REPORTS: BRONCOS LB JONAS GRIFFITH INJURES ACL
Denver Broncos linebacker Jonas Griffith sustained an ACL injury during a practice session this week, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.
Griffith, 26, totaled 46 tackles and an interception in nine games (eight starts) last season before sitting out with a foot injury. He has 92 tackles and one interception in 22 career games (12 starts) with the Broncos.
The news comes three days after Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick tore his left Achilles tendon in practice and will require surgery. Patrick, who was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, missed all of the 2022 season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.
REPORTS: BEARS, DE YANNICK NGAKOUE AGREE TO 1-YEAR DEAL
The Chicago Bears are signing free agent defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to a one-year deal worth $10.5 million, ESPN and NFL Network reported Thursday night.
The agreement includes $10 million in guaranteed money, per ESPN.
Ngakoue, 28, is a one-time Pro Bowl selection but entered the 2023 preseason without an NFL team after the Indianapolis Colts chose not to re-sign him in the spring.
Ngakoue started all 15 games he played for Indianapolis in 2022 and recorded 9.5 sacks and a forced fumble before finishing the season on injured reserve with a throat injury.
The Bears will be the sixth team Ngakoue plays for — and the fifth since 2020 alone — but the pass-rushing specialist has never finished an NFL season with fewer than eight sacks.
A 2016 third-round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he had 12 sacks and an NFL-high six forced fumbles in his second NFL campaign and was chosen for the Pro Bowl. After requesting the Jaguars trade him in 2020, he was sent to the Minnesota Vikings — who in turn dealt him to the Baltimore Ravens during the 2020 season.
In his seven-year career with the Jaguars (2016-19), Vikings (2020), Ravens (2020), Las Vegas Raiders (2021) and Colts (2022), Ngakoue has amassed 65 sacks, 202 tackles (163 solo), 21 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions across 110 games (102 starts).
49ERS SIGN CB ANTHONY AVERETT, PLACE CB TERRANCE MITCHELL ON IR
The San Francisco 49ers signed veteran free agent cornerback Anthony Averett to a one-year contract on Thursday.
To make room on the roster, the Niners also placed fellow corner Terrance Mitchell on the team’s injured reserve list.
Averett, 28, joins his third organization after playing out his one-year deal he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022. Averett played in only seven games (six starts) after missing 10 games in two separate injury stints.
Originally drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018, Averett posted a career-high three interceptions in a career-high 14 starts in 2021. But the Ravens chose not to bring him back after a slew of secondary injuries helped cause a late-season collapse that cost the team a potential playoff berth.
In 51 career games (27 starts), Averett has posted 114 tackles, three interceptions and 23 passes defensed.
Mitchell, 31, signed with San Francisco nine days earlier on July 25. He started five of his 11 games with the Tennessee Titans in 2022, posting 39 tackles and one interception. He has played for six other teams in his eight NFL seasons.
Mitchell has picked off nine career passes in 94 games (56 starts).
REPORTS: SEAHAWKS QB GENO SMITH WON’T FACE DUI CHARGES
Over 18 months after his arrest on suspicion of driving while under the influence, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith learned that he won’t face criminal charges, multiple outlets reported Thursday.
The King County (Washington) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office told ESPN, The Seattle Times and others that blood test results for alcohol and THC both came back below the state’s legal limits of .08 for alcohol and 5.0 for THC. Smith’s results were .038 and 2.6, respectively, ESPN reported.
Authorities blamed the lag in test results on a backlog of cases at the State Patrol Crime Lab.
The 32-year-old Smith, who is coming off career highs of 4,282 passing yards, 30 touchdown passes and a league-best 69.8 percent completion rate, was arrested Jan. 10, 2022. The arrest report indicated Smith was pulled over for allegedly driving 96 mph in a 60-mph zone and weaving across several lanes of traffic.
The league’s Comeback Player of the Year, Smith, reached agreement with the Seahawks in March on a three-year contract worth a base of $75 million and incentives worth another $30 million.
The Seahawks are his fourth NFL team in nine seasons, following four years with the Jets and one each with the Giants and Chargers. He won the starting job in Seattle after Russell Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos in the offseason before the 2022 campaign.
Smith has thrown for 11,199 yards and 64 touchdowns and 48 interceptions in 62 career games. He is 22-29 as a starter overall.
MAC JONES: PATRIOTS HAVE ENOUGH OFFENSIVELY
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones thinks the team already has enough offseason acquisitions to put its offense back on the right track after a disappointing 2022.
“We have a great group of guys already,” Jones said Thursday when asked about potentially making a pitch for free agents who’ve been linked to the Patriots. “Coming together as an offense is really important for us. … I’m happy with the guys we have in the room.”
He added: “I really do think we have enough, I think we have plenty enough. The offensive line looks really good right now, the skill players are doing great, and, like I said, the older guys are really setting the standard.”
Multiple unsigned players have been linked to New England lately, including running backs Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott, who visited the team last week. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins also met with the Pats before recently signing with the Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots, whose offense ranked 17th in total points in 2022, signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Mike Gesicki this offseason. New England also named Bill O’Brien its new offensive coordinator.
“There’s still things that we need to work on, but I do think the rules and standards have been set, so we just have to meet that as players. I think the coaches have done a great job,” said Jones, who also specifically praised O’Brien’s system.
A first-round pick in 2021, Jones had a solid rookie season but regressed last year. He finished the campaign with 14 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions in 14 games. As the Alabama product tries to bounce back in 2023, he’s focused on having more fun out there.
“This offseason, I put a lot of thought into just enjoying the game, especially practice,” Jones said. “It’s good to have fun.”
He added: “To win, you have to do a lot of really good things consistently all the time. I feel like I need to do that better and just try to lead the team more so from the mental side and all that stuff.”
TWO FIGHTS RESULT IN RELEASE OF TITANS STARTING RT JAMARCO JONES
Tennessee Titans right tackle Jamarco Jones went from first team to unemployed on Thursday after instigating a second fight at practice this week.
“We don’t want to practice like that,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “We talk all the time about being competitive and going to that line, and certainly not going to do anything that hurts the team. We don’t want to see that.”
Two days after being ejected from practice for fighting with high-paid defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, Jones drilled linebacker Chance Campbell with a crackback block that Vrabel said would have easily been a penalty if it happened in a game.
In response to the block, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair shouted at Jones and went facemask-to-facemask before teammates separated them.
Right tackle is again a trouble spot for the Titans, where 10th-year veteran Chris Hubbard finished practice with the first team.
Planned starter Nicholas Petit-Frere is serving a six-game suspension for violating the NFL gambling policy, and guard-tackle Dillon Radunz is on the physically unable to perform list.
BRONCOS RB JAVONTE WILLIAMS TO PLAY IN PRESEASON
Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton saw enough in two days of padded practice to commit to playing running back Javonte Williams in preseason games.
Payton said the lead running back in Denver would play at least by the second game of the preseason after dominant stretches of practice the past two days.
Williams is returning from a season-ending ACL tear, but the final hurdle for him came in this week’s contact practices.
“He’ll get reps. It may be we wait until Week 2 (of the preseason). But I like how he’s progressed,” Payton said.
Williams had 47 carries and 16 receptions in four games when his season ended Oct. 2 against the Las Vegas Raiders. He has 250 career carries in his two seasons for 1,107 yards and four touchdowns.
Payton also confirmed linebacker Jonas Griffith tore his ACL during special teams drills earlier this week in a “fluke” play. He was placed on injured reserve. To fill the roster spot, the Broncos signed linebacker Austin Ajiake.
FREEZE FEELING ANXIOUS AS AUBURN OPENS PRESEASON CAMP
Hugh Freeze is already feeling some anxiety with so many new faces joining the program ahead of his first year as head coach at Auburn.
“It makes me feel a little bit anxious that I may be behind in our evaluation of who we are and what we can do,” Freeze said, according to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough. “Maybe we are. That’s a feeling I have to battle.”
He added: “This is the most uncomfortable fall camp I’m going into and it’s because of this new world (of roster turnover).”
Freeze is confident that the program took the right approach to rebuilding the roster. He’s now putting the onus on the players to “hurry up and catch up.”
The Tigers were proactive in building the roster with players from the transfer portal following the team’s spring practice session. Auburn added eight transfers over the summer, including former Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne, who is expected to compete for the starting role.
Auburn will begin camp with a quarterback competition that will feature holdover Robby Ashford, Holden Geriner, and Hank Brown.
Freeze isn’t putting a definitive timeline on naming a starter ahead of the team’s season opener against UMass on Sept. 2. Auburn’s coach isn’t ruling out a scenario where the starting passer isn’t figured out until Week 3.
“I hope it’s not that, but it could be,” Freeze said.
Auburn hired Freeze away from Liberty, where he established a 34-15 record from 2019-22. The 53-year-old makes his return to SEC competition after spending five seasons at the helm of Ole Miss from 2012-2016.
The Tigers hope to record their first winning season since 2020 after two losing campaigns under former coach Bryan Harsin.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: OKLAHOMA STATE
2022 Record: 12-2 overall
Head Coach: Mike Gundy, 19th year: 156-75
Is Oklahoma State ready to be the anchor tenant in the mall?
The Big 12 expanded with four very good football programs that were way overdue to be included in the big leagues – BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF – but losing Oklahoma and Texas next year to the SEC takes away the two irreplaceable schools.
TCU, Kansas State, and Baylor might have had more success than the Big Two over the last few seasons, but the Sooners and Longhorns go beyond just wins and losses – especially to the business side of the Big 12 – and their departure will leave a void.
So who’s going to fill it? Basketball isn’t an issue – Kansas is the big star there – and going forward there’s a chance for Oklahoma State to position itself as one of the new big boys in the conference.
As is Oklahoma State has been great under Mike Gundy – no losing seasons since his first year in 2005, six double-digit wins campaigns, five top 15 finishes – but 2011 was the only Big 12 Championship season.
That needs to change soon – the Cowboys were six inches away from a conference title and a possible College Football Playoff invite in 2021 – and this year has to be the launching pad to what’s coming.
There’s more of a rebuild happening, though, than you might think. After starting 6-1 in 2022 and rolling along with a thrilling win over Texas everything stopped. Kansas State rolled 48-0, the Cowboy offense died, and the team lost five of its last six games on one of the strangest collapses of the season.
But it’s Oklahoma State. Under Gundy, glitches don’t go unfixed, and this year it starts with a bump from …
Oklahoma State Cowboys Preview: Offense
The offense should be better and more consistent. Turnovers were a big problem, the running game stalled, and third down conversions became a pleasant memory.
Here comes the pivot with former star QB Spencer Sanders off to Ole Miss, and former Texas Tech-turned-Michigan transfer Alan Bowman coming in to battle Garret Rangel for the job. He won’t run like Sanders, but he’s a terrific passer if he can stay healthy. And …
The receiving corps is loaded. As is it’s full of veterans with Brennan Presley and the top three receivers back, and in comes De’Zhaun Stribling from Washington State – he made 95 catches for over 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns over the last two seasons. Now the running game has to do more.
Leading rusher Dominic Richardson took off for Baylor, and Sanders was the second-leading runner, but the situation is fine. The combination of Jaden Nixon and Ollie Gordon can easily replace Richardson’s production, and in comes Elijah Collins from Michigan State to possibly be the No. 1.
It’s all working behind a line that has the potential to be far, far better and more consistent. The left tackle spot is settled with all-star Dalton Cooper coming over from Texas State as part of a group dominated by upperclassmen.
Oklahoma State Cowboys Preview: Defense
The Cowboys are bringing aboard Bryant Nardo from D-II Gannon University in Pennsylvania to take over the coordinator duties. Gannon improved by leaps and bounds, but it didn’t take the ball away enough, was mediocre on third downs, and … it got into the backfield with an ultra-aggressive style. This year’s Cowboy defense is about to be very, very interesting, but …
Star LB Mason Cobb is off to USC and most of the top pass rushers have to be replaced. However, Collin Oliver is one of the nation’s best ends, Nathan Latu was second on the team with four sacks, and landing massive tackle Justin Kirkland from Utah Tech was an under-the-radar get with big-time anchor talent.
The secondary gave up a ton of yards, but that was the cost of doing business in the Big 12. There were plenty of big plays and the group was terrific on third downs, and now it should be even better around all-star S Kendal Daniels and a nice corner tandem of Korie Black and Cam Smith.
Oklahoma State Preview 2023: Keys To The Season, Top Players, What Will Happen
Oklahoma State Cowboys Key To The Season
The run defense has to hold up. The turnovers have to stop – the offense couldn’t stop giving it away over the rough second half of the year – but overall the Cowboys have to keep teams from getting the running game going. It’s not even about the yards as much as the yards per carry – the Cowboys were 6-0 when allowing fewer than five yards per carry and 1-6 when allowing more. No one came close to five yards per pop in 2021.
Oklahoma State Cowboys Top Transfer, Biggest Loss
OT Dalton Cooper in from Texas State, LB Mason Cobb off to USC. Oklahoma State has itself a great left tackle get in the 6-6, 320-pound Cooper. He’s big, and he can move. Cobb went from doing next to nothing in his first two seasons to finishing second on the team with 96 tackles with two sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He’ll start in the middle for the Trojans. Speaking of transfers …
Oklahoma State Cowboys Key Player
Alan Bowman, QB Sr. Or Garret Rangel. It was a weird year for the Oklahoma State passing game. It went from inconsistent, but effective, to consistently ineffective. The 13 interceptions in the brutal six game finishing kick hurt, but it was the completion rate that barely hit 50% over the run that was the real problem.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: CENTRAL FLORIDA
2022 Record: 9-5 overall, 6-2 in AAC
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn, 3rd year: 18-9. 11th year overall, 94-47
TCU bounced around.
It was in the WAC (sky point), moved to Conference USA, and then settled into the Mountain West where it roared, highlighted by a 13-0 2010 season finished off with a Rose Bowl win. It moved to the Big 12 in 2012, came this close to getting into the College Football Playoff in 2014, and played for the national championship last season.
Utah bounced around.
It was in the WAC (sky point), and then settled into the Mountain West where it roared, highlighted by a 13-0 2008 season finished off with a Sugar Bowl win. It moved to the Pac-12 in 2011, and over the last five seasons in played in four conference championships and won the last two.
UCF bounced around.
It was an independent, had a cup of coffee in the MAC for a few years, had a few great seasons in Conference USA, and then settled into the American Athletic Conference where it roared, highlighted by 13-0 2017 season finished off with a Peach Bowl win.
Now the Bounce House is where it belongs.
How the Power Five conferences took so long to figure out that a school in Orlando with a giant upside in every way – monster enrollment, rising athletics, media market, fan interest – might be a great addition business-wise was a colossal whiff. Finally the Big 12 got it done. (BTW, Big 12, get there faster and bring in USF to boost up the market-share and ready-made I-4 rivalry even more.)
Will UCF ever be the biggest football thing in a state with the University of Florida, Florida State, and the University of Miami? Nah, but who cares? TCU will never be the monster football school in state with the University of Texas and Texas A&M, but it knows what it’s like to play in a College Football Playoff and those two don’t. All that matters is getting a real, honest shot at everything big, and UCF has that now.
UCF has its own niche geographically from the rest of the conference pack. It has the recruiting base. It has a head coach who ran a team onto an FBS national championship field – TCU is the only other Big 12 school that can claim that. And it has the resumé, winning nine or more games in five of the last six seasons – a ten-game season 2020 was the outlier – and with more double digit-win campaigns since 2012 (6) than any Big 12 program but Oklahoma.
UCF is ready for the Big 12.
The UCF offense will hit the Big 12 ground running. It might not have last year’s top back Isaiah Bowser, but the combination of RJ Harvey, Demarkcus Bowman, Johnny Richardson, and others will crank out yards in chunks for a ground attack that finished ninth in the nation averaging 228 yards per game.
The pieces are there to be amazing and do what Gus Malzahn and new offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw wants – Hinshaw comes in from UAB where the running game finished eighth in the nation last year – but …
The offensive line needs the new parts to be great right away. Three starters are gone, but Lokahi Pauole will be one of the Big 12’s best guards and Tylan Grable is a veteran left tackle. The transfer portal filled in the gaps helped mostly by Kent State all-star Marcellus Marshall, who’s good enough to plug in and instantly shine at right tackle.
John Rhys Plumlee is a quarterback, and he’s a passer. He worked hard to be known as more than a jack-of-all-trades athlete who did a little of everything at Ole Miss before hammering down the QB gig at UCF, throwing for close to 2,600 yards, hitting 63% of his passes, and coming up with 14 touchdowns with eight picks. He also led the team in rushing with 862 yards and 11 scores.
Plumlee has the receivers to do even more through the air this year. Ryan O’Keefe is gone to Boston College, but leading yardage receiver Javon Baker is back along with big play threat Kobe Hudson, who led the way with seven touchdown grabs. TE Alec Holler will be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors – he’ll come up with at least 25 catches.
UCF Knights Preview: Defense
The UCF defense was okay, but it needs to be a whole lot more disruptive. The run D got ripped up late last season, the pass D had issues during the middle of the year, and Tulane did whatever it wanted in the AAC Championship. There are enough good veterans back to be better, starting with …
The defensive line might not be the best in the Big 12, but it’ll be really good. Ricky Barber is an active tackle who has been though it all, first at WKU and now at UCF. He’ll be a factor, and so will veteran end Josh Celiscar, a 265-pounder who got the job done over the last three seasons. There isn’t a ton of bulk, but the rotation on the nose will be fine.
Tre’Mon Morris-Brash is the pass rush. The edge rusher led the way with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss from his hybrid spot on the outside, but he’s hardly alone in a veteran linebacking corps – okay, so Morris-Brash is really more of an end than an LB – with leading tackler Jason Johnson and his 126 stops back in the middle and third-leading tackler Walter Yates a great athletic on the outside.
More interceptions, more big plays, more stops. That’s what the secondary has to do, and that will come if there’s a bit more help from the pass rush. A slew of key guys are gone, but 6-3 Brandon Adams is settled at one corner spot and help is on the way with a good JUCO corner in JaMaric Morris and East Carolina veteran safety Jireh Wilson both instant fixes.
UCF Knights Key To The Season
Run, run, and keep running.
John Rhys Plumlee might now be a veteran passer, but he’s not being John Rhys Plumlee if he isn’t taking off and making big things happen. Between the quarterback and all of those talented, veteran running backs in place, UCF needs to keep dominating the tempo and the time of possession battle on the ground.
The Knights were 5-0 last year when averaging 5.5 yards per carry or more, and they were 7-0 – including wins over Tulane and Cincinnati – when running for more than 210 yards. On the flip side, they were 0-4 when they didn’t get to 160 yards.
In the two years under Malzahn, they’re 17-2 when getting to 160 yards and 1-7 when they didn’t
UCF Knights Top Transfer, Biggest Loss
OT Marcellus Marshall in from Kent State, C Matthew Lee gone to Miami.
The Knights might be living and dying by the transfer portal to put together an offensive line this season, and it sure as shoot doesn’t help to lose a center like Lee.
However, it might not get a whole lot of play compared to other parts of the puzzle – watch out for Alabama transfer Amari Knight to put it all together at one guard spot – but the 6-5, 310-pound Marshall rose up into an All-MAC force for Kent State last season. You didn’t play on that offensive line if you couldn’t move a bit. Now he’ll likely take over at right tackle. Even so, the pressure is still on …