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Best of Monday at NFL training camps: Lamar Jackson returns; Le’Veon Bell jokes about his QB



Baltimore Ravens safety Chuck Clark spoke for the first time since his altercation with fellow safety Earl Thomas. It has been such a big story that barely anyone noticed reigning MVP Lamar Jackson returned to practice after missing the past two sessions with an injured groin.

Elsewhere in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins revealed their plans to allow 13,000 fans at each home game, and Le’Veon Bell revealed his plan to keep Jets QB Sam Darnold healthy.

Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league for Aug. 24:

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Ravens’ Chuck Clark ‘moving forward’ after altercation with Earl Thomas Baltimore Ravens safety Chuck Clark declined to talk about last week’s altercation with Earl Thomas that led to the seven-time Pro Bowl player getting released on Sunday. Clark was punched by Thomas toward the end of Friday’s practice after the two exchanged words on the sideline regarding a blown coverage by Thomas, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “Right now, as a team and an organization, we’re moving forward,” Clark said Monday in his first words since the incident occurred.

Dolphins, University of Miami to allow fans at home openers; plan deemed ‘risky’ The Miami Dolphins will allow up to 13,000 socially distanced fans to attend their home opener against Buffalo on Sept. 20, a decision that divided political leaders and upset Bills coach Sean McDermott. The same plan will be followed for the University of Miami’s football home opener against UAB at the Dolphins’ stadium on Sept. 10. Crowd size will be about 20% of the stadium’s 65,326-seat capacity, with the limitation imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Groups of spectators will be spaced 6 feet apart.

Jets Le’Veon Bell praises Sam Darnold but says QB has to stay healthy, so ‘no bars’ New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell gushed about Sam Darnold, praising the quarterback’s improved command of the playbook and huddle. After a brief pause, Bell smiled. “We just have to make sure he stays healthy,” Bell said Monday with a twinkle in his eye. “I told him, ‘No bars.'”


What our NFL Nation reporters saw and heard today

Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson returned to Baltimore Ravens practice after missing the previous two days with a groin injury. He wasn’t particularly sharp throwing the ball in his first practice since Friday, but he moved around well. It was noticeable that Jackson didn’t take off on any long runs. “He looked good,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He had a good practice. We’re moving forward.” — Jamison Hensley

Dallas Cowboys‘ practices are mostly quiet. Music plays only during what Mike McCarthy calls the “television timeouts,” in between sessions. In the past, music was a constant in Jason Garrett’s practices to help get the players accustomed to what games will be like and bring some energy to the workout. “I think there’s a place for music. I think even more so than any year that I’ve coached in this league, this is probably a year for not very much music,” McCarthy said. “Right now, it looks like we’re going to be playing our first game with no fans. What I’ve always done is you try to keep your training environment as close to the game situation as possible. The influx in music for me, in the practices that I’ve had in the past, is there’s a purpose for it. So when the offense is playing on the road, we’ll have music during their periods for the communicate challenge and things like that.” — Todd Archer

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints‘ starting offense had by far their best performance to date Monday, including two TD passes to Michael Thomas to go a perfect 2-for-2 in simulated two-minute drills at the end of practice. Brees also completed two passes of 40-plus yards through the air to Emmanuel Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith during full-team drills, among other highlight throws. Brees and Sanders had their best connection yet Monday, and it would’ve been even better if Sanders had held onto a diving catch on another downfield pass. — Mike Triplett

New York Giants coach Joe Judge continues to ride his team hard. This time it was a 2 1/2 hour padded practice in the 90-plus-degree heat on Monday. Judge even rallied the group and had some choice words for them (pretty much all expletives) prior to the final few periods. He wanted to make sure they knew the “speed and emphasis of the drill” they were about to run. Afterwards, Judge said his team worked hard and finished with intensity. This is what he demands of his players in training camp. It’s next level from the previous regimes, and only time will tell if it pays dividends. — Jordan Raanan

A Las Vegas Raiders official said the team switching from padded practices with media viewing to closed walkthroughs on Sunday and Monday was not related to COVID-19 concerns, despite a lab in New Jersey producing 77 “false positive” results affecting 11 teams, which altered practice schedules. The Raiders, as with every other NFL team, use the same company, BioReference, for testing. But the lab the Raiders’ samples go to is in Burbank, California, and there were no reports of irregularities or issues there. The Raiders will now practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, which had originally been a scheduled off day. — Paul Gutierrez

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones set a 2020 goal of being the NFL’s defensive player of the year. “That’s something I’ve always done throughout my career is set my standards high,” Jones said. “If I’m the best player in the league then I’m obviously doing well for my team and helping my team be one of the defenses in the league.” Jones has come to close to delivering on his lofty preseason goals before. He predicted in 2018 he would lead the league in sacks. He didn’t but finished third with 15.5. — Adam Teicher

Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins had a strong day in the two-minute drill, culminating in a long touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin. Coach Ron Rivera liked how Haskins handled the drill, taking what was available to start and then getting more aggressive as they moved the ball. He preserved their time outs and when he got man coverage vs. McLaurin on the outside, he pounced. “He did a nice job,” Rivera said. “It’s about making the right play. He made a bunch of the right plays today.” Haskins has taken all the first-team reps during training camp; as long as he does his job and looks good, no one will beat him out. — John Keim

Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio said after Monday’s practice that the team has already had more “soft tissue” injuries over the last eight days of practice than it had in all of last year’s OTAs, training camp and preseason games combined. The Broncos had 11 players miss Monday’s practice alone with several of those, including wide receivers KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick and Juwann Winfree, linebacker Todd Davis as well as cornerbacks De’Vante Bausby and Michael Ojemudia to go with defensive tackle Mike Purcell each held out of practice due to hamstring, groin, thigh or calf injuries. Fangio said Monday’s workout was also originally scheduled to be a padded practice, but he changed it to look more like a fast-paced walk-through instead. — Jeff Legwold

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c=twsrc%5Etfw”>August 24, 2020

Quote of the day

“The way he does it, you want to follow him. You want to listen to him and work hard for him. … Sam looks amazing this year. It’s going to be fun.””
Jets RB Le’Veon Bell on QB Sam Darnold

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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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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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