Thu Nov 8 2:33pm ET
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel talks to his players in an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Nashville, Tenn. Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl rings playing linebacker and goal-line pass threat for Bill Belichick in New England. Now the rookie head coach gets his first crack at his former coach when Vrabel's Titans host former teammate Tom Brady and the Patriots in a game Tennessee desperately needs. (AP Photo/James Kenney, File)
In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018 file photo, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Foxborough, Mass. Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl rings playing linebacker and goal-line pass threat for Bill Belichick in New England. Now the rookie head coach gets his first crack at his former coach when Vrabel's Titans host former teammate Tom Brady and the Patriots in a game Tennessee desperately needs. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl rings over eight seasons with the New England Patriots. He even caught eight passes - all for touchdowns and all thrown by Tom Brady.
Then Bill Belichick traded the linebacker away to Kansas City in 2009.
''We didn't talk for a couple months, maybe a year,'' Vrabel said. ''Then we became friends, and I used him as a resource when I started my coaching career, and still talk to him a lot now. This week we're competitors.''
In his first season as an NFL head coach with Tennessee, Vrabel gets his first crack at both his old coach and former team Sunday when the Titans (4-4) host the Patriots (7-2).
The men share some of the same philosophies about football, though not personalities.
Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, who spent his first four seasons in New England, says Vrabel's also younger and taller than Belichick. Vrabel may dress a bit better too during games, and Ryan sees some other similarities.
''They're hard-nosed. They care about the fundamentals,'' Ryan said.
For his part, Belichick says Vrabel will be a great coach with his passion and football knowledge as a player easily carrying over. Belichick also believes Vrabel deserves to be recognized in the Patriots Hall of Fame and yes, the Nashville native cheers for Vrabel and the Titans every game except this one.
''It will be the Patriots against the Titans,'' Belichick said. ''That's what it will be.''
The Patriots have won six straight after beating Green Bay 31-17 last week. They also have won the past seven against the Titans, including playoffs, with the most recent a 35-14 romp in the divisional round last January. The Titans snapped a three-game skid Monday night with a 28-14 win in Dallas.
Some things to know about the Patriots and Titans:
Only a trio remains of those who played alongside Vrabel during his tenure in New England: Brady, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and special teams captain Matt Slater. Brady spent eight seasons with Vrabel from 2001 to 2008. Gostkowski arrived in 2006, and Slater was a rookie during Vrabel's final season in 2008 before being traded.
''His body can do it longer than mine could at the position that he plays,'' Vrabel said of Brady.
NEW ENGLAND TIES
Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty spent his first eight seasons with the Titans and now plays alongside twin brother, Devin, in New England. Trying to rebuild, Tennessee has stocked up on former Patriots including general manager Jon Robinson, Vrabel, Ryan, right guard Josh Kline. Robinson signed cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis this offseason. Also, Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees was an assistant and coordinator with the Patriots. He was the linebackers coach in 2004-05 and defensive coordinator in New England from 2006-2009.
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman called Lewis a fiery jitterbug.
''He meant a lot to me when he was here. Now I hate him,'' Edelman said with a smile.
DEFENDING BRADY: Brady enters this game having won five straight against the Titans. His lone loss came in 2002 in a 24-7 setback during Brady's third year in the league. That also was his only meeting with the Titans in which he didn't have a touchdown pass and the only time he threw an interception.
In six regular-season meetings with Tennessee, Brady has thrown for 1,561 yards, 12 touchdowns and the one interception, while completing 66 percent of his passes.
''He's seen every look in the book, and even ones that haven't been in the book,'' Vrabel said of Brady. ''Anytime that somebody's open, they get the football. Anytime you make a mistake, he's always going to find the guy that you make a mistake on and get them ball really quickly.''
The three-time MVP will play his 300th game, including the postseason, Sunday. Brady will join Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to reach that mark, and the Patriots quarterback needs four TD passes to pass Peyton Manning (579) for most TD passes in NFL history for regular season and postseason combined. The Titans, the NFL's top scoring defense and also best in the red zone, are allowing only 17.6 points per game and have allowed three TDs in a game only twice this season.
Tennessee has to be ready for an unconventional look in the Patriots' backfield. With rookie Sony Michel nursing a knee injury the past two weeks, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has emerged as New England's go-to threat at running back. Patterson led the Patriots in rushing each of the past two games, including 61 yards and a 5-yard touchdown last week.
Both Michel (knee) and Patterson (neck) started this week limited in practice. Belichick currently has just two healthy running backs: James White and Kenjon Barner.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ryan Switzer is working to fill the slot receiver role in his second year with the team. The 24-year-old caught 36-of-44 targets for 253 yards and a score in his first year with the Steelers. While he was a big part of the team's return game, he was at most times fifth in the pecking order for targets. At just 5'8 185 lbs, Switzer fits the proverbial mold of an NFL "slot" receiver, but getting the reps and building chemistry with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is of utmost importance heading into 2019. The more reps that you get, the more game experience you get, the better the feel and the better you get, Switzer mentioned in an interview with TribLive.com. While Brown is now in Oakland, there are 168 targets to fill in his place, so if Switzer wants a role on offense, he will need to hit the ground running once training camp starts. He doesn't hold any draft value due to a crowded receiving corps in Pittsburgh, but if he can carve out a role early on, he has the chance to hold a solid floor in PPR formats.
Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins will have to prove himself in training camp in order to earn the Week 1 start over Case Keenum, but his coaches like what they've seen so far. Per Kyle Melnick of Redskins.com, offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell has been impressed with Haskins's work ethic. O'Connell is used to the slow learning curve inherent in rookies, but Haskins has somewhat broken that mold. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise after Haskins led all of college football in passing yards and passing touchdowns in his only season as a starter. It's also worth noting that Melnick mentions Urban Meyer praising Haskins as "the most accurate passer he's coached." While it will take a considerable leap forward for Haskins to earn the starting job in Washington, he's off to a good start this spring and summer.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is in line to, once again, be quarterback Tom Brady's favorite target as the beginning of training camp looms. The 33-year-old caught 74 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns through 12 games last season, including 26 receptions for 388 yards in three playoff games. Edelman racks up targets thanks to his kismet chemistry with Brady and sneaky route running. Age may one day catch up to Edelman but the only thing that could stifle the veteran's production in 2019 would be injury. He will be a solid, mid-round WR2 come fantasy draft day.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Riley Ridley was a surprise selection when the Bears drafted him in the fourth round. The rookie, and brother of the Falcons Calvin Ridley, is a big receiver who has impressed the coaching staff throughout the offseason workout programs. But fantasy owners need to be patient with a prospect like Ridley and rookie wide receivers can easily struggle to crack the lineup in the first half of a season. Ridley caught 13 touchdowns in 28 career college games at Georgia so he could steal some red zone targets from teammates Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. But owners should not expect production right out of the gate and will only have dynasty value when fantasy draft rooms open in about one month.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton may be using more play fakes this upcoming season. With the arrival of new head coach Zac Taylor, Dalton may utilize play-action more often than he has in previous seasons. Under Taylor, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff averaged 10 yards per play-action attempt last season, good for fourth in the league. However, with the retirement of guard Clint Boling and the season-ending injury to tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder), along with the Bengals having only a step of separation on just 53.8 percent of their targets last season, it will be an uphill battle for the 32-year-old. If whats left of the offensive line can hold it together, however, Dalton will have plenty of time to utilize who is available to him on the offensive side of the ball under a new system.
The Atlanta Falcons No. 1 offseason priority is now to lock up wide receiver Julio Jones to a long-term deal, but that could take a while, according to sources. Jones believes that owner Arthur Blank will get something done and hasn't been threatening a holdout with another year still left on his deal. The 30-year-old is getting to be a bit more of an injury risk, but he's still an elite fantasy wideout and will be one of the first guys off the board in the early rounds.
The Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett agreed to a four-year contract extension on Monday. The contract is expected to be worth $68 million with $38 million guaranteed, according to a source. He was initially set to receive the $15.209 million franchise tag if a deal wasn't worked out by Monday. The team can now move on to extensions for receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Deion Jones. The Falcons and Deion Jones' representation will meet face-to-face on Wednesday. Jarrett, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has been a top defender for Atlanta and had 53 total pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had six sacks, three forced fumbles and a team-high 16 QB hits.
Arizona Cardinals rookie wide receiver Andy Isabella, a second-round pick this year, looks like he'll get an initial chance in the offense behind veteran Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, who looked good in his rookie season in 2018. Rookies Keesean Johnson and Hakeem Butler could also be in the mix, but they might have a steeper climb for relevant work early on. Isabella is a great long-term pick in dynasty leagues and has late-round sleeper appeal in what could be a high-flying offensive attack under rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (leg) is no longer wearing an external fixator on his surgically repaired right leg. He credited the fixator with allowing him "to heal and walk again." Although Smith is unlikely to play in 2019 or perhaps ever again in the NFL, this is a step in the right direction and some needed good news for the veteran signal-caller. The 'Skins drafted quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round, so Smith's future isn't in D.C. You can ignore him in upcoming fantasy drafts completely.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (wrist) said the training staff will determine the repetitions he gets at training camp, but "in my mind I'm ready. I'm 100 percent," Lindsay said. He should be ready for Week 1, barring a setback this summer. Lindsay was one of the most pleasant surprises in his rookie season after going undrafted. The 24-year-old became Denver's go-to back and finished with 192 attempts for 1.037 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 35 passes for 241 yard and another score. His stock is obviously way up going into his second season, but he'll still have to remain effective to hold off a push from Royce Freeman.
In 2018, Phillip Lindsay had 192 carries to fellow rookie Royce Freeman's 130, but Justin Adams of CBS 4 believes that that may change in 2019. Lindsay is recovering from a wrist injury and has yet to participate in offseason activities with the team, which Adams believes has put Freeman in a position to potentially wind up as Denver's lead back. That's the role Freeman was initially drafted to play before Lindsay broke out in the preseason, so it wouldn't be a shock to see Freeman assert himself more in 2019. Keep an eye on the situation, as it could lead to Lindsay losing fantasy value while Freeman gains some.
Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson (hip) may start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Fantasy Spin: Wilson did not do much this offseason, so fantasy owners should monitor the situation during training camp. He played well at times last season and could be the No. 1 receiver for Miami this season if he is healthy. He has a chance to be a late-round option in fantasy drafts.
Free-agent RB Alex Collins (leg) recently suffered a broken leg and had surgery to repair the injury, according to a source.
Free-agent WR Martavis Bryant (Raiders) has applied to the NFL for reinstatement. He has been working with the NFL and the NFL Players Association to address his mental health issues.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is reportedly considering holding out from Cowboys training camp. The team and Elliott (with his agents) have been in conversation for over a month, and the general thought is that Elliott won't hold out if he thinks the team is "making a serious push to get an extension worked." Elliott knows his value is at a high point right now and with the beating he takes each year, he does not want to risk going into the season without an extension at least in the process of getting done. This seems like a lot of smoke and not much fire for now, but it's something to keep an eye on as the Cowboys are scheduled to report to training camp in less than two weeks.
Chicago Bears running back Mike Davis will head into training camp looking to become more than the 'forgotten' man in the team's backfield. Most of the fantasy buzz this summer has gone towards teammates Tarik Cohen and rookie David Montgomery but don't count out Davis. The free agent acquisition fell short of having a 'breakout campaign' last season but set career- best marks in carries (114), yards (514), receptions (34), receiving yards (214) and total touchdowns (5). Davis was one of many running backs that the Seahawks rotated last year and he posted two games with 100 yards from scrimmage or more. Davis was in line for a heavier workload this season but drafting Montgomery is certain to cut into the timeshare. It is hard to envision a scenario where Davis averages more than 15 carries a game this season but could lead the team in touches in the red zone for an ascending offense.
Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the team were unable to reach a long-term deal before Monday's deadline, which means Clowney will play on the franchise tag this season. The former number-one overall pick is expected to hold out for most of training camp, but there's been no indication yet that he'll miss time during the season. Clowney's been injured a lot, but when healthy he's a disruptive defender and has tremendous upside in IDP leagues. His uncertain future does introduce some uncertainty for dynasty owners, though, as Monday's news likely means Clowney won't be a Texan when the 2020 season rolls around.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones' contract extension is now the team's 'most pressing priority,' but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport states that it 'might take a while.' However, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Jones' agent and the team are scheduled for face-to-face negotiations on Wednesday, July 17.
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has privately said he intends to hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract, according to Pro football Talk's Mike Florio via a league source.
Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson's receiving skills 'should come back to the forefront' after being 'all but ignored last season,' in the opinion of Darren Urban of AZcardinals.com.
Fantasy Spin: This has been the assumption among fantasy owners since Arizona hired Kliff Kingsbury, but it always helps to get it confirmed from a scribe that covers the team like Urban does. Johnson's goal of a 1,000/1,000 season may be a bit too much to ask, but this figures to be the 27-year-old's best shot of hitting those marks since his incredible 2016 campaign. He's well worth a pick in the top half of the first round of most fantasy drafts.