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Best of Friday’s training camps: Burrow aces scrimmage, NFL reacts to Rivera’s cancer diagnosis



The Cincinnati Bengals conducted their first scrimmage of the preseason on Friday and quarterback Joe Burrow didn’t take long to impress.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft was 9-of-10 passing for 101 yards and two touchdowns in his first two drives and finished 13-of-19. His favorite receiver? Auden Tate, who tallied six catches for 67 yards and two scores in the two opening drives.

Meanwhile, Washington coach Ron Rivera revealed on Thursday night that he had been diagnosed with cancer. The NFL world reacted on Friday with players and coaches weighing in.

Here’s what else you need to know from camps across the league:

Jump to the best of the day:
Photos | Videos | Quotes

Top news of the day

Bengals coach Zac Taylor: Joe Burrow showed control of offense
The Bengals conducted their first scrimmage of the preseason and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow showed control of the offense, coach Zac Taylor said Friday. During his first two drives, Burrow had only one incompletion and threw a couple of touchdowns as he continued the process of getting ready for the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 13.

Washington’s Ron Rivera says he has cancer, plans to continue coaching
Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma located in a lymph node, the team said in a statement. Rivera said the cancer is in the early stages and is considered “very treatable and curable.”


Reaction from NFL world to Ron Rivera’s cancer diagnosis

Best videos

Best photos

Quotes of the day

“He works his tail off. He’s extremely dynamic, and he has a charming personality.”
Patriots’ Julian Edelman on Cam Newton
“He really showed that acceleration and burst. It was really a third or fourth gear. How many gears are there on a sports car? Whatever it was, he was in it.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Marquise Brown after the wide receiver hauled in a 60-yard TD
“If you’re not trying to win the Super Bowl, I don’t know what you’re even doing in this business.”
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on Super Bowl-or-bust expectations

What our NFL Nation reporters saw Friday

It was the players’ day off on Friday, but it didn’t surprise Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith that he got a text at 12:30 a.m. from Rashan Gary. Last year’s first-round pick asked for three things he could work on. Gary already had come back in what Smith called “ridiculous shape,” but he needs to ramp up his production in Year 2. Doing so would allow Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to reduce their rep count — each played nearly 1,000 defensive snaps last season — and keep them fresh for the long haul. “You can tell he’s worked on some things that we talked to him about before we left — his get-off, his pad level,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “He’s taken that to heart and has made some strides.” — Rob Demovsky

The pandemic has made it difficult for teams to create team-bonding exercises or bring in guest speakers, but new Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy held a game of “Jeopardy! “with his team on Tuesday. “It was a lot of fun,” McCarthy said. “Our players really enjoyed it.” The players were divided into three groups: rookies, second- and third-year players, and veterans. The questions ranged from music videos to animals, other athletes and players on the team. The veterans apparently won, but running back Tony Pollard, in his second year, thought it was controversial. “It was a bit unfair the way the teams were lined up,” Pollard said. “You know the rookies, they didn’t know as much so they got all the [hard] questions from the vets so the vets just took their points. The two-three-year guys really should’ve won, but it is what it is.” — Todd Archer

Washington had a scheduled day off, which allowed the players to absorb the news of coach Ron Rivera having a form of skin cancer. Rivera said doctors are optimistic because they caught it early and consider it treatable. But if he has to miss time, one thing that helps him is that he wasn’t running any particular side of the ball. He was overseeing the operation, trusting his coordinators (Jack Del Rio on defense; Scott Turner on offense; Nate Kaczor on special teams). If Rivera has to step away, having those coordinators should keep the situation normal for players. He’s the main voice they hear for the team, but in position and group meetings the voices they hear wouldn’t have to change. — John Keim

The defense finally got to Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense on Friday — intercepting Detroit’s starting quarterback twice. One came from first-round pick Jeff Okudah, who was working with the first team for the first time with veteran Desmond Trufant sitting out team drills. The other came on a beautiful read from fellow cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who has put together a strong first week. The defensive front also got enough pressure to force what likely would have been one or two sacks on Stafford in team periods. It’s a step the Lions needed to see from their defense after a week when the offense appeared to be quite far ahead. — Michael Rothstein

Quarterback Jameis Winston has yet to find a groove during the Saints’ full-team drills this week. He saw a handful of passes broken up Friday before throwing an interception to defensive back P.J. Williams (Williams’ second pick of the week). However, Winston did follow that up immediately with a long completion to wide receiver Bennie Fowler. And Saints coach Sean Payton did note again after Friday’s practice that he has been encouraged by Winston’s progress and that he is picking things up well. — Mike Triplett

Rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who played three seasons at Missouri with Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, might still be a work in progress with some of his routes, but he has shown early impact in red zone drills. Both Thursday and Friday he made scoring plays against Denver’s starting defense, He’s also done some of that work this week with a splint on the thumb he injured early in camp. And Broncos coach Vic Fangio has noticed. “He’s been playing with a splint on his thumb here the last couple days that he’s been doing very well with,” Fangio said. “You can’t even tell so that’s good, Always good to see he’s not taking the easy way out.” — Jeff Legwold

Jarrett Stidham didn’t take part in 11-on-11 team drills after tests were negative on his leg, which meant that fellow Patriots quarterbacks Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer split the reps in a slow-paced practice. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he expects Stidham back to full work on Sunday. All eyes are on the signal-callers in New England, and the path seems to be clearing for Newton to seize the top spot through five practices. — Mike Reiss

Tempers flared toward the end of Ravens practice between Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark. The safeties apparently got in an argument over a blown coverage on the sideline. Thomas put up his fists to fight, and both had to be restrained by teammates and coaches. “It just lasted longer than it needed to,” coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re going to have these things in training camp. But I don’t like them when they extend like that and eat into our reps. We need to keep our eye on the prize, which is preparing for the [season-opening opponent] Browns.” — Jamison Hensley

With only nine healthy wide receivers in camp, the Jets are holding tryouts. They’re working out veterans Donte Moncrief and Kevin White, the seventh overall pick in 2015. They’ve already added one vet, Chris Hogan, who has participated in two practices. Injuries to rookie Denzel Mims (hamstring) and Vyncint Smith (core-muscle surgery) prompted them to look outside the organization. Smith could be sidelined two months; Mims is week-to-week.— Rich Cimini

No preseason? No problem. The Giants instead held the first of two intrasquad scrimmages on Friday. It allowed new coach Joe Judge to test all his systems, handling of in-game personnel and playcalling in a live setting. It all seemed to run fairly smoothly, aside from a delay of game or two. Quarterback Daniel Jones finished started slowly but finished strong. He went 16-of-27 passing with two touchdowns and an interception. His final throw allowed the offense to leave on a positive note when he hit David Sills deep down the field for a touchdown. All in all, a successful day for the Giants. — Jordan Raanan

New 49ers left tackle Trent Williams figured to have a lot of rust to knock off after not playing last season. But it apparently didn’t take long for him to do it. Williams has easily been one of the most dominant players on the field nearly a week into camp, and regularly stonewalls reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa in one-on-one pass-rush drills and in team drills. “I obviously have never played him before so I don’t know exactly how he was before, but it definitely seems like he’s feeling great and playing really well,” Bosa said. “I’m definitely confident in [quarterback] Jimmy [Garoppolo]‘s left side.” That confidence has clearly spread through the team. Williams was again at his best in Friday’s practice and instead of rust, it seems he has fresh legs that will have him in line for a massive contract after the season as he enters the final season of his current deal. — Nick Wagoner

The Browns players got a much-needed day off Friday after injury-riddled first week of camp. Cleveland currently has six starters who have either been out or limited so far in camp, not including punter Jamie Gillan (illness). The good news is that defensive end Myles Garrett finally dressed on Thursday, and running back Nick Chubb, who had to enter concussion protocol after the first day of pads, appears to be close behind him, with position coach Stump Mitchell noting that it’s “just a matter of time” before Chubb, who is taking part in meetings, is back on the field, too. — Jake Trotter

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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