Matthew Stafford knows what ‘talented’ Sam Darnold faces

Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Matthew Stafford can understand it all, everything New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold might be going through this week. Because the veteran quarterback has been there, and he understands all the expectations and ups and downs that could come.

In 2009, Stafford was Darnold — opening his rookie season as a highly touted quarterback on the road against an opponent with a veteran defense and a top quarterback. That opponent was New Orleans with Drew Brees. And the Saints ended that season by beating Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.

Stafford watched Darnold play at USC. Watched him play during the preseason. Likes his arm. Thinks Darnold is “a talented kid.” But like any rookie, Stafford said, you don’t know what you don’t know because college is way different than the NFL.

“Listen, this game is about experience,” Stafford said. “This league is about experience. You know, he played at a high level in college against some high-level competition. He’s gotten some under his belt in the preseason and he’s a talented guy.

“He can make a bunch of plays not only with his arm but with his feet. We’ve seen it more and more recently, these young guys coming in and playing at a really high level.”

Stafford and Darnold weren’t in the exact same situation. Darnold has more talent around him in New York than Stafford did coming off the Lions’ 0-16 season in 2008. But the issues he faced in 2009 will be similar to what Darnold will face this week against Detroit and for the first part of this season.

Stafford’s first game as a pro didn’t turn out too well, either. He completed 16 of 37 passes for 205 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked once and had a passer rating of 27.4 — the worst of his career.

“All of it is tough. We weren’t a great football team at that point,” Stafford said. “We were rebuilding in a lot of areas. I was not by any means, and still am not, a finished product. You know, learning on the fly against some great competition, but that’s what it’s all about.”

So Darnold will start in Detroit. Against Stafford. On Monday Night Football. And the Lions, like the Saints did to a rookie 10 years ago, will hope to give the Jets’ starter plenty more to learn.

http://www.espn.com/blog/detroit-lions/post/_/id/34239/matthew-stafford-understands-what-talented-sam-darnold-is-going-to-face

Photo: AP Photo/Gail Burton

Bear or Packer? After playing for both, usually one sticks

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Edgar Bennett was a Green Bay Packer who played for the Chicago Bears. Steve McMichael was a Bear who played for the Packers.

Rare was the player whose career included stints with both teams. In the nearly 200 years of combined football played by the two storied franchises — Sunday night’s season opener at Lambeau Field kicks off the 100th season for the Packers and 99th for the Bears — only 87 players have suited up for both teams, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Only one of them, a 1930s-era offensive lineman named Walt Kiesling, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Among those who played for both, there’s usually an allegiance that sticks.

If there was any doubt about where McMichael’s rests, the voicemail message he left when he returned a call to talk specifically about this said it all:

“Go Bears,” he exclaimed at the end.

Known as Mongo, the 60-year-old former defensive tackle who co-hosts a Bears pregame show on ESPN Chicago WMVP-AM spent 13 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Bears, including the 1985 Super Bowl team known for its defense. He broke in with the Patriots in 1980 and finished with the Packers in 1994.

“This is the story I tell the Bears fans to make it all right — because they’re disgruntled I did that — and after I tell it to them like this they’re all right with it,” McMichael said. “For 13 years I played against the Packers and beat them every year, so I whooped their ass, right? The last year of my career I went up there and wasn’t any good anymore and stole their money.

“That’s a little satire, but it gets over with them. Because I don’t want them being disgruntled with me because I consider myself a Bear, baby.”

Steve McMichael doesn’t want Bears fans to be “disgruntled” with him “because I consider myself a Bear, baby.” Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bennett and McMichael were actually teammates with the Packers in 1994, Bennett’s third season in the league. The running back finished his career with two years (1998-99) with the Bears.

Bennett then came back to the Packers as assistant coach from 2005-17. Just about every time the Bears came up on the schedule in recent seasons, Bennett would get questions about the rivalry and what it was like to play on both sides. He was always careful not to say anything that would stir up trouble.

“I was lucky enough to play for two great organizations,” Bennett said last year. “But I started with the Packers, and I’m still with the Packers.”

The anomaly is Julius Peppers, who shouldn’t be strictly associated with one team or the other.

Perhaps that’s why it was Peppers who — after he gave a much-talked-about inspirational pregame speech in the Green Bay locker room before his first game against the Bears as a Packer, in 2014 — expressed empathy for his old team after a 55-14 Green Bay victory.

“I’m not really here to kick them while they’re down,” Peppers said after that game.

Unlike Bennett and McMichael, who finished their careers with the rival team, Peppers’ time in the rivalry — four years with the Bears (2000-13) and three with the Packers (2014-16) — came in the middle of his career, sandwiched between his start and presumed finish with the Carolina Panthers, which will ultimately be the team he’s associated with the most.

McMichael said he signed with the Packers because Brett Favre and Reggie White were there, and it was “a chance to play with some legends.”

Then he added: “Really, the Bears said, ‘We don’t want you anymore,’ and the Packers said, ‘We do.’ So what do you do? You go to Green Bay.”

Then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren made McMichael the defensive captain for both games against the Bears that season, including the Monday Night Football monsoon game on Halloween.

“God was crying that night because I was playing for the Packers,” McMichael said.

http://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/45607/bear-or-packer-after-playing-for-both-usually-one-sticks

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers agrees to record-setting extension

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have agreed to a record-breaking four-year, $134 million extension that could be worth up to $180 million in total money, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday.

Rodgers is expected to sign the deal at some point Wednesday, a source told Schefter. The deal would run through the 2023 season, when Rodgers will turn 40 years old.

The extension includes nearly $103 million total in guarantees, another record amount, and has an annual average value of $33.5 million, according to Schefter.

The total maximum value of the deal is between $176 million and $180 million, based on $4 million in incentives tied to helping the Packers make the playoffs and finishing top three in quarterback rating, the source told Schefter.

An important feature of the deal for Rodgers was the cash flow in the first year, according to Schefter. Rodgers will receive $67 million by the end of the 2018 calendar year and an additional $13 million before March 17, 2019, according to Schefter.

The two sides had been working on this since before the combine in early March, when new general manager Brian Gutekunst said he expected a deal to get done this offseason.

When Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan signed an extension on May 3 that averaged $30 million per season, it cleared the way for the Packers to once again make Rodgers the highest-paid player in the NFL. That came after Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal for $27.5 million a year with the 49ers in February and Kirk Cousins’ $28 million a year deal with the Vikings in March.

When Rodgers signed his last contract — a five-year, $110 million extension that included a $35 million signing bonus and a total of $54 million guaranteed — he was at the top of the scale at $22 million per year. He surpassed Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who at $20.1 million per season had been the highest paid player in the NFL.

Before this latest deal, he had slipped to ninth. He had two seasons left on that contract and was scheduled to make $20.9 million this season and $21.1 million in 2019.

Rodgers, 34, has said he would like to follow Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and play into his 40s. Rodgers is entering his 14th NFL season, but it’s only his 11th as a starter after he sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons.

Rodgers said earlier this offseason: “I’ve said I’d love to finish my career here.”

“Every player would love to be able to pick when and how they finish up,” Rodgers said this offseason. “That usually doesn’t happen, though. So I’m going to try to play as well as I can for a number of years, and hopefully it’s here the entire time.”

Rodgers has sustained two major injuries in the past five seasons — a broken left clavicle in 2013 and a broken right clavicle last season. After the first one, he came back the next season and won his second NFL MVP.

The biggest question leading up to this point was how the Packers and Rodgers could structure a deal to ensure they remained as a Super Bowl contender.

“Like the last time, although it was large financial numbers, it was a deal that myself and the team was happy with,” Rodgers said earlier this offseason. “It gave us the ability to do some things and made my camp number never go above an unmanageable level. So, obviously, I want to finish my career here. I’ve said that a number of times and still have two years left on my deal, so we’ll see what happens this offseason.”

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/24514088/green-bay-packers-aaron-rodgers-record-extension

Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Packers trade QB Hundley to Seahawks

By Blake Froling

The Green Bay Packers traded backup quarterback Brett Hundley to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2019 sixth-round draft pick, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Rob Demovsky.

Hundley was forced into duty last year when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in week six and struggled, going 3-6 as a starter. He threw nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions and completed just over 60 percent of his passes.

So far this preseason, Hundley is 23/37 passing for 263 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Former Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer is now the presumptive backup to Rodgers. He was acquired via trade early in the offseason for cornerback Damarious Randall.

Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images

Lions’ Zach Zenner working to cure rare disease, save kids’ lives

Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — He finished his workout, got in his car and drove 1.8 miles from the Detroit Lions’ practice facility to a Starbucks inside a Barnes & Noble. Zach Zenner sat down, opened up his laptop and began his second job: trying to save the lives of children.

For at least two hours each day this spring, inside the bookstore he has gone to since his rookie year, Zenner logged on to a microscope almost 1,000 miles away at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine. There, he read images of the stained brains of mice studied in a lab. He recorded the results and analyzed the data.

This was Zenner’s latest offseason, medical-research project, joining Dr. Jill Weimer’s team at Sanford searching for effective drug treatments and, hopefully, eventually, a cure for Batten Disease. This was different than Zenner’s past two years studying hypertension and diabetes in Detroit-based labs, earning him a medical-journal publication. This time, he was working remotely instead of having his hands in everything. His responsibilities changed, forcing him to use different brain muscles.

And he was working to find a way to keep children alive from a rare, debilitating disease.

All 13 types of Batten Disease — a group of lysosomal storage genetic disorders — affect children. The National Institutes of Health estimates that between two and four of every 100,000 children in the United States will be diagnosed with a form of Batten. Almost all are fatal, most by the time the child reaches age 12. There is no cure. Only one form — CLN2 — has a potentially effective treatment.

When Zenner started working on Batten, he didn’t know much about it. Assigned to write an introduction for a couple of papers, he began to dive deep into the disease. Children with Batten, according to the NIH, appear healthy at birth and can start showing symptoms anywhere from infancy to age 4 or 5, depending on the form.

Eventually, the children can become blind, unable to communicate and are sometimes confined to a wheelchair.

“It just puts it in perspective what you’re doing,” Zenner said. “It might seem like all you’re doing is crunching numbers and looking at image slides, but then you always have to have in the back of your mind what the overall picture is, which is trying to help those kids out that have it.”

Zenner ended up on the project because it fit his schedule demands. He knew he would have to work remotely due to a combination of his hectic life, lab location, football training and the birth of his first child.

Sanford invited him to work there, in part, because he already is accepted to the medical school. A good opportunity to do quality research along with making connections for his future, he accepted.

He met Weimer, who was skeptical of the arrangement at first. She figured she might hear from him once or twice and that he’d work when he could. She didn’t expect him to become a fully immersed part of the group, including participating in the group WhatsApp chat and twice-weekly lab meetings via Skype.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Weimer said. “Even the week after they had the baby, he logged into lab meetings. He’s holding the baby in his arms while his wife was getting some rest. It was so impressive.”

Zenner became one of two “Weimer Lab Ghosts” along with Katherine White, whom he worked with almost daily — communicating what they were seeing and the data they were tracking.

Zenner’s past two years placed him in labs studying mice under microscopes, participating in different tests, feeding them, recording data and sometimes doing postmortem surgery to help with results. This project, over the span of six months, featured his critical thinking and a more intensive scientific-writing regimen.

“To go back and write again is such a good exercise and so important in science,” Zenner said. “To do that was really good. A good exercise. It was just different skills. The image analysis is something that is a part of any lab work and ended up just being more of my focus this time around, and it’s good.

“It’s a good skill to have, and although it is different, it is still very important for a lot of labs that you work in.”

Weimer had Zenner record the results he read on the microscope blindly — meaning he didn’t know which slides were the disease with drug treatment and which were without — so he could make unbiased decisions about whether or not the treatment was working.

Much of Zenner’s work focused specifically on CLN6, with which symptoms begin within a child’s first few years. It leads to children losing the ability to walk, speak and, eventually, see. Kids with CLN6 usually die by their early teenage years. There is also an adult-onset version of CLN6 that has a slower rate of decline.

CLN6 is trickier, Weimer said; from her observations, if a family’s first child has it, somehow the second child often does, as well — even though it should be only a 1-in-4 possibility.

For any type of Batten to occur, the child has to receive a bad gene from both parents, both of whom have to be carriers for the disease. A lot of recent Batten disease research funding came from the Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray Foundation, a nonprofit started by Gordon Gray — a producer on the films “Miracle,” “The Rookie” and “Million Dollar Arm” — and his wife, Kristen. Their two daughters have Batten. Money raised by their research helped create a gene therapy clinical trial in less than a year.

“Part of what Zach was involved in was helping us with the analysis of screening gene therapy in other forms of Batten disease and just knowing that sometimes it could take a long time for kids to get the cue to receive the gene therapy,” Weimer said. “Or some of them aren’t eligible for the gene therapy trial, so what other drugs or treatments are there out on the market that we can actually be treating these kids with?

“Also, gene therapy is so new, we have no clue how long it is going to last, so we’ll always want to have an arsenal of treatments ready to go. So the drugs Zach was involved in screening were really those next-generation treatments that we kind of have cued up after the gene therapy.”

Zenner, standing in the Lions’ locker room earlier this month, shook his head when he was asked what he learned about Batten. He could have been there for hours and not covered all of it. Working on a rare disease parents and children have no control over left him with a greater appreciation of the wonder of the human body.

“I’m always struck by how easy it is for things to go wrong, like you have one genetic mutation and you’re missing this protein and now you have an autosomal storage disorder and you have progressive nerve degeneration and you die when you’re 8 years old,” Zenner said. “You know, it’s horrible. But it’s such a small thing that turns into such a large consequence.

“I’m always struck by how the human body is put together and how so many things can go wrong. But when you look at the general population, how often it doesn’t go wrong and the miracle of human life, I guess.”

Studying humans — and helping them — has always been Zenner’s goal. He applied to medical school before he knew professional football would be a reality.

He has deferred Sanford’s acceptance yearly as he stayed with the Lions. While Sanford still has an agreement to accept him, because his NFL career has been an actual career — something unknown when he was an undrafted free agent out of South Dakota State in 2015 — he likely has to retake the MCAT.

It would seem like it could have been a decision point for Zenner between football and medicine, but he insisted it isn’t. Football, with which he’s on the roster bubble with the Lions, is still the priority. Zenner is committed to football for as long as it will have him. But he also knows what’s waiting for him after.

“What we’ve discussed a little bit of is a conditional acceptance — like if I retake my MCAT and I get a certain score, then I will maintain my acceptance to the school,” Zenner said. “It’s more a ‘take it to stay at USD.’ It’s not like they revoked it.

“It’s not a decision point for me. Having to retake it — at this point in my career, I’m going to have to retake it either way.”

As long as the Sanford acceptance remains, and there’s no reason to think it won’t, he’ll eventually start classes there. When he does, he already has been offered a job in Weimer’s lab. She told Zenner he can return to do research in offseasons. When he does eventually start med school, she has a medical-student training grant ready for him so he can work for her while receiving a stipend as part of an internship program.

Zenner and Weimer hope that is still far off. After this spring, there’s little question about Zenner’s long-term future. It’ll be in medicine. In the short-term, he has an offseason working home.

“The way that it’s set up it is really easy for them to cut out little chunks for people to work on,” Zenner said. “With the way, how kind they are and how it is set up that way, it’s really easy for me to keep going back.”

When he does, there will be more lives to try to save while working from South Dakota, his home or a coffee shop somewhere.

http://www.espn.com/blog/detroit-lions/post/_/id/34193/lions-zach-zenner-working-to-cure-rare-disease-save-kids-lives

Photo: Michael Rothstein

Packers acquire Antonio Morrison, trade Lenzy Pipkins to Colts

Rob Demovsky, ESPN staff writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two days after fill-in starter Oren Burks suffered a shoulder injury during pregame warm-ups, the Green Bay Packers traded for an inside linebacker.

The Packers acquired Antonio Morrison from the Indianapolis Coltsin exchange for cornerback Lenzy Pipkins, the teams announced Sunday.

“Antonio is obviously an experienced linebacker,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “If you look at the youth of the group, it’s something we felt we needed to add.

“These things don’t just happen overnight. We’re very young at that position.”

Burks, a third-round pick, had moved into a starting role after Jake Ryan blew out his knee the first week of training camp. The rookie from Vanderbilt started the first two preseason games and was slated to do the same on Friday at Pittsburgh, where he was hurt before the game even started.

McCarthy indicated the Packers were looking to add linebacker depth even before Burks’ injury, which he said Sunday was “better than we anticipated” and “should not be a long-term deal.”

“It’s a position that we wanted to add experience to,” McCarthy said. “And definitely [we have] some young guys there that we feel good about.”

Third-year pro Blake Martinez, who tied for the NFL lead in tackles last season, was the only inside linebacker on the roster with any NFL experience after Ryan was placed on injured reserve.

In place of Burks, the Packers started undrafted rookie Greer Martini and also used practice-squad member Ahmad Thomas against the Steelers.

Burks said his shoulder popped out of place.

“I didn’t really think much of it,” Burks said. “Knew something was wrong, obviously, but I’ve never had any shoulder issues before, so I didn’t really know what I was feeling or any kinds of things like that. Good evaluation, good feedback from the MRI and things like that. Like I said, just taking it one day at a time, trying to get rehabbed and get back as soon as possible.”

While running back Ty Montgomery left Friday’s game with a foot injury, he said he was fine and that “I’m not injured.” However, there is concern about backup offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who started at right tackle against the Steelers. He sustained a right ankle injury and was seen Sunday in a walking boot.

Morrison, a fourth-round pick from Florida in 2016, started all 15 games he played in last season and made four starts as a rookie. The Colts switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this season, and Morrison fell to the third string.

Pipkins made the Packers’ 53-man roster last season as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in 12 games, mostly on special teams, making one start at cornerback and playing a total of 112 defensive snaps. The Packers loaded up at cornerback in the offseason, signing free agent Tramon Williams and using their first two picks on Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.

Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/24483307/green-bay-packers-acquire-antonio-morrison-trade-lenzy-pipkins-indianapolis-colts

J’Mon Moore vows ‘bad business’ for DBs when (if) he fixes drops

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — For most of the 12 minutes J’Mon Moore talked at his locker Tuesday, he spoke quietly and contritely about how difficult it has been for him to catch the ball — a seemingly simple task considering his job is to play receiver for the Green Bay Packers.

In hushed tones, he admitted things like:

“It’s kind of been something I’ve always had.”

“I know I’m dropping it. I know that’s not what I do. So I know I have to get out there and get some catches in. Something’s not right.”

“I’ve never had this type of funk where I drop deep balls. I don’t do that. I go deep, separate and I haul it in.”

Then finally, when the cameras were gone and it was just Moore and three reporters, the fourth-round pick from Missouri lit up. And in an instant, he returned to the confident — borderline cocky — 23-year-old he appeared to be when the Packers picked him at No. 133 overall.

“Once I get in that zone and I’m just playing, it’s going to be bad business for DBs in this league,” Moore said. “Like it’s going to be bad business for them. Once I can just get to that point, it will be all right. But right now I’m still trying to grasp it.”

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Moore — the highest pick of the three receivers the Packers drafted this year — needs to make that happen soon. Although fourth-round rookies aren’t often cut — the Packers last dumped one in 2006 (WR Cory Rodgers from TCU) — it can’t be ruled out at this point. Not when you consider so many of Moore’s drops have come on the biggest stage.

He dropped a touchdown on a fade route during the Aug. 4 Family Night practice at Lambeau Field. He dropped two passes in the preseason opener against the Titans on Aug. 9 and let another deep ball go through his hands in the second preseason game against the Steelers on Aug. 16. He has just one more practice and two more preseason games (Friday at Oakland and the following Thursday at Kansas City) to turn things around.

To this point, rookies Marques Valdes-Scantling (fifth round) and Equanimeous St. Brown (sixth round), plus former practice-squad receiver Jake Kumerow all probably rank ahead of Moore on the depth chart.

“I think about it, you know, because anybody can get cut any given day,” Moore said. “But me being me, me playing how I play and knowing what I bring to the table, I don’t really worry about it. I’ve just got to catch the ball. That’s all I’ve got to do. I know how to separate, I know how to make people miss. I’ve just got to catch it.”

Moore hasn’t ignored the issue. He worked off the JUGS machine both before and after practice Tuesday. He outlasted all the receivers after the session, getting extra work in the “Man Hands” drill.

“That’s just always been my downfall in my game is that I don’t look the ball in,” Moore said. “That’s something that my old receiver coach used to try to make me [do]. It’s just a habit that I had. I never looked the ball in. My eyes, I kind of get just too cool with it.”

The first sign that he might be on the verge of coming out of his funk came in Tuesday’s practice, when he caught — albeit with a bobble — a deep ball against cornerback Quinten Rollins during the 1-on-1 drills.

“It was about getting back my mojo today,” Moore said after practice. “I felt good about today. I feel good about Friday. I’ll make something to happen for sure.”

Moore said veteran receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb along with quarterback Aaron Rodgers all have helped keep his spirits up. As tough as Rodgers can be on young receivers, he also won’t fault a player for a physical mistake like a drop.

Moore said Rodgers told him just this week that he believes he can play in the NFL for a long time. And then Moore said Rodgers asked him if he believed it. Moore, of course, answered in the affirmative.

“Just need that one big play,” Rodgers said. “I think just one catch and run or going up over somebody and making a big play or getting loose on the sideline; it just takes one play for some of those guys to get going and he’s had a couple of opportunities and hasn’t made them in the game, but he’s made a lot of plays in practice and he’s figuring out what to do and running the routes. And it’s just a matter of executing and being able to relax in those moments, just the easy plays is needed at those times. Once you start to stack a couple of those plays together, he starts getting more comfortable and you’re going to see some good play out of him, I think.”

Photo: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK

http://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/45445/jmon-moore-vows-bad-business-for-dbs-when-if-he-fixes-drops

Even in preseason, is it time to be concerned about Detroit Lions?

Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer

DETROIT — The images were far too familiar. Matthew Stafford dropping back, seeing his offensive line accordion in front of him.

When he was on the sidelines, he saw his defense do exactly the opposite: Allow his quarterbacking counterparts to get all the time they needed to find an open man and complete a pass. Or have a running back have an easy lane to run through.

This was a theme of 2017 for the Lions – lack of protection for Stafford and lack of pressure on opponents. And it was among the things Detroit supposedly had fixed heading into this season, particularly the bit about keeping Stafford upright. Yet in the second preseason game, none of that really happened.

Stafford, when he was in for three series, was sacked twice. All night, Detroit’s running backs had little to no room to run. Giants backup quarterback Davis Webb had enough time to complete 14 of 20 passes and not get sacked. And New York’s top two running backs – neither of whom was super rookie Saquon Barkley – averaged over 5 yards per carry.

If all of this sounds like a repetition of past years, well …

“It looked bad,” offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins said.

Yes, it is still early. Preseason being preseason, everything should be viewed with the caveats of the lack of game-planning and nuanced play-calling along with players themselves getting into shape and fewer reps to find a rhythm. But as many veterans know and what has played out year over year is this: Early can get late in the NFL faster than any player or coach would like. So a performance like this, preseason be darned, is reason for concern heading into when games really count three weeks from now.

This isn’t a judge of the final score of either preseason game. It’s more that when the starters were in, nothing looked particularly good other than a play here or there. The players and Matt Patricia said all the things you figured they’d say after a game like Friday – they have to get better, it’s still early, it’s preseason. But there was also some acknowledgement of, well, how rough it looked.

“It’s disheartening to see us not perfect our technique. It’s disheartening to see us not execute what we’ve been executing all week,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “It’s disheartening not to see certain things that you sit in a building from morning till night going over and then when you get on the field you don’t see it done.

“Like I said, we got two more weeks and [Saturday] is the first day to start correcting these situations and start correcting to stop that run. Because if you don’t stop the run you have a lot of great NFL teams in the league that have good running backs and O-lines that can just move that ball whenever they choose to.”

Every area had issues. Matt Prater missed a field goal. TJ Jones had a drop that led to an interception. The Lions looked discombobulated and at points without any sort of energy.

Had Stafford and the starters played an entire game it’s possible things would have looked different. But based on the small sample size, the Lions look far away from the team they need to be to have success this year. Patricia acknowledged as much, calling what the Lions have to do a “big job in front of us” and that his team didn’t play well at any position.

There’s no denying any of that. It looked like it live. The tape essentially confirmed it. And while yes, it is early, if the Lions don’t get things fixed over the next two weeks things could be really problematic once games start counting in September.

“We have to come together as a group,” Jean Francois said. “The coaches can talk until they’re blue in the face. We have to come together as a team and we have to show Matt Patricia that we can master everything that he asks us to do.

“Because if we don’t, it’s going to be a long season and we ain’t trying to have a long season around here.”

http://www.espn.com/blog/detroit-lions/post/_/id/34146/even-in-preseason-is-it-time-to-be-concerned-about-detroit-lions

Photo: Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

In Jake Kumerow the Packers trust: ‘No faking it in this game’

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jake Kumerow is no longer just a fun little training camp story that will be forgotten when the football becomes real in a few weeks.

The 26-year-old from the small Wisconsin school, who’s still waiting to play in his first real NFL game, is here to stay if you ask some veterans in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room.

It’s not just that they’ve seen Kumerow perform in the first two preseason games — he leads the NFL with 190 yards receiving and is tied for the lead with two 40-plus yard pass plays. It runs deeper than the 82-yard catch-and-run touchdown he had Thursday as part of his three-catch, 114-yard game in Thursday’s 51-34 exhibition win over the Steelers at Lambeau Field.

“One of the talks of camp in my opinion,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said after the game. “He’s been doing it all camp long. It’s not like he’s just showing up and having fluke games. He’s been doing it all camp long. To see a guy come in like that and work hard, you don’t know his name Day 1. But day after day after day, you’re like ‘Oh man this guy’s pretty good.’ So you start taking notice of him and that’s what you want to see out of guys. And I think Aaron [Rodgers] expressed how much that he’s appreciated the way the guy came in and worked, and that’s the ultimate compliment.”

Rodgers took an immediate liking to the 6-foot-4, long-haired receiver with a significant NFL lineage (his father, Eric, was a former first-round pick and his first cousin is Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa) and that hasn’t waned. Though Rodgers hasn’t played with him in a game yet — his only preseason action to date was the opening series against the Steelers that ended with a touchdown pass to new tight end Jimmy Graham — he continued to toss praise his way.

“From the first time he got here, it’s never been too big for him,” Rodgers said Thursday night. “He continues to make plays, and that’s how you make the squad, you ball out on game day and you do things on special teams when you’re a fringe guy and you give yourself an opportunity, not just for this squad, but for any team watching [number] 16 on film.”

Kumerow, who was signed to the Packers’ practice squad late last season, has been a three-time loser coming out of training camp. He was a camp cut by the Bengals in both 2015 and 2016 and then was an injury casualty last summer when he hurt his ankle.

The Packers drafted three receivers but at this point, Kumerow has to be ahead of all of them. Fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore has had all kinds of trouble catching the ball. Fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown didn’t back up their Week 1 performances with anything significant; each had one catch against the Steelers.

“He’s one of our top receivers in the room,” safety Ha Clinton-Dix said of Kumerow. “You see it. There’s no faking it in this game. It’s not Aaron throwing him the ball. It’s 7 [Brett Hundley] and 9 [DeShone Kizer] and 8 [Tim Boyle]. He’s doing it with young quarterbacks. Imagine when he gets in there with 12 [Rodgers] what he has a chance to do.”

Kumerow quickly became something of a folk hero around Packers’ camp; his in-state ties — he played at Division III UW-Whitewater — made him an immediate favorite. But he might be more than a Jeff Janis — a small-school receiver who was cult hero to fans but couldn’t win over the coaches or his quarterback.

When Kumerow dove into the north end zone at the end of his touchdown catch and it was announced that he was being treated for a shoulder injury — it turned out to be a stinger, he said — his name began to trend on Twitter. On a night with myriad storylines — Rodgers’ first touchdown to Graham, pick-6s for Williams and rookie cornerback Josh Jackson plus Reggie Gilbert’s 2.5 sacks — it was Kumerow who may have stolen the show once again.

“I don’t really try to pay attention,” Kumerow said of the increased attention. “I just try to keep my head down and make a lot of plays. But I do hear a lot more ‘Go Warhawks’ when I’m walking to practice. I like to hear that.”

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Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

1,000 (yards) just a number to Packers’ Davante Adams

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Davante Adams will never forget the time Aaron Rodgers essentially kicked him off the field.

He can smile about it now — now that he’s Rodgers’ favorite target. But at the time during Adams’ rookie year, a few weeks into the 2014 season, it served as a wake-up call. As Adams remembered it, he either ran the wrong route or failed to adjust his route properly and Rodgers signaled toward the Packers’ bench to take Adams off the field.

“Yeah, pretty much that was his thought,” Adams said this week.

And Adams can admit now, he didn’t blame Rodgers.

“I never took anything [personal] since I’ve been here,” Adams said. “Because at the end of the day all you’ve got to do is look at what he’s accomplished and the level he plays and carries himself, it just makes you think, ‘OK, he just wants me to be on the same level or close to that.'”

That’s where Adams stands now — as Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver and as one of the NFL’s top players.

No one in the league has more touchdown catches than Adams’ 22 over the past two seasons combined. Not Antonio Brown (with 21). Not Jordy Nelson (20). Not DeAndre Hopkins or Mike Evans (17 each).

The missing 3 yards
The only thing Adams hasn’t done from a statistical standpoint is post a 1,000-yard season. He came up 3 yards short in 2016 and probably would have reached that mark last season if not for getting knocked out twice by illegal hits that led to concussion. He had 885 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games last year but did not play the last two weeks after Carolina’s Thomas Davis knocked him out. Adams actually cleared the concussion protocol in the same day (Dec. 29) he signed his five-year, $58 million contract but the Packers held him out of what was a meaningless regular-season finale.

That 1,000-yard mark, however, is not what drives Adams.

“If we want to make a list of 1,000-yard receivers, we could make a list of those, not who’s the best,” Adams said. “Plus it’s just ridiculous because I had 997, so what are we talking about?”

There’s another list Adams believes he should be on.

“Top-five, top-10 receivers and things like that,” Adams said. “My name comes up in some of those conversations, but it’s not unanimous.

“I still don’t have the big-picture respect that I feel like I deserve, but at the same time that’s the fuel that continues to drive me so it’s not like it’s really an issue that I’m not being recognized. But that’s what keeps me going.”

The fork in his road
Inconsistency marked Adams’ rookie season.

He caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, numbers not unlike (and in some cases better than) what Nelson, Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and James Jones put up as Packers rookies.

The following spring, coach Mike McCarthy dubbed Adams as the Packers’ “MVP of the offseason.” That didn’t translate to the 2015 regular season, perhaps in part because of an early-season ankle injury that inhibited Adams’ ability to do what he does best — beat cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. And it came at a time when the Packers needed him after Nelson’s preseason ACL tear.

Adams faced questions about whether big games from his rookie year — the six catches for 121 yards against the Patriots and the seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over the Cowboys — were flukes. And fans jeered him during the injury-filled 2015 season when he caught 50 passes for just 483 yards and one touchdown.

“It’s the adversity he went through that makes him so great,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “I’ve commended him from when he had his s–t that he went through, there was a fork in the road. He could have went one of two ways. He could’ve been a s–tbird — just a talent who couldn’t pick it up — or he could go the other direction. And he decided, ‘I’m not going to let you guys or anyone else write my story.'”

When Adams was presented with that quote as he stood in the corner of the Packers’ locker room, just a few steps from where Bakhtiari changes, he didn’t hesitate when asked for a reply.

“I feel like you guys have asked it in different ways but at the end of the day it was never a matter of me not being a good player or I slacked off in the offseason and came in bulls—ting or something like that,” Adams said. “I didn’t play the way I wanted to based on an injury, but during the season I’m not going to say that. People don’t care. But when you have a lingering ankle all year and then you tear your ACL in the playoff when it’s my coming out (party) — which was a late coming out game, I admit — but those are the things right there.”

However his early years are viewed, all that matters now is what his quarterback thinks of him.

“You can kind of tell right away with Davante that he was going to be a player,” Rodgers said. “It was just a matter of that first year and opportunities. The thing that I said then, as I recall, was his attitude was the same in the weeks where he’d only get one or two targets as in the weeks where he had big games, like against New England, like in the Cowboys playoff game. His attitude stayed the same the entire time.

“Now in Years 2 and 3 he was injured a decent amount and didn’t have — especially in ’15 — the numbers that he would have wanted to have. But you cannot teach natural confidence and swag like that. And when you see it, you realize if the guy ever figures it out, he can be a big-time player. And obviously Davante figured it out and has a great attitude, and he’s been a great player for us.”

Photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

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