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Due to major injuries and lackluster play elsewhere in the NFC South, the Buccaneers find themselves atop the division and in the driver’s seat.
Do not look now, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit atop the NFC South two weeks through the 2019 season, and after a string of misfortunes around the rest of the division, the banner is theirs to lose. With a record of 1-1, the Buccaneers have the same record as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, while Carolina Panthers sit at 0-2 on the year.

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Fortunately for the Bucs as they sit in first place in the division, two of the other teams are battling major injuries at the quarterback position. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is slated to miss six weeks after hurting his thumb in a collision with Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald, while the Panthers’ gunslinger Cam Newton is still recovering from the various injuries he has accumulated over the years; this time it is his foot.

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Cincinnati Bengals: 3 reasons Week 3 at Buffalo could
be the biggest game of the year

This leaves the Buccaneers, untainted by major injuries other than Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Evans, in the driver’s seat in the NFC South as the season rages on. The NFC South is one of the better, if not the best, divisions in the National Football League, so the pewter and red must remain focused as any of the Saints, Panthers, or Falcons could turn on the jets at any time.

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Even though Brees is out, the Saints have one of the best, if not the best backup in the league in former first round pick Teddy Bridgewater. They are also still surrounded by the talented offensive threats of Alvin Kamara and Mike Thomas, and a defense led by Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore.

The Falcons are not suffering from any major injuries, but have not looked great after entering this season with high expectations. They too still have a ton of talent on the field with wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley aiding former MVP Matt Ryan, and a defense filled with speed and strength, anchored by Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett.

While sitting in last place in the division after back-to-back losses, including a Thursday night loss to the Buccaneers, the Panthers have Christian McCaffrey, veteran tight end Greg Olsen, and speedsters D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel offensively. Luke Kuechly remains one of the best linebackers in the league and former Buc Gerald McCoy joins a stacked defensive front in Carolina.

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SEP 22
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals
1:05 PM – State Farm Stadium
SEP 29
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
1:05 PM – State Farm Stadium
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
2:05 PM – State Farm Stadium
The Buccaneers, however, have to prepare for a long seven week stretch away from home after this week’s matchup against the New York Giants. It is paramount for the Buccaneers to come away as winners this week at Raymond James Stadium so that they carry some momentum on the road with them.

NEXT: Mock Draft Monday: Buccaneers no longer in need of a QB?
While the Bucs have the advantage on paper over their other division foes, the games still have to be played on the field. Right now the Buccaneers are in the best position to take the NFC South crown, but can they pull off their first division title in 14 years?
The New York Giants have officially announced that Daniel Jones will replace Eli Manning as the starting quarterback on Sunday when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here is Pat Shurmur discussing the decision:

“Eli and I spoke this morning,” Shurmur said. “I told him that we are making a change and going with Daniel as the starter. I also talked to Daniel. Eli was obviously disappointed, as you would expect, but he said he would be what he has always been, a good teammate, and continue to prepare to help this team win games. Daniel understands the challenge at hand, and he will be ready to play on Sunday.”

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‘Valentine’s Views:’ Thoughts on Daniel Jones replacing Eli Manning
Manning, except for one 2017 game when Geno Smith replace him, has started every game at quarterback for the Giants since the 10th game of the 2004 season. This season, he has completed 56 of 89 passes for 556 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 78.7.

The Giants, though, have gone 0-2 and were not truly competitive, losing 35-17 to the Dallas Cowboys and 28-14 to the Buffalo Bills.

Shurmur promised on Monday that the organization would be “looking at everything” in an effort to get better.
“Ultimately, this is a move that I felt was best for this team at this time,” Shurmur said. “I have said it since I got here, I am very fond of Eli. His work ethic, his preparation, his football intelligence. All those attributes are as good as I have ever seen in a player. And Eli worked as hard as you could ask of anybody to get ready for this season. This move is more about Daniel moving forward than about Eli.”

The Giants won two Super Bowls with Manning at the helm, but the last several years have not been kind. The Giants have made the playoffs only one time since winning the 2011 Super Bowl and Manning’s career record as a starter is an even .500, 116-116.

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Manning holds all of the Giants’ career passing records, including attempts (8,061, which places him sixth in NFL history), completions (4,860, sixth), passing yards (56,537, seventh) and touchdown passes (362, eighth).

Jones, selected sixth overall, had a tremendous preseason. In four games, he completed 29 of 34 passes (85.3 percent) for 416 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a glittering 137.2 rating.

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With tight end Hunter Henry out because of a knee injury, the Los Angeles Chargers announced Tuesday they have signed veteran tight end Lance Kendricks.

To make room on the roster, the Chargers officially placed safety Adrian Phillips on injured reserve with a broken right forearm.

The Chargers also waived wide receiver Andre Patton and re-signed defensive end Chris Peace.

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Week 3 NFL Power Rankings – 1-32 poll, plus the most pleasant surprise for each team
Henry suffered a tibia plateau fracture to his left knee during the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts, and he likely will miss four to six weeks. He has not been put on injured reserve.

With Henry out and the team moving on from Antonio Gates, the Chargers needed to add a receiving tight end to the fold. Kendricks should serve in that role, joining tight ends Virgil Green and Sean Culkin on the active roster.

Kendricks, 31, was signed by the New England Patriots before the 2019 season, but he was suspended for the first game of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He then was released after being reinstated.

Kendricks spent 2017 and 2018 with the Green Bay Packers, after six seasons with the Rams. In eight seasons, he has 2,505 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.

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In July, Kendricks was sentenced to six months of probation following a 2017 incident in which he was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession at a traffic stop. He pleaded no contest, and the charge will be dropped if he completes eight hours of community service. His one-game suspension this season was a result of the 2017 incident.

First off, I want to thank everyone for their comments on this piece from last week. The format was really well received so I’m definitely going to keep these rolling each week.

Well that was an ugly game. It’s only week 2 so I won’t be chicken little-ing yet, but there was definitely plenty to “learn from” in this game.

Three Sustains
Running backs
Well, through 2 weeks the team has to be feeling pretty good about their decision on how they’ve handled the Melvin Gordon situation. Yes, Austin Ekeler had the regrettable fumble on the goal line (which also happened in the preseason), but that situation would never have happened if the officials didn’t negate 2 TDs on that drive that were questionable calls at best. Against a very good run defense, one that includes Damon “Snacks” Harrison who is one of the best run defenders in the league, the combo of Justin Jackson and Austin Ekeler carried 24 times for 125 yards, 5.21 ypc, and a touchdown. It would have been closer to 160 and 2 TD’s if Justin Jackson’s fantastic run wasn’t called as I mentioned above. Jackson was especially explosive with his 7 carries going for 59 yards (8.4 ypc) even with the penalty ruining his best run of the day, taking 30 yards and a TD off his totals. On top of that, the pair combined for 7 catches for another 72 yards, again that number could have been higher with Ekeler’s 22 yard TD reception being wiped out by a crappy penalty. That means on 31 touches the 2 headed monster in the Chargers’ backfield combined for 196 yards from scrimmage and a TD.

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I’d honestly like to start seeing more of Justin Jackson, and that doesn’t need to mean less Ekeler. They can find packages to get them both on the field at the same time as they’ve done for Gordon and Ekeler in the past. Especially when the offensive linemen we are constantly criticizing in pass protection are showing to be better in run/screen blocking.

Run Defense
What an improvement. After giving up 203 yards and a TD on the ground in week 1, the Chargers run defense only gave up 94 yards on the ground and no TDs, while keeping Kerryon Johnson limited to 41 yards on 12 carries (3.4 ypc). Joey Bosa was extremely active in the run game doing an excellent job of stacking and shedding his guy to make actual defensive stops at the line of scrimmage, rather than clean up tackles 6+ yards downfield. I still need to re-watch the game to be sure, but I think this also has to do with the fact that Uchenna Nwosu saw double the snaps (14 in week 1 vs 27 in week 2) and took advantage of it racking up 5 tackles.
The team also went heavy up front on defense more in week 2. In week 1 the team had 63 plays on defense and the combined snaps for Brandon Mebane, Damion Square, Jerry Tillery, Isaac Rochell, and Justin Jones was 134. With 2 less defensive plays in week 2 (61), those 5 players had 140 combined snaps. That change seemed to help in the run game without being a detriment in the pass game.

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Pass protection improvements
I’m going to re-watch the game and focus here to see what the changes were that they made here to see if it was more scheme or if the actual play of the OL improved, but whatever it was, it is definitely a sustain. When I looked at the snap counts the Chargers definitely spread it out more. With only 4 more offensive plays, the WR group as a whole saw an increase of 36 snaps. Part of that was necessity with Hunter Henry being out, but I assume part of that was also to keep more DBs on the field to help reduce the number of big bodies in the box rushing.

Whatever the change turns out to be, it worked. In week 1 Philip Rivers dropped back 34 times and took 8 QB hits and 4 sacks. This week Rivers dropped back 36 times and took only 4 QB hits and 1 sack. That’s a huge improvement. Sure, the Lions front 7 are built more for run stuffing rather than rushing the passer, but in week 1 that Lions defense had 5 sacks and 6 QB hits against an infinitely more mobile QB in Kyler Murray.

When the staff, and eventually the team, goes over the film from this week, the pass protection wins this week need to be highlighted and a focus needs to be put on making it repeatable, especially with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus coming to town this week.

Chargers WRs had 7 drops in the game yesterday, including 2 for first downs and 2 for touchdowns. They were game killing mistakes. And these are only counting the catchable passes, as Rivers was off target a few times yesterday. The Chargers wound up 6-13 (46%) on 3rd down yesterday and definitely could have used an extra touchdown or 2. Between officials wiping out 2 TDs (which I’ll just count as 1 since if the 1st one wasn’t wiped out the 2nd one wouldn’t have happened anyway), and the 2 dropped TDs, the Chargers left at least 3 TDs on the field yesterday. Keenan Allen was working over one of the best CBs in the league in Darius Slay for basically the whole game yesterday, while playing 91% of the offensive snaps. He can’t be asked to do it all. With Tyrell Williams gone, someone needs to step up. Mike Williams has shown flashes of it but needs to be more consistent. Travis Benjamin is frustrating because he’ll have games like he did at the end of last season where he’s reliable and clutch, then he’ll have games like yesterday where he’s on the field for 66% of the offensive snaps and have 0 catches on 2 targets including an awful drop on 3rd down that would have been a 1st down. This can’t happen anymore.

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The coaching yesterday (and over the last week) left a lot to be desired. First, despite the fact that the Chargers were playing with the lead for most of the game they still didn’t try to let the run game roll. Jackson was averaging 9 ypc and Ekeler racked up a respectable 4 ypc, all while WRs were dropping balls left and right. Even if you take half of the 15 incompletions and turned them into runs for no gain, that is multiple minutes of time off the clock, and a lot more time that the Lions defense is stuck on the field.

Speaking of clock management, I still cannot wrap my head around that final drive of the first half. The team gets the ball back on their own 3 yard line, 1:20 left on the clock, and 2 Time Outs. The Chargers are winning, but barely at 7-6, and the Lions are getting the ball after halftime. The first play is a handoff up the middle, which I can’t be too mad about since that’s what every offense in the league dials up as their first play backed up on their own goal line probably 90% of the time. But when the run got stuffed, the coaches had Rivers let 40 seconds run off the clock before he called the time out! I get that you don’t want to “score too quickly” and give the Lions another shot before the half, especially when they had 3 TOs. But you kill the clock at the END of the drive, once you’re in scoring range already. With 1:20 and 2 TOs only up by 1 point the plan should have been going for a TD first and maybe settling for a FG. They had 1:20 before the 1st play, and :34 on the clock after it. After they squandered all that time Rivers basically willed the team 74 yards down the field to the Detroit 21 yardline where they had to settle for a 39 yard FG since there was only :04 left. Sure the play calling and execution during that 30 seconds was great, but realistically, if they had called their first TO after the Ekeler run, there is AT LEAST 1:10 on the clock and 1 more TO. It was bad coaching and bad clock management.
Finally, I didn’t like how Anthony Lynn handled the post game press conference. From a leadership standpoint, especially coming from someone like Lynn, it was a bad look. Lynn is by all accounts a great leader and holds people accountable, but he had a lapse yesterday. During the post game press conference he was peppered with questions about the things that went wrong, and he laid everything at the player’s feet. He even went so far as to say “we teach certain things and we expect the players to execute and do it.” I know this isn’t a huge deal but it just kind of rubbed me the wrong way after something that was a complete team failure.

The 53 players the Chargers currently have on the roster are not “the best 53” that it could be.

We were all pleasantly surprised when Ty Long was so solid in week 1, but continuing to rely on that for more than 1 week was always going to be a mistake. His versatility is perfect for situations like week 1 when your kicker gets hurt 2 or 3 days before the game and you don’t really have time to do anything else. But rolling with one guy to handle both kicking and punting leaves no redundancy for 3 jobs (kickoffs, place kicks, punting), AND means that 1 guy has to split his practice time and mental focus much more broadly than he is used too. With how important repetition and mental focus are in the kicking game, asking a guy to do all of this for an extended period of time is a recipe for disaster. There are guys on this roster *cough Nick Dzubnar *cough, that could be released (and likely brought back without an issue honestly) to bring in a kicker rental for 1 week.

Travis Benjamin shouldn’t be on the roster anymore either. When you consider his salary, the fact that he has completely lost his return duties, in fact he’s played 0 special teams snaps through 2 games this season, the fact that he’s played 74 snaps and has 2 catches on 5 targets for 12 yards, and the performances that Artavis Scott and Andre Patton turned in during the preseason, he’s literally wasting a roster spot that the team desperately needs to be utilizing.

I’m also going to start complaining about it now, and hope they make me look like an asshole, but I have 0 faith that they’ll do the right thing now that Adrian Phillips is out indefinitely with a forearm fracture. There are a number of options that make a ton of sense and make the team better: Trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick (even if the cost is a 1st, you’re counting on having a low 1st round pick anyway and you’re getting an excellent, versatile player, at a position of need, who’s only going to cost the team $5.9M total over the next 2 seasons). Throw Nassir Adderley in as the starter. He showed in preseason that he’s more than just a ball hawk. He is aggressive and a good tackler and should be seeing staring snaps. Give Drue Tranquill some of Phillips’ role. He’s hyper athletic, hyper intelligent, played both safety and LB, get the kid on the field. Even giving Eric Berry a call could be a good option, but he’d have to be willing to play for a discount and I’d rather give Adderley/Tranquill snaps first. But they’ll likely just settle for giving Jaylen Watkins all those snaps and Adderley will likely get a small sprinkle of snaps, maybe 10 or so a game.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are not likely going to win a ton of games in the 2019-20 season with their primary focus on player development. Here’s how they’ll stack up against their division this year.
In a stark contrast to the narrative surrounding the team initially going into the 2018-19 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ primary focus in 2019-20 is going to be player development.

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After starting horribly and with a ton of reported injuries to players such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, though, and many more that followed, Cleveland did seem to shift toward initiating a full-rebuild early on in 2018-19, and unlike going into last season when the team wanting to compete for the postseason, 2019-20 will be predicated on getting a bunch of young players big minutes.

The Cavs have a new head coach in John Beilein with a good track record of turning programs around, such as in his last gig at Michigan, but Beilein as KJG contributors have referenced often, does not have any coaching experience at the NBA level, and not even in an assistant role (though he’s never actually been an assistant coach, anyhow, and has been a winner at all other levels).

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After how they performed last season, it appears that Collin Sexton (second on Cleveland in scoring among qualified players with 16.7 points per game, per and Cedi Osman (a steady 13.0 points and 4.7 assists per game) project as key young pieces in the coming years for the Cavaliers.

Larry Nance Jr. also cemented himself as one of the team’s best contributors, too, as he had career-bests in points (9.4), rebounds (8.2), assists (3.2) and steals (1.5) in his largest workload of his tenure in the NBA to that point with 26.8 minutes per game (per Basketball Reference).

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At this point, he projects as a likely starter now in the 2019-20 season, too, according to’s Chris Fedor, and with Nance’s playmaking ability (he led qualified players on Cleveland last year in assists per game, per, and improved three-point shooting (33.7% from deep), his production I’d think could go up again.

Cleveland’s three 2019 NBA Draft selections in Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. should have plenty of minutes-share in their rookie seasons, too, and I’d think they should all make their presence felt as factors in the Central Division as next year progresses.

Cleveland’s division has some very tough matchups for the young Cavs in the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, and a team that could be on the rise if they can put it together in the Chicago Bulls.

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We’ll start with how the Cavaliers stack up against Chicago in 2019-20 first.

Best Case
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): So let’s say Dellavedova’s shot looks better this year as his form indicates from over the summer. This makes him a little bit better as an off-ball shooter and allows him to function well around Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, as he can play without the ball and also defend. He also can be a key locker room presence — as he was last year — for a very young team that needs some veteran voices around. He, along with Tristan Thompson, feels like the guy best suited for a leadership role on a bad team.

Justin Rowan (@cavsanada): Delly’s improved release helps him regain his effectiveness as an NBA player. The catapult appears to be a thing of the past, meaning he could again have some value as a shooter. He’s a third string point guard and a good locker room presence. He could POSSIBLY fetch something as an expiring contract. But with so many other expiring deals on the Cavs that provide some value on court, he’s probably the last to be moved.

David Zavac (@DavidZavac): On a team like this, if Delly’s your fourth guard I think you could do a lot worse. Having him around in practice to challenge Garland and Sexton feels valuable on some level, and they’ll never have to deal with the ridiculous talk Kyrie did that Delly is somehow a better player/fit for the Cavs. He may not have the championship cache that Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson do, but he was there all the same. The best case scenario is that he stays healthy, and stays on the Cavs, regardless of how he plays. If he makes some threes in the meantime, great.

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Worst Case
CM: Delly’s altered shot doesn’t result in anything meaningful, and it means he’s not really helping with off-ball shooting as much as ideal. At the same time, injuries mount up as they have the last few years and it limits how much he’s actually pushing the young guys in practice and how often he’s actually around the team day-to-day helping out and mentoring the young guys. His health, more than being traded or just not getting minutes, feels like the biggest barrier to him being helpful during the 2019-20 season.

JR: Low ceiling comes with a low floor. The worst case scenario is that Delly can’t stay healthy and therefore is unable to at least help push guys in practice. After a season of few to no contributions he walks for nothing and that’s the end of the second era of Delly in Cleveland.

DZ: He can’t get past a string of the injuries that have seemed to linger for him over the last few years, and he’s not available to the team. The Cavs don’t trade Jordan Clarkson or Brandon Knight, so his minutes are few and far between anyway. He finds himself as a bubble NBA player in free agency in 10 months.

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The NBA has changed a lot this past summer, and so have the Utah Jazz. It’s now time to predict how things will unfold during the regular season in a new-look league.
The dog days of summer come every year around August and September for basketball fans. Once the dust settles after free agents signing in July, and once summer league ball is over, all we can do is sit tight until training camp starts. Fortunately this year, we’ve had the FIBA World Cup to hold us over, and watching three Jazzmen participate for their respective countries has been a delight.

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Joe Ingles has been rock solid for the Australian team, and hasn’t missed a beat this summer. He has his fingerprints all over the game with points, rebounds and assists. Meanwhile Rudy Gobert has had a great FIBA showing, leading France to a historic win over Team USA, and a bronze medal.

Donovan Mitchell struggled at time in FIBA action, having several games and exhibitions where his shot just wouldn’t fall. He also had some good games, though, like his 29-point performance in the quarterfinals against France, his seven-assist performance against Brazil, and his 16-point,10-assist performance in the last game.

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Overall, I would say this has been a great opportunity for him to critique his individual game with great basketball minds like Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr.
The J-Notes
Mitchell had by far his best game of FIBA play, just the kind of game Jazz fans have been waiting for, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get past Rudy Gobert and France. Mitchell went off for 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting.

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Mitchell looks ready to add more dimensions to his game like improved defense, better playmaking and cutting down his turnovers. Considering he’s already a 20-plus point per game scorer, Spida looks ready to impress in year three.

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At any rate, with the World Cup on the books, we turn our attention to the upcoming campaign and a league that looks dramatically different after all the player movement this summer. How will things shake out in a new-look league?

I’ve already given my prediction for the Jazz’s start of the season, going 28-13. Here are my win-loss predictions for every team in the league.

With FIBA basketball now behind us, we take a look back at the tournament and how it helped the Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles.

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Will things from the tournament carry over? What can the players take from the tournament and take with them into this upcoming season?

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NBA training camp is only a few weeks away and we look at the team and one of the missing components, the power forward. We’ve mentioned a lot of names in multiple articles so who do we think will fill that role? Or is it even a problem? Perhaps the power forward position doesn’t exist any more?

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Don’t be surprised if Tremon Smith, who was officially claimed of waivers by the Green Bay Packers on Tuesday, eventually becomes one of the team’s most valuable special teams players.

Smith, a 2018 draft pick, was an electric kick returner and an effective gunner for the Kansas City Chiefs, with the speed to be useful for the Packers in both roles.
Special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga currently uses receiver Trevor Davis as a kick returner and gunner. At the very least, Smith provides instant competition at both spots.

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As a rookie last season, Smith ranked fourth in the NFL among qualified kick returns with a 26.8-yard average over 33 returns. He set up a touchdown against the New England Patriots with a 97-yard return, a career-high.


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Tremon Smith’s 9️⃣7️⃣ yard kickoff return that set up the touchdown.

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According to Pro Football Focus, Smith graded out as the site’s No. 2 overall kick returner. If the Packers are comfortable with Davis as the punt returner, Smith could take over the role returning kicks.

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Overall, Smith played 197 snaps on special teams and 74 more on defense in 2018.

Smith was especially good as a gunner during the preseason. He has elite straight-line speed, which helps him get down the field and close down space for returners. The Packers have used Davis, cornerback Tony Brown and safety Will Redmond as gunners so far in 2019.

Smith will likely be willing to do whatever the Packers need. This summer, he experimented at running back and receiver for Andy Reid and the Chiefs, but was eventually moved back to cornerback.

The Packers announced Smith as a cornerback Tuesday. He’ll wear No. 27.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It didn’t take long for Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to figure out how to play off one another.

Standing in the middle of the Green Bay Packers’ locker room after Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings, the two outside linebackers were asked how much fun they’re having with their new team.

Za’Darius looked at Preston and said, “I’ll answer.”

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Preston nodded and said, “Yeah, you answer.”

They’ve taken to handling their media responsibilities as a tandem, which is the same approach they’ve taken to pestering quarterbacks and taking down running backs.

No, they’re not brothers; they’re not even related. But from the moment they arrived in Green Bay as two of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s high-priced, free-agent signings in March, they’ve acted like they are.

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While the Packers didn’t do more than dabble in free agency before Gutekunst took over, perhaps never before in Green Bay have two veterans arrived with this kind of …

“Chemistry?” Za’Darius said, finishing a question.

“It’s just knowing one another,” he continued. “I feel like this goes for the whole defense, if we get together more off the field, we’ll just learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Just communication and being around each other helps us on the field.”
Za’Darius Smith, center, has 1.0 sacks, 9 tackles (tied for second on the team) and 4 QB hits in his first two games with the Packers. Quinn Harris/Getty Images
Through two games, the Smiths have combined for 2.5 sacks, 16 tackles, eight quarterback hits and an interception. Za’Darius’ line reads like this: 1.0 sacks, 9 tackles (tied for second on the team), 4 QB hits. Preston’s is: 1.5 sacks (tied for the team lead), 7 tackles, 4 quarterback hits, 1 interception.

Last year’s team leader in quarterback hits, Clay Matthews, totaled just nine. The Smiths are both nearly halfway there after two games.

So far, it’s been money — and a lot of it — well spent.

The day Za’Darius signed his four-year, $66 million deal (including a $20 million signing bonus) and Preston signed his four-year, $52 million deal (including a $16 million signing bonus) was like a reunion. They first met when Za’Darius was at East Mississippi Community College and Preston was at Mississippi State, and Za’Darius took a recruiting visit to Starkville.

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Though Za’Darius chose another SEC school, Kentucky, they connected again at the NFL scouting combine, where players are not only grouped by position, but alphabetically within their groups.

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“I was right behind him,” Za’Darius said. “In those situations, we had to talk. It was pretty cool because for the past four years in the league, I was staying in touch because I was in Baltimore and he was in Washington.”

But they didn’t truly bond until they arrived in Green Bay. In the Baltimore-Washington area, they were 90 minutes apart — “without traffic,” Preston said.

“Now we’re like five minutes away,” he said. “Nothing is too far in Green Bay.”

While they were upstairs at Lambeau Field signing their contracts, their kids — Za’Darius’ 5-year-old son and Preston’s 5-year-old daughter — played together.

“They’re both 5, but I told him to keep his son away from my daughter,” Preston said in one of their rare separate interviews. “Nah, I’m kidding. They were both playing in the weight room together kicking a ball around and chasing each other around.”
Preston Smith had an interception of Kirk Cousins on Sunday during the Packers’ 21-16 victory over the Vikings. Matt Ludtke/AP Photo
Though neither one of their children lives in Green Bay full time, they have regular play dates when they’re in town.

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“When she came up here for the summer, they got together,” Za’Darius said. “P was telling me, ‘Your son better not try my girl.’ But it’s all good. We’re all family at the end of the day.”

A skeptic might say this is all an act or at least a convenient connection because of their names and their positions.

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t think so.
“These guys are great team guys,” Rodgers said. “And as opposed to some years in the past where we didn’t have that stand-up, charismatic leadership on that side of the ball, these guys want it. And they both will get up and say things. Their word carries a lot of weight because of the way they practice and the way they play. And they’re a lot of fun. I mean, I told you guys after the game in Chicago last week how much fun that was in the locker room. Same thing coming in now after this one [against the Vikings].

“Those two, I can tell you, really do enjoy each other and hang out off the field. But it’s a lot closer-knit group than we had in years past. And I give Brian and his staff and everybody buying into Matt [LaFleur’s] system the credit for that.”

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As far as roster spots go this was setting up to be a fairly boring training camp for the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are not many — if any — actual spots up for grabs and the only thing that seemed to be at stake was where each player would fit in the lineup. We know who the players are going to be, we just do not know where they will slot in and who they will play next to. Even when we do find that out we are only a couple of bad shifts away from everything being put into a line blender anyway.

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Probably the most intriguing spot to watch is the backup goalie spot behind Matt Murray, especially after general manager Jim Rutherford said at the start of camp that the team will use training camp and the preseason to decide who the No. 2 goalie will be.

It is not an earth-shattering proclamation, but it is still mildly surprising given the trust Mike Sullivan seems to have in Casey DeSmith, the fact he is just now beginning a three-year contract that he signed a year ago, and because Tristan Jarry really has not been all that impressive the past couple of years at either the AHL or NHL levels.

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All of that makes it seem like DeSmith is not only the logical choice, but probably the only choice.

But sometimes team building isn’t always logical because other factors are always in play.

One of those factors: The salary cap.

With Marcus Pettersson and the rest of the restricted free agents now re-signed and the offseason complete, the Penguins still have to figure out a way to squeeze under the league’s salary cap. Opening the season with Jarry as the backup instead of DeSmith might be just enough to make that happen.

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The problem with that is you are entering the season with a completely unproven backup behind a starter that has an injury history. In terms of overall performance DeSmith has objectively been the better goalie between the two at the NHL level. There really is not much way to dispute that. But again … the cap. Without a trade somewhere else on the roster you may not have any other option but to open the season with Jarry. This is where small (or big) overpays here and there begin to add up squeeze you at the salary cap. This is why we nitpick every contract that gets signed because every dollar you spend on one player is a dollar you do not have to spend on another player.
The other issue that the Penguins are going to have to deal with here is the loser of this competition, barring a trade, is going to have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Would either one of them clear? And if you are not confident in that, what about a trade involving one of them?

Is there some sort of a roster move to be made here?

Jarry has always been mentioned as a potential trade chip but I just don’t see the value here. If there was a deal to be made involving Jarry that satisfied the Penguins they probably would have made it by now. But goalies don’t usually have a lot of trade value, and that is true for even proven, established goalies. When you are talking about a 24-year-old that still hasn’t really done anything the value is almost nonexistent. Plus, even if you traded Jarry that still leaves you with a salary cap predicament you have to solve.

DeSmith, on the other hand, might actually have some kind of trade value because he has at least shown he can be a competent backup at the NHL level. You are not going to get a lot, but it is almost certainly more than you would get for Jarry.

Given all of that I see two potential paths here:

The first is that Jarry plays well enough to give the Penguins confidence that he can be the top backup and explore a trade involving DeSmith.

The second is that Jarry does not play well enough, you expose him to waivers, and have to make another trade somewhere else on the roster to create your salary cap space.

Of those two options the latter one still seems to be the more realistic to me. The coach clearly trusts one goalie over the other, and I do not know you are going to see enough a couple of preseason games to make that change. There is just too much working in DeSmith’s favor to have Jarry realistically take that spot from him, even with the salary cap maneuvering that would have to take place.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The first 40 minutes of Monday’s game at Pegula Ice Arena felt something like the team across the road hosting Kent State or Akron.

The Buffalo Sabres, owned by the man who paid to have this place built, brought along some of their top players for a preseason opener against the Penguins. They clearly wanted to make the boss happy with a big win at his alma mater.

And through two periods, it looked like it would indeed be a blowout. The Sabres led, 4-1, and had 37 shots. The Penguins, with a top line of Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese and Bryan Rust, were credited with nine. That seemed high.

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The undermanned Penguins came charging back in the third, though, scoring three goals in eight minutes to tie it up. They lost, 5-4, in overtime after All-Star center Jack Eichel scored on a breakaway. But coach Mike Sullivan liked the fight they showed at Pegula Ice Arena, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Penguins center Teddy Blueger battles against Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, at Pegula Ice Arena.
Matt Vensel
Why Penguins center Teddy Blueger chose ‘quality over quantity’ for summer workouts
“I thought our guys battled hard. I was really happy for them. In the third period, we got a lot of juice. We got a couple of goals. You could see the excitement on the bench,” he said. “Our guys played pretty hard against a real strong lineup.”

Obviously, the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the night were not of much importance, especially with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin watching the game on TV at home. But we were able to glean a few things from the loss.

1. The Penguins are serious about this Dominik-Simon-at-center thing.

Simon has played exclusively on the wing during his time with the Penguins and a position switch wasn’t on the radar when they had their exit meetings in April.

But Simon opened their eyes at the world championships. He played center for the Czech team and finished ninth in scoring at the tournament. The Penguins figured they would try him there during the preseason and see where it goes.

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Simon played center on the big rinks overseas, so the position is not foreign to him. Still, this has been an adjustment that, as he put it, is “a little different, not extra different.” It’s probably most challenging in the defensive zone, where he must battle in the corners and in front of the net instead of floating up high.

“It was not the best at the start of the game but throughout the course of the game it felt better to me,” Simon said. “It’s a little different, but it was fun.”
The Penguins’ Sam Lafferty during 2017 prospect development camp.
Matt Vensel
Local kid Sam Lafferty is close to making his Penguins dream come true
One thing to monitor is his work on faceoffs. Matt Cullen, who is now a player development coach and is with the team at training camp, has been working with Simon and the team’s other centers to help them get better in that regard.

We’ll see if Simon sticks at center. If not, that versatility surely can’t hurt.

2. Sam Lafferty is in the mix – right now – to make the NHL roster.

Lafferty, whom we wrote about Sunday, scored the first of those third-period goals. Blue-liner John Marino made it happen, charging into the corner and sneaking a pass through the skates of defender Henri Jokiharju to Lafferty, who buried it. One group of Penguins fans in front of the press box went wild.

They were presumably friends and family of Lafferty, a 2014 fourth-round pick who was born and raised in Hollidaysburg, not far down the road from here.

Afterward, Sullivan was asked if the local kid could play his way into the call-up conversation at some point this season. The coach said he’s already there.

“His speed is one of his best strengths,” Sullivan added. “He’s got a pretty good straight-ahead game. He’s a big, strong kid. And he scored a nice goal tonight.”

3. Teddy Blueger looks quicker this season. And he’s still a pest.

We’ll have more on Blueger in the next couple of days. But he definitely looks to have a little more burst and agility entering the season. If that is indeed the case, he’s going to be even more obnoxious for other teams to play against.

It didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but Blueger made a play that directly led to Adam Johnson’s third-period goal. Blueger harassed Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at Buffalo’s blue line, pivoting three times to prevent an easy out.

Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, eventually coughed up the puck to Johnson, who sped in on Jonas Johansson, made a deke and flipped it inside the post.

4. Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry stood tall to give them a chance.

The Penguins say they haven’t decided which goalie will back up Matt Murray to open the season. The cap situation could be a big factor in that decision. Both guys got plenty of action Monday. Both guys made the most of it.

Both goals against DeSmith came with a Sabres player screaming in alone. He faced 25 shots in 29 minutes before making way for Jarry. No, the switch wasn’t due to utter exhaustion. Sullivan planned to give each goalie equal time. But DeSmith would have been forgiven had he slid his recliner over to the bench.

Jarry was tested right away when Tage Thompson barreled in on a breakaway. He stretched out his left pad to deny a one-handed try. Moments later, Jarry shuffled across the crease to stop Conor Sheary on a 2-on-1. While Jarry was regaining his bearings, the Sabres scored. They made it 4-1 a few minutes later.

Jarry made nine saves in the third period and overtime. The game-winner came on a breakaway, one of about five or six the Penguins surrendered. So if not for the goalies, who combined to make 42 saves, this would have been ugly.

5. On a hockey night at Penn State, Hockey Valley lived up to the hype.

Pegula Ice Arena is a beautiful barn and the atmosphere here was pretty cool, even for a preseason game. The Sabres were technically the home team because their owner, Terry Pegula, built this place. But there was significantly more black and gold. This place got loud when the Penguins came back to tie it up.

The student section was highly amusing. Behind the goal, a row of college kids in jerseys of various NHL teams rattled the glass while Juuso Riikola stood there waiting for a breakout to develop. During play, they chanted “Hockey Valley!” Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. And “Thank You, Terry!” Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap.

And they were still on their feet singing fight songs later in the third period.

I know it only seats 6,000, but any way we can get a Penguins-Flyers game here?

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When the Philadelphia 76ers report to training camp on Oct. 1, Joel Embiid could arrive in the best shape of his life.


In a video posted for the “One Chip Challenge,” the Sixers All-Star center revealed he’s lost approximately 25 pounds this summer:
This is great news for a 76ers team that has a roster capable of winning a championship, as long as Embiid can remain healthy. The 25-year-old told reporters in May his goal for the offseason was to improve his conditioning:
Derek Bodner

Embiid said his focus this summer isn’t so much to lose weight. Says he currently weighs ~280, and could see himself playing at 270-275. Says his focus is more on stamina and quickness, but wants to retain ability to bully people inside with his size and strength.

4:07 AM – May 11, 2018
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Embiid’s conditioning has been the subject of criticism throughout his professional career. Hall of Fame center Robert Parish told SiriusXM NBA Radio (h/t Bruno Manrique of Clutch Points) in May that he would run circles around the Sixers big man.
“Run his jock strap off, for starters, because he’s not in shape,” Parish said. “I would make him play defense and run his jock strap off every chance I got. By the fourth quarter, he’d be drained. Trust me on that.”

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If Embiid’s slimmed-down physique allows him to become more dynamic on the basketball court and eases the pressure on his knees, it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to be in the 2019-20 NBA MVP conversation.

Two postseasons ago, Al Horford played a large role in ending the Philadelphia 76ers’ hopes of winning their first NBA title since 1983 as a member of the Boston Celtics. Most Philadelphia fans can still vividly remember Horford putting the clamps on Joel Embiid throughout the semifinal series between the two teams, as well as his game-winning layup in Game 3. Now, after signing a four-year deal with the team in free agency, Horford is set to play an integral role in trying to help the Sixers achieve that same goal, and his versatility could be key to pushing them over the top.

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Horford will be penciled in as the starting four man for the Sixers — sandwiched between Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia’s frontcourt — but he will be far from one dimensional. Horford is a multi-faceted forward, and the Sixers will be looking to take advantage of all that he brings to the team.

Here’s a look at some of the major ways that Horford will impact the Sixers:

Versatility to lineup, insurance at center position
Yes, Horford will start as a forward for the Sixers and play a lot of minutes alongside All-Star center Joel Embiid. Horford’s ability to stretch the floor with his shot and pass from the high post should allow the two to coexist well.

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Horford, though, will also likely spend a substantial amount of time manning the center spot of an Embiid-less unit. Last season, when Embiid would leave the court, the Sixers’ production — on both ends — would plummet. This became extremely evident in the 2019 playoffs, when Embiid posted the highest single plus/minus of the entire postseason. The Sixers were significantly better than the Toronto Raptors when Embiid was on the court during the seven-game semifinals series between the two teams, but were significantly worse when he would head to the bench.

Embiid needing significant rest is inevitable, but having Horford on the roster should help to limit the drop-off in production that occurs when he’s off of the court. This season, when Embiid needs to rest for a quarter — or a game — Brett Brown can slide Horford over to the center spot, and adjust accordingly, either by bringing Mike Scott in off the bench to fill the four spot, or by bumping Tobias Harris up to the four (where he played last season) and bringing in a perimeter player like Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle or James Ennis off the bench to fill the other forward spot.

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“We know that they can play together and we know that they can play well together. But the opportunity to have Al back him up at times, especially in the playoffs, is a great opportunity for us,” 76ers general manager Elton Brand said during Horford’s introductory press conference. “The versatility of this lineup is what’s important. He can play the four. He can play the five. We have many players that can play multiple positions.”

We might not see Horford at the five spot too often during the regular season, but the option is certainly something that Brett Brown will keep in his back pocket for the postseason so that the Sixers don’t have to deploy a lineup absent an All-Star-caliber big man.

Not surprisingly, the opportunity to play alongside Embiid — and form a dominant defensive duo — after battling against him for several seasons was a big part of the reason why Horford was attracted to Philadelphia.

“There were some great battles [with Embiid], and when this opportunity came along, the possibility of teaming up with him got me really excited about the potential — how good we can be — help our team be defensively,” Horford said. “Just get to working together and do some special things.”
A secondary playmaker
Following the departure of Jimmy Butler over the offseason, the 76ers are in need of a secondary playmaker behind Ben Simmons, and Horford will be able to fill that role to an extent.

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By the time the playoffs rolled around last season, Butler had largely assumed that role for the Sixers, as he initiated much of the offense when Simmons was on the bench — and sometimes even when he was still in the game. Butler was second on the Sixers in assists during the regular season with 4.0 per game, and that number jumped up to 5.2 in the postseason.

With Horford on the floor, that level of potential playmaking shouldn’t drop much, as Horford averaged over four assists per game in each of his three seasons in Boston — a time during which he solidified his development as one of the league’s premier passing big men.

Horford dropping 10 dimes against the New York Knicks during a game in 2017 shows his varied skillset as a passer:

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ST. LOUIS — Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez had a heart procedure and did not travel with the team for its series-opening 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

General manager Mike Rizzo said Martinez had a minor cardiac catheterization Monday in Washington.

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Martinez, who turns 55 on Sept. 26, experienced chest pains during Washington’s home game Sunday against Atlanta, left in the sixth inning and was taken to a hospital.

Bench coach Chip Hale will manage the Nats during Martinez’s absence. Hale said Martinez texted him Monday’s starting lineup.

“I’m sure he’ll give us a call after the game if he’s up,” Hale said. “I know he’s been through a battery of tests. Hopefully he’s feeling good.”

First-base coach Tim Bogar will be in the dugout and assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon will replace Bogar at first.

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The Nationals saw their top National League wild-card lead shrink to a half-game over the Custom Chicago Cubs Jerseys after Monday night’s loss.

Martinez is in his second season managing the Nationals. After winning 82 games last season, the Nats have matched that total this season with 13 games to play.

Martinez had a 16-year MLB career with nine teams.

With Davey Martinez at home in D.C. recovering after experiencing chest pains during the series finale with the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon, and having a procedure called a “cardiac catheterization” on Monday morning, the Washington Nationals traveled out to St. Louis for the start of three-game set in Busch Stadium last night.

Before the game, Nats’ shortstop Trea Turner talked about playing the Cards without their manager in the dugout.

“You’re used to having the same guy being there telling us what he expects from us for the most part,” Turner said. “I know the whole staff is there, but just having him at the top of it, it would be a little different without him, but we’re going to have to battle just like any other day and play the game hard and hopefully get a win for him.”

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The Nationals weren’t able to win one for their skipper, dropping the opener with the Cards, 4-2, leaving them 1-4 against St. Louis this season with two to play in the Cardinals’ home.

Did Martinez reach out to Bench Coach Chip Hale, who filled in for the manager last night?

“I haven’t heard yet,” Hale said. “I’m sure he’ll give us a call after the game if he’s up. I know he’s been through a battery of tests, so hopefully he’s feeling good.”

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Ryan Zimmerman too talked about Martinez’s absence, though he said you have to play the games, regardless of any health issues that affect the team.

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“You just keep playing,” Zimmerman explained. “I think obviously we all miss Davey and hope he’s well, but the game goes on no matter who’s here or who’s not here, whether that’s a manager, player, or anyone, you’ve got to go out and play the game, and I’m sure he would say the same thing, so obviously we wish the best for him and we’re thinking about him, but you just go out and play the game.”

There’s another game to play tonight, at 7:45 PM EDT again…

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Untested Kyle Allen is the backup plan.

If Cam Newton is sidelined beginning this weekend against Arizona, there’s no veteran passer on his way to Charlotte to try and salvage this season; coach Ron Rivera said as much Tuesday. The NFC South is as open as it has been in years — it’s the only NFC division without a 2-0 team, not to mention Saints quarterback Drew Brees will miss time nursing an injured thumb — yet, Carolina’s best bet for making it back to the playoffs after a two-year absence may be an undrafted second-year QB.

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“I think the guys that we have here, we brought them here for a specific purpose, and that’s to develop them, train them, have them ready to go for a situation like this,” Rivera said. “That’s why they’re here.”



Panthers QB Cam Newton re-aggravates foot injury;
team has ‘no idea’ when he’ll return

There is no guarantee that Newton will miss time for the Panthers, but after re-aggravating a left foot sprain from three weeks ago, it seems apparent that this is where Carolina is heading.

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Newton was absent from practice Tuesday, and coach Ron Rivera said later he had “no idea” when Newton might return to action. General manager Marty Hurney, who first confirmed that Newton had re-injured his foot, called the situation “day-by-day.”

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Newton told the Panthers after Thursday night’s loss to Tampa Bay, which dropped the team to 0-2, that his foot was sore. Rivera said he spoke to Newton in-depth Friday and then again Tuesday morning, when he learned “all the information” about his franchise quarterback. In the meanwhile, Rivera said it was his understanding that Newton was doing physical therapy in hopes of returning to the field as quickly as possible.

But will he return?
As the Panthers prepare to travel to Arizona this weekend to face the winless Cardinals (0-1-1), they can’t sit around and hope Newton’s foot magically heals. If Newton is out Sunday — or for the foreseeable future — then the Panthers are fully prepared to roll with Allen as their starting quarterback.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday the team would start quarterback Kyle Allen on Sunday against the Cardinals if Cam Newton is unable to play. Jeff Siner [email protected]
“I think Kyle’s more than ready,” Rivera said. “Kyle did some really good things last year, showed us what he’s capable of. He had a good preseason. Had a whole bunch of ups, had a few downs … He knows the offense. He knows it very well, so we feel confident about him.

“… I just think at times as you watch him, he needs to speed himself up a little bit. Because one thing he will have to get used to obviously is the speed of the game. I mean, he’s only played in limited situations, so things are a lot faster. I think he’s got the ability, so it’ll be fun to watch him.”

Allen, who Carolina signed as a rookie free agent after the 2018 draft, won the No. 2 job behind Newton throughout training camp and the preseason. The Panthers drafted Charlotte native Will Grier in the third round of April’s NFL Draft, but Allen’s experience in the offense made him the clear choice to backup Newton.

It helped that in limited action as a rookie, Allen excelled.

“Again, we do go back to what he did briefly in the Atlanta game and then what he did in the New Orleans game,” Rivera said. “We feel very comfortable.”

After the team opted to shut Newton down for the final two games of 2018 due to lingering shoulder soreness and tightness, then-backup Taylor Heinicke was named the team’s starter for Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons. But Heinicke was injured mid-game, and Allen briefly supplanted him. He completed all four of his attempts against Atlanta for 38 yards.

Allen then started Week 17 against a New Orleans team that had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even though the Saints only played a handful of starters having already locked up playoff seeding, Allen’s success caught his coaches’ attention. He finished that game 16-for-27 with 228 yards passing and two touchdowns, plus five carries for 19 yards and another score.

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“He balled. There’s no other way to say it,” receiver Jarius Wright said of Allen’s Week 17 showing. “He had an opportunity. He was ready. He came in fully committed to being the starting quarterback, and he did his job. He also gave us a chance to do our jobs.

“Anytime that happens, you can live with that.”

Allen was not available to reporters Tuesday.

The Panthers won’t publish an injury report until Wednesday, which will shed more light on Newton’s status. If he sits, it would follow a trend that has thrust many backups into the spotlight after only two weeks. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season with an elbow injury, and the Saints’ Brees is expected to miss six weeks with a thumb injury. Longtime Giants starter Eli Manning was benched Tuesday in favor of rookie, and Charlotte native, Daniel Jones, and Jaguars starter Nick Foles already missed Week 2 with a broken collarbone. Jets QB Sam Darnold is out indefinitely with a case of mono.

But Newton’s situation is different from the others. His inability to stay healthy has eroded his effectiveness as a starter. In addition to the foot sprain suffered against the Patriots in the third week of the preseason, Newton is still working out the kinks after arthroscopic shoulder surgery in January. Through two games, Newton has thrown the highest percentage of uncatchable balls (34.2 percent) of any eligible passer in the NFL, and he is yet to account for a rushing or passing touchdown this season.

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Allen would take over a team on the brink, although one with fortuitous circumstances around the division. A loss this week, and the Panthers would drop to 0-3, seemingly destroying their odds of making the playoffs. Since 1980, 176 teams have started with three straight losses.

Six made the postseason.

Which means this team needs to figure out what it looks like with Allen at the helm, and fast.

“That’s part of why you go to training camp, to find out what kind of team you are and where you’re headed. Does it change things? Yes, this changes things dramatically,” Rivera said. “If we’re going to end up going with Kyle for a while, yes. I mean, we have to find out who we are with him as the quarterback. And going on the road, it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge.

“It’s an opportunity. It’s a challenge. We’ll see how we handle that challenge, but I feel good about us.” reporter Max Henson was the first report that Cam Newton did not join the rest of the team for practice this morning. He did not offer a theory as to why, only that Rivera has his regularly scheduled press conference this afternoon.
Tom Pelissero

#Panthers QB Cam Newton’s status for Sunday is up in the air after he aggravated a foot injury, per @RapSheet and me. He’s rehabbing while teammates practice. Ron Rivera talks later.

11:31 PM – Sep 17, 2019 · Plymouth, MN
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Enter reporter Tom Pelissero who is now suggesting that Newton “aggravated a foot injury.” This is likely the same left foot sprain that held Newton out of practice for the last ten days of the preseason and obviously limited, regardless of what has been told to the media, Newton’s mobility and effectiveness in the first two games of this season.

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This might secretly be good news for both Newton and the Panthers

Newton’s accuracy in the Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be reasonably described as atrocious. I argued last week that he could still be recovering from one or both of his previous injuries and still knocking off rust from the preseason. Rust that he would have knocked off by now if he hadn’t missed so much practice time due to this foot sprain.

We now have stronger evidence that his performance last Thursday was colored by this foot injury. If he can rehab this appropriately without missing much, if any, more time then Newton has a greater chance of returning to the form that we, as Panthers fans, know and love.

This is probably actually bad news

For one, aggravating this injury only proves how hard it is to heal while practicing and playing football. Given how short an NFL season is, any time missed by Newton will only further aggravate the Panthers other injury: their 0-2 record.

At best, Newton only needs a few days and he is off to the races. At worst, he misses a few weeks and the Panthers are clawing for their very survival by the time he returns. At least, that should be the worst case scenario. Last season showed how the Panthers balance the health of a mildly to severely injured Newton against the chance, however slight, to win football games.

That leaves us with nothing but crossing our fingers

A best case scenario of Newton getting his feet back under him and proving that he still has at least a few years left on his career and a worst case of the Panthers over-using him at an ill-advised time leaves a lot of room in between for this situation to unfold. Stay with us as we keep a close watch on this story. We will do our best to relay to you both the information that the team releases and what our eyes tell us whenever we get the chance to see Newton on a field.

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The Milwaukee Bucks are always looking to upgrade their roster which means that these three players might be in danger of not finishing the season in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Bucks have real championship aspirations heading into the 2019-20 NBA season. That couldn’t be said at the beginning of last season, as nobody knew exactly what this team was about to turn into. However, they surprised everyone by winning 60 regular season games and losing out in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This time around, they’ll begin the year with those aspirations and hold onto them for the entire length of the season. Because of those goals, general manager Jon Horst will be constantly looking to upgrade his team. He showed he wasn’t shy to pull the trigger on smaller moves when the Bucks traded a trio of second-round picks for Nikola Mirotic near the trade deadline.

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What if Mike Trout was drafted #1?

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We can’t rule out another trade this time around as well. There are also ways Milwaukee could clear roster spots despite having a full group of guys at this time. Let’s take a peek at three players who might not finish their 2019-20 season with the Bucks.

Dragan Bender
Bender is the most likely to be cut heading into the season, or at any point, really. He has a non-guaranteed contact with a bunch of trigger dates throughout the season. If the Bucks like another veteran who has been released at any point, they can always waive Bender and go get that veteran. Bender is most likely to be cut right before the beginning of the season and around the trade deadline when veterans are negotiating buyouts with their original clubs.

Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe and the Bucks agreed to a contract extension in March that extended him for at least three more years with the fourth year being mostly non-guaranteed. However, he put up a dud for the second straight postseason and is labeled as a huge liability for this team. Horst may not be actively shopping Bledsoe, but he would likely move him at a chance for a point guard who can better space the floor and play around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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NEXT: Bucks: 3 things Eric Bledsoe needs to be an All-Star
Ersan Ilyasova
Ilyasova technically has one more year remaining on his contract after this season, but it’s mostly non-guaranteed. That makes him attractive in trade offers near the deadline and Milwaukee could look to move him if they can upgrade their roster. D.J. Wilson is waiting in the wings and proved he could handle himself as part of the rotation last year. If Wilson takes another step forward this season, it could make Ilyasova even more expendable.

Kevin Durant may have left town, but the Warriors might not be done “ruining the NBA,” according to an ESPN report.

Should Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo become a free agent in 2021, the Warriors are “a big threat” to sign the NBA’s most recent MVP and create another super team, Ramona Shelbourne said Monday on “The Jump.”

Milwaukee has said it will offer the super max (five years, $247 million) to Antetokounmpo as a means of keeping the three-time All-Star who just led the Bucks to the NBA’s best record. However, there may be reasons to believe he could look toward the Bay Area to play with Stephen Curry, with whom he’s developed a friendship with off the floor.
“The one team lurking out there — I don’t know how this would happen — but the Warriors have always been the big threat to go after Giannis,” Shelbourne said. “It would be a difficult construction to make happen, but that is the one looming threat.”

Those into reading the tea leaves will point out Antetokounmpo shares the same agency as Curry and, when making the first pick for the NBA All-Star draft, the 6-foot-11 Milwaukee star selected Curry. Two years ago, it was Curry who grabbed “The Greek Freak” with his first pick as an All-Star captain.

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In addition, the small-market Bucks may have hurt their chances of re-signing Antetokounmpo with a controversial trade this summer. Bucks general manager Jon Horst admitted the team traded restricted free agent and former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers partly because of a desire to avoid paying the NBA’s luxury tax. Faced with a decision of matching Brogdon’s four-year, $85 million offer sheet, the Bucks dealt a core starter for a first-round pick and two second-round picks.

If Antetokounmpo is looking to play for a team that will pay whatever it costs in order to win a championship, he needs only to look at the team opening a new arena with three recent NBA championship banners hanging in it.

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Of course, with a salary cap, there are always going to be financial obstacles to overcome before squeezing multiple All-Stars onto a roster. The Warriors did it to bring in Durant and they would certainly have to get creative if acquiring Antetokounmpo becomes a serious possibility.
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With Curry aboard and after re-signing All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Golden State’s payroll for 2021-22 ($156.7 million) is projected to be the third-highest in the NBA, according to Spotrac. Reports indicate the salary cap will be around $125 million next off-season, with a luxury tax threshold of $151 million. Antetokounmpo won’t be a fit financially unless the Warriors dealt one or two contracts from the likes of Thompson ($38 million), D’Angelo Russell ($30 million) or Green ($24 million).

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“It comes down to what kind of guy is Giannis? What does he want his legacy to be?” Shelbourne said. “Is he the kind of guy who stays with one team his entire career and tries to bring a championship to Milwaukee or does he pull a Kevin Durant and go join a group of super friends?”