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Troy Aikman Dallas Cowboys Jersey

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman retired in 2001 after winning three Super Bowls during his 12-year NFL tenure. File Photo by Sergio Flores/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 26 (UPI) — Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman recently stood up for Andrew Luck on social media after the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback announced his decision to retire.

The three-time Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer did so by responding to a tweet from FS1 sports personality Doug Gottlieb. Luck announced his decision to retire Saturday. The 29-year-old quarterback cited the numerous injuries he has sustained during his NFL tenure as a major reason behind walking away from the game.

“This is not an easy decision. Honestly, it’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me,” Luck told reporters Saturday during his retirement news conference.

“For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football.”

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Luck missed the entire 2017 season due to a shoulder issue. He returned to win Comeback Player of the Year in 2018, before dealing with more injuries this off-season and in training camp.

“Retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever,” Gottlieb tweeted Saturday.

Gottlieb’s tweet drew a lot of negative reaction and had more than 26,000 comments and 1,700 retweets. Aikman — now a commentator for Fox — was just one of the former athletes to respond to the take.

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“That’s total [expletive] Doug,” Aikman wrote. “What qualifies you to decide how someone should live their life? So you’re now the authority on what motivates Andrew Luck? And if his decisions don’t fit into what you think is best for him then you rip him? Guess that keeps you employed on FS1. Nice.”

Aikman, 52, played his entire 12-year career with the Cowboys. The six-time Pro Bowl selection sustained multiple concussions during his pro football tenure before retiring in 2001. He also sustained a concussion during the final snap of his career. Aikman spoke about his personal decision to retire during NFL Films’ Troy Aikman: A Football Life.

“All these people think I got out of the game because of head injuries,” Aikman said. “Concussions had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing to do with my retirement. Ultimately, the reason I retired after 12 years was because I felt that I had worked hard to develop some level of credibility and respect within this game. And I felt like that was being jeopardized by decisions that were being made beyond my control within the organization. And I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.”

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Six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady also voiced his support for Luck during a radio interview Monday on WEEI’s Greg Hill Show.

“It is his life,” Brady said. “Everyone has the right to choose what they want to do. He had a great career and he was a great player. Everybody wishes they could be healthy all the time.

“It is a contact sport and he’s certainly had his fair share of injuries, so guys retire at different times. Some at the end of the season, and I have seen a lot of guys retire before the season gets going and this is just one of those examples.”

Luck retired with a 4-4 record in the postseason and a 53-33 record in the regular season. The Stanford graduate was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Custom Los Angeles Rams Jerseys

If the Los Angeles Rams are looking to make moves before training camp, here are three players worth considering from the Buffalo Bills in a trade.
When it comes to the Los Angeles Rams, the team has proven over the last two years that nothing should be ruled out in regards to pulling off moves if it will put them in better position to make a run at the Super Bowl.

Take a look at all of the crazy moves made last offseason when the Rams were in win-now mode ranging from acquiring Brandin Cooks to Marcus Peters, and it’s clear this team will do whatever it takes to make sure they remain a top contender in the NFC.

With this in mind, could Los Angeles be up for making another key move or two before the start of training camp later this summer to make their odds for another Super Bowl run even better?

The Rams may not have hinted at making any sort of moves since the team already helped fill numerous needs at multiple positions through free agency and the draft, but also it’s safe to assume the team is exploring all potential options.

Even though the Buffalo Bills took a bit of a step back last season after emerging as a surprise playoff contender during the 2017 season, Sean McDermott‘s squad currently has a few good players a team like Los Angeles should consider in a heartbeat.

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These trade scenarios may seem like long shots to take place, but to have a little fun this offseason, let’s take a look at three trade targets the Rams should consider from the Bills for the 2019 season before training camp arrives.

Custom Jacksonville Jaguars Jerseys

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense came into organized team activities looking to make a statement, and they have yet to disappoint. That was especially the case Day 3 as quarterback Nick Foles had a strong day with his receivers throwing the ball down the field, particularly to the team’s speed threats in Keelan Cole and Chris Conley.

 

Daniel Popper

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Nick Foles connects with Chris Conley on an 80-yard TD. A.J. Bouye in coverage. And absolute dime from Foles. #Jaguars

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Phillip Heilman
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Chris Conley just got behind A.J. Bouye, and Nick Foles dropped in a perfect pass way downfield. Best throw of the week. #Jaguars

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Daniel Popper

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Foles goes deep again and Keelan Cole rises up to make an outstanding contested catch. Offense goes wild and runs down the field to congratulate Cole. #Jaguars

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Foles is a player who many have raved about when it comes to the deep ball as it is a strength of his. With him bringing a strong sense of familiarity to the Jags’ offense and a leadership presence that the team hasn’t seen at the quarterback position for a while, Foles has undoubtably been one of the stars of the opening days of OTAs, as have the receivers.

Cole, who will be fighting for the Jags No. 4 or No. 5 receiving spot, has been a star during OTAs, too, as he also hauled in one of the best catches of Thursday’s practice from Gardner Minshew. With the Jags’ top receiver in Marqise Lee missing last season, Cole struggled with the spotlight on him accumulating just 38 catches for 491 yards and a touchdown. However, it appears he was motivated by his decline and will look to bounce back with the cast around him being upgraded.

Conley was one of the Jags’ free agent acquisitions in March alongside Foles. The duo have a bit of history with each other after playing together in Kansas City, and it appears their connection might be one of the strongest on the roster. Due to being buried under the Chiefs’ talented depth chart at the receiver position, Conley was only able to accumulate 32 catches for 334 yards and five touchdowns last season, but will have a huge opportunity in Jacksonville to become a starter. With the start he’s gotten off to in OTAs, that definitely could happen in training camp, especially with Lee set to rehab until late in the preseason.

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Other Day 3 tidbits and absences
Jaguars running backs coach Terry Robiskie met with the media to discuss how the Jags’ running back group have fared so far while learning the new offense.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette also met with the media Friday. He discussed how he’s ready to move past his mistakes of the past amongst notable topics, and also discussed his connection with Foles.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey remained absent as he continues to train in Tennessee with his father.
Linebacker Jake Ryan (ACL recovery) and pass rusher Josh Allen (knee bruise) were seen working on the sidelines riding exercise bikes, per Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union.
Receiver Marqise Lee, linebacker Lerentee McCray, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and nose tackle Marcell Dareus all weren’t in attendance Friday.
Receiver Dede Westbrook worked inside after dealing with some soreness, but coach Doug Marrone said he expects him to be back Tuesday.

Custom Indianapolis Colts Jerseys

It isn’t often a rookie earns a First-Team All-Pro selection, but Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson proved he was worthy of his high draft spot following an elite campaign.

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Even for Nelson, who was consistently a force along the Colts offensive line, there are areas in which he wants to improve. Under a new staff in the form of Chris Strausser, Howard Mudd and Klayton Adams, Nelson is a big believer in the work getting done this spring.

“I like them a lot. They really harp on the fundamentals and do a great job teaching,” Nelson told reporters Tuesday. “They are very detail oriented and what they’re teaching – I feel like I have already seen results in myself and my teammates too. So it has been awesome being coached by them and they’re doing a great job.”

The Colts fired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo during the early part of the offseason. Wanting more of a teacher and less of a motivator, Indy sought to bring in the trio of Strausser, Mudd and Adams.

Nelson had just about as strong of a rookie season as can be had for a guard that was selected with the No. 6 pick in the draft. He was the only Colt to play every single snap on the offensive side of the ball and excelled with consistency.

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However, there are areas the Notre Dame product wants to improve upon. That specifically comes in the form of his technique.

“I think everyone can get better at their technique just every day with the consistency of it – like all the fine details of offensive line play,” Nelson said. “For me, it would be getting my hands inside, keeping my elbows in the run game and the pass game and really trusting and believing in my technique.”

The Colts offensive line is seeing the return of all five starters from the 2018 season. Nelson will continue to be a cornerstone for the entire offensive unit, which will look to impose its will even more in 2019.

Custom Baltimore Ravens Jerseys

The Baltimore Ravens once had the greatest ball hawk of all-time in Ed Reed. Before Reed, the Ravens had an incredible secondary that helped win Super Bowl XXXV. With such a rich history, the following statement is a bold one: The Ravens currently have the best secondary in franchise history:
The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV on defense. While much of the credit surely goes to Ray Lewis and the defensive front, the secondary was incredibly good. Rod Woodson was the free safety, Kim Herring was the strong safety. At this point Woodson had already built a hall of fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Herring was a very good strong safety that people tend to forget about.

On one side the Ravens had Chris McAlister and the other starting cornerback was Duane Starks. Baltimore had top 10 picks at cornerback that lived up to their draft selection. Starks led the way with six interceptions and McAlister and Woodson both had four in the 2000 regular season. The secondary was as punishing and intimidating as the front seven was.

The Ravens have that kind of secondary once again. Earl Thomas is a ball hawking free safety. Tony Jefferson is a very good strong safety. The Ravens have four cornerbacks who are all players the team can highly count on. Marlon Humphrey is a cornerback entering the prime of his career. Jimmy Smith is a veteran cornerback whose best performance is still borderline elite. Brandon Carr has been in the NFL a long time and he’s never missed a game. Tavon Young is one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league when he’s healthy.

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The Ravens depth is as impressive as the starting units. We’ve already had conversations about the Ravens having the best secondary in the NFL. It’s hard to dispute that on a talent basis the Ravens secondary is the supreme secondary on the NFL landscape. Thinking bigger, this could be the best secondary the Baltimore Ravens have ever had.

The Ravens have more depth in the back-end of their defense than they ever have before. They have a handful of safeties that can contribute in sub packages. Anthony Levine Sr. can be used as an extra linebacker or a hovering defensive back, for example. The Ravens depth isn’t just a plan B and a plan C. They have players that can contribute.

They also have players who they can stash for the future. Iman Marshal and Anthony Averett may not be asked to do a lot on defense this season. They both have incredible potential and could be future stars for the Ravens.

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Even when the Ravens had the 2000 defense, they didn’t have this much depth. Even when the Ravens had Ed Reed and Chris McAlister as Pro Bowl level talents, the Ravens never had this complete of a picture in the secondary.

This is the exact opposite of the 2014 defense. In 2014 the Ravens had an incredible pass rush and the secondary was thin and became the biggest weakness. In 2019 the Ravens have a crazy good secondary but the pass rush has become a question mark for them.

NEXT: 3 Baltimore Ravens who could disappoint in 2019
The Ravens have a chance to make history with this secondary. It’s a bold statement but it can happen. It has to come together, however there is no reason to think it won’t. The back end of the defense was a strength last season. It will be better this season. It may be as good as we’ve ever seen.

Custom Carolina Panthers Jerseys

Gaulden is turning the heads of some of the Carolina Panthers coaches.
With the starting safety position for the Carolina Panthers looking more like Rashaan Gaulden’s spot to lose rather than one he will have to compete for, it would be easy for him to feel a mix of emotions. For one, he could be nervous as he has never been in a role like this in the National Football League. On the other hand, he could be too relaxed, knowing that he will probably have an advantage over others who try to fill the safety position.

So far, it seems as though he is taking the right approach. This is what I like to hear. As a rookie last year, he didn’t get a ton of playing time and it would be very easy for him to feel discouraged and a little bit timid heading into his second year. However, that does not seem to be the case and that is a good sign for the Carolina Panthers. You want a player who is enthusiastic and ready to play the position, and it seems like Gaulden fills exactly those two traits.

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For those who follow college football, we all saw what he could do at Tennessee. Sometimes, a player’s skills don’t translate well over to the professional ranks. Now, it appears that we will get a good chance to see what Gaulden is made of. I’m excited, as his athleticism should be able to translate well to the Panthers defense. There are tons of playmakers on that side of the football, and if he can be one of them, he will fit right in.

Head coach Ron Rivera also seems very pleased with what he has seen from Gaulden. Anytime you have the head coach singing your praises, that is certainly a vote of confidence. With Rivera playing a much larger role in the defensive playcalling this year, that is especially a good sign for the player.

“Very enthusiastic. He’s working really hard. We’ve just got to be careful when we’re out there,” said Rivera of Gaulden. “He’s doing some really good things, and again, he’s showing us what we’re hoping we could see. And he’ll continue to work at both spots.”

When Rivera was referring to “both spots”, he meant the safety and nickel positions. Personally, I think he would be a better safety, as he has that physical element in his game. However, I could see him excelling at both spots. It will be interesting to see where the Carolina Panthers slot him and how well he adjusts to what will probably be his first continuous game action in the professional ranks. I am curious about what he brings to the table.

NEXT: Three offensive Panthers to watch
Whatever the case may be, it sounds like he is ready for it. The Carolina Panthers have a very raw but talented prospect on their hands in Gaulden. If all goes according to plan, he could be a major surprise (in a good way) for the Carolina Panthers.

Custom Atlanta Falcons Jerseys

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With Phase III of Atlanta’s offseason workout program underway, this marks the first time the players and Atlanta’s coaching staff will take the fields together for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.

New wrinkles have been added on both sides of the ball with new coordinators in place as Dirk Koetter has now taken the reigns of the offense and coach Dan Quinn taking over the defense.

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The next few weeks of OTAs give players a chance to fine tune their skills and show the progress they’ve made this offseason. Although the offseason program is critical to the entire team as they gear up for the start of the 2019 season, here are five players who could really benefit from a strong offseason, in no particular order:

Vic Beasley
There’s no denying this is a prove-it year for Beasley, Atlanta’s former first-round draft pick heading into his fifth season with the team. The Falcons drafted Beasley to get to the quarterback and he’s been inconsistent at times in doing just that. He led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 in 2016 – when the Falcons earned a trip to Super Bowl LI – but since then, he’s totaled just 10 sacks in two seasons. He’s proven he can be an impact player and the Falcons will certainly need the best version of Beasley in 2019. Quinn believes he can get the best out of the defensive end and said that he plans to take a “hands-on” approach.
Devonta Freeman
The Falcons’ offense is at its best when Freeman is performing at a high level and there’s no doubt about it. Need proof? Go back to the 2016 season when Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries have plagued the running back the last two seasons. Freeman will enter the season completely healthy and the Falcons are expecting a big year from the running back. The Falcons finished with the No. 27 rushing attack in 2018 and getting that part of their game back on track is an emphasis in 2019 and it starts with Freeman.

Takk McKinley
Atlanta’s defense feeds off McKinley’s energy and play. The defensive end is coming off an up-and-down 2018 season and, similar to Beasley, Quinn believes McKinley will be better in 2019. In two seasons, McKinley has 13 sacks. Atlanta finished the year with 37 sacks on the year which was 22nd in the league. Quinn will be working closer with the defensive ends this year and with two years under his belt, McKinley could be primed for his best season yet.

Isaiah Oliver
Oliver is expected to assume a starting role at cornerback this season. After a rookie year which included some of the “on-the-job” training Quinn often talks about, the belief is that Oliver is ready. He’ll start opposite of Desmond Trufant on the outside. The former second-round pick out of Colorado played in 14 games in his rookie season and started two of them. He recorded 23 tackles and made one interception. The hope for Oliver is with a year of experience under his belt, he’ll make the necessary jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

Damontae Kazee
Kazee caught the NFL by storm in 2018 when he became the Falcons’ starting free safety after Ricardo Allen went down early in the season. He finished the season tied for an NFL-best seven interceptions. Kazee proved why he needs to be on the field for the Falcons. But will he show last year wasn’t just a fluke? The Falcons will be featuring Kazee in a different role this year at the nickel cornerback spot. And if we learned one thing last year, regardless of where Kazee lines up, he has a knack for finding the football.

Custom Oakland Raiders Jerseys

Derek Carr will enter his second season under Jon Gruden for the Oakland Raiders in 2019, and here is what Rich Gannon did in that same situation.
When Rich Gannon came to the Oakland Raiders, he was nothing to write home about, as he had bounced around between three organization up until that 1999 season, and had not been a full-time starter in years. However, he was masterful in Jon Gruden’s west coast offense once he put on the Silver and Black, putting together a run as the starting quarterback in Oakland that is only behind a few other names in team history.

In 1999, his first season in Oakland, Gannon actually made the Pro Bowl, his first of four straight appearances in the NFL’s All-Star Game. During that first year, Gannon led the Raiders to an 8-8 record, throwing for over 3,800 yards yards and 24 touchdowns, a sign of things to come for him in this organization.

In Year 2, Gannon really took off, becoming a First-Team All-Pro Selection, while leading the Raiders to a 12-4 record. Gannon completed 60 percent of his passes, threw for 28 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions, and led the Raiders to an AFC West title.

The marriage between Gannon and Gruden turned out to be pure gold, and it culminated with Gannon winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 2002. The hope is that Gruden can have the same effect on the Raiders current starting quarterback, Derek Carr, who is a much more talented player than Gannon was, and has all the tools to be one of the elite in the game.

Carr is an incredible study, and he showed in 2018 that he can put up numbers in Gruden’s offense, even with a makeshift offensive line. To throw for over 4,000 yards, while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, all the while getting sacked over three times a game may have been his most impressive season yet.

2019 will also be Carr’s second in a row in the same system, something he has gotten to do only one other time during his career. That was back in 2016, when he went 12-3 as the starter, and had many calling for him to be the Most Valuable Player of the league.

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The bottom line is, Gannon flourished once he got with Gruden, and while they had their spats on the sidelines, Gruden brought out the best in him. His time in Oakland was the best years of his career, and if Gruden can have the same effect on a younger Carr, there is no reason why he cannot become one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

Custom New Orleans Saints Jerseys

When the New Orleans Saints drafted Ryan Ramczyk he wasn’t able to work, while he recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Since he started working, almost nothing has been able to get him to stop.

The Saints’ right tackle didn’t miss an offensive snap as a rookie first-round pick (No. 32 overall) in 2017. He missed less than a handful in his second season (he played 997) in 15 games, sitting out the regular-season finale against Carolina along with several other starters after the Saints already had secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

“I like to go through practice and get all the work you can get,” Ramczyk said. “I think it’s a big thing to be dependable in this league. Guys go down with injuries, it happens all the time. A lot of it is just misfortune – wrong place, wrong time. But to be able to be that guy that’s on the field consistent, that’s a point I take pride in.”
As important as has been Ramczyk’s availability – he just completed the first three-day OTA session for New Orleans – it possibly is smothered by his ability.

In his second season, he was named second-team All-Pro, the first Saints offensive lineman to earn the honor since guard Jahri Evans in 2013.

Since Ramczyk’s first NFL game, all he has displayed is the ability to ascend, regardless of circumstance. He started his first game, a road game against Minnesota, at left tackle and flipped to right tackle during the game because of an injury to Zach Strief. Then he started two games at right tackle. Then, he started at left tackle when Strief returned, only to flip again – in game, again – when Strief suffered a season-ending injury.

“(All-Pro) is great recognition, obviously,” Ramczyk said. “I’m proud of it and I’ll just keep building off of it.”

“We saw such good play from him in his rookie year,” offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. “And there’s still snaps that he wants back, we want him to have back. But he just continues to improve. He has been very steady in what he’s done.
“He’s got exceptional feet and balance, and you see that in his play. He’s a very poised young man. He’s got a real good feel for it, his demeanor never changes. You don’t ever see him get too high and you never see him get too low. He’s just focused on the next play or the next drill, and he’s able to transition that to his play. But he’s very talented.”

Ramczyk’s evenness is an attribute that Coach Sean Payton routinely lists as one of Ramczyk’s strongest traits.

“If you go back to his history, after the completion of his final year at Wisconsin, he comes to us, he’s got a labrum injury in his hip so he misses all of OTAs, all of rookie minicamp, veteran minicamp,” Roushar said.

“So we really don’t know. He’s paying attention, you kind of feel his quietness, you feel his purposefulness, and you kind of start to get encouraged by his demeanor there. When we did get him onto the field, what we had seen and had hoped for, carried over. And it continues. He’s quiet in his approach, but you can tell that he’s very focused about what he’s doing.”

Too, he’s focused on perfecting what he’s doing. That’s what the past two offseasons have been about – keeping mistakes to a minimum, strengthening areas that need shoring up.
“I went back and looked at the film from last year and there was just a couple of things in pass pro, a couple of things in run that I just wanted to critique and get better at,” Ramczyk said.

There isn’t much doubt that he’ll put in the work to do so.

“I think Ryan’s got such a better understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Roushar said. “I think he’s so conscientious of the areas that he wants to make growth in, and so, I see him working very diligently to improve the little things, the details of his craft.

“He’s one of those guys, he doesn’t ever give up a rep. He wants every rep that he can possibly get. And so if it’s his turn, he’s taking it. He’s not giving it to anybody and the reason he’s that way is, he’s a perfectionist in what he wants to try to get done.”

Custom Detroit Lions Jerseys

The Lions started the third phase of the offseason training program with OTAs this week, where teams can run practices with 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and full 11-on-11 team drills. Players aren’t in pads, but the ability to conduct offense vs. defense drills for the first time this offseason is jump starting the installation of the new offense under coordinator Darrell Bevell.

“It’s huge for us,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said before Tuesday’s open OTA practice. “It’s actually just huge for us just to line up across from each other. That’s the biggest thing and just be able to see a real look, opposed to coaches that are out there trying to get cans lined up and trying to get the looks from that aspect of it and then run off the field and run back on the field.”

In phases one and two of the offseason training program, workouts were limited to strength and conditioning and then individual instruction and practice conducted on a “separates” basis with no team offense vs. defense drills allowed.
It’s difficult to get good looks and reps against stationary objects. Just the visuals of seeing a defense and having to adjust to their look allows quarterback Matthew Stafford to get into the checks and the other nitty gritty parts of Bevell’s offense that need to be learned before this offense can hit the ground running in training camp.
“The more guys you’ve got on the field, whether it’s 1-on-1 to 7-on-7 to full team periods, the more real football is. Your awareness has to be heightened and things are stressed,” Stafford said. “Communication is stressed, alignment is stressed, assignment, all of that kind of stuff.”

It’s good for the pass catchers to run routes against defenders and not on air. The running backs have to find their gaps against moving targets. The guys up front have to block the multitude of blitzes the Lions’ defense deploys and get the new protections right.

Stafford admitted it was much more fun installing against the defense than trying to run a new offense on air.

This is the part of the offseason where execution in this new offense can start to really be evaluated. It’s not full contact, that comes in training camp, but OTAs are the next best thing.

 

“Right now, there is a great opportunity for us to get ahead in the installation,” Patricia said. “And one of the things that we really have to consider with the decrease in the amount of training camp time that we have with the players from a practice standpoint, compared to what we had before, these are really critical for us from a learning, installation standpoint.

“Everything is just so accelerated from that aspect in training camp. So, these are great days, they’re great for us from that standpoint.”