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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Quarterback Tony Romo and his return to health.

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

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

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

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

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

      Romo said his twice fractured clavicle is fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Even Smith seemed to be speaking wistfully of Fitzpatrick Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The real problem is the revamping of their offensive line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Overall, White described his rehab as an ordeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Grace went undrafted this year out of Notre Dame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Ogbah had 12.5 sacks last season at Oklahoma State.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 49ers' Kelly giving Baalke's favorites a close look
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Fully aware that Jim Harbaugh didn’t see eye-to-eye with Trent Baalke, new coach Chip Kelly is doing his best to start off on a good note with his general manager.

    • While Kelly has cautioned not to read too much into who is playing alongside who during the 49ers’ organized team activities (OTAs), he clearly is giving some of Baalke’s more highly regarded draft picks from recent years an inside track at lining up with the big boys.

      Defensive ends Tank Carradine and Arik Armstead, outside linebacker Eli Harold and safety Jimmie Ward have been given a chance to shine during Kelly’s initial evaluation process at the OTAs.

      Carradine, the club’s second-round pick in 2013 out of Florida State, sat out one season with an ACL tear suffered in college before suffering through two lackluster campaigns during which he totaled 39 tackles, including four sacks, in 23 games. He was deemed good enough to earn just one start.

      Kelly has indicated he would like to get Carradine back into the quarterback-pressuring mode that made him a standout in college. So he is being given a shot to play outside linebacker in the club’s 3-4 alignment this off-season.

      “He’s a very versatile player,” 49ers new defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said before Wednesday’s workout. “I see him on early downs … helping us out some at outside backer. And then when we get into later downs or sub situations, he’s a guy that can play on the edge or he can slide inside and provide some interior rush for us.

      “He’s learning it all right now.”

      Armstead has only played one season, but already he appears headed down Carradine’s path.

      The club’s first-round pick in 2015 out of Oregon wasn’t much of a factor as a rookie, logging two sacks and 19 tackles overall in 16 games. He made one start.

      The 49ers are hoping the addition of 2016 first-round selection DeForest Buckner in April will help rejuvenate Armstead. The defensive ends were terrors on Pacific-12 Conference quarterbacks as Oregon teammates two seasons ago, and Kelly has been giving them a look as bookends along the 49ers’ defensive line.

      “I think he’s really, really comfortable,” O’Neil observed. “He’s shown that he can be a difference-maker in the run game and the pass game. So I’m excited about him.”

      The former coaching staff raved about the potential of 2014 fifth-round pick Aaron Lynch as an outside linebacker, but Kelly is giving Harold, last year’s third-round pick out of Virginia, a chance to wrestle that position away.

      Harold has bulked up from 245 to 270 pounds since the end of last season in an effort to become a better run stopper. Kelly at times has been lining up Harold in tandem with Carradine, which would be a change from last year’s look that regularly paired Lynch with veteran Ahmad Brooks.

      Harold got into all 16 games last season but totaled just 14 tackles.

      Ward, meanwhile, was a curious choice as the club’s top pick in 2014 in that the club already employed a standout tandem of safeties in Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid, the club’s first-round pick the previous season.

      Not surprisingly, Ward has had a hard time cracking the defensive lineup in his two seasons, used mainly in nickel packages to cover slot receivers.

      But Kelly has lined up Ward as the right cornerback with the first unit during the OTAs. The competition runs deep at the corner positions, with Tramaine Brock, Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser, Dontae Johnson and 2016 third-round pick Will Redmond also in the mix.

      “We don’t know what Jimmie is going to be right now. I know he’s one of our best 11. That I do know,” O’Neil gushed. “We’re trying to find ways to get our best 11 on the field. He’s a guy I know we have to get on the field.”

  • Broncos sign second-round DL Gotsis
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

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

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

      The Broncos now have seven of their eight 2016 draft picks under contract, with first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch the only unsigned rookie.

  • Ankle surgery keeps TE Green out of Steelers' OTAs
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

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

      "I just want to see if I can prove it to myself that I can go out there and be the best," Green told ESPN.

      Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is eager to see Green, whose speed stand out at the position, back on the field again.

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

      The Steelers are in need of a replacement at tight end for retired Heath Miller and suspended Martavis Bryant.

  • Falcons experiment with Upshaw on d-line
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Former Baltimore Ravens strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw is getting a look at defensive end.

    • Upshaw, a former second-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, is 6-feet-2 and 272 pounds.

      "They are trying to figure out where they want to play me," Upshaw said. "I'm just trying to learn every position that they want me to learn. So that I can go in there and compete."

      Upshaw, 26, started 51 games over the past four seasons. He helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl, and has amassed 183 tackles, 5.0 sacks, seven passes breakups and three forced fumbles.

      The former second-round pick out of Alabama signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Falcons this offseason that included a $390,000 signing bonus.

      "He's a big man so you can see just from the end of the line how hard it is to run over to his side so we're going to put him at defensive end," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I know he can play (strong-side) linebacker, so we're going to try him at some defensive end this spring and see what that looks like.

      "As we get closer to it we'll navigate the roles, but now's the time, in my opinion, to create the experiments. What you can do and see if we can have the vision for the player come to life."

      Meanwhile, Brooks Reed appears a lot lighter than the 254 pounds the Falcons have him listed at. Signed as a strong-side linebacker last season, he was slowed by a bothersome groin injury.

      "The quickness is the thing that jumped out to me and it started all the way back in his offseason preparation when I saw him for the first time out in the drill work I pulled him aside and said this is the weight you should be at because it looked much quicker," Quinn said.

      INJURY UPDATE: Returner Devin Hester (ankle/foot), right guard Chris Chester (shoulder) and center James Stone (knee) did not participate in Wednesday's practice. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (tendonitis knee), defensive end Adrian Clayborn (strained pectoral) and wide receiver Devin Fuller (hamstring) were also limited.

      ON THE MOVE: CB C.J. Goodwin, a former practice squad player, was moved to cornerback from wide receiver. Goodwin, who's 6-4 and 220 pounds, was used in practice at cornerback last season and went against star wide receiver Julio Jones.

      "Guarding Julio Jones is not the easiest job on the planet," Quinn said. "We said, 'we might have something here.'"

      Meanwhile, defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman is embracing his move to defensive end in the base defense. He lined up at end in the base and at tackle in the nickel package.

      "We've liked what we've seen so far," Quinn said. "We've moved him also to have some versatility from defensive tackle to defensive end. He's done a good job of learning the system up to this point where he can play two different spots. Anytime you can play more than one, your value really goes up."

      NOTES: Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub took the snaps with the second string offense Wednesday as he competes with Sean Renfree and Matt Simms for the primary backup job to Matt Ryan. ... RG Mike Person took the work with the first team with Chris Chester out after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. ... RCB/NCB Robert Alford lined up at right cornerback with the first team's base defense and inside in the nickel. ...TE Austin Hooper wasn't at the session because Stanford is not out of school yet.

      --The Falcons announced their minicamp will run June 14-16 in Flowery Branch, with all three practices open to the public. The first two practices will begin at 2:40 p.m., with the gates opening at 2 p.m., with Thursday's practice beginning an hour after the gates open at 10:30 a.m.

  • Bills GM: 'Poor choice of words' to say humans shouldn't play football
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

      Watkins had surgery this offseason for a broken foot and remains sidelined as the Bills' organized team activities continue this week. He was on crutches and had his left foot in a walking boot during OTA practice Tuesday. He is expected to be out through the preseason.

      "I wouldn't say (he's injury-prone)," Whaley said Tuesday of Watkins. "If you look at his game log, he's only missed three games. So is he injury-prone? I wouldn't say that. Are things going to come up with a guy like this? We hope that gets limited in the future.

      "We trust in our medical staff and we trust in each individual athlete to do what they have to do to get back on the field."

  • Bills defend handling of Lawson injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills are taking some criticism for their decision to draft edge rusher Shaq Lawson in the first round, now that it has come to be that his shoulder injury -- which he played with for three years at Clemson without missing a game -- needs to be surgically repaired.

    • Lawson reportedly tweaked the shoulder during a voluntary practice while making a swim move on a tackling dummy. A few days later, the Bills announced on May 16 that he would undergo surgery because in their view -- even though their medical staff had signed off on it during the draft process - the injury was going to present problems, and it was better to get it done now than wait until after the season.

      "The Buffalo Bills are taking measures to prevent the possibility of Shaq Lawson aggravating a pre-existing shoulder condition during the season," general manager Doug Whaley said in a statement released by the team. "While he could continue to play, the Bills' medical staff has determined that surgery is the best course of action for the overall health of his shoulder moving forward."

      Some fans and media are wondering why the Bills picked Lawson, knowing full well that he had a shoulder problem that would potentially need surgery. This was a draft filled with high-end defensive linemen, several of whom were available when it was Buffalo's turn to pick No. 19 overall. Several teams red-flagged Lawson because of the shoulder, part of the reason why he was still available at Buffalo's pick, but the Bills -- most likely led by head coach Rex Ryan who was enamored with the Clemson product -- pressed forward.

      Now, he will probably not be available to play until at least early November, and after missing so much time, it's questionable whether he could come back and make a meaningful contribution to a team that really needs its first-rounders to produce immediately.

      One of the stinging criticisms levied against the Bills is that with a 16-year playoff drought hanging around their collective necks, they didn't have the luxury of picking a player who probably won't be of much use to them this season. In effect, this is lining up as a redshirt year for Lawson, similar to what Jacksonville went through in 2015 when its first-round pick, edge rusher Dante Fowler, was felled by a knee injury on the first day of a rookie minicamp practice and was lost for the season.

      "The best thing for our team is to get this kid at 100 percent and ready to roll for us and that's what we did," said Ryan. "He's going to make a hundred percent recovery from this injury, and at some point he'll be playing and he'll be rolling and every single Bills fan out there will be happy that we drafted him."

      Ryan reiterated that Lawson would be practicing right now if he hadn't undergone the surgery last Tuesday. But when he tweaked the shoulder during a drill a couple weeks ago, even though it wasn't something that would have sidelined him, the organization altered its plan. Rather than risk Lawson getting hurt later in spring practice, or in the preseason, which could sideline him for the season, they sent him in for the surgery now to get it done once and for all.

      "We could have waited until during the season and then at some point, if we had to go with surgery, he'd be lost for the year," said Ryan. "We took this guy to be a great player for a long time and that's what we think we have when we drafted this guy."

      For his part, Lawson admitted he had a shoulder injury, but after being drafted by the Bills, he told reporters, "If I didn't have surgery my freshman year, why would I need surgery now? I can still play ball." It seemed it was his intention to play this season, and perhaps have surgery following the 2016 schedule.

      This part of Whaley's statement seemed to insinuate that Lawson didn't want to have surgery, but that he is doing so at the team's behest.

      "I want to take this opportunity to commend Shaq Lawson and his representatives for putting the team first by having this surgery on his shoulder done now," said Whaley. "By doing so, he's forsaking personal goals to be 100 percent healthy when we will need him most during the regular season. Fans constantly hear us say that we want players with tremendous character who keep team goals ahead of personal ones and Shaq is a great example of this."

      --Wide receiver Sammy Watkins will miss all of the Bills' offseason program due to foot surgery that was performed about a month ago. This was all very hush-hush as no one outside the team and Watkins' inner circle even knew that he was having his foot operated on, but the news leaked out the same day that the Bills announced rookie Shaq Lawson would be undergoing shoulder surgery.

      Watkins, the Bills' injury-prone first-round pick from 2014, has now had eight different injuries during his two years with the Bills, a couple of which forced him to miss playing time. The good news this time is that he will probably be able to participate -- at least in a minimal role -- during training camp and preseason, and barring a setback, be ready to play in the season opener at Baltimore Sept 11.

      "Sammy's not going to miss any time," head coach Rex Ryan said, meaning the start of the regular season. "By the time the regular season comes around, Sammy Watkins is not going to miss any time. He'll be ready to go, there's no doubt."

      --Cornerback Stephone Gilmore is not present for the first week of the Bills' OTA schedule, and there's a chance he's not going to be in Buffalo until the mandatory minicamp June 14-16 as his agent and the team work toward a long-term contract extension. The Bills picked up the fifth-year option on Gilmore's original rookie deal, so he's making about $11 million this season, but after seeing the free-agent contracts signed by Janoris Jenkins with the Giants (five years, $62.5 million) and Josh Norman with the Redskins (five years, $75 million), Gilmore is looking for a whole lot more.

      Before Norman's record deal for a cornerback, the Jenkins contract seemed to be the starting point for Gilmore. Gilmore was a 2012 first-rounder, and Jenkins was selected by the Rams 29 picks later midway through the second round. Neither player has made a Pro Bowl, but both have been four-year starters and they have similar statistics in terms of tackles, passes defensed, and interceptions.

  • Colts wrap up draft pick signings
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

    • The 6-foot-5, 316-pound Clark was a third-round pick (No. 82 overall) out of Texas Tech, where he started all 51 games over his four-year career. He was a three-time All-Big 12 first-team selection while starting at left tackle the past three seasons.

      Clark was rated as the No. 7 offensive tackle prospect by NFLDraftScout.com and projected as a third-round draft pick, with the Colts currently planning for Clark to begin his NFL career at guard.

  • Bears sign LB Grace, waive Mason
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

    • Grace went undrafted this year out of Notre Dame, where he recorded 78 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup in 32 career games. He attended the Bears' rookie minicamp as a rookie tryout.

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

  • Packers WR Nelson feels great but not rushing rehab
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    GREEN BAY, Wisc., -- After sitting out an entire season, Jordy Nelson is willing to wait a little more before he's a full go again on the football field.

    • Green Bay's top receiver has been relegated to individual work in the Packers' spring program, which moved into organized team activities Monday. Nelson is nine months removed from suffering a torn ACL in a preseason game at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

      "I feel great," Nelson said Tuesday, when the Packers held their first open workout of OTAs, which run until the first week of June. "Everything I'm doing, I'm comfortable with. I'm not worried about anything else. Obviously, we're still progressing and dealing with the situation that we're in. We don't have to push it too much. We're still in May. Our goal is obviously (to be ready) in September," for the start of the season.

      Nelson has been able to run routes and work on his cutting for some time now, but he still has another hurdle to clear before the team's decision-makers clear him to participate in team drills. Head coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't say whether that will happen before training camp starts in late July.

      "I know this week we're going to stick to the individual (work), as far as individual (route running) on air," McCarthy said. "So, we'll see what next week's plan is."

      Nelson hinted he won't be a full participant any sooner than training camp. Green Bay's minicamp is June 14-16.

      "Obviously, they're doing what they need to do; I'm doing what I need to do, and we find a happy medium," Nelson said. "We're still working through it and progressing. It's not a big deal. We all know what the end goal is."

      The Packers also are without another of their primary wideouts until possibly training camp.

      Ty Montgomery hasn't been cleared for football activities. He missed all but the first six games of his rookie season in 2015 because of an ankle injury that required surgery in December.

  • Slimmed-down Lacy answers Packers' call
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- Saying he received a wakeup call from head coach Mike McCarthy a few months ago, lead running back Eddie Lacy injected a sense of humor Tuesday.

    • "I'm not going to get skinny like (fellow back) James Starks. I'm always going to be big," Lacy quipped while surrounded by a large group of reporters in the Packers locker room after the team's first open workout in organized team activities.

      Fortunately for Lacy, he didn't report for the start of Green Bay's offseason program last month not nearly as big as his well-chronicled inflated playing weight last season.

      "So far, so good," McCarthy said after watching Lacy on the field through two days of OTAs.

      Lacy refused to divulge how much weight he's lost, saying only, "Enough to be lighter."

      An intense training program with P90X founder Tony Horton that included pickup basketball and boxing early in the offseason allowed Lacy to get back in McCarthy's good graces.

      At the end of last season, McCarthy publicly criticized the young standout by saying he reported to the spring workouts overweight and stayed that way in what turned out to be an underwhelming season. Lacy rushed for only 758 yards and three touchdowns in 2015 after he racked up at least 1,100 yards each of his first two pro seasons with a cumulative 20 touchdowns on the ground.

      An upset McCarthy demanded that Lacy come back this spring in better shape. Lacy didn't take his coach's reaction as a slap in the face.

      "At the end of the day, we're all grown men," Lacy said. "Whether he calls me out, I just have to take care of that responsibility. You don't get mad or flash out or anything like that. You just take it as it is what it is and make it go away.

      "You get a wakeup call; that was my wakeup call -- better sooner than later," Lacy added.

      The Packers list the 5-foot-11 Lacy at 234 pounds on their spring roster. He was listed at the same weight last season.

      Lacy is optimistic he can get back to being the productive workhorse he was for the Packers in 2013 and 2014, just as a slimmed-down version.

      Yet, he acknowledged there's more work to do and weight to shed with training camp two months away. He wouldn't say what his target weight is for next season,

      "Just trying to get in better shape," Lacy said.

      McCarthy is hopeful his lead back has turned the corner in a favorable way.

      "Eddie will be fine," McCarthy said. "I believe he'll hit the target that we're all looking for when the lights come on."

      Quarterback Aaron Rodgers shared the enthusiasm after running around with Lacy on Tuesday.

      "Eddie looks like Eddie," Rodgers said. "It's good to have him out there. He's a talented guy. He's going to be an important part of our season."

  • Koetter will battle heat on Bucs practice days
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have found a way to topple their biggest opponent and beat the heat.

    • Head coach Dirk Koetter was an assistant in Jacksonville and Atlanta before coming to Tampa Bay, so he's no stranger to the summer heat.

      He's also not a huge fan of the effect it has when preparing football teams.

      That's why Koetter has decided the Bucs will have morning practices through the final preseason game, hoping the cooler temperatures will keep his team fresh throughout the season.

      "All the way up until the fourth preseason game, we're going to practice in the morning," said Koetter. "We did a little study, and in August when we're out here, it's on average 11 degrees cooler at 8:45 than it is at 2:45. I did quick Idaho State math and said 'Geez, 11 degrees cooler! Why won't we practice in the morning?'"

      It represents a departure from what the Bucs have done the past two seasons under Lovie Smith, who believed the team should practice in the midday since games are typically around 1 p.m. But Koetter believes practicing in the heat -- and the resulting dehydration -- has a cumulative effect during the season.

      "Last 10 years I've been coaching in the South, and I really do believe there's a cumulative effect over the course of the season, from August until the end of the year," Koetter said. "When you're out here, even if it's for walkthrough and it's 12, 1, 2 and it's 95 degrees and the sun's beating on you. I just think there's a cumulative effect and we're going to try to do everything we can to chip away at that."

      Koetter may have a point. Over the last five years, the Bucs are 3-21 in December and January games, as opposed to 20-36 in games played before December.

      Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy says he welcomes the change, but isn't sure that heat will cooperate.

      "I feel like the weather has a personality and it knows when we practice," McCoy said. "The heat is always there. It's like, 'We're going to practice in the morning guys.' Great. And the temperature is like going to be 175 (degrees).

      "It's great and I'm excited about it because I'm one of those guys; I prefer to get the practice out of the way and then have the rest of the day instead of sitting around waiting to die. Just kill me now."

  • New chance for redemption for Eagles LB Kendricks
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    Last August, the Eagles rewarded one of their top young defensive players, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, with a four-year, $29 million contract extension.

    • Unfortunately, Kendricks responded with the poorest season of his four-year pro career. To be fair, he wasn't alone. Most of the Eagles defense played poorly last season. They finished 28th in the league in points allowed, 32nd in run defense and gave up a franchise-record 36 touchdown passes. But when a good player like Kendricks plays poorly, you tend to notice it more.

      "I just feel it was too much hot and cold," Kendricks said of his play last season. "With all of the players rotating in and out, no one was able to get into the flow.

      "I didn't feel I played as good or as much. For the time I was in, I felt my numbers were OK. But it's hard to be a force or someone to be reckoned with when you're not on the field."

      Kendricks missed three games and most of a fourth with a hamstring injury. Rotating at inside linebacker with DeMeco Ryans and Kiko Alonso, he played more than 70 percent of the defensive snaps in just two of the Eagles' final eight games. And they gave up a total of 90 points in those two games.

      "Last year was last year and this year is this year," Kendricks said. "It's a whole new defense, a whole new scheme, a whole new team."

      And a whole new chance for redemption for Kendricks. Gone is Bill Davis' two-gap 3-4 defense, replaced by new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's 4-3 wide-9, which Kendricks played in as a rookie in 2012.

      He has been penciled in as one of the two likely starting outside linebackers in Schwartz's defense. He and newcomer Nigel Bradham will flank middle linebacker Jordan Hicks.

      Kendricks has bulked up significantly, from 235 to 250. He did so on his own, not at the urging of Schwartz.

      "It was my decision (to gain the weight)," Kendricks said. "I talked to the coaches and they understand. The thing is, I always can lose some weight. We'll see how it works out.

      "We haven't put the pads on yet. I don't know how I'll feel hitting someone (at this weight) yet. I'm assuming I'll feel really good."

      A more important factor will be whether he has lost any speed by adding weight.

      Schwartz's defense seems to fit Kendricks' skill-set better than Davis' two-gap 3-4. Less reading and reacting. More playing downhill, which is what the athletic Kendricks does best.

      "I feel if I stay healthy, you'll see me in the Pro Bowl," Kendricks said.

  • Broncos QBs getting equal reps early
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 24, 2016

    DENVER -- When the Denver Broncos' three quarterbacks took their repetitions in individual work Tuesday morning, they lined up by league seniority: Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and finally, first-round pick Paxton Lynch.

    • But that doesn't mean that is how they will shake out.

      And even on the first day of OTAs, a sense of urgency hung in the air for the quarterbacks as they attempted to make the best impression they could.

      Sanchez was just 10 days removed from surgery to repair a torn ligament in the thumb on his non-throwing hand, but practiced anyway, even though he couldn't take a snap. He worked in individual and seven-on-seven periods and overcame an early interception to settle down and complete nearly all of his passes.

      Siemian was the first quarterback to run the No. 1 offense in the first team period of practice. But Lynch also had a chance with the first unit, as they alternated work in three-play bursts.

      "We're repping them all right down the middle," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "(Lynch) is going to get a ton because I'm going to work our young guys probably more than I'm going to work the rest of the team when it's all said and done. There are going to be plenty of reps to go around."

      Siemian looked composed. He didn't force the ball; he took checkdowns when coverage prevented him from firing downfield.

      "I'm really excited about Trevor," Kubiak said. "He's got a chance to be a really good player. He knows exactly what he's doing. He basically took the first group today. With what you guys got to see, he's practiced very well. I think Trevor has a lot of confidence in himself right now."

      And his teammates can see it.

      "I think Trevor has a maturity to him," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "He's kind of the sleeper, I would say.

      "Of course Mark and Paxton are going to be the headlines, but Trevor knows the offense. He's very comfortable and can throw the ball, too. We've also seen him make big plays in the preseason games under the lights. I wouldn't sleep on Trevor to win the job either."

      The fact that Siemian is receiving a legitimate look says a lot about where the Broncos' quarterback stands as of this point. It's nothing against Sanchez or Lynch, but if the best option for the job ends up being a seventh-round pick from last year's draft, so be it.

      At the same time, Lynch's arm cannot be discounted. His velocity and downfield accuracy showed why he was a first-round pick. Although he missed a potential deep connection to Demaryius Thomas, he hit Henry Krieger Coble and Khalif Raymond on passes of more than 20 yards, and punctuated his day with a touchdown pass to Jordan Taylor on a deep go route.

      But there will be other days he struggles.

      "I thought he looked good. I think he still has some things to process a little bit faster," said Harris. "We're very vanilla -- everything is very vanilla. Everything will turn up as OTAs go on."

      Lynch has "a long ways to go," Kubiak added. "But (he's) very attentive, pays attention and works hard. A good start today."

      That's all Tuesday was: the start of a competition that will likely linger through the summer.

      BATTLE OF THE WEEK

      Perhaps no position competition will be more scrutinized around the league than that of Broncos quarterback. Mark Sanchez was limited to seven-on-seven and individual work Tuesday, because he could not take snaps as he recovers from thumb surgery. That left the rest of the work to Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, with each getting opportunities to guide the first team during the team period.

  • Titans lose Bell to ugly ankle injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 24, 2016

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans took a terrible blow on the first day of organized team activities when offensive tackle Byron Bell dislocated his left ankle toward the end of practice Tuesday.

    • Bell, who ran with the first team offense at right tackle to open OTAs, seemed to catch his leg in the ground and twisted, causing a gruesome injury with his foot pointed in the wrong direction. He had to be carted off, and season-ending surgery will no doubt be upcoming shortly.

      Bell was not expected to retain the starting position at right tackle, as first-round pick Jack Conklin will be the starter there sooner or later. However, with Bell's injury, sooner came sooner than expected for Conklin.

      Conklin moved in and worked with the first-team unit at right tackle for the remainder of Tuesday's practice.

      Titans coach Mike Mularkey said it was frustrating to lose Bell, who had come into camp in top shape.

      "'Bear' has really had a great offseason. He's really worked hard," Mularkey said. "That's the first thing he said, 'I've worked so hard to have it end like this.' Those are the kinds of injuries that are going to happen in this game. It's unfortunate for him and unfortunate for us. He's a good football player, and we're going to miss him."

      Where the loss of Bell hurts the Titans most is in in versatility. He was most likely ticketed to be Tennessee's third tackle behind Conklin and Taylor Lewan. Bell's ability to play four of the five positions on the offensive line made him very valuable to Mularkey and offensive line coach Russ Grimm.

      "He was going to compete for one (of the roster spots)," Mularkey said. "That loss is greater than you think, because he can play inside and outside on both sides."

      Bell was the Titans' primary right tackle last season, starting eight games there after spending the first seven games of the year as the team's starting left guard. He also played left tackle in the season finale at Indianapolis when Lewan was sidelined due to an injury.

      With the loss of Bell, the Titans now have to search hard for a third tackle, with former practice squad players Josue Matias and Will Poehls the most likely in-house options for now. Expect the Titans to look at street free agents and also to mine the waiver wire for help, too, as they will have the top priority in all waiver claims from now through the first three weeks of the regular season.

      Bell re-signed with the Titans in the offseason, agreeing to a one-year deal with the club for the second consecutive year. He spent his first four NFL seasons with the Carolina Panthers.