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Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones, WR Allen Lazard, LB Rashan Gary active vs. Los Angeles Rams

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Jones has gone from tears on the sideline thinking his season might be over to missing only one game as the Green Bay Packers running back is active and available for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Packers also cleared receiver Allen Lazard (shoulder) and outside linebacker Rashan Gary (elbow) to play after missing last week’s game.

Jones suffered a right knee injury on Nov. 14 against the Seattle Seahawks and was seen in tears coming out of the medical tent shortly after he was examined on the sideline. It turned out to be a sprained MCL with a prognosis that would keep him out one-to-two weeks, and that turned out to be only last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Had the Packers (8-3) held out Jones on Sunday against the Rams (7-3), it would have effectively given him three weeks off because they have their bye next week.

“I would say if a guy’s cleared to play, we’ll let him go,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said on Friday. “But you’re also mindful of what you have in front of you. And certainly we never want to put somebody in a position where you could subject them to greater risk where they could be out for a longer period of time.”

Jones leads the Packers with 541 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He also ranks second on the team with 37 catches for 298 yards and four receiving touchdowns.

AJ Dillon started in place of Jones last week at Minnesota. He and No. 3 running back Patrick Taylor are also active in case the Packers want to limit Jones’ touches.

They are still without three of their five preferred starters on the offensive line: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and Josh Myers. There’s still hope that Bakhtiari and Myers could play this season, but Jenkins is out after tearing his ACL against the Vikings.

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Why Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill had to pivot this season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Used to providing big plays and long touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs, Tyreek Hill sounded weary earlier in the season with his new role as more of a possession receiver.

“It’s hard, especially for me, because I’m used to going 80 [yards] every play,” Hill said after a Week 10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in which he caught two touchdown passes, one from 1 yard out and the other from 8.

“Coach [Andy] Reid, he’s just got to keep me calm on the sideline. I’m a head case, man. I’m used to going down the field. Now I’m running 12-yard ins. That’s not something I’m used to.”

Hill has had to adapt this season with so many teams using two deep safeties against the Chiefs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown him shorter routes underneath the coverage rather than not getting him the ball at all. And it has worked.

Exhibit A: His 64-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter of last week’s divisional-round playoff win over the Buffalo Bills. Hill caught the pass around midfield for what would have been a modest gain, but he turned on the jets for one of several late scores that propelled the Chiefs into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals (3 p.m. ET, CBS).

“He’s excellent after the catch,” said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety. “You talk about catch-and-run ability, his is near the top of the league. That’s why you see Kansas City throw so many quicks, throw so many unders and use him on wide receivers screens. That allows him to play to his ability of attacking open grass.”

Hill (and his speed) is the reason for the Chiefs facing so many defensive looks with two deep safeties designed to take away his ability to get the big play. It’s a defensive concept the Chiefs have seen in the past but one that was proved especially effective by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. In the season that has followed that Super Bowl loss, the Chiefs faced two high safeties 54.8% of the time, according to ESPN Metrics and NFL Next Gen Stats. That was not only the highest percentage in the league this season — by nearly 5% — but the highest in at least the past five years.

“You have to respect the speed,” Bowen said. “It creates consistent conflict for opposing defenses. What you’re going to get is more two-high looks because defenses are threatened by his ability to get down the field.”

Those looks caused the Chiefs and Mahomes to sputter at times, especially early. But it wasn’t just Mahomes who had to adjust as opposing defenses worked to take away the many big plays that were the signature of the Chiefs’ offense.

Hill is another player who had to learn another way of doing things. He caught 13 passes this season of 20 yards or more, and 26 receivers around the NFL had more. As a comparison, Hill caught 27 passes of 20 or more yards in 2018 — most in the NFL. He averaged 11.2 yards per catch during the 2021 regular season, or fewer than tight end Travis Kelce, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle and running back Derrick Gore. In 2018, he averaged 17 yards per catch to lead the Chiefs among their regulars.

Hill might not have loved his new role during the 2021 season, but he took to it nicely. His 111 catches broke Kelce’s year-old team record.

“That one is supposed to be held by a wide receiver. The tight end isn’t always the focal point in the offense,” Kelce said. “Tyreek has done an incredible job of taking his game to the next level. Sure enough, you see him breaking records … and he’s just going to keep taking off. It’s so fun to play with him.”

Speed and quickness are obvious assets for Hill, but he has always fought back on the notion that he’s not a complete receiver. Wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said Hill practices more than deep routes.

“He’s always asking to run different routes and more types of routes and more variety,” Bleymaier said. Then, noting Hill’s displeasure with not getting more big passes, he added, “At times, I just remind him, ‘You were asking for these routes back in the day when you were just running downfield.’

“It’s all an adjustment period for Tyreek. He’s made so many plays down the field and he loves doing that. We still ask him to do that, but [also other routes including] the 12-yard ins or the facing-the-quarterback, back-to-the-defense type of routes that are open for him.

“We always want to get Tyreek the ball. The more times it’s in his hands, the better for everybody.”

In the last three games of the regular season, Hill caught nine passes for 61 yards, or an average of less than seven yards per reception. His long catch was just 17 yards.

He busted out in the playoffs, though, catching a 31-yard touchdown pass in the wild-card-round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers before his 64-yarder against the Bills.

“Pretty much every coverage he has two people on him or two people kind of shadowing over the top of him, and he’s still getting himself open, making tough catches over the middle of the field,” Mahomes said after the Steelers game. “He’s really evolved his game, and at the end of the day, whenever he gets into those man coverage situations … you can always hit him over the top for touchdowns.”

This version of Hill is not what the Chiefs imagined when they drafted him in 2016. Hill played just one season of Division 1 football — at Oklahoma State in 2014 — rushing 102 times for 534 yards to go with 31 catches for 281 yards. Hill was dismissed from Oklahoma State after the 2014 season following charges of domestic assault and battery by strangulation on his then-20-year-old girlfriend. He pleaded guilty, received three years of probation and finished his career at West Alabama.

When the Chiefs drafted him in the fifth round — behind 16 other receivers — they saw the obvious speed and quickness but didn’t necessarily see him developing a wide range of talents like he showed this year.

“When he came here, he was raw,” Reid said. “He had been a running back [in college], so you could imagine. That’s a big change. They flexed him out and did all that stuff, but that’s kind of where he was. Every year he’s gotten better. Now, he’s refining all of those wide receiver skills that he’s learned here, and with his talent, he’s a tough one to stop.

“Normally, people have ways of trying to double him, which is a compliment to him and his ability, but he’s learned to work through it. He’s better in space, he’s more patient against man, setting things up, so my hat goes off to him. He’s worked very hard at that.”



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New Minnesota Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah focused on finding coach as first major task

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EAGAN, Minn. — Not even a full day into his tenure as the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is already “deeply involved” in the team’s search for its next head coach, according to co-owner Mark Wilf.

Speaking at his introductory news conference Thursday, Adofo-Mensah reiterated that the conversations he has had regarding candidates are only in the beginning stages but that the direction the franchise wants to go in is clear.

“We know what we want to find,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We want leadership, we want somebody who is going to value the collective over the individual, we want somebody who has a vision, who can communicate, who has a solid football foundation, who understands how football is interconnected and what that means. That’s been our focus in these last few days honing in on what we want. In terms of specific names, we’re going to meet after this and talk about that further.”

The Vikings’ search has been narrowed down to six candidates after sources confirmed to ESPN that the Denver Broncos had hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn withdrew his name from head-coaching searches, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini.

Minnesota’s options now include San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Adofo-Mensah overlapped in San Francisco with Ryans and O’Connell when he worked in football research and development for the 49ers before being hired by the Cleveland Browns, where he spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons as the vice president of football operations.

Wilf said Jan. 10 that the next general manager would have “input” in choosing the Vikings’ coach. Adofo-Mensah did not specify whether he would have the final say on whom Minnesota hires and referred to the decision as “a collaborative process.”

Asked whether he would have full control over the 53-man roster, Adofo-Mensah again deferred to seeking a collaborative approach with the team’s next head coach on personnel decisions.

“I always say that with a coach, a coach that I would work with, I would work for,” Adofo-Mensah said. “It’s somebody that I would want to partner with. I wouldn’t care about that distinction because they understand about personnel and about living in today and living in tomorrow that would make us a great partnership. I guess I know what the specifics of my contract say, but I don’t think it really matters to speak in this forum.”

Minnesota conducted interviews with eight general manager candidates before interviewing Adofo-Mensah for a second time Tuesday and announcing his hiring Wednesday. His was the only second-round interview the Vikings conducted after former Kansas City Chiefs executive director Ryan Poles was hired by the Chicago Bears as general manager before he was set to interview in Minnesota.

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New GM first, or new coach? Raiders must decide how to proceed – Las Vegas Raiders Blog

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“The one thing I know, is what I don’t know. The one thing I did know was I needed to bring the right people in here.” — Mark Davis, upon introducing Reggie McKenzie as the Raiders’ general manager on Jan. 10, 2012.

HENDERSON, Nev. — It’s the classic chicken and the egg dilemma in the oft-upside down world of the NFL — what comes first, the general manager or the coach? And when it comes to the Las Vegas Raiders under the stewardship of Mark Davis, who took control of the franchise upon the passing of his father, Hall of Famer Al Davis on Oct. 8, 2011, the power structure has gone one of three ways.

After hiring McKenzie, Davis stepped out of the way and two weeks later McKenzie went outside of the box and picked Dennis Allen as the team’s first defensive-minded head coach since John Madden. Davis, you might say, regretted the hire almost immediately and Allen, after consecutive 4-12 seasons and an 0-4 start in 2014, was fired.

Interim coach Tony Sparano fell out of the conversation either by a) burying a football in the practice field to ward off bad juju or b) getting buried at the then-St. Louis Rams 52-0 or c) both. So it was Davis who took the reins on finding the next coach. Madden, who, along with Ron Wolf and Ken Herock, had advised the younger Davis on the hiring of McKenzie, was a sounding board for Davis when he hired Jack Del Rio as coach in 2015. McKenzie ran the roster, while Del Rio ran the game.

But when Jon Gruden, long a target of Davis, let it be known in late 2017 he was ready to rejoin the Raiders and help shepherd the move to Las Vegas, Del Rio was done. So too was McKenzie, who had not heard of Gruden rejoining the Raiders — Al Davis traded the coach to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2001 season — until seeing reports of the move the morning of the 2017 finale. Del Rio announced his own firing after the season-ending loss at the Los Angeles Chargers and McKenzie lasted 13 games with Gruden, who was given near total control of football operations.

Enter Mike Mayock, who was brought in from NFL Network to help run the draft and who immediately acknowledged that Gruden had final say on personnel matters. Davis told ESPN.com it was a “51-49” proposition, one that shifted into Mayock’s favor over interim coach Rich Bisaccia with the sudden resignation of Gruden on Oct. 11 in the wake of his email scandal.

But with Mayock fired earlier this month, Bisaccia a viable candidate to hold onto the head coaching gig after leading the Raiders through an unreal amount of turbulence to the team’s first playoff berth since 2016 and only its second since 2002, the question remains — which position does Davis fill first, GM or coach, and who holds the ultimate power?

As shown above, Davis has gone GM over coach with McKenzie and Allen, a relative 50-50 split with McKenzie and Del Rio and coach over GM with Gruden having the keys to the castle.

A glance at names linked to both the GM and coach openings gives little clue about how the next partnership could go down. Jim Harbaugh, for example, would likely command that “51-49” control as coach to leave Michigan for Las Vegas, while it’s hard to see Davis entrusting Bisaccia with more control, what with Bisaccia already referring to himself as an “in-game manager” for the Raiders.

Of the other coaches linked to the job, San Francisco 49ers first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, would seemingly fall into that Bisaccia category, given their lack of experience as a head coach. Same for Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, both of whom have been head coaches before but weren’t successful. Both coaches (Bowles with the New York Jets and McDaniels with the Denver Broncos) had unceremonious endings to those stints, especially McDaniels, who was once beaten 59-14 by the Raiders.

Meanwhile, eight candidates have emerged on the GM search, with Indianapolis Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds, a former Raiders intern under Al Davis when Harbaugh was the team’s QB coach, the seeming front-runner.

Others to have interviewed include Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, who is obviously linked to both McDaniels and Mayo, Chicago Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly and Cincinnati Bengals scout Trey Brown.

Buccaneers vice president of player personnel John Spytek, linked to Bowles, Pittsburgh Steelers scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt and Atlanta Falcons scout Ruston Webster — the only known candidate with previous GM experience, serving with the Tennessee Titans from 2012 to 2015 — are also in the running.

In house, Raiders director of pro scouting Dwayne Joseph, who came to the Raiders with Mayock, has emerged as a candidate. And a duo of Joseph-Bisaccia would represent continuity for a playoff team, no?

Al Davis used to take his time finding a coach, using the interview process as a barometer of what else was going on in the league.

Mark Davis leaned on Madden, who passed away in December. So you have to wonder who is in his circle of trust now and joining the interviews — former Pro Bowl fullback-turned senior advisor to the owner and president Marcel Reece? Interim president Dan Ventrelle? Senior vice president-director of football administration Tom Delaney?

But again, it comes down to a simple, yet sometimes unanswerable question — chicken or the egg?

Which, of course, leads to the follow-up — what, exactly, will the next tandem do with quarterback Derek Carr and his expiring contract? Too soon?

Stay tuned.

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