With dreams of being like Mike and Kobe Bryant posters plastered on his walls, Justin Hunter realized early on that football, not basketball, is his future. After a devastating knee injury took away his sophomore year at Tennessee, Hunter has been working double time to make his NFL dream a reality.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
ProFootballTalk: Adversity can’t stop Justin Hunter
For a moment today, Jameis Winston won’t have to answer questions about his past or his maturity or his ability to be the face of a franchise.
For a moment today, he’s going to get to do the thing he’s very good at — throw a football.
Winston will be on center stage today for Florida State’s pro day, and that might come as a reprieve for him after all the digging and poking that teams have done at him since the process began.
Now, as soon as the workout’s over, that will begin again for another month. But today might serve as a reminder for the teams at the top of the draft of what he can offer.
He’s big and strong. Can make all the throws. Has shown good football IQ and led his team to a 26-1 record and a national championship in two years as the starter at Florida State.
So in the tightly scripted world of quarterback auditions, the chance he’ll look bad during this workout seems slim.
But the entire league will be watching, and monitoring his every move, just to see how he responds to the pressure of it all.
We heard over the weekend that running back Stevan Ridley had lined up his first visit of the free agency season and Tuesday brings word that it will be with a team he faced quite often while he was a member of the Patriots.
James Walker of ESPN.com reports that Ridley will be in Miami to visit with the Dolphins.
Ridley is recovering from a torn ACL that ended his 2014 season after six games. Ridley ran for 340 yards and two touchdowns before his injury as a lead part of the backfield rotation in New England. The Patriots moved on to LeGarrette Blount after Ridley’s injury and there hasn’t been much sign that the Pats are interested in bringing him back for a fifth season.
Lamar Miller ran for 1,099 yards last season, but the Dolphins didn’t have a good complement for him in the backfield once Knowshon Moreno was lost for the season to a torn ACL of his own. Ridley could provide that complement for 2015 at an attractive price while he tries to show he’s healthy enough to earn a bigger commitment heading into the 2016 season.
In yet another sign that those around the Browns do not see Johnny Manziel as the franchise quarterback, a recent report out of Cleveland suggests that the Browns may try to move up in the draft for Marcus Mariota, or try again to acquire Sam Bradford.
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes that the Browns are fully prepared to start Josh McCown this year, but they’re also not done trying to get better at the quarterback position. In fact, Cabot thinks the Browns will try to trade up in the draft for Mariota, and may also make another run at Bradford.
The Browns offered the Rams a first-round draft pick for Bradford and the Rams declined, deciding instead to take the Eagles’ offer of Nick Foles. But the Browns could see if the Eagles would trade Bradford. There’s been talk that what Chip Kelly really wants is to move up and draft Mariota, his old Oregon quarterback. If the Browns, who own two first-round picks, could help give Kelly the ammunition to move up and get his guy, Kelly might be willing to part with Bradford.
But if the Browns have the ammunition to move up for Mariota, they might just do that themselves. Bradford comes with an expensive 2015 salary and becomes a free agent next year. If the Browns can get Mariota, they’ve got their franchise quarterback for years to come.
Of course, that’s what they thought last year when they drafted Manziel. Instead, Cabot writes that the Browns are down on him and may not even be able to get much for Manziel in a trade. Cabot speculates that maybe Jerry Jones is interested in Manziel.
Or maybe Chip Kelly is interested in Manziel.
Renovations at the Dolphins’ stadium are rolling right along.
Assessing Ole Miss S Cody Prewitt’s fit with the Patriots.
The Ravens are still looking for help at tight end.
The Bengals have received good reviews for their offseason moves.
An argument that the Browns should be thankful for a light penalty for General Manager Ray Farmer’s in-game texting.
Former Steelers RB Baron Batch has transitioned to a business career in Pittsburgh.
What areas does Texans coach Bill O’Brien want to see improve in 2015?
The Colts looks set for a competition for the starting center job.
There are still some intriguing free agents available for the Jaguars.
Titans General Manager Ruston Webster doesn’t think the team’s draft board will change much in the next month.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio thinks his staff can boost the play of the team’s cornerbacks.
UCLA DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa is scheduled for a visit with the Saints.
An early projection of the Cardinals starting lineup on offense.
The Rams are making things simpler on defense.
Will the 49ers take a cornerback in the first round?
A look at center options for the Seahawks.
The punishments imposed Monday on the Browns and Falcons for their violations of game-integrity provisions suggested a surprising degree of lenience from the league. Sure, the teams will pay a combined $600,000 into the NFL’s coffers (fine money typically is used for charitable endeavors), but between them only one draft pick was lost — a fifth-round selection in 2016.
So this is good news for the Patriots, who still face potential punishment for allegedly tampering with the air pressure in footballs during the AFC championship, right?
Maybe not. The Browns and Falcons admitted guilt quickly, allowing the situations to be resolved without further fattening Ted Wells’ fees. The Patriots, in contrast, have strongly and vehemently denied wrongdoing.
And the Patriots very well may face no punishment at all, if Wells concludes they did nothing wrong. But if Wells eventually finds a smoking gun or concludes based on the circumstantial evidence that the infraction occurred, the league may go harder on the Patriots, relatively speaking, since the Patriots failed to acknowledge their misconduct.
Regardless of how it plays out, the Patriots aren’t likely to get a slap on the wrist. Either they’re innocent and there will be no punishment, or they’re guilty (which would make their strong denials hollow at best, false at worst) and there will be a significant punishment.
The Chiefs didn’t get any touchdown catches from their wide receivers in 2014, which left the position as an obvious area to look for help this offseason.
Kansas City signed Jeremy Maclin away from the Eagles and re-signed Jason Avant to continue the veteran’s long relationship with Andy Reid, but that doesn’t appear to have quenched their thirst for other options at the position. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports the team visited with Brandon Tate recently.
Tate caught 17 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in 16 appearances for the Bengals last season, modest totals that represented a big jump over the 14 catches he mustered while playing every game in the three previous seasons. Speed has been his calling card in the NFL, but those catch totals illustrate how rarely it has led to big plays on offense.
Tate’s main role in Cincinnati came as a punt and kickoff returner, but the Chiefs are well stocked at those spots with De’Antony Thomas and Knile Davis. Tate would give them some depth to go with an option in the passing game if he signs, but his addition would hardly erase the need for receiver help in Kansas City.
For a young coach who has run off a few veteran mentors, it’s good to know Mike Tomlin still has a sounding board in town.
While visiting the Pirates’ spring training camp in Florida, the Steelers boss talked about his relationship with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
“It’s good to have a coaching brother,” Tomlin said of Hurdle, via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a guy who’s right-minded. We share a lot of philosophical thoughts on how to lead men. It’s been fun to watch him develop these groups over the years, and I’m excited to watch him do it again this year.”
Hurdle said the two discuss every aspect of the coaching business, including building relationships with players and coaches. That’s particularly interesting since the Steelers farmed out longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau this offseason (sending him out to pasture in Tennessee). It’s not completely unlike when Tomlin pushed out an offensive coordinator he thought was too old, who has won a couple of coach of the year awards since (Bruce Arians).
“Mike said, ‘Man, it’s hard, but you have to do it. I miss him every day,’ ” Hurdle said. “We talk about different challenges that we have in leadership positions. It’s great that he’ll listen and he reaches out to me. I really like the opportunity to pick up the phone every now and then and say, ‘Hey, have you ever dealt with this?’ ”
The Steelers had Keith Butler waiting in the wings, and there might never have been a good time for the organization to move away from LeBeau. So it’s good to know that Tomlin’s at least talking it over with someone.
Two wide receivers appear to have established themselves at the top of the position heading into the draft, leaving the big question at the position as whether Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White will be the first wideout off the board on April 30.
During an appearance on Monday’s edition of PFT on NBCSN, White was asked to make the case that his name should be called first. After mentioning his speed, size and catching ability, White explained that he saw the biggest difference between him and Cooper being the amount White was asked to do on a less talented offense than the one Cooper played in at Alabama.
“Amari Cooper is a great receiver, a great competitor, but I think I bring a lot more to the table. He’s at Alabama with Nick Saban. They have a whole bunch of other tools that help him out where he’s not getting double covered. A lot of attention is not just strictly on Amari Cooper…On West Virginia it’s just ‘OK, let’s shut Kevin White down.’ They have a lot of attention toward me.”
Elsewhere in the interview, White also mentioned his JUCO background and limited time at college football’s top level in comparison to Cooper’s three years with the Crimson Tide. White dazzled in 2014 and at the combine, but Cooper has more polish at this point in his career and teams picking early will choose between that experience and the chance that White is just tapping into his abilities.
The consolation for whichever player winds up going second will be a short wait to hear their name called as it is unlikely that either player will be around once the draft gets past the top 10 picks.
Free agency dominates the month of March in the NFL, and by the end of the month, if a player hasn’t signed with anyone, that’s usually a pretty good indication that the player isn’t drawing much interest.
In the case of Wes Welker, there’s been no talk at all about any team trying to sign him. A recent Denver Post report saying it would be a surprise if the Broncos brought him back is just about the only thing anyone has said about him since free agency started.
It’s not hard to see why there’s not a lot of interest in Welker: He turns 34 years old this year and his production has steadily declined, from 1,569 receiving yards in 2011 to 1,354 yards in 2012 to 778 yards in 2013 to 464 yards in 2014. Last year he averaged a career-low 9.5 yards a catch.
Welker was once among the best receivers in the NFL. He led the league in catches three times and was a first-team All-Pro twice. In his six seasons with the Patriots, he topped 110 catches in five of them, falling short only in 2010, when he was recovering from a torn ACL.
But those days are long past. Now Welker is aging, and NFL teams aren’t showing interest. Perhaps he’ll sign with some team for a low-priced deal, or perhaps he’ll decide to take the lack of interest as a hint that it’s time to retire.
The Minnesota Vikings are set to take a closer look at a pair of draft prospects with a record of troubling off-field issues.
Green-Beckham was dismissed from Missouri after repeated violations due to marijuana and following an incident where he allegedly forced entry to an apartment and threw a woman down several stairs. Green-Beckham was never charged in regards to the incident.
Peters was also dismissed by Washington after multiple suspensions and violations of team rules.
Both players are immensely talented but carry significant baggage of NFL teams to vet. The Vikings are in need of help at both positions and could benefit from adding either player in the draft, if they are able to keep from making any further missteps as professionals.
Shunned from the Scouting Combine, Indiana receiver Shane Wynn made up for it on Monday.
The undersized wideout, who stands a mere five feet, six inches, ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.29 seconds, according to David Woods of the Indianapolis Star.
Pro Day workouts often occur on a track faster than the turf at the Scouting Combine, prompting scouts to adjust the time. Regardless, Wynn’s official time shows that he can move.
The question becomes whether he’s big enough to make it at the next level. Trindon Holliday, who is an inch shorter and ran at 4.34-second 40 at the Combine in 2010, became an effective kick returner for a few years.
As a senior with the Hoosiers, Wynn caught 56 passes for 708 yards, scoring three touchdowns through the air. He aded two rushing touchdowns and 138 yards. He also returned 11 kickoffs for 244 yards (a 22.2-yard average per return) and 13 punts for 69 yards (a 5.3-yard average per return).
Veteran guard Dan Connolly is drawing interest from a handful of teams in free agency.
The former New England Patriots lineman is set to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday, according to Ross Jones of FOXSports.com.
Connolly has also visited the Seattle Seahawks and continues to draw interest from the Patriots as well.
Connolly has started 67 games for New England over the past five seasons at both guard and center. If signed by Tampa Bay, Connolly would rejoin former Patriots lineman Logan Mankins.
Jonathan Martin may always be best known for leaving the Dolphins after he was bullied by teammates, but he says he no longer thinks about that.
“You know, honestly I haven’t given it much thought,” Martin said, via ESPN. “I’ve just been looking forward to each day. And now, getting here, I’m looking forward to being a member of the Panthers and to compete and play in this great game, and do whatever I can to help this team win.”
Asked about Richie Incognito and the situation in Miami, Martin said it’s behind him.
“That is a situation for the past,” Martin said. “I don’t think about it. I try not to catch the headlines, positive or negative. I’m focused on what I can do for my career moving forward.”
Martin, who was waived by the 49ers and claimed by the Panthers last week, said he’s expecting a much better experience in Carolina.
“I’ve only heard good things about the organization,” Martin said. “They’ve had success these past two years. There’s some things they want to do on the O-line, so it’s a good opportunity for me.”
It may be Martin’s last opportunity to show he can make it in the NFL. He wants all of his focus to be on the field.
The St. Louis Rams have agreed to terms on a new deal with center Tim Barnes.
According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Barnes is expected to sign the one-year, $1 million deal with the Rams on Tuesday.
Barnes was not tendered as a restricted free agent by the Rams and allowed to hit the market. After a visit with the Kansas City Chiefs, Barnes elected to stay in St. Louis.
Barnes started four games in place of an injured Scott Wells at center at the end of the 2013 season. Barnes has appeared in 45 games for the Rams over the last three seasons while serving primarily on special teams.
The Falcons admittedly used artificial crowd noise throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season, until they were caught in November. Ultimately, they were fined and stripped of a fifth-round pick in 2016.
The fine ($350,000) really isn’t all that much for a billion-dollar business. The draft pick carries far more value, but since it was deferred until 2016 it’s roughly equivalent to a sixth-round pick in 2015.
Given that there’s a chance a team can use false crowd noise and manage to conceal their activities indefinitely, the punishment for getting caught doesn’t exactly operate as a major deterrent — especially since fake crowd noise can have a major benefit.
As former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker explained on Monday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, crowd noise removes the advantage of knowing when the ball will be snapped, giving the blockers a split-second head start over the defensive players. So the punishment doesn’t really seem to fit the crime, which could tempt others to commit the same crime.