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Normally, you would expect the training wheels to come off of a quarterback in his second NFL start. But in Taysom Hill‘s case, it was the exact opposite.

Hill was much less effective as a passer in the New Orleans Saints‘ 31-3 victory at Denver on Sunday, completing just 9 of 16 passes for 78 yards with one interception while also running for 44 yards and two touchdowns.

However, Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear that Hill was asked to do very little because of the unique circumstances that left the Broncos without a true quarterback on their active roster.

“Taysom played this thing just how I wanted him to play it,” Payton insisted. “And it doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective. The job is to win, and he did a good job of that.

“I thought Taysom played well, but he played an entirely different type of game — and that had a lot to do with me, relative to how we wanted to play this game. I was in his ear 24/7 just about being smart with the football.”

Of course that won’t completely exonerate Hill in the court of public opinion. And it won’t be enough to convince any skeptics that Hill could be the long-term successor to Drew Brees in New Orleans.

But considering that Payton is Hill’s most important evaluator, his grade still has to be considered as an incomplete through two NFL starts. And it sure seems like Payton plans to stick with Hill again next week at Atlanta while Brees remains sidelined by broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Hill himself acknowledged that, “As far as evaluating my performance, it’s a difficult game to look at as a competitor and feel really gratified about.”

But he said the Saints’ game plan changed “drastically” on Saturday after the Saints found out that Denver would be without all of its quarterbacks because of COVID-19 protocols. And Hill said, “Overall, I was happy with the way that I was able to manage the game plan.”

“Look, it’s about what I expected,” said Hill, who took three sacks — and very few chances — while the Saints ran the ball on 44 of their 63 offensive plays. “The game plan changed the last 24 hours. So my mindset changed as well. And I really became a game manager at that point. And certainly the way that Sean called the game reflected that.”

Hill did miss on some throws — including a deep ball that he airmailed over the head of tight end Jared Cook and the interception that was tipped away from receiver Michael Thomas by a defender and caught off the deflection.

However, Hill and Payton were less critical of the times that Hill held onto the ball — such as his three sacks or a screen pass to Alvin Kamara that he decided not to risk, which led to a penalty for an illegal offensive lineman downfield.

“There’s a few ways to lose a game like that — and we weren’t interested in one of those,” said Payton, who also rejected the notion that Denver’s defense did anything to confuse or limit Hill’s performance — which was the narrative when Miami Dolphins rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa struggled in a loss to Denver last week.

“They do a good job defensively, but that wouldn’t be how I would describe the defense,” Payton said.

Hill still made two nice downfield throws to Thomas and a nice rollout throw to receiver Tre’Quan Smith on the move Sunday, in addition to the big plays he continued to make with his legs.

And though the performance was lackluster overall, it wasn’t enough to erase all the good things Hill did a week earlier in the Saints’ 24-9 win over the Falcons. He was 18-of-23 in that game for 233 yards, with zero TD passes or interceptions. He ran for 49 yards and two TDs with a lost fumble. And his day would have been even better if an apparent 57-yard TD pass on a beautiful deep ball hadn’t been nullified by a holding penalty.

The Saints (9-2) will get another crack at that same Falcons team in Week 13. It’s unclear when Brees will be healthy enough to return from the injured reserve list (Week 14 is the earliest possible date).

But it is clear that Hill’s evaluation is still ongoing in the meantime.

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‘More rejuvenated than ever,’ Cameron Jordan key to Saints’ life after Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints Blog

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MOBILE, Ala. — New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan took pride in being the only active player inducted into the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame on Wednesday, while crediting the “OGs” he shared the stage with — Reggie Wayne, Patrick Surtain Sr., Joe Staley and Fred Taylor.

But Jordan, who ranks second in Saints history with 94.5 career sacks through 10 seasons, is more focused on unfinished business than being reflective.

“I’m more hungry now than ever,” said Jordan, who pointed out that he and his father, former Minnesota Vikings great tight end Steve Jordan, have a total of 23 seasons and 12 Pro Bowl selections between them with zero Super Bowls.

“So this is something that I’m chasing,” said Jordan, who turns 32 in July. “Year [11] is really Year 1 starting back up again. Ten years behind me, ten years ahead of me. … I’m more rejuvenated than ever before.”

Jordan has to lead that charge now. With Drew Brees retiring and the Saints releasing longtime punter Thomas Morstead this offseason, Jordan is now the longest-tenured player in New Orleans.

When Jordan arrived as a first-round draft choice out of Cal in 2011, he was joining an established Super Bowl winner loaded with superstar talent. At the time, it felt like a matter of “how soon and how many” titles he would win in New Orleans.

Now, it has become a glaring “if” after so many gut-wrenching playoff exits. And Jordan has to help the Saints shape a new identity without Brees at the helm for the first time in 16 years.

It’s a role he has grown to embrace.

“This has been my same role the last seven years since we had that big excavation back in ’14,” Jordan said, referring to the Saints parting ways with defensive standouts Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, before Jenkins returned in 2020. “Guys were looking up to me, and then I didn’t know how to truly handle it. I was just young enough where I was trying to figure out my own way as well.

“But then the last seven years, it’s been the young bucks coming in … and they’re looking to learn and take everything from you in terms of the knowledge that you have to give. You have to be able to disperse that knowledge and you have to be able to push them.”

First-round draft choice Payton Turner, a fellow defensive end who was on hand for Jordan’s ceremony, said he definitely sees Jordan as a face of the franchise after watching him thrive on TV for years and then seeing how much respect Jordan has from everyone in the building.

“You can tell that he’s got that aura around him, just kind of that leader’s mentality,” Turner said. “I think that’s been really good for me to be around.”

Jordan is well aware that he has to keep delivering at an elite level on the field, too. And he insists that he still has plenty left in the tank despite his disappointing production in 2020 (just 7.5 sacks after a career-high 15.5 in 2019).

Jordan said part of the issue last season was how much he pressed while having zero sacks in the first three weeks. But he said he relaxed, reset and “loved the way I played” during the second half of the season.

Jordan has talked for years about studying the list of great defensive linemen who thrived in their 30s.

“You talk about Calais Campbell [who], after he turned 30, had his best year,” Jordan said. “Brandon Graham having his best years after he turned 30. I’ve talked to Bruce Smith and I’ve looked at Mike Strahan’s careers. These are the years where they really made strides for a push-off of being great. It’s like 30 to that 34, 35 era, that you see not only the combination of that physical talent but … [also] the wisdom play in. And that’s what I’ve really been excited about.”

Jordan also believes that the Saints’ defense is ready to become the team’s driving force while either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill takes over at quarterback.

Led by veterans such as Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis, as well as the emergence of young players such as CB Marshon Lattimore, DT David Onyemata and safeties Marcus Williams and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, New Orleans’ defense has quietly become a huge reason for the team’s success over the past four years (four straight NFC South titles and the league’s best regular-season record over that span).

The Saints rank top five in the NFL in both yards and points allowed since Week 3 of the 2017 season. They rank No. 1 in run defense — which has long been one of Jordan’s underrated specialties.

“I truly believe if we have a couple more turnovers on the defensive side, our offense will be nice — but we hopefully don’t need them,” Jordan said. “We hope we’re able to continue the defensive legacy we’ve been building the last three years.”

Jordan, who spent Tuesday afternoon hosting a pair of youth football camps, has also long embraced his role as a community leader.

He has a prolific track record of community appearances on his “days off” during the season and recently joined an initiative focused on anti-racism and community engagement training for New Orleans police officers.

“I love my role here, I love how I’ve been embraced here,” Jordan said. “And I love finding love here — you know, I found my wife here, made kids here, connections. When you think about the community and what I’ve tried to do here for the last decade, it’s been nothing short of God’s work. The way that I’ve been blessed, I try to go out and bless other people.”



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Pittsburgh Steelers release guard David DeCastro, agree to terms with Trai Turner

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The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Thursday that they released six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro.

DeCastro was released with a non-football injury designation.

The Steelers later agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner on a one-year deal, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The 31-year-old DeCastro has been battling ankle issues and is evaluating whether surgery is required, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, adding that retirement is a strong option for him.

He didn’t participate in minicamp recently. When asked a week ago about DeCastro, coach Mike Tomlin said, “If I thought injury circumstances or reasons why people were not participating were significant, I would share them with you.”

DeCastro was in the final year of his contract with a $14.2 million cap hit. Releasing him saves the Steelers $8.75 million in cap space. He was the Steelers’ first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2012 draft.

“David was without a doubt one of the premier offensive linemen during his time with us,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. “He helped us win a lot of football games, but it was David’s consistency, reliability and professionalism that stood out more than anything else. We wish him the best moving forward in his career.”

DeCastro missed the first two games of 2020 with lingering knee issues but appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s final 14 games.

With DeCastro’s release, the Steelers will have one returning starter on the offensive line: Chukwuma Okorafor, who is likely moving from last season’s spot on the right side to left tackle. Kevin Dotson also started for DeCastro a few times last season, but he’s slated to be the left guard.

The Los Angeles Chargers released Turner in March after first attempting to trade him. Turner, 28, was limited to nine games last season because of a groin injury, but he said recently he was “back at 100 percent.”

Turner had no guaranteed money left on a four-year, $45 million extension he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2017.

Turner was selected to five Pro Bowls in his first six NFL seasons. Chosen in the third round of the 2014 draft by Carolina, he has played in 93 career games with 89 starts.

ESPN’s Brooke Pryor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle says tight ends ‘do everything,’ deserve respect

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle feels it’s time to put some respect on his position. That’s why he made it a point to gather 49 NFL tight ends together for this week’s Tight End University.

The program, which Kittle is conducting along with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and former tight end Greg Olsen, began Wednesday and will continue through Friday in Nashville.

“100% it does,” Kittle told ESPN when asked if the way his position is being undervalued bothers him. “I think TE is the most unique and diverse position. It’s the most fun position because it’s the only one on the field where you get to do everything that a football player does. You run block, you pass pro, you get to run routes and catch the football. We do everything!”

Kittle said his position deserves a little more recognition, given how players such as himself, Kelce and others have become focal points of NFL offenses.

The group of tight ends at TEU got to share trade secrets in hopes of collectively helping each other sharpen their playmaking ability. The summit offered on-the-field workouts, film-study sessions and some evening activities.

“I’m a big believer that you surround yourself with good people which brings the best out of you. We’re sharing our strategy with guys. Our mindsets, how you approach the game. All of this is for the tight end position to take a step forward. I’m excited that we have such a great group of guys,” Kittle said.

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