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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Slowly and sensibly, Francisco Lindor is working his way back onto the field.

Surrounded by approximately 50 fans, more than a dozen minor leaguers, a few scouts, and various game operations and medical staffers, the Cleveland Indians’ three-time All-Star shortstop played in a controlled Triple-A game on Wednesday, a major step in his recovery from a right calf strain.

“The pitcher was nasty, great pitcher,” Lindor said about Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Brock Stewart, who struck him out twice. “I’m blessed to be out there, happy to be out there.”

Lindor went 0-for-3 with the two strikeouts against Stewart on a practice field near Goodyear Ballpark, where his major league teammates played the Milwaukee Brewers in a split-squad game.

Stewart got Lindor to swing and miss on a 3-2 pitch in his last at-bat with a cutting fastball. In his first at-bat, Lindor swung on a 3-0 count to get in his cuts, flying out in gusting winds to left.

“That felt good,” Lindor said. “I thought my swings were good. I controlled my approach and will build off that.”

Lindor worked the count full in his second at-bat, swinging and missing the last two pitches.

“I took it as Day 1 spring training,” he said. “Nobody goes 100 percent in spring training, unless you are trying to make the team. So, that’s how I went up there today. Took some good pitches, some I missed — a lot of them.”

Per the requirements of the medical staff, Lindor jogged to first base after making contact and while playing three innings in the field.

Asked whether he could let it go and sprint, he said, “No, still not there yet.”

Lindor said his lack of full mobility was not a source of frustration.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be 100 percent, but you just go out there and play the game,” he said. “I am happy. I am blessed. Today’s a special day, so check the box.”

As for his next steps, Lindor will know more Thursday.

Lindor, who reported no soreness or pain, did not have a ball hit to him at shortstop, but he did cover second on a steal attempt, putting the tag on a safe runner. He moved in or out or laterally with each pitch, hid his mouth with his glove to communicate coverages to second baseman Elvis Perez and showed spring in his step on a high pop that was caught by his teammate.

The Indians remain hopeful that Lindor will be ready for the club’s March 28 opener at Minnesota.

“With any sort of injury like that, there is no set date or set time table,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “We magnify the importance of Opening Day, and obviously, that’s on everyone’s mind, but that’s not what we’re concerned about. We’re concerned about making sure Frankie is completely healthy and in a really good spot to have a full season of performance, so we are taking it day to day.”

Lindor understands there’s more to play for than facing the Twins in two weeks.

“It is a special day, obviously being Opening Day,” he said. “But at the same time, I am more worried about the rest of the season and making it into the playoffs. That’s what we want — to make it into the postseason and win.”
One of baseball’s best all-around players, Lindor got hurt while working out in Florida early last month. He has been limited at spring training to batting practice and stationary fielding.

“He has been doing really well; he continues to progress in all of his activities,” Chernoff said. “He’s been out there a lot and we’ll continue to get him out there more. But we have to build him up volume-wise to where he can be at his position for the full nine innings. So, I don’t know how long that’s going to take, but I want to make sure he’s cleared all of those benchmarks before he’s in games.”

Lindor hit .277 last season and set career highs with 38 homers and 92 RBIs. He tied for the American League lead with 129 runs.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After experiencing health issues in 2018, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees is returning for his 16th year as an NFL coach. Once he received a clean bill of health, coming back was an easy decision.

“I feel great,” Pees said. “I got a couple of things cleaned up, and I am feeling as good as I’ve felt in a long time.”

His return is significant for a unit that is looking to ascend to a championship level. The Titans allowed a season-high 38 points against the Colts in Week 11 when Pees was taken to the hospital with an unknown medical condition during the first quarter at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.

Pees believes his group has the potential to be a championship defense.

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“We are very close,” Pees said. “I don’t know where we finished this year, but I know we were in the top 10 in most of the categories and we felt good about that. I had a lot of players come in at the end of the season and talk to me and really felt good about everything, and that is the key thing.”

Under Pees, the Titans finished third in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 18.6 points per game. And opposing teams scored a touchdown on 44.6 percent of their red zone trips against Tennessee, the league’s second-best mark, trailing only the Eagles (44.3 percent).

The players say they are prepared thanks to the tip sheets Pees provides. For example, safety Kevin Byard’s red zone interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9 happened because of a tip from Pees. Byard said Pees alerted the defense to a specific part of Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins’ stance that indicated he was going to pass block. Dallas called a play-action pass, but Byard never bit on the run fake thanks to the tip from Pees, which allowed him to pick up the wide receiver running a crossing route and intercept the pass.

Pees dialed up timely blitzes that resulted in sacks by sending Byard or cornerback Logan Ryan after the quarterback. Safety Kenny Vaccaro said Pees’ playcalling is like, “Jordan in the fourth quarter.” But the scheme will only get the Titans so far.

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The defense has holes to address, such as finding an impact pass-rusher. Outside linebacker Harold Landry, a second-round pick in 2018, is the Titans’ best option, but fourth-year linebacker Kamalei Correa is their veteran edge rusher. The Titans should add a veteran free agent such as Za’Darius Smith, who posted 8.5 sacks for the Ravens last season — including three against the Titans.

Pees had an integral role in the Ravens selecting Smith in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. He was at Smith’s pro day in Kentucky and told him he’d be a Raven. And having Pees in place lessens the risk of the scheme not matching the player, because Smith has already excelled in the same system. Smith would give the Titans a player who can line up at outside linebacker in base defense and as a four or five technique in nickel packages. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey draws a lot of attention from opposing offenses and needs a running mate who can take advantage of one-on-one matchups.

Adding a pure outside linebacker in the draft — such as Florida’s Jachai Polite, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat or Florida State’s Brian Burns — would be the finishing piece for the Titans’ defense. A rookie could provide pressure off the edge, giving quarterbacks less time to wait for the wide receivers to run their routes, thus helping the secondary.

Re-signing Vaccaro is a necessity as well. He quickly became a player who set the tone for the defense last season. Former Titans safety Michael Griffin pointed out that Vaccaro and Byard gave Pees a group similar to the Super Bowl XLVII-winning secondary that featured Ed Reed (ballhawk) and Bernard Pollard (thumper).

Tightening things up on the back end is crucial for the Titans’ defense to take the next step. The secondary struggled early in the season, giving up big plays such as Eagles wideout Jordan Matthews’ 51-yard touchdown reception and a 75-yard score by Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams, but they rebounded and finished with seven plays of 40 yards or more allowed.

“Whenever you have a secondary that doesn’t give up big plays, you are going to have a heckuva defense,” Pees said.

The continued development of linebackers Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans will help as well, but it all starts with Pees.

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The coaching talent was obvious, but the coaches were just young — in some cases, too young to even rent a car. But it was a group that helped develop one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses for a season in Washington, and eventually delivered head coaches to three different teams.

When Matt LaFleur was hired last week by the Green Bay Packers, he became the third former Redskins assistant coach under Mike Shanahan to be hired as an NFL head coach.

One of the others, Sean McVay, is preparing his team for the NFC Championship Game in only his second season with the Los Angeles Rams. Kyle Shanahan just finished his second season with the San Francisco 49ers. Shanahan and LaFleur were fired by Washington after the 2013 season; McVay stayed through 2016, when he then accepted the Rams’ job.

Each one helped the other, said Mike Shanahan, the Redskins’ head coach from 2010 to 2013.

“When guys are really driven and want to learn the game and all of a sudden someone knows something someone else doesn’t, they want to know what that guy knows,” Shanahan said. “When you have coaches like that, you get a lot better. A lot of guys are experts at their position, but could care less to understand the total game. But guys that want to know everything usually get an opportunity to be a coordinator or head coach.”

That’s what happened with this group. At the time Shanahan compiled this staff, there was some criticism that he was simply allowing his son to hire his friends. Turns out, they were gathering good, young minds. They all run a variation of a West Coast system, with each one including wrinkles from various stops; McVay incorporated some of Jay Gruden’s offense, for example. But each of the three shared a core belief in what they ran in Washington. It also helped that Mike Shanahan would have his coaches present their offense in front of the defensive coaches and vice versa. It sharpened their ability to present in front of a group — a key skill for a coordinator or head coach.

“You have guys that really understand what was going on when they were coaching together,” Shanahan said. “They had a system they believed in. Obviously every coach is as good as his personnel. … You have to have a system that gives you a chance and then in turn to put people in situations so they can attack a defense.”

Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Jay Gruden talk before a 2015 game in Atlanta. John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images
For Mike Shanahan, the ascension of this group started with Kyle Shanahan and what he had done in Houston in 2008 and 2009, the two years before joining his father’s staff. The Texans, with Kyle as the offensive coordinator, finished fourth and third, respectively, in yards per game, and improved from 17th to 10th in points.

“You could see it in the play-action game and you could see it in the drop-back game,” Mike Shanahan said. “When people get an opportunity to be a coordinator and call plays for a couple years, you take a look at what they’re thinking compared to what they’ve done in the past. Guys who make their offense grow, what they usually do in the offseason is study everyone in the NFL and say how can we make our offense better, what can we do to go from the middle of the pack to the top five? If you have those types of coaches on your staff and then combine that with some better players, you have a chance to get into the top five.”

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In 2010, the Redskins ranked 18th in yards and 25th in points. By 2012, they had nine new starters, including dynamic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. That season, the Redskins ranked fifth in yards and fourth in points while taking the zone-read option to new levels in the NFL. Griffin won Rookie of the Year honors, throwing for 3,200 yards and rushing for 815. That season, Kyle Shanahan was still coordinator with LaFleur as the quarterbacks coach and McVay coaching the tight ends.

“What they did was the same things that had been done before,” Mike Shanahan said. “We just implemented it with what Robert did best. That was a running game with maybe three or four running plays with the same play-action game with it.”

Shanahan said he knew there was something different about McVay. He started with the Redskins in 2010 when he was 23 years old, serving as an assistant tight ends coach. He became the full-time tight ends coach in 2011. Shanahan liked how McVay took a big-picture approach.

“You could see right away Sean embraced it and embraced knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a defense and all the things as a head coach you’re hoping your coaches have, but very seldom have,” Shanahan said. “Usually guys know their positions and very few want to know everything or have the ability to learn everything.

“I knew right away and I told many people even after the first year he was with me that it won’t be long before he’s a coordinator because of his thirst for knowledge and [desire] to understand everything on both sides and the ability to communicate with people. You just knew it was going to happen.”

Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur coached Robert Griffin III during his dynamic Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012. John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images
McVay became Gruden’s offensive coordinator in 2014 and, after calling plays for most of three years, was hired by the Rams as head coach at age 30. LaFleur had the longest wait of the three, going to Notre Dame in 2014 as quarterbacks coach before joining Kyle Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons a year later for two more seasons. He then went to the Rams, serving as McVay’s offensive coordinator (though not calling plays) for one season. LaFleur called plays in Tennessee this past season. Like Kyle Shanahan, he’s only 39.

“Matt didn’t have the background that Sean or Kyle had,” Shanahan said. “He’s got a lot of confidence because he’s been going at it for five years. He’s going to have to depend on coaches help him because he’s only in his second year calling plays. With that there’s a learning curve; all coaches go through it.”

But Shanahan knows why Green Bay hired him, even though LaFleur spent only one year calling plays. He pointed to the success the offense had in Atlanta as well as with the Rams the past two years.

“It proves if you do get players in the system, you can be a top offense in the league,” Shanahan said. “That’s why people take a chance with a guy like Matt. They’ve gotten that opportunity maybe a year or two earlier than normal just because of the success they had and because they wanted a guy that’s part of a system like that. It makes sense.”

Despite the offensive brain power, for a variety of reasons the Redskins posted one winning season in their four years together. Still, Shanahan says he feels satisfaction from this trio’s rise.

“Guys like Sean and Kyle and Matt, they really studied to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of a defense,” Shanahan said. “Now they’re in position to give themselves a chance to win a Super Bowl. It’s fun to see.”

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — On the day they introduced their first offensive-minded head coach in more than 20 years, the New York Jets were forced to play defense.

CEO Christopher Johnson defended the decision to hire Adam Gase, insisting Monday that he isn’t worried about the negative reaction from fans.

“I get it,” Johnson told reporters after the formal news conference. “Part of it is I have to earn their trust. We just had a couple of down years. I have to earn their trust. I think they will see, if not right now, they’ll see it pretty soon as a great hire.

“I’m not trying to win Twitter. I’m trying to win football games. I think we’re going to win some football games here.”


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In two seasons as the acting owner, Johnson has presided over 5-11 and 4-12 seasons, resulting in Todd Bowles’ ouster. After interviewing eight candidates, including former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, the Jets picked Gase, in large part because of his background with quarterbacks. That was the theme of the day: quarterbacks and Sam Darnold, who had input on the coaching search. The Jets’ hierarchy overlooked Gase’s mediocre record with the Miami Dolphins (23-25) because they believe he can turn Darnold into a star.

“It’s really the first time I’ve been able to get with a guy this young, this early in his career,” said Gase, who has worked with Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill. “He’s hungry for knowledge. He wants to be coached. When you have a player like that who also has the physical traits, it’s exciting for me.”

Gase said his first priority is hiring a staff. The Jets haven’t announced any hires, but they have retained special-teams coordinator Brant Boyer, sources said. Former Cleveland Browns interim coach Gregg Williams has been floated as a defensive coordinator candidate, but that isn’t a done deal. Gase might not hire a quarterbacks coach, suggesting that he will be hands-on with Darnold.

The Jets’ most recent head coach with an offensive background was Rich Kotite, who went 4-28 in 1995-96. The league is trending toward so-called quarterback whisperers, and the Jets joined the fad.

“To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, he’s coaching to where football is going,” Johnson said of Gase.

“I’m not trying to win Twitter. I’m trying to win football games,” Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, left, said in defending his hiring of head coach Adam Gase, center. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
McCarthy is an offensive-minded coach, and unlike Gase, he has won a Super Bowl. Johnson described McCarthy as a “terrific” candidate who enjoyed an “incredible run” with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but that wasn’t enough to convince him and general manager Mike Maccagnan that McCarthy was right for the Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs in eight years.

“To me, to Mike, seeing how Adam has gotten the best out of quarterbacks in different stages of their careers is vitally important, no question,” Johnson said in explaining why he preferred Gase.

“It’s not that there was anything wrong with McCarthy or any of the other guys. They were fantastic, but Adam took it to another level.”

Johnson refuted reports that said talks with McCarthy and Baylor coach Matt Rhule broke down because management wanted to pick their assistant coaches. Rhule, in a radio interview after Gase was hired, said he didn’t want to be part of “an arranged marriage.”

“No, that never happened,” Johnson said. “I completely deny it.”

Gase didn’t bring much electricity to his first news conference, speaking for less than two minutes with his opening remarks. He avoided bold statements and spoke in generalities, not sharing his vision for the team.

He lamented Miami’s offensive struggles last season (31st in yards), saying the Dolphins sacrificed statistics for wins. He also claimed that he is on board with the Jets’ power structure. He won’t have control of the roster, an authority he held in Miami.

“That’s not something I was really interested in,” he said. “That’s just kind of how it worked out in Miami. It was something that was almost offered up. … I knew coming in here it would be a team effort. I can do my part, which is coaching the team.”

Gase received a strong endorsement from Manning, who called Johnson last week to advocate for Gase. Asked about Manning’s recommendation, Gase smiled and said, “I feel like he’s had to do it too much.”

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PHILADELPHIA — A 48-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 11 was the low point of the season for the Philadelphia Eagles, but quarterback Nick Foles says it was also the turning point.

“That game has helped us become the team we are today,” Foles said Wednesday as the Eagles began preparations for this weekend’s divisional playoff against New Orleans. “Going through that, that’s not easy as a team to lose like that. But there was never a pointing of the finger. It actually brought us closer. It can separate a team or it can bring us closer, and it brought us closer.”


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That loss dropped the Eagles to 4-6 and put their postseason hopes in peril. They responded by winning five of six to capture the sixth and final playoff seed.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins, stinging from what he described as an embarrassing loss to his former team, took issue with the Eagles’ demeanor during that game and suggested some players lacked fight.

“At that point in time, obviously, that’s the low point of our season. But at no point did we doubt that we have the locker room,” Jenkins said. “We just knew that we had to put it together. Since then, I think we responded and earned our opportunity to go back down there.”

Late in that game, Jenkins made an obscene gesture, extending his middle finger toward Sean Payton following a Saints touchdown because he believed his former coach was running up the score — a sentiment others in the Eagles locker room, including tackle Jason Peters, have shared.

Coach Doug Pederson, however, did not play into that angle when addressing the media Wednesday.

“No, I did not [think they ran up the score]. Listen, we get paid to play, just like they do. We just didn’t make enough plays,” Pederson said. “We have to keep them out of the end zone and we have to score. We didn’t do either one very well.”

Foles has been a key part of the Eagles’ turnaround since that loss. He has won four straight in place of the injured Carson Wentz, including a 16-15 thriller over the Chicago Bears in the wild-card round last weekend.

As Bears kicker Cody Parkey lined up for the potential game-winner at the end of the game, center Jason Kelce found Foles on the sideline to let him know that he was going to miss him if this was in fact the end. Then came the Treyvon Hester tip and the double doink, extending Foles’ time in Philly and setting up a rematch with a Saints team that sparked the turnaround.

“”It means the world,” Foles said. “I’m not worried about the future, but at the same time, I understand where I stand. And every time I wear that jersey is special and to play with guys like Jason, that’s special. I’ve been fortunate to play with the best center in the game.

“I’ll never forget that. Fortunately, we tipped the field goal and it didn’t go in, which was a huge play by Hester. But we get one more week together, at least.”

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ezekiel Elliott’s importance to the Dallas Cowboys was on full display Sunday, and he did not even play.

For the first time in his career, Elliott was healthy and did not dress for a game. The Cowboys did not even want him going through pregame warmups. At least in 2016, when the Cowboys had home-field advantage wrapped up, Elliott was able to wear his uniform and sit on the bench for four quarters.

On Sunday, Elliott was in a blue sweat suit.

And the Cowboys won anyway, beating the New York Giants 36-35.

Now a rested Elliott will lead Dallas against Seattle in the wild-card round on Saturday. He ran for 127 yards on 16 carries during the Cowboys’ Week 3 loss in Seattle, but he also lost a fumble. The Cowboys are looking to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and they’ll be facing a Seahawks team that was middle of the pack in rushing defense.

Elliott still kept busy Sunday. He ran the pregame huddle, bouncing around his teammates, pumping them up. On the sidelines, he was talking to his fellow running backs. When Rod Smith bulled his way in for a 1-yard touchdown, Elliott met him with a leaping high-five.

Ezekiel Elliott won’t be wearing a sweatsuit when the Cowboys host the Seahawks. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
“Each and every drive I was coming to the sideline and he had something to say. Or as I’m going back out there, [he was] encouraging us,” Dak Prescott said. “But he was definitely locked in. That’s what you need from your running back and a leader of the team.”

By sitting Elliott, the Cowboys showed just how important he will be to their playoff success.

“We all know the leading rusher in the NFL is an important player,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “But he’s also had more touches. Maybe the guy we played [Saquon Barkley] might’ve been right there with him, but [Elliott] had more touches than anybody I’ve ever been around as far as 15 games. This was real similar to his rookie year when he didn’t play in the last regular-season game when he led the league in rushing that year either.

“I think it will help him, think it’ll be a little jolt for him feeling refreshed going into next week’s game.”

In a league dominated by passing, the Cowboys will look to win the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl in an old-school manner: the running game and defense.

Elliott won his second rushing title in three seasons on Sunday without taking a snap. He finished the year with 304 carries for 1,434 yards. As a rookie in 2016, he had 1,631 yards in 15 games to win the rushing title.

The last team to win a Super Bowl with the rushing champion was the 1998 Denver Broncos when Terrell Davis ran for 2,008 yards. In the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, Emmitt Smith was the rushing champ in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

“We ask him to do a lot of things,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “We play through him. He’s our playmaker, so they obviously want to get him as many touches as possible.”

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In the 15 games Elliott played, he accounted for 39.4 percent of the Cowboys’ scrimmage yards, 2,001 of the 5,082 yards, the highest percentage of any player in the league. Through the first 15 weeks, David Johnson of the Cardinals was second at 35.9 percent.

Since selecting Elliott fourth overall in 2016, the Cowboys have not hid their desire to get him the ball. A lot.

In three seasons, he has 5,247 yards from scrimmage. He is only the fourth player in league history to eclipse more than 1,900 scrimmage yards in two of his first three seasons. Eric Dickerson (1983-84), Edgerrin James (1999-2000) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2002-03) are the only others to have done it twice.

Elliott missed six games in 2017 because of a suspension but would have had more than 2,000 scrimmage yards based on his totals through 10 games.

“They drafted me the No. 4 overall pick and I’d like to think that I’ve fulfilled all the expectations that they’ve expected of me,” Elliott said.

This season, Elliott became a bigger part of the passing game partly because he had to with the release of Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten. His 77 catches are the most by a running back in a season in franchise history. He entered the year with 58 catches in 25 games. He matched his career total with three touchdown receptions this season.

“I’ll never say somebody can replace Witt or what Witt meant, obviously. But just having [Elliott] in your back pocket, knowing you’re in trouble, knowing a blitz is coming or something like that, you got a back you can get it out to or no telling when he gets it, what he might to do with it,” Prescott said. “That serves this offense so much and keeps us ahead of the chains.”

Twice this season Elliott had games with more than 200 scrimmage yards. His four games of at least 200 scrimmage yards are tied for the most in team history with Smith and DeMarco Murray.

“I don’t know anybody who’s better with the ball in his hands,” Beasley said of Elliott.

The Cowboys took the ball out of Elliott’s hands against the Giants.

That won’t be the case in the playoffs.

The Cowboys’ road to Super Bowl LIII will have to be paved by Elliott.

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COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers tight end Virgil Green has an immense chip on his shoulder for Sunday’s game.

Facing his former team in the Denver Broncos for a second time this season, but for the first time on the road, the 30-year-old tight end said he felt disrespected his last three years in Denver.

“I’m really trying to go at them and show them what they had and didn’t use,” Green said. “I don’t think they respected the way I played the game, the way I went about my business.

“I feel like here — not only from my teammates, but from the coaches and the organization — I feel like the work I do is more respected here than it was there.”

Although his agents talked with them, Green said the Broncos did not extend an offer in free agency.

Instead, the Nevada product signed a three-year, $8.6 million deal to join the Chargers, returning to his home state of California.

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With Hunter Henry suffering a torn ACL knee injury in May, Green assumed the role as the Bolts’ No. 1 tight end.

Although Green has posted modest numbers in the passing game this year, with 19 catches for 210 receiving yards and a touchdown, he has been a big addition to a Bolts’ running game that’s averaging 107.4 yards per game, ninth in the NFL. Green has played 608 snaps on offense for the Chargers.

“It just wasn’t healthy mentally for me to be there anymore,” said Green of being in Denver. “So I knew I had to get out of there. … This is the happiest I’ve been in a real long time.

“I have no ill feelings toward them, I just felt like the way I played the game wasn’t respected as much as it is here.”

Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said he has been pleased with how Green has played for the Chargers.

“He’s been an unselfish player,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s a tremendous blocker. He’s done a good job in the pass game and worked hard. So it was a tremendous move by [general manager] Tom Telesco and his group to get Virgil signed, because that position is always hard to find guys that you think could be as consistent as Virgil has been, and he’s been a really good player for us.”

Green knows he will have his hands full this weekend against edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The duo totaled two sacks in Denver’s surprising 23-22 win over the Chargers at StubHub Center last month.

“They did some things against us that we’re kind of prepared for this go-round,” Green said. “But those guys that they have are some pretty unique guys. That stuff that Von can do, the stuff that Chubb can do, they can cause some havoc. So you definitely have to be on your A-game and make sure we take the fight to those guys.”

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Cyrus Jones was sure his tenure with the Patriots was over when he was cut at the end of training camp earlier this month.

New England chose to sever ties with the cornerback and return man, a second-round pick in 2016, after an underwhelming two-year tenure.

It included fumble issues and a right knee injury that caused him to miss the 2017 season.

It is why Jones said he was “blown away” when he got a call from his agent Monday night saying that the Patriots wanted to re-sign him.

A deal was completed, and Jones was added to the 53-man roster on Wednesday. He practiced for the first time with his old team Thursday.

“Everybody was excited to see me, as I was excited to see them,” said Jones, who had been on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad since being released by New England.

Jones has been working with the safeties since his return, a position that took a hit when starter Patrick Chung suffered a concussion during New England’s loss at Jacksonville.

Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner — a primary special teamer — are the only other safeties on the depth chart. So, if Chung isn’t cleared to play this weekend against Detroit, the chances are high that Jones will see at least some action.

McCourty said he started beaming when he saw Jones back in the team cafeteria.

“Even when he left and went to Baltimore, I was texting him to see how he was doing,” McCourty said. “It was a good feeling seeing him come back in here.”

Jones appeared in 10 games for the Patriots in 2016, making one start. But he had more fumbles (five on 19 punt and kick returns) than tackles (three) on defence.

He was making progress this spring after his knee surgery, but it wasn’t enough to secure him a roster spot when New England made its initial 53-man cut.

He said he’s not looking at this second opportunity as a chance at redemption.

“I’m just here to do a job, just like everybody else,” Jones said. “I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as another opportunity, just like it was when I was in Baltimore. Just like I did when I left here. Trying to be the best guy on Sundays.”

But Jones acknowledged “it hurt” not being on a roster to open the season.

“I get that opportunity being back here, so I’m going to make the most of it,” he said.

Jones said he’s put the past and the circumstances surrounding his initial departure behind him. He said he respects the Patriots reasons for letting him go.

“Whether I was working my way back from injury or whatever — who wants to get cut?” Jones said. “It really didn’t matter the circumstances of why I got cut. It didn’t matter. That wasn’t important to me. It happened, and I dealt with it like a man and moved on.

“Fortunately enough, coach thought enough of me to bring me back and to help this team win. That’s what I’m gonna focus on doing.”

Notes: TE Rob Gronkowski was limited in practice Thursday with an ankle issue. Chung and DE Trey Flowers both sat out the second straight day as they continue to go through the league’s concussion protocol.


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TAMPA, Fla. — So much for struggling without Jameis Winston.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not only thriving in the suspended quarterback’s absence, they’re evolving into an offensive juggernaut that’s set to perform on a national stage when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit Monday night.

Thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick and a talented collection of playmakers that include DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, the Bucs (2-0) are off to their best start in eight years and have the NFL’s top-ranked offence.

The Steelers (0-1-1) are not far behind at No. 2, however inconsistency on defence has Ben Roethlisberger and Co. winless through two weeks.

“I respect what they’ve done. I’m not so sure I’m surprised,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Tampa Bay’s emergence with wins against the New Orleans Saints and the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

They’ve done it with Fitzpatrick, a 35-year-old journeyman who has thrown TD passes for seven NFL franchises, delivering the best two games of his career.

“Man, he’s got some explosive weapons. He’s stepping in for Winston, but Fitz is not a step-in guy. This guy has started in multiple cities,” Tomlin said.

“We’ve seen him extensively in Cincinnati and Buffalo. He’s a smart guy, Ivy League-educated, always made good decisions. That’s why he’s been able to sustain himself and play for the length of time that he’s played.”

What once looked as if it might be a potentially disastrous stretch to open the season with Winston suspended three games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy suddenly is an opportunity for the team’s first 3-0 start since 2005.

Very encouraging for a franchise that has missed the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons, the second-longest drought in the league behind the Cleveland Browns (15).

Fitzpatrick believes he’s playing the best football of his career.

“But, I mean, it’s early. Consistency is the biggest thing,” the 14th-year pro said. “Trying to stay consistent with a high level of performance and just continue to try to win games.”

As well as things are coming together for the Bucs, though, it’s been rocky times for the struggling Steelers, off to their worst start in five years.

Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell has not reported to the team and signed his one-year franchise tender

And star receiver Antonio Brown made headlines after shouting at offensive co-ordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline last week and then responding to criticism on social media from a former team employee by suggesting the team trade him if it wants to find out how productive he can be without Roethlisberger.

Tomlin, however, isn’t flinching.

“We are two weeks in. We do not have a large body of work. We are focused on winning this next opportunity,” the coach said.

“I am not ready to paint with a broad brush … in terms of where our football team is or what is going to define this group.”

Some things to know about the Steelers and Buccaneers:


All the self-created melodrama surrounding Brown has overshadowed another significant development for Pittsburgh’s offence: the continued rise of second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The 21-year-old came on strong over the second half of his rookie season in 2017 and has picked up right where he left off. Smith-Schuster is tied for Brown for the team lead in receptions (18) and his 240 yards receiving ranks fifth in the league.

“He just has a great knack and feel for the game, knowing when to sit down in zone, knowing when to move in man,” Roethlisberger said.

“He uses his body and size at times, so I think he’s really studied the game, and studied his game and has really gotten better.”

RING OF Honour

Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl as a player with the Steelers and later transformed Tampa Bay from a laughingstock into a championship contender as a coach, will be inducted into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony.

He joins Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, as well as Doug Williams, Jimmie Giles, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Paul Gruber, coaches John McKay and Jon Gruden and late owner Malcolm Glazer as members of the ring.


The Steelers have made it a habit of stubbing their toe early in the season only to find their groove at midseason and reach the playoffs each of the past four years. Not that their resiliency has provided them any sort of comfort facing the club’s worst start since 2013.

“It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I’m not worried about what we’ve done two years ago, a year ago. Worry about what we’ve got to do now, the present. Be in this moment. Understand we made some mistakes. Now we’ve got to correct it.”


Defensive breakdowns and Brown’s behaviour aren’t Pittsburgh’s only problems. The Steelers have hurt themselves under an avalanche of penalty yards.

Pittsburgh has been flagged 24 times for an NFL-high 206 yards in penalties through two weeks.

Tomlin described the issues as “popcorn,” meaning they’re coming from all over the place. If there’s a bright side for the Steelers, it’s that they’ve found a way to clean things up as the season progresses.

A year ago they were called for 23 penalties through two games and finished with the ninth-fewest penalty yards in the league.


AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — New York Jets outside linebacker Josh Martin has been ruled out Monday night at Detroit because of a concussion.

The Jets also announced Saturday that wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (abdomen) and safety Marcus Maye (foot) are doubtful to play.

With Martin sidelined, New York promoted rookie outside linebacker Frankie Luvu from the practice squad and waived fullback Lawrence Thomas.

Quincy Enunwa is likely to move into the starting lineup opposite Robby Anderson with Kearse, who led the team in receptions last season, sidelined.

Coach Todd Bowles said either Doug Middleton or J.J. Wilcox would replace Maye if the second-year safety couldn’t play.

Luvu, an undrafted free agent out of Washington State, was among the Jets’ final cuts last weekend.

Without Thomas, New York has no players listed at fullback. Tight end Eric Tomlinson will likely fill that role.