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USC Trojans QB Sam Darnold shines despite rainy pro day

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LOS ANGELES — Given an out, USC quarterback Sam Darnold declined to move up his throwing session at his school’s pro day on Wednesday, choosing instead to throw under a steady rain in front of a throng of NFL decision-makers.

“I don’t think it would have been fair to change the schedule with all of the other guys training for the pro day,” Darnold said. “So I just wanted my guys to be comfortable — my teammates — that was first and foremost.

“But I also think it was a perfect opportunity to be able to throw in the rain and show these guys I could throw in the rain.”

The decision proved fruitful, as Darnold looked impressive in making about 60 or so throws in front of a Cleveland Browns contingent that included owner Jimmy Haslam in the stands, with general manager John Dorsey, head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines.

“One of my first football experiences was playing mud football in the rain,” Darnold said, smiling. “So it was cool to come out here and throw one last time with the guys that I’ve been throwing with for four years now.”

With the Browns holding the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s draft, Darnold said he met with Cleveland brass and participated in a private workout Tuesday.

Darnold said he also met with decision-makers from the New York Giants before his workout. The Giants hold the No. 2 overall pick.

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur was on hand to watch Darnold’s workout, along with New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn.

Darnold said he has a couple of visits lined up before the draft in April, but he did not disclose the teams.

Darnold did not throw at the NFL scouting combine in February. However, he said it was important to answer questions about his throwing mechanics at his pro day, and he believes he’s worthy of the No. 1 overall pick.

“I feel like I’m definitely capable of going No. 1,” Darnold said. “What the Browns are doing right now is really good. They’ve got a lot of good pieces right now. I think going there and being able to lead the way I lead and play the way I play, I think it would be a good situation.”

Darnold said he has been working with personal quarterback coach Jordan Palmer on trying to get his hips looser so he can use them more when he throws. Darnold also has spent time with former NFL head coach Bill Parcells to help get prepared for life in the NFL.

“I think the main thing with him was just get back in the huddle — that was the main phrase he kept saying,” Darnold said about Parcells. “No matter what the score is on Sunday, no matter what happens on Sunday, Monday or Thursday, just get back in the huddle that next week.”

Palmer addressed Darnold’s quiet, assuming nature, saying that his level-headed approach will be a plus for NFL teams willing to draft the USC product.

“Sam is not the kid you speed date; he’s the kid you marry,” Palmer said. “So as he goes through this process and gets to spend some time with these other teams, it’s very predictable for people like myself that are in his circle that people will fall in love the more they get to know him.”

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Rams’ Robert Woods gets 4-year, $65 million contract extension

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The Los Angeles Rams and receiver Robert Woods have agreed to terms on a four-year, $65 million extension, including $32 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN. The contract has a $68 million maximum value.

On Thursday, a day before Woods and the Rams agreed to terms, Rams coach Sean McVay said an extension would be done “very shortly,” while Woods expressed hope it would be completed before a Week 2 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

“Just praying that it gets done on time and really just trying to go out there and execute what I do on the field and let my play do the talking for me,” Woods said. “Which it has.”

Woods outplayed the five-year, $34 million deal he originally signed with the Rams in 2017, and the deal was expanded to $39 million through performance and a conversion of his base salary.

Over the past three seasons, Woods ranks among the top 11 NFL receivers in receptions, receiving yards and yards after catch. He produced consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019 and last season led all NFL receivers with 577 yards after the catch. In a Week 1 20-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Woods had six receptions for 105 yards.

His deal is the latest in a flurry of extensions the Rams have completed over the past two weeks. Two days before the season opener, cornerback Jalen Ramsey signed a record-setting five-year, $105 million extension that included $71.2 million guaranteed at signing, the most lucrative contract for a defensive back in NFL history. A day later, wide receiver Cooper Kupp signed a three-year, $48 million extension.

When asked if he grew concerned that the Rams might not have the resources to extend him following Ramsey’s and Kupp’s deals, Woods smiled. “This is a billion dollar industry. I feel like there’s always money,” he said, before joking, “especially with Denver doing well — the Nuggets. There’s a little bit of money somewhere.”

Rams owner Stan Kroenke also owns the Nuggets, who are appearing in the Western Conference finals of the NBA playoffs.

McVay said he spoke with Woods following Kupp’s extension, reiterating his desire to keep Woods — whom he called a pillar of the offense — long term.

“[McVay] just kind of put his arm around me and said he’s happy to have me here, been a true competitor since I stepped on his team,” said Woods, who turned 28 in April. “He kind of just reassured me that this deal would be taken care of this week, and really have no other concerns. We take each other’s word, we believe in it, we go forward and we’re locked on to get this thing done and look forward to Philadelphia.”

Woods previously was scheduled to earn $5 million this season, and his contract was set to expire at the end of the 2021 season.

A second-round pick in 2013 by Bills, Woods played four seasons in Buffalo where he had 2,451 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Since joining the Rams, Woods has caught 238 passes for 3,239 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 298 yards and two scores.

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Packers’ Aaron Jones still plans to do Lambeau Leap without fans in stands

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Jones isn’t going to stop Lambeau Leaping just because the Green Bay Packers won’t have any fans in the stands, and he won’t stop listening to contract offers even though he didn’t get a deal done on the eve of the season, like fellow 2017 draft class running backs Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara did.

Jones and the Packers got their first look Friday at how Lambeau Field will be configured for Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions. The team practiced in the stadium, which has the first eight rows of bleachers covered with signage and advertisements during the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’ll definitely still see a Lambeau Leap from me, probably right on one of those tarps,” Jones said after practice on Friday. “Just gotta pick which one, or wherever I score at or the location I’m at it’s gonna be that one. Definitely different seeing it, though, replacing the fans and just the tarp. Definitely not the Lambeau we’re used to.”

Jones is one of the most likely Packers to get the chance for a Lambeau Leap, considering he tied for the NFL lead with 19 touchdowns last season. He scored once last week at Minnesota in the Packers’ Week 1 win, when he rushed for 66 yards on 16 carries.

But is he one of the most likely Packers to get a contract extension?

They signed nose tackle Kenny Clark to a four-year, $70 extension in August. Clark, who suffered a groin injury against the Vikings, has been ruled out against the Lions. Jones is one of four other starters with expiring contracts, including All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King.

The Packers and Bakhtiari were about $4 million per year apart on a deal before the season, according to a source familiar the negotiations. Bakhtiari is seeking to match or exceed the $22 million per year that Houston’s Laremy Tunsil makes as the NFL’s highest-paid tackle.

The Packers also have been talking to Jones about a contract extension since last spring but have not been able to get a deal done. Jones is making $2.133 million in the final year of his rookie deal. Last weekend, both Cook and Kamara signed extensions. The Vikings gave Cook a five-year, $63 million extension, while the Saints extended Kamara for five years and $75 million.

When asked what he thought about those deals, Jones said: “Just congratulations to those guys. They’re just helping out all the running backs on the market. So big kudos and congrats to those guys. It’s very well deserved to them.”

Jones, a fifth-round pick, had a breakout season last year with 1,558 total yards from scrimmage. He tied Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey for the NFL touchdown lead.

Jones said he’s not closing the door on the possibility of still getting a deal done during the season.

“I’m definitely open to getting something done whenever,” he said. “But like I said, that’s not my main focus. Just gonna continue to focus on football and helping this team bring in the wins, as many as possible.”

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Carolina Panthers DT Kawann Short, DE Yetur Gross-Matos out Sunday

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady‘s job got a little easier Friday in terms of being pressured with the Panthers ruling out starting defensive linemen Kawann Short and Yetur Gross-Matos with injuries.

Short, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, suffered a foot/ankle injury in a 34-30 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and did not practice all week beyond going through a few drills on Thursday.

Gross-Matos, a second-round pick out of Penn State who started at end opposite Brian Burns, entered the concussion protocol after being hit in the eye during Wednesday’s practice.

Coach Matt Rhule is hopeful Short will be back next week but admitted the team captain’s presence will be missed greatly. Short was one of the league’s best pass-rushing tackles from 2015 to 2019 with 27.5 sacks. He also was a top run-stopper.

“Him not being there will be an impact,” Rhule said. “He’s a premier player. Him not playing will have an impact throughout the game.”

The Panthers’ pass rush was almost nonexistent in the opener. They had an NFL-low 10% pressure rate with only five pressures and were the only team not to touch the quarterback on a pass or rush.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow blamed that in part on inefficiency on first and second down. On 12 third-down situations against the Raiders, eight were 4 yards or less.

“You’re not really in pass-rush mode because of those down and distances,” Snow said.

Snow said it will be key to put Brady in obvious pass-rush situations because of his quick release and intelligence.

Without pressure, Brady has been one of the best in the NFL. Since 2014, among 30 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts while not pressured, Brady has completed 71% of his passes to rank ninth.

Brady’s touchdown-interception ratio of 5.1 (143 to 28) during that span is second only to the 5.72 of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. His total quarterback rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information, ranks fifth at 78.8.

Lack of pressure isn’t always a factor with Brady. In last week’s opener against New Orleans, Brady completed 21 of 30 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns — and both of his interceptions.

The Panthers are hoping first-round pick Derrick Brown, who showed flashes of brilliance in the opener, will be more consistent and step up his game against Tampa Bay. Veteran Zach Kerr is a candidate to replace Short as a starter if Carolina opens in a four-man front.

Woodrow Hamilton is a candidate to be called up from the practice squad to be a part of the rotation. Rhule also mentioned that end Efe Obada, who beefed up during the offseason, can play inside.

Carolina also could go with more three-man fronts, as the Panthers effectively did in the second half against the Raiders. Snow said that’s a part of the base defense and didn’t rule out using it more.

It’s effective because Burns, who also plays outside linebacker, and rookie linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn are so versatile and able to play multiple positions.

Regardless, Snow said the Panthers have to be sharper than they were in the opener. He recalled that once, when Snow was a position coach with the Detroit Lions, Brady helped New England overcome a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes without having a play over 10 yards.

“He just has the ability to move the chains and always has,” Snow said. “He’s so intelligent out there, knows what you’re in and executes. That’s who Brady is, and I don’t think that’s changed.”

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