Cowboys shuffling the Smiths as they face question of fielding 5 best linemen

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Tyron Smith finally spent some time late this offseason at left tackle, the position he played in all eight of his Pro Bowl seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

The subsequent shift of Tyler Smith to left guard put the 2022 first-round draft pick back where he was a year ago before he moved to the left side after Tyron Smith tore a hamstring and missed the first three months of the season.

If the Cowboys are healthy on the offensive line and want to play their best five, it's likely to mean putting off the long-term plan of Tyler Smith protecting Dak Prescott's blind side, particularly when Terence Steele has recovered from a knee injury and is ready to play right tackle again.

“Luckily, just having those reps last year, it’s nothing new,” Tyler Smith said. “I think it’s good for staying sharp and having the best five out there. That’s really the point of emphasis right now is making sure we have those best five.”

Two spots are settled as the Cowboys pursue a third consecutive trip to the playoffs after losing at San Francisco in the divisional round last season. Six-time All-Pro Zack Martin is the right guard. Third-year starter Tyler Biadasz is the center.

When Tyron Smith was ready to return from the hamstring injury last December, Steele had already sustained a major knee injury that could sideline him through training camp, which starts in late July in California, and into the early part of the season.

Instead of moving Tyler Smith across the line to give the elder Smith his old spot back, the Cowboys put Tyron Smith at right tackle, where he stayed the final six games, including two in the playoffs.

The 32-year-old Tyron Smith hasn't played a full season since 2015, and has missed 33 of 50 games over the past three regular seasons because of injuries. His contract is up after this year, which means the permanent move of Tyler Smith to left tackle appears imminent.

No matter who much longer it lasts, Tyler Smith sees the time at left guard as an asset, including his start there last season in place of a struggling Connor McGovern for a wild-card victory at Tampa Bay when Jason Peters took over left tackle.

McGovern signed with Buffalo in free agency, triggering the question of a more permanent solution for 2023 at left guard for the Cowboys.

“It’s definitely like riding a bike,” Tyler Smith said. “It’s like those mountain bikes, where you’ve got to switch gears sometimes. Just staying sharp on it, it’s going to help me in the long run.”

When the two Smiths lined up side by side in an offseason practice this week, second-year player Matt Waletzko was at right tackle.

A healthy Steele could mean several tackle-trained linemen, including free agent pickup Chuma Edoga, are considerations at guard. Waletzko and Josh Ball, another tackle by trade, are both 6-foot-8, which is tall for a guard.

“When you’re looking at college athletes, you draft tackles because when do you move them down inside, their natural ability, and really the amount of reps they have in college, they have pass protection in their past,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You have to be able to pass protect in this league. That’s a given.”

Tyron Smith signed a lengthy extension during training camp nine years ago — the contract that's about to expire. Tyler Smith appears to be next in line for that long-term left tackle deal. In due time, he says.

“I just finished year one,” Tyler Smith said. “That next contract, it’s a few years in the future. Just refining the fundamentals, being consistent, that's the biggest thing for me right now. I think that will help me in the long run in terms of what I bring to the team when that time comes.”


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Titans' Kevin Byard leaving business of pay cut request to agent

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard will talk about most any topic when asked.

Being asked to take a pay cut going into his eighth NFL season by the Tennessee Titans is very different.

Byard knows the NFL is a business, and that's why he's leaving the Titans' request earlier this year to his agent and new general manager Ran Carthon. It's also why Byard hadn't talked about the Titans' request until Thursday.

“I don’t really want to get into my feelings or anything about that and any emotions ...,” Byard said. “I guarantee you I would not be the last player, and I haven’t been the first player, (that had a team) come to about a pay cut.”

Carthon, hired in January as the first Black general manager in the franchise's history, confirmed just before the NFL draft that Byard had been asked to take a pay cut. Byard has never missed a game and led the Titans in both tackles and interceptions each of the past two seasons.

Byard has been working out on his own throughout Tennessee's offseason program. He said Thursday as the Titans wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp that he told coaches of his plans to work out on his own very early this year.

Being on the field for this minicamp mattered.

“I felt it was very important for myself, though, and for me, to come here and be a leader and be the person I’ve always been making plays, communicating and things like that ...,” Byard said. "That’s who I’m always going to be.”

Making it easier for Byard to work out on his own is Shane Bowen is going into his fourth season as defensive coordinator. The biggest change was the hiring of Chris Harris as the defense's new passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach.

Byard said he stayed in touch with coaches to learn any changes to a defense that ranked first against the run in 2022, but last against the pass in allowing 274.8 yards a game. He also talked a lot with coach Mike Vrabel — at the golf course.

Defensive lineman Denico Autry also reported for the mandatory minicamp along with Byard. Vrabel said he used both veterans as examples Wednesday.

"Denico and Kevin showed up for the mandatory minicamp obviously been working, ready to go, brought energy, picked up where they left off, and so that’s the expectation for everybody whether they’re here or not,” Vrabel said.

Byard, who agreed to a new extension in July 2019, currently ranks second only to quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the team with a $19.6 million salary cap hit, according to Spotrac.com. He is under contract through 2024.

The four-time defensive captain has started 105 of 114 games played since being the first pick of the third round in 2016 out of Middle Tennessee. Not only is he the Titans' longest-tenured player on defense, he also leads all NFL safeties with 27 interceptions since the start of the 2017 season.

Turning 30 in August, Byard started working out on his own about two weeks after the Super Bowl in February. Byard said players need different approaches at different stages of their careers. He's also not the first to stay away from the voluntary portion of the offseason program.

“I just control the things that I can control," Byard said.

NOTES: Vrabel said CB Kristian Fulton was at the minicamp, though the cornerback never practiced. Vrabel said Fulton will be ready for training camp. CB Caleb Farley, their first-round draft pick in 2021, also has not practiced. Vrabel confirmed Farley had another procedure on his back, an issue that dropped him to No. 22 overall. The coach said Farley is lifting and looks strong. OL Dillon Radunz may not be ready when the Titans start training camp in late July.


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Seahawks still uncertain on recovery timeline for Jamal Adams, Jordyn Brooks

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — After seeing them in person this week during the team’s mandatory minicamp, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said it will continue to be a race for safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Jordyn Brooks to be ready by the start of training camp next month.

But to this point, Carroll isn’t ruling out at least Adams being ready by the time the regular season begins on Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams.

“We’ll see. Let’s get to camp first and see what happens,” Carroll said as the Seahawks finished minicamp on Thursday. “It may be too much to ask. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

The recovery of Adams and Brooks are the two most significant questions the Seahawks face with injuries heading into the summer break before the start of training camp.

Adams suffered a torn quadriceps tendon in the season opener last season, while Brooks suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in Week 17 against the New York Jets. Brooks could be a candidate for starting the season on the physically unable to perform list to give him extra time in his recovery.

But there was optimism when Adams was injured that he would be ready for the start of 2023. And while that’s not being ruled out as of yet, the next six weeks will be important in his continued rehabilitation.

“There are benchmarks. There are strength things that he has to get back to full. I think range of motion is pretty good, but I think we’re talking about strength right now,” Carroll said. “It’s just time. It’s just time on task. It’s really clear. He’s got really good guys he’s working with back home. Being here was really important so that we saw him.”

Brooks and Adams both spent the majority of the offseason working out and rehabbing in Texas.

“We made some adjustments and changes as always and you only get so much out of the Zoom thing so them being here has been really valuable,” Carroll said.

Cornerback Tariq Woolen is expected to be fully healthy for the start of training camp after having his knee scoped last month to repair a cartilage issue. Fellow defensive back Coby Bryant sat out minicamp because of a sprained toe that as of now won’t require surgery, Carroll said.

Bryant’s absence allowed Seattle to mix its defensive backs during minicamp and give first-round pick Devon Witherspoon some time at slot cornerback.

“When we gave him the chance he jumped right on it,” Carroll said. “He is a really good football learner. He gets it. It makes sense to him. He does things naturally really well.”


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QB questions linger over 49ers headed into summer break

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Brock Purdy resumed his throwing program, Trey Lance looked healthy and showed off his improved mechanics and Sam Darnold got acclimated to a new offense.

The San Francisco 49ers ended their offseason program and headed off for summer break with some encouraging signs about their quarterback room despite many lingering questions that won't really start to get answered until they reconvene in late July for the start of training camp.

The first questions revolve around Purdy, who went from being the final pick in last year's draft to winning his first seven starts to lead San Francisco to the NFC championship game before getting hurt early in a loss at Philadelphia.

Purdy underwent major elbow surgery in March and just resumed a throwing program last week. Purdy is throwing three days a week and projected to be healthy for the start of the season but the Niners aren't sure when he will be cleared to practice.

“We’re taking it very slowly,” coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. "It’s not like you just jump out and push stuff. You’re only supposed to throw on this date at this percentage, these many yards, and then you do a certain amount a couple days later and if you stay on track it should heal the right way. Right now, everything’s right on track and I don’t ask three weeks ahead. You just keep trying to stay on that trajectory.”

Purdy had an impressive debut season, throwing for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the regular season. His 108 passer rating in the regular season and playoffs was the highest ever for a rookie with at least 200 passes.

But that was a small sample size and the Niners know Purdy will need to make more progress if he will become the long-term franchise quarterback.

“He’s got an unbelievable start to his career," quarterbacks coach Brian Griese said. "Now, there’s a lot of things that Brock can and needs to get better at for this team to go where we want to go. Brock and I, we’ve had that conversation, and he knows. He’s the first one to tell you. That’s normal, too, for a young player. So I’m excited to get him back, get him healthy, and see how good he can be.”

Griese pointed to accuracy, reading defenses, playing from the pocket and limiting turnovers as areas Purdy needs to improve at to have success.

Purdy has a longer track record than the player who was supposed to be the franchise QB. San Francisco traded three first-round picks to draft Lance third overall in 2021.

But Lance spent his rookie season mostly as a backup to Jimmy Garoppolo and was hindered in his two starts by a broken finger. Lance then went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 last year and has only four mostly pedestrian starts in his brief career.

With his finger fully healed and the ankle repaired, Lance spent the offseason tweaking some mechanics and working out with Patrick Mahomes as he tries to fulfill the potential the Niners saw in him when they made the big investment to draft him.

“I’m not going to lie to you — I think Trey looks significantly better than he did last year," tight end George Kittle said. "I really do. I think his confidence is there. I think that he’s throwing really good passes.”

Darnold was also a former No. 3 overall pick but has had little success so far in his career with struggling teams on the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.

Darnold's 78.2 career passer rating is the lowest among the 36 QBs with at least 1,000 attempts since he entered the league but he has never had the opportunity to play on an offense as talented as the 49ers.

“He’s been through a lot in his career," Griese said. "I think everybody that knows football or watches football can see the skill set that Sam has. ... I think that our system, our offense, is tailor suited to a quarterback coming in and finding their footing and getting stability. Sam has that opportunity now and we’ll see what he does with that opportunity.”

Neither Darnold nor Lance has separated themselves as the clear No. 2 behind Purdy during the open portion of practices this offseason.

But Shanahan says that's not to be unexpected during a portion of the season when many of the key starters on both sides of the ball are merely spectators in team drills.

“All this stuff gives these guys a chance to have a chance to compete in training camp,” Shanahan said. "When you don’t practice football an entire offseason, you don’t do any practice of football since your last game, it’s very hard to come to training camp and be ready to beat someone out. So that’s what you try to provide all this stuff for is just to give guys a chance to learn the offense, get their timing, get everything, so now when they go to training camp, they’re ready to compete and that’s truly where I see the competition starting.”


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Minnesota Vikings releasing star running back Dalvin Cook for salary cap reasons, AP source says

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings are parting ways with star running back Dalvin Cook for salary cap savings after his fourth consecutive season surpassing the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

Cook has been informed he will be released, a person familiar with the team’s decision told The Associated Press on Thursday. The person spoke only on condition of anonymity because the Vikings had not announced the move.

Cook, in just six years with the Vikings, reached third on the franchise all-time rushing list with 5,993 yards. He's fifth in rushing attempts (1,282) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (47).

Cook was scheduled to count more than $14.1 million against Minnesota's salary cap, which would have been the third-highest figure for a running back in the league behind Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. Cutting him chopped $9 million off the team's cap charges for this year.

The Vikings remain on the hook for more than $5.1 million in dead money for the prorated remainder of the signing bonus from the extension he signed prior to the 2020 season, according to data compiled by Over The Cap.

Cook, who will turn 28 in August, has made the Pro Bowl for four straight years. In 2022, he started all 18 games including the playoffs, a first for him as a pro and a particular source of pride after injuries to his knee, hamstring and shoulder kept him from perfect participation over his first five seasons.

Cook has not been present for the team’s voluntary offseason workouts. His future with the club has been unclear at best since the Vikings re-signed his backup, Alexander Mattison, to a two-year, $7 million contract seen as too luxurious for a second-stringer.

Three of Cook's eight career gains of 50-plus yards from scrimmage came in 2022, showing his explosiveness still exists, but he averaged a career-low 4.4 yards per rush as the Vikings struggled with their efficiency and consistency on the ground.

They are heavily invested in their passing attack, too, with quarterback Kirk Cousins and an extension looming for wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The modern game has simply left the workhorse running back behind with more teams getting by on younger and cheaper timeshares in the backfield.

The Vikings somewhat surprisingly brought back Mattison after he became an unrestricted free agent, and head coach Kevin O'Connell spoke about him on May 30 as if he were already the featured runner.

“It's been really good to see Alex Mattison take those kind of reps and really show that three-down ownership that he’s been capable of for a long time,” said O'Connell, who also declared without prompting that recent draft picks Ty Chandler (2022) and Kene Nwangwu (2021) were competition for the top backup spot during a post-practice question from a reporter about the running back situation. Dwayne McBride, a seventh-round pick this spring out of UAB, will also bring some upside to the mix.

Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips also spoke as if Cook was as good as gone, when asked on June 6 about Chandler's readiness for a more prominent role: “He’s going to have to be."

The Vikings ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt and tied for 27th in rushing yards per game last season.

“We all knew that that was an area of improvement that we needed, so coming in to this year there’s more emphasis,” Mattison said last month. “It's definitely been a little bit more of an emphasis, and it’s looking good.”

Cook still faces a personal injury lawsuit from a former girlfriend for assault, battery and false improvement stemming from an alleged altercation that began at his home on Nov. 19, 2020. The jury trial in the civil case in Dakota County court was recently rescheduled for March 4, 2024.


AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed.


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Panthers hand first-team reps over to rookie QB Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Bryce Young's time is now in Carolina.

The Panthers have given Young the first-team reps in practice this week, a move that coach Frank Reich called the next step in the rookie quarterback's progression.

Reich anticipates Young will continue to get first-team reps “for now” as the Panthers prepare for their mandatory minicamp session next week and training camp at the end of July. Reich stopped short of naming Young the team’s starting quarterback this season, saying there is plenty of time to make that decision.

“Not yet,” Reich said. “But he has shown everything you want to see. You don't make a decision until you have to make it. We will just keep giving him the opportunity to get better and earn that starting role. So far he and a lot of guys have taken the steps needed to earn that spot, but we don't have to make that decision yet. So we will keep chugging along.”

Young, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took over first-team reps from veteran Andy Dalton earlier this week, but Thursday was the first time reporters were allowed at practice.

Reich said he informed Young and Dalton of the switch late last week so they'd be prepared.

Young downplayed the promotion.

“For me it’s just about attacking every day and trying to do everything I can to get better for the team,” Young said. “Pushing ourselves to accomplish our goals. Where that is all at is out of my hands and is up to the coaches.”

Reich said he had high expectations for Young coming into the offseason in terms of learning a new offensive scheme and the former Alabama star has met them all.

“There is stuff that he has not done before,” Reich said. “There is a lot that he has done before. But I hope it has been challenging to him. I think it has been. He’s like everyone else out here, you run enough plays and you are going to make some mistakes and learn from them. But he has been great about that.”

Wide receiver D.J. Chark, who joined the Panthers this past offseason as a free agent and spending last season with the Detroit Lions, has been impressed with Young’s approach.

He called Young “approachable” and said the young QB relates well to his teammates in the huddle, often joking around when appropriate.

“He’s very much in control and I can tell you now that he has the respect of everyone in that locker room, and he hasn’t done anything to lose that respect. He only continues to gain it," Chark said.

Panthers running back Miles Sanders spent last season alongside another young star quarterback who also played at Alabama in Jalen Hurts with the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, and sees similarities in how quickly they pick up details of the offense.

“Shout out to Nick Saban," Sanders said of the Crimson Tide coach. "I don't know what you're doing with those Alabama guys but they are sharp. Bryce is very sharp, very intelligent. You don't expect too much from a rookie quarterback, but he has really taken command of the offense.

“He's having fun out there. He's not too serious. He's relaxing and he's making plays, too.”

Added Chark: “Everyone is here for him, and we believe he can take us to some really high places.”


Injuries continue to plague Panthers starting cornerback Jaycee Horn, who will be sidelined for minicamp with a foot injury. However, Reich said Horn will not need surgery and should be ready for the start of training camp.

Horn, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 draft, has missed 18 games in his first two seasons because of injuries.


Panthers defensive end Brian Burns announced he's switching to 0 this season, becoming the first Carolina player ever to wear the number since the organization opened play in 1995.


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Von Miller's desire to eliminate artificial turf is personal

Von Miller’s desire to eliminate artificial fields is personal.

The three-time All-Pro edge rusher tore his right ACL playing on an artificial surface in Buffalo’s game at Detroit last Thanksgiving.

“This game was built on grass. Grass is safer. It feels better,” Miller said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “I’ve been injured twice on artificial turf, so I know what it does to the fingers, toes, back.”

Miller, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and Green Bay Packers offensive lineman David Bakhtiari are part of Pennington’s “Flip the Turf” campaign, urging players and fans to sign a Change.org petition calling for the 16 stadiums that use artificial turf to switch to grass.

The NFL Players Association has long been calling for all teams to switch to grass fields. In April, the players’ union released studies from 2012-22 that show a significant increase in non-contact injuries on artificial surfaces vs. grass fields.

The NFL, in defense of artificial turf, has pointed to 2021 when the number of injuries on both surfaces was close.

“Last year, the gap – much like the NFL’s credibility with players on this issue – was as wide as it has ever been, proving that (as the NFLPA suspected) 2021 was in fact an outlier,” NFLPA president JC Tretter said in an essay on the union’s website. “Now, 10 of the previous 11 years show the same exact thing -- grass is a significantly safer surface than turf.”

The league says it’s a complicated issue.

“The NFL and the NFLPA have access to the same injury information, which is collected by independent experts and shared at the CBA-mandated Joint Field Surface Safety and Performance Committee meetings,” NFL executive Jeffrey Miller said in April. “The committee, including the NFLPA’s experts, believe that simply playing on natural grass is not the answer to this complex challenge. Some artificial turf surfaces have a lower injury rate than some grass fields — and some grass fields have a lower injury rate than some artificial surfaces.

“Our goal is to decrease injuries on all surfaces. There are no simple answers, but we are committed to the substantial, ongoing work with the players and their expert advisors to make the game safer.”

A big issue is money. It’s costly to change fields from artificial turf to natural grass. It becomes more expensive to maintaining the grass if a stadium hosts other events that may ruin it. Putting natural grass in domed stadiums is even more costly.

“Honestly, when it comes to player safety, if I’m a football owner and I have a football team and my stadium is built around the football players, I would want to have the best surface for those guys,” Miller said. “My football team should always come before my Monster Jam or my concerts or boxing matches.”

Miller is allergic to grass, but he’d rather deal with sneezing and hives to play on the softer, more forgiving natural surface.


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Jaylon Johnson hopes to remain with Bears, seeks contract extension

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Cornerback Jaylon Johnson insisted he is not worried about his future with the Chicago Bears and hopes to remain with the team beyond next season.

Johnson said Wednesday he would like a contract extension as he enters the fourth and final year of his rookie deal.

“One hundred percent,” he said. "I look forward to staying and extending with the Bears.”

A second-round draft pick out of Utah in 2020, Johnson has established himself as one of Chicago's best players. His absence from voluntary offseason activities until this week stirred speculation that he was upset and holding out for a new deal. But he insisted that wasn't the case.

“Anybody who knows me, that’s not my character," Johnson said. "I think at the end of the day, for me, I wouldn’t even say holding out, just having prior priorities.”

Johnson said his main reason for remaining home in Fresno, California, was simply to spend time with his 3-year-old daughter. He also had charitable commitments, including a golf tournament this past weekend as well as a nonprofit football camp.

His schedule is a little lighter now that those events have passed, and his daughter's mother graduated from college, giving her more free time. That in turn helped allow Johnson to join the team.

Johnson said he remained in contact with the Bears while he was away. He participated in meetings via Zoom, and checked in with coaches and teammates on a regular basis.

“The communication never stopped,” he said. “I know at the end of the day, I’m a pro. I’ve been in this long enough. I know how to go about it. I know how to work out, stay in shape, continue to do what I need to do along with handling my business at home.”

Johnson said he is “transitioning” to a new agent. He said he has no real opinion on how negotiations have gone so far and hasn't thought about whether he wants a deal done by training camp.

“I think the Bears know the timing of when we really want to get into the nitty gritty of the contract talks and things like that,” he said. "Just being patient and continue to do what I can to get better, and when that time comes, it comes.”

Johnson also said his situation is different from the Bears' standoff with star linebacker Roquan Smith last year.

It escalated when Smith — who did not have an agent — staged a “hold in” at the start of training camp, allowing him attend meetings and practices without participating in drills. He went public with a trade request and accused general manager Ryan Poles of negotiating in bad faith. Ultimately, he got dealt to Baltimore in October.

"His situation is different than my situation," Johnson said. "It’s Roquan Smith at the end of the day. But I’m not him, he’s not me. My timing is different than his timing. I’m not too caught up in that.”

NOTES: Along with Johnson, the Bears had safety Eddie Jackson back practicing with the team on Wednesday, an encouraging step for a player returning from a season-ending foot injury. Guard Nate Davis — not seen during practices that were open to reporters the past few weeks — was participating. Coach Matt Eberflus said receiver Darnell Mooney, who missed the final five games because of an ankle injury, is “right on track” to be ready for training camp. ... Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson and Bears president Kevin Warren released a joint statement saying they met Tuesday and discussed “the importance of deep roots and the need for equitable community investment throughout the city.” They said they are "committed to the idea that the city and its major civic institutions must grow and evolve together to meet the needs of the future. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around these shared values.”


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49ers 'ecstatic' to have Javon Hargrave on their side to bolster pass rush

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Trent Williams had seen more than enough of Javon Hargrave in San Francisco's NFC title game loss at Philadelphia to know what kind of impact he can have as an interior pass rusher.

So when the All-Pro tackle found out this offseason that Hargrave was joining the 49ers' stellar defense, he was overjoyed about the possibilities.

“We know what he can do,” Williams said Wednesday. "I was ecstatic that we don’t have to see him on the other sideline again. That guy’s a heck of a playmaker. It sometimes seems unreal that we got a player like that to add to the type of defense we have. But I said it before, I’ll say it again, those guys up in the front office, they work magic. So we add another playmaker, another great player to the defense. I’m just eager to see him this season.”

The Niners signed Hargrave to a four-year, $84 million contract this offseason to strengthen an already talented defensive front that featured Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa on the edge, Arik Armstead inside and a slew of other talented pass rushers.

Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek had been highlighting Hargrave's pass-rush skills to his own players in recent years and now is eager to see what he can do for San Francisco's pass rush.

“I think the last couple of years in Philly, he’s really separated himself from a lot of the other interior players in the game, especially from a pass rush standpoint,” Kocurek said. “There’s only a couple guys in the NFL that’s won at a rate that he’s won. Everybody knows our philosophy on d-linemen here at the Niners, the more the merrier, especially the talented more is even better.”

The 30-year-old Hargrave is coming off his most productive season in seven years as a pro with a career-high 11 sacks to help Philadelphia reach the Super Bowl after beating the Niners in the NFC championship game.

Hargrave ranked fourth among all interior pass rushers with 57 quarterback pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and provides a big upgrade on one of the few weak spots on San Francisco’s defense that was ranked first in the NFL.

Armstead led the Niners interior rushers with 20 pressures last regular season but had no sacks in nine games.

The 49ers had been hoping for 2020 first-round pick Javon Kinlaw to anchor their interior after trading away star DeForest Buckner following the 2019 season. But Kinlaw has been slowed by knee injuries that have limited him to 24 games in three seasons and has been ineffective when he played.

“Last year was kind of a revolving door on the interior with the injuries we had,” Bosa said. “Guys were coming in and playing snaps and games after being in here for a week. That’s just not ideal for our scheme.”

Adding Hargarve to that group is just what the Niners need if they want to go from a strong pass rush back to the dominant one they had in 2019 when they had Buckner and Armstead inside.

“He’s a top guy,” Bosa said about Hargrave. “I feel like people give him his due, but people don’t really know how good he is overall. I feel like he isn’t quite talked about in the Aaron Donald top echelon, Chris Jones, but I think he played like that last year and throughout his career. Him and Arik inside and such should be pretty fun.”

NOTES: Trey Lance got the work with the first team at practice the day after Sam Darnold did. The two have been splitting time as Brock Purdy works his way back from elbow surgery. Purdy is throwing on the side about three days a week. ... Rookie K Jake Moody made a 63-yard field goal with room to spare at practice.


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Colts keep Rodgers out of practice as NFL investigates gambling allegations

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers Sr. did not practice with his teammates Wednesday.

It's also unclear when — or if — he'll return.

Two days after team officials acknowledged they were aware of an NFL investigation into gambling allegations about a player, Rodgers was held out.

Neither the Colts nor the league have publicly identified Rodgers as the target of the investigation though Rodgers posted a statement on Twitter saying he made an “error in judgment" — hours after media reports linked him to the investigation.

“Like I said, it's an ongoing investigation," first-year head coach Shane Steichen said when asked whether Rodgers will continue to sit out until there's a ruling. “I think anytime something like this comes up, you've got to push it aside and move on. The players have done good so far.”

The 25-year-old Rodgers was a sixth-round draft pick out of UMass in 2020. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract and the Florida native was expected to compete for a starting job after Indy traded Stephon Gilmore to Dallas during the offseason.

Rodgers started nine times in 15 games last season and had 34 tackles. His best season came in 2021 when he had 49 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes defensed — all career bests. He has generally been regarded as the Colts fastest player.

While it's unknown whether additional Colts players may come under scrutiny, the NFL sent a team to Indianapolis this week to reiterate the league's gambling policy. Steichen said the meeting was part of an annual visit that was arranged before details of the investigation went public.

The Indiana Gaming Commission has a regularly scheduled meeting next Thursday, but a spokeswoman for the commission said the NFL investigation is not on the agenda.

“We have received information pertaining to this matter and are following developments,” a statement from the agency read. “The IGC is not the lead agency on this matter, as it involves alleged violations of a league policy. We will, however, continue to review information as it emerges to determine what, if any, regulatory actions are necessary.”

Clearly, it's the NFL and officials from other sports will wrestle with this issue now that legalized sports betting has become prevalent in so many states.

In April, five NFL players were suspended for violating the league's gambling policy. Four were on the Detroit Lions roster and three — receivers Quintez Cephus and Stanley Berryhill and safety C.J. Moore — have been released. Cephus and Moore were suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games while Berryhill drew a six-game suspension. Lions receiver Jameson Williams, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2022 draft, remains with the Lions despite drawing a six-game suspension for his gambling activity.

The other player involved, Washington Commanders defensive end Shaka Toney, also was suspended indefinitely.

Those suspensions came in the wake of last year's season-long suspension for former Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley. He was reinstated in March and now plays for Jacksonville Jaguars.

It's also not the first major gambling issue for Indiana or the Colts.

Last month, Bert Eugene Neff, the father of a Cincinnati Bearcats baseball player, allegedly placed large bets on an Alabama-LSU baseball game. It resulted in the firing of Crimson Tide coach Brad Bohannon. Neff lives in Mooresville, Indiana, on the southern side of Indianapolis.

In 1985, the Colts released quarterback Art Schlichter amid rumors he had continued gambling following a previous 13-month suspension. Schlichter was the No. 4 overall draft pick in 1982 and never played in another NFL game.

“What I got from the whole situation is don't gamble,” said linebacker E.J. Speed, who also is vying for a starting job. “I've been so focused on the game itself that I don't really get into gambling. I don't gamble outside of football, so I don't really pay too much attention to it.”

Running back Zack Moss added: “I think, obviously, they say don't do something then you don't do it or whatever. But I don't really dabble into that too much, though."

And if the news, the investigation, the NFL meeting or the absence of a teammate from practice didn't send the proper message to Colts players, Rodgers' apology might.

"I know I have made mistakes and I am willing to do whatever it takes to repair the situation,” he wrote Monday. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was to be a distraction to the Colts organization, my coaches, and my teammates. I’ve let people down that I care about.

“I made an error in judgment and I am going to work hard to make sure that those mistakes are rectified through this process. It’s an honor to play in the NFL and I have never taken that lightly. I am very sorry for all of this.”


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McCarthy brings an 'edge' to Cowboys offense with return to play-calling

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — As coach Mike McCarthy takes over the play-calling for the Dallas Cowboys, All-Pro guard Zack Martin senses an edginess to the offense.

Martin struggles to quantify the observation, other than to reference McCarthy's blue-collar roots as a “Pittsburgh guy.”

“I think it's the accent,” McCarthy said when told about Martin's take.

Going into his fourth season with the Cowboys, McCarthy is calling plays for the first time since his Green Bay days after the club agreed to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers a day after Dallas' move.

The decision came after the 27th consecutive season in which the Cowboys didn't reach at least an NFC championship game, losing a divisional matchup at the San Francisco 49ers. Dallas lost a wild-card game at home to the Niners a year earlier.

McCarthy made headlines at the combine a few weeks after Moore's departure by saying he wanted to “run the damn ball,” which was taken to mean he didn't think the Cowboys ran it enough under Moore.

There's no way to get a sense of the running game in offseason workouts without pads, but that doesn't seem to matter to Jake Ferguson. The second-year tight end brought a reputation as a physical blocker with him as a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin.

“I’m a power guy,” said the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Ferguson, who is the de factor leader of his group after Dalton Schultz left in free agency. “I love running power and having power and this really fires me up. The whole front seven, the tight ends and the O-line, I think we’re a lot more connected right now.”

To be clear, the Cowboys won't be lining up in a power I-formation. The offense will look a lot like Moore's version, with plenty of shotgun formations and short passes.

“It’s more of an attitude deal,” Martin said. “That’s the best way I can describe it. The plays aren’t going to change. We’re going to run our inside zone, outside zone. I think it’s just the mindset and attitude we’re going to bring and that edge I talked about.”

McCarthy has his roots in a West Coast system in which the run game feeds off the pass. He coached Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers with the Packers, winning a Super Bowl and reaching three other NFC title games.

“This is the ‘Texas Coast,’ quarterback Dak Prescott said. ”We just renamed that, the quarterbacks. It’s got definitely some West Coast principles, but has a little bit of what we’ve done in the past and just marrying them together with a lot of detail and maybe in a sense, a system that’s not out there."

There was a time when McCarthy gave up play-calling with the Packers, then said he would never give it up again after reclaiming the duties. He called the plays for almost all of his 12-plus seasons.

When the Cowboys hired him a year and a half after his firing in Green Bay, McCarthy said he didn't want to mess with the continuity for Prescott, the starter from the beginning of his first year and the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Statistically, the Dallas offense was among the best in the league most of the time when Prescott was healthy and Moore was calling plays. But there was a long stretch of inconsistency in 2021, and the offense faltered in both playoff losses to San Francisco.

Last season, Prescott shared the NFL lead in interceptions (15) with Houston's Davis Mills despite missing five games with a broken thumb.

The switch to McCarthy calling plays, with Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator and former NFL quarterback Scott Tolzien as his position coach, means something of a reset for Prescott.

“Definitely refreshed,” Prescott said. “Just the details of everything have went up. That just heightened my focus, heightened everybody else’s focus. You the intentions. You know the purpose of plays. It’s definitely refreshing and exciting.”

McCarthy mused at times over the past three years about missing his days as a play-caller. Now the 59-year-old has returned to the front of the room in meetings with the offense and the quarterbacks, which backup Cooper Rush says has been kind of fun.

McCarthy had to admit it was for him, too.

“It’s everything that goes into preparing the game plan,” McCarthy said. “That’s the guy that gets to compete on game day with the coordinator on the other side of the field. I think it’s only natural that I’m enjoying it.”

And only natural that a “Pittsburgh guy” is bringing a little edge to it.


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Browns QB Deshaun Watson feeling confident, less burdened a year after NFL suspension

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The uncertainty shrouding Deshaun Watson has lifted along with the intense scrutiny about his personal life.

There's a tightness and velocity to his passes these days, and a noticeable change in his demeanor — on and off the field. There's an ease about him.

Nearly one year removed from his NFL suspension, Cleveland's quarterback looks different.

“I feel really good,” Watson said Wednesday after the Browns completed their second minicamp practice. “The biggest thing is the confidence level, knowing who I am, trusting what I do, trusting the work that I put in these past couple years to get back to this position I’m in.

"I’m enjoying myself."

His confidence is back and football seems fun again for Watson, who was forced to sit out 11 games last season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy for sexual misconduct after two dozen women accused him of inappropriate behavior during massage therapy sessions.

Now that most of his legal troubles are past — two civil lawsuits against him remain active — Watson is focused on trying to shake off any lingering rust, get back among the top passers in the AFC and move the Browns into contention.

If the past two days were any indication, Watson is gaining momentum on all those fronts.

The three-time Pro Bowler dazzled during 7-on-7 drills, firing precision passes while spreading the ball around and connecting with some of the new offensive targets the Browns added during the offseason to complement Watson's varied skillset.

It would be easy to dismiss his accuracy due to the absence of a pass rush and the Browns playing in shorts and not pads, but Watson made throws only a handful of QBs around the league could possibly match.

There is good. And then there is elite.

“My boy’s slinging that (stuff),” said tight end David Njoku, who was on the end of a Watson laser for a TD during red zone drills. "He looks great. He’s locked in. The energy’s there. Every single ball he’s thrown is precise on the money, so that excites me as well as the rest of the team. We’re all excited.”

Last week, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said on one of Watson's throws he “literally got goosebumps.”

That wasn't the case in 2022.

Watson's performance in the final six games following his suspension raised some concern the Browns overreached with their $230 million investment in him. He went 3-3, but Watson didn't make many of the jaw-dropping plays that defined much of his stay with Houston.

A 700-day layoff — he also sat out the 2021 season — between games didn't help, but Watson's stats (1,102 yards, 7 TDs and 5 interceptions) were pedestrian and certainly not what the Browns or their fans envisioned.

It wasn't like riding a bike.

“If you stop doing something for so long, you just naturally lose that confidence because you haven’t been playing at that level,” he said. "So you forget — your body and your muscle memory. You forget how fast and how to do things. So whenever I got back on the field last year, I was building that confidence up, took a break, came back, tried to build it back up.

“But having this offseason and being full throttle definitely have caught back up with me.”

At this point a year ago, Watson was in limbo.

The league's ruling was still two months away, and it was challenging for the 27-year-old to assume a leadership role without knowing how long he would be away. This year, there are no doubts about his future or his status.

There's no question: The Browns are Watson's team.

“He just feels more comfortable calling plays, breaking the huddle, leading,” said two-time All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio. “All those things where you’re around the guys for over a year now, he’s getting more comfortable doing that kind of stuff.”

Watson acknowledged he's “pretty far ahead of where I was last year.” He hopes the worst is behind him as he tries to straighten out a career gone sideways.

After throwing a deep TD pass last week, Watson celebrated with the bow-and-arrow pose he made famous at Clemson.

The archer. Back on target.

“I’m getting comfortable with the position I’m in,” he said. “Getting comfortable being here in Cleveland and in this organization. Just my personality over time is going to continue to show and people are going to get to know me.”

NOTES: RB Nick Chubb said he intends to “play for” Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who died recently at age 87. Chubb said he wasn't aware that Brown had hand in Cleveland drafting him in 2018. “Just hearing that was a blessing,” Chubb said. “He saw something in me. It's special.” ... The Browns are still considering options on how to pay homage to Brown during the upcoming season. “I’m sure they’ll find a good way to honor him,” Bitonio said. "Hopefully win some games. That’ll be the best thing possible, win some games and have a really good season for him.”


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