Saints’ Darren Rizzi: No special teams coach likes the new fair catch rule

New Orleans Saints v Buffalo Bills
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Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi opposes the new NFL rule promoting fair catches on kickoffs, and he says every single special teams coach in the league agrees with him.

“I don’t think there’s a special teams coach in the league – in fact, I know there’s not a special teams coach in the league right now that likes the rule,” Rizzi said, via Mike Triplett of NewOrleans.Football.

The new rule, which owners passed after lobbying from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, will spot the ball on the 25-yard line after fair catches on kickoffs. That is intended to encourage more fair catches and therefore fewer high-speed collisions on kickoffs and fewer injuries, but Rizzi said there may be unintended consequences like more squib kicks that lead to more chaotic situations and more high-speed collisions.

“We as coaches, the most important thing is the health and safety of the players. I think there was this false narrative being thrown around that the coaches didn’t want it because it was gonna be less returns,” Rizzi said. “The last thing any coach wants is to lose a player to injury.”

Rizzi said he wishes the league instead would have emphasized calling more penalties for players lowering their heads to initiate contact on kickoffs, and he believes special teams coaches are ready to lead the way in reducing those head-down collisions.

“We’ve gotta do a better job as coaches teaching that – and we’ve gotta do a better job officiating it,” Rizzi said.

Rizzi said he doesn’t expect the Saints to fair catch many kickoffs and doesn’t expect other teams to do it much, either.

Report: DeAndre Hopkins to visit with Titans

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals
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Is DeAndre Hopkins eyeing a return to the AFC South?

At the very least, he’s not dismissing the possibility.

According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Media, Hopkins will fly to Nashville on Sunday to take a free-agent visit with the Titans.

It’s set to be Hopkins’ first visit with a team since the Cardinals released him.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was a member of the Texans coaching staff from 2014-2017 when Hopkins was on the club. Tennessee offensive coordinator Tim Kelly also served on Houston’s coaching staff, going from offensive quality control coach to tight ends coach to offensive coordinator in 2019.

Hopkins was a first-team All-Pro in the 2019 season before he was traded to Arizona in 2020.

Hopkins should surely draw more interest throughout the league. But the Titans will at least get the first chance to make the case that Hopkins should join their team.

Falcons sign Carlos Davis

NFL: AUG 27 Preseason - Steelers at Panthers
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The Falcons have a new member of their defensive line.

The team announced the signing of defensive tackle Carlos Davis on Wednesday. Defensive lineman Jalen Dalton was waived in a corresponding move.

Davis was a 2020 seventh-round pick and he appeared in 12 games for the Steelers over the last three seasons. Davis had 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack in those contests.

Dalton had 13 tackles in seven games for the Falcons last season.

The Falcons have also added Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and Joe Gaziano to a defensive line that already included Grady Jarrett, Ta'Quon Graham, Eddie Goldman, and Timmy Horne.

Deshaun Watson: I’m pretty far ahead of where I was last year

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
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The Browns are banking on quarterback Deshaun Watson being better in his second year with the team and the consistent message from the team’s offseason program has been that Watson’s on track for more success.

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said last month that Watson has improved “tenfold” since last year and wide receiver Amari Cooper shared a similar sentiment this week. On Wednesday, it was Watson’s turn to weigh in on how he feels.

Watson said at a press conference that he feels like having experience with Van Pelt and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has vaulted him well beyond his first season with the team.

“I’m pretty far ahead of where I was last year,” Watson said. “Last year was, as far as football and being on the field, just learning a new system. Trying to adapt to different teammates, different players, how guys run routes, how Kevin calls the plays. It’s just being able to process the game at the speed I know. Being a year in and being able to speak to Kevin and AVP about what we want to do and being confident about it, it allows me to play a little bit faster when I’m on the field.”

The Browns made a big investment in Watson last year knowing that his availability would almost certainly be compromised during the 2022 season. They felt that the move was still worth it, so they’ll be hoping that offseason enthusiasm is followed by on-field results.

Sean McVay, Cooper Kupp have good things to say about Puka Nacua

Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout
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After taking an “eff them picks” approach to the draft over the past few years, the Rams need their picks to perform.

They especially need it at the receiver position, given the departures in recent years of players like Allen Robinson, OBJ, and Robert Woods.

Enter fifth-round receiver Puka Nacua, from Brigham Young. Both coach Sean McVay and receiver Cooper Kupp had great things to say about Nacua on Tuesday.

“It’s been really impressive how quickly he’s gotten up to speed,” McVay told reporters. “I think you can’t say enough about [receiver] Eric Yarber, [offensive line assistant] KJ Black, [pass Game specialist] Jake Peetz, those guys have done a great job and he’s really conscientious. Matthew [Stafford] has done a great job of really just kind of taking him under his wing and being able to kind of just help give those little nuances, having Cooper [Kupp] back.

“So he’s smart, he’s conscientious. It’s hard to really compare to anybody because a lot of those guys, whether you talk about Robert [Woods’s] first year, Cooper’s rookie year, having Sammy [Watkins] but then ended up having Brandin Cooks, there’s been a standard set in that room where there’s been really conscientious players. Even if you go with Josh Reynolds, how quickly Van [Jefferson] has done a great job of grasping the offense. And so, he’s a guy that we’re expecting him to come in, expecting him to be able to contribute and compete. Every spot is going to be earned on this team, but I really like what he’s done and I think it’s a credit to everybody around him and his conscientiousness.”

Kupp had great things to say, too.

“Yeah man he’s pretty special,” Kupp told reporters. “I think if he can stay on a good trajectory, he’s going to be a very good football player in this league. I love the way that he attacks each day. He’s got a great feel for the game, great feel for leverage, running routes. You come in, you’re running new concepts and things like that. Things that you’ve done before to get open might not fit within the realm of the things that we want to do here, but he’s just transitioned so quickly over understanding what the parameters are that he’s able to work in.

“He’s got a great feel for attacking leverage, how to stick things, his timing on when he needs to show up for things and he’s asking the right questions, too. I think that’s the big thing. He’s asking the right questions and as he gets more reps over and over as he gets to see these things, he’s just going to get better and better. So, I’m really excited about him and the steps that he’s going to be able to take over these next few months.”

Again, the Rams need these youngsters to step up. Including Nacua, and the rest of the team’s 14 draft picks.

George Kittle’s praise for Trey Lance confirms his past struggles

NFL: MAY 31 San Francisco 49ers OTA
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49ers tight end George Kittle has plenty of praise for quarterback Trey Lance, the third overall pick in the 2021 draft. Kittle’s positive comments, however, make it clear that Lance struggled in the past.

“I think Trey looks significantly better than he did last year,” Kittle told reporters on Tuesday. “I think his confidence is there. I think that he’s throwing really good passes. . . . I think Trey’s, he just looks comfortable back there. He doesn’t look like — um, he just looks like he’s having fun.”

Watch the clip. He stops himself from saying, “He doesn’t look like he did last year,” or something along those lines.

That’s significant because Lance was the Week One starter in 2022. It’s fair to ask whether his teammates truly believed he should have been.

This year, Lance likely won’t be the Week One starter. That job goes to Brock Purdy, if healthy. If he isn’t, Sam Darnold could take over.

But they’ll be keeping Lance because, last year, they needed QB3. If that’s who Lance is this year, there’s a chance they’ll need him, too.

If he ends up playing, apparently he’ll be ready. Apparently, he won’t look like — um, he’ll just look like he’s having fun.

Dan Campbell considering methods to prevent another slow start in 2023


The Lions got off to a slow start last year, going 1-6 in their first seven games.

But after finishing 2022 on an 8-2 run, the club has much higher expectations entering the coming season.

Though there are still a few months before Detroit begins Week One against Kansas City, head coach Dan Campbell is thinking about ways to make sure his team gets off to a hotter start in 2023.

“Yeah, you go back and forth and that’s something that I’m always thinking about is, how do we do this?” Campbell said during his Tuesday press conference. “Is there a different approach? Were we too light? Were we too hard? Do we need to have more volume? Do we need to have more intensity? And so, everything right now — it doesn’t necessarily pertain to what you’re asking because we’re so far away from training camp.”

Campbell noted that in the offseason program and minicamp, the focus is more on scheme and situational work than trying to get off to a strong start. Still, Campbell feels the team is on the right track.

“I think some of it is just that, tinkering with, do we need to do a little bit more maybe early situational work in practice? Like that’s how we start,” Campbell said. ”Maybe we start practice, they come out of stretch and there we go. Those are little things that I’m thinking about, is how do we get off to a fast start in a game and in a season?”

What Campbell doesn’t want to do is get too ramped up during the offseason program because that could lead to a violation for being too physical. But the head coach is keeping what he can do to prevent a slow get-off in mind.

“I’m not turning a blind eye to it,” Campbell said. “There’s a few ideas I have, but man, it’s a slippery slope. You go too far one way or another and you’re in trouble, but I keep my eyes on it.”

Mike McDaniel: Tua Tagovailoa has been as consistent as anybody

Miami Dolphins Offseason Workout
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The Dolphins picked up Tua Tagovailoa‘s fifth-year option, but it’s still an important upcoming fourth season for the 25-year-old quarterback.

So far, Tagovailoa has been performing well through the team’s offseason program and minicamp, according to head coach Mike McDaniel. He said that there’s a lot that goes into the evaluation of where Tagovailoa is entering his second year in the offense.

“I think Year Two, the prerequisite is that he as the quarterback has to have ownership of everything he’s doing and what everyone else is doing as the facilitator of the offense. And he’s checked that box every day,” McDaniel said in his Wednesday press conference. “It’s been really cool in a year’s time how he’s not only learned the language but is not fluent in it. That opens quarterbacks up to doing some of the components of the job that — it’s really hard to try to be the leader of an offense and motivate guys and encourage guys when you need to, or maybe be hard on guys when you need to, when you’re just trying to spit out a play and know your own assignment.

“So [I] went into this offseason hoping that I would see a graduation of sorts and really have every single day.”

McDaniel added that he’s less concerned about the good plays Tagovailoa makes on a daily basis and more concerned about the quarterback’s consistency throughout a practice.

“He had his games where he made some big-time plays and then he wasn’t as happy with the rest of the game,” McDaniel said. “So kind of looking at it through that lens, he’s really been one of our more consistent — I think he’s been as consistent as anybody day-in and day-out, which has residual effects on the whole team. I know the team can feel it as well.”

That’s good news for the Dolphins, who should have high hopes and expectations entering 2023 — even with what’s expected to be a competitive AFC East.

Falcons KR Avery Williams set to miss 2023 season with ACL injury

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The Falcons will need a new kick returner for the 2023 season.

Head coach Arthur Smith said at a Wednesday press conference is likely to miss the entire year after injuring his ACL. Smith said that Williams was injured during a practice last week and that he is set to have surgery on the injury Thursday.

Williams averaged 16.2 yards on 18 punt returns and 19.6 yards on 16 kickoff returns during the 2022 season. He also ran the ball 22 times for 109 yards after making the move from defensive back to running back prior to the season.

Smith said that he expects the 2021 fifth-round pick to make a full recovery, but someone else will have to step into his role for the time being.

Mike McDaniel: Tyreek Hill limited in practice by “minor stuff,” no worries about him physically

Miami Dolphins Offseason Workout
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Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is at Dolphins minicamp this week, but he isn’t taking part in team drills.

Head coach Mike McDaniel said on Wednesday that Hill is dealing with “some minor stuff” without specifying the nature of the issue that’s limiting his participation before adding that there’s no concern about Hill’s status in the big picture.

“Tyreek is probably the least I’m worried about being physically able to perform his tasks,” McDaniel said, via Daniel Oyefusi of the Miami Herald. “And I will say he’s been executing his assignments and walkthroughs. He is putting his best foot forward. He’s night and day ahead of where he was last year in regards to the offense.”

Hill looked like he had a pretty good grasp of the offense while catching 119 passes for 1,710 yards and seven touchdowns during his first year in Miami, so the prospect of him being even more locked in is a pleasant one for Miami.

Jaguars renovated stadium looks great; now, who will pay for it?

Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s one thing to release drawings of what a new or renovated stadium will look like. It’s another thing to, you know, build it.

The Jaguars have done the easy thing, publishing “conceptual designs for the Stadium of the Future.” Now, they simply need to find a giant pool of money in the present to pay for it.

Wednesday’s announcement is simply the sound and fury signifying nothing. It’s all meaningless unless we know who’s footing the bill.

It won’t be paid for solely by the Jaguars. They’ll want public money. And today’s unveiling of the stadium design is calculated to generate political support for free money.

A new mayor will take office on July 1. That’s when the real work will start. The Jaguars hope that today’s announcement will lay the foundation for a strong commitment by the public powers-that-be to pay for most or all of the new venue.

Indeed, the team will host over the next two weeks events throughout the community aimed spreading the word about — and building support for — the eventual request the team will make for a massive amount of taxpayer money.

Then there’s the question of where the Jaguars will play while the new building is being built. The outgoing mayor has said it will require alternative arrangements for at least two seasons.

Regardless, this is clearly what the team wants. And there’s no reason for the team to ever explain what the “or else” would be. Not when they currently play at least one game per year in Or Else City.

Josh Allen is on cover of Madden 24

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Bills quarterback Josh Allen is this year’s Madden cover athlete.

EA announced today that Allen will be on the cover of Madden 24, the latest edition of the long-running NFL video game.

On social media, Allen called it, “A childhood dream come true.”

The selection cements Allen’s status as one of the game’s biggest stars, and a popular player who sells merchandise.

Last year, John Madden himself was on the cover of the game that bears his name, in memory of his life and his great service to the game of football. Previous cover players have included Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes for Madden 22. Lamar Jackson for Madden 21 and Mahomes alone for Madden 20.

Amari Cooper: Deshaun Watson looks like he’s in a better groove

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Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was unimpressive after coming off his 11-game suspension in 2022. But it seems he’s starting to regain the form he once had during Cleveland’s offseason program.

Reports out of the Browns offseason program on Tuesday noted Watson was sharp during Tuesday’s practice, particularly during red zone 7-on-7 drills. Head coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t want to put too much stock into that, though, and neither did receiver Amari Cooper.

“I mean, you have no pass rush, it’s really like pitch and catch out there,” Cooper said in his press conference. “Obviously, the DBs make plays sometimes. But it’s not a level playing field for them when we’re doing 7-on-7, so it should look like that every time.”

Still, Cooper said he’s noticed a difference between the way Watson’s practicing from last year to now.

“He looks in a bit of a better groove,” Cooper said. “Just having that long layoff, of course you’re going to lose some rhythm, some form of rhythm. But he looks like he’s really getting that back.”

The Browns went 3-3 in Watson’s six starts last year. But the quarterback completed just 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,102 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He also rushed for 175 yards with a TD.

We’ll see if Watson can translate the practice success to the field when games begin in the fall.

Commanders may move practice inside because of poor air quality from wildfires

US Northeast Faces Another Day Of Smoke As Canada Wildfires Rage
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With unprecedented wildfires raging across Canada, air quality has reached harmful levels in much of the Eastern United States. And that could negatively impact NFL players as they practice outdoors during offseason work.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said that the team decided that it was safe to practice outside today, but tomorrow’s session may move inside.

“We looked at the air quality index. . . . We reached out to our doctors, our medical personnel and asked about what our options are about practicing today, tomorrow and probably next week we’ll have to continue to monitor it,” Rivera said. “We’re going to talk to the players before we go out there and tell anybody that has respiratory concerns, obviously we would excuse. Or if they start feeling any issue during workouts we would send them inside. Then we would have to consider tomorrow potentially going inside the bubble to practice. If we can avoid it we will, but if not, if the air quality becomes a little too concerning, then we most certainly will go in.”

Canada currently has more than 400 active fires, which have spewed hazardous particles for thousands of miles across North America. Experts say people with respiratory concerns should stay indoors, limit exposure to smoke and wear masks.

Jaguars release plans for stadium renovations

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville began working on plans to renovate TIAA Bank Field in 2020 and the team released details of what they hope the finished project will look like on Wednesday.

The release includes renderings of the stadium that would include a seating bowl that can expand to 71,500 seats depending on what event is being held in the building. The team also touts expanded concourses, increased energy efficiency, and the construction of a park that will serve as both an entry to the stadium and home to a network of hiking and biking trails.

“We have reached the end of this important and initial phase of this project, the design of the stadium we envision will be the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars and serve our entire community for generations to come,” Jaguars team owner Shad Khan said in a statement. “From stadium discussions starting in 2016 to the formal process launched in July 2020 and now concluding, our objective has always been the same – lock in a promising future for the Jaguars and help our downtown become an economic engine to lift all of Jacksonville, particularly areas that have been underserved. Being able to share the video and stadium design highlights with the people of Jacksonville is a significant step forward in that effort.

Assuming the project is approved by the city, it’s believed that the Jaguars will have to find another place to play for a couple of years while the work on the stadium is taking place.