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The Free Press WV

►  Sports study: High school athletes not being fully protected

A high school sports study conducted by the Korey Stringer Institute shows that many individual states are not fully implementing key safety guidelines to protect athletes from potentially life-threatening conditions, including heat stroke.

More than 7.8 million high school students participate in sanctioned sports annually. KSI announced the results Tuesday at a news conference at NFL headquarters. The league partially sponsors the institute.

The state-by-state survey of all sports played in high school showed North Carolina with the most comprehensive health and safety policies at 79 percent, followed by Kentucky at 71 percent. At the bottom were Colorado (23 percent) and California (26 percent). Those scores were based on a state meeting best practice guidelines addressing the four major causes of sudden death for that age group: cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke and exertional sickling occurring in athletes with sickle cell trait.

“The bottom line is that many simple policy changes can have a massive impact when a life is saved,” says Dr. Douglas Casa of KSI. “That is the goal of KSI in releasing these rankings, to prevent needless deaths in high school sports. We have had countless conversations with loved ones who have lost a child/sibling/grandchild/athlete. If these rankings can get more kids home for dinner instead of to a hospital or morgue, then we have succeeded.”

The institute is a sports safety research and advocacy organization located at the University of Connecticut and named after the former Vikings star who died from exertional heat stroke in 2001.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death for the age range.

Casa notes that progress is slow because most states only make a change after a tragedy. But he stresses that the policies KSI promotes are not difficult to adopt.

“At least one state has adopted each individual item, and for many items, more than half of the states have the policy in place,” he explains. “So this tells us it is feasible (to maximize protection). Now we need to collectively get states to learn from their colleagues and adapt these (programs) in their own state. Our top state is at about 80 percent, showing that, with effort, these policies can be implemented.”

Bob Gfeller lost his son, Matthew, at age 15 in 2008, after a traumatic brain injury while playing in his first high school football game. Gfeller is an executive vice president at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the executive director of the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma. He found the wide range of results by state “enlightening.”

Asked what can be done to get states to adopt more of the guidelines to protect high school athletes, Gfeller says: “Sharing of best practices amongst the state high school professionals. For each state to study where they are gapping and what other states who are scoring high are doing, so then to be able to determine how to close their gap.”

In his field of expertise, exertional heat stroke, Casa notes that states that have adapted significant changes to heat acclimatization policies have not had such a death when the policies have been followed.

“Keep in mind these policies are for the phasing in of initial practices in August,” Casa says. “Some of these states have still had exertional heat stroke deaths during summer conditioning in June/July or other times of the year, because they lack policies that govern these other circumstances.”

To prevent death from EHS, it comes down to three things:

— Prevention — heat acclimatization, modifying work/rest ratios based on environmental conditions, hydration, body cooling, etc.;

— Recognition — being aware, acting quickly, rectal temperature;

— Treatment — cold water immersion, cool first/transport second.

Casa adds that the monetary cost of reaching the desired preventive measures is not high.

“To be honest, you could get to 90 percent implementation with very little cost and effort,” he says. “Spending probably less than $5,000 per school could get you close to 90 points. You also would probably need a two-day meeting with the key state association officials to refine the details of the changes.

“It is matter of convincing people that these issues are important and that they need attention.”

►  This week in auto racing for Thursday, August 10, 2017



Site: Brooklyn, Michigan

Schedule: Friday, practice, 8:30 a.m. (NBCSN), qualifying, 2:05 p.m. (NBCSN); Saturday, practice, 5:30 a.m. (CNBC), 8:30 a.m.; Sunday, race, noon, NBCSN.

Track: Michigan International Speedway (oval, 2 miles)

Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps.

Last year: Kyle Larson won after starting 12th.

Last race: Martin Truex Jr. won his fourth race of the year at Watkins Glen.

Fast facts: William Byron, 19, will take over the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports next season. Hendrick had previously announced the Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 since 2012, would not be retained. . . . Truex has a 116-point lead over Kyle Busch in the standings. But Busch has won six poles this season – twice as many as any other driver. Larson and Kevin Harvick have started first three times.

Next race: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Aug. 19, Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee.




Site: Lexington, Ohio

Schedule: Friday, practice, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 9 a.m. (CNBC), race, 12:30 p.m., NBCSN.

Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (circuit, 2.258 miles)

Race distance: 169.35 miles, 75 laps.

Last year: Justin Marks won his only series race.

Last race: Kyle Busch took first in New York.

Fast facts: Byron has won three series races already this season. He’s still 52 points behind Elliott Sadler in the standings. . . . Last week’s win was the 90th career Xfinity victory for Busch. But it was his first at Watkins Glen’s road course.

Next race: Food City 300, Aug. 18, Bristol Motor Speedway.





Site: Brooklyn, Michigan

Schedule: Friday, practice, 10 a.m. and noon (FS1); Saturday, qualifying, 6:30 a.m. (FS1), race, 10 a.m., FS1.

Track: Michigan International Speedway.

Race distance: 200 miles, 100 laps

Last year: Brett Moffitt took first for the first time in his career.

Last race: Christopher Bell won for the second time in three races.

Fast facts: Darrell Wallace Jr. will return to the truck series this weekend. Wallace has five career wins in the series. . . . Bell has won four of his 12 starts and has finished outside the top 10 just once all season. But his edge over Johnny Sauter is just 18 points heading to Michigan.

Next race: UNOH 300, Aug. 16, Bristol Motor Speedway.



Last race: Josef Newgarden won his second straight race and third of 2017.

Next race: ABC Supply 500, Aug. 20, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pennsylvania.



Last race: Sebastian Vettel took first in Hungary.

Next race: Belgian Grand Prix, Aug. 27, Circuit De Spa-Francorchamps, Francorchamps, Belgium.



Last race: Antron Brown won the Top Fuel event outside of Seattle last weekend.

Next race: Lucas Oil Nationals, Aug. 18-20, Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minnesota.



WORLD OF OUTLAWS: Wednesday-Saturday, Knoxville Nationals, Knoxville Raceway, Knoxville, Iowa.


In Sports….

The Free Press WV

►  Ohio, Illinois Governors Place World Series Bets

The governors of Illinois and Ohio have bet each other cases of beer, pizza, and other ballpark favorites ahead of the World Series contest between the Cubs and the Indians. In a Monday tweet, Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner wagered an extra-large Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and a case of microbrew beer from Chicago if the Indians win, the AP reports. But “you’re not going to get that delicious food and beer,” Rauner said. “We’re going to eat it here. Because you know what? The Cubs are going to win.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich returned his fellow Republican’s challenge, saying in a tweet that he would send Rauner “fan favorites” should the Cubs end their 108-year title drought. “I’m gonna match him in that bet because I know the Indians are going to roll, and they’re going to roll not just for Cleveland but for people all across the great Buckeye state,“ he said. A Kasich spokeswoman says the “fan favorites” would include items such as local beer, ballpark mustard from Cleveland and other products from the city. The series begins Tuesday in Cleveland.

►  One of Sports’ Biggest Execs Walks to Work Unnoticed

Theo Epstein got himself hired as general manager of the Red Sox at age 28 and quickly became known as a baseball wunderkind when Boston busted its curse and won the World Series in 2004. Epstein is 42 now and on the cusp of doing the same for another city as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. (The Series starts Tuesday night.) In a lengthy profile at ESPN, Wright Thompson profiles Epstein, now considered a “baseball whisperer” of sorts. One nugget: He walks the seven blocks to work every day. “Most people don’t recognize him with his baseball hat pulled low, one of the most famous sports executives in the country, the man who embraced the culture of analytics to finally bring a title to the Red Sox,“ writes Thompson.

But much of the piece details how the real Epstein is quite a contrast from the image of an “analytics” nerd who crunches numbers. Complicated-looking formulas are posted on a glass window in his office, all of it “meaningless,“ Epstein explains, a joke playing off that image. He loves the game on a gut level, a feeling he had all but lost in Boston, writes Thompson, who adds that the stress took a physical toll. “His friends saw how the job changed his face.“ At one point, he called the Patriots’ Bill Belichick for advice on handling success after the World Series win, and Belichick told him, “You’re f——-.“ Click for the full story, in which Epstein recalls being so introverted in high school that he would follow people home unnoticed. “I could not exist but observe.“

►  There’s Pricey, Then There’s World Series Tickets Pricey

Fans hoping to see the Cubs play in the World Series for the first time since 1945 are finding a seat could cost them more than what their grandparents paid for their houses. The euphoria from Saturday night’s victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers gave way Monday to the realization that history doesn’t come cheap. Wrigley Field box seats on ticket-selling sites such as StubHub were $50,000 and up, with one seller asking $100,000 for a seat and another asking for just under $1 million, reports the AP. But there are lots of box seat tickets in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Standing room tickets to the park are going for more than $2,200 each. List prices for World Series tickets at Wrigley range from $85 to $565, according to MLB figures.

World Series tickets are costing a lot more in Cleveland, too—well above the $83 to $750 list price range that MLB provided for Progressive Field—but are not as expensive as those in Chicago. And there are indications that Cubs fans, getting a look at what they would pay at Wrigley versus Progressive, are buying two tickets: one for a plane and one for a game. Ticket brokers were being flooded with calls from fans looking for tickets and, as of Monday, they were willing to pay as much as $12,000, one says. He adds prices might climb because Cubs fans are reluctant to sell no matter how much money they’re offered, to the dismay of this 97-year-old fan who witnessed the Cubs lose in 1945 World Series. Back then, a ticket in the upper grandstand was $6. Says a ticket broker in Chicago: “People have waited so long for this.“

►  Guy Crushes Coast-to-Coast Running Record

Philippides, who? Pete Kostelnick has just made the Greek legend’s marathon race look like a quaint sprint. Keeping an average pace of 73 miles per day, the Nebraska ultrarunner, 29, landed at New York City Hall on Monday having raced 3,100 miles from San Francisco in just 42 days, six hours, and 34 minutes, reports the New York Post. He smashed the previous record time for the trek, set by Frank Giannino in 1980, by four days, though Guinness World Records has yet to confirm the time. Kostelnick, who started running several years ago to lose weight, fell twice, per ESPN, but the only real casualties were the eight pairs of shoes he burned through running 15 hours per day, starting at 3:30am, with two 15-minute breaks.

A financial planner and two-time winner of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, per Competitor, Kostelnick drew comparisons to Forrest Gump, not only because of his Bubba Gump hat. Like the fictional character, he was joined by fans—“awesome people ... [who] drove 10 hours to run with me for 5 miles,“ he says. By the time he reached Manhattan on Monday to chants of “run, Pete, run,“ a crowd of 25 was running with him, including men in business suits. “As with [Tom] Hanks’ character, when Kostelnick stopped for a minute, such as to retrieve a dropped water bottle, the crowd stopped. When he moved, they all did,“ per the Post. “Well, I’m definitely not going to run back,“ Kostelnick said at the finish line. “All I want is a beer and my wife.“

►  Just One Season of Football Can Alter Kids’ Brains

Grade-school football players may not ever experience a concussion, but just one season of “sub-concussive head impacts”—blows to the head that aren’t quite severe enough to cause a full-blown concussion—could be enough to alter young athletes’ brains, ABC News reports. Per a study in the journal Radiology, researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine, among others, examined the brains of 25 boys ages 8 to 13 playing in a North Carolina youth football league, both at the beginning of the season and again at the end, NBC News notes. And even though no subject logged an actual concussion, researchers found the more force a player was exposed to during the season, the more likely it was for him to have a lower fractional anisotropy (FA) score, an indicator of smoothly flowing water molecules in the brain that usually signifies healthy white matter.

The players donned a sensor-equipped helmet that registered the type of force each boy endured; these hard hits were backed up by tape viewings of games and practices. “They [were] hitting at extremely high levels,“ says a pediatric neurosurgeon involved with the study, per NBC. Scientists then compared an end-of-season MRI that measured the water movement for each player along nerve fibers with one taken at the beginning of the season—and found players who’d endured more force had lower FA scores, which have been tied in other studies to brain disruptions. Study co-author Christopher Whitlow, head of neuroradiology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, concedes the sample size was small and that more research is needed, telling ABC, “There is more we don’t know about these changes than we do know.“

In Sports….

The Free Press WV

►  NFL Ratings Are Tumbling

The NFL has endured criticism about concussions, allegations about domestic violence among its players, and Tom Brady’s DeflateGate, and yet the viewers kept coming back to the networks for more gameplay every Sunday (and Monday and Thursday and Saturday). Until now, per the Wall Street Journal, which reports on the league’s slipping ratings on major TV networks during the first four weeks of this season. Bloomberg notes that Nielsen data shows a 14% drop in prime-time viewership in the 18-to-49 age bracket. And the networks aren’t the only ones flummoxed by the seemingly sudden decline. “We’re scratching our heads,“ says a media buyer for an agency whose clients include GM, who adds that it’s “probably being caused by a confluence of events.“

Those factors could include the hyperfocus on this year’s presidential election, the absence so far of big-name players like Brady and Tony Romo, and the fact that “cord-cutters” may keep up with games via other methods other than on TV. What the NFL’s media head doesn’t think has any bearing on ratings: hubbub over protests held during the national anthem, despite a WCNC-cited poll suggesting about one-third of Americans may decline to watch because of this. Either way, Nancy Armour writes for USA Today Sports, “there’s no need to write the league’s obituary” based on flagging ratings alone, noting that attendance and sales of NFL-licensed apparel are on the rise from last year. “Worry about the future of the country,“ she writes. “The NFL’s going to be just fine.“

►  High School Football Team Is So Big, Others Won’t Play

After crushing the opposition by a combined total of 170-0 in its first three games of the season, Archbishop Murphy High School in Washington state won the next three games when their opponents forfeited out of fear of literally being crushed. The Everett high school is a private Catholic institution, which, unlike the public schools it has been playing, allows it to recruit players from across the region, CBS News reports. The Archbishop Murphy team has six players over 250 pounds and three over 300, while Granite Falls High School, the latest to forfeit, has just one player over 250 pounds. The Catholic school’s future in the Cascade Conference is now uncertain.

“It’s not that we’re afraid to play the game, it’s an injury issue,“ Granite Falls coach Tim Dennis tells KING5. “My son is 5’8” and weighs 117 pounds and just got out of middle school and just turned 14,“ a Granite Falls mom told a community meeting this week. “They’ve got 18-year-old players [who] are 6’5” and weigh 330 pounds. I mean, that’s like putting a Volkswagen Bug against a Mack truck.“ reports that at a press conference Wednesday, Archbishop Murphy coach Jerry Jensen described the team’s story as one of “resilience in the face of adversity,“ which started three years ago when a group of freshmen players vowed to improve after a season of losses.

►  What Really Happened the Night Will Smith Died

Sean Flynn at GQ has put together an extensive piece of reporting about the shooting that took the life of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith in April. Retired Saints are basically, well, saints in New Orleans, so by the morning after Smith’s death on a Saturday night, his alleged killer Cardell Hayes “was tried and convicted before I got out of church Sunday morning,“ Hayes’ lawyer complained. The fact that Cardell Hayes himself had been a promising youth football player who had failed to reach the NFL just added to the narrative.

The story painted by Flynn explores both men, the culture of football in New Orleans, and a fender-bender that went tragically wrong. The car accident that brought the two men together ended with Cardell shooting Smith after, Cardell says, Smith started reaching for his own gun. New Orleans is an open-carry state, and by his own account, Cardell acted in self-defense. But in a town where football is so central to the place’s identity, the court of public opinion is heavily tilted toward the guy with the Super Bowl ring. The full piece at GQ is worth a read.

►  Joe Buck Nearly Let Vanity, Hair Plugs Ruin Career

Sportscaster Joe Buck nearly lost his career because, in his own words, he was “a hair-plug addict.“ He tells Sports Illustrated he was “consumed” by the threat of losing his hair. “I would tell myself I needed to look younger, I needed to have thicker hair, I don’t want to look older than I am,“ Buck says in the exclusive interview. Buck underwent his first hair replacement procedure in 1993 at the age of 24. He says it was “pure vanity,“ though he deluded himself that he was doing it to keep his television gig. The habit continued until 2011, when he woke up from his eighth procedure to find he couldn’t speak.

Somehow during the operation, one of Buck’s vocal cords suffered nerve damage and became paralyzed. During the six months—nearly the entirety of the 2011 baseball season—it took for his voice to completely return, Buck lied to friends and bosses, telling them the vocal cord damage was due to a virus. “I didn’t say it was an elective procedure to add hair to the front of my head,“ Buck says. “It was embarrassing.“ Buck writes about the experience in his upcoming memoir. He says “the main reason why” he wrote the book was to openly and honestly talk about a difficult period in his life. And while he hasn’t had a hair replacement treatment since 2011, he says he hasn’t necessarily given up the habit for good either. Read the full story HERE .

GSC 2016 Coaches Clinic

The Free Press WV

In Sports….

The Free Press WV

►  We Need to Ban Kids From Playing Football: CTE Doc

It’s time that we banned our children from playing football, just as we already protect them from other things we know to be harmful. That’s the word from Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first person to identify chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a disease known to affect football players and others who sustain repetitive blows to the head. “As we become more intellectually sophisticated and advanced, with greater and broader access to information and knowledge, we have given up old practices in the name of safety and progress,“ he writes in the New York Times. “That is, except when it comes to sports.“

We’ve limited smoking and drinking alcohol; we’ve curbed asbestos use. And yet, though studies show children who play football can show evidence of brain damage that can become irreversible CTE if allowed to accumulate over the years, parents still allow their kids to play. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommended back in 2011 that children be kept from high-impact contact sports, and the research agrees. “The question we have to answer is, when we knowingly and willfully allow a child to play high-impact contact sports, are we endangering that child?“ Omalu thinks the answer is yes, and children should be kept from playing football until they become adults. Click for his full column.

►  Heisman Trophy finalists: Henry, Watson, McCaffrey

NEW YORK — Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey are hoping to return to the Heisman Trophy to the running backs. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson can keep it with the QBs.

The two star running backs with very different styles and the dual-threat quarterback of the No. 1 team in the country are headed for New York after being named Heisman finalists Monday night.

Henry and McCaffrey will be looking to break a five-year streak of quarterbacks winning college football’s top honor when the trophy is presented Saturday night in Midtown Manhattan.

Mark Ingram of Alabama in 2009 was the last running back — and only Crimson Tide player — to win the Heisman. Since 2000, 13 of the 15 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.

Among those missing out on a trip to New York City was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who was the early season favorite, and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

Henry seems to be the front runner in a Heisman race that tightened over championship weekend. He ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries in the Alabama’s Southeastern Conference championship game victory against Florida on Saturday.

Later that night, McCaffrey had 461 all-purpose yards with touchdowns running, receiving and passing as Stanford beat Southern California in the Pac-12 title game, and Watson had 420 total yards and accounted for five touchdowns in Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game win against North Carolina.

Close Heisman voting has been uncommon in recent years. The last three winners — Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel — all won by comfortable margins.

The last time there was real suspense at the Heisman presentation was 2009, when Ingram received only 1 percent more of the vote than Stanford’s Toby Gerhart. By percentage, that ranks as the closest Heisman vote in history.

A look at the finalists:


The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior carried the Tide (12-1) to the College Football Playoff, setting an SEC record with 1,986 yards and nation’s best 23 touchdowns. With a passing game that has been inconsistent, the Tide has leaned heavily on Henry in its biggest games. He carried the ball 90 times in Alabama’s last two games and has averaged 180 yards per game against SEC opponents.

“The Heisman Trophy has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid and the chance to go to New York as a finalist is amazing, but none of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates,“ Henry said in a statement. “The offensive line, the quarterback, wide receivers and tight ends have done an unbelievable job all season and our coaches always put us in a position to be successful.“


While Henry is the prototypical power runner, McCaffrey is all about elusiveness and versatility. The 200-pound sophomore broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,496. He has scored 13 touchdowns and thrown two TD passes.

He would be Stanford’s second Heisman winner, joining Jim Plunkett in 1970. The Cardinal did have a recent run of three straight seasons with the runner-up. Gerhart finished second behind Ingram in ‘09 and Andrew Luck came in second to Cam Newton (2010) and Robert Griffin III (2011).

“Just found out five minutes ago. I’m a little emotional,“ McCaffrey told reporters at Stanford.


The sophomore has Clemson in the playoff, trying for its first national championship since 1981. Watson fits the mold of recent Heisman winners Cam Newton, RGIII, Manziel and Mariota as a dual-threat quarterback, capable of dominating as a runner or passer.

Watson is the only player in the country who has surpassed 800 yards rushing (887) and 3,500 yards passing (3,512), and he has accounted for 41 touchdowns. He would be Clemson’s first Heisman winner.

“This is recognition for a great performance on the field and for the hard work he has put in over the last year after suffering a torn ACL,“ Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “A year ago Saturday night (December 12, 2014) he was in the hospital having surgery. Exactly a year later he will be in New York as a Heisman finalist.“

►    LeBron James signs lifetime contract with Nike

CLEVELAND — LeBron James has a contract with Nike that will last long after he hangs up his sneakers.

The NBA megastar has signed a lifetime endorsement deal with the athletic apparel giant, a deal which extends a partnership James began with Nike before he graduated from high school.

“I’m very humble, man,“ James said Monday after practice with the Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s been an unbelievable time for myself and my family, and I’m just grateful that Nike and Phil Knight, and everyone over there just believed in a skinny 18-year-old kid from Akron, Ohio, and I’m happy to be a part of such a great company.“

Financial terms of James’ deal were not disclosed. James signed a seven-year, $90 million contract with Nike shortly before he entered the draft in 2003, skipping college to be a pro.

James has had his own line of Nike shoes for years, and his new agreement could expand into his own brand.

“We can confirm that we have agreed to a lifetime relationship with LeBron that provides significant value to our business, brand and shareholders,“ Nike said in a statement emailed to the AP. “We have already built a strong LeBron business over the past 12 years, and we see the potential for this to continue to grow throughout his playing career and beyond.“

James turns 31 on December 30, but the four-time league MVP shows little signs of slowing down and could play well into this 30s.

As for his business association with Nike once he’s done playing, James said he has had “a conversation” about branching off into his own brand — like Michael Jordan — under the company’s umbrella.

“We’ll see when we get to that point,“ said James, who has signed three contracts with Nike. “If it makes sense for both parties, then we’ll do it. If not, then we won’t. We’ve done a great job of building my brand to this point. We want to just continue it. If it makes sense for us to have a ‘Team LeBron,‘ or whatever the name will be, we’ll take a look at it and we’ll go from there. It’s a partnership between us. It’s not an endorsement deal. It’s a partnership where we always come together and figure out the best way possible for both brands to be successful.“

James was asked why he would sign with Nike now, years ahead of even talk of retirement.

“Because I don’t want to go nowhere else,“ he said. “I’m Nike and swoosh for the rest of my life.“

►  The Cactus Bowl is January 02 in Arizona

MORGANTOWN, WV — The WVU Alumni Association is planning a trip to Phoenix, Arizona to see the Mountaineers take on PAC 12 opponent Arizona State in the 27th annual Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. The Cactus Bowl will be played on January 2nd at Chase Field; kickoff is at 8:15 MST time which means a 10:15 kickoff here at home.

“We’re excited for the bowl game, putting our fan travel program together, our fan events that we’re putting together and like I said we’re excited and we think it’s going to be a good bowl game,” said Kevin Berry, WVU Alumni Association Representative “We’re going to try to see if we can’t figure out exactly what are the best locations for Mountaineer fans, you know we know that when mountaineer fans are traveling they like to certainly come together and you know congregate and prepare themselves to cheer the Mountaineers on so we’re certainly going to do what we can to try to find the best location for that.”

WVU fans and alumni are encouraged to travel to Phoenix to see their Mountaineers play.
The WVU Alumni Association and Mountaineer Athletic Club, with help of PrimeSport, are offering a travel plan for fans which includes a 3-night stay at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix.

“Out on December the 31st so the individuals going have an opportunity to spend New Year’s in Arizona. We would come back on the 3rd the day after the game,” said Berry. “Travel packages start at $515, that does not include airfare so obviously individuals would have to travel out there themselves but that includes transfers, welcome gatherings, includes your whole hotel stay while you’re out there.”
Participants will also have access to the official WVU Pre-Game Party, as well as many other events happening throughout the trip. There will be special discounts offered at places including the Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix Aquarium, hot air balloon tours, US Airways Center, Chase Field tours and scenic tours of the area.
“We believe that it is a competitive package and in the end that’s our goal when we put these packages together. We want to make it as easy as possible, as worry free as possible, for individuals so they can just worry about getting out there and supporting the Mountaineers,” said Berry.

For those interested in purchasing tickets or taking part in the travel deal, the WVU Alumni Association suggests the a couple of websites.

“We recommend that you go to to purchase your tickets and they are currently for sale,” said Berry. “If you’re interested in the packages is the site that you visit and we’re confident it’s going to be a great bowl trip.”

This is WVU’s first appearance in the Cactus Bowl which will be televised on ESPN.

National Football League   15042601

The Gilmer Free Press

►  New York Jets 2015 Draft Preview

First-year Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan is keeping things close to the vest and could go in a number of different directions with the sixth overall pick.

The rebuilding Jets need plenty of help at quarterback position as well as running back on offense, and could use a big-time pass rusher on defense. And there will be no shortage the options.

It’s clear Maccagnan has no interest in moving forward with Geno Smith at quarterback and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously just a stop-gap. Trading up to draft Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, would be the sexiest move Maccagnan could make even though the flawed Oregon prospect would need time to develop his skills for a traditional pro offense.

Now that Georgia running back Todd Gurley, perhaps the best prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson, has been given a clean bill of health, he’s got to be in play as does Clemson edge defender Vic Beasley.

2014 Record: 4-12

Top Needs: QB, LB, WR, RB

First Three Picks: No. 6, No. 37, No. 70

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville); 2013 - Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama); 2012 - Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina): 2011 - Muhammad Wilkerson (DE, Temple); 2010 - Kyle Wilson (CB, Boise State); 2009 - Mark Sanchez (QB, USC); 2008 - Vernon Gholston (OLB, Ohio State), Dustin Keller (TE, Purdue); 2007 - Darrelle Revis (CB, Pittsburgh); 2006 - D’Brickashaw Ferguson (OT, Virginia), Nick Mangold (C, Ohio State); 2005 - none

►  Cincinnati Bengals 2015 Draft Preview

One-and-done playoff appearances are starting to get old in Cincinnati but Marvin Lewis remains in good standing, recently receiving a one-year contract extension.

To get the Bengals over the hump, a few tweaks are needed and it all starts with the 21st overall pick. Cincinnati has two very good tackles in Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith but both will be entering the final year of their contracts and Whitworth will be turning 34 over the summer so it may be time to look toward the future.

Stanford’s Andrus Peat looks like a natural left tackle, who can play for a decade if he shows enough functional football strength, something that has been a major problem for some recent big name Cardinal O-linemen (Jonathan Martin, David Yankey). Other potential options at tackle include Miami- Florida’s Ereck Flowers, Florida’s D.J. Humphries and Pitt’s T.J. Clemmings.

If the Bengals look elsewhere, a slot receiver could be an option as well as defensive help for the front seven.

2014 Record: 10-5-1

Top Needs: OT, DL, WR

First Three Picks: No. 21, No. 53, No. 85

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State); 2013 - Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame); 2012 - Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama), Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin); 2011 - A.J. Green (WR, Georgia); 2010 - Jermaine Gresham, TE (Oklahoma); 2009 - Andre Smith (OT, Alabama); 2008 - Keith Rivers (LB, USC); 2007 - Leon Hall (CB, Michigan); 2006 - Johnathan Joseph (CB, South Carolina); 2005 - David Pollack (OLB, Georgia)

►  Baltimore Ravens 2015 NFL Draft Preview

The Ravens need significant help at wide receiver after losing Torrey Smith in free agency but also must bolster their shaky defensive backfield.

The draft’s receiver pool is deep for the second straight year and players like Jaelen Strong of Arizona State as well as speedster Phillip Dorsett of Miami-Florida could be left when Baltimore is on the clock at No. 26 overall. The Ravens, however, probably can’t afford to take on a character risk like the talented Dorial Green-Beckham.

If Baltimore decides to bolster the secondary, names in play could be cornerbacks Jalen Collins of LSU, Byron Jones of UConn and Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest. Meanwhile, Alabama safety Landon Collins seems to be dropping daily and could be in play as could ASU’s Damarious Randall.

2014 Record: 10-6

Top Needs: WR, CB, S, RB

First Three Picks: No. 26, No. 58, No. 90

Number of Selections: 10 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - C. J. Mosley (LB, Alabama); 2013 - Matt Elam (S, Florida); 2012 - none; 2011 - Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado); 2010 - none; 2009 - Michael Oher (OT, Ole Miss); 2008 - Joe Flacco (QB, Delaware); 2007 - Ben Grubbs (G, Auburn); 2006 - Haloti Ngata (DT, Oregon); 2005 - Mark Clayton (WR, Oklahoma)

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►  Extra Points: Hypocrisy highlights Hardy ruling

Some may laud the NFL for its tough treatment of pass- rushing pariah Greg Hardy but smart observers will connect the dots, realizing that tenacious stance makes sure the star defensive end’s first game back will be a high-profile Thanksgiving Day affair against his former team, the Carolina Panthers.

Hardy, who signed an incentive-laden deal with Dallas this offseason, will certainly appeal a ruling that suspends him without pay for the team’s first 10 games citing “conduct detrimental to the league.“

It’s hard to argue with the penalty or feel sorry for Hardy, who if anything deserved a far harsher punishment for an ugly domestic violence incident from last May when he was accused of threatening the life of his former girlfriend and throwing her on a couch covered with guns.

Hardy was originally found guilty of two misdemeanors—assault on a female and communicating threats—by a judge last July but appealed the decision, asking for a jury trial. According to court papers, the alleged victim never made herself available to the Mecklenburg County district attorney’s office and law enforcement officials were unable to locate her to serve a subpoena.

The prosecution claimed it had reliable information she had reached a civil settlement with Hardy. In other words, Hardy paid off his victim to go away.

In a letter from commissioner Roger Goodell, Hardy was informed that a two- month NFL investigation following the dismissal of his case determined that there was sufficient credible evidence that the Ole Miss product engaged in conduct that not only violated the NFL’s policies but did so with aggravating circumstances.

The league claims the investigation—led by new NFL senior vice president and special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel and T&M Protection Resources—involved numerous interviews with witnesses and experts, a review of hundreds of pages of court records, documents and exhibits, photographs, police reports, medical records, and reports and opinions of medical experts retained by Hardy’s attorneys as well as the NFL office.

And it concluded that Hardy violated the personal-conduct policy by using physical force against Nicole Holder in at least four instances. First, the league alleges Hardy threw her in a bathtub and then on the futon that was covered with at least four semi-automatic rifles. Friel and Co. also surmised that Hardy placed his hands around Holder’s neck and shoved her against a wall in his apartment’s entry hallway.

“The net effect of these acts was that Ms. Holder was severely traumatized and sustained a range of injuries, including bruises and scratches on her neck, shoulders, upper chest, back, arms and feet,“ Goodell wrote to Hardy. “The use of physical force under the circumstances present here, against a woman substantially smaller than you and in the presence of powerful, military-style assault weapons, constitutes a significant act of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.“

No doubt wary of the coming appeal and the league’s previous setback in court against Adrian Peterson, Goodell also noted that Hardy’s behavior would have triggered a similar suspension under any version of the personal-conduct policy.

That, however, will be debated and may be a tough sell considering Goodell’s spotty and often inconsistent history of doling out punishment.

As part of his decision, Goodell also instructed Hardy to obtain a clinical evaluation by a qualified professional of his choosing. If counseling or treatment is recommended, Hardy will be expected to comply with those recommendations and provide appropriate releases to the NFL.

Finally, the new-and-improved commish also threatened Hardy with the ultimate punishment.

“You must have no further adverse involvement with law enforcement and must not commit any additional violations of league policies,“ he wrote. “In that respect, you should understand that another violation of this nature may result in your banishment from the NFL.“

Two things here.

Friel, who prior to joining the NFL two weeks ago, was vice president of the sexual misconduct consulting and investigations division of T&M, has certainly proven the league now has the ability to conduct an investigation that won’t be the butt of late-night jokes.

That’s the difference between letting a 28-year veteran prosecutor who once headed the sex crimes prosecution unit in the New York County district attorney’s office handle things versus a guy who doesn’t take notes.

Friel, though, probably didn’t realize the hypocrisy of this ruling, that an admittedly harsh punishment is scheduled to end just in time for Hardy to headline the marquee on Turkey Day.

It’s conceivable the league’s flair for the dramatic is forgotten by the casual public, especially if Hardy wins an appeal and gets his suspension reduced by a game or two.

But, this is no coincidence. Goodell and the NFL wanted to make sure Hardy was back in time for the Panthers-Cowboys game. And the fact he, nor the league, realized others would put two and two together highlights just how out of touch the commissioner and his lieutenants really are.

►  Jets pick up 5th-year option on LB Coples

Florham Park, NJ - The New York Jets exercised their fifth-year option on linebacker Quinton Coples, the team announced Thursday.

Coples, 24, is entering his fourth season with the Jets, who drafted him No. 16 overall in 2012.

He had 37 tackles, a career-high 6 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble in 16 games last season, including 15 starts. He has 105 tackles and 16 1/2 sacks in three seasons.

►  Patriots visit Obama at White House

Washington, DC - President Barack Obama praised the New England Patriots on Thursday, calling them “as good an organization as there has ever been in professional sports,“ but also found time to poke fun at the team and some of his own people.

After noting how many Patriots fans serve in congress and work at the White House—“I obviously did not screen properly when I was hiring” he joked—Obama looked into the audience.

“I just also want to point out that, despite the fact that he travels probably more than any human on Earth, somehow my Secretary of State, John Kerry, found a front-row seat to be here today,“ Obama said, referring to the former Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate. “So give it up for John Kerry.“

The Patriots visited Washington to celebrate their fourth Super Bowl title under coach Bill Belichick, who is well known for wearing hooded sweatshirts with cutoff sleeves on the sideline during games.

Thursday, the coach wore a suit and tie.

“I’m particularly grateful that coach decided to dress up today,“ Obama joked. “We had some scissors if he wanted to cut the sleeves off. Formal hoodies are allowed.“

Jokes are the norm at these celebrations and Obama’s touched on the deflated balls controversy that dogged the Patriots as they readied to play Seattle in February.

“I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events,“ the president said, “but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat.“

The Patriots posed for pictures with the president on a chilly afternoon on the South Lawn of the White House. They gave him a No. 44 jersey to hold up with Obama on the back.

Quarterback Tom Brady did not make the trip, reportedly because of a prior family commitment.

►  Lions to pick up option on OT Reiff

Allen Park, MI - The Detroit Lions will exercise the fifth-year option on offensive tackle Riley Reiff’s rookie contract before the May 3 deadline, general manager Martin Mayhew announced Friday.

The fifth-year option is worth $8.07 million.

Reiff, the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, started 31 games over the past two seasons. The Iowa product has missed only one game in his first three years.

►  Buffalo Bills 2015 Draft Preview

The Bills are without a first-round choice after moving up to get receiver Sammy Watkins in 2014. And that fact would be far more palatable to the fans in Western New York if Buffalo had a better option at the quarterback position to get the talented Watkins the football.

Veteran Matt Cassel is fine as a placeholder but few believe the light is ever going off for EJ Manuel at this point. Meanwhile, some lip service has been earmarked toward free agent pickup Tyrod Taylor but he remains a project after serving as Joe Flacco’s caddie.

The Bills are brimming with skill-position talent after adding running back LeSean McCoy, tight end Charles Clay and jack-of-all-trades Percy Harvin to a group that already included Watkins, fellow receiver Robert Woods and RB Fred Jackson.

What they need is the answer at the game’s most important position, as well as help on the interior of their offensive line and talent at linebacker. Barring a trade back up Buffalo will start at No. 50 where inside linebackers like TCU’s Paul Dawson and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney could be in play.

2014 Record: 9-7

Top Needs: QB, OL, TE, LB

First Three Picks: No. 50, No. 81, No. 155

Number of Selections: 6 (2, 3, 5, 6, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson); 2013 - E.J. Manuel (QB, Florida State); 2012 - Stephen Gilmore (CB, South Carolina); 2011 - Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama); 2010 - C.J. Spiller (RB, Clemson); 2009 - Aaron Maybin (DE, Penn State), Eric Wood (OL, Louisville); 2008 - Leodis McKelvin (CB, Troy); 2007 - Marshawn Lynch (RB, California); 2006 - Donte Whitner (S, Ohio State), John McCargo (DT, North Carolina State); 2005 - None

►  New England Patriots 2015 Draft Preview

The world champs have some work to do especially after losing veteran cornerbacks Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason. An obvious need, however, is not necessarily the way Bill Belichick is going to go.

The veteran coach is usually thinking about bolstering his offensive and defensive fronts above all else before taking care of any other needs and the Patriots could certainly add a run stuffer or a pass rusher. Meanwhile, offensive guard is in play, as is a deep threat outside the numbers on offense.

At No. 32 overall, keep an eye on two superior talents who are falling for various reasons. Missouri edge defender Shane Ray has a toe injury that has spooked off some suitors, while ultra-talented receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is only in the conversation this late because of his off-the-field travails.

“Really what we’re concerned about is role and how they fit on the team, not necessarily round or grade,“ Pats director of player personnel Nick Caserio said when describing his organization’s thought process. “Let’s figure out the player, let’s define his role. What’s this player going to be for our team, and then where that player eventually ends up falling in the draft. Just talking to that 20-45 (player) range, I think you’re going to find quality football players within that range.“

2014 Record: 12-4

Top Needs: WR, OL, CB, DL

First Three Picks: No. 32, No. 64, No. 96

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 6, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Dominique Easley (DT, Florida); 2013 - none; 2012 - Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse), Don’t'a Hightower (LB, Alabama); 2011 - Nate Solder (OT, Colorado); 2010 - Devin McCourty (CB, Rutgers); 2009 - none; 2008 - Jerod Mayo (LB, Tennessee); 2007 - Brandon Meriweather (S, Miami- Florida); 2006 - Laurence Maroney (RB, Minnesota); 2005 - Logan Mankins (G, Fresno State)

►  Extra Points: Jameis-JaMarcus comparison is unfair

Jameis Winston is hardly a can’t-miss prospect, but comparing the former Florida State star to this generation’s ultimate draft bust is as lazy as the work ethic that essentially doomed JaMarcus Russell.

“With Jameis Winston, I see JaMarcus Russell,“ a unnamed, longtime NFL personnel executive told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn. “Isn’t it interesting?“

Not really.

The similarities the executive alluded to were as thin as his thesis.

Russell had a penchant for throwing picks and Winston certainly threw too many interceptions at FSU, especially last season. Meanwhile, Winston has been photographed looking out of shape at times, admittedly a concern and something that certainly plagued Russell, the No. 1 overall selection in 2007. Finally, the notion that both players learned at the feet of Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher is somehow supposed to be relevant.

And I’ll add both Russell and Winston are from Alabama because that meaningless piece of trivia is probably more germane when comparing the two.

“Lack of focus by JaMarcus is what I see in Winston,“ the personnel man continued, according to McGinn. “They’re physically talented, but during the course of a game, they kind of lose their focus and just put the ball up for grabs. I see the body. I see the lack of focus.“

And then there’s Fisher, who was the man in Tallahassee during Winston’s three-year stay and was first quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator during Russell’s four-year sojourn at Louisiana State.

“I see the same coach and system,“ the exec opined. “Only Winston’s not as good an athlete and his arm isn’t as strong as JaMarcus.“

Russell was a physical freak and his triangle numbers (size, speed and strength) were the siren’s song that wooed NFL scouts. He was hardly a consistent performer in Baton Rouge, though, and his stock was like a junk bond, exploding after his far more talented LSU team dominated an overmatched Notre Dame club in the Sugar Bowl after the 2006 season.

It’s not that Russell was a bad player in college. In fact, he was very good, but he was competing for honors like All-SEC, not the Heisman Trophy.

Conversely Winston was at the top of the college football universe for two seasons and is natural quarterback with an innate pocket presence. The physical gifts are there with him as well, but he’s also an anticipatory thrower, understands how to recognize defenses pre-snap and his default settings as a signal caller point toward success, namely the ability to keep his eyes downfield when things are breaking down.

Yet, despite those significant differences on film, the unnamed executive pounded the square peg into the round hole of what is at its core, a tortured analogy.

Admittedly Fisher’s history when projecting quarterbacks to the next level is spotty. Besides Russell and Winston, Fisher mentored Rohan Davey, a fourth- round selection in 2002, along with Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel, both first-round picks.

Here’s the thing, though. Fourth-round picks aren’t supposed to succeed at the QB position in this league and the fact that Ponder and Manuel were both chosen in the first round is more of a black mark to the teams that drafted them because most observers had them rated as second-round talents. Russell himself was a lesser-regarded prospect until taking off late in his college career.

Winston, on the other hand, is the only Fisher student who has always been at the top of the food chain despite acting like an idiot at times off the field because his strengths as a player demand it.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room, Winston’s shaky track record as a human being.

There are no analytics or burgeoning form of sports science that can predict a prospect’s moral compass. One general manager explained it to me when talking about a different player with some previous off-the-field issues: “There is a difference between being immature and being a bad guy. Our job is to figure out what’s really behind the problem.“

Tampa Bay has a right to be very concerned about Winston’s behavior and pointing that out is fair. Masking that criticism by juxtaposing his style with a player that had no feel for the position is not.

“We’re looking at another guy (Winston) that’s a product of the system and has tremendous athletes around him,“ a second personnel man told the Milwaukee paper. “Oh, my goodness.

“Is this guy really going to be the first pick of the draft? You’d be drafting a quarterback that can’t run, has off-field problems, has no power in his legs and makes bad decisions on the field.

“Somebody’s going to make a horrible mistake.“

Perhaps, but the game of football itself won’t define Jameis Winston’s ultimate legacy in this sport, his behavior will.

And that’s the only real link between he and Russell. Dressing up in any other way is as disingenuous as it gets.  ~~  John McMullen ~~

►  Miami Dolphins 2015 Draft Preview

The recent Greg Jennings signing alleviates things a bit for the Miami Dolphins at the wide receiver position but it hardly cures the team’s need for a deep threat at the position.

It does give the Dolphins more options, however, because Ryan Tannehill still needs more help on the interior of the offensive line, while a complement to Ndamukong Suh on the inside of the defensive line is also a need.

The receiver position is very deep in this draft and if Louisville’s DeVante Parker drops to No. 14 overall Miami will likely sprint to the podium. That position could be a bit rich for other potential first-round receivers like Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong or Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, however.

In that’s the case LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins, who could project inside at guard, or interior defenders like Washington’s Danny Shelton and Florida State’s Eddie Goldman may be considered.

2013 Record: 8-8

Top Needs: WR, OL, RB, DL, CB

First Three Picks: No. 14, No. 47, No. 114

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 4, 5, 5, 6)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Ja’Wuan James (OT, Tennessee); 2013 - Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon); 2012 - Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M); 2011 - Mike Pouncey (C, Florida); 2010 - Jared Odrick (DE, Penn State); 2009 - Vontae Davis (CB, Illinois); 2008 - Jake Long (OT, Michigan); 2007 - Ted Ginn (WR, Ohio State); 2006 - Jason Allen (DB, Tennessee); 2005 - Ronnie Brown (RB, Auburn)

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►  Bears sign Pascoe

Lake Forest, IL - The Chicago Bears signed tight end Bear Pascoe to a one-year contract.

Last season, Pascoe played in all 16 games with two starts for the Falcons, catching two passes for three yards and a touchdown.

Pascoe spent his first five seasons with the New York Giants. He was a member of the club’s Super Bowl championship team after the 2011 season, catching four passes for 33 yards in the Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.

The Fresno State product has appeared in 82 games with 34 starts in six years, recording 40 receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He has seen action in at least 15 games in each of the last five seasons, including all 16 games on three occasions (2011, 2013-14).

►  San Francisco 49ers 2015 Draft Preview

San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke hasn’t been real conventional in recent months basically running off a coaching heavyweight, Jim Harbaugh, for a guy, Jim Tomsula, who came off like a “Saturday Night Live” skit in some early interviews.

For that reason the 49ers are a wild card in this process because Baalke’s not afraid to think outside the box. With Justin Smith set on retirement and Ray McDonald gone, bolstering the defensive line should be paramount and fast- rising Florida State defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr., who really put together some average tape while in Tallahassee but possesses freakish athleticism, is a possibility.

Inside linebacker is also a necessity after the retirements of studs Patrick Willis and Chris Borland but it’s hard to justify taking players like UCLA’s Eric Kendricks or Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney in the middle of the first round.

2014 Record: 8-8

Top Needs: ILB, DL, CB, WR

First Three Picks: No. 15, No. 46, No. 79

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois); 2013 - Eric Reid (S, LSU); 2012 - A.J. Jenkins (WR, Illinois); 2011 - Aldon Smith (OLB, Missouri); 2010 - Anthony Davis (OT, Rutgers), Mike Iupati (G, Idaho); 2009 - Michael Crabtree (WR, Texas Tech); 2008 - Kentwan Balmer (DL, North Carolina); 2007 - Patrick Willis (LB, Ole Miss), Joe Staley (T, Central Michigan); 2006 - Vernon Davis (TE, Maryland), Manny Lawson (OLB, North Carolina State); 2005 - Alex Smith (QB, Utah)

►  Arizona Cardinals 2015 Draft Preview

The Cardinals have enough talent to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they can keep Carson Palmer healthy and develop a legitimate ground game.

At No. 24 overall, it’s conceivable that Wisconsin bell cow Melvin Gordon is around but others looking for a difference-maker in the backfield are well aware they will probably have to jump ahead of the Cards to get one so Arizona is taking a chance if they stand pat. Gordon isn’t quite the prospect a healthy Todd Gurley is but he has the vision, natural balance and strength to be a top-tier runner.

Defensively the Cardinals generated most of their pressure with the blitz last season and Todd Bowles, the architect of those schemes, is now in North Jersey. It would be nice to get a player who can get to the opposing QB with little help so edge rushers like Randy Gregory or Shane Ray could be solid secondary options.

2014 Record: 11-5

Top Needs: RB, LB, DL

First Three Picks: No. 24, No. 55, No. 86

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Deone Bucannon (S, Washington State); 2013 - Jonathan Cooper (OG, North Carolina); 2012 - Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame); 2011 - Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU); 2010 - Dan Williams (DT, Tennessee); 2009 - Chris “Beanie” Wells (RB, Ohio State); 2008 - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB, Tennessee State); 2007 - Levi Brown (OT, Penn State); 2006 - Matt Leinart (QB, USC); 2005 - Antrel Rolle (CB, Miami- Florida)

►  St. Louis Rams 2015 Draft Preview

St. Louis could go in a number of different directions with the 10th overall pick. The Rams need help opposite Greg Robinson at tackle while receiver could be the secondary option based on need. The team also wants to add help at quarterback despite acquiring Nick Foles.

Reaching for a tackle like Andrus Peat or Ereck Flowers in the top 10 doesn’t make a lot of sense nor does mortgaging the future to move up to get Marcus Mariota. A pass-catcher like Louisville’s DeVante Parker, who brings a big body to the dance, along with soft hands, very good body control and the leaping ability to high-point the football, could be the most sensible option.

In the second round keep an eye on signal callers like UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson and Baylor’s Bryce Petty, who all had private workouts with the Rams.

2014 Record: 6-10

Top Needs: OL, WR, QB

First Three Picks: No. 10, No. 41, No. 72

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn), Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh); 2013 - Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia); Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia); 2012 - Michael Brockers (DT, LSU); 2011 - Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina); 2010 - Sam Bradford (QB, Oklahoma); 2009 - Jason Smith (OT, Baylor); 2008 - Chris Long (DE, Virginia); 2007 - Adam Carriker (DE, Nebraska); 2006 - Tye Hill (CB, Clemson); 2005 - Alex Barron (OT, Florida State)

►  Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015 Draft Preview

Don’t buy the hype when it comes to Marcus Mariota surpassing James Winston in the Bucs’ eyes. This isn’t “House of Cards” with ruthless politician Frank Underwood using naive journalist Zoe Barnes to advance his vision.

If you think about the people who have been knocking Winston lately and selling the narrative that Tampa Bay has had a change of heart, names like Greg Cosell, Mike Mayock and Ron Jaworski, something binds them. All of those draft analysts are Philadelphia-based and remember Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht spent three years in the City of Brotherly Love in the Eagles’ scouting department.

Licht is engaging in subterfuge and hardly doing it with the subtlety of a Kevin Spacey character. Here’s what you need to know: Lovie Smith wants Jameis Winston and if the former Heisman winner ends up anywhere other than Central Florida, you know Smith is all but done in Tampa.

“I don’t envy Jason (Licht) and Lovie,“ Mayock said. “There’s a consensus top two at the quarterback position, but there’s contrasting issues with both of them.“

Winston is assessed as NFL-ready and similar to Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, but he possesses better size and physical skills than the Minnesota Vikings’ current starter. He does not have Bridgewater’s maturity, though, and that is a real issue for certain organizations, especially after the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s rookie season in Cleveland.

“Obviously with Jameis Winston, my concern on the field is that is I think he throws too many interceptions,“ Mayock said. “However, I can see everything I want on the field, on tape, beyond that. He’s a pocket aware guy. He throws with anticipation and timing, which is unusual in today’s college football world.

“I think the bigger concern is whether or not this guy can be the face of your franchise. Let’s face it, he was the face of the Florida State franchise and that didn’t stop him from making a bunch of bad decisions off the field.“

So how does all of that compare with Mariota?

“You don’t have any worries off the field (with Mariota), and all the individual components are there,“ Mayock said when discussing Mariota. “He’s athletic. He’s got a big arm. He’s 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. He’s got great feet. He’s going to run 4.5. All the individual components are available. However, can he put them together in a pro style offense where he has to throw with anticipation, has to go through progressions?“

Smith has already hinted at his take.

“To me, I think (Winston has) told us an awful lot with how he’s handled (all the controversy),“ the veteran coach said. “It’s not like he’s getting ready to go into the NFL and scrutiny is coming his way. He’s gone through it a couple years now and he’s answered the bell. That’s what you have to do. You have to have tunnel vision and do your job. Looking from the outside, that’s what he’s been able to do.“

2014 Record: 2-14

Top Needs: QB, OL, DL. LB

First Three Picks: No. 1, No. 34, No. 65

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M); 2013 - none; 2012 - Mark Barron (S, Alabama); 2012 - Doug Martin (RB, Boise State); 2011 - Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa); 2010 - Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma); 2009 - Josh Freeman (QB, Kansas State); 2008 - Aqib Talib (DB, Kansas); 2007 - Gaines Adams (DE, Clemson); 2006 - Davin Joseph (G, Oklahoma); 2005 - Cadillac Williams (RB, Auburn)

►  Atlanta Falcons 2015 Draft Preview

New Falcons head coach Dan Quinn will want to bolster his front seven rather quickly especially when it comes to the pass rush and this draft is deep with players who can get to the quarterback.

Atlanta picks No. 8 overall and that might be a little too late to fill its “Leo” spot with Florida star Dante Fowler or Clemson stalwart Vic Beasley. It could have been a great landing spot for former Nebraska star Randy Gregory, perhaps the best pure rusher in the draft, but his dalliances with marijuana will almost assuredly send him tumbling out of the top 10.

The fast-riser is Kentucky’s Alvin “Bud” Dupree, who models himself after the 49ers’ Aldon Smith. Dupree is a natural rusher with long arms and solid closing speed off the edge.

The Falcons could also use help on the inside at linebacker, while left guard is also a pretty significant need. Meanwhile, the specter of Tony Gonzalez still looms and tight end is problematic but all of those spots will need to be filled later in the process.

2014 Record: 6-10

Top Needs: LB, OL, TE, WR

First Three Picks: No. 8, No. 42, No. 73

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M); 2013 - Desmond Trufant (CB, Washington); 2012 - none; 2011 - Julio Jones (WR, Alabama); 2010 - Sean Weatherspoon (LB, Missouri); 2009 - Peria Jerry (DT, Ole Miss); 2008 - Matt Ryan (QB, Boston College), Sam Baker (OT, USC); 2007 - Jamaal Anderson (DE, Arkansas); 2006 - none; 2005 - Roddy White (WR, UAB)

►  Carolina Panthers 2015 Draft Preview

When your offensive tackles from a year ago were Byron Bell and Mike Remmers, that’s a pretty good indication you need an upgrade and the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers should have some options at No. 25 overall.

It might come down to a what-flavor-do-you-like mentality with prospects like Florida’s D.J. Humphries and Miami-Florida’s Ereck Flowers. Humphries is more athletic and projects to the left side while Flowers is a safer, road-grader type.

Carolina should be able to find adequate skill position help later because the draft is deeper there. Defensively the top need is in the secondary but that pales in comparison to keeping Cam Newton upright.

2014 Record: 7-8-1

Top Needs: OT, WR, DB, RB

First Three Picks: No. 25, No. 57, No. 89

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State); 2013 - Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah); 2012 - Luke Kuechly (MLB, Boston College); 2011 - Cam Newton (QB, Auburn); 2010 - none; 2009 - none; 2008 - Jonathan Stewart (RB, Oregon), Jeff Otah (OT, Pittsburgh); 2007 - Jon Beason (LB, Miami- Florida); 2006 - DeAngelo Williams (RB, Memphis); 2005 - Thomas Davis (S/LB, Georgia)

►  New Orleans Saints 2015 Draft Preview

New Orleans coach Sean Payton is an offensive guy but he’s on record saying the Saints have “to bring in some (defensive) guys that we feel like can help us play right away.“

Nebraska’s Randy Gregory is the best pure pass rusher in this draft and likely would have been a top-five pick if not for a significant marijuana problem. Payton’s desperation leads me to believe New Orleans might be willing to take the plunge at No. 13.

Other edge defenders in play could be Clemson’s Vic Beasley or Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree, although their compasses have being moving north in recent days. Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton is another name that could be hanging around when the Saints hand in their card.

New Orleans also acquired the 31st pick, along with a very good center in Max Unger, when they sent Jimmy Graham to Seattle. New Orleans should continue to hit the defensive side hard and Arik Armstead is a versatile player who can move inside and out on the line while helping with the pass rush. He’s raw, though, and could be a boom-or-bust type.

With the 36-year-old Drew Brees in the last year of his contract, an heir- apparent at the quarterback position is also needed but packaging picks to go up for Marcus Mariota is unlikely.

2014 Record: 7-9

Top Needs: LB, DL, DB, OL

First Three Picks: No. 13, No. 31, No. 44

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State); 2013 - Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas); 2012 - none; 2011 - Cameron Jordan (DE, California), Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama); 2010 - Patrick Robinson (CB, Florida State); 2009 - Malcolm Jenkins (DB, Ohio State); 2008 - Sedrick Ellis (DT, USC); 2007 - Robert Meachem (WR, Tennessee); 2006 - Reggie Bush (RB, USC); 2005 - Jammal Brown (OT, Oklahoma)

►  Dolphins sign Greg Jennings

Davie, FL - The Miami Dolphins have signed wide receiver Greg Jennings.

Financial terms of the two-year deal were not disclosed.

Jennings spent the last two seasons in Minnesota and was released in March to clear salary cap space. The Vikings made the move one day after acquiring wide receiver Mike Wallace in a trade with the Dolphins.

“I am happy to announce that we have reached an agreement with Greg and would like to welcome him to the Miami Dolphins,“ said Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey. “Greg brings a track record of success and is a proven player who can help strengthen the offense.“

The 31-year-old veteran led the Vikings in receiving last year with 59 catches for 742 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 68 catches for 804 yards and four scores in 2013, his first season with Minnesota.

Jennings spent the first seven years of his career with the Green Bay Packers before signing a five-year deal with Minnesota in March 2013. He was a two- time Pro Bowl pick with the Packers.

The Western Michigan product was selected by Green Bay in the second round of the 2006 draft. He has 552 career receptions for 8,083 yards and 63 touchdowns in 127 NFL games.

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►  Draft Thoughts: Who comes next?

We’ve already heard a lot about the potential top pick in this year’s NFL Draft, which kicks off next Thursday with the first round. And, to possibly an even greater extent, what will happen when the Tennessee Titans are on the clock with the second overall selection.

Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are at the center of the draft talks as we inch closer to the event itself. Naturally so, because quarterback is the most valued position on the field in this age, and they are (by far) the two best signal callers eligible this year.

Draft analysts can drive themselves crazy trying to predict which player lands where. And the likely scenario is that Winston goes to Tampa Bay with the top selection, and Mariota may end up at No. 2 depending on a bunch of different variables (such as Tennessee trading out of the pick).

But what comes next? Winston and Mariota have been so heavily discussed that most people seem to forget they aren’t even the best players in the draft class. Jacksonville picks at No. 3, Oakland at No. 4 and Washington owns the fifth overall pick.

The Jets could make for an intriguing shake-up with the sixth pick, and should they stay put, what’s their best option?

Consider this a friendly reminder that when it comes to the NFL Draft, nothing is cut and dry. There are no surprises, because unpredictability is the very essence of the event. That said, if Winston and Mariota are off the board when the Jaguars are up with the third overall pick (the same spot the team held last year when it selected the first quarterback off the board in Blake Bortles), there are a handful of options that could improve Jacksonville’s roster.

It seems most online mock drafts feel versatile defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. from Florida is the best pick for the Jaguars at No. 3. Jacksonville spent last offseason in offensive demolition mode by retooling the team’s skills positions. And while the Jaguars are watching as these young players they invested so much in develop, the defense needs the same sort of treatment this offseason.

Fowler is an incredibly safe pick. The junior led Florida with 15 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries in 2014, in which he earned All-SEC first-team honors. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Fowler isn’t the biggest player on the edge of the defensive line, but he’s a monster pass-rush threat from either the end of a 4-3 base or as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 set.

What the Jaguars need most on defense is a playmaker - someone who came come in right away and turn a bland, unexciting defense into something that possesses pop.

Perhaps Fowler is the more popular pick here because he’s a versatile scheme player, which is something USC defensive end Leonard Williams can’t exactly boast. But that’s really the only “downside” (if one can even call it that) for the player most are calling the top prospect in this year’s class.

Williams, listed at 6-5 and 300 pounds, was USC’s Most Valuable Player in 2014 after he finished the season with 80 total tackles (second on the team), adding seven tackles for loss - all sacks (tied the team high). On paper, those numbers aren’t exactly eye-catching, especially when compared to Fowler’s tallies. But the Trojans lineman commanded so much attention in the form of double teams and extra help, it’s a wonder he broke through the line at all. In terms of ability, the junior end has potential through the roof.

In fact, according to reports, Williams has already told the Oakland Raiders he would love to play for them should he still be on the board when Oakland picks at No. 4.

The Raiders are infamous for going after skills position players early. They like speed, they like big-play ability and they like to make a scene. At least that was the Al Davis mantra.

Truth be told, the Raiders could use a guy like Kevin White or Amari Cooper to pair with quarterback Derek Carr on offense to give the second-year signal caller an actual receiving threat. But if Williams doesn’t come off the board to Tennessee or Jacksonville prior to the Raiders’ selection, Oakland would be foolish to pass up a potential All-Pro lineman.

With another draft class stacked with receiving talent like last year’s list of impressive names, the Raiders could wait until the second round to snag a solid pass catcher.

The Redskins pick at No. 5, but, in all honesty, the team could use picks five through 10 to try to rebuild its roster. Washington fell apart last season, headlined by Robert Griffin shortcomings and an overall air of underachieving stink.

Stud linebacker Brian Orakpo defected for Tennessee in the offseason, leaving the Redskins defense in the capable yet nearly sole hands of Ryan Kerrigan. Washington went out and signed Terrance Knighton to boost the defensive line, so Washington (Huskies) defensive lineman Danny Shelton might not make sense at the fifth pick anymore.

Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley has skyrocketed up draft boards thanks to freakish numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day. Beasley could have been a first-round selection last year had he declared, but he elected to return to school for his senior season. Sometimes that decision doesn’t pay dividends (looking at you, Matt Barkley), but for Beasley, it was the right one.

Beasley is a two-time All-American and a two-time All-ACC first-team selection. He’s Clemson’s all-time leader with 33 sacks and ranks fourth all-time in tackles for loss with 52.5 throughout his career. He had 21.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in 2014 alone. Throw him in with Kerrigan and Trent Murphy, and the Redskins could have one of the most dynamic pass rushing outlets in the NFC.

Washington could use the assistance of a Brandon Scherff on the offensive line, or even a receiving threat like Cooper to make the offense just a bit more formidable. But ultimately, the ‘Skins should be looking at the best player available, and Beasley has impressed enough to be that player at No. 5.

The Jets could certainly shake things up with the sixth pick, depending on which players are left available and which teams may come calling looking to move up. If Mariota is still on the board, New York may pull the trigger and give up the Geno Smith experiment once and for all.

The Jets also could go after players like Shelton, Missouri’s Shane Ray or one of the top receivers. After reverting back to their secondary of a few years ago with the re-additions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, Michigan State corner Trae Waynes doesn’t make much sense at six anymore.

If Mariota is still available, expect a team like Philadelphia to come calling about New York’s willingness to exchange picks.

It’s a crowded group at the top of the board, but picks three through six are expected to be the more sensible ones based on best available talent rather than the ever-growing desperate need for a franchise quarterback.

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►  Dallas Cowboys 2015 Draft Preview

With DeMarco Murray now calling Philadelphia home, the Cowboys have a serious need at the running back position. The addition of Darren McFadden is at best a band-aid and it’s a stretch to say Lance Dunbar or Joseph Randle are ready to be bell cows.

There is little question that Jerry Jones wants Adrian Peterson to sport a star on his helmet but the Vikings are playing hard ball and aren’t going to move the disgruntled, former-All-Pro unless they are bowled over.

Jones’ son, Stephen, the Cowboys’ COO and voice of reason, who talked his dad out of drafting Johnny Manziel in favor of stud right guard Zack Martin last year has tried to play down the Peterson talk for now.

“I don’t see us using any picks to trade for veteran players,“ the younger Jones said on a Dallas-area radio station.

Dallas could get desperate, however, if both Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are off the board at No. 27, a likely scenario and one which could put Jay Ajayi in play especially if the Boise State back’s balky right knee is sound in the Cowboys’ eyes.

Ajayi is a well-rounded runner with the body type to develop into a primary option and because he’s a Lone Star State native, Dallas had an opportunity to bring him in twice, at their local prospects days as well as one of their 30 private visits.

The Cowboys could use help at all three levels on defense, especially at defensive tackle where Rod Marinelli’s scheme demands an impact player at the three-technique.

2014 Record: 12-4

Top Needs: RB, DT, CB

First Three Picks: No. 27, No. 60, No. 91

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Zack Martin (OG, Notre Dame); 2013 - Travis Frederick (OC, Wisconsin); 2012 - Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU); 2011 - Tyron Smith (OT, USC); 2010 - Dez Bryant (WR, Oklahoma State); 2009 - none; 2008 - Felix Jones (RB, Arkansas), Mike Jenkins (CB, South Florida); 2007 - Anthony Spencer (OLB, Purdue); 2006 - Bobby Carpenter (LB, Ohio State); 2005 - DeMarcus Ware (OLB, Troy), Marcus Spears (DE, LSU)

►  Philadelphia Eagles 2015 Draft Preview

Chip Kelly seems to be collecting quarterbacks but the apple of his eye isn’t in Philadelphia, at least not yet.

When using a traditional NFL mindset it seems less than likely that Kelly has the ammunition to get up from No. 20 overall to reunite with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who Kelly recruited to Oregon. Until Sam Bradford signs an extension in Philadelphia, however, the idea of a reunion between the Ducks’ Heisman Trophy winner and Kelly remains in play with some pushing a convoluted three-way trade with Cleveland as an option because the Browns have expressed a prior interest in Bradford.

What’s known is that Kelly gushes over Mariota like a teenage girl with a crush even though his entire offensive system is supposedly “quarterback proof,“ a philosophy completely reliant on spacing, tempo and keeping the defense from substituting so you can spread the field to run the football.

Meanwhile, the Eagles head coach and now de facto general manager after winning a power play against ex-personnel chief Howie Roseman has been playing fantasy football for real this offseason turning his team inside out with a series of roster moves that are about as predictable as Rob Ford on his favorite hallucinogen.

Tennessee’s pick at No. 2 overall remains the lynchpin of the 2015 draft and the likely landing spot for Mariota because there is little doubt that the Titans want out of this slot and Ken Whisenhunt has no real interest in the Oregon product.

The question becomes whether anyone has the intent of trading up and overdrafting a solid but far from spectacular quarterback prospect. The most likely candidates remain Washington, the Jets and Chicago, simply because those are teams that don’t have to move that far.

Cleveland, Philadelphia, and to a lesser extent New Orleans and San Diego, remain the wild cards and no one is more wild than Kelly, who comes across unhinged, at least in a football sense, and is capable of shock and awe even if makes no sense and mortgages his organization’s future.

Until it’s over don’t give up on Kelly putting the organization’s future in peril to get Mariota but understand it remains unlikely because Philly would have to climb over many other suitors.

If forced to go a more conventional route the Eagles still need plenty of help in their defensive backfield as well as at wide receiver after waiving goodbye to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in back-to-back years.

Despite overpaying ex- Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell in free agency, Philadelphia remains very high on UConn corner Byron Jones, a physical freak who has been moving north on most draft boards after strong workouts at the combine and his pro day.

2014 Record: 10-6

Top Needs: S, WR, CB, QB, OL

First Three Picks: No. 20, No. 52, No. 83

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Marcus Smith (LB, Louisville); 2013 - Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma); 2012 - Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State); 2011 - Danny Watkins (G, Baylor); 2010 - Brandon Graham (DE, Michigan); 2009 - Jeremy Maclin (WR, Missouri); 2008 - none; 2007 - none; 2006 - Brodrick Bunkley (DT, Florida State); 2005 - Mike Patterson (DT, USC)

►  Washington Redskins 2015 Draft Preview

The Redskins haven’t had a first-round pick in the NFL Draft since mortgaging their future in 2012 to go up and get Robert Griffin III. It’s ironic that now that they are finally back in the game with the fifth-overall selection, the organization is weighing whether they need to move on from the talented but oft-injured signal caller.

If coach Jay Gruden had a vote there is little doubt that the ‘Skins would be moving on from Griffin but owner Daniel Snyder is still very fond of RG3 and if push comes to shove, the belief is Gruden will be leaving the Beltway far earlier than RG3.

New Washington general manager Scot McCloughan, a talent over need guy, is stuck in the middle of this mess and the Washington Post has already reported that the team is expected to exercise Griffin’s fifth-option after the draft, indicating it’s unlikely the Redskins want to retreat to square one with a project like Marcus Mariota.

If Mariota is taken out of the equation this probably comes down to rock-solid Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff or an edge defender, one of the deepest positions in this draft. From a need standpoint, the O-line is a better fit for the Redskins but players like Florida’s Dante Fowler and Clemson’s Vic Beasley are higher-ranked prospects on most boards. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee second-year man Trent Murphy develops into a capable complement to the underrated Ryan Kerrigan.

Expect McCloughan to stay true to his board with Beasley the more likely scenario if Jacksonville hones it on Fowler as expected with the No. 3 choice. Despite lacking the prototypical length you look for, Beasley has the strength and athleticism to standout pretty quickly.

2014 Record: 4-12

Top Needs: S, OL, CB

First Three Picks: No. 5, No. 38, No. 69

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - none; 2013 - none; 2012 - Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor); 2011 - Ryan Kerrigan (OLB, Purdue); 2010 - Trent Williams (OT, Oklahoma; 2009 - Brian Orakpo (DE, Texas); 2008 - none; 2007 - LaRon Landry (S, LSU); 2006 - none; 2005 - Carlos Rogers (CB, Auburn)

►  Minnesota Vikings 2015 Draft Preview

“Trader Rick” could be at it again on April 30.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman believes in building through the draft and has generally been very active in recent seasons, especially in the first round. Over the last three years, Spielman has amassed seven first-round picks and he has a chance to get multiple picks again if he decides to move on from the disgruntled Adrian Peterson.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Arizona, Atlanta, Dallas, Jacksonville, San Diego and Tampa Bay have all expressed at least some interest in the star running back but the Vikings want a significant haul in return, likely a first-round pick as well as a starting-caliber defensive back.

That’s a steep price for a 30-year-old running back who is set to make nearly $13 million in 2015 but it remains in play.

As for their own selection at No. 11 overall, Minnesota could pivot in a number of different directions.

The team needs help on the left side of the offensive line while defensive end Brian Robison is aging and the shaky depth behind him puts edge rusher in play. Finally, defensive-minded coach Mike Zimmer is reportedly enamored with Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. Teaming Waynes with the ascending Xavier Rhodes would open up a lot of things for Zimmer, who is known around the NFL as the blitz doctor.

2014 Record: 7-9

Top Needs: OL, LB, DE

First Three Picks: No. 11, No. 45, No. 76

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA), Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville); 2013 - Shariff Floyd (DT, Florida), Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State), Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee); 2012 - Matt Kalil (LT, USC), Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame); 2011 - Christian Ponder (QB, Florida State); 2010 - none; 2009 - Percy Harvin (WR, Florida); 2008 - none; 2007 - Adrian Peterson (RB, Oklahoma); 2006 - Chad Greenway (LB, Iowa); 2005 - Troy Williamson (WR, South Carolina), Erasmus James (DE, Wisconsin)

►  Chicago Bears 2015 Draft Preview

With Brandon Marshall now with the New York Jets, Chicago needs some help opposite Alshon Jeffery and should be in position to garner one of the draft’s top two receivers, either Alabama’s Amari Copper or West Virginia’s Kevin White, at No. 7 overall.

Cooper is the more polished product who should hit the ground running as a sharp route-runner with plus hands and tremendous short- area quickness, while White has the better triangle numbers (size, strength and speed) and the higher ceiling as a prospect.

There are other avenues as well for the Bears. Chicago could also be in the Marcus Mariota hunt but will have issues trying to move the poster-child for bad-body language, Jay Cutler.

Meanwhile, there has been a sharp shift in defensive philosophy in the Windy City now that John Fox and Vic Fangio have arrived and plan to run a 3-4. Finding a top-tier nose tackle like Washington’s Danny Shelton, or an edge defender to rush the passer, perhaps Clemson’s Vic Beasley or Kentucky’s Bud Dupree, will also be in new general manager Ryan Pace’s thought process.

2014 Record: 5-11

Top Needs: LB, DL, S, QB, WR

First Three Picks: No. 7, No. 39, No. 71

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech); 2013 - Kyle Long (OG, Oregon); 2012 - Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State); 2011 - Gabe Carimi (OT, Wisconsin); 2010 - none; 2009 - none; 2008 - Chris Williams (OT, Vanderbilt); 2007 - Greg Olsen (TE, Miami-Florida); 2006 - none; 2005 - Cedric Benson (RB, Texas)

►  Bengals extend Lewis through 2016

Cincinnati, OH - The Cincinnati Bengals signed head coach Marvin Lewis to a one-year extension on Wednesday.

The deal now keeps Lewis with the team through the 2016 season.

“I appreciate the commitment by management to the direction of our team,“ Lewis said. “It’s gratifying to our coaching staff and to me personally. The stakes get higher each and every year, and the return of our players this week for the start of offseason work has stoked our fires. I’m excited to continue our pursuit of greatness and to be World Champions.“

Last season, the Bengals went 10-5-1, marking the third straight double-digit win season for the Bengals.

Lewis has been with the Bengals since the 2003 season, posting a career coaching record of 100-90-2 with the team. The Bengals are 0-6 in the postseason under his leadership, including four straight one-and-done seasons.

►  Detroit Lions 2015 Draft Preview

The Lions lost both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley from the interior of what was the second-best defense in the NFL and replaced them with the aging Haloti Ngata as well as Tyrunn Walker.

That’s not a great trade off and more help is needed. That could point to Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown at No. 23 overall, the stoutest option in this draft after Washington’s Danny Shelton and a player with the strength to dominate at the point of attack along with the natural quickness to penetrate gaps.

Detroit could also use a complement to Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, especially one that can line up in the slot, as well as help at cornerback and aid on the offensive line. Names to be on the look out for could be LSU offensive lineman La’el Collins, UConn corner Byron Jones and Miami-Florida WR Phillip Dorsett,

2014 Record: 11-5

Top Needs: DT, CB, RB, OL

First Three Picks: No. 23, No. 54, No. 88

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina); 2013 - Ziggy Ansah (DE, BYU); 2012 - Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa); 2011 - Nick Fairley (DT, Auburn); 2010 - Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska), Jahvid Best (RB, California); 2009 - Matthew Stafford (QB, Georgia), Brandon Pettigrew (TE, Oklahoma State); 2008 - Gosder Cherilus (OT, Boston College); 2007 - Calvin Johnson (WR, Georgia Tech); 2006 - Ernie Sims (LB, Florida State); 2005 - Mike Williams (WR, USC)

►  New York Giants 2015 Draft Preview

The Giants remain a talent-deficient team right now and could go in a number of different directions with the ninth overall pick but bolstering what has been a very poor offensive line to help extend Eli Manning’s stretch as a competent option at the quarterback position makes a lot of sense.

Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff is the best offensive lineman in this draft who projects inside at guard or outside at right tackle at the next level and could be this year’s Zack Martin, a very safe pick who will likely excel early on. Scherff had a private workout in Iowa City with the Giants and offensive line coach Pat Flaherty was on hand.

If Jerry Reese looks elsewhere, though, the back seven on defense is a major concern with the oft-injured Jon Beason as the only proven commodity at linebacker and virtually nothing on hand at safety.

Alabama’s Landon Collins isn’t the best coverage safety in the world and probably isn’t deserving of a top-10 grade but the Giants could be desperate after losing veteran safety Antrel Rolle to Chicago in free agency and realizing they have only two unproven commodities, Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, under contract.

2014 Record: 6-10

Top Needs: S, LB, OL, DL

First Three Picks: No. 9, No. 40, No. 74

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Odell Beckham, Jr.; 2013 - Justin Pugh (OL, Syracuse); 2012 - David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech); 2011 - Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska); 2010 - Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, South Florida); 2009 - Hakeem Nicks (WR, North Carolina); 2008 - Kenny Phillips (S, Miami- Florida); 2007 - Aaron Ross (DB, Texas); 2006 - Mathias Kiwanuka (DE, Boston College); 2005 - none

►  Green Bay Packers 2015 Draft Preview

Ted Thompson has the great draft rep but a lot of his recent history in the first round has come up snake eyes. The three-year stint before Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2014 produced Derek Sherrod, Nick Perry and Datone Jones, not exactly a murderer’s row.

Point being, the sterling reputation as a talent evaluator may not be all that it’s cracked up to be when you put it under the microscope. Thompson was certainly right back in 2005, though, when he selected Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall pick out of Cal and that one selection has masked many a deficiency in recent years.

The early returns are positive on Clinton-Dix so maybe the worm has turned for Thompson, who starts this year’s process with the 30th overall selection.

Surprisingly the Packers brought back both B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion at defensive tackle so if you read the tea leaves Green Bay will likely shift its focus toward the secondary to bolster a cornerback group that needs reinforcements.

From a pure football perspective, Washington’s Marcus Peters is regarded by some as the best corner prospect in this draft class and the top man- to- man coverage option in the process. He comes with plenty of baggage, though, problems which become far more palatable late in the first round.

2014 Record: 12-4

Top Needs: LB, CB, DL

First Three Picks: No. 30, No. 62, No. 94

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 6, 7)

RECENT FIRST ROUND HISTORY: 2014 - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama); 2013 - Datone Jones (DE, UCLA); 2012 - Nick Perry (OLB, USC); 2011 - Derek Sherrod (OT, Mississippi State); 2010 - Bryan Bulaga (OT, Iowa); 2009 - B.J. Raji (DT, Boston College), Clay Matthews (OLB, USC); 2008 - none; 2007 - Justin Harrell (DT, Tennessee); 2006 - A.J. Hawk (LB, Ohio State); 2005 - Aaron Rodgers (QB, California)

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