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Browns show promise in training camp

Published: Monday, July 31, 2017 @ 5:02 PM

BEREA, OH - JULY 29, 2017: Center JC Tretter #64 of the Cleveland Browns takes part in a drill during a training camp practice on July 29, 2017 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Diamond Images/Diamond Images/Getty Images
BEREA, OH - JULY 29, 2017: Center JC Tretter #64 of the Cleveland Browns takes part in a drill during a training camp practice on July 29, 2017 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)(Diamond Images/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

BEREA — The Cleveland Browns have taken a positive approach to improving their 1-15 record from a season ago. The Browns were one of the biggest winners on draft day and did an admirable job addressing some needs in free agency. Now it’s time to see if the offseason acquisitions will mesh with existing talent and help win games.  

Judging by the first few days of training camp the team is showing promise.  

Quarterback quandary  

The million dollar question is who will be the starting quarterback for the season opener: Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler or rookie DeShone Kizer?  

Kessler appears to have a leg up on the competition after spending a season in the system. He made some nice throws with touch and showed that he can push the ball down the field, connecting with receiver Kenny Britt for a touchdown. Kessler also had a few passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and forced an interception.  

Coach Hue Jackson likely will have Kessler on a short leash as No. 1 throughout this evaluation process.  

Osweiler prospered while substituting for future Hall Famer Peyton Manning during the Denver Broncos Super Bowl run two seasons ago. The quarterback’s performance earned him a monstrous free agent contact with the Houston Texans, when then shipped him off after one disappointing season.  

Now in Cleveland, Osweiler finds himself in the midst of a three-way competition. Early on, he’s been precise with his intermediate passes and throwing into tight windows. He made nice reads while going through his progressions but did have a couple of miscues on timing routes. He was fairly accurate, poised in the pocket and showed a quick release.  

Of the three quarterbacks, Kizer, the second-round draft pick from Notre Dame, shows the most promise. He matched the veterans throw-for-throw completing passes. Kizer stands tall and poised in the pocket when making his reads and shows good velocity on his throws, with a nice delivery. He possesses a big-league arm and demonstrated that ability by throwing passes that ripped through the gusty wind. The rookie also showed his athleticism, making plays with his feet.  

Kizer fit some passes into tight widows and throws a nice deep ball, but he stared down his intended targets and held the ball too long at times. The talent is clearly visible, but there is much work to be done.  

Too hot to handle  

Perhaps the most intriguing rookie is tight end David Njoku who was selected 29th overall from Miami.  

Njoku is very talented with tremendous upside. He’s explosive off the line with good acceleration and shows great leaping ability catching the ball at its highest point over defenders. However, the rookie has serious issues with dropped and fumbled passes so far.  

Despite that, Njoku is taking a businesslike approach to the learning curve.  

“The playbook is a lot more complex than college, but this is my job now,” he said. “Everyone is a professional here, everyone is getting paid to play, and at any moment you can get cut or fired. I’m going to make sure I work that much harder learning the playbook so I can be here as long as possible.”  

The coaching staff is pleased with the progress of tight end Seth DeValve, who was injured much of last season. DeValve is not the most dazzling receiver but catches everything and knows how to get open. He’s a good blocker and plays well in line and flanked to the slot position.  

DeValve did fumble once after being thumped by safety Derrick Kindred running up the sideline after a catch.  

Overall, there is much for Cleveland fans to be charged about in the early stages of training camp.

5 takeaways from Sports Illustrated Cincinnati Bengals preview

Published: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 @ 12:12 PM

I really enjoyed the Sports Illustrated/MMQB preview of the 2017 Bengals because it confirmed almost all of my biases about the team. 

Any given day on the Internet, who can ask for more than that? It’s the best, really.

Anyway, I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are some takeaways:

1. The Bengals didn’t need John Ross because they are already deep at receiver. Writer Andy Benoit calls Ross, a speedster from Washington, “a luxury pick.”

This is an interesting observation because it is true and also an example of how well the Bengals have built their roster overall.

›› VIDEO:  First-round pick John Ross talks about his 11-on-11 debut

This has also been a habit of late, including the choice to take offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi (who was injured) and Jake Fisher early in 2015 and grabbing William Jackson III last year.

This seems like a smart choice, but so far it hasn’t borne fruit. It’s actually kind of been a disaster, and it has left them with some specific weaknesses.

RELATED: Young DBs among early standouts

Injuries have been in part to blame, but that is a part of football.

I heard Marvin Lewis explain about a decade ago they pick the best player available rather than draft on immediate need because needs change but in a few years you will still have an inferior player.

2. At the Bengals preseason luncheon a few weeks ago, Lewis pointed out they drafted Ogbuehi and Fisher just for the situation they find themselves in now — so they can step in when veterans leave.

And yet their status as unknowns is probably the biggest reason to doubt the Bengals will get back to the playoffs this season, so that’s interesting in and of itself.

3. Benoit notes Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has a lot of tricks in his sleeve but used few of them last year — even though Cincinnati’s pass rush stunk.

I would say anecdotally every time the Bengals blitzed last year, disaster seemed to strike, but Benoit recommends they dial up more pressure this season because they did not use a high pick on an elite pass rusher.

Counter point: rookies Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis and offseason acquisition Chris Smith have been impressive so far.

4. Joe Mixon is a better overall fit for the offense than Jeremy Hill.

This isn’t too surprising. Mixon and Hill are both big backs, but Mixon is shiftier and has better hands.

I am not as ready to close the door on Hill being a contributor, though. Perhaps the competition will bring out the best in him. 

5. Andy Dalton is great when he has no pressure and bad when he has a lot of pressure. 

CINCINNATI, OH – JANUARY 1: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass during the first quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

This is not all that unique, but Benoit notes Dalton does himself no favors by lacking the ability some elite quarterbacks have to sense when to move around in the pocket and buy themselves time and space.

That’s an interesting insight — and not promising given the questions about Ogbuehi and Fisher.

Seahawks' Michael Bennett sits during anthem: 'It's about being a human being'

Published: Monday, August 14, 2017 @ 2:33 PM

Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks speaks during a Super Bowl XLIX media availability at the Arizona Grand Hotel on January 29, 2015 in Chandler, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks speaks during a Super Bowl XLIX media availability at the Arizona Grand Hotel on January 29, 2015 in Chandler, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Sunday said he sat Saturday as the national anthem played before his team’s preseason game against the Chargers in Los Angeles because he wanted to use his platform to stand against injustice.

>> Read more trending news

Bennett told reporters he sat to send a message about racial inequality and that the deadly clashes between protesters and counterprotesters Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, played a role in his decision.

“I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve, and I want to use this platform to continuously push the message of that,” he said. “It’s more about being a human being at this point.”

Bennett sat on the bench with a towel over his head Sunday while the rest of the Seahawks locked arms during the anthem — as they did all of last season — ESPN reported.

The Seahawks were in Los Angeles on Saturday, taking on the Chargers in both teams’ preseason opener.

>> Related: Trump condemns KKK, white supremacists days after deadly Charlottesville attack

Bennett’s former Seahawks teammate, current Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, did not stand on Saturday when the national anthem played before the Raiders took on the Arizona Cardinals.

After that game, Oakland coach Jack Del Rio told reporters that he had spoken to Lynch about not standing.

>> Related: Oakland Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch sits during national anthem

“He said, ‘This is something I’ve done for 11 years. It’s not a form of anything other than me being myself.’ I said, ‘So you understand how I feel. I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem. But I’m going to respect you as a man. You do your thing; we’ll do ours.’ So, that’s a nonissue for me.”

>> Related: This is not my Charlottesville. Hate doesn't win in my hometown.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first to draw attention for his failure to stand for the anthem, although the first time he did so, last preseason, it didn’t get much notice.

Later in the 2016 preseason, he told NFL Media that he was “not going to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he told NFL Media. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

>> Related: Who is James Alex Fields Jr., suspect in deadly Charlottesville car attack?

Bennett refused to stand one day after protesters clashed in Charlottesville. Police said 20-year-old James Alex Fields, described by a former teacher as a fan of Adolf Hitler, slammed a car into two stopped vehicles and protesters opposing a white nationalist rally on Saturday. The attack killed one woman, identified by police as 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and injured 19 others.

The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Oakland Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch sits during national anthem

Published: Monday, August 14, 2017 @ 2:31 PM

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) sits during the national anthem prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/AP
Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) sits during the national anthem prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)(Rick Scuteri/AP)

It only took one game for Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch to make headlines in his return season.

Lynch staged a protest by staying seated during the playing of the national anthem before his team’s preseason game Saturday with the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

ESPN reported that Lynch was spotted sitting on a cooler while holding a banana during the anthem.

>> Read more trending news

The typically mum Lynch didn’t offer any comments to the media after the game, but Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said he spoke to the tailback afterward and wasn’t aware that he was planning to stay seated.

“(Lynch) said, ‘This is something I’ve done for 11 years, it’s not a form of anything other than me being myself.’ I said, ‘So, you understand how I feel. I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem, but I’m going to respect you as a man. You do your thing and we’ll do ours. So, that’s a non-issue for me,” Del Rio said, according to ESPN.

Related: Seahawks’ Michael Bennett sits during anthem: 'It's about being a human being'

Lynch is following in the footsteps of unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is still an unsigned free agent. Kaepernick sparked controversy for some by kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest during the beginning of the 2016 season. Lynch was retired last season when Kaepernick’s protest made national headlines.

In September, Lynch spoke about Kaeperick’s protest while on Conan O’Brien’s late night show.

“I’d rather see him take a knee than stand up, put his hands up and get murdered,” he said.

The Raiders lost to the Cardinals 20-10 in their preseason opener, and Lynch did not play.

Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott suspended by NFL for 6 games

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 1:51 PM

Jablonski: Ezekiel Elliott suspended six games

The NFL announced on Friday that it is suspending Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

>> Read more trending news

A yearlong investigation into allegations that Elliott assaulted a former girlfriend in 2016 led to the decision, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. During that time, Elliott was involved in a number of incidents that also contributed to the suspension.

Elliott was videotaped pulling down a woman’s top at a bar in Dallas during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Last month, Elliott was also involved in another incident at a Dallas bar.

Though he was not arrested or charged with a crime in either incident, the NFL decided to look at the “accumulation of behaviors” while conducting its investigation. That shift in the nature of the investigation gave the NFL more wide-ranging authority to discipline the Cowboys star for conduct detrimental to the league.

The Cowboys, the NFLPA and Elliott will now have the opportunity to appeal the NFL’s decision. If they are denied, they may even choose to take the matter to a higher authority.

Elliott was cleared by the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department of any wrongdoing in the alleged domestic violence case because it considered the witness to be unreliable. The alleged incident also occurred before Elliott was selected in the 2016 NFL draft.

However, both bar incidents occurred this past offseason and have established a pattern of behavior the NFL is deeming unacceptable.