Tagged in: training camp

Los Angeles Rams acquire RB Sony Michel from New England Patriots

The Los Angeles Rams have acquired Sony Michel from the New England Patriots to add some much-needed depth at the running back position.

The Patriots obtained a sixth-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-rounder in 2023 in the deal.

Michel fills an immediate need for the Rams, who will play the season without rising star Cam Akers after he tore his right Achilles tendon while working out before training camp.

In Akers’ absence, Darrell Henderson Jr. has taken over as starter, but the Rams lack depth behind the third-year pro.

“We identified Sony for many reasons,” Rams general manager Les Snead said Wednesday. “Number one, being his experience, and experience meaning like a player who has carried the ball in big games and in those big games, where there have been big moments, big drives, big series.”

Second-year pro Xavier Jones, an undrafted free agent in 2020, and rookie seventh-round pick Jake Funk have competed throughout the preseason with the hope of proving they could fill the position.

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At the outset of training camp, coach Sean McVay stated the Rams would give their young backs ample opportunity to compete for the job but left open the possibility that the team could look for outside help when the season opener approached.

Asked this week whether Jones and Funk had proved through two preseason games that they could be ready for Week 1 versus the Chicago Bears on Sept. 12, McVay said the Rams were in the process of figuring that out.

“We got a little bit of time,” McVay said. “Darrell is a guy that’s been established and done some good things. But I was pleased with both those guys.”

Henderson suffered a mild thumb sprain in practice Monday but returned to practice Tuesday with a cast or brace protecting his left hand.

A fourth-year pro, Michel has rushed for 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns in 28 starts for the Patriots, who drafted him in the first round with the 31st pick in 2018.

“What he does bring is this element of make a cut, get north and south and get north and south with some force,” Snead said. “The physics that he brings to the table — let’s call it a flavor or genre that we felt like complemented our group.”

In a 13-3 triumph over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, Michel rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

Michel is due to earn a base salary of $1.79 million in the final year of his contract in 2021 after the Patriots previously elected not to exercise his fifth-year option for 2022. He had drawn rave reviews from Patriots running back coach Ivan Fears this preseason, with Fears saying he had “upped his total game.”

Last season, Michel missed six games when he was placed on injured reserve after Week 3 because of a quadriceps injury. In nine games he rushed for 449 yards and a touchdown on 79 carries. In a 24-3 loss to the Rams, Michel rushed for 22 yards on seven carries.

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Seattle Seahawks cut DE Aldon Smith for off-the-field matter

Aldon Smith’s hopes of continuing his NFL comeback with the Seattle Seahawks are over.

The team waived the veteran defensive end, it announced, with sources telling ESPN the move was due to an off-the-field matter. The decision is not football-related but rather the result of Smith violating the team’s trust, according to a source.

The 31-year-old Smith has faced alcohol and legal issues for much of his NFL career, including an arrest in April on a second-degree battery charge in Louisiana.

That incident occurred shortly after the Seahawks signed him to a minimum-salary deal hoping that he could keep his personal life in order and continue his career revival, which started last season with the Dallas Cowboys after he missed the previous four seasons because of NFL suspensions. Smith has been staying in a sober living home in Seattle, as he did last season in Dallas.

While speaking with reporters on July 31 for the first time since signing with the Seahawks, Smith said his “tremendous support staff” helps him with his ongoing attempt to remain sober.

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“For me, it was just making myself vulnerable and being willing to trust and lean on [those] people,” he said. “I’ve always had people that were there, but I would always try to carry everything on my shoulders. So letting people help me and accepting that help was a major game-changer.”

Smith had been impressing the Seahawks with his play during training camp.

“Really good” was how one team source last week described how Smith was looking on the field. He played in the Seahawks’ mock game Sunday at Lumen Field and practiced Tuesday after the team’s day off.

Smith is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 24 in connection to his April arrest in Louisiana. He is accused of choking a man unconscious during an altercation that started inside a New Orleans-area coffee shop. According to the police report obtained by WWL-TV, Smith had confronted the man about marital issues the man was having with one of Smith’s relatives.

Two days before that incident, the Seahawks signed Smith to a one-year, $1.1 million contract that included $137,500 guaranteed.

Smith did not take part in the Seahawks’ voluntary offseason program — many of their veteran players declined to take part until the final week — and received an excused absence from their mandatory minicamp in June. Coach Pete Carroll said Smith was not physically ready to practice at the time.

After Smith worked himself into shape heading into training camp, Carroll commented about how hard Smith had worked to get his body ready and how quickly he was picking things up. But Carroll also conveyed the reality that given Smith’s troubles with alcohol, there was more to his quest for a roster spot than what he showed on the field.

“We really sense that the more we can support him, the more, obviously, we can be there for him, the stronger it makes him,” Carroll said July 31. “So that’s really what our intent is here.”

The Louisiana arrest was the latest of Smith’s several legal issues, which have contained multiple DUI arrests and a domestic violence charge. The NFL suspended Smith for parts of the 2014 and 2015 seasons and from 2016 to 2019 for violations of its policies on personal conduct and substance abuse.

He returned to the NFL last season with the Cowboys and had five sacks in 16 games, with three coming in one game against Seattle and all of them coming in the first half of the season. Smith set an NFL record with 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons and has 52.5 sacks in six seasons.

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New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz will miss start of season due to injury

New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz is estimated to miss time at the start of the season because of injury, according to a source, adding to the Saints’ growing roster upheaval.

Lutz’s specific timetable is unknown, but there is optimism that he won’t miss too many matches. He missed time at the beginning of training camp with a groin injury, and the source indicated that Lutz aggravated a previous injury.

The kicker took to Instagram to acknowledge that he had an injury that had worsened and decided to get it “fixed now in order to miss the least amount of time as possible.”

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Lutz did not say when he hoped to return.

The Saints are signing veteran kicker Brett Maher after Monday’s auditions to fill in for Lutz, a source told ESPN. Maher, 31, spent two seasons as the Dallas Cowboys’ kicker 2018-19 and has been on practice squads/offseason rosters since then with the Jets, Washington, Texans and Cardinals.

The Saints are expected to have at least 11 new starters in Week 1 due to Drew Brees’ retirement, an offseason salary-cap purge, defensive tackle David Onyemata’s suspension and now injuries to Lutz and receiver Michael Thomas.

Lutz, 27, was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and ranks as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history with a field goal rate of 86.6% during his five-year career.

The Saints will also have a new punter in 2021 after releasing longtime standout Thomas Morstead this offseason. Second-year pro Blake Gillikin is anticipated to take over the role after spending last season on injured reserve.

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Indianapolis Colts, Darius Leonard agree to 5-year, $98.5M extension that makes him top-paid ILB

The Indianapolis Colts and linebacker Darius Leonard have agreed to an extension, the team revealed Sunday.

Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter it is a five-year, $98.5 million extension that will make Leonard the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history.

Leonard passes San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, who signed his new deal at the outset of training camp that made him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker at the time.

“I’m a competitor. If you’re not first, you’re last,” Leonard said of besting Warner’s deal. “To have my name at the top, that’s something I don’t take for granted. I have to continue to go out and prove that. You’ve seen the [linebacker] rankings; I think I was sixth, I was No. 8 on Madden.”

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Leonard joins offensive tackle Braden Smith as the two players the Colts have locked up to long-term extensions during training camp.

Leonard stated he hopes to make his training camp debut this week after offseason ankle surgery.

The 26-year-old Leonard was a first-team All-Pro for the second time in 2020, when he had 132 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries while helping the Colts return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, when he led the NFL with 163 tackles and also recorded seven sacks.

A second-round draft selection in 2018, Leonard has 416 tackles in three seasons and also has 15 career sacks and seven interceptions. “We all know Darius, that chip has served him well,” coach Frank Reich said.

“Whatever level of disrespect he felt from all that, he’s used that as a motivator in [his] own way, but what I’ve learned to appreciate about Darius is he’s going to be motivated no matter what to be the very best. He’s going to hold himself to those standards.”

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Chris Hogan reaches deal with New Orleans Saints

After moonlighting as a lacrosse player this summer, veteran wide receiver Chris Hogan will return to the NFL and try to help the New Orleans Saints make up for the absence of injured star Michael Thomas.

Hogan, 33, agreed to a deal with the Saints on Monday, a source told ESPN’s Mike Reiss, confirming an NFL Network report.

As expected, Thomas was formally placed on the physically unable to play list Monday to start training camp. He is expected to miss time at the beginning of the regular season after having ankle surgery in June.

Hogan (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) will compete for a roster spot along with Saints receivers Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway and others in a position group that is thin on proven talent after New Orleans released veteran Emmanuel Sanders this offseason.

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Hogan won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots during a nine-year career that also saw him play with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.

But after playing in just 12 total matches with the Panthers and Jets in 2019 and 2020 while battling injuries, he briefly decided to switch careers this offseason and play in the Premier Lacrosse League before the Saints lured him back.

Hogan was a standout lacrosse player at Penn State before he spent a year playing football at Monmouth and joined the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

He was mostly inactive during his time in the PLL, starting with the Cannons before being traded to the Whipsnakes. Back in the NFL, Hogan brings versatility along with his experience.

He has lined up almost equally in the slot and out wide while catching 216 passes for 2,795 yards and 18 touchdowns in the regular season. He has another 34 catches for 542 yards and four TDs in the playoffs.

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Kansas City Chiefs re-sign defensive end Alex Okafor to 1-year deal

Veteran defensive end Alex Okafor has signed a one-year contract to return to the Kansas City Chiefs, just days before the first players start reporting for training camp.

The Chiefs did not disclose financial terms in announcing the deal Tuesday.

The 30-year-old Okafor has 30 sacks and 183 tackles in eight NFL seasons, including the past two with the Chiefs. He joined the club as a free agent from New Orleans in March 2019, signing a three-year, $18 million contract.

Okafor made an immediate impact in helping rebuild the Kansas City defense, recording five sacks and 21 combined tackles in 10 games. A torn pectoral muscle in Week 15 forced him to finish the season on injured reserve. He missed playing in the team’s triumph over San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV.

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The veteran signed a restructured contract in August 2020 that reduced his salary cap figure for that upcoming season by $2 million and voided the final year of his original three-year deal.

A hamstring injury limited Okafor to 11 games last season.

He finished with three sacks and 16 total tackles. He contributed in a backup role during the team’s playoff run, picking up five total tackles in three postseason contests, including one stop versus Tampa Bay in the team’s 31-9 loss in Super Bowl LV.

Okafor expects to compete for a backup role behind anticipated starters Frank Clark and Chris Jones as the team’s edge rushers. Competition at defensive end also includes veteran Taco Charlton, second-year pro Mike Danna and 2021 fourth-round draft pick Joshua Kaindoh.

Clark was charged in California with felony possession of an assault weapon stemming from a traffic stop in March. In June, he was arrested in Los Angeles after police said they saw a submachine gun in his car. Chiefs players begin reporting to training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph on Friday.

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New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley ‘doing well’ in ACL rehab, unsure of status for start of season

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley says he is “doing well” in his rehab from a torn ACL, but won’t put a timetable on his return or provide any public assurance that he will be back for the beginning of the new season.

The Giants open the regular season versus the Denver Broncos on Sept. 12, some 11 months after the major surgery on Barkley’s right knee. He also had MCL and meniscus damage.

“You know me. I’m going to take it one day at a time. Just come in with my head down and ready to work,” Barkley said Wednesday after spending the second day of mandatory minicamp inside the team facility while most of his Giants teammates practiced.

“It’s going to be whenever my body tells me I’m ready or I’m able to show everyone I’m ready again. That’s when I’m going to be able to go out there and hopefully be elite, what I was before but even better.”

This is the approach Barkley and the Giants are taking. They aren’t going to set any potentially unrealistic expectations for his return, thus putting any unnecessary pressure on him to get back on the field.

The tight-lipped Barkley wouldn’t even go into detail about where he is in the rehab process, although sources have told ESPN recently that there have been no significant setbacks and that he has progressed to jump-cutting. “Looks good,” one of the sources said.

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Barkley was also positive about the progress he’s making, even if he was unwilling to publicly provide the full details.

“I just expect to come in every single day and work hard, work my butt off, listen to the coaches, listen to the trainers, listen to the doctors,” he said. “I’m going to take it one day at a time. Whenever I’m able to, I guess you can say, go out there and participate with the team again, I’ll be ready.

“I’m doing well. I’m doing pretty well. Just taking one day at a time. Just listening to the trainers from [senior vice president of medical services] Ronnie [Barnes] to [director of rehabilitation] Leigh [Weiss] to all the way down and still being in conversations with [surgeon] Dr. [Neal] ElAttrache and [head team physician] Dr. [Scott] Rodeo. Just listening to them and taking it one day at a time.”

It has become clear in recent weeks that the Giants are going to take it slowly with the Pro Bowl running back. They are looking at this situation with a long-range view that prioritizes his well-being and future over the short-term gain of being ready for training camp or the start of the campaign.

Barkley is not expected to be full-go for the start of training camp, a source told ESPN last month. They aren’t going to put him on the field in live situations until he’s 100%. It’s entirely possible that might not be until October.

Barkley seems to be on board with the plan, although he admitted it’s difficult to be patient.

So for now and likely most of this summer, he will just have to envision how he fits into the offense alongside newcomers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Kyle Rudolph and several others.

Free-agent acquisition Devontae Booker is filling Barkley’s role in the meantime.

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Injury-bit San Francisco 49ers lose Justin Skule, Tarvarius Moore to season-ending injuries

After their 2020 season was ravaged by injury, the San Francisco 49ers hoped that 2021 would bring better health. They’re not off to a promising start.

During a planned team activity Monday, the Niners lost two players to what will almost certainly be season-ending injuries more than three months before the 2021 campaign initiates. Offensive lineman Justin Skule suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, and safety Tarvarius Moore tore his Achilles, according to a team spokesperson.

While neither Skule nor Moore has been an established starter for the Niners, both have played prominent roles in recent seasons.

Skule has played in 31 regular-season matches over the past two years with 12 starts at tackle and guard. He was expected to compete with Shon Coleman for the swing tackle job in training camp before the injury.

Moore had played a similar role in the secondary, appearing in all 48 regular-season games over the past three seasons with 13 starts. He had 49 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2020 when he started eight games. He was expected to compete for the starting job at strong safety before Monday’s injury.

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Without Moore, the Niners have a group including veterans Jaquiski Tartt, Tavon Wilson, Marcell Harris and Tony Jefferson, who signed on Monday, and rookie Talanoa Hufanga to compete for spots on the safety depth chart.

Skule and Moore are the latest in a long run of disappointing injuries to the 49ers.

In 2020, the Niners lost 161.6 games to injury, the second most of any team in the past 20 years, according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost metric (which also factored in players missing game for COVID-19 reasons).

Many of those injuries affected some of the Niners’ most significant players, as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, receiver Deebo Samuel, cornerback Richard Sherman and running back Raheem Mostert combined to play in 37 of a possible 112 games (33%).

After the season, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan vowed to “look at everything” to try to get and stay healthier in 2021. That included an increased emphasis on durability among the draft class and in outside free agents they acquired.

“What I’ve learned with some of our luck here, especially last year … when too many of those add up, it’s hard to compete,” Shanahan said in May.

“And I think that hit us harder than anything last year. That hit us before COVID, and that’s something we can’t do again. So, we’re not saying that we’ll never take a risk again or anything, but we definitely wanted to make a point because of what’s happened the last couple of years, at least to try to avoid that.”

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San Francisco 49ers DE Nick Bosa (ACL) expected to be ready for training camp

More than 80 of the players on the San Francisco 49ers’ 90-man roster participated in Tuesday’s organized team activity — but the most positive news of the day might have been about one of the few players who wasn’t there.

Defensive end Nick Bosa was not in attendance at the voluntary session as he works his way back from the torn left ACL he suffered on Sept. 20, 2020. But, after the roughly 75-minute OTA, coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear that Bosa’s rehabilitation is going well and the expectation is that when training camp opens on July 31, Bosa will be a part of it.

“Nick’s in Florida,” Shanahan said. “I’ve been talking to Nick since February on this. He came out in February for a while to get checked up on his knee and stuff. With him coming off the ACL and everything, it’s going great. … He’s got a good setup out there with his brother and the guy who works with his knee. They’re in contact with our guys all the time and just didn’t want to take him off his routine right now. I totally agree with him out there. He’s going to show up at some time during this, but he won’t be going out there doing anything coming off the ACL, but we fully expect him to be ready for training camp.”

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Getting Bosa back at full strength would be a big development for a defense that dropped from fifth in sacks in 2019 (48) to 22nd last year (30).

Bosa suffered the torn ACL early in a Week 2 win versus the New York Jets. It was the first of a series of season-destroying injuries for the Niners, who slumped to 6-10 after winning the NFC championship the previous campaign.

The 49ers’ pass rush would also benefit from the return of another key edge rusher if Dee Ford is able to recover from his persistent back issues. Ford, who appeared in just one game in 2020, also didn’t participate Tuesday, but Shanahan said Ford had been at the team’s facility since February and has made progress.

“Everyone knows the sensitivity of his injury with his back and stuff, but he’s been putting in a lot of work here and we feel it’s going the right direction,” Shanahan said.

“Last week, we sent him home because he had been here so long, to go back to his hometown, see his doctor and plan on coming back here in the next couple of weeks. But don’t expect to see him till training camp on the field.”

Also not participating Tuesday was running back Jeff Wilson Jr., who recently had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, a league source told ESPN, confirming an NFL Network report. Wilson is expected to miss four to six months.

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Texas Rangers reliever Jonathan Hernandez shut down from pitching at least 4 weeks with UCL sprain

The Texas Rangers will be without one of their top relievers to initiate the season after hard-throwing Jonathan Hernandez was shut down from pitching for at least four weeks because of a ligament sprain in his right elbow.

Rangers general manager Chris Young stated Tuesday that an MRI revealed a low-grade ulnar collateral ligament sprain after the right-hander felt something when throwing his last batting practice session.

Hernandez had a breakout season last year, when he was 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA in 27 appearances in the pandemic-shortened 60-game season. He had 31 strikeouts and eight walks in 31 innings, relying heavily on a sinker that averaged nearly 98 mph.

“The good news on him is that this [injury] is one that normally recovers and responds well with some rest,” Young said from the team’s spring training camp in Surprise, Arizona. Young also stated that outfielder/designated hitter Willie Calhoun is dealing with some mild groin tightness after playing Monday.

The team planned to be cautious with Calhoun for a few days but didn’t initially plan an MRI.

That game came exactly one year after Calhoun was hit in the face by a fastball that broke his jaw during a spring training game.

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Young said the Rangers would re-evaluate Hernandez after four weeks, and determine then if the 24-year-old’s ulnar collateral ligament has healed enough to begin a throwing program. He hadn’t yet pitched in a spring training game and will need significant time to build back up once he can throw again.

“Jonathan is obviously one we were counting on,” said Young, who expects the reliever to be out at least a couple of months. “This one hurts a little bit. But there’s still a chance he pitches this year.”

While Hernandez didn’t have any save opportunities last season, he pitched in some high-leverage situations. The Rangers expected to use him in a similar role this year, with maybe some opportunities as the closer.

“We kind of anticipated him being obviously one of our back-end guys, a multiple inning-type pitcher as well,” manager Chris Woodward said. “He’s an eighth-, ninth-inning guy that we can pitch for the eighth and the ninth if we wanted to. We don’t have that option with some of our other guys.”

Jose Leclerc is coming back from a shoulder injury the closer sustained a week into last season, when pitched in only two matches. Left-handed Joely Rodriguez, who had a 2.13 ERA and struck out 17 in his 12⅔ innings last season, is still behind in spring training because of a sprained ankle before getting to camp. He is expected to throw his first bullpen session Friday.

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