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Mike Evans: I’m just trying to be the best, period

Mike Evans AP

The 2014 class of rookie wide receivers was a sterling one with several members of the group making big impacts on the league immediately.

That led to debates about which member of the group would turn out to be the best over the long haul, although the second wideout to come off the board in the first round is setting his sights a bit higher than just being the best player to hit the league last year.

“I’m just trying to be the best, period,” Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today.

One way he’s attempting to do that is by working with Randy Moss this offseason, something he plans to do again in July before Tampa opens up training camp. Evans hopes that the work makes him more effective in the red zone, where he felt defenses could take him out of games as a rookie.

“The quarterback would just look me off, and then I’d be dead,” Evans said. “And I didn’t understand, because I always think I’m open. Just throw that thing up.”

With Jameis Winston now at quarterback in Tampa, the Bucs may feel a bit more comfortable about throwing the ball in Evans’ direction even when the defense is tilted his way. Much like Moss, Evans has the size and hands to win those battles and the Bucs should be doing all they can to exploit those advantages this season.

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Browns wideout Terrelle Pryor willing to try this “slash-player deal”

Terrelle Pryor, Hue Jackson AP

It took Terrelle Pryor some time to wrap his mind around not being a quarterback.

But he sounds like he’s going to give being a wide receiver a chance to work.

Pryor told Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he’s open-minded about playing wide receiver after being claimed off waivers by the Browns.

I’m going to give this slash-player deal a chance,” Pryor said. “I just want to play football. I’m a playmaker, and I believe if I can touch the ball, I can go to the house, especially if I have space. This should definitely open up some opportunities.”

Pryor said one of his first moves after being cut by the Bengals was to get in touch with Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, and plans to work with him and Randy Moss before training camp.

“The thing that helps me is that I played quarterback, and I know what the quarterback wants,” Pryor said. “What I’ve got to work on is the specifics, cutting in and out of the breaks. Athletically, I believe I can do anything on the field. When I get on the field, I may not be the best, but I always feel like I am. I bring that mindset. I work my hardest to be the best I can at that position.”

Of course, the Browns lack sufficient weapons at the position, which could make his transition easier — or at least his path to the field. Now if he can learn how to play wideout in a short time, he’ll have a chance to prove he’s an NFL player, though there’s no indication the Browns are looking at him as anything other than a target, which may mean he’s not much of a “slash.”

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AEI’s debunking reportedly gets debunked

Wells Getty Images

More than five months after the AFC Championship, the question of whether the Patriots deflated footballs used in the first half of the game polarizes like no other NFL issue of the last generation. The best evidence: (1) the number of comments each #DeflateGate story generates; and (2) the number of emails PFT receives from folks on both sides of the issue.

The latest battle of the bulk electronic mail centers on the work of American Enterprise Institute, which ripped apart the science of the 243-page Ted Wells report. After an initial flurry of emails pointing out the AEI report — and others alleging (incorrectly) that the Krafts who own the Patriots run the same Kraft Foundation that funds AEI — the emails are now noting that someone has taken issue with AEI’s work.  Specifically, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe has countered the AEI report countering the Wells report with the opinions of University of Vermont biostatistician Mike DeSarno.

The latest fight centers on AEI’s claim that Ted Wells and Exponent employed “an unorthodox statistical procedure at odds with the methodology the report describes.” DeSarno disputes that.

Whether the Wells report did or didn’t use an unorthodox statistical procedure doesn’t really matter to the question of whether Wells got it right. Ultimately, Wells and Exponent concluded that there had to have been tampering because the footballs used by the Patriots showed more of a drop in air pressure than the footballs used by the Colts, ignoring the fact that the footballs used by the Colts sat in a warmer environment while the 11 footballs used by the Patriots were tested twice and reinflated.

Perhaps that’s why DeSarno added, “I still don’t place any faith in [Wells’s] conclusions.”

I continue to place no faith in the conclusions, either, for one very important reason. During the 95-year history of the NFL, the question of whether air pressure inside a football changes during game conditions never registered as even a faint blip on the league’s radar screen. Officials inflated the footballs before kickoff and then they played the games, oblivious to the fact that footballs at the high end of the 12.5-to-13.5 range on a warm day would quickly rise above the limit, and to the fact that footballs at the low end on a cold day would quickly shrink below it.

Then, suddenly, the NFL gave the topic of air pressure an extreme degree of importance, treating any deviation below the minimum not as the result of atmospheric conditions but as presumptive proof that someone was cheating. The stage was set for the strings of the Commissioner to be manipulated not from above but from below, with one or more league office employees able to kick-start a process that resulted in the Wells investigation — thanks in large part to the unrebutted leak of blatantly false PSI information to ESPN.

The mere fact that Wells needed such detail and nuance to reach a conclusion shows that the results of the air pressure testing and analysis should have been deemed inconclusive for proof of cheating. Instead, Wells and Exponent massaged and tinkered and assumed and disregarded the best recollection of referee Walt Anderson just enough to find that the Patriots cheated.

The far better approach would have been to get Patriots employees John Jastremski or Jim McNally, authors of troubling text messages, to confess under aggressive questioning. The fact that neither did suggests either that Wells and company didn’t do a very good job of interrogating them, or that there was nothing for them to confess.

Regardless, an abruptly scientific approach to a topic the NFL never regarded with an eye toward science isn’t the way to find a smoking gun, especially when the science is in any way flawed.

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Barkevious Mingo isn’t “guaranteed anything” with Browns

Barkevious Mingo AP

Linebacker Barkevious Mingo was the sixth pick of the draft in 2013 and started 11 games for the team last season despite a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, but the Browns say that won’t give him an edge over other competitors for playing time on defense this fall.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil praised Mingo’s pass coverage skills, but the Browns picked Mingo early in the first round because of his overall game and the coordinator said he’ll need to see more of it if Mingo is going to be ahead of Scott Solomon, Nate Orchard and Armonty Bryant at outside linebacker this season.

“Guys are going to have to earn it,” O’Neil said, via the team’s website. “We don’t care where you were drafted, when you were drafted, how much you’re getting paid; the best 11 guys and the guys who earn their roles are the guys who are going to play. No one is guaranteed anything on the defense. Joe Haden knows that, Donte Whitner knows that and Karlos Dansby knows that. You’re going to have to earn playing time. We’re deep in every position group. Mingo is going to have to come back ready to go, and he’s going to have to earn it.”

Mingo had 15 sacks and 29 tackles for losses at LSU and the Browns are looking for that kind of impact up front with Jabaal Sheard out of the picture after signing with the Patriots as a free agent. Mingo wasn’t able to make much of an impression in the spring because of his recovery from surgery, which leaves him with a lot to do in camp if he’s going to be a fixture on the edge in Cleveland this year.

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Report: NFL not considering an L.A. delay

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Over the weekend, the Editorial board of U-T San Diego cited the existence of “speculation” that the NFL will delay the process of returning to Los Angeles by a year, in order to give the three teams looking to L.A. more of a chance to get new stadiums in their current markets. The speculation apparently isn’t accurate.

Citing an unnamed source, Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal reports that the league is not considering a one-year delay in the process.

U-T San Diego didn’t specifically report that a delay would happen. Instead, U-T San Diego seemed to be floating the idea, possibly in order to generate public sentiment for a delay — and in turn to place pressure on the league and the Chargers to give the city more time to legally lay the foundation for a public vote.

The league will conduct a special ownership meeting on August 11 to focus on the L.A. situation. And even if the entire process isn’t delayed, it remains possible that one team (like the Rams) would secure clearance to move to L.A. for 2016, with more time being given to the Chargers and Raiders to get a new stadium for one team in its current market — and for the other to then join the Rams in Inglewood.

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Jim Haslett finally has an offseason, realizes it’s not the worst thing

Jim Haslett AP

It took him a few decades, but Jim Haslett figured out this offseason there was life outside the NFL.

The former Saints head coach, most recently Washington’s defensive coordinator, had dialed things back this offseason anyway before he took a job as a consultant at Penn State.

According to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, Haslett did things like attend an old Bills reunion, spent time with his family, and even, gasp, took a vacation with his wife to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

I didn’t even know there was an island called that,” Haslett said.

He’s also going to watch his son, who is a senior quarterback at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania (his alma mater).

But Penn State coach James Franklin was willing to work around all that, to add the veteran defensive coach to his staff, without Haslett having to add a full-time commitment.

“I get the best of both worlds,” Haslett said. “The reason I did it is it’s a school where kids get a great education, and it’s a football program on the rise. . . .

“The good thing about the kids is everything you say, they suck in. They listen to everything you say. It’s not like talking to an eight-year veteran. You can see how much they grow. When you watch tape from their freshman year to their sophomore year, or their sophomore year to their senior year, you see how much better they get.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Haslett fares without having both feet in. He was famous for his work habits, to the extent that former Washington coach Steve Spurrier mocked him — pronouncing it HAZE-let — for sleeping on the couch in his office. Perhaps Spurrier should have spent a bit more time in the office himself, but that’s not the point.

Haslett has learned what it’s like to have a life on the other side of the NFL. We’ll see if he’s able to keep it up.

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Jeremy Maclin: Alex Smith has “a guy he can trust”

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Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin had some familiarity with the Chiefs’ offensive scheme when he arrived in Kansas City this offseason because of his past working relationship with coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, but he’d never played with quarterback Alex Smith.

Maclin says that the two men clicked during the spring and that he’s never “been off to a better start” with a quarterback during his career. It’s probably fair to assume that a big part of the reason for that may be Maclin’s ability to make Smith’s life easier than some Chiefs receivers have made it in recent years.

“He has a guy he can trust,” Maclin said, via the team’s website. “He can put the ball in different spots and I’ll go out there and make plays. I’m looking forward to doing some special things with him.”

Smith calls Maclin a guy “that can do everything” in the team’s offense and praises the wideout’s competitive nature when it comes to fighting for balls. Smith doesn’t say that those things were missing from last year’s offense, but they should certainly keep the trust level in Maclin high as Kansas City moves beyond practicing against air.

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Darren McFadden feels like a rookie again

Dallas Cowboys OTA Getty Images

Running back Darren McFadden is coming off three years of dismal returns with the Raiders that have led some to suggest that there’s not much left in the tank of the former first-round pick.

The Cowboys placed a bet the other way when they signed McFadden as their lone significant addition to the backfield after DeMarco Murray left for the Eagles as a free agent. The first few months haven’t sent the message that much has changed as the oft-injured McFadden missed time with a hamstring injury, but the veteran said over the weekend that he feels like he’s getting a brand new start with the Cowboys.

“It’s great to be in Dallas,” McFadden said while running a football camp for families at Little Rock Air Force Base, via the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “I’m looking forward to getting on the field with those guys and doing great things this year. … Definitely exciting. I tell everybody I feel like a rookie all over again. I just want to go out there, stay healthy and run the ball the way I know I can run the ball.”

McFadden should get plenty of chances to do that once training camp is underway and he’ll get those chances behind a deep and talented offensive line that helped Murray lead the league in running last season. If that doesn’t lead to better results than he’s had recently, his “rookie” season in Dallas probably won’t lead to a long second chapter for McFadden.

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Matthew Stafford wants to get Lions receivers some extra work

Matthew Stafford AP

While league rules have carved into the amount of offseason practice time — which some have called unnecessary — others are looking for more.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wants to bring receiver Calvin Johnson and the rest of his targets together for some pre-camp work of their own.

Such camps aren’t new, as Peyton Manning has been taking his receivers to Duke every spring, and others do the same. But Stafford said he thought it would help.

“I think it’s big,” Stafford said. “I’m obviously in Atlanta quite a bit, so Calvin’s right there, throw with him some. But try to find a way to get together with some of the other guys as well. . . .

“This team is a hard-working team and we go away, we come back in great shape. But there’s no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you’re going to be catching the ball from during the season. And there’s really no substitute for me throwing to a spot — and throwing to somebody that’s not on our team, it just isn’t as beneficial as being together and doing that. So hopefully we’ll get together and do some of that.”

The Lions got good numbers out of Johnson and Golden Tate last year, but the rest of the offense struggled at times. They were 22nd in the league in scoring offense, and no other non-Johnson or Tate receiver had more than 322 receiving yards.

So any amount of work can only be a good thing.

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Researchers look at impact of Thursday games on NFL schedule

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For all the variables that go into the NFL schedule, and all the work the league has done to make as many people happy as possible, invariably there are many who won’t be.

But a team of researchers at the University of Buffalo believes it has found ways to make scheduling more equitable, and the league is listening.

According to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the researchers’ biggest takeaway is the problem created by Thursday night games.

“I noticed quirks in the schedule, saw imbalances, especially with the Thursday night games,” said Dr. Murat Kurt. “Owners, coaches and players all complain about having to play the Thursday night games, but they do it because of the millions of dollars it generates from television.”

The project began after Bills president Russ Brandon complained to the league about having to play five games against teams with more rest. The researchers looked for ways to minimize the impacts, and avoid other undesirable occurrences such as long travel on short weeks. They presented a paper at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in February, and the league contacted them to share information, as well as offer more factors such as stadium restrictions, requests from broadcast partners and wish lists from teams.

They’ve agreed to share research in the future, as everyone tries to come up with a better product.

The researchers found that for teams playing against teams with more rest, winning percentages were four percent lower than when on normal rest. And with a big disparity in who’s getting rest (the Bills had 29 such games, while the Bengals had just 12), that’s an issue.

One of their goals is to get the league to implement changes including scheduling Thursday night games after bye weeks, which they said could eliminate the problem at an 80 or 90 percent rate. Of course, that still means there will be teams that complain, just not as many.

Other than reducing griping, it could also help make for better football, since Thursday night games averaged a 16.3 point difference between the winning team and the losing team last year. There are safety concerns as well, so it’s good that the league’s willing to listen to outside experts, who might be able to help streamline the process.

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Adrian Peterson still thinks he’s the best running back in the NFL

adrian-peterson1 Getty Images

Adrian Peterson doesn’t see any reason that missing 15 games last year should change the widespread view that he’s the NFL’s top running back.

Asked if there’s any chance he lost his title as the NFL’s best running back, Peterson told the Pioneer Press, “Come on now. No.”

The annual NFL Network ranking of the Top 100 players in the NFL has dropped Peterson all the way from No. 4 last year to No. 62 this year, and he’s now well behind running backs DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy. But Peterson thinks the fact that he’s on that list at all after missing last year because he abused his son shows that he still has respect in the NFL.

“There’s not too many players in general that miss a season and his peers vote him into the top 100,’’ Peterson said. “You tell me if McCoy and other running backs miss a season and you tell me if they would still be voted into the top 100?’’

The Vikings obviously think Peterson is still the best running back in the NFL, because they fought hard to keep him on their roster at the highest running back salary in the NFL. Now Peterson needs to back it up on the field.

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Jameis Winston won’t stop using social media now

Jameis Winston AP

Within hours of being drafted, Buccaneers quarterback James Winston had already found at least a small pot of hot water, tweeting out of a photo of him sitting behind a plate of crab legs.

And while that caused a bit of temporary embarrassment (and subsequent deletion and explanation), Winston said he’s not going to stay off social media as he begins his NFL journey.

Social media can help you in so many ways from a positive standpoint,” Winston said, via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. “I can’t control what people put on social media about me, but I can control my actions and what I do.”

Of course, he knows that actions beyond sending out messages with his thumbs on his phone will determine how the public views him.

“It’s about my actions,” Winston said. “I got to be a quarterback. When I’m off the field, I got to be a quarterback; when I’m on the field, I got to be a quarterback.

“I know people are going to look at me in each and every way. I just smile, man.”

Of course, he said he doesn’t pay much attention to social media, other than his own, which he said will make it easier to tune out the inevitable negativity.

“You don’t look at it,” he said. “You don’t pay attention to it. I’ve had a strong mind this whole process. I’ve been getting hammered for a long time. But the thing is, we keep playing football. I’m blessed to be playing this dream right now, and I think that all of us out here are more worried about success on the field than anyone else that has something negative to say.”

But tuning out the negative will be hard when the din reaches certain levels, like if he tweets anything in relation to crustaceans.

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Report: Joe Delaney “30 for 30″ documentary coming in August

Delaney Getty Images

Every June 29, we remember Joe Delaney, because we want as many football fans as possible to know his story.

Plenty more will know his story later this year.

Via Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star, ESPN is planning a 30 for 30 documentary regarding Delaney, with a planned premiere in August.

Delaney died 32 years ago today, while trying to save the lives of three drowning boys. Delaney couldn’t swim. That didn’t stop him from trying.

He managed to save one of the boys, but Delaney lost his life at the age of 24, leaving a wife and three young daughters behind. Less than two years earlier, Delaney arrived on the NFL scene with a flourish, rushing for 1,121 yards as a rookie with the Chiefs.

Until ESPN’s treatment of Joe Delaney’s life and death debuts, here’s a 20-minute documentary produced by the Chiefs’ official website in 2013.

The August debut of the 30 for 30 isn’t official. Delaney’s widow shared the information with Marvin Dearman, a police officer who responded to the accident. A request for comment has been submitted to ESPN.

UPDATE 10:38 a.m. 6/30/15: ESPN tells PFT that it won’t be a full-length documentary, but an online digital short only.

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Russell Wilson once again deflects question about contract

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With the contractual expectations of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson recently in the headlines, Wilson has chimed in. Once again, however, he has declined to address his contractual expectations.

In remarks to reporters at the Madison, Wisconsin version of his annual passing academy, Wilson deflected a question about his next contract.

That’s not where my focus is,” Wilson said. “The contract will work itself out. . . . I’m excited to hopefully be a Seattle Seahawk for a really, really long time.  So that’s the goal.”

There’s no reason to currently doubt that he wants to stay with the Seahawks. But there’s also no reason to currently doubt that he wants to be paid more than any other player in the NFL, or to currently doubt that he’s prepared to change teams if need be, since he recently has said just that.

Of course Wilson wants to be a Seahawk. But if he wants more money to do that than the Seahawks are willing to pay, Wilson eventually will have to ask himself which of the two he wants more.

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Bengals defensive coordinator thinks Johnny Manziel simply needs time

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The man whose defense conclusively dismantled Manzielmania last season believes there’s still hope for the man known from time to time as Johnny Football.

Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, whose team stifled Manziel in his first career start, thinks Manziel can improve.

“Honestly, I think the kid needs more time,” Guenther said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.

“I think he has good feet, is obviously a threat to run it, and I think in the right system he can be a good player,” Guenther added. “There was so much expected in his first game, and maybe some of that was self-warranted, but it was so much from the fan base that you have to let him make mistakes.”

The Bengals beat Manziel by keeping him in the pocket, since he can do plenty of damage as he sprints away from pressure and improvises on the fly. The challenge for Manziel will be to learn how to operate in the pocket, despite his lack of size.

Drew Brees did it,” Guenther said. “I know Drew is a little bit thicker than Johnny but about the same height. . . . I don’t see any reason why he can’t do it up there. [Manziel] was such a high-profile guy out of college and everyone expected what he did at Texas A&M, but it’s a man’s game, it’s a lot different, and it takes time. You have to take your lumps a little bit.”

Manziel took plenty of lumps in 2014, both on the field and off. The question becomes whether he’ll get the time that he needs; as teams become increasingly impatient with first-round quarterbacks, there’s a chance Manziel won’t get the time he needs to reach his potential, at least not in Cleveland.

Then the question becomes whether he’ll get that time somewhere else.

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