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Tyrann Mathieu joining Houston Texans ‘with a clean slate’



HOUSTON — Safety Tyrann Mathieu, who signed a one-year deal with the Texans last week, has a chip on his shoulder after being released by the Arizona Cardinals.

“I just want to prove my point that I’m one of the best safeties in this league,” Mathieu said. “Obviously I had some setbacks, I had some challenges and I tried to take those challenges head-on.

“I’m really just trying to come here with a clean slate. It’s a fresh start for me. And I’m just trying to prove my point again.”

Mathieu has ended three of his first five NFL seasons on injured reserve, including tearing his left ACL and LCL in 2013 and his right ACL in 2015. Last year, he played in all 16 games for the first time since entering the NFL in 2013 with two interceptions, 78 combined tackles and seven passes defended. Not only did Mathieu play a full season, but with 1,056 defensive snaps and 207 special-teams snaps in 2017, Mathieu’s 1,263 total snaps were the most in the NFL and the most he’s played in a season by more than 250.

Mathieu was released last Wednesday, just before $5.75 million of his 2018 salary and $8 million of his 2019 salary were to be guaranteed. He signed with the Texans on a one-year, $7 million contract with $6.5 million guaranteed.

“At this point in my career, getting released on the beginning of the new league year, I felt like I had to make a decision fast,” Mathieu said of why he signed a one-year contract. “But I wanted to make a safe decision, I wanted to make one I was comfortable with.”

That decision was joining Houston, where Mathieu is hoping to prove that despite the injuries he’s had to overcome and the fact that he was released by the Cardinals, that he’s the All-Pro safety he was back in 2015.

“I just want to come to a group of guys who are hungry,” Mathieu said. “Obviously I’m very hungry at this point in my career. I want to come to a team that has great potential, a team that was dominant on defense. I think I made the right choice.”

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Atlanta Falcons special teams coach Ben Kotwica takes blame for onside kick fail vs. Dallas Cowboys



Atlanta Falcons special teams coach Ben Kotwica took blame for the failed onside kick recovery that proved costly in last Sunday’s 40-39 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but said he reminded his special teams players to aggressively get the ball during a timeout.

Kicker Greg Zuerlein and the Cowboys perfectly executed the onside kick, which was recovered by Dallas defensive back and former Falcon C.J. Goodwin. Several Falcons — Kotwica singled out tight end Jaeden Graham and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus — froze up and failed to aggressively recover the ball before it rolled 10 yards, which allowed the Cowboys to jump on it with 1 minute, 48 seconds left. Then Zuerlein nailed the 46-yard field goal to win it.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, during an interview with SiriusXM NFL radio, said it was clear on tape that the players didn’t understand the rules. Head coach Dan Quinn, speaking a little more than an hour before Blank’s interview, said his players did understand the rules. Quinn said although he and Blank might have disagreed on how to talk about it, they both agreed “100 percent” that it shouldn’t have happened.

“We should have aggressively gotten on the football,” Kotwica said. “Those are smart guys. They’re intelligent. They’re hard-working. Shoot, one went to Yale (Graham) and the other one went to UVA (Olamide Zaccheaus). And so, we should have aggressively got on the ball as it got close to the restraining line.

“You know, I’m responsible for it. I’m responsible for everything the unit does and fails to do. It’s something that was looked at. We’ve made the corrections; talked to the players. And we’ll do a better job and look forward to Sunday’s opportunity.”

Kotwica insisted he reminded his players how to approach the situation during the timeout that preceded the onside kick.

“You asked about the timeout. I remember one of my last words were, ‘Hey, go get the ball,”’ Kotwica said. “That’s one of the foundations of our program here: the ball, the battle, the brotherhood. Yes, as that ball gets closer to the restraining area, we would like to get on that football.”

The special teams units go over such scenarios on Saturday on the field along with a special hands-team meeting the same morning. The Falcons have had good practice with onside kick scenarios with kicker Younghoe Koo arguably the best at them.

One thing Kotwica did mention is that injuries affected who was on the field for the hands team. One of the players injured was linebacker Foye Oluokun, who has recovered a couple of Koo’s onside kicks in games. Oluokun suffered a hamstring injury against the Cowboys and missed the second half.

Kotwica didn’t mention Oluokun by name, but he did say he would evaluate the scheme and the personnel on the unit moving forward.

Kotwica didn’t think there was miscommunication among the frontline players and the ones behind. For the frontline guys, if a ball is coming “hot” or above the head, you go block. If it’s a slow roller or something that can be fielded cleanly, it’s be aggressive and go get it.

Kotwica started his news conference by giving the Cowboys credit.

“I think first thing, you’ve got to get Dallas and Greg credit on a great kick,” Kotwica said Thursday. “In the onside kick world, we recovered a couple last year. Matter fact, I think last week we talked about the one that we recovered against Seattle. But in this case, the tables were turned.

“I would tell you this: On that play, when Greg put the ball down, and we called timeout and we were aware that he had a kick that was going to spin and roll, and I would tell you when that ball came off the foot, it’s tough to project that that thing is going to go 10 yards. I was standing there when it came off of Greg’s foot. It went along the 38, the 39-yard line. It was going parallel. Initially, I didn’t think it was going 10 yards.”

Kotwica went on to say how his players knew what to do in that scenario.

“As the ball begins to cross the 39, 40-yard line, now you get into options and decision-making,” he said. “Our players knew that they could go into the restraining area and recover the ball. But they also knew that as they went into the restraining area to recover the spinning football, that there’s a risk that if they don’t recover it cleanly, that gives the kicking team the opportunity to recover the ball because then it becomes a live ball.

“…. There’s option there. I would tell you that obviously, hindsight is 20/20. We want to aggressively get the ball.”

The special teams blunder has the Falcons 0-2 going into this week’s matchup with the 2-0 Chicago Bears.

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Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison wants to play in 2020, to visit Seahawks, source says



Defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who openly contemplated retirement after last season, has decided to play this season and is scheduled to visit next week with the Seattle Seahawks, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The 31-year-old Harrison, a 2016 first-team All-Pro, also has received interest from the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals, the source told Schefter.

The veteran defensive lineman, known as “Snacks,” was released by the Detroit Lions in what he called “a mutual agreement” on Feb. 25. He had two years remaining on his deal after signing an $11 million extension in August.

After sitting out all of the spring workouts last year, Harrison, one of the top run-stoppers in the league, was placed on the non-football injury list before signing the extension, which converted much of his base salary into a $7.5 million signing bonus.

By the end of the 2019 season, Harrison said he was contemplating retirement after he played through a multitude of injuries and “wasn’t able to ever get back to the form I’m used to.”

The Lions traded for Harrison on Oct. 25, 2018, sending a fifth-round pick to the New York Giants. That season, he was graded by Pro Football Focus as the No. 3 interior defender in the NFL with the best run-stop percentage in the league (16%).

In April, he said on the Green Light podcast, hosted by former NFL player Chris Long, that he “was angry” at the trade and was “hell-bent on getting out” of the Motor City.

Originally undrafted out of William Penn, Harrison appeared in 117 games with the New York Jets, Giants and Lions, starting 110 of them. He has 485 career tackles with 24 quarterback hits, 11 sacks, 10 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles.

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.

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Call a game from 2,300 miles away? Washington radio crew gets it done – Washington Blog



LANDOVER, Md. — It’s 90 minutes before kickoff and, as the Washington Football Team radio broadcast crew prepares for the Week 2 game against the Arizona Cardinals, there’s no buzz in the stadium. There isn’t even a player. In fact, it’s eerily quiet, save for a handful of workers in the booth and TVs playing in a lounge area. Less than 20 people are inside the stadium.

That’s what happens when the game being played is 2,300 miles away from FedEx Stadium.

“It’s bizarre; totally bizarre,” said WFT broadcast producer Chris Johnson.

It’s also the new reality of the NFL. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected that few teams will be sending radio broadcast crews on the road, following the lead of other pro sports leagues. The result: challenges and a touch of anxiety.

“The biggest fear is the unknown,” said Julie Donaldson, Washington’s senior vice president of media and content, an hour before kickoff. She’s also a reporter and analyst on the broadcast that includes fellow analyst DeAngelo Hall and play-by-play announcer Bram Weinstein.

A league spokesman said they haven’t told teams their crews cannot travel. But for Washington, having a coach, Ron Rivera, who is dealing with cancer factors into the team’s decision.

“With coach’s health, our approach must be flexible,” Washington president Jason Wright told ESPN.

The league has made it easier for teams that don’t send radio crews on the road by providing them a real-time, non-delayed video feed of the TV broadcast. NFL Films provides this service for the league’s international partners so they can call games in their own language. In Washington’s booth, they set up two big-screen TVs — one had this feed; the other provided an All-22 sideline view to help Hall.

During the Week 2 game, the crew had a producer, engineer and an audio producer streaming the feed to the team website. But what the broadcast crew lacked was experience.

Each member of Washington’s crew is new to their position: Donaldson, the first woman to be a regular on-air member of an NFL team’s radio broadcast booth, had spent the previous 10 years at NBC Sports Washington as a host and reporter; Hall played 14 years at cornerback in the NFL and also works for the NFL Network; Weinstein has been a longtime radio host and is a former ESPN sports anchor.

None of them were hired until this summer so, to prepare, they would gather at Donaldson’s house or at Washington’s practice facility to call games off a TV feed. They did this four times in the past month, not realizing how much it would come in handy.

“If we tried to do that [game] cold off the TV, it would be a lot worse than it was [Sunday],” Weinstein said. “If the camera shows the wrong thing or takes you to the wrong place, you’re in no-man’s land. When I was at SportsCenter, sometimes they rolled the wrong video and it’s harrowing for a few seconds. Those few seconds feel like a year. You learn to deal with it.”

In those practice sessions, they could stop and talk about how they handled certain situations, especially when trying to make sure everyone in a three-person booth gets a chance to talk. On Sunday, there was no stopping to talk.

“It’s a challenge,” Hall said. “I think I did a good job in Week 1 because I was able to use my eyes. … [Now] you have to comment on what they [show on TV]. My eyes are what make me able to do what I do. But we’ve all got to deal with it.”

In Washington’s Week 1 home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, Hall said he’d scan the sidelines after plays looking for clues, checking on quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. among others. They couldn’t do that last Sunday. If there was a commercial break, they were left staring at an empty field.

“You’re able to stay in the moment,” Hall said of watching a game live. “It’s different when you can feel that energy.”

And, sometimes, the TV feed is just wrong. With 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Arizona faced a second-and-5 from the Washington 20-yard line. Except the TV showed it as third-and-5. After Arizona managed three yards on the play, Weinstein’s voice rose because it appeared the Cardinals were going for it on fourth-and-2. But, after a few seconds, the error was discovered by the radio crew. When they’re at a game, they can see the down-and-distance markers and not worry about what’s shown on TV.



The Washington Football Team broadcast crew, in only its second game together, was faced with a difficult task Sunday: Calling a game when you’re 2,300 miles away. They handled it well, but there were challenges – like on Ron Rivera’s challenge. Video by John Keim

There were other times they noticed a difference: When Rivera threw a challenge flag with 7:29 left in the game, nobody in the booth knew why.

“I only barely caught that out of the corner of my eye,” Weinstein said. “We’re sitting there going, ‘I don’t even know what that’s about.’ For sure you get caught in moments like that.”

Turns out, the challenge was for Arizona having 12 men on the field.

“We would have seen the whole field and seen the 12th guy running off,” Hall said of the difference of relying on the TV versus seeing it live.

Later in the game, Weinstein had to delay a touchdown call on an 11-yard run by running back Antonio Gibson. He was hit inside the 1-yard line and fell at the goal line. The TV announcers immediately called a touchdown, but with the sound off, the broadcast crew needed verification from the officials. The camera zoomed in on Gibson and while some Washington players celebrated, there was still doubt.

As Johnson said, they couldn’t see the referees and TV didn’t put up a touchdown graphic for nearly five seconds. That’s an eternity on a radio call. Though Johnson was on a feed with the satellite truck at State Farm Stadium, he only hears the communication in the truck and not the audio feed from the game.

“If we see the field of play,” said Johnson, who has worked in college and NFL booths since 2000, “we see the stripes go up in the air with the touchdown call.”

But it’s not as if the radio crew spent time discussing their predicament. Instead, they focused on their notes or talked about the game or a playcall. Hall wanted Washington to target wide receiver Terry McLaurin more, believing he could beat cornerback Patrick Peterson. McLaurin finished with seven catches for 125 yards.

They’re too busy acclimating to their new roles, not to mention enjoying them, to be frustrated about not working at an away game. Hall would excitedly point to an open wide receiver or slightly rise from his seat in anticipation of a big play. In those moments, it didn’t matter where the action was occurring.

Weinstein’s voice filled the booth with excitement after scoring plays. Donaldson stares intently at the screen, sometimes motioning her arm forward as a player runs. When running back J.D. McKissic had a nice run, she quickly shared with the listeners one of the many nuggets stored in her brain: how the coaches feel he creates problems for a defense and can run well inside despite being only 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.

“I don’t think they were fazed at all by the difficulties,” Johnson said.

Early in the broadcast (heard at The Team 980 and WMAL 105.9FM/630AM in the team’s coverage area) the crew mentioned they weren’t at the game and, at one point, Hall broke down a good coverage by referring to a player at the bottom of the screen.

“I say bottom of the screen because we’re looking at it on the TV,” Hall told listeners.

In Washington’s Week 1 rally against the Eagles, the group agreed they could feel momentum changing. Donaldson kept her eye on the Washington sidelines and could tell listeners the defensive line was huddling together, or that a player — linebacker Cole Holcomb — was limping off the field or getting looked at by a trainer.

Though Washington had a mini-rally in Arizona, the booth wondered if there was any legitimate momentum or a mirage. During this time, as they called the game, the field in front of them at FedEx Stadium was being doused by the sprinkler system.

“This is a very emotional game,” Donaldson said. “From play to play, emotions swing up and down. Part of a job as storytellers is to convey that through the airwaves. That’s where we’re at a big disadvantage. It impacts the storytelling. We’re stuck painting a picture off a picture someone painted for us.”

Because there are things they can’t get from a TV feed, Donaldson said it puts extra pressure on her to gather good information throughout the week.

“For me, it’s trying to get in touch with as many players and coaches as possible,” she said. “The conversations I have with them that become relevant during the game.”

After Sunday’s game, the crew treated their day as if they’d played in a game, wondering what they could do better and rehashing what they learned.

“The whole situation is surreal,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to comprehend that we came to an empty stadium, an empty parking lot, for a road game and called it from the home stadium.”

Despite the challenges, there’s an understanding that they are fortunate to be calling games. And even though there was no buzz in the stadium, the same internal excitement as in the opener sprung up when the game began.

“It’s a little different when you’re staring out into an expanse and nobody’s there,” Weinstein said. “But the same feelings were drawn up again today. … We’ll do whatever they give us. Whatever we get, we’ll make it work.”

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