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Status of Jacksonville Jaguars’ A.J. Bouye unclear after talk of injury


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It appears the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be without one of their top defensive players for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis — but they may be betting their top offensive player back, too.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye politely declined an interview request on Wednesday by saying he wasn’t going to play against the Colts because of his calf injury. Bouye was hurt against Houston on Oct. 20 and missed the Jaguars’ game against Philadelphia in London the following week.

However, coach Doug Marrone said “that’s news to me” when told of Bouye’s comment before the Jaguars hit the practice field.

“I guess I’ll have to talk to him about that,” Marrone said. “That’s not what the trainer told me. He did say that? OK, we will take care of that. That’s not been told to me by the trainer. That’s the truth.”

Bouye is tied for the team lead with five pass breakups and has one interception. He led the Jaguars with 18 pass breakups and six interceptions last season, which earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl and on the All-Pro second team.

Marrone did get some good news on Wednesday, though, because running back Leonard Fournette practiced fully for the first time since he aggravated his right hamstring injury in Week 4. Marrone did not say whether that meant Fournette would play against Indianapolis, but it’s clearly a good sign for the player around which the Jaguars built the offense.

Marrone said the team will not limit Fournette if he is able to play.

“We are full-boring everybody,” Marrone said. “Once a guy is ready to play, that has to be our expectation. I think you get into trouble when you put a player on the field and he is not able to live up to the expectation that you have for him meaning that all of a sudden now if something happens, it’s kind of like a built-in excuse. That’s the way I’ve always viewed it. I have always told players [if someone says], ‘I’m going to go out there, but I don’t feel like whatever …’ What does that mean? If they say, ‘I’m not 100 percent, I can’t do what’s expected of me.’ Well, then, I can’t put him on the field.”

Fournette originally hurt his right hamstring late in the first half of the season opener against the New York Giants and missed the next two games. He returned against the New York Jets in Week 4 and ran 11 times for 30 yards and caught one pass for 5 yards before aggravating the injury.



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Washington Redskins’ Josh Norman relieved not to talk about facing former Cowboy Dez Bryant


ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman once cashed in on his rivalry with Dez Bryant. That doesn’t mean he’ll miss facing the receiver Sunday when the Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas cut Bryant in the offseason and he remains unsigned. So instead of a Norman versus Bryant storyline dominating the week, it’s simply about the game — and that’s fine with Norman.

“I get a little sigh of relief from all the chatter and can have a quiet game. It’s nice,” Norman said.

Their rivalry began three years ago, when Norman played for the Carolina Panthers and held Bryant to two catches for 26 yards on Thanksgiving. Afterward, Norman fired the first volley.

“Hey, they need to get Dez’s 70 mil back,” Norman told reporters.

After Norman signed with Washington during the 2016 offseason, it meant he’d face Bryant twice a year in the NFC East. Which meant they’d be a storyline each week.

Their second meeting in 2016 contained fireworks as well, with the two getting in one another’s face during the game and then had to be separated on the field afterward. Bryant caught five passes for 72 yards, but only had two for 19 vs. Norman, who covered the receiver everywhere but in the slot.

Bryant said after the game, “I honestly feel like the guy is extremely soft. He’s a bunch of talk. If he was out and about, I wouldn’t dare on my life let him talk to me like that.”

To which Norman replied, “It’s like I’m trash, and he beat me all day. I just don’t get it. Like I said, if that boosts his ego or feeds his fuel or whatever he’s got in his head, so be it. But we’ve played the game three times already, and my numbers speak for themselves. He can go cry, holler, hoot, whatever he wants to do. At the end of the day, like I said, zero touchdowns.”

They did cash in on their rivalry in 2017, with both making a commercial for Samsung Galaxy and poking fun at the other. But the on-field rivalry simmered. Now it’s gone and that’s just fine with Norman.

“I don’t miss it at all,” Norman said. “It’s a relief if anything. I think the media more so misses it than we do, just leading up to it and all the antics that come along with it.”

But Norman also couldn’t help poke the Cowboys a little bit. UFC fighter Conor McGregor attended Dallas’ 40-7 win over Jacksonville and was on the sidelines before the game and even participated in a pre-game huddle with some players trying to get them fired up. When Norman was asked Thursday who he’d bring in to get the team hyped, he had a quick reply.

“It wouldn’t be him, it would be the guy that beat him,” Norman said, referring to Khabib Nurmagomedov. “I don’t understand why they got him. I’m just saying. If I can call that guy, he can come back over to the States. I would definitely bring him here for that match.”



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John Mara says Odell Beckham needs to play more, talk less


NEW YORK — Giants owner John Mara is unhappy about all aspects of his team’s 1-5 start, and he definitely didn’t enjoy star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.‘s televised interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson two Sundays ago.

“I wish he would create the headlines by his play on the field as opposed to what he says and what he does on the field,” Mara said during a break at the NFL owners meetings here Tuesday. “I think he needs to do a little more playing and a little less talking.”

Beckham signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Giants shortly before the season started.

In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN that included rapper Lil Wayne, Beckham vented his frustration over the team’s slow start and the way the offense was functioning, and he even had some comments that didn’t reflect well on starting quarterback Eli Manning. At the time of the interview, the Giants were 1-3. They have lost both of their games since then and are 1-5 for the second season in a row.

“I’m still embarrassed being 1-5,” Mara said. “I can’t stand up here and make any excuses about that. You are what your record says you are, as a wise man once said, and there’s nothing I can say to make people feel better about that. I’m suffering just as much as our fans are, probably more.”

Mara voiced confidence in first-year head coach Pat Shurmur and first-year general manager Dave Gettleman, saying, “I have confidence that we have the right guys in the building to get it to work.”

Asked about his embattled quarterback, Mara seemed to choose his words very carefully.

“I think when you’re 1-5, it generally means that everybody needs to play better, so he’s not alone,” Mara said. “I still… we still believe in him, but everybody needs to do their jobs in order for us to be successful, and right now that’s not happening. I know he’s the punching bag right now, but a lot of guys need to play better when you’re 1-5.”

Mara said he has no regrets about passing on a quarterback and selecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, in spite of Manning’s struggles and the fact that four quarterbacks were selected among this draft’s top 10 picks and five in the first round. Barkley has played brilliantly for the Giants, ranking sixth in the league with 438 rushing yards on 84 carries and ninth in the league (tied for first among running backs) with 40 receptions. He has 373 yards on those 40 catches and two receiving touchdowns to go with four rushing touchdowns.

“We took the best player in the draft,” Mara said. “I’m thrilled with what he’s accomplished so far, and I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

The Giants’ next game is at home Monday Night against the Atlanta Falcons, another disappointing NFC team whose record is 2-4. Mara was asked whether he sees any reason to believe the Giants’ season can turn around.

“I think we’re getting some guys back healthy this week, and hopefully that will give us some more spark,” Mara said. “I think we have more talent on the roster than 1-5, but what does that mean? We’re 1-5.”



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Le’Veon speaks: Expectations, message to teammates, trade talk, more – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog


PITTSBURGH — The Le’Veon Bell debate has lacked one key voice over the past month: Bell himself.

The Steelers running back has offered little more than a monocle emoji as he stayed away from the Steelers. But Bell made clear to ESPN that he’s eyeing a return sooner than later, and he spoke at length about various topics related to his franchise tag.

Here are some of the lingering questions that were addressed in ESPN’s interview with Bell.

What is Bell’s expectation for himself upon his return?

Bell expects to be himself. He says he’s in top physical condition and doesn’t want to hold back when he’s on the field.

“When I do get back, I plan to give it my all,” he said.

But what about a pitch count of sorts? Is that what Bell wants?

An exact pitch count didn’t come up, but I did ask Bell about returning to his heavy workload that has become his signature. Bell said he’s prepared to do what’s necessary to help the Steelers win while taking the chance to “show people” what he can still do.

“My intentions [when this started], I’m going to save myself for when you want to make a long-term deal,” said Bell, who added that, once on the field, “I’ll be fully committed and give you everything I have.”

If Bell’s not worried about touches once he returns, what was the “plan” Bell wanted to hear before reporting?

This is a reference to agent Adisa Bakari openly asking on a Sirius XM interview during Week 1 what plan the Steelers had for his client.

Bell couldn’t speak for his agent, but generally, the player wanted to know how the Steelers would approach his future — namely, what the team does with his rights (a trade or otherwise) now and in the future.

He still wants a long-term deal in Pittsburgh and had hoped to know the likelihood of that before stepping onto the field.

There’s a perception Bell misled the team. What did he say about that?

Bell tweeted in July that the 2018 season would be his “best to date,” but he made clear he offered no other details about his plans for the season beyond that. He never told teammates he would come in, and the organization had no idea, either.

“This second year on the tag, everybody thought I would do what I did on the first tag and assumed a certain thing and it offended a lot of people,” Bell said. “That’s not my fault you literally thought I’d do the same thing. Everybody thinks I’m bluffing. That’s not the person I am. I’ve always been a stubborn kid. When I have my mind set, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Bell values his relationships in the locker room and isn’t worried about re-entering it. He’s prepared to talk with players individually about why he felt he had to preserve long-term health.

How will Bell handle a trade proposal if the Steelers come to him with one?

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The star running back is known for his patience on the field, but a lengthy holdout has created cause to get reacquainted with his skills.

Because Bell has to sign his franchise tender in order to be traded, Bell can essentially veto any offer. But Bell said he’s open and willing to work with the Steelers and other teams — in earnest.

“I would have to know everything,” Bell said. “It depends on what team it is and whether they want to do a long-term deal after the tag. If they really wanted to do a long-term deal, they could get me traded.”

The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 30, two days after the Week 8 matchup with the Browns in which Bell is hoping to play. Popcorn.

Bell is a target for fans who say he should take his game check and be happy. What does Bell think about the me-first perception?

Bell is self-aware here. He knows he has lost some fans, many of whom are conditioned to side with the team. But he feels a bit misunderstood over player business. He cited being turned off by how the Steelers were able to walk away from Troy Polamalu — who technically retired after the 2014 season — because the money wasn’t guaranteed.

He didn’t want to take the Steelers’ monster $70 million offer because the true guarantee was $17 million — well below backs David Johnson and Todd Gurley, who got between $31 million and $45 million guaranteed this summer.

“They are trying to win on both ends, and that’s not fair,” said Bell about the team. “They thought I was playing, but I’m not playing.”

Bell was on a jet ski while the Steelers were struggling to win a game. What does he say about a juxtaposition that’s unsavory for some?

Bell said he simply took a bit of time off once it was cemented that he wouldn’t show up Week 1, but since then he has been training aggressively.

Bell’s football readiness never has been questioned in the Steelers’ locker room. That’s why teammates supported him through his drug suspensions. They know he works.

What is Bell’s plan with the transition tag, if the team applies it?

This one is fascinating in light of colleague Dan Graziano’s report that the Steelers would argue a transition of $17-plus million should prorate for the games Bell misses in 2018. That sounds like one heckuva grievance over the merits of cornering a player at a discounted rate.

But Bell said two things about the transition tag: (1) The team told him during the franchise-tag negotiations that they would apply it, and (2) he would welcome it because he could negotiate with other teams or the Steelers.

With the transition tag, the Steelers could match any offer or facilitate a sign-and-trade for draft picks. And if they want to keep him, the salary is much lower than the $20-plus million due on the franchise tag. Remember, a long-term deal with lofty guarantees is the sole goal here, preferably with the Steelers.

Anything else is a sidebar.



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How the Patriots have handled Jalen Ramsey-type trash talk – New England Patriots Blog


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots turn the page quickly, and with Sunday’s road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars next on the schedule, safety Duron Harmon seemed ready for the topic when approached in the locker room after the team’s season-opening victory.

Trash talk.

“One thing we talk about is never doing something to jeopardize the team. We always have to remember to put the team first before our own personal needs,” Harmon said, when asked how the Patriots handle it. “So if you go out of your way to embarrass someone, or trash-talk, you’re not putting our team first. We talk about pulling ourselves together and doing our trash talk with our pads and our play.”

Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, on the other hand, is obviously operating out of a different playbook.

Ramsey’s less-than-flattering remarks about Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in ESPN The Magazine were obviously heard at One Patriot Place, but it would be a surprise if players were to address them this week. That isn’t the way the Patriots roll.

“It’s always in the back of our mind,” Harmon said of when an opponent trash-talks the Patriots. “We’re competitive, and we don’t want to create a distraction by disrespecting our opponent and trash-talking them before a game, but we definitely are aware to it, and we might use it a little bit as motivation when we get out there.”

History has proved that true. Using Ramsey’s remarks as the springboard, here are some of the most notable times the Patriots have channeled opponent’s trash talk into an on-field fury — and one time it didn’t work out in their favor.

“I don’t think Gronk is as great as people think he is. Any time Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he’s had a very bad game — and that corner has had a very good game.”

Jalen Ramsey
to ESPN The Magazine

Anthony Smith’s guarantee (2007)

The Patriots were 12-0 and coming off a riveting Monday Night Football win over the Ravens as they prepared for a highly anticipated home game against the 9-3 Steelers. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, second-year safety Anthony Smith was asked what gave him the confidence to guarantee a victory and said, “The guys I’m playing with.”

A reporter then asked him, “So the prediction is that you will win?”

“Yeah, we’re going to win, as long as we come out and do what we’re supposed to do,” Smith responded. “They have an explosive offense, so if we don’t give them any big plays, you know, and eliminate the dumb mistakes, I think we will win the game.”

When the reporter followed up by saying that Smith would now have a spotlight on him, Smith said, “I don’t care nothing about no spotlight.”

It wasn’t exactly a brash guarantee, but the Patriots turned Smith’s remarks into the ultimate show of disrespect. They went after him in a 34-13 victory, with quarterback Tom Brady finding Randy Moss for the first touchdown of the game, with Smith in coverage. As Brady raced to congratulate Moss, he stopped first where Smith was standing and was yelling into his facemask.

“I don’t care to repeat them, especially if my mother reads it. She wouldn’t be very happy with what I said,” Brady said after the game when asked what his words were to Smith.

On the next drive, Brady found Moss on a 63-yard bomb, which was the result of a play-action fake Smith bit hard on and then found himself out of position for the pass.

After the game, Bill Belichick piled on, saying, “We’ve played a lot better safeties than him, I’ll tell you that.”

Freddie Mitchell didn’t know jersey numbers of DBs (2005)

In the days leading up to Super Bowl XXXIX between the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, receiver Freddie Mitchell was speaking with ESPN’s Dan Patrick and said he knew only the numbers of the Patriots’ defensive backs because it was a patchwork group. He then listed them incorrectly, and also taunted safety Rodney Harrison by saying, “I got something for you, Harrison.”

Mitchell later said he was joking, but the Patriots used his remarks as fuel, especially in the hype-filled lead-up to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots ultimately held off the Eagles to win 24-21, and some members of the organization went after Mitchell hard afterward.

“All he does is talk. He’s terrible, and you can print that,” Belichick said. “I was happy when he was in the game.”

Meanwhile, Harrison is still having fun at Mitchell’s expense. Earlier in 2018, prior to the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, he said, “Thank you, Freddie Mitchell. Without you running your mouth, we wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl.”

Antonio Cromartie gets last laugh (2011)

Trash talk isn’t always a bad thing for the opposition, with then-Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie proving that point.

He didn’t like Brady’s on-field demeanor in the Patriots’ 45-3 win over the Jets on Dec. 6, 2010, so when the teams met five weeks later in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, he described Brady thusly to the New York Daily News: “An a–h—. F— him.”

That got the hype machine going, even though Brady never engaged Cromatie leading into the game, and in one of the more shocking results in Patriots playoff history, they lost to the Jets 28-21.

Cromartie recovered the Patriots’ onside kick to seal the result.

Marty Schottenheimer’s empathy lit a fire under Tom Brady (2005)

The Patriots were feeling the heat after losing big at home to the San Diego Chargers 41-17 in the fourth week of the 2005 season. The loss snapped a 21-game home winning streak and dropped the two-time Super Bowl champions to 2-2 when Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer struck an empathetic tone in noting the Patriots’ tough run of injuries.

“What they’ve done is remarkable, but at what point in time do you keep responding when you have to keep putting in new players?” Schottenheimer said after the game. “They’ve done it wonderfully over the last four years, but there comes a time where it has to catch up with you, even with a team as great as this one.”

Brady, playing the disrespect card like Harrison often did (Harrison was injured at the time), took offense.

“You don’t talk about our team. He has no business talking about our team,” he said. “He’s not our coach. We’ll let our coach talk about our team. We’ll let our players talk about our team. The only thing that we ever do is give respect to the other teams, because that’s what they deserve …

“We lost some very key players, and we lost some great talents and some great leaders, but when you say, ‘They’re not going to win any more,’ that just minimizes what Willie McGinest means to this team and what Mike Vrabel means, or Corey Dillon or Troy Brown or Deion Branch or Dan Koppen. Those guys are pretty good leaders. … We won’t be throwing in the towel, I can promise you that.”

The Patriots turned things around to finish the season 10-6 before losing in the divisional round of the playoffs.



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Rob Gronkowski of New England Patriots draws some motivation from Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey’s trash talk


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With a touch of humor and an easygoing delivery, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski acknowledged that he draws some motivation from Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s critical remarks about him.

“For sure. There’s always motivation you’re looking for,” Gronkowski said Wednesday. “It does and it doesn’t, so that’s tricky right there. … It motivates you to hear that. Obviously, there’s something out there that he saw on film and stuff that I can probably get better at. You don’t always feel the best every single day when you’re out on the field, so if that’s how he feels, that’s how he feels.”



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Detroit Lions downplay New York Jets talk that they knew plays


Matt Patricia and Todd Bowles on Tuesday both downplayed statements made the previous night by Jets players, who said they knew exactly what the Detroit Lions were going to run offensively during New York’s season-opening 48-17 win.

Patricia, the first-year Lions coach, said every team has an idea of what will be run by its opponent.

“I would say in general there are a lot of things that go on in the game that are identifiable to players on both sides of the ball,” Patricia said. “In the course of a game, that kind of happens at times that those things come up. There’s certainly very simplistic things that are used in the course of a game where guys do a good job of hearing things or studying things and seeing things, seeing stuff.

“At the same time, we try to do the best we can to keep it moving on both sides of the ball. We certainly have the same situation from our side; we study opponents the same as everybody else does and you kind of, group, I would say, things into categories based on schemes and systems. And that’s really important to understand. So, if you do that, sometimes that’s helpful and sometimes it’s not.”

Jets linebacker Darron Lee said after Monday night’s win that defenders were calling out Lions plays as Detroit was headed to the line of scrimmage. Lions quarterbacks were intercepted five times — including four by starter Matthew Stafford — and had at least one other pass that could have been picked.

“We knew his signals,” Lee said. “We knew everything. That’s just preparation as a defense. … It seemed like we were in his head as a defense.”

Asked during an interview on FOX2 in Detroit if he felt that the Jets were tipped plays, Stafford said that he “didn’t feel it out there” but that New York’s defense, after the way it played, were “probably feeling pretty good.”

On Tuesday, the Jets coach said his players didn’t know any specific plays or audibles. Like Lee and Morris Claiborne, he said it had to do with the preparation the Jets had during the week.

“Those guys did a good job following out their assignments that the coaches taught them,” Bowles said. “They were anticipating certain things if they saw certain formations and they were in good positions to make those type of plays. I don’t think we knew the plays.

“The coaches did a good job preparing them. That was about it. We didn’t know their plays, per se.”

On Tuesday, Patricia also downplayed the idea that the Jets were able to figure out so much of what they were going to do in Week 1, when teams in theory have some surprises in store for opponents due to the lengthy buildup. He said the Lions knew generally what the Jets were going to do as well, but that they were “obviously outexecuted.”

Patricia was also asked about his team’s effort Tuesday. He didn’t seem to have an issue with it.

“I think our guys fight hard all the time,” Patricia said. “I think they really try to do everything they can to win. We have competitive guys.”

ESPN’s Rich Cimini contributed to this report.



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Cam Newton has to be ‘drippin’ with consistency to get back into MVP talk – Carolina Panthers Blog


SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Cam Newton sported a pair of fashionable sunglasses as he strutted through rows of teammates already on the grass stretching at the start of Sunday’s practice.

“Let me tell you something,” the Carolina Panthers quarterback said. “Ain’t nobody drippin like I’m drippin.”

Drippin means something that is awesome or super cool.

Newton doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing his personality, which can be perceived as anything from cool to flamboyant to arrogant. To him it is all about loving life and loving the game that has made him one of the NFL’s most polarizing players.

But what Newton, 29, wants more than anything is to be the best player in the NFL like he arguably was in 2015 when he won the league MVP award.

He wants to be remembered for winning Super Bowls and having fun doing it in a way no quarterback before him has. He came close three years ago in Super Bowl 50, where Carolina lost 24-10 to Denver in the season known for the quarterback’s “dab.”

Yet when you look at MVP candidates for 2018, Newton’s name either doesn’t come up or is way down the list topped by Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz and Drew Brees, to name a few.

Newton’s stock has been on a downward spiral since his abrupt exodus from his Super Bowl 50 news conference wearing a black hoodie and an angry scowl.

He completed a career-low 52.9 percent of his passes during a 6-10 2016 season and was the third-best quarterback in the NFC South behind New Orleans’ Brees and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan a year ago, even though the Panthers went 11-5.

But coach Ron Rivera and the Panthers believe Newton can return to MVP form. They spent the offseason rebuilding the wide receivers corps and surrounding the franchise quarterback with the talent it takes to do what he did in 2015 when he threw a career-high 35 touchdown passes and rushed for 10 more.

They fired offensive coordinator Mike Shula and hired offensive guru Norv Turner, 66, who helped make Troy Aikman into a Hall of Famer and Philip Rivers into a future Hall of Famer, who helped Sam Bradford to an NFL-single-season record 71.6 completion percentage in 2016, who helped Brad Johnson and Gus Ferrotte become better than average.

Newton obviously believes in himself. In his recent return to Instagram, he posted a picture of himself holding a big cigar with the caption, “BETT1NG EVERYTH1NG on ME.”

Getting more consistent

Rivera, for one, wouldn’t bet against Newton returning to MVP form — if everyone around the first pick of the 2011 draft plays well.

“It’s not just about him making plays,” Rivera said. “That’s one of the biggest misnomers everybody has. They think, ‘Oh, this guy has got to do this, this guy has got to do that.’

“He said it when he won the league MVP, this is because of the team,” Rivera recalled. “He hit the nail on the head 100 percent.”

The percentage the Panthers are focused on now is 65 to 70 as opposed to Newton’s career completion percentage of 58.5. Turner set that as the goal and Newton said it’s realistic he can reach it.

Quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, Norv’s son, said consistency is the biggest thing that stands between Newton and being a legitimate MVP candidate.

“And the way that you do that is to follow the game plan, take what the defense gives you and not try to make the big play all the time,” he said. “Just get the ball out of your hands and continue to make good decisions.

“Just know, if it’s not there and doesn’t look good then we know where our outlets are. He’s done a really good job of doing that and completing a high percentage.”

Be yourself

Newton is in a happy place in his life. He became a father for the third time — fourth when counting his stepdaughter — early in July. He likes the direction the offense and team are headed after the offseason changes.

He likes new owner David Tepper, even though Newton has been a strong advocate of former owner Jerry Richardson.

“I’m at a point in my life where it’s refreshing,” Newton said.

Newton’s teammates see that. Ask them what he has to do to return to MVP form and they give an answer that goes beyond improving footwork and accuracy.

“Just be himself,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Obviously, his talent and work ethic speaks for itself. He has the tools around him. We just have to elevate our game, because we know he’s going to bring it.”

Smith was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia to bring more speed to the offense like Newton had in 2015 with Ted Ginn Jr. The Panthers also signed speedy free agent Jarius Wright and drafted D.J. Moore in the first round.

Newton has to get the ball into the hands of those players, in addition to Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen and second-year running back Christian McCaffrey, who led the team in catches last season with 80.

Newton also has to rely less on the legs that have made him the top rushing quarterback in the NFL since 2011 and more on the players around him, although there are no restrictions on him running if a play is there.

“Cam just has to be Cam,” said running back C.J. Anderson, who was on the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in Super Bowl 50. “The biggest way for anybody to be MVP is the weapons around him have to show up.”

For Newton that means getting it out of his head that if the first or second pass option isn’t there he has to take off running. He has to go consistently through the progressions.

“We have a lot of talent on the offensive side and guys that can take it 2 yards and turn it into 20 yards,” Newton said. “It starts with me and I have to be able to trust those guys and get the ball to them.”

Scott Turner spends a lot of time talking to Newton about being consistent with his eyes and working his feet so they’re in position to work with his eyes.

“I felt like watching his tape [from past years] if we could get those things, he’d be pretty good,” he said.

Let the music play

It was the first of a three-day minicamp in June and Newton had a big smile as he connected his phone’s playlist to the giant speakers on the practice field behind Bank of America Stadium.

Music at practice isn’t unusual during warm-ups. But when warm-ups ended, the music didn’t stop. It continued throughout the two-hour workout, a trend that has continued in training camp and will continue into the season.

Newton approached Rivera and Scott Turner with the idea, and they agreed to give it a try.

“It kind of brings energy and keeps him upbeat in practice,” Scott Turner said. “The one thing he said is at the game it’s never really totally quiet.”

Newton calls the music an important part of his transition into a new offense.

“I could care less what music is being played,” Newton said. “I’m just saying we try to mimic the game as much as possible. We can get into somewhat of a monotony of going through certain things every single day.”

With Newton, there’s seldom monotony, music or not. He’s always into something during practice, from jawing with outside linebacker Thomas Davis to accepting a giant Bojangles box from a fan as he did during Thursday’s first practice and then pretending to share a chicken snack with the other quarterbacks.

Scott Turner doesn’t mind the side antics, because Newton usually is focused when the time is right. That side of Newton also makes him harder to describe than most quarterbacks.

“It’s hard, because he’s a very complex guy,” Scott Turner said. “To me, as a football player, you think of his playmaking ability and explosiveness, the chances to make big plays. As a person, fun and energetic.”

Still a kid at heart

Late in Sunday’s practice, Newton sprinted about 60 yards to the end zone, then turned to joke with reporters who were in the shade avoiding the blazing sun.

“All y’all need is some lemonade,” Newton said with a grin.

Scott Turner wasn’t surprised by it.

“The thing I love about him — and it’s refreshing — is he’s comfortable in his own skin,” he said. “That’s who he is. He brings a lot of energy to practice. His teammates feed off that a lot. I like it.”

Scott Turner has worked with other mobile quarterbacks such as Teddy Bridgewater at Minnesota. But he’s never worked with anyone like Newton, and doubts he ever will again.

“I don’t think there’s anybody like him out there,” he said.

There’s definitely not a quarterback with Newton’s size (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) who is as athletic and mobile. There’s also not a quarterback who dances after touchdowns or during pregame warm-ups like Newton.

He’s been called a big kid, and he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

“I’m always having fun,” Newton said. “There never has been a time that has altered. There has been times it’s been jaded a little bit, but that’s my life.”

Betting on himself

Newton cracked a joke when asked about Tepper and the $2.275 billion the hedge-fund expert spent to purchase the team.

“You see what it sold for and you’re like, ‘Geez,'” Newton said making a funny face. “I think I’m due for an upgrade.”

Newton, who prior to the 2015 season signed a five-year, $103.8 million extension that runs through 2020, still is one of the best quarterback bargains in the NFL as the 16th highest-paid at the position. His statistics might be on the decline, but not his confidence level and ability to make fun of situations.

That he’s been healthy and able to participate fully in all offseason conditioning sessions has helped not only him, but those around him after a 2017 offseason in which he was limited because of shoulder surgery.

“One would hope that’s a good sign for us,” said Olsen, Newton’s favorite target, who missed much of last season with a foot injury.

Newton looks like he’s in better shape than he was a year ago when he reported to camp in what he called the best shape of his career after shedding more than 15 pounds.

Yet Newton still isn’t in the MVP conversation. Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd predicted the Carolina quarterback and his team will be one of 10 potential “Dumpster Fires” in 2018. NFL executives ranked Newton as a second-tier quarterback at 11th overall in ESPN’s NFL QB Tiers projectInsider.

Wide receiver Devin Funchess said his quarterback is “ready to rock.”

The sunglasses at practice were only another example of how Newton is approaching this season with perhaps more swagger than he had in 2015, the last time he entered camp fully healthy.

He wasn’t mentioned in preseason MVP talk that year, either, by the way.

“I feel great,” Newton said. “My body feels great. I’ve always got to mention to [Thomas Davis] that I even look great.”





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Tennessee Titans want to talk to Jurrell Casey about his plans to protest during national anthem


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One day after Jurrell Casey revealed his plans to protest social injustice during the national anthem this season, the Titans want to speak with their Pro Bowl defensive lineman to get clarity on his intentions and understanding of the new anthem policy.

“In the case of Jurrell Casey, I think our head coach (Mike Vrabel) and general manager (Jon Robinson) are interested in having a conversation after he gets back from the United Kingdom,” Titans CEO and team president Steve Underwood said at a sports authority meeting Thursday, per the Tennessean. “We think there may be some misunderstanding on his part. Because the new league new policy does not provide anywhere that fines are made against players. If a player doesn’t stand, the teams can be fined, but not the players.

Casey told CNN in London on Wednesday that “I’m going to protest during the flag” and that he would “take his fine.”

The Titans are not upset with Casey and don’t plan to reprimand him, but they have not talked with him yet and want to get a full briefing of his thoughts on the matter.

The NFL’s new anthem policy puts teams in danger of being fined if a player does not “show respect” for the anthem, which includes an attempt to kneel or sit during the anthem. Those teams can fine players for their actions, if they choose, but it does not seem likely the Titans would go that route.

The new anthem policy, passed by owners in May, says players “must stand and show respect for the flag and anthem” or remain in the locker room.

“There are two things that can happen that are considered to be legitimate under the policy: stay in the locker room or you can stand respectfully during the anthem. And it doesn’t apply just to the players; it applies to every employee of ours,” Underwood said. “So, we’re not exactly sure why he suggested that he would, as he put [it], ‘take his fine’ because there will be no fines levied against him.”

It is still a bit unclear what actions are included in the “show respect” designation listed in the new policy.

Casey and teammate Wesley Woodyard raised a fist after the national anthem throughout the 2017 season. Casey said he plans to continue that method of protest. It’s unclear whether that action would be subject to a team fine.

No Titans player has ever been seen kneeling or sitting during the anthem.

The Titans, as a team, remained in the locker room during the anthem before their Week 3 home game against the Seattle Seahawks after President Donald Trump’s “get that son of a bitch off the field” comment about the players who chose to protest.

“I ain’t going to let them stop me from doing what I want to do,” Casey told CNN on Wednesday. “If they want to have these battles between players and organizations, this is the way it’s going to be.”

“It’s not necessarily about the anthem; that’s where everybody’s messing up,” Casey added. “… The way that the justice system treats minorities is the issue that we have.”

Earlier this month, the NFL Players Association filed a non-injury grievance challenging the NFL’s anthem policy. The NFLPA, which wasn’t consulted before the owners voted on this rule change in May, claims that the policy is “inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights.” The NFLPA also claims that kneeling during the anthem doesn’t constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL.

Vrabel said in May that players have the organization and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk’s support to make their own decision based on the new policy.

Casey hadn’t spoken to Vrabel, Robinson or his teammates about his formal plans to protest this season as of Wednesday. He is overseas in the United Kingdom promoting the Oct. 21 Titans-Chargers game in London.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the trend of sitting, and then kneeling, during the anthem in protest of social injustice, police brutality and many other issues negatively affecting many minorities in America. Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since 2016, when he began his protest.



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Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has 30 million reasons to talk extension – Green Bay Packers Blog


GREEN BAY, Wis. — OK, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. There’s no reason to wait anymore.

Jimmy Garoppolo got $27.5 million per year in February.

Kirk Cousins got $28 million a year in March.

Matt Ryan got $30 million a year on Thursday.

It’s time for Rodgers to top them all.

If the two-time NFL MVP and his agent, David Dunn, were waiting for the other quarterback deals to be finalized, the wait is over. There are no other contracts that will get in the way of returning Rodgers to his rightful place at the top of the NFL pay scale.

The first word of talks between Dunn and the Packers came in February, when Packers president Mark Murphy told ESPN at the scouting combine that negotiations had begun. It was at that time when general manager Brian Gutekunst said: “I wouldn’t expect it to be real difficult.”

Cousins’ three-year, $84 million contract with Minnesota complicated the matters because the Vikings guaranteed the entire contract.

It’s best for Rodgers and the Packers to get a deal done before training camp opens in July, even though they’re tied together through the 2019 season. But Rodgers’ $22 million-a-year deal slipped to No. 9 on the quarterback pay scale. Rodgers basically can name his price, but at what cost to the Packers’ chance to build a Super Bowl team? How it impacts the salary cap will be the most difficult aspect of the negotiations.

A new deal also could help quell any issues that have arisen between the Packers and Rodgers. He expressed surprise that his position coach, Alex Van Pelt, was not retained. He also lost his favorite receiver, Jordy Nelson, who was cut after turning down a low-ball salary offer.

There’s nothing like, say, $35 million a year to make those issues disappear.

Rodgers has been a regular participant in the Packers’ offseason workouts, and on the first day of those workouts, he gave no indication that a contract extension wouldn’t happen.

“Obviously, we’d like to lock something in at some point,” Rodgers said last month. “The team has made it public knowledge that they’d love to do that. I’ve said I’d love to finish my career here. There’s more than mutual interest on both sides.”

Ryan’s five-year, $150 million deal included $100 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. He turns 33 later this month. Rodgers, 34, is scheduled to make $20.9 million this season and $21.1 million in 2019.

That’s likely to change soon.



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