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Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB job open despite Leonard Fournette’s return



TAMPA, Fla. — Four days after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed running back Leonard Fournette, who went from a backup during the regular season to 448 scrimmage yards in four postseason games, coach Bruce Arians said he is leaving the door open for who will start in 2021.

“No. That will all be defined through practice and OTAs and training camp and preseason,” Arians said Tuesday.

“There are no starters. This is a new football team. I made that message clear when they left, that that team won the Super Bowl. This team hasn’t done sh–. All those things will be defined in practice.”

It was a different tune from when Fournette first signed with the club in Week 1 of the regular season last year, and Arians made it clear that Ronald Jones would be the starter, something he reiterated throughout the season. It wasn’t until Jones suffered a broken finger that required surgery and was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list that Fournette saw starting action in Weeks 15-17.

That action continued when Jones suffered a quad injury just prior to the wild-card game at Washington, allowing Fournette to earn the moniker “Playoff Lenny,” and later “Lombardi Lenny.” Fournette started all four postseason games.

“Those guys. They all know what the system is. The best players are gonna play,” Arians said. “Obviously we had two really, really good ones at that position, and I really like Ke’Shawn Vaughn. I think with an offseason he’s gonna have a breakout year also. All those roles will be defined when we get to the last week of the preseason.”

When asked about wide receiver Antonio Brown, their only key free agent who has not been re-signed, and how quickly he hopes to have that position resolved, either by re-signing Brown or adding an outside free agent, Arians said, “[We’re] just gonna take our time. There’s offers out there, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Arians said that, just like last year, the team would consider drafting a quarterback to develop behind Tom Brady, even at No. 32 in the first round.

“We go into that every year. If the guy is there at the right time that we really think has a great future, and no better time than to have one sit for a couple years and learn from those two guys — each round, there’s gonna be one of those guys in that picture to try to see who’s the best available right then.”

Arians also provided an update on tight end O.J. Howard, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Week 4, just as he was getting into a groove with Brady.

“Yeah, he’s real close,” Arians said. “He’s not running on the grass yet, but he’s really close. The last time I checked, he was 80, 85% bodyweight running on Ultra G and he looks fantastic. I don’t see any setbacks. If and when we can get together this offseason program, on the field, he’ll be ready to go. What a huge addition to have him back because he was having a great year. … The sky’s the limit for what he can do in this offense.”

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Tim Tebow won’t be the first NFL training camp sideshow



The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Tim Tebow, and everyone lost their dadgum minds.

It seemed outrageously unacceptable that the Jaguars would devote a training camp roster spot to a 33-year-old who hasn’t played football in six years and is attempting to transition from quarterback to tight end. It wasn’t hard to feel cynicism toward the Jaguars and Tebow, especially when his jersey quickly jetted to the top of the NFL’s sales list.

There is, however, another way to view the training camp sideshow coming to Jacksonville later this summer, one that is decidedly less angry and more in line with NFL history. As it turns out, lots of NFL teams have used summer roster spots for less-than-super-serious purposes. They just came at a time when there was less scrutiny on every personnel move.

Some of those experiments worked out, most of them did not. But all of them have provided lasting wrinkles in the story of pro football. What follows are a handful of notable examples, all reminders that football is supposed to be fun and that some teams don’t take the 90th roster spot as seriously as you.

No one laughed when Lesnar started telling people that he wanted to try pro football. At 26, he was eight years removed from his last high school game. But he had rare physical traits, as a 286-pound professional wrestling champion who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and had a 35-inch vertical leap. He also benched 475 pounds, squatted 695 pounds and had delivered a convincing mean streak via his WWE character.

The Vikings were a natural landing spot, given his history as an All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota. Coach Mike Tice was hoping to spice up camp, if nothing else, and owner Red McCombs knew a winning sideshow when he saw one.

Wearing No. 69, Lesnar appeared in preseason games as a defensive tackle and a cover man on kickoffs. His most notable moment, though, was getting involved in a series of fights with Kansas City Chiefs offensive linemen during a joint practice. At one point, Lesnar ripped the helmet off a Chiefs player and, after being sent to the sidelines, stirred nearby fans into a frenzy.

Ultimately, the learning curve proved too steep. Lesnar went back to wrestling and kept pushing for new areas to dominate. He found one a few years later and won the undisputed heavyweight championship in the UFC.

1963: George Plimpton in Detroit Lions camp

Plimpton, 36 at the time, was a writer who helped pioneer immersive sports journalism. In other words, he figured that a good way to report on something was to participate in it. So he started pitching NFL teams on a training camp invite as a “last-string quarterback” to give him material for a book. Plimpton found a taker in the Lions, who hadn’t been to the playoffs in five seasons and wouldn’t go back for another eight.

The book was called “Paper Lion,” in which Plimpton demonstrated the wide gap between amateur and professional athletes. Coaches and team executives were aware of the bit, but Plimpton asked them not to tell players because, he wrote, “I’d like to be thought of as just another rookie.”

Wearing No. 0, Plimpton got a handful of snaps in an intrasquad scrimmage — the offense moved backward on each play — and had hoped to play in a preseason game before commissioner Pete Rozelle barred it, according to later reports. But the experience was rich enough to spawn a book that led to a movie starring actor Alan Alda, who received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance. The Lions went on to 5-8-1 record, missing the playoffs, but their issues went far deeper than a pretend backup quarterback.

Five decades later, Plimpton’s book spawned a similar project. Author Stefan Fatsis convinced the Denver Broncos to let him kick in their 2008 camp and later published a book titled, “A Few Seconds of Panic.”

NFL teams had been pursuing track stars for decades by the time Nehemiah entered the scene. But Nehemiah, who had set a world record in 110-meter hurdles the year before, generated a frenzy among NFL squads when he expressed a desire to play in the NFL. Washington figured it had the inside track on signing him, given Nehemiah’s time as a University of Maryland student, but the 49ers swooped in with the first contract guarantees in franchise history to secure him as a training camp receiver.

In reality, those guarantees ensured that Nehemiah would make the team — even though it had been five years since he played football. Given his speed, it made sense to put him on the field if for no other reason than to stretch defenses.

Like his track/football predecessors, he struggled with drops. For a time, his name was synonymous with the idea that elite speed can’t paper over inexperience with the game itself. But the real turning point in his career, he later told Sports Illustrated, came when he was knocked unconscious by a hit in 1983.

In 40 games over three seasons, Nehemiah caught 43 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns.

1969: Jimmy “Oops” Hines in Miami Dolphins camp

A gold medalist at the 1968 Olympics, Hines was the first man to break 10 seconds in the 100-meter dash. That was more than intriguing for NFL teams, who had also pursued fellow 1968 star Tommie Smith and would later do the same for John Carlos. The Dolphins, who were in their third year of existence and had a combined 7-21 record in their previous two seasons, drafted Hines in 1968. Based on his 100 time, Hines qualified as the fastest player in the history of the NFL at that point.

But he had never played football before, and let’s just say Hines earned his nickname during training camp. After assigning him the No. 99, the Dolphins found out that he couldn’t catch the ball with any consistency. They didn’t give up on him, however. After all, you can teach people to catch, but you can’t teach speed. Or so they thought.

Hines spent the 1968 season on a taxi squad. He made it onto the field for nine games in 1969 for the Dolphins and one for the Chiefs in 1970. He finished his NFL career with two receptions for 23 yards, one 7-yard carry and a 22-yard kickoff return.

1965: “Bullet” Bob Hayes in Dallas Cowboys camp

Some of these unorthodox experiments have actually worked. To be fair, Hayes had more football experience than most of the other track stars that NFL teams later tried to convert. He had been recruited to play football at Florida A&M, where he also developed into an Olympic-level sprinter.

The Cowboys and Denver Broncos both used future draft picks to secure his rights in 1964, after which he went to the Olympics and won two gold medals. He joined the Cowboys in the summer of 1965. No one knew what to expect, but his impact was immediate: Hayes’ speed was the talk of camp.

“It was like he was melting, he was so fast,” fellow receiver Frank Clarke reportedly said.

He could catch, too. Defenders couldn’t stay with him, and they lost ground on even the shortest routes. Hayes led the league in touchdown receptions in both 1965 and 1966. His speed changed the game, requiring defensive coaches to sharpen zone defenses and sparking an intense scouting search for speed from any source.

Hayes was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, having finished his career with a telling average of 20 yards per reception.

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Dallas Cowboys star Dak Prescott leaving Adidas for Jordan Brand, source says



Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is leaving the apparel company Adidas and signing a five-year agreement with the Jordan Brand, a source close to situation told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Prescott will be the only Jordan Brand quarterback, the only Cowboys player and the highest-paid NFL player on the Jordan Brand roster, Schefter reports.

Prescott’s deal was negotiated by his marketing agent Peter Miller of JABEZ Marketing Group and the Jordan Brand team, according to Schefter.

The Cowboys and Prescott agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract, including $126 million guaranteed, in March.

Prescott had been with Adidas since his Pro Bowl rookie season with the Cowboys in 2016. Mississippi State, where Prescott played in college, was an Adidas school when he was there.

Prescott won’t be the first notable Cowboys player to be linked to the Jordan Brand. Former Dallas star Dez Bryant was associated with the company when he was with the Cowboys at the end of his career.

The news comes after Prescott pronounced himself back from a dislocated and compound fracture of his right ankle that forced him to miss 11 games in 2020.

“I’ve buried the injury,” Prescott said on Wednesday.

ESPN’s Todd Archer contributed to this report.

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Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins spending offseason rewatching whole career



EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins added a new element to his offseason enrichment program.

Instead of doing the usual unpacking at the end of the Minnesota Vikings‘ 7-9 finish in 2020 by watching all 16 games to evaluate his individual performance, the 32-year-old quarterback did something he had never done before.

“This year, I decided to go back and really watch my whole career, watch a couple other offenses to see what they have been doing, or what they did the year they had a lot of success,” Cousins said. “I do think that time looking at tape through the winter and spring, and even now as I go home through the summer after next week, I do think that it’s helpful now to see what has worked in the past, what I want to make as a staple for myself as I move forward, but then also, where I have improved and where I need to improve.

“That evaluation certainly comes from your coaches, day in and day out, but there’s also got to be an ability to self-evaluate and say, ‘I like what I’m doing there; keep doing that,’ or, ‘That’s not good enough — I want to improve that.'”

Cousins has appeared in 109 games since being drafted by Washington in the fourth round in 2012 and has started 104, including 47 games since signing with the Vikings in 2018. The sheer volume of game film is something he hadn’t had access to until recently, which allowed him to up the ante with his self-scouting.

“I wanted to go back and really just study, create cutups and really build up some volume that I can pull from as we go forward,” he said. “I regret I hadn’t done it earlier in my career but I did get the film set up in my house to basically have access to all of that so that all offseason, even if I’m not in the facility, I’d have access to tape. I do think it’s been a very valuable resource to have and I’m kicking myself I didn’t do it sooner in my career. It was just a piece that hopefully can help me improve this coming year.”

In spite of Minnesota’s 1-5 start, the Vikings boasted a top-10 offense throughout the second half of the 2020 season before missing the playoffs. Cousins’ bounce-back following a Week 7 bye resulted in the QB throwing for 4,265 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 67.6% of his passes. Minnesota’s offense featured a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher (Dalvin Cook) and 1,000-yard receiver (Justin Jefferson) for just the eighth time in franchise history and second season in a row.

Asked about what he has gleaned from his expanded film-watching sessions, Cousins cited a line from ESPN’s 2011 documentary the “Brady 6,” which recapped Tom Brady‘s college career at Michigan and the careers and lives of the six quarterbacks taken before the future Hall of Famer was selected with pick No. 199 in 2000.

“[Brady] was quoted as saying, ‘I watch myself on film, and to this day, I still don’t feel like I’m that good,'” Cousins recalled. “And I really felt that sentiment. When he said it, I was in college, but I understood what he meant. And now going back and watching my career, I would echo that sentiment. I’ve watched myself in ’12 and ’13-14 and think, ‘Man, I’m such a better quarterback now. I can’t believe that the coaches didn’t just cut me when I did that and made that mistake. I can’t believe they were patient with me.’ Because nowadays looking back, it would just be unacceptable to myself, allowing myself to play that way or make that read or make that throw or that decision.”

Among Cousins’ biggest takeaways from watching the entire catalog of his NFL playing career came from rewatching his years in Washington, where he supplanted Robert Griffin III for the starting job at the end of the 2014 season through 2017.

Being able to revisit the tendencies of his playmakers in Washington and how it affected the way Cousins transitioned to playing with new receivers in Minnesota was an eye-opening moment for the quarterback.

“What just jumps out as the players you play with,” Cousins said. “You realize that the way Pierre Garcon ran a route or Desean Jackson ran a route, that affects you in the way you play and the way you think, and then you come to a new team and you’re trying to tell Adam Thielen to run a route that way, and he’s saying, ‘No, I don’t do it that way.’ So just the process of then learning those players and saying, ‘OK’ and understanding that you always have to be aware of what your teammates do well and try to put them in those positions to be successful.”

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