BROWNS DES ALEX WRIGHT, ISAIAH THOMAS BOTH UNDERGO KNEE SURGERIES, WILL MISS START OF SEASON
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns will start the season missing a pair of defensive ends.
Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas both underwent knee surgeries on Tuesday and will be sidelined into the regular season, depriving Cleveland of depth and potentially forcing the Browns to look outside for help.
The team said Wright and Thomas were both operated on at University Hospitals by Browns physician Dr. James Voos. The Browns expect the players to need “several weeks” to recover and estimate they’ll be back “early in the season.”
Cleveland opens on Sept. 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Wright, a third-round pick in 2022, was injured in the Browns’ 21-16 win over the New York Jets in the Hall of Fame game last Thursday. Thomas, selected in the seventh round last year, got hurt during practice on Saturday.
Coach Kevin Stefanski provided few details about Wright or Thomas on Monday other than to say their injures could carry into the regular season. He said nothing about the potential for surgery.
Their losses could force the Browns to look elsewhere for line depth. Wright and Thomas were listed as the respective Nos. 4 and 5 defensive ends behind All-Pro Myles Garrett, Za’Darius Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo.
Wright was expected to contribute more as a rookie but had a so-so season. He made five starts and played all 17 games but didn’t get a sack.
Thomas showed some promise, playing 10 games and getting a sack and recovering a fumble.
RON RIVERA: COMMANDERS PLAYERS ‘A LITTLE CONCERNED’ BY ERIC BIENIEMY’S INTENSITY
A new level of intensity from the new commander over the Washington offense has players “a little concerned,” according to Commanders head coach Ron Rivera.
Rather than discuss their questions with Bieniemy, a vocal and fiery leader hired away from the Kansas City Chiefs, players have taken their issues to Rivera early in training camp.
“I said, ‘Hey, just go talk to him,’” Rivera recounted Tuesday. “‘Understand what he’s trying to get across to you.’”
Rivera said he doesn’t expect Bieniemy to tone down the level of intensity because he had success with his coaching style with championship results with the Chiefs.
“It’s not going to change because he believes in it,” Rivera said. “(Defensive coordinator) Jack (Del Rio) has his approach. Having been a head coach, I think Jack has a tendency to try to figure guys out a little bit more as opposed to, ‘Hey, this is it, this is the way it’s going to be.’ That type of stuff. Eric hasn’t had that experience yet.”
Bieniemy was a candidate for multiple head coaching positions in recent years but didn’t land of the NFL’s top 32 jobs.
Rivera said the other side of the equation with coach-player relationships is “young guys, they do struggle with certain things and a lot of it — is from where they’ve been.”
NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes described Bieniemy as “always on” and said he “sets the standard at the highest level” for players.
That doesn’t mean they were always in lockstep. Entering the halftime locker room of an eventual loss to the Indianapolis Colts last season, Mahomes and Bieniemy had an on-field shouting match that both dismissed as frustration.
Bieniemy spent five seasons with the Chiefs before coach Andy Reid allowed him to exit for a play-calling role with Rivera and the Commanders. Rivera and Reid are close friends.
“This is his now,” Reid said of why it made sense for Bieniemy to go to Washington. “He’s working for Ron Rivera, who’s a dear friend, and more of a defensive head coach than offensive head coach, so this allows EB to do his thing, and I’m happy for him.”
JETS’ DEFENSE READY TO FACE A NEW QB IN CAROLINA AFTER LEARNING SESSIONS IN CAMP WITH AARON RODGERS
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers was calling out signals during a recent walkthrough practice when C.J. Mosley spotted exactly what the New York Jets’ offense was lining up to do.
It’s an on-field chess match between the New York Jets middle linebacker and quarterback — and Mosley cracked the code in that moment.
“He looked at me and said, ‘What did you say?’ and changed the play,” a smiling Mosley said Tuesday, adding it has been one of the “coolest things” he has seen in training camp this summer. “And then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s different right there.’ Just little stuff like that.”
But that has actually been the big stuff Rodgers has brought to the Jets since being acquired from Green Bay in April.
The 39-year-old Rodgers is building a rapport with the offense and looking to turn one of the NFL’s worst units the past few seasons into one of its best. He’s also helping the defense improve by keeping that side of the ball on its toes. Rodgers routinely huddles with defensive players to share things he noticed about something they did during a play — and wants to know what they saw of him and the offense.
It’s a sharing of information the Jets hope only makes them better when the games start.
“The first day in OTAs (in the spring), he did one of his no-look (passes) and kind of took me off my position and threw the ball,” Mosley recalled. “So I was like, that’s another way that he got me better just by doing that. So now I’m just locked in on just being in my spots and kind of playing off him.”
That’s coming from a 31-year-old linebacker who has been in the NFL since 2014. So imagine how valuable these camp practices have been for youngsters such as safety Tony Adams, a second-year player who has intercepted Rodgers twice this summer.
“It’s kind of hard to get a jump on A-Rod,” Adams said. “He does a great job of looking you off, a great job of holding you. I also learned a lot from him. I’ve learned how quarterbacks kind of think, where the reads are coming from.
“Big credit to A-Rod. He’s taught me a lot about how to play my position a lot better.”
And the teachable moments also come during mistakes, when Rodgers finds the hole in the defense and burns the defenders for a big connection to one of his receivers.
“You take it and you learn from it,” Adams said.
The Jets were a top-5 defense last season. These moments in camp while facing Rodgers have them focused on even bigger goals.
“I expect every person that comes here every day ready to be the No. 1 defense,” Mosley said, “and ready to help this team win a championship.”
After nearly three weeks of going up against each other in practices, the Jets are traveling to Spartanburg, South Carolina, for two joint sessions with the Carolina Panthers before the teams square off in a preseason game Saturday night.
Jets coach Robert Saleh has said he thinks there’s more value in the controlled environment of those combined practices than in the exhibition games. None of the established starters played in the Hall of Fame game against Cleveland in Canton, Ohio, last Thursday, and few, if any, are expected to suit up against the Panthers.
“It’s a practice, but it’s going to feel like a scrimmage,” Mosley said. “Just being a part of these joint practices before, at the end of the practice, it felt like a game.”
After lining up against Rodgers this summer, the Jets’ starting defense will get a look at Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in April who’s expected to start for the Panthers this season.
“It’s going to be an early test for us as a unit to see where we stand on communications, on when we see another team, we see another color, how can we stay focused and how can we keep communicating?” Mosley said. “It’s all the things we’ve been building these few weeks and we can’t let that slide just because we’re going somewhere else and having a joint practice.”
NOTES: The Jets signed DE Pita Taumoepenu and DT Bruce Hector, and released DT Isaiah Mack. Taumoepenu was selected the XFL defensive player of the year in May after a standout season with the Vegas Vipers. He has previous experience with Saleh from his time in San Francisco from 2017-19, and Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich after playing in Atlanta in 2020. … New York also claimed OT Grant Hermanns off waivers from Tampa Bay. He was with the Jets in 2021 and released last October. … QB Chris Streveler cleared waivers after being released with an injury designation and reverted to the Jets’ IR list. … OT Yodny Cajuste was waived/injured. … WR Garrett Wilson (sprained ankle) didn’t practice, but could return for the sessions with the Panthers.
FALCONS ROOKIE CB CLARK PHILLIPS III CARTED OFF WITH LEG INJURY DURING JOINT PRACTICE WITH DOLPHINS
MIAMI GARDENS (AP) — Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback Clark Phillips III was carted off the practice field with a leg injury during Tuesday’s joint practice with the Miami Dolphins.
Phillips went down after trying to break up a pass toward the end of practice and was helped up by trainers. He appeared to barely put any weight on his lower left leg before being carted off.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Phillips was kicked when the injury happened.
“He got kicked. You never know. We’ve got to get the X-ray,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to get the imaging done. We’ll see. At least he got up on his own. Hopefully we’ll get that X-ray soon.”
The injury comes a few days after cornerback Jeff Okudah was carted off the field Friday with a right ankle injury. Okudah, the No. 3 pick in 2020, i s expected to return early this season.
Phillips, who was drafted out of Utah in the fourth round earlier this year, was among the candidates to get more playing time in Okudah’s absence.
Dolphins wide receiver Braylon Sanders was also carted off the practice field Tuesday afternoon with an apparent knee injury. Sanders went down near the Falcons’ sideline during 11-on-11 drills. No additional information on the injury was available.
NOTES: Veteran DE Calais Campbell was in pads on the practice field Tuesday for the first time during Falcons camp. Campbell, who turns 37 in September, signed a one-year deal with Atlanta in March after playing the past three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Campbell opened camp on the designated non-football injury list. Smith said in July that the designation was because of a “personal thing he took care of.”
PANTHERS HOPE ADDITION OF 4-TIME PRO BOWLER JUSTIN HOUSTON FREES UP TOP PASS RUSHER BRIAN BURNS
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns has developed into one of the NFL’s most dominant pass rushers despite not getting much help from the team’s other sack specialists the past four seasons.
The Panthers hope they’ve resolved that issue.
Carolina is banking on the addition of four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston — who had 22 sacks in a season in 2014 — helping Burns maximize his potential as the Panthers transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Ejiro Evero. Houston will be lined up opposite Burns at outside linebacker and serve as a situational pass rusher.
Burns is coming off a 12 1/2-sack season last year despite seeing regular double teams and playing for a 7-10 team that rarely held the lead in games, thus greatly limiting his chances to get to the opposing quarterback on obvious passing downs.
Regardless, Burns’ 38 sacks in four seasons are just off the pace set by Julius Peppers, Carolina’s career leader in that category. Peppers had 40 1/2 sacks during his first four years in the league.
“Everybody knows what Burns can do, and teams have been able to slide guys to him and double and triple-team him. But now you have another guy on the edge so now offenses have to pick their poison,” Panthers defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said. “It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t because you have to pick somebody to double team.”
Said Houston: “You don’t know who is coming, who is dropping so that makes it real hard on the offense.”
Houston joined the Panthers on Tuesday at training camp at Wofford College after signing a one-year contract worth nearly $7 million.
The 34-year-old did not practice, but watched in street clothes as his new teammates worked. He got his first up close look at Burns.
“I love the way he practices, I love the way he works and I think I’m going to love playing with him,” Houston said of Burns. “That kind of talent don’t come around often.”
The same can be said of Houston.
He has the fourth-most sacks of any active NFL player with 111 1/2, including 9 1/2 last season for the Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers plan to line up Houston opposite Burns as a situational pass rusher, according to coach Frank Reich.
“Justin has great speed to power. He has great counter moves and can beat you in multiple ways. But in this league speed to power wins, and that has been his forte,” Reich said.
Reich said Houston will serve as a great mentor for the team’s younger pass rushers, and be a perfect complement to Burns.
“Burns has that elite off the edge move. There are only a handful of guys that have that, and Brian has it,” Reich said.
The outside linebacker duo might bring back fond memories for Panthers fans of Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon, the self-proclaimed “Salt and Pepper” tandem that tormented opposing quarterbacks for a combined 28 sacks in 1996, helping Carolina reach its first NFC title game under second-year head coach Dom Capers.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Capers is now back in Carolina working as a defensive consultant under Reich.
Houston said he chose to sign with Carolina as a free agent because of his past relationship with Reich, whom he played for in Indianapolis from 2019-20.
“As soon as he called, I hung up the phone and told her I’m going to Carolina,” Houston said.
The Panthers will host Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets at Wofford College for two days of joint practices beginning Wednesday leading up to Carolina’s first preseason home game on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.
Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson said facing Rodgers will be a solid early test for the team’s secondary.
“It’s going to be great going against another offensive scheme and obviously the best quarterback in the game in A-Rod,” Jackson said.
“With him back there every rep is going to be like a game rep. Your eyes have to be good, your technique has to be good. It’s just what we need coming into the season.”
Reich said that wide receiver Damiere Byrd suffered a “severe” hamstring injury in practice on Saturday and will miss at least a month, possibly more.
ONE OF THE FEW COMPETITIONS IN SEAHAWKS CAMP HAS EVAN BROWN LEADING RACE TO BECOME STARTING CENTER
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Evan Brown hasn’t been handed anything during his time in the NFL.
He’s had to earn every minute of playing time in his five-year career, and going into his first season with the Seattle Seahawks it appears Brown may finally get the chance to start the season at his preferred position of center.
“Evan is ahead. He’s ahead just because of his experience, and if we were playing today, he would go first,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Brown is involved in one of the few competitions in Seattle’s camp. The Seahawks selected Olu Oluwatimi from Michigan in the draft after he won the Rimington and Outland trophies in his one season with the Wolverines.
Oluwatimi may be Seattle’s future. But for now, Brown has the edge.
After going undrafted in 2018 out of SMU, Brown played sparingly during his first three NFL seasons. He had brief stints with the New York Giants, Miami and Cleveland, but got his chance in 2021 with Detroit, where he started 12 games at center after starter Frank Ragnow went down with a season-ending foot injury.
Brown made the shift to right guard last season upon Ragnow’s return but is back at his preferred spot after signing a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Seahawks in March.
“I just think it’s a more comfortable, natural position for me,” Brown said. “It’s something that I’ve had a lot of experience at through my time growing up, and just kind of where I’ve become set in the skill.”
The Seahawks are clearly happy he feels that way, as the team signed the 26-year-old to take the reins at a spot that has been a roller coaster since the departure of Max Unger after the 2014 season. Last year’s starting center, Austin Blythe, retired in February after one season in Seattle.
It’s a rare benefit for Seattle to feel confident in Brown and allow Oluwatimi time to develop.
“Olu is doing a great job. He hasn’t had anything negative about him other than his wrist being sore for a couple of days which held him back,” Carroll said. “Other than that, he’s right in there, and the competition continues.”
Brown’s teammates have noticed the value he brings to the line, both with his vocal style of leadership and his on-field smarts.
“Evan brings a lot of experience,” tight end Will Dissly said. “Diagnosing defense is a big thing at center, and so he’s able to pick it up and communicate really, really well — really, really clearly. And I think that’s the most you can ask for out of a center, just great communication, and the guy is a physical dude. We love having him out there in the run game.”
While he is only signed for one year, Brown’s relative youth and versatility could make him a crucial piece for Seattle this season, and maybe into the future. It’s not easy to bounce between positions on the offensive line, but that experience makes Brown a valuable option up front.
“Undrafted guys, you’ve got to come in with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, wherever you’re at,” Brown said. “You don’t get many opportunities in the league. So when you do get one or two, you’ve got to make the most of them, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
PACKERS’ AJ DILLON EAGER TO REBOUND AFTER BUSY OFFSEASON IN WHICH HE WROTE A BOOK AND BECAME A DAD
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon’s goal as he enters the final year of his contract is evident from the title of the children’s book he wrote in the offseason.
“Quadzilla Finds His Footing.”
Dillon, nicknamed “Quadzilla” because of his enormous quads that were measured at 34 inches last year, is set to become a free agent after this season if he and the Packers don’t work out an extension.
Dillon wants to bounce back after his production took slight dips last season.
“I think I just really need to play just a little bit more — it’s hard to put a word on it — but like passionate,” Dillon said. “I think I need to go out there and just play a little bit more reckless, so not trying to play perfect, not trying to play perfect football. Nobody does. Just kind of go out there and for a lack of words, kind of make defenses feel me.”
Then he elaborated on what he meant.
“Even though we might be running and there’s only 4 yards here to get, make it a hard 4 yards,” Dillon said. “Make sure the next time running the ball, those defenders feel that, they think about it next time, and just kind of deliver the blow a little bit more.”
He wants to stay in Green Bay, where he has made a home, started a family and emerged as one of the Packers’ most popular players. He received a key to Wisconsin’s Door County after repeatedly singing the praises of the peninsula along the Lake Michigan shoreline that’s about an hour’s drive from Green Bay.
Dillon also is active on social media, which sparked one of his latest ventures. After he suggested that he’d write a children’s book, the positive feedback he received caused him to go ahead and do it.
Quadzilla, his book’s protagonist, is a dinosaur who struggles to do some of his monster friends’ favorite activities before eventually succeeding in football.
“We kept everything in house,” Dillon said. “We got a Milwaukee publisher, a Milwaukee illustrator and it was all Wisconsin central. It was a lot of fun doing it and putting it together. It was a goal to get it done before camp, and we did that.”
Dillon savors the feedback he’s received, both from his own mother and from the children and parents who have read the book.
“My mom’s a teacher,” said Dillon, who grew up reading Greek mythology and the novels of Rick Riordan. “She’s now an assistant principal back in Connecticut in my hometown. That’s something that was always big in our household. When I told her I was writing a book and actually went forward with it, she got very emotional.
“I didn’t really realize until I did some of these book readings and kind of seeing the kids really listening and hanging on to every single word.”
Writing that book was part of a busy offseason for Dillon.
Dillon and his wife, Gabrielle, got married last year in Door County. They welcomed a son, Trey, on May 2. That also happened to be Dillon’s 25th birthday.
During a year when he was adjusting to fatherhood and making sure his book got finished, Dillon still devoted plenty of time to football. The trade of four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers means the Packers may have to lean more heavily on the running back tandem of Aaron Jones and Dillon.
Dillon rushed for 770 yards, gained 4.1 yards per carry and caught 28 passes for 206 yards last season. A year earlier, he rushed for 803 yards, gained 4.3 yards per carry and caught 34 passes for 313 yards.
When he had free time this offseason, Dillon occasionally watched tapes of his highlights at Boston College, where he rushed for 4,382 yards over three seasons. Dillon wants to have the same attitude he had then.
“I’m not satisfied with really how I performed last year,” Dillon said. “Let’s look back at when I have been really successful and how I approached the game and, yeah, looking back a little bit, looking back at those highlights, going back to what was my mindset when I was in college when I was dominating the ACC, what was that like and trying to just get to that mindset.”
Dillon’s teammates have noticed a change.
“He’s more focused,” Jones said. “He knows the playbook inside and out, so now he can play fast. But just his mental approach to the game, spending more time studying in that playbook so he can play fast and just homing in on the small details and then just him being confident in everything he does.”
That includes being assured enough to write a children’s book and get it published. The benefits of that offseason project are apparent every time parents tell him how much their child enjoyed his book.
“The fact that some of those kids are excited to go read, that’s a big deal,” Dillon said. “Coming from an education household, my mom being a teacher, I definitely understand how hard it is to get some kids to read. If we can put something in front of them that they want to read, it’s definitely nice to be able to do my part.”
CHASE YOUNG FEELS ‘EXPLOSIVE AGAIN’ NEARLY 2 YEARS SINCE TEARING THE ACL IN HIS RIGHT KNEE
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — When Chase Young stepped on the field for the first practice of Washington Commanders training camp late last month, the brace was off his surgically repaired right knee.
Now the heat is on for Young to return to form in a contract year.
The 2020 No. 2 overall pick who won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honor is now nearly two years removed from a torn ACL that derailed his NFL career and is ready to roll. After the team didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, Young is in shape to try to earn another deal and live up to lofty expectations.
“I feel myself,” Young said. “I feel good and I’m running around and I’m feeling explosive again.”
It has been a while since Young looked explosive in game action. Even before the injury in November 2021, the Ohio State product was off to a slow start to his sophomore season with 1 1/2 sacks in eight-plus games.
Surgery was complicated, involving grafting part of Young’s left patellar tendon to repair the tear on the other side. He and his team of medical professionals inside and outside the team took a very cautious approach to recovery and rehab that caused him to miss the vast majority of 2022.
Coach Ron Rivera acknowledged it was very tough to hold Young back. Still, the Commanders knew it would be difficult to get Young back as a feared pass rusher last season.
“It was almost kind of a pie in the sky that he would be who he is,” Rivera said. “(We realized) it’s just going to be a matter of time. He had to work through those things (and) we were hoping he would get back soon, but it just didn’t work and that’s all part of it.”
Young played just 115 snaps over the final three games of the season, the last of which came after Washington was eliminated from playoff contention. The Commanders even without Young ranked third in the league on defense, led by fellow defensive linemen Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.
The patience is paying off with Young, now 24, flashing some strong moves in camp and showing the benefit of time and experience.
“Chase looks real good,” Sweat said. “He’s starting to be more of a pro. He’s always been a pro, but I think ever since the injury as far as the cold tub and the pre-practice (routine) and the treatments after practice and just things and stuff like that, that’s why I think he’s upped his game a lot.”
Young and Sweat worked out on Ohio State’s campus during the offseason, working with Buckeyes associate coach Larry Johnson. Young said it was about going back to “fine-tune the little things.”
He also talked to Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller and Baltimore Ravens receiver Odell Beckham Jr. about coming back from an ACL tear. That just gave him more confidence about what’s to come.
“They said: ‘We just bounce back. That’s just what we do,” Young said. “That’s my plan, and I guess y’all are just going to see what happens.”
The Commanders would love for Young to follow Payne’s path to a productive season. After they decided not to pick up Payne’s fifth-year option, the 2018 first-round pick out of Alabama led the team with a career-high 11 1/2 sacks.
Washington signed Payne to a $90-million, four-year contract. With big-money commitments to Payne and Allen already on the books, it might be tough to pay up to keep Sweat — also on the verge of free agency — and Young, but it’s a gamble the team is hoping works out this season.
Rivera likes what he sees so far.
“It’s good to see Chase moving around the way he did,” Rivera said. “He’s lightyears ahead of where he was last training camp. I think that’s a big deal for us.”
PATRIOTS SIGN FREE AGENT DEFENSIVE END TREY FLOWERS, WHO WAS ON THEIR LAST 3 SUPER BOWL TEAMS
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Trey Flowers signed with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, returning to the team where he played his first four NFL seasons and won two of three Super Bowls.
The defensive end was placed on injured reserve after playing in four games for the Miami Dolphins last season and was an unrestricted free agent.
The 29-year-old Flowers has started 64 of 79 regular-season games over eight seasons since the Patriots drafted him out of Arkansas in the fourth round of the 2015 draft.
All nine of his postseason starts were with the Patriots, who won Super Bowls in 2016 and 2018 and played in the game in 2017.
He left the Patriots as a free agent in 2019 and signed with the Detroit Lions. Injuries limited him to 29 games over three seasons with the Lions. The Dolphins signed him last August, and he hurt his foot in the fourth game and didn’t play again.
ISAIAH SIMMONS SHIFTS TO SAFETY AS THE CARDINALS TRY TO UNLOCK HIS POTENTIAL
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Isaiah Simmons has a combination of size, speed and strength rarely seen among NFL players.
In a strange way, that might be a big reason the Arizona Cardinals have had a tough time figuring out how to use him.
Simmons — the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft — is still waiting for his breakout season despite being labeled a can’t-miss prospect during his time as a do-everything defender at Clemson. New Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon has moved Simmons to safety from linebacker this season, hoping to unlock his potential.
“He shows some range, some hitting ability, a little coverage ability, a little downhill striking ability,” Gannon said. “Long way to go, but I like where he’s at.”
It would be unfair to label Simmons as a bust following his first three seasons. He’s had several good moments and more than 200 tackles over the past two years. But his ability to make big plays has been tempered by his tendency to also make big mistakes, and his playing time was sometimes inconsistent as a result.
The previous coaching staff — led by Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph — tried Simmons in several spots during his first three seasons, but usually as some variation of a linebacker. The 25-year-old said he was never completely comfortable in those roles.
“There were times I was playing a position because we were down with injuries,” Simmons said. “It’s just certain circumstances that played into me playing some positions, as opposed to doing what was best for me.”
Once Gannon was hired, Simmons told the new coach he might be more comfortable as a safety, which is where he started his college career at Clemson. At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Simmons is taller and heavier than the vast majority of NFL safeties, but he also runs a 4.39 40-yard dash and has shown solid hands during his pro career, picking off four passes.
“He’s been reliable back there, which is the first trait of a safety to me,” Gannon said. “Being in the right spot, where you’re supposed to be, all the time.”
Gannon came to the desert after two seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator and hasn’t been shy about moving players to different positions. Zaven Collins, the No. 16 overall pick in 2021, will be more of an edge rusher this season after spending his first two seasons as an interior linebacker.
The upcoming season is a big one for Simmons, who is in the final year of his rookie contract after the Cardinals declined to pick up his fifth-year option. The extension would have been worth roughly $12.7 million.
Both sides have said there haven’t been hard feelings despite that decision.
“It doesn’t change how he goes about what he’s doing,” Gannon said in May. “He knows he has to play well for us and for him. That’s like everybody. I really like where his mindset is at and excited to get to work with him.”
Simmons will get the chance to solidify his role during the team’s first preseason game against the Denver Broncos on Friday night. If he can make a smooth transition to the defensive backfield, the safety spot has a chance to be one of Arizona’s strengths with Simmons, two-time All-Pro Budda Baker and veteran Jalen Thompson.
“I’m just excited to get back under the lights, have our fans back out there,” Simmons said. “Every time I step out there it’s like a dream come true all over again. I don’t take any game — preseason, regular season, postseason — for granted.”
MIKE MCCARTHY’S RETURN TO PLAY-CALLING WITH THE COWBOYS IS JUST IN TIME FOR JERRY JONES
OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — Mike McCarthy hasn’t called plays for five years, and it’s been 10 since the coach of the Dallas Cowboys carried that additional responsibility.
Timing is everything, says Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who decided a decade ago he thought it would be better if Jason Garrett focused on being the head coach.
McCarthy, in his fourth season as Garrett’s replacement, is in his first training camp as Dak Prescott’s play-caller. The previous time he did this, Aaron Rodgers was his quarterback in Green Bay.
“He’s the busiest man in California,” Jones said. “He doesn’t have time to remember your name out here. He’s focused and engaged. Not that he hasn’t been.”
The Cowboys are coming off consecutive 12-5 playoff seasons that featured one of the best offenses in the NFL under offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. There were stretches of inconsistency, though, and the offense sputtered in a pair of playoff losses to San Francisco.
McCarthy and Moore agreed to part ways, and the Los Angeles Chargers hired Moore the day after the Dallas move was announced.
Garrett had been the head coach for two full seasons when he and Jones agreed in 2013 to hand the play-calling duties to Bill Callahan. Two more play-callers, including Moore, followed. Garrett never took that job back.
McCarthy inherited Moore in 2020, and decided continuity for Prescott was the most important thing. Now, urgency reigns with the Cowboys going on 28 years without even reaching an NFC championship game since the most recent of the franchise’s five Super Bowl titles.
“I think the biggest thing for me personally is to just make sure I’m connected with our players, starting with Dak,” McCarthy said. “I think the biggest thing in evolution, is frankly having the discipline of being in touch with your players and how the system fits the players.”
McCarthy won a Super Bowl and reached two other NFC title games with Rodgers after getting within a victory of a Super Bowl before that with Brett Favre.
At one point with the Packers, McCarthy stepped away from calling plays, only to reclaim the role and vow he would never again be a head coach without that duty.
That declaration left him with some explaining to do when Jones hired him. Now, it’s Jones with the explaining to do after deciding he didn’t need the so-called walk-around head coach after all.
“I actually thought that when Mike came in that one of his top qualities were the job he had done as play-caller and head coach,” Jones said.
“We’re in better shape to do it now than then. He’s got a better idea of how he’d like to tweak, change, whatever you want to call that. I think this is a heckuva way to do it. I think we’re going to get a lot out of this.”
For Brian Schottenheimer, most of this is new.
A year after serving as a consultant on McCarthy’s staff, the son of the late longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer has the title of offensive coordinator — but not the play-calling duties he had in a decade-plus that included stints with the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and Seattle.
“I’ve never done it before, but I think the good thing for me and for Mike is having been the guy who’s called plays for 14 years, I know what that guy wants,” Schottenheimer said. “My relationship with Mike is such that he and I can have great conversations, challenge each other, talk about different things. I’m certainly not a ‘yes’ man.”
The 59-year-old McCarthy and Schottenheimer, 10 years younger, were trained in the West Coast system that will be the foundation for Prescott, who has come to label it “Texas Coast” to emphasize things he believes are unique to what the Cowboys will try to do.
Running back Tony Pollard is taking over the lead role from Ezekiel Elliott, and receiver CeeDee Lamb has a new No. 2 behind him in Brandin Cooks.
While six-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin’s training camp holdout in a contract dispute has created uncertainty with the offensive line, Jones envisions McCarthy in his play-calling prime with Green Bay.
“It was not so much about what Kellen wasn’t. It was about what Mike is,” Jones said. “I think we gain on it. I think we give ourselves a better chance if Mike has that kind of emphasis.”
While Prescott is set to have his third play-caller, the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year says this is really only his second system.
“Guys are much farther along, and I am as well,” Prescott said. “That’s a credit to coach, credit to Schotty of those guys installing the plays with a lot of details in making sure everybody understands the purpose of a play, the detail of a play and their role within that.”
“Fun” hasn’t been the first word to come to mind for McCarthy this summer with the club trudging through the installation phase for the offense. But he does like to joke about hoping the defense doesn’t have a good day, since he has taken that much more ownership of the offense.
“We’re just focused on getting these young guys reps, because our efficiency has to be the best it can be going through these install phases and going back to the live reps with the team,” McCarthy said. “But yeah, we’re having fun.”
And staying busy — or busier than his first three seasons with the Cowboys anyway.
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GEORGIA FIRES FOOTBALL STAFFER WHO SURVIVED FATAL CRASH, LESS THAN A MONTH AFTER LAWSUIT
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia has fired the football recruiting staffer who survived a January crash that killed player Devin Willock and another recruiting staffer, less than a month after she filed a lawsuit against the university’s athletic association.
The school issued a statement saying Victoria “Tori” Bowles was dismissed because she refused to cooperate with an internal investigation into the crash. Her attorneys claim she is being retaliated against for filing the lawsuit, which also names former Georgia player and first-round NFL draft pick Jalen Carter.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported Bowles’ firing.
The Jan. 15 crash, which occurred just hours after a parade celebrating Georgia’s second straight national championship, killed the 20-year-old Willock and the driver of the Ford Expedition, 24-year-old Chandler LeCroy.
Police said LeCroy had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit and was racing Carter at about 104 mph when the SUV swerved off the road, struck two utility poles and a tree before slamming into another tree on the driver’s side, where both LeCroy and Willock were sitting.
Another Georgia player, Warren McClendon, sustained only minor injuries. But Bowles, who was sitting in the backseat next to Willock, sustained serious injuries including lumbar and rib fractures, a spinal cord injury and lacerations to the kidney and liver, her lawsuit stated. She also sustained a closed head injury with neurological damage and severe eye pain.
The lawsuit, which includes LeCroy’s estate as an additional defendant, requests at least $171,595 in general damages along with punitive damages.
The suit claims the Georgia athletic association entrusted the rented SUV to LeCroy and was aware that she had at least two “super speeder” violations among four speeding tickets prior to the crash.
The athletic association said staff members were authorized to use rental vehicles for recruiting purposes only. “Under no circumstances were recruiting staff authorized to use rental cars to drive at excessive speeds while intoxicated,” it said in a statement.
Bowles was on paid medical leave for a couple of months following the crash, before the athletic association placed her on unpaid leave in March, according to records obtained by the Journal-Constitution.
Rob Buck, an attorney representing Bowles in her lawsuit, said the university has engaged in a “campaign of intimidation” against his client, whose job paid less than $12,000 a year.
“Tory, like all other perceived liabilities to the football program, became expendable to UGA, and despite her loyalty and meager salary, has been steamrolled,” he said.
The athletic association said in a statement Monday that while it wished Bowles well in her recovery, it was forced to fire her for lack of cooperation.
“Applicable policies require university employees to cooperate with internal investigations,” the statement obtained by the Journal-Constitution said. “Over the course of several months, Ms. Bowles was asked — on numerous occasions — to speak with our investigators and provide information, and through her attorney, she repeatedly refused to cooperate.
“As a result, we were ultimately left with no choice but to terminate her employment.”
Carter, who was selected ninth overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL draft, received 12 months’ probation and a $1,000 fine in March after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing.
McClendon was a fifth-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams.
FOUR-STAR CB DAKODA FIELDS FLIPS FROM USC TO OREGON
Four-star cornerback Dakoda Fields flipped his commitment from Southern California to Oregon.
“This is where I always wanted to be,” Fields said. “I’ve always wanted to be a Duck so time to turn that dream into a reality.
Fields first committed to the Trojans back on June 5 but later in the month took official visits to Washington (June 21) and Oregon (June 23).
“I kind of knew on my last visit but I had to come home and sleep on it,” Fields said, “and realized Oregon was where I wanted to be.”
Coming out of Junipero Serra High School (Gardena, Calif.) where he was also a successful track and field athlete, Fields is currently ranked No. 83 overall and No. 9 among cornerbacks in the class of 2024 according to the 247Sports Composite.
The 6-2, 185-pounder with a 74-inch wingspan had high praise for the staff at Oregon.
“From coach (Dan) Lanning and coach (Tosh) Lupoi, who are from SEC, to coach (Demetrice) Martin to coach (Rashad) Wadood and so many others, I have a great comfort level there,” Fields said.
“It was very impressive to see what coach Lanning did last year. He went out and got 10 wins in his first year coaching, and those weren’t even his guys. They’re building something special now and I think this ’24 class has a chance to be a top 3-5 class and Oregon can make some serious noise very soon.”
Fields’ decision comes days after the news that Oregon and Washington will leave the Pac-12 and join the Big Ten in 2024.
NCAA DENIES HARDSHIP WAIVER FOR FSU’S DARRELL JACKSON JR., WHO TRANSFERRED TO BE NEAR AILING MOM
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State defensive tackle Darrell Jackson Jr. won’t be allowed to play this season after transferring from Miami.
The NCAA denied Jackson’s hardship waiver last week, Seminoles coach Mike Norvell said Tuesday. The waiver would have cleared Jackson to play after switching schools for the second time in as many years, the latest move to be closer to his ailing mother.
Jackson called the decision “hurtful.”
“I know what I came home for; I came home for my mom,” Jackson said Tuesday. “Me, I’m just trying to get through it and be here for my mom. She thinks it’s her fault, but it’s not. I’m going to continue to be there for my mom and see how things play out.”
Jackson added that he’s unsure if the NCAA is “trying to prove a point or what.”
Jackson, who grew up about 20 minutes from Tallahassee in Havana, began his college career at Maryland in 2021. He used his one-time transfer to play at Miami last season. He changed schools again this offseason to be near his mother, who has an undisclosed medical condition.
“I’m extremely disappointed just for that young man, just the journey, the reason why he’s here, just sad that he’s going to miss games,” Norvell said. “Obviously, there’s still processes that we’re looking at going through.”
UNC IS APPEALING TO THE NCAA FOR IMMEDIATE ELIGIBILITY FOR TRANSFER WR DEVONTEZ WALKER
North Carolina coach Mack Brown said Tuesday the school is appealing to the NCAA for immediate eligibility for transfer Devontez Walker, the Tar Heels’ presumed No. 1 receiver whose status is in question weeks before the opener.
The NCAA denied the waiver for Walker to play immediately after his transfer from Kent State, where he played two seasons. NCAA rules generally allow players to transfer freely once, but Brown said Walker had enrolled at UNC in January just days before the NCAA revised rules to limit waivers for two-time transfers for evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
“He’s just down, he’s wondering, he’s anxious, and it’s really, really hard to focus in practice,” Brown told reporters after Tuesday’s practice in Chapel Hill. “And I feel tough for him.”
Walker is an instate product from Charlotte and had transferred to be closer to family, notably an ailing grandmother who had played a large role in raising him but has been unable to travel out of state to see him play.
UNC opens the season in Walker’s hometown against South Carolina on Sept. 2.
“I want this to be over,” Walker said in a statement released by the school. “I want to stop feeling like this. I just want to play. I want my grandmother to come watch me. I want to be a student and an athlete and I hope those in charge give me that opportunity.”
Walker was originally set to play at East Tennessee State before suffering a knee injury that led him to defer enrollment. Instead, he recovered and landed at North Carolina Central, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the fall 2020 season at the Championship Subdivision level. Then the team opted out of the limited spring 2021 slate.
Walker’s two years at Kent State represent the only years he has played college football. He finished with 58 catches for 921 yards and 11 touchdowns last year as an all-Mid-American Conference performer.
ACC LEADERS MULL ADDING CAL, STANFORD FROM PAC-12; SMU ALSO UNDER CONSIDERATION, AP SOURCES SAY
Atlantic Coast Conference presidents and chancellors held a conference call Tuesday but took no action on West Coast expansion with California and Stanford, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the league isn’t publicly revealing internal discussions regarding realignment. Another person with knowledge of the situation said the conference’s athletic directors were planning to have a call later Tuesday to continue discussions. The ADs also met Monday.
A third person told AP on condition of anonymity that the ACC’s conversations also include the possibility of adding SMU, the Dallas school currently in the American Athletic Conference.
The Pac-12 is down to four schools committed to the conference beyond the upcoming school year. This will be the last season in the Pac-12 for USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington, which are all headed for the Big Ten in 2024. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will join the Big 12 next year.
The new Big Ten setup means athletes will be routinely crossing multiple time zones to compete.
“I share concerns about the impact that the recent spate of conference realignment activities will have on student-athletes’ well-being,” NCAA president Charlie Baker said in statement. “The recent conference moves highlight what I found during my review of the issues facing the NCAA – the growing gap between well-resourced Division I schools and the rest of the division is highly disruptive for all of DI and college sports overall.”
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said on the SEC Network’s “Paul Finebaum Show” that his league is not motivated to react to the recent moves.
“I would submit we’re in an enormously healthy place. We’re not in the current movement efforts,” said Sankey, whose conference tipped the first domino in this round of realignment in 2021 when Texas and Oklahoma decided to make leave the Big 12 for the SEC.
“We don’t need to be in four time zones to generate interest on the West Coast, or really across the globe,” Sankey said.
Sankey also said if the Pac-12 were to fold, decreasing the number of Bowl Subdivision conferences from nine to 10, that would likely re-open discussions about the format for the expanded 12-team playoff that goes into effect in 2024.
The format agreed upon calls for the six highest-ranked conference champions to receive automatic entrance and six at-large teams based on selection committee rankings.
“I do think the access we’ve created to the 12-team format still seems wise, but maybe there are elements and specifics of what was decided when we had clarity around 10 conferences that needs to be adjusted given what’s happening right now,” Sankey said.
The ACC, which has 14 schools — but none farther west than Louisville — had interest in the Pac-12 before the conference splintered last week. Stanford and Cal, two of the country’s most prestigious academic schools, would fit the profile of traditional ACC schools such as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.
Without another Power Five conference option, routinely traveling teams across country to compete might be the best alternative for Stanford and California.
A deal with the ACC would leave just Washington State and Oregon State as Pac-12 members beyond the 2023-24 school year, and increase the likelihood that the Pac-12 simply goes out of business.
Both the Mountain West and American Athletic have interest in adding those schools.