Monthly Archives: July 2017

Jerry Jones said, NFL to Ezekiel Elliott

OXNARD, California — Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones backed Ezekiel Elliott as the running back awaits possible discipline for an alleged domestic violence incident last July in Columbus, Ohio.

“I have reviewed everything, and there is absolutely nothing — not one thing — that had anything to do with domestic violence,” Jones said at the Cowboys’ opening news conference at training camp in Oxnard, California.

Jones, however, would not delve into whether Elliott could still be suspended by the NFL under the personal conduct policy. A player does not need to be charged or found guilty by the law to be penalized by the league.

“My opinion is there’s not even an issue over he-said, she-said,” Jones said. “There’s not even an issue there.”

From the beginning, Jones has supported Elliott, who was accused by an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence. Elliott has proclaimed his innocence, and after the Cowboys’ season ended in January, he hoped for closure.

That might be coming soon, as the NFL nears the completion of its investigation. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported recently that Elliott’s camp is bracing for a short suspension.

Meanwhile, a source said Elliott was involved in an incident at a Dallas bar on July 16 that left a man with a nose injury. Dallas police have since suspended the investigation because they have not been able to locate the victim, and no witnesses have come forward.

Jones spoke with Elliott early last week, and coach Jason Garrett spoke with Elliott on Friday, when players reported to camp.

“I think Zeke’s a smart guy,” Garrett said. “Zeke understands what we’re talking about. Zeke understands what the standards are for our football team. I think he understands what he needs to do to reach those standards on and off the football field. We’ll continue to work with him, just like we will with all our players.”

The Cowboys arrived in California after an array of issues the past few weeks. Linebacker Damien Wilson was arrested on July 4 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Defensive lineman David Irving, who has already been suspended the first four games of the season because of a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, did not show up on reporting day Friday and is facing a fine from the team. Wide receiver Dez Bryant arrived late on reporting day. Rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis is not with the team, as he has a misdemeanor domestic violence court case set for Monday.

“I think at the end of the day, we all know as a league — we discuss this on the Competition Committee — that this dead period from the last day of minicamp/OTAs … ’til you actually start training camp is a tough period for every club,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Jerry told me when I was young, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,’ and so at the end of the day, we’d love to have these guys who are around … going to work every day, and those are some of the challenges because infallibility is a tough thing. There’s no such thing as perfect that I understand in terms of individuals. And so is it disappointing when a player makes a bad decision? Of course it is. It’s disappointing, but you have to deal with it. The players know they’re going to be held accountable, and they’ll have to work through whatever that situation is. We’ll have to do the same thing, and we’ll move forward from there.

“But there’s no question that this time frame, as we’ve all seen about what’s going on in other markets, all teams have this issue, and there’s something that we want to continue to look at and how we can do better in terms of helping our players and giving them more resources so that they will make better decisions in the future.”

Tony Romo: Aaron Rodgers can not play until the age of 45

Tony Romo knows firsthand what Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are capable of.

The former Cowboys-quarterback-turned-CBS-analyst doesn’t see either passer fading away any time soon.

“I think Aaron is one of those guys who is uniquely talented. Special player in our league for a long time. He can go as long as he wants to,” Romo said during Wednesday’s edition of Total Access on NFL Network. “If he stays injury-free, he may be in his eyes on the back nine, but as long as he wants to continue to take hits, he’ll be able to play until he’s 45.”

With Brady also planning to play deep into his fifth decade, Romo believes both star signal-callers are built for the task.

“I mean, he has that kind of talent and ability,” Romo said of Rodgers. “One thing that goes sometimes for quarterbacks as they get up to the 40 level, their legs and their arms start to go a little bit. You just don’t see the same pop in the ball. And a little bit is they just don’t want to take the same hits they’re used to taking. Their body just doesn’t want it the same way they once did.

“I think what you find is that Tom Brady is kind of re-shaping that a little bit, and almost allowing him mentally to change that,” Romo said. “Tom’s throwing the football as well as anybody in the NFL. Aaron will be able to do that same thing if he wants to.”

At age 37, Romo is making these comments months after walking away from the rigors of the NFL. He undoubtedly could have played longer, but the idea of multiple current starters in the NFL playing beyond 40 — much less 45 — is aggressive.

Peyton Manning’s rapid decline — fairy-tale ending aside — is another reminder that the human body will eventually rebel. While Brady’s adventures into peak-performance diet and training has paid dividends, we have no idea how long he — or Rodgers — will last.

Romo ultimately serves as a reminder of how quickly our plans can change.

Top five receiver duos: Odell Beckham/Brandon Marshall at No. 1

In a passing league, certain skill-position players — namely wide receivers — have more value than ever before. Inherently, NFL teams scour the football world for as many talented wideouts as they can find — the more, the merrier — with the intention of putting together a 1-2 punch that’ll force opposing secondaries into coverage conundrums.

I spent the first eight of my 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts lining up across from Marvin Harrison. With future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning under center and Edgerrin James in the backfield, our offenses were some of the best in history (Football Outsiders can back me up here). In taking a closer look at our receiver roles, Marvin and I were able to have success because of how we approached practice. I can’t ever remember taking a rep off. We treated drills like we were in a game, building on-field chemistry along the way. In pushing each other daily, the games became the easier part.

With free agency and the draft in the rearview, I surveyed the NFL’s receiver duos heading into the 2017 season. Here are my top five:

5) Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson in 2016: 73 receptions for 883 yards and six touchdowns.
Hurns in 2016: 35 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns (in 11 games).

I know this tandem’s production significantly dropped from 2,431 combined yards in 2015 to just 1,360 in 2016, but I like the way these two play. This pair has accomplished a lot in spite of inconsistent quarterback play from Blake Bortles. After missing the final five games of 2016, Hurns is healthy and should return to 2015 form. The Jaguars selected Leonard Fournette in the draft and will likely put more emphasis on the run game, opening up the field for the Allen boys to make a splash in 2017.

4) Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Cooper in 2016: 83 receptions for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns.
Crabtree in 2016: 89 receptions for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns.

Cooper and Crabtree emerged as one of the NFL’s best receiving tandems in their first season together (2015) — but they took it to an even higher level during Derek Carr’s MVP-caliber 2016 campaign. Last year, Carr showed he was the leader of a dynamic Raiders offense, but his two receivers showed flashes of brilliance, proving they can carry the team in big games. Cooper and Crabtree had 172 combined receptions in 2016, tying for most in the league by a tandem with Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. (The Raiders’ pair finished third in combined receiving yards with 2,156.) Looking ahead, I’m not sure how defenses will handle Oakland’s offense now with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield because we all know you can’t overlook him. But you can’t slight Cooper and Crabtree, either.

3) Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans in 2016: 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Jackson in 2016 (with Redskins): 56 receptions for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns (in 15 games).

The Bucs made a brilliant move signing DeSean Jackson. It gives Jameis Winston’s offense the best of both worlds. Jackson, who averaged nearly 18 yards per catch last season, is a fast deep threat with rare home-run ability. Meanwhile, Evans is a big-bodied guy who can come down with a jump ball and dominate the middle of the field. Evans proved himself as one of the best wideouts in the game in 2016, with 81 percent of his receptions resulting in first downs.

2) Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Thomas in 2016: 90 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns.
Sanders in 2016: 79 receptions for 1,032 yards and five touchdowns.

Thomas and Sanders each managed to rack up 1,000 receiving yards with below-average quarterback play in 2016 and 2015. Everybody knows I love Peyton Manning, but in his final year in the league, his arm wasn’t the same as when he was dropping dimes left and right to Marvin and me. In 2016, the Broncos’ tandem finished in the top five among receiving duos in combined receptions (fourth with 169) and receiving yards (fourth with 2,115). These two aren’t necessarily the flashiest guys, but they have a proven track record of being at the top as far as WR duos.

1) Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, New York Giants
Beckham in 2016: 101 receptions for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Marshall in 2016 (with Jets) : 59 receptions for 788 yards and three touchdowns (in 15 games).

Brandon Marshall might be the best red-zone receiver in the league (along with Jordy Nelson), and the Giants sure could use the help in that category. Big Blue ranked 22nd in red-zone efficiency a year ago, only converting touchdowns 51 percent of the time. OBJ has been a star since he entered the league. He has yet to have a season with less than 1,300 receiving yards. He’s a home-run hitter and can score at any time — racking up 534 yards after the catch (YAC) in 2016. Both of these players demand the full attention of opposing defenses. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone can stop this tandem.

Julian Edelman grabbed him and his very ugly foot

He made the play of Super Bowl LI, a bobble-stopping grab of a tipped Tom Brady pass that propelled New England to an overtime victory. How does Julian Edelman top that? Try leaping through the air fully nude at his Body Issue photo shoot a few weeks later. Reporter Morty Ain caught up with the Patriots wide receiver to discuss all things body, including how he developed the focus — and grip strength — necessary to make that miracle play.

You’re nearing the end of your offseason; how have you been keeping in shape off the field?
Sometimes you eat a little too many hamburgers [laughs] and have a little too much fun after a season and you start feeling a little slacky. But the older you get, the more you realize how precious it is to be in the National Football League, and you see all the young talent and the guys who are grinding. So I firmly believe you think about that, and the best way of staying in shape is never getting out of shape.

Obviously my goal No. 1 every year is to play in every game. That should be a high priority because sometimes durability can get you past ability. People think it’s just a 16-week season, but this is a 52-week kind of job. You’re always thinking about how to improve and what to get for the next year. I know what time of year it is from how my body looks.

Have to ask: How were you able to make that amazing “shoe catch” during the Super Bowl?
The No. 1 rule you’re taught as a receiver: You’ve just got to watch the ball. You hear about the guy who was lucky. But the guy who was lucky got an opportunity, and he was prepared for it. Sometimes the ball falls your way, and, you know, we’ll take it.

So what was some of the preparation that went into you making that catch?
When I’m tired, I like to go and do drills where you catch tennis balls off walls. Different colors use different hands, and you’ve got to react to those types of things at different angles. I do all these crazy reaction-time things or reaction skills with tennis balls every morning, or at least four times a week. After that catch in the Super Bowl, I go up to the guy who throws for me — he’s one of our equipment guys — and I go, “It’s because of the tennis balls!” It’s because you’re reacting so quick. It all helps you out in the end.

 

Peggy Sirota for ESPN
Also, I’ll do a circuit of hand exercises in rice buckets. I’ll swoosh my fingers from right to left [in the rice] for 20 seconds, 30 seconds. And then you go swoosh them in the other direction. And then you grab and claw the rice and you rotate your wrists so you’re getting different movements in the fingers. And then I’ll go and I’ll dig to the bottom, all the way to the bottom of the bucket and you come back up. So you’re doing that for 30 seconds. Then you’re doing pianos where you just go and you just piano the rice, like you’ve got two chords, for 30 seconds. Then you grab some rice and squeeze it as hard as you can for 30 seconds.

Where’d you learn that?
My dad was a big drill guy. When I got to the pros, I’d never really caught punts. So he would tape one arm behind my back or he’d make me use one arm, and he’d have my sister or my buddy Kurt throw little tennis balls at my face while my dad would get on the top of a press box at our high school. He would punt the balls off there because he couldn’t get them high enough, and I’d have to catch them.

Then he got a pair of sunglasses and he would tape one eye off. I had to catch the ball with only one eye and one arm to try to make it really hard. And he used to make me run routes in between, like, you know how you have a tennis court and there’s six tennis courts in a row? There’d be a bunch of nets, and he’d make me do routes in between all these poles and stuff so I would be aware.He was just always thinking about these one-hand catches when I became a receiver. He’d always try to work my mental side.

You’ve said you’ve always had a chip on your shoulder. Where did it come from?
When I first started playing Pop Warner, I was really small. I was 8 years old and I was always the real little kid, and because I always got beat up by my older brother I would never take anything from anyone else. I was never scared of anyone who was two, three years older than me just because I wasn’t afraid of getting hit or competing. And that’s just how I was, and that’s how my dad brought me up. I would go into my dad’s room when I was real young, and I’d say, “Dad, when am I going to grow?” Because he was a late bloomer. When he was 17 he was still a small kid too. I’d go in there crying and be like, “Pops, when am I going to grow? I’m sick of being short.” And he goes, “Don’t worry, son; just keep battling. I’ll just tell you right now, one day it’s going to be unfair.”

What’s something about your body that might surprise us?
I’ve got very ugly feet. The moment I got in the NFL — when I started having to do these cone drills and learning how to run routes, and your feet are just constantly going in and sliding and hitting the back or the front of your toe — my feet have just gotten so ugly. I’ve got a bunion on my right one. My toenails are all jacked up. I’ve got scars on the side of them. I’m embarrassed of them. I don’t try to hide them, but I don’t wear sandals, I’ll tell you that right now. No words can describe them. They look like grim reaper feet. Tales of the crypt. Remember “Tales From the Crypt”?

If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
My hands. I’ve broken every finger. My pinkie’s all jacked up; it gets in the way with handshakes and catching the ball sometimes. I broke it when I was a little kid playing Pop Warner, and then I broke it again later. I got it caught in a face mask, and the guy yanked his head and my pinkie got ripped. Through the years, it just doesn’t straighten anymore.

You jam multiple fingers catching balls. Tommy [Tom Brady] will throw a seed or Jimmy [Garoppolo] will throw a seed or Jacoby [Brissett] will throw a seed, and sometimes you’re laying out in different, awkward positions; you can dislocate a finger there. A lot of times in the blocking game, you’re blocking a DB or a safety, and you battle those guys and you’re trying to clench their shoulder pads. You’re shooting your hand so quick that sometimes your pinkie will get caught, and you look at it and it’s looking the other way.

What other kinds of injuries have you sustained?
I’ve broken both of my feet. I broke my forearm — my radius one time and then my ulna, so I have two scars from that. I had labrum surgery on my right labrum when I was in college. I broke my jaw. I messed up my left knee a little bit back in the day. I tore my PCL. I’ve had hernia surgeries. I had adductor release surgery early in my career, so I had to get those ripped up, so I had bilateral hernia and groin issues going.

There’s an old saying: “You can’t make the club in the tub.” You do everything you can to get back. You play hurt. Our sport’s different, man. There’s incentive to play because if you don’t play, you don’t get paid. Our contracts aren’t guaranteed. You’ve got to get back quick, because everyone’s good.

Do you think there’s anything unhealthy about how you treat your body?
Every time you look at a scar, you see how hard you had to grind to get back to where you could play, and play at a high caliber. So they’re like little victories. It’s not like a victory getting hurt — it sucks — but when you look down and you say, “Man, that was a tough rehab process,” you do get kind of proud, I guess.

I’m proud of this last foot injury. [Edelman fractured his left foot in 2015, requiring two surgeries.] This was a tough year. To go out and play 16 games is a testament to having a good group of people around you that give you the right things to work on. I kind of knew what I could do to rehab it and when to come back, but I think it’s always that little bit of doubt that makes you work harder. There’s that little thing in the back of your mind, the fear of failure. It drives me nuts. I think I hate losing more than I love winning.