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Free beer, wrestling and Super Bowl memories

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Inside the bright sunlit garage of George Kittle‘s offseason Nashville home is a makeshift gym comprising the usual suspects: a bench in the center, plates, bands and mirrors strung up against the walls.

The interior of his garage — Kittle’s personal air-conditioned bubble, perfect for pandemic social distancing — is adorned with flags from the University of Iowa, the 2019 Pro Bowl and the United States of America. They’re an expression of who the San Francisco 49ers tight end is.

Then, there’s the unmistakable crown jewel:

“I’ve got a StairMaster if you wanna work out,” Kittle says, not kidding.

Mixed in with dozens of bottles of Gatorade in the corner of the garage is the occasional Bud Light or Bud Light Seltzer box. And there are plenty more throughout the house.

“You guys want a beer to take home or anything?” Kittle asks the masked and gloved members of the camera crew who have arrived to film the interview. “You guys like seltzer? I get it for free.”

That’s George Kittle. He is incredibly authentic while simultaneously generous with his time, and with his stuff. Like everyone else, he’s just trying to stay safe and keep busy during the pandemic while also, in his case, maintaining his mantra on the field: cero miedo.

Wrestling and the Super Bowl

Underneath the rack station in the corner of the garage are folding chairs from WrestleMania 35 — literally, Kittle’s actual seats from the event — which he attended in New York last year. On the cushions are collages of the faces of some of its stars, like Ronda Rousey and Dave Bautista.

It’s a nod to Kittle’s love of WWE, one he professes regularly on Twitter. But one wrestler is missing, the one who inspired Kittle’s mantra and his first-down celebration: Mexican superstar luchador, Pentagon.

The gesture is simple, and Kittle encourages everyone in the room to try it: Extend your arm and put three fingers in the air — your middle finger, ring finger and pinkie — form an “O” with a closed circle of your thumb and pointer finger. Then swing it down.

If it seems familiar, that’s because, of Kittle’s 85 catches last season, 53 of them went for first downs. Sitting in the garage and shaking out his first haircut of the pandemic, Kittle recalls exchanging gifts and mutual respect with Pentagon at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans.

When asked about his gift from Pentagon, Kittle jumps out of his chair quickly to go get it. Two minutes later, he returns to the garage with a bright red and gold luchador mask.

“This is his mask, but he customized it,” said Kittle, who gave Pentagon a jersey. “There’s a dragon on the side. It’s in the 49ers colors. He threw up the number 85 on there for me. It’s definitely one of my favorite items that I own.”

“Don’t ask my wife, but I definitely walk around the house in this thing.”

For Kittle, cero miedo — “zero fear” in English — isn’t just a flashy gesture to annoy his opponents after a first down. It’s his attitude. It’s an audacious mindset that enables Kittle to see only the positive, especially in how his 2019 campaign ended: the 49ers 31-20 loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. A loss, he says, that could be considered the “lowest of lows.”

Still for Kittle, there’s always an upside.

“The fact that I got to meet The Rock was pretty special,” he says.

The pregame introductions for Super Bowl LIV had The Rock, former WWE superstar Dwayne Johnson, introducing players to the crowd and the TV audience with some swagger and some trash talk — WWE style.

“Straight from the People’s Champion himself,” Johnson began, while gesturing for Kittle to join him on stage, “allow me to introduce you … to the People’s Tight End.”

Kittle pauses to remove the hair tie from the man bun that’s been sitting on top of his head, and shakes out his hair again.

“I felt like a little kid meeting a superhero,” he says. “That was one of the coolest things about the whole Super Bowl. I took his one bottle of tequila that he had. It was delicious.”

The season ahead

This offseason hasn’t been the best of times for anyone, but Kittle’s personal gym — StairMaster included — has been a haven during quarantine, his own bubble of safety and isolation where he immunized his body and his mind for the field.

It’s a big year for Kittle, who, after back-to-back seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards, is due for a new contract in the spring.

This week, as he finds himself more than 2,000 miles away in Santa Clara, contemplating what could be a complicated football future, he’s already prepared to face whatever comes next.

“When you’re playing football, you have to have that zero fear,” Kittle says. “Because if you’re scared, you’re going to maybe not reach out for a ball, because there’s a safety in the middle of the field. Or you might not want to make a play because you’re going to be hit really hard.

“You have to have zero fear.”

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Vikings LB Cameron Smith discovers heart condition after positive COVID-19 test

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings linebacker Cameron Smith said he will miss the 2020 NFL season due to a congenital heart condition he only discovered after testing positive for COVID-19.

Smith, a fifth-round pick in 2019, announced Saturday he will have to undergo open-heart surgery to fix a bicuspid aortic valve. It’s a procedure he didn’t realize he needed until he tested positive for the coronavirus and underwent further testing.

“Although this will unfortunately end my 2020 season, it is really a blessing that we found this as my heart is severely enlarged and wouldn’t have lasted much longer,” Smith wrote in an Instagram post.

The linebacker said that the surgery will allow him to continue to play football once healed and that he “didn’t think twice about going with that one.”

Smith was a four-year starter at USC, where he totaled 354 tackles for the Trojans and earned All-Pac-12 honors in three seasons. He appeared in just five games for the Vikings in his rookie year and notched eight tackles.

Minnesota added linebacker depth on Saturday by signing former Raiders linebacker Quentin Poling. The team waived running back Tony Brooks-James as the corresponding move.



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NFL training camp 2020 – Larry Fitzgerald still has it, while Browns and Lions get key weapons back

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As 2020 NFL training camps continue, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald shows that age is nothing but a number while the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions each got key offensive weapons back in the fold.

Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:

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Browns WR Jarvis Landry passes physical, rejoins active roster
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry has been activated off the physically unable to perform list after passing his physical and has rejoined the active roster. Landry, who hasn’t missed a game over his six years in the NFL, underwent hip surgery on Feb. 4 after battling an injury there throughout last season. The Browns on Saturday also activated safety Karl Joseph (foot) and tight end Pharaoh Brown (foot) from the off physically unable to perform list, and claimed cornerback M.J. Stewart off waivers.

Lions’ T.J. Hockenson among 3 removed from reserve/COVID-19 list
The Lions activated tight end T.J. Hockenson off the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday, over a week after he first went on the list at the start of training camp. Hockenson, the team’s first round pick last season, had 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season before suffering a right ankle injury on Thanksgiving against Chicago that ended his year.

Source: Seahawks’ Quinton Dunbar to be removed from commissioner’s exempt list
Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar is being removed from the commissioner’s exempt list, a source told ESPN, confirming an NFL Network report. The move is expected to become official Sunday. Dunbar’s removal from the exempt list allows him to re-join the Seahawks at team headquarters, which he’s expected to do as early as Sunday. Dunbar could still face an NFL suspension.

Washington releases RB Derrius Guice shortly after arrest
The Washington Football Team released Guice on Friday night, less than two hours after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in Loudoun County, Virginia. Washington wasted little time in releasing Guice, saying in a statement that it had learned of a domestic violence-related incident Thursday. The team alerted the NFL and met Friday with Guice to let him know he was excused from all team activities.

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“Duce has always been someone that can control the room. He demands respect and guys do respect him.”

Eagles TE Zach Ertz, on Duce Staley.


What our NFL Nation reporters saw today

On Sunday morning, Cory Undlin will step in front of his defense for the first time at the Detroit Lions practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan. He’s seen them for months now, but until Sunday he hasn’t been able to actually be face-to-face with any of them. At least in real life. The Lions new defensive coordinator was hired in January and met with his players over Zoom all spring until now. “To say excited would be an understatement, obviously,” Undlin said. “The respect that I have for virtual meeting right now and the way that whole spring was, and I talked about this a lot in June, if you’re having a conversation with somebody and you’re able to look them in the eye, like we are right now, I don’t care if you’re in person or not, this classroom, this media situation we’re in right now, we’ve been doing this all spring and I’ve got a great feel for all those guys and I think they all have a great feel for me, whether we’re in the meeting room or virtual however. But there is obviously a different feel after you can do it for six months and now you’re physically in the same room. There is a difference. We know that. And I can’t wait.” — Michael Rothstein

The transition from Doug Pederson to Duce Staley has been “seamless” according to tight end Zach Ertz. Staley is manning the day-to-day operations while Pederson quarantines after testing positive for the coronavirus. “Duce has always been someone that can control the room,” said Ertz,. “He demands respect and guys do respect him.” Pederson continues to lead a lot of the team meetings virtually, “giving us direction at the end of the day,” Ertz said. — Tim McManus

Panthers coach Matt Rhule is optimistic there will be football this season at Bank of America Stadium even though the North Carolina governor this week extended Phase 2 of COVID-19 re-opening another five weeks to at least September 11. Rhule says he can’t imagine a safer environment than the one that has been created at BOA for coaches, players and staff members. So far the Panthers haven’t placed a player on the NFL’s Covid-19 list. Whether all this will lead to some fans attending games Rhule can’t say. He’s preparing for all scenarios. “Obviously, we want to play in front of fans,” Rhule said. “We also want to be safe.” — David Newton

The Rams have placed DT A’Shawn Robinson on the active/non-football injury list, the team announced Saturday.

Lindsey Thiry, ESPN3h ago

Following up on Jeremy Fowler’s report that Panthers LT Russell Okung considered the NFL’s COVID-19 opt out and hasn’t ruled out retirement. According to Okung’s agent, J.I. Halsell, retirement only is on the board if Okung is “not feeling comfortable in his work environment due to an outbreak of COVID. At this moment, we’re nowhere near that scenario, meaning consideration of retirement is nowhere near imminent.” Okung missed 10 games last season with the Chargers with a pulmonary embolism due to blood clots. Halsell said Okung fully plans to play for Carolina this season unless the current COVID-19 situation takes a turn for the worse. — David Newton

Giants veterans had their first day off. This after they completed their fifth day of the acclimation period Friday. The acclimation period is eight days total before they enter a four-day ramp-up period when they can actually do 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills (without pads). — Jordan Raanan



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Lions’ T.J. Hockenson among 3 removed from reserve/COVID-19 list

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The Detroit Lions activated tight end T.J. Hockenson off the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday, over a week after he first went on the list at the start of training camp.

Hockenson, the team’s first-round pick last season, had 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season before suffering a right ankle injury on Thanksgiving against Chicago that ended his year.

The Lions are counting on Hockenson to play a pivotal role in his second year as the team’s top tight end, paired with Jesse James.

The Lions have slowly returned to health after having eight players land on the COVID-19 list in the first week — including quarterback Matthew Stafford, who ended up with a false positive that helped lead to alterations to the NFL’s testing protocol. Stafford was activated Tuesday.

In addition to Hockenson, cornerback Amani Oruwariye and punter Arryn Siposs were also activated from COVID reserve on Saturday. Oruwariye is in line to be Detroit’s top depth cornerback. Siposs, a former professional Australian Rules football player who then went to Auburn, is competing for the team’s punting job with Jack Fox.

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