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  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Headliners missing from start of Seahawks OTAs
    By The Sports Xchange

    RENTON, Wash. -- It was almost easier to detail who attended the Seattle Seahawks' first Organized Team Activity Tuesday than name those who did not.

    • The list of those absent was star-studded -- quarterback Russell Wilson, tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive end Cliff Avril, running back Marshawn Lynch, linebacker Bruce Irvin and defensive end Michael Bennett.

      The reasons were also varied, including tragedies that struck people close to Graham and Avril.

      Graham, a tight end acquired in an offseason trade with the Saints, was in Miami attending the funeral of Tamara Meyerson, a 45-year-old woman who died Friday and was described as his personal manager and a surrogate mother.

      Wilson decided Monday night to also attend the funeral with a team official, causing a rare absence from a Seattle workout for the team's fourth-year quarterback.

      Avril was absent following the death of his father over the weekend.

      "Devastating losses and we send our heart and prayers to those guys," said coach Pete Carroll. "Obviously, they're going to take some time taking care of the family business right now. We know that there's really nothing we can do, but we're trying to show the love and see if we can help out in any way."

      Bennett and Irvin sat out while apparently continuing to make a statement about issues they have with their own contract situations.

      Bennett also sat out an earlier two-week conditioning phase as he continues to try to have the team redo a four-year, $28.5 million contract he signed in March 2014. Irvin has been known to be upset that the team did not exercise an option on his contract for the 2016 season that would have paid him $7.8 million.

      Carroll did not publicly express any disappointment in their decisions, noting that the workouts are voluntary.

      As for Lynch, his absence is in keeping with his usual routine this time of year as Lynch has rarely attended voluntary workouts.

      Wilson may also miss other workouts this week to attend the funeral for Avril's father. Carroll said Wilson had the support of the team to be gone due to the reason for his absences, and it was made clear that it was not due to his continuing efforts to get a long-term contract extension from the team.

      Carroll called Wilson deciding to go to the funeral for Meyerson "a good idea."

      As for contract talks, Carroll said he had nothing to report and did not want to talk about where the two sides may be.

      "Hopefully we get something done," he said. "But if we don't, we'll just have to deal with it."

      Despite the absences, though, Carroll said he was happy with the work the team has done in an offseason in which Seattle has been one of the more scrutinized teams in the NFL after losing the Super Bowl in historic fashion.

      "Each year we challenge ourselves to put together the best offseason we can put together," he said. "It starts with the individual and then the guys bring that to their position groups and then to the team. We've had no exception to that. We've had great work and the attitude has been on it. That's all we could ask for. It's been five weeks now coming to this point and you see the result today. We went out and practiced and ran around and guys knew what they're doing and flying around, communicating well and we're off and running. It's exactly the kind of tempo we anticipate seeing if we're on it. So that's a credit to all the work these guys have put forth so far."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Honey Badger's healthy return sweet news for Cardinals
    By The Sports Xchange

    TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Honey Badger is ready to go on the hunt once again.

    • Now that third-year safety Tyrann Mathieu is fully healed following significant injuries to his left knee and left thumb, that's great news for the Arizona Cardinals and potentially bad news for their opponents.

      "He's got a smile on his face," head coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday as the Cardinals began their second week of organized team activities at their training facility in Tempe, Ariz. "He's extremely quick and fluid again. He's got his hands on balls. He looks like he was when he was a rookie."

      Mathieu was a mess last season, first having to slowly work his way back from a torn left ACL and then deal with surgery to repair a broken thumb, which got crushed during a Week 13 game against the Falcons.

      "He felt one-legged and one-armed," Arians said. "He was playing not to lose, and he had never played that way before."

      Though these practices don't include any real contact, Mathieu has been turning heads in camp for the past couple weeks.

      "He was flying around and was all over the field today," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "That's what made him what he was as a rookie. He was flying around, always in the right place at the right time. You could see it again today and every day this whole camp. He's back to 100 percent."

      Mathieu has ditched his knee brace and no longer has to wear a cast on his wrist. On Tuesday, he said he finally has a reason to celebrate.

      "Football is fun again," he said. "I would say it took me basically a year to really get back healthy and feel comfortable again. But I think everybody is different. I'm just happy that I'm finally at the point where I can do a lot of things."

      Asked if he's able to do everything he needs to do, from making sharp cuts, sudden stops, and accelerate without discomfort or hindrance, Mathieu nodded his head.

      "I think I'm moving around pretty well," he said. "I've never been a fast guy. I'm more quick than fast. So I feel like a cat, I'll say that."

      Or a Honey Badger.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Mariota commands offense, respect with Titans
    By The Sports Xchange

    NASHVILLE. Tenn -- Marcus Mariota admittedly has a lot to learn to become the Tennessee Titans' franchise quarterback, but he already is showing that he can take command of an NFL offense.

    • That was evident in the team's first OTA on Tuesday when he looked comfortable calling plays, taking the snap and, most obvious, taking off with extraordinary speed for 30-yard gains when a play broke down.

      The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback taken No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft was not required to do some things at Oregon that have long been basic in the NFL: Taking the snap from center, dropping back and calling the play in a huddle are among the most notable.

      Mariota says the most important thing to him is knowing how to call plays and change them at the line when necessary. Tuesday, he had no trouble getting the Titans in the right play from the huddle to the line and through to the play's execution.

      "Being able to articulate it, if you're kind of stumbling over it or the coach has to correct you, the older players are just going to kind of look at you and not respect that," Mariota said. "So being able to communicate and show that you have confidence and that you can go out there and practice."

      Earning that respect happens in a variety of ways and is already beginning to show.

      "A couple of times today when he ran 30 yards down the field when the play broke down, that'll get their respect pretty quick," Whisenhunt said. "Just the way he plays and the way he carries himself. You saw that in college. That was one of the things we saw when we went to Oregon to the pro day. You could see the way they respected him. ... Guys like having guys who can help them win, and I think they see that in Marcus."

      Mariota said taking command of the offense won't be an issue for him.

      "I don't think it's difficult. I think it just depends on who you are as a person," Mariota said. "You've been around the facility a little bit and if you develop the relationships to where guys respect you, you're able to communicate and express what you feel needs to be done. I thought it went well today in that I was able to do that."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    NFL OTAs: No shock, QBs a top subject
    By The Sports Xchange

    In news as surprising as sunrise and sunset, quarterbacks were the hot topic for several NFL teams as 23 clubs were scheduled to begin this week's organized training activities (OTAs) Tuesday.

    • Only 22 teams actually worked out, as the Houston Texans pushed their start date to Wednesday due to bad weather and flooding.

      And now a word on those quarterbacks.

      For Tennessee Titans rookie Marcus Mariota, the second overall draft pick this year out of Oregon, progress is just being able to call the play in the huddle. That is one of several things he did not do while running the Ducks' prolific, up-tempo offense, and scouts were concerned how quickly and how well he would pick up the NFL game.

      In his first OTA Tuesday, Mariota called plays in the huddle, took snaps from over center and pretty much looked like an NFL quarterback.

      Oakland's Derek Carr, already considered the key to the Raiders' turnaround, was able to do only rudimentary things at practice because of an injured finger on his right hand.

      Passing is not among those rudimentary things, such as taking snaps and pitching the ball. While Carr is not totally ready, Christian Ponder was quarterbacking the first unit.

      In Cleveland, 12th-year veteran quarterback Josh McCown took snaps with the first team and plans to stay on top of a Browns depth chart that includes controversial Johnny Manziel, who returned from rehab but is being kept away from the media.

      Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, the NFL's offensive rookie of the year in 2012, is now a father, and there is a suggestion that a more mature attitude will help him play back to that first-year form.

      In San Diego, prolific veteran quarterback Philip Rivers opened camp still not under a new contract with the Chargers, but at least he was under center.

      Here is a closer look at teams that began OTAs Tuesday:

      --Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota admittedly has a lot to learn in becoming the Titans' franchise quarterback, but the rookie already is able to take command of the offense.

      There were concerns -- and probably still are -- that he might have trouble in the NFL after running an offense at Oregon that never huddled and never gave him a direct snap over center.

      However, Mariota appears to be learning those things quickly. He said his most important challenge is to know how to call the play in the huddle.

      "Being able to articulate it, if you're kind of stumbling over it or the coach has to correct you, the older players are just going to kind of look at you and not respect that," Mariota said. "So being able to communicate and show that you have confidence and that you can go out there and practice (is crucial)."

      He is already working to earn teammates' esteem.

      "A couple of times today when he ran 30 yards down the field when the play broke down, that'll get their respect pretty quick, those kinds of things," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Just the way he plays and the way he carries himself. You saw that in college. That was one of the things we saw when we went to Oregon to the pro day. You could see the way they respected him. ... Guys like having guys who can help them win, and I think they see that in Marcus."

      Mariota said taking command of the offense won't be an issue for him.

      "I don't think it's difficult. I think it just depends on who you are as a person," Mariota said. "You've been around the facility a little bit and if you develop the relationships to where guys respect you, you're able to communicate and express what you feel needs to be done. I thought it went well today and that I was able to do that."

      --Oakland Raiders: As the Raiders began their second week of OTAs Tuesday, starting quarterback Derek Carr was able to take some snaps during drills on running plays, showing he can hand off and pitch out despite an undisclosed injury to his right (throwing) hand.

      As for throwing the ball, that hasn't happened yet. Free agent addition Christian Ponder took the snaps as the starting quarterback for the second week. A source close to Carr maintains the injury is minor (ESPN reported it was an issue with the ring finger) and that he could be back in action soon.

      The Raiders have another week of OTAs remaining before their mandatory minicamp June 9-11. Regardless, Carr has missed time getting his timing down with new wide receivers such as Michael Crabtree and top draft pick Amari Cooper, as well as Rod Streater, who missed most of last season with a broken foot.

      "He was able to take some snaps, and we'll bring him along," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think things are progressing."

      It is Del Rio's policy to not disclose injuries in the offseason.

      Streater admits to some frustration because he missed so much time with Carr last season, and now that he is healthy, Carr can't throw.

      In the meantime, Ponder, a 10-game winner as a 16-game starter with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012 and reunited with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, is getting the work with the first team over Matt McGloin.

      Ponder signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and realizes his status at No. 1 is only temporary.

      "My job, I understand, is the backup, and I'm here to help Derek and help this team out," Ponder said. "It's exciting for me to be out there right now taking first-team reps, but I know this is Derek's team right now."

      The Raiders also made off-the-field news Tuesday, signing their seventh-round draft pick, cornerback Dexter McDonald.

      --Cleveland Browns: Quarterback Josh McCown looked assertive and in control on a muggy afternoon at the team training complex in Berea, Ohio, where he is taking snaps with the first string and intends to stay there.

      In the wings is 2014 first-round draftee Johnny Manziel, who was in alcohol rehab from January until April.

      McCown is 17-32 as a starter while playing for the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

      Naming McCown the starter for now eliminates the distractions of a quarterback battle. Manziel still could win the job with an impressive training camp and preseason.

      Manziel is running the second-team offense. He has not been made available to the media since the end of the 2014 season.

      If McCown does start the season opener against the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium, he would be the 23rd different quarterback to start for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999.

      --Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III has been on his twitter account acting like a proud new father, which he is. Now coach Jay Gruden and, well, pretty much anybody who watches the Redskins want to see how RG3 acts on the football field.

      Griffin's private life was often lived in public ever since he was the critical factor in turning Baylor's moribund football program into a bowl perennial. He was so excited about the baby that he tweeted the news of her arrival, complete with a photo and her own hashtag.

      "He woke up me at 3 in the morning with a text and photo after she was born," tight end Niles Paul said. "That's a different responsibility as a man."

      "He's doing fine," Gruden said of Griffin. "He's just gotta put practice after practice together and show the consistency that we're looking for. Robert's got a great work ethic. That's never been a question. He comes to work every day trying to get better. Robert's a confident guy."

      Although injuries were a big part of his downfall the past two years, there was more to it, including issues between he and departed coach Mike Shanahan and even Shanahan's replacement, Gruden.

      "It's been a couple of crazy years," said Griffin, whose contract option for 2016 the Redskins picked up last month. "It shouldn't be about who likes who, who doesn't like who, and who said what. I haven't been up to par the past couple of my years. To have that consistency with the staff and the offense only helps. You gotta be true to who you are. And right now, I'm a 25-year-old young man who can do a lot of different things."

      --San Diego Chargers: Quarterback Philip Rivers, who wants a new contract, was on hand for Tuesday's first OTA this week, but veteran star safety Eric Weddle was not.

      Weddle, an All-Pro last season, wants an extension on a contract that is scheduled to pay him $7.5 million this year. Like Rivers, he wants a deal for more money, and he is clear he seeks something long term. However, the Chargers aren't in a rush to extend Weddle's contract, so their four-time defensive captain is resting instead of getting reps on the first day the veterans could join the rookies.

      "I wasn't shocked not to see him out there," Rivers said of Weddle.

      The difference between the two players deciding whether to attend the OTA was that the Chargers approached Rivers about an extension. Rivers declined initially but has changed his tune.

      "I'm willing to listen to anything," he said.

      Rivers did not hide his displeasure of possibly moving his large family to the Los Angeles area, if that is where the Chargers' search for a new venue leads them. However, he said Tuesday that it would be "awesome" if he finished his career with the Chargers.

      --Kansas City Chiefs: Coach Andy Reid kicked off his third season of OTAs with the Chiefs on Tuesday, and 79 of 90 players on the roster took part in the workout.

      However, the team's main focus is putting together a reliable offensive line. There could be four new starters compared to last season, including guard Ben Grubbs and second-round draft choice Mitch Morse.

      "We are going to find the five best guys; that's what we are trying to get to," Reid said. "I really don't care where they play. I just want the five best. Then, we line up and play."

      Two of the five "best guys" will be Grubbs at left guard and third-year left tackle Eric Fisher. In the mix for the other three spots are Morse (center/guard), Zach Fulton (center/guard), Jeff Allen (guard/tackle), Donald Stephenson (guard/tackle), Paul Fanaika (guard), Derek Sherrod (tackle) and Eric Kush (center).

      "I don't really care," Reid said. "Find the best guys and go with it."

      The biggest name among the 11 players not working Tuesday was outside linebacker Justin Houston. Last year's NFL leader in sacks (22) has been absent throughout the offseason program, spending his time working out and preparing at home in Georgia.

      Also missing the first OTA was safety Eric Berry; his 2014 season was cut short when he was diagnosed in November as having Hodgkin's lymphoma with a tumor in his chest. Berry received treatments in Atlanta from December through early May. The Chiefs have not publicly put a timetable on his return.

      --Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins opened their OTAs Tuesday with perfect attendance, including Ndamukong Suh, the high-priced free agent defensive tackle who traditionally skipped spring workouts while with the Detroit Lions.

      Coach Joe Philbin was glad Suh chose to participate.

      "That being part of the team is important, contributing is important, being out here for practice is important," Philbin said. "The big thing that we've talked to the team about since April 20, the things that we're doing today are going to make a difference in September, October, December, January, February.

      "Even though the season seems a long way off, September 13, there are still a few more months before we get there. Everything we do is important."

      To that end, the Dolphins should be glad quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the passing offense were sharp.

      Tannehill, who had career bests last season in touchdowns (27), interceptions (12), passing yards (4,045), completion percentage (.664) and passer rating (92.8), was under moderate pressure from the veteran defensive line.

      However, for the most part, the pass-catching crew, led by wide receivers DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills, as well as tight ends Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims, did a nice job. They seemed in sync with Tannehill, who is entering his fourth season, and not many balls hit the ground. Parker, the first-round pick from Louisville who is physically imposing at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, continued his ritual of catching darn near everything thrown his direction.

      "DeVante was great today," Tannehill said. "You've been seeing it the past few weeks ... but today you got to see him make some tough catches with defenders on his back, in traffic, and that's what you want to see, that a guy with a big body is able to make strong catches with his hands in traffic."

      --Atlanta Falcons: Coach Dan Quinn was elated for the team to move into phase three of the offseason program with the start of OTAs on Tuesday.

      "It was an awesome day out there to get connected with our whole team at once," Quinn said. "As we get started into our next phase of our offseason program, phase three allows us to get a chance to work with everybody together. The emphasis going into today, we had a lot of third-down work and some two-minute (drills). I thought the guys did a good job for our first time doing that as a whole group."

      With music blaring and the tempo high, the Falcons appeared to move around the three practice fields with a purpose.

      "No. 1, we wanted to really learn how to practice fast against each other, but doing it safely," Quinn said. "When we become a really good practicing team, that's when it will carry over into the game. The No. 1 priority was just the tempo and attitude that we're trying to practice with."

      While the drills are non-contact, Quinn saw some benefit in the units being able to line up against each other.

      "Outside linebackers going against tight ends," Quinn said. "Guards and centers going against defensive tackles. Wide receivers going against (defensive backs). That type of competition when you get to go back and forth against somebody, that's really what will make us (improve). That's one of the things I was most pleased about as we got started in the practice today."

      The Falcons have installed most of their attack and are now working through it for the second or third time for some of the players.

      "I think generally you can see when a guy really has his details down," Quinn said. "That's when he plays his fastest. It's often times when they are still learning the playbook and still getting it down, there is a little hesitancy. Fortunately, the speed of that is picking up, which allows us to play a little more freely."

      Quinn is clearly emphasizing running to the ball and creating turnovers.

      "All the calls that we have are designed to go after the ball," Quinn said. "That's really the mindset."

      --Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Despite using the No. 1 draft pick to take Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the Bucs will focus on the other side of the ball until they play up to coach Lovie Smith's standards.

      The Bucs finished 25th overall in total defense (368.9 yards per game) and points (25.6 per game) in 2014. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier didn't get much help in the draft. LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander is the only defensive player selected by the Bucs in the past two years.

      As they went through the first day of this week's OTAs on Tuesday, Frazier looked forward to significant improvement on defense in 2015. A year ago, the Bucs players were learning the Tampa 2 system. But perhaps just as important, the coaches were learning about their new players.

      "You have a better feel for the players and what they can do," Frazier said, "what their strengths and weaknesses are. This time of year, a year ago, everything you'd seen was on tape in another system. You were trying to project how they would fit into the system we were going to introduce.

      "Now, we have actually seen Lavonte David, Danny Lansanah and Gerald McCoy play and function in our defense. We kind of know what their strengths and weaknesses are within what we do so we can better utilize their gifts, their talents and have a better understanding of what they are best at doing. Sometimes that only happens through experience. That experience should help me, should help our defensive coaches and our players as well."

      The Bucs did show some signs of improvement in 2014. During the last 10 weeks, they allowed 20.6 points per game despite missing a few key players such as McCoy and David for a few games.

      Former Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Bruce Carter may have been the most important addition. He led all players at his position with five interceptions last season. The Bucs also signed Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton and Bears safety Chris Conte, both of whom played for Smith in Chicago.

      --Cincinnati Bengals: As the Bengals opened their OTAs on Tuesday, it became clear the timetable for the return of weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict from January microfracture knee surgery is unknown.

      Coach Marvin Lewis conceded that Burfict's rehab will last into the summer. Training camp opens July 31, and the team will be sure Burfict is ready before he returns to the practice field. On Tuesday, he was in attendance and did some running the rehab field.

      It was no surprise then that the Bengals signed linebacker A.J. Hawk after he was released by the Packers, and then they selected linebacker Paul Dawson in the third round of the draft. Hawk not only lined up on the weak side Tuesday, but he also flipped to the strong side during the workouts. Although his experience in Green Bay was in a 3-4 defense, he has no issues with playing the Bengals' 4-3.

      Hawk told the team website, "We had some games at Green Bay we were never in the 3-4. You're in nickel packages, which is like a 4-3, a 4-2 or whatever. Football is football, I think, when it comes down to it. Something that is different is if you're an outside backer in a 3-4 you're a D-end basically that has to drop. So the guy who is transitioning from a 4-3 D-end to a 3-4 outside backer, yeah, that's a tough transition. But the inside spots, they're not exactly the same, but it's still football. It's not hand down, hand up and that whole thing."

      Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga also was on the rehab field, although he is expected to be able to practice Wednesday. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is making sure numerous players get reps after the experience of 2014 when he was forced to utilize backups because of several injuries.

      "One thing I learned last year is you have to make sure the backup guys are ready to go so there's going to be some guys working in with the first group, second group," Guenther said. "We really don't have groups right now. We have 11 guys out there."

      Taking Maualuga's spot Tuesday was Vincent Rey.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    With Carr hampered, Ponder gets snaps as No. 1 QB
    By The Sports Xchange

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- As the Oakland Raiders began their second week of OTAs on Tuesday, starting quarterback Derek Carr was able to take some snaps on running plays during drills, showing he can hand off and pitch out with an undisclosed injury to his right hand.

    • As for throwing the ball, that hasn't happened yet. Free-agent addition Christian Ponder took snaps as the starting quarterback for the second week. A source close to Carr maintains the injury is minor (ESPN reported it was an issue with the ring finger on his throwing hand) and that he could be back in action soon.

      The Raiders have another week of OTAs remaining before their mandatory minicamp on June 9-11. Regardless, Carr has missed time getting his timing down with new wide receivers such as Michael Crabtree and top draft pick Amari Cooper, as well as Rod Streater, who missed most of last season with a broken foot.

      "He was able to take some snaps and we'll bring him along," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think things are progressing."

      It is Del Rio's policy to not disclose injuries in the offseason.

      Streater admits to some frustration because he missed so much time with Carr last season and now that he's healthy, Carr can't throw.

      "He's out there, so I feel he is learning," Streater said. "He is a pro. He is going to do what he has to do to make sure he understands the plays. Obviously, the timing won't be there, but we have plenty of time for him to get back and get in the rhythm. He is a good enough player to do that."

      In the meantime, Ponder, a 10-game winner as a 16-game starter in 2012 and reunited with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, is getting the work with the first team over Matt McGloin.

      Ponder signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and realizes his status at No. 1 is only temporary.

      "My job, I understand, is the backup and I'm here to help Derek and help this team out," Ponder said. "It's exciting for me to be out there right now taking first-team reps, but I know this is Derek's team right now."

      Ponder and Carr have formed a quick bond but haven't yet had the "fame is fleeting as an NFL starter" talk.

      "We haven't had the conversation yet," Ponder said. "I think he's kind of experiencing that right now with what he's dealing with. He'll be back soon enough, but football is kind of an up-and-down experience for most. Not everyone plays a 15-year career and is at the top of his game every year."

      After taking Minnesota to a 10-6 record in an offense that relied on Adrian Peterson's running ability, Ponder battled with both Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman in 2013 and then last year was at No. 3 behind Teddy Bridgewater and Cassel.

      So far, Ponder has been getting the first-team work ahead of McGloin, an eight-game starter as an undrafted rookie free agent. Del Rio was careful not to rule McGloin out of the mix as a potential backup.

      "I think he's done a good job. He's a fiery competitor," Del Rio said. "He's done a good job attacking the offseason and preparing for what we do."

      ---Oakland signed its seventh-round draft choice, cornerback Dexter McDonald.

      The 242nd overall pick in this year's draft out of Kansas, McDonald played one season at Butler (Kan.) Community College and three seasons for the Jayhawks, making 24 starts. As a senior, he had two interceptions, 28 solo tackles and 13 passes defensed.

      The Raiders now have eight of their 10 draft picks under contract.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    CB McDonald signs with Raiders
    By The Sports Xchange

    At the start of the Raiders' organized team activities Tuesday, Oakland signed its seventh-round draft choice, cornerback Dexter McDonald.

    • The 242nd overall pick in this year's draft out of Kansas, McDonald is 6 feet 1, 201 pounds. After starring for one season at Butler (Kan.) Community College, he played three seasons for the Jayhawks, making 24 starts. As a senior, he had two interceptions, 28 solo tackles and 13 passes defensed.

      After waiting through 6 1/2 rounds of the draft before being selected by the Raiders, McDonald told the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, "It's definitely an intense feeling. You're just sitting there, and you think you're gonna get drafted. But you never know. It's one of those feelings where you're just wondering what you could've done differently. ...

      "I was just happy my name got called. After I sat there for about 30 seconds, it hit me."

      The Raiders now have eight of their 10 draft picks under contract.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Hawk brings experience to Bengals' linebacker corps
    By The Sports Xchange

    CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals opened OTAs on Tuesday, it became clear the return of weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict from January microfracture surgery on his knee is unknown.

    • Head coach Marvin Lewis conceded that Burfict's rehab will last through the summer, although the question is how long into the summer. Training camp opens July 31, and the team will be sure Burfict is ready before he returns to the practice field. On Tuesday, he was in attendance and did some running the rehab field.

      It was no surprise then that the Bengals signed linebacker A.J. Hawk after he was released by the Green Bay Packers and then selected Paul Dawson in the third round of the draft. Hawk not only lined up on the weak side but flipped to the strong side during the workouts. Although his experience in Green Bay was in a 3-4 defense, he has no issues with playing the Bengals' 4-3.

      Hawk told the team website, "We had some games at Green Bay we were never in the 3-4. You're in nickel packages, which is like a 4-3, a 4-2 or whatever. Football is football, I think, when it comes down to it. Something that is different is if you're an outside backer in a 3-4, you're a D-end basically that has to drop. So the guy who is transitioning from a 4-3 D-end to a 3-4 outside backer, yeah that's a tough transition. But the inside spots, they're not exactly the same, but it's still football. It's not hand down, hand up and that whole thing."

      Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was also on the rehab field, although he is expected to be able to practice Wednesday. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is making sure numerous players get reps after the experience of 2014 when he was forced to play backups because of several injuries.

      "One thing I learned last year is you have to make sure the backup guys are ready to go, so there's going to be some guys working in with the first group, second group," Guenther said. "We really don't have groups right now. We have 11 guys out there."

      Taking Maualuga's spot Tuesday was Vincent Rey, who was impressed with Hawk's rapid adjustment.

      Rey said, "It was good to be out there with him, just from communication. He was talking all the time pre-snap. It was good because I felt comfortable. I'm saying, 'This guy knows what the heck is going on.' It was cool to hear. Little stuff like, 'Vinny, watch for this.' It's good because you're more relaxed in your stance. Tez, Rey, they're such good communicators. That's what makes them good. He's just like them."

      Of Hawk, Guenther said, "He's real smart. Veteran guy, played in a lot of different defenses. So he's picked up our defense really good. He's playing all the spots. For a guy like that with his experience, it's good to have a guy who's been through it a lot to be through those things.

      "Right now, we have him in one spot, but all our guys got to know because whoever is going next into the game, it's always the next best guy. He's done a great job of picking up everything. It's natural to him. He's played in the 4-3 before, so it's not like it's alien."

      A lot has been made of Hawk being from Ohio, growing up a Bengals fan, going to Ohio State and now returning as he enters the 10th season of his career.

      "It's something my wife jokes about. I'm from Ohio so I have a connection here with the people in Ohio," Hawk said. "I like how people go about their way, how they work here. I think everyone is always looking for some kind of motivation. I've always been a guy who has motivated myself.

      "I love the game. I love playing football, but there's a big difference. Everything is different. Not just the scheme but the schedule, how we run things, how practice is structured. It's fun to see there are multiple different ways to run a team and do things. I love the guys at Green Bay. They do things first class and I've seen nothing but the same here."

      --Also on the rehab field Tuesday was wide receiver Marvin Jones, who didn't play at all last season because of two foot issues. However, Jones said he had a minor hamstring problem and expected to work Wednesday.

      Tight end Tyler Eifert, who suffered a dislocated elbow and separated shoulder in the season opener last year and missed the remainder of the season, worked in seven-on-seven drills Tuesday but not in 11-on-11.

      Right tackle Andre Smith is still rehabbing a torn triceps injury that cost him seven games in 2014. Eric Winston worked in his spot Tuesday.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    NFL notebook: Ex-WR Horn rips Goodell
    By The Sports Xchange

    Former New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Horn criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during an interview posted Tuesday online, calling him "the devil."

    • In a conversation with TheFootballGirl.com website, Horn offered candid remarks about the current state of the NFL.

      "Here's what I don't like. I don't like what Roger Goodell is doing," Horn said. "He has so much power that he can almost shut people down. I just don't like him. And I don't like that on draft day these kids don't know that they're hugging the devil. I hate to see kids that are lost and then happy, but they really don't know that the man they're hugging will rip their throat apart.

      "If he has an opportunity to take money from them, or there's a situation where they're guilty before they go to court, he'll rip them apart. And there's nothing no one can do about it. If the owners are happy with Roger Goodell, the fans, the media, no one can take his job from him. I hate it."

      --Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was not on the field Tuesday as the NFC champions began organized team activities in Renton, Wash.

      Wilson, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, was absent because of a personal matter -- the funeral of tight end Jimmy Graham's manager, Tammy Myerson -- and was not posturing related to his desire to finalize a new deal with the Seahawks.

      Wilson, Graham and pass rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were expected to be absent Tuesday.

      --Former first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins agreed to a contract with the Dallas Cowboys, who are giving the wide receiver a third chance to stick on an NFL roster.

      Jenkins, drafted 30th overall in 2012 out of Illinois by the San Francisco 49ers, was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 and spent two seasons with the team. He has 17 career receptions for 223 yards.

      --The Indianapolis Colts signed free agent cornerback Chance Casey undrafted free agent guard Will Corbin and injured cornerback Josh Mitchell.

      If Mitchell, who signed earlier this month as an undrafted free agent from Nebraska, clears waivers, he will be assigned to the Colts' Injured Reserve list.

      --The New England Patriots re-signed linebacker Dane Fletcher to a one-year deal and he was at the start of the team's offseason workouts Tuesday.

      The Patriots also signed rookie wide receiver Zach D'Orazio.

      --Offensive lineman Eric Olsen and linebacker Mike Reilly signed with the Cleveland Browns.

      Olsen is a four-year NFL veteran who was a sixth-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 2010.

      Reilly was invited to the Browns' rookie minicamp on May 8-10 after participating in a tryout

      --Michael Sam arrived in Montreal to play in the Canadian Football League and said he's not focused on making history or a social statement.

      The first openly gay player in the NFL and now the CFL just wants to get on the field after signing a two-year contract with the Alouettes last week.

      "I'm not trying to really do anything historic here by being with Montreal. I'm just trying to help the team win some games so we can bring the Grey Cup back home," Sam said at a news conference.

      --Ben Roethlisberger isn't counting his victories just yet, and the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said he is hoping Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is on the field when the teams meet in New England for the NFL Kickoff game in September.

      "He's a guy, I've said for a long time, he's the best in the business, and he proved it again last year winning his fourth (Super Bowl)," Roethlisberger said. "If he's not out there, it's not the same. I have a lot of respect for him on the football field and some of the unbelievable things that he's done. I guess we'll wait and see what's finally going to happen."

      The Steelers are planning to work without All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell, who is serving a two-game ban for a marijuana-related arrest.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    As usual, DE Clemons a no-show for OTAs
    By The Sports Xchange

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars began their 10 practices called OTAs, which stands for organized team activities, on Tuesday. Although 88 players were on hand, the two who did not participate received most of the attention.

    • Ironically, they are slated to compete against each other for a starting spot in 2015. Or they were.

      First-round draft pick and pass-rushing standout Dante Fowler Jr. is awaiting surgery next week to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, the freak result of an otherwise innocuous no-contact drill in the first hour of the team's rookie minicamp in early May.

      Healthy and able to participate in this week's OTAs, defensive end Chris Clemons was a no-show. The 12-year veteran opted to skip at least the first three team OTAs as Jaguars coach Gus Bradley gave little hope that Clemons would be joining the other Jaguars veterans and rookies this week.

      "We're still talking about that to see if we can get him," Bradley said.

      Exactly why Clemons is a no-show is not certain, He hasn't made any public statements to date.

      It's not a contract issue as Clemons just signed a four-year, $17.5 million deal with the Jaguars a year ago that included nearly $5 million in guaranteed money. He did miss parts of the Jaguars' OTAs a year ago, as well as some of Seattle's OTAs during his four years (2010-2013) with the Seahawks.

      Clemons has not participated in any of the Jaguars' offseason workouts before the start of OTAs. The players have been doing various forms of weightlifting, some on-the-field workouts and various meetings with position coaches. Bradley did say Clemons has continued a dialogue with Jaguars defensive line coach Tom Wash.

      "Obviously, we'd like to have everybody here, but the part that's important is he communicated and we touched base," Bradley added. "He knows our feelings."

      Bradley said he has talked to Clemons in recent days. He said he understands Clemons' reasons for not being in attendance but expressed a desire to have all healthy players participate in the team's OTAs.

      "Every one of these guys has a different way of getting themselves ready to play," Bradley said. "I've learned you can challenge how they get ready, but some guys just feel strongly. They know what works for them and they have strong beliefs on it. He has strong beliefs, very strong beliefs on it. We keep challenging it. Like I said, everybody is different in how they get themselves ready and to this point he has not been ready."

      Not surprisingly, several Jaguars players said they thought Clemons would be with the team soon and that when he did report, he would be ready to go from the first day.

      "He's a 12-year veteran, he's highly reliable, he's a professional who is taking care of himself," said linebacker Paul Pozluszny, who was anxious to get started with the Jaguars again after missing the final nine games of the 2014 season with a torn pectoral muscle. "When he gets in here day one, it'll be like he never missed any time. There's certain guys who can do that; he's one of them."

      Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks is still recovering from offseason ACL surgery and can't participate in team drills, but he has been on hand and doing everything but on-the-field work. He also believes Clemons will be in playing condition upon his arrival.

      "We all know Clem. I don't think Clem has been at an offseason workout in seven years," Marks said with a laugh. "But he's always come in and did his job. I don't think it's an issue. As long as he's in shape and ready to go, that's all that matters. He knows the defense, he knows the scheme. He'll be ready to go."

      Not all 89 players were healthy enough to take part in team activities this week. Marks and fellow defensive tackle Roy Miller are still recovering from surgery earlier this year. Wide receiver Marqise Lee (knee) and safety Josh Evans (shoulder) also did not participate.

      Bradley indicated that Lee might not return until the mandatory minicamp in June. Evans has been cleared to participate, but not with any live contact at this point.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Browns add OL Olsen, LB Reilly
    By The Sports Xchange

    Offensive lineman Eric Olsen and linebacker Mike Reilly signed with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday.

    • Olsen is a four-year NFL veteran who was a sixth-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 2010. He has played in 23 games and started four during his career.

      Last season, the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Olsen saw action in five games for the Tennessee Titans and one game for the New Orleans Saints.

      Reilly was invited to the Browns' rookie minicamp on May 8-10 after participating in a tryout. The 6-3, 261-pound Reilly's 27 career sacks rank second in William & Mary history. He had 11 sacks last year.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Redskins hope RG3 can father their offense
    By The Sports Xchange

    ASHBURN, Va. -- Robert Griffin III is torn.

    • He wants to be the same unguarded guy he was as a spectacular rookie quarterback in 2012. But the Washington Redskins' quarterback also knows he has changed since then, most recently when he became a first-time father with the birth of daughter Reese Ann last Thursday.

      Griffin's private life was often lived in public after he was the critical factor in turning Baylor's moribund football program into a bowl perennial. He was so excited about the baby that he tweeted the news of her arrival, complete with a photo and her own hashtag.

      "He woke me up at three in the morning with a text and photo after she was born," tight end Niles Paul said. "That's a different responsibility as a man."

      Paul added that Griffin looked good on Tuesday as the Redskins began their Organized Team Activities. While all of his throws weren't superb, he didn't throw an interception.

      "He's doing fine," coach Jay Gruden said. "He's just gotta put practice after practice together and show the consistency that we're looking for.

      "Robert's got a great work ethic. That's never been a question. He comes to work every day trying to get better. Robert's a confident guy. He's (just) gotta perform a little bit better. Playing in the same system for a second year, usually you have a little bit more confidence. You should show improvement, lots of improvement.

      "We have high expectations for the quarterback position. I think Robert's going to be fine."

      That certainly wasn't the case in 2014 when Griffin dislocated his left ankle in Week 2, returned at midseason only to be benched for Colt McCoy in Week 13 after three losing starts before getting the job back in Week 15 after McCoy suffered a neck injury. And there was controversy about Griffin's relationships with his teammates and with Gruden.

      "It's been a couple of crazy years," said Griffin, whose contract option for 2016 was picked up last month by the Redskins. "It shouldn't be about who likes who, who doesn't like who, and who said what. At the end of the day, what you do on the field matters.

      "We haven't been up to par the past couple years. I haven't been up to par the past couple of my years. To have that consistency with the staff and the offense only helps. You gotta be true to who you are. And right now, I'm a 25-year-old young man who can do a lot of different things."

      There were two Griffins during his brief NFL career. As a rookie, he ran and passed with abandon, setting NFL records for passer rating by a rookie (102.4) and rushing yards by a rookie quarterback (815) as the Redskins soared from the NFC East cellar to the division title. Griffin also charmed the NFL and the fans with his smile and his charisma while being voted the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

      However, that season ended with a torn ACL and MCL (right knee) in a playoff loss to Seattle. In the two seasons since, Griffin's passer rating sank to 83.7 and he ran for only 665 yards, was benched by Gruden and former coach Mike Shanahan, and the Redskins went 7-25.

      Griffin, who feuded with Shanahan and then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan about how many designed runs were called in 2013, was called out by Gruden after the embarrassing home loss to lowly Tampa Bay last season. However, Griffin was all smiles on Tuesday as he sought a return to happier times.

      "Apparently, Jay felt like I was the best option he had at quarterback," Griffin said when asked about Gruden naming him the starter in February after announcing following the season finale that there would be competition at the position.

      "I'm happy about that. I look forward to working together to help this team, to lead this team in the right direction, and to create the culture change that we know that we need to have. We look forward to (not having) that constant change anymore. It's a mindset change; not accepting (mediocrity). I think we're getting there."

      As for his own expectations, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner said, "I'm not going to limit myself to being just a drop-back passer, but if coach Gruden and (offensive coordinator) Sean McVay ask me to be a drop-back passer in any given situation, my job is to make sure that I can be.

      "When you get into casting yourself into a certain role, you can limit yourself. As long as I'm able to be the athlete that I (am), it's my job, my duty to make sure that I do it."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Chargers start OTAs with Rivers but without Weddle
    By The Sports Xchange

    SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers' third phase of offseason training activities kicked off with a key player kicking back: safety Eric Weddle.

    • After skipping the initial voluntary sessions, Weddle remains idle over his contact situation.

      Weddle, an All-Pro last season, wants an extension. He's set to make $7.5 million this year, but he has been clear that he seeks a long-term deal.

      he Chargers aren't in a rush to extend Weddle and so their four-time defensive captain is resting instead of getting reps on the first day the veterans could join the rookies.

      "I wasn't shocked not to see him out there," quarterback Philip Rivers said.

      Weddle said he has been "highly disrespected" by the Chargers' reluctance to enter into negotiations. General manager Tom Telesco said Weddle's situation would be addressed at an appropriate time.

      So far, it doesn't appear that time has come.

      While Weddle chilled, Rivers was taking snaps. Rivers is also in the last year of a contract.

      The difference between the two players is the Chargers approached Rivers about an extension. Rivers declined initially, but has changed his tune.

      "I'm willing to listen to anything," he said.

      Rivers hasn't hidden his displeasure of possibly moving his large family to the Los Angeles area, if that's where the Chargers' search for a new venue leads them.

      But he said Tuesday that it would be "awesome" if he finished his career with the Chargers.

      "It would be great," Rivers said. "I've put 11 years in here and while we haven't accomplished our ultimate goal, there are a lot of good memories for me of games, seasons and teammates."

      Rivers, who threw for 31 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards while completing 66 percent of his passes last season, said back and rib injuries that hampered him down the stretch are in the past.

      "I'm way better than how I felt in December," he said. "There are no issues."

      The Chargers have a few and that was clear on Tuesday.

      "We have a long way to go," head coach Mike McCoy said.

      But there is only one first day of offseason workouts and Tuesday was it for the Chargers.

      It caps an offseason that was filled with its usual angst for Rivers. The Chargers didn't make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

      "It went from down-in-the-dumps to seeing light at the end of the tunnel," Rivers said. "Then you get back and become excited again and that's where I am."

      He's also still in San Diego.

      How long the team does likewise will be determined, as it wrestles with a stadium proposal from San Diego and two about 100 miles north.

      "It's so beautiful here," the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger said at Sunday's concert at San Diego's Petco Park. "Why would anyone want to leave? Especially the Chargers."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    All hands on deck at Dolphins OTA
    By The Sports Xchange

    DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins opened this week's Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Tuesday with perfect attendance, including Ndamukong Suh, the high-priced free agent defensive tackle who traditionally skipped spring workouts in Detroit.

    • Coach Joe Philbin was glad that Suh chose to participate.

      "That being part of the team is important, contributing is important, being out here for practice is important," Philbin said. "The big thing that we've talked to the team about since April 20, the things that we're doing today are going to make a difference in September, October, December, January, February.

      "Even though the season seems a long way off, September 13, there are still a few more months before we get there. Everything we do is important."

      To that end, the Dolphins should be happy that quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the passing offense were sharp.

      Tannehill, who had career bests last season in touchdowns (27), interceptions (12), passing yards (4,045), completion percentage (66.4) and passer rating (92.8), was under moderate pressure from the veteran defensive line.

      But for the most part, the pass-catching crew, led by wide receivers DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills, as well as tight ends Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims, did a nice job. They seemed in sync with Tannehill, who is entering his fourth season, and not many balls hit the ground.

      Parker, the first-round pick from Louisville who is physically imposing at 6 feet 3, 211 pounds, continued his ritual of catching darn near everything thrown his direction.

      "DeVante was great today," Tannehill said. "You've been seeing it the past few weeks, just working on air. But today you got to see him make some tough catches with defenders on his back, in traffic, and that's what you want to see, that a guy with a big body is able to make strong catches with his hands in traffic."

      The offensive line was so-so overall. Left tackle Branden Albert, recovering from right knee surgery, didn't participate. Instead, the Dolphins had veteran backup Jason Fox at left tackle. That's a change from last season when Miami moved right tackle Ja'Wuan James to the left side when Albert got injured and inserted Fox as the starting right tackle.

      As for other injured players, free safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Will Davis (knee) were both limited Tuesday, but it appears both could be ready for training camp.

      And although the passing game looked relatively sharp with Tannehill throwing good short and intermediate routes all over the field, the most impressive unit was the defensive line.

      Tackles Suh and Earl Mitchell and ends Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon were too much for the offensive line. And the backup defensive line of ends Derrick Shelby and Terrence Fede and tackles Jordan Phillips and Anthony Johnson manhandled the second-team offensive line.

      It was very encouraging and a bit discouraging.

      Regardless, Miami feels good overall about its chances of landing its first playoff berth since 2008. And the Dolphins are especially glad that Suh, one of the team leaders, opted to participate in the OTA.

      "Everything is voluntary as we all know," Philbin said. "We've told the team what we believe in in terms of the significance of the offseason program. Just happy that everybody was here today."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Chiefs in search of O-line for 2015
    By The Sports Xchange

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Head coach Andy Reid kicked off his third season of Organized Team Activities with the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday and 79 of 90 players on the roster took part in the workout.

    • "I thought the guys got to work at a little better speed and that's always helpful," Reid said.

      A few injuries, including one surgery, the arrival of a baby and poor weather in the Southeast kept the turnout down compared with the previous two seasons when 84 players was the lowest total for both opening practices in 2013-14.

      "I thought it was really good work, a clean practice," quarterback Alex Smith said. "You don't have pads on, but you want to get the most out of it. Guys worked at good speed."

      There was a lot of attention on the Chiefs' offensive line, the position group that needs to show the most improvement over last season's performance. There could be four new starters from last season, including guard Ben Grubbs and second-round draft choice Mitch Morse.

      "We are going to find the five best guys; that's what we are trying to get to," Reid said. "I really don't care where they play. I just want the five best. Then we line up and play."

      Two of the five "best guys" will be Grubbs at left guard and third-year left tackle Eric Fisher. In the mix for the other three spots are Morse (center/guard), Zach Fulton (center/guard), Jeff Allen (guard/tackle), Donald Stephenson (guard/tackle), Paul Fanaika (guard), Derek Sherrod (tackle) and Eric Kush (center).

      "I don't really care," Reid said. "Find the best guys and go with it."

      The biggest name among the 11 players that were not working on Monday was outside linebacker Justin Houston. Last year's NFL leader in sacks (22) has been absent throughout the offseason program, spending his time working out and preparing at home in Georgia. He was designated the club's franchise player.

      The team and Houston's agent continue to talk about a long-term contract. They began those talks more than 18 months ago.

      Also missing the first OTA was safety Eric Berry. His 2014 season was cut short when he was diagnosed in November as having Hodgkins lymphoma with a tumor in his chest. Berry began treatments in Atlanta in December and those continued through early May. The Chiefs have not publicly put a timetable on his return.

      "Eric is doing well," Reid said. "He's been through all the treatments and now the doctor is going to sit down and go over exactly the results of all that. Everything up to this point has been very positive from the doctor and from Eric. I think we are headed in the right direction."

      There was one new name on the injury report. Tight end Demetrius Harris was off the field after undergoing his second foot surgery in the last six months.

      The injury knocked Harris out of the 2014 season and last week team doctors decided the earlier procedure did not provide healing and stability for the former college basketball player.

      "The doctors feel pretty confident about this one," Reid said. "We knew there was a possibility of this happening (a second surgery). We feel pretty good he's going to be OK."

      Safety Husain Abdullah and defensive end Allen Bailey were both absent because of travel plans being disrupted by bad weather in Texas, Georgia and throughout the Southeast. Second-year safety Daniel Sorensen was absent after his wife was in labor.

      Also missing due to NFL rules about underclassmen participation were first-round draft choice cornerback Marcus Peters and third-round cornerback Steven Nelson. Their schools (Washington and Oregon State) are on the quarter system and they will not be available to work on the field until the team's minicamp in the middle of June.

      Not participating because of injury and/or rehab were quarterback Tyler Bray (knee), running back Cyrus Gray (knee) and guard Jarrod Pughsley (hamstring).

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Quinn has Falcons flying to the ball
    By The Sports Xchange

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was elated for the team to move into phase three of the offseason program with the start of their Organized Team Activities on Tuesday.

    • "It was an awesome day out there to get connected with our whole team at once," Quinn said. "As we get started into our next phase of our offseason program, phase three allows us to get a chance to work with everybody together.

      "The emphasis going into today, we had a lot of third-down work and some two-minute (drills). I thought the guys did a good job for our first time doing that as a whole group."

      With music blaring and the tempo high, the Falcons appeared to move around the three practice fields with a purpose.

      "No. 1, we wanted to really learn how to practice fast against each other, but doing it safely," Quinn said. "When we become a really good practicing team, that's when it will carry over into the game. The No. 1 priority was just the tempo and attitude that we're trying to practice with."

      While the drills are non-contact, Quinn saw some benefit in the units being able to line up against each other.

      "Outside linebackers going against tight ends," Quinn said. "Guards and centers going against defensive tackles. Wide receivers going against (defensive backs.) That type of competition when you get to go back and forth against somebody, that's really what will make us (improve). That's one of the things I was most pleased about as we got started in the practice today."

      The Falcons have installed most of their attack and are now working through it for the second or third time with some of the players.

      "I think generally you can see when a guy really has his details down," Quinn said. "That's when he plays his fastest. It's oftentimes when they are still learning the playbook and still getting it down, there is a little hesitancy. Fortunately, the speed of that is picking up, which allows us to play a little more freely."

      Quinn has clearly made running to the ball and creating turnovers an emphasis.

      "All the calls that we have are designed to go after the ball," Quinn said. "That's really the mindset."

      While the defense was ahead of the offense, which is installing the outside zone running scheme, Quinn was pleased.

      "Very few busts," Quinn said. "If that continues, the effort and energy even goes higher and higher."

      --After being cut by Carolina, the Falcons picked up safety Charles Godfrey last season. He was mostly insurance and didn't see any action from scrimmage.

      He handled the situation like a professional and will get a look at free safety this season.

      "He's had terrific experience playing safety, both free and strong," Quinn said. "The range in the middle of the field is what we see. If he can do that and have an impact to go get the ball, those are things that kind of jumped out to us through his career up until now and through the first few practices."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Steelers see red in first OTA action
    By The Sports Xchange

    PITTSBURGH -- Head coach Mike Tomlin opened this week's Organized Team Activities for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday with a new twist as he ordered his offense to the goal line.

    • It either was a nod toward the possible frequency that Pittsburgh will go for the two-point conversion or an admission that the Steelers need more work on their red-zone offense.

      Based on recent history, the latter seems most appropriate.

      While they ranked second in the NFL with an average of 411.1 yards per game in 2014, the Steelers were 19th in red-zone efficiency, capitalizing on drives inside the 20 with touchdowns only 51.7 percent of the time.

      "It was surprising in the sense that we hadn't put red zone in and the defense hadn't put red zone in yet, but that's going to be a big part of the game now," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "Teams are consciously going for two points, or at least debating it."

      Wide receiver Antonio Brown, who led the NFL with 129 receptions for 1,698 yards last season, went through all the drills Tuesday, the first day after there were multiple reports that he planned to hold out for a new contract.

      Brown said there will be no holdout, now or never.

      "I always planned to be here," Brown said. "At this point, I am singularly focused to better my game and get ready."

      Brown is signed through 2017, but he and agent Drew Rosenhaus thought he outplayed the contract he signed in the summer of 2012.

      "It's not for me to discuss," Brown, 26, said. "I will leave that to my agent. I am here to better my game and prepare for 2015."

      He will receive a $6 million salary and count $9.8 million against the salary cap this year.

      Safety Mike Mitchell, who started every game in his first season after signing from Carolina as a UFA, revealed that he had groin surgery on each leg after the season.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Browns' McCown seeks cure for Manziel fever
    By The Sports Xchange

    BEREA, Ohio -- Josh McCown, with his seventh NFL team, began his 13th year of spring practice Tuesday. But for the first time since this all began in 2002, McCown is working as the first team quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

    • When the Browns opened this week's organized team activities Tuesday, McCown seemed assertive and in control on a muggy afternoon at the team training complex. He is trying to hold off second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel.

      McCown threw the ball crisply and it was easy to see he's comfortable and eager to put his 1-10 record as a starter for Tampa Bay last year behind him.

      "The approach for me is the same as far as expectations and the way you want to set the tone," McCown said after practice. "We're a new group. Any time you come together as a new group, there are going to be growing pains. But I think for us, we understand within this division and the offenses you have and the quarterbacks on the other teams we have to set the bar high early to speed up that learning curve."

      Safety Donte Whitner is in his second year with the Browns. When he played with the San Francisco 49ers, he faced McCown when McCown played for the Chicago Bears. He said the Browns got a winner when they signed McCown in late February.

      "Josh looks good," Whitner said. "He looks really, really good. I remember playing against him in Chicago a couple years ago when I was with San Fran. We actually thought he looked better than Cutler, especially when he gets some time to throw the football and he has some skill guys around him. He knows where to go."

      McCown is 17-32 as a starter while playing for the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Bears and Buccaneers.

      Naming McCown the starter for now eliminates the distractions of a quarterback battle. Manziel could still win the job with an impressive training camp and preseason.

      Manziel is running the second team offense. He has not been made available to the media since the end of the 2014 season; he entered rehab on Jan. 28 and was discharged on April 11.

      If McCown does start the season opener against the Jets in MetLife Stadium, he will be the 23rd different quarterback to start for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999.

      Cleveland's OTA this week run through Thursday.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Bucs hope familiarity improves 2015 defense
    By The Sports Xchange

    TAMPA, Fla. -- Playing excellent defense is usually a staple for Lovie Smith-coached teams. So as surprising as the 2-14 record was last season, it was most shocking that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled on that side of the ball.

    • The Bucs finished 25th overall in total defense (368.9 yards) and points (25.6 per game) in 2014. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier didn't get much help in the draft. LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander is the only defensive player selected by the Bucs in the past two years.

      As the Bucs went through the first day of this week's organized team activities Tuesday, Frazier looked forward to significant improvement on defense in 2015. A year ago, the Bucs players were learning the Tampa 2 system. But perhaps just as important, the coaches were learning about their new players.

      "I think it is equally beneficial," Frazier said. "You have a better feel for the players and what they can do. What their strengths and weaknesses are. This time of year, a year ago, everything you'd seen was on tape in another system. You were trying to project how they would fit into the system we were going to introduce.

      "Now, we have actually seen Lavonte David, Danny Lansanah and Gerald McCoy play and function in our defense. We kind of know what their strengths and weaknesses are within what we do so we can better utilize their gifts, their talents and have a better understanding of what they are best at doing. Sometimes that only happens through experience. That experience should help me, should help our defensive coaches and our players as well."

      The Bucs did show some signs of improvement in 2014. During the last 10 weeks, they allowed 20.6 points per game despite missing a few key players like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and David for a few games.

      After missing on free agent defensive end Michael Johnson and cutting their losses, the Bucs' free agent focus was on players who have proved to be successful in the Tampa 2 under Smith or Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli

      Cowboys middle linebacker Bruce Carter might have been the most important addition. He led all players at his position with five interceptions last season. The Bucs also signed Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton and Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte, who each played for Smith in Chicago.

      "We think Bruce has a chance to really come in and provide a quality of leadership for us," Frazier said. "He's played in this system before. He has had some success both at the inside backer position as well as the outside. We think Bruce can really give us something, especially his athletic ability. He's a guy who has very good speed. He's a smart football player.

      "The key for him, like a lot of guys, is staying on the field. He has had the injury bug a little bit. We need him to stay healthy, but when he has stayed healthy, he has played the Mike position very well. His leadership, athletic ability and smarts should help our defense."

      The Bucs made a big change during the middle of the season, trading safety Mark Barron to the St. Louis Rams and inserting Brandon McDougald in his place. Defensive end Jacquies Smith started the final eight games and finished with 6 1/2 sacks. And the Bucs traded for Lions defensive end George Johnson.

      "When you look at those last 10 games of the season and you see that we finished in the top five in almost every category group, including points, that's what gets you excited," Frazier said. "There are some things we can build on. We are expecting the guys that are coming back to really improve. So many of them, they were so young a year ago and young in the system. We have high hopes.

      "Now the key for us is seeing Gerald have another great season, seeing Henry Melton really mesh and become the Henry that was an All-Pro a few years ago, and finding that right end. In our league, if you can't rush with four and you have to rely on pressure all the time, that creates some problems for your team. We still have some things that we need to see happen and we are a long ways from that."

      As for why the Bucs have mostly ignored the defense in the draft?

      "I'm sure (general manager) Jason (Licht) and Coach (Lovie Smith) are talking about that. They have a plan. They have explained that plan to me and I'm on board with it," he said. "Depth can be an issue in our league. You have to be able to develop some players. We are going to work hard with the waiver wire and some of the things we plan on doing to ensure that we have good depth and also to create competition for the starting positions."

      The Bucs' OTAs this week go through Thursday.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    QB thinks NFL's 2015 opener would be deflated without Brady
    By The Sports Xchange

    Ben Roethlisberger isn't counting his victories just yet, and the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said he is hoping Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is on the field when the team's meet in New England for the NFL Kickoff game in September.

    • "He's a guy, I've said for a long time, he's the best in the business, and he proved it again last year winning his fourth (Super Bowl)," Roethlisberger said. "If he's not out there, it's not the same. I have a lot of respect for him on the football field and some of the unbelievable things that he's done. I guess we'll wait and see what's finally going to happen."

      Roethsliberger said the Sept. 10 game would be lacking without Brady, but he's also not convinced Brady's four-game suspension will keep him off the field that night when the Patriots are scheduled to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.

      The Steelers are planning to work without All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell, who is serving a two-game ban for a marijuana-related arrest.

      His likely replacement, veteran newcomer DeAngelo Williams, said he doesn't and won't care if Brady suits up in September.

      "It's not my team. I don't play against Tom Brady anyway," Williams said. "I play against the defense."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Former NFL receiver Horn rips Goodell
    By The Sports Xchange

    Former New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Horn criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during an interview posted Tuesday online, calling him "the devil."

    • In a conversation with TheFootballGirl.com website, Horn offered candid remarks about the current state of the NFL.

      "Here's what I don’t like. I don’t like what Roger Goodell is doing," Horn said. "He has so much power that he can almost shut people down. I just don't like him. And I don't like that on draft day these kids don't know that they're hugging the devil. I hate to see kids that are lost and then happy, but they really don't know that the man they're hugging will rip their throat apart.

      "If he has an opportunity to take money from them, or there's a situation where they're guilty before they go to court, he'll rip them apart. And there's nothing no one can do about it. If the owners are happy with Roger Goodell, the fans, the media, no one can take his job from him. I hate it."

      Asked about Goodell having too much power, Horn said, "First of all, people need to understand he works for the owners and understands his power.

      "People like (ESPN's) Cris Carter and Chris Berman, who can usually say what they want, they can't say anything bad about Roger Goodell or he'll cut their throats. They're going to kiss his ---, too. They know their job could be snatched away by his power."

      Horn, who played in the NFL from 1996 to 2007 with the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, also offered his take on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and "Deflategate."

      "I'm not mad at Tom. He's a great athlete and he does what he needs to do to win the football game," Horn said. "If he deflated balls and the guys did for him, I'm not mad at Tom for that. Guys do things all the time to get ahead that the NFL doesn't know about.

      Who I'm mad at, who I do disrespect and who should be suspended for a year, it should be his head coach (Bill Belichick) because he knows what everyone is doing."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Sam wants focus on football in CFL
    By The Sports Xchange

    Michael Sam arrived in Montreal to play in the Canadian Football League and said Tuesday that he's not focused on making history or a social statement.

    • The first openly gay player in the NFL and now the CFL just wants to get on the field after signing a two-year contract with the Alouettes last week.

      Sam was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Missouri and went to training camp with the St. Louis Rams before being cut during the preseason. He caught on with the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad but was released in October.

      "I'm not trying to really do anything historic here by being with Montreal. I'm just trying to help the team win some games so we can bring the Grey Cup back home,'' Sam said at a news conference.

      The 25-year-old Sam encountered difficulty in the NFL because at 6 feet 2, 260 pounds, he did not exactly fit the prototype of a defensive end or an outside linebacker. But Sam and the Alouettes are hoping he can become a pass rusher in the CFL.

      "My size fits as a pass-rusher," said Sam, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. "I led my team in preseason in sacks and that was in the NFL, so I'm a pass-rusher. Doesn't matter where I'm at."

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Patriots re-sign LB Fletcher
    By The Sports Xchange

    The New England Patriots re-signed linebacker Dane Fletcher to a one-year deal and he was at the start of the team's offseason workouts Tuesday.

    • The Patriots also signed rookie wide receiver Zach D'Orazio.

      The 28-year-old Fletcher signed with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie in 2010 and was with the team through the 2013 season before signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. Fletcher, known for his strong special teams play, started four games on defense in 2014 and has 10 career starts at linebacker.

      The Patriots also re-signed Brandon Spikes earlier this month to fortify the inside linebacking corps behind Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, who are both recovering from injuries.

      D'Orazio, 23, started for two years at Akron as a wide receiver and finished his college career with 119 receptions for 1,422 yards and five touchdowns, including 62 catches for 658 yards as a junior in 2014 after he switched to wideout from quarterback.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Seahawks QB Wilson, TE Graham miss opening OTA
    By The Sports Xchange

    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is not on the field Tuesday as the NFC champions begin organized team activities in Renton, Wash.

    • Wilson, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, is absent because of a personal matter – the funeral of tight end Jimmy Graham's manager, Tammy Myerson -- and not posturing related to his desire to finalize a new deal with the Seahawks.

      Wilson, Graham and pass rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were expected to be absent Tuesday. Graham was acquired from the New Orleans Saints via trade in March.

      The Seahawks have many new faces to work into their system, including multiple changes on the offensive line and Graham, likely the No. 1 target for Wilson in 2015 after three seasons without a defined lead receiver.

      Bennett is not pleased with his contract situation. He returned to the Seahawks from unrestricted free agency last March but would like his deal readdressed before the start of the upcoming season.

      Key changes on offense beyond Graham include replacing departed free agent guard James Carpenter and center Max Unger, who was shipped to the Saints in the Graham swap.

      After losing cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency, the Seahawks will be working with two new faces in the secondary during OTAs. All-Pro safety Earl Thomas underwent shoulder surgery and could be sidelined until August or beyond.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Cowboys sign WR A.J. Jenkins
    By The Sports Xchange

    Former first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins agreed to a contract with the Dallas Cowboys, who are giving the wide receiver a third chance to stick on an NFL roster.

    • Jenkins, drafted 30th overall in 2012 out of Illinois by the San Francisco 49ers, was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 and spent two seasons with the team.

      Jenkins has 17 career receptions for 223 yards.

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015
    Texans delay start of OTAs due to flooding
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Houston Texans delayed the start of their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) due to flooding in the Houston area following a heavy rainstorm on Memorial Day.

    • The Texans were scheduled to open their OTA on Tuesday, but pushed it to Wednesday with the southwest Houston area reportedly hit with up to nine inches of water. Nearly 60,000 Houston residents were reportedly without power as of Tuesday morning.

      "Stay safe, Houston," the Texans posted on their Twitter feed Tuesday morning.

      About 350 fans at the Houston Rockets' victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night were forced to stay at the arena following the game due to the storm. Rockets center Dwight Howard also stayed at the Toyota Center as the rain continued to fall, per the Houston Chronicle.

      "There's no need to try to push it," Howard said. "One of my friends just hit me up and said he's stuck on the highway now. I don't think it's smart for anybody to try to be out on this weather."