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  • Vick apologizes for Kaepernick comments
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    Michael Vick apologized for saying earlier this week that quarterback Colin Kaepernick should cut his hair in a bid to alter his image.

    • Appearing on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Thursday, Vick said he was "truly sorry" for the comments he made two days prior during an appearance on FS1's "Speak For Yourself."

      "At the end of the day, what I said, I should have never said. I think it was taken out of context in regards to what I was trying to convey, but I only want to help Kaepernick," Vick said Thursday. "I'm not a general manager, I'm not the guy who makes the decisions on getting him signed, and I'm truly sorry for what I said. I think I should have used a better choice of words.

      "Obviously his afro has nothing to do with him being signed and I wasn't trying to relay that message. It was more so about helping him at the end of the day. In all my interviews, all I have ever tried to do is help him and talk positive."

      Vick tweeted a clarification of his comments on Wednesday before electing to take a more personal route the following day.

      Kaepernick also took to Twitter in his response to the former NFL quarterback. The 29-year-old tweeted out a definition of Stockholm syndrome, where the victim comes to identify with and bond with their kidnappers.

      Kaepernick made headlines in 2016 when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest injustices against African Americans and minorities around the United States. It has now been over four months since the former starter became a free agent.

      Commissioner Roger Goodell has disputed claims teams are ostracizing Kaepernick.

      Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March, visited with the Seattle Seahawks in May. The Seahawks ended up signing backup quarterback Austin Davis on June 5, closing out any possibility of Kaepernick joining the team.

      Kaepernick passed for 2,241 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while fumbling a career-worst seven times with the 49ers last season. He also ran for 468 yards and two touchdowns.

      In six NFL seasons, Kaepernick has passed for 12,271 yards with 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, adding another 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

      Kaepernick started the 2016 campaign as the 49ers' backup behind Blaine Gabbert before taking over as the starter on Oct. 16.

      With Kaepernick under center, the 49ers lost nine straight and 10 of 11 overall to finish the season with the second-worst record in the NFL at 2-14.

  • Cowboys CB Lewis to stand trial for domestic violence
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis will stand trial next week on one charge of domestic violence.

    • Lewis and his attorney made it clear that they intend to fight the charge during a pretrial hearing on Thursday morning.

      "Some cases have to be tried," Lewis' attorney John Shea said, via ESPN. "This is one of them."

      The 21-year-old Lewis was charged with the misdemeanor in March after a late-night altercation with a woman who was his girlfriend at the time. The woman told police that Lewis grabbed her by the neck and held her to the floor before leaving the apartment they shared.

      Lewis contends that any contact he had with the woman was in a bid to leave the apartment.

      The trial will begin Monday in the 15th district court in Ann Arbor, Mich. Shea said he hopes the trial will be finished by the end of the day Tuesday.

      The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Lewis, who was selected by Dallas in the third round of the NFL draft, was the Big 10 defensive back of the year in 2016 with Michigan.

  • Chargers believe new home brings new direction
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The Chargers have shed San Diego for Los Angeles. Now if they can just ditch their recent run of mediocre -- at best -- football.

    • After winning nine games in two seasons, the Chargers are upbeat about a new direction in a new location.

      With an offense that could wound rivals in various ways, a defense that features admirable pass-rushers and a head coach with a motivational edge, the Chargers are pumped.

      "I think anything that is new is exciting," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "What's the atmosphere going to be like at the first home preseason game? What's the training camp site (like). All those things. Anything new is always exciting. The unknown."

      The Chargers know what they will get from Rivers and that's always something to lean on: he threw for at least 4,000 yards in eight of his last nine seasons. Entering his 14th year, Rivers seems rejuvenated as well, after the slow digestion of leaving San Diego -- the only place he's played -- for Los Angeles.

      "We will find that new normal moving up the road," Rivers said.

      Hopefully, it comes with a different ending when the curtain draws on the regular season as it's been two straight years that the Chargers have finished in the AFC West cellar.

      Among the other black marks the team loaded into the moving van was this gem: despite having a quarterback as keen as Rivers, the Chargers have missed the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons.

      Someone might yell "rewrite" this close to Hollywood and Rivers is all for that.

      "We're coming off two tough years," Rivers said. "But it's a team that fully expects to win a lot of football games. I'm really looking forward to it."

      The NFL's crystal ball might show the Chargers as a sleeper. While the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders get first billing in the division, L.A. could shake things up.

      Like fresh head coach Anthony Lynn, that fan base is new to the Chargers. But there seems to be a sense of optimism throughout the organization that the Chargers and L.A. could be a meeting that gets off on the right, and winning, foot.


      --Stabilize the offensive line. The Chargers have been trying to fix this shortcoming for seemingly ever. This year they will likely be introducing three new starters from the previous season's opening day. Just where the big bodies will land -- rookies Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp will be in the mix -- on a line's that far from set will be interesting. Matt Slauson, last year's center, could end up at guard.

      --Find a nickel defensive back. The Chargers seem to be pretty solid with their starting cornerbacks in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, both with Pro Bowls on their resumes. But with the opposing offenses going to multiple wideouts the majority of the time, which Bolt will fill the void in the slot? Among those to vie for the position will be Trovon Reed and Trevor Williams from last year's team. But keep an eye on Desmond King, a fifth-round pick, too.

      --Finding a kicker. Some teams bring a summer kicker in just to be a camp leg. That's not the case with the Chargers as they want to push Josh Lambo to another level. Or be impressed enough by free agent Younghoe Koo to go a different direction. Lambo has the leg strength, but his wobbly accuracy is a concern for a squad that was dreadful with special teams last year.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici, Eli Jenkins.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Melvin Gordon. Backups - FB Derek Watt, Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow, Andre Williams, Kenjon Barner, Austin Ekeler.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry. Backups - Sean McGrath, Jeff Cumberland, Asante Cleveland, Sean Culkin.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams. Backups - Mike Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin, Isaiah Burse, Andre Patton, Mitchell Page, Artavis Scott, Jamaal Jones, Geremy Davis, Da'Ron Brown.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Russell Okung, LG Matt Slauson, C Spencer Pulley, RG Forrest Lamp, RT Joe Barksdale. Backups - C Max Tuerk, G Donavon Clark, G Dan Feeney, G Brett Boyko, T Sam Tevi, G/T Chris Hairston, T Tyreek Burwell, G/T Kenny Wiggins, C Dillon DeBoer.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Melvin Ingram, DT Corey Liuget, NT Brandon Mebane, DRE Joey Bosa. Backups - NT Ryan Carrethers, DT Damion Square, DT Caraun Reid, DE Jerry Attaochu, DE Darius Philon, DT Tenny Palepoi, DT Kaleb Eulls, DE Isaac Rochell, DE Christopher Landrum, DE Chris McCain.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Korey Toomer, MLB Denzel Perryman, SLB Jatavis Brown. Backups - OLB Joshua Perry, OLB Kyle Emanuel, ILB Nick Dzunbar, OLB James Onwualu, OLB Mike Moore, OLB Nigel Harris.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Jason Verrett, RCB Casey Hayward, FS Dwight Lowery, SS Jahleel Addae. Backups - CB Trevor Williams, S Darrell Stuckey, CB Craig Mager, S Adrian McDonald, S Adrian Phillips, S Tre Boston, CB Desmond King, CB Ryan Reid, CB Trovon Reed, CB Brandon Stewart, CB Michael Davis, S Dexter McCoil, S Rayshawn Jenkins, CB Brad Watson.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Lambo, K Younghoe Koo, P Drew Kaser, P Toby Baker, LS Mike Windt, KOR Isaiah Burse, PR Isaiah Burse.

  • Raiders open camp with championship goals
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A year ago, the Oakland Raiders were the popular choice as a breakthrough team, having gone from 3-13 to a competitive 7-9 in their first season under head coach Jack Del Rio.

    • The Raiders made that pick look pretty smart. They went 12-4, earning their first playoff appearance in 14 seasons.

      Taking that big step -- and knowing that the Raiders could have conceivably won the division and reached the AFC title game had it not been for a Week 16 broken fibula sustained by quarterback Derek Carr -- big things are expected in 2017.

      How big?

      Anything less than challenging the New England Patriots for AFC and NFL supremacy will be considered a disappointment.

      With that as a backdrop, the Raiders report to training camp in Napa on July 28 with their first practice the following day. It's Super Bowl or bust for a home fan base that is hoping for a going-away present before the franchise departs to a new stadium in Las Vegas in 2020.

      The schedule is brutal, but there are no excuses -- not with foundation piece players on both sides of the ball. Carr is newly crowned as the NFL's highest paid player (per season) by virtue of a five-year, $125 million contract. Defensive end Khalil Mack is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

      Del Rio understands the expectations and welcomes them, but his goals will be incremental in training camp and the preseason.

      "Just go out there and try and get a little bit better every day," Del Rio said. "You have lofty goals, down-the-road kind of goals, but it's about the work you put in every day. That's the process of becoming a really good football team. That's what we'll be about."

      In terms of health, there should be no major concerns as camp opens. Carr played without limitations in the off-season and looks to be at full strength. He promises his outlook won't be any different in terms of daily improvement.

      "When we came in here, and our situation wasn't very pretty, all we cared about was busting our tail, outworking everybody, competing our tails off and doing it with class and honor," Carr said. "We respect all our opponents but we fear nobody. It didn't happen overnight. It's something we had to work on.

      "Super Bowl teams, all championship teams, have that quiet confidence. Some are less quiet than others, but they definitely have that characteristic.


      --Improve coverage and communication in secondary. Blown coverages were routine as the Raiders gave up an NFL-high 61 pass plays of 20 yards or more and were tied with Tampa Bay with a league-worst 16 plays of 40 yards or more. To fix the problem, the Raiders drafted cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu with their first two picks and hired John Pagano as an assistant head coach who will tackle the communication issues.

      --Develop an interior pass rush. Despite the presence of Khalil Mack as one of the NFL's premier edge players, the Raiders had only 25 sacks. Eleven came from Mack and seven from strong-side linebacker Bruce Irvin. The Raiders hope Mario Edwards Jr., a base end who slides inside in the nickel, can provide a middle push, and they'll also look to develop third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes of UCLA.

      --Successfully integrate Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook to the offense. Lynch came out of retirement to join his hometown team and participated in the offseason program to get up to speed. He'll be brought along deliberately as the Raiders look to replace the 788 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns of departed free agent Latavius Murray. Cook, in theory, gives Carr his first legit middle of the field threat as a tight end; getting that combo going will only enhance Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree on the outside.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Derek Carr. Backups -- Connor Cook, EJ Manuel.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Marshawn Lynch, FB Jamize Olawale. Backups -- Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Taiwan Jones, Elijah Hood, John Crockett.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jared Cook. Backups -- Lee Smith, Clive Walford, Gabe Holmes, Pharaoh Brown, Cooper Helfet, Ryan O'Malley.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper. Backups -- Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, K.J. Brant, Keon Hatcher, Johnny Holton, Jayden Mickens, Isaac Whitney, Ishmael Zamora.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Donald Penn, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RT Gabe Jackson, RT Marshall Newhouse. Backups -- T Austin Howard, G/C Jon Feliciano, T David Sharpe, T Chauncey Briggs, T Jylan Ware, T Ian Silberman, G Denver Kirkland, G Omi Omiole, G Jordan Simmons.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- RDE Mario Edwards Jr., LDT Darius Latham, NT Justin Ellis, LDE Khalil Mack. Backups - DE/DT Denico Autry, DE/DT Jihad Ward, DE Branden Jackson, DE Jimmy Bean, DE Fadol Brown, DE Chris Casher, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Paul Boyette, DT Treyvon Hester.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Bruce Irvin, MLB Cory James, WLB Jelani Jenkins. Backups -- OLB Tyrell Adams, OLB Shilique Calhoun, OLB Najee Harris, MLB Ben Heeney, MLB Marquel Lee, OLB LaTroy Lewis, OLB Nicholas Morrow, OLB Brady Sheldon, OLB Xavier Luster-Woodson, OLB/DE James Cowser.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB David Amerson, RCB Sean Smith, SS Karl Joseph, FS Reggie Nelson. Backups -- CB Gareon Conley (nickel), S Obi Melifonwu, CB TJ Carrie, CB Kenneth Durden, CB Antonio Hamilton, CB Chris Humes, CB Dexter McDonald, CB/S Keith McGill, CB Breon Borders, S Anthony Cioffi, S Ricky Jefferson, S Marcus McWilson.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Sebastian Janikowski, K Giorgio Tavecchio, P Marquette King, LS Jon Condo, PR Jalen Richard, KOR Cordarrelle Patterson.

  • Steelers, Bell play tag as training camp looms
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- The biggest story of the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason had some closure -- for this year, at least -- when star running back Le'Veon Bell declined a long-term contract and decided to play the 2017 season on the $12.12 million franchise tag.

    • The next decision for Bell is whether he reports to training camp and be with his teammates during the preseason. Until he signs his franchise tender -- he had not by Wednesday morning (July 17) -- he is under no obligation to participate in training camp.

      The risk, of course, is Bell is out $12.12 million if he sustains an injury while training on his own. Bell will have $12.12 million guaranteed when he signs the tender.

      For instance, if the Steelers did not use the tag on him again next year and he hit free agency, his earning power would be much diminished if he suffers another major injury. Bell would just be cutting down on the risk by not showing up to camp for a while.

      Whatever Bell decides, the issue theoretically shouldn't be a hindrance to the team this season. Once Bell reports he'll be a professional and do his job to the best of his ability. It's in his best interests to do that.

      Even with Bell on the books for $12.12 million this year, the Steelers have $15.5 million in salary cap space to sign other veterans. The Steelers want to extend defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. They've also expressed an interest in signing left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to a long-term deal.

      Villanueva is an exclusive rights free agent and is under team control for two more years. Like Bell, Villanueva still hasn't signed his tender. Unlike Bell, Villanueva showed up for OTAs and minicamp.

      It would be far from ideal for the star running back and the left tackle to be no-shows for training camp, but it's not like either player has much choice. They have to report before the regular season begins unless they want to forfeit paychecks.

      Even with potential distractions looming, the Steelers should enter the season as strong contenders in the AFC. Bell will be joined by receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant to form a dynamic trio for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

      The offense should be among the best in the NFL. The big question for the Steelers as they get set to enter training camp is whether the defense will be up to the task.


      --Test the rookie. Figure out if rookie T.J. Watt is ready, and if he is, let him get his feet wet as the starter at right outside linebacker. The Steelers played veteran James Harrison fewer than 50 percent of the snaps for the first half of the season and then turned him loose in the second half and the playoffs. If Watt is ready to start, it doesn't mean he has to play the majority of the snaps. It just means the Steelers can see what they have while not taxing the 39-year old Harrison early in the season. At the midway point, or later, the coaches can figure out if they want to ride one as the full-time starter or split time.

      --Get Cam Sutton ready. The Steelers desperately need a cornerback capable of playing in man coverage. They used a third-round pick on Sutton, and they need to get him as many snaps as possible to figure out if he can eventually supplant Will Gay at slot corner or Ross Cockrell at outside corner. Sutton might not earn a starting job in camp, but the Steelers can figure out if he will be an option later in the season by getting him plenty of exposure this summer.

      --Sort out receiver rotation. The Steelers' deepest position group is at receiver, where they have eight or nine players vying for five or six spots on the 53-man roster. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eli Rogers will make the team, barring injury or suspension. That leaves likely two spots for the following players: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Justin Hunter, Demarcus Ayers and Cobi Hamilton. Coates, Heyward-Bey, Hamilton and Ayers were on the active roster at times last season and all four finished the season there. Hunter was brought in as a free agent.



      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Ben Roethlisberger. Backups -- Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs, Bart Houston.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Le'Veon Bell. Backups -- Knile Davis, James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Terrell Watson, Tre Williams.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jesse James. Backups -- Xavier Grimble, David Johnson, Phazahn Odom, Scott Orndoff.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers. Backups -- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers, Justin Hamilton, Cobi Hamilton.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups -- T Jerald Hawkins, C/G B.J. Finney, C/G Chris Hubbard, T Matt Feiler, C Mike Matthews, T Jake Rodgers, T Brian Mihalik, T Keavon Milton, C Kyle Friend, G Ethan Cooper.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Cameron Heyward, NT Javon Hargrave, RE Stephon Tuitt. Backups -- DE Tyson Alualu, DE L.T. Walton, DE Nelson Adams, DE Christian Brown, DE Lavon Hooks, DE Francis Kallon, DE Johnny Maxey, NT Daniel McCullers, NT Roy Philon.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB James Harrison, ILB Ryan Shazier, ILB Vince Williams, LOLB Bud Dupree. Backups -- OLB T.J. Watt, OLB Anthony Chickillo, OLB Arthur Moats, OLB Keion Adams, OLB Farrington Huguenin, ILB Tyler Matakevich, ILB L.J. Fort, ILB Matt Galambos.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Artie Burns, RCB Ross Cockrell, FS Mike Mitchell, SS Sean Davis. Backups -- CB Will Gay, CB Coty Sensabaugh, CB Senquez Golson, CB Brian Allen, CB Brandon Dixon, CB Greg Ducre, CB Mike Hilton, S Robert Golden, S Jordan Dangerfield, S Jacob Hagen, S Damion Stafford, S Terrish Webb.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Chris Boswell, P Jordan Berry, LS Colin Holba, KOR Knile Davis, PR Antonio Brown.

  • Expectations high for improving Titans
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Titans open training camp with higher expectations in 2017 than any previous year since perhaps 2009 when they were coming off a 13-3 season.

    • The Titans jumped from just three wins in 2015 to nine last season, their first full campaign under head coach Mike Mularkey and now with more improvements in the roster this offseason, the team's first playoff berth since 2008 is the minimum requirement for the coming season to be a success.

      First off, the Titans enter camp with no questions at the most important place on the field - quarterback. Marcus Mariota made major strides in year two and had 26 touchdown passes in 15 games a year ago. In Mariota, who is coming off surgery for a broken fibula that caused him to spend a good portion of the offseason rehabbing, the Titans are convinced they have their first true franchise quarterback since Steve McNair's heyday some 15 years ago.

      General manager Jon Robinson has also set about trying to upgrade the pieces around his young quarterback, too, even adding former Jets and Broncos receiver Eric Decker to the roster just after the Titans ended their June minicamp. Decker's arrival may be the final piece to rebuilding the wide receiver corps, which got a facelift in the offseason. The Titans drafted Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick, and then added shifty Taywan Taylor as a potential slot receiver in the third round of the draft. Both of them should combine with Decker and holdover Rishard Matthews to form the nucleus at the position and give the Titans more weapons in the passing game beyond Pro-Bowl tight end Delanie Walker.

      On the defensive side, the Titans remade their secondary in the offseason, bringing in Logan Ryan from New England and Johnathan Cyprien from Jacksonville, while drafting speedy USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson as part of the secondary makeover.

      With most of the roster holes now seemingly patched, the Titans enter camp as the least flawed team in the AFC South, and with their sights set on a division title and a playoff bid.


      ---Make the pieces fit. As stated above, the Titans have added their fair share of new faces, especially at wide receiver and in the secondary. While they have the stability of numerous returning starters at other spots on the field (quarterback, offensive line, running back and linebacker being key areas for holdovers), the Titans have to hope that the receiver corps and the defensive backfield can jell quickly with their time together in training camp and preseason.

      --Make sure Mariota is healthy. The key for the Titans this season is to keep quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy through a 16-game season, something he has not done in his first two years. Mariota played in 12 games as a rookie and played in 15 last year with the broken fibula coming in the penultimate game against the Jaguars. With Mariota having had surgery to place a plate in the leg, naturally there is the need to make sure that he is 100 percent and ready to go, especially for a quarterback whose mobility is one of his primary attributes.

      --Develop some depth. Training camp is all about competition, and the Titans are hopeful that some competition will create some needed depth at some thin areas on the roster. Most prominent in that is the secondary, where depth may be a concern behind new starters Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson. The Titans hope LeShaun Sims' flash last year proves to stick, and must hope that one of D'Joun Smith, Kalan Reed and Demontre Hurst develops enough to push veteran Brice McCain for the fourth cornerback job. The same is true at linebacker, where the Titans need 2016 second-rounder Kevin Dodd to get healthy and be a solid backup on the outside, and could use some help inside in the nickel spot. They are hopeful that rookie Jayon Brown, who flashed in the offseason can impress when things count for real.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Marcus Mariota. Backups -- Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney, Tyler Ferguson.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- DeMarco Murray. Backups - Derrick Henry, FB Jalston Fowler, David Fluellen, Muhammad Khalfani, Akeem Judd, FB Joe Bacci.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Taylor Lewan, LG Quinton Spain, C Ben Jones, RG Josh Kline, RT Jack Conklin. Backups - C/G Tim Lelito, G Sebastian Tretola, T Dennis Kelly, T Tyler Marz, G Corey Levin, G/T Josue Matias, C Mark Spielman, T Brad Seato, T Jonah Pirsig, T Steven Moore.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis. Backups - Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, Tre McBride, Jonathan Krause, KeVon Mabon, Makale McCay, Darius Jennings, Giovanni Pascascio.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Delanie Walker, Phillip Supernaw. Backups - Jace Amaro, Jonnu Smith, Jermaine Cunningham, Tim Semisch.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE DaQuan Jones, NT Sylvester Williams, DRE Jurrell Casey. Backups - DE Karl Klug, DE Angelo Blackson, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, NT Antwaun Woods, NT Austin Johnson, NT DeAngelo Brown, DE Jimmy Staten, DE Cameron Robbins.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Derrick Morgan, LILB Wesley Woodyard, RILB Avery Williamson, ROLB Brian Orakpo. Backups - ILB Jayon Brown, ILB Nate Palmer, OLB Josh Carraway, OLB Aaron Wallace, OLB Kevin Dodd, ILB Justin Staples, ILB Daren Bates, ILB Johnny Ragin, OLB Kourtnei Brown, OLB Victor Ochi.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Logan Ryan, RCB Adoree' Jackson, SS Johnathan Cyprien, FS Kevin Byard. Backups - CB LeShaun Sims, S Da'Norris Searcy, CB Brice McCain, S Brynden Trawick, CB Kalan Reed, S Curtis Riley, CB D'Joun Smith, CB Demontre Hurst, CB Tye Smith, CB Manny Abad, CB Jeremy Boykins.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Ryan Succop, P Brett Kern, KOR/PR Eric Weems, LS Beau Brinkley.

  • Jets among favorites -- to win top draft pick
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles is notorious as a man of few words, but he didn't need to say much to convey his message to players when OTAs ended June 15.

    • "We got a lot of work done, but we have a lot of work to do when we get back," Bowles said.

      Boy, do they ever.

      The Jets will convene for training camp on July 28 with a roster almost universally regarded as one of the three worst in the league. For the first time under owner Woody Johnson, the Jets - with no quarterback, a barren wide receiver corps and a rebuilt offensive line and secondary - begin a season in full-on rebuilding mode and with no delusions of grandeur about competing for the franchise's first championship in 49 seasons.

      Instead, the Jets are widely expected to vie, along with the tanking San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, for the top pick in the 2018 draft, when several franchise-caliber quarterbacks are expected to be available in the first round.

      Of course, Bowles can't say that, and nor can he coach the season with 2018 in mind - especially when he's on the hot seat following a 5-11 campaign in which he seemed to lose control of the locker room. Instead, he'll attempt to do the impossible: Turn a ragtag bunch into a cohesive unit that has every right to declare it's going to try and shock the world.

      "My expectations are high and the team's expectations are high and that's really all that counts," Bowles said.

      "I'm trying to get to the playoffs and win a Super Bowl. It's no different than any other year."


      --Find a quarterback. Whomever wins the quarterback competition will be an underwhelming choice, but the identity of the victor will be telling. If it's Josh McCown, it means the Jets will want to maintain a veneer of competitiveness in the early going, as well as that Christian Hackenberg remains incapable of starting for an NFL team. A victory by Hackenberg won't mean he's suddenly competent - that sub-50 percent completion percentage in the PRESEASON last year is hard to forget - but will indicate the Jets see a longer-term upside in taking their beatings and getting a higher 2018 draft pick than by pretending there's a chance they can compete this season.

      --Build positive chemistry. The Jets went 5-11 last year because most of their older good players got old and not so good in a hurry. But a toxic locker room culture and the perpetual distraction created by Ryan Fitzpatrick's bizarre offseason-long holdout didn't help. Now, with the locker room free of older underachievers as well as the divisive presence of Brandon Marshall, head coach Todd Bowles can go about building a "why not us?" culture with the young and overlooked players that will comprise the 2017 squad.

      --Develop the offensive line: If the Jets are going to be better than awful this year, they'll need a mostly new offensive line to protect the quarterback, whomever he is, and open some holes for running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. The quintet of C Wesley Johnson, RG Brian Winters, LG James Carpenter, LT Kelvin Beachum and RT Ben Ijalana has never played a single down together, so expect to see the first-team line plenty during exhibition play.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Josh McCown. Backups - Christian Hackenberg,Bryce Petty.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Matt Forte. Backups - Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Brandon Wilds, Jordan Todman, Romar Morris, FB Julian Howsare, FB Anthony Firkser.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Backups -Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson, Brian Parker, Jason Vander Laan.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart. Backups - Marquess Wilson, Charone Peake, Chad Hansen, Myles White, Jalin Marshall, Devin Street, Frankie Hammond, Deshon Foxx, Chris Harper, Gabe Marks, KD Cannon.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - C Wesley Johnson, RG Brian Winters, LG James Carpenter, LT Kelvin Beachum, RT Ben Ijalana. Backups - G/C Dakota Dozier, T Brandon Shell, T Brent Qvale, G Craig Watts, OL Alex Balducci, OL Chris Bordelon, OL Ben Braden, OL Jonotthan Harrison, T Jeff Adams, T Javarius Leamon.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Steve McLendon, DE Sheldon Richardson, DE Leonard Williams. Backups - NT Deon Simon, DL Lawrence Thomas, Anthony Johnson, DL Mike Pennel, DL Brandin Bryant, DL Patrick Gamble, DL Claude Peron.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - ILB Demario Davis, ILB Darren Lee, OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, OLB Jordan Jenkins. Backups - LB Freddie Bishop, LB Bruce Carter, LB Corey Lemonier, LB Josh Martin, LB Julian Stanford, LB Frank Beltre, LB Dylan Donahue, LB Connor Harris, LB Spencer Paysinger.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Morris Claiborne, CB Buster Skrine, FS Marcus Maye, SS Jamal Adams. Backups - CB Marcus Williams, CB Juston Burris, CB Dexter McDougle, CB Darryl Roberts, CB Jeremy Clark, CB Xavier Coleman, CB Derrick Jones, CB Bryson Keeton, DB Corey White, S Rontez Miles, S Doug Middleton, S Ronald Martin, S Shamarko Thomas.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Chandler Catanzaro, K Ross Martin, P Lachlan Edwards, KR/PR ArDarius Stewart, KR/PR Jalin Marshall, LS Tanner Purdum.

  • Patriots: Defending champs might be getter entering camp
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Little more than five months removed from securing the team's fifth Lombardi Trophy with a historic, overtime comeback win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, head coach Bill Belichick's New England Patriots open training camp in Foxborough as the Vegas favorite to win it all again.

    • Things are so positive these days in Patriots Nation - the defending champs are looking to be the first NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-04 New England squad, trying to also join that team in winning three in four years - that talk of a potential 19-0 campaign has begun among fans and media alike.

      Wide receiver Julian Edelman recently called such talk "stupid," and if you could get him to answer truthfully, Belichick would probably dismiss it with even more colorful but less than family friendly language.

      Make no mistake, though, after an aggressive offseason that saw the signing of Pro-Bowl cornerback Stephen Gilmore and a trade for speedy playmaking receiver Brandin Cooks, it's not hard to argue the Patriots open the summer as a better team than the one that won it all last winter.

      That's good news for the tens of thousands of fans that will hit the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium this summer and a scary thought for the 31 other teams that once again will likely have to go through Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots in the championship hunt.


      --Build cohesion on offense. Brady may have more weapons to turn to in 2017 than he ever has before. The trade addition of cooks adds big-play ability to the passing attack. The signing of running back Mike Gillislee brings a back who led the NFL with a 5.7-yard average in Buffalo's run-first attack to a role in which he should face softer defenses in the Patriots' pass-heavy scheme. Complementary newcomers like running back Rex Burkhead, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and tight end Dwayne Allen will need to begin to carve out roles for themselves this summer within the established mix of receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, running backs James White and Dion Lewis and tight end Rob Gronkowski returning from back surgery. July and August present time for Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to begin to figure out how roles, reps, carries and targets might play out as the Patriots' potential-filled offensive attack comes together.

      --Settle on a third cornerback. The arrival of former Bills Pro-Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore - the biggest free-agent signing in Patriots history - to play opposite Malcolm Butler gives New England one of the top handful of cornerback duos in the NFL. Beyond seeing Gilmore settle into his new home, new defense and the pressure of a $65 million contract, New England needs to figure out the roles at cornerback behind the two stars atop the depth chart. Eric Rowe arrived via trade last season and had his ups and downs along the way, though he finished the year with a solid Super Bowl. Cyrus Jones, the team's top pick in 2016, had a dismal rookie year as both a cornerback and returner, but in an ideal world will compete for the slot corner role. Second-year undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones and third-year player Justin Coleman should also be in the mix for playing time. Rowe is the favorite for the No. 3 job, but as a bigger corner that would likely push Butler into the slot at times. If one of the other players can win the job, preferably Cyrus Jones, it would keep the two big guns at corner on the outside. Regardless, the third corner reps will be one of the top focal points in training camp battles in New England.

      --Develop the pass rush. Belichick's Patriots have rarely had elite sack numbers and the coach emphasizes the importance of coverage and rush working in concert for productive pass defense. New England has the potential for an elite secondary, but the pass rush is far less proven. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich isn't getting any younger and his sack totals dropped from 8.0 to 6.5 to 4.0. The offseason also saw defensive ends Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard and their 9.0 combined sacks depart via free agency. There will be a heavy weight of expectation on third-year defensive end Trey Flowers, who had a team-best 7.0 sacks last fall and capped the year with 2.5 sacks in the Super Bowl. Another former Super Bowl standout in defensive end Kony Ealy, who arrived via trade from Carolina, will be expected to add at least complementary rush help. New England also used two of its four draft picks on ends, including top pick Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia likely has plenty of questions about his pass rush entering camp, but he also has a versatile mix of options to turn to as he tries to piece things together on the edge this summer.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Tom Brady. Backups - Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Mike Gillislee. Backups - James White, Rex Burkhead, FB James Develin, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, LeShun Daniels Jr., FB Glenn Gronkowski.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Rob Gronkowski. Backups - Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan. Backups - Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Andrew Hawkins, Devin Lucien, Matthew Slater, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon. Backups - C/G Ted Karras, T Tony Garcia, T Conor McDermott, T Cameron Fleming, T LaAdrian Waddle, OL Chase Farris, OL Jamil Douglas, T Andrew Jelks, C/G James Ferentz, OL Max Rich, OL Jason King, OL Cole Croston.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Rob Ninkovich, DT Malcom Brown, DT Alan Branch, RDE Trey Flowers. Backups - DT Vincent Valentine, DE Kony Ealy, DE Derek Rivers, DL Lawrence Guy, DE Deatrich Wise Jr., DT Woodrow Hamilton, DT Darius Kilgo, DE Geneo Grissom, DL Adam Butler, DT Josh Augusta.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Dont'a Hightower, MLB David Harris, WLB Kyle Van Noy. Backups - OLB Shea McClellin, MLB Elandon Roberts, OLB Jonathan Freeny, MLB Harvey Langi, LB Trevor Bates, MLB Brooks Ellis.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Malcolm Butler, RCB Stephon Gilmore, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty. Backups - FS Duron Harmon, CB Eric Rowe, SS Jordan Richards, CB Justin Coleman, CB Cyrus Jones, SS Nate Ebner, CB Jonathan Jones, SS Brandon King, S David Jones, CB D.J. Killings, CB Will Likely, CB Kenny Moore II, DB Dwayne Thomas, DB Jason Thompson, DB Damarius Travis.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, KOR Cyrus Jones, PR Cyrus Jones.

  • Odds are against confident Dolphins repeating
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins surprised everyone last season by turning a 1-4 start into a six-game winning streak, a 10-6 record, and their first playoff appearance since 2008. Now the question is whether they can build on that momentum.

    • Las Vegas doesn't think so. It set the over/under for Dolphins victories at 7.5.

      The Dolphins strongly disagree with Vegas, largely because of the culture change ushered in by second-year head coach Adam Gase.

      As Miami enters training camp there's an almost tangible sense of confidence and optimism in the building and on the field, and that optimistic tone is led by Gase.

      For one thing, all indications are that quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who missed the final three regular season games and the wild card game due to two sprained ligaments in his left knee, is full speed ahead for the start of training camp.

      Tannehill participated in OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and mini-camp wearing a brace on his left knee, a practice that will continue for the foreseeable future. But Tannehill came out of offseason workouts strong and is ready to go full speed from Day One of training camp.

      But beyond that, players think Gase's main tenet of accountability transformed Miami into a playoff team last season, and they saw what can happen, are excited about the future and how they could become even better in 2017.

      "If it's on the field, off the field, sleeping better, eating better, whatever it is to make yourself even better than we were last year," Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Wake said, "Each man has to do that, and if we do that individually and collectively, I think that's how we make it happen."

      Miami has gone over its deficiencies to the point of exhaustion - run defense (30th in NFL), total defense (29th), third-down offense (25th), total offense (24th), etc...

      The Dolphins return many of the same players who were part of creating those rankings. They return nine starters on offense and eight on defense.

      But the Dolphins are banking on Gase's policy of accountability to lead to better performance on the field.

      In short, hard work is in, slacking/stepping out of line is out, and accountability, for everyone, is at a premium.

      Players saw that when Gase opted to leave running back Jay Ajayi at home for the opener at Seattle after Ajayi reportedly reacted poorly to the news Arian Foster would start. It continued when Gase cut offensive linemen Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas for under-performing, and then demoted defensive end Mario Williams and cornerback Byron Maxwell for the same reason.

      The Dolphins think players respected Gase's culture change and responded by playing better.

      "He's a great head coach," Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said, "and I think he's only going to continue to get better because he has that mentality."

      Many, Vegas included, might argue the Dolphins caught lightning in a bottle last season, that they can't repeat that unexpected performance by returning many of those same players.

      The Dolphins think otherwise. They think Gase's policy of accountability will make them better.

      Even Gase isn't above the credo. During the offseason he publicly admitted he made a mistake early last season by putting defensive end Cam Wake, who was recovering from an Achilles injury, on a snap count.

      Wake, who ended the season with 11.5 sacks and earned a Pro Bowl berth, was limited to pass rushing situations. His elevation to fulltime starter eventually made the Dolphins a better defense.

      "That just makes us evaluate ourselves that much tougher, that much harder," veteran right guard Jermon Bushrod said. "So, when your head coach can take accountability like that, then it's just a trickle-down effect. We're professionals, and that's just how it needs to be so you can fight to win."


      --Improve run defense. Miami ranked 30th in run defense last season, and 28th in run defense two years ago. This is a serious problem that trickles to the other side of the ball. Part of the reason Miami's offense was last in the NFL at 912 plays is because opponents ran the ball and chewed up the clock. The Dolphins return five starters among their front seven so improvement must come mainly from within. But don't underestimate the additions at linebacker - linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who had five consecutive 100-tackle seasons, and rookie linebacker Raekwon McMillan, the second-round pick known for his head-banging attitude. And defensive end William Hayes has a reputation as a run-stopper, which should also help.

      --Become efficient on OL. Minor tinkering and a major injury are the concerns here. Laremy Tunsil shifts to his natural position of left tackle from left guard, where he played as a rookie, and Ted Larsen likely starts at left guard. That's the tinkering. The bigger issue is Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, whose hip injury limited him to five games last season, no participation on the offseason, and the promise of being limited in training camp. If Pouncey isn't healthy, the level of difficulty increases greatly. Miami was fairly productive last season on its offensive line despite injury issues. The Dolphins allowed just 30 sacks, 10th-best in the NFL, and was ninth in rushing offense. The goal in training camp is becoming efficient with and without Pouncey.

      --Determine starting LBs. Big changes are in store the unit that has absorbed much of the blame for the poor run defense the last two years. In the most likely configuration Kiko Alonso shifts to weak side linebacker from the middle, Lawrence Timmons plays the strong side and rookie Raekwon McMillan, the second-round pick from Ohio State, mans the middle. There's an outside chance returnee Koa Misi, limited to three games by a neck injury last season, barges his way into the picture, or reserves such as Neville Hewitt, a part-time starter last season, or undersized veteran Mike Hull get a shot. But Miami will want to solidify its starting threesome in camp and work on them progressing as a unit.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Ryan Tannehill. Backups - Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty, David Fales.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Jay Ajayi. Backups - Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams, Storm Johnson, Senorise Perry, De'Veon Smith.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Julius Thomas. Backups - Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray, Thomas Duarte, Chris Pantale.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker. Backups - Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford, Rashawn Scott, Drew Morgan, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Francis Owusu, Malcolm Lewis, Mitch Mathews.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Ted Larsen, C Mike Pouncey, RG Jermon Bushrod, RT Ja'Wuan James. Backups - C/G Kraig Urbik, C Jake Brendel, C/G Anthony Steen, T Avery Young, G Isaac Asiata, T Terry Poole, T Eric Smith, T Jesse Davis, T Sam Young.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Cam Wake, LDT Ndamukong Suh, RDT Jordan Phillips, DRE Andre Branch. Backups - DT Vincent Taylor, DT Davon Godchaux, DE William Hayes, DE Charles Harris, DE Terrence Fede, DE Joby Saint Fleur, DE Arthur Miley, DE Cameron Malveaux, DE Praise Martin-Oguike, DT Lawrence Okoye, DE Nick Williams.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Kiko Alonso, MLB Raekwon McMillan, SLB Lawrence Timmons. Backups - MLB Mike Hull, OLB/MLB Koa Misi, OLB Neville Hewitt, MLB Lamin Barrow, OLB Deon Lacey, OLB Trevor Reilly, OLB Brandon Watts, OLB Chase Allen.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Xavien Howard, RCB Byron Maxwell, FS Nate Allen, SS Reshad Jones. Backups - CB/slot Bobby McCain, FS/slot Michael Thomas, FS T.J. McDonald, CB Tony Lippett, CB Jordan Lucas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S A.J. Hendy, S Walt Aikens, CB Maurice Smith, CB Torry McTyer, CB Cordrea Tankersley, CB Larry Hope.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Andrew Franks, P Matt Darr, P Matt Haack, LS John Denney, LS Winston Chapman, KOR/PR Jakeem Grant, KOR/PR Kenyan Drake, PR Drew Morgan.

  • Talented Chiefs must forget dramatic offseason
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    KANSAS CITY -- With a veteran-laden roster led by one of the NFL's most successful head coaches, the Kansas City Chiefs prepared for an offseason filled with talk of a Super Bowl run in 2017 and redemption from a disappointing playoff loss.

    • No one expected the drama and turmoil that would engulf the team this summer, a soap opera more fitting for a losing franchise than a team coming off a 12-4 season and AFC West championship.

      The Chiefs first players arrive for training camp in St. Joseph, Mo., July 24 with more questions than answers, and almost all of them focusing on off the field turmoil.

      The first order of business is introducing new general Brett Veach. The 39-year-old former assistant to head coach Andy Reid takes the reins from general manager John Dorsey. The team ended its relationship with Dorsey June 22, less than an hour after the team announced a new contract extension for head coach Andy Reid.

      The opening of camp marks the first time team CEO Clark Hunt and Reid will address Dorsey's departure and Veach's promotion from co-director of player personnel. The organization's radio silence has left fans - as well as players and coaches - with questions and concerns at time when the team expected a triumphant opening to the new season.

      Veach vows to keep the train moving that Reid and Dorsey put together during the last four seasons in Kansas City.

      "Over the last four seasons, I've had the privilege to work alongside Andy Reid, John Dorsey and a great group of coaches and personnel staff," Veach said in a statement. "Together, we built a strong foundation of players that have helped us sustain success on the field. I'm looking forward to continuing our progress as we head into 2017."

      Kansas City's roller-coaster offseason featured many highs, including an 11th-hour contract extension for veteran safety Eric Berry and a bold move in the first round of the NFL draft to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 overall. It also included the departures of the team's all-time leading rusher Jamaal Charles and defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

      Then came the stunning release of veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on June 2, followed less than three weeks later by Dorsey's departure.

      Hunt did not elaborate in his statement on Dorsey's termination.

      "I notified John that we would not be extending his contract beyond the 2017 season, and after consideration, we felt it was in his best interests and the best interests of the team to part ways now," Hunt said in a statement.

      Following the opening day press conferences, Reid wants to turn focus back toward the field.

      "Getting them into football shape would always be that," Reid said about his No. 1 goal for training camp. "Then taking our game up a notch here. We've done okay the last few years, but never satisfied with that at all."

      The organization needs to turn its focus to the field quickly. The Chiefs open up the NFL season with a daunting Thursday night opener at New England that can set the tone for the entire season.

      "So you got to get in, you've got to prepare yourself, you've got to come out, you've got to be ready to go," Reid said. "It's against good competition, national TV, all those things are positives."

      Reid believes starting the season immediately provides an advantage in helping to get the attention of players.

      "There's no time to just go, 'I'm going to back off here for a couple of days and relax,'" Reid explained. "That's not how this rolls."

      Cornerback Marcus Peters said the team has one goal this season.

      "We got a mentality, man, we're trying to win a Super Bowl," Peters said.


      --Establish a receiver rotation without Jeremy Maclin. The surprising release of Maclin during offseason workouts leaves the Chiefs without a veteran presence among their receiving corps. The group may be lean on experience but is long on athleticism. Tyreek Hill showed explosive play-making ability a year ago, and quarterback Alex Smith says his route running is much improved. Third-year receiver Chris Conley shoulders the leadership role. The team needs more consistency from veterans Albert Wilson and De'Anthony Thomas. Young receivers Demarcus Robinson and Seantavius Jones also need to show they can contribute.

      --Shore up the run defense. Kansas City's defense held Pittsburgh without a touchdown in January's divisional playoff loss, largely because the Steelers gouged the Chiefs for 171 yards on the ground. The team's defense ranked 26th against the run last year, the biggest blemish for defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's bend-but-don't-break defense. The team hopes the addition of defensive tackle Bennie Logan provides improved run-stuffing abilities up front, but the Chiefs need their linebacker unit to make a significant upgrade in 2017.

      --Develop quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes may not play a snap in 2017, but his internship under the combination of head coach Andy Reid and veteran quarterback Alex Smith should prove critical to the franchise's future. Former general manager John Dorsey made a significant investment in Mahomes, including next year's first-round draft pick. The Chiefs haven't drafted a quarterback who won a game for the franchise since Todd Blackledge in 1983. The team's fans are hungry for a franchise quarterback to call their own, and Mahomes expects to face pressure from day one, even if he's not on the field this season.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Alex Smith. Backups - Tyler Bray, Patrick Mahomes, Joel Stave.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Spencer Ware, FB Anthony Sherman. Backups - Charcandrick West, Kareem Hunt, C.J. Spiller, Devine Redding.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Travis Kelce. Backups - Demetrius Harris, Gavin Escobar, Ross Travis, Orson Charles, Emanuel Byrd.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson. Backups - De'Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson, Seantavius Jones, Jehu Chesson, Alonzo Moore, Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp, Tevin Jones, Tony Stevens.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Eric Fisher, LG Zach Fulton, C Mitch Morse, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitchell Schwartz. Backups - LG Parker Ehinger, T Jah Reid, T Bryan Witzmann, G Mike Person, G Jordan Devey, G Joseph Cheek, G Damien Mama, T Josh James, G Andrew Tiller, T Donald Hawkins, T Isaiah Battle.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Allen Bailey, NT Bennie Logan, DRE Chris Jones. Backups - DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DE Jarvis Jenkins, DT Cam Thomas, DT Montori Hughes, DE David King, DE Ricky Ali'fua.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Justin Houston, WILB Derrick Johnson, SILB Ramik Wilson, ROLB Dee Ford. Backups - OLB Tamba Hali, ILB Justin March-Lillard, OLB Frank Zombo, ILB D.J. Alexander, ILB Ukeme Eligwe, ILB Josh Mauga, OLB Dadi Nicolas, OLB Marcus Rush, ILB Terrance Smith, OLB Earl Okine, OLB Reshard Cliett.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Marcus Peters, RCB Steven Nelson, FS Ron Parker, SS Eric Berry. Backups - SS Daniel Sorensen, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Phillip Gaines, S Eric Murray, DB Leon McQuay. CB Kenneth Acker, CB D.J. White, CB De'Vante Bausby, S Jordan Sterns, S Steven Terrell, CB Ashton Lampkin, CB J.R. Nelson, CB Keith Baxter, S Trevon Hartfield.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cairo Santos, P Dustin Colquitt, LS James Winchester, KOR/PR Tyreek Hill.

  • Optimism in force as Jaguars under new leadership
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will begin training camp with as much enthusiasm as in recent years.

    • Sure there was optimism a year ago when the team was coming off a successful season offensively, but there were still a number of question marks about the defense. Turns out those two units had contrasting successful seasons.

      A defensive that included many new faces came through better than expected as the Jaguars suddenly became tough to move the ball on or score against. But it didn't take that many points beat Jacksonville because the offense was a major disappointment, with scoring and passing numbers taking a huge hit.

      It looks like 2017 could be a different story.

      Once again, there are new faces on both sides of the ball. But those new players have either proven themselves or have the markings of being elite.

      The defense returns several regulars and has strengthened some of its weak areas. The addition of cornerback A.J. Bouye, strong safety Barry Church and defensive end Calais Campbell should make significant improvements in the defense. If the experiment of moving middle linebacker Paul Posluszny to strong-side linebacker, and shifting the talented Myles Jack from outside to the middle, is successful, the defense has the horses to make this an elite group.

      There is talent on the offensive side but it comes with too many unanswered questions heading into training camp, the biggest of which is who is going to start on the line. There are a number of good options but none is in the elite category, ready to challenge for All-Pro honors.

      There's solid competition at four spots on the line. It's always good to have strong competition for a starting job as it should make the eventual starter even better. The bad news is the competition can curtail the amount of time a unit has to develop as a group.

      Beyond the offensive line, there is still doubt about the ability of quarterback Blake Bortles to turn the Jaguars into a winner, let alone a playoff contender. Bortles worked hard with a pair of quarterback coaching gurus in California during the offseason in hopes of fine-tuning his mechanics and overall game.

      Two off-field additions could also have an influence as to whether this team can reverse its doldrums. The franchise has suffered through six consecutive losing seasons, was last at the .500 mark in 2010 and hasn't seen a winning record since 2007, when it went 11-5 and made the playoffs.

      Doug Marrone takes over as the team's head coach, having served as the interim head coach for the final two games of last year's 3-13 debacle. And returning to the franchise is Tom Coughlin, the team's original head coach (1995-2002) who is now the executive vice president of football operations.

      Coughlin was the leader of the franchise during this year's free agency acquisitions and the Jaguars draft movement, one that was geared to enhancing the areas around Bortles.

      It's a different atmosphere permeating throughout the locker room and onto the field with Marrone and Coughlin now spearheading Jaguars' fortunes after four seasons with Gus Bradley as the head coach. Marrone and Coughlin are both old-school -- strict on discipline and rare to sing the praises of players, at least publicly.

      Coughlin was especially a stickler for adhering to rules, time-codes and locker room embellishments. Marrone is built from the same mode and showed such during the team's final two games in 2016 and through last spring's OTA workout sessions.

      Bradley always touted the positive spin of the Jaguars' efforts, while Marrone is inclined to point out flaws and weaknesses that the team must improve on. Perhaps that style could lead to more than five wins this season; that hasn't happened since 2010.


      --Finalize the starting offensive line. In the past four years, the Jaguars have not had more than two players in any season start all 16 games. That's the first inconsistency. The second is that the Jaguars haven't retained the same players from year to year. Of the starting five who were regulars one season, no more than two of those players also started the following season. That could change this year as right tackle Jermey Parnell, right guard A.J. Cann and center Brandon Linder are likely to start again in 2017, although Cann and Linder could be at new positions. The problem that this year's unit faces is that only Parnell is a lock to start at his position. The other four spots will be determined in training camp and preseason games, which limits the amount of time that the eventual starting five will get to work together. That could make it tough to develop a running game with rookie Leonard Fournette likely to be the starting running back.

      --Get Blake Bortles in a good flow. Bortles continues to be bashed by national media, some of whom have predicted he'll lead the league in interceptions. That isn't likely to happen because if Bortles gets off to a slow start and is throwing a lot of picks, the Jaguars will likely bite the bullet and make a change at quarterback. The team has surrounded Bortles with enough talent, bringing in tackle Brandon Albert and tight end Mychal Rivera through free agency and drafting talented rookies in running back Leonard Fournette and tackle/guard Cam Robinson. If receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns can produce the type of numbers that they did in 2015 when both were 1,000-yard receivers, Bortles will have more than enough weapons to lead a potent offensive attack. But he'll need to make better decisions on the field and maintain the good mechanics that he enhanced during the offseason with his work in California with specialized coaching. The offense starts and ends with Bortles. If he's good, the Jaguars will be as well.

      --Be sure the secondary is healthy for the regular-season opener. No one seemed greatly concerned that strong safety Barry Church, free safety Tashaun Gipson and nickel back Aaron Colvin were sideline-only participants during the team's OTAs as well as the mandatory veterans camp in the first week in June. Starting cornerbacks A.J. Bouye (missed the first four OTA sessions) and Jalen Ramsey (out for all of the team's mandatory veterans camp) also missed time during offseason workouts. It left little opportunity for the group to work together. Church (back injury), Gipson and Colvin (foot), and Ramsey (core muscle injury that required surgery) all had various injuries, but Jaguars officials were reluctant to comment about the severity of each player's injury. Ramsey's surgery was on June 15; a six-week recovery process was expected. That would take it to the first full week of training camp. As for the other injuries, head coach Doug Marrone declined to say in mid-June if he was confident Church, Gipson and Colvin would return by the July 26 reporting day for fall camp. That's the last thing the Jaguars need to worry about -- injuries before training camp even begins.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Blake Bortles. Backups -- Chad Henne, Brandon Allen.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Chris Ivory. Backups -- Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant, FB Tommy Bohanon, FB Marquez Williams.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Mychal Rivera. Backups -- Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling, Alex Ellis.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee. Backups -- Dede Westbrook, Rashad Greene, Arrelious Benn, Shane Wynn, Amba Etta-Tawo, Jamal Robinson, Larry Pinkard.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Branden Albert, LG A.J. Cann, C Brandon Linder, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Jermey Parnell. Backups -- LT Cam Robinson, G/C Tyler Shatley, C/G Chris Reed, T Luke Bowanko, T Josh Wells, G Chris Reed, G Jeremiah Poutasi, G Earl Watford.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- RDE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Malik Jackson, DT Abry Jones, LDE Calais Campbell. Backups -- DE Dante Fowler, DE Dawuane Smoot, DT Sheldon Day, DE Lerentee McCray, DE Jonathan Woodard, DT Stefan Charles, DT Michael Bennett, DE Carroll Phillips.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Paul Posluszny, MLB Myles Jack, WLB Telvin Smith. Backups -- OLB Audie Cole, MLB Blair Brown, OLB Josh McNary, MLB Hayes Pullard.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB A.J. Bouye, RCB Jalen Ramsey, FS Tashaun Gipson, SS Barry Church. Backups -- CB Aaron Colvin, FS Peyton Thompson, CB Taurean Nixon, SS Jarrod Wilson, SS James Sample, CB Jalen Myrick, CB Josh Johnson, CB Doran Grant, CB Tracy Howard.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Myers, P Brad Nortman, LS Carson Tinker, KOR Corey Grant, PR Dede Westbrook, PR Rashad Greene.

  • Colts Ballard hopes competition snaps 8-8 groove
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS -- First-year Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard stressed improving competition as his biggest goal.

    • After all the roster moves that Ballard made during the offseason, the Colts will be interesting to watch as training camp begins July 29, when the veterans are scheduled to report to the team's training facility in Indianapolis. Rookies are slated to report on July 24.

      It marks the first training camp held at the team's primary headquarters since the Colts made the move from Baltimore in 1984. Previous training camps have been held at Anderson (Ind.) University and at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute.

      In planning for the 2017 season, Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano knew changes had to be made in order for Indianapolis to be much more competitive in an improving AFC South. Coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the Colts want to get back into a position as one of the AFC's powerhouse teams.

      "I love the character of the football team. It's a smart, tough group, determined group," Pagano said at the end of the final mini-camp in June.

      "They're driven. The veteran guys that we added in free agency have fit right in. They've been great on both sides of the ball. They've been great in the locker room. They've been great in meeting rooms.

      "But until we get to training camp and we cut it loose and things are live and we get into the preseason and we play some games and things like that, it's kind of hard to predict. But they all love football, and they're all committed to being really good and working at their crafts, so that gives you a chance."

      As part of the plan to improve overall competition, the Colts could be ramping up the physicality of training camp. In previous camps, Pagano had preferred to play it safe in terms of real contact work.

      "We've talked long and hard about that. You're always scared to death (about injuries)," Pagano said.

      "But at the same time if you don't tackle, it's hard to get good at tackling. We do, obviously, a lot of what we call thud. It's first contact, it's wrap up, and you try to stay off the ground as much as you can and take care of each other.

      "But we'll continue to have discussions regarding that and there may be some periods come training camp that we decide we want to go live here. Until you do that, you get to the preseason and usually that first or second preseason game is an eye-opener for a lot of the guys, especially the young guys until they adapt to the speed of the game."

      In addition to injuries, the Colts have also been their own worst enemy over the past couple of seasons with unforced errors and turnovers. Pagano wants to see the Colts play smarter. He is stressing the need to take better care of the football while improving as a defense at forcing takeaways.

      "You want to see if the guys that were so-called 'repeat offenders,' who were making the same mistakes over and over again, if they can find a way to get that corrected," Pagano said.

      "But really just to see the execution, the efficiency, the elimination of the self-inflicted negatives, if you will. The sins we call them -- false starts, neutral zone infractions.

      "I think since we've been here since 2012, when we're plus-one in the turnover margin ... we're 27-2 if we're plus-one or better. So that's pretty simple to grasp and to cling on to."


      --Get Andrew Luck back on the field. No decision has been made as yet when to expect the quarterback to get back to a full practice regimen. Officially, Luck has yet to throw a football since undergoing shoulder surgery during the offseason. Rehab-wise, he should be very close to getting back into a regular routine. Bur Colts coaches and trainers are expected to take their time in deciding when the time is right for the former No. 1 draft pick to give it a full go.

      --Make some decisions on the offensive line. Indianapolis appears to be set at left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) and center (Ryan Kelly). Left guard Jack Mewhort is expected to be ready to go for the start of training camp after missing playing time last season, but he will probably be limited in the early going. Joe Haeg will most likely be the right guard after a strong rookie season. Haeg also got experience at right tackle but seems more at home as a guard. Second-year lineman Le'Raven Clark finished the 2016 season at right tackle and will begin training camp there. Haeg and Clark have huge upsides but need to step up their play this year.

      --Figure out who will be the starting inside linebackers. A pair of returnees, Antonio Morrison and Edwin Jackson, will get an opportunity, as will several newcomers. The Colts were busy upgrading the roster during the offseason, adding Sean Spence and Jon Bostic as veteran free agents, along with drafting Northwestern inside linebacker Anthony Walker.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Andrew Luck. Backups -- Stephen Morris, Scott Tolzien, Phillip Walker.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Frank Gore. Backups -- Dalton Crossan, Josh Ferguson, Marlon Mack, Troymaine Pope, Robert Turbin.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jack Doyle. Backups -- Mo Alie-Cox, Darrell Daniels, Colin Jeter, Erik Swoope, Brandon Williams.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief. Backups -- Kamar Aiken, Harvey Binford, Quan Bray, Chris Briggs, Fred Brown, Phillip Dorsett, Bug Howard, JoJo Natson, Chester Rogers, Tevaun Smith.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, C Ryan Kelly, RG Joe Haeg, RT Le'Raven Clark. Backups -- T Zach Banner, T Fahn Cooper, T/G Denzelle Good, T Blake Muir, G Adam Redmond, C/G Brian Schwenke, T Jerry Ugokwe, T Jeremy Vujnovich, T Andrew Wylie.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DT Johnathan Hankins, NT Al Woods, DE Kendall Langford. Backups -- DT Henry Anderson, DE Tarell Basham, DT Josh Boyd, DE Margus Hunt, DT T.Y. McGill, DT David Parry, DT Hassan Ridgeway, DT Grover Stewart, DE Jhaustin Thomas.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB John Simon, ILB Jon Bostic, ILB Sean Spence, OLB Jabaal Sheard. Backups -- OLB Akeem Ayres, OLB Lavar Edwards, ILB Jeremiah George, ILB Edwin Jackson, OLB Barkevious Mingo, ILB Antonio Morrison, OLB Deiontrez Mount, ILB Lee Rhodes, OLB Garett Sickles, ILB Anthony Walker.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Vontae Davis, S Clayton Geathers, S Malik Hooker, CB Rashaan Melvin. Backups -- CB Dante Blackmon, S/CB Darius Butler, S Matthias Farley, S Tyson Graham, S T.J. Green, CB Nate Hairston, S Lee Hightower, CB Chris Milton, CB Tevin Mitchel, CB Darryl Morris, S Tyvis Powell, S Andrew Williamson, CB Quincy Wilson.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Adam Vinatieri, P Jeff Locke, LS Thomas Hennessy, KOR Quan Bray, PR Chester Rogers, P Rigoberto Sanchez.

  • Texans must go slowly with rookie QB Watson
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Deshaun Watson has always been an unusually precocious quarterback.

    • As a true freshman at Clemson, he delivered a touchdown pass during a road game at Georgia on just the sixth snap of his college career as he overtook starter Cole Stoudt.

      As a high school freshman at Gainesville High School in Georgia, Watson was named the starter and threw three touchdown passes in his first varsity game.

      The path to the Texans' starting job may not come as quickly, though, for the first-round draft pick and national championship winner from Clemson.

      Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has installed veteran Tom Savage as the starter over Watson and backup Brandon Weeden as the defending AFC South champions head into training camp at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.

      For now, the plan is for Watson to learn behind Savage and gain some seasoning before the Texans consider changing his status.

      As much as he's eager to play and contribute, it's a blueprint that Watson is on board with while being coached by O'Brien, a former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for star quarterback Tom Brady.

      "It's best for the team," Watson said. "Coach OB knows a lot of football. He's been with the best, if not one of the best in NFL history, Tom Brady. He knows how everything is operated. He knows when the perfect timing will be. He knows when it's right and when it's wrong.

      "So, I'm following their footsteps. I'm the rookie and I really don't know no better, so I'm just kind of going with the flow, learning from the vets, learning from the coaching staff. Whenever he calls my name, I'll make sure I'm prepared and go out and perform."

      A Heisman Trophy finalist, Davey O'Brien and Manning Award winner -- as well as claiming an ESPY this month for Best Male College Athlete -- Watson has a proven track record of exceeding initial expectations.

      In high school and college, Watson emerged as the starter almost immediately.

      "That just kind of came natural," Watson said. "I've been playing football my whole life. Coaches felt like I was prepared and ready and they wanted me in there, so I just took advantage of the opportunity and didn't look back.

      "This is a whole new level. I'm starting from ground zero. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'll play my role well and support the team."

      Throwing that first touchdown pass against an aggressive blitz package against Georgia made a lasting impression on Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. It was the springboard to a career that included 83 career touchdown passes in three seasons before declaring early for the draft.

      "That was the first time we experienced how special Deshaun was," Swinney said.

      "It was a really exotic blitz, very dangerous. If we didn't get into the right protection and call, it could be a big-time sack and free hit on the quarterback. We couldn't believe he could do that as a true freshman. That was a sign that this young man was different and one of the special ones."

      Watson finished his college career with 9,201 passing yards, also rushing for 1,744 yards and 21 scores. Prior to enrolling early at Clemson, Watson set Georgia high school state records with 17,134 yards of total offense and 218 touchdowns.

      Watson has made a good first impression on the Texans' coaching staff, especially O'Brien, who's operating as the offensive coordinator after the team parted ways with George Godsey after last season.

      Watson puts in overtime, haunting the Texans' film room and weight room on days off to make sure he's prepared.

      "He's doing good," O'Brien said. "For a rookie coming in here, he's spent a lot of time. He's studying hard. He has great questions. He has good answers to the questions when we kind of quiz them every morning. I've been impressed with all three guys. It's a good room and he's working hard."

      In consecutive national championship games against Alabama, Watson passed for a combined 825 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He delivered the game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds to cap his prolific college career in the BCS national title game last season.

      "He was special, a once-in-a-lifetime player and person," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "He was self-motivated with a terrific work ethic. You could tell football was one of his main priorities in his life. He was so coachable, just wanted it so bad.

      "It was amazing what he did behind the scenes to be good. He's what coaches call a 'film hound.' He goes hunting for film. He can't watch enough. He is an extremely fast learner. The Texans got themselves a good one. He's the type of kid that can take the Texans franchise a step higher."

      Competing against the Texans' top-ranked defense during minicamps and organized team activities, Watson got a glimpse of the increased speed of the game and the quick adjustments he'll need to make to diagnose defensive schemes designed to confuse him.

      "Everyone can run at this level," Watson said. "Everyone is smart. Everyone watches film. Everyone is athletic. You have to approach the game differently. You can't take a play off at this level. If you do, you will get smoked."


      --J.J. Watt must remain healthy. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year missed most of last season after undergoing a pair of back surgeries to repair a herniated disk. Watt hasn't been exposed to any contact drills yet but was fully cleared and participated in all offseason practices. His health is paramount to the NFL's top-ranked defense.

      --Build timing in the passing game. The Texans sorely need new starting QB Tom Savage to get off to a good start at building chemistry with Pro Bowl alternate wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins' production dipped last season during the failed Brock Osweiler experiment. He seems to click better with Savage, but Savage has yet to throw a touchdown pass in an NFL regular-season game.

      --Improve red-zone offense. The Texans ranked 31st in the NFL in red-zone offense last season. They couldn't effectively throw the ball or run the ball into the end zone, relying on kicker Nick Novak to provide points. They need to spend a lot of extra time on this shortcoming.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Tom Savage. Backups -- Brandon Weeden, Deshaun Watson.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Lamar Miller, FB Jay Prosch. Backups -- D'Onta Foreman, Akeem Hunt, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, Dare Ogunbowale.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- C.J. Fiedorowicz. Backups -- Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson, Zach Conque, RaShaun Allen, Evan Baylis.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller. Backups -- Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller, Wendall Williams, Chris Thompson, Riley McCarron, Justin Hardee, Deante' Gray, Shaq Hill.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su'a-Filo, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, RT Chris Clark. Backups -- T Kendall Lamm, G Chad Slade, G David Quessenberry, C Greg Mancz, T Breno Giacomini, C Erik Austell, C Kyle Fuller, T Laurence Gibson, T Julie'n Davenport, G Josh Walker.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE J.J. Watt, NT D.J. Reader, DRE Jadeveon Clowney. Backups -- DT Eli Ankou, DE Christian Covington, DE Matt Godin, DE Joel Heath, DE Carlos Watkins, DE Daniel Ross, DE Ufomba Kamalu, NT Ricky Hatley, DE Brandon Dunn.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Whitney Mercilus, ILB Brian Cushing, ILB Benardrick McKinney, SLB Brennan Scarlett. Backups -- ILB Dylan Cole, ILB Zach Cunningham, OLB Eric Lee, ILB Sio Moore, ILB Brian Peters, OLB Gimel President, OLB Dayon Pratt, ILB Shakeel Rashad, OLB Tony Washington, ILB Avery Williams.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Johnathan Joseph, RCB Kareem Jackson, FS Andre Hal, SS Corey Moore. Backups -- CB Kevin Johnson, CB Robert Nelson, CB Dee Virgin, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Denzel Rice, S Kurtis Drummond, S Lonnie Ballentine, S K.J. Dillon, S Eddie Pleasant, CB Bryce Jones, CB Treston Decoud.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nick Novak, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Weeks, KOR Tyler Ervin, PR Will Fuller, K Ka'imi Fairbairn, P Cory Carter.

  • Broncos: QB Siemian in camp battle with Lynch
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On July 14, Trevor Siemian stepped out of the catacombs of a Dick's Sporting Goods in Lakewood, Colo., and into the light of a display area in front of a dozen youngsters. Amid a dizzying array of shoes, shirts and athletic gear, he arrived to take the children on a shopping spree.

    • The children looked up at him. One gazed at the third-year quarterback, saying with reverent awe, "Trevor Siemian!"

      Another was not so impressed.

      "Why didn't you get Von Miller?" he asked.

      Even at a charitable event, Siemian gets no respect. Never mind the fact that his 84.6 passer rating last year ranked him 19th all-time among the 109 first- or second-year quarterbacks with at least 350 attempts in his first season as a starter, or that his plus-eight touchdown-to-interception margin was tied for 17th.

      Respect outside of Denver Broncos headquarters seems to elude Siemian, who will go into training camp splitting first-team repetitions with second-year passer Paxton Lynch. Siemian did just enough last year to give himself another chance to earn the starting role, but not enough to hold off Lynch and be handed the job with a new coaching staff and offensive scheme putting the two quarterbacks on even terms.

      "It's a clean slate for all of us," he said. "That's how I'm approaching it."

      That means absorbing a new scheme -- and plenty of studying to get up to speed. Although Siemian spent part of his downtime vacationing in Ireland, he also spent time studying his iPad playbook. He re-watched every snap of OTAs and minicamp, not only to study the offense -- but to try and find weaknesses in the defense.

      "I watched all the OTAs, all the reps," Siemian said. "It's a relatively new scheme for all of us, so we're still kind of ironing everything out. But I just went back through and watched everything. I watched how our defense is playing, too, because they've got some tweaks."

      It might only be practice that begins on July 27, but because it's a full-scale quarterback competition, Siemian knows he has to treat it like the regular season if he wants the job. Broncos head coach Vance Joseph wants to name a quarterback as soon as he sees one of the two passers get separation.

      If Siemian can do that, earn the starting job and succeed in the role, maybe next time he'll be the player that kids want to meet.


      --Choose a starting quarterback. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both expressed their wishes that the Broncos would have selected a starting quarterback by this point, but head coach Vance Joseph plans to keep the competition open until either Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian emerges. Joseph would rather see one of them break away by succeeding, but it's possible that one of the two quarterbacks could lose the job, as was the case last year when a spate of giveaways in practice and the preseason by Mark Sanchez effectively handed Siemian the starting role.

      --Pick a starting left tackle. Ty Sambrailo and first-round pick Garett Bolles split the first-team repetitions during minicamp in June. It seems like only a matter of time before Bolles gets the job outright, but Broncos head coach Vance Joseph has repeatedly emphasized that he wants the No. 20 overall selection to earn the job, and not have it handed to him.

      --Settle on a primary tight end. 2015 third-round pick Jeff Heuerman is finally healthy and could be an all-around option. A.J. Derby, a converted college quarterback acquired in a midseason trade with New England last year, is a potentially dependable pass catcher who is a raw blocker. Seventh-year veteran Virgil Green is a dependable blocker, but hasn't done much with his chances as a pass-catching target. But any or all of them could just be keeping the seat warm for rookie Jake Butt while he completes his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in last December's Orange Bowl.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Trevor Siemian. Backups - Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly, Kyle Sloter.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters - C.J. Anderson, FB Andy Janovich. Backups - Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, Juwan Thompson, De'Angelo Henderson, Bernard Pierce.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- A.J. Derby. Backups - Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Henry Krieger-Coble, Steven Scheu, Austin Traylor.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders. Backups - Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor, Cody Latimer, Marlon Brown, Carlos Henderson, Isaiah McKenzie, Kalif Raymond, Hunter Sharp, Anthony Nash.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ty Sambrailo, LG Max Garcia, C Matt Paradis, RG Ron Leary, RT Menelik Watson. Backups - LT Garett Bolles, C/G Connor McGovern, G/T Michael Schofield, RT Donald Stephenson, G Billy Turner, C Dillon Day, G Chris Muller, T Justin Murray, T Cedrick Lang, T Elijah Wilkinson.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Derek Wolfe, NT Domata Peko, DE Jared Crick. Backups - DE Zach Kerr, DE Billy Winn, NT Kyle Peko, DE Adam Gotsis, DE DeMarcus Walker, NT Tyrique Jarrett, DE Shakir Soto, DE Shelby Harris.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Von Miller, OLB Shane Ray, ILB Brandon Marshall, ILB Todd Davis. Backups - OLB Shaquil Barrett, OLB Vontarrius Dora, OLB Kasib Edebali, ILB Zaire Anderson, ILB Corey Nelson, OLB Ken Ekanem, ILB Josh Banderas, ILB Jerrol Garcia-Williams, ILB Kevin Snyder, ILB Quentin Gause, ILB Deon Hollins.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Chris Harris Jr., CB Aqib Talib, FS Darian Stewart, SS T.J. Ward. Backups - CB Bradley Roby, CB Lorenzo Doss, FS Justin Simmons, SS Will Parks, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, CB Brendan Langley, FS Orion Stewart, SS Jamal Carter, CB Dontrell Nelson, CB Marcus Rios, FS Dante Barnett, SS Dymonte Thomas.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Brandon McManus, P Riley Dixon, LS Casey Kreiter, KOR Carlos Henderson, PR Isaiah McKenzie.

  • Jackson: Browns headed in right direction
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    BEREA, Ohio -- Hue Jackson is back for his second year with the Cleveland Browns, which means, historically, the sands in his head coaching hour glass are running out after finishing 1-15 last season.

    • The last Browns head coach to stay on the job longer than two years was Romeo Crennel. Crennel coached the Browns from 2005-08, had one winning season (10-6 in 2007) and was fired after going 4-12 in his final year. Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine followed without success before Jackson took over in 2016.

      Team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam seem ready to exercise restraint with the team in the second year of a major rebuild. The Browns have five picks in the first two rounds next year. The anticipation of what might be done with those choices, along with excitement over defensive end Myles Garrett, the 2017 first overall pick, and quarterback DeShone Kizer, the 52nd overall pick, has created a stir of optimism at team headquarters in the Cleveland suburb of Berea.

      "We're heading in the right direction," Jackson said. "I'm really excited about what we're creating on defense.

      "As the years go by here, we want to have an established quarterback. We don't want to have this question where you guys are saying, 'Who is the quarterback?' every year. That is a problem we have to solve. I feel good about our offensive line. We have some young emerging players at receiver. We have some young dynamic tight ends (Seth DeValve and David Njoku) that we have to continue to grow. The pass catcher, we have to get (wide receiver) Corey (Coleman) out there and keep him healthy so that we can be what we can be on offense.

      "We have two dynamic runners (Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson), so I like our runners. Special teams wise, we have a real good punter (Britton Colquitt), long snapper (Charley Hughlett) and kicker (Cody Parkey), and there are some core guys that are returning to our football team. Are we close to where I thought we would be? Yes. For me, I have to continue to solve the quarterback issue because that's where it starts."

      The Browns' last winning season was 2007 when they went 10-6. To put that in perspective, left tackle Joe Thomas was a rookie that year. Barrack Obama served two terms in the White House, and in all that time the Browns never finished above sea level.

      But finally, there is reason for faithful Browns fans to believe there might be sunnier days ahead. But as Jackson so plainly put it, it all starts with having the right guy behind center. The Browns are entering their 19th season without being able to identify who that quarterback should be.


      --Find a starting quarterback. Some things never change at the Browns training complex. This year the contestants are Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer. Kessler might have the lead when camp begins because he started eight games last year - he lost them all - but he is not the long-term answer. Head coach Hue Jackson likes tall strong-armed quarterbacks. Kizer fits at 6-foot-4 and so does Osweiler at 6-foot-8. Osweiler will get a chance to compete, but could still be traded if another team loses its quarterback to injury. It would be no surprise if Kizer is starting by midseason.

      --Keep Corey Coleman healthy. The second-year receiver from Baylor missed two preseason games last year with a hamstring injury. He missed six regular season games with a broken hand. A shoulder injury and hamstring injury early in OTAs prevented him from participating in minicamp. The Browns desperately need Coleman to improve off his 33-catch rookie season a year ago, and if that means resting him as a way to prevent further injury, so be it. The Browns did not draft a receiver in 2017 nor sign one as an undrafted rookie.

      --Improve the pass rush. Taking end Myles Garrett with the first pick in the draft should make the pass rush better from the first snap, but now Garrett has to put his boasting into action. Hiring Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator should give the pass rush a boost, too. He has an aggressive coaching style that is contagious. The Browns drafted two defensive linemen along with Garrett - Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley - and Desmond Bryant is back from a pectoral injury that forced him to miss all of 2016. Bryant led the Browns with six sacks in 2015. The pieces are definitely there for Williams to boost the 26 sacks from 2016. The Browns ranked 29th in sacks per pass play.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Cody Kessler. Backups - Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Isaiah Crowell. Backups - Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes, George Atkinson III, Terrance McGee, FB Danny Vitale.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - David Njoku. Backups - Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer, Taylor McNamara, J.P. Holtz.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis. Backups - Rashard Higgins, Mario Alford, Josh Boyce, Rannell Hall, Jordan Leslie, Richard Mullaney, Jordan Payton, James Wright.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Shon Coleman. Backups - C/T Cameron Erving, G/C John Greco, G Chris Barker, LG Spencer Drango, C Anthony Fabiano, C Gabe Ikard, T Rod Johnson, C Marcus Martin, LT Matt McCants, C Austin Reiter, RT Zach Sterup.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Desmond Bryant, NT Danny Shelton, DRE Myles Garrett. Backups -- DRE Jamie Meder, DLE Carl Nassib, NT Caleb Brantley, DT Trevon Coley, DRE Xavier Cooper, DE Jamal Marcus, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DRE Nate Orchard, DE Karter Schult.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Christian Kirksey, SLB Cam Johnson. Backups - MLB Tank Carder, WLB Dominique Alexander, SLB Joe Schobert, OLB B.J. Bello, MLB James Burgess, MLB Ladell Fleming, OLB Kenneth Olugbode.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Joe Haden, RCB Jamar Taylor, FS David Kindred, SS Jabrill Peppers. Backups - CB Jason McCourty, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, FS Trey Caldwell, RCB Marcus Burley, SS Ibraheim Campbell, FS Justin Currie, CB J.D. Harmon, CB Alvin Hill, CB Darius Hillary, CB Najee Murray, SS Kai Nacua, FS Ed Reynolds III, SS Calvin Pryor III, CB Channing Stribling, CB Howard Wilson.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cody Parkey, P Britton Colquitt, LS Charley Hughlett, KOR Mario Alford, PR Jabrill Peppers, K Zane Gonzalez.

  • Semantics aside, Bengals rebuilding as contender
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are not in rebuilding mode, according to the company line. They believe their window to win still is open, despite significant changes heading into the opening of training camp. Long-time veterans like left tackle Andrew Whitworth, linebacker Rey Maualuga, and defensive lineman Domata Peko are gone. But, quite a bit of continuity remains.

    • "We've got the core of our guys back, and we've got some new guys who can help us," said quarterback Andy Dalton during the offseason. "So, it's a new year, another year of experience for everybody. I said last year there was a lot of stuff that was new, obviously with Zamp (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) taking over at coordinator and with a couple new receivers being out there. We really don't have that this year. Guys understand what we are trying to do."

      During a dismal 6-9-1 season, the Bengals struggled to establish a consistent rushing attack and protect Dalton, who was sacked 41 times. They had difficulty converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.

      "This was what this whole offseason has been for, to see what was done well and what we didn't do well," Dalton said. "We need to get better at things we do well and really improve on things we didn't do well. This offseason has been good for us."

      The team's objectives during training camp are rather easy to define. The offensive line will be the primary area of focus since the team's success largely depends on it. Andre Smith will move to guard in his first season back with the team. Cedric Ogbuehi, who struggled at times last season, will take over at left tackle. Establishing a running game, protecting Dalton, and giving him time to take advantage of some added depth and speed at receiver with the addition of rookies John Ross and Josh Malone all hinges on the offensive line being able to replace Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler and developing some continuity.

      The Bengals are hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's injury-marred training camp when top draft choices cornerback William Jackson III and defensive lineman Andrew Billings were lost for the season. Several key players are coming off significant injuries including wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, running back Giovani Bernard, and first-round draft choice Ross. Green was full-go during summer workouts.

      Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick recovered from a hand fracture over the offseason and is expected to be 100 percent by training camp. Second-rounder Joe Mixon lost 10 pounds in the weeks following the draft and has looked impressive.

      With Whitworth gone, the focus turns to Dalton who passed for more than 4,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last season despite being under constant pressure, to assume more of a leadership role. It's something Dalton insists he's been doing already.

      "Going into year seven now, I'm really comfortable with everything we have going here," said Dalton. "Now we have some of the new guys, just making sure everybody is up to speed on everything we're doing. Communication is big. Making sure they know exactly how I want it to be. Guys are willing to learn. Everybody's trying to be the best they can be. That's what this time of the year is for. Got to keep improving. Need to get to stop thinking too much and play fast. We've gotten better this offseason."

      It's been 26 years since the Bengals last won a playoff game. Head coach Marvin Lewis did not receive a contract extension during the offseason for the first time since 2010, making this a pivotal season in many respects along the banks of the Ohio River.


      --Evaluate the revamped offensive line. Free-agent departures of tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler have created plenty of questions for this group. The signing of former Bengal Andre Smith will help as he makes the move to right guard. Former No. 1 draft choice Cedric Ogbuehi, who struggled last year, is expected to fill Whitworth's left-tackle spot. Jake Fisher will take over the other tackle spot. Quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times and the Bengals failed to establish a consistent rushing attack, making this a pivotal training camp for the offensive line.

      --Sort out the running game. Joe Mixon was a controversial draft choice out of the University of Oklahoma, arriving in Cincinnati with the cloud of a domestic abuse incident during college, but also having immense talent. Jeremy Hill has had two subpar seasons, but insists he's motivated to return to his 2014 form when he rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a rookie. Lack of a consistent running game was partly responsible for Dalton being sacked 41 times last season, And, with a revamped offensive line needing help, too, finding someone to step up in the backfield is a priority for Cincinnati during training camp.

      --Settle on a kicker. Following the 2016 season, head coach Marvin Lewis promised there would be competition at kicker in training camp. The Bengals released veteran Mike Nugent during last season after several missed extra points and signed journeyman Randy Bullock who was re-signed in January. Jake Elliott was drafted out of the University of Memphis and is the early front-runner after a strong offseason.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Andy Dalton. Backups - AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Jeremy Hill. Backups - Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Tra Carson, Stanley Williams.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Tyler Eifert. Backups - C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, Mason Schreck.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd. Backups - John Ross, Cody Core, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, Chris Brown.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Cedric Ogbuehi, RT Jake Fisher, C Russell Bodine, RG Andre Smith, LG Clint Boling. Backups - LT Landon Lechler, LG Trey Hopkins, C T.J, Johnson, RG Christian Westerman, LG Dustin Stanton, LG Cameron Lee, RG Alex Redmond, LG Kent Perkins.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins, RDE Michael Johnson, LDT Pat Sims. Backups - DT Andrew Billings, DT DeShawn Williams, DE Jordan Willis, DT Marcus Hardison, DE Will Clarke, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Ryan Glasgow, DT David Dean, DE Chris Smith.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - MLB Vincent Rey, SLB Marquis Flowers, WLB Vontaze Burfict. Backups - MLB Kevin Minter, SLB Carl Lawson, SLB P.J. Dawson, WLB Nick Vigil, SLB Bryson Albright, SLB Jordan Evans.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Dre Kirkpatrick, RCB Adam Jones, SS Shawn Williams, FS George Iloka. Backups - RCB Josh Shaw, RCB KeiVarae Russell, RCB Darqueze Dennard, SS Clayton Fejedelem, FS Derron Smith, CB William Jackson, RCB Brandon Wilson, LCB Tony McRae, LCB Bene Benwikere.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber, PR Adam Jones, KOR Alex Erickson, LS Clark Harris, K Jake Elliott, K Jon Brown.

  • Bills hope major overhaul ends 17-year slump
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills think they have the right men to lead them out of the abyss in which they were trapped for 17 years. Of course, Bills fans have heard this before, so while there is the natural bump in optimism as training camp and a new season nears, there is also skepticism from many who will hold off judging Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane until they see something positive on the field.

    • To their credit, McDermott, in his first year as a head coach, and Beane, in his first year as a general manager, understand what they face in a town that has been beaten down by a millennium of no playoff appearances.

      "There's history and then there's, 'OK, how do we handle it going forward?'" McDermott said. "And as a head coach I believe that the minute I was hired I own that, right? I'm a part of that. So, to try and separate one's self from that I think is the wrong approach. That said, as a team going forward, we have to focus on what's immediately in front of us and the vision for the future. And so creating the right dynamic around the present team is important in terms of our focus, our mindset."

      Both McDermott and Beane enjoyed success in their previous stops in the NFL, McDermott with the Eagles and Panthers, Beane primarily with the Panthers. They have been to the playoffs, they have been to the Super Bowl, and neither can fathom what it was like for the Bills, a team that has not gone to the playoffs since the 1999 season.

      "Well, there's nothing we can do about it," Beane said when asked about the playoff drought. "But you have to understand it, and I appreciate it from the sense of, I hated when we went three years without making the playoffs (in Carolina). So I can't imagine 17 years, the agony, the pain, whatever word you want to describe it. That's brutal. I've talked to employees who have been here through the whole tenure and you try and understand all of what's going on from a culture, not only in this building but this town, just everything that has come to 17 years without a playoff appearance. Sean and I are focused going forward because there's nothing we can do about the past, but we want nothing more than to look out there and see the excitement in the city, in this building, for everything we're doing."

      It truly is a new era for the Bills. Owners Terry and Kim Pegula tore the front office down and approved its rebuild. In addition to firing Rex Ryan and all but one of his coaches, they also jettisoned general manager Doug Whaley and almost the entire college scouting and pro personnel departments. McDermott and Beane were given free rein to build their respective staffs, so now the organization should be in lockstep, with every aspect of the football operation pulling in the same direction, free of personal agendas.

      Of course, while McDermott and Beane already made an impact on the roster, the bulk of the key players are holdovers from the Ryan-Whaley operation. The most important of those is quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who restructured his bloated contract to return as the starter, rather than face the likely release from the team he was facing prior to the start of the new league year.

      In essence, he has another year to prove0 that he can be a functional, long-term performer at quarterback, and if the Bills can stay healthy, he'll have a chance with weapons such as LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones, Charles Clay, and a solid offensive line.

      On defense, the Bills were massive underachievers under Ryan, who stubbornly tried to reinvent a unit that had finished fourth overall in the NFL in 2014 and drove it down to back-to-back yardage rankings of 19th. McDermott has switched the Bills back to the 4-3, which is better-suited to their personnel, and it should bring out the best in linemen Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.

      Linebacker is a trouble spot, unless 2016 second-round pick Reggie Ragland - who missed his entire rookie year with a knee injury - can step into the middle and be an every-down performer and signal-caller. And the secondary is almost totally revamped with only one starter returning, third-year cornerback Ronald Darby, who did not have a very good 2016 season.

      "We're building; every year we are working to win," said McDermott, who refused to term his first season in Buffalo a rebuilding year. "That's not where we're going with this. That's not it at all. It's about winning football games. It's hard. It's a challenge when you say, 'Hey, we focus on the process and the scoreboard takes care of itself' because we're evaluated by wins and losses. But I just know, being a part of two winning organizations before coming here, that in order for us to win we have to focus on that. That'll translate into wins soon enough."


      --Keep Sammy Watkins healthy. The wide receiver is embarking on a huge season. The Bills declined his fifth-year option, so essentially, he's in his walk year. Injuries have sabotaged his career, and he's coming off a second foot surgery which forced him to miss most of the offseason program. In training camp, Watkins must stay healthy and prove he is ready to become the star the Bills thought he would be when they picked him No. 4 overall in 2014.

      --Get the defense on track. The switch from Rex Ryan's 3-4 to Sean McDermott's 4-3 seems like a step in the right direction because the Bills' personnel is better-suited to the 4-3. It puts everyone on the line back into more normal positions, and Reggie Ragland - back after missing his entire rookie season - should fit better as the middle linebacker. Still, it's a new scheme, and the Bills have to prove they're on the same page and that they can excel in the new defense.

      --Get Tyrod Taylor to take his game up a notch. Taylor has been reunited with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison whom he worked with in 2014 in Baltimore. Taylor has given the Bills two decent seasons, which have included more than 1,000 yards rushing and only 12 interceptions. However, he remains limited in the downfield passing game, and if he's going to be the Bills' long-term answer at quarterback, he must have a great camp and a great regular season.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Tyrod Taylor. Backups -- T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman, Cardale Jones.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- LeSean McCoy, FB Patrick DiMarco. Backups -- Jonathan Williams, FB Mike Tolbert, Cedric O'Neal, Jordan Johnson, Joe Banyard.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Charles Clay. Backups -- Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas, Keith Towbridge, Wes Saxton, Jason Croom.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones. Backups -- Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Jeremy Butler, Walter Powell, Brandon Tate, Dezmin Lewis, Rod Streater, Brandon Reilly, Rashad Ross, Daikiel Shorts.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills. Backups - T Seantrel Henderson, G/C Ryan Groy, G/T Dion Dawkins, C Patrick Lewis, G Vladimir Ducasse, T Michael Ola, G Jordan Mudge, G Greg Pyke, G Zach Voytek, T Cameron Jefferson.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Shaq Lawson. Backups - DT Adolphus Washington, DT Jerel Worthy, DE Ryan Davis, DE Jake Metz, DE Max Valles, DE Marquavius Lewis, DE Ian Seau, DT Deandre Coleman, DT Nigel Williams, DE Eddie Yarbrough.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - MLB Reggie Ragland, OLB Gerald Hodges, OLB Lorenzo Alexander. Backups - MLB Preston Brown, OLB Ramon Humber, MLB Carl Bradford, Anthony Harrell, Jacob Lindsey, Abner Logan, OLB Matt Milano, MLB Tanner Vallejo.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Ronald Darby, CB Tre'Davious White, SS Micah Hyde, FS Jordan Poyer. Backups - CB Kevon Seymour, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Shareece Wright, CB Charles James, CB Greg Mabin, CB Marcus Sayles, CB Bradley Sylve, S Colt Anderson, S Shamiel Gray, S Trae Elston, S Joe Powell, S B.T. Sanders.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Steven Hauschka, P Colton Schmidt, LS Reid Ferguson, P Austin Rehkow, KOR/PR Brandon Tate.

  • Rebuilt Ravens hope to go back to the future
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Head coach John Harbaugh is confident his Baltimore Ravens enter training camp with enough talent and depth to end a two-year playoff drought.

    • Baltimore returned to its defensive roots in the offseason by selecting a cornerback, two linebackers and a 300-pound defensive tackle with its first four picks in the 2017 draft. The team strengthened its beleaguered secondary by adding free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr.

      After struggling with injuries the past two seasons, the added personnel should provide some needed relief. That was a key area of focus for General Manager Ozzie Newsome.

      "As Ozzie says all the time, you need to build as much depth into your roster as you can, because injuries are going to happen," Harbaugh said.

      The key for Harbaugh is to keep his playmakers healthy heading into the regular season opener Sept. 10 against division rival Cincinnati. In 2015, receiver Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick, suffered a knee injury in the first full practice and missed the season, hampering the passing attack.

      Last year, tight end Benjamin Watson suffered a torn Achilles in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Watson showed his commitment to Baltimore in the offseason, reportedly agreeing to reduce his salary from $3 million to $1.25 million.

      "The toughest thing is going to be that transition," Watson said about preparing for training camp. "Once you get out there in training camp, having not played in a year, your body has to get used to football movements."

      While the Ravens have added depth at several skill positions, there are still questions with the offensive line. The team traded starting center Jeremy Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason. Starting right tackle Rick Wagner signed with the Lions as a free agent.

      Harbaugh is prepared to move forward with John Urschel and Ryan Jensen filling those roles. Guard Marshal also has the versatility to play anywhere on the line.

      "They are both going to have to play center and guard," Harbaugh said. "Most of those guys inside do play all three positions. Marshal plays center. I do not know if you knew that, but he is kind of an emergency center. Marshal plays everything; he could probably play quarterback. Those guys will both get work, and they are competing."

      Newsome, however, could add another player that gets released during camp. Center Nick Mangold, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is still available and could provide another veteran presence on the line for quarterback Joe Flacco.

      Harbaugh is confident the team will improve on last year's 8-8 record. After winning a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, Harbaugh is ready to recapture some of that success.

      "I don't want to overstate the expectations, but I'm not afraid to do that, really," Harbaugh said. "I expect these guys to be great. I know the guys believe that, and they expect the same thing. We expect to put a great team on the field, and all three phases work together and complement one another. And you do, you want to be as strong in every phase that you possibly can."


      --Boost the running game. The Ravens were ranked 28th in the NFL with 1,484 carries. However, the running backs were effective with the limited opportunities they were given as Baltimore was ranked 30th with 367 rushing attempts. That will likely change this season with the hiring of Greg Roman as the offensive assistant/tight ends coach. In four of his five full seasons (2011-15) as an offensive coordinator with Buffalo and San Francisco, Roman's rushing attack ranked in the NFL's Top 5. Terrance West. who finished with 774 yards and five touchdowns on 193 carries, was already named the starter. Veteran Danny Woodhead was signed in the offseason to provide another boost.

      --Develop a pass rush. Baltimore was tied with the L.A. Rams and Houston for 24th in the NFL with 31 sacks. As a result, the Ravens prioritized their pass rush in the offseason. Baltimore selected Tyus Bowser of Houston in the second round of this year's NFL Draft and then took Tim Williams from Alabama one round later. Both are high-energy players that showed a tenacity to get to the quarterback in college. They hope one of those players can be the heir apparent to linebacker Terrell Suggs, the franchise's all-time sacks leader who turns 35 in October.

      --Fix the secondary. Coach John Harbaugh said the team needs to create more turnovers in the secondary. Therefore, the Ravens drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft from Alabama. The team also added veteran cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson via free agency. However, this unit suffered a blow in the offseason when second-year player Tavon Young went down with a season-ending knee injury in the OTAs. After that injury, the Ravens added Brandon Boykin, Otha Foster and Al-Hajj Shabazz for depth. Veteran Jimmy Smith needs to show he can stay healthy.


      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Joe Flacco. Backups - Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Terrance West, FB Lorenzo Taliaferro. Backups - Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon, Buck Allen, Taquan Mizzell, FB Ricky Ortiz.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Benjamin Watson. Backups - Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Ryan Malleck.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin. Backups - Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Matthews, Chris Moore, Vince Mayle, Keenan Reynolds, Quincy Adeboyejo, Aaron Bailey, Kenny Bell, C.J. Board, Tim Patrick, Tim White.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Alex Lewis, C John Urschel, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Ryan Jensen. Backups - T James Hurst, G Nico Siragusa, G Jarell Broxton, Jermaine Eluemunor, T Roubbens Joseph, T Stephane Nembot, G Jarrod Pughsley, G Maurquice Shakir, C Matt Skura, G/T De'Ondre Wesley.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DT Bronson Kaufusi, NT Brandon William, DE Matt Judon. Backups - DT Chris Wormley, DT Michael Pierce, Michael, DT Patrick Ricard, NT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Terrell Suggs, MLB CJ Mosley, MLB Kamalei Correa, OLB Tyus Bowser. Backups - OLB Matt Judon, OLB Za'Darius Smith, OLB Tim Williams, ILB Anthony Levine, ILB Lamar Louis, ILB Bam Bradley, ILB Patrick Onwuasor, ILB Brennen Beyer, ILB Donald Payne, OLB Albert McClellan, OLB Boseko Lokombo, OLB Randy Allen.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Brandon Carr, RCB Jimmy Smith, SS Eric Weddle, FS Tony Jefferson. Backups - CB Marlon Humphrey, CB Maurice Canady, CB Brandon Boykin, CB Robertson Daniel, CB Al-Hajj Shabazz, CB Jaylen Hill, CB Sheldon Price, CB Tavon Young, DB Lardarius Webb, S Chuck Clark, S Daniel Henry, S Otha Foster.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox, KOR Chris Moore, Keenan Reynolds, PR Michael Campanaro.

  • NFL notebook: Police suspend investigation involving Elliott
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    The Dallas Police Department has suspended its investigation of an alleged assault involving Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, citing a lack of witnesses and an inability to contact the victim.

    • "(The Dallas Police Department has) made several attempts to contact the victim through various ways but at this time have not been able to make contact," the police said in a statement.

      The alleged incident occurred at Clutch Bar in Dallas late Sunday night and left a 30-year-old man hospitalized with a nose injury, according to a police report. No arrests were made, and police did not name any suspects.

      An NFL official said earlier this week that the league is aware of the situation involving Elliott and "looking into it to understand the facts."

      Dallas coach Jason Garrett said earlier on Wednesday that he planned to speak with Elliott about the incident on Friday.

      --Marty Hurney, who served as general manager of the Panthers from 2002-12, returned to the organization as interim general manager two days after Dave Gettleman was fired by owner Jerry Richardson.

      "Marty is the perfect person to help us in the interim," Richardson said. "He worked with us for 15 years and understands the culture we have here. He had a lot to do with the core of our team being in place. I'm thankful that he is willing to help us in this transition period."

      Fourteen players acquired during Hurney's tenure are still on the roster. He said Wednesday afternoon that mistakes made during his time with the team become lessons for this run as interim GM which is expected to cover at least the 2017 season.

      Hurney worked in the scouting department from 1998-2001 before becoming GM. Gettleman was hired in January 2013 to replace Hurney, who was fired after a 1-5 start to the 2012 season and a 6-10 record in 2011.

      --Los Angeles Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams reportedly may need back surgery that would end his rookie season.

      The team still is hoping Williams will respond positively to a recent second epidural on his herniated disk in a last-ditch effort to have the wide receiver ready at some time during training camp, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

      Williams, 22, was diagnosed with a herniated disk in the lower back after his first practice during rookie minicamp last month and did not practice again. It is unclear if the injury took place before minicamp.

      Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told reporters then that he hoped resting Williams' back would allow him to be ready for training camp.

      --Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bears.

      Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded multiple picks to swap spots with the San Francisco 49ers in April, sliding up to select Trubisky even after signing Mike Glennon to a three-year deal with $18.5 million guaranteed this season.

      Trubisky's contract is on par with 2016 No. 2 pick Carson Wentz, who landed a fully guaranteed four-year, $26.67 million deal. Wentz started Week 1 with the Philadelphia Eagles, who after training camp scrapped a plan to keep the former North Dakota State star off the field as a rookie. The Eagles then traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings, advancing Wentz's timeline.

      Pace said his plan at quarterback is to bring Trubisky along slowly.

      --Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was arrested in St. Petersburg, Fla., on charges of simple battery and mischief.

      Fowler, 22, was arrested in his hometown by St. Petersburg police for the misdemeanor charges at 9:02 p.m. on Tuesday and released at 1:43 a.m. Wednesday on $650 bond.

      Fowler struck a man and then stomped on his prescription glasses after a brief verbal confrontation, according to the police report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

      Fowler got out of his car to confront the man after he made a comment about Fowler's driving, according to the report. Police said Fowler then "took the victim's grocery bag, with recently purchased liquor, and threw it in a lake." Police said the victim was not injured.

      --The death of former Buffalo Bills wide receiver James Hardy has been ruled a suicide in Indiana.

      The Allen County Coroner's Office said in a statement that the cause of Hardy's death was asphyxia due to drowning and the manner of death was suicide.

      Hardy's body was found June 7 in the Maumee River in Fort Wayne. He was 31. Hardy's mother reported him missing May 30.

      Chief Investigator Michael Burris said the determination of suicide was based on Hardy's medical and psychiatric history, his contacts with law enforcement and other evidence, including some found on his body.

  • Police suspend investigation into Elliott's alleged assault
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    The Dallas Police Department has suspended its investigation of an alleged assault involving Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, citing a lack of witnesses and an inability to contact the victim.

    • "(The Dallas Police Department has) made several attempts to contact the victim through various ways but at this time have not been able to make contact," the police said in a statement.

      The alleged incident occurred at Clutch Bar in Dallas late Sunday night and left a 30-year-old man hospitalized with a nose injury, according to a police report. No arrests were made, and police did not name any suspects.

      An NFL official said earlier this week that the league is aware of the situation involving Elliott and "looking into it to understand the facts."

      Dallas coach Jason Garrett said earlier on Wednesday that he planned to speak with Elliott about the incident on Friday.

      Elliott was already under investigation by the NFL stemming from a 2016 domestic violence accusation that caused police in Columbus, Ohio, to question him. A former girlfriend alleged Elliott forcibly pulled her out of a car.

      The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year had been preparing a response to the league to be submitted in the next week, sources told ESPN.

      Multiple sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter that Elliott could face a one- or two-game suspension, but the NFL denied it made a decision on a course of disciplinary action.

      The NFL personal conduct policy affords the option of up to a six-game suspension for first-time offenders even if they are not convicted of a crime or face legal punishment. The length of the suspension can be reduced based on mitigating factors.

      In July 2016, Elliott was questioned by authorities and he was cleared of any legal wrongdoing after the Columbus city prosecutor's office determined there wasn't enough substance to pursue charges after a lengthy investigation. But the NFL began its own probe and declined a status update in January and again in February during Commissioner Roger Goodell's state of the league address in Houston.

      Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Ohio State, rushed for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie last season, leading the NFL in rushing yards.

  • Chargers WR Williams may need season-ending surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    Los Angeles Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams reportedly may need back surgery that would end his rookie season.

    • The team still is hoping Williams will respond positively to a recent second epidural on his herniated disk in a last-ditch effort to have the wide receiver ready at some time during training camp, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Wednesday.

      Williams, 22, was diagnosed with a herniated disk in the lower back after his first practice during rookie minicamp last month and did not practice again. It is unclear if the injury took place before minicamp.

      Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told reporters then that he hoped resting Williams' back would allow him to be ready for training camp.

      "This may be a lot more serious than people thought," a source told ESPN.

      The Chargers are counting on the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Williams to be an immediate contributor. The No. 7 overall selection in this year's draft caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as a key member of Clemson's national championship team.

  • Former Bills WR Hardy's death ruled a suicide
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    The death of former Buffalo Bills wide receiver James Hardy has been ruled a suicide in Indiana.

    • The Allen County Coroner's Office said in a statement Wednesday that the cause of Hardy's death was asphyxia due to drowning and the manner of death was suicide.

      Hardy's body was found June 7 in the Maumee River in Fort Wayne. He was 31. Hardy's mother reported him missing May 30.

      Chief Investigator Michael Burris said the determination of suicide was based on Hardy's medical and psychiatric history, his contacts with law enforcement and other evidence, including some found on his body.

      Hardy, who is from Fort Wayne, was a star college wideout at Indiana and caught 191 passes for 2,740 yards and 36 touchdowns from 2005-07. He led the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns in each of his final two seasons, including 16 in 2007.

      Hardy played two seasons for the Bills after he was a second-round pick in 2008. He appeared in 16 games (three starts) in his NFL career, all with the Bills, catching 10 passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. He also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens, but he never played for them in a regular-season game.

      In 2014, Hardy was arrested after attacking three police officers in Los Angeles. A judge ruled he wasn't mentally competent to stand trial, and he reportedly spent time in a mental health facility.

  • Bears sign No. 2 pick QB Trubisky
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bears on Wednesday.

    • Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded multiple picks to swap spots with the San Francisco 49ers in April, sliding up to select Trubisky even after signing Mike Glennon to a three-year deal with $18.5 million guaranteed this season.

      Trubisky's contract is on par with 2016 No. 2 pick Carson Wentz, who landed a fully guaranteed four-year, $26.67 million deal. Wentz started Week 1 with the Philadelphia Eagles, who after training camp scrapped a plan to keep the former North Dakota State star off the field as a rookie. The Eagles then traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings, advancing Wentz's timeline.

      Pace said his plan at quarterback is to bring Trubisky along slowly.

      Glennon, a backup in Tampa Bay whose last chance to start with the Buccaneers evaporated when the franchise selected Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in 2015, has been upbeat and embracing the opportunity to lead an offense.

      The Bears tweeted a photo of Trubisky signing his contract as rookies prepare to report for training camp.

      After two seasons as a reserve, Trubisky started 13 games in 2016 at North Carolina and left the program with 41 touchdowns.

      All first-round picks have fifth-year contract options included in their initial NFL contract.

  • Jaguars DE Fowler Jr. arrested on charges of battery, mischief
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was arrested in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday night on charges of simple battery and mischief.

    • Fowler, 22, was arrested in his hometown by St. Petersburg police for the misdemeanor charges at 9:02 p.m. and released at 1:43 a.m. Wednesday on $650 bond.

      Fowler struck a man and then stomped on his prescription glasses after a brief verbal confrontation, according to the police report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

      Fowler got out of his car to confront the man after he made a comment about Fowler's driving, according to the report. Police said Fowler then "took the victim's grocery bag, with recently purchased liquor, and threw it in a lake." Police said the victim was not injured.

      The Jaguars issued a statement Wednesday morning: "The Jaguars are aware of the situation involving defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and are currently gathering more information. The team has been in communication with Dante. No further comment will be made at this time."

      The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Fowler, who was the third overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Florida, missed his rookie season after he tore the ACL in his left knee during the first minicamp workout. He recorded 32 tackles and four sacks in 16 games for the Jaguars last season.

  • Panthers name Hurney interim GM
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    Marty Hurney was called to his old office by the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday.

    • Hurney, who served as general manager of the Panthers from 2002-12, returned to the organization as interim general manager two days after Dave Gettleman was fired by owner Jerry Richardson.

      "Marty is the perfect person to help us in the interim," Richardson said. "He worked with us for 15 years and understands the culture we have here. He had a lot to do with the core of our team being in place. I'm thankful that he is willing to help us in this transition period."

      Hurney worked in the scouting department from 1998-2001 before becoming GM. Gettleman was hired in January 2013 to replace Hurney, who was fired after a 1-5 start to the 2012 season and a 6-10 record in 2011.

      "I never lost the connection with the organization," Hurney said in a statement. "I've gained a lot of perspective and have looked at things in different ways. I think I can help this team in a lot of areas. I think I've grown. And I feel I'm better prepared to come in this time and do a better job than I did over the 12 years I was general manager last time."

      Head coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday he was the wrong person to ask about Gettleman's dismissal, denying any input on the matter.

      Gettleman was surprisingly fired Monday just days ahead of training camp and Richardson met with Hurney on Tuesday.

      Most of Gettleman's scouting department was out of the building before returning at the start of the preseason and training camp. The structure of the staff under Hurney is not yet known.

      Hurney drafted Cam Newton (2011) and Luke Kuechly (2012) in the first round of his final two drafts with the team. Both earned rookie of the year honors.

      Gettleman was heavily criticized in the region for releasing popular Panthers, including wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams.

      Carolina went 15-1 in 2015 and lost in Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos.

      Last season the Panthers were 6-10.