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  • Friday, August 1, 2014
    49ers table talks with Harbaugh
    By The Sports Xchange

    The San Francisco 49ers put contract talks with coach Jim Harbaugh on hold until the season ends.

    • Unable to reach a deal before the start of training camp, the two sides agreed to put off discussions.

      "We actually just had this conversation (Wednesday)," 49ers owner Jed York said, according to CSN Bay Area. "Lots of people were talking to him about it. We just said, 'You know what, let's not do anything during the season. Let's sit down a week or so after the season is over and let everybody know we're not focused on anything that's off the field right now.'

      "Jim and I will sit down a week or so after the season is over and we'll figure out where we go."

      The 49ers are hoping to go to the Super Bowl. San Francisco reached the Super Bowl two years ago before falling to the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, the Niners were derailed by the Seattle Seahawks in their third straight trip to the NFC Championship game.

      The 50-year-old Harbaugh is in the fourth year of a five-year contract he signed in January 2011. He is making $5 million a year.

      "Like I've said publicly and very loudly in the past, I hope he has the utmost leverage when we sit down and talk about his contract at the end of the season. It's a good thing," York said. "It's an unbelievable problem to have."

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Seahawks RB Lynch ends holdout
    By The Sports Xchange

    RENTON, Wash. -- And on the ninth day, Beast Mode returned to work.

    • Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch ended his holdout and reported to training camp on Thursday with the defending Super Bowl champions.

      Lynch, who has two years remaining on a four-year contract he signed in 2012, agreed to a $1.5 million raise that breaks down as $1 million in salary and a $500,000 "signing bonus," ProFootballTalk.com reported Thursday night. He was due a $5 million base salary in 2014 and $5.5 million in 2015.

      Lynch was subject to $495,000 in fines for the days he missed during his holdout, but PFT also reported that the Seahawks will waive that amount.

      The 28-year-old Lynch has averaged 300 carries the past three years -- with an NFL-high 901 during that span -- leading to speculation the team might release him before the 2015 season. That's why some theorized that Lynch was looking for more up-front money in case he was not around in '15.

      With Lynch away, Robert Turbin received most of the work with the first-team offense.

      Head coach Pete Carroll said last week that Lynch was in violation of his contract, which is defined as "a contract for a reason." He would not comment on Lynch's contract issues, saying the team does not comment on financial issues.

      Carroll, though, said the way Lynch has handled the offseason -- he also skipped OTAs --- has been in keeping with the team's plan.

      "I've talked to him a number of times and everybody at one time or another has been in contact with him," Carroll said. "... He's got a great relationship with our club and our teammates and the coaches and all that. We have rested him a lot in the offseason. He takes a big pounding during the year. It takes him a long time to get his body back to where he doesn't feel the rigors of the season."

      Carroll said during minicamp that he fully expects Lynch to again be the focus of the Seattle offense in 2014.

      "We expect (Lynch) to come right back in and battling and doing the things that he does," Carroll said. "Turbo (Robert Turbin) and Christine (Michael), those guys want some time, too, and they are battling and had a great offseason for us. But Marshawn has really been the guy for us and we love everything about the way he plays and what he brings to this team and he has never taken a step backwards at any time for us in all the time that we've been here."

      Offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable echoed that sentiment in an interview with 710 ESPN radio in Seattle last month. Cable said the Seahawks would be "better off" if Beast Mode showed up, but that the silver lining would be Turbin and Michael getting increased reps.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    NFL roundup: Apologetic Rice calls actions 'inexcusable'
    By The Sports Xchange

    A contrite Ray Rice apologized publicly to his wife, his 2-year-old daughter, his mother and children wearing No. 27 Baltimore Ravens jerseys in his first public comments since the NFL suspended him two games for a domestic violence incident in February.

    • "My actions that night were totally inexcusable," Rice said Thursday. "That night, I just replay over and over in my head. That's not me. My actions are inexcusable. That's something I have to live with the rest of my life. The pain I'm talking about every day is, my daughter is two years old now. One day she's going to know the power of Google."

      Rice said the most difficult punishment he'll deal with is knowing daughter, Rayven, will first hear not of his football achievements but what happened with his then-fiancee Janay Palmer at an Atlantic City casino. Video captured the incident during which Rice appeared to knock Palmer out with a closed fist, then dragged her out of an elevator.

      ---Running back David Wilson's future with the New York Giants and in football is in doubt.

      A report Thursday by NJ.com cited a source familiar with Wilson's neck injury as saying the former first-round pick "needs a miracle" to resume playing. He suffered a burner -- a nerve injury in the neck area -- during Tuesday's practice and will be shut down until at least Aug. 4, when he'll consult Dr. Frank Cammissa, who performed his spinal fusion surgery on Jan. 16.

      Head coach Tom Coughlin was visibly shaken discussing Wilson after Tuesday's injury, and said the team is praying for the best possible outcome. Wilson was cleared for contact July 21 after not participating in offseason workouts.

      ---Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch ended his holdout and reported to training camp.

      Lynch is in the third year of his contract and Pro Football Talk reported that he was to receive a bump in his salary.

      Lynch is due a $5 million base salary in 2014 and $5.5 million in 2015. He turned 28 in April and has averaged 300 carries the past three years -- with an NFL-high 901 in that span -- leading to speculation the team might release him before the 2015 season. That's why some have theorized Lynch is looking for more up-front money in case he's not around in '15.

      ---American's most-watched quarterback competition is back on in Cleveland, where offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan stoked the embers Thursday.

      Shanahan, in his first season with the Browns, went contrary to comments made by head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer that veteran incumbent Brian Hoyer was ahead of rookie Johnny Manziel in the team's QB derby.

      "I don't think one is any further in front than the other," Shanahan said. "I think they've both done a good job. Today was our fifth practice and today was a lot more of a run practice with short yardage, goal line, four-minute, backed up. As far as these five practices, usually one day one guy is ahead of the other; the next day the other guy does a better job. I think it's been back and forth."

      ---As Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tomy Romo recovers from back surgery, he is taking a measured approach to returning to game action.

      Romo indicated Wednesday that he might not play in the Cowboys' Aug. 7 preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, but he expects to see some action in exhibition games as he prepares for the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 against the San Francisco 49ers.

      "You're constantly evaluating it and you're constantly, I don't want to say adjusting because you stick to the plan, but it's a progression," Romo said at the Cowboys' training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "It's leading up to San Francisco. I am going to play in the preseason, obviously. I think it's important. The first game, we'll talk about it as we move into the weekend."

      ---Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry is planning to retire from the NFL after five seasons.

      The unexpected move was made official in a brief release from the team Thursday afternoon. Jerry did not give a reason or explain the decision in the team-issued statement. He totaled 79 tackles (46 solo), 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and three passes defensed during his career.

      ---Indianapolis Colts starting left guard Donald Thomas re-tore the same quad that cost him all but two games during the 2013 season, coach Chuck Pagano confirmed Thursday.

      The Colts placed Thomas on injured reserve and re-signed undrafted free agent offensive tackle Eric Pike.

      Thomas, who signed to a four-year, $14 million contract during the 2013 offseason, missed the final 14 games of last season after tearing his right quad against the Miami Dolphins. He also tore a biceps tendon in the game on the same series. He was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 17, 2013. Thomas was originally signed by the team as an unrestricted free agent on March 13, 2013.

      ---Baltimore Ravens rookie defensive end Brent Urban is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

      Urban was injured in Wednesday's practice when offensive tackle Jah Reid knocked Urban to the ground in a blocking drill.

      ---Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Sanders Commings will undergo ankle surgery after getting hurt in practice, head coach Andy Reid confirmed Thursday.

      There is no timetable on his return. Running back Jamaal Charles put an open-field move on Commings, who had to be carted off the field Wednesday.

      ---Brady Quinn has not officially announced his retirement from the National Football League, but the veteran quarterback acknowledged he is entering a new "career challenge" with the announcement he will join FOX Sports as a college football and NFL studio and game analyst.

      Quinn will serve as an in-studio analyst on FOX Sports 1's "America's Pregame" and "FOX Sports Live." In the booth, he will be teamed with Tim Brando for college games and Dick Stockton when on NFL assignment.

      A first-round pick out of Notre Dame by the Cleveland Browns in 2007, Quinn has appeared in 24 career games, including 20 starts over seven NFL seasons. However, he has not taken a snap since 2012 when he started eight of 10 games for the Kansas City Chiefs.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Browns OC Shanahan: Manziel-Hoyer even
    By The Sports Xchange

    American's most-watched quarterback competition is back on in Cleveland, where offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan stoked the embers Thursday.

    • Shanahan, in his first season with the Browns, went contrary to comments made by head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer that veteran incumbent Brian Hoyer was ahead of rookie Johnny Manziel in the team's QB derby.

      "I don't think one is any further in front than the other," Shanahan said. "I think they've both done a good job. Today was our fifth practice and today was a lot more of a run practice with short yardage, goal line, four-minute, backed up. As far as these five practices, usually one day one guy is ahead of the other; the next day the other guy does a better job. I think it's been back and forth."

      Hoyer could still be in the lead for the starting job, and the designation will ideally be made before the third preseason game, Pettine said.

      "Nothing that really one ahead of the other, who's here, who's there, that's not really on my mind at all right now," Manziel said. "It's me versus the playbook, and there's nothing else. Got to know the stuff to even be able to come out here and execute everything."

      But the gap might be closing. For the first time, Pettine did not sound closed-minded about having a rookie run the first-team offense. Pettine in the past, citing last season's experience with EJ Manuel in Buffalo and prior trials of Mark Sanchez (Jets) and Joe Flacco (Ravens), as a reason to lean toward the veteran. Of course, Sanchez and Flacco guided their teams to the postseason.

      "I would even say he’s maybe slightly ahead of where we thought he would be mentally," Pettine said of Manziel on Thursday.

      Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains are finalizing the snap rotation for upcoming practices, Pettine said, with Manziel expected to get more work with the starting group. Shanahan said so-called first-team reps are overrated.

      "We've been in a week. Hopefully, as these preseason games go, as these practices go, one of them will make the decision easy on us," Shanahan said. "One will just take off and start playing really well. Usually that answer becomes pretty easy. If they make it tough, I hope it's because they’re both playing really well."

      Manziel said the quarterback room with Hoyer and third-stringer Tyler Thigpen has a positive vibe, and he attempts to use the time to learn from both veterans. He understands the decision of when he debuts and how much playing time he gets is not entirely his to make.

      "I think I'll play whenever these coaches decide that I'm ready," Manziel said. "I don't think they ever want to throw me into a situation that I'm not ready for or something that I can't handle. I don't know if they drafted me necessarily thinking that I should come in and start Week 1. I think they wanted to see where I'm at and see how I progress, and hopefully, they're happy with how I'm progressing. If not, then obviously I need to take it upon myself to step my game up and continue to learn the stuff at a more rapid pace."

      NOTES: Head coach Mike Pettine confirmed WR Josh Gordon was excused for a travel day. Gordon was flying to New York where his appeal of a one-year suspension for another positive drug test would be heard Friday. ... OG John Greco participated in his first training camp practice after being activated from the physically unable to perform list. DL Billy Winn was also activated Thursday. ... Roughly 100 military members, representing all five branches, and their families were VIP guests at Browns training camp through the team's relationship with USO of Northern Ohio and Gold Star. Families

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Falcons DT Jerry to retire
    By The Sports Xchange

    Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry is planning to retire from the NFL after five seasons.

    • The unexpected move was made official in a brief release from the team Thursday afternoon. Jerry did not give a reason or explain the decision in the team-issued statement.

      He totaled 79 tackles (46 solo), 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and three passes defensed during his career.

      The former first-round draft pick was selected 24th in 2009. He turns 30 on Aug. 23.

      Jerry re-signed with the Falcons in March after logging 678 snaps in 2013, starting a career-high 14 games. Jerry suffered a career-threatening knee injury in the second game of his rookie season in 2009, and did not have the game-changing impact the team envisioned as a "three technique" defensive tackle.

      Jerry was used at defensive end when the Falcons went to a 3-4 front and played the pass-rushing spot in a four-man front.

      Atlanta signed nose tackle Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson on the opening days of free agency and are shifting to a "30" or three-man front this season. Jerry's role in the defense had been undefined by defensive line coach Bryan Cox.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Pro Football HOF: Bottleneck frustrates worthy candidates
    By The Sports Xchange

    When seven pro football greats have their legendary status verified this weekend at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, many other former stars will smile during the ceremony.

    • But that smile may only be hiding a grimace on gnashing of teeth.

      For each former great who is inducted, there are hundreds of their peers who believe they, too, should honored with a yellow coat and bronze bust in Canton.

      And some of them are right.

      The Sports Xchange polled its network of writers covering each team, asking for the most deserving eligible player from that franchise who is not yet in the Hall of Fame, not counting this weekend's inductees -- linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive lineman Claude Humphrey, wide receiver Andre Reed, defensive back Aeneas Williams, punter Ray guy, offensive lineman Walter Jones and defensive lineman Michael Strahan.

      As we sorted through the responses, there seemed to be a lot of names missing that belonged on those responses. After 22 years on the Hall of Selection Committee and now a member of the Seniors selection committee, we have heard the most deserving names many, many times. But with a maximum intake of seven a year, the waiting list grows.

      While reporters for some teams admit they have no eligible, potential candidates worthy of consideration -- such as veteran reporter John McClain, whose 12-year old Houston Texans have only one prospect in wide receiver Andre Johnson and he is still playing -- other teams are griping about numerous players they believe are being overlooked.

      Chief among them just happens to be the Oakland Raiders, whose selection committee representative is writing this with a smile that is hiding a grimace and gnashing teeth.

      This selector is barraged by complaints year-round about several Raiders prospects who fans, coaches and former teammates believe are overdue. Currently at the head of the Raiders gripe list is wide receiver Tim Brown, a finalist for the last several years who certainly seems due.

      With punter Ray Guy finally selected in this year's class, the glut of overqualified Raiders still on the Seniors list includes quarterback Ken Stabler, whose play on and off the field was identical to easily-selected New York Jet and fellow Alabama good-old boy Joe Namath; wide receiver Cliff Branch, who averaged 25-yards a catch in 1976, the season the Raiders won Super Bowl XI and whose playoff receiving yards are topped only by Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin; and cornerback Lester Hayes, whose 1980 season and postseason included 18 interceptions as the Raiders became first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl, and then teamed with Michael Haynes to dominate the Washington Redskins receivers in Super Bowl XVIII.

      And they are responsible for only half the Raider complaints. The loudest and most consistent are for former quarterback, assistant coach and head coach Tom Flores, and quarterback Jim Plunkett. Together they won two Super Bowls (XV and XVIII).

      OK, that is admittedly opportunistic and straight forward venting of pent up frustrations in an attempt to stop gnashing of teeth.

      Here is a look at the team by team nominees by TSX network writers who cover each NFL team. These nominees do not necessarily reflect the opinion of TSX's senior football staff, but they are interesting (listed by team, alphabetically):

      ARIZONA CARDINALS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Defensive back/running back Marshall Goldberg

      His time with the team was interrupted by two years of service during WW II. A member of the 1947 championship team. He played both ways and had career rushing totals of 1,644 yards on 476 carries.

      ATLANTA FALCONS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Linebacker Tommy Nobis, the original Falcon, has been before the committee countless times. It's one of the stains on the football shrine in Canton.

      BALTIMORE RAVENS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --There isn't a deserving and retired eligible player for the Hall of Fame from the Ravens since the induction of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden last summer.

      BUFFALO BILLS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --There has long been an argument made for Steve Tasker, who is widely considered one of the greatest special teams players of all time. However, the voters are having a difficult time trying to quantify a special teams player's true value to the team. He has made it to the preliminary list, but has never been named a finalist and likely never will.

      CAROLINA PANTHERS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Kevin Greene. The former linebacker/defensive end has been close, but despite making the final 15 during the selection process the last three years, he is still on the outside looking in. Greene, who spent three of his 15 seasons with the Panthers, is the only player among the top four in all-time sacks not in the Hall of Fame.

      CHICAGO BEARS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Jay Hilgenberg. A Pro Bowl center for seven straight years, he led the line that consistently opened the way for Walter Payton. During Payton's career he never played on a team with a Pro Bowl lineman, but Hilgenberg had the longevity that left tackle Jimbo Covert lacked with 11 years in the league. He did it all as an undrafted free agent.

      CINCINNATI BENGALS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --It's been more than 25 years since quarterback Ken Anderson retired, so it's up to the Hall of Fame senior committee now. Anderson was repeatedly passed over by the voters despite numbers that stack up comparably with most HOF QBs. Anderson threw for 32,828 yards and 197 touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 59.3 and a passer rating of 81.9. He led the league in passing yards twice, passing yards per attempt twice, completion percentage three times and passer rating four times.

      CLEVELAND BROWNS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Clay Matthews, the original. Matthews was a first-round draft pick in 1978 and played with the Browns through 1993. He was an iron horse, played injured and holds the franchise record (232) for games played and sacks (76.5). He was a team leader and never took a day off in practice. Young players watched him and knew they could not slack off.

      DALLAS COWBOYS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Drew Pearson was the man who made the No. 88 famous in Dallas before Michael Irvin and before Dez Bryant. He was the dominant receiver on the great Cowboys teams of the 70s and 80s with quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Danny White.

      He was named to three Pro Bowls and was a member of the NFL all-decade team of the 1970s. He appeared in three Super Bowls. And while many say his numbers were subpar during a running era consider that his numbers are better than Steelers great Lynn Swann, who was inducted in 2001.

      DENVER BRONCOS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Safety John Lynch. The four-time All-Pro provided the thunder from the secondary for the Buccaneers' stellar defenses of the late 1990's and early 2000's, and then moved on to Denver and went to four of his nine career Pro Bowls. Lynch and Bailey made the Broncos' secondary one of the league's best from 2004-07.

      DETROIT LIONS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --The late Alex Karras is deserving of election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his fate will remain in the hands of the Seniors committee until he makes it. The great Lions defensive tackle from 1958 to 1970 (though he was suspended in 1963) was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Karras was also named to the All-Decade team of the 1960s.

      Karras died in 2012, but it's never too late to give him a posthumous honor.

      GREEN BAY PACKERS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Guard Jerry Kramer. The pleas and petitions have been circulating for years, but still no bust of Kramer in the hallowed wing at Canton. It's about the only honor that has eluded the 78-year-old. An 11-year career in Green Bay as the rock of an offensive line that led Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor through big holes yielded All-Pro recognition five times and five NFL titles. Kramer's value on those star-laden Lombardi Era teams is embodied by his selection to the league's All-Decade (1960s) and 50th Anniversary teams.

      HOUSTON TEXANS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      -- None.

      JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Offensive tackle Tony Boselli. Boselli was the first-ever college draft choice of Jacksonville in 1995 and after seven years of playing for the Jaguars, he became the first member of the Jaguars franchise to be honored in The Pride of the Jaguars in 2006. Five times in his seven seasons with the Jaguars, Boselli was named to the Pro Bowl. He allowed only 15.5 sacks in seven seasons and was named second team on the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1990s. A shoulder injury curtailed Boselli's career and limited him to the seven seasons with the Jaguars. Had he played another 4-6 years with the Jaguars at the same level, he undoubtedly would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame by now.

      KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --There are several players that should be considered, but at the top of the list would be safety Johnny Robinson and wide receiver Otis Taylor. Both have received serious consideration within the seniors voting committee in recent seasons and may still breakthrough for discussion in front of the entire board of selectors. After two seasons at running back, Robinson switched to defense and was one of the AFL's best safeties, grabbing 57 interceptions in 12 seasons playing the defense's backline. Taylor was the best receiver in the final seasons of the AFL and after the merger with the NFL he led the combined leagues in receiving in the 1971 season. His career numbers of 410 catches for 7,306 yards pale in comparison to today's receiving numbers, but in his era Taylor was one of the league's best receivers.

      MIAMI DOLPHINS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Safety Jake Scott. A five-time All-Pro selection who earned Super Bowl VII MVP honors, Scott played for Miami (1970-76) and Washington (1977-78). Scott, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time Super Bowl champion, had 49 interceptions in 126 games and was on the 1972 Perfect Season team.

      MINNESOTA VIKINGS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Mick Tingelhoff. The center who started all four of the team's Super Bowl appearances has been close to getting a nomination from the Hall's Seniors Committee in recent years. Tingelhoff played 17 years and never missed a game in 240 opportunities. He also was a five-time first-team All-Pro.

      NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

      Most deserving retired and eligible player:

      -- Receiver, kicker Gino Cappelletti was one of the true stars and best all-around player in the AFL, winning the league's MVP award in 1964. The receiver and kicker led the AFL in scoring five times and was a five time all-star. Cappelletti was one just three players to play in every game in the AFL's 10-year history. Cappelletti's 1,130 points rank second in Patriots history. He was a true dual weapon who went on to coach and broadcast for the organization.

      NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Kicker Morten Andersen. A six-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team AP All-Pro in 13 seasons with the Saints, Andersen is the NFL's all-time leader in points (2,544), field goals (565) and games played (382). Andersen, a Hall of Fame semifinalist in his first year of eligibility in 2013 and a finalist in '14, is the Saints all-time scoring leader with 1,318 points.

      NEW YORK GIANTS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Quarterback Phil Simms might not hold the Giants passing records any more thanks to Eli Manning, but when one considers how Simms, in his early days, often didn't have the weapons or the protection that Manning has mostly enjoyed in his career, that makes Simms' contributions all the more special.

      NEW YORK JETS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      -- None. The closest thing the Jets have to a Hall of Fame candidate among their eligible candidates is quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who ranks amongst the NFL's all-time top 10 in passing yards, touchdowns, completions, attempts and comebacks. Of course, that's largely a byproduct of playing 21 seasons, remarkable feat, to be sure, but one that is not Canton-worthy.

      OAKLAND RAIDERS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Wide receiver Tim Brown deserves to go in next year. And the seniors committee should get in three more former Raider greats -- quarterback Ken Stabler, wide receiver Cliff Branch and cornerback Lester Hayes.

      Brown is fifth all-time with 1,094 receptions, sixth in all-time receiving yards with 14,934 yards and tied for seventh with 100 touchdowns. A Heisman Trophy winner out of Notre Dame, Brown was the 6th player taken in 1988, Brown broke Gale Sayers' record for most total yardage by a rookie -- 2,317 yards.

      Brown's promising career was interrupted when he blew out his knee in the first game of his second season, in 1989. For the next three seasons he was mainly a No. 3 receiver but was featured as a punt returner, where he made the Pro Bowl again after the 1991 season. So it wasn't until 1993, his sixth season, that Brown really became a full time starter at wide receiver. Brown responded with one of the most productive ten years by a wide receiver in NFL history: From 1993 until 2002, He AVERAGED 87 catches and 1,191 yards a season. He led the league in catches in 1997 with 104 and he was still a top punt returner, leading the league in punt returns again in 1994

      PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Wide receiver Harold Carmichael. He is no longer is eligible as a modern-era candidate, but is a deserving veterans-committee candidate. Harold's size -- he was 6-foot-8 -- made him a nightmare to cover. He was one of the game's best red zone receivers during his 14 years in the league. Made four Pro Bowls. Caught 79 touchdown passes. Should be in Canton.

      PITTSBURGH STEELERS

      Most Deserving Retired and Eligible:

      --Running back Jerome Bettis retired as the fifth-leading NFL rusher of all time with 13,662 yards. Playing his entire 13-year career over 250 pounds, he is by far the most productive big-back in NFL history. Late in his career, he was often used in short-yardage situations and at the goalline, which limited his yards per carry during that time and lowered his overall average to just under 4.0. He inspired the Steelers to their 2005 Super Bowl run, which they wound up winning in his hometown of Detroit. He had seasons in which he rushed for 1,431 yards, 1,665 and 1,341. While he never won an NFL rushing title, he remained consistent throughout his career and along with Franco Harris the best and most dependable backs in Pittsburgh history.

      ST. LOUIS RAMS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Wide receiver Henry Ellard. His final season with the Rams was the year before Isaac Bruce arrived in 1994, and Bruce began wearing his No. 80. But, it's often forgotten the impressive numbers Ellard accumulated. His 13,777 receiving yards still rank 10th all-time even though he retired after the 1998 season. He totaled 814 catches and most impressive is that he averaged 16.9 yards per reception.

      SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Quarterback John Hadl. Maybe Hadl's biggest sin was playing the bulk of his career in the American Football League instead of the NFL. He's among the former AFL stars which has seemingly been overlooked with being considered for the Hall of Fame. Hadl was a six-time All-Star and lead the league in passing three seasons. He threw for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons and eclipsed 300 yards in 16 games -- those aren't gaudy numbers now, but back when Hadl played in the 1960s there were exceptional. He finished with 2,363 completions, 33,503 passing yards and 244 passing touchdowns. He led the Chargers to their only league title -- the 1963 AFL crown -- and was the 1971 NFL Man of the Year.

      SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Defensive lineman Bryant Young. He spent all 14 years of his career in San Francisco and was a solid, dependable pro and the staple of 49ers defensive lines. He never played fewer than 13 games a season and remained productive despite switching from a 4-3 interior lineman to an end in a 3-4. Young played in four Pro Bowls, was a first-team all-pro once (1996) and won a Super Bowl with the 1994 team as a rookie. He and Dana Stubblefield anchored a defensive unit that ranked sixth in scoring. But more so than the accolades, Young was one of the most respected players on the team both on and off the field.

      SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Safety Kenny Easley maybe didn't play long enough to make it to the Hall of Fame. But while he did play, he was about as Hall of Fame as it gets, as he was the leader of what was an underrated Seattle defense during the mid'80s when the team was a perennial playoff contender under Chuck Knox. Easley was the AP's Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 when he led the league with 10 interceptions. He was a Pro Bowl Starter four times in his seven-year career. But he couldn't add to that total as injuries ended his career at the age of 28.

      TAMPA BAY BUCANNEERS

      Most deserving retired and eligible player:

      --Safety John Lynch was among 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl player and among the hardest hitters at his position in the history of football.

      TENNESSEE TITANS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --Running back Eddie George. Most feel that George's stats of just over 10,000 yards (all-time franchise leader) are actually a little short of Hall of Fame worthiness. And while that may be true, as time goes on with the running back position being devalued, George's career totals might look more appealing in years to come, much like Bert Blyleven's 287 wins finally got him into Cooperstown after the pool of 300-game winners began to dry

      WASHINGTON REDSKINS

      Most deserving retired and eligible:

      --A case can certainly be made for left tackle Joe Jacoby, who was equally important to the Hogs of the 1980s as Hall of Fame left guard Russ Grimm. Feisty cornerback Pat Fischer, steady center Len Hauss and workhorse running back Larry Brown also deserve serious consideration -- how is Floyd Little in Canton and he's not?

      However, the pick here is the late Jerry Smith, the tight end whose statistics measure up nicely to those of Dave Casper, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Charlie Sanders and Jackie Smith, all fellow tight ends of his era. Smith, whose numbers were limited during the second half of his career by coach George Allen's conservative nature, made the Modern Era Preliminary List just twice and has appeared just once the Seniors Committee Preliminary List. One can't help but wonder if Smith's 1986 death from AIDS has been held against him all these years.

      --Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Chiefs CB Commings to have ankle surgery
    By The Sports Xchange

    Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Sanders Commings will undergo ankle surgery after getting hurt in practice, head coach Andy Reid confirmed Thursday.

    • There is no timetable on his return.

      Running back Jamaal Charles put an open-field move on Commings, who had to be carted off the field Wednesday.

      Commings was a fifth-round pick for the Chiefs last year.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Raiders enjoy early returns on RB Jones-Drew
    By The Sports Xchange

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Early returns suggest the Oakland Raiders are getting a reasonable facsimile of the Maurice Jones-Drew who was one of the NFL's top running backs with the Jacksonville Jaguars before injuries derailed his career.

    • Jones-Drew has looked impressive on inside and outside running plays, showing a good burst. The Raiders are greatly anticipating seeing him perform in an actual game when opponents are tackling with intent, as opposed to fitting up during training camp contact.

      Jones-Drew and returnee Darren McFadden have been splitting reps fairly evenly, with second-year player Latavius Murray, Canadian Football League refugee Kory Sheets, James Stewart and undrafted rookie George Atkinson III also in the mix.

      Raiders coach Dennis Allen isn't overly concerned about naming a starter. With the natural attrition of the position and the number of snaps in a game, the possibility of having both veteran players rebound after difficult seasons would be a nice problem for the Raiders to have.

      "Both those guys are out there competing," Allen said. "They understand that both are going to get an opportunity to play, both are going get touches and they're competing really hard. It's important to them. But they understand it's bigger than who is going to be the starting running back. It's what's going to be the best for the team and how we're going to win games."

      Jones-Drew averaged just 3.4 yards per carry for the Jaguars last season, with 234 carries for 803 yards. Limited to six games because of injury in 2012, he is two seasons removed from a career best 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns.

      Having grown up in Antioch and gone to high school in the Bay Area at De La Salle, Jones-Drew is enjoying a rebirth.

      "I don't want to prove anything," Jones-Drew said. "I'm just enjoying having fun and playing football. A long time ago I was an angry person, now I've gone to the positive side and I like it a little bit better.

      "You do have people who say you can't do certain things and that does give you a little bit of fuel. But that doesn't matter when you're out there blocking or trying to catch the ball."

      McFadden, always a training camp standout with a propensity for injury in the regular season, has had two difficult seasons, averaging a combined 3.3 yards per carry. Jones-Drew has liked what he's seen of McFadden so far.

      "We want to create a standard of being the best backfield in the league," Jones-Drew said. "Darren's done a great job and I think we've all gotten better as a group."

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Brady Quinn joins FOX broadcast team
    By The Sports Xchange

    Brady Quinn has not officially announced his retirement from the National Football League, but the veteran quarterback acknowledged he is entering a new "career challenge" with the announcement he will join FOX Sports as a college football and NFL studio and game analyst.

    • Quinn will serve as an in-studio analyst on FOX Sports 1's "America's Pregame" and "FOX Sports Live." In the booth, he will be teamed with Tim Brando for college games and Dick Stockton when on NFL assignment.

      "I am honored and grateful to have the opportunity to join the team at FOX Sports," Quinn said Thursday in an announcement. "Obviously, nothing compares to playing quarterback, but I am looking forward to this next career challenge and the tremendous opportunity it affords me to remain close to the sport I love at both the collegiate and professional levels."

      A first-round pick out of Notre Dame by the Cleveland Browns in 2007, Quinn has appeared in 24 career games, including 20 starts over seven NFL seasons. However, he has not taken a snap since 2012 when he started eight of 10 games for the Kansas City Chiefs - his only regular-season action since 2009.

      For his career, Quinn has a 53.8 completion percentage and 64.4 passer rating with 12 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions.

      While a senior at Notre Dame, Quinn threw for 3,426 yards with 37 touchdowns against only seven interceptions and went on to win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind Troy Smith and Darren McFadden.

      "We are excited to add someone with Brady’s enthusiasm and versatility to our already stout lineup of college football and NFL broadcasters," FOX Sports Executive Vice President Production John Entz said. "Brady offers a unique perspective on both college and pro games, and we believe he has the talent and work ethic to transition seamlessly between the studio and the booth."

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Revis making Brady, Gronkowski better
    By The Sports Xchange

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterback Tom Brady went right after cornerback Darrelle Revis in Thursday's training camp practice, and it led to a touchdown. By Revis.

    • On a pass intended for Kenbrell Thompkins, Revis pulled down the pick and returned it for six, showing the kind of game-changing ability the Patriots wanted in their $16 million cover man.

      "Great players make you pay," Brady said after practice about what he learned on the play.

      Revis is helping contribute in any way possible.

      Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to take a cautious road in his return from a torn ACL suffered last December. The Pro Bowler was cleared to practice to start camp but has yet to take part in any team action or contact drills.

      "The side work is going good, I'm getting used to everything I can do," Gronkowski said after Tuesday's practice. "Doing conditioning, which is my number one factor right now, that's what I can work out to the max -- running around and getting my body used to everything. Working individually, listening to my coaches and getting my individual routes and blocking down to the best of my ability."

      Gronkowski has taken a lot of one-on-one reps against Revis with Brady at the trigger. The work as a talented practice field trio could benefit all three players.

      "It's good, (Revis) is a good player and it was good having him out there," Gronkowski said of the drill that has been closely monitored by Bill Belichick. "Even though it wasn't full or anything, just having him out their shadowing, running some routes, it's good to get that work in and have a defender around you so you know what it's like when it's time for full speed. Any presence in front of my face trying to go against me brings out the competitiveness in me."

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Colts' Thomas tears quad, put on IR
    By The Sports Xchange

    Indianapolis Colts starting left guard Donald Thomas re-tore the same quad that cost him all but two games during the 2013 season, coach Chuck Pagano confirmed Thursday.

    • The Colts placed Thomas on injured reserve and re-signed undrafted free agent offensive tackle Eric Pike.

      "Donald worked extremely hard to get back. I feel awful for Donald," Pagano said. "He was playing extremely well and doing a great job. Donald will be fine and he'll go back to work to rehab that quad."

      Pagano said Thomas will require season-ending surgery after re-tearing his right quadriceps tendon during Wednesday afternoon's practice at Anderson University.

      Pagana said Thomas was "doing a great job. (The injury is) the ugly side of football.''

      Thomas, who signed to a four-year, $14 million contract during the 2013 offseason, missed the final 14 games of last season after tearing his right quad against the Miami Dolphins. He also tore a biceps tendon in the game on the same series. He was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 17, 2013. Thomas was originally signed by the team as an unrestricted free agent on March 13, 2013.

      Pike (6-foot-5, 298 pounds) was originally signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent on May 13 and was waived on May 15. He was a four-year starter at left tackle for Towson and was a co-captain during his senior season.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Contrite Ravens RB Rice 'owns mistake'
    By The Sports Xchange

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A contrite Ray Rice apologized publicly to his wife, his 2-year-old daughter, his mother and children wearing No. 27 Baltimore Ravens jerseys in his first public comments since the NFL suspended him two games for a domestic violence incident in February.

    • "My actions that night were totally inexcusable," Rice said. "That night, I just replay over and over in my head. That's not me. My actions are inexcusable. That's something I have to live with the rest of my life. The pain I'm talking about every day is, my daughter is two years old now. One day she's going to know the power of Google."

      Rice said the most difficult punishment he'll deal with is knowing daughter, Rayven, will first hear not of his football achievements, but what happened with his then-fiancee Jenay Palmer at an Atlantic City casino. Video captured the incident during which Rice appeared to knock Palmer out with a closed fist, then dragged her out of an elevator.

      "That's not me. That's not who my mom raised me to be. … I let her down, I let my wife down, I let my daughter down," Rice said. "I let my wife's parents down. I let the Baltimore community down. I've got my teammates here supporting me. I let my teammates down. … all because of 30 seconds."

      Rice said the impact of the suspension will be felt, but living with the pain of addressing admirers and family, including his in-laws that could be everlasting.

      "I have to own that – it's my fault," Rice said. "My daily battle each day, I own that. I'm going to do whatever I can to earn that respect back. I'm being punished on a day-to-day basis."

      Palmer was by Rice's side last month when he first addressed reporters with a prepared statement and attended Thursday's interview session. He dodged multiple questions seeking details of the night in question.

      "Last time, I didn't publicly apologize to my wife. I know that hit home with a lot of people," he said. "That's one of the things I wanted to do today. I've known her since high school. She's the same person now she was back then. She can do no wrong."

      Rice said becoming consistently great – as a teammate, husband, father and role model – is now his daily focus. Being back on the football field, Rice said, is his safe haven.

      "I made the biggest mistake of my life," Rice said. "We're in counseling. We're taking the necessary steps to move forward. … What counseling has done for me is to interact with my inner self. Let me know where my weaknesses are."

      Rice said he had nothing to impress on the NFL or commissioner Roger Goodell. He thanked his wife for support, and said they have nothing to gain to impress the league before punishment was handed down. The couple

      "My job is to lead my family," Rice said.

      Because family time is cut in half during football season, Rice said the overwhelming support of "brothers and friends" in the locker room is keeping him going.

      Rice said the incident in Atlantic City was a one-time incident and he has never experienced domestic violence.

      "I own my actions," Rice said. "I don't condone anything that was done. This was a very touchy situation, is a very touchy situation for many people in the world. When I'm better, I will go out there and help people."

      Helping people and being an ambassador for domestic violence prevention will be prominent in Rice's life this year and beyond, he said.

      "That's who I'm going to be as a person," Rice said. "That's who I'm going to be as a man."

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Ravens DE Urban tears ACL
    By The Sports Xchange

    Baltimore Ravens rookie defensive end Brent Urban is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

    • Urban was injured in Wednesday's practice, when offensive tackle Jah Reid knocked Urban to the ground in a blocking drill.

      A fourth-round draft pick from Virginia, Urban had a torn ACL as a redshirt freshman at Virginia and underwent ankle surgery prior to the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

      Coach John Harbaugh said fellow rookie Timmy Jernigan is still experiencing back issues. He missed Thursday's workout after leaving Wednesday's practice.

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Report: Giants RB Wilson 'needs a miracle'
    By The Sports Xchange

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Running back David Wilson's future with the New York Giants and in football is in doubt.

    • A report Thursday by NJ.com cited a source familiar with Wilson's neck injury as saying the former first-round pick "needs a miracle" to resume playing.

      Wilson suffered a burner -- a nerve injury in the neck area -- during Tuesday's practice and will be shut down until at least Aug. 4, when he'll consult Dr. Frank Cammissa, who performed his spinal fusion surgery on January 16.

      Head coach Tom Coughlin was visibly shaken discussing Wilson after Tuesday's injury, and said the team is praying for the best possible outcome. Wilson was cleared for contact July 21 after not participating in offseason workouts.

      The potential long-term absence of Wilson opens a wider door for rookie Andre Williams to contribute.

      Williams, drafted in the fourth round out of Boston College, has been mostly used as a short-yardage and goal line back with the Giants during preseason practices.

      While the rookie wasn't been known for his pass receiving skills in college, Giants running backs coach Craig Johnson said Williams has zeroed in on improving that aspect of the game.

      "He definitely knew that was a problem he had to get better at coming out of Boston College, not having a lot of touches catching the ball. He has worked very hard at that and he is improving in that area," Johnson said.

      Another area in which Williams will have to adjust is in the reduction of carries he could potentially see per game.

      In college, the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Williams averaged a little more than 27 touches per game as a senior, a year in which he rushed for 2,177 yards.

      With the Giants, he will likely split the workload with projected starter Rashad Jennings and third-down back Peyton Hillis, which means he probably won't see more than 15 carries per game.

      Williams was asked if a potential reduction in his carries per game might affect his ability to get into a rhythm.

      "I learn a lot from stepping back and just watching what other running backs are doing," he said.

      "I feel like I can fill in the role they want me to fill. At the same time I am young and I need to gain experience, and I think I can do a lot of that sitting back sometimes and letting the older guys show me how it's done."

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014
    Romo might miss preseason opener
    By The Sports Xchange

    As Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tomy Romo recovers from back surgery, he is taking a measured approach to returning to game action.

    • Romo indicated Wednesday that he might not play in the Cowboys' Aug. 7 preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, but he expects to see some action in exhibition games as he prepares for the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 against the San Francisco 49ers.

      "You're constantly evaluating it and you're constantly, I don't want to say adjusting because you stick to the plan, but it's a progression," Romo said at the Cowboys' training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "It's leading up to San Francisco. I am going to play in the preseason, obviously. I think it's important. The first game, we'll talk about it as we move into the weekend."

      Romo practiced Wednesday and expects to be back on the field Thursday. He sat out Tuesday's practice as the staff monitors his recovery from the December back surgery.

      "It's just a little unknown so you'd rather play it safe than be silly and just go out and do everything over and over again and all of a sudden have to sit out for a week or so," Romo said. "I think more than anything we're playing the long game and I think that's smart."

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Chargers playmaker Weddle finally gets help
    By The Sports Xchange

    SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle does get around. While he is not the biggest hitter, he is a ball hawk, usually around the action.

    • Did the Chargers free safety happen to pounce on the team's decision-makers this offseason?

      "Not during the draft, but I had a little input with free agency," Weddle said behind a smile that was even able to poke through his unruly beard.

      In the manner the Chargers tweaked their roster, it's easy to see why Weddle is happy. The team's top tackler the past two seasons has gotten some help and it's well deserved.

      The Chargers burned three picks on defenders: cornerback Jason Verrett (first round), outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu (second) and tackle Ryan Carrethers (fifth).

      And their biggest splash in free agency -- don't take it personal, Donald Brown -- was cornerback Brandon Flowers.

      Those additions should give a defense that struggled to stop the pass a boost.

      Here comes that Weddle smile again.

      "We've got a good defense, two-deep now," Weddle said of the Chargers' depth. "It puts the pressure on you every day to come in and compete. No jobs are given -- you have to go out and earn it."

      Weddle earned his stripes long ago, but one can't tell. He still attacks the game with enthusiasm and exhibits leadership skills that make him among a vital cog on the defensive side.

      He quickly has become a favorite of coach Mike McCoy, and not just because they share University of Utah roots.

      "He's one of the leaders of the football team and has been a captain here for a number of years," McCoy said. "He plays the game the way it is supposed to be played."

      But it's hard to play that way when one eye is on your assignment and the other on someone else's. Weddle's job is not only to make tackles and force turnovers but to get everyone lined up correctly. And for the past two years, it has been a revolving door in the secondary, with Weddle's head often spinning like the others.

      While Verrett's noggin will be swimming like any rookie, he seems to be a quick learner.

      And in Flowers, Weddle, an eight-year pro, gets someone he can trust.

      "The communication, especially with the young guys and different players we have coming in from other places, has been good," Weddle said. "We just have to stay focused and try to continue to get better every day."

      Weddle plays as much with his brain as with his brawn. He embraces the cerebral part of the game and he's smart enough to know that the Chargers' weakness last year was slowing rival passing games.

      They ranked No. 29 in passing yards allowed per game and No. 31 on passing yards per play. Among the reasons they were No. 20 in third-down efficiency was they couldn't get off the field when asked to stop the pass.

      So Weddle is spending as much time thinking about making good plays as making good plays.

      "It's what you are up in the head and how you break down," said Weddle, a two-time Pro Bowler. "It's what you see and the instincts in your heart, all those things, and breaking it down within seconds of a play is really what it's all about. It's acting on what you see that separates the great ones from the average ones -- it's the cerebral part of the game."

      The part about these training camp practices Weddle likes best is seeing the players that surround him. As the Chargers continue their roster makeover, the defense was given much attention this offseason.

      Those newcomers would be wise to eye Weddle to see how he goes about his work.

      "As you get older and play at a high level, you want to continue to improve and be the best because in striving to be the best, the defense will benefit from it," Weddle said. "I'm always trying to get better, to make your weaknesses your strengths."

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Bucs LBs shed L-Bs to fit Smith's scheme
    By The Sports Xchange

    TAMPA, Fla. – Considering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added 40 new players since he was hired, Lovie Smith has trimmed a lot of fat from the roster. Smith didn't stop there.

    • Smith gave players a directive: become lighter and quicker before training camp or suffer the consequences. So far, they have obliged.

      Seven pounds were shed by middle linebacker Mason Foster. Running back Doug Martin cut out Domino’s pizza and KFC, then watched his body fat plummet from 11 to 8.8 percent. Linebacker Danny Lansanah lost 13 L-Bs.

      "I just think weight is one of the most overrated things that there is," Smith said. "Strength isn’t. Weight is. The lighter we are the quicker and faster we’ll be."

      Starved for success, the Bucs are eating to win again.

      In Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Chicago, Smith preferred lighter, quicker players, especially on defense. But there is need for speed on both sides of the ball.

      Prior to going on their five-week hiatus between the end of the mandatory minicamp in June and the start of training camp last week, Smith challenged his players to belly up to the salad bar – skip the fatty dressings.

      Foster, who played at around 242 pounds last year, experienced woes in coverage and had more straight-line speed than lateral quickness. Earlier in his career, he would come off the field on third down and then-rookie Lavonte David called the defensive signals.

      But Smith is so reliant on the middle linebacker as the eyes and nose of his cover-2, because he is the quarterback of the defense who must play every snap. Foster did what every mom encourages and started eating all his vegetables.

      "I’m losing a lot of body fat and it’s helped me," Foster said. "I tried to eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t really like vegetables, but I’ve been doing well. I’m eating a lot of vegetables, eating turkey, eating turkey burgers. It was tough at first but got used to it and it’s paid off.

      "I guess I’ve lost like seven pounds. It’s really about being in better shape. … Now I like green beans, corn. My mom makes me broccoli. She’s been helping me out. It’s been going good. I feel a lot quicker, a lot lighter on my feet."

      Smith has already seen the difference on the football field in practice.

      "I was impressed with what he was able to do," Smith said. "We asked Mason to drop some weight. We don’t play with big linebackers like that. We want strong linebackers that can run. Dane Fletcher also dropped some weight and he was able to do that. All our linebackers were able to do that."

      NOTES: OG Carl Nicks was officially released Wednesday, having reached an injury settlement with the club. CB Kip Edwards became the third defensive back signed by the Bucs in three days. Edwards, 24, was undrafted in 2013 and had brief stints with the Bills, Browns and Vikings. ... CB Alterraun Verner missed Wednesday's practice because of a hamstring injury. That will just give more reps to CB Mike Jenkins, who was battling with Johnthan Banks for the other starting cornerback position.

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Denver defense's inspiration: Remember the Super Bowl
    By The Sports Xchange

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Helmets pop off in practice. Big hits -- although they have not yet led to immediate injuries -- are the rule since the Denver Broncos began practicing in pads.

    • Even with linebacker Von Miller completing his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and defensive end DeMarcus Ware out of practice in recent days because of a leg bruise, the defense is faster and more intense than it was last year. Some of that is because of the new acquisitions in the offseason: Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib, who collectively bring what Ware calls "brutal nasty."

      However, some of the defense's attitude owes to its motivation, of which its members are reminded every time a highlight from Super Bowl XLVIII is shown. Nearly six months later, the entire team is driven by the memory of the 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It is a scab that has yet to heal. Whether on offense or defense, every Bronco was kicked in the tail and kicked while down -- repeatedly -- for nearly four hours on Feb. 2.

      "We still have a stinging feeling in our gut from the last game of the season," Denver running back Montee Ball said. "That's most definitely going to fuel us, keep us going."

      Ball's sentiments are widespread among the Broncos, but they are nothing compared to the vitriol of defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who missed the Super Bowl with a dislocated hip and watched helplessly as the Broncos stumbled and the Seahawks strutted.

      "F-- Seattle. Write it down, take a picture," he said.

      It was personal for Vickerson. The Seahawks traded for him in April 2010, then released him 4 1/2 months later as a part of the 284 roster moves Seattle made in Pete Carroll's first year as head coach.

      Nearly four years later, he saw the Seahawks again, and as the Broncos' deficit mounted, he ached.

      "Man, I cried. I ain't going to lie to you," Vickerson said. "Me working all that time and me trying to get to a Super Bowl and it finally happens and it's a former team and I can't play and you want to play and all the emotions just build up inside. I couldn't hold it back. I was trying to fight it, but that's just how bad I wanted it.

      "So for me to work my whole career to get to a Super Bowl and all that, it was definitely hard. You're sitting there watching, especially with the 'what if' factor -- I can't do anything about it."

      Although other Broncos don't have the personal history with Seattle, the same "what if" sits on the minds of Miller, offensive tackle Ryan Clady, defensive end Derek Wolfe, cornerback Chris Harris and safety Rahim Moore. All five are starters, like Vickerson. All were on injured reserve by Super Sunday. The difference in attitude is as much because of their emotion at having been unable to prevent the loss as anything brought by the newcomers.

      Because defense is more fueled by emotion than offense, at times that side of the line of scrimmage has dominated in camp. That was true Wednesday, when the first-team defense won a two-minute drill period, capping the series with an interception return for a touchdown from cornerback Kayvon Webster, a backup last year who was unable to play much in the Super Bowl because of a fractured thumb.

      "You can see a bunch of guys playing fast, playing physical, playing violent," said Vickerson, who on Wednesday saw his first 11-on-11 work since his hip injury. "Playing together, playing as one heartbeat, it always gets you going."

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Saints finally get a look at their rare Byrd
    By The Sports Xchange

    WHITE SULPHER SPRINGS, W.Va. -- After missing the first four training camp practices while on the active/physically unable to perform list, free safety Jairus Byrd gave the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday their first glimpse of what he can give them.

    • Byrd, the Saints' top acquisition in free agency this winter, made his much-anticipated debut in pads after missing the team's organized team activities and veteran minicamp following minor back surgery on May 29.

      Saints coach Sean Payton said last week when camp got under way that Byrd would be back "sooner rather than later," and Byrd made it happen when he got on the field with his new teammates for the first time.

      While Byrd was limited to lining up during a walkthrough, he took part in skeleton drills and also fielded punts and may have helped allay some of the fears of fans who thought he might be a six-year, $54 million mistake.

      Byrd wouldn't answer questions about the exact surgery he had, but Payton said when the team announced that Byrd was having the surgery that it was a problematic disc and they wanted to have the procedure done to keep it from flaring up during the course of a long season.

      "It's an issue that needed to be taken care of," Byrd said. "It's all I'll say."

      The Saints believe the back won't be an issue because it was taken care of early and are ready to see the ball-hawking skills that Byrd brings to a team that was near the bottom of the NFL in takeaways despite ranking fourth in fewest yards allowed.

      "Mentally, he's right there," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of Byrd, who had 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. "If that ball hits his hands, he's going to catch it."

      Byrd said, "It's not about me -- it's about our team, and I look forward to making an impact on this defense. Whatever category that falls, whatever category that is, that's what I look forward to doing."

      Meantime, quarterback Drew Brees said he wasn't kidding at the outset of training camp when he said he wanted to play another 10 years -- which would take him to his 45th birthday.

      The 35-year-old Brees, who takes pride in staying in top shape throughout the year with a grueling physical regimen, reiterated Tuesday that he thinks it can be done, although he admitted it won't be easy.

      "I'm serious ... I'm not delusional," he said. "I know that's something that would be extremely difficult to do. Not many have done it. . . . It could be done, but a lot of things have to fall into place."

      In the tweet, Brees joked that he was picked for a random drug test after his comments.

      "Obviously, I was having fun with that one," he said. "We get random drug tests throughout the year. We always joke around that it's always after a really good game you get drug-tested 'randomly.' "

      Brees stressed that he was "completely joking" about any implication that he was targeted for the drug test because of his comments about wanting to play until he was 45.

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Jets are again talking the talk, but time will tell
    By The Sports Xchange

    CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The feisty New York Jets are back after seemingly being gone forever once the buttoned-down John Idzik took over as general manager following the 2012 season.

    • From coach Rex Ryan and players offering up declarations made for the back pages of the New York city tabloids to pushing and shoving one another on the fields of Cortland, the Jets spent the first week of training camp enlivening the NFL's dull days of summer.

      On July 26, Dee Milliner told the New York Daily News that he considered himself the best cornerback in the league -- even after a rookie season in which he was burned repeatedly and benched in the middle of a game three times.

      The same day, quarterback Geno Smith -- who, like Milliner, endured an often rocky rookie season last year -- responded to an ESPN.com poll that identified him as the worst starting quarterback in the league by saying he planned to be in the top five by 2015.

      On July 27, veteran linebacker Calvin Pace proved confidence within the Jets bridged the generations. Asked by the Daily News to compare the defense with the rest of the NFL's units, Pace said "(Shoot), man, we're the best."

      Big words from a team that is one of just 10 franchises in the league to fail to finish with a winning record in each of the last three seasons. But Ryan -- who was all but muted last summer as he tried to win over Idzik -- is encouraging the Jets to speak out.

      "You get a few bullets shot at you when you take this approach, so maybe that's not recommended," Ryan said July 29. "But you know what? It's who we are. It's how we feel.

      "(Other teams) can laugh. But they have to play us, too. So we'll see at the end of the day."

      The Jets are so bursting with energy that they're beginning to fight with each other with more than five weeks to go before the regular season kicks off. There were multiple skirmishes during the July 30 practice, including a brief brawl between guard Brian Winters and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson during a one-on-one blocking drill.

      "To be great, to be a champion, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will," Ryan said July 29. "You can't hide in this league, so if you're saying it, that's great because they really believe it. You don't want to get embarrassed, that's for sure, but that means you're going to put in the work."

      If the first full week of practice is any indication, the Jets' defense is certainly ahead of the offense.

      After a series of blitzes flummoxed the offense on July 29, Jets quarterbacks threw five interceptions -- three of which were returned for touchdowns -- on July 30.

      "As a head coach, it's always good news, bad news," Ryan said Wednesday.

      The defensive good news is at least an indication that the Jets are going to employ a ball-hawking unit this season. The Jets recovered just one fumble last season and had 13 interceptions (tied for 10th fewest in the league), only one of which was returned for a touchdown.

      "The good news is hey, you got all those turnovers, and that's what we've been talking about," Ryan said. "We've been harping on it -- create turnovers -- and we did today.

      "Then the bad news is we've got to protect the ball. And we know it."

      NOTES: QB Geno Smith, whose interception on Wednesday was returned for a touchdown, continued to take most of the first-team reps at quarterback. Smith took 29 of the 40 first-team snaps during the July 29-30 practices. That works out to 73 percent, right in line with pre-training camp estimate of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who said he wanted Smith to get 75 percent of the snaps. QB Michael Vick outdid Smith on Wednesday, when the veteran threw three touchdown passes during goal-line work. Smith was sacked twice and threw an interception.

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Already a tough training camp for Panthers
    By The Sports Xchange

    SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers spent the offseason brushing aside outside concerns about their offensive makeover. They said everything would start working itself out once training camp began. But the early days of camp have been filled with a number of setbacks.

    • The first bit of bad news hit when players reported last Thursday. After finally appearing healthy during offseason workouts, running back Jonathan Stewart was ruled out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury.

      The next day, sixth-round back Tyler Gaffney tore the interior meniscus in his left knee. On Saturday, he was ruled out for the season. On Sunday, he was waived-injured. On Monday, he was stolen off waivers by the New England Patriots. More on that later.

      Earlier that day, Kelvin Benjamin woke up with a sore knee. Instead of practicing, Benjamin was sent back to Charlotte for an MRI.

      "(During Sunday's practice) I went for a catch and just came down with all my body weight on my knee. We looked at it and iced it, and the doctors checked it. Once I woke up the next morning, it was stiff, so (head athletic trainer) Ryan (Vermillion) just wanted to make sure it was OK," Benjamin said.

      On Monday afternoon, the Panthers announced their best receiving hope had a bruised knee. He would be back in a matter of days, not weeks, but the fact that was the best news of the week speaks to the sputtering start the Panthers have had.

      Quarterback Cam Newton is returning from offseason ankle surgery, and his timing with the rebuilt receiving corps is not there yet. The one guy he appeared to have a connection with was Benjamin, a still-raw wideout who will now miss a handful of practices.

      At least the Panthers went into Wednesday's off day with some positive momentum. They had more energy and looked sharper Tuesday during a practice that coach Ron Rivera called the team's best yet.

      "After the first period, I got them back together and said, 'Hey guys, I get on you when it's not what we want, so I want to let you know that's exactly what we want,'" Rivera said.

      The Panthers get back to work Thursday morning, and they have to be hoping the second quarter of their camp schedule will be a lot smoother than the first.

      With Stewart sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Panthers quickly became thin at running back when Gaffney tore his lateral meniscus on his first play of Friday night's first practice.

      Left with only five guys who carry the ball -- DeAngelo Williams, Kenjon Barner, Darrin Reaves, Mike Tolbert, Michael Zordich -- the Panthers needed to add a back to help share camp carries.

      Instead of releasing one of their long-shot offensive lineman or defensive backs, the Panthers waived-injured Gaffney and signed free agent running back Fozzy Whittaker on Sunday.

      If a team wants to put a player on injured reserve before the first round of cuts, that player has to go through waivers. Usually the 31 other teams keep their hands off such guys, allowing them to go through unclaimed.

      Well, the Patriots are sometimes not like all the others. For the third time since 2010, they disregarded the unwritten rule. Coach Bill Belichick snagged Gaffney off waivers, foiling the Panthers' plans to put Gaffney on injured reserve.

      So just over two months after the draft, Carolina's sixth-round pick is on another roster, and the Panthers are left biting their tongue.

      "This is business," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. "We're in a competitive business. We're all looking to improve. (The Patriots) made a business decision."

      NOTES: WR Marcus Lucas has been one of the surprise performers at camp. The undrafted wideout from Missouri may not be ready for a spot on the 53-man roster, but he could be guaranteeing himself at least a spot on the practice squad. "Watching him when they're yelling for someone on the show team, he's one of the first ones to jump up," coach Ron Rivera said. "Those catch your eye as a coach. And then you see him do something well, it catches your eye even more." . . . OL Travelle Wharton officially retired Tuesday. A quiet yet important member of the Panthers' 2005, 2008 and 2013 playoff teams, Wharton played each game of his 10-year career for the "home" team.

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Bears working Cutler overtime to avoid depth concerns
    By The Sports Xchange

    BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- When a team finishes second in scoring, fifth in passing and eighth in total offense, there's not a lot of room for improvement.

    • Through the first week of camp the focus has been on getting all receivers -- starters and reserves -- used to running the attack with quarterback Jay Cutler.

      It's the main reason Cutler has taken a lot of snaps with and against second-teamers.

      "There's a couple of benefits," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "One is that he's (Cutler) getting more reps, and that's important to us that he takes the most amount of reps because he'll be running the offense.

      "No. 2, it gets him with other players that could be on the field with him this year, and it gets him a feel for how those guys run routes, protect, and those sort of things."

      So Cutler has thrown to a former Saints practice squader like Chris Williams as much as he's throwing to Pro Bowl starter Alshon Jeffery.

      When Earl Bennett was allowed to leave after the season as a free agent, the Bears had a need for a third receiver. It's been assumed that it would be Marquess Wilson, the seventh-round pick from Washington State who has worked out extensively with Cutler, Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett.

      However, Williams has shown himself capable of catching passes despite being only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds. Williams sees himself as a possible counter weapon in the passing game with a receiver corps comprised of 6-3 and 6-4 pass catchers.

      "A little bit," he said. "We've got a big bunch. When I get in there, it's a little change of pace, that's for sure."

      Veteran Eric Weems, expected to be more of a special teamer like Williams, has been a presence in the battle with Wilson for third receiver.

      "The thing about him is he's smart, he studies, he understands," Kromer said. "So when he gets out there he's able to make the play when he needs to. We're lucky to have him."

      Wilson continues to be the likely third, although he hasn't necessarily been more of a go-to guy than the others for Cutler in scrimmage. At 6-4, 184, he fits the mold of the first two receivers, but there are questions as to whether he can be that durable over-the-middle slot receiver type to help on third downs.

      There has also been a focus on getting the ball to backup tight ends Dante Rosario and Zach Miller.

      Of course, the chief Bears depth problem remains Cutler's position. Without Josh McCown, they're left with Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen and David Fales as backups. While Cutler has had almost all the first-team snaps, the backups have had a few.

      Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh continues working with all three backups in attempt to find one. Naturally, Palmer has an edge from working with the team last year.

      "He knows the system very well and he had some work last year, but not a lot, even in practice," Cavanaugh said. "So that's where he's catching up now is on the field. And I think he's doing a good job.

      "He's a tall, strong-armed guy who's smart and makes good decisions so what else do you need in a quarterback other than experience."

      Trestman insists he'd leaning to no one as backup, even while cries in Chicago have been for the team to pursue former Bear Kyle Orton as backup. There's no indication this is a possibility.

      "I haven't even thought about at this point who that guy would be," Trestman said. "I want to let it happen and it will."

      NOTES: Former Dallas Cowboys S Danny McCray worked with the first-team defense Wednesday ahead of rookie Brock Vereen. McCray said it was nothing to get excited about "on Day 5." Vereen, a fourth-round pick, said "I'm still a rookie who has to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster. I'm far too young to even worry about starting, not starting, whatever." ... OG Kyle Long received clearance to return to practice after a viral infection kept him out of it for five practices. However, he'll be worked back in gradually. Head coach Marc Trestman said it would be the weekend before he begins to put on pads. "He's got to get his legs back underneath him," Trestman said

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Marrone not pleased with early play of Bills offense
    By The Sports Xchange

    PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- As is usually the case early in any training camp, the Buffalo Bills defense is ahead of the offense at St. John Fisher College.

    • The problem, though, is just more than one week into practice, the defense seems to be light years ahead of the offense as second-year quarterback EJ Manuel and his band of fellow inexperienced backup quarterbacks are really struggling to get things going.

      Manuel has refused to acknowledge the obvious struggles, falling back on the same refrain, that the offense is making progress and doing good things, even though the results don't look good.

      "I think so. There's a lot of progress, even when we've had 'not-so-good' days," he said. "I think we've still had areas where we got better. We can do some things passing the ball. Like I've said before, each day we just want to continue to grow as an offense. Our run game is always going to be a pick-up for us, but we want to be able to throw the ball downfield as well."

      Coach Doug Marrone wasn't quite as upbeat and he was clearly irritated early in the week when the defense had a dominating night, particularly during a 17-play third-and-long drill when they had eight would-be sacks. Marrone said the offense has to be much better.

      Naturally, much of the focus is on Manuel, the 2013 first-round pick who has been inaccurate, and seemingly indecisive in his reads, even in 7-on-7 drills when there's no pass rush.

      "It's just the process of growing," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "He's 10 games old. He's just going on his first year in the NFL versus a very good defense we're facing in practice. I think it's great. We can't ask for any better competition for him. He's just got to keep working to get better and better."

      The struggles have not been all the fault of the quarterbacks. The offensive line is a jumbled mess at this point. Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn has been unable to practice because of an undisclosed medical condition, so the Bills have been trying various players in his spot, including rookie seventh-round draft pick Seantrel Henderson.

      Henderson is considered the potential steal of the draft, a player with gobs of talent if he can stay out of off-field trouble, but thus far, he has looked lost. Also, second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, pegged as a player who would come in immediately and start at right tackle, can't leapfrog past incumbent starter Erik Pears, who is considered the weak link up front.

      With a Buffalo defense that includes Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson rushing the passer, the line has been overwhelmed.

      "We understand that if we can block our front four, then we'll be able to block about anybody," center Eric Wood said. "For my money, I think they're the best in the league. But that's no excuse. We have to be able to do our jobs and we have to do a better job. I think in regular down and distance, we're doing a good job of understanding situations, but when we do all third downs and they're all third and long, we're not executing as well right now."

      Marrone, an old offensive lineman, spends more time with the line than any other position, so it really bothers him when they struggle.

      "I always have a high level of frustration, I do, it's the way I'm built," he said. "I want it to be perfect and a lot of times I feel like I can do a better job and why what I'm saying isn't getting across and how I can say it better. When it comes down to the line, I take a lot of pride in how I communicate with them. When they don't get it or don't seem to understand it, I get upset."

      There have been signs of improvement, particularly Wednesday when the Bills were sharp in red-zone work, and as they get ready to open the preseason on Sunday against the New York Giants in the Hall of Fame game, it will be interesting to see how the offense performs.

      "I think that going into any preseason game you want to be able to see the guys that can compete when it's real live football, see the guys that really want to get after it, understand the system and that you can depend on," Hackett said.

      "I think the biggest thing throughout the whole preseason from an evaluation standpoint with all of the guys is do they know their job, how do they communicate with the other guys, and how do they make plays afterwards? That's what you look for across all of the preseason and it's a great opportunity for us to see all of the players and what they can do."

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Quiet Thompson gets contract extension from Packers
    By The Sports Xchange

    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson gave a little insight into the philosophy that has shaped as much as it has defined his legacy of the past decade.

    • "You never talk about your good fortunes," the Green Bay Packers general manager said Wednesday. "If things are going good, you just be quiet and let things continue to be good."

      While quietly molding the Packers as a championship-caliber team the last several years, Thompson has refused to pound his chest and toot his own horn. Staying in modest character, the successful general manager carried on with the important business of looking after a team getting ready for the upcoming season despite another career-defining day.

      The Packers rewarded the 10th-year leader of their football operations Wednesday with a multiyear contract extension.

      "I'm pleased that we were able to enter into this contract extension with Ted," team president Mark Murphy said. "His outstanding work has been the key factor in the success that we've enjoyed in recent years. I have tremendous respect for Ted, and am confident that we will continue to contend for championships under his leadership."

      Terms of the new deal weren't immediately known. Asked to shed light on what the "multiyear" entails, Thompson predictably declined and said, "I'm not a very specific guy."

      What is known is Thompson, 61, will stay on as general manager for at least a few more years in the wake of speculation just a few months ago that he could be on the verge of stepping down and retiring to be with family in his native Texas.

      Thompson was under contract through the end of the 2016 NFL Draft.

      "Mark Murphy and I have had some ongoing conversations -- general-type conversations -- but I felt very appreciated by the organization and honored to work in this position with such fine people," Thompson said. "The more you think about it, the more you think how nuts are you that you'd walk away from something like this. It's important to me. It's not my family, but I've got a lot of really good friends here and co-workers that I enjoy coming to work with every day.

      "It's life, but it's life on an exaggerated scale. You're playing in the NFL, and you're trying to win and compete at the NFL level, and that is so hard to do. To get a chance to continue to do that after you put all the chips on the table, there's very little choice there. I want to be here."

      Thompson also seems to be invigorated physically and mentally, as he declared, "I feel great." Observations about what was perceived to be lethargic health at draft time in the spring prompted the predictions that Thompson's tenure with the team might not be much longer.

      Another contract extension in hand, Thompson isn't contemplating when his rewarding time in the league in which he played for 10 years (with the Houston Oilers) and has worked in a front-office capacity for 22 years will be up.

      "I think I'll just let it play itself out," Thompson said. "Most people in life have these artificial dates in mind, 'I'm going to retire when I'm X years or a certain age.' I think everybody is different. It seems to me that a lot of people can be very productive later on in life. We'll see. I enjoy what I do, and I've got really good people that I work with, and I think because of that I feel pretty energized to keep going."

      Thompson's 10-year run ties him with Vince Lombardi (1959-68) for the second-longest stint among the 11 general managers in Green Bay's illustrious history. Curly Lambeau, the team's first general manager, held the reins for more than 30 years from 1919 to 1949.

      On Thompson's watch since 2005, the Packers have the fifth-highest total of wins in the league with 92 (including the playoffs), won the NFC North title four times (including the last three) and reclaimed the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl XLV champions during the 2010 season.

      After that Super Bowl victory, the Packers ensured the dynamic duo of Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy would stay together for some time by awarding them contract extensions. Thompson hired McCarthy to lead the team in 2006.

      "When two people work together for as long as Mike and I have, I think you develop certain understandings of each other and there's certain things that you can communicate that are unsaid as opposed to originally when you probably needed to spell everything out," Thompson said. "I think we have a very good working relationship. We anticipate each other's thoughts, often, which might drive both of us crazy sometimes. I think it's working well, and it has worked well, obviously -- we see things pretty close."

      And that strong relationship of nine years seems destined to stay intact at least a little longer. McCarthy, whose contract is up after the 2015 season, is on his bosses' to-do list for another extension.

      "(It's) a big priority, and it's been the plan," Thompson said. "The way the organization is set up -- I'm not giving any trade secrets away -- it's the way it's always been done here that the (contract for the) general manager kind of gets put away and then you do the (one for the) head coach."

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014
    Growing pains for Texans QBs early in training camp
    By The Sports Xchange

    HOUSTON -- No one should be surprised to learn that Houston Texans quarterbacks have been inconsistent in Bill O'Brien's first season. Sometimes woefully so.

    • With a new head coach calling the plays, a new quarterbacks coach as his right-hand man, a new system with new terminology and a new starting quarterback, it's no wonder the passing game has sputtered during the early part of camp.

      George Godsey, a former quarterback at Georgia Tech, was hired to coach quarterbacks after spending the last four seasons working under Bill Belichick at New England.

      Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 10-year veteran playing with his fifth team, was O'Brien's hand-picked choice to replace the traded Matt Schaub.

      O'Brien and Godsey give their quarterbacks a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage. It's a complicated system that's taking a lot of time to learn, so mistakes are expected.

      It doesn't help that star receiver Andre Johnson missed the offseason program in a contract dispute before reporting on time, then suffered a hamstring injury making a great catch in the third practice. He has missed the last two days.

      Growing pains are expected. Fitzpatrick was 2-7 as a starter for Tennessee last season. Backup Case Keenum was 0-8 as a starter in 2013 when he replaced the injured Schaub. Rookie Tom Savage, a fourth-round pick, is committing mistakes typical of a quarterback in his first training camp.

      Fitzpatrick is entrenched as the starter. Keenum is entrenched as the backup. They've been erratic, and the coaches expect them to improve in their reads, adjustments, mechanics and accuracy.

      The good thing is all three quarterbacks have terrific attitudes, and each is coachable. The goal is for them to show significant improvement, become more consistent in preseason games and be prepared for the regular-season opener at Washington.