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Thread: Previewing the 2018 NFL Camps

  1. #1
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    Default Previewing the 2018 NFL Camps

    AFC West Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-7)

    OPEN CAMP: July 28, Missouri Western, St. Joseph, Missouri

    LAST YEAR: Chiefs rolled to 5-0 start, went through midseason swoon, then won final four games of regular season to defend AFC West title for first time in franchise history. QB Alex Smith had career season, RB Kareem Hunt led NFL in rushing, and WR Tyreek Hill evolved from speedy gadget star to playmaking pass catcher. Defense struggled to absorb season-ending injury to SS Eric Berry, resulting in unit that routinely allowed big plays. Season ended when Kansas City blew 21-3 halftime lead in 22-21 loss to Tennessee in wild-card round of playoffs.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Sammy Watkins, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Kendall Fuller, QB Chad Henne, DT Xavier Williams, QB Matt McGloin, TE Tim Wright, CB David Amerson, LB Breeland Speaks, DT Derrick Nnadi, LB Dorian O'Daniel, SS Armani Watts.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Alex Smith, CB Marcus Peters, LB Derrick Johnson, FS Ron Parker, LB Tamba Hali, CB Phillip Gaines, WR Albert Wilson, CB Terrance Mitchell, OL Zach Fulton, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Ramik Wilson, DL Bennie Logan, CB Kenneth Acker.

    CAMP NEEDS: Must determine starting CBs after trading Peters and releasing Mitchell, with Fuller and Amerson front-runners. Berry must prove his health after tearing Achilles tendon last September. Pass rush must show improvement with rookies Speaks and O'Daniel complementing OLBs Justin Houston and Dee Ford.

    EXPECTATIONS:
    Chiefs' have overhauled roster under second-year GM Brett Veach, particularly on defense. Longtime stalwarts Johnson and Hali are gone and rookies will be expected to contribute from first snap. But if Chiefs are to win third straight AFC West title, they need second-year QB Patrick Mahomes II to live up to expectations. Kansas City traded up to select him 10th overall in 2017, and was so confident in his abilities it traded Smith to Redskins after best season of career.

    ---

    LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (9-7)


    OPEN CAMP: July 28, Jack Hammett Sports Complex, Costa Mesa, California

    LAST YEAR: Bolts' relocation season ended just short of playoff berth with impressive 9-3 finish under new coach Anthony Lynn following 0-4 start. LA's new team had one of NFL's most impressive offenses, with Philip Rivers and receiver Keenan Allen headlining gifted group of playmakers. Chargers finished fourth with 376.6 yards per game, and plus-12 turnover margin was third. Offensive line also allowed NFL-low 18 sacks. Defense rounded into form along with offense, with shutdown cornerback Casey Hayward and pass-rushing stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram leading group that finished third by allowing 197.2 yards per game against pass. Chargers won final five games at tiny StubHub Center, even establishing something close to home-field advantage. They barely missed first playoff berth since 2013.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: C Mike Pouncey, TE Virgil Green, S Derwin James, LB Uchenna Nwosu, QB Geno Smith, K Caleb Sturgis.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Tre Boston, TE Antonio Gates, DL Jeremiah Attaochu.

    CAMP NEEDS: Staying healthy has been almost impossible for Chargers in recent years, and they've already lost budding star TE Hunter Henry to season-ending knee injury from non-contact drill in May. They'll look for new starting tight end in camp, and it's imperative to get to regular season with no additional serious injuries - and enough momentum to improve on last year's 0-4 start. Defense that frequently struggled against run must sharpen approach, and tackle Brandon Mebane could help immensely with bounce-back season. Bolts must figure out whether No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams is ready to be regular receiver after injury-shortened rookie year. They must find solid kicker after failing to do so last year, with Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo headlining competition.

    EXPECTATIONS: If Chargers pick up where they left off, they have components of Super Bowl contender. They return with above-average franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl receiver and elite talent at nearly every important position, including two of NFL's best pass rushers and two of its top cornerbacks if Jason Verrett returns from injury at full strength. Another major injury could scramble forecast, but franchise that has won one playoff game and one AFC West title in past decade seems capable of much more this fall.

    ---

    OAKLAND RAIDERS (6-10)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Napa, California

    LAST YEAR: Raiders plummeted from 12 wins in 2016 to six last year as QB Derek Carr and offense regressed, defense struggled, and coach Jack Del Rio was fired. Oakland's offensive output dropped by more than seven points per game, takeaways fell from 30 to 14, and Raiders got almost no production from past three draft classes in becoming one of league's biggest disappointments. That led to move to bring coach Jon Gruden back for second stint with Raiders after spending past nine seasons in broadcast booth.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Gruden, WR Jordy Nelson, WR Martavis Bryant, RB Doug Martin, LB Derrick Johnson, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Marcus Gilchrist, LB Emmanuel Lamur, LB Tahir Whitehead, WR Ryan Switzer, OL Kolton Miller, DT Maurice Hurst, DE Arden Key.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Del Rio, WR Michael Crabtree, RT Marshall Newhouse, LB NaVorro Bowman, CB TJ Carrie, CB Sean Smith, CB David Amerson, P Marquette King.

    CAMP NEEDS: Biggest priority is getting 2016 Defensive Player of Year Khalil Mack into camp after he held out entire offseason while seeking long-term contract. Mack is entering final year of rookie deal and Gruden and new DC Paul Guenther are eager to get most important defensive piece on practice field. Other main issues are learning Gruden's system and figuring out offensive tackle situation with LT Donald Penn coming back from foot injury and rookies Miller and Brandon Parker battling Breno Giacomini for time.

    EXPECTATIONS: Owner Mark Davis has wanted to bring back Gruden ever since taking over team seven years ago. He's hoping move pays off in team's final two seasons in Oakland before move to Las Vegas in 2020. Gruden is being counted on to bring out best from Carr, who went from MVP candidate in 2016 to mediocre last season as he dealt with injuries. His protection got worse and his receivers were inconsistent. Even if Gruden does manage to spark offense, defense will need to take big step forward for Raiders to get back into playoff contention.

    ---

    DENVER BRONCOS (5-11)

    OPEN CAMP: July 27, Englewood, Colorado

    LAST YEAR: Coach Vance Joseph's first year was debacle in every phase. Denver's anemic offense cycled through three QBs during soured season that included eight-game skid, franchise's longest in half-century, and featured eight double-digit losses. Exhausted defense surrendered too many points and special teams were anything but. GM John Elway thought about firing Joseph but decided to give him second chance and then bolstered roster.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Case Keenum, DE Bradley Chubb, RB Royce Freeman, WR Courtland Sutton, WR DeSean Hamilton, RT Jared Veldheer, LB Josey Jewell, CB Brock Tramaine, S Su'a Cravens, P Marquette King, part-time pass-rushing coach DeMarcus Ware.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Aqib Talib, QB Trevor Siemian, RB C.J. Anderson, TE Virgil Green, WR Cody Latimer, ILB Corey Nelson, QB Brock Osweiler, strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson.

    CAMP NEEDS: Broncos need Keenum to stay healthy first and foremost because behind him are two players who have combined four NFL starts, all by Paxton Lynch. Former first-round pick will be duking it out with 2017 seventh-rounder Chad Kelly for backup job in toned-down version of QB derby that's been annual rite of summer in Denver since Peyton Manning retired.

    EXPECTATIONS: Broncos haven't had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, and they have every intention of returning to playoffs in 2018. Having Chubb as cohort should make superstar LB Von Miller even better, and Denver's infusion of offensive talent through draft and free agency should take some pressure off defense that's been carrying team for three years now.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    AFC South Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (12-7)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Jacksonville

    LAST YEAR: Earned first postseason berth since 2007 and made surprising run to AFC championship game, when Jaguars led New England by 10 points in fourth quarter before losing 24-20. Rode one of league's top defenses - featuring Pro Bowlers A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey - to most successful season in nearly two decades. RB Leonard Fournette and LT Cam Robinson, both rookies, helped Jacksonville lead league in rushing.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: All-Pro LG Andrew Norwell, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, CB D.J. Hayden, WRs Donte Moncrief and DJ Chark.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, LB Paul Posluszny, CB Aaron Colvin, TE Marcedes Lewis, RB Chris Ivory, LG Patrick Omameh.

    CAMP NEEDS: Stay healthy. Develop chemistry between QB Blake Bortles and revamped receiving corps that features newcomers Moncrief, Chark and Seferian-Jenkins. Bolster running game - Norwell should help - that faltered late last season, especially in playoffs. Stout defense returns 10 of 11 starters, which should allow coordinator Todd Wash to make seamless tweaks to stunts, blitzes and coverages to become more diverse.

    EXPECTATIONS: With nearly every key starter and entire coaching staff back, Jaguars expect to be AFC contenders in Doug Marrone's second season. They surely will be trendy pick to win AFC South and make consecutive postseason appearances for first time since 1998-99.

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    TENNESSEE TITANS (10-8)

    OPEN CAMP: July 25, Nashville, Tennessee

    LAST YEAR: Titans swept Jacksonville but missed AFC South title after losing three straight in December. Winning first postseason game in 14 years with amazing comeback in Kansas City didn't save coach Mike Mularkey, not when he stuck with OC Terry Robiskie following ugly rout in New England.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:
    First-time head coach Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis, QB Blaine Gabbert, LB Rashaan Evans, LB Harold Landry.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: DC Dick LeBeau, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Eric Decker, LB Erik Walden, S Da'Norris Searcy, QB Matt Cassel.

    CAMP NEEDS: Sign Pro Bowl LT Taylor Lewan to contract extension. Lewan stayed away from mandatory minicamp to make clear he wants new deal instead of fifth-year option at $9.3 million. QB Marcus Mariota mastering another offense with third head coach. Develop WR Corey Davis and rest of young receiving group.

    EXPECTATIONS: For so long, Vrabel was seen as future coaching star, and former Patriots linebacker gets no honeymoon period with franchise coming off consecutive 9-7 seasons. Mariota is going into fourth season and GM Jon Robinson has assembled this franchise's most talented roster in decade, leaving division title and long playoff run as Titans' next step.

    ---

    INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-12)

    OPEN CAMP: July 25, Westfield, Indiana

    LAST YEAR:
    Andrew Luck missed entire season and Colts never recovered. They blew seven halftime leads, one short of NFL record. They scored 46 fourth-quarter points. Those numbers almost certainly wouldn't have been same with Luck. But there were other major problems. Indy allowed league-high 56 sacks and produced second-fewest sacks in league (25). Not surprisingly, Colts missed playoffs for third straight season, wound up with first losing record since Peyton Manning missed entire 2011 season, and made coaching change.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:
    Luck's anticipated return from shoulder injury as well as returns of 2016 and 2017 first-round picks C Ryan Kelly and S Malik Hooker from injuries. Coach Frank Reich, rookie G Quenton Nelson, TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, OL Matt Slauson, DL Denico Autry, DE Kemoko Turay, LB Darius Leonard, OG Braden Smith, DE Tyquan Lewis, RB Nyheim Hines.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Frank Gore, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Darius Butler, DT Johnathan Hankins, WR Donte Moncrief.

    CAMP NEEDS: LB, WR, pass rushers.

    EXPECTATIONS: Luck has been throwing for more than one month and if he's healthy enough to start Sept. 9 opener against Bengals, team's outlook changes completely. Sure Colts have many other holes to fill and it will take more than one offseason to fill them. But if Luck gets back to old form, don't expect Indy to suffer same fate as 2017.

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    HOUSTON TEXANS (4-12)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Greenbrier, West Virginia

    LAST YEAR
    : Texans had first losing record since 2013 as they dealt with numerous injuries, including to rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson and superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. Watson was bright spot in disappointing season for his play in seven games before he tore anterior cruciate ligament in right knee in practice. He threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns, giving Texans hope they've finally found franchise quarterback after years of misfires and disappointment. Another positive was continued improvement of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Defensive end finished second in NFL with career-high 21 tackles for losses and his 9+ sacks, 21 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles were also career bests. He had career-high 59 tackles and started all 16 games for first time in career after struggling with injuries in first two NFL seasons before playing 14 games in 2016

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Tyrann Mathieu, G Senio Kelemete, G Zach Fulton, OT Seantrel Henderson, CB Aaron Colvin, QB Brandon Weeden.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Brian Cushing, OT Jeff Allen, OL Xavier Su'a-Filo.

    CAMP NEEDS: Texans will have eye on two of their biggest stars who are returning to field after sustaining season-ending injuries last season. Watson must show surgically repaired right knee has healed and that he still has same burst and playmaking ability he showed as rookie last season. After Watt played eight games over last two seasons because of injuries, including broken left leg last season, Houston must see if Watt can return to Defensive Player of Year form. Texans will also use camp to see how offensive line fits together and hope revamped group protects QB much better than last season, when team allowed second-most sacks in NFL.

    EXPECTATIONS: If Watson is healthy and can build on limited work as rookie, Houston's offense will be much better. Defensive front will get boost if Watt can stay on field to play with Clowney, and secondary should be much improved with addition of Mathieu and Colvin. With Watson and Watt leading team, Texans should shake off last season's struggles to contend for third AFC South title in four years.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    AFC East Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (15-4)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Foxborough, Massachusetts

    LAST YEAR: New England lost twice in its first four games but recovered to win 11 of its final 12 behind MVP season of quarterback Tom Brady. He impressed at age 40, throwing for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He did so despite reported issues between himself, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft following midseason trade of backup Jimmy Garoppolo to 49ers. Defensive inconsistency was ongoing issue and it caught up with Patriots in Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. It included surprise benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler, one of several players to sign with new teams during free agency.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Jeremy Hill, RB Sony Michel, QB Danny Etling, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Jordan Matthews, OT Trent Brown, OL Isaiah Wynn, CB Jason McCourty, DT Danny Shelton,

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandin Cooks, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Johnson Bademosi, RB Dion Lewis, OT Nate Solder, OT Cam Fleming.

    CAMP NEEDS: Wide receiver will be hot topic. After sitting out 2017 with torn right ACL, Julian Edelman is suspended for first four games of regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers. Combined with losses of Amendola and Cooks in trades to Dolphins and Rams, respectively, it leaves Chris Hogan (34 catches, 439 yards, five TDs) as top returning wide receiver. Something also must be done to solidify defense that needs more edge rushing and someone to start alongside Stephon Gilmore at cornerback.

    EXPECTATIONS: Even with offseason roster changes, Patriots enter camp as team to beat in AFC East. All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski considered retirement in offseason; he and Brady skipped voluntary offseason workouts. But both returned for mandatory minicamps and say they are focused on helping New England reach what would be its fourth Super Bowl in five seasons. One of biggest question marks will be how linebackers coach Brian Flores does in new role as defensive play caller.

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    BUFFALO BILLS (9-8)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, New York

    LAST YEAR: Under first-year coach (Sean McDermott) and GM (Brandon Beane), Buffalo overcame major roster overhaul and midseason quarterback shuffle to win four of last six games and clinch playoff berth to end 17-year postseason drought. Bills snapped longest active streak of missing playoffs in North America's four major professional sports. At 29, LeSean McCoy was offensive workhorse with 1,138 yards rushing and 448 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Revamped secondary, including first-round pick Tre'Davious White, keyed patchwork defense by finishing tied for sixth in NFL with 18 interceptions.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie QB Josh Allen, QB A.J. McCarron, rookie LB Tremaine Edmunds, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Trent Murphy, CB Vontae Davis, WR Jeremy Kerley, RB Chris Ivory, OLs Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Tyrod Taylor, LT Cordy Glenn, C Eric Wood, RG Richie Incognito, WR Jordan Matthews, CB E.J. Gaines, LB Preston Brown and FB Mike Tolbert.

    CAMP NEEDS: Many center on how quickly new-look offense finds chemistry with new starting quarterback. Two big holes to fill on line and offense lacks established depth at receiver behind Kelvin Benjamin. Plus Buffalo is introducing new philosophy under Daboll. All eyes are on Allen, first-round pick out of Wyoming, and how long it will take to develop behind former Bengals backup McCarron and returning backup Nathan Peterman.

    EXPECTATIONS:
    Defense should be improved entering its second season, and with plenty of reinforcements. Can offense develop threat beyond McCoy, who turned 30 on July 12. Though long-term future looks bright, given young core of talent on roster, early projection is Bills might take step back in Year 2 of McDermott and Beane's rebuilding process.

    ---

    MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-10)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Davie, Florida

    LAST YEAR: Dolphins regressed in second season under Adam Gase. As rookie coach he led them to 10 wins and playoff berth, but in 2017 Dolphins never recovered from quarterback Ryan Tannehill's season-ending knee injury in training camp, and deteriorated into wildly inconsistent, undisciplined team. They led to start fourth quarter in only two games and were outscored by 112 points, fourth worst in NFL. Owner Stephen Ross decided to keep organization's core leadership intact, but Gase and executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum may need turnaround to keep jobs beyond this year.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, G Josh Sitton, DE Robert Quinn, WR Danny Amendola, WR Albert Wilson, C Daniel Kilgore, TE Mike Gesicki, RB Frank Gore, RB Kalen Ballage, QB Brock Osweiler.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Jarvis Landry, C Mike Pouncey, G Jermon Bushrod, K Cody Parkey, QB Jay Cutler, QB Matt Moore, TE Julius Thomas, LB Lawrence Timmons.

    CAMP NEEDS: Dolphins will count on two players with no NFL experience to assume significant roles. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan, their most promising rookie in 2017, is back after knee injury in first exhibition game ended his season. Fitzpatrick is expected to make immediate impact after being taken with 11th overall pick in April. Most of all, Gase needs to keep Tannehill healthy as quarterback comes back from two serious injuries to left knee since December 2016.

    EXPECTATIONS: Tannehill became starter as rookie in 2012 and has still never taken postseason snap, and there's plenty of reason to doubt that will change this year. While he returns, Dolphins bid adieu to three players with Pro Bowl resumes in Suh, Landry and Pouncey. There were financial reasons, and Gase also wanted change in culture. He believes addition of such veterans as Gore, Amendola and Quinn represents upgrade, but oddsmakers disagree. They project Dolphins to again be six-win team.

    ---

    NEW YORK JETS (5-11)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Florham Park, New Jersey

    LAST YEAR: Rebuilding Jets finished 5-11 for second straight season under coach Todd Bowles, but exceeded expectations by many who predicted New York to have trouble winning more than couple games. New York was competitive in nearly every game, and team credited Bowles' culture change for improved attitude around facility. Both Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan received two-year contract extensions after season. QB Josh McCown had career year at 38, setting personal bests with 2,926 yards passing, 19 TD passes and five TD runs before missing final three games with broken left hand. His exceptional leadership was also praised by teammates. WR Robby Anderson emerged as legitimate deep threat with 63 catches, 941 yards and seven TD receptions. Defense struggled to get to QBs, but solid play by rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye was big positive.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:
    Rookie QB Sam Darnold, CB Trumaine Johnson, RB Isaiah Crowell, QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Avery Williamson, C Spencer Long, C Travis Swanson, DE Henry Anderson, S J.J. Wilcox, K Cairo Santos.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, LB Demario Davis, RB Matt Forte, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DE Kony Ealy, C Wesley Johnson, K Chandler Catanzaro.

    CAMP NEEDS: Familiar theme for Jets and their fans: all eyes on QBs. But this summer will be particularly intriguing with Darnold - No. 3 overall pick out of USC - being given every opportunity to win starting job in competition with McCown and Bridgewater. Darnold will have to show he can operate system of new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, promoted from QBs coach after John Morton was fired. WR Quincy Enunwa (neck) and Pryor (ankle) coming back from injuries that ended seasons early. Long, coming off knee injury, will be looked at to anchor O-line after not practicing in offseason. Finding consistent pass rusher at OLB will also be key, with recent draft picks Lorenzo Mauldin, Dylan Donahue in mix of players needing to prove themselves.

    EXPECTATIONS: Acting owner Christopher Johnson has made it clear playoffs are not mandatory this season, although Jets have failed to reach postseason for last seven years. Team made lots of key moves in offseason, with selection of Darnold re-energizing fan base waiting for legitimate franchise QB for decades. Still, progress will be expected from team with sights set on making even more noise next season - especially with New York expected to have NFL's most salary cap room heading into 2019 offseason.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    AFC North Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Latrobe, Pennsylvania

    LAST YEAR: Steelers won second straight AFC North title and third in four years as ''Killer Bs'' trio of QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le'Veon Bell received plenty of help from rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and defense that gave up big plays but also led NFL with 57 sacks. Still, Steelers had trouble when pushed by quality teams. They let second-half lead get away at home against New England, loss that cost them home-field advantage in playoffs. And they couldn't find way to beat Jacksonville, which won at Heinz Field not once but twice, including divisional playoff upset in which seemingly offensively challenged Jaguars put up 45 points.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:
    S Morgan Burnett, LB Jon Bostic, rookie S Terrell Edmunds, rookie WR James Washington, rookie QB Mason Rudolph.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, WR Martavis Bryant, S Mike Mitchell, CB William Gay, S, Robert Golden, LB Arthur Moats.

    CAMP NEEDS:
    Steelers promoted longtime QB coach Randy Fichtner to take over play-calling duties after Haley's successful if occasionally turbulent six-year stint ended in January. Fichtner doesn't expect to give offense massive overhaul, though he will be forced to experiment during camp at running back with Bell unlikely to show while he waits to sign one-year franchise tender. One year after finding potential star in Smith-Schuster, Steelers hope they've done it again with Washington after record-setting career at Oklahoma State. Race to fill injured inside linebacker Ryan Shazier's spot is wide open, with Bostic and Tyler Matakevich getting first crack at lining up next to Vince Williams. Secondary is also being overhauled with Mitchell, Golden and Gay gone.

    EXPECTATIONS: Steelers once again expected to be class of AFC North. While Roethlisberger thinks he can play another handful of seasons, Pittsburgh's window could be closing faster than he anticipated. Front office failed to reach long-term agreement with Bell, meaning this will likely be his final season in Pittsburgh. Steelers have proven they can be productive without him, but elite? That's tough sell, putting onus on them to get it done this season. Better play in secondary would help. So would some consistency at outside linebacker, where Bud Dupree remains enigma as he enters fourth season.

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    BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-7)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 18, Owings Mills, Maryland

    LAST YEAR: Ravens missed playoffs for third straight season, falling to Cincinnati in finale when victory would have earned Baltimore playoff berth. Though Ravens posted winning record for first time since 2014, disappointing finish was takeaway from season in which quarterback Joe Flacco struggled and defense played well in spurts. Telling statistic from 2017: Flacco averaged 5.7 yards per attempt, more than half-yard less than his previous low for single season.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Lamar Jackson, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Willie Snead, TE Hayden Hurst, QB Robert Griffin III, WR John Brown.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES:
    WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Mike Wallace, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Lardarius Webb, WR Michael Campanaro, defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

    CAMP NEEDS:
    Ravens need to solidify offensive line, because heavy-footed Flacco will need time in pocket to be effective. Team will determine its starting center in camp, and can only hope rookie tackle Orlando Brown can shore up right side of line. Best lineman on team, guard Marshal Yanda, participated in only two games last year, so depth at that position is must.

    EXPECTATIONS: Ravens hope busy offseason will help get them back into playoffs and make some noise in January. General manager Ozzie Newsome, who will step aside after season, worked hard to get Flacco variety of targets - most notably Crabtree and Snead. New defensive coordinator Don Martindale promises more aggressive scheme and return to day when Ravens' defense was nasty and effective. It's uncertain how nimble QB Jackson will blend into mix, but Ravens spent good deal of time at minicamp finding ways to get him on field.

    ---

    CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-9)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Paul Brown Stadium

    LAST YEAR: Missed playoffs for second straight season. Coach Marvin Lewis got two-year contract extension despite 0-7 playoff mark, worst in NFL history. He's entering 16th season with Bengals, who have yet to win playoff game since 1990 season, longest active postseason drought in NFL and sixth longest in league history. Bill Lazor was promoted to interim offensive coordinator two games into season and retains role, given freedom to overhaul unit that finished last in yards. Teryl Austin was hired as defensive coordinator, replacing Paul Guenther, who joined Jon Gruden with Raiders.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Lazor, LT Cordy Glenn, C Billy Price, QB Matt Barkley, LB Preston Brown.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Vontaze Burfict (suspended for first four games for violating NFL's policy on performance enhancers), QB AJ McCarron, C Russell Bodine, CB Adam ''Pacman'' Jones, RB Jeremy Hill.

    CAMP NEEDS:
    Getting adjusted to Lazor's overhauled offense and getting new pieces in place on line are overriding concerns. Austin is expected to stay with similar defense, but there will be competition for spots in line rotation. Once again, Bengals will spend preseason planning for Burfict's absence - third straight season he's been suspended by league. Bengals took gamble and signed TE Tyler Eifert to one-year deal loaded with incentives, hoping he can add to group that was subpar last season, but he was hurt again for training camp.

    EXPECTATIONS: Two straight losing seasons led to significant drop in attendance at Paul Brown Stadium and reduced expectations for a team in decline. Bengals will have slightly different look with new coordinators, but overall direction won't change much. If offensive line isn't significantly better, redesigned playbook won't much matter. By keeping Lewis for 16th season despite lack of playoff win, owner Mike Brown gave fans little reason to think things will be different. Brown would rather stay with coach and coaching philosophy that are familiar.

    CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-16)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Berea, Ohio

    LAST YEAR: Browns hit new low - and that's saying something - by joining 2008 Detroit Lions in infamy as only teams to go winless in 16-game schedule. Nothing went right. Decision to start rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer backfired as he led NFL with 22 interceptions. Browns were better than their record but consistently found way to lose. Team suffered huge blow when perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas tore triceps in Week 7 and missed remainder of season. General manager Sashi Brown was fired in December.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM John Dorsey, offensive coordinator Todd Haley, QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Jarvis Landry, rookie QB Baker Mayfield, LB Mychal Kendricks, QB Drew Stanton, RB Carlos Hyde, DB Damarious Randall, rookie CB Denzel Ward, rookie RB Nick Chubb, rookie OL Austin Corbett.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT Joe Thomas, RB Isaiah Crowell, QB DeShone Kizer, DT Danny Shelton, CB James McCourty, CB Jamar Taylor.

    CAMP NEEDS: Coach Hue Jackson has spent offseason touting Taylor, who led Buffalo to playoffs last year, as Week 1 starter. But things could change if No. 1 overall pick Mayfield shows he's ready. Plan is to bring him along slowly, but when have things ever gone as planned for Browns? Loss of Thomas leaves enormous hole that may take time to fill. RT Shon Coleman will get first crack, but there are other options, including Greg Robinson, former No. 2 overall pick by Rams who has been bust.

    EXPECTATIONS: Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam stuck with Jackson despite 1-31 record over two seasons. He's lightened his load by turning offense over to Haley, who spent past six seasons running Pittsburgh's high-powered attack. Taylor gives Browns seasoned, proven QB who could stabilize position, but Jackson will feel heat to play Mayfield. Browns will be under more national scrutiny as featured team for HBO's ''Hard Knocks.'' WR Josh Gordon has been on best behavior after years of suspensions. If he can stay clean and play alongside Landry, Browns could have one of league's most potent passing games. DE Myles Garrett had solid rookie season, looking to have monster second year.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    NFC East Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (16-3)

    OPEN CAMP: July 25, NovaCare Complex, Philadelphia

    LAST YEAR: Won first Super Bowl title and franchise's first NFL championship since 1960, defeating Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Patriots. Overcame losing several key players to injury, including QB Carson Wentz, LT Jason Peters, LB Jordan Hicks and others. Backup QB Nick Foles led way after Wentz tore ACL in Week 14, earning Super Bowl MVP honors. Coach Doug Pederson's offense was balanced yet aggressive. Players bought into team-first attitudes. Defense thrived under coordinator Jim Schwartz. DT Fletcher Cox anchored deep line that included Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham. Special teams were solid despite losing PR Darren Sproles. Rookie K Jake Elliott showed strong leg.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Michael Bennett, DT Haloti Ngata, WR Mike Wallace, LB Corey Nelson, TE Richard Rodgers, rookie TE Dallas Goedert.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Frank Reich, QB coach John DeFilippo, TE Trey Burton, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Vinny Curry, CB Patrick Robinson, LB Mychal Kendricks, WR Torrey Smith, DT Beau Allen, TE Brent Celek, P Donnie Jones.

    CAMP NEEDS: Wentz will be closely monitored but there's no urgency to rush him with Foles still on team. His rehab will be biggest story this summer. Other key players returning from injury include Peters, Hicks, Sproles, special teams ace Chris Maragos and DT Tim Jernigan. Defense needs LB to emerge as replacement for Kendricks and CB to replace Robinson at nickel spot. Both QBs need to build chemistry with new Nos. 2-3 TEs.

    EXPECTATIONS: Trying to become first Super Bowl champs to repeat since 2003-04 Patriots, and anything less will be considered disappointment. Wentz, Peters and other star players who missed playoffs last year are determined to win it all and won't let teammates get complacent. Overall, team improved on paper but it'll be difficult to match unique bond last year's group had.

    ---

    DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7)

    OPEN CAMP
    : July 26, Oxnard, California

    LAST YEAR
    : Cowboys missed playoffs year after dynamic rookie tandem of QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott fueled Dallas to NFC-best 13 wins. Elliott's six-game suspension during season over domestic violence allegations was big reason. Prescott's performance dipped after winning NFL Offensive Rookie of Year in 2016. Offensive line was less consistent than usual. Defense was solid but not spectacular.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS
    : LB Leighton Vander Esch, WR Allen Hurns, G Connor Williams, WR Tavon Austin, WR Michael Gallup, TE Dalton Schultz, T Cameron Fleming, secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Orlando Scandrick.

    CAMP NEEDS: Cowboys need to sort out jumbled picture at receiver and tight end after dumping Bryant in cost-cutting move and somewhat surprising retirement of Witten, who went into broadcasting. WR Terrance Williams broke foot and was arrested during tumultuous offseason when Cowboys needed to know if he could take Bryant's place atop receiving depth chart. Barring unexpected resurgence from six-year veteran, replacing Bryant will fall to Hurns and collection of rookies, other young players. Geoff Swaim likely to get first crack at replacing Witten, but Dallas likes Blake Jarwin. LB Jaylon Smith needs to show explosiveness in second season since recovery from major knee injury in college. Sean Lee needs to stay healthy. Without those developments, heavy responsibility could fall on Vander Esch as rookie.

    EXPECTATIONS: Coach Jason Garrett has two playoff appearances and one postseason win in seven full seasons. Elliott saga and untimely injuries, particularly to offensive line, gave him pass last season. Hard to imagine owner Jerry Jones sticking with him if Cowboys miss playoffs again, particularly after offseason overhaul of coaching staff. Healthy and eligible Elliott figures to be factor in NFL rushing race after leading league as rookie two years ago. Elliott still led league in yards rushing per game during suspension-marred season. Prescott wasn't as good at protecting ball year after rookie record for passer rating. Cowboys want him to feed off Elliott-powered running game. Dallas believes young talent in secondary can help defense make difference. Cowboys could use repeat from DeMarcus Lawrence, who finished second in NFL with 14+ sacks last season and will play on franchise tag. Lawrence needs help, and prime candidate would be Taco Charlton, last year's first-round pick.

    ---

    WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-9)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Richmond, Virginia

    LAST YEAR: Injuries, ineffective running game and porous run defense derailed playoff hopes. Nine starters were on injured reserve by end of season, including left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, and linebacker Mason Foster. Quarterback Kirk Cousins surpassed 4,000 yards for third straight year, threw for 27 touchdowns and ran for four, but had three interceptions in season finale that turned out to be final game with team. Blowing 31-16 lead at New Orleans in November ended realistic postseason hopes before Thanksgiving. Receiver Josh Doctson showed hope for future with 35 catches for 502 yards and team-high six TDs. First-round pick Jonathan Allen flashed elite ability on defensive line before foot injury halted season five games in. Defense allowed 348 yards and 24 points per game. Offense couldn't keep up while down several key weapons.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, LB Pernell McPhee, CB Orlando Scandrick, rookie RB Derrius Guice, rookie DL Daron Payne.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Cousins, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Ryan Grant, TE Niles Paul, C Spencer Long, LB Will Compton, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Bashaud Breeland.

    CAMP NEEDS: Sort out crowded field of running backs that includes Guice, previous starter Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, and 2017 fourth-round pick Samaje Perine. Guice has talent and pedigree to emerge as feature back. Smith must get on same page with coach Jay Gruden and develop chemistry with Reed, Doctson, Jamison Crowder and rest of targets after years of them working with Cousins. Williams will get opportunity to show he's healthy after surgery to repair torn tendon in right knee. On defense, Scandrick will compete with Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar for starting spot along with Josh Norman. Three days of joint workouts with Jets after two camps without outside competition should help Redskins prepare better than years past.

    EXPECTATIONS: Winning season is realistic if Smith is as good as or better than Cousins and running game gets on track. Defense should be better with Alabama products Allen and Payne and return of Brown. Best case is competition for playoff spot behind NFC East favorite Philadelphia, while worst case is significant step back that endangers Gruden's long-term job security.

    ---

    NEW YORK GIANTS (3-13)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 25, Quest Diagnostics Training Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey.

    LAST YEAR: 2017 was fiasco one year after making playoffs. Opened season with five straight losses. Injuries to WR Odell Beckham Jr. and others, poor play, suspensions and disharmony lowlighted season. It was so bad second-year coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired in early December after QB Eli Manning was benched. Team could not win close ones it won previous season in ending four-year playoff drought.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS : GM Dave Gettleman, coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator James Bettcher (and 3-4 defense), No. 2 overall draft pick RB Saquon Barkley, OT Nate Solder, LB Alex Ogletree, LB Kareem Martin, G Will Hernandez, and P Riley Dixon.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, WR Brandon Marshall, LB Jonathan Casillas, LB Devon Kennard, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, G Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RB Shane Vereen, P Brad Wing.

    CAMP NEEDS: After winning three games, much needs to be fixed. All eyes will be on Barkley, who can be game breaker, and Beckham, who is coming off broken ankle. Giants believe 37-year-old Manning still has gas in tank and can run Shurmur's offense, which was very successful in Minnesota. Will additions of Solder and Hernandez and switch of Ereck Flowers to RT fix bad O-line? Defense has talent with DE Olivier Vernon, S Landon Collins, DT Damon ''Snacks'' Harrison, LBs Martin and Ogletree, and CB Janoris Jenkins. Will 3-4 bring out the best?

    EXPECTATIONS: Teams generally improve with new coaching staff. That said, Giants have long way to go. Much depends on how quickly they pick up new systems. Staying healthy and happy this year will help. If Barkley lives up to expectations, Beckham bounces back, and defense clicks, Giants can make playoffs. It's long shot, but don't forget this franchise won 11 games in 2016.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    NFC South Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-6)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Ochsner Sports Performance Center, Metairie, Louisiana

    LAST YEAR: Helped by infusion of elite young talent, Saints pulled out of three-year rut of mediocrity and won NFC South. They were seconds away from advancing to NFC title game, only to be thwarted by Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs' winning touchdown as time expired in divisional round. New Orleans received major contributions from running back and Offensive Rookie of Year Alvin Kamara, and cornerback and Defensive Rookie of Year Marshon Lattimore. Several other first-and second-year players filled regular roles as well, and veteran Drew Brees remained one of NFL's top QBs.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Demario Davis, S Kurt Coleman, CB Patrick Robinson, WR Cameron Meredith, Rookie DE Marcus Davenport.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Kenny Vaccaro, TE Coby Fleener, WR Willie Snead, G Senio Kelemete, RT Zach Strief, CB Delvin Breaux.

    CAMP NEEDS: Lineup is relatively stable from last-season's playoff run, but New Orleans looking to bolster pass rush by finding someone who can make offenses pay for sending multiple blockers at All-Pro end Cameron Jordan. Saints want Davenport to develop into that player. But he is raw in first season out of UTSA. Saints also want to figure out which running backs can fill in for Mark Ingram during his four-game suspension to open season. Veteran free agents Shane Vereen and Terrence West, along with draft pick Boston Scott and second-year pro Trey Edmunds, are competing for those snaps.

    EXPECTATIONS: Saints appear to have gotten stronger and deeper than last season, particularly with additions on defense. Keys to improving are how well new players fit and, as usual, avoiding injuries. If Davenport develops quickly, Saints could be elite. If not, teams with good plan to block Jordan could give New Orleans fits.

    ---

    CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-6)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina

    LAST YEAR: Panthers enjoyed bounce-back season after failing to reach playoffs in 2017. Carolina lost three times to New Orleans, including wild-card playoffs. No deep threat, lengthy injury to TE Greg Olsen and poor pass protection doomed offense. Defense remained one of NFL's best behind high MLB Luke Kuechly.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:
    Rookie WR D.J. Moore, WR Torrey Smith, WR Jarius Wright, RB C.J. Anderson, RB Kenjon Barner, G Jeremiah Sirles, DT Dontari Poe, rookie CB Donte Jackson, CB Ross Cockrell, S Da'Norris Searcy.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES:
    G Andrew Norwell, RB Jonathan Stewart, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Charles Johnson, S Kurt Coleman, CB Daryl Worley, QB Derek Anderson.

    CAMP NEEDS: Panthers need to adjust to three new coordinators: Norv Turner (offense), Eric Washington (defense) and Chase Blackburn (special teams). Turner's relationship with QB Cam Newton critical to team's success. Second-year RB Christian McCaffrey is featured back with Jonathan Stewart gone. Team expected to use more two tight end sets, play-action under Turner. Addition of WRs D.J. Moore, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright should bolster passing game. Washington inherits defense looking to replace four starters (Lotulelei, Johnson, Coleman and Worley). Kuechly, DT Kawann Short, LB Thomas Davis, CB James Bradberry and pass-rushing tandem Julius Peppers and Mario Addison (11 sacks each) all return. GM Marty Hurney thrilled with second-round pick CB Donte Jackson, who'll start.

    EXPECTATIONS:
    Core of team that's been to postseason four of past five seasons remains intact, but aging quickly. Peppers is 38, S Mike Adams 37, Davis 35, and C Ryan Kalil and Olsen are 33. Newton is 29. Plenty of pressure to win now under new owner David Tepper before window closes. Carolina should compete for NFC South title with New Orleans and Atlanta if offense improves.

    ---

    ATLANTA FALCONS (11-7)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 27, Falcons practice facility, Flowery Branch, Georgia

    LAST YEAR:
    One year after reaching Super Bowl, Falcons finished third in NFC South and lost to Philadelphia in second round of playoffs. Quarterback Matt Ryan, working under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, had decline in production from 2016, when team led NFL in scoring. Ryan still signed five-year, $150 million deal in offseason. Good news is young defense, led by speedy linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, allowed 318.4 yards per game, significant drop from 371.2 in 2016.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: G Brandon Fusco, rookie WR Calvin Ridley, TE Logan Paulsen, CB Justin Bethel, rookie DT Deadrin Senat, QB coach Greg Knapp, RB coach Bernie Parmalee.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Dontari Poe, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Taylor Gabriel, FB Derrick Coleman, TE Levine Toilolo.

    CAMP NEEDS:
    Spotlight will be on WR Julio Jones after team announced it won't renegotiate his current $71.5 million contract. Jones has three years remaining in five-year deal. Jones did not attend minicamp, and training camp holdout could be major distraction to ''brotherhood'' atmosphere promoted by coach Dan Quinn. Defensive front will be concern following losses of Poe and Clayborn. Senat could have opportunity for immediate playing time, if not starting role. Ridley needs to prove he can handle No. 3 receiver spot behind Jones and Mohamed Sanu and be ready for even bigger role.

    EXPECTATIONS: Ryan is 33, Jones is 29, RB Devonta Freeman had two concussions, including one in preseason, and knee injury last season, and RB Tevin Coleman could be free agent after this season. These are all alarm signals as window for current offense is narrowing. While young defense is emerging as team's strength, Atlanta's offense needs to re-emerge in second season with Sarkasian if team can have real hope for second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Addition of Fusco should add more stability to interior offensive line. Competitive NFC South doesn't lessen expectations. Anything less than 10 wins and another postseason would be disappointment.

    ---

    TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-11)

    OPEN CAMP
    : July 26, One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, Florida

    LAST YEAR: Failed to play up to heightened expectations coming off winning nine games previous season. Lost 10 of 13 following 2-1 start, missing playoffs for 10th straight year. QB Jameis Winston missed three games, plus most of fourth due to injury he tried to play through in three other starts. Lack of consistent running attack was problem. Gerald McCoy-led defense was disappointing, too, ranking last in league with 22 sacks.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Beau Allen, DE Vinny Curry, DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones, C Ryan Jensen, DT Mitch Unrein.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Doug Martin, DE Robert Ayers, Jr., G J.R. Sweezy, DT Chris Baker, DT Clinton McDonald, S T.J. Ward.

    CAMP NEEDS: Reconstructing defensive line and improving anemic pass rush were top priorities this offseason. However, getting newcomers Pierre-Paul, Allen, Curry, Unrein and first-round draft pick Vea acclimated to defensive coordinator Mike Smith's system isn't only concern entering camp. Winston will miss first three games of season while serving suspension for violating NFL's personal conduct policy. So, balancing starter's workload in practice along with that of backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, will be focal point during preseason.

    EXPECTATIONS: With Winston entering his fourth season, suspended three games for off-field behavior and also due to see his salary increase to $20.9 million in 2019, coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht - as well as 24-year-old Winston - are on hot seat to end franchise's long playoff drought. Winston will miss season opener at New Orleans, as well as home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An 0-3 start could be difficult to overcome, even if Pierre-Paul, Vea and Curry are answers to club's pass-rushing woes.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    NFC North Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-4)

    OPEN CAMP: July 25 (rookies), July 28 (veterans), Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Eagan, Minnesota

    LAST YEAR: Despite losing starting QB Sam Bradford after season opener and rookie RB Dalvin Cook in fourth game, both to knee injuries, Vikings rode backup QB Case Keenum and league-leading defense to second-most wins in franchise history. Beat Saints on last-second 61-yard TD pass from Keenum to WR Stefon Diggs in play dubbed ''Minneapolis Miracle,'' before being trounced by Eagles in NFC championship game to miss chance of becoming NFL's first Super Bowl host to play in game.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, PK Daniel Carlson, CB/KR Mike Hughes, WR Kendall Wright, OG Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Brian O'Neill.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES:
    Keenum, Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, RG Joe Berger, WR Jarius Wright, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OL Jeremiah Sirles.

    CAMP NEEDS:
    Cousins must continue to build chemistry with Diggs, WR Adam Thielen, TE Kyle Rudolph and rest of receivers, but even more important is establishment of healthy line in front of him. RT Rashod Hill will be in spotlight after taking most of first-team reps in spring practices while Mike Remmers moved to RG, and C Pat Elflein has catching up to do with Cousins on cadence and calls; Elflein was out of team drills all offseason in recovery from shoulder, ankle injuries. Cook looks to step back in as starting tailback 10 months after ACL surgery. First-round draft pick Hughes will have opportunity to earn jobs as primary KR and nickel CB.

    EXPECTATIONS: As high as ever, with fully guaranteed contract for Cousins and under-radar signing of Richardson to supplement one of league's most stacked rosters. With Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr on expiring contracts and handful of defense's stars nearing, at, or over 30, time is now for team's first title. Repeating last year's record won't be easy, with questions remaining on offensive line, where Berger's retirement created opening, and stiffer schedule that includes road trips to face Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks.

    ---

    DETROIT LIONS (9-7)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 27, Allen Park, Michigan

    LAST YEAR: Early and late-season slides knocked team out of playoff contention and cost coach Jim Caldwell job. QB Matthew Stafford led pass-dependent offense with 1,000-yard WRs Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. CB Darius Slay emerged as one of league's best in coverage.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:
    Coach Matt Patricia, RB LeGarrette Blount, RB Kerryon Johnson, TE Luke Willson, C Frank Ragnow, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Christian Jones, LB Devon Kennard.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Coach Jim Caldwell, TE Eric Ebron, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead.

    CAMP NEEDS: Developing running game with two new backs and rookie center. Learning new defense with first-year head coach and new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.

    EXPECTATIONS: Making playoffs must be goal after firing coach coming off third winning season in four years. Third-year GM Bob Quinn wants team to become tougher, especially in short yardage and near goal line.

    ---

    GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-9)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 26, Green Bay, Wisconsin

    LAST YEAR: Finished under .500 and out of playoffs for first time since 2008. Offense struggled with QB Aaron Rodgers sidelined for seven games with broken collarbone. Defense plagued by porous secondary and lack of consistent pass rush. Injuries ravaged cornerback position again.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM Brian Gutekunst, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, QB DeShone Kizer, TE Jimmy Graham, TE Marcedes Lewis, CB Tramon Williams, rookie CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, DL Muhammad Wilkerson.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: retired GM Ted Thompson, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, S Morgan Burnett, WR Jordy Nelson, G Jahri Evans, TE Richard Rodgers.

    CAMP NEEDS: Find receiver to replace Nelson. Packers took three wideouts in middle rounds of draft, but returnees Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis could have early edge. With Rodgers sidelined, Nelson's production tailed off last year, and Packers let him go in offseason and brought in Graham to provide big target over middle. At their best, Rodgers and Nelson were one of top combos in league. Packers need to develop pass-rush depth behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and hope that Alexander and Jackson can learn from Williams to help in coverage.

    EXPECTATIONS: Packers are always threat as long as Rodgers is healthy. Last season served as painful lesson of what team needs to shore up defensive deficiencies that could be masked by their gifted quarterback. At worst, expect return to playoffs - assuming Rodgers is healthy - following offseason full of changes in Titletown.

    ---

    CHICAGO BEARS (5-11)

    OPEN CAMP:
    July 19, Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois

    LAST YEAR: Bears finished last in NFC North for fourth straight year, then fired coach John Fox after three losing seasons. GM Ryan Pace got contract extension through 2021 and hired Andy Reid protege Matt Nagy as head coach, hoping he gets most out of QB Mitchell Trubisky. Wide receivers were big weakness, with Cameron Meredith (left knee) out for season and Kevin White (shoulder) missing most of it. Chicago's leading receiver was Kendall Wright - now with Minnesota - with 59 receptions for 614 yards. Bears had formidable RB tandem with Jordan Howard (1,122 yards) and Tarik Cohen (370 yards rushing, 353 receiving), though Howard struggled to catch passes. Defense ranked 10th overall despite injuries to several key players, including LB Leonard Floyd.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, WR Allen Robinson, TE Trey Burton, WR Taylor Gabriel, K Cody Parkey, rookie LB Roquan Smith, rookie WR Anthony Miller, rookie G/C James Daniels.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Fox, Meredith, LB Pernell McPhee, LB Willie Young.

    CAMP NEEDS: Trubisky needs time to develop rapport with new targets, particularly Robinson, coming back from torn left ACL in last year's opener with Jacksonville. Something else to watch: G Kyle Long's health. Three-time Pro Bowler is working way back from ankle, neck and shoulder surgeries.

    EXPECTATIONS: Bears, coming off fourth straight season with 10 or more losses, haven't finished above .500 since 2012. Chicago has one playoff appearance since 2006 Super Bowl appearance. Bears are banking on Trubisky after surrounding him with playmakers and coaches they think will help him reach his potential. Chicago also added possible cornerstone at inside linebacker by drafting Smith, who led Georgia to national championship game last season.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    NFC West Training Camp Capsules
    July 21, 2018


    LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-6)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, UC Irvine, Irvine, California

    LAST YEAR: Coach Sean McVay led one of most remarkable single-season transformations in recent NFL history. Rams ended their streaks of 12 consecutive non-playoff seasons and 13 straight non-winning seasons with rampage to first NFC West title since 2003. Franchise with NFL's worst offense in 2016 became league's highest-scoring team, racking up 478 points after scoring 224 in previous year. Quarterback Jared Goff emerged as solid starter in second season, and running back Todd Gurley was NFL's top offensive player with relentless year. Coordinator Wade Phillips' defense also took quantum leap, with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald leading makeover into versatile, hard-nosed group. Despite tepid home playoff loss to Atlanta, Rams captured city's attention in second year back in LA, shrugging off competition from relocated Chargers.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, WR Brandin Cooks.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Robert Quinn, CB Trumaine Johnson, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Tavon Austin, LB Connor Barwin, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.

    CAMP NEEDS: Donald skipped all of last season's training camp, and is likely to hold out again while he attempts to land one of biggest contracts in NFL history. His absence didn't hurt much last season, but every day he waits to begin partnership with Suh is missed opportunity. Rams acquired four elite veteran talents in offseason, and they all must connect with teammates quickly. Defense must adjust to styles of Talib and Peters, its two new aggressive cornerbacks. New starting middle linebacker must be chosen after Ogletree's cap-related departure, with Cory Littleton likely to get first shot. Goff and Cooks must build chemistry to keep McVay's high-octane passing game in top form.

    EXPECTATIONS: Rams all-in on pursuit of first Super Bowl berth since the 2001 season, and have talent to get there. They've brought back almost every important part of last season's excellent offense, and added three game-breaking stars to defense. Even if they still haven't written gargantuan check necessary to make Donald happy, Rams intend to contend for championships for next several years, starting now.

    ---

    SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-7)

    OPEN CAMP
    : July 26, Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Renton, Washington

    LAST YEAR: Seattle missed postseason for first time since 2011 and injuries and depth issues caught up with aging core. Once-vaunted defense took significant step back and offense that had been best at running was downright dreadful. Seattle had one rushing TD last year by running back and QB Russell Wilson again spent large portions running for his safety. That Seattle won nine games and was in playoff conversation into late December was remarkable.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie RB Rashaad Penny, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Jaron Brown, TE Ed Dickson, OL D.J. Fluker, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, rookie DE Rasheem Green, LB Barkevious Mingo, rookie LB/DB Shaquem Griffin, K Sebastian Janikowski, K Jason Myers, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, offensive line coach Mike Solari, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Eddie Lacy, WR Paul Richardson, TE Jimmy Graham, OL Luke Joeckel, DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, SS Kam Chancellor, CB Richard Sherman, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, offensive line coach Tom Cable, defensive coordinator Kris Richard.

    CAMP NEEDS: Happy Earl Thomas is good place to start. Thomas held out from offseason activities and has said he will not take part in team functions until contract situation is addressed. Thomas' deal expires after season. Who will be Seattle's No. 2 wide receiver? Tyler Lockett, now fully healthy after broken leg suffered late in 2016? Veteran Brandon Marshall after injury-filled 2017? Seattle must also find pass rush after departures of Bennett and Avril. Frank Clark can't do it alone.

    EXPECTATIONS:
    Different than they've been since first couple years of Pete Carroll's tenure. Seattle clearly decided to refresh locker room this offseason. Gone are big personalities of Sherman and Bennett. Also gone: lots of talent, a void that may not be filled immediately. There is optimism about Seattle's rookie class, but for first time since 2013 Seahawks don't go into season as one of favorite.

    ---

    ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8)

    OPEN CAMP: July 27, Glendale, Arizona

    LAST YEAR: Cardinals dealt with myriad injuries but managed to pull out win in Seattle in finale to finish 8-8 in coach Bruce Arians' final game. He announced retirement next day. Arians finished with franchise-record 50 wins, but his teams failed to make playoffs in last two years. QB Carson Palmer, after another season shortened by injury, also announced retirement. 8-8 record came despite loss of standout running back David Johnson when he dislocated wrist in opener. It was another standout year for Larry Fitzgerald: In 14th NFL season, he finished second in league in receptions with 102. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones led NFL with 16 + sacks.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Steve Wilks, QB Sam Bradford, QB Josh Rosen, QB Mike Glennon, RT Andre Smith, RG Justin Pugh, WR Brice Butler, WR Christian Kirk, CB Jamar Taylor, RB Chase Edmonds.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: Arians, Palmer, S Tyrann Mathieu, WR John Brown, WR Jaron Brown, QB Drew Stanton, OT Jared Veldheer, CB Justin Bethel, OG Alex Boone, DT Frostee Rucker, ILB Karlos Dansby, DT Josh Mauro, TE Troy Niklas, OT Earl Watford.

    CAMP NEEDS: With new coach and new systems on offense, defense and special teams, plenty for Cardinals to work on once they don pads. While most practices will be held in air conditioned comfort of University of Phoenix Stadium, Wilks says he wants some workouts outside in sweltering Arizona summer heat. There will be several important position battles, including for No. 2 receiver spot behind Fitzgerald. There's also intrigue at quarterback, where Rosen has drawn praise as Cardinals bring along Bradford slowly after last year's knee injury. Rosen will try to unseat Glennon as backup. Wilks and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy want much of offense built around dynamic Johnson, who led NFL in yards from scrimmage two seasons ago. But Johnson skipped mandatory minicamp in contract dispute. Wilks also has cut camp shorter, ending it on Aug. 13 - just after second preseason game - and moving back to practice facilities.

    EXPECTATIONS: Outside of Cardinals organization, expectations aren't high. Many early forecasts have them finishing last in the NFC West. But Wilks has impressed players with his system and he says team has cornerstones of great players - Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Johnson and maybe Bradford - to build winning team. Preseason games will be particularly interesting as Rosen is likely to get extensive playing time.

    ---

    SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-10)

    OPEN CAMP: July 25, Santa Clara, California

    LAST YEAR: Coach Kyle Shanahan's first year with San Francisco was tale of two seasons. 49ers lost first nine games - including record five straight by three points or fewer. But San Francisco posted most dramatic in-season turnaround in NFL history by winning final five games after putting midseason acquisition Jimmy Garoppolo in as starting quarterback.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Richard Sherman, RB Jerick McKinnon, C Weston Richburg, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, G Jonathan Cooper, LB Korey Toomer, T Mike McGlinchey, WR Dante Pettis, LB Fred Warner.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Carlos Hyde, S Eric Reid, CB Dontae Johnson, DE Elvis Dumervil, C Daniel Kilgore, T Trent Brown, G Brandon Fusco,

    CAMP NEEDS: Biggest question marks are at cornerback and pass rusher. Sherman was signed after being cut loose by Seattle and is working his way back from Achilles tendon injury. He is no longer elite shutdown cornerback but is being counted on by Niners. Ahkello Witherspoon showed promise as rookie but will need to step up if San Francisco will have top-flight defense. 49ers were unable to make major upgrades to pass rush in free agency or draft and are hoping for better production from last year's first-round pick Solomon Thomas, as well as free-agent acquisition Attaochu.

    EXPECTATIONS: Full season of Garoppolo has created high hopes in San Francisco for franchise that has second-fewest wins in NFL in past three seasons with 13. Garoppolo is undefeated in seven starts as pro and earned $137.5 million contract in offseason based on his strong play after trade from New England. Garoppolo won't be able to get San Francisco back to playoffs for first time since 2013 on his own. He will need to find go-to receiver, hope McKinnon thrives as featured back, and defense led by emerging star tackle DeForest Buckner improves.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Games to Watch - Preseason
    July 23, 2018


    Winning Picks for NFL Preseason Week 1

    We are about a week and a half away from the start of the NFL preseason, with the Hall of Fame Game on August 2nd being the first game of the bunch. We want to get a jump start on the season by taking a look at the Week 1 preseason schedule and picking some straight up winners. As you all know, wagering on preseason games is notoriously tough, especially in the opening couple of weeks when the projected starters on each team see very little of the action.

    Still, the preseason always brings a great chance to get back into the swing of betting on football before the regular season finally gets underway, so make sure to visit YouWager.eu and start gearing up for some football action.

    Without further ado, let’s get to the straight up picks for NFL preseason Week 1.

    Chicago Bears vs Baltimore Ravens
    Date/Time: Thursday, August 2, 8:00 p.m. ET


    Ravens coach John Harbaugh is coming into the season on the hot seat after his team once again missed out on the playoffs last season. The Ravens made some moves in the offseason to try and improve this year, which adds even more heat to a simmering pot. The Chicago Bears have been on a downturn for several years now, although they finally look to have their franchise QB in Mitch Trubisky, although this season will give us a better indication of what we can expect from the young man. As we said earlier, we won’t see many of the big names here, but I think it’s the Ravens who will get the win.

    Pittsburgh Steelers vs Philadelphia Eagles
    Date/Time: Thursday, August 9, 7:00 p.m. ET


    Sure, it’s only preseason, but this match-up jumps right off the calendar. For the Eagles, it’s time to put aside the happy times of winning the Super Bowl and get back to the serious business of playing football again. The Eagles are going to have a tough time getting back to the big game, as they are in a conference that is totally stacked with great teams this season. For the Steelers, this year is finally about getting over the hump and getting past the Patriots in the AFC. These two are almost certainly playoff bound this season, but I like the Eagles in the preseason opener.

    Washington Redskins vs New England Patriots
    Date/Time: Thursday, August 9, 7:30 p.m. ET


    It’s never easy to bounce back after losing in the Super Bowl the previous season, and we have historically seen teams struggle when put in that position. We are talking about the New England Patriots here, though, so perhaps those rules do not apply. Their preseason may be a little more interesting than most, as they need to find a WR who can slot in for Julian Edelman while he serves a 4-game suspension to start the season. These games will be a test of sorts for the bench guys, so look for the Patriots to get one over on the Redskins at home.

    Atlanta Falcons vs New York Jets
    Date/Time: Friday, August 10, 7:30 p.m. ET


    There are several teams who are just not going to be very good this season, and there is a distinct possibility that the New York Jets could be among that group. After all, this is a team that has won just 5 games in each of its past two seasons, and who are going to be fielding a young, inexperienced team this year. But while most teams will take the preseason to try their new players and play with their lineups, the Jets have much to prove, and chances are, they will play more intensively than their rivals. There is going to be a lot of competition for spots, though, so look for the Jets to play a little harder than most in the preseason. That said, they are probably still looking at a beating versus the Falcons.
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    Saints Training Camp Capsule
    July 21, 2018


    NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-6)

    OPEN CAMP: July 26, Ochsner Sports Performance Center, Metairie, Louisiana

    LAST YEAR: Helped by infusion of elite young talent, Saints pulled out of three-year rut of mediocrity and won NFC South. They were seconds away from advancing to NFC title game, only to be thwarted by Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs' winning touchdown as time expired in divisional round. New Orleans received major contributions from running back and Offensive Rookie of Year Alvin Kamara, and cornerback and Defensive Rookie of Year Marshon Lattimore. Several other first-and second-year players filled regular roles as well, and veteran Drew Brees remained one of NFL's top QBs.

    IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Demario Davis, S Kurt Coleman, CB Patrick Robinson, WR Cameron Meredith, Rookie DE Marcus Davenport.

    IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Kenny Vaccaro, TE Coby Fleener, WR Willie Snead, G Senio Kelemete, RT Zach Strief, CB Delvin Breaux.

    CAMP NEEDS: Lineup is relatively stable from last-season's playoff run, but New Orleans looking to bolster pass rush by finding someone who can make offenses pay for sending multiple blockers at All-Pro end Cameron Jordan. Saints want Davenport to develop into that player. But he is raw in first season out of UTSA. Saints also want to figure out which running backs can fill in for Mark Ingram during his four-game suspension to open season. Veteran free agents Shane Vereen and Terrence West, along with draft pick Boston Scott and second-year pro Trey Edmunds, are competing for those snaps.

    EXPECTATIONS: Saints appear to have gotten stronger and deeper than last season, particularly with additions on defense. Keys to improving are how well new players fit and, as usual, avoiding injuries. If Davenport develops quickly, Saints could be elite. If not, teams with good plan to block Jordan could give New Orleans fits.
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    Some questions that shouldn't be pondered
    July 26, 2018


    There are 32 NFL franchises, and probably 32 questions we can ask about each of them.

    Some are quite pertinent: Carson Wentz or Nick Foles behind center in Philadelphia? Will J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson return healthy to Houston and carry the Texans back to the AFC South lead? Will fans be screaming for their first-round rookie quarterback to get on the field, like, yesterday?

    Good questions all.

    But we're concerned here with the irrelevant queries. Such as:

    1-Can Tom Brady win at age 41?

    Maybe you should ask this question when he is 51 - just kidding, Gisele.

    At 40, Brady was as Tom Terrific as ever, even without his favorite receiver, Julian Edelman, for the entire season. To think he suddenly will go over the hill with the way he trains and his smarts and competitive fire is foolhardy.

    ''Obviously, I evaluate last season and things I can do better. I don't think this offseason was any different for me,'' he has said.

    No, Brady won't play forever; the Jets, Bills and Dolphins surely can't wait until he disappears, not to mention the rest of the AFC. But wondering about Brady's competence in 2018, when he just might win his fourth league MVP award, is an irrelevant task.

    2-Will the Browns win a game?

    Yes they will, maybe even in Week 1 at home against their archrivals, the Steelers, but more likely somewhere else in the first half of a schedule that isn't exactly daunting.

    We understand that every matchup for a club that is 1-31 under coach Hue Jackson is challenging. Still, the Browns added enough talent to win a handful of games or more - and that's not even considering what top overall draft pick Baker Mayfield might provide at quarterback if he gets on the field.

    3-Will Jimmy Garoppolo ever lose a game?

    Yes, he will - plenty of them.

    Sure, Jimmy G is 7-0 as a starter, including 5-0 when he took the reins in San Francisco last year. Look for that first loss to come early this season, perhaps in the opener at Minnesota, a major challenge for the rebuilding 49ers.

    Visits to the Chiefs and Chargers also are on the September docket.

    So thoughts of Garoppolo remaining unblemished are irrelevant.

    That doesn't mean he won't improve; he might do so significantly.

    ''I don't know how much of a jump you're going to see,'' coach Kyle Shanahan said. ''When you talk about expectations, I don't know how you're going to live up to that. He did very good last year. If we had 400 yards a game, does that mean we need to have 600 the first five games to improve? I don't know what the numbers will be, but we will be a better offense.''

    4-Will the NFL and players' union find common ground on national anthem protocol. Or anything else?

    Nope. Not even close.

    The 10-year labor agreement expires after the 2020 season. The union has fought the league on virtually every topic in it and quite a few outside of it. The anthem policy unilaterally imposed by the league and teams is the latest sticking point.

    Common ground between these sides? Irrelevant.

    5-Is Jon Gruden headed back to the broadcast booth after this season?

    It might be tempting for Gruden once he sees how much pro football locker rooms and player approaches have changed since he previously worked a sideline 10 years ago. Still, to suggest a guy with his enthusiasm, intelligence and creative streak is going to sour on coaching so soon is ... irrelevant.

    Gruden could be hard-pressed to win much this season with Oakland, but he'll put his stamp on the Raiders, and they will be better for it down the line - when he'll almost certainly be around.

    6-In how many stadiums will Roger Goodell be booed this season?

    Let's see: There are 31 homes for the teams (the Jets and Giants share MetLife Stadium), plus Azteca in Mexico City, Wembley and the new Tottenham Stadium in London. So 34 works.

    Thinking the commissioner won't get booed in any of them? Irrelevant.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    KC enters camp with loaded backfield
    July 28, 2018


    ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) Three years ago, a little-known and undersized running back out of Abilene Christian led the Kansas City Chiefs in rushing, filling in admirably for an injured Jamaal Charles.

    These days, Charcandrick West finds himself fighting for a job.

    That alone is a sign of just how much deeper and more talented the Chiefs' stable of running backs is this season. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie, but there is a crush of ability and experience nipping at his heels.

    ''There's a good number of backs here that we have,'' offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said, ''and we're very, very blessed and fortunate. We just want to watch these guys compete.''

    These guys: West, who managed just 72 yards on 18 carries last season; Spencer Ware, who led the Chiefs in rushing two years ago before sustaining a season-ending injury in preseason; Kerwynn Williams, who started six games last season for Arizona; Damien Williams, who appeared in 58 games over the past four seasons in Miami; and Darrel Williams, perhaps the biggest dark horse of the bunch.

    Williams backed up Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice the past few years at LSU, a big reason why he went undrafted this past April. But many scouts believe he has the talent to succeed, noting he averaged 5.7 yards a carry last season - better than Guice, a second-round pick.

    ''I probably say this every year, but the talent pool has gotten deeper,'' Bieniemy said. ''I look forward to it. Why? Because it brings out the best in each and every one of them.''

    There are a multitude of reasons why the Chiefs have invested so heavily in the position.

    For one thing, the value of running backs has swung back to the positive after many had written them off in the era of the pass-happy NFL. Offensive coordinators have started to utilize them in creative ways, employing them as pass-catchers and blockers along with running.

    No wonder three running backs were selected in the first round of the draft, and four more in the second round, headlined by Saquon Barkley going to the Giants at No. 2 overall.

    Then there's the misfortune that has befallen Kansas City at the position.

    Twice the franchise lost Charles to season-ending injuries in his prime, the first time resulting in Jackie Battle leading the team in rushing. Then, after Ware's transition from fullback to running back led to a breakout season, he tore up his knee in last year's preseason game against Seattle.

    The Chiefs were fortunate that Hunt emerged as a bona fide star, but they nonetheless headed into the season with a relatively shallow backfield. West handled some spot duty, and Akeem Hunt and an aged C.J. Spiller saw action, but it was quarterback Alex Smith that was second on the team in rushing.

    General manager Brett Veach hardly wants new quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to do likewise

    ''In my mind and obviously in Brett's mind - because he's the one who did this - you can't have enough of those guys,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''We figured, listen, if we have a chance to get good players lets go ahead and better ourselves, let the competition be there and see what happens. I'm expecting Spencer to be back, but you never know, and you've got kids that can play.''

    The depth has already paid off the first week of camp, giving Hunt a chance to rest a stiff hamstring Friday and Ware an opportunity to slowly get back into game shape.

    ''I've never shied away from competition,'' Ware said. ''My ultimate goal is to make my team better and to get better as a player - to make myself more valuable for my team and let them be able to use me in any way they can.''

    NOTES: Rookie FS Armani Watts was back on the field Saturday after tweaking his ankle. ''He needs reps now,'' Reid said. ''If you're going to make this team you have to show it.'' ... West took a shot to the head during the team's first padded practice and was being evaluated by team doctors.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Settled in after relocation, Chargers eye playoff contention
    July 28, 2018


    COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) A year ago at this time, the Los Angeles Chargers' lives were still unsettled amid the upheaval of their franchise relocation season. Some were still looking for houses, and others needed to get kids into school.

    When Philip Rivers and his teammates reported to the same sunny spot Saturday for the first practice their second training camp in Orange County, pretty much everyone was feeling perfectly at home.

    ''Now it's just football,'' Rivers said. ''There's not as much wondering about schedules and what the practice field was going to be like. There's not as much of that uncertainty. It's all football now. There's definitely a level of comfort that I think we have now and we can just put our focus on the field.''

    A year after leaving San Diego, the Chargers are eager to take another shot at living up to their enormous potential. Although they already lost two key players to injuries before training camp even began, the Bolts are aware they're still a popular pick to be a playoff team and likely even a Super Bowl contender.

    Those are nothing less than the Chargers' own internal expectations, and they're much more interested in proving themselves right.

    ''We just want to be the team we know we can be,'' running back Melvin Gordon said. ''Yeah, expectations are high, but we make them higher than other people make them.''

    The 36-year-old Rivers has started every game for the Chargers since 2006, and he realizes he has fewer and fewer shots at reaching his first Super Bowl. He won the AFC West and appeared in playoff games during each of his first four seasons as a starter, but the Bolts have made the playoffs just once since that run ended in 2009.

    Rivers understands the excitement around the Chargers after their 9-3 finish to last season. He even welcomes it.

    ''It's interesting, because it's been a while,'' Rivers said. ''I've been on some teams here that had those expectations, and we went out and did it year after year there for a while. It's been a long time, though. There aren't many guys that have been through that on this team. ... We know there are a lot of expectations outside. We have those same expectations on the inside.''

    The Chargers return with remarkable continuity from last season's team, with veteran center Mike Pouncey joining a largely unchanged offense and rookie safety Derwin James moving into a solid defense. Their biggest personnel losses happened recently, and did nothing to shake the Chargers' reputation for soul-crushing injury problems: tight end Hunter Henry was lost for the season in May, and former Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett tore his Achilles tendon Friday in a conditioning test.

    The coaching staff also stayed essentially intact, with second-year head coach Anthony Lynn keeping coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley. Lynn said he feels more confident as a head coach after getting through his first year in good form - and even finishing up his college degree along the way.

    ''I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable knowing what to expect, not moving and not living out of boxes, knowing where we're going to training camp, and (having a) similar coaching staff and players,'' Lynn said.

    Although the stands at Jack Hammett Sports Complex were filled with an estimated 7,000 fans for the first practice, the Chargers realize they've still got plenty of work to do if they hope to win over the Los Angeles marketplace in the coming years - particularly with the Los Angeles Rams looking like a potential Super Bowl team as well. Fielding a winning team this fall would be the most potent way to do it, the Bolts players and coaches agree.

    But after four consecutive non-playoff seasons, and after the challenges of their relocation year, the Chargers are grateful to settle in for a few weeks of training camp with their thoughts on nothing bigger than the next practice or scrimmage.

    Rivers even had a catchphrase for it: ''Enjoy the boring.''
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Rams grateful for experience Wilson brings at linebacker
    July 28, 2018


    IRVINE, Calif. (AP) With 17 career starts in three seasons, Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Ramik Wilson might not look like a grizzled veteran.

    However, at a position where the second and third-most experienced players have combined for six career starts and the other three are rookies, the 25-year-old Wilson certainly qualifies.

    ''We have a lot of youth at that position. We have a lot of guys, other than Mark Barron, that haven't been starters before. To be able to get (Ramik) in free agency was great,'' linebackers coach Joe Barry said.

    The Rams needed to add experience after trading starting linebacker Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants. Cory Littleton had started five games in two seasons while backing up Barron, but would get the first chance to replace Ogletree at middle linebacker. Bryce Hager's only start came in Week 17 last season when the Rams rested players ahead of their home playoff game.

    Wilson fit the bill after starting 11 games and recording 61 tackles for Kansas City in 2016, but saw his playing time reduced last season after the Chiefs traded for former second-round draft pick Reggie Ragland. When the Chiefs did not tender a contract to Wilson, he agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Rams in March weeks after they agreed to trade Ogletree.

    The opportunity to play for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was something Wilson could not pass up, especially with the chance to move back to his more natural position playing on the weak side.

    ''It just made perfect sense,'' Wilson said. ''I can run to the ball and I can flow. I can make plays. I can do what I'm supposed to do.''

    Barry liked Wilson coming out of college at Georgia, and his subsequent experience as both a starter and backup for the Chiefs made Wilson even more appealing.

    ''As an NFL player, you've got to prepare subtly different if you're the guy as the starter compared to if you're the backup. He's been in both roles, so I think that means a lot,'' Barry said.

    Wilson's ability to adjust was evident during OTAs. With Barron sitting out because of injuries, Wilson was paired with Littleton as part of the first-team defense. The two quickly meshed, and the partnership seems to have only grown as Wilson and Littleton continued to work together early in training camp, with Barron being worked back in cautiously.

    Barry could not take credit for the chemistry Wilson and Littleton have displayed.

    ''When two guys go out and they take over 200 snaps together in OTAs, they are going to build a rapport together. It just happens naturally,'' Barry said.

    Despite the inexperience of the group, Wilson likes how they are progressing. How the linebackers perform might determine whether the play of the Rams defense matches the hysteria created by signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and trading for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peter in the offseason, and Wilson has not seen anything to indicate the inside linebackers are not ready for the challenge.

    ''They are right along and they are ready to go, the whole room,'' Wilson said. ''We've got a lot of expectations, but we know we've got the talent. We're just putting in the work each day now and taking it one day at a time. That's all we are going to do, and the results will show at the end of the day.''

    NOTES: Rams head coach Sean McVay said Saturday there was no update regarding All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald's holdout, but they have been in contact via telephone. ''I spoke with him in the last day or so, and we're just checking in, seeing how he's doing,'' McVay said.

    --
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    49ers' Foster says he learned lesson
    July 28, 2018


    SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster said he is using his legal problems that he feared could cost him his football career this offseason as a learning tool going forward now that he has been cleared of the most serious charges.

    Foster spoke to the media on Saturday for the first time since he was charged in April for felony domestic assault and later exonerated when the accuser recanted her story and a judge found no other credible evidence.

    ''I learned every day I have to go harder at everything I do now to better myself even more,'' Foster said. ''It's like do or die. Just don't mess up. ... It's like how I'm trying to craft my career, I have to craft my life.''

    Foster spent much of his offseason dealing with legal issues rather than preparing for his second season in the NFL. He was charged in January in Alabama with second-degree marijuana possession. That charge was eventually dismissed after he completed a first-time offender diversion course.

    Foster then faced more serious charges for an incident in California in February. He was initially charged in April with felonies for domestic violence, making criminal threats and weapons possession after being accused of beating up his ex-girlfriend.

    A judge ruled there was no probable cause on the first two charges after the ex-girlfriend recanted the allegations and the judge found no other evidence to support the charges. The weapons charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and Foster pleaded no-contest to that in June.

    He was sentenced to two years' probation, 232 hours of community service, and $235 in fines.

    Foster declined to discuss specifics of the case on Saturday and is just thankful to be back with his teammates on the field.

    ''It made me appreciate football a lot better,'' he said. ''It was crazy knowing that football could be gone. Just being back on this field with my brothers and these coaches is a blessing.''

    Foster missed about a month of the offseason program while dealing with the legal issues and will also be suspended without pay for the first two games of the regular season for violating the NFL's conduct and substance-abuse policy.

    He is able to take part in training camp and play the exhibition games, but must sit out San Francisco's games against Minnesota and Detroit before being allowed to return on Sept. 17 before the Niners play Kansas City.

    ''It was painful,'' Foster said of the punishment. ''It's football, something I do, something I love. It is what it is. Accept the consequences, you take it and you move on. You learn from it, too, and you grow from it.''

    The 49ers stood behind Foster even as he was not allowed at the facility. But coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have made clear that Foster must get his life in order and avoid further legal trouble if he wants to remain part of the organization.

    ''I think Reuben's done a great job just handling it,'' Shanahan said. ''What they originally charged him with is as bad of a thing as you can imagine. It's a very embarrassing thing because of how bad it was. To have all that scrutiny on you and to have to go through that, I think would be a challenge for any human being. That would mess a lot of people up.

    ''I've been really, very impressed with Reuben in how he handled it, the process he went through while it was going on and after it got dropped, how he's handled himself since. I know he learned a lot through it. We talked about it a lot at the beginning, that some things seem so bad but if you get through it, it can be a good thing in the long run. If you handle it right, it can enlighten you in some things and help you grow. I really think it has for Reuben and I think it's benefited him in the long run.''

    Foster said he appreciated the support, especially from teammates who came to court in a public show of support. One of those teammates was Richard Sherman, who barely knew Foster after signing with the team in March.

    Sherman and Foster now have lockers next to each other.

    ''That's real. He's a man for that,'' Foster said of Sherman coming to court in April. ''I respect Richard Sherman for that, coming to court and supporting me. Just being there for me at the hard times.''
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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