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New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley takes next step in recovery, completes first contact practice

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Kenny Golladay participated in a padded practice Thursday, and Barkley took some contact seemingly without incident for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee 11 months ago.

It was the latest step in Barkley’s progression and a mandatory one before he gets into a match, according to coach Joe Judge. The Giants open the campaign Sept. 12 versus the Denver Broncos.

“We did a normal practice safely, and just talked to the guys and [they] gave me some good shots,” Barkley said afterward. “But it’s [about] route running and running routes just to get me back in the flow of things, so I guess you could say yes [I took my first hit].

“But [Thursday] felt good at practice and practicing with everyone on the team. Think that was definitely needed. Just grateful to be out there and just getting ready for the season.”

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Barkley will have to get through another fully padded practice next week before likely getting cleared by doctors.

The Giants don’t practice again until Monday.

Barkley is trending in the right direction and has a strong chance to play Week 1 versus Denver, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. There is optimism, but the Giants have been cautious and still could hold him back. It will ultimately be a team-driven decision.

“This whole process I’ve been a team player listening to the doctors, listening to the coaches, listening to the trainers, knowing that they have my best interest at heart,” Barkley said. “Whatever they feel that is best for me and best for the team, I’m willing to do.”

Barkley was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 9. He worked his way into live drills for the first time last week during joint practices with the New England Patriots while wearing a red no-contact jersey.

On Thursday, he shed the red jersey for the first time in live drills. Did he feel like his old self out on the field?

“I guess. I feel good. Taking it one day at a time,” Barkley said. “I’m just not even trying to think about do I look like my old self. I’m a very confident player. I know whenever I’m able to get back out there — maybe it might be one quarter, maybe it might be one play — whatever the opportunity is, when I’m back out there, I know I’m going to be able to go out there and be who I am and play how I am.

“Right now, I’m not focusing on if I’m making cuts, saying, ‘Is that how it was before?’ I’m focusing on getting in football shape, just living in the moment, enjoying the moment and playing football again.”

There isn’t much time left. The Giants have 10 days and just four practices before their season opener. Only one is expected to be with full pads. Getting through that would help Barkley inch nearer to being ready for Week 1.

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Minnesota Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr. likely to miss season after undergoing surgery on meniscus

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a meniscus injury, according to coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer did not give a timeline for Smith’s return but acknowledged that the Vikings are preparing for the third-year tight end to miss the whole season.

“We knew it was probably going to be a little while anyway,” Zimmer said. “Those are all part of things you have to plan for.”

Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Smith is facing a recovery timetable of 4-5 months. The Vikings placed Smith on the reserve/injured list later Wednesday.

Zimmer stated Monday that Smith was injured during Minnesota’s preseason finale at Kansas City, although it’s difficult to discern how and when he suffered the injury. The tight end was on the field for only 11 plays, and there was no noticeable moment where he appeared to get hurt.

“Sometimes injuries are like that,” Zimmer said. “You [don’t know] until you get in there. Honestly, with Danielle [Hunter] last year, that was about as insignificant as you can imagine. Then you get in and X-ray and MRI and do all those things and find out it’s more significant than you think.”

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Smith was primed for a breakout season at the time of his injury, having risen to the top of the Vikings’ depth chart at tight end after the departure of Kyle Rudolph during free agency. With Rudolph injured during the final four matches of the 2020 season, Smith stepped in and recorded three touchdowns on 20 targets, finishing the year with 30 catches for 365 yards and five scores.

“He’s just a great football player, and there’s no reason to think he wasn’t going to have a great year, but he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I would expect, whenever he’s back, the same great player that he was last year and that he was this August.”

According to Zimmer, team doctor Dr. Christopher Larsen repaired Smith’s injured meniscus instead of removing it, which could have led the tight end to develop an arthritic knee condition. Meniscus repair involves a longer recovery than a clean-up type procedure but will benefit the long-term health of Smith’s knee.

On Tuesday, the Vikings made a move to mitigate the loss of Smith, signing veteran tight end Chris Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick from the New York Jets for a 2022 fourth-round selection.

Minnesota also claimed former Jacksonville tight end Ben Ellefson on Wednesday.

After critiquing his team’s tight end depth as “not very good,” Zimmer said the Vikings would be looking to add additional players as they constructed the initial 53-man roster. Herndon spent three seasons with the Jets and found himself on the trading block after falling down the depth chart during training camp.

Last season, Herndon struggled with drops and fumbles and transitioned into more of a blocking tight end. He bounced back toward the end of 2020, recording 31 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns.

Minnesota will also lean on its No. 2 tight end, Tyler Conklin, in Smith’s absence. Conklin returned to practice this week after dealing with a hamstring injury he classified as “minor.”

Like Smith, the 2018 fifth-round pick had a strong showing at the end of the 2020 season. Conklin finished his third year with 19 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown and developed into a consistent blocker.

Even if Smith had been able to play this season, the Vikings didn’t see specific responsibilities he would handle versus Conklin, which could bode well for this offense as it tries to compensate for the loss of its potential breakout star tight end.

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo returns from knee injury in Game 1 loss

As the Milwaukee Bucks played their first NBA Finals match in nearly half a century Tuesday night versus the Phoenix Suns, they did so with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in the starting lineup.

Antetokounmpo, who suffered a hyperextended left knee on an awkward and ugly-looking fall in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals a week ago against the Hawks in Atlanta, played 35 minutes in the opener and battled throughout. He concluded with 20 points, 17 rebounds and four assists, but the Suns took a 1-0 lead via a 118-105 victory.

Antetokounmpo was listed as doubtful for Games 5 and 6 of the East finals, and he was ruled out early in the afternoon before each of those games. On Tuesday, however, Antetokounmpo was upgraded from doubtful to questionable on the league’s initial injury report, which is released at 1:30 p.m. ET.

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Then about two hours before the game, Antetokounmpo was on the court testing out his knee, going through some shooting and dribbling drills to see if it would feel good enough to go versus the Suns.

During his pregame media availability, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer declined to get into specifics regarding where Antetokounmpo was at in his recovery.

Antetokounmpo, 26, who averaged 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists in the 15 postseason games leading into the Finals, is coming off a third straight first-team All-NBA season and fifth straight All-Star campaign for the Bucks.

The two-time league MVP signed a five-year supermax contract extension with Milwaukee in December to remain with the franchise for the foreseeable future, a move that came in the wake of the Bucks sending several future first-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for star guard Jrue Holiday.

The Bucks are in the Finals for the first time since 1974 and hoping to win their first NBA championship since 1971, when Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were starring for Milwaukee. The Suns, on the other hand, have never won an NBA title and are in the Finals for the first time since 1993, when Charles Barkley’s team lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in six games.

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Pacers’ Victor Oladipo to ramp up activity before committing to restart

All-Star guard Victor Oladipo plans to ramp up activity with the Indiana Pacers beginning next week and evaluate his repaired torn quad tendon before to making a final commitment to playing in the season’s restart in Orlando, he told ESPN on Saturday.

Oladipo, 28, is hopeful to return to play with the Pacers, but prefers to limit the risk of significant injury after returning in January from a full year of rehabilitating the torn right quad tendon.

“I feel a whole lot better,” Oladipo told ESPN. “I know there’s risk going into it with the unique situation that I’m in — being off so long and trying to ramp it up that fast. I’ve just got to be smart, that’s all.”

The Pacers have been cautious and working cooperatively with Oladipo throughout his rehab and return, and plan to keep closely monitoring and managing his recovery with the looming restart.

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Players must inform teams by Wednesday if they plan to participate in the season’s 22-team restart in Orlando — and teams must provide the league a roster of eligible players by July 1. However, Oladipo and the Pacers can push a decision on his return through the month of July as he ramps up in Indianapolis and Orlando for training camps.

Indiana would simply keep Oladipo on its active roster until a decision is made.

A team can sign a substitute player from an eligible pool of players to replace a roster player — and that replaced player will be ineligible to return.

Oladipo had his best match of the season — 27 points versus the Boston Celtics — in his last performance prior to the March 11 shutdown of the campaign.

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Yankees to have scan, but Aaron Boone upbeat

Aaron Judge is still not out of the woods yet regarding the fractured rib discovered during spring training, according to a source.

The right fielder is scheduled for another CT scan this month and the injury continues to heal.

The Yankees hope to see continued improvement, but while Judge expressed optimism about an early return after the injury was uncovered, the organization thinks he would be out until June or July.

The time frame may prove to be immaterial, since the delay to the start of the regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made the possibility of any matches prior to then extremely unlikely.

In the meantime, Judge’s rib “continues to heal” and the source stated there had been no setbacks.

There remains no formal plan for Major League Baseball to return after the sport was shut down by the coronavirus.

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At the time the injuries — the rib fracture and a punctured lung — were discovered, Judge indicated he expected to be out at least through March. Both injuries are believed to have been suffered on a diving play in right field in September.

The other injured Yankees who may have missed extended part of the regular campaign had it started on time are doing well, Boone said.

Giancarlo Stanton has recovered from the strained calf that sidelined him during the spring and Boone thinks “he should be good to go whenever we get ready to go back.”

Aaron Hicks, who underwent Tommy John surgery following last year’s playoffs, figures to be out until June or July, but Boone had encouraging news on the center fielder.

“He’s doing well,’’ Boone said of the switch hitter. “He’s already doing soft toss from both sides of the plate and throwing 90-plus feet. He’s trending in a really good direction.”

“His rehab has gone really, really well,’’ Boone said.

In the meantime, Boone said he continues to check in on his players and is convinced they will be prepared for whatever this unusual season might have in store.

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Mariners´ Mitch Haniger likely needs core-muscle surgery

This was already going to be a year where the Seattle Mariners would be relying heavily on young players and some of their top prospects right from the beginning of the campaign.

Now the Mariners expect to be without one of their few veterans – likely for the first month.

Outfielder Mitch Haniger is expected to miss the start of the regular season and likely needs to undergo core muscle surgery, general manager Jerry Dipoto said Thursday.

Haniger suffered the injury during one of his offseason workouts earlier this week. Dipoto said the latest setback is tied to Haniger’s injury issues from last season.

“I was expecting him to show up for the first day of spring training ready to go but that does not appear to be the case,” Dipoto said.

Haniger missed the final 3 1/2 months of the season after suffering a ruptured testicle and then experiencing back and core issues during his recovery. Haniger was limited to 63 matches and batted .220 with 15 homers and 32 RBIs.

A year earlier, Haniger was an All-Star after hitting .285 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs and an OPS of .859.

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Dipoto said the expectation is that Haniger’s recovery will take about six to eight weeks following the surgery.

He could be ready to join the major league club sometime in late April.

The loss of Haniger is two-fold for the Mariners. Along with Dee Gordon and Kyle Seager, Haniger was expected to be one of the few experienced veterans the Mariners could lean on early in a season where the next phase of Seattle’s rebuild will starts.

The Mariners are likely to field one of the youngest teams in the American League, with a handful of rookies or second-year players expected to be in the everyday lineup. Seattle expects the likes of outfielder Kyle Lewis, first baseman Evan White, second baseman Shed Long and pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn to be key pieces of the upcoming campaign.

The injury to Haniger may also allow Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop to earn more playing time early on.

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Bostons´ Dustin Pedroia has serious setback in recovery

Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has suffered a “significant setback” while rehabbing his left knee injury, a team spokesman confirmed.

“As a result, his status for spring training is uncertain,” said Kevin Gregg.

Gregg did not elaborate on the nature of this setback, which exacerbated an injury that has plagued Pedroia for several campaigns.

The 2008 American League MVP’s knee troubles started in 2017, when his left knee was injured in a play involving Baltimore’s Manny Machado. Pedroia underwent surgery in October of that year.

He also underwent a joint preservation procedure in July 2018 to remove scar tissue and another in August 2019, in which bone spurs were removed.

Pedroia’s contract includes salaries of $13 million this season and $12 million in 2021, and he counts $13.28 million toward Boston’s luxury tax payroll.

Pedroia is a four-time All-Star, was the 2007 American League Rookie of the Year and has played for two World Series championship teams in 2007 and 2013.

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The news comes at a difficult time for the Red Sox organization, which is adjusting to a new head of baseball operations and lost manager Alex Cora after he was implicated in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme during their run to the 2017 World Series title.

After the surgery, Pedroia’s mindset shifted, and he indicated to the Red Sox that he hoped to return to the field and become an everyday player again. But news of his latest setback brings up the question of retirement, given that he is now three campaigns removed from a fully healthy season, when he played 154 matches for Boston in 2016.

Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran expressed optimism for Pedroia’s return as recently as the GM meetings in November.

“He’s been working out and doing well by his own account and we’re going to talk to him and learn more,” O’Halloran said. “I don’t think anything specifically has changed. I think it’s more that time has passed and he’s been feeling better.”

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