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Zimmer open to punter/kicker Vedvick doing both

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EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL hasn’t seen a full-time combo kicker since Frank Corral handled all aspects of kicking and punting for the Los Angeles Rams in 1981.

The Minnesota Vikings have routinely allotted two roster spots for their specialists who handle kicking and punting duties, but after sending a 2020 fifth-round pick to Baltimore in a trade for Kaare Vedvik on Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer says he’s open to the idea of letting the second-year punter/kicker do both.

“Yeah, if he’s good enough I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Zimmer said. “But I don’t know. Again, I think everything is a possibility at this point.”

Vedvik is set to compete with Vikings kicker Dan Bailey and punter Matt Wile for one or more starting roles. In the Ravens’ preseason opener last Thursday, Vedvik was 4-for-4 on field goals against the Jacksonville Jaguars, with makes from 55, 45, 26 and 29 yards. He also booted a 58- and 53-yard punt against the Jaguars.

The Norway native, who played soccer growing up, came to the United States in high school, where he learned how to kick field goals. Upon attending Marshall University, Vedvik added punting to his repertoire. By his senior season in 2017, he was handling both kicking and punting for the Thundering Herd and earned first-team All-Conference USA honors as a punter, made 10 of 16 field goals and was 41 of 42 on extra points.

“Then coming into the Ravens they also gave me the opportunity to do all three in the preseason [in 2018] and it has continued to now,” Vedvik said.

The Ravens were already heavy with their group of veteran specialists between kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch, so Vedvik’s phenomenal preseason debut last week provided him the opportunity to win a starting job elsewhere.

In Minnesota it could be as a kicker, a punter or both. But the challenges of handling that workload aren’t lost on Zimmer.

“It’s probably difficult for a rookie, I would think,” Zimmer said. “You’ve got a rookie snapper and then you’d have a rookie punter and a rookie kicker and then you’ve got to find somebody to hold.”

On Monday, Vedvik worked with Vikings specialists on a side field, wearing a No. 7 jersey that didn’t have his name on the back yet after a whirlwind 24 hours. He booted field goals of 60 and 62 yards off the tee in practice and booted punts in front of special teams coaches. The Vikings did not have a field goal period in practice on Monday.

The capacity to do both jobs plays into Vedvik’s confidence that he can manage his body in practice should he be asked to punt and kick.

“It’s just about being smart,” he said. “You know, don’t overdo anything, keep it efficient, keep it effective, be smart about the reps you do, so when you execute reps you execute them well. Then you get to manage that workload that way. It feels pretty much just like doing any of them.”

Addressing the trade for the first time on Monday, Zimmer said he wasn’t looking for additional kickers ahead of when Minnesota traded for Vedvik, and again voiced his support for Bailey, the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, who has had an up-and-down preseason and has yet to notch a perfect practice.

Some of those struggles, Zimmer noted, are related to the holding situation with Wile, while others may be a correlation of Bailey having to work with two long snappers. On Sunday night, Minnesota released veteran long snapper Kevin McDermott in favor of Austin Cutting.

“I like Dan Bailey a lot,” Zimmer said. “So I called Jerry Rosburg when there was a possibility this might happen because I wanted to find out about this kid [Vedvik]. Jerry Rosburg was the special teams coach in Baltimore and a good friend of mine. I asked him, is he a punter, is he a kicker, what is he? Is he a kickoff guy? He just said he’s an NFL talent. So that’s where we went from there. I still don’t know what he is. And I won’t know for — I definitely won’t know today.”

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Cam Newton’s future with Panthers dependent on health, David Tepper reiterates

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Quarterback Cam Newton said during Super Bowl week in Miami he “absolutely” will return to the Carolina Panthers in 2020, but owner David Tepper isn’t ready to make that commitment.

“Listen. I’m not a doctor,” Tepper said on Tuesday. “I’ve said it a million times, is he healthy? He’s not a doctor. There’s a lot of different things that can happen. Is he healthy? And then we can talk.”

Newton had Lisfranc surgery on his left foot in early December. The team, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, wants to work the 2015 NFL MVP out in March to see where he is with his rehabilitation.

Newton, 30, was adamant in several radio interviews before the Kansas City Chiefs defeated San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV that he had “no worries” that he would be back at Carolina. He said he was inspired by his conversations with Tepper and new coach Matt Rhule.

However, Tepper has not publicly said Newton would play this season for the Panthers. He stayed on point Tuesday after his foundation, along with the John M. Belk Endowment and Carolina Panthers Charities, donated $120,000 to go toward new school supplies for 17 Title 1 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

“Look, I’ve said again and again about it, it’s a question of how healthy he is,” Tepper said. “That’s still the No. 1 overwhelming thing, to see how healthy he is and to figure out when he’s healthy or not. Everything comes from that.”

Tepper was asked if any teams have shown interest in trading for Newton. Understanding that would be tampering, he cracked a joke about his wife answering phone calls before saying “I haven’t heard about that.”

Newton originally suffered the injury during the third preseason game and then aggravated it in a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay. He didn’t play the final 14 games, ultimately going on injured reserve before having what was described as “successful” surgery by Dr. Martin O’Malley.

During that time, coach Ron Rivera was fired and eventually replaced by Rhule, the former Baylor coach.

“Through my vantage point, I know I want to be in Charlotte,” Newton said during an ESPN radio interview in Miami. “I know I want to stay in Charlotte. Everything else in pretty much in my own destiny.

“And I’m in the position right now where I told even Coach [Rhule] that you won’t find nobody that’s more dedicated and probably more hungry than myself to not only prove to him and the fans but to prove to myself … that I’m still capable of playing this game of football at a high level.”

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Source — Bills rework final three years of Star Lotulelei’s contract

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ORCHARD PARK, NY — The Buffalo Bills and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei have agreed to a restructured contract for the remaining three years of the deal, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates.

Originally signed to a five-year, $50 million contract in 2018, Lotulelei will now earn a fully guaranteed base salary of $4.5 million in 2020 with up to $1 million in roster and workout bonuses.

He will receive a $6.15 million base salary in 2021 with up to $600,000 in bonuses and a $4.6 million base salary with up to $1.75 million in bonuses in 2022.

The move saves Buffalo roughly $5.4 million over the next three years as it reshapes its defensive line. The team spent a first-round pick on Ed Oliver in 2019 and a third-round pick on Harrison Phillips in 2018 — both of whom project to dominate snaps at Lotulelei’s position in 2020.

Lotulelei’s projected $8.1 million cap hit is slightly higher than the $7.8 million in dead cap money Buffalo would have been responsible for if he was released before the 2020 season but saves the team $3 million — giving the already salary-cap-rich Bills even more room to work with during a pivotal offseason.

With a projected $83 million in cap space, Buffalo can focus on its proclaimed goal of extending its cornerstone players — including left tackle Dion Dawkins, linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Tre’Davious White.

The additional cap space also gives the Bills room to sign its free agents; general manager Brandon Beane expressed interest in bringing back defensive end Shaq Lawson after the latter’s career year in 2019, while offensive guard Quinton Spain said he’d like to negotiate a deal to stay in Buffalo before free agency begins in March.

Lotulelei was a first-round selection in 2013 by the Carolina Panthers, where he recorded 11.5 sacks and 28 tackles for a loss in five seasons. In two seasons in Buffalo, the Utah product has recorded two sacks and four tackles for a loss.

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Inside the New York Guardians’ debut — ‘Most important game we’ve ever played’

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Guardians are running late. The digital clock on their locker room wall at MetLife Stadium says it’s time to get on the field, but this opening-day moment deserves extra time.

Coach Kevin Gilbride, standing in the middle of the room, gives the pregame pep talk he had been waiting 22 years to deliver. In a 90-second speech, he ignites the players with well-crafted words that focus on teamwork, toughness and opportunity. The late Herb Brooks, of U.S. Olympic hockey fame, would’ve been proud.

Before they break, former NFL quarterback Matt McGloin, 30, the oldest and most accomplished player on the Guardians, provides the encore.

“Every single one of us, we all come from different backgrounds, different places,” a fired-up McGloin tells his teammates. “We’ve all had a different journey and a different career to get to this f—ing point. And s—, man, if this isn’t the most important game we’ve ever played …

“This s— doesn’t get any better than this.”

The room erupts with a roar and a few expletives as players head for the locker room exit. Welcome to the world, Guardians.

Salty but heartfelt, McGloin’s impromptu speech captures the mood of the team and the entire XFL, for that matter. It should be the soundtrack for the new professional league — comprising eight teams and a few hundred football stories — which opened its 10-week regular season with four games over the weekend.

The Guardians are led by Gilbride, 68, who left a comfortable retirement in Rhode Island to coach in his old haunt. He won two Super Bowl rings as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants, but there’s something that pulled him back.

Maybe it’s the same something that fuels his players, an eclectic group of journeymen willing to live in a hotel and ride buses to keep their forever love of football alive. On Sunday, they would celebrate a 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Vipers, culminating months of organizing, planning and practicing.

During the run-up to the opener, ESPN was granted access to player-coach meetings, team meals and practices. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the Guardians prepared for their debut:

Friday

8:30 a.m. (53½ hours to kickoff)

The early-morning chatter in the Guardians’ team room dissipates as Gilbride enters and walks to the front, past a side wall that features a motivational quote from one of his mentors, Tom Coughlin.

“No toughness, no championship.”

On this day, it serves as Gilbride’s message to the team.

Fifty-two players and 11 coaches are gathered on the 11th floor of the Sheraton Mahwah, near the New Jersey-New York border, 30 minutes north of MetLife Stadium. The players, seated in black leather desk chairs, are separated by seven rows of tables.

The hotel is their home base for the season, creating the odd juxtaposition of millennial pro athletes and everyday 9-to-5ers. While the Guardians have their own space on the 11th floor — 17,000 square feet of offices, meeting rooms and a makeshift locker room — the floor also houses corporate offices for an insurance agency and a media company, among other businesses. It makes for interesting elevator rides. (Psst, the hotel’s WiFi password is Guardians2020.)

“Good morning,” Gilbride says to his team.

Before he dives into the business of football, Gilbride focuses on the business of the XFL, noting how league founder Vince McMahon — ever the promoter — wants players and coaches to embrace the spotlight. Unlike the buttoned-up NFL, the XFL emphasizes transparency.

On that note, Gilbride yields the floor to the two-person public relations staff, which delivers a 10-minute presentation that covers everything from media relations tips (show personality but stay positive) to pregame marching orders.

For instance: The players are instructed not to wear their helmets when they leave the tunnel for introductions. The league’s goal is name-face recognition for TV viewers. This is unlike anything they’ve experienced before. Cameras and microphones are everywhere — the sideline, halftime locker room, etc. It’s not just football; it’s a show.

Before adjourning, Gilbride punches up a message on the screen: “Pillars of mental toughness.” This is a constant theme for Gilbride, who knows his audience. The room is filled with castoffs, players told by the NFL they’re not good enough.

“The thing that has jumped out to me is they’re more fragile than I’m used to,” Gilbride says later in a quiet moment. “Most of them have been in the NFL and have been let go, so they’re questioning themselves. They’re more easily bruised when things don’t go well or when a coach gets after them.”

So he stresses mind over matter. Standing in front of the team, he quotes ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, who wrote “The Art of War,” and a contemporary commander under whom he served. He recites the Coughlin quote from the wall and punctuates it by tapping his heart.

He wants a team of fighters.

“Look at the [Kansas City] Chiefs,” Gilbride tells the players. “Every freakin’ game, they came back.”

9:30 a.m.

McGloin writes in a spiral notebook as he reviews practice tape in the cramped office of quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. They’re joined by backups Marquise Williams and Luis Perez. McGloin takes copious notes, perhaps too copious.

“Maybe I’m overpreparing at this point,” he says later. “It’s been a while.”

McGloin hasn’t played a game in two years, not since he started a game for the Oakland Raiders in 2016. His football journey, a story about overcoming long odds, has lasted longer than anyone could’ve predicted. He wants to keep it alive, but not for the reason you might think.

10:20 a.m.

Wide receivers coach Mike Miller wants no distractions, so he makes sure the eight receivers in his meeting room leave their cellphones at his desk for the duration.

Like the rest of the position groups, they focus this day on plays inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. In 99.9% of the football-speaking world, it’s known as the red zone. In the Gilbride/Coughlin world, it’s the green zone.

Green as in “go.”

When the meeting is over, Joe Horn stops by Miller’s desk. Once upon a time, his father, former Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn Sr., famously celebrated a touchdown by pulling out a cellphone. The younger Horn, who joined the team late because of a trade, has bigger concerns than his phone. Still learning the offense, he stays later than the rest to have Miller explain a specific play.

10:40 a.m.

The offense conducts an impromptu walk-through in the middle of the Guardians’ main office. McGloin is barking signals as the linemen and running backs carry out their assignments. The limited space makes it look like a crowded dance floor at a wedding. McGloin can’t drop back more than a few feet because there are desks along the back wall. It lasts less than five minutes.

11 a.m.

Gilbride, seated at his desk, is speaking via cellphone to the Fox Sports broadcasting tandem, play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt and analyst Greg Olsen. This is a production meeting, something NFL coaches do every week during the season.

They discuss the roster, the depth chart and the game plan. Gilbride notes that Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, 78, gave him his first NFL job, hiring him as the Houston Oilers quarterbacks coach in 1989. He also reveals he won’t be calling the plays, which surprises Burkhardt and Olsen.

“This is my chance to keep my big mouth shut,” Gilbride tells the Fox crew.

Everybody laughs.

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