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  • NFL notebook: Brady pays tribute to fallen Navy SEAL
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady delivered a video message to the family of a Navy SEAL killed recently in action.

    • In a column this Memorial Day weekend, Bill Speros of the Boston Herald wrote about Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former University of Connecticut track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5. Brady delivered the video message last week at the funeral of Milliken, thanking the hero's wife and their two children for their sacrifice. Speros shared that at Milliken's funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and spoke of how Milliken was considered a "glue guy" by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

      Milliken, 38, became the first U.S. service member killed in Somalia since the early 1990s, dying in a firefight during a raid. He spent 15 years in the Navy, earning a spot on SEAL Team Six and securing four Bronze Stars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      --The Oakland Raiders' season tickets for the 2017 campaign have sold out despite their impending move to Las Vegas.

      Fans spending money on season tickets for a lame-duck team comes as Raiders owner Mark Davis is hinting he will ask to stay around Oakland Coliseum for an extra season while Nevada builds his Vegas dome stadium, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The team's lease in Oakland runs through the 2018 season, but the Las Vegas stadium may not be ready until 2020.

      --Quarterback Michael Vick, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons, clarified his earlier comments regarding retirement, saying he has not spoken with anyone from the organization about signing a one-day contract so he can officially retire as a member of the Falcons.

      In February, the 36-year-old Vick announced he was retired from the NFL, but he had told CBS Radio in Atlanta on Friday night that he has talked with the Falcons about signing a one-day contract and then officially retiring. He spent six seasons with the Falcons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection before his dog-fighting conviction.

  • Raiders sell out in Oakland despite pending move
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    The Oakland Raiders' season tickets for the 2017 campaign have sold out despite their impending move to Las Vegas.

    • Fans spending money on season tickets for a lame-duck team comes as Raiders owner Mark Davis is hinting he will ask to stay around the Oakland Coliseum for an extra season while Nevada builds his Vegas dome stadium, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

      The team's lease in Oakland runs through the 2018 season, but the Las Vegas stadium may not be ready until 2020.

      "We haven't heard anything official, but that's what we are hearing through the NFL blogs," Scott McKibben, executive director of the Oakland Coliseum Authority, told the newspaper.

      The authority is run by Oakland and Alameda County, and members have been lukewarm to the idea of the Raiders playing in the Coliseum in 2019.

      Last week, the Raiders took an important step toward having a stadium ready for the 2020 season when the Las Vegas Stadium Authority unanimously approved a conditional lease agreement for the team.

      The Raiders would like to begin construction of the $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium this summer. The Raiders will share the stadium with UNLV's football team.

      Davis does not want to move to Las Vegas until the dome is complete and also indicated he does not want to play a season at UNLV's 35,500-seat Sam Boyd Stadium.

  • No talks yet between Vick, Falcons on sign-to-retire deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    Quarterback Michael Vick, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons, clarified his earlier comments regarding retirement, saying he has not spoken with anyone from the organization about signing a one-day contract so he can officially retire as a member of the Falcons.

    • Vick, hosting his V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series football event Sunday, said he still is hopeful such talks will happen.

      "Well, I haven't talked to anybody about it specifically," Vick told ESPN. "It's something that I've really been thinking about trying to get done. I was asked the question the other day is that what I want, and I said, 'Yeah.'

      "So, yeah, I think in due time, it's something that can potentially happen."

      In February, Vick announced he was retired from the NFL, but he told CBS Radio in Atlanta on Friday night that he has talked with the Falcons about signing a one-day contract and then officially retiring.

      "Hopefully soon," the 36-year-old Vick said during the radio interview.

      Vick was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech, but his tenure in Atlanta ended in disgrace when he was arrested for running a dog-fighting operation. He spent 21 months in federal prison for the crime.

      Vick spent six seasons with the Falcons and displayed superb running ability with a strong but often erratic arm. He threw for 71 touchdowns, rushed for 21, and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection before the dog-fighting conviction.

      Vick was out of football for two years and Atlanta moved on without him.

      Vick, who did not play in 2016, passed for 22,464 yards and 133 touchdowns against 88 interceptions during 13 NFL seasons. He added 6,109 yards and 36 rushing touchdowns.

      Vick has maintained a close relationship with Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who invited him back for the final regular-season game at the Georgia Dome.

      "When I spoke to Arthur, we talked about various other things," Vick told ESPN. "Like I said, (retiring a Falcon) is something that can happen down the road, and I think we both know that. What's already understood really don't have to be explained. You let time work everything out in between."

  • Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady delivered a video message to the family of a Navy SEAL killed recently in action.

    • In a column this Memorial Day weekend, Bill Speros of the Boston Herald wrote about Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

      Brady delivered the video message last week at the funeral of Milliken, thanking the hero's wife and their two children for their sacrifice.

      Speros shared that at Milliken's funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and spoke of how Milliken was considered a "glue guy" by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

      Milliken, 38, became the first American service member killed in Somalia since the early 1990s, dying in a firefight during a raid. He spent 15 years in the Navy, earning a spot on SEAL Team Six and securing four Bronze Stars for his efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Milliken had a special connection to the Patriots when in 2011 he and other Navy SEALs took part in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium.

      After the exercise, the SEALs spent time with Brady and coach Bill Belichick, and Milliken posed for a photo with the Patriots quarterback.

      The impact on Brady resonated six years later and Patriots owner Robert Kraft also remembered Milliken fondly in a statement to the Boston Herald.

      "It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011," Kraft said. "It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle's death earlier this month.

      "As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend."

  • NFC OTA Surprises: Half are wide receivers
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    Offseason practices are not where offensive linemen establish themselves. OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamps are made to order for "skill-position" players that can stand out running around in shorts.

    • That is evident in this look at early surprises in a last week's OTAs for NFC teams heading toward this week's OTAs. Because of previous violations of OTA rules, Atlanta and Seattle were docked three sessions, so they weren't on the field last week. They will have their first OTAs this week.

      Asked to identify surprises of the week, our writers on the scene named seven wide receivers, four defensive backs (two cornerbacks and one safety), one tight end and one running back that caught the eye of the coaches. That's 13 of the 14 players

      There were also five rookies among the 14 NFC surprises.

      ARIZONA CARDINALS

      --TE Troy Niklas: Head coach Bruce Arians has been raving about the fourth-year pro out of Notre Dame, saying often this offseason and again this week that Niklas couldn't possibly play any better than he is at the moment. Of course, nobody's doing any hitting now and lots of players look good in shorts and a helmet. Arians, though, sounds convinced that this will finally be Niklas' breakout season. He has the tools and the size (6-foot-6, 270), but health has always been his issue. Niklas has yet to get through a full NFL season and Arians, knocking three times on the podium he was standing behind, thinks this will be the season where it all comes together for the tight end.

      CAROLINA PANTHERS

      --WR Russell Shepard: A special teams ace who carved out a receiving role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016, Shepard signed a free-agent deal with the Panthers in March. Special teams is where he'll continue to make his money, but he's already getting looks with the No. 1 offense and making the most of them. Shepard won't get many touches in an offense loaded with weapons, but he could provide some sneaky production.

      CHICAGO BEARS

      --WR Kendall Wright: Although a veteran, Wright couldn't have been expected to make a large impact until he got the offense down after leaving Tennessee as a free agent. However, Wright made enough separation for three nice catches in practice, including one when he took an accidental hit and went to the turf in a non-contact scrimmage. The 5-foot-10, 194-pound Wright worked well out of the slot and was open over the middle once for a mid-range catch. He averaged 11.6 yards a catch at Tennessee and plays a position that's been largely missing from the Bears offense except for when Cameron Meredith lined up there at times last year. The position is wide open for competition in camp this season.

      DALLAS COWBOYS

      --WR Ryan Switzer: With Cole Beasley and Lucky Whitehead held out of practice with hamstring injuries, fourth-round pick Switzer got to work with the first team as the slot receiver and quickly impressed. Switzer seemingly caught everything thrown his way, dazzling with a one-handed twirling reception from quarterback Dak Prescott. Switzer looked like a natural fill-in for Beasley, which is actually why the Cowboys drafted the North Carolina product in addition to serving as the team's primary punt returner. "Yeah, he did a nice job," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He actually got more work today because Lucky was out for part of practice today as well. He was in there with the ones and he made some plays. Obviously, he's a young player still learning everything. This is the first time for him. Every time he does something it's the first time. So that's an interesting situation to be in. But he's got good poise about him, he's got confidence and he's got good football sense and savvy and you see that right away."

      DETROIT LIONS

      --DB Alex Carter: Head coach Jim Caldwell insisted no players would be switching positions this year. But in the first OTA open to the media, Carter, who has been a cornerback, was repping exclusively at safety. Such a move would make sense. The former third-round pick has been beset by injury since joining the club in 2015, and then Detroit added corners like DJ Hayden, Jamal Agnew and Teez Tabor to a group that also returned all three starters. Carter's only realistic shot to make the team is at safety, and it seems he's put on the requisite weight to make a go of it.

      GREEN BAY

      S Josh Jones: The Packers' new No. 27 looks nothing like their old No. 27. Playing about 30 pounds lighter than deposed Eddie Lacy and moving about the field much faster than the hefty running back, Jones already looks to be as good as advertised in a Packers uniform. The rookie broke up a few passes in practice Tuesday, the first open session of the team's organized team activities.

      Though the Packers list Jones as a safety on their spring roster, the DNA he brings with him from a productive college career at North Carolina State will enable him to play multiple positions. That includes inside linebacker, where Jones has taken some reps since he arrived in Green Bay for rookie camp in early May after the Packers selected him with the second of their two second-round draft picks at No. 61 overall. And, as Tuesday's outing proved, Jones hasn't been overwhelmed in his NFL indoctrination so far.

      L.A. RAMS

      --WR Mike Thomas: He looks bigger and more confident in his second year, and made a nice play on a long pass up the sideline while connecting with second-year QB Jared Goff. Thomas had three catches for 37 yards last year as a rookie draft pick out of Southern Mississippi, but he has the size and speed to be a factor in his second season on a team in desperate need of playmakers.

      MINNESOTA

      --OLB Edmond Robinson: The Vikings are giving the third-year pro the first crack at being the guy who replaces longtime Vikings weakside linebacker Chad Greenway. Robinson, a seventh-round draft pick out of Newberry College in 2015, has been the strongside backup behind Anthony Barr. He started two games as a rookie and held his own. He's a 6-foot-3, long-bodied athlete with versatile skills and a strong work ethic. He looked fluid, decisive and quick during Wednesday's OTA practice, which was open to the media. Greenway, who retired after last season, had become a role player the last two seasons. He played only in the base defense, which the Vikings use about 40 percent of the time. Robinson will be challenged by older veteran Emmanuel Lamur, who didn't practice Wednesday because of an undisclosed injury.

      NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

      --WR Corey Fuller: He was signed off the Detroit Lions' practice squad last December after he was impressive in a couple of games against the Saints. He showed why New Orleans plucked him from the Lions in the Thursday practice session with a handful of catches -- including two on back-to-back plays in team drills against starting cornerbacks Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams. On the latter reception, he made a nice adjustment on the ball to make the grab.

      N.Y. GIANTS

      --CB Michael Hunter: Although the Giants have quantity at the cornerback position, the coaching staff hopes to soon find out if they have any quality. The position took a bit of a hit thanks to the free-agent departure of Coty Sensabaugh to Pittsburgh. But Hunter, who last year was on and off the Giants' 53-man roster, is hoping to put the coaches' minds at ease. Hunter appears off to a good start. In the three OTAs in the books so far, Hunter has looked as comfortable as he's ever been chasing down the ball and, more important, in coverage. During Thursday's OTA open to the media, Hunter not only glued himself to the receiver's hip, he also broke up three deep passes, earning loud accolades and high-fives from his defensive coaches and teammates.

      PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

      --RB Donnel Pumphrey: The fourth-rounder is just 5-foot-8 and weighs only 176 pounds, but has exceptionally quick feet. The Eagles had him on the field a lot in their first OTA workout, including a few plays when he was paired in the backfield with 5-foot-6 Darren Sproles.

      SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

      --WR Trent Taylor: The fifth-round pick from Louisiana Tech has demonstrated an ability to run away from defenders on the type of short patterns often called for slot receivers. The competition for wideout spots is wide open, and Taylor already has made his presence known.

      TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

      --WR Chris Godwin: The Bucs' second-round pick from Penn State stood out in the team's OTA full-squad workout. He ran good routes, consistently got open and caught the ball well. "Chris Godwin had a really good day," head coach Dirk Koetter said. "Of the rookies, he really stood out." Godwin's role is not clearly defined. He will spell DeSean Jackson at times, but also could force his way onto the field in some three-wide receiver sets.

      WASHINGTON REDSKINS

      --CB Kendall Fuller: Overwhelmed at times as a rookie, Fuller is another year removed from microfracture knee surgery early in his junior year at Virginia Tech in 2015. That limited his work last offseason and the Redskins kept close watch on their third-round draft pick. He had his struggles after taking over as the slot corner, though. On Wednesday, Fuller alternated between slot corner, outside corner, and free safety. He made a nice read and breakup on a 50-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Terrelle Pryor in the end zone during 11-on-11 drills.

  • AFC OTA Surprises: Pass-catchers dominate
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    Offseason practices are not where offensive linemen establish themselves. OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamps are made to order for "skill-position" players that can stand out running around in shorts.

    • That is evident in this look at early surprises in a full week of OTAs for AFC teams heading toward this week's OTAs, although Buffalo and the L.A. Chargers won't be on the field.

      Asked to identify surprises of the week, our writers on the scene named four wide receivers, three each of tight ends and cornerbacks and one quarterback that caught the eye of the coaches. But, yes, there was one tackle and one center.

      There were also five rookies among the 16 AFC surprises.

      BALTIMORE RAVENS

      WR Breshad Perriman: The third-year player is fully aware of the lofty expectations that come with being a first-round pick. With one full season under his belt, Perriman is ready to become the impact player the Ravens envisioned. Perriman missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, but he showed promise last year with 33 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Dennis Pitta said no one made more plays in the recent OTA than Perriman, who flashed his blazing speed and ability to catch balls downfield. The Ravens did not take a receiver in the April's draft so they will be relying heavily on Perriman to be a key playmaker. So far, he has embraced that role.

      BUFFALO BILLS

      --OL Dion Dawkins: The Bills traded up into the second round to select the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder out of Temple because they liked his versatility, being a player who has lined up at guard and tackle. However, they need to get better at right tackle, and in a perfect world, they hope Dawkins can supplant Jordan Mills, who has started the last two years and under-performed. No matter who wins the job, the Bills were confident enough that the odd man out could serve as the swing tackle that they cut former second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio.

      CINCINNATI BENGALS

      --WR A.J. Green: Hamstring injuries can linger. They are uncertain and unpredictable. But, if the diving catch Green made of quarterback Andy Dalton's pass on an out-route Tuesday, the first day of OTAs is any indication, the five-time Pro Bowler is back at full speed sooner than expected. Green missed the final five games last season after injuring his hamstring early in a game against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 20. The injury left him 36 receiving yards short of 1,000, missing that milestone for the first time in his career. Barring any setbacks, Green would appear poised for a big year with plenty of support from veteran Brandon LaFell and a talented corps of young receivers.

      CLEVELAND BROWNS

      --TE Taylor McNamara: McNamara was primarily a blocker during his time at USC, but he made the catch of the day in OTAs on Wednesday when he reached up with his right hand to make a one-handed grab of a pass from Kevin Hogan. Browns second-year quarterback Cody Kessler played with McNamara for one year at USC. McNamara might shine most when the pads go on in training camp and he can show his skills as a blocker, but he is already proving he can catch the ball.

      DENVER BRONCOS

      --OL Connor McGovern: With Matt Paradis out until training camp following two hip surgeries, McGovern finds himself working as the first-team center after spending his entire rookie season on the game-day inactive list. McGovern has the versatility to play any position on the offensive line, and if he can establish himself as a viable relief option at center, he should get a jersey and might end up being the first offensive lineman off the bench when injuries strike.

      HOUSTON TEXANS

      --CB Robert Nelson: A reserve defensive back who had one interception last season, Nelson was disruptive during an organized team activity. He batted down several throws while working with the first-team defense. Nelson is competing for an increased role now that A.J. Bouye is with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

      INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

      --DT Grover Stewart: The rookie is getting a lot of attention from the Indianapolis coaching staff. Stewart was a fourth-round draft pick by the Colts who played collegiately at Division II Albany State. The 6-foot-4, 347-pound defensive lineman appears to be versatile enough to play both as a tackle and at nose tackle. Stewart is a pretty good athlete and moves well. He's still getting his feet wet as he learns the intricacies of NFL defensive line play.

      JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

      --CB Doran Grant: He's one of 11 cornerbacks on the team who returns to the Jaguars after he was signed to the team's practice squad last October. The competition to make the Jaguars' 53-man roster will be difficult for Grant, especially after the team signed two NFL journeyman corners in Brian Dixon and Tyler Patmon earlier this week. But Grant has gained some attention with his hard play and has especially caught the eye of head coach Doug Marrone.

      "(Doran) had an unbelievable bounce back today. From yesterday to today, I mean he had about three or four pass breakups today and I told him to break down the team," Marrone said after the Jaguars' workout on Friday. "I mean he was on fire today. I was happy to see that. I think I always try to reward people who are able to have a good practice or come back and do a good thing. He's a guy that's been up and down, kind of buried, no one knows about him and then all of a sudden today everyone was like 'who is that?'"

      KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

      --WR Demarcus Robinson: A fourth-round selection in the 2016 draft by the Chiefs, Robinson played in 16 games as a rookie, with all but a small handful of snaps coming on special teams. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound product out of the University of Florida did not touch the ball in the Kansas City offense. But in the first week of OTA practices, Robinson has been a visible contributor in the Chiefs' passing game, displaying his speed, quickness and improved hands from last year. One of six veteran receivers on the roster, Robinson will need to make a bigger contribution to keep his spot on the 53-man roster.

      L.A. CHARGERS

      WR Jamaal Jones: He caught head coach Anthony Lynn's eye in the rookie minicamp and Lynn was anxious to see him compete against the veterans. Lynn is still encouraged and he mentioned Jones' play after practice. Jones, a rookie from Montana, is taking advantage of Mike Williams and Dontrelle Inman being out with injuries.

      MIAMI DOLPHINS

      --QB Ryan Tannehill: Tannehill, whose season ended three games early due to two sprained ligaments in his left knee, is on the field, wearing a brace, during OTAs. Running back Jay Ajayi said Tannehill "looked great" adding, "He's got his brace on and everything, but there's no difference for me. I haven't seen any difference." Tannehill had 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a career-best 93.5 passer rating last season.

      NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

      --CB Jonathan Jones: A year ago, the undrafted rookie was a surprise winner of a roster spot, seemingly primarily for special teams action. He played in 16 games in 2016 with one start. But early in OTA action this spring, Jones has gotten reps working in the slot with New England's Pro-Bowl cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore. It's rather early, but at this point the speedy youngster is ahead of 2016 second-round pick Cyrus Jones as well as veteran Justin Coleman in regards to a potential role in the slot.

      N.Y. JETS

      --TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins: This is probably the last NFL chance for Jenkins, who has all the measurables (6-foot-5, 252 pounds) and draft stock (a 2014 second-round pick) of an elite tight end but has failed to put it together due to injuries and off-field issues. Jenkins will be suspended the first two games of the season due to last September's DUI arrest, but he likely got an early leg up on rookie Jordan Leggett by making a handful of impressive catches in Tuesday's first OTA practice. The Jets can't help but utilize their tight ends more this season than in the previous two years (when tight ends had just 26 catches under former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey), so Jenkins has an opportunity here to stake a claim to a job once he returns in week three.

      OAKLAND RAIDERS

      LB Cory James: A smallish inside linebacker who got some time last season as a rookie, James was working with the first team and will compete for a spot as a starter in the middle with fifth-round draft pick Marquel Lee. Lee shows good speed and instincts, although his lack of bulk could be an issue once the pads go on.

      PITTSBURGH STEELERS

      --OLB T.J Watt: Building off his impressive showing at rookie minicamp, Watt worked with the first-team defense when the Steelers had their first practice. Veteran James Harrison will be the starter, but he watched the first OTA from the sidelines. Harrison has his own way of getting ready for the season and the Steelers allow him to follow his routine. That's great news for Watt. The experience of playing with the first-team defense this spring will help him learn the defense and get some much-needed reps with his new teammates.

      TENNESSEE TITANS

      --TE Jace Amaro: In a fight to hold onto his roster spot after the drafting of Jonnu Smith, Amaro's challenge is to improve his blocking stills to the point where he is not a liability there. Pass-catching has never been the issue for the former Jets second-round pick. In Tuesday's work, Amaro had one nice block on the edge to spring the runner for a nice gain in team drills. Perhaps the message is getting through.

  • NFL notebook: Gronkowski sharp in Pats' OTA
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 27, 2017

    New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, coming off a season-ending back injury and fresh from signing a restructured deal that could pay him as much as $10.75 million this season, impressed coaches this week during organized team activities.

    • "He looks like Gronk," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told reporters. "We haven't got into a big evaluation. He's involved in everything."

      The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski is less than six months removed from back surgery, but was a full participant during Thursday OTAs practice in the rain.

      "I mean, we'll see how it goes," coach Bill Belichick told reporters regarding Gronkowski. "We've only practiced a couple days. We've got a long way to go, but we'll see how it goes."

      Gronkowski was injured in Week 12 against the New York Jets on Nov. 27. He caught 25 passes for 540 yards and three touchdowns in eight games in 2016.

      --Quarterback Michael Vick, the 2001 No. 1 overall draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons, is hoping to sign a one-day contract with the team and officially retire as a member of the Falcons.

      In February, Vick announced he was retired from the NFL but he told CBS Radio in Atlanta that he has talked with the Falcons about signing a one-day contract and then officially retiring.

      "Hopefully soon," the 36-year-old Vick said during the interview.

      --Matt Asiata, a former Minnesota Vikings running back, agreed to a one-year contract with the Detroit Lions. Although the Lions have not confirmed the deal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing a source, reported it.

      Asiata spent the last five seasons with the Vikings, primarily as a backup to perennial Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson.

      The 6-foot, 219-pounder saw his most extensive action when Peterson was suspended for most of the 2014 season, making a career-high nine starts and rushing for 570 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had 44 catches for 312 yards.

  • Gronk looks sharp in Pats OTAs after surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 27, 2017

    New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, coming off a season-ending back injury and fresh from signing a restructured deal that could pay him as much as $10.75 million this season, impressed coaches this week during organized team activities.

    • "He looks like Gronk," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told reporters. "We haven't got into a big evaluation. He's involved in everything."

      The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski is less than six months removed from back surgery, but was a full participant during Thursday OTAs practice in the rain.

      Reporters saw quarterback Tom Brady loft a high-arcing 20-yard throw to Gronkowski up the right sideline for a touchdown.

      After the play, the 28-year-old Gronkowski reversed chest-bumped fullback James Develin and receiver Julian Edelman in celebration, according to ESPN.

      "I mean, we'll see how it goes," coach Bill Belichick told reporters regarding Gronkowski. "We've only practiced a couple days. We've got a long way to go, but we'll see how it goes."

      Gronkowski was injured in Week 12 against the New York Jets on Nov. 27. He caught 25 passes for 540 yards and three touchdowns in eight games in 2016.

      Gronkowski agreed to a restructured deal on Tuesday that will give him a chance to boost his salary this season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

      The contract runs through 2019, but no changes were made to the final two years of the deal.

      Gronkowski, a four-time Pro Bowler, hasn't played all 16 regular-season games since 2011. He has played in 11 or fewer games in three of the past five seasons.

      In seven NFL seasons, Gronkowski has 405 receptions for 6,095 yards and 68 touchdowns.

  • Lions sign free agent RB Asiata
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 27, 2017

    Matt Asiata, former Minnesota Vikings running back, agreed to a one-year contract with the Detroit Lions.

    • Although the Lions have not confirmed the deal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing a source, reported it Friday night.

      Asiata spent the last five seasons with the Vikings, primarily as a backup to perennial Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson.

      The 6-foot, 219-pounder saw his most extensive action when Peterson was suspended for most of the 2014 season, making a career-high nine starts and rushing for 570 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had 44 catches for 312 yards.

      Asiata appeared in all 16 games last season, starting six, and rushed for 402 yards and six scores on 121 carries.

      An undrafted free agent out of Utah, Asiata has rushed for 1,259 yards in 74 career games (16 starts), and has 101 receptions plus another score.

      Detroit's ground game was among the worst in the NFL in 2016, ranking 30th with an average of 77.1 yards per game.

  • QB Vick wants to retire as a Falcon
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 27, 2017

    Quarterback Michael Vick, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons, is hoping to sign a one-day contract with the team and officially retire as a member of the Falcons.

    • In February, Vick announced he was retired from the NFL but he told CBS Radio in Atlanta on Friday night that he has talked with the Falcons about signing a one-day contract and then officially retiring.

      "Hopefully soon," the 36-year-old Vick said during the interview.

      Vick was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech, but his tenure in Atlanta ended in disgrace when he was arrested for running a dog-fighting operation. He spent 21 months in federal prison for the crime.

      The Falcons moved into position to draft Vick by acquiring the No. 1 overall pick from the then-San Diego Chargers -- a deal which enabled the Chargers to draft running back LaDainian Tomlinson with the fifth selection.

      Vick spent six seasons with the Falcons and displayed superb running ability with a strong but often erratic arm. He threw for 71 touchdowns, rushed for 21 more, and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection before the dog-fighting conviction.

      Vick was out of football for two years and Atlanta moved on without him. Vick was walking around in a jail cell on the day of the 2008 NFL Draft when another inmate told him the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan.

      It took a while for Vick to lose his bitterness over the situation, but he has become a big supporter of Ryan, who was the 2016 league MVP and took the Falcons to this year's Super Bowl.

      Vick, who did not play in 2016, passed for 22,464 yards and 133 touchdowns against 88 interceptions during 13 NFL seasons. He added 6,109 yards and 36 rushing touchdowns.

  • NFL notebook: Vikings' Zimmer says he will be back
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he plans to return to his duties even if he loses sight in his right eye.

    • Zimmer is away from the team during this week's organized team activities after undergoing his eighth eye surgery in the past seven months.

      "I'll be back shortly with one eye or two," Zimmer said during a conference call. "It doesn't matter. I'll be back either way."

      Zimmer's latest surgery was on May 17 when doctors inserted a gas bubble into his eye, designed to stabilize his detached retina and keep it in place.

      The possibility of becoming permanently blind exists and the 60-year-old Zimmer has pondered the situation.

      "I don't want to go blind in this eye (but) if that's what it is, that's what it is," Zimmer said. "This will not keep me from coaching."

      --Former Oregon and NFL coach Chip Kelly is joining ESPN as a studio analyst next season, the network announced.

      Kelly, 53, primarily will be part of Saturday's college pregame, halftime and wrap-up shows on ESPN2. In addition, ESPN said he will provide NFL analysis on Sundays during "SportsCenter."

      Kelly spent the past four seasons in the NFL, coaching the Philadelphia Eagles for three years and the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. Kelly was fired by the 49ers after going 2-14 last season.

      --The Washington Redskins signed third-round cornerback Fabian Moreau, their last remaining 2017 draft pick.

      Moreau, 23, is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered at his pro day in March. He is expected to make a full return to the field sometime in late August or early September.

      Moreau agreed to the standard four-year deal for players drafted outside of the first round.

  • Key OTA Battle: Posluszny and Jack help each other at new positions
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    JACKSONVILLE -- Paul Posluszny is helping Myles Jack learn a new position. Myles Jack is helping Paul Posluszny learn a new position. And the Jacksonville Jaguars are hoping that will pay dividends in making the Jaguars' 2017 defense stronger than it was a year ago.

    • Posluszny has been the Jaguars' starting middle linebacker for the last six years. He's been a good one, leading the team in tackles five times, all but the 2014 season when a torn pectoral muscle sent him to injured reserve after just five games that season.

      Jack is the second-year player from UCLA who the Jaguars snared in the second round of the 2015 draft, trading up several spots on the second day to assure themselves of selecting Jack. He was considered a possible first-round selection, but teams became apprehensive about the serious knee injury he had in his last season with the Bruins. The Jaguars did their testing of Jack and concluded that he was worth the gamble of a high second-round choice. The knee was no issue at all last year when Jack started 10 games at outside linebacker and would have started four others except that the Jaguars started the game with five defensive backs on the field.

      Jack was picked with the notion that he would be groomed to replace Posluszny at the middle linebacker spot. But with the 10-year veteran playing so well in 2016, the Jaguars could ill afford to bench him in favor of Jack. As a result, Jack was given a crash course as an outside linebacker that somewhat restricted his athleticism to roan the field and make plays.

      But this is 2017 and the Jaguars can't wait any further to insert Jack into the middle to fully take advantage of his talents. That meant either sending Posluszny to the bench or finding another position for him. Welcome to the strong-side linebacker spot Posluszny. When the NFL veteran was told he would be moving to the outside, he didn't complain, but instead called it the biggest challenge of his career. It also meant the Jaguars now had two players at positions where they had never started an NFL game before. Thus the need to help each other.

      "He's been nothing but help and I greatly appreciate it because he doesn't have to do that by any means, but I really appreciate it," Jack said following one of the team's OTAs this first week. "He was straight-up with me. He was like, 'Let's do this man. Let's win. If this is what it takes to win.' He was all for it.

      "It's a big responsibility, but it's been fun. It's really all the responsibility is put on your plate as far as No. 1: getting the defense aligned, the defensive linemen aligned, making the calls, making the checks, talking to the defensive backs. I mean I've definitely had to study a lot more when I go home, take a nap and then get on the film and just get to studying, but it's been fun."

      Jack didn't hesitate when he was asked if he occasionally asked Posluszny for advice.

      "It's not even occasionally; it's frequently," he said. "Even when I'm out there, I'm asking him questions like, 'Should I have done this, should I have done that, what would you have done in a situation?' After practice we'll watch film, we'll get together and we'll watch it together. He's been like an older brother to me, just really taking me under his wing."

      So how has Posluszny taken to the new position? We don't know because of limitations put on players being made available to the media, Posluszny has yet to make an appearance and discuss his new role. He did however do an interview for the team's website, Jaguars.com LIVE this week and had a lot of praise for Jack.

      "He looks unbelievable," Posluszny said. "He's going to be a great middle linebacker for us. He has done a great job of taking command of the huddle and leading the defense from a communication perspective. We all know physically he has all the gifts. He has all the talents to make the plays on the field."

      Jack is taking part in his first OTAs with the Jaguars, having missed them last year because he was ineligible to participate because of the NFL's graduation rules that prohibit a player from practicing with his NFL team if his school is still in session. As a result, he got the crash course of how to play both in the middle and the outside linebacker spots when training camp opened last summer.

      Posluszny needs the OTAs to help get adjusted to his new spot and the new responsibilities that the Jaguars have put in for that position.

      "Last year we tried to have that guy be another rusher. That's obviously not my skill set," he said.

      How well Posluszny and Jack adapt to their new positions will be crucial to the success of the defense. If either or both players can't make the adjustment, the Jaguars will be in a heap of trouble as there is not a dependable backup player that can replace either Posluszny or Jack. It's the reason that OTAs have never been more important to these two Jaguars players or the rest of the defense.

  • Redskins sign CB Moreau
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    The Washington Redskins signed third-round cornerback Fabian Moreau, their last remaining 2017 draft pick, on Friday.

    • Moreau, 23, is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered at his pro day in March. He is expected to make a full return to the field sometime in late August or early September.

      The cornerback out of UCLA was projected to be selected in the first or second round before the injury and went 81st overall to the Redskins. In 2016, he made 31 tackles with 12 passes defensed and two interceptions for the Bruins. In total, the 6-foot, 206-pounder appeared in 51 college games and recorded 148 tackles with 26 passes defensed and three interceptions.

      Moreau agreed to the standard four-year deal for players drafted outside of the first round.

      Moreau was at Washington's practice facility for rookie minicamp and the first sessions of organized team activities.

      "(I'm) just diving into the playbook and just learning everything I can," Moreau told the team's website at Monday's Redskins Charity Golf Classic at Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va.

      "It's just a setback. Nothing I could control but I'm rehabbing getting healthy as I can. It's just another opportunity to prove myself."

  • Vikings' Zimmer: 'I'll be back shortly with one eye or two'
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he plans to return to his duties even if he loses sight in his right eye.

    • Zimmer is away from the team during this week's organized team activities after undergoing his eighth eye surgery in the past seven months.

      "I'll be back shortly with one eye or two," Zimmer said during a conference call. "It doesn't matter. I'll be back either way."

      Zimmer's latest surgery was on May 17 when doctors inserted a gas bubble into his eye, designed to stabilize his detached retina and keep it in place.

      "I can't see through the gas bubble," Zimmer said from his offseason home near Cincinnati. "It's like looking through a water balloon."

      Zimmer initially injured the eye when he scratched it during Minnesota's loss to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 31. He later missed a home defeat against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 1 due to the situation.

      The possibility of becoming permanently blind exists and the 60-year-old Zimmer has pondered the situation.

      "I don't want to go blind in this eye (but) if that's what it is, that's what it is," Zimmer said. "This will not keep me from coaching. I've asked the doctor if it's a lost cause. He said, 'No, it's not like that. If it was, I'd tell you.'

      "Obviously, I've thought about it. But this is not going to keep me from coaching one way or another."

      Zimmer said he has an eye examination on June 5 and hopes he will be cleared to resume his coaching duties.

      Currently, he is receiving OTA updates from linebackers coach Adam Zimmer -- his son -- and defensive line coach Andre Patterson. He also is reviewing tape and relaying feedback.

      "The players are probably tired of me texting them when I see things on tape," Zimmer said. "The coaches have done real good job relaying messages. Really, it's not been that bad that part. I miss being in meetings with players and being on field and giving immediate feedback, things like that."

  • Kelly joins ESPN as studio analyst for college football, NFL
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    Former Oregon and NFL coach Chip Kelly is joining ESPN as a studio analyst next season, the network announced Friday.

    • Kelly, 53, primarily will be part of Saturday's college pregame, halftime and wrap-up shows on ESPN2. In addition, ESPN said he will provide NFL analysis on Sundays during "SportsCenter."

      "Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective -- as a coach," Kelly said in a statement. "Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I'll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

      "Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me."

      Kelly spent four seasons as Oregon head coach and went 46-7. The Ducks advanced to the national championship game during the 2010 season before losing to Auburn 22-19.

      Kelly spent the past four seasons in the NFL, coaching the Philadelphia Eagles for three years and the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

      Kelly was fired by the 49ers after going 2-14 last season. He was 26-21 with a playoff appearance with the Eagles.

      "Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation," Lee Fitting, ESPN's senior coordinating producer, said in a statement. "As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process."

      Kelly reportedly auditioned for a job at FOX and he also was considered for offensive coordinator jobs in the NFL.

  • Key OTA Battle: Strong competition coming for Falcons at right guard
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When the Atlanta Falcons open their OTAs on Tuesday, all of the attention will shift to the middle of the offensive line.

    • Center Alex Mack is recovering from a broken fibula and they must also replace right guard Chris Chester, who started 32 games over the past two seasons before electing to retire.

      The Falcons are a week behind most other teams because they were cited for excessive contact and had three OTA sessions taken away by the NFL.

      Stability along the offensive line was the untold story about how the Falcons were able to become NFC champions and reach Super Bowl LI. The Falcons used the same starters in all 18 games last season.

      Mack is expected to recover, but it will be an all-comers battle royale to replace Chester.

      Rookie Sean Harlow, who was selected in the fourth round of the draft out of Oregon State, started making his case during the team's rookie minicamp.

      The Falcons have little experience among the holdover candidates at right guard, and Harlow will get his chance to show he can handle the job.

      The Falcons will get a better handle on Harlow's ability when they hold full-squad, full-contact practices during training camp. But practicing in shorts with limited contact will allow Harlow to get a taste of the demands placed on linemen in the Falcons' outside-zone blocking scheme.

      The system requires linemen to frequently run horizontally to spread the defense and create cutback creases for backs, thus placing a premium on their conditioning.

      "That's a habit a lot of us need to start learning," Harlow said. "A lot of us are used to 'drive-stepping' and playing with a base. It's a little different having to run and really just move and 'go, go, go' and cover people up. But I'm excited to learn new techniques and new philosophies and try to earn my spot."

      It's not a completely new concept for Harlow. Over his final two seasons at Oregon State he played for coach Gary Andersen, who installed a spread-option attack that used zone-blocking techniques.

      But the Falcons' rushing plays were outside zone a vast majority of the time under coordinator Kyle Shanahan the past two seasons and helped set up an excellent play-action passing game. New coordinator Steve Sarkisian also plans to use those plays as a staple of the offense.

      Harlow will compete with Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland at right guard. They have the advantage of time in the system - Schweitzer was drafted in the seventh round in 2016. Garland was signed from the practice squad in December 2015. But Schweitzer has played zero NFL snaps and Garland played 42 offensive snaps last season.

      Harlow moves to guard after he played tackle at Oregon State. His size (6-foot-4, 303 pounds) and athletic ability aren't ideal for playing tackle in the NFL, but he could be effective inside.

      Harlow didn't stand out during the agility drills at the Combine. But his 40-yard dash time of 5.15 seconds was eighth-best among offensive linemen, and his 30.5-inch vertical jump tied for third best.

      By comparison, Schweitzer reportedly ran the 40 in 5.15 seconds and jumped 27 1/2 inches at the San Jose State pro day in 2016. Garland reportedly posted a time of 5.07 seconds and jumped 35 inches at the Air Force pro day in 2010.

      Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Harlow is a quick study.

      "He had very good questions (at the rookie minicamp) as far as (football) I.Q. goes," Quinn said. "He was ready to go to the next level on some things (the first) night and (Friday). He was another one that came in with the intent of how hard he could go for it. I was very encouraged by him."

  • Saints mourn Hall of Fame Kennedy
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints had Pro Football Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy on their minds Thursday when they held their first open practice of the first week of OTAs.

    • Kennedy, a former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle, served as an adviser to Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for many years. He also was a close friend of many Saints staff members before his unexpected death Tuesday in Florida at age 48.

      Saints players wore a large "96" decal on their helmets for Thursday's practice, and coach Sean Payton had the number written on his ever-present visor when the team took the field.

      "If you didn't know better and you saw him, you might think he worked here," Payton said after practice. "My first time here interviewing with Mickey, we had dinner, and Cortez would always make sure if it was a nice place that he was there to join you."

      Kennedy was with the Seahawks when Loomis was a member of Seattle's front office, and the two formed a friendship that included Kennedy being a godfather to one of Loomis' four children.

      "He was just here for the draft," Payton said. "All of us are devastated, that would be the way to describe it. It just was so sudden. It's tough. ...

      "I think Mickey said it best: As great a player as he was -- and trust me, if you had to pull a starting lineup out of the Hall of Fame on defense, he would be in the starting lineup -- he was that good a guy off the field. He was friendly to everybody and will be missed."

      --Among the Saints not practicing Thursday were running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Willie Snead, center Max Unger, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, tight end Josh Hill, fullback John Kuhn and wide receiver Tommylee Lewis.

      Ingram, Snead and Kuhn watched the practice, but Fairley was not seen by reporters.

      Unger recently underwent surgery for a Lisfranc separation in his foot. Hill was not expected to be on the field as he continues his rehab from a broken fibula sustained late last season.

      Payton said the Saints decided to sit Ingram.

      "There's a handful of players, a couple players who weren't here, a couple players we didn't practice," Payton said. "We're kind of taking it each day."

      On a good note, three players who had surgery since last summer -- defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha (knee), tackle Ryan Ramczyk (hip) and safety Erik Harris (knee) -- participated in individual drills but didn't practice fully.

      --One of the players who drew the most attention was running back Adrian Peterson, who was signed just before the draft to be part of Payton's rotation at the position along with Ingram and possibly Travaris Cadet and rookie Alvin Kamara.

      Even with Ingram sitting out, the Saints didn't run the ball a lot. However, that was expected with teams not allowed to hit during OTAs.

      Peterson did work on catching passes out of the backfield while getting the bulk of the snaps with the first-team offense in seven-on-seven work and team drills.

      Peterson wasn't called on to catch the ball much in the Minnesota Vikings' offense, but that will likely change with the Saints. Peterson caught 241 passes in 123 career games with the Vikings, but Ingram has 98 receptions and four touchdowns in the past two seasons alone.

      Peterson had one pass fall to the ground Thursday, but he appeared comfortable for the most part in a new offensive system and in his new surroundings.

      "When you get out here without any type of game planning, you are really trying to roll the players through and expose them all to the different concepts we have," Payton said. "But yes, (Peterson) is comfortable catching the football in space.

      "He is on top of the protections, much the same way as you would expect Mark or any of those backs to have a variety of things that they can do."

      --Veteran tackle Bryce Harris, a former Saint, made the most of his tryout during the team's rookie minicamp two weeks ago.

      Harris was signed to a contract after the tryout and will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the goal of adding depth to the offensive line.

      Harris played for the Saints from 2012 to 2014 and appeared in all 16 games in 2013 and 2014 with three starts. Since being released by New Orleans in 2015, he played with the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.

      The Saints also signed veteran offensive lineman Khalif Barnes and tight end Clay Harbor following the rookie minicamp. Barnes spent some time with the Saints last season as an injury fill-in.

  • Key OTA Battle: Pats loaded with high-end talent at CB
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' loaded roster and active offseason put plenty of key positions in the spotlight as the defending champs hit the practice fields for the first week of organized team activities.

    • Tom Brady's ageless presence and star power combined with the fact that budding backup Jimmy Garoppolo remains in New England to play out his rookie contract mean the focus will always be on the quarterback spot.

      Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, signed in the offseason to replace LeGarrette Blount, inject youthful excitement at running back. And the trade for speedy two-time 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks adds to the squad's already impressive depth at wide receiver.

      But arguably the most intriguing and potentially impactful position worth watching these days is a cornerback crop that has the high-end talent and depth to be one of the top groups in the NFL.

      Putting even more emphasis on the cornerbacks at Gillette Stadium is that the depth chart includes two Pro Bowl talents seemingly headed in different directions in their Patriots careers.

      Stephon Gilmore arrives from the rival Bills, his $60 plus million contract by far the largest ever given out by the Patriots. He already looks the part of the team's No. 1 corner, sporting the No. 24 jersey that Ty Law and Darrelle Revis donned in past Super Bowl seasons.

      On the other side is former undrafted free agent turned Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, who visited the Saints as a restricted free agent this offseason and seemed destined to play elsewhere this fall rather than back in New England on his $3.91 million restricted free agent tender.

      But when the media got its first glimpse of OTA practice Thursday, there was Butler at his customary left corner spot with the high-priced newcomer Gilmore on the opposite side. It's a look that should give plenty of opposing passing attacks pause.

      "I'm just here to do a job and do anything to help the team win," Butler said, though his tone didn't erase the offseason of impending potential divorce between the player and team. "I'm just moving forward, and whatever happens, happens. You've just got to come here and just play football. You've got to earn everything you want. You've just got to come here and work hard every day. Nobody's going to give you nothing, just come here, work hard and play."

      Though Butler may not have been happy to see Gilmore get the kind of money he is probably hoping for -- reports indicated Butler had talks with the Saints regarding a potential $50 million contract had a rumored trade to New Orleans ever materialized -- he does understand that Gilmore's arrival improves the back end in New England for this season.

      "We got a better player. We got another player. We got another good player on this team. Anything to help the team win, I'm down with," Butler said of his reaction to the Gilmore signing. "He brings the size and the coverage skills. One of the best guys in the league. Very underrated ... come in, head down, working hard. Just trying to build off each other no matter what."

      While Butler and Gilmore are the stars atop the cornerback depth chart, the position runs deeper than that.

      Former Eagles second-round pick Eric Rowe enters his first full season in New England coming off an impressive Super Bowl. Second-year player Jonathan Jones, a former undrafted rookie, spent the first day of OTAs working with Butler and Gilmore in the slot. And 2016 second-round pick Cyrus Jones will be expected to make a big jump in his sophomore campaign.

      Much as in a 2014 season in which a Revis- and Brandon Browner-led secondary balanced out the Patriots with a pass defense to match the Brady-guided firepower on offense on the way to a Super Bowl, the 2017 Patriots have the potential to field one of the best secondary groups in the NFL.

      Butler and Gilmore may not be destined to spend years together in New England, but for now the duo is just one of the many reasons the Patriots open spring workouts as the clear favorite to find themselves in Super Bowl LII this February in Minneapolis.

  • Beefed up Seahawks defense must wait on OTAs
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    RENTON, Wash. -- While the rest of the NFL was able to begin their organized team activities this week, the Seattle Seahawks were unable to take part.

    • The Seahawks lost this week of practices last year after the NFL penalized the franchise for excessive contact in offseason practices. The league ultimately docked the Seahawks a week of OTAs and stripped away a fifth-round draft pick in last month's NFL Draft.

      The play in question that brought about the penalties involved a wide receiver and cornerback colliding with each other while chasing a pass that left both players injured. After a review of the team's practice tapes, the NFL imposed the penalties against Seattle, leaving the Seahawks unable to begin the next phase of their offseason workouts until next week.

      When they are eventually able to take the field, the two most poignant position battles will be seen on the defensive side of the ball.

      One of the biggest areas of success for Seattle when it won Super Bowl XLVIII over the Denver Broncos was a ridiculously deep group of players on their defensive front.

      Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, who have both posted double-digit sack seasons since, were not starters on the Seahawks' championship team. With the selections of Malik McDowell and Nazair Jones in this year's draft, Seattle is hoping to create a similar group from a depth standpoint.

      "We're upping our depth and making it challenging and competitive," head coach Pete Carroll said.

      McDowell brings a pass-rushing threat that the Seahawks can utilize inside at the three-technique tackle spot in addition to being able to slide out to defensive end. Jones is much more a run-first player that will play a different role to McDowell but will likely line up in the same spots.

      In addition to the defensive front, the selection of four new secondary players in the draft makes the back end of Seattle's defense a focal point as well.

      Shaquill Griffin will potentially have the chance to compete for a starting job opposite Richard Sherman right out of the gate. Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill bring depth options at free safety and strong safety that could eventually push Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor for playing time. Mike Tyson is another cornerback that could play either on the perimeter or inside in the nickel.

      While offensive lineman Ethan Pocic and receivers Amara Darboh and David Moore will jump into the competition right away as well, the desire by the Seahawks to get younger on defense with an aging group of core contributors will put the focus on that side of the ball early in Seattle's offseason workouts.

  • Key OTA Battle: Saints look at centers, CBs
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    METAIRIE, La. -- When the New Orleans Saints opened their third practice of the first week of organized team activities to media on Thursday, a lot of attention was focused on two important positions that feature lots of question marks.

    • Much of the talk during the early part of the offseason concerned the Saints' porous defense and the club's desire to beef up a group that ranked last in passing yards allowed a year ago.

      Then, there was the uncertainty at center. Veteran Max Unger recently underwent Lisfranc surgery, and he faces the possibility of missing the regular-season opener even though coach Sean Payton has said he thinks Unger may be back by the end of the preseason schedule.

      Unger has been nothing but steady and solid since coming to the Saints from the Seattle Seahawks in the Jimmy Graham trade in March 2015.

      "Steady and solid" aren't accurate descriptions of the secondary -- particularly cornerback.

      The Saints were ravaged by injuries at the cornerback position last season with starters Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams sustaining devastating injuries in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively.

      Breaux came back from a broken fibula and played in only five more games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. Williams received a severe concussion in the second game and was shut down for the rest of the season.

      With that in mind, the Saints tried to make a run at New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler before using the 11th pick in the draft on Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore.

      Lattimore, who was projected as a top-five or -six pick going into the draft, will get a shot at a starting job. If Lattimore makes the starting lineup, that probably would leave Williams to fight for the nickel job with Sterling Moore and two undrafted free agents who earned roster spots last summer -- Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris.

      The battle started this week with Williams seeing time on the outside opposite Breaux, the Saints' best cover corner. When Williams moved inside to the nickel, Crawley took his place, although Lattimore wasn't drafted that high to sit around.

      At center, veteran handyman Senio Kelemete, who has played both guard spots, center and tackle during his four-year career with the Saints, could get the first crack at filling in until Unger returns.

      Then again, former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus, who was out of football in 2016 after playing center for the first time in his career in 2015, apparently will get a shot as well.

      LeRibeus, a former guard who started 11 games at center for the Redskins in 2015, took some snaps with the first team Thursday. If nothing else, he could get an opportunity to earn a backup spot on the line because backup guard Tim Lelito left in free agency.

      "He's someone that we think, obviously, has some versatility," Saints coach Sean Payton said Thursday of LeRibeus.

  • Key OTA Battle: Oher (concussion) still not back for Panthers
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For nearly eight months, people have been wondering about Michael Oher's status.

    • With the popular offensive tackle absent for the first two days of OTAs, and the Carolina Panthers still hoping he will return sometime this spring, the questions probably won't stop anytime soon.

      Fans will keep asking media; media will keep asking head coach Ron Rivera and media, fans and friends will keep asking players if they think Oher will play again after missing 13 games last season because of a concussion.

      "I think everybody on the team is (getting asked about Oher)," tackle Daryl Williams said shortly after the Panthers, sans Oher, wrapped up Wednesday's practice. "But what can we do?"

      The Panthers' answer, at least right now, is to plug Williams in as the starting right tackle. Which is also what happened after Oher suddenly entered the NFL's concussion protocol late in September.

      Williams ended up making 10 starts in 2016, a run interrupted by an ankle sprain that cost him three games in December. But for the most part, the 2015 fourth-round pick was solid if not unspectacular in his second season.

      If you're one that puts stock into Pro Football Focus grades, the site ranked Williams 45th among all tackles last year. That was three spots behind Arizona's D.J. Humphries, who the Panthers eyed in the first round of the same draft they took Williams, and six spots ahead of Mike Remmers, who spent most of his final season with the Panthers filling in for Oher on the left side.

      That's where Williams has spent part of the spring.

      Even though the Panthers used a second-round pick on Taylor Moton last month, he, like Williams, is a natural right tackle. So if Oher doesn't return, Williams has a leg up on the No. 2 left tackle spot, even if he's not all that comfortable in the role.

      "This is the NFL," Williams said. "I have to embrace it. I can't not play left tackle. Anything can happen, obviously. I'm just glad I'm getting more practice at it."

      It won't be anything more than practice as long as Matt Kalil is healthy and plays up to the considerable investment the Panthers made in him during free agency.

      And while it's still early, Ryan's younger brother seems to be fitting in nicely with his new teammates.

      "Matt's a good dude," Williams said. "Very athletic, too, just like his brother. I always kind of get them confused seeing them around the locker room, but I know when I see a 6-7 dude, it's Matt."

      Williams, who turns 25 in September, is far from a finished product. He's a better mauler in the run game than pass blocker. But coaches saw enough last year to believe they'll be OK on the right side with or without Oher.

      And so did Williams.

      "I got some playing time under my belt, so obviously that helps me out," he said. "I thought I played good, so I think I proved to not only myself but to everyone that I can play and start in this league."

  • NFL notebook: Bears sign WR Cruz
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    Free agent wide receiver Victor Cruz has agreed to a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Thursday.

    • Cruz, 30, spent his previous six seasons with the New York Giants, and he had big seasons in 2011, 2012 and 2013, catching 241 passes for 3,626 yards and 23 touchdowns in 46 games in those three seasons.

      But his production has decreased in recent seasons, largely because of injuries. He had 39 catches for 586 yards and one touchdown in 2016, when he appeared in 15 games, including 12 starts.

      The Giants released him on Feb. 13.

      --Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. didn't attend organized team activities on Thursday for the third time this week.

      Beckham also missed OTAs on Monday and Tuesday. The workouts are voluntary so he can't be disciplined.

      Part of the reason for the early week absences were tied to a Nike endorsement deal that was being finalized. The contract reportedly will pay Beckham more than $5 million annually over the next five years.

      --The Buffalo Bills signed free agent linebacker Gerald Hodges, the team announced. He signed a one-year contract, according to NFL.com.

      Hodges, 26, is coming off the most productive season in his four-year NFL career. He was a starting inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers in their 3-4 front in 2016. He compiled 83 tackles, two pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 15 games (12 starts).

      To make room on the roster, the Bills released cornerback Charles Gaines.

  • Key OTA Batlle: Ravens look at several pass rushers
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens invested heavily in finding an effective pass rusher.

    • Now, the team has several options to effectively fill that role. This means there should be some fierce competition throughout the organized team activities into training camp.

      Baltimore ranked 24th in the NFL with 31 sacks last season, so general manager Ozzie Newsome prioritized improving that unit. Second-year linebacker Kamalei Correa is the favorite to embrace that opportunity after an uneven rookie campaign.

      Albert McClellan and Patrick Onwuasor also will get a chance to make a bigger impact. Each of those players participated in the team's voluntary workout, which impressed head coach John Harbaugh.

      "We pay attention to execution, to doing everything we can and to being a little better at everything we do," Harbaugh said. "We are installing all three of our phases: offense, defense and special teams. You install them piece-by-piece; there is a method to it. There is a progression, and the good thing is when you have a progression, it is good to have all your pieces there taking part and participating in that."

      However, Correa, McClellan and Onwuasor will be pushed by several newcomers.

      The Ravens added depth through this year's draft with the addition of linebackers Tyus Bowser of Houston in the second round and Tim Williams from Alabama one round later. Both are high-energy players that showed a tenacity to get to the quarterback in college.

      "Nothing is going to be given to us overnight, and this is the National Football League," Williams said. "There are guys in the locker room that have a wife and kids, so we have to come in and compete and earn a spot, which means special teams, kickoff, punt team - it doesn't matter - just to get on the field."

      Undrafted rookies Bam Bradley, Donald Payne and Randy Allen will also get a close look from Baltimore's coaching staff.

      Chris Wormley, a defensive tackle from Michigan who was also a third-round selection, should also add another dimension to the pass rush and stopping the run. Harbaugh liked the way the rookies are adjusting to the speed of the game.

      "Tyus has looked good. Timmy has looked good," Harbaugh said. "I would put those guys more in the pass-rusher category. Chris Wormley can rush the passer, but he is more of a five-technique, three-technique defensive lineman. He is a good inside guy; he looks good. That is another step, and they have looked good.

      "They have beaten tackles - veteran guys - they have done fine. But, the next step will be training camp, and then it will be games. We will see how they do when the pads are on. Now, it is not quite as competitive. It is not competitive at all in that sense; it is more technique."

      Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' all-time sacks leader, is back for his 14th season. He led the team with eight sacks last season, but turns 35 in October. Still, Baltimore is hopeful Suggs can still make an impact, especially if he gets support from some of the younger players.

      The team parted ways with Elvis Dumervil after the season. However, Harbaugh has not ruled out bringing him back in 2017.

      "The door is not closed because we need as many good football players as we can have," Harbaugh said. "And we need as many guys as we can out there competing day-in and day-out."

  • Key OTA Battle: Bills hope WR Jones can step right in opposite Watkins
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The numbers will tell you that no team in the NFL has been more proficient at running the ball than the Buffalo, Bills as they have led the league in rushing two consecutive years.

    • On the flip side, few teams have been less proficient at passing the ball than the Bills, as they ranked 30th in yards last year and 28th the year before.

      That was why the Bills traded up in the second round to draft wide receiver Zay Jones, hoping his off-the-charts production in college at East Carolina would translate to the NFL and upgrade a position of significant need.

      Sammy Watkins is the No. 1 receiver on the roster, but there's no way around the fact that Watkins has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Bills. They traded up in the first round in 2014 to pick him up, a move that, in hindsight, was terrible for three reasons:

      It cost Buffalo its first-round pick in 2015; there was really no need to move up to No. 4 because that was a deep class at receiver and the Bills could have had someone like Odell Beckham Jr. had they stayed put at No. 9, and Watkins has been sabotaged by injuries all three seasons and has thus not been a difference maker.

      Watkins is again sidelined this offseason by his second foot surgery, and there is no guarantee that he'll be 100 percent for the start of training camp. His health is the main reason why the Bills declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

      On top of his issues, the Bills lost No. 2 receiver Robert Woods, No. 3 Marquise Goodwin and No. 4 Justin Hunter in free agency, so Jones, who is battling a sprained knee sustained during his first week of practice with the Bills, is expected to win the starting job opposite Watkins.

      "He's going to have to battle," coach Sean McDermott said. "He's coming in to earn the right to be on this football team and this roster and we'll see where it goes from there.

      "He's going to add to the mix of what we already have at the wide receiver position and continue to earn the right just like the rest of the players. So, (we) feel good about it."

      McDermott can offer up as much coach speak as he likes, but behind Watkins and Jones, there is a vast abyss on the depth chart, and no matter what combination ultimately makes the team, not a lot is expected from any of them.

      The Bills signed free agent Andre Holmes from Oakland, and he might have the best credentials and most future potential with 102 catches for 1,462 yards and 12 touchdowns across six years with Oakland and Dallas.

      Philly Brown, a free agent signee from McDermott's old team, Carolina, caught 79 passes for 1,019 yards and seven touchdowns in three years for the Panthers.

      Jeremy Butler has 33 career catches for 374 yards split between one year in Baltimore and one in San Diego.

      And the Bills just signed Rod Streater Wednesday, a five-year veteran who has 127 receptions for 1,755 yards and 10 touchdowns.

      There are three holdovers from the Bills' 2016 roster -- Dezmin Lewis, Walter Powell, and Brandon Tate -- none of whom figure to help much.

      One interesting candidate is Kolby Listenbee, a sixth-round draft pick out of TCU in 2016 who has yet to see the field because of a significant sports hernia that has required two surgeries.

      Listenbee is a speed burner, so if he can ever get healthy, there's hope that he could be a pleasant surprise. Still, he was a sixth-round pick, so no one's holding their breath.

      The Bills will be running a new offense under Rick Dennison, so it's hard to figure how any of these players fit in until training camp begins, but there's no doubt the Bills need several receivers to step up and perform because quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who's not the most accurate guy, needs all the help he can get.

      "It's a bunch of guys out there competing," Taylor said.

  • Key OTA Battle: Working without key players
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Organized Team Activities are, per the current NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, voluntary.

    • That's probably what New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon would tell people to remember if they were in East Rutherford, N.J., with the rest of the team working during the final phase of the spring in which offense can compete in non-contact drills against defense.

      Both Beckham and Vernon have missed the first three workouts that began Tuesday, though both have been present for earlier parts of the offseason program, according to sources.

      Despite the voluntary nature of the workouts, that both players would be absent for the part of the offseason program that allows the offense to work against the defense and build on what has been put in place already is curious.

      It's not known why Vernon, who is notoriously private about his off-field activities, has been absent. Head coach Ben McAdoo declined to answer questions regarding whether Vernon or Beckham had communicated the reason for their absences ahead of time.

      What is known is that part of the blockbuster five-year, $85 million deal he signed last year, Vernon has a $250,000 per year workout bonus while Beckham, who is on year four of his rookie deal, has no workout bonus provision.

      "You want all your players here, especially your great players," McAdoo said. "It's a time to build fundamentals chemistry, communication and trust. So, you want all your players here, especially your great ones who facilitate that for you, but you coach who's here."

      Unlike Vernon, the more social media friendly Beckham has been all over the headlines. He was photographed earlier in the week after working out with former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has the same trainer.

      Beckham was also reportedly spotted partying earlier this week with pop star Iggy Azalea, according to multiple reports.

      For as brilliant as Beckham's career has been on the field, it's taken some hits off.

      Last year, Beckham had a series of emotional meltdowns in frustration over the unfolding of games, among them his swinging at the kicking net, his banging his head against the wall after a loss to the Eagles at Philadelphia, and his punching a hole in the wall outside the visiting locker room at Green Bay following the Giants' playoff elimination, a game in which Beckham had a couple of key dropped passes.

      Beckham's antics drew sharp criticism from general manager Jerry Reese, who told reporters the day after the Giants were eliminated that the 24-year-old receiver needed to "grow up" and start thinking about what he did off the field.

      At the end of last year, Reese challenged the Giants' receiving yardage leader in each of the last three years to "grow up" after a series of off-field incidents saw him lose his cool and react in a way that brought more scrutiny and headaches to both Beckham and the team than anyone probably wanted.

      McAdoo quickly grew tired of questions about Beckham, at one point delivering an answer to a question that had literally nothing to do with the question asked.

      When the questions about his concern level over Beckham's maturation persisted, McAdoo said, "Again, we want all players to be here and we coach the guys who are here."