Inside a week with the Pittsburgh Steelers, recovering from tragedy and preparing for Thursday

DRESSED IN A BLACK Pittsburgh Steelers shirt, the woman sniffed back tears as she made her way through the still-crowded memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, gently, unconsciously rolling a small stone in her right palm. I never intended to start this “week with the Steelers” diary with a visit to Squirrel Hill, but you realize quickly that, in this town, there’s no way to separate the two: On this Monday morning, the two items above the fold in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are James Conner and the Squirrel Hill Massacre. There are more parallels: David and Cecil Rosenthal, two of the 11 victims in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history, were brothers of Michele Rosenthal, the team’s former community relations manager; head coach Mike Tomlin lives a block from the synagogue, near Art Rooney II, as well; two buses of Steelers players, along with Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, attended the victims’ funerals last week. In Baltimore, eight deays after the attack, Ben Roethlisberger sported cleats with the now ubiquitous “Stronger Than Hate” logo featuring the star of David as part of the Steelers logo.

That logo is everywhere at this memorial, held this week at Tree of Life — still framed by yellow police tape and bursting with flowers, candles, rain-soaked signs and heart-breaking personal notes. It’s painted onto the stones that mourners have left behind for the dead, following Jewish custom. There are thousands of stones here now, some precariously stacked four, five high, on top of the nameplates, and when you begin to contemplate the massive, collective tapestry of grief they form, it’s instantly overwhelming. The rest of the world may have moved on already to the next mass shooting — another 13 dead just 12 days later, in Thousand Oaks, California — but the sorrow in Squirrel Hill lingers.

Even here, the Steelers mean something. Along with the stones, which feature the team logo, there is a man in a wheelchair paying his respects while wearing a throwback Troy Polamalu jersey. A woman stands at a steel barricade, bowed in prayer, holding up a giant poster asking people to put a Steel Curtain of love around the Tree of Life. “Obviously, everyone is still really feeling the pain, but the Steelers have been instrumental in uniting this community and supporting these poor families,” says Dr. Stanley Marks, a lifelong Pittsburgh resident, Pitt grad and the chairman of the nearby UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “Forget sports — this team is an important fabric of the community.”

After leaving Tree of Life, I walked up a small hill to the Commonplace Coffeehouse on Forbes Avenue, which had recently received a $650 donation — free coffee for all on Saturday, Nov. 3 — from citizens in Newtown, Connecticut, who experienced the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Just a few months ago, I was in Jacksonville, working on a story about a shooting at a Madden tournament. The killer walked right by a giant poster of the latest Madden NFL cover, featuring Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Sports used to be our escape, but the Steelers represent the new normal now: Each of us connected, sometimes in multiple ways, to a mass shooting.

As I walked back to my car, a strange thumping noise stopped me in my tracks at the foot of the Jewish Community Center on the west side of Squirrel Hill, where the clock tower is in Hebrew, the flag is at half-mast and the steps remain covered in flowers. Eventually I traced the sound to a large bay window at the front of the building where toddlers in the center’s day care had crowded onto the windowsill and were pounding on the glass until each passerby stopped what they were doing to smile and wave back at them.

Even the bus drivers were pulling up short of their stop to open their doors to wave to the kids. As they did, the info screens on the sides of the buses flashed the words: Pittsburgh Strong.

SQUIRREL HILL IS 3.6 miles from the Steelers’ practice facility south of downtown on the banks of the Monongahela River. It’s a unique, picturesque setting here where old and new Pittsburgh mix and young employees headed into the nearby American Eagle headquarters stroll past massive pieces salvaged from old steel mills that dot the riverbank like modern art sculptures. After the Steelers’ late return from Baltimore on Sunday, the most action at the facility on Monday morning is on the river next-door, where a Murray American tugboat is churning the water, struggling to push a rusty chain of coal barges several hundred feet long.

The locker room is so deserted, in fact, that when backup tackle Zach Banner enters, he yells at the assembled media, “Guys, we’re not here, why are you here?” Backup QB Josh Dobbs comes in wearing Apple earbuds, plastic bracelets that say “Humble over Hype” and a backpack covered in Marvel characters. (Rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph‘s styling isn’t much better — his Christmas sweater is a collage of Seinfeld’s George Costanza. They’re clearly taking cues from Roethlisberger, who occasionally shuffles through the locker room in ratty old UGGs slippers. Although, for the record, I own a pair as well, and they are ridiculously comfy.) Dobbs, on the other hand, looks like, well, a rocket scientist — which he is, having earned an aerospace engineering degree from Tennessee in 2017. He stays just long enough to calculate that his stellar backup appearance against the Ravens after Roethlisberger was shaken up — one (critical!) pass for 22 yards — earned him a career QB rating of 118.8.

Upstairs, after watching film on Carolina for most of the night — the four-day turnaround before Thursday Night Football is brutal — Tomlin addresses a packed media room. After addressing Le’Veon Bell’s extended holdout on Sunday — “We want volunteers not hostages” — he doesn’t say a word about his missing All-Pro back today. Instead, he raves about Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, going so far as to compare them to the Chicago Bears‘ iconic duo of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Hanging around Tomlin’s neck are two chains: One holds a cross, the other a whistle. An Army-green hat hides his exhausted eyes. At one point, Tomlin misspeaks, and instead of complimenting the Panthers on being “fundamental,” he calls them a “fundamentalist group.” When asked about the ridiculous, and dangerous, idea of recovering and preparing to play such a brutal, demanding game in less than four days, Tomlin says with a shrug that speaks volumes, “This is what you sign up for.”

Tomlin does manage to say one interesting, notable thing when speaking about the Steelers’ myriad personnel rotations on defense. By one count, the Steelers used their base defense in just 13 percent of the plays against the Ravens. It’s no longer strange to see the Steelers’ defense use seven defensive backs while rotating players into the action more often than the Penguins. It’s genius, really. To try to make up for the loss of defensive leader Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury in 2017, and the regression of former first-round pick, corner Artie Burns, Tomlin turned the Steel Curtain into the Steel Quilt in order to get the most out of his roster from top to bottom. (BTW: Although he’s not talking to the media, Shazier continues to recover and is acting as a de-facto coach this season. We exchanged a quick greeting in a doorway near the team cafeteria where Shazier was carrying a large cardboard box and looked to be hurrying to a meeting.)

With guys hurt and so many misses on draft picks in the secondary, Tomlin had no choice but to stop running so much static, zone base coverage (the kind that Patrick Mahomes easily exploited for six TD passes in Week 2) and try a concept I never thought I’d see in Pittsburgh: Embrace the Chaos. And there’s been plenty to embrace here: horrific injuries, blowout losses, unprecedented holdouts, ridiculous off-the-field issues — and that’s just in the past month. Defensively, though, embracing the chaos works for this team, and it means trying stuff like six defensive backs, sometimes seven, and asking 5-foot-9 slot corner Mike Hilton to blitz more often. What the Steelers really excel in, though, according to ESPN’s Matt Bowen, is “Big” dime, where instead of using the traditional four corners and two safeties, Pittsburgh uses three corners and three safeties. That extra “joker” safety is stronger against the run and better at covering a tight end, which tips the all-important matchup advantage to the Steelers.

All the moving pieces of this complicated scheme, like the second sugar huddle the Steelers defensive backs use after the initial defensive huddle and the myriad hand signals they employ to communicate before the snap, is remarkable to watch. In the 100-year-old chess match between offense and defense, this is the next move.

As Tomlin put it: “Sub is base in today’s NFL.”

To pull it off, Tomlin has to rely on next-level communication on the field (that’s taken time), guys making smarter and quicker pre-snap reads, and the accelerated development of young, explosive players like rookie safety Terrell Edmunds, who came in for a long soak on Monday to expedite his recovery after playing in all 61 snaps in Baltimore. He blamed the Steelers’ slow start on “bad communication” but says “we’re becoming the defense we wanted to be.” That’s in part because of Edmunds and his freakish athletic skills, which include a 41.5-inch vertical. Standing in a towel and Nike golf flip-flops, Edmunds glances up at the tile ceiling in the Steelers’ locker room. It’s at least 12 feet high, maybe more, but to mere mortals, honestly, it might as well be 50 feet. Edmunds can touch it, flat-footed.

Could he go higher?

“Maybe,” he says, “if you put a dollar up there or something.”

I guess the sky really is the limit for this defense.

IN THE OFFICE of Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, across from the top-of-the-line Nerf hoop (clear plastic backboard and spring-loaded rim) and positioned next to a black-and-white photo of the late Dan Rooney on the sidelines, there’s a newly framed photo Fichtner just added to his collection of favorites. It’s a shot from inside the Steelers’ locker room moments before their preseason game against the Eagles, and it shows Roethlisberger holding court like a statesman next to an enraptured group of young Steelers backup quarterbacks, including Dobbs and Mason Rudolph. “As soon as I saw that, I framed it and gave one to each guy,” Fichtner says. “You can feel the respect between the old guard and the young guns. I love the way it shows intensity and mentorship.”

In May, Roethlisberger told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh that he was “surprised” the team used the 76th pick overall on Rudolph, and he seemed to balk at the idea of mentoring the rookie. Later, Roethlisberger said he was only joking. But after his public battles with former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, after throwing teammates like Martavis Bryant and others under the bus so often, you half expected Roethlisberger to need shoulder surgery after supposedly (repeatedly) contemplating retirement, after seeming to blame “the young guys” for losing to the Patriots in the 2016 playoffs — after so many divalike faux pas, my sense is that the picture in Fichtner’s office is proof that on top of having perhaps his best statistical season ever, Roethlisberger is also making a concerted effort to relate to, and lead, the team’s younger players, especially in Bell’s absence. (Remember: JuJu Smith-Schuster was all of 12 in 2009 when Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes with the toe-touch touchdown to win Super Bowl XLIII.)

“Ben hasn’t blinked,” Fichtner says. “You want your full complement of weapons. Well, Bell is an All-Pro player that’s not part of our group right now. But Ben has been a calming effect. He’s said, ‘Hey, he’s not here, so let’s move on, and when he does get here, great.’ Ben has helped not just in game planning and football things, but also, with Bell gone, the idea of saying to everyone, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be okay, we’re good. He’s not here, James will step up, so get over it, let’s do this.'”

The one thing Roethlisberger hasn’t changed? His uber-competitiveness. He’s a nut, even when it comes to stuff like ping pong or Nerf hoops. Each week, the Steelers quarterbacks draft college passers in their fantasy league, and they just now figured out that Roethlisberger has been calling Kirk Herbstreit for insider info. “He competes at everything, even in social settings,” Fichtner says. “It’s like ‘Oh, am I supposed to be chugging this beer right now because you’re chugging it?'”

JUST BEFORE THE 2017 draft, Steelers owner Art Rooney II was at a charity golf outing in Pittsburgh when Stanley Marks, a family friend and the chairman of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center who has treated several of the Rooneys, offered him some unsolicited draft advice. “Listen, I don’t know anything about football talent or anything about drafting,” Marks told Rooney, “but this kid James Conner is someone you want in your locker room, someone you need on your football team.”

It was quite an endorsement coming from Marks. After all, in December 2015, he was the one who had to inform Conner, then a Pitt running back who had bulldozed his way to ACC Player of the Year, that he had Hodgkin lymphoma, stage 2b, and a tumor in his chest more than six inches wide that would require 12 chemo treatments over the next six months. The mass was so big, in fact, that it was pushing on Conner’s heart and blocking the drainage from the veins in the upper part of his body. “Oh my god, yes, I was taken aback, the mass was just enormous,” Marks says. “Frankly, had he waited a few more weeks, he could have had a major catastrophe in his brain or cardiac-wise.”

Wednesday afternoon, I was about to go stake out the LA Fitness on the north side of Pittsburgh, where Le’Veon Bell had played pick-up hoops the night before, when I got a call from Marks that saved me from what could have been an all-time career lowlight. (Even lower than the time I got taped to a movie-set goal post by Mark Wahlberg.) There seemed to be a message in the timing: As talented as Bell is, maybe it’s time to stop chasing his every move and analyzing his every tweet and focus, instead, on the Steelers’ amazing offensive line — and on Conner who, in two and a half years, has gone from chemo patient to an NFL MVP candidate.

“I have two sons, 32 and 35, and they’re great. I’m blessed,” Marks says. “But I tease them and tell them, ‘When you guys grow up, I want you to be like James Conner.’ Everyone in Pittsburgh has just fallen in love with the guy. He’s become an icon in this town.”

That’s thanks, in part, to Marks, who not only treated Conner but who vowed to a concerned Tomlin before the draft that there was just a 10-15 percent chance of a relapse. (That number has since fallen into single digits.) Conner trained through his chemo treatments, was declared cancer-free in May 2016 and returned to play for Pitt for his senior season. Before it went public that the Steelers had selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft, Marks got a message from the Steelers’ team doctor: He’s next. “We all just went crazy,” Marks says. Conner still goes to UPMC every three to four months for checkups and has become like a family member to Marks, who found himself crying tears of joy after Conner’s first NFL touchdown in Week 1. “To think where he was and what he’s been through, and to see all the success he’s had, I couldn’t help it,” Marks says. “A few weeks ago, he told me his goal was to make the Pro Bowl, and I said, ‘Great, I hope that happens.’ Inside I was thinking, really? Now I think he just might do it.”

Conner has been on an epic tear the past month, becoming the first player in NFL history with four games of 100 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and a touchdown in the same season. No wonder when Marks bumped into Rooney recently, the Steelers owner grabbed him by the arm and said: “Boy, oh boy, you were certainly right about this one.”

THURSDAY NIGHT, A full seven weeks before Christmas, Heinz Field is already swathed in giant holiday wreaths and dotted with menorahs and Christmas trees. With the 6-2 Panthers in town, it seemed rather presumptuous to be celebrating so soon — for all of about 10 minutes, until Smith-Schuster, the most productive slot receiver in the league (and the only wideout to go trick-or-treating in his full uniform) scored on a 75-yard pass and, on the next series, pressure from T.J. Watt forced Cam Newton into gifting a pick-6 lob to Vince Williams. And just like that, with 13 points in 14 seconds, what was supposed to be some kind of epic Clash of Conference Heavyweights turned into, essentially, a second bye week for the Steelers. The same Steelers who started 1-2-1, with their fifth win in a row, have now established themselves as legit Super Bowl contenders.

Even the Steelers’ twitter account was straight fire.

“Thank u, next,” the team tweeted after the game, channeling Ariana Grande.

The scene in the Steelers’ locker room was as joyous — “rockin” is how Smith-Schuster described it — as I’ve ever seen one during the regular season. That also might have had something to do with the five days off Tomlin gifted the team after the game. Tomlin was tickled by the way the Steelers responded this week — as he passed defensive tackle Cam Heyward, the coach gave him what I’d describe as an enthusiastic swat across his backside. Heck, even Rooney, who quietly made his way around the chaos, thanking players personally, seemed to have a perma-grin on his face. There’s a sign just inside the locker room, written in the Steelers font, that says, “The standard is the standard,” and it must be especially rewarding for Rooney to see his team respond in such a powerful way after a rough September, a demanding week and the horrific events in Squirrel Hill. Roethlisberger, who threw more touchdowns than incompletions and turned in a perfect passer rating, wore his “Stronger Than Hate” cleats again. Most of the defensive backfield wore T-shirts with the same logo while warming up before the game. (The only bummer: After scoring his 10th TD, Conner was taken out of the game to be evaluated for a concussion.)

“It was a crazy week, a really short week,” says guard David DeCastro. “There were times we didn’t know what day it was. Guys were mad, irritable. September was a wakeup call for this team, but we’re firing on all cylinders now and building confidence. You can see it in our play, for sure.”

Near where DeCastro was talking — by the way, he said he was just channeling his inner hockey player when he went after Eric Reid for head-hunting Roethlisberger — there’s a wood and glass case in the middle of the Steelers’ locker room that holds 18 different championship hats, going all the way back to a vintage black-and-red cap the team earned for the 1994 AFC Central Championship. If the rest of the season is anything like this week in Pittsburgh, they’re going to need a bigger case.

With the locker room almost empty, Smith-Schuster floated past, heading toward the stadium exit wearing a bright-red tailored suit, red Gucci sneakers and a green tweed tie. He matched the holiday decorations at Heinz Field perfectly.

Only this Steelers team could transform such a sad, chaotic week into Christmas in November.

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Stefon Diggs of Minnesota Vikings recovering from rib injury

EAGAN, Minn. — Stefon Diggs is recovering this week from an injury he sustained to his ribs against the New Orleans Saints.

The Vikings wide receiver did not participate in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, although he was able to toss the football to his position group during individual drills earlier today.

Diggs believes he was injured on a 19-yard screen pass that he caught in the second quarter of Minnesota’s 30-20 loss last Sunday. The receiver said he does not think he took a hit to the ribs on the play in question but rather sustained a bruise upon hitting the ground.

“I think so. I’m not 100 percent sure, but that’s probably when it happened,” Diggs said. “I think I just hit the ground a little bit too hard that one time.”

Diggs was seen chatting with Vikings trainers on the sideline after the reception, which occurred on the first play in the second quarter, but went back in the game one play later. The fifth-year receiver caught 10 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans and was able to play 64 of a total 73 offensive snaps. Notably, Diggs was not on the field for the Vikings’ failed conversion on fourth-and-1 from their own 45-yard line in the third quarter.

Friday’s injury report will provide more clarity as to whether Diggs will have a shot at facing the Lions on Sunday. The likelihood of that increases if he’s able to practice in some capacity tomorrow.

“Yeah,” Diggs said when he asked if he anticipates playing in Week 9. “Always, as I should.”

The Vikings may also see the return of running back Dalvin Cook against Detroit. Cook has been battling through a hamstring injury he sustained in overtime at Green Bay in Week 2, which has limited him to 36 carries for 98 yards in 10 quarters of play.

Sources indicated to ESPN last week the belief that Cook would remain sidelined through the bye week after missing the Saints game, but his return to practice this week in limited capacity may indicate the second-year back is further along with his rehabilitation.

Cook did not practice during the week leading into the game against New Orleans. Eliminating football activity, he says, was beneficial to his recovery process.

“Very, very important,” Cook said. “I think with these things, if you’re kind of stepping on it and keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep lingering it on. You kind of need to shut the body down. That’s why I’m so confident in our medical staff because they’ve got the right plan set up for me. We’ve been going by what they (have) for me daily and my body’s been reacting to it good. It was very important.”

Cook said he’s in a “comfortable spot” after practicing all week and is likely to be listed as questionable if he practices again on Friday. The running back said he doesn’t know if there are any lingering effects from his hamstring injury given he hasn’t taken snaps in a game since the Vikings played the Rams in Week 4. He’ll know how he truly feels and what percentage he can assign to his hamstring’s being fully healed when he gets in a game.

“That’s the big key,” Cook said. “You can practice. You can run around. You can run straight. You can do all that. But it’s about going out there and the person chasing you and you turning your body and you twisting your body and having the twitch to do it, that’s when hamstrings occur. That’s how it occurred during the Green Bay game. My body got torqued around, and that’s what happened.”

Latavius Murray has shouldered the load in Cook’s absence and rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown against the Saints’ No. 1 run defense last week. The last time the Vikings played the Lions, Murray ran 20 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.

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Buffalo Bills QB Nathan Peterman expected to start with Derek Anderson recovering from concussion

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — With Derek Anderson recovering from a concussion, the Buffalo Bills are expected to start Nathan Peterman at quarterback against the Chicago Bears, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

Bills coach Sean McDermott said Tuesday that Anderson was in the concussion protocol but did not rule out him playing Sunday.

“We’ll see where things stand as we go through the week with Derek,” McDermott said. “Then we’ll take it from there.”

McDermott ruled out rookie quarterback Josh Allen for Sunday’s game, meaning he will miss his third consecutive contest after spraining his right elbow in an Oct. 14 loss to the Houston Texans. McDermott said Allen remains week-to-week and is “making good progress” in his recovery but has yet to resume throwing.

Anderson was escorted off the field after he was sacked by New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy with 1:25 remaining in the Bills’ 25-6 loss Monday night. Anderson completed 22 of 39 passes for 290 yards but threw a fourth-quarter interception to Patriots safety Devin McCourty that was returned 84 yards for a touchdown.

Peterman has started three games since the Bills selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. Peterman has thrown seven interceptions in those games and his 16.8 passer rating in starts ranks last among all NFL quarterbacks to have started since last season.

Overall, Peterman has thrown 10 interceptions on 84 pass attempts in eight appearances. Peterman replaced an injured Allen against the Texans, throwing a go-ahead interception before he threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, to lose the game.

“We’re going to support Nathan if in fact he is called upon to play,” McDermott said. “We’re going to support him with everything we’ve got and we expect him to go out and execute, and execute at a high level.”

The Bills’ 2-6 record is their worst start since 2010, when they began 0-8. They have a 0.1 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

The injuries to Anderson and Allen leaves Peterman as the only healthy Bills quarterback. McDermott said Tuesday that he and general manager Brandon Beane were “looking at” whether they need to sign another quarterback.

McDermott confirmed free-agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was traveling Tuesday back to Buffalo after visiting the team Monday. A source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that Pryor is expected to sign a contract with Buffalo.

McDermott did not want to say whether Pryor, who played quarterback at Ohio State, would be a candidate to serve as Peterman’s backup Sunday.

The Bills did not make any trades before Tuesday’s deadline despite speculation that running back LeSean McCoy or wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin could be dealt.

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Terrelle Pryor of New York Jets recovering from fractured ankle

RICHMOND, Va. — New York Jets wide receiver Terrelle Pryor said it’s a “miracle” he’s able to play football only three months after his second ankle surgery in less than a year — the latest of which was more serious than the team let on.

Pryor revealed Monday his surgery in May was to repair a fracture; it was initially reported as a routine clean-up from ligament surgery last fall. He’s back practicing, but he said he won’t play Thursday night against his former team, the Washington Redskins — which some might view as a convenient absence.

Pryor could be a marked man, based on offseason comments from Redskins linebacker Zach Brown, who said in June the defense would “have it out” for their former teammate.

The Jets and Redskins are having joint practices this week. Pryor wasn’t involved in Sunday’s skirmishes, although he did have a brief verbal altercation with cornerback Josh Norman. Monday’s practice was calm, with no fights.

“I’m glad nothing happened like (Sunday),” Pryor said. “We’re handling it professionally. We can take care of that on the field Thursday, hitting and all that.”

Except Pryor won’t play Thursday. He’s getting limited reps in practice, part of a plan to ease him back slowly. He’s also dealing with a minor hip injury, which he believes was caused by inactivity.

“It’s a blessing I’m even on the field, being able to compete and make plays,” Pryor said.

Pryor was a disappointment last season for the Redskins, finishing with only 20 catches in an injury-plagued year. He tore ankle ligaments early in the year and played hurt until settling for late-season surgery.

The Jets signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract, hoping he could return to his 2016 form. That year, he produced 1,007 receiving yards for the Cleveland Browns.

This spring, before the start of OTA practices, Pryor fractured his ankle, he said. He said it’s “amazing” that he’s back this soon on the field. He may get some blowback from coach Todd Bowles, who frowns upon players discussing injuries.

Pryor said he needs at least one preseason game to get ready for the season. It won’t be against his previous team, eliminating a juicy storyline.

“I want to get out there in front of the fans,” he said. “I want to make a play so I can hear the people roar. That’s something that’s special to me and something I want to do. I know I can make the plays and I will.”

For a moment, Pryor and Norman appeared close to a skirmish on Sunday. Pryor downplayed the exchange.

“When I get mad, I just block it out so I really don’t know what I’m thinking,” he said. “I try to stay away from that. I respect Josh and he respects me. That’s why we held off. It’s not the right time and let’s just work on our craft.”

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Terrance Williams of Dallas Cowboys recovering from foot surgery

ORLANDO, Fla. — Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot, sources told ESPN.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones would not divulge the nature of Williams’ injury but said he would miss some time in the offseason program.

The injury potentially clouds what the Cowboys will do in regard to Dez Bryant‘s future. The Cowboys have signed free-agent wide receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson within the past week.

Jones said the team has yet to have any discussions with Bryant’s representatives about a pay cut but added, “We’ll talk about Dez when it’s time.” Bryant is set to count $16.5 million against the cap in 2018 with a $12.5 million base salary. Hurns can earn $6 million in 2018, while Thompson can earn up to $2.5 million.

Williams’ $3.75 million base salary is guaranteed. He has not missed a game in his five years. Last season, he had 53 receptions for 568 yards but failed to catch a touchdown pass in a season for the first time in his career.

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