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Texans’ J.J. Watt says he feels as good as 2014-15 because of quarantine

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HOUSTON — Like many people this spring and summer, J.J. Watt has had a lot of downtime while quarantining during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But unlike a lot of people, Watt says his “body feels as good as it has felt since probably 2014 or ’15 because “the quarantine situation has given me literally nothing to do but work out every day.”

“I mean, there’s nothing else you can do,” Watt said. “You can’t go out, you can’t go to the movies, you can’t go to eat. So the workout program for me this offseason has been awesome because I’ve had a full offseason to do my workouts exactly how I needed to do them. I’ve been able to focus on my nutrition every single day. I’ve counted every single calorie the whole way. Basically tried to fully transform my body from the beginning of the offseason until now.

“It truly has been one of the best offseasons from a workout standpoint that I’ve ever had, and I’m very, very pleased about it. My body feels as good as it has felt since probably 2014, 2015, somewhere around there. So I’m really looking forward to getting into camp and just getting to work.”

Watt won his second and third NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in the 2014 and ’15 seasons.

But while the Texans star knows he was fortunate to have the proper equipment and space to work out while quarantining, he also acknowledged that many NFL players did not have that opportunity. Unlike Watt’s rookie year when players could still work out in local gyms and with each other during the 2011 lockout, they couldn’t get into their team facility this season.

“[In 2011] we were locked out, so a lot of people will try and compare that because we couldn’t be in the facility, so they try to say that that’s the same as this year,” Watt said. “But the difference was, in 2011, you could still train at your local gym. You could still get together in groups with other players and train and run and practice and do things. This year you couldn’t do any of that. You’re not supposed to go to your local gym, you’re not supposed to train in groups, you’re not supposed to do any of that. Some guys were living in an apartment that doesn’t have a weight room or that doesn’t have a place for them to run. So everybody’s coming in in a very different situation this year, whereas in the past, guys have had that opportunity to work out.”

Watt also said that the thought there might be an uptick in injuries, as there was in 2011, is “absolutely one of the concerns that the NFLPA has brought up and that the players have brought up as a whole.”

“I think one of the most important parts of this ramp-up period and one of the reasons the preseason games got taken out was to analyze where each guy’s at individually because everybody’s going to be coming in and starting from a different place,” Watt said. “Some guys are going to have the luxury of training full out, and they’re going to be 100 percent ready to go and some guys are going to need a lot of time. So I would say that’s definitely a concern and that’s something that each team and each player needs to look at individually because it certainly is something that should be watched.”

During his conference call Saturday morning, Watt said it was not a difficult decision whether to play or opt out this season because he is not living with anyone who is high-risk, but he said he understands not everyone is in that situation. His wife, Chicago Red Stars forward Kealia Watt, spent more than a month in a bubble in Utah for the NWSL Challenge Cup.

“Like I said earlier, any time you’re in a situation where you’re not in a full bubble, there is going to be that inherent risk,” Watt said. “It is not going to be 100 percent guaranteed to be safe, so they’re putting a lot of trust in the guys to make sure they’re doing the right things and make sure they’re handing themselves right outside of the building. And then you’re also trusting the testing process and trusting the fact that you are playing a contact sport where you’re literally rubbing up against people all game long, all practice long. So it’s just a matter of understanding — and that’s why we have the opt-out. That’s why we make sure everybody knows fully what the risks are going into it. Because, like I said, there is some risk. It is not 100 percent fail-proof.”

Because of that, Watt said it’s important for the NFL to learn from the challenges Major League Baseball has had

“It’s certainly interesting to watch,” Watt said. “I think watching it and trying to figure out what you can learn from it and how you can make sure you don’t have a situation like that where one team has 14, 15 guys and then you’re having to cancel a whole bunch of games. I think that there’s no question we’re watching it and trying to make sure we don’t follow in that same pathway.”

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NFL training camp 2020 – Roster shake-ups see old faces and rookies in new places

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Tom Brady in red and pewter. Philip Rivers in blue and white, no yellow to be found. Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Chase Young in Washington. The 2020 NFL season is going to look different.

There’s just something about old faces in new places … and about new faces. Hope springs eternal for every fan base before any games have been played, and new arrivals add fuel to those postseason hopes.

With that said, here’s a look at some of the aforementioned players, veterans and rookies alike, who could make a splash in their new digs.


The vets


The rookies



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Maryland’s Mike Locksley launches minority coaches development group

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Maryland Terrapins coach Mike Locksley can remember sitting at the NFL’s Quarterback Coaching Summit last June at Moorehouse College, where leaders from the NFL’s football operations department and the Black College Football Hall of Fame brought together dozens of people of color with higher coaching aspirations.

Locksley, who had just left his job as Alabama’s offensive coordinator to come to College Park, was struck by the comments made there by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome — a minority in the NFL — who conceded he didn’t realize “there were this many African Americans coaching quarterbacks.”

It was one of many moments throughout Locksley’s career that helped spur his creation of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches, an organization he said he hopes will help prepare and promote qualified minority coaching candidates to the next step in their careers. The non-profit organization will create a list of candidates that will be vetted by a powerful board of directors that includes the likes of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Alabama coach Nick Saban, and of course Newsome.

“I can only speak from my experiences, that it’s just about opportunities, it’s about awareness,” Locksley told ESPN. “You look at the three pillars of our organization: prepare, promote and produce. When you think of preparation, you think of having the tools, and this organization needs to create programming to provide tools for a youth league coach who wants to be a high school coach … This organization has to provide the tools to help people make these jumps in their career.

“The promote piece is the part that I think has been missing,” he said. “If you want to create change, there’s got to be some promotion of what’s out there.”

According to a release from Maryland, a study from the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University showed that at least 77-percent of offensive coordinators hired throughout college football over the last 10 years were white and out of 130 FBS eligible schools, only 14 head coaches are minorities.

Locksley said that in the summer of 2018, when he was on Saban’s staff at Alabama, he had a conversation with Pep Hamilton about becoming a head coach, and they noticed the direction for hiring “was the quarterback room.”

“At that time there weren’t a lot of Black quarterback coaches,” he said. “… He and I came up with the idea of let’s create kind of an underground railroad system of uniting quarterback coaches and getting together and sharing ideas and helping each other grow as quarterback coaches.”

They created the QuarterBlack Symposium, and reached out to the NFL for support, which they received, and it began that summer at Moorehouse College before the NFL officially took it over and rebranded it. When he got to Maryland and took a look around, Locksley said the number of minority coaches was shrinking.

According to NFL.com, when Locksley was hired by New Mexico in 2009, he was one of four Black head coaches at the FBS level. A decade later, he was one of only 13 — in a pool of 130 FBS schools.

Locksley said the organization allows him to pay forward “the privileges I’ve been granted as the head coach at my dream school, Maryland, while also hopefully leaving a legacy and a pathway of opportunity for the next generation of head coaches to come at all levels.”

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Packers ‘back to square one’ with their WRs unless … Antonio Brown, anyone? – Green Bay Packers Blog

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Even Davante Adams, the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 wide receiver, thought his team would make a significant addition at his position this offseason.

Even after signing veteran Devin Funchess.

“It’s no secret, we were all expecting to have a receiver drafted,” Adams said this week. “But that wasn’t the case.”

And now that Funchess has opted out of this season, exercising his right under the NFL’s COVID-19 procedures, where are the Packers with the position?

“They’re back to square one,” said a longtime scout for an NFC team. “Same guys [as last season]. If I was them, I’d go sign Antonio Brown. You just use him for one year. Let’s say Aaron Rodgers has got two great years left? I’ve got to go for it. If I was [general manager Brian Gutekunst], I would’ve signed Robby Anderson, and I might have made a trade for another linebacker.”

There’s nothing the Packers can do now about Anderson, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Carolina Panthers in free agency, and the scout’s take on Brown came just a day before the NFL handed him an eight-game suspension to start the season even though he is not with a team.

In Adams, the Packers have one of the NFL’s most productive receivers. In fact, he’s the only player in the league with at least 40 touchdowns over the past four seasons combined. A case could be made that he’s outperformed the four-year, $58 million contract extension that runs through the 2021 season. He’s currently the ninth-highest paid receiver based on average per year, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Over the past two seasons, Adams has 194 catches for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns. The rest of the Packers’ receivers can’t match that for their careers combined.

The Packers rank 16th in the NFL for salary-cap charges for wide receivers at $24.403 million, but $16.475 million of that is Adams.

“I don’t know if this is where you’re going with this but with how good Aaron is, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be more aggressive at wideout all those years,” said a younger scout for an AFC team.

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of what the Packers have behind Adams based on interviews with the two scouts:

Allen Lazard (career stats: 36 catches, 484 yards, three touchdowns)

The Packers signed him off the Jaguars’ practice squad in December 2018, and he caught one pass for 7 yards in the finale. He didn’t even make the final cut in 2019 but was added to the roster in time for the season opener. Still, he didn’t see any significant reps until the sixth game of the season — and after Adams went down with turf toe. By the time Adams returned, the 6-foot-5 Lazard had a firm grasp on the No. 2 spot.

“Obviously he’s not Davante,” said the AFC scout, who specializes in evaluating college players for his team. “As a starting outside receiver in the NFL, I’d say he’s below that line of what you would want as a starter. Ideally, he’s a third, and on a really deep team he might be a fourth receiver… Aaron makes him better. He’s shown he’s a guy you want in your lineup, but he’s not like the guy that you want as the 1 or the 2. Those guys have to have more tools.”

Said the NFC scout, who evaluates both pro and college players for his team: “He’s a big, possession receiver. But there’s no dynamic there. I thought they made a huge mistake when they didn’t sign Anderson. That would’ve freed up Davante Adams. Davante would’ve had a bigger year, and it would’ve given Aaron that vertical threat guy. Then you could’ve worked all those other receivers in. Now you’re saying those same guys have to be your No. 2, and they’re not No. 2s. But Aaron’s going to make them quality No. 3s.”

Marquez Valdes-Scantling (64 catches, 1,033 yards, four touchdowns)

The fifth-round pick in 2018 was supposed to be the deep-threat receiver. He ran a 4.37-second 40 at the NFL scouting combine. He looked the part early on, posting a pair of 100-yard games (both on just three catches) as a rookie and started fast in 2019. But after a two-catch, 133-yard game against the Raiders on Oct. 20, the 6-4 Valdes-Scantling caught just five more passes the rest of the season for 36 yards.

“He is their vertical guy, but I guess he had issues last year,” the NFC scout said. “Did he fall out of favor with Aaron or something? I was a big fan of his coming out of college.”

Said the AFC scout: “I actually liked Valdes-Scantling. I had probably a fifth-round grade on Valdes-Scantling, and I think in the right place I thought he could be a scheme-fit starter. I thought he had obviously vertical speed and some tools. At some point last year, I thought he went past that, but then he leveled off.”

Jake Kumerow (20 catches, 322 yards, two touchdowns)

A fan favorite because of his local ties; he played at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. He’s also one of Rodgers’ favorites. He played in just five games in 2018, but it his was first NFL regular-season action after entering the league as an undrafted free agent with the Bengals in 2015. Last season, the 6-4 Kumerow showed some big-play ability, averaging 18.3 yards per catch, but had just 12 receptions.

“I actually liked him; I did his report the year he came out of Whitewater,” the AFC scout said. “I’m glad he finally made it because I liked him, but he’s another one of those guys who, when you don’t have a dominant trait, it’s hard to get over the hump at that position.”

Equanimeous St. Brown (21 catches, 328 yards, no touchdowns)

Spent all of last season on injured reserve after he suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game. Another big receiver (6-5), he would seemingly be too big to fill the much-needed slot role, but he did have five of his 21 catches from the inside positions as a rookie in 2018. He was the last of the three receivers the Packers drafted in 2018 — J’Mon Moore in the fourth round, Valdes-Scantling in the fifth and St. Brown in the sixth.

“He could play inside every now and then, but he’s not going to be in there every time,” the AFC scout said.

Said the NFC scout: “He’s soft. Inconsistent. Just a guy. But Aaron can make him have a 66-reception, 1,000-yard season. But it would be because of Aaron, and that’s Aaron having to work hard to make him good. Every now and then you want a receiver to make you look good.”

Darrius Shepherd (one catch, 1 yard, no touchdowns)

The Packers kept the 5-11 undrafted free agent in the final cuts instead of Lazard because they thought he could be a combination slot receiver/kick returner. But he had problems handling the ball in both jobs. He fumbled away the kick return job and had a costly drop for an interception as a wide receiver. He was released and re-signed to the practice squad.

“I’m biased against smaller guys,” the AFC scout said. “I think there’s a role for them, but if they’re not special, it’s hard for them to stick and making a living because there’s so many. You have to have something dynamic to get you over the hump and make up for what you’re lacking in size. Surprised they kept him over Lazard, but knowing what [coach Matt] LaFleur likes, they have very strict rules and guidelines in what they look for in a slot receiver and it’s usually the smaller guys who fit that role.”

Reggie Begelton (no career NFL appearances)

There’s been some hype about the 26-year-old Begelton (6-0, 200) this offseason after what he did in Canada last year with the Calgary Stampeders: 102 catches for 1,444 yards and 10 touchdowns that made him a CFL all-star. The Packers signed him to a futures contract in January.

“I don’t know him, but I think the reason it’s a hard transition [from the CFL],” the AFC scout said. “They were already deemed not good enough to be in the NFL and now they’re older, so they’re not competing with rookies, they’re competing with the vets. But I think you can find guys, not exactly gadget guys but guys who can fit a certain role for you. I think it’s hard to find a complete receiver up there, but you can find a slot or you can find a speed guy. So I think in that regard, I think you could find someone to compete with Allen Lazard, who doesn’t have everything. But it would be extremely hard to find a player who took the Adam Thielen route. It just doesn’t happen a lot.”

Darrell Stewart (rookie)

The only rookie wide receiver the Packers added; Stewart (6-0, 212) signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, where he finished third in career receptions (150).

“I saw him at the NFLPA [Collegiate Bowl] game,” the AFC scout said. “He’s really good athlete. He’s a little more short and compact, but he’s got a good build. His issue has been drops. If you watch him, I’ll bet when they start practice he’s going to turn people’s heads. If he catches the ball fine, they’re going to love him. That week at the NFLPA game, the first 20 minutes of practice, I was like, ‘This dude’s definitely going to get drafted.’ Then you see he’ll drop two or three balls in a row and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what he struggles with.’ But he’s definitely a make-it athlete; he just struggles with the hands. Maybe it will be easier [in Green Bay] where the quarterback is better.”

Malik Taylor (no career NFL appearances)

Signed just before training camp last season, he spent all of the 2019 season on the practice squad. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Buccaneers out of Ferris State.

Neither scout knew enough about Taylor (6-1, 216) to evaluate him.

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