’s checkered civil rights history, which he describes as “blips in a narrative in which segregation was the norm.”
There was Fritz Pollard in the 1920s, the long gap before the 1946 signings of players such as Marion Motley and Kenny Washington and then the wholesale restructuring forced by Lamar Hunt, who drafted AFL players from historically black colleges and universities, and Al Davis, who fought not just for blacks but also Latinos. They were owners who began as outsiders growing their teams on the cultural margins and “pushed back against the status quo,” McDaniels said.
Where are those owners today? “I don’t think those owners exist anymore,” McDaniels said.
The enormous commercial success of the league in the intervening years, McDaniels argued, bred brand conservatism — and short-circuited conversations about racial issues inside of the league. “With the revenue generated, all of a sudden it’s a conversation we don’t have to have, because there is a market,” he said.
But the market is changing. You can feel it, like the ions in approaching weather. Generational interest is flagging because of everything from egaming to concussions, and the NFL from a practical standpoint can ill afford to lose any segment of its core audience. As The Washington Post just reported, at the youth level, from which high schools draw their players, there was a 30 percent drop in participation between 2008 and 2013, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Meanwhile, NFL ownership has calcified into an unimaginative feudal society with fixed obligations, in which they think that an experiment is fooling with the food at the concessions or with rule changes. The average age of owners is over 70.
The NFL began shunning Kaepernick in a different environment six months ago. Then came Charlottesville. The league badly needs a smart leader, a new Lamar Hunt, an owner who doesn’t have to feel the forehead of the fans to step forward and say, “Ostracism is not what we do. We applaud our players for taking positions on social issues, and we, too, want to live in a more just and equitable society, and that’s the broadest base to which we appeal.”
It needs a leader with a view not just of what should be done in this particular moment but what the league must do more broadly about creeping audience disaffection. Instead it keeps kicking cans down the road. “It’s confounding,” McDaniels said.
To pastor Debleaire Snell of Huntsville, Ala., who helped launch the “I’m Blacking You Out” movement last week, the league’s collective refusal so much as to invite Kaepernick to a training camp “reeks of corporate arrogance that says essentially, ‘Even though this is a valuable cause to a large portion of fans, we still have the expectation they will be there on opening day.’ And that’s a gross miscalculation.”
Since launching the movement, he has heard from pastors in Dallas, Nashville and Cleveland who have offered to join in. “People of conscience, people who are thoughtful, people around the water cooler, are having this conversation,” he said. “We are just putting out the open call.”
By attempting to shut Kaepernick’s mouth for fear of offending customers, the NFL has only opened more mouths. And that may cost it greatly in the end.
Call the DB naïve but we don’t think there is any kind of organized “blacklist” of Kaepernick. Most owners probably would be glad to see him sign – with another team. They just have convinced themselves that Kaepernick is such a divisive figure he would not be good for their particular business and their particular team chemistry.
Kaep keeps his silence, but they know he somehow didn’t impress the Seahawks. And Steve Bisciotti of the Ravens probably got more than an earful from his sponsors and fans. And they see the things that he and his intimate friends retweet. And they don’t think it is worth it for their particular team. And it is hard to see how the NFL Office, which probably is willing to acquiesce to the protestors, can make owners of the Jets or Jaguars or Colts sign a particular player. Why me, why not them?
MORE ON ESPN AND ROBERT LEE
ESPN president John Skipper tries to push back against those ridiculing his network for removing Asian-American announcer Robert Lee from a game at UVa. He uses the passive aggressive approach of a memo to his employees, leaked to the media.
“Given the amount of media attention being generated by one of the countless, routine decisions our local production teams make every day, I wanted to make sure you have the facts. There was never any concern – by anyone, at any level – that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game.
Among our Charlotte production staff there was a question as to whether – in these divisive times — Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling. Since Robert was their primary concern, they consulted with him directly. He expressed some personal trepidation about the assignment and, when offered the chance to do the Youngstown State/Pitt game instead, opted for that game — in part because he lives in Albany and would be able to get home to his family on Saturday evening.
I’m disappointed that the good intentions of our Charlotte colleagues have been intentionally hijacked by someone with a personal agenda, and sincerely appreciate Robert’s personal input and professionalism throughout this episode.”
The DB has some sympathy for what happened to ESPN here. It was not a high level decision based on liberal bias. It was a low level decision based on avoiding a few random sarcastic tweets and blogs and Skipper is quick to lay it off on the folks at the ESPN Regional office in Charlotte who never thought the switch would go public.
He also makes Lee complicit when we would think it was pretty clear to the announcer what his bosses would prefer.
But the part about getting home to his family is a bridge too far.
The game in Charlottesville kicks off at 3:30. The game in Pittsburgh kicks off at 5.
Per Expedia, there is a 10:10 flight out of Dulles to Albany on that Saturday night. Lee would have had a fighting chance to make it. The last flight from Pittsburgh to Albany is at 7:30. No chance.
It is a 7 hour drive from Pittsburgh to Albany. It is an 8-hour drive from Charlottesville to Albany.
We’re calling B.S. on the “get home to his family on Saturday evening” line.
Roxanne Jones of CNN.com is all in on ESPN’s decision because she thinks Asian Robert Lee was in danger:
In the testosterone-laced world of sports, sometimes your name means everything. Think not? I’ve seen men beaten by mobs just for having the gall to scream out “let’s go Cowboys” at an Eagles game. Think of all the racial epithets we’ve heard, of how one football player, Colin Kaepernick, silently taking a knee during the national anthem in personal protest of injustice in America has divided the nation.
We want to pretend that sports are a safe sanctuary from the world’s ugly problems, but that has always been a farce. Truth is, not even the glorious game of football can keep America’s toxic culture of bigotry, hate and violence at bay. It’s just too heavy a burden.
So imagine if you’re scheduled to be the announcer for ESPN’s livestream of the University of Virginia’s season-opener football game against William and Mary in a few weeks and your name is Robert Lee. But you have watched, along with the world, as thousands of torch-wielding, white supremacists screaming hate-filled chants marched around the UVA campus and rallied all their hate at the foot of a statue bearing your name: Robert Lee. A monument the city had voted to remove under state objections. Well, it’s not unreasonable, even though you are Asian-American, that you — and your employer — may have some concerns.
– – –
No matter that Robert Lee is Asian-American and his name has nothing to do with the Confederacy or slavery. It seems unreasonable, ignorant and downright ridiculous to associate his name in any way with the Confederate general. Still, nothing we’ve witnessed in Charlottesville, or since, has been reasonable or intelligent.
Now, the handling of this Robert Lee may seem silly, but the DB can’t help but wonder if the next step is going to be with actual descendants of Lee and others deemed unworthy. It seems like most people think punishing this Robert Lee is silly because he is Asian-American. But what if it were found out that some other announcer is a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Lee (would it matter if the last name was different?) or some other historical figure deemed undesirable in retrospect? We suspect there are those who would have no problem punishing a descendant for the perceived sins of the ancestor.