The Daily Briefing Wednesday, August 1, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

More signs that players and officials are not coming to grip with the NFL’s new helmet rule.  49ers CB RICHARD SHERMAN minces no words in this report from Ryan Wilson CBSSports.com:

 

Eagles players meet with NFL refs, leave ‘frustrated’ over ‘confusion’ on new helmet rule

49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was less diplomatic when asked about the rule that was instituted this offseason.

 

“It’s ridiculous,” Sherman told USAToday.com‘s Jarrett Bell. “They’ll see how ridiculous it is, once they make the refs call it. It’s going to be worse than holding, worse than the catch rule. On a good form tackle, guys will lead with their shoulder pads, but you bring your head. It’s going to be a disaster.”

 

And Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger thinks the rule will have unintended consequences that could also lead to injuries.

 

“They want us to, I guess, hit with our shoulder,” he said, via ESPN.com. “I guess not hit a guy when he ducks. So I guess we just gotta aim for the knees. That’s the only way I know how. If you don’t want me to hit you, then I guess it’s the only way, the only way.”

 

If this sounds familiar, it should; four years ago, Swearinger, then with the Texans, was involved in a controversial-but-legal low tackle during a preseason game against the Jets. Tight end Dustin Keller suffered a serious knee injury on a hit that ended his career.

 

“With the rules in this era you’ve got to hit low,” Swearinger said at the time. “If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery. … Right now it’s just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You’re going to cost your team 15 yards. You’ve got to play within the rules.”

 

At the time, the NFL was trying to reduce head injuries by making above-the-shoulder hits a personal-foul penalty. The new targeting rule adds another layer of punishment, in the form of an ejection — and, it looks like, confusion. Which brings us back to the Eagles’ recent meeting with referees.

 

According to ESPN.com‘s Tim McManus, players showed a clip of safety Malcolm Jenkins’ hit on wide receiver Brandin Cooks during Super Bowl LII that knocked Cooks out of the game. At the time, it was a legal play. When asked if that constituted a violation under the new rules, the referees were split on whether they would have thrown a flag.

 

“[The refs] were kind of like, ‘Hey, we didn’t make the rules.’ Because I think guys were kind of frustrated,” Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood said. “Most of the defense was like, ‘Man, how are we supposed to tackle?’ They were frustrated.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

If an MLS team comes to Ford Field, there is talk of adding a retractable roof.  Greg Krupa of the Detroit News:

 

Lions president Rod Wood said Monday that the consideration of a retractable roof for Ford

Field will continue, amid signs that another potential bidder may attempt to use an NFL stadium

as a venue.

 

“It’s never been done, to add a retractable roof to a domed stadium,” Wood said during an

interview on WJR-AM, which holds the broadcasting rights to the team’s games.

 

“All of the retractable roofs in the country have either been part of the original construction or

have been added to an open-air stadium; U.S. Open, Wimbledon.  “Those have less complications, because of the weather issues. They’ve been open and

experienced it.”

 

Wood has said the impact of exposing the interior of the closed space at Ford Field is

something that must be understood.

 

Suddenly, things designed to be indoors would be outdoors.

 

“We’re still in the feasibility study,” said Wood, who indicated two weeks ago that he would say

something more definitive about the possibility of retractable roof that, he said, is expected to

cost tens-to-hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

“There’s a lot of issues, and it’s not just the time and effort of putting the retractable roof on.

“It’s what it does to the stadium to introduce things we’ve never had in the stadium, like sun and

wind and humidity and birds, perhaps, flying in, that we need to understand before we commit to

something.”

 

The Detroit bid for MLS expansion is spearheaded by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers;

Tom Gores, owner of the Pistons; and Martha Firestone Ford, owner of the Lions

.

Gilbert and Gores originally proposed a stadium on the construction site of a Wayne County jail.

But they later abandoned the proposal and approached Ford and the Lions about providing the

venue. Their approach to MLS touts the attractions of the central sports and entertainment area.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said their decision to abandon the stadium, which would have

been designed specifically for soccer, hurt the bid.

 

The league prefers outdoor soccer stadiums.

 

But other priorities stated by Garber and MLS officials include owners with deep pockets, big

media markets and venues within walkable city centers.

 

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings have locked up WR STEFON DIGGS with a big contract.  Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

 

A decade after the death of his father, Stefon Diggs paused Tuesday to remember him.

 

The Vikings wide receiver had just signed a five-year, $72 million contract extension that begins in 2019. He talked about a conversation he had with Aron Diggs not long before he died in January 2008 from congestive heart failure at age 37.

 

“It means a lot to me because my dad sat me down a couple months before he passed away,’’ Diggs said while choking up. “He just told me, ‘Look after your (three) brothers. Look after your mom. Look after your family.’ That meant a lot to me. With this day coming forward, it just came full circle. I have a lot of emotions.’’

 

Making the day even more emotional was Diggs’ mother, Stephanie Diggs, being on hand after arriving from her home in Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. She attended the morning walkthrough during training camp at TCO Performance Center and then watched her son sign the deal in the afternoon and take the field for practice.

 

“That was the first person I wanted to tell (about the extension),’’ Diggs said. “I called her (Monday). I was like, ‘I need you to go get on a plane right now. I need you to come out here. I need you to be a part of this.’ She’s been with me every step of the way, so it was going to be a key part for her to be here.’’

 

Diggs, taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, is making $1.9 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal, but is now under contract through 2023. His new deal could be worth as much as $81 million with incentives and he gets $40 million guaranteed, including a $15 million signing bonus.

 

Diggs, 24, said he had been uncertain two days earlier where negotiations stood. General manager Rick Spielman said there had been some recent late nights at TCO “to 11, 12 at night,’’ working on Diggs’ deal.

 

“He’s another young guy I know where he’s at right now in his career, but I know that he does have a high ceiling,’’ Spielman said. “Because of the way he works, his passion for the game, he’s got a chance to be pretty special. … We’re very excited and we worked through this to get this done.”

 

Diggs’ agent, Adisa Bakari, came in to close the deal. While Bakari wouldn’t discuss contract numbers, he said at the morning walkthrough he was “happy that we got it done.’’

 

According to OvertheCap.com, Diggs’ average of $14.4 million per season of new money makes him the NFL’s 10th-highest-paid receiver. Top receivers have been getting paid plenty this year, with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans signing for an average of $16.5 million per year, the Los Angeles Rams’ Brandin Cooks for an average of $16.2 million and Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry for an average of $15.1 million.

 

“If (Diggs) had one route that jumped out, I don’t think he gets the contract (he received),’’ said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. “But I think it’s because he can run the entire route tree at a level that would warrant wanting him around.. … He can do just about everything and that’s what you want from a receiver.”

 

Cousins was thrilled to see the Vikings lock up yet another top player. Already this year they have signed linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Danielle Hunter to five-year extensions. The next player they are hoping to extend is linebacker Anthony Barr, entering the final year of his contract.

 

“We’re excited to be able to get Stefon Diggs locked up,’’ said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s been a great kid, he’s worked his rear end off to be a good player. … We’ll continue to keep trying to lock up our good guys.’’

 

In three seasons, Diggs has caught 200 passes for 2,472 yards. He will forever go down in Vikings lore for the miraculous 61-yard catch he made on the final play to beat New Orleans in the playoffs last January.

 

A problem, though, for Diggs has been staying healthy. He has missed five games the past two seasons, perhaps keeping each time from having a 1,000-yard season. He had 84 catches for 903 yards in 2016 and 64 for 849 yards last season.

 

“This (contract) will definitely play a huge part as far as how much I can pour into my body, invest in my body and make sure I’m in tip-top shape moving forward,’’ Diggs said. “I already have two massages a week, but maybe I can double up on my acupuncture. And maybe get a hypobaric chamber.’’

 

Diggs, though, was looking back as much Tuesday as he was forward. He talked about it being a “bumpy road” falling to the fifth round and that it “put a chip on my shoulder that I still have.’’

 

And he remembered his father.

 

“Hopefully, he’s looking down and he’s happy,’’ Diggs said. “My dad was a tough guy. But hopefully he can really smile.’’

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Todd Archer of ESPN.com thinks S EARL THOMAS will end up in Dallas:

 

The Cowboys and Seahawks talked about a deal at the combine and again during the draft but nothing came to fruition. Now that the players are on the field and Thomas appears willing to stick to his play-me-or-trade-me stance, the two sides can get back to talking about a deal. The Cowboys have not addressed the position in a meaningful way in the draft or free agency. They like Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods as a pairing now, but Thomas is one of the top safeties in the NFL. They have the wherewithal to give him a new deal or allow him to play on the final year of his contract in terms of salary cap space. Given how long there has been a Thomas-to-the-Cowboys, there just seems to be too much smoke for it not to happen.

– – –

“Lean” is a word being used to describe RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

One year ago at this time, Ezekiel Elliott had the weight of a pending suspension hanging over his head. It affected the Dallas Cowboys’ running back mentally and physically.

 

Zeke entered training camp last season out of shape. This time around, his coaches are seeing a different player. One that shed the weight, literally and figuratively.

 

“You go at this time last year, he’s very stressed out,” running backs coach Gary Brown said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Wasn’t himself. Looked big. Now he looks happy and jubilant and lean and just going out there and having some fun. So it’s a completely different Zeke than it was last year.”

 

The Cowboys haven’t changed Elliott’s official weight, but it’s clear that the running back is leaner than he was a season ago. After reporting to camp his first two seasons somewhat out of shape, the third-year pro has slimmed down and taken on a leadership role.

 

“He has a clear focus and clear vision on what he wants to do and what he wants to be,” Brown said. “When you look at him physically and see where he has leaned up then you see the way he runs out here. You can tell he is in a different place right now.

 

“He is in much better shape mentally too. He doesn’t have all that stuff on his mind. He has a clear vision on what he wants to do and what he wants to be. He has a clear mind. He wants to be the best.

 

We are going to get a good Zeke this year. He is on a mission. You can see it already.”

 

A healthy and focused Elliott out of the gate could make a big difference for the ground-and-pound Cowboys. Since he was drafted in the first round, we haven’t seen the running back ready to go from the start of training camp. In two seasons, he’s played his way into shape.

 

In light of owning major questions at receiver, the Cowboys plan to ride Elliott hard in 2018. The sleeked-down back appears ready to take on all tacklers.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles have an Australian Rules player in camp. T JORDAN MAILATA was their 7th round pick and Dave Spadaro of PhiladelphiaEagles.com checks in on him:

 

The goals are simple, yet so very complicated for someone new to the game of American football: offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, the team’s seventh-round draft pick in the spring, wants to improve on one thing every day. One step at a time, you might say.

 

One step of about 2,000 needed to have a firm grip on what the NFL is all about.

 

“I’m making progress. I’m getting better,” said Mailata after Tuesday’s Training Camp practice at the NovaCare Complex. “There is still so much to take in. It’s only been a week here after the spring practices. At some point I do think it will become second nature, but I know I’m a long ways away from that now.”

 

The Eagles tuned in to Mailata during a pre-draft workout in Florida and figured a seventh-round draft pick was worth the risk for a player who has tremendous physical size at 6-8, 346 pounds, nimble feet, and great athletic skills.

 

He just doesn’t know how to play football.

 

Yet.

 

But it’s coming.

 

“I’m going to keep working hard and learn something new every day,” Mailata. “It’s now a matter of piecing it all together. It really is a puzzle and it comes down to execution. You can have all the tools, but the challenge is to put it all in place on a consistent basis.”

 

Mailata pointed out defensive ends Josh Sweat and Steven Means as those who have given him challenges, because those are the ends against whom he is working against the most. The use of hands and noticing body leans and tendencies – all of that is foreign to Mailata.

 

He’s got a football game to play on Thursday, August 9. While the game won’t count in the standings, it’s going to be mega-huge for someone like Mailata to see just how far he needs to go before he earns a roster spot.

 

In the meantime, Mailata is keeping his focus. One play at a time. One learning experience to digest each day.

 

The goals are simple, yet so complicated.

 

“It’s a very hard game and I’m loving the challenge,” Mailata said. “I’m here to get better every single day. I’m working hard and I’m confident that it’s all going to come together.”

 

If Spadaro is right that there are 2,000 things needed to play offensive tackle in the National Football League and if Mailata masters one per day, he will be ready to go in late January of 2024.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Jay Gruden, the longest-tenured coach Daniel Snyder has ever employed, hears the clock ticking.  John Keim of ESPN.com:

 

Jay Gruden doesn’t need a reminder. The Washington Redskins coach knows the situation quite well. It’s his fifth season, which makes him the longest-tenured coach under owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.

 

The math adds up to the obvious: It’s time to win.

 

“We do need to produce, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “It’s a production-based business, without a doubt. Every NFL head coach knows that’s the deal, whether you’re in your first year, fifth year, 10th year or in the Hall of Fame. You’ve got to win.”

 

That’s why it’s good for Gruden that he views this roster as the most complete one he has had in Washington. Player after player has said the vibe is different this season, though that has been said in past camps.

 

The Redskins have won 10 games only three times since they won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. It’s a fan base and an organization that want much more. The team has taken steps under Gruden, going from four wins his first season to nine and an NFC East title in his second. But then it was 8-7-1 followed by 7-9.

 

Snyder gave Gruden a two-year extension in February 2017, and the head coach would be wise to avoid job security speculation by leading this team to the postseason this time around. Otherwise, we could see the eighth coaching change under Snyder, who bought the team in 1999.

 

Not that this weighs on Gruden more than it has in the past. He doesn’t come across any differently, displaying sarcasm and humor during news conferences. He works on the field the same with the players, sometimes lining up as a defensive back against receivers in drills.

 

“I felt pressure the moment I signed the contract,” he said. “That’s the way it is here in D.C. Everyone expects a winner. I know Mr. Snyder does and Bruce [Allen], the whole city and the fans. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to this without winning a playoff game. I understand the expectations are high. We’ve put ourselves in position that it should be high, given the talent on this team.”

 

Gruden said this is the most talent he has had since he was hired in 2014. The Redskins have more depth on the defensive line and at running back. They have a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith, who they believe is an upgrade over Kirk Cousins, now with Minnesota.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

ESPN.com has “bold predictions” from its 32 correspondents here, and some of them don’t strike the DB as very bold.  But give David Newton on the Panthers beat credit for getting into the spirit of the game:

 

Quarterback Cam Newton will complete 65 percent of his passes.

 

This is really bold since he has a career percentage of 58.5 and hasn’t topped 60 percent the past four seasons. This will be the culmination of Norv Turner’s new scheme and the most talent around Newton since he entered the league in 2015. He also will come up with a new touchdown dance that will become bigger than the dab was in 2015.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Saints are taking a look at veteran WR MICHAEL FLOYD.  Amos Morale III at NoLa.com:

 

The New Orleans Saints have signed receivers Michael Floyd and Brandon Tate, a source confirmed to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Tuesday (July 31).

 

The signings come on the heels of Saints second-year receiver Travin Dural suffering an injury in Sunday’s training camp practice. Dural broke his left arm and was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

 

Dural spent last season on the practice squad.

 

Floyd, a former first-round draft pick who spent last season with Minnesota, appeared in 11 games for the Vikings last season, making 10 catches for 79 yards. He spent the first five seasons of his career with the Arizona Cardinals before being released in 2016 following a DUI arrest. The New England Patriots signed him that season, and he was apart of the team’s Super Bowl win against the Atlanta Falcons.

 

Tate spent last season with the Buffalo Bills and caught six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. Tate likely will compete for a role on special teams as he’s had some of his best production as a returner. He has averaged nearly 24 yards per kick return and almost 10 yards on punt returns.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

For those who see ominous clouds over the Seattle Seahawks of 2018, here is another sign.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Seahawks will be working without their top wide receiver for the near future.

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Tuesday that Doug Baldwin came into camp with a sore knee and that the issue will force him to sit out at least the next couple of weeks of training camp.

 

“It’s a little bit of a problem,” Carroll said, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune.

 

Baldwin led the Seahawks with 75 catches and 991 receiving yards last season.

 

While he’s out, the team will have Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Marcus Johnson and David Moore among their options at wideout. It’s a pretty thin group, which makes it all the more important to the Seahawks that Baldwin finds his way back to good health sooner rather than later.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

DE KHALIL MACK and camp are estranged from the Raiders as July turns to August.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Seahawks will be working without their top wide receiver for the near future.

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Tuesday that Doug Baldwin came into camp with a sore knee and that the issue will force him to sit out at least the next couple of weeks of training camp.

 

“It’s a little bit of a problem,” Carroll said, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune.

 

Baldwin led the Seahawks with 75 catches and 991 receiving yards last season.

 

While he’s out, the team will have Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Marcus Johnson and David Moore among their options at wideout. It’s a pretty thin group, which makes it all the more important to the Seahawks that Baldwin finds his way back to good health sooner rather than later.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

C MIKE POUNCEY likes what he see of the Chargers.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Veteran center Mike Pouncey never thought he’d play anywhere other than Miami.

 

But after signing with the Chargers, he’s enjoying a different feeling than he’s had in the past.

 

“Every year in the league I’ve always wanted to win,” Pouncey said, via the Associated Press. “That’s the goal every year you go into training camp is to try and win something, win the Super Bowl. For me right now, at the point in my career, I’m excited to be on a football team that has a chance. They finished top of the league in offense last year, and our defense is unbelievable, so I feel with me coming here it can only help.”

 

He’s already made his presence felt in Chargers game, getting in scraps with defensive line teammates Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget on Monday. Perhaps the end of his seven-year run in Miami inspired him.

 

“It just lit that fire again in me,” Pouncey said. “I never thought I would play with anybody but the Dolphins, but once they released me, it made me want to be an even better football player. It made me want to prove everybody wrong, and I’m excited to be here. I can’t wait to help this run game out, help this football team do something special.”

 

Snapping to Philip Rivers marks the biggest change, as Pouncey hasn’t had the chance to move the ball to such a talented player. And if he can stay well after battling hip injuries, the Chargers offense should benefit from his presence.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

They have switched things up at the Hall of Fame which means the game is the lead event of the weekend.  And that means that the NFL debut of QB LAMAR JACKSON happens tomorrow night.  He can’t wait according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

– Lamar Jackson will make his preseason debut Thursday, when the Ravens play the Bears in the Hall of Fame Game.

 

What does the Heisman Trophy winner want to show?

 

“I’m a quarterback. That’s the first thing I want to show off,” Jackson said. “Just show the growth, from college to my new chapter of life.”

 

Before being a first-round pick this year, Jackson made it clear that he wouldn’t entertain a position switch. He told teams that he would only play quarterback and not participate in wide receiver drills leading up to the draft.

 

Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 with 3,543 passing yards and 30 touchdowns to go with 1,571 rushing yards and 21 more touchdowns. This past season, he threw for 3,660 yards with 27 touchdowns to go with 1,601 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

 

With the Ravens, Jackson has been inconsistent, hitting some deep passes while struggling at times on his accuracy. During training camp, the Ravens have used Jackson in two-quarterback plays with Joe Flacco, lining him up at a different position at times.

 

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said what he wants to see the most out of Jackson is poise.

 

“You have to run the show, and to see him run the show with confidence and get things right would be the main thing for him,” Harbaugh said. “After that, play football and let’s see what happens.”

 

It’s unknown when Jackson will get on the field. With Flacco not expected to play Thursday, the Ravens have declined to say whether Jackson or Robert Griffin III will get the start.

 

Jackson’s adjustment to the NFL has begun before the ball is even snapped. He is calling longer plays in the huddle, which he rarely did at Louisville.

 

“I stand in the mirror, look at the plays and try to say them to myself to get ready for the next day,” Jackson said.

 

While this is Jackson’s debut, it also marks the return for Griffin. He will play in his first NFL game in 18 months.

 

For Griffin, being out of the league for a year gave him an even deeper appreciation for the game.

 

“It’s like someone taking your girl,” Griffin said. “You thought you missed her before but now you miss her a little bit more.”

– – –

The Flaccos are giving the Rivers family a run for their money.

 

 

This from April 13 in the Baltimore Sun give us the names of the kids:

 

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is going to have a full complement of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs to throw to in the offseason.

 

On Friday afternoon, Flacco announced on Twitter the birth of son Thomas Kevin, his fifth child with wife Dana. They married in June 2011.

 

Thomas, born April 6, joins the Flacco lineup of 5-year old Stephen, 4-year old Daniel, 3-year-old Francis and 1-year old Evelyn.

 

Unless we missed one, Rivers of the Chargers and his wife Tiffany have eight kids, but they have been married since 2001.

 

 

CLEVELAND

TYROD TAYLOR always seemed to be treated like a caretaker QB in Buffalo when he had a chance to be a long-term franchise QB.

 

Then, he signs in Cleveland to be a caretaker for BAKER MAYFIELD, and they are treating him like a long-term franchise QB.  Kalyn Kahler of TheMMQB.com:

 

Hard Knocks’ drone cameras circled overhead, robotically humming, as Hue Jackson broke down his team at the end of Cleveland’s fifth training camp practice. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has yet to throw an interception and has shown pinpoint accuracy and an impressive understanding of the offense. Mayfield practiced with the second team on Monday, as he has been all training camp, while Tyrod Taylor has handled the first team reps. Mayfield established a connection with third-year receiver Rashard Higgins, who says he goes to the rookie with his questions about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system. “He is always open to questions that I have, because I have a lot of questions, and he is always teaching me,” Higgins says. “He’s always quizzing me, Hey, what do you got on this? I can ask him, Hey, give me a play and I’m going to try to draw it.”

 

Mayfield’s best showing at practice came on Sunday, when he threw a deep back-shoulder pass to Higgins, who ran his route high to the pylon. Mayfield adjusted off the defender’s location to thread his pass directly to Higgins’ back shoulder. “He was like, Hey man, you took it too high,” Higgins says. “Coach Haley told me to keep it high in walk through, and when I kept it high Baker brought me back over, because he was like, the defender is right there. That’s being a pro.”

 

On Sunday, Jackson said that Mayfield has “exceeded expectations.” But though the rookie has done everything asked of him and more, the Browns are still Taylor’s team, and a redshirt, or at least partial redshirt, season for Mayfield is the plan. After Monday’s practice, a reporter pressed Jackson on Mayfield’s rank, given his exceeding expetations. I know you’ve told us 50 times, but are you tempted by Mayfield’s performance?

 

“Do I have to say it 51 times?” Jackson asked, clearly annoyed by this topic again.  “No, I do not have temptation that way. Baker Mayfield is doing great. Tyrod Taylor is doing great. This thing is going to play out just like I told you it would. I’m not going to change. You guys are judging every day what happens and this might happen, that might happen. I’m not like that. We’re going to grow our football team. We’re going to grow our quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor is our quarterback.”

 

Jackson sounds like he won’t budge, but we’ve heard these lines before. Whether we see Mayfield this season or not will depend on how the team performs in the first few games with Taylor. Sticking with Taylor, the most conservative quarterback in the league, is clearly the safe choice, but is it the best one? During Monday’s practice, each time a quarterback attempted a tricky pass or a deep pass, a fan in the stands shouted loudly, “DON’T TRY TO DO TOO MUCH!”

 

Hmmm… sounds like the Browns’ approach to their rookie star.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Coach Mike Tomlin would rather see RB LeVEON BELL earlier than he did last year.

 

Last year Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t sign his franchise tag and report to the team until training camp and the preseason were over. This year coach Mike Tomlin hopes that’s not the case.

 

Tomlin told CBS Sports that he would like to see Bell in camp, and in better shape, than last year.

 

“I’m hopeful that he’ll get to us sooner. I’m hopeful that he’ll be in better condition even than he was a year ago,” Tomlin said.

 

It’s hard to see any reason Bell would have for reporting earlier this year than last year. Bell wanted a long-term contract, and when he and the Steelers failed to agree on one before the deadline for franchise players to sign, it seemed a near-certainty that Bell would wait until just before the start of the regular season to report.

 

As for reporting in better shape, last year Bell did get off to a somewhat slow start, carrying just 10 times for 32 yards and adding three catches for 15 yards in Week One. But he had a strong season, and he’ll be motivated to have another strong season in a contract year, so he’s likely going to show up in good shape. Even if he’s not there until the preseason is over.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Texans, or at least their head coach, are without explanation for being logoless in West Virginia.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

At one point last season, Texans players considered removing the logos from their helmets before a game at Seattle to protest owner Bob McNair’s “inmates running the prison” remark. Now, there are no logos to remove.

 

As the Texans train in West Virginia at The Greenbrier, they’re wearing logo-free blue helmets. And there’s apparently no reason for it.

 

Asked to explain the importance of not wearing the logos on the helmets during camp by reporters on Tuesday, coach Bill O’Brien was stumped.

 

“The logos? On the helmet?” O’Brien said. “I don’t know. It’s just something we do.”

 

So is the purpose to underscore the importance of team?

 

“Not really,” O’Brien said. “I just don’t know if they’re ready yet at the print shop. So I’m not sure. Don’t read too much into stuff.”

 

And there you have it. Sometimes the reason from stripping the logos or stripes from a helmet is no reason at all. Unless it’s a reason that, for whatever reason, O’Brien would rather keep to himself. Either way, if you’re heading to watch the Texans practice, don’t expect to see the distinctive markings on the helmets that make them the Texans.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com with an update on QB ANDREW LUCK:

 

Andrew Luck can’t throw every day. But that doesn’t mean he’s not working.

 

The Colts quarterback impressed new coach Frank Reich earlier this week by showing up on the players’ scheduled day off to watch film of every pass he threw during the first four days of training camp.

 

“That’s the way you need to spend your day off,” Reich said proudly, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star.

 

After studying that film, and resting his surgically repaired right shoulder, Luck came out Tuesday with an increased workload Tuesday, throwing 33 passes (which was 11 more than he had during any workout this year), and was reportedly much sharper throwing deep balls.

 

Reich said the commitment to both the patience and the detail of what Luck is doing now is a good sign, as he works to come back to be ready for the regular season.

 

“The determination to be there for his teammates,” Reich said. “He’s truly a team-first guy. I just think the excitement he has about being back for the team, the city, the organization, and the determination just to be counted on, to be dependable, to get himself right. To get himself bulletproof, or as bulletproof as you can in this profession . . . he has not wavered in that commitment.”

 

The fact he’s practiced this much without a setback is a good sign, and lends more hope than the Colts were able to muster during last year’s failed attempt to come back.

 

And, T ANTHONY CASTONZO, the starting left tackle, is coming off PUTP.  He had been there due to a pre-camp hamstring injury.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

CB JALEN RAMSEY is looking forward to the opener in New York on FOX.  Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com:

 

Jalen Ramsey is no stranger to the fine art of the hot take, but the Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback kept a respectful tone when prognosticating what fans should expect in his season-opening showdown with Odell Beckham on Sept. 9.

 

“Let’s get this out the way right now. [Odell Beckham] is a good receiver,” Ramsey told reporters Tuesday after reporting to camp. “We all know that. But you all know me at the same time. Yeah, he’s good, but I’m good, too. If you want to say he’s the best at his position, I’m the best at my position, so we are going to go at it. We are going to give the people a show the first game of the season.”

 

It seems Ramsey is giving respect where it’s due. Beckham is arguably the NFL’s premier wide receiver regardless of the long and arduous rehab he’s endured coming off a season-derailing ankle injury last year. Although it remains to be seen if Beckham will be 100 percent when he lines up against the Jaguars at MetLife roughly five weeks from now, it’s clear Ramsey won’t be taking anything for granted.

 

“He is going to have some wins, I am going to have some wins,” Ramsey said. “I just plan on having more wins. That is the plan I am going to go in there with. I am going to work my ass off to get to that point to, like I just said, not let anybody down. I am sure he is doing that on the other side, too.

 

“That is what you all asked for as fans of the game, as [fans of] the NFL, everybody. That is what you all asked for. We are going to give it to you, for sure. I know I am.”

 

It’s good to see Ramsey is looking forward to his upcoming face-off with Beckham, and showing some respect at the same time. Sure, he isn’t guaranteeing any victories this time around, but at least he’s promising fans something they’ll crave on football’s first Sunday of 2018 — a battle between two of the NFL’s best players.

 

 

TENNESSEE

WR COREY DAVIS failed to justify his selection with the fifth overall pick as a rookie in 2017.  But it’s a new year and there is hope.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Titans took wide receiver Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft, but a hamstring injury in the preseason helped keep him from making a big impact during his rookie season.

 

Davis didn’t play in any exhibition games and then missed five weeks after returning for the first two games of the regular season due to the injury. He finished the year with 34 catches for 375 yards and didn’t find the end zone until the Titans’ playoff loss to the Patriots.

 

The feeling in Nashville is that things are looking up for this year, though. Davis’ offseason work got praise from observers as well as wide receivers coach Rob Moore, who said Davis “outworked everybody else” this offseason. For his part, Davis said that he’s “got the fire” and expects his better health to lead to bigger things on the field.

 

“I’m very hungry,” Davis said, via the Tennessean. “Last year I was pretty down, I was injured most of the season. But now that I’m healthy, I’m able to come out here and perfect my craft and get better. It’s a different year, I’ll tell you that. So stay tuned.”

 

In addition to a healthy Davis, the Titans hope offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s system leads to a spike in their passing attack during the 2018 season. If so, the prospects of returning to the playoffs will improve for the Titans.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Mike Rodak of ESPN.com boldly predicts that QB AJ McCARRON will come from behind to emerge as the regular season starter.

 

AJ McCarron will start at quarterback in Week 1.

Although Nathan Peterman’s performance in the spring seemed to give him an edge over McCarron entering training camp, McCarron was the sharper passer through the first four practices in July. In splitting first-team reps with Peterman and occasionally rookie Josh Allen, McCarron is emerging as the safest bet to lead the Bills into a grueling first-half schedule that includes five road games in the first seven weeks. Allen has made some of the best throws of camp but also some of the worst. Meanwhile, McCarron has been steady, although unspectacular.

 

 

MIAMI

Coach Adam Gase is talking up RB FRANK GORE and the Fountain of Youth.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Frank Gore spent the last three seasons in Indianapolis running behind a woebegone offensive line and averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry for the first years of his career.

 

Moving home to Miami, Gore is attempting to extend his career for a 14th season, and pass Curtis Martin for fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list — Gore needs 76 yards to accomplish that task.

 

While Gore is expected to back up Kenyan Drake this season, Dolphins coach Adam Gase praised the 35-year-old running back, whom he coached as an offensive assistant in San Francisco back in 2008.

 

“He doesn’t look different than he did 10 years ago,” Gase said, via the Miami Herald. “He does a phenomenal job. He’s been preparing all spring. All I’ve heard from him since then is ‘Wait ’til training camp.’ He is the last person I will ever doubt. Just seeing what he’s done throughout his career starting in college, he’s proven every person wrong we’ve ever known.”

 

Gore was brought to Miami as a complement to Drake, who should win the starting job after flashing to close out the 2017 season. The young back is soaking up the knowledge provided by his elder.

 

“It’s real cool seeing him out here running around,” Drake said of gore. “He always has that extra gear even at his age. It’s great seeing how he takes care of his body. Even at an age where a running back really doesn’t have a shelf-life, it’s good to see him do these things face to face.”

 

How much Gore has left in the tank remains to be seen. He was inefficient the past three seasons in Indy while carrying the ball 260-plus times each season — a number he surpassed only four times in 10 seasons in San Francisco. Will the repetitive workload finally grind down the seemingly ageless veteran? Or was Indy’s poor line the reason he compiled yards per carry averages of 3.7, 3.9, and 3.7, respectively, the past three seasons?

 

Gore has never been flashy and always taken care of his body. Despite the poor yards per carry average, Pro Football Focus has graded Gore at 74.9 or above in seven of the past eight seasons. No one questions Gore’s motor, but Father Time catches up to every man, especially at the most physical position in football.

 

Gore is hoping to fend off the ticking clock long enough to enjoy one last renaissance in his hometown.

 

“We have a great bunch of young guys that work very hard and this is fun,” Gore said. “I’m really happy to be back where I spent my childhood and to get an opportunity to play here again.”

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Is WR ERIC DECKER going to sign with New England?  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Bruised and banged up at wide receiver, the Patriots are hunting around for help.

 

Veteran pass-catcher Eric Decker worked out for New England on Monday, sources informed of the session told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

 

The Patriots house a handful of injured targets, with Kenny Britt (hamstring), Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Jordan Matthews (hamstring) all nursing various ills. Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman are healthy, but the latter is set to serve a four-game suspension to start the season. Phillip Dorsett and return-man Cordarrelle Patterson serve as additional options.

 

The 31-year-old Decker encountered a cold market after last year’s 54/563/1 line with the Titans. It’s worth noting Patriots play-caller Josh McDaniels drafted Decker while serving as Denver’s head coach. The wideout was sensational during Peyton Manning’s run with the Broncos before landing with the Jets from 2014 to 2016.

 

Hip and shoulder problems wiped out Decker’s final campaign in New York, while Tennessee’s humdrum air-attack did him no favors last autumn. Still, he feels like the type of player New England could flip the switch on until the depth chart is revived.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

MISSISSIPPI NOW TAKING BETS

Mary Perez in the Mississippi Sun Herald:

 

The first sports bet in Mississippi will come on Aug. 1, which is 26 years to the day after

the first casino in the state opened in Biloxi in 1992.

 

The initial wagers are expected to be placed simultaneously at about noon at the Beau Rivage

Resort & Casino in Biloxi and at Gold Strike Casino in Tunica. Sports books at the two MGM

Resorts International casinos will then open to the public.

 

Placing the first bets at the Beau Rivage will be:

▪ Willis McGahee, former Miami Hurricanes running back and 2-time NFL Pro Bowler

▪ Robert Royal, former Louisiana State Tigers tight end and NFL star

▪ Legendary oddsmaker Danny Sheridan

▪ Mississippi Hotel and Hospitality Association Executive Director Larry Gregory, who also is

former director of the Mississippi gaming Commission

 

IP Casino in Biloxi and Sam’s Town in Tunica, both Boyd Gaming properties, also are shooting

for an early August opening pending approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said

David Strow, Boyd director of corporate communications.

 

So for the first weekend or two of the NFL pre-season games, the state could have four casinos

taking wagers.

 

The launch of sports betting comes 10 days after Mississippi’s sports betting regulations took

effect on July 22.

 

Mississippi is the third state, following Delaware and New Jersey, to allow

sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban in May. And Mississippi

is the only state in the South to have sports betting this season.

 

 

RANKING THE RECEIVING CORPS

An edited version of the work of Mike Renners of ProFootballFocus.com who surprises the DB with his top three teams.  Full story here.

 

It’s the final day of July and we’ve been going through the top units across the NFL over the past few weeks. Included in those were our oft-talked about offensive line rankings, our defensive unit rankings on pass-rush, run-defense and in the secondary.

 

But now, we turn our attention to the offensive side of the ball again. Utilizing data from our newly-released Premium Stats 2.0, we unveil our top 32 pass-catching units as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

 

1. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings 1-2 punch is simply unrivaled across the NFL at the moment. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both top notch route runners with exceptional ball skills.

 

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

We were splitting hairs between the top two here with Sammy Watkins down 2017 season being the lone differentiator. The Chiefs have the league’s most productive deep receiver from a season ago in Tyreek Hill and the most productive tight end from the slot in Travis Kelce. Kareem Hunt’s receiving ability shouldn’t go unnoticed as well as he broke 16 tackles on 61 receptions last year.

 

3. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

With Cameron Brate getting a big money extension and a first-round pick invested in O.J. Howard, the Bucs are one of the few teams that boast two receiving threats at tight end. Add that pair to Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, and Jameis Winston will have a full stable of weapons once again upon his return.

 

4. ATLANTA FALCONS

Julio Jones could make any receiving corps a top-10 unit, but now the addition of Calvin Ridley has the ability to push this unit even higher.

 

5. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Everything said above about Jones can be said for Antonio Brown. The Steelers wideout has averaged a 92.5 grade over the past five seasons. Juju Smith-Schuster dominated as a rookie, especially on go routes, averaging a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted on the route.

 

6. CLEVELAND BROWNS

What a difference a year makes. There were parts of the 2017 season where the Browns looked as if they had arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Now with the return of Josh Gordon, trading for Jarvis Landry, getting Corey Coleman healthy and David Njoku in Year 2, the sky is the limit for Cleveland.

 

7. NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants could very well exceed this ranking by the end of the season, but it will take second-year tight end Evan Engram taking a big step forward.

 

8. DETROIT LIONS

Golden Tate and Marvin Jones have been consistently productive in their time with the Lions.

 

9. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Los Angeles would have been much higher prior to the injury of Hunter Henry, but their top-10 ranking still reflects the talent they’ve accrued at receiver. When healthy, Keenan Allen is one of the most unguardable receivers one-on-one.

 

10. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Yards per route run as a unit, rank: 1.65 (1st)

The Saints sneak into the top 10 on the backs of two players who are entering the argument for best receivers at their respective positions. Michael Thomas earned the second-highest grade of any receiver in the league (93.0) in only his second season in 2017. Alvin Kamara one-upped him and earned the highest receiving grade of any back (92.8) as only a rookie last year.

 

11. CINCINNATI BENGALS

The potential with this group is off the charts.

 

12. LOS ANGELES RAMS

With all the struggles that we’ve seen from rookie wide receivers of late, Cooper Kupp’s rookie season should be incredibly encouraging for Rams fans.

 

13. CHICAGO BEARS

After the Browns, the Bears made the biggest leap in the receiving corps rankings this season. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton were all wearing different uniforms at this time last season and figure to now be the lifeblood of the Bears offense.

 

14. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Yards per route run as a unit, rank: 1.51 (5th)

While the Patriots lost Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola this offseason, they signed Jordan Matthews and got back Julian Edelman.

 

15. DENVER BRONCOS

Once one of the league’s top receiving duos, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas have seen their effectiveness dip of late.

 

16. HOUSTON TEXANS

If this receiving corps is going to be ranked higher than this by the season’s end, it’s going to take Will Fuller staying healthy and consistent.

 

17. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

 

18. GREEN BAY PACKERS

The signing of Jimmy Graham this offseason could pay big dividends for the Packers, but at the same time, there is a reason the Seahawks let him walk.

 

19. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Yards per route run as a unit, rank: 1.26 (20th)

Doug Baldwin is still arguably the most underrated receiver in the NFL today.

 

20. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

For the Redskins receiving corps, it is all about health.

 

21. CAROLINA PANTHERS

This group will need immediate contributions from rookie D.J. Moore though, to be effective, which is worrisome with what we’ve seen from recent rookie wide outs.

 

22. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

T.Y. Hilton is still on the roster, but pretty much everyone else from the productive Colts teams of Andrew Luck’s prime is gone.

 

23. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Despite the low ranking, the Ravens are one of the most improved receiving corps in the league. With Mike Wallace as the top option a season ago, it’s hard to get much worse.

 

24. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

While you’ve heard of running back by committee, the 49ers are going to be receiver by committee in 2018. Five different players saw at least 60 targets for the 49ers last year and that figures to be no different this year.

 

25. MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Dolphins receiving corps is filled with players who have tantalized at times over their career, but disappointed with their consistency. Both Kenny Stills and now Devante Parker cracked the 80.0-grade threshold in their second seasons, yet haven’t been able to recreate it since.

 

26. OAKLAND RAIDERS

Amari Cooper’s 2017 season was one of the most head-scratching in recent memory. Drops have always been an issue for him but dropping 10 balls on 48 catchable targets is beyond terrible

 

27. TENNESSEE TITANS

The Titans addressed their receiving corps heavily in the 2017 NFL Draft with three players drafted in the first three rounds. Through one season, neither of them have made much of an impact. Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith combined for all of 763 yards last season and the Titans opted to leave their receiving corps untouched through the draft and free agency.

 

28. NEW YORK JETS

If this were prior to the 2017 season you’d feel a lot better about the prospects of Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor on the roster. In 2016, Enunwa averaged 1.59 yards per route while Pryor averaged 1.70 – both with fairly ugly quarterback situations. Enunwa spent this past year on injured reserve with a neck injury while Pryor was wholly ineffective in Washington before heading to injured reserve himself.

 

29. DALLAS COWBOYS

The fact that the Cowboys brought in Tavon Austin this offseason should tell you about how bleak their receiving corps looks at this point.

 

30. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

The Jaguars roster is full of No. 2 and 3 type receivers who have yet to establish themselves as even productive doing that.

 

31. ARIZONA CARDINALS

Only a few seasons removed from a receiving corps that looked like a top-five unit with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, the Cardinals have seen that group crumble of late. Floyd and Brown have departed while Fitzgerald chugs on into his mid-30s.

 

32. BUFFALO BILLS

Kelvin Benjamin was not the offense-changer they may have hoped for when trading for him last year. He averaged all of 1.28 yards per route as the team’s No. 1 receiver. That’s an ugly number, but not when compared to rookie Zay Jones. Jones was second to last in the entire NFL, averaging only 0.69 yards per route last year.