STAMFORD, Conn. — The XFL says former Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley has been hired as the league’s senior vice president for football operations.
Whaley will report to commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck.
Whaley spent the majority of his career with the Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. He was with the Bills from 2010-17 in a variety of roles before his promotion to GM from 2013-17.
Before joining the Bills, Whaley spent 11 years with the Steelers as the team’s pro scouting coordinator, where he won two Super Bowls.
Whaley is currently serving as the director of college recruiting for the NFL Players Association’s Collegiate Bowl through the end of the year.
The XFL kicks off in early 2020. The league will start with eight teams, 45-man active rosters, and a 10-week regular-season schedule, with a postseason consisting of two semifinal playoff games and a championship game.
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Doug Martin had been a starting running back in the NFL since entering the league in 2012. He has rushed for more than 1,400 yards twice, gone to two Pro Bowls and been named first-team All-Pro once.
“I’ve been a lead guy … so it was definitely something that was difficult for me,” Martin said Thursday of being a backup, three days after Marshawn Lynch was put on injured reserve because of a groin injury.
“But I’ve got people behind me, in my ear, telling me to keep working hard and keep pushing and your time will come. And, it’s this week. … There’s only one running back on the field, and as a running back, you want to have that rhythm. So this week, I hope we get a little more rhythm.”
Signed to a one-year, $1.475 million free-agent contract with a base salary of $850,000 after six star-crossed seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — he rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie with 12 total touchdowns, including a 251-yard outburst with four scores against the Raiders, but has played a full 16-game schedule only once since, when he had 1,402 rushing yards with seven TDs in 2015 — Martin has struggled with the backup role to Lynch.
With only three first downs on 31 offensive touches for Oakland this season, Martin has the lowest such percentage of any player in the league with at least 30 touches, according to The Associated Press.
And while he is averaging 3.7 yards per carry on 27 attempts, Martin’s 3.0 average over the past three seasons is the lowest of any back with at least 150 carries in that time.
Not that Raiders coach Jon Gruden is sweating it. At least, not publicly, and not with Lynch out but the Raiders having traded away another offensive weapon in receiver Amari Cooper this week.
“What a great opportunity for Doug Martin,” Gruden said.
“Yeah, we think Doug is the feature back. He’s had [1,400] yards in this league twice. He’s practiced hard. He’s ready to go.”
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Oakland was fortunate to have Martin backing up Lynch and that Martin still possesses the speed he flashed early in his career.
“He’s a real high-energy guy,” Olson said of Martin. “If you ever watch him on the practice field, he’s constantly moving. If it’s the special teams period, he’s over with the quarterbacks running routes or working on protections. He’s just trying to improve his game all the time. He’s a real high-energy guy. I think he’s being a real pro and he’ll wait patiently until his opportunity comes, and it’s here now.
“Marshawn has a package of plays that we feel suit his skills; Doug has a package of plays that suit his skills. … We’re excited to see what he can do.”
And while Olson said Martin still showed the speed he had early in his career, the back has had trouble not going down early. Martin averaged a league-low 0.06 forced missed tackles per touch in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. This season, he ranks 54th at 0.07.
“I’m 29, pushing 30,” Martin said. “I signed over here for a year so it’s definitely an opportunity to show the rest of the league and the Raiders and all my doubters that I can still play.
“I still have a lot of miles left on these wheels.”
Martin played in a combined 19 games the previous two seasons, averaging 2.9 yards per carry while getting slapped with a four-game suspension at the end of the 2016 season that extended into 2017 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, reportedly for Adderall.
With the trades of Cooper this week and edge rusher Khalil Mack on Sept. 1, the Raiders’ focus has changed from competing to rebuilding since Martin signed in Oakland. He insists that will not change his focus.
Not even with the Raiders sitting at 1-5.
“Nobody wants to lose and nobody wants to lose multiple games,” Martin said. “Right now, we’re playing for each other, and still playing. It’s not too late. We still have a lot of games left. We have a lot of guys with a lot of pride on this team, and we’re not going to go down without a fight. We’re going to play to the best of our ability.”
Like he did early in his college career at Boise State.
It was there that Martin was actually being used on defense by the Broncos’ coaching staff.
“We had a lot of running backs and a running back ended up tearing his ACL and they asked me to come back over and the rest is history,” Martin said. “I’ve been in this situation before and I’m just glad I have this opportunity.”
PHILADELPHIA — What was organic last season seems forced this time around.
In the wake of the Eagles’ collapse against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, coach Doug Pederson said his message to his players in the locker room was that the “pressure’s off of us.”
“Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything,” he said. “Pressure’s off, so we can go play, have fun, relax.”
The Eagles famously rode the “underdog” theme all the way to a Super Bowl championship in 2017, complete with dog masks the players broke out following each upset win in the postseason — an image the Panthers used to troll Philly following Sunday’s meltdown.
During his epic parade-day speech on the Art Museum steps, center Jason Kelce rattled off a long list of players and execs who had been counted out, capped by a rendition of the chant, “No one likes us. We don’t care.”
It was an easy, natural identity for the Eagles to embrace, considering they were in fact underdogs in every playoff game they played.
It’s more difficult now that they’re the Super Bowl champs. This isn’t a team that is being discounted — not even after it blew a 17-0 lead to Carolina to fall to 3-4. The NFC East is still up for grabs. Most believe the middling division will come down to the wire and the Eagles will be right in the mix for the crown.
Pederson went on to offer some context around his messaging.
“Number one, I think no one has really given us a chance anyway,” Pederson said. “Whether we’re putting pressure on ourselves to perform, to play, whatever it is, live up to a certain expectation, I think that’s the point where I think that no one has given us that type of — maybe with the amount of injuries or whatever it is — given us much credit going into games.
“And I think sometimes we force issues. We try to press just a little bit instead of just — we don’t have to go searching for plays. When the plays come, let’s just make the plays that come to us, and right now, we’re not doing that. So I think that’s the pressure that’s off of us, and we just have to get back to playing and executing better.”
It’s a sharp pivot from the “embrace the target” mantra that he has been pushing since the offseason. Pederson stressed that this group is not going to sneak up on anyone and, as defending champs, will get the opponent’s best shot every week. It’s hard to sell that the Eagles are being dismissed now — injuries and slow start aside — when they’ve been favored in every game they’ve played to this point.
What stands out when you get past the fact that the message doesn’t fit are some of the phrases Pederson used in his explanation: “we try to press,” “we don’t have to go searching for plays,” “we force issues.”
“Sometimes I think players and coaches just put added pressure when they don’t have to, and that’s something that we’ve got to — it starts with me there, just to make sure we’re doing everything, even during the week, getting ourselves in position to win games,” he said.
What seems clear is that Pederson believes his team is trying to do too much and needs to find a way to relieve some of the pressure that is keeping them from performing freely.
It actually seemed like the joy and swagger the Eagles played with last season had returned last week against the New York Giants, and it spilled over for three quarters Sunday. The celebratory touchdowns were back. During one TV timeout, the Eagles’ kickoff unit formed a dance circle, with each player getting a chance to jump in the middle and show off his moves. The fun-loving, dominating squad was back … until everything evaporated in the fourth quarter.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone didn’t mince words about the state of his football team after a two-game losing streak in which they were outscored 70-21.
The Jaguars may have been a Super Bowl contender when the season began, but now they’re struggling with basic football fundamentals.
“We have to do a lot of things better,” Marrone said. “I’m more focused on what we have to get done in practice and do those things before we can even go the next step and get out there on the field Sunday.
“We have a lot of time between now and Sunday to correct a lot of bad football that we have been playing.”
The Jaguars (3-3) host streaking Houston (3-3) in a critical AFC South game at TIAA Bank Field. The Jaguars are coming off blowout losses to Kansas City and Dallas, with the supposed elite defense having given up 63 points, 49 first downs, and 802 yards in the two games.
The offense has been even worse. Quarterback Blake Bortles has committed six turnovers — five interceptions — and the offensive line has struggled because four starters are banged up and the fifth is the third-string left tackle. In addition, the team’s wide receivers are having a hard time getting open.
Also not helping is that the team’s best offensive player — running back Leonard Fournette — is out indefinitely with a right hamstring injury.
That’s why Marrone said the team is going back to stressing basic football fundamentals rather than worrying about injuries, scheme and playcalling. The Jaguars can’t just assume the defensive front will have success against a Texans offensive line that has given up the second-most sacks in the NFL (25).
“Well if you think of it like that, I think that’s a pretty good path to probably get your ass kicked,” Marrone said. “Fundamentally, we have gotten away from some things and that is on us as coaches. What I have challenged the coaches and I challenged myself with this week is, ‘Hey listen, we have to get back to fundamentals. We have to stick with something that we can sink our teeth in and this way we can go out there and just perform.’
“This may just be my philosophy that anytime you see football being played as poorly as we have been playing, then that is what it comes down to [fundamentals]. That is my philosophy. You guys may differ, but you have to do things well fundamentally. Usually when you do that, you have a chance to play better.”
Marrone is energized by the challenge of getting the team back on track. It means a lot of extra hours and work, but he’s been in this situation before and responded.
He believes it can turn a team’s season around.
“There is no magic pill or magic moment that you can just snap your fingers and go,” Marrone said. “The only way to start playing better is you have to work your ass off. You have to work hard. You have to go back there. You have to coach better. We have to play better. I have to do a better job. That is how simple it is.
“It is like that with anything in life, whether it is football, family or work or whatever it may be. You eat some s— and you go out there and you get your act in gear. You pull it up. I like it because it is challenging. What’s better than hitting adversity and coming back from it?
“It happens all the time. It happens to me my whole entire life. For me, I like it. I don’t want to be here, make no mistake about it, but the one thing you don’t have to worry about — the one question you are not going to get is are you comfortable? There is no way anyone in this building should be comfortable. We know that. We earned that right to be where we are. We are the ones that put us where we are.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said there was no animosity toward the New York Jets when he decided to go for two points instead of kicking a PAT after a touchdown in the final seconds of Jacksonville’s 31-12 victory over New York on Sunday.
Marrone said several players were dealing with minor injuries and the strategy chart recommended he go for two points to extend the Jaguars’ lead to 21 points after T.J. Yeldon‘s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 25 seconds to play.
“We had a lot of guys banged up for the PAT/field goal [team], and on the chart it just said 19 [points],” Marrone said. “On the chart it says go for two. I’m one of those guys I never try to take anything for granted in an NFL game. Try to keep working those mechanics and doing it, so just went for two.
“… We’re not good enough to send a message right now.”
Quarterback Blake Bortles said he had no idea why Marrone chose to go for two — “I just work here,” he said jokingly — but defensive tackle Malik Jackson said he believes Marrone does have some hard feelings toward the Jets organization.
“He doesn’t like those guys,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what they did to him, but he doesn’t like them.”
If that’s the case, then it might stem from what happened at the end of the 2014 NFL season and the first month of 2015. Marrone had just finished his second season as coach of the Buffalo Bills when he exercised a clause in his contract and opted out of the final two seasons on Jan. 1, 2015.
Two days later he interviewed for the head-coaching job with the Jets, where he had spent four seasons (2002-05) as the offensive line coach. On the same day a story in the New York Daily News was critical of how Marrone conducted himself with the Bills. Various anonymous sources criticized the way he treated players, coaches, staffers and other people inside the organization. In addition, a former assistant coach under Marrone at Syracuse ripped him publicly on the radio.
Marrone did not get the Jets job. Instead it went to Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who is 21-31 in three-plus seasons.
Marrone was hired as the Jaguars’ offensive line coach/assistant head coach in 2015, and succeeded Gus Bradley as head coach in 2017. He guided the Jaguars to a 10-6 record and an appearance in the AFC title game and now has the Jaguars tied for the lead in the AFC South with a 3-1 record, the team’s best start to a season since 2007.
As for the two-point conversion try on Sunday — which failed when Bortles couldn’t connect with receiver Dede Westbrook — none of the Jets players or coaches had anything critical to say of Marrone’s decision.
Receiver Quincy Enunwa actually understood it and said it wasn’t classless.
“You know what? Step on their throats. That’s what I’d want us to do,” Enunwa said.
“You know what, man? It’s football.” he said. “Where’s the class in football? At the end of the day, we try to be warriors and have all this war mentality. If that’s how we want to be, we can’t be upset when somebody does that. We want to be this macho stuff. They did it, and that’s what they did.
“If I were a head coach and I wanted to make a statement for [not] only this team, but the rest of the teams we’re playing, I’m going to let guys know we’re going to step on your throat. That’s what he did.”
Bowles said he wasn’t concerned about why Marrone chose to go for two.
“I don’t tell another guy how to coach his team,” he said. “If they run it, we have to defend it.”
Jets reporter Rich Cimini contributed to this report.
RENTON, Wash. — Doug Baldwin insists he’s “ready to go” now that he has sufficiently healed from the knee injury that sidelined — and frustrated — him for the past two weeks.
The Seattle Seahawks‘ No. 1 receiver is hoping the team’s training staff agrees with him. He knows that will be the ultimate determination of whether he plays Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Again, that’s going to be their call,” Baldwin said. “There’s a lot of things that go into it, obviously the precautionary reasons of making sure that I’m healthy fully, so that I can go for the rest of the season, not just this game. And I get that. But as a competitor and somebody that hasn’t missed games that often, who had an 89-game streak, I feel like I know my body pretty well, so I feel like I’m ready to go.”
Baldwin returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering an MCL sprain early in Seattle’s opener at Denver. That relegated him to a spectator for the second half of that game and the Seahawks’ Monday night loss in Chicago that dropped them to 0-2.
He called it “really frustrating” to not be able to play and said that emotion, among other things, was at play when he lost his cool on the sideline during the Seahawks’ win over the Cowboys. The FOX broadcast showed a fired-up Baldwin talking passionately with the team’s co-director of player personnel, Trent Kirchner. He said he apologized to Kirchner a few minutes later and that the two are fine.
“It was empathy, is what it was,” Baldwin said. “I won’t go into a great deal of detail but essentially it’s frustrating when you start 0-2 and you start the way we’ve started. We’ve had some frustrating games. And especially as a receiving corps, being here for so long and knowing the process and knowing what you guys are going to say, the questions that come up in the receivers room, and how that plays a role in just the emotional stability of the receivers and then just other things that come along with that, so when they come off the field and they’re telling me how they’re feeling and they’re expressing their emotions and myself, trying to be empathic to them in that regard, there’s a lot of energy there.
“On top of the fact that I’m not able to go out there and help them out and play with them, on top of the fact that there’s history, there’s a lot there. I think that was just an exertion of energy that Trent just happened to be in the area at the time unfortunately. I sent him a text message and I just told him – well, during the moment I came back to him and said, ‘Look, man, I’m sorry. I just had to let get that out.’ And he’s like, ‘I get it. I get it.’ He knows. He understands. So we had a god conversation about it. That’s my guy, though.”
Baldwin had missed a month of training camp with an injury to his other knee before he suffered the MCL injury in Denver. That snapped his streak of 89 consecutive games played, which had been the fourth-longest among active receivers. He returned later in the first half before realizing he had to take himself out.
“In that moment, it was one of those situations where, ‘OK, Doug, it’s messed up, you know it’s messed up but let’s see what you can do,'” he said. “I knew it was a serious injury, but just again, being out for so long prior to that game I wanted to do everything I could to go back in and I did that, realized that it wasn’t getting better so I had to pull myself unfortunately. It’s just the nature of the business but the reasoning for going back out there was really just the competitive nature in my mind.”
Baldwin said his other knee is doing better with the extra time off it’s had to rest.
“Knowing that I have a lot of mileage on my legs, knowing that I’m not 25 years old any more, I take all that context into account when I’m making my decisions as well,” he said. “The process of getting my body to this point has been obviously a long process but I know where I’m at. And of course I have to tell [coach Pete Carroll] and anybody who asks me how confident I am. But that’s just the truth. I think all of you all know when I come up here, you’re not going to get BS from me. I’m going to be honest with you. And I’ll say the same thing to Pete and anybody else who asks me about my health. I’m ready to go, so we’ll see what happens. I think we have a good plan in place and I’m willing to go with that so we’ll see what happens.”
Wright and Baldwin have been dealing with knee injuries while Wagner (groin) showed up on the injury report this week. The situation at linebacker prompted the Seahawks to sign former Eagle Mychal Kendricks, who last week pleaded guilty to insider trading charges and faces potential prison time and league discipline.
Kendricks is expected to play Monday night.
Justin Coleman and Neiko Thorpe are two of Seattle’s healthy cornerbacks, though the team could add one to its roster this weekend. Coleman is Seattle’s nickelback.
RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin‘s latest knee injury could keep him out at least a couple weeks, coach Pete Carroll said.
Baldwin did not play in the second half of Seattle’s season-opening loss to the Broncos in Denver after suffering what ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported to be a Grade 2 partial tear of his right MCL. Baldwin also missed about a month of training camp because of an injury to his left knee.
“He’s really gonna go a few days at a time here,” Carroll said Tuesday. “Let’s see what happens. We’ll wait and see. We don’t know yet. It could be a couple weeks. It could be a couple weeks, and we’ll find out. He’s as tough as you get. We’ll need to wait.”
The Seahawks could also be without linebacker K.J. Wright for a second straight game when they play the Bears in Chicago on Monday night. Carroll said Monday on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show that it would take a “miraculous return” for Wright to make it back this week, though he was more vague Tuesday about Wright’s potential availability.
“We’re gonna see what happens. He is running, so he’s back to moving and all that. He’s had a really clean rehab in the short time he’s had,” Carroll said. “He’s very positive about it, but I can’t tell you what that means for the weekend. I don’t know that yet.”
Baldwin went down in obvious pain in the first quarter of Seattle’s 27-24 loss to Denver. He tried to limp off the field before he went down again and had to be tended to by Seattle’s medical staff. Baldwin eventually walked off the field on his own power and returned to the game later in the first half, but he was on the sideline in street clothes after halftime.
“He’ll be able to get back from this, yeah,” Carroll said. “He’ll come back from it. It just depends. We’ve got to see it through. It’s really early in the year. We’ve got to take care of him and look after him first and foremost. We’ll only do what he’s capable of doing, with the OK from the docs, too.”
With Baldwin ailing, Carroll said the Seahawks are promoting receiver Keenan Reynolds, a former quarterback at Navy, off their practice squad. They waived safety Shalom Luani, whom they acquired from the Oakland Raiders on cut-down day for a seventh-round pick.
Reynolds joins a receiver corps that also has Tyler Lockett, Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown and David Moore. Lockett briefly gave Seattle a lead Sunday with a 51-yard touchdown catch from Russell Wilson. The 34-year-old Marshall caught three passes for 46 yards and a touchdown and had another score negated because he was flagged for offensive pass interference, which he said postgame was the correct call.
Marshall had ankle and toe surgeries after playing in only five games for the New York Giants last season. He signed a one-year deal with Seattle after being released by the Giants.
“We were very happy with what Brandon did in the game,” Carroll said. “He showed that he was ready to play and answered the call. He could have had a couple touchdowns in the game but contributed. Lock obviously had a big contribution as well. We’ll see more out of David and Jaron Brown too.”
Rookie Shaquem Griffin started at weak-side linebacker for Wright and split time there with Austin Calitro. But Carroll’s comments suggest that Calitro could see more playing time in Wright’s absence after Griffin found himself out of position a few times Sunday.
“Austin did pretty well and Griff, he had some problems on some stuff,” Carroll said. “There were some things that happened to him that wasn’t quite as clean as we would have liked. He got fooled on a couple things, but he played hard and he played tough and all of that. It’s just first game, trying to figure it out. Even through preseason, he’s had a lot of reps, but stuff happened to him for the first time in this game that hadn’t happened before and he didn’t always see it the way he needed to.
“It’s a difficult transition that he’s making. It’s a lot to do in a short amount of time. They had a nice offense, they did some nice stuff and he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be at times. So we’ll just keep going. We’ll find out during the week how the guys play and how they do and how practice goes, and we’ll see what we’re going to do about play time.”
PHILADELPHIA – Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that quarterback Carson Wentz is “close” to a return from ACL and LCL surgery, and apparently is so encouraged by his progress that he held out on officially naming a starter for Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons until the last possible moment.
Pederson said he had not informed Wentz and Nick Foles that Foles would be the starter until Sunday, a day after reports dropped signaling that Wentz would not play.
“The decision was not made at the time,” Pederson said. “I still wanted to hear from our medical team, I wanted to see exactly where Carson was at, and so if I came off a little abrasive, that was part of the reason.”
After the Falcons game, the Eagles play at the Tampa Bay Bucs on September 16 before returning home to face the Indianapolis Colts on September 23.
Wentz has been pushing hard to return from a multi-ligament knee injury suffered against the Los Angeles Rams in December. He had no setbacks during his rehab, Pederson confirmed, and seemingly hit every benchmark that was in his control. But he has still not been cleared for contact.
“Obviously more rest and more time off heals the wounds, heals the [surgery],” said Pederson, of the medical benefit of holding Wentz back. “But listen, you’ve got to understand, too, Carson’s been out there, he’s been in 11-on-11 drills in training camp and this week, and so, we’re just waiting to get the clearance.”
Pederson did not offer a timeline to say exactly how close Wentz is to getting back on the field, but noted that, “He’s had some great workouts here over the last few days.”
The fact that Wentz heard the news through the media instead of the organization, assuming Pederson’s account is accurate, couldn’t have sat well with the franchise quarterback, but Pederson says Wentz remains in a “great spot.”
“Nobody wants to hear it from [the media], they want to hear it from me,” Pederson said. “And that’s why, again, [I had] the reaction because I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing for both guys, number one, and obviously the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s why my communication with them is very critical, and it’s been open, it’s been honest all the way back since the beginning of April.”
PHILADELPHIA — A fiery Doug Pederson shut down most questions about his quarterback situation Sunday, agitated by reports on the subject, but did reveal that Carson Wentz has not yet been cleared for contact with the opener against the Atlanta Falcons just days away.
“First of all, I appreciate y’all putting words in my mouth this week. Therefore, I’m not going to discuss [who the quarterback will be],” he said, in reference to reports that Nick Foles is expected to start Thursday night.
Follow-up questions triggered multiple “next question” responses, a la agent Drew Rosenhaus.
League sources who have weighed in on Philadelphia’s quarterback situation anticipate that Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, will play against the Falcons. Wentz is still on the early side of a traditional timetable for a return from an ACL tear in his left knee, which typically takes nine to 12 months. The Atlanta game comes a few days shy of that nine-month mark. Wentz tore his LCL as well, which delayed the rehab process and made for a more complicated surgery and recovery. The prevailing thought from sources who have spoken on this is that the Eagles want to be cautious when it comes to their franchise quarterback.
Pederson said that he didn’t want to name a starting quarterback in part because he was hoping to gain a competitive advantage.
“A little bit. Yeah, a little bit. [We are] trying to win a football game. I don’t want to put my game plan out there for everybody to see it and read it and teams can scheme,” he said. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. So, I appreciate it.”
On a conference call later Sunday afternoon, Falcons coach Dan Quinn opened by joking, “I understand you have some quarterback questions today, so … Matt Ryan will be our quarterback.”
Quinn went on to say that he is just preparing for the Eagles’ offense rather than a specific quarterback, and doesn’t see much of a competitive disadvantage in not knowing for certain who the Eagles’ QB will be.
“If style was so drastically different … probably back in the day and we were having this conversation between Jaws [Ron Jaworski] and Randall [Cunningham], we might have that discussion. But these two guys are really equipped to run it in a similar fashion,” he said.
The quarterback situation has been a sore subject for Pederson. He got testy last Sunday as well, fed up with questions about Wentz’s health.
“I don’t know how many times I can answer this question,” he said after a long pause and a laugh. “When they clear him, he’ll be cleared.”