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Could 49ers’ George Kittle break out at TE? It’s possible

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In an offseason that saw Jason Witten retire to the Monday Night Football broadcast booth while Antonio Gates awaits a team to sign him and Rob Gronkowski flirts with ending his NFL career, it’s safe to say the tight end position in the NFL is in a state of transition.

With those superstars moving on or close to it, there are a number of vacancies at the head of the class alongside the likes of Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. While there’s no shortage of options to fill the void, one candidate wouldn’t immediately come to mind when looking at the next wave of tight ends, at least not for those outside of the Bay Area.

But in San Francisco, second-year 49ers tight end George Kittle has quietly emerged as one of the league’s most intriguing tight end prospects. And he’s not shying away from the opportunity to establish himself as one of the best at his position.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“Obviously I want to be the best as a tight end,” said Kittle. “I get on the field, I feel like it’s an opportunity to show that I can play football and I’m good at my job and I deserve to keep my job. … There’s comparisons everywhere, but if I can go out and show that I’m the best me, and I can ball and prove to myself that I can play really well and prove to Coach [Kyle] Shanahan and my tight end coach that I’m playing well and I’m the best one and they need me, then I’m satisfied.”8

Kittle has lofty goals, especially for a fifth-round pick who entered the league with little hype just more than a year ago. Kittle’s high expectations aren’t exclusive to him. In fact, the 49ers have been high on him since they chose him with the 146th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

During his career at Iowa, Kittle never finished with more than 22 catches per season for the run-heavy Hawkeyes. He had just 48 receptions for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns in four years. Iowa’s commitment to the running game, however, helped Kittle establish himself as a stout blocker, but blocking tight ends don’t usually get drafted very high.

Still, Kittle had a strong showing at the NFL scouting combine, where he ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends (4.52 seconds) and had the third-best long jump (11 feet).

In Kittle, Shanahan saw the ideal fit for his offense — a tight end capable of in-line blocking and lining up in a variety of places. Among the many rookies the 49ers brought in last season, none had a bigger workload than Kittle, who was taking starting reps from the moment he arrived.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Kittle never flinched, despite playing through a high ankle sprain, as well as calf, hip, chest, elbow, back and hamstring ailments.

In Oakland, veteran Bruce Irvin finds smack-talking, kindred spirit in Jon Gruden

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You could say these are bright times for Bruce Irvin, who has had his share of dark days in his life.

Since the end of last season, he has earned a degree, becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college, made a much-desired position switch from outside linebacker to defensive end and maybe, just maybe, found a kindred spirit in returning Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

“He talks s— like I talk s—, so we get along,” Irvin said.

Irvin came to Oakland as a free agent in 2016 after four star-crossed seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, which included an eight-sack rookie season, a Super Bowl championship and another trip to the Super Bowl.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Initially an edge-rusher, Irvin made the switch to outside linebacker despite his concerns that he was not “smart enough” to play in coverages. Ken Norton Jr., then his position coach in Seattle and later his defensive coordinator in Oakland, admonished his pupil, telling him to never admit such a thing.

Besides, Norton told Irvin, he was capable of playing linebacker.10

The Raiders were obviously impressed enough to sign Irvin to a four-year deal worth a max of $37 million and $12.5 million fully guaranteed to make him a bookend pass-rusher with All-Pro Khalil Mack.

Irvin’s presence helped Mack become the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 as Oakland went 12-4 and appeared in the postseason for the first time since the 2002 season.

The team regressed badly under Jack Del Rio in 2017, going 6-10 before Del Rio was shown the door. Gruden agreed to return to Oakland with an eye on Irvin and his skill set.

Enter new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who worked Irvin out at West Virginia and wanted the Cincinnati Bengals to draft him before the Seahawks struck at No. 15 overall in 2012.

“I knew he was a really gifted rusher,” Guenther said. “… Just coming here, I thought his best assets for us was to go forward rather than go backwards. He’s done a good job with what we’re asking him to do in the base fronts.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“Obviously, we know what he can do as a pass-rusher. Hopefully, we can get him over a double-digit [sack] mark this year. That’s the goal for him.”

Boos at Texas prepared Garrett Gilbert to be Cam Newton’s backup

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It was 2012, and the former high school phenom had transferred from the University of Texas to SMU after going 7-7 as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback and being demoted to third string. He admittedly spent too much time listening to the boos and reading negative articles.

His childhood dream of starring for his hometown team in Austin had turned into a nightmare.

His confidence was shot. The decision-making and accuracy that had made him one of the country’s top prospects a few years earlier needed an overhaul.

“When we got him at SMU, he had been through hell, I guess is a good way to say it,” said former SMU coach June Jones, now the head coach of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “So helping him through that whole situation and getting him back on track to how he was as a high school player took us a while.

“I knew he could play in the National Football League. I tried my hardest to get him there.”nike nfl jerseys cheap china

It took a while, but Gilbert finally is getting a shot in the NFL. After four seasons of bouncing between practice squads and the bottom of rosters with the Rams, Patriots, Lions and Raiders, the 27-year-old is the leading candidate to be the backup to 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton with the Carolina Panthers.9

The Panthers made the decision to go young with Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke (25) over veteran Derek Anderson (35), who had been Carolina’s backup since Newton was the top pick of the 2011 draft.

Gilbert is here because former Panthers senior executive scout Don Gregory, whose contract was recently not renewed, witnessed the comeback firsthand.

“Don saw what we were able to do with him at SMU and knew he had it inside himself to be the guy,” said Jones, who was a teammate of Gregory’s at Portland State.

That definitely was a pivotal time in Gilbert’s career.

“That was a great experience for me, as far as just figuring out how to battle through things,” Gilbert said. “To be able to bounce back and have a couple of good years at SMU certainly prepared me for this part of my career.”

New offensive coordinator Norv Turner was reminded of the success that backups Keenum and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, the MVP of Super Bowl LII, had last season after being forced into duty.

“Somewhere along the way you’re probably going to play a guy that has limited experience,” Turner said.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Limited experience might be putting it kindly in Gilbert’s situation. His next snap in an NFL regular-season game will be his first.

But Gilbert doesn’t look at that as a negative. He relishes the opportunity should Newton have to miss a few snaps or even games, remembering that he has a lot of talent and veteran leadership around him to be successful.

How Mount Union became college football’s newest cradle of coaches

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He knew he couldn’t go back to Pitt for another season. The football program there had turned toxic. So Campbell packed up and left. He wasn’t far from his home near Canton when he first saw them by chance: about 60 young men, crossing the four-lane highway that flanks the campus of the University of Mount Union, headed for a workout at the stadium.

“It was a fascinating moment,” Campbell said. “Here’s where there are no scholarships, there is no money, there is no flash, but these guys love football.”

Campbell wanted in. He transferred to Mount Union and became an All-American defensive lineman. Then he entered coaching.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

“It saved my life,” said Campbell, who is entering his third season as Iowa State’s coach. “That’s how passionate I am about my Mount Union experience and coach [Larry] Kehres. My life probably goes a whole different way if not for finding that place.”31

Campbell is among a growing group who found Mount Union as players and, after graduating, launched coaching careers. Mount Union claims two FBS head coaches in Campbell and Toledo’s Jason Candle, coordinators such as Ohio State’s Alex Grinch and Wake Forest’s Jay Sawvel, position coaches such as Michigan’s Ed Warinner, an NFL coordinator in the Indianapolis Colts’ Nick Sirianni and many others leading small-college and high school teams.

The school has long produced accomplished coaches — including former Carolina Panthers coach and longtime NFL assistant Dom Capers (class of 1971) and Ron Lynn, another longtime NFL assistant (class of 1966) — but the number has spiked in the past 15 years. Campbell and Candle, both 38, are among the 10 youngest FBS coaches. Grinch, 37, is one of the nation’s top coordinators. Sirianni just turned 37.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

How did a private, liberal arts school with an undergraduate enrollment of only 2,095 become football’s newest coaching cradle? It took a College Football Hall of Fame program patriarch too afraid to leave, 200-man rosters filled with “player-coaches” and a campus located in the garden spot for coaching.

Danielle Hunter agrees to contract extension with Vikings

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The Vikings’ ownership and front office zeroed in on the franchise’s long-term future again this offseason by securing another foundational piece of the league’s top-ranked defense.

Minnesota awarded a contract extension to third-year defensive end Danielle Hunter on Wednesday. It’s a five-year deal with a $14.4 million average salary, $40 million in guarantees and a $15 million signing bonus, ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports.

Hunter, 23, was entering the final year of his contract with a base salary of $1.9 million. His new contract will run through the 2023 season. In three years with the Vikings after being selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, Hunter has 25.5 sacks, including a career-best 12.5 two seasons ago.

“He’s come in and performed extremely well,” general manager Rick Spielman said. “I think he was 20 years old when we drafted him. If he stays healthy and continues to develop and grow as a football player, I’m sure he’ll get another opportunity to get another significant contract.”

The Vikings now have 10 players under contract through at least 2020. Hunter joins a list of players with multiyear deals that includes Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Eric Kendricks, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

The Vikings followed a model with Hunter that they’ve used previously on players with contracts coming due. Last offseason, Minnesota agreed to contract extensions with Griffen and Linval Joseph two years ahead of when their deals would expire and a year before Rhodes was done.
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“The good thing about it is, it’s really [vice president of football operations] Rob [Brzezinski] and Rick’s [Spielman] philosophy and George Paton about extending the guys that we have here and the guys that we feel are great foundations for our organization and continue to get them here and continue to build upon them,” Mike Zimmer said. “Even if we have to extend them a little bit early, that’s what we try to do.”

Hunter, who is spending his offseason training in Houston and flew up to the Twin Cities to finalize his contact, said the reward of job security and a lucrative deal serves as motivation to reach the next level of his career.

“It’s all about just continuing to improve my game,” Hunter said. “I’ve got to go out there and just do what the coaches tell me to do. Now that I have this, I can’t relax. Just got to keep pounding and grinding.”

Had the Vikings not extended Hunter now, the defensive end would have become a free agent after this season. Hunter’s estimated value could have been upwards of $18 million if the Vikings were to have used the franchise tag on him in 2019, allowing him to hit the open market after that and earn a potentially bigger payday. The former LSU product, however, wanted to sign his next contract much sooner.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

“I had to get this out the way,” Hunter said. “I didn’t want to be bothered by anything. During OTAs there was a few questions about it but I wasn’t really focused on it then. Now that I have some time to talk to my agent about stuff, we got it out the way before the season started.”

Suspension adds uncertainty to Jameis Winston’s future with Bucs

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It’s official. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston will serve a three-game suspension to start the 2018 season, the result of an NFL investigation into his alleged groping of a female Uber driver in 2016.

As part of their contingency plan, the Bucs re-signed backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal in the offseason. Beyond that, there are major question marks surrounding Winston, who was drafted first overall in 2015, despite unwavering support from the organization.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“All members of our organization are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Personal Conduct Policy of the NFL,” the Bucs said in a statement released Thursday. “We are disappointed that Jameis put himself in a position that has been found to violate the policy and accept today’s decision by the Commissioner.”10

In his first three seasons, Winston has started 45 games with an 18-27 record, and the Bucs have yet to make the playoffs. If Winston can control his turnovers (44 interceptions and 15 fumbles lost in three seasons) and become more consistent as a pocket passer, there is every possibility he could become a top-10 quarterback.

And finding a franchise quarterback in this league is not easy. The Bucs, who started 10 different quarterbacks in the decade leading up to drafting Winston, are well aware.

Despite his shortcomings, Winston likely will remain a member of the Buccaneers through at least the end of the 2018 season. The team already owes him $3.89 million. The only way that might change is if they found a willing trade partner between now and the fifth day of training camp.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

That’s not to say general manager Jason Licht wouldn’t cut a player owed money. The Bucs ate $7 million in dead money to cut underperforming Michael Johnson after one year in 2015. They also paid Dashon Goldson $4 million and Anthony Collins $3 million to go away.

Saquon Barkley on spending habits: ‘Follow the Marshawn Lynch method’

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That is where some of that fresh endorsement money from Nike, Pepsi and Panini America is headed. Barkley doesn’t plan to use his football earnings on any lavish purchases, such as the home he recently bought for his family in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Barkley hasn’t even signed his rookie contract with the Giants, who made him the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft.

“Once I realized when I declared for the NFL draft and kind of realized where I was going to be drafted, that was something I was like, ‘You know what? Kind of want to follow the Marshawn Lynch method. I don’t want to touch that,” Barkley said on the red carpet for the CC Sabathia Celebrity Softball Game on Thursday night. “I want to invest it, put it in the right people’s hands and learn as I continue to make investments. And just live off the endorsement deals.'”9

He plans to follow in the financial footsteps of players such as Lynch and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. They have both made an effort not to spend their NFL paychecks and instead capitalize on their marketability.

Barkley’s first major purchase with the money he already has made, thanks to the help of his Roc Nation team landing several major endorsement deals, was a house for his family. It’s a four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 3,400-square-foot home not far from where he spent most of his childhood.

Purchasing the home for his family was the fulfillment of a promise he made long ago.

“I’ve been promising my mom, I think since I could talk, honestly 2 or 3 years old — I know it sounds crazy, but I swear I’m not lying to you guys — that I’m going to buy [my mom] a house one day,” Barkley said. “My family has been through so much and made so many sacrifices for my brothers and sisters.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“And that’s not it. That’s not the last thing I’m going to be able to do for my family. That’s a great thing.”

The Bronx-born Barkley moved to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, where his grandparents lived, when he was 5 years old. His family eventually settled in Coplay, where he became a football star at Whitehall High School.

NFL to hear Julian Edelman appeal of 4-game suspension Monday

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Julian Edelman’s appeal of his four-game drug suspension will be heard Monday, and sources say he plans to mount a vigorous defense that questions the NFL’s handling of his case.

ESPN reported earlier this month that the New England Patriots receiver is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

As the MMQB reported a few days later, the substance for which Edelman tested positive wasn’t one the league’s drug testers recognized. That remains one of two key issues at the heart of his appeal.56

The other, according to a source, involves a mishandling of the documentation and delivery of Edelman’s test results. During the course of the investigation, it was learned that the NFL made mistakes in the manner in which the test results were handled. Edelman is arguing that the mishandling of the evidence is one of the reasons he should be exonerated.

Edelman, 32, who has been a regular participant in the team’s offseason program, organized team activities and minicamp, missed the entire 2017 season after tearing an ACL during the preseason.

To assist in his defense, Edelman has enlisted outside counsel, specifically Alex Spiro, a New York-based attorney who gained fame in recent years for his work representing NBA players in their legal entanglements.nfl nike jersey cheap

Given the addition of Spiro to the defense and the recent history between the Patriots and the NFL in the Tom Brady Deflategate matter, it isn’t out of the question that Edelman could end up pursuing an appeal of his case in federal court if the arbitration does not go his way.

Saints’ Patrick Robinson had to ‘cut off the past’ to revive career

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The 30-year-old cornerback, who just had his career-best season with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, is back where he started with a five-year stretch from 2010-14 that was plagued by inconsistency and a major knee injury. Though Robinson was key to the Eagles’ Super Bowl run, Philadelphia, tight against the salary cap, was essentially priced out of the market for the corner.

And when I asked the 2010 first-round draft pick about the time Saints coach Sean Payton brought him into his office when he was struggling in 2014 and showed him a list of cornerbacks who finally hit their stride later in their careers, Robinson said he hadn’t really thought about it since.nike nfl jerseys for cheap

“Honestly, when I left here, I kind of left everything here. I kind of started on a clean slate,” said Robinson, who revived his career over the past three seasons with the Chargers, Colts and Eagles. “When I went out to California, it was pretty much just, ‘Cut off the past,’ and I was just going forward.”

Robinson admitted he is as surprised as anyone to be back in New Orleans after signing a four-year, $20 million contract in free agency.

“Honestly, I kind of left on a bitter note, so I definitely didn’t think I’d be back here,” said Robinson — who stressed he didn’t have any problem with coaches or management.

“I just had a hard experience,” Robinson said of his struggles.55

Those of us in the media who have spoken with Robinson a couple times this offseason have noted how much more confidence he seems to be carrying. But the mere fact he was willing to return to New Orleans and try to exorcise those old demons makes that obvious.

Robinson admitted he struggled with his confidence during those early years, when he bounced in and out of the lineup and when he returned from that patellar injury that wiped out his 2013 season. He admitted he was doing too much thinking and running too many “what-if” scenarios through his mind when he was on the field. And that he needed the change of scenery when he became a free agent for the first time in 2014.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

“I think for me, I think I needed to go through that experience,” Robinson said, now that he has had the opportunity to look back on his first stint in New Orleans and the growth that came afterward. “Growing up, I was always very talented, one of the better skill players on the team. And going through that whole stretch of ups and downs, getting injured, I think that was definitely something that I needed. And over these past years, I’ve learned a lot.”

With LT’s help, Melvin Gordon is working on bigger role as a receiver

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One of the evaluations of Melvin Gordon coming out of Wisconsin was that he couldn’t catch the ball out of the backfield. Gordon had just 22 career receptions for the Badgers.

However, over three seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers, Gordon has built a perceived weakness into a strength through hard work, catching extra balls after practice or during his pregame routine on game days.

Gordon finished with 58 receptions for 476 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season. Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said Gordon’s role in the passing offense could expand even more for the upcoming season, particularly with the loss of Hunter Henry for the year because of an ACL injury to his right knee.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

“We can do some different things because Melvin has become such a good receiver out of the backfield,” Whisenhunt said. “And that’s not something that you saw from him in college. Not that he couldn’t do it; they just didn’t throw him the ball. He was too busy running for 8 million yards or whatever it was he was running for.

“So, yes, that’s been a real bonus that we’ve had. Those two guys [Gordon and Austin Ekeler], and their adaptability and flexibility can help some.”42

Gordon is part of leaguewide trend of running backs being used more in the passing game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, running backs totaled 2,757 receptions in 2017, the most in a season since 2002 (2,858).

Le’Veon Bell (85 receptions), Alvin Kamara (81 receptions), Christian McCaffrey (80) and Duke Johnson (74) all finished among the top 20 in the NFL in receptions last year.

Tomlinson said Gordon’s increased production in the passing game is part of his natural evolution, and a similar transition the TCU product went through as a player.

“What you’re seeing is a player become more comfortable in the offense,” Tomlinson said about Gordon. “His role in the offense has evolved, and it’s not just rushing the football and picking up the hard yards. It’s now becoming an asset in the passing game where you have to be an outlet for Philip.nike nfl cheap jerseys

“Most coaches aren’t going to put too much of the passing game on a rookie running back. So I think the first year, that’s what we saw from Melvin. And then in the second year you saw him start to be more of an outlet for Philip Rivers — the swing routes, letting Philip get the ball out quickly into Melvin’s hands, and letting him make plays.”