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  • O.J. Simpson still welcome at Pro Football Hall of Fame
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, July 22, 2017

    Convicted felon O.J. Simpson, who was granted parole by the Nevada Board of Prisons this week and eligible for release Oct. 1, will remain on the invitation list to attend the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies.

    • Asked whether Simpson will be welcome after he is released from prison, Hall of Fame officials told ESPN's Jeff Legwold: "All Hall of Famers are invited to attend the annual enshrinement."

      Simpson, 70, was unanimously granted parole on Thursday in Lovelock, Nev., after serving almost nine years of a 33-year sentence for his 2008 conviction on armed robbery charges.

      Simpson is a Hall of Fame running back who was enshrined in 1985. He would be eligible to attend the annual enshrinement weekend once any parole restrictions related to travel are lifted.

      The Hall of Fame's bylaws stipulate that only a player's on-field achievements in football are considered as the criteria for enshrinement, thus Simpson's bust remains on display in Canton, Ohio. Simpson has not attended a Hall of Fame ceremony since his own enshrinement in 1985.

      Simpson rushed for 11,236 yards in an 11-year NFL career and was the first running back in league history to top 2,000 rushing yards in a season with 2,003 yards in 1973 for the Buffalo Bills. He is the only player to rush for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season.

      Simpson was convicted in 2008 of an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room. He served the minimum sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center, about 90 miles northeast of Reno, Nev.

      In 1995, Simpson was acquitted in the killings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

      Connie Bisbee, chairman of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, referenced the 1995 trial during Thursday's hearing, saying the board had received hundreds of letter of support and opposition regarding Simpson's release. She specifically noted that case was not relevant to Thursday's hearing and would not be considered when determining whether Simpson would be paroled because he had been acquitted.

      Simpson was a highly popular figure prior to the brutal knife-slashing killings in 1994 but he was infamous after the verdicts despite being found not guilty.

      Simpson was a college football star at USC and was perhaps the top running back in the NFL in the 1970s while starring for the Bills.

  • Cardinals hope LB Bucannon (ankle) can play in opener
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    The Arizona Cardinals placed linebacker Deone Bucannon on the physically unable to perform list, the team announced Friday.

    • Bucannon underwent surgery on his right ankle in May on the heels of missing the final three games of the regular season.

      Coach Bruce Arians is hopeful that Bucannon can return for the season opener.

      "Deone is close," Arians said. "He's getting there. I think he's a little bit ahead of schedule. We have our fingers crossed. The first game is his due date, so to speak. Hopefully, we'll have him ready to play."

      Bucannon had 89 tackles in 13 games last season. He has posted more than 80 tackles in each of his three NFL seasons and has five sacks, four recoveries and one interception.

      Haason Reddick, who is the team's first-round pick, has taken first-team reps in Bucannon's absence.

      Linebacker Jarvis Jones was placed on the active/non-football injury list with a tweaked quadriceps during the conditioning run on Friday. Jones could miss a few days of work, Arians said.

  • NFL notebook: Pacman Jones suspended 1 game
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones has been suspended one game for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, the league announced Friday.

    • Jones, 33, was arrested Jan. 3 on a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance and misdemeanor charges of assault, disorderly conduct and obstructing official business as a result of an altercation with a security guard at a Cincinnati hotel.

      The Cincinnati prosecutor dropped the felony charge and in May and Jones entered a plea of guilty to obstruction of official business stemming from the incident. The state court imposed a sentence of time served (two days' confinement) and court fees.

      The NFL explained in a letter to Jones that it considered the "extensive video documentation of the tone, tenor and nature of your interactions with law enforcement at the site of your arrest, during transportation to the jail, and during the booking process. As you acknowledged, your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL. While it is our understanding that appropriate apologies have been publicly extended, they do not completely negate your behavior and admission of culpability for the underlying conduct."

      --The Carolina Panthers signed Pro Bowl offensive guard Trai Turner to a four-year contract extension, the team announced.

      The 24-year-old Turner is now under contract with Carolina through the 2021 season. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract.

      The extension is worth $45 million with $20.5 million guaranteed, according to the Charlotte Observer. The deal includes a $15 million signing bonus.

      The $11.25 million per-year average makes Turner the NFL's third highest-paid guard behind Cleveland's Kevin Zeitler ($12 million) and Oakland's Kelechi Osemele ($11.7 million).

      --The Kansas City Chiefs signed their first-round draft pick, quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, to a four-year rookie contract.

      All of Kansas City's six draft picks are now under contract ahead of the Chiefs' training camp starting next week.

      Mahomes' deal is worth $16.4 million with a $10 million signing bonus and a fifth-year option, according to the Kansas City Star.

      The Chiefs traded up from the 27th pick in April's NFL Draft to take Mahomes out of Texas Tech with the 10th overall selection.

      --First-round pick Jamal Adams signed a four-year rookie deal with the New York Jets.

      The LSU safety, projected as a top-5 pick by NFLDraftScout.com, Adams was the No. 6 pick in April. His agreement is worth $22.3 million and includes a fifth-year team option.

      When business opened Friday, the third overall pick -- Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas of the 49ers -- and fifth selection (Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis of the Titans) remained unsigned.

      Adams, known for his hard-hitting skills in coverage, should provide an immediate upgrade on Calvin Pryor, the incumbent strong safety who underperformed and was traded to the Cleveland Browns.

      --Detroit Lions legendary running back Barry Sanders has returned to the team nearly two decades after his sudden departure.

      The Hall of Famer, now 49, will be a "brand ambassador," team president Rod Wood told The Detroit News.

      "We've thankfully, the last couple years, had an unofficial relationship with him," Wood told the newspaper. "This year, we formalized it. You described it well, it's kind of a brand ambassador. He'll be going on road trips, showing up for suite visits, he'll be at the Taste of the Lions event, and just interacting with our fans on behalf of the team.

      "It's a formal agreement. I worked with Barry and his agent to put something together that works for both of us. It's not a football role. It's more of a marketing, business role."

      --Might Calvin Johnson be seriously considering the invitation to training camp extended by the Lions?

      Wood sounds confident that Johnson might join the Lions after the team sent a formal invitation. Johnson retired before the 2016 season and said recently that he walked away because the franchise was not close to reaching the Super Bowl.

      "As I said on WJR (Radio), we had a very nice, cordial exchange," Wood said of his discussion with the receiver known as Megatron. "I'm hoping he comes. I'm not going to say anymore beyond that. I do have confidence it'll work out ultimately."

      The optimistic outlook comes on the same day the Lions announced an ambassador role for Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.

  • NFL Camp openers: Troubled Cowboys must now focus on the field
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    OXNARD, Calif. -- After a disruptive offseason, the Dallas Cowboys' full roster is due to check into the Marriott Residence Inn here for training camp Saturday (July 22) and they can narrow their focus to addressing key issues on the field.

    • To do so they must put aside thoughts regarding:

      --Running back Ezekiel Elliott's alleged assault, investigation of which was suspended Wednesday.

      --Linebacker Damien Wilson's Fourth of July arrest with two charges of aggravated assault, which hardly helped him after a paint-ball incident sidelined him for the first two weeks of last year.

      --Defensive end David Irving's suspension for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He won't be eligible to return to the Cowboys' roster until Oct. 2.

      --Defensive back Jourdan Lewis' court case in Michigan next week regarding an alleged misdemeanor domestic violence incident in March. Lewis was a third-round draft pick this year out of Michigan and was the Big 10 Defensive Back of the Year.

      On the bright side, team owner Jerry Jones will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the first week of August.

      Meanwhile, back on the field, among the most important battles during camp will be that at left guard between Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper.

      Green was supposed to be the heir at right tackle, but was not able to stay healthy the last two seasons. They moved La'el Collins from guard to right tackle and kicked Green inside where he will compete with the former Arizona Cardinals first-round pick.

      Cooper joined the Cowboys during last season's playoff run, but did not appear in the divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers.

      He was the seventh overall pick in 2013 by the Cardinals, but he was dealt to the New England Patriots for Chandler Jones last season. He was eventually released by New England and claimed by the Cleveland Browns, for whom he played in five games with three starts.

      The Browns released Cooper on Christmas Eve and he joined the Cowboys on Jan. 4 with the hopes of turning a free look into a longer-term relationship.

      Now with his fourth team in two years, he will be a key focus of attention during this training camp.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: Oxnard, Calif.

      HEAD COACH: Jason Garrett

      7th full season as Cowboys/NFL head coach

      59-48 overall; 1-2 postseason

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: 1st NFC East (13-3)

      2016 STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 376.7 (5th)

      RUSHING: 149.8 (2nd)

      PASSING: 226.9 (23rd)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 343.9 (14th)

      RUSHING: 83.5 (1st)

      PASSING: 260.4 (26th)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Central

      Aug. 3, Arizona, at Canton (Thu), 7:00

      Aug. 12, at L.A. Rams (Sat), 8:00

      Aug. 19, INDIANAPOLIS (Sat), 6:00

      Aug. 26, OAKLAND (Sat), 7:00

      Aug. 31, at Houston (Thu), 7:00

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Dak Prescott. Backups - Kellen Moore, Cooper Rush, Zac Dysert.

      Prescott was a rookie third-string quarterback a year ago at this time. He was a fourth-round developmental quarterback for the future. But that was before he took advantage of injuries and had the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history. It was enough to win rookie of year honors ahead of running back teammate Ezekiel Elliott and send the team's all-time leading passer Tony Romo into retirement and the broadcast booth. The Cowboys don't believe there will be a sophomore slump because Prescott didn't trick his way to success with athleticism. He ran the offense. He threw to open receivers. He also has an uncanny worth ethic, attention to detail, leadership and professionalism. He will only get better. Moore was slated to be the backup last year before an injury early in training camp. The Cowboys have confidence he can handle the job behind Prescott. Rush is likely a practice-squad option.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Ezekiel Elliott, FB Keith Smith. Backups - Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Jahad Thomas.

      Ellliott led the league in rushing as a rookie with 1,631 yards. There is no reason why he can't do more and be better in 2017 as the Cowboys plan to give him more touches in the passing game. The only concern with Elliott is his off-field troubles and whether he might be suspended a few games. But if he plays 16 games, look for him to challenge Eric Dickerson's NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards. McFadden still has something left in the tank is the perfect backup to Elliott. Morris will only stick if Elliott gets suspended. He is not suited to be the third running back. The hope is for Rod Smith to continue to develop as the third running back because he can play on special teams. Keith Smith made a smooth transition from linebacker to fullback last year. He should be even better and more comfortable in 2017.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Jason Witten. Backups - Geoff Swaim, James Hanna, Rico Gathers, Conner Hamlet.

      Witten remains the fixture at tight end -- even in his 15th season at the ripe old age of 35. He's not the same Pro-Bowl regular as he was in the past, but remains effective and a trusted weapon on third down. He showed no signs of slowing down with 69 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. He remains a team leader and has a knack for getting open in the middle of the field. The Cowboys are still searching for answers behind Witten with Swaim and Hanna coming off injuries and Gathers still adjusting to football in his second year after playing basketball in college. Swaim is the best combination blocker and receiver of the backups. Hanna plays more of a H-back than in-line tight end. Gathers has the size and hands, but still doesn't understand the nuance of the game.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams. Backups - Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown, Andy Jones, Lance Lenoir, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Brian Brown.

      Beasley led the Cowboys in catches and yards last year with 75 for 833. Look for him to continue to have a big role in the offense. He has a knack for getting open in the slot and proved to be quarterback friendly for rookie Dak Prescott in the middle of the field. Bryant caught just 50 passes for 796 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. He missed three games with a hairline fracture on his knee that affected his numbers. Look for him to get back to his old production in 2017 because he is healthy and coming off his first full offseason for the first time in two years. Williams will continue to reprise his role as the starter opposite Bryant, but is the third option behind Bryant and Beasley. He is still the team's best deep threat and has good chemistry with Prescott. Prescott had a 124.6 passer rating when targeting Williams last year, per Pro Football Focus. Butler was inconsistent last year and will have to step up to make the roster with Jones and Brown vying for his spot. Whitehead has already been surpassed on paper by Switzer as the primary backup to Beasley in the slot and the primary returner. Switzer is a natural in the slot.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Tyrone Smith, LG Jonathan Cooper, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, RT Lael Collins. Backups - G Joe Looney, T Emmett Cleary, G/T Chaz Green, G/T Byron Bell, G/T Dan Skipper, G Ruben Carter, G Nate Theaker, T Clay Dubord.

      The only real question on the offensive line is at guard where Cooper, a former first-round bust in Arizona, will try to secure the spot made vacant by the departure of Ron Leary in free agency and the moving of Collins to tackle. Cooper will be challenged by Green, who made the switch from tackle and Bell, a former starter in Carolina and Tennessee. The good news is that Collins looks like he will have a smooth transition from guard to tackle where he will replace the retired Doug Free. Collins played tackle at LSU and was considered a first-round talent coming out of college only to drop in the draft because of an off-field issue. No team will have four starters with the pedigree of the Cowboys when you add in former first-round picks and perennial Pro Bowlers in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Tyrone Crawford, DLT Maliek Collins, NT Cedric Thornton, DRE DeMarcus Lawrence. Backups - DE Benson Mayowa, DE David Irving, DT Richard Ash, DE Taco Charlton, DE Charles Tapper, DE Lenny Jones, DE Damontre Moore, DT Stephen Paea, DT Jordan Carrell, DT Joe Ivy, DE Zach Wood, DT Woody Baron, DE Lewis Neal.

      The Cowboys have numbers on the line. They just don't have any special players, at least not this year. They drafted Charlton in the first round to hopefully solve that problem. The team had just 36 sacks last year. They need to find a way to get to the quarterback. Charlton will be part of the rotation as will Tapper, Irving, Lawrence, Crawford and Mayowa on the outside. Irving has the most promise after a strong close in 2016, but he will miss the first four games with an NFL suspension for a banned supplement. Lawrence is most concerning following back surgery for the second straight offseason. Collins may be the most talented of the interior guys and they are hoping he continues to build momentum after a strong rookie season. He showed a lot of promise as a pass rusher with five sacks. Thornton and Paea should hold down the nose tackle position with a push from the rookies Ivy and Carrell.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Sean Lee, MLB Anthony Hitchens, SLB Damien Wilson. Backups - SLB Kyle Wilber, MLB Mark Nzeocha, MLB Jaylon Smith, Justin Durant, WLB John Lotulelei, WLB Joseph Jones, WLB Lucas Wacha, SLB Darnell Leslie, SLB Keenan Gilchrist.

      The Cowboys are putting all their hopes on Smith coming up big in 2017. He missed all of last season with a college knee injury and has dealt with nerve damage. He is still wearing a brace for drop foot, but the Cowboys believe he is ready to have a big impact. He is cleared to play and will open training camp with no limitations. Smith is needed because Lee remains the only proven difference-maker in the front seven. And he is coming off the best season of his career, recording 174 tackles and 12 tackles for loss while making All-Pro for the first time. The Cowboys know what they are getting in Lee. He just needs some help. They are hoping against hope he will get some impactful help from Smith. The versatile Hitchens will play in the middle if Smith is not ready. He will also compete with Wilson at strong-side linebacker. Of course, Wilson's availability is in question after a July 4 arrest for aggravated felony assault. Durant was signed Thursday as the Cowboys prepared to report.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Nolan Carroll, RCB Orlando Scandrick, SS Jeff Heath, FS Byron Jones. Backups - CB Anthony Brown, S Robert Blanton, CB Chido Awuzie, CB Jordan Lewis, S Xavier Woods, S Jamiell Showers, S Kavon Frazier, CB Marquez White, CB Leon McFadden, CB Duke Thomas, CB Sammy Seamster.

      The Cowboys purposefully overhauled their secondary in the offseason, letting safeties Barry Church and JJ Wilcox and cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne walk in free agency. They signed Carroll as a free agent and added Awuzie and Lewis at the top the draft. Scandrick remains the team's best cornerback, but they have added new blood and more physicality to the unit. Awuzie could make an impact at cornerback or compete with Heath for the starting spot at safety opposite Jones. Lewis will also vie for playing time as a rookie. Heath has shown a knack for making plays on special teams and creating turnovers during his brief time on defense. The Cowboys are giving him a chance to earn the starting spot.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Ladouceur, KOR Lucky Whitehead, PR Ryan Switzer.

      What more needs to be said about the team's specialists? Bailey, Jones and Ladouceur remain among the best at what they do in the league. Bailey made 25 of 30 field goals playing through a back injury last year. He is healthy and should be back to his perfect self in 2017. Jones continues to be solid, averaging 45.7 yard per punt last year. The Cowboys need to be better on returns and that's why they drafted Switzer. He will replace Whitehead on punt returns and could add kickoff returns to his duties.

  • NFL camp openers: Cards must address O-Line, not age
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Cardinals' entire roster reports for training camp here Friday (July 21), attention must turn away from age-related questions about 64-year-old head coach Bruce Arians and soon-to-be 38-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer.

    • And, as long as he is productive and healthy, the team must celebrate its luck for having wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald when he turns 34 next month.

      Arizona's attention now must focus on the field, not the calendar.

      One might would assume the key there could be competition for the No. 2 cornerback job, which figures to be a battle between Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams -- unless a veteran free agent is brought in to upset the apple cart.

      But that position figures to get sorted out rather quickly, however, with a healthy Bethel having the inside track on the gig.

      That leaves starting right guard on the offensive line as the real key battle heading into camp, and as often as Arians has indicated that it will be second-year pro Evan Boehm's job to lose entering the preseason, it's important to remember that Boehm was drafted as the team's center of the future.

      This year, the Cardinals drafted a potential a third-round steal, Pittsburgh's Dorian Johnson, who will get every opportunity to prove he can win the right-guard position. Either way, Johnson projects as the long-term answer at right guard, which should make it more than an interesting camp battle.

      Also on the offensive side, the Cardinals re-signed running back Chris Johnson Thursday, one day before the full squad reports.

      THE FACTS:

      TRAINING CAMP: University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, AZ

      HEAD COACH: Bruce Arians

      5th season as Cardinals/NFL head coach

      42-24-1 overall; 1-2 postseason

      THE BREAKDOWN

      2016 finish: 2nd NFC West (7-8-1)

      STATISTICS

      TOTAL OFFENSE: 366.8 (9th)

      RUSHING: 108.3 (18th)

      PASSING: 258.5 (9th)

      TOTAL DEFENSE: 305.2 (2nd)

      RUSHING: 94.9 (9th)

      PASSING: 210.3 (4th)

      2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

      All times Pacific/Mountain

      Aug. 3, Dallas, at Canton (Thu), 5:00

      Aug. 12, OAKLAND (Sat), 7:00

      Aug. 19, CHICAGO (Sat), 7:00

      Aug. 26, at Atlanta (Sat), 4:00

      Aug. 31, at Denver (Thu), 6:00

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Carson Palmer. Backups -- Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Trevor Knight.

      Most of the pundits seem more than ready to write off Palmer two years removed from an MVP-type season. He welcomes the critics and has said his love for the game won't let anything or anyone detract him from finishing what he started in Arizona. If his teammates can protect him and give him time in an offense that is evolving, the Cardinals can be a playoff team. If he takes as many hits as he did a year ago -- more than 100 -- this team could be toast. Stanton is a decent quarterback and Gabbert's addition is intriguing, especially now that he's working with a quarterback guru in Arians. But for the Cardinals to go anywhere this season, they need an aging Palmer to be at his absolute best as well as upright.

      RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- David Johnson. Backups -- Andre Ellington, Kerwynn Williams, Chris Johnson, Elijhaa Penny, T.J. Logan, James Summers.

      The sky appears to be the limit for David Johnson, who desperately wants to reach 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in 2017. He almost achieved both a year ago during his breakout season when he led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage and touchdowns scored. Arians wants Johnson to get around 30 touches a game, which could either be a real game-changer for the Cardinals or a major detriment if the third-year pro can't handle the load or gets hurt trying to carry it. Behind him, the depth might have been enhanced with the re-signing of Chris Johnson. Aside from that, it is middle of the road, although in Penny the team has a David Johnson-like threat, albeit an inexperienced one. Logan, a rookie, is a speed burner who should show flashes from week to week.

      TIGHT ENDS: Starter. -- Jermaine Gresham. Backups -- Troy Niklas, Ifeanyi Momah, Hakeem Valles, Ricky Seals-Jones, Steven Wroblewski.

      Gresham is the only real sure thing at this position and his value was rewarded with a nice multi-year contract extension in the offseason. He may have to have a career season to help make this group shine because there isn't a lot behind him to make very many opponents nervous. Niklas is a perfect specimen, but he can't stay healthy. Former basketball standout Ifeanyi Momah looked like he was on the rise until injuries caught up to him, too. Valles has seen most of his action on special teams. If general manager Steve Keim is going to make a few of his regular free-agent veteran camp additions, this is a position he might want to address.

      WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, J.J. Nelson. Backups -- Aaron Dobson, Jaron Brown, Chad Williams, Brittan Golden, Jeremy Ross, Kris Hogan, Larry Clark, Marquis Bundy, Carlton Agudosi.

      Fitzgerald, at 33, led the league in receptions a year ago with 107 and judging from how he looked in offseason workouts and minicamps, there's no reason to think he's all of a sudden going to fall of the face of the earth. No one works harder or is more prideful than Fitzgerald, which will once again serve him well entering his 14th season. There is elite speed to burn behind him in fellow regulars John Brown and J.J. Nelson, especially now that Brown appears to be over the illness that sapped much of his strength in 2016. The depth here is better than average with targets such as Jaron Brown, Golden and veteran addition Dobson. Plus, the team drafted a high-potential talent in Williams, whom many in the organization believe can replace Fitzgerald in a year or two.

      OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT D.J. Humphries, LG Mike Iupati, C A.Q. Shipley, RG Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer. Backups -- T Will Holden, G/C Cole Toner, C Tony Bergstrom, G Dorian Johnson, T John Wetzel, G Kaleb Johnson, T Ulrick John, T Givens Price, C/G Daniel Munyer, C Lucas Crowley, T Jonathan McLaughlin.

      There are no guarantees this unit overall will either sink the Cardinals or help allow them to get back into the playoffs. One thing is certain -- no position group will likely be more scrutinized on this team than this bunch, which will feature multiple moving pieces. It's been decided that the starting tackles will switch sides and there likely will be a heated competition to see who ultimately will start at right guard. Boehm gets the early nod, but will be challenged by top-rated rookie prospect Dorian Johnson from Pitt. Shipley held his own a year ago despite his smallish size and in Bergstrom, the Cardinals now have veteran depth in case Shipley's play should dip.

      DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Robert Nkemdiche, NT Corey Peters, RDT Frostee Rucker. Backups -- DE Ed Stinson, NT Xavier Williams, DT Josh Mauro, DT Rodney Gunter, NT Olsen Pierre, DE Tasini Pasoni.

      This was considered one of the team's biggest strengths a year ago, but with the loss of Calais Campbell to free agency, there naturally are going to be questions. Nkemdiche can silence those concerns if he plays up to his potential and hype, which never showed last season as a rookie for various reasons. Peters and Rucker are serviceable veterans, but aren't spring chickens and their durability might become an issue. Fortunately for the Cardinals, there is rising young depth behind them in players such as Gunter and Stinson and a real coaching favorite in do-everything workhorse Mauro, the most underrated guy on the entire defense.

      LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SOLB Chandler Jones, SILB Karlos Dansby, RILB Haasan Reddick, WOLB Markus Golden. Backups -- OLB Jarvis Jones, MLB Deone Bucannon, MLB Gabe Martin, OLB Kareem Martin, ILB/OLB Alani Fua, MLB Scooby Wright, MLB Tre'Von Johnson, OLB Capi Cap, MLB Zaviar Gooden, OLB Alex Bazzie.

      In Chandler Jones and Golden, the Cardinals have the makings of one of the best outside pass-rushing duos in the NFC if not the entire league. Golden (12.5) and Jones (11) combined for 23.5 sacks last year in their first season together and those numbers should climb in 2017. Dansby is back on his third tour of duty with the Cardinals and the hope is the 35 year old can still play at a high level this season. Bucannon, the team's starting money 'backer, will begin camp on the physically unable to perform list, meaning Reddick, the team's first-round pick out of Temple, will be thrust into first-team service whether he's ready or not. The coaches believe he's more than capable. The depth here is stable and will be heavily counted upon in special teams play in addition to backup duty.

      DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Patrick Peterson, RCB Justin Bethel, FS Tyrann Mathieu, SS Antoine Bethea. Backups -- CB Brandon Williams, CB Jumal Rolle, FS Budda Baker, SS Tyvon Branch, CB Rudy Ford, S/CB Harlan Miller, CB Elie Bouka, S Ironhead Gallon, CB Ronald Zamort, CB Sojourn Shelton, CB Daniel Gray, CB Gump Hayes, CB Ryan Lewis.

      If this group wants to be known as the most important component of the entire team once again -- as it was two years ago when the Cardinals went 13-3 on their way to the NFC Championship -- a lot has to happen. For starters, they need to make sure the No.2 cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson can be an effective, shutdown force and not be the weakest link. Bethel has the inside track on the job, but if he falters, it could end up going to Williams, the second-year pro. The team might also look outside for veteran help as it did last season. Mathieu, meanwhile, must stay healthy and return as the game-changing, ball-hawking disruptor he was in 2015. Branch is there in case he doesn't. The veteran Bethea was added to replace Tony Jefferson, a significant free-agent loss, and in Baker, a second-round pick this year, the Cardinals have a nice blend of experience and young athleticism on the back end. Rolle, Bouka, Miller and Ford provide decent depth and tons of speed.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: K Phil Dawson, P Richie Leone, P Matt Wile, LS Aaron Brewer, KOR T.J. Logan, PR Patrick Peterson.

      This unit underperformed so badly, the Cardinals decided to blow it up and start over. Gone is young kicker Chandler Catanzaro and in is the steady veteran Dawson. Gone are punters Drew Butler and Ryan Quigley and now there will be a battle for the job between Wile and Leone. Brewer is back at long snapper after the team had to make changes there, too, and look for a new kickoff returner as well in rookie Logan, who might be one of the fastest players in the league. The Cardinals are hoping someone emerges as a reliable punt returner, but until that happens, Peterson will remain the safety anchor. He hasn't broken a return since his rookie year when he returned four punts back for touchdowns. But his sure hands make him the logical No.1 punt returner for now.

  • Bengals CB Pacman Jones suspended one game
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones has been suspended one game for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, the league announced Friday.

    • Jones, 33, was arrested Jan. 3 on a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance and misdemeanor charges of assault, disorderly conduct and obstructing official business as a result of an altercation with a security guard at a Cincinnati hotel.

      The Cincinnati prosecutor dropped the felony charge and in May and Jones entered a plea of guilty to obstruction of official business stemming from the incident. The state court imposed a sentence of time served (two days' confinement) and court fees.

      The NFL explained in a letter to Jones that it considered the "extensive video documentation of the tone, tenor and nature of your interactions with law enforcement at the site of your arrest, during transportation to the jail, and during the booking process. As you acknowledged, your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL. While it is our understanding that appropriate apologies have been publicly extended, they do not completely negate your behavior and admission of culpability for the underlying conduct."

      Jones will be eligible to return to the team's active roster on Monday, Sept. 11, the day after the Bengals' season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. He is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and games.

      Jones may appeal this decision within three days.

      A 10-year veteran and one-time Pro Bowler, Jones totaled 66 tackles, one interception, seven passes defensed and one forced fumble in 16 games last season.

  • Panthers sign OG Turner to four-year extension
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    The Carolina Panthers signed Pro Bowl offensive guard Trai Turner to a four-year contract extension, the team announced Friday.

    • The 24-year-old Turner is now under contract with Carolina through the 2021 season. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract.

      The extension is worth $45 million with $20.5 million guaranteed, according to the Charlotte Observer. The deal includes a $15 million signing bonus.

      The $11.25 million per-year average makes Turner the NFL's third highest-paid guard behind Cleveland's Kevin Zeitler ($12 million) and Oakland's Kelechi Osemele ($11.7 million).

      "Any time you're able to secure someone like Trai, a two-time Pro Bowler and a staple of our offensive line, you're very fortunate," interim general manager Marty Hurney said in a statement. "The offensive line is a key to the team's success and Trai is a very integral part of that. We're extremely excited to have Trai under contract for the next five seasons."

      A third-round draft choice by the Panthers in 2014 out of LSU, the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Turner has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. Dating to his rookie season, he has started 38 consecutive games along the line for Carolina, including three games at right tackle in 2016 due to injuries.

      Turner's blocking efforts helped the Panthers rank in the top-10 in rushing yards per game in each of his three seasons, including No. 2 in 2015.

      During the 2015 season, Turner provided protection for quarterback Cam Newton to earn the NFL's MVP award and was part of an offensive unit that set team records with an NFL-leading 500 points and 59 touchdowns and gain a team-record 357 first downs en route to an appearance in Super Bowl 50.

      "Beyond excited today!! Thank you to Mr. Richardson and the Panther family, I'll be a Panther for 4 more years!!!" Turner wrote on Twitter after agreeing to the deal Thursday.

  • Megatron Returns? Lions prez thinks Johnson ready
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    Might Calvin Johnson be seriously considering the invitation to training camp extended by the Detroit Lions?

    • Team president Rod Wood sounds confident that Johnson might join the Lions after the team sent a formal invitation. Johnson retired before the 2016 season and said recently that he walked away because the franchise was not close to reaching the Super Bowl.

      "As I said on WJR (Radio), we had a very nice, cordial exchange," Wood said of his discussion with the receiver known as Megatron. "I'm hoping he comes. I'm not going to say anymore beyond that. I do have confidence it'll work out ultimately."

      The optimisic outlook comes on the same day the Lions announced an ambassador role for Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, who retired at age 31 unexpectedly almost 18 years ago.

      Johnson, now 31, was in the middle of a eight-year, $132 million deal he signed in March 2012 when he walked away. The Lions reportedly demanded a reimbursement of bonus money paid with the total over $1 million.

      The Lions were charged $12.9 million in dead money for Johnson's salary in 2016 and moved on via free agency, retaining Golden Tate and signing free agent Marvin Jones from the Cincinnati Bengals. The Lions spent their third-round pick in April on wide receiver Kenny Golladay.

      Jones is represented by Bus Cook, who helped usher quarterback Brett Favre out of an abbreviated retirement. Other prominent players have returned from a year away from the game, most recently running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was traded from the Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason after deciding he wanted to play another season. Lynch sat out the entire 2016 season.

  • Jets sign first-rounder Adams
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    First-round pick Jamal Adams signed a four-year rookie deal with the New York Jets.

    • The LSU safety, projected as a top-5 pick by NFLDraftScout.com, Adams was the No. 6 pick in April. His agreement is worth $22.3 million and includes a fifth-year team option.

      When business opened Friday, the third overall pick -- Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas of the 49ers -- and fifth selection (Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis of the Titans) remained unsigned.

      Adams, known for his hard-hitting skills in coverage, should provide an immediate upgrade on Calvin Pryor, the incumbent strong safety who underperformed and was traded to the Cleveland Browns.

      Adams also offers plenty of intangibles. He comes from a football family -- he is the son of George Adams, who was the New York Giants' first-round pick in 1985 -- and was viewed as one of LSU's leaders.

      "He checks all the boxes for us," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "We think we got a real good football player."

      Adams is happy to be headed to an area he and his family know very well.

      "I'm a city guy," Adams said. "My mom's from Yonkers, New York. My sister's from Jersey. My pops played (for) the Giants. So I think I have the right people surrounding me to help me get through my new life in the Big Apple. So I'm excited."

  • Chiefs sign first-round pick QB Mahomes
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    The Kansas City Chiefs signed their first-round draft pick, quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, to a four-year rookie contract.

    • All of Kansas City's six draft picks are now under contract ahead of the Chiefs' training camp starting next week.

      Mahomes' deal is worth $16.4 million with a $10 million signing bonus and a fifth-year option, according to the Kansas City Star.

      The Chiefs traded up from the 27th pick in April's NFL Draft to take Mahomes out of Texas Tech with the 10th overall selection.

      The 21-year-old Mahomes is expected to back up starter Alex Smith, who is playing out the final year of his contract.

      Mahomes frequently showcases the rocket arm and raw potential that enticed the Chiefs in making him their quarterback of the future. He also illustrates at times what he still must learn at the pro level.

      At Texas Tech, Mahomes could use his arm strength to fire the ball through almost any window or use his legs to extend a play until the defense broke down.

      Mahomes threw for 5,052 yards, with 41 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions, during his final season at Texas Tech. Over his three seasons, he played in 32 games (29 starts) and threw for 11,252 yards, 93 touchdowns and 29 interceptions.

  • Lions hire Hall of Fame RB Sanders as 'brand ambassador'
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 21, 2017

    Detroit Lions legendary running back Barry Sanders has returned to the team nearly two decades after his sudden departure.

    • The Hall of Famer, now 49, will be a "brand ambassador," team president Rod Wood told The Detroit News.

      "We've thankfully, the last couple years, had an unofficial relationship with him," Wood told the newspaper. "This year, we formalized it. You described it well, it's kind of a brand ambassador. He'll be going on road trips, showing up for suite visits, he'll be at the Taste of the Lions event, and just interacting with our fans on behalf of the team.

      "It's a formal agreement. I worked with Barry and his agent to put something together that works for both of us. It's not a football role. It's more of a marketing, business role."

      Sanders' agent, J.B. Bernstein, said the Lions have been pursuing an increased post-career role for Sanders.

      "The Lions have always made an effort, every single season since Barry retired," Bernstein told the Detroit News. "Granted, the first couple seasons were to get him to come back and play. But once those first couple seasons passed, there hasn't been a year they haven't reached out to Barry to make sure they include him in everything from alumni games to events in the community.

      "The opportunity to have this relationship with the team has always been there for him. The Fords, everybody from the top on down, they've always wanted to have Barry involved as much as possible. Now, we're getting to the point where he has some significant time to allocate to the team and we're excited about it."

      Sanders stunned the organization and the NFL by retiring at the age of 31 after 10 seasons shortly before the start of the 1999 training camp.

      Sanders, drafted third overall in 1989 out of Oklahoma State, topped 1,000 yards in each of his 10 seasons, including 2,053 yards during the 1997 campaign. His 15,269 yards are the most in franchise history and third all-time behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.

      The Lions icon was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, his first year of eligibility.

      At this year's Super Bowl, Sanders said he met with Wood and general manager Bob Quinn shortly after they were hired by the organization.

      "I had good meetings with both of them, joked with Quinn about how similar Detroit is to Boston," Sanders said. "Pretty early on, I had a chance to talk with them and they said the door is always open. They definitely made me welcome and at home."

  • NFL notebook: O.J. Simpson granted parole
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    Former football star and convicted felon O.J. Simpson was granted parole on Thursday in Lovelock, Nev., after serving almost nine years of a 33-year sentence on robbery charges.

    • The four-person parole board unanimously voted to release Simpson. By virtue of the decision, the 70-year-old Simpson could be out of prison as early as Oct. 1.

      David Smith, spokesman for the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, explained the rationale for granting Simpson's parole in a media conference after the hearing.

      "Mr. Simpson had no prior or minimal criminal conviction history," Smith said. "He had a positive institutional record. He had participated in a program specifically to address his behavior that led to his incarceration. He has a stable release plan and community and family support, and the victim in this case testified in support of Mr. Simpson's release."

      Simpson was convicted in 2008 of an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room. He served the minimum sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center, about 90 miles northeast of Reno, Nev.

      --The Carolina Panthers released offensive tackle Michael Oher after he failed a physical. Oher, a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, has been in the NFL concussion protocol since last September.

      Oher has started all 110 NFL games in which he participated, but he played in just three games last season.

      He had three years remaining on his contract, but as part of his injury protection benefits, the 31-year-old Oher is guaranteed $900,000.

      The move to release Oher was made by interim general manager Marty Hurney, who was hired Wednesday. Oher defended former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman after Gettleman was fired Monday.

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

      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.

      --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."

  • T Oher released by Panthers
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    The Carolina Panthers released offensive tackle Michael Oher on Thursday after he failed a physical.

    • Oher, a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has been in the NFL concussion protocol since last September.

      Oher has started all 110 NFL games in which he participated, but he played in just three games last season.

      After his release, Oher tweeted, "The Brain is a scary thing. You have to be careful with it."

      He had three years remaining on his contract, but as part of his injury protection benefits, the 31-year-old Oher is guaranteed $900,000.

      The Panthers saved $1.69 million toward the salary cap by releasing Oher.

      "The most important thing is his health," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said on the team's website. "Michael's health always came first. We were not going to force the issue. Michael understood and we expressed that to him."

      The move to release Oher was made by interim general manager Marty Hurney, who was hired Wednesday.

      Oher defended former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman after Gettleman was fired Monday.

  • O.J. Simpson granted parole
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 20, 2017

    Former football star and convicted felon O.J. Simpson was granted parole on Thursday in Lovelock, Nev., after serving almost nine years of a 33-year sentence on robbery charges.

    • The four-person parole board unanimously voted to release Simpson. By virtue of the decision, the 70-year-old Simpson could be out of prison as early as Oct. 1.

      Simpson simply lowered his head and whispered "Thank you" after receiving the news.

      David Smith, spokesman for the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, explained the rationale for granting Simpson's parole in a media conference after the hearing.

      "Mr. Simpson had no prior or minimal criminal conviction history," Smith said. "He had a positive institutional record. He had participated in a program specifically to address his behavior that led to his incarceration. He has a stable release plan and community and family support, and the victim in this case testified in support of Mr. Simpson's release."

      Simpson was convicted in 2008 of an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room. He served the minimum sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center, about 90 miles northeast of Reno, Nev.

      "I've spent nine years making no excuses about anything. I am sorry that things turned out the way they did," Simpson said in his closing remarks Thursday. "I had no intent to commit a crime. ... I've done my time. I'd just like to get back to my family and friends -- believe it or not, I do have some real friends -- and I tried to be helpful to everybody."

      Appearing as inmate No. 1027820, Simpson was accompanied by lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, prison caseworker Marc La Fleur, close friend Tom Scotto, sister Shirley Baker and daughter Arnelle Simpson.

      Simpson said at the time of his arrest that he was attempting to retrieve his own personal sports memorabilia that was stolen from him sometime in the mid-1990s.

      By receiving parole, Simpson noted that he wished to repair relationships that have been affected by his time in prison and feels he'll adapt well in everyday life.

      "Well, you know, I do have four kids," Simpson said. "I've missed a lot of time with those kids -- like 36 birthdays with my children. ... My reputation has always been that I'm open to the public, I'm open to everybody. Right now, I'm at the point in my life where I can spend as much time with my children and my friends.

      "... Wherever I've been there's been a crowd. That's not new to me. ... I'm pretty easily approachable. I've dealt with it all my life, and I don't foresee any problem dealing with the public now, at all."

      Arnelle Simpson choked back tears as she pleaded her father's case before the parole board.

      "He's like my best friend and my rock," she said. "And as a family, we recognize that he is not the perfect man, but he is the man and the father that speaks to his overall character, which is to be positive no matter what.

      "... On behalf of my family, his friends, we just want him to come home."

      Bruce Fromong, a victim in the robbery case, spoke in favor of Simpson's release. He said on the day of the robbery, "Simpson was misguided."

      "He was misled about what was going to be there that day," Fromong said of the robbery day. "O.J. never held a gun on me. "O.J. is my friend, always has been, and I hope will remain my friend."

      Simpson was acquitted in the killings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995.

      Connie Bisbee, chairman of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, referenced the 1995 trial during Thursday's hearing, saying the board had received hundreds of letter of support and opposition regarding Simpson's release. She specifically noted that case was not relevant to Thursday's hearing and would not be considered when determining whether Simpson would be paroled because Simpson had been acquitted.

      He was a highly popular figure prior to the brutal knife-slashing killings in 1994 but the Pro Football Hall of Famer was infamous after the verdicts despite being found not guilty.

      Simpson was a college football star at USC and was perhaps the top running back in the NFL in the 1970s while starring for the Buffalo Bills.

  • 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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

      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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      ---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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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."

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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 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."

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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.

      TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

      --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.

      PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

      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.