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    Recovering from gunshots, Vikings rookie likely out 1st half
    7/26/21

    EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Vikings rookie defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, who has been recovering from four gunshot wounds, likely won't play in the first half of the season.

    Twyman, a sixth-round draft pick from Pittsburgh, was waived Monday per NFL procedure. He must clear waivers before he can revert to the reserve/non-football injury list and not count against the 90-player roster limit. The reserve designation means he can't start practicing with the team until six weeks into the regular season and can't play in the first eight games.

    Twyman was shot in his native Washington, D.C., a wrong-place, wrong-time incident that occurred when stray bullets hit a vehicle he was riding in last month. Twyman did not need surgery and has been expected to fully recover from the exit wounds to his arm, shoulder, buttocks and leg, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said at the time.

    Twyman was the 199th overall pick, after opting out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with an eye toward providing financial help for his mother and brothers.

    The move with Twyman was made to make room for fifth-year wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who formally signed Monday with the Vikings. The Vikings also signed three rookies to complete contracts for their 10-player draft class: linebacker Chazz Surratt, guard Wyatt Davis and defensive end Patrick Jones II. All of them were taken in the third round. Undrafted rookie kicker Riley Patterson was placed on the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed injury.

    ___

    More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Chiefs veterans have something to prove in 2021
    By MATT DERRICK, Associated Press | 
    7/26/21

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mecole Hardman knows the exhilaration of walking off the field as a Super Bowl champion. Last February, he and his Kansas City Chiefs teammates also experienced the bitter disappointment of losing the biggest game of the season

    “You still got that bad taste in your mouth,” Hardman said of his team’s 31-9 loss to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. “I think as a collective group we’re just all trying to get back to get that taste out of our mouth from losing that game.”

    Kansas City’s veterans filed into Scanlon Hall dormitory on the campus of Missouri Western State University on Monday, ready to set aside last season’s disappointment and focus on the new opportunity at hand. The full squad starts training camp workouts on Tuesday, and it’s the beginning of a “prove-it” year for many players, such as Hardman who are nearing crossroads in their careers.

    Hardman posted a solid rookie campaign in 2019 with 26 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Big plays, however, eluded the receiver last season as he saw his yards per reception plummet from 20.7 to 13.7 yards. He finished the campaign with 41 catches for 560 yards and four scores.

    The 23-year-old is banking on breaking out in year three. He admits that his rookie season was overwhelming at times, and last year’s pandemic-wrecked offseason stunted his potential growth.

    “I think it’s helping me a lot coming into this training, this OTAs that I didn’t really have the last past two years because I was still in the water trying to swim for real,” Hardman said. “Now it’s like I’m going to float, I’m ready, I’m ready to go. It’s that time to take those challenges head-on and try to prove myself.”

    One reason Hardman and the Chiefs offense struggled in the Super Bowl loss stemmed from injuries up front along the offensive line. The club sent their first-round selection in this year’s draft to Baltimore to acquire Orlando Brown Jr. to help anchor a rebuilt offensive line at left tackle. Brown is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021 and faces the challenge of illustrating to the Chiefs why he’s worth a long-term extension after the season.

    That’s nothing new for Brown as he enters his first training camp with the club.

    “I’ve taken it upon myself through my life to really feel like I’ve got something to prove,” Brown said. “I’m a very limited athlete as a player, as a person I’m not the shortest of guys, obviously I don’t often win a leverage battle, so I’ve always felt like I’ve got a lot to prove.”

    The 6-foot-8 lineman used his offseason to study film of other towering tackles such as Jonathon Ogden, Tre Thomas and Jon Runyan, who spent nine seasons playing right tackle for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia.

    “It was a lot of things to take from those different players,” Brown said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of similarities in size and height and just how coach Reid was able to use them in his offense.”

    On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Anthony Hitchens understands he’s entering a new phase of his career in his eighth season in the league. He slimmed down during the offseason, entering training camp at 231 pounds, and spent more time running this offseason than in years past.

    Labeled as “the glue” of the Kansas City defense by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the 29-year-old Hitchens remains under contract through the 2022 season, but the Chiefs could save $8.5 million by releasing the veteran after this season. That makes this a contract year of sorts for Hitchens, but he says that’s not on his mind entering training camp.

    “Usually I don’t even think about things like that because I just prove it to myself,” Hitchens said. “It’s way more deeper than proving to a coaching staff and the organization. It’s more about my personal goals, and I have my own goals. I don’t share them at all with no one for a reason. That’s just what that is. Every year, I need to prove to myself that I can play.”

    Much like Hardman, Hitchens is ready to put the Super Bowl loss in the past and move forward with a fresh new season.

    “There’s work to be done,” Hitchens said. “It’s a new year starting today. We’ve got to start all over and try to accomplish it again this year. "

    If the Super Bowl loss forced the Chiefs to reevaluate and reassess, it doesn’t appear to have taken away the swagger of the back-to-back defending AFC champions.

    “If anything, it made us more confident knowing that we could do this again,” Hardman said. “I think that motivation from that game gave us more confidence. It’s more so like we don’t want that again, we don’t want that feeling again.”

    NOTES: The Chiefs placed long snapper James Winchester on the reserve/COVID-19 list and waived wide receiver Chris Finke with an injury designation. … Those moves cleared the way for the club to confirm the signing of defensive end Alex Okafor, who agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the club last week. The team also signed free-agent long snapper Drew Scott. … Chiefs president Mark Donovan announced the team is retiring longtime mascot Warpaint, a two-time Pinto World Champion who galloped on the field at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium before games and after the Chiefs scored a touchdown.

    ___

    More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    For Hall-bound Jimmy Johnson, Cowboys' Honor Ring can wait
    By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer | 
    7/26/21

    As Jimmy Johnson looks back on the rocky relationship that abruptly ended his championship run with the Dallas Cowboys, he can laugh now. He’s heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    For Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the emotions are more complicated, with America's Team mired in a 25-year Super Bowl drought.

    A power struggle between the two Texas-size personalities resulted in Johnson's departure in 1994 after the Cowboys won consecutive NFL titles. Last week, an unusually introspective Jones accepted responsibility.

    “Jimmy’s a great coach,” Jones said. "My job was to keep it together — should have had deference to something that was working good. ...

    “I’ve never been able to know why I (messed) it up," he added, tears in his eyes. "I can’t answer those questions.”

    Jones spoke at the start of training camp, mindful of Johnson's upcoming entry into the hall during festivities Aug. 7-8. The induction ceremony was postponed last year because of the pandemic. Johnson enters as part of a special centennial class.

    Jones was elected to the hall in 2017, and for Johnson, the honor likely would have come sooner had he stayed in Dallas longer. He led the Cowboys to the 1992 and '93 championships, and they also won the 1995 title with the team he built.

    Even so, Johnson's not a member of the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. He laughed recently when asked about that slight.

    “The media is more concerned about this than I am,” he said. “Jerry has told me numerous times he was going to put me in the Ring of Honor. Whenever he's in a good mood and he feels like it, he can do it.”

    Johnson and Jones were teammates at the University of Arkansas. They had been long-time friends when Jones hired Johnson in 1989 to replace Tom Landry, the only coach the Cowboys had ever had.

    Johnson was coming off a 34-2 three-season run at the University of Miami that included the 1987 national championship. But in Dallas he took over a team that had gone 3-13 in Landry's final season, and there was worse to come.

    Johnson's first NFL game was a 28-0 loss to New Orleans.

    “The next week, we have a walk-through on Friday, and Jimmy calls the team together,” recalled Troy Aikman, then a rookie quarterback. “Jimmy hadn't lost many games, and we had gotten steamrolled, so he's perturbed. He says, ‘Let me tell you guys something: This losing (stuff), that’s over with.’”

    Aikman chuckled.

    “We’re 0-1, and little did he know, it wasn’t close to being over with.”

    The Cowboys finished 1-15. When the season ended, Johnson said, he was so spent he broke down crying.

    “That tells you a little bit about what we went through,” Johnson said. “All we'd known the whole time I was coaching was win, win, win, win. To go through such a difficult season was tough.”

    But Johnson said he never lost faith about “turning the thing around” — which became the title of his autobiography.

    The Cowboys won seven games in 1990, and 12 in 1991. Then came back-to-back Super Bowl victories over the Buffalo Bills.

    He became the first coach to win a college national championship and a Super Bowl, and the fourth to lead a team to consecutive Super Bowl titles.

    Accelerating the Cowboys' improvement was a blockbuster 1989 deal that sent star running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for six high draft choices, with lower picks and other players also involved. It remains the largest trade in NFL history, and perhaps the most one-sided, thanks to the players Johnson drafted as a result, including running back Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader.

    “Jimmy was a Hall of Fame personnel guy,” Aikman said. “One of his greatest strengths was his ability to evaluate talent and maneuver draft picks. All those things set him up to be a Hall of Fame coach.”

    After leaving Dallas, Johnson took a two-season hiatus from coaching, and then replaced another legend. He joined the Miami Dolphins in 1996 after Don Shula reluctantly retired, but was unable to replicate his success in Dallas. Johnson clashed with veteran quarterback Dan Marino and went only 38-31 in four seasons, including 2-3 in the playoffs.

    He retired at age 55 after the 1999 season, citing burnout, and has since enjoyed a successful career as an analyst for Fox Sports. He also quietly advises coaches and executives, according to Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, a Fox analyst and close friend.

    “He could take over Ford Motor Company if they’re having struggles, and boom, he'd turn it around,” Bradshaw said.

    “I don’t think people realize the heads of football and baseball and basketball teams that seek an audience with him. He doesn't know anything about baseball or basketball, but he knows how to turn things around. You have no idea how many corporations seek time with him to find out what made him special and how to run a company. That says it all for Jimmy.”

    Now 78, Johnson said the list of people he would want to thank will be too long to recite during his induction speech. By his count, he coached, drafted or recruited 14 Pro Football Hall of Famers, and worked in broadcasting or other roles with another 13.

    “It’s the people I've been associated with that put me in the Hall of Fame,” Johnson said.

    And that, he said, includes Jerry Jones.

    ___

    Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Steve_Wine

    ___

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    UNC's Howell, Clemson headline preseason all-ACC team
    7/26/21

    GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell is the preseason pick to be Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year while six-time reigning champion Clemson headlines the all-ACC team with eight picks.

    The league released its preseason picks Tuesday after voting from media members attending last week’s ACC Kickoff media days.

    Howell has thrown 68 touchdown passes in two years, which ties UNC’s career record. He ranked in the top six of the Bowl Subdivision ranks last year in passing yardage (3,586) and TD throws (30).

    Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee led all players on the 27-player preseason all-ACC squad by appearing on 120 of 147 ballots for the team. He was joined by teammates Justyn Ross at receiver, Jordan McFadden at offensive tackle, Myles Murphy at defensive end, Tyler Davis at defensive tackle, James Skalski at linebacker, Andrew Booth Jr. at cornerback and Nolan Turner at safety.

    UNC, Boston College and North Carolina State each placed three on the team.

    ___

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    Rodgers arrives in Green Bay for start of training camp
    By GREG BATES, Associated Press | 
    7/26/21

    GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers has made it to Green Bay on the eve of the Packers’ first training-camp workout.

    Rodgers was seen arriving at Lambeau Field on Tuesday morning, the day after NFL Network and ESPN reported the reigning MVP was closing in on a deal that would keep him with the Packers this season. The Packers later tweeted a photo of Rodgers at Lambeau Field — wearing oversize sunglasses and a novelty T-shirt referencing “The Office.”

    The Packers open training camp Wednesday. Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Rodgers would have been subject to a $50,000 fine for every day he held out during camp.

    Rodgers didn’t participate in organized team activities this spring — a change from his usual offseason routine — and skipped the Packers’ mandatory minicamp.

    His future with the Packers had seemed tenuous after ESPN reported in the hours leading up to the draft that he didn’t want to return to Green Bay. Rodgers has spent his entire career with the Packers, who selected him with the 24th overall pick in the 2005 draft.

    When the NFL’s only publicly owned team held its shareholders meeting Monday, Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said he was hopeful the two sides could resolve their differences and added that they’d been “in constant communication.”

    “We want him back,” Murphy told the 3,900 shareholders who gathered at Lambeau Field. “We’re committed to him for 2021 and beyond. He’s our leader. We’re looking forward to winning another Super Bowl with him.”

    NFL Network reported Monday that Rodgers had told people close to him he planned to play for the Packers this season. ESPN reported that Rodgers and the Packers were on the verge of a deal in which the team would void the final year of the three-time MVP’s contract, perhaps clearing the way for him to leave Green Bay after the upcoming season.

    On the same day that Rodgers reported to Lambeau Field, the Packers released quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Jake Dolegala. The Packers had signed Bortles in May, a couple of weeks after the reports of Rodgers' discontent surfaced. Dolegala signed with the Packers in June.

    Bortles' release leaves Rodgers, 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love and Kurt Benkert as the lone quarterbacks on Green Bay's roster. Benkert signed with the Packers less than a week after they added Bortles.

    Neither Love nor Benkert has ever played a down in an NFL game.

    The return of Rodgers would make the Packers legitimate Super Bowl contenders once again after they lost in the NFC championship game each of the last two seasons.

    Rodgers, 37, threw for a league-high 48 touchdown passes with only five interceptions last season while helping the Packers lead the league in scoring. He also led the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage.

    ___

    More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Dolphins' Howard reports despite unhappiness with contract
    By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer | 
    7/26/21

    MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard defused some drama from the start of the Miami Dolphins' training camp by showing up for work.

    Howard joined the rest of the Dolphins reporting Tuesday after he sat out mandatory minicamp because he’s unhappy with the $75.25 million, five-year extension he signed two years ago. There had been speculation he might hold out.

    “We’re excited to work with X and all the players that are here,” coach Brian Flores said. “There are a lot of things that are good with having him here.”

    Last year Howard had 10 interceptions, the most in the NFL since 2007. He also led the league with 20 passes defended.

    “X is a key guy on our defense, and not just a key guy, a great guy to be around,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “We’re definitely happy to see him back.”

    Howard is apparently unhappy that's Miami's other starting cornerback, Byron Jones?, has a bigger contract — an $82.5 million, five-year deal signed last year.

    Flores declined to talk about any negotiations or trade possibilities regarding Howard.

    “Those conversations, like always, are going to be internal and confidential,” Flores said. “But we’re excited to have him. I’m excited to work with him. He’s a great player.”

    Flores said all 90 players on the roster reported for conditioning tests at the Dolphins' new $135 million training camp next to their stadium.

    “It is like the first day back to school,” said Flores, beginning his third year with the team. The Dolphins doubled their win total to 10 last year but missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

    Flores declined to say how many of his players have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and said he will not pressure unvaccinated players.

    “Everyone has their own personal reasoning and beliefs behind getting vaccinated or not,” he said. “I respect everyone’s choice in that matter. I'm not going to pressure anyone. I'm just going to give them the information. I'm not going to judge anyone’s commitment to the team.”

    Player representative Christian Wilkins echoed that sentiment.

    “It's up to every guy what they want to do," said Wilkins, a defensive tackle. “You've got to respect people's opinions to do things or not do things.”

    While the Dolphins had perfect attendance on reporting day, receiver Preston Williams remains slowed by a foot injury that forced him to miss the final eight games of 2020. He'll begin camp on the physically unable to perform list and spend a lot of time in the new state-of-the-art training room.

    Several players praised the new team complex, which also includes two outdoor practice fields, an indoor field, lounge areas, two auditoriums, a barber shop, a place for darts, and 209 televisions.

    “It means our organization cares about us,” Baker said. “It's giving us all the tools to do well, and we appreciate that. It's cool to say we have the newest facility in the NFL.”

    The practice fields will get their first test Wednesday.

    “Last year’s touchdowns aren’t going to do anything for us,” Wilkins said. “We’ve got to start over and put the work in.”

    ___

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    ___

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    Pinto horse Warpaint retiring from Chiefs football games
    7/26/21

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are retiring Warpaint the horse, president Mark Donovan said Monday at training camp.

    Warpaint is a two-time Pinto World Champion who galloped on the field at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium before games and after the Chiefs scored a touchdown.

    The pinto horse was originally ridden by a man in full Native American headdress. For years, a cheerleader has ridden Warpaint instead as the Chiefs distance themselves from Native American imagery.

    Last season the Chiefs prohibited fans from wearing headdresses or war paint amid a push for more cultural sensitivity, and began pushing for a subtle change to the tomahawk chop celebration amid complaints that it’s racist. Cheerleaders used a closed fist instead of an open palm to signal the beating of a drum. The team typically has a celebrity or other guest of honor beat a large drum before the start of the game.

    Moore's big entrance masks abnormalities as Colts open camp
    By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer | 
    7/26/21

    WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Indianapolis Colts safety Kenny Moore II made the traditional training camp grand entrance, getting a ride in the second seat of Pato O'Ward's IndyCar.

    All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner talked about using these next 19 practices to prepare for making a Super Bowl run, and four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton contemplated his 10th — and perhaps final — camp appearance.

    So while the Colts tried to keep reporting day as normal as possible, they couldn't mask the reality of how different things will look over these next several weeks.

    “This is the first time in a year, this is weird. I almost forgot what some of you look like," running back Nyheim Hines said as he greeted reporters face to face Tuesday. “I didn't even know fans would be here tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll get to interact with them."

    They won't.

    But for Hines and his teammates at least they're out of the team complex and about to get back on the sun-drenched fields in suburban Indianapolis.

    Here, they'll start breaking in yet another new starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, on Wednesday in front of what is expected to be a large, loud crowd. It's the first time since 2019 will attend the workouts on the Grand Park Sports Campus.

    Still, the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic are reverberating here.

    The most frequently asked question Tuesday wasn't about football; it was players' vaccination status.

    Indy reportedly has one of the NFL's lowest vaccination rates, now above 60%, and coach Frank Reich is expected to miss the opening practices after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week — even though he is fully vaccinated. One unnamed staff member also tested positive in the past week, general manager Chris Ballard confirmed Monday.

    “I am (vaccinated)," Moore said after completing a bumpy ride in O'Ward's blue-and-orange car. “It's a personal choice. With myself, it took a while to come to grips with what I wanted and what I wanted other people to think about me."

    Running back Jonathan Taylor wasn't as clear about vaccination status but sent his message by speaking through a mask. Taylor missed one game in 2020 after being deemed a close contact to an infected person.

    “I'm doing what's right for me, which is wearing a mask until this thing is all done. I've seen some dudes in bad shape," he said before reflecting on sitting out the game. “That was the worst feeling ever. It was the first game I've ever missed."

    Besides, nobody wants to forfeit a game or a paycheck because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

    Aside from masks and Reich's expected return early next week, there will be plenty for fans to watch.

    Ballard and Reich are betting Wentz can resuscitate his career and re-emerge as a franchise quarterback after struggling through the worst season of his five-year career in 2020.

    Those who attended workouts with Wentz in Houston this summer painted a vastly different picture of the guy the Philadelphia media portrayed as selfish and egotistical.

    “He's a great guy," Hilton said. “We're embracing him and he's excited to be here in front of the fans. He's relaxed and I think they did a great job of getting him into a situation where we could sit down with him and say ‘Just be you.’ I think that's what he needed."

    Now it's up to Reich and new offensive coordinator Marcus Brady to figure out how Wentz best fits.

    The Colts' defense made big strides last year after Buckner was acquired in a trade with San Francisco. Buckner believes he has a better understanding of the coaching staff, system and expectations and the combination will help him improve.

    But the key to reaching a Super Bowl, Buckner insists, isn't necessarily Wentz. It's using a proven formula: focus on football, eliminate distractions and correct mistakes.

    “We can definitely get there," he said. “You guys saw throughout last year, we had some great ballgames (defensively), but the thing about us is consistency. Some games we just let off the pedal or whatever. We all know what we need to do."

    ___

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    Analysis: Rodgers' return to Green Bay makes most sense
    By STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer | 
    7/26/21

    Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to have a better chance to win a Super Bowl this season somewhere other than Green Bay.

    The Packers weren’t going to contend for a Super Bowl without Rodgers running the offense.

    Given those two factors, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rodgers was at Lambeau Field on Tuesday in the surest sign yet that the three-time MVP quarterback and Packers executives are at least temporarily putting aside their differences. The Packers hold their first training-camp workout Wednesday.

    Rodgers skipped the Packers’ mandatory minicamp after ESPN reported in the hours leading up to the draft that he wasn’t interested in returning to Green Bay for a 17th season. Rodgers’ arrival on Tuesday followed NFL Network and ESPN reports that the two sides were close to an agreement keeping him with the Packers this season.

    The long-term status of this relationship remains uncertain. ESPN reported the Packers agreed to drop the 2023 season from Rodgers’ contract and review his situation with the team at the end of the season, potentially clearing the way for his eventual exit.

    The exact reasons for Rodgers’ discontent are not known. At least not publicly. Rodgers gave his biggest hints about his issues during an ESPN interview in late May.

    “I think sometimes people forget what really makes an organization,” Rodgers said at the time. “History is important, the legacy of so many people who’ve come before you. But the people, that’s the most important thing. People make an organization. People make a business, and sometimes that gets forgotten. Culture is built brick by brick, the foundation of it by the people, not by the organization, not by the building, not by the corporation. It’s built by the people.”

    Packers CEO/president Mark Murphy defended the organization’s culture during a news conference after the team’s shareholders meeting Monday. But he also acknowledged the standoff with Rodgers had caused team officials to look inward.

    “I think any organization, you reflect back and you evaluate the decisions you’ve made and things you might have done differently, but I’m not going to share them here,” Murphy said.

    For now, they’ll continue this uneasy marriage while seeking the Super Bowl title that has eluded both parties since the 2010 season. The Packers have lost in the NFC championship four of the last seven seasons, including each of the past two years.

    The Packers are good enough to make another Super Bowl run, as long as it includes Rodgers.

    Although the Packers’ only major free-agent addition from another organization was former Arizona Cardinals linebacker DeVondre Campbell, they spent big over the last 12 months to keep All-Pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive tackle Kenny Clark and running back Aaron Jones, as well as cornerback Kevin King.

    If Rodgers had been traded, he couldn’t have landed anywhere that offered him a better chance to win.

    The Denver Broncos seemed the most natural trade possibility with their talented defense, promising receiving corps and uncertain quarterback situation. Rodgers could have made the Broncos instant playoff contenders but also would have needed to compete in the same division with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, whereas he makes the Packers clear favorites in the NFC North.

    Given the Packers are built to win now, they couldn’t afford to open the season with 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love as their starting quarterback. Love didn’t play a single down in his rookie season and never even got to participate in any preseason games due to the pandemic. The Packers gave him the vast majority of reps in their minicamp just in case he needed to take over.

    The Packers had added a veteran insurance policy by signing Blake Bortles, but he hasn’t started a game since 2018 and certainly isn't in Rodgers' class. The Packers released Bortles as well as Jake Dolegala on Tuesday, leaving Rodgers, Love and Kurt Benkert as their only quarterbacks.

    Rodgers’ arrival in Green Bay this week indicates the Packers don’t have to worry about how they can win without him. They can instead look forward to having one of the league’s most explosive offenses.

    They have arguably the league’s top quarterback/receiver tandem with the reigning MVP throwing to All-Pro wideout Davante Adams, whose contract expires at the end of the season. The Packers did lose running back Jamaal Williams to the Detroit Lions in free agency, but 2020 second-round pick A.J. Dillon should emerge as an ideal complementary back to Jones.

    The Packers’ biggest preseason concerns now are the health of Bakhtiari after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31, and the situation at center following All-Pro selection Corey Linsley’s offseason signing with the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Replacing Linsley will be tough. Replacing the guy who has taken Linsley’s snaps for the last several years would have been significantly tougher.

    ___

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    Vikings reassign unvaccinated coach Dennison to advisor role
    By DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Pro Football Writer | 
    7/26/21

    EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings and assistant coach Rick Dennison have found a solution for him to remain with the club despite his unvaccinated status prohibiting from interacting with players, agreeing to contract terms with the 63-year-old to take a role as senior offensive advisor.

    The Vikings announced the reassignment on Tuesday, the day before their first full-team practice of training camp. Phil Rauscher was promoted to fill Dennison's offensive line coach position, after serving as his assistant last season. Ben Steele was hired as assistant offensive coach. The running game coordinator title that Dennison also carried will be dropped for now.

    Dennison was hired by the Vikings in 2019. This will be his 27th year on an NFL coaching staff.

    “It was important we use him as a resource,” head coach Mike Zimmer said, "but also give him a chance to work.”

    Both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman declined to divulge Dennison's reason for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, despite strict league-wide protocols for those without it. Zimmer said it's possible Dennison would get it later.

    For now, all of his collaboration with the staff must be virtual. He'll help the other offensive assistants evaluate players and devise game plans, as in the past, but he won't be able to have the hands-on work with the offensive linemen he's drawn praise for throughout his years in the NFL.

    That job will fall to Rauscher and Steele, who will be responsible for an especially young group after the offseason release of left tackle Riley Reiff. Right tackle Brian O'Neill, entering his fourth year in the league, has the longest tenure with the Vikings. Rookies Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis are expected to fill starting spots, assuming their development progresses throughout the month.

    Rauscher will begin his seventh season in NFL coaching. He spent two years in Washington and three with Denver.

    Steele will start his eighth season as a coach in the league and his 14th overall. He was the tight ends coach for Atlanta last year. As a player, Steele was in training camp with the Vikings in 2003 and 2004 and played for Green Bay during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

    ___

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