Fri May 24 2:35am ET
By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
Players: Tom Brady
In this Jan. 31, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald speaks during a press conference ahead of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game against the New England Patriots in Atlanta. Two-time reigning defensive player of the year Aaron Donald is always searching for out-of-the-box ways to improve his game. That's why the Rams defensive lineman trained with knives again this offseason. That's right, knives, of the plastic variety, of course, in order to improve his eye-hand coordination. His real driving force? That loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last February. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
In this Feb. 3, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Rams Aaron Donald (99) rushes against the New England Patriots during NFL Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta. Two-time reigning defensive player of the year Aaron Donald is always searching for out-of-the-box ways to improve his game. That's why the Rams defensive lineman trained with knives again this offseason. That's right, knives, of the plastic variety, of course, in order to improve his eye-hand coordination. His real driving force? That loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last February. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)
To stay a cut above the competition, Aaron Donald once again trained this offseason by dodging knives.
Fake blades, of course. But the results from the reaction exercises have certainly been real.
The two-time reigning AP defensive player of the year for the Los Angeles Rams is always searching for out-of-the-box ways to take his game to another level. This helps him stay sharp, too - the sting of a 13-3 Super Bowl loss to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in February. That's a reason why the defensive tackle attended organized team activities this spring for the first time since 2016, even as other veterans passed on the workouts.
Anything to earn that ring.
''The main goal is to be the No. 1 team standing and call yourself a champion,'' said Donald, who skipped workouts the last two springs while dealing with contract negotiations before signing a roughly $135 million, six-year contract extension last August. ''So I'm just working, trying to get myself better and continue to improve my game.''
Donald is coming off a season in which he recorded 20 + sacks.
So yep, Donald has given thoughts to former New York Giants standout Michael Strahan's 22 +-sack season in 2001, which is the NFL record since it became an official stat in 1982.
And nope, he doesn't chase after it.
''If you would've asked me five years ago if I would have an opportunity to have 23 sacks in one season, I would've laughed at you and said, `That's impossible,''' Donald said in a phone interview as the player known for his quick bursts to the QB embraces national runner's month at DICK'S Sporting Goods. ''You would like to accomplish something like that, but in the mix of doing your job and helping your team win you play at a high level. So all that's going to come about on its own. Because the more you think about it, the less success you have.
''Go out there and play and let the game come to you, and good things come from that. It's worked for me so far.''
All he's done is become a nightmare assignment in the middle since the Rams picked him in the first-round pick in 2014 out of the University of Pittsburgh. Donald, who turned 28 Thursday, is listed at 6-foot-1, 280 pounds - not the usual measurements for a dominating inside presence.
And yet dominating is what he's been against the run and chasing QBs. With his speed, strength and athleticism, he's become the NFL prototype.
''You open up doors for the next guy who opens up doors for the next,'' Donald explained. ''You do your job and do it at a high level and keep working and do what you're supposed to do, everybody has an opportunity to do great things. Just got to have that mindset and that will to want to do it.''
Over the offseason, he again used the plastic knives to help him improve his agility. His trainer would lunge at him with a blade in each hand and Donald knocked it away - just like he would the arms of an opposing offensive lineman.
''Trying to work on my hand speed and reaction,'' Donald said. ''I go through different things in my training to think outside the box. Think of things that can help me. Just trying to outwork myself every year to be better.''
Next up, distance running. Well, maybe.
Although his training is built around short distances, he's contemplating a 5-kilomether (3.1 mile) race down the road, especially after meeting a group of kids as part of ''Girls on the Run,'' an organization that teaches young girls life skills through running activities. Donald surprised them at a DICK'S Sporting Goods store in the Los Angeles area and helped them line up new running gear.
Donald even went for a little jog with the kids.
''Just trying to keep up with the girls,'' laughed Donald, who recently made a seven-figure donation to the University of Pittsburgh's Football Championship Fund. ''I have 10-yard bursts in me. That (5K race) would be tough. Got to have a lot of stamina and training. I'll probably get it done.''
An endeavor for later.
These days, it's all about leading the Rams back to the Super Bowl. They lost a defensive showdown with the Patriots in a game in which Donald had five tackles and one quarterback hit. He showed up at the offseason workouts, relishing the chance to develop even more cohesion with teammates.
''Being there and working with these guys, pushing these guys and getting these guys ready, it's only going to make us better,'' Donald said. ''We're pushing each other, because we want to do something special this year.''
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Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said he "feels good" about tight end Trey Burton (hernia) being ready for the start of training camp this summer. Burton had hernia surgery this offseason. The 27-year-old caught a career-high 54 passes (76 targets) for 569 yards and six touchdowns in his first year in Chicago with Nagy running the show. In this improving offense, Burton could improve further and will be a strong TE1 as long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks in training camp.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (ankle) has missed all of the team's offseason workouts as he recovers from ankle surgery, but he expects to be 100 percent healthy in time for training camp. Kelce is one of a kind at the tight end position and should be the first name off the board at the position in fantasy drafts despite his ankle injury. The 29-year-old caught a career-high 103 passes (150 targets) for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and has superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes throwing him passes. Kelce has now gone over 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons. He's pretty good.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Carlos Hyde, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, has occasionally lined up next to starter Damien Williams in the backfield at minicamp and has frequently been used as a receiver. "It's not just a one-dimensional running back here. You do it all. You line up at receiver. You actually run routes. You're not just a decoy," Hyde said. It's all fine and dandy right now, but it remains to be seen how much run Hyde will actually get when the games matter. At best, he's a handcuff for Williams owners in fantasy drafts. The 28-year-old floundered with both the Browns and Jaguars in a disappointing 2018 season. He had 10 combined receptions in 14 games last year.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been very impressed with rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf in offseason practices. "Its great seeing DK [Metcalf] make his plays. I think DK is looking really, really special," Wilson said. "He can do anything and everything and hes tremendous." The second-round pick isn't just a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 229 pounds with a 4.33-yard 40-yard dash and 40.5-inch vertical jump. Wilson has been impressed with his knowledge of the game as well. Metcalf should be the No. 2 in his rookie season behind Tyler Lockett, and he really has a chance to put up special numbers in Year 1 with Wilson slinging him the football deep.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been lining up as the No. 2 behind Davante Adams and ahead of Geronimo Allison during offseason practices. Minicamp practices revealed that MVS is a starter and probably the No. 2 behind Adams, with Allison likely to serve as the slot man in three-wide sets. I think this offense is really catered for a guy like him, Adams said of Valdes-Scantling. The fifth-round pick had some standout games as a rookie but was altogether very inconsistent for fantasy owners. Valdes-Scantling finished with 38 catches for 581 yards and had a team-high 15.3 yard-per-catch average. It's looking like he's a perfect fit for new head coach Matt LaFleur's offense, and he'll be coveted by fantasy owners in the later rounds as a potential breakout candidate.
Detroit Lions tight end Michael Roberts reverted back to the Lions on Friday after the Patriots tried to acquire him in a trade. Roberts failed his physical and has now been waived by the Lions. The 25-year-old was a fourth-round pick in 2017 and had just nine catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns in eight games due to injuries in 2018 with Detroit. It remains to be seen if he'll resurface with another team, but even if he does he won't be on the fantasy radar.
Chicago Bears third-round rookie running back David Montgomery has impressed the team as a route-runner out of the backfield in offseason practices. "We always knew he had great hands. You dont know how great of a route runner a college back is, but hes a really good route runner," head coach Matt Nagy said. Montgomery has had comparisons to former Bears do-it-all back Matt Forte, which is a high bar to match. However, the Bears drafted Montgomery with a purpose and then sent Jordan Howard packing in a trade to the Eagles. Mike Davis will also factor in, but Montgomery has as high of a ceiling as any other rookie back to come out of the 2019 draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner had more than 62 percent of the team's carries in 2018 and 64 percent of the targets in the passing game among running backs. However, he thinks the team will spread the ball out more evenly in the backfield among him and Jaylen Samuels in 2019. Samuels had 328 yards from scrimmage in the three games that Conner missed with an ankle injury late in the year. There's also fourth-rounder Benny Snell, who ran for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns at Kentucky in 2018. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said he isn't concerned about Conner's durability at all. Conner should be the team's primary back and should be the first target in fantasy drafts, but Samuels should also be useful in PPR formats as the Steelers look to spread things around with Antonio Brown gone.
San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa (hamstring), the team's first-round pick, believes he'll be ready for Week 1 after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 hamstring strain on May 23. He thinks he'll be able to get enough work at training camp to be ready for the regular season. Bosa also hasn't played football for nearly a year after suffering a sports hernia. The pass-rusher could get off to a slow start in his first NFL season after not practicing at all this spring, but in the long run Bosa should be very helpful in improving San Fran's pass rush. Bosa has been watching the team practice and learning the scheme while picking the brains of Arik Armstead and Dee Ford.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown (knee) underwent a scope on his knee last week but is expected to be ready for training camp next month. The 23-year-old had five receptions in eight games played in 2018 and has just nine catches for 87 yards and on scores in 21 games over two seasons after being drafted in the seventh round in 2017. He's buried on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Randall Cobb, so he's well off the fantasy radar.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had high expectations in his first year in Minnesota after signing a fully guaranteed $84 million deal, but it didn't exactly pay off on the field. Cousins had career highs in completions (425), attempts (606), completion percentage (70.1) and passing touchdowns (30), but the Vikings finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. Cousins is hoping to win more games in 2019, but he's just 34-37-2 as a starter in the NFL and has no playoff wins. The Vikings are expected to focus more on the running game under offensive advisor Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski this year. Cousins could put up decent numbers, but he should be drafted as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 this time around.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone doesn't expect left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) to be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Robinson should be available eventually in training camp, but it's disappointing after he tore his ACL way back in Week 2 of last season. When healthy, Robinson will be tasked with protecting quarterback Nick Foles' blind side in his first year with the team after coming over from the Eagles.
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is confident that the Rams will give quarterback Jared Goff a contract extension. "Whether it ends up happening this year or next year, there is a zero percent chance this guy's not gonna get an extension he's worthy of," McVay said. "All the narratives out there are wrong. Jared and I couldn't be more connected, and I couldn't be more appreciative of him as our leader. He is so vital and important to us and our success. That extension will get done. It's a matter of when, not if." Goff will make $4.26 million in 2019 and $22.783 million in 2020. He's had growing pains at times but helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance last year. Consider him a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 going into 2019.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said the team is optimistic that wide receiver Anthony Miller (shoulder) will be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Miller had left shoulder surgery in January after playing through the injury in his rookie season. The 24-year-old was impressive in his first season, catching 33 passes for 423 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games. Miller will once again be a big part of Chicago's passing game alongside Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and should be able to improve on those numbers, although don't expect his touchdowns to go up in his sophomore campaign.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and wide receiver DeSean Jackson have had a great connection and good timing throughout the offseason program. Head coach Doug Pederson said that Jackson spent the entire offseason in Philadelphia working with Wentz, and their chemistry is showing through. Jackson, 32, was a bust in his final year in Tampa with 41 catches for 774 yards and four touchdowns, but he's still very fast and averaged 18.9 yards per catch. He's boom or bust as a deep threat, but D-Jax will still have appeal in standard-scoring leagues in a very potent offense. However, his per-game catches will likely fluctuate with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor gobbling up targets.
Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson has made an impact as a pass-catcher in organized team activities, and the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett thinks he can catch as many as 60 passes in 2019. Theo Riddick has been the team's primary receiving back the last few seasons, but he might not even be a lock for the 53-man roster this year and is a trade candidate. Johnson caught 32 passes in 10 games as a rookie in 2018 and could easily add to that production as the team's lead back if he stays healthy. He may not get more than 20 touches a game with C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner, Riddick and rookie Ty Johnson being in the mix, but Johnson is in line to take a big second-year leap for fantasy owners in this run-first offense.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Cameron Meredith (knee) said it's the same knee injury that he dealt with last year that kept him sidelined for organized team activities and minicamp this year. However, he's mostly just being smart with it so that he can have a healthy training camp. Meredith had a breakout year in 2016 with the Bears but then missed all of 2017 with his knee injury and played in only six games with the Saints in 2018, catching nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown as a complete non-factor. If he doesn't prove his health this summer, Meredith is in danger of not making the final roster.
Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay skipped minicamp last week in hopes of landing a new deal, and he's unsure if he'll report to training camp next month either. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison also sat out of minicamp this week as he seeks a new deal. Both players forfeited $250,000 of workouts bonuses this spring. Slay is scheduled to make $12 million this year and has two years left on the extension he signed in 2016. Harrison also has two years left on his deal and will make $6.75 million in 2019. The Lions have been reluctant to renegotiate contracts of players with multiple years left on their deals, so Slay and Harrison may be barking up the wrong tree. Slay, 28, is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season and has 11 interceptions over the last two years.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken's transition as the new offensive coordinator hasn't gone as smoothly as planned this offseason, causing head coach Freddie Kitchens to play a larger role in running the offense than he originally intended, according to sources. Kitchens has been doing more in offensive meetings and has been gathering input from assistants to make decisions on how the scheme will play out this year. Kitchens was already expected to continue calling the offensive plays when Monken was first hired. Monken led the Bucs to the top passing game in the league in 2018 with 320.3 yards per game. It's unclear if this transition to Monken will affect Cleveland's offense negatively in the long run, but for now it shouldn't influence any of the Browns fantasy relevant players in one way or another.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich has made it clear that running back Marlon Mack will carry the load in the backfield, with Nyheim Hines handling third-down duties and Spencer Ware battling with Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams for the backup job. Ware was signed as a free agent this offseason. The 23-year-old Mack is the back to own in Indy after rushing 195 times for 908 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games in his second NFL season. If Mack can stay healthy for an entire season, he should eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground in this potent offense. Hines may struggle to see as many targets in the passing game with rookie Parris Campbell handling the slot, but he'll still be useful in PPR formats as a flex type.