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Best of Saturday at NFL training camps: Fans get first glimpse of Chiefs; Rams test SoFi Stadium turf



The sports world is largely playing without fans in attendance, but the Kansas City Chiefs are one of the few teams that are testing how feasible it is during the coronavirus pandemic.

The reigning Super Bowl champs held practice Saturday in front of what they said was a maximum of 2,000 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. The coaches and players, in a year without preseason games, got a feel for game-day procedures. It also gave the business operation a chance to practice for the regular season.

The Chiefs say they will allow an attendance of 22 percent of stadium capacity, or about 16,000, for the Sept. 10 opener against the Houston Texans. Even with the stadium only fractionally filled, fans made a good share of noise at times on Saturday, reported ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher.

Several teams had intrasquad scrimmages on Saturday, including the Los Angeles Rams, who had theirs on the turf at the brand-new Sofi Stadium. Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:

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

Top news of the day

Earl Thomas sent home for fighting in practice
Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas was sent home Friday after a fiery on-field argument with teammate Chuck Clark. The incident was sparked by a missed assignment by Thomas, he confirmed in an Instagram post. Thomas and Clark yelled at each other on the sideline and had to be restrained by teammates and coaches, a source said. Thomas put up his fists at one point, according to the source.

Ron Rivera acknowledges struggles ahead, asks team to step up
Washington coach Ron Rivera gathered his players after practice Saturday and delivered a five-minute sermon, his voice rising throughout, on what it takes to win. It was a much different post-practice talk than he had with his players Thursday night, when he told them about his squamous cell cancer diagnosis, a conversation that left them silenced. But his message Saturday was necessary — a reminder that, no matter what he’s enduring, the show must go on.

CB Kevin Johnson released from hospital
The Cleveland Browns received some good news as cornerback Kevin Johnson was released from the hospital and running back Nick Chubb returned to practice. Johnson suffered a laceration to his liver during Wednesday’s practice and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis to determine when he can rejoin the Browns on the field. Chubb had been in the concussion protocol since Monday, when he was brought down by a horse-collar tackle.

Best videos

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Quotes of the day

“I’m not being rosy about this. I’m being honest. I know I’m going to struggle, so on days I do, I ask the coaches to step up and the players to step up and take ownership.”
Washington coach Ron Rivera, on carrying on during his cancer treatment
“They coach you to make plays, not cover grass.”
Jets QB Quincy Wilson, on why he’s a better fit with the Jets than his old team, the Colts
“Straight up was bad. I failed miserably.”
Panthers QB Will Grier, on being a backup for the first time last season

What our NFL Nation reporters saw today

Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson was a surprise absence for the Baltimore Ravens, getting a rest day for his arm. “What he’s getting right now is a day he normally gets,” Ravens assistant head coach David Culley said. “He’s been throwing the ball all training camp and the arm gets tired every now and then. This is just part of the rest that he has gotten in previous camps.” With Jackson not practicing, Robert Griffin III ran the first-team offense. — Jamison Hensley

The Detroit Lions were down a couple of running backs Saturday as both Bo Scarbrough and D’Andre Swift missed the day of work with undisclosed injuries. It’s left room for Kerryon Johnson to see even more work as he enters his third season as a key part of the Lions’ backfield and so far, he’s feeling healthy. He’s also gotten much more comfortable with a part of him that came up when he returned from his knee injury last season — a brace on his right knee.”Me and the knee brace are one. We’re one person,” Johnson said. “I work with it. It works with me. I’ve used it all offseason, used it all when I was coming back last season. So that’s just the new me. I’m the knee brace guy, everybody jokes about it. It feels great. I like having the knee brace on. It helps me out a lot. It gives me a little peace of mind as well.” — Michael Rothstein

Through nearly a week of padded practices, it’s clear that Washington will try to incorporate a lot of its running backs. The team has rotated backs with the first unit, though Adrian Peterson usually is the first one to take a snap. But the others have all spent time with the first group. It’s possible that Peterson carries the load early, but it’s evident that they like Peyton Barber and that they want to get rookie Antonio Gibson involved. J.D. McKissic will handle third-down duties and Bryce Love is the wild card; if he shows he can return to his Stanford ways after tearing his ACL late in 2018, then they have yet another backfield option. — John Keim

Ahead of Saturday night’s televised practice at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, who had surgery to repair a dislocated collarbone in January, said he struggled as the starter at times last season, and said he took the offseason to watch every one of his reps multiple times and seek advice from people in and out of the Steelers’ organization. “When I look back last year, I didn’t run our offense at the level to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ standard,” he said. “You look at the film and you look at your deficiencies and the way to improve. There is a lot of meat on the bone there. … I am confident that I will be a starting quarterback in the NFL, and right now, my job is to prepare and push Ben [Roethlisberger] and help our guys in any way that I can.” — Brooke Pryor

New Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is impressed with his players through the first six practices of training camp. “These guys work. I mean I’m getting in arguments with [Tyrone] Crawford out there, I’m trying to get him off the field, get him some substitution, get him a break in some drills, and I mean we’re going to get into a fight there because he don’t want to come off the field,” Tomsula said. “They’re all that way.” Does he really want to fight Crawford? “Hey, I didn’t say I’d win,” Tomsula joked. “Didn’t say I’d win, but I would give him a go.” — Todd Archer

Remember when Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a big part of the Green Bay Packers’ offense – with a 99-yard game and a 133-yard game in the first seven weeks of last season — and then disappeared? Well, it looks like coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are trying to replicate the first part. The third-year deep-threat receiver caught a pair of passes from Aaron Rodgers on Saturday in team periods — one on a deep cross and another on a stop route in the middle of the field. It’s a tight battle between Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and Equanimeous St. Brown for the spots behind No. 1 receiver Davante Adams. “I’ve seen him stack two great practices back to back,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Valdes-Scantling. “That’s the challenge to him on a daily basis; he’s got to go out there and do it.” — Rob Demovsky

The New York Jets activated LB Avery Williamson (knee) and TE Ryan Griffin (ankle) from the physically-unable-to-perform list — two players who will have key roles in 2020. Williamson, who missed last season after ACL surgery, will be one of the starting inside linebackers. His value to the linebackers has increased with the loss of C.J. Mosley, who opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. On Saturday, Williamson and Griffin were limited to individual drills. They will be eased into team drills and should be ready for the season, barring setbacks. — Rich Cimini

Some cool “teaching moments” during Saturday’s New Orleans Saints practice. RB Alvin Kamara took time to pull undrafted rookie LB Joe Bachie off to the side and show him a good technique for turning and getting his eyes on the ball during one-on-one passing drills. And Drew Brees took time to explain to new WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Bennie Fowler what he was looking for on fade routes before re-running each of the plays to get it right. Brees and Sanders are making up for lost time in this abbreviated offseason, but this was an example of how they’re making the best of the time they do have to get a feel for each other. — Mike Triplett

Saturday’s Carolina Panthers scrimmage at Bank of America Stadium began with a mic’d up Matt Rhule shouting “Live! Live!” over the PA system. For the first time in camp there was live tackling. There was a lot to like, such as backup QB Will Grier leading the second-team offense to a TD against the first-team defense on the opening drive. There was a lot not to like, such as the first-team offense with Teddy Bridgewater struggling against the first-team defense with two penalties and a sack. There was a lot of fun after practice, such as punter Joe Charlton attempting to kick the ball into the upper deck and coaches having to do sprints — twice. — David Newton

It looked like the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to avoid any other potential issues along the defensive line, at least for a day — until late in Saturday’s scrimmage. Defensive tackle Taven Bryan went down with a leg injury during the 11-on-11 live tackling segment of the scrimmage. He was treated off to the side then walked under his own power to the equipment building at the practice fields, where he was examined again. That put a bit of a damper on a day in which several defensive linemen stood out during the scrimmage. Bryan blew up a run play and Timmy Jernigan powered through the right side of the line for what would have been a sack on rookie Jake Luton. — Michael DiRocco

It was interesting to see Dante Fowler Jr. and Takk McKinley spending a lot of time together away from the team working on aspects of the pass rush for the Atlanta Falcons. Fowler, the newcomer with an outstanding first step, has been a standout from the outset of training camp; McKinley is a prove-it year after having his fifth-year option declined. Both worked on their get-offs and spent time huddling with senior defensive assistant Bob Sutton. McKinley said it’s been amazing working with Fowler already. Running back Todd Gurley (knee) and center Alex Mack (rest) got their second load management days of training camp, both during padded practices. — Vaughn McClure

The Houston Texans don’t have a lot of question marks on their roster, but one position where there is competition is at tight end. Darren Fells, who set a Texans franchise record last season with seven touchdowns, returns and Jordan Akins, a third-round pick in the 2018 draft, has stood out in the first two weeks of training camp. If Houston only keeps three tight ends, the final spot should come down to Jordan Thomas (sixth-round pick in 2018) and Kahale Warring (third-rounder in 2019). Thomas showed up to training camp in shape. Warring, who hasn’t played in an NFL game after spending last season on injured reserve, has worked hard this offseason, but coach Bill O’Brien said he has a lot to learn about this Texans offense. — Sarah Barshop

New England Patriots players were off Saturday. There have been five practices in training camp (three full pads, two shorts/shells). Bill Belichick said Friday that the team “had a pretty solid week of practice.” Next week ramps up as everything repeats a second and third time, which is important “so that we’re closer to where we want to be in terms of understanding, not just what we want to do, but how we want to do it and what are some of the variables that can come up.” — Mike Reiss

San Francisco 49ers nose tackle D.J. Jones is in the concussion protocol after suffering a head injury earlier this week. While that’s no small thing, it did come with the good news that his shoulder, which was suspected as an issue, is fine and there is no long-term concern there. Solomon Thomas and Kentavius Street have been standouts over the past few days and have the versatility to play both spots on the inside. It’s a big year for both, as Thomas heads toward a contract year and Street aims to make an impact for the first time in his third season. — Nick Wagoner

Saturday was the best practice of Miami Dolphins padded camp so far, particularly with the offense and QBs bouncing back from a rocky Friday. None of the three threw interceptions. Ryan Fitzpatrick lit it up after a one-day absence to deal with a personal matter. Meanwhile Tua Tagovailoa looked solid, too, and delivered his best throw of padded camp: a laser 20-yard seam to Chester Rogers. Fitzpatrick, the expected Week 1 starter, is showing off great chemistry with Preston Williams and DeVante Parker — the two co-stars of camp thus far. — Cameron Wolfe

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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+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– 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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