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Gas station burritos and one stoplight: Seahawks rookie rises from tiny hometown – Seattle Seahawks Blog

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L.J. Collier, the Seattle Seahawks‘ first-round draft pick, comes from a West Texas town that’s so small he could guide a tour over the phone.

Start at Allsup’s, the convenience store just off the intersection of Highway 222 and Route 277. Collier gave it a shout-out on draft night, calling it a good place to get a burrito, as if he was giving advice to prospective visitors.

Five blocks to the north is a Dairy Queen, the only eatery you’ll find open on a fall Friday night when almost half of the residents are packed inside the 600-seat Scruggs Field for high school football.

To get there, you’ll drive through the only stoplight, if you could call it one.

“Not even,” Collier said. “It’s just a light that flickers.”

Five blocks west of the DQ is Munday High, where Collier graduated in 2014 among a senior class of 25 students.

Retrace your steps from there and head back south on South Birch Avenue. You’ll see the giant water tower on your left bearing the town’s name on one side and the high school’s nickname, the Moguls, on the other. It might be the tallest structure in sight.

Kitty-corner from Allsup’s is City Hall, where the secretary can give you the exact population of Munday off the top of her head: 1,388.

And now one of Munday’s own is off to the NFL.

“He’s representing his town,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said after selecting Collier, a defensive end, 29th overall. “It’s a big deal to him. He pretty much knows everybody in the town. Friday night lights, think of that, you know? It’s a pretty cool deal.”

Made in Munday

Pull up Munday in Google Maps and you’ll have to zoom way out before a recognizable city — like Abilene or Fort Worth — provides geographical context.

It’s about 190 miles northwest of Dallas and roughly 150 miles in the same direction from Fort Worth, where Collier attended college at TCU. There’s one public golf course that’s located just outside city limits. The nearest movie theaters are more than hour away in either Abilene or Wichita Falls.

“What you do on the weekends is you just drive around in your truck and you drive around on dirt roads and hang out in somebody’s field,” TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who grew up in West Texas and recruited Collier, said in a phone interview with ESPN.com. “That’s pretty much what you do for fun.”

Collier excelled on the field when he got to TCU, finishing with 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks during his senior season. But one major adjustment he had to make once he got to Fort Worth was timing his car trips to avoid traffic, something there isn’t much of in Munday.

“It was a great place to grow up at for a kid, because in the city, you can’t really ride around on your bike a lot or do things like that,” Collier said. “I did a lot of that with my friends growing up. We’d just hunt rabbits and birds — me and my cousin did with my BB gun and stuff like that. I wasn’t really much of a hunter, but as a kid we usually shot stuff around the house and things like that. We’d jump on the trampoline a lot. We played a lot of football.

“Couldn’t really get into much, but it was a lot of fun. … I didn’t really know anything else.”

In Munday, pretty much everyone knows each other — or at least knows of each other. There are few strangers, if any. Cumbie believes that helped shape Collier’s outgoing nature.

“It’s just because he doesn’t know any different,” Cumbie said. “Everywhere he’s ever been, he’s had a big personality. I think he doesn’t have as many inhibitions probably as some kids who come from bigger towns where maybe some of that was suppressed at a certain age.”

Collier’s dad, Lawrence Sr., was born and raised in Munday. He still works in the oil fields and lives in nearby Stamford. L.J.’s late mother, Ruby, was from 6 miles away in Goree. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when L.J. was a senior in high school and died during her son’s second year at TCU.

“That’s where a small town like that … people can take a vested interest in you and they pick you up and take you to school and they’re just around you all the time,” Cumbie said.

For Collier, that person was Christel Shahan. She taught him math and science at Munday High and eventually became a part of his family.

“Basically, I told her L.J. needed to get his test scores up to be able to qualify, and so she took it upon herself to tutor him and meet with him every day extra from an academic standpoint,” Cumbie said.

Shahan would keep in contact with Collier once he left for Fort Worth, regularly talking on the phone or texting.

“I knew what the college part of it was going to be like because I had been to college, but his family, he was the first one to ever go to college,” Shahan told ESPN.com. “So I just kept in touch with him on, ‘How’s it going? Are you going to class? How’s your classes going? How’s football?’ That kind of stuff.

“When his mom got sick, I just kinda started checking in on him a little more and I got to checking in on his mom and dad and just kinda helping out, cooking supper or visiting, or going over and checking on her, just to be someone that kinda could keep L.J. in the loop because he was concerned, obviously, about his mom. We got closer at the end. And then, obviously, after she passed away, then there was kind of a void there. He just needed someone. His dad was going through the loss of his wife, his sisters were going through the loss of their mother. He didn’t want to burden them, so I was just there for him.”

Collier visited Shahan at the high school whenever he came back to Munday. She regularly made the three-hour drive to Fort Worth to watch Collier play and laughs while recalling how their party would usually be the last to leave TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium because he had so many people to talk to.

“He knows everyone,” she said.

Shahan was with Collier and his family in Frisco, Texas, when he got the call from the Seahawks on draft night. After all, she was instrumental in that accomplishment as well as another: Collier graduating with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.

“I think that a lot of his motivation and his drive and some of the passion that he plays with out on the field comes from the motivation of wanting to please [his mom],” Cumbie said. “I think one of the last things that she told him was he needed to get his degree and make sure that he graduated, and he did that.”

‘They were ecstatic’

Colton Summers, an attendant at Allsup’s, can confirm that the deep-fried burritos Collier spoke of during his introduction are the real deal. They go for $1.99 before tax or two for $3 with the current special, he said after excusing himself to assist a customer.

“I love them, actually,” Collier said. “They’re really good. I took one of my friends from college home one time and he ate like nine of the things.”

Across the street at City Hall, Munday secretary Bianca Harrimon can’t recall a single famous person that the town has produced.

“I don’t really think we have anyone, honestly,” she said with a laugh.

But now they have Collier.

“When he got drafted, everybody was coming into the store talking about him,” Summers said. “… They were more than proud; they were ecstatic. … I think it was the day of. As soon as everybody found out, they were going crazy.”

Said Collier: “It’s a great feeling, man. It’s good to have the support of my hometown and things like that. I’m very proud they’re supporting me and I’m just going to try my hardest to keep continuing to make them proud.”

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Jay Gruden: Dwayne Haskins’ talent obvious, ‘deserves a shot’ to start – Washington Redskins Blog

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ASHBURN, Va. — Dwayne Haskins‘ flashes produce moments of joy, throws punctuated by high-fives from the coach or fist bumps from his offensive coordinator. Those moments remind the Washington Redskins — as if they needed it — why they drafted him. Other throws let them know Haskins needs more seasoning.

But with spring practices completed, they’ve seen enough to know that this year’s 15th overall pick is a serious contender for the starting job.

“Oh, for sure,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I’d be silly not to. He’s put enough out there on tape to say he deserves a shot, without a doubt.

“I don’t know quite what he can do in the NFL in this system because it’s new to him, but his ability warrants the fact that, hey, let’s take a peek at this big son of a b—-.”

The Redskins also have Colt McCoy, who has been with Gruden for six seasons, and Case Keenum, who has started 54 games, including 30 over the past two seasons. Gruden knows more of what to expect from those two. Haskins, 21, has talent, but no NFL experience.

“Dwayne is the wild card,” Gruden said.

In a recent minicamp, Haskins displayed his precision — leading to Gruden yelling, “That’s a no, no don’t throw it! … Nice throw!” Haskins barely stuck a pass over the top of a cornerback dropping back with a safety rotating over. The correct throw was to dump it underneath the corner. Instead, he found receiver Kelvin Harmon. On other throws, Haskins didn’t turn his feet properly, leading to errant passes.

“You see the ‘wow’ plays and you’re like, ‘Jesus,'” Gruden said. “When he’s on, there’s nobody you’d rather have than Dwayne. Really. It’s pretty. He stands tall; he has a cannon, and he can quicken up his release. He’s got great touch. Strong, powerful arm; strong, powerful body. But sometimes when he’s off, he’s abnormally off. It’s kind of weird.”

But that reflects Haskins’ rookie stature, too. Gruden said there are times when Haskins is focused on remembering the play, repeating it properly, then reading a defense and throwing to new teammates. It’s hard to play freely or to remember the situation.

“The most important thing is to quicken his reads so he can reset his feet and get them underneath him to make accurate throws. That comes with time,” Gruden said. “Sometimes, he’s in such a hurry that he might be late and then he feels he has to rush.”

Haskins already wants to be at a different point in his career; he knows it’s not possible.

“I want to be really, really good, and right now, I’m good sometimes. And that’s frustrating, because I want to play like Tom Brady, I want to play like Drew Brees,” Haskins said. “This is only my fourth week in camp and that’s not going to be possible.”

Two “P” words sum up the Haskins experience: patience and perspective. The Redskins want to be patient with his development (and want Haskins to be patient with himself). And perspective is needed because of his youth and inexperience.

“He’s already earned the respect of a lot of people around here. They’re excited because they’ve seen bits and pieces of the potential.”

Redskins coach Jay Gruden on Dwayne Haskins

After Tuesday’s practice, Haskins was interviewed by reporters, signed autographs for 30 minutes, then sat for another interview before heading to a two-hour meeting with coaches to go over film. Haskins said he’ll be in Ashburn studying from now until training camp begins July 25 — with a “few-day” break this month to attend a Jordan Brand retreat in Paris, along with luminaries such as Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony.

“Watching film, calling plays, just getting used to being in different terminology,” Haskins said. “At Ohio State, I used to play ‘Madden’ to learn the playbook. Once I learn the playbook, I know what I’m doing. I can call out the reads and point out sight [adjustments] and move protections; everything else will go from there. So I feel one full year of learning would do me justice.”

That doesn’t mean Haskins believes he must sit for the first year; rather, it’s just about where he expects his comfort level to reach in a year. Gruden said there are times when Haskins got away with throws in college because of his arm; Haskins agrees. The quarterback did say that sometimes he’ll throw from various angles, just to see what he can — or can’t — do.

“That’s me watching too much Aaron Rodgers,” he said.

But the footwork has been emphasized before and during practices.

“In the NFL, defensive backs are faster,” Haskins said. “In college, you might get away with some throws where I don’t bring my legs with me, and some plays now [in the NFL] if I don’t get my legs underneath me it could be batted down or a pick. I know I have a strong arm, and sometimes I get to where I want to throw with my arm and not bring my legs. It’s just being conscious where my body is at in the pocket.”

Those “wow” moments this spring included plays when Haskins found receivers who weren’t part of the progression.

“He can just see the whole field extremely well,” Gruden said. “For a young quarterback, a lot of times when there are rushers they have a tendency to look down. He has a natural ability to keep his eyes up and down the field. It’s like a video game where he can see and make all the throws. There’s a lot to like about him, and there’s a lot to clean up, as we would expect. But he’s been impressive.

“The comfort level he has to continue to get. When he calls a play and knows exactly what we’re trying to do, or when I start to call a formation, he knows what play is coming. That will come with time, lots and lots of time.”

That trust factor will play into Gruden’s decision as to who will start the season. Knowing what to expect from a quarterback matters; last season, Gruden knew what he had in Alex Smith, who knew when to throw a ball away or when to run and when not to force passes. But it took time for that to happen.

“Dwayne may not quite be there, yet,” Gruden said. “That’s not something we know, yet. I hope that’s not the case. He didn’t make many mistakes at Ohio State in the year he played. That’s something we have to play out.”

Haskins appears to have clicked with his teammates, performing a handshake routine with the running backs during every practice. Gruden, a master needler, will chastise him with a sarcastic comment or two while smiling — saying, “I hope they didn’t film that!” after Haskins tripped and fell on one drill.

But what Haskins must do is develop and learn. In meetings, he asks offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell about his former teammate Brady. Haskins picked the brain of veteran corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after plays, asking why he jumped certain routes.

“I’d tell him when he sets his feet or when he looks a certain way, he’s staring down a little bit,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Everything I tell him, he comes back the next day and he beats me with it.”

In minicamp last week, Redskins corner Josh Norman made a diving interception off Haskins in the end zone. There was good-natured trash talking before the play and later, with lessons sprinkled in for Haskins.

“He’s got some fire to him,” Norman said. “He has no fear.”

Gruden provided additional impressions.

“He’s already earned the respect of a lot of people around here,” the coach said. “They’re excited because they’ve seen bits and pieces of the potential. He’s seeking information; he’s attentive in meeting rooms. He has a ways to go mentally — we’re throwing a lot of formations at him and it’s all new to him. We’ll see how he takes this period and how it transfers to when it comes back and how much he retains. That’s going to be the key.”

It’s all about progressing; when that results in Haskins starting games remains to be seen.

“I’m not worrying about starting Week 1. I just want to be ready to play Week 1 — whether that’s this year or next year,” Haskins said. “Whenever the time comes for me to play. I want to make sure that when I do play, I don’t want to look back.”

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The surprise offseason standout for all 32 teams

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The NFL is officially on vacation and that means school’s out for summer. Pencils down, we’ve learned all we can from organized team activities and mandatory minicamps, which came to an end this week. We won’t get another live look at teams until training camps open around the league at the end of July.

We’ve heard plenty from big names like Odell Beckham Jr. and Tom Brady, but what about the less-heralded players?

We asked our NFL Nation reporters to pick out a surprise standout from each of the 32 teams and here’s what they said:

JUMP TO A TEAM:
AFC East: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ
AFC North: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT
AFC South: HOU | IND | JAX | TEN
AFC West: DEN | KC | LAC | OAK
NFC East: DAL | NYG | PHI | WSH
NFC North: CHI | DET | GB | MIN
NFC South: ATL | CAR | NO | TB
NFC West: ARI | LAR | SF | SEA


AFC EAST

CB Kevin Johnson

The No. 16 overall pick in 2015 was a disappointment in Houston, missing 29 games because of injury over his final three seasons (2016-18). The Bills signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal in March. He has participated in OTAs with the second-team defense but is expected to compete with Levi Wallace and E.J. Gaines for a starting role. Johnson had an interception in an OTA open to reporters and has impressed coach Sean McDermott. “He’s gotten his hands on some footballs this spring to this point, which is important for us in terms of taking the ball away,” McDermott said. — Mike Rodak

WR DeVante Parker

He has regularly looked like the Dolphins’ best offensive player this spring, making highlight grabs along the sideline and consistently being a threat in the red zone and in the middle of the field. This isn’t the first time Parker has opened eyes in the spring (only to disappoint in the fall), but it’s a good sign after how bad 2018 went for him. In a surprise, the Dolphins brought back Parker this offseason on a one-year deal with hopes that a fresh start under a new coaching staff and a new quarterback (right now, Ryan Fitzpatrick) that seems to appreciate him more will help. He will have a chance to earn a starting role in 2019 alongside Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson (when healthy) if he keeps up this play. He’s also being pushed by promising undrafted free agent Preston Williams, who has flashed throughout the spring. — Cameron Wolfe

LB Jamie Collins

Signed to a modest one-year deal in May, Collins flashed speed and playmaking ability on defense while being inserted into a top spot on the punt-protection unit. The initial projection was that Collins would add depth on defense and potentially have to fight for a roster spot based on the way his first stint in New England ended in 2016, but now he looks as if he will be a key cog alongside returning off-the-line linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts. — Mike Reiss

TE Daniel Brown

Known as a blocking tight end and special-teams player, Brown has impressed with his ability as a receiver. No one expected much from him in the passing game because he played only 23 offensive snaps last season with the Bears (221 on special teams), but he has displayed more downfield speed than anticipated. This is important to note because starting tight end Chris Herndon is facing the likelihood of a two-game suspension for pleading guilty in January to driving while intoxicated. — Rich Cimini


AFC NORTH

S DeShon Elliott

The 2018 sixth-round pick made the play of the offseason when he raced nearly halfway across the field to make a diving interception and then added another pick during mandatory minicamp. Baltimore has a loaded secondary, but it looks as if the Ravens are going to need to find a way to get Elliott on the field this season. After missing all of last season because of a fractured forearm, he has shown a knack for being around the ball. “He’s going to make a mark,” coach John Harbaugh said. — Jamison Hensley

CB B.W. Webb

Webb was presumed to take over Darqueze Dennard‘s slot corner spot when Dennard remained unsigned earlier in the offseason, then appeared to go back to the No. 2 spot once Dennard’s deal was done. Now that’s not quite so clear. Dennard has been sidelined from practice during OTAs and the first part of minicamp, and coach Zac Taylor specifically pointed out Webb as one of the offseason standouts so far. This could come down to a competition for the starting spot during training camp. — Katherine Terrell

RB Dontrell Hilliard

With Duke Johnson Jr. still asking to be traded, Hilliard has made the most of his opportunities at running back this offseason behind Nick Chubb. Hilliard’s capability out of the backfield as a receiver and in the return game could translate into a pivotal role for the former undrafted free agent, especially until Kareem Hunt returns from suspension. — Jake Trotter

RB Trey Edmunds

The Steelers’ tailback room is full with James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and draft pick Benny Snell Jr., but Edmunds has been hard to miss during offseason work. He won several drills against linebackers in the open field and looks comfortable in the system as a two-year NFL veteran who has also played for New Orleans. The big brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds will be difficult to cut. Other candidates are rookie receiver Diontae Johnson — quarterback Mason Rudolph says Johnson has caught every ball Rudolph has thrown — former CFL star receiver Diontae Spencer and maligned cornerback Artie Burns. — Jeremy Fowler


AFC SOUTH

RB D’Onta Foreman

The 2017 third-round pick had a disappointing 2018 season after missing the majority of it while rehabbing an Achilles injury. Foreman said after last year that he feels as if he’s “basically starting all over” and “coming in with something to prove to everybody.” The coaching staff told Foreman to “have a great offseason,” and head coach Bill O’Brien said he thought the running back did just that. “I think he’s had a really good time away from us,” O’Brien said, “and that has parlayed into a good spring.” — Sarah Barshop

TE Mo Alie-Cox

The former college basketball player at VCU has taken advantage of Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, the team’s top two tight ends, being out or limited this offseason while rehabbing injuries. Alie-Cox, who arguably had the catch of the year at Oakland last season, has made himself the front-runner as the team’s third tight end next season. He had seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. “I really think he is really starting to develop as a route runner,” coach Frank Reich said. “I mean we know he has got good hands, but last year I thought he struggled a little bit in his route running and he was just very average. I have already seen … some really key indicators to me. I mean, very tangible indicators that he can develop into a very good route runner as well. He is so long and big and they don’t want to tackle him.” — Mike Wells

WR Chris Conley

He might turn out to be one of the best under-the-radar free-agent signings this year. Signing QB Nick Foles was obviously big, but the Jaguars added Conley three days later and he has been the best receiver during OTAs and minicamp. He has previously been teammates with Foles, who made a brief stop in Kansas City, and Foles is very comfortable with Conley. The Jaguars don’t have a clear No. 1 receiver, but with Marqise Lee not expected to return from a knee injury until several weeks into training camp it could be Conley. — Mike DiRocco

WR Tajae Sharpe

Sharpe welcomes the competition from free agent Adam Humphries and second-round pick A.J. Brown. He continues to exhibit precise route-running skills, leading to frequent targets from Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill. Sharpe has hauled in pretty much everything thrown his way. The fifth-year veteran stood out especially in red zone 7-on-7 periods. Sharpe figures to be in the mix for the No. 3 wideout spot and is showing his versatility by lining up in multiple WR spots. — Turron Davenport


AFC WEST

TE Troy Fumagalli

“Surprise” might not be the best word, but Fumagalli, a second-year player who spent last season on injured reserve while recovering from sports hernia surgery, has certainly waited for his chance. He was a fifth-round pick by the Broncos in the 2018 draft and is one of four tight ends the team has selected in the last five drafts combined, including Noah Fant with the team’s No. 1 pick this year. It figures to be a hotly-contested position in training camp. Fumagalli consistently made plays in OTAs and minicamp, showing two-way blocker/receiver potential. The Broncos figure to use their share of two-tight end sets in their new-look offense, so there is room for several to have a role in the offense, and Fumagalli has given the new coaching staff a quality glimpse of his potential. — Jeff Legwold

WR Byron Pringle

He was on the verge of making the team last year as an undrafted rookie before an injury in the final preseason game ended his season. Pringle continued to make plays after returning this offseason. The fact that he played well at camp and in the preseason last year is an indication Pringle isn’t just an offseason phenomenon but indeed has staying power. — Adam Teicher

CB Trevor Williams

Hampered by a nagging knee injury, the Penn State product lost his starting job to Michael Davis last season after starting 15 games in 2017. Now healthy, Williams is moving like his old self and is battling Davis to win his starting job back. “He’s earned that opportunity,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “It’ll be a great, competitive situation come training camp.” Williams’ reemergence is an important development for the Chargers, who are looking to build more depth in the secondary. — Eric D. Williams

play

1:09

Josina Anderson details Duke Johnson Jr.’s frustrations with the Browns crowded backfield and how he still desires a trade out of Cleveland.

TE Darren Waller

He joined the Raiders as a late-November signee after serving a pair of NFL-mandated suspensions with the Ravens, missing four games in 2016 and the entire 2017 season, for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. And after Oakland allowed Jared Cook to leave in free agency, Waller finds himself as Oakland’s TE1. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder with all of 18 career catches for 178 yards and two TDs has done more than flash in the offseason program with several sideline grabs as well as catches in traffic. Waller said “staying clean” was his No. 1 objective this offseason. “I feel like people have always had faith in me, but it was like I didn’t really have faith in myself,” he said. “… Now it’s like I wake up and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in my life and representing my family in a positive way.” — Paul Gutierrez


NFC EAST

WR Randall Cobb

Normally a player with Cobb’s résumé — 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career — would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver. If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb’s versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one. — Todd Archer

WR Darius Slayton

The fifth-round pick’s first impression was downright scary. He had the yips on the first day of rookie minicamp, dropping five passes. But he did more than bounce back. He impressed greatly, especially with his ability to get open and make plays downfield. It seemed as if Slayton was catching a deep ball every day when practicing with the veterans. It prompted coach Pat Shurmur to call Slayton the “most improved” player he saw this spring. Slayton has a chance to make an impact this season. The Giants are looking for a down-the-field threat to complement Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate. — Jordan Raanan

WR Marken Michel

The brother of Patriots RB Sony Michel, Marken, a former CFL player, has managed to snag some spotlight in a talent-rich environment by coming up with a handful of impressive downfield catches. He has gotten some work with the first team and has had pretty good chemistry with quarterback Carson Wentz. It’ll be an uphill climb for Michel with the likes of DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside leading a deep receivers group, but he’s putting his best foot forward heading into training camp. — Tim McManus

CB Jimmy Moreland

Moreland intercepted five passes during spring workouts, a result that stems from his instincts and knowing where to be and when. Moreland, a seventh-round pick in April, will be a player to watch this summer as a slot corner. He’s quick and tough but will have to show he can handle all the responsibilities in the slot — including playing the run. There’s a lot to learn. For now he’s someone who should make the roster and could develop into a solid starter at some point. But for a late-round pick from a smaller school (James Madison), he’s off to a terrific start. — John Keim


NFC NORTH

TE Bradley Sowell

Formerly an offensive tackle, Sowell converted to tight end in the offseason to improve the Bears’ depth. Despite being listed at 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, Sowell is a fairly agile route runner with above-average hands. Sowell caught a 2-yard touchdown last year on a trick play, but the big man is expected to be utilized much more in 2019. This is not a gimmick. Sowell is a legitimate contender for playing time on offense. — Jeff Dickerson

WR Chris Lacy

The Lions have a hole at wide receiver — or at least had a bigger one before signing Jermaine Kearse last week — and Lacy seemed to make plays almost every practice during the open spring workouts. It might be a tough way to a roster spot for the second-year pro out of Oklahoma State, but he has a size/speed component that most of Detroit’s receivers don’t. He beat the Lions’ secondary multiple times on deep passes. Detroit knows its starting receiver group — Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola — but Lacy could end up finding his way onto the roster as a depth receiver. — Michael Rothstein

WRs Jake Kumerow and Marquez Valdes-Scantling

OK, that’s two, but it’s hard to differentiate between them. Not when you see Kumerow with touchdown after touchdown from Aaron Rodgers, and Valdes-Scantling quickly climbing the depth chart into the top 3. It has helped that Packers GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t add a receiver in free agency — where he lost slot man Randall Cobb — or via the draft. Most important for Kumerow is that he has earned the trust of Rodgers, who recently listed off all the things he likes about Kumerow and then added, “Obviously, I’m a big fan of him. I could keep going.” And of Valdes-Scantling, Rodgers said: “MVS is playing a lot closer to his 40 time speed, which is saying a lot because he’s pretty damned fast.” — Rob Demovsky

WR Chad Beebe

All aboard the Chad Beebe express. Beebe’s “Little Engine That Could” tale — from winning a spot with the Vikings via a rookie tryout to being elevated to the 53-man roster midway through the 2018 season — is inspiring. He has gone from an unknown player — commonly referred to simply as “Don Beebe’s son” — to a possible front-runner for the Vikings’ No. 3 receiver position. “I think he’s proven, he’s played in some games and then you see him out here making some plays,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “I think he’s making a name for himself and I think he’s doing a nice job.” If Beebe can stay healthy and string together a handful of good preseason performances, he might be able to carve out a role for himself in an offense that wants to spread the ball around. — Courtney Cronin


NFC SOUTH

WR Russell Gage

The second-year wide receiver has received more practice reps at the X receiver spot this offseason with Julio Jones (foot) observing. Gage, a potential special-teams ace, looks comfortable running routes and has shown nice concentration on catches. “He can play more than one spot,” coach Dan Quinn said. “He can now add into some of those roles as Julio’s backup. He can play X and inside. He’s got movement for a slot. … Once you can learn more than one position, obviously the more opps you can [get] to go play.” — Vaughn McClure

WR Curtis Samuel

Injuries have slowed him his first two seasons out of Ohio State, and the arrival of 2018 first-round pick DJ Moore has made Samuel an afterthought among the receivers. Not to mention he plays a lot of slot, where Christian McCaffrey often lines up. But Samuel is healthy, making moves and catches in practice that even he says he couldn’t have a year ago. Now, as the No. 2 receiver, he has a solid chance to top the 54 catches he has combined for in his first two seasons. — David Newton

S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

The rookie fourth-round pick has made a quick impression this spring. Not only has he made a few flash plays in both rookie camp and OTAs, but the Saints clearly like his versatility as both a safety and slot corner in the nickel. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder from Florida has mixed in at times with the first-string nickel defense — and coach Sean Payton mentioned him as being in that mix for playing time with veteran nickel backs such as Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams. — Mike Triplett

Bucs rookie DBs

The Bucs used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and third-round picks on cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Evans, and all three players have notched interceptions against first-teamers in workouts. These three are handling the transition from college to the pros very well. “I don’t give a s— if they’re rookies, these guys can play. They’re getting their hands on a lot of balls. They’re doing things that veterans do, because they listen and their smart,” coach Bruce Arians said. The team actually feels that cornerback is now a position of depth, which it has not had in a very long time. “I don’t worry about our young corners,” Arians said. “Somebody asked me about Julio Jones — well, they have to cover Mike Evans every day. That’s a pretty good charge. If they can cover him a little bit, we’ll be OK.” — Jenna Laine


NFC WEST

WR Kevin White

The seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft has been looking more like the receiver that Kliff Kingsbury coached against in the Big 12 than the one who has played in only 14 games over four pro seasons. White has been given a chance by Kingsbury to resurrect a disappointing career and is taking advantage of it in a crowded wide receiver room. He has plenty to prove and has started the process of doing just that through OTAs and minicamp. “He’s big, fast, you can see all the attributes that made him a top-10 pick,” Kingsbury said. “[He] had some unfortunate injuries there in Chicago and [he’s] trying to kind of re-establish himself.[This is] really kind of like his rookie year.”— Josh Weinfuss

TE Gerald Everett

A second-round pick in 2017, Everett has had a few standout moments in his young career, including a 39-yard catch in the NFC Championship Game, but he has not been consistently called upon in coach Sean McVay’s offense. Through the offseason program, Everett was a clear standout as a target for quarterback Jared Goff. “The game is slowing down for him,” McVay said. “He’s just continuing to progress and take steps.” Everett will compete in a group that also includes fourth-year tight end Tyler Higbee. — Lindsey Thiry

WR Trent Taylor

Maybe it shouldn’t be thought of as a surprise considering the success Taylor had with QB Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of 2017, when he caught 17 of the final 20 passes thrown his way. But a back injury slowed Taylor in 2018 and his production was cut in half. Now he’s another year removed from the back issue and looks healthy, but he faces more competition for the slot receiver job. With new receivers coach Wes Welker showing him the ropes, don’t be surprised if Taylor regains his rookie form and takes a step forward into an expanded role in 2019. — Nick Wagoner

LB Cody Barton

The rookie third-round pick from Utah has benefited from Bobby Wagner‘s contract situation. Wagner has been present for offseason work but isn’t practicing, which has allowed Barton to take valuable first-team reps while also soaking up information from an All-Pro. The book on Barton is that he has a high football IQ and he has been showing it. Veteran K.J. Wright said he hasn’t seen rookie linebackers get up to speed in Seattle’s defense as quickly as Barton and fifth-round pick Ben Burr-Kirven have. — Brady Henderson

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Todd Gurley remains biggest question during Rams offseason – Los Angeles Rams Blog

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Todd Gurley II shook his head, then shrugged his shoulders.

At the outset of the offseason program in April, the Los Angeles Rams running back was asked if he was prepared for an offseason of questions about his left knee.

“I don’t know, man,” Gurley said. “Y’all ask the questions. It’s always something every offseason.”

Fast forward two months, and the questions and discussions about Gurley’s knee have remained atop the news cycle.

Perhaps because answers have been difficult to come by.

“Feeling good,” Gurley said Tuesday at the team’s training facility, as he stood at a podium and responded to more questions from reporters for the first time since April.

It has been more than four months since Gurley was last seen running with a football, when the Rams’ offense stalled in a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. He did not participate in practices during the offseason program and it could be at least another six weeks until Gurley engages in football activities, when the Rams open training camp on July 27.

Variations of “Feeling good” and “Feeling fine” have been Gurley’s — and the Rams’ — go-to line when asked about his knee, which kept him sidelined the final two games of the regular season.

“Feel really good,” coach Sean McVay said, when asked how he felt about Gurley’s status looking ahead to training camp. “Talking to Todd, he feels good, looks really good and I think the plan that we set out a few months back has been followed exactly the way that we wanted it to get done.”

Neither party will confirm reports that he is suffering from Arthritis or a degenerative condition.

On Tuesday, after the Rams held their one and only practice of mandatory minicamp — in which Gurley did not participate — the running back downplayed the significance of his issue.

“I had bigger problems to worry about coming out of college,” he said. “This is small.”

In 2014, his junior season at Georgia, Gurley suffered a torn ACL and underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee. The injury raised concerns about his potential NFL career, but the Rams selected him anyway with the 10th overall pick after he left Georgia with a season of eligibility remaining.

The Rams’ decision to draft Gurley has paid off, to this point. But it’s that left knee — now more than four years later — that is cause for concern.

Even as Gurley describes his current circumstance as a small issue, and the Rams declare that all parties feel good about the situation, their actions as they prepare for a repeat Super Bowl run raise doubts.

Gurley did not participate in the offseason program, the only player to sit out of the program in its entirety, and instead went through his own personalized workout plan with personal trainer Travelle Gaines, while still frequenting the Rams’ practice facility.

“I don’t feel like I need to do OTAs,” Gurley said. “I know what I’ve done, I know what I can do.”

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Chris Mortensen breaks down the concerns surrounding Todd Gurley’s arthritic knee.

The Rams matched the Detroit Lions’ offer sheet for restricted free agent running back Malcolm Brown — Gurley’s trusted backup — and a month later, they selected running back Darrell Henderson from Memphis in the third round of the NFL draft, with their second overall pick. Backups Justin Davis and John Kelly also remain on the roster.

And though McVay said that Gurley would “absolutely” participate in training camp, Gurley left some doubt as to how significant his practice load would be. “I’m not sure what I’ll be doing,” he said.

Before last season, the Rams made Gurley the highest-paid running back in NFL history when they awarded him a four-year, $60-million extension, with $45 million guaranteed.

His body of work over three seasons warranted the massive payday, keeping in mind his second season was plagued by an ineffective offense run by former coach Jeff Fisher. Otherwise, Gurley’s accomplishments are indisputable. He was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 when he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

When McVay arrived in 2017, he shaped his entire offense around the multifaceted back, and Gurley was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year as he powered the Rams to their first division title in 14 seasons, rushing for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns and catching 64 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns.

Last season, Gurley continued on trend as he rushed for 1,251 yards and scored a league-best 21 touchdowns in 14 regular-season games. When Gurley returned for the playoffs, he split carries with running back C.J. Anderson, and still managed to rush for 115 yards and a touchdown in a divisional-round win over the Dallas Cowboys.

But Gurley was ineffective in the two biggest games of the season. Against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, Gurley gained 13 total yards on five touches — as he watched the majority of the game, inexplicably, from the sideline. In the Super Bowl, he was held to 35 yards on 10 carries.

McVay has repeatedly shouldered the blame for Gurley’s inability to find a rhythm in the playoffs. But it makes little sense that a coach who took a moribund organization and led it to consecutive division titles, an NFC Championship and a Super Bowl in two seasons would suddenly forget how to utilize his best player.

Behind the scenes, the Rams have spent the offseason emphasizing the significant workload Gurley has carried throughout his four-season career, and have pointed to that as a reason his offseason load must be managed.

Since 2015, Gurley has amassed 6,430 yards from scrimmage, which ranks first among all NFL players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has 1,229 offensive touches over that four-year span, which also ranks first in the league and is 150 more touches than the next player, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon.

McVay has repeatedly steered away from any discussion about load management moving forward, and has stated multiple times that Gurley will remain a focal point of the offense.

Most recently, the third-year coach shot down the idea that Gurley has spent the offseason in recovery mode, and McVay certainly won’t entertain hypothetical scenarios that Gurley might appear less than himself going forward.

“I don’t think you can really get into any of these scenarios until we actually go play football,” McVay said. “But with what he’s said, with how he’s feeling, we feel really good about Todd Gurley continuing to be the player that he’s been over the course of his career and especially these last couple years where his production speaks for itself.”

For Gurley, the questions that raise doubt about the future of his career are nothing new.

“I’ve been hearing stuff all my life, just whatever growing up, hearing comments, whatever it is so a lot of stuff don’t really get to me,” Gurley said.

“I know what I’m capable of.”

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