Two dynamic offenses go head-to-head on Thursday night as the Detroit Lions head to Lambeau Field to face the Packers. Will it be all Aaron Rodgers all the time or will Megatron steal the show?This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
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After winning their fifth Super Bowl, Patriots coach Bill Belichick declared that his team was about five or six weeks behind. In a Thursday media appearance, Belichick declared the deficit to be gone.
“I think we’re probably caught up to where we are now,” Belichick told reporters. “I think it’s the being behind in draft, free agency and that type of thing. I think at this point, we’re ready for OTAs. We’ll be ready for training camp. I think that part of it we’ll be on schedule on. It’s the catching up on all the spring projects, draft and free agency. It’s the initial part of it.”
That was the newsiest answer from the 18-question press conference, which featured four questions about lacrosse and none about last week’s stunning claim from Gisele Bundchen that her husband, quarterback Tom Brady, had suffered a concussion during the 2016 season and others before that. There wasn’t even anything general on the topic, like “how hard is it to get players to self-report concussion symptoms?” or “how much progress have you seen in changing the culture of playing with concussions?”
That’s one of the basic problems with a press conference, especially when the subject has a habit of rolling eyes or providing biting responses or otherwise shutting down when asked a question he doesn’t want to answer. None of the reporters present for the exchange wanted to be the guinea pig on this topic, and so none of them asked specific or general questions about the elephant constantly sitting in the room next to Belichick.
Thursday started with word that linebacker Gerald Hodges was on his way back for a second visit with the Bills that coach Sean McDermott said had a “good chance” of ending with a contract for the former 49er.
McDermott’s prediction turned out to be right on the money. The team announced that he has signed a contract and been added to the 90-man roster.
Hodges, who played for Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, played inside linebacker while making 12 starts for the 49ers last season and appears to be ticketed for the weak side in the 4-3 alignment that McDermott has installed in Buffalo. Ramon Humber has been working with the first team this offseason.
The Bills released cornerback Charles Gaines to make room for Hodges. Gaines wore No. 40 for the Bills and Hodges will take over that number as well as Gaines’ roster spot.
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has missed nine games over the last two seasons because of concussions with the last few of those came after he was cleared to return last year.
The Panthers chose to hold Kuechly out as a precaution with the playoffs out of reach in a decision that didn’t do much to lessen concern about the potential for more serious issues at some point down the line. Kuechly isn’t interested in discussing those concerns or anything else about his concussion history anymore, however.
“Everybody knows I want to play,” Kuechly said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “Everybody knows the decision was made by the coaches so hopefully we can move on from that and not ask any more questions about concussions because I’m done with that.”
As long as Kuechly remains out of the concussion protocol, he should be able to avoid talking about head injuries. Should he find himself back there at any point this year, though, he’ll be facing more questions about his health and future than he has in the past.
The Bills signed a tight end on Wednesday with Wes Saxton joining the team as part of a series of roster moves and coach Sean McDermott said Thursday that the move was not made because of the team’s concerns about Charles Clay’s knee.
That’s not to say that the team has no concerns about Clay’s knee, however. Clay has dealt with chronic knee problems since joining the team as a restricted free agent in 2015 and McDermott acknowledged that the issue is one the team will be keeping an eye on as the year unfolds.
“We are concerned with Charles’ knee situation,” McDermott said, via the Buffalo News. “It’s something we have to manage moving forward in order to have him on the field for us, which is important moving forward. He’s a weapon for us.”
The knee didn’t keep Clay off the field much last season as he played nearly 82 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Top backup Nick O’Leary was at 35 percent and they are short on other experienced players at the position, which provides plenty of reason to take it easy with Clay whenever possible.
Today’s OTA session is open to the media, and reporters on the scene say Beckham is not participating in the voluntary workout.
Beckham has complained this week that media coverage is making things up, but he hasn’t said what, specifically, has been reported inaccurately. There’s a perception that Beckham is skipping workouts because he’s unhappy with his contract, but he hasn’t actually said so. He’s heading into the fourth year of his rookie deal and owed a salary of $1.8 million this season, and he’ll make $8.5 million next year in the final year of his rookie contract.
It’s unclear whether Beckham has any plans to participate in any voluntary offseason work for the Giants.
The Jaguars and Buccaneers will be spending some practice time together for the second straight year.
The teams announced on Thursday that they will spend two days practicing together in Jacksonville this summer. They will practice on August 14 and 15 before facing off in a preseason game at EverBank Field on August 17.
The announcement comes a couple of days after the Jaguars announced that they will be practicing with the Patriots for two days during the previous week.
“We look forward to hosting Coach Koetter and the Buccaneers for two practices during training camp,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “Having the opportunity to practice with the Patriots and the Buccaneers during training camp will allow us to see a lot of different looks, matchups and scenarios and we believe these joint sessions will make us a better football team.”
Both of the sessions will be open to the public and the media.
The Bills expect to add another player to their linebacking corps.
Gerald Hodges visited the Bills earlier this week before moving on to meet with the Giants and Bills coach Sean McDermott said Thursday that Hodges is on his way back to Buffalo for another meeting with the team. McDermott said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, that there is a “good chance” that this meeting ends with Hodges signing a contract with the team.
If that’s the case, one of the few unsigned players left of PFT’s Hot 100 list of the top free agents will finally find a home for the 2017 season. He’s coming off a strong season for the 49ers that saw him record 83 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions while starting 12 games.
Victor Cruz’s ascension from undrafted rookie to star wide receiver is one of the great stories in Giants history.
But now that he’s gone, there’s an ugly final chapter.
During an appearance on 105.1 FM, Cruz said he thinks the Giants intentionally kept the ball away from him last season so it would be easier to justify cutting him at the end of the season.
“I felt it all year long,” Cruz said. “Halfway through the year I’m ballin’, the other half I’m not getting the ball. And you’re just like, ‘what’s going on?’ It was like ‘ok, I see what’s happening. They don’t want me here anymore.’ A lot of people probably don’t know this, . . . Let’s say I played well – was a 1,000-yard receiver last year – it would have been more difficult from a fan perspective to cut me. . . .
“If I am a 1,000-yard guy, they’re like ‘why are you cutting Cruz? He just 1,000 yards and five or six touchdowns. That doesn’t make sense.’ But if I have 500 yards or whatever the case may be, it’s a little easier on the fans.”
Cruz finished the year with 39 receptions for 586 yards and a touchdown.
In the first seven games of the season, he had 24 receptions for 331 yards and his only touchdown.
Over the final nine games, that leaves 15 receptions for 255 yards and no scores, which makes it look a little suspicious.
Of course, Cruz is also 30 years old and coming off two years of injuries, so it’s hard to know how much of the slowdown in production was on him. He also said he had incentives in his contract which would have cost the Giants more money if he’d have hit them.
“It hurt, to be real. I gave so much to them. Seven years,” Cruz said. “It definitely hurt . . . but every run has to stop at some point.”
Cruz said he didn’t think quarterback Eli Manning was involved in any conspiracy to keep the ball away from him, though he clearly believes one exists. The Giants did have some guy named Odell Beckham Jr. to get the ball to, along with a promising rookie in Sterling Shepard who carved into Cruz’s catches.
Under coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have done as good a job as any team when it comes to keeping internal strife under wraps. Which makes the details of Seth Wickersham’s deep dive into the dysfunction there even more stunning.
The Senior Writer at ESPN The Magazine has taken a closer look at the Richard Sherman situation in Seattle. Along the way, Wickersham fleshed out plenty of nuggets regarding manifestations of the defense’s resentment of the offense — and, specifically, the resentment of Russell Wilson.
Wickersham sets the tone with a rewind to June 2014 and a notoriously chippy offseason practice that eventually would become one of multiple offseason practices deemed by the NFL to violate the rules. Sherman at one point intercepted a Wilson pass, threw the ball back at him, and shouted, “You f–king suck!”
And that was before Super Bowl XLIX.
Sherman took the outcome of the last-minute pull-a-rabbit-from-a-hat-then-boil-it-Fatal-Attraction-style loss to the Patriots hard. As evidenced by his in-game brouhaha with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell from last December, Sherman still has strong feelings about the pass-over-run decision that prevented Seattle from winning back-to-back Super Bowls. That mindset contributed to the team’s open willingness to be open for business in the offseason regarding the possibility of trading Sherman.
“He’s always looking at what other people are doing,” a former Seahawks assistant coach told Wickersham regarding Sherman. “He’s made it personal. It’s your fault we’re not winning. It wears guys thin.”
Wilson’s inauthentic, manicured persona looms over the article, as does the perception that coach Pete Carroll protects a quarterback whose offense doesn’t score enough points as often as it should.
“A lot of guys, not just on defense but on offense, want Russell to fit into a mold that’s not him,” former running backs coach Sherman Smith told Wickersham. “Why is everyone allowed to be themselves but Russell?”
That sense has been there since Wilson arrived, with a string of interviews and press conferences that Wilson always finishes by saying, “Go ‘Hawks!” — a habit, as PFT has heard for years, that prompted some in the locker room to mock Wilson behind his back with a high-pitched version of his catch phrase.
Sherman all along has had his own catch phrase, even if he only used it that one time he caught a pass Wilson didn’t mean to throw to Sherman. The full article makes clear the reasons for the team’s willingness to shop Sherman, and it will invite speculation as to whether the page truly has been turned, and whether things will be any better now that Sherman begins his seventh NFL season.
Some confusing lingers regarding precisely what it is that happened in Seattle when quarterback Colin Kaepernick came to town. Despite a suggestion in at least one corner of the NFL universe that Kaepernick would be working out for the Seahawks, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Kaepernick merely visited the team.
Significant because it was the first free-agency visit of Kaepernick’s first free-agency tour, it was still only a visit, with no eyeballing of Kaepernick’s current running or throwing abilities. Some would say that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll knows as well as anyone what Kaepernick can do, but it would make sense before signing him to a contract to be the understudy to Russell Wilson to kick the tires a bit.
It’s still unclear what the Seahawks will do, or whether any other team will bring Kaepernick to town for a visit or a workout or, ultimately, an indefinite stay as an employee of the team.
The four teams in the NFC South get to carry an extra practice-squader this year, as the league continues to promote its product internationally.
The catch is the 11th player is picked for them, as part of the NFL’s international player pathway program. The players can’t be activated to the regular roster, but get to hang around for the year.
The Falcons get English rugby player/tight end Alex Gray, the Panthers get defensive end Efe Obada, the Saints get defensive end Alex Jenkins while the Buccaneers drew German linebacker Eric Nzeocha.
The players have been training in Florida alongside some other hopefuls, under the tutelage of former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Aden Durde, the head of football development for NFLUK (who was in camp with the Panthers in 2005 as a linebacker).
“This is going to change people’s lives,” Umenyiora said in a release. “They have a great opportunity. They are going to be seen not only by their new teams but by everyone who might imagine they can be NFL players. They will inspire people around the globe; people who never thought they had a chance to make it to the NFL. Now they see they have a viable pathway. These guys have worked very hard for this chance and I am confident they will make a great contribution to their teams while improving their skills and understanding of the game.”
The only downside to the program is the time spent by coaches with players who aren’t yet NFL caliber (and some coaches will gripe about wasting time because coaches gripe). But if that’s the biggest thing coaches gripe about, the league is willing to bear it for the larger goal of growing the game beyond our borders.
There’s no good time for an NFL player to tear an ACL, but if you’re hoping to be ready to play in time for the next season it is always better for it to happen earlier rather than later in the season.
That’s particularly true for a player who is headed for free agency like running back Danny Woodhead was after tearing his ACL in the second game of the 2016 season. The Ravens weren’t put off of signing Woodhead because of the injury and they won’t have to wait for him to get back to practicing without restrictions either.
“Yes, I’m back. No restrictions,” Woodhead said, via the team’s website. “I’m just playing football now. I haven’t been thinking about needing to do stuff to rehab it because I’m healthy now. It’s exciting to get football going.”
Woodhead said he feels “there’s some rust” as a result of the injury, but is otherwise “pretty similar” to how he was before getting hurt. That should bode well for his chances of taking on a big role out of the backfield in Baltimore, especially with Kenneth Dixon set to miss the first four games while serving a suspension.
Cody Kessler is hungry to win the Browns’ starting quarterback job.
He’s also probably just hungry.
Kessler said he’s added a few pounds this offseason from his listed 215, but he’s leaner and more muscular thanks to a strict offseason regimen.
“My biggest focus was losing body fat weight and being a healthier weight than I was. Muscle was my main focus,” Kessler said, via Scott Patsko of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It was tough eating the same thing every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, snacks in between. The same thing over and over and over.”
And it wasn’t exactly an inspiring set of meals. Between snacks of power bars and almonds and pretzels with peanut butter, Kessler at some nutrient-rich yet bland meals.
Breakfast was two scrambled eggs, plain oatmeal made with water, two pieces of fruit, and milk and water. Lunch brought turkey sandwiches (provolone cheese but no condiments), 15 baby carrots, a banana, water and milk. Dinner was cooked chicken breast, spinach without dressing, whole wheat pasta with no sauce, and more milk and water.
“It was tough,” he admitted. “But [team dietician Katy Meassick] is great with that and helped me out. I switched it up here and there maybe a couple days, different things. But it worked for me. I really stuck with it.
“As boring as it may sound, it’s something I was committed to and excited to do in this off-season. I really never committed myself to a meal plan that strict. It was tough but it was worth it.”
Of course, the only thing leaner than his meal plan at the moment is the Browns depth chart at quarterback, so perhaps his spare existence will pay some benefits for him.
The NFL has a history of: (1) driving a hard bargain with the NFL Players Association; and (2) taking full advantage of every right that the league has earned for itself via the process of collective bargaining. The players, frankly, don’t.
The most glaring example comes from the annual willingness of players to show up for work day after day, week after week, when they’re not required to show up for work. The presumption has become that the offseason program, which is entirely optional but for one three-day mandatory minicamp, isn’t truly optional. And while that dynamic has arisen in large part because football players: (1) enjoy working out with teammates; (2) would be working out anyway from April to June; and/or (3) realize the value individually and collectively of preparing for training camp and the football season that follows it, the fact remains that the players individually and collectively have the right not to attend the vast majority of the offseason program. But they attend anyway.
Last year, when players began to realize with power that they possess, speculation emerged that the voluntary offseason program would become the basis for players flexing their muscles by, for example, skipping out for a day or for a week of the offseason program or, possibly, for the whole thing.
From a labor relations standpoint, it’s a no-brainer; no players ever should show up for offseason workouts. If that would ever happen, the NFL would sprint back to the bargaining table, ready to give the players something/anything to end the de facto work stoppage arising from players doing that which they are already legally entitled to do.
Think about that for a second. Currently, the players have every right to band together and say, “What is it worth to you to get us to show up for offseason workouts?” They haven’t, and chances are they won’t. Which counts as a double win for the always-winning billionaires who own the teams.
First, the owners benefit from free work. Second, the lack of willingness of the players to stay away from offseason workouts that don’t result in the forfeiture of game checks makes it even less likely that players will ever hold firm during a lockout or a strike. (One of which may be less than four years away.)
The players can change that whenever they want. They can do it right now. The fact that they haven’t, and the strong likelihood that they never will, shows that the players will never match the will of the owners when it comes to getting the best possible deal that they can.
NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay acknowledges that shortening overtime can lead to more ties and less exciting endings. But he says exciting endings aren’t the point.
“This rule is not intended to make the game better,” McKay said on PFT Live. “It’s intended to deal with what we think are some consequences that we’ve seen in the last couple years from a health and safety standpoint that we’re not comfortable with. We’re not comfortable with the idea that you could play a Sunday night game or Sunday afternoon at 4 game, go into overtime, play 15 minutes, pick up an additional 18 to 20 snaps, and then potentially play a Thursday night game. It bothered us when we talked to coaches, one in particular, he said, ‘We didn’t practice. We were worn out, we didn’t practice and we came to a Thursday night game.’ That made us uncomfortable.”
McKay said the NFL may see more ties in 2017, although he doesn’t think it will be a dramatic shift, and it will be worth it from a safety perspective.
“Could we get one more tie a year? Maybe. Do we want that? No,” McKay said. “The bottom line on the rule is we’re going to do it for player safety, not necessarily to make the game better.”
So the rule might not make the game better, but it’s a rule that’s here to stay, because the owners think it will make the game safer.