Tuesday, June 19, 2018

summer reading

NFC West


Hello: The club is looking to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks with the acquisition of outside linebacker Chandler Jones, and the drafting of talented but trouble-prone defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. Also added: guard Evan Mathis and rookie center Evan Boehm. Goodbye: It could be the end of the road for center Lyle Sendlein, 32, and defensive end Dwight Freeney, 36, neither of whom has been re-signed. Safety Rashad Johnson (Titans) and cornerback Jerraud Powers (Ravens) are gone.

Big questions: How much does Larry Fitzgerald have left in the tank? Will Tyrann Mathieu be back from knee surgery for the opener?


Hello: The team moved up to the No. 1 spot to draft Cal quarterback Jared Goff. In need of receiving targets, the Rams drafted receiver Pharoh Cooper and tight end Tyler Higbee. Goodbye: A fresh start in L.A. included letting go of familiar defensive fixtures Chris Long and James Laurinaitis. Corner Janoris Jenkins signed a more lucrative deal with the Giants, as did safety Rodney McLeod with the Eagles.

Big questions: How quickly can Goff secure the starting job, seeing as he's making the transition to playing under center? How will tailback Todd Gurley build on his outstanding rookie year?


Hello: It's a coastal change for coach Chip Kelly, who was 26-21 in almost three seasons with the Eagles. Rookie DeForest Buckner adds horsepower to a defensive line. Goodbye: The 49ers will miss guard Alex Boone, who signed a four-year deal worth $26.8 million with Minnesota. The team parted ways with receiver Anquan Boldin.

Big questions: Can Kelly help Colin Kaepernick regain some of the promise he once showed, or will Blaine Gabbert wind up with the QB job? Will NaVorro Bowman be even better after his impressive bounce-back season a year ago?


Hello: The club signed two former players: Cornerback Brandon Browner (Patriots, Saints) and defensive end Chris Clemons (Jaguars). Goodbye: Marshawn Lynch retired, and the team watched tackle Russell Okung (Broncos), linebacker Bruce Irvin (Raiders) and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (Chargers) depart in free agency.

Big questions: Is the offensive line an Achilles' heel? How well will running back Thomas Rawls (ankle) and tight end Jimmy Graham (knee) recover from injuries that halted their 2015 seasons?

NFC East


Hello: The club hopes it has an answer at running back in No. 4 pick Ezekiel Elliott, who denied domestic-violence allegations that just surfaced against him. Dallas also drafted linebacker Jaylon Smith, but the former Notre Dame standout likely will miss the season rehabilitating his reconstructed knee. Goodbye: A defensive-line overhaul included parting ways with Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey and Nick Hayden.

Big questions: Can they recapture form now that quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant have had time to heal? Will a playmaker step up on defense?


Hello: They have invested big bucks in the defense, re-signing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and plucking high-priced defensive linemen Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison from free agency. The club fortified its defensive backfield with the addition of cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and first-round pick Eli Apple. Goodbye: The big departure was coach Tom Coughlin, replaced by Ben McAdoo. The team also bid farewell to cornerback Prince Amukamara, linebacker Jon Beason, guard Geoff Schwartz and receiver Rueben Randle.

Big questions: Can they find a defense? Is offense more than Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.?


Hello: They traded up twice to select North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick. They also signed free agent Chase Daniel, but Sam Bradford remains the starter for now. Other signings: cornerback Leodis McKelvin, receiver Rueben Randle and center Stefen Wisniewski. Goodbye: In addition to giving up on Chip Kelly, the team parted ways with running back DeMarco Murray, linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Kiko Alonso, and cornerback Byron Maxwell.

Big question: How soon before Wentz goes from No. 3 to No. 1? Is tailback Ryan Mathews durable enough to get through a season?


Hello: They boosted the secondary by signing cornerback Josh Norman and safety David Bruton Jr. Rookie Josh Doctson joins a robust receivers group. Goodbye: RG III is gone, as is back Alfred Morris, both of whom were once the franchise's future. The defense said farewell to tackle Terrance Knighton, end Jason Hatcher and safety Dashon Goldson.

Big question: Can Kirk Cousins pick up where he left off last season when he strung together three 300-yard passing games to clinch the division?

NFC North


Hello: They upgraded at linebacker with the addition of playmaker Danny Trevathan — among coach John Fox's standouts in Denver — Jerrell Freeman and first-round pick Leonard Floyd. Goodbye: Offensive coordinator Adam Gase left to coach the Dolphins, and the Bears also parted ways with a couple of familiar offensive weapons: running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett.

Big questions: Teams have made huge strides in their second seasons under Fox, so can the Bears follow that pattern? What about Jay Cutler's protection, with four new offensive line starters?


Hello: With the retirement of Calvin Johnson after nine seasons, the club signed free agents Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley. Rookie tackle Taylor Decker will help protect the oft-battered Matthew Stafford. Goodbye: Johnson is the landscape-shifting loss, but they also said goodbye to defenders Stephen Tulloch, Rashean Mathis and James Ihedigbo.

Big questions: What will life after Megatron be like, especially for Stafford? Can the Lions generate a running game and take pressure off their QB, who has been sacked 89 times the past two years?


Hello: They signed tight end Jared Cook, giving Aaron Rodgers another capable target. Their first two draft picks — UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark and Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs — will help them beef up in the trenches. Goodbye: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji has stepped away from football and said he won't play for at least 2016. Fullback John Kuhn is gone, as is receiver James Jones.

Big questions: How will Jordy Nelson bounce back after a devastating knee injury? Which Eddie Lacy will show up this season?


Hello: The Vikings were looking for another big target for Teddy Bridgewater, and they found one in their first-round pick, 6-foot-2, 210-pound Laquon Treadwell. The team signed free-agent safety Michael Griffin. Goodbye: Receiver Mike Wallace was released after one lackluster, two-touchdown season. The team fired offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and replaced him with Tony Sparano.

Big questions: Can the Vikings christen their new stadium with a second consecutive NFC North title? Will an improved supporting cast help Bridgewater take a big step forward?

NFC South


Hello: In releasing Roddy White, there's opportunity for Mohamed Sanu to step in and complement Julio Jones. Center Alex Mack should be a stabilizing force on the offensive line. Goodbye: Gone are White, nose tackle Paul Soliai, receiver Leonard Hankerson and linebacker Justin Durant.

Big questions: Quarterback Matt Ryan took a step back last season. Can he and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan make strides in Shanahan's second season? How does the club recover from the bottom dropping out after last season's 5-0 start? Will Devonta Freeman build on his strong 2015?


Hello: In a sense, they are victims of their success. Most of their money went to retaining current players, instead of spending on free agents. They're expecting strong performances from rookie defensive tackle Vernon Butler and corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. Goodbye: Gone are cornerbacks Josh Norman and Charles Tillman, along with safety Roman Harper.

Big questions: How much will getting Kelvin Benjamin back help an offense that's already clicking? Can they avoid the doldrums that often strike Super Bowl losers?


Hello: Forever looking to turn around their sagging defense, the Saints added tackles Nick Fairley and rookie Sheldon Rankins and linebacker James Laurinaitis, and brought back safety Roman Harper. Goodbye: Some familiar names are gone: receiver Marques Colston, tight end Benjamin Watson, running back Khiry Robinson and guard Jahri Evans.

Big questions: Can defensive coordinator Dennis Allen whip a U-turn on that side of the ball? Can Drew Brees build on the momentum from the end of last season?

AFC West


Hello: After Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with the Texans, they made a trade with the Eagles for QB Mark Sanchez and took Memphis State's Paxton Lynch in the first round. Goodbye: Lots of departures from the Super Bowl winners: defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker Danny Trevathan, safety David Bruton Jr. and tight end Owen Daniels.

Big questions: With Manning and Osweiler gone, how does coach Gary Kubiak manage the quarterback situation? Linebacker Von Miller just got the biggest non-quarterback contract in NFL history. Can he keep the defense rolling despite all the departures?


Hello: It wasn't a splashy move, but K.C. picked up a rock-solid tackle in Mitchell Schwartz, a starter with the Browns. Goodbye: Safeties Husain Abdullah and Tyvon Branch are gone, along with defensive tackle Mike DeVito and backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Big question: The Chiefs made an incredible U-turn last season, starting 1-5 before winning 10 in a row and making the playoffs. Now, they're getting back injured stars Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Are they poised to go deep into the playoffs, or is it just more warning-track power?


Hello: Oakland has beefed up its already strong defense with the addition of linebacker Bruce Irvin (Seahawks), cornerback Sean Smith (Chiefs) and safety Reggie Nelson (Bengals). Goodbye: Safety Charles Woodson retired — next stop, Canton — and they also bid farewell to defensive end Justin Tuck and linebacker Curtis Lofton.

Big question: The Raiders have gone 13 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs, or even recording a winning record. With their promising roster — and young stars in quarterback Derek Carr, receiver Amari Cooper and defensive end Khalil Mack — can they finally end that drought?


Hello: San Diego fortified the trenches by adding center Matt Slauson, nose tackle Brandon Mebane and rookie defensive end Joey Bosa.

Goodbye: Gone are safety Eric Weddle and receiver Malcom Floyd. The team will also be looking to replace the production of tight end Ladarius Green.

Big questions: Coming off a 4-12 season, and having missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, can they regain their footing in the twilight of the Philip Rivers era? And what about that lingering threat to relocate to Los Angeles?

AFC East


Hello: Buffalo used its first three picks on defensive players: linebackers Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland and tackle Adolphus Washington. All could be starting by midseason. Goodbye: The Bills parted ways with defensive end Mario Williams after four seasons, releasing the former No. 1 overall pick.

Big questions: How will the club work out the contract situations of two pivotal players, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and quarterback Tyrod Taylor? Does Coach Rex Ryan have to make the playoffs to keep his job?


Hello: Rookie tackle Laremy Tunsil, who slid from the top of the draft to No. 13 because of character concerns, will look to solidify an offensive line that has yielded an NFL-high 184 sacks since 2012. Goodbye: In deciding to keep Cameron Wake, the Dolphins let defensive end Olivier Vernon walk out the door. The Giants promptly signed him to a five-year deal worth $85 million.

Big question: Can new Coach Adam Gase turn around a franchise ranked 25th in offense and 26th in defense last season?

New England

Hello: Defensive end Chris Long, who played eight seasons in St. Louis, fits the mold of an aging star who is reinvigorated in Bill Belichick's system. With Rob Gronkowski and the just-added Martellus Bennett, the Pats' collection of receiving tight ends is almost unfair. Goodbye: They needed to add Long, seeing as they traded defensive end Chandler Jones to the Cardinals, bidding farewell to a player who had a career-high 121/2 sacks last season.

Big question: How will third-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo perform in the first four games, while Tom Brady serves his Deflategate suspension?


Hello: Running back Matt Forte, who rolled up an NFL-high 12,718 yards of all-purpose offense the past eight seasons in Chicago, joined the Jets in free agency. The team also acquired tackle Ryan Clady in a trade with Denver. Goodbye: Forte became a priority when the Jets lost running back Chris Ivory to Jacksonville. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was released.

Big question: Answered. The team finally re-signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday after months of negotiations.

AFC North


Hello: Safety Eric Weddle, for years the face of San Diego's defense, will now patrol the back end of Baltimore's defense. He's a two-time All-Pro. Goodbye: Left tackle Eugene Monroe was released in June and decided a month later to retire. Rookie Ronnie Stanley, the No. 6 overall pick, is slated to step into that role.

Big question: How well will Joe Flacco recover from reconstructive knee surgery?


Hello: New coach Hue Jackson is overseeing a fluid quarterback situation, with Josh McCown back but competing for the starting job with Robert Griffin III, whose career fizzled in Washington, and rookie Cody Kessler. Goodbye: The Browns cut ties with the troubled Johnny Manziel and parted ways with center Alex Mack, tackle Mitchell Schwartz and safety Donte Whitner.

Big question: Can Jackson, a quarterback specialist, work his magic and cobble together a solution at the most important position?


Hello: They signed a big-name veteran on both sides of the ball with the same-day pickups of receiver Brandon LaFell and linebacker Karlos Dansby. First-round pick William Jackson III could make a splash at cornerback. Goodbye: Gone are receivers Mohamed Sanu (Falcons) and Marvin Jones (Lions), both of whom are expected to have bigger roles with their new teams. The addition of LaFell helps salve that sting.

Big question: Coming off the best season of his career, can QB Andy Dalton win a playoff game and maybe even make an MVP push?


Hello: The clubs doen't typically wade deep in the free-agent pool, so it's noteworthy they grabbed tight end Ladarius Green, who was a good complement to Antonio Gates in San Diego. Goodbye: Heath Miller retired as the club's all-time leader in receptions (592), yards receiving (6,569) and touchdowns (45) by a tight end.

Big questions: With all their offensive firepower, are the Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers on their way to record-breaking numbers? What will the availability of Le'Veon Bell be, considering the looming threat of suspension?

AFC South


Hello: They paid big bucks to lure quarterback Brock Osweiler from Denver, and now they're looking to reap the dividends. He'll be joined by running back Lamar Miller, who averaged a robust 4.8 yards per carry during the past two seasons. Goodbye: Quarterback Brian Hoyer (Bears) and running back Arian Foster (Dolphins) are gone.

Big questions: The Texans need to build an offense to complement their strong defense, but is Osweiler up to the challenge? How quickly can three-time NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt recover from back surgery?


Hello: They picked four offensive linemen in the draft, including first-round center Ryan Kelly, expected to anchor that line. The Alabama standout won the Rimington Award last season as the nation's top college center. Goodbye: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (retired) and tight end Coby Fleener (Saints) are no longer with Indianapolis. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky are gone too.

Big question: After an abysmal season in which he missed nine games — and his team missed the playoffs for just the second time since 2002 — will quarterback Andrew Luck bounce back strong?


Hello: Jacksonville made a big commitment to stepping up its defense, opening the wallet to acquire tackle Malik Jackson and cornerback Prince Amukamara, as well as draft cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. Goodbye: Gone are defensive end Chris Clemons and center Stefen Wisniewski.

Big questions: Although they improved on offense, the Jaguars were dragged down by their defense last season, ranking near the bottom in virtually every defensive category. Will all the personnel adjustments change that? How much more time does coach Gus Bradley have, seeing as he's 12-36 in his three seasons?


Hello: They were 25th in rushing offense last season. Tennessee addressed that by trading for running back DeMarco Murray, who played one season with Philadelphia after winning the 2014 rushing title with Dallas. Goodbye: Safety Michael Griffin was released after nine seasons. The former first-round pick out of Texas who has 25 career interceptions had lost a step at age 31, and was a liability on the back end of the defense.

Big question: With an improved offensive line, and more horsepower in the backfield with Murray and rookie Derrick Henry, can Marcus Mariota build on his strong debut?

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Thanks, Vegas. That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the Stanley Cup Final run of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Hillsborough player of the year: F Eric Ugarte, Sr., Plant CityThe numbers: Ugarte scored 21 goals and added 11 assists to lead the Raiders to their first state title in soccer. He scored 71 goals in his career.Something about Eric: The skilled ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

The Rays blow a four-run lead in Houston and lose on a walkoff hit to the Astros in the opener of their three-game series. It's the 19th one-run loss for the Rays this season as they continue to struggle in close games. Fortunately, reinforcements ar...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls soccer players of the year

Pinellas Player of the Year: MF Mary Raymond, Jr., Palm Harbor UniversityThe numbers: Raymond scored 13 goals and added seven assists. She spent the first part of the season as the central defender.Something about Mary: Raymond is the type of pl...
Updated: 3 hours ago
With starting QB Josh Jackson’s status resolved, FSU will open against full-strength Hokies

With starting QB Josh Jackson’s status resolved, FSU will open against full-strength Hokies

Florida State's primetime opener against Virginia Tech looks a little tougher now than it did a few days ago.Hokies starting quarterback Josh Jackson has had his academic eligibility resolved and remains on the team, the Roanoke Times reported Tuesda...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

The Rays made official after Monday's game that CF Kevin Kiermaier would be activated on Tuesday.And to make room on the 40- and 25 man rosters, they designated for assignment OF Rob Refsnyder.Acquired from the Indians for cash considerations just be...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

HOUSTON — The Rays brought up several of their top prospects so they can get as much experience as possible.And Monday that included seeing how the relentless defending champion Astros worked their way back from an early four-run deficit to sco...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

HOUSTON — Well before the idea of using a reliever to open games, as the Rays did against the Astros Monday for the 12th time, and then bringing in a starter was even a gleam in the eyes of the current Rays staff, former manager Lou Piniella wa...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Astros

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Astros

RHP Ryne Stanek continues to look comfortable and confident as the game opener, retiring all five batters he faced. His six starts now cover a complete game, and he has allowed only two runs in the nine innings.OF Carlos Gomez's feelings about not li...
Published: 06/18/18

Sports on TV/radio for Tuesday, June 19

TODAYBaseballOrioles at Nationals7 p.m.MLBRays at Astros8 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Giants10 p.m.FSFDiamondbacks at Angels10 p.m.ESPNCollege baseball, World SeriesFlorida vs. Texas2 p.m.ESPNTexas Tech vs. Arkansas7 p.m.ESPNGolfPGA Professionals c...
Published: 06/18/18