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Cam Heyward defends Ben Roethlisberger from naysayers at Pittsburgh Steelers’ OTAs

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PITTSBURGH — Cam Heyward is tired of the Ben Roethlisberger naysayers — so much so that he passionately defended his quarterback after the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ first on-field OTA practice Tuesday.

“When I hear the badmouthing about him being a not great quarterback and everybody is ready to elevate other quarterbacks, I’m like, what have they done?” Heyward said. “This guy is a proven winner, but yet we’re ready to discount him.”

Roethlisberger, 39, participated in Tuesday’s practice along with the three other quarterbacks on the Steelers’ roster. Early in the offseason, Roethlisberger restructured his contract, previously set to cost the Steelers $41.25 million in salary-cap space, to a one-year, $14 million deal with voidable years on the back end to reduce the team’s cap hit by more than $15 million.

Roethlisberger threw 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions last season and attempted 608 passes.

Although Roethlisberger threw seven interceptions in the last six games, including four in the home playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, Heyward believes in his quarterback.

“I think we’re just blowing it out of proportion,” Heyward said. “The dude went 11-0 to start the season. How many other quarterbacks did that? I think we can sit up here and talk about we lost the game last year. We lost to the Cleveland Browns. OK, so be it. We fell off at the end, but we still made the playoffs.

“But I’m not here to say my quarterback’s not able to do it. I’ve seen this guy win Super Bowls on TV. I’ve seen him day in and day out compete. You just get frustrated because I know Ben puts in work. I know how much he cares about this team.”

In addition to showing up for the first day of OTAs, Roethlisberger has welcomed some of the 2021 draft picks to Pittsburgh. During rookie minicamp, he hosted the offensive selections — Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green and Dan Moore — for dinner.

“He called me the day after I got drafted,” Freiermuth said during rookie minicamp. “He reached out, he’s an awesome guy. … He texted back and forth a little bit. It’s pretty cool seeing him when I was a young kid, watching the NFL, like, oh, that’s Ben Roethlisberger, and now, like, my locker is right next to him.”

Although OTAs are voluntary, Heyward stressed the importance of them for himself and Roethlisberger because it’s a chance for them to get to know the new players.

“For me and Ben, we try to cultivate relationships right now,” Heyward said. “We try to learn different guys in new positions. That just comes with time. I think there’s growth that can happen. For younger guys talking to older guys, and younger guys like to emulate older guys during this time, but going forward, I tell my guys, this is voluntary.”

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Joe Burrow puts injury out of his mind as Bengals try to be cautious – Cincinnati Bengals Blog

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CINCINNATI — Of all the things that happened during the Cincinnati Bengals‘ first practice of training camp on Wednesday, one development mattered more than anything.

Joe Burrow felt great.

A black brace supporting Burrow’s surgically-repaired left knee was the only indicator that the quarterback was a little more than eight months removed from a season-ending injury. Aside from that, Burrow went through all the usual motions that indicate the regular season is a few weeks away.

He lined up under center. He participated in 11-on-11 drills. He rolled out of the pocket with no issues. Burrow gave every indicator that he was close to full strength, which he indicated before Wednesday’s practice.

“It feels almost 100%,” Burrow said. “At this point, I’m not even really thinking about it.”

Throughout the offseason, the 2020 top overall draft pick said he was on track to start on Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. He participated in every organized team activity and in a one-day minicamp while he waited to get full clearance from his medical team. That came earlier in July, when he was authorized to resume all football activities.

Earlier this week, team owner and president Mike Brown indicated that Burrow would not participate in the three-game preseason. Third-year coach Zac Taylor echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.

“We’ll look at everything, every scenario about what would we gain out of it,” Taylor said. “If we’re going to put him out there, what exactly is that going to look like? Can we control it or not control it? We don’t have to make that decision today.”

Burrow, however, has a different idea. He said he wants to get a few snaps to feel the rush and even get hit a couple of times. And as beneficial as it might be for his rehab progress, feeling the contact has always been an indicator that football season was on the horizon.

“It doesn’t really feel like football until you get hit a little bit,” Burrow said. “That’s how it’s been for me since eighth grade. In scrimmages, I was always lobbying to be live. That’s how it’s always been. It’s just what I need to feel ready for Week 1.”

Fortunately for all the members of Bengals ownership who were watching practice, Burrow never came close to getting hit. He was perfect in 7-on-7 drills, the highlight a completion to rookie Ja’Marr Chase down the sideline with Chase dragging his feet before he went out of bounds.

The low point was on a type of movement Burrow said he lacked confidence in during OTAs. Toward the end of Wednesday’s practice, Burrow started right before he rolled back to his left to look for an open receiver. Linebacker Jordan Evans batted Burrow’s pass into the air in what could have been an interception.

Aside from that throw, Burrow showed all the progress of someone gearing up for a big second season in the NFL. Burrow completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions before he was injured.

He said he’s a better all-around player than he was a year ago, and he’s excited to show everyone the improvements.

On Wednesday, Burrow exuded confidence — in his knee, his rehab process and his abilities. He still needs to prove to himself he can make some of the plays he made as a rookie. But at the start of training camp, there was no apprehension.

“I’m just ready to go out and play some football,” Burrow said.

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Arizona Cardinals put J.J. Watt on PUP list with sore hamstring

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher J.J. Watt was put on the physically unable to perform list Wednesday after experiencing soreness in his hamstring after Tuesday’s conditioning test that kicked off his first training camp.

The injury kept Watt out of Wednesday’s practice, the Cardinals’ first of camp, and he said he didn’t expect to practice Thursday, as well. He later said he didn’t know when he’d be back on the field.

“We’re gonna take it very slow and be very smart about it,” Watt said. “I mean, it’s a hamstring, obviously, so you want to be very smart. Take your time.”

Watt said his goal is to be healthy for the Cardinals’ Week 1 game at the Tennessee Titans.

“Being in the league 10 years and the biggest thing that I know is that it’s all about Week 1, so it’s all about being ready for Sept. 12 and just making sure that we’re taking a smart, smooth approach to that day,” he said.

Watt, 32, signed with the Cardinals in early March after playing the first 10 years of his career with the Houston Texans.

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Receiver Kelvin Benjamin critical of New York Giants coach Joe Judge after his release

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Kelvin Benjamin was released Wednesday by the New York Giants and didn’t appreciate how it all went down for everybody to see. He was especially critical of coach Joe Judge, who he thought was doing everything to “kind of sabotage the situation.”

Benjamin explained his side of the story in a phone conversation Wednesday night with ESPN. He was in good spirits despite the spirited on-field confrontation earlier in the day.

“I’m good,” Benjamin said. “A little disappointment.”

Mostly about how the situation unfolded. It all began with Judge calling Benjamin over on the field prior to the first practice of training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. It was then that he told the converted wide receiver there would be a fine incurred for reporting to camp overweight.

Benjamin, who was trying to resuscitate his career as a tight end, said the Giants wanted him to report to camp at 251 pounds. He was 265 pounds in the spring and came in at 268 pounds for camp.

A Giants source confirmed Benjamin was going to be fined for reporting overweight, despite passing the conditioning test on Tuesday.

“First thing [Judge] said is I came in 15 pounds overweight,” Benjamin said. “So I’m like ‘How did I come in 15 pounds overweight when I was 265 for minicamp?’ And he said you left at 265 and came back at 268. Of course. I lift weights. I got more muscle.

“I’m basically smaller than I was as a wide receiver. I was like how is that possible? I’m a tight end now. How does that make sense?”

From there the situation continued to downward spiral, according to Benjamin. He claimed to be cursed out by Judge, who also brought up incidents that occurred during the spring.

But most of all, Benjamin was confounded by being confronted on the field prior to the start of the first summer practice rather than the situation being handled before practice behind closed doors.

“It was awkward,” Benjamin said. “It didn’t even make sense.”

At that point, general manager Dave Gettleman intervened. Gettleman had drafted in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers.

Benjamin walked off the field and into the locker room. He was followed by Gettleman.

“My mental state was thrown. I didn’t know what to do,” Benjamin said. “I just went to the locker room to calm down. Gettleman came in there and I could here in his voice that they were going to release me.”

The Giants ultimately released Benjamin on Wednesday afternoon. It ended his potential comeback bid.

Benjamin, 30, last played in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2018 season. The Florida State product was originally a first-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2014 when Gettleman was the general manager.

Benjamin has spent time in his career with the Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. He has 209 career receptions for 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns.

His biggest gripe with the Giants was undoubtedly Judge. Benjamin didn’t like the way Judge handled the situation and how he was treated.

“I think he was doing everything to kind of sabotage the situation,” Benjamin said. “I don’t know why.”

The Giants had Benjamin in for a workout during rookie minicamp in May. They signed him afterwards.

Judge and his staff coached Benjamin hard throughout the spring, much like they do all players. They were seen working with him constantly on finishing plays and protecting the football. It didn’t seem to be any different than the way they coach the rest of the team.

Somewhere, however, before the first practice of the summer, it all went wrong. Benjamin didn’t think it needed to go down this way.

“If anything they shouldn’t of had me come back to training camp,” he said. “It’s personal vendettas. That is what it is more than anything. They didn’t want to give me the opportunity to get on the field. [Judge] could’ve been a man about it.

“Of course they’re going to make it seem like I walked away. Where I quit. Anybody who went through a situation like that, I mean how can I practice at that point. At the end of the day right is right, wrong is wrong.”

And Benjamin is no longer a Giant, perhaps for the betterment of both sides.

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