OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
CINCINNATI -- The world was much different when Takeo Spikes played inside linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals.

On average, gas nationwide was less than $1.40 per gallon. Three generations of Boston Red Sox fans still hadn't seen a World Series win. Bengals fans were going through a different type of misery. Their team was far from what it is now.

Plain and simple, the Bengals were awful, pitiful, and any other adjective you can think of that describes the abysmal play that defined their existence in the decade prior to that point. By the end of the 2002 season they hadn't been to the playoffs in a dozen years. The organization was so bad in the five years Spikes played for it that he saw only 19 wins.

He also was part of 61 losses.

These days, brown paper bags aren't the game day accessory of choice for Who Dey Nation. Instead, rose-colored glasses -- ones with orange-and-black striped frames, naturally -- are what Bengals fans are looking out of. The regular-season wins are coming. The postseason appearances are steady. The only real similarity to those Spikes-led teams that never saw the playoffs is that this most recent Bengals manifestation simply can't get past the opening 60 minutes of the postseason.

Spikes thinks that will soon change.

"I've only been in here for like three hours," Spikes said to reporters from inside a Paul Brown Stadium hallway Thursday afternoon, "[but] the sense I get is that a lot of the guys are pissed at the way last year ended.

"They're out to prove a point."

A self-proclaimed "Bengal for life," Spikes likes the thought of that.

"Talking with the guys, seeing how the guys walk, the culture has changed," Spikes said. "Expectations are different."

The former 1998 first-round draft pick was in Cincinnati to help with Sirius XM Radio's coverage of training camp from the Bengals' practices. He's had a number of other opportunities as a radio and television analyst since his career ended after the 2012 season.

Spikes played with the Bengals until 2002, leaving as a free agent the same offseason Marvin Lewis took over as head coach. The two met often in the weeks before Spikes bolted for Buffalo, but never got to fully know one another until they had long moved on in their respective careers.

In 2012, just before the Bengals were playing Spikes' last team, the Chargers, Lewis mentioned how much he hated letting Spikes leave so easily. Lewis' goal at that time was to establish a new identity and culture around the organization. The beloved linebacker was an unintended casualty of the philosophical change that was occurring.

"I wish I could've got it done better," Lewis said two years ago of Spikes' free-agency negotiations. "It's one that got away."

Even though Spikes only spent a portion of his career with the Bengals, and none of it with Lewis' reclamation projects, he still pays attention to what the organization does. He believes the changes to offensive identity will make the team build upon its disappointing first-round playoff exit to San Diego.

"They felt like they left it on the table last year," Spikes said. "For them to put up season highs over a three-year period of time on the offensive side of the ball and the defense to make a lot of noise and to still go down to San Diego, it just felt like it was unfinished business."

Much of what Spikes sensed from players is what daily beat reporters have felt from the team since the organized team activity and minicamp portion of the offseason: That the offense under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is going to pace any changes the Bengals go through.

"On the offensive side of the ball, you will see the mentality switch," Spikes said. "It will damn near look like the defensive side of the ball. I'm excited."

Current Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a player who has been compared to Spikes, said the defense has had a role in helping the offense flip that mental switch.

"They feed off of us," Burfict said. "We bring a little bit of feistyness, and I can tell they're bringing it, as well. That's just good competition. If I compete at certain levels, the guy in front of me is going to do the same, as well. That's my focus: come out full speed every day and make my offense better."

Whether that edge comes from Burfict or Jackson or anyone else, Spikes knows one thing -- that he likes it.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 5

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The Steelers safeties were active and feisty during the practice in which the offenses worked on the no-huddle attack for the first time at training camp. Shamarko Thomas knocked over Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey when the latter tried to block on a wide-receiver screen. Thomas also delivered several hard hits on running plays even when the Steelers weren’t tackling. Jordan Dangerfield, meanwhile, continued to draw attention to himself in a good way. Dangerfield, who spent last training camp and preseason with the Bills, intercepted a pass during a 3-on-3 tackling drill and twice brought down running back Miguel Maysonet with jarring tackles.
  • Maysonet, who signed a futures contract with the Steelers last January, has to be sore after getting extensive work -- and absorbing his share of shots -- with Le'Veon Bell limited because of hamstring stiffness and LeGarrette Blount not practicing. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he held Blount out of drills so younger backs like Maysonet could get more work. “I want to give those guys opportunities. They’re taking advantage of it.”
  • The Steelers are a little beat up at tight end. Eric Waters, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, hurt his lower back and left the practice fields on a cart. Rob Blanchflower, a seventh-round pick in May, watched practice with his left foot in a boot after sustaining a high-ankle sprain on Wednesday. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left practice Thursday with an undisclosed injury Tomlin said. Heyward-Bey appeared to take a knee to the helmet during a passing drill and he was noticeably wobbly after eventually getting up with the help of trainers.
  • Assistant equipment manager Pat Noone had one of the hazards of the job run into him. Noone, who stands in as the quarterback when the linemen go mano a mano during a pass rushing drill, got swallowed up by Stephon Tuitt after the rookie defensive end couldn’t stop while chasing Noone. The hit left Noone with a cut on his knee but didn’t stop him from laughing it off. Tuitt, meanwhile, is drawing attention for the strong start he is off to, the misstep in the pass-rushing drill notwithstanding. “He’s doing well,” Tomlin said. “He’s highly conditioned, he’s chasing the ball. He’s developing the skill associated with the position. He’s got a ways to go, they all do. But I like his attitude and approach to it.”
  • Offensive tackle Mike Adams has struggled during the first week of camp. Adams, who got bowled over by rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers on Wednesday, allowed rookie outside linebacker Howard Jones to run right past him in a pass rushing drill. Adams has been alternating practices when it comes to playing left and right tackle, and the third-year man needs to pick up his play.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 7

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:

  • Steve Smith continues to prove he has the best hands of all the Ravens receivers. His best catch on Thursday was reaching behind him for a low pass that would've been intercepted by Chykie Brown. Judging from camp, quarterback Joe Flacco has built a trust that Smith will catch anything thrown close to him.
  • Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has only one speed. Even on a day without pads, the first-round pick nailed fullback Shuan Chapas and then deflected a pass from rookie quarterback Keith Wenning. Mosley has been the most consistent playmaker on defense.
  • Maybe it was the news conference looming after practice, but running back Ray Rice didn't look sharp. He got behind a linebacker and had no one standing between him and the end zone. But Rice dropped what was a nice pass from Flacco.
  • The lighter practice was noticeably quieter because linebacker Terrell Suggs was given a day off. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones, nose tackle Haloti Ngata and running back Justin Forsett also were given what coach John Harbaugh called a "recovery day."
  • Schedule: The Ravens have an 8:30 a.m. ET practice Friday. All three coordinators -- Gary Kubiak (offense), Dean Pees (defense) and Jerry Rosburg (special teams) -- will speak to the media following practice.
  • Injury wire: DE Brent Urban (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his fifth straight practice. ... ILB Daryl Smith (groin) was sidelined for a second straight day. ... DT Timmy Jernigan (back spasms), G Will Rackley (head) and WR Jeremy Butler (groin) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 7

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • As compelling, edge-of-your seat excitement goes, Thursday's practice, from an observer's standpoint, ranked somewhere around a 3 on a 0-to-10 scale. I'm sure it's possible for coaches and players to view it much differently. During what was a special teams-heavy workout, there were very few 11-on-11 drills that featured as much worth noting as there had been in days past. When the Bengals did get into offense vs. defense action, they did so at a rather conservative pace. There was no hitting (players were in shorts and shoulder pads for the second straight day), and plays were run at a significantly slower speed than how they'll be executed in games. We ought to point out that while the players might not have been running at the same speed they soon will be, they still got into a bit of a hurry-up pace as coaches had them go through a few two-minute-drill plays.
  • To be sure, a day like Thursday had probably long been on the schedule as the Bengals try to mix in light, low-speed days with their hit-filled afternoons. It couldn't have come at a better time, too. Cincinnati is dealing with a couple of camp injuries, including four players sidelined with head issues. Linebackers J.K. Schaffer and Jayson DiManche, offensive tackle Andre Smith and tight end Kevin Brock remained on concussion protocol.
  • One day after receiving medical clearance to practice again, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins was back on the sidelines. He didn't participate in any of Wednesday's team drills, only really taking part in the position-specific exercises that came before practice. Coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday that Atkins wouldn't be rushed back into the line rotation. Coaches and trainers want to ease him back into the mix. When I asked defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after practice about Atkins, he indicated there wasn't anything to worry about. The day off was part of the slow process of getting Atkins back onto the field fully, he said.
  • To close out the day's injury report, it's worth noting that both Mike Pollak and Clint Boling took a day off. They had been trading off days at left guard until this point. In their place, undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins got repetitions at the position. Hopkins is beginning to look like the undrafted free agent who stands the best chance at making the 53-man roster. While Pollak and Boling didn't even dress, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick did. Both participated fully in the practice after not working out Wednesday. Kirkpatrick hadn't practiced since Saturday.
  • As mentioned before, Day 7 was all about special teams. In particular, the Bengals were working on their kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. Routine deep kicks, squib kicks and onside kicks were part of what they practiced. After the bulk of the kickoff activities, in an 11-on-11, quarterback Andy Dalton was nearly perfect, going 9-for-10. His lone incompletion came when defensive end Robert Geathers broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage. Dalton might have had another incompletion had safety George Iloka been able to sprint at game speed. Iloka had closed on tight end Tyler Eifert, who barely caught a pass in the seam before Iloka pulled up. Later in that drill, on the very last play, came the highlight of the day. Seventh-round receiver James Wright, who didn't catch a pass last season at LSU, caught a key first-down pass on a third-and-5 play. A.J. Green gave him a high-five after the reception.
  • Up next: The Bengals won't practice until 6 p.m. Friday, in a workout that's open to the public.

Browns Camp Report: Day 5

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • The defense stopped Ben Tate on the last goal-line play to retain the coveted orange jerseys for one more day. The jerseys go to the side of the ball that comes out ahead in the final drill, an emphasis on ending the game well. The run stuff came after a pass breakup was negated by a defensive offside in the full-speed drill. Brian Hoyer scored on two of four plays in his first attempt (both runs), and Johnny Manziel scored on three of four -- with the fourth a near TD broken up by a tough hit from safety Tashaun Gipson. Hoyer got the last three plays. “This is a situation where something is on the line,” coach Mike Pettine said. “As simple as a practice jersey is, it’s good work for us.”
  • Pettine welcomed old friend Jim Leonhard to the roster. The Browns signed the veteran Wednesday night, and Pettine made it clear it’s to provide depth as a backup to Donte Whitner and Gipson. Pettine said Leonhard, who played for Pettine in New York and Buffalo, would be a core special teamer and a nickel pass defender. He also could be used at safety if the Browns put Whitner near the line. Petine said there’s a lot to like about Leonhard, including his ability to catch a punt; Pettine said he and Rex Ryan used to joke that Leonhard could catch a punt in a hurricane. “He’s smart, he’s tough, he knows the defense,” Pettine said.
  • Pettine detailed the plan for the team’s intrasquad scrimmage at the University of Arkon on Saturday. The team will eschew kickoffs and kickoff returns and will not tackle quarterbacks. Drives will start at the 20 or 30 and will go until the offense scores or the defense gets a stop. Starters initially will face starters, but Pettine said units would be mixed. Red-zone drills will follow a break.
  • Guard John Greco and defensive lineman Billy Winn returned to practice, but defensive lineman Phil Taylor was still on the sidelines. ... Pettine admitted the team is trying to massage Miles Austin through camp so he stays healthy for the season. ... Josh Gordon was missing to travel to New York for his much-discussed Friday hearing about his positive drug test. ... On the first two plays of a team drill with tackling, Whitner chased a running back out of bounds and dove at him as he did, then made the next tackle on a swing pass. ... Linebacker Chris Kirksey ran step for step down the sidelines with running back Isaiah Crowell to break up a pass. Crowell cried for the flag, but Kirksey made a nice play. He’s been very active.
  • The Final Word: “It’s football, tough sport for tough people.” -- Pettine on a big hit by Gipson on tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi in a goal-line drill.

Up next: The Browns practice at the team’s facility in Berea Friday from 9:30 a.m.-12:10 p.m.

Steelers ILB competition ramps up

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
LATROBE, Pa. – Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler has seen countless training camp practices. But the first padded one the Steelers had this year stood out to Butler because of its intensity and the ferocity with which the players tackled.

“When you have competition everything is better,” Butler said. “There’s a lot of competition at all of the position groups.”

That is especially true at inside linebacker where the drafting of Ryan Shazier and the continued progress of Sean Spence have given the position a whole different look.

It is too early to say the Steelers are loaded at inside linebacker since Shazier has yet to play an NFL snap. But there is enough talent at the position that the Steelers are going to have to make some tough cuts in a month.

“It’s a good problem to have and we’re not going to shy away from it,” Butler said. “We are going to do the best we can to keep the best guys.”

It will be a challenge.

The preseason games will help sort out the inside linebackers, but some NFL-caliber players aren’t going to make the team because of a numbers game.

Terence Garvin, who played 15 games as a rookie last season and isn’t eligible for the practice squad, entered camp on the cut line. The same is true of rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt.

Not coincidentally, Garvin and Zumwalt are also working at outside linebacker since versatility and the ability to contribute on special teams only helps their chances of making the 53-man roster.

The overall quality of the linebackers Butler is coaching -- this includes the outside ones as well -- is such that he said none of them is at St. Vincent College as a practice body.

“We’ve got 13 guys here,” Butler said, “and I think all of them belong at this point in camp.”
CINCINNATI -- Batman, the mythical superhero of DC comic book lore, lurks in the shadows, silently protecting the citizens from the bad guys of Gotham.

Wallace Gilberry, one of the Cincinnati Bengals defensive ends who will help fill Michael Johnson's shoes, thinks of himself much the same way.

He doesn't get the fanfare his colleagues Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt receive. He doesn't really seek it, either. He just goes about his job, quietly helping clean up the messes the rest of his defensive line teammates cause with their havoc-wreaking play. His clean up last season included sacks -- and a lot of them. In limited action, he tied Dunlap for the team lead with 7.5 sacks.

[+] EnlargeWallace Gilberry
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY SportsWallace Gilberry tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks last season.
Since Gilberry isn't a primary starter like Johnson was and Dunlap is, and since he doesn't have the sexy, foreign-born-track-and-field-thrower-turned-NFL-prodigy story that Hunt has, it has been hard to remember during his three seasons in Cincinnati that he's been part of an ends group that has recently been regarded among the league's best. For that alone, it has been easy to doubt him. It has been easy for some to assume he shouldn't be part of said group.

Gilberry has a message for those critics: doubt away.

"I'm used to it, man," Gilberry said, smiling. "The 'Dark Knight' is what they call me. So I'm cool with that. I'm going to come in, I'm going to do my job, I'm going to make the plays I'm supposed to make. If you get recognition for that, you get it. If not, well, you know, that doesn't pay my bills."

A former undrafted free agent, Gilberry has felt his entire career that others didn't think he belonged.

"I've always been the darkhorse, so to speak, so I just took the darkhorse and turned it into the 'Dark Knight' because I'm a Batman fan," Gilberry said.

Like he pointed out, even his cars are black. They are but an example of the dark and humbling yet still foreboding persona the lineman is going for.

Gilberry has never been a regular starter, but he has been a contributor throughout his time in the league playing in various sub-packages and situations. He saw the most action of his career last season, receiving 12 snaps more than he had any other season. It's still not like he hadn't been used at all. Through his six previous seasons, he averaged 325 plays. That's just less than half the defensive snaps in a game.

Either way, it's evident he has made the most of those chances.

Along with his 7.5 sacks on 493 snaps last season, Gilberry had 6.0 sacks on 300 plays in 2012. Two seasons prior, while playing in Kansas City, he had 7.0 sacks on 481 snaps.

He hopes his sack numbers go even higher this season, but he'll have a unique set of challenges that might hinder him getting on the field. In addition to rotating with Hunt and trying to stave off other ends, his opportunities could also be limited with Geno Atkins' return. When the Pro Bowl defensive tackle went down in the middle of last season with an ACL injury, Gilberry shifted to the line's interior to provide a more adequate pass rush in Nickel and third-down situations. The extra experience paid off and should help in the event he's forced into backing up again this season.

"All it did was it gave me more opportunities to make plays," Gilberry said about his 2013 fill-in role. "Geno takes up a lot of those opportunities. He is Geno, he's proven. He's the lead dog in this defense. With that being said, I played my role. With him being out, it was a free-for-all and guys got in where they fit in and that's what you saw. Everybody wanted to make plays and everybody's capable of doing that."

Gilberry contends he's also capable of continuing to play at a high level whether he gets the attention Dunlap and Hunt receive or not.

"I don't expect to get no more or no less," he said to reporters. "The chip on my shoulder ain't going no where if you guys pat me on my back or not. It is what it is."

If you choose to continue doubting Gilberry, he wants you to know that you do so at your own risk.

"You can forget [the Dark Knight]," he said, smiling. "That's fine."

So far, the doubt him has paid off for him.
Josh GordonDavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon will have a chance to appeal a one-year minimum NFL suspension in a hearing on Friday.
The Josh Gordon stew was put on boil Tuesday when details about the arguments Gordon's side reportedly will present Friday became public through ESPN's Adam Schefter and Pro Football Talk.

One of the arguments his attorneys will present at his appeal to avoid a one-year minimum ban from the NFL will be to blame secondhand smoke for a positive marijuana test. The other will state that he gave two samples, one of which was barely above the NFL threshold, the other below.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • The defense is compelling and interesting. However, the process has to play out.
  • To pretend Gordon is not a repeat offender denies reality. He had an incident at Baylor in which he and a teammate fell asleep in a Taco Bell drive-through line in the wee hours of the morning and police reportedly found a bag of marijuana in the car. According to, Gordon failed three marijuana tests in college, including one at Utah, where he transferred after he was dismissed from Baylor for what he told the Houston Chronicle was a failed marijuana test. He’s had problems in the NFL -- speeding tickets, a DWI, a car pulled over with the smell of marijuana wafting out of it with him driving, the positive test. List that pattern about anyone, and eyebrows would rise. That he’s a marvelous athlete does not change that reality.
  • The secondhand smoke argument likely won't hold much water. How can a guy who has had at least three violations of the substance abuse policy -- the general trigger for a suspension -- continually put himself in situations in which he risks a suspension?
  • The league looks at substance abuse policies as a medical program. Initial positive tests are treated with treatment and counseling. Players are given second and third chances. When a fourth chance is needed, drastic steps might be needed. The performance-enhancing drug program, per the league’s view, is about the integrity of the game. And the league does not feel comparing NFL thresholds for marijuana -- 15 nanograms of concentration of a drug per millimeter -- to those of the World Anti-Doping Agency -- 150 ng/ml -- is appropriate because WADA tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and the NFL does not consider marijuana a PED.
  • Players are responsible for what goes in their bodies. That’s a simple tenet that is a foundation of the league’s drug testing programs for PEDs and banned substances.
  • Other players have already been suspended this year for not recognizing what was in their body. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis got four games for a fertility drug that raised his testosterone level. The principle remains.
  • The one interesting claim that Gordon will make involves the two urine samples collected. The first, according to reports, tested positive at 16 ng/ml, which was just above the threshold of 15. The second -- the B sample -- was at 13.6. The legal team will say the disparity indicates secondhand smoke. Still, the 16 was a positive test.
  • What’s also interesting is that Gordon evidently is not claiming a flawed process or a mixed-up sample or a mishandled sample. Those are lame excuses (baseball's Ryan Braun) that do not deny taking anything, merely call the process into question. Gordon is saying, evidently, that he did not smoke any pot.
  • Yes, marijuana is legal in three states. Yes, it’s a recreational drug. But the league has wanted HGH testing for years. Recently, word broke that a new policy that included HGH testing would include reduced penalties for marijuana. Perhaps Gordon is caught in the middle here as the two sides hammer out these details, because no new agreement on policies and procedures has been reached.
  • Looming over everything here is the NFL’s decision to suspend Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for domestic violence when video evidence showed him dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an elevator. Two games seems inexplicable. How, folks ask justifiably, can Gordon lose one year for being one ng/ml over the limit when Rice allegedly knocks out his now-wife and loses just two games?
  • The Rice/Gordon comparison is a bit apples and oranges. Substance abuse penalties have been negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement, and agreed to by both sides. Personal conduct also was negotiated, and decisions were left in the hands of the commissioner. The one-year ban for failing a test at this point is written in the CBA.
  • For folks who suggest ignoring the rule, negotiated with hours of sweat and discussion, I bring back ex-NBA commissioner David Stern. When it was put to him that one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during the playoffs were not fair, he said: “It’s a rule. What other rule should we choose to ignore? The traveling rule? The out-of-bounds rule? It’s a rule in our books.” Would players like it if teams decided to ignore the rule mandating one off day per week during training camp, which is also in the CBA?
  • The answer also lies in multiple violations for Gordon and not for Rice, but the anger over the weight of the punishment considering the gravity of the two incidents remains.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:

  • Starting quarterback Joe Flacco made his best and worst throws of camp in the same practice. His best pass came when he hit wide receiver Torrey Smith in stride on a 30-yard touchdown strike down the sideline. Then, in a red zone drill, Flacco threw off his back foot while fading backward. Not surprisingly, it was intercepted by cornerback Dominique Franks in the end zone.
  • Left guard Kelechi Osemele continued an impressive and physical training camp. He delivered a block that knocked defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the ground and later did the same to Brandon Williams. After watching Osemele in practice, you realize how much his absence last year -- he had back surgery -- hurt the Ravens' offensive line.
  • While it's been established that Jimmy Smith is one of the league's best young cornerbacks, his performance in the one-on-one drills in the red zone was still impressive. In a drill where the defensive back is at a disadvantage, Smith intercepted a pass in front of Torrey Smith and he broke up a pass to LaQuan Williams. It was interesting to note that Smith then joined tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels to catch passes from the Jugs machine in an effort to improve his hands.
  • The biggest surprise of camp has been wide receiver Kamar Aiken. He wasn't on the radar this offseason, but he likely has passed Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams on the depth chart with what he's done this summer. It seems like he makes a catch every day that makes you notice him.
  • In a matchup between two struggling players, wide receiver Marlon Brown made a diving, one-handed catch for a touchdown against cornerback Chykie Brown. Coming off a strong rookie season, Marlon Brown has been dropping several passes throughout the offseason and training camp. That frustration may been the reason why he spiked the ball in Chykie Brown's direction.
  • Justin Tucker hit field goals from 63 and 56 yards. He missed on a 55-yard attempt.
  • Schedule: The Ravens have an 8:30 a.m. ET practice Thursday. Running back Ray Rice will have his much anticipated news conference following practice.
  • Injury wire: DE Brent Urban (knee) suffered a potentially serious injury during the first hour of practice. DT Timmy Jernigan (back) also left the field and didn't return, although the Ravens believe he's fine. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his fourth straight practice. LBs Daryl Smith and Albert McClellan both weren't at practice for undisclosed reasons. ... G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • There's only one place to begin Wednesday's practice report: with the fireworks. Twice, members of the offense and defense had to be pulled apart as emotions and tensions ran high outwardly for the first time. First, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and offensive guard Clint Boling came to blows at the end of a goal-line drill. Lamur was seen grabbing Boling's face mask as pushing and shoving ensued around them. A.J. Green then came in, appearing to help calm and subdue Lamur in the back of the end zone. The linebacker misinterpreted the Pro Bowl wideout's actions and swung a punch at him. Fans who saw the blows started shouting, "No! Not on A.J.!" Later, linebacker Marquis Flowers and center T.J. Johnson exchanged words briefly, but that scuffle was stopped quickly before it became anything bigger.
  • After practice, Lamur walked up to a grinning Hue Jackson and gave the offensive coordinator a hug. Lamur also exchanged a jovial fist-bump with Boling as he walked off the practice fields. When Lamur was asked to comment on the near-brawl, he simply said: "It's over." Defensive end Wallace Gilberry said it's just a sign the Bengals are ready to get to their first preseason game next week at Kansas City. "We're ready to hit somebody else, but at the end of the day, we're a team first and foremost," Gilberry said. "Coach [Marvin Lewis] hates it, but it gets us fired up."
  • Flowers, a noted trash-talker, told me he doesn't want to rein in his on-field actions too significantly, but he added that he wants to monitor what he says and does a little better. In addition to all the smack he was talking to his offensive counterparts, the rookie began practice with a pop when he gave receiver Cobi Hamilton an unexpected forearm shiver as Hamilton ran out of the backfield in a low-speed drill. The hit was so hard, it sent Hamilton to the turf instantly, caused fans nearby to gasp and made noted hard hitter Vontaze Burfict holler his support. "I've got to watch it," Flowers said. "I thought the run was coming at me, but obviously I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to tag off. We don't want nobody on the ground, but at the same time, I was just trying to protect myself."
  • Flowers said that after his interview, he was headed straight to Hamilton's locker to apologize. Flowers' actions probably are best chalked up to first-day excitement. After beginning camp on the active physically unable to perform list, he was medically cleared along with defensive tackle Geno Atkins earlier in the day. While Flowers had a chance to mix into some of the team drills, Atkins was noticeably absent. The bulk of his work came just before practice, when the team walked through position-specific drills. For now, the Bengals plan on taking things slowly with Atkins.
  • Mohamed Sanu was the clear MVP of Monday's practice, passing the football, catching it and running with it out of the backfield. He didn't do all of that Wednesday, but he still began the workout in a unique way, taking the ball on a pitch from Green on a double reverse. The Bengals also tossed in a flea-flicker during their opening drills. Plays like that are all to show those watching that Jackson's offense has the potential to showcase several bells and whistles this season.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are concerned that the knee injury suffered by rookie defensive end Brent Urban on Wednesday may be serious.

Urban, the team's fourth-round pick out of Virginia, went down after a block by offensive tackle Jah Reid in a drill less than an hour into practice. He couldn't put any weight on his right leg and needed a trainer under each arm to get off the field.

An MRI is scheduled for Urban on Wednesday night.

"We'll just hope and pray for the best on that one," coach John Harbaugh said.

This is the first significant injury of Ravens camp (unless cornerback Lardarius Webb's back issue becomes more severe) but it's not the first injury of the year for Urban. He was limited for the early offseason workouts after undergoing ankle surgery in February.

Urban had been projected to back up Chris Canty this season. If Urban is out for an extended period, Kapron Lewis-Moore would become the primary backup.

But Harbaugh hasn't completely ruled out Urban for the season.

"I'm still hopeful that he'll be back, but we'll have to see," Harbaugh said.

The sixth practice of training camp featured a play that nearly cost the Ravens two rookies on the defensive line. On the same drill where Urban was injured, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan had to leave the field as well.

Jernigan, a second-round pick from Florida State, appeared to hurt his back. He went inside the team facility without any assistance from trainers.

"Timmy looks fine," Harbaugh said.

Defensive line is one of the positions where the Ravens can absorb a hit to their depth. Outside of the starters (Canty, Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams), the Ravens have intriguing backups in Jernigan, Lewis-Moore and DeAngelo Tyson.

While the Ravens were expecting a huge impact from Urban, a major injury could curtail his development. Urban likely would have a shot at starting next season.

He is the perfect fit for a 3-4 defensive end, which is also referred to as "five technique." At 6-foot-7, 298 pounds, he has nearly the same build as Canty (6-7, 317) but has more upside.

“Brent has made steady progress since the first day he walked in here,” defensive line coach Clarnece Brooks said. “We liked him when we drafted him and after he was here for a couple days we knew exactly what we liked about him. He’s a great kid, works hard.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- A couple of notes before Pittsburgh Steelers' practice really heats up on Wednesday:
  • The good news for Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence keeps on coming. Spence said his body responded well Tuesday, a day after his first contact drills in almost two years. The 2012 third-round pick is not limited today with the Steelers again practicing in pads. Spence hasn't played since tearing several ligaments in his left knee and also dislocating his knee cap in a 2012 preseason game. Spence has made remarkable progress and doesn't have many more obstacles to overcome as he tries to return from a career-threatening injury.

    "The test is going to come here in the next two or three days when he's feeling sore," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We've got some live stuff going on and it gives him an opportunity to get confidence in that knee and that's the only way you can do it. I think as time goes along the more confident he's going to get. He's going to be sore a little bit like everybody else is. We'll find out in two or three days how he's holding up."
  • Starting left guard Ramon Foster is practicing after missing the first part of camp because of his mother's death. Foster arrived at training camp Monday night, and he said being at St. Vincent College has restored a sense of normalcy after the loss of his mother.

    "The support I've had from my teammates has been tremendous," Foster said. "It's definitely helped me get through this untimely type of thing that nobody ever wants to experience. The guys and coaches have been great. They were texting and calling, sent flowers. It was a beautiful thing from them."