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Ohio State football coach Ryan Day says QB Justin Fields ‘checks all the boxes’ as NFL prospect



Ohio State coach Ryan Day thinks quarterback Justin Fields “checks all the boxes” as an NFL prospect and will become a franchise player for the team that drafts him next month.

Fields, who started the past two seasons for Day at Ohio State, goes through his pro day workout Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio. The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Fields passed for 5,373 yards, 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a Buckeye after starting his career at Georgia in 2018.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper last week projected Fields to go No. 3 overall in the draft to the Carolina Panthers, after fellow quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Kiper’s mock draft was published before the San Francisco 49ers traded up to the No. 3 spot.

“Whatever they teach in terms of a scheme, he’s going to pick that up very, very quickly,” Day said Monday. “And he’s very, very competitive. So when you combine the talent, the size, the arm strength, his competitiveness, his toughness, his intelligence, it kind of checks all the boxes. If you were trying to design a quarterback, to me, Justin fits that prototype.”

Day noted that Fields didn’t play four years of college football and should have an even higher ceiling in the NFL. Fields is set to become the second Ohio State quarterback drafted in the first round in the past three seasons, after the program had none between Art Schlichter in 1982 and Dwayne Haskins in 2019.

“Whether he’s ready-made to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, that’s up to them, every team has to make their own decision,” Day said of Fields. “But I know this: Everything you invest in that kid, you’re going to get back. It’s just a matter of the fit.

“Someone’s going to take a shot at him here early in the draft and they’re going to have a franchise quarterback for a long time.”

Fields’ departure means Ohio State must select his replacement from a group of talented but inexperienced options: redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller, and true freshman Kyle McCord. Ohio State started spring practice last week and will only start installing third-down plays Wednesday.

Both Stroud and Miller were ESPN 300 recruits in 2020, while McCord, who enrolled early, is ESPN’s No. 31 overall player in the 2021 class. Day noted that the starting job won’t be claimed on one day, and the process of selecting the top quarterback could even spill over into the season.

“I’d love to sit here and tell you that I think we’ll have a great feel for it in two weeks or three weeks or in the fifth practice of preseason, but I don’t think so,” Day said. “The more we’re around them, the more we get a feel for it, the more it shakes out. But even going into that first game, you’ll still be learning and trying to evaluate it all.”

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Breakout season by Irv Smith Jr. a key to elevating Vikings’ offense – Minnesota Vikings Blog



EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings began preparing for life after tight end Kyle Rudolph three years ago when they drafted Irv Smith Jr. 50th overall.

They found a “perfect fit” in Smith as college scouting director Jamaal Stephenson gushed about all the ways they could use the tight end to create mismatches by placing him out wide, in-line or in the backfield.

Smith’s potential made the Vikings believe they could be more explosive on offense. Now, that hypothetical has a chance to become reality.

Smith, 22, is the top tight end on the roster after the Vikings parted with Rudolph in March after 10 seasons. Knowing what was on the horizon, Smith sought out different methods that would benefit his increased workload.

Smith sat down with his long-time trainer at the start of the offseason to brainstorm new methods for improvement and areas of focus. He restructured his diet with the help of his cousin, a registered dietician who recently graduated from Tulane, to prevent feeling heavy or sluggish on the field. And he came back in “phenomenal shape” this spring, according to offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak.

The Vikings got a glimpse into what the future at tight end could look like when Rudolph, 31, missed the final four games of the 2020 season with a foot injury. In that span, Smith turned 20 targets into 183 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

That’s a far cry from earlier in the season when Smith was a non-factor against Indianapolis, Tennessee and Houston. He turned things around in consecutive games against Seattle (four catches, 64 yards) and Atlanta (four catches, 55 yards, TD), but his most consistent production didn’t come until he supplanted Rudolph as TE1.

Smith has the opportunity for more playing time, but coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t expect his role to be much different.

“I think it’s a bigger role for [fellow tight end] Tyler Conklin,” Zimmer said. “He’s kind of emerged as a guy that’s moving upward and with those two guys, we have a lot of weapons there. Irv always has been able to do what he’s been able to do whether Kyle was here or not. Obviously, Kyle’s a great kid and we miss him, but we’re excited about these two young tight ends that we have.”

Smith was limited to 13 games in 2020 because of a groin injury and had 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns. Expectations for increased production will depend on how the Vikings utilize his skill set.

Rudolph’s role in the passing game decreased during his final season in Minnesota, particularly in the red zone where he went from a team-high 12 targets in 2019 to five in 2020. But the receiving ability of Smith and Conklin (19 catches, 194 yards, TD) may push the Vikings to more two-tight end sets.

“Those two tight ends, they can play wideout too,” Kubiak said. “Those guys are extremely versatile. They’re complete tight ends: run, block and line up in a two-point stance and go at you. So in addition to that, we have our halfbacks we’re going to use in the pass game as well.

“So there’s no criteria. It’s like who’s the third-best wideout? It might be a tight end. It might be the halfback in the game at that point. But we have a lot of options, and we’re working on identifying who those options are come the fall.”

His targets were limited from 2019-20, but Smith made the most of his opportunities by hauling in 73.3% of his catches and posting a 139.7 passer rating when targeted.

The Vikings still barely know what Smith is capable of because he only began to scratch the surface of his potential midway through last season. They viewed him as a middle-of-the-field threat and a heavy contributor in the passing game when they drafted him in 2019. Now he gets the chance to show if he can be that guy.

“This offense is really cool because you can line guys up all over the place,” Smith said. “Now just refining in on the details and learning the whole concept, not just, ‘OK, what do I have on this play or this play?’ Now it’s, ‘If I was out here, what would I do?’ Know what I’m saying? Just trying to break it down in detail so I can just go out there and play fast.”

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Answering Texans’ QB questions – What are the chances Deshaun Watson plays again in Houston?



HOUSTON — As spring workouts wrap up in the NFL, the makeup of the Houston Texans‘ quarterback depth chart has become a little clearer with the additions of Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills, but Deshaun Watson’s NFL future remains in limbo.

Watson didn’t show up for voluntary organized team activities. Mandatory minicamp is June 15-17. If Watson doesn’t attend, he would be fined $95,877 unless the Texans opt to make the three-day minicamp voluntary or cancel it entirely, as several other NFL teams have.

Here’s a look at the Texans’ quarterback situation and where things stand in Houston:

What are the chances Watson plays in Houston again, and what does that mean?

It seems unlikely Watson, the Texans’ 2020 starting quarterback, will play again for the team. Two months after asking for a trade because he reportedly wasn’t happy with the way Houston handled the search for its general manager, the first of 23 lawsuits were filed against him. There are currently 22 active lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by Watson.

Hours before the first lawsuit was filed March 16, the Texans agreed to a one-year, incentive-laden contract with Taylor. He said last week when he signed with the Texans he wasn’t “for sure about” whether he’d be the starting quarterback, but that he saw it as “an opportunity for me to be able to showcase what I can do.” Later in that same news conference, Taylor said, “the opportunity to be able to start here is something that I look forward to.”

First-year head coach David Culley said last week “you can tell by what we’ve seen on the field that [Taylor has] been listening, he’s been picking up the offense.”

“I feel like from what we’ve seen out there the last few days that he is right where we feel like he should be,” Culley said.

But even if Taylor starts Week 1, it doesn’t necessarily mean he will be under center for the whole season. The Texans drafted Mills in the third round — their first pick of the draft — in April, and he will likely get a long look this season.

It’s quite possible the Texans eventually trade Watson once the legal process plays out and get a high 2022 pick, and it’s even more possible they play poorly enough for their own first-round pick to be near the top of the draft. Houston needs to know confidently whether Mills is in the cards for the future or if they should use a top pick on a quarterback next April.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Taylor has lost playing time to a rookie quarterback. In 2018, he started the first three games for the Browns before suffering a concussion and being replaced by Baker Mayfield. Last season, Taylor started one game before a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung with a pain-killing shot while attempting to treat a rib injury before a Week 2 game. He was replaced by Justin Herbert, who kept the starting job and went on to be named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Watson is still on the Texans’ roster. What is the status of the 22 active lawsuits?

After a lot of public sparring between lawyers Rusty Hardin (the attorney for Watson) and Tony Buzbee (the attorney for the 22 plaintiffs), it has been relatively quiet as the law firms go through the discovery phase.

Both Hardin and Buzbee said last month that the two sides are not in settlement discussions.

According to the docket for the case, if these lawsuits continue to trial, depositions are set to begin in September. The plaintiffs would be deposed before Watson, who can’t be deposed before Feb. 22, 2022.

Without a settlement, the lawsuits would not be resolved before the 2021 NFL season.

What about any criminal charges?

Last month, Buzbee told Fox 26 in Houston that eight to 10 of his clients have met with the Houston Police Department. The next day, an HPD spokesperson told ESPN the investigation into allegations against Watson is “ongoing” but would not say how many women have spoken with law enforcement.

Even if Watson settles the lawsuits, he could face criminal charges.

What does that mean about Watson’s status for 2021?

The NFL is conducting its own investigation into the lawsuits and according to Buzbee on Fox 26, at least four of the plaintiffs have spoken to the league.

“The allegations are very concerning and the league immediately began investigating the matter under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to ESPN in May. “The investigation includes gathering information, monitoring law enforcement developments and conducting interviews with relevant people willing to participate with counsel present.”

One possibility is commissioner Roger Goodell puts Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would mean Watson would not count toward the Texans’ active roster, would have to stay away from the team and be paid. If Watson is suspended, he won’t be paid.

Watson is scheduled to make $10.5 million in 2021 on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Because of the contract extension he signed in September 2020, Watson’s salary jumps to $35 million in 2022.

If Watson is not put on the commissioner’s exempt list before training camp and chooses not to report, what are the financial implications?

The Texans could fine Watson up to $50,000 for each day of training camp missed, plus one week’s salary — $620,000 — for each preseason game he misses.

Unlike the old CBA, fines cannot be forgiven by the team. If Watson misses mandatory minicamp ($95,877), 28 days of training camp ($1.4 million) and three preseason games ($1.86 million), he could be looking at being fined more than $3.3 million, and that’s before the regular season.

We’re past June 1. Why does that matter for a trade?

While it seems unlikely that a team would trade for Watson while he’s in legal limbo, it could happen. Had the Texans decided to trade the quarterback before June 1, all $21.6 million of his remaining signing bonus ($5.4 million times four years) would have accelerated into Houston’s cap for 2021.

But now that it’s past June 1, $5.4 million would count toward the cap for 2021 and the $16.2 million of dead money (from the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons) becomes part of the 2022 cap.

Could the Texans trade him midseason?

They could trade him before the trade deadline in early November, but it seems unlikely the Texans would get as much value as if they waited until the end of the season. If Texans general manager Nick Caserio does decide to trade Watson, he’d rather know what pick he’s trading for, instead of making a deal in the middle of the season and hoping for the trade partner to lose. It’s the same reason some felt if the Texans were going to trade Watson before this season, they would do it before the start of the draft.

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Former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel dies at 71



Former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel has died at the age of 71, his son, John, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times on Monday night.

Fassel was the head coach for the Giants from 1997-2003. He was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 1997, and guided the Giants to three playoff berths.

Fassel’s Giants team lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001, after going 12-4 and winning the NFC East that season. Fassel was 58-53-1 overall with the Giants.

In addition to coaching the Giants, Fassel was a longtime NFL assistant, holding offensive coordinator roles with the Giants, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Ravens.

Fassel also coached in the college ranks, leading Utah from 1985 to 1989.

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