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How the Rams overcame a week of ‘horrors’

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When the door to the Rams’ locker room slammed shut late Sunday afternoon, there were three people not accustomed to being there among the players, coaches and football staffers. In the middle, as usual, was coach Sean McVay. On this day, he talked emotionally about the 36-31 win over Seattle. But he saved his most genuine, heartfelt words for people who are foreign to headlines.

McVay said he was giving out four game balls.

“Sophie Luoto and Kristen Lee!” McVay tossed each a ball.

“Bruce Warwick and Kate Kost!” McVay tossed Warwick a ball. (Kost, in Colorado preparing the Rams’ trip to practice there this week, in advance of their game in Mexico City next week, will get hers this week.)

All four work in football administration and operations for the Rams. When approximately 90 Rams players and staffers were evacuated from their California homes because of the wildfires that came within three miles of their workplace in Thousand Oaks (northwest of Los Angeles), Luoto and the crew found lodging for them (sometimes two or three lodgings, because hotel after hotel in the area got evacuated too), reunited families, found a Saturday practice facility, and kept the train moving. In the end, no one cares about your problems in the NFL. The ref was going to flip the coin at 1:20 Sunday afternoon, and the Seahawks were going to be ready, and you’d better be too.

“Somehow, we got ready,” Rams tackle and leader Andrew Whitworth said Sunday evening. “Pretty amazing, to be able to win a football game in circumstances like this.”

Circumstances like this.

Thursday morning, about 4:10. The cellphone on Whitworth’s night table kept vibrating. He picked it up to text from two former Bengals teammates, including NFL Players Association president Eric Winston. Like: Are you okay? Can’t believe what happened? Whitworth had no clue what happened, but he checked online and found there’d been a shooting at a Thousand Oaks nightclub. The place was four miles from the Rams’ training facility. There were deaths and injuries, perhaps many of each. Whitworth and his wife stayed up, trying to figure out what it all meant, particularly for their four children and school. And for what they could do to help whatever this latest mass shooting left in its wake.

Thursday, 10:35 a.m. McVay and Whitworth spoke to the team about being good community members in a time of crisis. Whitworth was at LSU when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and said to his teammates, “Do something.You’ll never regret trying to help in a tragedy.”

Thursday, about 1 p.m. Before going out to practice, Whitworth decided to put his money where his emotion was. He called his wife, Melissa, and said he wanted to donate his gamecheck, about $60,000 after taxes, to a fund established to help the victims of the shootings, and their families. “I’m in,” Melissa Whitworth said. “One hundred percent.”

Thursday, about 3 p.m. At practice, two separate mega-fires popped up, visible for the players and coaches to see. “Those are pretty close,” Whitworth said. They were about three miles away from the practice facility, as it turned out. In a few hours, firefighters would dig a trench across the street from the Rams’ facility, the kind of trench that gets dug when firefighters are trying to stop a wildfire from advancing. Before Whitworth left for the day, he learned the 101 freeway, which he uses to get to and from his home in nearby Sherwood, was partially shut down. But he got home, as did most of his teammates.

Read the rest of the article at Football Morning in America

Why Texans need to trade for Redskins’ Trent Williams now

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Three Things I Think

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three quick thoughts:

1. I think my everlasting memory of this trip will be watching J.J. Watt steam in from Aaron Rodgers’ left side on a live pass-rush drill (well, full-speed, but no hitting the quarterback in a camp practice) in the Texans-Packers joint practices. He jousted with left tackle David Bakhtiari, dipped to the outside, got half a step on the left tackle, and sprinted at Rodgers. Watt meant it. As did Rodgers, who sprinted up the right side and evaded Watt. First time Watt ever stepped foot in Wisconsin to play pro football (though a practice), and he got emotional about it, and it meant a lot to him. Two Hall of Fame players going at it on a Monday morning in northeast Wisconsin. Loved it.

2. I think the Texans need to trade for Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who is unhappy in Washington and threatening to not play this year. Houston’s time is now. Watt turns 30 this year. So much of this team is in its prime. They could get three or four more years out of Williams, who turns 31 next Monday, and he’d strengthen the only true weak point of this team.

3. I think I marvel at DeAndre Hopkins and found it compelling to just watch him practice in Green Bay. He even dropped a pass over the middle. Consider that last year he became the first receiver since drop stats were kept—at least 13 years—to catch at least 110 balls without a drop. “Why do you think people don’t really know that?” he asked me after practice, a bit annoyed. I don’t know, but I do know Hopkins is the best wideout in football by almost any measure. “There are games, like against Philly last year, when he gets his jersey ripped off,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Teams are so physical with him. What makes him special is so many plays are contested. People are draped on him, and he comes down with it.” With wideout injuries last year, Houston saw a weird three-man coverage at times on Hopkins, “cut coverage,” O’Brien called it, with a linebacker undercutting him near the line of scrimmage before he would get out in the open field and face two cover guys. I asked Hopkins how he worked on his hands as a kid. Jerry Rice tossed and caught bricks with his dad, a mason. Hopkins: “This is something I haven’t told many people, because it’s embarrassing,” he said. “We always used to catch flies with our hands. I was the only one who could catch ‘em. One-handed, two-handed. I actually studied flies. I’d watch ‘em. How do you catch flies? They fly up. If I can catch that, I can catch anything.”

Why Antonio Brown is crazy to fight NFL over helmet issue

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Regarding the Mike Silver/Adam Schefter-reported stories Friday about the melodrama surrounding the Oakland receiver—or, I should say, the receiver employed by Oakland who is not currently playing for Oakland—the overriding thought I have is a simple one. The NFL and the NFLPA have teamed up to research helmet safety and helmet technology through exhaustive, independent studies since 2016. All players were told in 2017 they’d have to wear new helmets—league and union-approved—by 2018, with a one-year grandfather period pushing the absolute deadline to don correct helmets to 2019. I did a podcast about the helmet in May, and over the previous seven months talked to 14 players about the helmet issue. Several of the players weren’t crazy about making the change, including 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who’d worn the same model of helmet for 15 years (though it had been updated at least once) and admitted to me he would not have changed unless forced.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Staley told me last fall, “and I think I’m a perfect case study of why it needs to be done. I wouldn’t have changed my helmet unless they made these rules changes.”

For Brown to be fighting this is just crazy. According to Schefter, Brown had a two-hour grievance hearing Friday with an independent arbitrator, arguing that he should be able to wear a helmet he has been wearing for more than 10 years. (That, in itself, makes the helmet illegal; the NFL mandates that helmets worn for at least 10 years be replaced, regardless of their condition.)

There isn’t much the league and players union agree on without reservation, but the current helmet protocol, the outgrowth of a $60-million investment by NFL owners in 2016 to improve helmet technology and reduce head trauma in players, is one of those things. If Brown wins, he would be the lone player out of 2,016 active and practice-squad players in the NFL this season who would be wearing a helmet—the Schutt Air Advantage, in his case—not approved for use by NFL and NFLPA testers. And this helmet is so old that it’s not even been tested by the league and the union. I’m told unquestionably it would fail any test for helmet safety, as would virtually any helmet not made in the last four or five years.

A few other thoughts on this nutty story:

• Brown has to grow up, or he’s got to get some help. Someone in his life, if anyone has a scintilla of influence over him (and that is in doubt), needs to say to him: The Raiders could void your contract for this behavior, and you’d be out $30.1 million in guaranteed money, and what team would pay you even a fraction of that after? You walked out on the Steelers and then turned into a child on the Raiders and boycotted them too—in the span of nine months!

• The Steelers have to be the happiest team in the league right now. They don’t have a great player, but they do have a sane, undivided training camp.

Jon Gruden has to defend Brown, which he did Saturday night after the Raiders’ preseason win over the Rams. But anyone who knows Gruden knows he’s got to be frustrated over his best offensive weapon being disabled because of the freaky frostbite injury and fuming at Brown being AWOL because the NFL is trying to make football safer for him.

• To be a fly on GM Mike Mayock’s wall. He’s a football purist, and his first season piloting a storied franchise might be sent over a cliff by the weirdest controversy in years that has incredibly little to do with real football.

• Mike Silver’s 20-tweet thread detailing the Brown story Friday was exquisite. Best football thread I’ve seen, full of rich detail and information about the dysfunctional Brown/Raiders/helmet thing. What was great about Silver’s long social screed: It was essentially an 800-word news story, broken in real time on Twitter instead of being broken on NFL.com with a Twitter link to the story. Whatever the reason for doing it that way (NFL.com I’m sure now regrets the loss of traffic on a heavily read story), I found it easy to digest just by scrolling up on my phone. Silver had the helmet stuff solid, and this piece of information that can’t go on in team meetings: “Brown, according to witnesses, typically glances at the screens of several tablets and his smart phone during meetings, distracting himself by engaging in activities which include perusing his bank accounts and ‘liking’ photos on Instagram.” Social media is still the Wild West, but Silver showed you can break news with a story broken into 20 easy bites.

• “Hard Knocks” is either going to show a slice of this Brown story this week, with some real video and team reaction, or it’s Pravda. And I know Ken Rodgers of NFL Films, the curator of this show. He will want to show the real story, very much.

I’ve been around a lot of crazy stories in the NFL in my 35 years covering the league. But the last nine months in the life of Antonio Brown is right up there.


One more thing from Kearse: “The NFL changed the rules to prevent more head injuries and more head contact. But at the end of the day it’s a full-contact sport and guys are kind of making quick decisions, and you want to be able to have a product that’s going to be able to protect you. I think the NFL wants this league to last. They’re going to have to continue to keep digging deeper to improve. It’s an uncontrolled environment where things can happen and for me personally, I want to have the best protecting me out there.”

Someone’s got to get to Brown, and fast.